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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Manifesting Destiny

I like this blog because even when I try to run from what's happening in my life, I find that I can chronicle events here.  Months or even years later, if they make no sense at the time of the writing, time continues to tick away and the words become either crystal clear or mildly embarrassing.  It's a virtual show and tell of living.  I don't write these pieces in Word format and then reproduce them here.  I write them here.  This is perhaps not a wise choice for edits; and perhaps haphazard in design or intent (and content).  It is, however, direct from my brain and heart to yours.

This morning I finished my reading assignment and I'm going to ask the Universe to send me another.  What's next?  I picked up the "Williams James: Selected Writings" I've had getting dusty on my bookshelf this morning and thought, "Wow, that's long."  It was like my feeble attempts at reading Paul Tillich.  I find that I must be a pop-theology student.  Tillich left me dry and Oswald Chambers made me want to run for cover.  Perhaps I need to try again.

I walked into the library on July 17th, seven days after I left my last job. I  seek coincidence.  If coincidence were a religious practice I would embrace it and practice it like communion.  Or, perhaps I would be a coincidence agnostic; because I believe there is a supreme Reason and not any real coincidences at all.  When I walked into the library on July 17th I made a b-line for the bookshelf directly in front of the door.  There was a large group of children seated at the feet of a wizard who was talking in a very bad falsetto.  The library was not quiet.  When I hit the depression, I avoid people like the plague.  So, I settled on the first book I reached for and went to the back of the non-fiction section to check out the placement of "The Truth About Whales."  This is kind of like Googling myself, I know.  It's an obsession.  I have those, too.

The book I came away with was, "Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine" by Eric Weiner. I mentioned one of the passages in my last entry.  I walked away mumbling that I went to the library for escape reading, not insightful reading.  Damned squawking Merlin person.  The next morning I got up, took Sarah to the bus and went to a local Timmie's to read.  The book was better than Tillich or Chambers ever have been for me.

When people talk about the "calling" to ministry, I wanted to be a minister when I was in my early teens.  There was a youth pastor named Ed Potts and his sermon that caught me was on Cat's in the Cradle by Harry Chapin.  I wanted to be him.  Ed Potts, not Harry Chapin.  I wanted to stand in front of a congregation and reduce them to tears.  To make people feel something...to have them search inside themselves, to have them be honest with one another.  I spent the next ten years trying to show God how bad a choice I would be for that particular position.  So, my first response to the calling was probably pretty typical -- "I'm not good enough to be that."

My second response to the calling has been life long.  I don't have a religion that fits.  With the exception of Unitarian Universalism -- I have yet to find a church that believes in what I believe.  This is why Weiner's book spoke to me.  He finds himself in the hospital and a nurse (placed coincidentally, I'm sure) asks him, "Have you found your God yet?"  Sitting in Bell Park with the book on my lap I knew exactly Who sent me to the library that day.

My mother-in-law, Barb, challenged me this past Friday to write down exactly what it is that I want to be when I grow up.  She said that I needed to manifest my desire in writing (keeping out negative statements like "but" or "I can't"), and that trying it writing with the hand that I don't normally use might help.  Well, my handwriting is unintelligible with the hand my brain chooses to use, so I imagine that the result of my right hand would not even be readable.  I'm lazy, I'll type it.

1.  I want to help people; specifically, heal them in some way.
2.  I relate very well to women; or at least they are the ones who actually respond to my writing.
3.  I want to be an instrument of God's peace.
4.  I want to work either in a prison or a hospital setting.
5.  I will do paperwork because I'm good at it, at the organization of it. 
6.  I'll be happy to write/type or create reports.
7.  I love to do research.
8.  I have experienced the feeling of making a difference in someone's life and I want to experience that again, in a positive way.
9.  I want to be remembered.
10.  I want my husband and my daughters to know that their investment in my education and professional career was a good choice.

Okay, so I'm going to wrap this up with Eric Weiner's words because he and Barb conspired to form this blog entry:

"God is not a set of missing car keys or an exit on the New Jersey Turnpike.  He is not a destination.  He's as close as our jugular, as the Muslims say.  In that sense, all spiritual searches are round-trip journeys.  We travel in order to discover that there is nowhere to go.  We turn, like a dervish, returning to the same spot where we started.  The spot is the same but we are not."


Monday, July 23, 2012

Whirling Dervish

What do you mean I have to sit still for 6 weeks?  I had three children and went back to visit the fine folks at work when they were 2-3 weeks old.  How does one sit still?

I looked across at my counsellor and she smiled at me.  Her arms were folded across her lap and rested on top of her knee.  Her eyebrows raised and she smiled.  "Yes.  You have to learn how to take care of yourself.  We will not begin the process for second career until you have completed your time off."

A stray thought passed my waking memory right at that moment.  It echoed, "Be careful what you pray for... you might just get it."  Except I didn't pray for this.  I kept sending out resumes to every email box, fax number and walk-in address I could find on the Job Bank, and the various sites that clutter up my favorites bar under "Jobs in Sudbury."  I actually managed to land two jobs and couldn't keep either one of them.  I kept doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results.

