Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Going the distance, staying the course

Sometimes, as one friend has described, we’re simply “riding the donkey”. Decades ago, this was how one got from one place to the next and in many places, it still is.

It could be tedious. It can be tiresome, taxing of heart and testing of patience — even of confidence and faith, when the going is especially slow. Eventually, inevitably we all face such biding and abiding (ask any pregnant mother). Ideally, we make peace with it, yield to receiving what it brings – what our own ideas and designs often chafe against.

A heroine of mine, Marion Jack, learned a lot about this. When I need inspiration for staying the course, going the distance, perhaps when I most want to quit, I remember what her life demonstrates about accepting this price of some of life’s most valuable outcomes, even though our urge may be to flee, dodge, or fight.

Marion Jack

Marion stayed the course, consciously, willingly in very trying times, and places. One was Nazi-occupied, and filled with treachery. She could have left – she had opportunity. She chose to stay for others’ sake, and for commitments she’d made.

“As I have the capacity of suffering much, so I also enjoy much,” she once observed. She also noted with real pleasure, “It seems wonderful, what one can do without.”

Other words of hers hit close to home: “Each one has his own little work to fill in the great scheme of things. Mine seems to be to work quietly in new fields or in assisting the real [workers]. So I always think it wisest to try and do one’s own work and not think of attempting the line of other people.”

She was well-experienced with riding life’s donkey. I imagine her as thankful for the steps it covered on her behalf, however much the movement may have sometimes seemed backward. Or, at best, like treading in place.

She didn’t forget that, whatever circumstances felt like around her, she was being carried. And no matter what she could see, things were advancing. Often, the biggest of those was love, just as the real means of their advance was love, too.

She knew from experience that the pace that took, even when it resembled a donkey’s, was always exactly right.


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Out from under the old

The world is in travail, its agitation boiling over as chaos and confusion increase daily, even hourly. Some days, I barely get my eyes open before the spectre of these assails my inner and outer senses.

Thankfully, many of us recognize this time of immense transition for our human family, this new stage of inner evolution we’re being summoned to. I could say “invited”, but I must remind myself that, whether or not I accept, the big event is going to happen, with or without me.

If left to the limits of my human nature, I would surely be in despair. I would live there, like a permanent address.

“The true joy of every soul is the realization of the divine Spirit,” says Hazrat Inayat Khan. “Absence of realization keeps the soul in despair.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá offers an observation that is particularly timely about this process of realization:

“When woman’s point of view receives due consideration and woman’s will is allowed adequate expression in the arrangement of social affairs, we may expect great advancement in matters which have often be grievously neglected under the old regime of male dominance — such matters as health, temperance, peace, and regard for the value of the individual life. Improvements in these respects will have very far-reaching and beneficent effects.”

What remedies lie waiting if we give such due consideration and allow such adequate expression?

How does it FEEL, within us,  to contemplate what it means to be “grievously neglected”?

Artwork: Judy Wright

And what curious term did ‘Abdu’l-Bahá choose to describe something grossly imbalanced that has ceased to provide benefit and, quite often, causes harm? He calls it a “regime”.

What has any of this to do with my own choices, perception, and thoughts — the powers of my own birthright? It’s so much easier to read a passage like this and feel pulled downward, toward hopelessness, or outward, to make judgments about current conditions and others’ behavior.

Yet what keys do the things ‘Abdu’l-Bahá identifies here hold for the “realization of the divine Spirit”? He also said:

“The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting; force is losing its dominance, and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine and more permeated with the feminine ideals, or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”

As he points to the bright possibility of this balance, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is saying that the regime of dominance, which has ruled with force, is losing that dominance. Two questions that immediately come to mind are: Do I believe that?” and “How am I working in harmony with that reality?” Other considerations might include: “Are there ways that I still resist that liberating truth — or in which I prop up that obsolete regime?”

As travail, chaos, and confusion escalate, even engulf our world, I can recognize the effective remedy that awaits me, and the world, in the qualities described here. Of course, part of the paradox is how much the social conditioning of that “old regime” degrades these very qualities, even seeks to destroy them, when it can’t co-opt them for its own self-serving agenda, most of which doesn’t sustain life, but imperils it.

The delightfully good news is that these qualities ‘Abdu’l-Bahá names are unlimited, and indestructible. Unlike that regime.

What does a world in which “mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service” are valued — even prized — look like? Feel like?

In the midst of any noisy, confused chaos, I can look for and discover this in myself and others, every day.


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The time we own, the space we inhabit

Image: courtesy Tarot by Cecelia

The young tree of my life was planted in a culture constrained by many limiting beliefs.

It believes:

there is not enough for everyone,

that having is being,

that age is an ending.

It believes that it owns space, and place, and most often feels owned by time.

Photo: Liz Turner

Friends from cultures close to the natural world remind me that, truly, it’s the reverse.

Whatever we may think, we are one with space, “owned by it,” as it were. But in the matter of time, the invention of our minds, we are free to take ownership, and choose.

In reflecting about space, and how to direct one’s time, artist Mark Tobey said:

“The dimension that counts for the creative person is the space he creates within himself. This inner space is closer to the infinite than the other, and it is the privilege of the balanced mind… and the search for an equilibrium is essential—to be as aware of inner space as he is of outer space.”

And where is that balance to be found? In what longs for us to hear it, and to become the ear with which it is heard, as the wise visionary knew:

“Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo. We ourselves become His echo and His answer. It is as if in creating us God asked a question and in awakening us to contemplation He answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.”

~ Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation


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Fanning the tiny sparks

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.

Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely.

It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.

