Driver view of the traffic jam in the city

Despite calling myself, at times, a “change agent,” I still stumble on one irrefutable fact: most of life is outside of my control.

I am reminded daily of this by things like: a change in the ferry system that leads to a REALLY long line, rain when I’d planned to walk with a friend, people who cut me off in traffic, women who scream at their children in the grocery store, and other less-than-perfect events that happen around me.

Of course, with zen like composure, I just breathe more deeply, observe my feelings without being attached to them, and accept everything as it is.This allows me to drive during rush hour on Seattle’s free, jumbo-moving-parking-lot called I-5, in a state of bliss while continuing to chant.

Oh yeah?

While I might strive for detachment in the face of a sudden torrent of unpleasant feelings, I haven’t yet passed the prerequisites for Enlightenment 101. What I need are baby steps that allow me to slow down, pay attention, get a grip, and become more curious about the world rather than incensed by it.

Last month I started practicing a powerful, yet deceptively simple tool for dealing more gracefully with life. That tool is giving a blessing.

I used to think that blessings were

  1. the purview of holy people;
  2. what you said at the table – especially at Thanksgiving – before the food got cold;
  3. something written by the Irish poet John O’Donohue (see below).

Last month, I read a post on Awakin.org with excerpts from a book by author Barbara Brown Taylor, writing about the power of giving blessings.

 

Brown Taylor writes:

“I think that the best way to discover what pronouncing blessings is all about is to pronounce a few. The practice itself will teach you what you need to know.

Start with anything you like. Even a stick lying on the ground will do. The first thing to do is to pay attention to it. […] The more aware you become, the more blessings you will find.”[…]

This is cool, I thought. I’ve learned that giving a blessing is not a fancy process.  I pause, notice something outside of myself (amazing concept!), reflect on it for a moment…or just go straight to the blessing.

I can use this in the car, in the ferry line, when I’m shopping, or musing at home.

Being able to bless is like driving around with a magic wand, noticing things and giving out blessings whenever I feel like it.

“No one can hear you, so you may say whatever you like. […]
Start throwing blessings around and chances are you will start noticing all kinds of things you never noticed before.[…]
The next time you are at the airport, try blessing the people sitting at the departure gate with you. Every one of them is dealing with something significant.[…]

All I am saying is that anyone can do this. Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not.”

Wow. I tried it out. Cruising (slowly) down I-5, I noticed the young man in the Ford F-250, be-bopping to the music coming through his earbuds: bless you, I thought. I noticed the ticket taker in the ferry line, chatting with a commuter. Blessings. I returned home and blessed both the peonies and the sticky weed that wants to take over the whole garden.

I blessed our public library and my new books. I blessed my computer. I did not bless CenturyLink, my internet provider, but I am working up to it.

You don’t have to like something to bless it – or feel particularly grateful. You just, for a moment, pay attention.

Being able to bless opens up endless possibilities. I feel like Harry Potter walking around with a magic wand.

Still, there are some people and situations that feel impossible to bless. Like sex trafficking.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 1.23.02 PMI watched clips from the film The Long Night by Tim Matsui this week, at a terrific symposium about the power of using stories in government. The film is a powerful documentary about sex trafficking with minors in Seattle.  I was riveted, alternating between wanting to cry and puke. If there is evil, this stuff qualifies. Can I bless both the victims and the perpetrators?

I stand with my wand, in the face of what is dark, immoral, and I can’t even fathom the horror of it. I don’t like it, can’t forgive it, and I’m not grateful (no enlightenment here). I just notice this tough piece of the world for a moment, take out my wand, and bless it.

Even if I don’t have control, I have agency for my blessings.

Someday, through a blessing, I may find a shred of compassion for the pimps and johns. Understanding what you don’t like is probably useful if you want to change a situation.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.54.10 PMFirst, I need a little help seeing the beauty in the suffering as well as the joy in our world. I turn to a book that nourishes me:  the late Irish poet John O’Donahue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: A book of blessings.

John turned exquisite observations about life into offerings for the new mother, the dying, the exile, the addict, the new day, a birthday, a traveller and many common events. In so doing, he brought the mundane a tiny step closer to the sacred.

Here is one such blessing:

In Praise of the Earth

Let us bless
The imagination of the Earth,
That knew early the patience
To harness the mind of time,
Waited for the seas to warm,
Ready to welcome the emergence
Of things dreaming of voyaging
Among the stillness of land.
So I welcome you to share my blessing wand – a chance to stop and notice the world around me – and when I still don’t qualify for Enlightenment 101, I can bless that too.

And how light knew to nurse
The growth until the face of the Earth
Brightened beneath a vision of color.

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the Earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the Earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Let us thank the Earth
That offers ground for home
And holds our feet firm
To walk in space open
To infinite galaxies.

Let us salute the silence
And certainty of mountains:
Their sublime stillness,
Their dream-filled hearts.

The wonder of a garden
Trusting the first warmth of spring
Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream;
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

The humility of the Earth
That transfigures all
That has fallen
Of outlived growth.

The kindness of the Earth,
Opening to receive
Our worn forms
Into the final stillness.

Let us ask forgiveness of the Earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Let us remember within us
The ancient clay,
Holding the memory of seasons,
The passion of the wind,
The fluency of water,
The warmth of fire,
The quiver-touch of the sun
And shadowed sureness of the moon.

That we may awaken,
To live to the full
The dream of the Earth
Who chose us to emerge
And incarnate its hidden night
In mind, spirit, and light.

So I welcome you to share my blessing wand – you don’t have to be a poet to give yourself a moment to stop and notice the world around you in this new way.

And even though I’m not ready for Enlightenment 101, I bless where I am today.