Update on Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

In my June 8 post, I shared my concern that the stairs near our Greenbelt site were being painted. I had come to the conclusion that it was a good opportunity for me to practice both accepting change and letting go.

When the stairs below ours were finished, I thought the optical illusion was cool but another concern arose. Our stairs are much smaller and closer together than those. I wondered if the bright paint would be overwhelming. I decided to stick with my decision to consider it an opportunity to not worry; to let go and accept whatever change came my way.

The stairs closest to our site were to be painted on Saturday. That afternoon, I decided to check it out. I was delighted with what I saw. The colors are beautiful. Instead of painting the sides of each step, like they did in the area below ours, the painters painted the cement border that goes between the various landings. They also painted the “bench” at the top of the stairs. (I put bench in quotes because it used to be the mount for a bulletin board.)

I’m so glad I decided to see this experience as a “lesson” rather than worrying or fretting about it. I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I Will Pass It On!

Friday morning, when I was pulling weeds in the Greenbelt, I noticed that there was a coin on the ground next to a sign I had placed under an Indian plum shrub during the spring of 2017.

I was curious what it was, so I picked it up. These messages were on the two sides of the coin:

Over the year, a few people have told me that they appreciated the signs but I have no idea who put the coin there or when they did it. I felt very grateful for the expression of gratitude and will definitely pass the coin on!

Practice in Accepting Change and Letting Go

The last week in April, a friend sent me an email that said an artist, working with Seattle Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School project, was painting staircases around Seattle. The notice also said that the next steps to be painted were the Hanford Stairs, the stairs that border our Greenbelt restoration site.

When I saw the photo I was concerned. I couldn’t imagine something so bright going through the forest. I didn’t understand how painting the stairs would make walking to school safer, but thought that anything that accomplished that goal would be a good thing. I liked that she was inviting community members to help paint. In addition, I knew that this unexpected change would be an opportunity for me to practice letting go and suspending judgment.

I took some comfort in the fact that the notice included a photo of the stairs that were to be painted and they were the new set of stairs that are below ours. Maybe ours would stay the same.

Last Saturday was the day the lower stairs were to be painted. Yesterday afternoon, I decided to walk down and check them out. From the top of the stairs they looked like this…. no sign of paint.

But when I walked to the bottom of the stairs and looked up, this is what I saw.

The bright colors still seemed strange to me but I had to admit that there was beauty to it. I loved that the stairs looked clear one way and fancy when you looked at them from the other direction.

This morning, I noticed that there was a lot of sand on the plants on both sides of the stairs near us. It seemed so strange and I couldn’t imagine what could have caused it. When I pointed the sand out to somebody later in the day, she said that the stairs had been pressure washed. In that moment, I realized that our part of stairs must also be part of this project and that they will probably be painted tomorrow!

I still think it will take me time to get used to this change, but I’m glad that I decided that the lower stairs were okay and even kind of pretty. I have no doubt that children will enjoy them a lot and I hope that it does indeed keep them safe.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unlikely

Last week’s photo challenge was to share a photo of something “unlikely”; something that may fit into the category of “never say never”.

I, for the most part, stopped saying “never” decades ago when I realized that many, if not most, of the things that I said “never” to ended up being an important part of my life journey.

I first recognized that pattern in my early 40’s when in a span of 2 years I became a devotee of an Indian guru (and still am), a “groupie” of a rock band named “Tribal Therapy” (for about a year), and started going to an African-American Pentecostal church (for about 15 years.) At the time when these life changes began, I had described myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist for 20 years. If, at that time, someone had told me these things would become a life focus of mine, I would have adamantly said “never… no way… not a chance”.

The other area where I have moved from “never” to it being a life focus is photography. I took some photos as a teenager, a college student and when my children were young but at some point developed the belief that photography keeps one from being in the moment; that you don’t “live” when you are focused on preserving a past moment.

