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Infernal, Internal Beeping (or Why My Dog Sits on My Head)

It was 6:00 this morning, and my dog Calvin was sitting on my head. Lucky for me that he only weighs 16 pounds, I thought. He’s also very fluffy, so a head sit can feel oddly cozy. I started wandering back toward my dreams.

For maybe a minute. Because then I remembered that head sitting only happens on the Fourth of July, in thunderstorms, or for other such apocalyptic events. Then Calvin began pacing. On my head. He seems to believe that this is where “I” live. And I have no idea how he got that impression.

Okay. Enough. Time to listen. There was something amiss in the field. Not smoke, but a smoke alarm battery signal. A few years ago our son barely made it out of a house fire alive. First chance we got, we planted them obsessively everywhere. If I lay very still I could hear it: one tiny beep every minute. All the way on the other side of the house. Up very high.

This is how I came to be standing under the high beam in the living room wielding a broom, before the sun had come up.  I always knew those witching tools would come in handy, I thought. Eventually I batted down the whining smoke detector and searched for the switch. No such luck. In fact, no luck at all finding my way into the battery compartment or into anything else that made sense. The alarm box was locked tight, as far as I could tell. This is the point where I would normally call out to my ever-trustworthy fixer of a husband, George. But this time there was no quick salvation. He was out of town for a few days.

So this dilemma was totally up to me to solve.  I considered, and then rejected, the idea of dropping the white plastic case from a two-story window or clubbing it with my handy broom.

Still no smoke appearing anywhere, so I placed the box in the sunroom, already closed for the season.

Back through the house to the back bedroom and to the coziest universe I know, to the magic land that exists in my ridiculously soft bed.

One more chance for sleep; it’s still not too late.

Except for the head sitting. Which began all over again. And then the pacing of the soft white fur ball.

And that is how the thick blanket in the back of my yard ended up in the far corner of my garden. It peeps every minute, until further notice.  Or until I can find a Smoke Detector Shaman or magical directions from the internet ethers that will solve the problem.

But. Standing out there in the below-freezing weather, awake now, an amazing miraculous thing happened. I was actually fully alert for the glow that spread over the oak savannah across the way as the sun came up. I pulled a shawl around me and stood there. I was nothing. Nothing but receptivity in the moment.

And then while I stood bathing in the frigid beauty, the light turning pink, I looked across the meadow behind my house, and there it was. A rainbow.

Peace.

Then.

A minute later, the infernal, internal beeping started again.

Time to get going, it said. To focus on those goals. Get organized. Be productive.

But then, stillness. Another voice arose.

Is the desire to be in comfort, to stay asleep; is it stronger than curiosity?

How many times does a Call need to come when I’m not listening?

The Universe just keeps sitting on my head. Until. I. Get up. Get my feet cold. Do…however reluctantly, what is the next thing to do. The next thing, all day long. Follow the simple directions and listen for the beep when I don’t pay attention.

 

From the Chaos of Love to the Practice of Remembering

The past month has been a blur of reacting, creating, learning, reacting again. And those words don’t even begin to describe the chaotic, warm loving mess of the Holidays.  A quick glance back at the circumstances helps me give myself kindness and credit. About two weeks before the holiday, my daughter was hit by someone making an illegal left turn. Her safe car and its airbags saved her, but she’s been spending time with us to heal, with the help of the amazing body workers I call my friends. Just before that, one of my best friends died of a brain tumor that had haunted her (and her loving family) for years. On New Year’s I flew to LA to be inspired by Byron Katie’s World Summit. Then back to daughter and client support. Lots of intensity on both counts.

And then last night, a dream. I’ll spare you the details, but in summary I was lost and searching for my dorm room, at a writing conference, of all things. Once I got that figured out, I discovered some lost earrings on the floor of the hallway: very specific earrings I that I had treasured fifteen years ago, with a rose-colored flower and a crystal. I had found the Place of Lost Special Tiny Things that I Love.

