Unattachment – 50 years getting there

Today, at the age of sixty-eight, I think I’ve finally, finally, finally, learned the value of unattachment; have finally “got” why and how it helps us on a spiritual path. At last I comprehend that unattachment isn’t avoiding involvement or discomfort. It isn’t uncaring or distancing oneself. Rather it is the tool for experiencing life, especially difficult or complicated situations, with compassion and concern but without judgement of other people or oneself; and, thank God/dess, without soul-scorching pain.

Today I learned that no matter how compassionate and caring you are; no matter how calm and comforting; no matter how careful and precise you are with words; there are people who neither understand nor want to understand what you are doing for or saying to them.

Today, I let go of someone whom I hoped was a friend; whom I loved and supported; but who, now, several years after we met, neither needs nor wants what I offer. As usual, this sudden realization was a long time coming, and, as usual, it began with an incident that was mundane, surprising, petty and confusing. After a frenzied exchange of pretty much useless messages that lasted less than a day, I decided simply to drop it. To let it go. I felt completely and absolutely mystified, struggling to find words; she seemed irrational and unable to get what I was saying. It was pointless. The blinding flash in my brain late last night was, “Stop it. Just stop it.” So I did.

Today, this was the discovered lesson: Unattachment to outcome makes life changes bearable. Though the process had saddened me deeply (I had cried while writing e-mails), confused me, and frustrated me, when I accepted; when I sighed and said out loud, “This is what is supposed to happen,” as opposed to what I wished would happen, the pain and confusion stopped.

So today, finally, after fifty-four years, I observed myself letting go without could-haves, would-haves, maybes or any other self-recriminations. I say fifty-four years because, when I was fourteen –I remember this vividly– and stretched out on my bed weeping uncontrollably, my dad knocked and came into my room.

He asked, “Anna-Marie?”

I nodded. “She said she doesn’t want me to be her friend any more.”

Daddy looked at me for what seemed like minutes. He had warned me about her when he met her, but he didn’t say I-told-you-so. What he said was, “You’re too willing to help people. Girls who need someone find you and they take what you give. But they’re never really friends. You’ll be hurt a lot in life if you don’t learn to be more careful.”

He could have gone on to list about half a dozen girls who were my constant companions for a time, sometimes months, sometimes years; then just disappeared as suddenly as they’d appeared. He could have told me stories of his own painful experiences.

But what he said was, “Most people never even have one true friend in life. If you find that one true friend, you’ll be very lucky.”

My mother was more practical and ruthless. “She hurt you. She rejected you. You don’t need her. You’ll meet a lot of people like her, and you’ve gotta’ learn how to spot them.”

It seems pretty pathetic that it’s taken me almost 60 years to learn this lesson. Mama would say that it’s because I’m hard-headed; I got that from my father. Daddy would say it’s because I wanted to help people, and I had no instinct for self-preservation.

What I say is that I am grateful for having finally learned the lesson. Grateful for understanding that unattachment fosters forgiveness. And grateful for my lifelong friends, riches beyond all imagining, because I have many, not just the one my dad hoped I would find.

I do wish that I knew how this episode was assimilated by the other person. What filled her messages were anger, fear, defensiveness, misinterpretation, misunderstanding, vengefulness, disappointed expectations. . .  But these are immediate and emotional responses. I wonder what the longer lasting effects will be. But I will never know.

Meditate Anywhere

One of the best practical aspects of Vedic meditation is that you can do it anywhere. You don’t need a candle, incense or yoga mat. You don’t need to sit in a special posture or hold your hands in a particular position. In fact, the teacher’s guidance is very simple: Sit comfortably, close your eyes for a few moments, and begin your mantra. Don’t worry about thoughts; let them come; then gently bring the mantra  back.

Ambient noise isn’t an important factor, either. Yes, you can settle in for Vedic meditation anywhere. I’ve meditated on trains and planes; in churches, Quaker meeting houses, libraries, cafes, art museums; on park benches and sitting on the ground with my back against a tree. I’ve meditated inside quite a few theatres and adjacent areas, including the bar in the Swan Theatre at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the huge lounge area at the National Theatre. (It’s fascinating to me that, in over forty years of practice, I have never been approached or bothered while I’m meditating in a public place. I don’t know what the mechanism is –psychic? energetic? politeness? what?– but it just doesn’t happen.)

There are, of course, yoga asanas and breathing techniques that can be done before and after meditation to enhance its effectivenes. And a nice, quiet place is the ideal setting. But these are perfect conditions and not always possible.

Regularity of your practice is crucial to realizing its full benefits. There are lots of meditation techniques, and each person’s need is unique, as is his/her steadfastness in regular practice. That daily practice is important, however, and Vedic meditation is very flexible. When you’re running late, you don’t have to skip your meditation. You can do it on the train or during your lunch hour.You can reap delicious life benefits through this simple routine.

For more information about Vedic meditation, these links:http://www.londonmeditationcentre.com/ http://www.newyorkmeditationcenter.com/                                            http://thomknoles.com/

This last one is being updated (as of March, 2016) but is a directory of Vedic meditation teachers around the world: http://www.vedicnetwork.com/




Atheist Friends – On Further Consideration

True confessions time: After over ten years of searching in England for a Meeting for Worship that gathers fully, where we can hear the buzzing sound of the Spirit, and see the Light flowing from person to person around the circle, I realize that I resent the “non-theists” in the circle, who, I perceive, prevent the Meeting from gathering. In absolute truth, I wish they would take themselves off to the atheist church in London.

When I first entered that Quaker silent meeting in Berkeley, I felt surrounded and cushioned by the silence. I immediately felt a sense of arms encompassing my whole body. The meeting had started, so I sat in the nearest empty chair. The silence was profound, one might even say deafening. I sank into it, felt enveloped and humbled; then elated and energized by an audible buzz that seemed to be moving from person to person around the circle. No one spoke, so the silence was deep and full; but late in the meeting, a heartily suckling baby broke the silence, though not the connection around the circle.

The next week, the experience was completely different. There was a restlessness in the room– much squeaking of chairs , many heavy sighs, many shuffling feet. Half a dozen people stood up to speak, one very profoundly about the war that had just started in Iraq (1990). But there were long periods of silence, with a sense of connection similar to what I’d felt in the first meeting.

In the ladies’ room after my second meeting, a voice from the next stall said, “You got any paper in that stall?”

I said yes, and handed a wad of toilet tissue under the bottom edge of the stall.

As we washed our hands, she said, “You’re new here. Where do you come from?”

“I’m an ex-Catholic.”

“Ah,” she said, “You’d be surprised how many of us there are here.”

When I read the three-panel brochure about Strawberry Creek Monthly Meeting, I noted that the description of the meeting was “Christ-centered,” not Christian. I gathered that Worship and Ministry committee, who produced the brochure, thought that “Christian” had been hijacked by fundamentalists; and they didn’t want to discourage any newcomers.

Getting to know people in the meeting, I was fascinated but not surprised that about a third of the members were refugees from the Catholic Church. Say what you want about the dogma, misogyny, paedophilia and other disgusting elements of Catholicism, when the Catholics get you as a child (and they did, then, demanding that even children in mixed marriages be reared Catholic), they give you a thirst for the mystical, the inexpressible. As Howard Brinton points out in 300 Years of Friends, Quakers and Catholics are the only mainstream religions that hold to the actual experience of the presence of Christ during worship. But I’m getting off the track here.

What I’m getting to is that each Meeting for Worship is a unifying experience, connecting those present in a manner that is unique and inexpressibly profound. It is not merely sitting quietly, cogitating or musing, without focus or intention. It is a communal act, a communal calling on the Holy Spirit(or Christ or God) to be present among us, to make that presence known in a way that we humans can recognize.

Silent worship requires devotion, an old-fashioned word, but the truest to my meaning that I can find. It requires us to be devoted to the community through and in Divine Energy or Presence. It requires at minimum the desire to experience God’s presence.

An atheist does not have this desire. An atheist does not focus on the experience of The Devine. An atheist does not wish to connect through the Holy Spirit or any other Divine Entity– because an atheist does not accept the existence of the Divine, does not seek to know God or to participate in a spiritual community. Atheists are simply Not Interested in spiritual connection.

So, yes, I resent their presence in meeting for worship. And my observation, after so many years seeking the kind intense spiritual connection I knew in my first meeting, is that when atheists are present, it is almost impossible for a meeting to gather. Each individual Friend may feel the movement of the Spirit, but it is not possible to gather completely and wholly as a spiritual community because some people in the room do no participate worshipfully. It doesn’t happen because the people sitting in the room are not all focussed on the calling of the Spirit.

India: Pictures from Shiva Country

Parmarth Niketan, the ashram where we stayed in March, is in northwest India, where Shiva is the revered local divinity. As Krishna is in Vrindivan, so Shiva is through this region. Here are some pictures of shrines to and images of Shiva.

This is the beautiful face of the Shiva statue that sits on the platform over the Ganges.  It is on this platform that major worship  and celebration events are held.

This is the beautiful face of the Shiva statue that sits on the platform over the Ganges. It is on this platform that major worship and celebration events are held.

Longer view of Shiva on a sunny morning. Sorry for the power lines; I took it from the window in our room.

Longer view of Shiva on a sunny morning. Sorry for the power lines; I took it from the window in our room.

Taken on an overcast afternoon, but it shows the lion and other symbols that usually accompany Shiva.

Taken on an overcast afternoon, but it shows the lion and other symbols that usually accompany Shiva.

Exterior of a small village shirne to Shiva and Shakti.

Exterior of a small village shirne to Shiva and Shakti.

Shiva (left) and, smaller, Shakti inside the shrine. Notice that Shiva is decked in flowers, and Shakti is dressed in silks. She reminded me of the Infant of Prague, who is often  dressed by devoted women in Italian Catholic churches.

Shiva (left) and, smaller, Shakti inside the shrine. Notice that Shiva is decked in flowers, and Shakti is dressed in silks. She reminded me of the Infant of Prague, who is often dressed by devoted women in Italian Catholic churches.

Incredibly, intricated carved Shiva shrine. Very Detailed, very colourful!

Incredibly, intricated carved Shiva shrine. Very Detailed, very colourful!

Close-up of one of the friezes on the shrine. There are hundreds.

Close-up of one of the friezes on the shrine. There are hundreds.

Dancing Shiva, in the garden of Parmarth Niketan

Dancing Shiva, in the garden of Parmarth Niketan

What Technology Can Be Used To Create Spiritual Experience?

This questions was asked on a discussion forum. The following was my answer:

No technology is needed. Nor are drugs, medical equipment or any other means outside your own mind and body, heart and soul. The possibility of spiritual experiences is often overlooked because we are not paying attention. And spiritual moments, in my experience, are more often small and meaningful than big and eventful. For me, spiritual experiences come every day. Meditation leads to spiritual experience; I meditate twice a day. Some people find prayer spiritually uplifting. The object is to connect with the Source (God, Goddess, Nature, the Absolute, the Spirit–whatever your terminology is), to feel the connection and carry that feeling into whatever you do in daily life. Connection is between you and the Source. Nothing else is needed to connect, just your desire and consciousness. When you experience the connection– a sense of joy, of elation, of contentment or comfort–you can carry that with you as you deal with people, work, situations, etc. all the time. You can have a “spiritual experience” all the time.

India: Joyous Moments in Krishna Country

Entry courtyard to the temple

Entry courtyard to the temple

Coming home from India, it seems perfect for me to write first about the high point for me of our stay there.. We saw, heard, smelled, touched and tasted lots of unfamiliar things, experiences to remember for a lifetime. But for me, our visit to the Krishna Balaram Mandir in Vrindavan, the home temple of Krishna Consciousness, was the happiest experience of our trip. The Krishna Consciousness movement (ISKcon) is a 20th century movement founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. His inspiration was to renew joy and life in the worship of Krishna, the god-hero in the Baghavad- Gita, one of the holy books of India. He brought the movement to the USA in 1966. He died in 1977, and his body is interred at this temple.

We arrived at the mandir during noontime worship. This was the most joyful worship I’ve ever seen; people sang and danced in ecstatic happiness.  The “Hare Krishnas” may be viewed in the USA as airport and sidewalk nuisances, but here, where people revere and love Krishna, their worship is deep, ecstatic and true. The lead musician here was so obviously American that I gave him a big smile and a wave, which he returned doubly.

Then  a genuine Little Old Lady in a gorgeous yellow sari, grabbed me and pushed me toward the altar, where one of the monks was distributing flowers after worship concluded. She came up to about my armpit and looked very frail, but she was wiry and surprisingly strong. She gave me several good pushes. She spoke only Hindi, so I asked our

One of the many images of Krishna

guide what she was saying. He said she really, really wanted me to have some flowers from Krishna’s altar. But because I don’t worship Krisha as God, I felt that I shouldn’t take flowers when so many believers wanted them. Nevertheless, our guide waded into the crowd and got some flowers for himself and gave me some of his. The Little Old Lady smiled and patted me on the arm.

One of the three altars draped with flowers

One of the three altars draped with flowers

The sun is hot and blinding by March in India, but, even though the temple had a courtyard open to the sky, it was cooler and kinder to the eyes inside.   We paused a moment by the founder’s tomb, and by a beautiful sculpture of him. And Ian bought a copy of the Baghavad-gita at the book stall just outside the temple.

Later in the day we visited Krishna’s birthplace — a parallel to Christianity’s Bethlehem. Ironically, the actual reputed birthplace is in a building that abuts a mosque, and there have been constant legal wrangles about the spot since the 1930s. The wheels of justice –especially in civil suits– in India grind incredibly slow.

The birthplace mandir is huge and built of red sandstone, very different from all of the other temples we visited, which were of marble and/or granite. Photographs are not allowed in the major temples. No cameras, cell phones, or other electronic devices are allowed, and you are searched even more thoroughly than at the airport. There have been several bombings of major temples, and threats of more. The Indian government takes these seriously and the Indian military (not civil police) now guards these temples, machine guns slung over their shoulders.  They are polite and more-or-less laid back, but absolutely vigilant and aware of all the activity around them. It was chilling and disappointing to be surrounded by armed men at such an important  sacred site. The Indians visiting there seemed to either ignore the military or to take it in their stride. I couldn’t help feeling a deep sadness over the need for their presence.

Quakerism – A Thought from Pink Dandelion

Was clearing some things off my desk, putting books back on shelf, throwing old notes in the recycle bin, and stopped to flip through Living the Quaker Way, which I read last winter after taking a course from Ben Pink Dandelion. Although thoroughly scholarly in his academic career, Ben is also a deeply spiritual man who can write simply, clearly, freshly and wholly from the heart and soul:

Quakerism is our attempt at collective congruity with the workings of the Spirit and it can change as it needs to. The future of how we practise our faith lies in all of our hands and hearts, in our collective discernment. There is no ‘they’ in Quakerism, only ‘us’, and we are all learning all the time, open to new Light, continuing to seek along the spiritual path we call the Quaker Way.