Tears and Till Kingdom Come

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Yesterday was a day of pain and tears. Pain from inflammation in two nerves in my lower back. Pain from seeing the sadness and grief of a family all too accustomed to grief and loss burying their son, brother, father, husband, and uncle well before his three score and ten. He was 46. I began to weep seeing his stoic father, Vice-President Joe Biden walking towards the church behind the hearse with arms around his granddaughter.

image Seeing the family in their grief broke my heart. Most of my readers must know the story of young Joe losing his wife and infant daughter and nearly losing his two sons ages two and three in a car accident when he was just 30 years old. To bury the oldest of his sons has to be one of the most painful experiences anyone can undergo. My physical pain paled, and yet I found it hard to bear, unable to find even a halfway comfortable position.

 

Chris Martin of the group Coldplay, having learned that Beau Biden had liked their music, gave an acoustic rendition of “Til Kngdom Come” that reached into our hearts.

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Here is a video of Coldplay performing “Till Kingdom Come,” with the lyrics, which I found to be stirring, apt and entirely appropriate for this solemn occasion. I heard several reporters say they wept as they listened.

This music is evocative and poignant, the words ambiguous enough to fit any number of painful situations. Another in this genre that is very frank is “O Death” by Ralph Stanley whose haunting a capella performance I featured on this blog in the past.

My back pain is somewhat better today, as I hoped it would be. The Biden family’s pain is in its infancy, to be felt and honored and processed this whole next year, as Father’s Day, birthdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas come without Beau. Eventually next year at this time the corner will be turned, only a little, but turned, and life will begin to open its doors of beauty and joy to the grieving again. Whatever we may believe about an afterlife, it does get better. And yet, we never forget our ancestors and other loved ones who have gone on before us. How can we?

I will end this post with some words of Metta:

May all beings be free from suffering,

May all beings be at ease,

May all beings be happy,

May all beings have peace.

 

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Spring in the Time of Climate Change

Summer Garden Bounty

Summer Garden Bounty

 

I’ve planted a small raised bed garden annually for the last 5 or 6 years in our rural northeastern Pennsylvania community where we spend half our week. The soil is organic and freshened every spring, and no herbicides or pesticides are allowed. The whole big garden is fenced and features a rainbird-type sprinkler system that waters it once a day, so dry spells aren’t a factor. We also have a hose for watering our plots ourselves as needed. The garden seems to be divided pretty equally between veggies and gorgeous flowers, mostly enormous Dinnerplate Dahlias climbing high with help from poles and trellises. We also have a community herb plot we can all use, and last summer it included curry, basil, oregano, spearmint, peppermint, and rosemary. I love heirloom tomatoes for their tangy flavor and great texture, so I go for Mortgage Lifter. As a pretty strict (but not perfect) vegan, I love my tomatoes! Sometime I put ripe tomato slices with coconut bacon in a BLT with Just Mayo vegan mayonnaise for an amazing treat.

Mortgage Lifter heirloom, courtesy of Bonnie Plants, So named because a radiator salesman in the 1940s started selling the seeds and made enough in 6 yrs to pay off his mortgage!

Mortgage Lifter heirloom, courtesy of Bonnie Plants.
So named because a radiator salesman in the 1940s started selling the seedlings and made enough in 6 yrs to pay off his mortgage

Dinnerplate Dahlia, getting the name from the size of the blooms, and the plants can grow to over 6′ tall.

I usually throw in a Big Boy or Big Girl tomato plant to get a nice variety. I usually have four tomato plants in my 4×4′ raised bed plot. I also plant Italian flat leaf parsley and enjoy it in my green smoothies all summer. It’s the last of my plants to get killed by frost in the fall. My plot is rounded out with basil, and marigolds are interspersed to discourage pests. Two years ago some critters got in and kept biting the ripening tomatoes on the vine, so I bought wildlife netting, but I didn’t need it last year.

So here we are at Memorial Day weekend, and I was planning to buy my seedlings and get the garden in the ground tomorrow. We are in the 5b hardiness zone, which means that the average minimum winter temperature is -15 to -10 F. Our garden chief told us that the garden plots were ready to plant a month ago but urged us to wait until Memorial Day to plant, because it’s not uncommon for us to get a killing frost in May. Last year I tempted fate and planted in mid-May, and thanks to a late frost, everything but the parsley died and I had to buy all new tomato and basil plants and try again.

