Sunday, October 10, 2021

 

A Brief Meeting

 


The opera was about to begin but I didn't know where my seat was located. I held out my ticket to the white-haired usher who stood nearby and said "Excuse me sir, but can you...." But he turned away from me, leaning heavily against the big door that led into the opera house. Putting my ticket in my pocket, I reached out to touch his arm. 

 

"Are you okay?" I asked. When he turned toward me and began to fall I saw that his eyes were wonderfully blue. He began to fall towards me without a word, his face flushed, his hair pure white. Our eyes met. It was just a momentary glance. I want to say that he fell into my arms. I surely intended to catch him in my arms, but as he came closer, moving as slowly as a cloud, I missed him somehow. It was as if he passed through my arms like water. Slowly he fell and his body hit the floor, crumpling down onto the carpet of the opera house lobby. 

 

He was still, as boulders are when they have come to rest at the bottom of a hill. I gently turned him onto his back. His wonderful blue eyes gazed up into space. He was not in the ordinary world, whatever the ordinary world meant to him all the other moments of his life. He was elsewhere in some more expanded reality. He looked innocent as a baby and entirely as vulnerable. And when I looked down at him, he was not simply a dignified, corpulent older man in a dark gray suit who had fallen suddenly to the floor. 

 

He was very beautiful. Perhaps it was his absorption that made him so beautiful. All of his customary faces and attitudes, whatever they might have been, had dissolved and he was simply there. It occurred to me that he might be dying. In fact, I thought he was dying. Perhaps I was being arrogant to think I knew the moment of his death. I wasn't a doctor. Yet it appeared to me that he had had a heart attack and was dying. When I looked into his eyes he seemed as if he was already moving beyond his body, out into the blue reaches of the sky where everything was the color of his beautiful eyes.

 

More than anything, I wanted to comfort and reassure him. I took his white haired head into my hands and held it at the crown. I stroked his face. "It's all right. It's all right," I murmured softly to him. While I stroked him and spoke these words I communicated with him. For he and I were linked in some place where ordinary time had given way to the boundless reaches of the timeless. I held his head, stroked his beautiful face and looked into his blue eyes as they gazed far beyond our mortal meeting.

 

And I thought to myself, what would I wish for if I had fallen as he had, in a public place far from my family, if I were ill or dying as I thought he might be at that moment? I imagined myself in his place, my apparently secure everyday reality suddenly swept away. What would I want then? I would wish for warmth, love, and calm. I would wish for someone to help me align myself with my spiritual essence. So I tried to give him those things with my hands and my intention.

 

It never occurred to me to be anything other than calm. Someone else would call the ambulance. Someone else might attempt to revive him. If it was his time to die, then he could die safely here. He could send his consciousness out into the light through the top of his head. There where my fingers touched him, he could send it out. That's what I focused on. Meanwhile, a man rushed up and began to shout excitedly. " Help! Help! Call the ambulance! He needs to breathe! Get this loosened! His neck is constricted! Loosen his tie! His shirt!" I said nothing while he frantically tried to unbutton the top shirt button and to loosen the necktie. The white-haired man was still. and his stillness aroused frenzy in the man who came to help. I think it reminded him of the stillness that would one day overcome him, too. "God damn it, God damn it! I can't do this," he moaned and shouted as he worked at the buttons and tie. Then a woman in a cobalt blue dress arrived. She began trying to resuscitate the white-haired gentleman, pushing mightily on his great chest and breathing into his mouth. The frantic man finally succeeded in unbuttoning the top button and loosening the tie. Then with frustration and anger, he wildly pulled the white-haired man's entire shirt open, cursing and shouting.

 

If I were dying, I would wish for someone much more calm. "Whether this man is living or dying, you are not helping him with all your shouting," I told the shouter firmly. He subsided, shocked. Another man arrived, saying that he was a doctor. He and the woman in the bright blue dress took turns trying to revive the fallen man. It seemed as if time trailed out to the ends of the universe. Pressing, releasing, breathing into the mouth over and over, and yet the fallen man exhaled only two great breaths under their mighty efforts. His mouth turned dark. His ears grew purplish red. The woman stuck her fingers way into his mouth to see if she could unclog his breathing. Still, his eyes gazed up innocently into space. I continued to hold his head and to stroke his face. They could not find a pulse. 

 

The ambulance came. The emergency crew rushed up the stairs with their equipment and stretcher. Silently, I told the man that I was letting go of his head, but that I would continue to visualize him as a being of light. I would continue to visualize his consciousness exiting from the top of his head. I would continue to be connected to his passage. I walked to my seat in the opera house. My hands remained hot for hours. Sitting quietly as the music washed through me, I visualized holding the head of the white-haired man, and gave thanks for our brief encounter.

 

 

 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Three Years Later, Hello Again

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Forty years ago, I orchestrated a spring equinox gathering in a field in Ashland. The event was quite glorious, as this photograph shows. We did a lot of singing, drumming and dancing in those days. Creating our special hippie brand of tribal ritual.  A couple of weeks ago I was thinking of that land. Wasn’t it in the path of the fires that just swept through? I decided to take a ride to see what was what. Indeed, all the houses in the area had been destroyed. But the house on that land where we gathered so long ago, that house was standing. There was Giuseppi by the driveway building a shed for his tractor, because the shed had burned down. “We decided not to evacuate. We stayed to fight the fire,” he told me. I was very glad to see that their house was still standing, amidst the terrible ravages of that fire, which left thousands of people without homes. It's brave to stay to fight a fire, seems to me.

Thousands of people without homes. Many of them Latinos or elders, whose mobile homes were not insured. I didn’t have to evacuate. My apartment building was not in the path of the fire. But like many others in our community, I have been deeply unsettled by the fires.

The moon is already up. I can see it from where I am sitting. It will be full in a few days.  In the 17th century Japanese poet and samurai Mizuta Masahide wrote a haiku about the moon that remains famous among those who love haiku. 

"Barn's burnt down

now I can see the moon."

I doubt that anyone who lost their home in the recent fires would appreciate his relaxed perspective.

When the full moon arrives each month, I miss seeing it out in the Colestin Valley after gathering with my Buddhist sangha at the Tashi Choling temple for the full moon puja. No gatherings at Tashi Choling. It’s autumn and we are seven months into a global pandemic. Now we do pujas on Zoom. 

 

My brother Phil died a month ago, and before the cremation, I viewed his body at the funeral home on Zoom. Which of course was strange. I spoke with his four daughters, his partner, and his estranged wife on Zoom. Yes, my younger brother, a loveable and funny personage, has died.

 

Loss. Loss and isolation. This seems to have brought me back to this blog after three years hiatus. I will leave it at that for now, unvarnished and not nicely arranged. 

 

Today, high winds and very dry conditions. Praying for rain. Seriously. “This is the time and the record of the time,” as Laurie Anderson wrote in a song long ago. Wishing you well. Wishing you very well.

 

 




 


 




 

 


 





Saturday, April 1, 2017

These Blessed Days


 Hi friends, I just published a newsletter and you can access it at:


http://eepurl.com/cJf7ib

I am probably going to use that vehicle and not this blog, so hope you will sign up for the newsletter if you have not already done so.

Happy spring!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Practising the Art of Letting Go of the Ego

"Letting go of the ego." That's one of the main developmental tasks of aging defined by Carl Jung, who called the later years the afternoon of life, quite a pleasant image, calling up the pleasure of walking along a beautiful path. Which we are.

I have been working on letting go of the ego since I became a Buddhist in my mid-30s. After 40 years I wish I could brag about my progress. But if I were bragging about how egoless I have managed to become.... well let's face it, that would be a tad egotistical.


It is a work in process. I still have not succeeded in transforming all that lead into gold. Understated, but true. I will spare you the gory details. I'm sure you have your own to contend with.

"Altruism is innate, but it's not instinctual. Everybody's wired for it, but a switch has to be flipped," says author David Rakoff.
 
Getting older does help with flipping that switch. One is aware that these are the final years of life. That recognition hopefully puts some wind in the sails.

The inner work that is a natural part aging sails us into waters that we could never have navigated earlier in life. We just were not experienced enough. Even in later life navigating these waters is challenging. Facing death, life review, healing old wounds, letting go of the ego--these are profound areas of maturation and self-understanding.

That's why later life is a real treasure chest for the alchemist who is willing to spend time in the laboratory refining lead into gold. It's natural to be in that laboratory as we age. Much more natural than the hyper-active busyness that some older adults ascribe to as a way of filling every inch of space possible while avoiding the inner life.

