Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Love One Another"

Walking today desti-
nation Temple Bar, I realized that I wasn't afraid of the traffic anymore. Cars whooshed past loudly, but I hardly noticed them. Only by its absence did I recognize what I'd previously felt as fear.

When I first arrived here in Dublin, I felt aggressed by the traffic. The driving on the left didn't help matters any. The rushing cars seemed impatient with me, and certainly unforgiving when I crossed at the wrong time, habituated as I am to checking left not right before stepping into the street. Then there was the matter of drivers being seated at steering wheels on the right side of the cab. All this strangeness left me feeling alien, I realize now.

I hate to be new at anything. I hate to stand out for the "wrong" reasons. I wanted to be doing it all right--especially given doing it wrong in this case could actually cost me my life. Who wouldn't be fearful!

Then I apparently got used to it. Case in point: I had to close my eyes just now and picture my own car to remember which side my steering wheel is on - hah! The left, of course: I saw it immediately. But it amuses me that I had to stop even for a split second to think about it. And it's telling: I have become accustomed (an interesting word indeed) to the differences: they aren't so different anymore.

And all at once, on watching this progression of thoughts between Barrow Street and the Grand Canal, I saw that this must be human nature, or at least the nature of fear. Or is it our default relationship to difference? Something strange, foreign is perceived as a threat and is to be defended against. One must protect oneself.

As a people, we seem to be very skilled at creating "us"s and "them"s. Democrat and Republican, first world and third world, Christian and Muslim, gay and straight, privileged and homeless, fully abled and disabled, mentally well and mentally ill, "pro choice" and "pro life": the list is endless. Maybe it's having seen Milk a week ago that has me thinking in such dichotomous terms, has me seeing more clearly the relationship between fear and difference.

I knew of Harvey Milk before seeing the film, but didn't know him or that piece of history well. What's clear to me now is this: Harvey Milk loved people. And Harvey Milk had a passion for freedom--not just for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people, but for all people. Rather than "us"s and "them"s, he saw "Us"s: various groups of "Us"s. There is a gargantuan difference between the two views. A world of "Us"s has its base in unity: all constituents of that world are individual parts of one whole. Introduce a "them"--Jews, blacks, Arabs, queers, "rednecks," etc. --and you introduce a potential adversary, an opponent. In a world where there are only "Us"s, there is no opponent. In such a world, there is no enemy.

Is it just difference that has us pit "Us" against "Them"? Well yes: difference and its Siamese twin, fear, I'd say. In the fewer than five minutes' time it took me to reach the corner of Clanwilliam Place and Mount Street Lower, I saw the whole schema. The Dublin traffic did not aggress me. Those drivers were not hostile. Their ways were different. Their streets were different. I was different, foreign. They were different, foreign. I felt like an outsider. Like someone who had wandered into an exclusive club where I held no membership. It was these and only these elements of difference that had me perceive aggression, and it was that perception alone that triggered my fear.

I see it was my exposure, my getting familiar with the difference that disintegrated my fear--poof! It's not that the difference has been eliminated, you notice. I am still a "left of cab" driver who will resume driving on the right side of the road upon return to the U.S. I have not become a "right of cab" driver, though I will abide by the rules and customs while here, if required. Notice I needn't become part of the Irish "Us" to abide the differences between us, any more than I need to become a part of the Israeli "Us" or the transsexual "Us" or the bipolar 'Us" to abide them. I need only to familiarize myself with the differences to acclimate to them, to vaporize any fear that those differences might provoke in me.

Many segments, but one cloth: all the real peacemakers of any era have have known this. Take Jesus of Nazareth, for example. Could his fundamental message (if the recordkeepers kept their records well) have been any simpler?
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
John 13:31-35

Where there is fear, there is not Love. The "them"s get us every time, don't they? The illusion of a "them," that is. The opposing "other" is a concept before it becomes a "fact." But there is no "them" in fact. In the patchwork quilt that is humanity, some sections resemble hardly at all the other sections. Still, they are no less integral, no less valuable, no less a part of the whole.

