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Treasuring the Earth

Affirmations: I treasure our planet Earth and recognize my responsibility to care for it.

 

51AzgOzdjuL._SY344_BO1204203200_Carolyn Tobin was the presenter at A Place for Women to Gather for the program titled, Sacred Time but the topic on which she spoke was broader and deeper than that of time. I didn’t think that was possible but I was wrong and I was immediately enamored with her subject. She was there to speak about saving the human race, saving the universe and saving ourselves. I’m ready! Tell me there’s a way to help in this most important work and I shall do my part, although I was very doubtful about what I, one little lady living in the comfort of North Carolina could possibly do that would help save man-kind or woman-kind. Once again, I was being challenged to rise up and exert whatever power I did have to make a difference in this frightening world
of ours. Is this my Lenten mission? This same topic of making a difference in the world had appeared numerous times over the last few weeks, actually over the last couple of years. I am being led to “do more” or at least to “do something.” What was Carolyn offering me that would enable me, no, empower me to heal the world?

This woman was a student of Thomas Berry and she had recently published a book about their conversations, Recovering a Sense of the Sacred. What philosophy was being promoted? Is it an approach in which I can be active? Is it an approach in which I can believe and adopt? Actually, it was even more than that; it was a life lesson for making a shift in my life with the added effect of changing the world. She and Thomas are calling us to reconnect with the earth, to reconnect with nature. I was being asked to embrace my roots. I was being directed to fully embrace our universe by taking the time to appreciate its gifts and to protect them and to reach out and share this approach with anyone and everyone within my life’s circle. So, here I am sharing this philosophy, maybe even better described as a theology, with all the people who read these missives.

conservatory-2Once again my lesson is coming to me in many different forms. The first was Carolyn’s lecture, then I read her delightful, insightful book and within the same week, I had the opportunity to visit the Conservatory in Washington, DC and marvel at the variety of plants our earth provides. The Conservatory takes you from the early 1800s when plants were first being collected until today and also from the mountain foliage to that of the jungle and tropical. The first plant we saw when we walked into the greenhouse was a cacao tree. It took my breath away. There were these huge yellow pods just hanging off the side of the tree. They were ready to be harvested and turned into cacao butter and chocolate. Each turn took us to another miracle: banana trees, fruit trees, ferns and cacti, lovely succulents and gorgeous orchids, every kind of tree and plant imaginable. I was more aware of the gifts in front of us because of the lecture I had recently attended.

embracenatureI’m not much of a gardener. I’m not even too good at houseplants. I have had gardens over the years, mostly vegetables but I’m a city girl raised on a very busy highway with about eight square feet of lawn in front of our house and a small strip of dirt in the back for the dog to relieve himself. We never grew anything. We tried planting watermelon seeds one spring but other than a massive vine, we didn’t get any fruit. As an adult, as the care of the inside of our homes became more demanding, I spent less and less time outside in the dirt. Now, I was being called to reconnect with the earth. After Carolyn led us in a guided mediation, she asked us what we believed we could do to make a difference. I had had a very clear message, “Jean Anne, go outside.” I have begun to work out a way to start and to nurture that process. Why? What is the message Carolyn is relaying from Thomas?

god-is-always-within-feel-god-working-in-your-heart-through-your-heart-and-as-your-heart-2The only way to save the earth and humankind is to embrace nature. We are being called not to simply see our world as a place to meet our needs but as a place for which we are responsible and which needs our care and nurturing. It is time for me to recognize that unless we embrace our universe and all its majesty and miracles, it will not continue to thrive and if it is depleted and not appreciated, our existence will be compromised, if we are not made extinct. Thomas Berry declared, “As we practice a presence to the natural world through our intuition we come to know ourselves, not simply as physical beings, but as spiritual beings. We humans are modes of the Divine presence who have forgotten our identity with creation. We are one earth community that lives or dies together. We depend on the earth to sustain us in body and soul. We come into relationship to it instead of establishing an identity over and against it.”

the_four_elements___wallpaper_by_bydgx-d6ukig2-2The rest of this week’s lesson came when we entered the Native American Museum in DC. We began our tour on the fourth floor where several of the larger tribes had been invited to display their heritage. There were stories about their costumes, their dances and songs and especially about their reverence for Mother Earth: for the plants, the animals, the stars and the wind. They honored all four of our elements: water, fire, wind and earth. They not only experienced nature, they treasured it. They don’t just consume it. Even more important is that their major concern is teaching these lessons to the next generation and letting them know that they were responsible for all their future generations. “How will this decisions affect my seventh generation?” was and is one of their key lessons.

