Sunday, May 24, 2009

ritual moments

     When some people hear the word "ritual," what they often think of is some sort of religious ceremony, performed in a sanctuary.   But rituals can also be an everyday thing,  which can be intentionally created as moments of being intentionally mindful of the sacredness and wonder of life.  Little rituals, created with sacred intent, can make the difference between mindlessly going through the motions of a day, and living a day with heart open to the Divine Presence that is always there.  
     One of John's and my favorite rituals while we are here in Michigan, is to have a little bowl of ice cream as we sit on the deck swing watching the sunset over Lake Michigan.  Above us in the wild cherry tree that shades the swing, birds are singing.  Very soon, our summer lilacs which line the back of the lower deck will be perfuming the air with their heady fragrance.  Below us on the beach, people wander down the public beach stairs to watch the evening show of the sun going down into the water.  Dogs and children run and play on the beach and in the water.  
       Often we sit in silence, just watching, listening, smelling,  feeling the evening breeze, and feeling very glad to be together and to be alive in a beautiful place like this.  Our hearts fill with peace and gratitude.  We tune in to the countless people who have sensed the sacredness of sunset, and always taken time to pray, to watch, to rejoice at the end of another day.
       Another little ritual I love is to go out in the late afternoon into what I call my secret garden in a little nook outside behind the kitchen.  I have hung a string of prayer flags there, and as I sit in my chair sipping tea, and looking through the leafy branches of the trees that shade the garden on to the shimmering Lake,  my prayer flags waft my prayers into the Heart of God, and I feel my unity with Buddhists all over the world who hang prayer flags, and believe that they are carrying their prayers to heaven even when they are busy with the labor of their lives and perhaps not remembering to pray.  I like that idea.  Its another way of practising what St. Paul calls "Prayer without ceasing."   
        You perhaps already have little rituals too, some of which you are aware of, some of which you may not be.   I invite you to consider how intentionally doing little rituals like these can expand your awareness of The Presence of God  in your everyday life.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

dogs as spiritual directors

     One of my favorite authors, Matthew Fox, once wrote that his dog was his best spiritual director. 
I chuckled at that,  and thought he was just being his usual gadfly self.  But my experience has shown that he was right on.  
     The picture of our dog Leo sitting on the hot tub illustrates that a good spiritual director watches over you if you get into hot water, and makes sure you don't stay there too long!
       The picture of Leo keeping watch from his perch on the closed hot tub illustrates that a good spiritual director is always observing the scene, getting the context, the bigger picture, and by his/her alertness helping you be alert to what is going on around you which you might otherwise miss.  
     The picture of Leo taking a break on the living room sofa is also instructive.  The dog next to him is Maizy, our son's family dog, who is still a puppy.  When they come and visit, Maizy wants to constantly play with Leo.  They tumble over each other and play at nipping and holding each other down, etc.   until one or the other or both collapse on the floor panting.  Leo is still young, but doesn't have that inexhaustible puppy energy Maizy has.    Leo needs a break from the constant activity, and he is taking one here.  Maizy is waiting for him to be done so they can go back to puppy play.   Leo illustrates the wisdom of taking breaks when we feel that what has been going on is just too much.  To keep driving ourselves to do more when our body and/or soul is crying for rest is foolish and counterproductive in the long run.  Dogs show us the importance of listening to our bodies, and treating them as a good friend would.  
     The picture of Leo on the trail with me at West Fork in the Sedona area symbolizes the importance of having someone as a spiritual guide on the trail of life.  You will notice Leo has a doggie back pack which enables him to lighten my load.  He also goes ahead of me on the trail, tugging me up a steep part of it, and sniffing out the best way to go when I am uncertain.
A good spiritual guide will do all that for you.   Leo also helps me watch my step so I don't step on a snake or walk too close to a cactus, or stumble on loose shale.  A good spiritual guide will help you avoid pitfalls and dangers on the trail of life as well.
       So whether you have a dog or a person as a spiritual friend/guide/director,  I hope you look to someone to help you in these and other ways.  


Monday, May 18, 2009


      Although a few days have lapsed due to family visits etc.  here is the next batch of Big Lake pictures, featuring Big Waves.   They are beautiful to look at, but I wouldn't want to be out on the water in a boat when they are like this.   I remember a day long ago when I was invited to join a family who were friends of our family for a boat ride when the waves were big.   It was not fun.   The smallish speedboat bounced around on the water in a jarring way,  and by the time we finally reached port,  I was tense and aching.   Never again!
       When it comes to hitting rough water in our lives,  when the winds of trouble start to blow, it feels a little like the boat ride I disliked.   We get bounced around, and often find ourselves off course and too far from the calm waters of peaceful harbor.   We find ourselves in for a rough ride, and out there in the middle of the big waves, there is nothing much to be done except endure and head for harbor.
       For me that harbor is meditation and prayer during time alone when I can focus on God and the gift of Christ's peace which passes understanding even while riding the rough waves.
I can recall the story when Jesus fell asleep in a boat with his disciples during a big storm.
When he was finally wakened by his alarmed disciples, he calmly rebuked the wind and waves and stilled the storm.   He can still do that in my heart and mind and life, if I ask and trust as the disciples did.  And He has---many times.
      Therefore, when I hit stormy weather and big waves,  I don't have to be alarmed about perishing.  As the old hymn my Mom sang puts it, "The wind and the waves shall obey His will: Peace!  Be Still."   The wind and the waves of my turbulent thoughts and feelings can be calmed when I let Him be in charge.   
      And I love the fact that the Lake teaches me that the roughest weather passes,  the waves calm down, the waters once again flows in quiet currents and gentle waves----just as in life.
Everything is temporary.  And one can always realize that the wind and waves of one's emotions and thoughts are not what one is.  They are simply disturbances on the surface of the water of life.  Deep down,  where it is always calm, we are always dwelling in the Peace of the Presence of God, if we but realize it.   

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Last fall, when our son Ron was staying at our cottage on Lake Michigan, working on his PhD,
he took a picture of the Lake each day.   He suggested later to me that when we came back to Michigan this spring, I might want to try this.   One of the fascinating things about Lake Michigan is that its vast expanse is always changing, right before one's eyes.   It can have many moods in just one day.   Just like us!   Our thoughts and moods and experiences are always changing too, but often we are so absorbed in them, we lose touch with that part of ourselves which is behind those thoughts, moods, and experiences, and can be consciously observing them.  Actually, it turns out that this is one of the most basic and universally recommended spiritual practices of the world's Wisdom traditions, as well as of contemporary spiritualities.   
     The Tao Te Ching, for example, reminds us that it is when a lake is calm and still, it most clearly reflects the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, and so on.   Similarly, when our minds our still, they reflect Divine Presence and Beauty,  Cosmic patterns, and passing cloud-thoughts and feelings.  
      I would like to share pictures of the Big Lake each day with you, and accompany them with my reflections, hoping thus to also evoke yours.  
     The lovely sunset pictures above show the calm waters of the Big Lake reflecting the glory of the sun.   This moved me to ponder how I would want my mind to be like the Big Lake--vast, spacious, calm, reflecting the Glory of God.
     These pictures also reminded me of how important beauty is to me.   It is one of the greatest joys of my life that I am blessed to live in such beautiful places.   My soul is deeply nurtured and delighted by the Divine Beauty all around me.  I am reminded of the lovely Navaho chant:
"I walk in beauty.  Beauty is above me.  Beauty is below me, before me and behind me.
Beauty surrounds me."   I often chant that chant as I walk at sunrise or sunset on the beach,
immersed in the Glory of God.  (The Hebrew word for glory in the Bible can also be translated as beauty.  I love that!)
     May you walk in Beauty too, wherever you live.   And may that Beauty radiate from your soul, your face, your life, to bless others.  

Thursday, May 7, 2009

these are a few of my favorite things

Raindrops on rocks
And trillium blooming
fragrance of hyacinths
and purple of myrtle;
pelican perching
and prayer flags in breeze,
some of my favorite things are these!

