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Resting in the Grace of the World

It’s been an unsettling time. A time when unpredictable acts of violence make it hard to make any sense of things. The mind can’t comprehend, and I notice myself caught up in the detailed accounts, trying to figure it all out. Trying to find the kindness in the Universe that I have come to trust. There are times that Grace seems like a highly abstract concept. I turn to words of wisdom and poetry during times like this.

Today I came across one of my favorites, a poem by Wendell Berry that has always given me deep comfort when I was ready to settle into it, like a warm bath. And then these words emerged, like very irritating instructions: “Rest in the Grace of the World.” What? Impossible. Where’s this so-called Grace right now? My mind raged.

And then. Then. The day-blind stars reveal what I’ve been missing all along. Peace has once again become possible. From within, from that place where all wild things reside: inside. From the place that holds this poem.

The Peace of Wild Things

by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Ending the curse of the “If Only’s”

In my determination to crack open the safe that holds my Real Self hostage, I keep noticing I still have beliefs about what could be different “if only…” This usually implies an argument with my current life because of something in the past: If only…I hadn’t been hit by that car, hadn’t broken my ankle and then proceeded to ignore it and push on for years. If only I’d lost that extra 20 pounds I’ve been carrying around for too long.

It’s often subtle, but at the root, it’s always there: a dissatisfaction with life as it is. A belief that there’s a Big Problem in the Universe. A problem that (usually) I created, through some shameful personal inadequacy. My resulting reaction runs the gamut from depression to a general malaise and discouragement. When I try to act, to get momentum for a change I truly want to make, there are these weights around the ankles. Why try, with my track record? Then I either give up or cut myself off from the Source of vitality. The last option is infinitely the most painful, but this can go by unnoticed.

Another “if only,” trap also robs me of life energy. It goes like this: I could do this, (or that or the other) If Only I had more time, more money, or some other limited resource, like energy. How do I react when I’m under this spell? Discouraged.  Stuck. The exact opposite of motivated. Lacking a vision or hope. The resulting lethargy blocks the creativity necessary for the change process.

One of the great things about being Of a Certain Age is the perspective it offers. I’ve long known that I don’t want to let the “if only” machine rule my life. I’ve done many things, taken many risks because I’ve been aware of its power and foug
ht the good fight against all the limitations it imposes. But, as it is with most universal truths, I now see in bold relief what I only glimpsed before. I had thought of the If Only of limited resources as something that could be understood intellectually, which would mean that I had it licked. It turns out this was just the first step.Uncomfortable Woman Holding Paper With If Only Text

As I’ve live longer, with the reality of life (and death) breathing down my neck, I simply don’t have time to get caught in the old self-sabotaging traps.  The freedom of each moment seems more and more delicious. And when I see myself limiting me, I want to bust free from the whole trance imposed by the belief. Immediately, if not sooner.

If only I could, chants the part of me who resists change.

But when I hear this, in the nanosecond that I catch it, I have a choice to disbelieve the Resister.  I can ask it  (sometimes known as the ego) to move over, to take a back seat. Something else is driving now. Something intent on living into each possibility. It’s kind and willing to share the vehicle, but not the steering wheel. Because the If Only’s are too small, too insecure for that job. There’s a certain aliveness, a vitality, an immensity of life force that knows the way. And it is this that I trust.

Strategy is the Soul’s Servant

I found these words jotted down in my inspiration file, sandwiched between quotation marks. I have no idea who said it or how it arrived there. I couldn’t even find it on Google. So I decided that this doesn’t matter. Wherever it came from, it was Right on Time, and it was for me. Because I’ve been thinking about strategizing a whole lot lately. For one thing, I notice that it’s a favorite activity for me and for many of my friends (and clients). After all, when people call me for coaching that’s often what they have in mind.

And it just so happens that strategy is one of my mind’s favorite things to do. It’s very good at it. There are many perks. My life is richer because of it. Way richer.

But when I look closer, I notice that it almost never works out when planning, strategizing and implementing come too early. Then they become the masters of the soul, not its servant. And masters, like captains of certain star ships, are totally dedicated to Making It So. They really don’t have the time required to listen to the inner directions of the shy soul.

If there were Ten Commandments of a life dedicated to success, the first three might be: thou must take charge, thou must plan things, and thou must make them happen. Again, it’s not that these aren’t excellent in their own place and time. They just belong a little later on the list. But the planning mind doesn’t like this. It can’t waste that time, after all, and the enemy of getting things done quickly is checking in with the soul.

It does take time to look inside, to find sabotaging habits, to unpack old beliefs, to clear the way for change. Checking in with ourselves was never the plan of our inner Efficiency Expert (first cousin of the Strategizer). This involves slowing down, sleeping on it, sitting with it. And this takes valuable time away from Making it So.
The Strategizer Within is chomping at the bit to just get going.

But first there’s that procrastination or resistance thing to overcome. Most of us have experienced the pain of getting caught in that bog. Sometimes the fear (or experience) of delaying action makes a bully of the strategizing mind. Its worst fear is confusion, which can come from believing those limiting thoughts that lurk below the surface.

The key to moving through the confusion is to check it out with the body. As Thomas Moore advises, this is where the soul usually speaks. If there’s urgency there, it’s the Bully. But f there’s hesitance, there may be a reason. Check with you. See if your quieter soul-self can tell you what’s stopping you, what limiting beliefs are keeping you from acting. Then question them. Ask you if they’re true.

This can take courage, but the soul knows courage. It also knows truth. And truth is kinder than the fiction that has created the beliefs. There may be still be fear, but there’s also a readiness, an exhilaration. This is the soul’s way of speaking, the still small voice of inner freedom. This you can trust.

As you follow the directions that come from this deep listening, the Strategizer becomes a servant of the soul. And action comes Right on Time.

What I notice is that there’s an undertow that will take us out and keep us from simply acting if we haven’t asked a good question or two to clear the way.

Ask yourself this: Have I asked me yet? Often as not, the answer is “sort of.” Because there’s a big rush of impulse to Just Do It, right? Take a dive into your body and listen some more. What feels like freedom? What lie am I believing that would keep me confused? What is truer? Then listen. Because the path to a freer and more juicy life lies in the stillness and the quiet answer.

My Daughter, Myself: Heart Beats One

There’s a little thing that has been going on with my heart these last months. They call it A-Fib, and without the boring details, let me say it’s been irregular. And sometimes a tad scarey. After having my heart stopped and started a couple of times, it’s now regular once again. Really. That’s what they do about this thing. My heart stood still. Stopped. And then it was rebooted. Literally (and I do mean this word as it was intended. It’s not a figure of speech).

That in itself is kinda amazing. But there’s bigger juju going on here. During the past year, my daughter Johanna was completing her fourth CD, the first one devoted entirely to sacred and inspirational music.

Some back story. My daughter and I are quite different. From the very beginning I understood this child would teach me what I needed to know about the world outside of books and thinking and being a brain. She’s one of the most intuitive people I’ve ever met and has been through at least as much hard stuff in her life as I have. And I am (literally) twice her age. We attended the School for the Work of Byron Katie together ten years ago and have continued to disbelieve our thoughts and clear up our thinking on a regular basis.

So about the juju. Just as I am recovering my heart rhythm, she’s released a CD entitled Heart Beats One. The title song is quickly becoming an anthem because it’s so beautiful and catchy. She wrote it to describe what happens when humans come together; say, when we’re in a yoga class or listening to music. Our hearts (again, literally) begin to beat as one. Scientists call this entrainment. I call it the magic of belonging.

In the last few weeks I’ve been working with a biofeedback device on my phone (it’s called Inner Balance, and it’s from the HeartMath folks). But I’ve also been going to yoga, singing in groups, sharing meals and music with friends. Each one of these things can bring me to that Happy Place called entrainment.

But Johanna’s song “Heart Beats One” takes me there immediately. I know this because I’m measuring it. Here’s a link if you’d like a listen. (Warning: it’s addictive and you might want to add it to your collection).

I also talked about some of this in a radio interview, which you can listen to here:

And there’s even better news. If you’re one of my dear ones living on the West coast, Johanna may be at a yoga studio near you in the next couple of months as she launches the CD and teaches Lullaby Yoga from Seattle to LA and back to Oregon. I love it that my heart can beat again, in rhythm with yours, as we connect.

The Princess and the Best Season of Your Life

I was a child during the Pleistocene era, television was a new thing. Howdy Doody time was a special time for a whole generation, as we were clumsily ushered into the age of media by a freckled puppet (he had one freckle for every state, which meant that there were 48 back then).

One of the main characters on the show was an “Indian maiden,” Princess Summerfallwinterspring. Since the host was Buffalo Bob, presumably she was a part of the Wild West theme of the show.

From my current perspective I can see this with a critical lens. The commercial culture was minimizing the ancient wisdom of many tribes. I’m guessing her name was even intended as a spoof of the Native American connection with the Earth. But in my six-year-old imagination something took root, buried deeply, perhaps. I’m still a big fan of the turning of the seasons.

A couple of days ago, along with hundreds of people in my town and millions of people on the planet, The Super Blood Moon eclipse captured my imagination. It was an astronomical event that got more press than anything in my memory since the Total Eclipse of the sun in the early 1980’s. But it’s not the hype that got my attention. It’s the simple fact that so many people would gather to watch something so slow, so silent. That fact is as rare as the event itself, given the attention-grabbing, high-stimulation lifestyle most of us can’t really escape.

Only poetry can capture this, I thought. Then yesterday I shared dinner with some dear friends who are embracing the last few days of one of their lives as brain cancer takes its ultimate toll. Her birthday is this weekend. We remembered the fall season as a series of the birthdays we’ve shared in the process of aging together. The meaning of autumn, of the eclipse, of the seasons hit me in the center of my heart.

Maybe it was a visitation from the seasonal Princess of my childhood. But I was immediately hit with the connection between the loss of my friend and the autumn season. And at a deeper level I began to see autumn’s special moon as a way to mark the passage of time. Once again I was nourished by the rhythms of nature, when closely observed. When I returned, I found an ancient Chinese poem I’d nearly forgotten:

Ten thousand flowers in spring

The moon in autumn

A cool breeze in summer

Snow in winter.

If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,

This is the best season of your life.

– Zen Master Wumen
11th Century

May you bring the moon of autumn into your heart during this season of your life. Be here for it. And feel the richness of a life lived as it passes. Don’t let it pass without notice.

When do I Shrink to Fit?

During my early years, 501 Levis were the only game in town. Shrink to Fit was their slogan then. It’s still their slogan. I was a roundish twenty-something, but I believed in their advertising. I desperately tried to see myself as a long, lean, hippie who could just slip into a random waist size and make it work around my thighs. Although the jeans didn’t fit me perfectly, the slogan did, in other ways. Having been raised in a large family, shrinking to fit has come easily. Too easily. It may work for denims (sometimes). But it’s not a great life plan.

The phrase has been running through my mind the last few weeks. During my daily self check-ins, planning my calendar, balancing my roles, working with clients, and talking with friends; it just keeps coming up. And as I’ve listened to my peeps during the last few years, I’ve discovered that this isn’t unique to me. It seems pretty ubiquitous. But my best point of reference is, as always, my own experience.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. If I’m not paying attention, there’s a tendency to make sure my plans fit others’ needs before my own. It’s so subtle it’s barely a whisper. And most of the time it works just fine. Because the reality is that I prefer peace and harmony to almost anything else. But I’ve often used my gift for blending in and making things fit as a short cut.

I’d be the last to dismiss compromise as a strategy. But I sometimes think I can read the mind of the other person and then simply fit into their thinking as I have imagined it. I’m not even stopping to ask me. But when I sit down to talk about a difference of opinion, having already compromised, I tend to take on more than is good for me, or I otherwise cut myself off at the knees.  And when I’m not able to take care of all of me, I end up hurting others, because eventually I get resentful. And let’s just say it’s not pleasant to be me or to be around me when that happens.

The cost of being out of my personal integrity isn’t always immediately obvious. But over a lifetime it’s had a cost. The last couple of weeks I’ve been taking part in a class offered by one of my teachers, Martha Beck. She calls it the Integrity Cleanse. Her approach has been helpful in recognizing some of the places (or relationships) where my jeans are still tight.

The Cleanse is an extreme version of clearing out places where you’ve been shrinking to fit, and you can look it up next time it comes around, but there’s nothing that works better for me than noticing moment-to-moment. When I bring the light of awareness into the pattern, it shifts. This is where the magic resides, ultimately. And this is my invitation to you.

