Simplify

I grew up hearing my father repeatedly quoting Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” A life without possessions and attachments. Of course, he was counseling himself because he never threw anything away. Like many of his generation who lived through the Depression era, he acquired a lifelong habit of saving things because “they might come in handy someday.” A philosophy born out of necessity, yet hard to shake decades later when it wasn’t as necessary, and accumulation could become burdensome. Thus, periodically he would announce his intention of moving to a one-room cabin in the woods, as Thoreau had done at Walden Pond. Simplify…

My mother just smiled and continued living her own simplified life. Although also living through the Depression, she had acquired a “clear the clutter” approach to daily living. She threw things away, or donated them, if they were no longer needed. She would get rid of any old, damaged, or extraneous objects lying around the house. My dad would retrieve them from the trash. She had her secret ways of working around his saving reflex. My favorite story about their dynamic took place when she wanted to discard an old braided rug on the back porch which was showing signs of mildew. Every few weeks she removed a braided circle from the outside edge of the rug and surreptitiously threw it away. The rug grew gradually smaller and smaller until she was able to dispose of it completely. When my dad eventually noticed, it then became a family joke. Because even with their differences, they did appreciate and love each other. As did I.

I learned to love both Thoreau and “clearing the clutter” because of my father and mother. In essence, they did live a perfectly simple life together. Neither believed in consumerism or buying unnecessary things. We had all that was needed for a happy life: food, shelter, each other, and gratitude for the small wonders of life, like Nature right outside the door. I grew up in my own version of Walden: five acres in the Illinois countryside. Toys were never as important to me as the trees I climbed (and picked fruit from), the creek I waded in, and the fields I ran across with my dog. When I think of a “simple life,” this is what I see. And, even though I have resided in or near cities for most of my adult life, it is how I live: trees nearby, yards and parks, rivers or ocean.

The natural world, and the simple life, can be found in an urban environment as well as anywhere else. You just have to look for it, and then choose it, consistently. We don’t all have the opportunity to move to a cabin in the woods as Thoreau did, but we can always simplify. To me, that means focusing on Nature’s ever-present miracles and not the passing distractions of the overcomplicated material world. We can build a peaceful, inspirited life based in simplicity. The entire universe lives in those wondrously simple details. That is what Thoreau (and my parents) believed. And the more years I live, the more this essential wisdom guides my life. “Simplify” says it all.

Seeds of Life

My second chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer took place on 2 Qanil in the Maya calendar. The sacred symbol Qanil stands for “the seed that generates life and creation.” For me, a perfect analogy, because I envisioned life’s seeds of light and love being transmitted to me via the infusions, at the same time that I felt them radiating out from me in my own vibration. This is the circular process of God creating God in the world. We each embody God in our physical forms, and God experiences life through our experiences. As we create, or express our soul selves, God is creating simultaneously. The entire universe is a divinely designed participatory symphony of living light and love. I feel this almost continuously now.

Everything I experience arises from this awareness. During my treatment, the meditations I listened to were Panache Desai’s “Eight Beatitudes.” His words gently carried me along (“You as you have known yourself are dissolving. There is a powerful transformation unfolding within your being….The splendor and magnificence of your soul and the God within revealed.”). The accompanying instrumentals (Pachelbel’s Canon, Ava Maria, Unchained Melody, etc.) had a similar effect. Tears repeatedly filled my eyes as I looked out at the rain and wind blowing leaves from the trees—a choreographed dance of sight and sound. Everything I saw with my physical eyes, heard with my physical ears, and felt with my physical body aligned exactly with my soul’s experience of Life at that moment in time. A blessing—and another blessing just to be aware of that blessing. Gratitude filled my heart and soul.

Later, when I described this experience to a friend of mine, she reminded me that she too has written about the awakening of our souls and the inner guidance that accompanies that,* which explains why I had thought of her during the meditations. We are all here to receive these truths, to bring forward from our past lives and varied traditions the light of awareness and wisdom, sharing with all those we encounter during this bridging time into a future of infinite possibilities. We are a soul family flowing together from and to the source of all being in the multiverse.

This journey I am on with breast cancer is an expansion and opening beyond anything I could have imagined earlier in my life. I was not religious or spiritual growing up, yet I experienced God in Nature in every moment of my childhood in the Illinois countryside. The Spirit within my soul guided me on an ever-widening path to immersion in divine consciousness. We are each on these paths, in our own ways. That is why we are alive at this time. Sooner or later, we all will awaken to cosmic awareness and a sense of oneness with all we see. Even in the midst of challenges or pain, the seeds of life are growing and will eventually flower.

The language you use to express this doesn’t matter. It is the opening of your own heart and soul that will move you forward and ultimately connect you to every form of life you encounter: other humans, animals, plants, insects, trees, rocks, stars, planets. Each part has the whole inside it. You are a sacred imprint of divinity on this planet, in this universe, carrying the seeds of life within you. Awaken to the blessing you are.
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*Laurel Geise, The Jesus Seeds, Igniting Your Soul-Guided Life.

Poignancy and Gratitude

When you are in your teens and 20s, life seems to extend into the future like an endless expanse of potential experiences. You can’t imagine not having the opportunity to visit places you love again or see friends and family regularly. As you grow older and encounter both loss and change, life takes on a quality of uncertainty, sweetness tinged with sorrow. A favorite uncle or a parent dies, friends move away, you yourself may move multiple times. The tapestry of life is always shifting, and we too shift with the changes. At a certain point, you may realize that the years ahead are possibly fewer than those behind. It may awaken a deep sense of appreciation for every moment you are given. This is how our lives teach us gratitude. Yet now, at this time on the planet, that lesson is coming up in unexpected ways.

