Weekly Photo Challenge: The Nature of Grace

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. 

warm-rose

There is an element of casual generosity, an unearned favor and abundance.

lilacs

The Buddhist perspective lends the flavor of ego-less-ness to it; it is beauty without attachment, as ephemeral as frost.

now 2

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. 

graceful-cloud

 
Graceful

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

“Victory” is a word that makes me rather uncomfortable.  It brings to mind a dualism that causes suffering.  In other words, if there’s a victor, there must be a loser.  I feel sad when someone is put in that role.  I do not like competition.  I do not like war.  I do not like capitalism.  And I do not like losing or feeling “less than”.  So often, winners are unkind, insensitive and arrogant.  I was the fourth daughter in my family of origin, and I probably felt like “the loser” in lots of ways as a child: redundant, younger, dumber, less skilled.  It doesn’t feel good to be on that side of the scale.  I prefer to imagine a way that everyone can win, that we can all share and get what we need regardless of how much or how little we are able to contribute.  I used to tell my own 4 children, “Fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same thing.  Fair means everyone gets what they need.”  May all beings be happy.  May we all feel that we can get what we need.  I am hoping for a kinder Victory for my country, for my children, for myself.

victory 2 victory
Victory

Photography 101: Edge

When I first saw Michelle’s photo of Angkor Wat, I immediately thought of this shot I took in New Mexico at the ruins of a settler’s ranch:

edgeWe recently saw a glorious Korean film called “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring” in English.  It takes place mostly in a monk’s floating temple.  Inside his humble place, he has a shrine and a place to sleep.  The “bedroom” is set apart by a doorway, but there are no walls.  Still, every time he retires, he stands up and goes through the doorway.  It would take him two crawling motions to go from his knees before the Buddha statue to his bedroll on the floor, but he never does that.  The door is a reminder, a discipline, a practice, I’m sure.  It represents some kind of edge or divider, and yet, all is One inside as the open space prevails.  I like how this ruin recaptured that feeling.  We put up our boundaries, but they are mere illusions.  Or perhaps delusions.  Edges are not the Truth of the world, but we cling to them nevertheless.  They give our organized Western minds that compartmentalism that makes us feel secure and in control.  The hazard there is that when the compartments are breached, we feel that something is “wrong”, and we become anxious…needlessly.   Learning to be at peace with being open is a practice I’m following lately. 

In case that’s too philosophical for you, I’ll give you some more literal illustrations:

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.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit

Habit might be the enemy of Awareness or Mindfulness.  Doing things routinely without thinking is a practice that allows our mind to wander into the past or the future or the make believe without really being present.  Sometimes, this is just what I want to do!  Yes, I admit to blowing up Mah Jong tiles and Free Cell rows when I want to veg out.  But if I want to be truly alive, I try to pay attention to each present moment.  Thich Nhat Hahn gives a wonderful lesson to Oprah Winfrey on drinking tea mindfully in this clip.  Oprah, out of habit, takes a sip of her tea before the meditation even begins.  I smile, thinking, “how embarrassing!” and noting that I probably would have done the same thing if I wasn’t careful.  Habits can be comforting…and they can lull us to sleep.  Do you want to be awake?  Do you feel like there will be plenty of time to be dead – later on?  I do.  Except when I don’t.  It takes a lot of psychic energy to be alive!  Think about all that’s involved when you do a simple thing like climb up a short flight of stairs.  Your weight is shifting, balancing, your muscles are contracting, your toes are gripping, your hand may reach out to the banister, your eyes are measuring the height of each step, you’re breathing with the exertion, and all while trying to remember what you’re going upstairs for!  Walking meditation, tea meditation, stairs meditation…it’s all the same practice of mindfulness.  This picture adds another aspect: Steve meditation.  I see him every day.  I want to be mindful of that miracle.  He’s alive, different, changing, dynamic, and important.  So am I (but I have a long way to go on that one…appreciating myself is the hardest practice for me!).

Habit

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

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”?