~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Artwork: Judy Wright

I like the idea of dreaming the big dream and making small steps.

I’d like to think that you reach your hand, just a little bit further than your reach, not enough so that you’ll be frustrated, not enough so that you’ll give up, but just enough so that you’ll stretch yourself.

~ Maya Angelou

Trust yourself.

Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.

Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.

 ~ Golda Meir

Photo: Suzanne Birdsall-Stone

Sometimes we forget that we must bring presence to the as yet unmanifest dream which wants to come alive around us.

By presence I don’t just mean attention, but a certain quality of attentiveness which holds the anticipation of being met.

It doesn’t require the world to act first, to prove itself, or miraculously appear.

Instead it behaves as if the thing one is becoming is guaranteed and moves as if it carries that secret in its step. Life isn’t only happening to us, we are happening to life.

~ Excerpted from  Belonging,

by Toko-pa Turner

 


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How copper becomes gold

Photo: Saffron Moser

 

Some words that particularly guide the way for me, right now —

“The teachings of the Bahá’í Faith instruct us to work to reshape society based on principles of love, inclusiveness, and reciprocity.

“This requires that our means be consistent with our ends―that is, by transcending current approaches that tend to divide people into contending groups, raising consciousness in such a way as to bring them together in the earnest and honest search for solutions.

Photo: Diane Kirkup

“The language we use and the attitudes we take, while not ignoring the harsh realities that exist in the world, should appeal to the nobler aspirations of our fellow-citizens. They should reflect assurance that the vast majority of us sincerely desire justice, and must be unifying rather than divisive.

“Above all, our approach must be suffused with the spirit of the sacred Word, which grants us access to immense spiritual resources. Indeed, it is the one power on earth that can transform the copper of human consciousness into the gold of spiritual perception and behavior.”

 ~ National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, February 25, 2017.


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How the desert will bloom

Image: Judy Wright

 

With the return of each day’s light comes an invitation to investigate reality, rather than imitate the past. It arrives in a world of imperfection that can easily draw negative reactions from my lower nature.

Yet I’ve often been given the chance to learn that dwelling on imperfections, berating myself or others for them, serves only to increase how many of them I see.

I then begin to draw a circle of suffering for myself. It saps my time, energy, and attention (things over which I have choice), when I could instead offer these for something that is always calling to me: the possibility, in any moment, of contributing to building life’s goodness.

As I respond to that call, I discover how much preoccupation with negativity can surround my life, fill my thoughts, and absorb my precious resources. This is the debilitating presence of blind imitation of the past, which arises from the kind of thinking that was born in earlier, fearful experiences and has led to behaviors, assumptions, and beliefs that have no basis in reality.

My encounter with imperfection extends an invitation to recognize and accept how much I don’t know, or can’t change, yet I can always discover the limitless possibilities of love in every choice available to me. Rather than reacting out of a survival-driven instinct to fight imperfection, or try to escape it, I can turn toward an indwelling response, and presence, that is better-aligned with the purpose for which I’ve been created.

As it invites me into the freedom of not fighting any thing or any one (including myself), this possibility also reminds me that every human interaction (including with myself) is either an act of giving or an act of receiving. By asking questions that encompass both giving and receiving, my sensitivity to my own needs and those of others is increased daily.

Each part of this questioning is equally important, because giving depends on someone willing and capable of receiving, and receiving depends on someone willing and capable of giving. The following two service questions are a tool that can clarify my perceptions in the course of the many choices I encounter each day:

 – At this moment in time, what is the act of service I am capable of giving that the other person is capable of receiving?

 – At this moment in time, what is the act of service I am capable of receiving that the other person is capable of giving?

 

Excerpted from With Thine Own Eyes: Why Imitate the Past When We Can Investigate Reality?  http://www.amazon.com/With-Thine-Own-Eyes-Investigate-ebook/dp/B00I1JPC7I 


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An over-shadowed life

As I continue to receive valued feedback from book-discussion groups and readers, I reflect on how much the world’s continuing hunger to “understand” Hitler is aided by understanding more about Eva Braun.

Much of what’s conveyed about her (huge amounts of it inaccurate) has been based on presumed understanding about him.

But the reality is that more complete information about her can help us better understand more about why Hitler, despite the evil he represents (or perhaps because of it), has occupied collective consciousness for more than 70 years.

Far from attempting to redeem her, my novel, The Munich Girl, follows along patterns of how Braun’s life in Hitler’s shadow, which ended alongside him when she was 33, is emblematic of what many women have done, and still do, in a world still hobbled by inequality. Unable to enact their own potential in a direct way, they resort to doing so from the invisible sidelines and background.

Eva Braun with her mother, Franziska Kronberger Braun.

In Eva Braun’s case, that public invisibility lasted the entire 16 years she spent with Hitler.

One reviewer notes: “The Munich Girl looks at the role of women in different cultures and periods in a way that is quite relevant right now. Do women choose to play the lead in their own lives or do they sacrifice themselves for others? Ms. Ring also leads us to ask what we know of our parents’ lives. How might their experiences or traumas be passed down to us? How open are we to the changes that can come from deep healing?”

Another reader writes: “Women, even well-educated women such as [Anna], the novel’s protagonist, are groomed to give up their lives for the ‘larger’ missions of their husbands and lovers. … one of the many ways in which the feminine aspect of humanity is subjugated, Fascism being the most extreme form.”

The story of The Munich Girl is about many things beyond Eva Braun and the time of the war in Germany.

It’s about how women share our lives with each other, the power of our friendships, and the way we protect each other’s vulnerabilities, perhaps as part of how we begin to gain compassion.

So that our world can, too.

Find more about The Munich Girl at: