Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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The widest thing in the universe

 

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE

A wee garden of Springtime ponderings:

 

Love makes your soul crawl out of its hiding place.

~ Zora Neale Hurston

Nature does nothing in vain. 

~ Aristotle

The widest thing in the universe is not space, it is the potential capacity of the human heart.

~ A.W. Tozer

The time of your transformation is at hand. It is always at hand. It is not a question of whether you “have what it takes,” but of whether you take what you have—and then use it.

Take the gifts you have—they are plenteous—and share them with all the world. Apply them to the challenge at hand. Use them and give them in your life as if there’s no tomorrow. Cultivate the desire to do this. If you have the desire, you will have what it takes—precisely because desire is what it takes.

~ Neale Donald Walsch

The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

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Jewel-like, radiant, and fleeting

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

What a heavenly potentiality God has deposited within us! What a power God has given our spirits! He has endowed us with a power to penetrate the realities of things.

~  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Fidelity to your heart’s deepest dream isn’t primarily a matter of self-discipline or productivity systems. It’s more a practice of remembering—that this life is jewel-like, radiant, and fleeting like the dew on a spider’s web.

~ Eric Klein 

Yin is the receptive, feeling, compassionate force within. It knows the wisdom of surrender and chooses to yield, even when everyone else is getting ahead. For Yin, withdrawing is entering. It’s there that we gestate our dreams, refine our intuition, and have a center from which to interrelate!

~ Toko-pa

When from our better selves we have too long
Been parted by the hurrying world, and droop,
Sick of its business, of its pleasures tired,
How gracious, how benign, is Solitude!

~ William Wordsworth


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The longest, sweetest journey

Photo: David Campbell

A most subtle and most difficult transition for us to make is to move from the use of human traits by the human nature to the  employing of divine qualities by our spiritual nature.

This has been described as the longest journey — from the mind to the heart.

The human nature, using the limited vision of the rational mind, doesn’t have the capacity to perceive divinity and easily makes the mistake of believing that we, ourselves, are the source of such spiritually motivated actions as generosity, mercy and justice.

This misconception leads inevitably to arrogance, the hallmark of the ego, and we cannot approach God with what is essentially the exact opposite of the attribute that is required for this — humility.

In his book Love, Power and Justice, author William Hatcher notes that “We are the only creatures of God who have the capacity to be aware of our dependency on God.”

It is the spiritual nature that possesses the capacity to recognize that the amazing virtues of love, mercy, kindness originate with God and that we’re privileged to use these infinite attributes that God has placed within us in infinite combinations to enhance our lives. We can remember, when someone thanks us for being kind or merciful, to acknowledge in our heart the divine source of kindness or mercy. In this way we can grow in humility instead of arrogance. We can carry in our awareness the source of these qualities and thus draw closer to that source.

The animal and human nature each ask the same question in all our interactions with the world: “Do I eat it or does it eat me?” The human nature wears better clothes and couches the same question in more sophisticated language, such as, “Do I win or do you win?’”or “Who controls who in this relationship?”

The spiritual nature always asks the same question: “What do I need to do to approach the Divine?” Or perhaps more specifically: “What act of service do I need to give or receive in order to approach the Divine?”

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


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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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Staying in the middle, letting the softness speak

Image courtesy Julie Bond Genovese

After moving for the first time in 35 years, and accompanying my mother-in-law during the final days of her life over these last weeks, I hit a wall.

It was a big one, a hard one. And I hit it hard.

Photo: Kathy Gilman

My heart — Spirit’s intended home, by Divine design — felt … adrift. Muffled or, much as my mother-in-law had been, knowing what it wanted to say, but unable to make her mouth say it. When she worked very hard to get the words out, you often had to practically have your ear against her lips to hear it. This is something like what my heart was feeling, too.

Along came heartfelt words from Pema Chödrön to the rescue:

“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”

And, a longer read, but right to the heart of the matter:

“We are told about the pain of chasing after pleasure and the futility of running from pain. We hear also about the joy of awakening, of realizing our interconnectedness, of trusting the openness of our hearts and minds.

“But we aren’t told all that much about this state of being in-between, no longer able to get our old comfort from the outside but not yet dwelling in a continual sense of equanimity and warmth.

“Anxiety, heartbreak, and tenderness mark the in-between state. It‘s the kind of place we usually want to avoid. The challenge is to stay in the middle rather than buy into struggle and complaint. The challenge is to let it soften us rather than make us more rigid and afraid. Becoming intimate with the queasy feeling of being in the middle of nowhere only makes our hearts more tender. When we are brave enough to stay in the middle, compassion arises spontaneously. By not knowing, not hoping to know, and not acting like we know what’s happening, we begin to access our inner strength.

“Yet, it seems reasonable to want some kind of relief. If we can make the situation right or wrong, if we can pin it down in any way, then we are on familiar ground. But something has shaken up our habitual patterns and frequently they no longer work. Staying with volatile energy gradually becomes more comfortable than acting out or repressing it. This open-ended tender place is called bodhichitta. Staying with it is what heals. It allows us to let go of our self-importance. It’s how the warrior learns to love”.        ~ Pema Chödrön

(From The Places That Scare You)
https://pemachodronfoundation.org/…/the-places-that-scare-…/


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So great a favor

 

Photo: Kathy Gilman

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

It is through the power of the soul that the mind comprehendeth, imagineth and exerteth its influence, whilst the soul is a power that is free.

The mind comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete, but the soul hath limitless manifestations of its own.

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I have lots of wonderful company these days, as I ponder the mysteries of inspiration and creative process while I also pursue some new writing work. The pathway of The Munich Girl was an eight-year journey of discovery that always reinforced the utter uselessness of expectations. It also revealed the surprising value of open-hearted expectancy. This newest work is doing much the same.

As I reread Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, I’m reminded that: “ … When you walk a path you love, there is something deeper calling you forward on it, like a beautiful question that can never be answered. In the hard times you may turn away from it, but a part of you knows you’ll always turn back because you can’t give up on what you love, even if you try.”

Author Toko-pa Turner, who has recently released a soul-nourishing book called Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home, has shared some wise words about creative process:

“In the end, I think the real work is not finding inspiration, but attuning to it. So when I’m not feeling inspired, I know somewhere along the line I’ve been distancing myself from life.

“This feeling of being separate from ‘something greater’ is usually brought about by numbing habits; so I’ll take myself to the forest and let my senses be reawoken and warmed back to life. I think pleasure is really the gateway to feeling connected and inspired.”

Hers is a reminder of just how abundant grace and guidance are, and how they long for us to meet them. Both nature and artistic life are a part of that worship.

Image: Judy Wright

As the words of St. Francis declare:

“Such love does the sky now pour, that whenever I stand in a field, I have to wring out the light when I get home.”

Lest I think myself unworthy to receive, especially a bestowal that is so abundant, in a book called Paris Talks, Abdu’l-Baha urges:

“Try with all your hearts to be willing channels for God’s Bounty. For I say unto you that He has chosen you to be His messengers of love throughout the world, to be His bearers of spiritual gifts to man, to be the means of spreading unity and concord on the earth. Thank God with all your hearts that such a privilege has been given unto you. For a life devoted to praise is not too long in which to thank God for such a favor.”