Category Archives: Mysticism

Prayer Works in Mysterious Ways

Every time I do it, I get a response from the Universe.

Several times this week I prayed. Some of you have been praying with me, or doing your secular equivalent.

There is always a prayer of gratitude on my lips. Rarely do I use prayer in times of need or desperation. That is probably simply because I am rarely in a place of need. This week, though, I got on my knees. Eeven though I don’t believe in a god in a traditional theistic sense, I believe that kneeling and even touching my forehead to the floor or ground helps. It brings out a feeling of total submission and surrender in me. The physical position of my body helps take this surrender to the cellular and chemical level within me.

I don’t know how prayer works. I don’t know what it is I’m praying to or with. To the Universe? To my Self? Is the response Cosmic or psychological? Does it matter? Not to me. I don’t care how or why it works, I just care that it does.

The answer to my prayers came in the form of something that has nothing to do with my situation at work. That remains unresolved. No. It came in the form of a request for help from a good friend.  Her challenge is a big one. I wouldn’t quite call it a matter of life and death, but it’s right up there with that magnitude of problem.

Suddenly I have a project! I am in a unique position of being able to help with this situation. Yesterday I was buried in my own petty worries and feeling the cumulative weight of a long S.A.D. winter pressing down on me. Today I’ve been injected with a bolt of energy I can’t contain. I’m seized with an urge to spring clean the entire flat. Rugs are airing out on the deck railings. The vacuum cleaner and mop are out. I might sew curtains today!

Today I am not worried about what happens at work. Today there is a bigger problem to be solved, and I will spend this week starting my efforts to help this friend out of her very far-reaching predicament.

Autumn

I’ve always thought autumn was a lovely season, but this year it’s an entirely new experience. What’s different? Am I just slowing down more? Looking more deeply? Feeling more fully?  I don’t know. I am so in love with this gorgeous world.

 

Grace in Small Things 200

I don’t know how long ago it was when I first heard the Gandhi quote, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I remember that at first it was hard for me to swallow. I couldn’t argue with the logic of it. Where else would one start but with oneself? Yet it was difficult to accept the idea that there was no magic bullet, no quicker way to change the world than to focus on my own growth, my own maturity, my own peacefulness, my own kindness toward others. It’s hard to give up on trying to make the rest of the world right. How is working on me going to stop wars? I am not a warrior. And so on.

But I took it on faith that the Great Soul knew what he was talking about and began a lifelong campaign to embody all those things I wanted to see more of in the world. Now, all these years later, I can attest to the fact that I not only changed myself (three cheers for neuroplasticity!), but I changed the world in far more dramatic ways than I ever anticipated possible. What I’ve discovered through personal experience and what I’ve heard echoed both by A Course in Miracles and by Annie Dillard (“what you see is what you get“), is that as you change, your perception of the world changes. I am no longer surrounded by the world I once perceived to be real. It’s a vastly different world that surrounds me now. It has changed in radical ways, ways I cannot begin to explain. I think you have to experience it to get it.

Sometimes I still get mild anxiety, but not for long. This morning there was a bit. I reached into my toolbox. I pulled out this helpful little mantra: “surf the miracles.”

That’s a reminder to myself to come back to the present moment. In other words, just focus on one then the next and the next small miracle, giving the mind no time to wander away from the real, the Holy Now. I look around me for the beauty; it’s never far away:

  • the way the morning sun sets that brick wall ablaze
  • the feeling of fresh morning air rushing into my lungs as I take a deep breath
  • between my fingers the soft caterpillar sensation of the tops of the ornamental grass that grows in pots outside the barristers and solicitors office that I walk past just before entering the building where I work
  • being alive, being here, to relish the privilege of being able to smile at the first person I see
  • raindrops quivering on the leaves of the shrubs by the front steps

A few months ago I was looking online for a kit for a framed cross stitch I already had, having found it in a flea market about a decade ago. It’s a passage from Robert Louis Stevenson:  “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” I like having it on my wall because it reminds me of my late friend Miss Olive B. Smith whom I visited regularly up until her death in a long-term care home at the age of 96. She loved to recite the beginning of that poem for me at least once every time I visited her.

It was old, an antique that had once fit well with my shabby chic look but which didn’t look very good in the stark white condo unit with my dark furniture. I wanted to re-stitch it in bright new colours.

Oddly, I could find no mention anywhere on the Internet of this quote being cross-stitched. The only reference to it was from another soul out there also searching for it. She and I agreed that whoever found it first would alert the other.  That’s when it occurred to me: I am meant to send mine to her. And so I did. Then we discovered that we live across Lake Erie from one another, as she is in northern Ohio. We began corresponding via email and found other things we have in common, like being aficionadas of indie and foreign films.

Today, more than six months after our initial contact, I came home to find a package from her in the mail. She had made me an apron with birds all over it and had included a Trader Joe’s card with a lovely bird illustration on the front. As I look down at the hand-written words, “I enjoy our unique relationship” and “Fondly, J,” I stop to reflect on how odd this is.

We have to be brave. When I first contemplated asking her for her address so I could send the cross-stitch, I thought she might refuse, fearing me to be one of those people lurking out there on the internet that the FBI warns you about. But she chose to trust me with her address, and now I have a friend.

This same afternoon I found another package in my mailbox from another friend I’ve never met in person. She was purging her possessions and sent two books my way.

The world can be like this. The world can be studded with treasures, so many you can’t keep up with them all.

Grace in Small Things 198

A comfortable place to re-read a book

Where this is my view

Seeing my first Eastern Pondhawk

Or at least seeing it and knowing for the first time what it is called

And seeing (knowing) my first Orange Bluets, not two inches long, mating on the floating vegetation in the morning sunlight…

just before returning to this passage from Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

When I was six or seven years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, I used to take a precious penny of my own and hide it for someone else to find. It was a curious compulsion; sadly, I’ve never been seized by it since. For some reason I always “hid” the penny along the same stretch of sidewalk up the street. I would cradle it at the roots of a sycamore, say, or in a hole left by a chipped-off piece of sidewalk. Then I would take a piece of chalk, and, starting at either end of the block, draw huge arrows leading up to the penny from both directions. After I learned to write I labeled the arrows: SURPRISE AHEAD or MONEY THIS WAY. I was greatly excited, during all this arrow-drawing, at the thought of the first lucky passer-by who would receive in this way, regardless of merit, a free gift from the universe. But I never lurked about. I would go straight home and not give the matter another thought, until, some months later, I would be gripped again by the impulse to hide another penny.

It is still the first week in January, and I’ve got great plans. I’ve been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But—and this is the point—who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kid paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

I used to be able to see flying insects in the air. I’d look ahead and see, not the row of hemlocks across the road, but the air in front of it. My eyes would focus along that column of air, picking out flying insects. But I lost interest, I guess, for I dropped the habit. Now I can see birds. Probably some people can look at the grass at their feet and discover all the crawling creatures. I would like to know grasses and sedges—and care. Then my least journey into the world would be a field trip, a series of happy recognitions. Thoreau, in an expansive mood, exulted, “What a rich book might be made about buds, including, perhaps, sprouts!” It would be nice to think so. I cherish mental images I have of three perfectly happy people. One collects stones. Another—an Englishman, say—watches clouds. The third lives on a coast and collects drops of seawater which he examines microscopically and mounts. But I don’t see what the specialist sees, and so I cut myself off, not only from the total picture, but from the various forms of happiness.

Outside In

I had not anticipated the degree to which life would feel and be different in this new dwelling place.

