After a week of cool, wet weather with low temperatures in the 50s overnight, the Midwest summer has hit Wisconsin. My garden is thick with arugula, and the tomato plant is growing at the rate of a jungle vine. The heat index today is in the danger zone with a high temperature of 92 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity at 78%.
I refuse to turn on the air-conditioner in the house; I have none in my car. I rely on all those passive techniques my mother taught me when we were living in the 1875 Victorian in the Chicago suburbs. I don’t have an attic here; this is a Lannon stone ranch-style house. I open all the windows and the front door at night to let in the cool air and shut everything up when the sun rises in the morning. I have a box fan in the living/dining room, no ceiling fans.
Steve converses about Buddhist mindfulness. What does it feel like in this weather? Without judgement, accepting what is, what do I notice?
The trees are swaying outside my window. As hot as it is, there is a stiff breeze. I see a million shades of green. I hear the hum of the fan. Birdsong woke me at 4:40 a.m., before I shut the windows. I noticed smells inside the house after I shut them. Melting soap in the bathroom. Coffee. My body feels slow, swollen, lazy.
I am trying not to dread the fundraising event I am working tonight. The dress is “formal”. The open bar and silent auction are outside, on the patio. My dress is made of an unfortunately synthetic material (long story). I imagine I will sweat. I fear social embarrassment…and I do not. I don’t really care that much. I like myself. I do fine work. The rest is unimportant. I will practice being gracious and compassionate, and I will come back home to my cool stone house at the end of the evening, strip down and lie beneath an open window, waiting for a thunderstorm. All will be well.
Outside, the butterflies and chipmunks, the birds and deer and Charles the woodchuck go slowly about their summer growth. I imagine that while they may sweat, they do not fret. I aspire to learn their wisdom.
The Step Out Walk to Stop Diabetes, known to 2-year old Josie as the “Die Bees Walk”, took place on a gorgeous fall day in Chicago. The route was a three mile circle around Lincoln Park and just a mile and a half from my daughter Emily’s home. By a great miracle, all four of my children were able to attend, plus my eldest’s best friend Katie (the mother of little Josie), my son-in-law Andy, and my middle daughter’s boyfriend Jake. I took lots of pictures, got some exercise (seven miles of walking total, I figure), ate a delicious gluten-free vegan meal, and collected hugs and kisses from my children. Totally satisfying! Here’s the gallery:
Memorial Day weekend around Moab, Utah was amazingly congested. This year, the Colorado river ran higher than usual from the recent snowstorm. Recreational sites dot Highway 128 at regular intervals, and they all seemed to be full of boaters, campers, and bikers – humans with big, metal toys. We were searching for an entirely different kind of adventure, so we drove on north…and ended up at Dinosaur National Monument on the Green River.
However, the campsites with shade and accessible by our 2-wheel drive sedan were full up, and we didn’t have the energy to search for dispersed camping in the Ashley National Forest. We decided to break down and spend the night in an inn. After nine days, a hot bath was just too tempting! I have to say, I have a hard time ignoring my appreciation for plumbing. I can do it, but I can too easily undo it, too. Just 6 days into our adventure, I boiled some water on the campfire to wash our hair. The feel of water on my thirsty scalp out there on the canyon edge was exhilarating! Steve and I both have hair that grows almost down to our waists, though. Washing it and rinsing it thoroughly takes a lot of water. Without a handy renewable supply, it seems a poor choice.
But here’s another chance for awareness: how do I use water? What do I use it for? How much do I use? Can I use less? Should I use less?
Our planet’s surface is about 70% water. That means that water is in a lot of different places, in different climates, in different habitats, making an impact in a lot of different ways, catching the light in different ways, and creating a lot of different scenes. Water is a universal solution for a million different situations and can be a mirror for any expression. It seems to be found in any landscape, big or small.
And to be the perfect medium for any mood, calm and pensive…
…or enigmatically abstract.
Reflecting shadow and light, stillness and movement, water carries the dynamic play of life.
California sea lions
There’s so much to appreciate about water. And maybe the time to be aware of that is every time you take a healthy sip. Then you can also reflect on how the water you drink got to you and how that process is impacting the planet. But that’s another post…
A “satisfying pairing” you say? Oh, so many come to mind…
There are, obviously, the many combinations of happily mated people:
As well as deliciously married flavors, like cheese and truffles or herbs:
And then there are the natural cooperations of plants and animals, like the monarch butterfly that feeds on milkweed in the larval stage and then benefits from that toxin as an adult that is distasteful to predators and pollinates wildflowers:
Sometimes, though, it’s just as satisfying to put two things together that don’t seem to have much in common – just for the hell of it:
Even if you never liked all those essay questions you answered in High School that started with “Compare and contrast….”, you probably learned something by thinking about them. What I hope to learn in the Match Games I play is appreciation — because the world is full of fascinating examples of A Good Match.
