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Saying goodbye. December 15, 2014

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“If your heart were sincere and upright, every creature would be unto you a looking-glass of life and a book of holy doctrine.”
—Thomas a Kempis

“All things by immortal power
Near or far,
Hiddenly
To each other linked are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling of a star.”
—Francis Thompson

Pope Francis got in big trouble this past week by daring to suggest that animals went to heaven. He was trying to console a distraught little boy whose dog had just died by saying that his beloved pet was now in heaven and that he, the boy, would meet with him again when he got there. Immediately, an outpouring of outrage from conservatives and spokespeople for organizations like the Pork Producers Association came pouring out like a pile of slaughtered pig guts.

All of us who’ve ever had a pet know that the cost of loving them is losing them, since their lives are so short compared to ours. Every time I get a new dog, cat, bird, or what have you, I know that in the moment of saying hello I’m also starting to say goodbye. But I get them and I love them anyway, because I can’t imagine life without pets to love, without pets to love you, even for a short time.

But how do you explain that to a little boy who’s just lost his first pet, his beloved dog? I suppose that for many of us, the first faces we’d like to see after Saint Peter’s are those of the pets we loved, the pets who loved us, the pets who, possibly, saved us when we were in physical or emotional crisis, watching over us with their endless loving concern. Telling a heartbroken little boy that he’d see his dog in heaven, as Pope Francis did, was an act of charity. It might also have been true.

Having not been there, I can’t tell you if there’s a heaven. But if there is, I want my pets to be in it, or it won’t be worth going to. I want all the plants and animals and water features that make our world an earthly paradise to be in it. And I want those pigs who believe that God gave them the earth and everything on it to despoil for their own enrichment to re-read their Genesis, which they always use to justify barbarous acts of greed and savagery, where God Creator says that He gave His Creation into man’s care, to stand for him as its protector. Not its destroyer.

Just for today, cherish the dog, the flower, and the star. For we are all linked, no matter what we are.

Give love this Christmas. December 9, 2014

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“Wheresoever we seek our own, there we fall from love.”
—Thomas a Kempis

“There is the tendency to place ourselves and our ambitions at the center of our lives. This is very human, but it is not Christian.”
—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

Yesterday, I received a Christmas card from my Aunt Betty. At this season of the year, most of us are either thinking about what we want for Christmas or what our family and friends might want for Christmas, or what we’d better get the boss and the office gang, or our kids’ teachers and coaches, or our secretary, or God-knows-who for Christmas. Or how we’ll ever afford Christmas, with all these ever-more-expensive presents for everybody and shipping costs getting more outrageous every year.

But not Aunt Betty. She gets presents for those in need and sends them in our names. In past years, we’ve gotten cards saying that a needy family in, say, the Andes has received a (live) chicken in our name through Heifer International, so they can get nutritious eggs. (You don’t need a rooster to get eggs.) This year, she donated to Doctors Without Borders, those brave individuals who risk their lives to share their expertise where it otherwise wouldn’t be available. People we’ll never see or know will have a better Christmas this year. Thank you, Aunt Betty!

What I think she’s trying to tell us is that she thinks we have enough “stuff” and don’t need any more from her. (And she’s right.) Whereas these organizations help people who lack food, shelter, warmth, medical care, and other basic necessities, much less toys, video games, the latest athletic shoes, and the like. I suggest that you think of an organization that speaks to you this Christmas, be it a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter, The Salvation Army, The Southwest Indian Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, or any of the hundreds of others, and donate in a family member’s or your office’s name this Christmas. (And don’t forget that you can volunteer your time as well, including giving free hands-on Reiki sessions.)

Obviously, I’d never suggest doing this when children are involved. But you could get them a book or toy and donate in their family’s name, and the family could start teaching them the meaning of sharing and giving. Think how much better you’ll feel knowing you’re helping others on Christmas than ripping open package after package of stuff for yourself.

Just for today, don’t fall from love.

The silence of our friends. December 8, 2014

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“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
—Martin Niemoller, Lutheran Pastor

“The Church is called to draw near to every person, beginning with the poorest and those who suffer.”
—Pope Francis, @Pontifex

Just for today, remember that everyone is our friend. Do not ever remain silent while others suffer.

I accept with joy. December 1, 2014

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“Whatever I am offered in devotion with a pure heart—a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water—I accept with joy.”

—Bhagavad Gita

I love the images that spring to mind when I read this passage—a leaf holding a single drop of water, a bowl of water with a leaf, flower, or even petal floating on the surface, a perfect cluster of grapes or a ripe apricot set off by a handful of sparkling cherries. The simple yet colorful offerings are so delightful that it makes it easy to overlook the other two aspects of this passage, the pure offering and the joyful receiver.

The Gita makes it quite plain that the receiver doesn’t need to be overwhelmed with offerings, that a small gift offered with a pure heart brings as much joy to the recipient as a castle overflowing with gold and jewels. More, to my mind. Gold and jewels can never be fresh like a dewdrop on a leaf or a plate of ripe fruit.

