Blaming an Empty Boat

During the rumspringa that marked the transition moment after entering as a postulant and before being accepted as a novice, Sister Bridget was in a rowboat on Round Valley Reservoir.  It was a lovely late spring afternoon. The sky was emerald blue, with a few billowy clouds floating by, just enough to invite a bit of day dreaming to envision the clouds as castles and a dragon drifting above her.  Bridget was lost in her thoughts, contemplating the decisions that were just ahead of her in her progress towards becoming a full member of the cloister. The day was calm, water in the reservoir was crystal clear and smooth as a mirror. Bridget inhaled deeply basking in the peacefulness of the moment, of the day.

But then she looked up, and to her surprise saw another boat on the reservoir heading right toward her. She waved her arms and shouted, “Look out! Hey watch where you are going! Hey, hey, I’m here! Watch out!”  But the people in the other boat just ignored her. Her frustration growing, Bridget tried desperately to paddle out of the way. But the boat just kept coming at her. She kept shouting and paddling, but the boat just kept coming.  The other boat rammed right into her little row boat, and knocked Bridget into the water.

Now Bridget is cold and wet. Her borrowed row boat looked a bit damaged. The peace and serenity of her day is in ruins. As she flails in the water trying to drag herself back into the row boat without capsizing it, she continues to shout at the people in the other boat, “what’s the matter with you! What were you thinking!! Why don’t you watch were you are going?!? I just don’t understand how some people can be so inconsiderate.”

Finally Bridget gets herself back into her row boat, and is able to see that the other boat is empty. The person she has been so incensed with is no one at all.  And Bridget’s anger and frustration instantly turn to concern for the owner of the boat.  With a shift in her thoughts, anger dissolves into concern and compassion and Bridget begins to scan the waters for a body without a boat.  Off a short distance, Bridget sees someone splashing in the water waving an oar.  And she manages to stop the motor on the other boat, tie it to the stern of her row boat and to paddle over to collect the woman who is overboard.  Together they restore the other woman to her boat, and each of them finds her way back to her own maritime meanderings.

And Bridget is left thinking about how easy it was to feel personally affronted and to cast blame, insult and injury on an empty boat. And she found herself wondering how often when she thought she was on terra firma finding fault she was actually a bit loose from her moorings casting blame where there was none to be had.

If we are going to be fair and just, before we shower blame on another, it might indeed be better to first be sure there is someone in the other boat, and even then to walk a mile or so in their shoes.

A Fable about Salt and Love


Once upon a time there was a land that was ruled by man who was both king and father. The king had three daughters and loved them each in turn. As he watched them moving through his castle and court yards, the king noticed that while he love each of his daughters, he loved each of his daughters somewhat differently. He began to wonder about this odd quality of love. Being a king as well as a father, the king had also recently begun to wonder about which of his daughters he would entrust with his kingdom. And so one day he summoned the three young women to him, and he asked each of them how they loved him.  


 “My dearest king and father,” replied Elizabeth Barrett, the oldest daughter, “I love you to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach, I love you more than words can express.”  The king and father was filled with joy and was very pleased when he heard these words from his eldest daughter.


Bonny Anne, the middle daughter said, “I love you like the sun that gives us light and warmth and life. I love you more than my heart can hold.”  And now too the king and father was filled with joy and was very pleased when he heard these words from his Bonny Anne.  Then he turned to Salannia, his youngest daughter and asked her to tell him how much she loved him.


“Dear father, my king,” she answered, “I love you as much as salt . . .”


Before Salannia could continue the king, overcome with disappointment and dismay, interrupted her and shouted, “As salt! You say you love me like salt! The most common and simple spice in my kingdom! If only you might have said saffron, which is rare and precious, or honey, which is sweet, I would have been pleased! But salt! That is the same thing as saying that you do not love me at all!”


In his anger the king had Salannia ushered out the door and he banned her from ever appearing before him again. The king then proclaimed Elizabeth Barrett, his eldest daughter, would be heir to the throne.  When Bonny Anne, the middle daughter, learned of this, she was outraged that her father neglected to establish a role of power for her within the kingdom, and she set out to sea and became a pirate queen of the oceans.


