Thursday, March 31, 2011

I am the Crow!

I told the story in the last post about seeing a crow repeatedly trying to land on a branch that was too flimsy to hold his weight. I used that as an example of the definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over, thinking you’ll get a different result.

This very morning, just three short days after that post, I saw my daughter starting to repeat a pattern that, in the past, has not led to happy results for her. I sighed and sat down at the table with her to comment on this. As soon as I started to speak, she sighed and did a subtle eye roll, but I caught it. This did not deter me. I shared my observations with I have done every time before...and gave her my I have done every time before...knowing that she would disregard she has done every time before...and already feeling I have felt every time before.

Are y’all laughing yet?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Letting Go

While I was biding my time at a very long stoplight a few months ago, I noticed a crow perched on the tippy top spire of a tall tall evergreen. The noodle-y spindle was not strong enough, so every time he tried to settle, the branch would fold under his weight. He would flap frantically to keep from falling and then try to settle again.

I was so intrigued that after the light finally changed, I pulled to the side of the road where I could park and watch. Why didn’t he just fly to one of the nearby trees or hop down to a sturdier branch? Did he think that apical sprig was suddenly going to solidify? I was reminded of the saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over, thinking you will get a different result.

I could relate to that silly crow. How many times have I acted or reacted in some stubborn or habitual way, thinking that this time it would have the desired result? I can see my therapist sitting in her chair years ago, looking at me with the hint of a smile, asking, “And how is that working for you now?”

I’ve been thinking about that crow as this month comes to a close. Our focus this month has been on step 3, giving up the delusion of control. For me, this month has been an opportunity to practice accepting the things I cannot change. It has been a reminder that I have the power to choose not my circumstances, but rather how I respond and interact with my circumstances. And it has been an experience of how exercising my choice can increase or decrease my joy or my suffering.

This is shaping up to be a year of living on my knees, of yielding in faith to the wisdom of the universe. As tectonic plates shift under nations and continents, the ground under my feet is shifting and creating a new world. As Rabelais said when asked where he thought he was going after he died, “I go to seek a great perhaps.” Aren’t we all?

I started this month with the serenity prayer, so that seems like a good way to end it. Many of us are familiar with the first part of the prayer, but Darlene and Tom shared the rest of it with me. Here it is.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Thursday, March 24, 2011


I saw another one today on my way to the grocery store. A hand painted wooden sign nailed high on a telephone pole. It said, “Thank you stranger for the therapeutic smile.” These signs keep popping up around the neighborhood. They are small and easy to miss. And they seem to disappear as mysteriously as they appear.

Another one said, “You are here.”

And my favorite, “See you soon Space Cowboy.”

Each time I have spotted one, my attention has been drawn away from whatever I was thinking about back to the present moment. A moment of absolute delight in the whimsy of the message and my discovery of the sign.

Who is the person behind these signs? Like a superhero with an alter ego, this person could be anybody – the cashier at the grocery, the kid on the bicycle, the high heeled executive in the BMW, the soccer dad.

I hope I never find out who it is. If it’s you and you’re reading this, please don’t stop! You are an urban joy guerrilla. Your message is getting through. You are bringing smiles to strangers and waking up the masses to the pleasure of this moment.

Live long and prosper.

[I will be away from the computer for a few days. Your comments are important and will be published as soon as I get back.]

Monday, March 21, 2011

Walking with Tigers

Nothing real can be threatened. Nothing unreal exists. Herein lies the peace of God. –A Course in Miracles

From Plato’s theory of shadows to the present day, we are intrigued with the idea that what we spend most of our time reacting to as “reality” is not true reality. For example, the idea that we are separate from one another is born of fear rather than truth. When we wake up from our illusion, we realize that there is nothing to fear because we are all united at our deepest energetic (soul) level. And everything is perfect.

I wrote before of falling off a ladder while cleaning the roof of my cabin (Falling into Now). When I felt the ladder begin to slip, I panicked, desperately clawing at the shingles for something to grab onto. I was terrified. But the instant I knew I was going to fall, that there was nothing I could do to stop it, I let go. I released the fear. Or rather it released me, since I clearly was not doing it deliberately. (At this point, I was not doing anything deliberately.) I was immediately filled with a sense of blissful well-being. Blissful doesn’t even begin to describe it. I don’t know words in any language to describe it. It was like being cradled in the arms of angels. Rapture. Perfection.

I was conscious as I tumbled. I felt my body bounce off the ladder on the way down. I felt my back hit the edge of the deck, and then I flipped off the deck to the ground below and slid to a stop. But all the way down, I was absolutely certain that everything was exactly the way it should be. I knew that my body might be hurt. I expected that at the least something would be broken. Maybe I would be paralyzed or even die. No problem. I knew in my deepest awareness that no matter what happened, no matter how it might seem on the “outside,” no matter whether my “normal” awareness could understand, everything was perfect just the way it was.

In her book Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach says, “Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is. A moment of Radical Acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom.” That’s how I felt when I was falling. Genuinely free.

I look back at that experience as a gift of grace because I did not consciously or deliberately “accept” any of it. What happened is a mystery to my rational mind. But the gift remains because I can remember it. And remembering it reminds me in moments of fear and stress that my efforts to control what I can’t control lead only to suffering. It reminds me that there is a perfection beyond what I experience in my day to day challenges. And it reminds me to be grateful that for a few moments I lived it.

He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so?
Because he has no place for death to enter.

–Tao Te Ching

Friday, March 18, 2011

Night of the Skunk

In her book A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson describes a period of her life when she kept getting knocked to her knees by a series of life challenges. She would struggle to her feet only to be knocked down again. Finally it dawned on her that perhaps she should stay on her knees.

I’ve gone through times like that. Most of us have. I remember the night of the skunk. I was going through some tough times. I had a car accident and was seriously injured. While I was recovering from that, my dad had a heart attack and died. And during this time there were what seemed like almost daily setbacks of much smaller magnitude, but when you are dealing with major injuries and losses, even minor difficulties seem huge.

I tried to soldier on. I went back to work before I should have. I refused offers of help. I was determined to go on with my life as though everything were normal. But it was taking a toll. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. I finally reached the end of my coping rope. I called a friend one evening and told her that I just wanted to go to bed for several months. Bed seemed like the only safe place where nothing could happen to me. I wanted to pull the covers over my head and hibernate until the world improved.

That very night I woke up suddenly. The room was pitch black. There was a smell that I can’t even begin to describe. I thought some hideous monster from hell was in the room with me. I reached for the light. And there sitting on the bed looking so pleased with themselves were my two dogs. They had obviously been on the wrong end of a skunk. (They had a dog door which allowed them to go out to the fenced back yard.) The smell made me gag, but they seemed unaffected by it and started to settle down to finish their night’s sleep. I quickly locked them outside and then realized that the smell was on everything they touched, so I pulled everything off the bed and threw it in the back yard, too, along with my nightclothes.

So I’m standing at the back door in the middle of the night, naked, and then I see that the skunk has not fared so well, and is dead in the back yard. Disposing of the skunk carcass was the final straw.

The night of the skunk. On my knees. I stayed there.

reposted from archives

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

...the Things I Cannot Change

What are the things we cannot change? Most everything, except ourselves. And yet, when I am stressed or angry or afraid, when I am feeling out of control on the inside, my first instinct is to seek relief by trying to exert control on what is outside myself. Predictably, those efforts meet with little success, which in turn fuels my own suffering.

Sometimes I think I am accepting something, but I don’t feel serene. It’s more like grumpy resignation. In the prayer, however, the serenity comes first. It is the serenity that leads to acceptance, just as courage leads to change, and wisdom leads to discernment. So the question is, how do I attain serenity?

In the last post, I observed that my serenity is often blocked by fear, fear which I try to escape by futile efforts to control things I can’t control, like circumstances and especially other people. I need to understand my fear before I can release it and attain serenity, serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

When I look at the fear, I see stories. My stories. I see that I tell myself stories about what is happening. These are not happy stories. I see that I am judging my circumstances as bad. I’m playing the “what if” game by spinning out imagined scenarios of disaster, shame, disappointment, helplessness. As someone told me years ago, my brain is a scary place. And for most of my life, it was.

Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. –Shakespeare

Once I understood that my suffering was of my own creation, that I was choosing to tell myself these stories, choosing to play the what if game, I realized that I had the power to make a different choice. Telling myself these stories, playing the what if game was a habit, a habit that could be changed like any other habit.

Here are some of ideas to help us change that habit that came up in our discussion group last week. The key is to find what works for you.

Change the story. If you are telling yourself a story full of dire scenarios, recognize that it is just a story. Ask yourself if you know for a fact that it is true. What other story could you tell yourself? Or could you suspend all stories and just be with what is?

Question your judgment. I sometimes remind myself that I don’t know if a particular event is good or bad. What looks like a tragedy to me right now might turn out to be a magnificent blessing.

Look for inspiration. Many people in the group shared poems, quotations, stories, verses from the Bible or from other faith traditions, that inspired trust – trust in God, in ourselves, in the universe.

Make friends with fear. We fuel our fear by being afraid of it, by fighting it, by denying it. We can invite our demons to tea, engage our fear in conversation, be curious about it, get to know it, have compassion for it and for ourselves. Shine a light in the darkness. The unknown is much scarier than the known.

Take a nap! Along the lines of the bear story in the last post, we can put aside our concerns and take a break. This is not the same as denial, which will never work (take my word for it!). But we can refresh ourselves with exercise, belly breathing, meditation, prayer, or whatever else you can do to rejuvenate your spirit.

If we can make peace with our fear, that urge to control will loosen its grip. Serenity is freed to well up like a still pond. Acceptance flows naturally.

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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Serenity to Accept...

If a problem has a solution, there is no need to worry. If a problem has no solution, there is no need to worry. –The Dalai Lama

My cousin sent me this true story about a bear rescued from a bridge.

The bear was walking across the Rainbow Bridge on old Highway 40 in California. The bridge spans a dry gulch. Two cars crossing the bridge from opposite directions scared the bear and it clambered over the side only to find itself on a narrow ledge with no way back up and no way down. Falling or jumping meant certain death on the rocks far below. Although authorities were called, they could do nothing and they left the bear to its fate. The next day, they came back to see what had happened and found the bear sound asleep on the ledge. With renewed resolve, they rigged a net under the bear, tranquilized it, and lowered it to the ground where it woke up and calmly walked away.

Now that was an enlightened bear. It found itself in an impossible situation with no immediate solution. Instead of freaking out over something it could not control, and in spite of its dire circumstances, it took a nap.

That bear is my model for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the first part of the Serenity Prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

How can we attain the serenity to accept the things we cannot change? Once we have acquired the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and can’t control (The Wisdom to Know the Difference), why can’t we just focus on the courage to change the things we can (The Courage to Change), and let go of the rest? Where does that urge to control the things we can’t control come from?

For me, at least, I think it comes from fear. Fear blocks my serenity, so I need to address that fear before I can serenely accept anything. Does fear block your serenity? Let’s think about what we are afraid of and where that fear comes from.

To be continued....

In the meantime, I think I’ll take a nap!

If you would like to see some pictures and read more about the bear, click here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Courage to Change


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

The second line of the Serenity Prayer asks God to grant us the courage to change the things we can.

As we discovered before, basically the only thing we can control, or change, is ourselves. But changing ourselves is often difficult. And scary.

I spent most of my life driven by fear. Einstein said that the most important decision we make in our lives is the choice to see the universe as hostile or to see the universe as friendly. I chose to see world as hostile, although I did not recognize it as a choice at the time.

Then one night I ended up at the hospital with a pain in my solar plexus that was so excruciating I thought I was dying. The doctor in the emergency room asked me to rate the pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being childbirth. Without hesitation (and clearly without ever having given birth), I gasped, “12!”

