Saturday, December 29, 2012

Newly Bright

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

I have a painting titled "For today, newly bright." Each day is new, and each year is new. True, it is an artificial delineation, but still a chance to begin again. This morning I will go up to my cabin in the mountains to spend the last days of the year reflecting on the year that is ending and anticipating the year about to begin.

I look forward to my New Year's Eve ritual.  I build a fire in the fireplace.  In the last hours of the year, I write a letter to the old year. I reflect on the year, on what I learned and experienced, on the themes of the year, on what I think I will remember.  I thank the year for all the blessings it has brought.

Then I write a letter to the new year.  I welcome the new year and share my hopes and intentions.  I invite the new year in like a new friend, curious, eager to get acquainted, excited about possibilities.

I hold both letters as I say a prayer, once more thanking the departing year and welcoming the new year.  Then I burn both letters in the fireplace as an offering.

In the final minutes of New Year's Eve, I pick a word for the following year.  It is always a verb. It is not a resolution.  My word is a focus word, a gentle reminder, a guide. I write the word on little cards that I place where my gaze is sure to light – by my computer, the bathroom mirror, the car dash.  Throughout the year, my word is there, wherever I look.  As the months go by, it becomes a part of me.

How do I choose my word?  Sometimes I am pretty sure I know before New Year's Eve, but more often I don't.  As the year comes to a close, I open my mind and heart.  The word comes to me, like a whisper in my soul.

My word for 2012 has been "Shine.” The word itself has been a beacon to me, guiding me always towards the light, encouraging me during some dark times, reminding me that the light is always shining in me and all around me. In some very tangible ways, my word sustained me during the months of getting my book ready to publish. And in some very personal ways, my word helped me right myself when I stumbled over fear.

It is a word of faith, of hope, of joy, of promise, of transcendence. And it is a word of forgiveness and acceptance and love. As noted in the Bible and other wisdom teachings, the sun shines on the wicked and the righteous without distinction. So generous.

I’m grateful for my word this year, and I’m eager to find out what my 2013 word will be.  When I get back from the cabin on the 1st, I’ll write a post and let you know.  If you pick a word for yourself, I hope you’ll share it, too.

As part of my thanks to the departing year, I would like to say thank you to you.  I started this blog in February 2010, not at all sure what I was doing (still don’t know), and with no idea where it would lead (still don’t know that either).  But I do know this.  I have been so deeply touched and humbled by the support and encouragement I’ve gotten from so many people.  Through you and your blogs, I have received so much wisdom, inspiration, challenge, information, and lots of great fun.  And as we all know, fun is good.  (As the Cat in the Hat said, “It is fun to have fun!”)  I am so blessed to be part of this network of people.  You are such a gift.  Thank you.

Best wishes for a blessed end of 2012, and a new beginning with unlimited possibilities in 2013.

[One of my favorite things about the cabin is that I am away from phone, cable, and internet, so I will be “unplugged” from today until I return on Tuesday.  I hope you know by now that your comments are valuable and valued. Because I use comment moderation to monitor spam, there is a delay in the appearance of your comments, for which I apologize. Don’t let that stop you!  Please leave a comment, and it will magically appear New Year’s Day as soon as I get back.]

Thursday, December 27, 2012

On the Razor's Edge

Sometimes the darkest challenges, the most difficult lessons, hold the greatest gems of light.  –Barbara Marciniak

As the year comes to a close, with all its attendant reflections, the image of 2012 that keeps coming to my mind is the razor’s edge. It is not a place of comfort. It’s not a good place to take a nap. When we are there, we usually want to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Instead, we find ourselves face to face with fear...and opportunity.

This is where we practice, where we have an opportunity to grow, to deepen, to awaken. When things are as we wish, we can relax and enjoy. But when challenges arise, we must respond. Walking on the razor’s edge requires alertness, balance, openness, care, courage.

Seems like I have spent a significant amount of time this year on the razor’s edge. Fears that I thought were long laid to rest have burbled up from the abyss. Circumstances have thrown me into familiar dilemmas, challenging me to choose, over and over, whether to react with anger, anxiety, and futile efforts to control, or to breathe myself open, to wait, to offer compassion, to have faith.

Where, in the past, I often chose fear, life has been gently saying to me this year, “Choose again.” And for the most part, I have chosen differently. It’s hard sometimes. That’s why we speak in terms of practicing kindness, practicing compassion, practicing forgiveness.

2012 has given my plenty of opportunities to practice all of these. Although I have had a few whiny “why me” moments, I find myself reflecting on the year with profound gratitude, a humble confidence, a sustaining faith, and a peace that indeed passes all understanding.

Is there an image or phrase that captures the essence of 2012 for you?

related posts: Embrace the Tiger; The Dance of Fear

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Spiders

[This is a story I wrote several years ago and now it has become my yearly Christmas post. Merry Christmas to all!]

When James was three, he helped me decorate the Christmas tree one evening.  The next day while he was at preschool, I realized that we had forgotten the tinsel that we draped over the branches to make it look like icicles.  (This was back in the days before we knew that this was not an environmentally friendly decoration.)  I quickly tossed a couple of packages of tinsel on the tree and called it good.

When James came home that afternoon, he went about his business, not really paying attention to the tree.  But that evening when he walked into the dark room after I had turned on the blazing, multi-colored tree lights, he froze and stared in wide-eyed amazement at the long silvery streamers glittering in the soft air currents.  “Shh.  The Christmas spiders have been here,” he whispered.

That is a happy memory.  This morning I was reminded of it when I encountered several spiders of the summer variety.  They seem to be everywhere these days.  When I woke up, there was one suspended from the ceiling in the middle of my room, floating like a levitating yogi in the air.  I got a cup from downstairs and gently scooped it up and carried it outside to the garden.

When I opened the car door, there was a perfect web stretching from the steering wheel to the driver’s seat.  The builder was sitting in the center, ever hopeful in the locked up car.  I found a piece of paper and with some regret, destroyed the magnificent creation and carried the spider to the bushes where I thought it would have better luck.

I drove off and had only gone a few blocks when I noticed another web connecting the driver’s side rearview mirror with the car door.  The web was already battered by the wind, and the poor little spider was holding on like a bull rider at the rodeo as the web remnants violently vibrated .  I tried to ignore it, but after a few more blocks, I sighed and pulled over.  I found another scrap of paper in the car, onto which the traumatized little cowboy gratefully clambered.  I carried it to the curb and eased it onto a lovely rosebush.

I was briefly annoyed at all the interruptions in my morning, but then I remembered the Christmas spiders.  Sometimes when I think back over James’s childhood, my heart sinks with memories of all the challenges his autism presented.  I forget that there were also magic times of childhood wonder and delight.

Shh.  The angel spiders have been here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Everything Is Impermanent

“Everything is impermanent” is an often used topic of contemplation in certain spiritual practices. I was thinking about it this morning as I was shredding paper. (I use the shredded paper to line the bird cages.) My mind wandered while I was feeding the paper into the shredder, back to the copious amounts of paper I recycled and shredded when I retired last year.

Amazingly, a lot of that paper was not just junk. Well, at least at one time it was not junk. Class materials and notes that I developed over the years guided my teaching of hundreds of students. Cases, articles, news clippings – all were relevant at one time to whatever I was learning or teaching. Notes and memos about clients from different decades and even countries. Samples of every imaginable sort of contract (I taught contract law and contract drafting.)

All of it, at one time, had been useful. I had put a lot of effort and care into amassing and organizing what was, to me, a treasure trove of information and resources. As I cleaned out my office, I considered keeping much of it just because at one time it had been very important. Much of who I was and how I saw myself for thirty years was in those papers. They represented my career, my expertise, my legacy.

But I didn’t keep any of it. I saw that it had been important only to me, and that it had no future usefulness in my life. Boxes of paper gathering dust in the attic did not constitute a legacy of any significance to anyone. The importance of the papers was impermanent.

Even my own importance was impermanent. I don’t mean my value as a human being. I mean that no matter how successful I was as a professor, within three years after I left, no student would know who I was.  I realized that I was okay with that. Indeed, it seemed quite natural.

Why was I thinking about that today as I was cleaning bird cages? Perhaps because I am in another transition in my life, to an empty nest. Oh, I know about that revolving door that seems so common these days, and who knows what will happen in the future? But this is the first time I’ve lived without at least one of my children in the house since I became a mom almost twenty-six years ago.

My nest has been empty for a week now.  I still forget when I wake up in the morning that I’m in the house by myself.  The house, which seemed so small when the kids were doubled up in bedrooms and we had to eat at the dining room table because we couldn’t all fit in the kitchen nook, now seems cavernous.  There’s not as much food in the refrigerator. The dirty dishes in the sink are...mine.

