29 April 2011

Angel at Taco Bell

The other day I was out running errands and feeling a bit down, ruminating on how challenging life is, and how groundless my own life feels.  I needed a bite to eat and decided on cheap and fast. I would have usually gone to the drive-thru, but it was busy so I parked and walked into the restaurant.

A young, large, dark man beamed from behind the counter and was curious about the collection of Interfaith charms I wear around my neck. William instantly recognized the Buddhist dharma wheel, the Hindu "Om", the Tao yin-yan and the Jewish Star of David. His eyes sparkled with spirit and life I had not seen for a long time, and what I did not expect from someone working at Taco Bell.

William told me he was deeply spiritual, studying and reading many teachers.  He lit up talking about his gratitude for his life now. Curious, I asked him about his story.  At 25 years old, William had been homeless for several years, and for the last 2 years his job at Taco Bell allowed him to live in his own apartment, connect with a spiritual community, turn his life around and give him hope and gratitude for so many people and experiences in his life. I told William his light was brilliant, and that he had no idea how much I needed to hear his story.  His beaming face continued to illuminate as he served my order.

Angels appear when we need them, even if it's in a place and time we would never expect.


09 April 2011

Do you hear it, again?

April 7, 2011  --  Today the thread of connection wove through uncertainty, change, impermanence and paradox. Cyril's cancer is back, growing and spreading quickly. We all took a deep breath with this news, and yet we also were not surprised. Over 4 months ago the doctor said that small cell lung cancer is not a curable or even maintainable cancer.  The best to hope for was to suppress it for a few months to give more quality.  It was never, if the cancer would come back, but when.  When is now, sooner than we had hoped.  Now with the choice of chemo options dwindling to a few that have no proven record of efficacy with side affects of extreme fatigue and loss of appetite, quality of life is essential.  The question Cyril is now pondering "What do I want to do with the few months of life left?"  We continue to meet each day's unknown journey as best we can, knowing that many are praying for us; and knowing that Love is the thread that guides us, pulls us, binds us, and weaves within everything and everyone.

04 April 2011

Do you hear it?

Laying on the beach in the sun with just enough breeze to cool without need of a long sleeve shirt is one of my favorite places to fall asleep.  Especially after so many weeks of rain and gloom, a visit to Goat Rock was particularly welcome!

I didn't actually sleep this time on the beach, just a kind of luminous lucidity that allowed me to listen differently.

Usually, when meditating on beach sounds (live or recorded) I bring my attention back to the sound of the crashing waves.  Today, I heard something else.  A constant low din that seemed steady, without rising or falling.  I can't say it was background or foreground.  It was just constant.  At times it kind of sounded like a freight train in the distance, but not so ominous, foreboding or melancholy.  It was comforting.  When listening to the sound of waves, there is a rise and fall of sound and emotion - naturally.  The sound I heard on the beach did not evoke rising or falling.

The metaphor seemed obvious to me - what is a constant in my life, behind or within the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows?  Within those parts that generally vie most for my attention, what is there, constant?

It seems there may not be just one thing, one constant, but many that make up the inner outer connection - a thread.   Shall I call it Love, God, the Divine, Allah, Buddha, Spirit, or uncertainty, change, impermanence and paradox.

What do you call it?  Do you hear it too?

12 January 2011

Grandma's Eulogy - 7 Jan 2011

How did the rose ever give to the world all its beauty?
It felt the encouragement of light against its being.
Otherwise we all remain too frightened.
- Hafiz 

Light, joy, laughter, encouragement, kindness, honor, generosity, grace, compassion, presence – these are some of the many gifts Rose, my grandmother gave to the world. These gifts she leaves with us to continue to cultivate within ourselves so that we can give to each other with the kind of generosity and love with which she gave so easily, and so that we might connect deeper with the Divine, with God.

When I think about my Grandmother and her life one word keeps coming to me – Grace. Grace is the positive awareness and mysteriously deep connection to God. Grace is received by opening our hearts to receive gifts in many forms. Ultimately all these gifts are from God.

Grace allowed Grandma to be compassionately present. The Hebrew word Hineini means “Here I am” or “I am here” now…freely and eagerly. Hineini… This is how Rose lived….Here now…..willingly present for each person, cheerfully present for each moment…even when she could no longer communicate verbally, she was present in her eyes, in her smiles, in her heart and in her loving energy that you could feel just walking into the room.

Throughout her life, Grandma embodied the grace of what many traditions teach – being in the present moment is The way to be closer to God. The depth and beauty of each moment with Grandma brought us into what my Sufi teacher says is the “Glow of the Presence,” the glow of God. The presence of the mystery. And Grandma seemed to always glow.

Grandma was selfless and generous in her grace. Her generosity extended to every interaction in her life. She didn’t like to talk about herself. Instead when you had a conversation with her you knew she was present with you, listening, really listening. You felt like you were the only one she was paying attention to in that moment.

By living in grace, Rose embodied honor and integrity and was consistent in the little things. In an age of unlimited technology to communicate with each other, grandma stayed true to the simplicity and beauty of sending cards to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special times. These little surprises brought with them not just the tangible gifts, but the genuine offerings of love and care from her in such a beautiful way. These seemingly small acts of generosity came from Grandma’s big graceful heart. She showed up for all of us. Always present at celebrations and gatherings; always willing to offer whatever she could; always willing and able to laugh.

Oh, her laugh. An uproarious, infectious, full laugh that seemed to come from every part of her being. That laughter was like an invisible hand, touching anyone within ear shot; inviting you into the grace, the lightness and the joyfulness of the present moment. You couldn’t help but laugh with her even if you didn’t know what was funny; even if nothing was funny; even if it was simply a beautiful moment of sharing such pure delight.

Celebrating her life we all will have our own memories of Rose. And those memories, those palpable feelings of love and joy we have in our hearts right now are what we get to touch again, and again. Every time we experience the sadness of Grandma not being with us physically any more, bring your hand to your heart. Every time we miss her, remember that the grace-filled love she gave so generously in her laughter, in her hugs, in her smiles, in her kindness and in her time spent simply being – those are the ways that she is and will always be with us.

May we continue to live within the Grace and Light of the Divine; and in this time of sorrow, may Grandma’s laughter comfort us all.

03 January 2011

Still Flying

All the chairs had basically the same view, so Cyril chose one on the east side of the room. The day was clearer and the last of the red liquid amber trees punctuated the graying landscape from this hill-top view. In just three days it seemed like a routine had emerged - awake, start a fire in the wood stove, feed Minke (my little white dog), breakfast, pack food for the day and leave for the cancer center to arrive in time for the chemo treatment. This was the last day of this second series of three treatments. Cyril has been tolerating them well with more energy than the first round. Ending the year with this final treatment seemed like some small closure on an incredibly full and life changing year (but aren't they all).

Now, we are home, trying to get into a routine of living together post-holidays. Just as we were beginning to look towards this week of no medical appointments, no school, some work - I received a call that my grandmother, Rose, in Chicago died on Sunday. At 93 years old she had been unable to move or speak verbally for over a year, and for a few years before that dementia had ravaged her memory, but not her longer-term memories of her Polish language, her childhood, and the earlier times with her husband Frank (my grandfather, who died in 1989). She often had martinis "with" Frank before she could no longer speak. These seemed comforting and sad for her, but she always managed to see the good in situations and in each moment. She had an infectious laugh and my mother describes times when she and her sister and her mother would simply laugh at nothing until all were in tears!

Now I am preparing to travel to Chicago on Wednesday to say my final goodbye to her. So much change, so much leaving, so little ground under my feet.

The groundlessness of these last few months have led Cyril and I to describe our life as flying - not so much by the seat of our pants, but with the wings of our hearts and with the wind of faith in each other and wind of the love of our friends and family beneath us giving us lift!

We wish you all a year of abundant blessings of health, happiness, clarity, compassion, strength and clear skies!! 

I bow to each of you in deep gratitude for all the gifts you have so generously offered to me and to Cyril. Thank you from the bottom and top of my heart.

Shalom, Salaam, Shanti, Peace,
Karuna & Cyril

Karuna & Cyril
26 December 2010
Goat Rock, CA

Grandma Rose & Karuna
September 2006
Villa Park, IL

29 December 2010

The Fog

The fog rested in the tree-tops obscuring sky, blocking the sun, and hiding from view the crow's nest in the upper branches. I would have been down-hearted, had I thought it would lie there forever, but being acquainted with fog, I waited, calm, for it to dissipate, at least move on. The way pain does, and sadness......those other transients shrouds. - p. dalton

I know I am where I am supposed to be for a greater purpose, but the difficulty with it all, and with what is required to be compassionate, tolerant and loving in every moment is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Does our human-ness limit our ability to offer unlimited compassion and love? At some point in the past I would have said no. If we desire, our human-ness can be transcended and unconditional love and unconditional compassion is possible always - but now I don't know, and just saying that makes me sad. Perhaps when I question my capacity for compassion and tolerance for others, it is really an opportunity to cultivate compassion and tolerance for myself and my human-ness. Perhaps that is when the shroud can lift a little.

Shalom, Salaam, Shanti, Peace

18 December 2010


I have struggled with the concept Karma for a long time, always focusing on the "reward and punishment" part of how it has been commonly understood.  However, in Buddhism, Karma (Karma Niyama) is the order of act and result, e.g., desirable and undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad results.  As surely as water seeks its own level so does Karma. Karma produces its inevitable result, not in the form of a reward or punishment but as an innate sequence. This sequence of deed and effect is as natural and necessary as the way of the sun and the moon.

What I understand from this definition, is that in addition to Karma being a vital part of the sequence of life, there is also an element of coming into balance that is innate and at its essence, originating from a non-judgmental place.

Some people might say God is the Karmic force, putting things into our lives (act) because we need to learn a particular lesson (result).  Everything happens for a reason.  I believe that too.  Everything does happen for a reason. 

Especially in the most difficult times, I struggle to glean the reason for why a situation is happening, even more so when the situation is pushing against my edges of coping, when life is experienced as what Pema Chodron calls groundless.  It is especially in these times of extraordinary challenge (for me and so many of us), I want so badly to find the reason.

When I can't discover the reason, I turn to the spiritual reality that there is a reason, and perhaps I might not be ready for the reason.  But lessons and reasons will come and what I will learn will be exactly what I need to learn to be a better person and give of my self in more authentic, compassionate and loving ways.  

The law of Karma is always working - a balancing is and will continue to happen - I take comfort in what Imam Jamal says, even in the most difficult times, blessings are on the way.  

Shalom, Salaam, Shanti, Peace