Archive | Gratitude

Bearing Witness

I always thought that El Capitan and Half Dome will long survive me. I took comfort in thinking that, even if us humans die off, the redwoods, most likely, will survive and continue to thrive, their trunks thickening and their canopy reaching high to a sky that will look more or less the way it does now. I believed some life will go on, even if it is different from what we know today, and some things, some features of this world we love so much, will linger on: perhaps the San Francisco Bay, or the Pacific Ocean, or Mount Rainier. The world will live on, in some shape or form. Life will go on.

Joanna Macy said to walk the razor-edge line between hope and despair. I try, but it is tough advice to follow, sometimes, when so much of what I hold dear is being threatened, and so few people around me seem to care. I care about people, but if it’s us or the world, it’s clear to me who is the one who needs to make way. As long as the world continues, I repeat as a mantra. As long as there’s El Capitan, or Mount Starr King, or Shasta, Mount Olympus, Rainier. In my attempt to hang onto any little bush on top of that razor-edge line, I forget that rocks and mountains, oceans and trees (no matter how long-lived they can be) are also subject to the rules of impermanence. Nothing stays the same. Not even the razor-edge line underfoot.

An Israeli professor, I read in the newspaper, predicts that the earth will turn into Mars or Venus in 200 years (unless we follow the Paris agreement, he says). Edward O. Wilson, the famous myrmecologist, predicts that by 2050 50% of all the species in the world will be gone. I have read accounts that claim that 8 years from now the Central Valley in California will be so hot humans would no longer be able to live there. There’s other, similarly dire theories, but why repeat them all? Joanna Macy said not to believe any of these prophecies. She said to continue to do our work. To walk that razor-edge line. It’s not that we fight for as long as there’s hope, We fight for as long as there’s a cause for which to fight. As long as there are pandas, hummingbirds, ants. As long as there’s Bears Ears. As long as the Colorado River still runs.

A year ago, a young friend was diagnosed with cancer. He began treatment, encountering set-backs one after another, but not losing hope. At least not for long, at least not for a while. A few weeks ago, his mother let us know that he was now in hospice care. To me, heart sinking, heaviness in the chest, contraction all over the body, brain shouting no, it meant that life is almost gone. But it turns out my understanding was inaccurate. Hospice care means living as well as possible and with compassionate care the life we have left. Instead of planning for a faraway future, it means living this moment fully. It doesn’t mean we stop treatment or lose hope. It means opening up to the love — and the life — that’s here.

Joanna Macy said to walk the razor-edge line, but I can’t. I teeter-totter between hope and despair, between sadness and joy, between anger and acceptance. Only one constant stays: I love this world. I love the hummingbirds which come buzzing around my flowering abutilon plant. I love the deer and the rabbits who eat the plants which I plant for them in my garden. I love the flowers cascading down a madrone and the spritz of perfume that accompanies the flowery bouquets of the buckeye. I love this beautiful light blue sky and all the weather that comes with it. I love the sticky sand on the beach, the breaking waves, and the gorgeous pod of dolphins which rode them today to the horizon. My heart, little, fluttering, fearful, opens up to touch these miracles, to hug them, to bear witness that they are here. And I think to myself: we all live with impermanence. We all, the world included (and whether we realize it or not), have the life-limiting condition which is life itself.

A mother, diagnosed with lung cancer, wrote about the irony if she died of a car accident instead of her cancer. I think to myself: our young friend may be sick. He may not live to be 80. But neither might I. We none of us know the day of our death, and neither does the earth. In some ways, we all ought to live with the compassion and love of hospice care, bearing witness to our time here in this life and to the life all around us — to the beauty which surrounds us, the miracle of life which is here. Opening up to the fragility of this world.

My partner said last night: I am sure life exists on other planets. It might, I wanted to say, and it might not. Instead of turning our thoughts once again outwards, why not focus on what is here right under our noses, under our feet, beneath our hands, and to this earthy air breathing in and our of our lungs. This touch, this smell, this sound. This beautiful earth whose day of death may be near or far. We don’t know. We walk the razor-edge line. We fall into despair, and we desperately hope. We sign petitions. We go to vote. We write a blog. And maybe one of these treatments will work, and the earth and its creatures and all the life on it will live on for another day. Maybe the cancer that we have inflicted upon the earth will heal, and maybe it won’t. For now, there is life. That’s all I know for sure. There is this flower and this bit of ground, this humid air, this birdsong, this crush of a wave on the beach, and the laugh of a human child as she runs from the wave along the shore.

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For the Love of the Ocean

In my imagination, the ocean is a shadowy mosaic of colors and movement. Sharks dart around dark corners, hunting prey with single-minded ferocity. A red octopus slithers along the bottom, its tentacles sweeping the sand, its mind quiet, unwaveringly open to vibrations and sounds. Silvery fish hung motionless, perhaps swimming casually against a light stream. Dolphins frolic, and seal lions dive deep. The seaweed harbors secrets, and the coral swarms with life, while giant eels peer unhurriedly at the dark depths below the last touch of light. Deep in those canyons, blind sea creatures loiter near the bottomless-bottom of the ocean, while far above blue whales lumber light-weightedly from Mexico to Alaska, gulping at krill, spewing out salty water, confident in their huge, magnificent size.

The ocean is the last great mystery on earth, a mystery which covers 70% of our world. To this day, we have explored less than 5% of it. “A troubling nautical reality,” the National Geographic calls it in an article from 2005, referring to an accident in which a submarine crashed into an unknown underwater mountain. Several submariners were wounded in this accident and one killed. Even safety aside, we humans are fascinated by the ocean, by the yet-unknown but easily imagined uses we could make of it, the wealth of both money and progress we could gain. From mining, drilling, fishing, and shipping, to building floating solar farms, offshore wind turbines, and possibly floating cities, our collective human imagination is ready to expand into the ocean, uncover its secrets, and stop this wasteful and ignorant underutilization of its resources.

At Sunset Beach, I look out toward the uninterrupted horizon and imagine the pods of dolphins which I cannot see. The ocean seems simultaneously empty and full, incomprehensibly vast, compelling and dull all at once. I have no interest in taking a cruise or leaving on a year-long yacht voyage to the West Indies. My weak eyes prevent me from taking up diving, but the truth is that this hobby was never a yearning or a desire I had to have. I peek, that is all, into this tiny, limited corner of the ocean and enjoy far more the sight of sanderlings running in and out of the reach of waves, the rare snowy plover pecking in the wet sand, the gulls staring at me, unmoving, through one eye. I love watching pelicans nonchalantly skim the tips of waves as they glide in a line, like ocean liners with wings. And I laugh whenever I get a glimpse of a cormorant drying its wings. I am a land woman. I like feeling the ground beneath my feet. I like the stability of a non-earthquake-moving earth, the grounding of it, the safety. The ocean feels to me dangerous and foreign, uncontrollable and unexpected, predatory and forever wild. I am content to let is stay unexplored and unmapped.

The United States has over 95 thousand miles of shoreline. The number continually changes and shifts with the tides, with erosion, with landslides, hurricanes — the forces of human development and nature combined. As a nation, we exercise control over the water of the ocean that are by our coast, to the distance of 12 nautical miles from the shore. The first three miles are under state control, the rest under federal. But we also exercise economic control over more than that, up to 200 nautical miles from our shore, what is called the Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ. According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, “coastal nations have sovereign rights to explore, exploit, conserve, and manage marine resources and assert jurisdiction over: i. the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures; ii. marine scientific research; and iii. the protection and preservation of the marine environment.” There are rules defining every aspect of the exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of the marine environment, but as always happens with human language, those are subject to interpretation, or, we could almost say, the rules themselves are subject to being explored, exploited, and managed, depending on the wishes and desires of whoever is in control.

It has been a few weeks now since I committed to writing an article on off-shore drilling off the California Coast for the Loma Prieta eNewsletter, and I’ve been progressing at the rate of an old and decrepit sea-slug. I’ve interviewed two people, discovering the depth and breath-taking breadth of this subject. I read articles and took notes. And yet the writing itself fumbles, grinds to a stop. Guilt bubbles in me for neglecting this assignment, for postponing writing about this important and time-sensitive issue. I yearn to write, and yet I can’t. I sit, and the words do not come. And then, like lava boiling deep in an ocean trench and hitting the coldness of water that has never seen the sun, fear and pain rush into me. Fear and pain for our ocean and the creatures who live in it and over the development already done and already contemplated. Fear and pain for the impact our actions on land, even far from the coastline, have on the corals, the water, and the aquatic magnificent life. And I realize I have counted on the ocean remaining apart, untouched. Ever mysterious and wild. I imagined, like the incorrect image of an ostrich hiding its head in the sand, the the ocean can stay safe from the long-reaching human hand.

Joanna Macy, environmentalist, activist, Buddhist scholar and teacher, says we must walk the razor-blade edge between hope and despair, that we must act to protect our world without needing hope and without heeding despair. Bringing gratitude in to strengthen us, she opens the door for the pain to come, allowing us, as a result, to see our place in the world and our duty to it with new eyes, inspiring us to the fourth step: action for the world. Having jumped directly into unexpected and unexplored pain, I am frozen from action. Sadness flows and ebbs in me like the tides. Fear rolls me over and around, crashing into me like a tsunami. Knowing the ocean is in danger, has been in danger since long before I was born, liquidates the stable ground beneath my feet, and my mind, as yet not well-trained, needs to be wrenched away and forced…

…to remember and be grateful for:

Hilton Head, sandy beach, standing in early dusk and watching a pod of dolphins in the water. “They are teaching a baby dolphin to hunt,” Dar speculates.

On a boat back from the Channel Islands, seeing a Blue Whale rising up from the ocean and diving in again. A single sighting. A miracle. My breath taken away.

Plovers in Florida. Looking formal and elegant in their white-tan-and-black-feathered suits.

Manatee tails creating a square of depressed water in a channel off the Melbourne, Florida Coast. The joy.

Otters blinking in the sun, lying on their backs in one of the twists and turns of Elkhorn Slough. Bobbing in the kayak, staring at them staring at us.

Myself and the kids, floating up and down gentle waves in the Mediterrenean Sea off the coast of Tel Aviv, little fish nibbling at our bare feet.

The sea lion following us through the surf as we trudge from Alamere Falls back to Wildcat Campground on a warm day in June.

Rainbows twinkling in the horse-galloping tops of waves crushing on Bodega Bay rocks.

The forests of kelp undulating beneath the kayak, my son capturing a red crab on his paddle.

Los Osos on an early morning, pelicans flying by.

The feeling of sand rushing off into the ocean from under my feet, the coldness of wave-water around my ankles.

Every sunset, every sunrise ever viewed.

Relaxing on a beach in Hawaii in Waipi’o Valley with my cousin, hoping to see some whales.

Open-mouthed, momentarily torn between the California zebra and the feeding humpbacked whales just below Hurst Castle. The whales win hands-down. It’s a much better show.

And as I write, my heart eases. Not yet able to handle the pain, but calmer, I take a deep breath. There is much to be loved, much to be appreciated, and yes, still much to be saved.

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The Perspective of the Giraffe (and Other Animals)

These days, it seems we are like ants overwhelmed by an elephant perspective. We read the newspaper and shiver at the pessimistic prognostications, the harried and worried discussions, and the doomsday divinations that are taking place. (The Israeli newsletter dubbed the results of the elections a “Trumpocalypse,” which I thought especially creative). But is our myrmecological perspective of the elephant in the room something we can trust? Is it the truth?

There is a Buddhist story about five blind men who encounter an elephant. One touches the side of the elephant and calls out: “This elephant is like a wall!” Another touches the leg and says: “It’s like a pillar!” A third handles the ear and remarks: “An elephant is like a fan!” A fourth holds onto the tail and insists, “An elephant is like a rope!” And the last holds onto the trunk and contradicts all the rest, “It’s like a tree branch!” Of course they are all right, and yet an elephant is greater, more complex and interesting than any of these parts.

In order to see the elephant, we need to move back enough so our eyes (or touch) can encompass the whole of it. And in fact, even then it would not be enough. An elephant is so much more than its shape. It is the historic path it takes in the jungle, its knowledge of water holes, its place within the biotic community, the food it prefers, its history of being hunted, the parasites which live on it, its bathing habits, and the list could go on and on. Why then do we think we have the perfect perspective of this so-called elephant (or Trumpocalypse, if you prefer to insist on that version) when we’re barely holding onto even one little toe?

What we need is the perspective of the giraffe.

In his wonderful collection of poems and stories, The Sixteenth Ram, Yehonatan Geffen writes (translation, and pronouns, mine):

The giraffe has a tall neck
She can see a bus before it leaves the station
And the sun before it rises

Everything we see, the giraffe sees before us
She has a kind of expression on her face:
How lovely it is to be a tall animal

The giraffe has a tall neck
She sees clouds at the end of the world
And announces

Friends, in two months it will rain here
From the height of a giraffe we all seem small
And our greatest problems
Are mere dots for the giraffe.

Living from the perspective atop the tall neck of the giraffe does not mean that we are blind to the future. We stay vigilant. We see trends (the bus) before they become established (it leaves the station). We see trouble (the rain) by recognizing the clouds at the end of the world. We prepare, and we still fight for what we believe in, but we do it by having the perspective, the ability to recognize that most of our worries and anxieties and predictions are mere dots (most might even be mere shadows) on the map of life.

At this moment in time we are all of us blind men and women hanging on to various parts of an elephant, insisting that our vision of it is the right one. What we need are tools with which to feel effective, ways to increase our feeling of safety and confidence in the world. But how can that be done? The troubles we see coming — global warming, political unrest, religious extremism, and more — seem insurmountable. How can one blind person (in my case, a very near-sighted contact-wearing short woman) succeed in overcoming so much?

Fortunately, we don’t have to overcome all of it alone. As an exercise, I typed in the search “non-profit organizations in Palo Alto” on the web. The results: 799,000 hits. “Social justice organizations in California” generates 2.3 million hits. “Environmental organizations in the world” generates 142 million hits. To me, the results of my experiment are clear: there are many of us here who want to see a change for good. There are many of us who care about the world and all the beings and creations in it.

A month ago, I attended a women’s retreat at Spirit Rock led by Joanna Macy and several other wonderful women teachers. There were a hundred of us at the retreat, women of many sizes, shapes, and ages, but we all had one thing in common: we came to the retreat because we care about the earth. There was an older woman, ferocious looking despite her white hair and short stature, who told us she marches for gay rights. Another woman, curly-haired and grey said she holds signs in front of the police station to protest mass incarceration. A third, tall and regal-looking, worked with women kidnapped and sold to sex slavery in Africa. A fourth was concerned with the stress women live with in the Bay Area. Me? I was there because my heart beats for the natural world. All of us there cared about the environment, diversity, safety, freedom. We cared about the survival of the human race alongside the survival of all other species. We didn’t insist on any one part of the elephant. Instead, we put together all of our little dots to make a spacious and accepting mosaic of life.

