Thursday, August 26, 2010

Suddenly I Am Amazed

The daily guide of the August 2010 Science of Mind Magazine tells me—no—reminds me that life is amazing, that I am, in truth, amazing. Yes, I’ve heard this before. At times I’ve even believed it. I know about what I call amazing days, amazing happenings, which most times are not really so much amazing as they are life affirming.

Yesterday, as I sat with a group that gathers each Wednesday at noon, listening to the others check in on their week, I smiled as one sojourner talked about her own struggle recently. In the big picture, not such a terrible set of challenges, but then who ever wants to measure the size of his or her own picture. As it turned out, I had a similar story to tell, and as I reflected—both while talking and then later in the day—I realized that I had to try to return to that moment Tuesday afternoon when I suddenly, instantly was reminded once again that God is in the world—just as it should be.

Tuesday morning I went to my weekly assignment as a volunteer in the visitor center at the Audubon Sanctuary here in Santa Fe. We sit at the very top of Upper Canyon Road, nested on the edge of where the land starts to rise into the mountains, “…at an elevation of 7500 feet…135 acres of intriguing landscapes and wildlife…bounded by thousands of acres of National Forest and [the] Santa Fe River Watershed….” Well, as the saying goes, you just have to have been there. This summer, Tuesday mornings have been especially rewarding—lots of visitors from lots of places—and from every conversation that I’m been privileged to be a part of, lots of happy campers, as another saying goes, even though camping is not permitted in this sanctuary.

I left Audubon early Tuesday afternoon, ready I thought for the rest of that beautiful day, but when I got back to my tiny home here, I realized that I was processing some anger. Likely it was intricately related to the heavy heart I have felt lately. When I started to talk about this Wednesday at noon, I realized that I’m pissed off. Now, who’s at the center of that story, I also realize. That would be no one else but me. So Tuesday afternoon, I just got in my car and headed north on Highway 84. I didn’t have to drive far before I was staring deep into the Rio Grande Valley, pueblo land surrounded by mesas and two mountain ranges, the Jemez and the Sangre de Cristo. The gossamer light that envelops this God-inspired place, well, thank you for sight.

If I hadn’t been so arrested by the beauty of what I saw, if I hadn’t been so thankful for the truth it told me, I would have pulled over and retrieved my camera. As I told a friend last night, though, no picture that I can take with my digital could tell the story. Once again, you just had to be there, and I was. Late yesterday I drove north with my camera, intent on capturing that image. Mindful that cell phones and cameras in the hands of distracted drivers are weapons, I was intent that I would stay focused on my principal task of driving without taking out either myself or someone else. Staying in the right lane, and keeping my speed well below the posted speed limit, I just pointed my camera toward the scenery and clicked-clicked-clicked, through the windshield and out the side windows. I saw it again, but no image that ended up in my camera can capture the feeling.

During the final Wednesday night of our weekly celebrations here in Santa Fe, our spiritual leader asked us to pair up and tell each other something that makes us happy—maybe it was truly happy. My chair neighbor, who is also part of the Wednesday noon group and a member of the drum circle that I participate in on Monday nights, told me two things in her journey that have made her happy. I didn’t even have to think about my part. All I had to do was put myself right back there Tuesday afternoon, heading north on Hwy 84. Though my camera doesn’t capture it, it is imprinted on me—my mind’s eye, my heart. It is amazing.

Suddenly I Am Amazed—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 26, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, August 23, 2010

When I Think of Home

When I think of home
I think of a place where there`s love overflowing
I wish I was home
I wish I was back there with the things I been knowing

(from “Home,” Charlie Smalls, THE WIZ)

“God, help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is!” Macrina Wiederkehr

But where is home? At church this morning, I was reminded that Mother Earth is my home. Earlier, as I looked at the only message that had arrived in my email mailbox during the night, I discovered that a friend here had awakened in the night, fearful that the physical pain she was experiencing might be a heart attack, and though she didn’t call me, she wrote me asking that I call her when I read the message. Fearing that she might die, she had left her front door unlocked, and in the message she told me who should get the kitten she had adopted only recently.

I’ve been wondering why my heart felt so heavy lately. August 14 would have been my daddy’s 99th birthday. The older I get, the more he and my family are on my mind—even though he died 29 years ago on the first day of spring. My mother’s 93rd birthday is coming up—one week to the day before my own birthday in September. She died the first day of February 2007, the year that I stuck my head through a crack in life, daring to be so bold as to create a life here in Santa Fe. Such boldness is not part of my upbringing.

The courageous ways of my daddy as a young man—forced to make his way in the years of the Great Depression—were not pronounced in my genes. Our mother, exercising her German upbringing, taught us not to venture out—to indeed stay near the nest. Only five years ago, as my mother worried about me driving to New Mexico for a summer visit, I reminded her that I might have moved to New Mexico in 1967 to take a teaching job (if I had had the courage). “I remember,” added my oldest sister, who was sitting nearby, “Daddy was all for it, and Mother clipped your wings.” How odd it seems in retrospect, a 24-year-old man not having the courage to “leave the nest”.

This past weekend was the annual Indian Market here in Santa Fe. Hundreds of artists displayed their work for thousands of seekers, from all over the U. S., at least. I walked through all of the displays early Saturday morning, and one of the things that struck me most was the presence of family. In many instances, what appeared to be generations of a family, quietly sat behind their displays of silver jewelry and pottery and weavings. Many of the older women (those who would be perceived as the matriarchs) were dressed in traditional garb, their hair pulled back in a recognizable bun, and wearing velvet blouses adorned with silver buttons, skirts almost touching the ground. Here and there I saw my own mother. As I walked around the market, the presence of family—not without conflict and strife, I’m certain—was so real. Should I conclude that my own mother’s tribal instincts were not so different than what I was witnessing? Ultimately, it is all about family and connecting, however we end up defining it.

I’ve seen my own mother a lot recently—frail and being helped from the car, making her way up the aisle on the arm of a son or daughter, or grandson or granddaughter. What I haven’t seen is Mother laughing, younger, still full of hope and promise. I know she’s here. I just haven’t opened my eyes enough to recognize her. I wanted and I needed to go away after our mother died, to exercise the courage to be on my own. And having done so, I know that—as I was told by a priest friend a couple of years ago—“home is where you are”.

At church yesterday, the person sitting next to me asked about our friend, the one who sent me the email during the night. I knew she would not be in church. When I described what had happened, that is frightening, my chair neighbor replied. And then she (divorced and living alone in her 70s) described an event in her own life recently where a middle-of-the-night experience filled her with fear that she might choke to death—alone. She, too, expressed a dread that she might not be discovered quickly and that she would lay dead, for maybe days. What is this fear we have? We choose our separateness, our aloneness. Someone gave this advice recently: “Get a dog!” “We already have two cats,” the other replied. And so on.

Family, home, what does this mean? I know what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have the courage to be alone, if that is what life is offering us. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have the courage to be different or more than we have convinced ourselves is our lot in life. It doesn’t mean that we saddle ourselves with reasons for not making new choices. Family does mean—if we are blessed to have been brought up in love—that we always feel close to our upbringing. We always feel connected, regardless of our current circumstance. The instinctive need to feel connected and stay connected is imprinted on us. I am away from all that I knew for the first 64 years of my life.

I am alone, by choice, even though I know I am not alone. Most of us are blessed to have family and friends who care about us, even though we sometimes question this. It is at those times that I remind myself to remind myself that I get what I give. If I want to be loved, I must love. If I want to be needed, I must need. “I'm not asking to be loved. I want to love.” So reads one of the inscriptions on the angel who hovers protectively at the start of the labyrinth walk in front of St. Francis Basilica here in Santa Fe. Loving—that is my assignment this day.

When I Think of Home—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 23, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Good Morning

As I lay only a little awake 15 minutes ago, thoughts of thankfulness played in my groggy brain. I stretched out belly down on my bed, also stretching my hands and feet and wiggling my fingers and toes. "Thank you!" I said to myself for feeling and smelling and hearing and tasting. Now I'm showered and my coffee is brewing, and I get to say "Good morning".

Gayle, my friend in substance and in spirit, has been talking to those who gather with her at various times about gratitude. We talk about so much more. “I am thankful for all that my life is and all that my life isn’t, especially what my life isn’t.” It doesn’t take much thought to assign meaning to that statement—what my life is and what my life isn’t.

Following the gentle but enthusiastic advice of my friend, I am forming the habit of giving thanks—before I go to sleep, when I first wake up in the morning, and any time during the day or night when monkey mind is trying to have its way with me. To remember family—now my two older sisters and our only aunt still living, along with the cousins who have been a part of my life in some way these 67 years—and the friends who let me know regularly that they want to spend time with me (How precious is that!) comes to mind so readily. To give thanks for the comforts of my home, the gifts of intelligence and creativity, for the privilege of expressing this intelligence and creativity, for the education gifted by my parents and the ability to earn a living, for opportunity to travel, even in some relatively modest way—all of this I could so easily take for granted.

Today I will follow my routine of reading for learning and growing and for fun. I will walk for health and nourish my body with good food. I will gather with fellow sojourners. I will talk to my sisters and, no doubt, to at least a couple of my friends. I will meet someone new, and in this meeting I will have the opportunity to make a loving difference in someone’s life.

As I lay half asleep earlier this morning, thoughts of thankfulness played in my groggy brain. I stretched out belly down on my bed, also stretching my hands and feet and wiggling my fingers and toes. An image of a cat leap- trotting across some terrain danced in my head. No particular fan of cats, although I appreciate their beauty and pay attention to their clever and amusing ways, I wonder about that image. "Hmm, thank you!" I said to myself for feeling and smelling and hearing and tasting. Now I'm showered, my coffee is brewed and lovely tasting, and I get to say "Good morning".

A Good Morning—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 18, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In the Evenin' Breeze

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love, Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please, Don't fence me in

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in

"Don't Fence Me In", Cole Porter

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Say it Again, Sam

Let me tell you a story. When I first came to Santa Fe three years ago, I had lunch one Sunday with a couple from Texas, members of the Episcopal Church I attended in a relatively small East Texas town, but one with a university of close to 15,000 students. They were out here visiting her brother, who although he had grown up in this town when it was much smaller, had gone on to become a landscape architect, lived in New Mexico for close to 30 years and was recently retired from the State. Of this couple, the husband is an ordained Presbyterian minister and a retired college English teacher. The wife, an accomplished writer on religion and life, and who is now legally blind but continues to write using special technology, has published a number of books, a few of which I have read, enjoyed and learned from.

I had known these folks for only a short time, while I attended the church were they were established members. In addition to being smart and learned, they both have a great sense of humor. Virtually the last thing she said to me before they let me out of the car that Sunday, after we had feasted on cheddar and green chile burgers and fries at the Lotta Burger, was something like, “don’t get caught up in any of this New Thought stuff here (maybe she even used the term “woo-woo”),” (which thrives in Santa Fe, as anyone who knows anything about Santa Fe might know, along with every stripe of Christianity, Buddhism, Universal Unitarianism and lots of stuff that I know absolutely nothing about). Over the last three years I have continued to read writings about Christianity, including Gnosticism, and I have read several books on Buddhism. After all, it’s all about God.

I stopped going to the Episcopal Church here in the spring of 2009. In June of 2008 I had moved my membership from the Cathedral in Houston, where proof of my life in the Episcopal Church had resided since the 80s. It wasn’t long after that I realized I would change my walk. My friend Steve had invited me to the Center for Spiritual Living (Church of Religious Science) on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2008. The evening was an open mike experience, where everyone was invited to step up to the mike and talk briefly about what he or she wanted to give thanks for. Most of the 50-60 people gathered stepped up, including a couple of kids. Neither Steve nor I did, however (When visiting churches, I don’t even like to answer the invitation to stand and introduce myself—even to receive the gift that always accompanies the invitation!). That Thanksgiving eve experience stuck with me, though. I had never had such an experience before.

I’m just now getting around to reading the writings of Ernest Holmes (Science of Mind), although I have been present at lots of Center for Spiritual Living gatherings since the summer of ‘09. Holmes is not an easy read. But hearing the principles of Holmes’s philosophy, which he did not intend becoming an organized religion, spoken on a regular basis, does catch my attention. One of my favorite times during the week is gathering with a group at noon Wednesday (for some time I have been the only guy), that is led by a practitioner, who has just this week completed her ordination as a minister. It is a time of great affirming. One of the daily writings from Science of Mind magazine included this quote recently: “There is one life. That life is God. That life is my life now.” Pardon me, for I repeat myself. Well, I like that. Let it mean what you want it to mean.

I will volunteer this morning at the Audubon center here in Santa Fe. I get to spend three hours in the visitor center each Tuesday, where I look out the window into the mountains, where a wealth of native flora thrives in the gardens and beyond, and where as you would expect, we have lots of birds. And rarely do you meet a jerk (only a know-it-all here and there) in such a splendid environment. A visitor from Austin, Texas recently—and until recently I hadn’t met many Texans on my shift—commented quietly and smiling to me, “I don’t know anything about birds”. I replied, just as quietly, “Neither do I”. And then I added, “That’s why we’re here”.

Say it Again, Sam—Santa Fe, New Mexico (August 3, 2010)
R. Harold Hollis