What we are Doing

time for a little smiling:

Diary 4/7/20

I send two photos- one of me visiting with a Kendal resident (from the larger community beyond the Care Center) who took the photo from outside my window standing six feet away. The other is what a proud Daddy sheltering at home helped his 4 month-old son, my grandson Max, to do, what with having time on their hands….

Equanimity

Diary 4/5/20   

“The equanimity to face all of this cannot be rooted in denial. Rather, it must be rooted in an acknowledgement of how it all is. But to look head-on at the horrible beauty of the universe as is, without hiding behind fantasy or denial and selective perception, takes guts. To look Shiva in the eye, to acknowledge the violent as well as the gentle, the ugliness as well as the beauty, the greed and selfishness as well as the compassion and mercy, the sickness, death, and decay as well as health and life – and to all of it – ALL of IT – say “YES!” – that is the ground on which true equanimity rests.

“We protect our hearts because of the fear that they will break. Yes, they will break. But out of the pieces will be forged a new heart, a strong and fearless heart, a compassionate heart, a heart that is invulnerable. That is what is required. Nothing less!”

~ RAM DASS

I awoke to this quote my friend sent to me. Ram Dass was an early teacher for me way back in the 60’s and 70’s. As college students living in Boston, my husband and I were able to attend lectures by him, sing Kirtan with Krishna Dass, another devotee of Neem Karoli Baba, their guru, and always read all that he wrote. He remained an Elder and guide for many more years until his death last year.

The above quote touches me directly with the essence of what it is I ask my heart to do. How do I open to the sorrow of tragedy by death affecting thousands, and still hold to the conviction that this crisis presents an opportunity for change, for waking up to “horrible beauty “of the universe as it is?  Each of us probably has had a straight arrow aimed at the heart as this crisis continues.

Was it the story of the woman giving birth to her first child who cannot have her husband attend her in the hospital? Was it the death of a parent that could not be shared with their loved ones? Was it the loss of a home that a young family can no longer afford because they lost their non-essential jobs?

I was struck last night when my friend, who has lived in Italy for the past two years, sent me an email. She left Italy for a workshop she was going to lead in the States, just four days before they locked the country down. Fortunately, a client loaned her a summer home to stay in as, of course, the workshop was subsequently cancelled. My friend told me of photographs that a photographer from her village had taken, of army convoy trucks arriving in the small city of Bergamo to cart away the three hundred bodies of those who had perished in one day.

When I think of thousands dying all around the world, people get reduced to statistics in my mind. Three hundred souls I can imagine more easily- too easily. It would account for a majority of the residents in my current community of Kendal. I wept for Bergamo, for Italy, for America, Manhattan, my own county in Ohio and those three hundred deaths and countless stories of loss, multiplied over and over again. We are learning to say, Yes! to our broken hearts, making space for active compassion to take root. Laughter for what the soul has found is yet to arise for me today.

Evaporation

I watch evaporation

on the roof shingles

as the sun slowly rises

I watch evaporation

of a single jet contrail

the flight path much quieter

than usual

I watch the evaporation

of what I took for granted

democracy

the free movement of people everywhere

touching my beloveds

I watch the evaporation of illusions

that the earth will always tend to our needs

that the stock market is a tangible thing

that I am a sovereign nation

I watch crocuses opening

I watch daffodil buds unfurling

Drowning in bird song

All of life’s moisture

recycling invisibly

above me and all around me

Wake up

take care

we are still breathing the same air

Diary 4/4/20

“Around the world, seismologists are observing a lot less ambient seismic noise — meaning, the vibrations generated by cars, trains, buses and people going about their daily lives. And in the absence of that noise, Earth’s upper crust is moving just a little less.” Harmeet Kaur CNN reporter

Think about it- only on Christmas Day does the earth get a similar break from all of our noisy activities. How can we deny that the results of our human lives affect the planet? “The earth’s upper crust is moving just a little less.” I had no idea. It makes perfect sense, but it is astounding information to me. I had no idea that our impact on the planet is connected on so many more levels than I even understood.

Weeping and Laughing

Diary 4/3/20

“When the heart weeps at what it has lost

The soul laughs at what it has found.”

                                    A Sufi proverb

I heard Eckhart Tolle repeat this in a video clip that a friend sent me the other day only he said, “When the ego weeps…”. In either version, it is a truth I understand far better since my husband Richard died two years and almost two months ago. At the time, there was weeping, knee-collapsing howling, and a wish for an entire tribe of ululating women to match the pitch of wailing required to express my loss. What was unexpected, was the subsequent and now simultaneous arising of soulful jubilation.

Having lurched through the portal of such a devastating life-changing loss, there was a profound sense of peace and liberation (inadequate, approximate words) that followed. Flowing into the gaping hole torn by grief was a sweet, equally intense joy. I was so fortunate that Richard and I had little unfinished business left to attend to. I was relatively free of guilt, or many “if only-s”. As both psychotherapists and spiritual partners, we worked hard all of our lives to learn of our own faults and forgive ourselves and one another for our ever-struggling humanity.

When tumors in his brain resulted in surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, his old capacity for processing or comprehending that level of work between us rapidly dwindled. The whole last eighteen months of his life did not allow for such deep endeavors anymore. Other aspects of his being remained- his sense of humor, his dedication to finishing outdoor projects he had begun, his delight in ice cream after his taste for food disappeared, and his love and acknowledgement of love given and received by his friends, family and caregivers.

