In the Buddhist tradition, it is said that suffering is caused by attachment. The truth is that all things change, so if we are addicted to a certain form (the way a relationship has always been for instance) we are going to suffer. We heal ourselves by becoming aware of these addictions or cravings and then applying compassion. We release the addiction to the form and rest in the eternal rather than the changing. The Buddha is eternal. Our own Buddha-nature is eternal. Our physical bodies and the bodies of our affairs (money, relationships, jobs) change.
The summer, we managed to grow a real, live tomato plant. It’s the first time there has been fruit from a plant I planted in this home. I have planted thyme (haven’t tried to harvest anything) and other herbs, but they generally only do okay at best. Mint, which is an invasive weed, I managed to kill. But this year there was a success. Okay, so it’s only one small tomato, but it counts.
How silly would it be to mourn the plant that is fading with the summer instead of focusing on what it has given us (about a bite of tomato each)? I’m not going to roll the planter inside my home to save the plant, because it’s way too heavy and my cats would get into it. I can celebrate what it gave me and release this form, taking with me only the awareness that it is possible in God’s universe for me to participate in growing a plant. I have discovered part of the unchanging reality of my true self, my Buddha nature. I can let go of the form now.
I never liked working in groups in school. I wanted to be in charge of earning my own grades. I didn’t want some other person, who was obviously never going to be as smart as me, messing up my GPA. Yes, I’m talking about elementary school. I had issues.
Most days now, I’m an adult. I recognize the Oneness of all beings and I get that life on this planet is a group project. We sink or swim together. There’s a thing called the Bodhisattva vow that says that souls are innumerable and the Bodhisattva vows to row them all to the distant shore. I don’t vow to row anyone else to shore, but I’ll take an oar and help. If we’re all just walking each other home, as Ram Das says, then I’ll walk next to anyone. I don’t think I do the Universe any favors by thinking I need to carry someone else. After all, that other person is just as much a part of God as I am, right?
Having said that, I’m discovering the joy of working together with other folks who are walking home at the same rate as I am. Yesterday, a group of us went outside after service and weeded the labyrinth. With so many working on the project it went pretty fast and it gave me time to catch up with folks I usually don’t get to have conversation with on Sunday. I also just got back from a gathering of ministers in North Carolina. It’s a beautiful place and the Center there in Asheville is impressive at a lot of levels. My ministry only started being successful once I recognized the power of the group consciousness. I started enjoying ministry when I realized that part of my job was to do lunch with colleagues and share the joys and challenges with them. Those connections make my career possible.
So today I’m up for the group project this teaching Universe has assigned. Today I work with and walk with anyone who sincerely wants to create a world that works for everyone.
My brother called to tell me about his son and their football team. They have this coach – Coach Vito – who just sounds really impressive. All the local teams came together for something called Jamboree, where they play short games and spend a full day on the field. No score is kept in the entire league (my nephew is still six) so it’s really about learning to play the game.
However, Coach called the whole team over at the next practice and asked how everyone thought they’d done. I picture them remembering that they had fun, so it must have been good. The team members talked about their successes and how it all went. They decided that based on their playing, they had done well.
And then Coach gave feedback. He said there was one thing he saw their team (and their town’s teams) do that he didn’t see from anyone else. What he noticed is that their team helped other people up if they fell. They have been taught that no matter what team another player is on, if they see someone go down, they are to give that person a hand up. Coach complemented the kids and said that was exactly the kind of people they should be.
Now, this team may or may not face the right direction. They may or may not bring the ball with them when they run for the touchdown. But by all the gods and goddesses of autumn, they are learning to play the real Game.
The other day I realized that I was getting very anxious. I was anxious because I had so much to do and it wasn’t done yet. I had trouble sitting for more than ten minutes to do spiritual practice because there was so much to do and of course, I was late. Well, I told myself I was late.
