Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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Time, and time again

Image: Judy Wright

It’s my pleasure to share this Guest Post — a zinging slice of flash fiction that takes an interesting temperature of these wild times we find ourselves in.

My big thanks to the writer, who’s also a wonderful sister.

 

The Blue Cupboard

by Tracey Edgerly Meloni

On my 17th birthday, while I was reveling in my Mary Quandt orange mini dress with a fifty-pound note in the pocket, Dudley disappeared into The Blue Cupboard.

Da swore years before my watch that The Blue Cupboard had transported him forward to 1967. The family in Penrith thought he was barking mad; as Uncle Willie said, “We keep mops in The Blue Cupboard, not H.G.-bloody-Wells.”

Da’s ravings about enormous protest marches, masses of hair and women burning their undergarments became ominously real in the news. I believed in him – he was all I had. Mum died having me, although I once overheard Uncle Willie stage-whisper that Da’s time-traveling lunacy was what really killed her.

Anyway, here on my 17th birthday in the real 1967, I follow Scottie Dudley into The Blue Cupboard. The door slams. All fades to black until the door opens again.

The view tells me that Da was right: just like him, I am in Washington, DC and the protest march is still going on. My outfit should fit right in.

“Dunna be so sure, Lassie.” A cartoonish, hairy Scotsman with a ridiculous brogue and awning-like eyebrows takes my arm with gloved hands, his tartan bell-bottoms and purple Edwardian coat making even me stare. Dudley?? He shrugs. “Is me tail covered?”

The Blue Cupboard took us far afield from 1967. These people must be concentration camp survivors: slashed, torn pants, ripped jackets, bald heads. Tattoos. Several have signs protesting the number of children killed in – 2018?? What the hell war is this?

Image: Judy Wright

“Groovy retro! Selfie?” says some ratty woman, throwing her arms around me and shoving a flat thing in my face. She points to a restaurant while dancing away. “Fusion – great falafel and sushi.”

Dudley and I look at each other. “Put your tongue back in your mouth,” I say. We go in. There’s a telly, telling me how spectacular sex would be if only I used the pink-and-blue gel. Then more adverts show a young woman shaving her face, an old woman flaunting her pee-pads (“Speaking of which,” says Dudley, excusing himself. . .)

Thanks to The Blue Cupboard, I’m celebrating being both 17 and 68 among strangers who’ve evidently been killing their children for half a century, while celebrating sex. I’m eating two things I hate with a Scottie dressed up like a psychedelic Dr. Who.

Da?

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The quest for breadth and depth

Photo: Liz Turner

As I dive deeper into a new writing project, I am reconnecting with the power of my relationship with my thoughts — the very narration of my days. As every one of my storyteller friends knows, narration is both a daily companion we can’t escape and a maker of meaning that we all need.

I revisited an insightful article on the topic by writer Steve Almond, which is reminding me of what’s missing in much of writing these days: an effective narrator. It reinforces for me how much I need one personally, just as my writing does.

In the cultural shifts of the last decades that turned many into viewers rather than readers, “we’ve lost our grip on the essential virtues embodied by a narrator: the capacity to make sense of the world, both around and inside us,” Almond writes.

Photo: Diane Kirkup

Narrators serve the role of portraying big things, conceptually: how individual fates collide with history. More than just awakening readers’ sympathies, they help enlarge their moral imagination as “they offer a sweeping depiction of the world that helps us clarify our role in it,” he says. The perspective that narration offers helps us make meaning of a story, and of our lives, and also find a sense of place for ourselves in the scheme of things.

In times whose only constant seems to be constant change, we need narrative more than ever, even as it’s fast disappearing. While publishing gets downright pedantic that writers “show, don’t tell,” a well-developed narrative and its vital contribution to a story, like nutrition in a diet, becomes endangered through ignorance and oversight.

Narrative is as essential in human life as purpose is. It’s the one thing that, when time is shrinking, spinning, rushing past us with ever-increasing speed, points faithfully to what is timeless. We don’t need it to spoon-feed us, naturally. But we do need its signposts.   

Almond notes that media has created increasingly passive audiences, able to absorb and react, but not to imagine. That’s a pretty low (survival-based) level of human experience. And, accordingly, the focus of a lot of current writing is on the instinctual aspects of human beings — survival or perpetuation of the species (chase scenes and preoccupation with the sexual, often voyeuristically so).

Author Nathan Rutstein predicted this more than 25 years ago. He had worked in television and other media and authored many books when he made the observation that human society was increasingly losing sight (literally, as if not seeing it) of the higher possibilities and qualities in human potential as it grew more fascinated with and gripped by materialism, both in media and in the rest of what was called culture.

Almond’s article describes the approach of most media as that of “minimizing sustained attention,” which results in a flitting, easily distracted behavior that doesn’t ever engage with any depth – becomes incapable of doing so, perhaps. That’s almost the exact opposite of what a novel (or painting or play) was designed to require and invite. Or a spiritual, contemplated life.

Reading, unlike scanning and surfing, requires involvement and commitment, both from writer and reader. The narrator, and a story’s narration, is what facilitates this, helps create a book’s world, then lends it meaning. Many books now feel as much like packaged entertainment as most commercial television, and as unsatisfying and lacking in nourishment for our inner life. Much in publishing seems to train attention on mechanics, a shock-value, attention-getting and contrived writing style and manipulative repetition of “tropes.” A  cookie-cutter approach to more of the same. So much more of the same. Preoccupation with the lower nature, particularly if a series might be wrested from it. In order to have more of the same. Where is the room for discovery, depth, mystery? Soul?

Photo: Karen Darling

Almond describes how although some current works reach for these, “still work heroically to make sense of the world,” they find themselves “on the margins of a popular culture dominated by glittering fantasies of violence and fame. On a grand scale, we’ve traded perspective for immediacy, depth for speed, emotion for sensation, the panoramic vision of a narrator for a series of bright beckoning keyholes,” he says.

We’ve bartered away the riches of our indwelling higher nature, what brings meaning and depth to life, for the indulgence and absorption of our instinctual one. In a way, that is the only aspect of human being that seems to get the attention and focus now, perhaps with a thin veneer of the intellectual applied over it, or emotion that’s dealt with mainly in sentimentality, hyper-dramatization or other superficiality.

Narrative, and the meaning it serves, can restore the breadth and depth of human experience and bring it back home whole. Ennobled.

True expression, in any form, and always, in its highest one, is incomplete without it.

Find Steve Almond’s excellent article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/magazine/once-upon-a-time-there-was-a-person-who-said-once-upon-a-time.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0


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The circle is meant to include us all

Ten years ago this month, my husband, Jon, our two grown kids, and our new son-in-law were in Haifa, Israel, to share a Baha’i pilgrimage. Nineteen years earlier, Jon and I had visited this same spot and I’d prayed that, if it were truly in the best interest of all involved, we might return one day as a family. And so, here we were, living into a heart’s prayer answered; a dream realized.

In the golden evening glow of the Bab’s shrine, the reality of the larger spiritual reunion I am part of came home to me in a sweetly unexpected way. It was close to sunset on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, when many in Haifa close their shops or leave work early to prepare for this day kept sacred. A mood of impending reverence and quiet settled in as the streets grew vacant.

I sat in the silence of the shrine, aware of the atmosphere of spiritual preparation going on all over this bustling city.

Bells began to toll from the Carmelite monastery, located near one of the caves of the Old Testament prophet Elijah, as more lovers of God began turning to prayer as the day drew to a close.

Then, from the minaret of a nearby mosque, the melodious call to prayer began to sound with soul-stirring beauty.

And here, we Baha’i pilgrims, assembled from throughout the world, lovers of all faiths, with personal roots in many different ones, were all gathered in the spot that honors one whose martyrdom, akin to Christ’s, aimed to help free mankind from its deepest bondage, and help it finally come home together.

As human beings grow, they lead the most spiritually actualized lives not when they cling to the small circle of family and what is familiar, but as they learn to embrace ever-widening circles and bonds with others.

The pain in the world today seems directly proportionate to the degree to which we haven’t yet found the love for God and our fellow beings that will transcend our own limited knowledge and assumptions, that will make us eager to seek our Beloved, by whatever name we call Him, in every face.

The changeless faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future, draws a circle meant to include each and every one.

 

Adapted from Life at First Sight: Finding the Divine in the Details

https://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0

 


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Making room for the new, and the good

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

“Taz,” courtesy of Jon Ring.

 

When you suffer because of discrimination, there’s always an urge to speak out. But even if you spend a thousand years speaking out, your suffering won’t be relieved.

Only through deep understanding and liberation from ignorance can you be liberated from your suffering.

When you break through to the truth, compassion springs up like a stream of water. With that compassion, you can embrace even the people who have persecuted you.

When you’re motivated by desire to help those who are victims of ignorance, only then are you free from your suffering and feelings of violation. 

Don’t wait for things to change around you. You have to practice liberating yourself. Then you will be equipped with the power of compassion and understanding, the only kind of power that can help transform an environment full of injustice and discrimination.

You have to become such a person — one who can embody tolerance, understanding, and compassion. You transform yourself into an instrument for social change and change in the collective consciousness of mankind.

 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh, Answers from the Heart: Practical Responses To Life’s Burning Questions

No matter how it seems out there, humanity IS evolving from war-like competitiveness to peaceful and loving connectedness and CO-existence.

… the chaos we are experiencing in the outer world is nothing more than our own resistance to freedom and peace.

