Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sample Chapter of Easing into the Dhammapada

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Great Idea #2

Hatred Cannot Overcome Hatred

I once read that some people can only see beauty when it is there in front of them, while others can take any situation and create beauty. It’s a different kind of awareness, a deeper seeing and presence, that often allows beauty to bloom from seemingly ugly experiences, spaces and individuals.  The saint makes holy where-ever they dwell because of the consciousness they embody. In a very real sense, they call on you to see what is possible and beautiful in yourself.
We live in a world of violence.  Even in our sports, we laud victory over another.  The Dhammapada points out, however, that the truest victory is always the one over yourself.  Once you no longer harm yourself, you are less likely to harm others.  Once you struggle with destructive habits, you are able to be compassionate with the habits of others.  Once you realize that much of violence arises from people who are seeking happiness just like yourself, you will open your heart.
The Dhammapada uses your own awareness and experiences as a fertile garden to grow compassion for others.  Gradually, as you awaken, you begin to understand that usually when you do not harm others, you will not be harmed. You feel deeply that everyone fears punishment and death like you, so why would you punish or kill? You begin to see that gentle speech really does “catch more butterflies than vinegar” and that when you hate people, you are really separating yourself from the real joy of living.
“Those who hold back anger are real charioteers, others merely hold the reins” (verse 222). The image is powerful, and for the false charioteers, nothing less than a wreck is waiting to happen.  The whole body is at your disposal to do good—this thing you call the physical self that can smile and hug and bend over and help; this speech that can edify and uplift or drag down and condemn; this mind that can be clear and kind or clouded, driven and aggressive; this breath that can flow without effort or be tight, choking, or rough; this intuitive self can be aware of the beauty as well as the garbage that is around you; and this lightness that is the joy, your birthright that knows even in the midst of conflict, evil and defeat, “all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well (Julian of Norwich)”.  In the end, peace really is your choice, one you make moment by moment.

Poetic Response:

A mob has been seeded into Facebook posts,
with words like
They and Them and Him and Her,
soundbite micro-realities mixing
with the rush of false intuitions,
illusions heated in little silver children’s spoons,
the flames media-fed and blue-screen hot,
and thundering
word by word by word
full color aura
into the pupils of millions of eyes.

Questions to Take You Deeper:

1.      Do you believe, way down deep, that if you do not harm, you will not be harmed?  Why or why not? What attributes do you need to refine to live a life of no harm?
2.      Can you recall a time when your compassion for another diffused a difficult situation in your life?  What concrete ways can you practice compassion? Choose one and “try it on” for a period of time.  What differences do you notice in your life?
3.      How does “mob mentality” show up in your life?  How does cultivating awareness help you keep your balance in charged situations?
4.      For one day, choose to practice gentle speech.  How do YOU feel at the end of the day?  What did you notice about how others responded to you?  Did you know that in some monastery and retreat settings, folks are asked to not talk about anyone unless they are physically present?  Try that practice for one day and jot in your journal or share with others what you learned about yourself.
5.      How does non-harming feel in your body, this sense that you are filled with awareness and goodwill to all?  Be concrete!  How does your body feel when you are afraid, angry or confused?  Again, be as concrete as you can. Do you think being able to recognize physical states can help support your desire to be compassionate?

Reference Verses
  1. 3, 4, 5, 6 (Hatred cannot overcome hatred)
  2. 98 (saints make holy wherever they dwell)
  3. 103-105 (victory over yourself, rather than others)
  4. 117-118 (awareness of evil habits)
  5. 124 (no harm comes to those who do no harm),
  6. 129 (everyone fears punishment and death like you do)
  7. 131-32 (do not strike at those seeking happiness and you will not be struck)
  8. 133-134 (gentle speech)
  9. 137-140 (the pain that comes from harming the innocent)
  10. 197 (live in joy, never hating those who hate)
  11. 222 (“those who hold back anger are real charioteers, others merely hold the reins.”)
  12. 231 (use your body, tongue, mind for doing good)

Sample Chapter of Easing into the Gospel of Thomas

Great Idea #7

You are created to Stand in the Middle of Relative and Ultimate Reality

The character for “man” in Chinese stands for the idea that humans connect heaven and earth. This same sort of placement of humans in the Gospel of Thomas occurs over and over again.  It’s an incredibly rich concept, and if we broke it down to more modern language, we could say that humans are also made to connect relative and ultimate levels of reality.

