The loss of story – further reflections on the crumbling of perceptual boundaries

When I consider the lessons of our divestment over the past several years, the house on McCollum Street, the house on Park Street, Mama Ganache, a lifetime of acquisitions – I find I always return to the center: what I am, I take with me.

What I am has nothing to do with the things and stories that surround me. It doesn’t need even one suitcase to contain it, much less two. When nostalgia for what I had begins to fill me, wherever I am, I can go to my heart and feel at home with who I am, and that is enough.

Ceiling tile for sale on a street in Morocco

It’s where I find hope, where I can recover that sense of eager anticipation the Hathors recommend in these times of failing expectations and beliefs, the loss of story, and crumbling perceptual boundaries.

One of the seminal books of my hippie years was a typewritten channeled teaching called Season of Changes. I’ve forgotten the details of the predictions, but I’m sure they’ve been borne out or will be soon enough. It was a dark view of the future, full of cataclysm and apocalypse. Written in question and answer format, the last responses concern how to respond to the changes. As I recall, the advice most forcefully given was to practice meditation.

It’s comforting to imagine that more people than ever are doing that, at least in my own bubble. It’s less comforting to remember how tiny a percentage of the world’s population my bubble contains.

But it’s sound advice. When the now threatening storm of storms is full upon us, when that moment of personal and collective apocalypse that we all feel coming finally arrives, it’s the meditators who will be able to hold the rudder.

Storm coming in at our house in Cordes

Meditation takes you to your center, to the center, the one we all have in common. It takes you out of the chaotic whirl of stories to the place of no story, where energy is conserved instead of fueling the miasma of outer experience.

It takes you beyond imagination, beyond the limits of space and time, and beyond the singular focus of our culture on the physical: on acquisition (growth vs. maintenance), on hierarchy (dominion vs. sharing), beyond your own little bit of the apocryphal elephant.

Letting go of the world as we know it, the world of perception, this particular consensus reality, is necessarily heart-breaking. It’s painful to separate from the things and people and stories we love, and love is, after all, what it’s all about.

The tricky part is to connect love to the universal rather than the particular.

And that’s where meditation can take you.

Ninety days outside the Schengen area – sacred geometry in Morocco

It was in the Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts in Fès that the thought struck me. The chaos of the crumbling medina, the vibrancy of the souks, the noise, the pollution, the exploding energy of the colors, and the sheer quantity of stuff –

Souk, medina, Marrakech

– is beautifully balanced by prevalence of the purposeful geometry, sacred geometry, everywhere.

That’s why Morocco is so enchanting.

Souk, medina, Fès, Morocco

Doorway, Marrakech Musèe

Wall, Palais el Mokri

Islam takes the prohibition of worshipping graven images seriously, and discourages figurative art. Like all of life, art should be dedicated to God, and God is only describable as essence. Geometry is essence.

Fountain, Palais Glaoui, Fès

Who can resist being centered by such design?

All my years of studying sacred geometry, beginning even before my Ganesh Baba days, and then Dan Winter and most deeply with Alice O. Howell, peaked at that moment in the museum. I stood at the center of a ideally proportioned room surrounded by mandalas, exquisite symmetry, perfect curves, rhythmic repetition, and profoundly satisfying rectangles and squares.

I wanted to take dozens of pictures, but photography was not allowed, so I was forced to confront the serene beauty of that room face on. It was transformative.

Since then I’ve consciously attuned myself to noticing and letting the geometry take me in.

Palais el Mokri

Medina, Marrakech

Palais el Mokri, Fes

Pastry, souk, medina, Fès

Even contemporary Moroccan design uses the elements of sacred geometry to create beautiful calm spaces, as exemplified by our current Airbnb in the new part of Marrakech.

Magical!

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Dining room table and chairs

Dishes

Bedspread

Gate to new apartment building

Light fixture in our Airbnb apartment in Tnine, Ourika

Bodhisattva

Bobbe Scott

July 14, 1937 – June 2, 2018

 

The Bodhisattvas, they walk among us,

and sometimes we lend ourselves and they become us.

The hand of spirit is the hand you raise

when you weave the strands of your nights and days.

Charlo Vogt, Weave your Reality

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Bobbe Scott was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known.

She was radiant, she was impossibly energetic, she faced life with endless grace. Her laugh was contagious, her smile delightful, and she was always beautifully dressed, right down to the rings on her arthritis-gnarled, stubby fingers. Bobbe’s eulogies should overflow with admiration for the many ways she dealt with that arthritis.

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Bobbe was wise and funny, as all the best Buddhists are. She loved life and the arts, Los Angeles and New York. She was perpetually of service to others, and graciously asked for and received the care of others when necessary. When I sat in a room in meditation with Bobbe, I would be drawn to a level of serenity that I rarely reach on my own.

Bobbe was a dear, dear friend and mentor to me, precious beyond words. She made me feel deeply known and profoundly loved. Our relationship was intimate and authentic.

And I am one of many people who feel this way. Bobbe loved us all.

In my notes from one of the One Year to Live classes Bobbe taught at SLO hospice, I found this page. It’s from the session on end-of-life paperwork, during which we discussed assisted dying.

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“If I can’t enjoy a good meal, if I can’t remember what I ate yesterday, if I can’t get to the Palm Theatre, put me out.”

The next year, she put it more simply, “If I’m more disabled than I am now, that’ll be it.”

That happened.

And she chose to leave as gracefully as she lived.

 

 

 

 

Inner goddess

imageTree of Life by Lee Lawson

 

For a panel discussion recently, I was asked to share the advice I would give young women on embracing their inner goddess. This is my response:

 

I am convinced that on August 21, 2017, at 10:15 in the morning California time, the balance between god-energy and goddess-energy tipped toward the goddess.

In preparation for the shift, our culture has been teetering between a Father-in-the-Sky-centered mythology to a mythology centered on ourselves, leaving out divinity altogether. Neither of those myths holds up anymore. The myth of the goddess, on the other hand, is gaining power.

Unlike God-with-a capital-G, of whom there is only one in the dominant monotheistic view, the goddess manifests in infinite ways. She is the spark in everything that makes it unique.

The goddess shows up when we value the present moment, when we value what we have over what we wish we had. As the future becomes less dependable, the present gains value. Now, more and more people will recognize the magic in the myriad of small things. The goddess hides in the ordinary. The dove is in the stone, as my teacher Alice O. Howell would say.

As the times get harder  – hurricanes, floods, droughts, earthquakes – and the loss of material goods and comfort becomes more widespread, a value shift always happens. It was palpable in the days following the fall of the Twin Towers. It happened in Houston after Harvey hit. It happens whenever there’s a disaster. At least for a little while, people begin to see the value of working together, of helping one another, of contributing to the good of the whole. We are all in this together, after all.

Embracing your inner goddess means finding that in yourself that only you can do, the unique way you that you alone can serve the greater good. That’s your purpose here on earth. That’s when God-with-a-capital-G becomes good-with-a-small-g, and the goddess in you recognizes herself everywhere.

Om is Home

Ganesh Baba used to say that. Such a delightful aphorism – so full of broad and deep meaning.

To me, it means wherever you are is exactly the right place for you to be. The central secret is at your center. The treasure is buried in your own garden.

We didn’t move. Tom and I are still living in the same house, and working at the same business, Mama Ganache. The house, in my mind all ready to be someone else’s, wanted to be ours a little longer. Everything seemed to be in place, and I’d done all kinds of symbolic, metaphoric, ritual,  and inner work around letting go—I even led the session called “Letting Go” in a Year-to-Live class I co-teach—but the fates had it that we’re here, at home again.

It’s a fortunate thing, although fraught with difficulties and very hard work. This house is filled with light and beauty. And now it’s clean and repaired! What a gift!

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During the weeks the house was on the market and the first few after, I was tired and depressed and sick. Not all at once. Yeah, all at once.

Still, underneath all that physical, biological and psychological stress, I managed to retain a small, frequently imperceptible, sense that everything was going to be alright. It’s true I was wearing my little ceramic disk that says THIS TOO SHALL PASS, which always helps, but it was the way life itself unfolded that gave me the message most profoundly.

The very moment Tom and I decided that we would stay here, a text arrived from a friend, who had another friend, who was in need of a furnished room or two. Our new housemate moved in an hour later. Best housemate we’ve ever had. It would have been enough.

Events had almost inevitably been turns for the worse over the weeks before that. Things broke down, big things, the water heater, the sewage pump, the washer, all within a short time. The toilet overflowed and needed to be replaced when Airbnb guests were here. Everything took forever and cost too much. Then, in a flash, a helpful, upbeat, mature, and kind housemate moves in.

A week later, Mama Ganache lost both of its weekday shop employees at the same time, and it became clear to me that I should step back into the business. So here I am, Mama Ganache again.

I spent the last month on a new website: mama-ganache.com. I set up a chocolate club and free delivery service to hospitals and nursing homes. Tom and I are hosting two weekly events at the shop, a tea on Sundays, and a conversation on Thursday afternoons. We’re hosting two parties a month, Art after Dark on first Fridays, and the chocolate club pick-up party on second Fridays. I’ve been crazy busy.

In the middle of all that, Eva came on Thursday last week. She and I already have a long relationship with hummingbirds, so I knew the hummingbird who flew into the living room just before Luana dropped her off, had some message for me.

It was another rufous hummingbird, West Coast parallel to the ruby-throated hummingbird. It was trying frantically to fly out of the window above the dog’s bed. Lily Bear thought it was very exciting indeed, but she backed off when I asked her to. Almost immediately the bird fell, stunned, onto the window sill. When I tried to lift it up gently, it awoke and dashed into the upper corner of the window again. In my hand were three tiny hummingbird feathers.

As I stared at them, astonished, the bird fell again, very nearly into my open hands. This time I could lift it and carry it outdoors. I put it in a flower box and went to get a succulent leaf to make a sun shield for it.

When I came back with the leaf, the hummingbird looked at me with one eye and took off, circling around once and then landing high in the oak tree.

The feathers must have slid out of my hand when I put the bird in the flower box.

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I picked them up and put them in a special box. Hummingbird feathers, so tiny, so exquisite. Extraordinary.

These are hard times. The large, slow-moving astrological configuration (Uranus/Pluto) that’s been putting so many obstacles, small and large, in my path, will affect us all in one way or another. But surely something bigger is afoot, or, perhaps I should say, in the air.

 

Aberduffy Day

2927847289_c0ecabe4bb_zAlice O. Howell celebrated Aberduffy Day on Tuesday, October 28, about three weeks before what would have been her 92nd birthday. She left easily, surrounded by family.

At yesterday’s Samhain ritual, when Kathy and Barbara encouraged us to visit with our loved ones and bring back memories, messages and perhaps a gesture, Alice’s image and words came to me instantly. She floated in, full of grace, expressing immense joy in her release from that cumbersome body and in her reunion with Walter. Then came the gesture: raise a dram! So, after lunch, we got out the brandy and toasted her. On this day of special liminality, perhaps you might like to join me at sunset, wherever you are, in raising a dram. Get out the best scotch, face the sun, invoke Sophia, and raise a dram to Alice, Mercy Muchmore, IonaDove. She taught me so much. In bittersweet joy, Eve
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Invocation
O Holy Sophia, Holy Wisdom, Holy Joy hidden for so long come forth and reveal yourself in the world and in our souls!
Help us to see with a loving eye Help us to hear with in wit and intuition
Show us how to be natural and kind Show us how to find ourselves in one another
Lead us from who we think we are to who we really are
Let us learn from the flowers that we need not strive so hard
Teach us to allow that Light from within to unfold us as a gift like your Rose.
a. o. howell

Sacred Geography in San Luis Obispo

This is more or less the text of a 2007 talk I gave at Tridosha, the yoga center where Smiling Dog Yoga is now,  where Marsh and Higuera Streets meet, just south of downtown. Roxanne’s Cafe, one of my favorite places for lunch, is in the courtyard where the talk was part of a new moon ritual. I’ve updated it a little.

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Long, long ago, before the world was as we know it today, the People knew that the shape of the land around them reflected the Cosmic Order.

In India, Shiva meditates on Mount Kailash, physical manifestation of Mount Meru, the axis mundi  that pierces the center of the earth.

Native Americans knew the land held the stories. Aboriginal peoples everywhere recognize the myths and metaphors that surround them in the form of geography: sacred earth, sacred stories.

When people traveled by foot, and lived in one place for generations, they knew the hills and valleys with their bodies and their souls. They knew where the springs were; they knew the seasons of the tides; they knew the power of the rocks, and they knew the patterns of the planets.

As time passed, places grew stories, as trees grow fruit, and the stories were passed from one generation to the next. The stories that connected heaven and earth, the ones that resonated in the soul, the live ones, gave meaning to life in ways that we barely remember today. They provided deep connections to our physical environment that opened the heart to a kind of peace that most of us only long for.

Recently, I’ve become more aware of the intertwined geography and history of this place, San Luis Obispo, of the stories this land tells. I’d like to share a couple of those stories, beginning with one about the piece of land below our feet.

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The Mission from across San Luis Obispo Creek

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa sits in the shelter of Cerro San Luis Obispo, the mountain with the big M on it, on a low mound between two year-round creeks, San Luis Creek and Stenner Creek. In wet months, a third creek, Brizzolari, joins Stenner a little way up. San Luis and Stenner Creeks come closer and closer to each other as they wind toward the sea.

They join across the street from Tridosha (now Smiling Dog). San Luis Creek meanders in from northeast of town, down the grade near the 101. It goes through Cuesta Park and between Monterey and Marsh Streets, crosses to Higuera near Black Horse uptown, runs underground for a while and emerges near the Mission to become the heart of the downtown.

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San Luis Creek running through the center of the city

Stenner Creek comes down from the northwest, near highway 1, with Brizzolari joining it at the southwest corner of Cal Poly’s campus. San Luis and Stenner form a Y behind that new red building, 444 Higuera Street, across from Tridosha/Smiling Dog, and a little to the north, just south of the end of Dana Street.

In India Triveni Sangam, the confluence of three streams, one of which is invisible, indicates the holiest of places. Feng Shui teaches that rivers and creeks are channels for qi; how auspicious then, that a yoga studio should sit just at the point where the creeks meet. Tridosha, three forms of subtle energy, channelled into one, as reflected by geography! An apt name and place for a yoga center.

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The second of my stories is about two men who had a tremendous impact on the lay of the land of this area: Alex Madonna and Harold Miossi.

So interesting archetypally. Consider the places we associate with them.

Remember Alex Madonna?  Of the Madonna Inn?  “A fantasy-theme hotel of outrageous excess and enduring California charm,” the New York Times calls the inn in Madonna’s obituary.

Another obituary, this one in the English paper, the Telegraph, quotes Umberto Eco:

The Inn was immortalised in Umberto Eco’s collection of essays Travels in Hyperreality (1991), in which the Italian scholar analysed the American love of grotesque fakery.

“The poor words with which natural human speech is provided,” wrote Eco, “cannot suffice to describe the Madonna Inn . . . Let’s say that Albert Speer, while leafing through a book on Gaudi, swallowed an overgenerous dose of LSD and began to build a nuptial catacomb for Liza Minnelli.” But that, he reiterated, could not convey its true ghastliness. In fact, the Inn’s architect was Madonna himself, who, in the mid-1950s, had spotted the perfect location for a motel at San Luis Obispo, on the highway running between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Alex_Madonna6930_100404Madonna and his wife Phyllis built the inn in 1958. He designed the outside, she the interiors. It took on its present uniquely kitschy look after a 1966 fire. Today their daughter runs it. To much of the world, San Luis Obispo is the Madonna Inn.

Madonna, larger-than-life, magnanimous, was a huge presence in SLO when Tom and I moved here in 1998. He partnered with John Wayne to raise the beef for the steak house. He was friends with Ronald Reagan. There’s a piece of the freeway and a shopping center named after him. And still he took the time to dance with every one of the little girls at my daughter’s friend’s birthday party at the Inn.  

And Harold Miossi? Oh, you don’t know where he lived? If you’re local, you know his name, but you aren’t quite sure who he is?

Alex Madonna and Harold Miossi graduated from San Luis High two years apart, Madonna in ‘37, Miossi in ‘39, and they died two years apart, Madonna in April, 2004, and Miossi in November of 2006. Their grandparents came from the same region in Switzerland, near the Italian border, and their families spoke the same Swiss-Italian dialect at home. Both lost their fathers when they were young. But their personalities and their lives were as different as the terrain they inhabited.

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Alex and Phyllis Madonna’s portraits are in the inn

Alex Madonna, in addition to gaining world renown for building the one and only Madonna Inn and local renown for several environmental disasters, was the owner of the construction company (started when he was in high school!) that built the freeway from Buellton to Salinas.

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Harold Miossi and Pecas

Harold Miossi, as the Tribune’s headline said at the time of his death, is the “Man Who Saved Cuesta’s Hills.” He saved the hills from being chopped down and tossed into the Cuesta Valley so that eight lanes of the freeway could go straight through to Santa Margarita.

Madonna wanted to bulldoze right through and Miossi opposed him. As a result, freeway winds through the hills in broad curves; the grapevine prevails.

Local environmentalists remember Harold Miossi well; he was a stellar conservationist of the old mold. A leader of the local Sierra Club, Miossi fought valiantly against the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, he wrote the master plan that is still keeping Montana de Oro and the Santa Lucia wilderness wild, and much, much more.

Miossi was born, lived, and died in a little house down a dirt drive lined with neatly planted native live oaks that follows a tributary of San Luis Creek. It’s in a canyon off a concrete piece of the old highway near Cuesta Park, the extension of Loomis Street called Miossi Road. The piece of the old highway is a tribute to Harold Miossi’s victory over the straight road Alex Madoona wanted to build through Cuesta Grade.

Miossi driveway

The red arrow points to the Miossis’ driveway

Alex Madonna was warm, generous, and also cantankerous, fiery, and very, very pro-development. The fight against the legacy of his pro-development views is still as dominant in local politics as Cerro San Luis is in our topography.

Harold Miossi was a stubborn man, too, but he was known for his ability to bring people together. The wonderful introduction to the Miossi archives at Cal Poly says his tactics in winning the battle to save the grade could “well serve as a syllabus for coalition-building.” A 1980 article in California Today titled ”How to Beat Mr. Big” reads in part:

When Miossi undertook his fight, it was a lonely one against what seemed great odds. But he had faith in the justice of his stand, and in the democratic process, in his friends and neighbors, and in their good sense and love of the land, If faith can move mountains, it can also sometimes keep them where they are.

So we have Alex Madonna in his cowboy outfit on the mountain: a masculine symbol on a masculine symbol; and we have Harold Miossi, a gentle soul, living in the valley, doing good works for the city, the county, the state, the people, the land and all those who live on it—living in the valley, a feminine symbol.

Madonna lived as large as a mountain. His funeral procession was led by his riderless horse, his empty boots backwards in the stirrups. A team of horses pulled his casket down Higuera Street.

Harold Miossi took care of his mother at home till she died at 97. She was Vera Gnesa Miossi, the same Vera Miossi, who, with other women in her family, donated the land at the top of Bishop’s Peak to the city. The plaque on that property reads,
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This Peak is given to the People of this community by Lena Negranti, Vera Miossi, Hilda Giacomazzi and Josephine Johnson, in memory of and in tribute to their parents, James and Sofia Giorgi-Gnesa, who in 1870 as youths emigrated from Canton Ticino, Switzerland, settled in this County, raised a family, prospered, and contributed to the betterment of this Community.
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And the legacy of each man to the community?
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Harold Miossi made provisions for his 1700 acre ranch—all that open land northeast of the city along the freeway before the grade—to be preserved in its current state in perpetuity. He established the Miossi Trust, which funds efforts to improve the quality of life in our area.
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Southwest of town, Alex Madonna left us the Home Depot and acres and acres of other big box stores.

What can I say?

As the Upanishads say, man is the mean between the macrocosm and the microcosm. These men lived out the stories of the land, and the land is living out their stories.
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We both create and are created by our environment. The physical world reflects the patterns of the world of ideas, and the world of ideas reflects the physical world. Plato knew it; Pythagoras knew it. Native people worldwide know it.
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There is meaning in the landscape. We are not alone in a meaningless universe! We are all connected in ways that we cannot imagine!
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What a profound, profound relief.

This is how Black Elk puts it:

The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers.

Neighborhood magic: community

The city of San Luis Obispo from Monterey Heights

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.  Aldo Leopold

The greatest lack in contemporary society is community,” someone at the SLO Soiree last Sunday said, and it struck me as true.

FileItem-57643-SteynbergGallery_fullThe setting in which the statement was made completely belied it: the guests at that gathering form a deliciously civilized community. At its heart is a group of friends who’ve been coming to soirees facilitated by Dr. David Hafemeister, physics professor and expert in nuclear policy and foreign relations, for many, many years. Now held at the Steynberg Gallery on Sundays from 7 – 9, participants enjoy wine and cheese before sitting down to a presentation of some sort and a lively Q&A session. Last Sunday a couple of retired lawyers debated whether America is in decline. They were wise and erudite and the discussion was both profound and very much fun.

0421test_ban_treaty_hafemeisterThe sense of community one finds in a group like the SLO Soiree is rare; it takes a rare human being like Dave Hafemeister to draw it together.

To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.   Bertrand Russell

Not so long ago, every neighborhood was a community. Small businesses served the neighborhood and kids went to the neighborhood school. A neighborhood was an ecology, a complex set of relationships, that took up the greatest part of our time, energy and attention.

Neighborhoods, small towns, villages, tribes, and families are all ecologies, for better or for worse, and more or less sufficient unto themselves. Cities are made of neighborhoods – fortunately, or they’d be cold places indeed – but all neighborhoods are not communities.

David Spangler says,

Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.

Today, though there are impressive exceptions like the cohousing movement, communities built on proximity are increasingly short supply all over the world. The oil industry, all those cars and roads to drive them on, is largely responsible.

RQNIn Monterey Heights, my neighborhood, community is on the increase. Neighbors are coming together the way they do when facing a disaster – or the potential of a disaster, as many of us view the new freshmen dorms being built on our doorstep. A clear indicator of community is how long it takes to walk the dog – everyone I meet wants to talk.

Together, we imagine seven four-to-five story buildings looming over our mostly one-story neighborhood. We agree on how hard it is to cross Grand Avenue already. “Can you believe the Environmental Impact Report didn’t take the intersection of Slack and Grand into consideration?!” We visualize roving gangs of 18-year-olds looking for parties on our already student-rental-ridden blocks. A series of meetings is being held, and neighbors, armed with a common cause, are getting to know one another.

Equality comes in realizing that we are all doing different jobs for a common purpose. That is the aim behind any community. The very name community means let’s come together to recognize the unity. Come … unity. – Swami Satchidananda

As climate change, continuing economic instability, shifting values and lack of a common belief system bring more chaos into our lives, finding commonality with others around us is more and more essential.

