Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Field Beyond

Over the last month or so I've been working deeply on responding to inter-personal issues with love and compassion, rather than my habitual frustration, anger, and judgment. As I work to regain connection - or to really achieve it for the first time - I have found this to be my biggest challenge, and perhaps the root of an entirely new way of being in relationship.

As I do this work, I continuously think of something my minister told me a couple of months ago. She offered sage advice about considering others (particularly a congregation that I find frustrating or challenging) with a "gaze of blessing." Look beyond the petty disagreements and things that are irritating or annoying, and look with love upon the people you see. I recently encountered a very similar message in a book I'm reading by David Richo, someone I would call a "Buddhist psychologist." Richo writes about "the glance of mercy" - looking at other people with acceptance and understanding. It's the same thing as Nancy's gaze of blessing.

Last week I got an e-mail from a friend in California, who wrote
...one day I was flipping thru a mail order catalog and I came across some jewelry which was inscribed with the words of Rumi, "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." Upon reading these words I felt so moved I was paralyzed for what seemed to be a lifetime... talk about being in the moment!
Rumi's words tell me to use my gaze of blessing - my glance of mercy - to look beyond my perception of who's right and who's wrong in a relationship, and find the common place of love and compassion beyond; to meet others there in right relationship with mindfulness and presence. Ahh...it's all coming together now.

As I learn and grow, I realize that often doing the "right" thing - in terms of relationships and responding with love and compassion - is often contrary to my first (habitual and acculturated) impulse. For example, my son Ryan has been suspended from school for three days because he took a pocketknife to school. I really don't think he did anything wrong - that is, his intent was not to do harm - he wanted to take a tool to carve sticks with his friend during the lunch hour. Unfortunately, of course, the school rules forbid any kind of weapon, so when the knife was discovered by a teacher, Ryan got to visit the assistant principal and spend a few days at home.

Yesterday afternoon I came home to be with Ryan because my wife had a meeting to which she couldn't take him. I was unsure how to spend the time. My first (habitual and acculturated) impulse was "he's been suspended, so I should support that suspension by making this time if not a punishment at least not very pleasant." That thought was soon replaced with "What am I thinking? What does it matter that my son broke some arbitrary rule? His intent was not to harm. He is suffering the consequences already, and we've discussed the importance of following rules that are in place to keep others safe, so why punish him more?" In all of this I realized "aha! here's an opportunity to practice love and compassion - to look beyond ideas of right and wrong and just be mindful about our relationship!" So we went to the forest park for a hike, because out in nature is where I feel closest to my son.

At the beginning of our time together, I decided not to worry about the time, to let him lead me, and to just be present with him and the beautiful surroundings. I am always amazed how much more I notice when I let go of time like this - looking at the world through the eyes of a child who has not yet become a slave to clock and calendar.

We saw so many things together: a box turtle who obliged us by showing how he retracts into his shell (but was willing to wait longer to come out than we were to see it). A detached butterfly wing that fluttered and flitted when blown from my hand with a puff of breath. An enourmous fungus that was warm and tan and wrinkled. A pink leaf to take home to little sister Katy. A complete set of dragonfly wings with the head-shaped exoskeleton still attached.

We stopped at the creek to play and rest - him to play, me to rest. I watched the clouds through the gently moving trees and listened to his humming and happy chatter in counterpoint to the gently sounds of the stream. He told me a fantastic story about a giant and a dragon boat and castles that turn to sand and heroic rescues and so much else I could barely comprehend it all. I felt nothing but pure joy at his presence - love and compassion at meeting him beyond right and wrong.

As we approached the car, it began to sprinkle. We were hot and sweaty from our hike, so I said "do you want to sit in the rain for a while?" He agreed, so we sat on some wooden barriers between the parking lot and a grassy meadow and enjoyed the rain. We found rough-surfaced leaves with drops of water that could be collected with the tip of another leaf and aggregated into one large magnifying drop. We played with our leaves together and enjoyed the gentle rain. The meadow smelled of fresh rain and glistened with wet fallen leaves.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, we found our field together.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Word Up

If you want to leave a comment, you'll notice you're now required to enter a "word verification." This is to prevent "comment spam," which has begun to be quite annoying. Sorry for the inconvenience!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

One Thing at a Time

Sunday during coffee hour, a member of my congregation wanted to ask me something while I was filling out an RE registration form. I asked her to wait until I was finished with the paperwork, and she said "what's the matter, can't you multitask?"

Then the other night at our Covenant Group meeting, we talked about what fulfills us - what makes us feel like we're really expressing ourselves. I realized that being able to really do just one thing at a time - to be focused on and present to each moment, each task - is what I have found most fulfilling lately.

I love reading to my little daughter Katy, but I have found myself hurrying through the stories - as if my "goodness" as a daddy depends on how many books we can read before dinner. When I'm a REALLY good daddy, however, I relax, slow down, and really enjoy reading the story. That's all I'm doing - sitting on the couch with my daughter in my lap, reading a book. Starting off with cuddles and kisses helps me to focus.

Washing the dishes is another activity best done by itself. It's almost a cliche, actually, thanks to Thich Nhat Hanh's well-known essay on the subject. Lately I've been trying to approach the dirty sink reverently, appreciating the opportunity to clean the dishes and complete that particular cycle of life. I try to reframe it from "why can't anybody else rinse off their darn dishes!?" to "what a wonderful opportunity to care for my family." Occassionally I succeed.

I've always loved being out of doors. Nature demands my attention, and I feel present and alive when I'm out in it. During a recent mountain bike ride, I was very tired and sleepy, so I decided to stop and lie down to rest a bit. I found an enormous tree that had blown over, with a long stretch of broad trunk that was almost flat. I climbed up on it, lay down on my stomach, and relaxed.

I never quite fell asleep, but I did gradually sink into my environment. I heard insects buzzing, birds calling, squirrels chattering, leaves rustling in the breeze, and the crash of a falling branch. I felt the rough surface of the bark beneath me, and the solidness of this tree. I felt the warmth of the day and the caress of the soft air. I became part of it all for a short time, and it was good. I was present.

Doing one thing at a time can be a spiritual practice - after all, what are prayer and meditation?

Friday, September 09, 2005


What if the highest destination
Of any given human life
Wasn't a place you could reach if
You had to climb

Wasn't up above like heaven
So no need to climb at all
What if to reach the highest place
You had to fall

What if all the sages
Thinking about realms out of reach
Would memorize the pages
Of gravity

What if getting to the highest place
Is like learning what you know
Or like getting to where you are now
Like coming home

Partial lyrics to "Fall" by UU musician and songwriter Peter Mayer