Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ephemeral Moments Suspended In Time...

"The open blotter between the inkwell and the bouquet of narcissus in a glass of water; I pause, not knowing what melancholy words to cover this page with ...  I wish for the hot tea, the golden loaf, my lamp and its milky shade ... and the barking of my dogs..."
~ Colette ~

Crossing paths through the winds of birth and death I was born in April 1954 and Colette died in August of that year, but she left me a legacy, her writings, and they are more precious than gold. 

I have carried a copy of Earthly Paradise, the collected writings of Colette, a first edition circa 1966, with me for decades, bent over this thick volume in my bed, in cafes, in my garden, my companion with a loaf of crusty, still warm bread, a wedge of brie, and a glass of wine and become drunk on her words, more potent than the grape. A student of Buddhism since my twenties, crediting the Buddhist teachings of mindfulness and living the teachings as closely as possible in my daily life, I realized, today, immersed in Colette's writings, that it is not Buddhism that first taught me about the preciousness of each ephemeral moment, it was Colette whom I discovered in my teens, she who treasured the smallest details and wrote about them in such penetrating detail that, reading her, I learn to sink more deeply into each ephemeral moment in my own life, suspended in time, a breath lingering on into eternity if I am fully present, the world around me unfolding breath to breath, moment to moment.

Today I sat with Colette again, as if at the table opposite her, tasting the bread, the wine, the cheese, watching her watch and record the world around her, and I looked up at the world I have created here at the cottage, and I felt awe at the simple beauty I have gathered like wildflowers in a garden basket over my arm. The rickety old Moroccan lamp filled with brightly colored Christmas lights on the fireplace hearth next to a sleeping big black dog on his bed, the sea blue green vintage wicker table and lamp glowing against the golden pine wall and shutters, parrots chattering in another room, tiny blue parakeets conversing in my writing room, a cozy room off of my bedroom, the soft whirring of an overhead fan, one pug licking his paws while another snored, the rustling of my greenwing macaw's feathers as one drifted silently to the floor while he preened, ridding himself of moulting feathers, all of this happened in a single moment, and in the next breath, the moment was gone and the next moment brought a multitude of new gifts. 

 I move very slowly through my days, they are long, because I do not want to miss a single moment... carrying a large container of seed out into the woods behind my cottage for the squirrels and the ground feeders, watching the seeds cascade to the ground like a waterfall, once inside smiling as I watch through my kitchen window the wild ones come to eat, how could I miss any of this?

Sometimes when I am writing I am mesmerized by the fluid ink from my fountain pen as it forms each curve of a letter, a single word like a drop of rain that will fill a pool, a page filled with words is a river I can float in. I am in love with words. I swim in them. For a single moment I feel each drop splashing on the page, each word spilling over into the next, breathless, I watch the ink and the word become one.

I lie in bed in the morning still warm under the covers, my small pug Sampson at my back, snuggled into me, his little head on the far side of my pillow, I am filled with so much love I think my heart will burst. In the next moment there is a sound like a baby crying. It is wee little Harvey, my other little boy, breaking the silence. It is 7:06 on the dot as it is so many mornings in a row I am awestruck at his sense of time, his breakfast is not yet in his bowl, he wants his mama up and out of bed. 7:07 I throw my ankle length seersucker dress over my head and follow Harvey down the hall, smiling at his crooked little self. My daughter says he looks like a Dr. Seuss pug. She is right. He wouldn't win a ribbon in a dog show for perfect confirmation but it makes him all the more adorable. He dances and prances and turns in circles while I pick up his bowl for his breakfast. The other nine animals are not yet stirring, it is a delightful moment watching Harvey snuffle into his bowl and eat noisily. 

