Advent Day #23 – Peace

Peace On Earth

It is Day #23 in the December countdown.  Today’s gift is Peace.  Ahh, peace.  Take a deep breath.  Relax the muscles around your skull; feel  your ears and eyebrows pull backward; close your eyes and roll your head. Do you feel a sense of well-being?  Julian of Norwich claims that God himself spoke these often quoted words to her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”  Do you believe that’s true?  Do you believe that’s possible?  I do, although I don’t always act as though I do. I forget.

Wikipedia uses these phrases to define peace:  “safety, welfare, prosperity, security, fortune,  friendliness… a relationship between any people characterized by respect, justice and goodwill… calm, serenity, a meditative approach”.  Where does peace come from?  Buddha, the Dalai Lama and many others will tell you that peace comes from within, not without.

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” – Black Elk

But perhaps, there are things outside of you that will remind you of the peace which dwells within you.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir

Do you feel peace in your mind and body and soul all at once?  Do you descend into peace from your head down?

“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding, I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” – Helen Keller

I suppose each of us must find his/her own journey into peace.  Anxieties and conflicts are particular and personal.  Facing each one head on is not a passive task.  Making peace is not for the weak of heart.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”  Is God about making peace?  Is making peace the work of the Universe?  Is it perhaps that joyful effort that gives life meaning?

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If we can make peace between ourselves and God, ourselves and Nature, can we then make peace between ourselves and others?

“If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.” – Mother Theresa

Steve constantly reminds me that in every situation, especially in those that cause anxiety and conflict to arise, I have 3 choices.  I can hide/run away.  I can try to change the situation.  I can change myself.  The first option doesn’t exactly make peace; it simply avoids confrontation.  You can hide away all day long and still feel the fear of whatever it is that scared you.  So, why do I often employ that choice?  Because I lack courage and I’m lazy.  I sometimes pick that choice first to give me time to screw up my will and motivation.  I don’t want to get stuck there, though.

Trying to change the situation requires engagement.  Making peace with hunger, poverty, sickness, and distress this way requires an understanding of  causes and effects on all different levels.  It requires negotiation, and it requires cooperation.  You don’t always get all that is required to change a situation.  Not all situations can be changed.  Death is the big one that comes to mind here.  You can’t hide or run away from it, and you can’t change the situation so that you don’t have to experience it.  Now what?

Change yourself.  Sometimes the only way to make peace with something is to change your thinking, your belief, your approach, your attachment, your aversion, your ignorance or some other aspect of yourself.  “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” is the simplistic way to say it.  If you’d “rather fight than switch” (old cigarette commercial – pop philosophy at its finest), then you have chosen to fight, not to make peace.  Our egos make it really tough to change ourselves.  Sometimes we’d rather fight, sometimes we’d rather die, sometimes we’d rather do anything than change ourselves.  You have to ask yourself very seriously what your ultimate goal is to get past this one.  Is your goal to keep your ego intact or is your goal to make peace?   I’ve come across a lot of phrases that address this ego dilemma: “take up your cross”, “turn the other cheek”, “deny yourself”, “die to self”.  I think that dogma is probably more an ego thing than a peace thing.   If you can’t let go of your religious beliefs in the interest of peace, then your religion is more about yourself than it is about God, in my humble opinion.   I love the part of the movie “Gandhi” where he counsels a Hindu man who is distraught at having murdered a Muslim child.  “Raise a Muslim child and make sure you raise him as a Muslim, not as a Hindu. This is the only way you can purge your sins.”  This is true wisdom about peace.

Give peace a chance. It requires your will, it requires your strength, and it requires you to lay aside will & strength.  I am looking forward to enjoying the peace that my family and I have created.  We are still creating it, and will be our whole lives long.

Re-inventing Advent

Two years ago, when I first started blogging, I ran a series of posts every day in the month of December.  This series was in lieu of an Advent calendar, which had been a big tradition of my family.  Back then, I had only a handful of faithful blog followers, instead of more than 400.  So, I intend to re-gift these entries.  After all, I am in the resale business! (Check out Scholar & Poet Books – there’s  a link in the side bar.) For my family and for Helen (God bless you!), these will be repeats.  For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy opening your daily presents!

