I have had one of those "make you crazy" kind of days which began with a plan of waaaaay too much to accomplish anyway, and then just about everything I tried to cross off the list either did not work out, could not get done through no fault of my own, or I screwed up. Case in point: the blogpost I wrote earlier and accidentally deleted with no way to retrieve. And now here we are, it is almost time for bed and I have to concede defeat and try again tomorrow. Days like this one make you really appreciate the smooth sailing ones. I vaguely recall one or two of those a year :-).
So this post will be a shortie. I was going to say "quickie" but I once got myself in a very embarrassing conversation with a patient by telling him at the end of a day-long appointment (we were doing sort of a "dental overhaul") not to worry, next time would be a quickie. Without missing a beat, he said he had no idea we offered those and why hadn't I said so before and now he was REALLY looking forward to his next visit. Yeah, he was a big ole meanie, who thoroughly enjoyed my resultant flushed red face and discomfiture.
I've been thinking a lot about love in all its aspects and forms (as you know from my last post). It keeps returning to the forefront of my musings these days. I really do believe that unconditional human love, when we are lucky enough to experience it, gives just a tiny sip of the Love that makes the Universe Dance. Through it, we catch a hint of the love of the Creator for the Created...ie us and everything else....and it inspires such a longing to know the Beloved. Love is therefore venerable. It IS God, God is it.
So I want to pay tribute to the people present in my life who love me, just me, with all my foibles and all my edge-y bits. I want to acknowledge the joy of hearing and feeling and saying and demonstrating "I love you". I pray, as I grow, to be made a more perfect channel of love for those with whom I come into contact. I pray to love purely and without agenda. I pray to see myself and others as God sees us, always with eyes of love, even when we act pretty shitty.
I'll end with a short video clip of Utterly Adorable. Enjoy. And go hug some living thing and whisper "I love you" before you close your eyes tonight....even if that living thing is "just" you.
Having just celebrated the Official Day of Love (with pizza and ice cream), I’ve been thinking a lot about all the many different kinds of love and categories for them. I know, I know….categorizing something like love? But lookit…I NEED some way to make sense of the fact that I don’t love ice cream in the same way as the way I love my Hubs (I love it….MORE! Hahaha, just kidding, Babe). So, you’ll just have to put up with my penchant for order, if you might like to spend some time with me here considering this subject.
(By the way, my orderliness is in direct and often oppositional contrast to Hubs’ chaotic leanings. He robustly ascribes the fallout of this tendency (crazy messy desk at work, “stuff” dropped randomly all over my house, the kitchen disaster after he has baked bread and so forth) as an inevitable part of Entropy, the second Law of Thermodynamics: all things tend to Disorder. I digress…again. Stream of….unconsciousness. Brain….entropy? A topic for another post, another day, perhaps).
So…what’s love got to do with it, what’s love but a sweet old fashioned notion? :-) Hubs and I were once sitting on a bench in Tobago (sister island of Trinidad) early one morning at the beach, watching the sun rise. An older Rasta guy wandered over and naturally, my guard went up at a strange man’s approach. But he soon seemed harmless enough as he began to chat. He actually wasted very little time on “chit” chat…got right down to business: discussing “higher” love. Yup, out of the clear blue (Caribbean sea and sky). And this guy, a relatively slight-built man with Big Hair, not having the most polished diction in the world (to the American ear, he may not have even been speaking English!), living an apparently very simple life, not appearing to have much in the way of possessions, began to speak of “agape” and yes, he actually used this word. Pretty uncommon for people to even know of it, more uncommon to have it be used in an inaugural conversation with strangers. Sometimes the universe has such a sense of intrigue! It hides powerful teachings in the most unlikely places and one has to be truly Hearing to catch them.
And so this brings me to a categorization…Love Levels, if you wish: Eros, Philas, Agape. Of course, things are not black and white, more often life gives us “black and blue” as we weather its storms (coincidentally, we are currently snowed in by a literal storm )…..so one or more of these can be mixed together to create a whirling mass of…chaos! Kidding.