It was, I confess, a frightening, overwhelming, and yet hopeful picture. And still it is not the complete picture. Still there are farther perspectives from which our life here on earth at this time can be seen. We, as a moment in history, will probably never know these perspectives, but we can know now that there are many people who care, who work tirelessly to make things better each in their own little piece of the mosaic. This knowledge, that we are not alone in our efforts, can give us the freedom to act. All we need do as an individual is choose a piece of the mosaic that speaks to us and participate in this one meaningful and manageable way.

At the end of the retreat, we all took Joanna Macy’s Vows for Active Hope:

I vow to myself and each of you

To commit myself daily to the healing of our world and the welfare of all beings.

I vow to myself and each of you

To live on Earth more lightly and less violently in the food, products and energy I consume.

I vow to myself and each of you

To draw strength and guidance from the living Earth, the ancestors, the future beings, and my brothers and sisters of all species.

I vow to myself and each of you

To support each other in our work for the world and to ask for help when I feel the need.

I vow to myself and each of you

To pursue a daily practice that clarifies my mind, strengthens my heart and supports me in observing these vows.

We live, as the Chinese blessing goes, in interesting times. We don’t know what will happen, what the future holds. But as Joanna Macy said at the retreat, not knowing allows us to be creative, to have hope, to think of new solutions and possibilities. It allows us to avoid repeating history and instead to soar to new places. It allows us to use Hillary’s election slogan in a way which she may or may not have meant, because truly, in this way, with each of us a part of the mosaic of hope and love, we are stronger together.

In order to be present to the sorrows and difficulties of our world, Joanna says we must first develop love and gratitude for it. As a start, here is the song by Jennifer Berezan, “Praises for the World.”

May our combined force for good be the tipping point for the survival of all beings.

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Year to Live — Day 318 — My Grandma

This morning, I looked in the mirror, and out of it my maternal grandmother stared back at me. The same hair style, eyes, shape of face, the same expression, the same slightly dour down-turned mouth, the same wrinkles. A tear came into my eye. I miss my grandma. I love my grandma, and I know, from my memories of years ago, that my grandma loved me back.

My Grandmother, Safta Chaya, passed away twenty years ago in June of 1996. She had one of those cancers that can’t quite be pinpointed. I’m not sure anyone knew where or what kind exactly the cancer was. She just got sick, and then sicker, and then she died. I was so far away, here in the U.S. while she was in Israel, and I didn’t really manage to understand what it was she had. Even now, the entire progression of the disease and my grandmother’s eventual death are unclear to me. At age 24, I did not quite realize how much her death hit me, how much I cared, and how much I deserved to grieve.

Judaism has a wonderful custom for grieving: the Shiva. For seven days after the passing away of the person, the family congregates at the deceased’s house. Everyone comes: relatives and friends. In the more religious households, prayers are conducted at specific intervals. In other houses, the guests sit and tell or listen to stories. Often (and perhaps surprisingly), the atmosphere is not necessarily heavy with sorrow and tragedy (though those may be present). Rather, in most of the Shivas I attended, people seem to be suffused with gratitude for the community and the love and support that it presents, and with gratitude for the life of the person who has passed away.

I did not fly back to Israel to attend my grandmother’s Shiva, and so I cannot tell you what kind of Shiva my family held for her. Knowing my family from the maternal side, I suspect it might have been (and please don’t faint at my use of this next word) fun and full of humor and love. But thinking about my grandmother’s life, I begin to doubt. My grandmother Chaya (at least in the 24 years I knew her) led a lonely and sad life. A complicated life. Had there been guilt in the family’s mind about not making Safta Chaya’s life easier and happier? About not being there enough for her? I hope not. I hope that during the Shiva, the family were able to celebrate Safta Chaya’s life, and not just to pity or grieve it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandma lately, about how much I loved her and why I loved her, and about how I loved her despite the fact that she was not an easy woman to love. I remember the whole-wheat bread she used to bake from scratch (her father was a real baker with the horse and cart and everything, selling bread he’d baked through town) and some of the other food she’d serve me when I visited her. She used to heat the food in the toaster oven (which my dad probably got for her): vegetables which she cooked before slowly on the stovetop, rice, and sometimes sautéed mushrooms too. Once the food was warm, she’d mix each element with a little bit of oil to give it a freshness, a pizzaz. She would cut salad for us without using a cutting board, calmly and carefully slicing the veggies over the bowl into neat triangles. When we ate, sitting together in her little kitchen, the door to the small kitchen balcony right next to us, I would feel cherished and loved. I could tell it was all for me. I could tell she wanted me there, that she appreciated every moment of the visit. There was a tranquility in that kitchen which I experienced nowhere else in my life.

After lunch, my grandma would play the piano for me — she begun to play the piano when she was perhaps 60 or so years old. She did not play accurately or with a smooth flow, and it was sometimes difficult to listen to her — especially since I played the piano myself and knew what the music was supposed to sound like. But today… today I wish I had listened more. I wish I had asked more questions and heard more stories. I wish I had spent more time with her, this woman who I loved but who was a mystery to me. And I wish those things because I see so many lines of similarities between us. I sense the lines of ancestry that connect us. I recognize those facial lines that proclaim to the world that I am her granddaughter. But most of all, I know that my heart is somehow linked to hers.