And notice that the deeper “resistance to change” digs in its heels, the more irrational it becomes.

~ Christine DeLorey

I do believe in simplicity. It is astonishing as well as sad, how many trivial affairs even the wisest thinks he must attend to in a day; how singular an affair he thinks he must omit.

When the mathematician would solve a difficult problem, he first frees the equation of all incumbrances, and reduces it to its simplest terms. So simplify the problem of life, distinguish the necessary and the real. Probe the earth to see where your main roots run.

~ Henry David Thoreau

Your life situation may be full of problems — most life situations are — but find out if you have any problem at this moment.

Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?

When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution.

So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you find the life underneath your life situation.

~ Eckhart Tolle

 


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The light of our kindness vanquishes the dark

Photos courtesy of David Campbell / http://gbctours.com/

 

As Winter overtakes my days, one book reviewer’s words continue to strike a chord:

 “One of the things I also enjoyed was that this story took place in a kind world, with supportive and loving folks, despite their past difficulties, even with each other.”

This is the reason that I write –  from the belief that this is the world that all of our hearts want – and that all of our hearts are capable of helping to bring it into being.

Our minds can be reinforced in a thousand ways to believe that this is unrealistic and impossible.

But our hearts know so very much better. They always hold the key to that kinder world they can envision, with love.

Perhaps this is what Carl Jung was pointing to in these words:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence
is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.

It seems that “kindling a light of meaning” is inextricably linked with compassion, which author Christine DeLorey recently defined as “love of life.”

Our experience of life in these times can feel harsh and cold and unyielding. Those are the times when our hearts can feel stricken, fearful, confounded.

But like the sun, even in winter, there is always, each day, that waiting possibility of “radiating light throughout the world and illuminating your own darknesses” so that “your virtue becomes a sanctuary for yourself and all beings.”

Those words of Lao Tzu’s, shared a long time ago, capture the timeless essence conveyed in what we remember in every new Season of Light: the light does, indeed, shine forth most brightly, unmistakably, in darkness.


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Coming home to oneness

Deep in each of our hearts, we already know oneness, because we are created in it. Every atom of existence embodies and reflects this truth.

Sending love and prayerful blessings to all as celebrations unfold worldwide on this 200th anniversary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah.

“The incomparable Friend saith:

“The path to freedom hath been outstretched; hasten ye thereunto.

“The wellspring of wisdom is overflowing; quaff ye therefrom.

“Say: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers.

Courtesy of Lara Kearns

“Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.

“Verily I say, whatsoever leadeth to the decline of ignorance and the increase of knowledge hath been, and will ever remain, approved in the sight of the Lord of creation.

“Say: O people! Walk ye neath the shadow of justice and truthfulness and seek ye shelter within the tabernacle of unity.”

~ Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity

 

Courtesy of Diane Kirkup

“Through the power of Baha’u’llah all will be united.

“He upraised this standard of the oneness of humanity in prison.
“When subjected to banishment by two kings, while a refugee from enemies of all nations and during the days of His long imprisonment He wrote to the kings and rulers of the world in words of wonderful eloquence, arraigning them severely and summoning them to the divine standard of unity and justice.
“He exhorted them to peace and international agreement, making it incumbent upon them to establish a board of international arbitration — that from all nations and governments of the world there should be delegates selected for a congress of nations which should constitute a universal arbitral court of justice to settle international disputes.
“He wrote to Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, the Czar of Russia, the Emperor of Germany, Napoleon III of France and others, inviting them to world unity and peace.
Through a heavenly power He was enabled to promulgate these ideals in the Orient. Kings could not withstand Him. They endeavored to extinguish His light but served only to increase its intensity and illumination.”
 
~ Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace (Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1982 Edition) pp. 202-203.


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Time for our new story

Image: Judy Wright

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

The Earth and your own soul require you to live magnificently and fiercely; it is time for a new story.

~ Mary Reynolds Thompson, author, Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness

In the morning when you wake up, reflect on the day ahead and aspire to use it to keep a wide-open heart and mind.

At the end of the day, before going to sleep, think over what you’ve done.

If you fulfilled your aspiration, even once, rejoice in that.

If you went against your aspiration, rejoice that you are able to see what you did and are no longer living in ignorance.

This way you will be inspired to go forward with increasing clarity, confidence, and compassion. 

~ Pema Chödrön

Grandmother Twylah1912545_715883631833593_4178046946350743142_n

Seneca Grandmother Twylah Nitsch

One of the first things Seneca children learned was that they might create their own world, their own environment, by visualizing actions and desires in prayer.

The Senecas believed that everything that made life important came from within. Prayer assisted in developing a guideline toward discipline and self control.

~ Twylah Nitsch, Seneca

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.

What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.

~ Thomas Merton

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.

Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.

 ~ Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching