Lately a lot of very mysterious things have been happening in my life.

Here is one example:

I’ve been studying meditation and Buddhism more seriously as of late. More on that later perhaps. Thursday night, I read this piece, ‘Flower Insights” by Thich Nhat Hanh. Here is the story:

There is a story about a flower which is well known in the Zen circles. One day the Buddha held up a flower in front of an audience of 1250 monks and nuns. He did not say anything for quite a long time. The audience was perfectly silent. Everyone seemed to be thinking hard, trying to see the meaning behind the Buddha’s gesture. Then, suddenly, the Buddha smiled. He smiled because someone in the audience smiled at him and at the flower. The name of the at monk was Mahakashyapa. He was the only person who smiled, and the Buddha smiled back and said, ” I have a treasure of insight, and I have transmitted it to Mahakashyapa.”

The story has been discussed by many generations of Zen students, and people continue to look for its meaning. To me the meaning is quite simple. When someone holds up a flower and shows it to you. He wants you to see it. If you keep thinking, you miss the flower. The person who was not thinking, who was just himself, was able to encounter the flower in depth, and he smiled. That is the problem of life. If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything. When a child presents himself to you with his smile, if you are not really there thinking about the future or the past, or preoccupied with other problems then the child is not really there for you. The technique of being alive is to go back to yourself in order for the child to appear like a marvelous reality. Then you can see him smile and you can embrace him in your arms.

On Friday morning, I got up early and headed out the door to meditate before work. On my way, I spied a lovely rose, still blooming in November. I took a picture & posted it on Facebook.A flower on the path

My day went on. I arrived at the meditation space, had a warm cup of chai, meditated, slipped into awareness practice for a long time absorbing the lessons for the day. Then I headed to work contemplating non-judgement, bliss, clarity, and freedom from useless thoughts. My chat with my cab driver was lovely. Everything was prettier somehow.  The sun was warm on my skin as I walked through the entrance doors into my office. I noticed a sticker on the door that, for some reason, said “Ben Franklin” and I smiled thinking about my good friend who likes to dress up as Ben Franklin and teach children about history. He is a sort of adopted father to me. As I walked along the halls in the office, even the big light globes overhead and the dings of the elevator bells seemed to send love and peaceful sensations to me – somehow. Riding the elevator, I looked up and saw that someone had etched “Love All” into the wood panel. I hadn’t seen it before. The day was productive and I finished all of my tasks.

I took the bus home but stopped first for food. I found myself sitting next to a man involved in politics actively and passionately campaigning to dismantle institutions and programs I care deeply about. I calmly engaged in a conversation with him and explained my perspective with examples, facts, and kindness. It was interesting. I am no stranger to arguing with people, but this time was different. I wasn’t angry at him. I wasn’t unclear. By the end of our conversation, he was giving me useful advice that he thought would help me convey my point of view more broadly to the public. I thanked him for his insight, wished him well, and walked home.

I arrived home late-ish to find my neighbor, Ms. Jackie, locked out and sitting on the stairs with a bunch of bags and cut flowers. Ms. Jackie is an older lady – a small woman, cautious but quick to laugh. She’s a church secretary, speaks with a comforting black dialect, and her hair is usually in a colorful wrap. In her spotless apartment, two doors down from me, there’s a well stocked liquor cabinet and an inviting sofa. She’s generally happy to share both with me. Her husband is in prison somewhere far away. His picture is up on the wall and she’s patiently waiting for his return. Seeing her predicament, I invited her inside my apartment to rest and warm up while she waited for our maintenance man Lamont to come. I’d been locked out myself just a few weeks ago. Neighbors make all the difference.  I opened a beer for myself and Jackie and we laughed, watched some comedy, discussed her grand-kids and hot-flash woes, etc. Lamont finally arrived with the keys, she went inside her apartment, and all was well.

A little while later, I heard a gentle knock at my door.
I opened the door and Jackie was standing in front of me holding a flower arrangement. It was not a gift for me – she brought it over just to show me. She was there, just holding it out to me with a shy smile. “I wanted you to see it, isn’t it pretty?” I couldn’t believe it. The words of the text came back to me. It was pretty, and I smiled and thanked her for showing it to me. I went inside and pondered this. Jackie was the beautiful one. Her genuine desire to share something beautiful with me, something she made, and then actually doing it – such a simple act of love. And making herself vulnerable too. A treasure of insight indeed.

She just wanted me to see it.

Who just comes over to show their neighbor a flower arrangement? Not give them flowers- just show them the flowers. Kids do that kind of thing.

Apparently Buddha does that kind of thing.

It just keeps happening- these sort of subtle and interesting and beautiful coincidences. Or, perhaps I just wasn’t seeing them before. And there’s more nuance- of course, that day I was wearing the only sweater I own with flowers on it. That morning, flowers appeared after meditation, there was the loveliest pink rose blooming outside on my way… I didn’t put it all together until Jackie was standing in front of me, holding out a flower.

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“The sight of you walking in the rain just made my night”

His voice came as a surprise. On my left. Where was it coming from?
I looked.
White sedan. A man in sunglasses leaning over the steering wheel looking out his rolled down window at me. Mouth open. White teeth.
“You are so beautiful. Let me give you a ride.”
It took a minute for all this to register through the cozy blanket of Maker’s Mark I was wrapped in.
I’d just walked out of Wonderland a few minutes ago. I had been enjoying the light drizzle, the memory of pleasant conversation, the smell of the city and the rain, the streetlights, the sound of faint laughter from someone’s porch. I looked at my watch. It wasn’t even midnight.
The car drove alongside me.
It was dark. No one else was on the sidewalk.
“Thank you,” I said, “I like the rain.” And that was true. I do like the rain.
The car drove ahead, then pulled over. Waited for me to walk by again.
Inside, I let out a long sigh & pulled myself out of the cozy relaxed place I was in to play defense.
“It’s raining, I’d be happy to take you home.” His voice was syrupy sweet.
I gauged… Chose my weapon. This one could best be handled with polite refusal.
“Ah, thank you. I’ll walk.”
He continued to drive alongside me. Pacing my steps.
I’d already straightened, walking more surely, exuding power with every step.
I hoped.
Mentally, I surveyed the landscape: fucked. Dark, quiet.
I supposed if I screamed, there were people in these row houses who might care. Might. This was DC, not Kansas or Indiana. People kept to themselves here.
My personal phone was dead. Useless.
I was strong, but he was bigger than me. They all are.
My work phone was good, but he was close. Too close. I wouldn’t have much time if he made a move. And who knows how long 911 takes in the district?
I wondered if men ever had to put up with this nonsense. Or if they know what kind of menace they could be.
“I’d love to take you home, gorgeous,” He crooned again.
I looked over.
“Are you going to follow me home?” I asked.
“I’d be happy to walk you home, sugar.” He said.
He was pulling over the car again, acting like he might actually get out.
“Thank you, hun. I appreciate it, but I’ll walk myself home.” I stopped walking, I looked at him directly.
He took the hint. I hoped he would.
He turned left and off of my street calling out, “Goodnight beautiful!”
I walked on, and didn’t look back.
Another night in the city. I finished my journey. I noted how I never had to worry about the women I passed. I thanked God for each and every one of their beautiful souls.
I turned my corner and a man crossed over into the street to give me space. I thanked God for all of the thoughtful men in the world too.
I was happy to climb the steps to my apartment. Happy no one was following me. I greeted my kitty cat, and locked the door behind me, alone and peaceful.

Sometimes, I think of myself like a video game character. Video game characters have handy indicator lights at the top of the screen to tell you how close you are to dying. They tell you how much damage an opponent will do to you. Useful.

Yesterday took everything I had. It knocked me right into the red. It was a high energy, high focus, event loaded day. I’ve been working on solving a problem at work for a while now. It’s the kind of thing that has a lot of parts and took me a while to understand. Like a hanging mobile, each piece is connected to the others. Touch one and they all move. It might be the most complicated knot I’ve ever been asked to untangle.

Everything has been building up to this day. With me pushing hard for movement and resolution. The pre-call was at 9am followed by the real call at 10. This isn’t a small matter. It took all my inner energy.

After we hung up, my boss called my cell to give me an “atta-girl” and gave me the rest of the day off (right). My colleague and I then worked for hours to paper everything up between other incredibly intense calls. At 4:45 I realized I wasn’t going to make kickboxing class. At 6:15 my other boss called me. “I wanted to tell you I’m putting the paper work through to add an additional 6 months to your term” she said. Amazing. I thought my job was ending in June…

At 7 I walked across the street for some air, an eggroll, and a beer. I came back and worked with my fellow civil servant to write up everything as good as it could be.

I walked out of the office at 9pm.

You might think I went to bed. No. My evening, it turns out wasn’t over. I stopped into a hip local bar for a sazarac and some wings with Mumbo sauce to unwind. One led to two, and before long I’d connected with a friend and used up the last of my energy forgetting about my day entirely. Rather than restoring my life bars though, the drinking and fun only drained me more.

This morning, I had nothing left. Sleep wasn’t enough to restore my life bars back from blinking red to full and green. I was orange at best. I figured I had at least 4 hours of overtime to balance. I laid low until 11:30. I never really recovered. I realized about 6 that I hadn’t eaten anything all day.

