At a stoplight on my way to the bank this past Friday I saw a man with a handwritten cardboard sign. It said something to the effect of being in need, anything helped, and loose change accepted. I remembered I had some change, so I rolled down my window. He approached. He looked at my ear cuff and said, "that is beautiful, bad ass .." I apologized for the fact that I was giving loose change, he smiled. Time seemed to be somehow suspended…
–That’s what my sign says!–he said.
And then he said something like: –I’ll tell you what my sign doesn’t say… He started telling me how a guy had come in his earlier in the week, rolled down his window, yelled at him and then threw a kitten that clawed for dear life at his chest. I blurted: –Why??? Has the world gone mad? What would make anyone throw a kitten? The beggar, said: –I don’t know, and I surely did not need a kitten; that’s not what my sign says… He said that the kitten’s claws dug through his shirt. I asked him what he did with the cat, and he said that he contacted a shelter, a home. And then I asked him: –What’s next, a baby? Someone might just throw out a baby… And his reply was: Don’t go there…
The light changed. We touched knuckles (fist bump), and I drove off touched inside and thanking the universe for this moment of sharing.
Has the world gone mad?
I find that as of late, I feel very frequently called to wake up and be in the moment. I feel constantly called as if by invisible forces to lower my guard, to notice when or if it is going up, and to relax in order to soften it’s grip. If I relax and soften, I can respond (not create answers) but truly respond and meet my world. As of late too, I have noticed "quickenings", i.e. my coming across conversation topics, places, people that I would not have engaged in the past, talking with people who I fear or resent. The call is to wake up and to shed my constructs and my fears. Any and all activities of this world, any and all moments when we can touch and be touched, be awake, are the voice of the Guru, Dharma.
But the moment must be naked and accepted as it is. And I must be just as naked-open to be in the moment without the need to hide. Practicing being in the moment and not hiding seems to be relevant. I am thankful for the teachings that sing themselves into being right in front of me in the strangest of places, and through the lips of a beggar, a trainer, or a co-worker. And I pray for the ability to listen and understand, so that Dharma may increase, and perhaps bring us closer together in depth, and heart-felt understanding as humans. May all beings find a way to work and touch their beauty and depth. May all beings find the discipline to keep coming back to depth. There is no growth possible without looking into the human mirror. May we have the bravery to look and truly see our own reflection.
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[Note: I wrote this poem, if one could call it a poem, in 2013 during retreat. Shibata Sensei, paid our group a visit. He was in his 90s. 20th in the line of bow makers to the Emperor of Japan. He spoke to us, and I was touched by the strength, warmth and light that shone forth from him. He told us then that “deep in your heart, you have the quality of never giving up…”]
on a dying lotus
its roots now in the sky
frail the hands that once were strong
frail the skin that once was supple
but the heart still flutters
like the wings of a butterfly.
Friday August 2, 2013
(Started Friday September 9th) I woke up today with the sense of having to sit at the page to write and wondering if memories just bubble up and if there is a difference between that bubbling and "discursive rehashing". The answer arose, almost automatically to say that there is a difference. The memories just bubble, innocently, and they may have a purpose, i.e. to serve and/or inform the present. "Discursive rehashing" would be more akin to allowing myself to be completely taken by the content or storyline forgetting to be in the here-now; or it would also be more akin to when I am purposefully attempting to retrieve a piece of information, as when I am in a test. But this is not a test, and the memories that bubbled arose at different times this past week. What seems interesting is that while these memories arose at different moments, I had an immediate sense each time that they were linked, and that they served a purpose. How they were linked, and the purpose also arose spontaneously in my mind. So, to continue honoring the renewal of writing as a way to extend myself to others, I write this in a delayed response to a friend.
First memory. At age 19, I ended a relationship with a man who had chosen to go to college in a different province, and who would return to visit the capital city where I lived every two or three weeks. He was extremely jealous, and this made him frequently lash out verbally to belittle my friends, classmates, and relatives, i.e. basically anyone with whom I related. He frequently flaunted how he and his choices were somehow superior to everyone else’s and thus his visits were punctuated by his need to put down what I did with my friends, or what my friends did while he was not around. I grew somewhat afraid of him. But mostly, I was afraid of how I felt and how I acted when I was around him. So one day, I did it. I do not remember the reasons I gave him for wanting to break up. But I do remember that my friends were concerned for me, and and they worried about what he would do, but I did it anyway. I ended our relationship because I had to.
The phone call. After we broke up, he phoned me during one of his visits because he wanted us to talk. And I remember the ensuing suicide threat. During the call he said that he would kill himself because of me… Today, I am sure there was more to that call because I remember crying, and hiding my sobs from my family because like any overt display of emotion it could prompt adverse reactions. I remember telling him that I would not be looking over his shoulder and, that I would not go to his house; that I hoped he would not attempt to take his own life. But when the conversation ended, I was shaking with fear mixed with guilt feelings and doubt: Would he actually do it? Did I make him do it? Is it my fault? Waves of pain…
I think it was through his younger brother that I found out that his family had found him on the floor, unconscious, with his mouth full of pills. Sad. Intense.
Second memory. Fast forward in time. My marriage became very strained when my ex-husband and I decided to become Peace Corps Volunteers. But we loved each other deeply, and we tried, as best we could and knew how, to make things work both during and after service.
Upon our return to the US, we continued our lives as best we could, and our main priority became my exhusband’s going back to school to finish his degree and later, his work. He wanted to to go Washington DC to continue working with environmental development. I believed that his heart would be broken and disillusioned by having to look at American politics from within, but I could not follow him to DC. I did not want to be at the center of American government and politics. And then, an auspicious coincidence, a call from a childhood friend that lived in Florida. My friend could offer me work, and he also needed my help. So, my ex-husband and I decided that I would go to FL while he’d go to DC, at least for a while. And the split between us deepened. I felt lucky to have found a friend from childhood and the cultural comfort this brought me. But I also felt abandoned (maybe a cultural pull), not cared for: How can you let me go? How can your plans and dreams take continuous precedence? Why was it so easy for you to not ask me to stay, to not try to create an alternative where we could both be together and you could follow his dream? Where is "us as a couple" and "me as your wife"?
We talked every day. We wrote letters. He did what he did and I worked as a teacher and helped my friend. But also, I lived for the first time in many years in an environment surrounded by Latinamericans. I danced, I worked, I sang. I was "adopted" into a Venezuelan family: a mother and her daughter. I fell in love briefly. I lived integrating everything that was happening, fully alive.
After perhaps a year and a half of living there, my ex-husband and I decided to get together again. He needed to return to grad school, and we wanted to keep trying to work things out between us. But it seems that the wedge between us was too big. I did not know at the time how to re-open my heart. And I felt once again brushed aside. My ex-husband asked me to go out, to go dancing, and to the movies with other friends/people/men, while he stayed home… And while I was happy to be with someone that was not aggressively jealous, I also felt somewhat "tossed aside" and my previous questions reasserted themselves: How can you let me go? Why won’t you fight for me/us? How can you push me to go spend time with others? How can your plans and dreams take continuous precedence? Where is "us as a couple" and "me as your wife"? In the midst of this, I fell in love with someone else. In so doing, I betrayed my husband and us. No need for details. I was sad. And I was angry. The anger masked the layers and subsequent waves of pain and the remorse I felt, not for falling in love, but, for having caused pain to someone dear.
Waves and layers… I have spent many years after these events searching for myself in the context of relationships. And while I can say that I truly loved the men I have been fortunate to live with afterwards, I lived my life still operating from a posture of emotional shielding and punishment. I could not allow myself to entrust anybody with my deepest feelings because all training in my family of origin had prepared me for a life of shaming, emotional shielding and hiding behind masks. And I also would not allow myself to truly be happy (punishment), because I had never truly believed that I was worthy of warmth and happiness, of being cherished or having someone to cherish. I had betrayed others, therefore I had no right… Something like that…
Humility humbleness NOT denigrating nor self-punishing…but seeing the hidden lessons…
Space. I have been on my own, without a lover or companion since 2011. And I have only recently begun to explore in my heart-mind the possibilities of what it would mean to be in a relationship. Many questions arise fueled by the very old habit of feeling that I don’t deserve to feel joy. Monkey-Brain tortures me with many reasons for my not deserving: because I am too old; because I have not learned to fit in this culture; because I do not really know what it means to actually feel love for anybody or what it means to be a fully embodied human. Or simply because I have hurt others, and for that I should atone. However, I understand the Buddhist teachings and my teachers as saying that any and all aspects of being alive are indeed the ultimate Guru. And, because of this understanding I need to look within, and continue opening my heart in as much as I can, to any and all aspects of being alive. I am grateful for the teachings that allow me, and require me to continue looking and re-framing in order to serve.
Re-framing/ Re-casting: So, I continue to wake up, slowly, thought by thought, and in the space between thoughts, and with the touch of old friends and new ones. I am writing because the seemingly unrelated events/examples/memories that arose in response to my friend’s pain, are indeed linked. They are linked through karma-non-linear-time. I linked them with the thread of the felt-sense of having betrayed others; and with the thread of my not being able to give something that society, or a Christian-informed lifestyle mandated as my duty at the time the events actually took place. But, from the mud comes a very tiny and clear lotus: clarity.
And thanks to the pain I witnessed, today I feel humbled, not humiliated or in need of punishment. I feel humbleness, and the warmth that it can bring. And with that, I also feel better able to express at least onto the space of this e-page what I could not articulate before.
Dear friend in pain, If I could, I would wind time backwards and hold you. I want you to know that without being in your skin, I understand somewhat what you are going through. I know that when we/I hurt others (or believe we have done so) in our attempt to honor our deepest-felt heart or beliefs,
that when we/I leave others behind as we walk away from situations that do not serve our growth anymore,
that when we/I hurt others because we do not give them a say or choice in our decision,
or when we/I leave because if we/I stayed it would be at the cost of causing more harm to all involved,
there is no escape: we/I will feel pain, the aftermath, i.e. waves of regret for having caused pain, and waves of doubts of many sorts. So please hold yourself with true maitri (skt) and compassion in the knowledge that causing pain was not the intention.
Sad Clarity: I am touched by the humility/humbleness I felt after allowing the memories to sift from underneath and connect. I feel not better, nor worse than other people, just deeply human. And from this understanding, of knowing that I have been betrayed by others in the past and that I have also betrayed or broken other people’s hearts, I can safely tell you now that it is possible to live with an honest-open heart, and that it is possible to love, and to begin opening the doors to communicating from a sense of wholeness in spite of any fears and hesitations we may feel. Fear will never go away, but we can soar through it if we don’t solidify our discomfort by pushing it away, or attempting to make it change into something other than what it is (doing so would be aggression towards ourselves).
We are human. Embodied in this case of karma-ridden flesh and mind, we can learn to hold ourselves within an open and dignified heart. Basic goodness-emptiness is the soft and tender spot that remains when we allow ourselves to feel-it-all. It is the spot of health and wholeness. And it never dissipates, it is always there for us to access when we allow ourselves to be touched by any and all things. Sometimes, the lessons are "grokked" immediately. At others, they come slowly, as if they were being milked. I pray this writing contributes to lightening someone’s pain. May all beings be happy.
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(Note: Many separate and sad events touched me last week. But two different stories, from different friends touched and opened my heart. So, this was a mix of raw…)
Tuesday-I held her in my heart
my thoughts busy being scared
space was needed
my eyes blinded seeing her so pale
my hands fanning, drying, cooling
memories of past beloved dead ones
my nostrils flaring with her scents
to give her what was truly needed
I reached with voice and eyes and ears
but she was hurting
and I was witness
and since I could not embrace her
I just laid aside my tears
I held her with my heart
I’d be sand, if sand were needed
I’d be flame or water,
song or thought
she touched memories long forgotten,
memories buried deep within
so I sat with them in my body
wishing to be held…
but I’d been “witness”,
and without arms to hold me I remained:
and softened because as I held her,
in my heart, my wings were open wide…
Wednesday-I held him in my heart
space was all that I could give
knowing that I’d been both betrayer and betrayed
images that were not his attempting to replay
as I fought to block that he was hurting
as I fought to not fight against his pain
because I was “witness”
able to give my thoughts, my words,
my eyes, and ears
and waves of presence
from this heart willing to ever slightly reach beyond its fear
he touched more memories long forgotten,
again my heart afraid to feel
so I stood back within my body
raw yet open and awake,
colors-sounds my mind reflecting,
and without arms to hold me I remained:
on call to be and give and fill the need:
a smile, a tear
the sand or wind…
or ice and rock forever still
And while I sense that he’s still hurting
within the pain remains the healing
so I hold him with my heart
as I begin to hold my own
and I flow grateful and alive
with this heart that dares to witness
through earth and rain, and flames and wind
with wings wide open,
to this life, and all its richness.
Written on Friday August 11, 2017. Preamble. As a child, I loved to play in the bath tub in my home in the Dominican Republic. I have memories of drawing little soap-foam-bubble faces on the tiles, and then talking to them. The faces were the American president, and I was usually asking them questions about the “red phone” and telling them that it would not be good to press “the button”. In my child’s mind, I was conscious that the US president and the Russian president could blow the planet and create another “Hiroshima and Nagasaki” type incident with the their known aftermath of radiation, and toll on planetary life. As a sci-fi kid, I believed an event on Earth could contaminate space, and thus reach other planets. So I role played talking to the soapy-president-on-the-tiles, because I believed that he could see reason, i.e. I believed that he was capable of understanding and willing to rule from a place of understanding and clarity. As a child I believed that he (and all humans) could and would understand, if I talked to him/them, and I also believed that anyone would (after understanding) want to choose to do the right thing for humanity, for the Earth, and really, for the universe.
It’s been interesting to discover that the child-Rita is still alive in my heart. This child believes in the human potential to understand, and to choose to do what is right. However, this child-like heart is now tempered by the sadness of knowing that THAT president was a soapy-figure-on-the-tiles, and that while the countries in conflict at that time are not the same as the players in conflict today, many of the presidents in the world, our Earth, as it exists today, still have the means to blow us to pieces. The sadness is that my soapy-president-on-the-tiles listened, and would/could understand (and he wanted to), but I am not so sure about the willingness to listen of our world-leaders today, and this includes my own. Sad.
From the perspective of this child-like sci-fi heart, I feel the weight of the thoughts that say that as a humanity we have lost our ways. I have begun to remember how much I am affected by the leadership of presidents and governments from all over the world. The world has somehow seemingly gotten smaller and the fears I had as a child again weigh heavy in my mind: I see the likelihood for mass destruction increasing, and like it was when I was a child, my only tools are words, and the education/taming of my own mind-heart. I feel that I do not have much to offer, but what I have, I offer.
Talking. I started reading fantasy and watching sci-fi on TV very early. As early as age 4. I still do. And today, while at work, after receiving online news about North Korea’s threat to deploy nuclear weaponry near Guam, and of the American president’s response to that threat, I was caught in a felt-wave of fear-anger-laden thoughts that were mine and mine alone. Then I answered a phone call from one of my supervisors. We talked deeply for more than an hour about things that are at the core of how I currently feel about not having guaranteed work-hours or insurance; about how I do not feel as part of the team because I am a PRN interpreter, called and present when needed, but invisible when not. My plight of wanting to have full-time status and medical insurance seemed extremely tiny in comparison to the newfound clarity of remembering that nuclear weapons have never vanished and that as they are tested, we, humans pollute not only our own air and water, but all systems around us.
However, regardless of how tiny my plight is or isn’t in light of the potential damages done at a planetary or a grander scale, one thing seems to remain true. Today I was able to talk calmly and truthfully to my supervisor with my heart in my throat, and with tears swelling in my eyes. I spoke my mind-heart as it was at that moment, and because of this, it was genuine. I talked with her with the same truthfulness I spoke to my soapy-president-on-the-tiles when I was little. The sad-beauty of the conversation was that neither of us shut down. We both touched each other’s heart. And I feel clean, and clear. And I am grateful for that encounter, for the possibility of going beyond my fears and opening, and for that seeming-other human brave enough to do the same and open that space. I have not encountered many people in a supervisory capacity in this country with the bravery of a true friend. I pray that our friendship extends and that she has benefited from the encounter as much as I did, for this is “enlightened society at its best”. Sad truth: I crave this depth.
[Saturday August 12, 2017. Recent recognition of the darkness(es) or of things I had labeled as such and believed them to be so as a child-protecting-itself from what s/he intuitively s/he cannot handle– without again pushing it/them away nor craving it/them is/was key: This key can now be looked at with the understanding that all that it once hid is already integrated and that it all is as it should be. From the mud, the lotus.]
Communicating. The following mini-event also took place yesterday, before I read the online news about Korea and before I talked with my supervisor on the phone. In the context of being the coordinator for a project. My tendency is to deal or navigate projects by asking questions and clarifying my understanding, throughout the duration of any project. I depart from a stance of open-curiosity, which all too easily turns into anger and feeling deflated (and I see this as my problem, not anyone else’s), when I feel that my understanding of my role and my particular way of understanding said role is not respected. I have over the years trained myself to not react by sending flurries of emails or text messages. Instead, I pull back and craft what I want to say, attempting to address with as much clarity as I can muster in my writing in English. I do so because in the crafting I manage to temper or tone down what ego-monkey brain comes up with initially. I also craft the message by re-reading the communication I am reacting to, making sure that I am responding exactly to my concern which usually boils down to something like the following: I am coordinating this project. This has been established. I have already initiated the conversations that I needed to initiate with the project leads, and I have told you who plugged me into my current role, that I have done so. Ah, but you did not receive my message to you on time, so you went ahead and contacted the leads to ask the same questions. Why did you not ask me instead if I had taken the step already? So I notice the communication flurry of emails and I become confused, and truth be said, a little annoyed since I do not like confusion with my morning coffee. So I craft a response, and I send it. Your response comes back with an apology and an offer of completing part of the task that I had already told you I knew how I was going to complete, ignoring the other part of the task and the fact that I took the time to tell you. So, I go back to my own emails, not just confused but doubting myself: Did I not say this clearly? How poor was my pre-caffeine-writing-in-English this morning?
And I sense my frustration swelling, and then the SNAP into place: “No. You do not get to torture me today (talking to monkey-brain). Everything I thought I had told her is there in what I wrote. If she wants to complete that part of the task herself, so be it. All I have left to do now is thank her for her help, and further clarify that I will be completing the other part of the task.”
Looking back. Looking back is useful because if we don’t use it as attempts to reify the past, it can shed light and let us see how far we’ve come, and where we need to look next. I have recently become aware of my tendencies to hide and not play at all, or to overwhelm and dominate the games or life situations where I was afraid. These tendencies hid in the darkness of not even denial, for denial acknowledges the presence of that which is being denied. These tendencies hid instead in the darkness of submissive-little-ms.sunshine who would pretend to do what others wanted while totally withholding warmth, and human empathy/contact. Instead, this time I could feel the tendencies swelling and getting ready to lash out, and I was ok with feeling annoyance, confusion, fears, shame, all the thoughts, together with the sadness I also felt because you could not bring yourself to ask me questions directly and felt that you had to do things yourself. Oh well.
I pray that I can bring the fruit of this newfound clarity, the clarity that happens when certain things SNAP into place, and the clarity of what happens when hidden things SNAP into the open and allow themselves to be looked at, to guide me in my attempts to communicate in order to conjugate “enlightened society” as if it were a verb. I am grateful to the teachings that allow and encourage me to look at the SNAPS of this mind-heart and at what is below the cracks. And I am grateful to the people who participate or appear for the dream of this life to unfold.
August 2, 2017
Yesterday I arrived at the hospital where I had a shift after having been at the clinics fulfilling an interpreting encounter.
I came out of the parking lot and crossed the glass enclosed bridge that leads into a corridor also enclosed by glass. As I got to the corridor, a man. He greeted me good morning and I greeted him back. I looked at him. He was beaming a smile that pulled a smile from within me to light my face. I asked him: How are you? And he responded something like: “Every day I wake up alive, is a day that I know I am blessed by God. I know this.”
He was still beaming, and I was still smiling. We parted ways. He headed to the reception desk, and I headed to where I regularly sit when I’m assigned to work here.
Through this encounter and the smiles and words we exchanged I felt blessed, and touched by a sense of sheer presence. And now, I still feel gratitude for the encounter and exchange, and for the teachings that helped me see and experience them as teachings.
May all being experience teachings and encounters that ever so gently touch their heart and draw a smile upon their lips.