In the highrise, I had two openings to the outside air: balcony doors and one bedroom window. Because these were on the same wall but in separate rooms, I could not get a cross-current and hence  depended on the window unit to cool the sealed space.  I would open the balcony door in order to smell the occasional storm. Proximity to wildlife was limited to the passing of a few gulls or a V of geese, honking if I was lucky. The smells of the world remained seven stories below.

Before going further, I should clarify exactly how this apartment is situated. It’s the upper of two apartments into which an 80-plus-year-old cottage has been divided. It’s on a regular residential street whose properties back onto a canal-like little river that empties into the Detroit River not far downstream. The lots on this street are deep and narrow, allowing for more residents to have access to the water; most have tiny platforms for boarding a boat. The houses themselves are staggered so that no two occupants stare out their windows at each other. If one house is near the river with a deep front yard, the next has been built close to the road with a deep back yard.

So I am not isolated or out in the country, but what makes it feel as if I am is the fact that this house is one of those built closer to the river. And while my downstairs neighbours door and porch face the street, mine face the water. On the opposite bank there are no houses, only woods and tangle, rushes and reeds.  Both mailboxes are tacked onto the front of the house, so not even the mail carrier comes onto my deck. It isn’t obvious that the second apartment is accessed by walking around back, so I get no solicitors.

The first thing I did upon taking possession of the upper duplex was put out food and water for birds and squirrels: nyger seed for the goldfinches; nectar for hummingbirds; peanut hearts for chickadees and woodpeckers, peanuts in the shell for jays and squirrels. I scattered cracked corn on the ground for doves. The second thing I did was open the windows as wide as they would open. Every room has at least one.

For the first weeks after the move, a thousand memories came rushing back to me, born on the wings of scent and sound. Summers at my grandparents’ house flooded back to me with the blinking of fireflies and grunt of the bullfrog.  I began not just to remember what the earth smells like after rain, but started to recognize myriad nuances of that scent: the air before rain on a hot day, the air during rain on a cool day, the air after rain on the seventh scorching day in a row, the air when the rain hasn’t stopped for two days.

Much like the Inuit and their mythological hundred words for snow, my senses began distinguishing subtleties non-existent to me before. No two days are alike. Nothing smells the same again ever.  Nature is in constant flux, mixing and recombining a million ingredients: what is in bloom, the temperature, the humidity, which catkins are falling, the length of the days.

Very soon after putting out the food and water, I began to take note of the differences in species of birds and mammals, as well. Each species has its own personality, and in fact individuals within a species have their own preferences and personalities. Each feeder comes with its own drama. The peanut hearts must be taken down off the big S hook in the maple every night lest the raccoon raid it as soon as dark falls. I am still figuring out how to resolve the problem of the paper wasps and the nectar feeders. They don’t bother me at all, but they aggressively defend the food source from both orioles and hummingbirds. I’ll let you know when I’ve got it figured out–in a manner consistent with my Buddhist beliefs. Only the nyger feeder is unaccompanied by a soap opera, leaving Sir Goldfinch to feed in peace and quiet.

Six squirrels have come to be known to me by names in which mnemonics are embedded:

  • Red is glossy black with a tail the hue of henna; she is polite and learns quickly that no treat will be forthcoming if she climbs the screen.
  • Skunk is the one whose tail tip is white; the other squirrels gang up on her if she tries to come around, but she manages to sneak in a visit during the squirrel siesta hour. I give her more to make up for it.
  • Pepper’s black coat is flecked with grey.
  • The rambunctious young twins are Starbuck (because he is the colour of a caramel latte) and Frosty (caramel coat with hoary tail). They refuse to come to me for peanuts, preferring to spend the day hanging upside down to steal from a bird feeder.
  • And the only one of six to become hand tame went from being called “Peanut” to “Buddy” for obvious reasons.

For the first two weeks after I started sleeping here, each day brought a new species of bird. First I only saw Mallards, Barn Swallows, House Sparrows and Robins. Soon, though, the first Chickadee came. It felt like forever before the Goldfinches discovered the nyger seed. Then came my first Spotted Sandpiper bobbing at the rocky water’s edge. Green Heron was another day’s surprise. Black-crowned Night Heron was an even rarer delight. Friends asked me if I’d been out to this or that park recently. No, I replied. I can’t tear myself away from my own backyard. I might miss the next new thing!

In July I spied a mother Wood Duck with five ducklings. They emerged from the forest about an hour before dark every evening. With my nightly ritual of sitting on the lower deck observing the bank, I had the privilege of watching the ducklings grow bigger.  It was two weeks before I realized I was seeing two duck families: a mother with seven and a mother with five, the latter brood being older.  One day the older set of fledglings started practicing beating their wings. And one day they stopped coming out as a family. The mother will only stay with them until they can fly, and all of them can but one. I saw him alone many times after his family dispersed. Then one day I saw him atop the concrete log, as I call it, an island perch much loved by herons, sandpipers, geese, ducks and turtles. It’s a daily contest to see who claims it first.  He paced back and forth along the log like a child considering his first dive into the deep end of the community pool. He got a running start and tried to catapult himself aloft but only pitched himself into a sharp arc in the direction of his bum wing, landing with a humiliating splash in the water not two feet from the end of the log. He won’t be able to migrate south soon and will almost certainly not survive the cold months.

I am starting to take note of when things arrive and when they leave, on what date all the Purple Cone Flower blossoms die all over town, at what age you can distinguish a young male Wood Duck from a female. From the bay of windows in the sun room, I watch mother mink swimming with nesting material and Kingfisher carrying to his nestlings a live crayfish, pincers still flailing.

When windows are open all day every day, I am learning, one tunes into the rhythm of the earth.

summer rain

Fireflies and Mulberry Juice

It’s hard to put into words what I feel when I sit over there on my new little deck looking out at the Little River. Already I am developing rituals, though the first of them is seasonal. I stop under the arching boughs of the big mulberry and feast on shiny, dark berries until my fingertips are stained.

Next I sit for a while under the big maple and look out for Mama Wood Duck and her babies. They come by almost every evening.

Last night I was there after sundown for the first time. I was peeling out the old then measuring, cutting and applying fresh contact paper to the insides of the shelves and drawers in the kitchen and lost track of time.

As I let myself out, the motion-sensing porch light came on and flooded the deck with light. An idea came to me. I walked down to the midway landing and sat down in my deck chair to wait for the light to go off. When it did, I just sat quietly, waiting to see what it would be like out there in complete darkness.

Once my eyes adjusted, I noticed that the woods on the far bank were alive with a thousand little flashes of light. It looked like the audience at a rock concert with a thousand smuggled cameras.

As a continued to sit silently, I became aware of something else. Do trees not rustle in the wind when the sun is out? There was suddenly a glorious whooshing sound being made by the wind in all those treetops.

I can’t explain it…even to myself completely. I feel as if something that has been missing has come back to me after a long, long absence. Whatever it is, it feeds my soul at the deepest level.

Famous Last Words: I Wonder Where This Little Path Goes?

As the birding frenzy that comes with spring migration winds down, I am looking forward to once again sleeping eight hours per night.  It has been sweet, though. This birding season has been especially meaningful to me because of the new friendships I’ve made by finally joining up with a local naturalists club, as well as through inviting strangers to come birding with me.  Sylvain’s sister C and I have also become closer through birding together.

Last weekend Sylvain took me over to Ohio for The Biggest Week in American Birding at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. I’m glad we went and checked it out, but we may not go back again. To give you an idea of what we were up against, imagine a parking lot five times the size of the one at Point Pelee full of cars from all over the Lower 48. Now imagine all of the people who belong to those cars crammed onto one boardwalk less than a mile long! The experience gave us a whole new appreciation for the Canadian culture of courtesy.  I suppose an already popular festival became an even bigger draw when the new passport requirements went into effect at the Canadian-US border. Many birders who once came to Point Pelee probably now consider Magee Marsh to be their mecca.

