The Very Human Need for Experience

Good and Evil

Good and Evil


I wanted to shelter my son from the world. I prayed away my foul mouth, hid my tears and played happy family with gusto. I wanted his world to be flowery, fun and fantastically clean. I didn’t tell him about my childhood unless I was telling a funny anecdote about a pet or a friend. I socialized him, took art classes with him and enrolled him in a co-op preschool where I could play perfect with other perfect mothers. Right out of preschool we enrolled in a perfect private school where I was sure he would bloom into the perfect prep school boy. In my search for perfection I lost something integrally important to the development of a well-rounded human. That important missing element was a well-developed sense of reality.

As time passed I began to see the holes in the world I’d worked so hard to create. I wasn’t being myself, my friends were drearily superficial and my son was unhappy in his school. Desperate for answers I turned to a book I stole from my high school, an ancient, dog eared copy of Herman Hesse’s, Siddhartha. I love this book for so many reasons. Like many other great inspirational books I can just open it to any page and find a piece of wisdom that will help me with whatever it is I’m facing. That day I opened the book at the beginning. I read of Siddhartha’s mother, her love for her child and her tragic early death. I read about the prophesy, proclaiming Siddhartha to be the greatest teacher of the age. Then I read his father’s reaction to this prophesy. Having just lost his wife and then faced with the loss of his son to a religious life, Siddhartha’s father created a perfect world in which pain, suffering and old age had no place. He imprisoned Siddhartha in a false utopia and robbed him of reality in order to keep him safe. How did Siddhartha react? He ran away in search of answers to the questions his father could neither pose nor answer.

Child in the Garden of Good and Evil

Child in the Garden of Good and Evil

Setting down the book I began to see the holes I’d identified in my parenting open into rather worrying chasms. I remembered the perfect children I’d known growing up, the ones who’d summered at the country club, vacationed in the tropics with their perfect families only to go slumming as drug using collage kids. I started remembering other sheltered kids who’d gone wild with sex and drugs the moment they’d found freedom from the suffocating control of their perfect worlds. Slowly I began to think that maybe by keeping our children in ignorance of pain and suffering we create a vacuum in their experience which will only propel them into a deeper need to experience the very things we try to protect them from. We cannot limit our children’s experience on this earth by sheltering them from a world they will someday have to live in.

So what is a frightened conscientious parent to do? I still only have a vague idea. In my heart I think a parent’s job is to guide a child through the world but not to shelter them from it. I feel that we must discuss even the small details of their day and how their different interactions made them feel. Most importantly we must validate their emotions with empathy, compassion and a willingness to hear while we admit our own feelings, failings and frustrations within the discourse. In other words it is very important that our children see us as loving, fallible humans whom they can trust with their secrets. We live in a tumultuous world of opposites. As much as we hate to admit it good lives in balance with evil and both must be experienced in order to be understood. We cannot end suffering any more then Siddhartha the Buddha did because suffering is a necessary part of experience and experience is the only true teacher. No matter how hard we try, we cannot recreate heaven on earth because that isn’t why we’re here.

Making Peace with Experience

Making Peace with Experience

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The Death of the Guru

prayer

We’re all searching for something. We’re all looking for the divine answer that leads to the divine escape from chaos, fear, heartache and loneliness. Whether we look for it in relationship, a bottle or a church we are seeking to be more, to be better, to but understood and accepted. When I was twelve I turned to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. as my examples of peace. I desperately needed peace in my life, the kind of peace they seemed to embody. At twelve I realized how fully capable I was of violence. At fourteen I became a pacifist in theory if not in reality and I began my slow arduous journey towards a sustainable, compassion based existence. I began identifying and rooting out the evils in my life. First I moved away from home, taking my horse and staying with friends for months on end. At 22 I escaped completely and hardly looked back. By 23 I was married and safe but the hell in my head made a hell of my life. I continued my search for escape until the day I realized that wherever I went…there I was…with all my chaos in tow. I could not escape my problems because I never let them go.

