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LIFE DOESN’T FRIGHTEN ME

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My 8-year-old niece recited Maya Angelou’s “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” for her English class subject. Her mom posted it in FB and I watched it in full admiration for her ability to memorize and say the words with clarity and expression.

Listening to her poem felt like entering a door inside me.

It was the first time I heard “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” and it came at a time when life seems to be frightening me more and more.

The ongoing war in Aleppo, Mosul, Yemen and other parts of the Middle East, the genocide in Myanmar, Trump rising, chaos in the government, a plane crashing killing an entire football team and their coaching staff and journalists because of lack of fuel, earthquakes in Italy, Japan, Indonesia and elsewhere, the appalling migrant crisis in Europe, human trafficking and many other tragic news seems to pull me strongly to be scared about life.

When I heard my niece recited the poem I realized how this past months fear has crept in heavily on me.  Some are saying its best to skip the news and stay unscathed by horrifying stories around us. Yet this is not how I want to live. I cannot not read simply to protect myself from the pain of knowing.

With the advent of the internet though there is a tsunami of visual bombardment of graphic information. Some are really way beyond what the heart can receive. The other night I deliberately did not look at the video of a teen-ager in Mosul whose body was dragged before a tank. The article said it crushed the boy’s head.

Apparently it came from the very same photo-journalist who posted the iconic picture of a young boy from Syria who sat stunned, bleeding and motionless in an ambulance which captured the hearts of global viewers. If it was the same photo-journalist who participated in the death of an Iraqi teen-ager and in bringing out the iconic photo of a young boy in Syria to blame Assad’s regime then it is truly frightening. The media may not be telling the truth also. I also think of Bana Alabed, the 7-year-old girl mom who kept posting with her mom’s help from the war-torn Syria since September. I also am confused how could they continue to have a Wi-Fi access when everything else was taken from them by the atrocious civil war?  It frightens me to realize that we don’t really know what to believe anymore. Propaganda initiatives is making a fool of all of us if ever even Bana from Twitter is a fictitious character.

Life also frightens me knowing that Trump will very soon take office. It frightens me that there were really people who voted for him. For real.

Life frightened me recently too when I heard that my brother needed to seek a specialist for a health concern.

Life frightens me as I hear news of my mother having  forgetful episodes already. I think of the possibility of her having age-related illnesses such as dementia. I pray it will never happen. I know what ravages Alzheimer’s can do to a person having lived with someone for the past ten years and counting.

Life frightens me when I see an introvert, shy-looking teen-age niece who is studying in a Catholic school, suddenly posting a picture of her almost naked self in a skimpy swim-suit in social media. 

Life frightens me when a once bright-eyed, bubbly and highly smart  nine-year old girl I know as a baby  drastically  changed into a  violent, extremely anxious, verbally abusive and depressive person. Her inability to cope after a bullying experience at school and her teacher’s refusal to acknowledge the incident shattered her not even a  decade old spirit. She now  refused to step out of the house for months already and never went back to school. This week she has to be restrained and brought to a psychiatrist.

Life frightens me whenever I am having a chest discomfort. ECG result did not show a need for further test and a doctor told me it could just be an acid reflux. But it still frightens me as I still have the pain now and then.  I read that at times the first sign of a heart illness is death.

Where were the years when I don’t have these morbid thoughts?

Where were the years when I read or watch the news and not really feel affected by it?

Where were the years of my life when cholesterol, triglycerides, SGPT were not part of my vocabulary?

Where were the years when death is seen only for other people?

Aging, maybe aging is doing this to me. Now I know more clearly that death is real and time here on earth is limited. When your young life seems to be forever.

But who have I become through the years?

Why does life frighten me  when I’m supposed to be a woman of faith and with a life completely surrendered to God?

Is it because of my regular reading of news nowadays, both locally and abroad  which I was not really doing in the past?

Is it because I have acquaintances and friends near and far who had sicknesses or some even died already?

Is it because a most beloved friend/mentor is aging and I know I am apprehensive about being on my own when she dies because of  her silent heart related health issues?

Conditions may not also be according to how I wish things are at the home front and I may also be having a quiet, pervasive and long-standing down time. I know I am going through a deeper sadness in my own life as I enter my 50’s and yielding, struggling to the re-shaping of a deep celibate friendship as his life’s work and geographical move has to be respected.

Am I grieving for the seeming loss of a familiar regular conversations which circumstances is asking me to let go?   Am I in transition as I realized more and more that ultimately I am and will be ALONE? Yet I know this is what is being asked of me.  It’s  my  path towards my own authentic inner freedom and emotional/spiritual maturity at this time of my personal journey, this what I call yielding mode.

It’s been many months too since my last period. I may also be in a pre-menopausal chemical imbalance mode. I can also be affected physiologically and it may be coming out in my tendency to dwell on life’s harshness and attachments to old ways.

I don’t know but the truth is it feels good to be able to name all this. To say fully that life frightens me ironically feels freeing at the same time.

I am not ashamed to name how I feel.

I am not feeling apologetic too  that this is where I have found myself now. In a space where  I am not supposed to be “seen”as dictated by how others expects who I should be. As a nun I am expected to be without fear. Only faith.

I call this a home-visit. This is me visiting my own self and finding her afraid and yet it is alright. I know I don’t even need to explain myself to anyone. I just wanted to write and acknowledge that life frightens me. This is my own truth. Right now. I am grateful for having come across Maya’s poem.

As I listened to Maya read her poem in You Tube it has a soothing, calming effect on me. Yes, I have fears but here comes Maya saying that there’s another mode of living. She’s not giving a list of assurances of a terror-free existence in her poem. She’s simply saying it doesn’t scare her at all.

And if she can live that way I know I can too.  Maya has Faith in God. She has Faith in herself. She has Faith in LIFE.  Without needing to convince myself the words of Maya Angelou quietly gives me hope and an abiding sense that I am safe and will continue to be safe and need not fear life.

In life and in death I belong to God.

LIFE DOESN’T FRIGHTEN ME

Shadows on the wall

Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Bad dogs barking loud
big ghosts in a cloud
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Mean old Mother Goose

Lions on the loose

they don’t frighten me at all

Dragons breathing flame
on my counterpane
that doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
so they fly
I just smile
they go wild

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys fight

All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
(Kissy little girls
with their hair in curls)
they don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes

And listen for my scream,

If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
that I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
and never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

– Maya Angelou

 

 

PEMA CHODRON’S MAITRI

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I continue to be still and sit twice a day. An Easter gift.  15 minutes, 30 minutes…whatever. The important thing is I am trying not to read but sit still as I gather “ALL OF ME.” This feels right. This idea of “everything belongs” as Rohr put it. Not rejecting any part of my past. I read a line that went like this, “When was the last time you visited yourself?” When I sit I call it home-visit.

Sitting still is not just really about the self but being with God within me, in the innermost silent part of my awareness. It is not self-preoccupation because when I am silent I know I am with God and not just with myself.   Pema might not be saying this in her writings but this is how it is for me, in my own personal experience of sitting down which I call prayer.

The purpose of sitting/meditating/centering/praying is not to go on a peace ride. It is not to feel good, holy or to escape from real life situations. Slowly I am beginning to understand that nothing will really exempt anyone from the “restlessness/big and small sufferings” of life. No meditation can make our lives problem-free but it can help us see things clearly.

According to Pema Chodron in her book, The Places that Scare You, seeing things clearly is one among the four qualities of maître we cultivate as we sit still or practice silent prayer or meditation.  The four qualities are:

Steadfastness

Clear seeing

Experiencing our emotional distress

Attention to the present moment

What is MAITRI?

Pema wrote that Maitri means unconditional friendliness or being totally relaxed with ourselves. It is relating with ourselves without moralizing, without harshness, without deception.  All that makes us feel ugly, small and dirty are now seen in a different light. Self-forgiveness begins. Unhealthy choices in the past towards others and the self is seen with a deeper acceptance and understanding. We realized more and more that  everyone is doing the best they can with the inner resources that they had and that includes ourselves.  It is only when we begin to relax with ourselves that  we can let go of harmful patterns in our lives and allow lasting transformation to happen.

Maitri is HONORING our lives, the choices we made and not made.  Maitri is freeing ourselves from our own self-criticisms and negative beliefs that make us shameful and feeling unworthy.   It is givin ourselves permission to be exactly who we are including all the blunders, mistakes, immoralities, weaknesses, failures and all that we see as wrong episodes of our lives in the past and even at present.

Another word I can use for maître is self-compassion. It is a relationship with one’s self where there is nothing to defend or to protect.  This idea of maitri or unconditional acceptance of ourselves embraces all that we are without excuses, without needing to explain, without taking issue with anything or anyone

Maitri is allowing the self to come out from the cave of shame, anger, blame and unforgiveness.   It is our awakening to the truth that all along our sanity and well-being depends on our being our own primary support and best friend.

This stance to life does not fix all our angst, restlessness and issues but it provides a sense of safety and acceptance to be just who we really are. There are no harsh expectations, no demands, and no conditions. There is no need to control.

We begin to be more patient and understanding with our own self as we continue to sit still (pray.)  It is a new experience of knowing our vulnerabilities, all that we believe is fragile within us, all that makes us doubt in our own and in other’s goodness, all that makes life fearful, groundless and unsafe and yet we can be calm, open and kind towards our own self and others.

Maitri is the spirituality of POPE FRANCIS. It is the essence of his “Who are we to judge?” statement.

Maitri is Mercy. God’s face is MERCY.

All along this is what Pema and all other spiritual teachers are telling us: UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Jesus told us that we are to love our neighbor as we love others.    This love is a merciful, compassionate love and it starts with our selves.

I often forget this.

Hopefully I can begin again.

 

WORDLESS PRAYER

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The Maharishi  introduced me to Meditation in my early twenties. Through the years I learned about silent prayer in its different names and slightly different forms.  It is called in varied names – Contemplative Prayer, Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, Jesus Prayer, Silent Prayer,  Mental Prayer, Focusing, Breathe Prayer and many other prayer terms I may not be familiar yet.

My exposure with Buddhist writers affirms my attraction to prayer as a practice, as a way of life. I love the silent space of stillness in prayer  although it is inner mental chaos and not silence that I often meet. I saw also how prayer can be valiantly experience as another “goal” to achieve instead of preparing myself to be with Another.

I am grateful to realize that prayer is not another life’s “project.”

Prayer is a gift, a response to being here in this side of life. No one will give us a certificate, a grade, a trophy nor a medal on the quality and form of prayer  we have chosen and strive to practice. How prayer impacts our life is seen in no another place but in our everyday inner and outer  life.

In Eastern form of silent prayer the aim is to be fully in the present moment as we allow the breath to anchor that stillness. In Catholic tradition, silence in prayer is being with a Presence. There is a faith-filled certainty and assurance, although there is no word, there is no conversation, that we are present with God.

It is “relational.” Not empty as in nothing or as in no-presence. In my faith tradition to pray is to be with. One of our great prayer teacher, St Teresa of Avila, wrote this about prayer: “Prayer is a frequent intimate sharing with Someone whom we know loves us.”

This is not an easy path but it is not complicated too. Like all  forms of silent prayer in all prayer traditions it is and can be full of “distractions” but we know that we can always choose to drop that story line, that drama, and pay attention to what brings us to here and now — to the Presence of God.

Labels can be  dissolved. I don’t really tell myself whether I am praying as a Buddhist or as a Catholic. I simply stay. God has no religion anyway. He is neither a Catholic nor a Buddhist.

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Dr David Benner’s Soulful Spirituality confirms my many nudges about life. It is a very expansive book coming from a Christian perspective but not minimizing other paths. I like to meet authors like him. He is respectful of all and does not label this and that school of thought as enemies or devilish.

