Another Way

My husband John and I were on an unfamiliar, two-lane, wooded road in upstate New York. He was driving. We were heading for a destination that might have been drawing many other people in cars, but it didn’t feel like it until suddenly all traffic came to a stop. We couldn’t see any free space ahead of us.

We began inching along and even then stopping for many minutes at a time. I began to get nervous about being very late and missing out on something important. I felt edgy. Could we turn somewhere? Was there another way? Nothing seemed open. Then we came to a side road, but weren’t tempted by it because we had no idea where it would take us. Besides, there was a very large Cadillac waiting on that side  road. The traffic stopped us, yet again, right there.

As we waited there, the Cadillac began trying to move forward, to put its fender in front of us just far enough that we’d have no choice but to give it our place in this endless line. I immediately resented that intrusion, as it might hamper us yet another step in getting where we were going. I looked at John and he was watching the Cadillac carefully, but said nothing. As we waited and the Cadillac edged forward more and more, I got more and more edgy with it.

After about half an hour, the traffic started to move slowly once again. John caught the eye of the Cadillac driver, gave a little bow and waved him ahead of us. I was astonished. That wasn’t necessary! I looked at my husband with a big question mark all over my face.

He grinned a little, and said only, “Takes the sting out.”

Oh. It wasn’t because he thought he had to give way. It wasn’t even a favor to the unknown, rude driver. It was for the peace in his own heart.

Over the years, his gentleness has come back to me again and again. Rather than resist the ordinary obstructions in life, he chose to give something. When I tried it, I found too that it cleared away opaque layers over my own heart. I could find joy without any mountainous resentment to climb over. A gift indeed.

 

 

If you’d like to discover more of your own gentleness, please contact me at gustinmarilyn@gmail.com or call 520-829-3497

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To See

Some years ago I was giving a week long series of workshops at a church in Louisiana. I had one “day off” and the pastor asked what I’d like to do. I knew, but had no idea what it might entail. “I’d like to go to the swamps, the bayous.”

“What? Really?” He was astonished—after all, I hadn’t chosen Bourbon Street—and delighted, because he had a trawler and loved the swamps himself. So we packed a lunch and headed out there.

I was enchanted. I’d never seen country like this before. The trawler could move slower than walking, so the opportunity to see new things was perfect. Only, for some time, I didn’t see much except trees and water. Everything seemed to be about the same color. The pastor realized I wasn’t seeing well. He began to point things out: eyes like bubbles on the water’s surface were an alligator; those bumps on a log were water turtles; white spots perfectly still above the water were egrets. Without him pointing them out, I’d have missed them all.

I’m pretty observant in nature. But in this totally new environment, I didn’t know how to look, how to see. I didn’t know what to look for, what was ordinary and what wasn’t, what would always be there (like a tree trunk) and what might disappear any moment (like a turtle or a bird).

As often, nature seems to offer analogies about living. My memories of all that I saw in that swamp have faded, but I’ll never forget what it felt like to need to be taught how to see. I think life brings us many experiences that require us to learn how to see.

New experience is like new territory. Perhaps it’s a new opportunity, or an illness, or the birth of twins, and we often don’t know how to “see” it. That is, we don’t know how to think about it or what attitude to adopt toward it. We need to be taught how to see.

That’s when a large and open-hearted world view can help. Asking other people who’ve had the experience can also help. Experiencing oneself as a learner is the best of all. We can cultivate open, interested attitudes before our particular, unexpected day-in-the-swamp comes along. Then we won’t miss out, since we’re ready to spot and enjoy what life really offers us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing in Rock

The other day, walking in the desert, I came across something I’ve seen before, though not often. It’s a short saguaro cactus, growing directly out of a rock, with no visible soil around its base and no shelter from the sun. I paused to reflect on this amazing thing.

Clearly the cactus has put down roots—however thin or fragile—that go deeper than what I can observe. And I’m guessing that the plant is smaller than another of similar age that has plenty of soil. Nevertheless, it’s there, alive and growing at its own pace.

I’m inspired by such plants. They’re a good analogy for life in the tough times. The teaching is not so hard to read: when life gets hard, put your roots down deep into any available crack. The challenges will affect you, it seems to be saying, but will not destroy you nor prevent your growing.

