Sunday, June 25, 2017

Hello again, from the future

Can it be I never signed out the last time I came here? A little spooky. A phantom Julie has been here all this time, waiting for the next posting.

Andrew invited me to go with him to the Shambhala Meditation Center (almost typed "medication" center) and we have gone twice. Today, after a lengthy sequence that started with a little chanting, then sitting meditation, then a little walking meditation, sitting, walking, about three rounds, Andrew and I were able to gracefully exit during the walking portion and then to chat with a couple of other attendees. (The meditation, while interesting, was also entrapping - we were in an endless, timeless cycle as if of death and rebirth! The session started at 9 am and could go until noon, with people coming in and leaving throughout.)

The conversation turned, in a most natural way, to dreams. The other two people we spoke to got little sleep at night (4-5 hours). They both were interested in chronicling their dreams and trying to understand the deeper meaning or weirdness. Eric spoke of a dream where he was driving on a road that was reminiscent to him of LA - tall palm trees lining the sides, except that in place of palm trees, there were violent tornadoes spinning close to his car on either side, with cars and other items that had been sucked into the vortex. I asked him how he was feeling during the dream, and he said he wasn't fearful as much as amazed, and he was driving through these tornadoes. He used to journal about his dreams starting from middle school, partly to understand them and partly to practice writing.

Andrea, who is vegan, said she dreamed about a donkey that was tied to another strange animal that was different animals in different sections. Because they were tied to each other, they couldn't move. She walked up and cut through the tie with her hand to free the animals.

Lately, I have been hand-writing some dreams and other information. I still am sporadic about writing, undisciplined. The problem is I am not deriving immediate value or understanding that this process will be important. I was arguing a bit with myself during meditation: But what if it's important to ME? Isn't that good enough? Apparently not. I noticed the inner self-bickering and smiled inwardly; ok, a little outwardly as well. My mind must play tag or make up some kind of game or drama, lest everything get too quiet. I might start drifting to another place and feel less solidly caught in ego, and then where would my poor mind be? It can't stand to be left alone, and it knows enough to understand it cannot travel there with me. It's much too bound up with this physical existence.

A nice noticing, during this meditation, that I did not need to get upset or anguished over my usual problem I have been worried over lately, I realized that in the time and space of the meditation room, nothing was happening to cause that emotion. The origin of the upset was things that happened in my past, or in the imagined future; not in the present. It was so relaxing to be able to be silent, and still, and calm, moment to moment to moment.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Still here!

I'm still here and glad I have a way to access my previous ruminations on my spiritual life.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Riding the carousel of life

Pondering again how everything that lives now will die, and everything that lived before us, has died, and the constant flow of this process sweeps us all along relentlessly in this tide of life-to-death-to-life. Life springs from the fecund soil of dead things. If we are living, this is the bargain we all must keep -- we must die.

Why should I be able to keep this mortal life, this mixture of pain and pleasure, forever? Why should I be so cursed? Why should I be so lucky? Eons and ages of people and other creations of all types have had this same existence, for longer or shorter than I have, and all of them took their turn and bowed out. I suppose that the average lifecycle of all creation is so short, compared to the human lifespan. What an endless age we live, compared to a butterfly! The trees surpass us, what else? (My Google search says koi and turtles, and whales, too. Long-lived Antarctic sea sponges, anyone? Estimated maximum lifespan over 1,000 years)

I cannot linger or tarry when it is my time to go, nor could anyone else. And indeed there is a long line of humanity and all other forms of creation waiting to be born, waiting in an endless line that perhaps stretches over eternity. But to make room for all of them, each of us must take our turn and then leave. The earth cannot possibly support all of this abundant creation at the same time. It takes on a small fraction only. And with the flow of mortality, deaths breed births, breed deaths, cycling. We are here for a season only.

We have such a fleeting time to enjoy or to discover all the curses of life, and most of us find there is plenty of time to do both. Blessings and curses flow together, even seem to create one another.

So I ride round on this carousel of life, not knowing how many turns until the end. It seems I cannot appreciate the honey taste of my mortality on my tongue now. I must hope I will still have the lingering savor left over, after it is done.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

My favorite author of the moment

I am loving this murder mystery series I'm reading by Louise Penny. Not that I'm particularly a fan of that genre, it's just a framework for someone to write within. I started with "The Beautiful Mystery" which is actually Book 8 in a series, about a murder in a silent order of monks, listening on an audiobook, and fell in love.

Here is a link to the author:

The audio recording reminded me that the French pronunciation for one of the main characters, Jean Guy Beauvoir (these are French Canadians), is Jhongui Boh-vouah (soft J and rolled together). So hard to describe something phonetically in English from another language!

I am currently reading book #3, having backtracked to the beginning of the series and finished the first two. This one is called "The Cruelest Month." A reference to T.S. Eliot's line of verse that April is the cruelest month. I love the literary references!

