Where there’s despair in Life let me bring Hope, where there is darkness only Light.

Where there’s despair in Life let me bring Hope, where there is darkness only Light.

Sto lat! Sto lat!
Niech zyje, zyje nam. 
Sto lat! Sto lat!
Niech zyje, zyje nam. 
Jeszcze raz! Jeszcze raz! Niech zyje, zyje nam. 
Niech zyje nam. 

100 years! 100 years!
They live, live (among) us!
100 years! 100 years!
They live, live (among) us!
Again, again! They live, live (among) us!
Live (among) us!

Sto Lat (One Hundred Years), the traditional Polish tune sung to express good wishes, good health, and long life to a person, is a common way of wishing someone a happy birthday po Polska, the phrase "Sto lat!" expressing good fortune, or, sans the song, as a toast. Those are the very wishes we sent earlier this summer to my Mom, Louise Teresa Wrobel Tootalian, aka Ludmilla, aka Louis, aka Lou Lou aka “The Pollack” per her husband Sark, as she entered her tenth earthly decade, turning the big 9-0 on July 13th. Our Polish Eagle — Nasz Polski Orzeł — born in the heart of Hamtramck, Michigan on a hot summer night in July of 1928 — could cut one mean Polka and cook a killer Golumpki back in the day, with her colorful cache of Babushkas and those infamous knee-high panty hose favored by female poles. 

 Appropriately pictured above at the feet of Our Lady of Orchard Lake, we’re rolling into the Chapel of the same name, the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. John Paul II. Serving as pontiff from 1978 to 2005, the Polish Pope was a great source of pride for my Mom and her sisters, shrines in the lives of Catholics in general being very important institutions, places to ground and renew their faith. Supporting Lou Lou is often eased by putting her in a wheelchair and just cruising her in — one of my jokes being that it’s a lot of fun to (Holy) Ghost ride her into groups of people out front, as she gets a kick out of mowing down small packs of parishioners. This Sunday, Louise had a mid-summer spring in her step, walking by my armed escort and her cane all the way from the handicapped parking area to the church entryway. My Mom enjoys being up front near the altar where all the action is, so upon entering the chapel’s annex, faced with rows of pews, she whispered, “Whoah do we have a long way to go” ~ actually not so far now Mom, just a little ways further. Because of our Polish heritage, we love Mass at St Mary’s, with hand-carved polyptychs around the dais copied from those of the Cathedral Church of St. Mary’s in Krakow. Wood etchings honor the Saints of European history who were instrumental in bringing the faith to North America — John de Breboeuf, Isaac Jogues, who worked with the Iroquois, Huron and other Native populations, and Katherine Takakwitha, known as Lilly of the Mohawks. One page of the missalette reads Thanks Be to God; on the other, Bogu niech beda dzieki. It’s a Holy place where the Polish Eagle can feel comfort in her final days, pursuing spokój (peace), mílość (love) and wiara (faith), before she flies away free.

 I was obviously raised Catholic and I feel comfortable with the gestures, the prayers, the kneeling, the whole deal. I wrote of my brother Mark’s funeral in May, a Ceremony in which the Priest created an incredible opening for the Holy Spirit. As my friend Doug, a devout Catholic has counseled me, “You just can’t box in the Holy Spirit”. My deep Catholic roots considered, I’ve grown heavenward over the last few decades of spiritual practice, becoming an ardent meditator, a student of Native American Ceremony, and today consider myself a healthy, poly-spiritual seeker. I certainly don’t worship some angry, predatory Supernatural being with dysfunctional human emotions who’s out to settle some score, and have come to the eye and heart opening realization that there are many ways to clothe oneself with the Armor of God. Ergo, Sunday’s taking in of the Mass was invigorated likewise by a another spiritual tradition, as the second weekend of every month is set aside by my meditation teacher Shinzen Young  for his home practice program. I wrote a previous piece on the Home Practice Program, a monthly meditation weekend retreat where people from around the world sit together via conference call. Interestingly, part of the focus of this weekend was on The Way ofThe Physical Senses and a particular technique called Focus Out. From Shinny’s introduction: “Noting the outside world – seeing, hearing, feeling creation — is what we do, but we can do it in an unconscious way. This approach to mindfulness — and by mindfulness we mean something new and utterly extraordinary which is the modern-day mindfulness movement – takes contemplative practice broadly defined interacting or co-evolving with modern science in a way that is mutually beneficial. And as to the benefits to humanity, there is an awful lot here.”

Regarding the home retreat, we sat Friday night from 10pm to 12am Eastern time, Saturday from 11 am to 3 pm, and Saturday night from 4 to 8 pm, with Sunday’s morning session personally preempted by Mass with my Mom. As to the guided technique, Saturday we practiced See Out, looking at the outer world, noting objects and shifting the eyes in a spontaneous or intentional way whether the shift was due to a physical movement of the eye or just a movement in attention. We practiced Hear Out, working with physical, external sound, either those naturally occurring around us or sounds that we liked and chose to play through a speaker or headset. If for a moment there were no sounds, we’d focus on silence as a restful state, creating an experience of being deeply anchored in the here-and-now of sound. If emotional-type body sensations or thoughts, external sights or sounds pulled us away, we gently returned to the physical side of our body experience. We were Seeing Hearing and Feeling Out the world as we do on a daily basis, but in a more highly concentrated, meditative fashion. In this way, we experienced the world that, in Shinzen’s words, “we so often feel imbedded in, imprisoned by, put upon, and stuck in.” But the same world presented itself now more in the way it truly was and is - nothing more than light, and color and vibrating space.

There are more than a few good reasons why I take the time to practice in this way, and though the advantages are vast, the quick and dirty (in Shin parlance) is that the practice significantly reduces my human suffering. In the chapel, I noted the large, looming crucifix, a picture of life’s eternal but painful nature. With all the scores of people sporting crosses in the world and others with Bible verses tattooed on their physical forms, I wondered how many of them have the willingness to to go beyond the easy answers of religions of the mind and actually give themselves over to dying in the service of being made more fully alive, being nailed to a cross, and to do so joyously, in order to kill the old nature. This is the spirit that poet Reiner Maria Rilke evoked when he said, “Whomsoever does not at some time or another give their full and joyous consent to the dreadfulness of life as well as its beauty can never take possession of the unutterable abundance of our existence and will only skirt along the edge of it. And on the day when the final judgment is given, those people will be judged as neither been alive nor dead.” Christ was crucified at a spot called Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Rozumiesz? (the Polish Capiche?). 

 Back in church, I took in the Polish polyptychs, statues of the Polish Saints, and large looming sculpture of Christ on the cross, letting my eyes shift in an intentional way. The closing song, Make Me A Channel of Your Peace, adapted from The Prayer of Saint Francis and my Mom’s old favorite, vibrantly filled the sanctuary as well as my ear canals, inside and outside becoming one in an exhilarating state of merging with sound. I blew off the padded kneeler and instead pressed my legs into the marble floor, as to better feel the raw physicality and urgency of my petition. As Lou Lou and I rose up and slowly made our way out the center aisle, she leaned over, whispering, “Let’s go to Dunkin Donuts”, another one of my Mom’s favs. If you enjoyed this read and would like to learn more about the thread that runs through all the spiritual paths of the world that, when properly pulled, leads to unconditional human happiness, check out our Fall Equinox Female Empowerment Retreat in September, our Fall Comprehensive Spiritual Development Retreat in October, and other upcoming events where the underlining theme is always Jedność (Oneness and Unity).

 Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
And where there's doubt, True Faith in you

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there's despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there's sadness ever joy