It’s been quite a fall. I moved in August, and due to work and scheduling I have already missed Spirit Play twice. I have missed writing this reflection a few more times than twice. And so I sit today wondering about the intersection of responsibility and grace. We begin again. And we begin again. We begin again in love. Last time I was practicing church with our children we got to hear the story of “Many Paths to the Mountain” and this year as I sat in the classroom I was really wondering about one line of that story. The traveler taking the river path speaks about how beautiful and refreshing the river is and how all the travelers will wish they came on the river path before they reach the mountain. Each of the paths were intentionally chosen by each traveler and I wonder if they maintained their commitment to that path or if in their learning or their exhaustion they ever secretly did wish to be on a more lush journey. I wonder if the traveler on the river path ever wished to be on one of the other pathways finding the river in reality not to be quite what she thought.
This week I was away again and missed the telling of one of my favorite stories about Listening for God. The story traces many ways we can listen for what is right and good, what sings a resonant “yes” in our hearts so we know “how to love, what to do, and who to be”. Sometimes that is such a challenge for us. We make our way through our lives making decisions and doing our best and sometimes are confronted with such moments of confusion or broken-heartedness that we wonder if there’s any way at all for us to tell what our answer is to those questions?
How do we love? How do we love within the confines of our lives, our understanding or when our love seems so small or in conflict with another’s wellbeing? How do we love without condition and with openness? How do we love in practical ways that matter? What do we do? In some ways this is the question that gets the most attention in our world. Our discomfort drives us to action, to the path that feels like it might yield tangible results that we can see, that can shift and move our world in a way that budges it a little toward wholeness. For me, if I jump right to what to do and skip the first step of how to love, I often miss valuable insight and spend my energy in ways that keep me busy, but aren’t necessarily nourishing for me and the world. Finally, the question of who to be, which is always the truth of who we are. We are a gift to the world. What is the doing and being that reflects our gifts? What do we joyfully put out into the world as our contribution? What do we offer that comes from our truth and that the world needs?
For me as I sit in the transition time of this fall and so much change, I find myself sitting in this path I have chosen contemplating. What is the path that feels true for me now? I listen deep in myself, to my teachers and the world to try to answer those questions. How do I love…myself, you, all of us, the path itself? In light of how love wants to come through, what do I do… in myself, in relationship, in the wholeness of this life? Who do I want to be in my loving and my being?
There is a long path ahead, to the mountain, or just on the journey and I notice myself finding the way of love in taking a moment to pause, to know this place where I am, to see the truth of my responsibility and my grace in the context of all the shifting and changing. To begin again in love. I don’t know what to do yet. Some of it seems clear and some of it does not. I suppose that means I should be patient with the pause, to take a bit more time. If I can do this, be faithful to this place I am, then who I am will shine forth with it’s gifts of love and action in just the right way for myself and the world to keep wandering down the most beautiful path for us. Thank goodness there are intersecting paths on this journey, places of pause and discernment. I sit here in our community listening.
This week we gathered to learn the real story of St. Nicholas. My favorite line in the story is,
Gifts of St. Nicholas
“Nicholas was loved for one reason. He loved. He loved God and God’s people so much that he would do anything for them”. Nicholas was known and remembered for his great love. I arrived at class having assumed I was the storyteller and it quickly became clear that another teacher was also prepared to tell the story. Love in this moment was me saying clearly that I would appreciate it if my co-teacher told the story. I wanted to be the door teacher. And love in the next moment was coming back to center and witness as I observed thoughts coming to me about how I might have told the story differently. Love was letting go of the idea there is any right way to tell the story and instead watching and hearing how the story was told and listening for what was there.
This past week has been challenging for me. I have ridden up and down on waves of real and made up stories. I have felt fine and noticed that my behavior was indicating otherwise. I feel very sensitized now to seeing multiple layers in the stories I hear and tell. I am seeing very big moments reflected in very small moments. Above all I am struggling to deeply align myself with Love. I want to love that Mystery we sometimes call God. I want to love all beings. I want to be like St. Nicholas. In this desire, everything feels important. So when one child took a toy out of another childs’ hands during our circle and a fist was raised, I walked calmly over, held the hitting hand and said I would help. I asked for the toy back. The child refused. I took a breath and repeated that I needed the child to give me the toy. I felt the urge to copy the offending behavior and with my greater strength, power and authority, to take the toy out of the child’s hand. And I stopped. I asked for the toy again and it was given to me. I asked the other child if I could keep the toy safe till the end of our circle and he willingly handed them over, an action he had earlier refused to do. This was a good interaction. We stayed safe physically. I exercised facilitating restraint and held the tension of compassion for all three of us. I also clearly stated what was ok and what I wanted to happen. We made it through together.
