Well Done

Some years ago on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Seattle, a young Catholic priest stopped to talk to a parishioner and her five-year-old daughter Carmen.  The little girl had a new jump rope and the priest, being young, began to demonstrate the intricacies of rope jumping from his own childhood.  Delighted, Carmen began to jump – first once, then twice.  The mother and priest clapped loudly for her skill.  Eventually the little girl was able to jump quite well on her own and wandered off with her newfound skill.

Priest and mother chatted a few moments until Carmen – with sadder, wiser eyes – returned, dragging her rope.

“Mommy,” she lamented, “I can do it, but I need lots of clapping.”

Anonymous

***

How come so many people are stingy with praise?  Or perhaps never offer it?  My dear wife Jody told me years ago that her mom never gave her a compliment to her face.  Oh, she may have bragged about Jody graduating as an occupational therapist from Western University in London, Ontario.  But if so, Jody never heard those words.  Far more sadly, Jody had no memory of her mom ever saying “Goodnight” to her.  And it gets worse:  Not once did she hear “I love you.”

(Sigh)

Do we think that there’s some giant teeter totter where if I raise the other person up, that means I fall?  No, life is not a “zero sum” game.  When I hold you aloft, my toes leave the ground.

So I’m on the lookout for anyone who does anything well.  My hands are ready to come together for you.

 

Shared Unity

Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher who knows all about bringing people together. The unity he fosters is not about folks crossing the gap from one separate being to another. It’s not about being a good listener or being compassionate to someone outside of yourself. The communion instead is people being immersed in the same reality, feeling as if they’re one body, pouring love to the fingertips and toes … and far beyond.

Another thing that’s really made a difference, for me and so many people who have undertaken a path of practice, is to have a place to practice and to have friends (sangha, community) because when we lose it someone else reminds us. I’ve been reminded as much by all the people who come on retreats. And the level of courage and the beauty of people’s devotion to awakening or genuineness, I see over and over again.

I’m thinking of myself being up there on retreat. There was a woman in the community whose teenaged daughter had died and she was on the retreat a year afterward over the anniversary of her daughter’s death. So it was really a tough, grief-filled time. And the day came and I talked with her. I said “Why don’t you do a little ritual? This morning while we’re sitting quietly, why don’t you go out at the time you know that your daughter died, and ring the bell 108 times – the great big bell that’s up there? It’s a traditional way of paying respects or honor. 108 is a kind of mystical or sacred number in India. It means everything included. Ring the bell 108 times in her honor.”

We’re all sitting in there meditating, and all of a sudden I hear her ringing this bell right outside the meditation hall. People have been quiet for a long, long time. She was really hitting that bell, as if the sound of it could somehow reach her daughter.

Usually we have the bells to begin or end sittings or call people together, so people were kind of wondering “What’s happening?” In the middle of the sitting, I said “The bell you’re hearing is because someone’s child has died a year ago today, and she wants to honor her.”

I heard this woman ring the bell, and everybody else was sitting there listening, with tears streaming down their cheeks, as if she was somehow needing to talk to her daughter’s spirit. Then she came back and sat with us.

Be Here Now

If you can drive safely while kissing someone
you’re simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves

Albert Einstein

I think Albert was on to something here, whether it’s about romance or doing your taxes.  We tend not to go all out, not to throw ourselves into an act with the total oomph it deserves.  But what does it mean to give 100% in the moment, rather than the tepid 50% we often manage to express?

I’m partial to kissing.  Let’s go there:

1.  Harder … More pressure:  I don’t think so.  The vacuum action doesn’t bring forth intimacy

2.  Faster:  No, it’s not a race to the finish line

3.  Wetter:  Sounds good but it ain’t necessarily so.  Slobberiness can get in the way of the connection

4.  Longer:  Now this is promising.  I wrote a few days ago about a couple’s wondrously extended kiss in an airport

We’re in the wrong territory here.  It’s not about technique, physical stamina, or the drive to make love.  Those are fine but actually the eyes know what real kissing is.  It’s the communion that lives when two people enter the same sacred reality.  The 50% approach won’t do – a brush of the lips on the way out the door, a peck on the cheek while you check your texts.  No.  Going into each other’s eyes please, and all the way through to where the loved one’s essence lies.  That’ll do nicely.

When we drive, our hands are on the wheel
When we kiss, our hearts are in each other’s hands

Who Do You See?

One package is wrinkled and troubled and old. The second is smooth and beckoning and young. But we don’t know what the packages contain. We don’t know the secret life of the inside.

I believe we need another type of vision. Can we detect the hopes and fears, sorrows and loves, that lie beneath the skin? Can we gaze upon what is truly real?