Yesterday was my idea of a perfect day of birding. I rose early and made my way to the park to meet the the leader and other participants of an Ojibway Nature Centre field course by 8:00. The morning spent with the group included such treats as my first view of an American Snout, crushing and smelling the leaves of Sweet Cicely and Spicebush, and seeing nine Ruddy Turnstones at the tip.

The day was sunny and warm with nice, cooling breezes. I couldn’t possibly go back home when the field trip was done, so I headed back to the park after lunch to do another trail or two on my own.  One thing I like about hiking by myself is that I can stop for as long as I want to study a fern or horsetail without worrying that my hiking companion is getting antsy to move on. I managed to identify my first Marsh Fern just by taking good notes and looking it up later with the key.

While exploring Tilden’s Trail, I noticed a sign for a seasonal footpath that I had never taken before. Curious and in no hurry, I started down it.  I noticed as I walked along the narrow trail that voices of other people enjoying the park were growing fainter and fainter. After about fifteen minutes, I emerged from the woods at a long and wide mown corridor. At the end of that corridor was a cemetery where the original homesteaders of that land are buried.  Under the shadows of a large red cedar and a maple was a picnic table.

With the place all to myself, I decided to give my sweaty feet a break from the socks and hiking boots they’d been strapped into for seven hours. I made a neat pile of my abandoned Tilley hat, socks and boots and lay down on the evenly clipped grass to gaze skyward a while.  I could easily have fallen asleep right there. Robins hopped on the lawn while the odd Indigo Bunting streaked past overhead.

After enjoying the quiet spot with its sacred ambiance for a while, I decided to head back to civilization on a different footpath, this one departing from the entrance to the cemetery.  Never did I imagine that I had just chosen a path that would not take me back to Tilden Trail but rather would dump me back out half an hour later at DeLaurier Homestead–quite a distance away from my car and Tilden Trail. But that’s the fun of getting lost in the woods on a picture-perfect day in May.

I finally made it back to my car by around six o’clock and was back home enjoying a long soak in the tub by eight.

Excerpt from Frazier’s Book

I’ve finished reading Jan Frazier’s book When Fear Falls Away: The Story of a Sudden Awakening.

I would like to share a passage with you before I pass the book on to someone else.

I told myself enlightenment was possible, because Gurumayi had said it was possible to attain heaven during a human life. But though I said I believed it could potentially happen to a person, and I could force myself to acknowledge it might happen for me in some life, I surely never allowed that it could happen in this one.

I was, after all, far from sainthood. My ego was as busy as anyone’s. Wouldn’t a person approaching realization come to be gradually closer, in observable increments? My absence of faith that it was possible for me in this very lifetime probably is a big part of why it took me a long time to figure out what was going on. 

I wish very deeply that I could bring about a widespread acceptance of realization as a fact, as possible for anyone who would value it. I suppose if a person lives entirely on the surface of things, deriving all satisfaction from the material plane, it is not likely that person would value inner transformation. But I am talking about getting through to people who are concerned with the inner life. Not necessarily those who have a spiritual practice or faith. But those who value peacefulness, who want their lives to be guided more by virtue and compassion than by greed and anger. These people often spend large sums of money on therapy or medical care for physical pain or chronic illness, or they medicate themselves with too many glasses of Scotch. They can’t seem to shake depression once and for all. They might be people who have been abused, or are in awful relationships they can’t get out of, or who are overwhelmed by the mess the world seems to be in, or who are poor or disabled or lonely.

It is these people I wish I could get through to, to say, Look, it is possible to have all the same hard stuff in your life and yet not have it devastate you. And once you figure that out, what do you know; some of the stuff leaves. Maybe all of it, at least for great chunks of time. Or maybe all of it stays, but somehow you swim below it. When the big waves come rolling in to shore, if you can just dive below, they won’t tumble and crush you. You’ll even be having a really good time–in fact, the time of your life.

Sainthood isn’t gotten to by great sacrifices, by mortification of the flesh, by a string of good deeds the likes of what Mother Teresa did. All it is–this sounds so simple–is plainly recognizing what your fundamental condition is. Getting rid of all the other stuff in some way to make it possible to see that.  “Getting rid of it in some way”: that used to mean taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Artificially enforced getting-rid-of. Or it meant living in a cave with little to wear and little to eat, and that little-to-eat was stale and not very nourishing, and the same day after day.

Getting ride of it can happen by other means, though. The Bhagavad Gita talks about this–that it isn’t desire that’s so bad; it’s when it ruins your day–your life–if the desired thing doesn’t come to pass. Or when the Bible talks about money being the root of all evil: it isn’t money that’s the problem; it’s the power over us. We say, I am my job or If I can afford this house, I will be happy or If I get cancer my life will be ruined or If my son drops out of school, it will kill me. Whatever it is. We take this fundamental delight that is our nature and we blind ourselves to the unassailable fact of that condition by believing in the greater reality of all the other stuff.

Of course the other stuff (some of it) matters. But we think it matters so much–we think of our joy, our sense of life having worth, as being so provisional, so conditional–that we manage to lose touch with that quiet pool at the center that is vastly more…everything…than whatever we can conjure, for however long we can trick it into lasting: the job, the house, the relationship.

But hardly anyone believes this. I can see what an uphill battle it will be, to get through on this.

It brings me back, again and again, to this idea–that it might in the end matter very much to believe in the possibility of realization, if we call realization nothing more than a profound letting go into the original condition. It is not an achievement. It is an exhale without end. That is all, really. Only you don’t run out of wind. You really don’t. It’s just that you come to a point where you and the wind are the same thing. If you know what I mean. There is nothing left to be afraid of. You have all the time in the world. Or, more truly, no time at all. You don’t need any.

Before There Were Moleskines,…

“I might be able to go a week without blogging, but I don’t think I can go without keeping a journal at all,” I told my mom on Saturday morning. “Do you have a blank book I can have?”

“Oh, I think I have one that was your father’s. I took it on a retreat not long ago,” she said.

“That silent retreat you went on, the one where your friend ML wouldn’t shut up the whole time?”

“That one. Let’s see…” she said as she dug through the drawers of the antique buffet in the living room.  “Here we go!” She handed me the slim ledger book bound in black leather. It looked very much like a lined Moleskine except for the red page edges and red double lines running down each right margin where the figures were to be written in a column.

“This has to be over forty years old,” I said as I turned it over slowly in my hands. I smiled and told her with my eyes how much it meant to me to have this notebook passed to me from my father through her.

I disappeared into the bedroom to make my first journal entry. But before I could do that, I was compelled to read what my mother had written during her retreat on contemplative living:

No plans, no goals.

“If you think you know why you’re here, you don’t know why you’re here.”

Why this hunger?

Grace drew us here. It’s a riddle.

Surrender to the self transforming process.

3-fold vision (philosophy) of contemplative life. not a doctrine. how reality grants itself to us. personal sense of direction. the way is obscure (not to the Deep Self)

  1. the divinity of what just is – awareness that present moment, just the way it is, is the perfect manifestation of the mystery we seek
  2. you can have these moments when you are very young and you spend the rest of your life trying to grow into it.
  3. we are impelled to set out on a path of self-transformation. we want to end our discontent and be true to the exp. of our childhood

More to come…

I Am Not a Body

I thought I’d take one blog post just to let you know how things are going with A Course in Miracles workbook, one lesson per day with meetings on Sundays.  We are more than halfway through the 365 lessons.