So, what do these terms mean, “relative” and “ultimate”? Jesus was essentially using the term Kingdom of Heaven (which is a feminine noun in Aramaic by the way) for ultimate reality, and your sleep-walking mind caught up in bills, time, calendars, work, family and all the many ways you divide or ignore reality is what Jesus calls the Kosmos and Eastern religions would name Samsara or “the wheel of conditional suffer” or other such terms. The two are superimposed upon each other in a way—both always present, both always “reality” and your job is to be able to switch from one way of moving through your life to the other “lens” effortlessly, eventually getting to the point where you can hold both at once. My husband has contacts like that—one can see objects at a distance, the other can focus on objects close up and his brain actually can “choose” what it needs to see.

These concepts are important because, like Mike’s contacts, functioning in relative reality means you get your bills paid, hug your kids, and don’t run red lights. Having access to ultimate reality means you always have a healing context for your thoughts, feelings, behaviors and the like—part of you is timeless, vast, unending and eternal.  It’s like having a fight with your friend, then walking outside and gazing up into a sky littered with stars and recalling the constellation chart saying “you are here” and our sun barely shows up on one little arm of our galaxy.  One doesn’t negate the other—the pain of the argument is reality and so is the idea that the argument is held in a giant bowl of infinity where you can imagine millions of other arguments and make ups going on just on this planet alone.  That moment of anger is also a possible moment when you can connect with all that ever was, is and will be.

Your senses can both help and hinder your development of holding both relative and ultimate reality—they can be your “evergreen” gates to the Kingdom of God or they can draw you ‘round with impressions and input that blur your ability to grasp the wider and deeper vision of life.  Your mind has to learn to take in the information of the senses and then be aware enough to “see” or “hear” both.  It’s why even in the Bible, Jesus kept insisting “those who ears, let them hear.”

Like the idea of the Eastern Guru, (a term that means “light bringer”) the Gospel of Thomas points out that you often begin to see glimpses of relative and ultimate reality in your spiritual teachers. They serve as your first models.  It makes a great deal of sense that early Christians would call Jesus “the son of God” because, like when the Buddha was asked if he were a god, his disciples and followers caught the scent of ultimate reality in him.  It was a rich metaphoric way to describe how it felt to be in his presence.  The Gospel of Thomas not only brings this to your attention, it tells you that all beings can be like Jesus.  We were all created to “stand” up into the world, holding both relative and ultimate reality—not just one person.

Poetic Response

I will never fully be family—
he and his children by another woman
draw lines in the sand,
and while I might toe the grains,
give salt to salt,
they are not mine and
I am not theirs.
I see him in them--
this gesture,
that laugh.
50% of all marriages end in divorce—
100% of all lives end in death.
And so, I bear such little tragedies
nestle them with a light-hearted
in a much larger

Questions to Take You Deeper

1.      Identify examples of relative and ultimate reality.  When, if ever, do you first recall looking at life this way?
2.      What other ramifications, “good” or “bad”, suggest themselves to you when you consider that reality has at least two levels?
3.      Why do you think Jesus taught so much in nature and used so many agricultural, celebratory and intimate family gatherings for his parables and teaching moments?  How do such environments help convey relative and ultimate reality?
4.      Do you think naming ultimate reality “the Kingdom of Heaven” or the “Kingdom of God” “weights” one kind of reality over another?  How do you get beyond this “either/or” language? In what way is a human teacher important in this work?
5.      What ramifications does the practical understanding of relative and ultimate reality have for the dying process we must all face?