Throughout my many years of searching for truth and forgivness I’ve come to one solid understanding: There is no single person who can fix me. There are thousands of people who insisted that if I just read their books, take their supplements, follow their philosophy or join their ashram I will find the inner peace I am searching for. I’ve had Christians tell me to placed my faith in Jesus and be free of darkness. I’ve had yoga masters promise me that through daily practice with their “Masters” I’ll be liberated, transformed and healed. Doctors have prescribed drugs, supplements and diets to clear my energy body, detox my cells and raise my energy vibrations. Acupuncturists have pocked me with needles, read my auras and told me that with a few more treatments my Chakras would come into balance.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars on healing, thousands of hours drinking bitter health teas, popping pills, stretching, praying, meditating only to rise the next morning the same angry person I’d been the night before. So what was the answer? On the eve of my 38th birthday the only thing I am certain of is that I am the only one who can fix me. My belief in the abilities of sage healers is dead. I will never again look to a “healer” for guidance. I have killed the idea of the guru because the wise man is just another person getting through the day. I recently watched the documentary Kumare’ by Vikram Gandhi which verified everything I have come to believe. Only through daily practice of that which feels good, feels right, and serves my highest good will I ever find peace. The ability to heal is within all of us; it’s just a matter of taking time away from social chaos, duty and convention in order to find the small simplicities that lead us into peace. So I meditate, I walk my dog, I stretch, I self-medicate when hell rains down and I pray to God to remove my anger, to help me forgive and to make me a better person. I practice everyday gratitude and I live and love as if each day were my last. If I tell you I love you I mean it. If I love you it’s because I see the light in you, the sparkle God put there and I’m grateful you’re in my life. We are our own wise men, our own holy men, and we hold the keys to our own salvation through love of God and love of each other, tranquility of sprit and the solemn acceptance that we are human: flawed, beautiful, unique and fragile.

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Animal Magic

I grew up with a lot of animals. Animals were our way of life. We woke to the sounds of chickens. We spent our days training horses and mucking out stalls and our nights cuddled up around our old wood fire place with cats, dogs, ferrets, a rabbit and a chinchilla. When it was time for bed it was just a matter of standing up to signal your entourage to follow. My entourage consisted of Muffy, a calico kitty our neighbors found in their garage and Zena the whippet who came to us after being shuffled through three other homes.

Mooney my house cat when he was a young stray on my farm.

Mooney my house cat when he was a young stray on my farm.

We were the collectors of the unwanted, the unadoptable and the hopeless. Our horses were slaughterhouse saves, our dogs were pound puppies and our cats came to us from every corner of the city. The most dramatic cat story we converged with was that of Mimsy. She was a beautiful silver stripped kitty who was rescued by an elderly homeless man from boys who were beating her to death in the streets of Spokane. My sister was a teenager in her car when the man knocked on her window and gave Mimsy to her. I can’t remember what he said but I do remember the look of grief she described in his eyes, a look that stemmed from an inability to understand why anyone would try to beat a kitty to death. I’m happy to say that in our large menagerie, Mimsy lived a long and happy life as mother’s favorite lap cat.

Tally, the $600 rescue, beat out valuable warmbloods at her first show.

Tally, the $600 rescue, beat out valuable warmbloods at her first show.

Since we adopted our new puppy last Wednesday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hundreds of animals which have graced my life. I still miss my first cat Lilly and I still tear up when I think of Zena the Whippet, Serge the Greyhound and Nitro the incomparable Doberman/Shepherd cross who was in all likelihood an angel cloaked in fur. So many things have changed over the years. So many lives have come and gone and yet we plod on, loving those who will only grace a small portion of lives. Though their years are short, the love they leave behind lasts a lifetime. Animals heal us, they bring us close and they open our souls to a deeper experience of what really matters. With a pet, every snowfall is magical, every sunrise filled with expectation and every well warn path becomes riddled with joyful possibility.

Aria, our new puppy who was found wandering the streets of Everett with her mother.

Aria, our new puppy who was found wandering the streets of Everett with her mother.

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On the Seventh Day She Painted Her Nails

nail
Nail polish isn’t just some chemicals in a bottle, it is light and color measured out in droplets of perfection, at least that’s how I see it. I pick out nail polish with all the reverence of a devote, matching base color with glittering top coat, pink on pink, gold on gold, disco ball silver glitter over moonstone white with rainbow opalescence. God I love nail polish. I have jewelry and clothes, but only with nail polish do I feel that girly sense of wonder when I sit back and look and my frankly adorable toes and say wow…that’s awesome. I’ve just recovered from yet another bout of clinical depression, the kind that makes me wish for death while I cling to life through long naps, dried fruit, my cat and a good book. In depression I can’t write, I can’t eat, I can hardly do any of the things that a competent successful, vital person can do. Instead I feel childlike, lonely, useless and afraid. No one can help a depressed person unless it’s to get them a blanket, make them eat or get them to talk. A depressed person can’t be helped because the pain comes from nowhere; the medicine does more harm than good and all the bleeding is internal, intangible and imagined. When it passes it’s like having survived a hurricane which blew only in your soul; you look around expecting the house to be gone, your possessions strewn across the road but everything’s in place and you are you only with a little less sparkle than before. Maybe that’s why I love glittery nail polish so much. On the seventh day she painted her toes! This act marks my Sabbath, my holy day, my healing time of rest and revitalization. I know I’ve reached recovery when I pick a new color, look myself in the mirror and say, “I’m feeling pink today.” Today I was feeling pink and my new nail polish reflects that. I may never publish any of the wonderful books I have written, I may never ride a camel around the great pyramids, I may never hike in the alps or walk the grand Camano through the Pyrenees mountains but I’m here today because of you, because of my husband, my son and because of the little things, like nail polish, which make life sweet. God bless you all, and thanks.

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Christmas Lights

christmas-tree2
When I think of Christmas I see lights reflected off snow, sparkling red, blue and green. Somewhere in the distance voices raise in song and I am again a child, my hand in my mother’s as together we view the light display in temple square. In my child’s mind this temple embodied every kind of magic, its beauty shining like a beacon of beauty and peace into a wary world. I used to pray that this part of Christmas would last all year. I loved the silence of Christmas. I loved the sense of wonder, the love and warmth of light reflecting out into the darkness bringing hope. In no other time of the year did I feel as loved, as united, or as precious as I did in those long dark winters in Salt Lake City. I was still a child then, still innocent and open to the magic in the world.

In the days after we’d decorated our fragrant tree, I would gather my books, blankets and my teddy bear Rose-Amora and slide carefully into the corner behind the branches to read by Christmas light. I remember hearing my father walk through our old Victorian house while he called my name. I’d listen in silence, my book sitting still in my lap while my father pretended he couldn’t find me. I giggled when he return to the living room with my cat Cumulus Nimbus under his arm. “Find Eleanor,” he’d say, setting the cat down before the tree and sure enough Nim would run right to me meowing.

It’s so easy to forget what Christmas is in the hustle of holiday sales, family get together, and church events. It’s easy to fill silence with noise, and stillness with action, to remain so busy in preparation that we forget to rest in the fullness of experience. Each year when we take out the Christmas lights I am reminded of what happy feels like. Each year I take time to rest with a good book and a cat in the light of peace as I did so long ago in the light from a Christmas tree. Each year I listen to the world call my name while I pretend not to hear because it feels so good to rest in stillness. Whether your light comes from the star of Bethlehem, the Menorah or the Holy Fire, be still in its presence, practice gratitude for all that you are and all that you have and be childlike; for only in innocence can we know peace.

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Nothing to Prove

two girls holding hands
I no longer have anything to prove. Not to myself, not to my friends and not to the world. Stress, anxiety and worry, guilt and fear grow stronger when I reach for perfection; wanting in every way to prove that I am worth knowing, worth hearing, worth the time it takes to say hello. Freedom lives in acceptance, as does love, compassion and the greatest gift, contentment. I have set aside my need for riches, my wish for worldly wealth and I am at home with myself and to myself in a way I never was before, simply because I make no excuses for who I am. I am…and that’s enough.

The road to poverty is paved with unnecessary consumption; that driving need to own the latest, the greatest, the biggest and the best in order to be cutting-edge, cool and accepted. I have bought my fair share of acceptance based merchandise. I have run up my credit cards and wept when I couldn’t pay the bill. I wore the right shoes with the right dress to the right occasion where I said all the right things to all the right people? Instead of feeling exhilarated, accepted and admired I felt tired and jaded as if I’d shelved the best and brightest parts of me for one radiantly superficial occasion.

Once shelved, our best and brightest features begin to fade. Our true natures waste away into the shadowed recess of our souls, coming out in confessions to a friend who isn’t really a friend because in truth, she’s never really met you. Oh sure you’ve shopped together and gossiped together but the moment you let your true self slip into the open, you’re confronted with the reality that you’ve crossed that line into inexplicable depth. Your pretty friend’s eyes glaze over, there’s a lull in conversation accompanied by the reality that you’ve gone too far. “Beyond this point there be dragons,” the old maps used to read and you struggle through uncomfortable chatter, the bird song of small talk, until you reestablish the comfortable anonymity that kept you both intimate strangers. Then your friend grows busy, too busy, to shop and gossip and her world spins on without you.

I have nothing to prove, nothing to preach, I’ll love you in your best dress or in your most ragged pair of sweats. You know the pair you reserve for those days when you’re too old for teddy bears but too broken to understand how much you need one. I don’t care if you’re not wearing eye makeup or where you got your hair done. If you can’t stop crying I’ll probably join you. If you’ve got the giggles I’m right there to.

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”
-William Shakespeare

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A Wealth of Choices

I own the choices I’ve made; the dark ones, the wicked ones, the wrong ones and right ones. No one said do this and forced me into it. I walked, eyes open, into my life choosing the safest path again and again until I came to this place of quiet repose. I have a house I love. It’s too big but I like the way the sun pours in. I have a husband who adores me. He works a lot but the money is good. I have a child I love. He’s loud and noisy but he makes me laugh. I have a cat to snuggle. He’s big and beautiful and keeps me company.

It’s easy to look back on the choices I’ve made and think: If only I’d stayed in school I could have had a career. If I’d stayed in that city I might have learned independence. If I’d traveled when I was younger maybe my life would feel bigger. It’s easy to let go of free choice and blame others for the twists and turns our lives have taken. It’s also easy to settle into a rut and let the dust settle.

My life is now half-lived. A wealth of choice lies before me, waiting to be made. I’ve lived hard and I’ve lived easy. I’ve basked in the sunlight and labored in the rain. I could close my eyes right now and fade into duty, schedule and the comforting rhythm of time or I could make a choice to change this happy groove into something even greater; life can be too soft, too smooth and too insufferably sweet. Sometimes it’s good to let the rain in. Sometimes it’s good to turn the world on its ear. Sometimes you need to step on a cold sharp rock just so you can remember to be grateful for warm plush carpet and the comforts of home.

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Good House Keeping

The Coffee stains on the table are my grandfathers. Each intersecting circle creates an Olympic design. The curtains were sown by my grandmother, yellow with little red flowers faded by a thousand sunrises to varying shades of light pink. The chip in the oak countertop is my mothers, the place where she sliced a thousand cuts of meat and missed the cutting board only twice. The scrapes on both side of the back door belong to the dozens of dogs who have graced our lives with wet noses, wet kisses and the click of claws on the hardwood door. The scrape on the floor belongs to my father, the place where he drug his chair along the old oak planks, bellying up to the table, newspaper in hand.

If I were to find my place in this old farm house, it would be in the attic where the pink and green wallpaper now hangs like fly paper from the narrowly peaked ceiling. The floor where my brass bed once stood is scored by my running leaps which always moved the bed an inch. Other children slept here, my mother in her time, her mother before that. The attic is a child’s place, a lofted wonderland whose view never alters with the years. Stepping across the old planks to the warped single pain window, I see a hundred acres of oak trees. These are the same trees that my great-great grandparents planted one hundred and fifty years ago.

Reaching out I take a swath of wall paper, tearing a neat strip to make a sample. Now that the house is mine, the workmen repair the shingled roof and paint the gingerbread siding to its original peach and cream. Someday soon, on summer holidays my own grandchildren will sleep in brass beds in this attic room, their eyes tracing the green and pink wallpaper of my mother’s childhood. In turn they will mark the house, damage the molding, and scratch their ever increasing height into the door jambs. Someday this will be their house, filled with their stories, memories, dents and dust, creating the best kind of housekeeping for a well lived, well loved home.

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The Farm Wife’s God

Shepherdess with Her FlockI will not pass through your “angelic” doors to be made insignificant by your lofted buttresses, shining alters and painted glass. I will not feel small in this world (my world); the place where my mother walked with her mother back to the beginning of time. Keep your sky God … a never wandering…never breathing…never living God who lets his children slip through his fingers into hell flame and fire.

