Rumi’s Guest-House

This being human is a guest-house.

Every morning a new arrival

A joy, a depression, a meanness

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

Rumi (John Moyne and Coleman Barks, trans.), Say I Am YouThe Guest-House, Athens, GA: Maypop, 1994, p.41

Until I learn the lesson each encounter with life offers to teach me, the lesson will keep showing up on my doorstep. Until I can greet each emotion and thought with compassion and humor, I refuse the joy they carry in their pockets.

At fifty-six years of age,  it’s well past time to be grateful for everything.

A Generous Spirit

The Archbishop had uses a beautiful phrase to describe this way of being in the world: “becoming an oasis of peace, a pool of serenity that ripples out to all of those around us.” (p. 274)

 [New York: Avery, 2016]

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. (Matthew 6:34-7:1, NRSV)

The usual phrasing of scripture is to put the first two sentences with a previous grouping – consider the lilies of the field. The second begins a new chapter. But for today, I’m playing with the usual divisions – a bit of midrash in light of Bishop Tutu’s comment about generosity of spirit.

Easy to be with. Comfortable in her/his own skin. Grounded. Laughs easily and often. Life-giving. All different ways of touching on the same thing: a generous spirit. Not perfect, nor expecting perfection from others. Living the day that presents itself, not wishing for the day that didn’t.  Aware of the unique gift each day is, but willing to let it go at day’s end – how else can a new day be embraced with all its beauty and holiness?

I’ve had the great good fortune to know several such people in my life. They have been my mentors, my friends, and my touchstones; they taught me to see in this life/this day/this moment a glimpse of God’s presence. In their words, actions, and presence, a transforming truth radiated:

If you can find God in the here and now, you have no reason to look elsewhere or elsewhen: if you can’t find God in the here and now, you won’t find God anywhere or anywhen else.

Thank you, Elisabeth Hewitt, Cullen Story, Horatio Chase, Grace and Albert Wood. You helped me see the life in my days.

Unexpected Gifts

Seventeen years ago, I ordered heirloom hollyhocks from Burpee – three red and three yellow. Once the first summer passed, they bloomed faithfully every year. Being an heirloom variety, they reseeded themselves as well. But after the first five years, they didn’t stay the same: along with the red and yellow flowers, cross-pollination created blossoms of varying colors. About five years back, the original red and yellow didn’t return. Reseeding also caused a migration: plants grow halfway up the walkway rather than at the end, and a few have come up in my neighbor’s flower beds.

There’s something wonderful about a world that fosters change and growth in unexpected ways. I haven’t had a hand in the hollyhocks that grace my front walk in any meaningful way – a little weeding, watering, and feeding is all I’ve done. But these plants have been transformed through their own innate capacity. How wonderful is that!

There’s a generosity to nature that’s hard to deny when $19.95 spent seventeen years ago yields such beauty. Constantly growing and changing, constant in reappearance. But if I didn’t know where it all began, I doubt I’d appreciate this ever-transforming botanical miracle…

Orienting

[ Photo by Jared Fredrickson] 

The weeds in the garden were well on their way to taking over the bed, so I spent an hour pulling them away from the tomatoes, chives, snow peas, and sunflowers. When I began, the sun was just peeking over the roof line; when I finished up, it was well on its way to the middle of the sky.

I don’t usually pay much attention to this daily arc through the sky – unless it’s to seek shade or because the sun’s heat is doing its best to turn my skin pink. But today, I began my weeding at the base of the sunflowers. In the hour I spent in the garden, the sunflowers changed their orientation: all of them began facing one direction and turned their faces to another by the time I stopped pulling weeds. The sun had moved, and they changed their orientation to continue facing it, following the life-giving light.

When I water the garden this evening, the sunflowers will be facing in the opposite direction to their morning orientation. It’s why they are called sunflowers, I suppose: though grounded in one particular place, they turn with the sun’s movement. If that isn’t an every day miracle, I don’t know what is.

It struck me that I can do the same thing. I cannot move from the particular time and circumstance that set the parameters of my life’s span, but I can choose my orientation. I can choose to be moved by something life-giving beyond myself. And within this very small, brief, and specific life span I call my own, I can choose to act accordingly.

Lord, keep my eyes and heart open. Only with your help can I look beyond myself and act with compassion for all the life you’ve created. Amen.

 

The One Thing

The Buddha supposedly said, “What is that one thing, which when you possess, you have all other virtues? It is compassion.”

