*photo by Beth Kirkhart, to see more of her work visit her on Twitter at @GilennLinn
Sometimes we come to a place in our lives and realize that something is dying. We might not always understand it especially when it happens within the deeper parts of ourselves. I have recently been thankful for such an experience despite the pain that has risen to the surface. I have learned that I can embrace death and be glad for its coming. I have been on an unannounced hiatus from writing on this blog since the beginning of the year and I thank the patience of my readers. But it wasn’t until I stumbled upon the simple beauty of Beth’s photo that I found something in it calling to me…cracking me open to write again.
Beth Kirkhart provided me with some interesting history of her photo that she took in Santa Ana Refuge in Southern Texas. It is home to an abundance of wildlife, in addition; to many birds, it is also provides shelter to ocelots, jaguarundi, jaguar, and mountain lions. The refuge is right on the border between Mexico and the US, where Trump wants to build his wall. However, such a wall would surely disrupt the wildlife there.
While Beth was watching the wind blow the grasses and framing the moon, she heard a woman hush a child: a family group who had just crossed the river were hiding in a thorn bush thicket, waiting for her to finish her photo so they could be on their way by night.
Such is the wind at dusk there.
As a Mexican-American, when Beth shared this story with me I could only imagine how that mother must have been feeling. It reminded me of things I missed out on as a small child when my own mother wasn’t present in my life….like being in the shelter and sanctuary of loving arms. So many times we humans can put up walls…walls that disrupt the flow of life. Walls that may shut life out. So then we are faced with a sort of Life-Death-Life cycle. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote, “Sometimes the one who is running from the Life/Death/Life nature insists on thinking of love as a boon only. Yet love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many endings, and many many beginnings- all in the same relationship.” So perhaps we can still find love on the dark side of the moon.
“Everyday we say or do things that might leave behind ‘internal formations’ in the person we love. Following that, then the suffering and pain grow, and the person we love turns into something like a bomb that might explode at any moment. A few words are all it takes to trigger anger in this person, who you are afraid to approach and who you are afraid to talk to because he or she has become a bomb loaded with too much suffering. When you try to get away from him or her, this person thinks you do so out of contempt and their suffering increases. You also have become a bomb, because you have lost the ability to speak the language of peace, of understanding. You have lost the ability to listen, and so all communication has become impossible.” ~Thich Nhat Hahn, True Love
Cultivating the energy of loving speech and deep listening is a daily practice that begins with ourselves. When we reach that point where we are no longer able to speak and listen with compassion either to ourselves or to another being then its time to pause and look deeply and to trust our heart to guide us. The practice of mindfulness can help us. Mindful breathing and walking. It can help us to come back to ourselves. Bringing our mind and body together in alignment. That happens because we take the time to be present with ourselves by connecting with our breath. Or if we are walking our concentration is on the step connecting with the Earth. This brings a sense of grounding to our being. A space of calm can open our hearts so that we can see ourselves again. Mindful breathing helps us to take care of our body, our painful emotions, and to become aware of our mind. Sometimes we lose perspective and see ourselves as something apart…something separate. We become overloaded because we aren’t taking care of ourself. But, we don’t have to get caught up in the stories we tell ourselves. Instead, we can retrain ourselves to focus our attention. When looking at our views and perceptions we can find a way to let go of our conditioning, illusions and misunderstandings. We don’t have to do anything…we don’t have to try hard. Breathing happens naturally because we are alive. We just need to notice our breath. Coming back to our breath and reconnecting with our bodies and mind opens up a space for our heart to guide us back to safety…the island of mindfulness. Where we can reconnect to Life. To True Love.
*this poem is dedicated to the monks and nuns, Wake Up staff from Plum Village and laypersons who guided us through the retreat “Happy Teachers Change the World” at EIAB during October 14th-23rd
A long time ago when much of the world was still a wild place there was once a waterfall with a beautiful voice. She could sing with the stars and moon. She would sing with the trees of the forest and all the creatures that came to her shores. In all the earth there was nothing like her divine voice. One day the waterfall told herself she was tired of singing and telling stores all the time, but she couldn’t stop her voice from flowing with the waters. As time passed the waterfall’s voice grew dull as it cascaded down over the rocks. It had lost its music of laughter. It only sounded cold and angry as it slapped down into the depths below. There were no more lullabies at night because the trees no longer listened. The creatures of the forest came to her shores only to quench their thirst. They no longer stayed to visit. Even the stars hide themselves from her behind the leaves of tree spirits and veils of clouds. The waterfall began to feel a deep sadness that she had never known. She had never been so alone. She didn’t know what to do.
