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Seeking the Jewel of Memory

My mind is unfathomable, and becoming more so as I age. Not just when it comes to the words or names that I used to be able to access instantly. This is happening to all my friends. We have learned to continue with the conversation and wait for the words to pop up. This works. More or less.

Seldom have I applied this principle to objects. Until last month.

When I returned from vacation, my very favorite jewelry (two pair of pearl earrings, a beloved bracelet, a hand crafted necklace) went missing. I didn’t notice for a long time, since I hung out with the flu for a while. With no occasion to dress up, and severe flu-related memory gaps, it was nearly a month before I started missing them.

But once I did, I became a creature obsessed…going over and over the moment I last saw them, searching and re-searching my drawers and my bags, my hidey places. Not just once. Again and again. I imagined the splendor of my pretty pretties. I felt very sad.

I decided this was a problem I could solve if I just tried harder. I started imagining every possible place they could be hiding. On and on. The more fruitless the search, the harder I tried. I have no idea how many times I repeated the superstitious and hopeful pattern. After a few days of ongoing hyper-focus, I surrendered.  I went to local shops and shopped Etsy, for the first time, hopeful again. But nothing compared to the memory of my faves. At this point, the only reasonable choice was to surrender to the loss, if only to make peace in my mind.

Then I went away for a short trip. While I was there, gazing at the enormous mountain outside my window, meditating on the glories of nature, surrendering to the power of the scene, up popped a clear picture of a traveling jewelry bag. I recognized it as my own, one I had seldom used. First thing when I arrived home, I tried one more time searching in my new suitcase. A hidden compartment!  My treasured items!  Waiting for me safely all along.

Along with missing words, now even my treasured things are playing hide and seek. Apparently good focused attention and determination don’t work like they did, with objects as well as words. I’m just now starting to love it. Just as I’m discovering I can’t always count on the verbal skills I’ve taken for granted in my life, I’m now offered the opportunity to surrender even more deeply to simply not knowing. I’m discovering some other mysterious part of the mind that I can count on. To be able to trust the reliability of my own intuition and guidance to find what is mine what is mine to find in life: this is my pearl of the very highest value.

Worry Beads, Worry Dolls, Worry Worry

What comes to you when you see this guy? A denial based on ignorance? A cultural symbol for the naïve? For stupidity?

An excuse for burying your head during an election year?

I’ve been wondering: Why is it that “worry” is such a universal?

I’m not against taking life and the big decisions seriously. Trust me. But sometimes Worry seems to be a force unto itself. Without noticing, in a nanosecond, a fearful thought becomes a clench in the jaw, a knotting of the brow. A tightening of the gut, of the world.

Sometimes it’s called Anxiety (or panic). Even without a real reason, the mind can become totally crazy when it has the playground of an imagined future to worry about, especially when it’s got proof from the past that bad things will happen.

At that point thoughts begin to cluster. The YouTube of the past offers movies, either real or imagined. Catastrophe. Once there, all the thoughts that scare you come out to have their way with you. This is what I call worry.

Some situations just bring it on. Accidents or illness can set off a worry cycle.  Today I’m reflecting on my time with my son at the Burn Center when the entire staff was surprised he survived. And on and on through the litany of family crises.

The last couple of years we’ve had more than our share of auto accidents, and the physical injuries seemed to land me right back into my worry-go-round.

Now I’m remembering those ubiquitous worry beads called kolikoi that I noticed every man fingering while backpacking through rural Greece forty years ago. They originated with monks, much like the mala beads of yoga.  I’ve discovered a half-mala is just about what it takes to manage the inner worry wart when I’m meditating. Why not some kolikoi to jazz things up?

Mala beads also bring to mind my daughter. She’s a yoga teacher and chant leader. After being hit head-on last December, she’s still struggling with post-concussive symptoms. She’s an adult and doesn’t live with me, but she’s needed a check point as she goes about her normal life, as well as her musical career, these last few months. This keeps me busy enough that I’m not so likely to worry.

Sometimes to keep from worrying about worry, I look at it with a magnifying glass to discover its true nature. And my initial theory gets confirmed again and again. Worry seems to be an act of imagination. In a perfectly lovely present, my mind races forward to the future and imagines a frightening outcome. If I don’t believe everything I think, I’Worry dollsm way ahead of the game.

But just in case, I have some little helpers. Did I mention Worry Dolls from Guatemala? These tiny figures listen to our worries, take them off our hands, and go under a pillow to work their magic and dissolve those worries while we sleep. There’s nothing like tucking my worries away like they’re ultimately that little. They usually are in the greater scheme of things.

