Posts Tagged: Noticing

Married to Amazement: Geneen Roth Retreat

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

These lines by poet Mary Oliver were a theme threading through the retreat with Geneen Roth. Although I’d read the poem many times before, it was a qualitatively different experience to sit with the words, to drop into deep amazement. This morning the state that they invoke feels like the biggest “takeaway” from the event.

From a place of amazement I drop into deep curiosity about what my unique body and self are doing here in this life.

Acceptance or Connection?

What’s the difference between a desire for approval (a strategy for gaining acceptance) and a desire for connection? I’ve been sitting with this question during the past week.
Here are some of the what I’ve noticed, in the form of “Questions to Self.”
Where’s my focus? A dead give away. If it’s on others, I’m usually thinking about what they expect of me. Is it on my own sense peace and well-being? It’s connection.

Personalities want something.

I’m reminded this morning of one of Byron Katie’s oft-repeated phrases:

“Personalities don’t love. They want something.”

I’ve been looking at my need for approval and appreciation this month, and this is the refrain that keeps showing up in my mind. When mind is quiet, I’m just simple and present. There’s a space for love to show up, and I love sharing that.
When my “personality” (my social self) runs the show, I do want something. I want others to do what I want them to do so that I can have what I want.

The “Look Good” Religion

I was raised in a traditional religion, but my family had another religion that was more powerful. I call it the Look Goods. As a principal’s daughter in the rural midwest, how I looked and whether I fit in seemed like the bottom line. I can imagine now the beliefs forming in my six-year old head. “Please approve of me,” which carried another assumption: if you did you wouldn’t leave me.”

I would belong. A powerful motivator for a first grader. What did I stand to lose if “they” didn’t approve? Everything. Security. Comfort. So what I did was become inauthentic to gain that approval. I began to do, to dress, to say what I thought would win them over. I became a false version of me.

Always We Begin Again

These are the opening words from the Rule of St. Benedict. I’m not a Catholic, but I owe so much peace and clarity to my training in spiritual direction with the sisters of a nearby monastery. These words continue to remind me, each morning, of possibility.
Especially when I’ve fallen off the wagon filled with my best intentions the night before. It hardly matters what I did, but let’s just say I let myself down when I unconsciously ate half a bag of chips at midnight. In the past this kind of thing has given me enough proof of hopelessness to pull me off the wagon for good, a rebellious child running wildly amok, with no regard for the future.

Living the Questions

Many years ago I came across these words by Rainier Maria Rilke, in his Letter to a Young Poet:

“Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

I’ve been compiling a list of questions that I love to ask myself and others ever since. When I’m feeling confusion or stress, it’s usually because I haven’t taken the time to ask myself some good questions.  I notice this is true for my clients, too.  With that in mind, I’m sharing some of my favorite questions in the next few blog entries.

Here’s the one that shows up today: Who am I now? I’ll be carrying it in my pocket today to find out, as the day progresses, as I live with it.  Here’s what I notice this moment.  I’m finding my way back to my center after the last month’s whirlwind of activities. I’m noticing I’ve been missing me when I’m responding to everyone else.   Read More>>

Octogenarian Observations

This week I’m leading a service to celebrate the life of a dear friend and an inspiration, Connie Foulke.  An ardent teacher, parent, and community leader, Connie was one of my reference points for how to live a good life for over thirty years.  A while ago she organized a group of “young friends” (most of us were only in our late 50’s, after all) for lunch and tea.  Our honored leader even gave us a name:  the Pleiades, and she requested we each choose a the name of one of the stars of the constellation, research the mythology behind it and select one that fit. After all, Google was a wonderful invention that would help us out.  Connie was that kind of thoughtful. That kind of thorough. She was what used to be called “a class act.”

When I turned sixty  I flew back to Kansas City for a gathering of high school friends who were also celebrating that passage.  I asked Connie to give some advice to those of us twenty years behind.  She was rather frail at that point, and I expected her to dictate  a couple of lines over the phone.  Not Connie. What I got was a call, four or five days later, that I should come and pick something up. When I opened the bag Connie had left for me, there was  a double-sided page of thoughts in an ornate old English font, printed on fine parchment-style paper.  The title was “octogenarian observations.”

I’ve been inspired for a year by her well-honed life, and her careful advice. I thought about excerpting this and sharing it in pieces because there’s so much wisdom that it’s hard to digest in one sitting.  Then I decided to post it as it is, in its entirety.  It’s such a testimony to a brilliant mind, a wise heart, and a generous heart.  Not to mention a model of conscious aging that I continue to find helpful. Here it is:

Octogenarian Observations

Laugh a lot, even when it hurts.  You’ll feel lighter for it.

Forget the feeling that you’ve forgotten something.  If it’s really important, it will eventually sneak back.  If not, so what?

Listen to classical music.  It will soothe your soul and envelop you in peace.

Consume quantities of chocolate!  There is never too much.

Dump people, possessions and practices you don’t want or need any more.

People:  “Remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.” (Nikki Giovanni)

Practices: give up compulsions.  For example, if you don’t enjoy sending Christmas cards, quit.  I did two years ago.

Love and enjoy your children and grandchildren on your own terms.

Be grateful!

Drink plenty of water.  It is good for your innards and keeps you active with frequent journeys to the bathroom.

Take the phone of the hook if you want to nap or read undisturbed.

Wear whatever suits your fancy, new or old.  But comfortable.

Use lovely perfume and enjoy your own scent.

Take your favorite jewelry out of the box and wear it for your own enjoyment.  (You didn’t acquire it to keep it in the box.)

Nap frequently and enjoy your dreams!