The suspected diagnosis was gall stones but tests revealed none. Ulcer? Nope. They drugged me and sent me home with instructions for follow up tests. But by the next morning I intuitively knew, and I was right, that the tests would reveal nothing. I understood that this was my wake up call from life. In case I missed the point, or was tempted to ignore it, I ended up in the hospital again ten days later in a deja vu repeat.

Life was telling me that the choice to remain tight in a bud was more painful than making the changes I needed to make in my life to blossom. It worked. The physical pain I experienced those two nights was so alarming that I was willing to do most anything to not suffer from it a third time.

So I changed the only thing I It didn’t happen overnight or without setbacks, but I made a different choice about how I saw the universe. I chose to see it as friendly rather than hostile. I reset my homepage, so to speak, to a happy place by developing habits to grow a joyful spirit.

If you are reading this, you are probably making some changes in your life, too. Or you made them long ago. Or you want to make them. Setting out to change ourselves takes courage. We are very brave.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

I quoted the Serenity Prayer recently. Here it is again.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

At our monthly discussion group last night, we used to this prayer as the format for discussing Step 3, giving up the delusion of control. We started with the end of the prayer, trying to discern the difference between what we can change and what we can’t. We made lists of things we can control and things we can’t. Here are some of the things we came up with.

Things we can control – our responses to things, the thermostat, prioritizing our bills, what we wear, the advice we give our children, what we do or think or say.

Things we can’t control – kittens, weather, the choices our children make, the economy, whether we get laid off, what other people do or think or say.

We concluded that generally we can control ourselves, and generally we can’t control everything else.

That seemed like an easy and quick guide to discerning the difference. We felt very wise!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Doors of Change

In Open the Door, author Joyce Rupp uses the image of a door as a symbol of spiritual growth. In one chapter she quotes a poem written by a 12 year old girl named Mary Katherine Lidle. The day after she wrote this poem, Mary was killed in a car accident. Here is the last part of the poem.

Listen to me
Go through those doors with hope
Go through those doors knowing change is the future and you’re part of it
You don’t know what change is; that’s why you’re scared
Change is the sun booming over the horizon
Scattering rays of hope to a new day
Change is a baby lamb meeting the world for the first time
Change is growing from a young child to a young woman
Change is beautiful; you will learn to love it

I wonder if Mary’s spirit knew her life was going to change dramatically the next day. Did she write this poem to leave some comfort for her grieving family? Where did these words come from to be written by a 12 year old girl on the last day of her life?

Doors. Doors closing. Doors opening. Two of my children have made life changing choices in recent months. Choices I would not have made for them. Choices that are changing their lives and my life in some big ways. Change is booming. New opportunities beckon. It is beautiful. I am learning to love it.

I think I must let go. Must fear not, must be quiet so that my children can hear the Sound of Creation and dance the dance that is in them. –Russell Hoban

revised from archives

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Shameless Self Promotion

I feel so lucky to have gotten a couple of things published recently. I hope you won’t mind if I share the news.

First, I wrote a story about my sons Dan and James that was published in an anthology titled A Cup of Comfort for Christian Women.

Second, I contributed to a website a few months ago about life lessons. I mentioned this site in an earlier post (The Secret of World Peace). The co-hosts of that site, Abubakar Jamil from Pakistan and Farnoosh Brock from Iran, then created an ebook titled Life Lessons: the Best Self Reflections from 108 Bloggers. Click on the title if you would like to see the book. If you want to read any author’s post, click on that author’s name. (I’m on the page with the sunflowers.) I hope you enjoy it!

Friday, March 4, 2011

As It Is

“Expectations destroy our peace of mind, don’t they? They’re future disappointments planned out in advance.” –from A Place of Hiding by Elizabeth George

I remember when someone first mentioned the word autism in assessing my son. A few days later, as I was still trying to take that in, terrified about what it meant for my son and what it meant for me, feeling disoriented and desperate and in denial, a friend’s mother asked me, “So how do you feel about the fact that James won’t be going to Harvard?”

