Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details


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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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Presence as prayer

Image courtesy of Tarot by Cecelia

GLEANINGS FOUND HERE AND THERE:

Man is My mystery, and I am his mystery.

~ Bahá’u’lláh

We can trust that there is a knowing that is out of the realm of thoughts or emotions or circumstances. When we deeply trust, our minds open to discover what is true, regardless of what we are feeling.  

~ Gangaji

The single most important thing we can do is stop and get off the train of our own obsessive convictions and move into awareness of some sort of presence or the present time … and breathe again. That’s about as prayerful as life gets. That is about as faithful and spiritual as I mean. And everyone can relate to that.              ~ Anne Lamott

Let go of what you are not and be who you truly are. When you let go, you create space to receive more.

~ John Whiteman

Words from Michael Singer’s The Untethered Soul are also helpful:

Photo: Nelson Ashberger

“ … identify as the observer, not the experience; don’t let painful experience influence the present; you are not the thoughts you observe; a life of joy and love follows from a commitment made to a life of joy and love. Learn to live from your heart, not your ego. Take refuge in the Divine, not the temporary. Learn to control your mind rather than letting it control you. It’s just a mass of thoughts. It is possible never to ‘have’ a problem again.”

The journey that matters most to me requires that I review the events in my life for the wisdom and purpose they carry. This inventory brings questions like:

~ What are my true needs, and what is my inner “enough”?

~ How do I remember that strength, and every resource I require, arrives increment by increment, as I am ready?

~ How do I remember that inspiration and assistance will arrive, but need me to ask for them, acknowledge that I need them, and be willing to receive and act upon them?


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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

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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


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A girl, a bat, and a story about courage and compassion

NEW RELEASE

Life delivered a very sweet gift when my children’s book, illustrated by wonderful Maine artist Leona Hosack, came into the world this week, published by Baha’i Publishing.

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Illustration: Leona Hosack

Jamila Does Not Want A Bat in her House is the story of a little girl frightened by the bat swooping around inside her house, especially when her parents can’t get it outside.

It flies out of their reach, over their heads, and disappears where they can’t see it. Jamila does not like this game of hide-and-seek at ALL.

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Illustration: Leona Hosack

When she finally sees the bat up close, she discovers that it’s very small, and that it might be as scared as she is.

That’s when she finds the compassion, and the courage, to help the bat, her family, and herself. Along the way, she learns about perseverance, cooperation, and the real power of prayer to help us meet the challenges that can arrive in our lives like unwelcome visitors.

Bats have visited my family’s Victorian house regularly through the years. Over time, as our family solved the challenge of freeing them, we learned a lot, as Jamila does, about the value of empathy, and of working together for the benefit of all (including the bat).

Find more about Jamila Does Not Want A Bat in her House here:

http://www.bahaibookstore.com/Jamila-Does-Not-Want-A-Bat-In-Her-House-P8761.aspx

 


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In a season of restraint

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Photo: Wertheim.de

The word “relinquish” has a special attraction for me whenever it appears in prayers and passages of inspiration. In a time of fasting that has become a reprieve, as well as a “season of restraint,” I begin to notice how interrelated the experiences of restraint and relinquishment can be.

A description for restraint that really appeals to me is “self-possession.” Might that be true possession, of one’s truest self?

While restraint seems like a condition that arises from my taking responsibility for my self and actions, “relinquish” means to surrender or hand over. This almost makes these two sound like some sort of opposites—or maybe complementary partners

11014906_824910567597565_94928212601865149_nSurrender and handing over can be very tall orders. But there are two other synonyms that offer accessible first steps in that process: “let go by” and “let pass.”

Relinquishment offers an invitation to freedom—from the erroneous notions and occasional tyranny of my own thoughts. Not the thoughts I experience when engaged in focused, constructive intent, but the ones that spin round and round, either in the past or in the presumed future. They usually suggest unhelpful things and never, ever, take me anywhere new. “Noise,” some might call them.

It's A Long Way Down 374

Photo: Kathy Gilman

Something well worth restraining or moderating.

How? By choosing what meditators know is an always-available option: letting thoughts go by as they arise, like the clouds, the weather. Not identifying with them, or defining myself by them. Remembering that Reality is so very much greater than anything those thoughts are trying to reinforce; those opinions of which they’re so certain.

Choosing instead to spend my time, and attention, in what inspires and uplifts me—claiming back the resources that scattered, frenzied, fired-up thoughts often consume and using them for something better.

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Cover illustration: Corinne Randall

In a book called The Seven Valleys, Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him; and when I have answered him, I become the ear wherewith he heareth … ”

When I relinquish something lesser for something greater, I seem to catch the sweet notes of that greater kind of hearing. As insistent as my thoughts can be, when I’m willing to relinquish them, what appears in place of them feels positively eternal. And always life-giving.

 


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The ear wherewith he heareth

IMG_2751

Painting: “River of Life”, Diane Kirkup

The word “relinquish” has a special attraction for me whenever it appears in prayers and passages of inspiration. In this month of fasting that has become a reprieve, as well as a “season of restraint”,  I’m noticing how interrelated both restraint and relinquishment can be.

Synonyms for the first include words and phrases like “self-control” and “self-discipline”, as well as “moderation”. (As in moderating one’s self toward balance?)

One description for restraint that really appeals to me is “self-possession”. Might that be true possession, of one’s truest self?

IMG_2758

Painting: “Waves” by Diane Kirkup

Where restraint seems like a condition that arises from my taking responsibility for my self and actions, “relinquish” means to surrender or hand over. This almost makes the two sound like some sort of opposites — or maybe complementary partners.

Surrender and handing over can be very tall orders, of course. But there are two other synonyms that sound like accessible first steps in that process: “let go by” and “let pass”.

What I now hear in the possibility of relinquishment is an invitation to freedom — from the erroneous notions and occasional tyranny of my own thoughts. Not the thoughts I experience when engaged in focused, constructive effort, but the ones that spin round and round, either in the past or in the presumed future. They usually suggest unhelpful things and never, ever, take me anywhere new. Noise, some might call them.

Something well worth restraining or moderating.

Round Tree in a Company of Others - Billericay 137

Image: Kathy Gilman

How? By choosing what meditators know is an always-available option: letting thoughts go by as they arise, like the clouds, the weather. Not identifying with them, or defining myself by them. Choosing instead to spend my time, and attention, in what inspires and uplifts me — claiming the resources that scattered thoughts so often consume and using them for something better.  

In a book called The Seven Valleys, Baha’u’llah wrote, “A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him; and when I have answered him, I become the ear wherewith he heareth … “

When I relinquish something lesser for something greater, I seem to catch the sweet notes of that greater kind of hearing.

As insistent as my thoughts can be, when I’m willing to relinquish them, what appears in place of them feels positively eternal. 

IMG_6181

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

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=leaofthetre-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=1931847673″

 


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The grace that wakes my heart

When I awake with a prayer running through my head like a song, I know that my day is already wide open to happiness.

Instead of finding myself awash in thoughts run rampant — or consciousness dragging to life like sluggish motor oil, here is a mild, reassuring rhythm already oscillating inside me. All-embracing, and transporting.

This affects me so deeply that when it’s time to read the prayers I customarily say with my husband each morning, the mere sight of words like “the All-Merciful, the Ever-Forgiving” and “the ocean of Thy nearness” overwhelm me to astonished tears, like immersion in an ocean of light.

I am embarking upon what members of the Bahá’í Faith sometimes call the “Season of Restraint.” This is a period at the close of our calendar year when, for 19 days, we are asked to undergo a material fast from food and drink during daylight hours as “an outer token of the spiritual fast … the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.” 

Fasting from the appetites of the body reminds me how insistent these appetites can be; how unsatisfied, and unsatisfying.

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Photo: Saffron Moser

And it also helps me be aware of how much time the business of survival can consume in my day, and my awareness — especially when it’s overemphasized by the culture around me to the point at which I might begin to forget that I have a spiritual life at all.

Fasting reminds me that there is an entirely other possibility waiting in my living that’s like a portal to a wider, kinder refuge. One in which I am visited and accompanied by a grace like the prayer that woke my heart.

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

http://www.amazon.com/Life-First-Sight-Finding-Details-ebook/dp/B00B5MR9B0/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=&qid=