Recurring Lesson: Choice

In philosophy classes in college, I remember much discussion about free will.  I remember how difficult it was for me to work with the soft clay of my spirituality/religion/philosophy of the time; at once there was form but no form, convictions but infinite potentiality.  There were times when I wondered why these philosophers made such a big deal about it anyway.  (Obviously philosophy wasn’t my major.)

My faith and beliefs aren’t so much clay anymore but a beautiful tree that grows even from the clay of the earth.  The belief that we have choice and free will is one of those branches.  Having children, especially older ones, and following my life path, I see this in every moment, day in and day out.

My older son chooses what he does in the morning.  He’s the early riser, but often he’s the last to walk out the door.  Our youngest is choosing whether or not to tell the truth these days.  Our oldest is choosing to speak with kind words or anger.  We can watch the wheels moving in the mind of our six-year-old as he chooses to do what he wants to do or what he knows he should do.

While we do make choices in every moment, not all of them seemingly life-altering, there are those times when we deliberate and discern.  We try our best to look down the road to see what future that choice will hold for us.

In a discussion with my husband, I told him I almost felt I didn’t have a choice regarding what may very well be my life’s work.  He helped me much when he said he was sorry that my God didn’t give me a choice.  An awakening in my awareness occurred.  Of course I have a choice.  God has granted us free will.  It’s my choice.  But I can’t think of many times in this life when I have chosen to do anything because it was easier.  This life to me isn’t about just barely getting by.  I have a responsibility to learn and grow and evolve and mature, not only for my own benefit.  I don’t believe one can embody positive change without affecting others, too.  Ultimately, I have made a choice to choose the road that pushes my limits until they break open a new understanding.

I cannot force this perspective on others, let alone my kids.  I may very well have a child or two or four who are content to be here now and enjoy the moment simply for the sake of being blissfully present and unaware of greater suffering.  This is hard for me to imagine, but it’s possible.

As ever, I have a choice whether to be personally entangled in the lives of my children and others, or I can choose to love unconditionally.  To live compassion.  It sounds stronger than “to live compassionately.”  Oh, that we all could and would choose compassion in every moment.

We always have a choice.  The lesson continues.

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This One Life

To have just one life seems an awful waste of resources, and if our souls are eternal, wouldn’t that make heaven an awfully crowded space?  No one thinks of the New York subway at rush hour traffic on the other side of the pearly gates.

My husband and I have diverse interests, but I don’t think I could list all of our hobbies or to-do-wish-list on my fingers and toes.  Reincarnation offers me the solace that even if I don’t get to do something in this life, then I’ve either already done it in the past and enjoyed it so much I wanted to do it again, or I will get another chance down the road.

But that doesn’t mean I can or should live this life with reckless abandon or numbing apathy.  After all, I do want to move forward or higher in the next life.  To do so, my humble take is that I need to live as fully in compassion and wholeness as possible.  What does this mean?  I need to live balanced, engaged, passionately, compassionately, and honestly.  I need to take some of the contemplative practices to heart, listen to the wisdom gained and live with a happy heart, doing that which brings joy to myself and good to others.  Can life be so simple?  Of course, but we always have the option to screw it up, plug in our own selfish desires, put others down and not listen to our true heart of hearts.

It’s simple, but not easy.  Even if we know what we might be called to do in this one life, it might only complicate things.  Things might be going one direction, and we receive a detour.  Why? we might ask.  Maybe we’re ready for something new.  Maybe we’ve received the wisdom we need to make it on the new path.

Just because this is one life doesn’t mean we’ll always just be doing one thing.  I think most any mother will tell you she is definitely a Mother, probably a Wife, too, but she could be called something else as well.  Director.  Artist.  Midwife.  Philanthropist.  Social Justice Worker.  CEO.  Teacher.  Priest.  Nurse.  The list inevitably goes on and on.

What do you choose in this one life?  Will you leave a leagacy behind you?  The way I see it, if we leave a legacy of love, especially with our children, then we have lived this life well.

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Who Am I?

This isn’t a question about who I am in relation to you or my family, nor is it a question for others to answer for me.  Read the title aloud to yourself three times, pausing in between each reading, as if using it for lectio divina.  What response arises within?

The Journey to Authenticity class I’ve been taking is all about folks who have come together because we’re trying to answer this very question.  Each of us, on our own journeys, have come to a point in our lives where we’re trying to figure this out.  We may have hoped to get the fast-food version of self-discovery —  get it now and get it quick.  The truth remains, however, that the specifics of our individual calling can only be heard by ourselves.  The “still, small voice” doesn’t come over an intercom but gently from within, and we have to listen carefully and discern what we hear, think, and feel to discover what is true and what is not true to ourselves.

