Sunday, December 28, 2008

We Live Therefore We Serve Part Two

"Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time." Shirley Chisholm

When I was a young woman, I tried to get a job at a fancy restaurant as a waitress. It was the only job available in the rural area where I was living. When asked what experience I had, I lied and said I had worked my way through college as a waitress at my uncle’s fancy restaurant. The closest job I actually had was serving ice cream and burgers.

I got the job and was given six tables to wait on. Each table had six courses to be served in addition to drinks and wine from the bar. I was completely out of my ken. I really had no idea how to open wine with a flourish, keep track of which table was on what course, make sure everyone got what they actually ordered, etc. And then I realized two things: taking care of six tables was like performing an intricate dance. I could immerse myself in the steps of the dance and keep the food and drink flowing. But most important was to approach each table with a true attitude of service.

“How can I help you?” became my mantra and also my heart-felt approach to my job. I was genuinely interested in each group I served. I was honest in telling them that I was new to this type of job. I laughed at myself as I struggled with the wine corks, or forgot who ordered what. I listened to each and every person and soon had them telling me about their lives in the course of the six courses they consumed. I may not have been the best waitress, but I was the friendliest and got lots of praise from my customers and really good tips.

The key here was that I realized as a waitress I was there to serve my customers. Truly serve them. Once I became aware of this, my customers responded with delight and appreciation.

Since that time I have pondered the idea of service. So much of what we all do each and every day is a kind of service, but if we are not aware of it, we lose the opportunity to really experience the benefits and effects of that service. What exactly do I mean by “service”? To serve can mean offering comfort and aid to another human being, feeding the birds on cold winter days, clearing out a storm drain after a big rain, sending money to a favorite charity, volunteering in your child’s classroom. But service also means making breakfast for your family, changing a diaper, grocery shopping, cleaning the toilet, sweeping the floor. The list is endless. We perform countless acts of service every day without being aware of it. As soon as we become aware, the experience is enhanced and we are uplifted by each act of service instead of feeling drained.

Every act of service we perform makes our lives, the lives of others and the Earth a tiny bit better. As we enter the new year, I challenge you to make two new years resolutions: to be more aware of how you already serve and to try to be of more service to this planet, your country, your community, your family, and yourself. Happy New Year!

Friday, November 28, 2008

We Live Therefore We Serve

"Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time." Shirley Chisholm

Why am I here? Why do I live in this place at this time? What is the purpose of my life? Of all life? What will happen after I die? Does God exist?

These are BIG questions. They occur to all of us as we live and grow and look toward our inevitable death. Of course, it is easy to ignore these BIG questions and allow ourselves to get buried in the minutiae of our lives, all the SMALL details comprised of living on this planet. We can get tunnel vision as we go about our daily lives and pay attention only to what needs to be done on any given day: going to work, paying bills, making dinner, parenting, watching TV, going to sleep at the end of the day, only to wake up and immerse ourselves in the minutiae once again. Still, when we are alone in the car or the shower, or in the space between waking and sleep, the BIG questions resurface: Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? What happens after death?

It is all this un-knowing, these Mysteries that keep philosophers and religious thinkers busy coming up with new theories and new religious sects. Soon these BIG thinkers start to think they have solved the Mystery of Life and that they have discovered the RIGHT way. "Follow me," they say. "I know the answers. I will save you from all doubt, all uncertainty. I will show you the Way."

Doesn't it seem just a bit too easy? In all this vast Universe, amid all the other uncountable Universes, how can one man or woman on this tiny blue-green planet have all the answers? How can one religion be RIGHT and another WRONG? How can God choose one people and turn His/Her back on another? If God is LOVE, how can God's rule include punishment and fear of damnation?

So, what is one small person to do? How are we supposed to grapple with these BIG questions all on our own? It is easier to bury ourselves in the minutiae of our lives and hope that the BIG questions will take care of themselves, or let whatever religion we belong to provide the answers. Which brings me back to the title of this essay: We live therefore we serve.

My answer to all the BIG questions for which I have no answer: offer my life up in service to the greater good, see every action as an offering of love, keep away from self pity and fear. When self-pity and fear rear their heads, find a way to offer up even those feelings as a gift to the great Mystery which surrounds our lives and moves with us through our days and nights, whether we acknowledge it or not.

