Wednesday, May 25, 2011

All I Have to Do is Pay Attention

All I have to do is pay attention. Not so easy, I say. It makes sense in theory, as advice I give to myself or someone else and that anyone else might give to me. In practice, remaining conscious and present so I behave knowing that what I send out comes back to me—that’s a tough one. And though I’ve had six decades to practice, it doesn’t seem to get any easier. My doing, I know.

Last Sunday my friend Steve and I planned a day of enjoying the examples of architecture on the 2011 AIA Albuquerque architecture tour. We began Saturday afternoon by attending a lecture at the University of New Mexico. I had decided to skip church Sunday morning so that we could get an earlier start. Come morning, though, I was beside myself. Events of the previous week had me in their clutches. I wasn’t in the mind to go to church or go on the tour. I just wanted to stew in my anger. Steve suggested that we go to a Center for Spiritual Living different from the one we usually go to. “He’s (the minister) is talking about karma,” Steve added. I need that, I thought. And so I did.

As I sat listening to the minister’s talk (I had heard him only once before and remembered how much his words had rung true for me), I could only say to myself, thank you, thank you, thank you. I could have quietly moved my lips. I could have said it out loud. Most of us misunderstand the meaning of karma—I guess making it into something more complicated and exotic than it really is—the minister offered, in a raspy voice that I now realize characterizes his normal way of speaking. Quoting the work of Deepak Chopra—he summarized it simply. We get what we give. For every thought, action and word, there is a consequence. If I give anger, I get anger back. If I choose to live in distrust, distrust is exactly what I will get. If I can’t forgive—either myself or others—that’s right, then forgiveness is a gift I will be denied. From the scriptures, “…for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7-8, KJV)

Leading up to last Sunday, I had let someone I hardly know tap into my insecurity. I had allowed him to poke a needle into my fears. And I had responded defensively. Cause and effect. I fell into my old habit of being my own worst critic. And ultimately, all I wanted to do was withdraw and look for a place of safety. In the course of that, I became angry. And though I knew the anger shouldn’t be directed at anyone, including me, I wasn’t sure of what to do with it. I forgot what I already know—that what others say to or about us is not about us. It is indeed about them. “Don’t take things personally,” reminds Don Miguel Ruiz in his short book titled “The Four Agreements”. He builds his philosophy on four simple principles: be impeccable with your word; don't take anything personally; don't make assumptions; always do your best. Last week I had fallen into the trap of violating all four of these principles.

I guess it took a bit of a crisis to get me back to where I know I should be. And so it is, I think, for most of us. How easy it is to forget that what we sow is what we reap. Life is full of metaphor and parable and experiences that are oh, so real. At dinner last Saturday night with three others, including my challenge over the previous few days, I thought about the potential power of our words and the power that we give away to others. The only female at the table talked about her experience recently with a man she had allowed to wound her. He had violated her trust. As she talked about the distrust that has taken root in the front of her mind and on the top of her heart, at least for now, I began to think about my own responsibility to myself. It wasn’t until Sunday morning, as the minister made his way around his talk on karma that things began to fall into place for me. They will fall out of place again, of course. But I have the peace of knowing that I know how to do the next right thing. I understand the laws of cause and effect. I believe, absolutely, that what I give is what I get. I know that I am always at choice. I know that no one else has the right or the power to define who and what I am. And so it is.

All I Have to Do is Pay Attention—Albuquerque, NM (May 24, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis

Sunday, May 22, 2011

"Come with me...and you'll see"

"If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.
Anything you want to, do it. Wanta change the world? There's nothing to it."
(Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, "Pure Imagination")

Sunday, May 15, 2011

"One may not reach the dawn save by the path of night." (attributed to Kahlil Gibran)

Friday, May 13, 2011

What does it matter?

“Then the disciples came and asked him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ He answered, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets (or mysteries) of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.’” Matthew 13:10-12, NRSV

I find it really hard trying to wrap my mind around the slings and arrows that man and woman and child are called to suffer. Yes, I understand about choices. It was choice, perhaps generations old, that led people to inhabit flood-prone areas along the Mississippi—be they farmers, who have banked their livelihood here, or people who for the lack of a different plan simply live here—here where the swollen and angry river is now reclaiming its own. Choices are being made to sacrifice less populated areas to save more populated areas.

Who among us wants to explain to William Jefferson, who lives near Vicksburg, Mississippi, about his family’s poor choices? “It’s almost like being shot in the heart…I’m about out of prayers. Don’t know. Just wait.” That’s what Mr. Jefferson said when he was interviewed on the national network news. Like many others, everything he owns is being swept away by the river.

“Can’t just watch everything go away. Gotta fight.” So explained another resident along the river in Louisiana. We watch the news footage of people packing the belongings they have decided they don’t want to live without. How does anyone decide? Family photos and other family treasure, legal documents? We watch communities coming together to pile bags of sand in an effort to stay the river as it intends to lay its claim. “Can’t just watch everything go away. Gotta fight.”

If you have to say something, please don’t call this an act of God. And please don’t remind us that it’s all about choice. It is first and foremost about loss. Soon the river will make its way to the Gulf—having left a path of destruction in its wake—and soon the national news will go on to other stories. Many of us who have watched this separated by hundreds of miles from the scene will open our pocketbooks to contribute to some organization whose sole purpose is to come to the aid of people in times of upheaval and loss. Many of us individually and collectively will offer prayers for the victims. It is what we do. Will we really understand? Does it really matter? Reaching out to one another is sometimes what we do best. That does matter.

What does it matter?—Albuquerque, New Mexico (May 13, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Stories of Triumph

Last Saturday, as my friend Steve and I watched the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, I was reminded of how much I love stories of triumph. Of course, I realize that I’m in the masses on that. Did I understand that millions of people who don’t even follow horse racing traditionally turn on the television for the annual pageant at Churchill Downs? I hadn’t kept up with the news leading up to the Derby, so I had no inkling of the projected winner. Even at this point, I’m unclear about the hoopla leading up to the race, although I now realize that the “favorite” was withdrawn just hours before the race due to illness. As the interviews and film footage about the various horses, their owners and trainers wound up and then down toward the race, I was only partially focused on the story and hype. Frankly, I don’t know where my attention was otherwise directed, although I do know that my laptop was in fact in my lap.

The race—hailed as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”—brought to mind books and movies about horse racing that I’ve enjoyed—most recently, “Secretariat”, indeed a story of triumph. And being reminded of that, we rented the movie on the spot. For two hours I was totally engaged, even though I had seen the film on the big screen when it came out. As the story unfolded and when it was once again completed, I wrapped my heart and mind around the people and the horse. After taking both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, Secretariat won the 1-1/2 mile Belmont Stakes, the last leg of the Triple Crown, and in a time of 2 minutes, 24 seconds. As portrayed in the film story, the crowd of 70,000 was stunned as Secretariat took the lead and widened the gap between him and his closest competitor, more and more and more, to 31 lengths. We hear about the heart of a champion, and truly, Secretariat loved to run. Only after his death and when he was autopsied was it revealed that physically he had a bigger than average heart.

To get to the American thoroughbred racing’s most coveted event in 1973, a lot had to happen, starting even before his birth. And Secretariat’s story is also the story of one woman’s triumph over the odds—those who bet against her and worked against her, including her own brother and husband. She did the work, she had the faith, and she made the sacrifices. And we love the way the story turns out. We love the way truth unfolds to remind us of how capable we are when we believe and when our beliefs are worthy and honorable.

I’m not a big sports fan. I like to hear that the University of Texas has won a conference or national title. I like to watch the races for the Triple Crown, but especially the Kentucky Derby.
While still living in Houston, I went with friends to the racetrack on a summer Thursday afternoon in 2000. It was thoroughbred racing that day. As I stood with many others watching as the horses walked from the paddock to the track, I was moved by the grace and beauty of the horses, and the form of the jockeys who sat astride them. I can only imagine what it must be like to be in a similar place when the horses vying for the Triple Crown make their way to the track for each of these races. There is a winner every time. And I know that who wins does matter, but only sometimes to me. What matters most is that we connect with the story of the people, and in the matter of thoroughbred racing, of course, the horses.

Stories of Triumph—Albuquerque, New Mexico (May 10, 2011)
R. Harold Hollis

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." Mother Teresa

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Monday, May 2, 2011

Old-fashioned Mock Orange

Over the last four years this resilient Mock Orange has rebounded each year, in spite of a Texas summer pounding. By the time the dog days of summer arrive, this simple beauty will no doubt show signs of weariness. For the time, though, once again its fragrance has signaled the hope of spring.