My first thought on this subject is of Linus Van Pelt, the wise but neurotic younger brother of Lucy the fuss-budget in the Peanuts cartoons. His blanket is rarely out of reach. He is aware of his dependence on it and unapologetic and creative in his relationship with it. He seems to be coping better than most adults. Aren’t we all neurotic in some way?
Now that I’m fifty-something, I’ve gotten to know my insecurities pretty well, mostly through the loss of things I relied on. I no longer depend on my husband for security, since he died 9 years ago. My kids all moved out of the nest and I sold the big, suburban house. Shortly after that, I stopped practicing belief in Christianity (and I had a serious practice). As all of these big pieces began to fall away, I began to realize that security was not about them, but about how I think about myself in the world.
You see, either I belong here, or I don’t.
If I don’t belong here, all of those things won’t help. If I do belong here, all of those things are unnecessary. I finally began to see that I am part of this natural world. I fit in it, just the way I am. And even when I die, all the bits of me will be reabsorbed into the earth and fit in just as well that way.
It’s pretty simple, really, but I have to say that I still get anxious and neurotic sometimes. The one who shows me what being secure in the world looks like is my partner Steve. We camped in the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. By the time we got to the place, he was pretty tired from driving. So he just lay down and fell asleep. No tent. No bug spray. No gear.
I appreciate the beauty found in the thick of things, like a solid mass of redwood roots…
…or lush undergrowth…
…or tangled hunks of kelp…
I like my environment filled in, robust, varied and fecund. A sparse monoculture is not my aesthetic ideal.
There is great wisdom in diversity, and intelligence in supporting it.
Mountaintop experiences give you a spiritual perspective. The sky is bigger; the minutiae of the earth is even smaller.
Humility and awe meet you at the top of your climb.
The view (and the climb!) is breathtaking.
And the opportunity to stay atop a while and ponder your place on the crust of Earth is a special reward.
Seek higher ground. It’s good for your soul.
This article is featured in this month’s issue of The Be Zine. The theme is Overcoming Hate. You can read the entire issue HERE.
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.
I have been struggling, like so many others, with the changes in the Administration of this country. I have listened and read and watched and felt and thought until the tears stream down my face. Finally, yesterday, I decided to write a response. Here’s what came out:
Angry rich man impoverishing my country,
Diminishing the things I value,
Raping the planet, denying the change,
Stripping the endowed,
Demeaning the love you cannot attract,
Twisted in hate and fear and rage,
Puckered and discolored,
Bitter and sour as a kumquat,
Greedy as a black hole,
Cursing and worsening –
Can compassion arise in my soul
Or will I begin to identify with my own anger, my own fear,
seek my own protection,
build a wall around my heart
and regress to reptilian reflexes?
You are a bell of mindfulness.
I might thank you one day.
My partner, Steve, suggested that I take this exercise in identifying the emotions I feel when I read the news and form a gatha. I had to look that up; I discovered that it is a kind of prayer or vow that can bring a simple task, like brushing your teeth, into mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hahn provides this example: “Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak purely and lovingly. When my mouth is fragrant with right speech, a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.” Steve then remembered reading The Fifth Precept which talks about consumption in the context of the Eightfold Path of right views, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. I found this statement of it:
“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I vow to cultivate good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I vow to ingest only items that preserve peace, well-being, and joy in my body, in my consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family and society. I am determined not to use alcohol or any other intoxicant or to ingest foods or other items that contain toxins, such as certain TV programs, magazines, books, films, and conversations. I am aware that to damage my body or my consciousness with these poisons is to betray my ancestors, my parents, my society, and future generations. I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing a diet for myself and for society. I understand that a proper diet is crucial for self-transformation and for the transformation of society.”
The gatha I developed for myself to say when I turn on my computer goes like this: “I will work to transform violence, fear, anger, and confusion in myself and in society by practicing mindful consumption of media and news.” I don’t have a television, but if I did, I’d turn to this reminder before I used it.