There is not even another to love, really. Moment by moment, gesture by gesture, we are loving Us or we are not, it's as simple as that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wealthy in Love

It was green olives that did it this time--picholines that woke me up. In one seemingly ordinary moment, my teeth shaving the firm, brined fruit from its stone, I saw it: there is no such thing as an ordinary moment. It felt like a miracle to me, the earth the air the sunlight the water of the French countryside in my mouth, my tongue tasting its distinctiveness.

How is it that we ever experience ourselves, whether in moments or in sum, as anything but wealthy?

After a brilliantly sunny Monday, Dublin was very gray all day today, and cold though not windy. What a surprise it was to look up at around dusk and see hovering over the mountains one long cumulus cloud glowing, beatifically lit from behind with the faintest, shyest bit of sunset summery in its pastel tones and to say the least antithetical to the prevailing bleakness. I dropped what I was doing, and moved to the next room for a broader view. I gladly and gratefully gave my eyes to the subdued majesty before me--not reverent exactly, but still it was a sort of veneration I suppose.

Sunsets (and sunrises for that matter) are once-in-a-lifetime events, every one of them. Ditto
the ever changing arrangement of clouds on that ocean of blue we call sky. Unlike our sentinel stars and planets, the perpetually unique displays of morning, daytime, and evening skies epitomize the impermanence that characterizes the natural world, the impermanence that we are.

Whatever would be the polar opposite of "There's more where that came from": that's how I was raised. Implicitly and explicitly, we were trained to make things last. Indeed, it was an atmosphere of "There's
no more where that came from." Shoes, clothing, toys, schoolbooks: it was tantamount to criminal if we ruined or broke or lost any of these. For sure there were earmarks of poverty mentality on this style of upbringing. But I credit it with my penchant for avoiding waste. What is making a thing last but a form of cherishing? I learned respect for having and appreciation for that which I had.

Last March in Montmartre, I tasted perhaps my first ever vintage St. Emilion. I was instructed to hold the sip in my mouth for a time before swallowing, to notice if the palate changed at all as it sat on my tongue. I did as I was told, and before long my eyes widened. I swallowed then, and almost burst with my discovery: "Cherry!"

We enjoyed that bottle over four days--not hoarding but savoring its contents--and each day the cherry hints grew more pronounced. I think it's fair to say that I tasted every drop of that wine. I cannot claim this about any I've drunk before or since.

Consumption will get us full, but it's tasting that gets us fed. What on earth isn't worth savoring? Sure, there often
is more where "that" - fill in the blank - came from. But to consume without tasting is to miss the moments.

What if this were your last olive, your last visit with mom, your last hockey practice, your last sunset, your last kiss? How would your experience of the olive, the visit, the practice, the sunset, the kiss be different? Would it be different? I say yes. I say that from that standpoint, even the minutiae of daily life occur as precious, even miraculous. One feels possessed of a wealth that no layoff, no recession, no deflation could ever touch.

This is what it means to dwell in the abundance of Love. This is what it means to be wealthy in Love.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Tarra and Bella

How remarkable and gorgeous it is that Love will find Its way across so-called boundaries of color, age, gender, size...even species! Witness the story of Tarra and Bella, which begins at the the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. I am grateful for their heartwarming example and extend a great big virtual hug to them and to all at the sanctuary who recognized and have supported their uncommon bond. Here's to unstoppable Love!

Image: section of a garden wall of "I love you"s in various languages, Montmartre (Paris)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Joyful Simplicity

Happy New Year to All!

Here we are already well into January. Usually I've created my year by now. What do I mean "created my year"? I mean sitting down on New Year's Eve and writing nonstop for about an hour in retrospect about the year that hasn't happened yet. Prior to that writing, I usually spend the week or so before New Years taking stock as the “old” year comes to a close, and I think this clears the way nicely for the writing ritual. I write without thinking—just write—and see what comes. Later, I usually find the essence of what the coming year will hold revealed there.

This New Years I spent the turn-of-the-year period playing in Paris, catching a nasty cold, then trying everything to cure it. Consequently, I did neither the stock taking nor the writing. And as I am still recovering, I have yet to do them; I just haven't been up for it.

