Beauty, gardening, Uncategorized

In the Garden of Time

20190301_152744 (1)Rain has fallen relentlessly the past few months in Santa Cruz County, but today a break occurred allowing the sun to come out, and I emerged into my backyard’s delicious light. Looking up at the billowing clouds, I rested in the afternoon’s quietness, reveled in the creek’s soft rumpling as it moved through the redwoods down the road. Ill with a cold, I had no plans but to take in the day. “The Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man,” writes Abraham Joshua Heschel. “God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.” Time is a temple, an experience to savor and relish. Today I felt enfolded in this truth.

On a recent trip to Hawaii, my husband and I connected with friends–walking, sitting, absorbing life. We arrived without any set plans. We simply wanted to be present with our friends and the world they inhabit. While there, we ventured out into the landscape, absorbing its fabulous diversity. Hawaii is a world different from where I live, and the difference is a delight.

Traditional Hawaiian society had defined roles for men and women. In traditional Hawaiian society, men cooked and farmed while women made art. Women and men ate in different locations, and inheritance was through matriarchal lines. Additionally, Hawaiians held an awareness of the mahu, those who identified themselves with both genders–someone in the middle.

In Hawaiian traditional culture, the idea of family goes back several generations. The physical family was part of the spiritual, timeless family. As depicted in the photo of the stone shrine above, Hawaiians honored family ancestors.

Traditional ways of thinking have eroded since the arrival of Westerners to the island, however. Because Hawaiians have highly adapted to Western culture and its way of thinking, restoring traditional ways is highly problematic. Nevertheless, learning something of Hawaiian’s traditional ways of organizing society helps me to view my own culture newly, to consider anew my relationship with family and friends, and to enter into an awareness of our spiritual connection.

Though I know little about my ancestors or their history, like members of traditional Hawaiian culture, I’m attracted to the idea of timeless connection beyond our physical bodies to the lives of those who came before us. 

To understand a culture not your own takes attentive, receptive study over time. Though people may not be able to restore what was lost in the multitude of cultures that make up the world we now live in, we can listen attentively to voices other than our own and find ways we might move toward greater restitution with those around us. We don’t have to agree with everyone to value them, to give them love. We may not have answers or solutions for the hurt people and cultures have endured. Nevertheless, we can build bridges of beauty that can unite us in larger fields of compassion so we can enter into a place of being together.

One way I’ve begun this effort is by planting in my garden favorite flowers for family members and friends–iris, poppies, sunflowers, dahlias and more. Though there are differences of values and perspectives with family members, looking out at the flowers growing and blossoming in the garden, I can notice life unfolding in its various forms, connecting the flower to the person who chose it–a living reminder of the many and varied lives linked to mine.

“I am convinced that most people do not grow up,” says Maya Angelou, “… our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.” Flowers touch the tender place in all of us where we are “shy as magnolias,” as Angelou describes. In the garden we can be alive together, planted in earth, recognizing our short lives and vulnerability as we take in the sun and rain. Without measuring one flower against the other, we can be together. Sometimes simply inhabiting time with one another, opening ourselves to its color can be enough.

poetry, Uncategorized

Blue Sky Time

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“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” but when the White Rabbit actually took a watch out if its waistcoat pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice startled to her feet. – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Since living in London, I’ve noticed how people seem to walk the streets with purpose and determination, and they walk fast, or at least faster than I’m used to seeing. Recently, I’ve begun to think of the rabbit in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and how easy it is to be a like him—anxious about where we’re going and if we’re going to make it on time. Time as marked by watches and clocks is an invention, yet as Glenn Aparicio Parry mentions in his article in the January/February issue of Resurgence and Ecologist, “Think of Time as Nature Thinks,” Time as we think of it today, measured out in precise linearly calculated capsules of existence, is an abstraction, and a somewhat recent phenomena. Previously, time was something people noticed as seasons change and animals migrated. Time was perceived as more circular, and things weren’t necessarily perceived as progressing and becoming better in the present than they were previously, Parry explains. Perry goes on to describe the Hopi, who had no words for the past, present or future. Instead, they believed things that things that happened previously were stored up and could be manifested later on. Events in this vision of time are a kind of interweaving.

