Thursday, March 31, 2016

Taking Back the Words

"Crisp and Clear"
- a day in spring -

Last evening I watched a TV news report about Donald Trump’s latest outrageous rhetoric. Yesterday’s story began by showing a clip of what Trump initially said regarding his views on abortion, pronouncing that a woman who has an abortion should be “punished" for her misdeed. The news went on to report that, a few hours after making this statement, Mr. Trump took it all back and declared, “A woman who has an abortion is a victim and should never be punished under any circumstances.”

The whole incident was, for me, one more example of the power of words and how foolish it is to assume that we can ever take anything back when it comes to the words we speak.  Once a word is spoken it is irreversibly released into the social atmosphere. We might be able to apologize for the words we speak and perhaps ask forgiveness for the harm they have done but we can never take back the words.

A line from an Emily Dickinson poem comes to mind:

A word is dead
when it’s been said, some say.
I say it just begins to live that day.

There have been all sorts of ugly, nasty words that have been spoken over the course of this presidential election season as candidates hurl vicious insults against one another and spout vile rhetoric about immigrants and foreigners. Every day we hear words like “liar,” “stupid,” “ugly” or “lazy” uttered by people like Donald Trump. These words pollute the social atmosphere, each word is like a little seed planted in the public consciousness - they take root and grow into even more ugliness in an already toxic environment.

Words are very powerful. They can destroy life and they can also create new life.

Many times I have heard people say things like “his harsh words hit me hard, I felt like I was being punched in the gut.” I also think about words used by bullies that are often so powerful that they have pushed victims into committing suicide. Words have the power to destroy.

I have also seen many incidents in which when a single word of encouragement has changed a person’s life by giving them new hope; and when words like “I love you,” or “I forgive you” are spoken they always create new life.

We can never take back the words we speak and so it seems to me that we all should be very aware of the power of our words and very careful to use our words responsibly, always asking ourselves, “Will these words we plant grow into poisonous weeds or will they become beautiful flowers?”

I am reminded of one of my favorite proverbs from the Hebrew Scriptures:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue

Yet another proverb says:

He who guards his mouth preserves his life.

I hope and pray that over the next months as America moves toward the election of a new president we all might make an intentional effort to “guard” our mouths.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Home is Where Your Feet Are

"Spring Break"
- blossoms in the wilderness -

It’s Spring Break and the desert region where I live is now filled with visitors and tourists who have come out here to enjoy the beautiful weather and walk among the flowers budding in the wilderness and springing up from desert sands.  We even have “traffic jams” on local streets and highways at this time of year and our population more than doubles.

On top of all this, all the “Snowbirds” are here in residence - not an aviary species but the people who have migrated here to escape the harsh winters of the east coast or moved down here from Canada. Lots of folks in this region only live here when the desert weather isn’t too brutally hot and then they go back home.

In a few months the visitors will be gone and so will all the “snowbirds,” then it will be very quiet once again.

The more I think about it, I very much like living in a region with so many “transient” neighbors. It helps me put some perspective on the impermanent nature of life and reminds me that all of us are always on a journey. In fact, even if we have lived in the same city or town and in the same house for all our lives, all of us are always “transients.”

I am sometimes asked if I am a permanent resident out here in the desert, and even though we do live here year-round, I am sometimes tempted to say, “No, I have no permanent address.”

I am reminded of a wisdom saying from Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh:

With every step I take, I arrive at my destination.
Home is where your feet are.

Buddhists wisely teach that all life is impermanent - from moment to moment everything changes, always becoming something else, and our time on earth eventually runs out for us all.  We find our deepest peace and greatest joy when we are able to embrace the place where we stand in the moment because life always happens in the moment.

I truly believe that “home is where your feet are.” And so I am always at home and yet always on a journey—such is the nature of life.

Episcopal priest and author, Barbara Brown Taylor, puts it this way:

Most of us spend so much time thinking about
where we have been or where we are supposed to go
that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are.
When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives,
the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say,
‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am.’

The next time someone asks me where I live, maybe I’ll just look at my feet and say, “Here I guess, since this is where I am.”

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Everyday Worries

"Serenity"
- in my meditation garden -

Yesterday morning I was casually browsing through my Twitter feed when I came across one little line that really grabbed my attention:

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy

When I read this I paid close attention to what it said because it seemed to be speaking directly to me -  I am a worrier. I worry a lot. I worry way too much. Worrying is one of those “demons” in my life that continually stands in the way of my spiritual well-being.

After reading that little tweet yesterday I went for a walk and did a bit of personal “worry assessment,” realizing that I rarely worry about the big stuff in my life. I am rarely overcome by anxieties over possible impending disasters like terrorist attacks or California earthquakes.  No, the kind of worries that plague me most are those everyday little worries that occupy such a prominent place in my regular routine.

There is a better word for the kind of worrying that troubles me: fretting. The word, fret, is an “Old English” word meaning, to devour, eat away, gnaw at, and that’s exactly what my everyday worries do to me -  they eat away and gnaw at my well-being, “sapping today of its joy."

When I did my “worry assessment” yesterday the list I came up with of the things I am worried about was quite extensive. Currently I am fretting over a ceiling fan in my house that doesn’t seem to be working, and then there are those insects attacking my vegetable garden, on top of all that the high winds yesterday were making me sneeze and so I’m worried that my allergies may be acting up, and then there are all those tourists in town for Spring Break so I worry about the traffic and getting a table at local restaurants.  

In fact, I realize that when I am not fretting about something or other I sometimes wonder what I may have missed that I should be worrying about- how ridiculous is that?

There are hundreds of little “fretting demons” that gnaw away at my serenity and sap today of its joy and my guess is that I am not the only person visited by the demons of everyday worries.

The Dalai Lama said:

If there is no solution to the problem,
then don’t waste your time worrying about it.
If there is a solution to the problem,
then don’t waste your time worrying about it.

I find great wisdom in this teaching.

By “fretting” I squander away my time and expend useless energy worrying about problems that can either be solved or perhaps have no solution - either way worrying about any of it does nothing to make it better.

Mark Twain once quipped:

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles in my life
but most of them have never happened.