‘Tis A Season

When I was a kid, I always had an Advent calendar to count down the days from the first of December until Christmas Eve.  I had the same tradition with my own kids.  The secrets hidden behind each door were often Scripture verses.  It was important to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and make sure my kids knew that was “the reason for the season”.   There are other little treasures we could open each day, though.  When my son was taking German in high school, they sold Advent calendars with chocolates in them.   My father used to make us calendars out of magazine pictures and various old rotogravures with fortune cookie strips for the daily message.  We made our own calendars for each other, too, with simple crayon symbols behind the cut out doors.   The season has multiple images in my mind, and now I’m trying to figure out what it means to me at this point in my life.

I will always have respect for Jesus and the Christian story.  They were supremely important in my life for many years.  My spirituality was formed around them.  I think it is good to examine and re-examine beliefs, though, and strive for genuine and authentic expressions of experience.  My experience is expanding as I age, and I want to include more of those experiences in my belief system.  I want to include respect for other cultures, other religions, other parts of the planet and the universe.  I have a sister who is Sikh, a son who identifies with Buddhism and Native American spirit stories and a father who once taught science.  There is a lot going on all over the world in this season.  What do I want to acknowledge or celebrate?

My youngest daughter has always loved this season.  She used to go to the local Hallmark store in the middle of the summer to look at the Christmas village set up there.  What was that about?  Sparkly, pretty, cozy, homey, yummy expectations of treats?  Possibly.  Peace, love, joy?  Possibly.  Emotions?  Definitely.  Why not focus on pleasurable human senses and emotions?  Up in the northern hemisphere, we are spinning away from the sun and plunging into a cold, dark time.  Light becomes more precious, warmth becomes holy, food is life itself.  Why not celebrate that dependence?  We are sustained by the sun and the producers of this planet that make food from its energy.  Evergreen trees remind us of that.  Gifts remind us that we receive from the producers; we are consumers.  Gratitude is the attitude of the season.  Giving is the action that sustains us.

Vernon Marsh, sunset (click to enlarge)

I sent a text message to each of my kids this morning saying that the gift for Day #1 this season is sunshine.  The sun is shining here, showering us with Vitamin D and all kinds of other goodies we need to be healthy and happy.   We are blessed, saved, sustained, given life in this universe by an amazing set of circumstances that we did not originate.   However you acknowledge that and whoever taught you to acknowledge that deserves attention.  May you be happy as you think and act in awareness of this.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

Surprise!  It’s not what you expected.  How do you respond?  Laughter.  Disappointment.  Curiosity.  Do you set it ‘right’?  How did you come to have an expectation about this, anyway?  Expectations produce emotions.  They set you up, mostly for suffering, if you become attached to those expectations.  If the discovery that you have harbored some expectation takes you by surprise, but you’re not emotionally invested in it, it can be funny.  “Oh, yeah, I guess I wasn’t expecting that.  But there it is.  How interesting!”  Steve’s favorite story about this goes something like this:

A Zen master who had recently had a mini-stroke was invited to perform a traditional ceremony of calligraphy.  He had practiced this art for years and participated in the ritual often.  He calmly took his place and lifted the long, slender brush.  Carefully, he dipped it into the ink and raised it above the thin rice paper.  The assembly was silent.  His hand was still.  Moments passed.  Gradually, a wondrous smile spread across the master’s face.  He laid the brush aside and beamed.  “I’ve forgotten how!”  he laughed. 

May you know delight in all that unfolds.  Peace, my friends.

unexpected

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

Pema Chodron writes in a book called “Comfortable With Uncertainty”:

According to the Buddha, the lives of all beings are marked by three characteristics: impermanence, egolessness, and suffering or dissatisfaction.  Recognizing these qualities to be real and true in our own experience helps us to relax with things as they are.  The first mark is impermanence.  That nothing is static or fixed, that all is fleeting and changing, is the first mark of existence.  We don’t have to be mystics or physicists to know this.  Yet at the level of personal experience, we resist this basic fact.  It means that life isn’t always going to go our way.  It mean’s there’s loss as well as gain.  And we don’t like that.  …We experience impermanence at the every day level as frustration.  We use our daily activity as a shield against the fundamental ambiguity of our situation, expending tremendous energy trying to ward off impermanence and death. …The Buddhist teachings aspire to set us free from this limited way of relating to impermanence.  They encourage us to relax gradually and wholeheartedly into the ordinary and obvious truth of change.”

