12.06.2009

Comfort

Oh, the comfort—
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person—
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.

—Dinah Maria Mulock Craik (1826-1887)

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posted by ashley

4.09.2009

Letting Be


"I thought about... how nobody is perfect. How we just have to close our eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is."

~ Sue Monk Kidd in The Secret Life of Bees








photo by baloulumix

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posted by ashley

3.22.2009

Children Keeping it Simple, Teaching Simplicity


A few inspiring comments from my teachers in simplicity, children.
  • I was participating in Seattle’s Martin Luther King, Jr., March and Rally this year with some of the faculty, students and parents from the school I work at. During the march one of our first graders looked up at me and said, “Oh, I know why you’re here today, Ashley.” “Why?” I asked. “Because this is all about friendship… and you’re the friendship teacher.”

    (fyi: I host Friendship Groups, a class that all the students in the class participate in just like math or reading. The aim is to help students deepen their ability to connect with and understand themselves and others. It's all about friendship... with ourselves, others and the world around us!)

  • During Obama's presidential inauguration Rev. Joseph Lowery was talking about love,
    "And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance."

    I looked in front of me as a Kindergartner was staring down at his little hands, shaping them into a heart. That image summed up where my hope for our future lies... in love.

  • After the inauguration we hosted an Open Space with the 3rd graders. One child's closing remarks, "I learned that when everyone pitches in just a little bit, it can make a giant difference."

  • Words of wisdom that a 2nd grader told me over lunch one day that I am practicing and trying to better embody, "Just listen until your mind gets deeper and then you'll understand."
I am so grateful for all the gifts that are bestowed upon me by these wise humans who are so willing to share their world.

heart photo by samantha celera

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posted by ashley

5.05.2008

Enjoying the Sadness of Life

A beautiful Sunday in Seattle. Before a walk in the park, I pick up the book In Other Words: A Language Lover's Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World. I open randomly to a page, in search of a word to carry with me on my journey. It's a Japanese word I find:
aware [a-wa-reh] (noun)

An awareness and appreciation of the ephemeral beauty of the world. The seasons change, the cherry blossom gently falls, the crops are planted, grow, and die. Aware is that poignant sensation one has of time passing, of the inevitable cycle of life and death. From the noun comes the idiom mono-no-aware. Roughly translated as "enjoying the sadness of life," it's that bittersweet, vaguely poetic feeling you get around dusk, on a long train journey, looking out at the driving rain... a few autumn leaves still clinging to your coat.
The colors in Seattle are phenomenal right now

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posted by ashley

5.01.2008

Returning Home

I'm back in Seattle now after a little over 2 weeks in Atlanta with family and fate. I sit in one of my favorite coffee shops. Drink coffee, eat a bagel, watch the people around, smell the smells, hear the many sounds, feel the quiet/loud, stillness/activity. It's sunny outside. I see the light shining through new spring leaves. That makes me smile!

There are so many thoughts, feelings and sensations moving through me. Is it that I don't know where to start or am I afraid to dip into the well, what might I pull out?

My heart has been deeply touched and changed through life experiences of recent days. I went home to be with my dad and family as my dad had major surgery. I was there before hand, during the 4 hour surgery, at the hospital for the 8 days of healing, at home a couple of days, and back to the hospital just before I left town yesterday. Our family has grown closer and supported each other phenomenally through the stresses of surgery and the surprise of a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Our spirits stay high, the laughter continues to rumble and some of our outer shells slowly soften. We cry also!

One thing I've been fascinated by is how disordering it can feel when one is unable to play the accustomed (habitual) roles in a social system. For me it was in my family. For a few of us, we noticed that there are roles that we generally play, that are expected of us. In times of stress and intensity, sometimes it wasn't appropriate for us to play those roles. And then we felt a loss of identity. If I'm not the helper. If I don't know how to be supportive and how to express my love in valuable ways. If my presence isn't a comfort. Then who am i? What is my purpose?

And now I return to 'my life.' What is my role here? I've been immersed moment to moment in the life of my dad and how each of us around him, who love him so dearly, are responding to the intensities of change, fear and discomfort... to the heart-touchings of life's fragile importance, of love's expansive blessings, and of the gentle gifts of grace that emerge from vulnerability and closeness.

Now I'm in a coffee shop with other people on their computers, the espresso machine clicking, the guy walking by and smiling, a child trying to figure out how he pays for and receives his drink all by himself, the humm in my head of what I need to do today to return to this world... Life just keeps going. My body's here now. My mind and much of my family are still there. And I'm confused. Peaceful... and confused.

It's hard for me to stay centered in this moment. I drift away... drifting backwards through the stream of experiences that happened in the hospital, at the house, in the car, in the woods, on the phone, by myself, with my loved ones, in the silence. Those were some of my favorite experiences... the pauses between the moments... especially with my dad. Being with him, sweetly and genuinely, in silence. Just there. Together. No boundaries between us.

My mind also drifts to the future. What lies ahead for him? What will he experience? What will we experience? How do I proceed? How can I be so far away? And gently, I remind myself to breathe. I feel my lungs rise and fall. I try to focus on some part of my body. I notice what's going on around me. And then, settling into here... I feel confused... and wonder, how do I proceed?
The Way You Live Today by Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov

Your entire destiny is contained in and determined by the way you live today: the orientation you give to your thoughts and feelings, and the activities on which you choose to spend your energies.(…)

This is something that has to be done every day: be conscious and aware at each instant of how you are using your energies...You can do it while you are walking to work, on the bus, at the dentist’s, or in your own kitchen. Wherever you are, at any moment of the day, you can always glance into yourself and ask yourself: {What is alive right now? Is it helpful to focus my attention here?}*

Let the word ‘harmony’ soak into you at every moment; keep it within you as a kind of tuning fork: if you feel that you are beginning to worry or get upset, pick it up and listen to it, and do nothing until you have tuned your whole being once more. Harmony is the foundation of every successful venture, every divine realization. Before undertaking any activity, whatever it may be, learn to concentrate on harmony and your work will bear fruit for the rest of eternity.

*My own questions, not from the author
I stare at that tree with the light shining through the green, green leaves. I soak in that harmony. There is harmony all around me in the outer world. I invite this harmony to soak into me at every moment. I will carry it around with me in the form of a smooth polished stone, inviting me to be present, surrender and listen to this moment. To trust in this moment. And to tune my whole being, once more, to harmony. I get to learn who I am now... and what does harmony in my life now feel like.

Green Leaves by Cathryn Cooper

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posted by ashley

10.27.2007

We're Alive, Here Now

"Let there be no more holding back on
our commitment to our life on earth."



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posted by ashley

7.04.2007

Emerging Independence

More personal confessions...

It’s strange to me how much I “need” to have others validate things that I do or experience, how much I can deny my own experiencing, minimizing it, not honoring the fullness of intensity that is my living or the guided action that emerges from my listening. For example, I've noticed lately how I experience a touch of wholeness when someone validates how deeply I feel. It surprises me (and then often moves me to tears) how healing and confirming it is to have someone else simply acknowledge that I experience life intensely, that I feel deeply. How curious that I don’t trust my own experiencing as proof. Intellectually I do, but at a sensing level there is still so much I am learning to trust.

I am grateful for people in my life who reflect these realities back to me. Through the interdependence of our relationships, I am invited into greater independence, a fuller knowing of what it's like to be me. What a blessing.


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

~ Mary Oliver

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posted by ashley

7.03.2007

Courage and Willingness to Die and Be Born

Caitlin Frost doesn’t yet have her own webl, but she is filled with and shares in her daily life a tremendous amount of insight, experience, inquiry and love. This comment she left at the Living With an Open Heart thread is too powerful of a teaching, a potent expression of practice, to leave in the comments… so I’m reposting it here.

I’m particularly drawn to her point that living with an open heart involves “holding the courage and willingness to constantly die and be born”… and when this practice embraces clarity, “the energy stays in the system, feeds it and provides the strength to support the vulnerability.” To live with an open heart, it is essential to stay connected to energy sources that support vulnerability. Vulnerability can become quite destructive if not supported… and is exceptionally powerful when held in its essence.

Take it away, Caitlin:
Hi Ashley, I am exploring similar terrain at the moment. I have been doing a lot of meditation and Byron Katie work this past month and opening up lots of interesting and vulnerable places in myself. Feeling raw and also amazed and full of strength possibility. Like I am dying and being born at the same time - over and over again. I really think that clarity is the key - I can live with an Open Heart much more peacefully and powerfully when I am really clear - it is like a slightly (and crucially) different kind of vulnerability that retains much more life force and curiosity than the combined "amazing moments with leaky, fearful and confused energies mixed in" I have mostly experienced around vulnerability in my life. Open - close - open - close...

Having very closely experienced death and birth in recent years - it struck me very clearly that they share a powerful and connected energy - a sense of power or life force moving. In a way living with an Open Heart feels for me like holding the courage and willingness to constantly die and be born. Without the clarity - it just feels like dying, and the energy feels like it is draining out of the system. With the clarity it feels like the birth is connected, follows quickly, and so the energy stays in the system, feeds it and provides the strength to support the vulnerability.

In my martial arts training I am also playing with these energies of openness and vulnerability in the physical realm. Experimenting with the energy of emotional vulnerability in my responses to physical vulnerability. What it feels like to hold my energy and body solid and open as someone comes flying through the air at me.
Noticing that it is my own sense of groundedness and clarity of thought that makes it possible for me to stay fully present for the experience, and stay open to the experience whether I block or jump out of the way. If I can trust my clarity - I can stay open to it, curious and available to act.
This leads me to wondering, how do you (whoever you are that is interested in looking into this question) recognize clarity? A related question emerged and was explored in the last online meditation which was, How do you recognize deep knowing?

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posted by ashley

6.27.2007

Living With an Open Heart

I’m procrastinating. I’m scared. One more bite of toast. One more reason why I’m not comfortable at this table… one more excuse to keep me from going into what is present in me in this moment.

Today I must write. Trails of life-lived and life-living are insisting to be formed into words, to be woven into some form of expression. This morning I’m driving to a coffee shop to honor this call, experiencing the fullness of feeling inside of me… listening.

I hear an NPR clip on the radio about Iraq… and how it has become such a rarity there and a noted blessing for someone to die of natural causes… for people to have the luxury of saying good bye before a loved one passes. The tears ever-presently close to the surface swell in my eyes. Feeling and thinking tossling under the covers… emotions? grief? fortune? blessings? the world? suffering? why? what to do?

. . . love . . .

I always return to love. My car feels like it’s filled with inhabitants… so much inside this little space… feeling… driving… a truck parked along the road turns on, the tail lights catching my eye… a bumper sticker of the word LOVE on the window. The ‘O’ is a grenade. I shudder… and wonder… feel the silent tossling under the covers, the whirlpool of thinking-feeling-stimulation that has no form but inhabits huge amounts of space.

In this coffee shop now, I hold back the tears while simultaneously sort of forcing them forth. Marveling.

Yesterday I rambled through the arboretum with a dear companion, an old friend and a new friend, the same person. My heart raw and vulnerable, wide open and actively reaching for protection and comfort. The trees provided support, a mothering presence.

When we stopped in an area where the trees were scarce, more scattered, I felt my heart throbbing, yearning, wanting. It was like a fresh wound exposed to the elements, the wind blowing on the tender opening… I moved closer to the trees, closer to the warmth and support, the knowing forces of thriving existence… grounded, rooted, connected. I found a center where I could rest… and be… open to what is happening in this moment…showing up for this opportunity to be alive… as it is… as I am… as we are... right now.

Chris wrote recently about
“a fierce commitment to defending the territory of the open heart and a fierce commitment to training in the practice of wielding love, for communities, people, ideals, possibilities and whatever else.”
I found myself wanting to hear Christy teach from a 5-element perspective about the paricardium, the heart protector… and how it might relate to protecting and defending the heart while also inviting love into heart-space… that essence of heart that is bigger than our individual hearts. This brings to mind past writing on this topic by me and Christy.

