Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Perfect Weather

Sky clear, deep pool, bright blue,
trees chuckling in a mild and balmy breeze,
a sprinkling of birds and blooms--

Life does not get any better than this.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Conscious of Delight

"Just today she discovered she can not only walk without falling every half-dozen steps or so, she can run!" the voice on the phone told me last week. In the background I could hear the laughter and the chortling screams of the one year old to whom the sentence applied.

My granddaughter's joy translated into my joy. There she was, experiencing a full-body awareness of her new mobility, the freedom of it, the like-Mommy-'n-Daddy feeling of it.

She'd discovered the ability to choose, to be intentional in her embodied, moving self. Her noisy glee seemed to indicate a consciousness of delight felt from crown to tippy-toe .

Homo sapien sapien: the species conscious of consciousness; the ones aware of being aware.

What wisdom do we sacrifice if we relinquish noticing that full-body experience and awareness in favor of the life we live in our minds? I think we're incomplete without both. How do we find balance?

I wish for you, today, moments of the conscious experience of some delight, some joy embodied in you and felt from your crown to your tippy-toes.

Rain! Some much needed rain falls here at the moment. A day full of such gentle patter would serve well, and now it starts. I will walk out into it for the experience it brings, and perhaps I will translate the sensations as delight. Or if not delight, at the very least I will translate the swing and shift of my body as the present, specific experience of life.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Find the Unexpected

"Go find the unexpected," my sister said as I left for my walk.

On my ordinary, routine walk, I am instructed to find the unexpected.

Some people travel the world to see much, and some people stay in their place to see much.

This morning I found three things of note:

1. A natural bouquet of blue chickory and orange day lilies, twined by sun, wind and growing so that they formed a unit, seven blue blossoms and two orange. I stopped and examined them, petals perfect in their imperfection. A Japanese artist could not have done better.

2. A young bunny sitting by the side of the road, so very still, perhaps hoping I wouldn't notice, so small and complete in it's fur. It knew itself too exposed, though, so it ran ahead of me and hopped off into the grass, which waved and then was still. When I came to the place where bunny had left the road, I saw a splay-legged, fragile little body huddled on a patch of earth exposed by mowing. It seemed the essence of hope and fear, combined, wanting to not be seen. It reminded me of us, how we wish to be seen, deeply seen, and simultaneously wish to go unnoticed, under the radar.

3. The constancy of changing green and growing things, the glory of the ordinary.

These were three things noticed, unexpected, on this morning's ordinary, routine walk. There were also many other things of note, to go unmentioned here.

P.S. My sister came yesterday, to my delight, not quite unexpected but on short notice. We had a rare overnight, and it is lovely to have a "real" visit.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Change and Compassion

The sun shines, this morning, through white air, and the temperature outside is already warmer than our not-cold, air conditioned house. A Maryland summer day: hazy, hot and humid.

Last night lightening flashed and played the sky, and thunder rumbled, but not right over us, and we had no rain. Perhaps by evening, or tomorrow, I will water the flowers a bit, for my impatiens love moisture. I planted more flowers this year then usual, for we have a new, glass door at the foot of our stairs, and I noticed that I wanted to see flowers in that view.

My impatiens this year range from white through many tints and shades of one family of purply red, so a whole range of pinks. They are growing well. I am thankful for all the green, and also thankful for the lighter, bright, shining flower faces.

I want to say the world is smiling. What I mean is the world is alive, the colors so vivid, the sounds so vibrant, the scents so rich and fecund.

I want to say those things because simultaneous to this joyous glory, I have recently spent some hours struggling with feelings of despair, and I want to say that, too.

A lover of music wishes to experience all the notes, the full range, in all variety of glory. Likewise, this lover of life wishes to recognize the life she is experiencing. And occasionally despair is one of the notes.

All sorts of philosophers assure me, in their writing, that despair has its roots in fear of death. Perhaps. Death is the ultimate change in the span of a life, the ultimate change that is beyond our control.

