Happy New Year 2016, Part III – Gratitudes not Resolutions

O LORD my God, I will give thanks to thee forever.
— Psalm 30:12b

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It used to be that every year I would make out a list of New Year’s resolutions just like everyone else. The reality of those resolutions was I put the list in safe place and promptly forgot all about them, just like everyone else I know. A couple of years back I changed practice for New Year’s, instead of resolutions I started listing what I was grateful for from the Old Year.

I no longer feel guilty about not keeping promises to myself and speaking gratitude helps me to see the past year in a positive perspective. So here are my top 10 gratitude’s for New Years day 2016:

First of all I am grateful for John my beloved husband, best friend, and all around good company.

I am grateful for the presence of my furry and feathered friends. They have helped me to laugh when I least wanted to and they are a calming presence each day of the year.

I am grateful for my family; John’s 3 sons; our beautiful grandchildren Shannon and Amelia, Alex and Liam; my cousins who have made me laugh and so grateful that we have reconnected. Each and every one of you has brought joy into my life in so many ways.

I am also grateful for the Skype calls from Mark, Laura, Liam, and Amelia, who live in Boston. Amelia and Liam I love all of your antics and learning what you are up as you are growing up. Liam practice hard on those drums so that when we come the next time you can show us your progress. Amelia send me some of your dress designs, I would love to see what you are thinking of. Each of you are talented and amazing.

I am especially grateful for the Laura’s presence in my life. You my dear daughter-in-law are a treasure.

I am grateful for the kindness of strangers from all over the world. Their help when I needed it on our South Pacific adventure last year made the trip just that much more enjoyable.

I am grateful for caring and skillful medical professionals: Dr. Alberts who operated on my back, the Nursing staff at Stevens Hospital who made a difficult time easier, Physical therapists who encouraged me to work harder so that I would successfully recover from surgery.

I am grateful for the Faith community at Queen Anne Christian Church who have show me and John so much love and friendship.

I am grateful for my In-Care-Committee who encouraged me to search deep within myself and who helped me to see myself as I am instead of how everyone see me.

I am grateful for the friendship of so many people that if I were to name them I would certainly forget someone, so from the bottom of my heart I love you all.

So those are my top 10 gratitude, of course I have many more. The listing of them will take all day on New Year’s Day but these are the most important ones. If you were to list your gratitude’s for 2015 what would they be? How would remembering them change your how you view the past year and how you anticipate the next?

My prayer for each of you is a year full of grace so that next New Year’s day it takes you 2 days to recite them. Have a Happy, Grace Filled New Year!

© 2015, words, Ruth Jewel, All rights reserved; illustration courtesy of Larisa Koshkina, Public Domain Pictures.net

Editor’s note: Ruth is a member of The Bardo Group Beguines core team.  Her personal blog is A Quiet Walk.  She also posts once a week on spiritual practice at our sister site, Beguine Again.

Giving Thanks: An Invitation to Awareness

A Vegan Gratitude Day Dinner, Leek and Bean Cassoulet
A Vegan Gratitude Day Dinner, Leek and Bean Cassoulet, keeping it kind
For Gratitude Day in 2010, Awyn (Jottings) wrote the piece posted below. It has remained with me since then and I asked Awyn for permission to publish it here. Awyn and I met thanks to Sam Hamill’s Poets Against War initiative to which we both contributed. She included two of my anti-war poems in “Salamander Cove,”  her poetry magazine, where I was honored to keep company with such lights as Sherman Alexie and Robert Peake. Wow! The magazine was paused in 2012 but is expected back this December. Awyn (Annie Wyndham) is a former human rights worker and an accomplished poet and writer of conscience. Her poems have appeared in Burlington Poetry Review and Spoonful (Cambridge’s Stone Soup poetry venue). You can sample her poetry on her blog. J.D.

Here’s Awyn:

Happy Thanksgiving! — to all those who celebrate this special holiday.

Last year on Thanksgiving, I itemized all the things for which I was thankful. Here it is that time again, one year later and that still all holds true but no special dinner has been planned. Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving Day in October and it’s nowhere near as big a holiday here as it is in the U.S.

In the U.S., for many Thanksgiving means not only a big family dinner but watching the annual parade or football game on TV, big sales on Black Friday the day after, and the horrendous traffic back for those who came in from out of town. All part of the tradition.

We have plenty of big, sit-down dinners here with my mate’s family, but my fondly remembered American Thanksgivings are now a thing of the past. I don’t know any Americans here, my mate’s not that crazy about pumpkin pie, and I’m a vegetarian, so there’d be no turkey. Turkey is traditional but I’ve had many an untraditional version, with calamari or tofu or soup.  It was still a thanks-giving.  My kids are hundreds of miles away and none of us can afford to visit at this time. Hence no big family Thanksgiving get-together celebration this year. We will share our good wishes over the telephone. As for spectator parade-watching or sports broadcasts or Black Friday shopping, none of that interests me. In that, I guess you could say I’m untraditional. Pumpkin pie, however, is non-negotiable. You absolutely cannot have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It just doesn’t compute.

The most interesting Thanksgiving I ever heard about was from the wife of a former colleague who volunteered at a local soup kitchen. She told me that one Thanksgiving, to raise awareness of all the people who were starving in the world, some organization whose name I can no longer remember invited people to attend a big sit-down Thanksgiving dinner, for $15 per person, proceeds to go towards world hunger.

When you arrived, you were asked to pick your entry ticket out of a box. There were three kinds of tickets.

If you got a green ticket, you would be served the full dinner, with all the trimmings–and be allowed seconds on desert.

If you got a yellow ticket, you would be served what starving people in third-world countries sometimes get to eat–a child-sized helping of rice or thin, watery soup–and nothing else.

And if you got a white ticket–you’d get nothing at all.

So imagine you’re at this banquet and you get the full meal, with all the trimmings, and you’re sitting next to someone who got nothing. Would you turn and give half of what you have to that person? What if you’re one of the unlucky ones who got the thin, watery soup? Or worse, the empty plate. Would you quietly sip your water and listen to your stomach growl, hoping the people next to you might offer to give you some of theirs?

I’m sure a lot of sharing went around, probably immediately, after the initial surprise (and perhaps discomfort) wore off. Giving money to a charity, for which you get a sit-down dinner, is one thing; being invited to dinner and served an empty plate and having it suddenly sink in what real deprivation is like, is quite another. (Well, the invitation did say the theme was Awareness.)  But how uncomfortable to have to sit in front of an empty plate all evening long while others are eating. That glass of water can only go so far.

I went without  lunch yesterday–not by choice.  I simply forgot.  I was working on something and the hours flew and I suddenly realized it was getting dark outside and all I’d had to eat the whole day long was a cup of coffee at 6 a.m.  My stomach began reminding me it hadn’t been fed.  Loudly.  No problem.  I could open my refrigerator or reach for something in the cupboard and solve the problem, instantly.

But what if I couldn’t?  What if, for whatever reason,there was none to be had and no more food would be forthcoming for another day. Another two days. Maybe even a whole week. How would I deal with that?  Certainly, after a day or two, lack of food would make me woozy, lightheaded … lethargic, even.   I’d probably lose weight.  Temporarily fasting is one thing. Starvation, however, is quite another.

