Quiet Mind; Open Heart (with Ram Dass)

Photo by Amanda Fenton

Ram Dass is an American Spiritual Teacher, former academic and clinical psychologist. He’s 87. He’s one who has bridged western and eastern ways of knowing.

A friend, Joan Hitchens, recently recommended a Ram Dass book to me, “Walking Each Other Home: Conversations About Loving and Dying.” I’m interested because, well, aren’t we all seeking love, perhaps loving. And, well, aren’t we all dying.

I notice that I am sipping this book. Sometimes picking it up to read just a paragraph. And then giving myself permission to let those few words abide in me.

Here’s an example of a sip:

If I’m going to die, the best way to prepare is to quiet my mind and open my heart. 
If I’m going to live, the best way to prepare is to quiet my mind and open my heart. 

I love the contrast that calls for the same action and practice.

I remain a person committed to giving attention to the thing behind the thing behind the thing. It’s rather irrepressible in me. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes it feels philosophical. Most of the time it feels utterly and essentially on the ground.

It is my belief and experience that groups too, seek the deeper paths together. Groups too, seek meaning and purpose together. Groups too, sense that there is more to what is happening than what is happening. The language in groups is often more obscured, but I don’t think the desire is. The complexity is often more intense, but I don’t think the essential impulse is.

Groups too, seek process, to quiet mind and open heart. Groups too, seek healing beyond default pattern.

That’s my story. I’m sticking to it.



The Undressing — Rumi

I’m appreciating my friend and colleague Kinde Nebeker (New Moon Rites of Passage) today. She is supporting and guiding so many deep and needed layers of change.

I went to her to get some help working with grief. In the spirit of Francis Weller’s “apprenticeship with sorrow.”

Kinde hosted me through a process of listening, council / dialogue, and shamanic journey. This is the kind of work that is so much needed for many of us these days.

I’m grateful to Kinde for her knowing stuff, and for her intuition of knowing what’s helpful and when.

Kinde also offered me this poem, from the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. To help learn the sweetness of grief.


The Undressing

Learn the alchemy
true human beings know.

The moment you accept
what troubles you have been given,
the door opens.

Welcome difficulty,
as a familiar comrade.

Joke with torment,
sent by the Friend.

Sorrows are old rags of clothes
and jackets that serve to cover,
and then are taken off.

This is the undressing
and the naked body underneath
is the sweetness that comes
after grief.


The Grief That Isn’t Sadness


Oh boy.

Got me a bit of a discovery over this last week. It was bit prickly, like the cacti in this photo near Carefree, Arizona, on ancestral lands of the Yavapai and Yavapai Apache. A discovery on grief.

I consider myself a person who is quite familiar with sadness. And loss. And grief. Though familiar, I’m also quite a skilled avoider. Some of that sadness and loss and grief is life — many of the great spiritual teachers I’ve encountered have said that to live is to be wounded. There is wound in the departure. There is wound in the openness to love. There is wound in the risk of heart cracking open. There is wound in challenging old norms and risking the departure that must come from this. Some of that sadness / loss / grief is what others have done to and with me. Some of it is what I have done to and with others. Some of it just is — back to my spiritual teachers.

I reached a point last week at which, despite my familiarity, I became aware that I’ve felt plenty of sad in my time. That comes naturally. And sometimes dreadfully. Grief however, is more. It is, among many things, a practice. It requires some consciousness. Some effort. Some ritual. Some grace. Some ceremony. Some friends. Some try and try again. Some let go that is beyond letting go. Some dumb luck.

Oh boy. I need to grieve.

Yes, it’s personal. I have my version of why this is so necessary now. I’m also aware that there is grieving that is so much more universal. Think environment. Think atmosphere of animated conflict and reactivity. Think the masked story of colonization, stealing lands, and building privilege through slavery. Think of the raging fear that permeates so much of human behavior that shows up in the form of competition, or even sabotage in many arenas of life. Think politics that has digressed to tantrums needing to trump tantrums. Think of economics in which only few have access to the narrative of dream portrayed as equally accessible to all.

Oh boy. Maybe we all need to up our game on grieving. Maybe just because — that’s growing up. Maybe because it helps free us. Trauma, individual and collective, carries some pretty thick iron chains.

A few days ago, in one of the cumulative moments of dumb luck, good friends, grace, and enough pain for which there was nothing left to do but surrender, I did just that. It may have had a bit to do with my cohost and friend, Quanita — she has depth and skill to dip people to the deep. It may have had a bit to do with hanging out with the large group of 70 UCC pastors, and the deliciousness of 14 in small group and cohort in five days together. These are kind and thoughtful people so accustomed to hosting others in these deeply human experiences. I’m surprised by the joy found in legitimizing grief, by all of us welcoming it together.

No, I’m not sure what all of this grieving looks like for me. I am clear that the fruit of surrender is ripe on the tree of spiritual being in human journey. I am clear, and grateful, that taking the next first step is a powerful operating principle. I’m lucky as hell to have people who know about such things, because largely, they’ve taken the journey themselves, and are on it now.

I believe that we humans have so much to free through our necessary entanglement with each other — going further requires together, not alone. It is my experience that enough container for a group to get to the thing under the thing under the thing — to witness in others, to wander it through self, to welcome it through the third space that is the figurative and sometimes literal center — this gets us there.

Oh boy. Grief.

Good grief.

I hope for all of us.

There is, oddly, a joy, in the point of legitimizing the grief. Lots of life in it. Just as there is in desert cacti.

On Grief, And Tenderness

I met Marilyn Hamilton about ten years ago, I think. She came to a leadership conference that I was hosting. I think we had had contact before then also, when I worked with Margaret Wheatley. I remember Marilyn at the leadership conference — she was one of the participants that just knew what was going on and how to gracefully add to what was there. I’ve enjoyed her ever since, even though our encounters are few.

Today I ready Marilyn’s words of grief and tenderness at the passing of her life partner and husband earlier this year. I share some of that here because her words touch me. And because Marilyn, though in a grieving process, is able to name some of the dynamic, the shrinking of horizon for a moment. And because there is grief in the world for reasons ranging from personal to global.

Here’s one line that shares some of that. With encouragement to read and follow her work. She does much to grow the thoughtful connection needed to live in city and community.

“Grief has shrunk my world from horizons imagined beyond many tomorrows to the tasks of just today, and today and today.”