I can see the cyclicality of life in my grandma, my mother, and myself. In my daughter. I can see each of us enacting roles that family, culture, history assigned to us. I can see the similarities with which we play these roles even as each of us struggles to find her own place and individuality within our inter-relationships. I am not my mother or my grandmother, and yet I am tied irrevocably to both, just as they are tied to me and my daughter to all of us. A hereditary line of mothers and daughters, passing along love and wisdom and hardship from one to the other.

From the mirror, this morning, my grandma’s eyes looked out at me, and as I realized how much I love her, I also realized how much more love and compassion there is room for me to give to me. My memories of my grandma remain locked up in the glass case of memories, like the one that held her special China set and her little glass figurines, clean of dust but somehow hazy. A faint smell of mothballs, paintings of my aunt from when she was a young woman, the yellow sofa which used to be orange when it stood in the living room, and the shutters, always slanted, shadowing the room against the hot Israeli sun.

My grandmother’s life lives on in us, her female descendants: soft and hard, easy and difficult, clear and confused, but always full of love. My mother and her sisters. Myself, my sister and our cousins. All of our daughters, the fourth generation already born. And beyond us, beyond the barrier of death, all of the grandmothers and mothers and daughters before my grandma, whose life influenced her own and through her ours. I can see them, each trying her best. I’m not sure what it means, all this interconnectedness, but I can see it, feel it in myself. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is here to remind me — and you — that we are ever loved, that we deserve to be loved, and that we are never alone.

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Failure and Success

The other day I saw a flyer promoting a seminar by a local inspirational coach. In the flyer, a picture of a fork in the road proclaimed a choice: success this way; failure, the other. A choice, or a judgement about the road chosen? I thought when I saw the picture.
fork in the road

Paolo Coelho says in his book, The Alchemist: “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” Could it be that a path labeled “failure” lead to the achievement of dreams? And, faced, with such a fork as in the flyer’s picture, would any have the courage to follow a road that promises failure? “I have not failed,” said Thomas Edison in describing his many attempts to create an economical, safe lightbulb. “I’ve just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” Edison followed a trial-and-error method that led to an objective result, the invention of a lightbulb, and he apparently cared not which sign, success or failure, would label his choice whenever he reached a fork in his experimental road.

Interestingly, the two paths in the picture on the flyer were completely identical, mirror images. We could switch the “failure” and “success” signs and none would be wiser. Could it be, I wondered, that both paths lead to the same place? Could it be that it is the signs that differentiate between the roads, that the roads themselves are the same? Are we confusing the judgement that we pass on the enjoyment or suffering that we experience on the road with the road itself? I was reminded of a favorite quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love:

“You have been to hell, Ketut?” He smiled. Of course he’s been there.
“What’s it like in hell?”
“Same like in heaven,” he said. He saw my confusion and tried to explain. “Universe is a circle, Liss.” He said. “To up, to down — all same, at end.”
I remembered an old Christian mystic notion: As above, so below. I asked, “Then how can you tell the difference between heaven and hell?”
“Because how you go. Heaven, you go up, through seven happy places. Hell, you go down, through seven sad places. This is why it better for you to go up, Liss.” He laughed. “Same-same,” he said. “Same in end, so better to be happy in journey.”
I said, “So, if heaven is love, then hell is…?”
“Love, too,” he said.
Ketut laughed again. “Always so difficult for young people to understand this!”

There is so much judgement about failure and success, about the right and wrong way to go, about the choices we make. But our destination, where we end up, is not so different, no matter which road we take. Whether through suffering or joy, all roads lead to the same place: to self growth. Like the choice recommended by Elizabeth Gilbert’s teacher, the only real choice I’d like to follow is to walk in the road that brings me the most happiness. In James Baraz’s book, Awakening Happiness, one of the steps to happiness is practicing compassion. And what better way could I choose than to be compassionate with myself in all of my various endeavors, whether any would want to dub them success or failure, in all of the various choices of road?

Finally, another of my favorite quotes. This time from Abraham: “I am where I am, and it’s ok.” I am where I am, and it’s ok. I wish to make my own mistakes and feel compassion for my own suffering when I err. I wish to recognize my own gratitude and joy. And I wish for you, and for that inspirational coach, and of course for myself, the ability to let go of judgement, of signs and labels of failure or success. Just walk the path, enjoy the road. It is beautiful out there. The grass is green. The birds are singing. It’s the best path there is: the one to self growth.

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Touching the Divine

I am scratching my head in front of the computer. Taking a sip of water. Writing three words and then deleting them. Writing them again. Ugh, no. All wrong. More scratching. More writing and deleting. Finally, a thump. I’ve closed my laptop. My morning’s writing session is done.

In order to write, I need my groove, my muse, my connection to the divine. Call it, if you like, the elusive god of Creativity. As Mrs. Windermere, the playwright from Gary D. Schmidt’s fabulous Okay For Now, says: “Creativity is a god who comes only when he pleases, and it isn’t very often. But when he does come, he sits beside my desk and folds his wings and I offer him whatever he wants, and in exchange he lets me type all sorts of things….” But how do I get the god to come?

At 5 in the morning, the sky is dark and the air outside is bone-shivering cold, even in Sunny California. Every morning, I pull out my blue yoga mat, set it facing east, and practice qigong and meditate. With my mind seeking peace and rest, oftentimes my best ideas arise. Behold, the god of Creativity hovers before my eyes, his wings tipped invitingly toward the computer. And the question arises, do I stay and finish my practice, or do I charge at the computer and write? Will he get bored watching me if I continue to sit motionless on a pillow? Will he stay awhile or fly away?

Tom Leichardt of Inner Alchemy Center once said to me (and I am paraphrasing his wisdom): We practice qigong and meditate in order to open our connection to the divine, but if you’re already connected, instead of sticking to a rigid practice, be flexible and follow your heart. Flexibility in a spiritual practice! Can you imagine? I love my morning qigong practice, my Reiki self care, sitting on my meditation pillow. I want to be consistent in my practice and do it, all parts of it, every day. And yet, despite my need to cling to the morning qigong, Reiki, meditation routine, I see the wisdom of what Tom says. I see the wisdom in accepting the invitation of the god when he shows up on my desk. I see the wisdom in gratefully accepting right away the touch of the divine.

I believe it was the Dalai Lama who once responded to a man’s complaint that he had no time to meditate by asking: Do you have time to breathe? In Hebrew, the saying, “I have no time to breathe,” is often used to express how busy we are. An exaggeration, one can only hope. If we have time to breathe, we do, in fact, have time to meditate, to do what Tara Brach calls the Sacred Pause. Writing this blog, I find myself often pausing and reconnecting to the divine. Closing my eyes, I ask myself: what is happening in my body now? I can feel the weight near my heart that comes of writing to you my personal story, born of the fears I still have of acceptance, of rejection. I can feel the sizzle at the end of my fingertips, the eagerness to write. The tension in my jaw: “Why are you pausing?” My inner critic asks, “Just write!”

Acknowledging everything that is happening in my body gives me a greater connection to the god with his folded wings as he sits right here at the edge of my desk. The god doesn’t mind the mess on on my desk. He doesn’t mind the critic or the fears. He is a pure and objective flow of words and ideas. When he is here, he is generosity incarnate.

Here are some of my ways of touching the divine:

Meditation. I’ve written about meditation in a previous blog post. Any place, any time is good. Pausing in the midst of the day to check how I’m feeling, what is happening inside me, is great. Allowing the body to rest in stillness for a little while, even if the mind is restless, is as worthy of the exercise as if I’ve reached nirvana every time. Allowing the connection to the divine to form effortlessly, not really seeking, just resting in the body, letting go of the chaos of the mind.

Walking in the woods. As John Muir said: “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” I often get my best ideas when hugging a tree or looking at a gorgeous landscape. My words flow effortlessly in heavens like the Hawaiian Islands, little points of joy like the bay at Los Osos, or majestic parks such as Yosemite or the Smokies. Bring a little notebook along so you can jot down ideas and remember them. I can’t tell you how often I wished for one when I left it at home! Simply spending time outside (or getting up from the computer and moving to a more splendid scenery like my backyard) can also reconnect me to the divine. Even something as small as watering the potted plants!

 

Thank you to Zest Bakery, for allowing me to use their photo!

Thank you to Zest Bakery, for allowing me to use their photo!

A chocolate donut. Ok, so I admit that I’ve been craving one of Zest’s gluten free and dairy free chocolate donuts for a few weeks now. I do, however, really believe that food is one way of connecting to the divine. Eat something you love and enjoy it whole-heartedly before, during AND after. Food tastes so much better with love! Appreciating the food we eat, the creativity and love put into cooking it, and the people who made it (whether I cooked or someone else) is a way to reconnect to the god with his folded wings. While eating the donut, taste that molten chocolate and imagine the cocoa tree growing in Hawaii, the cocoa pods hanging close to the trunk. Imagine the vanilla orchid climbing elegantly, twisting around the cocoa plant, or the wheat (or rice, if you’re gluten free), waving its gold-tipped crown in the breeze. For Mrs. Windermere, the food of creativity is probably ice cream: lemon, peppermint, mint chocolate chip, raspberry sherbet. For me ice cream is a little cold, but with a huge splash of chocolate fudge on top, I’ll accept any non-dairy kind.

Talking. Talking over my ideas I find to be a tough one. Sometimes I develop my ideas more fully by speaking about them to others, and they get more grounded in my mind, more memorable. But sometimes by talking about my ideas, they lose their urgency, and I end up never using them in my blog or book, almost as though I’ve used them up, a one-chance shot. Pay attention to what happens when you talk over your ideas with a friend — is it useful or not? — this is another time you can use that ever-useful tool, the Sacred Pause.

Do you have ways of touching the divine? Please share them with me in the comments below! I love your comments!

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Abundance and the Drought

California, I hear, is in a state of drought. Extreme drought, even, according to the United States Drought Monitor website. The storm this past weekend, blessed rain, brought us to about a third of the average rainfall for this time of year. Not quite enough to pull us out of the water emergency, but accepted with gratitude and joy nonetheless.

