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Holy Micro-Moments for Sanity

Now that the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone and all the toasts and blessings have been offered, I’m left with a familiar feeling of letdown. Although I savored the time with family and friends, the Holiday of Gratitude doesn’t find much of a footing in my heart, especially during the challenging time of division and fear that has followed the election here in my country.

Regardless of the external circumstances, I’ve never been a big fan of generic gratitude lists. My mind just doesn’t seem to settle on vague concepts. The kindness of people seems way different than the very specific memory of watching a hurried person slow down and hold the door at the gym patiently for someone struggling to get his walker out of the rain.

To save my sanity this month, I launched my own personal Holy Micro-Moments project. I’ve been stalking the little magical details hiding in plain site as I take daily walks or run errands. A certain slant of light, the children at the bus stop, the cashier at the grocery store. Early on it was the mushrooms in a neighbor’s yard.

Mushrooms

What I’ve noticed, without a big investment of time, is that nature seems to conspire to get our attention.  As does human kindness, when we see it, when we let it in.

Even in the midst of all the hubbub in the world right now, holiday or otherwise, there’s that moment of perspective, a deepening of breath.

Join me in exploring the art (and the relief) of finding holy moments in ordinary time.

Take two or three minutes each day to stop, breathe, and savor a moment. If you can, take a photo or jot a few lines in your journal to remind yourself. Share it with the world on Facebook or tuck it away for just you. I’ll do the same.

Gratefully,

Susan Grace

To Life as It Is

To life as it is!  My Danish host offered. As a frequent traveler I had gathered toasts in dozens of languages. But at the moment I clicked goblets around the table this time I was speechless. This was a toast deep and wide enough to say all that couldn’t be said.

Years later one of my best friends drowned and two months later we hosted Thanksgiving dinner for friends and family at our place. These words and a song, “Waters of March,” by Susannah McCorkle, held us all in a time of grief and a hint of hope.

I’ve offered this toast many times since.

This year I keep thinking I’d like to qualify my toast. To life as it is (except for politics). To life as it is (except for my brother’s recent stroke). But I notice even though I have other opinions about what life should do, it doesn’t seem to matter to It. I can honor its ways, even as I do my part to alleviate suffering or change what can be changed. It’s a deal we’ve struck, Life and I.

And so I offer these words to you. May you share them many times as you go into the season of gatherings and celebrations. To Life As It Is.

I bow to that.

“Perhaps”: the Power of the Long View

I just spent election week driving across the country, cutting a swath through red states to blue on my way. I was traveling with my daughter, with the plan to celebrate her birthday and the first woman president on the same day, Nov. 9th. You already know how that went.  Since that morning I’ve become painfully aware that my living in a blue bubble might have warped my vision a bit. But I spent most of the fall in the Midwest, and I’m just as aware of people there I care about who have their own reasons to be celebrating.

The oddest inner whisper has been haunting me all the way:  A simple word, perhaps, repeating in my head like a mantra.

An image of white smoke comes to mind, and a memory:  Sitting with my spiritual ama or mother, at a Benedictine monastery where I was studying interfaith spiritual mentoring. Before this I had never paid much attention to popes, having somehow concluded as a child that they were similar to the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.  Sister Antoinette was one of the most transparent, illuminated, and open-minded people I‘ve ever met. She was also a “cradle to grave” Democrat, by her own description, and a strong progressive by mine. In her mid-seventies at the time, she glowed with Life. When I was a pre-teen in a Southern Baptist camp, I had been warned of the Catholic plot to take over the world.  In the company of Sister Antoinette, I could see how this could happen.

The news was full of updates on the process of selecting a new pope, which included white smoke from a chimney. This was the second day of a process that could last weeks. While I was sitting with Sister Antoinette, the silence was pierced by the chapel bells right outside our window. A phone down the hall rang, and Sister Dorothy, her slightly irreverent friend, tapped on the door.

I knew enough about the candidates to surmise that one of the cardinals, Ratzinger, was strictly literal and a bastion of conservative forces. I had already formed a strong bias against him. I had shortened his name for memory’s sake to “Rat.” I was fairly certain that my friends would have a similar feeling about him being selected Holy Father.

So when Antoinette opened the door to get the news from Dorothy, I watched carefully.

“It’s Ratzinger,” Dorothy said softly.

The Sisters looked into each others’ eyes.

“Perhaps….” They said at the same moment, as each nodded gently.

This moment has stayed embedded in my memory ever since.

They were like visitors from another planet. I saw that their minds were wide open and deeply accepting, at the same time I was pretty sure they wouldn’t change their political activism.

This past week I’ve begun to understand the depth of surrender this takes. My mind and heart haven’t been able to sort through all that is happening. So many parts of the process just haven’t made sense in my world. I’ve been working through my fears and my preconceived opinions about the elected president. At the same time, I’m finding my own way to take effective action to protect people who are bullied or threatened.  In the meantime, I’ll practice putting my ultimate trust in the power of the long view.

Cardinal Ratzinger, or Pope Benedict II, was a less than perfect church father who was politely retired for complicated and disturbing choices he had made in his past. The eventual result was the selection of Pope Francis, a much-revered bringer of reform and change.  Perhaps it took the house-clearing and honesty that was required to confront priestly child abuse to allow a new leadership to surface. These developments could have never been predicted ten years ago. Who knows how things will continue to evolve? Not me.

It’s now a week after the news, and I’m back home. My mind settles a bit. I make a list of the issues close to my heart and begin to think about how I will support them with action and money. I’m feeling a strongly renewed commitment to stay awake and alert on behalf of justice for my fellow beings and for the earth I love.

And always…I just keep thinking… Perhaps.

Fish, Fowl, and this Waiting Time

I’m not usually a political junkie, but this year seems more like a morality play than an election, and I’ve been hooked, finding my equanimity tossed around by the story line as well as the political implications. It’s a biting-your-nails kind of time for me and for so many others in the world.

Action usually helps, so the first thing I thought to do was to vote. So I did. And mailed it in. It’s something we do here in Oregon without polling sites, voting booths and lines. But I’m still not done with this democratic ritual we call an election. First, there’s more to do. And second, a guilty admission: I’m a little too hooked on the dopamine of the Barnum & Bailey sideshow that has characterized this year’s election.

There’s something familiar here, I think. I’ve always found the stories of ancient and universal human experience helpful in such times as these. So I wasn’t surprised when a couple of words pop through the fog: liminal time. These are the words I’ve often used to describe the state of being neither fish nor fowl, having left the old life behind but not yet having arrived at the new one. In anthropology it describes “a threshold during the middle stage of a ritual when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete.” Neither fish nor fowl.

So I gave my Inner Researcher a job, and she turned up a gem. “Liminal time” is usually characterized by a quality of ambiguity or disorientation. During these times “continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt.” Of course! We’re all in liminal time!

My researcher went on: “There’s a lack of the usual order of life during this in-between time. However, with a more fluid situation, new institutions and customs are able to emerge.”

Now I’m back to a turf I know for real. I’ve seen so many times how important a time of not-knowing seems to be for personal transformation. And so here we are as a culture, not knowing the future for a couple more weeks. Preparing for something new to emerge. I have seen this process again and again. Enough that I trust it completely. Now I know the territory.

When I work with clients, I remind them that this state of waiting can seem excruciatingly long. But again and again my peeps have found that the results are worth the waiting and the not-knowing.

This seems to be always the case. Patience and trust are not necessarily my strongest character traits, but I know I can do this.

We can all do this. Together. Not fish. Not Fowl. But some seaworthy and airborne combination of patience and determination worthy of what is to come.

Baja: A Whale’s Eye View

I just arrived home from a pilgrimage to the birthing lagoon of the gray whale in Baja. I had heard rumors about mother whales there who introduce their calves to humans, much as we take our offspring to meet other species. This image had lived in my imagination for several years, increasing its ranking in my bucket list. But my watery imaginings didn’t begin to match the experience of being in their presence—the power of a whale’s eye view.

“Exploding Head” Remedy

Last week I co-hosted a cross cultural dialogue with Balinese visiting San Francisco. The focus was on Tri Hita Karuna, the ancient principle of balancing relationships with community, spirit, and nature. When I asked a beautiful Balinese singer to share. she said,

“All this talking and talking makes our heads explode.”

Then she led a long, lovely chant. A sense of connection with each other, with the world, with spirit, saturated the room. We were singing our world back in balance.

Truth Serum

Some moments, even some entire days, I can catch myself in the judgements and lies that keep me from the truth. There’s such grace in that kind of clarity, that kind of peace. That is, when I can catch the lies.

And then there are the other days. The days I actually believe that “they’re” at fault. By “they” I mean anybody (or anything) out there that I can judge or blame. Like my dog for barking too much, my husband for not shutting the door, the weather for not being warmer or drier. Not to mention the theme songs I play in my own brain. Number one right now is There’s something wrong, and it’s because I’m not enough or there’s not enough.

These are the days I need a truth serum. Or some loving but stern Zen master to rap me up the side of the head. One question can usually do that: really? Is it true? When I’m aware enough of that feeling of shrinking inside, the way I’m living from a small self, that’s usually enough to bring me back.

Sometimes Truth shows up in harsher ways: the illness or death of a loved one can take me right there. To an opening of the heart big enough to embrace and allow the beauty around me to teach me to heal. What a shame that this is what it would take.

The Space Inside Stuckness

Sometimes I find myself slipping into an old robotic pattern, a certain contracted stuckness. This trance-like state of being shows up in different ways: reading late into the night and awakening tired, heading to the snack cupboard instead of going on a walk. Leaving a little late for an appointment and then rushing to get there, forgetting my goal of staying present in my life. As if this added drama gives me a life of purpose. I slip into a way of moving through my life as if I’m wearing blinders. There’s very little space for different choices. After all, that would upset the robot with blinders.

Help Me to Believe the Truth about Myself, No Matter How Beautiful It Is

This is the prayer we used to close my woman’s circle for the past 11 years. I had learned from the Sufis, but it was written by Marina Widerhehr. Last week was the group’s last circle. We shared “popcorn shapshots,” images of the precious and not-so-precious moments that have united us: the weddings, funerals, illnesses. The laughter and tears.

Since then I’ve noticed my own popcorn images: photos of me in the full bloom of my twenties and thirties. In the radiance of my forties and fifties. I noticed that only when I look at the snapshots from this distance am I able to see the beauty that I was. When I was younger my mind was way to full of the mosquito beliefs brought to me by my inner spin doctor. You’re too fat. Your eyes are too close together. Teeth too big. In a nutshell, There’s something wrong with me.

Reflections after a Dead Puppy Christmas

Every year at this time I ask myself the question. “Now where was I?” It’s as if I left “my life” for somebody else’s. Which just might be true, at one level. Always the holidays are full to overflowing with the unexpected. This year my daughter brought home puppies from a rescue mission that had gone awry and we set up an emergency vet clinic here, where we nursed and held half-pound infants, trying desperately to save them from the ravages of Parvo. Only one of 15 made it, and it was happily delivered on Christmas eve. In the middle of all this sadness, carols, games with friends, and the Beatles on Wii were islands of laughter.

Which brings up the big savior: dark humor. I’ve lived long enough to keep in mind the story in family history WHILE going through the tough stuff. This will be the Christmas of the Dead Puppies, and we will laugh. Soon.

Traction

I just arrived home from a trip Over the River and Through the Woods to a mountain cabin. The way there was a bit treacherous, but once there the scene was a holiday card in 3D. Heaps of soft snow and stillness. Fine powder drifting aimlessly through the starry night sky. A wood stove to feed and long nights of dreaming.

A much-needed respite from my usual busy life (and mind to match).

On the way back we came face to face with a snow plow and needed to move over perilously close to a ditch. Our wheels began to spin as we struggled to get traction once again.

The very thing that had cleared our way nudged us into a little stuck place.

“The Sun in Drag” on a Rainy Day

As the rains set in here those of us who live in the Willamette valley know that we’re in for a long haul of (mostly) soggy weather. Unless I forget what I love about it, I begin to fight with this reality. For some time I’ve kept a list to remind me of the subtle beauties of the coming season. A partial list: subtle mists on the hills, rhythms on my roof, quiet time to dream, cozy evenings tucked in warm flannel.

When I forget these “favorite things,” there’s always poetry. One of my favorites for the season is from Hafiz, a 14th Century Persian poet. He reminds me of the source of sun, lest I forget. We’re all just the sun in drag.

Tolerating Peace

I’m learning to tolerate peace. I’m shocked as I see myself writing that, which takes me right out of peace. You see, my identity is so wrapped up in being a Peacemaker that it’s a Giant Step to admit that peace very often in my inner life has often been missing.

I’ve been a Peacenik my entire adult life. My credentials are impeccable. I became an anti-war activist when I discovered the realities of the Vietnam war. I organized an anti-nuke installation using little tree-farming cones to demonstrate insane levels of nuclear warheads in the early 80’s.

My Life as a Sea Anemone

Sea anemones are among my favorite sea creatures. Fortunately Disney’s crew didn’t make them into a character in Little Mermaid. It would be a grave injustice, They don’t like the press.

They’re lovely just as they are, in their shy beauty. Colorful, vibrant. Content to stay in one place and ingest new nutrients. They stay perched and open and lovely until their space is invaded, and then a quick poke sends them into contraction and protection.