Wednesday, November 27, 2013

It Is Enough

He who knows enough is enough will always have enough. ~Tao Te Ching

Greetings, my friends. In the United States, it is the day before Thanksgiving, a holiday celebrating our blessings. (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every day was a day of thanksgiving? It can be!)

For me, it is a time not only to reflect on my blessings and enjoy the company of family and friends, but it is also a time to reflect on the year to this point and consider how I want to spend the remainder of it.

A story keeps circling in my mind, one you might already be familiar with, one I’ve passed along several times before.

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen, holding himself forth as an expert on the topic. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied. "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

So it is with me. My cup is overflowing with thoughts, plans, activities, ideas, and, sometimes most of all, words. Strange to say that. I love words. I built a career on words, and always felt so lucky to get paid for having so much fun. No one is more surprised than I have been this year to find myself pulling back from what has for so many decades fed my spirit. And yet....

My one month break from blogging in June stretched to two and then three months. I came back in September, but since I’ve been back, I can sense a change. I have enjoyed reconnecting, but my attention seems elsewhere.

Where? Not in a place, perhaps, but in a process. A process of emptying, releasing. Michelangelo said that when he was sculpting David, he chipped away everything that wasn’t David. I have no claim to a masterpiece, but I do have a sense of allowing everything to fall away that isn’t ... hmm, words fail me. I guess that’s the point.

I have loved writing this blog for over three years. I treasure most of all the connections I have made with so many wonderful people whose paths I would not have otherwise crossed. I have appreciated more than I can say (again words fail me!) the friendship and encouragement I have received from the generous spirits that populate my blog world. And of course the fun! This has indeed been a happy place for me. A very happy place.

I have run out of words, at least for now. Thanksgiving seems like a perfect time to say thank you, and to let this blog take a rest. I would like to spend the rest of this year visiting your blogs to say a personal thank you. I will be by to see you soon.

I’m not closing the site, so if there is something here you would like to revisit, the door is always open and you are always welcome. My book will continue to be for sale, and the proceeds will continue to be donated to Edwards Center. And if you would like to reach me, please don’t hesitate to do so by email or Facebook.

May you all find your happy place, and live there always.

It is enough.

Monday, November 18, 2013

You're Invited!

God doesn’t call me to judge you. God calls me to love you. ~Joel Osteen

I’ve been thinking about labels and reactions to labels. We sometimes reject the whole concept of labels, because they are often used to limit, or to divide “us” from “them.” We use them to dismiss, to separate, to stereotype, to discriminate, to judge. In the United States, we are all too painfully aware of the damaging and tragic use of labels based on race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, and physical or mental disability.

So is the answer to throw out all the labels? Maybe. On the other hand, maybe the problem isn’t with the label itself but with how we use it.

For example, my son James is autistic. When he was a boy, he was mainstreamed in a regular classroom. His behavior seemed odd to other children. The children who tried to talk to him or include him in play were confused by behavior they didn’t understand. They were sometimes even afraid of him. They stayed away from him.

I made a decision to give them information, to use a label and explain it. Every year, near the beginning of the year, the teacher and I would arrange for someone to come in and talk to the kids about autism. James was not present for these discussions so that the kids could freely ask questions.

Without exception, once the kids had some knowledge, they showed tremendous acceptance and compassion. They went out of their way to include James.

Towards the end of his last year at that school, the PE department put on a presentation, showcasing the skills that the kids had learned. It was all very impressive, and the parents’ applause was constant. Then it was James’s turn. He started across the stage but then hesitated. Everyone got just quiet enough for me to hear one of the kids near him encourage him. “You can do it, James.” James tucked his head and did a crooked somersault. He stood up beaming. The whole gym erupted in applause. Tears were streaming down my face.

Labels don’t have to divide us. They can invite us in. Knowing that someone is from a different country, or practices a different religion, or is of a different ethnicity can be an invitation to get to know that person. We can be curious instead of judgmental. We can be welcoming instead of fearful. We can celebrate our differences, and in doing so, we can move past all labels and find our common ground.

Enjoy this short video of a dog who sees past labels.

related posts: The Water Is for Everyone; There Is No Them

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Embracing Transformation

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly. ~Richard Bach

Years ago, I was a mess. Chronic fretting and stress were affecting my health. My determination to control my world was wearing me out, and of course it was a complete failure. I yelled at the kids...a lot. I didn’t sleep well. Relaxing and having fun were out of the question.

After ending up in the emergency room twice with excruciating pain that had no medically detectable origin, I knew that this was my wake up call from life. As Step One of the Twelve Steps says, my life had become unmanageable, and I had to change or die. So I set about to transform my life.

Please read the rest of this post at Always Well Within ....

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Surprise Blessing

A few minutes ago, my phone rang. The caller asked for someone who lived in my house many years ago. I happened to have that person’s current number. After reassuring myself that the caller was someone that my former housemate would want to hear from, I shared the current number.

The caller repeated the number back to me, and then said, “Thank you. You are a wonderful human being.”

I laughed in surprised delight. I felt an energy, generous and loving, wash over me. “Thank you,” I replied. “You are a wonderful human being, too.”

I didn’t know this person, but I’m sure that what I said to him was true. He could have just said thank you, but he offered me a gift of blessing, a blessing to a stranger.

Wouldn’t it be great if we took simple encounters with people and turned them into blessings?! I’m going to try it.

I’ll start with you. Thank you for being here. You are a wonderful human being.

related post: Make Someone's Day

Monday, October 28, 2013

Animal Wisdom

I asked once in a blog post about what animal you would be if you were an animal. [I would be a wolf.] But today, I’d like to raise a different kind of animal question.

Is there an animal that has some special significance to you? For me, the praying mantis has caught my attention this year. As some of you know, my word of the year is Wait. I had not thought of this word in connection to an animal, but the image of a praying mantis kept popping up here and there, so I started looking a little closer.

The mantis is described as an ambush predator because it gets its food mainly by being still and waiting for something to come close enough for it to attack quickly and seize its prey. Patience is key.

Beyond the obvious connection to waiting, the mantis symbolizes stillness and inner peace, insight and divine wisdom. It is the sacred symbol of God to the African Bushmen, or San people.

So these days I have a little glass praying mantis sitting with me as I meditate. It is a reminder to be patient, alert in the stillness, waiting until it is time to act.

What about you? Any special animal speaking to your spirit these days?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Touching the Earth

Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land. ~Joseph Conrad

In Greek mythology, Antaeus was the son of Poseidon, god of the sea, and Gaia, mother earth. As long as he was in contact with the ground, his mother gave him strength to beat anyone in battle. He vanquished all foes until Heracles figured out his secret and held him in the air, rendering him weak and easily dispatched.

In tai chi and kung fu, our teacher repeatedly reminds us to root through our feet into the ground. All our power comes from our connection to the earth. I got a memorable demonstration of that today. Our teacher was showing us how much energy can be generated by “sinking” into our root. Using me as his partner, he stood in front of me with his open palm facing me, his fingers lightly resting on my chest.

Without withdrawing his hand, he made only the slightest visible move, sort of a dropping of the hips and a settling of the wrist. Power exploded from his hand. It felt like a horse had kicked me in the chest. I flew backwards across the room and landed unceremoniously on my behind. It surprised everyone, including, I think, the teacher, who ran to help me up and was very solicitous of me the rest of class.

As I’ve told people about my martial arts practice, it is a practice in humility! Beyond my wounded ego and derriere, though, I learned something today about the giving and receiving of energy.

On the giving side, it is abundantly clear to me that we are the most powerful when we are grounded. This is true whether we are talking about physical power or spiritual strength. When we are connected with an open channel to our source, by whatever name you want to call it (nature, God, chi, the universe), we are able to offer to others the energy that flows through us and out. People who manifest beauty, whether through art or love or martial arts or any other form, often speak of something coming through them rather than from them.

On the receiving side, the same is true. We are the least powerful when we try to block the natural flow of energy. Knowing what my teacher was about to do (even if I did not anticipate the degree of power), I braced myself to resist. I was not rooted, but rather rigid. Whatever harm I suffered was from my own resistance. Had I been able to stay fluid and rooted, his energy would have moved through me and back into the earth.

And what was my resistance but fear? Fear blocks energy. We can neither offer nor receive energy when we are stiff with fear. Fear uproots us because it disconnects us from the ground of the present moment, from the fluidity of our breath, from the loveliness and the lovingness of the universe.

How often in my life do I resist what is? How often do I get pulled from the perfection of the present moment into fearful thoughts? Yes, too often. So I’ll be back in class tomorrow, and I will ask for another demonstration. Because this is where my practice is, on the ground.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain. ~Frank Herbert

related posts: Invest in Loss; Step Away from the Thought

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Baking Bread

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them. ~Aristotle

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was a back to the land hippie. I lived in the mountains of northwest Montana, far from neighbors, with a view of Glacier National Park from the front porch of the little shack I called home. Without electricity or running water, life revolved around getting water from the spring nearby and wood for cooking and heat. I hiked miles through the woods with my dogs, and watched the big Montana sky. Life was good.

I prided myself on my self-sufficiency, learning about foods and medicines that grew wild all around me. I learned to cook on the wood stove and fixed some pretty tasty meals, if I do say so myself.

But baking bread was something I just couldn’t seem to master. I bought wheat from a farmer, ground my own flour with a hand cranked mill, and meticulously followed countless recipes. The hard loaves I produced were more useful as weapons or doorstops than for eating.

Finally a woman from a ranch in the next valley took pity on me. She invited me over one day to make bread. First, she taught me the right water temperature for activating the yeast. She taught me by having me put my hand in the water when it was just right. Then she added flour until the dough was ready for kneading. She didn’t measure anything. She just knew from experience. She had me feel the dough and knead it when it was just right.

At every step she had me looking, touching, poking, kneading, pressing, smelling, teaching me not by words in a book and precise measures, but by sight and feel, by the experience rather than intellect. The bread finally came out of the oven. Perfect. We sliced off steaming pieces and slathered them with home churned butter. I think I ate a whole loaf all by myself.

From that day on, I baked delicious bread, all kinds of bread. I never looked at another recipe.

Now I’m not saying that recipes are bad, and I certainly needed instruction, but I couldn’t learn how to bake bread until I could feel it.

Sometimes I look at all the books I have on my bookshelves about happiness, meditation, forgiveness, martial arts, mindfulness, grace, bring present. I’m looking at them right now, in fact. How many more books do I think I need?

Billionaire Rockefeller was once asked how much more money he thought he needed. Just a little more, he replied. I get that. Perhaps I need just one more book.

But I can’t read myself into inner peace unless I practice, just like you can’t read about running and then go run a marathon. I need to actually have the experience of meditating, forgiving, practicing martial arts, whatever. I need to feel the dough.

The doorbell rang just a few minutes ago. Oh good, my new book on tai chi just arrived.

Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. ~Martha Graham

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I'm in Paradise

I went to lunch last week with two wonderful women. One I had known for years, and the other was new to me. As we were getting settled, our server stopped by with water. He made the perfunctory introduction and asked how we were doing. Fine, we said, in the usual response.

Then I asked him how he was doing. He lit up. “I’m in paradise,” he enthusiastically replied. We all stopped mid-menu-opening and looked up. Was he being sarcastic? I couldn’t read his face.

Our expressions must have suggested we needed further explanation, so he continued. “I’m alive and employed.” We must have looked even more doubtful about his sincerity, because he stopped pouring water and looked at us with his full attention. “I mean it,” he said simply, and moved on to other tables.

We three just looked at each other, aware that the universe had just treated us to lunch.

He who knows enough is enough will always have enough. ~Tao Te Ching

related post: Contentment: Priceless

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Neti, Neti

To organize is to destroy. ~Lao Tan, quoted by Thomas Merton in The Way of Chuang Tzu

“Neti, neti” is a Sanskrit expression from ancient Hindu texts. It can be translated as “Not this, not this.” The words are meant to express the inexpressible, what the Tao Te Ching calls the name that cannot be named, or the way that cannot be told.

We humans are dependent on language to think and to communicate, at least most of us are. The idea of something that is beyond linguistic representation can be unnerving. We like things labeled and properly categorized, from science to Tupperware containers in our freezers.

Nowhere is this more evident than in matters of faith. We choose one belief and reject another. We seek those who share the beliefs that we have chosen, and we form groups around these beliefs, excluding those who don’t share them. And then we argue, and even fight, to prove by might that we are right. Chogyam Trungpa called it spiritual materialism.

It’s so important to us to believe that we have chosen the right belief that we close our minds, and even our hearts, to thoughts and people who might threaten our inner security. We organize our faith until it’s safe and tidy. Until that which cannot be named or told is lost.

I just finished a book by three women – a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian. (A Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian walked into a bar.... No, that’s a different story.) These three women, who all lived in New York, were moved by the tragedy of 9/11 to begin a dialogue, a dialogue that was not safe or tidy. It entered the dark shadows of stereotypes and cliches, the Holocaust and the West Bank, the cross and jihad.

They called their group Faith Club, which is also the title of their book. And unlike Fight Club, the first rule of which is not to talk about Fight Club, they talked not only to each other but to their friends, families, and faith communities about Faith Club.

And what they found was their deep and true faith, not in a set of beliefs, but in the openness of their hearts and the willingness of their spirits, in the humility of not having all the answers, and in the grace of knowing that the answers weren’t so important after all.

If you can understand it, it’s not God. ~St. Augustine

related posts: Tapping of the Heart; The Way of No Way

Sunday, September 29, 2013

God in Drag?

Treat everyone you meet like God in drag. ~Ram Dass

I laughed out loud when I saw this quotation yesterday. And it reminded me of an incident that happened to me several years ago.

I was walking my dog in our neighborhood. As I strolled by one house, a woman working in her yard stopped me to admire Sadie. As she was bent over rubbing Sadie’s ears and talking doggie talk to her, a homeless man walked by pushing his rickety grocery cart piled full of who knows what. The woman jerked up suddenly and bolted for her door, calling back over her shoulder to me, “That man might be Jesus! I have to go fix him a sandwich!”

I was dumbfounded. I waited a moment for the candid camera folks to leap out of the bushes. Then I moved off in the opposite direction, marveling at the bizarre kookiness of people. But before I turned the corner, I paused and looked back at the hunched shoulders of the man shuffling off down the street, oblivious to the commotion his passing had provoked.

I guess the joke was on me after all, because I have never looked at people the same way since. Or maybe I should say I have never overlooked people the same way since. Everybody became real to me that day, imbued with divine identity. I notice people now – in the grocery store, in other cars, on the street, in the news. They all have lives. Just like me.  They want the same things I want – to be happy and free from suffering.  I’m quicker to smile, to nod a greeting, to send a silent blessing.

Even people who irritate me. Maybe especially people who irritate me. It’s a challenge to see the divinity in the person who cuts me off in traffic, who is rude on the phone. Sometimes I need a little help, so I tell myself, There goes a child of God, cleverly disguised as a jerk [or whatever term seems appropriate]. Irritation melts into, if not compassion, at least amusement.

My Sadie is gone now, and I miss her. But I still walk in the neighborhood, and when I pass that woman’s house, I think about our earlier encounter. Maybe that woman was Jesus. Maybe we all are.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. ~Hebrews 13:2

related posts: A Few Leaves; The Kindness Game

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Do Not Enter Fear

Don’t push the river; it flows by itself. ~Fritz Perls

Do you ever feel like the universe is sending you a message? Like everywhere you turn you are running into the same words, or image, or experience?

For me lately, the message has been clear: Do not interfere.

This is a repeated theme in A Course in Miracles, in those exact words. I’ve also run across the same message in various wisdom teachings like the Bible, the Tao Te Ching, writings by Christian mystics, the Bhagavad-gita, and more.

The connection to my word of the year – Wait – seems obvious.

Okay, Universe, I hear you!

But it’s not that easy, is it? Even when we know that interfering is not the best course of action, we still feel compelled to do it. We rationalize it in all kinds of ways. Oh, I’m just helping things along. It’s for his own good. If I don’t do it, it won’t get done. I’m only trying to keep this from getting worse. I’m being a good friend [parent, spouse, coworker, child]. I’m sure I’ve used all of these reasons at one time or another. I still do!

But isn’t it true that sometimes we do need to act, sometimes on someone else’s behalf? Sure. So how do I tell the difference between interfering and acting appropriately? When is it, using the term from Buddhism, “right action”?

The answer is in the words: Do not interfere. If you say it out loud, it sounds like “Do not enter fear.” Do not interfere. Do not enter fear. Oohhhh.

If I act because I am anxious, because I am uncomfortable, because I want to escape my agitation, because I am spinning out dire scenarios, because I want, as the airline commercial says, to get away, then my actions are really about me, about my fear and my desire to feel safe. I am entering fear and I am interfering.

In contrast, when I stay centered and not reactive to fear, I’m more likely to respond to a situation appropriately rather than trying to control something, or someone, I can’t control. That might mean acting or not acting, but in either case, I am not interfering.

So “do not interfere” is my current message from the universe. What about you? Have you gotten a message lately?

There is a time for everything, and a season for every purpose under Heaven. ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

related posts: Letting Go; The Things I Cannot Change

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Quick and Easy Joy Habits

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. ~Marianne Williamson

Thanks to Vidya Sury and to Elle for reminding me of quick and easy joy habits we can incorporate into our daily lives without any fuss and bother. These habits will not add any burden to your busy schedule. You don’t have to practice them to get good at them – we all start out as experts!

Here are theirs, with a couple of my own thrown in.

1. Compliment someone. Someone once leaned over to me in a meeting and told me that I have a beautiful smile. It made my day. Heck, it made my week. And guess what – now I smile a LOT!

2.  Smile at someone. See the smooth segue from the last one? The physical act of smiling sends messages to our brains that we are happy. And smiling is contagious.

3.  Belly breathe. Just as smiling tells our brains that we are happy, belly breathing (breathing deeply into your abdomen) tells our brains that we are safe. It interrupts the chronic stress cycle that shallow chest breathing creates, and helps us relax and be present.

4.  Thank someone. Thanking anyone is great. Thanking someone we often overlook is even greater. Thank someone in your family. Thank a person who serves you or helps you in some way – a cashier, a first responder, a receptionist, a sanitation worker, a restaurant server, a courtesy clerk. So many opportunities throughout the day to express our appreciation.

5.  Encourage someone. Let someone know with a few words that you believe in them, support them, are proud of them. Many of us remember decades later a teacher or a neighbor or an older relative who said something encouraging to us when were young. A few words can have lasting impact on someone of any age.

Like I said, easy and quick.

And for your entertainment, enjoy this video that someone sent me awhile back. I can’t remember who it was now, but if it was you, please let me know in a comment. And no matter who it was, thank you!

related posts: Breathing Like a Baby; Make Someone’s Day

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. ~John Lennon

I’ll start by saying that this is NOT the post I was planning to write today. Where to start? I’ll start with rats. I have rats in my attic. No, I’m not speaking metaphorically. Real rats. In my attic.

It started with a soft scrabbling sound above the ceiling in the kitchen. I thought it was a squirrel. I called the ecological, humane pest control company. Eric, the technician, found a hole chewed under the eave above my front door. Hoping the squirrel was outside, he sealed the hole and set a live trap in the attic just in case. We waited.

More scrabbling ... and chewing. Eric changed his opinion and set rat traps in the attic. I pondered my preference for trapping squirrels live and relocating them alongside my willingness to kill rats. One of life’s mysteries.

More waiting. This went on for several weeks. They chewed through the sealed hole, came and went as they pleased, and partied at night till I was sleeping with ear plugs.

Many calls to the company. Many visit from Eric.

Meanwhile, my son’s birthday dinner was Friday night. I had presents for him. Problem – the wrapping paper was in the attic. To get to it, I would have to open the attic door and reach past several traps. I was afraid. What if I opened the door and there was a dead rat in one of the traps? Waaayyyy too disgusting for my delicate sensibilities.

So I did the reasonable thing. I went to the store and bought more wrapping paper, even though I have enough in the attic to wrap presents for the next decade. Really, what else could I do?

Saturday morning, Eric worked overtime to come for another attempt. By now I knew the names of his kids and he knew too much about what I keep hoarded in the attic. We discussed options. I was over my qualms about killing rats. I wanted a blitz attack – poison and traps. Eric discouraged the poison. They would most likely die in the house, would certainly die in the house if he resealed the hole, and it would smell bad for awhile.

I hesitated only a moment. Do it all, I instructed. Seal the hole, put out poison, and set another trap outside on the roof above the door at the resealed hole, anchored to the roof with a wire around the gutter down spout. I want them gone. Eric complied.

Late Saturday night I was in bed reading. Suddenly I heard a “thwack” and some bumping. Then all was still. I knew what had happened. Who could I call at midnight? Or even the next morning since it would be Sunday? Maybe I could just go to sleep and check it out in the morning. Maybe the rat carcass was up under the eave and out of sight, so I could wait until Eric could come on Monday. I turned out the light and tried to go to sleep. The spirit of the dead rat taunted me.

Resigned to my fate, I got up and put my robe on. I dragged myself down the stairs and to the front door. I turned the porch light on. My hand paused on the doorknob. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

Right out of a horror movie. The dead rat dangled in the trap, suspended by the wire,  right in front of my face. The trap had exploded its head and there was blood and brains all over my front door, the wall, the window, and the front porch.

I thought about just closing the door and staying in my house until Monday when Eric could rescue me. But then I imagined someone coming up my front walk only to be confronted by this grisly scene. It might be a child. I couldn’t leave it there. I closed the door and sat down for a minute. The squeamishness I had felt about going into the attic to get wrapping paper just a day before now seemed ridiculous. Like life was saying to me, “Oh you think that would be gross? How about THIS?!”

