Tuesday, October 21, 2014

To Expand My Heart Out to Others

part of my morning affirmation borrowed from the words of the dalai lama expresses the intention to expand my heart out to others.  when i pray this prayer, the heart i hope to expand is still my own heart.  this heart, the center of all that i experience and feel, is focused on me, and i am asking for the insight to include others in the concerns of my heart.  rather than wishing to lose my own core in the service of others, i am seeking to see all those i encounter as like myself and as worthy of consideration as my own self.  i am seeking to abandon an attitude that places my needs, my desires, my cravings at the forefront.  i am learning that the "others" i touch each day have needs, desires, and cravings that are essentially like my own and as significant as my own.

my goal is to put these others on an equal footing with myself in my hierarchy of needs.  i am seeking to grow so that i no longer see others as means to my own ends, as objects for me to use for my own gratification.  christians often interpret jesus' command to lose one's own life in order to save it as an imperative to abandon any concern for one's own well-being and to put the needs of others ahead of our own need.  yet, he also said that the second-most important commandment was to love one's neighbor as one loves oneself.

he goes on to illustrate his point with the parable of the good samaritan who cares for a man wounded on the side of the road after others have passed the injured man by.  the good samaritan interrupts his own journey to care for his neighbor, who is in fact a stranger, but the good man does not abandon his journey to stay and care for this stranger; the samaritan sees that the injured man is cared for and continues on, promising to return and take care of any costs that have been accrued during his absence.  this is the essence of expanding our hearts out to others: we see their needs and do what we can to address them while taking care of our needs as well.  it is not a case of "either-or."  what we lose when we lose our lives is the belief that our own needs supersede those of others, that others are less important than we are.

may we open our hearts to include others, seeing those we encounter along the path as neighbors whose needs are like our own.  may we help those others to the innkeeper and see that they are cared for as we move along the path, just as the samaritan in jesus' story did.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

May I Use All My Energies . . .

to develop myself.  how can i "develop myself?"  the phrase from the dalai lama's well-known affirmation suggests that we each have a responsibility for our own growth, our mental, our spiritual, and our physical development.  the task belongs to no one else, not God, our parents, our spouse, our friends, or our teachers--it is our own to do or to neglect.

so, how do i live up to this great work that is mine alone?  what are the ways in which i develop myself?  first, each day ought to begin with a refocusing on the need to live mindfully.  i must resolve at the beginning of each day to refuse to stumble blindly through the tasks of the day as if they are meaningless chores.  when i do a simple job like feeding our many pets (maybe too many, but that's another topic altogether), am i conscious of the benefit of my work to these lovely beings and to myself, or am i unaware of what i'm contributing to the good of the world?  when i prepare breakfast, am i mindful of the joy i bring to my partner and myself and the nourishment to our bodies that healthy food brings?  do i stop to realize the how and why of the onerous tasks that must be done?  so, living as mindfully as i can is a part of developing myself, and the act of awareness of how mindfulness contributes to my development is the start.

second, i need to seek the wisdom of others who are on the path of developing themselves.  their willingness to share what they learn is a way in which they develop themselves, reaching out in lovingkindness to others on the same path.  each day, i must read about what these explorers are discovering.  each day, i must spend time listening to what others are saying and learn from them.  we learn even from those who oppose us and put obstacles in our way.  again, mindfulness as i read and listen are essential.  so is a sense of gratitude for these others who give of themselves in the process of their own development.

third, it is part of my becoming to share what my journey along the path is teaching me.  that is the reason for this blog.  in the process of writing about my stumbling and bumbling, i grow and perhaps i help others to grow.  i am suspicious of those who communicate as if they have the answers, who write or speak with a self-assurance that suggests that theirs is the right way and others who deviate must be wrong.  i pray that i never come across that way.  we can't make it over the obstacles if we don't lean on each other, give each other a gentle push now and then, pull each other along.  the solution, perhaps, is to hike along together, rather than making our goal to find the end of the pathway.

finally, implicit in every facet of this use of our energies is a gratefulness that there are tasks to be done mindfully, there is learning to be explored, there is growth to be shared.  to be grateful that there are mundane jobs that must be done is a way of thanking the universe for our existence; in this gratitude we participate in the love that is a part of all creation.  to be grateful to those from whom we learn is a way of expressing joyful appreciation for their contributions to our own progress and to celebrate their progress.  to be grateful for our own movement along the path motivates us to share what we experience with others and to articulate a basis for comparison of what we have in common with others.

to develop oneself is not a lonely, self-centered process.  it requires mindful awareness to all around us: to the sounds, the sensation of touch, the voices of others.  it is a shared journey that enables us to experience our kinship with all sentient beings.  may we support each other along the path, learning from our own mistakes and discoveries and from those of others.  may we give of our own energies when others lag and lean on others when our own energy fails.  shalom.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