I'm observing in my experience, though, that I'm not so much afraid of being dead as I'm afraid of what the process of getting there might entail. I'm afraid of pain. Again and again I come face to face with the understanding that I'm afraid of pain, physical and emotional. Over and over I must notice when I've huddled and turned away from the mists of pain,then open myself to turn toward it full face, notice and pay attention. It is then that pain shows itself for the mist that it is, and one may walk right through.

I am also afraid of loss of control.

Despair as the clear recognition of loss of control.

I could have walked with Misty, and then scooped him up and brought him back inside, prevented his death on June 15. But I could not make him strong and frisky again, and I could not prevent his ultimate death. I mostly believe that allowing him the freedom to choose his day without my hovering presence-- he could always sense my hovering presence-- was the compassionate thing.

How does one weigh compassion?

Life is change. We do and do not control our lives.

Today I believe I will walk out into this alive world, being life, experiencing life, exchanging with all life, both being life and having a life. I will celebrate the full catastrophe. Celebrate the glory of change. Notice all I do not control. Then, with a deepened sense of compassion for myself and my full-scale range of experience, come back and take charge of what I do control.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Imagine Compassion

A recounting, in near approximation, of what I spoke as Opening Words at the UUFHC on Sunday, June 19, at the annual arts service:

Imagine compassion.

I believe that compassion is primarily an exchange, and an experience.

Mystery, for me, is found in the interplay among experience, exchange, translation, and imagination.

There have been a few times in my life when I have been stunned by an experience of that which I had never imagined. More commonly, though, I am aware that I organize and arrange and build my daily life from what I can and do imagine. I arrange the furniture in my living space, the utensils in my kitchen, the placement of decorations. I arrange my schedule from how I imagine I will fulfill my desires or the duties I've accepted. I imagine possibilities, and thus I build. Sometimes I'm disappointed, of course, chance happens, and then I re-imagine.

In this context, it seems to me that a failure of compassion is akin to a failure of imagination.

In her poem "Pastorale," Anita Barrows tells of twin lambs born one January, of how the first one immediately stood and nursed, "it's tail crazy with want," she writes. The second struggled and flailed until Barrows thought she must act: wipe it dry, wrap it in her coat. She didn't know what to do, though, so she stayed outside the fence and watched. (The lamb did live) In her not knowing, Barrows recognized the possibility that simply allowing events to unfold might be the most compassionate thing.

Thich Naht Hahn gives a well-known illustration of how we don't know how to judge. He simply reminds us that compost becomes a flower, which becomes compost, which becomes flower, compost, flower... All is one, Hahn teaches.

Noticed or not, we are in exchange with all with every breath. Our reasoning minds cannot absorb all. So it is simply the human condition that we do not know how to judge right/wrong, good/bad with deep, true compassion.

In her book Hand Wash Cold, Karen Mazen Miller writes of watching a heron take a koi from their fish pond, the gold crescent hanging from the narrow beak as wings beat into the air. She writes of how she knew in that unresisted, dreadful moment that she saw a fish turning into a bird.

We experience the world through our senses. We exchange with the world, starting with breath. We translate and interpret meaning. And we imagine, as in my own little poem, titled:


Do you know how?

Study your desire:

Swim in
your reward.

I wrote three more paragraphs about coming to art as a full body experience. I wrote about how all works of art carry rhythm and balance, color and tone, and we may experience all art with every part of our being. It's true, but you already know that anyway.

What I want to say is that
between Alone and All One
there is only that one L-letter
of difference.

Sometimes that space between
feels so small, snug,
warm, fed, clean and restful

and sometimes
it feels like
an enormous, yawning gap,
ragged and jagged
and bigger than the Grand Canyon
or even the whole Milky Way.

