Space

I’ve long been a fan of Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut.  He took his guitar onto the space station and favoured the world with a soulful rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity.

I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today
For here am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do

I was just listening to a program on CBC Radio.  Nicole Stott, a retired astronaut, was talking about space.  She thinks that most of her fellow space travellers have a spiritual life.  Something about seeing our little blue marble from the window of a spaceship.  One astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, had a spiritual epiphany while flying back to Earth.  As Nicole says, perhaps we should invite our political leaders to a space station vacation and see if a change in perspective rears its lovely head.

A few days ago, a Grade 6 girl, knowing of my reverence for Mr. Hadfield, lent me a book of his space photos.  Such lovely images and such a lovely thing to do.

Something spacious is calling me and Chris seems to be an instrument of my freedom.  There’s a loosening inside me, some epiphany of my own on the way.  I’ll look out into the vastness and may be very surprised by what I see.

A walk beyond my personal ship beckons.

Oh Joy!

Last year I loved volunteering with a Grade 6 class in a school near Belmont.  And I loved those kids.  This year they’re at a new school – in Aylmer.  I met with the three Grade 7 teachers before I went on my meditation retreat last fall and again when I got back in December.  I’ve been waiting to see if they’re willing to have me volunteer.  I e-mailed them when school started up in January and said I’d show up this morning to hear their decision.

I pulled into the school parking lot with a little smile on my face.  How very much I want to spend more time with those children.  And yet being allowed in the classroom is out of my control.  How amazing life is.  The Buddha taught that craving leads to suffering and here I was craving big time.  But the smile said more.  I feel a deep connection with most of those kids and I know that connection will remain, even if I’m not in their new school.

If the Grade 7 teachers say no, I’ll approach the Grade 5, 6 and 8 teachers.  And if they all say no, it will be unpleasant, and I’ll be very sad, but that would also point to the unknownness of life.  Getting what I want just doesn’t always happen.  And happiness can be there beside me even then.  Thus the smile.

I showed up at 8:00 and found one of the Grade 7 teachers.  Kindly and politely, she said no.

Twenty minutes later, as I sat on a bench in the hallway, here comes number two.  He smiled when he saw me.  In the classroom, I asked him what he’d decided about me volunteering.  He said that he’d like me to work with small groups of kids about once a week.  His words didn’t register.  We were talking about days and times when I finally got it.  I’m in!  My mind continued to process while my heart exploded and my eyes filled.

Minutes later, the third teacher also said yes.

I cried on the drive home.  I get to be with people I love.  I get to contribute to another school.  I get to live fully, in precious moments of contact with young minds and souls.

Thank you, dear forces of the universe, for holding me in your arms.

There But For The Grace Of God

There was an article in the paper this morning about a 5-year-old girl who died in Toronto.  Camila Torcato was “a cancer survivor who was killed by a driverless, runaway SUV at St. Raphael Catholic School … A second or two earlier or later and the SUV would have either missed the little girl or she would have been safely inside her dad’s vehicle.”

How can this be?  What forces are at work in the world so that I get to have a fulfilling life, and potentially a long one?  Why have I experienced the sweetness of romantic love, the thrill of cycling long distances and the softness of Caribbean beaches while this little girl has not?

Will she be back in another body to do this life business again, this time culminating in her grandchildren gathered around her?  Or was this it for her, her one and only time to shine in the sun?  Endless words have been written on these subjects but the truth is … I don’t know.

I’m a happy and peaceful person.  Bad stuff still happens but my peace is bigger than all that.  But what about all those blank faces I see on the Toronto subway?  I’m guessing that many of the souls lying within the bodies are wounded.  Why is my experience of life so different from that?  Sure, a huge part of happiness is the attitude we bring to the table but sometimes the world is full of unhittable curve balls.  Why have so many folks faced challenges that I’ll never know?