This week I start each day with “I Am Not a Body. I Am Free.”  This is powerful stuff if you don’t let your left brain or ego trick you out of it.  Powerful stuff. The course is lifting me to a level of Spirit that is indescribably freeing. I am remembering how to find my own joy in every day, in every moment.

I say remembering rather than learning because I’ve been this far out before. I enjoyed this level of faith (and the accompanying miracles) when I was 20 and was touring western Europe with my thumb out and a rucksack on my back.

It feels VERY good to be ridding myself of the burdens that used to plague me. They are still there to some extent, but they are growing lighter and lighter. They visit my mind less and less often and don’t stay as long.

Sometimes I am tempted to worry about something. Sometimes I start to slip back. But then I read that day’s lesson and I am reminded that I am not a body. There is nothing out there. There is only one one that we all are.

How can you worry about losing something (of this world) when you understand you never had anything to begin with? Nothing is ours. Everything is on loan.  It can go today, tomorrow or in ten years, but it’s going.  May as well release attachment now.

Do you know how light you feel when you reach this understanding?  Oh, my goodness.

Of course I know that much bigger challenges can come at any moment, ones that could truly test my ability to stick with these tools, this practice. But for now I have been given what I need.

What is almost as wonderful as these realizations is the fact that I have a partner who is on the same journey making the same discoveries. He brings me stories from his day, I share mine with him. We are singing from the same song book, same page.  How sweet it is to be understood and to understand another.

For me, the greatest tool for feeling free and completely fearless is this: I take whatever might worry me and play it out in my mind to the worst case scenario. Then I remind myself that even if that worst case were to come to pass, I would still be 100% okay in the present moment. I would still be one with God and one with everything. All would still be right with the world.

Whatever mood you are in today/tonight… whatever thoughts fill your head… can you stop? Can you stop even for 60 seconds and just appreciate being alive? Touch something… the fabric of your garment or the chair you are sitting in. Isn’t that a miracle?

Breathe in deeply and fill your lungs.  Isn’t that something?

Smile.

You are here.  You won’t always have this experience of being on planet earth. Today you have it.  Taste it.

If you are sad tonight, be thankful for it. Once you take off your earth suit and leave the earth school, you won’t get to experience sadness anymore.

So taste it.

As Thich Nhat Hanh says,  “Breathing in, I know that I am [sad].  Breathing out, I am taking good care of my [sadness].”

This is what I do.  I float one inch above my body; I follow it around all day.  I love participating in and witnessing all the things my body does. I love feeling the cold metal when this body’s hand touches a door knob; I love hearing the sound and feeling the temperature when this body pours a glass of milk.  But I don’t identify with this body. I am not that.

I am not a body. I am free.

Sand in the Oyster

I’m still thinking about that retreat–the one two out of three friends stayed at for ten days. We were discussing here on this blog how perception shapes experience. I would like to share this passage from the book Radical Presence by Mary Rose O’Reilley. She is talking about a month-long retreat she did at Plum Village.

My spiritual director in the monastery was a German engineer named Karl, a robust man in his sixties, who liked to give advice and gave it with utmost clarity. There was nothing contemplative about our conversations; he was training me. In particular, he was schooling me in the management of irritation. Other sojourners were working on grief or depression; I was merely cold, hungry, and mad at my roommates. At Plum Village I often felt like an oyster dumped onto a particularly sandy bank. Everything irritated my tender skin–the food, the cold, the hierarchy, and most of all other people. The advantage of spending a month at a place like Plum Village is that you can hear the dharma in a sort of laboratory environment, constantly thrown back on the difficulties of practicing it. Spiritual direction consisted of practical help in applying the practice to daily annoyances: shrieking attacks from a Vietnamese sister who was convinced I had stolen her gardening shears, vexation of a roommate who wanted the light on all night.

“Valerie really pushes my buttons,” I might tell Karl.

“The important thing is to remember that they’re your buttons. They don’t exist out there on some cosmic control panel. Therefore your irritation is based merely on an idea of how things should be. A relative idea. You are producing the feeling from an underlying perception that skews your judgment. You have to get at the underlying idea.”

I am thinking about what my friend, the one who returned early, had to say about the 10-day Vipassana retreat. I am also thinking about the time I was graced with the rare opportunity to participate in a Native American rite of purification / sweat lodge ceremony.  Maybe I’ll tell you about that soon.

Slow Down for Everything

I don a long-sleeved undershirt, turtleneck, hoodie and field coat, sling the spotting scope over my shoulder and make my way around the snow banks to cross the street to the marina.  The Bald Eagles are putting on an aerial show. “Spectacular,” says a man as he passes me going the other way.

Way out on the ice there is something new today…past the Common Mergansers, Red Heads, Canvasbacks, other divers and gulls. It’s Tundra Swans.

When my fingers are too numb, even with gloves, to feel the focus dial of the scope anymore, I head back.

Inside my warm apartment, I step out of my shoes and place them on the boot mat, then use an old cotton rag to clean up the grey puddles of melted snow.

One day I’ll be dead. One day I won’t be able to do any of these things…kick off hiking boots or mop up melted snow from a shiny tile floor.  So I do it slowly, with loving attention.

…but I AM a child of God

This blog post is a continuation of a conversation begun here.

Hi, Carlene,

Thank you for explaining the traditional Christian perspective on sin.

I am not sure how long ago you were a student of A Course in Miracles, but I would like to address two things you have said here about ACIM.

1) In your comment on the last post, you said: “In contrast to what the ACIM teaching spirits have to say, I find that the things I find most offensive in others are generally the things I find offensive in myself.”

To me, this is exactly what the Course is teaching us: that perception comes from projection, the Course’s term “projection” being very like Jung’s. When we see evil in another, the evil is a perception springing from our own minds. When I no longer have evil in my mind, I can no longer see it in my brother, so there is no sin to forgive.

Anyone reading this who is interested in more Jung-ACIM parallels can check out two blog posts called Carl Jung and The Course by Frank Dobner, Part I and Part II.

2) “If you’re not a Christian, you have to do it on your own.”

I just want to respectfully say that this is your truth, one you have arrived at through your experience. Nobody can touch that. It is yours. But it is not the only experience.

After my year of fervent prayer to God for Him to reveal Himself to me, I had what many would call a “mystical” or “religious” experience. I call it an awakening.  Before that day, I sometimes wondered if life was worth living. Since that day, God has walked with me and I am head over heels in love with life.

Before that day, the Holy Bible was gibberish to me. After the revelation, I raced back to it to see if that book would still sound like nonsense. It didn’t! I found profound, comforting truths on every page. I read ravenously for hours on end.

Still curious to see if all holy scriptures would spring to life, I picked up the Holy Qur’an, the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching. I sat reading these texts for hours under the towering conifers, my feet tucked beneath me on a bed of pine needles, tears streaming down my face.

Beforehand, evangelists’ messages (I lived in the Bible Belt) had been cryptic and frustrating to me; now I could spend whole afternoons talking with prosceletizers about the glory of God.

I worshiped with Pentecostals for a time, spoke in tongues and was baptized in the name of Jesus. My fellow congregants were happy to have me in their midst. I never once mentioned that I was not exclusively Christian, that all faiths swept me away with equal ease. Had anyone asked, I would have told them; but nobody did.

For a year I practiced Buddhism in Japan where I experienced miracles and healings through chanting the Lotus Sutra.

As Gandhi said, “I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew.”

This is how I feel.  I know that Jews do not have to “do it on their own.” They are not alone! I know that Muslims and Hindus do not have to, either.  HaShem is available to us all when we seek a holy relationship with It/Him/Her.