I started blogging in 2014. I soon decided that my posts looked better when there were photos in them. Since most photos on the internet are copyrighted, I started looking for ones in the public domain. While over the years I have found some good sources, like pixabay.com and Creative Commons, finding free photos was a very time consuming endeavor at first. It occurred to me that I could solve that problem by taking photographs of my own.

As my interest in nature developed, I became interested in nature photography. At that point, a whole new world opened up for me.

I even bought a microscope and began to snap pictures with my iPhone and an adapter.

I suspect photography will be in my life for a long time.

This photo was taken yesterday, 5-9-18

I will continue to make it a practice to (almost) never say never.

 

Unlikely

Nimo Patel: Beautiful

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may remember that I am a big fan of Nimo Patel from Empty Hands Music. Nimo has recently offered another music video to the world. This one is called Beautiful. The email message from Empty Hands Music introducing the new video stated:

We have officially released our latest music video called “Beautiful“, a song and video sharing a message of letting go of our technology once in a while, to see the beauty that is constantly surrounding us. If you enjoy it, do share with your friends and family.

The introduction on the YouTube page gave even more information:

Ellie Walton and Nimo release another Empty Hands Music Video, this time featuring Nimo in collaboration with soul singer Jason Joseph. The message of the song is simple: that beauty exists every where we go. We just have to open our hearts and eyes, to actually see it moment to moment.

You can download the album that contains these songs and more- for free- at the Empty Hands site but I decided to put the links to some of my previous Nimo posts below. The first one includes introductory information as well as one of the songs he sang when I first heard him sing.

Introduction and Planting Seeds

Ode to Women

Grateful: A Love Song to the World

Keep Loving

Being Kind

Enjoy!

 

Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017

When I planned my trip to Amritapuri this year, I made a priority of being there during Krishna Jayanthi, the day Krishna’s birth is celebrated each year. In my early days with Amma, I found myself crying deeply whenever I sang or listened to some bhajans (devotional songs). When I checked out those bhajans later, I discovered that almost all of them were Krishna songs. I didn’t know anything about Krishna from my conscious mind, but clearly some part of me did.

I have been at Amritapuri on Krishna Jayanthi twice before. An important part of the celebration is a procession that goes from the ashram to a nearby Krishna temple. The group sings all the way to the temple. When I participated in that procession in 2003, I was in bliss the whole time. The second time I was at the ashram on Krishna Jayanthi, my back went out just prior to the celebration and I wasn’t able to walk in the procession.

This year, for me, Krishna’s birthday was a time of bliss, a time of sadness, and a time of challenges. Prior to booking my trip, I had done an internet search for the 2017 date of Krishna Jayanthi in Kerala. August 14 was the date that came up. I booked my trip for August 9 so that I would have time to get over some of the jet lag before the big day. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India: September 12, 2017”

Where the Wild Things Are

Photo Credit: Wikimedia

Frequently, when I reflect on Sreejit’s Dungeon Prompt for the week, I end up writing about something very different than what I had originally intended to write about. This week was no exception. The topic was “Where the Wild Things Are”  and the directions for the prompt were:

Tell us all about one of the more wilder things you’ve done in your life that looks a little out of place when put up next to the rest of your life’s journey.  Or take it in another direction and tell us about your monsters, or demons.

Initially, I intended to write about my early days with Amma. As the deadline approached, however, I realized that there were many other times in my life when I did things that other people might consider “Wild” or perhaps “Strange.” I decided I would share some vignettes of those memories. Continue reading “Where the Wild Things Are”

No Matter Time Nor Place

Sreejit, as always, picked an interesting Dungeon Prompt for this week; one worthy of considerable contemplation. His instructions:

Which truth do you hold no matter the time or place? This isn’t a prompt about whether you believe in God or not, or in science or not. This is a morality question. For example, most of us can say that we believe in the commandment, thou shalt not kill, regardless of religion, but would you be able to stick with that even while witnessing your mother or sister being raped? Would you feel that it was wrong if another person, in that kind of situation, killed an attacker to save someone else? So the question here is, which of your values do you hold so strongly that it wouldn’t matter the time or place? Explain.

