Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Last week, I started to feel a little like an old dog that someone might think had to be put down. I couldn’t hear anything out of my right ear and a crown on one of my teeth came off. Since I didn’t swallow the crown, that glitch was easily remedied, but the blocked ear defied health care professionals' intervention for a few days (turns out my eustachian tube was blocked.) It has cleared now (thank you, thank you, thank you) but the seven days of impaired hearing was, in hindsight, a gift.

We all know the one about needing to walk a mile in another’s shoes if we want to understand them. But sometimes it’s impossible to imagine ourselves in another’s place, and it is easy forget that others are not having the same experience we're having.

So it is with humility that I apologize to those I know who have had hearing loss for any moments of irritation I have had with their struggle. Trying to function in a noisy world with partial hearing loss is. . . .exhausting. In crowded restaurants the din is overwhelming and requires enormous focus to hear what table companions are saying. And giving up- while a relief from the trying- feels incredibly isolating, like you’ve just stepped out of a certain kind and level of connection with others.

And I knew- or at least was hoping and guessing- that my situation was temporary, repairable. If your hearing loss is permanent or progressive, I cannot imagine how much fortitude it takes to hang in there and try to listen and participate.

I think of my father whose hearing declined with age, and how he withdrew from conversations, stopped going to church, was increasingly reluctant to go to large restaurants. Family members urged him not to give up, and truthfully, I was mystified at how much he disengaged.

Now I get it.

You know, as someone who was diagnosed over thirty years ago with a chronic illness (CFS/FM) that many do not acknowledge or understand, you’d think that I would “get” that I was not “getting” what it was like for my father and others I knew who were losing their hearing.

Which is all to say that I am grateful for last week’s hearing loss- almost as grateful as I am for its restoration. It has rooted a needed awareness in my body, reminded me that even though in some sense we are One, every other is also wholly other with their own history, inner and outer challenges and resources. Remembering this, each encounter becomes an opportunity to explore the Mystery of the other. And for this, I am deeply grateful.

Oriah © 2013 (You can subscribe to this weekly blog by putting your email in at the bottom of the green panel on the right hand side of this page.)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What Makes Us Squirm

Last week, I was caught off guard by something that made me cringe just a little. 

I was making a sandwich in my kitchen while listening to a video conversation between Anne Lamott and Oprah Winfrey. I love Anne’s writing and humour, her spirit and her honesty. At one point Oprah read a line from Anne's book Help, Thanks, Wow:

"Prayer is a chance that against all odds and past history, we are all loved and chosen." 

Anne responded, "Yes, we are all loved and chosen."

Her words made me freeze, knife poised mid-air, mayonnaise jar in hand, suspended, not breathing for a few moments.

I knew right away what the problem was: it was my discomfort with the word “chosen.” I often experience feeling held in the love of something larger than myself. But chosen?

I sat with my reaction to the word, started to contemplate some questions: What would it mean to be chosen? By whom? For what? Suddenly I remember standing awkwardly at school dances, hoping and dreading both possibilities- of being chosen and of not being chosen.

In the context of spirituality, is everyone chosen, and if so, does that make being chosen meaningless? Is it like giving everyone in the class a blue ribbon for participating when they didn’t really have any choice? And is being chosen always a good thing? I learned early to do well (at school, household chores etc.) as a way of not getting singled out, not being "chosen" for special attention in my family.

If I’m chosen does that mean someone else was not chosen? And won’t they be upset, envious, angry? Does that mean those that are chosen will now have to take care of those who were not?

Yes, leave it to me to see the spectre of unlimited responsibility lurking beneath any potential blessing.

I am pretty sure that Anne Lamott would say we are all chosen, and we know this because we are here, alive, living life on this spectacular planet. If that’s what she means- and that's my guess- I would agree.

And yet, the word makes me uncomfortable. So I pay attention. Because I have discovered that what makes me squirm a little for no apparent reason often offers me insight into who I am, helps me bring to consciousness that which is unconscious. I’m not talking about things that create anguish. I’m talking about  ideas, words, people, and situations that stir a little anxiety, create a bearable discomfort. In these places I resist the urge to move away instantly, choosing to just hang out a little, wondering what might be revealed.

So, I invite you to stir the pot of contemplation by sharing your own responses to the word “chosen” here. Does it sit well with you? Does it have any meaning for you? Do feel chosen in any sense? Are others chosen?

For me, it's a word that asks me to stretch, to consider where my discomfort comes from, to play with the possibilities for a good, life-deepening understanding of being "chosen ".

Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Freedom To Be The Worst

This blog only makes sense if you know that I was always at the top of my class. From kindergarten on I was a driven little over-achiever- straight A's, perfect test scores, homework complete, all assignments on time. Oh eventually there were less than perfect projects and tests, and I learned that life did not end and I would not annihilated if I made a mistake. Still, I preferred to do well at everything, just in case- which meant of course, that I wasn't too keen to try things at which I did not naturally excel.

So, I am thrilled to announce that I have joined a class where I am (and will no doubt remain for quite some time) the worst student. It's a Tai Chi sword class.

I've wanted to take this class for awhile, primarily because one of the characters in my novel is an expert swordswoman. I figured I should at least get a feel for moving with a sword if I am going to describe her experience. Oh, I admit, I have had some not-so-secret fantasies of moving like the women in the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (the only martial arts movie I've ever seen) but I have enough sense to know they are just that- fantasies.

The class has about twenty participants. Most have clearly done a lot of Tai Chi and Kung Fu. I took three Tai Chi classes twenty-five years ago. Some of the folks in the class know the sword form itself, which is good because I can watch and follow them, albeit without much finesse and often too slowly not to be a menace to the people around me. Happily the swords are wood and the others seem to have an excellent spatial sense so I have neither been hit by anyone else nor accidentally swiped anyone myself.

I didn't see the notice for the class until two of the seven sessions had taken place. It's probably just as well. Starting late dissolved all hopes I no doubt would have had about "keeping up." I did two private sessions with the instructor so I wouldn't be completely lost, and those further helped me accept my novice status.

I don't remember being particularly bad at physical or athletic activities when I was a child. Until I hit puberty. At thirteen I grew to my current height of five feet nine inches and became all uncoordinated knees and elbows, a source of a great deal of amusement for my family. It was a happy day when I could drop PhysEd.

The sword classes are a workout, mentally and physically. (I am discovering muscles I apparently do not use very often.) In the midst of going through the movements again and again, I occasionally feel like my head will explode as I try to focus on the present moment form and move smoothly into the next move which I may or may not remember.

The other night, as I was moving through the class, working hard to remember which leg should be forward, I thought, "Wow, I would not have been able to do this twenty years ago, would never have been willing to look this bad at something." And suddenly, I was grinning as I moved from "Dragon Touches the Water" to "Big Chief Star." And I thought, "I am the worst in the class, and I'm okay with that!"

Being willing to be bad at something, to struggle with learning something, gives us incredible freedom that we do not have if we must always do well and/or look like we are doing well. It is, I believe, what stopped me from learning a second language when I was younger- there's just no way to do it without stumbling and getting it wrong in ways that are apparent to others.

Of course, I have to be careful not to get too attached to being the worst in the class. If I keep going- and I plan to- at some point, someone newer will come along and I will be neither the worst nor the best, will be what we are most of the time- someone muddling along in the middle, having moments when it all comes together, and moments when it all falls apart (sometimes because we have stopped being present and are busy congratulating ourselves on the brilliance of that grace-given moment where it all flowed so well.)

Learning to use a sword is broadening my ability to love it all: the effort sometimes required to learn and the grace of moments when the flow carries us; times that are the worst, the best, and the overwhelming number of moments somewhere inbetween.

Oriah (c) 2013

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What We Need Is Here

As the days grow shorter here in the northern hemisphere, getting out of bed by five-thirty gets a little harder even as it allows me to bask in the dawn. At that hour it’s pitch dark outside- the sky is black, the street lights are shining. By the time I make tea and sit down to do my practise of prayer and meditation, the sky is just beginning to edge into indigo.

The balcony doors of my small apartment face east, so as I send my prayers out- calling on the visible and invisible faces of the Sacred Mystery, and holding the needs of myself, others and the world in my heart- I watch the gradual transformation of the sky. And every time- every single time- watching the growing light fills me with awareness of the gift of the day.

Often, if the sky is cloudless, I will pause and allow the sun to touch me and pierce me as it crests the horizon in front of me. For me, doing this- being present at dawn- cracks me open, fills me with awareness of the overwhelming beauty of being given a life here on this spectacular planet.

One morning, filled with gratitude for how the dawn had returned me to my centre and renewed my commitment to living the day with an open heart, I thought, “I wish I could be touched by the energy of dawn throughout the day.”

And immediately the thought arose: “It’s always dawn somewhere on the planet.”

I know this is a fairly obvious fact when we think about it: as the planet turns the horizon is continuously shifting and allowing sunlight to flood over a new area of the earth’s surface. But I hadn’t thought about it this way. It’s equally true that at any moment, somewhere on the planet it is dusk, noon, midnight.

And I thought of how the energy of these times- times when, according to the shamanic tradition with which I am familiar, the “crack between the worlds” is open so we can access a broader, deeper perception of reality- is truly available somewhere on the planet in every minute, day or night. And because we are always connected to, interwoven with all life on this planet, with a little focus and imagination we can feel our way into the renewal of dawn, the softening of dusk, the dreaming of midnight, or the clarity of noon anywhere at any time.

This is the magic of the Sacred Wholeness in which we participate and of which we are made. It is the gift of imagination combined with the reality of living as embodied souls/ensouled bodies.

Aware of just a fraction of this magnificence I am filled with gratitude.

Oriah © 2013