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Category Archives: Community

Wild Abandon

Just this morning, I hopped onto the BBC world news online, where I clicked on an article about the current fire and state of emergency in San Diego, CA. Accompanying the article was a short video taken by a motorist who had captured footage of a man on the roadside next to a raging bank of flames, who was trying desperately to save a wild rabbit who was clearly in distress. After running into the flames, the rabbit came back out and the man was able to scoop it up and rescue it.

Tears streamed from my eyes.

The sheer fortitude and concern this man showed for that one tiny rabbit is a powerful example of our capacity to love.

We are made and built from each other’s company – whether in people, animal, or nature’s form. We rise and fall together.

May we stop running and keep loving. May we open our hearts wide like the sky at dawn.

The more we love people, the better we live. The better we live, the more we love.

So, let us love on – even when it’s hard. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we don’t know how.

It’s easy to extend love to those whom we choose to share our lives with – but it’s not so easy with those whom we do not see a commonality with. Our time is short. We have such little time to love with wild abandon. Stop guarding your heart.

Let us express gratitude to all those who circulate around us, whether dear to us or nameless. Let us radiate love to all who are situated in the wake of our heart’s beating. Our time is short. May we love with wild, unfettered abandon, regardless of the company we keep.

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Life & Death

Every year, for the past I don’t know how many years (8? 10? 12?), I help with the set-up for the Tree of Life Ceremony, which is put on in early December by the hospice organization I volunteer for on a weekly basis, meeting with patients. This annual event is a time to remember our loved ones who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. There’s a tree lighting ceremony that takes place in Rose Memorial Park, followed by a non-faith based service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, situated a few blocks away, and is concluded with a reception in their fellowship hall. The reception is stocked with typically over 100 dozen cookies that the staff & volunteers bake, warm beverages, and is a chance to peruse the banners (see pic above) we put together, which display the many names that community members have submitted in memory of those who’ve passed away. This year, we had over 900 names.

Yesterday, while helping with the set-up process for this event, I worked alongside a hospice staff member who shared with me the story of how she just moved to town not long ago at the request of her daughter, who was wanting her help in trying to get back to school, while raising young children and still recovering from a car accident that left her with brain trauma just under a year ago. Her daughter was stopped at a light here in town and hit by a texting driver, going 50- mph.

Switching…

While arranging the names on the banners, I unexpectedly came across my grandmother’s name: Claire Carlson. My grandmother, still alive, is on hospice care in Arkansas. I spoke with her just the other day and was the last grandchild to do so. She’s expected to pass away in the next few days.

When I think of her, I think of watercolor paintings of flowers and landscapes on crisp white paper, framed by my grandfather, when he was alive. I think of the tomatoes she was forever growing in pots and how I used to steal candies from her nightstand – though, I suspect she knew full well and didn’t mind.

When I think of her, I think of summers spent at boardwalk art shows, a mixture of sun and sea coating my skin and tangling my long hair. When I think of her, I think of my grandfather, even though he’s been gone for over 15 years.

And I reckon she passed down her artistic flare to me, though my mediums are the written word and music. Still, it takes an artist to decode this one, richly given life in such a way where melodies can be heard and beauty can be seen in even the smallest drops of everyday. With an artist’s eye, I look out onto the world, misshapen with strife though it may be. I gaze in its direction as though it were a sunset or rise, a marvel of ingenuity on display.

When I think of her, I think of how fortunate I am, truly, to be here, now.

Switching…

Sitting in a pew last night at the church, listening as the hospice chaplain and one of the bereavement coordinators shared skilled words of nourishment and support, I thought of the many friends I’ve had who’ve passed away, especially over the last couple of years. I thought of those who will pass away soon, such as both of my grandmothers. And I also thought of everyone I take for granted, thinking they will live another 30 or 40 years – all those I figure I will have an endless amount of time to absorb into my heart.

One thing I most appreciate about being a hospice volunteer is that in meeting with patients who are dying, it opens my eyes and my heart to those who are living around me, firm in the understanding that we can all go at any time. Befriending death allows me to befriend life.

Switching…

Written in August, 2016:

I’d been visiting Al every Tuesday at 10:00am for over a year, before he passed away, 3 days ago. He was 91 years old, though he often liked to tell me he was 100. I never disagreed, as it seemed to bring him a wave of pride and pleasure to share with me the fact that he had reached triple digits. Besides, I figured, whether 91, 94, 97, or 100, they’re all milestones in my book, each one indicating having lived a long life.

Back in April, during one of our weekly visits, I decided it would be a good idea to jot down some of the things he said. I sat next to him with some paper and a pen and told him my intention. He found it humorous, and mildly baffling, that I wanted to record his Words of Wisdom, as I called it. He didn’t feel what he had to say was of any special value or worth remembering. But he obliged me just the same.