I did my personal therapy with therapists who used a process known as corrective parenting psychotherapy. When I finished my therapy, I decided I wanted to become a therapist. After obtaining the necessary education, I chose to do the same kind of therapy with my clients.

All corrective parenting therapists and their clients use a set of six self-care contracts as guiding principles in their lives.  The contracts are:

  • I will not hurt myself or others nor provoke/allow others to harm me. I will stay safe and honor the safety of others
  • I will not run away. I will stay and work through my problems.
  • I will not be sneaky or lie. I will be honest with myself and others.
  • I will not make myself sick or go crazy. I will stay sane and healthy.
  • I will not be passive. I will be proactive.
  • I am responsible for my feelings, thoughts, actions and attitudes.

There is no expectation that anyone will keep these contracts perfectly. In fact, if we look closely, we probably break one or more of them every day. By using them as guiding principles, however, we learn to become conscious of our actions. When we break one of the contracts, we look at how and why we broke it and determine what we will do to prevent ourselves from breaking it again.

I still place great value on these principles, but since I have no expectation that I will keep them perfectly it would not fit into the “no matter time nor place” criteria.

Since Sreejit mentioned the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses, I decided to take a look at those. They are:

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  2. Thou shalt not make any graven idols.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. Thou shalt not kill.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor
  10. Thou shalt not covet.

I found it interesting to reflect on the list. Some I have broken at some point in my life either overtly or subtly, intentionally or unintentionally (3, 5, 8, 9, 10). I know there are people who would believe I have broken two others, although I would disagree with that opinion (1,2). One of the ten I have broken because it is not part of my belief system (4). There are two I have not broken and can’t imagine ever breaking (6, 7). When I ask myself if I would I kill in self defense or to save someone else,  I conclude that I can’t answer the question without being in the situation. I don’t see myself as someone who would ever commit adultery, but I am always leary of saying “never” about anything. All in all, I see that I cannot give “no matter time nor place” status to the ten commandments either.

I place very high value on my path with my spiritual teacher Amma. However, I don’t do many of the spiritual practices that she instructs us to do and even though I may ask her questions about my individual practice or my life, I don’t ask her for advice unless I am willing to do what she suggests I do. I clearly am not committed at the level of “no matter time nor place” even though my process with Amma, in many ways, is the center of my life.

I place great value on my relationship with my children, Sreejit and Chaitanya. For the purposes of this prompt, I reflected on whether I would give my life if it would save theirs. I would like to think so, and I think in almost any circumstance I would, but after recently rereading the book 1984, I recognize that when tortured, a person can be made to betray even those whom they love the most. So, while I think that this would be the value I would most likely hold on to “no matter time nor place” I cannot even be sure of that.

So after much consideration, I have come to the conclusion that there is no value I hold that I can say, without a shred of doubt, that I would be 100% committed to regardless of the time or place. I wonder if it is possible for any human being to stay that committed to anything.

Exploring Utopia

I have been thinking about Utopia since last Thursday when Sreejit announced it as the topic for this week’s Dungeon Prompts. My reflection took me to some uncomfortable places that expanded beyond the scope of Utopia.

When I think of Utopia, I think of Shangri-La, and when I think of Shangri-La, I think of the 1973 movie The Lost Horizon, one of my favorite musicals of all time. [The movie was panned by critics but it really spoke to my heart.]

As I began to write this post, I looked up The Lost Horizon and found this YouTube recording of the opening theme song. Here are the lyrics and the video. I started to cry as I listened to the song.

Lyrics:

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the air you breathe is soft and clean
And children play in fields of green
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears (anymore)

Have you ever dreamed of a place
Far away from it all
Where the winter winds will never blow
And living things have room to grow
And the sound of guns
Doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Many miles from yesterday before you reach tomorrow
where the time is always just today
there’s a lost horizon waiting to be found.
There’s a lost horizon where the sound of guns
doesn’t pound in your ears anymore.