My awareness of God’s miracles seen in nature and my responsibility to honor and treasure those gifts, have already begun to blossom. I am determined to “go outside” more often and to meditate on the stars as well as the weeds. I will tenderly hold a flower or attentively listen to the bird’s song. I may not be able to care for the whole planet but I am more than capable of caring for my small piece of it here in North Carolina and perhaps by heightening my awareness my tiny steps will make a difference in our universe. I believe that my efforts will have the added gift of not just appreciating our earth, but will lead me to a greater appreciation, perhaps a greater connection to the Divine and to my God. By learning to treasure the earth, I’ll be able to have hope that my seventh generation will not only still be here on this planet and not off living on Mars or a satellite but thriving right here on this amazing planet Earth.

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Buddy, Answered Prayer

Affirmation: I believe in answered prayer.

 

iStock_000001272766Small-2Buddy was a Brittany, not a Brittany Spaniel which is a common mistake because the breed looks like a Spaniel, somewhere between a Cocker and a King Charles. They are, however, their own special breed and special was Buddy. He was orange and white and as far as we were concerned he was the most beautiful dog ever, inside and out.

I was searching for a new dog. We’d had dogs most of our lives and at the time we only had Misty, our cat that had adopted us a few years earlier. She was only allowed in the garage because the children were allergic to cats. That lasted about month and now she ruled the entire house whether people were sneezing or not.

This time I was determined to get a dog that was appropriate for our family. We hadn’t always been successful with our adoptions. Ralph was a prime example. He was a hyper Dalmatian who consumed a picnic table, did several thousand dollar’s worth of damage to one of our cars when he wanted to get in and play with the children and sprayed all the furniture to insure that his territory was marked. After a year or so we were able to find a farmer that wanted to care for him. It had been a very trying experience. He wasn’t the only dog we had issues with and I was very hesitant to take on another pet with which I would fail. I am not the best “dog person.” I might as well admit it. I am not a Caesar Milano, the dog whisperer. I’m not sure I have a single gene that enables me to respond appropriately to a dog’s deepest desires. I’m a good caregiver, please understand. I feed, shelter, offer warm cozy beds and long walks and good medial care. I even undergo lots of training sessions but I can’t seem to hear their inner most concerns. It didn’t matter with Buddy. Perhaps one of the reasons we did better with him was because he came to us at eleven months of age and was already somewhat trained or maybe it was because I had asked God whether or not to adopt him and God had sent a very clear message.

IMG_0005-2When I “found” Buddy I had gone and sat quietly to pray about adopting him. I don’t know what I expected but I’d read a lot about praying for specific answers and I was desperate. I didn’t want to disappoint another animal with my inability to create a livable space for it and for the family. I was afraid. So, I went and sat. I prayed, “God what should I do? Should I allow this animal to come into our home?” and then I waited. I was prepared to wait for as long as it took. It wasn’t more than a couple of breaths when I “heard,” “It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.” I was stunned but there it was, my answer. I stood up, called the breeder and a week later Buddy was being delivered to us by the New Jersey breeders who “happened” to be driving to their new home here in North Carolina. It was destiny. I’m here to tell you, God was right. I had my struggles but it was really really worth it. Buddy lived with us for fourteen years and he was the best dog ever. He’s been gone now for six years but we still have his ashes and his photo in our bedroom! I’m crying as I write this. I know many of you completely understand.

My friend, Mary Ann Scope, recently put down her English Bulldog and long time friend. That’s what prompted this story. She said she cried for days, she’s probably still crying, like me. My other friend, Tracie Barton-Barrett is in the process of writing a book about grieving for our pets. It’s a reality, isn’t it? There are so many life lessons we experience through them. The most important lesson being that of unconditional love. I have one photo of Buddy where he had gathered all of my sneakers. He had a “soft mouth” because he was a bird dog. He dropped them all around his bed and then snuggled in for a nap.