Until one day, a pokey little green frog jumped on a mossy stone at the foot of the waterfall. He began to croak out a song. And croaked and croaked into the night. The next morning, the waterfall called out to the frog and said, “Thank you little web-footed friend. I had forgotten what it feels like to sing out with all your might. For many years now, I have used my voice to say what others wanted to hear. But now I realize that I can only sing the song of songs when I give the gift of presence. You have been a true friend.” After that the frog and waterfall would sing many a new song with each dawning day.
“When the air is hot and humid, there is a feeing of dullness and stagnation. Everyone is oppressed by lassitude. As the seasons begin changing, fresh air comes from the arctic. Clouds that have been building up begin to dispense rain, and damp air is exchanged for fresh, cool breezes. At night, the heavens are changing so quickly that lightning flashes from colliding clouds, and thunder heralds the revolving of the skies.
The same is true of human life. If the heavens cannot endure stagnation for long, how can stagnation last with us? If we find ourselves blocked and frustrated in life, we must look for the inevitable outlet. Nothing is permanent, so how can our obstacles last? We need to look for the first opportunity to set things moving again.
On the other hand, sometimes stagnation comes from our own laziness or incompetence. In this case, then it is we who must show initiative and stimulate a breakthrough in dull circumstances. As soon as we see a chance, we must act. Unless we engage ourselves and events fully, we cannot expect to act sufficiently.”
What happens if I open my heart? Will the sky come falling down?
Darkness grows dense enfolding me deeper into its bosom. Pulling me towards the bowels of the earth. If I can just be brave enough to keep exploring it with an open heart…
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown
I allow the wind of my emotions to blow through my soul…through every hidden cavern and crevice of my being. I allow all the gusts, gales and squalls to come. I allow myself to experience them fully and completely. That I might know and recognize each emotion that rises to the surface.
By allowing the storm to come, I allow myself the power to detach. To return to the harbor of my soul. I arrive home…with each breath I take…I find my grounding, and I become anchored for awhile before I have to set sail again.
“What it means to be authentic:
– to be more concerned with truth than opinions
– to be sincere and not pretend
– to be free from hypocrisy: “walk your talk”
– to know who you are and to be that person
– to not fear others seeing your vulnerabilities
– being confident to walk away from situations where you can’t be yourself
– being awake to your own feelings
– being free from others’ opinions of you
– accepting and loving yourself”
― Sue Fitzmaurice
Its all about connection…a touch, a look, a word, a sense of feeling human in a world that seems confused -a world lost in the process we know as life. Culture has boundaries attached to it as well as identity because of how it links together with our personal beliefs. Nevertheless, they give meaning and purpose to this maze of existence. But I am forced to ask the question, “Is that where the journey ends?” The resounding answer is NO! We just might discover through the people we meet along the way, the places we visit and the experiences we encounter that we are granted a unique privilege. The privilege to come together in a new way. The privilege to rewrite the story.
No matter what color your skin is, what gender you are, what political views you hold, what your sexual orientation is, what language you speak, what country you come from, what religion you believe or don’t believe, or what culture you have the heritage we all share is feeling and being human in all the tragedy and comedy. Humanity Matters because the bottom line is that no matter how lost this world might be without each other we are nothing. May we all find our humanity. Starting TODAY!
Maybe its time to shift our borders…our boundaries inside and out. Maybe we might just find a sense of familiarity through the current devastation and darkness. Maybe we might just find the strength and courage to whisper, “I remember you. We come together now with a new identity, but our dignity hasn’t been stripped from us, so I extend my hand to you. Yes, I remember that we are still brothers and sisters. I haven’t forgotten. Let that no longer be our fear for we know each other as we know ourselves… a new identity for the world to see on the outside, but we see each other from the inside. To think of this I shall not water your garden with tears of sorrows past, but with tears of joy that we can still stand on common ground. Whether our inner demons have been exorcised from within us when we look at ourselves we are seeing each other. Let this be the tie that binds us again with our shifting borders. Let this be the healing for the sickness in our souls.”
I would like to end with a few thoughts from Deng Ming-Dao, “This world and this society are competitive. Tao uses the metaphor of the warrior to meet that competition. Warriors never yield to their opponents. They may sidestep, but they do not give way. Whether you are a lawyer, police officer, fire fighter, doctor, businessperson, athlete, or any one of numerous professions, you compete against either other people or natural forces. But there is a right way and a wrong way to compete. Avoid anger and greed. Use concentration and awareness. Coincidentally, concentration and awareness are also necessary for spirituality. That is why the follower of Tao incorporates the way of the warrior into training. The warrior and the sage both seek to transcend emotion and petty thinking, to perfect themselves, and to live lives of the deepest truth. But when outside the arena, do not forget to be kind. Leave behind competitive aggression. You must still have awareness concentration, and reflex, but the expression will be different. Your compassion must not falter. That is why the combination of the way of the warrior with the way of the sage is the ultimate symbol of versatility. Such a follower of Tao commands the extremes of the universe.”
Here is a song that captures the sign of the times: