Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Question War

Last July I wrote a post called "Ribbon Madness" about car ribbons. Here's another entry in the fray.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


the helpless witness
breathes in
breathes out

in the present moment
which goes on
and on


the present witness
sees fear
sees pain

feels fear
feels pain

in the suchness of this moment
the act of witness
brings peace
brings stillness

no longer helpless
the witness
feels love

is love

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Doubt and Technology

I'm in Colorado with my mom, who's in the hospital being treated for lymphoma. She completed her first round of chemotherapy yesterday, with little in the way of side effects so far. She is noticably better than when I came, and I hope to see her continue to improve. She will be in the hospital for about another week, but I'm leaving this afternoon.

It is really tempting to go into "storytelling" mode with the details of my trip here, my mom's condition and prognosis, etc., but I think I'll focus more on how I am experiencing this trip and its challenges. Yesterday's poem is an example of that.

But today I will relate an amusing story about my arrival here...

When I got into town I went directly to the hospital, saw my mom, and spoke with the oncologist. My mom was pretty out of it due to sedation from a biopsy, so I didn't stay terribly long. I was very tired from a long trip, and wanted to find my hotel and get some rest.

I got in the car and realized that I had not printed out directions to the hotel, and didn't know the address or phone number. In fact, I was only marginally sure of the name. So I drove toward where I thought I recalled seeing the hotel on the map, but I did not see it before I decided I must be mistaken.

I decided to do something out of character for a male and find directions, so I stopped driving around aimlessly and found a pay phone with a directory. Of course it was two years old, so this (new) hotel was not listed. No matter, I thought, I'll go find another directory.

Have you tried to find a pay phone lately? With the advent of cell phones, they are few and far between. I did manage to find a convenience store with pay phones, but the pages "Ma" through "Mo" were missing...so I was still out of luck.

I tried the next Quicky Mart up the line - once again the very pages I needed were missing. Is there a conspiracy here? Am I on candid camera?

Being very tired and ready to sleep, I swallowed my pride and went inside to ask the girl at the counter. She said she thought she knew where this particular hotel was, and gave some vague but usable directions. I got back in the car and started following them.

After driving about a block, I thought "nuts to this" and called my wife on my cell phone. I had her Google the name of the hotel and the town I'm in, and she quickly was able to map the address and "talk me on" to finding it. I had actually remembered its location pretty well in the first place, but just didn't drive far enough in the right direction before I began to doubt myself.

What a concept - I'm lost in a small town in Colorado, and my wife in Virginia is able to give me better directions than a local teenager. Technology persevered where the direct approach did not.

Of course if I'd trusted my memory I wouldn't have needed the technology.

Friday, January 20, 2006

First Treatment






Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin's Big Words

Yesterday I taught the Preschool Religious Education (RE) class, and we talked about Martin Luther King, Jr. I read the kids a story called "Martin's Big Words," which is a pretty good book to use to introduce Dr. King to young people up to about 1st grade.

I have also recently finished listening to "A Call to Conscience," a collection of Dr. King's speeches with introductions by other civil rights luminaries. Listening to his words is inspirational well beyond just seeing them in print.

I noticed a couple of things about Dr. King while listening to him speak over the last few weeks. First, he would always start off slowly, enunciating each word and syllable with great deliberation and intent. As he warmed to his subject, however, he would usually get into a rhythm - sounding like a preacher - and almost be singing some of the words. I wish I could have heard him speak live.

The second thing I noticed is that he does not give women much attention. The only times I heard any mention of females were his oft-repeated words "I have a dream of a time when "little black boys and black girls will join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers." Misogyny or just a sign of the times?

The most powerful lines I heard in all his speeches were about power and love. These words moved me so much I went back and listened to them over and over until I had committed them to memory, then I turned off the CD player and mulled them over. I still think about them every day.

One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love... What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

Big words, indeed.

Monday, January 09, 2006

(Be) Mind(ful of) the Gap

Last spring, soon after returning from Iraq, I took my son to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. While riding the Metro home, I noticed that a young woman seated nearby had a patch on her backpack that looked like this picture. I had heard of "Mind the Gap" in terms of a recent UUA campaign to retain young adults as UUs in the "gap" between high school and adulthood, so I thought that's what it referred to.

I asked the young woman if she was a UU, and she gave me a blank look. I mentioned the patch and the UUA program, and she smiled and said "no, it's from the London Underground." Aha. It's been nearly a decade since I have been to London and ridden the Underground, so I didn't feel so bad about not recognizing the symbol. For those not in the know, it refers to the space (gap) between the car and platform in the Underground station. When a train comes, the announcement of its arrival concludes with "mind the gap." Lately this term has entered British popular culture.

Recently I've become aware of another meaning of the phrase "Mind the Gap" - Be Mindful of the Gap. The Gap I'm talking about here is the space between thoughts; those often rare moments when the nonstop "tape" or barrage of thinking ceases momentarily. Next time your mind draws a blank, just notice this Gap and pay attention to it. Your thinking mind will start up again soon enough.

I first began to think about this Gap in terms of meditation, as the space in attention between outbreaths. In samatha meditation, I notice thoughts as they arise and then let them go. I pay attention to my outbreaths and let my discursive mind dissolve with the breath. But what happens on the inbreath, and between breaths? Often this space is filled with thoughts, of course, but sometimes there is nothing. Emptiness. Stillness. This is the whole point of this kind of this type of meditation.

But life happens away from the meditation cushion, so I started thinking about other places to look for this Gap. I quickly found one in my Morning Pages practice, where I spend 30 minutes each morning writing essentially whatever is in my mind. Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming or thinking about what to write, so I have to remind myself just to write whatever I'm thinking. This writing is a sort of stream of conciousness exercise, and sometimes the stream just stops. The mind and the pen pause and there's nothing - another Gap.

The "best" kind of Gap, I think, is the everyday one. This is the Gap that comes when I'm in the middle of very "deep" thinking, or maybe even in a conversation. This is the "my mind drew a blank" Gap, the "uh...I can't remember what I was saying" Gap, or the "it's on the tip of my tongue" Gap. This is the kind of Gap to notice, to appreciate, and to give my attention.

Because when I notice this Gap, when I give it my attention and just sit with the absence of discursive and distracting thought, I am open to life. I am open to becoming a "human being" rather than a "human doing." I get a glimpse of who I am beyond the stories I tell myself about my identity. I perceive a deeper conciousness that transcends the little, egoic me.

I am mindful of this Gap - it is empty but full of potential; still but alive with possibility.