I read Parry’s ideas, and wonder what the world would look and feel like if we lived with a different view of time. When you travel or live in a different culture, you enter a different reality, see through different windows. Richard Lewis, a linguist and one who studies cross-cultural phenomena, in his article in Business Insider, “How Different Cultures Understand Time,” describes some of the varying views of time. “Spaniards, Italians and Arabs will ignore the passing of time if it means that conversations will be left unfinished. For them, completing a human transaction is the best way they can invest their time.” The Japanese, Lewis describes, “must experience an unfolding or unwrapping of the significant phases of the event. It has to do with Asian indirectness, but in Japan it also involves love of compartmentalization of procedure, of tradition, of the beauty of ritual.” The view of time in Madagascar is different yet again, according to Lewis. “The Malagasy imagine the future as flowing into the back of their heads, or passing them from behind, then becoming the past as it stretches out in front of them. The past is in front of their eyes because it is visible, known and influential. They can look at it, enjoy it, learn from it, even “play” with it.”

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While Lewis’s descriptions are generalizations regarding the various cultures, the Anderson Institute, a high technology research institute devoted to finding scientific solution to space time physics problems, describes most Americans as “feeling rushed,” and that because the culture pressures people to “do more, earn more, and consume more,” people, feel rushed. While Americans essentially lack free time, because for us White Rabbits, checking our watches and how much we can get done, it’s difficult to relax. This is utterly different from the Pirahã people of the Amazon rainforest. The Anderson Institute website explains the Pirahã as using no art, having no letters, or numbers, and no concept of time. For them, everything exists in the present.

With these varying cultural concepts of time, we can see a connection between how people perceive time will create qualitatively different perceptions of existence as well. The question this raises is how might we live within a culture where time is linear, and yet still step into a wider, more generous sense of being so that we allow ourselves to experience the sacredness of existence and our relationship to the world around us. It seems this might only be possible if we have a clear vision of another way of being, and we hold other worlds inside us. The Caterpillar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland asks Alice, “Who are YOU?” Who we are is somewhat a mystery, even to ourselves. We hold multiple worlds within us. Who others see we are often depends on the context they know us in. Who we are can also vary depending on where we came from. Experiencing significant changes or defining moments in our lives such as deaths, births, or moving to a new culture, we might see ourselves like Alice who replied to the Caterpillar, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” But beyond the significant changes we might experience in our lives, and the multitude of transformations we might go through, underneath the exteriors of our housing, or occupations, our clothes, or cars, lies our essence, our common humanity, in touching that, we find our selves.

When I stand in the subway tunnels here in London, I look into the windows that flicker past as the trains move off down the tracks, and notice the myriad faces fluttering by, faces I glimpse for just a moment—the tired man wearing a baseball cap head bent in sleep, the woman with her perfectly combed hair and dangling earrings heading out for the evening, the travelers holding on to their luggage, lovers deep in conversation, a child leaning into a parent’s arm—the myriad of lives rushes by as in a moving picture. We move from one place to another, we see each other but don’t meet or know each other. We are not what we own, what we have or do. How can we find each other in our common humanity? “I am because you are,” is the meaning of Ubuntu, a way of being together understood by Africans who hold to traditional ways and shown on this short video from the Global Oneness Project.

20161001_160110Recently, I read a book of poems by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet. Though Hikmet later won the International Peace Prize, as a Marxist, he spoke out against the use of power to oppress the common person in his home country, and wrote in his poems about his longing for those who were poor to have a better life. For his political beliefs, Hikmet was imprisoned for thirteen years and spent thirteen years in exile. Though his life was threatened even by those from within the communist party, Hikmet fervently held to his beliefs throughout his life. Reading his poems is a moving. While in solitary confinement in 1938, Hikmet wrote his poem, “Letters From a Man in Solitary.” In this poem, he describes carving his wife’s name into his watchband with his fingernail. He’s not allowed to see the sky, not allowed to talk with anyone. He describes to his wife the passing of time by the shadows that climb the walls. At the end of his poem, Hikmet writes,

And inside this is spring’s darkest hour.
In short, the demon called freedom,
with its glittering scales and fiery eyes,
possesses the man inside
especially in spring…
I know this from experience, my dear wife,
from experience…

Sunday today.
Today they took me out in the sun for the first time
And I just stood there, struck for the first time in my life
by how far away the sky is,
how blue
and how wide.
Then I respectfully sat down on the earth.
I leaned back against the wall.
For a moment no trap to fall into,
no struggle, no freedom, no wife.
Only earth, sun, and me…
I am happy.

