Monday, September 23, 2013

DOUBLE BUBBLE – Finding the Miraculous in the Mundane

PHOTO: Tony Matthews
Brushing my teeth this morning. Saw something out of the corner of my eye, a tiny bubble about the size of a BB. Filled with the warmth of my breath, it hovered next to my face for a eight or ten seconds before cooling, falling. Then it popped, and inside was a second precious bubble half the size.
Sometimes there's joy to be found in the most mundane of tasks...if you're ready to see it.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A WING AND A PRAYER – The Amazing Reach of Presence

When it comes to praying, I suppose I’m no different from the next person. I thank my god—that incomprehensible power I think of as the architect of everything— for the privilege of being alive, and ask for guidance in proving worthy of that gift.

I say thanks for the good fortune that I and those I love are in reasonably good health and have come to no harm today. And I count my many other blessings: peace where I live, my country’s hard-won freedoms, a loving family, devoted friends, a beautiful home in a caring community, a safe,  comfortable bed and plenty of food to eat.

     Nearly all that good fortune has befallen me...
     by the sheer luck of the draw.

I acknowledge that nearly all that good fortune has befallen me not because of anything I might have done to deserve it. Not because I’m better, smarter, more thoughtful or more conscientious than anyone else, but by the sheer luck of the draw.

I think of all the millions of folks around the world who, no less deserving than I, experience few if any of the blessings I enjoy. I ask my god to let the next hand they’re dealt include at least a few cards of comfort and hope.

The part of my prayer I find most compelling is one I’ve added just recently, a product, I’m sure, of having read hundreds of books about sailors and explorers fighting for survival. (Besides the obvious escapism, I guess such stories help put my own day-to-day challenges into perspective.)

I ask my god to bless those who are lost, perhaps trapped in a collapsed building or mine, mired deep in a remote jungle, adrift at sea or unjustly imprisoned. Or maybe they’re lost in plain sight, surrounded by people living carefree lives, yet unnoticed, unloved and desperately lonely.

I ask my god to let each of these casualties actually feel my prayer, coming directly from me, right then and there, in real time.

Please, I pray, hold these forlorn souls in the warm embrace of all that is good, loving and beautiful about life. Give them the hope, the strength, the faith to hold on. Let me be perhaps the one person in the world who notices them and accepts the privilege of helping…somehow.


And—now here’s the part that makes this prayer feel like no other—I ask my god not just to intercede, but to let each of these casualties actually feel my prayer, coming directly from me, right then and there, in real time.

Think of it. You’re afraid, you’re in pain, you’re exhausted. You wonder if anyone even knows you’re there. Chances are you’ve lost all hope. You struggle to accept the reality of dying. And, worst of all, you are utterly alone.

Then it comes, like the first human touch after years of isolation, the strong sense, the certainty, that someone, a real, live person, knows you’re there. Someone has found you and cares what happens to you. (At that moment it may be more important just to know it’s someone than for it to be one who can physically save you.)
Does anyone else find this notion incredibly moving? What does it all mean to those of us who are wander and wonder?

    Never doubt the power of what we human 
    beings...can do with our minds and our spirits.


The idea that one might be present for a stranger halfway around the world is not just some new-age pie in the sky. It’s a belief in the incredible power of human beings’ connection with one another (and everything else, for that matter). Like our capacity for love, wonder and happiness, that connection is hard-wired into us from birth.

But the older we get, it seems, the easier it is to misplace this gift of connection. We get distracted into thinking life is more complicated than that. We get so overwhelmed with the challenges of caring about those closest to us that we forget the power we have to affect others, even total strangers. Maybe we just get lazy and self-centered.

      I don't have the slightest shred of evidence. 
      But does that really matter? 

Never doubt the power of what we human beings, with our unique abilities to reflect and create, can do with our minds and our spirits. We have the ability, rare among all living things, to care about more than our self-interest. And we have the unique capacity to converse with the great spirit.

With those two gifts alone we can be forces of love, healing and salvation—for our fellow beings, for all living organisms, for the earth. And the range of that beneficence is limited by nothing but our faith.

So can we really connect spiritually with a hopeless stranger on the other side of the earth or across town, one separated from a fearful, solitary death by no more than a wing and a prayer? I don't have the slightest shred of evidence. But does that really matter?

Isn't this one of those ideas that's just too damn good to let a little doubt get in the way? Try it. After all, it takes just two things for it to work: your faith in love, kindness and the oneness of everyone and everything; and the openness of spirit of that one desperate person who, perhaps just subconsciously, is waiting for you.