As Ganesh Baba says,

We must shed our fear of one another, not for some medieval ideal, but as the only practical course to continue as a species.

Let’s make survival of the human race our common goal and take responsibility – individually and together – for our part in preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of the planetary community by preserving the integrity, stability and beauty of our own small part of it, the neighborhood.

Creating harmony amidst diversity is a fundamental issue of the twenty-first century. While celebrating the unique characteristics of different peoples and cultures, we have to create solidarity on the level of our common humanity, our common life. Without such solidarity, there will be no future for the human race. Diversity should not beget conflict in the world, but richness. Daisaku Ikeda

Thanks go to IdeaArchitects and Moon Magazine for many of the quotes.

 

Radiance

Who can resist the radiance of a smile?

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Or the sun’s rays?

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Or the sun in a flower

or a flower in the sun?

Radiance is both round and rayed,

Radiance is both round and rayed.

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It is our sun: its presence, presentation and representation in the world.

lines streaming outward from a center. common in Islamic art

Islamic art is full of centered circles with rays.

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Radiance is basic to life.

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It’s in the ceiling of this African house

And in this plant bursting through a crack in the concrete

and in this plant bursting through a crack in the concrete

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but my favorite is the radiance of my daughter’s smile on Mother’s Day.

Seeing the small is called Clarity.
Keeping flexible is called Strength.
Using the shining Radiance,
You enter the Light,
Where no harm can come to you.
This is called Enlightenment.

Lao Tzu

 

Sharing

Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.  – Ruth Reichl

Not long ago, the words “Live to share” came to me on the tag of a teabag.  I saved it on the window sill with a fortune cookie message from the week before. I generally appreciate random bits of wisdom – these two spoke to me so strongly that I wanted to save them.

fortune cookie kindness

From now on your kindness will lead to your success.

If the fortune is true, I’m deeply grateful. What grace to be at a point in life where it’s enough to be kind, to live from the heart without fear, and to leave the world of comparison, competition and mastery behind until its tools are really useful.

I’ve been trying to live by kindness for a long time – who doesn’t love the Dalai Lama? – but the workaday world doesn’t always reward it, and when I was younger and more fiery, it wasn’t always so easy. But now, having received such a propitious cookie fortune, perhaps I can do it.

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The tea tag appeals to me because it so precisely describes what I am doing with my life these days. 

After my mother died and our children grew up, Tom and I were left with a ridiculously oversized empty nest. I’ve always felt that if we have such a big, beautiful space, we should share it, so we’ve filled it with friends and family, exchange students, SERVAS and warmshowers guests, and an array of tenants. I host women’s circles and meditation groups, we have advocacy groups and the French club here sometimes, and once a month we open our home for a community dinner.

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We began having Monday night dinners about 25 years ago. When the kids were younger we did it every Monday: open community dinners. We’ve used the same rules the whole time:  come promptly at 6, leave at 8, bring real food, and help set up and clean up.

The food is consistently excellent though we never plan it. In all those years, not planning only failed twice. Once we had one salad and many desserts. That wasn’t too bad – it was fun to have dessert for dinner. But the time we had all bread was not so much fun. The next dinner is the first Monday in April. Tell me if you’ll be coming so the right number of tables and chairs get set up.

For the past two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a living by sharing the house with new friends from around the world through Airbnb. Some of our guests have already become old friends. What an exquisite joy it is to sit around on the deck after dinner enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of tea with old and new friends, discovering commonalities and sharing stories.

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The exercise I get changing beds and cleaning, especially paired with a couple of dog walks a day, is perfect for me. The pleasure I find in hanging the sheets on the line and then making the beds, especially with my mother’s linens, is enormous. I love keeping the house fresh, clean and beautiful, and the extra cash flow is paying for many long-put-off maintenance projects. When I want the rooms for family or friends, I block the Airbnb calendar and everything is ready.

What more could I ask?

Wisdom

What you would grasp
let go
only those seeds that fall
grow.

a.o.howell