Archive for April, 2013

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence.  When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

  — Thich Nhat Hanh

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday that said, “Listen has the same letters as Silent.”

I don’t know about you, but I walk around all the time with a full heart.  Of course, my heart is full of love and full of desire for peace and compassion and kindness and understanding and all the other fruits that grow on the tree fed with love; but my heart is full of other things as well.  It wraps around the people I love and the people I encounter who need to be loved; and sometimes it seems as though my heart will simply burst with all that it carries.

As one who exercises my heart regularly, I tend to think that it is pretty sturdy; and I don’t give much thought to what a big job it has, what with all that loving and fruit-growing and carrying the struggles of other people.  It is no surprise that every now and then my heart feels a bit strained and in need of some rest and repair.

Yesterday my heart kind of reached its capacity.  There was nothing I could ask anyone to do that would fix that for me, but I knew it was time to open my heart to another heart and let the encounter fill it again with the strong sort of love that keeps it ready for action.

When the time comes that someone’s heart is filled to capacity we often wish that there were something we could do to create a little space for them.  Sometimes we find a quick fix, but often we discover that there is really nothing we can do but listen.  Listen.  That word with the same letters as Silent.

There is great healing and relief in silence.  At times when we really do know what we need to do next, the silence of another person who simply is present and mindful and respectful of the fullness of our heart can open us to the truth that we already know and remind us that somewhere in the fullness we do carry the answers.

So I took my full heart to a present friend, one who is mindful that when someone opens their heart they invite you into a sacred space.  She took off her shoes and stepped lightly over the threshold and sat with me in the midst of the love, the sorrow, the peace, the compassion, and the truth that swirled all around.  She had no great words of wisdom to share, but as the fruits of my own heart touched the same things in that other person, I knew I was not alone.  My heart is still full today, and I hope that never will change; but my heart is not heavy and it is not alone.

It is a blessing to be heard and understood.  It is a blessing to bring that presence and that mindfulness to another.  Just remember to leave your shoes outside and to bring your silence.  It is then that the magic can happen that makes our hearts light.

“It is the principle of the pure in heart never to injure others, even when they themselves have been hatefully injured.”

  — The Tirukural

In the Fall of 2011, a friend stopped by unexpectedly and planted a root in my raspberry patch.  He was feeling mysterious that day and didn’t want to reveal what would grow there.  He asked me to send good energy to his gift and added a couple of crystals for good measure, because he knows that I have a great love for minerals of all sorts.  I like to tell people I have rocks in my head, because I have a hard time walking past any interesting stones or crystals that might appear when I go walking.

When Spring arrived last year, some green began to peek through the ground in the corner of the berry patch.  Tall shoots followed, and soon the complete surprise revealed itself.  The gift has blossomed again; and every time I walk out my back door and into the yard, this is what greets me:

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I have always loved bleeding hearts, but this plant is the first I have seen with pure white flowers.

My friend, Larry, calls himself Wildman.  He also has rocks in his head and appreciates a good chunk of jasper, just like his friend.  Wildman does his best to keep most people at arm’s length.  The neurons in his brain fire in a different pattern from most folks’.  Sometimes his thoughts race at lightning speed, and he struggles to keep up with his own mind.  People don’t always understand what he is trying to say, and often they judge him for his differences.  Sadly, most people prefer to walk around Wildman in a wide arc rather that to take the time to see past his exterior to the kind and loving spirit that lies beneath the surface.

He has rocks in his head; and when he puts his creative hands on stone, the results reveal a gifted stonemason.  He has thoughts that race faster than he can keep up sometimes, but his intention is always to discover the good in his world and in the people he meets.  Most of all, he has a good heart — a pure, white one like the flowers in my berry patch.

It has been a while since I’ve seen my friend.  Our paths don’t often cross in the winter months.  Now that the pure white hearts are blooming in my garden once again, I know we will see each other soon.  As I send good energy to the reminder in my garden to look at people’s hearts, not their surface, I think of  Larry and smile.  ‘You did this on purpose,’ I think, ‘didn’t you?  I can’t think of a nicer way to assure that you will be remembered.’

 

“As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather and grow.”