So having broken now with my longstanding tradition, I'm tempted to create the year consciously, versus through the traditional pouring out of my subconscious via ink on paper. I've already sketched out some intentions (even sick I could do that). And when I venture in the direction of an overall intention, a context for the year, what arises is this: joyful simplicity. I'm not even sure what that means, but something about it excites me.

And as for the stock taking, I don't have to look very far to see: I left 2008 clearer, more trans-parent than I've ever been. Surely this owes in part to my having left nearly all my earthly possessions (and papers and files and the gazillion sorts of minutiae associated with running two or three businesses, a household, a car, a lawn mower, and etcetera) on the other side of an ocean. And true, I am living in a substantially smaller abode, out of the proverbial two suitcases of goods and clothing. The books and files I have with me wouldn't half fill a shopping bag. But I'm no fool. I know clarity is not as simple as dispensing with or putting aside one’s material goods. It helps, but it's not everything. It seemed lately that not a day went by that I wasn't clearing something out of my path. Certainly it helps to throw oneself into a whole new environment, say 3,000 miles from all that is familiar and comfortable. For me at least, this act, this remove, this reckless abandoning of my comfort zones has highlighted vividly for me what is essential and what is extraneous.

Clutter comes in many forms. There's junk mail, there's memora-bilia, there's senti-

mentality and all it has us collect. There are household records and teaching materials from eons past. There's furniture that's been replaced by other furniture, the backup Mr. Coffee: the myriad "just in case"s in basement and attic. But perhaps the most obstructive clutterers are the habits of thinking and being that have done their time and do not serve us any longer. Clearing any of this leaves a space. Clearing all of it leaves a huge space. In either case, something new can enter, proportionate to the space made available.

I recently read a quote to the effect that we are always either fulfilling our lives, our intentions and ambitions, or we are engaging distractions. I am a curious woman; I have a lot of interests. But all of a sudden my interest in something isn't enough to qualify its taking my time or focus. I feel unwilling--moreso than ever--to waste the minutes and hours, to indulge myself with something that doesn't bring me forward. There is a laser quality to what I am experiencing, and I do believe it is a part of the larger wave of clarity and shift that got Barack Obama so heartily elected, for example.

Joyful simplicity requires a lot of intolerance, a radical break in the status quo. It requires death: not just one, but many deaths. And I am willing to execute them.

Patience is an odd companion to intolerance, but interestingly a new-found patience is arising in tandem with this refinement. Not the patience that would have me wait and wait endlessly for a result, but the patience that trusts in the process, knowing the outcome is assured. I don't need the Clarity handbook finished and published urgently; nevertheless, I am committed to that happening by June, and I know that putting my time in each day will bring me this fulfillment. The same goes for learning Photoshop and InDesign, for relearning to play guitar.

Last week, when my cough wasn't clearing, I went to the pharmacy, asked a few questions, and came home with Ivy-Thyme. I took my first 15 drops and proceeded to anticipate immediate relief, which did not come. There was my classic urban-American bratty "I want it, and I want it Now!" conditioning flaring! I recognized it for what it was, relaxed knowing I was taking effective steps in the right direction, and kept taking my doses. It all felt graceful, once I got past the initial reflex, and before long improvement was apparent.

Nota bene: I am speaking of refinement, not resolution. It is clearing, making room that makes this spaciousness and the fluidity which accompanies it possible. Deciding, resolving—even newly--on the same ground as before would get me just as far as throwing more bad seed onto stripped soil: under such conditions, what has failed once is guaranteed to fail again.

I notice now that more than ever I have nothing to prove. I wasn't much of a "fighter" before, but now I feel a broader and more durable tranquility. I am not tranquil to the point of apathy by any means. In fact, I can feel that this peaceful posture has left me more committed. Space makes room for what matters, and into the space that which matters flows easily, naturally. In the absence of a bevy of distractions, there is time and energy abundant to attend to these essentials.

Flow, ease, room for what matters, tranquility, true progress, real satisfaction: it’s easy to see where “joyful” comes in! I may sit down to that writing yet. But joyful simplicity will be serving me well in the meantime. And vice versa.