The point is that the news and social media can play a major role in our cultural awareness. I want to keep that role in a reasonable perspective as much as I can, and I want to keep this Administration in a reasonable perspective. I’m not sure exactly what that is. It’s too early to tell how much it will affect my decisions and actions in a concrete way. What it has done is connect me with the emotions and choices of people I care about; whether or not I share those feelings and decisions, I am hearing a lot about them. This Administration does give us the opportunity to examine our values and explore how to take action in response. I want to engage in mature and positive activities as much as possible such as dialogue, education, and community-building. I see blogging as one way to do this, although it is “virtual” and not “actual”. One thing I am doing in the “actual” world is starting rehearsal with a “communiversity” chorus in my new home town. I start tomorrow night, after a meeting at the Town Hall.
Thank you for being my online community. I appreciate your visits!
Namaste, and Peace!
This is the challenge of a lifetime. Grace is my middle name – for reals! I have been striving to live gracefully ever since my parents explained to me what that name means, hence the blog motto above. I find subtle differences in the nuance of the definition now that I’m learning Buddhism and leaving the Christian world view that I was raised with in my background.
There is something of elegance, but not a worldly elegance.
There is an element of casual generosity, an unearned favor and abundance.
The Buddhist perspective lends the flavor of ego-less-ness to it; it is beauty without attachment, as ephemeral as frost.
To live a life of grace is to open yourself mindfully each moment to being in the flow of the kindness of the Universe, in a way. To walk in harmony with my surroundings – people, places, things – and to be a living benediction is my aspiration. It sounds pretty lofty and ethereal, like a cloud, and I don’t claim to be doing the metaphor justice. But I might as well aim high in my practice.
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:
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!
This article is featured in the December issue of The BeZine.
“Truth is ugly. We possess art lest we perish of the truth.” – Nietzsche
Civilization kills. We are living in apocalyptic times. The Anthropocene is here; humans are dominating and destroying the Earth. Like all civilizations in history, though, ours will fall back into the dust, and Earth will absorb it in some fashion. I get angry with humans because of this. Our arrogance and hubris and stupidity is truly abhorrent. I would wash my hands from all association with my species if I could, but for two things: music and food. I am willing to forgive everything for Puccini and Marcona almonds sauteed in butter and thyme.
Perhaps it is nothing but hedonism to feel that my pleasure in a fine meal at La Reve on Tuesday might bring me back from the brink of utter despair. The “Holiday Train” event in the village late that afternoon had created horrific traffic congestion with black-clad pedestrians pushing strollers into the dark streets while some pop Christmas frenzy blared over a loudspeaker. I felt truly Scroogeish; humans are complete humbug. But then the ambiance of a Parisian bistro — chattering guests and tremulous accordion melodies — and the buttery oak in the Chardonnay spread its warmth over that cold, post-Truth fear surrounding my heart. I asked Irene, our Asian-American server, about how the chef prepared the pumpkin soup. We talked about how roasting brings out the deeper flavors of vegetables and stock bones and what items on the menu were gluten-free. By the time I had savored my way through triple-cream brie, salmon, lamb and chocolate caramel, I was ready to admit atonement of the human race was possible.
The next day, however, my thoughts turned dark again. How could I justify the expense of that meal, even though almost half of the cost to me was covered by a gift certificate? How had the animals invested in that meal been treated? How far had the ingredients traveled on fossil fuels to get to my plate? My awareness of suffering may have been dulled for a time, but it was not erased. I may have been treated quite well, but was I healed?
Healing. In Western culture, it’s about fixing pathology. In Eastern culture, it’s about making whole. Awareness is about opening up to understand the whole, the complete Oneness of the Universe. “Life is suffering” is the first noble Truth in Buddhism. Suffering is in the Oneness. Arising from the awareness of suffering are two responses (at least): Fear and Compassion.
I experience my fear for the human race and my compassion for it as well, blended contrapuntally. To recognize that only as thoughts criss-crossing my brain might drive me mad. To see that reflected in a complex pairing of wine and cheese or in the first act duet of Mimi and Rudolfo in La Boheme saves me from perishing from the ugly truth. I will never comprehend the Truth, although I live it every day. Making, enjoying, or experiencing Art is as close as I may ever come to holding the Whole in my heart. I believe that those who practice Meditation seek to do the same, while sparing the harm caused in producing Art.
May we all find a way to happiness, a way not to perish from the Truth, a way to be at peace with the Whole.
Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. All rights reserved.