We know people like this. When adversity comes along, they know to settle in and seek inner resources—which we all have and often ignore. These are the folks who smile through illness or injury, who find ways to expand even when limited by circumstances, who simply keep going against the odds.

How do they do it? I’ve noticed a few common characteristics among such folks.

First, they don’t complain. They accept where they actually are and what they are actually facing. Some of them have worked hard to come to this attitude. Second, they express gratitude. They’re thankful for what is theirs and for the beauty and joy available. They express gratefulness for help they receive. Third, they cherish some kind of growth purpose: they want to create something, or experience something, or accomplish something. Whatever they must do or find to equip themselves for such growth, they simply undertake it and do it.

And they treasure the present experience. A story is told about Thomas Edison. His laboratory—the place and repository of years of work and records—caught fire. Watching the huge blaze, he said to one of his employees, “Go get my wife! She’ll never get to see anything as spectacular as this again!”

I admire such people. And if I can’t always emulate them, I can copy the little cactus: put my roots down through any available slot and say “yes” to growing in the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting

There were about 1500 people (no exaggeration!) ahead of me in the ashram lunch line. It was a lovely day to wait outside, but still…Around me conversation buzzed and much of it was complaint. Then the man behind me quietly said, “The measure of your spiritual development is how you stand in line.”

Over the years, this has often reminded me that spiritual development is not primarily reflected in great experiences or fabulous meditations, but in the way we do the most ordinary things—like waiting, whether it be in a line or in traffic or for something to happen in our life.

We live in a society that’s in a hurry. We do not like to wait—for anything. We get impatient and pushy over the slightest delay in traffic. We complain, at least in our heads, if the checkout clerk is too slow. We wait for non-physical things, too, for dreams to come true, for relationships to arrive, for changes in our own experiences. We seem to want the world to move at the speed that is most comfortable for us and since we’re usually in a hurry, impatience, if not its outer expression, sends our blood pressure into a snit.

Then, when we seek to be quiet for reflection or meditation, how easy is it? Can we sink into the silence?

Waiting, like most other ordinary activities, can be an opportunity to seek inner peacefulness, if we so choose. If we’re standing in line for concert tickets with 20 people ahead of us, we can choose to take a couple deep breaths, relax our tense muscles and center ourselves. In this state, waiting for a few minutes, we can recall how grateful we are for being here at all, how much we are looking forward to the music, how pleasant it is to be sharing the experience with others, or how beautiful the moon is, floating quietly above city lights.

So our waiting is not only a measure of our spiritual development, but also an opportunity to foster it even more. It can be a respite from our rushing around. It can give us a few minutes of ease. It can present us with awareness of what is really important and give us a chance to be glad about it.

How do you stand in line?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connections

While doing my end-of-year review, I’ve gradually became aware of the number of human dramas that might be defined as “separation/union” plots. National political separations; families separated by divorces, sicknesses, accidents and even deaths; similar changes in other personal relationships; disagreements that escalate, or understandings that bring together. Even our sports are dominated by the separations of rivalries, alongside the power of team unity.

It almost seems to be a universal theme in human activity. We might put it into a question: are we fundamentally separate? Or fundamentally one? Looking around, it’s not easy to tell, because we seem to swing like a pendulum between these two ends of some global arc.

This past year has seen a lot of disasters, which I needn’t detail. You know them. Yet it has struck me with unusual force how often someone whose life has been unalterably changed, makes a comment like this: “You discover what’s important and it’s not the things, as much as we like them. It’s the people we love, the family. If we are still together, that’s what matters.” This seems so evident in tragedy and so much taken for granted in more usual circumstances.

I have recently read that in the Blackfoot language, one person doesn’t actually greet another with “how are you?” They ask instead, “How are your connections?”

It might be the perfect question to be asking ourselves in 2019: how are my connections? How much is there of closeness, of mutuality, of shared approval and appreciation? Or am I swept into the web of separations that our world seems to foster—and indeed that I myself foster by judgments and disapprovals?

Many of us look at the troubles in the world and feel overwhelmed and helpless. But there is something that we can do, that we need to do: tend our connections. Life is, after all, holographic and we are all in this world together. If I tend the connectedness that is possible in my own life, and you tend the connections in yours, we would in fact make a difference—maybe a bigger one than we can imagine, much less track. We would experience differences in our own living and affect the rest of our human relations at the same time.

So maybe it bears daily attention, this question: how are your connections?