All these years later, I still marvel at her insensitivity. But that is not the point here. The point is that I did have expectations, perhaps not of Harvard, but of what life would be like for my son, what life would be like for me as his mother.
I did not relinquish those expectations without a fight. I fought for years. I fought for the hopes and dreams and fantasies I was so attached to that I couldn’t imagine what life would be like if I gave them up. I fought so hard to get away from what was real, that I caused a lot of unnecessary pain – to myself, to James, and to others.

On the outside, I was being a good advocate for James. I tried every possible therapy, took advantage of every special ed service, consulted with an array of experts, and read a library full of books. But on the inside I was simply trying to escape, to escape the pain of loving my child so fiercely and so helplessly. I was trying to make reality something other than what it was. In retrospect, I think my denial and my efforts to control something I couldn’t control caused me more suffering that the autism itself.

Expectations are not really bad. We do hope for things and anticipate things. We make goals and we strive to attain them. We expect certain outcomes to result from certain efforts. And when our expectations are disappointed, we are sad.

But then sometimes we increase and prolong our suffering because of our attachment to our expectations, our unwillingness to acknowledge that things did not turn out the way we wanted, our quickness to blame someone or something, our refusal to grieve and move on.

This year, I had expectations. I had plans and hopes and dreams and fantasies, all of which brought me considerable delight in anticipation. And then, in the blink of an eye, things changed. But this time I was better prepared. My first reaction was to remind myself that I didn’t know if this new direction was good or bad. My second reaction was to realize that it was neither. It simply was.

It is as it is
And as it is
Is as it should be

I went up to my cabin last weekend. I wrote a list of all my expectations that are now not going to happen. I described them in all the glowing perfection that only fantasies can have. And then I placed the paper in the fire and blessed them as they went up in smoke. I let them go. And turned to face a new beginning.

So when you feel all the endings coming ... begin looking for all the beginnings. –Ann Voskamp

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Man Plans, God Laughs (Yiddish Proverb)

If you don’t have children, you might still be under the delusion that you can control things. Children are God’s cure for this. I think of children as God’s 12 step program for control addicts.

When I adopted my daughter, I consulted a friend who is a renowned astrologer. She contemplated Mia’s chart and frowned. “Are you sure this is the correct birth date?” she asked. It was, as far as I knew. She started fidgeting, her eyes darting around the room as if looking for a quick escape. She stared at the chart as if willing it to change. She cleared her throat several times. “What?!” I finally erupted, making her jump. “What is it?”

“Well,” she said, desperate for some way to soften what she saw, “let’s just say your daughter is...well, beyond programming.”

That doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I had controlled things all my life. I thought I had to control things or things would not happen the way they were supposed to happen. But being in control required a lot of energy and vigilance. Eventually I wore myself out. Like a rock chip on a windshield, cracks lengthened and branched out over my delusion of control. Finally I asked myself, “What makes me think I know how things should happen?”

Here is one of my favorite passages. It’s from Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins.

Down by the waterfall, Amanda pitched her tent – it was made of willow sticks and the wool of black goats. Having filled the tent with her largest and softest paisley cushions, Amanda stripped down to her beads and panties and fell into a trance. “I shall determine how to prolong the lives of butterflies,” she had previously announced.

However, an hour later when she awoke, she smiled mysteriously. “The life-span of the butterfly is precisely the right length,” she said.

Over time I surrendered. I became wise in the ways of control. I had none. And it was good.

If you don’t have children yet or don’t plan to have children, but you still seek enlightenment, get a cat.

revised from archives

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Serenity Prayer

Welcome to March and Step 3 -- Give up the delusion of control. To get us in the mood to consider control, here is the serenity prayer used in AA and other 12 step programs.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

This step has been a real challenge for me in my life. Learning to identify and accept the things I cannot change has been one of the most important steps for me in finding my happy place and staying there.

Focusing on this issue this month is especially timely for me as I struggle to accept changes in my life now that I can't control. Life is offering me a wonderful opportunity to walk my talk!

I hope you will join me in exploring this issue, sharing stories and ideas, and finding ways to develop habits of acceptance, courage, and discernment.