My personal path

The Journey by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – –
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – –
determined to save
the only life you could save.

It’s around 6:00 a.m. as I stumble down the stairs trying not to become entangled with the small herd of cats eager for their breakfast. I push the button on the coffee pot as I pass by, open a can of cat food, distribute it among the six bowls on the floor and watch as they begin to devour it.

I pour a steaming mug of coffee, settle in at the table and open my journal. As I pull out my pen, our oldest cat, Chocolate, leaps onto the open page, head butting my hand to make sure she’s gotten my attention. What a wonderful wake up call she and the other cats are. My interactions with them are a direct indicator of how fully aware I am. If I shoo Chocolate off of my journal to get down to the serious business of writing, I know I am in my “doing” mode, believing what’s most important is to get stuff accomplished. And if I fail to take time to connect with the cats, I’m pretty sure I’m doing the same thing with humans. If I pause to play with Chocolate, as I do this morning, I know that I am in the flow, in touch with the best part of myself, connected with the web of life and all that it contains. (more…)

I dreamt about a hellish place
Of smoke and dust and fire
And volunteers responded to
A call that came from higher.

Feeding workers hearty meals
Washing dust and grime
Cheering cops day in day out
Regardless of the time.

What shall I do? My role to play?
A silent “thank you” mumbled?
Crying into my pillow at night?
By these ordeals I’m humbled.

I must do what I must do
To quench my heart’s desire
I come this way on Earth but once
Let me be cleansed by fire.

(Posted on 9/11/15, however I wrote this immediately after the events of 9/11/01.)

I have lived with several Zen masters—all of them cats.
—Eckhart Tolle

In 1999, a few months after Shonnie and I were married, I got a mid-day call from her at her office at the Mission Hospital marketing department in Asheville, North Carolina. I was putting the finishing touches on a client’s marketing plan at our home office in a little four-plex nestled in the woods just off Merrimon Avenue.

I answered the phone and Shonnie excitedly said, “Merrell brought in two abandoned kittens this morning, and they need a home. Can we keep them?”

“We’ve got three cats already,” I replied. “I really don’t think we need any more.”

“Please? They’re so adorable. Won’t you just come look at them?” Shonnie asked.

“Well, I guess we could consider one,” I said.  “Just let me get to a stopping point, and I’ll drop by.”

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

Bandit & Desmond in 2000

A half hour later I drove the four or so miles to the squat one-story building that housed Mission’s marketing offices. Upon entering I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of Shonnie’s fellow staff members and walked into Shonnie’s office. There on her desk were two very furry little kittens—both male, one black and white, one tabby—alternately grooming one another, wrestling and playing chase.

I took in the scene on the desk, smiled at Shonnie’s entreating and hopeful visage and said, “Well, if we’re going to take one, we’ll have to take both.” Shonnie beamed with excitement, and it was settled. We were now a five-cat family.

Though our three older cats—Chocolate (11), Kaali (5) and Attabi (4)—weren’t quite sure what to make of the two little fur balls and all the new masculine energy, the kittens settled in pretty quickly. Over the next few days we tried out various names, but settled on Bandit for the black and white because of his mask-like markings and Desmond for the tabby kitten in honor of Archbishop Desmond Tutu (though I never related this to “Arch” in my occasional email exchanges with him). Based on their large, tufted paws, their big bones and muscles (Desmond weighed 18 pounds in his prime, Bandit 11) and their long multi-layered fur, vets suggested that our boys had Maine Coon blood, a breed known for enjoying interactions with humans and being sociable, devoted, playful and at ease with children and other pets. Bandit and Desmond lived up to all of these characterizations and more. (more…)

“What is your purpose in life?” the guardian of the gate at the men’s retreat demanded.
“To work toward a more compassionate, just and sustainable world,” I immediately replied.
“You may enter!”

I guess I’ve known why I’m on this planet for 15 years or so,
And at first I organized workshops that encouraged folks to wake up,
To get off automatic pilot,
To live and love more fully.

Later I took to writing,
Hundreds of op-eds for a variety of publications,
On peace, simple living, climate change, treating our children well, the connection between us all,
Taking a few potshots at George Bush and his pals in the process.

Next I endeavored to shift the course of our nation by working for worthy candidates,
As a field organizer for Obama in Ohio in’08,
As a campaign adviser for Cecil Bothwell’s victorious campaign for the Asheville City Council in ’09,
And as the communications director for Patsy Keever’s successful race for the North Carolina State House in ’10.

And now on the final day of 2010,
I sit down to reflect on how I’ll help bring about,
Compassion, justice and sustainability in the coming year.

I call out to Life: “I am your instrument; I am ready; show me the way.”
And when I get no response, the relentless planner in my head jumps into overdrive,
Maybe I should complete my book on happiness . . . or my essay on gay rights,
Or I maybe I should go to work in the 2011 city council campaign . . . or the 2012 presidential race.

But Life finally answers my plea with the joyful giggle of a 16-week-old baby girl.
And immediately I understand,
This is my mission, my purpose in life:
To honor the sacred responsibility of consciously parenting this lovely, loving, loveable child,
To love Gracelyn unconditionally,
To trust my intuition,
To allow her her independence,
To be fully present with her . . . moment by moment by moment.

With Shonnie, to create safe, secure, loving, fun, enlivening space,
In which Gracelyn is empowered to grow into exactly who she is intended to be.

Thus we three begin our 18-year meditation retreat . . .BabyG14
And I follow my breath as I change Gracelyn’s diaper,
I buckle her into her car seat, and I breathe,
I gaze into her brilliant blue eyes . . . and I breathe.
As she cries and I wonder what to do . . . again, I breathe.

And something imperceptibly shifts . . .
Within Gracelyn, within me, within the universe,
And nothing will ever be the same again.

December 31, 2010

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