When I turn to God through Jesus, God is with me.  When I turn to the Great Silence of my Mind in meditation, a holy peace comes over me. When I read a poem by the sufi mystic Hafez, my heart overflows with love.

I am so happy and grateful that Jesus offers himself as a path to forgiveness for you and many others.  But I know…not from any dogma or scripture or the Course or any other teaching… but from my own personal experience, that there are many paths up the mountain.

A Course in Miracles urges me to cultivate a daily relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.  We arrive together at a place of pure forgiveness.

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P.S. I take off my hat to my wonderful readers who, in my entire five years of blogging, have never once engaged in any intolerance or ungracious behaviour with one another. You always make every commenter feel…well, if not warmly welcome then at least safely ignored.  And I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart. You are all one hell of a class act.

A Shower of Astonishing Alignments

This is going to be a long and possibly boring post; you may want to skip it. This is material I would normally put in a private journal, but for some reason I want to put it here even though it will be a long and rambling, unedited, unstructured first draft. I am just documenting things for the sake of the record that they took place. The past 48-hour period has been… one amazing thing after another.

#1 – The students turn dark to light

On Friday I filled in for the Level 3/4 teacher in the afternoon. We were learning to use transition words in structuring paragraphs. I found a neat exercise where I put them in groups of four or five and give each group a sentence with which to start a story. They have to come up with twelve more sentences to complete the story while using their new words (e.g. therefore, as a result, nonetheless, first, next, in conclusion). But all the opening sentences on the worksheet were so pessimistic. One was “Scientists have discovered that three days from now the sun will explode and the earth will be destroyed.” Another was, “The students decided that they hated their teacher.” All six sentences were similarly negative! I didn’t have time to write substitute sentences for all of them, so I went into class with most of them in tact.

To my wonder and delight, the group who got the exploding sun scenario ended their story with people praying to God for a miracle. Other groups took their dismal story beginnings in the direction of the Light, as well. I had no idea this would happen.

The next exercise involved their writing paragraphs entitled “My favourite place.” Three or four of the students named church or mosque as their favourite place. I went from desk to desk reading descriptions of chapels, gardens and prayer rooms where my students describe feeling at peace.

#2 – Meeting an Earth Angel

As I said, I was drawn to a new couple (recent immigrants to Canada) at our language practice circle and ended up visiting them at their apartment and then, at the end of my visit, inviting them to dinner at my place. I was aware that this was out of character for me and was also aware that I didn’t yet know why I was drawn to them.

When we exchanged emails, I noticed the footer was very religious. When I visited them at their place, just about the first question out of E’s mouth was, “Do you believe in God?” I spent the next 15 minutes or so recounting the story of my awakening.

Between that day and their coming to dinner, we exchanged a few emails. In trying to explain why my next free night wasn’t for two weeks, I shared some of the things I’m involved in, including the ACIM group that meets at my place, palliative care training, etc.

Last night we shared a meal with E and his partner G, while I acted as Spanish-English interpreter for Sylvain and G. They asked me what ACIM is about. I did my best to explain it, though abstract concepts are a challenge in a second language. E then spent the next couple of hours sharing the story of his awakening and the many miracles that have followed. Their life today is one miracle after the other, they told us, from coming to Canada to how God continues to provide for their every need…right down to the other day when they prayed about not having cups to drink out of only to get a knock on the door the next day from my coworker who had come bearing a housewarming gift: a set up cups.

I can’t share all of what he shared because it’s private and his identity is only thinly veiled. But it was intense, way out there. It was also all couched in the framework of Catholicism, healings, intercessions and saints. I have very few dealings with or knowledge of that world and have only known two truly devout (by my definition) Catholics in my life. Both of them are far away now, and we rarely have contact.

Before they left, E gave us both some advice. He said that before we go to sleep at night, we should pray and ask God to give us nocturnal instructions.

And so I did that.

In the morning I awoke in a rare state of lucid dreaming that continued after I awoke, something that has happened two or three times in my life. Everything was vivid and easily recalled. This triggered a spiritual revelation that brought tears. Then I reached for my BlackBerry–I don’t know why–and saw that I had a message from the friend of a dear friend (one of the two devout Catholic friends with whom I have contact only rarely…the last time was over a year ago). He informed me of a bad accident my friend had this year and asked for my prayers for her healing and also for help with the canonization of a saint. If this saint heals her, that miracle will help count toward his possible canonization.

I shook my head in wonder. (And yes, I prayed.)

There was also a message from a friend who had asked to accompany me to Unity saying she wasn’t coming with me after all.

I went into the bathroom, where I keep three books so that reading the day’s lessons and meditations comes right after brushing my teeth but before bathing. The Daily Meditation for December 12 spoke directly to a problem–one I’d been struggling with for a few days.  (Challenging relationships.) I realized that the problem was being created by ego and the solution was in opening to the Holy Spirit, to use the terminology of the resources. This was a powerful and difficult revelation because I don’t want to listen to this answer. This answer requires me to swallow my pride and go along with something that my ego says I shouldn’t have to go along with. But I do feel Love calling me to try the other way.

# 3 – Meeting T

I went to my new church.  Snow was falling fast, requiring my windshield wipers to be on medium-high. The message spoke to me so loudly that I had to take a pen out of my purse and start taking notes.

Where does God fit in this challenge? Arlene spoke of challenging relationships. We are called to let go of how we think it should be… Give birth to your own Christ nature.

Sitting there listening to the sermon I realized that my so-called “problem” is not about the other person (the one I find challenging); it’s about me and Sylvain, about our hearts. We have a limitless capacity for Love. It is within our power to bring harmony into a situation. Bring forth the Divinity in others. Be at peace in the midst of the chaos. Arlene brought up the quote: “Live in such a way that those who know you but don’t know God come to know God because they know you.”

After the service I felt inexplicably drawn to two people, a man who’s been attending for some years and his guest who was there for the first time. We went together to the fellowship room for coffee and treats. Since he is blind and his friend ran off to get his free book from the bookstore, I offered to bring him a plate. We sat and talked. The “coincidences” kept coming. By this point I was starting to feel like a star gazer during a meteor shower. The Tai Chi teacher he’s been hoping to hook up with is the co-leader of my meditation group and the co-leader of the ACIM group that meets at my home on Sundays. Pretty soon we were exchanging emails so that I can send him the meditation group details. I mentioned that I just finished a Reiki course. He practices Reiki and can hook me up with other Reiki sharing circles outside of the one I attend through hospice. (This is key for me because my experience during the training left something to be desired and I have been searching for the missing puzzle piece.)  He is interested in learning Therapeutic Touch and wondered aloud if I knew when/where that is offered. Yes, I just got notice of a new class starting soon via my Hospice newsletter.

The next thing I knew, there was a man standing at our table saying that he teaches yoga at the same community centre where my friend G teaches Tai Chi. Of course they know each other well and in fact ran into each other the other day in the parking lot of my building. Mind you, this church is a good 14 km from my home…about as far away from my end of town as you can get and still be in this city.

And then before I knew it, I was mentioning (I don’t know why… I haven’t mentioned this to anyone except Sylvain before) Rick’s wife Julia’s latest book. T asked me if I knew where he could get his hands on it. I said through Amazon, Saint Martin’s Press or any bookstore. He mumbled something about needing audio format. Okay, here’s where it gets really freaky. I just happen to have a PDF of the book THAT TALKS. I discovered BY ACCIDENT one day that the PDF will read itself to you (View – Read Aloud). Are there any accidents???

By this time I’m starting to hum the Twilight Zone theme.

My cell phone rang. It was Sylvain asking me to let him know when I’d arrived home safely, as roads were slippery. My new friend T commented that Sylvain must be a very caring person. “He’s amazing. Yes, very caring.”

I left with two invitations to the December 20th Christmas Candlelight Service. I don’t yet know whom they are meant for.

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I brushed the snow off my car and went shopping for my baking ingredients. I love that I had so many hours before people were to arrive at my house. I could spend two hours in the bulk good store slowly wandering the aisles if I so chose.

Back home again. The phone rang mid-way through the second batch of very ginger cookies. It was one of our group of seven cancelling due to the inclement weather. Then I noticed a voice mail flashing. It was from the group facilitators saying they also were not coming. I caught myself hoping the remaining couple would still show up.

They did.

They removed their coats and began settling in the living area. I was still in the kitchen when I overheard L telling Sylvain about a book they had found at Value Village (a second-hand store) today. “Is this any good?” she was asking. “Can we use this with ACIM?”

It’s one of the three books in my bathroom that I read from each morning (Thank you, O).

“We couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I was looking for a romance novel for my daughter. It stuck out among the tattered novels. It’s brand new, never even been cracked open.”

She then proceeded to read today’s passage aloud to Sylvain. I stopped her so that I could whisper something to Sylvain. I told him that this passage had given me an answer to my dilemma…one he knows I’d been grappling with. I asked L to begin again from the start. She did.

I shared the (so-called) problem and each of them became my teacher.

We had an awesome class with an energy much different from when all the members are in the room. It was good. They were free and spontaneous  in a way that doesn’t happen as much when the official teachers are in the room.

At Sylvain’s request, we talked about the passage that says, “I seem to have problems only because I am misusing time. I believe that the problem comes first, and time must elapse before it can be worked out. I do not see the problem and the answer as simultaneous in their occurrence.”

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I have to head to bed now, or I’m sure I could sit here and remember eleven more astonishing alignments from my day.

Nothing Exists Outside Your Sphere of Here And Now

I want to continue to explore a bit more the subject of my previous post.

One way of looking at reality–a view that is possibly supported by quantum theory–is that nothing exists outside your sphere of Here And Now. I say “possibly” because what I am proposing with this model does not necessarily follow from what the new physics is teaching us. Many physicists would say I am wandering off into “pseudo science.” And I am. BUT…it’s pseudo science that works for me. It brings peace and joy to myself and to those with whom I come into contact. I believe that it’s true even though it isn’t YET fully supported by the science. I believe that one day we may prove it if it is provable. But I don’t care if we prove it or don’t. I operate as if it’s true and it behaves as if it is true.

Back to the model.

As Sylvain and I were driving to an outlet mall in Michigan this morning, I mentioned to him Suki’s comment that the [war or whatever event] may not be real for her in that moment but is real by some definition for [someone else].

The thing is, though, that under the model in which that war doesn’t exist, those people don’t exist, either.

“My parents don’t exist right now,” Sylvain said.

“Exactly,” I said.

Now here’s where it gets dicey. Some think that my adopting such a view of reality means I am selfish, not compassionate.  That I am putting on blinders and ignoring the suffering on the other side of the world.

If this crossed your mind, I would answer that in a few ways.

1.  Does my life strike you as void of compassion? Am I not brimming with love for my fellow humans? Do I not live that love with my actions every day? In fact, by turning my attention to what is with me in the Here And Now rather than devoting energy to imagined (non-existent) conflicts on the supposed other side of the world, I am MORE able to fully love everyone and everything in my Here and Now. And since everything is connected through the mind-matter field, I am also taking good loving care of everything in the Universe.

2. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the war in X country does exist and is real for someone somewhere. Do you not trust the Universe to take care of that? Are you the earth’s only angel? You do not need to be everywhere at once.  Let go of that sense that solving all those so-called problems outside your Here And Now is on your shoulders. The Universe (which is not separate from you, anyway) knows what it’s doing. You have chosen a part of it to take loving care of. The part that is assigned to you is the part that arises in each fresh Now.  Nothing else exists. When you dream other stuff into existence, you are just needlessly siphoning off energy that could be used to love your Here And Now, which is your only job.

3. Nothing is separate.  You are connected to and constantly communicating with the entire Universe through the mind-matter field. If you have the time and patience, I highly recommend that you read this abstract or anything, for that matter, about quantum theory. Especially important are the ideas of non-locality and potentialities.  When you use your mind to commune with Love, all corners of the Universe are affected.

Comments on ACIM Workbook Lesson 14 for Suki

Suki, I am honoured that you would ask me to comment on workbook lesson 14, which I think you can read here. In the answer that follows, I use the word God because the Course uses it. For me, it is nothing more than a label of convenience that is part of one set of metaphors…no better or worse in my mind than any other set of metaphors used to describe our world.  I hope you will substitute whichever word works best from your metaphor set.

Model #1: Get some perspective.

Step outside your body (use your imagination for a minute). Step outside your body and float up above the room. Float above the city. Keep going out… out… out. It may help to watch the Eames’ film “Powers of Ten” before doing this exercise.

Get out there in the solar system and keep going. Go out of our galaxy. Go all the way to the next galaxy and beyond.  Get some perspective.  Now look at the whole thing…all the spinning systems and planets and comets and stars, and tell me. Is there a plane crash?

When you walk to the store, you step on many little creatures and kill them. You are somebody’s earthquake. Is there really an earthquake, or is it just a matter of perspective? To the inchworm on the sidewalk, something catastrophic happened. But is the “catastrophe” real or created by that inchworm’s perspective? What about God’s perspective? Do you mourn each skin cell that sloughs off, soon to be replaced by a fresh one?

When you say “plane crash,” you’re talking about two things – an event or situation plus your thoughts, interpretation, value judgements of same.  What you really think is that a plane crash is a terrible thing. It’s a disaster. It’s something to feel depressed about, or fearful about or confused about. Your view of it helps you to see the world as chaotic, meaningless. Why would God let it happen? But I am telling you, God did not make a disaster nor anything meaningless. You are making it with your thoughts.

Before you added your judgments and thoughts to the picture, there was no catastrophe.  There is just the Universe chugging along doing what a good universe does. Birth happens. Death happens.  Leaves fall off trees. Is that a catastrophe?  It may feel like one to that particular leaf; I don’t know. I don’t think God created a catastrophe when God designed leaves to fall off trees in the autumn. It’s not even really death; it’s the death of one physical form. The human ego provides the definition of “crash” and “war” and “illness.”

In order for you to see physical death or decline as a bad thing, you have to view yourself as separate from the whole, as somehow deserving to be exempt from the natural processes of life and death.

Think about a virus that causes a bad flu in your grandmother.  Is this illness? It is in the thoughts of the grandmother and her family. But what is it to the virus germs? To them, it is just transportation. Do they not deserve to live, too? Did God not create them to thrive just as She created us to thrive? There is a balance in the design.  Sometimes your grandmother gets to live another day, sometimes it’s the virus’ turn to live another day.  There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.

Is there war? Is there illness? Is there a plane crash?

Model #2: you are responsible for your hologram

Nobody exists in your hologram except you.  The others who appear to exist are creations of your mind projected onto the screen of your hologram.

You will ask, “But what about my son, my ex, my friend? Are they not real?”

I say to you that they are each real within their own dreams, but not in yours. In your dream, they are characters you have created and put there.

Now, back to whether that war, that plane crash or that disease is real.

Is anyone shooting at you right now? No. Then how does that war exist for you? You are creating it out of images from the television or newspaper. God is not creating that, you are. The paper is real because you are touching it. You can even put it to your nose and smell it. But there is no war in the room with you right now. It doesn’t exist.

