Sunday, December 28, 2008


Home for the holidays.
For several days I had been expecting to see someone I knew in my hometown. Familiar faces get more scarce as the years go by, but as it was Christmas time, I thought other people might be visiting.
No one.
Sitting at home, getting frustrated.
I woke up one morning knowing I was supposed to go looking.
That afternoon, I set out, walking east, expecting to see someone. I knew several people who lived in that direction. Bundled up, I slid on ice, stepped over snow banks. I was recovering from a cold, and each frosty breath I took cleared my head.
But it was still missing. Where? I saw no one I knew.
I crossed the street and walked there. I tiptoed over a bridge and paused to search the stream below. Icy water, empty.
Trouble ahead. The sidewalk ended. The street was icy and winding, with occasional cars. Safer to go home.
I threw one desperate look east, scanning the horizon. No.
With a sigh, I turned back, picking my way around sidewalks that were skating rinks, while I had no skates.
My head down, I struggled to discern the message in my finding nothing.
Suddenly, movement ahead made me look up. I was crossing the street to a corner house.
A young collie was smiling at me. Leaving its front yard, it trotted towards me, then leapt up, shaking my hands and stretching to kiss my face.
I looked at the house, then back at the dog. I remembered 4 years earlier. I was on a walk and feeling lost, and a thick old collie trotted out of its front yard to greet me as if it knew me. I saw it a few more times and was always greeted with a smile. A year or two after that, I walked by that way, but never saw the dog again. It had been old, I thought. But I missed it like an old friend.
Back in the present, I looked down at this lean, bright collie, who grinned ecstatically when I petted him, like he had found something.
The dog's owner called him inside, and he went without looking back. I watched him go, and then continued my walk. I had a scarf around my mouth against the cold, and under it, I laughed with relief.
I had gone out looking for an old friend, and one found me. Except this old friend was new, and special. This dog knew that recognition sometimes strikes at nonsensical times, and that acting on it with pure love is higher wisdom than second-guessing oneself and being embarassed into feigning ignorance.
I spent much of high school pulling back in some way from people I felt this connection with, afraid of what it meant. If it was a boy, did it mean he was my soulmate? If it was a girl, did it mean we were supposed to be best friends?
Easier to hide under an ironic nonchalance. Easier to deal with friendly people I felt no connection with.
For me, these moments of recognition continue to be mysterious, but I try not to let my imagination get carried away with what they should mean. In their purest form, I believe they serve as affirmations, affirmations that each human being is special in a deeper way than is usually apparent. If we pretend this recognition does not exist, we might rob ourselves or someone else of a moment of affirmation. But if we make too much of it, then we might steal something from them or disappoint ourselves--attribute this special feeling to them and feel bereft when they leave us. But I don't think these moments reside in people. I think they are a gift of Something greater. The dog awoke something in me that perhaps is always there but falls asleep. I do not have to own the dog for me to feel this connection, this third party that arrives in my heart after our meeting.
I had set out to find one of the people I had hid from in high school. The dog found me and did not hide and affirmed my presence, brightening my life. May I not hide from others but greet them as special without requiring more of them or of myself.

Monday, November 24, 2008


You know those dreams that make you ridiculously happy?

No, I don't mean the one I had when I was 8, where an enormous ice cream sundae loomed in front of me, and just as I was about to take the first bite of that creamy, gooey, nutty mountain, I woke up and realized it wasn't real.

Instead, I mean the dreams that nestle inside your heart like a purring kitten, the vibrations of which have you humming long after you have woken up and well into the day. The dreams where you meet a person or an animal that seems normal but that glows with an inner light. Where you accomplish something extraordinary and feel power surging through your veins. The dreams where you fly.

The other night I dreamt I climbed a tree and then ran around a park with the greatest ease (I get joint pain easily and am not normally a runner). Climbing the tree, I felt I could fly, that I could reach any heights, escape enemies, help new friends.

Upon waking, this excitement stayed with me. I felt that my being had been validated, the personal power that gets submerged under daily annoyances reasserting itself. A gentle reminder.

I forget that these dreams exist until one returns. And I vow to hold the feeling in my heart until it fades. I cling to reality but it slinks out and I am left clutching an empty shell.

I thank God for these angelic nudges but humbly ask if I might live among the stars more often and not only in sleep. But how?

