"I find it sad to consider that belief has become a scary word,
because at its Greek root, 'to believe' simply means'to give one's heart to.'
~Kathleen Norris, from Amazing Grace ~
In the chapter, "Belief, Doubt and Sacred Ambiguity."
The last week I have been tossing and turning on the inside, struggling with something that I could not understand. And day by day it came to me, like each bead on my strand of prayer beads, be it a rosary or a mala, each prayer taking me deeper, opening my heart further, so that I came to understand that I was not yet on my true path. I was edging into it sideways, but not there, not just yet.
Yes, I am an ordained minister, but more importantly, I am Maitri, and when I took that name legally my path was laid out before me like a holy cloth on an altar. I am to build a temple, a temple in my heart, and it is in this temple that I shall pray, for strength, for guidance, and to be led by spirit so that I might fulfill my purpose in this lifetime, to carry love and compassion to all that I meet.
I have struggled all of my life with the concept of organized religion, even while holding within me the knowledge that I was deeply connected to spirit, and my work would be spirit-led. To that end I pray that I may live my way into my name, Maitri, without a title, without needing to use my last name, except legally, because the practice of maitri is what I am to spend my life learning, and practicing, and sharing while I may. Yes, I will build a temple in my heart, brick by brick, prayer by prayer, because I gave my heart long ago to a belief in love, love under all circumstances, a pure, sweet, gentle love. Not grasping, not judging, always forgiving, never regretting, always opening like the thousand petals of the lotus, as long as I am alive.
I want, so much, for people to reach out to one another from the center of their beings where the fire in their belly burns everything away so that the embers glow beautifully, and everything is seen as brilliant and golden. Must we name religion to live in spirit? Must we look for differences and fight against them, instead of seeking the sameness in the eyes of those around us, and loving them with open arms?
My prayers are not naive, they are hopeful, they are the bricks that I am building my temple with, each brick handmade from the mud from which the lotus flower springs forth. The most beautiful flower rises above the muck and the mire and holds it's petals aloft, opening slowly, slowly, with an iridescent radiance as the sun shines on it each day. As human beings we are not without our frailties and weaknesses, we are not the lotus flower, many days the mud clings to our boots, but it is in the striving to rise above it all, yet again, another day, another moment, that we become the lotus, if only for a brief period of time, and this is worth giving one's life to, to rise above the ugliness, the harshness, the unkindness, the dark side of life, and become a petal of the lotus, opening each day, and each day that follows, again and again.
I believe my maitri path is one of temple building, stopping to pray in the temple and refresh myself in the cool, underground waters that flow within me, as well as helping others to build their own temples in their hearts. We feel the stream flowing when we lie in bed at night and our breath comes and goes, our bellies rising and falling, floating downstream in sleep, healing the hurts of the day, and preparing for another day of opening and loving.
I started, after my ordination, to try to do something that it is not in my nature to do, to move too fast into the outside world, to build something outside of myself. I have nothing to build outside until my temple is built within. Perhaps that is what this lifetime is about, to live in love, to give of ourselves, to move forward from our hearts, with open arms, and each good deed done, each loving word, each tender gesture, each act of kindness, is another brick to add to the wall of the temple that we carry inside. Perhaps by the time we have built our holy temple, and hear the bells ringing, this is the time when we cross over from one reality to another, into that radiant light, where we meet the God of our understanding and bask in heavenly grace, where we are forgiven our sins and our very hearts open wide, like the lotus finally spent, bursting open and releasing her seeds for the next life.
We live in a garden of grace, and like the flowers in the garden, we grow from a seed, we move through the steps of maturity and reach our peak, we begin, slowly, to fade, and then we pass from one cycle to the next when it is time to plant the seed once again. This is how I see our worldly existence. One life lived, ending only to open to another, and on and on and on, like a field full of wildflowers, constantly reseeding itself, coming back again and again and again. My temple is surrounded by flowers. I stay grounded in reality by watching their cycles and patterns of growth. Every lesson we need to learn is always right before our eyes in nature, I believe this with all my heart.
We seek the answers to life, religious leaders fight over which one is right, and yet the very people called "heathens," those who live closest to the earth, those whose beliefs are grounded in the earth beneath their feet, are closest of all to the truth. If God created the heavens and the earth, would He not try to teach us, through that which he created, the meaning of life, the cycles of birth and death and all they hold and what comes beyond this world in Nature herself? A gardener knows as well. You plant a seed, it sprouts, it grows, it forms buds, it's petals open and for a time -- and the length of times vary greatly, some blooming for a day, others for months -- it shows it's incredible beauty to all whose eyes fall upon it. We feel sadness to see the leaves wither and turn brown, when we see the fruit fall from the tree and rot on the ground, but there are always seeds inside that are the birthing of another life. Look not to a book, but to the world the creator made. The answers are always there, before us, every single day, and the further we stray from Nature, the more frenzied our lives become, calm leaks out of us like a boat with holes taking on water. We sink, slowly, slowly, slowly, day after day.
For some long time holes have sprung in my boat and my life has been a series of patch jobs, but patch I have, and onward I have sailed. Now, in my mid-fifties, it matters not, for my job now is not to race to some unknown finish line, growing larger, better, more successful, clinging to the collection of worldly goods. Now, I walk barefoot in a flowing caftan, a shawl around my shoulders, amongst birds and dogs and plants and flowers and books, and I sit in the middle of my temple and meditate and pray. And answers come, and I feel calm. When the turbulence rises again, as it surely will, I know to stop, to return to my breath -- for without our breath we are not alive -- and to release the tension from every muscle of my being, and slowly I find my posture, I bow my head, I meditate, I pray.
The world will move on fine without me, if I choose to work from my cloistered world where I am so in sync with the now thirteen animals who share my home, that when I take a nap among them, they all become quiet and nap with me. We move as one, this flock of birds, this pack of dogs, one Buddha Beta fish and his 2 snail friends, and we capture moments in our nets, like stars in the heavens, and we kneel before these revelations in wonder and prayer. My life frightens some, because they don't understand one moving so slowly, so outside of the "normal" world, and yet I am here, building my temple. This is my job.
Just now Maya, the blue and gold macaw who came back to live with me this week, is speaking in "macaw" which sounds much like mumbling, but there are a few crystal clear words. She is a clown, she is beautiful, and she is also fragile. Though I hand raised her and she was with me the first year of her life, and with Jeff the next nine, she has never forgotten me and we are the only ones who can hold or touch her. I stand respectfully, silently, moving slowly, talking softly, just above a whisper, I sing her baby song to her (Every parrot I have hand-raised has had their own baby song and every one of the six parrots in this house know their song and will stop whatever they are doing when they hear it. I can now approach Maya with song and prayer, with gentleness and love, and I have been able to hold and cuddle her, to walk about with her on my shoulder, and to kiss her precious white face. There is nothing in the world, I think, softer than a macaw's face, the white skin so fragile and thin, that to kiss that skin, to be allowed to kiss her at all, is an honor, an awesome one, for this girl that could eat through a piano leg can also be as gentle as a lamb.
We are not taught to move slowly, respectfully, to gain one's trust, to take our time, to approach someone gently and with care, bowing to their own tender feelings and fears. People are in too much of a hurry. We live in a fast food society where everyone wants to be in the rat race, or why would they be there? I make no judgment, rather I sit quietly and watch, and listen. People are rushing so fast through their lives that I wonder, sometimes, if they will dive head-long into a casket with a list of "things to do" still held in their hand. I wonder if they see things, really see things, in the world around them. I think not. No time. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we watch people rushing always "too late, too late, for a very important date," but what are they rushing past, or toward, and is it really worth it? What are they giving up? Is what they are giving to get worth the price they pay. It is not for me to judge, merely a question posed for me to ponder, because I would like to be able to reach these people, and, while honoring all that they are, to show them that they can still gain what they seek by taking time to build that castle within, to sit in it each day, to believe (in something, anything) and more importantly, to give their hearts to.
What do you give your heart to? What do you believe? Each day I come closer to an answer -- it slips through my fingers and I let it go -- and the next day I am able to hold it for just a little longer, and in the center of my being I know that I come closer to a truth I am to learn every single day. When finally I am able to grasp it, another question arises and again I move toward it, slowly, breathing deeply, knowing that all things are answered in their own good time, and it is not mine to rush, but simply to move forward, lifted aloft on a cloud of grace, and keep on moving along my path as long as I live.
And so if belief is "giving one's heart to," then I believe with all of my heart, whose doors swing wide open, that I have given not just my heart but my whole being, and I shall continue to build my temple, and if I can help another begin to build theirs, so I shall.
I walk a labyrinth each day, eyes closed. I get to the center and sit down on my zafu and meditate. I am still fingering my prayer beads and doing kinhin, walking meditation, to find my way back out of the labyrinth. Each new day is a new question. I can only live one question at a time. I am trying my best.
With Blessings, and the deepest love, I hand you a brick made by my own hands with the mud underneath the lotus flower. Feel the holy center of each brick and put it in it's proper place. Build your temple, and then we can look at one another, eye to eye, and see the growing calm in each other, and we can walk together, parallel for awhile, until there is a fork in the road and we each go our separate ways.
Travel joyfully, listen carefully, walk slowly, and discover, once and for all, what you have truly given your heart to in this life.
Build your temple. I'll be building mine.