Posts Tagged ‘presence’

The presence of lessons and eternal mirrors

January 2, 2015

“It isn’t all about you.”

We’ve all heard that line.

Or, the sarcastic: “yeah, it’s all about YOU, isn’t it?”

The message is that I am supposed to think about others, have regard for their feelings, some empathy and sympathy for what might be happening in their lives, and that nothing is all about me.

Or is it?

Is there a metaphysical existence where I perceive everything as reflecting my presence in the world? In this existence, life takes every opportunity to define itself by reflecting the nature of its creator.

That little proposition is easy to take on when one is out in “nature” defined by glorious trees, dazzling mountains, endless horizons of flowered meadows, and Bambi chewing clover by the river. It’s a little harder when one is hustling “nature” the day after New Year’s chasing down the after-Christmas sales at the local ginormous nationwide superstore which is where I happened upon my most recent soul-opening exercise.

At said nameless store, ever hopeful for a stay-at-home snow day, I placed two 15-pound cartons of snowmelt in my cart and proceeded to checkout. At the checkout counter, I unloaded all of my items, including the 15-pound cartons of snowmelt on to the conveyor belt. As the cashier swept the snowmelt cartons across the scanner, she said, “Next time just leave the heavy items in your cart and I will scan them from there.” She didn’t look happy while she said it.

It took me a moment to realize what she said. I finally asked, “So, you think those are heavy?”

She responded by saying “If you have to lift them all day long, they get real heavy.” She was not smiling when she said this.

All sorts of responses went through my head – statements about how there are no signs about leaving heavy items in the cart, what qualifies as heavy, pointed remarks about how this was the job she had chosen and if she didn’t like it . . ., and one really super retort about how I was contributing to helping her prevent osteoporosis, but fortunately none of THOSE came out. What I said was: “Thank you for pointing that out to me. I learned something today.”

I did not tell her what I learned because I had not yet figured it out. At that time, I was mostly thinking that whatever her problem was, it had nothing to do with me and was all about her disliking what she did for a living. And, I thanked her because I made a mental note to self: “never work at Nameless Nationwide Superstore as a cashier.”

But then I came home and read my e-mail. My friend, Deborah Hart Yemm, from A New Gaia and blog Gazing in the Mirror, had sent me this poem written by Rumi:

You have no idea how hard I’ve looked
for a gift to bring You.
Nothing seemed right.

What’s the point of bringing gold
to the gold mine, or water to the ocean.

Everything I came up with was like
taking spices to the Orient.

It’s no good giving my heart and my
soul because you already have these.

So I’ve brought you a mirror.
Look at yourself and remember me.

It is like God said “no, this IS about YOU.”

I am that cashier and she is me. Just as she has to own her suffering, I must own mine. Just as I seek my soul’s happiness in the world, so must she.

She cannot order me to alleviate her suffering anymore than I can demand that the world relieve mine. She cannot complain her way into happiness anymore than I can.
Barbara L. Kass
©1/2/2015

A Blue Cup Presence

May 10, 2014

Material objects sometimes represent more to me than their momentary utility. A psychologist would tell you that I project myself into these objects, giving them my personality and attributes, a process called personification.

A shaman would tell you that everything has a spirit living in it, including material objects because those materials were made from earth’s resources, and the earth and its resources are nothing but living spirits. And, just like any other spirit, we cannot own them. They only agree to be borrowed for a time in our lives.

Some years ago, my daughter and son-in-law were struggling with their lives. The details are meaningless to anyone but me and them; the consequences, however, could have been so very costly to the person we care about more than anyone else: their daughter and my granddaughter. All of the responsibility for my granddaughter fell upon my son-in-law. He was a very young soul then, barely past the age of 20, and he had to make the commitment to save his own life first.

My resources were limited to taking care of me. While I could cheer him on and babysit, I could not step into his life and fix it for him. I could not run his race or lift his burden. It was his battle, not mine.

A day came very early into this battle . . . a very hot day, where his struggles brought him to my door while running the numerous errands that were his life at that moment. He asked only for a glass of water, and I gave it to him in a cup exactly like the one shown in the picture. bluecup1 (2) He swallowed the water in what seemed one gulp, so gave him another, but this time filled with ice. He was close to being late for his next appointment with destiny so I told him to take the blue cup with him.

I never saw that blue cup again.

Ten years later, I see my son-in-law and granddaughter all the time, and the blue cup in the picture is the mate to the one I gave away that day. My granddaughter rocks the world with her presence and my son-in-law has discovered grace and gifts within himself that amaze and comfort me.

When I look into my cupboard and see that lone blue cup, I am reminded of that day, what preceded it and what has come after. I don’t long for the presence of its mate. I don’t ever ask my son-in-law about it and I don’t want to know where it is. Instead, I imagine that other blue cup still out there offering a long, cool drink of water to a thirsty world.

©2014 by Barbara L. Kass

The Presence of Self-Forgiveness

November 3, 2013

Forgiveness implies a problem – that something is wrong somewhere. A pain has manifested in someone and if I caused that pain, I was wrong and have to make amends. It does not matter that I did not know I caused the pain or the situation was out of my control. I did something wrong.

The message that there is something wrong with us gets reinforced throughout our lifetimes as we encounter the world and its ever-changing rules of engagement. Our laws, media, parents, teachers, and our children will tell us: you are wrong – you did something wrong – you have to fix it – you deserve a punishment. Laws can send us to prison or make us pay a fine. The media will deify those who are prettier/thinner/richer/smarter than us and punish the rest of us with stories and articles about how we are inadequate and here’s what we need to do change that. And if you can’t change, here is how you can “accept” (aka “forgive”) your failings. Punishment from parents could be anything from a frown to withdrawal of privileges to (in the worst case) abuse. Punishment from teachers includes failing grades, public humiliation, and a visit with the principal (who, despite popular spelling tricks, was never your “pal”). Punishment from your children is anyone’s guess. Take a look at your life and tell me what it is.

We also inflict self-punishment, a double-whammy when we’ve wronged ourselves. Hindsight 20/20 is the largest contributor to the embargo of my ability to forgive myself for transgressions against others or myself. For some reason, as I realize why I “should” have not done what I did, I proceed to believe that I “should” have known better and “should” have behaved better. A berating marathon begins and the punishment phase can last a lifetime.

An Internet search for ideas about self-forgiveness brought up the web site Greater Good sponsored by the University of California at Berkeley. While the site implores you to become a member (you can be happy for only $50.00 a year), there is plenty of free material, including some insightful articles and a quiz about forgiveness. All things being equal, I would think that how I apply forgiveness to others would be similar to how I apply self-forgiveness. I took the quiz and found out I have a moderate capacity for forgiveness.

Only moderate? Being the over-achiever I am, moderate is not good enough. Where am I failing to be an excellent forgiver? My test results showed that while I would not want anything bad to happen to anyone, I have a tendency to avoid and withdraw from people who mistreat me (duh – who would hang around?).

I thought about myself as the person who I would need to forgive: What if the person is me?

What if I am avoiding the me – the self – who I was when I made the transgression? What if I have withdrawn from that self who committed a real or imagined sin? I chose the word “sin” here because there were plenty of them sneaking around while I was growing up Catholic along with that offensive right hand we were told to cut off (Matthew 5:30).

Hmmm . . . I wonder where I got the message to avoid or “cut off” from the part of me causing the offense lest I be cast into the horrors of hell for all eternity?

Perhaps it is time to visit with those selves and offer them my right hand in forgiveness.

©2013 by Barbara L. Kass

The presence of experience

October 9, 2013

You cannot create experience. You must undergo it. Albert Camus

Before humans could write and read we learned through witnessing and listening. As witnesses, we saw what others experienced, and (hopefully) we learned vicariously. When we witnessed someone become ill from eating the strange red berries, we were not likely to eat those berries. We listened (again hopefully) when our parents and elders passed along knowledge and wisdom with the spoken word: don’t poke the sleeping tiger.

The written word expands our worlds. All the red berries have warning labels and the sleeping tigers have awakened. If we want to know about Subject X, the most expedient method is to look it up on the Internet. Sometimes, we can watch a film or talk to a subject expert, but the cheapest and quickest way to learn anything is to read. The written word saved my sanity as a child. Books were my lifeline to the world beyond the one I was confined to then, and I wanted to experience all of it.

The short 90 or so years that I will be on this planet will not satisfy my desire for discovery, and I am nearly two-thirds of the way to my expiration date. As I weed my way through what I am willing to experience, death has become my azimuth. Years ago, some therapists told me that this was a problem so I “worked” on it, but now, I find that it has served me well. Keeping my eye on death causes me to embrace my eternal presence – the part of me that will continue when my body no longer exists. Who I become now I take with me into eternity. What I experience helps me evolve into who I become.

Countless words exist of people’s tales detailing their journeys of how they became who they are. There are hundreds of methods and paths to self-discovery. I’ve read the books and blogs of people who appear to have blazed the trails to enlightenment and ultimate universal connection. I’ve prayed their prayers. I’ve practiced their meditations. I’ve repeated their mantras.