So, the first day off I went to my friend Sam's house and kept my promise about us getting together that I've been stealthily avoiding for months.  I stay in denial of my inner recluse; but I assure you she spends lots of time finding ways to cancel appearances of any kind.  Busy, busy, busy... Alice's white rabbit poofs down the hole and disappears. 

Sam is a librarian for all things spiritual.  I walked into the inner sanctum of her house and her house actually has an inner sanctum!  The incense was burning and I could feel the breeze lifting off of the stone floor waiting for bare feet to be cooled to the touch, calmed.  We sat and talked about "what's next."  I babbled on and she listened, she babbled on and I listened... and at one point we drew out the Marianne Williamson cards and shuffled.  Sam pulled one from the deck that said, "It's okay to cry."  I put that puppy back in the deck and shuffled, hand over hand.  I all but did a Vegas shuffle trying to bury that card.  Not crying, today, thank you.  Have been crying since January.  No More Tears shampoo, please.  Shuffling, I knocked on the deck to remove the negative energy I was feeling and chose my card.

"It's okay to cry."

Very funny, God.


I travelled with my daughter to a new friend's house to go to a birthday get together; both for the day she was born and the day she chose sobriety as a way of living.  Of course, I always follow directions well and made sure to feed both the kid and I at the Scottish restaurant that features Big Macs.  I thought the birthday meant cake so I didn't want to show up hungry.  I had forgotten that it was a birthday dinner.  When I got there, I looked at my steak and all of the salads she had prepared and decided I was going to put that on top of my 30 minutes ago meal.  The women around the table were diverse and we were briefly joined by two men who were ploughing on the owner's property.  When they came inside, she offered to feed both of them, as well.

There's something about homemade potato salad that requires me to eat it.  It's not a choice, really, more of an obsession.  That and devilled eggs.  I will sneak at least 2 devilled eggs while pretending to carry plates to the kitchen.  Hide them!

After the plates were cleared and dessert (yes, I wanted to slide under the table and fall asleep) one of the women mentioned that she enjoyed the energy present for the meal.  She wasn't talking about the food.  Another woman to my left explained, "Yes, we all have gifts of one sort or another; we may just not know what they are yet."  The energy woman explained that she was a second level Reiki practitioner and one of the other ladies said, "I have degenerative disc disease...and it hurts here."  So, while the conversation continued and the tea cups clinked; I watched the practitioner position her hand where the pain was as if nothing in the world was unusual or different.

I want more dinner parties just like that one.


Today, Monday July 23rd was the first day I didn't have anything planned.  I got up with Sarah, promptly missed the camp school bus and drove her to Camp Sudaca.  I looked for the bear we spotted on Saturday (no blueberries to be found anywhere) and was relieved I didn't see him again.  Then I drove to Timmies to have a coffee and read among people.  One thing about this time off -- I have to have time around people.  Just being by myself in the house is not only boring... it's kind of lonely.  Not that I need people 24/7 -- I just need to get out a bit in the sunshine.  I use our beagle as a social foray and wander out with him a couple times a day, ball-thrower in hand and treats in pocket.

As I was sitting at the Timmies, I read something that I wanted to share:  "Rumi is said to have discerned in that sound the dhikr -- la ilaha illallah, There is no God but God -- and was so overwhelmed with joy he began to turn.  I can imagine what the good people of Konya must have thought of him then, or later when he turned at the funeral of a friend, in a spontaneous celebration of his life.  The sema, as the whirling ceremony is called, is loaded with symbolism.  Individually, each dervish, or semazen, is turning toward the truth, opening to it.  The head is tilted to one side, out of the way.  One arm is held high, in another world, and the other low, in this world.  With each turn, he or she says silently, 'Allah, Allah.'  In a group, the dervishes orbit one another, re-creating the movement of the heavens.  The way we in the west use the term 'whirling dervish,' colloquially, as in 'He's running around like a whirling dervish,' is all wrong.  Whirling dervishes may be ecstatic and intoxicated, in the Sufi sense of the word, but they are not out of control; they are very much grounded, more so than most of us." (Found in "Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine" by Eric Weiner).

I put down the book and the thought occurred, "Tom asked for visitors."  One of the group members at the Sunday meeting said that Tom was in hospice care and asked for people from the group to come see him, even for a few minutes at a time.  This may sound a little bit nuts to you and if it does, well, I am.  When I have stray thoughts like that -- that come out of nowhere, supposedly -- I follow them.  I believe that I receive direction from my Higher Power that is usually received at the most awkward times imaginable and I'm usually muttering, "Really?" on my way out the door.

I suppose I should mention that I didn't have a clue who Tom is.  I just knew that he's a long time member of the group and is located in the last room on the right at the hospice.  I parked the car and walked past a hand-painted fence post in a serene garden.  There was a babbling brook and two mint green, wrought-iron benches.  I made sure to wash my hands in the sterilizing soap before entering such an unbelievably quiet space.  There was even a place to remove your shoes and put slippers on.  I've got this thing about communal footwear; and my sandals smacked a bit on the floor.  I'm alive, I have loud sandals.

See?  This is why I remain silent and aloof -- speaking aloud is a sure way to alienate at least half the room. 

I introduced myself to the man up front and said, "Um, I'm here to see Tom but I don't know his last name, I only know he's in the last room on the right and he's asked for visitors.  We're in kind of a group of people that doesn't use last names, okay?"  The man grinned and took me straight away to Tom.

Oh my Lord, I know him.  Not only do I know him but he's one of my most favorite old timers at the group and this is why I haven't seen him lately.  I love Tom because he embraces irony.  He's tall and thin, a wiry intellect that always explained what he was saying with just a hint of "I've read a lot and thought a lot... researched my entire lifetime and this is what I've found..."  I ran into him at bookstores.

I have such grace.  My first words, "Well, are you ready for the next leg of the journey?"  He laughed, physically moved back with his hand to his chest and said, "I'm not dying yet!"  Then he leaned forward and whispered, "I had this cancer years ago and I had radiation, two or three years in remission.  I am somewhere in the middle of living and dead."  He asked what was happening with me and I felt very ridiculous telling him I was off trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life.  I felt very...ungrateful.  He said, "Well, have you thought about working with people doing home care because you know, you aren't too cheery."  I gaped and giggled.  He said, "No, I'm serious.  I get people in here every day -- a new one each time -- and they are so over the top cheery."  He placed his hand on his chest again and held up five very long fingers at a "stop" positioning.  "I want to tell them, please... I just need my space.  And when the visitors come in a bunch, I need to concentrate on just one person at a time.  It's hard to hear me whisper."  I heard him.  How could I not hear him.  Our visit was ended by the nice man coming to give baths and I thanked him under my breath because I suddenly didn't have a whole lot of wise things to say.  I promised to come back and walked on unsteady legs to the nearest volunteering pamphlet.

My car came to a stop at Bell Park and I decided to go see Carmen's gardens.  Carmen is the lady who was digging weeds out one by one at the park.  We talked late last week and she told me that she had kept golf greens for the last twenty years.  One day she looked up and realized that the club owner wasn't going to repair the equipment she needed to perform her job.  So she quit and started on her second life of making swans out of flowers.  I didn't see Carmen, but I was passing by her flowers and Monarch butterflies were lit on top of the purple flowers, two and three in a bunch.  I tried to take pictures but all of them came out blurry and distorted.  I don't think He meant it as a photo op.  I watched the butterflies circle one another and dive like orange and black kites.  I thought about how curious I am to see where He is leading me... and that I might be resting, but I'm going to have a great time doing what I thought was just whirling.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mind Full or Mindful? Bhante Saranapala Shares

Bill Land and I went off on a wild adventure Monday night.  We braved Laurentian University's Fraser building to go see Bhante Saranapala speak.  I have been to the Fraser Auditorium to see Stuart McLean of "The Vinyl Cafe" but not into the inner sanctum of university life since... well, the mid-80's.  I have to admit I felt a bit intimidated!


We arrived and found room F228, a three-tiered lab-like structure with flip-up computer desks.  How things have changed.  We didn't have computers at our desks when I went to university, much less laptops...and now they have computer screens that flip up to greet you.  The room became full quickly with people milling about greeting one another.  The age grouping of the audience was much like Mr. McLean's, in their 40's, 50's and 60's.  People who are past the pushing, shoving and groping of the 20's and 30's and into the "okay, really...what's next" existentialism of living.

The facilitator,  Lucky Amaratunga, asked the classroom to rise in respect to Rev. Saranapala and as we stood, the Buddhist monk entered in his kashaya robe.  I was surprised to see such a young man; who already has two master's degrees and a Ph.D. to his name.  He is the Buddhist chaplain at the University of Toronto.  He was here to speak on the benefits of meditation.  Some of my notes from his talk follow:

1.  Prevention (Samvara)
2.  Elimination (Pahana)
3.  Development (Bhavana)
4.  Preservation (Anurakkhana)

1.  Awareness
2.  Mindful Observation of Physical Subtle Changes
3.  Inhaling and Exhaling Exercises
4.  Cultivation of Goodwill Thoughts

Purify your own mind for calm happiness.

All problems are creations of our own mind.

The mind is everywhere.
Mind has no time or space.
All things are preceded by the mind,
Led by the mind,
Made of the mind.

(Love this one....)

Mind Full or Mindful?

I realize that my notes were scant but I heard the most important message, to me.  He repeated, several times, to live in the now.  Do not live in the past -- it is gone.  Do not live in the future, it is not here yet and you are ruining it living in the past.  Live right in this moment.

Rev. Saranapala concluded his sharing with reminding us that we learned the most important lesson in nursery school or kindergarten.  He asked us to join him in song... and slowly, everyone began singing and then laughing....

Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily
Life is but a dream.

Namaste dear Bhante Saranapala.