7:10 Big Dog Moe bounds down the hall and into the kitchen. I plant a kiss on his nose and my bare feet pad across the tile floor to pick up his bowl and take his pills, one by one, out of their bottles, covering them with a bit of soft cheese on top of his food. I find these early morning moments satisfying, holy even. The feeding of each of ten animals, my senior dogs given their medications, the parrots get kisses, my tiny treasures, the baby parakeets, come to life tweeting joyfully when they are uncovered, and Big Bird Flounder, with a beak the size of Texas, hurls himself into my arms as I rub and cuddle and kiss him. With me he is a sweet baby, though scary to most other people due to his size. I hold him like a baby in my arms and burrow my face into red feathers. He whistles and tells me Good Morning and hops onto my shoulder to help me with the morning chores. He talks to the little parrots as I wash and fill their bowls with fresh water, seeds, cooked beans and sprouts and chopped greens, and finally, with the big parrot on his play stand eating his breakfast I go back to the bedroom and pick up a sleepy pug, snuggling him in my arms. 

My 100 year old bed is too high for Sampson to jump up on and he waits patiently for me to get him down. He likes to sleep in and isn't in a hurry to eat his breakfast. He'd rather get up in our chair, the over-sized velvety recliner filled with pillows and and a soft purple cover. While he settles in I finally go back into the kitchen to make my coffee. It is now 8:45. The animals are all fed and cared for before the beans are ground, and in the moment when I scoop coffee beans out of the bag and into the grinder I am suspended in a kind of bliss, the pungent fragrance of the freshly roasted beans a subtle awakening of the senses. I fill the espresso machine with water, I watch it drip into the pot, I froth the milk and pour first epresso then foamy milk into an oversized mug. The next moment lingers, stretches out over timeless time as the second hand of the clock clicks from one second to the next. In bliss I have taken my first sip of coffee. There is foam on the tip of my nose.

My favorite moment of the morning is when I settle into our big chair, Sam's and mine, my hands around the hot mug, soft cover over my legs, Sampson burrowing into me and relaxing as if God is in his Heaven and all is right with the world. I have finally taken my place in the chair and our day begins in earnest. I look around me at dogs sleeping once more, the sun shining in the windows, and the wild birds tapping against the window feeders. Greeted by a chickadee I begin my day.

There are 900 minutes left in this day, a feast of riches. Even when I am overcome by a flood of tears, even when I ache for the one I love so far away, even when I burn the toast, or my beloved pug Coco died, still, through my tears, I realized how rich my life is, how lucky I was to have her, and how many companions I still have here. I cried until my stomach cramped and my eyes were red and raw but the moments passed, and my body relaxed, and I watched the three remaining dogs circle close around me, not taking their eyes off of me, and I thanked God for all I still had, and for all of the thousands upon thousands of moments still before me to experience all that life will bring, and I felt at peace, and there was a flicker of joy, and I felt Coco's presence, and I relaxed into my chair. 

If I did not fully experience each moment as it comes I would not have been able to see all that I do have in the middle of such a devastating loss, and this practice of living in the moment becomes ever more precious and important to me. 

It is 9:45 p.m. I have perhaps 180 or more minutes left to cherish and feel gratitude and thank God for this life I have been given. I feel full and tender and I feel in love with the world. I want to share my moments with you so you will realize how precious each and every one of yours are. I am blessed by every minute that you celebrate in your own life. These moments spill over one unto the other until there is an ocean of droplets of time resplendent with appreciation and the sound of a hallelujah chorus of the living and the remembrance of those that lived before us. 

Hold each moment of your life tenderly in your hands. Stroke it, cradle it, sing it, live it, feel the joy and the sorrow and the person that you have become, that you will become by this collection of ephemeral fleeting miracles in your life. Wear them like a cloak around your shoulders, a reminder that life is a gift in all it's colors and textures. The moment is now. Don't waste it. It will be gone too soon...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Post 7 of Thanks-Giving Series ~ A Resolution For The New Year, "Take Care Of Yourself" ...

"The reason we’re often not there for others…
is that we’re not there for ourselves."
~ Pema Chödrön ~

Dear Ones,

I have long since given up New Year's resolutions since some of them lasted, oh, say, five minutes after midnight. Or sometime in January, long before the end of the month. I believe that most of us fail at these resolutions, though we would dearly love to be able to keep them, because we set ourselves up for failure. Every resolution becomes a mountain to climb and few of us are up to the task. When you eat a meal you don't dump the whole plate of food in your mouth at once, you eat it bite by bite, moment by moment, and that's the only way to eat a meal, the only real way to accomplish any goals that you may have. As Lao Tzu said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." He didn't mean "take the single step and always be aware of how may you have to go!" No, with each step we take toward a goal we revel in each singular breath and live fully in that minute sense if time.

It came to me over the weekend when I was in such grief because my precious little pug Coco, whom you saw in the last entry, died on the operating table on Thursday during what should have been fairly minor procedures, but she was 15 and her heart stopped beating. I sobbed uncontrollably while I held her, wrapped in a blanket, in my arms for nearly two hours, stroking her little body, kissing her gently, and just staring into that precious face with my heart breaking. As the first few days passed what softened the blow was that I have ten other animals in this house to care for, and they need me, and I adore them, they are my joy. Yes, I take very good care of them, but who was taking care of me?In that moment it came to me that my mantra for the year -- I will not use the word "resolution" which, after a lifetime of making and breaking them seems to be a word just fraught with a feeling of failure, no, I wanted something very small and very gentle, something that could be used in any circumstance whether it had to do with health -- spiritual, physical, financial or otherwise -- or perhaps creating a life for myself that made me feel organized and less chaotic -- a beautifully organized household, workspace, everything cleaned out and made a more peaceful way to live, whatever it might be -- and I would think, very gently, "Am I taking care of myself?" That's all I need to do in each moment, no big goals, just caring for myself as lovingly and tenderly as possible. Okay, how do I plan to achieve that?

I am not here to write a "Self-Help" post, giving advice on how to lose weight, save money, or turn you into -- God Bless Her -- Martha Stewart! There are enough books, c.d.'s, dvd's, conferences, and every one around you giving you advice. No, I just want to share with you what I believe will help me create a positive and loving environment for me to grow a happy healthy peace-full life, one that is achievable because it is something you never beat yourself up over or need to feel a failure at. You cannot fail, you can never be a disappointment feeling that you have fallen away again, that you will never succeed at any of the things you want to achieve in life, no, you will take each moment and, knowing that the next moment you can start fresh, and love yourself for your effort in the last one and keep moving forward like that. Here's what this mantra is rooted in.

I based my decision on how I would like to live, not only this year but ongoing, on the two things closest to my heart. First, the teaching of maitri (As most of you know I took this teaching as my legal name several years ago to be a guiding star and reminder of how I wanted to live and give in the world, my central spiritual practice.) which is about compassion and loving-kindness and though these are things that I want to carry into the world are the central core of the teaching, we cannot love another, cannot show them these beautiful, open-hearted gifts until we have given them to ourselves. We are not selfish when we take care of ourselves first, we are creating the ground on which we will be full and have ever more to give. You cannot give from an empty well, and when you fully love and care for yourself you will be more fully capable of giving to those that you love, those that you encounter in the world.

Second, the other practice that I consider one of my core practices is mindfulness, living in each moment as fully and with as much attention as possible, finding awe in each breath, a kind of timelessness and spaciousness. We have all the time in the world in each and every moment.

Note that these two teachings, maitri and mindfulness, are both practices. We never attain perfection with either of these and we are not meant to. Like falling off of a bicycle we were simply meant to meet each moment anew and keep on going. Wake up to each and every moment knowing that it is full of potent possibility abundant and greet it with joy. I will keep practicing maitri and mindfulness all the days of my life and when I fall away I will simply move into the next moment with no regrets, no remorse or self-loathing, no beating myself up over what I didn't do in the last moment but see each moment as a new chance to keep moving forward.

