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Archbishop Desmond Tutu

photo from the Dalai Lama’s Facebook page

One of the two greatest men on the planet has died. Like so many, I am grateful for Archbishop Desmond Tutu. I’ve nothing to add to the global outpouring of appreciation hinted at in this Guardian article, which includes a four minute video synopsis of his immeasurable importance.

The other greatest man, his dear friend the Dalai Lama, called Tutu his “elder spiritual brother,” and mourned his passing with this message to Tutu’s family:

“…Archbishop Desmond Tutu was entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the greater common good. He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights. His work for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was an inspiration for others around the world…. With his passing away, we have lost a great man, who lived a truly meaningful life. He was devoted to the service of others, especially those who are least fortunate. I am convinced the best tribute we can pay him and keep his spirit alive is to do as he did and constantly look to see how we too can be of help to others.”

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

For a few minutes of absolute delight, watch this heartwarming short video of their virtual meeting last July, celebrating the release of this movie about them, Mission Joy.

My admiration for Archbishop Tutu goes way back. I named a tortoise after him many years ago, Desmond Turtu, who actually was kind of an ambassador for peace, love, and freedom…
Desmond Turtu has been gone so long that I don’t have a good face shot of him handy, so these images of his interspecies laissez-faire diplomacy will have to suffice.

Gratitude Practice, One Year Later

I am still grateful for Liberty wooden jigsaw puzzles. And for the leisure to work one slowly, a bit a day, in between other work.

I’m grateful to know a little bit about birds of the world which not only helps with this puzzle, but reminds me of the wealth and diversity of life in the remaining wilds of this fragile planet. I have held macaws, cockatoos, and eagles on my arm; watched osprey and crested caracaras on the wing in the wild; I’ve befriended hummingbirds, magpies, jays, phoebes, finches; I am grateful for all the birds who have touched my life, and for the thousands more kinds of birds I can only dream of. I’m grateful for a cat who has learned not to catch them anymore.

I’m grateful today that I did it: I kept my commitment to myself to post at least one thing I’m grateful for each day (except two or three) since last winter solstice. How the year has flown by! I’m grateful today for most of the same things I was a year ago, and for many of the same things I’ve been grateful for on most of the fleeting days in between.

I’m still grateful for coffee from Rubicon, and for biscotti and knowing how to bake it, and for having all the ingredients readily available; grateful for the luxury to work from home, where I can enjoy my little rituals in one room and return to my desk in another. I’m grateful for geraniums, an indoor garden, and the end of the darkening days.

I’m grateful for multi-colored LED lights, and a little fake Christmas tree, and being able to hang it with ornaments this year since Topaz has (I hope) outgrown her rambunctious adolescence. I’m grateful for spiritual traditions which celebrate love and life, for Christ and for Buddha, for the generosity and good will of friends and neighbors. I’m grateful for homegrown grapefruits that arrived in the mail today and the zing they’ll bring to many days this winter. I’m grateful for cookies, cakes, condiments, and a wreath that were all delivered to my door, and for the strength of community that brings joy and comfort in these dark days. I’m grateful for a life of connection despite isolation.

I’m grateful for gratitude practice, one year later, and for the innumerable benefits I’ve reaped from focusing my attention on gratitude every day for a whole year. I am happier, stronger, calmer, and more resilient; my heart is lighter, brighter, and more open; my grasp of the interdependence of all of us is stronger and more clear; the world I inhabit seems a kinder place than the one I dwelt in a year ago.

I won’t be stopping my daily gratitude practice, but I’ll no longer be posting those musings every single day. I’ll be grateful to go to bed some nights the moment I realize I’m sleepy! More than anything doing this practice over the past year, I am grateful for you, the friends I’ve known for years and those I’ve never met, who have followed me through this adventure and sent words of thanks, encouragement, support, and love. To hear that my simple practice inspires you to look at your own life through a lens of gratitude inspires joy that knows no bounds. May you be healthy and well. May you be safe, and free from harm. May you be genuinely happy. May you be filled with loving kindness, this winter holiday season, and always.

Shifting Perspectives

Speaking of dogs, I’m grateful for a visit from tiny dogs today.

I’m grateful for the ability to stretch enough to shift a perspective now and then. “The Power of the Dog” turned out to be more fascinating than fearful. Based on the horse punching, and a few reviews that seemed to emphasize intimidation and manipulation (all three emotional triggers for me) I was turned off. If it had been promoted differently, I’d have probably not resisted as much. If, say, it had been advertised as a sensitive LGBTQ period New Zealand western with a twist, I’d have been all over it. I’m grateful that Michele’s analysis and Deborah’s reassurance gave me the resolve to finish watching it, and it turns out the horse punching was actually the hardest scene for me. Yeah, he drove poor Rose to drink, but he didn’t really torment her all that much. Who among us hasn’t been bullied? Why did the buzz focus on his mean behavior instead of his vulnerability? The film was so much more than that.

We get entrenched in our views about things, people, points of view, and often it’s hard to let go: of preconceptions, resentments, grudges, judgements, personal emotional wounds. I’m grateful my heart cracked open a little more today, though it wasn’t easy to face my own intransigence. I’m grateful for shifting perspectives.

I’m also grateful for homemade sweet and sour sauce. The only thing missing with the egg rolls the other day was sweet and sour sauce. Hoisin was good, but no substitute. The mustard was really a bust with the particular brand of powder I had. So I picked the easiest, quickest S&S recipe that came up, with five ingredients on hand, and was delighted with the result. In ten minutes I had the perfect sauce to balance the rich Hoisin and salty filling.

Sweet Dreams

Today I’m grateful for sweet dreams of Stellar. I’ve had a few. They make him feel not quite so gone. This morning’s was the sweetest so far. We lived in suburbs much like where I grew up, houses with backyards connecting, streets that meandered in neighborhoods. Stellar was gimpy but okay and we went for a walk to a little park nearby. Across the street and up the hill a guy came out of his house with a greyhound on a leash. Stellar took off running to see the new dog, and I followed, assuring the guy that it was okay. I was delighted to see him moving so well. He got there and greeted the greyhound and then wagged and pranced around as another dog came out. As the neighbor and I stood talking, Stellar got excited about something and ran over to a tall tree.

For a moment there was both Stellar on the ground and a bald eagle leaping into the tree. The eagle was gimpy too, so he had to hop up the birch tree from branch to branch. Higher up there was a hawk, and the two of them danced around from limb to limb for a few minutes cordially assessing one another. Then Stellar hopped up farther to the hawk’s nest. I worried there might be chicks in the nest and he might eat them, but he poked his white head into the nest and sniffed, then stepped away.

A few minutes later a little hawk chick stuck its grey spiky head out. Then it fledged, and another chick fledged–they were bigger by then–and Stellar approached the larger chick and put his beak on the chick’s neck. I worried he might grab it and shake it, but he simply touched it gently with his bill and looked down at me. He had that same look in his eagle eyes as he does above. We stood below and marveled at the four raptors in the tree.

It was time to head home, so I stood beneath the tree and patted my outstretched arm. “Come on down, baby, time to go home.” Eagle Stellar hopped down branch to branch and landed softly on my arm, and we turned to leave. He was still happy and rambunctious after his adventure in the tree, and of course he couldn’t fly because of his gimpy wing, so I cradled him in my arms as we crossed through back yards on our way home. “Gooood boy,” I crooned, “I’m so proud of you…”

Then the damn alarm went off, jolting me out of the dream. But I woke with a smile, and the sweet sensation that Stellar is out there in his bardo trying on potential new identities, thinking he might like to come back as an eagle in his next life.

Citrus

When I was a little girl, I couldn’t get enough lemon. I don’t remember my first taste of this magical sour sweet fruit, but whenever there was lemon around I’d put it in my mouth and suck on it with glee. I still love lemon most of all the citrus fruits, but I’m also fond of limes, kumquats, and oranges. Years later, when I tended bar at a fancy sports club, I made all the drinks with fresh fruit. No sour mix for the Boar’s Head! At the end of my shift, I’d squeeze any lemon, lime, grapefruit, and orange sections left over, pour the blend on ice, and shiver with delight as I drank it. I still make margaritas with fresh limes, and prefer a lemon wedge to olives in my martini.

I’m grateful to know the intoxicating scent of an orange orchard in bloom; grateful for homegrown grapefruits or kumquats sent from friends’ Florida yards; for limes from the Bad Dogs’ astonishingly prolific indoor tree; for plucking an orange on a sunrise walk at Dog World. I’m grateful for the luxury of buying any citrus I could want at the local grocery store, and the amazing ability to keep a stable supply of lemons and limes in my fridge at all times.