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My husband, Sandy, loves to tell the story about when I was gone for six weeks doing my yoga training at Kripalu. Buddy waited outside the back door, in the garage, every day until I finally returned, He had slept with Sandy every night in our bed until the night I came home when he wouldn’t come up even when called. He was just fine going back to his own bed next to ours. I was home and he was good again. Amazing!

Sandy shared his tiny family home with a dog named Missy. She was a Doberman they found in their back yard. She was very protective of that family! When he went to see his father’s office, he was struck by the fact that the only picture Joe had on his desk was of the dog. He asked where the other family photos were and his father told him, “Missy is the only one that runs to the door to greet me when I come home.” There it is again, unconditional love, total devotion; all the qualities we wished we and our loved one’s emulated.

Koko-Red-Dog-Kelpie-Australian-movie-poster-famous-dogs-film-canine-cinema-star-girl-guy-motorbike-desert-2011-2There have been hundreds of doggie movies about their journeys around the globe in an effort to return to their owners. One we recently watched is Red Dog, an Australian film about a dog and his deceased owner. It’s a great example of how much they love us and affirm us regardless of who we are or how dumb we are.

My adult daughter, Melissa and my grand-daughter, Isabelle, volunteer at the Wake County SPCA. They are “dog people.” They always have at least two dogs in their home. Recently, they brought home Gibson, a six weeks old mixed breed. What joy! Gibson discovered a pin cushion on the top of the dining room table. He didn’t eat it, but he did eat the thirteen pins and one needle. Their rescue dog needed several thousand dollars of surgery. They were saving for a new roof but their priorities were with this new guy who has brought smiles and giggles and once again, the unconditional love of a pet.

We are presently “pet free,” but I am beginning to open my heart and mind to maybe adopting another dog, maybe! I haven’t found one yet who is asking to come here. Once again, however, if one does come a knocking, I plan to sit with God and find out what the message is for us. It won’t surprise me at all if once again I am told, “it won’t be easy but it’ll be worth it.”

 

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Lenten Hopes & Prayers

Affirmation: I let go of resentment.

 

9781561708758_p0_v1_s260x420-2Wayne Dyer in his Ten Secrets of Happiness tells his readers that one of the secrets is to affirm, “There are no justified resentments.” That means we are called on to forgive every action that has bothered us, intentionally or unintentionally. How are you at doing that? Have you ever thought you were “over” something and then it reared its angry head when you least expected it? For me, I can nurse an injury to death! It can be years after the perceived hurt has occurred and the name of the offender will cause me to sit up straight and grimace and re-live, perhaps even re-tell, the horrible act committed. Boy! That will show that person. I will be justified and they will suffer because of my anger and my indignation. The truth, however, is there is only one person suffering, it is I and I have created it myself.

I was discussing with a friend that several of her dear friends had not reached out to her and her husband after he had undergone surgery. She was angry. I understood. When I was treated for breast cancer, some of the people with whom I was closest never sent a note or picked up the phone. Hundreds (and I am not exaggerating) of people reached out with such caring and generosity. It was healing and affirming but every now and then, I’d wonder about those few people who hadn’t taken the time to even send me an email. When I thought of them, I’d feel resentment. I wondered why I would chose to focus on those that appeared to ignore me and not the amazing people who showed such love and care? Why is that?

lent-purple-2We are presently in the season of Lent. I love Lent. I’ve felt this way for many years. It’s a time of quiet. It’s a time for additional reflection, a time to really focus on what is important to me in my relationship with God and others. It’s a time for me to develop a new good habit or two. It’s a time of hope. It is the dormant time before the rise of the flowers and blossoming of the trees. It’s that time when I wait with joyful anticipation Spring and the resurrection of Christ. It’s a time when my heart feels full with what is to come.

Lent has taken on a very different meaning for me over the years. As a child we would be encouraged to give up some favorite food and also to fill a small paper box with coins for the hungry children of a far off country. I’m sure I tried to honor the requests. I’m sure I didn’t do too well at it either. Then, as a young adult I rebelled. I decided all those rules and regulations were silly. What purpose did it serve to give up anything and how much of a difference did my small contribution make to the poor and destitute of the world? The thing that helped me recognize the wisdom of my church’s traditions was staying connected to my church. This is my home and one of the many gifts has been learning to honor our Lenten tradition.