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I think that’s what the organizers of that unusual Thanksgiving dinner wanted to convey–that life is not fair.  Some of us get to sit down every evening to a good meal, Every Single Night.  Some can only afford to buy food meant for animals.  Some get somebody else‘s leftovers, fished out of a trash can.  And some get nothing at all.

So many things to be thankful for this holiday.   Awareness–however received–is one of them.

© 2010, essay, Annie Wyndham, All rights reserved; cassoulet photograph courtesy of SarahJane Veganheathen via Flickr under CC A – SA 2.0 generic license; little girl courtesy of Filipe Moreira via Flickr under CC A-SA 2.0 generic license; the sketch that says it all is Awyn’s

I Still Have Legs

I wish I was more thankful for things before I lost my vision.

Driving, reading, colors, remembering faces, seeing the stars, being independent, my job, looking at photographs, watching my nephews grow up, seeing what I will look like older, nature, television, writing something down on a piece of paper, an art gallery, seeing the wonders of the world.

Perhaps I am more thankful now. Perhaps my lack of vision gave me more to be thankful for.

Yes my feet burn on the hot pavement. I still have legs.

The annoying sounds during the meditation. I still have hearing.

I have a migraine today. I am still alive!

Using my white cane down the busy street, I am present and aware.

A Mini-Gallery of Photographs from Wendy Rose Alger, Fine Art Photographer

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© 2014, words and photographs, Wendy Rose Alger, All Rights Reserved

wra201110071514-1bw-mWENDY ROSE ALGER ~ is a fine art photographer born in 1972 in Chicago, Illinois. Wendy now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. She studied photography at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where she learned manual SLR and how to use a darkroom. These days Wendy uses a digital camera. With a digital camera she can forego a dark room and check her photographs in the camera. Thanks to her digital camera, adaptive technologies, and a variety of computer applications for photography, she is able to pursue her passion despite the vision limitations that result from retinitis pigmentosa. Her website is Wendy Rose Alger, where you can view a more complete gallery of her photographs.

A Nairobi Lesson!

Recently, a friend of mine, Patricia Tilton, reviewed a lovely little book for children on her blog: My Paper House by Lois Peterson about a little girl who comes from Kibera in Nairobi.

Reading her review, memories of my first impressions of the frantic, noisy, city of Nairobi inspired me to write something for my Insights Corner. At the time, I was doing a consultancy for Oxfam. I rode in my air-conditioned Toyota Landcruiser (until it was stolen) through the then-failing traffic system with its drive-on-the-left, traffic lit, roundabouted road infrastructure ~ a testament to Pre-Uhuru British colonialism.

Heat bounced off the pot-holed, tarmacked roads, causing them to soften and shimmy.

I remember driving through the parts of town where the rich lived. Roads were lined with mansions and gated-compounds guarded by Askaris. Pepper trees and Bougainvillea grew everywhere. I knew I was in Africa because of the glaring, daring colours ~ flowers and vibrant Kangas worn by local women. Only they can wear such colour. Their blue-black skin makes that of a white person’s seem bleached, devoid of life.

The relentless sun forces everything to exude its fragrance. house nairobihouse nairobi

I drove to another part of town. Glinting corrugated tin roofs bounce the sun back into your eyes ~ mirroring something of the reality of contrasts in that part of the world. The Kibera slums occupy a space not quite as large as Central Park. Kibera is jammed full of ramshackle tin huts. Beneath those roofs, men, women and children live in unimaginable poverty. Urine and feces run in open ruts across the ground. There is nowhere to walk, no streets, street lights, or running water. The walking paths (if you can call them that) are filled with rubbish and human waste.

1,000,000 men, women and children live there. There are approximately 1300 people per toilet. If a toilet is occupied, a person squats over a plastic bag (which is a rare commodity) tries to tie it, then jettisons it into space (“flying toilet”).

Kibera is a breeding ground for Diptheria, Malaria and Typhus. Many children don’t live to see five years.

Kibera is an eye-sore, stinking, outrageous and offensive in every way imaginable.slums

Yet, I learned something from my visit (which does not make it right, justify its existence or create a holier-than-thou chance to evangelise in search of a raison d’etre.)

A child of about nine years old approached me. “Mama!” she said. “Give me that.” I looked at what she pointed to. I had a plastic container that I considered rubbish and would (being ecologically minded) recycle. “Give me that,” she said again in English.

I gave it her, and she smiled her thanks. She seemed delighted. I learned later that this little raggedy girl lived on rubbish. Every day of her life, she foraged in Nairobi rubbish dumps to find anything of value that she might then sell on for a few shillings. I had given her something that, for me, was worthless trash, but to her, meant she could eat Ugali that day.

Interestingly, my house-girl (I didn’t invent the terminology or the servant-driven economy) had a plastic container just like it on the window-sill of her hut (of which she was intensely proud). Once, it had been filled with succulent strawberries, now, it was Crosby’s bead box. And she thought it beautiful.

Insight? Apart from the outrage I felt/feel that this goes on in the world and we, collectively, do nothing about it, I looked into that little girl’s eyes. I saw a look of achievement, hope, pride. I did not see failure or despair. She had survived that day. She wanted to survive, thrive, live. Only 8% of girls in Kibera are educated. Just think what this child might achieve if she were given the chance!

Sometimes all we need is a chance. That little girl would grab the taken-for-granted thing and run with it ~ for years and years ~ propelled by its value.

– Niamh Clune

© 2014, essay, Niamh Clune, All rights reserved; photo #1 courtesy of Mwanamwiwa; photo #2 The Guardian News Service; photo #3 © Nairobi Slumbs Schools Project Trust;

430564_3240554249063_1337353112_n-1orange-petals-cover_page_001DR. NIAMH CLUNE (Plum Tree Books Blog) ~ is the author of the Skyla McFee series: Orange Petals in a Storm, and Exaltation of a Rose. She is also the author of The Coming of the Feminine Christ: a ground-breaking spiritual psychology. Niamh received her Ph.D. from Surrey University on Acquiring Wisdom Through The Imagination and specialises in The Imaginal Mind and how the inborn, innate wisdom hidden in the soul informs our daily lives and stories. Niamh’s books are available in paperback (children’s books) and Kindle version (The Coming of the Feminine Christ). Dr. Clune is the CEO of Plum Tree Books and Art. Its online store is HERE.  Niamh’s Amazon page is HERE.

When I’m Sixty-Four

Will you still need me, will you still feed me …

At the time of writing this, when the Beatles and the Stones were playing out yet another rock and roll battle at the Grammy‘s, I was reminded of this song, which, if not their greatest hit, is one of their most memorable because it passes the ‘Old Grey Whistle Test‘.

In the fifty years since their major ‘battles’ for supremacy in the charts, in which these two famous bands were engaged, our life expectancy has increased by almost ten years*. So, the perspective of a young man in the mid-1960’s of someone in the seventh decade of their life, would have been of an old grouch off the end of the scale of life. At sixty-four, however, I find myself with better prospects of success for carrying out my ambitions in retirement, than I would have had fifty years ago.