So I did what I had to do. I put on rubber gloves, got a trash bag and some rags, and cleaned it all up. Yep, that was what I did on Saturday night.

Now I’m sure there are some profound insights I can glean from this freakish midnight ratcapade. But at the moment they elude me. Maybe if I take another shower....

What do you think? Any life lessons here?

related post: Night of the Skunk

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Clean Towels

While my grandson was playing with a toy farm, I pulled some clean towels out of the dryer and started to fold them. He had other ideas.

Here is what I now know about clean towels.

You can pile them up and jump in them (at least you can if you are the size of a two year old). You can wear them like capes and run around. You can throw them on each other’s heads and play peekaboo. You can use them as blankets and pretend to go to sleep and then jump up and say good morning. You can hide little toy farm animals in them and then try to find them. You can repeat all of the above with your favorite stuffed animal.

Here is what I learned from what I now know about clean towels.

We limit things with labels. If I label this rectangular piece of cloth a towel, then it serves one function. But when I let go of that label, it can be most anything at all. When I lived overseas, those of us in the expat community realized that many of us were working at jobs that didn’t fit with how we had labeled ourselves earlier. A scientist was an author, a lawyer was a professional development consultant, a homemaker was an expert on local crafts, and a former Playboy bunny was a antiques dealer (no kidding). Those who were having the most trouble getting a job tended to be those who were the most stuck in labeling themselves.

This is especially true when we label something as a problem. I initially labeled my grandson’s towel enthusiasm as a problem because it interfered with my towel folding. When I let go of the problem label, that same enthusiasm became a delight, an opportunity, a gift.

I thought about this today when someone came to me to talk about a challenging situation with a coworker. I saw that she was labeling the situation as a problem (for which she was blaming the other person), so, remembering the towels, I expanded our discussion by dropping the problem label. Before long, she was able to see the other person’s perspective and to see the situation as an opportunity to work together with this person in a positive way. The facts did not change, but she wasn’t stuck by the label anymore and she saw the situation in a different way.

I also got to thinking about how labels divide us. In the United States, an idea initially proposed by a Republican will be ridiculed and rejected by Democrats. Yet before too long, a Democrat will propose the same idea and it will then be ridiculed and rejected by Republicans. It would be funny if it didn’t have such damaging consequences.

So many ways that labels, which can be useful in many contexts, can, in others, lock us down and lock us out. It makes my brain hurt! I’m going to go fold some rectangular pieces of cloth.

Is there a situation or a person (perhaps yourself!) that you are limiting with a label?

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth
The named is the mother of ten thousand things
~Tao Te Ching

related posts: Who Is a Terrorist?; Bloom Where You’re Planted

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My Name Is You

Love your neighbor as yourself. ~Matthew 12:31

I was watching “Elmo’s World” with my grandson for the umpteenth time. The kids on the show were singing a song I’ve now heard enough times to sing along. Absentmindedly humming along while I was surreptitiously reading a novel, I suddenly listened to the words – “My name is you.” Out of the mouths of babes.

I remember a blogger once posed the question of whether we are our brother’s keeper. Yes, I answered, because we ARE our brother.

Jesus’s commandment to love others as yourself, along with the Golden Rule, is common to many faiths. We get the point. And in case we don’t, we are told not only to love our neighbors, but to love our enemies. The bar keeps getting higher.

Okay, so how do I love someone who seems so unredeemably unlovable? I’m thinking of the teens who recently shot a young man to death just because they were bored. Or the teens who just a few days later savagely beat an 88 year old WWII veteran to death for whatever little money he had in his wallet. Or the men who gang raped a woman on a bus, and the driver who did nothing to stop it.

I’m serious. How far past anger and fear and judgment and despair do I have to reach into my spirit to find compassion? Sometimes very far.

I read a story about a Tibetan monk who was crying as he was being beaten by Chinese soldiers. His attackers taunted him for crying, assuming that he was crying in pain and fear. No, he said, he was crying for their souls.

Can I cry for their souls? And if I can’t, then can I cry for mine?

A few days ago marked the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A beacon of light in a world of senseless violence. A light calling us to love, to forgive, to reach out, to recognize our shared humanity, to find what will bring us closer, to heal ourselves.

When we find ourselves pulling back from someone or turning away, maybe we could turn towards, look closely, and say, “My name is you.”

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
~Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

related posts: Help Someone; If I Don’t Have Love; Mushroom Experience

Monday, September 2, 2013

Summer's Ease

I felt in need of a great pilgrimage
So I sat still for three days
And God came to me

Apparently I’m harder to find than Kabir because I waited for three months. Or maybe I just enjoyed the wait. I’d like to say I’ve come back to blogworld with profound insights to share, having fully awakened into Buddhahood. Maybe there were some enlightened moments, but mostly I just savored the summer.

It has been a time of experience rather than thought, contemplation rather than reflection, action rather than reaction, waiting rather forcing.

I’ve spent glorious time at my cabin, which is, in fact, where I am right now, scribbling on a notepad as I sit on the deck, listening to the creek’s song as the sun dances on the water.

Time spent in meditation has expanded along with time practicing martial arts, which, to me, is meditation in motion.

Nana time with my grandson has also increased as I’ve stepped in to support my daughter, whose work schedule doesn’t always fit within daycare hours. (That is my little prince in the photo above, joy walking in a downtown fountain.)

And of course, there has been time in the company of friends and family, enjoying tea in the garden, walks along the river, and dinners around the picnic table.

As my blog break stretched beyond the initial month I had planned, I gave myself permission to see what unfolded. Since “wait” is my word of the year, it seemed a perfect opportunity to embrace it. One month became two, then three. Then, lo and behold, my fingers started itching to get back on the keyboard.

So now I’m back, grateful for the most wonderful summer I can remember, and looking forward to reconnecting. Perhaps you would consider sharing something of the last three months in a comment. Is there an image or phrase that describes this time for you? A defining moment? A challenge? A special memory? An opportunity to practice your word of the year?

The following verse captures my experience of the last three months:

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
~Isaiah 40:31

Your turn!

related posts: Word of the Year 2013; Step Away from the Thought; Tapping of the Heart

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Falling Away

[This is a post I wrote over a year ago. I find that I have come full circle back to this image of falling away. Words, beliefs, expectations, judgments–all seem to be turning color and falling away like the leaves in autumn. This period of not blogging has been a time of experience and reflection rather than thinking and expression. And it is good.

Now I feel things stirring, moving in the direction of reconnecting. Experiences are starting to take some shape in words. Perhaps there is more to say. Perhaps there is something new to say. We’ll see.

And so, my friends, bear with me yet a little longer. Since this break stretched out much longer than I initially expected, it seems to be taking up a season rather than a month. It feels premature to cut into the remaining time of summer, the most beautiful summer I can ever remember. But when I come back from the creek at my cabin, and when I come inside from the garden, I will sit down at the computer and share some words and catch up with some of your words, too.

In the meantime, all my very best wishes to you.]

The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
–Tao Te Ching

This phrase has been playing in my mind the last several weeks.  It is often accompanied by a physical sensation of things falling away from me.  When I try to describe it to someone, I find myself using my hands the way you would brush leaves or crumbs off your clothes.  My hands start near my chest and move down the sides, flicking out near my hips, as though shaking off the last pieces that might be clinging to my fingertips.  My hands instinctively do this while I’m searching for the words, but the only words that come out are “falling away, falling away, falling away.”

What is it that I’m shedding?  I think back to when the sensation began.  What was happening then?

One thing was that I decided to stop a spiritual study I was doing with someone I like very much.  I like talking to people of faith, any faith, which includes everyone if you think about it.  Even people who claim to have no faith have faith in its absence.  I’m curious about what faith means to people, how faith guides them, how it manifests in their everyday lives.  So I enjoyed my discussions with this person.  It became clear, however, that we were reaching a point where I was being asked to make a choice, to commit to her view of things, to join her community of faith.

I felt sad about this because, as I had explained to her before, I already have a community of faith I am committed to, and I don’t plan to leave it.  I also felt a bit flummoxed because declining her invitation seemed like a rejection of her beliefs.  By her definition, it was, although I didn’t see it that way.  A spiritual koan.

Another thing that was happening involves my recent interest in learning how to use nunchucks, a martial arts weapon made of two sticks joined by a chain.  In the first lessons, the teacher showed me specific techniques, but there came day when he turned me loose, so to speak, to use the techniques in any combination I wanted, and furthermore to experiment with other techniques.  I was initially paralyzed by the absence of specific instruction, but once I embraced the concept I found great freedom in letting the nunchucks fly, keeping them in motion without a lot of thinking and planning.  When practicing privately, I discovered that closing my eyes and just feeling them in my hands enhanced both my ability and enjoyment.

What could these things have in common and how could they be connected to this sense of falling away?  I’m not sure, but I keep going back to that passage from the Tao Te Ching quoted above.  As a person who has spent waaaaay too much of my life living in my head, naming I’m sure ten thousand things and more, I’ve come to a place where the naming just doesn’t seem so important anymore.  I don’t seem to crave that in-my-head rational clarity the way I used to.

Yes, we understand our world by naming it and explaining it, and communication requires common agreement on the meaning of certain words.  But somewhere beyond that, or beneath it or inside it or over the rainbow (see what I mean about words?), all the names fall away.


Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
And the mystery itself is the doorway to all understanding.
–Tao Te Ching

related posts: Spiritual Simplicity; There is No Them

Thursday, July 4, 2013

There Is No Try

Quit trying. Quit trying not to try. Quit quitting. ~zen saying

I was sitting on the bank of the creek by my cabin, close enough for the water to kiss my toes now and then, surprising me with a tickling burst of icy cold.

The creek is always rushing, tumbling, gurgling, frothing, full of noisy energy and motion. When I closed my eyes, I could hear the upstream water crashing towards me with my left ear, while my right ear listened separately to the water swooshing downstream just as quickly away from me.

Like time. On one side the future hurtles towards me and without pausing becomes the past, slipping by and out of reach so fast.

And yet, right in the middle of the cacophony in stereo, there was the tiniest of gaps, a hair thin opening, and when I listened there...silence. Elusive, ephemeral, coming in and out of my awareness when I tried too hard to focus. But when I relaxed, it was there  – golden, still, unchanging, eternal.

That seems to be where I’m spending a lot of time these days, in that gap, at least when I’m not chasing my toddler grandson around while my daughter is at work. A nice juxtaposition – an almost two year old dynamo who stops in his tracks to immerse himself in the life of a passing ant or to see how many ways he can spray Nana with the sprinkler. He invites me into the gap where there is no time rushing by. There is only now and now is forever.

Do or do not. There is no try. ~Yoda

related posts: Falling into Now; Eternity in a Dew Drop

[So what’s happening with the blog? I took a break for the month of June because I felt called to spend more time in contemplation and less time with words. I have missed keeping up with my blogging buddies, but my soul has be grateful for this quiet time. So much so that I’m going to continue my informal personal retreat for another month, and maybe even two. I might post something here and there during this time, and I expect to resume a more regular blog schedule and to reconnect with all of you a little further down the road. In the meantime, I’m always available by email if you want to get in touch.]

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Great Pilgrimage

I felt in need of a great pilgrimage
So I sat still for three days
And God came to me

This poem, graciously sent to me by Linda Lee at Dangerous Linda, has been calling to me. As I wrote before, this year has been evolving into a time of personal retreat, not in any formal sense, but in a “tapping of the heart” sort of way.

As the quiet of an empty nest fills my home, as I spend more time in morning meditation, as I make more effort in my practice of martial arts, there is a growing awareness of the busyness of my mind.

My mind cavorts like kittens high on catnip. It gorges on feasts of thoughts. I am ready, I think, for a “fasting of the mind.”

According to Chuang Tsu in Inner Chapters, Confucius said:

Do not listen with your ears but with your mind. Do not listen with your mind but with your vital energy. Ears can only hear, mind can only think, but vital energy is empty, receptive to all things. Tao abides in emptiness. Emptiness is the fasting of the mind.

It’s no accident, I think, that my word of the year this year is Wait. Although it came as a surprise, this unassuming little word is turning out to be one of my best teachers and guides. I have a longing now to heed it, to sit still and pay attention.

To that end, I’m going to take a break from new blog posts for the month of June. I’ve been blogging since February 2010, with no breaks longer than a few days at the cabin, so this will be a new experience for me. I admit to a little nervousness, but mostly I’m excited to see what will unfold.

I’m not unplugging entirely. I will continue my short “Living in Your Happy Place Every Day” posts on my 10 Steps Facebook page. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you will visit and “like” it. Also, if you want to contact me, I will be available through Facebook, and email at

Have you ever taken a break from blogging? How was that experience for you? I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments.

Wishing all y’all a blessed month full of delight.

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth
The named is the mother of ten thousand things
Ever desireless one can see the mystery
Ever desiring one can see the manifestations
~Tao Te Ching

related posts: Step Away from the Thought; A Warrior of Waiting

Monday, May 20, 2013


And then the day came, 
when the risk
to remain tight 
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.
–Anais Nin

I was intrigued by my friend Bob’s recent post at Satisfying Retirement about life before and after retirement. He described himself before retirement as angry, ambitious, and unfulfilled. Now retired, he describes himself as calm, content, and fulfilled.

Is retirement the secret to finding your happy place? Hmm, I don’t think so. There are plenty of people who live in joy while still working, and there are plenty of folks who are not happy in retirement. And even if retirement does improve our circumstances, studies show that our external circumstances account for only 10% of our happiness. Happiness, as the saying goes, is definitely an inside job.

Deep life transformation doesn’t just happen. Something has to motivate us to change. Something has to help us do it. And something has to help us sustain it.

For me, the motivation was a health crisis. I realized that I could not continue with my then current “norm” of chronic stress and anxiety and fear. So I set out to change.

I got help from a variety of sources. I got serious in therapy. I went to an energy healer. I consulted spiritual counselors. I had what I call the “year of the workbook.” I did workbooks on anger, fear, and more I can’t even remember. I began working out and eventually got involved with martial arts. I read inspirational wisdom teachings. I spent more time in nature. And I began a meditation practice.

The 10 Steps that I write about represent habits that I developed during that time. They helped me change, and now they help me sustain the change. They are woven into my daily life and permeate the way I see myself, and how I view the world and interact with it. They have become a way of life for me.

Bob’s post prompted me to ask him about his own transformation, and I look forward to his future post about it. And it made me realize that many of us have transformation stories. Others of us want to have them!

I would like to open a forum in the comments for sharing these stories. What has motivated you to change, what helped you change, and what helps you sustain the transformation? Perhaps you have already written this story on your blog, in which case, feel free to include a link in your comment to your blog post. Or perhaps this post will prompt you to write such a post, in which case your comment might be the “outline” of the post you write soon.

We can all learn from and inspire and encourage each other, so I hope you will join the discussion.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Three in the Morning

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. ~Rumi

In a recent chat with a friend, the issue came up about the state of the world, and the path we are on as a species. Light topic with tea and cookies!

My first thought was a line from Another Roadside Attraction, by Tom Robbins. Whenever a character would pick up a paper or turn on the news, “the world situation was desperate as usual.” The book was published in 1971. Nothing much has changed. I suspect the line could have turned up just as accurately in a book in 1771, or told around the fire in front of the cave.

So what is the appropriate attitude towards the world, my friend asked – hope or despair?

One or the other? Perhaps neither. Here is a story from Inner Chapters, by Chuang Tsu:

When you wrack your brain trying to unify things without knowing that they are already one, it is called “three in the morning.” What do I mean by “three in the morning”? A man who kept monkeys said to them, “You get three acorns in the morning and four in the evening.” This made them all very angry. So he said, “How about four in the morning and three in the evening?” –and the monkeys were happy. The number of acorns was the same, but the different arrangement resulted in anger or pleasure. This is what I am talking about. 

Therefore, the sage harmonizes right with wrong and rests in the balance of nature. 

The world is as it is. There is beauty and horror, compassion and violence, transcendence and tragedy. How do I judge this? I don’t know.

I told my friend about when I fell off the roof of my cabin. I was conscious as I fell to the deck, hitting the edge and flipping down the hill below. Oddly, I was aware of the potential harm to my body and yet I was serene, knowing with a flash of inner clarity that whatever happened was perfect. It wasn’t that I thought I would be spared injury, but that I could see beyond my usual assessment of good or bad, which no longer seemed to have any meaning. For a moment, I was in the balance.

The world did not change that day, but I did.

The road that is built in hope is more pleasant to the traveler than the road built in despair, even though they both lead to the same destination. ~Marion Zimmer Bradley

related posts: Falling into Now; What I Know for Sure

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Water Is for Everyone

For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. ~Matthew 5:45

A friend swims several times a week, not only for exercise but also as a time of meditation. She told me that recently while swimming and meditating on her blessings, she became aware of the other people in the pool. All of them were in the water together. She realized, she exclaimed, that “the water is for everyone.”

Simple...and profound. All of them in the same pool of water, there for their own reasons, thinking their own thoughts, yet connected to each other by the liquid that surrounded them all and held them up.

Like the air we breathe and the ground we walk on. There for all of us. So generous.

I thought further about the people swimming together in the pool. Maybe strangers to each other yet in relationship. Each swimmer mindful of where others are nearby. Each movement creating currents through the water, interacting with the currents created by others. There is no such thing as an isolated action with no impact. The dance of life.

We are not islands, and the bell tolls for thee and me alike, calling us not to death, but to life, together, to the love that surrounds us all and lifts us up, like water.

Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another. ~Thomas Merton

related posts: So Generous; Mushroom Experience; There Is No Them

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Invest in Loss

If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Moving, be like water. Still, be like a mirror. Respond like an echo. ~Bruce Lee

Invest in loss? That does not sound like wise financial planning! Yet it is a slogan we practice with in martial arts. What does it mean?

If I am sparring with someone who is more skilled than I am, which is almost always, I can take one of two approaches.

I can become stuck in my ego, insecure and nervous. In this case, I’m focused on myself, on my own discomfort. I’m tense and distracted. If my partner attacks, I’m likely to just back up, trying to get away. Eventually, I’ll get backed up against a wall with nowhere to go. Or I might go on the offense, flailing away with false bravado to mask my growing panic. At the end of the match I’m winded and discombobulated. I haven’t learned anything.

My other choice is to become free from my ego, confident and calm. In this case, I’m focused on my partner, on my partner’s energy and movements. I’m relaxed and alert. If my partner attacks, more times than not, his attack will connect. (I should interject here that we use only light contact, so I’m not in danger of serious injury.) I’m more judicious with my attacks, waiting for an opening. At the end of the match, I’m energized and excited. And I’ve learned something.

In his book There Are No Secrets, Wolfe Lowenthal explains this lesson from his tai chi teacher, Cheng Man-ch’ing. If you allow someone with superior skill to attack you 100 times, you can study his technique. Out of the 100 times, you might “lose” 99 times. But you have watched and learned. When your partner attacks the 100th time, you are prepared. You neutralize the attack and your partner is defeated by his own energy.

Easier said than done. Yesterday, I was sparring with a very advanced student. At the end of the match I thanked him and asked for advice. His one comment to me? “Breathe.” Hmm. I will be investing in loss for a long time, I think!

That’s okay. It’s better than okay because I’ve discovered that investing in loss applies to life beyond martial arts. There is so much we can learn when we are not attached to “winning.”

The other day, someone was upset with me. I started to react defensively to what I believed was an unfair accusation, but instead, I paused. I listened to what the other person was saying without getting my ego knickers in a knot. As she vented her indignation, I realized that she was ascribing thoughts and motives to me that existed only in her imagination. I listened more deeply to the underlying fear that created the story she was telling herself.

Because I was willing to “allow” her attack, I learned something about her that opened the door to true communication. Without attacking in return, I was able to “deflect and reflect” until she saw for herself that her distress was unrelated to me. I became her ally instead of her enemy. We parted with connection and friendship instead of separation and pain.

Perhaps, to paraphrase the saying, the best defense is no offense.

I can think of other examples, but perhaps you might share an experience from your own life when investing in loss turned out to be a good strategy. I’d love to hear your story.

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win. ~Mahatma Gandhi

related posts: My Half of the Bargain; No One Wins in Court

Friday, May 3, 2013

Trillium Thrills

Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty. ~Albert Einstein

I went up to my cabin for the day yesterday. The weather was gorgeous and it seemed like a good day for a walk in the woods.

One of my favorite things about spring in the Pacific Northwest is the trillium. The blossoms dot the forest floor. When they open, the flowers are brilliant white. Then, as they mature and wilt, they gradually turn from white to lavender to deep purple.

Even though they are hardy enough to continue blooming during late snows, the plants are fragile if disturbed. If you pick the flower, the plant can take years to recover before blooming again. They are meant to be savored in place.

To me, the flowers are beautiful teachers. Here are some of their quiet lessons.

Be present. You can’t take the flowers with you, so enjoy them in the moment.

Non-attachment. Trying to grasp their beauty by picking the flowers destroys them.

Generosity. The flowers grace the forest with loveliness, freely and generously for all to see.

Gratitude. Seeing the trillium every spring fills me with gratitude for the bounty of nature’s gifts.

Delight. Walking becomes a treasure hunt for beauty, watching for the white blossoms and thrilling at each discovery.

The flowers even helped me be a better teacher! The law school where I taught is nestled in the forest on the edge of a state park. You can walk right out of the school and into the woods, along miles of trails. The lush setting of the school draws students from all over the world.

Early spring is a tough time for first year law students. They have gotten their grades from first semester, and since 90% of them are not in the top 10% of the class, there is some inevitable let down. They are also gearing up for the stressful scramble for their first summer jobs as law clerks.

One sunny spring day, I paused before starting class. The tension in the room was palpable. The normal pre-class banter was absent. The students’ faces were grim. Instead of launching into the planned discussion on anticipatory repudiation, I closed my book and instructed the students to follow me.

We went to my office where they could leave their belongings secured, and we went on a trillium hunt in the park. I figured since many of them had come to this school for the environmental law program, they should at least get out now and then to enjoy the environment! When those students graduated a few years later, they told me that one of their most memorable moments in law school was the shock of having a professor tell them to have some fun. It’s one of my fondest memories, too.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ~Rachel Carson

related posts: Fun Is Good; Breezes at Dawn

Monday, April 29, 2013

Benefits of Being a Spoiled Child

Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap...and yet God feeds them. ...Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. ~Luke 12:24, 27

I was, by most anyone’s standards, a spoiled child. This is no bad reflection on my parents, whom I deeply appreciate. I just don’t think they were prepared for me. My older sister was an easy child compared to me. When I came along, they probably assumed I would follow her lead.

I didn’t. I had colic, for starters. To say I was a picky eater is an understatement. I basically ate three things and refused anything else. (Miraculously, I was a very healthy kid, so it must have been all the milk I drank.) I didn’t have any chores or responsibilities at home. I had everything I asked for and more. If I didn’t get my way, I threw a tantrum. I’m told that I behaved well in public, but at home I was unruly and disrespectful. It’s no wonder that my sister wanted to sell me to the gypsies, and it speaks to her tolerance and virtue that she didn’t.

Although I raised my children differently, I’m not here to debate parenting practices. I’m here to reflect on some things I learned from my childhood.

I learned that, as Art Buchwald said, “the best things in life aren’t things.” As it turns out, money really doesn’t buy happiness, or friendship, or self-respect, or love. I’ve never won the lottery, and I would be delighted if I did, but I already know that more is not always better.

The Tao Te Ching teaches, “He who knows enough is enough will always have enough.” I learned that if I can’t be content with what I have, I will not be content with more. Beyond my basic needs, everything else is a bonus.

I learned that the world does not bend to my will and that tantrums won’t change that. Serenity comes from accepting the things I cannot change, not from railing against them.

I learned that true wealth lies in the connection I have with others. In my self-absorbed youth, I was not always a good friend, a good daughter, a good sibling. I regret some of the choices I made that hurt people who cared about me. I’ve tried to do better.

I learned that giving and gratitude are both better than grasping, whether it is grasping things or people or circumstances.

I learned that like the ravens my needs will be met. True, putting a roof over my head and food on the table requires some sowing and reaping on my part. But the love that feeds my spirit is freely and abundantly supplied.

I learned that like the lilies I am indeed arrayed like royalty. Without any effort on my part, I have been clothed with this precious human life, in a body complete with lungs that breathe, a heart that beats, eyes that see, and arms to hold with.

I’m not advocating spoiling as a child rearing philosophy. It was hard on me, and I’m quite sure it was even harder on my family. But those were priceless lessons and I think I’m better for having learned them.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. ~Psalm 32:8

related posts: So Generous; Back; Be Glad In It

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Witness to a Random Act of Kindness

Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you. ~Princess Diana

This morning I was on my way to an appointment amidst busy traffic as people hurried to work. All of a sudden cars ahead of me stopped.

I saw that a pick up truck driver was trying to back a U-Haul trailer into a narrow driveway. He was not very skilled, and even with a helper standing behind the trailer giving him directions, he still had trouble negotiating the intricate maneuvers of going in reverse with a trailer. He would back up a bit, the trailer would angle too wide, he would pull forward and try again. With each try, he got a few feet further.

Meanwhile, the double lane of cars stacked behind me continued to lengthen. There must have been at least forty cars at a standstill. Those of us close enough could see the harried and embarrassed look on the driver’s face as he tried again and again to get that darn trailer to back straight in.

We were stopped for several minutes and yet not one driver honked. All around me, I felt the patience and compassion of the other drivers, or at least the amused tolerance. Finally, the driver managed to back in far enough to clear the street. The trailer was still angled awkwardly, but it would have to do. As cars started forward, he waved apologetically. Many of us waved back.

Have you witnessed a random act of kindness lately?

related posts: A Few Leaves; Mi Casa Es Su Casa; The Kindness of Strangers

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tapping of the Heart

If you lived in your heart, you’d be home by now. ~bumper sticker

I read recently about an inner knowing attributed to the bushmen of the Kalahari. They seem to know things beyond their physical senses, like where the game will be found, or when danger is approaching, or when someone is coming. They describe this mysterious knowing as the “tapping of the heart.” They know with an intuitive knowing that comes from a deep place.

In Seven Sacred Pauses, Macrina Wiederkehr tells a story about a group of westerners who hired some bushmen to guide them through the desert. After traveling at a rapid pace, the bushmen sat down and refused to continue until they were ready. They explained that they had to wait for their souls to catch up.

I wonder about the pace of my life. Since retirement, and especially since my nest emptied last December, it has certainly slowed down, but my days are still full. Sometimes they feel too full.

Gradually, though, there is a settling, a deepening. I spend more time in the morning and evening meditating and praying, and reading wisdom literature. (Right now I’m reading the Bhagavad-gita, and Inner Chapters by Chuang Tzu.) I spend more time in solitude, either at home or at my cabin in the mountains. I spend more time listening. And practicing my word of the year – Wait. Perhaps I’m waiting for my soul to catch up.

I’m fortunate to have this time. Not everyone does. When my children were growing up and I was working, I barely had time to pee, much less to pray. Contemplating bushmen heart tapping was not on my schedule. If my heart was tapping, I probably attributed it to stress-induced palpitations.

But now the idea draws me in, like a quiet drumbeat in primeval forests, shrouded in the mists of time, lost in the fog of modern life. I hear its echo deep in the inner chambers of my soul. I listen...and wait.

Deep calls to deep. ~Psalm 42:7

related posts: Falling Away; Spiritual Simplicity

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Get Over It!

This was the startlingly blunt message of Joel Osteen’s sermon on TV this morning. Yes, it’s true. I occasionally watch a TV preacher. Well, this TV preacher. The others, ummm....

Anyway, this was one of the best messages, in a sermon or anywhere else, that I’ve ever heard. And it was meant You see, just before I tuned in, I was driving myself crazy with something that has been eating at me for several days, a recent conversation that I kept poking at like a sore tooth. I kept thinking about one thing in particular that the other person said that had just hit me the wrong way. I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t let it go even though I am enlightened (cough, cough) enough to know that this was not serving me.

I tried to shift my perspective. I read inspirational passages in A Course in Miracles, the Bhagavad-gita, other blogs, the Bible. But the inspiration sparked and then fizzled like a damp match.

When I woke up this morning and started rehashing the conversation even before my eyes were open, I put my hands on my head and said out loud to no one in particular, “Please help me stop this!” Before I knew it, I picked up the remote (not something I would normally do) and turned on the TV just as Joel was starting his sermon. The first words I heard were “Get over it.”

Oh. Just like that? Yeah, pretty much.

Joel told the story of Joseph from the Bible. Joseph had lots of brothers. They were jealous of him and decided to get rid of him by selling him into slavery. Taken to Egypt, Joseph served his master faithfully and prospered, eventually being elevated to a position second only to Pharaoh. When famine in his homeland drove his brothers into Egypt seeking food, Joseph found himself in a position of authority over the siblings who had wished him only harm. He forgave them, saying, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Nothing happens to you, Joel assured his audience. It happens for you. “God wasn’t having a bad day when he made you.” As the Bible says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

So, got laid off? Relationship ended? Betrayed by a friend? Had a bad childhood? Business failed? Someone say something that irritated the heck out of you, like what happened to me? Yes, life can deal us some blows. But, as Joel said, we can be pitiful or powerful. We can choose to be a victim or trust that whatever happened can lead us to our greatest destiny.