Eros: perhaps the most elemental of the three. Sensual love. Love which excites the senses. Not to be scoffed at, not to be dismissed as being “amimalistic”, in my opinion. Frankly, if it did not exist, if male pheremones failed to excite the female of the species, well pretty soon, the species would cease to exist. This is the butterflies in the tummy, oh my gosh shall we do the dirty, wow you are so FINE kind of love. It is a love which is based in desire, often but not exclusively physical desire, and it wishes to be fulfilled. If mutual, it can be delightful indeed, while being experienced and enjoyed. However, if not mixed in with something less volatile, less chemical, more grounded, more enduring….these white hot fires of passion will inevitably fizzle out once their appetites have been slaked. Don’t call me, I’ll (like hell I will) call you. It’s not you, it’s me. Boom…over.
Philas: ah, love stepped up a notch. Here we have brotherly, sisterly, friendly, affectionate love. The love we bear for animals, activities, hobbies and things. Yes, under this category is supposedly how I feel about ice-cream (although I think mine is liberally spiked with eros). This love is essentially dispassionate. Less carnal, more virtuous than the roving eye and swaggering gait of Eros.
Agape: re-enter Rastaman in Tobago. This is the most high-vibration form of Love. Enlightened Masters like the Buddha tell us this is the love God bears for Wo(Man), and it is the love we bear for God. It is the most fulfilling of all loves because it is totally free of desire of any kind, or any need for reciprocation or validation. It is the kind of love which allows selfless service. It is unconditional. It is the love which looks upon all people and all things with the same regard. It holds no one higher or lower. It does not compare. It is completely secure. It simply, softly, strongly holds its own Highest Consciousness. It does nothing but it manages to accomplish everything. Unlike Eros and Philas, it is hallmarked by endurance. Not in the sense of “putting up with” but in the sense of “timeless and eternal and steady”. It is the love which, whether we know it consciously or not, we long to give and receive in our human relationships. For when we can approach a love like this, it allows us a glimpse into the Heart of God. And that glimpse is sufficient to fill us with wonder and glory and amazement, so much so that we keep striving to see it again.
So, all the commercialism of Valentine’s Day notwithstanding, I am happy to have had a special time to consider love in general, to reassess my relationships, to see where and how I can be more motivated by Agape and to work on my purity of intention in all interactions with others. I believe, that it is possible, with dedicated practice, applying the principles of Agape, to live in a State of Love…where love is what I AM, rather than what I feel or how my senses become engaged.
But let me just say…. at the end of all these ruminations, I yet conclude, I LOVE ice cream in a way that blends all three…a sort of Love Sundae. And yesterday (pictured below), when I ate it, sitting next to my Hubs, I sprinkled my Love Sundae , on a Valentine Sunday, with some Philas and Eros and I FEEL really good about that. Yeah, corny stops here, NOW. I Love You, guys....you can figure out under which category for yourself.
I was standing at the sink washing dishes yesterday and all of a sudden a memory popped into my head. It was of being in the backseat of a car on a visit to Canada at Christmas time. (I was still living in Trinidad at the time). We were actually going to a holiday house-party, I think, and I recalled now my excitement about “Christmas in the cold” (as opposed to our balmy 76-80 degree tropical Christmases). In case you are wondering, the novelty of this has long since worn off. But the main thing about this memory yesterday was “seeing” the people in the front. They were a couple whom I loved a lot, not blood relations but I called them “uncle” and “auntie” as is the norm in the Caribbean: a sign of respect for “your elders”. Uncle was driving. He was then a dynamic man in his early fifties and I admit to having quite the schoolgirl crush on him, for he was so well-read and articulate and intelligent and funny. He would treat me with such consideration and we would have discussions about books and various philosophical matters, during the course of which I was made to feel that my opinion actually mattered: a dizzying, euphoric feeling for a young person. And Auntie was so full of fun and zest for life, a beauty and a prolific cook who loved nothing more than to have her house full of guests and stuff them to the gills…and boy did she ever know how to throw back her head and laugh. She called me “Sweetie” and that may sound saccharine to you, but it was said with such love and sincerity that I would feel like a million dollars hearing it. I have begun here with a digression from my topic but as I began to write here now, all this came back to me. What I really wanted to talk about this morning, what that memory yesterday made me ponder, was how ordinary life experiences sometimes come back as the sweetest of remembrances. That drive in the car was just a “normal” ride, I don’t recall much about the actual party, nothing life changing ensued that evening…but here I am, now in “the future” and auntie died a couple of years ago from metastasized breast cancer and uncle is now confined to a wheelchair and has Alzheimer’s. What am I getting at here? That we often fail to venerate and celebrate, or even just stand in conscious awareness of, the preciousness of the ORDINARY moments of ORDINARY life. Those times when nothing particularly spectacular is happening…..we get up, we go to work, we fix meals, we do laundry, we go to sleep and get up and do it all over again. Pretty routine, right? But here’s the thing: we are healthy (or at least not bedridden), we have people we love physically accessible to us, we are able to move independently, we were able to go to the bathroom on our own and wipe our own ass, we saw another sunrise or a sunset, we looked in the closet and had a choice of clothing, we did not go hungry….my God, these are nothing short of miracles for many people on the planet. Yet daily, we usually either take these things for granted or we long for more excitement, declaring that we are so very bored with our lot or we fantasize about how much better things could be. Frankly, and I say this to myself first, this is an attitude of monumental ingratitude. The only moment we have for sure is this moment now, this one breath we are breathing now is the only one of which we are certain. And if in this moment, you are okay, that is of great significance, a huge blessing. In the blink of an eye, an “ordinary” life may become a living nightmare. I am not being fatalistic by any means…..I AM saying that every beat of our heart is a gift and we need to hold the awareness of this. We need to embrace all of our life: the good, the shitty, the dark, the wow moments, the humdrum moments…each and every experience in its spectrum. And I don’t mean just a sort of resigned, stoic, dutiful embrace…I mean a tight, bear-hug, life-affirming embrace. The kind that squishes your breath out. The kind that pays tribute to the Sacredness of Now without any judgment of it. The kind I used to get from uncle and auntie both, while they still could. So I wish us all a happy, ordinary day…made extraordinary only by our gratitude for it.
During my seven years at St. Joesph's Convent P.O.S., my Alma Mater, this day began with the celebration of Holy Mass in our school chapel. The image of hundreds of us girls in our white shirts and blue skirts lining up dutifully to receive a cross of ashes on the forehead is forever etched in my mind's eye. Attendance was pretty much mandatory if you were Catholic. No sudden conversions were allowed: so if you were planning an escape from this particular liturgical school celebration, you would have had to declare and maintain your defection from the fold at least a year in advance. Why was it mandatory? Well because Ash Wednesday in Trinidad means that the island has just celebrated two days (just prior) of intense revelry in its annual carnival. And the Sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny who ran our school were adamant that if you could wassail for two days straight, you could get your a$$ out of bed at the crack of dawn on Ash Wednesday to atone for the host (pardon the pun) of sins you most likely just committed and think about what you were going to sacrifice for the next forty days of Lent. Which brings me to my topic for today: the subject of sacrifice. I've never really liked the aura of that word. I felt it to be paradoxically self-indulgent, carrying with it the taint of a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) "holy pride". Or at least quite superficial, where what was being "given up" was really mostly about a temporal thing like losing weight (no cake for 40 days-"a moment on the lips, forever on the hips") or helping your skin (because it is a medical truism that chocolate digests directly into large zits in obvious places). Or often it is liberally spiked with martyrdom, where everyone who comes within a 25 mile radius is acquainted with just how much voluntary suffering is being undertaken. However, in honour of this day, which begins the countdown to the ultimate sacrifice of the Christ, I've decided to review the concept more kindly, and examine its expanded possibilities. Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject. It seems to me that when True Sacrifice is made, it is actually a very quiet thing. And True Sacrifice is hallmarked by its willingness to sacrifice the ego first and foremost: offering it up on the altar of the heart, with the Divine as First Witness. And so, I would offer for your consideration that the physical crucifixion and death of Jesus was actually NOT His Big Sacrifice. I think that happened just before he died up there on that cross, when he whispered: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do". I imagine, having been betrayed by those closest to him, having been tortured, having been shamed, it would have been so easy to instead utter a powerful curse that brought down the fury of the heavens. It would have been so "human" and understandable for him to have died riddled with bitterness and self-righteous anger, instead of compasssion and forgiveness toward those who essentially murdered him both by their actions and their inaction. But this is where his Divinity declared itself. Christ showed us the Way, The Truth and The Life of Real Sacrifice. For me, today's Ashes are representative of the dust which remains when pride and I-consciousness are burned in the flames of devotion and service. They are also a reminder that all which is material is ultimately being sacrificed to time and that the only thing that will endure, that will rise again out of the Ashes, is our Love. How much we loved, how well we loved, how we loved when it was difficult, when we let love in, how we let it win, how we bowed our heads and let go of the desire to be right, but instead were kind and forgiving. I conclude that this is the hallmark of sacrifice, its stamp of authenticity: Love. So, in light of my newfound fondness for 'sacrifice', for the next 40 days, I am going to give up.....hahahaha....caught ya! I can't tell you, silly, I just have to show you :-).
