Thursday, February 5, 2015

Green Hearts

Here’s a confession. I’m not a big Valentine’s Day fan. Oh, there are aspects of it I can get behind, like the increased odds of finding things with icing. But overall, I find V-Day a little too, well, pink and perky.

Before you start to analyze, although I have been ditched and dumped in my life, not once did it happen on Valentine’s Day. And I’m not the total Anticupid. I will give love its day to clean up, dress up and madly gush unrealistic expectations with every heartbeat.

But I think we can all agree it’s the grittier, street-tough love happening the other 364 days that really holds everything together. The kind of love that knows exactly how you like your coffee and is willing to roll out of a warm bed on a winter morning to bring you a cup. Or the love that sits with you when you’ve lost a friend, your health, a pet, a parent or just plain lost it. The love that cherishes your vulnerability and never turns it against you. The love that gets mad, and then gets over it.

I was talking to a true love veteran with four children and a 60-year marriage under her heart. She has been in love with her husband since she was 15 and now his memory is starting to abandon him. She wonders how long it will be until she is just something else he can’t remember, like what town they live in or whose house they just left. And, most importantly, can he love what he can’t remember? She told me about a trip to the grocery store when her sweetheart wandered away from her watchful eye and was found confused, cold, lost and embarrassed in the parking lot. As she watched a kind stranger lead him to the store’s front door, she told me she was thinking, “I wanted to hug him and kick his butt at the same time.” If we are honest, that’s where most of us live in love – shell-shocked and grateful all in the same breath.

Through yoga, we are introduced to our chakra system, seven spinning vortexes of energy in our upper body that provide gateways beyond our physical state and focal points for concentration. Each chakra is represented by a different color and the chakras’ locations in the body correspond to various nerve centers, glands and physiological systems including, of course, our heart, or Anahata chakra. Brainwashed by Valentine’s Day culture, I had a hard time at first grasping that the color of the heart chakra is green, not pink or red. Sometimes it is described as being outlined with a thin pink glow.

To me our spinning heart chakra could share the color of my home state’s shocking-green wheat fields that light up the landscape every spring, a ribbon of pink sunset balanced on the lush horizon. I love the idea of all of us walking around with green hearts thumping in our chests, circulating hope and promise, nourishing body and soul and transforming the winter landscape.

We were created by Love. It is our true essence. We are 6.8 billion love lights born with no other real purpose than to first remember that we are love and then love the person standing next to us in the checkout line. If we are lucky enough to know true love in our lives, then we have an even bigger responsibility to get our hearts spinning and pass it on.

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown writes “…the root of the word courage is ‘cor’ – the Latin word for ‘heart.’ Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’” What if that became our Valentine’s Day intention? I think it would require a lot more chocolate, but it could change the world.

It’s no coincidence the Sanskrit word for the heart chakra “Anahata” means “unstruck sound.”  Obviously, our hearts have a lot to say.

I guess pink, perky hearts will do on Valentine’s Day. But real love sweeps us off our feet when we timidly - courageously- hand someone our dark paper-thin heart cut with jagged edges and they lovingly tape it to the refrigerator door, gazing on it with wonder that we would offer such a precious gift. And then they do the most heroic thing - they make space for us in their own bruised heart as well.

Now, that’s a Valentine’s Day I can get behind.

(The photo in this post was taken from our back door as a storm rolled in over the winter wheat.)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hissy Fit

Ok week.  You win.  Our hearts and guts are wrenched.  Or maybe a better word is rendered – rendered speechless, breathless and more than a little off-balance.

But once again, albeit painfully, we were reminded of the sacred sub-set where we all intersect, the radiance of the human spirit. That’s not a bad place to be after a week like this.

The mystic Rumi wrote: “Look carefully around you and recognize the luminosity of souls. Sit beside those who draw you to that.” 

Giving it up to bitterness, disappointment and fear is tempting but the ending is predictable and bleak. Tending the fires of your soul and others, now that will light the world.

Yesterday, my husband and I joined his family in helping their beautiful and brave mom move from a house that had become too big and filled with too many memories to an apartment in a retirement home a few blocks away.  We all carried what we could lift, took breaks when we needed, sifted through the debris of life, shared meals, and shed a tear or two.  

I think that’s what it looks like when you move forward with grace, and we sure saw a lot of grace this week.   

Hate, rage, ignorance and bigotry are powerful forces. Do we have the fortitude to meet them wielding the strength of clarity, love and compassion?