Ah, but what about a so-called illness that you are currently experiencing? Again, there are things that are real and there is the spin put onto it by your mind. If you stay in the present moment at every moment, there is no diagnosis. There is only what is happening in each moment as it unfolds. Your mind can make anything of it that it wants to. If you open to the Voice of the Holy Spirit, you can experience what is really happening, which just is what it is. If you listen to ego, you will hear a story that is full of fear and loss and I don’t know what all. Which one is reality?

Model #3 – There is a third model that I don’t feel very qualified to expound on and am not even sure what to name it.  I might not even understand the gist of it, but I’ll do my best to describe how I THINK it goes: We are dreaming this world into existence together. We are creating war and famine. When we stop dreaming them into existence, they will stop. God does not necessarily want us to create these things with our minds, but won’t stop us because we have free will.  One by one, She is calling us back out of this illusion, back to Truth, back to peace and love and harmony.

Think about what Gandhi said. Be the change you wish to see in the world. You cannot make everyone on this planet stop dreaming the war. You can only take responsibility for your dream. So withdraw your belief from it and you are doing your part to shut it down. Although this model sounds impossible and mind-blowing, I can tell you from experience that acting as if this is true causes it to begin to be true.

Under which model this example goes, I’m not sure, but I can share an experience with you.  When I stop believing in crime, I begin to live in a world without any.

The other day I reached my car at 3:15 to find dog excrement smeared across my windshield, a crumpled napkin still stuck to it. I did not get upset. I just removed as much as I could using that napkin, put that soiled napkin inside a plastic bag in my trunk so I could throw it away when I got home ( rather than tossing it to the ground, which is what my ego told me to do).

When I got home I spent 30 minutes slowly soaking and cleaning the crusted-on feces from my windshield. I did not label this in my mind with any of the words society would like me to use for it.  It was just a situation. In the present moment, there was only one thing to do: clean it off.  In my world, there is no such thing as “vandalism” or “insult” or anything like that because I choose to create my hologram without those things.  I was with God while I cleaned the windshield. The love was very real.  Had that happened to me before I started the Course in Miracles, there would have been a disaster, a reason to have a bad day, a thing called the crime of vandalism and other things. But would they really have existed outside my mind? Today my thoughts have changed and my world does not include crime.

Convergence of Teachings 3 – The Ant Book

I’d have to be deaf not to hear the message, which is coming at me from all angles right now.

Sit down and shut up.

Go to the mat.  Or the sofa.  Or under a tree.

My meditation group leaders tell us over and over that what we are doing when we meditate is like going to the gym to strengthen some very weak muscles. We are practicing tuning out the thought level so as to make room for communion with another level.

When we first start a meditation practice, it could be weeks before we get even the tiniest break between clouds.  But eventually, if we stay with it, the gaps become ever so slightly longer. And they come a bit more frequently.

We are strengthening our ability to align with, at will, the dispassionate observer: pure awareness that does not judge.

It behooves us to do this for at least 20 minutes each day.  Why? Among other reasons, for the sake of our own freedom! Otherwise we will go through a lifetime of being tricked by ego and its craziness. We will be trapped in our own illusions and duped by our own fabrications.

Every day I do a new ACIM workbook lesson. More than one person in our group has difficulty getting past the language. I am so grateful that I long ago got over my aversion to the G word.  I can slip easily from one set of metaphors to the next without blinking. “Ultimate Reality,” or “The Unified Field of Love” or whatever you want to call it, I don’t care.  The lessons are doing something to me. Every day I come closer to understanding that kelly doesn’t exist.

A few months ago I was looking for a good book to take with us up to Muskoka for our vacation. I chose Adventures among Ants.  Can you believe that even this book about insects is helping me understand the concepts presented in ACIM and in the Buddhist teachings I read?

Ants, I have learned from Mark W. Moffett, are not a collection of individuals. They come together to make up a macro-organism.  They are more like the cells of a body. If one ant gets lost and cannot find its way back to the nest, it will wander without purpose until it dies. It won’t set up house with another lost ant. It won’t say, “Hey, I’m free! No more work for me! I’ll just find my own food and enjoy the jungle!” No. It has no will or function independent from the higher organism of which it is an integral part.

An army of ants on a raid is like one entity. It sometimes resembles a hand with fingers progressing across the land, feeling for food. I am beginning to understand that if I see a lost ant, it is no “sadder” an occasion than when I am brushing my hair and some skin cells fall to the bathroom floor and die.  (This makes food for the resident silverfish, by the way.) They had a purpose for a while, but they will be replaced by others. There never was one particular cell named Margaret whose demise now needs to be mourned.

This new knowledge of how ants work is helping me understand that the notion of a separate entity called kelly is just a human construct. “I”–as an entity separate from the unified field of Love–do not exist.

I look up at my wall and understand St. Francis’ prayer in a deeper way.  The thought of my eventual death is not as scary.  The almost constant hungering after things to make “my” life more comfortable or secure begins to let up from time to time.  A feeling of freedom and peace comes in. I begin to relax.

When I relax and give up the notion that I must provide for my own survival, I can enjoy the one holy present moment.

My Year in Japan VII – Temple Service and a Small Faith Healing

The previous installment of this story is here.

During my adult life…especially before I found Jungian analysis…I used any number of things in an addictive way.  For a while I used food to numb my pain and went from a size 7 to 16.  For a while I used shopping.  While I was living with Xavier in Japan, my vehicle of escape from uncomfortable feelings was alcohol.

Xavier was not a drinker.  I recall one night when he and I were out on the town.  As usual, I was dying to get smashed.  He wanted no part of my ordering any sake in the club where we were enjoying karaoke, but I managed to find a vending machine that sold some really nasty and cheap rotgut. I put my coins in the machine and glugged down the rice-based liquid that tasted not too unlike the PGA that my high school chums and I used to bring to parties to spike the punch. This is the sort of stuff that makes for the most brutal hangovers known to man.

I remember making a complete fool of myself in the club.  Thankfully, Japanese tend to excuse anything a person does under the influence of alcohol.  When we got home, I remember going straight for the romanized sutra booklet and prayer beads.  I didn’t have an object of worship and it was way too late (and I was too drunk) to go knocking on my neighbour’s door asking to kneel in front of theirs. So I just slid down onto my knees in one corner of the dark kitchen and began chanting.  While Xavier took off his belt, slacks and white dress shirt, I chanted. While he brushed his teeth and pulled out the futons, I continued through the sutra booklet.  When I was done, I quickly got ready for bed.

The next morning I ran into Mrs. K, our downstairs neighbour who saw my conversion to her brand of Buddhism as her personal mission.  “It’s time for you to have your own gohonzon,” she told me.

“What? Really?” I didn’t know what to think. Why now, I wondered.

“I heard you last night,” she said.

“Oh.”  It took me a few minutes to realize that she probably did not know I had been drunk.  She just knew that we had come in late and that I was very committed to not missing a single morning or evening of chanting, not even when we came in at one or two in the morning.  I did not fill her in on the details, but nodded cooperatively to the plan to get me my own object of worship.

Though my Japanese was still rudimentary, I managed to understand that I should buy a butsudan to hold the holy scroll, some incense and a pair of small vases. She took me to the butsudan store.  I picked out a very simple box, one I could afford with the little bit of money I made tutoring English, which is a whole other chapter in this story. The box had a little drawer at the bottom where I could store my sutra booklet and beads.  Mrs. K showed me which incense to buy. I got a pair of little vases, and she picked up some evergreen sprigs for me to put in them.  She had a lot of patience with my limited ability to comprehend Japanese and spent as long as necessary going over the rules of having an object of worship.  I would need to change the water in the vases and not let the flowers or sprigs of evergreen wilt in front of the gohonzon. They should always be kept fresh. I could make offerings of fruit or rice, but could not let them sit too long.  I tried to pay close attention and remember all the rules.

