I’ve been rafting but never “really” whitewater rafting.  I’ve never been in that position of hitting the rapids and holding on for dear life ~ that place where it doesn’t make sense to paddle, because the current has hold of you and is just throwing you downstream.  {I’m sure there are people who have done proper whitewater rafting who could totally throw my analogy under a bus – or a raft – due to inconsistencies.   I ask that you humor me and allow me my slightly flawed analogy.  Thanks.}

image from http://www.zooraft.com/ ~ Looks awesome! :)

image from http://www.zooraft.com/ ~ Looks awesome! 🙂

This summer has me feeling like I’m going through the whitewater.  There are tons of rocks and eddies bumping and tossing me from one side to the other.  None of it is bad; in fact, it’s all pretty great.  I know I’m going in the right direction ~ I couldn’t get out of the current if I tried ~ and I’m loving the ride.

Big life changes seem to happen in groups, like clusters of rock formations causing otherwise calm water to bubble and froth.  This summer marks one of those times in my life.

As of June 8, I am an ordained interfaith minister.   I am working on a book of the spiritual lessons I have learned through my experiences; I look forward to leading workshops and presentations on deepening your own spirituality, regardless of your religious background.  I was blessed to perform a handfasting as part of the wedding of an old friend ~ though I believe I was shaking more than the bride!  Leading two worship services on Matinicus Island ~ my ancestral and spiritual home ~ was wonderful for everyone involved.  In addition, I am in the planning stages for officiating a September wedding in a corn maze.  Working one-on-one with people to deepen their own sense of connection with the Divine is my passion and my vision; I hope to attend a program starting in October on this path of spiritual direction.

Coming to the realization that interfaith ministry is “great for the heart and soul, but not for the wallet” (as a new friend put it), I am very excited to have started my own business as an Independent Consultant with Celadon Road.  The company’s mission is to make the world healthier, greener and more sustainable; I can certainly get behind that, as that’s how Tim and I try to live in our home and our lives already.  All products with the Celadon Road logo are made in the United States of organic and all-natural ingredients.  We sell eco-friendly items in 10 different lines, including skin care for women, men and children / babies; house cleaning products (including laundry detergent); dog beds, treats and toys; jewelry; and home decor.  I attended the National Convention this weekend in Providence, RI, and am thrilled to be part of a company made up of REAL people who care about each other and support each other.  My up-line (the woman who brought me into the company) was incredibly surprised to win the Ethos Award for the consultant who most lives out the mission of the company.  Having spent the weekend staying with her and her family, I can’t say I was as surprised!  {Now that you are curious, you can check out our products, get information about hosting a party (in your home or online) or joining my team on my Carrie’s Celadon Road webpage!}

They say {good/bad/interesting} things come in three’s.  Our “third” is that Tim is starting grad school this fall.  He has already begun the homework for his first class, a three-day orientation the week before Labor Day.  The goal is a Masters in Counseling Psychology from Lesley University, for which he will take classes on nights and weekends for three years.  This will be followed by at least one year of internship… at which point my income will be that much more important.   I am incredibly proud of him for taking this leap into a career that calls him.   Life will not be the same… but I guess we already knew that.

What stays the same, with all these changes going on in our lives?

As often happens in the summer, I fall off the “formal meditation practice” wagon… so, yet again, I begin again. 🙂  We are enjoying our trips and our friends’ visits… so, again, we bounce from planning to planning, and need to remind ourselves to live in the present.  My focus shifts and our scheduling shifts… so, again, we determine the priorities and set the course.

We have a lot of excitement and many unknowns, but we know we are heading in the right direction.  As bumpy as the ride might be, as much as we don’t know what’s around the next bend, we know we are flowing with the current.

The Divine is steering.  I just have to hang on.



I was in Starbucks when I received a text from my husband to check the news.  Needless to say, seeing the headline, “2 Explosions at Boston Marathon Finish Line” (or something to that effect), was the end of my homework productivity.

There is a lot of speculation happening right now.  We want answers.  We want someone to blame.  We want a reason, a motivation, so that our minds can somehow make sense of it all.