  — Arthur Christopher Benson

I read an article a couple of years back about Charles Kuralt, the journalist famous for his “On the Road” reports about life in America.  He was a traveler; and his stories were found along the way as he traveled the streets and roads of America.  The article, published after Kuralt’s death in 1997, lamented the fact that we travel so differently now that our superhighway system propels us through and past the life Kuralt wrote about.  It now is possible to travel from coast to coast and never see a bit of scenery along the way.  We have lost the feeling that life is a slow pilgrimage.  Instead, we look for the quickest, least obstructed path from Point A to Point B — or perhaps I should say “to Point Z,” because we are missing so many other points between our starting point and our destination.  We have lost touch with the value of the stopping places that make the journey take longer than the GPS predicts — the opportunities to be waylaid and carry away some unplanned treasure that enhances our trip.

I am a very good planner.  I pack for all possible contingencies.  I allow time for traffic delays before announcing my planned arrival time.  I look ahead for spots at intervals of a long trip that might provide good stopping places for food, drink, and a rest room; but sometimes, I fear, this ability to plan robs me of the spontaneous and surprising things that await me as I travel.

Last weekend we traveled by car — eight hours each way — with three teenage girls.  On our way from Pennsylvania to Virginia, we took the highway that looped around Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  In spite of rush hour traffic, we made pretty good time; and in spite of my love for the back roads, I had to admit that my sweetheart’s decision to take that route got us to our destination in a timely manner.  At the end of a long weekend, our first thought was to find the quickest way back to our own beds; but one of the girls asked, “can we stop at the beach on the way home?”  The beach?  That had all the sounds of a huge delay.  I can say that the tired adults were far less enthusiastic about such a plan than the girls who could sleep the rest of the trip home; but we could find no truly good reason to deny their request.

Off we traveled, on stop-and-go Route 13 instead of multi-laned I-95.  We passed through a series of tiny towns and villages with names born of their Native American ancestors.  We saw iris and tulips in bloom and wisteria vines hanging purple in the trees along the road.  We stopped at a Welcome Center and asked where to find a public beach.  I had read online that Cape Charles was the place to visit along our way; but the woman at the welcome center colored that same information with the pride of someone who actually lived there.  “And when you get into town, and the signs say Speed Limit 25, you should believe that.”  I smiled as I realized we are not so different from people who live in places that are new to us — I live in a reduced speed zone, too, and I often issue the same warning to visitors.

We arrived home 90 minutes later than we had planned.  We were tired, and morning came very early on Monday; but our trip home was rich with memories that wouldn’t have been made on the superhighway.  We captured some on film and some in our hearts.

Today I took my morning walk through the very familiar park near my home.  Out of habit, I struck out on my well-worn path with my usual stops.  Suddenly I heard a voice calling from the trees near the creek.  It was not a bird I usually hear on my early-morning journeys; and as I listened closely, it seemed to be saying, “can we stop at the beach?”  Drawn by my memory of our recent adventure, I veered off and called to the puppy to follow me.  There in the top of an old maple tree was a cute little red-bellied woodpecker.  He darted from branch to branch, all the time calling out in a voice that sounded like a giggle, infecting me with his delight at a brand new day.  My heart danced with him, there in the treetops; and I was reminded again of all the mystery and all the adventure that swirls around us every day just waiting to be discovered.

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I feel a little taller since those unplanned stops, probably because dancing with the mystery always makes us grow just a little.  Whatever you do today, remember to step off the beaten path, if only for a minute or two, and let life fill you with wonder.

“Peace is the first thing the angels sang.”

  — John Keble

I am having a fairly chaotic day.  There is no need to check on my well-being — in the end, all will be well — but still, today has been a chaotic day.  There have been interruptions that have upended my view of how the world has been turning.  My energy is feeling a bit sapped by the need to regroup, re-evaluate, and re-plan some directions for life in my small world.  Again, there is no need for alarm as I navigate a few new speed bumps along the road of life; still, the bumping has me feeling unsettled and unmotivated.

There have been some upsides as well as some bumps, but the bumps are winning at the moment and I’d like to find the undo button on this day and simply click back to a new beginning.

Instead, I sit here buttonless and trying to take a moment or two to breathe in the midst of the noise of the day.  Life can be noisy.  It is a fact.  Sometimes the noise becomes so deafening that we forget to stop and hear the sound of our own heart beating or our own breath moving in and out of our lungs.  We forget to silence our minds and listen for the song of the angels — the song of Peace.

Peace is the first thing the angels sang, and that song has continued since the dawn of time.  All we need to do is remember to still ourselves in the midst of our most chaotic days and make some time to listen.