In that echo-y,
huge, small space,
I want to say
that I desire
with all of my being
to imagine compassion.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Guest House (by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks)

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi ~

(The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Yesterday, thinking of hawks, I was not saying everything. Who could possibly, ever, want to say everything? Who'd want to hear? Even the stoic cows would turn away. But here's the story.

Yesterday was one of those perfect June days, clear, blue sky so deep it felt possible to sail right up into it, greens so lush and glistening, flowers in bloom, everything covered in sunshine gold, humidity down, temperature so perfectly moderated I opened all the windows and doors. I went outdoors, and all the cats, too, went out. Including Mr. Misty.

Misty came to us in the spring of 1993, a bedraggled kitten rescued by my youngest son from a rock in the midst of Deer Creek in a rushing flood. We don't know if someone tried to drown him or if he was part of a litter too close to water's edge. Likely the former. But we don't know. He was carried to this house, a little cat in the cradle formed when a young boy turned up the hem of his t-shirt for that purpose.

Misty was perfectly gray. He could have been judged to be purebred Russian Blue except that his pads were not perfectly, evenly gray. He was handsome from the start, and he grew into his promised elegance. If ever there was a marvelous cat, it was Misty.

When he came to live with us, I had not yet acquiesced to the notion of indoor cats. They were allowed to visit indoors, but not to live indoors full time. But Misty and his boy changed that. If ever two loved one another, those two did. Misty became almost puppy like in his devotion, and his affections were fully returned.

Misty was, then, an indoors-outdoors cat. He grew lean and tall, a powerful hunter, sharp-eyed and quick. He was so tall he could stand with hind paws on the kitchen floor and put his front paws on the edge of the kitchen counter. Once he was sitting on the floor beside me while I was peeling potatoes and a peeling fell. Misty saw and caught it before it hit the floor. In this country house, we had no mouse problem for the sixteen years or so when he was on patrol.

When he was about a year and a half old he went out into an ice storm. He may have gone to the road and been hit by a car, or he may have fallen when he tried to jump from the deck to a porch roof that allowed him to look into the window of the room where we were watching tv. Looking in that window was his signal that he was ready to come in.

Whatever happened, he dragged himself to the door with a broken hip and tail. Vetted, he healed, except his tail had nerve damage, and the end half of it was numb. He figured out how to carry his injury and retain his catly dignity.

As he aged, though, he began to develop arthritis. He slowed down. Then, not quite two years ago, he started to go blind, and it didn't take long until he was completely blind. He found his way about anyway. He found food and the litter box, he found an open door, found his way out and back in again. He found his people, whenever there was a lap that he wanted. He was a calm creature, and he liked to be close.

He still often found his way outdoors, took a little stroll at his leisure, and found his way back in again. I, who love the outdoors so much, could not find the heart to restrain him from his old pleasure in his familiar, life-long home place.

Yesterday he did not come back.

As the perfect-weather day wore on, I walked and walked the woods, followed all the deer trails in ever widening circles, called and called. No voice answered, no gray elegance appeared. The woods was quiet, no crows or hawks circling. There are foxes who visit regularly, though.

Misty was to the point at which his life was becoming a burden to him. Sometimes, recently, he lay on the carpet in the living room of an afternoon and just cried. It was time. And for him to go outdoors into a golden, sun stroked morning and find his ending there is better than any other alternative I can think of. Perhaps Misty has turned into a fox.

Misty was baby and brother, a vibrant and specific personality, beloved family member. He is sorely missed, and we presently weep for him while we also remember his amazing, specific ways of being in his years of life. He will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Farewell, Misty.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Surely, you too have longed for this --
to pour yourself out
on the rising circles of the air
to ride, unthinking,
on the flesh of emptiness.

Can you claim, in your civilized life,
that you have never leaned toward
the headlong dive, the snap of bones,
the chance to be so terrible,
so free from evil, beyond choice?

The air that they are riding
is the same breath as your own.
How could you not remember?
That same swift stillness binds
your cells in balance, rushes
through the pulsing circles of your blood.

