Gifts and Sorrows

His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggested this excellent exercise (paraphrased through my mind):

Picture yourself sitting in a line of other sitting humans that stretches out as far as you can see to your left and to your right. Now bring to your consciousness a sorrow or burden you feel.

Imagine yourself looking to your right. Imagine that all of the people in that direction have more resources and an easier time with their sorrows and burdens. Maybe they have fewer problems, more or better friends, they are more clever, and they have abundant access to whatever they need to ease their suffering. Imagine they suffer less that you.

Now imagine yourself looking to the left. All of the people in this direction have it worse than you. They are carrying burdens and disabilities that are more challenging than yours. They have fewer resources to draw upon to meet those challenges. Imagine they suffer more than you.

And now bring your consciousness back to yourself and check in again on your gifts and sorrows in this moment.

I have found that exercise to be quite useful. And now I realize that I prefer circles to lines. I love the small circles of family and tribe. I participate in many gatherings where we form circles for celebration and communication.

So now I’m picturing, curling that nearly infinite line of sitting humans to my left and to my right into a circle, and this meditation becomes quite powerful.

I am an equal part of the circle.

As I become aware of my tribe mates,

I am aware that each has gifts and sorrows greater than my own. And that I have gifts and sorrows greater than theirs.

In this moment, which is all there is.

Perhaps we can be useful to each other’s sorrows with our gifts.


Riding the Wave

Today, I’m thinking about the wave(s) of love, the balance:

between autonomy and connection,
between stability and freedom,
between effort and surrender.

This Tedtalk by Reuben Margolin inspires today’s musings on love.

A wise woman once said she expected I’d “figure it out” in relationship (whatever IT is). So, I had a sense that deep dive into relationship could offer an opportunity for growth and then I ASKED the universe for this chance to see what it is like to be all the way “off the couch” with a partner and growing constellation of beloveds willing to do the same.  Before that, I studied for my second life: meditation, workshops, books, therapy. I selected a new life for myself with care and clear intention.

So here I am, deep in it. And I was right. I belong here. And there is an ease to noticing that when I am on the right path, the universe comes up to meet me. And also, there is still struggle. Every time we reach a new level of light, shed a few unnecessary layers, what gets exposed is excruciating, beautiful, challenging.

It’s like a wave…

We ride up, exhilarated, hands clasped together, big toothy grins. We reach the peak, look around together at the horizon, amazed by the possibilities.

Deep breath, and then comes the ride down, the natural pulling back into self for integration, passing through the baseline, noticing it is a little higher than it was last time, but still feeling the contrast with the peak.

To the bottom, where each of our egos and wounds and past lives poke up, asking to be witnessed, embraced, taken “With” for the inevitable ascent. That long pause at the bottom, with the view completely obscured, is the real invitation to faith, to awe, to gratitude. I dig in. He digs in. I reach out. He reaches out. In this low light place, we offer each other insights into what we can each feel out, like the blind men and the elephant, we share what we know, begin to form a mosaic view of the wholeness.

Which kicks off the ascent. No rushing that either, it takes its sweet time pulled by the memory we share of what it is like up there, we “pass Go,” collect our sustenance, humble ourselves to the way this game is challenging, but almost impossible without a play partner, appreciate each other’s growing skills and effort.

I don’t want anything else but to be on this journey, in this life.  This isn’t needless drama or some kind of manic cycle. This is soul work. It is right effort, and effort nonetheless. So I bow my sweaty brow, deep and low, to the mystery, invite my body to be supple and steady, to maintain balance in the movement.


This poem came out when I should have been listening.


All of the organized
and disorganized religions
and poetry
are no more than
beautiful word salads
blended teogether
in imprecise proportions
to feed us the unknowable
combination of nuggets
we each should be craving.

Will you pick through
and take only the bites
you already know?
Or invite your gut
to digest unfamiliar
and potentially dangerous
and even more potentially life-saving
new soul foods?

Or can you be brave
potent and broad enough
to close your eyes
open your heart
and lean your head up,
gape-mouthed like a newly hatched chick
and embrace what is dropped into you?

Grandma Love

Who are the teachers who have most touched you, and what is the path that brought them into your life? Mother’s Day invites me to contemplate the teachers I’ve had who are grandmothers.