Damn the clock.  Keep your own time.  Get out of bed when you feel like it and stay up as late as you wish.  (But to be on time for appointments and engagements that involve others.)

Spend time on crossword puzzles and Sudoku to challenge your brain and enjoy the success of solution.

Eat quantities of fruits and vegetables, especially local produce.

Travel–actually, via TV or film, or in remembrance of things past.

Sometimes hang out with young people; their energy and enthusiasm may be contagious.  It is surely uplifting.

It’s OK to need a little help.  Use a cane or someone dependable to lean on.

Peruse old photo albums and vicariously enjoy fond memories.

Look at the clouds, the sunrises and sunsets, and MARVEL over creation.

Occasionally retreat into your shell and look at the iridescent nacre inside, like highlights in your life.

Believe in what’s good.

Vote for Obama; he’s the hope for the future of our beloved country.

Finally, as Micah said, Do justly, Love mercy, walk humbly with thy God.


On my bedside table there’s a brass anchor and a candle.  It serves as a reminder of my need for stabilizing as I question and learn and grow.  A reminder of those things that hold me to the earth and bring me back to myself and the present moment when my mind begins to wander, as it has a habit of doing.  Here’s a quick list:  my dog, a warm shower and clean clothes, sitting quietly in the morning, deep and sustaining breaths, holding hands with my husband, and a dear friend’s face.  The more I look for examples, the more I find.  And it begins to look a whole lot like a list of gratitude.

What’s on your list?  What brings your mind back to what’s important?  Find out. And let the list grow.

Reminders to Self While Viewing Pearls

I love the time after any trip, when I return home to (borrowing from TS Eliot) “see the world with new eyes.”  Now that I’m out of the forest and into the routines I call my life, I see my loved ones, my garden, my friends with such gratitude.  I love savoring this time, slowing mind down, checking it out to see what’s different.  I have a habit of making notes and lists in my journal, a kind of trail marker the next time I get a little lost (or my eyes get “ old” again).

Here’s what I notice after this trip. Even though the stress of some of those around me has escalated, my mind has remained calmer. Last week a participant at the retreat referred to Deep Soul Diving..  So this time my list looks like a string of pearls, distilled loveliness  that serve as a reminder to myself about my latest the journey into my  inner world.

Slowing down the mind allows it to open, revealing its treasures. When mind gets questioned and  is allowed the time to answer, this closed oyster opens enough for the pearls to be seen. Now that I’m home, when I remember to go slow the hummingbird, the summer breeze, the spider in the corner , take me directly to my heart.  I can return to a sense of spaciousness any time I notice, and when my mind is too cloudy to see how, I can ask some questions and wait to be surprised.

No new thoughts. As they say in Bali, “same, same.” Every time I work with someone inquiring into their thoughts, I discover my own. So the one in front of me gives me what I need to find myself.  We seem to be recycling the same thoughts:  my body isn’t right, my kids would save themselves grief if they’d listen to me, talk show radio hosts are Satan in drag.  It’s all in me too. Same, same.

Time Can Expand. Riddle: When is two and a half days not two and a half days?  When I slow down to go fast! I notice a spaciousness to time even now that I’m home from the dive.  Note to self:  now is a good time to stare at the ocean, sit with the dog, slow time down.  Even for a few minutes.  Now.

Gratefulness for the miracle of the human heart opening. When I get real with myself and the folks around me, the world changes.  I develop a deep appreciation for sound of the heart opening.  Each time I experience this within myself or with another, I am blessed.

This summer, give yourself a little time after a vacation or trip to see your life anew. Bring out your souvenirs. Make some lists.

How is your world different, even a little, than it was before?

• What moments would you like to keep in your memory?  The toddler with ice cream on his face?  The kindness of a stranger in the airport?

• As you look back at your experience, what would you change?  This is a good place to star to questioning  the mind.  I shouldn’t have eaten so much potato salad. Is that true?  Find out.  Question the thought that  whatever happened wasn’t for your learning.

•What pearls of wisdom do you bring back? What did you learn about yourself?  Others?

• What advice do you have for yourself about future trips?  I find this a great way to remember what ways I was kind and unkind to myself so that I can plan future trips with more kindness.

• I love putting a physical thing I bring back or that reminds me of my experience on an altar or someplace that I’ll see it when I wake up in the morning.  Each time I see it, I’m reminded of the new pearl on my strand.

Enjoy your pearls with new eyes.  Summer is young.

Grandmother Snag

It’s Memorial Day, and instead of visiting the graves of my human ancestors, I’m sitting in the Oregon old growth forest at my favorite altar in the world, above a noisily  burbling stream.  From this spot, if I peek through the hemlocks and cedars just in front of me, there’s a snag, the part of the tree left over after the rest of it has broken off and thundered to the ground.  This particular snag, about fifty feet tall at a third its original height,  was created about twenty years ago, from the falling of a two-hundred year old giant.  They say that when it split in two, an eighty-year old woman in the cabin crushed by the fall was saved because she was looking into her refrigerator, which held up the roof above. This image has given me such peace when I stand mutely gazing at my own leftover larder, but this is only a teeny little part of the inspiration of this stately scene.

The truth is, I’ve passed hundreds of snags while hiking without being transported to this deep peace I feel today.  It always takes a while for my mind and my eyes to relax enough to truly let in the subtle majesty of such an old, broken relic.  After about a day here in the forest, my vision shifts. I’m reminded of my personal relationship with each tree here at the cabin.  I begin to call them my friends.  It’s then that I truly see her,  the old Grandmother of the hillside, the sacred snag. Read More>>