Monday, August 13, 2018

Living Fiction

You are the author of your own life story. ~Unknown

Someone asked me if I write fiction. No, I replied, and thought to myself, I don’t write fiction. I live it.

We all do. We tell ourselves stories and then believe them. Our emotions are rooted in the narrative. We react and make choices, live and love, fear and hate, enter into relationships and leave them – all based on what we have told ourselves about what is happening.

We rewrite history many times over, to punish ourselves over what we regret, to reward ourselves for good deeds that grow more heroic in the retelling, to hide our shame.

And we believe. My sister and I used to joke that our mother could have passed a lie detector test on some of the whoppers she told. She was her own most gullible audience.

Our most cherished tale is of course the most fundamental one – about our own identity. “I am the one who ....” Think of the instructions that give us a list of answers and tell us to check all that apply. All those checked answers make up the image I have of myself. Several images perhaps: the one I present to the world, the one I wish to be, the one I fear I really am.

We were asked in a spiritual direction group to “tell our story” and to listen with an open heart to others tell theirs. Revealing and tender. But still ... stories. The deeper question is who are we when we drop all our stories.

Try it. Who am I? See every answer as the story it is. Go deeper still.

Who am I?

Until finally, you inevitably arrive and the only possible ultimate answer.

I don’t know.

And now we live truth.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

This Time

You are unknown
Yet familiar
I have known you before
I was your mother
     your brother
     your friend
     your lover
We lived and laughed
We cried ... and died
Now here we are again
Who are we this time

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Prescription: Compassion for Self

I went to see my naturopath yesterday. We talked as we usually do, she checked my pulses and my tongue, and made some suggestions for diet and supplements. She wrote down her instructions and handed me the page.

When I got home, I reviewed her list of instructions. The last item said:

4. Compassion for self

I laughed out loud. What kind of prescription was this? What sort of doctor does this, I asked myself.

Apparently a doctor who cares about her whole patient, who wants her patient to be whole, to feel whole. A doctor who knows that without compassion, all the supplements in the world will still leave her patient lacking. And unless the patient can open her heart to her own self, then all the doctor’s care will be for naught.

How many millions are spent every year on self improvement? We want to do better. We want to be better. What violence do we do to ourselves by judging ourselves as always falling short, never being good enough as we are?

I have listened to people in recent discussions speak of themselves with such self-criticism, such disappointment, such hatred. Condemning themselves to eternal inadequacy, they desperately search for some external answer to their distress, for someone to tell them what to do.

So here is the answer, right on the prescription paper – compassion for self. Just for one moment, take a deep breath, drop all the judgment, and give yourself a smile. Doctor's orders.

You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens. ~Louise L. Hay

Monday, July 30, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 46

This chapter contrasts the effects of discontent and satisfaction. It begins with vivid imagery using horses.

When the world is in alignment with Tao
Horses work in the fields 
When the world is not in alignment with Tao
War horses are bred outside the city

Two very different roles for a horse to fill – one associated with peace and the abundance of harvest, the other associated with conflict and destruction. Literally life and death.

We think of this in terms of external peace and conflict, but we can also think of this in terms of whether we have peace or war inside of us. For whatever we have within is the energy we will offer to the world. As the saying goes, as within so without.

Many of us are looking outside ourselves at the world around us, which appears to be in such turmoil, and we want to contribute in some way to peace. But Adyashanti says that even if our words speak of peace, if there is internal struggle, what we transmit is conflict.

Internal struggle is always rooted in desire, wanting something or someone (including ourselves) to be different, wanting reality to be different. Reality might be pleasurable or painful, but our suffering comes from our unwillingness to acknowledge reality as it is. This is the basis of desire and discontent.

There is no greater fault than having desire
There is no greater misfortune than not knowing contentment
There is no greater curse than obtaining your desire
Thus those who know contentment are always satisfied

That third line reminds me of the saying to be careful what you wish for! When we get what we desire, it sometimes isn’t what we thought it would be. Or even if it is, it isn’t long before we want something else. We think that our dissatisfaction comes from not having what we want, but perhaps our dissatisfaction comes from wanting.

My favorite translation of the last line is “He who knows enough is enough will always have enough.” My artist sister made me a beautiful rendition of this version that I keep on my desk. (See photo at top of post.)

So which horse will I ride today?

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Dancing in the Flames

Fire flames dance
Flame fingers beckon
Take my hand
And come with me
Dancing in the flames 
That burn us free

Friday, July 20, 2018

Awakening Through Book Titles

In a recent discussion with a friend about books we found insightful, I mentioned three by Adyashanti  – Falling into Grace, The End of Your World, and Emptiness Dancing. Then I realized that these three book titles are a perfect description of awakening.