Life expectancy, the quantity of life, is, whichever way you look at it, merely a statistic and is of little value on its own; we need quality of life as well. I watch as my 95 year old step-mother soldiers on, despite the continual but manageable ailments, with which she has to cope. Her complaints are nothing if not a physical body that is slowly wearing out, but they remind me that old age is not for the faint-hearted. I am conscious of the aches and pains that I have to deal with already, but, in my more insightful moments, I am constantly grateful that they are occasional or, if regular, not chronic (and by ‘chronic’, I mean permanent, lifelong conditions).

Perhaps the most important point about this is the effect that living with illness or pain, be it arthritis or any one of several age related chronic conditions, can severely reduce the quality of our life. I know that I truly have little to complain about, but I am acutely aware that I still, sometimes, have a grumpy disposition, which leads me to appear rude and dissatisfied, even when I know I am not dissatisfied – setting aside a kind of world-weariness that comes from my daily observations of what the human race is up to – but sometimes I need some help not to allow myself to become a grouch, especially with my wife of nearly forty years, who doesn’t deserve it.

If there were a universal prayer that I’d like to say here, it would be: please grant me a greater equanimity and remind me that I should be grateful for the ability, I know I already have, to see and enjoy the beauty, both visible and invisible, which is in so many parts of our lives. Above all, let me not forget to afford the elderly my understanding for them.

Give me your answer, fill in a form
Mine for evermore
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?”

Source: England and Wales, Total Population, Life Tables

John_in_Pose_Half_Face3JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British poet and writer, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer. John participates in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. John is also an active member of The Poetry Society (UK).

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product_thumbnail-3.php51w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_John has been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.

The Year Turns

Written by our own Michael Watson a few days before Christmas, here is the wisdom of the shaman writing in gratitude for the Life we share as we hold our fellow creatures and this earth as intrigral to ourselves and as we recognize the seasons of our souls. He hints at the hope and possibility in our continual rebirthing. Read and ponder. This is worth your time.

Dreaming the World

Ice-Storm The year has turned. This evening, weather permitting, we will gather with others to celebrate the changing seasons and honor Grandfather Fire without whom we could not live. We will mark the Sun’s return, remembering the change of seasons is also within us. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the days will now lengthen as the sun begins His slow drift northward. That is the future; this morning the dark lingers. Jennie has moved through the house; lit candles mark her passage.

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The Ultimate Grace of Gratitude

The heart of this little gem is the gift of the very dear Br. David Steindl-Rast. If you are familiar with Br. David’s philosophy, writing, and voice, you will have immediately recognized who wrote and delivered the narrative though for some strange reason he is not credited.

BROTHER DAVID STEINDL-RAST (b. 1926)

Viennese, Catholic Benedictine Monk

Br. David is notable for his work fostering dialogue among the faiths and for exploring the congruence between science and spirituality. Early in his career he was officially designated by his abbot to pursue Catholic-Buddhist dialogue. He studied with several well-known Zen masters. He is the author of feature articles, chapter contributions to collections, and books. Among the most notable are Belonging to the Universe (with Frijof Capra) and The Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day (with Sharon Lebell). Br. David is the co-founder of A Network for Grateful Living, dedicated to the life-transforming character of gratitude.

THE FILMMAKER

Louie Schwartzberg, the film-maker, is an American and well-known for his time-lapse photography. The short-film here is one of several – each with a different theme – which you can find on YouTube.

THE MUSIC

The mood music background is by composer Gary Malkin. “He is founder of Musaic and Wisdom of the World™, a media production company and web site. He is also the co-founder of Care for the Journey, a care-for-the-caregiver initiative for healthcare professionals.” MORE

Video uploaded to YouTube by 

Photo credit ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast, courtesy of Verena Kessler. She has released the photograph into the public domain.

The Equinox and the Medicine Wheel

Early Autumn color, Vermont

Editorial note: My apologies to readers and to Michael for not scheduling this in sooner. An oversight on my part. J.D.

This is a reblog of a recent post to Dreaming The World.

This week marks the Autumn Equinox. The Equinoxes and other aspects of the calendar round are markers made by people; we need markers to make sense of our lives, to place ourselves in relationship to All That Is. Sometimes we forget the markers are of our creation, and we imagine they hold intrinsic meaning, rather than the meanings we assign them. This is a dangerous assumption as it tempts us to believe there is only one story, and it is true for all people, everywhere. Such thinking always causes great suffering.

Next week, in class, our friend, Alicia Daniel, is leading us in the creation and exploration of a Medicine Wheel. Alecia allows participants to explore, and assign values to, the directions.Given the freedom to make meaning opens the students to Mystery and Wonder. Not surprisingly, the values discovered by students often resemble the attributes assigned the directions by the Indigenous peoples who have lived here for thousands of years.

I usually teach the Medicine Wheel using attributes for the directions as I have been taught them by teachers from the Northeast, where we live. While there are small differences between tribal, even band, understandings of the directions, the general framework holds firm. As I understand it: The East is the place of birth and death, sunrise, spring, mentation, air, and all beings who fly. The South is home to fire, warm bloodeds, and the plants. It is the place of healing, noon time, and high summer. It is the direction of physicality, and in some traditions, sexuality. The West is home to water, dreaming, evening, and autumn. It is the place of responsibility and parenting, and of the Dream Time. The North is the home of the Ancestors and the rock people, the place of winter and night, the direction of clearly seeing the big picture, of vision. We journey sun-wise around the wheel, returning to the east to die and be reborn.

My Lakota kin likely say we are born and die in the West. That makes sense to them, where they live. The Medicine Wheel is a teaching about our locale and inner worlds, telling us much about local ecology, culture, and understanding of self. Wherever we are the Medicine Wheel speaks to us of our life journey, a road we share with the people and other beings who comprise the community in which we live.

In Western culture the wheel has a bad rap. Rather than a map for living a joyful, fulfilling life, it is often emblematic of being caged, or of soul killing work. In the East it may be something to be escaped. Yet, in Indigenous cultures around the world the wheel remains a powerful symbol for relationship, connection, and the good life.

This week we take a few minutes to acknowledge the Medicine Wheel that is our calendar year. We will express gratitude to Father Sun, and acknowledge Grandmother Water. Without them we would not have life. It is good to do this, and to have the opportunity to do so openly, for we remember the times, some quite recent, when we could not do so.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes the one below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

“Jerry,” Faulkner and the Laundromat

0014the work of Priscilla Galasso  

“The Bardo” is a place of transition, perhaps akin to Purgatory. It is common ground and a sacred space of sorts. It’s intriguing to think of the Laundromat as a place like that  . . .

David Attenborough makes a point in The Life of Mammals video about “Social Climbers” – monkeys. He says that you can tell how large a monkey’s social group is by the size of his brain. Baboons live in large, complex social structures and have the largest brains of all the monkeys. Surviving and thriving in a social environment means that you have to be able to assess situations and make an array of decisions – how to make allies and with whom, how and when and whom to fight, how to secure a mate and improve your chances of passing on your genes. Navigating social life is even more brain-bending if you’re human, I think. More subtleties are involved. Here’s a case in point: the laundromat.