It is easy to feel powerless and helpless, to feel no responsibility for all the evil and violence and poverty in the world. After all, what can one person do? If each and every one of us offered our life as a daily gift to the Mystery of Life, all the evil and violence and poverty would vanish from the Earth. Of course, we have no power over those who feel invested in keeping things as they are, but this "fact" does not absolve us from offering our life as an example of love and service. We live therefore we serve.

"Any human who feels that he or she is not "good enough" to cultivate peace and generosity is overlooking the wondrous gift of life. You live, therefore you are good enough." Dhyani Ywahoo

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Resiliency of Weeds

We built a new house on a corner parcel of land. In the process of digging out a basement and due to all the people working on the building, the grass was covered up or destroyed. I took advantage of that fact to create a yard that was all garden and no lawn. Over the last three years I have added many plants and shrubs and ground covers, along with trees, fruits and vegetables. But in addition to all that I have chosen and planted on my own, many plants have arrived via wind-born seed or bird droppings. The result is that I have many weeds living among the cultivated plants.

In some cases I just let the weeds grow along side whatever I have chosen, so you will see a 6-foot mullein plant near my rose bushes, or yarrow popping up here there and everywhere. The clover and buttercup are so abundant, however, they threaten to completely cover up my lovely blue-star creeper, the ground cover I have chosen for its tiny magical star-shaped flowers that cover it from May through September. So out I go into the fray, starting in April and continuing into May and June, tearing out the clover and the buttercup and the crab grass and the dandelions in order to let the very forgiving blue star creeper and vinca and knick knick a chance to grow and thrive.

My husband laughs at my determination. "It's a losing battle," he says. And he is right. Along about July my enthusiasm for weeding starts to lag. By August I am postively weeded out. All my beliefs about weeding being good therapy, about how meditative and healing it is to get my hands in the dirt wanes. Instead I look out at the chaos that is my yard and have an intense urge to lie down in the hammock and read a book.

The trick is not to look too closely. People walk by and, when they see me in my yard, tell me, "I just love your garden! It makes my heart glad to look at it." These words would inspire me to longer weeding sessions in the early summer. Now I just look up from my book and say, "Thanks".

So the losing battle has been lost. The weeds knew it all along. They have let me come through and tear some of them up, knowing quite well that sooner or later I'd get tired. Each time I came through they bowed to my weeding will and started growing again as soon as I passed by. Their resiliency and ability to forgive my weeding ways was and is boundless.

I never feel so accepted for who I am as when I am weeding in my garden. "Come and play in the dirt," the plants seem to say to me. "We will let you pick who stays and who goes for just this little while. Then we will come back where we will and live in harmony, rose and mugwort, dandelion and hydrangea, fuchsia and buttercup."

We can all learn from the resiliency of weeds. They grow where they can. They allow us to pluck them from the soil. And then they grow again. And again. No judgement. No blame. Perserverence furthers.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Warrior Spirit

To openly deeply, as genuine spiritual life requires, we need tremendous courage and strength, a kind of warrior spirit. But the place for this warrior strength is in the heart. Jack Kornfield

Mothers are natural warriors, because we are naturally centered in our hearts. We would do anything to keep our children safe. We are fierce in their defense and in our love for them. To become spiritual warriors, we need only use that same fierceness toward our own inner journey.

We must look upon our own spiritual quest with the same deep love and caring as we do our offspring. We must know that at every moment we have the ability to pierce through the veils of ignorance and attachment to the reality of the spirit, of truth and awareness.

When I was a child I wanted to cross the Red Sea with Moses, listen to the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus, see him divide the loaves and fishes and turn water into wine. I wanted to be there in the presence of a living saint. I wanted to see God. I still do! I was in my mid-20's when I met my first living saint. I went to see Muktananda in Oakland, CA. I looked into his eyes and I could see that HE could SEE, that he was real - a part of this world and a part of another world that I could not see. I wanted to be like him.

Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty is waiting in every crumb. Macrina Wiederkehr

I am almost 60 years old now, a crone, and I am just now beginning to understand about holiness and its connection to the ordinary. Every body of water is the Red Sea, every dinner a miracle of loaves and fishes, every ordinary moment is infused with the extraordinary if we can but see it. I don't need to be with Moses. I AM Moses right now, right here.

Sometimes I go about pitying myself, and all the time I am being carried on great winds across the sky. Chippewa saying

Lord, save me from my own self-pity. Make me a warrior of the heart.

Time to go walk on water.... :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

How Easily I Slip Your Mind by Saralee Sky

Here are the lyrics to a song I just wrote, after my oldest son forgot to visit me on his last trip to Bellingham from Seattle. It quickly evolved to be more than just about the missed visit, and has changed from a sad ballad to a reggae song! My partner, Jer, created the melody and helped to rearrange the lyrics to suit a reggae beat.

How Easily I Slip Your Mind by Saralee Sky and Jerry Kilgore

How easily, how easily,
How easily, how easily,
How easily I slip your mind.

I look at you - you look away.
How easily love slips away.
How easily I slip your mind.

How easily, how easily,
How easily, how easily,
How easily I slip your mind.

A flower blooms and gives no sign
That beauty fades away in time.
Like petals falling from the vine,
I slip your mind.

How easily we drift apart.
How easily you break my heart.
How easily I slip your mind.

How easily, how easily,
How easily, how easily,
How easily I slip your mind.
I slip your mind.
I slip your mind.
I slip your mind.

Friday, May 09, 2008

In Honor of Mother's Day

I love pithy quotes, so much so, that in Babynut's newsletter, Nutsense, I include a regular feature called In A Nutshell, containing wise and witty quotes which help to define and support motherhood and life. In honor of this Mother's Day I offer here a collection of some of my most recently discovered and prized quotes for your edification and enjoyment.

Remember this always: The living of your own life writes the book of your most sacred truth, and offers evidence of it. Neale Donald Walsch

Although we have been made to believe that if we let go we will end up with nothing, life reveals just the opposite: that letting go is the real path to freedom. Sogyal Rinpoche

Something precious is lost if we rush headlong into the details of life without pausing for a moment to pay homage to the mystery of life and the gift of another day. Kent Nerburn

I have reached a point in my life where I understand the pain and the challenges; and my attitude is one of standing up with open arms to meet them all. Myrlie Evers

The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves. Terry Tempest Williams

So much has been given to me; I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied. Helen Keller

Every time we affirm how special our children are to us for being themselves, we’re helping them grow into adults who rejoice in the diversity of the world’s people. Mister Rogers

May the sun bring you new energy by day, may the moon softly restore you by night, may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being. Apache Blessing

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. Groucho Marx

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Be Still and Know by Saralee Sky

I have reached a point in my life where I understand the pain and the challenges; and my attitude is one of standing up with open arms to meet them all. Myrlie Evers

I have certainly reached a point in my own life where I have seen crises come and go, experienced the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows, the births and deaths of loved ones. I am seasoned by life. Years of meditation and self-inquiry have helped me to stay more calm and centered through life's ups and downs, though that fabled detachment has yet to really settle in.

Here am I embarking on my 59th year on Planet Earth and I am still struggling to really LET GO and LET GOD.

I was re-reading the book, The Impersonal Life, and in this book we are told: "Be still! - and KNOW - I AM - God."

We are told to study these words, to search out their hidden potency, to say them a thousand times a day until every cell of our body thrills in joyful response to the command, "Be Still," and instantly obeys.

I am partiularly bad at repeating mantras, so I pondered how I was going to keep these words circulating in my mind. I "asked" for a melody to come to me that could accompany these words, and - as I was vacuuming the living room - a melody started going round in my head. I ran upstairs and started playing it on my harmonium and soon another part of the melody also emerged.

Now I sing the melody throughout the day as I go about my tasks. Someday I hope this little nigun, this sacred melody will transport me until I can really Be Still and KNOW!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Letting Go of Self Interest and Self Importance

Although we have been made to believe that if we let go we will end up with nothing, life reveals just the opposite: that letting go is the real path to freedom. Sogyal Rinpoche

I hold so tightly to my idea of my SELF: who I am , what I know, what I believe. I am locked into the perception that I am a 59 year old woman. Is that really who I am? I read books on spirituality, I chant Sanskrit chants, I meditate, I do Hatha yoga. Do these practices help to free me of my delusions, or do they create their own attachments? Who am I really?