When the clouds stay,
when the back aches,
when I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorite things
and then I don't feel so bad.

sunlight on water
and glimmer of sunshine;
new buds and black squirrels
and sitting in hot tub;
feeling of beach sand between my toes
smell of fresh rain on grass in my nose.....(refrain above)

And what are a few of your favorite things?
Especially when you come home after you have been gone quite awhile?
To quote a favorite of mine, John Denver:  "gee its good to be back home again"

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


     Its a strange thing, re-entry.  We come home to a place we have lived over twenty years, and it feels and looks familiar, yet somehow a little alien.  We have been in such a different place for so many months.  There, its sunny, usually warm, dry, and prickly.   Here, its cloudy, cool, damp, and softly lush.  There, its high up---5,000 feet up.  Here, its low down, Lake level.   Interestingly, there is lots of sand in both places, and many kinds of rocks strewn about in the sand.  Some of the rocks are very similar to each other in both places.  Others are not.  I see the familiar place I have lived so long with new eyes because I have been gone for months.  I notice that Leo is not nearly as excited to be here as he was last fall when we approached Sedona territory.  He is a desert dog, born and bred out there, and his body feels it.  John and I talk about our reactions too.  John spent most of his childhood and life in the Midwest.  This climate, vegetation, topography, and altitude feel like home to him.  Sedona and the mountainous west resemble where I grew up in Pakistan and India---dry, sunny, the high altitudes of the Himalayas. Not surprisingly, my body feels more at home out west.  We realize how much our bodies are connected to and influenced by the land in which we live even though Americans are a nation of movers.  One study says the average American moves every three years.  And we are a nation of immigrants, still.   We come here from all over the world.  Many of us and our ancestors chose places to live here most like the "Old Country"  because of this felt fit between our bodies and our environment.  
    Though we are insulated in so many ways from the natural setting in which we live,  we cannot escape how it conditions and shapes us.  And when we consciously cultivate a more intimate relationship with the land on which we live,  we come home to our selves in a deeper, more profound way. We realize that Mother Earth supports us in countless ways every day.  Some say she is a vast Being or consciousness embracing us all.   While I am here in Michigan, I intend to put into practice what I learned in Sedona this winter:   many ways in which to appreciate, embrace, and consciously and gratefully relate to this beautiful place on earth in which I am blessed to live.  
More about that in subsequent blogs!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

the home stretch

Now where were we?  Ah--yes.  Being blown about by the winds of the Wild West.   And the next morning, they got even wilder as we left New Mexico and journeyed on into Oklahoma.   As John hung on to the wheel for dear life,  we turned to the weather channel, and discovered that we were headed right into an area in which tornadoes were happening!  However, it was no good going back. They were behind us, before us, and to both sides of us.   No escape.   So we looked for a campground near where we were, and found one at Elk City.   Yes, it was another KOA. Sigh.  But hey, as before, any port in a storm.
You can see by the worried look on John's face in the pic that he was glad to be somewhere other than on the road.  Or maybe he is pondering the fact that, when we checked in,  the TV screen behind the desk was portraying weather people pointing to pictures of tornadoes nearby.  The woman behind the desk assured us cheerfully that this was just how it was in Oklahoma, and b esides, they had an underground tornado shelter which was just outside the door and ready for use, just in case.  But, she assured us,  Elk City is in a valley, and usually the tornadoes skip right over it to do their damage in the surrounding higher countryside.  Whew. That was a relief?!
       What could we do but settle in, watch the T.V. listen for sirens, and take looks at the sky with the clouds roiling above us in classic "tornado weather" fashion.  (see pic)  But the lady was right. The tornadoes skipped over our area, and the next morning, when we drove on towards Illinois,  the weather was harmless--overcast, light wind, good driving.  So good that we decided to keep driving, and driving, and driving......all the way back to an early arrival back in Michigan, where we were finally out of range of the storms ranging across the midwest.
      As we drove off on to Lakeshore Drive,  the sight of the Big Lake gladdened our eyes.
Spring was already in bloom. Daffodils danced in the breeze, robins hopped over green, soft grass (unlike any grass in desert country) and the beach looked inviting and serene.
       We hoped we would find our home faring well after months of absence, with the water, gas, and electricity turned off.  More on that tomorrow!