I love this story told by author and yogi Judith Lasater about the practice of “ahimsa,” or nonviolence:

“There is a famous story about ahimsa told in the Vedas, the vast collection of ancient philosophical teachings from India. A certain sadhu, or wandering monk, would make a yearly circuit of villages in order to teach. One day as he entered a village he saw a large and menacing snake who was terrorizing the people. The sadhu spoke to the snake and taught him about ahimsa. The following year when the sadhu made his visit to the village, he again saw the snake. How changed he was. This once magnificent creature was skinny and bruised. The sadhu asked the snake what had happened. He replied that he had taken the teaching of ahimsa to heart and had stopped terrorizing the village. But because he was no longer menacing, the children now threw rocks and taunted him, and he was afraid to leave his hiding place to hunt. The sadhu shook his head.  ‘I did advise against violence,' he said to the snake, ‘but I never told you not to hiss."’

Lasater goes on to write that practicing ahimsa means “we take responsibility for our own harmful behavior and attempt to stop the harm caused by others. Being neutral is not the point. Practicing true ahimsa springs from the clear intention to act with clarity and love.”

I’m up for sitting together and hissing in the name of love. How about you?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Showing Up

The images from Japan are soul crushing. Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe the immensity of the loss and the work ahead to peel away the levels of devastation.

So here I sit in my Oklahoma kitchen as the redbuds bloom outside the window and life gracefully putts along with coveted normalcy. I feel simultaneously grateful and guilty for my good fortune, and at a loss for what I can do to help the people of Japan. Yes, money and prayers will be sent. But there is another sense of urgency – a need to make a personal investment that can begin to tip the worn scales of humanity toward light and healing.

The very ground we walk on is hurting. It is up to us to soften our steps, to lighten the load.

I once attended a funeral where the officiating pastor shared some wisdom that stuck with me. He said when someone experiences a loss, we immediately ask “What can we do? How can we help?” because the reality is, we can’t imagine what we have to offer in the face of such sadness and grief. He reminded those of us at the funeral that “Just by showing up, by being here today, you are helping. Your presence matters more than you will ever know.”  We don't have to have all the answers because most of the time, there aren't any.

If we work on showing up – if we embody the best of the spirit of those lost, we make a difference.

So, here are some intentions I humbly toss into cyberspace, from my heart to yours, and hopefully all the way to Japan.

Feed a child, always mindful of the words of Mother Teresa: “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.”

Turn a stray into a pet.

Choose compassion when judgment is so much easier and delicious.

Really, really, really listen to the person sitting across from you. That means make eye and heart contact.

Leave a $10 tip when $2 would have been enough. Pick up your own towels in your hotel room. People in the service industry work harder than most of us will ever know. They deserve a break.

Give to a person who asks for money without worrying about how they will spend it.

When someone speaks to you in anger or frustration, such as “Why can’t you ever ...fill in the blank here," take a breath and try to interpret what they really mean.  For me, let’s insert “be on time”  in the blank. (Wink, wink).  Maybe what the other person is really saying is: "I love you so much I want to spend time with you and when you are late, it worries me.” Who cares if that’s what they really mean. All that matters is how it makes you feel and the action you return to them.

For at least one day, don’t honk (unless it's for safety, not to reprimand), say or think the word “stupid,” or gossip.

 Don’t just tell someone you love them, tell them why.

All those reasons you have compiled to dislike another person – they don’t matter. Really. Just move on.

 See the beauty in old things, especially people.

 Hug when a handshake would do.

Be quiet. Stillness is underrated, yet its power is felt around the world.

Be kind whenever possible. And borrowing the words from the Dalai Lama, it’s always possible.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Say Yes

Every Movement

I rarely let the word “No” escape
From my mouth
Because it is plain to my soul
That God has shouted “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
To every luminous movement in existence.

       By Hafiz, translated by Daniel L. Ladinsky

I ran across this poem by the 13th century Sufi poet Hafiz on New Year’s Day. First, you should know I am a sucker for New Year’s resolutions. But this year when I realized my list of usual suspects – bikini body by summer, stop procrastinating, read the classics, get organized – haven’t changed or for that matter happened since I was 16, I decided it was time to reevaluate. (The fact that I’m posting this New Year’s blog in February is the first hint this year is no different.)

A new year has the allure of the first page of a journal, clean sheets, fresh starts and second chances. On the most personal level, a new year reminds us of the Grace that lovingly stalks us every moment of our life, patiently waiting for us to pull the curtains open and say “Yes!”

That one simple word requires us to drop our judgments, open the windows and doors of our heart and free the agoraphobic peeking out of our soul.

On a side note, if I could take a road trip with an ancient mystic, Hafiz would be at the top of my list. Tested many times, he always chose love until it engulfed his entire being, opening him up to deep transformation. Even centuries later the words of this self-proclaimed “Holy Bum” are like an intimate ancient friend, gently nudging our spirit with humor and passion and reminding us the first step in this love journey is to not take ourselves so seriously. It also seems Hafiz appreciated a nice wine and dancing in the streets which is an added bonus for any traveling partner in my books.

I love how Hafiz chooses the word “movement” instead of minutes in this poem. To me it means life is more than ticks off a clock. Instead it comes in waves that wash over us with transformation and transcendence.

When I look out my Oklahoma window, I see one of those “luminous movements” to which God said “Yes” – red dirt. Our Creative Creator could have easily chosen the standard black, but instead this simple Divine Yes transformed our landscape, making the greens brighter and bouncing rays of pink back at the sunset. We wouldn’t be the same without it.

Sure there will be things we can count on that will happen over the next 12 months: seasons will change, people will both disappoint and amaze us, technology will advance, there will be even worse TV - but what about the countless unexpected “luminous movements” lining up, vying for a nod from our heart to set them in motion? Will we ask them to take a number and then analyze the light out of them before they even make it to the counter? Or will we let them twirl around in front of us, pulling us into an exquisitely unrehearsed dance?

Drs. Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth who wrote Cultural Creatives describe these cosmic invitations that set the tectonic plates of our soul in motion as “consciousness movements because of their common intention to throw open the windows and doors of the musty old mind-sets we live in, shake the dust out of the covers we wrap around our bodies, and in a thousand old and new ways, guide whoever is willing to show up and pay attention to a fresh experience of being human.”

What keeps us from saying yes? Fear is the obvious culprit. Pile on the judgments we have adopted that now define us and shape our thoughts and you have a pretty good description of the stones at the bottom of the river we cling to with white knuckles while the current of life races above our heads. In the first pages of his book Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, Richard Bach tells a beautiful story of the one creature who would finally surrender to that current, saying “The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.” Who can say no to that?

So this year my intention is to follow Hafiz's lead and say “Yes!” To fully turn into every experience – both pleasant and painful – instead of turning away or moving blindly in the same direction like some spiritual zombie. Of course it will be easy to say yes to the things on my “approved” list, but for yes to really mean yes, it has to apply to the instances when this current of life smashes us against the rocks. Resistance in this case is futile and often causes us to not fully heal, like an incorrectly set bone that has to be re-broken and properly aligned later.

In the practice of yoga, we are guided to use our breath to soften into a pose or asana. This simple movement is a big yes, a turning away from resistance and inviting life force into our being.

Sometimes yes will be bodacious, yelled from a mountain top for the world to hear. Other times it will be whispered timidly into a crack in the Universe, not always sure I am ready for the transformations it will echo back. But most days I imagine it will be saying yes to compassion instead of apathy, listening instead of pretending and acting instead of ignoring – and these little actions can pack big results.

Of course saying “yes” has the potential to lead to unraveling instead of enlightenment, so there are rules of the road that must apply, such as recognizing those situations and people undeserving of our yes and realizing that for intention to manifest, action is required - even if it’s the tiniest of steps. And there will need to be lots of self forgiveness and compassion along the way for those pesky missteps that also count in our journey.

Your intention might be whispered in silence, but your action is lived out loud. I’m not going to lie, that can be a little scary. People may talk.

If you are looking for a place to start being a yes person, I recommend the following steps offered by Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey:

“Live with Intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Continue to learn. Appreciate your friends. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is.”

Because my precious friend, it is.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy Nows

Dear Reader: This is a post that started in the summer and finished as leaves cling to the branches left behind, holding out until the winter wind finally gets her way.

This morning I was treated to a slightly bigger view of the prairie sky, thanks to a wind storm that rushed our yard last night, stripping away huge branches from several trees.

Trees are a premium out here. Every little stick that has the courage to rise from the earth is treated like the Mother Vine, coaxed and nurtured until it can officially be deemed a seedling.