Accept being unimportant.
Do not be concerned with loss or gain. Lao Tsu

I want to become unimportant, but my ego gets in the way. I am sensitive to criticism. I fear loss, change, death. I don't want to be alone, but no one else lives inside my skin.

Another way of looking at this is letting go of self-pity. Don Juan (Carlos Castaneda's teacher) said this was essential for a warrior. He said we are all misled by our self-pity, which keeps us stuck in our small point of view.

It all comes down to letting go, surroundering our will to a greater will. Letting go and letting God. The ultimate leap of faith. Can I do it? Can you?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Hope Rekindles in the Spring by Saralee Sky

Expect to have hope rekindled. Expect your prayers to be answered in wondrous ways. The dry seasons in life do not last. The spring rains will come again. Sarah Ban Breathnach

Today is Good Friday and also the second day of spring. A full moon will be in the sky tonight. With the sun just entering Aries, the full moon will be in Libra. The Aries energy of beginning and bursting forth will be tempered with the balanced energy of Libra.

Good Friday is a truly magical day. I long to know what it was like for Jesus and all the others who lived through the sadness and horror, only to be renwed in spirit, faith and love. What an auspicious day! What a chance for us all to rekindle our faith, our hope, our love for one and all. The energy of spring - of renewal - of rebirth - is intensified by the full moon and Easter.

As we enter this powerful Full Moon Spring Equinox, let us recommit ourselves to our journey of Wisdom and Transformation. Let us renew our deep healing and rebirth efforts and practices, celebrating this sacred and magical time of transformation in our lives. Paul Avgerinos Round Sky Music

I always feel full of hope and promise in the spring, especially when the sun moves out of Pisces and into Aries. I am a third degree Aries with my sun conjunct the planet Mars. That means that the Aries energy is particularly strong in me, especially in the first week or so of spring.

My birthday is March 24th and I enjoy celebrating it with my loved ones. Last year I had a big party that doubled as a house-warming party for our new house. This year we will celebrate on Easter Sunday with my family. Then on the 24th, I will take two of my grandchildren to see the Horton Hears a Who movie. I'm looking forward to it. :)

But tonight I will spend some time in contemplation and in celebration of all the elements coming together: of spring and the renewal of light over darkness, of an Aries sun with a Libra full moon, of Good Friday and all it portends. The Equinox has come and the days will be getting longer. Hope and life will burst forth from the earth and be blessed with the light of the heavens above. Joyous Spring to you all!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I've been tagged: Note to my 15 year old self.

I write to you now from the perspective of a 58 year old woman - a crone. You have just started out on your life's journey. You still live at home with your step mom and Uncle Joe. Life is a great big unknown, especially your own inner self.

I say to you: be not afraid. You will journey far and wide on this earth and you will learn again to listen to that voice inside you - the one you used to hear loud and clear before your step mother put a stop to all that when you were 8. You will be part of the hippie era, the generation gap, sex, drugs and rock and roll. And you will come through it with an ethic of your own and a spiritual path that will lead you deep within.

Gary and Nunzio will play roles in your adult life, but not what you think now. You will have babies and grandbabies, you will live as a pioneer, you will study paychology, you will meet your soul mate. You will love with all your heart and learn about loss and change. You will have a good life - so relax and be yourself. The people you think are so important now will fade away and be no more than the glimmer of a memory.

Before any of this takes place you will have to learn to grieve - for the loss of your mother and your father. You cannot stuff unpleasant feelings away. They will find their way to the surface when you least expect them. You heart will be broken but it will mend and be stronger for it.

I love you, young Saralee. Be kind to yourself. And now, what I REALLY wish I was able to tell my 15 year old self is this: Your brother in law was right when he gave you that boring lecture about what to do with your life: learn everything you can about computers. And buy Microsoft and Starbucks stock – as much as you can as fast as you can. You’ll thank me or rather I’LL thank YOU! :)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Growth Means Change

Recently my four year old grandson, Jordan, has developed a resistance to any transition during his day. When his mother tries to get him ready to come to my house in the mornings so that she can go to work, he is likely to have a tantrum saying that he wants to stay home. When it is time for me to take him to school in the afternoon, he will hide and cry and say he hates school and doesn’t want to go. When it’s time to pick him up from school he will run away from me – sometimes into the parking lot where cars are coming and going – saying he doesn’t want to leave school. And when his mother comes after work to take him home from my house he will refuse to leave my side. I realize that he has to face a lot of different places each day, but in each place he is loved and cared for and always ends up having a good time.

