Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Astonished Again

A wise man is astonished by everything.Image by Todd Huffman via Flickr

Yesterday I posted this short poem by Mary Oliver:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

Since then, I have been thinking about the people in my life who allow themselves to be astonished and what exactly that word might mean, to me or to others. I should probably more accurately say that I wonder how we live into that word. For me, it has meant wonder and awe, an occurrence that causes something inside me to shift, to slide over just a little bit and create a new spaciousness. I recognize that I have associated astonishment with something positive and that the experience of it brings some degree of ease.

The interim pastor at my church is someone who embodies astonishment for me. If he loves a particular hymn or song he will jump up from his seat, sing loudly and with gusto, and swing his arms around for emphasis. All the while there is a huge smile on his face. Also, during our time of sharing our joys and concerns in the worship service, he will get out the local newspaper and read to us some of the things that moved or surprised him. One day it was about how many homeless men have died here in Anchorage over the past year. Another time it was about the burden that our local military bases carry as they lose men and women in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These things deeply sadden us and we bring them to prayer together.

These are both examples of astonishment. My computer dictionary says that astonish means to surprise or impress. But as I look for a deeper understanding (as contemplatives reflexively do) I find that its derivative in Old French is to thunder and its original meaning was stunned, dismayed, bewildered.

This shadow side of astonishment certainly fits with my previous understanding of the word. If I keep my heart open and aware, even the pain and the sorrow in this world will allow something inside me to shift, to create more room, and to move more spaciously and hopefully, lovingly, in the world. Astonishment is intimately related to feeling, and Mary Oliver and Pastor John are inviting me to feel all of it. And thank God, I have places to tell about it.

What is thundering, a low rumble, a cracking boom and all points in between, in your own life? What is your response?

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

bring it back to natureImage by Fabian Bromann via Flickr

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
From Mary Oliver's poem Sometimes in her book Redbird

This is one of the great gifts of the blogging community and also taking up the discipline (for me) of blogging. It encourages me to constantly pay attention, to see what is really going on around me, and then to have a place to tell about it. A place where I am understood, not by everyone, but by some. It is also a place to share in the experiences of others, allowing myself to be challenged and to become more deeply aware through entering into what others have been aware of, what they have been astonished by. Thank you to all of the wonderful bloggers and readers out there. I am so blessed by this circle.

Don't forget to be astonished today and be sure to tell me about it!

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcome Change

While for many of you the leaves have just begun to change, here in Alaska we are deep in the throes of a stunningly beautiful autumn. Sometimes fall only lasts a few weeks here. The leaves begin to change and then we get a big wind storm that blows them off the trees and then, far too soon, it is all over. This year the leaves have turned a deeper and deeper yellow, sometimes arriving at a glowing orange and much to our delight they have remained solidly attached. Sometimes I find myself holding my breath wondering just how much longer we will be allowed to enjoy such wonder.

There are many reasons to love fall. The crisp smell of fall air mingled with an occasional scent of a woodfire burning. The beauty of yellows and reds replacing the green of summer. The harvest reaped and stored for another year. Harvest time in Alaska means that your salmon is canned or put in the freezer, moose or caribou has been hunted and processed and your berries picked and made into jam or frozen for winter morning pancakes.

But the main reason that I love fall is that it leads to….winter! Fall, for me, is like Advent. It is a waiting, a preparation for the long winter. The trees will soon be bare of leaves but the snows will come to blanket them. The days will grow short indeed, only 5 hours long at winter solstice. The sounds all around me will be muffled by the snow and a quiet will descend upon my home, upon my spirit.

There is much to love in every season. I would not appreciate the depth of winter if it were not for the potent energy of an Alaskan summer. And fall is a beautiful gentle journey between the two, a tender transition.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Should I stay or should I go?

I am surrounded by people that travel. Alaskans are a traveling and adventurous lot in general. If you are looking, you will find them out exploring all over the world. Also, almost all of us have family outside of Alaska that we need to visit, so we take a lot of trips each year. When we get together with friends the question of “when and where is your next trip” is a major topic of discussion. Mark’s parents are off on a trip to some far flung part of the world every other week it seems. Travel is a part of the culture in which I live.