Still not sure? Watch this video about a man born without arms and legs. If I was still holding on to a smidgen of bitterness about being wronged, this took care of it.

I got over it.

related posts: Mirror, Mirror on the Wall; So Generous; Calling for Love

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The More You Give, the More You Have

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.
~Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Juliet was just a teenager when she proclaimed her love for Romeo, but she was wise beyond her years. She knew the truth about love. True love expands and increases when it is given away, increasing for the giver as well as the receiver.

We sometimes think of love as an exchange. I will love you and you will love me back. A quid pro quo which must be traded in equal quantities or one person is left with less. This kind of love is risky business, with potential for loss and pain. A bad bargain.

But love in its purest form is limitless. Like the loaves and fishes that Jesus blessed, love multiplies to feed the spirits of the hungry until all are sated...with more love left over. There is never not enough.

What is love’s secret? Please click here to read the rest of this post at The BridgeMaker.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Being a Blessing

I will bless you..., and you will be a blessing. ~Genesis 12:2

When my kids were growing up, they all had chores. Even my sons had chores; autism was no excuse not to share in the responsibility for the family. Besides, as a single mom with five kids, this wasn’t just a matter of character building; it was a matter of necessity. The chores got done, but not always well, and not always with a good attitude.

One day we returned from the grocery store with a carload of groceries. I pulled into the driveway, got out of the car, and began to walk into the house. The kids opened the back of the car and started carrying bags. My daughter called to me, “Aren’t you going to help carry?”

“No,” I replied. “That’s your job.”

“What’s your job?” she retorted.

“My job is to go to work, so that we have money to buy the groceries. Your job is to carry them into the house and put them away.” She snorted her protest but said nothing else as she joined her siblings in the task.

A few days ago, this same daughter took time out of her busy work and parenting schedule to come over to my house on her own initiative and help me clean. She knew that my back was bothering me. When I tried to help, she told me to relax; she would do it all. Even so, I did the light cleaning so that we could get it done more quickly. As we worked, we chatted and enjoyed each other’s company.

When we were done, I surveyed my sparkling house and reflected on the pleasant time we spent together. I thanked her, not only for her assistance, but also for her gracious attitude. She responded matter-of-factly with a smile, “You do so much for me. I’m happy to do something for you.”

And that, of course, meant more to me than all the clean counters and vacuumed floors. She is indeed a blessing.

Life is short, and we have but little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel this way with us. Oh, be swift to love. Make haste to be kind. ~Henri-Frederic Amiel

related posts: Speaking the Blessing; The Kindness Game

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thin Places

Bidden or not bidden, God is present. ~Carl Jung

I’ve been reading about the Celtic concept of “thin places,” places where heaven and earth come close together. At first, I thought the concept described an inner place where we feel the presence of the divine. But upon further reading, I now understand that these thin places are physical places, places where we sense the nearness of the other side. Some are famous, like Boudanath, the Tibetan stupa in Nepal, where I had the good fortune to visit during a new year celebration. Others are hardly noticeable, discovered only when we stumble across them.

I think there is a thin place beside the creek at my cabin. When I was looking for a mountain getaway, I had narrowed my focus to two cabins several miles apart. Both were on creeks. One was in move-in condition. It had a spacious loft, and inside bathroom, and a view of snow capped Mt. Hood in the distance. The other one, for roughly the same price, was smaller, run down, dark and musty, nestled deep in the trees with no vista view, and sort of an inside bathroom with an electric toilet which didn’t work very well.

I looked at both cabins several times. I took friends to ask their advice. My friends and my rational mind all told me to go for the nicer one with the view. But my heart kept pulling me back to the other one. There was one particular spot by the creek that I kept returning to. There was nothing visually distinctive about it, but somehow it seemed different than anywhere else. When I sat or stood on this spot, I could hear the creek speaking to me. The trees seemed to embrace me, welcoming me into the secrets of the forest.

Against all advice, I bought that cabin. I fixed it up, but it will never be as pretty as the other one. Nevertheless, it is comfortable and homey. I love to read by the fire in the big stone fireplace. At night, I crawl into the tiny loft and open the skylight so that I can hear the creek. And yes, I have a real toilet, for which I’m grateful.

But my favorite place is that spot by the creek, just a small flat moss covered rock less than two feet square. Sometimes it is simply a nice place to sit with a cup of tea and watch the shadows move or the sun dancing on the rushing water. Sometimes, though, a doorway opens and I am in that liminal space between two worlds. If I can still my inner chatter, the trees share their wisdom with me. Mother ducks show me their ducklings. Salmon swimming upstream pause to greet me. The creek blesses me and guides me, offering me a word or an image in the inner chamber of my soul.

I didn’t know the term “thin place” when I bought the cabin all those years ago. But as I learned about this concept, I understood that my little rock is such a place.

What about you? Have you ever encountered a thin place?

related posts: Eternity in a Dew Drop; The Curiosity of Not Knowing

Monday, April 1, 2013

Entitled to Miracles

I am entitled to miracles. ~A Course in Miracles

When my son James was growing up, he was in special education because of his autism. Every year there was a meeting to develop his IEP (Individual Education Plan). This document set out his needs and what services would be provided to meet his needs for the following year. The meeting was attended by his teachers, other service providers, a representative from the school district, and me.

I generally had a very good working relationship with everyone involved. I made sure I understood the regulations so that I could justify the services I asked for. I had a genuine and deep respect for his teachers and providers. In fact, I’m still friends with several of them. I knew that they were committed to doing their best for all the children they served. I also knew that they did not have adequate funds and resources to do all that was needed.

One year, as I was walking into the room for the IEP meeting, the speech pathologist approached me. She was frowning, and huffed at me in exasperation and with an accusatory tone, “Do you know that your son gets more services than any child in Portland Public Schools?”

I looked at her for a moment, and then replied without apology, “He doesn’t get any more than what he is entitled to by law. My job is to see that he gets no less.”

I think grace is like that. I believe that our natural state is one of joy and peace and harmony. We don’t earn it or deserve it any more than James had to earn the services he got. The law provided that he was entitled to them simply by virtue of who he was. Likewise, we are entitled, as A Course in Miracles teaches, to miracles, not because of something that singles any one of us out or makes any of us more special than others, but because we are who we are, children of the universe, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Each and every one of us, equally.

The Dalai Lama speaks of having this precious life. And we do. We are precious and beloved, without exception. Love is our birthright because it is what we are made of. We exist in eternal grace. We can deny it or block it, but we can’t change it. If anyone (including yourself) suggests that we are not worthy of this blessing, we can respond with calm assurance that we claim only what we are all entitled to, nothing less.

Man loves because he is Love. He seeks Joy, for he is Joy. He thirsts for God for he is composed of God and he cannot exist without Him. ~Sathya Sai Baba

related posts: Show Me the Miracles!; You Can Go Home Again

PS--Several readers have voiced some confusion in the comments about the connection I was making between my son's IEP situation and miracles or grace. I have added some further explanation of the connection I was trying to make in my responses below, especially the one to "Dangerous Linda." Please take a look if you are interested. Thank you .