Sunday, September 29, 2013

God in Drag?

Treat everyone you meet like God in drag. ~Ram Dass

I laughed out loud when I saw this quotation yesterday. And it reminded me of an incident that happened to me several years ago.

I was walking my dog in our neighborhood. As I strolled by one house, a woman working in her yard stopped me to admire Sadie. As she was bent over rubbing Sadie’s ears and talking doggie talk to her, a homeless man walked by pushing his rickety grocery cart piled full of who knows what. The woman jerked up suddenly and bolted for her door, calling back over her shoulder to me, “That man might be Jesus! I have to go fix him a sandwich!”

I was dumbfounded. I waited a moment for the candid camera folks to leap out of the bushes. Then I moved off in the opposite direction, marveling at the bizarre kookiness of people. But before I turned the corner, I paused and looked back at the hunched shoulders of the man shuffling off down the street, oblivious to the commotion his passing had provoked.

I guess the joke was on me after all, because I have never looked at people the same way since. Or maybe I should say I have never overlooked people the same way since. Everybody became real to me that day, imbued with divine identity. I notice people now – in the grocery store, in other cars, on the street, in the news. They all have lives. Just like me.  They want the same things I want – to be happy and free from suffering.  I’m quicker to smile, to nod a greeting, to send a silent blessing.

Even people who irritate me. Maybe especially people who irritate me. It’s a challenge to see the divinity in the person who cuts me off in traffic, who is rude on the phone. Sometimes I need a little help, so I tell myself, There goes a child of God, cleverly disguised as a jerk [or whatever term seems appropriate]. Irritation melts into, if not compassion, at least amusement.

My Sadie is gone now, and I miss her. But I still walk in the neighborhood, and when I pass that woman’s house, I think about our earlier encounter. Maybe that woman was Jesus. Maybe we all are.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. ~Hebrews 13:2

related posts: A Few Leaves; The Kindness Game

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Do Not Enter Fear

Don’t push the river; it flows by itself. ~Fritz Perls

Do you ever feel like the universe is sending you a message? Like everywhere you turn you are running into the same words, or image, or experience?

For me lately, the message has been clear: Do not interfere.

This is a repeated theme in A Course in Miracles, in those exact words. I’ve also run across the same message in various wisdom teachings like the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, writings by Christian mystics, the Bhagavad-gita, and more.

The connection to my word of the year – Wait – seems obvious.

Okay, Universe, I hear you!

But it’s not that easy, is it? Even when we know that interfering is not the best course of action, we still feel compelled to do it. We rationalize it in all kinds of ways. Oh, I’m just helping things along. It’s for his own good. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. I’m only trying to keep this from getting worse. I’m being a good friend [parent, spouse, coworker, child]. I’m sure I’ve used all of these reasons at one time or another. I still do!

But isn’t it true that sometimes we do need to act, sometimes on someone else’s behalf? Sure. So how do I tell the difference between interfering and acting appropriately? When is it, using the term from Buddhism, “right action”?

The answer is in the words: Do not interfere. If you say it out loud, it sounds like “Do not enter fear.” Do not interfere. Do not enter fear. Oohhhh.

If I act because I am anxious, because I am uncomfortable, because I want to escape my agitation, because I am spinning out dire scenarios, because I want, as the airline commercial says, to get away, then my actions are really about me, about my fear and my desire to feel safe. I am entering fear and I am interfering.

In contrast, when I stay centered and not reactive to fear, I’m more likely to respond to a situation appropriately rather than trying to control something, or someone, I can’t control. That might mean acting or not acting, but in either case, I am not interfering.

So “do not interfere” is my current message from the universe. What about you? Have you gotten a message lately?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under Heaven. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

related posts: Letting Go; The Things I Cannot Change

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Quick and Easy Joy Habits

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. ~Marianne Williamson

Thanks to Vidya Sury and to Elle for reminding me of quick and easy joy habits we can incorporate into our daily lives without any fuss and bother. These habits will not add any burden to your busy schedule. You don’t have to practice them to get good at them – we all start out as experts!

Here are theirs, with a couple of my own thrown in.

1. Compliment someone. Someone once leaned over to me in a meeting and told me that I have a beautiful smile. It made my day. Heck, it made my week. And guess what – now I smile a LOT!

2.  Smile at someone. See the smooth segue from the last one? The physical act of smiling sends messages to our brains that we are happy. And smiling is contagious.

3.  Belly breathe. Just as smiling tells our brains that we are happy, belly breathing (breathing deeply into your abdomen) tells our brains that we are safe. It interrupts the chronic stress cycle that shallow chest breathing creates, and helps us relax and be present.

4.  Thank someone. Thanking anyone is great. Thanking someone we often overlook is even greater. Thank someone in your family. Thank a person who serves you or helps you in some way – a cashier, a first responder, a receptionist, a sanitation worker, a restaurant server, a courtesy clerk. So many opportunities throughout the day to express our appreciation.