Yesterday Mark came in the door from work with a brochure in his hand. “I’ve got an idea what we can do next year”, he said. “How about this?”

There was a surgery conference to be held in Maui at the end of January and he was suggesting that his mother come up and watch the kids while we go to Hawaii for a little vacation, just the two of us. I looked at the words and then up at Mark’s expectant face and out of my mouth popped the words, “I don’t want to go.” Whoa. My husband is offering me a trip to a tropical island in the dead of winter and I say “no”?

As I’ve thought about it since I realize that instead of “I don’t want to go” the more correct words would have been, “I want to stay here” or “I don’t want to leave home”. Both of which feel very true.

As I talked about in my previous post, I have put my roots down deep here. I love being home and don’t like being uprooted. Does it have to do with my kids? My family? My day to day life? Yes, all of these, but it also has to do with my general sense of contentment. I feel full and really happy. Here. Sometimes I think, or even worry, that I have become very unadventurous, even timid about travel, despite the fact that I have just returned from Africa and was in France in May. But in reality, Mark is the adventurous one and I am often along for the ride.

At this moment in my life it feels that home and Alaska has everything that I need. This groundedness feels like a preparation for a winter season in my life. And for me that doesn’t mean a barren time. Winter is my favorite season! For me, winter is an inward time, a less busy time. An opportunity to simplify. I’m no good at flitting here and there. No good at quick transitions. I’m longing for a long, uninterrupted stretch of settling deeply into my space. A time to write, a time to let things be created in me. A time to really be with myself.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spiritual Geography

How is it possible that wide open spaces fill me up inside?
from N.N.

The above sentence is called an "American sentence". Similar to the Japanese poem, haiku, it has 17 syllables, but all on one line. My friend submitted this thought at my request for people to share a few posts ago. Her question caused me to recall the idea of a spiritual geography, an idea which I first ran into in Kathleen Norris's book, Dakota. She talks about the fact that some where in the world there is a landscape that nurtures us and brings us to peace in ourselves, a place where we can put our roots down and they will grow deep. For Kathleen, that place was North Dakota. Her family roots were there and she had grown up visiting relatives in that part of the country but never lived there until she inherited the family homestead when her grandmother died. She was living in New York City at the time, but felt a pull to that vast, open, even desolate country. And she found herself opening up, coming alive in a way that she had not experienced before.

I had always thought that my spiritual geography must be the landscape in which I had grown up. I was raised in the far southeastern corner of Kansas, just on the very edge of the Ozarks. We had gentle hills, green fields and winding country roads. But we were also just a few miles from the prairie. Whenever I go home now, especially in the summer, I roll my window down, take a deep breath into my lungs and say, "Yes, this smells like home." And it does smell like home, I have imprinted upon it. But it no longer feels like home. Home is Alaska, no doubt about it.

I am willing to put up with all the difficulties and complications of Alaska because here, I have found the spiritual landscape in which my spirit flourishes. I would never have guessed that a girl from the middle of America would find her truest home in the wildness of Alaska. Now, most of you know that I live in Anchorage, Alaska's version of the big city, not in the bush or even way out in the country. (Though as I type this, my house is surrounded by birch and spruce, I live on a dirt road, and no other houses are visible from any of my windows.) But, here in Alaska, wilderness is just outside our door. And though it's hard to put a finger on or point out to a visitor, there is a very true sense that this place is untamed and that it will not be tamed. Why would a girl like me, who has always played it pretty safe, be drawn most deeply to that?

I am deeply grateful for the twists and turns of life that brought me to this place and this time. I never would have chose it. I'm so thankful that it chose me.

What is your spiritual geography? Do you get to live there or only visit? What does that landscape help you to know about your inmost self and your ways of knowing God?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Music is a very important part of my and my family’s life. We all appreciate music which is to say that we all recognize good music, even when it may not be our style or what we normally listen to. Tim plays electric guitar and though his usual genre is heavy metal, he recently started working on some jazz stuff. He was blown away by the complexity and elegance of jazz chords. After playing some of those chords for himself, he came in my room with a stunned look on his face and said, “Jazz is cool”. Music had opened up something brand new inside of him.