Saturday night, I received a name, a teaching and prasada (divine food) from Srimati Uma didi. One of the astounding aspects of these gifts is the idea that this sweet and devoted little old lady carried them all the way from sacred land in India to bring them to me, because I clearly needed them, but she had no idea when she boarded the plane that I exist, and probably will give little thought to me as she continues her journey to enliven devotees around the world. But I felt her faith and it was clear that she could see my struggle with faith. I’m embarrassed to admit that at first I hesitated to accept her offering of food, defaulting to this learned idea that I’m not worthy. Oh, the look she gave me! I did my best to humbly understand that I could offer her the gift of giving me a little push in the right direction.

Because that is the truth of unconditional love. Our gift is to receive it without hesitation. It is love. It is infinitely sourced and “taking” it does not deplete the stores. And when it is genuinely unconditional, it doesn’t even hold the obligation of taking it in, but not doing so (as she clearly showed) would be just plain needlessly stupid. Unconditional love is God. Who am I to reject that? But I’m new on the spiritual path, so a more earthly model for understanding this kind of love is a crutch I need, and the name that works for me right now is Grandma love.

What is Grandma love? It’s the love that becomes possible after you are done with the hardest work parts of this life, when you are finally free to sit down a bit and be with what is. I know mother love, and I know that it is deeply sourced, always on, and unblockable (not that I’ve ever wanted to block it), but I’m mindful of the truth that I haven’t loved my kids unconditionally. You see, I WANT them to come out okay so that I can get “credit.” I obsess too much about their suffering, seeing it as something to help them avoid rather than a great opportunity for them to find their selves, empathy, and skill set. I am attached to them like I’m attached to breathing. So for me, this is Mama love, but I can start to picture what it will be like to express Grandma Love, because I have seen it. I’d like now to explore those memories.

First, I remember being in the puddle of my Grandma’s love. She wasn’t warm and fuzzy, didn’t shower us with doting and gifts, had precious little investment in helping us make one decision vs. another, because what she did have was absolute and unconditional love for whatever it was we showed up as. There were times when I realized I could help with the dishes, or wanted to make comfort for her physical world, but I never questioned whether it was OK to bask in this love. I didn’t consider that it cost her too much, or whether it was deserving. Questioning it would be like denying the sun, the rain, the air. When my mom picked my dad, his mother came along as part of that package, and so, I’m grateful that she chose so wisely.

And I have watched as my parents have each crossed over into Grandma Love. Not just because grand children showed up, but towards me as their child as well. I remember the specific night when I watched my mom cross over.

I was in my late teens/early twenties and I drove to the Cape to spend the evening with “Mom and Joe.” I had some problem that felt urgent, and I needed her advice. We had a practice of sitting at the table after the dishes were cleared and talking about whatever was up. She often gave really pragmatic, no frills advice. She always has a clarity of what is relevant that I deeply admire. She indulges very little in the fantasy world that so many of us live in. When she was drinking, sometimes there would also be the delight of her getting a little exuberant and bawdy. As a young woman, it felt awesome to discover that my mom could swear, that she understood sexuality better than she’d ever let on, and that she had deeply negative opinions to express about assholes who just don’t get it.

So I don’t remember the problem, but I remember the drive down, the intention to speak, the waiting for the right time when all of the other distractions were passed. As I could assume she would, she listened attentively. I probably talked too long and with too much drama, but at some point, I finally paused. She replied:

“That sounds really hard, what do you think you are going to do about it?”

And that was all she would give me! What? It might have been her new sobriety, or that I’d been living on my own for long enough, or that the problem was trivial and she knew it. This was a change point for me, for her, in our relationship — this new addition of her demonstrating Grandma love.

It was unconditional love. She saw me. She heard me. She knew I had either the resources to solve this problem myself or the need for the lessons that would come from failure. I can’t say I felt gratitude at that time, but today, as I watch my own first born figure out prom, college lists, SAT strategies and his own budding spiritual path, I’m feeling like bowing to her for giving me this model. And wondering if it possible for a child, even a middle aged pre-menopausal child, to feel that same kind of unconditional love back toward her adult parent?

Because that is the second and more amazing part of this story.


Where is the place this all ends up?

In my heart, I believe, is where this ends up.
Or is it in God? Aren’t they the same?
This is not for my mind to ponder; it is for my soul.

Today I will live steeped in the incompleteness of us,
know that whatever happens,
we are clearly only in the middle of the beginning.

I live in the awkward, imperfect push and pull
between my faith that all will happen as it should
and my ego’s drive to make it be what I think it should be.

All I can offer you is an invitation to join me,
in surrendering attachment to where this ends up,
by embracing completely where it is today.