When I travel, I try to remember to see through many eyes. By that I mean, I try to see not only as a privileged white American woman in the 21st century, but as many other kinds of people might have seen throughout time. This is particularly true when I visit places of worship.
I have always loved places of worship of all kinds, but not because I wish to worship in them in conventional ways. Rather because I can feel all the feelings that have been felt within their walls. (My own preferred places of worship tend to be outside in nature -- places with no walls at all!)
Whether I understand or resonate to the type of worship or the imagery I see, I can always feel the desire for Love, for grace, for peace that resonates within the walls of synagogues, mosques, cathedrals, churches, and temples of all kinds. (My personal favorite space is always the cloister or the gardens -- where there is a quiet peace that always soothes my soul.) I remember that these places were the IMAX theatres of their day -- the places where people found respite from the difficulties and drudgery of their daily lives and came to uplift their souls and find hope. When I see through the eyes of many beholders across the centuries, I always find beauty.
That said, I love Gothic cathedrals. I love their soaring elegance. The architecture always lifts my soul to the heavens. Funnily enough, my first art history course during my freshman year of college was a graduate level course in Gothic architecture taught, for the last time before he retired, by one of the great art historians in the field. I remember feeling so overwhelmed by that class -- because it seemed to take the soaring grace I had felt in the Gothic cathedrals I had visited in Europe with my family -- and reduce it to a series of terms and facts that bore no relation to what I (and hundreds of thousands of other people) felt!
In essence, Spirit is a felt thing. Whatever it is that we feel that moves our spirit to connect to something beyond our skins is what matters -- be it a building, an image, a flower, an animal, a word, a hug, an experience. That's why I "created" this image of the cathedral in Avila. I was so struck by the colors in the cathedral -- the striated stone next to the stained glass windows. I wanted to play with the colors of this image to bring out what I felt there. An almost eerie, definitely intense, historically powerful, rich history of worship through countless centuries of pilgrims drawn to the live of Teresa of Avila.
I, myself, came to Avila again to feel her presence there -- this mystic who had the guts to stand up to institutions that had lost their way and become mired in hypocritical religious red tape and say to them -- isn't this about love, about grace, about peace, about connection with the Divine?
I love learning about her life because she was tough on herself and kind to others. As someone who holds myself to ridiculously tough standards and never feels like I have shown up as I wish to -- in service, in love, in grace, in humility -- Teresa's daily courage and discouragement make me feel less confused about my own path.
At the end of the day, we don't have to be "like" others to learn from their lives. We don't have to worship the same ways in order to respect and resonate to how others worship. All we have to do is show up with clear eyes, open minds, and generous hearts -- and then we can know, as Teresa of Avila did: "The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love."
In these divisive days of dualistic rhetoric that seems to focus on what we should fear instead of how we can love, these are words to live by. For just as beauty is determined by the eye of the beholder, so, too, love is determined by our willingness to put love first in everything and anything we do.
To love, and love more, and love again.
To love much.
#beautywhereyoufindit has been one of my frequent Instagram hashtags on my morning and evening walks over the past few years. Meaning that beauty always has a way of surprising me. This has been particularly true here in Austin.
This summer has been intense. I am on the last fumes of a book deadline -- doing a complete rewrite. I am working and living in a loud dusty busy construction site. And, of course, I am doing three other pretty close to full-time jobs. In other words, I am back in serious overwork mode -- which often means overwhelm. What it does not mean, however, is workaholic mode. Or at least I have been doing my level best not to revert to those old destructive habits.
I get up early, go to bed late, and I still try to walk a total of ten miles a day -- heading out very early and very late, when it is marginally not blistering enough for me and Allie to actually enjoy our walks. We also never leave the neighborhood, because I just don't have the time. Which means I do the same hugely hilly loops over and over again.
As I slog up hot and humid hills, I always have to fight the turge to just put my head down and sweat and get through it. But that's just not me. So everyday I try to see beauty. I see beauty in the deer, the rabbits, the squirrels, in the cumulus clouds, the sunsets, and the few flowers that can survive this kind of scorching heat.
The other morning, I saw this sweet bush. It has a very brief growing season apparently, so I'm glad I caught this photo of these sweet purple blooms when I did. They are all gone now. Which reminds me that neither joy nor beauty nor connection nor conversation nor love nor hope nor faith should ever be put off. Just look for #beautywhereyoufindit and enjoy it in the moment. Because when you do, you will be surprised to find that there will always be beauty in every moment to enjoy!
OK -- off to do the hills and then back to another long and busy and full day. Sending you all joy on your journeys!
Sometimes the simplest things we do each day are the sweetest. For me, taking my morning and evening walks with Allie and stopping to see, smell, and sometimes photograph the flowers always always brings me joy.
That's my greatest reminder that, although we are taught to do do do, really we need to learn from this flowers how to let ourselves just be. To blossom. To bloom.
In the summer, these beautiful lilies remind me of the beautiful Bible quote from Matthew. One I call to mind almost every day when I find myself drenched in worries and what ifs: "Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. . .Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them . . .And consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
Less doing. More being. More blossoming. More blooming. These flowers that are the most beautiful part of my daily practice of joy remind me of this every single day!
Practice, when it is undertaken from the heart, loses sight of the goal. We become engaged in the act of practice far more than the outcome. This has been true of my daily joy practice of photography. I photograph from my heart. To see how I have seen, to feel the joy in seeing, to connect to the place in which I find myself (both inside and out), to love where I am and how I am learning to see -- this is why I photograph.
But yesterday, as I began putting up all of the images for my upcoming art show at The Good Goat Gallery this weekend, I began to feel a different kind of joy. As I resized each image for the web, copyrighted it, uploaded and wrote about it, I connected with the journey of my practice in a whole new way. By the end of the day, I had put up twelve images! And I grew more and more excited to see the whole arc of the journey of these past six years.
So, today, my Daily Practice of Joy post is my joy in the fruition of creating this website where all of the art will be up together. That's why I decided to make a new navigation tab called ART at the top of this page to link to the images from this show. For me, showing up to what has been calling me for all these years is pure joy -- both the practice and the fruition.
Right now, I have twelve images up. There will be sixty in total. A true glimpse at my journey of this part of my life. I have priced them all what I hope is very affordably, because I believe in my dad's philosophy -- that everyone should be able to have art in their home! I genuinely hope that these images will resonate for people, and they will want to live with them.
When I was a little girl, whenever my parents and I went to a museum, we played a game. Which piece -- and we could each only pick one -- would you want to live with and look at and love every day? I loved that, because we chose from our hearts, not from our minds. When I culled the images for this show, I chose from my heart, with the hope that it will resonate to someone else's heart.
May it be so! EnJOY!
I just adore this quote by Iris Murdoch: "People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us."
That's how I've felt every morning this week, walking through this sweet hilly neighborhood above White Plains, New York. There are iris everywhere, and I stop and smell, admire, and photograph them all. I cannot help myself. Especially after a rain night, like last night. I now have my favorites which I visit each morning, and these sweet purple and white iris along a white picket fence are definitely on my favorite list. I now have hundreds of photos of these iris, and I still can't stop taking pictures. I am literally mad with joy.
Irises always make me think of my mother. She adored them, and found a wonderful grower of speciality iris right next door to our church. She planted this horticulturalist's bulbs, and soon had a beautiful bumper crop.
We entered one of her iris in my high school flower show. Of course, in a gorgeous art deco vase. Needless to say, we won. My mother was the daughter of a landscape architect, and she had an infallible eye. It was stunning. But when I see iris, what I remember is how overjoyed I was for her. I always felt that way about my mom -- that sometimes she was overshadowed by my dad or even by having a rambunctious teenage daughter. It always made me so happy to have people see how incredible she was. So, it's my mother I think of when I see these iris. We chat about them in meta-virtual reality, as I walk down the street, picking our favorites.
That's the beauty of a joy practice of beauty. It connects you -- not just to the beauty of what's around you, but to the beauty of the sweet memories of beauty inside you.
What memories of beauty still move you? What flowers make you mad with joy?
I would have to say that my favorite Daily Practice of Joy is taking photographs and then creating my own "gallery" on Instagram. I love looking back and seeing how I am learning to see. I also love using my photos as a gratitude list -- a reminder of everything for which I have to be so grateful.
I firmly believe that the way we see the world is the way we experience the world. If we see the world through a lens of joy and hope and connection, the world mirrors that back to us. If, on the other hand, we are mired in fear and worry and resistance, we tend to get that back instead.
I love Instagram, because it is all about pictures -- and seeing other people's pictures always brings me joy. It's like being invited over to someone's house for dinner and getting to see all their photos on the wall or enjoying their photo album of a recent family reunion or trip to Spain. I have always loved that. And now I get to enjoy it virtually and tell them I like what I am seeing.
Someone once shared a wonderful idea with me. They said: Social Media is a Culture of Generosity. We put Likes and Hearts next to posts that bring us joy and connection. We share them with others.
So, I thought I would try a little JOY experiment.
Would you consider liking my Instagram page? You can find it by clicking here: INSTAGRAM
And would you consider sharing it with one other person and asking them to like it?
I will do the same for each new follower. Because generosity begets more generosity -- and we all need all the generosity we can give!
Let's see if we can spread the joy around and be more generous and therefore more grateful! A daisy chain of joy in photographs. In JOY!
One of the things I love most about visiting museums is being exposed to many different manifestations of beauty. When I saw this beautiful Thai statue, its grace and elegance took my breath away. It felt like a winged messenger of joy that sang straight to my heart.
The best part was that I didn't have to know anything about it to feel that way. I just acknowledged in my mind what my heart was already expressing.
Visiting museums or learning about other cultures when we travel helps us recognize just how "trained' we are to see beauty. Often what we believe to be beautiful is, in fact, far more learned than innate. Different cultures deem different things beautiful, and if we have not been exposed to those things ourselves, when we see them for the first time, we might have a hard time understanding what others see. In fact, we might find something that one culture deems the epitome of beauty downright ugly. But that's only if we look with limited eyes. When we are willing to open our hearts and minds and see through fresh lenses, the boundaries of the beautiful explode -- and our lives are all the richer for it.
Have you had the experience of changing how you see by opening your mind and your heart?
This was my inaugural post about beauty: A photo I took during lilac season in Santa Fe 2017. Somehow, however, I pressed a button a month later, and it disappeared. But I can't begin my page about my daily practice of joy as it pertains to the appreciation of beauty, without including lilacs. So I'm reposting.
Whenever I pass a lilac bush, I do a face plant. Oh goodness! That smell. And it is a smell that is impossible to capture in essential oils, which always just seem overwrought and cloying in lilac. But in real life, there is just nothing as sweet as the smell of a lilac.
I still remember the first time I -- a California girl -- encountered lilacs. It was the spring of my freshman year of college in Massachusetts, and there was a hedgerow of lilac bushes -- all purple and while and glorious -- and I could smell them from a distance. I fell in love. And I have never fallen out of love.
I think one of the sweetest things about lilac season is that it is both so early in spring -- one of its first gifts -- and that it is so short. So you have to appreciate lilacs when you can.
Appreciating and being grateful for beauty is one of my most essential joy practices. And smelling, seeing, loving flowers is one of the daily gifts of my life!
What flowers bring you the most joy>
A brief introduction to how I discovered The Way of Being Lost.
From Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's historic speech in 1963:
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.
It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.
But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.
As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.
Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”
And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!
Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!
But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
Let us all do all we can to let freedom ring.
In exactly six weeks, my book, The Way of Being Lost: A Road Trip to My Truest Self, will be published. (February 14 -- the best Valentine ever!) So, I thought that every Wednesday for the next six weeks, my blog post would be a short excerpt from my book, with sometime I have been learning. Here is today's:
"We all long to come home to our truest selves. This begins
the very moment we begin to listen to our false selves instead of
trusting our truths. We may experience that longing in countless
ways — as longing for home, for love, for conversations we can
no longer have, for chances missed, for false assurances, for
safety nets, for one right answer, for companionship, for a doover,
for ease, for creativity, for validation, for achievement, for
success, for hope, for faith, for peace of mind. But all that we are
really longing for is to live in the truth of our own hearts."
by Catherine Barnett
Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more.
Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know.
Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord
to keep it from fraying?
Not the man who called my life a debacle,
a word whose sound I love.
In a debacle things are unleashed.
Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary.
I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate,
the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing.
They don’t use words, but they can be said to love.
They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree.
And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing
stops them, it’s called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect
or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare,
to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth.
Sometimes when I’m alone I go outside with my big little mouth
and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches.
I received this poem this morning in my inbox. I had just sent this photo off to my publisher. It was taken two years ago by my dear friend Sarah Douglas in front of the willow trees in Stratford-Upon-Avon, after we fed the ducks on the river. As I remembered the sweetness of that day spent with a dear friend, I read this poem. The poem and the photo made me remember that the whole reason any of us do anything is to speak love in everything we do to everyone and everything we meet -- with or without words.
I love this photo, which I took last week in Sitges, Spain, because it will always remind me of one of the things that I love most about European life -- the pace.
In Europe, people take time to sit down and have a conversation with one another. In Europe, people take four hours to eat dinner. In Europe, people stroll down streets or through parks. In Europe, people remember how to enjoy life minute by minute.
Now that I am back in the US, I have been tempted over and over again to jump back into the do, do, do -- the frenzied path to accomplishment and earning that is the hallmark of American existence. In Europe, I walked more slowly, I talked more slowly, I stopped more often, I actually sat down to eat and enjoyed it.
When I arrived in Spain in late September, I was so deeply exhausted after travel and four months of juggling writing a book and working a full time job that it wasn't hard to just let myself fall into the ease of my first two-hour lunch. From there, I just went with the flow. Guess what? Slow actually is more enjoyable. You see more deeply, you feel more fully, you hear more consciously, you connect more fully, you live more true-ly.
For the next three weeks, I remembered how not to always be in a hurry to get someplace I never even really want to go. In Spain, I remembered that life is meant to be fully lived.
I hope that this photo remains a talisman for me. A reminder to live life more slowly, more consciously, with greater connection, and, of course, so much more joy.
S-L-O-W: Stop. Look. Open. WOW!
Thich Nhat Hanh has said, "Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today."
Yesterday was another very difficult day to bear in a year in a decade in a century of very difficult days. How do we keep living in hope in the wake of so much violence?
As I travel through Spain right now, I hold all these contradictions so vividly -- the beauty and the history of violence that have forged this country. The violence that continues here and around the world.
Yesterday, I visited Guernica -- Picasso's massive graphic black-and-white canvas depicting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. He reflected back to the world the horrors of violence in the only way he could -- through his art. He held the contradictions and preached even as he prayed for the healing of his homeland.
But how can the rest of us hold the contractions of this difficult time in the world?
I have come to believe that the only way to hold these contradictions and not have them tear us all apart to is to hold our own hearts and the heart of the world in the Love that is, despite so many appearances to the contrary, All-in-all. And from this knowing that Love truly is All-in-all, hold to the hope that with each challenge we face as a planet, we are being shepherded away from hate (though it does not always feel or look this way) and back to the Love that is the Truth that will set us all free from hurting and harming and bring us to healing hope and wholeness.
This is my prayer for the world today: Let us all remember that Love. Is. All.
This prayer may seem simplistic in the face of measures that need to be taken, in the face of death and violence and political rhetoric. But to know, to really know, and so to act from the knowing that Love. Is. All. is the work of a lifetime.
May it be our work as a people and as a planet. To act and be and live and love this Love that truly is All.
What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
- Brad Aaron Modlin (courtesy of Krista Tippett)
Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.
Last fall, I created a series of memes by revisiting old photographs I had taken and asking them what they had to teach me now. This is the one I posted on the day after our election. That is seems even more necessary to remember this now appears to a testament to the fact that my fears on that depressing day have now been realized. That we are a nation governed by hate not love. At least, that's sure how it feels.
But how it feels right now and how we live our lives forward are two different things. We have a choice in how we live. Do we live in love or do we falter in fear? Do we expand into hope, or do we contract into disheartenment? Can we do as the extraordinary parents of some of the people who have been killed in the violence of the past year have done -- and live forward in forgiveness, becoming voices of love in an atmosphere of so much hate?
It's hard to read the news every morning and feel much joy these days. It's hard to read the news every morning and feel much hope these days. Yet that's precisely when having a daily practice of joy, of love, of faith is most necessary.
So, today, after a weekend in which the hate that has been festering under the surface of this country for centuries surfaced in such violent and ugly ways, I must continue to practice joy, practice love, practice faith -- or I will not have done my part to counteract it.
Through our fear, through our sorrow, through our disillusionment, through our judgment, through our disheartenment, we can, we MUST sill always, stand for LOVE.
Here's another of my spiritual "memes" from last fall. I took this photo in the Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam last September. I love lotuses, and never can resist taking pictures of them.
It is not just their symmetrical waxy beauty, or that the reflect themselves back to us in the water on which they seem to float -- so that we can enjoy them twice. It is, of course, also that they know they need the mud in order to grow.
We humans like to hope we are exempt from the muck and mire of living. But in order to bloom, we have to learn to love our mud. The mud of the world. The mud of our families and friends. The mud of it all. I needed this reminder today. I hope you do, too. EnJOY!
Last fall, it came to me to look through my old photos and "listen" for what they needed to tell me. It felt like a new practice in which I was being asked to engage. So, I did what I was asked -- and went on an amazing journey through the last decade of my life.
Instead of seeing these old photos as recorded memories, I recognized that they had new messages for me. I posted one a day for about three or four months. And then, right around the holidays last year, they told me they were done.
Looking back at that time now, I realize what was happening. I was really struggling trying to find a voice that felt true to me in the writing of my book. I heard other people's ideas about what and how I should write loud and clear. None of those felt true. Yet I felt obligated to listen to them. As a result, I felt miserable. I felt split. I felt inauthentic. Now I see that this practice gave me a way of looking at my life beyond words, beyond story, and re-viewing what I was being taught to see then and now.
I have often been given practices like this. For over a year, I posted poems on my social media sites. I so loved doing that. A poem a day. What that helped me see is the degree to which reading poetry has always been one of my truest spiritual practices. I hadn't really understood that then. I just thought I read poetry almost every day because I really really like poetry. Yes. And. Poets are the mystics of words -- and often, when nothing else could, poems have cracked open my heart to feel and lifted up my head to see.
So, now that I feel called to return to these images I created last fall and share them from time to time as part of this Being practice, I will listen very carefully to which ones ask to be shared -- and why. This is the one that came this morning.
This week was a busy busy week. A full house of workmen, painters, dust, and fumes. This weekend, I write. The book deadline looms. Or perhaps I should call it the book lifeline. Because really this book has been a lifeline -- back to myself, and out to the world.
Which is, of course, why this photo called to be shared. It reminded me that every step I have taken -- however wobbly or cautiously, enthusiastically or brusquely -- has brought me to right where I am today. That was this photo's message to me then. That is this photo's message to me now. And hopefully, that is this photo's message to you, if you need the same re-view as I do.
Right when we are in the thick of whatever experience in which we find ourselves, it is worth remembering:
Where you have been is taking you where you want to go.
I walk every day. Long walks. Sometimes two or three times a day. At minimum five miles, but usually closer to ten. It keeps me sane. Not just the walking. Not just the connection to my most wonderful walking companion, Allie. But the connection to my surroundings.
These past two weeks, I have been in a sweet suburb of Cleveland. I picked this area because it was near a series of walking trails. But when I am on a writing deadline, as I am now, I often find that I don't want to waste the time getting someplace to walk, if I can just step out my front door and go. So, the first few days, I tested that out. Would I like walking here? Turns out, I have loved it.
What happens when I walk a neighborhood over and over again is that I get to know it. Not only do I meet its people, and sometimes get into the most interesting conversations with them, but I also really begin to get to know a place through what I see.
For example, in this neighborhood, even though everyone has big grassy tree-filled backyards, most residents sit out in front of their houses on lawn chairs set in their driveways, so that they can watch the world go by. They also have awesome yard sales. A lot of them. And they are huge sports fans -- all sports -- though the Browns are notably absent from the sports decor. (The poor Browns. . .) And they love love love cutesy little statues of deer, birds, gnomes, doggies, and other things that I was raised to think of as kitsch.
But here's something that being here taught me: Calling something kitsch allows us to feel elevated and intelligent, when in fact it really is just another judgment. Over the past few weeks, I have actually come to adore all of the cute little statues in all of the yards here. They make me feel safe in a neighborhood that has come to feel like my temporary home. To my great surprise, I realize that I am genuinely glad to let go of that judgment about kitsch! It is a most necessary reminder that any and all judgments have to be dropped. Discernment is one thing. Judgment is simply another futile thought process that makes us feel separate from one another.
So, last night, as I was walking, watching and feeling the thunderheads form, I crossed the huge swathe of greenbelt which is home to the neighborhood's huge powerlines. I've never liked powerlines. Does anyone? I've known people who have suffered extreme health issues related to powerlines. But mostly they are just unsightly.
Then, last night, suddenly, I saw this. Beauty. Power. And a little glimpse of grace in the pink glow of the distant sunset. I saw all that in place where before I had only seen ugliness. Which made me realized that, wherever we are, if we see through the open-hearted eyes of joy, even the things which we feel justified to dismiss as ugly can be transformed through the eyes of Love.
f I am learning anything through my walkabout of intentional homelessness, it is this: To let go of all our preconceived ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, us and them, justified and unjustified, takes us to a place of peace and connection we never thought possible.
When I drive away from this sweet neighborhood in a few days, I will take away more wonderful memories than I ever would have imagined possible when I arrived a few weeks ago. That is the greatest gift of this Daily Practice of Joy. And that is why I keep on keeping on this beautiful path of being for which I am grateful every single day.
When I knew that I was going to become intentionally homeless, I thought to myself: I can live without a home. I can live without all the stuff I have accumulated over a lifetime. I can live without a partner. I can live without most things that most people feel they need. But I can't live without a dog.
So, along came Allie. I had NO idea just how much I would fall in love with her. But I have, and I am. Deeply and sincerely smitten and over the moon with My Sweet Al.
She is a poodle mix -- I call her a Puddle. A muddled poodle puddle of Pure Love. She travels with me everywhere. She has been to 36 states so far, and she is not even one and a half years old. But yesterday, I had to leave her to be taken care of while I go overseas. I was a blubbering mess.
She is mischievous -- she eats Kleenex, steals socks, jumps like a pogo stick going through cross walks, talks back to me, loves to play ball incessantly, and more or less runs the show. She is also patient, kind, sweet, loving, and the best company you can imagine. She cuddles with me at night, puts her head on my arm or leg, looks up at me with her beautiful brown eyes and bats her movie star eyelashes -- and I am just gone!
Since I miss her so much today, I just had to write about her. . .and about how much joy she brings to my life. She is teaching me so much about LOVE and JOY and LIFE and FUN. I could not be more grateful to be sharing my life with this beautiful beautiful four-legged being. She truly is my unruly beautiful bundle of joy.
To follow Allie's exploits, please check out her awesome Instagram page, by clicking here: TRAVELS WITH ALLIE I hope her adventures and her sweet face on Insta will bring you as much daily joy as she brings me.
Here's to our four-legged teachers of joy. May we be as kind and loving to them as they always are to us.
Who are your four-legged joy teachers?
Greetings from Asbury Park!
When I drove in last night, I was literally greeted by a wonderful neon sign saying that -- and making me think, very happily, of Bruce!
I'm here to officiate a wedding. I am so grateful to be sharing this day with a wonderful bride and groom -- Samantha and Addison -- as well as their family and loved ones.
We're all staying at a wonderful huge old brick hotel on the boardwalk. Not that I've seen the boardwalk, because it's pouring rain in gale force winds. This morning, however, I did take a slightly more sheltered walk through the wonderful tree-lined streets filled with colorful Victorian homes. It was beautiful. I'm glad I did -- because now it's really raining. Which means, I am having to learn to be still, once again.
That is one of the hardest things for me. To just be. To be here now. I have a glorious corner room on a high floor, overlooking everything -- with the pounding surf of the ocean in the distance. But all too often, I realize, that's how I feel inside -- like that pounding surf.
When I see photos of people lying on a sofa reading, I have an almost romantic response. Aaaaaah! I think. I would love to just lie around and read. So, last week, I read a whole memoir in two sittings. Trying to be one of "those" people. Maybe I looked like that relaxed person on the outside, but inside, I felt like the Kentucky Derby -- racing toward the finish.
The finish of what? That's the question.
I created this Practice section to remind myself every day to practice just Being. I think it really means learning to be still, be present, be here, be grateful.
So today, enjoying the view from my beautiful room before the ceremony this evening, I am grateful to be right here, right now, present to what is. Grateful, too, to know that all of you are out there to -- practice your own joy. And learning what you are here to learn. And loving that we are sharing through the Joy Connections Forum.
If you have any practices that help you be still, be present, be here now, please share them there. I would love to learn from you! I truly believe that, the more present we can all learn to be in our lives, the more lovingkindness with which we can walk through the world. A world that needs all the lovingkindness we can bring to it right now!
Last week, I changed a few of my "practice categories" on this site -- and this was one of them. I decided that I needed to practice more being and less doing. I have always loved that clever reminder that we are meant to be human beings not human doings. Nonetheless, it is difficult for most of us to just be, and let it be, as opposed to do, do, do.
I found this came up for me big time this past week. I was at the ocean. Now I grew up on the beach, and I have always loved the ocean. But since moving to the mountains, I have found myself increasingly drawn to the mountains more than the sea. This week, I found out why. The mountains allow me the sweet solace of communing with nature with enough variety of things to "do", In the mountains, I bird, I hike, I find new paths, new streams, new lakes, new birds. Whereas the ocean calls me to learn how to just be more like it. There. Just there every day. The ocean reminds me to be.
Sure there are high and low tides, seashells to gather, my dog to walk, and splashing or swimming or playing in the water. There are sunsets and sunrises and all the different kinds of light. There are windy days and calm days, days when the ocean becomes a modern art canvas, and days when it shimmers like a disco ball. But none of that changes its essential message to us all: I am here. Join me.
This week I received an unexpected writing deadline from my publisher, and as I slogged away at it at first, I found myself willing myself to write something "good". Then I would go out and look at or walk alongside the sea -- and remember all I need is to be.
In the mornings, I would shoot out of bed before the sunrise and pound for miles up the beach with my dog, gathering shells and alternately listening to audiobooks or just the sound of the surf, trying to calm my anxiety enough to get to that place: Just Be.
It wasn't until the very last morning, the sun coming up a huge orange flaming ball illuminating the whole ocean grey then orange until it finally became blue, that I heard her -- the Ocean, saying to me: I am infinite and unlimited power. And so are you. This morning my tide is out, but later it will be in. Right now the sand is covered in shells, but later the water will cover those shells. You cannot count the drops of water that make me this ocean. You cannot count the grains of sand that form this beach that tapers out into infinity. There is nothing I have to do today to be the ocean -- and there is nothing you have to do to be you. Let's both just be the infinite beings we are.
As I head back to my landlocked life this weekend, I am going to carry that sweet message from the sea with me: Just be. Be like the sea. The tides will come. The tides will go. Life will be blue or bright or cloudy or clear, windy or still -- and yet, it will always be.
This is "my" Buddha -- created on an old piece of scrap metal by the artist David DeVary. But now it lives in the beautiful garden oasis of my dear dear friends Pamela & Todd.
I took this photo of it last August, and was so grateful to see this piece I have loved enshrined among so much floral beauty in a place of pure love.
The Buddha said, "The heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?"
It a question we all need to remind ourselves to answer many many times a day -- as we practice joy, and choose compassion and love.
My inspirational memoir, The Way of Being Lost: A Road Trip to My Truest Self, comes out five weeks from today!!! So, as promised, each Wednesday I will share part of the journey of the book. Last weekend, I was interviewed for an article about my book that really made me go deep about a lot of interesting and rather intense topics.
Here is a quote from that article:
"At the end of the day, what is inside each of us begging to be expressed keeps clamoring until we finally give in and hear it. We all have something inside of us that we are called to do or say or be. We just have to keep listening and then have the courage to trust that inner voice and bring what is within each of us out from the darkness and into the light. When we do, we inspire others to do the shine their own lights. In this way, we all become lanterns lighting one another home to our truest selves."
To read the whole article, please click SHOW UP IN LOVE.
I have a dear friend of many many years now who loves poetry -- and football -- as much as I do. From time to time, we bet on a game. My Broncos. Her Chiefs. The ebb and flow of changing football fortunes mirroring the ebb and flow of our lives and marking the passage of time.
