The Unending Sea of Blessings

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The below contemplation was used for several tea and dialogue sessions with an explanation that “The unending sea of blessings,” a phrase used on scrolls hung in Zen temples and during tea ceremonies is not a closed concept. It tells us what we can sense when we remove the obstacles we put in our own way. Wilson discusses it in The One Taste of Truth, Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea on page 135.

The ability to experience pain is necessary for biological beings. We need to recognize and avoid what is dangerous in order to survive. But humans can easily get stuck cycling in stressful worry and doubt. We can forget that compassion also comes naturally to us.

Compassion is. It matters as much to us as sensing pain. That understanding is common to spiritual traditions the world over. We are born with an instinct for compassion. Even babies too young to speak will pick up something that is dropped and hand it back to you.

Bringing in self-compassion when it is needed makes it easier to see the caring generosity from others and nature all around us. It shows us the unending sea of blessings. Research provides evidence that when we offer support to others, we benefit our own wellbeing, health and resilience.

We can open to the preciousness, the beauty of the transient tides we swim in. We dance the unending sea of blessings as much as it dances us. We have the capacity to do small acts of kindness as simple and important as a smile. We can recognize the light in each other that shines through our uniqueness.

We belong to the source of all waves
Colors never seen before
Floating and becoming and blinking out of existence
Only to well up again with
All the moldy, composted, and fertile mysteries
That make up our days
And the recognition when we see
Our own water light colors in others’ eyes
Facing waterfalls and the ocean, we recognize
The call in our sea salt blood ever coursing
We answer our cries for compassion
From no-thought belonging

Solitary Peace or Loneliness?

Nantucket

It is amazing to me how different the states of solitary peace and loneliness are. The gift of mindfulness is the ability to bring compassionate awareness to them both.

While moments of transcendent peace can show us our belonging with all that is, a study found that mindful wisdom can combat the common human experience of loneliness with all its devastating effects.

We face a global epidemic of loneliness. In a 2017 article in The Atlantic, loneliness expert John Cacioppo was reported to say, “When you look across studies, you get levels anywhere from 25 to 48%.” Loneliness is gaining attention in the media as research demonstrates its serious adverse health effects which have been found to be as bad as smoking.

But just as we do not intuitively grasp the health threat from loneliness, we tend to have no idea how much we have to give and receive by tapping into and drawing upon our fundamental interconnection.

Traditional farmers needed close social coordination to raise animals and grow crops. Large families meant more helping hands. Elders taught grandchildren important skills and wisdom while their parents were engaged in the demanding physical labor necessary for survival.

Now the majority of humans live in urban settings. Packages magically arrive at door steps. Many of us spend long hours working at computers. Family members can, and often do live far apart from each other.

The incredible popularity of social media demonstrates how much we long for connection. But a recent study found that negative comments on social media can lead to felt social isolation. But with no negative comments, social media did not increase participants’ sense of being connected with others.

Fortunately, we are not powerless in the face of the rising tide of loneliness. Caring interaction provides our species with vitality, resilience, joy, creativity and hope. Our brains provide neural rewards for generosity. Supporting others provides significant health benefits not only for the person receiving the support but the person giving it.

The Arlington, MA Council on Aging (COA) offers many opportunities for social connection. During my internship there while working on a Masters in Mindfulness Studies at Lesley University, I realized many elders are naturals at mindful connection. With time more precious, perfection and things matter less. What does matter is time spent together. They understand that deep listening and honesty support the kind of heartfelt aware connection that amplifies wellbeing.

As I learned, many of the 200(!) or so Arlington COA volunteers are elders themselves. When asked what they were most grateful for, a number of volunteers told me it was the opportunity to support others. I found that quite moving. That understanding is both rare and badly needed. It should not take a natural disaster or realizing there are few years left for us to understand we have the tools to honor each other’s dignity in ways that are mutually supporting.

My experience offering mindful tea and dialogue workshops to elders confirmed my sense that they might be well positioned to create and promote opportunities for the caring connection that is so badly needed in these increasingly lonely times. During these tea and dialogue sessions, I observed: (1) caring support, (2) appreciation that deep listening powerfully benefits both the speaker and the listener, (3) growing trust and openness, (4) delight in sharing natural objects and stories (5) playful and joyous creativity, and not least (5) satisfaction from being able to support each other in ways that truly matter.

A Cat Kindred Spirit

Jude needed a new home. When Shah Hadjebi told me she was a special cat, I knew I could believe him. As it turned out, that cat and I were kindred spirits. When I was home she was always with me. Unlike most cats, she liked to be carried. Since she loved looking out the large kitchen window, I began to carry her for daily walks in my garden. She could be playful and active at times, loved catnip, and when she wanted to go somewhere she let you know it.

I cuddled her under a blanket “cave” when I knew her days were numbered. I told her, “All we have is the present moment.” Cats understand that. They live their whole lives that way. A year after she died, I asked Shah to paint her portrait. He used the photo of her looking up at a blue jay through the kitchen window, a most fitting way to celebrate the life of a cat we both loved.

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Jude

Kintsugi: Two Tea Bowls Mended with Loving Care

There are very few practicing the traditional craft of kintsugi (literally gold mended) in Japan, although you can purchase materials online and try it yourself.

You can also find examples with related concepts. This article describes three aesthetic concepts related to appreciation of nature including the illusive wabi sabi. Other Japanese concepts related to kintsugi include, mottainai (regret about waste), and mushin (openness to transience).

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The example above was a favorite “travel” tea bowl of a Japanese tea ceremony enthusiast. When it broke in transit, honoring it by having it mended using a nontraditional color (normally kintsugi uses gold, silver, or platinum) certainly gave it most vibrant new life. It is treasured by its owner for the whole series of memories it has accrued including this latest set.

When I first encountered kintsugi, my first thought was about the time-transcending collaboration; the one who made the bowl, the forces that broke it, and the one who mended it all contributing. I could imagine the bowl held gently in the hand as it was fixed linking the spirit of the mender to the spirit of the maker, even if the maker was long dead.

There are many good reasons to mend a bowl. From tending my tea garden and dealing with storm damage along with all the seasonal changes I learned the wisdom of honoring the potential of what is here now even as everything changes. At times, the radiance due to loving care brought to mending a troubled past can lead to a beauty that surpasses the original.

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The owner of this beautiful bowl by Brother Thomas considered having it mended so the repair would be invisible, but the gallery owner thought better of that and decided to have it mended using gold leaf. When the bowl was shown to Brother Thomas, he was most pleased. In fact, he liked it better that way. The bowl remains a very happy part of the gallery owner’s collection.

Although Audrey Harris was not so pleased with her first attempts at mending using kintsugi, the important lessons she learned with the help of her teacher were certainly treasures. Kintsugi is brimming with metaphoric lessons. Here is another video showing a particularly powerful use of this metaphor.

Addendum: This post was updated on 3/11/19 to include the video on the meaning of kintsugi for a survivor.

Noticing Stones

It is the rare child who does not like stones. Some of us never stop picking them up. It is not just the stones but the process – the adventures involved in finding them and the friendships.

These examples lined up above my monitor speak of the natural world with resonances appreciated by the Asian scholar.

Viewing stones on shelf

A close looks provides access to amazing details and dreams:

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On the Same Wavelength

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Now Shah Hadjebi is focusing on his painting, a talent that runs in his family. Some of Shah’s watercolor images have been transferred to clothing and pillows like the one I treasure shown above. Shah and I would meet at an Indian restaurant with only a few tables. We usually had the place to ourselves. We inspired each other to sense and share in multiple dimensions as we discussed ideas for a press kit for his new “Departure” jazz album.

Connecting with clients to help them promote their creative passions is always enlarging as well as a source of great joy. Every once in a while, magic happens:

I first reached out to Shah Hadjebi for feedback on a sentence I planned to use in an article for a concert series I support. Here is what I wrote about his music: “This is the type of music you want to share with a close friend while traveling on the open road on a spectacular, star-spangled night.” To my surprise, Shah asked me if I would like to do PR for his group even though we had never met.

He explained that musicians would come and go as his group evolved. But they were all pros who could join in his vision and perform with minimal rehearsal. Their diverse backgrounds including African American, Persian, Malaysian, and Japanese added depth to the sound.

A benefit of taking Shah up on his offer was hanging out with the group at selected rehearsals where I got to talk to them during breaks. I also attended the concerts at places like the Hard Rock Café, and Johnny D’s.

When I did research for the new album’s press kit, I discovered that Persian blue is actually a family of colors associated with lapis lazuli. These colors are found in the glorious tiles used in middle eastern palaces and mosques. The Persian indigo variation is derived from the plant used for dying cloth for centuries in many cultures ranging from wax resist masterpieces in Japan to ubiquitous “blue jeans.” The lighter medium Persian Blue with its greater admixture of green suggests ocean and lake water.

The group’s logo shows hands holding up the famous NASA photo of our planet taken from space. I wrote, “Shah’s music speaks of sunrises, and departures; both the good life and our profound human struggles. Shah loves natural beauty, and the rich cultural diversity to be found in our one world. Both the logo and his music convey his warmth toward every single one of us who hold this precious small planet in our hands.”

When I had trouble reaching him, I decided to listen to an advance recording Shah had given me. These words just seemed to flow:

“The first cut, ‘Departure,’ is a drifting dream with a sense of ocean tides and deep undercurrents. The main theme first presented by the sax is haunting and draws you in before ocean waters wash ashore. Here one also finds the ebb and flow of sensed connection between two lovers who are not touching but read each other very well.

With ‘It’s all good’ you are looking in the door at a party with interesting guests who do not take themselves too seriously. There are conversations, comings and goings, laughter, ice clinking in glasses. A bit later, a talented couple starts dancing with others clapping in time. The couple continues to dance while a loud conversation starts up in another part of the room and things get looser and wilder. If you do not believe all this is happening, just listen to the music and come up with your own version.

When angels cry’ is thoughtful and mellow with vocals and various instruments telling the main story, followed by elaborations and comments. There is regret that is all the more poignant since the pure feeling is becoming diluted with time.

Dude where’s my boat?’ is a curious title. The composer has spent some time simply messing about in boats. In the fashion of jazz titles, you can go anywhere or everywhere. Did he really misplace his boat? Did it depart without him? Or was this one of those frustrating dreams, in which you find yourself lost? There are some rich Persian motifs in this one and a bit of metal rock sound.

Sunrise‘ (Sunrise music video) is richly evocative of a time of day beloved by this morning person composer who often does his best creative work in the early morning hours before others are up and about. The music presents a sky transforming with remarkable colors in real-time. It ends with well-being: a great cup of coffee in hand and anticipating a day rich in promise ahead.

The last three songs are different. For one thing, they reflect Shah’s experience writing and performing rock. For another, they reflect his multi-cultural sensitivity to the darker side of human nature.

Questions are asked about those who misuse power as well as those who fail to struggle against injustice and adapt. Whether taken at a national, village, or family level, as well as within each of us, these are familiar themes. The last song uses understatement to convey the horror of truly knowing and loving peace, and also living with the awful silences of war.

There is certainly a clear plea here. Of all the many meanings of ‘Departure,’ let’s hope that human compassion gradually wins out over our historical fear and insanity. Then we can see the sunsets, sense the sexual tension, enjoy the parties and even, occasionally, miss the boat.”

I sent Shah the draft telling him it was only a start. However, he told me not to change a thing; that both he and his family liked it just the way it was.

Magical Musical Fishpond Storytelling

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Imagine you are a member of a troupe of players in the Middle Ages who wander from town to town providing entertainment. It is time to develop some fresh material to present to the hard-working town folk, but the players have wandered far that day and are tired.

Suddenly there are soft tones coming from the woods. Following the music leads to a glade where someone is playing a tongue drum like the one above tapping it with her fingers. She says, “Here all are seen, and all visions are honored. You found me because magical musical fishpond story telling called out to you.”

This muse, for that is her calling, explains that her role is to inspire – she can be serious, silly, or even outlandish at times. You and the others are to weave a story. Playing the fish pond expresses the feelings of your imaginary characters. She warns them the fish can swim away if the players do not respect the ancient tradition of weaving stories with the power to heal.

Children naturally take to this kind of creative play. Adults can forget how powerful a radiant refuge it can be. Imagination is a gift that can bring us into contact with dreams, talents and aspirations. It can enlarge and ease us no matter the circumstances. So often we are lost in the pragmatic details of life, forgetting all of us are fully capable of creating joy and magic.