JUMA TAKES A BOAT RIDE

An original bedtime story for children of all ages on the last night of the year.

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Juma who lived in the jungle. One day he said, “I miss Grandmother. I will go to see her today.” So Juma climbed into his little boat and paddled down the Big River. The water was smooth and quiet. The trees were tall and green. There were flowers everywhere.

“Where are you g-g-g-going, J-J-J-Juma?” chattered Monkey from the tree.

“I’m going to the next village to visit Grandmother,” said Juma.

“I’ve never been in a b-b-b-boat. Can I come too?” said Monkey.

“Yes,” said Juma. “But you must sit very still so the boat won’t tip over.”

Juma and Monkey drifted down the river. They saw Flamingo standing in the tall reeds.

“Where are you going?” sang Flamingo as she stood on one leg.

“To see Grandmother in the next village,” answered Juma.

“I’ve never seen a Grandmother,” said Flamingo. “Can I come too?”

“Yes,” said Juma. “But you must sit very still so the boat won’t tip over.”

So Juma and Monkey and Flamingo floated down the river. They came to a place where one part of the river went one way and the other part of the river went another way. They saw Giraffe eating the leaves off the top of a tall, tall tree.

“Which way should I go to get to the next village,” Juma asked Giraffe.

“If I tell you, will you take me for a ride?” said Giraffe.

“Yes,” said Juma, “but you must sit very still so the boat won’t tip over.”

Giraffe sat at the back of the boat. He stretched out his long neck and pointed. “That way!”

Juma and Monkey and Flamingo and Giraffe floated down the river. Then they saw Ostrich running up and down the shore.

“Help me!” shouted Ostrich. “I have to cross the river and I am afraid of deep water.”

“I’ll take you but you will have to sit very still so the boat won’t tip over,” said Juma.

“I will, I will,” said Ostrich. She sat in the middle of the boat, fluffed her feathers and stuck her head under the seat.

Juma and Monkey and Flamingo and Giraffe and Ostrich floated down the river until they saw Zebra.

“Hey-y-y-y-y there!” whinnied Zebra. “Where are you going?”

“We’re going to the next village to see Grandmother,” said Juma.

“What’s a village look like?” said Zebra. “I want to come too.”

“Okay,” said Juma. “But you must sit very still so the boat won’t tip over.”

“Okay-y-y-y! Let’s go!” said Zebra tossing his mane.

Juma and Monkey and Flamingo and Giraffe and Ostrich and Zebra floated down the river. They saw Aardvark on the shore.

“Where are you going?” called Aardvark twitching his long nose.

“To see Grandmother who lives in the next village,” answered Juma.

“I heard they had lots of good ants to eat there. Can I come too?” said Aardvark.

“If you come, you must sit very still so the boat won’t tip over,” said Juma.

Aardvark got in and sat very still. When he thought of ants he licked his lips.

Juma and Monkey and Flamingo and Giraffe and Ostrich and Zebra and Aardvark floated down the river. When they went around a bend they saw Lion waking up from a nap and stretching.

“ARE YOU GOING TO A PARTY?” roared Lion as he shook his great mane.

“No. We are going to visit my Grandmother,” said Juma.

“I LOVE GRANDMOTHERS,” roared Lion and bounded into the boat before Juma could say no.

Everybody squealed and shouted, “Sit still! Sit still!”

Lion sat down and purred while he washed his face.

Juma and Monkey and Flamingo and Giraffe and Ostrich and Zebra and Aardvark and Lion floated down the river. Then they bumped into Elephant who was taking a bath.

“Hey! Watch where you are going!” yelled Elephant.

“I’m sorry,” said Juma. “It is hard to see with so many passengers in the boat.”

“Where are you going,” asked Elephant as he squirted water on his back.

“To the next village to visit my Grandmother,” said Juma.

“Does she have any peanuts?” said Elephant.

“I think so,” said Juma.

“Then I’m coming too,” said Elephant and he climbed into the boat before Juma could stop him. The boat tipped this way and then that way.

Juma and Monkey and Flamingo and Giraffe and Ostrich and Zebra and Aardvark and Lion and Elephant floated down the river.  First they saw the smoke from the cooking fires. Then they saw the village!

“Hooray!” they all shouted.

“What’s all the shouting about?” squawked Parrot who was flying in the trees.

“We’ve come to see Grandmother,” said Juma, steering the little boat towards shore.

“I’ll show you where to go,” said Parrot and landed on Monkey’s head.

“G-g-g-g-get off me!” chattered Monkey as he scrambled up Giraffe’s neck.

“Stop it!” shouted Giraffe shaking his head and bumping into Zebra.

“Hey!” said Zebra who kicked out his feet and hit Lion.

“R-O-A-R!” said Lion so loud that Flamingo got scared and flapped her wings.

“Stop rocking the boat!” yelled Aardvark and knocked Ostrich backward.

“Help!” screeched Ostrich as she grabbed Elephant’s leg.

“That’s enough!” trumpeted Elephant, standing up.

“SIT STILL!” cried Juma.

The boat tipped this way and the boat tipped that way. Then the boat tipped that way and the boat tipped this way.  SPLASH! went Elephant.  SPLASH! went Ostrich.  SPLASH! went Aardvark. SPLASH! went Flamingo. SPLASH! went Lion. SPLASH! went Zebra. SPLASH! went Giraffe. SPLASH! went Monkey. SPLASH! went Juma.

Hippopotamus who had been eating his lunch called out, “Hold on to each other! I’ll help!”

Hippopotamus pulled Juma and Juma pulled Monkey and Monkey pulled Flamingo and Flamingo pulled Giraffe and Giraffe pulled Ostrich and Ostrich pulled Zebra and Zebra pulled Aardvark and Aarvark pulled Lion and Lion pulled Elephant. They all sat on the bank of the river and watched the boat bobbing up and down.

Grandmother came out of her house and saw them. She asked, “What happened.”

“We came to see you,” said Juma, “but the boat tipped over.”

“Next time, Juma, you must remember to tell everyone to sit very still,” she said and then gave him a big kiss.

 MORAL: No ride is free? Beware of hitchhikers? Don’t rock the boat?

(c) 2012 Marie Taylor

Happy New Year!

THE PARK

A few blocks from my apartment is a wonderful city park that not only has the prerequisite swings and jungle gym but lots of trees, walking paths, tennis courts, a dog park, meandering stream and Japanese-like bridge perfect for pondering sad thoughts.

To me a park had always been the place where I walked briskly in the morning light, dog at my side, thoughts about the coming day bouncing in my head. But I no longer had a dog, nor because of arthritis could I walk very long without pain. Since I didn’t want to be reminded of how things had been but were no longer, in the last few years I have stayed away from parks.

But today was different. When I drove past the area park I felt and obeyed a magnetic tug. I pulled into the small parking lot, got my cane and sat down at the nearest picnic table. A wonderful combination of crisp leaves and pine was in the air. The sky was brilliant blue and the sun warm.

This time of the day – after breakfast but before lunch – was a quiet time. The children’s area was empty. There were no joggers on the paths but there were two older women walking and talking, and a big woman with a large slow dog marching in procession.

I looked at the bare limbs of a great oak stretched across the blue sky and remember Grandfather Tree, a large sprawling oak who had befriended me at another park in another time. This ancient patriarch stood alone, tall, magnificent and immovable along a lively stream. His trunk was so wide my arms could not encircle even one-third of his girth.

On my daily walk I would stop by for a moment, lean against Grandfather Tree and ask him to share some of his strength with me. When I could no longer walk the distance to reach him, I would stand at the edge of the path and send a thought of greeting. The old tree had something deep and wise and patient within and I felt a kinship with him.

Today I looked at lesser oaks that did not have Grandfather’s dignity or wisdom but shared nonetheless his deep grounding. I watched as a squirrel ran up and down a trunk while another dug eagerly beneath the leaves for some overlooked nuts. In their eager searching was a nervous, alert playfulness and although I made squirrely smacks and kisses they wisely viewed me from afar.

Then, I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. A graceful crane circled once, twice, then settled in the small stream. The crane stood there silent as a sentinel on long pole legs, finally disappearing into the tall, yellowed willow stalks.

The sound of tires on gravel announced the arrival of another car into the parking lot. First a woman got out, walked over to a picnic table and pulled out a book to read. Next, a man emerged wearing bright, white sneakers. Without a word, he started down one of the walking paths.

