When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong
current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed
of when he first made the decision.
Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist
The turning of the new year brought something that I have known was coming nearly 5 years ago when I took the name Maitri Libellule legally. As I have so often said, I took the name Maitri, not because I thought I had achieved it, but so that it would guide me and be the mantle I would wear all the rest of my life. I also knew I was growing closer and closer to giving my life over to a life of service, one that, while looking a little odd from the outside in, is something that my spiritual advisor, Reverend Douglas Hickman, felt just perfect for me.
I am disabled and rarely leave my house. I am well medicated for Bi-Polar Disorder, severe PTSD, a severe type of anxiety disorder, I am borderline agoraphobic and I won't bother you with the rest. And I'm not saying any of this for the sake of sympathy, but in a kind of revelatory glory. I believe, I truly believe with all of my heart, that the severe abuse I suffered from 4-18, leaving me with a rather interesting bowl full of diagnoses and "cocktail" of medications that I must take everyday to live the life that I do, has, in it's way, been a rare gift. Having been abused, as any who have know, is an unimaginable horror. But if one has been, we have a choice. My choice is to live out my days as a healer and teacher, helping others, giving all that I can from an open heart.
By now you are shaking your head and I'm sure that you can't imagine where I'm going with this. NObody, including me, likes the fact that they were abused and some are crippled for life. Through thirty years of therapy, a number of doctors, and the last seven years, after those thirty years in therapy, FINALLY getting the right diagnoses and appropriate meds, I can now function very well in what seems to some people, very limited circumstances, but to me ,my world is limitless. Amidst my worst fears I feel incredible joy. Through sorrow, I feel led by spirit and can hang on. I have been gifted with deep sympathy and empathy, compassion and a very tender kindness for others because I have lived through some of the worst of what life has to offer and have been blessed with so much I feel humbled and in awe.
What all of this is leading up to is that the first weekend 0f the new year I was ordained a minister. The ordination was done in a church, but my ministry will be a non-denominational, interfaith outreach ministry, and it will be done, for the most part, right here from my little cottage. I have a great many skills and decades of education and teaching. I am a writer, a fiber artist, dedicated to animal welfare, and my heart seeks, most dearly, the lonely, the old, the ill, the forgotten. My ministry is taking shape, already making it's way out into the world. I have finally taken the first steps toward the rest of my life, and I know that I am right where I am supposed to be. You can read more about the ministry, if you wish, by visiting The Maitri Ministry blog and my main website, Dragonfly Cottage. And by the way, the ministry is not named for me, but for the teaching of maitri, of spreading compassion and loving kindness in every way that you can, all the days of your life, first.... and this is important ... first, finding a gentleness, a tenderness, loving-kindness and compassion for yourself. You cannot give from an empty well. Tend your own garden first and then carry flowers from that garden to all that you meet. It is as simple as that.
As I was ordained I brought with me a childhood of Catholicism, 3 decades as an adult as a student of Buddhism, a dedicated Franciscan, many spiritual teachers, guides, and experiences, and much more. And I am what might be considered a cloistered order. It matters not to me what spiritual path one walks, and my work is not in competition with any. I am not here to draw anyone away from their special path, but perhaps be an addendum, teaching love, and living it, between those Sundays when people go to church and for many feel they've done their spiritual duty. Life, real life, person to person, talking kindly with the check-out lady in the grocery store, taking a meal to an elderly neighbor, doing what you can right from where you are, you will be surprised how much you can do without ever leaving your house, or just going about your brief daily errands out into the world. Perhaps that, too, is an important part of my ministry. A kind smile, nothing more, can move mountains. Kindness is a healing balm like no other.
So many people want to help, but feel as though they can't because they are not wealthy, they do not have great resources to draw on. But when something catastrophic happens, in the life of an individual or perhaps something like the aftermath of 9/11, or this heartbreaking war, we can do something.
Right now I have three sets of knitting needles in a bag next to me with three different yarns and I am knitting shawls. I knit for the Battered Women and Children's center. I knit for the elderly one in the nursing home that feels forgotten and whom no one visits. A disabled friend of mine knits little caps for preemies at the hospital. Another makes blankets for the homeless. Many of my friends are involved in animal welfare. We all do what we can, and that's what is important. Not what we do, but that we do what we can. That is my message and it is very simple. Each one, reach one. If we can manage that, like the butterfly who flutters her wings and changes the weather patterns around the world, we will make a difference that we cannot begin to imagine.
This is so huge one can't wrap their mind around it and so they freeze up and do nothing. Baby steps. Look down, not up. Look at the tiny things beneath your feet, sit and close your eyes and watch your breath, every day, and let meditation be a balm your soul needs to heal. Adopt a little animal in need. Write a letter to a lonely soldier. Make amends. It's never too late. You don't have to be in a 12-step program to realize how very important that step is. Take action, even in your own little corner of the world. And the more you do, the more you'll do. You will be amazed at what you can do.
