Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Heart of Devotion


I live a half mile up the side of a mountain overlooking Tianmu, an area of Taipei. Every morning I walk my dog on a mile loop on that mountainside. It is quite steep. I am fit and relatively young, and yet I almost always break a sweat. No one would call it a particularly easy walk.

Besides the beautiful views of the nature all around, and vistas of the city below, one of my favorite things about the walk is it takes me past two temples. The temples are situated very close to one another. One is large and sits above a smaller one, like a parent watching over a child. Some days there will be a ceremony going on at the large one. As I walk past, I hear chanting and bells. It fills me with a sense of the sacred, reminds me to open my heart to devotion. The small one sometimes has incense lit, the scent flows out to the street. I breathe it in like medicine. There is a powerful healing agent in ceremonies and all the elements involved. The senses are awakened to their own divine and holy nature, a deep knowing, open channels to heart and soul.

Another staple of my walks is a man. I pass by him nearly every day. We say "zao" (good morning) and smile at each other, and that sums up our interaction. The language barrier keeps locals at an arms distance or more from me. Although I have never spoken more than that one word to him, he has had a significant impact on me.

Every morning, there he is walking, slowly, and it often appears, painfully. He walks with a cane, the kind with four small legs at the bottom, in one hand. He uses the other hand to grip a stick of incense. The incense is held right up close to him, at heart level. Over time I have surmised that he walks down the steep downhill stretch to the temple, he gets the incense there, and then he ascends back to where he lives, and burns it at a family altar on the side of the road.

I can tell that this daily regimen must take all his strength. There is a look of will, his furrowed brow, a quality of determination. What strikes me though is the clear dedication, the insistence in this action, committed, faithful. I don't need to know a single thread of his story, or detail of his life to know that it is centered in disciplined devotion. I don't need to know the words of the prayers, or what god, goddess, or divine force they are spoken to. I am inspired in the mere witnessing of his action.

I see him, and I think about willful action. I believe in the power of such action, though I have not nearly achieved a practice of it in the ways I imagine I could. And he reminds me to hone it down, potent action can be singular, simple.

He takes one step at a time, slowly, he holds his incense, makes an offering of it. I am probably one of very few people who know anything about this act of earnest devotion he does, loyally each day, and yet, I know even when I am gone, even if no one passes him on the road, he will be there, doing what he feels called to do. He does this in the midst of pain, in the midst of suffering. There is suffering that can be seen, one hand gripping a cane, shuffling, but I am sure there is much more being carried, held close with the incense, clutched at the heart.

Human suffering. We all carry it.

I have been down lately. I have spells like that, some life events are pulling me there. I feel heavy. I slump toward immobility, a broody lethargy. I drop the ball on my practices and prayers, and then I am weighed down by guilt and shame, that I am in this state again. I always hope this time will be the last, but that has never been the case to date. Brightness always fades to grey, and back again. Moods like the weather on the mountain.

Clouds roll in around the mountain, sometimes a fierce storm, clouds roll out again. The mountain simply stands. The mountain does the action of being, it holds the space for all expression without judgment. It asks nothing of us, of me. I find that idea peaceful.

The earth is always underneath us. It is one of the few reliable things. Such a powerful and strong container, it bears all things. That is the comfort to be realized, to lean back into, soften, release, deeply receive. This truth. Everything that happens is held, all of the doing or not doing, all of the cycles, each change of season, the bright and the grey, day and night, life and death and every single thing that occurs in between. All of it perfect, to the earth.

The life that happens on this patch of mountain may seem of little importance in the larger world, but I find it profound. I am so deeply touched by the man who walks and prays, and the chanting and drums in the temple, the smell of incense, sweat and tears, struggle and mercy mingled. I honor myself in that as well. I am equally included, and I need do nothing to be whole and healed. The heart of devotion is like the mountain, the earth that supports us all, embracing the dedicated action, the weighted inaction, all of it taken, equally sacred, the smoke of prayers and incense, things being burned away. All of it a beautiful offering.

We are here. That is enough.



Sunday, August 28, 2016

Life at an Airport



I was trying to get from my home country to my host country, from one home to another. Sometimes getting from point A to point B gets complicated. It is easy for the way to become encumbered, disrupted, or just plain blocked. Such is life. It is mostly curves, with only the occasional simple straight line.

My way was impeded by a pack of typhoons threatening Tokyo. Gale force winds, torrential rain, powerful forces of nature blowing a hole right through my route home. My flight from Tokyo to Taipei was canceled and this left me committed, by force, to a meandering course, including an all day lay over at Minneapolis International Airport.

I happened to be traveling alone as my husband and kids had already returned to Taiwan for the start of school. I was missing them intensely, and I knew they needed me. My husband was right then readying for his own trip, going away on business, leaving our children solo on the other side of the world. I pictured my children, two teens and one tween, there, alone, waiting for my curvy path to arrive back in Taipei. I started to panic as the check in agent informed me of my new and very long itinerary. I became extremely frustrated by this delay. I was short with her, my irritation spilling onto the messenger of things that are beyond anyone's control. I can be reactive at times and I wanted her to fix it, make it to my liking, dial up the weather gods and get it right. It didn't work. No shit. I had to concede defeat and apologize to the poor woman just doing her job.

I am only human, and we do have claws and fangs. Mine occasionally get brought out a bit hastily, especially when mama is on a mission for her kiddos. I walked away from that interaction feeling bad for her, bad for myself, wincing at the sharp dagger of my inner critic. I should be better than this. Sometimes being human tastes bitter to me, a blend of tears and blood. I wonder if people notice my claws and fangs. Suddenly mine felt sharper and bloodier than others. Perhaps I am more beast than beauty. I often wonder if people are looking at me, pretending not to see my ugliness, my scars. I get an intense impulse to hide. I turn to run toward exile. My ideas of separation and unworthiness rise within me, relentless and brutal. I don't belong. I'm not worthy. I so intensely long to be seen, to be included and understood, but I equally want to hide. Pulled apart by paradox, as we tend to be.

I spent ten hours at the Minneapolis Airport. I had a lot of sitting ahead of me on the two flights to come, so I decided to walk. I followed signs for Terminals A,B,C and Terminals D,E,F.  I determined to connect all those dots, cover all the terrain. As I walked I began to relax, and my attention shifted from being self absorbed, frustrated, and guilt ridden, spinning in my inner story, to the buzz of activity all around me.

Airports are truly a microcosm of the larger world. For a moment, a few hours, or occasionally even days, people end up at this hub of exchange, randomly thrown together as they travel straight lines or curvy meandering paths in a shared quest to get from point A to point B. As I walked I observed all these people. There were young people and older people. Babies in strollers alongside elders in wheelchairs. Beginnings and endings. There were people of all different colors, speaking varied languages. There were people from all backgrounds and walks of life.There was a business man sitting next to a teen aged girl with pink streaks in her hair. He was wearing a suit and tie, she had on ripped jeans and combat boots. He had a briefcase, she had a violin. Only at an airport would it be likely that these two would end up side by side.

I saw a Catholic nun, and then later a Buddhist monk. I saw a guy decked out in cowboy wear and a woman dressed to the nines in couture. Buttoned up people and buttoned down people.

We may seem so far from each other, so different, so distinct. But spend a little time at an airport and you will observe all of us engaged in what we do in common. We journey. We endeavor to get from point A to point B. I watched in wonder as I walked. So many people, so many stories to be told. Sometimes I guessed where people might be headed, and other times I overheard.  Some of those people were going to weddings and others to funerals. I saw people crying and saying hello, and I saw people crying and saying goodbye. There were families heading out on vacation, and families going home. A young man off to college, another in uniform returning to his military station after a visit with his family. I saw parents hugging their children and parents scolding their children. Newlyweds going on their honeymoon with big dreams of a life ahead, and an elderly couple sitting quietly, at ease and still holding hands.

In an airport you will witness all of human expression and experience. In ten hours I saw people happy, sad, elated, frustrated, exhausted, angry, anxious, relaxed, distressed, engaged, connected, disconnected. I witnessed people being generous, people being selfish, people in love and people enraged. Airports are epicenters of emotion, shift, and change. They are a constant gathering flow of people in the fire of transition. Going from point A to point B guarantees at least a change of location and scenery. It includes people in the midst of a multitude of different situations, emotions and transformational events. Observing people on their journeys reveals so much about the human heart, and our common ground of feeling. Under one roof we can see love, grief, celebration, loss, industry, leisure, community, and isolation. In an airport we can openly observe the things that bring us together and the things that tear us apart.

I have traveled many places, and right now I live across the world from where I began. And yet, I realize one only needs to go as far as the airport to learn all there is to know about people. We are all here to evolve, moving from where we are, towards where we need to be. We are all just human and we do have claws and fangs, but we also have warm arms to embrace each other, tears for both our joys and our sorrows, hearts that can be both delicate and courageous. Most of all, we are all capable of noble and amazing things as well as brutal and destructive things. But we are all born of love, that is the most powerful force I saw. At an airport you will see many people holding each other tenderly, for many reasons. Love lives. It is the most powerful part of us. If we have fangs and claws, then love surely gives us wings to rise above. On our seemingly separate paths we walk, or fly, going from our point As to our point Bs, whether we realize it or not, we are all in this thing called life, together, following a curvy path home.
 




