Recently I was reading prose and poetry of 13th century Sufi writer Mewlana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi (known to the English speaking world as Rumi), entited “Fihi Ma Fihi,” (“It Is What It Is”). One particular excerpt led me to reflect on the wonderful souls I have met throughout my life and especially the past few years, friends and foe, alike. If I may, I would like to share it with you.
If someone speaks well of another person, the good word returns to him and in reality this praise is for himself. It is like someone who plants a rose bed and odoriferous herbs around his house; whenever he looks out, he sees roses and odoriferous herbs, so that he is constantly in Paradise. When one speaks well of a person, that person becomes one’s friend; when one thinks of him, one thinks of a dear friend, and to think of a dear friend is like roses and rose garden, fragrance and repose. But when he speaks ill of someone, that person appears hateful to him; when he thinks of him … his image appears before him as if a scorpion, a thorn, or a thistle had appeared before his eyes. Now, if you can see by day and night alike roses and rose gardens and the meadows … why do you walk about among thorn bushes and snakes?
Rumi’s painting of words is of a garden of thoughts and actions. A garden that provides the world with varying degrees of nourishment, aromas and illuminating hues. When the darkness of night falls, it is hard to embrace the same vibrance and light emanated from the garden as during the day, with physical senses. If instead of viewing friends and enemies with physical eyes, one views with spiritual eyes, would the interpretation of the beauty be different?
Rumi’s profound question serves as a conduit to self-inquiry and reflection: why would I walk about among thorn bushes and snakes? I have a “garden” of thoughts and actions. It is up to me to tend to the garden carefully, in all seasons, darkness and light, good times and bad. The chore is the responsibility of no one else. It is up to me to keep the garden irrigated with water of clarity, free from debris of negativity. No one else.
It is also important for me to be mindful that not all plants are cultivated during the same season or same rate of speed. Some vegetables take a while to grow and harvest, while some flowers bloom with bursts of joy at the first notion of Spring. The seasons change, as do I. My life evolves day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. Some things in my life bloom easy, and some require a lot of attention and effort to harvest.
Today, I choose to view each and every person with my spiritual eyes for the essential members they are in my garden of thoughts and actions. I choose to be the caretaker of my own garden and respect the gardens belonging to others, refraining from interfering in their paths and rows. Today I am aware that thoughts do not evolve the same, nor do people. I choose to respect, honor and “see by day and night alike the roses and rose gardens and meadows” of the spirit in everyone.
Behold, I tried all things, turned everywhere
But never found a friend so dear as you
I tested every fountain, every grape,
But never tasted wine so sweet as you.
My heart embraces every form:
pasture for gazelles
convent for monks
temple for idols
Kaaba for pilgrims
tables of the Torah
pages of the Koran.
I follow the Way of Love
and where Love’s caravan takes its path
there is my religion, my faith.
(Ibn ‘Arabi, Sufi poet and philosopher, 1165 A.D.-1240 A.D.)
Love is like a violin. The music may stop now and then, but the strings remain forever. ~ June Masters Bacher
Love does not become, but already is, beyond space and time, illusion and reality. The essence of the absolute of all and nothingness. Each string of Love when plucked by the Soul resonates a sound of Compassion, Forgiveness, Peace, Serenity, Gratitude, Acceptance, and Understanding. Love is the Divine Source of every positive thing that spreads throughout this world and it is the attraction to the Divine that unites Man: the music of Humanity.
Have you ever heard the sound a violin string emanates when played incorrectly? It resonates a disharmonious growl. If everything is filled with Divine Love, why does Man continue to pluck the strings chaotically, where the sounds of agony resonate throughout the land? Sometimes the strings of Love are not played at all; passed unnoticed and left unattended. Then there are the musicians of Humanity who handle the strings of Love with diligence and care, who strike, pluck, or gently draw their bows across, each string, producing a manifestation of the Absolute.
Plato described this manifestation like the Sun. The sun emanates rays that bring all things into being from night’s non-existence of light. As the birds sing so joyously in the morning at the break of dawn, when light peeks through the darkness, so does the Soul sing when the strings of Love are played so harmoniously.
Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. (Plato)
So, as you go throughout your day, may you always remember you are an amazing Stradivarius, made of strings of love which sound permeates the world and the Universe the Song of You! What song will you compose today?
Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything…We look at the world and see what we have learned to believe is there. We have been conditioned to expect…but as photographers, we must learn to relax our beliefs.
~Aaron Siskind, (an American abstract expressionist photographer, born December 4, 1903, New York, New York, U.S. died February 8, 1991, Providence, Rhode Island)
It is often said that when you know that something is about to go horribly wrong, but hasn’t just yet, then you are in the “quiet before the storm.” But what if …
- instead of thinking something is about to go horribly wrong, you only focus on all the things that could go wonderfully right?
- silence or “quiet” was used to transcend through, instead of swim in, the negativity?
- the storm never arrives; or
- it arrives but you are empowered by positive thoughts?
Any of these alternates completely change the panoramic view on any given situation. There are things we can control and there are things we cannot. We can control our thoughts. We can control our outlook. We can control our actions. Though it is not always easy, it can be done. We cannot, however, control the thoughts and/or actions of another or Nature or the Universe.
Two facts are certain for humans: we are born and we die. In between the time of birth and death, we constantly make choices of how we spend that time, regardless of the situations that arise. Happy, sad, optimistic, pessimistic, loving, detesting, constructive, destructive, forgiving, condemning, diligent, impatient, tolerant, resistant, serene, stormy, grateful, demanding … the list goes on and on.
We can spend precious seconds of life fretting about what may or may not happen in the future. We can spend precious seconds of life regretting about what we should have or should not have done in the past. The third choice, and my favorite: we can just be in the now, making it the best “present” we can with what we have mentally, physically and spiritually.
When we come to the end of our human journey, before our Soul returns to its divine origin or next journey, wouldn’t it be wonderful to celebrate a life fulfilled and a purpose met, in light and love, instead of the opposite?
Every second of life given is a new beginning, a chance to be the wonderful you that you are ~ you were born with purpose. What is that purpose? What is your choice? It is up to you, not anyone else.
I leave you with a quote by Henry Miller, that sums this up nicely:
Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heart-ache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, to discover what is already there.
mind and body,
happy and sad,
confident and doubtful,
here and there,
an effervescent light.
Blanket my life
with the warmth
of your Soul.
The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Recently I came across a site created by singer/songwriter, Lucinda Williams. On the site she discusses her newest album, “Blessed.” The site also contained a series of five videos containing testimonials of normal, everyday people who volunteered to share bits of their life story and what “blessed” means to them.
After watching the five testimonials, it inspired me to share what “Blessed” means to me.
I have shared bits and pieces of my life’s story, in other posts. It is my life story, as I perceive it. I have made it known that the first half of my life contained many years rooted in intense emotional pain. It was a childhood of horrors living with an alcoholic parent; never quite feeling that I belonged at home or among the few friends I had in the neighborhood.
On the outside, I may have looked normal, though never gaining the perfection I was striving for. Inside, I felt my soul suffocating from layers of shame and humiliation. I saw myself as a victim, though I could never find the appropriate mode or method to express it, other than through isolation or tears. I truly felt that I had done something wrong to garner such feelings. I looked at all the children in my neighborhood that seemed to have perfectly happy lives and families. Was not childhood supposed to be safe and happy? Maybe for most children, but not for me.
Though my alcoholic-parent sought treatment when I was 12, my life afterwards did not improve. The negativity gained momentum. Religion became the solution to all the problems. We, as a family, ate religion and we slept religion, but all I saw was the same denial of the elephant in the room. As shame, judgment, ridicule, hypocrisy spun out of control, pain kept getting stuffed deeper inside.
By the time I started college, I was a miserable human being. I wore my pain as if it were a burden on my back. The attempts to wear the “happy” mask became more difficult to accomplish, especially in a life filled with lies, deceit, sadness, depression, layer on layer until it overshadowed the identity of self. It felt like a ton of weight on my being; I was completely devoured by shame and guilt for what at that time I saw as a life that was “less than,” insignificant.
I blamed myself for all the agony I had endured and for all the agony I caused others because of my imperfections. Yet, there always remained a tiny “light” of hope deep within. It was that splinter of hope, and the love of a husband who saw in me what I could not see in myself, that kept me going each day.
In 2007, a shift took place in my life. I was introduced to Tai Chi by my mother-in-law, which led me to Yoga. I then found myself learning about the teaching and philosophy of Buddha, Krishna, Confucius, Socrates, Lao Tzu, Thich Nhat Hanh, Zoroaster, and many others. The axis of my existence, up to that point, was rotating at a ferocious speed in a negative direction. One day it came to a complete stop, then started slowly rotating in the opposite direction, a more fulfilling and positive direction.
Peace, serenity and honesty, entered my life. The more I shared it with others, the more it grew within me. This is something I truly never experienced before. Resentments and regrets dissipated as if into thin air. I felt my Soul breathing. I felt alive! All the weight I had been carrying disappeared. I started to feel joy and gained an understanding that all the seconds of my life had, and do have, a purpose. I was able to see my past with greater compassion and wisdom.
I am who I am today. I don’t consider myself religious, unless one considers Love a religion. If anything, I am a student of ALL religions. I am one incredibly spiritual human being; free from regrets, resentments, anger, and hate. My life experiences, collectively, have been the catalyst in nurturing my creative abilities and so many other wonderful things. I may not have had a “happy” childhood as a child, but I have one now, and that is awesome in my mind.