Reference Verses
·         L 11 twoness and oneness—holding both
·         L 15 finding the source, unborn, the true Father
·         L 17 intuitive mind, getting beyond dualistic mind (as guarded by the senses)
·         L19 senses as the gateway (when used correctly, they are “evergreen”), living out of ultimate reality
·         L 30 the unity beneath the varied individuals…early Trinitarian language
·         L 43 holding relative and ultimate reality in our spiritual master, and later, in all of life
·         L 49 the Source named as feminine and the beginning and ending (timeless) for those unified. Kingdom is not a realm or physical place
·         L 50 The Kingdom is not what we expect to find.
·         L 56 seeing only relative reality is seeing a corpse
·         L 59 paying attention to the Source now means you can be conscious when you die. 
·         L 61 Salome and the bed—Yeshua bluntly tells her she alone must be filled with light—it cannot be given to her
·         L 69 there is no “you” to be persecuted
·         L 72 am I here to divide? Jesus asks
·         L 75 only the single one enters the place of union
·         L 77 split a piece of wood, I am there…
·         L 87 getting beyond the relative reality of the body and living from the soul
·         L 106 transform two into one, all things possible because you are all things

·         L 108 mutuality of teacher and student

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Blind Spot of Non-Partisan and Non-Denominational Event Planning

I read the list below to my husband this morning, and he commented that he wondered what would happen if he wore his favorite camo shirt and Trump hat to the event.  If you are like me, I had this knee jerk reaction—“Why would you be so partisan? Are you looking for trouble?  Can’t you see what they are trying to do?”

He laughed out loud.  “They are doing the same thing!”

Now of course, a very “interesting” conversation ensued.  I want to invite you into that conversation now.  If you are very honest with yourself, it can be an eye-opener.  Here is the mission statement and list I read to my husband:

WIMN is a nondenominational nonpartisan celebration of healing and listening through the arts which unite us heart-to-heart with oneness and compassion.
·  Artistic talent in the form of paintings, photos, reproductions of posters, drawings relative to peace, tolerance, and community could be displayed and offered for purchase by the artist if so desired via easels...
·  Peace T-shirts designed will be available for purchase
·  Neck massage
·  Peace mural
·  Drumming Circle
·  Thunder Bay Theatre
·  Crafts for the young at heart sponsored by Home Depot...assisted by the Boy Scouts? 
·  Girls Scouts...materials to make peace signs, dove with olive branch, or????  
·   Strolling musicians.
·  Glass Bottom boat ride drawing
·  Marine Sanctuary educational booth
·  Gratitude Yoga session Chair Yoga
·  Face Painting...?
·  Henna Tattoos
·  Award winning films from U-tube
·  Balloon art

Information tables:
·  Native American
·  Environmental information
·  Marine Sanctuary

Look carefully at the mission statement and the list of activities, and ask yourself the following questions:
      What does the peace symbol or a dove with an olive branch actually mean to different religious and political groups?  No, I don’t mean its academic meaning. I am referring to that knee-jerk, gut level feeling that good symbols evoke.  How is this different from wearing a conservative slogan at this event or a symbol that has deep meaning for folks who are more conservative, and who think their symbol applies equally to all?  What is the blessing and danger of such symbol sets when we assume they apply to everyone equally?

2.       What do physical activities such as yoga, henna tattoos, massage and drum circles convey to the full spectrum of religious and political groups?  Again, you aren’t passing judgement about whether an activity is right or wrong—you are only using empathy and a feeling sense to define how others might respond to these “symbol” words. I am a yoga teacher and have been wildly excited about a drumming circle coming up on Sunday at a local church, so recognize this as the hard work it is. Consider each event separately—what do you see?

3.       Look at the larger entities who are participating—theater, water sanctuary, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Native American table, Environmental Information table, Art in the Loft. Look at them one by one because they will not all fall into the same category.  Again ask, what is the public face of these groups? How do both liberal and conservative and “folks in the middle” respond to these organizations as such?  If you had to “label” the group as conservative or liberal or truly somewhere in the middle, be ready to defend why you say this.  Literally try to stand in the other's shoes as you do this!

