Belonging

Sunday, November 22, 2020

 1.        

On our walk this morning in Elm Grove Cemetery, I took this photo,

and later, as I looked carefully at it, everything seemed to fit in perfectly right where it was, and the word ‘belong’ came to mind. I saw a peaceful harmony among all the parts – pebbles, old leaves, a misshapen sign, the river with a few floating birds, and the far off trees and sky, all belonging together. Later, sitting with Delycia in the sunroom, that sense of belonging, of togetherness, was even more noticeable as we sat surrounded by assorted plants and blossoms and footstools and pencils and tables and tissues, all seeming like perfect partners with us. We all belonged there in the sunroom, together, a good-as-it-gets group. Nothing was unseemly or out of place, just as the battered sign and humdrum pebbles were not out of place beside the serene Mystic River and under the boundless sky. I guess the truth is – and I’ve felt this again and again over the years – that everything always belongs. This is a universe of belonging, of connection, of fellowship. I, and all of us, have friends literally everywhere, friends called people and stones and trees and even terrific storms, all working in partnership to keep everything moving with ease along fellowship’s trails. I’m afraid I don’t usually notice this confederation of friendship in life, but it’s there – the universal kinship among absolutely all of creation, a ‘belonging’ which rules the universe. 

2.

When I was teaching, I often heard teachers say to a student something like, “You have a mind of your own,” but I’ve gradually come to wonder if students, or any of us, actually do. Saying that students have a mind of their own implies that they “own” their thoughts, that they somehow created their thoughts by themselves and therefore have sole possession of them. It’s as if there are thousands of distinct physical things called “thoughts” in each student’s brain, all of which are rightfully the property of that student. More and more, that seems to me to be an inaccurate view of the way things actually are. We don’t own our thoughts any more than one part of the sky owns a breeze that’s passing through it. Thoughts constantly come to us, move around in our minds, mix with other thoughts that are passing through, and then they all eventually relocate to other people, usually through our own words, but sometimes through our actions or even gestures. Certainly remnants of each thought are left behind with us, but then parts of these remnants mix with newly entering thoughts and eventually move along to other minds. How, then, can we say that any of our thoughts are really “ours”. Have we actually created from scratch a single thought in our entire lives, or have all the thoughts simply drifted into and through us from far distant places? Perhaps our thoughts got their start long ago in persons we’ll never know, and, by odd, meandering paths, in due course made their way to my students and me in English class. If that’s true, then none of us actually  has a “mind of our own”. Our thoughts don’t belong to us, but rather we merely borrow them for awhile, sooner or later to send them on their way for others to enjoy.

Spaciousness and Newness

Saturday, November 21, 2020

1.

We walked this morning in one of my favorite places, Elm Grove Cemetery, and I felt, as almost always there, a refreshing sense of spaciousness. For most of us, life can sometimes seem small and restricted, but at the cemetery, the openness of the Mystic River and the sky usually brings me a feeling that life’s boundaries have, for a few minutes, fallen away. I walked this morning, among these scenes, with a peace that seemed measureless.

2.

Seeing the sunlight each morning, noticing that darkness has left the land somehow newer and fresher than before, I sometimes have the feeling of being alive all over again. I guess sleep is, in a way, a short-lived dying-out of life, a sort of simulated death, and so waking each morning is a kind of rebirth. With each new dawn comes a start-over, a fresh beginning, a resurrection of ourselves, you might say. And actually, almost everything starts over in the morning. Things clean and clear begin each day in the natural world – some new kinds of light, the somehow youthful look of even old snow, the crisp onsets of brand-new breezes. Nothing is old in the morning. The earth, the universe itself, is a refurbished wonder when I awake.        

 I’ve been trying to see this newness all my life – not only the newness of each morning, but the newness that’s everywhere and never ends, the newness that springs up inside our fresh and endless universe at every instant. It’s been a challenging quest for me. The apparent sameness of routine has plagued me for years, making newness not an easy thing to discover. In a way, I’ve had to be an explorer – an easy-going but fervent voyager in the search for the shine and sparkle of newness. 

3.

