Presence and Preparation

I have the itch. The longing to be in the mountains at Kanuga, embraced by Rhododendron and hugged by my family. What a gift to have such love in my life. 

The eight or so weeks before Kanuga are a season of preparation. I change the wallpaper on my phone to pictures from that holy place. I create a packing list first in my head and then on paper. I look at the events and to-dos on my calendar for the weeks ahead and count my way through what is special and what is mundane. 

The Liturgical Year of the Episcopal Church has a term for the mundane days – Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time is made up of the weeks between Epiphany and Lent, and the months between Pentecost and Advent. In general, Ordinary Time, sometimes referred to as “Green and Growing Time,” is a chance to dive deep into the teachings and message of Jesus while the seasons of Advent, Lent, Christmas and Easter are dedicated to the preparation for and celebration of the watershed moments in the life of Christ. 

Now that my personal Ordinary Time is slipping into a season of preparation I am presented with the opportunity to practice the delicate balance of living in the present while planning for the future. And when the vacation feast arrives, I am challenged to stay present to the experience without anticipating its end; to relax into a less expectant rhythm. 

I don’t want to be so caught up in preparation that I miss the summer. I don’t want to hold so tightly to the experience of the mountain that I miss its Grace. And I don’t want to be so focused on the day that I disallow the excitement of anticipation. This is perhaps the great wisdom of the seasons, the pearl of the Liturgical Calendar – that the Ordinary permeates the Sacred and the Sacred is alive in the ordinary. All I have to do is adjust my focus.

This summer in the cycle of before, during, and after Kanuga, I am practicing this presence by: leaving the floor un-mopped and going to the pool with Cole; setting aside a day for kayaking on Jordan Lake; making fried green tomatoes and peach pie and sharing them with friends; buying blueberries and sunflowers; going to work, writing, practicing asana, and continuing all the little things I do each day. When I finally arrive at Kanuga I will take a deep breath, savor the air, and try to content myself with the shortness of a week. I will return with pictures on my phone, memories in my bones, and an eagerness to eat less oily food. 

If this sounds too much like a to-do list, it is. Which is ok because I know that soon August will arrive, the light will change, and a new longing will set in – for Autumn days and crisp skies. Some summer to-dos will be checked off the list, some will be left undone. All the while the Ordinary and the Sacred continue dancing in the rhythm of presence and preparation. 

What are you present to? What are you preparing for?

Seven Days of Grace Part II

Seven years ago I wrote a little piece called Seven Days of Grace. It’s just a little meditation; a little bit of paying attention to seek out moments of Grace. This is Part II. Where do you find Grace in your day?

Monday
My inbox is full of people wanting last minute exceptions for summer camp. I spend the hours putting out fires. I’m grateful for something to do.

Tuesday
Depression swallows me today and moving feels like an effort. I walk from the Y to Bond Park for lunch with a friend. She’s one of the best people in the world. We talk and enjoy each other’s company. I’m too tired to walk back to work so she gives me a ride. Later, I go home and cocoon under a blanket.

Wednesday
Yoga class goes well.

Thursday
Two fellow parishioners and I carpool to a leadership conference. They are smart people. They ask me what I think and I tell them.

Friday
Mom made Cole a black t-shirt with balls of black yarn stuck on it which he wears while singing “Baa Baa Black Sheep” at his school recital.

Saturday
During a role playing game at the leadership conference I get swept up in the excitement in the room. I call for a vote then realize I made a mistake and our side doesn’t have enough votes to win. Instead of shrinking in embarrassment I laugh. “Apparently I can’t do math.”

Sunday
Grandma has been in the hospital since Friday. She had a seizure. We thought this was the end. Today she is more alert and talking. I tell her about the conference and that it wasn’t what I expected. In an uncharacteristic moment of spontaneity, this tough old broad imparts wisdom, “You collect experiences. You never know when a small something will be important.” She will go home in a couple of days.

Photo by Freddy Castro on Unsplash

The Wasp

A few weeks ago a Queen Paper Wasp started hanging around my kitchen window. I stood at my sink and watched her work. First she affixed a bit of wasp glue and let it create an ever so elegant drip, the point of which expands daily. 

She’s building a nest.

I know I should get rid of it. I know it’s not safe to have her and her coming family in the courtyard where Cole and the cat play. But I can’t bring myself to destroy her home. 

I’ve let this go on too far. I have too much respect for the work she’s put into weaving this nest. And I wonder, does she sense the danger? Does she harbor some sort of mamma wasp anxiety that a Big Bad is lurking in the shadows? Does she know that I am the Big Bad?

Killing this nest is an inevitability. At some point, I am going to crush her work and the little ones living inside. At some point in the very near future I am the thing that will kill her dreams. I picture her out scouting materials and food then placidly flying back to my window only to find her home and her life’s work gone. I imagine the crack in her reality, the wrenching scream because a scream is all she has left.

Perhaps I am over-identifying. 

I hear whispers of these imaginary cries when I swat too hard at an ant and it gets all bloody; or when I smack a mosquito against my arm; or don’t get all of the cockroach’s antennae all the way into my bug catcher before releasing it outside. 

Herein lies the ethical quandary: what do I have a right to kill in order to stay alive? Animals for food? Perhaps. Mosquitos who are annoying and itchy at best but might carry disease? Seems an easy enough “yes.” And what about dreams?

I wonder if I can move the wasp’s nest. I wonder if I can transport her life’s work to a more suitable location. I wonder if I can change my dreams.

Obedience, one of the Benedictine vows, is rooted in obaudire, which means “to hear.” The vow of obedience is a commitment to stepping beyond one’s limited view and open to the voices of community. At the same time, it is also a commitment to one’s own integrity. This isn’t blind obedience to the will and direction of others. This isn’t unwavering allegiance to one’s own agenda. This is sacred obedience. Sacred listening. This is pausing to listen for the voice of God. And being open to hear it from the most unexpected places. 

The vow of obedience is in conversation with the vow of Conversatio Morum, daily improvement. We don’t just listen once. We listen daily, hourly, in each moment. We pay attention. Through listening we learn to respond to the shifting circumstances of life. Through listening we become like the wasp – driven by an instinct, a dream bigger than a dream, a voice bigger than our own that says, “Do this.” 

****************

I did it. 

I knocked the small nest off the casing with a broom handle then squished it with my sandal.* Mama wasp was back at dinner time running here, there, and everywhere about the upper window pane looking for her babies, or a place to rebuild. 

The killing act was easy. I wonder if all Big Bads feel this detached.  

Spring brought on a little depression, and with it the Big Bads who whisper their conviction that everything in life is futile. Especially dreams. But even though it feels like an effort, I am back at my desk writing. I am on my mat breathing. I am here. I am listening. 

Again. 

And again. And again. 

Where are you? What do you hear?


*Disclaimer. This is probably not the best way to handle a wasp’s nest. Perhaps I should have called the property management company to send out pest control. But I also just accidentally sliced my finger open on a can of black beans and had to get stitches, so there you go.  

Photo by Enrique Vidal Flores on Unsplash

Listening to Noise

Yogah cittavrttti nirodhah
“Yoga is the cessation of the movements in the consciousness.”
Yoga Sutra 1.2 translated by B.K.S. Iyengar

People often say to me, “I can’t meditate or do yoga because I can’t turn my brain off.” Which is true. You can’t turn your brain off. The nature of the brain is circuitry; neurons and synapses firing pulses through all that ineffable grey matter. The brain is an organ of mind and mind is always thinking, always moving. With respect to B.K.S. Iyengar, his translation of the second sutra troubles me. 

Perhaps this is because I was first exposed to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali from the non-dualist, Tantric perspective. In my training I was taught that cit or citta is supreme consciousness whose nature is spanda – a pulse, a movement, a flow. Nirodhah can be taken to mean direction rather than control or stoppage. So the translation I savor is: 

Yoga is the practice of uniting  and directing the body, mind, and heart with the flow of consciousness. 

This feels like a more honest, attainable goal. It’s also the truth of my experience. Even in the deepest states of meditation,  or the quiet moments of laser like focus, there is movement. My blood is pumping. Electrons are whizzing about in my cells. Consciousness is flowing. Mind is thinking. Life is a particle and a wave. 

Much of the time my head, like yours, is like a city full of noise and frenetic busyness. What I’m after with yoga, meditation, prayer, laughter, community, is the slowing down of all that busyness. I’m seeking a long weekend out in the country among the slow and steady trees. 

I think a tree is the embodiment of what I want my yoga to be: solid; clear in purpose and direction; full of scars and beauty; and always reaching up and out and into divinity.

When my brain starts to feel like a pinball machine, I approach this tree-like-place through various techniques of redirection: focusing on a task at hand; looking into the eyes of the person I’m talking to; drinking hot water; reading books; and oh yes – asana, meditation, and prayer. 

My favorite meditation technique is listening to noise. Rather than trying not to hear the rush of cars on the street outside my window, or the jackhammers busting up the floor below the yoga room at the Y during renovations last fall, or the cell phone that rings during savasana, I listen. I sit in my seat and soften my ears. I relax the canals and cartilage and unclench my eardrums so I can hear the world around me. I seek the most distant, faint sound. I welcome the proximity of my cat’s wheezing. 

It doesn’t take long for my body to unclench. Somehow, in the act of listening to noise, my thoughts become a whisper rather than a shout. They slow down to two or three at a time rather than a dozen. I can feel and see the breath in my body. My crazy, out of proportion innerverse becomes right sized. 

The funny thing about silence is that it is so communicative. When Cole was an infant I was shocked at how much conversation passed between us before he could say a word. Volumes were written in his twinkling eyes and powder soft cooing. 

The funny thing about silence is that it is an embrace rather than an absence. When I surgically remove the extraneous noise of music, tv, voices, I am left with the uncontrollable hum of the world. When I listen for what I can’t control its volume fades and I am held by the quiet song of love and the truest words of the Heart. 

Next time you are stuck in the frenzy of thought, assaulted by over stimulation, feeling disconnected or frustrated in meditation, pause and practice the yoga of listening. Listen to the noise. Let it move you into silence. And feel the harmonic embrace of conscious life pulsing with movement. 

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

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