‘Be grateful for whatever comes’

Open Door_Henri Matisse (1896)

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Rumi, transl. Coleman Barks

Image: Open Door, by Henri Matisse (1896)

Posted in roundabout response to the WordPress Daily Prompt: Control

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Come On Down, or ‘All the Roots Grow Deeper When It’s Dry’

Roots (1) Mysselhoj_da_070407

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

– Tao Te Ching, Chapter 67
(transl. Stephen Mitchell)

Just three things to teach – simplicity, patience, and compassion. Of course, there’s nothing exactly easy about any of these, even though they each sound so basic and fundamental. Like so much good teaching, the Tao Te Ching reminds us of things we already know deep down; it helps us to remember who we really are at heart and, perhaps, to live more closely in alignment with that original self.

The problem I have – that I suppose many of us have – is that sometimes it’s the simplest ideas, paradoxically, that take the most work to really integrate into our lives. If there is such a thing as fundamental nature, and if we posit that nature to be fundamentally good or whole in some sense, we still have to admit that there are practical difficulties involved in accessing, achieving, or realizing that original nature. Whether you think the problem in getting there is related to original sin, the human ego, or our clinging to some false idea of a fixed and permanent self – or something else entirely – it seems like we all have a winding road to travel to get back to the center, to the basic truth of who we are. It’s definitely a paradox. The truth is as close as our next breath, as far away as the stars in the sky.

I heard a lecture recently in which the speaker lamented the way people sometimes get excited about new spiritual teachings – or spiritual teachers – but don’t realize that, without practice and cultivation, even the best ideas can’t take root. In this way, it can be all too easy to flit from teaching to teaching, from teacher to teacher, initially excited and drawn by the spark of truth in each fresh perspective, but ultimately finding ourselves on a kind of spiritual merry-go-round of excitement followed by disenchantment, of the initial thrill of momentum followed by the gradual realization that we’re not actually getting anywhere. Then we start looking for the next fresh idea, or the next bestselling author, teacher, or guru.

I guess the argument is that, at some point, we have to be willing to sit with an idea long enough for it to develop within us from a seedling into a growing, thriving thing. And, in some sense, we have to be willing to do the hard work of sitting with ourselves in just this same way, examining our perceptions, thoughts, and experiences in a simple, patient, and compassionate way until we, too, start to take root and come to find our own bearings and particular way of being in the world.

The idea of learning to put down roots reminded me of the refrain from the David Wilcox song “All The Roots Grow Deeper When It’s Dry.”

Prosperity will have its seasons
Even when it’s here, it’s going by
And when it’s gone we pretend we know the reasons
And all the roots grow deeper when it’s dry.

Life is always going to have its ups and downs, and I can’t see as how there’s anything wrong with seeking out new information, new perspectives, and new experiences. All these things, individually and collectively, enrich our lives. But it’s also good to be able to stay put sometimes, to sit still, to grow deeper. And the “dry” times – the tough times of shadow and loss, of grief and uncertainty – are when this can often happen most profoundly.

Our root system – and our basic connectedness to everything that is – grows deeper when times are hard. But we have to be willing to stay present, stay aware, and nurture the seeds and conditions of that growth. That takes time, and it takes practice. And if it all sounds too much like “impractical nonsense,” don’t take my word for it. Why don’t you hang out for a while with things as they are, and then see for yourself? Ultimately, who knows what we may grow to be?

Posted in roundabout response to the WordPress Daily Prompt: Roots

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When Death Comes

Lake Pier (2)

When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

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‘Not Always What They Seem’


“It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons.”

– Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”

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Champions of the Commonplace, or, “Call Your Mom and Tell Her You Love Her!”


The champions in our lives come in all shapes and sizes, and they’re often hanging out in places we’re not looking for them – in our homes, or even in our own families.

I haven’t gone into it – in part because I’m still debating how personal to make this space – but one of the main reasons I’m back on WordPress in 2017, dipping my toes again into writing online and sharing that writing with others in the form of a blog, is my mom.

My mom is a great writer – a journalist by training and profession, although she’s held many different kinds of jobs over her lifetime so far. Told during her early years at school that she “couldn’t write” by well-meaning but misguided English teachers in small rural schoolhouses, she nevertheless persisted in her love of words – both reading and writing them – and discovered, later on, that her first love as a writer was for journalism and news-style writing, a genre her early teachers hadn’t comprehended well enough when they gave her low marks on her classroom essays and composition assignments. It turned out she had a knack for the “inverted pyramid” structure of a crisp, well-written newspaper story – leading with the most important parts, then adding supporting quotes and background facts, and then letting the tail end of the piece drift away into tertiary details before coming gracefully to a close.