The truth is, even if we knew who planted the bombs (IEDs, like our soldiers face in Iraq) and why, we still would not be able to make sense of it.

The easy answer is that whomever did this, planned this, implemented this – that that person or group is Evil.  I have a hard time with the concept of evil.  My belief structure and personal theology really don’t allow for the idea of evil.  My belief structure allows for the concept of unwise or unskillful action.  Each time we do something negative, it is easier to do it the next time.  Thus we form neural pathways that reinforce that behavior, which make it easier and easier to do negative things, and the negative things can become more negative as we go.  Someone that others would view as Evil, I would say has probably been damaged in some way (haven’t we all?) and has formed the neural pathways of negative behavior, anti-social or violent behavior.  For some reason, unknown to me, that behavior has been reinforced in that person.  [The one amendment I’ll make to this is that I do think it’s possible for a rare someone to be born socio-pathic.  I don’t know how that fits in to my belief structure, but I think it’s possible.]

So, without the concept of Evil – with the belief that every person is a beloved child of the Divine who is loved and beautiful and Good, though they might have forgotten it – how can we (I) make sense of this?

Talking about “learning lessons” is always sticky.  Let me use myself as an example:  I have learned and grown a huge amount because of having CF, being as sick as I was, and getting my double-lung transplant.  I have learned on an intellectual level (I could probably pass a basic nursing test); I have learned on an emotional and spiritual level.   I think there are many many lessons that people can learn by being physically ill, especially through chronic illness.  That said, that does not mean that I would EVER wish physical illness on anyone.

My belief is that our souls (yes, I’m a Buddhist who believes in the soul, ever-changing as it might be – go figure) are here to learn.  My belief is that the crap that happens in our lives is designed specifically and intentionally to help us learn.  With every experience – good or bad – our souls are learning.  If we don’t “get the answer” the first time the lesson comes along, the same lesson will come back another time and another time, in different forms, until we do “get it.”   [I’ve heard this is a Hindu concept, but it’s one that I’ve held since long before I knew anything about Hinduism.]  I have no idea what lessons can be learned from the horrible tragedy of the explosions at the Finish Line.   I am sure, however, that there are many lessons – on the personal level, and on the societal level.

We, as a society, are learning how to respond to mass violence – terrorism – in our city.   We, personally, are learning how our emotions react.  Do we immediately jump to conclusions?  Do we hug our families a little longer?  Do we judge more harshly those that look different from us?   Do we smile more freely or open our homes to strangers?   For those that were present, that perhaps are still in the hospital – or those that lost loved ones completely yesterday – do you live in fear?  Do you stop running or stop supporting your family members who run?  Of course you must grieve, but over the long term (lessons sometimes take a long time) do you learn to live with one leg – or no legs?  Do you make an effort to open yourself to joy, even while holding the pain?

The sun is shining.  Spring is coming.  We can hold the violence from yesterday without  becoming violent in our hearts, words or actions.

So let it be.


Last Sunday, Feb 10, 2013, I lead my first worship service as an almost-ordained interfaith minister.  It was (not-surprisingly?) a very different experience than leading a worship service as a lay leader in my UU church.    I would like to share with you here a taste of the service.  (Other than the final song, I have left out the music and meditations.)

With love…   (more…)

Reading the latest news about the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin (NY Times article here) pushes the boundary for me of remembering the inherent worth and dignity of all people.  For that matter, so do some of the political ads that have been blasting from the tv (until I mute the volume) at every commercial break of the Olympics.  (But haven’t some of the other ads during the Olympics been great?!)  When we disagree with someone so strongly, how do we recognize their worth? (more…)

I know – it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  I’ve had a good reason, though.  You might know that much of my poetry is actually written (rather, actually comes to me) as lyrics.  It’s taken some encouragement and effort, but I’m actually singing my original songs in public now!   I figured that I should have a dedicated page for my music, so you can find videos of my recent performance (my debut performance!) at the Open Mic in Chelmsford, MA, as well as any information about future gigs on The Spiritual Songstress.