This article is featured in this month’s issue of The Be Zine. The theme is Overcoming Hate. You can read the entire issueHERE.
I grew up with three older sisters. At times when I felt picked on, I would shout out my hurt feelings, “I hate you!” My mother was often right there contradicting me. “You don’t hate her. Come now, settle down…” Consequently, I have long convinced myself that I do not hate anyone, and I’m never angry. I am completely reasonable and can explain exactly why I am disappointed or frustrated. I will cry, but I am never angry. Except that…when I grew up, I yelled at my kids. I punished them. I rejected their behavior. I sometimes got physical, restraining them and even spanking them. But I do not get angry. And I do not hate anyone.
“That’s not fair!”…“How dare they!” I yelled at the television set, which was uncharacteristically out of its closet and in operation in the living room. “Hush now. We’re trying to listen,” whispered my mother. The story of Kunta Kinte set my 14-year old indignation afire. Injustice is wrong – even I knew that! How could grown-ups in leadership be so obviously abusive? How could I undo the damage that was done before I was even born? How in the world could the balance of power be corrected? “I hate authorities!”
My 31-year old husband was having chest pains. The doctor figured it was probably heart burn, but he finally did some blood tests and cardiac diagnostics. It turns out the father of my four young children had diabetes and arterial blockages and needed bypass surgery. I couldn’t understand why this evil, incurable disease had afflicted my family. “I hate diabetes!” I raged. But a metabolic disorder doesn’t choose a target out of malice. What I couldn’t admit was that I was mortally terrified.
These three snapshots into my awareness of hatefulness show me that I can’t overcome the underlying feelings of anger, injustice, or fear by rejecting or opposing them. Neither can I grow in compassion by being intolerant. I can only transcend hatefulness and grow in compassion by practicing understanding. That includes understanding myself – not passing judgment on my emotions, not avoiding uncomfortable feelings, but engaging with them head on. How can I practice this? I slow down and ask myself: What is it I feel? What triggered those feelings? Where am I hurting? What is it that I want that I’m not getting? I want to be kind to the little girl inside me giving voice to her felt needs. I sit with this idea for a while. I thank those feelings for bringing me awareness. I will use that in my decision-making. Then I look at my desires more critically. Is being attached to that thing, that outcome, causing me pain? What if I let go of it?
The more I work with my own feelings and come to understand myself, the more I can begin to understand others. When I see someone who is angry and hateful, I understand that he is suffering. Can I be present with him in this place of frustration? Can I be kind to that little child in his temper? Can I engage him in a discussion about the real causes of his anger, his feelings of powerlessness, his fear? Can my presence and interaction help him realize that attachment to uncontrollable outcomes may be causing some of his suffering? And finally, can I invite him to let it go?
The Thich Nhat Hahn Foundation blog motto is “planting seeds of compassion”. For the Lunar New Year of the Rooster, 2017, they suggested a practice phrase in the form of two parallel verses: “Awakening the Source of Understanding” and “Opening the Path of Love”. The Plum Village practice is to contemplate the first verse as you breathe in and the second as you exhale, “not (as) a declaration, but a living aspiration we wish to nurture”. Overcoming hate with a practice of understanding and love is a beautiful way to transform the world, I believe. I invite everyone to try it with me.
As a positive-thinking person, I am sad to hear so many people saying that 2016 was a bad year. So, I decided to go back through my photos of the year and pick just one from each month to remind myself what I was focusing on and maybe get an idea why it wasn’t so terrible, horrible, no-good and very bad after all. Here are my monthly picks: January –
I don’t want to say that the year was without disappointment. At the beginning of 2016, I was also campaigning for Bernie Sanders by phone and door-to-door.
On the last day of November, I suffered two losses that hit me very hard: my boss resigned and a dear pet died. I guess my point is that perspective is still up to me. Where I give my heart, where I direct my eyes, where I train my efforts and thoughts is still up to me. And no system can take that away.
May all beings be happy in 2017; may all beings be free from suffering in 2017. Thank you for visiting my blog!