 

Much of my life and energy of the past 10 years has been spent trying to cope with change, as I watched my husband’s health deteriorate and my children grow from an innocent childhood into a difficult adulthood.  Five years ago, my husband died at the age of 47.  In my most agonizing moments of wrestling with impermanence, I would take myself for a walk.  Two blocks from my house was a place I liked to call “my prairie”.  It was a place where “relaxing gradually and wholeheartedly into the ordinary and obvious truth of change” came naturally.  At that time, I’d never heard of Pema Chodron and knew very little about Buddhism.  But I could see change all around as leaves turned color, decayed, and returned to the soil where new shoots would eventually spring.  Cloud formations came and went, as did the warmth of the sun.  Paths mown in the prairie grass grew indistinct and were redirected.  Small animal carcases seemed to melt into a puddle of fur and bones until even those were carried off or disappeared.  Change was constant and friendly, not the scary beast I was beating from my front door every day.  

“My prairie” became a very special sanctuary to me.  This is where I went on September 11, 2001 to think.  This is where I went when I returned to my old neighborhood after moving in with Steve in 2011.  This is where I will wander following the Bridal Shower my daughter’s best friend is throwing for her in June.  I bring myself and all my changes into this sanctuary, and I feel immediately embraced by the bigger changes of the Universe in its course.  All the impermanence, egolessness and suffering of my life seems to settle down into just What Is when I am here.  I feel at peace.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to my picture of Change…

change  

Weekly Photo Challenge: Future Tense

The challenge for this week is Future Tense.  I admit, thinking about the future often makes me tense, anxious, sometimes panicky.  I have a vivid imagination and a lot of irrational fears.  And I’m working on breathing, living in the present moment, all those Buddhist practices that address those thought patterns that Western Pragmatism put into my head.   The OMG! your children, your finances, your health, your retirement….you must have a PLAN for the future, you must be PREPARED, if you’re not anxious, you obviously haven’t grasped the situation!!!!  There are DANGERS out there in life!   

Do you think life is something to be feared?  Do you think life is a wonderful adventure, naturally unfolding, peaceful and harmonious and without judgment?  How do you want to live your life?  You have a choice. 

path to the dark side

Posting in High Dudgeon or How to Rant Gracefully

The precepts of Buddhism are on my mind.  I’m trying to be precise (aware) and gentle and graceful in this blog, but today, what I’m aware of is anger.  And this is very uncomfortable for me because I’ve built up quite a habit of avoiding anger at all costs.  I don’t like to find it in others, and I don’t like to find it in myself.  However, it’s a very important part of being human.  So, how do I face it gracefully?

Steve has some cassette tapes of Thich Nhat Hahn giving talks on relationships.  He speaks (or whispers, practically) about how to confront your loved one by opening with, “Darling, I suffer…” 

So, who is the loved one I want to confront?  Yahoo! news. 

Seriously, I am angered by a sense of false reporting that I feel every time I log on.  Important issues are sparsely represented.  Celebrity activity is ubiquitous.  The site reeks of phoniness, of Lifestyle but very little Life.  So, in my state of indignation, I wrote a kind of rant.  I will post it here with the graceful prefix:

Darling Yahoo!, I suffer. Unemployment isn’t news.  Celebrity divorces aren’t news.  Pet tricks aren’t news. Death isn’t news.  Where is the joyful message of Life?  The new moon, the new day, the new leaf, the new mutation, the new energy, the new decomposition, the new layer of sediment, the new moment, the NOW that has never been before and will be over immediately so that the next NOW can appear?  The earth, the stars, the Universe is moving and changing, and you’re afraid to report it.  The one thing we’re not making up, inventing for our own fascinated misery, gets shushed and shunted because certain people don’t want to hear.  What makes them so certain?  Their belief freezes everything real, stops it  mid-drip, or so they think.  Nonsense.  Wake up!  Get your mind out of those delusions.  You can make observations; you can’t make certain.  Bring me observations of the Universe, dear Yahoo!, and less of the machinations of man. 

That is all.

 

Peaceful Sunday

Placido Domingo.  Quiet, tranquil Sunday.  Ah, me.