I love this quote from the famous author and spiritual leader Ram Dass who tells us, "I didn't have to be somebody..."And that from a person who has been a highly visible public figure for many years. How he came to not having to be somebody is his unique journey, one interesting to read about. It's the same for each of us. We all have our own path.

I notice that there is a great deal of freedom in not having to be somebody. Loosening up the bonds of attachment to identity, performance orientation, station in life. It's one positive aspect of being less visible, stepping back out of the action a bit, spending more time with the inner life.

I am weary of heroism. I am tired of doing. I am tired of great projects and frenzied efforts.  I have left the busy land of the middle-aged for a realm of deep inner stillness, quiet and sacred being." --John Robinson

Left to right Jeannie, Laurie and me at Tashi Choling
This quote resonates, because after decades of mighty Type A and semi-reformed Type A ambitions, I have been surprised at what it feels like to drop that kind of focus and perspective. It is different. I am another person really. Not having to be somebody, not having to accomplish something big to save the world, or some part of it. A different vantage point, something more panoramic.

Being more self-aware and quiet--letting go of heroic attitudes and ambitious great projects-- doesn't automatically mean disengaging from positive activity and engagement.

The process of letting go of the ego naturally propels older adults into more altruistic ways of thinking and being. We find ourselves asking ourselves, What is the most meaningful way for me to contribute now?  With a less constricted sense of self, freed up from the confines of having to be somebody, and knowing time is short, some older people can be great activists, philosophers and mentors.

I'm not saying it's easy, this business of self-transformation, letting go, and opening up in ways never dreamed of before. Letting go of the ego. I am grateful that I have a good strong ego to wrassle with. Seriously. But being ruled by the ego is too limited and limiting. Such self-fixation is a constricted version of who I really am, or could be as I go deeper.

So here I am, at the tail end of summer, navigating my boat in these beautiful waters. Hope this finds you well and happy.

P.S. Quotes from Ram Dass and John Robinson are from the Fierce with Age Digest, which you can subscribe to by clicking the link above. I look forward to receiving it, because it contains such thoughtful content about aging. You may enjoy it too.






Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Joy of Receiving Letters


Rogue Valley Road, photo by Larry Turner

What a wonderful surprise it was to receive so many letters via email in response to my last post from the summer solstice, in which I wondered who was reading my blog, and what readers were engaged in as they aged. 

Some folks wrote short messages, but a handful sent longer, thoughtful and descriptive communications that one could rightfully think of as bona fide letters. Now letters in this day and age are all too scarce, and I was touched and delighted to be gifted with a whole bouquet of them via email. I found it very meaningful to learn more about what others are doing, too. I want to share excerpts from some of the letters here, because I imagine you will also find them rather fascinating. 

Oh, but before starting that, I want to acknowledge these beautiful photos from a local photographer named Larry Turner. I love his work.  

Waldport, Oregon, photo by Larry Turner
I had had some contact with several of the folks that wrote. I met one of them some years ago through an international online community of older women. 

She keeps bees and some goats at her farm. We have never met in person, but we have had some nice talks over the years. 

In her letter, she talked about how good it felt to mentor another woman who wanted to learn about beekeeping. She also talked about the inner work of harvesting one's life and sent a couple of excerpts from the book From Aging to Sage-ing by Rabbi Zalman Schachter, which relate to that. Here they are:



"Up to now, we have gone shopping in all the world's markets, gathering the ingredients for a cake. To become an elder, we must stop rushing madly about, learn to get quiet, mix all the ingredients together meditatively, bake the cake, and allow it to rise in its own time. In this way, elder hood represents the crowning achievement of life."


"When as older adults we identify obsessively with our work role or with a youthful appearance, we find ourselves in conflict. The deep psyche wants us to harvest our lives, while our surface self keeps us obsessed with staying in the saddle."  

Lavender in bloom, photo by Larry Turner
Yes, harvesting--an important aspect of aging....

Another person shared the story of giving up her law practice at 57 and taking off in an RV, then resettling for 7 years in southern California before returning to the place she realized was home. 

This writer said that the journey and the return "has also left me with an enduring sense of gratitude for that realization, and for somehow miraculously landing on my feet, once I moved back here." 

I received a letter from an old friend who now lives across the ocean. He said,

"The awareness in my aging is that I should not carry things with me merely because they are not complete.  It is like books: people feel bad because they have not completed a "read" and that somehow the money spent on the book is wasted without the completeness.  Actually, often what was purchased was an opportunity to find an awareness of One Thing.  We would all like to feel that our life is One Thing Complete, and then spend some time enjoying the feeling.  That ain't gonna happen is all I can say.  The only real Completeness is when we meld back into the Field of Peace."

One writer said that she was enjoying painting, and two others said that they were writing about their lives. One wrote: "I am 68, an entrepreneur, artist (public art,sculpture) all of which doesn't  seem important anymore. I am happy to be alive and do whatever calls to me."

Some of the people who wrote told me that they felt that I was a kindred spirit, that they enjoyed my positive aging perspective or my willingness to take risks. Thanks for the feedback, and the friendship, too. I have had the real pleasure of hearing about your lives and adventures. I am so happy to have been gifted with these messages. 

Okay, are you ready for the 4th of July?  Sometimes I do think about the kind of holidays I would invent, given the opportunity. Wouldn't that be fun? Enjoy your bees, goats, friends, families, fruits, dances, forests, waters, beaches, dirt roads, parades, music, libations, loud fireworks, aero flyovers etc. Peace and love.

  
 



Monday, June 20, 2016

Full Moon, Summer Solstice: Contemplating the Archetypes


I find myself wondering who you are, reader. Who is it that continues to peruse my now very occasional messages here?


I would love to know.

Here, I find myself in a retiring kind of mood. Which has surprised me a bit, though it seems quite natural. Retiring in the sense of letting go of some projects, the push to accomplish.

Our society encourages us to continue in that continuous accomplishment style, even as we age. Active aging-- and in many cases overactive aging.

It's an overcompensation for the way our society denigrates aging--so elders are pushing to prove we are still viable, capable, worthy of notice.

I have been in this mold myself, but find that as time goes on, this heroic archetype interests me less and less. I have lost interest in some of the work that I was so intensely engaged in.

The musical review I wrote on aging, and the one-woman show on aging I have contemplated producing, they seem like such a lot of work. Too much work. And in fact I have to admit that I am just not interested in doing that particular work. It's not easy to spend years and years on a big piece of work and then drop it, let it go. Though I have have to remind myself that I have done just that many times in my creative life, and it seems I am doing it again.

Hallelujah--choice is a wonderful thing. And dropping things that took a lot of effort is good practice for dropping the body, which we will all be doing at some moment.

Perhaps it is natural, even inevitable, that I withdraw or retire even more. Six planets in the 12th house for one thing--bringing a strong tendency to value immersion in the inner life.  I have been a Buddhist for decades. I am in the final years of this life. What is it that I want to accomplish in these final years? What do I want to leave behind? How can I continue to mature my character and behavior so that I am more of a benefit? These are things I contemplate lately.

I just finished creating a book with a collaborator friend on the history of Tashi Choling, the Tibetan Buddhist center I helped to found in 1978. Now I am working on another book, the life story of my spiritual mentor, Tibetan lama Gyatrul Rinpoche.

The first book will be published by September, hopefully. It is very exciting to me, with over 300 color photos that illustrate everything we have done together there.

The second book is really still in its early stages. Of course it is a wonderful opportunity to write a book about the amazing life of my spiritual teacher and it is also challenging in many ways, as you might imagine. Both of these books are meaningful to me, and they are what I want to focus on in terms of creative work.

I had a turbulent period recently, really examining my impulse to move to Mexico, a place I really love. And I decided to stay put here in Ashland, where I have lived for so long. Oh how mundane.

People will give you a lot of encouragement for doing things they consider risky or adventurous, like fitting out a gypsy wagon and wandering here and there with a one-woman show--stuff like that, things they might never do themselves. I'm sure some elders will carry on that tradition, and here's to them and their vividness.

To me, the real adventure is within. In the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, when people grow older, they retire into a more contemplative way of life. It seems natural. I may not be moving out into the forest or into a cave (though who knows?) but I find the archetype of the prayerful forest-dwelling elder one that calls to me.

I wonder what elder archetypes call to you. I would love to know.

May you be blessed on this beautiful full moon day.





Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Still Here, Bless This Day



When I call my friend Philip and ask how he is, he invariably answers, "Still here" and I usually say, "Me too." I think Philip is 81. He used to be a Hollywood set designer. He has always been a rather colorful chap, prone to various interesting ensembles, including turbans, sarongs and other such items.

His daughter Tara took this photo of Philip "doing his Moses impression" on Mt. Ashland. Philip was the main builder for the Tashi Choling temple in the 80s. He spent summers living in a school bus and went back to work in Hollywood for the winters. Then he bought land near the temple and built an adobe structure and filled it to the brim with family and friends. He used to say that he was starting to grow a third world country there. His place did have some of that quality at times. After years of living that way, he built a bigger adobe house on his land. He is an artistic guy with a fondness for beauty and it shows in everything he does. 

I have a tender feeling about him these days, knowing that both of us are at the tail-end of this particular lifetime, and having a great appreciation for his determination, loyalty, and eccentricities, which once could be a bit annoying at times, but now seem to be endearing.

"It's a new day," as my Mother was fond of saying. Coming back up to the surface from the dream dimensions and waking again. Musing about the dreams and then meditating. Walking, writing, looking at birds and people. Reflecting on the state of the world, sperm whales dying with their stomachs full of plastic, the deranged phantasmagoria of politics. Memento mori. How good David Bowie looked even two days before his death. Fortunate in that way.

Yes, I have become this person about to turn 75, with a body verifiably older, my belly pregnant with wisdom or whatever, and so forth on the rest of the usual details re face, arms, breasts, neck and derriere which have not been subjected to plastic surgery or herculean exercises and are letting go into a far more relaxed, soft style. Acceptance.

I have gone from being a bohemian, beatnik, hippie and now bringing all that along with about 40 years of Buddhist study and practice, find I am an elder woman living in what I prefer to think of as voluntary simplicity, but which others might describe as low income. I am on the waiting list for a senior apartment. Which truly cracks me up at moments. But one never knows what is next, really.

A National Geographic photo from the 40s, Texas bluebells

The lilacs are in bloom. I am in the midst of my annual lilac yearning. This year, I have no garden with big old lilac bushes as I did at my flower cottage or at my friend Kate's place last year and I find myself walking along the back alleys in Ashland wishing I had brought my clippers to take a bit of lilac here and there for a bouquet. This could well happen. I may be a flower thief this year, unless somebody reading this brings me a lilac bouquet before I set out to quench my lilac thirst.


Everything is blooming much earlier than it did years ago. Lilacs always remind me of the day long ago when I took Refuge, agreeing with myself to enter (or re-enter) the Buddhist path. I brought a big bouquet of lilacs to Sister Palmo that day, which was May 13th, some year in the past, maybe 1975? Somewhere in that region. I wrote about this in my book Songs of the Inner Life. The book chronicles my adventures only to my early 30s.

I guess my current book project provides some kind of followup, though not in the memoir format. I helped to start Tashi Choling in 1978 and now I am collaborating with my sangha sister Lisbeth to create a book about Tashi Choling, a project I avoided for years, but which now has a kind of sweet inevitability about it. I feel quite lucky actually.  I have finally relaxed into the sweet inevitability, how I as a writer and as someone there from the beginning am a natural person to engage in writing this history. People tell me, "Oh, you're the perfect person to be doing this." Perfect, not. But definitely a likely suspect.

In fact, I feel more content than I have felt in a long time, working on this book. If all goes well (translation: and I live long enough) after we finish this book, I will go on to write a book about my teacher Gyatrul Rinpoche's life. I have already begun on that effort, but have to finish the Tashi Choling book first.

You would never find me doing this tightrope walk. At least not physically. I am a real flatland type of gal, strongly favoring solid ground over vast chasms.  And yet.....

I have been reading Chogyam Trungpa's brilliant book The Myth of Freedom again. In it, Trungpa opens up topics like boredom, restlessness, simplicity, mindful awareness and the various ways in which we use credentials to confirm or prove our existence. The last item is one I contemplate these days. The tightrope of identity. Or just being a lot more open. Work in progress. Letting go is Sage's Play, and practice for the upcoming journey out of this particular body and life.