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.)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Filling Up

I have a little statue in my flowerbed that is titled “Buddha Birdfeeder.” It wasn’t uncovered during a mystical trip to Tibet or given to me by a great spiritual teacher. Instead, it spoke to me from the clearance shelf at Pier One. I couldn’t leave the store without it. Oh, I tried. I did that responsible thing where you wait a couple of days and then go back if you really need it. Obviously, I really needed it.

I loved the image of the young boy; head bowed with his outreached hands holding a small cup (that's what puts it in the birdfeeder classification I am guessing). You can’t tell if he’s making an offering or waiting for his cup to be filled.

Sometimes I feel like that little Buddha crouching in a garden offering his gifts to the world, and other days I am asking for something, anything, to fall into my empty cup. Most times, I swing from giving to receiving on a moment to moment basis.

Meditation, the very essence of yoga and spiritual growth, is not something that comes easy for me. Luckily, many years ago a friend gave me a magical book and guide to meditating called Words to Live By, Inspiration for Every Day by Eknath Easwaran. Mr. Easwaran, who is so overflowing with loving kindness I am sure he could inspire a spider monkey to meditate, recommends reflecting on the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi daily. He explains that driving the words deep into your consciousness means they will become an integral part of your personality and expression. In other words, you become the meditation. That gentle and mindful prayer has become a mantra for me. I often fall short of the suggestions, but it is a spiritual muse encouraging me to create a life based on what the moment asks of me, not necessarily doling out what I think it deserves.

The concrete teacher in my garden embodies this prayer for me, especially the words, “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in the giving that we receive; it is in the pardoning that we are pardoned.”

I don’t believe there is a cosmic scorecard tracking how many times you are on the giving or receiving end in this life. The offering up and the soaking in may be more closely related than we think. Givers need receivers as much as receivers need givers.

I would bet my beloved Buddha birdfeeder that the most gracious givers in the world are so because they have spent some time in the receiving line. Maybe our lives are more fluid like a river; sometimes overtaking the banks with generosity and other times retreating to a trickle until we are replenished by a bighearted spring rain.

The times spent lifting our cup and those spent gathering, refining and offering our gifts both require us to pay a visit to our authentic Self, and that’s no walk in the park. Both actions require humbleness, wisdom and moderation.

Giving too much is as fraught with danger as asking for too much. D.H. Lawrence wrote, “Give and it shall be given unto you is still the truth. But giving life is not so easy. It doesn’t mean handing it out to some mean fool or letting the living dead eat you up … It means kindling the life force where it was not, even if it’s only in the whiteness of a washed pocket-handkerchief.” I’m sure there have been volumes of literary papers written on what Lawrence meant by the handkerchief reference. For me, it means true giving has fire in its belly, offering up beauty where there wasn’t, truth where it is needed and simplicity always.

Love happens every minute – flowing, pouring, sloshing and spilling among the outstretched hands of all of us. No measuring cups, funnels or lids required.

I look at the little birdfeeder statue every day when I leave my house and when I come home. It’s a split second of meditation, a place to take a breath of gratitude for my place in this crazy, heartbreakingly beautiful, mixed up garden.