Practice in Letting Go

This past summer, during Amma’s Chicago programs, ideas for how to design one of the planting areas in our Seattle forest restoration site started coming into my mind. The next day, I walked to the children’s program room, borrowed colored pencils and graph paper, and drew that design.

When I returned to Seattle, I transferred the design onto the ground as best as I could. It took hours and hours to accomplish that task as I was trying to lay it out perfectly. When I finally finished, I started laughing at myself. It had taken me that long to create placement for 12 plants. We had ordered more than 300 shrubs and ground covers. Clearly, that was not how I was going to maketo make planting plans for the whole site.

I enjoyed having “my area” though and dreamed of what it would look like in the future. This fall, I started noticing  how often branches from nearby trees fell into “my area”.  I also noticed that I was only seeing them in “my area”.

A few weeks ago we had a wind storm. In the photo below you can see some of the branches I took out of “my area” after the storm.

On November 15, we had the big planting work party. It was wonderful to finally have the native plants in “my area”. I day-dreamed about what the area would look like in the Spring.

Then I had a horrifying thought: “Those falling branches could kill ‘my plants’!” I’ve been resisting the apparent fact that in forestry 50% of what we plant may not survive. In fact, I haven’t dealt with it at all because I believe “our” plants will be different. And I hadn’t even considered the possibility that any of the plants in “my area” would die.”

At that point, I took a good look at the terrain surrounding “my area”.

The trees are really tall, they are old, and “my area” is closest to them.

As I reflected on this situation, I had many thoughts.

  • These plants, and all of the plants in the restoration site, are not “mine,” they belong to Mother Nature. I can be an instrument and do my best to take care of them, but what lives and what dies is not in my hands.
  • I knew that we would likely lose some plants in the summer since we now have long stretches with no rain, but it hadn’t occurred to me before that some plants are likely to die during the winter.
  • I remembered the Tibetan monks who spend many hours making a sand mandala and then ritualistically take it apart as a way of acknowledging that life is transient, in a constant state of flux.
  • While I will not purposely dismantle the area I have been thinking of it as “my area”, I am clearly getting an opportunity to let go and surrender. My job is to put in the effort and let go of the results.
  • It is time for me to stop thinking about that area as “my area”. I am an instrument, I am not an owner. That area is no more important than any other area.

As I was writing this post, I thought about the title that the Green Seattle Partnership gave those of us whom they trained to lead forest restoration work parties. We are called Forest Stewards. I decided to look up steward to see exactly what the word means. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines steward as “a person hired to perform household or personal services.” It gives these words as synonyms: “domestic, flunky, lackey, menial, retainer, slavey, servant”.  That’s it. I am not an owner, I am a servant of the forest.

I am a Forest Steward.

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Creating Light in the Darkness

My contribution to Sreejit’s new event was posted today. I called it Creating Light in the Darkness. You can find it at:

Rage Against the Machine Day 3 by Karuna Poole

I thought the first two articles in his series were excellent.

Rage Against the Machine Day 1 by Rudran

Rage Against the Machine Day 2 by Levantine

I hope you will go to The Seeker’s Dungeon and read my post… and consider reading all three of them… and maybe even those that he posts throughout the month of November!

Some of you may want to write and submit a post of your own. You are welcome to do that. Here is part of the event description:

Your post doesn’t have to be about the United States or even politics, but should be about what is keeping our world in darkness and your own solutions for shedding light. Talk about where your own passions lie, your own causes, and the glass ceilings you are trying to break on through. Your essay should be between 800 and 5000 words.

You can learn more about the event Here. 

Needing Some Inspiration

Sreejit’s directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt is:

When you’re feeling down or just need a push forward with your day, where do you look for inspiration? What drives you, or keeps you smiling? Or when you’re really down, what keeps you alive, and getting out of bed each morning? You don’t have to write about a major presence or source of inspiration in your life, but can just tell us about one of the little things that elevate you in some way.

I could create a long list of things that inspire me and can’t imagine pairing it down to one. Therefore, I will compromise and settle for sharing two of them with you!  Continue reading “Needing Some Inspiration”

A Bridge Between Worlds

Sreejit’s directions for this week’s Dungeon Prompt were:

If the journey of your life could be boiled down to a particular mission, what would it be?  What has been the primary focus or purpose of your particular birth?  You may believe that all of life is on a big picture path, but I’m asking about your particular journey.  Is there any lesson or goal that has defined the majority of your life?  What is your life’s mission?

