Monthly Archives: October 2014

Life as bubbles

Blowing_Bubbles_by_xSweetPrincessI love bubble bath!  Recently, my favorite brand – my favorite for many years! – has disappeared from store shelves, and I’m testing new brands to discover bubbles I like as much.  Sigh… another loss, another change…!

Remember blowing bubbles?  What child doesn’t love to blow bubbles?  What cat or dog doesn’t like to chase bubbles?  What adult doesn’t somehow become a child again when given the opportunity to blow bubbles?  Several years ago, I officiated at an outdoor wedding, and when the ceremony was over and guests sat to eat the wedding meal, we discovered at each plate a small plastic bottle of soap – the new marriage celebrated by hundreds of bubbles, exploding into the air!

Why “life as bubbles?”

Each moment, each precious moment of life is a bubble, if you will.  Each moment explodes into the next, each day passes quickly, and each month and year are so quickly checked off the calendar.

“Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world, the troubles of the world, the troubles of the world,” the slaves in fields in America sang, to remind themselves that this life, this hard and brutal life they were given, would soon enough be over.  To them, these words inspired hope, hope in the hot sun, hope in the blistering heat, hope in the pain.

Soon, the bubbles will burst, soon enough.

***

I lived most of my life exploding bubbles.  How did I do that?  I lived in this moment by thinking and worrying about the next.  I turned over and over in my mind the coming day, the interview next week, the friends I didn’t have, the dream that would not be met.  Or I turned over and over in my mind that last conversation – what I could have said – that last decision that could go wrong, the mistakes, real or imagined, I had made.  Some of this worry was unconscious, to be sure, and sometimes these same unconscious worries come to visit again, even now.

I exploded the bubbles of this moment by living into the future or by living in the past.  That’s a drama-filled life, to be sure, because the mind writes dramas with every stroke of thought.  It does!

How could I have missed all of this?  How could I have missed all the beauty that surrounds me?  How could I have missed the crescent moon, shining in the black sky?  How did I miss the light shining through autumn leaves?  How did I miss the sweet, sweet city smell of morning?  How did I miss the sound of the wind, floating to me?  How did I miss the bubbles, floating into the air, all the colors of the rainbow reflected in their iridescence?

Now, I am grateful as often as I can be, for this shining moment.  I am grateful for this one bubble floating over my head.  I am grateful for the one smile, the simple laugh, the little bit of light that says day is coming soon.

How did I get here?  I will say this:  letting go of the drama, letting go of the wild voices of reason, letting go of the violence of the mind is not an easy job.  It’s a life’s work, and it doesn’t end.  This letting go is the hardest work, and many do not do the work.

I say to others often:  “letting go is the secret to life.”  Then, quickly, I add:  “and how do we let go????”

For a moment today, stop bursting bubbles.  Instead, take a breath.  Sense the bottoms of your feet.  See what is right in front of you.  If you feel sad, feel sad.  If you are happy, be happy.  If you are in grief, cry.

Look at the precious bubbles, these moments, floating in front of your child-like eyes!

The Luxury of Looking for Light

IMG_0383Light over Denali, The Great One, October, 2014

Online “Abbey of the Arts,” Guest Monk in the World Submission, October 26, 2014

‘As if the sorrows of this world could overwhelm me

now that I realize what we are.

I wish everyone could realize this.

But there is no way of telling people

they are all actually walking around shining

like the brightest sun.’

Thomas Merton

The world was always there for me – gurgling with joy, shining like the brightest sun, fragrant-full, slippery and hard-edged, colorful beyond belief – and there I was, walking around with my head in the clouds, my eyes toward the ground.

I have a good mind, but living from that linear place didn’t work for me forever, thank God. My best thinking brought me straight into a long and deep depression almost 20 years ago. Life has not been the same, since. Today, I am grateful to be alive, and every day offers new delicacies for my delight. The gift of being a Monk in the World is that I get to enjoy what has been there all along, and I get to enjoy it as if it is new, as if it has never been witnessed before.

Many years ago, I learned to pray after reading The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, by Hannah Whitall Smith (of the American Holiness Movement). That was the beginning of a long, rich, and growing walk as a Monk in the World. I studied theology and became a preacher, a way to offer to others the gift of knowing we are not separate, we are not alone. I found strength and power and growing self acceptance through prayer. After all this time, I still believe we can change the world by praying, by praying for ourselves, which grows us in Love.

I’m as inter-faith as I am Christian, knowing that the Light, the Universe, the Christ, the Mother, the Holy One, El, is in us all. Or maybe we are swimming in this Holy One. I struggle to find words for this life, this living.

I learned to meditate over 4 years ago, and this practice has deepened me. My greatest joy in meditation is that I find myself more present in the moment, moment by moment, day by day. I see things I did not see before. I delight in the branches of the birch tree outside my city window; I watch the seasons and winds bring change to that tree. I say: “I love that tree, and that tree loves me.” It’s true.

When I meditate, I find the boundaries between myself and the world dissolving. I feel the sound of a neighbor’s voice, the boom of a truck on the street, the harsh call of a jay, the wind in the eucalyptus trees, as much as I hear them. I suppose this is being one with all of creation. For me, it is not as clear as that, but I am beginning to understand, to know.