Here’s what I scribbled down that one day:

Your mental attitude is hooked to well being.
You don’t realize how you can mold your life.You are the one commander of your own mind and body.Don’t let it get away from you.
I still think of myself as a young man. Hell, you have to.
A smile will get you more friends than a grimace. You’ve got to smile at society.
Nothing in my life has been dead serious. Nothing can’t be changed.
Gray hair ain’t heavier to carry around – and they take less water.
When you get up in the morning, get a smile on your face.
He called this one Al’s Secret to Longevity: If you have a choice between making a friend or an enemy, always make a friend. I always figured it was better to make a friend.
Walk away from cranky people, they’ll affect you.
Carrying a grudge gets to be pretty solid after awhile.
Boy, it’s nice to be alive today.

In memory of Al, 1925-2016

 

 

 

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Digging the Well

On Wednesday night, I attended a banquet dinner on campus with visiting guest speaker Ann Holmes Redding, as part of DiverseU, entitled: A Piece of the Peace. Ann is a former Episcopal priest, who was defrocked in April 2009 for having become a Muslim in March 2006. She is a faith leader, an author, a public speaker, and a teacher, who identifies with being both of Christian and Islamic faith.

Among many other things I greatly appreciated in her talk, she shared this parable:

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

― Jalaluddin Rumi

One of the things I most enjoy, is attending evenings such as this. Opportunities that allow me to practice breaking down what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our illusion of separateness.

In a stroke of good timing, I felt attending this particular evening paired well with another topic that has been circulating for me recently, centered around our local Festival of the Dead (FOD) celebration – which took place last night – and the concerning matter of appropriation. I’ve been a part of FOD for a number of years, as a performer with Unity Dance & Drum, a local dance troupe. This year, the social outcry about the issue of appropriation, in regards to our Missoulaified FOD, reached a record high, to the point of causing enough ruckus as to greatly deflate the participation and attendance at the parade procession down Higgins Avenue last night.

In the interest of trying to further find my way around this confusing topic, I wrote this in my journal early this morning:

Appropriation: something (as money) set aside by formal action for a specific use. (Merriam-Webster, circa 1997) Apparently, this is one of those words commandeered by the masses and then sent to drift on an ice flow far away from its origination. So long, old chum! Safe sailing on the seas and swells of change! Because as I understand it, appropriation is a dirty, no good, rotten word with negative connotations – but I’m not getting that vibe from Webster’s definition.

In the same kind of funny way that femme fatale follows feminism in our household dictionary, it seems we’ve re-calibrated the word appropriation to match our western culture’s sometimes over-correcting tendency to be offended on behalf of a people who are not offended enough, by the actions of blundering white people, or BWP.

Please understand, I include myself in the BWP demographic and admit readily and upfront my ignorance when it comes to all things white privilege related – it’s also likely that I’m more of a femme fatale than a feminist, so there’s that to consider, too.

While there’s part of me that wants to generate more of an understanding about the culturally important topic of appropriation, another part of me wants to relegate it to those who are better equipped to serve directly in its deconstruction and called to guide its direction. Cuz we can’t all dig appropriately sizes wells when it comes to all subjects in need of attention and transformation. There’s only so much digging one person can do. And we pick our 1, 2 or 3 spots and dig there, alongside others who are digging there, too. And occasionally we lift our heads up, look around, and take solace in the fact that there are a multitude of others digging simultaneously in a myriad of different places.

For example, I gravitate towards hospice work and matters concerning aging and death and dying – do you? If your answer is no, I bet you’re glad to know I’m digging the well here in this particular spot, even if you have no interest in joining me.

We cannot do the work of a million hearts with the one life we’ve been so richly given.

And this truth does not have to be deflating.

Do not allow the fact that you can’t do it all keep you from doing all you can.

Pick up your shovel and dig where you’re called.

(and do so with gladness and joy)

 

 

 

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American Eclipse 2017

Standing still in one place will grant you the opportunity to bear witness to a full solar eclipse every 375 years. Our moment, was yesterday.

I had been on the fence about traveling the necessary 4-hours south that it would take to be inside the path of totality. Thank goodness our minds were made up by someone who knew far better than we did: a NASA historian we heard speak at the public library, who described the difference between seeing a partial vs. a full solar eclipse to be the difference between reading about chocolate and eating it.

Not knowing what to expect, we prepared for possible pandemonium. Even though we were only making a day-trip, we brought sleeping bags and a tent, in the event we got stuck somewhere overnight; 7-gallons of water, in case there was none to be found; food, playing cards, a cook stove, camp chairs, and cash, like the Idaho eclipse website suggested, just in case the card machines got overloaded and went on strike. We were geared up for the “worse-case scenario” – of course, we were so far removed from an actual worse-case scenario that we would’ve had to hop a train, two jets, and an ocean-liner to even scratch the surface – but our spirits were riding high on the seas of all things hope-related.

