Connect by Connecting

Buddha on the road

I’ve spent my life writing. I work as a journalist, but I also write fiction and poetry. The creative work solves something inside . . . a need for discovery, a need to grow.

I’ve taken a wealth of writing classes, read scores of books on writing. I’ve taught writing for years. One thing I’ve seen that’s true – you never stop learning how to write. Another true thing – you reach a point when only writing teaches you how to write.

It’s the same with spirituality. I’ve studied spirituality, and I’ve taught spirituality. Here’s what I’ve learned: If you meet the Buddha on the road kill him. Or . . . if you meet the writing teacher on the road, ignore him. Killing him isn’t necessary.

Spirituality is connection . . . connections inside, connections outside, connections in every moment. In time, nothing teaches us how to connect except connecting.

We each have our own spiritual DNA. Everything is everything, but each thing has its own particular way. We learn this in writing. If you want to talk about struggle, you talk about one person’s struggle. In To Kill a Mockingbird, we learn about the Jim Crow South from one young girl, Scout. In The Diary of Ann Frank, we learn about the Holocaust from the specific experience of one 13-year-old girl.

We learn about spirituality from our own particular path.

Instruction helps. Books help. Meditation helps. They teach us about the world within, how the path is laid out in perfect detail, designed exquisitely for each one of us, designed for where we are and how we are. If we trust it, it will become as familiar as our own skin, in time, more familiar.

We learn our path by traveling our path. We learn how to live by trusting this path.

I spent years learning enough about writing to finally let the writing teach me. I spent decades learning how to let the path within guide me. I will spend the rest of my time learning to trust that path.

Image from fractalenlightenment.com

My Hill in the Michigan Woods

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When I was about eight, I used to play in the woods with neighborhood kids. We played war mostly, using sticks as rifles. I found a perfect hill to hide behind. It was about one story high, with sand on the side where I would hide. On the side facing my enemy friends, the hill blended into the woods. I could take sniper aim at them, and nobody saw me.

But that’s the not point. Once I nestled into the hill that first time, I was surprised to find the hill knew me. Simple to say, hard to explain.

That day was normal. Saturday in late spring. Not yet summer, but late enough in spring to be confident of the warm.

Sitting on my hidden perch, I notice this was the exact right place to be. An uncommon feeling for an eight-year-old. During those young years I had this feeling occasionally when I was out in the woods – that the world welcomed me. I never had those feelings in my home. People in my home loved me as they were able, but the world wasn’t theirs to offer welcome. They were struggling, and I was just part of their struggle.

Because it welcomed me, the hill was mine. Other kids came up over the hill after me, and we played and fought, but the hill was just a hill to them. And they were just kids. It didn’t matter if they were on this hill or any other hill. For me, though, the hill was exquisitely unique.

The kids raced off into the woods, shooting each other with their stick guns, but I stayed behind on this hill that held me in comfort. To feel welcome in this world is to feel loved. Back then I wouldn’t have called it love, but that’s what it was.

As the days went by, I’d walk by the hill on my way to school. Sometimes I run up to the top. When I did, I’d feel that homey welcome. Sometimes just walking by it was enough to feel its easy warmth. But I had worldly things to do, so I didn’t tarry long. It was enough to know the hill was there and that I wasn’t alone in this peculiar world.

Photo source: Summit Metro Park

I Don’t Mind What Happens

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When you begin to see life without fear, frightening things become acceptable. Or so it may seem.

At the same time, we may feel called upon to act in response to a world that is out of balance, whether it’s someone in trouble or larger harmful developments.

This world matters even if we are convinced our experience in this world will dissolve into oneness.

It’s a spiritual fantasy to believe that nothing matters, that the world before us is not real. The world is not real is the same way as the eternal inside inside, yet it functions as real in our spiritual journey.

In the late 1970s, Krishnamurti famously asked an audience whether they wanted “to know his secret.” Audience members reportedly leaned forward in anticipation. Krishnamurti quietly said, “You see, I don’t mind what happens.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes.

Another quote I love comes from Angela Davis, and it seems to say the exact opposite:

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

This twist on the Serenity Prayer is a commitment to act in the world.

These two ideas live inside me comfortably, though it took a few years to understand they are not in conflict.

We offer ourselves to the presence within. We ask for guidance, and we ask to be useful. “Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do Thy will.” And we surrender the outcome.

We will be okay. The world will be okay. Whatever happens. And we give ourselves over to the guidance to do what we can do.

Spirituality in the Trenches

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Spiritual calm is easy when everything is going great. Finding peace is easy even if things are only going sort of well. Yet spirituality becomes critical in the rough patches, when life slips slowly or suddenly out of control. This’s when calm matters – and that’s when inner peace can be hard to find.

Our troubles are often illusory, but it can take spirituality to see through the illusion.

Think about difficulties you’ve experienced in the past. How many of those would have been greatly relieved if you kept your head? How many of them were not actually difficulties but rather misperceptions?

Overcorrection can cause serious car accidents. The state of Missouri recently identified overcorrection as the leading cause of traffic fatalities.

During much of my life, I responded to problems with emotional overcorrection. Call it overreaction or reactive behavior. It was a matter of not being able to insert the brain between a seemingly threatening event and my response to it.

Spirituality provides a cool pause in a highly charged world – a place of calm when life is on fire.

Spirituality can circumvent damaging emotional reactions and give you a chance to see – even if just for a moment – that the essence of life is peace and love, not threat and danger.

This Day I’m Thankful for. . .

This day I am thankful for

The taste of water fresh from the sky,

The sound of the moonrise,

The crisp rocks of the Sandia Mountains,

My dog’s eyes when she wants a walk,

Bare feet on the carpet,

The absence of mail,

The first taste of coffee, and the second,

My son talking through the night,

My friend showing up unexpected while I’m working,

The smell of rotting apples on the dirt,

A spoon I’ve used for decades,

Everyone who is reading this,

Words,

Black type on a white screen,

The presence behind my mind that writes,

The feeling in my arms when that presence is in my chest,

Breath,

Each story in an AA room,

Someone’s whisper,

The young woman minister when she tears up,

The pain of peppers,

My bed in the afternoon,

The smell of fall’s first heating,

The nativity scene carved in a gourd, a gift from my ex-wife who signed it, “to my husband,”

The touch of the uterine lining my child grew in,

My Harris tweed jacket,

Each day I’m alive.

The Movement You Need Is on Your Shoulder

Paul McCartney tells an interesting story about the writing of “Hey Jude,” one of the Twentieth Century’s great love songs. Shortly after he wrote it, he played the tune for his songwriting partner, John Lennon. When he came to the line, “The movement you need is on your shoulder,” he said, “I’ll fix that bit.” Lennon asked why, and McCartney answered “It’s a stupid expression; it sounds like a parrot.”

At the time, McCartney thought the line was filler that needed refining. Ever the great song craftsman, McCartney knew awkward when he heard it.

Per McCartney’s telling, Lennon’s response was, “You won’t be changing that, you know. That’s the best line in the song.” So McCartney left the line in the song, and to this day, he says he thinks of Lennon when he sings that line.

Many years later, McCartney was asked what he believes the line means. He responded that it means we have the wherewithal to face and overcome life’s challenges. Bingo. And maybe the most awkward line ever in a great song is also its most meaningful line.

The line could be translated to: what we need is within us. “Hey Jude” is my favorite love song. It’s also the favorite song of my 18-year-old daughter, and she loves all of the contemporary music. “Hey Jude” is a song of immense hope and encouragement that transcends time and place.

The final answer to the song’s insistence on turning to love and away from fear is that we have what we need to “take a sad song and make it better.” It’s on our shoulder.

Great song, great line, awkward though it may be.

What Does Love Got to Do with It

I watched a panel discussion on YouTube with Eckhart Tolle and Ram Das that was recorded in October 2011 on Maui. The discussion by was great, but a funny thing happened at the beginning – the first question posed to these NOW gurus was about love.
The response was awkward. You can’t answer a question about love until you define the term, and that’s not easy. Tolle and Ram Das managed to get through the question, but it was not an easy navigation.
Love is such a troublesome word in spirituality – it comes with so much baggage. The notion, “all you need is love,” is fraught with misunderstandings about what love actually is.
So many times I’ve heard this statement by spiritual teachers: “When you strip away everything and get to the core of our true being, what you have is love.” What the heck does that mean?
Spirituality discussions work best with words like acceptance, presence, peace, well-being, or contentment. We have a general notion of what these words mean. Not so with “love.” Part of the problem is that love is commonly used as an action, such as “I love you” or “I feel loved.” Probably the closest synonym for love in spirituality is acceptance.
When you experience oneness, it is often described a feeling of acceptance. There are aspects of “love” that include acceptance, but a mother’s love or a father’s love is not necessarily acceptance. Romantic love with all its varieties, its passion, its insecurities, is rarely experienced as unconditional acceptance. Romantic love nearly always comes with a list of conditions.
When spiritual teachers use the word, love, they usually mean acceptance, for acceptance is a large part of our experience of the presence within.