Hunger Action Month

Yesterday my church group helped serve at Open Table, a feeding program for the homeless run by Church of the Pilgrims in Washington, DC. During the following debriefing session, one of our members talked about how the experience slapped her in the face with the reality of her privilege. She eloquently talked about the privilege of food security and permanent shelter. Later last night, I found out that this month is Hunger Action Month. I was slapped in the face with the reality that I’m privileged enough to have been unaware of this until the middle of the month.

I’m going to try to spend the rest of this month staying mindful that hunger is a huge and unnecessary problem in this country. I watched a very good documentary last night on Netflix that I recommend, if you haven’t already seen it, called “A Place At the Table”.

Also, you can go to Feeding America.org  for more information.

I’ve Fallen And….

I’ve had a tough time since the beginning of the month when I took a few emotional hits. I tried to get back on my feet but I wasn’t able to do it. That was until a reader unknown to me commented on a post I wrote a year ago. He reminded me to remember where I want to be. So, I’ve reblogged that post below this one and I’m going to start a new post with a mindful attitude tomorrow. Thank you again, Gerardo.

Jingle All The Ways???

Sometimes it's hard to stay focused at Christmastime
Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused at Christmastime

It’s a hallmark (pun intended) of this season to say “I can’t believe it’s holiday time again already!” I know it always seems to come around more than once a year to me! Maybe it’s because I’ve gone through a lot of them and I’ve done Christmas (which is my family’s tradition) in every way possible.

It started after I had my first kid and I wanted to teach her the true meaning of the holiday. It was one of the many mistakes I made while child rearing. Anyway, in my search for a way to “authentically” celebrate the holiday I’ve tried a lot of different approaches , the first of which was,

IMG_1096The Purist Way: It involved a real tree with only wooden ornaments and strung berries. I wanted to put candles on it but my husband grumbled something about our homeowners insurance. I wrapped our homemade gifts in brown paper. I insisted that the only bought gifts were given to the poor. My family didn’t see the virtue in this approach, especially my kids who were in elementary school at the time. Everybody ridiculed me for months which prompted me the following year to try,

The All In Way: That was the year I got a six-foot tree and decorated it with so much stuff it took until February 1st to take it down. I also watched as many holiday movies as I could, left my car radio on the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time station, tailored the gifts to the individual recipients and baked like it was my job. Strangely, it was also the year I suffered from a severe feeling of emptiness and had to be prescribed an anti-depressant. My mood was stable but very serious after that which led me the following year to,

The Religious Way: I refused to put up a tree and limited the decorations to an antique crèche on the mantle. I researched the history of all the secular traditions associated with Christmas. I “shared” the information with my family at the annual Christmas breakfast and I admonished them for not keeping to the true spirit. I then led them in a very long prayer while the food got cold. That was the year they banished me to a tray table in the corner and threw my gifts at me.  After that I lost my mind one year and tried,

IMG_1099The Martha Stewart Way: I maxed out a credit card and risked divorce trying to look like someone I’m not.  Now I have pink and purple plaid ornaments and oh so tasteful bows along with a hostess gown, matching apron and oven mitts that are useless. I started an eBay box with them.

There were other years and other approaches; the Give Till it Hurts year, the Who Cares year etc., but now I just go with the flow.  I’m grateful when I get to see another holiday so I try to enjoy them. I’m grateful for the family members still here and I love the excitement in the eyes of the new members who have joined us recently around the tree. I want for nothing and use the last few days leading up to the holiday as an excuse to drink hot chocolate and eat cookies, guilt-free.

So, here are my very best wishes for a very merry Christmas to you and yours if it’s your tradition.  If it’s not, a very happy, blessed New Year.

BTW– There are some gift idea ads I haven’t seen on TV this year. I miss them for their entertainment value and I wonder what happened to them. Where are the ads for; the Ov Glove, Isotoners, Chia Pet and Norelco (with Santa riding the razor)? Have you seen them?

The Power of Love

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In my post “The Love in Loss” I talked about the power of Love. Because of the time of year, because of the death of my stepdad and because of the shooting in Connecticut last week I’m going to continue to speak to that power.

I actually used the term power of Love because of a great song that’s been one of my favorites for a long time. “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love” was a modest hit by Stephanie Mills back in the 1980s.  I think it’s about romantic love but to me, it’s about all Love. From the first time I heard it my heart was touched in a “feeling the Holy Ghost” kind of way. I missed my highway exit once while I was sing along to it.  Every time I listen to it I want to testify.  These are the lyrics to the first part of the song:

I was a victim of my foolish thinking
Carelessly I’ve risked my love and my life
There’s no self-pity I admit I obliged
Overpowered by love I pretended to be blind

Faith has survived all the doubts I’ve summoned
My heart has stood all the failure and loss
Helpless I cannot further be driven

I’ve learned to respect
The power love…….

How beautiful is that? Say Amen?  I absolutely relate to the foolish thinking that leads to careless risk part. That could be the title of the first half of my life. But then I was thinking about the idea of being overpowered by Love. I feel like the Love we need to pay attention to and live by can be overwhelming. I’ve talked in this blog about how I can’t show as much compassion as I’d like. I think it’s because there’s too much negativity inside of me to get over in order to be that compassionate. I guess I feel like my love can’t outmatch my negativity. But I’ve come to realize that my love with a little “l” can’t. It’s only when I participate in the larger Love with the big “L” that it’ll work. And that participation takes getting over the petty sense of myself. That’s the part that’s overwhelming.

I thought about that this week in terms of the shooting of those babies at the elementary school. Like everyone else I was blindsided by how terrible an act it was. How do the parents, the community and the nation get over that much horror? Then I saw the footage of the prayer services held that night. The collective prayers sent up demonstrate the power of Love. They provide the pathway to the Love that can overpower that kind of hate.  Witnessing all those people earnestly praying for the comforting of others (for a lot of them, others they don’t know) was so encouraging to me.  Those people in that moment put themselves aside to give Love through prayer. I know the effect that kind of positive energy can have because I’ve felt it in my own life.

Just as the lyrics say, our hearts can stand all the failure and loss if we have faith in Love, even when we feel as helpless as we did this week. It can survive all the doubts we have about ourselves, about others and about the condition of the world we live in. It’s hard to hold on to though, when it feels like our daily lives are filled with nothing but failure and loss. But there have been so many good and spiritually blessed folks who have come along to remind us of the truth of the power of Love. Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama come to my mind immediately. Who just came to yours? And for those of us who celebrate Christmas, Jesus of Nazareth is supposed to be the number one bearer of that exact message.

So since it’s the season we’re supposed to be thinking about it and because we really need it at this challenging time, let’s sing along with Stephanie; “I’ve learned to respect the power of Love, (Yes I did!)”

You can read all the lyrics to the song at this web address. http://lyrics.wikia.com/Stephanie_Mills:I’ve_Learned_To_Respect_The_Power_Of_Love I couldn’t find a video of Stephanie Mills singing it but here’s a YouTube link of the recording. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDkCSf6cRRY.

I’m grateful there are words in the form of lyrics, poems, and psalms, et al that can express what I feel in my heart. Amen.

The Love In Loss

FlowersTHE FATHER WHO RAISED ME FROM THE AGE OF 12, MY STEPDAD, PASSED AWAY TODAY. I’ve experienced the loss of several loved ones in the last few years, my husband, my mother, my biological dad, a cousin, an aunt and now “Gramps”. I didn’t have this blog when the others transitioned. This post is for all of them.

Loss through death is the big one, isn’t it? It affects us more than any other type of loss. It’s accompanied with so many complicated feelings besides pain and sadness. I have also felt guilt, confusion and anger with each passing. When my husband died I was blessed to have the insight of two very wise people (a friend and a therapist) who taught me about the Love in loss.  They showed me that all those feelings were/are really products of the power of the most important feeling and of course, that’s Love. It’s the power of Love that keeps our loved ones with us in a very real way. The pain in our hearts when we think of those who have transitioned is where we are blessed to keep them through the power of Love.

My stepdad wasn’t a perfect man but he had a quiet strength of character (He had to be quiet and have strength to be married to my mother!) He was also a man of immense faith. He taught me to have faith in that power of Love. That’s why at this time of his passing I’m sitting in gratitude instead of grief.

Back To The Bow

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Now that my move is complete and I’m officially a permanent resident of Virginia, I can return to my spiritual practice. I’d like to say that I was practicing all along but that would be a lie. I was intermittently distracted during the move from the main components, which are:

Prayer/meditation– Prayer is never an issue for me but if conditions are right I can go from a gratitude prayer to swearing in a heartbeat. (That’s the reason I stopped praying while driving.) And I wasn’t in a place to quiet my mind enough for meditation while negotiating the issues around moving.

Living in the moment- Impossible for me while moving because I’m an obsessive planner which requires thinking ahead.

Community- I’ve only been here a little while but I’ve made progress by joining meet-up groups.

Yoga- Let’s just say it petered out mid-summer.

Compassion- This is the one that’s the hardest but it’s the most important to me. You see, compassion isn’t so much a component to my practice as it is the goal. I’d like to come to and stay in a place of love and compassion because I feel it’s the state that’s closest to the divine. Unfortunately, as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, when dealing with people in challenging situations it is not my go-to position. (My posts that deal with this are; “Stumbling on Pebbles” and “Bowing at Easter”.) So, I’m going back to “The Bow”.

For those readers who don’t know, “The Long Journey To The Bow” is an article that was the subject of my very first blog post. (December 2010) It deals with a Buddhist take on love and compassion. Basically it says that the sense of self contains the,

worlds of comparing, evaluating and judging.…the cessation of conceit (of self) allows the fruition of empathy, kindness, compassion and awakening.

I re-read the article as many times as I can to remind myself of what compassion looks like. As I said then “I have to be willing to bow to my fellow beings without the intellectual exercise of judging one way or the other.” Fortunately for me I also discovered a Catholic priest by the name of Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation, who, curiously, shares that definition of compassion and speaks eloquently to it.  Reading his daily meditations also helps me bow.  He has said,

The enormous breakthrough is that when you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. That is why you stop judging, and that is how you start loving unconditionally and without asking whether someone is worthy or not.

When I first read “The Bow” I was living a “greater than, less than” life in my own home and in my larger circle. I’m blessed to have been able to re-orient myself. Obviously, this blog bears witness to that process. What I didn’t realize until recently is how many others there are that embrace and try to live with that mindset. Now I understand that if it weren’t for the fact that there are so many folks “bowing” to our fellow beings, this world couldn’t possibly continue. Stevie Wonder expressed it best as the song “Love’s In Need of Love Today”.  He begs us all to take our love and compassion and “send it in right away” so hate won’t take us out.

So as I attempt to return my practice to the forefront of my everyday life, I’d like to ask you if you have a spiritual practice. If being compassionate is an important part of it, how do you demonstrate it? Does your life allow you to be as loving and compassionate as you’d like to be? Do you find it as hard as I do to “send it in”? Thanks and I bow to you.

(The article “Long Journey To The Bow”: appeared in Tricycle Magazine. It’s on my blog roll.  Fr. Richard Rohr’s quote is from his book “The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See”. I’ve added his website to my blog roll. “Love’s in Need of Love Today” is from Stevie Wonder’s album “Songs in the Key of Life”. I’m grateful for all three.)

Here and Now

I’VE DECIDED I’M GOING TO STAY HERE.

DC

This morning, I found myself sitting in gratitude on my balcony sipping my coffee, listening to the birds and feeling positive and vital. Suddenly, I realized that moving to the DC/VA area has unblocked a vein of energy in me that I didn’t even know was blocked!  Since I’ve been here I’ve been engaged in activities that I couldn’t find the energy for in Boston. For instance, I joined a couple of meet-ups here. One is the history group I wrote about in a previous post. They like to experience historical sites by walking to them. Who knew I would enjoy it as well? The other is a group that deals with spiritual and religious matters. If you’ve read other posts of mine, you know how important that has always been to me. What’s different now is that I’m willing to discuss the topics with other people…face to face…in real time and I’m not emotionally spent afterwards. (See my post on introversion.) And where did I find the energy to keep up with my grandbaby? I mean really, do you know how busy a toddler is? Also, I’ve been writing. Obviously I’ve been writing all along but up until this summer, it’d been laborious and kind of scary. Now I’m writing regularly and with alacrity. That hasn’t been the case for a long time.

Four years ago my life veered unexpectedly and onto a path I didn’t know was there. This happens to a lot of people. We come to a twist or turn in the road and lose our sense of direction. Before we can move forward again we have to develop a strategy to figure out where we are. The unexpected path I found myself on was one of great loss and big change. It’s apparent to me now that part of my coping strategy was hunkering down inside myself and giving away the pieces of me that I thought contained the pain. So I stayed in a place that no longer suited me doing things for  people other than myself. I had gotten through the hardest time of my life without falling apart but I didn’t understand that I wasn’t whole.

The atmosphere here feels right for me. It’s a combination of being around people with whom I’m more comfortable and paying attention to the things that are important to me. So I’m not going back to Boston. I’ve rented out my condo and put in a change of address. Some of my friends cautioned me about making such a significant change at this point in my life. But I’ve decided that if my life can be changed dramatically without my intention then what’s wrong with changing it with intention. I’ve learned that there will be unfamiliar consequences either way.

I feel like my recovered self on this new path and I like where I’m going.  Last night I went with a group to the National Cathedral for a walk around the labyrinth there. How about that, people and walking all in one night!

My (Partial) Gratitude List

GloryThe Divine One’s Love
The Divine One’s mercy
Love
The love in my heart 
My kids
Olivia
The memory of Bill
Memories in general
The roof over my head
Constant affirmation of my sensibility: it really is The One
Absurdist humor
Humor in general
Music, always and forever
The music of my roots
The big one: hot water on demand
London
Things that grow in the ground
I saw Barack Obama elected president
My health
My health insurance 
My safety
Each new day
I don’t go hungry
Good food, of course
The ability to say, “I don’t know”
My kids grew up safely
The sky
The ocean
Songbirds
Nature in general
My sibs
My friends
My cousins
Freedom from want
The human body heals itself 
The fact that thoughts are private
The human voice
The ability to read
The ability to write
I don’t have fertility issues anymore
I’m not poor
I don’t live in military state
Newport
The Internet happened during my lifetime
This breathe
Springtime
Summertime
Seasons in general
Who am I kidding, I’m so grateful for TV
 I can afford not to steal
My broken ankle didn’t cost me the ability to walk
The window at work
That I write! (How did this get so far down on the list?)
Really good smells 
Babie’s faces
Olivia’s face

  So, that’s my list. What’s yours?

Summering in Gratitude

The Love of Livie

I’M a very happy person right now. Circumstances have coalesced so as to give me the opportunity to be away from my “regular” life this summer. I’m spending the time basking in love and light. The love comes in the person of my beautiful one year old granddaughter who I’m looking after. (Don’t go making  judgements about my age. You don’t know what the deal might be. LOL.)  The light comes from the place. I’m living south of my permanent home. I love the weather here. I’ve written in the past about how much I dislike the cold and dark and being here seriously makes me question why I live where I do.

Because there will be a lull in my usual responsibilities, the plan is for me to do a lot of writing. I’ve already started and the topics are popping into my head at breakneck speed. Some of them I’ll be sharing in this blog. My location leads me to want to write about the Civil War and race history in this country. And I think I’m going to try to tackle feelings about growing older (yeah, it’s the grandmother thing. I said, don’t judge!) I always write about spirituality and religion so I’ll continue to do that. Last but not least, I’m definitely going to write about gratitude. I’m so grateful to be in this position this summer. I’m aware that it’s enviable and a blessing. At this point I feel as though the bridge that the waters of my life have flowed under may be gone but I sit in a boat of gratitude floating onward.

Are there any summertime topics you think I should write about? Please let me know by posting a comment. Help me make this time well spent!

Longing for the Light

I made it! It’s Daylight Savings Time again and it’s really a saving time for me personally. It’s so important to me that this year I set my alarm so I could watch the clock on my cell phone change from 1:59 to 3:00am. It was a beautiful moment. I know the benefits of DST are debatable and that there are a lot of people who disagree with my point of view. A couple of years ago the Christian Science Monitor did a good piece on the debate (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0313/Daylight-Saving-Time-Remind-me-again-why-we-spring-forward) For me though, it’s a saving time because of how much I long for the light.

I’ve discussed in previous posts how hard winter is for me and that the lack of light is both a physical and spiritual hardship.  As is the case most of the time, I find connections between nature and my sensibilities. I guess this time of longer light, although really an illusion, corresponds with my need to turn my face toward the stronger sunlight and my soul toward the eternal light. I’m not alone either. After all, in this Lenten season don’t Christians contemplate the meaning and message of “the light of the world”?

I use my longer days during DST to sit in front of the door to my balcony and try to be still and absorb the light down to my cellular level, to receive the benefits of its warmth and glow. It feels so good and comforting, better than any blanket in winter. I love to close my eyes and see the orange shine on the inside of my eyelids.  It’s a wonder to me just how much light can penetrate my skin. I try to absorb and yet be absorbed by the light. I find it’s easier to meditate in it because its intensity outshines me and I can lose myself in it. And I try to concentrate on how I can be a reflection of the beautiful light.

Saving and relishing daylight is more than a practice or a metaphor; it’s a representation of a life force that’s essential to the preservation of all of us. It’s a lovely reminder of the power that sustains us.  So, at this time, I’ll sit in the sun everyday that I can for as long as I can in gratitude of the light.