The Book of Joy (pp.251-252)

After the Dalai Lama recounts watching an exhausted mother stay up all night to tend her toddler and baby during a flight, he remarks that he might not have the patience to do that. Douglas Abrams continues by writing: The Dalai Lama’s comment echoed a topic I have discussed with quite a few religious seekers and parents: It probably takes many years of monastic practice to equal the spiritual growth generated by one sleepless night with a sick child. (p.253)

Living a monastic life, rising early and stopping at regular intervals for prayers, interrupts whatever else is being done.  Outside of critical work (tending the sick, recuperating, etc.), no activity is considered important enough to skip the daily cycle of prayers.

In either case, something beyond our own aims and goals sets our parameters. We are asked to be fully present for someone (a child or God) else, and we are relieved of being the center of our own universe. We invest ourselves in someone beyond our limited human life.  When this is done in love and for love, it offers us a joyful life.

Perhaps, with this life, we will stretch our compassion to include those well beyond our own family and faith. At the same time, perhaps we will stretch our compassion to include ourselves.

God, self, neighbor.  Holiness and joy all boil down to these same three things. Thank God.

Enough?

The tradition in my house for birthdays and other special days: the honored person gets the day off from all household chores, and gets to decide what to eat. From appetizers and snacks, through entrees, sides, and dessert, it’s all selected by the honoree  and made by someone else. Something became very obvious when this tradition started, and continues to the present:

If we are grateful for our lives, enough is as good as a feast.

If we are not, no feast will ever be enough.

 

The Grateful Living

When my father was nearing the end of his life, he spent a lot of time sitting on his back porch. He watched the birds at the feeder, the squirrels running in the yard, and the heron that would fly low over the river every afternoon. He was sitting there because cancer had invaded his body, and the chemotherapy that held it off for two years had taken his strength.  I was lucky enough to sit with him at times, and blessed to be with him when he fell out of this life into the arms of God.

Why is it that living with gratitude comes so much more easily when life is difficult? Is it because I am forced to see the giftedness of each day against the backdrop of life’s imperfections? I doubt there’s ever been a day in my life that wasn’t amazing in some unique way, but I’m certain that I was blind to the gifts of many of them.  Going forward, I’m going to remember what the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams noted in The Book of Joy;

Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing. Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it. (p.242)

Amen.

 [New York: Avery, 2016]

The Deer’s Cry, Rita Connolly; from Shaun Davey’s The Pilgrim, 1994

Forgive, not Forget

Years back, someone dear to me lost the path of peace and joy, and ended up in the spiritual wilderness of physical exhaustion and emotional darkness. Hurtful things were said and done, and our friendship was damaged. Eventually, after many years, the friendship was repaired and trust came back. But it wasn’t something that came quickly or easily for either of us. It took a lot of work to restore what had been such an easily formed friendship so many years ago.

What kept me in the friendship when it would have been easier to let it go? The certainty that my friend was a good person going through a bad time, not a fundamentally bad person.

Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama both practice forgiveness – releasing self and other from continued harm and hatred. They do not advocate forgetting: actions have consequences, and avoiding or denying them gets us nowhere but in more trouble. I doubt either one would have inspired so many people to live in love and peace had they not learned to forgive, remember, and move forward.

It takes a lot of strength to forgive, but it opens us up to joy again. Isn’t such a life worth the effort? If the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu are able to forgive the many destructive things that have happened in their lives, I’m willing to try to forgive the few in mine. What have I got to lose but suffering?

 

Pillar Four: Acceptance

Acceptance: The Only Place Where Change Can Begin

[New York: Avery, 2016, p. 223]

The pandemic continues, with new cases cropping up all over the country. Local and state officials are trying to find the best balance between keeping things closed and getting things reopened.

The protests and demonstrations continue, as does the mistreatment of protestors and the respectful treatment of protestors – it all depends on the place and people involved.

This is reality: pandemic ramifications and the loss of life due to skin tone. I’d rather not be in this place, but my preference is beside the point. If I want things to get better, I have to acknowledge what is before I help change what will be into something kinder and more just. Living in unreality won’t help anyone, but it will allow the wrongs of today to continue.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu know a thing or two about harsh realities and working toward a better future for everyone.  First, there must be acceptance:

Acceptance allows us to engage with life on its own terms rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish… [p.225]

Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and to respond appropriately. [p.225]

Lord, keep my eyes, heart, and mind open to your direction. Make me an instrument of your peace.

Black lives matter to you; may they matter as much to me.

Moving into God’s presence through words