Category Archives: love

Love’s Fullest Potential

As you may have guessed from my lack of updates, this year has been very challenging. It has felt like a whirlwind. I’m still not sure I’ve had time yet to properly absorb Min’s loss, and the year has just marched right on. I don’t know where the time has gone.

In February, I had my right CMC thumb joint replaced, in a procedure called CMC arthoplasty. As joint surgeries go, this one was relatively simple and the recovery period was relatively painless and easy.

Emily (grey) cuddling with Snowcrash

Emily (grey) cuddling with Snowcrash

In March, I adopted Emily from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, who had been there for nearly 5 years… with reason. That reason: she was (and still is) very, very shy and scared of most people. I chose to work with her 3 years ago and gained her trust, but even after living with us for 8 months, she’s still wary of my husband. And she came with unexpected health issues: she ended up needing most of her teeth pulled due to severe gum inflammation that was autoimmune in origin and was just diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease last week. By the summer, another joint of mine was dying; my right ankle was no longer functional, and I became unable to drive and was only able to walk by seriously limping and leaning on walls/furniture whenever possible.
Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Kosette, two days before being put down due to brain cancer

Also in the summer, Kosette, our 17 year old cat with multiple health issues, suddenly changed. Come August, she no longer was acting like “our” Kosette. Uneven pupils prompted a vet appointment where the worst was confirmed: a brain tumor. On August 6th, we put her down, to prevent her from suffering from the increasing anxiety and confusion that were surely to come. My ankle replacement and bonus toe/metatarsal surgery scheduled for August 27th, we decided to adopt Ethel (again from Chesapeake Cats and Dogs) earlier than we would have otherwise.
Ethel enjoying a sunbeam, home at last.

Ethel enjoying a sunbeam, home at last.

Only 10 days or so after losing Kosette, we brought Ethel home. And just over a week later, I had ankle replacement (and bonus toe/metatarsal) surgery… which was by far the hardest joint surgery I’ve had, in terms of pain after and the recovery period. One month non-weight-bearing on my right foot when my left hip was due to be replaced in 2011 and is not capable of bearing any extra weight and my left wrist had been replaced in 2008 and couldn’t bear more than 10 pounds. I’m still not sure how I got through that month, but I did. And now the end is in sight with this surgery. I’m doing Physical Therapy; I can walk almost normally; I can drive. I’ve yet to start seriously belly dancing again, but I’m hoping to get back to that sometime this week. In addition, I’m a member of the board of directors at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs, and we’ve had a lot of struggles this year.

And that’s the summary of my life since losing Min this January.

Is it any wonder I feel adrift sometimes? That sometimes I still see Min or Kosette out of the corner of my eye? That I still feel like my mornings and days are too empty because I’m not spending ten minutes or more of every waking hour at home feeding (or attempting to feed) Kosette? That I wonder if I even had time to process losing my right ankle, to properly grieve the loss of a joint the way I’ve needed to in the past prior to joint surgeries?

To wonder where this year has gone. It feels like I just took a breath, and suddenly it’s almost Thanksgiving.

I have no regrets about anything that has happened this year. I just wish this year had happened over the course of 2 or 3 instead of just one. This has been one of the hardest years of my life thus far. But has it been a bad year?

No. Losing Min and losing Kosette were part of loving them. When I love a cat, I know that one day, that cat will die. And I make a choice every time that I will love this cat as much as I can for as long as I can and I will not hold back any love or affection out of fear of future pain. In a way, those final weeks approaching the end of a cat’s life have a sacred beauty all their own. The love fulfills its potential in those weeks. Do I love this cat enough to truly put their needs before my own? Is my love strong enough to let the cat go? I learn what my love is truly capable of in that moment, when my vet asks, “Are you sure? Are you ready?”, and I nod or say yes even as my whole being is screaming NO.

And then, I choose to love again. Because how could I not?

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“That of God”: Letting Go of Fear

Most of the time I spend at Chesapeake Cats and Dogs is spent interacting not with people, but with cats. My main function is what’s called “socializing”; that is, I give cats attention—pet them, pick them up, hold them, and so on. The goal of this is often said to be making the cats more adoptable. And I do hope that my interactions with the cats ends up with them being more adoptable.

But that’s not what I’m trying to do, exactly. My goal, what is behind how I interact with the cats, is to let the cats grow into who they truly are. What this means in particular for many cats is that I try to encourage them to be comfortable enough around people that they enjoy affection instead of fear it. This depends on trust and respect. The cat has to learn to trust me (and hopefully once they learn to trust me, they’ll extend that idea to other people), and to get the cat to trust me, I have to respect its limits. Respecting a cat’s limits doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes do something that pushes its limits (otherwise a shy cat would never learn to be petted, for example), but that when I do push its limits, I’m aware that that’s what I’m doing and I let the cat dictate how long this uncomfortable interaction continues. And when the cat has learned that he or she can trust me, then the transformation begins: she or he starts relaxing into interactions instead of tensing. Purring happens. Greeting me when I walk into the adoption center begins to happen.

Ultimately, it’s about teaching the cat how not to be afraid. I don’t believe there are any “mean” cats; I believe that when cats aren’t afraid, they’re loving and affectionate. But this isn’t a natural state for cats when they interact with people. It’s something they have to learn or be taught. And the older the cat is when this learning begins, the more fear there is to overcome.

In short, what I’m doing is seeing and answering “that of God” in these cats. And they appreciate it.

And I’ve been thinking that this is how I’d like to interact with people, too; to interact with other people in such a way that they know they have nothing to fear from me, so they can become who they truly are. Because people, like cats, aren’t born learning how to interact with people. It’s something we have to learn. And sometimes that process of learning gets tainted with fear and we forget who we are, at our core.

We’re like cats, I think: when we’re afraid, we lash out. And when we’re with someone who knows us—truly knows us—we blossom. Can we learn to see each other how God sees us? Can I learn how to answer “that of God” in people as well as cats?

I hope so.

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Agape: What I Forgot about My “Center”

It’s very ironic, and somewhat sad, that in my entire post about my “center”—the feline rescue I volunteer at—I forgot to mention one thing, the most important thing about my time there.

Love.

And it’s appropriate to focus on this during Lent, even though as a Quaker I’m not “supposed” to celebrate Lent. But I do, because I was raised Catholic, and because Lent is a season to remind me to challenge myself spiritually. Am I truly living up to Jesus’s example? How could I be doing more? Or do I need to be doing less?

Jesus is well-known for talking about a specific kind of love, “agape”, which is translated in so many different ways, but usually understood to mean loving those who perhaps are not worthy. I like to think of agape love as loving someone regardless of the idea of worth.

And this is one of the most fundamental aspects of my time at the feline rescue: loving ALL the cats there. Regardless of how young, old, cute, well-behaved, cuddly, affectionate, aggressive, healthy, ill…

All the cats there deserve love. And learning how to love regardless of any idea of “worth” is one of the best gifts I receive from my time at my Center.

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My Center

We Quakers talk a lot about “finding our center”, “centering down”, etc. Ask a dozen Quakers what we mean by the term “center”, and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers, though many of the answers would likely mention God, the Holy Spirit, the Light Within, “that of God”…

But when I talk about the “center”, I’m talking about a real place. A place I go to at least twice a week and more if I can manage it. A place where I find joy, and love, and peace. A place where I know I’m needed and know without a doubt that this is where I’m called to be.

And that “center” isn’t my Quaker Meeting or my meditation group. That “center” is an adoption center at a local no-kill and cage-free feline (and canine) rescue called Chesapeake Cats and Dogs. I began volunteering at CCAD 4 years ago. My role was to help socialize the cats, and it’s a role I take seriously. If a cat is shy or skittish, I try to work with the cat, to help the cat understand that people aren’t a threat and that human affection is a good thing. But I also try to make sure that I find the time every time I’m there to pet every cat that needs it most.

And here comes the first challenge: in an adoption center that at times has housed over 60 cats at one time, how do I prioritize? How do I make sure that when I’m petting one cat, I’m not distracted by the dozens of other cats I want to find time for?

In short, how do I truly be present with each cat?

It’s just mindfulness meditation, in a different form. When I’m petting one cat, I’m just petting that one cat. I’m aware of the subtle body movements that indicate if I need to change my petting technique. I’m aware of the cat’s condition: has he or she lost weight? does he or she have any fleas or ticks? is he or she congested? What does the cat’s purr sound like? Are they any behavior changes, for better or worse, that I can notice? Are there other cats approaching that may make this cat feel defensive? And the only way I can answer these questions is by being with the cat, in the moment. And when I fail to stay in the moment, the cat always notices and reminds me to return to it.

There are always cats I don’t get to. When I leave, I make a mental note to make those cats a priority my next visit.

But there are also always cats I particularly look forward to. In a real way, some of these cats have become friends to me. Figuro, Snicker, Ethel, and Emily are the cats I’m most attached to. All of them have been at the center for more than a year; all of them except Ethel have been at the center for as long as I’ve been volunteering there. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I absolutely adore and love these cats.

Which brings me to the next challenge: how do I love and adore these cats without holding back any affection, but also without becoming attached? After all, I can’t adopt them all.

When I first began volunteering at the center, I would cry whenever a cat I’d grown to love would get adopted. It’s hard developing a relationship with an animal and then having to say goodbye, knowing that I would likely never see the cat again. I knew that this was our goal, that we wanted the cats to be adopted and never returned to the center, but it struck me as a loss each time. I asked the office manager, Debbie, how she dealt with this, knowing that she loves those cats even more than I do. She said something like, “It gets easier with time. There are some you’ll always miss and the goodbyes are always hard, but it gets easier.”

And it has. Slowly I’ve become able to feel joy when a cat is adopted instead of sorrow. Slowly I’ve learned how to love without attachment, but without holding back either. It’s not about me and what I’d like. It’s about what’s best for the cat.

And this brings me to the third challenge: how to cope with the death of a cat or kitten.

This doesn’t happen often (and certainly not for lack of care or veterinary treatment), but it does happen. It’s par for the course for any rescue, whether the rescue is a no-kill or not. Some cats and kittens we try to rescue will have health problems. And some of those health problems won’t be curable or even treatable. And sometimes, a kitten just wastes away and no one knows why.

There is no answer to this challenge. Only the opportunity to practice and to remember that nothing is solid and every one dies. All I can do is be sure that when I’m with each cat or kitten, I’m giving them my all: all my love, all my attention. Because there’s no guarantee with any of them that they’ll be there the next time I come in. Maybe they’ll be adopted before then, or maybe I’ve already noticed that this cat or kitten is going downhill and may no longer be alive when I next come in.

The answer to this challenge is in the answers to the other two. All I can do is all that I can do. There is nothing else.

My center may not be overtly religious or spiritual, but it’s a good teacher. When I forget to be mindful or become too attached or my ego starts parading about how important it is, these cats bring me back to center. They remind me of what’s important and what isn’t. They show me what real love looks like. They fill me with joy, happiness, love, and sometimes sorrow, despair, and sadness.

But through it all, I always return to my center. Because it’s where I’m meant to be.

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Abandon All Hope, Question Motivation

Today’s slogan is:

“Abandon any hope of fruition.”

This slogan always seems almost unnecessarily morbid to me, very reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” And I always have difficulty with this slogan.

The explanations I’ve read about this slogan speak about being in the present, instead of always looking for some future outcome. I’ve read about how this slogan encourages one to meditate for the sake of meditating instead of, say, meditating to achieve enlightenment.

Rationally, I can accept that; but I’ve had difficulty accepting it on that deeper level where Truth rests.

Last night, I came across this passage from “Making Life a Prayer: Selected Writings of John Cassian”:

“There is a great difference between those who put out the fire of sin within themselves by fear of hell or hope of future reward and those who from the feeling of divine love have a horror of sin itself and of uncleanness and keep hold of the virtue of purity simply from the love and longing for purity. They look for no reward from a promise for the future, but delighted with the knowledge of good things present, do everything not from regard to punishment but from delight in virtue. “

This I understand. When I was young and certain “pious” adults tried to instill in me a fear of hell and longing for heaven, I rejected it. What is the point of doing the right thing if I’m only doing it for a reward or for fear of being punished? Shouldn’t I do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing? I decided then that I would do the right thing, as I best understood it, even if doing the right thing would lead to eternal punishment instead of eternal reward.

This offers me a new understanding of today’s slogan: that it’s not about abandoning hope, but challenging motivations.

Am I meditating because I want to become enlightened or because meditating is worth doing for its own sake?
Am I attempting to practice Right Speech because of some reward or because it’s the right thing to do?
Am I attending Meeting for Worship because I want to give ministry or because I want to open myself to Spirit, whether or not ministry through me will occur?
Am I praying because I want God to do something for me or because praying is a worthwhile activity, even if there’s no discernible end result?

Am I living because life is worth living or because I want to accomplish something?
Do I love because the object of my love is worthy or because love in and of itself is worthy?

Am I listening because I want to know what best to say to change you or because you deserve to be listened to, just as you are?

Will I have the courage to accept things just as they are or will I continue to see the present as just a step towards the future?

(The discomfort these questions are giving me is a good sign.)

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Suffering… End of Suffering

I’ve read a lot of Dharma books and have felt time and time again that I Get It, I know what to say and what to think, I Am A Good Buddhist ™.