5.  Encourage someone. Let someone know with a few words that you believe in them, support them, are proud of them. Many of us remember decades later a teacher or a neighbor or an older relative who said something encouraging to us when were young. A few words can have lasting impact on someone of any age.

Like I said, easy and quick.

And for your entertainment, enjoy this video that someone sent me awhile back. I can’t remember who it was now, but if it was you, please let me know in a comment. And no matter who it was, thank you!

related posts: Breathing Like a Baby; Make Someone’s Day

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. ~John Lennon

I’ll start by saying that this is NOT the post I was planning to write today. Where to start? I’ll start with rats. I have rats in my attic. No, I’m not speaking metaphorically. Real rats. In my attic.

It started with a soft scrabbling sound above the ceiling in the kitchen. I thought it was a squirrel. I called the ecological, humane pest control company. Eric, the technician, found a hole chewed under the eave above my front door. Hoping the squirrel was outside, he sealed the hole and set a live trap in the attic just in case. We waited.

More scrabbling ... and chewing. Eric changed his opinion and set rat traps in the attic. I pondered my preference for trapping squirrels live and relocating them alongside my willingness to kill rats. One of life’s mysteries.

More waiting. This went on for several weeks. They chewed through the sealed hole, came and went as they pleased, and partied at night till I was sleeping with ear plugs.

Many calls to the company. Many visit from Eric.

Meanwhile, my son’s birthday dinner was Friday night. I had presents for him. Problem – the wrapping paper was in the attic. To get to it, I would have to open the attic door and reach past several traps. I was afraid. What if I opened the door and there was a dead rat in one of the traps? Waaayyyy too disgusting for my delicate sensibilities.

So I did the reasonable thing. I went to the store and bought more wrapping paper, even though I have enough in the attic to wrap presents for the next decade. Really, what else could I do?

Saturday morning, Eric worked overtime to come for another attempt. By now I knew the names of his kids and he knew too much about what I keep hoarded in the attic. We discussed options. I was over my qualms about killing rats. I wanted a blitz attack – poison and traps. Eric discouraged the poison. They would most likely die in the house, would certainly die in the house if he resealed the hole, and it would smell bad for awhile.

I hesitated only a moment. Do it all, I instructed. Seal the hole, put out poison, and set another trap outside on the roof above the door at the resealed hole, anchored to the roof with a wire around the gutter down spout. I want them gone. Eric complied.

Late Saturday night I was in bed reading. Suddenly I heard a “thwack” and some bumping. Then all was still. I knew what had happened. Who could I call at midnight? Or even the next morning since it would be Sunday? Maybe I could just go to sleep and check it out in the morning. Maybe the rat carcass was up under the eave and out of sight, so I could wait until Eric could come on Monday. I turned out the light and tried to go to sleep. The spirit of the dead rat taunted me.

Resigned to my fate, I got up and put my robe on. I dragged myself down the stairs and to the front door. I turned the porch light on. My hand paused on the doorknob. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

Right out of a horror movie. The dead rat dangled in the trap, suspended by the wire,  right in front of my face. The trap had exploded its head and there was blood and brains all over my front door, the wall, the window, and the front porch.

I thought about just closing the door and staying in my house until Monday when Eric could rescue me. But then I imagined someone coming up my front walk only to be confronted by this grisly scene. It might be a child. I couldn’t leave it there. I closed the door and sat down for a minute. The squeamishness I had felt about going into the attic to get wrapping paper just a day before now seemed ridiculous. Like life was saying to me, “Oh you think that would be gross? How about THIS?!”

So I did what I had to do. I put on rubber gloves, got a trash bag and some rags, and cleaned it all up. Yep, that was what I did on Saturday night.

Now I’m sure there are some profound insights I can glean from this freakish midnight ratcapade. But at the moment they elude me. Maybe if I take another shower....

What do you think? Any life lessons here?

related post: Night of the Skunk

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Clean Towels

While my grandson was playing with a toy farm, I pulled some clean towels out of the dryer and started to fold them. He had other ideas.

Here is what I now know about clean towels.

You can pile them up and jump in them (at least you can if you are the size of a two year old). You can wear them like capes and run around. You can throw them on each other’s heads and play peekaboo. You can use them as blankets and pretend to go to sleep and then jump up and say good morning. You can hide little toy farm animals in them and then try to find them. You can repeat all of the above with your favorite stuffed animal.

Here is what I learned from what I now know about clean towels.

We limit things with labels. If I label this rectangular piece of cloth a towel, then it serves one function. But when I let go of that label, it can be most anything at all. When I lived overseas, those of us in the expat community realized that many of us were working at jobs that didn’t fit with how we had labeled ourselves earlier. A scientist was an author, a lawyer was a professional development consultant, a homemaker was an expert on local crafts, and a former Playboy bunny was a antiques dealer (no kidding). Those who were having the most trouble getting a job tended to be those who were the most stuck in labeling themselves.