So I thought this weekend would be safe. Wrong! Thank goodness I haven’t bought the plants yet because last night it went down into the 30s F and some blossoms on our deck took a hit. That’s two years running with later frosts than we had been having up here. Then there were the past two winters which really pummeled the northeastern US. We had more snow than we knew what to do with. Add to these the tornados and droughts and flooding rains in various places not accustomed to them, and it seems we are in for a bumpy ride in the years ahead.

But a few weeks ago, before the foliage of the shrubs, including blackberry canes, and trees began to fill in, the daffodil bulbs bloomed. We planted them years ago when my aunt brought them to me from Tennessee. Here’s a photo I took with my iPhone, as all my originals are these days!

Early spring ruffled daffodils, from Roane County Tennessee bulbs

Early spring ruffled daffodils, from Roane County Tennessee bulbs.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to everyone in the US, as we remember our loved ones who have gone beyond, and all those who died serving our country. And May All Beings Be At Ease, everywhere.

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Meditation in the Garden

Moon Bridge by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California

Long ago in my childhood, as I was growing up in Southern California, I was blessed by parents who both savored beauty and creativity. Together we went to museums, gardens, arboretums, botanical gardens, and  historic places including the old Spanish missions erected by the monks who helped settle California, led by Fra Junipero Serra, about whom I learned in elementary school.

Recently in a guided meditation, I was drawn back to the Japanese Teahouse of the Huntington Library in San Marino, near Pasadena. This teahouse fascinated me with its low cushions and tables and delicate rice paper shoji screens. I might have forgotten it except for my son reminding me not long ago of my taking him to the same beautiful place in his childhood, and he remembered Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy.”

Thomas Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" painted in 1770, from the collection of the Huntington Library

Thomas Gainsborough’s “Blue Boy” painted in 1770, from the collection of the Huntington Library

When he mentioned the painting, I recalled my many trips to the Huntington Library as well, and I mentioned the Japanese Teahouse which suddenly came into my mind complete with full-color impressions. He recalled it, too, and we spoke of how lovely it was.

Japanese teahouse interior

Japanese Teahouse Interior

In my meditation some time ago I saw myself in the teahouse on a cushion, the shoji walls moved aside to reveal the beautiful gardens outside. I saw a woven basket filled with gorgeous lotus flowers beside me. First someone who helped raise me came to me and presented me with a lotus blossom, a loving gift teaching self-love and acceptance, for it is sometimes easier to accept the love from another than to give it to ourselves. Then as I sat, one by one my close friends and loved ones approached me and to each I gave a flower. Next came those towards whom I feel neutral feelings, and lastly those with whom I am or have been in painful conflict, and each received a flower.

lotus flower

The next time I sat in meditation and brought up this scene, I found that I was sitting just outside the teahouse on a rock near a stream, surrounded by manicured lawns and shrubbery, and in my basket were dahlias.

dahlia

Each, as before, but in different order came and were given a flower. Some came by for a second flower and this was fine. Water flowed by me, making its sweet fluid music, and early crickets chirped in the reeds. Orange and dappled koi circled lazily in the waters by a stone footbridge linking me to the lawns of the teahouse.

Koi by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library

Koi by the Japanese Teahouse at the Huntington Library

I will share with you now a Metta (loving kindness) meditation I use every day, in one form or another. This one is taken from Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice, by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. May it serve you as well as it has served me. The sounds behind my voice are those of a stream and crickets, punctuated by a Tibetan singing bowl.

Please enjoy, and share if you feel so inclined.

Click on the link below for a 7.15 minute meditation.

Namaste

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There’s No Point in Punishing the Car, by Ven. Ananda Maitreya

I speak and write often about the practice of Metta, or loving kindness, meditation. Here the Venerable Ananda Maitreya addresses Metta beautifully and stresses that there are many ways to practice Metta. He explains how the Buddha responded when others abused him, and his shining example offers us an alternative to how most of us tend to respond in similar circumstances.

Buddhism now

Gandhara Buddha JAGood will, loving-kindness, friendliness, a friendly feeling, metta. How do you practise metta? You start by trying to understand the value of your own life; you must see how much you love yourself. The dearest thing for every individual in the world is their own life. Therefore, first of all, feel the love for yourself. I do not mean carnal appetite when I use this word ‘love’; I mean good will and benevolence. You must hope for the welfare of your own life.

