Into Forever (with gratitude for those I love)

Cliff Jumping by Katie Moyle

So far away friends seem,
yet like a favorite pair of jeans the fit is always a comfy,
welcome sigh of relief.

One day – maybe today – when I am calm inside
and the sparkles of life shimmer up the spine and out of this heart again,
I will call them by name and they will be with me.

All of them simultaneously – a brood of strong babes (and some dudes)
and we will sing.
Yes, we will hold hands and sing.

They will know that I love them. There will never be another doubt.
Hurt feelings will lift and dissipate.
Our spirits will unite.

I will be there for them like never before.
It will be enough.
And they will know…

Long have I lived in shadow and fear,
but it is time for darkness to pass.

One bounding leap, a launch into the abyss – into light, into forever –
we will take together
and my friends will know they have always been with me.
One, two…

My Journey to Tibet, Part II

Have you ever noticed that often the most generous, happiest people are those who have “nothing”?  I found that was especially true of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns.

But how could they be happy when their friends and families had been murdered,  jailed or exiled; their homes destroyed; ruled by a government that prohibits basic human rights?

Spring 2007

She held my hand as we walked into the temple.  We had just met, but the beautiful lady with the saffron robes and shaved head eagerly grabbed my hand as if we were playmates at recess.  She gestured for me to sit next to her in the large meditation room where there sat a few dozen Tibetan Buddhist nuns ready to chant.

It was an odd picture, to be sure.  A spattering of travel-clad westerners sitting, holding hands, with these bubbly Tibetan women in simple, maroon robes.  The moment’s initial beauty was the tacit assumption that we westerners belonged there and that we were all old friends.  And then the chanting began.

To say I cried would be an understatement.  I wept.  My heart broke open and tears of joy and relief, sadness and hope spilled out into the room…  I had found my way Home.

It wasn’t that I needed to stay there with these lovely women.  It was the example they lived – the utter joy and simplicity of it all –  that I knew was bursting to come out of me!

Is there anything waiting to burst out of you? (And no, I don’t mean a bowel movement.) 

I had always been too happy for people, too friendly, too “deep”.  So I had toned it down.  Day after day living a kind-of half truth.  I thought that if I could make other people comfortable, it would bring me joy.  But these brave women showed me that it was, in fact, the opposite:  Only when I embraced the joy within me, could I possibly help to comfort others.

We didn’t speak the same verbal language, but we understood each other perfectly and I would never be the same again.  For I had learned I wasn’t alone.

Present Day

Seven years later on the other side of the world in a safe suburb of Kansas City, I’m still coming out of the spiritual closet.  I know so much about faith and finding serenity, yet it can be hard to be content.  Though uncomfortable, I think this discontent is actually good for me at times.  Particularly because it led me here – to openly share my truth in the spirit of connecting with others.

What is your truth?  Are you living it?

Thank God for the chance I had to witness those who seemingly have next to nothing, yet have everything.  They showed me the way.

Serenity 

Serenity is yours.
When chaos looms seek the sweet
surrender of simplicity.
Gaze above at the glassy sky,
feel each blade of green
beneath your feet,
listen to the sound of faith
like a reed flute playing
inside your chest.
Breathe.
Stand in witness of
your true nature.
Remember the compassion
of the lover’s eyes,
the calm wisdom of
the elder’s voice.
Go within.  Be at rest without.
Fall to your knees in gratitude.
You have all you need.
Turn from the riot of distraction.
Let it roll over and beyond you.
Serenity is yours.
It lives always within your reach.

– Ching Qu Lam

Our trip leader, Maureen St. Germain, with the kindest, happiest people I’ve ever met.

Baby Goats and Monks with Kittens, as promised in Part I

Visiting the Potala Palace, the former seat of the Tibetan government and residence of the Dalai Lama, was bittersweet, but apparently it remains in good hands.  While roaming the grand palace I noticed a guard dressed in all black petting a tiny, purring kitten.  But this guard was no ordinary man.  He radiated so much joy and peace that his presence froze me in my tracks with my mouth open in a stupefied gaze.  It turns out my instincts were right:  when the gates of tourism were re-opened, China hired monks to be the janitors and guards of the palace.

As for the goats, they really were adorable.

The Four Immeasureables

May all beings be endowed with happiness;

May all beings be free from suffering;

May all beings never be separated from happiness;

and may all beings abide in equanimity, undisturbed by the eight worldly concerns.

For as long as space endures, and for as long as living beings remain,

until then may we, too, abide to dispel the misery of the world.

– Rime Buddhist Center’s “A Buddhist Service” guide

My Journey to Tibet, Part I

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I actually took the picture below.  It was hard to get it wrong…

Since 1951, China’s occupation of Tibet has killed an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans (1/5 of their population) and forced over 100,000 Tibetans into exile.  Six thousand monasteries and historic buildings were destroyed.  And an indigenous culture steeped in Buddhism was scattered to the winds with its people.

A Buddhist Allegory

There was once a farmer whose horse ran away.  His neighbors lamented his “bad luck”, but the farmer merely shrugged his shoulders.  The next morning the farmer awoke to find his horse had returned with three wild horses.  His neighbors rejoiced, but the farmer was unmoved.  When the farmer’s son began to ride one of the wild horses he fell off and broke his leg.  The neighbors lamented; the farmer shrugged his shoulders.  The next day all able-bodied young men in the village were drafted into the army, but the son’s leg was broken and he was was unable to go.  The neighbors rejoiced and the farmer again shrugged his shoulders.

Equanimity, or the ability to be even-tempered, is a virtue long encouraged by Buddhists and its application would be well used here.  Though a people and its history were uprooted by violence, these very atrocities opened the world to a philosophy of living largely unexplored and beckoned many of us eastward… and inward.  The Buddhist culture reached me during my Freshman year of college in Seattle, Washington.  Six years later, I found myself on an unexpected journey with a group of companions I’d never met to visit the Rooftop of the World…

Please stay tuned for Part II where I’ll be talking about baby goats, monks with kittens and a visit with Tibetan Buddhist nuns that changed my life forever.

Wind-whipped prayer flags on a Himalayan mountain pass.

 

 

Solo Desert Camping, Insomnia & Me

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12 noon – “Oh my God!  This is so awesome!  I’m backpacking by myself into the desert [Big Dominguez Canyon in Colorado]. Go me!”

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4:00 pm – “I can so do this!  I can’t wait to see the stars.”

6:00 pm – “I think canned tuna sounds good for dinner.  I’m so smart, I even brought a tiny manual can opener from REI.”

9:00 pm – “It’s getting dark, but this is gonna be awe-some.  I’m alone and I can do this. I think I’ll go to bed.”

11:00 pm – “Umm, it’s really dark outside.  Why the f*ck did I eat tuna for dinner?  Don’t I know that cougars live here and cats eat tuna?”

1:00 am – “F*ck it all.  I can’t sleep.  I really want to see the stars, but now I’m terrified.  There’s probably a big cat outside my tent waiting to eat me.  And then I’ll die and my parents will be mad at me for being in the wild by myself.”

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Despite my downward fear spiral, I was determined to make it out of my tent and see those celestial bodies.  I’ve always felt at Home when I look at the night sky and now that I was as far as I’d ever been from civilization, it was time.

So, in order to exit the tent in complete safety I decided to gear up:  I put my headlamp on high beam (determined to stun the cat), held the mace my mom once gave me for running in my right hand (we’re an “always prepared” bunch as you can tell), an open pocket knife in my left hand and REI’s Tri-Power Safety Whistle in my mouth – I was ready.

It dawns on me now that this is a moment of my history that should perhaps remain a silent part of history, but then again where would we be if we hid these fabulously awkward parts of ourselves?  No where fun.

Be brave.

I slowly unzipped my tent, listened, unzipped it some more and listened some more.  I heard the sound of rushing water from a nearby river, the sweet chirping of thousands of insects and the oceanic hush of tall grass blowing in the breeze.  My heart still racing, I stepped out one foot and then the other.  Turned off my headlamp. Closed my eyes. Listened. Breathed… and realized I really had to pee.

With bathroom needs taken care of, the blithe Cottonwood tree next to my tent proved as comforting and reassuring a friend as any.  I leaned against it’s weather-worn trunk (still hoping there wasn’t a cat in the branches) and slowed my breathing until I joined the world that I had been visiting.

The water’s not so bad once you get in.

So much happened that night. But mostly:  I talked to God… and God talked back.

In the suburbs I had largely forgotten how to listen.  How to connect authentically with life for that matter.  There was a professional version of me and then there was this giant kid inside that watches Ever After over and over, and wants to go to Harry Potter Land.  I had felt separate save for a few dear friends and family that “get me”.  Yet we are not alone; we are never alone.

I found a piece of me that night.  The piece that says “I’m [God in me is] awesome and it’s time to play!”

Books like Wild, Packing Light and  Gifts of the Wild inspired my adventure and I owe their authors deep gratitude for lighting the way.

My tent and the tree that watched over me:

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What I found when I got up the next morning:

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Thank God for such a beautiful, safe night of insomnia alone in the desert.  Life is awesome. We are all awesome.