Eyes Wide Open

Driving out to the northeast corner of Montana, I travel a two-lane road with my new husband.  We are driving parallel to and about forty or fifty miles south of the Canadian border.  The wooded landscapes that were so much a part of my childhood context, understanding and conceptual conditioning are hundreds of miles away.

Spirituality

Approaching this sparsely populated region of the United States, I learn that this is where durum wheat, used in the making of pastas, is grown by a handful of farmers or on large, agribusiness farms. Becoming aware of this fact reminds me of how little we know about food production, as well as the chain of origin, supply and demand regarding the sacred bounty that sustains us all.

Rounding the bend on one stretch of road, the landscape around us changes yet again.  We are now in an area with grand, rolling hills and deep gullies (referred to as coulees locally), which possess the few, scrubby trees or shrubs in sight. The only landscape that comes to my experiential mind is that of Scotland.  Tall grasses mark the movement of the periodically shifting wind, rippling in wave-like formations across the plane of the earth’s undulating surface.

“It looks like Scotland,” I note in wonder, watching the majestic expanse of land unfolding before us.

“I wouldn’t know,” my husband replies matter-of-factly in response to my spoken observation.

Then, in the distance, I note a rather large group of small, moving animals grazing across the side of one hill.  With Scotland still on my mind and in full, child-like amazement, my first reaction comes hurtling out of my mouth, “They raise sheep out here—black sheep?”

If he had not been driving, my husband would have doubled over with laughter.  After a few hearty guffaws, he finally responds, “Those are black, angus cows, Julian.”

“Cows?” I ask in disbelief, training my eyes on the landscape again.

Now, I am no stranger to cows—due to circumstances of my upbringing—or to black, angus cows for that matter; but, without the aid of a familiar landscape, dotted with the solo standing of a regular oak, impressive maple or exquisite elm, I realize I am completely without a familiar point of reference or sense of scale.

Thus, a cow—at a very great distance and on a tree-free, large rolling hill becomes a possible “sheep”—due to associations I have made between this landscape and the rolling hills of Scotland.  My embarrassment over my geographic gaffe soon passes with the realization that none of my conceptual, geographic conditioning applies here—none of my frames or points of reference are relevant to this new context.

This, my initial experience of the landscape in Montana on that day, ends up becoming something of a touchstone lesson for me, because I realize that—whether I am in the context of a new geographic area, opening to explore a new food, culture or concept—I must work to observe and experience what is directly in front of me, with a great number of open-ended questions, rather than jumping to any premature, internal conclusions or rendering something automatically “like” something else, which it may not be like at all.  Conceptual conditioning is just that—conditioning.  And, to some extent, all conditioning may be limiting or cause us to become limited.

Consider this the next time you meet a new, unknown culture, person, region, food or people. Open. Bend. Shift. Observe. Consider. Reconsider.  An attitude of eyes-wide-open creates a tremendous amount of space, adventure and potential beauty in our individual lives.

Spiritual Choices

As much as we would like to be upheld by and ensconced in Grace while holding onto identity, it is an impossibility. We must choose.

Spirituality

And, as terrifying as it is to release from the safety  of our social networks by letting go of identity, the idea of being without the fine threads of the Light’s unlimited fabric is unthinkable.

Part your lips and sip with aware presence the gift of breath given to you by Providence. Breathe not for yourself but for the holy hand that made you.

Mother’s Day

Spirituality

It is the end of semester at the university where I teach yoga classes.  One of my male students stops, after class is over, to speak with me about a design project he has due for another course.  He is young, in perhaps his first or second year of course-work.  In addition to studying design, he possesses a strong sense of personal fashion.  Physically, his features are fine-boned and well-proportioned.  His demeanor is gentle, full of generous innocence and, socially, he would be considered effeminate.

As we finish talking, he gathers his things together.  Everyone is short on sleep this time of year; and, so the gathering process is rather inefficient. Finally, he slips on a pair of light-rimmed, oversized sunglasses, the eye protection he requires for the bike ride across campus to his next class.

