Thursday, June 16, 2016

The answer is love


We're on vacation. Lugging all of our beach gear down to the shore the other day I see the flags are at half staff and I'm reminded of the 30 ... no ... 50 men and women murdered at that nightclub in Orlando. 

And my heart feels the weight of grief and ugliness and division bearing down on us. 

Orlando. I've never been there before. All I know of Orlando is that Disney World is down there. And Shaq. 

In my head Orlando is this pre-fab, plastic paradise that's home to talking mice and candy-colored annuals arranged into brand logos and pastel pants and fanny packs. It makes me think of that scene in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," where the knights are preparing to go to Camelot and then the Knights of the Round Table song plays and then the on says, "On second thought, let's not go to Camelot. 'Tis a silly place."

I've always thought of Orlando as kind of a silly place.

Though not this week.

There doesn't seem to be much silly about Orlando. It's lost its glitter. That innocent luster. As it turns out, it's just like the rest of the other places all bloodied by hate.

I'm at the beach, and I want to do something. To say something. To remind myself and my family and all the other vacationers that our lives are so precious and we need to stand by one another and stand up for one another. Hate seems like such wasted energy.

But I'm just little me. And we're all here on these nice vacations on this bright, sunny day. Orlando is probably on all our minds, but for this moment, we don't want it on our lips.

Despite that, I craved this moment of reflection. It was the least I could do on this day as the flag fluttered so mournfully. The very least.

I traced "love" in the sand with my fingers. But it didn't stand out enough. So I filled in the outlines with small stones I collected from the shoreline. Gathering the stones and filling the outline was a meditation. Digging through the sand, finding ones big enough, filling in the outline. Digging some more. I did this for a half hour ... maybe and hour. I'm not sure how long. It became a bit of an obsession.

I ruminated on the word love. 

I wrote it, because anything else in the sand seemed to long.

Love is short and simple.

I realized as I was writing love that it is something we should be doing every day. Every minute of every hour of every day even. And if we all did this the best we could, as often as we could the tide might start to shift.

We can write love with whatever supplies we have on hand. 

Write love with pens and pencils, with bytes and words and with paint and canvas. Write it with dancing and skipping and with smiling and giggling. Write it with hugs and kisses and with waving, shaking, holding hands. Write it with random acts of kindness and forced acts of kindness (because kindness isn't always easy on angry days). 

Write love to the people you love. And write love to the people you hate.

Write love by consoling. By supporting. By standing up for and standing by and standing sentinel. 

Write love by being present and alive.

Write love with gratitude.

And if there is nothing else, write love with sand and stones. 

Write it obsessively, compulsively and thoroughly.

The tide came in, even as I wrote love. 

And so I realized that we have to write love knowing it will be washed away at the next high tide. It is impermanent, so we have to write it again and again. In big letters and small letters. In big gestures and small gestures.

Love can't be legislated. It belongs to us. And it's up to us to use it to make the change we're aching for. 

And it it starts with writing love. Branding it in our hearts and on our brains so that it's our first instinct. Love over fear. Love over hate. Love over and over.

By the time we leave, the word Love has been washed away, leaving only a few stray stones and the impression that it once existed there. 

I'll just have to write it again tomorrow.

Because that is the only answer. The only remedy. The only solution to this dark terror. 

Steadfast, ephemeral, mighty, delicate, world-changing, universe-building love. Over and over again.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

When humble warrior helps center the universe

Earth, as seen underneath Saturn's rings.
Photo courtesy of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Tonight's yoga class was a struggle. From start to finish. I was shaky and off balance and couldn't get a grip on my mat from all the sweat rolling off my underused body.

I found myself going toward a place of frustration and defeat, which would've only made the rest of the practice futile. It's so hard to find your center when you're busy telling yourself you're failing.


Then our instructor had us take this pose with one leg stretched out behind and the other stretched at an angle in front. Our hands were clasped behind our backs, our chests pointed skywards.


I didn't know what to do with my head, so I held it up. But the instructor told us our head should hang low and heavy. 


This is humble warrior, she said. Our heads should be bowed to the ground with our hearts raised skyward. 


"You can bow to your body. Or to the practice," she said. 


So I did. Head hanging low toward the Earth. Heart raised to the heavens. Bowing to enlightenment.


Because I experienced some of that.


Now, this is going to probably sound a little hokey to those non-yogi sorts among you (and potentially to those of you who've ever omed or Namasted or groaned getting out of half-pigeon) but the pose felt profound. It felt like a lesson. One of those rare moments of clarity about how to live more fully. 


Humility. From the Latin words humilitas and humilis, meaning "grounded" or "from the earth." (*cough* at least according to Wikipedia *cough*).


Lowering my head to the ground allowed me to be mindful of my roots. To acknowledge I am limited and impermanent. Something my brain encumbered by pride and ego and self-importance needs to be reminded of constantly. 


That's part of the human condition, right? Being the centers of our own universes. 


But the beautiful part of humble warrior, is that to balance out this moment of vulnerability and insignificance, your heart is raised toward the vastness of the universe. Opening itself up to the beauty of all that is and was and will be.  


It was this perfect limbo. The brain will not always allow you to find what the heart sees so readily. 


Faith. I mean that has to be what faith is right? Quieting your roaring psyche for the grace that comes with knowing you are who, who you are - no more, no less. (I'm rediscovering Pearl Jam. That guy knows what I'm talking about).




Humility is not a quality we seem to value much in the U.S., at least on a national level. We're raised to seek higher incomes and bigger houses. The things we do to unwind often results in a competition with ourselves and each other to run faster and harder and longer. To be better than the best. We don't find joy in the doing, so much. Just in the finish line. And when we can't make it to the finish line in time – we berate ourselves for failing rather than celebrating that we tried.


The people we tend to put our faith in, to put our trust in, to look up to as leaders and role models – they're not exactly humble. At least that I can see on the public stage. They know our attention spans are short and our humors easily swayed by things that are bigger, louder, flashier, more shocking. The things that allow us to raise pitchforks and wave torches at the next parent who allows their child to fall into a gorilla enclosure. So intoxicated are we by rage and self-righteousness, we often forget our own humiliation. The hard lessons we've had to learn.


But I think humility is alive on a smaller scale. I see it around me, in the thoughtfulness of my neighbors and in the sweetness of strangers. And maybe there's a reason for that. By its nature, humility is lowly, unobtrusive, meek, reserved. Asking for a huge act of humility seems like it might be an oxymoron.


At a cosmic level, the Earth is just a speck. And we're just the dust occupying that speck. So, I don't know, maybe its not too much to ask that we all try to embody the greatness of humility.


Tonight, as a balanced on the verge of falling, humbled by the enormity of existence, my heart felt as vast as the universe.


It's a relief to know I don't know a whole lot – I come across more mysteries that way. And can appreciate the questions just as much, if not more than, the answers. 


I continued to stumble and teeter for the remainder of my practice. Even falling on my face attempting a handstand. The only difference was, after humble warrior, I smiled and laughed about it. Sometimes you just need to let gravity win.