Earlier today, the word nirvana came to my mind. Wikipedia says this about nirvana: “All Indian religions assert it to be a state of perfect quietude, freedom, highest happiness along with it being the liberation from samsara, the repeating cycle of birth, life and death.”

It occurs to me that I may have considered aspects of Utopia, Shangri-La and Nirvana this week. In fact, I think I’ve mixed them all together. I will be presenting some of my processing in a fairly random manner.

***

In my mind, Utopia would be a world without war. It wouldn’t be a world without conflict because humans will always have differences of opinions. It wouldn’t be a world without pain because humans aren’t likely to grow unless there is at least a measure of pain involved. But it would be a world where differences are honored, where people place a high value on seeking win-win solutions, and where love is valued more than hate. It would be a world where we don’t expect each other to be perfect. In my vision of Utopia, everyone would live a life full of adventure, challenge and learning. People would be willing to work on and resolve their issues with each other and would give and receive support.

***

This week I reviewed my life and identified times when I experienced a deep sense of bliss. The times that came to mind, in order of their occurence, were:

  • In 9th grade riding on a bus with Youth For Christ members, singing Christian songs with all of my heart
  • Listening to and singing  bhajans during my early years with Amma, especially when the songs were about Krishna.
  • Spending several hours in a deep meditative state during one of my first trips to India. It occurred when I was sitting in the temple, very close to Amma. I felt like part of me was in another realm, at a party that my conscious mind was not allowed to attend.
  • Singing and “Dancing in the Spirit” at Power House Church of God in Christ (COGIC).
  • Being one of a handful of white people at several COGIC convocations in Memphis, singing gospel music along with 40,000 African-Americans.
  • Listening to Gregorian chanting at Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico.
  • Hearing Taize music for the first time.
  • Singing and dancing to Amrita Vahini, Mata Rani and many other Amma bhajans.
  • Singing Ganesh bhajans in the Kalari last week.

Amma teaches us that bliss comes when the mind is silent. She gives the example of chocolate. If we have been craving chocolate we feel bliss at the moment the chocolate touches our tongue. If the bliss was from the chocolate then we could eat more and more chocolate and become more and more blissful. The reality is, if we eat a lot of chocolate, we will become sick. Amma says we experience bliss at that time because in the instant our tongue tastes the chocolate, our minds are silent and free from desire.

In all of the examples above, my mind was silent. I was focused and living in the moment.

***

So how do I keep myself from experiencing states similar to Utopia/Shangri-la/Nirvana in my life now?

There would be no point in trying to recreate the experiences from the past since bliss is a peak experience that usually comes unannounced. If I look at the list above though, I can see that each instance involved music and community.

Nowadays, I spend too much time alone; watch, read or think too much about current events in my country and in the world; over-think in general; and often don’t ask for what I want or need. I’ve allowed music, singing and dancing to almost disappear from my life except when I am with Amma and even then I don’t take full advantage of those opportunities. I make myself miserable by ruminating about the past or by having expectations and being upset when they don’t come to fruition.

Being around Amma brings our negativities to the surface so that we can work on them. I know that even though the behaviors I mentioned in the paragraph above are areas of weakness for me, they all feel very heightened right now as I’m writing this on a day when I am immersed in my “shit.” Things are not as black and white as I’m feeling in the moment.

At the same time, I also realize that these self-sabotaging behaviors could become more entrenched now that I’m retired. Am I willing to change them? Time will tell.

Thank you Sreejit for creating a prompt that helped me to sort some of this out.

 

Dungeon Prompts: Moral Authority

Last Thursday, I received notice that Sreejit from The Seekers Dungeon was re-starting his Dungeon Prompt series. I was intrigued by the topic for the week, Moral Authority. I began to think about what moral authority meant to me.