Equally fantastic to witnessing the stellar phenomenon of a total solar eclipse was the kind, caring and sweet nature of the pop-up community we were surrounded by in Hamer, Idaho. In the last 2010 census, Hamer, Idaho clocked in at 48 residents – up from 12 in 2000 – and is currently estimated at having a population of 91. So, it’s pretty small. But yesterday, for a few brief hours, Hamer swelled to around 200 wonderful folks and we all enjoyed this once-in-a-lifetime experience together as a global family of strangers.

Today, I sit in awe of the power, inspiration, and magnitude of both the cosmos and community. Each and every moment changes our character and perspective, in some regard. Yesterday’s eclipse viewing might very well turn out to be one of the more influential changes I’ve experienced. It’s beauty was truly a sight to behold and cherish. What a splendid and magnificent universe we live in.

To view my amateur video of the eclipse from Hamer, Idaho:

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2017 in Community, Travel

 

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Nourish to Flourish

For those of you who follow along with my blog here, you may recall that I sometimes use this platform to work on upcoming practice related talks I’ll soon be giving, usually at my local sangha Be Here Now, as it helps me to plan out and organize my thoughts about what I want to share.  This time, however, I’ll be offering a talk to a group of volunteers with a local nonprofit called CASA, which stands for: court appointed special advocates. (From their website: CASA of Missoula provides independent, trained advocates for the best interests of children within the judicial system who are at substantial risk or have experienced abuse or neglect. We provide consistent, long-term advocacy until every child resides in a safe, permanent home.)

As I was asked to talk about the relationship between our energy output and our energy input, I’ve titled this talk Nourish to Flourish.

I’ve often thought about offering these kind of support sessions to volunteer organizations or in work-place settings, as both non-profits and many professions require annual trainings, continuing education credits or have wellness programs built-in. So, this is my first step in that direction.

Talk Prep:

I’d like us to start by having us all count how many breaths we take in the span of 1-minute. And we’ll try our best not to alter our natural breathing rate as much as possible. (Bring a timer and set for 1-minute – instruct folks to remember their number.)

Now, I’d like us to do 5-minutes of quiet sitting together, to settle into the room and this time here together, as simply a way to help us bring our attention and presence into this space and transition from wherever it is we just came from. So I’ll invite us to gently close our eyes and softly focus our attention on the sensations of our breathing in and breathing out…feeling as our chest expands and contracts….feeling as our stomach rises and falls…and noticing how we’re feeling, tuning into our body and our mind…(monitor time for 5-minutes, sound bell to start and end) (NOTE: I find that using the pronoun ‘our’ when doing guided meditations, deep relaxations, or in practice talks in general has a more communal and relational feel to it, verses the more common ‘you’ or ‘your.’ It is also has a less “preachy” or “instructional” air to it when I include myself in the mix by using the word ‘our.’ I mean, we’re all in this together, right? I’m practicing, too!)

So, let’s re-test our breathing rate. Again, for the span of 1-minute we’ll count how many breaths we take, without trying to alter our breathing. (Time for 1-minute.) Ask: How many people found that your number went down after the 5-minutes of sitting? How many people found that it stayed about the same? And did anyone find that it increased? It might interest you to know that the optimal breathing rate for highest functioning and good health is around 6 breaths per minute, with the medical norm around 12 breaths per minute, and the average adult is now breathing even faster, at about 15-20 breaths per minute. And severely ill patients have an even higher rate.

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Breathe, It’ll Be Okay

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It’s not up to our country’s leaders to instate an atmosphere of togetherness, it’s up to us.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for to rise up.

So let us rise up as one community.

In the spirit of connection, understanding, and compassion,

let us rise up.

 

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For vs. Against

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Last night there was a state wide peace march at 5:00pm in five different cities around Montana, organized in the wake of the fear building up in our area around the possibility of becoming an area of welcome for refugee families affected by distant, raging wars. Recently, over 500 people packed into a school gymnasium in Hamilton, MT to attend a town hall meeting to help address a proposed letter to be sent by our state Governor, Steve Bullock, and our congressional delegates, to President Obama’s administration disapproving the bringing in of refugees. Having heard from someone in attendance at this meeting and in reading the news the overall energy was infused with hatred, scathing remarks, hostility, and, ultimately, underneath it all, fear. It was a meeting that could’ve easily turned violent and was not an entirely safe place for those in opposition to the vast majority in attendance at the meeting, who were adamantly against refugees coming into not only our particular part of the state but the country in general. The state wide march was in response, largely, to this town hall meeting.

DSCN1308  Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

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