And Salannia, the youngest daughter, left the kingdom in sadness. She walked for days and days, and eventually she came to another castle where she secured a job in the kitchen.  In a short time Salannia’s skill became known throughout the castle. Her reputation as a chef was recognized by the servants and by the Lord of the castle himself, and soon she became the head chef. 


And life went on in the kingdom with each of the daughters taking up her new life responsibilities and becoming ever more sure of herself in the world. After a time the Lord’s of the castle where Salannia was head chef announced that son was to be married. All the Lords and Ladies from the neighboring lands were invited to the feast, and of course Salannia’s father was to be among the guests. Salannia and her staff worked for days to prepare the feast. As they cooked, Salannia saw to it that only she prepared the foods that were to be served to her father – and she ensured that not a touch, not a hint, not one grain of salt came near the food that her father was to eat.


Course after course of sumptuous foods were served to the guests. All of the guests praised the excellence of the food, one after another proclaiming that they had never tasted food as delicious as that which they enjoyed that evening. All the guests, that is, except Salannia’s father. He alone could hardly swallow a bite of the food, while the food was beautiful to look at, it was very nearly inedible. When he heard the other guests reveling in the brilliance of the dishes, he could contain himself no longer and demanded to speak to the cook. “What have you done to my food? It looks wonderful, but it has no flavor or taste? I cannot even bear to swallow it.!


“My dearest king and father,” Salannia replied, “You exiled me from your home when I told you that I loved you as much as salt. And so today you have no salt in your food. Just as the food at this feast is dull and pointless without salt, so too my life is dull and meaningless without you.”


As he heard these words from his daughter, the king relented and repented. He begged his daughter to forgive him, and he welcomed her back home, where he established her as co-queen with his eldest daughter. And together they ruled happily ever after.




And what does all of this have to do with justice? If justice is fairness – and it may well be much more than that, but it is at least that – then fairness and respect require listening carefully to each other. Fairness and respect require hearing the full meaning of what each person means to say, and then pausing long enough to understand the meaning of what each person is saying from within their own context. At least that if we will be worth our own salt, if we mean to be the salt of the earth, otherwise we will just be rubbing salt in each other’s wounds 😉


Forest Gump, Saint Peter, Authenticity and Truth

Life and death are grave matters, but that does not mean that we should necessarily always and everywhere take them or ourselves too serious. And yet, all things quickly pass away, even our most beloved Forest Gump. And so it came to be that gentle Forest Gump, with box of chocolates and small suitcase in hand, following a drifting feather found himself at the Pearly Gates. And there, larger than life was Saint Peter waiting to greet him.

The gates behind Saint Peter were closed, but Peter warmly greeted Forest, “Welcome, Forest! It is good to see you. We’ve heard a lot about you, and have enjoyed following your adventures. But, I need to let you know that there have been some new administrative changes here, and we are now requiring everyone to pass an entrance exam before they can pass through the Pearly Gates. The test is short, but you have to pass it before you can get into heaven.

Forrest smiled offered Saint Peter a chocolate from his box, and said, “Well, Saint Peter, I am indeed happy to be here. I didn’t know nothin’ about an entrance exam. I certainly do hope it is not too hard. Life was kinda hard as it was, a good bit of a test right there is you ask me.”

Saint Peter thoughtfully chose a chocolate, bit into it, savored the flavor, and continued, “Forrest, thank you very much for the chocolate. We don’t get much of that here. It is a most pleasurable treat. And the test is a short one, only three questions. The first question is, what two days of the week begin with the letter T?”

Forrest sad down on his suitcase, thought for a moment, and then responded, “Why sir, I do believe that I know the answer to that one, it is Today and Tomorrow.”

Saint Peter chewed on his lower lip to hold back a smile, thought about it, started to say something, thought for a second more, and then said, “Well, Forest, you are not wrong. So, then you must be right. Good for you. And now the second question, how many seconds are there in a year?”

Forrest was a bit taken aback at this question. He furrowed his brow, sat deep in thought for a bit and then smiled and said, “Ah, Saint Peter, there are twelve seconds, of that I am certain.”

Saint Peter’s eyes fluttered, he involuntarily took half a step back, and asked, “Forest, how in Heaven did you come up with twelve seconds to fill a whole year?”

Forrest said, “Well, when you first asked me the question I was kind of scared by it ‘cause I’m not that good with numbers but then it just sort of came to me, there is January second, February second, March second, April second.”

Saint Peter interrupted Forrest and said, “OK, Forrest, I see where you are going. That is not quite what I had in mind. But your explanation is cogent and coherent, and so I will count that answer as correct also. Now, Forrest the third question is the most difficult, and the most important. So please take your time and think about it carefully before you answer.”

Forrest assured Saint Peter that he would indeed be thoughtful in his response. He suggested that maybe they should both have a chocolate to prepare themselves. Saint Peter gladly agreed, and when they each finished savoring the sweet, Saint Peter asked Forrest, “What is God’s first name?”

Forrest leapt up off his suitcase, set his box of chocolates on top of it, hugged Saint Peter, and said, “Well Saint Peter, that’s the easiest of all your questions! God’s first name is sure enough ‘Andy’ I just know it.”

Saint Peter looked ashen and positively startled, even as a half smile peeked out under his beard. “Forrest, how do you know that God’s first name is Andy?”

Forrest replied, “Well, Saint Peter that just is no secret at all. Every Sunday in Sunday school when I was young and now often enough on a Sunday in church we all sing the song with God’s name:

Andy walks with me,
Andy talks with me,
Andy tells me I’m his own.”

And Saint Peter threw open the Pearly Gates and said, “Run, Forest, run. Welcome home!”


A dear friend shared this story with me the other day. Her pastor used it as part of his sermon to highlight the importance and value of being true to ourselves – authenticity. And indeed, if we will build a world where justice prevails and human dignity is respected, then we first need to know and respect ourselves. We need to be comfortable enough with ourselves to simply be ourselves where ever we are, who ever we are with. I do believe that reciprocal warmth, authenticity and genuineness are core elements of respectful relationships.

And, as I thought about the story, I found myself peeling back another layer as well – a truthfulness layer. I found myself thinking about epistemology – how do we know what is true, what is truthful, what is an accurate representation of what we believe to be reality? Clearly Saint Peter knew the answers he was expecting to the three questions he posed. And, yet, he was open to recognizing the veracity of Forrest Gump’s responses within the context that Forrest presented. And for me that is the heart of the story – the delightful caution to take care to wonder at the world through which we wander; to never to too absolutely sure that we know the one and only truth. Let us all wander through this wonderful world with open and generous hearts, minds and hands.

Maya on Bulls Island

Spring along the Delaware River is always an interesting time. One early spring Maya was out walking near Bulls Island. She had just walked over the bridge and was exploring the island when she heard a rolling thunderous sound coming from the river. As she looked she could see massive ice blocks being pushed along in the now roaring river waters – waters that looked like they were coming right at the little island that she was meandering around.

Maya started for the bridge but something told her to wait. Just as she paused, a tree that was caught up in the river crashed into the island side entrance to the bridge knocking it off its foundation and she watched in collapse into the water. Moments later an old wreck of a car came careening down the river and tore into the bridge on the other side of the island. Maya was marooned.

She walked along the shore of the island cursing her stupidity at letting this happen to her. As she walked the shore on the canal side of the island, she cursed the canal and the river for cutting her off from the safety of the mainland. The shore was close enough to see. She could probably throw a rock across the canal and hit the other shore. . But the banks were steep. The water was rushing too wildly. And the waters had to be frigid from the ice. She was angry and frustrated, plan-less and clueless and worse, no one knew where she was, and her cell phone was in the car. Eventually she found a boulder, crumpled onto it, and wept in frustration.

As she wept, she heard a voice in the wind say, “it is silly to curse and struggle against what isn’t there.”

In her frustration Maya muttered, “What isn’t there?”

“Your enemy is not here. The water is not your enemy. Just as you are a woman becoming the fullness of who you are, the water is merely water, flowing and following its path.”

Maya listened, thought and studied the waters. She walked thoughtfully along the shore of the island observing the waters, watching and waiting, observing and thinking.  As she looked more carefully at the canal side bridge, she noticed that a cable still connected it to the island. She could crawl along the cable to the part of the bridge still above water and make it to the other side. And so she did.

Life is life. Each of us is doing the best that we can with the knowledge, awareness and resources that we have available to us at the moment. Yes, it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness, but that assumes that you have a candle and match available to you – resources matter. Knowledge and awareness are in our control. Those we can increase.

So when frustrations best you, pause a moment. Take a deep breath (or two or ten). Swear if you have to, if just to get it out of your system. And then look, listen, breath and pay attention to your environment and circumstances, see your world from a different perspective. Who do you think is your enemy at that moment? What might the reality that person be? That empathy thing can go a long way to opening new vistas and alternative.

Oh, and if you are in immediate danger, see to your safety before you shift your awareness!

Discipline, thoughtful meditation, and compassionate action – what a difference they can make!!  If we are going to work effectively for justice and respect for human dignity, it is good to remember ‘no enemy’; human rights are the rights of ALL human beings, of ALL sentient beings, even those who frustrate us.

Heaven, Hell and Eagles

Living is a curious endeavor. Living on the banks of the Delaware River is particularly intriguing. Alexandra and Sasha’s home sits on the New Jersey side of the river, on the top of a crest, nestled in a sweet wooded area. They always thought it was about as close to heaven as you could get in this world. That is until one morning when they were both startled awake by the most gawd-awful blood curdling cry they had ever heard. Their heavenly paradise was instantly rendered into a hellacious pocket of terror. What was that sound? Where did it come from? What kind of creature uttered it?

 Alexandra and Sasha looked at each other, eyes very wide open, their hearts pounding, and they crawled out of bed, and ever so quietly opened the door to their deck. They crept out onto the deck, looked out over the river. There was nothing in the water. They looked up into the trees, and they saw it. Their hearts stopped. Literally, holding each other’s hands tighter then they knew they had strength, their hearts stopped, they held their breath as they saw it. A spectacular bald eagle was perched in a tree just beyond their deck. That hellacious sound had summoned them to an even more glorious moment of heave.

 Over the spring the eagle regularly came to perch in their tree, and over the season they noticed that the eagle had built a nest in another tree just a bit further into the woods, but still in their line of vision. It was the biggest nest they had ever seen, a good five feet across maybe more. And one day they that their eagle was actually two when they notice both eagles in the nest together.  In early June they started to notice that at least one of the eagles was always in the nest. By mid July the first eaglet hatched.  And a day or so later they could just make our a second little eaglet in the nest.  As Alexandra and Sasha stealthily watched, it looked to them that their eaglets were growing exponentially. They seemed to be noticeably bigger every day. Within three weeks, they looked about a foot tall!

 Then in early one morning September Alexandra was standing on the deck, dreaming, meditating, and watching over her family of eagles. It looked like both adults were off hunting for breakfast. As she watched, one of the young eaglets stretched her wings. Alexandra held her breath. She and Sasha had done enough reading to know that 40% of eagles do not survive their first flight. She held her breath and watched. The young eagle opened her wings and soared out of the nest. She soared off to the west, circled around back to the nest, overshot it, and it felt to Alexandra like the eaglet was headed directly toward her. She could see those massive talons, the beak was getting huger by the second. And yet, Alexandra stood transfixed, somehow connected to this massive, magnificent bird whose growth she had witness each day. As the bird came ever closer, Alexandra could see its eyes. For one moment they looked each other squarely in the eye. Eye to eye, heart beat to heart beat, time stood still for an instant. They were held in time and space, transfixed.

 Before Alexandra could exhale, the eagle soared up and away and returned to the nest. Alexandra heard Sasha come onto the deck. Sasha looked at her, saw the awe writing on Alexandra’s face, and the tears in her eyes, and she waited. Alexandra turned and looked at Sasha, smiled, hugged the love of her life, and sighed. She knew that moment had touched and changed her life. And she knew she would never have the words to describe it. As she smiled, she felt her heart open and her spirit soar. And there was peace in their place of heaven on the Delaware River.