Lastly, a second man got out and stood by the car. He was older and a short grayish beard ringed his cheeks and chin. At first I thought he was walking around to loosen up for some jogging but arms upraised, head erect, shoulders back, tummy tucked, he began moving seemingly in tempo to unheard music. Step right, then back, two, three. Step left, two, three, turn, pause.

Perhaps it was the fox trot, I speculated, as he continued his silent dance. I wondered if the woman he had traveled with might cut in but she remained immersed in her book. A man walking a handsome German Shepherd made a furtive detour around the dancing man and proceeded to a corner of the park where an operator of a small bull dozer was reshaping a knoll. Two older men joined them and soon arms were gesticulating, suggestions were flying and opinions were being proposed on slopes, gradients and perspectives.

A park gardener with a leaf blower arrived and broke up the confabulation and serenity of the scene. Soon small whirlwinds of dust and leaves filled the air. The woman reading a book beat a hasty retreat to the car, started the motor, then drove away. Where was the first man who had come with her and went walking?

And where was the dancing man? I looked to the right and then the left but he had disappeared. Had his fox trot conjured up some shape shifting transformation and he had flitted away? Had he succumbed to the eroticism of a tempestuous tango with the older  lady with the large slow dog? Or, had he waltzed down a winding path and was he even now entertaining sad thoughts on the Japanese bridge while observing the white crane?

These and other speculations crowded my mind and gave rise to a delightful anticipation of future visits to the park. Would this  mystery be solved or would the disappearance of the dancing man be forever an enigma? And what would be the final configuration of the bull dozer and knoll? And, the reading woman – would she return to finish her chapter, or perhaps pick up the jogging man she had so careless left behind?

RING OUT THE OLD

Mingun Bell

One of the advantages of living near the hub of a city is easier access to a variety of cultural events such as concerts, plays and performances. One of my resolves for the coming year is to take advantage of the many events on offer in Sacramento. One such I attended yesterday – it is an on-going, one-hour, noon-time musical concert at a local church called Music at Noon. Various musical groups are invited to perform and the event is free and open to the public.

Yesterday’s performance featured bell ringers. Now I must admit I felt some trepidation in attending because I was carrying some preconceived ideas about bells that specifically led back to the triangle, tambourine, hand bell and other percussion items we used in the first grade. The word cacophony was invented to describe the overall effect of 25+, six-year olds all pounding, shaking, ringing and stamping.

But bells have come a long way since the time I was in the first grade. The group consisted of 12 to 15 players and the bells ranged from tiny ‘call the maid’ types to beefy bongers. From the first ding-a-ling I was transported. The bells sounds were soft and liquid, from a high piping soprano to a low basso profundo. It was like listening to a waterfall of voices. In some ways it reminded me of an organ because of the vibrations or perhaps of a harp because of the seeming effortlessness and fluidity.

As you can hear, I was mightily impressed. The experience led me to ponder the whole idea of bells and vibration. When the large bells rang I felt like I wanted to stick my head within it and let the resonance ring through my body. I felt an overwhelming impulse to be re-sounded, re-calibrated, re-sonated, re-tuned. It took me back years and years ago when I got my first set of headphones and listened to the Beatle’s Abby Road in stereo. I felt like I was really hearing for the first time.

The whole idea of the healing power of sound and vibration is ancient – the chakras, the harmony of the spheres, etc. – as well as totally modern. What we see as mass – this hand, this table, this room – is the result of atoms and sub-atomic particles vibrating at a certain speed (forgive my rudimentary physics). Isn’t that the whole premise of the Invisible Man’s ability to walk through walls?

Anyway, my little adventure yesterday had me looking up the history of bells in Wikipedia today. All civilizations have used bells as a call to worship, a call for attention, a call to arms. Bells wake us up! They bypass our over-active intellectual preoccupations and dive directly into the deepest part of our self-awareness. Bells evoke the original I AM. They symbolize the Word found In the Beginning.

Perhaps the Big Bang that announced the arrival of this turn of the cycle was not the terrifying sound of an universal explosion as often portrayed by scientists but the peeling of a infinite heavenly bell that grabbed that black hole by the back of the neck, shook it back and forth like a terrier, and those free-wheeling atoms rained down into manifestation.

Pictured: The Great Mingun Bell is the largest functioning bell, weighing 90 tons and located in Burma.

WINTER SOLSTICE

Each day

Slightly shorter,

Slightly dimmer,

Sliding toward the lip

That will be

The turning point

Back into the sun.

All fires out,

All light extinguished,

All eyes closed,

Waiting for the magic

To begin

While seed is planted

For a new year.

A blind time

When life gropes

In darkness

And burrows through

Earthworm tunnels

To nurseries

Where covers are pulled back

So fragrant seeds

Can rest in loaming beds.

Silent,

Still,

Dark,

Frozen,

The womb waits

While the star stirs,

Roils,

Rumbles,

Roars,

High howling flames,

An inferno

Blazing with light.

His heart detonates,

Shoots forth

An arcing arrow,

A space-spearing spark,

Light time

Light speed

Now.

One photon

Tips the scale

At the edge

Of the event horizon

Spilling,

Splashing,

Splintering

Cascades of star light.

Trailing in its wake

Dawn’s rosy finger

Lifts Nut’s heavy skirts,

Opens the Gate

And invites the light

To ignite

The Sacred Hearth

The Sacred Heart

The Holy Place

That waits

While the Son’s sun

Is reborn

Again

And again

And again

In time

In tune

With the cosmic clock.

Tick,

Tock.

2011 Winter Solstice, Thursday, December 22, 5:30 UTC

THE FATHER

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these….  Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Matthew 6:28-33

When I was younger I wanted to be one of those lilies which I interpreted as being effortlessly beautiful and fulfilled. I wouldn’t have to put on makeup or go on a diet; I wouldn’t have to work for clothes or cars or houses. Anything I wanted would drop into my lap.

I am embarassed to say that these beliefs continued well into my adult years. I did go to work but I never got everything I wanted – even when I tried to quicken the manifestation process with affirmations and positive thinking. I wasted a lot of time by not emphasizing the rest of the parable – the part that said we had to seek God first and then, all these things would be given to us.

[Aside: let me interject here that what I am calling God or Father can also be named the Tao, the Source, Higher Consciousness, the Divine Mother, the Great Whatever, etc.]

Now, I was usually a spiritual person and believed in the power of prayer and all the rest of it – but where I always fell short was in the ‘trust’ category. Although the thought never quite breached the lid of my conscious mind what I was thinking down below was … “what if I put God first and still didn’t get what I wanted!” I would not only (1) not have the desired object because I had stopped working/praying for it but would also (2) not have ‘hope,’ that little thing with feathers as Dickenson describes it that I had figuratively kept in my pocket for tough spots I did not know how to manipulate.

I knew that God was notorious for taking the longer view and had already several times thwarted my heart’s desire. Could I throw myself on his wisdom/mercy/kindness and relinquish that much control of my life and my desires without risking what little I now had? Could I really rely on God to come through? Would He betray me? What a big thoughts for such a small and fearful mind.

[Aside: relinquish is a wonderful word whose Latin root means to leave behind or abandon. Could I abandon my fear and distrust? This root also gives us the word relic, one meaning of which is “an object or custom whose original environment has disappeared.” In my case the original environment was my belief that I could control my life and get what I wanted.)

How many of our prayers are said asking for money to pay the rent or buy a new car; or to be spared an illness or sorrow. It takes a lot of living and a lot of suffering to realize that all of these desires are really secondary.

The question that dominated my mind was – is it possible to be joyful and at peace – no matter what the circumstances? Can we have that peace and joy without trust? And when we trust, does it entrain all else that we need?

In the last few years I have had many opportunities to experiment with this kind of trust. In 2008 I developed a chronic and painful illness and over a few months nearly everything I valued was taken from me. I say taken and not relinquished for each finger had to be pried loose.

When my illness first developed I did affirmations, examined my unconscious assumptions, evaluated my mental health, tried all sorts of healing modalities and prayed as I had never prayed before. No matter what I did, I could not change the reality of my condition.

I finally came to the stunning realization that just because I wanted something very, very badly I couldn’t necessarily have it. I realized that I didn’t really have control of my life. I wasn’t calling the shots – and probably never had been. God was letting ‘bad things’ happen to me and I didn’t know why. Did I ‘deserve’ it or was there something else at work?

