Solitude in a Pandemic

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I just listened to Krista Tippett’s podcast “on being.”  This interview with Stephen Batchelor,”Finding Ease in Aloneness,” is an excellent tool for me in making sense out of an enforced life in solitude during this covid-19 pandemic.  You might also find it helpful.  Here are two quotes to whet your appetite.

 

 

…solitude is the practice of creating an inward autonomy within ourselves, an inward freedom from the power of these overwhelming thoughts and emotions.

Stephen Batchelor 

 

 

It was totally enforced — 27 years of his life, his most active adult life, in solitude, and yet, he’s the kind of person who, rather than just becoming lonely and depressed, which I suspect would’ve been a very reasonable way of reacting to that incarceration, he saw it as an opportunity. And what he discovers in the silence and the solitude is the power of words and how powerful words are, because this is what he’s been cut off from, is the capacity to be able to speak. And rather than just feel frustrated and limited, he reflects back on how valuable words are in being able to address people’s real needs and concerns. And so he seems to have transformed that imprisonment, at least at one level, into a deeper resource within himself. And I think when he is released from jail, and you hear him speak, there’s a gravity and a maturity and a depth — it almost doesn’t really matter, almost, what he says. There’s something in his tone of voice, something in his whole being that has been nurtured and enriched, it appears, from this long period of enforced solitude and reflection.

This is Mandela. He says: “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact upon the way people live and die.”

Stephen Batchelor

Listen here.

Another video essay:

 

 

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/s/photos/solitude

 

 

Spiritual Energy

Man with conceptual spiritual body art

 

Our thoughts and feelings
have an electromagnetic reality.
Manifest wisely

 

A good spiritual practice for these stressful moments of pandemic: remember that we are energy and we are called to direct that energy intentionally for the greatest good.

Before I unconsciously spew out my hurts and frustrations on others, I ask myself these questions from a Buddhist tradition: Is it necessary?  Is it true? Is it kind?  Does it improve on the silence?  This practice is one way of  intentionally and responsibly directing our energy.

Blessings on us all.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: 4329116 Man with conceptual spiritual body art by
Nejron stockfresh.com

A Spirituality Of Aging

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I stand here
Outside of myself
And watch me
Commence the journey
Into venerable vulnerability-
At least that’s what the young call it;
It doesn’t feel venerable yet.

 

I watch with surprise-
This old body that once could stave off
All manner of ailment and bounce back Stronger,
Now fights a succession of infections
On a pilgrimage to commune with the Bones
Of my once stately cathedral.

 

I stand here
Outside of myself
And watch me
Cry through the loss.
Like an ancient willow wailing
Over limbs taken by thankless winds,
I feel the phantom sensations of my Coveted limbs-

Strength
Endurance
Agility

 

If I stand here
Outside of myself long enough
I will see green-leafed limbs
Poke through the paneless windows
Of the bone cathedral-

Patience
Acknowledgement (what is is)
Letting-go

 

I stand here
Outside of myself
Awestruck by this holy episode
We call life.

c. Rita H Kowats May 18, 2020

 

Photo Credit: Wikipedia  Commons

Deep Listening

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A good blessing possesses something of what Celtic folk have long called a thin place, a space where the veil between worlds becomes permeable, and heaven and earth meet. In a thin place, God is not somehow more present, more there than in other places. Instead, a thin place enables us to open our eyes and hearts to the presence of God that goes with us always.

 

Jan Richardson The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for times of Grief

In the introduction to her new book of blessings (The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for times of Grief) Jan Richardson reminds me of another encounter I recently had with this concept of “a thin place.”

The author noted that another Celtic tradition holds that some persons are themselves a “thin place.” I know these persons to be the true deep listeners among us. We come away from an encounter with them knowing that we have been seen, knowing that we are known.

During these dire times of pandemic we must find the thin places among us and seek and call on them. They are the ones who can hold space for our fear and sorrow. Find them. If you are yourself a thin place ( you know who you are) step up. Be the listener who holds that space for others.

To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept.

Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.

http://henrinouwen.org/meditation/listening-spiritual-hospitality/

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Empty Is Full

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At some point in our spiritual journey we may feel the terror of falling into empty space without a net. Without landing. Just falling, falling, falling. Until we hear that voice of the divine, “I’ve got ya.”

I experienced this dream as a child, plagued by the fallout of PTSD. I can’t identify when I heard the voice or how it manifested, but the dream stopped. Instead of falling into empty space my spirit began expanding to reclaim it. No doubt my daytime world had become safer. No doubt I had discovered the Divine.

Sometimes the voice has to rise above some unhealthy ego chattering and I don’t hear it, but I know it’s always there. Perhaps the spiritual journey is a journey toward embracing the fall. Like the nimbleness of a child whose muscles and bones relax into a fall, we train our spirits to be nimble and let go.

Something for us to ponder today. Blessings on you and yours.