What time is to a man in solitary confinement is utterly different than those pressed by time, and who like the White Rabbit are in a state of constant low grade anxiety, rushing to meet a schedule (though this is certainly an oppression and confinement of its own kind.) When Hikmet describes sitting down on the earth at last, after being held inside walls for so long, I felt the respect he describes, and the way the sky opened to him like the deepest heart of love, and gave him its blueness, its breadth—how utterly broken open he must have felt at that moment, and utterly alive with the full presence of being. Time is broken here. There is no clock. Just an entering into of all that is. These are moments we long for, when the world shifts, and we see we aren’t caught in watching the clock tick or the shadow move slowly up a wall. Instead of staring at face endlessly flickering past us tunneling their way toward the next station, we step inside the phenomenal essence of the material world and experience it as spirit and gift, perhaps even as love.

In her poem, “I Worried,” Mary Oliver writes,

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning
and sang.

Time doesn’t have to be a prison to escape from. Perhaps it’s time we find ways to learn from different cultures—to purposefully notice the walls we are living with. We can learn to tell ourselves different stories about time and what matters, and look for those who will join us in finding ways to sit respectfully on the earth, and lift our faces, to see the sky in all its blueness.

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Uncategorized

Taking Time to Live

In his book, Creating True Peace, Thich Nhat Hahn describes what life was like a number of decades ago when he was young, living in Vietnam, and people took time to live. He describes how people would organize a gathering– a poetry reading, birthday party, or party to mark the anniversary of a family member’s death, and how people would walk or bike to the reception, even if it took them all day or they had to leave the day before. When as many as four had arrived, they would be served food so they could eat together with others. When a fifth person arrived, that person waited for three more to arrive so they, too, could share their meal together. People sang, recited poetry, talked, and time was open and flexible so you could leave whenever you chose.  (p. 67) I’ve been trying to imagine what a life where relationships and being human together was more important than getting things done, where we have space to truly, deeply listen to each other and be heard, and when I came upon this description. I felt I got a glimpse of what that life might look like.

Thich Nhat Hahn describes another example that beautifully illustrates a way of living where people took time slowly, experiencing time in what I can only describe as deep living:

“Years ago in Vietnam, people used to take a small boat out into a lotus pond and put some tea leaves into an open lotus flower. The flower would close in the evening and perfume the tea during the night. In the early morning, when the dew was still on the leaves, you would return with your friends to collect the tea. On your boat, was everything you needed, fresh water, a stove to heat it, teacups, and a teapot. Then, in the beautiful light of the morning, you prepared the tea right there, enjoying the whole morning, drinking tea on the lotus pond.” (p. 68)

How astonishing and lovely that description is to me–to think that people had time to live like that. It’s interesting that these examples are found in his book about how to create peace, and this suggests to me that to be at peace has something to do with valuing time differently. Hahn asks the reader to consider, “Are we engaging in a lifestyle that touches the beauty and goodness within and around us, and leads us in the direction of compassion and understanding?… If what we now take refuge in—work, food, material comfort, television—cuts us off from our feelings, our family, and our society, it is not really a place of refuge. If our lifestyle numbs us to the reality of our suffering and that of others, we are moving in the wrong direction. We are isolating ourselves, and we are committing violence in the form of exclusion.” (p. 66) Beauty and goodness are values to be nurtured, and to nurture them requires space and time to grown organically if they are going to be places of refuge that enable us to give back to the world.

Thay’s quote reminds me of the quote I’ve included in earlier blog posts where Thomas Merton, quotes Douglas Steere, explaining that there is a “pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace. It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” To be peaceful, or to be a peacemaker in this world is difficult. It doesn’t mean doing good deeds. It’s more difficult. It means learning how to be peaceful, and that means making different choices in our everyday lives.

“Nowadays,” Thich Nhat Hahn says, “you may have a lotus pond, but you do not have the time to look at it, let alone enjoy it in that way.” Nevertheless, Thich Nhat Hahn clearly directs readers to understand the days given to us are our life, and are “much more precious than money.” How can we truly live quality lives today in a world where our social structures generally function in a way that make it easy for us feel like we are Charlie Chaplin in the film, Modern Times, where his job is to constantly focus on the next item coming down the conveyer belt? Chaplin doesn’t have time to scratch his nose when a fly distracts him, much less find time to take life slowly enough to savor it. If we don’t have time anymore to make lotus tea like Thich Nhat Hahn describes, how can we at least learn how to savor our lives so that we are not merely focused and productive at work, but are living fully?

It has been several weeks since I’ve begun including a short, close observation practice into each day with the aim to see how the practice might open up a space for seeing how I might live differently. It’s not been easy finding the time each day for this practice, and admittedly, some days the observation has only been a few seconds long–a remembering to glance at the light coming through the window as I continue on, working, focused on my responsibilities. Even so, during the day, the thought surfaces periodically–pay attention, pay attention to your life–and I realize I am so focused on my work, that awareness of other aspects of life narrows in a way that lessens me.

It might happen that I spend the whole day inside simply with the goal to be prepared for the day that follows. What, then, happens to the importance of family or close relationships when I do this? What happens to my awareness of the wider world around me? How am I being a model of wholeness when I say to others that these are important to living? Over time, if this pattern continues, I will be losing something very valuable. That small glimpse at the light through the window while continuing to work reminds me, that I’m supposed to be observing life so I can learn how to live. I’m put on earth to live. I am here to be alive, not merely to breathe and move and perform a function. The sense of obligation and commitment to my responsibilities at work wins out, even while the lines from Mary Oliver’s poem, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter Long Black Branches” in her book, West Wind, come to mind,

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

So, this weekend, something radical happened: I set my work obligations aside. Yes, and here’s the brief chronicle of what occurred: My husband and I talked during breakfast with family members at some length who’ve been in Italy for a month. We went grocery shopping, after which we took the metro across town to check out a new sporting goods store that might have shoes for the climbing club my husband works with. Using the public transport, we packed ourselves into the subway car with what must have literally been a thousand riders. It was a hot, tiring adventure that took most the whole day getting there and back. We had lunch at a market where we also bought a box of milk and had something repaired before returning home. After an hour’s rest, we went to a friend’s housewarming party where we met a number of new people, participated in several interesting conversations, and lit candles for an early celebration of the Indian Diwali holiday.

This morning I read the news, then weeded in the community garden with my husband. Later, I talked briefly with a friend I saw as I walked over to swim in the pool. After swimming, I worked on an art project in the clay room. This evening, my husband and I made dinner together, after which we watched a detective program on the computer.

It’s been ages since I’ve taken time off like this when not on a holiday. Actually, I feel as if I’ve had a holiday. I feel so alive! I could say it seems it takes so little to be so happy, but taking a weekend off isn’t really a small act. I don’t know how often I can put time aside like this, but I can truly say I feel more whole, more alive. I feel prepared to meet my students as a human being, not just as someone who has worked very hard. As a result, I have some questions about responsibilities that I didn’t have before. I have a responsibility to meet my students’ needs, to help them improve their skills, yes. But is the purpose of education only to help students compete eventually in a market place–on a job? I think not. The purpose of education is to help students discover who they are and how they can contribute to the world meaningfully. To live meaningfully means we also have a responsibility to live fully. To live fully means to pay attention to and nurture relationships with family, society, and the earth. Wouldn’t the world be better off if we all took time to grow these relationships? If we can’t do that, in whatever work we are involved in, we help those around us, including our children to do that. If we can learn how, then we will make it more possible for those around us to be able to live in ways that enable them to be more fully alive as well.

Some days my noticing practice has been a brief, purposeful glimpse through a window. Other days, observations seem to ride in to me on waves. Is the practice of daily observation leading me to see how to make a larger space for being, or was this past weekend a one time occurrence because of a natural break in a workload? I don’t yet know. What I do know is that the weekend has felt so enlivening, as if I’m living in a miracle, aware of the abundance of relationship. I am hoping to continue further down this path. I take my responsibility to my students at work seriously. To do that requires time. To live a full life requires giving oneself the space to be whole. This, too, requires time. Can the two be done together? Others have learned how, and maybe I can too.