When Jim and I were first married, I did laundry at the laundromat. I hated going there, for several reasons. First of all, I was pregnant. The smells nauseated me; the physical demands of standing to fold and hoisting large loads of clothes around exhausted me. It was a depressing place to be physically, but perhaps even more uncomfortable was the social aspect. You never know what strangers you might encounter. I have had some rather pleasant days at the laundromat. I met a psychic, once, who was very interesting. She could tell I was skeptical and not receptive, but she kept on talking to me nevertheless. Gradually, I relaxed and figured out how to respect her and appreciate her and communicate that to her. We parted with a hug and wished each other well. Mostly, I get a pleasant experience if I can do my laundry in silence and read a few short stories at the same time. What I often find is that the laundromat is a place to observe human suffering, my own and others’.

I happened to have selected a book of short stories by William Faulkner as my laundry companion. I grabbed it off of Steve’s stack figuring that short stories would fit nicely into those periods of time between cycles, and I wouldn’t mind being interrupted or distracted as much as I would if I were trying to tackle “heavier” reading. What I didn’t think about was that these stories of post-Civil War race relations would be cast for me on a backdrop of the urban reality of this century…and that the same awkward tensions would result. I felt like some of his characters, eavesdropping in the kitchen, when people in the laundromat would chatter on their cell phones to friends and social agents. Outwardly, I guess I was trying to be invisible. I couldn’t help picking up snatches of their lives and wondering about their stories. For example, Jerry and his family…

I’ve seen Jerry twice now. Yesterday, I recognized him as I approached the laundromat. He was wearing a diaper under sweatpants, shoes, and no shirt. He was hitting his head repeatedly and grunting. Or maybe it was more like moaning. The woman he was with may have been his mother. She was in a wheelchair with an artificial leg that looked like a sandbag. He was with another woman as well, perhaps his sister. She was the one doing the laundry. I remembered them from a month ago. They came with about seven large, black garbage bags full of clothes. They took a social services shuttle bus to get there; I knew this from hearing the mother make cell phone calls about being picked up. This woman had the sweetest, kindest voice you would ever hope to hear. Her voice was full of compassion and pain; it was lilting and rich and Southern. I would cast her as a black Mammy in one of Faulkner’s stories. Her manners were impeccable. If she had to pass around me, she excused herself, and I felt like apologizing profusely for being in the way. Her daughter (?), the other woman, spoke almost unintelligibly as she did the laundry and corralled Jerry. Even the woman in the wheelchair told her, “I can’t understand what you’re saying.” Jerry likes to wander. They don’t want him to wander out to the street and get hit by a car. They don’t want him to bother the other people in the building. Their voices called out periodically, “Jerry. Jerry, come over here.” “Jerry, honey. Stop! Jerry, come here.”

When Jerry wanders near me, I don’t know what to do. I keep my head down and my eyes in my book. Would I frighten him if I made eye contact? Would he frighten me? Another gentleman was there. He helped bring Jerry back inside when he wandered out. The mother thanked him, “You’re so sweet. Thank you, sir.” They exchanged names. He told her that he has a grandson who was hit by a car at age seven; the grandson is now twenty-five and has brain damage. “Oh, so you know. You understand,” she sighed. I learned that Jerry is thirty-two years old.

In the other corner of the room, there was a mother with a five-year old daughter, London. She looked about five, anyway. London had a pacifier. I heard her mother yelling at her. “London! Get up offa that floor! Sit your butt down here!” Her voice was sharp and angry. London began to cry. There is not much to interest a five-year-old in the laundromat. She hadn’t brought any toys or books to occupy her.

The mother talked on her cell phone while London played with the lid of the laundry hamper. I made eye contact with the child as we went about our business. She silently bent her wrist toward me, while sucking her pacifier. “Oh, did you hurt yourself?” I asked. “London! Get out of the way!” her mother said.

In the Faulkner story, Master Saucier Weddell is trying to get back to Mississippi from Virginia. He is the defeated. He and his traveling companion, his former slave who is very attached to him and his family, find themselves in Tennessee at a farmhouse. These victors are extremely suspicious. They think Mr. Weddell is a Negro. Actually, he’s Cherokee and French. The story is short, but intense. The traveler and the farmer’s younger son end up being killed in an ambush by the farmer and his Union soldier son, Vatch. The last two sentences read, “He watched the rifle elongate and then rise and diminish slowly and become a round spot against the white shape of Vatch’s face like a period on a page. Crouching, the Negro’s eyes rushed wild and steady and red, like those of a cornered animal.”

I finished my laundry in silence. I waved my fingers and mouthed “goodbye” to London who had been banished to the corner. Her mother didn’t see me.

At home, the late afternoon sun shines down on the quilt on my bed. Steve isn’t home, and it’s very quiet. I feel like crying. My brain is not big enough to figure out why.

– Pricilla Galasso

© 2013, story/creative nonfiction and photographs, Pricilla Galasso, All rights reserved

004PRISCILLA GALASSO ~ is a contributor to Into the Bardo. She started her blog at scillagrace.com to mark the beginning of her fiftieth year. Born to summer and given a name that means ‘ancient’, her travel through seasons of time and landscape has inspired her to create visual and verbal souvenirs of her journey.

“My courage is in the affirmation of my part in co-creation”, she wrote in her first published poem, composed on her thirtieth birthday and submitted alongside her seven-year-old daughter’s poem to Cricket magazine. Her spiritual evolution began in an Episcopal environment and changed in pivotal moments: as a teenager, her twenty-year-old sister died next to her in a car crash and, decades later, Priscilla’s husband and the father of her four children died of coronary artery disease and diabetes in his sleep at the age of forty-seven  Awakening to mindfulness and reconsidering established thought patterns continues to be an important part of her life work.

Currently living in Wisconsin, she considers herself a lifelong learner and educator. She gives private voice lessons, is employed by two different museums and runs a business (Scholar & Poet Books, via eBay and ABE Books) with her partner, Steve.

Ceremony and the Raven

Evening, Lake ChamplainThis morning we put aside our frustration and despair and spoke with the land and spirits. The mosquitoes, which had been fierce, quieted their attack, and even the birds calling stopped to listen. We like to open the altar outside whenever the weather allows, but of late have not had the heart to do so. The last time we opened the altar was the only time all summer we have heard the calls of the Hermit Thrush.

We awoke feeling sad and angry. The news on the racial, social, and climate fronts has been heartbreaking. We’ve been feeling overwhelmed, unable to see how we might contribute significantly to much-needed change. We’ve also been asked to aid others who are thinking they should do more than they possibly can. We remind others to do only what they are able. As we do so we remind our many selves to do the same, even as some selves feel frightened and desperate for change.

In the brief ceremony we spoke to the Creator, Pachamama, and the spirits about our gratitude for our lives and our concerns for the present and future. We acknowledged we humans are not caring for the futures of our grandchildren, let alone those of all species who will follow us in seven generations. This is a great sadness.

After the ceremony we came in to respond to e-mail and do other tasks. Online, we discovered a brief video posted to Facebook. In the video, a wild raven, perched on a fence, allows a woman to remove porcupine quills from its face. After each quill is removed, the raven squawks and complains, then allows the woman to soothe it and remove the next quill. How familiar!   (Watch video.)

Watching the video, we were once again reminded that ravens are immensely intelligent creatures, that humans are not the only ones who seek aid from others, and that all life forms are profoundly interconnected, in life as in story. We were also reminded that small things, even removing quills from an injured animal, can be powerful ceremony, and profoundly healing to those in an ever-widening circle.

– Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes portrait below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Working With the Spirits

Shrine, Chennai, India

Eight years ago we purchased a dilapidated cottage, took it down to studs, and with the aid of a brilliant contractor, built a wonderful home. Since then we have developed much-loved gardens on our small plot of urban land.

As the late effects of Polio have become more challenging for me to manage, Jennie has become the tender of those beds. We both care deeply about the garden’s well-being, but much of my limited energy is needed for our healing and teaching work. I am grateful to Jennie for reminding me that healing and teaching are also forms of gardening, other ways of working with spirit.

In the seven years we have lived in our home we’ve been quietly working with the spirits of the land. This is a tad challenging as we live in a residential neighborhood and all ceremony is public. My teachers always said one should be polite, humble, and do ceremony anyway. This simple advice turns out to be remarkably complex in practice.

The spirits of the land are often profoundly responsive to gratitude and ceremony. One evening during our most recent Asia trip we were asked to do a simple traditional shamanic ceremony for a group of college students. This was to be a simple show-and-tell, yet, as sometimes happens, the ceremony took on a momentum of its own, becoming profoundly moving and healing for all present.

When we returned home to Vermont we told our friend and colleague, Julie Soquet, about the experience. Julie listened to our story, considered it for a moment, then said, “The spirits of the land must be really alive and receptive there.”  I was stunned by her naming of the missed obvious. Local gods and spirits are routinely honored in both India and Hong Kong, and Jennie and I had spoken after the ceremony about how we felt the presence, support, and appreciation of the spirits. (There was an active shrine directly across the street from where we were conducting the ceremony.)

The other night, in dream, I was reminded we are loaned our bodies for our stay here on Pachamama. Our bodies are sacred; they are Medicine bundles. At the end of our lives we give our bodies back to the Earth. Pachamama asks that we grow the spirit and power of these bundles, so that when we return them they benefit Her and all beings. In the dream I was asked simply to keep this in mind as I made my way through what remains of my walk here. There were no other instructions, no “shoulds”, no “musts”. Expressing gratitude to the myriad beings who make our lives possible is part of that way of walking and gardening. I wonder how these simple, profound truths will enter into our work.

Michael Watson, Ph.D.

© 2013, essay and photographs (includes portrait below), Michael Watson, All rights reserved

michael drumMICHAEL WATSON, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC (Dreaming the World) ~ is a contributing editor to Into the Bardo, an essayist and a practitioner of the Shamanic arts, psychotherapist, educator and artist of Native American and European descent. He lives and works in Burlington, Vermont, where he teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at Burlington College,. He was once Dean of Students there. Recently Michael has been teaching in India and Hong Kong. His experiences are documented on his blog. In childhood he had polio, an event that taught him much about challenge, struggle, isolation, and healing.

Remembering What Came Before

As many know, today in the United States – July 4 – (I think it is already July 5 is some parts of the world) we celebrate our Independence Day, something that means a lot to us and may be greeted with mixed feelings if you live elsewhere in the world. Hence, I apprecate Terri’s handling of this occasion on her blog. I would also submit, that whatever good we reap in the world, whatever good this human race is able to accomplish, is done on the shoulders of those who came before us and laid the groundwork for equality and human rights. No matter our race or nationality, we all owe a debt to such diverse peacemakers as Martin Luther King, Thich Nhat Hanh, Nelson Mandla and Dennis Brutus and others on a list too long to share here. If you have someone whose work of peace and love is particularly meaningful to you, perhaps you will tell us who and why in the comment section. Thank you! Jamie Dedes

GIVING THANKS: AN INVITATION TO AWARENESS

On Thanksgiving Day in 2010, Awyn (The Jottings of an AmeriQuebeckian and Salamander Cove) wrote this piece. It has remained with me since then and this year I asked Awyn for permission to reblog it here. Awyn and I met thanks to Poets Against War. She was kind enough to include two of my anti-war poems in her online poetry magazine, Salamander Cove. Awyn is an accomplished poet and writer of conscience.  JAMIE DEDES
.
This is also the perfect post to add to Amy Nora Doyle’s (SoulDipper) Occupy the Blogospher effort.

MAY WE HAVE MANY REASONS TO GIVE THANKS
AND HEARTS BIG ENOUGH TO INCLUDE STRANGERS IN OUR CIRCLE OF CONCERN

Here’s Awyn:

Happy Thanksgiving! — to all those who celebrate this special holiday.

Last year on Thanksgiving, I itemized all the things for which I was thankful. Here it is that time again, one year later and that still all holds true but no special dinner has been planned. Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving Day in October and it’s nowhere near as big a holiday here as it is in the U.S.

In the U.S., for many Thanksgiving means not only a big family dinner but watching the annual parade or football game on TV, big sales on Black Friday the day after, and the horrendous traffic back for those who came in from out of town. All part of the tradition.

We have plenty of big, sit-down dinners here with my mate’s family, but my fondly remembered American Thanksgivings are now a thing of the past. I don’t know any Americans here, my mate’s not that crazy about pumpkin pie, and I’m a vegetarian, so there’d be no turkey. Turkey is traditional but I’ve had many an untraditional version, with calamari or tofu or soup.  It was still a thanks-giving.  My kids are hundreds of miles away and none of us can afford to visit at this time. Hence no big family Thanksgiving get-together celebration this year. We will share our good wishes over the telephone. As for spectator parade-watching or sports broadcasts or Black Friday shopping, none of that interests me. In that, I guess you could say I’m untraditional. Pumpkin pie, however, is non-negotiable. You absolutely cannot have Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. It just doesn’t compute.

The most interesting Thanksgiving I ever heard about was from the wife of a former colleague who volunteered at a local soup kitchen. She told me that one Thanksgiving, to raise awareness of all the people who were starving in the world, some organization whose name I can no longer remember invited people to attend a big sit-down Thanksgiving dinner, for $15 per person, proceeds to go towards world hunger.

When you arrived, you were asked to pick your entry ticket out of a box. There were three kinds of tickets.

If you got a green ticket, you would be served the full dinner, with all the trimmings–and be allowed seconds on desert.

If you got a yellow ticket, you would be served what starving people in third-world countries sometimes get to eat–a child-sized helping of rice or thin, watery soup–and nothing else.

And if you got a white ticket–you’d get nothing at all.

So imagine you’re at this banquet and you get the full meal, with all the trimmings, and you’re sitting next to someone who got nothing. Would you turn and give half of what you have to that person? What if you’re one of the unlucky ones who got the thin, watery soup? Or worse, the empty plate. Would you quietly sip your water and listen to your stomach growl, hoping the people next to you might offer to give you some of theirs?

I’m sure a lot of sharing went around, probably immediately, after the initial surprise (and perhaps discomfort) wore off. Giving money to a charity, for which you get a sit-down dinner, is one thing; being invited to dinner and served an empty plate and having it suddenly sink in what real deprivation is like, is quite another. (Well, the invitation did say the theme was Awareness.)  But how uncomfortable to have to sit in front of an empty plate all evening long while others are eating. That glass of water can only go so far.

I went without  lunch yesterday–not by choice.  I simply forgot.  I was working on something and the hours flew and I suddenly realized it was getting dark outside and all I’d had to eat the whole day long was a cup of coffee at 6 a.m.  My stomach began reminding me it hadn’t been fed.  Loudly.  No problem.  I could open my refrigerator or reach for something in the cupboard and solve the problem, instantly.

But what if I couldn’t?  What if, for whatever reason,there was none to be had and no more food would be forthcoming for another day. Another two days. Maybe even a whole week. How would I deal with that?  Certainly, after a day or two, lack of food would make me woozy, lightheaded … lethargic, even.   I’d probably lose weight.  Temporarily fasting is one thing. Starvation, however, is quite another.

I think that’s what the organizers of that unusual Thanksgiving dinner wanted to convey–that life is not fair.  Some of us get to sit down every evening to a good meal, Every Single Night.  Some can only afford to buy food meant for animals.  Some get somebody else‘s leftovers, fished out of a trash can.  And some get nothing at all.

So many things to be thankful for this holiday.   Awareness–however received–is one of them.

© 2012, Awyn, All rights reserved

Gratitude by any other name is still gratitude. A bit different from our usual style but still in the spirit of “Into the Bardo:” we share this blog post with thanks to to Chris (Introspections During Quiet Time) who wrote it. J.D.

Introspections During Quiet Time

Image

I truly enjoy the small things in life. The other day one of these things (I call them “little wins”) happened and it got me to thinking about the little wins that we all get and about what mine are specifically. So, these are just the little things that somehow can turn a bad day around on a dime:

  • I can’t stress how excited I get when I grab a soda from one of the vending machines or coolers at a supermarket and I pop it open, only to find it is partially frozen! It’s like having built in ice cubes. I also love when a couple of pieces of ice come out when you are taking a drink and you have to crunch the ice as loud as possible. Why? because. That’s why!
  • I enjoy playing basketball and making shots from half court is sweet but when I am…

View original post 762 more words

I AM …

I AM

THEREFORE I THANK

Cindy Lubar Bishop

American Writer and Singer

YOUR PRESENCE IS REQUESTED

Br. David Stendl-Rast

This is just in from Br. David’s team at Gratefulness.org. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity and, since the event will be live-streamed by Sounds True, you can attend no matter where in the world you live and at no charge. J.D.

We have long wanted to host a summit at which world-class speakers – friends of Br. David’s through his decades of travels – could mutually envision fresh pathways for the global community to live in harmony and compassion. People from all walks of life could gather at this summit to find renewing insight desperately needed in chaotic times. Now this dream is coming to fruition:

Pathways to Gratefulness

David Whyte, Angeles Arrien, Chungliang Al Huang, Roshi Joan Halifax, Fritjof Capra, Chip Conley, and more than a dozen other extraordinary speakers, musicians, and dancers will be with us at “Pathways to Gratefulness” in San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts on Saturday, June 23rd. Your presence makes this event a vital catalyst! We cannot wait to see many of you in person. And no one need miss this opportunity, thanks to live-streaming:

Live, SoundsTrue: Celebrating Gratitude

Live-stream footage will be online free of cost until July 31st . Thank you so much to those of you who are offering donations to help make live-streaming available to all.

Please take a moment to forward this message to your friends. This helps us tremendously since, without your help, we cannot reach all the people who would benefit from this event. Your participation in “Pathways to Gratefulness” brings you further in touch with a groundswell of grassroots commitment to keep alive the true dignity and joy of being human.

© 2012, Gratefulness.org, A Network for Grateful Living

Photo credit ~ Verene Kessler via Wikipedia and generously released into the public domain with the caveat that the photographer be attributed.

Video uploaded to YouTube by 

Br. David ~ is notable for his work fostering dialogue among the faiths and for exploring the congruence between science and spirituality. Early in his career he was officially designated by his abbot to pursue Catholic-Buddhist dialogue. He studied with several well-known Zen masters. He is the author of feature articles, chapter contributions to collections, and books. Among the most notable are Belonging to the Universe (with Frijof Capra) and The Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day (with Sharon Lebell). Br. David is the co-founder of A Network for Grateful Living, dedicated to the life-transforming character of gratitude.

COMPASSION AT THE CORE


1st Row: Christian CrossJewish Star of DavidHindu Aumkar

2nd Row: Islamic Star and crescentBuddhist Wheel of DharmaShinto Torii

3rd Row: Sikh KhandaBahá’í starJain Ahimsa Symbol

COMPASSION AT THE CORE

by

Jamie Dedes

“Compassion is the pillar of world peace.” H.H. 14th Dalai Lama, A Human Approach to World Peace

The peaceful path of compassion is at the core of all the wisdom traditions, the conduits by which grace flows into our lives. If our species is to overcome current conflicts and truly be at peace with ourselves, we must tread the compassionate path and we must do it with bone and muscle as well as heart and mind. It must be a path where service and meditation converge.

In the Summa Theologiae, the great work of St. Thomas Aquinas, he suggests just that. He defines mercy (a virtue) as “the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him.” He describes mercy as having two aspects “affective” – or emotional – and “effective,” which is positive action.

We all have something to teach. We all have something to learn ~

People from varied traditions come to Buddhism – not to convert – but to learn the meditative skills that Buddhism teaches. Buddhists also have lessons to learn from other religions:

“…many Buddhists are interested in learning social service from Christianity. Many Christian traditions emphasize that their monks and nuns be involved in teaching, in hospital work, caring for the elderly, for orphans, and so on . . .  Buddhists can learn social service from the Christians.” H.H. 14th Dalai Lama, The Buddhist View toward Other Religions

Meditative practice is central to Buddhism. Along with devotions (prayers and religious observance), action (good works) is central to Christianity and the other Abrahamic traditions, which is not to imply that there are no meditative practices or that inward practice is more important than outward action. Rather, each has its place and they are complementary. Our meditative practices enhance tranquility, ensuring that our good works are appropriate and done in the right spirit.

A compassionate heart is moved to embrace and not to judge. A compassionate hand is moved to work and to sacrifice for the greater good. Selflessness, well-seated in compassion, implies action that both materially and spiritually benefits others. The Dalai Lama and Thích Nhất Hạnh, social activists as well as spiritual leaders, are the very breath of compassion and they and the people in the organizations they lead endlessly provide selfless service and share spiritual solace with all.

Buddhism in the West is a relatively new practice. To my knowledge it is only recently that American Buddhists have organized for relief efforts with Buddhist Global Relief (BGR), which in its short life has implemented quite a number of effective projects. The main mission of BGR is hunger, not simply addressing it in its immediacy but also advocating for changes within our global food systems that will ensure social justice and ecological sustainability. BGR was started by American Buddhist monk and scholar, the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, calling attention to the “narrowly inward focus of American Buddhism” and its neglect of social engagement. Moslems, Jews, and Christians have long-standing organizations for global relief and social activism.

It is healing grace when social services are delivered on a nonsectarian basis and without the expectation of conversion. The Koran admonishes (2:257): “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

We’re each born into a path or choose (or forego) one. Our devotion to one religion shouldn’t prevent respect for the others. Abū al-Muġīṭ Husayn Manṣūr al-Ḥallāğ (Mansur Al-Hallaj, 858-922), the Persian Sufi teacher and poet wrote from his own perspective:

“My heart has opened into every form. It is a pasture for gazelles, a cloister for Christian monks, a temple for idols, the Ka’ba of the pilgrim, the tables of the Torah and the book for Koran. I practice the religion of Love. In whatever directions its caravans advance, the religion of Love shall be my religion and my faith.”

Maybe we humans will come as close to peace and perfection as we can when we combine the “specialties” of Buddhism and the Abrahamic traditions ~

Compassion without meditation can result in cruelty and confusion. Compassion without action is insufficient to address concerns of the human condition.

Orthodox Christianity offers us guidelines for corporal (material) works of mercy:

  • feed the hungry
  • give drink to the thirsty
  • clothe the naked
  • house the homeless
  • visit the sick
  • engage in conscientious activism
  • bury the dead

The guidelines for spiritual works of mercy are:

  • share insight with the spiritually curious
  • counsel the fearful
  • provide brotherly support for those who live unwisely
  • bear wrongs patiently
  • forgive offenses willingly
  • comfort those who are suffering
  • pray (unify with the Ineffable) for the welfare of the living and the dead

In the ideal, these guidelines are not simply implemented in the privacy of our own prayers and meditations or with detachment in supporting civic and religious charities, but one-to-one in our everyday lives and in a spirit of unity. Mystical Judaism teaches us that: “Kindness gives to another. Compassion knows no other.”

There are 114 chapters in the Islamic scriptures, the Koran. Each begins with the principled: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate). This reminds me of the classical Christian ideal expressed in the Koinḗ Greek agápē, the love of Christ or God for humankind. I suspect it is also – like agápē – a call to action: to live in harmony with the Divine and all creation, that is to live with grace and mercy.

Charity, self-control, and compassion are the central virtues of Hinduism. Ahimsa (do no harm) is part of the Hindu ideal of compassion. This implies action, not just abstinence.

Perhaps this wisdom from an unknown saint or bodhisattva provides us the best advice for our own peace of heart and our species’ survival ~

“The true happiness that man has searched for since the dawn of time, that inner gold that awaits any person who holds compassionately the key of generosity: Do something for your fellow-man … and you shall truly have the gold.”

Gratitude is compassion’s fulcrum ~

“The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” H.H. 14th Dalai Lama

Gratitude is also the emotion that compels us to give back by caring compassionately for our fellow humans and providing responsible and loving stewardship of the animals who are our companions in nature and this mother earth that sustains us. This does, of course, preclude war which is a danger to all living things.

Expressing gratitude in some way to those who are kind and caring is what nurtures their gift of compassion so that the giver can continue to give and also learn to receive. The natural law of balance is then honored.

May our compassionate paths be fully human and traveled quietly, without pronouncement, conceit, sectarianism, or self-righteousness. May our compassion be a thing of the heart and mind -yes! – but also bolstered with bone and muscle and seasoned with gratitude. May all sentient beings find peace.

© 2012, essay, Jamie Dedes All rights reserved

 Illustration ~ religious symbols by Rusus via Wikipedia and released into the public domain

THE ULTIMATE GRACE OF GRATITUDE

GRATITUDE

Introduction to a Short Film

by

Jamie Dedes

I am so charmed by this six-minute moving-image film – you will be too – that I had to post it on Into the Bardo. I first shared it some time ago on at my primary playground, (Musing by Moonlight), where it was well received. If you can’t access YouTube or this specific video from your country, this film and The Hidden Beauty of Pollination are both on the TED talks site.

THE WISE AND GRACE-FILLED NARRATIVE

THE HEART OF THE FILM

The heart of this little gem is the gift of the very dear Br. David Steindl-Rast. If you are familiar with Br. David’s philosophy, writing, and voice, you will have immediately recognized who wrote and delivered the narrative.

BROTHER DAVID STEINDL-RAST (b. 1926)

Viennese, Catholic Benedictine Monk

Br. David is notable for his work fostering dialogue among the faiths and for exploring the congruence between science and spirituality. Early in his career he was officially designated by his abbot to pursue Catholic-Buddhist dialogue. He studied with several well-known Zen masters. He is the author of feature articles, chapter contributions to collections, and books. Among the most notable are Belonging to the Universe (with Frijof Capra) and The Music of Silence: A Sacred Journey Through the Hours of the Day (with Sharon Lebell). Br. David is the co-founder of A Network for Grateful Living, dedicated to the life-transforming character of gratitude.

THE FILMMAKER

Louie Schwartzberg, the film-maker, is an American and well-known for his time-lapse photography. The short-film here is one of several – each with a different theme – which you can find on YouTube.

THE MUSIC

The mood music background is by composer Gary Malkin. “He is founder of Musaic and Wisdom of the World™, a media production company and web site. He is also the co-founder of Care for the Journey, a care-for-the-caregiver initiative for healthcare professionals.” MORE

© 2011, Jamie Dedes All rights reserved

Video uploaded to YouTube by 

Photo credit ~ Br. David Steindl-Rast, courtesy of Verena Kessler. She has released the photograph into the public domain.

PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #30: When Cancer Strikes

WHEN CANCER STRIKES

by

Dan Roberson

It was both
a blessing and a curse,

Her chestnut
hair was often tangled or worse,

There were
times Laura hated her hair,

Conditioners,
detanglers, moisturizers,

Sometimes made
her wish it wasn’t there,

 ·

It had been
that way as far back as memory could get,

Uncontrollable
when dry, hard to manage when wet,

Laura’s
curly hair was admired often, she’d confess,

But it was
often a distraction as a frizzy mess,

There weren’t
many options on how to fix her hair,

She worried when
the wind made it fly here and there,

Often Laura
looked out of control and people would rudely stare,

 ·

Looking
calm, peaceful, and beautiful was her goal,

Forgotten were
the comments about her beauty as a whole,

Intelligence
and her abilities made her special in all she did,

But under
hats, tied up in tight braids, her curly hair she hid,

 ·

Laura was a
businesswoman, ambitious in every way,

Determined to
be a success before she turned old and gray,

Laura was
also wife and mother with two children on her mind,

Time for
them or even for herself, was very hard to find,

 ·

Her husband
sent her flowers every month to let her know,

That he would be waiting for her if she decided to take life slow,

Her life was filled from dawn till night, with one job to the next,

Rarely did
she spend quality time with Joe, and both were too tired for sex,

Vacations
were quick and far away, with pictures to prove she was there,

But wherever
she went and whatever she did, she covered up her hair,

 ·

Questions
from a young M.D. on her routine annual exam,

Made her mad
when he said, “We need further tests for you, Ma’am,”

She went
through the tests mainly to prove him wrong,

Much to her
chagrin blood was drawn, it didn’t take them long,

Laura balked
at first when new appointments were made,

But soon she
was on her way and memories of the visit began to fade,

 ·

Later that week several phone calls at work interrupted
her day,

“We want you
to come in, not tomorrow, perhaps yesterday,”

“What’s so important?”
she wondered as she brushed tangles from her hair,

“I’ve always
been so healthy, so why should I care?”