Last Thanksgiving, the Little Woman had a bit of a meltdown. She was processing a lot from the recent trip to India and generally feeling a bit overwhelmed by some new things she'd taken on, in addition to a plateful of existing responsibilities. So she said to the Little Man: "Little Man, I need some help. Can you take over doing your personal laundry?". Okay, so maybe at the time, she did not exactly say this as calmly as the construction of that last sentence may lead you to believe, but that's the gist of it. The Little Man was initially horrified. Stricken, crestfallen, resigned, and lastly, doggedly determined looks, trafficked across his face. Whereafter, somewhat wounded and a tad miffed, but expressing boisterous confidence that he could reconnect with his resilient bachelor self, he agreed. Fast forward to the present time and what we have here is an Official Situation. This is what it looks like:
All in all, things are going rather well, wouldn't you say? He gets to engage his creative engineering side, seeing how tall he can build before it all falls over. He also gets a (cheap) thrill, as he edges toward the precipice of No Clean Clothes Left To Wear Today. And as if these were already not enough bennies, I get free therapy out of the deal. Because every time I walk by this Leaning Tower of Man's Indignity, I have to breathe deeply, oh so deeply, and say "Not my circus, not my monkey". It's great. Really. All women with laundry OCD need to explore this hair-of-the-dog approach: kill the obsession to stay on top of the washing by watching your Hubs' washing balance on top of itself. I don't want to give you the impression that this is all so difficult for me. There are some delicious moments of such mirth...such as his serious consideration of whether or not three days straight of wearing the same sweater (over a clean shirt of course---c'mon he lives with ME) will be noticed by the general public. Or the alarm on his face (and mine!) when last night, he overloaded the machine and it started making a racket of banging, clanking, moaning, groaning noises. [What the neighbours may have thought, I couldn't say. Well, I could, but some kids might read this :-) ]. Life is truly wonderful. And marriage is truly a yoga in itself. I would not trade any of it for a perpetually empty (laundry) basket. Well, not usually.
Hubs and I went to India last October/November. It would be his first time there but knowing him as I do, I had no qualms that he would adapt and easily go with the flow. In fact, the only problem that I could foresee is that I might not be able to convince him to leave. (In retrospect, I was right about this). Who I was really concerned about was.....me. I am finicky (massive understatement here but I don't want you to think I'm weird...oh oh, I've blown it, haven't I?) about things like hygiene and environmental cleanliness . I have built-in microscope eyes that detect germs with no effort. I can obsess about bed bugs like you can't begin to imagine. I HATE my feet to get (and have to stay) dirty. You get the picture. Add to this the fact that I'd been to India twice before with mummy when I was twelve and then again when I was maybe fourteen and was so miserable, unable to keep any solid food down for weeks. Back then, I think it was the inescapable sight of the poverty and abject suffering of so many people, all at once, everywhere we went that put me in a tailspin. Growing up in Trinidad, this was not something to which I had been exposed and it shocked me out of my naivete. Up until this, I thought that all people pretty much lived like I did: not rich, but certainly decently clothed and shod, under shelter, with running water and sufficient food. Going back now as an adult (well, as much as I will ever be), a part of me really did not know if I'd feel any differently. From the first, all those things I mentioned above, hit me right in face again. And no, I am not about to say that I had come full circle and "enjoyed" or was unaffected by them. But against this backdrop, I'd like to describe one experience for you. It was one among many amazing ones over the course of that journey, but one of the most unlikely for the likes of me to have been in a position (literally) to have had. It occurred during my first visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Shoes are deposited, in exchange for a numbered chit (which you better not lose otherwise you'll be walking barefoot back to the hotel through the streets, OMG, OMG, OMG). You then wade through a shallow pool of water (insert graphic of frantically swimming spirochaetes trying to get in between your toes here). I could not bring myself to look at the water fully, nor could I not look, so I was casting these little furtive downward glances...sufficient to assure me that the water was certainly not pristine (although sevadars change it multiple times a day). So my initial progress toward the Temple was significantly tied up with all this...ugh. Then I walked onto a sort of covered landing at the top of the stairs that one traverses down onto the parkarma (the marble walkway around the Temple and its sacred pool of water), still very much