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

 

It’s Somewhere Between

It’s hours before dawn that seem
to bring about the most
profound moments.

Some would say that by dawn’s light
there is clarity but
I have never found that true.

Some would say that by the strike
of midnight magic happens but
there seems to still be too much noise.

But it’s in the hours after
when the world is all at rest
and the energy lays bare that the world is right.

 

1/17/18

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.

 

 

Creating a Compassion Society Out of Suffering

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Thich Nhat Hanh opens his book No Mud, No Lotus with these words:  “In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well.  When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less.  Not only that, but we’re also able to go further into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others.”

If you live with pain or disease Thich Nhat Hanh’s words are the cliff notes version to what you might learn in pain management or MBSR or CBT or even DBT.  Life is going to happen and suffering is your choice.  In the midst of chronic daily pain or especially in the midst of acute pain, I would want to punch someone for telling me that.  I wouldn’t do it but anger might take over how colored my view might be at the moment.  I remember saying to someone, in a very hateful manner, “meditation, that $%^ doesn’t work.”  And it wasn’t true.  It was just I was so deeply frustrated, anxious, in pain, and fearful that I wasn’t even treading water anymore.  I was drowning and it didn’t seem to matter to anyone.

The one thing that I have learned in the past six months is that we ask way to much of people who are ill and struggling.  What do I mean?  I think back to living on my own for my job and having no one around to stop at the grocery store because I was dehydrated or picking up a prescription that a doctor called in after hours of waiting and being in pain for days.  I remember sleepless nights because I was afraid I would not wake up for work the next morning, having no sick days and working in an unkind environment that had no flexibility for problems like that.  I would get so anxious, I would have 6 alarms set so that I would finally crawl out of bed.

And what about med changes?  I worked and got a higher degree and completed half of a second degree while living with chronic daily pain and the subsequent med changes.  Has a doctor ever had to get to work on time or “played well with others” after being put on 5 different meds or even adding one or two meds or taking one away?  Sometimes, you aren’t sure if the meds, the side effects, or the illness will kill you first?  Please hear me, I’m not saying that doctors are wrong in what they do.  I’m just not sure they maintain their compassion while doing it.  How can they?  A patient is going to scream out in pain when you reset their leg, but you still have to do it.  You end with a bit of a callous on your soul, in order to save your soul.

And all the things that people have suggested, (similar to things I will say in this blog), are tough to do when you are wondering how you are going to pay a bill, or what you can eat that won’t make you throw up, or losing a document at work, or feeling utterly alone in your misery.  They are tough to do when you don’t even have your basic needs met (Think Maslow).

Nhat Hanh says, “If, however, we are preoccupied with the fear and despair in us, we can’t help remove the suffering of others.  There is an art to suffering well.”  And that is what I am trying to learn how to do.  I have a disease that causes me to be in pain; that won’t change but I can live a lot better with it than I had been.

But all that worry and day to day stuff, my friends, all of that is suffering.  Well, they are all hassles and my interactions with those hassles (the fear, anxiety, fretting, etc) was suffering.  And much of it needless but given our society today, it is very much a real concern for so many people.  Why is it so tough for so many people to get disability?  Why do sick people have to fight with insurance companies?  Why do we have to move away from our communities and our families, are safety nets for things like work?  I am thinking back to another time, decades ago, when people who were ill were at home, when family and a community took care of people rather marginalized them?

I think back to when I grew up.  We lived in the same house as my land lady and when she was diagnosed with cancer and my family took care of it.  It was a labor of love because that’s what you do for others.  We helped with getting groceries, giving medication, feeding her, changing her, etc.  Her kids came to visit but they lived 45 minutes away and we were right there.  There were two adults and a high school senior (my sibling) and they took turns.

But in today’s world with living so far from work or not knowing neighbors or grocery stores in the suburbs and rural areas are so far.  And people have so many more medical appointments.  Why do we not have a national system for this?  You want to help put people to work?  You want to take people’s social security away?  You want people to work until they are 76?  Why not pay retired people to help their parents or church members or neighbors?  Why not employ a stay at home mom to check in on a neighbor and make sure they are taking their pills?  Or pay their gas milage to pick up a few groceries?  Why don’t we think about those who are not active, producing, and healthy?

Thich Nhat Hanh, (or Thay, as his followers call him affectionately – Thay is Vietnamese for teacher) says in No Mud, No Lotus, “The hardest thing to practice is not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by despair.  When you’re overwhelmed by despair, all you see is suffering everywhere you look.  You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you.” Can you imagine having some of the pressure taken off, not worrying about how you are going to get to an appointment in the snow or how you are going to drag yourself to the store while you’ve been vomiting all day?  Imagine what it might be like to have someone stop by and make sure you had a pitcher of water by your bed and to let you know that you are not alone.

Think about it.  You might not be able to sit in an office all day if you are ill or maybe you are retired and don’t want to work all day.    You might not be able to go to work every day but what if we took the concept of care teams, like AIDS patients did back in the 80s and applied it more globally?  Now, back then, it was friends of the AIDS patient, often times because family had abandoned the patient.  But what if we had local hubs where a retired person could work once a week, similar to a hospice volunteer.  They could stop by and make a pot of soup or a paraprofessional could make phone calls to an insurance company for a patient.  We need to wake up and think about the elderly baby boomers who set trends, changed the world (for better and worse) and think about our new world.  We don’t manufacture anymore, let’s face it.  And I don’t care if you were a coal miner, a returned vet, or a young person, you could play a part.  We could help to end some basic suffering in the world.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism state, “There is suffering, there is a course of action that generates suffering; suffering ceases; and there is a course of action leading to the cessation of suffering” (From No Mud, No Lotus).  There is a lot of pain and heartache out there in the world.  We have to look creatively at how to solve today’s problems.  One idea is to come together as a community again.  And let’s face it, until our country moves to something like a few countries have just moved to where all citizens are given a stipend to live alleviate basic needs, we have to think of merging old worlds and new worlds.  We can be there for each other, even make some money doing it, and help raise each other out of suffering and aloneness.

So, tonight, I ask you these things:

  • If you didn’t have to worry about a pay check, what would you honestly be willing to do?
    • Would you visit a neighbor?  Make a pot of soup?
    • Would you take a community member to the doctors or stop by and pick up some cans of soup for an elderly person?
  • Why can’t we help people rather than marginalize them?  Why can’t we move to a society that is more inclusive, where people don’t have cracks to fall through?  What if we made a few extra pb & j sandwiches for the kids who stand outside our door waiting for the bus?
  • How do we move from our pain and more importantly our suffering to help others?
  • How do we foster a sense of belonging in those who have been told don’t matter?

 

May all beings be at ease and know an end to their suffering.

May all beings feel whole and know they are cared for.

May all beings be given the time and space to heal as thoroughly as they need.

May you be safe and at peace.

 

 

 

 

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.