It’s hard work living with an open heart! (my heart wells, tears swell writing that) And I rebel against the phrase ‘hard work.’ It is a deep practice, one which requires a huge amount of conscious effort and attention.

As we grow and develop, we experience life. In honor of living, we develop means of surviving. Few of us unfold in an enlightened bubble where the environment we encounter perfectly meets our needs and mirrors our essence. We are brilliant at adapting to what we experience, shaping our being and becoming to accommodate those unmet needs, organizing and re-organizing our interior worlds in creative and life-preserving formations. We are witty in the ways in which we latch onto the images we see in mirrors held up to us, whether they match our essence or not, we can cling fiercely to the labels, perceptions, conceptions… descriptions of who we’re seen to be, who we see ourselves to be… and scripts which we internalize as who we believe we are… stories which help us feel solid and grounded, inhabited by an identity that we can rest in… believe in… survive as.



Tears return again as I rest in feeling, listening for the shape of words to emerge. The theme… vulnerability. Living with an open heart is a practice of returning again and again to a vulnerable state… confronting the edges of survival that have served so reverently… and must now be softened… eased open into a fuller experience of what is happening now.

Listening to and being guided by heart’s resonance, foundations crumble, certainty and knowing break down, new feelings and sensations pierce experiences, change scraping the walls of habit, uncertainty paralyzing open static responses. Revealed, exposed, broken open and vulnerable… shaky? uncertain? scared? worried? calm? aligned? connected? fierce?

So Chris asks: “What is dangerous to the territory of the open heart?”

I notice how dangerously vulnerable an open heart is without awareness and discernment...and perhaps without clarity. Revealed to the elements, unprotected and ignorant to what-is, the defenseless heart is available to connect with anything. This is dangerous.

As I try to articulate this danger, I return to the word LOVE with the O as a grenade. We can connect with an essential experience (love) that contains a grenade, that shares its love through violence and destruction. We also can shape our experiencing to connect with love that contains a circle, a renewing cycle honoring death and rebirth, an evolving returning, an embrace of essence. In this moment my experience is that awareness, clarity, discernment and connection with loving essence empowers the open heart. (These words still feel weak in articulating... but perhaps tickle open the essence around which I'm trying to speak. Please feel free to inquire about or grow this thought further.)

Thomas stands in emotion sharing on this topic,
“I feel such sadness and rage at how fucking hard this all is. And then I feel the beauty of all these radiant souls working in the mystery as agents of change and discover a profound longing to live into the honesty and compassion of a wide open heart.”
I think that taking a stand to live into the honesty and compassion of a wide open heart means accepting the reality that symbolic grenades are always nearby… change is hard… love hurts… and with discernment and clarity, honesty and acceptance, we can align with beauty, we can listen to the wisdom of our hearts, we can follow guidance, resting in and being directed by the fierce power of love... not a violent love, an embracing love.

The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation,
we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin




Fire picture and mandala from Thomas Arthur, Trees from Nat Lockwood

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posted by ashley

5.03.2007

Crossing Boundaries



“Crossing the boundary from personal to transpersonal takes will...
takes the will of soul… and that’s fearful.”

~Finn Voldtofte

photo source

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posted by ashley

3.08.2007

Community

Community.
Somewhere, there are people
to whom we can speak with passion
without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us,
eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us
whenever we come into our own power.
Community means strength that joins our strength
to do the work that needs to be done.
Arms to hold us when we falter.
A circle of healing. A circle of friends.
Someplace where
we can be free.

STARHAWK, Dreaming the Dark
in Calling the Circle

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posted by ashley

3.07.2007

Freeing Ourselves

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space.

He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us restricting us to our own personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

- Albert Einstein

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posted by ashley

1.12.2007

A little About Shamans

"Shamans are describing what they have seen, what they have experienced, or what they know to be the case even if they themselves have not experienced it, much as a San Franciscan who has never been to London speaks of it as though it really exists. True shamans live in a world that is alive with what is to rationalist sight unseen, a world pulsing with intelligence. To them...[this] is the ordinary, the real world."

by Paula Gunn Allen found in Dance the River Whale by Ron Mercier

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posted by ashley

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