I was as productive as I could be. But, I have learned to be patient. I can’t be on, up, and going all the time. Physically, mentally, I sometimes have big moments and then just crash and must rest. Sometimes it takes more than 8 hours. That’s OK.

The cat and I are now going to sleep and sleep well. I have another full day of dragons tomorrow.

 

So, it’s Sunday (or it was… I’m up late- again!) and I sing in the choir on Sundays. It’s not a very “young professional liberal environmentalist” thing to do I guess, but I don’t care. I like it. I like being a part of the music. I even like the choir robes. We sang a nice happy number called “People Look East” and I enjoyed the heck out of it.

After church, an older portly black man in a hat was standing outside alone in the sun. I smiled at him, we complimented each others hats, and we started to talk. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it but we had a “heart connection”. He started talking to me about his experiences in the Vietnam war after I told him about my scarf (from my brother, from his tour in Afghanistan). He shared some stories with me, and how he had felt during the war, how it felt walking across deep rivers and over mountain ranges, how important his buddy was to him, how it felt to come home and be in the rhythm of raising kids and going to work, how he felt standing at the memorial, how the military made him feel disposable, and he told me to keep talking with my brother. That as his sister, I would love him no matter what he did, no matter what happened. I said, of course, that is true. Wives are different, he said. Wives, they get mad at you if you don’t take out the trash. I laughed. I was a wife once myself…

There’s more to the story than that, but you get the idea. He told me it was important for my brother to know I was always on his side. I had tears in my eyes when I gave him a long hug and he kissed me on the cheek. We found his wife and I gave her a long hug too.

It was an incredible moment. After we parted ways, I went for a walk along a creek with a friend and did some drawing.

And, yes. I called my brother.

People associate jumping or leaping with something scary for good reason. Jumping is something we do when we have to act quickly to get out of danger. Leaping requires a burst of energy and…implies falling. “Look before you leap!” is a caution I heard many times growing up. (With good cause, I suspect). How will I land? Where will I land? Will it be someplace safe? Taking a leap into the unknown is difficult. Leaping can mean moving across the country, saying what you really think, breaking tradition, or just finally making a decision.

I’ve made a lot of leaps lately to end relationships, get rid of possessions, and advance my career.  I have felt afraid of being lonely, afraid of being “unmoored.”  I pause to observe that the fear seems to arise from the act of abandoning a known quantity: the arms of a lover, possessions, familiar neighbors, routines, expectations.  And yet, those “safe” parts of my life can be the very things that, when I am honest, keep me from really being my true self.

This week, though, things started to feel different. This week, I stopped feeling so anxious about being alone or unsure of my future. And today I found myself playing a game, and watching a Christmas boat parade with friends, and I was struck by the beauty of this current moment of my life. I never thought my life would be where it is today. I looked, I leaped, but I never imagined this reality when I looked.

“Anxiety is always a gap between the way things are and the way we think they ought to be. Anxiety is something that stretches between the real and unreal. Our human desire is to avoid what’s real and instead to be with our ideas about the world:

“I’m terrible.” “You’re terrible.” “You’re wonderful.” The idea is separated from reality and anxiety is the gap between the idea and the reality that things are just as they are.

When we cease to believe in the object that we’ve created — which is off to one side of reality, so to speak — things snap back to the center. That’s what being centered means. The anxiety then fades out.”
― Charlotte Joko Beck

Looking before you leap is the problem.

Having an idea, a fantasy about what will happen, who you are or who that other person is…that’s the problem. But it’s so easy.

When we leap well, we’re not abandoning the known, we’re being honest about the “known.”We’re honest, finally, with the ideas or fantasies that we’ve created about the entities and events in our lives. We’re always leaping into the unknown. We jump for joy this time, unconcerned where we land because it will be fine. The lover was never bad for me. He just was. He just is. It’s fine. The fact that I’m not “going home” for Christmas isn’t bad or wonderful. It just is. It’s fine. I’ll be where I land when I get there. My career path is also fine. Whatever life is, it’s fine.

A close friend from undergrad might have been having a similar realization today. She offered the following:

Mantra: Today, I’m ok just the way I am. I am not perfect, but nobody is and that’s just fine. I value my friends for their intellect, generous spirits, and awesome attitudes. The world is a beautiful place and I add to the beauty in it. I will encourage and inspire people to join me in fabulosity. -EDH

This week I looked up and realized that I’m surrounded by love and laughter and beauty and experiences. “Fabulosity” as my friend says. I will never see it coming and, for the first time, I don’t need to.

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