Should I feel guilty about my long life or the cards that I’ve been dealt?  No.  But I’m sad that Camila, and many other human beings, haven’t been offered the gifts that I have.  There is so much pain in the world and often I just cry about it all.

Still, the crying needs to stop at some point.  I will continue to feel deeply the sadnesses around me and in me … and then lift my head and walk on.  Because the next human being on my path needs my full presence, my brimming heart.  It’s what I can do.  It’s what I will do.

 

 

The Machinery Of The Universe

I was afraid.  I felt, I still feel, as if on that island there’s a hatch that comes ajar.  On this side is what we’re pleased to call “the real world”.  On the other is all the machinery of the universe, running at top speed.  Only a fool would stick his hand into such machinery in an attempt to stop it.

Stephen King

Wow.  I don’t know what to say but I want to say something.  How about that?  Is it the nature of the machinery that my rational mind can’t comprehend it?  Do I just need to get out of the way to allow unknown forces to flow through?

In the conventional world, I’m sick – dizzy and weak.  I’m afraid of not getting fit enough in time for my crossing of Canada this summer.  I worry about whether person A loves me anymore and wonder why person B hasn’t contacted me in awhile.  Except I’m often the one who lapses in the contacting department.

My long meditation retreat allowed me to see some of that machinery beyond the day-to-day.  A sense of being present as everything keeps changing.  Feeling peace flow over me.  Glimpsing that one moment is no better than any other one.  When I’m feeling well, these often show up unbidden.

What will happen if I let it all go and just let the wheels turn? I don’t know.  I still have to function in the “real” world.  My bathtub has backed up –lots of standing water.  I tried using the submersible punk to drain the water.  But I plugged the pump into the outlet beside the sink – designed for shavers and such – and now there are no lights in the bathroom.  The bulbs are fine.  The breaker downstairs wasn’t tripped.  So I need an electrician.  That’s fine.  I’ll call one tomorrow.

But what’s beyond all those strategies to have light, a clear drain, and the end of illness? What exactly is down that hatch?  Maybe saying “I don’t know” and keeping my hands away is the ultimate path to the unknown.  Something is calling me.  Even through my coughing.  There is a wellness past illness, a grace beyond thought, a being beyond doing.

I await

 

Pathless

Buddhism asserts that the spiritual journey is unique to each individual.  Therefore, of course, it cannot be held, circumscribed, limited, or even ultimately judged by any institution, tradition or external authority.  The unique journey that lies before us does not exist in any text, external person, or religion.  In fact, it does not exist at all, but only lies ahead of us, to be discovered literally as we go.  Thus it is that the spiritual journey cannot in any way be preconceived or predetermined; it is not humanly constructed or fabricated.  The journey to ourselves is truly a journey into the unknown, a setting forth onto a sea that has never before been sailed and never before been fathomed or mapped.

Reginald Ray

So what is spiritual life?  You don’t get to say for me, and I guess I don’t even get to say for me.  It’s unfolding as we speak.  But this doesn’t mean a rejection of the wise teachers who came before, such as Jesus and the Buddha.  No, I can absorb what they say about living a good life, and see to what extent I make it my own.

Take “The Sermon on the Mount” and “The Metta Sutta”, for instance.  Who am I to argue with the Beatitudes, which honour the “merciful”, the “pure in heart”, and “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”?  Or with the Buddha’s assertion that “Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child, so with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings, radiating kindness over the entire world.”

My conception of Spirit has been nurtured by decades of spiritual practice.  More and more, I breathe life into what I’ve drawn from my fellow travellers, from books, from meditation retreats.  I’m happy about that.

But Reggie Ray is pointing to a mysterious sea.  I don’t know where my voyage is taking me, and you don’t know where yours is taking you.  We’ve thanked the guideposts along the way, but now … there aren’t any.  We point the bow of our ship to the horizon, and wait.  Will we fall off the end of the world?  No.  Will we fly?  Yes, I think so.

I await my future.  I will write a new song and sing it out loud.  And may your melody be sweet.