 Peace, love and justice visited the home of Alexandra and Sasha as they learned to bear witness and listen. Their eagles taught Alexandra and Sasha to be present to life as it presented itself to them. Over the season of the eagles they learned to love life fully with open hearts and wise minds as they watched and read. In the quiet of their home their love grew. In the public spaces of their lives that love quickened into the ways of justice.

Eva: three years, three months, three weeks and three days towards enlightenment

When she was a young woman, Eva was able to arrange her life circumstances so that she was able to travel to a remote area in California to study Zen with Shunryu Suzuki for a three year period. At the end of the three years, feeling no sense of accomplishment, Eva presented herself to Master Suzuki and announced her departure. Shunryu Suzuki said, “Eva, you have been here for three years. Why don’t you stay three moths more?”

Eva agreed, but at the end of the three months she still felt that she had made no progress toward enlightenment. Once again she told Master Suzuki that she was leaving, and he said, “Eva, listen, you’ve been here three years and three months. Stay three weeks longer.”

Eva did, but still with no success or even any progress. So, once more she told Shunryu Suzuki that absolutely nothing had happened, he said, “Eva, you have been here three years, three months, and three weeks. Stay three more days, and if, at the end of that time, you have not attained enlightenment, then commit suicide.”

Towards the end of the second day, Eva found enlightenment.


When I first read this story, I laughed. I loved it. How wonderful I thought. What a great example/illustration of the importance of deadlines. But then I realized that Eva blew through three deadlines with no effect. Then I thought OK, so deadlines with consequences. And I kind of stopped laughing, and started really thinking about the deeper meaning and implications of the story. I started to search out any misogynist undertones. I looked for feminist highlights. I really teased the story apart in my head until I grew a new furrow line between my eyebrows and got a nasty headache. And I realized that I wasn’t laughing anymore.

So, I reread the story once more with feeling. I let the delight of the aha touch me again with a new freshness. It was there all the time, the laughter, the enlightenment, the love. It is all always already there. We just need to let go of all the other crap, open our hearts and let it in, let it out! It’s there in the silence, in the space between, if only we will pause long enough and listen – really listen to what is, not demand to hear what we expect, what we believe should be. Just listen to what is.

What does all of this have to do with justice and human rights? Well, I’m thinking that if we are going to change our world to be one of fairness and respect for dignity, we first need to be able to envision what that world will be like. We need to become enlightened to the possibility, the real, practical, pragmatic, awareness that it can become so. Then we need to act on that vision, that believe.  

And many of you will say, but I tried, we tried. And many of you will be able to list off lots of efforts, and then you only need to point to the world we live in to demonstrate that we are not there yet.

And I will say to you, remember Eva. You have tried for so long, try a bit longer, try three more months, three more week, try until three minute before you die. Maybe even during those last three minutes, you might could change the world.  But, I will also offer this to us all. Don’t ask the world to change – it will likely say no, or fail to hear your request. Change yourself. Be the peace, the fairness, the respect, the love that you want in the world. Be unconditional peace, fairness, respect and love. Yes, I do mean that, unconditional. No matter what the conditions around you, be peace, fairness, respect and love. And of course it will not be easy. But if we all, each of us could be the peace, fairness, respect and love for 5 or 10 minutes a day, and then for 10 or 15 minutes a day. And if each day a few more folks joined in the practice, well, that would be something. Imagine.

Compassion saying ‘no’ and saying ‘yes’

Sister Beatrix’s days as a postulant are unfolding, and each day Mother Magdalene observes her growth and is pleased with what she sees, all but for one thing. Sister Beatrix just is not able to discern when to say ‘no.’ Even in the cloister, with its schedule and practices of discipline and silence, Sister Beatrix is becoming increasingly frenetic with projects she has committed to taking up and to finishing.

Mother Magdalene sits with Sister Beatrix and shares this observation with her. Sister Beatrix replies, “But Mother, I thought that I should be of service to the other Sisters. Isn’t commitment to the life and projects of the community an important part of life in the cloister?”

Mother Magdalene smiled, and agreed that indeed that is so. Then she settled back into her chair and shared this story with Sister Beatrix.