I still have in mind getting my book(let) of poetry, ‘Grace,’ up here on mettapanda as a pdf, and available for sale for those who are interested in a bound hard copy.  If this interests you, please feel free to nudge me on it! 🙂


me 🙂


Why does my heart ache when we connect?  The joy of the contact is sullied by the knowledge it can’t stay this way, we must depart again.

But why?  You are in my heart and mind — you ARE my heart and mind.  You are in my soul and with me always.

So why is goodbye-for-now so difficult?

I want to block out the world

Be in a place of retreat from everything save you.

Paradise – wherever we might be.

No rules, restrictions, duties, time schedules.

Just perpetual heaven

in your arms

in your presence…




 I watch for you

I yearn for you

Even as I feel you in my heart

Even as I know our time together will be so brief

I ache for you

My hunger is never sated

My thirst is never quenched



Will You?

Will you hold me in my sadness

in my stillness

cold as ice

Will you comfort me when times get hard

through toil and sacrifice

Will you carry me through choppy waters

deeper than I can stand

If I come to you

Will you hold my hand?


If I surrender to you

Can I trust that you will be there

Strong and true

Every breath my heart is sated

If I need you

Will you need me too


My heart is yours

You have the key

I embody you

You embody me

Sitting in this crowded room

Couples chatting,

people waiting impatiently,

others working,

some reading

You are here

but how many can feel you?

You’re in the sun streaming through the windows –

how many are noticing you?

You’re in the smile of the man telling a story –

how many recognize you?

You are my secret

I want to tell everyone

But they couldn’t comprehend

And so I watch

and smile.


Do you know how it feels to have the sun kiss your skin on a winter’s day?

Have you danced and laughed in the misty rain?

Have you relished the laugh of a small child, pure and true?

Have you held the hand of a friend as they grieved?

Have you been moved to tears by a beautiful




by music




Have you been alive and seen the world?

Then you have known God.



I feel you radiate from my smile

I imagine anyone who looks at me can see your glow

Is this the same glow that comes with pregnancy –

you, showing your miracle within a woman’s body?

My vision is clear

My mood is uplifted

I naturally send love to all I see

Thank you for filling me

Thank you for lighting my soul

Thank you for gifting me with your presence

Thank you for allowing me to share you with the world

even if they don’t know from whence the joy comes


It’s my heart breaking a thousand times

The feel of His presence holding mine

Thinking it can’t get any worse

But smiling, still, when I see the nurse

It’s holding on holding on when the pain’s so intense

Knowing somehow this all will make sense

No control no control only Let Go

And float and be and live and breathe

Knowing in your darkest depths, you’re not alone

When the pain’s getting worse, He’s steady as stone

My heart keeps beating; I am still here

No matter what happened, He’s in me, I feel

That stir,

that knowledge, so deeply engraved

Carved on my heart from my very first day

Everything taken away from me now

All of my roles, my meaning, my sound

The core of me lays here, still glistening bright

Just waiting to get up and turn on the light

The light from within makes me move when I can’t

It guides me along, it steadies my hand

It comforts or chides me; it knows me best

It’s kept me alive when my body would rest

I tend to the flame now, harder to see

So many good things surrounding me

But I know it is present, I just call out the name

And I feel the warmth from the Eternal Flame


I wrote this in ‘response’ to the homework question, “Reflect on the notion of being able to stay illuminated solely from within in the midst of pain.”   Those who know me know that my notion of God isn’t as clear-cut as the Abrahamic version of the old man in the sky.  But in this case, the male pronoun is what came to me and what worked in the poem – which is how I write.    Those who know me will also know that this brought me right back to that time – 11 months today  – when my body was done, given another chance by medical science and miracle science, and my soul held on and shined and shined and shines. 🙂  I am eternally grateful.

I’ve found that my heart can’t go into the freezer, then the oven, then the freezer again without cracking, splitting open, letting untold Love in and out, and finding a connection with humanity that’s too often walled off.

The past few days, I’ve had a sorrow-joy-sorrow sandwich, though I’ll admit that both the joy and sorrow were tinged with each other.  I seem to be finding spectrums in everything – but that’s another post.