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I’ve taken two intentions for this 2015 Lent. The first is to dedicate each day to one person. Their name goes on the top of my journal page and I write a small prayer for them. If it seems appropriate, I send it to them. I tell them that on this nth day of Lent I am lifting them up in prayer for the entire day. I tell them how they have blessed my life and how much I treasure their friendship and I end with wishes for a day filled with love, peace and joy and many times, improved health. I sit, first thing in the morning to see who comes to mind and I make that my person for the day. Today, someone “appeared” with whom I’ve had quite a bit of struggle. I didn’t want to offer up my day for that person. I don’t really want to think about that person at all, no less keep her on my thoughts for an entire day. I felt myself retreat from the idea and see for whom else I might pray. Certainly, many other people deserved prayer more than the person I resent.

41Mnaika3aL__SL500_AA300_-2The February 24th reading in Spiritual Insights for Daily Living begins with a quote from the Mayo Clinic; “Three-fourths of our patients are passing on the sickness of their minds and their souls to their bodies.” It goes on to say, Be careful of the beliefs you hold and the thoughts you repeatedly think. In Proverbs (6:27) the writer asks, “Can a man take fire unto his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” More specially, we can ask: can a man (or anyone) take fears, doubts, hated, resentments, worries into his mind, and his body be unaffected?

The Buddhist saying is, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” The teacher appeared in my reading and Jesus told us, “Forgive.” How many times? “Seventy times seven.” Mathew (18:21) At a recent Pink Ribbon Yoga Committee planning meeting, Nancy Hannah, one of our dedicated gifted yoga teachers had us take the pain and suffering of others, surround it with love and then breathe it transformed back out into the universe. I’ve been struggling with the suffering of our world. This year’s news of twenty-one Coptic Christians being beheaded, people being put in cages and burned to death and the stories of the girls and women being kidnaped and abused has left me feeling weary and sad and powerless. What can I do to help the world?

ScreenShot2015-02-24at1.25.59PMIn the USA today on February 23rd of this year they had a marvelous story of a women, Nareen Shammo, who gave up her job as a reporter and has tirelessly worked towards the freedom, the salvation of any woman being held hostage. She’s succeeding one woman at a time. I don’t feel I have that kind of power but perhaps here on this page as I share my concerns, I can encourage and enlist those 30,000 plus people who have opened this site to join me in praying for them, praying for an end to war and hatred and religious intolerance. Use a rote prayer, make up a prayer, breathe prayerful energy into this world but do something!

The second intention I’ve adopted for Lent is, “I let go of resentment.” It means I have to dig deep within and forgive those I have struggled with. It means I must pray for not only those I comfortably hold in my heart but for those I don’t want to embrace. It means I have to pray for my enemies and even the terrorists. Perhaps, through the power of prayer, a heart will soften; maybe many hearts and the torture and abuse of the innocents of our world will decease. It all begins with me. It all begins with you. We must be the, “change I wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi.

 

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Expanding Your Gaze

Affirmation: I choose peace and love.

 

Jean2-2Have you heard of Yogaville? It is a yoga ashram located on 750 acres in Virginia. It was founded by Swami Satchidananda. The shrine, called the LOTUS was opened in 1986. It’s an acronym that stands for Light Of Truth Universal Shrine. I was looking for something to do with my granddaughter, Isabelle (age 17), for my birthday because my husband, Sandy, had told me he would be traveling at that time. Isabelle and I had been practicing yoga together for a while before this and I thought it would be a great adventure for us to share. It turned out to be only a three-hour drive from our home. I signed us up for a course called “Healthy Relationships in Yoga & The Path of Heart.”

God bless my granddaughter. What a light she is and what a good sport! The diet was strictly vegan and we were quite challenged to find something on which to focus other than kale and tofu. Also, she was the youngest by about ten years. Her youthful spirit and presence alone brought joy and smiles to everyone we encountered. We laughed, we ate weird food, we met new interesting people and most importantly we created some wonderful memories.