A good bet, if you ask me.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

CALL ME CAP'N CRUNCH – Walking On Acorns

While out on my evening walk yesterday, I found myself doing something that's become, for me, a harbinger of autumn. I crunched dry acorns underfoot. In fact, I go out of my way, to the very edges of the sidewalk where most of the iconic little oak bombs lie, swept aside by the elements and a hundred other walkers.

Whole acorns don't crunch so easily; even the broken ones still have a little meat
to cushion the blow. But those little caps, they're the crème de la crème of crunch, delivering a crunch so deep and satisfying you can feel it in your head.

Be careful, though. If you step and there's no give, there you are on a bed of ball bearings, and the crunch you hear might indeed be in your head.

Here, fittingly, is one of my favorite posts in my series, 101 Tips on How to Be 
In the Moment.

 TIP #65
Celebrate your own footsteps.

A whisper through crispy autumn leaves; the earnest crunch of dried acorns; the thin chatter of a kicked pebble.

Though they bear the weight of the world, let your feet proclaim their joy…not just in getting somewhere, but in the going.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

UP – 120 Degrees of Separation

It’s easy to think of discovery as something that happens at arm’s length. When I’m walking in the woods or on the beach, I tend to be looking close, looking down. Maybe I pick something up and look even closer.

Sure, I look around—at the path ahead, at other people, at animals on the ground or in the lowest branches of the trees. But raising my gaze more than 20 or 30 degrees above the horizon is something I have to keep reminding myself to do more often.

   What are we missing when we let the horizon, 
   like gravity, keep a tether on our awareness?

That incomprehensibly vast half-universe above holds enough beauty, enough wonder, enough elegant details to captivate any curious observer, even those of us who aren’t astronomers.

So what are we missing when we let the horizon, like gravity, keep a tether on our awareness?

Birds, clouds, tricks of light played by sun and atmosphere. Aircraft, from the loud and lumbering to that sleek one with a contrail whose faint roar comes from seven miles behind its image.

Treetops, alive with wild critters of all kinds…and perhaps the odd stranded cat. Fair skies splashed with the bright hues of our amusements: kites, model airplanes, balloons, some released to wind’s fancy.

        ...stuff we’ve cast off and the sky has 
        the good sense to throw right back at us.

Stars, comets, meteors and satellites, their pinholes and slashes in night’s black drape so sharp, so unchallenged, you can’t tell if they’re a couple hundred miles away or 23 quadrillion.*

Northern lights, among our planet’s most amazing and serenely beautiful events (and one consolation of living up here above the 45th parallel where earth’s magnetic field starts to weaken).

Stuff falling from on high, like raindrops, in all their manifestations from hovering mist to monsoon dollops; from feathery snowflakes to hailstones the size of baseballs. Soot and ash, and other stuff we’ve cast off and the sky has the good sense to throw right back at us.

What small wonders visit you 

when you remember to look up?

* Twenty-three quadrillion miles (4,000 light years) is the approximate distance of the farthest single star visible from earth 
with the naked eye.

Monday, September 2, 2013

CICADA SIZZLE – The Dying Gasps of Summer

These waning days of summer show their age: today warmth and light won't
last 16 hours; here and there leaves run out of green; and there's a new sound
in the air.

Cicada sizzle.

Like a two-inch civil defense siren, it winds slowly up, crescendoes, then
tapers slowly off, so sharp a sound as to leave its imprint in the ear—a kind of
mental echo.

The bittersweet sound evokes, for me, the end of carefree boyhood summers,
a sad turn from natural impulses and rhythms to disciplines not my own.

                   Can you pick up the beat
                   of such
cicadian rhythms?

And what a paradox: a sound so intense, so penetrating, it goes right through you. Yet it sneaks into city soundscapes so deftly that we barely notice, inhabiting the background like cricket strum or nighthawk's airy plea.

As I ride my bike along high, sunny river bluffs the shrill whines play leapfrog with me. At times, they flow together, one continuous sound as if from a single cicada flying along just above me.

I cross the bridge and return home on the other side—the shady side—where I notice there are fewer singers. Too cool here, I guess, for good vibrations.

Can you pick up the beat of such cicadian rhythms? Keep your ears open.

The most common cicada we have here in Minnesota is Tibicen canicularis
also known as the dogday cicada, harvestfly or annual cicada.