The Sounds that Create Silence: A Practice that Creates Strength

I love the sound of crickets and cicadas. I sometimes sit outside and just listen, in the morning and the heat of day to hear the cicadas or in the evening to hear the crickets. For some reason, it’s reassuring and comforting. The sound begins with the warmth of summer and ends when it gets cold, so it’s a message that summer is here. And crickets become silent when anyone or anything big gets near, so their voice can be one of safety.

 

When I was working as a teacher, and the end of vacation grew near, I especially took note of the sound. If I had any regrets about not spending enough time outdoors or having enough fun or not doing enough to help others or to find moments of calm in my own heart— the crickets reminded me of what had been there for me all along. As my schedule sped up to the fall, and vacation time transformed into work time, the crickets reminded me that the essence of life was individual moments. It reminded me to take a few moments to just listen and focus on what was here right now.

 

Listening to the crickets can be a mindfulness practice. Instead of focusing on the breath, you can let your mind settle on the crickets. When you do so, their voice grows clearer and purer. You hear a concert of millions of tiny wings rubbing together to produce a sound that might calm and help clear your mind. Or if it’s morning, you could focus on the cicadas.

 

So, simply sit outdoors on the grass or in a chair⎼ or indoors, near an open window. Let your hands rest on your lap, your eyes be partly or fully closed, or open and resting on something comforting⎼ and sit with the sound. Let your mind be simply an ear to the world. Just breathe in and enjoy a concert of crickets or cicadas as you inhale⎼ and settle into the moment as you exhale….

 

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

Pandemic Time: Replacing a Future We Dread with A Present We Can Handle

I am sitting outside, on my deck, looking at the garden at my feet⎼ red begonias, lavender impatiens, white zinnias and other flowers. It’s early morning. Last night there was, finally, a good rain. And although the sky is relatively clear and the sun is out, the air is beautifully cool. There is a sense in the air, or in me, that all this is fast disappearing. That I need to dig down deep into this moment before it, and all these flowers, are gone.

 

Part of this feeling is because it is the last week of August and summer is nearing its end. After teaching for 30 years, and going to school for nearly 20, August often feels like it’s a slide into autumn, into school and work with winter to follow.

 

This is especially true this year. Due to the pandemic, I have so much more unscheduled time, and so much time is absorbed by news reports and worries about the future. When will the pandemic end? Will there be a second wave? What new atrocities will DT commit? Will we have a constitution after November? With the election in front of us, the end of summer is fraught with so much more anxiety. And if we’re not observant, it could vacuum up all our attention.

 

Living through DT and the coronavirus in the spring, summer and even the fall, when we can be outside much of the time, is one thing. Doing it in winter will be much more difficult.

 

And how do we or our children face going back to school? There are just too many unknowns. Too many dangers. And whatever is decided about how school will look at the end of August or in September, could all change quickly and dramatically, as it did last spring. School used to be a stable part of our culture. No more. Very little of what used to provide stability and clarity can do that now.

 

So, how do we find a sense of stability and clarity during the time of the pandemic, or when everything inside us cries for, or dreads, dramatic change? When we can’t wait any longer for an end to the pandemics of the coronavirus and racism. When we want justice, now. When we want leaders who will put the needs of the nation and we, the people, first. No half measures are acceptable.  We want so much because things are so bad and so little is predictable.

 

Maybe we can find ways to work both on social-political issues and to find stability and clarity inside ourselves. By taking action, we show ourselves that we have the autonomy and strength to do so. We face our anxiety over the future by working now to create the future we need….

 

To read the whole article, go to The Good Men Project.

Improv Dreams: The Silence of Birds and Trucks

Last night I had an interesting dream. I can’t remember the exact setting, only that it was before the pandemic, or maybe timeless, because no one was wearing a mask. There was a stage outdoors. The color of the background was dark and orange-yellow, and there were several people present, most of them women and middle aged. I am a retired secondary school teacher, and some of the people were parents of former students of mine and neighbors. My Dad and, for a second, my Mom, were visiting me. They have both passed.

 

We (not including my parents) were doing an improvisational theatre exercise. People were standing around the stage area and would spontaneously walk across it and do and say something in response to a theme. For example, if the theme had been friendship, we might walk across the stage holding the hand of a missing friend or dance around with our arms outstretched. But the theme was never stated, although everyone seemed to know what it was. The same with the improvised responses⎼ they were heard and seen with the heart more than the ears or eyes.

 

I sometimes felt like I was the teacher or leader, sometimes a participant or a bystander. One of the subjects I used to teach was theatre. But in the dream, I never joined in, although I had that familiar feeling of wanting to do so but fearing to look foolish.

 

Was the dream proclaiming, “all the world is a stage”? Was it reminding me that when we don’t take action, we might regret it? Was the presence of my own parents, as well as the parents of former students, a message of how we’re parents to ourselves? Or was it saying that we create the sense of the stage we act upon? Or maybe it was something else?

 

Because of my direct focus in the dream on the image of myself, I lost sight of the fact that my mind was creating the whole scene, the people on stage as well as the audience and the stage itself. Every aspect of what I saw was me.

 

The next morning, early, I sat outside on a bench, intent on meditating for a short time. Immediately, everything went silent. It surprised me, totally.

 

Silence is not an absence of sound, just an absence of noise or consuming or unwanted chatter. But how full it is….

 

*To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project

The Walk That Reveals Dragons: Walking So Our Capacity for Compassion Is Strengthened Along with Our Legs

Walking has taken on new significance and importance today, due to the coronavirus. Gyms are closed, so the outdoors have become a gym we all share. Or we have always shared this gym, but maybe we now do it more deliberately. Almost everyone I know says they take walks. Where we each go⎼ that is not so shared. Some have the privilege of deep forests, beaches, or river sides, others city streets, parks, or parking lots.

 

I took a walk a few days ago that could have gone on forever. Our home is in a rural area, on a steep hill, and I only stopped when my legs tired. I was also experimenting with how to walk as more a meditation⎼ how to lose myself for at least a few moments. And how, when my mind wandered, to kindly return attention to the basics⎼ breathing, looking, listening, and feeling.

 

When I first started my corona-walks, I distracted myself from each step so the weight of steps wouldn’t drag me down. The walk up our hill is challenging. I would set a goal to exercise for maybe 30 minutes or an hour. But if I began each walk thinking about how many minutes I had left to finish, each step would become a burden. So I either counted steps or thought about interesting ideas or people or projects I could take on. Or I played this game with myself. I pretended I would only walk to the big house up the road. And when I arrived there, I’d tell myself to walk just a bit more, to the maple tree where I saw the turkeys last week. And when I reached the maple tree I’d continue to the next memory or turkey siting.

 

But not this time.

 

In an online birding class I took recently, the teachers spoke about how we honor the birds we live with by knowing their names and their songs. This was a new and beautiful idea for me. But as I walked, I just wanted to listen. To name the birds would be another distraction from the song itself. It would mean me, here, and it, there. But to stop walking and just listen, the sound grew closer and clearer. And when the song ended, the trees and insects and stones and cars on the road were waiting for me even more distinctly.

 

In the past, I often thought about what it meant to feel at home someplace. This is the answer. That the gullies, streams, and trees, the wind, heat, and the house I owned would live inside me, not just me inside it. That I’d be open to all of it. That it would be a place to love and think.

 

There are so many ways to think. We can think rationally and critically, use words, concepts, examine theories, research and organize facts. Or we can let our minds wander through imaginative realms, memories of the past or ideas of the future⎼ through our pictures of ourselves or how others picture us. Or we quiet the mind, by focusing on a singular chosen point of focus⎼ the breath, sensations, the maple tree, and especially feeling⎼ or awareness of whatever arises in the immediate moment, including awareness itself….

 

**To read the whole piece, go to the Good Men Project.

 

*For information on walking safely when you might meet up with other people, in this time of the coronavirus, please refer to this NPR program, Masks and the Outdoor Exerciser.