It boils down to how I deal with what I give and what I receive. I have the choice to take the lemons that life throws at me, add some sugar, and make lemonade, or I can allow the lemons to saturate me into a sour mess. Because of my life experiences, I am blessed to share the truth of who I am openly and honestly. I am able to genuinely reach out to others who find themselves in similar circumstances in life. Sharing my life story may take a splinter of hope within another person and expand it to where their life axis changes rotation from negative to positive.
In Buddhism, there are Four Noble Truths. The first one teaches that there is pain and suffering in life. No one is immune to that truth. We all have experiences with misery. But that is part of life where we grow the most. There is no need to suffer from the reality of this fact. Complaining about your pain will not change the pain or make it go away. Complaining and blaming sucks you deeper into negative muck-like quicksand. If life were perfect there would be no need to learn or grow. Give me a perfectly imperfect life, perfection is no longer what I desire, living is!
Of course, sometimes words are easy said and hard to do. As the saying goes, “you can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” I can honestly say, yes I can. Everyone should have a “happy place,” a place where they can go to find clarity, peace and serenity. My “happy place” is through meditation. Some find it in prayer, some find it in music, art, even in silence. In that “happy place” is where self-inquiry leads me to the truth. It is there I am reminded that if I want to maintain harmony in my life, then I need to be mindful to keep my thoughts, words and actions congruent.
All the things that we experience happen for a reason. We may not see that reason at the moment, but there is a hidden purpose in any given situation. To be able to look at one’s past and see the beauty, even in suffering, brings with it the key to unlock the shackles of self-blame and blaming others. The blessing is forgiveness, the blessing is compassion, the blessing is peace, the blessing is gratitude; ultimately, the blessing is love. This is what “blessed” means to me.
I open my eyes and greet another day of life, remaining in the silence of the morning and just being so thankful for the gift of another day. I meditate on love and light and find an abundance of gratitude. Yet, I haven’t always traveled through life along a road of peace and serenity. In fact, for a good part of my 45 years of life, the road chosen was chaos and conflict, not to mention, often traveled behind a mask of smiles and “I’m fine’s”. A path that included physical, as well as emotional, pain. Pain caused by the thoughts, words and/or actions of others, or self. My life’s journey has taken me up and down, amid mountains and valleys, wealth and poverty, addiction and religion, sincerity and hypocrisy, acceptance and judgment.
That is why every man’s story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of every consideration.
Each life experience has brought me to a fork in the road where I had to choose a direction to travel; either the “positive” path or the “negative” path. I can also look at it as having to choose a path of “forgiveness” or “resentment”, “serenity” or “fear”, “love” or “hate.” Shortly after the back-to-back deaths of my dear friend, Debbie, and my most loved mother-in-law, Patricia, several years ago, I found myself at the same fork in the road. I looked down the negative path I seemed to always choose and saw sadness, depression, self-pity, blame, resentment, and anger. I did not have it within me to travel that path, yet once again. I then realized there was another path I had not yet taken. I looked down that path and I saw a fog of the unfamiliar. It looked pretty scary, the unknown. Yet, I thought, what did I have to lose? Could it possibly be more chaotic than the road I was accustomed to traveling all these years? It was at that moment I chose to “take the path less traveled.”
I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost)
I bet you are wondering where the “road less traveled” led me. It has led me in a completely different direction. It has led me to self-inquiry, meditation, and days filled with gratitude and serenity. It has led me to freedom and the truth of the “I am.” It has led me to realize that the Universe is a magnanimous, constant movement of life. A vastness my human brain cannot comprehend, though my Soul knows very well.
Just as the highest and the lowest notes are equally inaudible, so perhaps, is the greatest sense and the greatest nonsense equally unintelligible. (Allan Watts)
Through self-inquiry I am learning that blaming others distracts me from maintaining the integrity of Self, distracts me from owning my own actions and reactions, albeit thoughts, words and/or actions. I am learning respect for self and all living things.
My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand. (Thich Nhat Hanh)
Through meditation, I find peace and serenity by transcending to the Soul, where the Source resides; a place of love and light, no beginning and no end.
If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
Through letting go of labels and definitions attached to me by self and others, I am learning that I am more than this shell of a body, a body that has endured many storms through life. When my human body no longer breathes, the Soul, the energy, the essence of “I am”, continues.
The words I am are potent words; be careful what you hitch them to. The thing you’re claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you. (A.L. Kitselman)
Today, I continue walking along the “road less traveled.” It is a path that is not perfect, but it is path that is positive, surrounded by serenity, gratitude and love of self and others. The map I take with me is the awareness that each and every experience in my life, each and every person, place and situation therein contained, whether perceived as good or bad, played a part in the evolution of who I am TODAY. I shed the want to live yesterday, the want to live tomorrow, and instead embrace the enjoyment of making the most of my life today. Today, “I am,” not “I was” or “I will.” Simply and gratefully, I am.