You see, in order to fit everything into my week this week, I had a long day on Tuesday, catch up on Wednesday and then leave at 4:15 in the morning on Thursday in order to drive to Phoenix, park the car and get to the airport. I was stressed out in advance. I was stressed out because I was living the whole week at once and feeling like I was already behind… on days that hadn’t happened yet.
One of the metaphors for ministry (and all spiritual life, I think) is that of a duck. We are to glide across the waters of life peacefully and gracefully, never allowing folks to see that our feet are paddling frantically underneath the water. We’re supposed to make it look easy, right? Spiritual people have mastered equanimity. If I’m spiritual then I don’t ever have bad days. Right?
The best spiritual practice I have learned is laughter. Instead of trying to be a duck, I am realizing that I’m a goose. Once I see how silly I’m being, I can laugh and go back to my “to do” list. I can leave God’s “to do” list to God. Oh, and get a hotel in town the night before the flight.
I was rereading a part of the Book of John this morning about when Jesus, having been walking all day, sits by the edge of a well and asks a woman for some water. Now, the woman is a Samaritan and they don’t generally interact with Jews. Add to that that in those days, women didn’t just chat with men casually. Like, ever. So when Jesus tells her to go get her husband, and she admits she has no husband, he tells her, “You’re right. You’ve had five husbands and the one you have now isn’t yours.”
Now, I heard this story originally as a folk song by Peter, Paul and Mary. The song makes it sound like the woman is, to put it lightly, loose. There’s a bit of slut-shaming in the song. As I read the story now, it occurs to me that a woman can have five husbands if she outlives four. In those days, a woman’s worth was in her marital status and her ability to have children. What if the only reason she’s around is because she didn’t die in childbirth? What if some of those husbands divorced her thinking she was barren? The story doesn’t really say why she’s been married so many times. However, if she lost all those husbands through no fault of her own, even if her society told her it was her fault, then our Samaritan sister has been through some tough times. If she’s living with a husband that isn’t hers (maybe it’s her brother or her father) then she’s probably a second-class citizen in her own home. She has no social standing.
And she is willing to see the possibility that this strange man, who she probably shouldn’t be talking to, might be on to something. Maybe he sounds arrogant to her. Maybe he looks ridiculous (remember he’s just a stranger who’s been walking in the desert all day). I can relate to her. I’ve been to lots of retreats and workshops that promised me “living water” in the form of five simple principles or one great secret or a dozen rules. I have all the books. I’ve done lots of hours of studying. Heck, I have two master’s degrees and the student loans to prove it. I look at the time and money and wonder what the heck I was thinking! I still feel, sometimes, like that unwanted, unloved Samaritan who is just trying to find her place in the world.
If your Buddha-nature spoke up right now and promised you living water, promised you peace and joy, would you have the strength to try one more time? Would you be willing to try someone who seems like an unlikely guru? I went to lots of professionals and certificated teachers before I found the ones who told me my teacher is my own heart. Trusting that unlikely teacher has made all the difference.
Part of the wall of Dumferline Abbey. Some of the stones here still bear the mason’s mark.
According to Abraham Maslow, belonging is one of our basic needs. It fits right after food, sleep and shelter. Back when castles were built by masons, each stone was marked with a code that told the builders where it went. Today, even Ikea marks what pieces go where to create a solid piece of furniture.
When I think about the best things in my life, they all have to do with my connections to people and to groups that I admire and trust. I’m part of the Centers for Spiritual Living as a minister. I’m part of CSL Prescott as the spiritual leader, one of the members of the Board of Trustees and of the Practitioner Circle. I’m the member of a family, which right now consists of my sister and brother and his family. I’m part of a family of choice which consists of soul friends.