That was when I began to learn about surrender. Instead of praying, I started saying, “God’s will be done” and what I meant was that I was willing for Life to take whatever form or manifestation it wished within this consciousness. With that surrender came an unanticipated peace of mind and spirit. I stopped fighting life and started accepting it. While I still might be in physical pain I was no longer suffering in mind and spirit.

Then I learned that my older son had terminal cancer and for the next nine months I continued to learn in an even deeper way what surrender meant. My own illness had taught me the folly of asking ‘why’ something was happening and had prepared me for this exceptional loss.

I knew that there was nothing I could do on this physical plane to change the direction or destination of his journey. This freed me from the responsibility every parent carries to ‘protect’ the child. I could safely place him in the Father’s hands, knowing that all was exactly as it should be – without really knowing the why of it all.

Strangely enough after all of this struggle and sorrow, today I am happier and more at peace than I have been at any time in my life. I rarely worry about anything and I don’t think about the future very often. I live simply and am learning what it is to trust and surrender.

Whenever a fearful thought comes into my head I tell myself that “My Father knows what I need and He will take care of me.” And He has. Unexpected money arrives at the same time a special need arises. Opportunities turn up without my looking for them. There is something in each day that brings joy.

Surrender and all will be well. Throw all responsibility on God. Do not bear the burden….if one surrenders to God, there will be no cause for anxiety. Nothing will affect you….God never forsakes one who has surrendered.

Ramana Maharshi

CONTENTMENT ON VIEW

Thin white clouds are pulled and stretched like spun cotton across the hard blue sky. A distant sun shines. The sun light is not the deep golden beams of autumn or the brittle light of spring, nor is it the egg yolk of summer, but a buttery yellow that caresses rather than burns. Shafts stream on to the patio now in readiness for the coming winter and recently stripped bare of all but two metal chairs

In one corner lays The Cat, her black and white fur stretching toward the warmth of the sun. She is sprawled in what looks like a most comfortable position, white legs criss-crossed so that only a bit of the black patches are visible. The pupils of her yellow eyes are dark vertical slits and her small mouth is slightly open, a bit of pink tongue tipping out as if to taste the air.

She moves suddenly, sits up and decisively licks a sunbeam from her shoulder. This activity is immediately followed by a complete toilette – a sun bath in its truest sense. Back, sides, stomach, legs, paws and finally, face and ears are licked and smoothed and nibbled until her fur is shining like fat black patent leather slipper. With a huge sigh she sinks down and blinks, once, twice, thrice into an afternoon nap.

The sun has not provoked such a lavatory response in me so I remain sitting on the wrought iron chair, listening to the conversations of the birds babbling in the trees. My mind wanders back to earlier in the day when I crossed the parking lot at the grocery store and stopped mid-step. The realization had suddenly hit me that I was fully contented like the cat lying in the sun.

I like that my movements are slower now and more thoughtful, that I use a cane to take some of the pressure from the knee that enjoys complaining. I like that I don’t bother to wear make-up or uncomfortable clothes; that my body is fuller and heavier and no longer fights gravity but sinks into it. I like that my stomach is bigger and my lap smaller yet just the right size for a sleepy cat or small child.

Perhaps this ability to be content is one of the rewards of growing old for it arrives at a time when it seems so many other things are taken away. In years past it seemed that no matter how hard I worked or how much money was made, it was never enough. Now my desires are simpler and I want for nothing.

Each day now flows smoothly into another and deadlines are a thing of the past. Time is unimportant and with its absence each moment has become sweeter and deeper, larger enough to hold a universe and small enough to contain a whisper.

There is a quiet joy in the everyday. When I was younger I had to be satisfied with intermittent happiness and since that happiness always had cause, it eventually dissipated leaving an emptiness behind that had no bottom. Joy, on the other hand, has no cause and is a state of being. It is ever present and ever full. Since time is suspended and there is no tomorrow and the virtues of patience, hope and faith are no longer required.

I am surprised at how easy it can be just to live one day, one moment at a time and I am astonished at how long it took me to realize this simplicity. Then I see the grasping mind plotting how to capture and maintain this peacefulness. But knowing the wily and impersonal nature of thought, I return to contemplating the sleeping cat.