But I haven’t been “getting it”. When JB was dying and I was angry and sad, I felt like a bad Buddhist. “The Buddha wouldn’t have gotten so attached,” I thought. “The Buddha would have realized that JB is impermanent and wouldn’t be so upset at the news of JB’s impending death.” “The Buddha wouldn’t be sad like this.” “I’m not a good Buddhist because I’m sad, angry, irritable.”

And then a couple of weeks later, I accepted that my emotions were what they were and let go of the idea that they should be something else. Yet still, deep inside, I felt disappointed that I “wasn’t as far along the path to enlightenment as I thought I was”. Yet this disappointment was easily overshadowed by the grief that followed, especially the day of JB’s death.

Tonight I attended a dharma talk at my local sangha, which was given by a lay teacher in the Insight Meditation tradition who leads the local sangha. (The sangha itself is unaffiliated with any particular tradition, but the leader happens to be trained in Insight Meditation.) Tonight’s dharma talk was about the Noble Eightfold Path. During the talk, the teacher spoke about the benefit of having an intention, such as the intention to end suffering.

I made the intention to end suffering in myself and all others when I took my Refuge and Bodhisattva vows almost a year ago. But it suddenly struck me tonight that ending suffering doesn’t mean what I’ve always thought it meant.

I’ve always thought that ending suffering meant ending those emotional states that we find unpleasant and painful: anger, agitation, irritability, jealousy, rage, sorrow, despair, sadness, boredom, loneliness, etc. That when I feel any of those unpleasant emotions, it’s because I’m not enlightened yet.

But what is suffering, really? The day that JB died and I cried for almost an hour, was I suffering? No. I was full of sorrow, but I was not suffering.

Why not? Because I had given up the judgment. I wasn’t adding something to my emotion that wasn’t there. I was just experiencing that emotion–grief–completely.

I read a book a few months ago titled “How to Be Sick”, written by a Buddhist who is disabled. In this book, she makes a powerful argument that physical pain doesn’t always lead to suffering, that the suffering comes in when we judge our pain as good or bad, i.e., when we add something extra to the pain. This made a lot of sense to me at the time, since I’ve certainly experienced being in pain and being happy at the same time.

Tonight I realized that emotions are like physical pain and discomfort. They come and go. They’re not good or bad. Suffering doesn’t come from having emotions; it comes from feeling that the emotion you’re having isn’t right, from judging that emotion and labeling it. Just as one can be in physical pain and not be suffering, so one can be in the throng of despair and also not be suffering.

As Pema Chodron wrote, “Nothing is what we thought.”

And that is perfect.

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Christ and the Way of Non-Self

As often happens to me during Meeting for Worship, this morning I found my thoughts turning to Jesus. In particular, I found myself reflecting on Jesus’s statement that one must lose one’s life in order to gain it:

“Then summoning the multitude together with his disciples, he said to them: If anyone wishes to go after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life shall lose it; and he who loses his life for the sake of me and the gospel shall save it. For what does it advantage a man to gain the whole world and pay for it with his life? What can a man give that is worth as much as his life? He who is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous generation, of him will the son of man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels.”

(Gospel of Mark, 8:34-38)

And again in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples: If anyone wishes to go after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For he who wishes to save his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it. For what will it advantage a man if he gains the whole world but must pay with his life? Or what will a man give that is worth as much as his life? The son of man is to come in the glory of his father among his angels…”

(Gospel of Matthew, 16:24-27)

The first ministry that was offered in Meeting for Worship today was about how Third Haven encouraged this Friend to love God with all his being:

“But when the Pharisees heard that he [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together, and one of them who was versed in the law questioned him, making trial of him: Master, in the law, which is the great commandment? He said: That you shall love the Lord your God in all your heart and all your spirit and all your mind. That is the great commandment, and the first. There is a second, which is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments all the law and the prophets depend.”

(Gospel of Matthew, 22:34-40)

Here’s the point: one cannot worship God if one is too busy worshiping oneself. If one is too caught up in ego, in the life one wants and feels one deserves, one cannot love the Lord with all one’s heart, one’s spirit, and one’s mind, because one is too caught up in one’s self.

But what does losing one’s life and one’s love of self have to do with the second commandment, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Buddhism has two core teachings (in addition to the Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path), that of emptiness and compassion. Here is how the logic works in Buddhism: when one finally realizes that the Self is merely an illusion of the mind and does not have an independent, permanent existence, the distinction between Self and Other vanishes. Thus, one can literally love your neighbor as yourself, because there is no longer a difference between the two.