This was a beautiful and difficult small moment, a blip of time in our class, but it reflects for me a larger story. Who I hope to be in the world is a person who can enter conflict and hold all of us in love until a new way opens for us. I want to take that extra breath when I feel anger or fear before I act in unskillful ways. I want to bring trust and love into places of strain. And it was challenging to do that with pre-schoolers. How will I do out in the world?
I am wearing a safety pin on my shirt these days and let me tell you, it scares me a little. I am wearing the pin because I want to live into an identity of being a safe person. What might happen if someone truly calls on me to be that in the world? What happens if I don’t take that extra breath in when I feel fear or anger rising? What happens if I try to offer love, protection and safety and I fail? What if the forces roll right over me?
I want to be like St. Nicholas. I want to love us, all of us, so much. I want a world of more love; real love. The love that penetrates us so deeply that we blossom. A love so powerful that we offer our service to others and for others. How we do it matters. This is what changes lives and changes the world. And so I guess I’d rather wear the pin and take my chances than try to avoid risk.
My daily spiritual practice has been a lifesaver for me this week. It brings me back into seeing things as they are, it seats me squarely in gratitude and ignites a longing in me to bring the fullness of our connections to light. That is what I want to live in the world. One area of practice is with our children. I know my own shadow emerges with them first and is a place to learn about my growing edges and reaffirm how and who I want to be. I don’t know what happens next, but I want to go the way of love, so I’ll begin where I am and wonder what might happen next.
This week’s reflection starts long before the classroom. I woke up Sunday morning and started my morning meditation.
The Rocky Path
When it was time to wake up my children, I called to them through the door to their room so I wouldn’t have to open it and disturb the blanket fort they were sleeping under, it’s corner wedged between the door and frame. I started to get dressed and think about breakfast when I heard my children talking and then yelling and then screaming at each other. I called through the door again hoping my voice would disrupt their anger and retorts, but it didn’t. In fact, I could hear that the argument had turned physical and they were hurting each other. It was time to come in, fort or no.
These moments prove to me some of the most difficult parenting situations I encounter. I want to protect both of my children from being hurt physically or emotionally. I want the yelling and fighting to stop. I want to bring calm to the situation, but their anger tends to fuel my anger, especially when they are more intent on continuing their argument than in listening to me. I found myself getting louder and louder and more frustrated and soon we were all yelling and unkind to one another. Embarrassingly, the melee ended by me tearing down the blanket fort and separating the children.
As I prepared breakfast and took some time to calm down, I marveled at how fast that situation had gotten out of control and how disappointed I was in myself. I not only didn’t manage to bring calm to the situation, I added to it. That is not the kind of parent I want to be. Parenting is a spiritual practice for me and it truly breaks my heart when I fall short.
I first decided I needed to apologize to my son, who had built the fort. I told him that I wished I hadn’t taken it down and I would help put it back together. I apologized to my daughter for yelling. We ate breakfast. And then I built the fort myself, fixing the blankets higher than they had been which was a welcome improvement according to the kids.
And then we went to church. It was story Sunday so we all went to the Sanctuary together and sat down. Even though I sat between them, they started to poke and pick at each other disturbing those around us. I stood up for the first hymn and noticed they were drawing a line on the pew delineating whose side was whose. And then they started drawing a line up my back. This was a sad moment for me. I don’t want my children to feel scarce with my love and attention so that they need to claim their part of me. I want all of me to be for both of them. Listening to Jessica’s sermon asking us to please have mercy on ourselves for our moments of failure was just the balm I needed.
Our lesson in class was about the Persevering Ant who goes on a pilgrimage to find what is biggest and most powerful, ending up in conversation with God who was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. One child said that the piece of fabric under the story was the most important part because it held all the other parts. All the pieces were included. And it made me think about one of the greatest powers of Love, to hold all things, even the things that we sometimes find difficult or painful. To have mercy on myself means that the power of love can draw me back to my center and give me the strength to apologize. It gives me the desire to wonder why I behaved the way I did this time and what I might do differently next time. It gives me the assurance that there is more than this; more than my painful learning as a parent, more than the smaller forces of fear and tiredness and hurt. There are more chances, more relationship, more love and more mercy than I can exhaust by my mishaps and missteps. This is truly good news and worth practicing again and again and again. What does the power of love call you to? Where do you need to have mercy on yourself?
After traveling and Easter and spring break, I was back in my classroom this week. Our story was the “Life Cycle of the Human Being”. We looked at pictures of people in different stages of life and thought about how we weren’t two any more. All of us are much older than that now! We talked about all the many things we can do now that we couldn’t do when we were two. It’s a lot of things, even for those of us who are only three.
After our story we took time as we always do, to wonder together. We always ask, “If you were something or someone in this story, who or what would you be?” One of my children answered that she would be the person being fed. I had to clarify because part of the life cycle lesson is a baby being fed and completing the cycle by showing an elderly person being fed. “Which person being fed are you? The old person or the baby?” “Both”, she said.
This answer struck me. Probably it caught my attention because I tend to be the person feeding and not the person being fed. That was even part of the focus of the lesson. We can do so much as we grow. We can keep learning and our hearts can keep growing even when our bodies reach their full height and start shrinking again. We can do. We can grow. I like being a do-er of many things. I like being the leader. I like imagining and sharing a new way. I like growing in my thoughts and growing in compassion as I age.
So, even though I firmly believe in the value of simply being, of simply breathing, I have to admit that it’s very difficult for me to be graceful about being fed. I am ok at exchange. I am ok with mutuality. I can open to receiving most of the time if I know there will be an opportunity to give back or if I have already given something first. The pictures we witnessed together were of being fed. Not just someone else setting dinner in front of me which they have prepared with their love and effort, but a human with a spoon in their mouth that they weren’t holding themselves. I do not desire to be the person being fed.
It makes me a little uncomfortable to think of myself in a position where I cannot manage to get a spoon to my own mouth. It makes me uncomfortable to think about someone sitting in front of me, loving or indifferent, feeding me. And this discomfort is not just about the idea of physically being fed, although receiving that with grace must be a challenging practice for those who experience it. This way of being for me is also spiritual. It’s difficult for me to be vulnerable and admit that kind of need. I like leading the group and asking the questions. I like opening the space, observing and going inward. And there are spaces in my life where I share deeply and those are a refuge. However, I don’t often experience the kind of spiritual need that would require the equivalent of someone lifting a spoon to my soul.
I am going through significant transition in my life right now and it has highlighted to me the ways in which I struggle to stay steady, to be confident, to be unafraid and to show that face to my own self and others. It’s hard to allow feelings of fear and doubt and anxiety to surface. They sometimes do. They come when someone asks a compassionate question about how I’m doing. They come when all that emotion gets so stuck in my body that I’m in physical pain. But I’m having a hard time welcoming my own feelings of helplessness and despair and brokenness. When I was two, I could just cry and release every difficult feeling and the adults who loved me would hold and comfort me. When I was two I could ask for help for everything. These things seem to be much more difficult as an adult. So I find that I need to keep doing my work. I need to continue letting my children teach me what it means to surrender. I need to remember the love inherent in the Universe that makes it ok to know when despair needs expression and company. And I need to open, not just to giving kindness to others when they are in need, but to receiving it when I have nothing to give or am overwhelmed by the feelings that seem much bigger than me.
Who or what are you in this story? Are you the one being fed?
These past weeks have been a whirlwind. Even contemplative minded folks can get overwhelmed by the many demands of life and forget to pause, reflect and simply be. This has been my last few weeks in Spirit Play. There is so much to do. I have found that the change in our curriculum from our regular stories into reading books to the children is both sad to me and a relief. I feel none of us get as much out of the book reading as we do with our regular stories with objects to act them out. And, I have also been relieved that I can come with less preparation than usual. There is no story to try to memorize for another week. I can just come. I can just read.
Last week in Spirit Play we were talking again about families. This time we specifically talked about families who have adopted someone. I read through the books and wondered with the children and dismissed them to their work.
I had a chant running through me that day so I sat witnessing and observing the play happening around me occasionally humming to myself. I actually felt very connected to the children and joyful. And also very tired. One child used the nesting blocks to stack into a tower. She found ways to stack large blocks onto little blocks by stacking them sideways making spaces in her tower that were open to one side and into which another block fit. We stacked together in silence. I handed her boxes and she handed me boxes and we stacked till things fell and then stacked again, and again. We made sculptures and towers and nests and spaces.
Inside I was chanting to myself, “Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song. Listen, listen, listen to my heart’s song. I will never forget you. I will never forsake you. I will never forget you. I will never forsake you.” Over and over. Last week my heart just needed to rest. It was good to rest. I found rest in observing the classroom. I found rest in the silent dance of building and re-building. It was enough. It was beautiful. I am happy to have found for that moment, a place of acceptance in being easy on myself and letting myself simply be. When I forget that open space and focus on what I do (or more often, what I haven’t gotten done) it can feel like my heart is out of place, like it isn’t welcome. I want to bring my heart into belonging. I want my whole self to be like the families we have been learning about…to be all one because of love. I want to honor my doing and honor my resting. I want to choose my heart and choose my work. I want to relish my rest as much as my accomplishments.
I am so grateful to be with our children in a space of openness and exploration where we can listen to our own and each others’ hearts. That’s one way our church is a family for each other…to welcome each others’ heart songs and encourage each other in the dance of doing/being and belonging.
Of a great need
We are all holding hands
Not loving is a letting go.
The terrain around here
Tonight I find myself in a still place. I am pondering how to love. I am pondering what it looks like to let go.
Letting go Love
Can letting go be a gift even considering the terrain? Can letting go as we are climbing together open the way for us to grasp another’s hand more securely? Is there a way of loving and climbing together with our hands open, without holding on? Or is there a way to lovingly let go with trust that someone else will be there to hold us?
Tonight I begin with me. I am feeling grief and sadness. I am feeling resigned. I also have the unhelpful script running through my mind that suggests that I should not be feeling any of that. That old voice would like me to try harder to stop the changing and shifting of life, to squelch the movement of transformation, to just stay put. That voice is full of violence. It is a voice of control and shame. Tonight I choose to hold it’s hand, to tell it that it’s ok to feel all the feelings that arise. There is nothing it could have done to avoid sorrow. There is nothing to be done now, but to sit in the stillness with this moment and its emotions. My total allegiance is to Life. Come what sorrow or joy follow, it is what it is. I choose to hold on to my self in compassion and gentleness as I live as best I can into a larger truth with love, always with love. And today I was reminded that great grief is the truth of great love. We wouldn’t mourn if it meant nothing, if we hadn’t opened our hearts to possibility.
I bring my intention this evening to the truth of my grief, the truth of my love. I bring my intention to be fully alive in this moment and the next one. I bring my intention to keep my heart open, even if it’s dangerous. What else are we here for?
Last week in my Spirit Play class, one of the children was working with the Celebration of New Lives story.
Blessed by Earth and Water
This has been a popular story to work with in our class. The baby dolls in the story have been amply blessed with water and dirt making some fantastically muddy babies. The blessing by beauty takes place with a rose that is gently stroked down the baby’s cheek in our church’s ritual. We have enough artificial flowers for all the children in our room and I observed this child as she held big bunches of those flowers gripped in each hand and vigorously blessed the doll she was working with. She blessed the doll so enthusiastically she literally swept it across the floor with her flower bunches. It rolled over and over being tumbled and swept away by beauty.
I wondered about this encounter with beauty. Are there ever times when I am that moved by something beautiful? Would an encounter like that be profoundly disorienting? Would I want to encounter a blessing like that? I have also lately been thinking about where in my own journey I am a little too serious and could use a little humor. Well placed humor can completely change the energy of a tense or sad situation sometimes allowing us to move through those emotions with a little more ease. So I wondered again what this kind of encounter with beauty might look and feel like. I remember as a child being in the bright sun and rolling down grassy hills. The feeling of spinning and rolling and getting faster until I either rolled to the bottom or flung my arms out wide to stop myself. I remember laughing and being dizzy and enjoying that feeling of, well, of disorientation I suppose. Not something I tend to enjoy as an adult. But I imagined that if I was the baby being swept by flowers, that the flowers may even tickle and it might be a great delight to be surrounded by the scent and softness of petals. I might find it enjoyable to be rolled along. I might laugh.
I thought about the blessings of that moment in class. I am grateful to have had the presence to observe this play without getting distracted by the mess of the earth and water blessing. I am glad I did not try to shut down the active blessing with the flowers. I could simply delight in the moment and ponder it. That’s spiritual growth for me! I also thought about those astounding blessings we receive in our lives like close friends, the kindness of another when we feel alone, the gift of self acceptance and compassion; some are so generous and profound that we hardly have words to articulate our gratitude or their importance to us. In that profound and ordinary moments where words can fail, maybe laughter is the only adequate response to our blessings.