My husband and I love to hear LIVE music which is such a different experience from recorded music. It is not just about the sound or even the visual component of entertainment. I think that it is primarily about the energy of the people you are gathered with, your musical community. We can experience musical community in grand concert halls (we have those here in Alaska), gigantic venues (we have one of those, too, people like Elton John play there), and in church sanctuaries. Or it could be in a crowded bar with people pushing up too close and spilling their beer on you. When I have the experience of being with the music and with my community, I am with God in all of those places. And if I pay good attention, the place that I often experience God the most strongly is that crowded bar with the sticky floor, sweaty guys (and girls), and way loud music.

Just last night we went to hear The Hold Steady, a band whose music we didn’t really know. Most of the time we see bands that we already know. In those cases I tend to get swept away in the music because I know the words and my body knows how it wants to move to the familiar rhythms and melodies. This time I was much more aware of the experiences that everyone else was having and I have to tell you, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. This band makes people happy. And when they get happy they sing at the top of their lungs and dance crazy and jump up and down. There weren’t any fights or people being mean to each other. There was just a general spirit of goodwill for each other. And in my theology or philosophy or whatever you want to call it, when that kind of spirit shows up, that is where God is.

Were there people there that had too much to drink? Yep. Were there people that I felt a little judgmental about in regard to behavior or attire or lack thereof? Yep. (I can’t help it, I’m a mom. But I do release my judgments and let people make their own choices.) But maybe we spiritual types can get too narrow about what is spiritual and what is not. Meditation and prayer is pretty clearly in the realm of the sacred, but jumping up and down until you're sweat soaked and blissed out, maybe not so much. I’m pretty sure that some of my “spiritual” community would be quite surprised at my abandon on the dance floor. (My children are surprised and appalled.) But, every chance I get, I’m going to get out there, feel the music, and jump up and down. For joy.

Here's a Youtube video of the Hold Steady.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Beach

The Sun, is a journal full of beautiful writing and photography that I have recently rediscovered. Every month they have a section called Readers Write in which readers write very short essays about some assigned topic. I noticed at the bottom of the section that anyone can send in a piece for consideration and possible publication. I felt moved to begin writing on the subjects as another writing exercise. And, it just makes sense for me to go ahead and send it in. Who knows what might happen? So, below is my offering for the subject of The Beach.

I was five years old the first time that I saw the ocean. My family had driven cross country from our tiny town in the southeast corner of Kansas to Los Angeles, California. All that I can remember of that first sight is the image of a shipwreck that lay just off the beach. I would guess that this was supposed to be pleasantly interesting or even a tourist attraction, but for me it was the most terrifying sight that I had ever seen. One end of the ship had sunk below the water while the other rose up out of the sea like a hulking rusted skeleton. The terror of the possibilities of what might lay beneath the water was even more awful than the sight of the discolored metal against the summer sky. Could there be anything worse than being held under the water forever? I remember the clench of fear in my belly and the rubber feeling in my legs. Already it was too late. For me the ocean would never be a place of simple pleasure or easy relaxation. Instead, it would always be something that I had to protect myself against. All subsequent experiences of the beauty and grandeur of the ocean have been colored by the lens of that first glimpse of its ferocity and the finality of its judgments against the weak.

I have visited the ocean many times since. We even have a vacation home on the Oregon coast where I sit and gaze at the pounding waves. But I never venture out onto the water, preferring instead the safety of the beach.

Just a note: I tried to look at pictures of shipwrecks to illustrate this blog but they created such a sense of panic in me that I just couldn't post it.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Many of us blog not because we think that our lives are just so darned out of the ordinary or because we have such lofty insights that the rest of the world just has to know, but because we want to be disciplined about keeping a journal of sorts and to follow our thoughts through to some logical conclusion. Another reason that I have taken up blogging is that I would like to become a better writer. And by better I mean that I want to be able to express ideas and experiences clearly using words in such a way that the reader will truly be able to understand a thought that I am having or even experience it in some way.