I once used the process that Stephen Covey described in his book First Things First to develop a personal mission statement. The document I created that day is as relevant and alive for me now as it was on the day I created it. (My mission statement can be found in this blog post: Living with Purpose.)

For this prompt, I decided to look at my life’s mission from a different angle. Throughout my adolescence and young adult years I believed that I didn’t “belong” anywhere. That belief developed, at least in part, because I grew up as an army brat. I generally moved every three years, and if I wasn’t leaving then my friends were. No place or group felt like “home,” I always believed I was an outsider.  Continue reading “A Bridge Between Worlds”

Where the Wild Things Are

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Frequently, when I reflect on Sreejit’s Dungeon Prompt for the week, I end up writing about something very different than what I had originally intended to write about. This week was no exception. The topic was “Where the Wild Things Are”  and the directions for the prompt were:

Tell us all about one of the more wilder things you’ve done in your life that looks a little out of place when put up next to the rest of your life’s journey.  Or take it in another direction and tell us about your monsters, or demons.

Initially, I intended to write about my early days with Amma. As the deadline approached, however, I realized that there were many other times in my life when I did things that other people might consider “Wild” or perhaps “Strange.” I decided I would share some vignettes of those memories. Continue reading “Where the Wild Things Are”

Exploring Utopia

I have been thinking about Utopia since last Thursday when Sreejit announced it as the topic for this week’s Dungeon Prompts. My reflection took me to some uncomfortable places that expanded beyond the scope of Utopia.

When I think of Utopia, I think of Shangri-La, and when I think of Shangri-La, I think of the 1973 movie The Lost Horizon, one of my favorite musicals of all time. [The movie was panned by critics but it really spoke to my heart.]

As I began to write this post, I looked up The Lost Horizon and found this YouTube recording of the opening theme song. Here are the lyrics and the video. I started to cry as I listened to the song.

Lyrics:

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the air you breathe is soft and clean
And children play in fields of green
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears (anymore)

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the winter winds will never blow
And living things have room to grow
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Many miles from yesterday before you reach tomorrow
where the time is always just today
there’s a lost horizon waiting to be found.
There’s a lost horizon where the sound of guns
doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Earlier today, the word nirvana came to my mind. Wikipedia says this about nirvana: “All Indian religions assert it to be a state of perfect quietude, freedom, highest happiness along with it being the liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.”

It occurs to me that I may have considered aspects of Utopia, Shangri-La and Nirvana this week. In fact, I think I’ve mixed them all together. I will be presenting some of my processing in a fairly random manner.

***

In my mind, Utopia would be a world without war. It wouldn’t be a world without conflict because humans will always have differences of opinions. It wouldn’t be a world without pain because humans aren’t likely to grow unless there is at least a measure of pain involved. But it would be a world where differences are honored, where people place a high value on seeking win-win solutions, and where love is valued more than hate. It would be a world where we don’t expect each other to be perfect. In my vision of Utopia, everyone would live a life full of adventure, challenge and learning. People would be willing to work on and resolve their issues with each other and would give and receive support.

***

This week I reviewed my life and identified times when I experienced a deep sense of bliss. The times that came to mind, in order of their occurence, were:

  • In 9th grade riding on a bus with Youth For Christ members, singing Christian songs with all of my heart
  • Listening to and singing  bhajans during my early years with Amma, especially when the songs were about Krishna.
  • Spending several hours in a deep meditative state during one of my first trips to India. It occurred when I was sitting in the temple, very close to Amma. I felt like part of me was in another realm, at a party that my conscious mind was not allowed to attend.
  • Singing and “Dancing in the Spirit” at Power House Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
  • Being one of a handful of white people at several COGIC convocations in Memphis, singing gospel music along with 40,000 African-Americans.
  • Listening to Gregorian chanting at Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico.
  • Hearing Taize music for the first time.
  • Singing and dancing to Amrita Vahini, Mata Rani and many other Amma bhajans.
  • Singing Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari last week.

Amma teaches us that bliss comes when the mind is silent. She gives the example of chocolate. If we have been craving chocolate we feel bliss at the moment the chocolate touches our tongue. If the bliss was from the chocolate then we could eat more and more chocolate and become more and more blissful. The reality is, if we eat a lot of chocolate, we will become sick. Amma says we experience bliss at that time because in the instant our tongue tastes the chocolate, our minds are silent and free from desire.

In all of the examples above, my mind was silent. I was focused and living in the moment.

***

So how do I keep myself from experiencing states similar to Utopia/Shangri-la/Nirvana in my life now?

There would be no point in trying to recreate the experiences from the past since bliss is a peak experience that usually comes unannounced. If I look at the list above though, I can see that each instance involved music and community.

Nowadays, I spend too much time alone; watch, read or think too much about current events in my country and in the world; over-think in general; and often don’t ask for what I want or need. I’ve allowed music, singing and dancing to almost disappear from my life except when I am with Amma and even then I don’t take full advantage of those opportunities. I make myself miserable by ruminating about the past or by having expectations and being upset when they don’t come to fruition.

Being around Amma brings our negativities to the surface so that we can work on them. I know that even though the behaviors I mentioned in the paragraph above are areas of weakness for me, they all feel very heightened right now as I’m writing this on a day when I am immersed in my “shit.” Things are not as black and white as I’m feeling in the moment.

At the same time, I also realize that these self-sabotaging behaviors could become more entrenched now that I’m retired. Am I willing to change them? Time will tell.

Thank you Sreejit for creating a prompt that helped me to sort some of this out.

 

Dungeon Prompts: Moral Authority

Last Thursday, I received notice that Sreejit from The Seekers Dungeon was re-starting his Dungeon Prompt series. I was intrigued by the topic for the week, Moral Authority. I began to think about what moral authority meant to me.

The next day, I read that the Trump Administration had 1) stopped a study of the health effects of a mining practice in Appalachia, 2) disbanded the federal advisory committee on climate change, and 3) decided that the Environmental Protection Agency would work on building partnerships rather than focusing on regulations and enforcement. I felt despair when I read that information. It occurred to me that I was seeing examples of what moral authority is NOT, at least in my world view. 

I accept that President Trump has some authority over me because of the power of his position, but due to the things he says and does on nearly a daily basis, I do not believe that he has moral authority, or it least none that I will accept.

Since those were thoughts I had on the spot, I decided it was time for me to learn more about moral authority.

Wikipedia stated:

Moral authority is authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws. As such, moral authority necessitates the existence of and adherence to truth. Because truth does not change, the principles of moral authority are immutable or unchangeable, although as applied to individual circumstances the dictates of moral authority for action may vary due to the exigencies of human life. These principles, which can be of metaphysical and/or religious nature, are considered normative for behavior, whether they are or are not also embodied in written laws,[1] and even if the community is ignoring or violating them.[2] Therefore, the authoritativeness or force of moral authority is applied to the conscience of each individual, who is free to act according to or against its dictates.

Moral authority has thus also been defined as the “fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world”.[3]

Theodore Brown wrote:

Put the phrase “moral authority” into a Google search, and you will get back something over 670,000 hits.  Clearly the expression gets used a lot.  But what do people mean when they use it?  Many people seem to think that it means the right to weigh in on discussions involving what to do about some tough issue.  Other uses suggest that it is a measure of virtue; those who live exemplary lives have moral authority.  Or, that one can gain moral authority by having been put through a trial: the John McCain effect.  One simple definition is that moral authority is the capacity to convince others of how the world should be.  This distinguishes it from expert or epistemic authority, which could be defined as the capacity to convince others of how the world is.

When I found the diagram at the top of this post, it occurred to me that reflecting on those positive and negative behaviors might help me identify those people who I think have moral authority. From that exploration, I came up with a list of  behaviors that I think those who have moral authority have in common.  In my mind, people with moral authority:

  • love all beings in the world
  • love and are committed to nature
  • live lives of service
  • speak the truth
  • teach others to live in integrity
  • teach others healthy principles of living
  • teach others to love and respect one another
  • value unity over division
  • live lives that are true to their teachings, i.e. they walk their talk

As I pondered who the people were that I think have moral authority, Jesus, Amma, Martin Luther King, and Pope Francis came instantly to my mind. Amma is clearly the person whose moral authority has impacted my life the most.

I believe blind faith may come in an instant, but mature faith develops from experience. I have been in Amma’s presence for 28 years- watching her, learning from her and seeing the impact she has had on my life and the lives of my friends, family, and other devotees. I have no doubt that she has made a massive difference in the lives of millions of people the world over.