I’m beginning to clean and reorganize, to claim the house as mine, too. To ease into this next stage of life. I’m still a mom, but not a day to day mom. Things that were important just a short time ago, now aren’t. I feel curious and excited. I like it.

And someday, this will change, too.

Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realize that nothing really belongs to them.  –Paulo Coelho

related posts: As It Is; The Doors of Change

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Joy Comes

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  –Psalm 30:5

Once again, I find myself nearing the end of the year...surprised. Last thing I remember, it was Thanksgiving, and now poof!  Christmas is almost here with the new year close behind. I will join others in reflecting more personally on this year, but today I want to offer one more post on what seems to me to be one of the prevalent qualities of this year.

Fear. And fear’s spawn – anger, hatred, judgment, anxiety, greed, blaming, isolation, selfishness, vengeance, stress.

We saw a year full of violence all over the world and in our own back yards, shattering not only lives but also innocence. In the United States we watched as a fiercely bitter political climate continued to polarize our country, with no end in sight even now. Nature added to the devastation with storms reflecting the human climate.

What to make of a year like this? I loved what Julie Barrett of A Clear Sign said in a comment to my last post. “I actually feel more hopeful. It feels to me as if there has been a huge shift in energy to the positive. I'm not sure why that is - it just feels that way to me.”  Me, too.

There is something so radiant and resilient about the human spirit.  Something in us, sometimes in our darkest hour, reaches for the light and transcends the fear that would keep us shackled in the pit.  We can all think of examples, some that are known only to a few, some that inspire nations and even the whole world.

I need not look further than my own family. I think back to when Dan joined our family. He was a classmate of my son James, both in a special classroom because of their autism. When Dan was 14, his parents died within a few months of each other. They were refugees from Vietnam who came to the US after the war and Dan had no other family here. And so he became part of our family.

He was a 14 year old boy with autism and limited communication skills, an only child who had known only one home, with a family who loved him and protected him from the things in the world that he didn’t understand. Then suddenly he lost everything and everyone he ever knew and loved, and was thrust into that very world. He came to a new home, filled with strangers, with new food, new language, and a dog that terrified him.

It’s more than many of us have ever had to cope with, especially at a young age, and many of us have more obvious coping resources than he had. Yet Dan was not down for long. He quickly adapted and soon his sunny nature was beaming again. Dan has a zest for life that many of us aspire to. It never bothers people when they can’t understand him. They respond to his open spirit and his eagerness to be friends. He is my hero of indomitability, a phoenix rising from the ashes of the life he was forced to leave behind.

So like Julie, I am filled with hope because I know what we are made of, we humans. I know what we can do when we move through our fear and let our lights shine. And how do we do this? By heeding the lesson this young warrior learned.

A young warrior once had to battle fear.  She did not want to, but her teacher insisted.  On the day of battle, the warrior stood on one side, feeling small.  Fear stood on the other side, looking big and wrathful.  The warrior bowed to show respect and asked fear, “How do I defeat you?”  Fear thanked her for showing respect and replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast and get in your face.  Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say.  If you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

As we wrap up this year, let’s respectfully refuse to do what fear tells us to do. Let’s move towards the morning of the new year with an open hand reaching out, with sadness perhaps for what has been lost, and joy in our hearts for what is to come. Blessings to us all.

related posts: It Is Not So; Game Change

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Help Someone

If you’re feeling helpless, help someone.  –Aung San Suu Kyi

I was still hurting over the shooting in the mall here in Portland when I heard the heart rending news of the shooting in Connecticut. And the stabbing of so many children in China. I just sat down and cried. So many people who are in such pain and so full of rage, so alienated and hopeless, so lost in their minds and their souls. They cry out in violence, cutting down innocent children and adults.

There is no sense to make of this. How do we respond? In fear? I read that gun sales are way up. One legislator proposed arming teachers. Would I want my child sitting in first grade with a teacher who is packing heat? Are we moving towards a society in which we pocket our cell phone, pick up our keys, and strap on our weapon as we leave the house to run to the grocery store or drive the car pool to soccer practice?

Do we really think that arming everyone will stop violence? Buddha taught that “hatred never ceases by hatred, but my love alone is healed.” Hate is born of fear. And fear is born of a mistaken belief that we are separate from each other. But we are not. And that simple truth is where any healing begins.

Yet what can I do? I remembered the above quotation this morning. Helpless. Yes, that is what I feel in the face of such random, unimaginable killing. Helpless to protect my children and grandchildren. Helpless to protect any children, for all children are my children. And yours. Yes, I’m feeling helpless. Are you?

Aung San Suu Kyi counsels us, then, to help someone. What can we do? If this violence is perpetrated by people who feel so dissociated from their humanity, perhaps the response is to affirm our shared humanity.

Years ago, a phone company introduced an ad campaign with the slogan, “Reach out and touch someone.” Touch. An affirmation that we exist, that we are connected. So what if we all touched someone? Call an estranged friend. Visit a homebound senior. Thank a first responder. Praise a child. Write a thank you note to a teacher. Help a neighbor. Shake the hand of a veteran. Smile at a stranger. Listen to someone.

We are not helpless. We need not fear. We have the only thing that will ever counter violence. Open hearts.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you
I have called you by name, you are mine
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you
And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you
When you walk through fire you will not be burned
And the flame will not consume you.
–Isaiah 43:1-2

related post: From the Ashes; Calling for Love

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Jolly Molly? No Thanks!

Underneath the hardness there is fear
Underneath the fear there is sadness
In the sadness there is softness
In the softness is the vast blue sky

My daughter Mia attended a birthday party when she was four.  The party’s main attraction was Jolly Molly, a popular local clown who was a big hit with the preschool set.  When Mia arrived, Jolly Molly opened her arms wide and greeted her.  Mia took one look and ran shrieking from the room.

Sometimes I feel that way about Christmas.  The store decorations go up at Halloween.  Elf commercials start airing. Christmas music is everywhere.  Shoppers battle in the wee hours of Black Friday.  Everything is so manically festive.  Some people love it.  Like the young partygoers who were clustered around Jolly Molly clamoring for her attention, many people’s spirits sing with the season.  And that’s wonderful.

For me, it’s often just too much.  I tend to stay away from the stores.  I look forward to going to friends’ homes for celebrations.  I enjoy Christmas, but in a quiet way.

For others, it is a time of feeling alienated, overwhelmed, sad, anxious, lonely, even angry.  I’ve started noticing blog posts about the dark shadows of Christmas.  There is grief over loved ones who are no longer here, sad memories of Christmases past, isolation in the present, financial anxiety, bitter struggles with family.  Sometimes, it’s too much to bear.

Yesterday, a man ran into the very mall where my children were shopping on Sunday, and started shooting, killing two people and injuring a third before shooting himself.  I don’t know anything about this man and whether his tragic outburst was at all related to the Christmas frenzy, but I know he must have been in a lot of pain.  His attack in a popular mall during a time of holiday shopping is like the two trains of Christmas crashing into each other.

Marlo Thomas, who has continued her dad’s support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, ends her commercials with “Give thanks for the healthy children in your life, and give generously to those who are not.”  That seems like a balanced approach. We can be grateful for our blessings and at the same time offer compassion to those in pain, including ourselves.  Our hearts are big enough to hold all these feelings.

Chogyam Trungpa teaches that joy comes from the gentle heart of sadness.  When we can break through the hardness of absolutes and move through our fear of uncertainty, we find ourselves in the sea of sadness.  All the suffering of the world is there.  We might want to escape.  Fear might lure us back to the “safety” of our hard defenses.

But if we can find the courage to stay, to yield, we can sink into the softness of our tender, open heart.  With our heart thus exposed and vulnerable, we  we are connected to the deep heart of all hearts.  And isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe.  –Joanna Macy

Monday, December 10, 2012

Looking Back, Looking Ahead, and Thank You

Whoa, where did 2012 go?  December got here while I was still basking in the glow of a wonderful Thanksgiving, and now the holidays are upon us as well as the end of the year.  Someone pushed the fast forward button in October.

Many people rev up at the end of the year.  Things get hectic.  Stress levels rise.  I’m not immune to that, but overall, I like to slow down.  The increasing darkness (in the northern hemisphere) draws me inside, literally and figuratively.  The end of the calendar year is an artificial demarcation, but it’s a good time to look back...and forward.

One thing I’ve been thinking about is my blog.  I started this blog in February 2010.  For the first year, I posted randomly about the 10 Steps.  Beginning in January 2011, I focused on one step per month, with the idea that this would encourage the development and reinforcement of the habits associated with each step.  Highlighting one of the 10 Steps each month took me through October of last year.  After that, I reverted to posting randomly about the steps which I continued to do through this year.