The other day, I saw a Facebook post by one of my friends. She wrote: “…the state’s top water official says we’d need to get significant precipitation every other day through May just to get back to normal. I have a feeling we won’t be getting significant rainfall every other day through May….” Why is she already manifesting dryness for the rest of the year? I wondered. She doesn’t know if it will rain or not. Why then, is she already imagining disaster? My nose wrinkled in resistance. I wished I hadn’t read her comment.

Resistance is a strange thing. It pushes us away from what we want and attracts to us what we do not want. An Abraham-Hicks quote, describing the Law of Attraction, says: “You get what you think about.” My friend’s post filled me with a resistant fear: We are thinking of drought, and hearing of drought, hence drought is what we’ll get. But then I took a deep breath and remembered: Ask and it is given. If we think of rain, if we ask for rain and pray for rain and allow for rain, then rain will come.

Outside, in my yard, the soil is soaked, fertile and fresh. The trees stretch their branches in joy to capture the moisture in the air. My creek is running, water trickling over slick rocks and old, now saturated leaves. The wind rustles through the eucalyptus trees in the perfect backdrop to the cries of a red-shouldered hawk as it circles up in the air currents. Somewhere, hidden from view under some tree, the deer are taking cover, huddled together for warmth. The jackrabbits are hiding in their tunnels and the coyote in their dens. It’s the perfect winter day, not too cold, just wet enough. My heart is full with gratitude for it, and I’d like to stay connected to that.

Another Abraham-Hicks quote says: “Pretend that Niagara Falls is your source of supply. That all of your Well-being flows from that source. Pretend that that source is yours alone to utilize. As you stand there on the shore overlooking that awesome flow, you would not feel lack, for you would understand that in one hundred lifetimes you could not begin to make a dent in that amazing supply….” Paradoxically, perhaps, while I have faith in the Niagara Falls’s abundance of water, I also take short showers, grow mostly native plants, and have no lawn. I save water. You could say that I take only the water that I need. I am aware that I have chosen to live in a region that even on an average year does not get immense amounts of rain, and I care about not spending too much of it.

Let’s believe in rain. Sing rainy songs. Dance rain dances. There’s an abundance of water in the world, and it will come to us too to glut our thirst and the thirst of our land. But meanwhile, my friends, do take shorter showers, and do pay attention not to over-niagara fallswater your lawn. Use our water with love.

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Morning Gratitude

My daughter’s cheek crinkled on the pillow
Oh so warm
A smile opens her eyes

My son giggling
Ima, come! He calls
Knowing I will kiss him

The lemony, fresh scent of a cucumber and tomato salad
Slicked with olive oil
Crumbly with goat feta

Three puppies gazing at me with round eyes
Tails going wildly
Love me, love me, love me

Our five chickens
Softly pecking corn scratch off the brown soil
Clucking in pleasure

Bells tinkling in the breeze
Play of light and leaves through oak trees
Patches of sunshine on the ground

A solitary teardrop tomato
On a confused vine
Growing side by side in a pot with aloe vera

Listening tomatoto my heart beat
Breath in, breath out
Sometimes calm, sometimes stormy.

A body, moving
Where did it come from?
Touching it in wonder.

The fragility of life
In the clucking of chickens
The tinkling of bells
A breeze, one moment here, the next, where?
How long does a kiss last?
Knowing the sun will set and shade disappear in shadow
But for now, what do I need?
Biting into a sun-warm teardrop tomato and singing
My morning gratitude.

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The Jewish Year in Satisfied Review

שנה טובהWe Jews are so lucky — we get to reflect on our soul accounting, “Heshbon Nefesh,” as we say in Hebrew, twice a year. On Rosh HaShana we welcome the Jewish new year with honey and apples and by asking forgiveness for the sins we committed knowingly and unknowingly all year, and on New Year’s we welcome the Gregorian new year by making resolutions and celebrating till after midnight.

As the year 5773 winds down, I too reflected on what I did (and did not do) this year and was surprise to find the balance a good one.

This year, 5773, I visited Israel twice for a total time of three weeks. I traveled to Florida twice, the Bahamas, Maui, the Redwoods, San Diego, and Arizona twice. Dar and I also went freeze-camping with the kids and the dogs in Point Reyes in February for Valentine’s Day. On the downside, it is the first year in a long time that I had not been to Yosemite. This will have to be remedied in 5774 at least twice.

I wrote a total of 67 blogs, about a third of them for my new blog. I love the new website that the new blog is on! I worked a lot on my novel this year, but finally decided that I need some distance from it. Like many other wonderful creations, I am still “cooking” it in my head, and I hope to get back to it fresh and energetic this year.

Another thrilling thing I did this year is start my own Reiki business. I taught my first Reiki I workshop and have one scheduled for the end of September and another for November. Two weeks ago I finally found a gorgeous space for my practice, and I can now give Reiki sessions on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings as well as at your home! I’m excited about the new prospects opening up for me this year.

Learning is high on my list of favorites, and this year I learned a lot! I took a Maya Abdominal Massage class which led me to begin training as a certified massage therapist. I’ve taken courses in Tuina massage and acupressure, and this year I hope to begin a medical qigong certificate as well. Another amazing class I took is Karuna Reiki® (this was why I went to Maui). I loved this class and working with the Karuna energy! It is a beautiful, beautiful energy of love and compassion, and I’ve been enjoying treating with it.