In this case, the receiver of the offering is clearly the Lord. But it needn’t be. It could be you, or the Lord in you. In either case, it’s up to you to recognize the offering and accept with joy. Once you start this practice, looking for small, even hidden, jewel-like offerings and accepting them with joy, you’ll start to find more and more of them.

Just the other day, I received a package from an old friend with the most wonderful gift inside. But let me backtrack a minute first. You know how the Dalai Lama’s monks travel the U.S. trying to raise awareness of Tibet’s plight? Well, as part of their presentations, they typically will perform traditional Tibetan arts. A few years ago, the monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery came to a town not far from me, and a friend and I went to see them perform traditional Tibetan dances (which were wonderful).

Later in the week, they were going to create one of the fabulous sandpaintings for which they’re renowned. Made of numerous brilliantly colored sands, these take days to create, and when they’re finished, they look like elaborate tapestry mandalas. After performing the closing rituals, the monks sweep all the sands together, leaving nothing of the sand mandala. A truly ephemeral art!

I wasn’t able to get back for any part of the sandpainting process, which made me very sad. But, unbeknownst to me, another friend did go. Getting back to my story, the package I received contained a lovely mandala to hang anywhere. But what really delighted me was that it also contained a small package of sand from the monks’ mandala! The sand is very fine, but if you move the little packet, you can just discern the many colors.

To me, this was a treasure. And certainly, my friend was offering it with a pure heart. I accepted it with joy! The lesson for me was that sometimes, simply allowing yourself to accept with a joyful heart can be every bit as important as making an offering.

Just for today, be grateful.

Through our magic mirror. November 17, 2014

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“None of us see life as it is, the world as it is. We all see life as we are. We look at others through our own likes and dislikes, desires and interests.”

—Sri Eknath Easwaran, Words to Live By

As Sri Eknath is always quick to point out, we’re happy with someone when he or she is doing exactly what we want. He brings us triple fruit sherbet—how nice! But wait, it isn’t tropical triple-fruit sherbet. She remembered the lottery ticket, how thoughtful! But it’s not for the right day. We’d like to go to a certain movie or restaurant. So are we? When are we?

The mirror that shows us our face sometimes stops directly behind us. We don’t see the people who make it possible for us to move deeper, to appreciate the kindness and consideration that are directed at us every day. Perhaps we need to clean the mirror; perhaps we simply need to break it or walk away.

Just for today, try walking away.

The eternally real. November 12, 2014

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“The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.”

Tao Te Ching

The unnamable is the All, the one with everything. Naming is a game, a human obsession. When I was younger, I was simply obsessed with naming everything, making sure I was botanically correct. And I was good at it, pinpointing the tiny color differences and behaviors that separated species. But what I didn’t understand was that separation harmed the whole. Yes, it was interesting to note these differences. This was what naturalists had done from the dawn of natural history, and I wanted to be a naturalist: Seeing nature as it had been made, as it had evolved.

I can’t even say when I realized that the naming of species was really pretty pointless. As T.S. Eliot would say, “The naming of cats is a difficult matter.” Eventually, I couldn’t tell you the Latin name of one peony species from another (though I could certainly recognize their differences). I’m sure my colleagues thought I’d gone insane—after all, hadn’t I been able to recognize them all? But what was the ultimate point? Naming is the beginning of separation, of judging, good or bad, ugly or beautiful, stupid or smart.

The unnamable is the eternally real. Eat your rice, enjoy your tea. Watch and smell your lovely fire. Let the naming, let the judgment, drop away.

Just for today, watch your cats sleeping on your bed, softly snoring. Do not think one is better than another.

The ultimate point. November 9, 2014

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“When silence reaches an ultimate point,
the light penetrates everywhere.”
—Hsuan Hua

Sadly, silence is such a scarce commodity these days that it’s almost impossible to find it in your own home or yard, much less anywhere else. Yet deep silence can change us. When I was a child, my family went to Mammoth Cave. Once we were deep inside the cave, our guide asked our group to please be quiet. Then he turned off the lights so we could feel what absolute darkness was like. The darkness was impressive, of course, but what impressed me most was the silence. In that moment, it “reached an ultimate point.” And in that total darkness, as Hsuan Hua said, the light penetrated everywhere.

Just for today, find your own stillness.

Love your mother. November 6, 2014

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“The earth which sustains humanity must not be injured; it must not be destroyed.”

This quote sounds like it must have come from one of the great 19th-century American conservationalists, like John Muir, or Henry David Thoreau or his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, or even Teddy Roosevelt, who founded our national parks system. (Perhaps the reason he’s on Mount Rushmore.) Or Chief Seattle or another First American who approached the the land and all who dwelled on it with respect. But as it happens, it’s from a German nun, Hildegard of Bingen, who was born in 1098.

