Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Ordinary miracle

It's springtime, although folks in my hometown are wondering where it went after this week's chilly weather.   We've had an unusually mild winter, so I imagined warmer temperatures and long afternoons in the garden would be status quo by now, but alas...it's not meant to be just yet.  Still, the days are getting longer.  Despite last weekend's snowfall, the daffodils have started to blossom, and a host of magnolia trees are blooming around town.  It may be only twenty degrees outside my office window, but at least we're heading toward the summer solstice.
That's an ordinary miracle for anyone who lives in the Midwest.
When I taught first grade, I read Charlotte's Web to my students every April, for the story embodies everything I love about springtime.  Warm winds bring seed pods that settle in the gardens and new babies are born, be they piglets or kittens or the little bunnies that hop around my backyard.  The cycles of life are never-ending and E.B. White's classic children's book is alight with some of the most precious moments from my time as a teacher. 
Every year when we reached the last page, tears filled my eyes as I read: It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.  I've spent most of my life striving to be both a true friend and a good writer.  It's not been an easy journey, but through Charlotte's tutelage, I've also tried to weave humility, grace, and acceptance through every moment of my life, knowing that what she told Wilbur is infinitely true:  We're born, we live a little while, we die.  By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.

This spring I've been contemplating new beginnings and my mind as been wandering back to memories of being with friends when they gave birth, when the babies took their first breath.  Then, while meditating recently, my youngest cat slept at my feet.  The rhythm of Aditi's breath reminded me of a precious afternoon when I cradled an entire litter of nine-day-old kittens in my arms, feeling their bodies rise and fall as they all breathed as one little bundle of fluff. 
From the moment of each of our births, the breath has been the one constant, the single thing that has never left us, no matter where we were, no matter what was happening.  No matter who and where we are right now.
A friend and I were talking about Zen meditation and he told me that to be with the breath...to actually become it...is all I need to do to stay in the present moment.  "Can you get into the spaces in-between the inhalation and exhalation?" he asked. 
"You mean when the breath pauses between the cycles?" I replied.  "Sure... every day."
"Well, then you're there...you're enlightened," he smiled.  "'Cause that's all there really is to being aware of who you are...that quiet space inside."
Since then, I've thought a lot about the ordinary miracle of being able to breathe freely.   While in a waiting room last week, I watched the receptionist sit at her desk working on tax forms.  Her breathing pattern was incredibly labored as if each round was an excruciating exercise in drawing the breath in, then letting it go.  Round after round, she gasped and wheezed, sounding as if her ribs were a rusty squeezebox.  Through listening to her struggle, I instantly became aware of the gift of being able to breathe freely.  
Taking a silent, slow, deep breath, I sent a blessing to the receptionist as well as a prayer of gratitude to recognize the power in something I often take for granted.

This time of year ordinary miracles abound in my garden and beyond.  Perennials that have survived the most wicked of winters have poked their heads above ground to get a lay of the land before they unfurl that much more.  I have a kind new neighbor who has allowed me to branch out in the community in ways that bring me a greater understanding of the bigger picture as well as a deeper sense of inner peace.  My yoga students continue to come to class week after week, allowing me to witness their own gentle unfolding as we venture into preparatory poses for the headstand and other inversions.  
Through it all, I've spent a great deal of time in silence, listening to my breath, watching my cats as they lazily doze in a sunbeam, their little ribcages rising and falling as they snooze.  Meditating on my breath, I know that I'm simultaneously experiencing birth and death, for with every inhalation I bring new life into my body and with every exhalation, I let go of whatever I no longer need to carry.  Be it a moment of sadness, anger or resentment, or a joyous experience that I know cannot last,  releasing whatever is in the past allows more space for whatever is in the present. 
Every day is filled with miracles, large and small.  I suppose what my friend said is true...that to be enlightened simply means to be able to experience it all, the darkness and the light, with a deeper awareness.   These days I marvel at the power of forgiveness, a smile from a newborn baby, a gentle kindness from a stranger, and the peace that comes from appreciating all that's being offered, even if it's not always what I had anticipated. 
There's no need to teach a seed to grow, yet as a gardener I understand the intrinsic value in nurturing it day by day so that it can one day become all that it is meant to be.  Perhaps the same is true for each one of us.  Breath by breath...moment by moment...we can become more aware of the ordinary miracles that bloom in the garden of our lives.

Watch "Ordinary Miracle" by Sarah McLachalan