This year, her cherished Chiefs trounced my bewildering Broncos not once but twice. But hope, for any football fan, always springs eternal. So I challenged her to a bet. The outcome of a football game against a volume of poetry.
Knowing she had a pretty good shot of winning, she crowed, "Game on. I love me some May Sarton." Knowing she had a pretty good shot of winning, I began searching for her prize.
I found it the other day in a tiny indie bookstore. The computer indicated they had one Sarton volume, but no one could find it. When they did, it was a first edition from 1966. Signed by the poet herself: To Helen and "H.H: with love from their poet May (May Sarton Feb 1966). The cost? $20.
The huge grin on my face said it all as I handed over a $20 bill. I had told the woman who had unearthed the book about our bet. She took one look at my smiling face and said, "I think you want to lose this bet." I nodded with glee.
On Sunday my team lost, but my friend and I won. Because she gets this book, I get to give a generous friend a wonderful gift, and we both get to read some gorgeous poetry. Because of course I am reading the poems before I mail the book.
This morning, as I faced my first full day of work of the new year -- a day of preparation for six months on the road, feeling both the excitement and the fear around the release of this new book, and the uncertainty of everything in my life, I realized that much of the book is about movement and travel and winter. And then I saw this poem that stood me still. It captures everything I am struggling to understand about my peripatetic life of intentional homelessness lived through a heart that still longs to love and be loved. This poem is, well everything. So I thought I would share it with you.
Though we dream of an airy intimacy,
Open and free, yet sheltering as a nest
For passing bird, or mouse, or ardent bee,
Of love where life in all its forms can rest
As wind breathes in the leaves of a tree;
Though we dream of never having a wall against
All that must flow and pass, and cannot be caught,
An ever-welcoming self that is not fenced,
Yet we are tethered still to another thought:
The unsheltered cannot shelter, the exposed
Exposes others; the wide open door
Means nothing if it cannot be closed.
Those who create real havens are not free,
Hold fast, maintain, are rooted, dig deep wells;
Whatever haven human love may be,
There is no freedom without sheltering walls.
And when we imagine wings that come and go
What we see is a house, and a wide-open window.
I have bought this book multiple times. I read it and then give it away to someone who needs it. Usually anyone who has embarked on the journey of making their work match their inner desire for a life of meaning.
This is the story of how David Whyte followed the calling of his heart to do the work he knew he had been put here to do. Every time I have needed to know what it is I am here to do, I have opened this book and found an answer.
David Whyte urges us: "You must do something heartfelt -- and you must do it soon. Let go of all this effort, and let yourself down, however awkwardly, into the waters of the work you want."
I began this daily practice of joy as an antidote to the workaholism that had worn my life down to a tired nub. I discovered that the antidote to workaholism isn't a life of play, but doing work that has meaning and brings joy, connection, and purpose.
Here is a little glimpse at David Whyte's own courageous journey to create his own life of meaning and purpose at a time when he was worn to a nub and did not know if meaningful work was possible:
“Tell me about exhaustion,” I said. He looked at me with an acute, searching, compassionate ferocity for the briefest of moments, as if trying to sum up the entirety of the situation and without missing a beat, as if he had been waiting all along, to say a life-changing thing to me. He said, in the form both of a question and an assertion: “You know that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest?” “The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest,” I repeated woodenly, as if I might exhaust myself completely before I reached the end of the sentence. “What is it, then?” “The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.”
For anyone seeking a whole-hearted life, read this book!
Let's face it. There will never be a book we read as an adult that will ever touch the wonder we experienced in the books we read as children.
This week, my all-time favorite children's book has its fiftieth anniversary. I cannot remember whether I have even read most books, let alone their plot lines, but I think about From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler at least once a week. Certainly every time I visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or really any museum, I imagine myself spending the night there and what my own adventure would look like!
Since I am keeping my practice posts short snd sweet these days due to having too much work and not enough time, the New Yorker was gracious enough to write a terrific piece that captures all the joy those of us who loved it found between its covers.
And if you haven't read this wonderful book, all I can say is DO!
The New Yorker article:
As a general rule, I don't read books more than once -- unless I read them over and over again. No middle ground. They are either dog eared and worn out from reading. Or one and done!
This book is the former. I have returned to it so many times. I could go on and on trying to explain why -- or I can just share some of the deep gems of wisdom that continue to sing to my soul.
Here you go:
"The dark night of the soul is the secret way in which God not only liberates us from our attachments and idolatries, but also brings us to the realization of our true nature. The night is the means by which we find our heart's desire, our freedom for love."
“Maybe, sometimes, in the midst of things going terribly wrong, something is going just right.”
"The dark night is a profoundly good thing. It is an ongoing spiritual process in which we are liberated from attachments and compulsions and empowered to live and love more freely. Sometimes this letting go of old ways is painful, occasionally even devastating. But this is not why the night is called 'dark.' The darkness of the night implies nothing sinister, only that the liberation takes place in hidden ways, beneath our knowledge and understanding. It happens mysteriously, in secret, and beyond our conscious control. For that reason it can be disturbing or even scary, but in the end it always works to our benefit."
“We cling to things, people, beliefs, and behaviors not because we love them, but because we are terrified of losing them.”
“We may yearn to “let go and let God,” but it usually doesn’t happen until we have exhausted our own efforts.”
“Each experience of the dark night gives its gifts, leaving us freer than we were before, more available, more responsive, and more grateful. . .freedom and gratitude are abiding characteristics of the dark night. But they don’t arrive until the darkness passes. They come with the dawn.”
“This deepening of love is the real purpose of the dark night of the soul. The dark night helps us become who we are created to be: lovers of God and one another.”
"The dark night of the soul is an ongoing transition from compulsively trying to control one’s life toward a trusting freedom and openness to God and the real situations of life.”
“The dark night is nothing other than our ongoing relationship with the Divine.”
I love audiobooks -- though I'm a latecomer to this Lovefest. But living on the road, when weeks can go by without seeing anyone whom I would call a friend, these books have become my friends.
So, when I fall in love with an audiobook, I feel as though I am living it. But I don't recall really loving an audiobook as much as I loved this one. Everything came together -- the story, the characters, the narrator's gift with the Glaswegian accents. (As an inveterate mimic myself, I've been walking around ever since talking to myself in a Glaswegian accent -- mostly saying "Ferr feck's sayke. . .")
So, at the risk of being completely trite and predictable, this is the truth: I laughed out loud, I wept like a baby, and I was devastated when it ended. The story is a gift -- and the transformation of the main character is inspiring.
I read (or listen to) very little fiction any more, but this book gave me hope for the genre. Are you getting that I loved it? If you want to have a listen, here's the link. It was pure joy!
Having been brought up in the Christian tradition, it was through the use of parables in the New Testament that I learned to love power of storytelling in service of Spirit as a teaching device.
Brene Brown tells us that humans are actually "hard-wired" to learn through story. That feels true to me. If someone teaches me something simply by conveying information, I am unlikely to remember it. But if I come to understand an idea through a story, then it usually comes home and stays with me.
For many Christians, the parable of the prodigal son is one of the most redemptive stories of God's unconditional Love. Although I remember the parable well from my Sunday School years, it has been hearing it retold and reinterpreted in resources I have discovered in the past five years or so that has made the message really go in more deeply for me as an adult.
Right now, I am listening to the audiobook of Henri J.M. Nouwen's book about his encounter with Rembrandt's later painting of this beloved parable, and how it sent him on his own spiritual journey of self-discovery. As someone for whom art has always prompted deel soul-searching and soul-seeing, this book has really resonated.
But Nouwen's story is not the only retelling of this parable that has has a profound effect on me. Father Richard Rohr uses is as the lynchpin of his audiotape called Discharging Your Loyal Soldier. I have listened to this "sermon" more times than I can count now. It has been one of the most profound agents of change in my life. If you are looking to change your life and feel stuck in your old stories, spent the $8 and have a listen. You won't regret it.
A third retelling of this story came to me through Reverend Diane Berke, also in audiotape form. Her interpretation -- along with her use of stories from her own experience -- also had a profound effect on me. Although that tape is not available for purchase, a brief synopsis of the parable from her perspective is available online for anyone not familiar with the arc of the story.
I have included links to all three below.
At a time when hatred and vitriol are doing battle with our need for more not less human love, understanding the fundamental message of unconditional Divine Love seems more important to me than it has ever been. And the only place we can start to understand it is within our own lives.
Diane Berke clarifies the message of the father to his son:
You are mistaken in how you see yourself.
You are still my son, my heart's treasure, whom I love and in whom I delight.
Don't we all need to hear those words? And don't we all need to extend them to one another? This is the unconditional love that is our legacy. It is the only truth. That is what this is the unconditional love that our planet needs right now, more than ever.
We are here to love.
This past week, I had hoped to visit a place that has been legendary to me since childhood. But the weather did not cooperate. (Fortunately, I have been there once before.) It is a place I fell in love with in childhood, when I read this book.
As a lifelong horse lover, this book -- and many of Marguerite Henry's other books -- always captivated me. The idea of an island filled with wild horses who swam was simply magical!
This past week, just driving past highway signs pointing me to Chincoteague made my heart leap in joy. Although the torrential sheets of rain made it impossible to hike the dunes, as I had hoped, I nonetheless had the joy of remembering what reading felt like to me as a child. It felt like a window onto the magical world out there that I might one day discover.
Although I'm not sure that reading will ever feel quite as magical to me as an adult as it did in childhood, I am so grateful that I was able to fall in love with books -- and so with the world -- in the way that I did. And because of that, reading will always be one of the fundamental sources of joy for me, still opening up magical, misty worlds of possibility!
What childhood books brought you the most joy? Please share on our new Joy Connections page HERE
It's hard for me to pick just one John O'Donohue book to share, if you haven't read him or heard him speak. What a gift!
If you click the book link, it will take you to his website. There you can find all of his books, as well as a link to a wonderful interview with him about Beauty.
And here is one of his most beautiful prayers. Words for us all to live by and come to know:
May I have the courage today to live the life I would love ...to postpone my dream no longer. But do at last what I came here for and waste my heart on fear no more.
Well, I couldn't possibly begin sharing my book practice without Mary Oliver. When I was a kid, my dad taught me to love poetry by paying me a buck for every poem or Shakespeare soliloquy I memorized. I was a mercenary child. Since I only got a quarter a week for my allowance, I memorized with abandon. In the process, I fell in love with poetry. (Which was his devious plan, of course!)
Mary Oliver was not the first poet with whom I fell in love. That honor goes to Shakespeare, followed closely by Rainer Maria Rilke. But her poems have been the leitmotif of my life. As someone who tries to spend part of every day in nature, her evocation of the natural world as a kind of spiritual communion resonates for me in ways that nothing else has.
As a fellow peony lover, to find these words in her poem to my favorite flower stopped me in my tracks: Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
I try to -- every day.
Do you? Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
When everything around you feels unbelievably crazy, overwhelming, and stressful, that's when you need a daily practice of joy most. That's also when you are most likely to forget you ever had one.
I have been having a hard time keeping up with everything on my plate. Including my daily practice of joy. These past few weeks, I took some time off both to do some fun things and to take a spiritual retreat, and now it seems as if the Universe is punishing me for thinking I could ever have the kind of life where that is possible. I feel as though someone put far too many ingredients in the much too tiny blender of me, and now everything is spilling all over the kitchen counter and onto the newly-cleaned floor and making a horrendous mess.
I want to just take off and leave it all behind. I want to go to sleep and hope that I will wake up from this overwhelm. But I can't! So, what can I do? I can PRACTICE JOY!!
Counterintuitive, right? Practice joy when I don't even really have time to sleep? Yes!
This photo of me was taken on my only other summer vacation in recent memory -- two years ago. I saw it this morning, and it struck me that I remember everything about that vacation as if it was yesterday. And not one thing about what I'm sure was a frantic re-entry and catch up. That reminded me that this, too, will pass. And that two years from now, when I look back on this summer, I will remember my retreat, my mini-vacation, and all the joy I felt. I won't remember this frantic morning getting up at 3AM and all the panic I have about what is on my plate.
So although I will not be posting many joy practices between now and the end of August, as everything comes to a rather frantic crescendo, what I will be doing is continuing to remember to practice joy. Every single day -- be it a walk, a cuddle with my dog, or taking five minutes to enjoy the sunset.
As the new school year starts, as fall kicks into gear and summer wanes, I thought I would share this reminder with you. Remember the you who flies free, remember the way you felt when you were on vacation, and bring that person into even your most hectic moments. Keep practicing joy and take a few minutes each day to soar on the thermals that will take you above your daily worries. That you is the real you, the joyful you -- and that is the you you'll always remember. This, too, really truly will pass. . .
Little Brown Jobs. That is the colloquial term among birders for all those sparrows and other "nondescript" birds that seem hard to identify because they aren't colorful or large or distinctively marked. The idea being that you can just lump them all together, as in, "What's that bird over there?" "Oh, just one of those little brown jobs."
When I started photographing birds a few years ago, I began thinking of myself as bird paparazzi. I wanted to capture everyday birds in their everyday moments. Which is to say, I wanted to capture what it is I love about birds -- not their taxonomy or their markings. But how much I love their sweet faces, the chirping company they keep me, the way they help me connect with my surroundings so much more deeply, the way they are always teaching me to see.
I took this shot near Seneca Falls on an unseasonably hot October morning a few years ago. I have always loved it. It is just one of those little brown jobs in a bramble of branches caught in the early morning sunlight. Nothing special. Nothing remarkable. Or?
There's something about this photo that captures the quiet joy that my communion with birds brings me. The beauty of a silent morning on a hike where my only companions were birds and squirrels and snakes. I love how looking for this bird helped me see the brambles of these branches, appreciate the quality of the light. But mostly I love that, whenever I see a bird, I feel its fundamental impetus to fly. I can literally feel the energy for its next move in its current stillness. That energy connects me to my own perpetual impetus to move, and I feel a kinship, a connection with my feathered friend.
Most of us move through the world on autopilot, tuning out the mundane and hoping for the next high -- ice cream, a vacation, a new television, the Superbowl. We are trained by the media to await each piece of news announcing something momentous or dangerous or cataclysmic. That's what news is, right? Or. . .
