let the light shine!

Happy New Year, 2014!

May this be a year to be grateful for the blessings that already light up your life.

The Christmas tree is wilting, branches closer to the floor every day.  But I still light the lights every evening, hoping it will last another day.  This is my favorite part of the winter days – to have the Christmas tree, lights sparkling – light up my life!

Our communities need us to BE LIGHT!  Make that your resolution for the New Year.  Every day, go and BE LIGHT!  Shine the light of your presence, your true presence, into your community.

The mind mirror illumines all ingenuously.
Its penetrating, limitless rays reach
everywhere in the universe.
Without exception everything is reflected
in this mirror
The whole universe is a gem of light
beyond the terms of in and out. – Buddhist text

BE LIGHT.

Happy New Year, all!Image

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“My religion is kindness.” the Dalai Lama

While driving through a small city here in northern California a few weeks ago, I witnessed a simple scene:  a woman walked across the street in front of a car that had stopped at the cross walk.  The car had stopped at the corner, perhaps a foot over the line.  As the woman walked across the street, passing the car, she shook her head and called out her unhappiness at the driver having driven into the cross walk. 

As I watched, I remember other, personal experiences I’d had in this particular city, a progressive place with lots of educated folks.  I’ve been told to re-park my car a few inches back so that there was room for another car.  I’ve had “the finger” shaken at me for some small infraction.

Sure, it’s tough to be a pedestrian.  I get that – and I’ve had plenty of experience! 

Still, there’s something to be said for a little bit of kindness.  How about a simple nod and a smile?  How about a slight wave of the hand to the driver?  How about putting down one’s sense of entitlement for a moment to realize that this is simply another human being, busy and over-worked and preoccupied maybe, but still, a person who wanted to do what is right.

Kindness can go a long way in our communities.  Kindness is such a simple thing, really, but it takes a bit of thoughtfulness, a certain presence, a certain commitment to being a positive energy in someone’s day. 

You give yourself kindness.  You do it for yourself.  The thing is, when you give yourself kindness, it gets spread to the next person, and the next, and the next.

You give yourself kindness, and you do it for yourself independent of how you’ve been treated.  That’s what it means to give up the sense of entitlement; stop watching what others are doing, and take the time to see what you are doing, what you are contributing, how you’re creating positive community – or not. 

After all… who can you change?  The other person – or yourself?

Practice kindness for a day.  Make kindness your goal for a day.  Make kindness your religion.  A little goes a long way.

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Alone during the holidays – and the holidays in community

Last night as I drove home from a wonderful  service of stories, carols, and candles, I saw a young-ish man walking alone, head down, on a city street.  He looked so lonely to me, although I don’t know anything about him.  Such a lonely sight to me on Christmas Eve.

Holidays are funny.  We associate holidays mostly with being with family, with those we love.  Between holidays, we may forget that holidays are not often happy times.  They are complex occasions for being together with so many folks that push our buttons.

Still, isn’t it lonely to be alone during the holidays, during this darkest season of the year?  It’s no coincidence  that Hanukkah, the Solstice Festival, and Christmas come during the darkest season, right at the time when the Light returns to earth again. 

How do we build community when so many of us only have memories of lonely times with abusive family members?  How do we find community for ourselves when the world can be such a lonely place?  How do we find community so that we don’t have to eat all our meals alone?

Community is never simple.  Community is never easy.  Community always involves interactions with other human beings, most of whom are suffering with their own darkness.  We are, too.  Community always involves working things out, sometimes with people who don’t want to work things out, or with folks who don’t know how to work things out.  Like us.

It’s no wonder some of us are lonely during the time when lights are shining all over the place.

May you be blessed.  May you know Light.  May you be at peace.  May you find community wherever you are.

 

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Soft eyes

Look at the world with soft eyes.  Practice alone, and then take your soft eyes into the world.  You know:   soft eyes are the eyes you use to look for the perfect picture, to gaze at a baby or a flower or your dearest beloved.

Look at your community with soft eyes.  Take your soft eyes for a walk, and look at the trees and the sky and the sidewalk and the plants with soft eyes. 

Practice by looking into the mirror at yourself.  Instead of looking for flaws, look at yourself with soft eyes, eyes of being, eyes of loving-kindness.  You know – soft eyes.

We are accustomed to counting things and we are accustomed to looking for the flaws in what we see.  Instead, look with beauty, and you may see beauty.  

To look with soft eyes is not to ignore the problems.  There is plenty of time and space for seeing the problems.  On the other hand, there is too little time and space given to gazing at one another – friend and foe – with soft eyes, eyes of compassion, eyes of love.

Take your soft eyes into the world. 

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Respect and a shimmering love…

Whatever your faith, you can respect the faith of another when your faith leads to Love.  By whatever name you call Love, you can look for that Love in another person, whoever they may be.

For this solstice, when light returns at the darkest moment of winter, here is a gift for you:

The tides flow out from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime:
They find their way to many shores
With gifts of remembrance, thoughts of love–
Though the world be weary and the days afraid
The heart renews its life and the mind takes hope
From the tides that flow from the Inner Sea
At Christmastime.

Howard Thurman (1899-1981) – Founder, Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

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I couldn’t believe what I was seeing…

Waiting in traffic for the light to change, I didn’t realize my eyes were softly gazing at a black Mercedes, shiny black with darkened windows.  Although my eyes were softly gazing, the car registered in my mind.  “Nice car,” I would have said.  My eyes continued to gaze toward the car.  Just before the light changed, I saw the door on the driver’s side open, I witnessed an arm reach out, and I saw a hand drop a McDonald’s bag onto the street.

The light changed.  Lanes of cars sped off onto the freeway.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, as if in slow motion.  Maybe this is just another edition of Saturday Night Live, I might have been thinking.  But no, this was an ordinary day on an ordinary street – in my community.

Whether we want to believe it or not, whether we choose to live like it or not – change begins with us.  If we want our communities to be clean, safe places, then we need to be clean, safe folks ourselves.  It’s as simple as that.

Use the trash can!Image

 

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How to show up and pay attention

An acquaintance told me about what she had experienced one day when she was waiting for a friend. 

She’d driven to the friend’s neighborhood and parked her car.  Then she walked up the street to her friend’s house.  When she went to the door and rang the bell, she realized she was too early.  Her friend hadn’t arrived home from her job.  So my acquaintance walked back to the sidewalk in front of her friend’s house.

As she stood there, a woman came up to her and started speaking to her.  “Hello,” she said, and my acquaintance acknowledged her.  “Which house do you live in?” the woman asked.  My acquaintance explained that she didn’t live here.  She was waiting for a friend to come home from work.  “She lives here,” she said, pointing to the house. 

The woman who had approached her chatted for a few moments about the activity on the street.  Kids come out to play after school, she said.  I live in that house, she said, pointing to her house, a few doors down. 

When she left, my acquaintance realized that the woman who had spoken to her was a good neighbor.  She was keeping an eye out for who was a “regular,” and who wasn’t.  She was paying attention!  She hadn’t been intrusive, but she’d been interested.

Paying attention means being aware of who is a regular and who is a “stranger.”  Paying attention means checking things out, gently but clearly.  Paying attention means caring enough to keep the neighborhood safe by paying attention!

We all know our cities and neighborhoods need lots of things they don’t have now.  We all know people are hungry, lots of people don’t have work and lots of homes have problems that aren’t visible to the rest of us.  We all know there are no easy answers. 

If these problems – and all the others – are going to change, however, we’ve got to start.  The key word is:  “we.”  You and me.

 

 

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Don’t be attached to the outcome.

birchtreeShow up.  Pay attention.  Tell the truth.

Don’t be attached to the outcome.

Now, this is a tough one!  “Don’t be attached to the outcome.”  In other words, do your part and let it go.  In other words, do your part and trust.  In other words, do your part and watch what happens.  In other words,  do your part.

This matter of “letting go” is so often misunderstood.  We do what we can.  Sometimes what we choose to do will have noticeable results, and sometimes what we choose to do won’t make a significant ripple.  What we “let go” of is our ego-involvement.  “Let go” of controlling the outcome.  Let go of your ego-attachment to what happens.