Many years ago, I wrote a song, and had a friend translate it into Malayalam, that in a way reflects my decision to accept Amma’s moral authority. I titled the song, Only for This I Pray.

This is an audiotape and lyrics of that song.  Please pardon any pronunciation errors.

amma ende karangal ennum ninne sevikkatte
amma ende manass˘ mantrathāl nirayename
amma ende vākkukal ennum ninne pukazhthette
ende hridayam ānandam kond˘ nrittamādatte

ende sneham prakāshamāyi ennenum thilangatte
amma ende vishvāsam valarnnu kondirikkatte
ennenum ammayepole āyi varename
amma itinnu vendi mātram nyan prārthikkyunnu

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

That prayer is as true for me today as it was the day I wrote it.

 

Will I Choose to be Independent or Interdependent?

Decades ago, I participated in an experiential exercise that the facilitator called The Relationship Dance. That exercise gave participants the opportunity to feel the difference between dependent relationships, independent relationships, and interdependent relationships.

First, we each picked a partner. During the Dependent section of the exercise, one person in each dyad leaned against their partner and they walked around the room in that state. One person had the experience of being completely dependent on their partner to hold them up, and the other person had the experience of being totally responsible for their partner’s well-being. In the Independent section, partners wandered through the room having essentially no contact with each other or with the people in the other dyads. Interdependence was demonstrated by having the pairs separate to do some individual activities and at other times walking shoulder to shoulder.

I’ve never forgotten that exercise. The experience of being Dependent was not familiar to me, and was not at all inviting. I was more familiar with having people be dependent on me. Being Interdependent was inviting but not familiar. When I experienced Independent, I felt lonely and it was all too familiar. Since this post isn’t about my relationship with a partner, I’m going to broaden the definition of interdependent so that it includes being in give-and-take, supportive relationships with many people.

I grew up as an army brat. It was very hard for me to make friends since we moved at least every three years. If I wasn’t leaving, then my friends were. Also, my mother once told me that I would make one friend at a time, and then was devastated when that person became friends with someone else. To compound the problem, in my opinion, our family had a very low level of connection with each other.

As a child I became very independent. Over the years, I have made significant changes in that part of my life and now have many friends who could potentially be a large support system. While I have moved a significant distance along the continuum that goes between independence and interdependence, I still have a way to travel before Interdependent becomes my primary way of being.

I have had an abundance of opportunity to watch my struggle in this area as I heal from breaking my wrist. My recovery was made harder than it would normally have been because I also had considerable pain from bruised ribs caused by a fall two weeks earlier. The rib problem made it painful for me to get up and lie down, and the fact that I needed to overuse my left side when I couldn’t use my right hand, prolonged that pain. (Be assured that I am looking at, and committed to changing,  the factors that caused me to get hurt twice in two weeks.)

I have long marveled at how people who live with physical limitations are able to overcome them. I decided to use this experience to see what I was able to do on my own. One of the accomplishments that I am most proud of occurred on the second day after I broke my wrist. On that day, I was able to pry open tight hooks on a bra and put on the bra using only my non-dominant hand. I soon discovered I could do my own laundry, get dressed in carefully selected clothes, cook using the food I had in the refrigerator and freezer, and crack an egg open. I also felt proud the day I changed the cloth waist ties on two pairs of Indian pants to elastic. With the cloth ties, I would have had to tie a bow, an impossible feat at that time.

While I was able to figure out how to do almost everything on my own, I did ask for help when it was impossible for me to do something that needed to be done. The best example of that was being unable to lock my deck door at night since I had to pull it towards me with one hand and turn the key with the other. I tried but I couldn’t do it. The temperature was in the 80’s and 90’s in Seattle that week and I couldn’t open any of the windows in my living and dining rooms with one hand. Leaving the deck door shut as well would have been unbearable.

I wouldn’t have felt safe leaving the door open at night so that was not an option. I asked one neighbor to lock the door each night before she left town. After she left, I knocked on different neighbors doors each night, asking them to lock the door for me. I rationalized that asking a number of people would cause them less of an inconvenience. Another example is that I asked a friend to bring my vacuum cleaner up the steep stairs from my basement since I knew it wouldn’t have been safe for me to carry it, but I didn’t ask for help vacuuming even though it was difficult for me to do with bruised ribs. And instead of asking for help to bring it back downstairs, I eventually took the vacuum cleaner outside and rolled it around the house and in the back door.

