The Practice of Receiving

Receiving is a powerful—-and intimate-—practice, for we are actually inviting another person into ourselves. Rather than focusing on our own practice, or on our own virtue, we can focus on providing an opportunity for someone else to develop generosity. In spite of its complexities and entanglements, the moment of exchange is one of simple connection and opening. That moment itself is unsullied. For that reason it is said that generosity is the discipline that produces peace.

From “The Practice of Giving” by Judy Lief, Summer 2003
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

I finally got what this was about while learning qi gong. Receiving is always going to be difficult for a trauma survivor. The important thing is recognizing that and honoring that.

My natural tendency is to try to control situations by giving — by pushing energy out. What I’m learning is how to protect my boundaries without overextending myself. And I’ve even learned how to discern situations where it is safe to receive. Army Guy’s quiet generosity, the love and support of my friends, my mother’s visits in times of need — these are all things I’ve learned how to let into my life.

The notion that receiving gives someone else an opportunity to practice generosity is a powerful revelation. Relationships are a complex dance of giving and receiving. I can’t always control the movements of my partner, or it ceases to be a dance.

Mother Lil’s Jesus

“Try my Jesus,” she said. “My Jesus is your Jesus.”

She had the warm, rounded curves of a mature Jamaican woman. She wore white — white tunic, white pants, a white head wrap. Her name was Mother Lil.

When I arrived at the store, the woman at the counter gave me a slim, hardcover book bound in green. “Have her read Psalm 23,” I heard Mother Lil tell the woman.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want

I’d been raised on Bible verses. The Franciscans sang the entire mass, in a chapel suffused with Sunday morning sunshine. But what I remembered was Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians. What I remembered was the dingy gray Cathedral where a fat Archbishop in a gaudy dress rubbed oil on my forehead and told me to go forth and be a soldier of the Lord.

Continue reading “Mother Lil’s Jesus”

Lovingkindness Is as Important as Transcendence

From the Daily Dharma. Is it possible that my early introduction to Buddhist philosophy was filtered through the lens of these American dharma teachers. As a pagan, I believe that this world, this physical existence, is a gift. I don’t long for Nirvana anymore than I long for Heaven. The idea of a rest in the Summerlands between lifetimes does appeal to me, though. And I’ve experienced myself the suffering that comes from attachment, and the serenity and joy that follows surrender and radical acceptance.

Untie the Boat

When we first brought one of our teachers to the States, we asked him what he thought of the American dharma scene. We had started these different centers and were very proud of what had happened. He said that he thought it was wonderful but that sometimes American practitioners reminded him of people sitting in a boat rowing very strenuously, with great sincerity and effort, but refusing to untie the boat from the dock. He said we reminded him of that in our fixation on transcendental experiences to the neglect of a sweeping view of how we’re behaving day to day, how we’re speaking to our family members, how we’re taking care of one another, or whatever. That’s why I think it is tremendously important to continually open and expand our understanding of where freedom is and where the dharma lies.

– Sharon Salzberg, “The Dharma of Liberation,” from the Spring 1993 Tricycle. Read the complete article.

http://www.tricycle.com/special-section/the-dharma-liberation-an-interview-with-sharon-salzberg

Open Letter to Garrison Keillor

Dear Mr. Keillor:

I am writing in response to your recent article in Salon.com criticizing Cambridge, my home church of First Parish Cambridge (Unitarian Universalist), and the Unitarian Universalist faith in general.

I have been a loyal listener of Prairie Home Companion since you first went on the air in the 1970s. I have always loved listening to the News from Lake Wobegon, the gentle and forgiving and open-eyed way that you described the imperfect and well-meaning individuals from a small town in Minnesota that seems to resemble your own. I listen to the Writer’s Almanac every day. In many ways, your soothing voice and gentle words have followed me all the days of my life. I have dwelt in the house of public radio my whole life long. Your work has been a source of comfort and inspiration to me since I was a small child.

That is why your recent article was particularly dismaying and disappointing to me. I am not angry about what you wrote, Mr. Keillor, just very, very hurt.