“Growth means change, and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown” (George Shinn) Perhaps for Jordan, each time he leaves whatever safe haven he is in means stepping from the known to the unknown. He must take the leap of faith that Nana’s house will be safe and fun and that school will be safe and fun and that home will be safe and fun, over and over in his young life.

Is it possible to feel safe and scared at the same time? I think so. Perhaps it is the higher self and lower self battling it out. Jordan’s higher self says “You will be fine wherever you are and whoever you are with,” while his lower self says. “I like it fine where I am. I don’t want to go anywhere else, take any risks. Let me stay here where it’s safe.”

Albert Einstein says, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Seen in this light, it is miracle that Jordan works through his resistance each and every day and takes the leap into the relative unknown of my house, of school and of home again. I must appreciate more just how brave this little boy is as he steps each day into the unknown and lives to tell the tale.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Homeschooling vs Public Education by Saralee Sky

There is a phrase in the US Constitution: "To provide for the general welfare." This phrase gave rise to federal taxation to provide such diverse services as science and technology, the environment, health care and education. It was the phrase that gave birth to the public school system.

While you may or may not approve of the public education system as it now stands in our country, it remains a most noble attempt at providing every citizen with the basics, the 3 R's: Readin', Ritin', and Rithmetic. What is so very great about this country is that - while it does provide this basic educational service - we are all free to refuse it and to follow our own designs and dreams as far as educating our children goes.

When my children were young, we lived 2 miles up a dirt road and then another 5 very curvy miles down a 2-lane blacktop to the local school. When I took my oldest son, Joseph, to Kindergarten, he hid under a desk and it just felt wrong to me. So I took him out of school and kept him at home for that year. When the next year rolled around, we tried another school, 45 minutes away along the same curvy road. The ride was exhausting, but the school was wonderful: three rooms, grades K-8 and 85 students total. Joseph loved this school and Teacher Judy.

We made the journey twice a day, went through two oil pans and various other auto parts, and I look back on that time and wonder why I just didn't give up on public education and keep Joseph at home with me. That was a long time ago and the resources for homeschooling were not plentiful. Today I receive a magazine called Life Learning, which encourages homeschooling, self-directed learning and unschooling.

These are radical concepts to me, especially letting go of "teachable moments' and trusting children to learn on their own when they are ready and interested in the subject. I am afraid I suffer from "teacheria" - the unconrolable urge to teach my grandchildren about the tides when we are at the beach, or the seasons when we see a leaf fall, or why it is snowing instead of raining. You get the picture. Sometimes my granddaughter looks at me and says, "Uh-uh," while shaking her head "no." At first I thought she was telling me that I was wrong about whatever I was trying to teach her. Then I realized that she was just telling me to shut up!

So now I will shut up and close this article by saying: if you feel ready to jump into homeschooling or unschooling I say Go For It! If not, be ready to help out at your local school whenever possible, because the government has its hands full providing for the general welfare, and public education has to take a back seat these days to many other concerns.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

An Attitude of Gratitude

Gratitude is the intention to count your blessings every day, every minute, while avoiding, whenever possible, the belief that you need or deserve different circumstances. (Timothy Miller) Trying to maintain an attitude of gratitude is very hard for me. I start out all sparkly and loving and full of thanks, but gradually I sink down into old resentments and self-pity. Why should I be so grateful? Don't I deserve more? More abundance? More fame? More success? More pats on the back?

What do rich and famous people have that I don't have, besides money and fame? Why can't I just snap my fingers and have all that I need, all that I truly deserve?

Is it possible to feel blessed and resentful at the same time? I think so. Perhaps it is higher self and lower self battling it out. My ego says I deserve more, but my inner self says I have all that I need right now to be a fully enlightened being.

Let go, let it go, let it be, let me be. Enough of the ruminations and self pity. Life is good and I am perfect just the way I am and I am good and I am life and I am grateful for each breath I take.

This is the battle of my life. I hope this new year will see me become the truly powerful, loving, grateful being that I know I can be. Medicine Woman. Om Shanti.