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