Anyone who doesn’t love himself or herself cannot love others. First practise love for yourself, and then extend that very same love to your nearest and dearest — your child, for example. Do this until you feel that there is no difference between your child and yourself. Then go a little further and try to feel love for, say, a brother. Again, do this until you…

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Gazing at Peace and Truth

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 We gaze at the face of the Buddha, one who has shown countless beings who have gone before us the way of peace and truth, of right living, of non-harming (ahimsa), of mindfulness, of dwelling in the moment, of experiencing life open and aware (mindfulness). We see calm and beauty in his face, and we remember why we seek it, for peace in our hearts and for peace in the world we inhabit. We seek to live honorably, fairly, humanely, responsibly and rightly, and embodying loving kindness (Metta).

What do we bring today to honor this enlightened being who has spoken wisdom, passed down to us through the ages, offering tools by which to bring an end to suffering in ourselves and in others? If we follow the Dharma, we bring the intention to align our lives, every moment of every day, with the Noble Eightfold Path. Perhaps we succeed only momentarily, but as we continue to practice with the intentions of Right View, Right Intentions, Right Speech, Right Actions, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration, we will have more such right moments. Even more perhaps than the peace right living brings to us is the peace it can bring to all with whom we come in contact in our lives. The ripples spread ever outward, and the healing influence and positive effects are endless.

The path awaits.

Namaste

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Being An Instrument of Peace

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Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

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How do we become an instrument of peace?

St. Francis of Assisi lived the words in this prayer attributed to him. He, as did the Buddha, gave up a life of wealth and ease to live modestly and spend his time and energies ministering to the poor and those in need of compassion and relief from suffering. It is said that animals of all kinds came towards him, and he is often depicted with birds on his shoulders and resting in his open hands, and adoring animals at his feet. The Franciscan Order was founded in his name and espousing his values, and Francis, the current Pope, himself a Franciscan, has demonstrated his commitment to being an instrument of peace wherever he goes.

  • In order to transmit peace, we need to receive and nurture peace. This means seeking it and sharing it.
  • Being an instrument of peace, in my view, means abstaining from harming any other beings, practicing ahimsa, the Eastern principle of non-harming.
  • To receive peace we need to be in harmony with the peace around us. We therefore must tune in to peace wherever it may be. We must seek out beauty and tranquility in nature, and we must gravitate to those beings with whom we feel at peace. Animals who share our lives can bring us the peace of their presence.
  • We can find peace virtually anywhere, even where suffering occurs. Even in suffering, we can be at peace, and we can comfort others in their suffering with our peace. Even one suffering and near death can be at peace and in so being transmit that peace to us.

To be an instrument of peace means to earnestly seek peace for all beings–whomever, however and wherever they may be. When we can do this, we begin to become liberated from the schadenfreude that characterizes much modern emotional life. We no longer wish for our allies, candidates or teams to win at the expense of their competitors suffering ignominious defeat. It becomes possible for us to feel at ease with win-win, rather than requiring win-lose for our happiness. This is not to say that we will not yearn for goodness, right and charity toward all to prevail. Naturally we will seek these things always. But we learn to refrain from wishing ill towards those who fight against goodness, right, and charity toward all. Perhaps as peace truly takes up residence in our hearts and minds we aspire for those who sow misery to be transformed into loving, caring and better beings.

One way we can transmit peace toward all beings, to truly be an instrument of peace, is to make Metta, or loving kindness, meditation a part of our daily practice. We aspire to all the desirable states of being for ourselves, then for our loved ones, next for those with whom we do not feel peace and harmony or are aware they do not feel them towards us, and lastly for all other beings, whomever, however and wherever they may be.

When we aspire to Metta, or loving kindness, for all beings, we do so in a sweeping “lighthouse” sort of manner:

For beings in this universe and all other universes.

For all beings above us and below us.

All beings to the north, south, east and west of us.

Male beings and female beings.

Young beings and old beings.

Human beings, animal beings, and all other beings.

Living beings, and beings who are not yet living.

Beings in the air, beings on the earth, beings under the earth.

Beings in or on the waters of the oceans, rivers, lakes and streams.

Beings wherever they may on the path toward enlightenment.