According to Parker Palmer in Let Your Life Speak and to many others who have covered the topic of spirituality, purpose and calling, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood.”  This is the purpose for each of us, universally, but it is also “the universal tendency to want to be someone else.”  How often have we wanted to be like so and so, running ourselves into the ground, being miserable as we try to achieve what may not be ours to have?  I love the Hasidic tale Palmer shares to illustrate this:

Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’  They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”

This is what it’s all about.  Each of us living into our role in this life, filling a great need, not only for ourselves but for others, ultimately for the glory of God, if you believe that, or at least for the benefit for all, no matter what you believe.  And for all the group therapy, coffee talk, breakdowns, ecstasy, exploration, we will find as we get closer to what is Real, “that the sacred center is here and now — in every moment of the journey, everywhere in the world around us, and deep within our own hearts.”

So simple.  So true.  So difficult.

Palmer, Parker.  Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2000).

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Broadcast Your Soapbox

Last week my Journey to Authenticity class assigned us the homework of planning a prime time television message to Americans.  The budget’s unlimited, and we have an hour of time.  What would we show?  What would we say?

Honestly, I haven’t thought about it until this weekend, and we’re supposed to give it 15 minutes, at least.  It’s no secret what my passions are, what my concerns include.  But how to include everything?  How to present it?

What would you do?

The thing is, if I plan this out, I feel committed to actually producing it.  I am a producer at our local Community Access Television.  My husband is, too.  We might not get prime time America, but we can at least reach a few.  If I do this, we’ll post it to YouTube, and I’ll embed it on this blog.  I’m a sucker for a challenge, especially if it might touch the hearts of others.

Are you up for another challenge?  What do you feel strongly enough about to actually do something, maybe even sacrifice something?
 

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Seeds Are Everywhere

And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see — or like a sealed letter they could not plainly  read.
— Alice Walker, leading quote to the current Literary Mama edition

I pulled into our driveway yesterday, looking to my left where in our front yard is an island of trees, three large maples that the older three kids have claimed as their own.  Below the dense canopy there’s a hosta that survived the summer drought a couple of years ago, lots of creeping ground cover and even more monkey grass.  What I noticed mostly, though, is the variety of seedlings emerging on the periphery of this island.

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Naturally, the monkey grass extends its boundaries as far as it
can, and the honeysuckle, a bush on the other side of the driveway, is generous with its seeds, too.  We have more than enough maple seedlings, but occasionally an oak will appear or redbuds.  Last summer I transplanted a wild tea rose (that’s what I’m calling it, anyway) that this summer has grown tremendously and throws its thorny stems every which way.

Now there’s one of those pear trees that are so popular in subdivisions (and that I can’t stand when they’re in bloom because they absolutely stink!) growing on the edge.  It came from our neighbor whose own tree was blown over in a storm.  I thought about transplanting the tree into the neighbor’s now vacant ring.  After all, she had wanted a tree like that.  I don’t.

And isn’t that the way it goes.  Often we are given that which we’d rather not have.  Wouldn’t life be easier if my mind weren’t so open.  Wouldn’t tending to the yard be easier if things didn’t grow so rampantly?  But gardens are beautiful in their bounty and growth (even if the raspberries are weighed down now),  and being open allows you the potential to receive more than you knew was possible.  Sometimes we just have to take the seeds we’re given, let them grow, help them as we can, and enjoy the harvest.

Nurture nature and yourself, your gifts and talents.  We may just be surprised at what pops up next.

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Life Is But a Dream

My husband shared a poem with me referenced in a Zen book he liked very much by Charlotte Joko Beck called Nothing Special: Living Zen.  It’s a poem by WH Auden:

We would rather be ruined than changed

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die.

Searching for the poem, I found that it is often quoted, for motivational purposes, Zen talks and literary purposes, to name a few.  Perhaps I’ve heard or read it before myself.  But I believe that important words cross our paths at different points in our life with particular relevance.  Last week, it might not have spoken to me in the way it did today, and it may not reverberate for me next month, either.  So this day, how is it significant for me?  Does it speak to you, too?

I think I have made great strides in accepting change, facing death.  Something happens every day where I have a choice to be bull-headed and go forward with my horns or let the ego die another death, take another blow.  Of course, some times it’s easier than others to take the proverbial higher road, but that isn’t always the case.

There are changes I still want to make, changes that my ego isn’t prepared for and is applying all resistance toward.  My illusions hold strong, my dread ever present.  I want to have what I have, live the way I live, says one part of me.  You don’t need all this, for there is a better way to live, more healthy, less debt and attachments, says the other.  I don’t think I need to emphasize which part represents which.  This dichotomy epitomizes many of my struggles, grand epic battles that are seemingly brought up weekly if not daily.