Part of knowing I belong on this earth (which I didn’t always know, by the way) is knowing where I stand in my relationships. Lately, my primary relationship is with the Divine. My focus has been on nurturing that relationship and doing what Joel Goldsmith calls “Practicing the Presence”. Everywhere I go, I see the face of God. Every sense is attuned to the Presence – I feel it all around me lately. Did I do something to earn it? No. You can’t earn God and you never needed to. Did I do something to make myself more aware? Yes. I got serious about a committed prayer and meditation practice. I made that practice my priority, even on the mornings I didn’t feel like doing it. And now I’m reaping the benefits of hanging out full time with the Friend who never lets me down.
It is the Universe’s nature to impart, ours to receive. Ernest Holmes.
My role in this relationship is always going to be to receive – whether that is support, love, wisdom or lessons. So I know where I fit in. I know that I belong irrevocably to this relationship.
My brother called to ask me how the eclipse went. I probably should have been aware of the reason it was so dark out. I thought it was just going to rain (and here it is – thunder just started). He was under the impression that I was directly under the path and would have the best view. In truth, had I even been paying attention, I would have seen the same 60% that he did in New Hampshire. And ain’t that just the way it goes?
While I was out, I grabbed lunch. If I didn’t, I knew I’d go home and eat and then not come back to work. I would never write this because home is where the TV and the cats are. So I settled for fast food, which I’d been craving anyway. Pet peeve: the drive through menu is abbreviated and I couldn’t find what I was looking for. The lady to whom I spoke interrupted my questions in order to tell me she never looks at that menu, so she can’t tell me where to find things. When I tried to tell her what I was looking at, she told me why I was wrong and that wasn’t the correct name or combination of items. I tried to tell her (once I was at the window) that what she knew and what a customer could see were two different things, but she went back to explaining what the different options were called correctly. She wasn’t really listening and I knew I was wasting my time. And ain’t that just the way it goes?
Lucky for me, I’ve been reading a lot of Emma Curtis Hopkins. We are so good at making our declarations of absence, or talking about what’s missing in our lives. Basically, although Emma (I call her Emma) is too nice to say it, we are very good at complaining and bad at gratitude. In ancient times, we are told that people thought the world was ending when an eclipse happened. Today, I thought it might rain and I love the rain, so I was happy. My brother hoped I had a good view, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to look at it because I was having more fun doing my job and I don’t want to hurt my eyes. I had a challenging conversation with the lady at the drive through, but I had a great talk with the bank teller and my brother. That’s two for three in the same half hour. It doesn’t even count the rest of the conversations I had already had (all positive) or would have today.
Emma advocates for making a strong declaration of presence, or declaring the Truth about the presence of the Good in our lives. That will bring out more and more good to notice. And my day gets better. I get the monsoon experience, something to write about and a chance to banter with my bro. Those little things make up a life. Those little miracles make up my life. And ain’t that just the way it goes?
I needed a few days to think and pray before responding to the events in Charlottesville. For me, the deeper message seems to come down to two things.
First, I have been a bigot. I’m not talking about participating in the subtle forms of racism that are part of American culture in the 21st Century. I don’t mean the white privilege that permeates my life – that I got well-educated, that I was raised in the upper middle class, that I can walk into a store and not be bothered, that cops are nice to me. I’m aware of the modern day slavery that is our prison industry, but it probably won’t affect me or my family because we are white. What I’m talking about is a period in my life where I was ignorant enough and blind enough to say things that now make me cringe. I know I was offending folks because they tried to rein me in. What they were unaware of is how much pain I was in. The irony of working in a crisis center while suicidal is not lost on me now, but at the time, I was so busy trying to survive, there wasn’t much brain power left to be aware of anything else. That is no excuse, but it was part of the situation at the time. Still, I said and did things that were mean and insensitive. I wonder how painful the lives of the neo-Nazis are to make them act so hatefully. I wonder how scared those white supremacists are that they no longer have cognitive function to see how self-destructive they are. Did you know that when you are really angry or scared, your higher mental function shuts down? We have evidence of that happening in Charlottesville.
