held in the Light

Today I touched mind space with no thoughts. Nirvana, god, the Light. Pure peace. I know I was there because swimming floating breathing through thoughts (awareness) into the freedom and back to awareness (thoughts) was effortless. It was a brief but pure connection in the Ultimate.

It was at Meeting for Worship at my spiritual community, my Sangha, Portland Friends Meeting, that I touched this fresh and clear essence; a spaceless space without thoughts. During the same hour, I also felt sadness and loneliness. I knew those feelings have been trying to be heard, but I have been running away. They have felt like too much. I sat, breathing in and breathing out. Practicing being fully present in that moment.

Sometimes at Meeting, I feel moved to speak out loud. Not frequently, which is notable for me (I’m a talker). Today, I knew I wanted the community to carry me, to comfort me, to help me be present with my sadness and my loneliness. I don’t want to run anymore. My eyes filled with tears a few times. I felt scared the sadness, now that I was mindfully present with it, would consume me. I considered speaking. I thought of mentioning I would like to be held in the Light when it came time during Meeting to make such requests.

Then I thought about why I don’t often tell people I’m hurting; the people I know are loving and caring and generous and they would want me to know they care — what a wonderful “problem!” So much love! But, when I feel this tender I need to be mostly alone. I knew Meeting was the perfect place for me just then. I needed the Meeting to carry me while I felt this sadness and loneliness. I knew I didn’t need to ask for anything. We were all there together sharing that spiritual space.

When people did speak, there were powerful messages. I was able to be fully present in myself while witnessing the Light in others.

At some points my mind did wander, of course. I thought about the feeling that the meeting was carrying me and marveled at how different my life is these days. I thought of a post I shared on here some years ago about being carried by a crowd at a concert. A very different kind of carrying. A very different kind of trust — mostly misplaced trust in the case of the music event. My idea of a good time now compared to then couldn’t be anymore different.

Tonight I’m going to get together with a bunch of alcoholics who are in recovery. Similar to Friends Meeting, tonight we will spend time as a group together in meditation. It is another community where if I wanted to say “I am hurting” I could do it and I would receive comfort from people who truly care. Again, comfort in such a direct way isn’t what I need. Meditation with my spiritual communities, listening to what other people say (“getting out of myself” as we in the 12-step communities like to say), and staying connected to the present moment is how I will walk through this sadness. The sadness, the loneliness, and the despair will all grow smaller as I care for them and tend to other aspects of my life that bring me gratitude and comfort and peace.

Trees. (quoting Hermann Hesse)

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts… . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

Hermann Hesse’Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte [Trees: Reflections and Poems] (public library), originally published in 1984

that time we almost died

For the last few days I’ve been frazzled in a way not typical for me. Life is good. Work has been busy. A new painting has been swirling around in me and seems like it wants to come out. Last night I blogged about my medical freedom being stolen by the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. I love writing stuff like that. Then, last night and today I was working at the computer all day. When I paused my billing clock and looked at Facebook or twitter—and I did that a lot—I felt anxiety-ridden and frenetic. Click! Click! Click!

On Monday morning this past week, I was hit by a truck. I was walking my three year old in her little stroller. As we entered the crosswalk, a pickup truck began turning (right on red) and drove into us. We weren’t physically hurt beyond a little stiffness in my thigh/hip/shoulder. The palm of my hand also burned all day from where I slammed it down on the hood of the truck as I screamed. I don’t remember much of it, really. My body bent with the impact, though I didn’t fall. My daughter’s stroller had mostly already passed the truck, so it didn’t make much contact (if any, again, my memory is fuzzy).

Mostly, I haven’t talked about it. Mostly, I found myself blurting out what happened at the most surprising times. In an email to a subcontractor. To the barista at Starbucks. Blurting is the right word. Moments after it happened, I used my phone to email several people and said “I just wanted to tell people who I knew would care.” The whole day was, in retrospect, hazy and confused. I kept thinking I was making too big a deal of it, though at the oddest moments I’d burst into tears.

One of my closest friends pointed out if I kept trying to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal, my body wouldn’t let that happen and it would keep coming back until I dealt with it. Thankfully, I had what I needed for support. I did spend some time crying that night as the horrifying “what if” scenarios played out with unstoppable force.

The moment when I knew there was nothing I could do to stop that truck from continuing on into me.

The moments after, walking away quickly, just wanting to get away away away when I only wanted to be away.

Not scooping my daughter up in my arms because to do that would be to face the what if of those what ifs that I can’t put into words because they are too horrible.

The anxious, confused, disconnected, insecure, self-doubting frenzy I felt in the last 24 hours or so, I now realize, was a reminder that what happened was “a big deal.” As I consider it, I begin to lose words.

This past summer I had some important experiences that helped me rediscover the richness of offline life. Those who haven’t experienced authentic depth and intimacy in their online life might not understand what it means to forget about how beautiful offline life can be. The last day or so caused in me an uncommon confusion, an absence of connection to myself. When I wrote about being a recovered alcoholic, I wrote about tapping into an infinite source of strength. When I connect with that strength I can live mindfully in the present moment. Making that connection is, most of the time, nearly second nature. It’s more than a habit; it’s where I mostly live.

Still, I feel rattled. This chunk of hours full of anxiety and disconnection from my center are leftovers. Remnants or echoes of how I felt when we were hit by that truck. Everything was called into question. I felt an obsessive need to focus on only what is really important and to let everything else slide. I connected with people who mean the world to me, even if it was just a brief “oh my god” shared moment. Now that I’ve identified the source of the last day’s puzzling spurts of staccato existence—I’m not finished feeling all that is there to be felt about the truck hitting us—I can do something about it.