We need to. And then we need to bring each one of us into the circle of our care.

***

A family went to the restaurant. A little seven-year-old kid and his parents. The waitress goes around the table and takes their orders. She looks at the boy and says “So what is it you’d like to eat?”

“I’d like a hot dog and root beer, please.”

And his mother says “He’ll have meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carrots and a glass of milk.”

The waitress goes around, taking the other orders, and as she’s leaving the table she says “Would you like ketchup or mustard on your hot dog?”

The little boy looks up as she walks away and says “You know … she thinks I’m real.”

May I …

I figure if it’s good enough for the Dalai Lama, it’s good enough for me.  Word has it that he wakes up every morning with seven sentences on his lips.  And they all begin with “May I …”  As in there are forces here with us that are too big to see, too stunning for human beings to absorb.  May those forces align in such a way that I can contribute to the ones who need contribution.  For why else be on our dear planet?  I could become rich, famous, handsome, athletic and immensely intelligent.  So what?  All else pales before the ability and willingness to love … without hesitation, without evaluating the wisdom of such an action, without any diluting.

I’m going to print out the Dalai Lama’s words.  I commit to joining him.  I commit to the memorizing and the saying every morning for the rest of my life.  You have my word.

May I be a raft for people to cross the flood
May I be medicine for the sick
May I be food for the hungry
May I be a resting place for the weary
May I be a lamp in the darkness of ignorance
May I be an inspiration for those who have lost hope
May I do this as long as Earth and sky and suns and galaxies exist

Love Them All

Father Greg Boyle, author of Tattoos On The Heart, is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.  He has worked with gang kids for thirty years.  Many of the teens don’t have a family or a safe place to live, so they join a gang.  This story from Greg says it all:

I always bring a couple of homeys with me to talk, and they get up and they tell their story.  We were taking a long flight and I took a couple of homeys from different gangs.  I like to mix them up.  One of them worked at the bakery and the other worked in the store where they sell Homeboy stuff.  They had never flown.  They were terrified.  We’re looking out the window and two of the flight attendants were going up the steps with cups of Starbucks coffee and I said “Well, pretty soon it must be time to take off because they’re trying to sober up the pilot.”  I know that wasn’t fair to say to these guys but anyway they get on the plane. You gotta mess with them sometime.

We get there.  It’s a thousand people (psychologists and social workers) in this major city.  “I want you to tell your stories first, and then I’ll talk about how I work.”  And so they get there, Mario and Bobby.  They were both nervous.  Their accounts moved people very deeply because their stories were filled with violence, abandonment, abuse, torture, homelessness of every kind.  Honest to God, if their stories had been flames, you’d have to keep your distance.  Otherwise you’d get scorched.

They spoke before me, and before I presented (because I wanted to include them ) I asked if anyone there had any questions for these guys.  A woman raised her hand.  She had a question for Mario, and he started to quake, like how do I do this?  “You’re a father … you’ve been at Homeboys for nine years.  Your son and daughter are starting to reach their teenage years.  What wisdom do you impart to them?  What advice do you give them?”

Mario was silent, and trembled and closed his eyes, and blurted out “I just …”  And he couldn’t say anything more for a long time.  Finally he looked at her as if pleading and said “I just don’t want my kids to turn out to be like me.”  His words felt squeezed out, and his sobbing was now more pronounced.

The woman was silent.  No one said anything.  She stood up again.  Now it was her turn to cry.  She pointed to him, and her voice, quite certain through her tears, said “Mario, why wouldn’t you want your kids to turn out to be like you?  You are gentle.  You are kind.  [He was known as being a gentleman at Homeboys]  You are loving.  You are wise.”  She planted herself firmly: “I hope your kids turn out like you.”  And there wasn’t much of a pause before all one thousand attendees stood up and began to clap.  The ovation seemed to have no end.  All Mario could do was hold his face in his hands, overwhelmed with emotion.

Connected

The teacher handed me an outline of a human being on a sheet of paper and laid out the assignment. It was Fall, 2019 and I was volunteering in the Grade 5/6 class. I love it when I get to tackle the same task as the kids. I was to colour my human and include several words that were important to me. I watched as most kids launched into their work with gusto. I did the same.

I thought of the sports I loved: golf and tennis. Eighteen months later, tennis still shines but I’ve cancelled my subscription to Golf Channel. And my clubs sit lonely in the garage.

I thought of other activities that get my juices flowing: elliptical and meditation. Both are still alive in me. I love the swoosh of the arms and legs, and the stillness within my meditation chair.

I thought of the values I hold: love, connection and you. Yep … c’est moi! Put me in a cubicle, away from my fellow man and woman, and I would wither away. I look over there and I see your eyes, and what a delight to be in their presence.

I thought of my qualities: kind, peace and determination. I will give to you when you’re down. I am quiet inside. And then there’s the “I will do this!” part. I will never give up.

I thought of folk music … how I love the songs of the people, the stories of ordinary folks like us.

And then this other word came to me – hands. They’re such gracious instruments of blessing. They reach out. They touch.

My time on the planet showed its face as well: 70 and January 9, 1949. They’re well related. I’m happy to be this young.

Finally, two more words: Mr. Kerr.

***

Days later, the labours of all 24 of us were brought together in a magical way. My life, far longer than theirs so far, is no more special that those of the kids. Words spill out across the collage, revealing the truths of each of us … and all of us.

A few months ago, I had this glorious work of souls framed. It sits in my home, reminding me every day of what’s important.

Taken

Will you walk with me now to the far horizon?
Following the scent of a creature unknown
Will you gaze from on high to a vista sublime?
And feel other bones alongside your own

Is there a reason to venture far afield in the evening?
Is there a plan of your own mind’s creative aplomb?
Or is there launching of caution to the billowing wind?
And a glimpsing of what truly is home

It’s tempting for the journey to be a sole expedition
The lonely survivor of a world deemed unfair
Being right and strong and controlling the outcome
Who wouldn’t say yes to such a true dare?

Another voice waits in the depths of the canyon
“Just an echo of mine?” you casually ask
A nod says you’re sure there’s just one speaking
It’s crystal clear – your glorious task

But linger a bit, my friend of the journey
Pause with your basking in future applause
For there’s one, mostly hidden, curling his fingers toward you
Whispering a message of a far vaster cause

Walk through the canyon in the heat of the sun
Feel the eyes upon you, blessing your way
Revelation, exultation may be yours for the longing
Go on then to the shine of unknowable day

Withholding the Biggie

If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say?  And why are you waiting?

Stephen Levine

What does it mean to withhold something?  Tax people would say that it’s about “an employer deducting tax from an employee’s paycheque and sending it directly to the government”.  Sounds pretty straightforward and neutral.  Another meaning speaks of a “refusal to give something that is due”, such as not telling a police officer your name.  There’s definitely a problem with this one, but hopefully not earth-shattering.  A third definition talks about “suppressing an emotion or reaction”.  How about uttering “I’m fine” to a questioning friend when you’re feeling anything but?

I guess we can all live with these last two transgressions, although the dissonance between what’s true and what you say could wear on the soul over time.

There’s an elephant in the room, however, as in something huge and heavy.  Look at Stephen’s questions.  Whether it’s now or as your final breath approaches, what haven’t you said to the ones most dear?  It could be “I’m sorry that I didn’t stand up for you when that bully was having his way.”  Or … “I feel horrible that I laughed at you when you couldn’t keep to your diet.”  Or … “I gossiped about you when your marriage was falling apart.”  Or … “Last year, I stole money from your bedroom dresser when you were downstairs hosting a party.”

All of this is serious stuff.  If you’re about to die, it would help if you fessed up.  Actually, it would be a good thing even if you were going to remain healthy for many years.  However, there is something so important to say, that the saying of it has us soar with the eagles, and the not saying of it has us plummet like a stone.  Werner Erhard knew what must be said before we die:

When you’ve said all of the bad things and all of the good things you haven’t been saying, you will find that what you’ve really been withholding is “I love you.”

 

After You Die

Imagine the day of your death. May it be a long way into the future. Imagine the sadness of your loved ones. You touched them. You’re probably not famous so the mourners won’t number in the millions, or even the thousands. But every single one will feel a long exhale in memory of you. They’ll take to Facebook or Twitter. They’ll speak to your family at the funeral. And here’s what they’ll say about your uniqueness:

There was no one else like you

You understood human triumph and frailty equally well

You shall be missed

Thanks for all the laughs

You had an insatiable curiosity about people, and a real sense of humor

Your legacy will live on

It was an honor to watch you do your thing

You really, really did listen

It was your generosity of spirit that drew the world to you

You made everybody feel comfortable

I’ve never known anybody who made a bigger deal out of the slightest kindness

You were always interesting, gracious and fun

You had a great sense of humor and a genuine interest in people

I’m going to miss all of our great conversations

You were a friend through thick and thin

It was always a treat to sit at your table

You loved what you did and all of us loved you

Thank you for listening

You always made me feel as though I were the only person in the room

***

Well done
You’re living a good life