The thing about the random storm is it that I had some dear friends coming to my house Sunday morning – and I wanted everything to be perfect. I had spent a few hours setting out lawn furniture, working in the flower beds, cleaning up the yard, getting it just right. Ten hours later I watched the deck furniture crash to the ground, rocking chairs blow away and most painful of all, our old faithful redbud tree split into three pieces.

I know in the scheme of life, this is a very small thing. But it brought to mind how attached our human brains are to how we think things should be – we cling to our ideas of normal, what we think we deserve (both good and bad) and subscribe to some grand idea of how our lives will unfold .. . only to be dismayed to learn, as Judith Lasater so aptly puts it, we do not get to be the “general contractor for the Universe. ”

It begs the question; when we are all about the ending, are we oblivious to the good stuff served up in the middle? How many times do we not even try because we are afraid it won’t turn out how we want?

On my office bulletin board, I have a cut out of a sparkling celestial creature with the words “Breath, Believe and Receive, everything is unfolding as it should” written across her heart. I think those are the very words our heart speaks to us – sometimes it’s just hard to hear over the din of a world spinning slightly out of control.

We expect our lives to play out to a soundtrack of a familiar song– only to be surprised to learn the rhythm is more like an experimental jazz piece led by a maestro with a slightly warped sense of irony.

Should we aspire to bring great things to the world, have goals and dreams? Absolutely. What is life without intention? The bone jarring pothole is the attachment to the outcome, the judgment we place on this very moment left tenderly in a basket on the front porch of our soul.

Oh, how we would write the book if only someone would hand us the sacred pen.

Even though it is uncomfortable at best and painful at worst, there is clarity hiding in the chaos and truth found in being cracked open - maybe not so much enlightenment hiding in a well-manicured lawn with the bird feeders hung just right.

A Wisdom much greater than we can imagine decided we don’t just get to receive what we deem to be the “good” stuff. . .maybe because our human brains can’t truly comprehend the unlimited supply of good stuff waiting unexpected in the wings.

Instead, we are given the Holy opportunity to breathe it all in – letting the unfolding unfold us, letting the falling branches make us whole.

Maybe someday we can found our way to rejoice in the fact there are no guaranteed happy endings, only happy nows.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

In Hope's Wake

My beautiful friend Barbara – whom I consider to be an Okie goddess ruling over innate wisdom, 360-degree perception and stealth-like courage and humor – told me she didn’t know if she could stand it if it wasn’t Easter. She had just returned from Haiti less than 12 hours earlier.

I knew immediately what she meant. It wasn’t about her at all – it was a statement about finding hope, and believing it might be able to pull this heavy, thrashing world in its wake.

When I look out the window today, I can’t imagine a more hopeful sign than the sight of a (and I’m guessing here) 60-year-old blooming redbud tree against that crazy-green wheat field. You can feel, hear and see the world vibrating back to life. A promise fulfilled.

I’m not talking about fleeting optimism here. I’m talking about hope that roots and rises, that sticks by us when the news is not so good and gathers us up when marching on is required. I’m talking Maya Angelou kind of hope that’s not afraid to rock your world. Deep, strong hope that expands you from the inside out.

I had the honor of lunching recently with Molly Biven, a very lovely British transplant to Oklahoma who has kept both her English civility (as evidenced when she reminded us that “talking about politics at lunch is quite a bore”) and accent intact. She and her husband have carved the most beautiful six-acres of gardens at the edge of the Tallgrass Prairie in northern Oklahoma. She told me they no longer cut their plants back before winter. They found they have better luck letting the old growth stay on, protecting the new plants through the cold, and then removing it in the spring when the buds can stand on their own.

Maybe real hope lies more in the used up overgrowth, sticking it out through the winter, preparing the way for its own replacement.

On this Easter day, may the deep current of hope pick you up and carry you gently in its wake.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dig It

Real truths reach across time and grab you, like this poem written by Saint John of the Cross in the 1500s.

"Dig Here," The Angel Said
She caught me off guard when my soul said to me,
"Have we met?"

So surprised I was to hear her speak like that
I chuckled.

She began to sing a tale: "There was once a hardworking man
who used to worry so much because he could
not feed and clothe his children and
wife the way he wanted.

There was a beautiful little chapel in the village
where the man lived and one day while
he was praying, an angel

The angel said, ‘Follow me.’ And he did out into an ancient forest.
‘Now dig here,’ the angel said. And the man felt strength in
his limbs he had not known since youth and with just
his bare hands he dug deep and found a lost treasure,
and his relationship with the world changed.”