Saturday, August 6, 2016

Maybe

gather 'round people
make me a village
raise me now
like you couldn't before
place your hands on me
my holy places
or any torn fragment
what you can reach

now
hoist me towards heaven
or in the general direction
i trust
that you know
which way that
may be

once i'm high
over the rainbow
i'll get my wings
and return to you
or
stage dive
from a starry night
into your ready hands

maybe

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

We Remain



hate crashed the dance floor
turning revelry to slaughter
joy to despair
life to death

gone too soon
taken viciously

on a dance floor
meant for sweaty celebration
the occasional spilled drink
pouring out
expressions of ecstasy
sometimes tears
jubilant kisses
moving free
wild
breathing heavy

until breath was stopped

and blood was spilled
over sweat and drinks
now torrents of gutteral tears
pooling
rising
flooding us now

tsunami of heartbreak

today we grieve
others celebrate
but we are all broken

broken hearts every one
spilling
our powerful pitiful humanness

our best and worst
our light and shadow
is shown

on a dance floor
love met hate
guns blazing
so many fallen
stolen
early angels made

but we remain

and in the midst of our terror
our anger
in the depth of our despair
we reach out
to each other
moving forward
step by step
hand in hand
we return

to our dance floor

we will sweat and celebrate
move wildy
kiss sweetly
we will raise glasses
and each other
resurrected
and sing out

we sing out
together

love is still here

we are the face of love
we are the light not vanquished
by any darkness

we take back our dance floor
our revelry
our joy
our life

we will not forget or forsake
we still choose love not hate
and no matter what may be taken
no matter what

we will remain

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Hike


you complain of the heat
i agree
but what do you expect from a jungle?

at the bottom you sigh
how many steps is it again?
thousands
i say smiling

you start up stomping
a soldier
going into battle
stoic
committed

not pleased
not motivated
heavy like the air

i mention the stomping

you pause

a lightening

i catch a sideways glance
corner of a smile
one side
slight rise
on steep steps

one at a time
the climb

you point out the dragonflies
how there are so many here
they are your favorite
of all the insects

in the heat they are resting
at the edge of the steps
or waiting for us
perhaps
standing sentinels
sacred guides

you tell me how they fly
using different muscles
wings that rotate

i think of dancing

i tell you movement is life
absence of movement is death

you are a scientist
walled up to the mystical
but you marvel at dragonflies
and agree about movement

movement is life

we step and step

i think about how
you are moving away from me

you talk about gravity
how a larger
more dense object
draws another in

if a larger object comes into the field
everything is pulled away

i sense a bigger world
approaching
pulling you away

you mention how you
will be twenty soon
how odd it is to you

two decades
how you have doubled your age
four times
maybe

descending

you are much taller than me now
legs grown
long
over nearly two decades

you stride ahead
i can't keep up

i hear you call out
to me

hurry up and look

i find you bent over
considering a beetle
pushing it back towards
the earth

we admire its colors
the pattern on its back
two kids for a moment
transfixed by a small thing
a wonder
a moment of grace

then you are off

i keep pace
until we collide with
a school group

small children
like you once were

all in blue shirts
laughing
like a sudden ocean
of innocence

i stand back and watch you
wade through them
carefully
diligently
until i can't see
you anymore




Monday, May 23, 2016

Acceptance


to do things
silently
seamlessly
drop a boat of acceptance
into the water
not a ripple
not a sound
satisfied to take the journey
unseen
and leave the rest buried
on the shore
push off
drift faithful
trusting wind, currents, stars
finally understanding
place, time, purpose
nowhere and everywhere
no one yet everyone
momentary and infinite
become lost to be found

i dream of such freedom
behind my closed eyes
softly fluttering
at the ocean's edge
the sun landing
warm on my face



Tuesday, May 17, 2016

night visitor


in the darkest hours
of night
peaceful rest gets stolen
suddenly
a sharp dread
heavy and wet
bulleting sweat on my skin
i am fevered with it
strokes of sickness
rolling under covers
a writhing mind
turning and turning
death roll
over the least thing
grocery shopping
a dirty floor
the meeting at school
these minutiae of life
creep in rising
pounding
magnified
until such small things
become crushing
typhoon waves
i can't swim away
pulled under
breathless
waiting and praying
for sleep
sweet sleep
to dissolve into
to take me
under the waves
but the buzzer rings
end round
i roll out and on
i do the small things
the groceries
school meetings
i know i am strong
but in those dark hours
a monster comes calling
loyalty is not only for
the good