Two Kinds of Wordlessness

For many years now I’ve thought a button that could switch off thinking would be a most excellent idea. Often I meditate with the hidden goal of slowly letting go of the thoughts that cascade through my mind. With the attendant hope of dropping into the peace below, into wordlessness.

And then along came the month of March, which took me and turned me upside down and shook me until my pockets were empty of words and most thought. During the last two weeks of the month I unwillingly discovered a new route to silence. This body put on quite a show: coughing, shivering, fevering its way back to health. It was my first flu in years. I had forgotten how stupid the mind can get when the body’s resources are needed for another battle. Becoming wordless was the least of my worries, and it was happening without doing anything, or at least anything my body could control.

The first half of the month, before the flu, I had sought and found a more desirable kind of silence when I was on vacation in Maui. I spent vast stretches of time staring at the ocean from my perch on the hill above. Gradually the mind slowed down, stunned into silence by beauty. With mind confronted by the beauty of clouds and rainbows and whale-spume fountains, words seemed less and less important. This was the wordlessness of awe, the stuff of poetry:

 

Tropical Awakening

Wanting a profound reflection to speak from the tropical sea,

I search for a Venus of meaning

emerging from the froth,

the dark deep source of watery mystery

And what is here is

Just this:

White dove calling, Minahs preening.

Goats bleating and chickens strutting.

Beneath the ecstatic shiver of palm fronds.

 

Eyes shift for the long view,

And there’s the proof that a line once went for a walk

And etched a silhouette: a perfect island just across the bay.

The sun slowly exposes her reclining form

Lanai shelters my head and calls my soul.

Then the rose gold slowly fades

As the day picks itself up from the chaise lounge,

Stretches, yawns,

And moves into itself.

 

Now, here in the world of apparently ordinary reality, as body heals, I’m still steeping in the quiet hangover of peace, finding once again that it is available any time, any time I remember.

Surrendering to the Force

All around us, everything small and buried surrenders to a process that none of the buried parts can see.  We call this process seeding and this innate surrender allows everything edible and fragrant to break ground into a life of light that we call Spring.
~ Mark Nepo

 

Spring here in the Pacific Northwest is slowly unfolding its many layers of stunning beauty. It can last for five months. This year began with the arrival of the snowdrops in mid-January. Then one daffodil volunteered for a walk-on role in my kitchen garden. Now the long act of March opens the stage with the bulb brigade, filling yards and fields with daffodils, accented by  jewel-toned hyacinths. It’s a cacophony of color all month as the season of the blossoming trees begins with camellias, and ends with the final bow of rhododendrons in June.

But there’s a backstage and hidden part of spring that I forget when I’m distracted and delighted by the pastel heaven of the show.  It’s easy to forget the seeds still in the ground, patiently waiting for their cue. The earth is bursting with potential, but each little seed or root must be allowed its full time to be nurtured.

Late winter’s gift is just this: the sweet energy of deeply resting and growing strong roots. I trust the dark to do its magic with the seeds and bulbs still nurtured by the earth. I would no more dig up the seeds to check them in the light of day than I would unearth my partially-dreamed future. I’m not ready to leave behind the peace of the surrender to “the part we cannot see.”

And so I need to remember that these gifts are still accessible, beneath the riotous glamour of early spring. In my inner world, this is what I long to savor: the mystery, the miracle of rest, the not-knowing of how or why I’m growing, or even which way I’m growing.  I want to linger a while to appreciate this, even as my attention gradually shifts to welcome the prologue of summer.

I have learned not to dig into the dark earth and expose the seeds that are still gathering strength and readying themselves in the dark of soil and earth. The same is true for my deepest, quietest inner life. It is still imagining into its next creation.

No me moleste, Leave me be, my soul sings. The deep invitation of winter surrender must be respected fully before I’m ready to move forth. I turn my faith to The force that through the green fuse drives the flower (to quote Dylan Thomas). It is this force that I’m trusting to bring it all on, in all the glorious manifestations of spring and summer. When the time is right.

Returning Home to My Wise Body

I just spent more than a week at the Oregon coast, a place I usually feel instantly at home. Being on the ocean simply returns me to source. It’s a short cut for me.

So when I decided to go there to get started on a book I’ve been wanting to write, I expected a vacation. It was a vacation, all right. I vacated my body and moved right into my head. The mental work of framing my ideas and beginning such a large project had me set up housekeeping in the world of the mind, which happens to be what I was writing about. I got a good start on the book, but I’ve had a series of headaches from the mental strain. Not an accident, I think.

“If you lived in your heart you’d be home now.”

This is my newest favorite bumper sticker. It says in so few words what I often take longer to articulate.
I’m in the midst of a radical home remodel now. My home is a haven for me, under normal circumstances, and the intention of the project is to make it MORE of a haven. Or maybe a heaven. But in the meantime….it’s feeling more like a hell, with pounding and sawing while I’m living and seeing clients in the Oasis. They seem to feel it as an oasis from their lives, but I’ve been having some trouble experiencing that.

The Cafe at the End of the Search

I’ve spent a whole lot of my life in a search for truth, beauty, goodness, The Way. Much of what has motivated me has been from that deep longing that propels each of us to connect with the sacred in life.

No regrets. But lately I’ve been thinking of calling off the search. Because it feels like peace. (What better reason would there be?) When I’m craving something to eat, drink or do that will fill a hole, I’m usually believing that my current state isn’t okay.

Peace Beyond Belief

I’m about to head off for a 5-day retreat at my favorite hot springs. (Here in Oregon at this time of year, hot springs are perfect because we’re still in our long spring season). I’m preparing the materials, going to the Farmer’s Market for local flowers, flowing from here in the valley to there in the mountains.
Peaceful. As long as I remember to notice when beliefs would pull me out of the flow.

Change on Unseen Levels

I’ve become more and more aware of how change shows up in the last few years, working with dozens of clients and mentoring many of them over an extended period of time.
What one principle emerges from this work? This: Change happens on unseen levels first. I learned early on that focusing on a problem (say, weight loss or clutter clearing) as a first focus just doesn’t usually work. Yes, there may be improvement out front, but it usually doesn’t last. That’s the not-so good news.

Is It Kind To Just Let Yourself Be?

There’s wisdom in the advice to “let yourself be.” As in: to get off of your case, stop pushing/judging/blaming. There’s kindness there.
But when does it stop being kind? When “letting yourself be” means sliding into the same old groove, the patterns that are creating the results that keep you feeling stuck.
“Letting yourself be” isn’t kind if it’s a strategy for avoiding the discomfort that comes from taking action and moving out of your default self. The best way to get unstuck doesn’t always feel kind. It can feel very awkward. It can require staying with whatever’s coming up instead of going robotic in an old tried (but not so true) way.

Default Self, Default Body

I’ve been on a big binge since I returned from Geneen Roth’s residential retreat last week. I’m binging on self-observation, doing deep inquiry into the very archaic patterns I slide into so easily when I’m not paying attention. The one I created when I was almost too young to remember.
My default self has a life of its own. One of the biggest defaults I experience is believing that I made a mistake when I’m confronted with unexpected events. Yesterday I got through half a session with a client who called on the wrong day because I assumed I’d made the mistake. I recovered with time enough to (barely) make it to my strength conditioning class, which was originally on my schedule. Missing this would have been staying with my default body.

Retreating to Advance

When I tell friends I’m going on a retreat, they tend to think of beach walks, massages, “pampering me” time. Or maybe those are the images that get me packed up and out the door. Some retreats are like that, but that’s not the kind I usually choose.

Retreats with a lot of silence and meditation time always bring me home to my own being. So I know the healing powers of quieting the mind in a retreat setting. What I tend to forget is all the resistance of my hyperactive mind. Also the fact that inner work is work. The movement to stillness is usually fraught with the noise of all the annoying thoughts and beliefs that want to be heard and questioned. What I do know from experience is that lasting change begins within, in the silent realm of the unseen. So I have proof that it’s worth it.

During Geneen Roth’s five-day retreat last week I was moved once again by the power of retreating from daily life to discover what I don’t take time to notice in my usual daily flow. Roth eloquently described this magic several times, and I jotted a few things down to remember the next time I believe it’s not worth it to uproot myself and move out of my comfort zone. As I reflect on my experience at this retreat, I find tons of evidence to prove that all the following statements are true. With a capital T. So, from her mouth, here’s a concise list of why I’ll continue to retreat in order to advance toward my true nature.

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.

From Boil to Simmer: Retreat Re-entry

As most of my friends and clients know, I just attended a retreat with Geneen Roth, author Women, Food, And God, a book enthusiastically embraced by Oprah on her show last Wednesday, resulting in a #1 best-selling listing.
There is much to share.
And I will, right here, in the next few weeks.
I attended because I just knew I was supposed to, that I was ready really find out what I need to know about my relationship with food AND with Sacred Self. I wanted to accelerate my learning by giving time and attention. I wanted to “discover in a short time what might take months or years to learn.” (Geneen’s words)