Notice where you shrink to fit in your life. Just notice. Where do you say “yes” to get along, even as your gut gets tight and you hear a little voice saying “no?” Pay attention. In the moment, you might do what you’ve done before, which is fine. Or you could buy some time by saying, “I’ll get back to you.” With that time, you’ll be able to get clear about what fits and what doesn’t, and you can take the next step toward your own truth. No drama is necessary. Just the kindness of truth and a voice that can begin to say, “that doesn’t fit for me.” From this simple act of courage, everything can change over time. I trust this process as much as I trust the water in the stream near here to wear down the rock. Truth (and integrity) have a power of their own.

The Message

“I know I said I just wanted a house on the water,” she intoned.

But…How would she put it so that he could hear her?

She tried again. “You know, darling, how much I love our little Cape Cod cozied into the bay.”


Maybe she should just come out with it.

She craved open waters, longed for the growl of surf. Her body needed it like air, like water. She was shriveling in the dreary, forested coziness of it all.

Now she had little memory of the end of her daily two-mile constitutional.

She was on her way to the open beach. She knew that much.

Her headstrong Cadillac simply knew what she needed. It was headed there of its own volition.

Soon she was filling her nostrils and lungs with the salty, sweaty, fishy wind of the ocean as her ears filled with the deeply repetitive rhythm that had brought her here.

One foot followed the other as her eyes embraced the full scope of it all. Nothing but silver movement and driftwood sculpture forever. She had the sense that she could be dissolved in it all and die empty, happy.

Now her feet took her further, stronger, longer, straight out toward Japan, she thought.

That’s it. She’d tell him,

Honey, you know how I’ve always been drawn to Japan? I’d like to move a little closer, dear. Right over there…on the horizon.

She was so drawn to the unknown edge of things that she stubbed her toe on it, just as she felt the moisture seep through her light canvas slip-ons.

It was nothing more than a green lip of something hard. Her fingers scratched through the wet sand, just as the tide reached her ankles.

A pull toward the sea. A yank toward land.

No. It couldn’t be. A bottle.

Seriously? A bottle with a cork?

By now she had it firmly in her hands. She had won the tug of war.

And what a prize!

As she rinsed off the sandy water, another surprise.


No way.

There seemed to be a message inside.

This was hers. Hers alone. Here was the sign she’d been praying for.

She looked over each shoulder to make sure she truly was alone.

Broke the neck of the bottle on the black basalt rock looming nearby.

As she shook it hard, a yellow paper tumbled into her open hand.

Her hands trembled, full of hope.

The figures were beautiful, exotic zen symbols of some kind.

A long, curved line. Something that looked like a roof of a house, and a figure that looked vaguely human, and female, walking away.

Catcher in the Smoke

There’s another woman inside me, I’m discovering. Or, to be more accurate, other women. They tend to take over my dreams, ready to show me what I’m not seeing in my waking life, if I look into their depths. And lately they’ve been showing up in my writing. I’ve decided to share them here because each one seems to come with a gift. And they seem ready to be exposed to light.

And that’s what I invite you to do. Hold them up to light. See what each might bring to your inner self, those parts of you that don’t often get noticed. What other selves are living in your dream life or imagination? The offering is free, and if you feel like sharing your thoughts or reactions, well, that’s good too. 

I wrote this  piece a week ago. Last weekend, four days later, at a meditation retreat, I met a woman who had been evacuated from her home a week before. She lost everything. In retrospect, the similarity is shocking. Who knows where “she” might show up?

She was hot. She was smoky hot. Yes. Smoke was in her eyes. But more. They burned, but there were no tears. The tears hid in a secret recess of her too-large heart. Even though her heart was stitched to her sleeve most days, the tears stayed hidden.

She desperately wanted to cry. The forest fires that raged nearby, the sheer force of the burning, the helplessness as the distant hills were swallowed by the haze. All of it. It brought back each loss of the last years.

They paraded through her mind, one after another, each loss. She ticked them off.  Death. Check. Betrayal. Check. Money. Check.

And yet. No checks by loss of partner, loss of child, loss of faith.

Her faith was in the world that she could not see. It was in the Force that had showed up again and again. It was that Force that had been there every time she had taken a leap into the unknown.

Her faith was in that. Yes.

Mostly, she thought, it was faith in that which always seemed to catch her when she got to the edge of what she had thought she could bear.

Call it The Catcher, like the Catcher in the Rye, she thought.

The Catcher in the Smoke.