aware of my goopy wet, DIRTY feet, now attracting particulates of all kinds. A few more paces to the top of the stairs....and there....I saw Harimandir Sahib, the temple itself, for the first time. I'd seen pictures of course, but this first view with my own eyes...wow. It felt like all the air whooshed out of my lungs and both it, and I, were flying towards the temple like it was a powerful magnet. I have no adjective in my vocabulary superlative enough to describe the vision of that temple. I definitely was not thinking about feet any longer. And wait, there's more. Descending the steps took me onto the parkarma, directly in front of the temple and without questioning it, I obeyed the urge to bow. Not just a "head and knees bow"....like the pretty little bows I'd make at the end of the pew in Catholic church (being careful to not let my right knee touch the GROUND for too long)...this baby was a full body, stretch-right-out, lay-on-the-ground-prostrate kind of bow. I've seen religious types do this kind of thing before and believe me, a part of me thought it a bit extreme and fanatical. I mean why does one have to lay on the nasty ground to show a love of the Divine, right? I'd had an ungenerous suspicion it was mainly "for show". And here I was, laying down on my belly, all sorts of FEET walking by my head and all I could feel was what a great blessing it was for me to have the privilege to do this, to bow like this in one of the most sacred sites in the world. It is said that a saint sacrificed his/her life on every square inch of that marble walkway and the temple, to defend it, to ensure it was preserved into the future, and I am telling you....I could feel such elemental power and energy and majesty coming out of that marble and into my body. I am not prone to going into what I call "New Age rants", but at the risk of making you roll your eyes, I felt as if all of my chakras were getting a tune-up. For the moments I lay there, I was acutely aware of a sort of energetic umbilical cord, from my navel, through the marble, connecting me directly to the Temple itself and to the Universal Ong of the planet. I felt incredibly loved and incredibly at peace. I go back there again and again in my mind and I cannot wait to physically return, Deo Valente, and discover exactly how long I can lay like that until one of the patrolling sevadars pokes me with the tip of his "respectful behaviour enforcing stick" and bades me to get up. You don't say "no" to those guys. Not even me :-) . Enjoy this beautiful video....as lovely as it is, it cannot come close to being there for yourself. So my prayer is that for all who have the desire to do so, the Universe will open the way to make that happen. And now, I'm gonna go clean my house. 'Cause, like debt, there's good germs and bad germs.
When I was fourteen years old, I fell soundly, roundly, in love with the most beautiful boy. He had longish, curly hair. He had eyes that should have been commonplace brown, but were mesmerizing because they had these teeny golden flecks in them that danced the light. He had lips that would make Angelina Jolie froth with envy and eyelashes that could double as artists' brushes. (No, I did not spend hours looking at him and daydreaming of him, whatever gives you that impression?) And, naturally.....you have seen this coming I'm sure.....he broke my heart. In so doing, he set the stage for a lifelong suspicion of men who are just too damned good-looking and my ongoing analysis of what constitutes "beauty". I'm grateful to him for teaching me early on that it actually has very little to do with physical attributes. It has everything to do with kindness and graciousness of spirit and a certain openness of soul that invites you in and welcomes you to begin a genuine discourse. I have seen faces, which could be judged by objective aesthetic standards as being rather ordinary, radiate an internal luminescence that metamorphose them into a loveliness that makes me want to look at them again and again. And then I've noticed that compassionate eyes are among the most spectacular things in the universe and make the rest of a face or a body almost invisible. Oftentimes, that which is most exquisite is also so subtle as to be missed by the casual observer. The beauty of some people is like a rare jewel which has to be discovered, and will only ever be, when searched for with a lack of judgement, looking way past what is skin deep. I am also grateful to this long-lost boy for teaching me how to begin to love myself by processing through his rejection, for self-love and confidence are also, I feel, attributes of those who are truly beautiful. I will end here by saying that my aunt more recently saw my teenage love after many, many years. As she began to tell me the story of where and how, I interrupted her, blurting out an impassioned "PLEASE tell me he is now bald and fat and has hairy ears!". "Nope", say she, incredulous...."he is still gorgeous." The little shit. Clearly, karma has loopholes he somehow discovered and found a way to exploit! And now here is a wonderful video that is well worth your time to view, considering what is held to be, and named, "beautiful".