I daresay that when people (including myself) talk about true balance, what we might mean is a balance of the inner struggles, a balance between mind, body and soul.  Complete harmony, I would imagine, would be a balance between the three yet where the mind doesn’t represent the “i” ego but the true I, the Self.  Your balance, your harmony, is possible because you have let go of your illusions, experience the moments for what they are, accepting at once your limitations and infinite possibilities and potentialities.  Ah, isn’t it pretty to think so?

Our lives are mere dreams when we live enshrouded in our illusions, living solely in the mirror.  When we can let go of what we think we see and live here and now, we dare to live this life for what it is — the real thing.

Feel free to comment, share your thoughts and experiences, even disagree if you feel so inclined.  Blessed be.

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“Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself”

The night I spent in the Orlando airport I felt vulnerable and small yet unafraid — despite the every fifteen minute reminder that the US terrorist threat alert is a Code Orange.  While I don’t want to die a fiery death any more than the next fellow, I also don’t want to live in the constant worry about how my end will come.  I don’t want to focus on the awful capacity humans have to inflict harm on others.  I don’t want to be afraid.

As parents of an avid reader, we let ourselves get swept away in the Harry Potter phenomenon.  (Okay, so it was my decision to go ahead and see what all the hype was about after the second book came out.  Been hooked every since then.)  So, when I think of fear, I think of the grip Voldemort had over the wizarding community.  Hold on.  See me through on this one; you may have heard it before. 

The Potter books captured something in people’s imaginations, in their lives.  Otherwise, it would not have been able to sell the millions/billions of copies it has.  Fear is a universal emotion, and it is one that fuels the opposition to the “good guys” in the series.  Think about it.  Voldemort’s supporters either adore him or fear him; perhaps it’s best a mixture of them both.  The majority of the community fears him so much that they dare not speak his name lest they summon his presence.  The “good guys” or The Order do not so much fear Voldemort as the evil that he perpetuates.  Harry and Dumbledore go so far as not even to fear Voldemort because they understand a truth.  Voldemort at his core is just a man, a man devoid of a soul, devoid of the capacity to love, which is why he is so willing and able to feed and thrive on fear.

What do we fear so much that we whisper its name.  What do you whisper to your closest companions as your greatest fear?  What sends a chill up your back?  Why do you fear it so?

I do not proclaim to be immune to fear.  There are things that make my skin crawl, my heart race.  But I catch myself asking why I let myself get so worked up.  Maybe there are ghosts.  Spiders can inflict harm (we have the harmful kind around here).  Maybe I shouldn’t watch the movies that activate my imagination.

If I value my quality of life, I have a choice to make.  I can name my fears and face them bravely (as JK has suggested we do), or I can avoid them, let them rule my life.

Whether it be the spiders in my yard or countries over seas, I acknowledge the fact that I cannot determine the actions of others.  I send out the energy of love, faith and hope.  When it comes down to it, if I have a clear and open heart, then I have lived well, lived a life full of love rather than fear.  After all, isn’t our capacity to love what can save us in the end?

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Believe in Synchronicity

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Synchronicity (per Merriam Webster):  “the quality or fact of being synchronous,” which means “happening, existing, or arising at precisely the same time.”

A quick search will unveil much information on Carl Jung’s coining of the term “synchronicity.”  One of the first, not surprisingly, is a link to The Skeptic’s Dictionary.  I think it’s healthy to question things at first, so do read his commentary, even the suggested reading, if you are so inclined.  But personally, I feel that much of what happens in my life does happen for a reason and “in a meaningful manner” as described in Wikipedia.

That’s not to say everything that occurs has a special meaning. Sometimes to be doing laundry is to be doing laundry.  You know how I feel about being present in the moment.  Some events, however, lend themselves to a deeper meaning, even if that meaning is simply that you are on the right path.  These synchronicities are the ones I look out for to make sure that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.  The meaningful coincidences don’t always arise in the waking hours.  I’ve mentioned before that sometimes they arise in my dreams, particularly my “car dreams.”

So if you’re outside, inhaling the sweet fragrance of the cherry tree and notice a beautiful butterfly, perhaps that’s a synchronicity.  While working on a genuinely good project, opportunities falling into your lap, it’s hard not to view them as synchronicities, affirmation that your work is for a greater Good and part of your life’s purpose.

How often are you thinking of someone only for them to call?  Are the right things there for you when you need them?