Seeing this last detail of adornment, I silently utter a prayer of protection for him, asking Grace to keep him safe and out of harms way, this day and everyday,  because I feel that–in a world where some people still cope with fear through means of violence–he might be harmed.

He is not my child; yet, he is someone’s child.  And, he could have been my child, if Providence had arranged things thus.

The process of practicing a proper sequencing of yoga’s physical postures grants an individual, who is dedicated to the practice, an opportunity to come into a state of alignment with true Spirit. And, the closer an individual comes to true Spirit, sometimes, the more a person’s social conditioning tends to fall away–a person’s propensities for expressive yin and yang may shift.

For today, eventhough this young man is not my child, I–as his instructor–feel responsible for his expanded state and the expanded nature of his innocence.  His Light today is so very apparent, so very bright.

We will all encounter circumstances when another person’s Light seems brighter or very unlike our own.  In such situations, it is important to move away from fear, jealousy and pettiness. Remember this: You are someone’s child; that “other” person is also someone’s child; and, both of you are children belonging to Grace and Grace alone.

Discovering the Heart

On an exhaling breath, release all of that which is not of your true essence.  Then, on an inhaling breath, draw fresh sunlight into the core of your being.

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On the next exhaling breath, match your exhale to a count of seven, purging your body of that which is not of your Light. And, on the next inhale, count to seven, filling your body with pure, warm sunlight.

As you slowly work your way through your body, until you are completely luminescent, observe the various emotions, memories and thoughts that filter through. Nod to them. Notice them. Allow them to pass through or rest in your awareness until they are ready to be released.

As you work, you may notice that your established sense of time is giving way to your heart’s sense of time and pacing. Allow the heart to move into this new sense of time and pacing. Continue filling, mending, opening and basking in the warmth of the light you have drawn into your body, while observing the even cadence and rhythm of your breathing.

Peace to you.

The Space of the Heart

While attending a dinner, I ask a woman what comes to mind when she considers the phrase “the space of the heart.”

“Confusion,” she replies, answering quite quickly.  Then she continues her list, “Unreliable, feeling without discernment, illogical.”

Spirituality

Her response catches me off guard, as I have been working on approaching life more and more from the space of my heart, though admittedly I stray when challenged.  Then, upon further reflection and in all fairness, I have to remember the first time my spiritual teacher/trainer told me that I needed to mind my emotions before making decisions–to learn how to listen to and trust my heart.

At the time, when my teacher advised me to begin attending to my heart, I thought, “She is out of her mind.”

For years, I had worked very hard at burying my seemingly irrational emotions in favor of a relationship with what I viewed as my more logical self.  The idea of suddenly having to pay attention to my emotions and “heart” seemed like it might lead to significant backsliding.

But, to return to our dinner conversation…

“Okay,” I say.  “Fair enough.  What do you think about listening to or relying upon the hunches granted to you by connecting to the essence of who you are?”

“Uh, well…more reliable perhaps, though that sounds too difficult to do,” my dining companion responds dubiously.

Jackpot.  That, it would seem, is how most of us move through our lives, finding the pure treasure of our own Knowing too difficult to access.  Our own Wisdom remains largely undiscovered, unrecovered and buried at the core of the heart.

This is where three, swash-buckling heroes named Reverie, Meditation and Receptive Prayer enter our tale, complete with long, lustrous and wavy locks of flowing hair and loads of bon-vivant sex appeal.

The purpose of minding our emotions does not mean we act on or react to every initial emotional impulse crossing the screen of a moment.  Minding the heart means we pay attention to the general direction of the wind–the way things are blowing–in our internal, emotional weather-world, while remembering that this is indeed a reliable way to travel, because it is the way of the Spirit.

Minding Spirit grants us the freedom to discover who we are–in our hearts.  And, we are so much more than our next shopping list, the contents of our closets, the itinerary of a chosen excursion or distracting selection in entertainment. We are capable of profound, life-affirming change, transformation, Love, forgiveness, resolutions and world-changing solutions.