I feel more aligned with this power when I am regular about praying and meditating, when I get enough exercise and listen to the voice that tells me to write, to be forgiving, to look up and greet the pigeon couple flying by. But the simplicity of this makes it seem irrelevant, and I stray.

Until one night, when I walk on snakes in the moonlight, banish a demon shaped like a cuddly cat by declaring God's power, meet a stranger who sings a song of love, fall from a cliff and soar back up...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another Inner Room

This Ramadan--the Muslim month of fasting and reflection that corresponded to the month of September this year--I set up a prayer space in my office.

It is my shameful secret that my office is the least used room in our apartment. When we moved to an apartment with an extra room, my husband generously agreed to give it to me, to encourage my writing. (He crammed his own broken desk and bookcase into a nook next to the cat litter box.) We fixed up my office with the better desk, two bookcases, relaxing landscape painting, plush rug, and so forth. Then we looked on with approval and left the room.

That was a year and a half ago, and I would sometimes venture in, engage in a fevered bout of writing, stash the notebook in a bookcase, and skulk out. The room is very noisy in summer and very very cold in winter. We use it as a guest room--I pretend to be out of sorts when I am denied the use of my personal writing space for those few days when someone stays there.

But this Ramadan, I made my presence felt in that room, and made it a more inviting place. At first, I had to force myself to pray and meditate there, instead of in the living room. But as I cleared the brush and paved the trail, I found myself automatically going there, found that I could think more clearly there, that I felt close to God there, that it was a place of comfort.

At one point while I was sitting on the floor, just letting my mind drift, the thought came to me that this poor office that I had been avoiding was a lot like me. I sometimes lock parts of myself up because I am afraid of what I will find there, or afraid that I will find nothing there. Just as the office is affected by street noise or the weather, I, too, let certain forces in the world affect me, and as I avoid the office, I sometimes shut myself down so that I can't be hurt by these influences.

Embracing my office has given me a place to remember God. Somehow the hours I spent praying there during Ramadan carved a new notch into my mental schema of our apartment. Now, like a scent recalls an obscure memory, the office sometimes takes me back to moments of prayerfulness, without much current effort on my part.

It has also given me hope and compassion for those parts of myself that I have been ignoring. If I have the courage to do what I feel called to do in my office, then why not with my life? If I can rewire my feelings about a room, then how about rewiring positive thoughts about myself over negative ones?

I thank God for my time spent in worship this Ramadan, and for the opportunity to make friends with parts of my environment and myself that I had been avoiding for a long time.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hidden Oases and Industrial Realities

On August 28, I went out on a walk during my last week at a particular part-time job.

I walked almost every day at lunch, letting the sun soak into my bones after a long morning in a refrigerated flower storage room. My greatest joy was to walk past a meadow bordering my work. While my work dealt with refrigerated, beauty-bred imported blooms, this meadow was the real thing. Filled with wildflowers, it was miraculously pristine amidst chemical-soaked concrete warehouses. I would get to the midpoint of the block, and turn so the meadow was stretching away in front of me and to my right and my left. A row of trees shimmered in the breeze, clouds descending from the blue sky to brush their tops. Cattails and queen anne's lace, birds and butterflies, all danced in the meadow. I used to look straight at it, the side shades of my sunglasses blocking the buildings on either side, and imagine I had just hiked up a mountain trail and reached this place of peace. I'd take a deep breath and smile.

Then I'd continue on, past the ominous billboard advertising the "Prestige Lot for Development."

But this day, August 28th, as soon as I step outside, I know something is wrong. I hear the sound of unoiled metal shrieking from the direction of the meadow. I don't want to think about what it could be. The crickets are still chirping, so it must be okay. Here, the crickets are so happy, they chirp even in the daytime.

But as I get closer, the squeaking increases, and I see that a bulldozer with wheels like a tank is vocalizing the horror of the insects and animals, flowers and plants fleeing or perishing in the destruction. A square of dirt extends behind the bulldozer, impossibly flat and brown next to the person-high flowers that had just towered there.

I cover my ears--for the sound is deafening--focus my eyes on the cement and walk quickly, a joyless walk. For my joy, my rest, my strength, my renewal, was in my meadow.

On the way back, the shrieking begins a long block away from the lot.

Getting closer, I again stare in disbelief at the now widening plot of bare earth. Where did the life go? Under the dirt? How does it all fit there?

What about the cat I saw the other day, and the fox family? Will there be any crickets left and could they possibly be so happy as to chirp during the day after this?