A long, long time ago, when the Sisters of Mary Magdalene were a small cloister in the far off memories of those who live today, three elder women, one of whom had a bad reputation, came one day to Mother Achilles, the head of the cloister in those days.. The first woman asked her, “mother would you weave me a basket?” “I will not,” she replied.

The second woman asked, “Of your charity, weave a basket for me, so that we have a souvenir of you in the monastery.” But she said, “I do not have time.”

Then the third woman, the one with the bad reputation, asked, “Mother, will you weave me a basket, so that I may have something from your hands, Mother.” And Mother Achilles answered her at once, “For you, I will make one.”

The other two women asked her privately, “Why did you not want to do what we asked, but you promised to do what she asked?”

The Wise Woman, Mother Achilles, said to them, “I told you I would  not weave you a basket, and you were not disappointed, since you thought that I had not time. But, if I had not woven one for her, she would have thought, “The old woman has heard about my sin, and that is why she does not want to make me anything. And our relationship would have broken down. But now I have cheered her soul, so that she will not be overcome with sadness, self recrimination, and grief.”


“Dear Sister Beatrix,” Mother Magdalene continued, “Just as we must attend to authentic commitment and engagement within our community, there are also dangers of over involvement and over engagement that we must be aware of and guard against. Be cautious of anger, greed, a desire to be relevant, spectacular, and powerful. Be attentive to fining the middle path. Do your best each day, learn each day, and learn from your moments of frustration, learn new skills, learn when to say yes, and when to say no. Each in its own time. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need. That is the heart of compassion, compassion that finds its roots in the knowledge that nothing human is alien to us.”



Ms Regina Brett and her 45 Life Lessons

I love the internet and its ability to expand, amplify and exaggerate. Urban legends can be kind of interesting and intriguing, and maybe even a good source of blog inspirations. I received the material for this blog in an email attributing it to Regina Brett, who was said to have written it when she was 90. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that Regina Brett was born in 1956, making her 4 years younger than I am! Since I am not especially a math wizard, for a very brief moment, I pondered if that meant that I was 94!! But I got over that quickly enough as I read further and discovered that she wrote this column when she turned 50, not 90!! Ah, typos can take on a life of their own on the wonderful wide web.

But for all of that, have a read at Ms. Brett’s 45 life lessons … Originally published in The Cleveland , Ohio Plain Dealer on Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ms. Brett wrote: “To celebrate growing older, I once wrote the 45 lessons life taught me. It is the most requested column I’ve ever written. My odometer rolled over to 90 in August, so here is the column once more:

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short – enjoy it.
4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and family will.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Stay true to yourself.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye, but don’t worry, God never blinks.
16.Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful. Clutter weighs you down in many ways.
18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
19.  It’s never too late to be happy. But it’s all up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words ‘In five years, will this matter?’
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative of dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. Accept what you already have, not what you need.
42. The best is yet to come.
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.”

As I think about this blog, I think about lessons that will help each of us become the kind of individuals, families and communities that will more fully honor the dignity of each human being, that will more deeply respect and life lives of fairness that honor justice. Ms. Brett’s life lessons seem to have some resonance with those goals.

Exploring the Cave of the Blue Dragon: Fear and Fearlessness

Maybe because I was born in the year of the dragon, I love dragons.  Blue is so much my most favorite color that there are moments when I think of the rainbow is variations of the color blue! So imagine my delight when I came across a Zen Koan (meditation on a paradox) called “the Cave of the Blue Dragon.”

Roshi John Daido Loori begins his discussion of this Koan with the story of a great teacher and the emperor of China who in a great time past were walking the palace grounds when they came across a great stone dragon. The teacher said to the emperor, “Your majesty, would you please say a word of Zen, something profound, about this dragon?” The emperor said, “I have nothing to say. Would you please say something?” And the teacher said, “It is my fault.”

Roshi Loori tells us that the teacher was taking responsibility, responsibility for the all of it. Now, on the surface, at first this can feel either masochistic or arrogant. But think about it for a few minutes. As we move through life and encounter challenges and frustrations, we can be a victim and become overwhelmed by fear or we can take responsibility.

Roshi Loori tells us that the prelude to this koan says something like:

When you are up against the wall, pressed between a rock and a hard place, if you linger longer pondering your thoughts, overanalyzing and planning, holding back your potential, you will remain mired in fear and frozen in inaction. If, on the other hand, you advance fearlessly, you will manifest your power, finding empowerment in your liberation. Here you will find peace.

Pema Chodron reminds us that we will find peace, safety and security only when we are willing to not run away from ourselves. That means being honest with ourselves, not running away from ourselves or our mistakes, to be accountable to yourself without being blameful.  From great suffering can come great compassion – or great hatred – the choice is yours.  From great frustration can come victimization and overwhelming fear, or responsibility and fearlessness.

Now, there is fearlessness and then there is fearlessness. This is not to advocate idiot fearlessness: if you can keep your calm when all around you are loosing theirs maybe you really don’t understand the problem. It is not fearlessness born of anger. It is not the fearlessness of youth marching off to war. Nor is it the fearlessness of youth who feel invulnerable. It is rather fearlessness born of conscious, cognizant, conscientious fear. It is compassionate, generous fearlessness.

So, how do we do this fearlessness? Well, there is, of course, a poem at the end of the koan that points us in the direction. My paraphrase of the poem is

The cave of the blue dragon is ominous.

It is the cave of our stuff, our baggage

Where only the fearless dare to travel.

Here the maze of our entanglements

Is rendered into a labyrinth.

Traversing its path and ways we are amazed

Liberation free of the enigma of mystery.

Well, it says something like that. But the point of it is, of course we will all be afraid. Fearlessness is facing our greatest fears with awareness, compassion and action. So, go be fearless even while you are shaking in your boots.

with thanks to Roshi John Daido Loori, Shambhala Sun and Omega Institute

On Solitude and Forgiveness: imagine a world of compassion

Back at the cloister of the Sisters of Mary Magdalene, they tell a story of one of the Mothers of the Dessert (yes, I mean to have 2 ‘s’ in the word) who was living a life of prayer and solitude.  The Sisters of the Dessert committed their lives to celebrating the sweetness of all creation. In those days, the Sisters saw their cloister as a place of solitude, and as a milieu for learning and deepening respect for justice and for the dignity of all sentient beings and for the ecology which nourished and nurtures us. The good sisters also believed in teaching through their example.

According to this story, one of the Sisters had committed a fault, and a council was convened to determine what should be done. The Mother was invited to participate in the council, but she declined to go.  Eventually one of the younger Sisters came to her and said, “Mother everyone is waiting for you.”

So, the Mother got up and found a leaky water skin. She filled it to its capacity with water, and carried it to the place where the council was meeting, with the leaky spot over her left shoulder. When she got to the council, the sisters there said to her, “Mother, why are you carrying that old water skin?”

And the Mother said to them, “My sins run out behind me, and I do not see them. And yet, today I am coming to judge the error of another.”

When the sisters heard this, they said no more of the fault of the young Sister, but forgave her.  The example of the Wise Mother was all the lesson they needed to be reminded that each of us is in need of forgiveness. In their solitude they learned to see themselves as they truly are, unvarnished, unadorned. In their solitude they took the time to look to their center, into their hearts and find the core of love that nurtures the soul of each of our beings.

For the Sisters of the Dessert, solitude helps them to find the place where they were balanced, gentle and caring. In their solitude they became compassionate through their realization that nothing human is alien to us. They stopped judging others, stooped evaluating themselves and became free to be compassionate.

And so the Sisters of the Cloister of Mary Magdalene practice solitude. We too might take up the practice, each of us in our own small way. Ten to twenty minutes in the morning is not an impossible pathway to solitude. Solitude can help to mould each of us into gentle, caring, forgiving people as we acknowledge our own faults and become aware of the mercy and compassion that have graced our lives. Imagine the world of peace, justice and respect for dignity we might envision and build from a place of solitude. Meditation is not just for navel gazing. It is for healing the wounds of oppression and discrimination. It is for clearing our vision and opening our hearts to the more that is possible. Imagine!