May I Not Waste [My Precious Human Life]

in hebrew there is a phrase, tikkum olam, which i'm told means "to heal the world."  i don't pretend to understand the history of this phrase or the full range of its meanings.  just reading the wikipedia article about tikkum olam sends my head reeling, but i think i can understand some of its practical implications and applications.  as i think of my responsibilities this day, i can see many opportunities to perform acts of healing.  i can think of many who have hurts that might be healed, at least in part, by my actions.  i can see how the care that i give others contributes to increased well being in the world.  if i am able to be more mindful this day, i will understand this healing concept in my encounters with others in the course of the day, and if i can live mindfully each day, the effects of my actions will further contribute to the healing of the world.

there are those who see jesus' statement that "the poor you always have with you" (matthew 26:11) as suggesting that those who follow him have no responsibility for the poor, that poverty is an intractable problem resulting from the actions of those who are impoverished and therefore not a problem for those who are not poor.  yet when we look at the life of jesus, his actions suggest otherwise.  he spent his entire ministry among the poor and the outcasts of society.  his most scathing words of condemnation are directed at those who would use religion as an excuse for ignoring the needs of those who are least able to care for themselves.  everything we know of jesus from the gospel accounts of his life teach us that jesus saw his own role and that of the jewish people as one of inclusion, of reaching out to those who were excluded by their nationality, their social status, their gender, their profession.  healing the world was at the heart of jesus' teaching.

when we affirm that we do not wish to waste the precious life that we've been given, we obligate ourselves to do what we can to heal the world.  hurt, poverty, persecution, oppression, violence, and all the other ills of existence will always be with us, but, if we are to avoid wasting this precious life, we must do what we can to alleviate suffering where we find it.  each act of lovingkindness moves the world closer to its ultimate healing.  may each of us perform mindful acts of healing this day and each day.  may we recognize that we each have a precious life and may we not waste it.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I Am Alive

last week i began my post with a title that was borrowed from the dalai lama.  this quotation is part of a longer affirmation that begins my daily meditation. this week i want to write about the next phrase in that affirmation: "i am alive; i have a precious human life."  as i grow older the preciousness of my life becomes both more and less important.  i know that the majority of my life is behind me, so each experience is all the more significant.  i have come to the realization that my life may end at any moment and so each moment is valuable.  when my father died a few weeks ago, it suddenly struck me that, just as both my parents' lives eneded, mine would also come to an end, perhaps sooner rather than later.

facing the prospect of the end of life, there is much i still want to experience.  there are places i want to see, foods i want to eat, grandchildren i want to hold, gifts i want to give.  in this way, i am not ready for my life to come to an end.  yet, i have had a wonderful life.  i am surrounded my loving children, a partner who is my best friend, beautiful objects, and dear friends.  i live a life of privilege in a country where even the poorest of us is better off that most of the world's population as regards the physical necessities of life.  in this sense, i look toward death without fear or craving for more years.  yesterday my wife and i jokingly looked forward to the year 2050.  my wife was certain that neither of us would be alive, and i reminded her of a recent newspaper article about a man in our town who had just celebrated his 105th birthday.  while such a long life is rare, it is becoming less rare, and it is possible that we, too, might live that long, which would take us to the year 2051.

so, when i mindfully breathe, i am aware that this is one more breath of life, and that this breath could be my last.  this present breath is precious, as is the next if i am here to take it in.  the next phrase in the dalai lama's (and my) affirmation is, "may i not waste it," a subject for another post.  i am alive to new breaths, new experiences, new opportunities, and, as my life moves toward the magic year of 2050, life is precious.  may i, and you if you're so moved, relish life, living in such a way that when that last breath is taken we will take it with hearts full of joy and peace.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

I Am Fortunate to Have Woken Up

a few days ago, i went for a bike ride.  i'd just gotten my bike out of the shop the preceding day and hadn't been on a ride for some time.  after several weeks off the bike, i loved the experience of riding again.  i pedaled along, enjoying the feel of the muscles and joints in my legs working together to propel the bike forward.  it was a cool morning, and the refreshing breeze that blew across me as i rode was a welcome friend, one that hadn't brushed across me for awhile.  sailing down the hills, letting the bike be pulled along by gravity and inertia, thrilled me.  the ride was both relaxing and exhilarating--relaxing because i had no deadlines, no appointments, no goal; exhilarating because it felt so good to use those muscles again, to experience the effort of pedaling uphill in order to fly back down as fast as i dared with others also using the path.

as i sat down to write, i wondered why all of life can't be like that bike ride:  simply existing on its own, being just "to be," without measuring its worth against some arbitrary standard, not wondering whether fast was fast enough or effort expended was maximal.  ideally, i suppose that's what one should allow life to be, but i, and i expect most of us, aren't content to live our lives that way.  the little compartments of our minds busily churn out rules, goals, judgements.  after all, that's the way we've been programmed from an early age.  "you've got to swing that bat with the right form;" "watch that follow-through;" "come on, you can do better than that;" "pay attention, stop daydreaming."  how many times do we hear those expressions or something like them as we develop?  how many times have we said the same things to young people in our charge?  we think we always have to improve--"don't just rest on your laurels, get back out there and do even better."

can we let all that go?  i'm going to continue to try.  may i (and you, too, if you're so inclined) let life be on its own terms, accepting what it brings with gratitude.  may there be joy just in the fact that "i am alive.  i have a precious human life," as the dalai lama said.  may i make space for lovingkindness and compassion, not allowing those little mind gremlins to steal that space from me.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We Pray That All Unity May One Day Be Restored

as we live our lives, we often wonder what purpose there is in living.  is there an underlying motivation for our actions?  why do we do the things that we do?  is there something larger than our day-to-day routine?  when i awakened this morning, i was surprised to find myself thinking of the idea that all we do, all we think, all we are expresses our underlying motivation.  we may live as if this concept we call "self" is the most important reason for being, leading to a life of selfishness that revolves around distractions that are intended to make us happy and yet never seem to do so.  or one may live as though service to others is the supreme purpose for life, always placing the needs of others ahead of one's own needs, and this purpose in the end seems to lead to frustration and unhappiness.

rather, it seems that the idea of living one's life as an expression of worship so that each action and each thought expresses a desire to participate in the love that flows through all of creation is the highest purpose for life.  this embrace of that which is larger than oneself, that includes all that is, leads one to see that we are all a part of one another, we are each part of the stuff of the universe, we vibrate with the energy of something eternal.  we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves, and sacrifice which denies oneself is ultimately unfulfilling.  rather, serving others is a way of serving onself, not a denial of onself but an expression of the force that binds us all together.

we are not doctors, lawyers, teachers, or whatever our vocation is, but we are beings who make our living through our work.  the work is not who we are.  we are human beings that are bound together by the same longings for peace, for happiness, and for connection to others.  we can express our humanity, our need to give and receive love, through our work, but the work must flow from our basic human longings rather than the work being our reason for existence.

with each breath, may we sense our common bonds.  may we give and receive love and forgiveness.  may we see ourselves in others, remembering that inside even the most seemingly cruel person beats a heart full of hurt and the desire to love and be loved.  shalom.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Love Your Enemies

how does one confront the violence in the world?  as we look at the evil that is prepetrated by an organization like isis, can we defeat such an army without resorting to the use of force?  were we wrong to confront the murderous regime of hitler by going to war against germany and its allies?  had we followed the teaching of jesus and adopted a policy of non-violence, what would have been the result?  should we have refused to intervene during the war in the balkans as the serbian army massacred muslims in bosnia?

i search for answers but do not find them.  as i reflect on the life of jesus, especially on his final hours as he surrendered to the power of the religious authorities and the romans, walking without protest to his agonizing death, i see a man who faced that death with quiet dignity, supreme bravery, and unflinching confidence that something noble would arise from his crucifixion.  even as he was arrested, he taught that those who live by the sword will die by the sword and healed an injury caused by one of his followers.  was it only his own belief in his resurrection that propelled him on the path of surrender to his enemies, or did he have confidence that his martyrdom would inspire his followers to spread his teachings of peace, good will to all, and love for one's enemies throughout the known world?

if we live by his teachings as we face the violence of armies of zealots who are so convinced of the rightness of their causes that they murder all those who refuse to yield to them and to embrace their ideology, can such ideologies be defeated by the power of love?  when ethnic and religious minorities are executed by those with whom they disagree, can non-violence ultimately triumph?  there are those who point to the proliferation of christianity in the roman world as evidence that pacifism can overcome, but one wonders if chrisitanity would ultimately have been replaced by some other religion if it had not been adopted as the state religion of the roman empire, thus transforming what had been a peaceful religion to the religion under whose banner the armies of constantine marched.

i want to believe that turning the other cheek would work on a global scale, but i'm not so sure that arms in the hands of organized groups of fanatics can be overcome by the power of a loving pacifism.  or can love conquer all?  may we look in our hearts for the answer to the question of how to confront movements like isis and al-qaeda.  may we not use force thoughtlessly.  may we live as people of peace in a world that turns to violence all too easily.  shalom.