What if we learned to celebrate and savor and truly be grateful for the quiet moments of good -- a snuggle with our dog, the smile of a baby, a bunny eating grass, a new flower in the garden, a little brown job on a branch, one stalk of asparagus? What if we saw these as the real highs of life, not the fact that the water main up the street broke or some politician did or said something reprehensible? What if our quiet connections to the everyday moments of life became the real news -- reminding us that, despite the horrific news pouring in from around the globe, every day we get to wake up to the chirping of little brown jobs in green trees under a blue sky shining with a yellow sun and remember that we have so many reasons to feel joy and to be grateful to be on this beautiful planet filled with so many sweet and beautiful creatures?
Just a thought.
As I head out for my morning walk with my sweet dog, I plan to remind myself to do just that -- be glad, give thanks, and rejoice for the small moments of sweetness that all the little brown jobs and their friends the bunnies, squirrels, and deer bring me today.
And so it is.
I love birds so much. They are my metaphor, my joy, and my constant companions on the road. Because I have lived west of the Rockies for most of my life, I never cease to be awed by cardinals. We don't have them in the West. Their red suits, black masks, jaunty caps, teasing calls, and sturdy orange beaks always make me smile. The more time I spend with them, the better I have come to know them. They have become my daily friends.
It is said that, whenever a cardinal lingers near us, it is a relative or loved one who has passed, reminding us of their presence -- sometimes even with a particular message for us. That may be true. If so, the message is always the same. Joy. Remember joy! Because I cannot help but see the bright red cardinal and feel joy.
I took this photograph earlier this year near Knoxville, Tennessee, in the late winter. It captures the essence of what I always love about cardinals -- that splash of color in the sometimes grey landscape of our lives. Sometimes more than others, we need that splash of color. Lately, I've been needing my friends the cardinals a lot.
The poet Mary Oliver wrote a whole book of poems called Red Bird. There are two poems about cardinals in particular that I love from that book. So, I thought I would share both. As is always the case, Mary Oliver says everything I would like to say far more beautifully than I ever could.
I hope these poems bring you as much joy as they bring me:
The book opens with this poem:
Red bird came all winter
Firing up the landscape
As nothing else could.
Of course I love the sparrows,
Those dun-colored darlings,
So hungry and so many.
I am a God-fearing feeder of birds,
I know he has many children,
Not all of them bold in spirit.
Still, for whatever reason-
Perhaps because the winter is so long
And the sky so black-blue,
Or perhaps because the heart narrows
As often as it opens-
I am grateful
That red bird comes all winter
Firing up the landscape
As nothing else can do.
The books closes with this one:
Red Bird Explains Himself
“Yes, I was the brilliance floating over the snow
and I was the song in the summer leaves, but this was
only the first trick
I had hold of among my other mythologies,
for I also knew obedience: bringing sticks to the nest,
food to the young, kisses to my bride.
But don’t stop there, stay with me: listen.
If I was the song that entered your heart
then I was the music of your heart, that you wanted and needed,
and thus wilderness bloomed there, with all its
followers: gardeners, lovers, people who weep
for the death of rivers.
And this was my true task, to be the
music of the body. Do you understand? for truly the body needs
a song, a spirit, a soul. And no less, to make this work,
the soul has need of a body,
and I am both of the earth and I am of the inexplicable
beauty of heaven
where I fly so easily, so welcome, yes,
and this is why I have been sent, to teach this to your heart.”
I am an #avgeek. To those of you who are not #avgeeks, that means I love airplanes and aviation. Which is to say, I seem to know and care more than the average person about things aeronautical.
Thing is, it is not really about planes as mechanical objects. I'd be hard pressed to tell you exactly where an aileron is located on an airplane, though I know planes have to have them to fly. It's that last word that makes me an #avgeek, because it makes my heart sing: The word FLY.
To me, planes remain what they have been for me since childhood -- magical winged creatures flying through the ethereal blue, going to places far far away.
This magical thinking is why I have an app on my phone called Flight Radar 24, on which I can see a map like this -- showing me the locations of planes all over the world in a live feed.
Whenever I hear or see a plane overhead, I look up first -- see the logo and the type of plane, and then I look down and fill in the blanks. Southwest 737. Check. Going where? To Punta Cana. And that's where the fun begins.
Suddenly, I am in that plane, in my preferred exit row seat with the long leg room over the wing, looking out the window at the beautiful world below heading to a place I have never been -- the Dominican Republic! First I imagine my feelings about the place below. The place that the real me is standing right now. I see it from above. What am I feeling? Gratitude or curiosity, perhaps. Then I begin to feel my excitement about where I am headed. The pictures in my mind of what I will do once I get there. I feel that delightful frisson of adventure that I always love. Next I pictures my seatmates, and think about the conversation I might initiate. Or perhaps I am engrossed in a book or just staring at the clouds while listening to soothing music. I am there, on that flight, in my mind.
Why do I do this? As a little girl, I had a map of the world over my bed on which I tracked my parents' movements. Wherever they were, I moved a little flag that represented them. I saw them in my minds' eye as they traveled. Then I grew up, and I began moving around the world. After a while, I began to encounter a very unlikely fear of flying -- an anxiety that belied my joy in travel. It seemed so silly to be afraid of something I love so much.
In almost every spiritual tradition, we learn some version of this: Perfect Love removes fear. In creating my Daily Practice of Joy, I invited Love back into my life in every area -- including flying. Which is to say, I invited my childlike joy back.
When I look up and see planes, when I look at this map and see where they are going or have come from, I remember the magic carpet joy of childhood that planes always elicited. I remember the excitement of riding on my first double-decker 747, my first trip to London descending through the fog and finally seeing the green green fields of my mother's homeland below, flights to Hawaii where an orchid on the food tray spoke volumes about the paradise that lay waiting for my arrival, and the way I felt seeing the lights of my hometown sprawled out like scattered jewels below me as we landed.
When I first began creating a Daily Practice of Joy, I had no idea what it would bring. But I have followed it wherever it has led -- including finding this app that lets me go to Singapore or return from St Petersburg -- in my mind.
As it all turns out, this joy practice and this app also does something unexpectedly wonderful: It allows me to see our planet in our connection instead of our isolation. The tracks of these planes are like those of migratory birds, following unseen paths across the sky to known destinations. We all do this -- all species. We travel and then we return or create home. Yes, we humans require metal tubes with wings that we must find a way to fly without the fuels that harm the planet. But through them we connect in ways that never before were possible!
As we face a world in which the language of fear and isolation and difference is clamoring for our attention, it is so important to do whatever it takes to choose connection and conversation and communion. Even a silly little app that can remind us that we are all going someplace or coming home from somewhere. Looking for the same thing that is already right where we are now -- that perfect Love that casts out fear.
The summer of 2016 was the summer of all things blue. Including these sweet bright blue birds -- Indigo Buntings -- I had the privilege of seeing almost daily on my hikes through the Mohonk Preserve in New York. Blue -- the color of distance, the color of light, the color of hope, the color of infinity. This blue bird perched in the blue ready felt like me last summer. . .on the cusp of taking wing. But not quite ready. Blue.
To read more about my show and where this image fits into my journey, click Learning to See: BLUE
One of the things I love most about photographing birds is that I never really know what I'm going to see until later.
I love hummingbirds. To imagine the sheer mileage these tiny birds cover in their lifetimes always amazes me. They make my travel life seem mundane. To see one in January is always wonderful, which is what happens in California (unlike other parts of the US).
I saw this one on a morning hike near my hotel in Novato, California, and began taking photos. It wasn't until I downloaded them that I saw the little surprise. . . .
I have always thought of myself as a Great Blue Heron. Tall, gangly, all angles, prone to stare ceaselessly at something or someone that fascinates me, a water lover, mostly solitary, a flier of long distances, yet also a creature of habit.
I saw this Great Blue Heron at the Sea Ranch in Northern California in January 2017 during a break in a series of powerful storms that lashed the coast. As s/he stared at a prospective morsel in the marsh, I stared at him/her. We were aware of one another's presence, but respectfully and sweetly. We saw one another almost every day for two weeks. I certainly came to think of him/her as my friend. I hope s/he felt the same.
I love this photo. The powerful surf behind this beautiful bird that I have long considered my daemon or totem animal seems to capture the freedom and joy I always feel when in the presence of our winged friends.
Do you have a totem animal?
As anyone who has spent a lifetime being a finicky eater well knows, going out to eat can sometimes be more trouble than it's worth. So the discovery of restaurants that cater to picky people like me is cause for pure joy! When I told my publisher that I wanted to celebrate my book launch at a paleo restaurant next month, she looked at me like I was nuts. But to me, it feels like the biggest special treat in the world to enjoy delicious food that I love.
This past Sunday I received the sweetest gift of brunch at a paleo restaurant. The wait to get in was over an hour, but I didn't care. I sat at the bar, watched hip fit attractive young people file in and eat, while I sipped something I had always wanted to try -- Golden Turmeric Latte. I took a picture of it not just because it was both delicious and so so scrumptiously yellow, but because that one frothy warm drink embodied everything I was feeling that morning.
It embodied love. I felt loved. I felt grateful. I felt present. I felt hopeful. I felt joy.
When I first read about Golden Turmeric Latte, I read how beneficial it was to combat all our modern-day worries and anxiety and stress. That may or may not be true. But what I do know was that that pretty frothy warm yellow cup of Love cured all that ailed me that morning. And that is what I will always remember. To be known and loved -- and to stop the frantic march of work long enough to remember that -- is all that matters.
There's a reason we lift our cups and say cheers! So here's to whatever cheers you up today -- and brings you a cup full of joy.
I have always been a picky eater. I don't eat very many things -- the list of what I will not eat being far longer than what I do -- but what I do eat, I eat with gusto and gratitude. I refuse to let my limited palate take away from my enjoyment of delicious things.
I am constantly on the lookout for things I can eat that bring me joy. When that doesn't include any grains, sugar, dairy, legumes . . . and the list goes on . . . well, it's more of a challenge than you might imagine. Yet it's one I take on with eagerness.
So imagine my delight when I discovered a restaurant this week that serves paleo everything, including one of my most all time favorite things -- empanadas.
I ADORE empanadas. I still remember the first time I had one -- in Argentina. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was like a hand-held pot pie. Flaky, warm, filled with beautifully seasoned beef. YUM! New Mexico, my home base for the last quarter century, also does empanadas very well. They were long one of my favorite special treats! So does England, though they are called pasties there. I was always on the lookout for a good empanada/pastie. Until I went gluten, and then eventually grain free. I haven't had an empanada in years. Until this week.
This was my lunch on Tuesday: Paleo lamb empanadas with an organic salad with watermelon radishes, which I also adore. That's even a dairy-free and delicious pesto on the side. OMG! It's been a long time since I felt like a kid in a candy store around food. Tuesday I did. I even had low glycemic chocolate chia pudding for dessert.
The thing is -- the older I get the less excitable I am. I worry about that sometimes. Am I flatlining? But the other day when I discovered this restaurant, I did feel excited. Not giddy and jumping up and down with joy excitement. But pretty close. That's when I realized that what I was really feeling was gratitude.
As we get older, the more we have experienced, the less newness there is for us to discover. That might seem like a bad thing. In fact, it's not. No, these empanadas were not anything as delicious as those ones I first had in Argentina, or even my favorite pasties in England. But they were delicious enough to make me feel an almost reverential gratitude. They made me appreciate every bite.
I realize that these days I approach life with more of a quiet gratitude for all the good I have been given. That good is a quiet good mostly -- a beautiful flower, watching a child dance in joy, a friendly conversation with a total stranger. The kinds of quiet good I usually missed in some of the giddy excitement of my younger years. Then, however, I'm not sure I would have appreciated the quiet joy of a meal like this. Just as I'm not sure I would have understood that sometimes the best thing about any day is the quietest -- not the beautiful music of the concert I attended last night, though beautiful it was and in a beautiful setting -- but the sweet flyby of a hummingbird helicoptering by my ear as I sat in a garden having a conversation with a friend.
Quiet joy. It's something I know I will find every day. And for that, I am deeply grateful.
I don't get out much these days, so when I do, I try to make the most of it.
The other night, I went out to dinner and a concert with a friend. When he asked me what kind of food I wanted, I immediately said Mexican. Because really, when it comes right down to it, my desert island foods would be tortilla chips and dark chocolate. (I mean, really, if you're going to be stuck on some fictional desert island, you might as well enjoy yourself!)
So he picked a place he liked, and as we were walking there, he told me that the last time he had eaten there, he had tried grasshoppers. Game on, I thought! Grasshoppers, it is.
I love Austin. Instead of the usual offerings of supersize everything that most food establishments bring to the table, our waiter gave us earnest and detailed lectures on sustainability. Telling us where everything was sourced and how. Grasshoppers, it all turns out, are ridiculously high in protein -- like the entire bowl we ate had as much protein as a whole cow. They can feed developing nations, are completely sustainable, and now are being sourced for things such as high-protein paleo flour. Even better, I thought. Now let's see how they taste!
I'm going to give you two answers. Pick the one that allows you to get past the fact that I ate a whole bowl of grasshoppers.
a) They taste a little like popcorn.
b) They taste like crunchy sauteed insects.
Yes, they were an acquired taste. But I acquired it. Now, I'm still not sure I'm up to buying grasshoppers at my local store and sauteeing them up myself. At least not if I have to see their little legs. But I'm all for sustainable foods -- especially ones that seem like snacks.
At the end of the day, however, for me it really is all about a growing consciousness about the food chain, and what we are choosing to do to caretake this planet for generations to come.
Grasshoppers or no, we must all learn to see ourselves as part of the Whole. Joy, as it all turns out, is the ultimate renewable resource. It connects us to one another, to the planet, and to the Universe. And whatever flows out always flows back in. Let us all commit to sustaining ourselves, one another, and our planet -- in JOY!
My parents had a ton of old-fashioned expressions -- many of which seemed to be food or animal related. I wonder sometimes, if the next generation will know them.
Happy as a clam. Because clams look like they are always smiling. One wonders if bivalves have emotions of any kind, and if so, since they are mostly consumed, whether happiness is even on the bivalve spectrum.
My mother's idiomatic expressions were always rather confusing to me as a little girl. Some were perfectly clear, of course. To be a bull in a china shop gave me an excellent visual. I was actually more like a condor in a china shop, because the moment one of my ridiculous long skinny arms went out, many breakable things fell down.