This is Transgender Awareness and Remembrance Week, so both Thursday and Saturday evenings I attended and took part in remembering the victims of violence that took place because the victims were perceived to be gender-variant – or were associated with someone who was perceived that way – whether they would have called themselves transgender or not.  Friday, by huge contrast, was the Interfaith Thanksgiving  Prayer Service.

THURSDAY NIGHT I attended the first Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) vigil held in my city of Lowell.  18 of us, including a 2-year-old child, met in front of Lowell City Hall at 6:30pm.  We were greeted by the organizer, heard an invocation and prayed with my own church’s intern minister, Russ Menk, read the names of the 22 people who had been killed in the past year (based on the list this group found online), and then walked with lit candles and a few memorial signs through downtown to the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center.  There we heard from Rev. Laurie, a transgender UU minister, and from those of us who wanted to share what brought them to the vigil.  It was lovely to see a number of UMass Lowell students there, along with the core organizing group from the Center for Hope and Healing GLBT group, and our own 3-person contingent from First Parish UU of Chelmsford.

I must say, I was pleased to be a UU that night, even more than usual, as I stood on the side of love for all people of all gender identities – as we are all beloved children of God, created in God’s image, as he chooses for us to be.  Having the courage to live your own authentic self, especially when that goes against cultural norms, is an amazing act of faith and a tribute to the God that made us all.  Those of you who have received emails from me will recognize this quote:

“God did not create a universe of cookie-cutter homogeneity but rather a thriving web of complex and diverse ecosystems. This is true in the natural world and the human world as well. A radically loving God does not expect people to fit into narrow cultural norms of body size, sexual orientation, physical ability, marital status, or other modes of life. Rather, our Universalist faith tells us that being created in God’s image means being part of a vast, complex, imperfect interdependent system.”
~~ Reverend Meg A. Riley, www.uua.org

It was a night of the sorrow of senseless violence and the bittersweet hope brought by connections with new friends and the new, yet incomplete, state legislation to protect transgender people.  If you’re wondering what the ‘public accommodations’ clause that was left out of the bill really means: Transgender people can legally still be refused service or kicked out of bars and restaurants, kicked out of stores, kicked off busses, etc.

THE FOLLOWING NIGHT, Friday, was a complete switch in mood.  I was a little nervous going to the Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service, if only because I didn’t know what to expect or whom, if anyone, I’d know.  It was amazing – joyous and festive.  We had 12 people there from First Parish UU of Chelmsford and three others that I knew from elsewhere.  And the people I knew were still the minority. 🙂  We started at Temple Emanuel, a Jewish Temple in Chelmsford.  The service included worship and prayer from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American and Christian traditions.  I must say the Muslim call to worship, the adhan, just brought the Divine energy straight through my soul.  The muazzin who recited it (performed? sang? channelled?) was trained in Turkey, speaks no English, and seriously has a voice and talent and energy blessed by Allah.  We had a lovely service at the Temple, with a number of upbeat Jewish blessings and prayers in which we were required to sing and clap along – even if we didn’t know the words. 🙂 The feeling in the air – with approximately 100 people – was of warmth and love and coming together.  [Fun Interfaith fact:  Did you know that in the original language (Aramaic), the only difference between Elohim and Allah is a vowel (Elaha is the root of both) — and vowels aren’t printed?]

Leaving the temple en masse, the majority of us proceeded to the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell.  It was my first time in a mosque (masjid), and I must admit I was very conscious of not wanting to offend in any way.  But I found the people very warm and welcoming and genuinely pleased to have us there.  After depositing shoes and coat, and making sure (as women) our hair was covered (an almost-requirement in the prayer room, but at one’s discretion otherwise; as visitors we could cover if we wished, so I wore a scarf over my head), we proceeded to our side of the curtain in the prayer room.