I'm tempted to put my work earplugs in, block out the screams, cross the street...but no, I want to hear it.

I pass the bulldozer, wondering if I should lay down in front of it. I walk on.

Slowing down, next to the remaining meadow, I cast a painful glance at the scene I used to love. A monarch butterfly--the only one I've seen this year--careens toward the desolate end of the meadow. It doesn't know yet, I think. It's tired and thinks it's finally found a place to rest. I wish it luck. A blue dragonfly skims over the flowers.

I turn my face to the unscarred portion of the meadow, and, my gaze racing to meet the trees, I do my sunglasses trick, probably for the last time.

Civilization is blocked out, only the meadow and its shimmering freshness in view. I pretend I have just climbed to a meadow on a mountain. Leaves, flowers. Moths, beetles. I let them live inside me, so I can hold them forever, God willing. Amen.

I head back to work, rounding the side of the meadow and nearing my building.

On this side of the meadow, the crickets are still chirping.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Secret Inner Rooms

When I was in junior high, I was obsessed with attics. Driving or walking around our small town, I would always peer up at the older houses, my heart leaping with joy when I saw a window peeking out below a steep roof.

Now the mania has subsided, but I still love houses with secret nooks and crannies. Why did I begin to crave attics at the age of 13? What is it that still pleases me so much about what modern architecture has abandoned as wasted space?

One position I take when I am coveting a beautiful room or an old-fashioned dress, or a mountain view, is to try to first of all enjoy the experience that I am having now of it, even if I don't own it. But secondly, I try to feel the experience that it is giving me and see if it points to an aspect of my inner life that can be developed further.

For example, thinking back, I know that at the age of 12 or 13, my family had just moved to a new state, and I was at the end of childhood, staring into the abyss of adulthood. Perhaps my deep yearning for attics was the concrete expression of a longing for magic and mystery, for secret passageways into the childhood world of the imagination or for a clubhouse to call my own in an unfamiliar town.

I'm not trying to psychoanalyze here and mine my childhood traumas in order to fix myself, though that can be helpful, too. I want to use this realization now. And it's empowering.

Last night I watched First Knight, a movie about Guinevere and King Arthur and Lancelot. Throughout the movie I was wishing for dresses and hair like Guinevere's, but when I saw Guinevere's room, with paintings on the walls and little arches... I can't describe it, but I wanted my house to be like that. And then I thought, what if I don't need to buy paint and remodel in order to achieve that? What if the magic of it has nothing to do with material things. Maybe beautifying my house with the means and the decorations that I have, with love, is exactly what I should be doing, not copying someone else.

And even more, maybe what I need to do is to fill my inner reality with bright windows and pictures of birds at fountains. I feel I'm not making sense. But maybe if in my heart and in my thoughts and in my attitude, there is a freshness and a beauty. Maybe if in my prayers and in my dealings with others, there is love along with hidden corners of treasure or empty corners in which to share a secret. If there is that peace and energy and faith and joy that that room conveyed to me, then I will have that room. I will live in it everyday, wherever I am.

It takes a lot to strike a balance between admiration for others and originality, between following sage advice and trusting your instincts. But I do believe that when our heart yearns for something with a pure energy and beauty, it is a sign for us. Sometimes we have to look past our immediate impulse (buying that product to make our life better, copying someone's something) and go deeper to find that inside, we already carry the magic that we seek.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Sitting Here

First, a word on vocabulary. I find myself using terms that I used to giggle at as too "New Agey". You know, terms like "make space for" and "just sit with it" and "explore the edge of that feeling". But now that I know what people mean by these terms, they do seem useful! I have learned a lot from teachers who told me to sit with my anger, or make space for the feelings of someone I'm talking to. But I know that jargon also alienates. So please know that I am using terms that I think are the most descriptive in order to aid understanding, not close myself off in a special club. I think everyone has their own unique way of seeing things, but I also think that we must have some way to communicate with each other. The way people of different faiths use terminology, especially in a situation of interfaith dialogue, is fascinating. Please share your own descriptions with us by posting a comment.


So, since I wrote the first part of "Thoughts in Ruku'" in my journal about a month ago, I have been seeing things a bit differently. At that time, it seems that I was walking a tightrope and could fall off on the side of good or evil if I so much as sneezed. Now, I am trying a different strategy.