I’m grateful for all the people who enable these tropical fruits to get from their orchards across borders or oceans to my kitchen counter, including but not limited to the growers, pickers, packers, shippers, drivers, stackers, stockers, and the checkout clerks. I’m grateful for all the infrastructure involved along the way, including trucks, trains, planes, roads, railroads, and airports, cardboard boxes, terrible plastic mesh bags, and all the materials, engineers, builders, and maintenance personnel needed to create and sustain them. Consider any one thing you appreciate, and track its course from your hands backward through space and time to its source: you can increase your gratitude a thousand fold by reflecting on all the people and processes necessary to bring it from its point of origin to you here and now: all roads lead to interdependence.

Last Bite

Yesterday, I woke up to a dream of Stellar, young and bouncy, standing outside the south windows, wagging his tail, and as he did at that stage of his life, his whole body. He was ready for a walk. I recognized that moment as a possible dream, and a possible visitation. I chose to close my eyes and roll over, rather than get up and take him for a walk at 25ºF. I’m grateful for the dream, the sense of his presence, regardless of the ‘truth’ of whatever it ‘was.’

Tonight’s dinner was Gochugaru salmon with crispy rice. It was delicious, but would have been better, I think, with B&B pickles rather than dill. But I finished those at lunchtime on my favorite-ever new sandwich, open-faced Swiss-pickle on a sourdough bun. I have one leftover filet to enjoy with a different pickle. But, I have no one to give the salmon skin to: no one with whom to share Last Bite.

Last Bite is a ritual at Mirador, one that’s been going on since before Mirador existed. When I first found the Knobbyheaded Dog, I taught him not to beg by promising him Last Bite of anything, everything, I ever ate. Since that time more than thirty years ago, every one of my now dead dogs learned to lie down and wait patiently during human meals, with confidence that they would get Last Bite. Everyone who ever ate here, and paid attention, recognized Last Bite as an important component of being a good guest. You save your last bite for whatever dog or dogs are present at the meal, whether or not they live at Mirador. Sometimes there have been as many as seven or eight dogs here at the end of a meal, and each of them has gotten at least one Last Bite, which have always (almost) been distributed equally among all dogs present.

Last Bite is over, for now. Topaz has no interest in human food of any kind, even salmon. Who will eat the salmon skin? I know, I could, and it’s probably delicious, but I have cultural conditioning that compels me to set it aside for last bi–… oh. No one to give it to.

Oh well. It will feed the compost. The dish was a success despite that I misperceived the key spice. I have Gochujara paste, and when I saved the recipe I read the title wrong. I was caught off guard when I got ready to cook tonight; so I looked up a substitute for Gochugaru pepper flakes, and found that Aleppo pepper is roughly equivalent in flavor and heat, and I was grateful to have that on hand.

I’m grateful for another gem from “On Being,” Stephen Batchelor on the Art of Solitude. He said of having plenty of solitude, “I find that having that groundedness, that sort of a basic sense of being OK, of being at home with myself, is the foundation from which I can then, as it were, really communicate more authentically and more directly with others. I’m not concerned about what they think about me or what they are going to say or what they want, but I have a resource within myself that is my own deeply earned truth, if you like, or integrity.”

This interview really speaks to my current investigation of solitude, and why I love it. With no one else to consider, no one to save last bite for or get up early for, I’ve entered a deeper solitude than ever before. Lying on my back on the floor (as medically directed for cervical nerve impingement) looking at the ceiling, I pondered this novel feeling of being so physically alone, suddenly sensing that it is this very spaciousness that liberates me from the tangle of thoughts and emotions so often cloud my perceptions and interactions with others. I’m grateful to have made several deep, authentic connections over the course of this day, all via the miracle of technology, and all, I think, made possible by the inner peace I find in physical solitude.

Acceptance

I realized the second I hit “Publish” last night that I had just spouted something old, a view at odds with what I actually currently believe. Yes, intellectually, philosophically, mentally, we are each alone; but, fundamentally, energetically, elementally, spiritually, we are All One. All sentient beings are interconnected in ways Western science has yet to fully comprehend, but at the forefront of consciousness studies is the dawning recognition that we are literally all connected. So, when I remember this, and I think in cosmic terms, and even in the sense of community, networks of friendship and support, I do recognize that I’m not really alone.

Further, I really feel this in my bones, my inherent belonging in this world teeming with life. From the microorganisms living in symbiosis with my body whose cells outnumber my human cells 10:1, to the insects in my summer yard, to the brilliant avifauna of tropical forests represented in today’s completed puzzle, we depend upon each other. We are all animated by the same force. We just don’t really understand what that is yet, or what to call it. Life. But I feel it. I’ve lived close to the earth for most of my life in one way or another. The boundary between inside and outside is quite permeable at my house. Even as a little girl climbing the poplar tree, and hating boys who burned ants with a magnifying glass, I’ve felt my connection with all living things profoundly for as long as I can remember. It’s made for a hard life, among a species who’s so hard on the planet. I’m grateful for acceptance, resilience, and equanimity, all recent acquisitions which contribute to contentment and joy, even in times of loss and grief.