This is especially true when we label something as a problem. I initially labeled my grandson’s towel enthusiasm as a problem because it interfered with my towel folding. When I let go of the problem label, that same enthusiasm became a delight, an opportunity, a gift.

I thought about this today when someone came to me to talk about a challenging situation with a coworker. I saw that she was labeling the situation as a problem (for which she was blaming the other person), so, remembering the towels, I expanded our discussion by dropping the problem label. Before long, she was able to see the other person’s perspective and to see the situation as an opportunity to work together with this person in a positive way. The facts did not change, but she wasn’t stuck by the label anymore and she saw the situation in a different way.

I also got to thinking about how labels divide us. In the United States, an idea initially proposed by a Republican will be ridiculed and rejected by Democrats. Yet before too long, a Democrat will propose the same idea and it will then be ridiculed and rejected by Republicans. It would be funny if it didn’t have such damaging consequences.

So many ways that labels, which can be useful in many contexts, can, in others, lock us down and lock us out. It makes my brain hurt! I’m going to go fold some rectangular pieces of cloth.

Is there a situation or a person (perhaps yourself!) that you are limiting with a label?

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth
The named is the mother of ten thousand things
~Tao Te Ching

related posts: Who Is a Terrorist?; Bloom Where You’re Planted

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My Name Is You

Love your neighbor as yourself. ~Matthew 12:31

I was watching “Elmo’s World” with my grandson for the umpteenth time. The kids on the show were singing a song I’ve now heard enough times to sing along. Absentmindedly humming along while I was surreptitiously reading a novel, I suddenly listened to the words – “My name is you.” Out of the mouths of babes.

I remember a blogger once posed the question of whether we are our brother’s keeper. Yes, I answered, because we ARE our brother.

Jesus’s commandment to love others as yourself, along with the Golden Rule, is common to many faiths. We get the point. And in case we don’t, we are told not only to love our neighbors, but to love our enemies. The bar keeps getting higher.

Okay, so how do I love someone who seems so unredeemably unlovable? I’m thinking of the teens who recently shot a young man to death just because they were bored. Or the teens who just a few days later savagely beat an 88 year old WWII veteran to death for whatever little money he had in his wallet. Or the men who gang raped a woman on a bus, and the driver who did nothing to stop it.

I’m serious. How far past anger and fear and judgment and despair do I have to reach into my spirit to find compassion? Sometimes very far.

I read a story about a Tibetan monk who was crying as he was being beaten by Chinese soldiers. His attackers taunted him for crying, assuming that he was crying in pain and fear. No, he said, he was crying for their souls.

Can I cry for their souls? And if I can’t, then can I cry for mine?

A few days ago marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A beacon of light in a world of senseless violence. A light calling us to love, to forgive, to reach out, to recognize our shared humanity, to find what will bring us closer, to heal ourselves.

When we find ourselves pulling back from someone or turning away, maybe we could turn towards, look closely, and say, “My name is you.”

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
~Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

related posts: Help Someone; If I Don’t Have Love; Mushroom Experience

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer's Ease

I felt in need of a great pilgrimage
So I sat still for three days
And God came to me

Apparently I’m harder to find than Kabir because I waited for three months. Or maybe I just enjoyed the wait. I’d like to say I’ve come back to blogworld with profound insights to share, having fully awakened into Buddhahood. Maybe there were some enlightened moments, but mostly I just savored the summer.

It has been a time of experience rather than thought, contemplation rather than reflection, action rather than reaction, waiting rather forcing.

I’ve spent glorious time at my cabin, which is, in fact, where I am right now, scribbling on a notepad as I sit on the deck, listening to the creek’s song as the sun dances on the water.

Time spent in meditation has expanded along with time practicing martial arts, which, to me, is meditation in motion.

Nana time with my grandson has also increased as I’ve stepped in to support my daughter, whose work schedule doesn’t always fit within daycare hours. (That is my little prince in the photo above, joy walking in a downtown fountain.)

And of course, there has been time in the company of friends and family, enjoying tea in the garden, walks along the river, and dinners around the picnic table.

As my blog break stretched beyond the initial month I had planned, I gave myself permission to see what unfolded. Since “wait” is my word of the year, it seemed a perfect opportunity to embrace it. One month became two, then three. Then, lo and behold, my fingers started itching to get back on the keyboard.

So now I’m back, grateful for the most wonderful summer I can remember, and looking forward to reconnecting. Perhaps you would consider sharing something of the last three months in a comment. Is there an image or phrase that describes this time for you? A defining moment? A challenge? A special memory? An opportunity to practice your word of the year?

The following verse captures my experience of the last three months:

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
~Isaiah 40:31

Your turn!

related posts: Word of the Year 2013; Step Away from the Thought; Tapping of the Heart