Last night, we saw our first Lyric Opera of Chicago performance of the season: Simon Boccanegra by Verdi.  An appropriate story for an election month, dramatic and political.  Two opera megastars were featured in the leading roles: Thomas Hampson and Ferruccio Furlanetto.  The story and the music are captivating.  (This performance was rather a disappointment, stiff and unimaginative.  I much prefer the La Scala production starring Placido Domingo in the title role, even if his voice is not as resonant as a baritone.) The point is that Simon Boccanegra is a man who spends his life and loses his life in the pursuit of peace.  The Italian political scene is characterized by vendetta, family feuds, curses, treason, and rebellion and peopled with villains.  The story shows, though, that everyone is a villain.  We all harm each other in one way or another.  Forgiveness and reconciliation is the only way to make a difference.  How many people must the Doge pardon by the end of Act III in order to die peacefully in his daughter’s arms?

                                                                                       

This morning, I logged on to the internet and began a conversation with my blogger friend, Helen, of 1500 Saturdays.  Her post was about brutal killings in Nigeria, titled “How did humanity get so lost?”.  How do we respond to suffering, to the villainy that surrounds each of us?  Which stories do we listen to; which do we tell?  How do we make a peaceful Sunday in our world?  Please click here to read her post, the links, the comments and spend some time considering your own response.  “May all beings be happy; may all beings be free from suffering.”

 

 

May All Beings Be Happy

Out of the technological complications of internet networking come some of the simplest expressions of human compassion, a wish for another person’s well-being, even if that person is a virtual stranger.  And it makes the sleek, glib, electric world a bit softer  and warmer.  I’ve made some sweet connections this week with a few of my favorite bloggers, all of whom live at least a couple thousand miles away.  I’d like to share them with the rest of you.

Mistress of Monsters is like another daughter to me, in a way.  She is getting married next week.  Here’s an exchange we had.  She turned it into a blog post.

Naomi Baltuck is an amazing blogger and professional storyteller.  She’s also a mom.  I see a kindred spirit in her…although she’s much more adventurous and accomplished than I am, yet.  I echo her wish in this post for the Weekly Photo Challenge prompt: Mine.

And then there’s that rascal, Stuart.  He’s a gritty city photographer who travels to exotic places like Brazil and Spain and has just taken up residence at a farm for the winter.  We inspire each other to keep open to possibilities.  Here’s his post. Our exchange is in the comments section.

I’ll be taking about 3 weeks off from the blogosphere beginning next week, but I will be thinking of all of you.  May All Beings Be Happy.

Tower Perspectives

Buddhism teaches me much about the interconnectedness of all things, about perspective in consciousness, about the dangers of dogma and claiming to know the capital T “Truth” about anything.  What is this thing in front of you?  You can give it a name, describe it with words and symbols, but that is not the reality of that thing.  Those words and symbols are useful but limited.  The experience of that thing is more, more than you can describe or symbolize, more than you can communicate.  Yesterday, I went to Lapham Peak State Park and climbed a tower.  Here are three different views of the tower.  How do I convey the experience, the wind, the dizzying aspect of ascent, the vast horizon, the humor of humans who visit and the irony of our inability to depict our emotions and our consciousness of grand things?  Perhaps these shots will give you a partial idea.

What do you “beleve”?

Too Darn Hot

I have been given the day off from my job at Old World Wisconsin.  When the heat index is over 100 degrees, we expect few visitors to the outdoor living history museum.  With my time, I imagine accomplishing all kinds of things, but in truth, I am simply sitting in front of a fan in the living room, drinking cold water.  I am surrounded by books.  “Savor” by Thich Nhat Hahn is right at hand, bringing mindfulness into my view, but what I am mindful of is the sun beating down on the roof next door, angling through the windows despite the mini-blinds, heating the air so that any breeze coming in feels like the blow-dryer set on High.  I imagine all the sweet corn that I want to be eating next month shriveling up in the fields.  The loss of that treat – roasted in the husk, dripping in fresh butter and seasoned with salt and pepper – is probably not as devastating as the loss of an entire crop to a farmer.  Dust Bowl conditions may be just around the corner at this rate.  We are all connected to the changes and conditions on this planet.  How can we be mindful and act compassionately as a community?  How can we become “solid, peaceful, whole, and well” and improve the well-being of the world through collective compassion?  And can we cause a sea change on the planet before our brains are so baked that we can’t think at all?  I retreat into distraction and immediately think of this song…

Drops of sweat tap dance down my trunk…

Conscientiousness melts into individual survival…

When will the healing rain fall?