My God rests upon the world, an invisible guest filled with a heady love, riotous in his moments of childlike joy. As one we live a life of love and laughter, blessed by the magic of a stocked pantry and a well-made stove belching out good scents: hot fresh bread, new beef stew, hot apple tart pulled from the flames just as the crust turns golden. This is a Good use of fire, the right use of fire, a fire that feeds and nurtures as fire should. My God is a hearth God, an earth God, a plentiful smiling God, his feet treading the wheat rows at my side from planting to harvest.

During long winters, my prayers are answered with the birth of a child, the well-wishing visit of old friends and neighbors, the scent and flavor of roasted ham and salted lentils. My God is here, his feet under the table. He blesses us when the sun hardly shines and we have only our stories and each other to pass the time with.

So I say to you now, threaten no one with your false doctrines, black clad papist man. For fear has no place among the peaceful. I’ve seen your cathedrals rising high into the clouds, calling the frightened to worship in dread of hell fire and false magic.

My cathedral is my hand-made house. My pulpit, a faded arm chair by the fire.  My doctrine is the doctrine of the farm: rise early, feed good fodder, share your bounty with your neighbors, always close a gate and be kind even in the kill, for kill we must to lay our table. As the fire heats the meat, my God and I give thanks, and are humbled by the beauty and bounty of the day.

I need no sky God’s magic, no promised afterlife, no cathedrals dripping in gold to know that I am loved, heaven made and purpose bent. I need no holy man to guide me to the heaven I already know, not while the hills call, the cattle low and there are sheep to be sheered.

When my time comes, my God will lead me by my work roughened hands that have fed people, birthed people, raised up the sick and buried the dead before the setting of the second sun and he will know that I have always been grateful to be alive. That  being the very best kind of worship there is.

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Cultivating Silence

I love silence. It’s a rare and beautiful thing. Silence eludes me at times but is easily cultivated once I let go enough to let it wander free. I love drifting through my silenced house with nothing to do. It’s these empty spans of nothingness that feed my soul in a profound way. I put on silence like an old coat, one that holds me close with its friendly warmth. I like the way silence buffers away the complicated storm swept world as it soothes my mind into quiet order.

In those rare moments when silence is accompanied by nothing to do I invariably finger a book I have no intention of reading or better still I pet my cat and break silence into a raucous flow of vibrational joy. My cats purr is deep and throaty. It is a cultivated purr won from silence, the silence of never having known love. That was not a nice silence. My cat has the purr of a feral cat dumped high on a hill top farm. It is the purr of courage which sings, “I dared to trust and in trust found love.”

Sometimes in my silence I contemplate at my toes. I have brave toes. I like to think of all the places my toes have led me. To the crib where my baby boy slept, to the door of my mother’s house, to the airport where together, toes and I boarded a plane. Finally I like to think of the moment my toes stepped to the top of Wearyall Hill. In this place the silence listens, builds and grows into a sort of spiritual wonder I can scarce find words to express.

One of the sweetest silences I know is barn silence. That’s right…barn silence. I have known barns filled with the slow breaths of big horses and the silent swoop of swallow’s wings. I have cupped my hands to catch gold bright dust particles suspended for a moment in the gleaming perfection of sunset; my horses quietly chewing in their darkening stalls. Barn silence is the best silence because it is filled with contentment. It whispers, well done, everyone is stalled, blanketed, fed, happy and safe. You’ve done your job, your free to find your bed but linger a while because contentment like this only comes to rose sniffers, day dreamers and those who understand and love the richness that comes with the knowledge that all is right with the world.

Silence gives rise to contemplation, the birthplace of epic daydreams. Epic daydreams become manuscripts upon which I labor hour after hour day after day. I nestle down happy with the certainty of my well spun plot, the depth of my characters,  enjoying the peace of knowing that everything will end as I wish it. What if life could be as conveniently orchestrated?

In Silence I disconnect from the global mind, allowing myself to once again become unique to my surroundings. In this great disconnect, I go off-line into silence and am again the girl I was, quiet and shy, no longer forced to brave a world which feels too big.

In silence I hear my heartbeat. In silence I’m glad I’m alive. In silence I am able to set aside my humanity, drink in the sublime and let go of all the petty rages which injure only me. In silence I am home, I am free and I am at peace because silence asks for nothing. It simply gives me space to be.

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