Throughout my life, I have loved planning. I make to-do lists and to-write lists and my-life-will-be-perfect-tomorrow-if-only-I-follow-this-list-lists. But I noticed that some of the most fun I had making lists was when I was doing the opposite at the moment; for example, when I settled down with a bag of candy to record the resolution that from tomorrow I would stop eating sugar. And sometimes from such extremes come good results. Sometimes the best way to swear off of donuts is to make yourself sick by eating too many of them. But for me, a lot of the fun in making plans was that they always existed in a pristine future, untarnished with the difficult choices of today. That future never fully materialized. And when it didn't, I felt like a failure and figured I might as well go back to the candy.

Now, for some reason, I'm sitting in the present moment, watching myself do things good and bad, and my brain does not flee to the projections and the perfections of tomorrow. It doesn't judge myself too harshly for watching a movie instead of writing on my blog.

I'm experimenting with feeling the present, and feeling out how to make small tweaks in the moment to change things for the better. It doesn't always work. Okay, who am I kidding? It seems like it rarely works, thought there might be some subtle process I'm missing. It feels like when I was learning to drive a stick shift with my dad. He would tell me what to do with the brake and the clutch and the stick and then--clunk! clunk! clunk! stall...--clunk! clunk! clunk! stall... Over and over, until suddenly, I'm in first gear! I'm sailing along, I'm--almost at the edge of the parking lot! Ah! Clunk clunk clunk! Stall... There was no way to know it immediately. His word was that sterile perfection that did not translate well into the skill I was learning in the now. And how I hated having to muddle along! But eventually my hands and feet got the hang of it, and the VW Bug made peace and stopped trying to buck us out of its seats, and I learned how to drive a stick shift.

I hope that by staying present now, I will be here to make those imperceptible adjustments that will allow me to get closer to my goals, whether they be about candy or God-consciousness, and that I will be more open to the wonder and the humor and even the sadness and anger of the moment.

In my previous post, I felt I had to tiptoe across a balance beam over a marsh. Now I'm just slogging through. I feel like I'm reaching for yet another sublime metaphor. But I won't do it. I'm not sure what it means. I feel the muddy water sucking at my shoes, and the mosquitoes are dancing around me. There's a chorus of frogs on my right, and the call of an unknown bird to my left. I take a deep breath of humid, earthy air, and smile.

Thoughts in Ruku'

There's a hairsbreadth of difference between losing yourself to the expansive glory and letting yourself be lost to the invading darkness. It's also the difference between night and day.

The mind that can perceive the wonders of the blazing sun before it can suddenly become all too conscious of its own shadow stretching out behind.

And sometimes the sun is what harms and the cool darkness heals.

The angels and the devils are both lurking. And I am glad.


These thoughts came to me while I was in the position of ruku' during the ritual or salat prayer. In this part of the prayer, the Muslim bows from the waist and recites prayers to God, such as "Glory be to my Lord, the Exalted."

In the repetitive words and motions of the prayer, it is easy to get distracted, and ironically, sometimes what distracts me most is the conscious voice that emerges, telling me how focused I am for once! When I congratulate myself on being focused, it means I have come out of focus.

For me, it takes courage to leave my insights behind sometimes and rededicate myself to God, believing that if the knowledge I have gained is useful, I will remember and record it later, but now there is only room for One.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Naming and Unnaming

When I was little, I didn't think in words. I felt in concepts, immediate relationships, rapid-fire realizations that I lived in real time. When I was maybe eight years old, I could feel my mind changing. Words crept in, and I fought to hold back the tide, lest the flood destroy the magic I was a part of. I wasn't strong enough, and now I sometimes think in words, but this tide of words ebbs and flows, sometimes drowning me, sometimes pulling back to reveal my former clarity.

In college, I studied linguistics. I learned that many people believe that language, in the form of structured and shared words, is essential to our humanness, even to our intelligence, to our ability to understand higher concepts. This struck me as ridiculous! Though others felt this way, I had the opposite experience. To me, words covered up reality, made my mind sluggish. It was as if I used to have a bird's eye view of the world even while living down in it, but now I have to stumble through mazes of words, the hedges high on either side, before finally reaching the end and coming to some small conclusion.