But here is what I mainly love about the author: she is never afraid to speak of spiritual matters openly, be they ghosts or angels, or trees with souls, or haunted houses. She has unexplained encounters in each book that leave plenty of room for interpretation. Several of her characters have encountered angels, in the form of people, who tell them things the people couldn't possibly know. (So far, most of the characters have carried through all the books.) In Book 3, someone dies of fright (and is helped along) during a seance in a haunted house that is truly frightening.

This book features a Wiccan, and this character's religious beliefs and her "second sight," as well as her ostracism from the community, are treated with respect and sensitivity. The murders also have a spiritual dimension, both for the victim and the killer, that overshadows the earthly dimension. All this is in line with my own beliefs.

There are marvelous psychological insights into people, as well. The characteristics of the author's characters, so to speak, are so real. Here's yet another brilliant psychological concept she introduces in this book: The Near Enemy. As in two very similar looking emotional conditions that are actually opposites.

It takes a while to unpack this concept, but here goes. The examples she gives are these, spoken through Myrna, a huge black woman full of love and laughter who was a psychologist and now is a bookseller in a small village in Quebec province, Canada. Noble emotions to left, their near enemies to the right:

Compassion -- Pity
Love -- Attachment
Equanimity -- Indifference

I love all of these opposites, especially because how could anyone really know which emotion they are feeling?? You could be cleverly tricking yourself into thinking you were experiencing, and acting out, only the nobler emotions. But believe me, we carry the others as well. We all do. Everything goes in pairs. With the light, the shadow comes. If you can't see your shadow, then you are not ready to face the reality of who you are, and even your light is diminished.

Compassion and pity should be the easiest opposites to picture, and I believe they are nearly always paired. Pity is the near enemy because it ranks oneself higher in importance than the other, and objectifies the other. Compassion is a feeling of caring and concern among equals, a sense that the other person is in your place and you can also experience what they do (empathy). There but for the grace of God go I, says compassion. A truer statement was never said. I have experienced this truth in my own life a number of times, and every day I thank God for the grace that rescued me. Why others have not been rescued ----

Attachment is the near enemy of love because it is unhealthy clinging to a loved one, the refusal to really let that person be their own selves or to grow or change, the domination or bending of the other to meet one's own needs. Whereas love lets the other go and be, even if it results in suffering for the one who loves. Attachment also means you trap the other person in the box that is your opinion of them. Even with our closest loved ones, this happens. Ever have a, "There he/she goes again" moment with a loved one? How hard it is to allow others to change, and to see that change as a real part of them when you have your own preconceived ideas of who they are. Or as Myrna says, "Love wants the best for others. Attachment takes hostages."

In a murder case, the especially relevant twin emotions are equanimity and indifference. Equanimity, my Enneagram Type 4 virtue (what I should strive for), is the balancing of emotions and the resilience to rise above tragedy. Whereas indifference is demonstrated by psychopaths. On the surface, though, the emotional reaction is indistinguishable.

Pray for the people of the Philippines after the devastating super-typhoon.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Songs of innocence and experience

Despair tells me that the world is here to destroy innocence, youth, and finally life itself. Isn't that so? Look at what happens as you live. What's the end point to your life, to mine, for everyone?

Life is a ravenous beast that devours the young, the good, the innocent. Literally, oftentimes.

Faith tells me that's not the end. Faith had to be born to fight off despair and allow hope to remain, even against the odds. Even if it's not real.

Which is correct? How can they both be?

Tyger, did He who made the lamb make thee?

Something in me, wiser than the sum of my parts, knows that a complete truth embraces both the extremes, even if that's impossible to conceive of for our rational mind. There would not be a need for despair without all the abundance of hope, and love, even joy. Strange that it is so. One needs the other.

How can there be such great beauty in such a stern place as this world, a place that will obliterate your dreams? Either immediately, or slowly by force of erosion, your ideas of what you were here to do will all be washed away.

We were at the beach today and you can't deny the beauty there. It would make despair ache even worse, all that beauty just out of reach of the suffering mind. The vitality of the water, its soothing sound that almost can return us to the womb, it rocks us so with its endless energy. This is how eternity must sound. How it affects the landscape, which is so flat, worn down and worn smooth by the endless action of surf over years.

"Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;" Luke 3:5

It was a perfect fall day, the second day after a cool front when the wind had died down and the high was in the mid-70s Fahrenheit.

There were many dead jellyfish and cabbage heads, we call them (unscientifically, I'm sure). Death, death, death ... in the middle of vibrant life! When we pulled up, just beside the spot we had chosen was a pile of trash spread across yards of beach that was breathtaking to see. Beer bottles and cans, liquor bottles, a dirty diaper (not perhaps from the same gathering), endless cigarette butts and food wrappers. It's disheartening that a small group of people can so defile the beach so quickly. I couldn't stand to leave it that way and carefully cleaned up most of it, though there was still broken glass strewn around.  Maybe we were drawn to that very spot so that the mess would not remain unchallenged.

If you spend your life trying to clean up the little messes around you and trying to love others, does that make the world any less of a murderous place for the body and soul, I wonder. Seems like not too many people are thinking of making the world less murderous. It's just its nature. There is no changing of nature.