To be able to love God as He deserves–with all your heart, mind, and spirit–one must give up one’s life and one’s attachment to one’s self. (As Jesus says in many of the Gospels, “No one can serve two Masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”) And in the process of losing one’s life and sense of individual self, one can come to another realization: that we are, all of us, children of God, equally worthy of His love, and as worthy of our own love as we ourselves are.

The first step, though, in both Buddhism and Christianity is to give up the idea of one’s individual self. And this I struggle with. I’m very attached to Me. I have such a tendency to turn my spiritual growth into accomplishments that bolster my ego: “Look how many times I’ve read the Bible! Look at how I’ve taken my Vows at such an early age! Look how spiritual I am!”

I want to love others as myself, to follow where God leads me, to truly KNOW the way of emptiness and compassion as taught in Buddhism, but the truth is that I am too bound up in love and pride of my own Self.

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Emptiness and Compassion

The Tibetan Buddhist practice of tonglen is perhaps one of my favorite Buddhist practices, and one of the first Buddhist practices I incorporated into my daily life. This practice is an act of breathing in someone else’s pain or suffering and then breathing out the remedy or relief of that pain or suffering. I’ve often thought of this process as a way of opening oneself to the potential everyone has for reducing suffering in others. The idea is that you open yourself to another’s suffering and share what you can to reduce suffering. Taken more broadly, the practice encourages one to reduce suffering in the world by practicing non-attachment to one’s own joys.

This morning, as I was practicing tonglen, I let images of those who were suffering rise up. First on my mind was those who are suffering from the oil spill, especially those beings who live in the water.

“Oil,” I thought as I breathed in deeply. Then, “water” as I breathed out.

Then on to more general suffering: “Suffering” breathe in; “Peace” breathe out.

Then I thought of a dear friend of mine who is recovering from a painful surgery and whose daily life is filled with pain: “Pain” breathe in; “Relief” breathe out. I let my own pains act as a way of empathizing with hers.

Then I felt my stomach growl with hunger, and I thought of all those in the world who suffer from hunger: “Hunger” breathe in; “Food” breathe out.

As I alternated between these 4, I began seeing a connection between the last 3. Instead of imagining that I was transforming suffering into peace through breathing (what I consider a metaphor for actions), etc., I began to see how suffering pointed or led to peace. For example, when one is suffering, one becomes drawn to end that suffering. And the lack of suffering feels most potent when one has experienced suffering in the past. Pain always leads to relief, one way or another. No pain is permanent. Any pain will either end on its own, or the person with the pain will find some way of relieving the pain, or, in the worst case scenario, the pain will stop when the person dies. When one is hungry, one seeks food. If one does not find food and one dies of hunger, one’s body becomes food.

I used to have a concern that the practice of tonglen encouraged dualistic thinking, which is contrary to the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness. But now I see that tonglen is not only a practice in developing compassion, but also a practice in understanding emptiness. The relief of suffering is bound up in the experience of suffering. They cannot be separated.

“Form is emptiness; emptiness is form.”

(You may have noticed I was unable to see this kind of connection in the first formulation of breathing in oil and breathing out water. But perhaps the oil spill will lead us to take better care of our ocean’s and the water resources on this planet.)

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My Introduction as a Buddhist Quaker

It’s been a long time since my last post. The last couple of months have been emotionally draining for me, leaving me with little energy to do anything but the necessary. And I haven’t felt that zinging prod from God that would have made posting on here necessary.

In late March, I talked about my spiritual journey in front of my Meeting. I was planning to sit down the day after and write down as much as I could remember, but Monday turned to Tuesday turned to Wednesday… and suddenly, my memory of what I had actually said, how effortlessly it had flowed, had become hazy enough to give me an adequate excuse for continuing the procrastination. In this case, keeping my computer turned off on Sunday was an impediment to ministry; sometimes, we make rules for ourselves and become so obsessed with keeping them that we forget that God doesn’t follow our rules.

Still, I hope to work on that sometime soon. I did use an outline for the talk, but it needs to be fleshed out.

My sister, “Jamie”, was married on May 24th. This should have been a happy occasion, but there was so much drama and anxiety beforehand… It felt like every day was a new drama, a new worry, about whether the wedding should happen or not (as if anyone else but the couple had any say in that).