I don't read the newspaper and only once in awhile watch the news on television. If that seems as though I am dumbing down or putting my head in the sand, well, that couldn't possibly be further from the truth. Remember maitri, the teaching. The first step in the maitri path is to take care of yourself. Nurture yourself. Love yourself. Have compassion for yourself. Because of the wars I lived through as a child I can tell you that the horrors of the world will paralyze and frighten me so badly that I cannot function. And this does happen to me. I have learned that the world doesn't end because I stopped my subscription to the local paper and The New York Times. The sun still rises and sets. Day follows day, and I owe the tending of my "No, I'm sorry, I can't do that." Period. You take back your power in small ways, and you grow. And as you grow, you have more to give, and as you give what you have to give, your are living maitri. And so it goes.
Finally, for me, living life at as elemental a level as possible is key. As we speak a great portion of my little cottage is being cleaned out, things given away, thrown away, and the rest stored away in a storage building. To live a sparer life opens out into a far greater meadow of silence, solitude, and contemplation in which to do my work and live in peace. And it is from this vantage point that I witness small stunning little miracles that surely go on around us every day, and I witnessed just such a moment the other day. This is what I would like to leave you with.
Most of you know that I have 5 dogs. My big boy is Moses, a lab-doby mix, now 14, who we adopted as a tiny puppy from the Humane Society eons ago. The other four have come to me over the last year and a half from one of the rescues I help support through my ministry, Mid-Atlantic Pug Rescue. I have chosen to give a home to the elderly or infirm, or those small boys and girls who were so badly abused they need special care. My first pug was a wee tiny black girl named Babs. She was deaf when she came, and she is now blind, and 13 years old. She is such a precious little peapod that I carry her in my arms and kiss her and love on her and tell her what a sweet little girl she is. And as it's a long walk, for her, from the front of the cottage where her bed is, to the back door where we go out, I often carry her in my arms outside.
Sampson, you've all read about many times. He is 9 years old, came after much abuse, and nearly haven given up, not to mention being passed around so often even the rescue adopted him out and had him returned a couple of times. They told me that he had "abandonment issues," and would cling to me for dear life. I said that that was okay because I have abandonment issues myself. He is my constant companion, asleep, just now, as he usually is, on the arm of my chair, and he sleeps partly on my person. He is my angel boy.
So there we were, all five dogs and I went outside and everyone did their business, and all but Babs and Sampson wanted to go inside. I let the others in, and stayed outside with Babs and Sam. I stood very quietly and watched a scene so tender that it still gives me tears to write about it.
Wee little Babs has been here almost a year and a half and though she came here deaf she has slowly gone blind over the time she has been here. What I mean to say is that she knows her way around the house and her little area outside where she goes. But she meanders a bit and gets a little off track and I stay and watch her until she is really finished doing her business and sometimes I carry her back in.
This particular day she seemed to be meandering a bit more than the norm. As I live in an old townhome community and they don't have a fenced yard and certainly I would never let them out loose, I have very long "tie-outs" for them but never to leave them out. Simply so they can range around in the grass a bit and have some privacy to snuffle and do their business, with Mama Maitri keeping a watchful eye. They come right in when they are finished pottying.
While I watched Babs and Sampson, I noticed something very, very dear. Sampson was done with his business but Babsie was meandering a bit, couldn't decide where to go, and was taking a long time. Sam would go somewhere in the neighborhood of where she was, without crowding her, and when she moved, he moved a little, always watching her. And I realized that while all the rest of the dogs had raced in the cottage as soon as they were in, Sampson would not leave Babs out there. He sat like a stalwart little gentleman, and kept a good eye on her. Finally, she was finished and heading back to the door, and Sam waited until she passed him and then quietly followed her to the door and we all went in. He would not leave her until he knew she was safely inside. I was so moved that I came in all teary-eyed.
These are the kinds of things that happen everyday, and which we, for the most part, miss. These are the things that, when we live in the present moment, and silently watch the world instead of worrying about our own lives and problems and worries, and take just a small bit of time to really see the world around us, we witness acts of love and miracles so brief they are like a glint off a rock in the sun and are gone. We must be aware, always aware. I watched a middle aged boy who came to me so frightened he became more like a new body part than a little companion. I watched him wait like a gentleman for a tiny little old lady, deaf and blind, so that she would not be alone, so that he could watch over her and know that she was okay, and not until he knew she was, and was safely inside, did he follow her in. He walks in grace, that little pug. My mission, if you will, is to follow his example.
Jesus said, "And the little children shall lead you." Saint Francis sat in the woods amongst the little animals with birds lighting on his shoulders, and sat silently, and shared the quiet moments of their presence with him. Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree, simply attired, waiting, waiting, waiting for enlightenment, and I find it, often, cleaning up poop that my poor little elderly dogs leave me when they are too slow, or become ill, and need help. It is my honor to serve.
Each one, reach one. Step over the line in the sand that was your past, and open your heart to receive the gifts that the future will bring. Live in the moment, and find peace. And love, always love. It's the only thing there really is.
I open my arms and my heart to each and every one of you...
Namaste, and God Bless,
Reverend Maitri Libellule