1098! Clearly, even then, people saw the threat to Mother Earth at the hands of greedy men. If we don’t protect our oceans, our land masses, and our air, we and all life will die. If we don’t stop fracking, stop Monsanto and other corporations from poisoning our land and water, and stop what might be thought of as small-scale greed from buying up and destroying farmland, not to mention prairies, wetlands, and other valuable natural areas, we’re doomed.

Even here, in our rustic part of scenic PA, one of the wealthiest men in the area has been trying for years to sell off farmland to build developments, strip malls, and warehouses, threatening the township with turning the land (previously,supposedly, preserved as farmland) into a quarry if they don’t allow him to do as he likes. It’s not that he needs the money; he just wants yet more money. People have been fighting for years to keep the land in farmland; goodness knows, there are plenty of developments and plenty of warehouses and plenty of rich, greedy, oblivious men already. But as in the states that have fought for GMO-labeled foods, this is likely a case that money will win and passion will lose.

Please put your hands on the ground, and on your food, and on every natural thing today and every day. Send Reiki. Feel the connection. Your Mother loves you, too.

Just for today, love your Mother.

Offering song. October 31, 2014

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“My friend, I have given you these, behold them
My friend, I have given you these, behold them
The day has made it all possible to give you these offerings,
behold them.”

—Lakota Offering Song

I read this just this morning and was so amazed by the Lakota attitude toward giving. Most of us are raised with one of two attitudes about giving: “Oh, this is embarrassing, this implies that person is now indebted to me” or “I did this for you, now you owe me bigtime.” One makes the giver self-conscious, the other the recipient.

In the case of this song, neither “owes” the other anything: the giver urges the recipient to look at the gifts, to enjoy them, and then praises the day, not himself or herself, for making the giving possible. “My friend” makes it even more wonderful. In this season, I can see someone turning up on the doorstep with a pumpkin and some colorful corn and saying “behold them.” I can see them turning up with my favorite, a luscious, gooey, homemade pumpkin roll, plus some wonderful light-as-air dinner rolls or even a pan of steaming-hot cornbread and saying “behold them.” I can see handing out all the Halloween candy (and crying inside for not being able to hand out fruit instead, maybe next year we’ll try stick cheese), and saying “behold them.”

For once, it isn’t about us, and it isn’t about them. It’s about what I have managed to give you today, my friend, and about what you have managed to take, and to behold, and what today has made possible.

Just for today, behold what you have been given.

Let’s be creative. October 28, 2014

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“Creativity is in the process, not the outcome.”
—Anonymous

So many of us seem to be afraid to be creative. Whether it’s because we’re afraid that it’s a childish waste of time or we’re afraid we have no talent and whatever we create will end up looking ridiculous, we just walk away from the paintbox or the poem or the song or the bookcase or the flowerbed. This quote reminds us that whatever it looks like doesn’t matter: The real creativity is in the act of creating, not the creation itself.

Let’s take knitting as an example. My grandmother was a fabulous knitter, and my sister takes after her. They could and can knit anything. I, on the other hand, can’t even purl, much less create hats or mittens or sweaters. All I can make are scarves. But I love working with beautiful yarns, and I find knitting relaxing. It sets my mind at rest. When the weather turns cold, I love to sit with the beautiful, warming yarn on my lap, loving the colors and textures, and watch it magically transform from a skein into a scarf. I don’t care at all that it’s a knit-stitch scarf and not an elaborate cable-knit sweater. Quite the opposite, in fact. My goal is not to have to count stitches, but to relax and enjoy the beauty of the yarn.

Cooking comes to mind as well. My food will never look like the food on cooking shows and in magazines and cookbooks and the like, because I don’t have—and don’t want—the equipment chefs use to make it look like that. I make delicious mashed potatoes, but instead of piping them out in intricate patterns, I just put a big dollop on the plate next to the green and yellow wax beans and lentil stew or whatever. But I still love the process of cooking, which I also find relaxing, and creating my own recipes, and people love eating them, whatever they look like, and that’s what matters.

I think it’s important to focus on process, especially in our Reiki practice. There’s a reason we use the word “practice” to describe what we do. It’s not a contest, it’s not a competition, it’s a process. In the moment, some may make progress more quickly than you, and some more slowly. Perhaps, at times, you will make progress more quickly or slowly than others on the Reiki path. That is not what matters. What matters is enjoying the process, looking at your feet on the path, not at how far ahead of you someone else is (oh no!) or how far behind others have fallen (see how much better I am than they are!).

I’ve always loved watercolors, their luscious possibilities, their fluidity and the surprising color combinations that permits. I’m pathetic when it comes to watercoloring; any first-grader could do better than I can. And I love Japanese calligraphy, such as the calligraphy of Kazuaki Tanahashi. So I’m thinking of trying to draw the Reiki symbols in watercolor calligraphy. Will they be horrible? Of course they will. Will I beat myself up because they’re horrible? No, I won’t. I’ll just enjoy the process and the beautiful colors. Creativity is in the process.

Just for today, let yourself play.

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