I read some fabulous books this year. Perhaps the most notable of all is The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt. I just finished reading it for the second time, and it is as fabulous as it was the first time I read it. That book is an entire world in and of itself, and I was again amazed how Gary Schmidt succeeded in creating so many rounded characters, all of whom grow and change in the book. I also finally read War and Peace this year — I’m very proud of that!

Seems to me, looking back, that this was a wonderful year. My boyfriend asked me to marry him and bought me two sparkly rings. The kids grew tall and happy. I finally bought curtains for our bedrooms. We had fun birthday parties for all of us and ate lots of good food. I hope for more wonderfulness for this coming year. May we all continue to grow, may we be happy and healthy, may we be free, and may we all be together!
Shana Tova everyone!
Love,
Sigal

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The Reiki-Chihuahua Five Precepts

Over 43 million dogs live in homes around the United States. I personally own three of those. Kathleen Prasad, Reiki master and owner of Animal Reiki Source, calls pets our animal teachers, but I had my doubts. My less-than-impressive chihuahuas did not seem likely candidates for imparting wisdom. Then, one day, I found myself explaining the five Reiki precepts to a friend by using Chaim, Nati and Percy as an example. Turns out, they have a lot to teach, and I have a lot to learn.

1. For Today Only, Do Not Anger
I never get really angry, or rather, I should say I rarely realize that I am angry. I fear anger, and so I often bury it deep beneath the surface where, unrecognized and mishandled, it turns into hopelessness and despair.

During our walks, the puppies get mad at every passing dog. They  turn into a raging whirlwind of blood-thirsty canine storm. I drag them forward, ashamed of my inability to control them, and just like that, with the other dog left behind, they are little angels again. They never hold a grudge. They never stay angry for more than a second.  They are experts at living in the moment and letting go.

2. For Today Only, Do Not Worry
Worry lines crease my forehead permanently now. I constantly worry about the children’s well being. I worry about the future, and I worry about the past. Even telling myself, “Just for today, do not worry,” does not quite do the job.

The puppies get worried too. You should see Chaim’s little face whenever he sees me pack a bag. He knows that I am about to go away, and his eyes follow me as I move about the room, seeming to ask: “Must you go?” Sometimes he stays sad for a little bit after I leave, but he is a cheerful little creature, like the other two, and he soon lets go his worries in his other responsibilities as a dog: keeping the house safe from passers-by and UPS deliverymen.

3. For Today Only, Be Humble
Every time I dread meeting someone or am afraid of what my performance will be like, I can feel my ego stretching to take control. Perhaps I ought to retreat back into my turtle shell, it suggests. But I remind myself: Be Humble. Be ever ready to embarrass myself.

For the puppies, humility comdogs sunninges naturally. They beg for food. They lie on their backs, exposing their bellies in hopes of a petting. They do not imagine that they are a lion (except when they meet a bigger dog) or that they can defeat the world. They have no ego about success or failure. They simply know they are who they are, and it’s ok.

4. For Today Only, Be Honest in Your Work
Every morning I groan with the thought of the chores awaiting me. I need to put away the dishes, clean the chicken coop, make dinner. If only I had a Mary Poppins magical umbrella, or better yet, a wand! Sometimes I finish everything that needs to be done, and sometimes I’m just too tired, lazy or distracted, and those chores are left for another day.

The puppies, in contrast, are always honest in their work. You will never hear them say, “I already got up twice today to bark at people walking down the street. Now it’s your turn.” They are never too tired or busy to come to the door when I arrive. Chaim jumps up and down, Nati dances the hula on his back legs, and Percy runs around in circles. Every. Single. Time.

5. For Today Only, Be Compassionate to Yourself and Others
I love this precept. I’ve engraved it on my heart and try to live by it. But being compassionate, especially to myself, does not come naturally to me. At first reaction, I am often critical, judgmental, or simply not in the mood to be understanding, and sometimes even after I remind myself to be compassionate, I just cannot.

Compassion truly defines what it means to be a dog. Unlike us humans, dogs are always compassionate to themselves. They live by their needs and inner motivators: “I need, therefore I am.” They are ever compassionate to us too. Even when I least like myself, my dogs still love me. They love me happy, and they love me sad. They even love me when I’m mad at them. They simply are a compassionate body, mind and heart.

A children’s poem titled “Loyalty,” by an unknown poet, reads:

You can’t buy loyalty, they say,
I bought it, though, the other day.
You can’t buy friendships, tried and true,
Well just the same, I bought that too.
I made my bid and on the spot
Bought love and faith and a whole job lot
Of happiness, so all in all
The purchase price was pretty small.
I bought a single trusting heart,
that gave devotion from the start.
If you think these things are not for sale,
Buy a brown-eyed puppy with a wagging tail.

I did not buy my puppies. All three are rescues. The loyalty, friendship and love came built-in their little bodies. Usui Mikao called the Reiki ideals the secret to health and happiness, and I have my three canine teachers to show me the way.

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Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109