The next day, I read that the Trump Administration had 1) stopped a study of the health effects of a mining practice in Appalachia, 2) disbanded the federal advisory committee on climate change, and 3) decided that the Environmental Protection Agency would work on building partnerships rather than focusing on regulations and enforcement. I felt despair when I read that information. It occurred to me that I was seeing examples of what moral authority is NOT, at least in my world view. 

I accept that President Trump has some authority over me because of the power of his position, but due to the things he says and does on nearly a daily basis, I do not believe that he has moral authority, or it least none that I will accept.

Since those were thoughts I had on the spot, I decided it was time for me to learn more about moral authority.

Wikipedia stated:

Moral authority is authority premised on principles, or fundamental truths, which are independent of written, or positive, laws. As such, moral authority necessitates the existence of and adherence to truth. Because truth does not change, the principles of moral authority are immutable or unchangeable, although as applied to individual circumstances the dictates of moral authority for action may vary due to the exigencies of human life. These principles, which can be of metaphysical and/or religious nature, are considered normative for behavior, whether they are or are not also embodied in written laws,[1] and even if the community is ignoring or violating them.[2] Therefore, the authoritativeness or force of moral authority is applied to the conscience of each individual, who is free to act according to or against its dictates.

Moral authority has thus also been defined as the “fundamental assumptions that guide our perceptions of the world”.[3]

Theodore Brown wrote:

Put the phrase “moral authority” into a Google search, and you will get back something over 670,000 hits.  Clearly the expression gets used a lot.  But what do people mean when they use it?  Many people seem to think that it means the right to weigh in on discussions involving what to do about some tough issue.  Other uses suggest that it is a measure of virtue; those who live exemplary lives have moral authority.  Or, that one can gain moral authority by having been put through a trial: the John McCain effect.  One simple definition is that moral authority is the capacity to convince others of how the world should be.  This distinguishes it from expert or epistemic authority, which could be defined as the capacity to convince others of how the world is.

When I found the diagram at the top of this post, it occurred to me that reflecting on those positive and negative behaviors might help me identify those people who I think have moral authority. From that exploration, I came up with a list of  behaviors that I think those who have moral authority have in common.  In my mind, people with moral authority:

  • love all beings in the world
  • love and are committed to nature
  • live lives of service
  • speak the truth
  • teach others to live in integrity
  • teach others healthy principles of living
  • teach others to love and respect one another
  • value unity over division
  • live lives that are true to their teachings, i.e. they walk their talk

As I pondered who the people were that I think have moral authority, Jesus, Amma, Martin Luther King, and Pope Francis came instantly to my mind. Amma is clearly the person whose moral authority has impacted my life the most.

I believe blind faith may come in an instant, but mature faith develops from experience. I have been in Amma’s presence for 28 years- watching her, learning from her and seeing the impact she has had on my life and the lives of my friends, family, and other devotees. I have no doubt that she has made a massive difference in the lives of millions of people the world over.

Many years ago, I wrote a song, and had a friend translate it into Malayalam, that in a way reflects my decision to accept Amma’s moral authority. I titled the song, Only for This I Pray.

This is an audiotape and lyrics of that song.  Please pardon any pronunciation errors.

amma ende karangal ennum ninne sevikkatte
amma ende manass˘ mantrathāl nirayename
amma ende vākkukal ennum ninne pukazhthette
ende hridayam ānandam kond˘ nrittamādatte

ende sneham prakāshamāyi ennenum thilangatte
amma ende vishvāsam valarnnu kondirikkatte
ennenum ammayepole āyi varename
amma itinnu vendi mātram nyan prārthikkyunnu

Mother, may my hands be in service, my mind fill with mantra
May my voice forever sing your praise, my heart dance with joy
May my love shine ever brighter, my faith ever grow
Mother, may each day I become more like you, only for this I pray
Only for this I pray

That prayer is as true for me today as it was the day I wrote it.