This is not to say that you should go around willy-nilly, assuming that you’re doing the right thing, and what you need will be provided for you.  We all have work to do, and we have the common sense to plan for the necessities.  But I believe that the more we incorporate faith into our daily round, the more we trust that things will work for the best as long as we give our best and visualize the best, then why should we expect any less?  The Universe will give us clues along the way as to whether we are on the right track, and if we’re not, we’ll be given clues as to what it is we should be doing.  More often than not, it’s simply getting quiet, listening to our inner voice, realigning ourselves, and taking one step at a time.

I know the joy I feel at discovering and experiencing synchronicities.  It’s like a special gift for you from the Universe.  May you be open to receiving your gifts today.

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Standing for Peace When All Hell’s Broken Loose

The streets are filled with crime, the prisons overcrowded, the drugs too available and the bombs too frequent.  The wails and moans get closer, the burdens too heavy.

The laundry is more dirty than clean, the dishes crowd the counter and hide the sink.  A mass of papers and unopened mail cover the desk.  The kids are sick and the checking account overdrawn.  The refrigerator is bare, and the price of gas just went up again, just in time for the van to need a refill.

Both scenarios are very real, and I venture to say that both are images of hell.  What is hell but an everpresent suffering, seemingly inescapable?  Yet hell can be overcome with a heaping dose of peace grounded in love — or perhaps it is love grounded in peace.  Undoubtedly the two are so intertwined it matters little.  Before the moans become our own and our vision clouded by the fog of negativity, we have to utter words of love, evoke a sense of peace and see the Light present in all.

How many times has great suffering brought about great realizations, great triumphs and understandings?  If you cannot find one example, perhaps you haven’t thought long enough or listened closely enough.  Perhaps you just missed it altogether.  Not to worry.  Just brace yourself since it will come again.

I do not mean to over-simplify.  There is a suffering in the world that I have not and probably cannot fathom.  The genocide in Darfur, the plight of refugees, the millions of homeless and hungry.  I do believe in the power of the collective, though.  One positive thought attracts more, light attracts light, and if we all were to focus and/or pray on peace and contentment, wouldn’t the world be different?

Quite obviously, we all have difficult lessons to learn, obstacles to overcome.  We haven’t learned how to love one another with our whole heart.  Whether at the market or in the home, in our hometown or in a different country, we have to be able to stand for and in peace if we are to improve ourselves, our kids and our humanity.  This is hard; at least, it is when you’re not used to it.  It’s like how they say to frown takes more muscles than to smile.  Really, it takes less energy to love someone than it does to harbor animosity, anger or fear towards them.

It helps to have support, to surround yourselves with others in a unified effort.  It isn’t a bad thing to stand for peace when it seems all hell has broken loose.  You are embodying the change you wish to see.  You cannot force peace with brutality any more than you can clean the house by bringing in more dirt and grime. 

“Be the change you wish to see,” said Gandhi and one of my bumper stickers.  Be the peace you wish to see. Start at home or start in the public.  It may actually be harder to be truly peaceful to those you love most — it was and is for me.  I am a work in progress.  I get my glimpses of hell, feel the suffering and have to remember I can still breathe into the Spirit.  I still have hope, and I can stand for peace here and now.

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What Is EverydaySimple?

In the era of internet, my husband and I have had this domain for years. Just now are we using it for something other than an e-mail address. But what does it mean? If it’s the title under which I’ll be submitting a blog, shouldn’t I have a clear idea? After eight years, don’t I already know?

Most of us would probably like to live every day simply. We want our lives to be easier, and we’ll listen to all the tips and tricks that will help simplify our lives. Perhaps I’ll have something to offer along this line. If I do, rest assured that I’ll share.

Everyday. Simple. At best, it is a way of being, part of the journey and process. From my perspective, it is being a wife, mother, woman, seeker, educator, advocate, each in their right time and in balance. It’s having a home, a garden and hobbies, perhaps even some work that brings insight. It is taking the complications in life and mulling over them just enough to find the reality, the truth and humor. For me, it is a recurring lesson. Every day, life is simple. Everyday life is simple. Being a parent, a partner, a friend — all simple. I picture a Buddhist monk handing me a cup of tea. “But don’t you see how hard my life is?” I wail. He smiles omnisciently. “Have some tea.” “Don’t you understand? It’s difficult. Hard. Everything is so complicated!” He puts the tea in my hands. “Everyday simple.” We drink our tea.

This koan of sorts will remain with me. Perhaps it means more that what I even thought. Chances are, probably not. It is probably much simpler than that. Let’s just enjoy this journey with the understanding that we don’t have anything figured out. We’re just taking the lessons as they come, finding love and laughter along the way, and trying to keep everyday simple.

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