Each breath proclaims it --
the flash of feathers, the chance to rest
on such a muscled quietness,
to be in that fierce presence,
wholly wind, wholly wild.

~ Lynn Ungar ~
(Blessing the Bread)

This is the poem published on today's Panhala. (To subscribe to Panhala, send a blank email to ) I post it because I also own the book from which it is drawn. Ungar is a poet worth reading, in my opinion.

How do we come to the idea that we can bury our "unacceptable" feelings? How can we find the healthy expression of our desire to be wild and terrible in ways so free from evil? Yesterday my friend and I were talking about miscarriage, how the body takes over and says, "No." The choice that is not really our choice. Is this the wild and terrible? Part of is, surely. Just as going into labor at any time, even at term, is a wild and terrible thing. And sex. And how we meet all our hungers. Are you a vegetarian? If not, which animals are you eating? If yes, do you imagine the food you are eating does not have life? Do we not take our own life from other life?

How can we forget that with every breath we exchange air, and that air links the world?

Are we so small in our understanding that we no longer notice that the world is all one piece? When did we start imagining that God is created in the human image? How can we stop imagining that what humans are able to know will someday define all Mystery?

There is an old book by the Bible translator J.B. Phillips titled Your God Is Too Small, and he expounds on his theme, but the title really says it all.

Ah, let me go out in the day and be blessed with the chance to observe a hawk. Or, lacking that, let me be blessed by considering the Ungar poem.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Some Questions

What, Dear Heart, do you really want?
What do you most deeply desire,
what experiences and life exchanges,
what ways of being in your life?

What will you give up-- at least for the moment and perhaps forever--
in order to follow your deepest desires as you presently understand them?

What life costs will others pay in order for you to follow your desire?
What will others gain if you follow your deepest desire?

What do you desire for your mate?
What does your mate most deeply desire?

How does fulfillment of your desire ripple out to your family, your community, the world?

What are you in charge of; what are you not in charge of?
Yes. So far, I ask these questions, ponder possible answers. I make choices and perceive how choices form a life. Small choices. Will I smile? Who will I notice? What will I notice? What will I intentionally miss? How much will I unintentionally miss? Who and what do I hold dear? How?

What is intention, and how useful? Is intention akin to attention?

What will I miss if I focus on a specific? What will I miss if I do not focus on a specific?

How long will I honor an old promise?

What is the wealth that requires no money?

Trust me: I know nothing.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Spirit of Life

Sunday the 5th the church service was titled "Make a Joyful Noise," and it was focused on hymns we share, words and music. The first hymn sung is one of my favorites, and I would share here the words:

Spirit of Life
Words and music by Carolyn McDade

Spirit of Live, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Live, come to me, come to me.

Read more about McDade and her music and life at

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I mowed the lawn!

It's hot, yes, but dry enough, and I worked almost entirely in shade. I was able to do this. After all, am I not taking daily walks partly to maintain my ability to do practical, physical jobs such as mowing?

For the past couple weeks I'm thinking that I may be one, like some of my forebears on both Father's and Mother's families, who lives to be ninety-plus, for I am so fortunate to have, apparently, mostly gone into remission from the illness that crippled me so in years and even recent months past. Therefore, it is not time to give up what is still possible. Perhaps it is never time to give up what is possible?

We had a fine stand of wildflowers this spring: flea bane daisies, jack-in-the-pulpit, wood anemone and more. But the blooming was nearly done, and now the trimmed, even green accents the flowers remaining. And it makes obvious the weeds that will be pulled rather than mowed.

In town a lawn not mowed until today would have been considered an eyesore. But here not one neighbor can see our lawn, so how we choose to maintain our space is more up to us.

The world outdoors is a gift I receive daily, and I am thankful for every bit of it, all the variety and the constancy of its changing. Today I am particularly thankful for all the ways I experienced the privilege of strength and choice in the process of mowing the lawn. And for my joy with the calm, peaceful-looking result.