Stop and Sniff


One of the great things about having a dog in New York is that you have to walk. A lot. Sometimes very slowly. Canines collect information by sniffing, and none of it happens on anyone’s schedule. When we are “onto something,” it is a singular focus, and if it doesn’t involve a subway grate, a pile of poop on the sidewalk, or a half eaten meal under a park bench, we ARE going to follow where it leads.

This picture is of a garden just inside the entrance of Ft. Tryon Park, across from our apartment in northern Manhattan, and it’s the first thing we see every time we enter. The trails in this park are hilly and we eventually climb to the far side of the Cloisters Museum where there are magnificent vistas of the Hudson River, the palisades, and the George Washington Bridge. Violet and I have a couple of cherished meditation spots up there. By the time we arrive she is ready to relax, having discovered all the smells that exist in her quantum field.

And then it’s my turn. On our bench, I get to do my own “sniffing.” Can I call it prayer? Yes, I think so. Is it reflection? Definitely. Meditative, mindful? Yes! I have waited for to complete her practices, and when we get there, she allows me mine.  She’ll stay as long as I want, and I often do.

My sense in this place is that I am in the world but not always of it. I hear the sounds of traffic below, horns honking, tires screeching. I can watch and hear the barges heading down the river, helicopters zipping past, or the airliners preparing to land at LaGuardia. But I might as well be at Walden Pond, for though I am aware of what is going on around me, I am not necessarily connected to it. I am in the field of all possibilities, much like when I spent millions of lazy hours in an old rope swing that hung from the Buckeye tree in the Ohio of my childhood.

Everything was possible then. Everything is possible now.  For you, as well!


Resist or Not?

The cultural byword of our current era is “resistance.” It greets us in social media, on t-shirts, and on bumper stickers. It is uttered by pundits, social activists, and preachers. “Resist! Persist!” has become the rallying cry for a new movement which possesses a passion once reserved for the “We Shall Overcome!” days of the 1960s.

Mystics, contemplatives, and people of prayer from every faith tradition and non-tradition may struggle in times like these to maintain a sense of peace and equilibrium. Anger easily becomes the fuel for action. Tensions rise and passions flare as our societal polarities move beyond the extreme fringes, creating the kind of civil unrest not seen since the 1860s and the 1960s. But as noted by Martin Luther King, hate-filled resistance will eat you alive. It turns you into the very people you are trying to resist, quickly depleting its own energy, unlike the power of love and non-violent forms of resistance which bring a momentum that is at times unstoppable.

My own tradition teaches me, “Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” To be honest, those words bring me little comfort at the moment. My impulse swings widely like a pendulum from screaming and jumping up and down to crawling under the covers and waiting for the storm to pass. It depends upon my energy level and the mood of any given day, and I have concluded that I cannot live successfully at the effect of either of those things. Something’s got to give or I will soon be melting down.

Someone very wise in my life said to me the other day that the strongest form of resistance is in refusing to engage the evil in the first place. I have thought about that a great deal, especially as it relates to the idea of turning the other cheek. Turning the other cheek isn’t really about rolling over and playing dead. I think it is about deflating the power of evil by not rising to meet its energy. It’s about letting a tweet go by. It’s about deleting an inflammatory post that only cements the polarizations that are killing us. It’s about plugging ourselves into Source and staying there long enough to arrange our priorities in such a way that we aren’t wasting precious time, words, and power being hateful. 

Entirely new generations of people who may be less aware of Gandhi, Dr. King, Mother Theresa, and people like them, will need for us to demonstrate the powerful center that these giants have emulated. We must emulate the emulators. We must “be the change we wish to see in the world.” We must take the bullies on the playground or the ones in cyberspace or other places of power, and consider that their ideas, their bluster, their half-truths, and even their lies, are irrelevant to our vision of the the world.

A tweet is equally empowered by its audience, regardless of the viewpoints of that audience. Perhaps the best response is to choke their fuel by giving it as little attention as possible. Having made that decision, then, we can move toward the persistence of Spirit (insert your preferred term here). Resist. Persist. Together we can shift the momentum.  And so it is.  And so it shall be. 

Deeper, Farther

It is a different world than the one I knew a year ago, having shifted on its axis in a way that I do not fully comprehend, radically altering the energy around me. It might seem like a political change, but it is far more pervasive than that.  It did not happen on a single election night, though that was indeed the slap that woke me from my slumber. For months I’ve been wandering around with my coffee cup trying to figure out if this is real life or just a nasty hangover.

And in what amounts to a virtual bloody mary, I take to social media, goaded by incessant tweets emanating from the executive mansion. Before long I say, “Crap! I’ve let him lure me in again!” His addiction has become mine. Now I feel sullied, so I move my Facebook app to the very end of my iPhone and turn off it’s notifications so it’s harder to access.

But then there is an op-ed in the Times, and without blinking I share it as a post, adding my own piece of snark, building enough self-righteous steam to get me through the day. Later, I look for a positive quote or a picture of a seagull at sunrise, anything  to get me out of the dirty soup. Then I listen to the news and become locked into my own spiritual schizophrenia. Like the apostle of old, I do the thing I don’t want to do and the thing I want to do, I don’t do.

It appears, then, that I’ve gotten religious about my politics, institutionalizing my boundaries in order to satisfy myself. But a political agenda–not unlike a religious one–lures my spirit into a box where it cannot move, a predicament that does not serve me well, let alone the world I live in. 

There must be another deeper, better way, and I think I found it recently on the subway.  It was during rush hour when the train was full and nobody was getting off and everyone else was trying to get on. I was standing, holding a rail, seeing people I preferred not to be smushed into. Amid all the pushing and shoving I decided not to move. I wasn’t being nasty but I wasn’t overly polite either. With my feet firmly planted beneath me I consciously stood my ground, and lo and behold . . . people went around me. 

Then it occurred to me that there is no more powerful resistance than standing still, sitting down, or being quiet. I thought of people like Rosa Parks, John Lewis or Martin Luther King. Here I am, here I stand, and I’m not moving. Not only does it throw others off balance for a change, it protects you from living at the effect of other peoples’ energies.

Don’t get me wrong, I will be morally indignant over government-sponsored injustice every single day. I will continue to make snide political posts because I just can’t not. But if it pulls me off my center until I spin and fall, I’m good to no one, especially myself.

We ask ourselves in these times and places, what can I do to affect change? The answer is that there are a million things we can do, but there’s one thing we must do. History’s  greatest activism has come from lives deeply grounded in meditative practice. From deep within us comes the source of all energy, for we are energy.

We must go deeper before we can go farther.