When it comes to my involvement with the sect, it’s hard for me to remember the sequence of events. Two memories stick out for me more than others, however.

One of them is the first time Mrs. K took me with her to the temple on the weekend.  I remember the scores of shoes and geta lined up in the foyer. I took mine off, too.  As we made our way quietly up a staircase, I looked around me at all the tabi socks on the feet of the older women padding up the stairs alongside us.

Mrs. K settled in to chant quietly until the monk came out.  I sat in the proper seiza position, resigned to the fact that my feet would fall asleep under me.  There’s nothing to be done about that when you’re a gainjin who doesn’t want to stick out. Although women are allowed to let their bums slip off their heels to the right or to the left, I have found that doing so only makes me more fidgety during the ensuing hour. I prefer to stay in a completely upright seiza position the entire hour, allowing my feet to become totally numb. (The worst part comes later when you try to stand up while the blood is rushing back into your feet.)

After a while a pair of novices came out in monks robes, heads shaved.  This was my first time to see a monk, novice or otherwise.  I was fascinated.  The novices lit some incense and began beating two large drums. We chanted the introductory part of the sutras for a while with the novices.

Then the real monk came into the room but kept his back to us and did not acknowledge us.  He faced the object of worship and lead us through a very slow recitation of the sutras that I was accustomed to reciting about five times as quickly with Mrs. K and her husband.  I thought is was wonderful to do it very slowly and deliberately with no rush to finish.

The morning sun sent shafts of light down through a set of high windows. It cut through the lazily swirling white clouds of incense smoke. Time seemed to slow down.

When the monk had led us all the way through the book and closing chants, he rose off his cushion, turned to us, bowed and said good morning, then padded across the tatami on his little white-socked feet and out the door through which he had come.

The second memorable event of my early days as a member of this sect actually probably took place before my first visit to the temple.  Xavier’s art student, the son of Professor Purple, had been sick with the flu or a virus or some awful bug that kept him miserable for weeks.  He had had to cancel two consecutive painting lessons with Xavier, which I know could only have been the result of the boy’s mother’s insistence on bed rest. I know this because the painfully shy, socially awkward and lonely young man lived for his lessons with Xavier. In spite of Professor Purple’s best effort to keep her son quarantined, Xavier caught the bug and became miserably sick for a good two weeks.  He just lay in bed day after day worrying about what the dean would think of it.  In Japan, people tend to put on a germ mask and soldier on.

Mrs. K had invited me to one of those neighbourhood meetings that took place each Wednesday night.  I likened them to the prayer meetings or Bible study nights with which some churches in the south supplement Sunday sermons. I feel a need to remind the reader at this point that the sect I had joined bears about as much resemblance to the Buddhism I now follow as a charismatic Pentecostal service resembles a Quaker meeting.

In any case…  about half an hour into the meeting, I began to feel funny.  My eyes were beginning to hurt and I felt very cold. “I’ve caught the flu from Xavier,” I thought.  I did my best to keep my eyes open and pretend to be interested in what was going on around me for the rest of the meeting, but I was starting to feel really poorly.  I could not wait to tuck myself in bed and rest my muscles and bones, which were beginning to ache.

On the way home, I realized that there was nothing in the house to make me feel better… no Tylenol, no juice to keep me hydrated.  Knowing Xavier wasn’t the kind of partner to offer to go out and get me those things (not that I can blame him since I made his life hell with my drinking), I started to duck into a convenience store to buy orange juice.  Mrs. K and I parted there as she continued on back to our building.

That night I fell into a fitful fever sleep with a wet washcloth on my forehead.  I had a vivid dream.  In the dream, I was receiving instructions on chanting.  I was chanting in my dream.  Then the voice that wasn’t really a voice but was more like a telepathic transmission told me to shift into a certain position. I did not wake up but did follow the instructions by moving my body in the bed.  Then it told me to resume chanting, and I did.  I knew that all these instructions had to be followed to the letter. It was very important.  Then it told me to stick one leg out from under the covers (I was hot with fever), and so I did that while still remaining asleep and dreaming.

At around one a.m., I awoke having to pee.  I got up off the futon and began walking toward the bathroom.  I had taken three steps when it dawned on me: I am not sick anymore!

The fever was gone. The aches were gone.  I wasn’t sweating.  My eye sockets no longer hurt.  A bug that had stayed with young Mr. Purple for two weeks and then with Xavier for two weeks had left me with no residual pain or discomfort whatsoever after only four hours. I felt as good as if nothing had ever happened.

The next morning I told Mrs. K about it using my halting Japanese and limited vocabulary. She got it.  She asked me if I could come to the next meeting to tell everyone what happened.  I said maybe it would be better if she told it, but I would come along and punctuate the story with my nods.  And that is what we did.

Yes to TT and GiST 115

An opportunity is coming up soon for me to learn Therapeutic Touch.  At first I had to pass up this one and ask to be put on the list for next time because the dates conflicted with a workshop to which I had already committed for work. But then the TT workshop date was changed to a weekend that I’m free, so I just now emailed the coordinator saying I will attend.

I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but do know that I have always had a deep curiosity about energy work.  If I stay with it, there’s a good chance that I will be asked to work on people at the hospice.  I am just trying to stay open and trusting.  I don’t know where this will lead, only that in this moment, saying “yes” to the workshop feels like the next right thing.

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Grace in Small Things 115

  • I have such a good relationship with my landlord. I told him about a problem with the kitchen plumbing. Since he is on the road for his job two weeks per month, he asked me to call the same plumber I did last time and deduct the bill from my rent just like before.
  • My pantry smells like cardamom! (I bought some freshly ground for my baking on Sunday.)  Mmmmmmm.
  • Sylvain and I took a long walk on the trail while working out what today’s Course in Miracles lesson means to each of us. It’s wonderful to have a partner who is doing the Course at the same time I am. It’s bringing us closer.
  • Every morning I see a completely different sunrise… and each one is breathtaking.
  • Since our building doesn’t have a place for staff to sit and eat, I was walking along the sidewalk eating a samosa I’d just bought at the Indian market.  From behind me I heard, “How are you today?” as a man in his late 30s strode by me, his pace being quicker than mine.  I smiled and said I was just great.  “Mmm, sure smells good,” he added before continuing on with his long-legged stride.  “Would you like one?” I asked.  He pivoted as his eyes grew bigger. “I sure would,” he said. I held out the bag to him and he took a large samosa, thanked me and strode away.  I decided to keep walking past my workplace just to enjoy the rest of my lunch hour strolling around the core. Suddenly a memory came back to me. About five years ago I was waiting in downtown Kitchener for the 7 bus back home on a December night. A young woman waiting for the same bus was munching on something that smelled heavenly.  She told me she had just come from the Christkindl Market, and would I like an apple fritter? I accepted one gratefully.

Grace in Small Things 114

  • I taught Juan the words “my” and “your” today.
  • I sang “Wheels on the Bus” with a precious five-year-old during the return bus ride.
  • I went around the building after we got back and offered apples to everyone who didn’t get to go on the field trip.
  • The Universe winked at Sylvain twice today. The message was very clear: ask and it shall be given unto you.
  • I walked into a room tonight and was instantly drawn to a quiet person sitting against the wall, a newcomer to our conversation circle. When he revealed his name, I smiled quietly to myself.