Yes, I’ve grown. I’ve become. I’ve discovered. I’ve experienced. But, I’ve not achieved the measure of conscious embodiment their words have described. I’ve failed to mirror their success and wonder why.

In my efforts to master the experience of Centering Prayer, I read Thomas Keating’s book Manifesting God. If you read his book, you can’t but help but hear Keating’s voice and feel his experience with God. In a moment of clarity, some small still voice inside me said: “these words describe how it is for him, but not necessarily how it is for you.” Keating can only describe his process, not mine. He cannot live my experience any more than I can live his.

Words and books cannot create my experience. Living creates experience.

The experience I seek is to be fully alive as my true self in this life.

Only my presence can create that experience.

©2013 by Barbara L. Kass

Learning Presence

September 12, 2013

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us. Joseph Campbell

My fingertips surprise me when I allow them to translate directly from my soul without filter. When I returned to this blog last week, I responded to a comment from Laurie (Speaking from the Heart ) by saying: “The more I learn, the less I know. I have seen, heard, and felt SO much that all I can say is that I know even less than I knew three years ago because my learning has far exceeded my knowledge. Now I have to go write a blog about that.”

So, here I am . . . writing a blog about that—the more I learn, the less I know.

At the age of four or five, I was complete. I knew everything I needed to know. My memories of that time are curled up in an idyllic cloud of nested satisfaction. During that brief period in my life, I had no worries about the past or the future. I was totally caught up in the present and that was enough.

Life happened and the world caught me in its grip of reminiscence and anticipation. Consequences began to haunt me. The future held shadows that foretold of events to come.

Learning became a cognitive process that created more questions. Half a century later, I stand at the edge of knowledge cliff facing a vast emptiness of unknowing.

I have learned that I often get what I have asked for only to find out that I have asked for something that is not good for me.

I have learned that no one is really in charge of life here on earth except the laws of physics and nature.

I have learned that we create our existence.

I have learned that nothing has to happen and everything will.

What I don’t know is how to put what is best for me first.

What I don’t know is how to help others see that we can only be in charge of ourselves and if we just do that, we might cause less harm to others.

What I don’t know is how to create a daily existence that is based on everything I write about here.

What I don’t know is how to let nothing happen.

I am learning ever . . . so . . . slowly . . . that if I just watch my life and live from my true presence, something will happen.

And it might be better than what I had planned.

©2013 Barbara L. Kass

The presence of knowing

July 28, 2012

Knowledge is a dubious gift.

The problem with knowledge is that once something is known, it cannot be unknown. Even though we forget and often can’t recall what happened yesterday, some part of our brain still retains the memory of everything we have ever encountered.

Much of what we do and remember is automatic and linked to our survival and basic needs. Dementia and Alzheimer’s aside, it takes little effort to recall where we live, work, and play on a regular basis. I am grateful to remember my loved ones and special times shared with them. The memories I have a problem with are those when I witness the ugliness we create in life.

The current ugly in my life is the knowledge that people leave their babies and small children to die alone locked in vehicles. This summer, I have read at least five articles where infants and small children died of heatstroke inside a car or van. All of their stories yank my heart right out of its ignorant resting place. For example, a day-care worker “forgot” that she left a three-year-old strapped to his car seat in the van at the end of a field trip. I really would have rather not known this. My imagination has a field day taking on the suffering of others, and I wondered why I needed to know.

I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to die like that, so I purposely sat in my car one day when the temperature was about 85 degrees. I parked in the shade, turned off the engine and rolled up all the windows.

Within five minutes, a mild panic settled into my throat and I felt that certain restlessness that I was not in a good situation. Thick and heavy heated air went in and out of my lungs, but it was not enough. Sweat oozed from my skin as my body began its futile attempt to cool me off. Nausea settled in my stomach. Within ten minutes, I had to open my door and let myself out.

And my true suffering had not even begun.

The babies and children I have read about suffered much more. They could not free themselves. The three-year-old who was left in the day care van might have been able to get out of a car seat, but most likely he had been trained NOT to. He sat there sweating, waiting, and hoping for someone to release him. I cannot imagine the distress in their little minds, although I can imagine how I would have felt, what I would have thought, and how alone I would have been with my despair. In my ending, I felt total anguish at the betrayal of trust. I had been entrusted to someone’s care and they had broken that trust.

I think that before anyone gets to have a driver’s license, he or she must endure at least ten minutes of what it is like to be locked in a hot car and not be able to free themselves.