This morning, Hubs did a little silly body motion to tell me something without using his words (I recall this as being a "thing" I hear mothers tell their little children-"use your words"-obviously not a mandate of Hubs' generation) and I burst out laughing. This got me thinking about laughter: the invaluable gift of this ability, which is unique to the human species (although more primitive forms of it do exist in parts of the animal kingdom). Scientists have discovered that the circuitry for laughter actually exists in ancient regions of the brain. Which brings me to postulate that it was/is a crucial, though undervalued, coping and survival mechanism. Maybe you and I are here right now because our caveman and woman ancestors decided to see the humour in almost being gored to death by an angry spinosaurus and they did not give up because existence was hard. Looking at my own life, there have been times when the only thing that "saved" me was this innate ability. I want to tell you about one such time this morning, because for whatever reason, this came right back to mind as I sat to write here. I'd gone to see a Clinical Professor of mine in the hospital shortly after I completed my Grad Pros Residency. He tried to have me not come, talking around the obvious, telling me to defer a visit until he was back home, but we both knew he was not going back home...well, at least not to his house and family. I insisted because I felt I needed to pay tribute to him and his role in my education. It was of course, a shock to see the devastation pancreatic cancer had wreaked on his body. You must understand, this was a gorgeous older man on whom all us female residents -and even a few of the male residents :-) - had a slight Daddy-crush. To see how his physical frame had deteriorated was incredibly difficult to witness. I sat there with him, making small talk...seriously, what do you discuss when Death is right there in the room, inserting himself into the construction of every sentence? And I was all fidgety and horrified, regretting a bit that I came because I did not want to remember him like this. Then a nurse came in with his Fentanyl "lollipop", bless her heart. The pain he was enduring in these last days, he admitted, was intense and these were really helping him. He gratefully took it from her and began to explain to me that it was (then) a fairly new method of administration. Without thinking at all, I blurted out that it was a good thing that it was not so new that the nurse at least knew enough to tell him which end to stick it in. There was total silence in the room-even Death was incredulous-and I realized what I'd said. I felt my face flush hot and then suddenly, we both burst out laughing, the kind that makes your belly hurt and your eyes water, and you can hardly stop. This beautiful memory still brings me joy when I think of him: it has completely replaced all the horror of seeing his suffering and physical decline, the sorrow of a life cut short just when he was about to reap the benefits of a dedicated teaching career (he was just about to retire when his cancer was diagnosed). Which brings me to rest on the subject of "joy". I think that one day, the genes for joy will be isolated...and that they will be found to be right up close to the genes which control laughter. And both those sets of genes will be discovered to be inextricably linked to the production of neurotransmitters which are anti-depressant and engender hope and positivity and creativity....all those things which make human life rich and wonderful. The complex chemistry will one day be understood. However, we don't need to wait for that. All we need to do is experience it: by taking every opportunity to look at life as the comedy it is. Let's be silly on purpose, let us be light, let us choose not to dwell on all the pain and all the mean things other humans can "do" to us. Even when life is at its most difficult, the human spirit can triumph and is absolutely unconquerable. Victory happens when we are able to throw back our heads and laugh with abandon, even in the face of the worst possible things. This is not to say that we will never feel pain. It is to say that we CAN choose not to suffer. And that laughter may be the horse we ride to get out of Dodge. To get you started today, some of these in the video below are great fun. The last had me snorting (poor girl!).
I am a field of awareness. Any thing beyond that is identification with form...