WALKING IN BEAUTY

navajoI watched an hour-long documentary on Netflix yesterday that I am still thinking about today so I figured it might be worthwhile to write a short post about it. The title was “Miss Navajo,” produced in 2008. It followed a young girl who entered the Miss Navajo competition to represent her culture both within her tribe and to the outside world.

Held at a local Holiday Inn-type motel near the reservation, it certainly wasn’t like the typical beauty pageant. There were six contestants ranging in age from 18 to 24. They were at once very much like typical teenagers and yet very different in appearance and attitude.

One girl was overweight and two girls wore glasses – what! All looked very clean, neat and ‘maidenly’ in the best sense of the word. They dressed modestly and wore their long hair in traditional style. When they dressed in traditional clothing, each wore exceptional silver and turquoise jewelry including earrings, necklaces, belts and bracelets. Several had the beautiful high cheekbones and strong faces associated with Native Americans.

There were some basic requirements to enter the three day competition. The girls had to be over 18, unmarried, no children, and could speak Navajo. These competitions were not based upon beauty but upon skills that would enable a woman to help nurture her family to survive and thrive, and would help the tribe to reclaim its cultural heritage.

The ‘talent’ competition included a cultural performance such as story telling, singing, drumming and the like. There was a question and answer session in which they were quizzed on Navajo history, mythology and society. The questions and answers had to be spoken in Navajo.

Finally, there was what might be called a ‘competence’ competition that included building a fire, making and cooking bread, and killing, skinning and barbecuing a sheep (yes, you read that right). The sheep bit was the topper.

It was so easy to contrast this pageant to Miss America, Miss Universe and the like in which the contestants are required to look beautiful in a gown and swim suit, answer a question about how they would save the world, and perform something ‘artistic.’  These pageant are all about me, me, me, rather than the community or the nation.

Granted, it is not necessary for the girl from Memphis or New York to know how to kill a sheep or build a fire but using that premise of being able to survive in one’s culture, our pageant girls are not even tested to see if they can cook, sew, use a computer, balance a checkbook or put gas in the car.

Anyway, the documentary left me with a lot of questions. What are the survival skills of our modern world and what are we teaching our children about their heritage? Can we feel proud of how we are raising them?

Navajo Prayer
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
In Beauty may you walk.
All day long may you walk.
Through the returning seasons may you walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may you walk.
With grasshoppers about your feet may you walk.
With dew about your feet may you walk.
With Beauty may you walk.
With Beauty before you, may you walk.
With Beauty behind you, may you walk.
With Beauty above you, may you walk.
With Beauty below you, may you walk.
With Beauty all around you, may you walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of Beauty,
lively, may you walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of Beauty,
living again, may you walk.
It is finished in Beauty.
It is finished in Beauty.

Christmas in January

Xmas treeI woke up this morning with a dream still playing in my head. As I struggled into everyday consciousness, my heart was singing, “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas. It’s Christmas!” and I was so happy. I paused for a few moments and sat on the edge of the bed, my mind working like a little net to pull in more of the dream. I felt that I was five years old again and ready to run downstairs to see the presents under the tree.

The linoleum of the bedroom floor is freezing and through the iron grating by the door comes a gentle current of heat from the old coal furnace in the cellar. The air is scented with a delectable combination of pine and sugar cookies. Frost etches the panes of the bedroom window with an icy lace and through it I can see the dark outline of the steel mill down the hill and across the railroad tracks. Smoke is puffing out of the chimneys of all the snow-covered houses in the neighborhood. I clatter down the fourteen wooden steps and run into the living room to see if Santa has made my wishes come true.

The key to the dream was the happiness I felt knowing that it was Christmas day. How many times in my life had I gotten up in the morning and felt that elated, that hopeful, that innocent? Do you remember some special morning when you awoke filled with joy and expectation? Maybe it was a birthday or the beginning of vacation. How many years ago was that?

And then I suddenly realized why as adults so many are sad or depressed during the holiday season. All through our childhood we are encouraged to believe that on Christmas morning our dearest wishes will come true. When we grow up we soon find out we don’t always get what we want no matter how good we are – and even if we do get that special gift it often doesn’t bring the satisfaction we expected.

For a while we can assuage some of that disappointment in giving gifts to others; as parents we find our joy in the joy of our children’s happiness. But finally the children grow up and leave and then there are fewer presents to give and even fewer to receive.

As the seasons come and go the five-year old who still lives in our hearts calls out to the parents and family who are now gone, and searches for the tree with all the presents, and listens for the Christmas music on the radio, and looks out the window to see if it snowed during the night. Then one day Christmas morning becomes just like every other morning of the year.

The promise and magic of Christmas isn’t that a present will make us happy, the real promise is that we will be happy if we can become as little children and welcome each day as children do – without fear, without suspicion, without hesitation.

I think we need to allow a part of ourselves to continue to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and Tinkerbell not for who or what they are but for what they represent. In that way we can keep alive that part of ourselves that is innocent and joyful.

“And He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you … become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

SEX & AGING

Triple Goddess: Susan Seddon Boulet
Triple Goddess: Susan Seddon Boulet

I realized a few months ago I no longer feel sexy or even have the need to look attractive. I have no compulsion to dress fashionably or even have the pieces match. As a result my entire wardrobe can easily fit into two suitcases.

I haven’t worn high heels in five years and the one tube of lipstick I still possess has lint on it. There is no mirror on the ceiling or even in the bedroom for that matter. Most importantly, I no longer feel that terrible longing to be completed by a man. What a relief!

I married and divorced in my twenties and never remarried. There was always something out of sync. If it was the right guy, it was the wrong time; if it was the right time, it was the wrong guy.

As a result there were all those years of always going alone to family or business functions. All those years of meeting men and wondering “Is he the ONE?” All those years of feeling the need to be pretty, to be sexy, to be attractive – and feeling that I didn’t quite measure up.

Happily, those days are over now and I finally feel whole. What common sense and years of self-work could not achieve, age has accomplished effortlessly.

Once I saw a picture of old Sicilian women wearing black dresses sitting quietly on wooden chairs outside their doors and I pitied them for their limited lives. Now I understand. Those black dresses were their way showing the world they were no longer competing. The only role they were still playing was old crone.

I think I can do that. I don’t have any dresses but I do have a lot of black sweat pants and t- shirts. Plus, I have a chair on the patio from which I can observe passers by and make snide remarks in my head while I say the rosary.

Not to mention I now look the part. I have wrinkles in the strangest places and most of those periodically have wild hairs. I wear ugly nun shoes and take a nap every day. I have become a victim of gravity and what doesn’t droop, sways

There is a season for everything and this is the time of letting go. I am alone but rarely lonely. I want less and have more. I am both male and female and yet neither. Life is good and time a gift.

MEASURING UP

certificateI have been doing some coaching with a woman who is in her sixties who is still trying to discover her ‘purpose in life.’ This is a popular phase that I hear people of all ages talking about in books and workshops and seminars. “What is my purpose in life? What is it I am supposed to do? Where do I belong? What is my place in the universe? What is my destiny? Why am I here?”

When I was younger I used to ask those questions too but I don’t any more. Now I see them as in the same category as questions like “Why is the sky blue? Why do birds fly? Why are there stars?” It’s not that the questions are unanswerable but that they are irrelevant.

In the old Catholic catechism I studied as a child, the answer to the question ‘Why am I here?’ was “to know God, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” The answer can be understood on a number of levels but it definitely does not say I am here “to save the world, to be a doctor or philanthropist, to climb Mt. Everest, to be a billionaire or design an interstellar spaceship, to be a mother or feed the hungry.”

In other words, our highest purpose has nothing to do with job descriptions, resumes, responsibilities, or achievements. It has to do with a state of being, a state of consciousness, a state of seeing. When Christ was asked what the two most important commandments were, he did not reply it was to be rich, famous or accomplished. He replied the first commandment was to love God and the second important one was to love our neighbor. Neither requires attendance at a seminar, workshop or university to fulfill. No great search or thinking is required.

Years ago when I was struggling with the ‘why am I here’ question, I had an other-worldly experience in which an inner voice answered, “to experience and enjoy life and to offer that to God.” That still rings very true to me. Notice it did not say to be moral, altruistic, intelligent, hard-working, pure or some other ideal. I did not have any big destiny to achieve, great role to play, or responsibilities to fulfill. I simply had ‘to be.’

That’s why I’m here – as a representative/delegate/probe/child of God. I’ve read that God created the universe in order to experience Itself; to hide within Its creation and have the joy of discovery. The same life force that animates the trees, resides in the mountains, nestles within the stars is the same life force that is within me. We share the same Buddha nature and the same purpose – to be and rediscover our Oneness.

There isn’t anything esoteric or tricky or difficult about discovering our life purpose; we are doing it every day – although we may not realize it. Just being leads to humility because we realize we are just a small but beloved part in the vastness of the cosmos.

But the ego wants to feel important, to be noticed, to excel. It wants to be #1 in a category; it wants to know how its goals can be achieved. It wants to know what steps have to be taken and in what order so that the object of desire can be reached. Even if the desires are altruistic – helping others, saving the world/animals/the environment/peace/love – a part of that drive is to assuage the anxiety and the pride of the ego.

There are billions and billions of stars with possibly gazillions and gazillions of people – and yet our egos want to be different from the common herd. This pride of individuality is the very reason we feel so alone and so isolated. As long as we want to be important, to be different, to be special we will be alone because we have separated ourselves from the whole. As a result we are unhappy and ask what our purpose in life might be.

Just think how easy things might be if we did not have to carry the burden of being important and having a great purpose to achieve. If we could allow ourselves to just be, we wouldn’t have to amount to anything and could then respond to life without an agenda.

THE BLUE KISS OF A WINTER SUN

Winter sunThe winter rains have again come and gone leaving behind brilliant blue skies and cool temperatures. The air feels lighter, more crystalline and fragile. I go to the park this morning and set up my summer lawn chair at the edge of the big field where I saw fifty or more sea gulls resting the other day. It is quieter here than my location by the stream and playground, and less busy than the dog park.

The area is the size of several football fields and ringed with small groups of trees, like family gatherings. Today I sit with a stately pine on my right and a light-hearted birch on my left and the winter sun overhead and before me. I tighten the scarf around my neck and pull on my gloves, then settle myself comfortably in the chair.

Soon my eyes close and behind my lids a lush red curtain descends. My senses are delighted as my attention turns to them, leaving behind the demands of the thinking mind and importunate thoughts. From the distance I hear the irate honking of geese and nearby the rustling of a squirrel. The deep breath I take tastes sweet and the winter sun is warm.

I enter a state of – what? Meditation? Contemplation? Bemusement? a state which I have visited many times before. I remember thirty, forty years ago, bundled in a coat and lying at my ease on the wooden swing on the front porch of my childhood home. With one foot I pushed against the metal chains of the swing setting it in a rocking motion while I looked at the old maple tree black-barked and proud surrounded by the deep snow of a Pennsylvania winter.

The maple stood like a sentinel in the front yard all the days of my youth and for many years before. In spring it was a bright chartreuse green with airplane seeds that swirled to the ground; in summer it wore a deep green gown. But it was in autumn that it broadcast its brazen beauty, heaping the ground with a hundred thousand golden leaves. Many years later when it was finally felled the front yard, robbed of its queen, looked naked and destitute.

On those porch swing days I felt the blue kiss of the winter’s sun on my face and now I feel it again, delicate and warm and clean. Today I look through the same eyes I had in childhood; my heart is innocent and unafraid, my spirit willing to dare. There is something inside of us that never changes over the years, that never ages, that is always the same. I take a deep breath and feel timeless.

GENEROSITY

panhandlerOur winter season is alternating between beautiful sunlit days and the fog filled gray skies I wake to this morning. The air is still misty from the overnight rain and as I drive to the grocery store to pick up a few items, the shining wet streets look like slick black ribbons. Few cars are on the road at this early hour but as I slow to stop for the red light at the big Wal-Mart intersection I see standing on the median an old man wearing a shabby pea coat and holding a hand-printed sign.

Begging in the rain is a tough occupation; no benefits nor medical insurance, no overtime or days off. You can, however, make your own hours. It is not a job that I would want. I press the button that rolls down the window and pass a dollar bill to him. His face is gray and needs shaven, his eyes barely meet mine as he takes the money, stuffs it in his pocket and turns away.

The light turns green and as I leave I am reminded of another man I encountered last summer. I was driving through the drop-off at the local post office and saw sitting on the grass under the shade of a small tree four young children. Their father stood a little apart from them and was holding a sign reading, “Will work for food. Please help.”

My throat tightened. I waved to the man to come over and hesitantly handed him a bill. When he saw it was five dollars, his eyes got large, looked directly into mine and filled with tears. “Thank you, thank you,” he said, his head bobbing up and down and his hand quickly and gently touching the back of mine.

As I drove away my heart was filled with gratitude that I had been prompted to give five rather than the one dollar that was my norm. In contrast to other times I had not thought how glad I was not to be in that situation myself; this time I did not feel spiritual.

In this meeting of our eyes the man and I shared a moment of communion. It was a soul greeting that said we both understood what it was to be a parent of children who depended on us and for whom we would do anything – even beg or steal – to keep them safe. The man and I were accomplices in the Game of Generosity in which the giver and the receiver were one and the same.

There was a great joy in my heart that day that I have never forgotten. Now when I hand an offering through the window, I look carefully to see if anyone might be looking too.