My husband threw another log onto the fire the week before the wedding by reminding me that her wedding was also to be a High Catholic Mass, which reminded me of my past discomfort with Communion and the decision about whether I should take it or not. At first, I was angry at him for reminding me: “I have enough to deal with right now without worrying about offending God!” And then I realized I’d already made my decision: No, I would not be taking Communion. I would find a discrete way of talking to the Priest beforehand (as the Matron of Honor, I would not have the normal opportunity of avoiding Communion by staying seated, as the Priest would be coming to me). And that was that. After years of struggling with whether to take Communion or not, the struggle was simply not there anymore. The moment of peace flooded me and gave me strength.

The day before her wedding was the culmination of the drama, as my sister lashed out at me. I don’t feel the need to tell the whole story here. But I was very hurt by what happened. I was to be the Matron of Honor for her wedding and felt like throwing in the towel and leaving her stranded on her wedding. Her actions deserved no less. No one who knew what had happened would have faulted me for bailing.

And yet… was that what I was being called to do? Was that what Jesus would have done? Was this the way to foster compassion, by returning hurt with hurt?

I retreated into solitude after the situation had ended (i.e., after my sister had left the house) and gave myself over to prayer and meditation. At first, I just focused on “om ma ni pad me hum”, until I could no longer feel my heart pounding in my veins. Then, I switched to the Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

I knew what I had to do. I had to do my duties as Matron of Honor and be there for my sister. I also needed her to know that her behavior had hurt me deeply and was not acceptable. I had to love her, and I had to love myself.

I continued alternating between praying, listening for that still, small voice, and meditating. And as the difficulty of what I would have to do the next day washed over me, a thought rose up in me: “I need refuge for tomorrow.” 

It sounds odd to say that God led me to my next actions, but He did. I felt a strong pull to finally take my Buddhist refuge and bodhisattva vows.

“I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.
I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.
I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.”

“I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have achieved release from this cycle.
I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have achieved release from this cycle.
I vow to stay in this eternal cycle of samsara until all beings have acheived release from this cycle.”

And I did. When my sister called to apologize, I accepted it, but not without acknowledging how much she had hurt me. And at her wedding, I was supportive, loving, and did my best to honor her and her new husband. I took refuge in the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha.

And I am no less a Quaker for doing so. I find that so much of Quakerism and Buddhism is complementary. We Quakers have started using the term “right relationship”, “right action”. Right Action is also a Buddhist term. It is part of the Noble Eightfold Path: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. “The Heart of Buddha’s Teachings” by Thich Nhat Hanh does an excellent job of explaining these and their interconnectedness.

Point being: how can we have right relationship without Right Understanding? How can I truly follow the Quaker testimonies without Right Understanding and Right Intention?

Acknowledging the Buddhist in me allows me to be a better Quaker. And, for this, I owe gratitude to my sister, for hurting me enough to allow me to meditate and pray at the depth required to realize this.

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Gifts from Unexpected People (Again)

Three weeks ago, my husband told me I’d be getting a surprise from my college friends. “What college friends?” I asked and added, “I can only think of a handful or so.”

“I think you’ll be surprised at how many you have,” he said. And he was right.

I’ve had a huge lesson in gratitude and thankfulness and appreciation for people I hadn’t been appreciating enough. I am so overwhelmed with emotion that I honestly do not know what to say.

Yesterday, I was given a Kindle from 18 friends of mine from college with the following note:

Cassie had the great idea for all of us to team up and give you a Kindle for your birthday this year. We’re all Johnnies and we love reading, so we wanted to make sure you had a way to read even when your hands are hurting.

Most of these friends I see once a year or less. A few of them I haven’t seen for over 2 years. And I was, frankly, unaware of the depths of the care all of them have for me.

Yesterday, when I opened my surprise present, I was moved but didn’t really understand what this means for me. Now that I’ve been using the Kindle and have downloaded so many books that I can’t remember even half of them, it has become clear to me what this means for me.

I can read without hurting my hands. For the first time in my life, I can read without hurting my hands.

The depth of this is hard to explain. As soon as I learned how to read, I’ve loved reading. But it’s always hurt my hands to hold the book. And book holders, of which I’ve had several, help, but just are cumbersome to use… and it’s just not possible to curl up with a book holder. I’ve always just continued reading, sometimes way past the point where my hands needed me to stop. I had long ago come to accept that reading was worth the pain.

I don’t have to accept that anymore.

I’ve been friends with these people for years now. And I’ve been taking them for granted and not appreciating them enough.

Sometimes, we have friends that we dismiss undeservedly. Sometimes, we have people who care about us more than we know. Sometimes, we’re shown love from unexpected people.

And I am so, so grateful.

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