And if what you are choosing to do on behalf of the community doesn’t seem to be working, then let go and choose another action.

If we’ve each done our work, the work of showing up, paying attention, and telling the truth, the possibility is that our work will succeed, although maybe not in the way we’ve imagined.  So often when we have ego-attachment to our actions and choices, we look for particular results.  We think we’re in control, so if things go as planned, they’ll go the way we expect them to go.  In that case, we also think we know what is the best way for things to work out.

Trust is the key word here.  Trust as a tree trusts the earth it stands on.  Trust as if your life depends on trust.  Trust as if you understand that all the control in the world, all the care-ful-ness in the world, cannot assure the results you want.  Trust that there is Something or Someone or Some-Other out there that is in charge of the results.

This is the hardest work in the world.  Our communities need people who have grown up, who have done their real work – which is the work to become adult.

Trust as a tree trusts the earth it stands on.  “Don’t be attached to the outcome.”

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Tell the truth.

Show up.  Pay attention.  Tell the truth.  Don’t be attached to the outcome.

Tell the truth.

It seems so easy, doesn’t it?  “Tell the truth.”  And how do we tell the truth, when sometimes it’s not easy?  And of course, there is the question:  “what is truth?”

When folks in our communities begin to show up and to pay attention, it’s time to tell the truth.  How do we tell our neighbor that their noise is interfering in my life?  How do we tell the truth when we are fearful of reactions? 

This is a tough one, to be sure.  First of all, to “tell the truth,” even if you’re angry, doesn’t mean lashing out with the truth.  Sure, you may be angry, but as adults, we learn to temper our anger by acknowledging it to ourselves and then speaking it out – often without using the words:  “I’m angry.” 

Again, this is a tough one.  There are lots of “anger management” courses out there – and with good reason!  Breathe.  Stop for a moment.  Take in your feelings as much as the situation you’re in.  Step back from the situation.  Talk to someone else about it.  Maybe you decide you’re over-reacting, and you walk away.  Maybe you decide there’s nothing you can do about a situation, and so you allow someone else to step in.  Maybe you even decide it’s about you, and not them!

Telling the truth is about speaking your truth.  You can learn to speak your truth kindly and with a sense of connection to others.  You don’t have to speak your truth and expect the matter to be solved.  When you “speak your truth,” you may be opening the door to a long process – and to connecting deeper.

Practice “telling the truth” with simple things.  Tell the truth to yourself, for example.  Stop telling yourself that your life is “their problem,” and take responsibility for yourself, for your feelings, your choices, your decisions, your reactions.  To “tell the truth” is to be empowered.

When you are empowered, you stand up straight, and you allow others that privilege. 

“Tell the truth” can change the communities we live in, one truth at a time, one relationship at a time. 

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Pay attention

Show up.     Pay attention.     Tell the truth.     Don’t be attached to the outcome.

 

What do our communities need now?

Communities need people to pay attention. Once we show up – really show up! – we can pay attention.

What’s new in the neighborhood? Who is missing from yesterday? What is changing? Who has not been seen before?

Pay attention means “pay attention” to what is. To “pay attention” is to see things for what they are, without judgment. Someone new or unknown may signal something wrong – or not. Someone missing may mean something is wrong – or not. “Pay attention” means only that: to see what is there, to give the community active attention.

Our minds fall easily into the trap of seeing what is “right” or “wrong.” Both are sides of the same coin. If we have done the work to “show up,” then the natural outcome will be that we are able to “pay attention.”

See what’s there! Notice!

One of my neighbors works all the time. I never see him. He’s got important work, I know. But as far as being a neighbor – well, he’s hasn’t shown up for a long time! When an ambulance drives, siren shouting, in the neighborhood, others “show up” to “pay attention” to what is happening. Which home is the ambulance for? Is there something that can be done for the folks in that home? Who will talk to the paramedics to see if someone can be called?

We’ve lost something important in our communities. We don’t see people on the street often enough. We don’t know each others’ names. We don’t look at each other when we pass on the sidewalk. We’re all part of the problem we’ve all created…

Pay attention!

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