I see both spaciousness and newness in this painting by Dena Adams:

Shrug

This photograph, shared by a friend, brought back memories of my often frustration-filled life. This unfortunate fellow (who, despite the resemblance, is not me) has obviously lost himself in dissatisfaction of some sort, perhaps shouting out “Oh, poor me!” as he bangs his big head on the board at the front of a classroom. Perhaps he’s a teacher who has chosen to think of himself as exceptionally smart, someone who should know all the answers to all the questions, someone whose work in this world is to sail through problems with good luck and a hard head. I must confess that I was this fellow for fully 50 years. I banged my head on problems day after day, believing, I guess, that a tough, stubborn head (and heart) can make any difficulty disappear. I guess I saw life as an unceasing contest between big brave me and the bullying world around me. I was this bald-headed old boy in front of the classroom (the world), smacking my head on the board of life to bring answers out into the open. Yup, this hard-hitting warrior was me for too many years … but thankfully, around the age of 50, I started taking better care of my head. I slowly came to see that life can be lived like a captivating voyage instead of a fight to the finish, that problems can provide more wisdom than frustration, that questions are far more exciting – and more reliable – than answers. Now, since I no longer bang my head against problems, it, and my heart, and my life, seem to have grown softer, more open, more durable, more endearing. When setbacks show up these days, I try to smile instead of scream, to shrug and keep going instead of thrash and keep grumbling. 

And here’s Goofy, who know’s that a peaceful shrug is sometimes the best response.

Roominess

Thursday, November 19, 2020

8:22 a.m.

Recently, as I was thinking about an old hymn that says a grateful heart is one that has ample ‘room’, it occurred to me that a heart has more than ample room in it. In its true state, my ‘heart’ — meaning my inner spirit – has no walls, no boundaries, no limits of any kind. My heart can hold as much as life can produce – all the heartbreaks, sorrows, and disappointments, as well as all the joys and delights. If I could imagine a room with no walls and no ceiling, that’s the kind of expanse my inner spirit actually has. What produces this endless roominess is the simple fact that my inner life – my ‘heart’ – is not made of a material substance, and thus doesn’t have borders and fences or beginnings and endings. My true ‘heart’, like all of ours, is totally non-material, and therefore has a spaciousness that defies measurement. It can easily expand to make room for anything that comes my way – anything. Strangely, I seem to have long since forgotten this truth. I often see my inner life as the opposite of spacious – as confined, cramped, and filled to capacity, with only a minimal amount of extra room, and none for any more troubles! I usually seem to think of my ‘heart’ as some sort of physical room with walls, floors, and ceilings, and there are simply times when nothing more can be crammed into it. The fact that I glimpsed recently, and am trying to understand more fully, is that no cramming is ever necessary, because my ‘heart’ – my inner spirit – is as spacious and wide-open as the endless universe. There’s ample room for any and all failures and misfortunes. In fact, there’s so much room that I could actually welcome disasters when they arrive. I certainly don’t have to like them, but I can definitely say, “Welcome. Please come in and make yourself at home.” As surprising as that sounds, the fact is that welcoming adversity always makes it less scary and more able to be managed. Like a good host, I can turn those frightening visitors – the calamites that visit all of us – into relatively harmless, and even helpful, guests. I can say to misfortunes, “Now that you’re here in my roomy heart, tell me what you can teach me” – and then thank them when they depart, as they always do.


ONE DAY A MAN WOKE UP 
(1/29/17)
 
One day
a man woke up and wondered
why he was in such a large place.
He looked in all directions
and didn't see a boundary
or border line, just a land
that looked like it went on forever.
He was accustomed to living
with limits and dividing lines,
but this was something
different,  a world where the only
borders would be brought about
by his own little beliefs.
 
He liked this borderless land,
so much so that his little self
soon disappeared into it,
and what was left
was this endless world,
sometimes called the universe,
and his limitless life
inside it.

Below is a painting of a very roomy sky … but not nearly as roomy as my – and our – inner spirit.

Untitled oil painting by Matthew Miller

3:22 p.m.

On our walk today at the Denison Pequotsepos Preserve, we came upon another kind of roominess – an autumn spaciousness in which leaves have floated off the trees and left behind a far more open forest. I think we both felt a little freer in this roomy woodland, maybe even a little more in touch with the everyday vastness of life.

A Sleek Day

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

7:15 a.m.

This morning I was recalling the day, six years ago, when we bought a brand-new 2014 Toyota Camry, and I remember thinking its sleek, silvery look made the day feel especially smooth. Partly because the car seemed to shine more than most as we drove it home, the whole afternoon appeared to proceed in a streamlined way. Minutes came and went like graceful friends, and the sprinkling rain had a stylish look across the town. At home, our late-season lawn had a glossy look to it, and the almost bare tree limbs somehow looked silky. I think we both felt more sophisticated, more stylish, now that we had something suave and lustrous sitting in our driveway.  

No new car today, but I suspect we’ll still see some suave and lustrous things throughout the day.

5:49 p.m.

The rest of the day was, indeed, sleek, and in the most commonplace ways. Delycia and I worked on some financial matters for nearly an hour, and we did it in a smooth and poised manner, just dollar-skaters skimming easily across the ice. Our dinner was simple but stylish: tasty leftovers while sitting together in the sunshine from the windows. And now, the slow, graceful, twinkling trip toward sleep has begun.

Disorderly Miracles

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

In our walk at the Oskewatchie Hills Preserve this morning, we came upon this scene, and when I looked at the photograph later, the word ‘tangled’ came to mind.

Indeed, everything in this scene seems thrown together in a jumble – trees, twigs, stones, leaves, and sky all enmeshed in a messy kind of togetherness. But then it quickly came to me that everything – all of reality – can seem to be in mazelike disarray, a wild collection of things that somehow collide together and then flutter off to find more ways to be scrambled. What I love, though, is that many of these scrambles and messes and mishmashes of life, when I look at them carefully, have a pronounced overtone of orderliness in them, as in this very commonplace scene in the Oskewatchie Preserve. Yes, everything here might seem like confusion and chaos, but it’s just nature’s way of making systematized, moment-by-moment marvels – everyday fusions that are bafflingly beautiful.

I’m glad I stopped today on the trail and noticed this disorderly miracle.

Simplicity

My days almost always seem amazing to me, and mostly because of what I would call their ‘simplicity’. Usually this word has a somewhat negative connotation, but I see it as just describing clearness and straightforwardness, qualities I see in these photos I took in the last few days on my walks with Delycia along local trails.

These are not especially spectacular photos – just leaves and morning light – but their ordinariness is what I cherish. They show stunning beauty that is also stunningly commonplace, the kind of customary daily beauty that I very often pass by without a glance.

Hearing the Call

In the summer, when I hear birds calling back and forth across the yard, I sometimes make believe they’re calling me. “Hello, Ham,” I hear them saying, “pay attention to what’s happening. Don’t miss this amazing day.” There are other calls that seem to come to me: just now, the call of the flag in front of our house as it waves in the wind and wants me to watch it carefully; the call of the clock in our living room as it ticks and tells me to make the most of all my moments; the call of a clementine on the counter to come and enjoy its juiciness. As a young boy, I was encouraged to listen for the call to the ministry from a God who seemed to reside somewhere in the sky, but since then I’ve found another God. I’ve found the God that lives in all of us, including birds and flags and clocks and clementines, the God that loves to let us know about the beauty of each newborn moment, the God that calls to us to see the sacredness of all things. Those are the calls I’m listening for these days.

Wet and Wonderful

My walk in St. Patrick’s Cemetery this morning was wet and wonderful. There was a scattering of fine rain as I walked, the layers of leaves on the ground seemed soaked, and the distant Mystic River was slate-gray and misty in the dampness – but there was beauty everywhere, as this quick slideshow shows…

And yesterday, my walk in the Peace Sanctuary at daybreak, while Delycia was walking the roads, was filled with inspiring scenes …

… and here’s a short video from that walk …

Patience

On a walk a few days ago in the Peace Sanctuary, I started thinking about patience – mostly, I guess, because that’s what I saw all along the trail. I saw it in the calmness of the trees, standing sedately and steadily, as some of them surely have for dozens of years.

I also saw patience in the layers of leaves on the ground, leaves that seemed to be just staying behind, lying back, and waiting around for nature to choose its path.

And there was patience in the shadows – of the trees, and of a solitary picture-taker sometimes called Hammy. Shadows simply stay where they are, peacefully waiting for the shadow-makers to move, and Hammy was blessed this morning to be among so many unflustered, coolheaded shadows.