He seems to really know about human condition.

I want to write a book like that someday. I am doing this Writing Practice with the hope that I can gain confidence in expressing my thoughts. The most important element in writing is the discovery of your own VOICE. I hear my voice resonating with D.B’s.

My blog’s title is BE SERENE.WRITE. Because writing is my prayer path. It could be

BE SERENE.PAINT,

BE SERENE.WALK,

BE SERENE.COOK.

Mine is through writing.

Each of us has our own path to serenity. In our uniqueness we experience the world differently therefore the way we find peace varies. I find peace in being able to put words into my thoughts and feelings. I make sense with what is happening within and without through writing. Writing is an interior act. We draw forth what is within us. There is this depths of meaning we come in contact with as we articulate our inner world.

To write is to connect the swirling movements that make our life meaningful. Clarity sets in even in areas I am still unable to fully grapple. I may not receive full clarity but somehow there is a sense of being okay in those in-between spaces. When I write my spirit expands. It relaxes me. Writing feels like having a  companion seating beside me.  It feels like a friendly hug assuring me that all is well.

My interest in writing was present long before I went to school. It came from my need to make sense and articulate my experiences even as a young child.

There were no concepts yet at that time but I can still  remember the wonder of being in touch with the reality that I exist.  I wonder about that darkness when my eyes were close.  As I get curious and wonder about that I experience I would just stay and   be  touched with a sense unanswered inquiries about  who am I before I am here, who will I be and where will I be when I have no body and where am I when all I see is darkness.

I see wide dark space  when I close my eyes.  I was curious about thoughts that come and go and the wide spaces  in my head. I was thinking about thinking. There was no idea of anything religious. There was actually no idea at all. I was not thinking of God. It was just me and that sense of wondering that I exist and am present.

They do not last long and eventually faded like all other childhood memories.It was only later when I could articulate those experiences.

It came back when I began practicing silent prayer. Silent prayer felt familiar.  I remembered  how I used to close my eyes and see the vast but not-scary infinity of darkness. I had no notion of prayer back then. I was simply a curious child. I never told anyone about it. It doesn’t seem important in my young mind. It was just an experience that I never thought I will remember decades later.

This time I see it as my young soul’s quick and indelible sparks of prayer, of connecting with The Path.   I believe it was in  those “wonder-ing”  moments that the writer in me was being born. I was being led to the inner life, the place where writers reside.

 

 

SILENT PRAYER

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Meditation path at Mount Baldy Zen Center.

Meditation path at Mount Baldy Zen Center. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was first encountered as Centering Prayer and then I read about Zen Meditation. And then there was no more label.

I simply sit, breathe, close my eyes and let myself be quiet. But it is seldom quiet. It is the intention to be quiet that makes me stay. I don’t always succeed. I fail more than I manage to finish.

This morning I decided to go back to at least thirty minutes of such space. I need it. Badly. It’s been months and maybe years since I stop praying. I am hardly quiet. My body is there but I am nowhere. Do I talk to God when I am quiet? No. What I do is to help myself lessen the chatter so I would hear him/her. I did a lot of talking already. It has been an endless chatter. It is time to listen.

Returning to writing is the same as returning to prayer for me. I will write. I will pray.

I will try to help myself FOCUS. On what? On living better than I have been doing these past years. I have been out of control. I feel more and more like I am failing in everything. I am just going through the motions of it all and my life is passing by. Before I knew it I am already sixty and full of regrets.

Maybe if I allow myself to write daily, to be still each morning (at least thirty minutes), maybe I will taste a glimpse of serenity. Maybe if I let myself be completely honest here, just as I am, incognito yet real, maybe, maybe I can let my spirit free.

There’s no forever in this lifetime. At most I have three to four decades and then a blank, a permanent pause, a re-birth into a new realm but not here anymore, not in this consciousness anymore. I guess this is a preparation for that moment. I want to be serene for that moment. I can begin NOW.