Mind Training

I’m grateful that I found mindfulness practice. The world we inhabit is complex and often confounding. Learning a few simple skills, starting with meditation, has helped me find more joy and contentment in life, and experience less mental and emotional suffering. I still get frustrated, annoyed, jealous, suspicious–just, not so much as I used to, and those afflictive states don’t last as long. I still hurt. In fact, I’m going through a pretty tough time right now, I won’t deny it. Sometimes I feel so empty it aches. But not all the time, and other times I feel profound gratitude just to be alive. To be able to share the skills and benefits of mind training with others, as I did this afternoon, is icing on the cake. Today, among other things and people, I’m grateful for the students in the Mindfulness Foundations Course I’m teaching now, and those I’ve taught before: when they tell me how the lessons and practices have helped them handle a challenging situation, or find more peace of mind or happiness, my heart sings. So even though I’m sad today, a week after Stellar’s death, I’m also happy. I’m grateful for all my teachers through the years, and for my constantly deepening understanding of life’s endless lessons.

How Much I Learned

Baby Stellar with Uncle Brick in 2008

At the risk of seeming maudlin I am remembering, reviewing, calling to mind the details of Stellar’s last days. How time lost its linearity. 

I shared my life with him. There is no one now to turn to and smile. I would finish writing a bit at the desk, and turn to him, and smile. Wanna go for a walk? I’d stoke the fire, close the glass stove doors, turn back to the living room and there he is watching me from his bed, and I smile. Sometimes I’d move on to my next step in the day, or the evening, or sometimes I’d drop to all fours, crawl to lie down beside him, stroke his luxurious living coat, and notice, really notice, the feel of his scruff, rolling the folds of his neck flesh in my fingers, his thick silky fur… the pliability of his white chest star… the specific warmth of the breath from his nostrils across my skin, the hairs on my own forearm… I savored every living moment with him. I’m grateful for how much I learned during this extended interaction, this meditation with death.

Stellar and Topaz, equals and skeptical friends, last March, when we were all still walking the driveway. Topaz continues to improve gradually.

I may have made mistakes, made some choices based on less than accurate understandings of reality, but I believe I did the best that I could: stretching, giving, surrendering, loving with less and less condition… What I did next always involved him, whatever choice I made, to go in or outside, a short or long walk, watch TV or read, what I ate sometimes, where I was at every waking instant always involved him. I’m grateful to be able to recall vividly now, because I paid attention at the time, how he slowly settled when I stroked his shoulder, his back, how he relaxed onto his side and lay down his sweet head; how I held those acupressure pulses in his feet til he stretched his back legs with a big sigh. Later, that last month, how it soothed him when I whispered the mantra. And my attention was riveted on him even in my sleep, waking and analyzing the slightest sound from downstairs. Living in dedication to him brought out the best in me. He made it easy to embody my highest values. He was an inspiration, a Buddha dog.

May Stellar enjoy positive conditions,

High rebirth, happiness and peace,

May he meet the perfect teacher,

And quickly attain perfect enlightenment

For the benefit of all living beings without exception.

Another Day

I’m grateful for these spectacular flowers whose delivery midday from the Paonia florist startled me. My cousins in Charleston sent them in hopes they “might make you smile and know you are loved,” which they certainly do. I’m grateful for the love that keeps pouring in from friends and relations these past few days, soothing my sorrow, making me smile, reminding me that I am loved. I’m grateful to remember that everything changes, that this loss will soften over time. I’m grateful for ongoing support, and grateful for the opportunity to help a neighbor. I’m grateful for a long, close talk with my dear friend whose dear mother also died last week.

Topaz as a kitten in the bathroom sink.

I’m grateful that little Topaz seems much improved this evening. Her pupils have unfrozen, and she’s moving at a more natural pace, though still seems to be investigating everything as if seeing it for the first time. I’m grateful for rain, and homemade vichyssoise, and roasted root vegetables. I’m grateful for another day of living, feeling a rich range of sensations and emotions, joy and sadness, empathy and wonder. I’m grateful for memories, and for not clinging to them; grateful for letting things arise, and letting things go.

Stellar one year ago, looking kind of silly.