We are living through a period of heightened sensitivity to life and death. The global COVID pandemic has made everything seem tenuous at times, transitory. The ancient Buddhist wisdom of “impermanence” is suddenly front and center in our daily lives. Will we get beyond the losses and emptiness, the holes in the infrastructure we took for granted? And what about health and life itself? There is a kind of poignancy in every memory and every present interaction. But there is also—if we are open to it—gratitude.

Toward the end of 2020, my partner Anne and I moved from Florida back to Massachusetts. We had spent two and a half years in Florida, but in considering where we wanted to be in the future, the choice became clear: where we felt most at home. And that would be Massachusetts. COVID intensified those feelings. As the years go by, and as I live through this pandemic, the assumption that I will do things an infinite number of times seems to fall away. I wonder: “Will I ever see that person or place again? Will I have that experience once more?” Every single day becomes extremely precious, never to be taken for granted.

So perhaps all of us now on this planet are being given the gift of treasuring each moment of life and each relationship, wherever we are and whomever we are with. When I wake up on a cold winter’s morning in New England, I can either question leaving the warmth of Florida behind, or I can look out the window at the scarlet sunrise and the wild geese flying overhead and smile in gratitude for another day of life. Timeless moments in which to experience the love of friends/family and the natural beauty in the world around me. Cardinals and chickadees calling. Tree silhouettes with tiny buds on the branches. Bulbs pushing up through the earth as spring approaches. Rebirth is a part of the cycle of life too, and in spite of our losses and tears, there is always a spark of life renewed.

All that we are experiencing now, whatever our age, can be challenging and cause us to dig deep within for inner stamina and courage. But we have those. Our strong hearts embody love. Our souls are a reservoir of peace and wisdom. We are nourished by the connections between us. What if loss is ultimately just change, renewal—the rebirth of our lives and our planet? No matter what is happening, we can feel grateful for the poignantly beautiful blessing of life itself. As Mary Oliver has written:

“I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.”

Peace from Gratitude

Charles Dickens described the French Revolution as “the best of times” and the “worst of times.” We could use similar words to describe our world now. There is chaos, conflict, death, and destruction on the one hand, and love, compassion, and the birth of a new more aware consciousness on the other. We who are alive at this time are bridges between the old and the new, Heaven and Earth, humanity and divinity. To hold all that within us requires great courage as well as deep inner peace. How do we achieve that? One of the most effective and powerful ways is to hold gratitude in your heart, to see the world through that lens, even with tears of sadness in your eyes. There is always something to be grateful for in life, whatever the circumstances.

One Earth—Peace Within Crisis

Photograph © 2019 Peggy Kornegger
We have used language to separate ourselves from each other through a litany of pronouns—you, he, she, it, they—which together mean “other.” Yes, we say “we,” but it is usually used in a sense that cordons off “us” from “them.” The greater “we” that encompasses all of humanity is rarely part of our vocabulary. World events in the form of a deadly virus are now compelling us to open our hearts to that inclusiveness. We can no longer separate ourselves from one another, and that includes all of Nature as well. Our survival depends on seeing “we” everywhere. We are being radically schooled in oneness.

The coronavirus has come at a time when the world desperately needs a shift in consciousness. The planet is barely surviving because of wars, hatred, and environmental destruction. The divine hand of circumstance has stepped in to halt our disconnected slide toward implosion. This virus is slamming us hard, forcing us to allow the walls of separation to fall away completely. It is showing us clearly that there are no borders or boundaries between us. There is no other. Around the world, thousands are dying. Italy is especially hard hit, and it now stands as a global example of extreme loss as well as resilience and hope.

The Italian people are reaching out to the rest of the world, saying, “This is what we did and didn’t do—learn from our unknowing but fatal mistakes. Pay attention and take drastic precautions now. Stay home; self-quarantine.” Simultaneously, in the midst of their pain and grief, the Italians are demonstrating the most amazing grace and capacity for love. In their separate apartments, they stand on their balconies and sing to each other. They sing life into one another’s hearts. Throughout the world, people watch videos of them, and their hearts too are touched and uplifted. Those beautiful voices singing out into the night remind us of the beauty of the human spirit and our connection at the deepest level. Are we returning to harmony and balance at last? Are the divine scales being repositioned so that humanity has another chance at compassionate cohabitation on this planet?

Like so many of us, I have believed in my heart that this time would come, when a paradigm shift would change everything and bring us back home to our souls, our divine/human selves. I am acutely aware of the fear, uncertainty, and sadness that is currently circling the globe. Yet something else is happening as well: kindness. People, especially health care workers, are reaching out to help others. A friend of mine, a retired nurse in San Francisco, gives out homemade hand sanitizers and other supplies to the homeless. Helping is hardwired in her training, her DNA. So many others like her. Another friend in Boston takes an empty subway train across town to volunteer at the Food Bank. We are a compassionate species, we humans, in spite of our conflicts and cruelties. Perhaps this is the moment when love definitively phases out hatred and fear because no other choice remains.

As I watch unprecedented world events unfold, I can feel a tremendous letting go within myself. In the past year, I have had to surrender attachment to any plans, preferences, or certainty again and again. Now the dial on “Surrender” has been turned up so high globally that none of us can ignore it. No one knows what will happen next. For me, it feels as if there is nothing I can do but live mindfully in each moment, with gratitude for life itself. That’s all that’s possible. And there is a peace in that, the peace at my core, in my soul. Perhaps that is what we are all being moved toward: the “peace that passeth understanding,” the divine thread that connects us to something greater than our own individual lives. In truth, crisis comes to give us that gift, to show us that the most beautiful experience, and most profound truth, of our human lifetimes is oneness with our fellow beings and with God. Peace on Earth, at long last.