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“It’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.” – Br. David Steindl Rast

Good Questions & Widening Circles

Please bear with my stream of consciousness post:

This week, Carl gifted me a birthday treatment at a local spa, a place which, of course, is mainly available for people of privilege. The treatment that was booked for me was unavailable due to maintenance issues and I was kindly offered a free alternative treatment – a facial with high quality organic products – and many people at the spa kept apologizing to me for reorienting my original treatment. I was so grateful to have an hour to be at a lovely spa – the way in which I was pampered was beside the point. I imagine they have many wealthy, entitled customers who might have a fit if they didn’t get their way.

I was lying on the table thinking about race issues and climate change and my esthetician shared about her passion for working with eyebrows. Huh, I thought.

I’ve heard stories from friends and acquaintances who live in the area of the devastating fires in Northern California. The evidence of the climate crisis is all around. And yet it’s a beautiful day here today, with no smoke in the skies, with standard, gorgeous fall weather. It’s so easy to forget the bigger picture of a climate crisis. It’s also easy to get absorbed in the various personal and global crises and forget the still bigger picture that everything alive is impermanent, even Earth.  And in one way or another, everything we love we will lose. It is all so very precious.

I read an email a friend sent to her mailing list expressing her huge heartfelt gratitude for hosting a retreat on Hawaii, for feeling so damn good, for having so much beauty in her life. The photos of the retreat were lovely, and included only white people.

A few days ago I learned that a very bright and creative friend died of breast cancer. I was so surprised. It seemed to happen so fast. She was so luminous when last I saw her. And now she’s gone.

It was my birthday earlier this week and I met my parents for dinner. My son and I arrived at the restaurant early, so we wandered around a nearby store – World Market – until it was time for dinner. It’s something I don’t often do (unless it’s a bookstore or a grocery store) and I confess, I felt so strange… I know that it’s one of dozens of such stores in countless thousands of such strip malls around the country. So much stuff. Some of it really beautiful. Probably a fair amount of it made by people in conditions of great suffering. I’d bet some was created by children in sweatshops. I can’t help but feel the way these beautiful things are haunted.   I wondered as I wandered – do we really need so many beautiful rugs, vases, pieces of furniture, holiday decor, new dishes, Christmas ornaments? I kept thinking of Gandhi’s saying, “Live simply that others may simply live.”

We are not living that way, are we? 

Lives are at risk. I wanted to plaster little signs around the store saying, “Climate change is real. Do you really need this?” And another sign: “The world is in peril. What will you protect?” Not only to remind others. To remind myself. When asked “What will you protect?” I hope the answer goes beyond the cuteness of your living room. Or your eyebrows. Or your savings account. We need you.

And truth be told, I have a son who begged and begged and begged for a new Nerf gun. And I just bought him one in exchange for him giving me much of his Halloween candy. I don’t feel great about it.

And yet, aren’t beauty and frivolous fun also important?

And then the question haunts me:

When your grandchildren ask you “Once you knew the climate crisis was real, what did you do?” 

What will I say? “Not much. I went shopping.” I hope not.

There’s a quote of Terry Tempest Williams that moves me so deeply. “The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.”

Yesterday I parked at my son’s school to wander in and collect him. I passed parents in line, parked and waiting for their children, and every single one had their heads down, staring at a glowing screen.

What a strange life it is. Sometimes I feel like my head is spinning.

Then I know I need to come back to my body.

Just this. Right here.

And I say to myself “Down girl.” My inner life loves this invitation to drop out of my head and get into this living moment through my living body. “Down girl!”  Stay. Right here in this living moment. Feel this breath, all the way to your pelvic floor. Soften your belly. Put down your glowing screen. Look up. Welcome it all. This is life.

Wayne Muller has a beautiful and simple series of questions that have been coming up for me lately, right alongside overwhelm at all the information, all the beauty, all the awfulness.

Who are you?

What do you love?

How will you live, knowing you’re going to die?

What is your gift to the family of the earth?

In the big scheme of things, I don’t care that much about eyebrows. It’s good to know. Because sometimes I wonder if I should worry more about my eyebrows.

Nah. (I also respect if that’s your thing. It’s just good to be tuned to our own priorities, isn’t it?)

“Down girl.”

I get present in my belly, my heart & gut (my hut), my feet, and I’m here. I let myself feel it all, while also feeling the support of the ground beneath me and the vast space of the sky above me as I do.

I wonder – might we ennoble our good fortune by including more and more of life in our circles of care?

An excerpt from a favorite Rilke poem:

I live my life in widening circles
That reach out across the world. 
I may not ever complete the last one,
But I give myself to it. 

And Rumi’s way of saying it is this:

Move outside the tangle of fear thinking.

Live in silence.

Flow down and down

In always widening rings of being.

May we continue to expand our circles of care and being – wider and wider rings that reach out across the world. Starting right here in this body-mind-moment. We may not ever complete it – but let’s give ourselves to it.

The world needs us. Embodied and awake.

With love,

Erin

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