Lately, I have read books that articulate what I have been trying to explain to people all my life. These authors have helped me to better understand this challenge. The challenge of unnaming what had been named, packaged, and filed away. The challenge of forgetting labels in order to remember something truer and more immediate. In The Holy by Daniel Quinn, for example, a boy is told that the secret will open to him if he can get to know a cactus so well that he forgets its name. What seems an impossible task turns into a life-changing experience when the boy finally sees the cactus as a being pulsing with life-energy. He is finally present and can experience the life around him, rather than feeling that he understands it so well that he doesn't need to truly see it.

When you can see the world in this way, magic pulses all around you. It's in the air and in everything, even in yourself. But we must be careful not to force it. I think trying to over-theorize and force things to be a certain way from a certain mindset is part of the word-thinking--at least it is to my mind. And I do think that people's minds are different. I really admire those who have a way with words, even in their heads. But for me, with words, something is missing. And I can't force myself to see the magic. It is as if I work myself into a frenzy sometimes, wanting to see the beauty, and when I don't, I relax, and sometimes, there it is. It sneaks up behind me and sprinkles pixie-dust on me until I realize I am flying. So often gentle nudges work better, or stilling my mind, rather than overloading it with what I want.

The world is so full of this magic to discover, and I pray that we never give up on it.

Monday, June 30, 2008

When I Grow Up, I Want to Fly

When I grow up, I want to fly, I thought. Not in an airplane. I want to have the power to fly, the gift of flight.

Whenever anyone would ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would suppress this answer. I would choose from a careful list of fun-sounding careers, settling on something that was not too out-there, not too scary. Something that wouldn't devastate me if it didn't happen. In fifth grade, for example, I think it was marine biologist.

But walking alone, looking at the stars, letting my yearning heart speak, I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. Fly.

Sometimes I flew in my dreams. It would be so realistic that I would wake up in disbelief. I must have been awake! And the dream feeling remained. Oddly, it was not only a feeling of being light and floating. It was a feeling that the air around me was heavier than it seemed. That it was filled with a magical substance so substantial, in fact, that it could support me. That by a combination of movements of body and belief and energy willed up, I could take off. For fun, to escape my enemies, to revel in some innate power that only I was aware of. While others saw nothing, I knew the air was alive.

As I grew older, my flying dreams diminished, but my heart yearned no less for this power. I certainly couldn't tell people about it now. Can you imagine the look on the advisor's face when she asked what I wanted to major in? "I want to fly." And to me it seemed much more practical than French literature.

My dream had been in my heart strongly for a couple of weeks, when I was working on homework for my religion class. The desk in my attic apartment faced a window, and as I glanced out, I caught sight of a bird. The wind pushed up into its wings, and the bird floated and swooped, deft movements working with the air to change its direction.

In that moment, not just the air, but other matter became fluid. I became the bird, and from that vantage point, I could feel the wind supporting me, feel the magic of weightlessness, that it is not the absence of weight, but being held by powers unknown but felt. I was the bird. I flew.

And when I came back to my body at the desk, windblown, the air fresh in my lungs, I smiled at the secret.

I have grown up to fly. Thank God.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Spring Cleaning Leaves Unfinished Business

So I actually did my spring cleaning. I moved furniture, washed walls and floors, and rearranged rooms. At first, I was tired; then exhilarated; and finally, disappointed. My house has a fresh feeling, but my situation is still the same. I still have highs and lows, still struggle to remember God and do what is right.

And part of me wanted to find this out. Often, when I am feeling stressed or depressed, I think, If only this place were clean and organized, I would be clear-headed enough to know exactly what I want to do, and to do it. Well, after my cleaning experience, I've decided that it was good to clean, but, like other quick fixes, it doesn't solve all of my problems.

Once again I am reminded that there is no such thing as the final hurdle, the solution to all my problems, because after one goal is met, there is still a whole life to be lived. And it can only be lived from moment to moment, trying to be present in even the most mundane tasks. As the spiritual writer Jack Kornfield puts it, "After the ecstasy, the laundry." Or in this case, after the laundry, finding the ecstasy in the challenge of life going on.

I received some good advice from a friend this past weekend. When she hears that negative voice in her head telling her she can't do something, she simply starts doing the very thing that part of her believes she can't do. She's had whole conversations with herself, listing the reasons why she can't do it, and when she's finished her list of why not, she finds that she's done it.