Falling into Grace

When I was growing up, we used to go to a recreational area on the Tennessee River called Pickwick. There was a cove with a waterfall accessible only by boat. From the boat you could swim over to the base of the cliff to the side of the waterfall, where there was a knotted rope you could use to climb up to the top. It was not an easy climb over slippery rocks and mossy footholds.

Once at the top, you could look out over the boats floating below. From this ledge, the cliff seemed much taller than it did from water level. This was the “oh s- - t” moment when you would realize what you had done. There was only one way down and that was not climbing back down the way you had come up. The only way down was to jump.

So you stood at the top of the cliff wondering why you had wanted to do this in the first place. What looked so enticing from below now was terrifying. You worked so hard to get to this point and now all you had to do to get where you wanted was to step off solid ground. Gravity would do the rest.

This is where we sometimes find ourselves when all our practice and effort gets us to the point when there is nothing left to do except let go. And that becomes the hardest thing of all. We read books, meditate for hours, go to workshops, chant and beat drums. We call ourselves seekers and embrace the journey. But when life says, “You are here! You have arrived. Seek no more. Just let go,” we balk.

Because on some level, you know that if you just let go and fall into grace, it will be ...

The End of Your World

What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, we call a butterfly.

We are so afraid that if we let go, our world will not be the same, we will not be the same. We will not be in control. We will be in free fall. And that is the key word – free. Here is the secret: you were never in control. Once you step off the cliff in surrender, the fear is immediately gone and you know that everything is all right, no matter what. You realize that you haven’t lost anything but delusion and the fear that goes with it. And that changes everything.

Nothing is the same. You are not the same. It is extraordinary. And immensely ordinary. It is everything. And nothing. You feel exhilarated, and relieved. It is liberating, and you are ...

Emptiness Dancing

You plunge into the water and come up laughing and sputtering. You look around at the boats and the waterfall and the people. Can they tell that everything has changed, that you have changed? No one seems to notice that everything seems fresher, the colors brighter, the water cooler. You have released everything that you held onto, emptied yourself of all your fears and stories and limitations. Life is exquisite. Every moment is a gift, an invitation to dance the divine dance.

You climb back onto the boat. Your mother wraps you in a towel and slathers sun screen on your face over your protests. Dad opens the cooler and everyone reaches for sodas and fried chicken.

It is all so deliciously normal, in a way you have never noticed before.

Nearby there is a splash. A face pops up out of the water. Eyes full of wonder search until they meet yours. You smile.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Start with “I don’t know.” Why not just start with where you’ll end up anyway? ~Adyashanti

I was never a legit Trekkie but I did enjoy and was inspired by two of the series – Next Generation, and Voyager.

Each series had a crew member characterized by intellectual and logical prowess – Data, the android in Next Generation, and Tuvok, the Vulcan in Voyager. Occasionally they were confronted with a question they could not answer.

“What is the composition of the gasses in that nebula?”

“What is the origin of that ship speeding towards us on an intercept course?”

“What dimension did these aliens just emerge from?”

When unable to answer, Data or Tuvok would simply reply “unknown.”

Lately, when feeling that urge to understand what cannot be understood, to describe what cannot be described, to have certainty where none exists, I have interrupted my endless mind loops with a simple word – unknown.

My mind hates that. My mind is useful for many things, and I appreciate its contribution to my life. But minds are wired to know, to identify, to categorize, to understand, to store and retrieve. Confronted with mystery, our minds continue to search for an answer. That’s fine if the mystery is about what is making that scratching sound in the attic, but it doesn’t work when the question is beyond the limits of mind, when the answer is not only unknown, but unknowable.

Not one to give up, the mind solves the dilemma by latching onto an answer. Then a problem arises when someone else’s mind latches onto a different answer. Which answer is The Answer?

How can we know? We can’t. As one teacher says, we cannot think our way to truth. Thinking is always one step away from truth. Truth just is, regardless of what we think or don’t think. When we drop everything we think we know, there it is, shining like a light that has been uncovered, shining as it always has been and always will.

But as soon as we try to think about it, or understand it, or explain it, it disappears again, not because it isn’t there but because our efforts to hold it in our minds block our inner sight. As the song says, how do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

Someone recently joked that I’m like Oprah. (Really, they were joking.) Oh no, I replied. Oprah’s monthly magazine ends with a column titled “What I Know for Sure.” Oprah knows something for sure at least twelve times a year. I don’t know doodley-squat ... ever.

Footprints lead to the shore of the sea
Beyond that point no trace remains