4.       Now, look at the mission statement.  Does your analysis of the activities, information tables and symbol sets truly reflect “nondenominational nonpartisan celebration of healing and listening through the arts which unite us heart-to-heart with oneness and compassion”? And even more interesting to me—what symbol sets, activities and information tables would better reflect the mission statement? I think events such as this one are lovely. I glow participating in them.  I’m personally giddy and happy it’s happening in a little northern Michigan town and I applaud the love and effort behind it.  But we need to own who is really being served by the event and either 1) be honest about who is really being called to participate or 2) embrace that only certain segment of the population will meet for this event and don’t try to cloak it as nondenominational and nonpartisan. That’s where honesty and integrity begins and that’s the only way true change will ever happen.

Blessings, Right and Left and Middle,

Friday, April 28, 2017

Pop Bottle Flowers

When I saw this on Pinterest, I had to give it a try.  They are really fun!  Between these and wanting to build a pop bottle green house, I've put out a call for plastic bottles.  :-)  They are beautiful in both the sun and the shade, which is a delight.  Simple acrylic paints, and I'll seal it if I put it outside. Each bottle has its own shape and nature, and laying one inside of another is a way to create more complex flowers.  

For instance, this form was a Smart Warter bottle; it helped me create long daisy like petals (the top of the bottle), with a complex center curving in (from the bottom of the bottle).  I'm going to paint it in purples.

I am thankful for all the creative folks out there that allow me to explore beauty and creativity in my own dining room. Thank you to all.

Twig Lanterns and other Cedar Art at Dragon Fly House

With all the cedar down with the land clearing going on, I've been really drawn into seeing what I can make with limbs, small trees and the a few larger logs.  Above are LED light lanterns.  I'm still perfecting the way to put the walls together, but I can tell you It's a great deal of fun. The two light colored ones were created with paper walls, the blue on the left with cloth. These prototypes, imperfect as they are, were incredible at night.  It'll be fun to try to embed dried leaves between layers of tissue paper next, creating the panels.

Sometimes, coming off steroids for breathing, I find I have a few days of "total right brain" energy. Writing is much more difficult, but everywhere I look, I get ideas for building, crafting, weaving, etc.  It's a fun energy, despite the gentle guilt of not sitting in front of the computer for my usual six hours or so.  

This is the baby-beginnings of another project, weaving and yarn wrapping a branch.  I'll post it when it is complete. The wood is nearly five feet high to give you perspective.  I'm going to do a whole set of them as a wall mural.

 This is an example of cedar bough weaving I am doing.  When the cedar is fresh cut, it's pretty flexible and easy to weave with.

The frame is huge--it will eventually hide the bright yellow electrical pole. 

 Here is a frame for peas this summer. I like the unusual triangle shape for the garden. Vertical interest is a great deal of fun.

 This is the beginning of raised bed gardens. Mike has done two and has the materials cut for a third.  We've also been laying out whole logs to do easily worked squares. We should have about ten garden spaces when everything is completed.

We have a drumming circle/Aramaic Jesus chant night coming up Sunday, and I've also been creating rhythm instruments. (By the way, did you know 5 gallon water containers make amazing drums?!)  Above are rhythm sticks (you just click them together).  I found a four-inch by 16-inch interesting weathered old log and it's great to drum on as well.  I'll be wood burning it and sealing it.  I've been saving all kinds of small pill containers, and even a great Sweet Baby Ray's bottle (it has a built in handle!) and filling them with rice or popcorn. Each has its own "voice" and they are fun to decorate as well.  I'll post when the entire rhythm set is done.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Roots and Rock 3

My mother was an avid nature walker at my age. Now, it's harder for her to get into the woods, and so part of my "gift" to her is to take pictures on my own rambles.  None of the photos in the last three posts were staged in any way--I worked with the light available, didn't move a thing.  So often, we miss the incredible intricate artwork that is nature.