Another bovine expression: A faraway cow with long horns. I always loved that one, although, like so many of my mother’s oft-used truisms, she (nor anyone else) ever explained what it meant. Which left me to decide for myself.
To me, that faraway cow has come to stand for fear. I see that cow, at the far end of a meadow, with HUMONGOUS horns, and I imagine him looking across the grass and sizing me up before suddenly deciding to come after me. The closer he gets, the bigger the horns become. Until, of course, I finally realize that I’ve had my eyes closed the whole time and the cow is still on the other side of the field, placidly chewing its cud. Eventually I edge around the pasture to get a better look at the terrifying beast with its life-threatening horns, only to find they never were that big at all. Not only that, the cow would far rather eat than run anywhere.
Two pudding-related expressions. The proof is in the pudding. And Don’t overegg the pudding. To this day, not being a pudding eater, I have no idea exactly what happens when you put too many eggs in a pudding or what the desired pudding proof might be. And who would have even thought eggs en evwent in puddings? I often wondered what eggs did to a pudding, until I finally got that the only proof that can ever exist is in our own individual puddings. How something feels to us. How it translates into our lived reality. And how it affects those we love.
Her most gruesome expression by far was Don't cut off your nose to spite your face. That's just plain morbid. She was worried I would be freaked out by my dad's horror movies and she was talking about people cutting their noses off their faces?!?
But my favorite food-based expression came from my dad. Although I am not a superstitious person, I have never been able to break myself of saying bread and butter when one person walks around an object that is taller than us both, if I have gone around the other. I think it's a Midwestern thing. He used to make me say it so "we wouldn't get into an argument". And since my dad was possibly the most conflict avoidant person on the planet, that never surprised me. Then one day, a Midwesterner said to me, "Well, of course. You can't let something come between you." First time that ever occurred to me.
You say Bread and butter, of course, because they go together. You don't really ever want to toss back a pat of butter. And bread, as far as I am concerned, is best viewed as a butter conduit. By invoking bread and butter, you are reversing the separation that has ostensibly just occurred with a phrase that brings you both back together. But BOTH people have to say it!
Of course, I have a best friend who is, well, recalcitrant. Always. She cannot bring herself to say bread and butter back to me. I have trained everyone else in my life to at least begrudgingly utter it. They unwillingly mutter bread and butter, because it is a far better alternative than having to deal with my irritation or the slight possibility of something conflictual between us coming to fruition. (Come to think of it, my irritation and conflict are pretty much the same thing, right?) But my best friend uses it as an opportunity to show off her creative verbal acuity with Chalk and Cheese, or Peanut Butter and Bacon. Green Eggs and Ham.
I don't have one other superstition. But I don't suppose I will ever break myself of saying Bread and Butter. I think the way that relates to my Daily Practice of Joy -- aside from evoking sweet memories of childhood walks with my dad -- is that joy is all about connection. Connection matters way to me that overcoming some silly old-fashioned superstition that I really don't believe. I would far rather say Bread and Butter in order to remain Happy as a Clam in connection with my fellow human beings! Wouldn't we all? No matter how the people in the news appear to behave, I believe the answer we all feel in our hearts in a deep and resounding YES!
Yes, this food truck is called Ms P's Electric Cock. Enough said, right?
I LOVE Austin. An oasis of weird and wonderful in the middle of Texas. I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time here over the past three years, working on a project. I always look forward to being here, because I feel like I fit in. Keep Austin Weird -- the city slogan -- means that unique, iconoclastic, authentic, or just plain kooky people and behaviors are not just accepted, but rather celebrated.
Living in a world where it is possible to eat the same thing at the same restaurant in almost every country -- the ubiquity of KFC of McDonalds -- Austin's fun food scene is a reflection of its vibe. I've had some amazing meals here, but sometimes it's the atmosphere that I fall in love with. And that's saying a lot for me -- because I am a picky eater. So the fact that the vibe outweighs the food, that I love just going to people watch and feel connected in joy right where I am is a testimony to the true coolness of Austin.
My two current I-love-the-vibe favorites both include Austin's canine residents. And since Allie, my traveling companion, is four legged, I love that I can share my meals with her.
Yard Bar is a bar/hamburger joint/dog park. I can take my dog to play with other dogs, and then we can both sit down and enjoy our meals together -- entrees and desserts for us both! And the people watching is awesome. Surf Shack is right on the lake. People come by car or boat to eat casual food and soak up the awesome lake vibe. Although I tend to wolf my food down in order to get back to work, I feel like I could hang and just enjoy the Surf Shack all evening long!
But what I also love about Austin is that, no matter how weird my food requests are, they've heard it all already. I once ordered a smoothie from my local place, which they told me was in the top five weirdest smoothies they had ever made. They said that with admiration. Well, being just a tad competitive, I had to go for it all. By the time I left town, I had worked my way up to Number One. Now, whenever I come back, they welcome me with a big smile -- ready for the day's crazy concoction!
I feel so grateful to have had this opportunity to really get to know Austin, and to have found a place where being weird is celebrated. I, for one, intend to do my level best to do whatever it takes to Keep Austin -- and its wonderful food scene -- Weird!
A few years ago, my friend Heyward, who owns an amazing chocolate shop in Santa Fe called Todos Santos, told me that he'd read about a woman in England, who made life masks of my dad in chocolate. So, I searched for her online and that year, for Christmas, I gave my dear friend and colleague Peter one. Because everything that goes around eventually really does come around, this year the three of us, along with the awesome Electric Cinema in Birmingham, England, threw my dad a wonderful birthday bash. And THIS was his cake! With a real swinging pendulum!!!
It was hard to know which joy practice to post in in -- Food or Fun -- because it was certainly both. WOW! The bottom layer was Death by Chocolate and the middle Red Velvet -- and it had dripping blood everywhere as well as references to some of my dad's best films. The pendulum itself was given away to the birthday bash guest with the best question -- and his name just happened to be Vincent!
One of the greatest gifts of my life and this joy practice is getting to meet and collaborate with wonderful people. (Peter, of course, is Numero Uno on that list.) But Annabel and her husband Tom are both such a delight -- and I feel sure that we have many more fun collaborations in us.
In the meantime, if you need a cake, chocolate, or any other confection that takes food to a whole new level of fun, get in touch with Annabel at Conjurer's Kitchen. She will make you something that will blow your mind and your tastebuds! And working with her to create it will, I guarantee, be Pure Joy!!
What is it about certain foods that look so, well, FUN that they just make you want to eat them?
I don't eat white sugar. I haven't eaten it in over 30 years. But EVERY SINGLE TIME I see Macarons, I want not just one, but one of every color. The same is true of M & Ms. It's all the colors. They make you feel like a kid -- a kid who could eat anything.
A few years ago, a friend whom I know to be both a foodie and a wordsmith wrote about Macarons. I was perplexed, because I thought she meant MacarOOns. I messaged her and, as a result, got to learn all about the resurgence of Macarons.
For those of you who don't know, a Macaron is a sweet meringue-based confection made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder or ground almond, and food coloring -- invented by the Italian chef of Catherine de Medici.
I saw this window full of Macarons in Luxembourg last fall, and it was all I could to not to buy one of every color. I didn't, of course. My I Don't Eat White Sugar ethos has been in place for so long now, that I'm barely tempted. But the thing is, now I wish I had.
So, within the next few weeks, I plan to rectify that.
You see, I am really trying to shift my joy practice around food. I grew up with a mother who felt that if you looked at a potato, let alone ate one, you would gain 500 pounds. I was allowed ONE HARD CANDY a week and the occasional ice cream, and my sandwiches were made on bread so thin that whatever she put inside had already seeped through and overcome the bread by lunchtime. It was disgusting. As a result, I have always snuck my sweets and treats -- even as an adult. I am a closet eater. The fact that I eat very healthy foods does not mean I am a healthy eater. I am forever either rewarding or depriving myself.
But this year, I have been trying something different. An experiment of eating from the inside out -- not the other way around. From a place of gratitude, mindfulness, and, yes, joy. Choosing what and how to eat from my heart and from a place of kindness toward myself, not self-loathing about everything I eat. I have gained a few pounds, but I feel so much more centered and balanced. Every so often I find the old self-loathing around food surfacing. But practicing joy around eating is really helping. That's why I included this practice. It is truly a practice I hope will change my life around food into a more holistic one.
So, next week, as I head to England and France, should I pass a window of Macarons that are beckoning me, I have promised myself to go in and have a few. A blue one, for sure! I mean who doesn't love the idea of a blue cookie!! I'm sure it will taste ridiculously sweet to someone who hasn't had sugar like this in decades, but sweeter still will be the fact that I am choosing joy and trusting that!
So, stay tuned for the update. . .and if you have any suggestions for the best place in London or Paris to get Macarons, or what colors to get, please share! But more importantly, if you have any holistic eating practices or joy practices that have helped you around any food issues you may have, I would be so grateful if you shared them.
And, as my dad always said, Bon Appetit!
Since I'm in Savannah, Georgia, this morning, I thought I would write about one of the most memorable dishes of my adult life.
Growing up as I did, with two foodies parents who enjoyed eating incredible meals all over the world, I have had the good fortune of trying almost anything and everything I have every wanted to eat. Being a finicky eater, however, the places we ate were often more memorable than the food itself.
Although I love enjoying a good meal as much as the next person, but frankly it's rare for one dish to knock my socks off -- as this dish did the first time I had it on my first trip to Savannah almost a decade ago. First of all, it's a fish dish -- and with the exception of Wolfgang Puck's Whole Sizzling Catfish with Ginger and Ponzu sauce at Chinois on Main in the 1980s, I would be hard pressed to name one other singularly memorable fish dish in my entire life.
Until this Crispy Scored Flounder with Apricot Shallot Sauce at Garibaldi's and The Olde Pink House here in Savannah. Our host recommended that I order it, so, basically because I believe in When in Rome, I did. I was blown away. So much so that I have tried to have it every time I have come to Savannah -- and recommended that countless people have it when they come.
I could rave about the texture -- crispy on the outside, melt in your mouth tender on the inside -- or the glorious layered tastebud revelations of the sauce. But that wouldn't begin to do it justice. Since I think what I loved most was the joy-filled surprise of it all.
If joy is the pure and simple delight in being alive, then eating this dish reminded me of the pure and simple delight in discovering and sharing a glorious food experience. I have never forgotten that evening. I felt so purely and gratefully happy to be exactly where I was -- the company, the place, my first visit to SCAD (the incredible Savannah College of Art and Design) -- and the unexpected WOW! of this dish seemed to mirror that experience in a way that meals rarely do for me.
For me, at least, Joy when it comes to food is all about the experience of shared gratitude -- and I will forever be grateful for that evening and the manner in which this fish dish "mirrored" the joy of a wonderful experience.
OK. Let's be honest. Part of me just wants to write this post because I love the alliteration. Another part of me figures how often do you get to use the words fiddlehead fern in a sentence! But the fact of the matter is that fiddlehead ferns are delicious.
I discovered them last spring in Bar Harbor, Maine, at their local food coop. They were so cool looking, so I just had to try them. I asked someone who worked there how to cook them, and she suggested I saute them with a little garlic, olive oil and sea salt. So I did. OMG! They were fantastic! Crunchy with a slightly bitter (think asparagus or arugula -- which happen to be my two favorite vegetables) taste.
I am not sure that you can find them everywhere, but my guess is that anyone in the Northeast or Northwest can probably get them. If you can, do! And saute them up like the coop lady taught me, and prepare to be amazed.
Apparently their season is quite short. Once they turn into fronds, you can't eat them. But while you can get them, they are fantastic. And, of course, like anything this marvelous, they also happen to be incredibly good for you, as I discovered in this recent article.
So move over kale and broccoli -- two foods whose appeal I'm sorry to say is utterly lost on me -- and welcome fiddlehead ferns! I promise you that you will feel only joy eating them. Not only are they ridiculously cute, but they are absolutely delicious.
In fact, I think that we should create a new superfood group: Joyfoods. So stay tuned for my next joyfood post. And, in the meantime, please share your joyfoods with all of us! What foods bring you joy (without all that ridiculous guilt we are taught to have when we really enjoy something)? Because joy -- and so joyfoods, too -- is meant to be shared!!!
Last night a dear friend sent me and Allie a New Years Eve video from her dog -- who appeared to be speaking. It was AWESOME!! When I asked her how she did it, she shared her secret -- an app called My Talking Pet. I immediately downloaded it and then spent my New Years Eve pretending to be my dog sending everyone Happy New Years messages. It was SO MUCH FUN!!!
One of my intentions this year is to find more joy in my blog posts. To keep them shorter and sweet, aspirational and inspirational, hopeful and healing -- and, of course, full of joy. So, Allie and I figured this Fun video would be the perfect way to kick off the New Year.
As we all move into a New Year with hope for the healing of our planet, let's all remember what a woman, who overcame immense hardship and whose story continues to bring healing to so many, knew in her heart: "Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties." (Helen Keller)
Wishing you all a joy-filled hopeful and healing New Year from me and Allie. We hope to see you on the road in 2018.
Yesterday I had the great joy of spending Thanksgiving with two boys under seven years old. After dinner, we all participated in Mad Libs. I had completely forgotten about Mad Libs, and how much I loved them when I was a kid. Basically, Mad Libs are stories where you fill in the blanks with parts of speech and then read the result out loud. At one point, Brennan, who is six and a half, read a totally absurd sentence about rhinoceros served with toenail gravy and just lost it. Not silly crazy lost it, but doubled over with hysteria at the absurdity of it all. Of course, we adults all started laughing too. Pure silly unfiltered joyous laughter.
So today is the Friday after Thanksgiving -- a day which we now call Black Friday. Isn't it interesting how we can come to believe that something is normal, when in fact, it is utterly crazy? That's how I feel about Black Friday. Now we have to have Opt-Outside Friday when outdoor stores close and national parks waive their fees to remind us to go outside and enjoy ourselves in nature after sitting around eating copious amounts of food. Frankly, the whole thing seems, well, a bit mad to me.
And so, in honor of Brennan and his younger brother Dylan, I have decided to create a Black Friday Mad Lib as today's joy practice for all of you to share with your family. I hope you have some fun with it -- and get a good laugh at the absurdness of all us human beings and our mania for consumption.
______________ (color) _______________ (day of the week) is a ________________ (adjective) day for ______________ (plural noun). As the first ___________ (day of the week) after ____________ (holiday), it marks the unofficial beginning of the _____________ (holiday) ___________ (noun) season. Many ________________ (plural noun) give their _____________ (plural noun) the day off as part of the ________________ (holiday) weekend.
Most major _________________ (plural noun) open very early, more recently during _____________ (adjective) hours, and offer _______________ (adjective) sales.
______________ (color) __________________ (day of the week) is the busiest _____________ (noun) in _____________ (country) since _______________ (year). It is common for shoppers to ______________ (verb) over _______________ (holiday) in an effort to have a better chance at getting ____________ (plural noun).
_______________ (color) ____________________ (day of the week) is the time when _______________ (plural noun) finally begin to _______________ (verb) a profit for the year -- or _____________ (verb) into the __________________ (color). In accounting terms, losing _______________ (noun) is called being in the _________________ (color) because _____________________ (people plural) use ________________ (color) _________________ (plural noun) when they lose _________________ (noun).
Now ____________________ (color) ____________________ (day of the week) isn't just one day. It starts a ______________ (period of time) before ___________________ (holiday) and goes on for _____________ (number) days. _________________ (color) ___________________ (day of the week) started in ______________ (country) where kids learn that _____________ (plural noun) must ________________ (verb) things they don't really _______________ (verb) in order to be __________________ (adjective). Doesn't this seem a little __________________ (adjective) to you?
This is going to be a short post, since I will be driving a van full of guys to Barcelona in an hour. This is a post about the sweetness of memory -- and the simple childhood experience of fun.
Wherever I go, whenever I see a lion, I think of my mother. She loved stone lions. (She particularly loved them when their paws were crossed.) Whenever I see a lion and think of my mother, I am filled with joy.
My relationship with my mother wasn't always joy-filled, and it certainly wasn't always fun. But when I see a lion and remember how she loved them and how she loved sharing them with me, I feel the fun of spotting and sharing them that we always had together.
Fun doesn't have to be rollie coasters or zip lining or even ice cream cones. Fun can be the simple connection between two people on their own quiet joy-filled adventure.
When I saw this stone lion in Avila, Spain, a few days ago, of course I thought of my mother. I ran over to take a picture of it and feel her presence there with me. It was the sweetest of moments. Gone were the difficult feelings that sometimes have accompanied my memories of my mom. Instead I was filled with gratitude for her sweetness, for her love of all animals, and for her desire to share that love with me -- her daughter.
I am so grateful for all the ways my mother still lives on in me. I have felt her so many times on this trip to Spain -- and every time in pure joy. That is such an immense healing for me. But none more sweetly that in the quiet FUN of spotting every stone lion and, each time, saying a sweet and grateful hello to my mom.
Yesterday as I was leaving the pet store with my dog Allie, I saw a car with this magnet on it.
A distant thought surfaced, "You used to have that magnet on your car. . ."
A second thought meandered up, "A few years ago, you wrote a blog about that magnet and remembering to make time to play. . ."
Huh, I thought to myself. Then I got back to my To Do List.
I was dropping Allie off at her dog sitter, and needed to make sure I had everything in order.
When Allie and I got out of the car at her sitter's house, I grabbed two full bags of all her stuff, and then Allie -- who proceeded to pull me off my feet to her sitter's door, whine at the door, then run inside as soon as it opened, and grab her toys there. She bounded around playing with her sitter and me and the other dogs the whole time I was there.
Allie and I take two long walks a day. At least five miles. She meets other dogs and sniffs all the delicious neighborhood smells.
About once a day, I throw a toy for Allie.
We snuggle on the sofa, and she sleeps with me at night when I sleep.
I think we have a very nice life together.
But. . .
I know she is bored. She often looks up at me as if to say, "So when do we actually get to have fun?"
This morning, as I opened my blog and searched for a page on which to post, I noticed that the page with the least posts by far is this one -- FUN. Even FOOD has more posts than this page, and I barely eat anything interesting.
I began this Daily Practice of Joy as an antidote to my workaholism. How's that going these days?
Fun. Make Time for Play.
The fact is -- I have forgotten how.
Today is Labor Day. I excel at labor. I labor all day long. I even labor in my sleep, which is why I rarely sleep and almost never wake up rested. Labor is my comfort zone. I have no clue how to enjoy myself without doing something productive. Even my Daily Practice of Joy activities are just that -- active. I get a minimum of 15,000 steps, I photograph, I learn something.
I remember that I used to like beach vacations. I can't imagine letting myself sit on a beach and read now.
The past two days have been one speedbump after another. No water in the neighborhood for twelve hours on my laundry day. I have dropped -- a carton of eggs, my green smoothie, all the dish soap, and my phone at least five times. Not to mention that it took me three days to find a gas station that was open (gas shortage here in Texas) to fill the car.
I was supposed to hit the road today, but all of those speedbumps made me stop. I am going to hit the road tomorrow instead, and today, while I am packing, prepping, and ticking off all the things of my long Labor Day To Do List, I am going to try -- for a few hours not just to remember to make time for play, but to remember how.
Fun. I created a whole page on this website for Fun. Now I just need to figure out how to have it.
Honestly, do I even need to write anything about this photo to explain why I am including it in my Daily Practice of Joy?
If this picture doesn't just ooze joy, then nothing does.
I captured this delightful duo on the Friday of the May Bank Holiday weekend in Kensington Park in London.
Everything about this photo makes me smile -- as did my sweet exchange with this puppy and her owner.
Sometimes pure joy is as simple as a puppy in a park!
To celebrate the last five days of my first-ever art show, I've decided to use some of the images as prompts for this week's practice posts.
I took this photo last September in Amsterdam at a fountain in the gardens outside the Rijksmuseum. The day was unseasonably hot for September, and kids were playing in the fountain. I snapped away, the joy all around me palpable. But there was something about this image in particular that struck me -- the freedom and ease of being a child. So when I included it in the show, I incorporated words into the fountain that captured that unconscious ease of all the things that we did with joy -- that I did with joy -- as a child: When I was a child, I played twirled laughed ran skipped sang as a child.
When I first began writing this blog, my prompt was a photo of myself as a little girl -- and how far away I felt from the easy joy that little girl seemed to exude. I wanted to rediscover her inside my adult self. That's what setting the intention of practicing joy every day has given me permission to do -- to rediscover that childlike joy.
I can't say that I succeed every day in accessing my childlike joy. But having given myself permission to find her, the good news is that I now know she is still there. That she can laugh and be silly and play, find ridiculous ideas hilarious and get excited about the most inconsequential things.
Almost every spiritual path reminds us to return to beginner's mind or to become as a little child. But this can't just be some grown-up idea of what a little child is like. Full of reverential wonder and awe at their first bumblebee or field of wildflowers. When I was a little girl, I used to go to my friends' birthday parties and eat all the frosting flowers that no one wanted to eat -- off of everyone else's plates. Because sweets were rationed in my house, this was pure joy for me! (Albeit perhaps not for the hosts of the party, as I'm sure I was on a serious sugar high afterwards. . .) It became a ritual. My friends saved their flowers for me, and I went from plate to plate eating them with abandon.
Most adults would aver that this definitely isn't what Buddha or Jesus were on about when they talked about beginner's mind. And yet, for someone who has struggled with food issues her whole life, why wouldn't I want to just feel easy unthinking joy at eating what was put in front of me (and all my friends)? A little more joy and a little less fear in this and every area of my life cannot help but be a good thing.
What are some of the things you did with easy joy when you were a child? Make a list. Then go out and try them. (Hint: If you skipped as a child, try it one day. It is absolutely impossible to skip without feeling joy!)
And then, no matter what is on your list -- add this one. It will change your life: When I was a child, I loved as a child.
Then just do it. Trust me, it will rock your world!
I grew up with baseball-loving parents. We were all rabid Dodgers fans -- and so I have had the great good fortune of going to many games, including playoffs and World Series. From the time I could read, the first thing I would do every morning was check the standings in the newspaper to see how my beloved Dodgers were faring. I once even got up at 2AM in Germany, crept quietly out into the hall, curled up next to a transistor radio to listen to the American Forces Network radio broadcast of the 1978 World Series with my Boys in Blue, which was filtered through an opera broadcast.
So when I heard that my Dodgers would be playing the Cleveland Indians -- in a very rare interleague game between the two clubs -- and that Clayton Kershaw (an individual as extraordinary off the mound as on it) would be pitching, it was a no brainer.
Or was it?
You see, much as I love my Dodgers, a night at a baseball game, and sports in general, I have a hard time giving myself the gift of fun. If other people are involved, that's one thing. Joining in. Treating them. Organizing it. But just for me? MUCH harder.
My Daily Practice of Joy to the rescue! Two plus years into this process, I know better than to listen to those nasty you don't deserve it voices in my head! So I bought my ticket and off I went.
What a glorious evening! Walking toward the stadium, I spied three people in Dodgers gear ahead of me, so I caught up and asked if I could walk with them. They gladly agreed. We chatted about our team and encountered some fun razzing and a few high fives on our way to the stadium. Going through security, the guard told me that I was very welcome in Cleveland, but that if I wanted to wear my Dodgers cap, it would cost me an extra $50! The good-natured ribbing continued all night long.
There were lots of Dodgers fans in attendance, and the Indians fans were very welcoming. We all enjoyed a fantastic game! (My boys won!) But what I enjoyed the most is what I always enjoy about a baseball game -- this very paradoxical feeling of being in a large space filled with people rooting for their team to win, and yet feeling like I am also in a totally Zen place. By that I mean, sitting quietly overlooking a huge bright green field surrounded by a big sky, not doing anything. Just being. This curiously wonderful paradox feels deeply connective and peaceful, even as it feels exciting and joyful. I love it!
I left the game last night so grateful -- not that my Dodgers won (though that was lovely), nor that I had ticked seeing Clayton Kershaw pitch or visiting Progressive field off my baseball bucket list (though I enjoyed both immensely) -- but rather that my Daily Practice of Joy is teaching me to be kinder to myself, to trust myself, to know myself . . . and so to find connection and joy in all the right places, beginning with my own heart.
Are there places or experiences you know bring you joy, but you talk yourself out of? Make this your Summer of Yes, and try letting yourself be led by your heart. Your whole life will thank you!
So, here's the back story. For the past 25 years, I have not been a birthday celebrator. But when pushed about what I want to do on my birthday, I say the same thing over and over again: I wish someone would create a scavenger hunt or road rally that I could do with my friends. That sounds like so much fun!
Well, 25 years have passed. People keep asking me what I want to do for my birthday. I give the same answer. Nothing. When pushed I tell the scavenger hunt story. It's come to be a godsend. Because it usually shuts them right up about celebrations.
So last month (my birthday's in April), my dear dear Karen here in New York asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday when I came in May. I gave my same old answer. Nothing. But she pushed me. Surely there's something you want to do. So I told her that, if I had to choose something, I would like to go to The Cloisters in May. I'd been there once in the spring and never forgotten it.
That's it? she said. No dinner out? No Broadway show? Time to shut her up, I figured. So I told her about the scavenger hunt. Huh. She said. I figured my silencing technique had worked, and thought no more about it.
Two days later she called me: Are you free on May 21?
Why? I asked warily.
Well. . .she began.
If it's something for my birthday, I replied, I'm not interested. Just the Cloisters.
Well, she said.
Oh God, I thought.
How about a Scavenger Hunt at the Cloisters? she asked.
You're kidding!!!!!! I exclaimed.
She wasn't. She had found a company (the awesome Watson Adventures) that did scavenger hunts at The Cloisters, and she got us tickets.
Yesterday we went. It was a perfect spring day. All the gardens were in glorious bloom. We joined 25 other people, most of whom were in teams of 4 - 6 people. We were the only team of two. The rules were explained -- a series of clues which required solving by traipsing all over The Cloisters. We had two hours. It was timed. No points for being early, but points detracted for being late and not working as a team. You had to stay together.
So off we went. I had a grin the size of the Pacific! It was SO MUCH FUN. We solved away, working as a team, having a blast exploring and searching. We felt really great about our answers. We looked for clues in corbels and sculptures, stained glass and herb gardens, triptychs and altarpieces, silver vessels, and, of course, the marvelous Unicorn Tapestries. A true medieval scavenger hunt in a beautiful sacred place.
There was only one problem. I had to pee really badly, but there was no time. We BARELY got our answers in under the wire. In fact, points were given for the best team name, and we wrote ours in -- we were The Felonious Monks -- right as we handed the paper over.
Our leader handed Karen a paper with all the right answers and I rushed back inside to wait in a very long line for the loo. When I got back, I saw Karen standing with six other people and the leader. She waved me over urgently: Hurry up! We're tied for first.
We, the only team of two, had tied for first against all the other larger teams!
So, of course, there was a tiebreaker. The question was: When was The Cloisters opened to the public? No cheating. No Googling. And 20 seconds to come up with an answer.
I could have kicked myself. Why hadn't I read up on The Cloisters before coming?! But an answer came to me: 1932. I looked at Karen. She said she had no clue.
So, I always use this example when I talk to people or clients about trusting their guts. I call it My War of 1812 Theory.
If you're watching Jeopardy and the answer that comes to you is "What is the War of 1812?" and then you think -- but it can't be the War of 1812. I don't even know what the War of 1812 is. Who even fought in the War of 1812? Surely it's the Civil War or the Revolutionary War or some war I actually know. NOPE! The answer is ALWAYS your first instinct. It's always the War of 1812.
So even as my head was saying it's probably sometime in the 1970s, I thought -- Follow your own damn advice.
So he asked the other team first. They whispered their answer. Then he asked us, and I said 1932.
Our leader paused for the great reveal: The team of six said 1966.
Oh no, I thought. It's going to be the Seventies -- and they'll win because they're closer.
Our team of two says, our leader paused for dramatic effect: 1932.
And the answer is. . .1938.
OMG! We won. I had waited all these for a Birthday Scavenger Hunt, and not only was it at The Cloisters on a perfect spring day, but WE WON!! Oh What Fun!
This is Karen and me wearing our winning gold medals in front of The Cloisters on one of the single most fun afternoons of my adult life. Some things are more than worth waiting for. . .
If you want to do one, too, check out @WatsonAdventures in your hometown. You will have a blast!!
When I was a kid, they used to be called Ferris Wheels. But now they have more lofty titles -- Sky Wheel or The Eye. You can find them in most major cities -- a brightly colored twirling orb on a skyline lit up in changing colors. They are fascinating, transfixing, beautiful. At least to me -- a lifelong lover of amusement parks. But it's been a long time since I rode one.
