Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Beauty of Books

Wow, what an awesome journey the past year has been!  I have so much to say as I continue to follow my Buddhist path; my heart is bursting with joy and gratitude, my mind expanding with new wisdom and insights.  But today, I simply want to share a lovely, funny story I heard.  It came to me from a dear and compassionate friend, just a few hours ago.

And it's a true story, making it all the more wonderful:

A woman writer had just completed her first novel.  She was overwhelmed with a sense of pride and accomplishment.  Soon after, she stopped by a book shop and told the clerk, "I just finished my first novel, and I'm so excited I had to share it with someone!"  The clerk smiled back in appreciation and exclaimed, "Wow, really?  That is awesome!"  The writer beamed with renewed pride and joy.  The clerk then asked, "So will you be buying your second book today?"

I just love this story on so many levels!  First off, I used to be a reading tutor, and I've supported literacy programs throughout my life in any way I can.  Reading is such an amazing gift, a window to the world, knowledge, other cultures, etc.  Literacy is something I'm passionate about.  But I'm also a writer and know that immense feeling of accomplishment when a new story is complete.  I can only imagine the pleasure and pride of completing a full-length novel.  It's so precious to me that this bookstore clerk celebrated what she perceived as the awesome achievement of reading one's first book.  The fact that we can so completely misunderstand each other is also entertaining to me.

As for the writer in this story, who is now an accomplished novelist with a string of bestsellers to her credit, I am certain she tells this story at her multiple book signings because it makes her fans laugh... but also because she learned from this experience.  I think this story reminded her to stay humble.   But it also highlighted the reason we writers write -- it's to be read!!  That's the ultimate goal, to share one's words through writing.  Without literacy, our words would fall on deaf ears, never reach anyone's heart or mind.

So please read a book today.  Better yet, read someone else a book who can't do it for themselves.  Better still, TEACH someone to read!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Back on Track (so to speak)

For anyone following my progress since the "accident" (Setting:  garage sale / Incident:  old lady lifted out of chair / Result:  herniated disc and sacral torsion / Clarification:  the lady walked away unharmed, while I've been having physical therapy for the past year), I'm back on track, at least mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

I'm not a whole lot better in terms of my SI joint dysfunction and referred pain from the herniated disc.  I still cannot bear sitting or standing for more than a few minutes at a time.  But I can tolerate the pain and disability a whole lot more now that my other parts are in good working order.  I speak of the mind, the heart and the spirit, which all contribute to one's wellness.  I've learned how true that is over the course of time, and especially most recently.

Something significant and transformative happened to me in early August.  First, I had yet another complete meltdown, triggered by ferocious anger and fear and sadness.  I missed my former way of life. It was robust, full of stimulating activities; I was writing full-time (a long-time dream fulfilled), attending a weekly writer's workshop, participating in a drum circles, Bluegrass jams, singing karaoke, learning how to dance to Dubstep music, walking three miles a day, attending a Socrates Cafe coffee shop chats every week, driving or flying home to see my family in Ohio at least twice a year and so much more.  It was all gone, and I had no idea if or when I'd ever get it back.

Then, something surprising happened within me: Total SURRENDER.  I said to myself, "I'm letting go." Thereafter, I began a focused study of and attention on Buddhism.  It's something I've been thinking about for some time.  Yes, me a Buddhist.  Just maybe.  This is amazing stuff and, so far, all its principles have me utterly fascinated and in awe.  Everything is connecting with me and resonating within me at a very deep level.  Unlike most spiritual tenets or belief systems, I've found nothing remotely "icky" about it.  In fact, in some ways, Buddhism is very scientific, which greatly appeals to the common sense, rational side of me.  The original Buddha and His Holiness, The Dalai Lama, both urge followers or potential followers to constantly question the Buddha's teachings, test them in a mindful, methodical way.  I like that.

The first thing I did was contact a good friend, whom I knew was a practicing Buddhist.  He agreed to help me along my journey or studies, however you want to put it.  He also recommended several books.  So far, I've read four amazing books, so far, and have just opened my fifth, each about Eastern philosophy (Taoism and Hinduism but mostly Buddhism).  One book was written by an Indian Spiritual Guru whom I've admired and read many times over and whose workshops I've attended over the years, one by an American Psychologist, one by a Tibetan nun, one by an American Psychologist, Buddhist Practitioner, best-selling author and former Tibetan Monk and another by a lesser known Italian Psychologist/Buddhist Practitioner.

One thing that really surprised me is that many great Buddhist teachers do not consider Buddhism a religious discipline but a psychological discipline.  In fact, the Buddha, himself, said that his teaching was neither a dogma nor a doctrine. He taught a method for experiencing reality.  Buddhism has but one practical purpose:  to end suffering and achieve a permanent state of serenity.

Today, moment by moment, experience by experience, I find my heart opening, tears of joy and gratitude spilling over.  I realized I have been on this path all my life, the path toward Buddhism or at least some mixture of Eastern philosophy with a focus on Buddhism.  I've always been open-minded and will continue to be.  I'll continue to attend my beloved and uber-tolerant United Unitarian Universalist church for wisdom, community and opportunities for service.  And I'll continue to study and learn about all schools of thought, all spiritual doctrines or methods throughout my life.  But in the here and now, I realize that there have been stepping stones leading me to this moment throughout my life and this realization of where I've been heading could not have come at a better time in my life.

So many little stepping stones or seeds have appeared along my journey, and though I walked the path, I often also danced around it, easily distracted, always seeking other truth, always questioning.  For whatever reason, I never really gave Buddhism, specifically, my full-on focus and attention... until now.

I'm just at the beginning of my study, and likely, practice of Buddhism, but I can honestly say I've never felt more fully awake before, nor more fully connected to others (humans, animals, plants, rocks, etc.)  on this earth and beyond, than I do today.  We are all connected in our mutual suffering and our mutual love and compassion for one another and so we belong to one another.  In fact, we cannot exist independently of anything else.  It's truly amazing... the more I study this, the more joyous I feel.

Therefore... I am doing much better now, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  I'm sorry for my recent doom and gloom blog entries.  I think they shall be a thing of the past.  I'm still human.  I'll have the inevitable hiccups and downer days.  But I have the feeling they will come less and less, despite what life throws at me.

As for the "physical" improvement, it will also come... in its own time.  I have refocused on what is important in life.  I am full of happiness and excitement and passion today!!  I am still in pain and limited in what I can do (cannot sit or stand long yet).  But I am throwing myself into life with a new abandon because of this meditation and study and the deep spiritual insight that it brings.

For example... this morning I awoke in pain at a very early hour (3 AM).  Instead of fighting it and laying awake for hours, I got out of bed, made a cup of peppermint tea, then kneeled in front of our big sliding glass doors that lead out to our patio (our "oasis," with a rock garden, trees, flowers, birds, etc.).  Due to my recent studies, my awareness and senses have been enhanced.  Also, I feel more appreciation for every moment, the here and now, despite my physical pain and isolation.  I do agree that experiencing extreme physical pain can lead you to a beautiful place if you let it.  And I think my past year's journey has lead me here too.

So I kneeled there and gazed up at the pale moonlit olive tree and listened to the beautiful sound of a female Cicada singing.  I think that's what it was.  I call her my "Dharma bug" because her song consists of a series of perfect high "D" notes and it is so peaceful and soft like the sound of a cat purring.  Truly!  I then noticed the chorus, no, the symphony of other insects singing around her and felt such joy!  I heard the wind blowing softly through the leaves and the slight crackle as a small mouse or other creature moved through dry leaves nearby.  I  heard a bat or a large insect bounce against the window pane.

Then I walked outside in my nightgown, bare feet on wet grass, and looked at the stars, so clear in the early morning country sky, and the waning three-quarter moon and I could smell the sweet scent of ripening apples in our apple trees, and citrusy scent of our row of pine trees.  I could hear the sound of David snoring through his window (I laughed) and I was and still am so happy.  It is all so amazing, isn't it?  Life?  Truly amazing, beautiful and such an adventure, moment by moment if we awake to it, appreciate it.  I've always been a huge nature lover and found my most peaceful moments among the trees, out bird-watching or scratching out a poem under a tree, but this was new, this awareness is new to me.

What I mean by all this is… I'm hanging in there and, though doing whatever my doctors say to do to continue to heal, I also accept my life as it is for the moment, and trust that everything is continuously changing.  That is the nature of life, its impermanence.  In my heart, I know everything will be fine.  And that heart brims over with new joy.  I cannot wait to share this joy with everyone I meet.  I feel it spilling over, in my eyes, in my posture, in my words.  All I want, right in this moment, is to become a more compassionate person with more wisdom.  And I know that is possible, no matter what my circumstances.

It all starts now.  Anything is possible in any given moment.  You just have to open your eyes, see it and smile.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Upcoming Stories... An UPDATE!

I was elated this afternoon to hear that "Salem Cemetery," published by Inwood Indiana Press, has finally been released in paperback.  This book is an anthology and has two of my short stories, "Lycanthrope" and "Mandolyn."  Both stories are written in the Magic-Realism genre.  

UPDATE!  I just received news that "Apeshit," another anthology, has been published by Exeter Press in paperback form.  This issue includes my short story, "Strange Companions at London Zoo."  Of all the stories I've written, this general interest story is one I'm most fond of, given that one of the story's main characters is "Gee," a mountain gorilla.  Next to wolves and koalas, mountain gorillas are my next favorite animal.  They are truly beautiful creatures with more depth and intelligence than most people give them credit for.  I hope anyone out there who gives that story a gander will feel the same way I do about it (the story and the mountain gorilla).

I have to keep this short because I'm still having trouble sitting or standing for more than a few minutes at a time (back injury and SI joint dysfunction).  Though my sacrum is killing me, my fingers are itching to write again.  I hope to be back to full-length blog entries, as well as more short stories, as soon as I'm healed, and I will continue to share links to this blog with all my email friends whenever there is something new to report.

Until next time...