Whether it's cleaning or praying or eating healthy foods, part of us rebels and part of us knows what's good for us in each moment. Though I often like to theorize and weigh the pros and cons, set up a plan, and plan a time to start it, these strategies can hurt more than they help. Which is why I had to trick myself into writing this blog entry by ignoring the voice in my head that has been trying to plan it for the last two weeks.

It is also why I just had to stop planning and delaying and start spring cleaning, and thank God, I did it. But now that it's done, I can't drop out forever, can't stop listening to what I know I need to do now. It might be something completely different, but I can trust that I am where I need to be.

After I moved the bookcase in my office into its new position (the finishing touch of my spring cleaning), I got overwhelmed looking at all the books on the shelves: books on writing, notebooks full of unpublished stories, great novels written by other people. Tangible evidence that my life still had some unfinished business, even after cleaning (how can that be?!). Without fully analyzing what I was doing, I went to my jewelry box and found a silver pendant with the word Allah ("God" in Arabic) inscribed in it. I took a piece of ribbon and ran it through the pendant, then taped it above the bookcase. Life can be overwhelming, but for me there is one focal point; one to remember and to serve above all: God.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Response to Advice on Organized Mysticism

It is said, that those who are content to live on the flat fields of faith, to do what is required of them and no more, to meet God only after they die, that this is an acceptable path. But for those who wish to meet God here and now, to scale the high mountains, a guide is necessary, a human who has walked the path before, and can point out pitfalls.

I hear this from people I respect, learned people, people who have been there. And still it feels wrong to my heart. Wrong to me, right now, though not necessarily wrong for others.

For I feel I was born on the mountain. I was born there, and at some point I joined the trickle of people marching down to the fields. The trickle became a waterfall, and we spilled down onto the fertile valley, where we gathered grain and grew strong in body. Where we only looked up at the mountains rarely, with nostalgia tinged with fear.

But sometimes we go back, to gather berries, to breathe the air, to hear the eagle's cry. Our valley town looks so little, when seen from the sky.

I go back to the mountain, and I remember the old paths. I become bolder as I feel an inner Guide, who is also greater than all. Other travellers do I meet on the bends and caves along the path, but I must follow the voice of my Guide, for as long as He calls. I must follow Him.

So I'm sorry to disappoint those who wish to give me good advice, and I'm thankful for these meetings, and I know they are part of the journey.

Thy will, not mine, be done, my Guide, and save me from arrogance by humility and love. There is no refuge, and no escape, except to You. And when we turn--at last--to You, draw near to us quickly, for it is by your power that all is done. Amen.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Who Owns My Stuff?

It's spring cleaning season, and once again, I'm reluctant to part with anything. To add to my guilt, a friend lent me the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. He gave away everything--even his clothes--in the recognition that as God provides for the birds in the field, so God alone provides for us. This is a hard lesson to learn.

For my entire life, I have been grappling with packratism. I'm terrified that the second I give or throw something away, I will realize that I can't live without it, and I'll have to spend the rest of my life in a meaningless void, wrenched from the wisdom of my 3rd-grade math quizzes. When I write it out, it seems ridiculous to my mind, but my heart is still being squeezed as I picture my childhood flowing into a garbage dump, seagulls with demon eyes ripping it into nothingness.

Lately, I've begun to relinquish some of my hold on things, but it often starts in a well-meaning thought or feeling, and ends just before I convince myself to bring that bag of clothes to the Salvation Army. What if they come back in style?

So I was surprised during a conversation with another packrat, to find sensible words coming out of my mouth in support of letting things go.

Person: But I want to keep all of my books and newspapers.
Me: Why?
Person: Because they have important information in them.
Me: But you never read them.
Person: Well then, I'll just keep them safe.
Me: Why? Can't God keep them safe in the way God sees fit?
Person: But I am the khalifa (vicegerent/caretaker) of these things on Earth.
Me: What better caretaker is there than God?
Person: But they have been given to me to take care of.
Me: Everything given to us is a loan from God. We cannot own anything, and God is ultimately the guardian of all.

I felt like these words were coming through me, and I was talking to myself. Everything suddenly made sense. Do I really need to protect everything I come in contact with? What better protector is there than God? And if God's protection involves "my" things travelling somewhere else in the world and being used for some other purpose, then that is all in accordance with God's will. Why am I blocking the works?

Moreover, all of the knowledge and sustenance that I am trying to hoard is present in the world and will, God willing, be given to me as I need it. I do not need to be the donkey carrying a pile of books on his back who equates this with actually carrying the knowledge of the books in himself.