The Country of Uncertainty

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Figure at a Window Salvador Dali

 

I love Rile because he responded with integrity to the call he heard from the country of uncertainty.  We have no control over that call. We especially have no control over it in this time of pandemic.  I am, at least sometimes successfully, choosing to embrace the uncertainty and the lessons it offers me.  It’s a good end-of-this-life practice, I think. Luke’s story of the prodigal son is here

 

 

The Departure of the Prodigal Son

 

To go forth now
from all the entanglement
that is ours and yet not ours,
that, like the water in an old well,
reflects us in fragments, distorts what we are.

 

From all that clings like burrs and brambles—
to go forth
and see for once, close up, afresh,
what we had ceased to see—
so familiar it had become.
To glimpse how vast and how impersonal
is the suffering that filled your childhood.

 

Yes, to go forth, hand pulling away from hand.
Go forth to what? To uncertainty,
to a country with no connections to us
and indifferent to the dramas of our life.

 

What drives you to go forth? Impatience, instinct,
a dark need, the incapacity to understand.

 

To bow to all this.
To let go—
even if you have to die alone.

Is this the start of a new life?

New Poems

Rainer Maria Rilke in A Year with Rilke Translated and Edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

Weeping Willow Meditation

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Weeping Willow Meditation

 

My seven-year-old self often sat
Settled under the swaying, trailing branches
Of the weeping willow that stood guard
In the center of her backyard.

 

The wispy caresses of the supple branches
Danced on the gentle wind,
Soughing a message unheard
On the other, unsettled wind
That gusted through the house-

You are loved. You are whole.

 

My seventy-five year old self
Now sits before a willow weeping
For a world not supple,
A world bending to its breaking point.
Trailing branches whip and slap,
Howls replace affirming whispers.

 

The weeping will wane
With every sway of every branch.
Hope will caress us again.
Weeping and rejoicing are One.
Live through each,
You become the Other.

 

© Rita Hemmer Kowats 4-30-2020

 

Photo Credit: Photo by Daria Sannikova from Pexels

Effacement

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EFFACEMENT/ Hafiz

Effacement
Is a golden gun.
It was not easy to hold it against my head
And fire!
I needed great faith in my master
To suffocate myself
With his holy bag
Full of truth.
I needed great courage
To go out into the dark
Tracking God into the unknown
And not panic or get lost
In all the startling new scents, sounds,
Sights,
Or lose my temper
Tripping on those scheming
Night and day around me.
Hafiz,
Effacement is the emerald dagger
You need to plunge
Deep into yourself upon
This path to divine Recovery—
Upon this path
To God.

efface[ ih-feys ]

verb (used with object), ef·faced, ef·fac·ing.
to wipe out; do away with; expunge:
to efface one’s unhappy memories.
to rub out, erase, or obliterate (outlines, traces, inscriptions, etc.).
to make (oneself) inconspicuous; withdraw (oneself) modestly or shyly.

Dictionary.com

 

Response

 

Ever So Dear Hafiz,

In principle I experience this experience you’ve opened up for us; however, as a creature of the twenty-first century and one schooled in psychology, I am compelled to qualify. For me, it is the unhealthy manifestations of ego that I seek to efface, not my Self, the deepest self where divinity makes its home, if I let it.

With that said, dear sage, I now offer a way beyond this pandemic surging through our world today. In spite of the attention many pay to the needs of the common good, this virus has also unleashed a dis-ease of the worst kind. It has loosened the already tentative grip we had on the virtue of selflessness. Ego selfishness gravely threatens body and soul.

So, yes, let us efface, I say. Let us efface selfishness and greed and take on the posture of a parent who would sacrifice anything for the good of their child. We are all one another’s child now. Let us walk this path to “Divine Recovery” together.

Photo Credit: https://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/events/2018/03/05/the-common-good-an-anglican-understanding

 

 

Anticipatory Grief

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This heartfelt offering comes to us from my friend Vija, who waits in empathic prayer for her friend’s child to heal from the haunting feelings that threaten her life.

In time of anticipatory grief
Bring comfort to those who endure pain so great
that ending their life to stop such suffering makes perfect sense.

Spread peace like grass seed on the souls of those who love them,
those whose thought, each second of every hour, is for the safety of their beloved.
Let that seed take root and build up a prairie of undulating grasses,
beauty to behold for the poor in spirit.
Comfort those who sleep lightly, anticipating disaster and the worst of news, all night long.

You – you are deeply asleep in the stern of the boat, tucked up snuggly against the wooden ribs,
wrapped in wool that repels the splashing waves, lying on a dense cushion.
We here are panicked – trying to navigate while sinking, shouting to be heard above the storm.
The boat is tipping so perilously that we beat the oars aimlessly against the air
as frequently as we plow them through the water.

We, furious, shake you awake – pissed off that you would relax in such a moment as this.
You chasten us (what??) then right the boat, flatten the water whose area under the wet,
curved surface was as complex as a calculus equation only seconds ago.

Faith – where is our faith, you demand?
Because apparently sometimes, peace is present, but for the asking.
So – Ask.

Maybe bail for a bit, too:
praying and cursing as you toss bucket after bucket of water
out of the boat and back into the lake.

© Vija Merrill, 2020

 

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