In one of your stories, you describe a young man who is a dancer in New York City. In this story, you describe how much easier his life would be if he were desperately attracted to the woman who shared his apartment. But he is not attracted to women. You go on to say, “his life would also have been easier if he were a lawyer.” Like that dancer in New York, I discovered some things about myself that have been very hard for me — and many people — to accept. I am a bisexual woman, and I am a witch. Neither of these things did I choose for myself, anymore than I chose to have blue eyes. These labels do not define me, but they are a part of my identity, just as much as my blue eyes and my love for Prairie Home Companion.

After leaving the Catholic Church of my birth, and after many years of practicing my beliefs in private and seeking a spiritual home, I became a member of First Parish Cambridge. I joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation because it was the only church that would take a witch as a member. I discovered for the first time in my life a vibrant, organized, active community of people with deeply held beliefs that I shared. These beliefs and their creed may be different than yours, but they are beliefs nonetheless. They deserve to be treated with the same respect as those of mainstream Christianity, of Judaism, of Islam.

UUs care passionately about things like social justice, the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Do not mistake our aversion to written dogma for wishy-washiness. Wishy-washy people do not work for the survival of Jews in Nazi-occupied Germany. They do not face criminal charges to keep immigrants from dying of thirst in the desert. They do not face violence and death in their own houses of worship.

You accuse us of having no creed. Our seven principles and six sources are even easier to understand than the Apostles’ Creed.

One of the most hurtful things you said in your article, Mr. Keillor, was that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and that if we don’t like it, we should go off and celebrate another one. Christmas is a part of my cultural heritage, and I refuse to abandon it to bigots and dogmatists. Furthermore, most Christmas traditions have pagan origins, including the Christmas tree, Christmas caroling, the exchange of gifts, and the Yule log. Good Yankee Congregationalists and Calvinists like the Rev. Lyman Beecher even refused to celebrate Christmas.

According to many Biblical scholars, it’s much more likely that Jesus was born in the spring. But there’s already another big Christian festival at that time of year. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s called Easter (from the German Ostara), a holiday that, like its pagan predecessors, celebrates life, death, and rebirth with the coming of the spring. Easter is also full of traditions that date back to its earlier pagan origins. I, for one, am not going to deny my children the pleasure of an Easter egg hunt in the service of theological purity.

Religion, like all of human experience and culture, is constantly evolving. As a Protestant, you should be well aware of how much your version of Christianity differs from that of Rome. And religious tolerance has always been one of the bedrocks upon which American society has rested. Please don’t fall into the same trap that Rev. Fred Phelps did. As a Christian who celebrates the birth of your Lord Savior Jesus Christ, you are no doubt aware of these words from the Book of Peter:

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.
1 Peter 3:8-9

I will not repay your insult with more insults, but with this wish: that you be treated with the same kindness, tolerance, and forbearance that all beings deserve.

Right Livelihood and the Woman Warrior

From the Daily Dharma:

October 23, 2009
Tricycle’s Daily Dharma

Being a Buddhist Police Officer

For thirteen years I was a law enforcement officer. In the dark humor of that environment, we called ourselves “paid killers for the country.” No one else wanted to be in out boots. I did not identify myself as a Buddhist; I was not aware that the way I behaved and experienced the world fit squarely with the Buddha’s teachings. It is clear to me now that we could have been, and were, instruments of karma. But skillful action, discriminating awareness, karma, the law of causality were not terms in law enforcement basic training.

For a Buddhist in police work, the most important thing is to be constantly aware of ego. It is not your anger, not your revenge, not your judgment, no matter how personal the event. I was paid and trained to take spirit-bruising abuse. I endured things of which the majority of women in America will never even dream. For me it was not judgment, in the Western sense, but discernment. This kept me, and others, alive and healthy. This discernment allowed me to act skillfully in crisis. The law of causality allowed me to know that if I could not stop the perpetrator of violence or pain or loss, that some other vehicle would reach that person—karma.

– Laurel Graham, from “Vajra Gun,” Tricycle, Winter 1998

I think a lot about right livelihood. For me, it means not only not causing harm, but also finding purpose and meaning in my work. Like most challenges of this magnitude, I rarely fulfill them perfectly. But I do strive toward them.

 

Being in relationship with a veteran has given me a new perspective on the life of a soldier — a warrior. I’ve always had a sort of fascination with this archetype. I view the realities of being a warrior with a mixture of horror and respect. It’s a way of life, a mindset, that in some ways I wish I were more able to stomach. What I’ve realized, though, is that being a warrior — a soldier/a police officer/a litigator/a fighter — doesn’t always mean fighting.

People who have been trained in competitive conflict and who have seen “action” have about them a quiet assurance in their own abilities, as well as a healthy respect for the consequences of violence. It’s one of the things that I find so attractive and admirable in M, and it’s one of the things I wish I had more of in my own self.

Dear Tony Perkins, Head of the Family Research Council

I can’t get the Family Research Council (a.k.a. family fearmongers’ council) to take me off their damn spam list. What began as a way to keep track of what the other side was up to has turned into a daily dose of hate in my inbox. Faithful America is a nice antidote — a PAC that reclaims religious values from the far right.

I got fed up enough to send a strongly worded response to a particularly egregious email full of lies and half-truths. I’m sure it’s falling on deaf ears over in Tony’s inbox, but maybe it will amuse you, dear Intarwebs.

From a personal appeal for dough from Tony Perkins, President of this “Christian” organization:

I want you to hear something a California pastor said to me recently:

“If we lose, we go to jail.”

It’s just that simple, says Pastor Jim Garlow–if marriage loses in California, religious liberties everywhere will be next. [Funny thing, that: here in Sodom Massachusetts, religious liberties seem to be alive and well for Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans, and others alike, gays can get married, and marriage as we know it is still intact.]

The fight for marriage in the states is our first priority.

But we can’t take our eye off Washington, D.C. politicians. Your support is vital as we stand up to liberals who want to criminalize your religious speech . . . threaten the religious liberties of employers . . . silence conservative and Christian broadcasting . . . raise taxes . . . and impose taxpayer funding of abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

And my response:

Tony, this is an incredibly offensive letter. Christians have never been sent to jail in this country for practicing the teachings of Christ. Untold numbers of homosexuals, though, have been rounded up by police, beaten, raped, and returned to the street without charges ever being placed. Recognizing a loving, stable union between two people is not an affront to marriage. Preaching hatred and intolerance is, however, an affront to Christ’s teachings. Shame on you, and shame on your organization. Turn off your computer and read your bible.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1 CORINTHIANS 13:1–3 (NASB)

Sadness Comes Apart in the Water

I met up with some of my circle sisters last Thursday night at the Forest Hills Lantern Festival. There are actually about three different events of this type in Jamaica Plain every year. It’s inspired by a Japanese Buddhist tradition that honors the spirits of the ancestors and is very well-attended. The image of hundreds of hand-decorated lanterns floating across the waters of the pond as the light leaves the sky is really magical. Lots of people bring cameras on tripods to capture the event. My friend Butterfly took a photo on her camera phone and emailed it to me, but I refrained from taking any myself, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a good shot with my camera phone, and partly because I wanted to experience the event myself without the intervention of technology. There are tons of photos of the lantern festival on the web. I found Innusa‘s and ReallyStrangeGirl‘s flickr sets to be particularly beautiful. Still, nothing captures the experience like being in the middle of it.

I took the Orange Line from Green Street to Forest Hills and followed the stream of people heading toward the festival. It was one of those hot, heavy, dreamlike evenings we get in July, and the grounds around the pond were filled with people on blankets. My circle sisters had camped out right in front of the performance space, and it was such a wonderful feeling to arrive to see a group of women holding a space for me. By the time I arrived, the festival had been going on for about an hour and a half. I attempted to get a lantern for myself, but by the time I got to the tent where you could purchase a lantern and have a calligrapher paint a word on the rice paper, there was a huge crowd. I didn’t feel like waiting in line, so I returned to the blanket to watch the tail end of the Taiko Drummers’ performance. I wish I’d gotten there earlier so I could have watched the entire thing; Japanese culture fascinates me, especially the traditional forms.

My circle sisters made beautiful drawings on their lanterns. Although this tradition is meant to honor the ancestors, people at this festival seem to use it as a way of sending out all kinds of energy and prayers. Each of my sisters has something fairly major to release right now: one of them is going through a divorce, the other just split up with her long-term fiance, one is embarking on a new romance, and the last has been recovering from cancer surgery. But for the first time in a couple of years, I have really nothing to release. I have good news. I am in love, my job is going well, and I am overall very happy. I was nice to have some good news to share with the circle and to be able to listen and give my support about my sisters’ own tragedies. The Wheel keeps turning.

When everyone walked down to the water’s edge to place their lanterns in the water, I stayed on the blanket. I watched the many kinds of people milling around and soaked in the atmosphere of Jamaica Plain. Each neighborhood and community in the Boston Metro Area has its own unique flavor. The prevailing wisdom among people who do not live in Jamaica Plain is that it’s geographically isolated and difficult to get to. There is definitely a truth to that, but in the past few months I’ve found that getting there is not nearly as difficult as people make it out to be. And the neighborhood itself is quite wonderful. I’ve been considering moving there at some point. Of course, I’d hate to give up my lovely and affordable apartment in Cambervilleton (Cambridge/Somerville/Arlington), but I find the atmosphere of the neighborhood much more appealing.

I lay back and looked up at the sky as people milled around me. It was a blue-green, tinged at the edges with the burnt orange of approaching sunset. Trees ringed the edges of my vision.

Once the sun was down completely, the crowds dissipated. The five of us made a circuit of the pond, watching the slowly changing spectacle of the lanterns on the water. They followed the invisible lines of current and wind, and as the daylight faded away they looked like a line of souls marching into the other world.

It would have been nice to paint “forgiveness” on a lantern and send that message off to my father’s spirit beyond the veil. But there will be other opportunities to do so. That night was meant for other people’s releases.

Sadness comes apart in the water. Over the course of the last two years, though, my sadness has come apart on dry land. I have no grieving left to do, and nothing to share but joy.

Paganism on Speaking of Faith

Army Guy called me from the road to tell me about a show playing right now on WBUR: an interview of an ecologist and pagan on the public radio show Speaking of Faith. It focuses on paganism, with an interview of Adrian Ivakhiv, an assistant professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont and author of Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona. I’m listening to it now and I’m impressed with Ivakhiv’s historically grounded view of paganism — what we know of the old folk traditions, what has survived, and what the neopagan movement is about today.

You can read about and listen to the show here:

http://www.onbeing.org/program/pagans-ancient-and-modern/transcript/1040

I’m also glad that this interview underscores the deep respect for the earth, a desire to preserve the earth’s beauty, that is central to pagan spirituality. Not all pagans are environmentalists, and not all environmentalists are pagans, but in terms of my own deeply held, spiritual values, one flows naturally from the other.

Invocation of the Goddess

Great Mother Goddess, help me through this day
Great Mother Goddess, keep my eyes on the task before me
Great Mother Goddess, let me release the nonessential
Great Mother Goddess, teach me love and compassion
Great Mother Goddess, open my heart to your abundance
Great Mother Goddess, I am your child and your companion
Great Mother Goddess, remind me I am being taken care of
Great Mother Goddess, I am a lily in your eyes
Great Mother Goddess, I am a rose before you
Great Mother Goddess, I am an oak, I am ironwood
Great Mother Goddess, I am all the creatures of the forest
Great Mother Goddess, I am the bugs crunching within the soil
Great Mother Goddess, I am the slime mold that dismantles the dead
Great Mother Goddess, I am the silence of the frozen winter
Great Mother Goddess, I am the secret germ in the seed
Great Mother Goddess, I am the silence of a swan gliding over still water
Great Mother Goddess, I am a cherry tree in blossom
Great Mother Goddess, I am an apple tree bearing fruit
Great Mother Goddess, I am a hive of bees making honey
Great Mother Goddess, I am a bear moving deliberate through the trees
Great Mother Goddess, I am a wild mustang in the desert
Great Mother Goddess, I am a cow grazing in a green paddock,
Great Mother Goddess, I am a hen laying eggs in the barn
Great Mother Goddess, I am a tadpole wriggling in a pool
Great Mother Goddess, I am a serpent flying through the endless sea
Great Mother Goddess, I am your child, I am your child, rocked to sleep in your lap
I am blessed, I am blessed, I am blessed

After shamanic invocations of the Celts before battle and the work of the bard Taliesin.