Secondly, this neo-Nazi, alt-right, white supremacy thing isn’t new in our country. I remember being warned about it in high school back in the early ‘80’s. It seems to me to be a virus we keep thinking we have beaten, only to find it popping up again because we stopped actively vaccinating against it. Did you know that fleas and ground hogs have been found carrying the actual plague here in Northern Arizona? Seems unreal, right? It’s as real as the plague seen openly in Charlottesville in the past weeks. And yes, it is killing people. It has been killing people all along, although we have ignored it. Vaccination against this plague means awareness, admission of bigotry and having conversations about the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of racism and fear that govern our lives today. For me, it means supporting affirmative action, asking my friends of in minorities how I can use my privilege on their behalf, and refusing to laugh at or make bigoted jokes.
How are you going to vaccinate yourself? Are you willing to look in the mirror and find your own inner bigot? I can tell you from experience, it’s not fun. It’s not pretty. It’s horrifying and painful. And I’d rather do that than explain to the next generation why I hid in my safe house in the midst of this plague.
Book of John Ch 3
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[a]”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Pharisees were the folks who knew all the rules and followed them. Back in the day, they were seen as the religious 1%’ers. They were doing everything right, after all. They followed all the Laws and everyone knew it; they tended to be the elite both on earth and (supposedly) in the eyes of God. So when people read this part of the Christian Bible, they are to know that the risk Nicodemus took in coming to talk to Jesus was a big deal. That’s why he had to sneak in. It must have been really frustrating to hear such non-sense about being born again.
Here’s the thing. In Northern Aramaic, to be born again means to change the way you think and behave. Nicodemus spoke Southern Aramaic, so he wouldn’t have understood the slang. (h/t to the Lamsa Bible) How many times have you felt like you went out on a limb in your spiritual practice and were given what sounded like nonsense as a reward for your hard work? I’ve been told that the reason I don’t have lots of wealth is because I won’t take it, but I’m standing there asking for it. How frustrating! What do you mean; I don’t know how to receive?!!? How many times have I been in a class and been asked if I felt the energy shift and thought, “No, I have no idea what you mean.”
What I have learned is that it’s best to ask for clarification when I am in such a situation. I’m not afraid of looking stupid – I’m more concerned with missing the point of a valuable lesson. And if I don’t get it then, I trust that someday I will. Some night, I will wake from a deep sleep and say “Ohhhh! I get it!”
Once again I have been hearing about the concept of hell. Let me tell you that hell exists – and you should be scared. Very scared.
Now, let me tell you the Truth. The only hell is the one we create in our own minds and it’s always temporary. We can end the experience whenever we want to. It’s really very simple although at times it may not be easy. All we have to do is stop believing whatever painful untruth we’ve bought into. That untruth might be that we’re bad or wrong – whether we have money troubles or someone is condemning who we are. It’s not really possible to be inherently bad, by the way. You were made by the Divine and, as the Good Books all say, God don’t make no junk.
Many religions teach both that we are Divine by nature and that we have managed to become unnatural and have lost our way. Many spiritual philosophies hold some version of the idea of original sin. That is, some version of the lie that we are broken and God no longer likes, much less loves, us. The thing is every religion points to a way to experience some version of Heaven, either in this life or one of many future lives. If we are inherently bad, why would we ever be allowed into Heaven? If we are inherently incapable of making good choices, why would the great spiritual teachers give us such clear instructions? Why do all the mystics over the course of time tell about the loving presence that surrounds us and is part of us? Heaven is also a state of mind and we can choose it whenever we want.
Whatever. They say if it sounds like a scam, it probably is. Hell is a scam. It’s a convertible with the top down and we’re all hunting desperately for the keys. The Devil is the thundercloud that’s threatening to rain on our leather seats and the Lie is the locksmith coming to get the door open. When we take a step back, come to our senses and realize the Truth, we’ll all have a big laugh and go back to being our own Divine Selves.