Discovering A Depth in Ourselves Often Forgotten in this Crisis

Change can happen so quickly. Just a few days ago, we had snow and sleet⎼ in May! Spring flowers were covered by snow, broken by sleet, and blossoms were blown from the branches of cherry trees. Yet right now, it’s sunny and warm. All the snow is just a memory.

 

And even though it took a few months, it feels like it was just a few days before the pandemic changed everything. It is a storm that rages through our lives, but instead of ending in a day or two it continues on. And it is two storm fronts combined, COVID-19 ⎼ the fear of illness as well as the news of infections, deaths, jobs lost, schools closed⎼ as well as the DT administration and all the ills it brings us each day. But both of these, too, will end.

 

As a teenager, I remember many of us thinking being at school was preparing for life, not living it. We wanted “real life” to begin. Well, if real life hadn’t already begun for us, it is here now. This is it. Whatever we learned or studied, we have to use it now to help ourselves and others through this crisis.

 

Meditation or mindfulness has become the core structure of my day, along with greeting my wife and cats. I am so grateful to my teachers for showing me these practices. Each morning, I stretch, exercise, and meditate. When either fear or worry show up, I know I can let it go, or at least diminish it. Best of all, meditation provides a means to get quiet inside and study whatever occurs, so whatever occurs can teach me how to perceive with less projection or distortion, think more clearly, and grow stronger.

 

Due to the pandemic. I can’t go to the gym, so I’ve brought my workout home. I work out here more than ever, take more walks, do more breathing exercises and martial arts training.  And it’s not just more, it’s better. I have no other place to be, so I am here more thoroughly.

 

Writing stories, personal or persuasive essays or blogs, has been another way to learn about myself and feel more positive emotionally. It requires a combination of creativity, critical thinking, mystery-solving, and meditation. My first drafts are often journal entries or responses to an article or poem I read, a news program or podcast I listened to. I record an insight or something that intrigued me. Or I just write what I see around me or feel. And then I follow it up, do research, dive into the puzzle of my mind and write a full draft. And then take a breath. Sleep on it. Let it sit and percolate in my body and dreams….

 

*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.

What Do You Do When There’s a Bear in the House? – Getting the Grizzly of Ignorance and Malignancy Out the Door

Last night, in a dream, a black bear was somehow in our apartment. We were a bit freaked and didn’t know what to do. I had an idea of opening the sliding glass doors so he could get outside. Of course, we don’t live in an apartment and we don’t have any sliding glass doors⎼ but it’s a dream. After I snuck around the bear toward the doors, I realized our dog, about the size of a Lab, was asleep by the doorway and I feared waking him. I didn’t know what he would do. Then the bear noticed the dog and jumped up on top of the bookcase near me. By the way, we also don’t have a dog, although I have been wanting one.

 

Suddenly discovering we have a bear in our home would definitely constitute a dramatic change in our daily routine. But a black bear is one of the smaller, less aggressive bears. I always thought they were cute until I saw the mangled mess one of them made of our bird feeder. But let’s imagine it was a grizzly in our home, a truly dangerous creature. What then?

 

And we do have a dangerous creature in our homes now or are afraid of one. Or afraid of two. There is a meme going around that we are faced with two pandemics, COVID-19 and ignorance⎼ the virus and the ignorant, incompetent and malignant response to it by DT. Most people facing a bear in their dreams, or awake, would hopefully avoid panic and open that door, push the dog out of the way, and let the bear out. But right now, many of us are afraid and feel powerless and don’t know how to get the grizzly out the door. But maybe we can simultaneously take care of ourselves  as we take care of our world.

 

The Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote a prose-poem just after World War II about the Holocaust. Many of us know it. It was a confession of how German intellectuals and the Church stood by as one group after another was murdered by Nazis. “First, they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist… Then the trade unionists…then the socialists… then the Jews…Then they came for me.” The Nazis were the grizzly in the house of the Germans and instead of forcing the grizzly out, they invited it to stay. And millions were killed.

 

Today, DT is acting with almost as much evil as the Nazis, and the GOP is supporting what he does. But about 52% of us or more are quite aware of the malignant grizzly in our nation. Almost three years ago thousands, or hundreds of thousands spoke out when the GOP tried to end the ACA and destroy our health care system. We demonstrated in the streets and Congressional offices and called Congress. And we stopped that legislation. Of course, the pandemic greatly limits what political action we can take today to oppose him. But how many of us are calling Congress now?…

 

DT wants us to forget and feel powerless. We can’t give him what he wants. When we don’t act, we feel burdened by what we don’t do. When we act out of care and compassion, we feel strengthened. We protect not only ourselves but others. We push the grizzly of ignorance and malignancy out the door.

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

When the World Speaks, Listen: When We Speak, Who Do We Imagine is Listening?

It’s the day after Earth Day. Snow ⎼ big, slow moving white flakes are falling onto red-winged black birds, blue jays, gold finches, robins and cardinals. And the snow weighs down the flowers in the yard breaking some of the stalks ⎼ yellow daffodils, blue squill, lavender crocus, hellebores ⎼ and it buries the new grass.

 

The bird calls grow stronger. Are they telling each other the location of seeds, warning of other birds or animals, or calling for a mate? Or maybe proclaiming “this branch is mine,” or the joy of eating and flying between snowflakes? They probably don’t yearn for any moment other than this one.

 

The trees, apple, cherry, and oak, seem unmoved, unbent by the cold or the snow load or even by the wind.

 

My wife and two of our cats sit with me on the bed inside the second-floor bedroom. The cats, not my wife and I, clean each other. Then they sleep. They wrap themselves so softly around each other, one’s head resting on the other’s belly, you could hardly tell where one ends and the other begins. Even after almost twelve years, I feel amazed by how these semi-wild creatures are so comfortable with each other and want to be with me.

 

And I am amazed, no, in awe maybe, joyous, that my wife is here with me. Despite all the craziness in much of the human world these days, we can create moments like this one. In between caring for our families, concern for the future or for our health, or shortages of supplies, we can sit with our cats, watch the snow fall, and listen for bird calls. We can cuddle, even without physically touching, just by giving to each other what the other most needs, giving support, acceptance, and warmth. It’s clear that she feels this moment strongly, like I do, but in her own unique way. She does a puzzle; I puzzle with these words.

 

In her book Evidence, Mary Oliver says:

 

   This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

 

   …It’s giving until the giving feels like receiving

 

Maybe that’s the key. To see that the world is not just something we observe at a distance but is as close as our own pulse. It includes so much more than the pandemic and political chaos. It includes not only the birds and flowers, cats and all of us people, not just the snow and the cold, but more than we know and all that we imagine. It shows us that giving deeply can be the most meaningful gift we give ourselves….

 

To read the whole piece, go to The Good Men Project.

 

Are We All in this Together? Sketches of A Future Drawn in the Present

I wish I had at least a vague idea of what the future could look like in a year, or even a month, but I don’t. When the world is threatened, the urge to know can become overwhelming. Usually, we at least know what the usual is. But now, for many of us, aside from what the inside of our homes looks like, we don’t even know that. Too many changes.

 

Every 10 days or so I drive into town. The roads and buildings are the same as before the pandemic, and I imagine once this crisis is over, we can simply return to our “normal” lives.

 

But then I notice all the restaurants and stores with closed signs. I hear on the radio that news outlets have been losing so many workers (except Fox) they can barely function. Accurate news reporting could be threatened. Or, on the positive side, NPR reported that pharmacy companies, previously known for putting CEO and shareholder profits above everything else, are joining together to find vaccines and treatments for the virus.

 

One prediction I can make is that more people in the future will want to become doctors, nurses and other first responders, the heroes of this time.

 

What I mainly have are questions. On the tv and radio, in advertisements and public service announcements, the meme “we are all in this together” keeps getting repeated. It is a sentiment I agree with and one that has become a powerful force for creating pressure to improve our overall health care system and for legislation to protect most Americans, not just the rich and corporations, from the harmful consequences of the pandemic.

 

It expresses a dynamic truth. With an illness that is so destructive, that can be deadly and spread so easily, with many people infected but showing no symptoms ⎼ anyone can get it, even the powerful, rich, and famous. Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister of Britain, got the illness and wound up in the ICU. Many celebrities, athletes, politicians have been infected. Too many have died. Over 158,000 people worldwide have died so far from it.

 

So if anyone can get it, we are all in this together.

 

But some are more likely than others. The poor more than the rich. The people who work in the fields or production plants and can’t stop working, either because their job is too essential or they can’t afford to stop. For example, one of the Smithfield food processing plants was closed only after the mayor of Sioux Falls forced them to. 350 of its workers had tested positive for the virus. The pandemic is exposing social inequities that have existed for years and have been getting worse. The racism. The poverty. These have always threatened people’s lives and they are doing so now….

 

To read the whole post, please go to The Good Men Project.

 

Even If We Don’t Get Sick, We Can Feel Sickened by the Crisis: Remembering A Better Future is Possible

Last night, I woke up at 4:50 am. It was dark, no moon was visible, and I felt very tired. All I wanted to do was go back to sleep. But images I had seen on tv of an overcrowded New York City hospital started to play in my mind and I felt a roughness in the back of my throat. I wondered if that roughness meant I was just getting a sore throat or was it the first sign of the coronavirus.

 

I began to think about the one day in the last week I had left home to pick up vitamins and groceries and to worry if my attention might have gone lax, or if I had done something stupid that exposed me to the virus. Even if we don’t get sick, the crisis can make us feel sick.

 

So I went downstairs to the kitchen, closed the door so my wife wouldn’t be disturbed, and gargled. That helped. Then to the living room, to turn on a reading lamp, and sit in our recliner. Reading a novel was an option, but my eyes wouldn’t stay open.  So I closed them, took two gentle breaths, and started to change my mental channels to focus on something more calming.

 

I pictured my own smile (you could also use the smile of someone you care about) and placed it in front of me. That felt good. I pictured it on my face ⎼ pictured me smiling. I turned it into a smile meditation. But it was too dark, and I was too tired to see it well. I tried to add some white, healing light, and move it to my throat, where I had felt the soreness. But the night was like a black hole and absorbed all the mental light I could create.

 

So then I decided to experiment, to see what would give me comfort and let me sleep. I thought of my blogs, and the comfort or beauty and sense of their own strength people said they found in them. The image of my students came to mind. If I got sick or died, they would have to find someone else to teach them. That revived me. Compassion for others replaced worrying over myself….

 

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

How to Stay Sane Together: When You Can’t Leave Home, Make Home A Place You Want to Be

When you see a spouse, friend, sibling, or child every day, how do you maintain and even deepen the relationship? When many of the usual distractions and schedule are interrupted and you are isolated together due to a crisis, how do you stay sane together? It is easy to think each day is the same or you feel cooped up ⎼ or all you think about is what you can’t do and not what you can.

 

In such a situation, it is even more important than usual to increase your moment by moment awareness and realize what you often miss out on, due to your schedule or way of thinking about the world. Do you usually rush through life, from one place to another? Do you often get lost in thoughts or worries? How regularly do you check in on your thoughts, feelings, level of focus or object of awareness? How do you feel right now?

 

Right now you can strengthen your ability to look more clearly and listen more deeply. Look around at the room you are in now. What is something right here that you don’t usually notice or didn’t notice until now? Look at the ceiling, bookshelves, feel the surface of the seat you are sitting on, your belly as you breathe in. Or go outside your house, look up and down the street. What is there that you never noticed before? Or imagine someone who never visited you before was walking towards you. What would she or he see, hear, smell?

 

Notice the quality of light outside. Is it dim or sharp? Is it different from yesterday? How? Or different now than a few minutes ago? How is the light different at 8:00 am versus 4:00 or 5 pm?

 

Look up at the sky. We usually look around us but not up. It is so vast up there, isn’t it? Are there clouds? How fast are they moving or are they so thick they don’t seem to move at all? Just take it in….

 

To read the whole post, go to the Good Men Project.