Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. —Dalai Lama
Key West, Florida. On Key West’s Duval Street, I meandered past the trendy boutiques, seedy bars, and an array of restaurants, including Jimmy Buffet’s original Margaritaville. This was American kitsch at its best.
When I noticed something different — a banner outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church announcing the “Drepung Gomang Tibetan Monks Sacred Art Tour” — I turned away from the steady stream of winter visitors and stepped inside the sanctuary.
A cosmos away from the outside world, Buddhist monks labored over the creation of a brilliantly colored sand mandala. Seated on a platform on the sanctuary floor directly below the wooden crosses and cerulean blue stained glass windows, the monks from southern India, applied millions of particles of dyed sand to a peace mandala.
The sand, colored with vegetable dyes or opaque tempera, was poured onto the mandala platform with a narrow metal funnel called a chakpur which was scraped by another metal rod to cause sufficient vibration for the grains of sand to trickle out of its end. The two pieces of the chakpur symbolize wisdom and compassion. In the sand mandala ceremony, I found threads of wisdom for life and more compassion for others and myself.
The monks dedicated a week to the construction of the compassion mandala. As I watched the monks at work, a church volunteer explained that the Mandala sand would be swept up and deposited into the sea in a few days.
According to the monks, students of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the sand mandala is a vehicle to generate compassion. The mandala’s construction and deconstruction is intended to help people realize the impermanence of reality.
As the sands journey around the world through rivers and oceans, the process is also meant to promote the lofty goal of a cosmic healing of the environment.
On Sunday afternoon the monks, along with spectators, traveled to the Key West harbor where the sand was ceremonially poured into the sea to spread the healing energies of the mandala throughout the world. Some of that healing energy must have reached me that day.
I mentally swept up the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years that I spent with loved ones who are no longer present in my life and imagined pouring the memories into the ocean.
Just as the monks intended, the sand mandala experience helped me move a bit closer to embracing the temporary nature of our lives.
The current carried away the sands of the mandala. Some of the sand may be washed back ashore at Key West while other particles will reach distant shores. Maybe the monks have it right and the sand will spread healing energy throughout the world.
Love doesn’t make the world go ’round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile. —Franklin P. Jones
I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess. Martin Luther
One year when I was enrolled in Self-Pity 101 and deeply involved in my studies, a close friend who belonged to a 12-Step program invited me to a women’s weekend at the Ralston White Retreat in Marin County. I doubted that her program could do a better job than mine of addressing my top concern – myself—but I agreed to attend because the destination intrigued me.
The historic house, now a retreat, was nestled in the redwoods. I arrived on a wet, windy Saturday mooning in December. Long branches of moss-laden redwoods swayed as a storm ripped through Northern California.
That afternoon, rain pounded against the picture windows while I sat on a sofa in a workshop on God Boxes. I listened to thirty-something Jessie, who held a cigar box covered with a collage of paint, photos, and rice paper. She said, “My God Box holds the problems I turn over to my high power.”
I crossed my legs and amused myself by rolling my ankle and counting the times it circled around. This craft project might be a misplaced belief in magic. A decorated container seemed as helpful as magic underwear. That is, not at all.
Perhaps my problems were far from one-of-a-kind. Yet I pouted privately that even so, they were worse than anyone else’s because my children left to live with their father after our divorce, leaving my nest emptier earlier than other mothers’ empty nests. I held tight to my self-pity.
As if she read my mind, Jessie laughed and pushed back her dark, curly, long hair. “Everything I’ve let go of has claw marks on it.” That caught my attention. She shared her story about leaving a physically abusive partner and struggling with alcohol, coming across happy and calm. I wanted the peace she had.
Jessie shared a quote from Martin Luther, “I have held many things in my hands and have lost them all, but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.
She continued, “A God Box holds that which one places in God’s hands: unsolved problems, unanswered questions, sorrows, and unrequited love—the things you wish to let go of and give to God.”
“On a slip of paper, write a sentence, please, or a single word about the relationship or any other concern that seems to have no solution,” she said. “In so doing, a ritual is created that will help you let go and turn it over to God. You can more easily let go after making a symbolic gesture of turning over the concern to God.”
I moved to the long table with magazines, glued a copy of Martin Luther’s quote on the inside lid of a box, and made my own God Box.
The words I wrote on two slips of paper were the names of my daughter and son. When I tucked the papers inside the God Box, I recalled Jessie’s words, “Life has its mysteries and I am not in charge.”
As we finished our boxes, Jessie said, “You may say it’s only a box, but it’s no small thing to make a ritual of letting go. Whatever you place in your god Box, you turn over to the Divine.”
That weekend I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about my son and daughter. They were on their own paths. I still missed then, but I started accepting the fact that their lives no longer revolved around me.
Having two incredible children who are healthy and pursuing their own forms of happiness was truly a blessing whether or not the children, now adults, visited me as often as I would have preferred.
My situation was a slice of the human condition, a drama, yes, but a plain vanilla one because almost all parents wish to see more of their children. I started seeing myself as not so unique, but as a parent among parents, a mother among mothers.
Life wasn’t all about me. After all, the children were ok; they loved me, and I loved them. They were healthy and busy following their dreams. I felt truly blessed.
Driving home, I surveyed the sun-kissed landscape and decided it was time to enroll in acceptance 101.
Max and I found dog heaven on a recent trip along the California coast. The Sonoma Coast State Park offered a choice of more than half a dozen different beaches, all of them dog-friendly,
The seventeen-mile stretch of sandy beaches, secluded coves, and craggy rocks that form the park is located less than a two hour drive north of San Francisco. oOn our late January trip I searched for a beach with just the right kind of access. The parking lot needed to be close to the shore. Yes, lazy me wanted an easy stroll to the beach, but that wasn’t the only reason. As soon as Max exited the car and sniffed the sea, he would be prone to leaping off tall rocks to get to the water, a feat he tried some years back.
On that initial visit Max was an energetic two-year-old who had never before seen the ocean. His enthusiasm knew no bounds. We had parked high above the sea and descended a narrow trail to reach the beach a thousand feet below. Scrub brush enclosed the trail most of the way so Max couldn’t see the water.
- But then, when the trail widened atop a huge boulder, the ocean came into plain sight. There was also a remaining drop in elevation of twenty feet between us and the beach. The sight of Pacific Ocean triggered Max’s instinctive love of water. He flew into the air straight off the rock.
I stared at Max, frozen in shock. My mind registered the seconds between his leap and his landing as a slow motion movie. My heart pounded with fear that many of poor Max’s bones were about to shatter. To my amazement, he landed, shook himself, and raced to the surf. He happily immersed himself in the sea.
Over and over, Max ran into the waves and back to me, wagging his wet tail with joy. The ocean was his holy grail and he had found it.
But this year, Max was older and calmer. The trek to the shore was uneventful. I walked along the sun-splashed sandy beach while Max sniffed at the kelp and crab shells.
Intrigued by the magnificence of the surf crashing ashore and curling back to the sea, I failed to notice the black sand beneath my feet was wet for a reason. With little warning, one of the mesmerizing magnificent waves rumbled toward us nonstop. Foaming saltwater swirled wildly over and around my previously dry feet and legs. All the warnings to be aware of the dangers of fast moving waves are true. Fortunately, this was a fairly small wave.
While I scampered away from the ocean, Max pranced away without even getting wet. At the end of our morning at the beach, Max was sandy but perfectly dry. This year I was the wet one.
Many websites offer helpful information. This one is comprehensive: The Sonoma Coast State Park.
The Tideline is edited by Marianna Shearer.
Max carried his lime green stuffed alligator to the Buick for our drive to Guerneville, California. The Russian River town is about 90 miles north of San Francisco and one of our favorite places for a weekend getaway. Our lodging choice on this trip was the Cottages by the River.
Yes, I was told on the phone, dogs were welcome for a $25 nightly fee, even big ones. “What is your dog’s name?” asked the clerk. When we reached the Cottages, we parked outside the fence surrounding the property. Max pranced alongside Nick and me as we passed through the gate.
We checked in and signed the pet agreement. The innkeeper handed us a rectangular box with the words, “Welcome Max” on the top. Inside the box we found a water dish, dog biscuits, and a floor towel. The clerk invited us to join other guests for S’mores at the fire pit that evening.
We discovered fourteen little houses that flanked a carefully landscaped lawn. Brightly colored flowers — hibiscus, geraniums, calendula, and an array of emerald plants adorned each one.
Inside our unit, Max slurped the water and rested on his dog towel. After we had settled in, we strolled to the gated pet area designed for dogs to do their business.
Carrying his alligator, Max sauntered along the path. He did his job and then leisurely sniffed the plants and rocks. Later on when it was time to drive to the ocean, Max simply refused to go. Stubbornly, he stood on the path by the cottage. Usually, he the leads the way to the car.
Max’s paws wouldn’t move until I realized what was going on. I retraced the route to the pet area with Max following close behind. He nosed through the gate and quickly found his alligator on the ground right where he left it.
Wagging his tail, Max rushed past me to show Nick and all was well again. Later that evening, we joined other guests at the fire pit and roasted S’mores, with ingredients provided by the Cottages.
That night Max stretched out on the floor beside our bed. He sighed deeply, resting his chin on the stuffed toy and drifted into the land of dreams. Chasing squirrels. Retrieving ducks. Carrying the alligator toy. Sweet dreams, Max.
Max simply won’t eat in the presence of others. If I’m in the kitchen, he stands by his food dish and eyes me carefully. Until I exit the room, he won’t chow down.
If the cat wanders into his space, Max temporarily gives up on dinner. He walks away. Some of his food becomes a feast for the feline. His rule of life is clear. There’s no need to invite trouble.
It’s possible a miserable puppyhood accounts for Max’s solo approach to his dog dish. He was surrendered to the Northern California Rescue Society when he was two-years-old.
Before I adopted him, Max lived with five large dogs. My guess is the other dogs frightened little Max. They didn’t welcome him to share the food any more than Rudolf was invited to play reindeer games.
Max resolved his food issues without professional assistance. He trained me to place his full dish on the floor and then promptly leave the room.
After each meal, he finds me, leans in, and thumps his tail, as if to say thank you.