All around us there are angels singing a song of Peace.  It is the background music that plays in our lives, if only we take the time to tune into what is real and true and nourishing.  When life gets noisy, remember to switch your frequency and listen for the angels.  Peace is all around; and even the most chaotic day cannot change its song.

“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.”

  — Edwin Markham

Before the days when even preschool was housed in the public school building, I went to kindergarten in the basement of my church.  Mrs. Dennis was my teacher; and when she wanted us to gather as a group, we would choose a square on the black and white tile floor and sit in tailor fashion — we called it “Indian-style” back then — and look up to our teacher for direction on what would come next.  Sometimes it was a story.  Sometimes it was a song.  More than once, we learned to recite the Golden Rule:  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Nice.  Simple.  If I didn’t want my classmate to tear a favorite toy out of my hands, then I would have to wait my turn.  If I didn’t want people to laugh when I made a mistake, then I would be quiet and understanding when someone else was struggling.  The Golden Rule was the very beginning of my education in compassion; and Mrs. Dennis planted its seed deep in my heart at the tender age of four.

Some people say that the world has changed, and I suppose it has.  In the very least, our pockets of community have grown and spread so that they now abut and intersect with other communities and other cultures in ways they didn’t when I sat in the same room where I attended Sunday School and learned to sing my ABC’s.  It was easy in those days to live the Golden Rule, because everyone we knew was bound by it and expressed it in the same way.  Our insulation taught us to do unto others in a place where others all agreed with us.  Now we are asked to practice compassion with strangers whose ways are very different from our own.  We are asked to stretch our view of humanity to include people who never before entered our world.  We are asked to spread the wings of compassion and enfold people whose religions, cultures and politics are very different from our own.

Several years ago, I heard about an initiative called the Charter for Compassion.  The premise of the charter is that all world religions include, in one form or another, a version of the Golden Rule.  The hope of the charter is that if we can focus on that compassionate voice of our belief system — the mandate to compassion issued by the God we worship — that we can live in respect and compassion with our global neighbors and stop fighting over our differences in culture and belief.

A week ago, two brothers set explosive devices near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  In the small amount of information that has trickled out of the questioning of the surviving man, we hear that his brother was acting to “protect Islam.”

Before we all start shaking our heads in disbelief, let’s stop for a moment and search our hearts for the times when someone or something different has made us uncomfortable or fearful or anxious.  Let’s be truthful and consider when our Golden Rule first morphed into the fearful version:  “Do unto others before they do unto you.”  In my childhood, we were taught to fear communism.  We were taught to fear people whose skin color differed from our own.  We were taught to fear women who stepped out of “their place” and sought careers in a man’s world.

Do unto others, unless they worship differently from me, unless their politics frighten me, unless they are the wrong color or gender or something else different that allows me to see them as less than deserving of my love.

We all know the words that state the Golden Rule.  It was so easy to practice it in the kindergarten class that we hardly gave it a second thought.  How much have we lost of that simple truth as we try to navigate a sometimes volatile and ever-changing world?

A couple of years ago, at a women’s retreat, I participated in the Universal Dance of Peace.  As we circled and moved from one partner to the next, we sang and admonished ourselves and each other to “sweep out the chamber of your heart” so that we could step aside and allow “the beloved” – God – to enter.  It was then that we could walk in beauty.

We all have heard that perfect love casts out fear.  What are we waiting for?  Let’s sweep out the chamber of our hearts and invite perfect love to take up residence.  With fear cast aside, let’s walk into our days and truly live the Golden Rule.  Let’s open our hearts and invite the strangers to enter a holy place where they are greeted with love — only love.  Do unto others, as God would do unto you.

 

“Science is organized knowledge.  Wisdom is organized life.”

  — Immanuel Kant

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Last weekend we traveled out of state for a basketball tournament.  It was quite an adventure to see new places and to share them with three teenage girls.  We learned a lot on the road.  We discovered how to move from one place to another by following maps and the bossy GPS.  We took in the differences between Spring in our Pennsylvania home and in the warmer state of Virginia.  We saw flowers in bloom that seemed to be a glance into our own near future, and we relished the chance to shed our jeans and jackets in favor of shirtsleeves and capris.

Of course I took my camera, hoping to find some interesting new subjects to record; but it was not until a rest stop on our way home that I found a dandelion that inspired me to think about how the world works and how we work in the context of our world.  It is no secret that dandelions are some of my favorite flowers.  I have more than a hundred pictures of them in varying stages of bud, bloom, and seed; but this particular one demanded that I photograph it — as a self-portrait.