That’s what it was. Just when she had given up on believing anything, just when she thought she would always suffer in a drought of the soul, her heart ticked a little extra beat. It took a leap.

What it felt like was surrender.

She thanked the smoke for the tears that slowly wandered down her cheeks.  And for the veil that cloaked her as she allowed herself to be taken by the depth of her grief, trusting the Catcher to hold her sorrow as she dissolved into it.

There’s another word for the Catcher, she thought. I think I’ll call it Grace.

Bubbles of Freedom

This summer Byron Katie, a long-time teacher of mine, offered a worldwide 4-Day Silent Retreat. During the sessions, she posed her classic questions as a meditation. As I participated from my home; my answers, when I was able to ground them in stillness, were deep and wide and free.

During the Retreat, she reminded participants to take their time, to take one thought at a time: “It’s a practice.” This became a mantra for my own mind. I re-remembered the clarity that comes from regularly including inquiry in my daily spiritual practice.

It’s not like I haven’t been asking, “Is it true?” about my stressful beliefs for a very long time. It’s not like I’ve forgotten to question my mind in my mind as I go through the day. My respect for the professional practice of supporting others in inquiry has continued to grow as minds pop open, and open, and open.

It’s just that over time I’ve gradually moved away from regular investigation when something’s a little off in my world. Compared to the ways I used to suffer before I began to inquire into my thinking, I’m almost an Ascended Master (at least most days). Life has been so much more peaceful, kind, and rich as I’ve gradually experienced what it is to have a (stressful) story “drop me,” as Byron Katie says.

But this summer I’ve seen what’s left. Little thought bubbles have been drifting in and out of this water where I’ve been swimming. Little internal rants about the people around me. Thoughts like “They can’t be trusted (to do it my way) so I’ll just do it myself.” Even though these thoughts usually don’t disrupt my peace of mind in the moment, they tend to have a long-term effect.

And then there are the bubbles of self-doubt when I act out of integrity with myself in how I eat or treat my body.

So I’ve come back to Deep Practice. I’m investigating what happens when I actually write out my frustrations and investigate, on a daily basis. The early results are in: It DOES make a big difference to give time and attention, and trust in the process of inquiry. From the resulting clarity, I’m much more capable of listening to my body’s directions and acting on my own behalf.

If you want to explore this deep practice with a group this fall, click here. 

Loving the Bubbles of Freedom.

The Silence Beneath the Chatter

I just completed my fourth day of an at-home retreat. It was supposed to be silent. I truly intended it to be silent. After all, my home is in a forest-like setting near a park in a quiet neighborhood, with towering trees bearing silent testimony from every window. My ever-understanding husband took off for our cabin in the woods so I could have silence and the Internet for a couple days at a time. (I was participating in an online retreat that featured silence except for six or seven hours of inquiry a day with Byron Katie, a teacher of mine).

Back to the Sea

Mother, carry me,
Child I will always be,
Mother, carry me
Back to the sea

My sister and daughter and I wind our voices together in a song new yet ancient, returning from the Oregon coast. It would be the last trip I would take with my sister. My daughter, at eleven, was a skinny sprite who invited her aunt again and again to come back with her sand castles and stick-writing and cartwheels.

Is Your Ex REALLY a Narcissist?

Guest blog by my friend Linda Carroll, Marriage Therapist and author of Love Cycles, a book I highly recommend to clients

“My boyfriend is a narcissist. That’s why we broke up,” says Amy, case closed.

“My ex-wife has a borderline personality. That’s why we aren’t together,” says Jake, and no one asks if he had any part in the demise of the marriage.

“My brother is a sociopath,” says Todd. “That’s why our joint business venture was doomed.” End of discussion.

Commencing with Summer

Summer abounds with opportunities to notice our place on the Great Wheel of Life. And it all begins with June. Graduation. Weddings. Reunions. We gather to acknowledge movement from one part of life to another. For just a few minutes we come together like a tribe to remember, to catch up with ourselves. Read More>>

An Impatient Patient Surrenders

It’s a month now since I found myself climbing on the surgery gurney for a knee installation on my left leg. My right leg, ever the competitive First Child, was there first, six months ago. With the help of family, friends, and a whole infield of life coaches, I convinced myself it made sense to complete the job on the other side. The logic was watertight: I’d profit from my first experience and skate through it the second time.