We were blessed to have two very helpful sisters of the mosque explain to us a bit about the prayer (the last of the day) and the reasoning for the curtain.  I must admit that I was dubious about the need for modesty – until I saw the prostrations and gave half-a-thought to having men behind me as I bent over like that – yeah, I think I’d prefer to sit behind the men or off to the side, thank you very much.  Although I couldn’t see the imam leading the prayers, others on our side could, and it was by his audible direction that the prostrations of the prayers were done.  Not surprisingly, prayers are done facing Mecca; I found it ingenious that the carpet lines up in that orientation, as well, so one can just pick a line to stand on and be straight on.  The lines are even far enough apart to keep people from bumping into each other with prostrations.  I would guess many mosques have carpets like this, but I still found it a very strong sign of how important the details were and much they’d done to convert this part of an office complex into a place of worship.  All I can say about the prayers themselves is that the reverence and devotion to Allah were palpable.

After prayers, we went downstairs into the community room for dinner, prepared by members of the mosque. What a wonderful problem – they hadn’t expected so many people!  So we had plenty of food (amazing, wonderful food!), but some people were standing to mingle and eat, even after extra chairs had been brought in.   A blessing was given and more of the Quran was recited / brought forth through that awe-inspiring voice.  Then we ate, encouraged to sit and talk with people of different faiths and those we didn’t know.

What comraderie! What bonding! What food!  All of us there in love; we didn’t want to leave, and much contact information was exchanged.  (I now have two new best friends: one from the Temple, whom I actually met at the TDOR vigil the night before, and one from the mosque.)   I came home on such a high, I think I left my winter coat there, but didn’t notice until the following day!

BUT THEN SATURDAY EVENING… back into the freezer, as we hosted a TDOR vigil at church.  I arrived early to help set up, as our plans required a bit more set-up than Thursday’s vigil.  We probably had around 18-20 people present, and most of those ended up participating in one way or another.  Will played a beautiful and moving piano piece as our prelude.  I read the chalice lighting, then both Warren and Dee said some introductory words on the history of Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then we read the names of the 221 people whom we know of from around the world who were killed just for being who they were, just within the past year.

  • Name (if known)
  • Age (if known)
  • Date of death
  • Place of death {often included both the town and the place within the town – her own apartment, a pharmacy, the street;  and often was difficult to pronounce, since none of us speak Portuguese or Spanish particularly well, and many were from South America}
  • Cause of death

I read 55 names, as did Carl, Edith and Warren.  We took turns by the page… after page… after page.  When we finished a page and sat down, Dee handed us another page.  They felt never-ending.

What many of the listeners didn’t know is that we were editing as we went.  Almost all of the listings had, in addition to the above information, a sentence or paragraph that further described the situation.  For example, the cause of death might be ‘stabbed.’  But the paragraph said, among other things, that she was stabbed 17 times in the face and neck.  Or strangled…. but they found the body partially decomposed in a sewer.  There was a beheading on a street.  A woman was shot – while in a hospital bed – by her own brother, so that he could cleanse his own name.  So, as readers, we read all the details of all the 55 names in front of us.  And, as we moved through the reading, we found it necessary to let some of that information slip into what we spoke out loud.

It was very difficult.  Hard enough to think of 221 people being killed in one year senselessly, just because they’re different.  Harder to hear the names, without your automatic defenses saying ‘that’s too much!’ and shutting you down – whether into daydreaming or apathy.  Yet harder still to read all that information on all those people, and have to stand up and share that terrible news aloud.  Stabbed 17 times.  Police were called at 5:40pm, but didn’t arrive until 9pm.  Wanting to say to the people listening, ‘Did you hear what I just said?’ Praying to God between my own pages, “Please, let them be at peace. Please let their tormentors and murderers recognize that they’ve done something horrible and repent.  Please let love prevail and the senseless killing stop.  Please let this be the last page I have to read.  Please.  Please….”  But the pages just kept coming one after another.  Willing myself to stay present, to not go numb, to feel the grief and the shock, to convey that throught my reading so my listeners would be jolted out of whatever ease they’d dug for themselves.  This was not an evening to be at ease.  It was an evening to mourn those we know of and the thousands we don’t know of.  It needed to be a hard evening.

We had to witness.  We had to hear their names and remember them.  Only by witnessing are we moved to action; only through action does the world change for the better.  To paraphrase, “They came for the transgendered people, but I wasn’t transgender, so I stayed quiet…”  But at some point, their safety is our safety, their body is our body, his soul is my soul.  How can I turn my back on myself?


We are always more alike than we imagine.

Treat everyone as you would want to be treated.  Why is there so much violence when this is such a simple and universally accepted rule?

THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING for sponsoring these amazing evenings:

  • Center for Hope and Healing GLBT Task Force
  • Greater Lowell Interfaith Alliance (GLIA)
  • Temple Emanuel
  • Islamic Society of Greater Lowell
  • Welcoming Congregation Committee at First Parish UU Church of Chelmsford — especially Dee who worked her butt off
  • International Transgender Awareness site — location of the list of 221

It’s good to crack open; it lets you see what’s inside.


  • Thoughts to discuss:
  • Has anything cracked you open recently – or not recently?
  • What stirs your heart and/or calls you to action?
  • Most of the TDOR victims had been killed through very personal violence – face-to-face, passionate, angry, scared.  Have you ever had that kind of visceral reaction to something or someone (not necessarily to that extent)? How did you deal with it?

Cross-posted to KalyanaMittaSangha.

I am often asked or complimented on how I get through all that I’ve gone through – the progression of the CF, the transplant, the immediate recovery, and the still-ongoing long-term maintenance of these new lungs. My spirituality has been life-saving, particularly my Buddhist practice and learning. I’d like to share with you how that’s happened, how the Dharma (the teachings of the Buddha) have helped me to deal with dharma (the way life is).

The traditional legend of the Buddha’s quest for enlightenment tells us that throughout his youth and early manhood Prince Siddhattha, the Bodhisatta, lived in complete ignorance of the most elementary facts of human life. His father, anxious to protect his sensitive son from exposure to suffering, kept him an unwitting captive of nescience. Incarcerated in the splendor of his palace, amply supplied with sensual pleasures and surrounded by merry friends, the prince did not entertain even the faintest suspicion that life could offer anything other than an endless succession of amusements and festivities. It was only on that fateful day in his twenty-ninth year, when curiosity led him out beyond the palace walls, that he encountered the four “divine messengers” that were to change his destiny. The first three were the old man, the sick man, and the corpse, which taught him the shocking truths of old age, illness, and death; the fourth was a wandering ascetic, who revealed to him the existence of a path whereby all suffering can be fully transcended.

This charming story, which has nurtured the faith of Buddhists through the centuries, enshrines at its heart a profound psychological truth. In the language of myth it speaks to us, not merely of events that may have taken place centuries ago, but of a process of awakening through which each of us must pass if the Dhamma is to come to life within ourselves. Beneath the symbolic veneer of the ancient legend we can see that Prince Siddhattha’s youthful sojourn in the palace was not so different from the way in which most of us today pass our entire lives — often, sadly, until it is too late to strike out in a new direction. Our homes may not be royal palaces, and the wealth at our disposal may not approach anywhere near that of a North Indian rajah, but we share with the young Prince Siddhattha a blissful (and often willful) oblivion to stark realities that are constantly thrusting themselves on our attention. If the Dhamma is to be more than the bland, humdrum background of a comfortable life, if it is to become the inspiring, sometimes grating voice that steers us on to the great path of awakening, we ourselves must emulate the Bodhisatta in his process of maturation. We must join him on that journey outside the palace walls — the walls of our own self-assuring preconceptions — and see for ourselves the divine messengers we so often miss because our eyes are fixed on “more important things,” i.e., on our mundane preoccupations and goals.

–Bhikkhu Bodhi, in “Meeting the Divine Messengers”

Five years ago in February, Tim and I began meditating with a wonderful teacher named Abhaya. Our friend Brenda soon joined our sitting group, and thus began the meditation group that we still maintain and organize and attend every Tuesday night. (Abhaya left us after a year for health reasons; we’ve been a primarily peer-led group ever since.)

Although I had meditated before, this was my first exposure to Buddhist tradition and philosophy. First, of course, we learned the Four Noble Truths – suffering, the cause of suffering, there’s an end to suffering, and the Eight-fold Path. What a revelation to me! Not that suffering exists, that was all too clear to me. But: Suffering Exists!! Let’s be loud about it and not pretend otherwise! It seems in our culture we try to ignore suffering or push it away by distracting ourselves with prettier or newer things, instead of looking at it straight on. How amazing – to just acknowledge that suffering exists!

The story of the four messengers (as above) is also one that we heard early, and its message got into and liberated my heart. Of course – what could be more true? Each one of us will get sick, get old and die. The only way to avoid the first two is to get to the third more quickly. Siddhartha Gautama (who would later become the Buddha) saw these things – along with the fourth messenger, the holy man – and set out to find that which is beyond sickness, old age and death. I heard this truth and said, “Oh. So I’m not that special because I’m sick; everyone will be sick at some point. There’s something more to me than just that.” In this place, in this tradition, I don’t have to feel that my sickness is something to hide and be ashamed of. As I learned – experienced – on a retreat, in this tradition, the overwhelming response to my cough is not pity (“Get away from me. I’m so glad I’m not you. Poor you.”) but compassion (“Wow – I’ve been there before / I can only imagine what you’re going through. I can tell how much you’re hurting. What can I do to help?”). It’s impossible to describe the difference one feels between receiving pity and receiving compassion. In my case, I had to be willing and able to give compassion to myself before I could receive it from others. Previous to this retreat, I always felt it as pity (regardless of the sender’s emotion), and therefore would shrug off any help. I wanted to hide my cough and my condition as much as possible, sometimes to the detriment of my health. The progression of my illness made hiding it more and more difficult; I am very grateful that I was introduced to this religion / philosophy / practice (pick your own label) where hiding is not necessary.

There is also the story of the two arrows. (I’m going to paraphrase, here.) The Buddha told the story of two men. One was shot and wounded by an arrow. It hurt, but he had it pulled out and survived. The second man was also shot and wounded by an arrow in the same way. It hurt him in the same way. But instead of pulling it out, he spent time asking ‘Who shot me? Why did they shoot me? What kind of arrow is this? What’s it made of?’ By the time he might have gotten around to pulling it out, he had already bled to death. So – obvious lesson: Take care of the physical injury before the emotional / mental injury. But the lesson that is more applicable to everyday life is this: There is some pain that we can’t avoid – a broken leg, for example. That pain is the first arrow. But then we have a tendency to beat ourselves up, ask unnecessary questions, and worry about the future – ‘I’m so stupid; I should have seen that root in the path.’ ‘I never look where I’m going.’ ‘Why wasn’t I paying attention?’ ‘How am I going to get to work tomorrow?’ This causes additional suffering – the second arrow – which is avoidable. So, to bring this back to my own life – which I was able to do fairly quickly, at least in theory: Yes, I have CF, and it causes suffering (more or less, depending on the moment). I can’t stop that suffering. But this aspect changes: I can’t cure myself from having CF, I can’t stop the coughing (most of the time), I can only do so much to slow the progression of it, and I can’t do anything about how I did or did not take care of myself in the past. If I cut out all of the negative thinking that goes with the physical discomfort, I’ve eliminated a HUGE source of secondary suffering, which often was more painful than the primary arrow. How I react to my illness makes all the difference in the amount of suffering I experience.

Finally, there’s the central teaching – better, understanding and recognition – of impermanence. Once we stop to look at existence, we realize that nothing lasts forever, even things that seem most solid. The mountains will erode; the houses and buildings will crumble; our selves and our relationships are in constant flux and growth and will eventually end. This is very comforting to someone who is sick, especially one who goes through cycles of acute sickness followed by less sickness. I will not feel this poorly forever. This pain will not last forever. This isn’t a call to suicide; the pain will pass on its own, in a natural manner. I’ve seen it happen before; no matter how bad it seems right now, I know it will pass. This knowledge can help to relax you in the most uncomfortable situations. (It’s the equivalent, on a larger scale, of the woman in the gynecologist’s office going to her ‘happy place’ mentally – a beach in the Bahamas, for example. She knows the exam won’t last forever, so she just needs to wait it out.) Even at my lowest – in the hospital in Boston, attached to a chest tube with suction, knowing that I would not be allowed to leave the hospital unless they could wean me off the suction, which didn’t seem to be working — even then, I knew and trusted and took refuge in impermanence. Either this would somehow get better, I’d get a transplant, or I’d die. At that point, that didn’t seem like a stretch to say. Even death, at that point, would have been some comfort – mainly because my body was so tired.