Finding our soul's beauty does that - gives us
tremendous freedom from worry.

"Dig here," the angel said -
"In your soul, in your soul."

There are so many things I love about this poem. Like the way it paints a portrait of the soul as a playful, song-filled nymph waiting patiently for us to give her the time of day as she pelts us with questions like an unrelenting toddler. I have to admit, freedom from worry seems like a slightly unromantic reward for the mystical act of revealing our soul’s beauty. We worry about such mundane things - jobs, money, what others think of us, wrinkles and calories. Maybe the author chose it because when we truly open ourselves up, we realize there is nothing to fear. We carry all we need with us, like some kind of celestial fanny pack. Maybe the mundane is closer to magical than we know; and when we see the sacred in all things, our relationship with the world truly does change.

Author, psychotherapist and soul expert Thomas Moore writes, “’Soul’ is not a thing, but a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do with depth, value, relatedness, heart and personal substance.” He also says that cultivating the soul is less about creating a problem-free life, and more about “giving ordinary life the depth and value that comes with soulfulness.” So part of digging around in your soul is finding those things that light you from the inside out – from the perfect cup of coffee to inspiring work, art, music and people who make you smile.

Certainly no offense to St. John, but there are some details missing from his provocative prose. Lifetimes are lived between receiving an angelic instruction to dig and arriving at the point where you see beauty in what you find. It takes courage and perseverance to hike into the ancient forest of our soul and root around with our bare hands. 

As yoga teacher and author Cyndi Lee reminds us, “A lot of bravery is required to open to the many varieties of richness that life offers."

If we are honest, the reason we aren’t so eager to explore deep into our soul is probably because we fear what we might find lurking under the forest floor. Soul treasures seldom come wrapped in neat, shiny packages. Often they are messy, uncomfortable things that require sanding, polishing and squinting before we see their inherent value. The roots of our pain, our self-imposed inadequacies and our fears run deep. In other words, there are bogymen hiding in that ancient forest.

Yoga practice invites us to sit with what we find, meeting sensations and emotions as they arise without labeling or allowing them to hijack us. What if - instead of running like hell – we invite the so-called demons we rile as we dig, to sit with us, have a cup of tea (soothing herbal of course) and get to know them in the warm light of day. After all, they do belong to us. I know this to be true - if you give them a chance, they will explain themselves. You can trace their DNA to a life event that went awry, a thought pattern that took a wild tangent, or maybe they were dropped upon you by someone else. Sometimes we are relay runners who get handed a defective baton without realizing we have the power to drop it (or better yet, transform it) before we pass it on. Searching for the truth, not judging, just being with what you find – these are keys to clear seeing. We may discover those demons we run from are really maligned gurus who can lead us to freedom.

Pema Chodron calls the process of truly being with ourselves “making friends with yourself.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, it is often the most the most difficult friendship we will ever forge.

For our hero in St. John’s poem, it took praying in a beautiful village chapel to tune in to the angel’s voice. In our culture, being busy is a badge of honor. It’s hard to hear an angel’s voice over the din of our overscheduled, over-stimulated lives. Spending time in nature, in quiet or simply being alone is critical to summon the angelic archeologist who invites us on the dig of our lives. But don’t be lulled into thinking the invitation has to be cordial. Life events, habits, addictions, toxic relationships, restlessness and misadventures of the ego can transform that sweet angel into some kind of sadistic apparition from a Quentin Tarantino film, holding a gun to our head until we dig out of sheer necessity and self preservation to find the truth our life demands.

Under the vast, sparkling shell of the Great Salt Plains in northwest Oklahoma, you can dig for Selenite Crystals. These tea-colored pieces of glass have no monetary value, and aren’t particularly shiny or sparkling. But people come here to dig because it is the only place on earth you will find these gems. And once you start digging, you become enthralled with finding more – washing them off, holding them up to the light and cherishing each one for its uniqueness. So it is with the intangible treasures we uncover in our souls. If we let them, they become the starting point for shining our light into the world.

Renowned yoga teacher Rodney Yee asks if you could hold your heart in your hands, how would you hold it? I would imagine you would cradle it with unimaginable tenderness and awe.

That same question could apply to the way you would hold the riches you uncover groping around in your soul. They are every bit as precious.

Happy digging.

(The photo in this post is my niece digging on the Great Salt Plains.)