So, the next the next time you feel the urge to go “somewhere” or to do “something,” consider a date with one of our tale’s swash-buckling heroes.  You might be surprised by your sudden change in plans, what you discover inside or what you will then choose to do.

Spirituality: Finding Home

Following a friend of mine, as she crosses the threshold from public space into sacred space, I watch the graceful ease with which she slips off both of her shoes in order to enter onto the clean, bare floor of the studio’s yoga room.

Spirituality

Finding the floor, first five, then, ten of her toes spread in a rejoicing yet silent chorus, as they step forward to grip the immaculate surface of the room’s expansive area.  And, although we are and have been alone together for the entire tour of this commercial space, I sense the sublte shift in her awareness and presence as we move into sacred space.

On the far end of the studio, there is a bank of windows framing the south edge of the lengthy room.  The view, from this second-story set of windows, frames not only this street’s meticulously restored historic storefronts but also the skyline of much of the not too distant downtown.

From this perspective, life looks like a potential for peace, expansiveness, light and open vistas.

The threshold–demarcating the boundary between home and community space–should, arguably, function in much the same way–as a space, allowing us to experience spiritual practice, communion and Union.  Home should be a place we enter in peace, in order to gain perspective about ourselves, our own and others’ behaviors, as well as clarity about our potential place in the world.  Home, ideally, should be a place of safety, where we return at the end of the day to regroup and heal from social woundings.  Yet, too often, we or members of our family think that home should be a place of preparation for “toughening up” in order to face the “real world.”

In fact, the ultimate Reality is not tough or impatiently brittle, bitter or mean.  Reality, in the form of Grace, is patient and kind, unerring and compassionate.  Some people are indeed brutish and misguided, rough and misaligned. But, we all possess an entire complement of potential qualities, traits and outcomes at the same time.

Thus, all that any of us can ever do is to discover, uncover, tend and otherwise nourish the sacred sprig of green in our own hearts.  And, where there is no building and when there is no one else, the heart is home.

Angels, Saints and Guides

While talking about my current, working theology one night with one of my dearest spiritual friends, I tried to explain what I experience during sessions and when I am in a state of alignment with my highest Light.

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“In sessions, I am not the one who is actually performing the work, as such.  I hold space, safe space, for people who want to come back into a state of alignment with their integrity, continue unfolding in a positive direction or wishing to reaffirm their alignment with their highest Light,” I explain.

“Who does the work then?” my friend asks.

“During sessions, a retinue of Guides, Saints and Angels appear, who are assigned specifically to work with that particular person.  ‘They’ show up during an appointment to help that person’s Spirit align and unfold.

“From what I can discern, guides are deceased relatives who are dear to us and concerned about our long-term well-being.  Saints are holy people, who may be incarnate or disincarnate; they have committed their lives to working with others souls on their individual, spiritual journeys to draw closer to the Light or God. Saints are not necessarily ‘higher’ souls, but they are more connected to the Divine and, to borrow wording from the Buddhists, they are supremely concerned about right action, speech, thought and intention.  Angels may or may not have ever been embodied, I do not know; but, they are concerned about how we conduct ourselves and stand ever-ready to assist us in helping us in making life-affirming choices.”

“It sounds like the Catholics have it right, then,” he considers what I have said.

“From my experience, this aspect of Catholic theology, as far as I understand it, is is spot on,” I confirm.

“So, if we have all of this assistance available, why do we still mess up?” my friend asks.

“We don’t like to listen?” I offer him another question in response.  “Listening takes a great deal of effort, practice and, quite honestly, meditative or receptive-prayer training–especially initially.

“Sometimes we are in defiance.  Defiance is a shockingly common living pattern among people who have weathered a difficult childhood or an abusive primary relationship. And, when reliable guidance or, to use the Quaker terminology, ‘leadings’ first come through, whether they are from our highest Light or from one of our assigned ‘People,’ it can feel paternalistic, unbelievable, ridiculous or downright scary. We are often asked to function or serve in ways outside of our established living patterns.

“Thus, following through on clear, accurate guidance requires a tremedous leap of faith, as well as an extension of trust that is very rare in the secular world.”

“I could see that,” he concurs.

“The most reliable indicator that guidance is of the Light is the Stillness–or Peace of Christ– that accompanies an authentic leading.”

“It sounds like a lot of work,” he offers an opinion.

“Yes, but it all worth it,” I affirm.  “There is no greater joy or sense of wholeness and belonging than this working relationship with the Light.”

The Spiritual Kiss

On a hot, muggy day in late spring, I was standing on the dais of the speech teacher’s classroom, emptying my end-of-the-year, school folders.  Luke Saufield sat at the back of the otherwise empty classroom talking with me.

It was our last day of high school.

Luke and I had shared a few Advanced Placement English classes, as well as working together on some extra-curricular projects.  Luke had an amazingly jocular and mature personality at eighteen. His laugh, when it came on, was hearty and full, capable of rolling through an entire room and out into the hall.

Spirituality

Luke and I were mid-conversation when another graduating senior, Mick Jackson, walked into the room, striding purposefully toward the location, where I was standing at the front of the room on the dais. Without pausing to say anything, Mick stepped up onto the speech platform and, taking me into his arms, bent me over one–now folded–knee.

Mick proceeded to kiss me in the most intimate and passionate manner possible.

Then, just as suddenly as I had been kissed, I was standing up again, watching Mick stride away without ever looking back or saying anything. Standing in stunned silence, I watched quietly as the door closed behind Mick–to peals of Luke’s hearty laughter echoing through the speech classroom.

“What was that?” Luke finally asked me, during a break in his encore of mirth.

“I don’t know,” I said, still trying to comprehend what had just happened.  “Mick and I only ever had one class together and that was this past fall–in this room.  We sat near one another, but I never got to know him. He never said anything to me. He is so very quiet.  I didn’t even know he liked me or think that we had anything in common.”

“It sure seems like he likes you now,” Luke continued to chuckle.

“If only I had known,” I concluded.

Divine Love sometimes shows up in our lives in much the same way. There is the thunderclap, as the French might say, or “the wave” of passionate affection and then the vacuum of Love’s absence.  It is the memory of Love’s bold steps toward us that allows us to keep moving forward–even as we experience stunned, unfathomable silence.

Spiritual Curiosity & Learning

Travelling with my family to the Gulf Coast of Florida when I was a child, one morning we walked the beach, where we slowly and hopefully collected an informal t-shirt-full of sample shells–maiden’s curls, sand dollars and small conchs–most of which were misshapen or quite broken.

From some distance away, an elderly woman, who appeared to be doing much the same thing, stopped her own collecting and began to walk purposefully toward us.

Upon reaching our small band, she introduced herself, explaining that she was a retired teacher who had been living in Florida for thirteen years.  She proceeded, in that purposeful and commanding way common to some teachers, to invite us back to her home, where she kept a “modest” collection of shells she had amassed over the years.

Spirituality

When we reached her home, which was several blocks away, we filed into her tiny, semi-closed porch/garage to be faced with an impressive collection of clear glass jars housing a large variety of shells.  This woman’s shell collection was carefully organized, kept, categorized and labelled, as well as containing only the most complete and best of specimens.  I did not encounter a collection of this magnitude again until I visited the British Museum’s overwhelming display of Grecian urns some years later as a young adult.

True to the character of her profession, this kind and generous woman proceeded to give us an informal talk about each type of shell in her collection, explaining “who” lived in the shell, before it washed up empty on the beach, and what each creature’s living habits would be like when the shell was in active use.  It was a morning of fascinating learning.

Then, at the end of her impromptu program, our gracious host carefully selected and wrapped up full, sample jars of shells–the best from among her collection–for both me and my sister. These were generous care-packages that would have been the envy of any tourist shop.

On the spiritual path, one of the most challenging practices is the cultivation of an open and receptive mind.  Source, in its mercy, is constantly presenting us with clues, resources and people who have keys to our unfolding; yet, we are often unable to receive these gifts unless we choose, consciously, to remain receptive and curious, in a child-like manner, ready to receive the aid so freely available to us through fellow travellers.