The question again came to me, though: Why had my attention been drawn to these articles? Why did I need this knowledge? I know not to leave a child locked in a car under any circumstances. When I am driving with a child, everything about that driving is with the knowledge that I have precious cargo on board. I could have easily lived the rest of my life without knowing the suffering those children endured.

My answer is metaphysical. God/Spirit/All-That-Is/Universal Consciousness is always with us, connected at the source of our being, even in our dying. I am connected to those children, just as I am to every living soul in the universe, through God.

In this moment, my presence is with every child who is suffering and letting them know they are not alone.

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

A Better Presence

March 3, 2012

I am never enough. There is always more of me to become. The soul that swooped down from the heavens to nestle among embryonic membranes and permeate my fetal cells captured my infantile first breath and is still emerging.

This life all about how I can do better.

How can I live better?

How can I love better?

I can tweak my communication with others. I can smile more. I can bring more sincerity, compassion, and attention. I can talk less and listen more. I can meet another person’s gaze with single-minded devotion to this moment we are both in . . . my indivisible focus. Just for an instant, I can be perfectly present for another.

In being present to another, I am present to my own soul and I am, after each encounter, more than I was the moment before.

This immutable forward progress makes me painfully aware of why the motion of existence is one-way. There is only growth, becoming, and ending. There is no reversing. There is no undoing what has been done no matter how much I wish I could. Reversal would undo not only the actions (or inactions) that I regret, it would also take away all that I have become.

This is my only opportunity to love myself, my daughters, my friends, and the strangers who come and go. In the next moment, they might be ended. I might be ended.

Will I be complete at the moment of my physical death? I don’t know, and it simply does not matter. Death is an ending and a beginning. All that I am follows me in this eternity. All who I have known live in my eternal memory. My better presence greets this day and from moment to moment, it whispers: what do you want to remember about this moment?

©2012 by Barbara L. Kass

Observing presence

October 13, 2011

There are three of me.

One is the persona I wear for external exhibition. This is the one who has a tendency to act impulsively and to demonstrate emotional outbursts. She is also the one who guards and protects, reacting from an instinct as ancient as the stars.

One is the director of that persona. My external persona checks in often with the director, asking questions like “Is this an appropriate time for an expletive?” The director runs instantaneous, faster-than-light assessments that take into account all possible responses and all possible (as well as a few impossible) consequences of those responses. The director judges and determines right and wrong, good and bad, and what is worthy and a waste of my time. And my external persona complies with those directions . . . usually.

The third persona watches them both. It is the presence that I claim as eternal – the one who simultaneously has the wisdom of heaven and all the innocence of a child. This presence does not worry about outcomes, time, the past, or the future for it exists in the eternal present. This presence knows it will always exist.

Some would call it a higher self. This is the part of me that stands back and observes. While I might name this presence feminine, my experience is that being is genderless. This self observes me in all my witless gyrations and struggles to make it through life intact. All that am learning and becoming manifests within this eternal presence. Who I become in this life is who I will carry with me into the next existence. It does not matter who I used to be. What matters is who I am right now.

Sometimes I become four of me.

Occasionally, I become a presence that is a full integration of these three selves . . . a whole being who is completely present and fearless. For an instant, I am tremendously aware that I am this peaceful, tranquil being on the forever journey of becoming. In the next instant, I fragment again into my individual personas and watch myself remember who I truly am.

©2011 Barbara L. Kass

A hooked presence

September 5, 2011

Many of our loved and not-so-loved ones are skewered on the hooks of our resentments.

Our best-known hookees (<== not a real word) are our parents. Some people are excellent parents. They know how to nurture, have the resources required to raise healthy children, and we grow up with a strong sense of self and belonging. Others had parents who should have opted, did not, and many of us grew up in emotionally fragile and damaging environments.

Even if we grew up without parents, we can still hook those invisible beings tightly on a barb and hoist them up high for everyone to see. We can proclaim something profound about how our lives would have been better had they been around to help us. We batter everyone (and ourselves) with the resulting being we have become all because of their actions or inactions. We hold them accountable for our response to their presence. Even invisible parents have a huge presence by virtue of the empty space they do not occupy.

Occasionally, hookees are complete strangers . . . people who happened by in our lives either by design or circumstance and something happened to us that we did not want to happen. Sometimes, we never even see or know our hookees. I have had property stolen from me and never saw the person, but he or she left a mark, a trail, a permanent indentation on my trusting psyche who can forever recount that episode, mourn again what was lost, and have that person’s actions influence my way of being in the world.