Seldom has a dream seemed more obvious, and so I sit myself down and write it this morning. And what comes up for me is how deeply powerful it is to Remember when I’ve been caught in the trance of life’s circumstances. And then I remember that the very act of Remembrance is the source of many rituals from the world’s religions, from Christian Eucharist to Sufi Zikar. And that the contemplatives in most traditions, Eastern and Western, excel in preparing the mind so that the voice of Remembering can be heard. So that what’s truly important CAN be remembered.

Every year but this year, I’ve reserved a day in the first week of January, as close to January 6th as possible, to celebrate my private version of Epiphany. It’s a time after the holiday hubbub when I choose to focus on this process of clearing. And remembering.  And deep listening.

This year I gave myself a Sabbath to return to Winter’s quiet, and the magical right-brain work of dreaming showed me the way. Instead of moving headlong into my day, I grope my way from the dreaming to the lighting of candles and the writing of it. I get very quiet.

And here I am again, where I was a year ago, and a year before that, in an Epiphany of the mind, and I remember what I had forgotten for a while. I collect the tiny jewels I sometimes forget and spread them in the light of Remembering. And there it is, my hidden jewel of a soul is revealed.

And I remember. I can allow. Let go of the strain of trying to control the uncontrollable. Trust the beauty of the process that seems to come without pressure.  Come to be.  I breathe a deep sigh and my mind settles in. I write these words as a part of the sacred and time-honored process of Remembering.  Life can be trusted. Gentle. Kind. It shows the way.  And my own private ritual of listening, of writing this right now, helps me remember .

This Longing. This Advent. This Future.

She was brought up in a Southern Baptist church, where Catholics were widely believed to be a bigger danger than Communists. So she’d never heard of advent until someone gave her kids a cardboard calendar with chocolates. This seemed vaguely suspicious and sophisticated in a European way. It intrigued her.

So on the first Sunday of that December she woke up curious. She looked up Advent on a couple of Google Sites. The words left her with a couple of impressions which seemed vaguely mysterious and therefore attractive:

Ritual Time for Patient Waiting.

The Beginning of a Deepening Relationship with the Divine.

Longing for Union with the Possible.

Remembering.

She’d never liked the idea of waiting, and when the virtue of patience was handed out, she’d come up short. She had no interest in longing either, but apparently she had no choice. Even with all the gratitude journals, the positive rewiring and the inner work at Letting Go, she wanted. There. She’d said it. Even though she hadn’t wanted to admit it before.

In truth, there really was something she truly wanted to come true, something she longed for, as long as she was giving herself permission to long for anything. She needed a solution. Now that turkey soup was running out, and she could see it coming. The holidays. They were looming near, like a tornado about to pick her up and to drop her off who knows where? What she did know, if the past had anything to do with the future, was that it would likely be a disorienting month.

Then she saw it. There was the longing. She wanted it all. The jingle bells and authentic holiday joys of family and friends, the making merry, the too-muchness. And she also wanted to find and hold the peace. Now that she thought about it, she wanted more yet. Even while she was in it, there was a longing to be on the other side of this holly and mistletoe storm.

A pull of hope stirred from some mysterious inner source. A longing for a deeper connection with something deep and wide inside, a wanting to know herself as more than she had ever believed she was, as something she didn’t even have words for. She could feel confusion stirring. And then there was a slight hint of a trust she had never known before. She listened closely. And it was at that moment that her body whispered a memory of another time in her life. And then she remembered.

There was a birth she was waiting for. This was the longing. Her mind relaxed as if it had figured out the answer to some complicated puzzle. And then a breath. A new hint of confidence from some deep pilot light. It was as if a new faith in possibility was born. There it was. An answer key had showed up from some unknown source. She simply knew that she could trust her inner directions as she listened. That this was the way to discover what she could do for all of those who suffered around her. She could almost see it coming, this new faith in healing, in forgiveness, in the future, in the possibilities hidden inside and beyond herself.

And she lit a single candle for advent.

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.

 

 

Thought Catching

Many years ago I made Dream Catchers with my students. Borrowed from the Native American tradition, they were a beautiful way to remind ourselves to dream, that dreams matter. As we made them together, we talked about our dreams. Then we hung them near out beds, jotted down our dreams upon awaking, and made them into poems or art.

The other day, as I was coaching a client by listening for a painful thought to question, the words “thought catching” came to mind. Since then I’ve been turning over those words.  Thought Catching is a lot of what I do with clients.  I listen for thoughts that they can’t hear, thoughts that keep them in locked in a story that hurts them. Once I hear a belief , we can usually get traction and find something truer and kinder.  The result is nothing short of freedom.

I’ve been wondering, what would a Thought Catcher look like? It would have to be selective, since neurosciences have estimated that we think 60,000 of them a day.  They come and they go, like dreams.  Some stick with us and cause us pain. Those are the ones I’d like to catch, before they do any more damage than they’ve already done.

I haven’t yet come up with a new invention, but I already know of one that works incredibly well for the purpose.  It’s a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet, a foundation of The Work of Byron Katie. Katie refers to it as “flypaper for the ego.”  When we judge someone else (or something else), we catch our own thoughts.  It’s a thought catcher. Try it out.  You can find it at thework.com. Click on Resources.  Then look on the left-hand side under “Downloads.”  Once you get the thoughts, use the One Belief at a Time Worksheet to question each one.  Or call me and we’ll see what thoughts we can catch together.  One at a time.

The Power of Us in the Light of Inquiry

This past month I’ve been leading classes in Inquiry, and I’ve been moved by how universal the beliefs are that hold us hostage.  Because I usually work with people individually, I have plenty of experience of the power of one-on-one seeking.  Not that this process is without surprises. Just when I think I know where freedom will arrive in each client’s mind, some new way of thinking shows up from the periphery that has the power to completely shift their world.

But in a group, this power is primed.  And it is deeply powerful for all of us.  As each person finds a belief that they may not have even been aware of holding, we all notice we’ve held that same belief about our lives.  And as we observe the questions and answers that bring freedom to one, we all find relief.  One by one we question thoughts like, “It shouldn’t have happened,”  “My body is too fat,” “I can’t get it right.”  And one by one we find the kindness of truth.

Spring Inquiry group events here at Oasis are over, and now my mind travels to summer.  In my mind, summer solstice seems like the perfect time to hold thoughts up to the bright light of inquiry.  Best of all, my friend Maggie Carter, director of the Institute of the Work for Byron Katie, will be coming to Oregon to join me at a couple of events.  We’re both looking forward to joining people who are beginners as well as seasoned facilitators.  We’ll be spending a day in Portland (June 20th)  and then three whole days soaking in inquiry and the peace of the Oregon Cascades at Breitenbush Hot Springs (June 21st through 24th).  All are welcomed.  Liberate yourself of some excessive winter beliefs and make peace with reality. With all of us.

A Listening Life

Yesterday I had the honor and privilege to be coached by Terry, very talented coaching friend with whom I trade coaching sessions.  It was such an amazing experience to switch roles and find out first-hand what it’s like to be held in listening (and questioning, of course).  My intention in calling her was to make some business decisions, so I thought of the call as a straightforward problem-solving session.  At least that’s what my ego (aka social self) had in mind.

That’s how much my “I know” mind knows.   I knew what my problem was, and all I needed was a little information.  I knew what I wanted and all I needed to find out was how to get there. I thought I knew.  As we talked (or rather I talked and she listened and asked questions), I gradually saw how little I had been listening to myself, my essential self. It’s humbling to admit this publicly, since I teach other people how to do this and listen to their lives all day long, asking questions and offering suggestions.  But I simply hadn’t been listening to my life.

In less than an hour, my world shifted radically.  I not only heard what my deepest Self longs for, which never changes, really. But I experienced the magic and power of coaching, first hand.  I now know inside-out what my clients tell me when they make a shift after a session.  My inner world was whispering, then talking louder.  And I hadn’t been listening.   Starting now  I’m re-committing to a Listening Life.

Where do you listen to your life and when do you fight what you hear?  What beliefs keep you from listening?  I noticed my belief had to do with taking care of others’ needs first. My essential self wouldn’t let Notice what your inner life whispers.  If you miss it, it will talk louder.  That’s how we develop a Listening Life. I’ve noticed my own life is far kinder when i do listen.  See what you notice.

Right on Time Living

Isaiah Jones, a black gospel musician and preacher  who was  raised in East St. Louis,  somehow showed up here in our Northwest college town in the mid-1990’s.  He started a gospel choir which was 99% white. And therefore remedial.  It took us about two years to figure out how to sway together to the rhythm, which still resided way more in our heads than our bones. Isaiah was our director, accompanist, and a frequent soloist.  When the Spirit moved him, which was wildly unpredictable to us, he would jump up and prance into the audience to give Love Hugs. Even though he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, this particular habit was a bit suspect at first.  But the good liberal church people would never want to offend the town’s one black minister, so at first they played along. Later, they began love-huggin’ each other on their own.

He was that kind of infectious.

A friend tells a story about Isaiah. He had come to dinner at her place, everyone had pushed their chairs back after the meal, and a peaceful lull suffused the room.  She went to the kitchen and came back with an apple pie.

“That pie is right on time,” Isaiah drawled.

With Isaiah, the pie would have been right on time, no matter when it arrived.  He lived in a Right on Time World.  He even answered his phone, “God is SO good.  ALL the time.”  It meant things were just as they should be.  No rush.  Miracles like apple pie could show up any time, and so would spring, babies, and other natural wonders.  But if the world was always  right on time, if the way of things was always good, I began to notice, other life events would need to be re-considered.

I started to apply the mental state of Right On Time to disasters in my life: a friend’s accidental drowning, a house fire that nearly killed my son.  In the increased focus that can occur during such events, no doubt with ample amounts of adrenaline and Grace, it’s a challenge to find the goodness.  I began to keep a list of how these tragedies could possibly be right on time, if not good.  Then I looked for evidence of possible goodness in all the fear and pain. Gradually the list grew.  How did I know who was being helped or inspired by the community of love and support that sprung up around us?  Who learned about the dangers of fly fishing without a belt?  Who checked for a smoke alarm in their apartment?  The possibilities just kept unfolding.

I also noticed that when one’s world has been turned upside down, all one can do is operate Right on Time.  One decision.  This one. Then the next.  Otherwise it would be too much. I began to notice that taking each step right on time built a substrata on which I could walk.  It created a foundation for coping. Read More>>

Fall of the House of Cards

What’s your Queen of Painful Beliefs look like?  Mine’s like the Red Queen in Wonderland.  She’s diligent at protecting those sacred precepts that keep me imprisoned in a House of Cards.  As I begin to question beliefs that used to work (sort of), she watches, ready to trot me off to the guillotine.

Even the hint that I might violate her sacred edicts, gets her agitated. Read More>>

When there’s nothing left to lose

“Freedom’s just another words for nothing left to lose.”  Confession: I’ve belted this song along with car radios, around campfires, and in the shower for about forty years now.

At first is was just between me, Janis Joplin and Bobby McKee, managing various crises and losses in my life.   I thought I “got it” in my twenties and even more in my thirties and forties.  Each decade has peeled back more of the privileged veneer of my life.

But never have I seen the depth of truth like I do today as I am inspired and instructed by friends and clients who have discovered they have less than nothing.   Read More>>

Loosening Knots to Create Kindness

What knots keep you from living in kind relationship to your life?

I gave up on knitting a few years ago because I discovered that I don’t seem to have the patience or inclination for unknotting the messes I kept making.  I LOVED the camraderie of knitting with women. I was drawn to the calm repetition of the process, and I understood intellectually the “zen of knitting.” I even read a book about it.  But no matter how I tried to talk myself into the IDEA of knitting, there was no part of my essential self that was drawn to the experience, once I was ready to graduate from neck scarves.

But as I work with my own thoughts and watch my own life, and work with clients, I can now I see what knitting taught me.  You need to find space in a knot in order to unravel it. Read More>>

“Return to Home Base!”

How do you return to home base in your world? It never occurred to me to ask myself this question until last week. Playing laser tag.  Seriously.

I’ve spent the last month away from the wet winter of my homeland here in Oregon. I decided to leave the travel blogging to others and to simply absorb the colores and sabores (colors and flavors) of the small colonial city I just visited.  I walked and simply marveled at beauty, color, and hospitality. My heart expanded when I noticed each kindness, from taxi drivers to expatriates.

The first day I was home a friend had a laser tag birthday party.   I have a general policy of trying anything that doesn’t have obvious addictive properties at least once.  So I went.  I can’t say that I ever mastered the strategies that others seemed to automatically grok, like who to avoid and who to hit.   But I heard one phrase again and again: Return to Home Base! In the game, this signal indicates that you’ve taken all the allowable hits or used up your stored power. Every time I heard the little box on my belly telling me to return to home base,  I kept thinking that there was nothing I’d rather do.  I started loving the simplicity of this game.  You give others your power and get depleted.  Then you hear a voice that tells you to return to Home Base.  Such simplicity.

So once the party was over I followed the directions.  I returned to my base for some serious re-charging.  It’s taken a little longer than in laser tag,  where a laser beam magically lights up your center.  But I notice that it’s the ultimate kindness I’m extending to myself to slow it down, gaze at the wall. Sleep. Return to yoga classes, walk in the mist, pet the dog.  Home. Home base.

Pulling English Ivy on Inauguration Eve

(A poem for the Occasion)

I took direction from the Universe and the Internet

Clicked here and there and found a team to join

and just like the new President

I spent my morning in service
Making the world a better place,
removing one creeping root at a time.

Call me a radical. I went to the root of the problem
Foreign terrorists of the plant variety.
Prying , pulling and yanking at
Ivy roots strangling tender native plants,
their tentacles wrapped around small trees
robbing them of their constitutional rights.

Radical Service: Uprooting

As I move into this year of Radical Kindness, I’ve been thinking about roots.  It turns out the origin, or “root” word for radical is “root.”  Gotta love it!  So I’ve been working with images of watering my own roots and engaging my clients in noticing when they’re nurturing their own roots so that they can serve others effectively.

So it’s ironic that I’m honoring National Service Day by helping a team pull up some roots. English ivy is so well-suited to the Oregon climate that it has invaded natural areas for years.  Its tough and widespread root system takes away nutrition from the more fragile native species.  The best way to get rid of it for good, short of serious nuking, is to pull like crazy. It’s an enormous job in some areas, a worthy project for local service.

This work is so like the work I do every day as I work with clients.  Every thought, such as “I’m not good enough,” has an enormous root system, supporting a whole world of other thoughts: “And this means I can’t be happy, get a job, be a good dad, take care of myself.”  On and on.

I love finding the roots and uprooting them with some really good questions.  There’s such freedom for newer, kinder thoughts when they have space to grow. So today as I pull, I’ll be imagining some of my old core beliefs coming up, too.  And in my mind I’ll be clearing a place for all of the people I care about.

Do your own mind a service today. Begin a list of any thoughts that you notice would keep you from being at peace. Find the root systems and begin unearth the root beliefs. Allow yourself the Radical Kindness that would clear the soil for fragile and kind new thoughts.