And then… the transplant and initial recovery. Of course I was thrilled to be alive and have a new chance at life, though I could barely comprehend it. Throughout the hallucinations, through some of the worst pain – when I’d already had what pain killers I could, and had to just wait it out — impermanence was my friend. I saw it play out constantly, as how I felt changed hour to hour.

And now… watching myself is like watching a new person. I’m reforging my identity – another proof of impermanence of self. I have enough energy to work-out on the treadmill, dance for hours at a wedding, sing for a church service or just because I feel like it. I have a huge burst of inspiration and motivation to write song lyrics and poetry. But I know…… all of this is also impermanent.

That’s where we take this into life. This is what the teachers and books have tried to teach me – but you can’t be taught, you have to experience. You have to feel what it’s like to NOT have health and energy, in order to fully embrace and appreciate having it. Feeling how quickly it was gained allows me to know that it could go away again at any moment, and that really does make me want to live every minute of every day in a way that I will be proud of – whether it’s doing something “productive” or not. I need to decide where I want to place my priorities, where I want to put my energy.

I expect I would have survived my lung transplant without my knowledge of the Dharma. I am strong-willed, and I have always felt that I was put on this earth to “do something,” which is a great motivator. But the Dharma has allowed me to thrive and grow spiritually as my health faded and then was re-born.

As Bhikkhu Bodhi concludes in “Meeting the Divine Messengers”

The final word of the Dhamma is not surrender, not an injunction to resign ourselves stoically to old age, sickness, and death. This is the preliminary message, the announcement that our house is ablaze. The final message is other: an ebullient cry that there is a place of safety, an open field beyond the flames, and a clear exit sign pointing the way of escape.

If in this process of awakening we must meet old age, sickness, and death face to face, that is because the place of safety can be reached only by honest confrontation with the stark truths about human existence. We cannot reach safety by pretending that the flames that engulf our home are nothing but bouquets of flowers: we must see them as they are, as real flames. When, however, we do look at the divine messengers squarely, without embarrassment or fear, we will find that their faces undergo an unexpected metamorphosis. Before our eyes, by subtle degrees, they change into another face — the face of the Buddha, with its serene smile of triumph over the army of Mara, over the demons of Desire and Death. The divine messengers point to what lies beyond the transient, to a dimension of reality where there is no more aging, no more sickness, and no more death. This is the goal and final destination of the Buddhist path — Nibbana, the Unaging, the Unailing, the Deathless. It is to direct us there that the divine messengers have appeared in our midst, and the good news of deliverance is their message.

To consider:
* How have the teachings of the Buddha, or your own spirituality, helped you to weather life’s ups and downs?
* Have you felt like you need to hide an illness in some situations, but felt embraced in spite of – or even, with – your illness in other places?
* What is your personal relationship with the knowledge of old age, sickness and death? Do you ignore it? Embrace it? Have mixed feelings around it?
* Going to a previous question of ‘Whose Values?‘, do you think that our western society has a different attitude toward old age, sickness and death than other societies (other places or times)? Or, perhaps, what are the differences between the cultural and spiritual values (Buddhist or otherwise) surrounding these facets of life?

I wrote an article on Right Speech for my meditation group blog.  I think it’s great for anyone doing any writing online – even just posting on FB.

Right Speech, or How to Speak or Comment on FB without Offending People

AK Photo Magic

It begins:

In Buddhism, there is a term for speaking “well” – “right speech.” You could say that this is a guideline or a step toward enlightenment – you could also say that this is a way to limit your own and others’ suffering, and encourage your own practice of not harming any person (including yourself).  I think this is a worthy practice for anyone seeking to better themselves and their lives and relationships, regardless of spiritual / religious preference (if any).

to continue….