Loving You As You Age

Dear —

I know right now you’re going through a lot of changes and they can’t be easy for you; things that you used to do before are now more difficult. They take more energy, they take more thought, they even may take more skill than you have right now. And I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that the process of aging strips us from so much. We lose friends over time. We lose a job that we’ve done all our lives and therefore much of our identity that went along with that job. We start to feel that the world doesn’t need us anymore. That what we have to offer, to teach, to share, just doesn’t mean anything and that has got to be strangely isolating and scary and I would think from time to time that you might be wondering so what’s next.

I feel that pain and though I don’t know what it’s like to be older and aging or losing my capacity for doing things I’ve done all my life, I do know what fear and change and chaos I’ll feel like. I know what it’s like to have the feeling of not being needed or that your voice doesn’t matter, or even that you don’t matter. I know what it feels like to have someone tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about or that your ideas are outdated. As I sit and watch you, I wonder if maybe you’re having those feelings right now?

My heart opens and I can feel sadness for what’s going on right now. It’s not easy to be compassionate for ourselves when we’re feeling so bad. It’s not easy to be compassionate to one another when every day hassles seem to become bigger and more difficult to cope with. But instead of frustration or fear, I propose that we handle these things with love.

You know, maybe the kind of love that we were never given as kids. Maybe the kind of love we never found in our life. Or maybe the kind of love we’re not even sure we are capable of giving. But just love and acceptance for what’s going on and compassion for any pain that there might be, whether it be physical or mental or emotional or even spiritual.

Let today be the day that this gets turned around, that we give more love and more patience, more deep breaths, and even more sighs, if they’re able to bring into the here now and be present to each other.

So starting now I vow to give you more love than I feel like I ever received from you.

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My Love

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My love,
the decades have been so
very good to us.
I am amazed in this time
that my love for you
is the constant in my world.

My love,
I am amazed that such a sensitive soul
has learned to be
such a fierce warrior
and has vowed to
fight for those who need protection.

My love,
I wish for you rest from this
crazy battlefield
upon which the enemy
is not always clear.
Time to be at ease
only makes you stronger in this valiant fight.

My love,
I see the reflection of your hands
gently holding my heart
after all this time and it swells with love.
No matter what craziness finds its
way into my world you
love me without judgment.

My love,
I so long to hear your words
whispered in my ear
when I lay down at night.
This distance keeps me from
feeling your embrace though I know it’s there.

My love,
you are my most mighty and enduring love.
Your warrior heart
And gentle way
reminds me in each moment
of why you have my heart.

1/17/18
To PJP

 

How to Suffer Well

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“Train in taking and sending alternatively; put them on the breath” How to Be Sick:  A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers by Toni Bernhard.

I used to joke in graduate school that in my study of existentialism taught me that life is suffering and you need to suck it up but my study of Buddhism taught me that life is suffering and be compassionate anyway.  My plan was to marry both.

I love the practice of Tonglen, that I was introduced to in the work of Pema Chodron.  Now there is a very specific way of practicing Tonglen but Pema talked about “on-the-spot” Tonglen and I found that I liked that a lot and try to practice it when I can.  The point of the specific practice, like any other practice, is to get it to become second nature to you so that when a situation arises, you have the skills.

Think about CPR.  You will probably never need it but if you do, you will remember the chest compressions should be 100 beats per minute because you have had to get re-certified every year.

Conventional wisdom, when it comes to relaxation, tells us to breathe in and think of concepts like peace, love, compassion, relaxation, a warm hug, etc and breathe out negativity, stress, fear, etc.  Tonglen actually teaches the opposite and it can be a bit counter-intuitive.  Let me give you an example I have used in the past.

I hate going to the dentist.  Hate is not strong enough of a word.  I had dental appointments as a kid like everyone else.  I also had two years of orthodontics.  I hated the orthodontist’s and that I think that’s when I developed so much anxiety about it.  I’ve had a lot of other dental work done and for me, there are few things worse.

When I had to get a bunch of dental work done while I was working for hospice, I “brought my patients with me”.  What?  Let me explain.  Hospice is pretty terrific at helping patients with both pain and suffering through the use of an amazing group of professionals, medication, volunteer support, etc.  But there is still so much pain and suffering involved in the dying process.

When I would go to the dentist, I would play music on my iPhone and I would focus on my breathing.  As feelings came up — anxiety, fear, physical pain, achiness in my neck, etc I would breathe it in.  I could imagine that my patients and their families might be feeling very similar things at that very moment and I would focus on being present to those experiences.

As I breathed out, I would focus on a warm, soft blanket, or the sound of my mother’s heart beat, or calm, relaxation, peace, etc.  And I would say, in my mind, if I am going to experience this anyway,  which apparently I was going to, let me experience it and give my patients a break.

To me this practice was similar to The Prayer of St Francis (Let me be light where there is dark, where there is despair let me sow hope, etc).  Did I really take any suffering away from any patient or any family member?  I don’t know.  But, it was my intention that there should be something positive that comes from my suffering.

And this I try to remind myself every day when I wake up in pain.  “Ok universe, if it is going to be one of those days, let my pain be for some benefit.  Let me have pain so my mom doesn’t.  Let me sit with these side effects hoping that it keeps someone else from having these side effects.  And even if it doesn’t, let me send out, in addition, the intention of comfort, relief, or solace.  For me, it helps give some meaning and purpose to  something that I cannot avoid, my own pain.  And who knows, maybe if there is such a thing as karma, I’ve helped someone else by sending out good will.