To that end, I have a few books that I am using, possibly on a daily(ish?) basis. (I notice some definite hedging in that sentence.) One of the books is called Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within by Kim Addonizio. This book looks great inside, but I have to admit that this book won out over its competition because of the great cover. One of the first exercises that she suggests is to write Haiku. I like Haiku. For me, it is not intimidating and I tend to be a person of few words. I enjoy paring things down. (Which you can't tell by some of my recent posts.) Almost anyone can put down three lines with 5 syllables, 7 syllables and 5 syllables.

But Addonizio also points out that there is an American form of this called the American sentence, a phrase coined by Allen Ginsberg, which is just a single line containing the 17 syllables that would be in a Haiku. Again, not overly intimidating. The author says that a great poem should surprise and delight, contain mystery and meaning, and be set to a rhythm that sings. So here are some of the lines that I jotted down this morning while I was waiting for some friends in a coffee shop, some in Haiku form, some in American sentence form. I'm going to invite you to write one as well and leave it in my comments box. Please! It will only take a minute or two. It doesn't have to be great or contain all of the elements above, but it just might.

Ten young people sit at a table talking and drinking coffee.

Autumn leaves glowing
with the long summer's final
golden energy.

I would like to paint the integrity of a lonely winter tree.

Hope to hear from someone!

Monday, September 14, 2009


(This is a picture of Angry Penguin, Annie won him at the Alaska State Fair.)

I’m not a person who bounds out of bed in the morning bright eyed and ready to face the day. But, I do wake up early and am fairly disciplined about getting myself downstairs to my prayer and yoga space most days before the rest of my family is awake. It allows me to awaken mind, body and spirit and readies me to be a more centered and yes, even joyful person.

My children have not yet adopted any similar sort of spiritual practice. They roll out of the sack bleary eyed and grumpy, groping their way to the bathroom where not even a hot shower does much to improve their mood. Tim is 13 and though Annie is still only 11, they both act like teenagers and they can be quite short tempered by the time they make it down to the kitchen where I am innocently trying to enjoy my toast and egg and a cup of tea. For the past several mornings there has been door slamming, stomping and general head-biting-off. I’m shocked to find that a kid who had looked in the mirror twice in his whole life before he turned 13 now has bad hair days. On days like this my lovely yoga and prayer induced centeredness evaporates like spit on a hot griddle. I feel my open heart shrivel up and my gut tighten. My higher self gets shoved into the back seat and my ego comes out ready for a fight. In the face of these negative emotions I seem unable to hang on to what I want to be and how I want to feel. I have been pondering why this is so.

One reason is that I assume that the bad mood and grumpiness is about me or that it is directed at me. My children are purposely attacking me because they are angry at me. But, as I step back and look, I realize that it isn’t about me at all. They are simply tired, it is hard to get up and get motivated in the morning and so irritation just naturally erupts like a little mini volcano. It’s not really directed at anyone at all, but it will effect anyone who gets in the way. So, I would like to learn to get out of the way.

One of the ways I can do this is by ignoring it. I am NOT good at ignoring. Can you ignore a whining child? How about a barking dog? I wish that I could. I have had many opportunities to try. Unfortunately though, I just get more and more irritated. The answer for me is not to ignore, but to be mindful and aware. I need to sit and notice the energy, but I don’t have to take it on or into myself. I can remind myself that most of the time, this negative energy is not about me nor directed at me. When these episodes occur the resulting energy is not ignored, rather it is released. Believe me, this is much easier said than done and will take me lots of practice. It doesn’t come naturally to me, just like playing the piano doesn’t really come naturally to me, but I love the piano and I keep trying. I’ve never gotten Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata perfect, not even close. But it did get better and once in a while it even reached out and touched the beauty that I knew was possible in me.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Day 14 - Visual Representation of a Reading ListImage by margolove via Flickr

Seduced by the possibilities

of unknown worlds

and a brand new me


with the turn of a page.

Falling again

to the infinite promise

of a book

not yet begun.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Too Many Books?

On the platform, readingImage by moriza via Flickr

This post is very long, I'm sorry. I've been working on it for several days....

