Before I Die ….

What is it that YOU want to ……….. before you die?

A retreat with Chris Saade (philosopher, psychotherapist, author and activist) prompted me to revisit this question. Based on Chris’ teachings, to tap into one’s truth or authentic self requires genuinely and deeply honoring one’s …

  • choices and struggles of freedom
  • unique personality
  • profound wounds and failures
  • heart
  • spirit force
  • passionate and generous love
  • passionate and particular calling

From this position one is able to also honor the same in others and support them in their own search for authenticity. Living authentically promotes freedom, mutual respect, harmony and inner and outer peace.

The question is: What is authentically me, and what is a learned perception of me? It takes some soul searching to be able to discern one from the other. Sometimes it helps to think back to childhood. What were my interests and passions when I was still an ‘uncarved block’? The answer may lie there.

Hidden

I was just leaving the beach after a long walk, but then for some reason the ‘still life’ of these rocks in the water and reflections of the clouds above caught my attention. Instinctively, I stopped and took a photo of it.

In a way, to me photographing is a form of self-exploration. Here Seena B. Frost’s soul collages come to mind. To make soul collages one sifts through a variety of magazines and tears out images to which one feels a strong pull. These images are then used to create soul collages for the purpose of self-exploration. Although not immediately apparent, the images that we select tell us something about ourselves. Once assembled into a soul collage and reflected upon, we begin to understand what aspects of ourselves are expressed by them and what they are trying to tell us about ourselves.

When I got home, I reflected upon my own image of the rocks in the water above. Only their tips are visible, but their largest parts are hidden under water. In psychology and dreams water is representative for the subconscious. Seeing these rocks as a metaphor for the human being, their tips represent wakeful consciousness. What is hidden under the water is the subconscious and the higher consciousness. This consciousness of ours is hidden not only from others, but generally also from ourselves.

Through looking ‘below the surface of the water’ it is possible to gain insight into what is hidden there from our normal view. There are miscellaneous ways in which to explore this to a greater or lesser degree, such as, for example, meditation, making art, music, or engaging in soul collages – anything that we can lose ourselves in, that gets rid of that noise or chatter or self-talk, or that lets us access the ‘flow‘.

Nature is such a great teacher! By observing nature, I observe myself. Every little bit of understanding gained about nature, is understanding gained about myself. The classroom of nature is open for business every day. Whether I show up for class or cut class is my choice.

 

A Valuable Lesson from Marsh Grasses

The lotus is not the only plant that emerges from the depth of mud and murky waters. I recently went for a walk along a creek just before dusk and stopped for a while to observe the marsh grasses.

Compared to all the other exciting things to see at the creek, such as pelicans, seagulls, dolphins, shrimp boats, and fishermen, at first look marsh grasses seem to be quite ordinary and boring.  Maybe they make for a nice green contrast against other more interesting things in my photos, so I thought, but that’s all. Upon closer observation, however, I noticed just how remarkable marsh grasses are.

The marsh grasses I observed reminded me of the lotus, because they, too, have to work their way through a sticky mass of wet earth before they are able to catch their first rays of the sun. When they are still in the depth of the dark compact earth, how do they know in which direction to grow? Do they orient themselves by the warmth of the sun generated on the surface of the earth?

It takes a lot of strength and determination to penetrate the heavy mass of the mud. Marsh grasses come in the hundreds, thousands, or millions along a creek. Those grasses that are situated together with and perhaps shielded by other grasses are tall and strong. The ones that are solitary and exposed generally show signs of stunted growth and weakness. When the wind brushes the surface of the landscape, marsh grasses follow its direction. Thus, they constantly and randomly sway in the wind and change direction, whichever way the wind commands them. For this reason, marsh grasses are flexible. It helps them to endure.

Sometimes the water level is low and exposes most of the length of the grasses, except of their root systems in the mud. Other times, the water rises and immerses the grasses so that only their tips are visible. Then they are rocked back and forth by the waves of the heavy water mass surrounding them. For this reason, marsh grasses have to be strong.

When the water is low, marsh grasses hide little crabs and shore birds from predators in their midst.The behavior of marsh grasses metaphorically demonstrates what it takes to navigate life in this world: Strength, determination, endurance, flexibility, companionship, care, and a striving for warmth and light.

 

 

Featured Poetry: In My Soul

In

my soul

there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church

where I kneel.

Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.

Is there not a region of love where sovereignty is

illuminating nothing,

where ecstasy gets poured into itself

and becomes

lost,

where the wing is fully alive

but has no mind or

body?

In

my soul

there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque,

a church

that dissolve, that

dissolve in

God.

(by Rabia of Basra. Taken from Love Poems from God. Daniel Ladinsky)

Inside the Labyrinth

Recently I discovered a labyrinth in a little park adjacent to the hospital where someone close to me passed away in July of this year.

Although I felt drawn to the labyrinth, I didn’t want to walk it initially. A man was sitting on a bench nearby looking on, and to me walking a labyrinth is something I prefer to do in private. So I just took some snapshots with my phone of a nearby statue of Jesus, an entrance arch, and the pretty fall leaves all around, taking care not to cross the borders of the labyrinth.

There is something peculiar about labyrinth borders. They have a distinct presence that seems to warn us, “approach the center slowly and carefully, and never take a shortcut”.

Contrary to my expectation, the man on the bench got up and left. My eyes wandered around the circumference of the labyrinth until I found its entry point.  From there I traced the tangle of its winding path with my eyes as far as I could without getting confused. All was still and peaceful. I was alone. The conditions were right. So I decided to walk the labyrinth after all.

My slow, methodical walk soon opened up my mind to a heightened state of awareness and inner reflection. Time seemed to stand still, and the distant noise of the automobile traffic faded away. I noticed that as soon as I thought my path inched closer to the center, it led me away from it again.

In a labyrinth there is no linear way to the center.  There are shorter and longer stretches of spiraling in one direction, but then there are always sharp turns. These turns will lead the walker in a new direction, even an opposite direction, which can be especially frustrating if one was already close to the center and is now led away from it again. But it is in the nature of the labyrinth that with patience and perseverance one will eventually end up in its center. Knowing this gives the walker hope and renewed motivation.

As I trotted along my path, I discovered various ‘treasures’: Golden, orange, and red leaves with little spines that resembled the shapes of the trees from which they fell. Leaf imprints set in the stepping stones at some turns of which I wondered if they got there by design or accidentally. Interesting patterns formed by brick, stone, and patches of grass. And there was one unexpected, solitary mushroom making itself at home in a little open space between the labyrinth’s brick borders.

The thought came to me that if I picked up all of the removable ‘treasures’, there wouldn’t be any left for the next walker. So I decided to take only some and leave some for others. But there was an ample supply of fall leaves and I had gathered so many that I could barely hold them anymore without dropping some. It became a distraction and a burden on my walk. I was reminded that accumulating and trying to manage too many ‘treasures’ or material things in life can also be a distraction and a burden. It can cloud us from our original purpose and make us heavy and clumsy.

Occasionally, I glanced at the parts of the path winding to my left and to my right and thought to myself that if someone else were walking there, this junction in the labyrinth would have brought us close together. But then if one or both of us walked on, our paths would take us further apart again. However, there could be other junctions were we might be close again. If we walked the labyrinth together with a loved one or friend at the same pace, we would share the same path. Either way, all labyrinth walkers share the same objective, which is to journey to the labyrinth’s center.

Finally, I found out there is nothing magical about the labyrinth’s center. It is just an empty space in the middle of the path’s winding. It is the end of the walk in and the beginning of the walk out. All the beautiful, insightful reflections of the walk temporarily cease here. The labyrinth’s center is a void in which one can rest for a while. The walk or journey to the center is the most interesting part.  It’s both stimulating and frustrating.  The center is neither.

In the center of a labyrinth there is also no staying and resting permanently. One will have to walk back out of it to get back to one’s normal activities. On walking out of the labyrinth my awareness of the distant automobile noise returned and so did my mental scanning of errands and chores which I still had to take care of that day.

I now understand why the labyrinth’s borders ‘warn’ us not to cross them to take a direct route to its center: We would miss out on the opportunity to escape the noise and look inside as well as having the experiences, insights, and wisdoms that come to us only if we walk the long and winding path.

When Times Get Tough

On April 12, 2013 a close relative of ours took ill and was rushed to the hospital. Within two days he was moved into the ICU, place in an induced, artificial coma, and hooked onto a ventilator. What started out as influenza, turned into pneumonia and eventually SARS. Further complications required repeated kidney dialysis, gall bladder drainage, and insulin shots. To drain the fluid out of his lungs, for nearly three weeks this relative had to be strapped into a rotating bed; the same kind that is used for bird flu.

While still in the ICU and on life support, our relative is now back in a regular hospital bed and no longer artificially paralyzed, though still sedated. He has a lot of inflammation in the lungs, his breathing is insufficient, and he is not ‘out of the woods’. However, should he recover, it will take a long, long time for his lungs to heal. It will take faith, hope, strength, endurance, and a lot of support.

When a life or death situation as this occurs, life as one knows it will cave in for the person that is ill as well as for his family. All regular activities, which usually seem so urgent or important, abruptly take on a lesser role. A large portion of every day needs to be set aside for the support and care of the ill loved one. Inevitably, one is confronted with questions about the purpose of life and of death, and one finds the validity and foundations of one’s beliefs challenged.

It is interesting to see the reaction of the community of more distant relatives and friends to a situation such as this one. Some jump in and offer to help every day, others stop by and visit occasionally as times permits it, and yet others stay away and say, “let us know when things are better”.

These are only some observation I have made thus far.  There are many more that I am still sorting through.

Today I pray for our relative and all of those with severe illness that they may recover and fully regain their health. I pray that they will get another chance at life so that they can see the azure, expansive skies, feel the warmth of our radiant sun and the silvery glow of our moon, hear the bubbling water in a creek or the rushing waves in the ocean, listen to the wind whistle through gaps in doors or rustle leaves of trees or tall grasses in the field, watch butterflies and bees collect nectar and pollen from colorful flowers and birds soar high in the sky. I pray that they may be able to complete all that they were meant to in this life.

True Connection

When one is truly connected with another, one shares not only their joys, but also senses their troubles and sorrows. This can manifest itself in form or thoughts, physical sensations, or even premonitions. One feels the urge to step in and help in any which way one can, giving of one’s time and providing emotional, physical, and spiritual support. Even if it means inconveniences for oneself or risking one’s own health. This is called true love and compassion.

The world is full of fair weather friends. In times of misfortune and suffering the very few truly connected friends will quickly stand out from the crowd, because the crowd will be absent and they will be the only ones left.

Photographic Journal: Just Another Tribute to the Full Moon

Shem Creek Park 084_3No matter where we are, tonight we all seem to be adoring the same thing: the beautiful February full moon. WordPress is flooded with posts showing glimpses of the moon by bloggers from all over the world.

Doesn’t our mysterious moon with its warm, golden light evoke a feeling of awe and a longing for surrendering to peace in us?  By sharing and adoring the same moon that sustains us all, aren’t we reminded that we are all fundamentally the same and closely tied together?  We don’t even have to look as far as the moon to come to that conclusion. What about our wonderful, bountiful, and generous earth?

With this photo I’d like to share with you my glimpse of our full moon as I have seen it over the Atlantic ocean, with Charleston shrimp boats underneath that have retired for the night after delivering fresh prawns directly to the local restaurants all day.

Love and peace tonight and always!

andelieya

Photographic Journal: Just Be

alligatorNo pretty berries, little flowers, floating blossoms, or ripples in the water today! Instead I saw this handsome alligator.

Even alligators don’t like to be in the water all the time.  After three consecutive days of uninterrupted rain, this big fellow took a rest on a log in the swamp and dried himself off.

Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the turmoil of life’s events, ‘crawl out of the water onto a log’, and just be.