Friday, October 25, 2013

In search of the Beloved

This feeling is so familiar. Searching for Chester ... though I know he is gone. Yet the mind cannot process that someone who was here, is now somewhere else. Where, exactly?

It was hardest when my Mom died. My mind endlessly wondered, where was Mom? Why can't I call her anymore? What about one last hug? Why is that one small request, even that, denied me? Maybe she was still here but somewhere I couldn't see, around the bend, the stranger who reminded me of her, just beyond my reach .... I remember looking out the window at our swing in the dark, cold evenings after she died, and hoping she wasn't somewhere out there, all alone. Was she in her garage at home (that home that used to be mine, too), smoking and reading, where she had been so often in life? I remember Dad joking that he always just thought of Mom as being "out in the garage" after she died. I'm sure it was a comfort to him.

Dad liked to find a convenient answer, to try to step aside from the suffering. All that suffering. I wish I had asked for more tips from him! I know he said, "Never look back, just keep moving forward." Very wise advice.

Whereas my approach is usually to dive in, till I am way over my head and drowning. Whenever I take on that load, again, it seems every time that it will kill me. How can I survive this much pain?

In the meantime, the mind seeks a rational answer. It never stops searching for the Beloved we have lost. It insists that someone who was alive could not now be dead. It's impossible!

In dreams, those who have died return to visit. Or maybe it is again our minds conjuring them up, bringing them back to that comforting physical form that we have so much trouble letting go of.

Buddhists speak of impermanence, constant change, the river flowing. But yet death seems like a big STOP sign. It seems to be simply the END. Could it be that our minds are missing something, that our perception is wrong? Where does my faith fit into this mystery?

So, when do I get to see Mom again and Dad, and Dwaine's parents, and my other relations who have died, and dear sweet Sandy, the best dog ever, and Honey, Backpack, Joy, Smokey, Bert the bird and Bert Jr., all those other pets from childhood, and the most recent, our young dearest kitten, Chester? When? Well, that's too long to bear. Says my rational mind. Thank God that it is often wrong.

Maybe this separation that seems so final, forever, is the actual illusion. Imagine if that is true, and our mind is deluded. The Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth! But how could that be? The mind is ever suspicious.

Funny, how laughter and crying are two halves of a whole and you cannot have one without the other. So I embrace this suffering, I rock it gently in my arms and let it flow out of me, so I can laugh again.

"The paths of the body are long, but the path of the spirit is short." I think this is an African quote from Nancy Farmer, "A Girl Named Disaster," a lovely book I need to re-read. But I couldn't dig up this quote from the Internet, so I am not sure. Here is a link to the author's website.

Thanks, this helped me and took away some of the pain.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

We all suffer together

Reading the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila, better make sure I'm spelling her name right. Yes! There is another St. Thérèse of Lisieux, so I had to check to be sure.

She writes about being at her father's bedside during his final illness and that he suffered greatly from back pain at the end. She comforted him by saying that Our Lord, Christ, wanted him to share in some of the suffering that He experienced while carrying the cross. Later addition: I want to add the saint's words here directly, so I don't alter the meaning (translated from Spanish): "I said to him that, as he used to think so devoutly of the Lord carrying the Cross on His back, he must suppose His Majesty wished him to feel something of what He Himself had suffered under that trial. This comforted him so much that I do not think I ever heard him complain again."

 It could sound ludicrous, I suppose, to view this as a comfort; and yet it was of the greatest comfort and allowed him to bear his suffering. There is something about a burden shared that makes it so much more bearable.

And so I feel whenever I am afflicted with the pains of losing my children, and by the pain of seeing them not take care of themselves. I know that I am suffering alongside many others who have gone through this same time of trial. I'm not trying to be either a sadist, and wish on them the same pain as I have, nor a masochist, wanting to suffer as they have! It's simply the human condition to suffer at different times, and sometimes throughout life. Some people are given much greater suffering than others. There's plenty to go around, no doubt! There is no need to seek it out. It will be given to you in good measure, be assured.

We were talking to Dwaine's sister over July 4 and she spoke to us for the first time of how many times she cried her eyes out for her daughter, who had many problems when she was younger. I wasn't there to console her at that time, but she was able to console me by showing that she and her family made it through. They are certainly not a trouble-free family now, but at a happier place in their lives.

We never suffer alone. We don't live in a vacuum but are surrounded -- by what I can only describe, in religious terms, as "such a great cloud of witnesses" to help us through any struggle, be it great or small, or even of our own making (as so many of them are).

It's the opposite of "In space, no one can hear you scream!" That's just the feeling the small, lonely ego has, besides being great fodder for horror movies. Isn't it the greatest horror to imagine that you are, after all, completely alone and unloved?

The ego is damaged in this sense -- it has lost its connection to all of this divine creation surrounding us and must cling and grasp to various things, but the soul knows better than the ego does!

Why do I talk of suffering so often here? I guess I view our suffering as the foundation of our character and the way our spirits are refined.

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