Maybe you have some wisdom of your own about this path, dear readers. What does your journey look like? How does it feel?

place, poetry, writing

Of Time, Demons, and Living in a World Called Yes

Back from a recent trip to visit family half way across the world, my  feels foggy headed from jet lag, as if it has been stuffed with cotton. There were many things I hoped to do today, but my mind was half asleep, or wanted to be. It’s difficult to travel between worlds. During my recent trip, I traveled between many worlds as we visited different friend and family member’s homes, slipping into their lives, conversations and way of living for a few days or hours. Indeed, there are many worlds inside of this world.

Currently, I’m reading William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain, where he travels through the Middle East, exploring and explaining the remnants of Byzantium. In one section, Dalrymple explains how Gregory the Great was known to recommend making the sign of the cross over lettuce leaves so you wouldn’t swallow a demon who happened to be perching there. (p. 55) In that comment, it struck me how different that world, with its belief in demons, is from my own. Dalrymple mentions how across the Mediterranean today, the role of the priest as a “prize-fighter against Devil minions” is still important. My husband’s father, whose parents came from Calabria in southern Italy had a belief in these minions. Once, for example, one of his grandsons fell from a table, and he explained there was a demon who made him do it. Salt should be scattered at the door to keep them way. A ceramic pot my husband made had a lid that  looked like a fox head, and my father-in-law turned it upside down because he thought it was a demon. This unseen world, was definitely alive for him.

This way of thinking is different than my own, and of a mind from a different world. The demon of my world is the lack of time to do the many things I want to do during any particular day. It’s a demon of my own mind, a demon that wants, nevertheless, to control my mind and make me think that life is a river of things that need to be accomplished, rather than an experience to be savored. While visiting friends in the LA area recently, we were walking around Puddingstone Lake, and I became aware that I was not at all thinking about the list of things that needed to be done, I was simply walking in the late afternoon light, enjoying the way it turned the trees half golden. I was looking at the lake, breathing, and feeling completely whole without having to do anything. I felt the way I did as a child when walking through the dry yellow grass on the hills behind my house, climbing on boulders to lie back and stare at the clouds and feel my body absorb the heat from the stone beneath me–where time was a lake to go swimming in, not a clock with seconds that ticked by, click, click, counting out every moment. It was a world of being rather than doing, and that world is difficult to get back to. The path gets grown over by the grass and shrubbery of obligations, but it is a world I want to visit more often.

As an expatriate, I’m used to moving back and forth between worlds, to belonging to several worlds, and feeling they are home. Actually, many places are simultaneously home and not home. I’m reminded of the words to the song, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue…” Home is a state of mind, as well as a place. I feel at home in myself, and therefore feel at home in many places. What I want is to visit more, though, the world where time flows, and to do that, I need to purposefully walk down the path, open the gate and enter that place. The gate could look like quietness, or a walk out of doors, like a book I want to read, like singing and music, or like the face of friends and voices of loved ones. “Love is a place,” as E. E. Cummings says, and if we want to experience the awareness of love we must put aside the press of obligations.

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

——-

We see often, what we allow ourselves to see, what we set our gaze on. We grow toward and become what we spend time with. All day long I’ve heard the whine of train whistles in the distance, a reminder of the relentless motion of time moving down a fixed track in a busy city. If I want to live in a world where being is important, however, I must get off the train and go to that other world.

What do most of us want most in this world but to know we are loved? Love is a place we create as well as a place that is found, a place we come home to. There are many things I don’t understand about how to live fully, but if I want to learn, I must enter the gate that leads me there. That means time out from the schedule, some time each day to remember who I am, where I come home to myself, where I allow myself to enter the world of love.

As a writer, I know that giving myself a rule or a regular practice of writing can strengthen my work. This is the time of Lent. I didn’t grow up practicing Lent, but I’ve been thinking about what that might mean for me. Traditionally, it is a time of prayer, giving alms to others, fasting and/or giving something up–a practice of some kind of self-denial. Giving up a bit of the idea that I have control over everything, and that if I just keep working harder I will accomplish everything I think I should might be a good thing. If I accomplish everything on the list. But if I do, then what? Does that make me feel more whole? Will I simply add on to the to-do list? How long can a person keep doing that?

Perhaps there is a wisdom in the ancient traditions and practices that I can’t know because they aren’t part of my life. Maybe you have to give up some things, like always having too many things to do, to find other things– like a deeper, more meaningful and satisfying life.