Others have had worse episodes of infringement upon their boundaries. Children suffer unspeakable abuse. Entire families are wiped out by murder. Some are left financially devastated by the actions of the greedy and ignorant.

There are deadly villains who are not even human. Along with lions, tigers, and bears, we have microbes, bacteria, and viruses. Tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes can wipe away any evidence of our prior existence.

On a world-wide basis, famine steals the lives and dreams of thousands. And we are ALL on the hook for that one, but that’s a blog for another day.

Life is a dangerous existence, as I have alluded to before. We have the idea that someone at some point should have made our lives perfect and protected us from reality . . . or at least invented a better reality. And because they didn’t, they are going to pay. In our daily memories, we feel again the humiliation of that forgotten birthday, the embarrassment of a drunk alcoholic showing up at our parents’ night at school, and the betrayal of having just been beat because someone else had a bad day. In our imaginations, we strike back: we think awful things about them, we create vindictive scenarios where we win, and, if they are still alive, we let them know often just how they failed us, and continue to fail us. Or, we don't acknowledge them at all.

But everyone still knows they are there.

Some of us are public torturers. We brandish and berate our hookees publicly, shamelessly, with a flaunting sneer and righteous attitude. We are proud of how those people did us wrong at some point in the past. We don’t hesitate to tell anyone who will listen just how badly we were treated.

Other hookees are silently suffered. The silent sufferer sighs a lot, with woeful heaves and crumpled shoulders. We recognize their burden is tiresome and heavy.

And I want to yell at all of them “Give it up already!” (Yes, some smarter part of me yells this at me, too.)

At some point, we have to lower the hooks and let those people go. Letting someone “off the hook” is a fancy term for “forgive” without all that God stuff looming around it packed with its religious and saintly forebodings. When we let someone off the hook, we also let go of our responsibility for feeding them and the hurts (real or imagined) that they caused. It doesn’t change what happened, but it does change our chemistry – our way of interacting with the world. While that person is still accountable for his or her actions, they can no control our response. We are free to acknowledge the incident, know it will always be a part of us, and transcend it . . . we can still be the presence we intended for ourselves when we came to this life.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass

Divine Presence

August 28, 2011

All of us came from the same source of souls – that Divine Presence which is all-that-is. We are the invisible energy that permeates every atom of existence. In my struggles to reconcile the violent nature of our existence, I am seeking to connect with the divine in everything: people, animals, plants, insects, air, earth, water, and objects.

There is a divine presence in a tornado, in an earthquake, in a flood. Each of these can steal away our living essence forcing our souls to move into the next iteration of our existence. The earth holds its own divinity. What appear to be weapons to us are tools the earth uses to sweep its air clean, keep its core stable, and refresh the soils that blanket its surface.

There is a divine presence in the grizzly bear who takes down a hiker. To that grizzly bear that person is a threat to cubs as well as nourishment. There is a divine presence in a wasp’s sting and the bite of a spider. There is divine presence in the fresh water springs and salty ocean depths. Without either of these, humans cannot survive.

Objects are created from atoms – the same atoms that are in living beings. A book, for example, is made from a tree and is imprinted with the life force of that tree. This plastic computer I am typing on is connected to the divine by way of its electric energy – energy that comes from wind, from coal, from oil, from natural gas. Even its battery stores the energy of those sources.

I’ll not be having conversations with books, tables, or televisions, though. My point is to recognize that all that exists has a connection to the Divine Presence that is the universe of existence. Nothing is created that comes from outside this universe. Everything that is destroyed continues to exist in another form within this universe. This is a fundamental law of physics.

Any one of us can die as the earth goes about its business. Any of us can die as humans go about their business. All the while, we are part of and within the Divine Presence. My difficulty is remaining consciously connected with my divine presence as I go about my human business. It is even harder to remember to connect with the divine in another person. There is only an infinitesimal margin of ability when I try to connect with a person who has been violent.

The violence I am discussing here is that which makes the Web headlines and front page news — the atrocious violence that harms other living creatures: our wars, our crimes, our retributions. There are subtler forms of violence such as the emotional warfare that a parent plays with a child to coerce the child into behaving and being in a prescribed manner. I don’t even WANT to find the divine presence in another when that person has harmed me or someone I love. All I can look at is their human failings and fret about how they did not meet my expectations, my prescribed way of being in the world.

I suspect that this kind of violence must come from a complete disconnect from divine presence. How can I connect with people who cannot even connect with themselves? I have to trust that the divine presence in me will recognize and connect with the divine presence in others.

It’s a place to start.

©2011 by Barbara L. Kass