That night
Laura brushed her hair ninety-nine times or more,

With each
tug she commented, “Curly hair is such a chore,”

 ·

But Laura
was restless, the upcoming visit was eating at her,

And at her
next appointment she decided she would concur,

“You have
cancer,” he said quietly, “we should treat it aggressively,”

“I don’t
have time for cancer!” she shouted, “or even time for me,”

“We need to
treat it with chemotherapy,” he stated, “as soon as we can,”

“If we want
to win this war, we have to make a plan,”

“Doctor, I’m
too busy for this, I’ll do chemo in the spring,”

“Then they’ll
bury you deep while you sleep, the chemo won’t mean a thing,”

 ·

The nurse
read a list of changes that Laura might expect,

Foods to
eat, nausea, loss of hair, there was little time to reflect,

She could
deal with changes in her diet, so why did she care,

Yet on her
way home one thought returned, she would lose her hair,

 ·

What would
she do about work, would everyone lose respect?

And what
about her children and her Joe, what would he expect?

“This is not
fair,” she thought, “I’ve fought hard to get where I am,

Now I have
cancer and that puts me in a jam,”

She’d talk
to the doctors and see how this could be fixed,

Laura knew
how business worked, maybe this could be deep sixed,

She was
afraid to hug her husband, likewise with the kids,

With this
draining more from her, their marriage would be on the skids,

Joe listened
to her intently and suggested a group for her to attend,

“I don’t
need a support group,” she countered, “I just want to mend,”

He left a
number of the group in case she wanted to call,

For two days
Laura wanted nothing to do with the group at all,

 ·

But the
third evening as she brushed and detangled her hair,

Laura
wondered what others did when strangers began to stare,

She called a
cell phone number knowing she had to make a choice,

She agreed
to go to a meeting when she heard a cheerful voice,

“Come on and
join us, we’ll have a special guest tonight,

You’ll find
we have lots of fun because no one gets uptight,”

Nervously she
brushed her hair as she waited for her ride,

In the car
it was explained she’d have to wait outside,

 ·

Waiting outside
a home made her feel this was not the place to be,

But she only
had time to see what they wanted her to see,

Conspicuously
placed was a sign stating the group’s name,

“Birds of a
Feather” and in smaller print, “We’re all the same,”

 ·

Laura was
led in at the appointed time but saw one empty chair,

“It’s saved
for you,” a woman called out, “and your beautiful hair,”

How could
she explain that soon her head would soon be bare,

She was
afraid they might laugh and show they didn’t care,

Laura’s fear
was growing as she glanced about the room,

She was the
only one with cancer and ready to meet her doom,

 ·

Businesswomen,
single women, mothers, daughters, wives,

These women
were all beautiful and had normal lives,

“We have a newcomer tonight, so welcome Laura
with applause,”

The leader
continued, “And in case she’s worried, it’s time for us to pause,

We’ve faced
our fears before, and sometimes hid our shame,

But together
we are strong and our freedom we proclaim,”

 ·

One by one
each removed a wig to reveal her hair was gone,

“We’re all
in this together, no one is all alone,”

Their smiles
were wide and welcoming as the leader took her hand,

“When you
can, let Laura know that you really understand,”

 ·

When the
meeting was over Laura returned home,

She kissed
her children and showed them her comb,

She
explained her disease and told them about her hair,

They answered,
“We love you, mommy, we don’t care,”

Her husband,
Laura learned, was compassionate and kind,

He loved her
for her heart, her ambition, and her mind,

They decided
to fight cancer together and strive for the best,

And they’d
spend more time living and loving with zest,

The cancer
went into remission and Laura grew back her hair,

And whether tangled,
frizzy, or wind-blown, now she combs with flair.

© poem and artwork, Dan Roberson, 2011 all rights reserved

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Dan Roberson ~ lives in Kansas City, Missouri.  He says, ” I celebrate life. I retired from teaching and now I’m looking for new parades to lead, or to follow. I’m alone, still hoping to be a published author, and trying to stay on my chosen path. I have no anchor to hold me down and I’m ready to rid myself of possessions that impede progress. I want my imagination to soar. I’m open to learning about new worlds, new countries and languages, and different ways to look at things I thought I knew. Every day is a bonus day and I look forward to the challenges it brings. I’m finding out that technology is fast and getting faster and there is much information that I need to learn.”  You’ll find Dan at My Blog.

PERSPECTIVES ON CANCER #22: Bath

BATH

by

Myra Schnieder

·

Kindness, an Irish lilt in her voice,

spares me the effort of running the water

and supports my elbow when, stripped

of everything but wound dressings,

I take a giant step into the tub.

·

Warm water wells into my crotch,

unlocks spine, lullabies stomach.

Is it because I’ve passed through

extremity that this comfort is intense

as the yellow daffodils trumpet?

·

Yesterday – my raw body stranded

by the basin, chill sprouting on my skin

while a Chinese student nurse

conscientiously dabbed each

helpless area – is miles away.

·

Dimly, I remember a stark room

and the high-sided saltwater bath

I was dipped in a few days

after giving birth. As Kindness

babies my back with a pink flannel

·

I’m reborn though maimed, ageing.

And this pool of bliss can no more

be explained than the song that pours

from a lark as it disappears into

stitchless blue, the seed circles

·

that cram a sunflower’s calyx,

day splashing crimsons

and apricot golds across the sky

before it seeps into the silence

of night, the way love fountains.

 ·

© 2011, Myra Schneider, all rights reserved. This poem is posted on Into the Bardo  with the permission of  Ms. Schneider. Any further reposting requires her permission. 

Photo credit ~ amazon preparing for a battle (Queen Antiop or Armed Venus), byPierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert 1860 (National Gallery of ArtWashington, D.C.), public domain photograph via Wikipedia

·

Bath is an excerpt from:

Writing My Way Through Cancer  Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2003), and

Multiplying The Moon  Enitharmon (2004)

Editor’s note: The opening poems of Multiplying the Moon are Myra Schneider’s response to her experience of terrible illness. In the aftermath of fighting breast cancer, she found herself writing poems that explore transience, death, and survival from many different angles. The main theme of `Voicebox,’ the long fictional narrative in the middle of the book, is communication; the poem follows the connections and disconnections between its main characters. In a short poem sequence, the poet draws on findings from the 1901 census to re-create her father’s early life, and the understanding she gains helps her to feel a new closeness with him. This is united by the theme of investigation of the self and its relationship with the outside world.

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Myra Schneider ~ was born in London in 1936 and grew up on the Firth of Clyde. She is the author of four poetry collections from Littlewood, three novels for children from Heinemann, and has three poetry collections published by Enitharmon: Exits, The Panic Bird and Insisting on Yellow. With John Killick she has written Writing for Self-Discovery  (Vega, Chrysalis Books) which was re-published in 2002. Her book Writing My Way Through Cancer, was published by Jessica Kingsley in 2003. The book is her fleshed-out journal from the year 2000 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It includes poem notes and poems and a section of therapeutic writing ideas.