Jean3One of the first things we were told when we arrived was not to miss seeing the shrine. We were in the middle of nowhere and I envisioned a small concrete or wooden structure with maybe a Hindu deity in the middle. The next morning we headed out to walk about a mile through the woods to take photos and see what there was to see. We reached a road and followed it up a hill and then from out of the valley below rose a giant pink and blue lotus shaped building. It was, I guessed, as large as the White House in DC but it wasn’t white. We were stunned. It’s one of a huge complex consisting of three buildings that started at the top of the mountain and ended down in the valley. What would we find inside?

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On Tuesday, February 2nd, 2015 Kate Cook was the yoga teacher at Fire Fly Hot Yoga here in Cary, NC. She leads an hour and a half Intensive Slow Flow class. She’s one of the best Yoginis with whom I have ever studied. She is so precise in her language and she always brings a lesson with her to deepen our practice. This last week she instructed us to gaze on the ball of energy we created when we cupped our hands and placed them in front of us. As we breathed in our hands moved together, as we breathed out, they expanded. Then as we were doing our balance poses, she encouraged us to “change our gaze.”

Normally, when one is balancing the instruction is to focus on one point. In Yoga it’s called a “drishti.” Kate reminded us that our mat practice is a metaphor for our life practice. What we learn on our mats, we have the opportunity to take with us out into the world. As far as I’m concerned developing balance is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate for ourselves. I do like to remind myself, however, that as one yoga teacher said, “There is no balance, there is only balancing.” We are either coming into balance or falling out. I know this is true for me. As I stood there on one leg with my fingers wrapped around my big toe and my lifted leg straight out to one side, my drishti was on some unmovable object in front of me. Trying to stay upright and trying to remember to breathe, Kate then suggested we “change our gaze” and look in one direction and then the other. I fell over and I tried again and I fell over and again. I lost my balance. Without a focus I couldn’t stay steady with a focus I couldn’t see the rest of the space. Which is better? I decided neither. Sometimes one is needed and other times, a grater perspective is essential.

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It’s good to be focused. It helps me accomplish the tasks I set before myself but when it’s limits my perspective on life, it shrinks my world into a smaller box and I need to get smaller to fit into it. I don’t want to be small. At five feet tall, I’m small enough. I want to take a big giant breath and expand my world to include all sorts of people, places and ideas. Then I have to decide what to allow to stay with me and of what I want to let go. What is “of God” and what is not. What will enhance my life and what will diminish it? It’s a mediation, don’t you think? We are faced with this choice day in and day out. Sometimes it’s about food. Sometimes it’s about activities. It can be about people and most certainly it’s about our ideas, our beliefs, our concepts.

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The shrine in Yogaville is dedicated to all religions in the world, those that are well known and those that are yet to come. There are twelve altars in the lower level with reminders of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, the Moslem faith and eight others. It was respectful and well presented. It was a home for all, even the atheist. My initial reaction was small minded but I prefer to be an inclusive person and Kate’s recently taken yoga class helped me respond in a more open, accepting, non-judgmental mode.

93df774313ec5583c878fb90c91ea8f8-2I’m reading Pope Francis’ encyclical, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He too talks about accepting all faiths, not judging, even accepting the non-believers. Peace. I believe this is Peace. I know we are instructed to “spread the good news.” We are actually commanded to do so. The best way I know to do that is to try to always be a kind and compassionate person but when someone tells you they are right and you are “so very wrong,” what is your reaction? It’s not normally a peaceful one, is it? The course Isabelle and I took was led by two of the founders of Yogaville, Jeevakan & Priya Abbate. They were kind, gentle, compassionate people. I could see why so many are attracted to this place. It radiated peace and acceptance. One of the lessons was around the concept that, “We can be right or we can have peace.” I’ve also heard it phrased, “We can be right or we can love.” This is the difference between having a focus and seeing the broader picture.

I’m a Christian. I’m a Catholic. Here I sit with a focus on Christ but for me, God is everywhere. God is everything. I am not here to limit God’s unfathomable power. Yogaville was a good place for me to share an adventure with Isabelle. It was a great birthday weekend. I was outside of my comfort zone. I had to broaden my horizons and see God in all things, even within a giant pink and blue concrete flower rising out of the Virginia valley.