Now, I should be moderate in following my own advice. Unlike Saint Francis, I won't give away all my clothes. Food and knowledge and shelter can be found in things and can be quite useful to acquire in a limited way. I have to be careful, though, because these are the arguments that I have used before to keep all of my possessions.

The point is, it is not the end of the world if I give away old school papers or clothes, even if they do come back into style. God is taking care of these things and taking care of me, even if the things and me are separate. I see the demon seagulls that were squeezing my heart smile, relax, and fly up into the blue, floating on a God-given wind. Let me be like them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Depression and Meditation

This morning (actually yesterday morning--I wrote this in a notebook first), I got up for morning (Fajr) prayer, and instead of going back to bed in despair, to avoid all of the challenges of the day and my possible failures of them, I remembered my One Spirit Interfaith Seminary training, coupled with something a friend said at the last meeting of the Rumi Circle (a Muslim prayer circle in Montreal):

When you are feeling some "bad" emotion or are going through a hard time, don't run away from it. Just sit with what you are feeling and know that it will pass eventually.

So this morning, I felt depressed, and I sat and let myself feel it. I felt scared, but instead of covering it up, running and hiding and sleeping, I felt it.

I eventually sat and meditated, allowing those feelings to take the stage and be tasted, rather than boxed away. What I realized is that I give too much credit (and responsibility) to what I'll call my ego. Because of the way I used to operate--being the best at pretty much everything at school was the only option--I have this feeling that if I don't succeed, it's because I haven't pushed myself hard enough. Since failure to do certain things then (be productive early in the morning, get a book published immediately, etc.) is seen as a personal lack, I avoid even trying in order to avoid such a possible conclusion.

But in my meditations I realized that it's not me at all, in this sense of the word. Everything is a gift from God. For some reason this lesson was flowing into me out of the bookcase during my meditation, but anyway...

It seems trite and sentimental, now that my fears and insecurities are arising again as I write this message, safely formulated and packaged. But it is a deep and powerful truth, one which is felt best when it arises organically. But I'll try to bring it to life here.

For example, the morning is God's gift. It is not a challenge to me to be productive or a taunt I need to hide from by going to sleep. It is a loving present from the Creator. As are my meditations, my writing, my breath. When I see these as loving gifts, I can open to them and use them--and myself--gently. Even my depression and fear can be a gift, if I sit with them and use them to open myself to the flow of God's grace.

Two more things. Forget about feeling guilty for not being more God-conscious earlier; that defeats the purpose of this new awareness, which focuses on gratitude for the moment rather than serving your ego--don't let it trick you back into its chains! And I say this to myself. Secondly, this is a gentle process. After many years of just not getting it, I finally learned to meditate by reading the Golden Compass trilogy. While I'm not signing up for many of its more interesting points of theology any time soon, it did have some wondrous advice on the meditative state of mind. When Lyra uses her alethiometer, for example, she must feel her way into a state where she is open to its message, clear-minded and expectant, but without trying to force any particular outcome or answer. This open, in-between state I find perfect for meditation and religious contemplation, emptying myself of my ego and not grasping for something else to fill the void. A teacher of mine was once told by someone that she should not always be rushing around, looking to make herself a new image. Instead, she should stay empty for a while and let God show her the truth of who she really is. But be gentle, this truth is subtle and, for most people (for me), is long in discovering and embodying.

So as I sit with my sense of failure to write the "perfect" blog post, I feel the morning sun on my back, hear the birds sing as they gather breakfast or coo on new-laid eggs (like the pigeons on our balcony), and I know that attempts and mistakes are gifts from God. I don't fully understand it, but I can sit with it, in gratitude.

Friday, April 18, 2008


Welcome to Something Even More Magical. Do you ever feel that there is something magical around us that we only sometimes see? Have you ever had an intense religious experience, felt your heart break at a sunset, or fallen in love with a kind stranger? How do we leap up and catch these elusive seconds, find the key, open the door, and step inside the moment--and then not fall asleep and wake up outside, thinking it was all a dream? I believe that the great religious traditions provide ways of life that can help us in this quest, as do simple people living simple lives, including ourselves. It has been said that life is our greatest teacher. That if you try, there is a chance that you will fail, but if you never try, there is a 100% chance that you will fail. Join me in daring to explore life, seek magic, and BE beyond our wildest dreams.