So what to do when you realize that you aren’t so great at compassion…in fact that you have a big problem choosing to drink when you are thirsty? Since I am someone who wants to be better at choosing love and life, I sat with my Spiritual Director and subsequently with my journal to try to listen to the message my body was trying to send me. The choice not to drink, to not meet the need of my body was not just a matter of making sure I had my water bottle with me or filling my cup at meals and not leaving till I finished. This was a harmful habit. When I wrote about it, the voice in my head revealed a familiar script. “You can have water later. Right now you need to get something done. If you do this next thing, then you can have the water.” And then, “Great job getting that done, but it wasn’t really that hard and there is much more to do. After this next task, then, maybe if there is time, you can have the water.” Except I never gave myself the water. Sub in whatever life giving experience or nourishment you want. When you can’t choose to at least occasionally give yourself something good, there is a big problem.
So I found myself thinking about what I wanted to choose and I realized that in many places I was carrying around old pain and I felt ready to set it down. I wanted to open my hands to joy instead of clinging to old bad habits. I returned to my regular yoga practice with a wise teacher. I made my way back to a place where I had worked specifically on this water issue before.
I had been to see a healer/shaman/Chinese Medicine person when I was ready to get pregnant with my second child. I had seen him till I became pregnant and then went on my way. The thing is, the space he worked in had totally intrigued me. I came in fairly soon after we started working together saying I realized that I hadn’t been in a healing space before quite like this. In my experience of western medicine, practitioners will touch you anywhere, but not talk to you about your experience/feelings/soul and you can go to therapy to talk, but they won’t really touch you. My healer would do dream work and body work with me as I explored and moved toward opening to receive another baby. It was a profoundly whole space and when I became pregnant, I left reluctantly. I felt like I was on the verge of learning something that I really needed to know.
When I returned to my healer, I did have a tight shoulder that wouldn’t release for weeks, but really I went back to finish learning wholeness and to let go of old pain so I could be open to joy. This sounds great, and it was, but any time we make a choice like this…if we are serious about doing our work, we have no idea what we’re in for. When you say yes to Life, sometimes what it demands back from you is death the of something else. In those first moments of choice I didn’t know what I was asking for. I just wanted to find some internal kindness, to drink freely. What do you say yes to? When have you said yes and it took you out beyond what you could imagine? As you look back on your own journey, what yes sparked you to set out into this path?
Where we might begin a story is a moving target. Did it start with a particular moment? And what moments led to that moment? How does one decide where to locate the beginning or tell the story of the journey; the arrival at the next journey? Does one start with the feeling of the new, or the small ending that gave rise to that feeling? Or is there a way to speak at all what we know or who we are as the infinite present moment that is all of existence? I suppose this is the unending quest of the seeker, to place this moment in all moments and yet, to trace the journey and it’s infinite complexity and unfolding. The beginning I am thinking of tonight is a moment that lives in this moment and brought me traveling here instead of someplace else. I was tired. It seems the past 4 years have just been that. This particular weekend, I was spent. I was past my edge and the message that I engaged in was around compassion. I felt like I was a thoughtful student of compassion. I took a small inventory and felt I had it mostly covered. And as I listened to the speaker, I noticed I was thirsty. We had been specifically instructed to take care of our physical needs…even if it meant getting up in the middle of a speaker and I sat there. I looked around and located the hospitality table. I sat there. I checked my watch. I sat there. And when break came, I went on my way to my next workshop. I didn’t get a drink.
And then there was the dream. “She comes home and finds that he has joined the military. He says he needs to take his fitness goals seriously. She is enraged and confused. Will she have to move? Will he have to go to war? Is there any way out of it?” My shoulder was clenched tight for weeks and wouldn’t release. I believe it was threatening me with military action if I couldn’t pay attention to my self compassion. Oh.
It was time. It was a moment of letting go. It was a moment of decision to choose something better and more beautiful. The yes, one of the yeses began there. Yes I hear you. Yes I will care for you. Yes, I will get a drink. I will choose life over death. But it hasn’t stopped. Since then I’ve had to make this a practice. When I said yes to that, over and over, I opened the door to a kind of fantastical chaos that is billowing through my life turning everything over. The in-breaking of Spirit is always disruptive….and profoundly alive. Yes. Yes to Life.