Last night, I finally did. And I felt just like a kid -- awed, joyful, a little bit fearful, and altogether wonderful.
In an age of technological inventions almost unimaginable 125 years ago, when the first Ferris Wheel fascinated everyone at the Chicago Worlds Fair, it is almost inexplicable that these gentle giants could still bring us so much simple joy. But they do. For which I am grateful. They are a sweet reminder that the simple things in life may still be what bring us the most sweetness -- and that joy does not require bigger, better, faster -- but rather serves as a reminder to share and cherish the purest emotions of our hearts.
To see the pretty spinning colors, please click HERE
My dad introduced me to rollie coasters and amusement parks when I was a little girl. It was one of our great shared joys. My dad was 67 years old when he made this documentary. He agreed to do it for one reason: Because it would allow him to ride all the best rollie coaster in America. How many 67-year-olds would do that? Let alone do it with GLEE?
My dad was one of the hardest workers I have ever known. But he never approached work with anything other than joy -- and he never approached life with anything less than a great sense of FUN!
Almost every spiritual teaching encourages us to approach life as a child with beginner's mind. What child does not know how to have FUN!
I still love riding rollie coasters, and I hope to keep riding them for as long as my dad did.
Do you love rollie coasters, too? Which are your favorites and why?
We are never alone on the The Way of Being Lost.
Why do you do these things?
These ridiculous... the things you do!
I hope to add some measure of grace to the world.
The world's a dung heap and we are maggots that crawl on it!
My Lady knows better in her heart.
What's in my heart will get me halfway to hell.
And you, Señor Don Quixote-you're going to take
such a beating!
Whether I win or lose does not matter.
Only that I follow the quest.
That for your Quest!
(turns, marches away; stops, turns bock
and asks, awkwardly)
What does that mean... quest?
It is the mission of each true knight...
His duty... nay, his privilege!
To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the unrightable wrong.
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!
This is my Quest to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!
And I know, if I'll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest.
And the world will be better for this,
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars!
Yesterday I got my hair cut here in Austin. The first time I went to the salon a few months ago, I followed what seemed like rather complicated directions to access the parking lot and then find the stairs to the salon. The main point of these directions seemed to be to keep following the salon signs.
So, I did. I followed the salon signs. I drove around the subterranean garage about five times. I thought to myself, "Wow! I would never have guessed they would have needed to have five floors of parking for this building." I thought to myself, "The SUV by the salon sign by that door looks exactly like the SUV on the floor above. How weird." I thought to myself, "I wonder why they don't have parking places for the salon on a higher floor. Must be because they are new to the building."
Then I stopped and reread the instructions.
I read, Park anywhere that isn't reserved. Follow the salon signs to the door.
So, I did. I parked. I followed the signs to the door. Went up the stairs. Then I walked to the salon a little bewildered why it had all seemed so complicated.
After my haircut, as I was paying another woman checked in for her cut. As she did, she asked the young woman behind the counter, "So, um, I was so confused by that parking lot. . ." I perked up and listened in. "I drove around and around for like five minutes, and then I realized, or at least I think this is what happened, there's only one floor, right? I was just driving in circles around the same floor. Or at least I think that's what happened."
"Oh my God," I exclaimed. Sounding exactly as junior high as that sounds. "That's what happened to me! Except I didn't even realize I was driving around in circles until you said that just now. Thank you!"
Instead of looking at me like I was pathological, she burst out laughing. So did I. We both looked like reasonably intelligent women, and both of us had spent five minutes driving in circles following the same sign that led to the same door that we drove past five different times! And then -- and this is the best part -- we doubted our own experience until it was confirmed by someone else who had done the same thing.
That's pretty much my life right now. That's pretty much the life of the whole planet. We're all driving around in circles, going right past the place we know we need to go, then doubting that what we think is happening really is, and so going on driving in circles. Until, eventually, we say "Fuck it. I'm just going to do what I need to do to get to where I hope to go." But even then, we can't really seem to trust our own experiences -- until we find fellow travelers who look at us and say, "Yup, this is NUTS! Or we're NUTS! But either way, we're in this together."
Our political system is falling apart, our planet is falling apart, and we're driving around in circles wondering if it is us who's nuts or the situation or both. But then, sometimes, we meet others who seem to be having the same experience and, not only do we feel less crazy, but we begin to show up as ourselves. When we do, we begin to make the whole world less crazy, too. We do this by joining hands with others, having the hard conversations, and acting on our truths.
Of the countless moving videos of rescues during Hurricane Harvey, this is the one that slayed me. A bunch of big burly bearded guys who look like extras from Duck Dynasty went out on their boat in their overalls and big old boots and proceeded to hurl themselves into muddy water and swim into treed areas underwater to rescue -- wait for it -- opossums.
Opossums! An animal that I thought guys like this would think of as "varmints" and shoot or drown. An animal that has no known use, and that are not even domesticated as pets. Why were they rescuing opossums? Because they were struggling not to drown. Because they were suffering. Because they were sentient beings displaced by a hurricane. They were rescuing opossums because. . .Just because.
Which is pretty much the reason any of us should be doing anything right now. The whole planet is going around in circles and then a natural disaster reminds us to stop, connect, and show up in the world just because. . .and when we do, we begin to remember that we are not political parties or skin colors or rich or poor or even people or animals or birds or fish. (I also saw a video of a guy struggling to carry a fish as big as he was that had been washed out of its lake and was swimming around a Houston street. He was bringing it back to its own lake!) When we realize we have been going around in circles and where we've ended up is awash in our own confusion, all we can do is to try to remember who we are and show up as that.
And who we are, who we really are -- is fundamentally loving and good. That's what this natural disaster is teaching us. It's time to remember that and live this way when the sun is shining and the ground is dry. It's time we all stop going round in circles. Instead let us all recognize that we are a circle -- the circle of life in which anything one of us does affects everyone else.
As most of you know, I have been working on my book, which will be out in February.
It is called The Way of Being Lost: A Road Map to Our Truest Selves.
Over the next few months, from time to time I will share some ideas from the book. This is a glimpse at what the Way of Being lost is all about. It's a path of paradox.
To live as our Truest Selves, we have to be willing to become lost.
On some level, that seems completely paradoxical. To find ourselves, we have to lose ourselves? But if I’ve learned anything over a lifetime of deep spiritual searching, it is this: Paradox always paves the path which those of us who are drawn to a greater Truth eventually come to traverse while still existing in this state of being called human life.
Paradox means that to know the Truth that sets us free means that we must learn to embrace all the pain and struggle along the way, trusting that it, too — perhaps even it above all — will get us where we long to be. I had to come to deeply trust that every seeming cloud always holds a silver lining. Every obstacle is also an opportunity. Every loss of hope an invitation to healing.
It took me a while, but finally I got it:
To find your way home to your authentic, divine Self, you have to be willing to get lost to all of the myriad small, false, misguided, confused selves the world has told you to spend your whole life becoming.
So if we want to be found but we must begin by getting lost, then how do we get lost? As we all know from experience, getting lost just happens. One moment you’re sure you’re five minutes from your desired destination, and then next thing you know, you’re in the middle of nowhere with no clue how you got there or what to do to get home.
That’s the bummer and the beauty of it all: There is no road map for The Way of Being Lost.
You can’t get lost on purpose, but you must get purposefully lost.
Tune in for more episodes of The Way of Being Lost between now and February!
I love these East Coast boardwalks over the dunes to the hidden ocean beyond. I love them not just because they are beautiful or because they protect the dunes or because they lead to the water I love, but also because they are a beautiful reminder about faith.
I never really resonated to the word faith growing up. I preferred understanding, belief, and knowledge. I thought of faith as a crap shoot, a better-than-nothing approach when your back is against the wall. I'll pray and then I'll have faith. That all felt too ephemeral to me. I wanted assurances.
The dictionary tells me I have had the rhyme all wrong on faith. Faith, it says, is complete confidence or trust in something. It's not cross my fingers and light a candle and hope for the best. It is complete confidence or trust. Even when you don't have a signed contract or the check hasn't cleared yet. It is counting your chickens before they are hatched, because you trust the eggs.
We don't have these wooden walkways on the West Coast beaches where I grew up. When you got to the beach, the ocean was usually right there in front of you. When I got to this birding preserve in Massachusetts three Octobers ago, I only had a map that told me there was ocean thataway. After I parked my car, there were signs directing me to this boardwalk. But then, I just had to walk.
As I got closer, I began to hear the ocean in the distance. How far away was it? I didn't know. I hoped it was just over that first dune. Nope. There was another long stretch of boardwalk. But now I could smell the sea air, and the pounding surf was getting louder. Now I knew I was getting close. I allowed myself to get excited for the big reveal. And then, there it was -- the ocean I had been longing to see.
It's a pretty good metaphor, right? Sometimes to get someplace we've been longing to go, we have to put our faith in many things. Other people's maps. Signs along the way. Our past experience. Our gut intuition. Taking time to experience our surroundings. But our real task is to put our faith -- our complete confidence and trust -- in our path. Not the length of the path, the quality of the path, the detours from the path, the other people we may meet on the path, just that we're on the path. That we are putting one foot in front of the other in complete confidence and trust in the journey.
These days the word faith is one of my favorite words. Over the past year and a half, I have radically changed my life. I have sold almost everything I owned, walked away from a business that paid my bills, chosen a life of intentional homelessness, in order to trust the path to which I have been called. Almost every day I panic a little. Almost every day I think I am certifiably nuts. Almost every day I wonder if I have chosen the right path. And almost every day, the only assurance I have is faith. Faith in the still small voice that called me onto this path, and keeps me here, even when I want to turn back or choose another one.
When I was on this boardwalk over the dunes, I had no idea what the ocean on the other side would look like. Turned out to be a huge bay with calm little waves lapping at white sands. Just down the coast, a big surf had been cresting up to rocky cliffs. But at this immense bay, all was calm. It was a gorgeous sunny fall day. I walked the beach with the birds in pure gratitude. I reveled in it.
And then, I headed back to the boardwalk, walked back to my car, turned on my GPS, waited for my next set of directions, and headed someplace else I had never been before.
Faith. It's the gas in my car, the software of my GPS, the signs following, my morning alarm, and my nighttime lullaby. Now I know what so many people have always known, including the late great George Michael: You gotta have faith.
There were ten of these huge sculptures lining the path I walked this morning across from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. Massive and majestic. Super cool, I thought! How super cool!
I love planes. I'd seen these same planes when they roared right over my head the night I arrived. Super cool, I thought! How super cool!
Now they accompanied me on my walk. But they weren't my only companions. I walked the first few miles with Tom. Tom works for Boeing near the base. He walks this path every day.
Frankly, except for the super cool planes, it wasn't a very pretty path. He told me that it was created three years ago and that he is grateful for it every day. I was grateful for him. For the reminder to be grateful for exactly what is right where we are.
We started talking because he was wearing a University of New Mexico tshirt. I asked him if he was a Lobo. When he said yes, I told him that I was, too. We talked about Albuquerque, about the mountains, about how he had ended up in Oklahoma City, about working for Boeing. He talked about the death of his mother last year, and how he is worried about a family friend who he fears may have Alzheimers. Somehow we ended up talking about how we both love Ireland, which took us the Irish sense of humor, which took us into politics, which took us into talking about fear and hope and love. We talked about how easy it is for people to look at one another as enemies, as a problem, for all of us to choose fear instead of Love. And then Tom said, "You know all people need is a glimpse of joy and hope every day to feel better about their lives. To do that, we have to show up willing to be that glimpse. It's that simple." I nodded. I said, "I try to live that every single day."
We had reached the end of walking path and he was going home. He told me that he lived over there. He pointed vaguely to the Southwest. We shook hands and he headed right, while I turned back down the path.
I will probably never see Tom again. But our exchange will stay with me forever. Tom became my friend this morning. My companion on the path. Now I know he, too, is out there -- another walker through the world who is willing to show up to be the glimpse of joy and hope to people who may be mired in fear.
Isn't that what we are all here to do? Today I walk with Tom.
The day before yesterday, on my drive to the Newark Airport, I stopped to take a hike in the Palisades overlooking the Hudson River. I saw peregrine falcons -- the fastest creatures on earth -- divebombing turkey vultures and swooping straight down vertical cliffs. I saw the city in the distance and the river below. I saw purple and white flowering trees so fragrant that their scent almost knocked me down. I saw many beautiful things. But this was the most beautiful thing I saw. A message that cannot be overstated in these intense and trying times: LOVE MORE.
LOVE MORE. LOVE MORE. LOVE MORE.
I spent all of last spring and summer on the East Coast, where I tried to hike as often as possible with my dog, Allie. I noticed that, more often than not, I ended up on rocky paths where the trails could only be marked in paint on trees or rocks. I also found that, more often than not, I ended up on the Blue Path. And finally, I realized that the Blue Path, the Rocky Path, was usually the most difficult path. Yet it was always the one to which I was drawn. In absolute joy!
Why is it that, in our joy pursuits, we take on difficulty as a welcome challenge, whereas in other areas of life, we feel burdened, put upon, perhaps even accursed, by difficulty? Instead, I have decided to treat every obstacle as an opportunity for growth and awakening.
I am seeing that it is not so much that I am choosing the Rocky Blue Path, but rather that the Rocky Blue Path is being chosen for me, because I am ready to face each obstacle and greet the opportunity for growth in grace and understanding and connection. That this, too -- or perhaps this, especially -- is one of the most essential of any Daily Practice of Joy!
I found this path in a nature preserve in Pittsburgh when I drove cross country for five weeks in the fall of 2014.
I have been there numerous times now -- in fall and summer. It is a magical place. But that first day was the most special. . .wide green swathes of dewy grass, deer peeking out from deep in the woods, the first touch of autumn on the hills, apples ripening on heavy-laden boughs, a cozy fog swaddling the hills, and chirruping birds everywhere. With not one other person there but me!!!!
I have taken so many beautiful pictures there. . .but this one was taken about fifteen minutes into my first visit -- at a moment of utter GLEE! I felt like a little girl who had discovered a secret garden full of magical animals, that I had entered the world I had been dreaming of finding my whole life. . .
What paths have opened up magical worlds for you?
