Cheerfulness

August 29, 2013

While there is a chance of the world getting through its troubles, I hold that a reasonable man has to behave as though he were sure of it. If at the end your cheerfulness is not justified, at any rate you will have been cheerful.  ~H. G. Wells

Lately I find myself asking how one maintains good cheer in the face of not only the world’s ills, but our own aging, infirmity, and ultimately, death. I think it must be intentional. But in addition to learning and practicing good habits (morning affirmation, gratitude, etc.). I believe it involves surrender.

Pema Chodron, in her wise book, When Things Fall Apart, says “…we cannot be in the present and run our own storylines at the same time…anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without reference point experiences groundlessness.” We must make friends with fear and groundlessness, surrender to the reality that we have no control, and live our lives anyway.

Randy says our task is to “live until we die.” In my most serious depressive depths, I have not even wanted to do that. But today I do, unequivocally. I aspire as Wendell Berry does in “The Wish to Be Generous“: to “…bow / to mystery, and take my stand on the earth / like a tree in a field, passing without haste / or regret toward what will be, my life / a patient willing descent into the grass.”

What are the ways that you maintain good cheer?


Acquiring and Letting Go

June 18, 2010

Edna Smith Hopper, November 3, 1922 to June 14, 2010

In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is acquired. In pursuit of wisdom, every day something is dropped. ~Lao Tzu

Today I have reread sections of Ueland’s If You Want to Write, and acquired a few bits of knowledge. And I have cleaned out my sock drawer and “dropped” a lot of socks! I’m not sure the latter brings me any closer to wisdom, but it was definitely a task I have needed to do for some time. Where do all those socks come from?

My friend Debra has a rule. She doesn’t turn on her computer until after noon. I tried it today. What a difference! Not getting sucked into to email, Web surfing, or computer games in the early part of the day changed my whole outlook and influenced the use of my afternoon time, too. So I have also adopted this rule and am dropping the morning computer habit.

My mother-in-law is no longer struggling, and for that I am grateful. Since her stroke on May 22, she had been declining steadily, and Tuesday morning she died at the age of 87. Her funeral service was, I believe, just as she would have wanted it, a testament to her many, many gifts to individuals, her family, her church, and her community. Rest in peace, Edna.


Hello Again!

May 3, 2010

Do you know that disease and death must needs overtake us, no matter what we are doing? What do you wish to be doing when it overtakes you? If you have anything better to be doing when you are so overtaken, get to work on that. ~Epictetus

I have missed writing. In the flurry of changing jobs, preparing for retirement, completing a demanding class, and taking a couple of short trips, I forgot what I want to be doing when I am overtaken. Luckily, Teresa has reminded me: It is writing! Or perhaps writing is the means to the end: living mindfully, being present for life.

So, today, I am grateful for readers. (I have missed you!) I am grateful for writers, especially the Paperwhite Writers and the Stonepile Writers. I am happy to be back at the keyboard.

Epictetus calls us to our important work on earth. What is it that you want to be doing?


Being with Dying

November 29, 2009


In being with dying, we arrive at a natural crucible of what it means to love and be loved. And we can ask ourselves this: Knowing that death is inevitable, what is most precious today? ~Roshi Joan Halifax

It seems to me that loss came early in my life: my father when I was just 14, then my mother and two of my closest friends before I turned 50. I remembered Richard in a previous post (and have now added a photo).

Today I’m thinking of someone I knew for a relatively short time, but who meant a lot to me. This is for Mary Beth.

Samhain

On a night of drinking and dancing
in a smoky Albuquerque bar,
you laughed and said
I made you feel secure.

But there was no protection
from disease that defeated you,
that made you lie down
in the bed of your pick-up truck–

a closed garage, a vacuum cleaner hose,
a note to your friends.
How like you to absolve us:
“I do not feel lonely.”

When the news came, I understood suddenly
that your last phone call–
cheerfulness strained through tears–
had been your good-bye.

I want to believe that your soul
passed easily through the thinned veil
on that Samhain night, to know
that you are dancing once again.


Love and Kindness

April 12, 2009

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ~Aesop

The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love. ~St. Teresa of Avila

Today we visit my mother-in-law in the nursing home. She will know who we are, but she won’t remember we’ve been there. Still, she loves the hot tea Sam brings her and enjoys the attention while we’re there. So it is important to go.

Today, I want to focus on the kindness, the connection, the beauty of this sunny Easter day, and not the aging and end-of-life ruminations that usually take me over when we visit. I want to be mindful of each moment for what it is, and leave the thinking out of the experience. This is difficult for someone who has spent her entire life relying on “figuring things out” with her brain in order to survive and thrive.

I am grateful for growing into more love, less thought. I am grateful for another day in which to practice mindfulness, kindness, love. Namaste.


Memorial

November 16, 2008

No person was ever honored for what he or she received. Honor is the reward for what he or she gave. ~Calvin Coolidge

Yesterday, there was a lovely memorial service for my sister-in-law at the family homeplace. She lived less than five months after her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and it is still hard to believe she is gone. It was gratifying to see the many people she had touched and to hear their testament to her passion and fierce advocacy for those with disabilities. We all learned something new about the meaning of her life.

This was my contribution:

So strange–that small, still space
your ashes now inhabit. We had no time,
no time to solve for x: the family minus you.

I want to remember how you rose early,
mornings at Edna’s, and made the blessed coffee,
reading us the headlines from the kitchen table.

I want to remember how you insisted
we always decorate a Christmas tree,
all of us glad for our effort in the end.

I want to remember how you doted
on your mackerel tabby,
before the pain made you push him away.

I want to remember how we could taunt you
with bananas, before the cancer
stole your appetite, wasted you.

I want to remember how you could make me laugh
without fail, even when you had little
left to laugh about.

Though I know almost nothing,
of this one thing I am certain:
There is laughter where you are.


The Great Death

October 25, 2008

We have to face the pain we have been running from. In fact, we need to learn to rest in it and let its searing power transform us. ~Charlotte Joko Beck

Avoidance of pain can take tremendous energy. I don’t know if I am ready or able to rest in it as Beck suggests, but I do believe that letting it in, rather than running from it, is (paradoxically) a way to release energy. I have just read Larry Rosenberg’s Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive. The author has spent years practicing and teaching death awareness, and he shares the Buddha’s five contemplations on this topic:
1. I am subject to aging. Aging is unavoidable.
2. I am subject to illness. Illness is unavoidable.
3. I am subject to death. Death is unavoidable.
4. I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.
5. I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and live dependent on my actions. Whatever I do, for good or ill, to that will I fall heir.

This last reflection shows us what is in our control, that is our thoughts and intentions. Rosenberg says, “Going along with the strongly conditioned habit of grasping or aversion is its own karma, a mind-state that feels constricted, narrow and cloudy. The choice to observe rather than react, on the other hand, brings more immediate results, a more open, clear, and spacious state of mind.”

Mindfulness again! Being with experience as it is, watching it, rather than judging it. A few years ago I posted this reminder of my intention on my bulletin board: open, curious, grateful.

May I let go of attachments (grasping and aversion) so I can die the great death. Rosenberg says we can do that at any time: “It is what Krishnamurti was pointing toward when he said we must die day to day, moment to moment. It is the death of the ego. Once this death has taken place, there is none other to worry about. There is nothing but the body that is left to die.” I am certain there is restfulness and energy release in this practice. What do you think?