I did accept help from two friends who wanted to bring a meal and from another who offered to come cook some meals that would last for a few days. I also accepted help from a friend who offered to go grocery shopping for me and asked another to take me to the places I needed to go to get ready for my trip to India.

For the most part, however, I told the friends and neighbors who offered help that I was fine, but would let them know if I needed anything, and then for the most part didn’t ask.

While I did accomplish many things on my own, I was also abundantly aware how different my experience would have been if I had been living with someone or if I had taken full advantage of my support system. I was aware of the message in my head that said Don’t bother anyone,  an adult version of Children are to be seen and not heard. I also heard You should only bother someone if you really, really need it; You may need surgery for your arm or you might get sick sometime in the future, so don’t ask for help now, you might need it more later; and You choose to live alone and that decision has consequences, which was short for “You made your bed, now lie in it. As I write these messages down, I realize how immersed in old unhealthy ways of thinking I have been. I knew these messages were still alive in me to some degree, but the injury brought them out full force.

Just before I left for India, I attended a potluck in the Seattle area. I witnessed my reaction when the friend who drove me there offered to help me put food on my plate. I told her I could do it. I even resisted when she gave me reasons why I should let her help. Seeing such a blatant example of my resistance stuck with me. On my second day in India, a man offered to help me wash my dishes after a meal. I told him I could do it. He watched me struggle with that for a minute, and then took the dishes away from me and washed them. The incident made me aware once again of how I push help away. It also gave me the experience of how good it felt to get it. The next day another man asked if I wanted help washing my dishes. I said thank you and handed them to him. Since then, I have accepted help when it is offered and have been more willing to ask for it in the first place.

I dread the thought of ever being completely dependent on anyone. I hope that is not in my future, but I have no control over that. What I do have control over is whether I live my life alone now or instead create a life style that includes a mutually supportive community.

Even though this injury has highlighted my tendency to be overly independent, I know I have come a long way in this area. I also know I will have an abundance of opportunities, perhaps on a daily basis, to choose between an action that would support my tendency to be overly independent and one that would lead to an experience of interdependence.  It is my intention to increase the number of times I choose the road that leads to interdependence.

 

To view the previous posts in this series click here.

New Microscopic Photos and More

Yesterday, I decided to accept the self-imposed challenge of taking microscopic pictures primarily with my non-dominant hand. Even under normal circumstances, I have trouble hooking up the adapter that connects my iPhone to my microscope. I wondered if adding a wrist splint to the mix would make the task impossible. I would, of course, stop if the endeavor caused any pain at all. It took some effort, but before long the equipment was ready for me to snap some photos.

Last summer, I took microscopic pictures of the orange Echinacea flowers in my garden. This year, my goal was to photograph flowers on all three of the Echinacea plants. Each plant has blooms that are a different color. I was able to accomplish that objective and more.

Plant #1

While I was taking the photos, I saw something I had never seen before. It was quite a surprise. Take a look at my first microscopic video!

I did not notice that the photos of that plant had come out pink, instead of light purple, until I created the photo gallery above last night. I wondered if that happened because of the light source I was using for the microscope. This morning, I decided to shine that light on the flower again to see if it changed the color.

When I went outside to retrieve the purple flower from the back deck, I was flabbergasted to see that it had turned pink during the night. It had not looked pink when I checked it last night.

Plant #2

I found another bug when I examined the second flower through the microscope. It was a different kind of insect, though, or was it a spider? It resembled a spider in the way it looked and acted but insects have six legs and spiders have eight. I only see six on this creature so I don’t know what it is. It was so small that I couldn’t see it on the plant even when I looked for it wearing my reading glasses.

Note: There is a point in the video below where the creature stops moving for a while, but it starts again.

Plant #3

I appreciate the iPhone camera and the beautiful photos it takes. I appreciate whoever came up with the way to connect the microscope and the iPhone camera. I appreciate the ease of the WordPress blogging platform. I appreciate how easy it is to create photograph galleries on WordPress.com blogs. I appreciate the dictation program for Office products that Microsoft released last week and the person that told me about it. I appreciate the neighbor who took the case off my iPhone so I had a chance of  making this project a success. I appreciate my willingness to take on challenges in difficult situations. And, last but not least, I appreciate all of you who read my posts.