We met, the dandelion and I, just as our time out of town had ended.  I was thinking about the places we had been and the things we had seen, wondering what the girls thought of their adventure and how their world had expanded during our trip.  I was thinking about the way we catalog knowledge about things and how we carry with us each experience we add to our portfolio of living.  I thought about the way that leaving Spring behind in Pennsylvania, where nothing had quite begun to bloom, and arriving in Virginia where the slightly warmer days already had coaxed the irises and the wisteria to pop open with color.  I thought about the way we use such contrasts to compare our distinct experiences and draw conclusions about how the world works.  I thought about all the ways that we, human beings, have synthesized our experiences and created a body of scientific knowledge that describes our planet.

And then I met the dandelion.  I know a lot about her, you see.  I know that a seed beneath the ground sent out roots and leaves and a stalk. I know that the stalk grew tall, with a bud at its tip.  I know that the bud burst open and splashed the field with bright yellow color, attracting bees and bugs and me to observe its splendor.  I know that the flower withered and left behind only the seeds that had quietly been growing in her center.  And I know that the wind had begun to take these seeds and spread them all around in preparation for another cycle of dandelion life.

I looked at her — the aged dandelion — and suddenly the mirror was held up to my face.   There I sat, in the middle of the field with all the experiences of my beginning, my youthful splendor, my transformation into something with untold potential.  ‘My seeds are still plentiful,’ I thought, and I saw that this beautiful flower that soon would drop her last seed was showing me my future.  In the end, it is not the sprouting that matters, although we learn a lot by understanding our beginnings.  In the end, it is not the splendid color that defines us, although it does fill us with wonderful memories that show us where we have been.  In the end, it is not that we begin to droop or to wither, although that does teach us something about the finite nature of our existence.  In the end, what matters is that we magically synthesize all that we have been and all that we have done so that we have seeds to release into the wind.

We can learn many things about the world around us, but knowing about things is not enough.  What is carried in each seed we drop is a different sort of knowing.  Our experiences help us to discover it, but the knowing — the wisdom — is carried deep within the part of us that once was contained in the seed that spawned us.

I thought about all we had learned on our travels and then I looked at the dandelion and thought about the seeds I might have sown along the way.

Just then a gust of wind dislodged another airborne parachute and it flew out of sight to plant itself in a new and exciting place.

Smiling, I took a photo of my new-found friend.  “Come on, girls,” I called, “time to hit the road.”

 

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”

  — John Ed Pearce

Today I will spare you any long-winded philosophical discourse.  Today there is only one thing on my mind — going home.  

For the past three days, a hotel room has been our home; and we have shared it with three seventeen-year-old girls.  We have had ups and downs on the basketball court, ending on a high note.  We have camped out – with conveniences – in a place where an invisible stranger has come by once a day and cleaned up after us while we were away.  There are definitely some perks to hotel living; but in spite of that, all I can think of today is going home.

 Home.  The teenagers will tell you that home is where there is nothing fun to do.  The whole world awaits them outside its walls, waiting to be explored.  Even our home away from home has begun to lose its luster, and they have grown restless as their tournament has come to an end.  “What can we do around here?” they ask.  ‘Sleep?’ I think as I struggle not to nod off while watching the last game of the weekend — one where their friends are playing.  When breakfast is over, we will wake the sleeping girls, gift them with bagels from the hotel breakfast room, and begin our seven-hour ride back to…home.

Home.  That word sounds so wonderful as I imagine curling up in my own bed tonight — the one with the permanent imprint of my favorite sleep position.  I long for my kitchen, where I can whip up six sandwiches at once without trying to fit my work onto a small travel-size cutting board.  Home is where there is a freezer on top of the fridge that holds the most remarkable things, just in case we might have overlooked how hungry teenagers really can be.

When I arrive at home, one of the first things I’ll do is all my dad.  I know he will share my excitement at the leaving, the adventure, and most of all the return to that place I love best.  Home.  Dad will tell you it is the place that holds the most remarkable memories life has to offer.  He will tell you to spend your days making all the memories you possibly can.  “You don’t know it now,” he reminds me, “but you have the best of everything right now, right where you are.”  And he is absolutely right.