Of course, over the length of her writing career – professional and otherwise – she developed plenty of strength and facility with other writing styles and formats, but journalism was where she first found her voice as a writer, and it’s always been an important part of who she is as a storyteller and a communicator.

A few years ago, she left a job writing for a local newspaper in order to take on a broader role related to municipal arts management. She missed the frenetic energy of the newsroom and the thrill of chasing down a hot lead, but the hours in the new job were better – more regular, with fewer evenings and weekends – and the benefits were a vast improvement from what the paper could offer.

One downside was that, in this most recent iteration of her professional life, she was doing less actual writing, something she really missed. She and I are forever encouraging each other to find new creative outlets and ways to share this common interest of ours with others. She would ask me about the short stories, essays, or songs I was working on writing, and I would ask her about the interviews and feature stories she was doing (usually on a volunteer basis) for publication in some small local journal, paper, newsletter, or the like. But we both remained curious about the idea of writing blogs, an idea that would always come up from time to time.

And so, long story short, my mom and I, separated by half a continent but connected in our love for language and the written word, have been talking off-and-on for a while now about becoming “blogging buddies.”

Unfortunately, she’s been dealing with some relatively serious health issues these past few months that have taken a lot of her time and energy. Her life – forever busy with her job, her volunteer work, time spent with family, or just curling up with a good paperback mystery – has become, recently, a series of seemingly unending visits to doctors’ offices and being too tired, often, to even pick up a novel, much less write one. After several months on leave from her job – all the time champing at the bit to get back to work and some sense of normalcy – she recently went back to the office, only to be sidetracked a week later by another unexpected stint in the hospital.

She still hasn’t had time to keep up her end of our “bargain” and launch her own blog, but it’s not something I’d ever hold against her. Right now, she’s got more pressing matters to attend to, and I guess, in the meantime, I’m kind of blogging for both of us – even if that “inverted pyramid” news-writing style will never be my cup of tea, being much more disposed to long, rambling essays and discourses on myriad inter-related (and often unrelated!) topics.

I’m really hoping that, one day soon, my mom will be feeling well enough to open up her computer and join this lovely blogging community to tell a bit of her own story in her own words, or to share a few of her observations about life and living. I know her pretty well, but I know I’ll never be able to tell it like she could.

So, write what you know, or write what you don’t know, write what you love, or whatever you have to write, but for god’s sake write something. Do it with your words on a page, or with your actions out in the world, but do it. “Write while you have the light,” to paraphrase John 12:35, “so that the darkness may not overtake you.”

And, while you’re at it, you may as well start with a card to your mom. Or, call her up and tell her you love her. I know, I know, you’re still working on forgiving her for that insensitive and probably-too-judgmental thing she said the last time you two argued, but why not just let it go? It’s a little early for Mother’s Day, I suppose, but you never know what might happen between now and then. Only today is, only this moment.

So, this one’s for you, Mom. I love you! Feel better soon.

Posted in roundabout response to the WordPress Daily Prompt: Champion

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Will Sing for Wontons


“I’ve made a small fortune busking in my days. A very small fortune.”

– Spotted on a musicians’ online message board

Posted in roundabout response to the WordPress Daily Prompt: Fortune

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‘A Subtle Game of Equilibrium’: To Live and Die in Go

Go Players (by Ogasawara Issai)(1)

“Any game where the goal is to build territory has to be beautiful. There may be phases of combat, but they are only the means to an end, to allow your territory to survive. One of the most extraordinary aspects of the game of go is that it has been proven that in order to win, you must live, but you must also allow the other player to live. Players who are too greedy will lose; it’s a subtle game of equilibrium, where you have to get ahead without crushing the other player. In the end, life and death are only the consequences of how well or poorly you’ve made your construction. This is what one of Taniguchi’s characters says: you live, you die, these are consequences. It’s a proverb for playing go, and for life.”

– Muriel Barberry, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”

“The go board is a mirror of the mind of the players as the moments pass. When a master studies the record of a game he can tell at what point greed overtook the pupil, when he became tired, when he fell into stupidity, and when the maid came by with tea.”

– Source Unknown

Posted in roundabout response to the WordPress Daily Prompt: Territory

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