When we knit we drop stitches. We pick them up and keep on knitting. When you learn to play tennis you don't hit the ball over the net once, or play one game and then quit. The best tennis players always keep on playing, working at their game, and they know that they have to keep practicing to move forward. One missed shot is not the end, simply a possibility to continue on honing their skill. They don't give up the sport when they lose a game, the just keep on keeping on. So, too, shall we live through this year and all the years ahead if we remember to continually and gently say to ourselves, "Take care of yourself."

That, then, is my mantra for the year and it applies to every imaginable thing, every situation, from the food we eat to the handling of our finances to the way we care for our home or do the work that we do in the world. As I go through my day I intend to ask myself, before each meal that I eat, "Am I taking care of myself?" Sometimes I won't, but there is the next moment and before I take the next bite of anything I simply say to myself, inwardly, "Take care of yourself." Before I spend a dollar I now plan to let that phrase trickle down into my consciousness, "Take care of yourself." This has always been a hard one for me but when I am mindful perhaps I can think, gently, "You don't need that right now, but soon you will buy something that will bring you joy." If I save a penny I am taking care myself, and together the pounds fade away and the pennies add up and I have found two new ways to take care of myself.

Those that are good for making huge and complex plans will accomplish much, but they too need to take care of themselves in every other way and there will be other areas of their lives in which they can perhaps be gentler and more loving with themselves. There are no perfect people. There is no perfect anything, just another moment in which we may make "positive effort for the good," as Zen monk Dainin Katagiri Roshi wrote. I love that. Each moment is another possibility to "make positive effort for the good." Sometimes we won't. Sometimes we will just coast for awhile. I had to do that this last weekend after Coco died. I was frozen and numb with grief but I couldn't live there. The dogs needed to go out, be fed, be loved and cared for as did the seven parrots. And so when I got up to care of them I took a few moments to care for myself. I didn't try to clean the whole house for example but I perhaps washed the dishes, swept the floor, and took the trash out. All of those things together took between fifteen to thirty minutes tops, but when I had finished those tasks I sat back down, snuggled into my recliner with a snuggly warm blanket and cuddled with Sam, my velcro pug. What I had achieved might not seem like much, but I had made positive effort for the good, and I felt it. There was a buoyancy in the next little chunk of time, and it made me feel good. I wouldn't win a Nobel Prize for sweeping the floor, but I would have changed the tenor of my day. I took care of myself.
And the thing is that taking care in one area flows over to other areas. The better you feel about yourself for accomplishing one thing, the better you want to take care of other areas of your life.

"Take care of yourself." No passing judgment, no beating yourself up if you didn't take the best care you could in one moment or another, the next moment those words flow through your conscious mind again. And again and again and again. After a period of time you can feel the difference. Your life looks different because taking care of yourself becomes a way of life, and goals will begin to materialize without making complex, overwhelming plans that you can't keep and then beating yourself up for days or weeks or the rest of the year. Take care of yourself in each moment and each moment will take care of you.

I'm going to stop here and take care of myself. I am going to take care of myself by taking a nap snuggling a pug under a warm blanket. Later I am going to put colored cards all over my house, on the edge of my computer keyboard, in the bathroom, on the refrigerator, in my checkbook saying "Take care of yourself." I think this will be a marvelous and profound year, it can't help but be if I keep repeating this mantra, and I will keep a journal noting ways that I made "positive effort for the good." And I will smile and feel happy because I believe I will see changes in every area of my life that I have long wanted to make. I don't need to make new year's resolutions, I simply need to take care of the moments and let them take care of me. I feel so peaceful and happy knowing that this will be a good path for me and I am not trying to win a race in every area. I think, with fondness, of one of my favorite haikus by Issa (1723-1828). He wrote,

"Oh snail
Climb Mount Fuji
But slowly, slowly!"

There is no rush and there is a great deal of spaciousness in each moment. I will take care of myself in each moment, slowly, slowly, and I will be fine. I am grateful that this thought came, like a gift, to me. And now, my nap...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Never Trust A Thing They Say ~ Why Pugs Are Useless and No Help At All (Just Ask Big Dog Moe!) and Why I Absolutely Will Never Be Without Them & A Special Thoughts on Adopting Seniors...

"The pug is living proof that God has a sense of humor."
~ Margo Kaufman ~

This is Sam (12) and Harvey (11). Sam was the
2nd pug to come to the cottage after my precious
wee little black girl Babs whom I lost in June at
nearly 16. Sam came in September 2007 and the
ever irresistible Harvey one year later. Sam is my
"velcro pug" and usually attached to my body but
he likes to snuggle and sleep with his little bro',

So, I was thinking, here are these two strapping puggy boys who surely because of all the good food, tons of love, toys, extra beds everywhere (I can't seem to pass up a good deal on a dog bed. There are currently 4 dogs in the house and something like 10 dog beds. Well, you see, I like to put them in every room because my little people are all elderly and they like to be wherever I am which might be in any room in the place so I provide lots of comfy places to sleep. I'll be hitting the new year's sales and Sam's for more beds soon!), good treats, buckets of squishy nose kisses, and general all out adoration. I figured that that might buy me a little help around the house now and again and all I wanted was help taking down our 8'+ tree with 165 strands of lights and upwards of 2 million ornaments (Well, I didn't put that many ON but believe you me they multiply like the dickens when you're not looking so that by the time you are ready to take the tree down there are so many it's like being caught in a Christmas tree horror story. I am terrified of my tree and I need HELP!).

So, I looked cheerfully at my 2 smiling adorable boys and said, "Howsa bout helping mommy take down the tree?" (I sounded over-enthusiastic and they weren't buying it.) Between one blink and the next this is what I saw...

Big Dog Moe, the elder dog in the cottage whom we adopted at less than 3 months old from the Humane Society and who is now over 17, and who never liked the idea of pugs anyway, just rolled his eyes, shot me an "I told you so," look, and went back to sleep. He was mumbling "Pugs are useless and unconscionable interlopers..." as he trailed off to sleep. He thinks they are alien beings from another planet (He may not be far off!), and it was absolutely UNnecessary to get one in the first place never mind 3 in 3 months and a total of 4 in one year. It took a long time, with me alpha-dogging it and studying The Dog Whisperer like some people read The Holy Bible (I'm sorry folks, my Bible is right here too but there was narry a chapter or verse on problems with big old dogs and incoming elderly pugs...) and finally after our beloved vet and I who had both tried everything threw our hands up in despair, medicating him with anti-anxiety medication was the only solution to prevent a bloodbath of Biblical proportions, and finally we have a peaceable kingdom here and Moe and I are both happy as 2 kids eating cotton candy at a street fare now that we are BOTH properly medicated!

Big Dog Moe

So I shrugged and decided it might be best to get some clothes folded. I went looking for Sam. Sometimes he helps by making me fold REALLY fast before he lays on things and covers them with fawn pug hair. Alas he beat me to the idea of laundry and had already shoved them around in a pile with his little wisp of a nose and was sound asleep right on top. Sigh. Well, I don't think anyone would recognize me without pug hair all over my person anyway. Guess who doesn't wear black anymore? And now on the odd occasion that I am actually leaving the house I have to shower and get all ready except for the clothes until I am ready to leave whence I dash into the bedroom, bolt the door, get dressed and then am out of the house and into the car like a streak of lightning. It's the only way to arrive anywhere not dripping tufts of pug hair like Pigpen in the old Charlie Brown cartoons who had dust clouds poofing up around him wherever he went. People wonder why I seldom leave the house. If you had to go through this routine every time you were going to go somewhere, you'd only leave the house every year or three too.

Sam "helping" with the laundry!

I knew better than to ask Coco to help. She is the eldest pug here now at a little over 15, the only little girl dog here, consequently she is treated like The Fairy Princess that she is, and I learned long ago not to even try to ask her

The only thing she wasn't supposed to "help" with,
the fiber art project I was working on!

But in the end NObody can resist that face which
is even more chubbily adorable in person and
perfect for squishing with multitudes of kisses.

These 3 1/2 years with the pugs, all senior citizens (I only adopt the elderly or infirm), has been quite a series of mostly wonderful lessons for me. I have learned, even more deeply, as I have always known with dogs of all sorts since I was a little girl, that dogs are the only unconditional love I believe we will ever know. I have also learned the difficult lesson of putting someone else's needs above your own. 

When you commit to adopting seniors -- and I wouldn't have it any other way, and there is such a need because the seniors and disableds are usually the last ones adopted -- you are committing to take into your home and heart a little elder-bundle of love with whom you will fall head over heels with, be swept away on an ocean of a kind of love you have never heretofore imagined (Puppies and younger dogs are just adorable but trust me, without exception every single elderly dog that I have adopted came to me with a look in their eyes that said, "Thank you so much for taking me. I didn't think anyone would ever want me. I will love you with my whole heart until the day I die..." And they do, and it is the most profound thing I have ever experienced.).

Another consideration about adopting seniors is that vet bills will be a real consideration. Pugs have a lot of potential health issues anyway and as they get older, these multiply. Henceforth I will only be speaking about pugs because, though I have had many more breeds and mixed dogs in my life from rescues, it wasn't until I met pugs that I fell really head over heels in love with a specific breed. I will be involved with pug rescue for the rest of my life and will continue to help them and adopt as many more as I'm able along the way which won't be awhile because we have reached the time when vet bills are climbing, it's not fair to Moe, and to give each of them the time and love and care they deserve I will only adopt again when our numbers here, heartbreakingly through attrition, have decreased. I will never have more than I can properly care for. And back to the vet bill issues with seniors. I thought I'd add a few bits about this issue before closing because it is a big consideration for people and the reason a lot of folks don't adopt the old folks.

In the beginning I had the home, the heart, and the desire to share my life with these beloved angels but I had to have a little help with out of the ordinary vet bills and I am very grateful for the help I did get, but that time has passed and following is how I work it out now, give or take. At least a few thoughts and ideas from my own experience (And of course everyone has their own reasons and opinions for doing things. These are simply mine...).

First of all, committing to doing everything you can to meet their needs before adopting is key. Some good-hearted folks who love animals and mean well adopt and love their dogs but never do any vet care and this can cause serious and heartbreaking problems. There will be expenses, sometimes they will be high, but sharing your life with animal companions is a life choice, not a form of entertainment, or when you feel like it, and sort of minimal care when you don't.

There will be vet bills. Know that. Think about that hard before you adopt. Do right by them or don't have them. That is my firm feeling.

Next and perhaps most important is to find a very good vet. I have been blessed to have had the same wonderful vet nigh on 2 decades. She comes here and takes care of everyone. She was my shelter vet when I ran a non-profit shelter for disabled and unwanted parrots and other domestic birds and she is now vet and Fairy Godmother to our puggerly crew. I am fortunate in that she allows me to make monthly payments toward the bill and I would talk to vets about that before adopting. I'm hearing of more vets who will do house calls AND more who allow payment plans and this has been necessary and a godsend for me. 

In June my beloved first pug Babs died after several months of intensive care that could not save her. A couple of months ago my heart-child/velcro pug Sampson had to have surgery and had several type 2 mast cell tumors removed which means he will have medication and regular care for the rest of his life and I will cherish every moment. This next week both Harvey and Coco are going in on Thursday to have surgery, both on the same day for different reasons. I obviously have to drive to their clinic for this and it's a distance so I will take both at once and then there are the surgeries, after-care, and whatever they will need for life, and I am dedicated to seeing that they get everything that they need. And they do and they will.

My first little pug, Babs...

I find that the best way -- for us -- is to have routine checkups for everyone every 3 months or so. With all of them on various meds and with heath issues that need to be checked this way we stay on top of things, assure that they have steady care that meets issues as they arise and before they can get bad or be missed and end up with a problem that might have been fixable but now isn't. Sadly with the best of care and intention some things will seem to come out of nowhere and a sudden and untimely end will be devastating. We just focus on the best care we can give and all the love a heart (or a houseful of hearts) can hold. So steady she goes and I am like a nurse in a little nursing home, taking care of now 11 animals here at the cottage every day (7 are parrots and require care, cleaning, love, and feeding but not the kind of intensive care that my senior dogs do...). 

I do want to tuck in one note here. A support system is key especially when you have elderly or disabled rescue dogs. My go-to group is the wonderful rescue that my four pugs have come from and they are a very large and an exemplary rescue. I can't tell you how many times I have been talked through hard or scary times and the Yahoo support group is a real heart-connection. You really should at least see their site. Click here to visit the rescue's site:

Every morning I am up about 6 to get all of the dogs out. They get a little treat to tide them over and we go back to bed until about 7:30. I would NEVER have to set an alarm clock because at 7:30 on the dot and not a minute later Harvey sounds the alarm that IT'S BREAKFAST TIME AND WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU STILL DOING IN BED FOR HEAVEN'S SAKES??? And one of the most adorable things about Harvey (at least to me, his Mama! :o), is that if he doesn't get what he seriously wants/needs immediately he does not bark, he does not howl, he actually cries loudly sounding very nearly exactly like a human baby. It's absolutely pitiful and the most adorable thing to me. I hang over the bed, nose to nose with Harvey whose nose touches mine and say, "Alright little fella, Mama's getting up." To see that little puggery tail wag back and forth at top speed side to side like windshield wipers is enough to make me climb mountains for him, for all of them, for now there are a crowd of waggles and woofs and Big Dog Moe's nose is being shoved in for kisses and there is always only ONE nose missing. 

Sam is NOT a morning person. He is the only one who actually sleeps in bed snuggled up with me and I pick him up and carry him out at 6 so he will go but then he doesn't want to get up again. When everyone else is eating breakfast Sam will woefully leave our bed but go to our big chair and go back to sleep. I eventually join him with my coffee but there are miles to go before that first sip of coffee.

And so this is our life here and these animals are more than my companions. I am an interfaith minister who through life, chance, and circumstance am now rarely able to leave my home so I have opened my little cottage doors, heart and hearth to those wee little ones in need. They are both my congregation and my teachers. They are my confessors and my counselors. They are fellow pilgrims on this journey in life and most importantly they are my family. I am deeply blessed and thank God for them every day, even if they won't help take down the tree or do the laundry.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

6th Thanks-Giving Post On The First Day Of The New Year ~ I Am Grateful To Dance My Clumsy Dance As I Celebrate All Of Who I Really Am...

"All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence, in order to reach forth to the enhanced place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song."
~ Pablo Neruda ~

On the first day of the New Year, as I continue with the 7 posts of Thanks-giving, I marvel at how this journey began and how I never thought that it would take me into the New Year but how glad I am that it did. Indeed, it is a wonderful reminder, ongoing, to live in gratitude. I shall hold gratitude in my heart every day all year long. Last year was a very hard year in many ways but what I learned through it all is that no matter what is happening, there are always many, many reasons to be thankful. Every post in 2011 will be a paean to gratitude and for all of my many blessings. Every day, with every breath, is a Hallelujah chorus, for even in the hardest times something is growing inside of us that we would not have learned any other way. I bow in gassho to my own life. I honor the God within. And so this is how my new year begins.

My word for the year is "Ziji" a Tibetan Buddhist word for confidence. Last year I spent much of the year afraid because my mother had just died in December changing my life in untold ways, and two of the dearest people in my life disappeared from it. I bought my first house in January 2010 and that was wonderful and exciting but it opened up a year of overwhelming responsibilities that I had never had to handle in my life. I was grateful, but terrified. I was married in a generation when the husband generally took care of things and all of a sudden it was incumbent upon me to learn to do it all. And wonder of wonders I am and I have with the help of friends and people I never knew before this year. I have certainly danced a clumsy dance and sung a sorrowful song but through it all there was brewing in me a growing confidence and now that I have lived through this first year of monumental changes and know that by hook or by crook I can handle what I need to handle and learn what I need to know. So ziji is my word for 2011. I think that it behooves us all to start the new year with a special word for the year. It becomes a beacon, a mantra, to guide us through the coming days.

I would like to share with you how I came to my word for this year because it is important to me and comes from a favorite and long-loved book, a book so worth reading I hope you will all look it up if you can. My copy is dog-eared, read and reread, and used with my students and in my life for decades. It was written by the venerable Tibetan Buddhist monk, teacher, scholar, meditation master, and founder of Naropa Institute, a Buddhist college where I spent a short time over a decade ago. His name, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. The book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Trungpa Rinpoche was also the teacher of the well known and much loved Tibetan Buddhist nun,  Pema Chödrön. It was in studying Pema's teachings and reading her many books that I learned about the teaching of maitri and eventually took the teaching as my legal name to be a guiding star and remind me what my purpose was to be in this life. When I forget, as I do, when I slip and fall, my name, the teaching, brings me back. In a shorthand version the teaching of maitri is one of loving-kindness and compassion but that we must first have it for ourselves before we have it to give to another. There is a lot of forgiveness toward ourselves and others that must be done, not something that we attain but an ongoing practice. I need ziji to help me continue my practice and so in 2011 I plan to study, again, the works of both Rinpoche and Pema, such great teachers in my life and for everyone, no matter what religious or spiritual path you follow, these are teachings that will benefit you in life.

So, ziji. In Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes:

"The Tibetan word for confidence is ziji. Zi means 'shine' or 'glitter,' and ji means 'splendor,' or 'dignity,' and sometimes also has the sense of 'monolithic.' So ziji expresses shining out, rejoicing while remaining dignified.

"Sometimes confidence means that, being in a choiceless state, you trust in yourself and use your savings, information, strength, good memory, and stiff upper lip, and you accelerate your aggression  and tell yourself that you are going to make it. That is the way of amateur warriors. In this case, confidence does not mean that you have confidence in something, but it is remaining in the state of confidence, free from competition or one-upmanship.This is an unconditional state in which you simply possess an unwavering state of mind that needs no reference point. There is no room for doubt; even the question of doubt does not occur. This kind of confidence contains gentleness, because the notion of fear does not arise; sturdiness, because in the state of confidence there is ever-present resourcefulness; and joy, because trusting in the heart brings a greater sense of humor. This confidence can manifest as majesty, elegance, and richness in a person's life."


And so this year I will practice ziji. In Buddhism it is never finished. It is not like riding a bicycle and once you know it you never forget. This is why we have practices, be it maitri, ziji meditation, or any one of the myriad teachings. We are students forever. We constantly fall and forget and then pick ourselves back up and start over again. We are human. The greatest Buddhist teachers were human and they too had their human faults and frailties, but they were not afraid to admit it, even laugh at themselves, and go on. We are too heavy in this world. I think of the quote by G.K. Chesterton, "Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." This year I have to shed some of the heaviness. I will gain confidence, ziji. I will practice maitri. And I will continue these practices, as a student, for the rest of my life.

In the middle of it all I will continue to dance my clumsy dances and howl at the wind singing my sorrowful songs, but I will not dwell there long. This is why we need to have a word to see us through. We needn't change our name, but we do need to remember our word. What is your word for this year?

And so now, as we begin 2011, we can learn to love ourselves, to celebrate all of who we really are (maitri) and grow the confidence that we need to live as gentle, steady, joyful people, and we can dance our clumsy dances and laugh with a great sense of humor when we fall off of our bikes, because we will get back up again and keep going on, the winds of these teachings ever at our back.

And so I wish you a year full of love, peace, joy, confidence, and laughter, and may you never stop dancing...