Beings at any plane of existence or level of consciousness.

When I first began practicing Metta meditation, I failed to comprehend the value of this sweeping, inclusive nature of the practice. I simply wished for “all beings” all the aspirations I wished for myself. Now I find myself visualizing peace and all goodness for all beings as I list the various kinds of beings and their various states and positions, and I can feel the loving kindness permeating me as I visualize it permeating the universes and all who dwell in any state of being within them. In this manner, I believe we broadcast loving kindness in all directions, and thus truly become Instruments of Peace.

Today I heard a beautiful rendition of the St. Francis Prayer by Singh Kaur, a devout Sikh convert and amazing musician, and a being whose life ended long before its time, or so it must feel to all those who loved her. This beautiful floral slide show complements her heavenly voice.

 

Mindful calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Zen calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

Namaste

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Happy Happy, Joy Joy, Spring is here!

Google Spring doodle

Spring has arrived! If you opened your computer, iOS or Android device this morning and clicked on Google to search something out, you saw the image above. It’s animated, so check it out on Google! Seldom has a Google Doodle lifted my spirits as much!

This has been the most horrendous of winters in the Northeast that most of us can remember. Oldtimers have told me they can’t remember such a span of unending winter misery in New York. It has felt as if the cold and snow and ice would never end. But with the arrival of the vernal equinox today at about 1:00 pm EDT, officially, winter is over! Oh sure, we may get more cold days and even some snow before summer hits, but basically, we’ve made it through the worst, and bluer skies and warm weather await.

Why does it matter so much to us? How much it matters has a lot to do with our biology (genetics predominately) and our temperament. If we are active people who enjoy winter sports, the advent of snow can be cause for celebrating.

snowshoes

We have snowshoes and have been enjoying them this winter, but care must be taken always to be moving forward and use the poles. Failing to do either of these can mean falling into hip-deep snow with virtually no way to get upright again. Nevertheless, I love snowshoeing and look forward to getting to use them again. We may still have sufficient snow in the country to use the snowshoes, but if we have to wait until next winter, I won’t be sorry.

Genetically, we may be prone to depression in the form of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Many of my clients struggle with this every year, and sometimes the best we can do about it is to acknowledge that eventually it will end. Some people have told me that in late December when the days grow imperceptibly longer again, they can start to feel that depression lift. There are full-spectrum lighting devices available that mimic sunlight, and a few people I have treated claim they help, but of course, only if they use them. Because it means sitting by the light source for 30 minutes or so, many people don’t find them practical.

If our temperament is anxious, it may have begun to seem that this winter is a personal affront to us, a scheme designed to thwart our best efforts and consign us to misery, forever and ever, amen. If our temperament is depressive, we may feel dumped on by the universe and believe that despite winter always coming to an end in the past, this year, and maybe due to the wacky weirdness of climate change, it will never leave. We may imagine ourselves peering out onto an icy front walk in July. Depression has a way of lying to us and convincing us that whatever misery we currently experience is interminable, permanent.

Life is actually pretty short, in the scheme of things. It seems just as if it were yesterday that our adult kids were babies, for example, or that we ourselves were young and had a vast lifetime of possibilities stretching ahead of us. If we don’t live in the now, we miss our lives. Here’s where mindfulness offers us so much. We need to move with all deliberate speed, meaning proceed on the path without withering by the wayside for too long. Meaning we need to understand what our priorities are because they are what drive us. Meaning we need to go slowly enough to savor the life we are living, even the suffering which is such a great teacher that makes the sweetness in life so much more delicious. “No mud, No lotus”, as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us.

more to life Gandhi

What have you hoped to accomplish in this life? Have you started to go after the things you still fervently wish for? No? Start now. Begin to write, take a painting class, start a blog, take photographs with your phone and have fun playing around with them on your computer or tablet. Take a class, begin to meditate. Whatever it is, there is a way you can begin to do it, if even only a little bit. Do it! Let go of what anyone else thinks you should or should not do. Listen to your heart and try to let it guide you into a positive new direction, one which aligns with your values and your dreams.

life is short

Those of us who have sat by the bedside of a dying loved one know how short life is. So let’s begin to nail down some goals and take steps toward reaching them. We just don’t know how much time we will have if we delay.

do it now

May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.

And today, this is my practice.

Namaste

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