 Today I will make the long journey home.  It always seems longer than the adventure that calls us away, simply because our hearts live in the place where we make our memories and dream our dreams.  Goodbye, adventure!  I must leave you now.  Home is calling.

 

“The greatest tests of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.”.

  — Robert Green Ingersoll

Yesterday was a rough day.  Our girls are out of town for a high-stakes basketball tournament.  Have you ever had a day when absolutely nothing went according to plan?  Well, yesterday was one of those days for our team; and it was the sort of day for the other team when everything they touched turned to gold.  This is not a good combination unless, of course, you happen to be the team with the Midas touch.  We lost.  Not only did we lose, but we left no question in anyone’s mind that we lost; and today these young women must crawl out of bed and shake loose the grip of their defeat and return to the scene of their humiliation to play two more games.  

It is our hope that today will be different.  After all, we have seen them play basketball many times and we know that their performance on the court yesterday did not represent their capabilities.  Today is a brand new start, and we wish them victory in the contests that lie ahead.  Those of us who have lived a few years know that no matter how the basketball contests turn out, our girls will be learning something about defeat simply by getting out of bed, putting on their uniforms, shaking off their loss and living to play another day.  Today is a brand new day.   They may win or they may lose, but I can tell when I look into their eyes this morning that they have not lost heart.  As one who has lived through victory and defeat, I know that they have faced their worst moment and stood to play another day.  I know that whatever the results might be today, they will stand to play again.

“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”
        — Thich Nhat Hanh

 

There is a lot of energy swirling around me this morning.  After eight hours on the road, we arrived late last night in Hampton, Virginia for my favorite oldest granddaughter’s weekend basketball tournament.  Our girls – three of them in our room – are sleeping for another hour.  Since sleeping in is not something I’ve ever been able to do, I am sitting alone at a corner table in the breakfast room of the Country Inn, just taking it all in.  Already, two teams of girls, their eyes wide with excitement, have come through and taken on some nourishment to get them started on their way.  The subject of their chats, after the reports on whether they slept or not,  is basketball.  This is the tournament the college coaches attend; and it affords the girls a chance to be seen doing what they do best – playing their sport.  The excitement is palpable, and the woman in charge of the continental breakfast asks the same question of every girl who arrives:  “Are you going to win today?”  And the answer is always yes.

Of course, not every team will prevail; but in one way or another, every girl who plays will win.  They will have the chance to explore a new town far from home.  They will meet other girls who share their love of the sport.  They will have the chance to present themselves as more than just young girls.  They will learn to greet and be greeted by adults, to present themselves as young women – perhaps for the first time – and to state their goals and dreams for the future.  They will learn to be representatives of something larger than themselves or their families.  They will join with the other members of their basketball family and represent their sport in a positive light, with the hope that they will continue to play when they go on to college.

And so I sit, early in the morning, in a strange city.  I linger over my coffee and watch it all happen.  There are those who consider my involvement at my advanced stage of life something heroic – spending the night in a hotel room with three seventeen-year-old girls and all of their energy.  There is nothing heroic about it, unless I am a hero for selfishly engaging in a nostalgic and vicarious journey back to that high-energy portion of my life.  For a few days, I get to feel that seventeen-year-old energy again.  It is a chance to pause at the fountain of youth and remember what it is like to stand on the threshold  of adulthood and wait to step through the doorway.

Here come some more girls, ready to take on the day.  The question is asked again:  “Are you going to win today?”  You bet they are!

And how about us older folks?  Are we ready to channel that youthful attitude and boundless energy and use its example to lead us toward another day of being truly alive?  Game on!

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

   —  Fred Rogers

 

For the Children

Sit with me

And hear my words.

Today tranquility

Exploded.

Everywhere we look,

We see it.

Everywhere we hide,

We hear it.

Sit with me

And hear my words.

Today our hearts were torn

To pieces.

Everywhere we look,

There’s anger.

Everywhere we hide,

There’s sadness.

Sit with me

And hear my words.

I will hold you close

Beside me.

In my arms you’ll learn

Compassion.

In our fear, we’ll be

Courageous.

Sit with me

And hear my words.

Only love can heal the

Wounded.

Only hearts whose scars

Speak wisdom

Know that love cannot be

Broken.

Sit with me

And hear the truth.

In the end, it’s Love

That triumphs.

Stand with me in Love and

Courage.

Heal the world with words

Of Light.

And I will keep you safe.

— Pamela Stead Jones 2013