This year also birthed my book about the 10 Steps, which was released in October.  I’m pleased that it has been well received and continues to help me raise money for Edwards Center, the nonprofit to which I’ve pledged all the proceeds from the book. (You can find out more about the book by clicking on the link at the top of the right margin.)

So what’s next?  One thing I’ve been thinking about is doing more with my FB page (which you can visit and “like” by clicking on the FB link in the right margin, or just click here).  Beginning in January, I’m thinking of launching a short daily FB post with the theme “Living in Your Happy Place Every Day.”  Posts might include quotes, links, video clips, suggested daily practices, and whatever else catches my attention.  The point is to remind us on a daily basis to open our spirits to joy.

Which brings me back to the blog and a request to you to offer any suggestions or feedback you might have.  As you have probably figured out by now, I’m pretty low tech, so don’t be looking for fancy tech changes.  I guess what I’m asking you is to give me some feedback about what brings you here, and, if you are a regular reader, what keeps you coming back.  Are there things you would like me to do differently?  Topics you would like addressed?  Something I’m missing?  How can I support you better in developing habits to grow a joyful spirit, to find and stay in your happy place?

Okay, my turn to give you some feedback.  One of the things I love about writing the blog is the wide range of connections I’ve made through it.  I now have blog friends all over the world.  I am so grateful that people of different nationalities, cultures, faiths, opinions, hemispheres, experiences, ages, lifestyles, ethnicities, can all meet here to share our thoughts and stories.  I’ve read on other blogs about problems with people be hateful or hurtful in some way.  How lucky I am that given the amazing diversity of readers on this blog, I have had next to zero issues like that.  The fact that we come here from such different backgrounds and yet can all listen and speak with deep respect and honor to each other is a marvel I don’t take for granted.

What’s even more marvelous is that my blog is not unique in this respect.  Not at all.  On the contrary, I visit many blogs where people come to the table with openness and eagerness to hear each other, to learn from each other, to support each other.  Isn’t that amazing?  I just shake my head in humble wonder.

So whether you are here for the first time or you’ve been here many times before, I thank you for the blessings you bring here with your presence.  And I look forward to seeing what the next year brings for all of us.  Thank you so much.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Embrace Limbo

Suffering is the extra tension created in the mind when it struggles.  –Sylvia Boorstein

I was chatting the other day with a friend who is writing a book.  She has worked with much more diligence and self discipline than I ever practiced in writing mine.  So when I asked her about her progress, I was surprised to hear her say that things had stalled a bit, not on the writing side, but on the publishing side, the part she can’t control.

She is such a dynamic and highly motivated person that I expected her to express some frustration and impatience.  But as she described how she is coping with this time of uncertainty, she said, “I’m learning to embrace limbo.”

Wow.  Limbo is not a comfortable place.  In her book Open the Door, Joyce Rupp calls this the liminal space, in the doorway, where you are no longer here, but not yet there. Many of us do not like this space.  We have left the comfort of what was familiar, and we can’t see clearly what is in the next room.  We sometimes handle our anxiety by trying to control things, by pushing through to resolution, any resolution, rather than pausing, waiting, breathing.

Limbo, or the liminal space, is not something I have historically embraced, or even tolerated very well.  I’ve noticed over the years that my life seems to run in four year cycles.  Every four years, there is often some major transition in my life – a move, a new child, the beginning or end of a significant relationship.  I went through many of these cycles before I noticed the pattern.

Even now that I see the pattern, I often forget about it until after the transition into a new cycle, when I look back and realize that I have passed through a cycle year.  Last year, for example, I retired and became a grandmother twice over.  It was only as I started writing this post that I did some quick math and what do you know?  Last year was a cycle year.  I guess by now I should not be surprised.

Leading up to the cycle year is often a time of restlessness, agitation, a time of limbo. This used to be an extremely difficult period.  I often was wedded to the way things were and didn’t want to give up what I thought was going to last forever.  Once I accepted the inevitability of coming change, then I wanted it to come fast and be over with so that I could settle into my new “permanent” state.  (How many cycles did it take me to understand the nature of impermanence?!)

Finding footing in the shifting sands of limbo was challenging on so many levels.  Even more upsetting than knowing change was coming was not always knowing what the change would look like.  And worst of all was trying to alleviate my distress by trying to control things I could not control.

So when my friend said she was learning to embrace limbo, I recognized those words as meant for me.  I have made my peace with limbo, but she has inspired me to see the liminal space as a welcome gift, full of promise.  Embracing limbo is accepting the natural rhythm of the universe, trusting in its basic goodness, releasing our fear, finding perfection in the mystery.

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe.  –Unknown

related posts:  Man Plans, God Laughs; The Doors of ChangeThe Curiosity of Not Knowing

Friday, November 30, 2012

Grieving Over Welcome Changes

The sage chooses that and lets go of this.  –Tao Te Ching

Last night I was so sad.  What perplexed me is that I was sad about something that I’m also very happy about.  My last two still-at-home kids, one of them with a child of her own, are moving out in a few weeks.  After managing to get all five kids to some level of adulthood, having an empty nest is something I’ve been looking forward to.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love all my kids, and they are great kids, but I’m ready to make the transition to the next stage of my life, which, in my fantasy at least, involves having my house to myself.

Or does it?  My one year old grandson toddled into my room to see me yesterday, all grins, eager to babble at me about something amazing.  My daughter cooked a delicious dinner.  My other daughter sat down and watched a movie with me.  These are things I will miss when they move out.

I tell myself that they are only going to be five minutes away, but we all know that things will be different, very different.  And that, I think, is what I’m grieving.  The loss of things the way they are.  The loss of what I love about the way things are.  Change.

Even when faced with a change we ourselves have sought out and instigated, there is loss that sometimes makes us sad.  When I was approaching retirement last year, a choice that I voluntarily and enthusiastically made, I was sad.  I was leaving a job I had loved for twenty years, friends who were my daily companions, an identity I was enriched by and proud of.  I have never regretted my decision, and retirement has been glorious, but the choice I made meant leaving something behind, letting go of things that mattered to me.

And so it is now.  I have not lived without children in my home for over twenty-five years.  The daily rhythm of my life has included my children for a quarter of a century.  And while I’m not worried about what I will do – indeed, retired life has been so busy, I’m not sure how I ever found time to have a job – there will be an emptiness in the spot they now occupy.

I am ready for this change, and I do want it.  All the things I’m looking forward to fill me with curiosity and anticipation.  My daughters are excited, too.  And we’re all glad that we won’t be far away from each other.  We can hold our sadness, and maybe a bit of nervousness, in the same arms that embrace our joy and celebration of this major life transition.

Grieving over change, even desired change, is a part of releasing the familiarity and blessings of what we are leaving behind.  Acknowledging our feelings helps us move forward in freedom, welcoming a new day.

Have you ever found yourself sad about a change that you chose for yourself and eagerly looked forward to?

related posts: Cradling Our Feelings; Seasonal Yin Yang; The Joy of Sadness, the Sadness of Joy

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wonderfully Made

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  –Psalm 139:14

When I led a women’s retreat last year, we were talking about compassion for ourselves.  I was struck by how difficult it was for some women to use positive words to describe themselves.  When asked to describe themselves the way they would be described by the person who loved them more than anything in the universe (this could be a parent, dearest friend, God, their dog, anyone), there was a palpable discomfort in the room.  Describing themselves in glowing terms seemed not only unfamiliar, but even wrong, smacking of pride and arrogance.  Much better, they thought, to minimize their gifts, to deny their talents, to put themselves down.

But false modesty is just that – false.  Legendary martial artist Bruce Lee was once asked if he was really “that good.”  He replied, “If I say yes, you will think I am arrogant.  But if I say no, you will know I’m lying.”

The Bible says we are God’s masterpiece.  Far from feeling arrogant or prideful, I am brought to my knees in humility and gratitude when contemplating this precious gift of human life, a gift that is not mine alone, but is generously bestowed on each of us, binding us together in our shared magnificence.  Why is it so difficult to acknowledge the amazing wonderfulness of our existence?

At a conference with Western Buddhists, the Dalai Lama was asked about self hatred.  Even after repeated efforts by his interpreter, the Dalai Lama remained confused by this concept.  What was immediately understood by the Western attendees was so unfamiliar to His Holiness that he finally conceded,  "I thought I had a very good acquaintance with the mind, but now I feel quite ignorant. I find this very, very strange."  What this tells me is that self hatred is not a necessary aspect of the human condition, but rather is culture specific.

Where does self hatred as a cultural phenomenon come from?  I’ve been giving this a lot of thought since that women’s retreat last year.  Some might trace its roots back to the doctrine of original sin, a concept perhaps unique to Christian theology.  Seeing ourselves as inherently and inescapably flawed from birth is a heavy burden.  One might also consider gender issues, since the affliction seems more prevalent in women.

Ultimately, however, the cultural origin of self hatred is less important than the fact that, because it is not an inevitable part of who we are, we can choose differently.  That’s tremendously liberating.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world.  “People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others....”  I want my thoughts and words and actions to reflect that light of glory.  I do no service to others by pretending to be less than what I am, a masterpiece of the universe, as are you.  That doesn’t make us special.  It makes us part of everything that lives.

So I invite you to try the exercise I mentioned above.  You can do it privately if you don’t want to share publicly – that’s fine.  How would the person who loves you more than anyone describe you?  Can you accept that description without apology or denial?  If you don’t want to share the description in a comment, would you share what the exercise was like for you?  Is it hard to let your light shine?  No judgment.  Just be curious.

You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.  –Buddha

related posts: From Victim to Victor; The Perfection of Imperfection; Guided Tour

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who's the Turkey?

This post about my first Thanksgiving in Thailand is becoming its own tradition.  I love this story because it reminds me how grateful I am that I got to spend three years living and working in this fascinating country.  So here it is again.

I had the good fortune to live and work in Bangkok many years ago.  I was the only American in my office, and of course Thanksgiving is not a Thai holiday, so when Thanksgiving came, I took the afternoon off to go have dinner with other Americans.

That morning at the office, I was chatting with some colleagues.  In an attempt to bridge cultures, I joked, “Even though this is an American holiday, we can all take a moment to think about all the things we have to be grateful for.  For example, you can be thankful that the pilgrims didn’t land in Thailand!”

Everyone laughed politely and I was congratulating myself on the success of my cross-cultural humor, when several people asked at once, “What’s a pilgrim?”

I knew then I had a lot to learn!

No matter where you are in the world, count your blessings and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Shining Moment in the Darkness

This time of year, the weather in Portland is often dark and rainy, like today.  The clouds hang low, drivers turn on their headlights in the middle of the day, people buy full spectrum light boxes to chase away winter doldrums.

This morning I was driving in the inside lane of a four lane street.  A big red commercial van was slightly ahead on my right in the curb lane.  The light was green as we approached an intersection.  A pickup truck suddenly turned right from the other street just in front of the van.  (Right turns on red are permitted here when safe.)  I hit my brakes as the van swerved into my lane and around the truck to avoid plowing into the truck.  The accident was averted, and the van and I proceeded with the truck falling in behind me.

As we approached the next intersection, I pulled alongside the van.  The driver was waving at me.  The light turned yellow and we both stopped.  I rolled down my window, and thinking he had mistaken me for the careless driver, I smiled and called out, “It wasn’t me!”

He replied, “I know.  I just wanted to thank you for slowing down so that I could go into your lane.”  I told him he had done a good job of avoiding the accident and I was glad he was all right.  As we conversed, I noticed for the first time the company information on his van.  It was a lighting company, advertising various types of lighting they installed. We both cautioned each other to drive safely and went on with our mornings.

As I headed on home, I thought about how he brings light into the darkness for a living.  How interesting.  And also, he brought light into my dark morning.  When I rolled down my window, he could have gone off about crazy drivers and so on.  We were both rattled by the incident.  But instead, he took the opportunity to thank me for helping him avoid the accident, and we wished each other safe travels.  I know I was more alert as I drove home.  And also happier because of our brief connection.

My word for the year this year is Shine.  As the days shorten and the gray settles in, it seems to me that this is an excellent word for me to focus on in the remaining weeks of this year.  I hope that, like this driver, I can bring light into the darkness, of my own life and the lives of others.  I hope that my light shines brightly, reminding me that the light is always present and that we all enter the light together. 

Has someone brought light into a dark place for you lately?

related posts:  What Are You Writing in Your Book?; The Kindness of Strangers

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Please Help Me Help

As some of you know, I released a book October 2, with the same title as my blog.  (You can find out more about the book by clicking on the book in the right margin.)  All the proceeds of the book are donated to Edwards Center, an organization which provides a wide range of services to adults with developmental disabilities, including my two sons with autism.

Some of you have posted lovely and very gracious reviews and interviews for which I am humbly grateful.  I thought that one way I could show my thanks is to list your blogs here with links to the reviews.  My hope is that readers who aren’t already familiar with your wonderful blogs will stop by for a visit.

Yes, there is a selfish aspect to this way of expressing thanks.  I also hope that you, my dear blog friends, will help me spread the word about the book through sharing links and tweets of the reviews.

And if you have read the book and enjoyed it, would you consider posting a review on Amazon?

I so appreciate everyone’s help.  Adults with developmental disabilities are such a vulnerable population.  Edwards Center is a lifeline for them and their families, like my sons and me.  Click here to visit their website and find out more about this amazing organization.

You can help me support Edwards Center by helping me get the word out about the book as we head into the holidays.  It makes a perfect gift!

Here is the list of blogs on which reviews and interviews have been posted.  These are all blogs that I read and enjoy.  They represent a wide range of topics, so I’m sure you will find some new blogs to add to your reading list.

Thank you!!

Sources of Insight
A Clear Sign
The Bold Life
Satisfying Retirement
Invisible Mikey
Life as We Live It
Thoughts from a Bag Lady in Waiting
Everyday Gyaan
Retire in Style
Powered by Intuition
B Here Today
Vishnu’s Virtues
Evolving Beings
Going A-Musing
Always Well Within
The BridgeMaker
The Disconnected Writer
The Happiness Series
Facets of Joy

Please note that I will be away from my computer Friday and will return on Saturday, so please excuse any delay in posting your comments due to comment moderation.  Your comments are important and will be published immediately when I return.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Mercy Seat

I opened a Bible the other day to a random page and found myself near the end of 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament.  David is giving instructions to Solomon about building the temple.  The plans include “the room for the mercy seat.”  The phrase awakened a joy in my soul that there was such a place called a room for the mercy seat, and there arose in my spirit a longing to be in that room.

I am no Bible scholar, and my reaction was uncomplicated by specific knowledge of the meaning of this phrase.  The image in my mind was of a seat bathed in light.  If I sat on it, I would receive the mercy of God.  I would be filled with the basic goodness of the universe.  My spirit would be purified and mercy would spill over like a golden fountain, flowing wherever I had held judgment and condemnation, washing away everything that was born of fear, imbuing what had been dark with a light so brilliant that nothing was left in shadow.

My curiosity led me to an earlier description of the mercy seat in Exodus.  There, God is speaking to Moses, telling him to build the mercy seat of pure gold and to place it above the ark of the covenant, in the most sacred, inner room in the temple.  “There I will meet with you,” promises God.

Ah, just as I thought.  The mercy seat is the thin place where we encounter the divine (by whatever name we choose).  God does not meet with us on the seat of judgment, or the seat of vengeance.  There is no separation here, no hatred, no fear.  Only mercy, only love, only light.

I have held this image in my heart the last few days as I have struggled to forgive and release a situation that continues to churn in my spirit.  When I feel myself sucked back towards that whirlpool of anger and blame and fear, I picture myself on the mercy seat, opening my soul to God, asking for mercy for myself and for those against whom I harbor thoughts of separation and judgment.

The true gift of grace is that the line between giving and receiving it immediately disappears as soon as mercy is asked for or offered.  Mercy never flows only one direction, but washes over both the giver and the recipient.

Imagining myself on the golden seat of mercy is humbling.  God’s grace is so exquisite, the basic goodness of the universe so sublime, that my grievances simply melt away.  I am bewildered that I ever thought them important, worthy of my attention and energy.  What are they compared to the glorious freedom of forgiveness?

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.  –Lewis B. Smedes

related posts:  Righteous Unforgiveness; Forgiveness, the Final Frontier

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

It Was the Best of Times. It Was the Worst of Times.

Which is it?  Depends on who’s talking.  Half the U.S. is jubilant today.  The other half is devastated.  Some of the disappointed voters even threaten to move to Canada, where, ironically, they will find same sex marriage, a single payer national healthcare system, and abortion on demand.  I’m just sayin’....

Our planet is in great trouble and if we keep carrying old grudges and do not work together, we will all die.  –Chief Seattle

The truth is that it doesn’t really matter who won the presidential election yesterday, unless we can quit demonizing those who don’t agree with us and work together.

Picture two enemies in a canoe arguing about the best technique for paddling, or even trying to knock the paddles out of each other’s hands, as the canoe is swept downstream towards a waterfall.  That’s what our polarized partisanship reminds me of.

Don’t fight a battle if you won’t gain anything by winning.  –General Patton

Yesterday’s win will be a hollow victory if the real danger to America is not addressed.  The real danger is not the deficit or terrorists.  The real danger is our refusal to see that we rise or fall together.  When Hurricane Sandy laid waste to the East Coast, first responders did not ask a victim’s party affiliation before offering help, and victims did not vet their saviors for political correctness.

Years ago, when two of my daughters were gridlocked in bitter hostility, I, in desperation, offered to pay them each a dollar a day to get along.  I didn’t care anymore if they liked each other, or if their overtures were sincere.  I cared that the fighting stop.  Here was the catch: they would have to earn the dollars as a team.  They either both got the dollars or neither did.  I was the decider, and there was no appeal.

The amazing thing was that although their initial efforts were only superficially civil, the pattern was broken, and it wasn’t long before they really were working together toward a common goal.  Did disagreements still arise?  Of course.  But they quickly shifted to cooperative solution mode rather than getting all churned up in their previous blame/attack mode.

Again, I’m just sayin’....

We have seen the enemy and he is us.  –Pogo

There is nothing like watching the election returns with a friend who comes from a communist country to put things in perspective.  As I spent the evening trying to explain what was happening to someone for whom the whole concept of voting is unfamiliar, I could see the process from an outside perspective.

True, in her country there are not billions of dollars spent on campaigns, and government policies can change without endless debate and years of court challenges.  But as I listened to her amazement that people could voice their opinions so freely, and her disbelief that those numbers on the screen represented individual votes that were actually being counted, I felt blessed.

People with clenched fists cannot shake hands.  –Indira Gandhi

Maybe you feel blessed, too.  So I invite us all to consider how we participate in and how respond to our electoral process.  Although our system is based on a win/lose model, no one really wins unless we all win.  Instead of all the vitriol and gloating, I invite us all to find someone who voted for “the other guy” and extend an open hand.  More important, I invite us all to extend an open mind.

From this house, to the world, we will go, hand in hand.  The way of peace, the way of freedom, the way of hope, from this house, to the world we will go, hand in hand.  –Ben Allaway

[Note to my friends from other countries: I try to write about things that will be of universal appeal.  This post is clearly about the U.S. presidential election, but I hope that there is something here that you might find relevant on a broader scale.  Thanks for reading.]

related posts: Righteous Unforgiveness; There Is No Them

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Legacy of a Name

I often get questioned about my pen name, Galen Pearl.  Galen was my dad’s middle name, and he was called by the shorter version, Gale.  Galen comes from a Greek word meaning calm or tranquil.  I like that.  My mother’s middle name was not Pearl, but it was another gemstone.  However, she was not fond of her middle name, so I chose another precious gem.

Before I became a parent, I fantasized about having a daughter and naming her Galen Pearl.  However, three daughters later, the name, which wasn’t suitable for any of them for various reasons, remained unused.  My youngest daughter, who came the closest to bearing this name, is grateful.  When she would express her huge relief at not being named Galen Pearl, I would tease her by saying, “It’s not too late.  We can go down to the courthouse and change it.”  “Nooooo!” she would wail.

When I started this blog over two years ago, I was concerned about privacy, especially for my kids.  I did not have much experience online (I’m still woefully behind in tech knowledge), so I decided to use a pen name.  I thought and thought.  And then like a flash, I remembered the name I had loved for so long.  It was never meant to be my daughter’s name.  It was meant to be mine.  And so Galen Pearl was finally born.

As time went on and I unexpectedly gained some name recognition, I wondered if I had done the right thing.  When I published some stories, I had to decide whether to stick with the pen name or switch to my real name, which I also love.  By then, however, the pen name had taken root in my own psyche as well as in cyberspace, and so I stuck with it.

I’m glad I did.  Today would have been my dad’s 100th birthday.  I miss him.  He died thirty years ago, before any of us ever heard of a blog, before I fantasized about a daughter named Galen Pearl.  He never met any of my children, never saw the house I raised them in, never read anything I wrote.  Using his name connects me to his memory, to him.

So, thanks, Dad.  I hope I do your name proud.

 There be of them, that have left a name behind them.... –Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus 44:8-9

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Miracles, Anyone?

I mentioned before that I am organizing an online group to study A Course in Miracles (ACIM) beginning January 1.  I’m mentioning it one more time for those who didn’t catch the earlier announcement and might be interested.

Some of you already have some experience with ACIM and others have none.  If you are in the latter category and would like some basic information about the Course, here is a good website to visit  Here is a general description:

"A Course in Miracles is a teaching device that aims to assist its readers in achieving spiritual transformation. The book describes a purely non-dualistic philosophy of forgiveness and includes what are meant to be practical lessons and applications for the practice of forgiveness in daily life."

ACIM is meant to be experiential rather than theoretical or analytic.  It is written using Christian language, but the Course itself says that the words are unimportant.  They are “symbols of symbols.”  So whether you come from a Christian faith tradition, or some other tradition, the concepts are just as applicable and are compatible with the essential wisdom teachings of any tradition (or no tradition for that matter).

The Course has three parts – a text, a workbook, and a manual for teachers (teachers meaning all of us).  These components are not set up in the way you might think, given those labels.  There is no direct correlation among them.  You can enter the Course through any of them, although ultimately it is the workbook that is where the action is, so to speak.

The workbook is set up with 365 lessons, which suggests doing one lesson a day throughout the year.  That’s why we’ll start January 1 with the first lesson.

If you are interested in finding out more, please email me directly at  Feel free to pass along this post to anyone you know who might be interested.  Thanks!

I’ll be back to regular posts next time!

Comments closed

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Have You Thanked a First Responder Today?

As I was driving home yesterday from my cabin, I passed four accidents on the highway.  It was raining and foggy, a dangerous combination.  Two of the accidents looked serious; in one of them a car had flipped completely over upside down.  The other two were less serious; it appeared that one of them might have been caused when the car in front slowed down as several lanes merged into one at an accident site, and the car behind ran into it.

The police and fire trucks were already on the scene at two accidents, and were arriving at another one as I drove by.  Ambulances were also there.  The police were quick to address the traffic issues, standing in the pouring rain directing vehicles around the accidents and making room for emergency vehicles and personnel.  The police were also guiding non injured victims in shock to safe areas.  EMTs were attending to the injured.

Many of us are not happy to hear sirens or to see flashing lights in our rear view mirrors, especially if we are being stopped for a traffic violation.  But as I passed these accidents and witnessed the expertise and dedication of all these heroes, I could imagine that those same flashing lights were lights from heaven and the sirens were the songs of angels to the injured and distressed.

So next time I see a police officer or a fire fighter, I’m going to make a point to walk up and say thank you.  If I’m in my car, I’ll smile and wave.  I can drop off some cookies at the fire station near my house, and leave a gift card for the police officers who frequent a local coffee shop.

If you are an emergency responder or if you know one, please accept or pass along my appreciation.  Y’all are heroes every day.  Thank you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What Is Your Favorite Word?

I like words.  Indeed, as a lawyer, I made my living from words.  When I think of my favorite word, however, it is not a legal word.  It is a word, or to be more accurate, a phrase, I learned in a college botany course.  In fact, it is the only thing I retained from the course.  (I was not destined to be a scientist.)  Okay, here it is:

Click here to join the party over at Life, for instance!

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Best Exotic Present Moment

Everything will be all right in the end.  If it’s not all right, then it’s not the end.  –Sonny, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

In the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a group of British retirees comes to India to stay in what has been advertised as a newly restored hotel.  However, they arrive to find a dilapidated relic run by the ever hopeful Sonny.  Each deals with the unexpected challenges and unfamiliar culture in his or her own way, some embracing the circumstances, some recoiling from them, but all finding some new level of self awareness in the process.

Each of the characters reminds me of various ways that I deal with the present moment. Sometimes the present moment is not what I was anticipating.  In my zen mode, I can open myself up to the gifts of the holy instant, but I’m just as likely to balk, to judge, to try to change it, to escape, to pretend it’s something other than what it is.

When the present moment lands in circumstances not to my liking, I can feel fear start to beat like the orc drums deep in the mines of Moria.  I begin to search for some way out of my unease.  The drums grow louder.  Panic clutches at my throat.  I sometimes flee, or I turn to fight, making a powerful enemy out of what I can’t control.

Ah, what a waste, losing faith like that.  If I believe, and I do, that all things work together for good, then, as Joel Osteen says, things are not happening to me, they are happening for me.  It might not look that way, but the Bible cautions me to not lean on my own understanding, but rather to walk in faith and not by sight.

I’ve lived long enough to discover that events I initially judged as terrible turned out to be wondrous blessings.  What if I had been able, in the time of trouble, to trust in the basic goodness of the universe, to rest in knowing that the pain would pass, to be grateful for the perfection of every present moment?

Like guests at a hotel, we can look on the back of the door at the map with the red arrow pointing to a spot that says “You are here.”  Indeed we are.  It’s the only place we can be.  And it’s more than all right.  It’s perfect.

related posts: Falling Into Now; You Are Here

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pajama Day

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.  My schedule gets away from me, there are too many phone calls, errands to run, things on my to do list.  I’m behind on reading blogs, paperwork is piling up, I can’t remember something and I think it was important.  Things start to feel like burdens instead of blessings.  I feel tired and cranky.  Then I know.  It’s time for a pajama day.

So tomorrow I will stay in my pajamas all day.  That doesn’t mean staying in bed, although I will probably laze in bed a bit later in the morning.  It means a day to myself with no agenda.  I give myself permission to read, watch TV, meditate longer, eat when I want to, drink my favorite tea, practice tai chi in the back yard, turn the phone off (and maybe the computer).

A day to recenter and refresh.  I’m looking forward to it.

What do you do when you need to replenish your reserves?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Mom Was Right...Again

I read recently that making your bed can make you happier.  While I generally like a clean and tidy house, I have not been in the habit of making my bed.  Like others have observed, why make it up when I’m just going to sleep in it again tonight?  And besides, since my room is upstairs, no one sees it except me.

However, this article’s promise intrigued me, so I thought I would try it.  The quilt I’ve used on my bed for years didn’t make it through the last wash cycle in one piece, so the occasion of getting a new quilt seemed like an auspicious time to experiment with making my bed.

Wow.  What a difference!  The one minute it takes me to smooth the sheets and blankets and straighten the quilt just when I get out of bed makes my heart smile.  Everything seems right with the world.  There is a noticeable lift in my mood and peace in my spirit.

And here’s the bonus.  I feel happier when I go to bed, too.  I like approaching my bed and pulling the covers down and slipping between the sheets.  My bed is a more welcoming place, inviting me to enter a calm and orderly refuge and settle into restful slumber.

Those of you who practice this habit regularly might not appreciate the dramatic difference this simple act makes at the start of your day.  I’m now a believer, and with the fanaticism characteristic of the newly converted, I want to spread the word!

Do you make your bed?  If not, would you try it for a week?  Let me know what happens!

related post: Are You Belly Breathing?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One Story -- Many Lessons

You know those stories that you never live down?  We were at the dinner table the other night and got to laughing over a story about my daughter Mia, a story that gets told and retold.  I’ve probably written about it on the blog, but I can’t remember, so here it is again, with Mia’s permission (accompanied by an eye roll).

When she was in kindergarten, the kids lined up to move through the hallways between the classroom and activities located elsewhere in the school.  Every day, someone was chosen by the teacher to be the line leader, which is a big deal when you are in kindergarten.

One day, as the kids lined up, Mia immediately observed that the girl in front was not the chosen line leader that day.  The chosen leader was further back in the line, apparently shirking her responsibility.  As the line moved forward, Mia was looking back over her shoulder, waving and calling to the girl who was supposed to be in front, and telling her to assume her assigned position (telling her in a somewhat bossy way, as the story was related to me).

As Mia became more adamant (it seems the girl was not at all concerned that some upstart had usurped her role), she was not watching where she was going and tripped over a chair right in front of her, falling flat and getting a bit banged up in the process.

I love this story first of all because I love Mia, and this incident so captures the feisty little pixie that she was.  I also love it because it has much to offer upon reflection.

Shall we play a game today?  How many lessons can we learn from this simple story?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Close Encounters of the Brain Kind

I was up at my cabin this weekend enjoying some beautiful fall weather.  I took a walk along a rocky path that I don’t travel often.  Along the way, I decided to try some awareness exercises.  The path ahead was bumpy but without any significant hazards.  I closed my eyes and stepped very carefully, keeping my weight on one foot until the other foot was safely positioned before shifting my weight forward.

I hadn’t gone very far before I stepped forward into mossy undergrowth.  Realizing that I had veered to the edge of the path, I opened my eyes and found myself facing directly towards the side of the path.  Wow, I thought, I didn’t even sense that I was not moving in a straight line.  Believing that I had turned towards the right side of the path, I turned back to the left and continued on, keeping my eyes open.

After a while, wondering why I had not come to the road I was expecting, I started looking around.  Something didn’t seem right.  The path was going gradually uphill instead of down.  The sun was on my right instead of left.  I stopped, completely disoriented.  The faint traffic noise from the distant highway was on the “wrong” side, too.

My brain, which had immediately made an assumption when I opened my eyes that I was facing the right side of the path, insisted that I was going in the right direction.  All my senses, however, said I wasn’t.  Indeed, my senses were correct.  With my eyes closed, I had veered to the left side of the path instead of the right.  If I had paused to get my bearings when I opened my eyes, I would have seen that and continued down the path to my right, instead of turning to my left and going back up the path where I had come from.

What was so interesting to me was how sure my brain was that it was correct, even when all my senses were telling me that it was wrong.  Even when I turned and headed in the right direction, my brain continued to be confused.  Everything seemed “backwards” until I found familiar landmarks and convinced my brain that indeed we were going the right way.  

I wonder how many other assumptions my brain has latched onto without a careful consideration of the available information.  Seeing how much effort it took to change my brain’s orientation made me think that my brain, once having reached a conclusion, is loathe to consider other possibilities, even when conflicting evidence is presented.

I learned two things.  First, my brain likes to have an answer and will jump to one quickly rather than pause in uncertainty.  Second, once my brain has an answer, it will lock it in and defend it against anything that contradicts it.

My brain has given me a lot to think about.  My awareness exercise was a huge success, just not in the way I intended!

related post: The Curiosity of Not Knowing  

Monday, October 1, 2012

Thank You This Day

If you are familiar with the Christian faith, you might have run across the Lord’s Prayer.  This is the prayer Jesus taught his followers.  One line in the prayer is usually translated “Give us this day our daily bread.”  This petition has long bothered me.  Let me explain.

Just before he offers this prayer, Jesus reassures his followers that God knows what they need before they ask.  Later, he points out that the birds do not till the soil and yet are fed; the lilies of the field do not spin and yet are gloriously clothed.  I don’t think he is suggesting that we all sit around watching TV, waiting for food and clothes to magically appear.  What he is suggesting, indeed what he says outright, is to “not be anxious about your life.”  What Jesus teaches is to trust God.

The Tao Te Ching teaches a similar lesson.  “The truly good man does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone.”  Like Jesus, Lao Tsu is not suggesting sloth, but rather a non-ego approach to life, an approach based not in fear but in faith, faith in the Tao, or the Way.

Buddhism reflects this in the concepts of Right Thought, Right Effort, Right Action, and in trusting in the basic goodness of the universe.

I would love to hear from Hindu and Muslim readers about similar concepts.

And even beyond specific faith traditions, we see this idea reflected in Einstein’s observation about choosing whether to see the universe as hostile or friendly.  I choose the latter.

And so, if I choose to believe in the basic goodness of the universe, and I do, then why would I need to ask for my daily bread?

When I wake up every morning, it is my habit to say a prayer just as I am coming into consciousness.  Because my brain is still fuzzy, it is easier to say a prayer from habit.  I often choose the Lord’s Prayer, but with a few modifications.  Instead of praying “Give us this day our daily bread,” I pray “Thank you this day for our daily bread.”

It’s a small change, but with a big impact.  I start my day in faith that all will be well.  This is true even if on the surface it might not seem that way to me.  I have faith that all things work together for good.  I start my day in gratitude.

How do you start your day?  Do you have any prayers or habits or routines that get your day off to a good start?

related post:  For Today, Newly Bright

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Playing the Hand You're Dealt

Let all things be exactly as they are.  –A Course in Miracles

There is currently a big brouhaha in American football over the referees.  Referees in any sport are subject to criticism and must have thick skins to do their jobs.  But the referees who are now officiating NFL games are replacements for the regular refs who are locked out during a labor dispute.  The new refs have walked into a firestorm.

The replacement refs are drawn from the ranks of retired officials, college refs, and refs from other leagues.  They have come under heavy criticism, to put it mildly, in the first weeks of the season as they scramble to get up to speed, learning new rules and applying them in the midst of fast paced games in front of tens of thousands of spectators and millions more watching on TV.

Last night the furor peaked over a call in the last seconds of Monday Night Football. With the game hanging on the last play, the quarterback threw the ball into the end zone as players for both teams reached for it and fell to the ground in a heap of arms and legs furiously fighting for the ball.  Two officials ran up to the scrum.  One official signaled a winning touchdown; the other signaled a losing interception.

Not a good situation to be in.  A decision had to be made, and the touchdown was announced. The Internet and TV commentators have been in an uproar ever since.

Although I have an opinion, I’m not here to debate the correctness of that decision, or any other decision the refs have made this season.  Like other fans, I have felt frustration and dismay over calls made and not made.  But more than anything, I have felt tremendous compassion for these people, thrown into a situation they did not seek out, unprepared for the responsibility thrust upon them, struggling to do their best in front of millions, vilified by millions more.

Have you ever had a nightmare about being called upon to do something you are not prepared to do?  I’ve dreamed that I have to take an exam for a class I didn’t know I was signed up for.  Oh, yeah, and those dreams where we show up in public naked or otherwise dressed inappropriately.  These refs are living that nightmare.

I don’t even have to look to my dreams.  I have been in real life situations where I was in over my head.  I’m thinking back now to when I was a young lawyer tagging along with more experienced lawyers to handle a negotiation for a multi-million dollar transaction.  My job was pretty much to watch and learn.  However, at one point in a meeting, I misunderstood something that was said to me and proceeded to do something so embarrassing (in a professional sense–I still had all my clothes on!) that I still cringe to think of it.  To the other lawyers’ credit, they did not subject me to the sort of reprobation heaped upon these replacement refs.  In fact, they quickly corrected my mistake and moved on with no comment.

It happens.  Tony Dungy, a former Super Bowl winning coach and now a commentator, observed that while it is true that mistakes are being made by the replacement refs, nevertheless coaches and players must go ahead and play the game.  You play the hand you’re dealt.  You don’t blame the refs.  Or the weather.  Or the injuries.  Or the alignment of the planets.  You do your best with what you’ve got.

There are lots of folks screaming for the return of the regular refs.  There are probably a few replacement refs wishing the same thing.  At the least, I’m guessing those replacement refs wish they had had more time to get prepared.  They probably wish they had had more NFL experience before having the whole country scrutinizing their every move.

We expend a lot of energy sometimes wanting things to be other than what they are.  I’m still looking for more than 24 hours in a day, for example.  And I’m really really wishing I had the old Blogger interface back.  But there is wisdom in Tony Dungy’s words.  We can rant all we want, but in the end we are left to play the hand we’re dealt.

Have you ever found yourself in over your head, needing to perform with inadequate preparation or experience?  (If you are a parent, the answer is definitely yes!)  What helped you get through it?  Or perhaps you were on the other side, with more experience but having to deal with folks who were not up to speed.  How did you handle that?

I hope you will share your own experiences.

related post: Bloom Where You’re Planted

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Am Not Angry!

I woke up to a new Blogger interface that I'm still trying to figure out. Meanwhile, I have a new guest post at Jodi Aman's wonderful blog. Please read the post at Heal Now and Forever Be in Peace. And if anyone knows how to make paragraph breaks in this new interface, please let me know! I will repost this once I get things figured out. Thanks for your patience.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happy Place -- Home Version

The happy place that I write about is not meant to be a physical place, but rather a place of inner joy and peace. Nevertheless, there are physical locations that seem to draw us to that inner place. Many of us think about places in nature, for example, like the ocean or the mountains. But today I realized that I have happy places in my house as well.

Lately, my favorite place in the house has been my daughter’s former bedroom. After she moved into a different room, I started using the room as a writing room. A folding card table and chair were all I needed at first. Then I moved in some bookshelves. A couch and reading lamp. Once I realized that I was spending so much time in there, I moved the canary from my bedroom to the new room, so that I had pleasant company.

Today, I was sitting on the couch reading, with a cup of tea, listening to the canary sing, watching the birds on the feeder outside the window in the rhododendron bush. The window was open and a warm September breeze drifted in. I was filled with a deep sense of well-being and I realized that I almost always feel that way in this room. I love the old rug, and the soft color on the walls. When I’m in this room, my spirit smiles.

I love my home, all of it, but this room is a special place, my home version of a happy place.

When you are at home, where do you like to hang out? Do you have a special happy place at home?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Book and Other News

Today I’m digressing from my usual type of post to bring you some news. Several readers have asked me for more information about my book, which will be released October 2.

The book has the same title as the blog and, as you can guess, is based on the 10 Steps. It will be available in paperback and ebook. Bookstores might not have it on the shelf, but can order it. (I encourage you to buy from your local independent bookstore!)

All the proceeds from the book will be donated to Edwards Center, a nonprofit serving adults with developmental disabilities, including my two sons who live in one of their group homes and work at one of their sheltered work sites. Edwards Center is an amazing organization providing a wide range of services through their group homes, work sites, and alternative to employment care sites. They run a tight ship financially, meaning that over 90% of every dollar donated goes directly to client care. So buying a copy for yourself and more copies to give as gifts will make a difference to people who will directly benefit from your generosity. I’m covering my own costs, so all proceeds will go to Edwards Center. You can find out more about Edwards Center here.

The gorgeous cover of the book features a painting by my most talented sister. When I started the blog over two years ago, my sister was the first person to encourage me to write a book and promised that if I did, she would design the cover. I’m so fortunate that she is a sister of her word!

Several readers have expressed interest in doing a review. If you would like to, please contact Debbie Jayne at and she will get a copy to you in whatever format you prefer.

Debbie is helping me with publicity, and I want to thank her for donating 20% of her fee to Edwards Center. I also want to thank my editor, Kristin Theil from Indigo Editing & Publications, who also donated part of her fee to Edwards Center. Their generosity has made this book project even more rewarding and exciting for me.

As long as we are making announcements, I would like to mention a couple of things that will be starting up in January. The Joy Book Club will be forming online, and in person for folks in the Portland, Oregon, area, to read and discuss books that bring more joy into our lives. Please let me know if you are interested. You can find out more here.

In addition, we will be starting an online group beginning January 1 to study A Course in Miracles. We will be going through the 365 lessons in the workbook together. Please let me know if you are interested. You can find out more about the course here.

Okay, I think that’s it! Thanks for your patience in wading through all this information. I will get back to regular posts next time.

If you have any questions or comments, please email me at

Blessings to you this fine September day!

[Please note that after much trial and error, I managed to put an image on my post today--a first!]

Friday, September 7, 2012

My Half of the Bargain

I will fight no more forever. –Chief Joseph

I have read several blog posts in recent weeks focusing on the choice to be right or happy. Then yesterday, I picked up the book I’m reading and there it was again. Okay, universe, you have my attention.

Indeed, once I stopped and thought about it, the relevance of this issue to my life right now became immediately apparent. Since I wrote several weeks ago about an upsetting incident, I have continued to replay the event in an endless loop. Tension remains in my spirit, causing me discomfort, motivating me to explore ways to restore peace, frustrating me when no solution seems available.

The Tao Te Ching counsels, “After a bitter quarrel, some resentment must remain. What can one do about it? Therefore the sage keeps his half of the bargain but does not exact his due.”

Hmm. What can I do about it? Well, I can’t go back and change what happened. I can’t control what anyone else thinks about or does in response to what happened. There’s the rub. I want to restore my inner peace by “fixing” what is out there, beyond my control. So what can I control? My “half of the bargain.” What does that mean?

For one thing, it means dropping labels. In his book, The Ultimate Happiness Prescription, Deepak Chopra says, “No one has ever been made happy by proving that they are right. The only result is conflict and confrontation, because the need to be right always makes someone else wrong.” As soon as I attach right and wrong labels, I have separated myself from the other person. Peace is no longer possible.

For another thing, my half of the bargain means taking myself (my ego) out of the story, realizing that it really isn’t about me. As soon as I react in fear or anger, as soon as my feelings get hurt, as soon as I start trying to fix things or wanting the other person to behave in a certain way, then I have made the issue about me. I have made myself important. And I have made my well-being dependent on what happens “out there.” This only maintains the struggle.

I am reminded of a conflict I was engaged in years ago. Every effort I made to negotiate a settlement was met with resistance and counter demands I was not prepared to agree to. Finally, I gave up, fully expecting to be sued. Miraculously, the conflict vanished. I realized that I had prolonged the conflict by trying to force peace.

A Course in Miracles teaches, “Mistake not truce for peace, nor compromise for the escape from conflict. To be released from conflict means that it is over. The door is open; you have left the battleground.” That’s what I want to do. Leave the battleground. I’m still energetically engaged in a situation now past. I may have left the physical battleground, but the battle continues in my spirit. My desire to be right masks the fear that perhaps I’m not.

Instead, I see that the question of who is right and who is wrong is itself meaningless and only serves to sustain the artificial divide between self and other. I’d rather have an open hand than an upper hand. So I’m walking off the battleground. It’s over.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. –John 14:27

related posts: The Way of No Way; Beyond Right and Wrong; No One Wins in Court

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ants in My Pants!

I was sitting in my garden the other day. For once I went out there with no agenda. I didn’t even have a book to read. I just wanted to sit and enjoy the afternoon sunshine.

So I sat down and looked around the yard at the colorful flowers. Ahhhh. In less than thirty seconds, I noticed the clumps of grass pushing up between the stones in the patio. It would just take me a second to pull those up, I thought. I felt my body start to move. No, just sit here.

A few seconds later, I noticed the bird feeder. The seed level was getting low. It will just take me a second to fill that up. I felt my body start to shift. No, just sit here.

I leaned back and looked up at the clouds drifting by. Hmm, those hanging baskets need water. It will just take me a second to grab the hose....

And so it went. Wow, I thought, this relaxing business is not easy! I’m just going to anchor my body in this chair and not do anything. Just be. My breath deepened. My muscles untensed.

A few seconds passed. I wonder what’s for dinner. Let’s see, what do I need from the store?


related posts: You Are Here; Sit! Stay! Heal!; The Hidden Life of Minds

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Soft Word

A soft word turns away wrath.... –Proverbs 15:1

My daughter called me the other day, all upset because someone had been rude to her on the phone. She was going to have to talk to this woman again to get some information, and Mia was already agitated and defensive about the prospect. I would like to say that I imparted some great wisdom to her, but I was in a hurry and sort of brushed her off.

Later when I came home, Mia was chatting amicably on the phone. After she hung up, she told me that she was talking to the woman who had been so rude earlier.

Please click here to read the rest of this post at Vidya's most excellent blog, Going A-Musing.

related post: Speak Wisely

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Purrrrr-fect Day!

Yesterday, I took my son James on our annual trek to the state fair. James likes to look at all the animals, so we walk through every barn looking at cows, sheep, goats, and pigs. There is always a sow with brand new piglets to ooh and ahh over.

After looking at the farm animals, we look at the other exhibits, have lunch, and get James’s photo taken at the old time photo place. The people at the photo place now recognize us and always give James a great time, helping him dress up like an old western gunslinger. He hams it up and gives himself a different outlaw name every year. Black James, James-y the Kid, Dirty James. Each year’s photo takes its place on his bedroom wall with the others.

This year, however, before the photo, we had a special surprise. After lunch, we noticed a small sign pointing us to an exotic animal exhibit. Tucked away in a corner of the fairgrounds was a modest exhibit with a tiger, a few other wild cats, and a baby lion. For a very reasonable fee, which went to conservation, we were able to have our picture taken with the baby lion.

While I would normally let James do this sort of thing on his own, I was too excited myself at the prospect, so we sat down side by side and held the cub in our laps. Now this cub was not tiny. He was almost four months old and was probably 35-40 pounds. Think giant kitten! He was playful and absolutely adorable. And a very good sport about getting his photo taken with a bunch of strangers.

James took it all in stride, but holding the lion was the highlight of the day for me. I woke up still thinking about it, and remembered the story of Christian the lion. If you don’t know the story, it really is wonderful. Briefly, two guys bought a lion cub at Harrod’s in London (back when you could buy exotic animals in a department store!) They raised him until he was almost grown and then managed to return him to the wild in Africa. A year later, they returned to see how he was doing. I won’t give this part away–you need to see it for yourself.

You can Google “Christian the lion” for many sites and videos to give you the details. Here is a link to a short 2:32 minute version. Please watch. You won’t be sorry.

Life is a wonder.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Welcome to The Joy Book Club!

I wrote a while back that the title “The Joy Book Club” was dancing around in my head. (The title is inspired by one of my favorite books, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.) I didn’t know at the time what would come of it, but now I’m happy to share with you what is now in place.

As some of you know, I’m writing a book based on my blog. (In fact, the book will be released October 2. More on that in another post soon.) In putting together a further reading section for the book, I realized that I have been reading books about joy and happiness nonstop for over two years. I read a variety of other books, too, but there is always at least one book about joy on my night stand.

All this reading has saturated my thoughts and consciousness with a mindset of joy. I can see now that reading about joy is in and of itself a way to increase the happiness in our lives. The books I’ve read represent a range of authors and topics. Some are self help. Others are spiritual or faith based. Some are only indirectly about joy. What they all have in common is that they have helped to build and strengthen in my life joyful habits of thought, word, and action.

If reading about happiness increases our happiness, then this is something I want to share with you. My next door neighbor and friend is co-owner of a marvelous independent bookstore in our neighborhood, Broadway Books. She graciously offered me a page on the store’s website to create The Joy Book Club. On the page, you will see a list of books. You can click on any book to get a description of it. If you like, you can order the book from Broadway Books directly from the page. (Of course, you can get the books elsewhere, but what a wonderful way to support an independent bookstore!)

There are many other books that could be on this list, and I hope to add to it as we go along. But this list is a good start.

There are no requirements for belonging to this club. Just pick up one of the books and enjoy. Further down the road, we might consider other possibilities, like discussions about specific books. I welcome your ideas and suggestions!

Click here to visit The Joy Book Club.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Praying Without Ceasing

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.... –1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

When asked in an interview when he meditated, the person responded, “I am never not meditating.” Unfortunately, I can’t remember who was being interviewed (Can someone help me out?), but the statement “I am never not meditating” stuck with me. I wondered what that meant, never not meditating. Did it mean that he sat on his cushion all day, candles lit, eyes lowered, softly chanting or silent, perfectly still, finding nourishment in the air itself, ever and always serene?

Well, I’m sorry, but I have children and grandchildren to care for, friends to see, a blog to write, bills to pay, and if I don’t eat regularly, I get headachy and cranky. Sitting on a cushion all day is fine for some folks, but it won’t work for me.

Please read the rest at the The BridgeMaker.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dance of Fear

If we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher! –The Dalai Lama

I was involved in a situation a few days ago that I have been deeply reflecting on since. The details of the situation are not important. My reaction to the details is.

What happened is that someone behaved in a way that triggered fear in me. The fear in turn manifested as anger. Fear often does this because we don’t like to experience the vulnerability of fear, so we opt for the delusion of power in anger. My anger manifested in an attempt to control what I could not control – someone else.

Pema Chodron tells the story of a young warrior who had to battle fear. She did not want to, but her teacher insisted. On the day of battle, the warrior stood on one side, feeling small. Fear stood on the other side, looking big and wrathful. The warrior bowed to show respect and asked fear, “How do I defeat you?” Fear thanked her for showing respect and replied, “My weapons are that I talk fast and get in your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

Looking back at my own behavior, I see that I was doing exactly what fear was telling me to do. So was the other person. We were engaged in a dance of fear, whirling and jumping like puppets, with fear as the puppet master.

At the time, of course, I did not see this. What I saw was my own story that the other person was doing something wrong, creating a problem that I, in my righteous fury, was going to correct. In fact, my fury only served to add fuel to the fire. The dance accelerated. I was in a vortex of chaos.

Later, in the safety of my own home, I was teary and trembling. I could feel the effects of the tsunami of adrenaline that my terror had pumped into my body. I began to reflect on my own behavior. The first thoughts that came to me were judgmental. What’s wrong with me? What good is all my inner work if, in the heat of the moment, my training fails and I react in fear? How can I write about and teach the 10 Steps if I am such a poor model of applying them?

Then I saw what I was doing, but I didn’t change course. Wow, look at how judgmental I’m being against myself. I can’t even feel compassion for myself or forgive myself. I’m such a fraud. I can’t follow any of the steps when it really counts. What a loser. I might as well just give it all up.

Talk about a meltdown. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, inadequate, unworthy, hopeless. I went to one of my spiritual teachers and began to “confess.” I opined that if I had just paused to take a belly breath before reacting, I would have behaved differently and the outcome of the situation would have been so much better.

He listened quietly, and then said gently, “Who do you think you are? You are talking about your anger, your fear, your power to affect the course of events. Why is all this ‘you’? There is just fear. There is just anger. How do you know if it is good or bad? It was there and now it’s gone. Now you are here. This is where your practice is.”

My body relaxed. My mind stopped spinning its looping tale. Oh.

Compassion was released. And forgiveness. I thought about the other person and how terrified and cornered he must have felt himself, exactly the way I felt. He wasn’t my enemy. He was my brother.

I realized that indeed, this is where my practice is. On the razor’s edge. Not where I feel comfortable about my “serenity skills,” but rather where I have an opportunity to expand, to reach further, to keep my heart open when fear is up close in my face, talking fast.

Who knows if what happened was good or bad? Unpleasant, yes. Scary, yes. But I’ve learned more than I knew before. In an odd way, I’m humbly grateful for the experience.

Perhaps next time, I’ll pause and take a breath.

You meant it for harm, but God meant it for good. –Genesis 50:20

related posts: It Is Not So; Breathing Like a Baby; Which Wolf are You going to Feed?