So today, I ask you:

  • What are you experiencing right now?
  • Can you imagine any one in the world having the same experience right here and right now?
  • Can you breathe in the pain, darkness, dis-ease, frustration, depression (whatever it may be)?
  • With your out breath, can you imagine exhaling something positive that another person could use?
  • It could be warmth on a cold night for homeless vets.  It could be deep, cleansing breath for an asthma patient.  Maybe the idea of a trusted teddy bear for a fearful child.

 

May you have ease and comfort in your life.  May the merit of all of the positive thoughts, feelings, and actions you have come back to you a thousand-fold.

 

 

Let Today Be the Day

Let today be the day
that everything turns around.

Let today be the day
that love prevails despite hate.

Let today be the day
that we breathe deeply instead of sigh.

For it starts with today
and goes on un-ending
on the wheel that
has turned forever
in all the realms.

Let today be the day
that we say our strongest words.

Let today be the day
that we fight our toughest battles.

Let today be the day
that, like no other, we love like it’s the end.

For it starts with today
through the spark in our
minds and a hope
for changes to come
for each of us.

Let today be the day
that we hold back no more.

Let today be the day
that we set the world aflame.

Let today be the day
that we mean what we say.

For it starts with today
and hopefully
doesn’t end
believing we can change
all the wrongs that continue into today.

1/17/18

Losing

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About all I can hear is

the sound of the white birds.

I can hear cars in the far distance

and a couple of giggling children

across the river, but all I really

hear is god.

I hear the sound of the water

being splashed by the water fowl’s wings.

But all I really hear is god.

 

I sit where we sat only two months before.

The sun shines as brightly

as it did that day and the

winds have come back to greet me,

but now gloves cover my chilled

fingers and now you are not

before me, sharing your warmth and your life!

 

The sky and the water are about

the same color blue.

And the grass though sprinted with

more fallen leaves, is still as green.

Today is thanksgiving day and I sit

upon the bench we sat on once.

 

I saw you tan and glowing

much life still circling through you

and I was filled with joy,

even knowing that soon I would sit

on this bench and write a poem or letter

to you that no postman will be able to deliver.

 

How can one young as I,

have lost so much in such a short time?

And soon,

I may lose my sister?

 

11/26/97

For:  LPG

 

New Practice for Healing

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So in the past, I have informally used a mala (prayer beads similar to a Catholic Rosary) and would use it to count my breaths.  It has 108 beads and you use it to keep track of how many breaths you are counting.  I’ve also used mantras like Om Mani Padme Hum (the Great Mantra of Compassion) that is well-known.  I’ve also used it to keep myself on track when using gathas by Thich Nhat Hanh — see my article.

But as I was watching a movie today, I was inspired to find a mantra for healing.  The movie had nothing to do with spiritual growth or healing but there was a word that made me think it would be good to use for a mantra.

So, I did a little research to decide what I was going to start with.  I decided I’d look around for the next week unless something comes to me before that.  By then or sooner, I will start my day and end my day with a mantra.

Om Mani Padme Hum means “The jewel of Consciousness has reached the heart’s lotus” according to Thomas Ashley-Farrand.  This is the most chanted mantra in the world.  Well, things like OM, AUM, etc are probably used more often because they are powerful seeds but the great compassion mantra is a very popular mantra used in yoga, meditation, chanting, etc.  It is suggested to use this mantra when you want to united body and mind.

Om Shri Dhanvantre Namaha is at the top of my list.  It means, “Om and salutations to the Celestial Healer” according to Ashley-Ferrand.  That one would definitely be applicable to my journey right now and could not steer me wrong.

Another may be Om Purnayei Namaha, “om and salutations to She is who complete, unified, and perfect, without limitations of any kind” (Ashley-Ferrand).  I like the idea of invoking the feminine aspects of the universe.  My mom has had a great devotion to Mary of Lourdes and in invoking the feminine, that gives me a connection to my mom and her spirituality.  It also reminds me of a mentor of mine who died of breast cancer almost 20 years ago.  I like to believe that her energy is something I can connect with when I am in need.

The last idea I have right now is Shambhala.  It actually isn’t a mantra.  Shambhala is a mythical kingdom in Hindu and Tibetan where the teachings of the Buddha are said to be preserved.  It is also the name of a lineage of Buddhism founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche from Tibet.  It supposedly means a place of peace, tranquility, and happiness.  A student of Chogyam Trungpa is Pema Chodron who I think of as a root teacher of mine.

So, those are some ideas that I have.  What mantras do you use in your practices?  I’d love for you to share them here and tell us why you use it in your practice.  Once I decide, I’ll come back and post.

Until then, may you be at ease and be peace.

“Homage to Tara our Mother who conquers disease as its medicine”

Shakti Mantras by Thomas Ashley-Ferrand.

 

 

Journey

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Eyes burning

Sun shining

following my path.

 

I hear the call

of my god

bringing my back

to a new home

within me.

 

Think think

the basketball bounces

I wait with my lunch box

for the misery to begin.

I savor the cold morning

Talking to god

feeling alive.

 

I hear the calls

of the birds lately

never really cared

about them before

but now,

I think god keeps

trying to creep back in

despite my best intentions.

 

Father God, help me to follow

my heart and to be brave

on my journey.

Goddess Mother,

help me remain open

to wherever the path leads me.