Having learned that hearing is the last sensory perception to go after the final breath is gasped, I lay on one side of his body, my daughter on the other, for an hour whispering into his ear as his soul departed farther and farther away from this earth plane. I chanted the Heart Sutra mantra *over and over, “Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha”, and many other more intimate sendings that arose spontaneously in my final moments of releasing our attachments to one another. I felt complete when I arose from his bed and saw the stillest version of his pale body left behind.

I also felt the magnetic pull of wherever it is we arrive and depart from so close, vibrating like threads of light and music all around me. The living room with the hospital bed, oxygen, commode, and medications, was only a temple for the sacred human beings left behind after their rituals of death.

In this time of great grief and loss of what we took as normal, I am also making room for the laughter of my soul. I am less preoccupied with having to do as much as I already felt obligated to do in this very busy and dynamic “retirement” community. I am laughing at my zoom dinner with family and friends (please pass the salt?), zoomed Quaker meeting, and have joined a new Buddhist sangha in Oberlin also via zoom, one I could never get to attend in person before this. I am laughing at my grandson Max on daily Face Time check-ins as he discovers his toes and his voice. I am laughing at the precious springtime awakening in the enclosed garden available to me. I laugh at my ego scrambling in dismay as once again it is thwarted in its chartered course to control life. I laugh and cry as I see, as never before, the world swept by sorrow and the joyful opportunity to stay open-hearted together in this crisis.

*I like this short reference and in it there is also a laugh. https://www2.kenyon.edu/Depts/Religion/Fac/Adler/Reln260/Heartmantra.htm

The Marketplace

4/1/20 The Marketplace

                        By Judi Bachrach

If you are selling Fear

I am not buying

You shout to me,” Are you crazy?

Look around you, are you blind?”

The worst could happen

though I am careful, proactive

but it is not happening to me

Now

I am not dwelling

in the future

I will face whatever I must

as I must

and trust

that I will not shut down

that I am more loving than Fear

Love is safer, sometimes sadder

but I am more connected

open-hearted

to you

my dear ones

you know

Death always walks beside us in the marketplace

The following is a quote from my friend Bonnie Gintis’ latest blog, and you can click the link below to read the entire piece. She has been an osteopathic healer to my family, is my friend, and an inspiration to follow as she gracefully dances her life with cancer. I highly recommend her blog.

“The fundamental basis of health is not the absence of disease, but the ability to adapt, and find ways to respond and adjust to whatever challenges we experience. Whether it is cancer, a paper cut, or disappointment, the body finds ways to repair itself as best it can, and then adapt to the new state of things. Health is not an object or a destination we will get to someday when the pandemic ends and things calm down. Being healthy is a work-in-progress, an on-going innovative, creative, adaptive process.”

Radical Embodiment In The Time of Covid-19

Root Gratitude

Diary 3/29/20

Yesterday’s rolling thunderstorms resulted in a real clap bang flashing storm last night. It woke me up and I was relieved to hear the same weather patterns spawning tornadoes resulted only in a could-have-been-worse event in Arkansas. The wind is still blowing, clearing out the sky and shaking budding daffodils with their almost flowers. The verbena spice bush outside my window is fattening with buds, and the newly planted oak hydrangea survived the late fall planting to show branches that hint of green life beneath the still bare skin.

This morning I zoomed a Quaker meeting which was nourishing and sweet for all. Tonight, I am zooming a shared dinner with family and friends which I am greatly looking forward to. We all know how grateful we are that cyber space affords us these connections. How much harder it would be to feel helpless and wonder how loved ones are faring without this great gift of technology. Many people in the world are in just that position and it makes me sad to contemplate how difficult life must be for them as we share this pandemic.

I just came back in from an outing in the enclosed south facing courtyard garden and sat down on a bench in front of the big wind chimes. They ring in some Asian temple bell harmonics and as the wind was strong and gusty, the strikes and reverberations were constant. Familiar patterns arranged themselves into a known melody and were quickly dispersed by the next breeze. I like the idea of my thoughts assembling and then scattering on the whims of wind. Silence beneath the coalescing and evaporation of the busy mind began to arise just before a massive cloud covered the sun and sitting still became too cold.

After staying inside during the last dark and rainy days, how can I not be amazed at the greening of a lawn, a leaf, a spray of last year’s lavender- more than that, the color of different crocuses or daffodils glowing against the suddenly darkening sky. In the cactus section of the garden someone placed the white skull and legbone of, perhaps, a canine? The master planner of the garden, a biologist, I believe, explained the garden layout to us last year in terms of the interconnection of the variety of species he chose. His was long term planning, including the tending of newly planted trees that will become much bigger in ten years’ time. This has been meticulously noted for future gardeners to keep his initial vision in proper balance.

I hope that, wherever you are, you can also view the out of doors, or better yet, take a carefully spaced outing whether you walk or roll out as many do around here. The earth continues its own unfolding even as we grapple with hunkering down. We are lucky to live, to connect, to sing, to dance, to laugh, and cry- to be human, calling on the best we can be for the long-term future of all.  May the trees long outlast us and may we co-join with their roots in deep gratitude to keep on growing.

Endless Well

Diary 3/28/20 Pandemical Neighborhood Series

Endless Well

No wonder we need guns.

We’ve got to fight

for our toilet paper.

No wonder we need lies.

We just rediscovered

that life is suffering.

Buddha told us that

Over two thousand years ago.

He and many others

also told us

there are ways to live in joy.

Compassion is an endless well.