I am not a big shopper, you will not find me hanging out at the mall or collecting clothes and accessories. (Though I really love sweaters, nice, scratchy, yes, I said scratchy, wool ones. Whenever a sweater is scratchy it convinces me that it is keeping me warmer. I know that it’s weird.) But, I do have a huge weakness for books. (I also have a weakness for candy, particularly what one of my friends calls “crap candy”. But that issue is pretty controllable. Too much crap candy makes you sick.)

As I have mentioned in a previous post, I love books and everything associated with books. I love libraries and book stores and the book section at conferences. If I visit someone’s home or office I am immediately perusing their book shelves. Even when I am watching a movie I will look past the characters and the dialogue to see what books might be on the shelf in the background. I love the feel of the book in my hand, the smoothness of the page. I especially love the smell of old books, a characteristic that my 11 year old daughter shares with me. When we are at the library together we will pull a book off the shelf circa 1950, open it up, inhale and both whisper ahhhhhh. It’s a true bonding moment. I have purchased old books at the church book sale just for the comforting smell of old pages.

I am not one of those people who hang onto every book that they ever buy. Unless I really, REALLY love the book I give it away or trade it in at the used book store. My husband, on the other hand, wants to keep every book that he ever buys, even if he hates it or never even read it! It makes a non-pack rat like me crazy. The good news is that he hardly ever buys a book. But, even though I don’t usually keep all of my books, I have a lot of books and I have a fair amount of books that I’ve never read, books that I just can’t seem to get to.

We have all heard the phrase “so many books, so little time” and at an earlier stage in my life it felt that I would eventually get to all of those books that I have missed. The classics, the histories, the Pulitzer prize winners, the bestsellers, the art books, philosophers, the 1000 books you must read before the die. Then there are all of the new books, those delicious stacks at Costco, the fabulous possibilities on Amazon, those gorgeous displays at the entrance of Barnes and Noble. My heart is racing just thinking about all of it. But as I’ve gotten older and my life seems to get fuller and fuller, I’m beginning to think that I might not get to all of it. And I’m also beginning to think that I don’t want to.

Several years ago now, I read Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, My Grandfather’s Blessings. I will never forget a story that she tells about a little boy that she befriended. The boy’s family didn’t have a lot of money so he didn’t have a lot of toys. But he did have a few Hot wheels cars that he would play with and then lovingly line up on the windowsill. Rachel wanted this little boy to be happy, so she organized a group of people at her work who all collected Hot wheels cars until they had a complete set. She presented the cars to him excitedly, expecting a joyous response to being the owner of such a wide array of cars. But instead of looking happy, he just looked overwhelmed. She asked him, “Don’t you like the cars?” He appeared slightly sad and responded, “I can’t love this many cars.” I have come back to this phrase many times in my life, but instead of cars I say, “I can’t love this many sweaters” or “I can’t love this many earrings” and am then able to leave them on the store rack.

I have had the sense many, many times that I cannot love “this many books”. This feeling has been compounded by the sheer amount of reading material and information that finds its way into my life every day. We subscribe to the New Yorker, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated (not that I have any idea what is in there) and Mother Earth News. I frequently pick up issues of The Sun and Shambala Sun. (I want to subscribe to those two but have restrained myself thus far.) I follow multiple blogs by friends and acquaintances and check in at Huffington Post regularly to get political information. I listen to Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, Fresh Aire, and All Things Considered on most days. I listen to podcasts of Rachel Maddow, dharma talks from Gil Fronsdahl, and daily bible readings from Irish Jesuits. Granted, I don’t read or listen to all of these things every day, but these are the things that are already at my disposal even before I walk into a book store or the library or open up Amazon on my computer. My head is spinning a little bit as I type this. Even with all of this abundance of information, I still feel like there is so much more out there that I need to read or need to listen to.

As I check in with how all of this feels in my body and my spirit, I realize that the desire that goes with “more” books, more words and more information has a compulsive and acquisitive quality. It doesn’t feel good. I’m not sure that it even feels like something that I want to do, but something that I have to do, a compulsion.

It is interesting to me that acquiring books is an acceptable form of over consumption. After all, books aren’t fattening, they don’t take up a lot of space, they’ll never go bad, and they are good for your mind. They can even be really inexpensive at places like the church book sale, garage sales and thrift stores.