As a preacher, I also served a community of faith. My work as a Monk in the world was very extraverted for this introvert! I had the privilege of being called to be with others in their times of deepest need – learning a diagnosis that would take a beloved woman’s life, baptizing an infant who would not go home from the hospital, as she lay in the arms of her teenage mother, rushing into a hospital emergency room only minutes before the death of a vibrant woman in her 50’s, as her partner lay sobbing on top of her; I’ve sat in silence and watched the minutes tick away, waiting for surgery to end, with a frightened wife. I’ve answered the door to find a man who has not slept in days, smelling of the street, who tells me his long and convoluted story, only to ask me for a few dollars for food. I’ve heard many of those stories, and even though I do not understand, I have prayed with each one, knowing I have not have ever known that particular desperation. I’ve witnessed the suffering of the mentally ill who come to Church, hoping for something; I am blessed by my own illness to be able to see the suffering person, trapped by their mind, underneath what we call “stigma.”

After 30 years of serving as “Pastor,” I am only grateful. For whatever service I have been able to give, I am grateful. The gift has been mine, truly, truly.

All of this is to say that I am still looking to see the light Thomas Merton, one of my spiritual mentors, must surely have seen. The light is so ordinary, I’m sure. I know with a keen knowing that we are all light, that we are swimming in this light. I’ve felt it for a moment when I meditate, I’ve seen it shimmer – just a glimpse! – in the green, heart-shaped leaves of my beloved birch tree.

I am a mendicant now, begging for alms. I am a mendicant, raising my eyes to look into the eyes of whoever crosses my path. I am a mendicant, wanting to trust each day’s needs and gifts to the Holy One. I am a mendicant, looking for Light.

Where is the wisdom?

I’d like to make a case for wisdom.

When I was young, leaders of culture, leaders of institutions, thought leaders were all “older folks” – to me! That’s who we looked to for answers, for experience, and for guidance.

I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in the Midwest – Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a member of the first generation after WWll, a generation whose first President was General Eisenhower, a generation that mostly had stay-at-home moms and fathers who could support the family with a decent job.
Later, my generation would receive the name: Baby Boomers. We were a generation that was expected to listen to adults, even strangers, to respect teachers, to sit in rows of wooden seats in classrooms with tall windows inside brick buildings that had been built before the Depression, taking in the learning of the educators, not speaking unless called upon. When we passed a police officer, we said, “hello, Officer,” with respect.

Was it the 60’s? What changed all of that?

While I remember those times, and I sometimes go back for visits in memory, I am not writing to say those times were better. I am a Boomer, entering The Wisdom Years, but I am not “old fashioned.” I know that something is lost and something is gained with the passage of time. Sometimes, I long to be young, to be starting out in the world, to be able to wear the latest styles without being stared at, to have a whole life ahead of me. But then, I think, would I really want to go through all of what life is, again???!

The point I do want to make, however, is that something is lost when the wisdom of the elders is not in the mix. Yes, computers, the Internet, and quickly changing technology does give us all something new, every day. Yes, startups make millionaires in just a few months. Yes, personal invitations are received via email and text now. Yes, it seems inevitable that expecting moms register their babies to receive the latest things babies need. Yes, it seems inevitable that we need new laws to make sure we don’t “text and drive.”

I could go on, but you can make your own list!

When I was young, I thought I knew everything! Who didn’t, who doesn’t?!
Now that so much of living has passed, I have at least a shred of humility, enough to say, I don’t know everything. It takes a lot for the Ego to even think that!

I guess, “something’s lost and something’s gained, in living every day…”

What is the Wisdom we have that’s worth sharing?

“He will not go beyond his father’s saying…” (Robert Frost, “Birches”)

“He will not go beyond his father’s saying, and he likes having thought of it so well he says again: ‘Good fences make good neighbors.'”

For most of my life, the only wisdom I knew was the wisdom that rolled around in my head, unconscious, all the time. This was the “wisdom” I’d been given by those who came before me, primarily my parents. Some of the wisdom they bequeathed to me was even deeper than the unconscious phrases that guided my life; some of the wisdom was truth that was unspoken, truth that shaped my view of the world. For example, I learned that the world was a big, scary place, and that my place in the world world was very small and without power.

“Oh Lord, thy sea is so big and my ship is so small, have mercy!”

I learned also that no matter how good I was, my own voice was not important, not as important as the voices of others, more powerful, more privileged.

My parents were good, decent, hard-working working class people who loved me. My parents wanted me to have an education, something they did not have. My parents wanted me to be successful. Still – I learned other, deeper things in their home, in their energy, in their presence.

As I get older, I find that I’m not as clear as I was in my earlier years about it being my parents fault for my own unconscious voices. I know my parents did the best they could, gave the best they could, and that they were proud of me. And so I accept them, as they were, and as they are, in my memory, in my cells, in my soul. Still, I wonder if another child would have grown up as I did, taken their first steps into the world, and be plagued with other demons than I have/had?

Some of the truths I took for granted during much of my adult life are changing. Although I like to think I’m right, I know that others are just as right – in their politics, for example. The great moral balance of right/wrong, good/bad, righteous/evil isn’t as clear to me as it was. A judging “God” who places some on the left side and some on the right side of judgment doesn’t make sense to me, if it ever did.

I love my parents, and my memory of them. I love the deeper ways we will always be connected, perhaps the ways we have been connected forever. But I no longer have to live out of their own view of the world, as I did when I was younger. I can move “beyond his father’s saying,” and come up with my own sayings.

For me, growing up means questioning even the most precious values I was given as a child. So many “adults” in the world – even powerful, visible “adults” – have not done that. For me, growing up means questioning all the little rules and guidelines I was given to make my way in the world – the rules and guidelines of my culture, religion, education, morality, sex, social standing, and beyond.

What does “growing up” mean for you?