Thanks to what I learned this summer, I know that what I need to do about it now can’t be done online. There are ways my online life supports me when my offline life can’t. It was one of my closest online friends who helped me through much of the adrenaline-induced traumatic fallout the evening after the truck hit me. And now, after getting the bulk of my computer-dependent work done, I’m going to go back to those peaceful places I rediscovered offline. I’m going to breathe. Thank you for reading this.


churches and vegetable gardens

Houghton Memorial Chapel (Wellesley College) window

We would run around in the concrete cool basement of the church while our Dad was getting ready for the service. We’d get into the boxes of sugar cubes in the kitchen cabinets, or into the storage area where college kids’ old clutter was left as a sort of lost and found. There was a grand organ, some kind of historical antique important piece that I’d play after church getting to lean my feet down to play pedals and to pull and push all the knobs to see what kinds of sounds would come out. The bread was real baked loaves of bread and the wine was in enormous earthy chalices. Once in a while we were told to be quieter, but mostly we did whatever we wanted to do. The churches were not unapproachable spaces where we felt we should be sedate, showing only formal reverence. The churches (the Wellesley chapel and Grace Lutheran Church in Hartford, CT) were where my Dad worked. They were places we spent time waiting before and after church. We had bell choir and choir-choir rehearsals, standing around while photocopies were made, and grabbing cookies and running up to the office to hide out during many, many coffee hours.

The best time to walk around in the garden is early morning, before the bugs (or the heat) get too nasty. Of course, if there are ready-to-pick green beans, I’ll grab one to crunch on as I look around. Maybe there’s a super-ripe cherry tomato, easy to pop in my mouth. Snacking from the garden when I’m in it is what I do and what I’ve always done.

When my three-year-old wanted to pick something (after my nine-year-old had picked our first cucumber) and I didn’t see anything immediately ready, I turned to the squash plants and pointed out one of the little yellow ones whose flower hadn’t even fully browned into the soggy flop it would as the squash grew to a more reasonably pickable size. I encouraged her to pick one of them, helping her some when she wanted to pull without any twist in her motion. We then saw a large zucchini (those things are sneaky and fast!) that she got and could barely carry.

Later, when she wanted to pick more, I showed her what kale looked like and she helped herself throughout the morning to torn off pieces of the kale leaves. She also munched on handfuls of parsley. There’s not a lot ready for picking, yet, but in a vegetable garden there’s almost always something edible.

No church or vegetable garden is too precious for me. None are somehow more important than any other living space in my world. They are a part of the meat of life; they aren’t fine unusable crystal to be placed up and out of reach behind a locked cabinet door.

my garden at my parents’ summer place

My gardens’ products are a part of their process. While I have learned to be respectful of the gardens of other people, I have to regularly remind myself that not everyone feels as flowing about their gardens. What is a garden, if not to offer its food? I am in relationship with it. I care for it and it cares for me. Even in the long-distance gardening I do, where other caregivers (my parents) do the organic pest control and watering required when I’m not there, the garden is a part of me and my family. It is ours and we belong to it. The harvest will be so plentiful, there’s no reason to hold each tiny yellow squash as off-limits to an eager and interested three year old just because it might be… what, better to cook with or prepare for a meal if it were a little bigger? Isn’t that presumptuous? How can we know the best time to pick that squash? This moment. This now is when it should be picked.

My church spaces are homes to me. Even when I’m in a new church, I feel immediately connected and comfortable. This is a place where I won’t be forced into polite restraint. I enjoy celebrating the absence of fear I feel in churches. My comfort makes each church feel as awesome as a sunrise viewed from a mountain top. There is no beginning or end to the church, in my experience. It is another one of my holy places, like the vegetable garden. Who says only eyes cast down and low hushed tones and slow movements belong in these spaces? Just as in the garden, there are times for special reverence and celebration. There are times when peaceful meditation flows through the space and the eternal becomes living.

me with our Portland garden plot

My gardens and churches are just as relevant in my life as the feeling of climbing into bed after a long, exhausting day. Feeling the physical release of exhaustion, pulling up the covers just-so. My gardens and churches are as holy as preparing a meal with the vegetables we picked earlier in the day, or picked last summer then cooked and froze to use later. My gardens and churches are classrooms and long bubble baths and playgrounds. They are complicated and simple, holy and earthly; they are life.

Jesus existed

A brief follow-up to my “Jesus never existed” post.

I believe Jesus of Nazareth existed. I believe he was a great and gifted teacher and healer. I also believe Jesus as Christ only happened when his followers placed that on him.

As for “no first-hand accounts,” I wrote my “Jesus never existed” essay to acknowledge this truth. The accounts we have of Jesus of NazarethJesus are, so far, not first-hand accounts. And, to that, I say, “so what?” Going back that far in history it’s not very common to have first-hand accounts of anything. And, as a wise theologian wrote to me, “Proof cannot be an operative word here, since we’re dealing with the past. The only question that counts is historical probability.”

Moving on to discussions of the resurrection I’ll happily explain that on every third or fourth day I’m perfectly content with that as reality. The other days I’m more comfortable with it as metaphor. What makes me a sort of wacky christian is that I don’t care. Both work for me. If I’m celebrating poetry or a miracle can change from moment to moment.

Let’s love our neighbors, care for the least of those among us, look beyond ourselves for strength (some of us will go to god for that strength, others go elsewhere), and work for social justice every day. If some of us call that christianity, why argue?