For many centuries owning books was an indication of your status, wealth and knowledge.Books were rare and expensive and reserved for the highest classes, professors and students, and the church. The vast majority of people didn’t even own a single book and if they did it was the Bible or other sacred scripture. Indeed, in many countries around the world, this is still true. Many of us read the Little House on the Prairie series growing up. Do you remember which books the Ingalls family owned? They owned the Bible and two or three slim textbooks that Mary, Laura, Carrie and Grace would all carry to school with them. And that was it. And they cherished those books.

I am not sure that I really know what I mean any more when I say that I love a book or a story. Does it mean that it taught me something? Or that it made me feel something? That it changed me in some way? Does it mean that I love the language or the art and craft of the writing? Does it need to mean all of the above for me to love a book?

At this point in my life as a reader and as a lover of books, I feel like a buzzing bee that stops and takes a sweet sip from this flower or that flower, always with an eye on the horizon and the next tempting taste. But what I really want to do is to sink deep down into the middle of those fragrant petals and take a long, slow drink of the beauty and wonder of words. And I know that I cannot do that in the midst of a meadow bursting with blooms. I am envisioning a sunny pasture with a few brilliant blossoms dotting the green grass. A manageable number to which I can give my undivided and loving attention.

And so I am pondering, thinking about, praying over setting a discipline in my life in which I bring any new written material into my life. I will set a moratorium on more words. I get a slightly panicked feeling just thinking about it. I’m like a book junkie who knows that it’s time for a stay in rehab but want to just get my last few fixes before the door closes behind me. Will I be able to do this? Do I really want to? How long should I keep it in place? 3 months? 6 months? A year? (I know with absolute clarity that it should be a year, but the prospect is terrifying!)

Here’s my plan:

I will keep my current magazine subscriptions but not subscribe to any new ones. (Maybe I should subscribe to The Sun and Shambala Sun before I start because I really, really love them. Angst!)

I will not buy any new books except for my book club selections and I will attempt to get those from the library.

I will not check out books from the library.

I will accept books that are gifts.

Here’s some questions that I still have:

What about bookstores? Do I still get to go in there, grab a bunch of books and magazines, sip coffee and munch a cookie on a rainy afternoon or a cold winter day? (This is one of my favorite things in the world!) Or should I take my own books and stay out of the stacks. (But I can still have the cookies!)

Same question for the library.

Then there’s the internet. What sort of limit should I set as far as surfing and reading ?

Here’s something really funny that’s just happened. My son started a new school, Steller Secondary, which is 7th-12th, and I volunteered to staff the school library Friday afternoons for 3 hours. (It’s like someone who just gave up chocolate working at Godiva.) Should I spend some of that time perusing the books (after all I could be making recommendations to my kids) or should I spend the quiet time reading the books that I already have? I am in the library right now and The Smithsonian magazine and the Poisonwood Bible are being very distracting. Oh, and there’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I don’t know anything about Malcolm X. Oh, and Isaac Asimov, a bunch of people have been talking about Isaac Asimov. I’m missing something. I know that I’m missing something.

On the serious side though, I believe that I am being called to trust that Spirit will bring into my life whatever it is that I may need in this next year and that in all likelihood, whatever it is will not be found in a book. I think that I am being called to learn from experience and to trust that my own experience can carry as much wisdom as the words of the great spiritual writers that I revere. I am being called to see beauty all around me. I am being called to write. I am being called to fall in love, again, with the books that grace my abundant book shelf.

I need to set a date. What would be an auspicious day?

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What's Next

I was very excited about seeing this movie,Unmistaken Child, this week. It is the story of a young Tibetan Buddhist monk whose deeply, deeply beloved master has died. The master is a highly revered Rinpoche and it is the Buddhist belief that he can choose to be reincarnated as a human. Eventually, it falls to his disciple to find his reincarnation, the new lama. The movie shows footage of the next 5 years in which the monk travels to many, many villages and spends time with babies or children of the correct age and attempts to determine if the child could possibly be the reincarnation.

