The Turbulent Secrets to Soul Renewal…Insight from Martha

unnamed-15Some of my favorite writers are fond of housework as a kind of counterbalance to spiritual attainment. Jack Kornfield, writing about enlightenment, says, “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” And Zen teacher John Tarrant (see this month’s book recommendation below) advises his readers, “When something wonderful comes our way, it is good to do the dishes.”

I thought about this today as I listened to my washing machine run in one room, the dishwasher in another. I’m lucky enough to have machines for both tasks, but however you clean clothes and silverware, the process involves common elements: soaking, sudsiness, turbulence, rinsing, drying.

It occurred to me that I haven’t been willing to allow these processes, so obviously necessary for cleaning my sheets and plates, to run their course as they clean up my life. I’d prefer a steady state of peace and happiness, please—and would you mind liberally sprinkling that with delirious joy? I forget that in the material world, the process of renewal and refreshment often requires stewing in my emotional and logistical gunk, enduring high-temperature turbulence, and occasionally (when the newfangled methods fail and the old-fashioned ways come out of retirement) getting pounded on rocks or scraped with sand.

So here’s my new favorite meditation: Load up your dishwasher or washing machine, press the buttons, and then sit by the magical cube as it does its magic. When it roars and sloshes, hear the echo of your fear, anger, and despair. When it spins, recognize your own times of confusion, of apparently pointless repetition. When it seems to have finished, only to rev up again, think of the times you’ve had to start over. And realize that all this bashing and crashing is your soul being cleaned, renewed, and made fresh again. Once you relax into the process, you’ll learn the great secret: It is through doing the laundry that we find our way to the ecstasy.

Loving Your Inner Pup…Insight from Martha

pupThe other day I heard something that hit me like a wrecking ball. Along the coast of California, thousands of baby sea lions are dying. The herring their mothers live on have disappeared, so the mothers had no choice but to leave their babies to starve.

Not long  after hearing this, I had the extreme good fortune of speaking with Byron Katie, who I believe to be a fully enlightened being, and whose work has literally kept me alive (check her out on YouTube if you don’t know about her yet).

“I use the tools you teach, Katie,” I told her. “I question all my thoughts. But I can’t get over the sea lion pups. No matter how hard I try, this makes me so sad.”

And Katie said, in the calmest, most untroubled voice imaginable, “Well, sweetheart, why don’t we start by helping the one pup who’s here right now?”

I came unglued, of course. I’d been trying to embody the pain of ten thousand starving mothers and babies, thinking that somehow this might help. (Right. Because that always works.) The pain had closed me up in a “protective” shell of fear and hopelessness. Katie’s words broke the shell. There it was again, that thing that keeps catching me whenever I fall: Infinite love. Grace. Comfort.

I’ll do what little I can to help to the sea lions. And the polar bears. And the pups of every kind, everywhere. And the human beings suffering various forms of misery all over the planet. But to do so, I have to return, over and over again, to the simple act of allowing kindness to touch my own broken heart. When we do this, possibility and healing replace despair and paralysis.

Today I put out water for the animals who are suffering from drought in my own neck of the woods. I encouraged a sad friend. I let myself believe that though we’re always dying, we’re held by something bigger than death. Right now. Always.

Try it. Give love and comfort to the starving pup inside you. Then let the love and comfort guide any action you take. It’s a simple little practice. It might not save the world. But then again, it might.

Photo courtesy of FerrF

How to Tame Your Fears

Fear is a terrible sensation, one we never, ever want to feel. How lucky we are to live in a time and place where it’s so often possible to avoid the things that scare us most: violence, disease, natural disasters, dangerous animals, and, at least until the very end, death. Instead, we get to sit read more…