I cannot recommend this movie highly enough, even if you have no interest in Buddhism. It is gorgeous in every way. The scenery of Nepal, the spectacle of Tibetan Buddhist ritual, the monk himself who shows all of his love, devotion and deep sense of duty on his handsome young face, the baby lama’s fierce intensity and then joyful smiles, the look in the eyes of his parents (a very stoic couple amongst a stoic people) as they decide if they will be able to give their son up to the monastery forever.

One of the things that I became aware of as I watched this movie, is that I wasn’t doubting that the lama had been reincarnated. There was never a point at which I questioned whether or not this was some hocus pocus. On some level I was accepting this as true. True for Buddhists? True for me? What was that about? Did I believe in reincarnation? I don’t think that I do. As I have pondered on this since, I have become aware that it just doesn’t matter to me. I don’t know what comes after death. I have always hoped and believed that there is something and in recent years I am most likely to agree with my son, Tim, when at age 5, he talked about where we go after we die. He thought about it for a minute and then he said, “I think that we must go back into the heart of God.” Whatever that might mean, I hope that it is true.

There is either something or nothing that comes after this life and many religions base their expectations of its adherent’s behaviors on a promise of that next life. Do this set of things and you’ll be rewarded. Do this other set of things and you’ll be punished. I realize that as I look back over my life that neither the promise of heaven nor the threat of hell ever really motivated me enough to transform my life, to see real change in terms of becoming a more loving, joyful and compassionate person. I chose the path of becoming and transformation because of how it effects me, my family, and my world today.

Have you ever heard people worry that at the moment of death they will find out that they were wrong? That they lived their whole life based on the wrong religion or philosophy or ideals? I have no fear of that. No matter where I find myself or don’t find myself that moment after I die, I have already witnessed that any efforts that I make that might lead to even a little more kindness or love matter and are worth it.

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Those Days

Why is it that some days we wake up and everything just feels “off”? When I have a day like that, is it because I have created it in some way? Is there some worry, anger or frustration that has inserted itself in my subconscious (or more correctly, that I have inserted) and it is there poking at me like a splinter embedded beneath a fingernail that aches, throbs and eventually will result in infection unless I give it the attention that it requires? Or is it just how my serotonin is flowing that day or how the planets have aligned and no matter what I have done or haven’t done in order to create the day that I would like, it will just feel “off”? I ask these questions because frankly, I don’t like these kinds of days and I would like to develop my mind, body and spirit to the point that it never happens to me. Does the Dalai Lama ever have off days? Did Jesus or the Buddha? Mother Teresa? Ghandi? I would like to know that I am in good company.

An “off” day is not a day when the big tragedies or crises happen. It is not a day when my adrenalin or my pain motivates me to action or prayer or awareness. The “off” day is the day when I wake up with a little gnawing anxiety in my stomach. When the kids are grouchy, the dog wants my attention, I don’t have any clean underwear, the gas tank is empty and my cell phone is dead. And on the “off” day, all of those things seem unbearable, when on any other day, I would sail right past these small issues.

Who knows why these days come? It’s very likely that I will never figure it out. But, I guess that I believe that they come for a reason. These days must be there to teach me something. How much do I learn about myself and my behaviors when my kids are perfectly happy with me and each other, my body is at perfect ease, everybody seems to love me, and I meet a smiling face every where that I go? Well, I do learn how that feels if I pay attention and I do learn that that feeling will come again and that in all likelihood I didn’t do anything to create it. And on these other days, I learn how to keep living through what feels difficult and even unacceptable. I have to learn how to put others needs in front of what I feel, and how to keep my heart open and loving even when it feels that I don’t have a drop of goodness within me. I may not get to decide what every day feels like, but I do get to decide how I respond to what is.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fun as a spiritual practice

Laughing and having fun has to be one of the most important spiritual practices that I can think of.  I tend to be a person who thinks a lot and sometimes I need to not think just feel, just enjoy.   So, my blog today is a slide show of the Alaska State Fair that the whole family attended this weekend. We had a great, great time and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I am sure that there is a deep spiritual lesson to be learned at the fair, infinite numbers of them probably.  But for now, I am just looking back over my pictures and smiling.  

See my slide show on the previous post.