I walked this lush green path in West Virginia on a foggy early morning two summers ago with two virtual friends, with whom I was actually getting to spend some rare real face-to-face time. We trekked in a few miles to the beautiful cliff where they had gotten married, and I got to experience the panoramic beauty of the West Virginia mountains and the sacredness of that space with them. Although I hadn't been at Todd and Katie's wedding, I felt as though I was experiencing it through their eyes that perfect morning.
I have been so blessed with what I have come to think of as my virtual friendships. People I have met online or briefly face to face, with whom I have then carried on sweet sweet connections through email, Skype, text or just in the ether.
Over the years, I have even received unexpected gifts -- at precisely when I have needed them most. The perfect tshirt, a book of poetry, a seashell, some pressed flowers, a painting, a postcard, a song, a heart rock. The timing is always uncanny and inevitably cracks open my heart.
As someone who lives alone on the road, sometimes going weeks or months without seeing anyone she knows well, feeling this thought of, cared for, and loved means everything.
Every day I walk a new path. Some are more beautiful than others. Almost all the time, it's just me and Allie on our path. Sometimes we see deer, squirrel, or rabbits. We meet other dogs and I chat with their people while Allie gets a much-needed respite from the tedium of human me. But even when no other creatures are physically present, I know I am never walking alone. Wearing a gifted t-shirt, thinking about a poem I just read in a gifted book, humming a gifted song, holding a gifted heart rock, I feel the beautiful presence of my virtual friendships and know that, however unconventional my life may be, Allie and I are surrounded by a Tribe of Love.
To all my virtual travelers on this path -- you know who you are -- I am deeply grateful!
This is an image from my upcoming art show next month.
Yesterday, I was going through each image with my friend Kim -- who is helping me grow the confidence to believe in my vision as an artist. We were trying to take out some of the weaker ones.
Kim was SO supportive and loving. She was everything I would have loved to have heard when I was younger. She made me feel so good and so excited about the show. And I trust her because she was an art major, is a designer, and is a wonderful artist herself -- not to mention the fact that she is SUPER visually picky . . . in the best way.
So, when I suggested that we cut this one, I was surprised when she adamantly said no.
She said that the reason likes this image is because of how I manipulated the color to make it pop! I did that on purpose, of course, but I wasn't sure if it was too much. But the reason I did it is because I think that certain paths just call to us. They say Come This Way! Walk With Me! And those are usually the paths we need to take. But it's a funny thing -- because even though our guts know the way, inevitably the voices in our heads kick in and start telling us all the reasons we shouldn't go that way: What if it's not safe? What if there's a better way? What if you get lost? What if? What if? What if? Until you eventually turn around and go back the way you came.
So, I made the color pop because it seems to me that we reallyl do see the paths we are supposed to take with this kind of neon clarity -- and STILL those voices try to call us off. I put the words Find Your Own Path on the wood slats thinking about the runway lights that tell pilots where to land. For those of us who aren't pilots, however, we wouldn't necessarily know if we're supposed to follow the blue lights or some other color. But pilots do. And it's the same with us -- ONCE WE LEARN TO TRUST OUR INNER VOICES.
So, next time a path calls you, really listen to it! Can you trust it? I bet you can. . .Is it calling you in bright colors and clear voice to Walk This Way? Then it is very likely the path you were meant to find. So walk a ways and see what you discover!
Today would have been my mother's 101st or 100th or 102nd birthday -- depending on which version you believe.
In the twentieth century, when women changed their dates of birth for a variety of reasons, my mother's fell somewhere between 1917 and 1919. So, if we take the mathematical approach and go for the middle, today is as good as any to celebrate the centennial of her birth.
Actually better than good. The best, in fact, because tonight is the West Coast book launch of The Way of Being Lost -- at Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard.
Half of the stories in my book took place within a five-mile radius of both Book Soup and Sunset Boulevard. The Beverly Hills Brat story, the Magic Word Story, the Inheritance Story -- all took place while sitting in a car with my mother on or just off Sunset Boulevard. And this morning, I am sitting at the desk where I wrote most of the first draft at the home of my dear friends (and my amazing former nanny) Daniela and Gene Anderson, looking out the window at the beautiful Southern California sky and sun and greenery -- with Sunset Boulevard just below me. Beside me is a copy of a book my mother gave Daniela in 1967. Proving what we all already know: Everything comes full circle.
But what I wouldn't have known had I not written this book is that all I would feel is GRATEFUL.
My lifelong relationship with my mother was fraught with both of our fears.
I had to write this book to heal my relationship with my mother.
I had to write this book to understand her so I could understand myself.
I had to write this book to love her so I could love me.
I had to write this book so I could let the fearful parts of us both go that no longer served us, so we could find forgiveness in love and love in forgiveness.
But what I never could have guessed is that by writing this book, ALL I would feel about my mother is love. Gone are the judgment, the fear, the not good enough, the unworthiness and lack of deservability. In its place what was always there, just laden down by all the shoulds my mother felt she should pass on to me -- all the ideas of who she thought I should be to be the kind of person who should deserve love, success, joy. In its place is just the Love that was the impetus for everything she thought she should do and be and say to make me a better person.
As I wrote in my book -- remove the shoulds and you always find the good. Remove the should and what is there is the bedrock of all of our lives: LOVE.
So tonight, I get to celebrate the life and love and creativity and joy of an amazing woman. A woman who came to the United States after having grown up in England, Wales, China, and Canada as an eighteen-year-old aspiring dancer. Who became a leading costume designer on Broadway and in the movies, who was the creative partner of Vincent Price, an architectural designer and a leader of the historic preservation movement. A funny, intelligent, witty, stylish, clever, joyful, spiritual woman, who gave me many of the greatest gifts of my life.
I get to celebrate her -- and me. The funny, intelligent, witty, stylish, clever, joyful, spiritual me that carries my mother in my heart now, not in my fear-filled head.
I believe my mother would love this centennial celebration!
So, Happy Birthday Mama! Today I celebrate your life and/in mine -- with so much Joy and Love!
We created this — our celebrity president, our popularity contest politics, our reality show world. We, meaning America.
America’s founding fathers imagined a democracy in which everyone lived on a level playing field on which we all have the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. A beautiful ideal, yet in reality somewhat a utopian vision. For in a world predicated on elitism, classism, racism, and sexism — that level playing field seemed pretty pie sky to many Americans. Then along came celebrity. In many ways, celebrity is the literal embodiment of the American Dream — for it is the one place, in theory, where anyone can transcend their origins and succeed beyond the world’s wildest imaginings.
I grew up in Hollywood as the daughter of a movie star. I saw how celebrity worked — how my father received preferential treatment because of his status. The best room in the house, a reservation even when the restaurant was full, a miraculous bump up to a first-class seat on the plane.
After my parents were divorced, my mother and I would visit the same hotels or restaurants where we had been with my father, and get a room next to the elevator shaft over looking a brick wall or be told we had a three-hour wait for dinner.
My father was a famous white man — and famous white men are given preferential treatment wherever they go. My mother — a successful designer and businesswoman in her own right — suddenly became a fifty-something-year-old nobody with a young daughter. She was treated accordingly. She had to fight to get her own credit card in the early 1970s, so fight she did. My mother refused to back down, but at great cost to her fragile heart still reeling from being left for another woman. I learned at an early age that while celebrity levels the playing field, it only does so for those who write the rules of the game AKA white men.
When I was 23 years old, I read an idea in a book that leapt off the page and seared itself into my consciousness. The author, Peter Berger, defined alienation as the state of mind created when a person can no longer distinguish between their public persona and their private psyche. I sat bolt upright in my chair, realizing that not only described my famous father, but also everyone else whom I had met growing up in Hollywood. Most famous people I knew could no longer distinguish where their celebrity self ended and the person who pooped and peed like the rest of us began.
Why? Was it because they were power hungry jerks? For some maybe. But my dad and most of his friends were largely kind, generous, giving people — most of whom used their celebrity to give something back to the world. But even they had a hard time not losing their identities in the fame game.
I spent my early twenties studying and teaching celebrity studies while working on my doctorate -- desperate to understand the mercurial meritocracy that is America, and the effects of this rampant alienation as it played out in the lives of the rest of us. I came to realize that we were a country, if not a planet, teetering on the edge of great danger. In a world where our role models have ceased to be real people we know and have instead become celebrities we will never know, we essentially hero worship alienated individuals. We were, I realized, on the verge of raising a completely alienated generation.
To Baby Boomers, who grew up watching the famous of my father’s generation live their larger-than-life lives, fame seemed like the way out. The ultimate level playing field in the game of the American Dream. But by making celebrity — being seen, the adulation of the public eye — the ends instead of a by-product of genuine achievement, celebrity has become even emptier than it already was. That is what the next generation has discovered
Celebrity is like Gertrude Stein’s clever quip about the city of Oakland: There’s no there There. Oakland has actually become a pretty cool place. But celebrity — well, thanks to social media --there’s even less there now. We worship people who are not even real people any more. With personas instead of people as our role models, is it any wonder the whole world feels like fake news?
Social media is just celebrity mutated into a mass phenomenon. Our selfies and posts and commentaries create the means for us all to feel seen — and for many people, that becomes more important and more real than their daily lives. We move through the world with a red carpet mentality — image conscious, power hungry, privilege seeking, and yet, desperately insecure. Knowing that right behind us on the red carpet is the next fresh meat to feed America’s hunger for the beautiful, the powerful, the privileged, the great.
Everyone who has achieved celebrity comes to understand the fickleness of fame, but perhaps none so eloquently as Steve Jobs. These are his last words on his Facebook page:
“In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success. However, apart from work, I have little joy. . . At this time. . .remembering all my life, I realize that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death. Only now do I understand that . . .you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth. It should be something more important: For example, stories of love, art, dreams of my childhood . . .God has made us one way, we can feel the love in the heart of each of us, and not illusions built by fame or money, like I made in my life. I cannot take them with me. I can only take with me the memories that were strengthened by love. This is the true wealth that will follow you. . .Love can travel thousands of miles and so life has no limits. Move to where you want to go. Strive to reach the goals you want to achieve. Everything is in your heart and in your hands.”
So how do we wrest back our world from the alienated emptiness and fake news inherent in our celebrity culture? The first task isn’t easy. We have to be willing to lose a lot of what we have been told we have to spend our whole lives finding, accumulating, becoming, and hoarding — and choose instead to find meaning in things that don’t cost money, get our names in print, or exploit other people or our natural resources. We need to speak true even when we make people uncomfortable.
That is why there is so much power in the #metoo movement. That is why change is coming from women, people of color and the differently-abled, the LGBTQ movement, and all of us who feel like we have not had a place at the patriarchal power table. That is why all of us who still have a voice have to use it — to keep speaking the truth, even if it is deemed fake by those who make the real fake news. To keep pointing out all the ways that the Emperor has no clothes. To keep keeping it real, even when it makes everyone uncomfortable.
But then, having spoken true and relinquished some long-cherished ideals, there is one thing, and one thing only, we all have to do. It’s what Steve Jobs discovered at the end of his life: We have to learn to love and then keep learning to love — and then love some more. To love one another, love those who can’t speak, love those who speak too much, and love this world back whole.
We need to turn our backs on the red carpet with all its illusory promises, and rediscover that the beating heart of this planet is within each of us. We must choose Love.
My publicist for my upcoming book just asked me to send her this link of a short interview I did for On Being (my favorite blog!). So I listened to it again. I recorded it almost two years ago today . . . and it still feels as true now as it did then. The people in our lives who encourage us to shine our lights -- by seeing us for who we are instead of who they want us to be -- help us encourage others to shine theirs. When any one of us shows up in our lives as our truest selves, we light the way for others to do the same. By leaving behind the stories that no longer serve us, we serve others -- and save the world. This is the Way of Being Lost -- and so being found to, as, in, through our truest selves.
(A special shout out of thanks to my dear friend Sarah Douglas, for taking this picture of me in front of Shakespeare's tomb in Stratford-upon-Avon, and for always encouraging me to shine my light and live as my truest self!)
Yesterday in Lyon, France, I came upon these three girls selling homemade cakes and cookies outside the Notre Dame cathedral to raise money for their Girl Guides troop.
No pre-packaged Girl Scout cookies for Lyon -- the gastronomic capital of France -- of course! Only the most delicious homemade crepes, tortes, tartes, and biscuits.
Since I don't eat sugar or grains, I convinced my longsuffering and most wonderful traveling companion Greg to support the girls and eat a little cake. (Which has been the thing to do for centuries, after all. . .)
So, after I got the full rundown of all the deliciousness, he settled on a nice slice of lemon torte with cute silver sparkles on it, and I got this sweet photo -- and the opportunity to interact with three truly sweet and open-hearted individuals.
When I think of our morning pilgrimage up to the top of the highest hill in Lyon to see the cathedral during high mass, I will of course remember the beautiful edifice, the glorious sounds of the choir, and the incredible mosaics. But I think I will mostly remember these three smiling faces -- reminding me that when we go someplace without expectation of outcome, we will always be guided exactly where we need to go. That is the only kind of pilgrimage there is -- one whose only goal is to show up each step of the way to awe, wonder, joy, connection, and, of course, love.
I have seen this video before, but this week, when it was shown during my spiritual retreat, it moved me as never before.
In a week where the rhetoric of hate and fear has ratcheted up around the globe, it meant so much to remember that we human beings are, at our essence, loving, connected, full of wonder and awe and peace.
So, as I gently re-emerge after my four-day retreat, I can think of nothing I would rather share with you more than this Ode to Joy.
I took this photograph in Longji, an ancient mountaintop village in China. I had hiked up the day before and spent the night in a tiny inn, barely sleeping through a thunderstorm that rattled the buildings and took out all the electricity.
After eating a rudimentary breakfast cooked over a fire, I had hiked for hours through ancient terraces of rice fields on century-old stone paths. Spring flowers budding on newly-green trees. Everything sparkled that day -- especially me.
On my way down, I caught a glimpse of this little girl in a bright red coat. I peaked through the wood gate of the schoolyard. She was skipping alone. We smiled at one another, and she came over to see me. I waved at her, and she waved back. Then suddenly, overcome by shyness, she turned around and skipped back toward school. But the joy in her step belied the shyness in her eyes, and I knew that we had both seen one another as we wished to be seen -- through the eyes of joy.
When I titled this image for my art show, I used a line from one of my favorite childhood hymns: The joy that none can take away is mine -- I walk with Love today.
I will never forget that morning on that mountaintop. It may be one of the most beautiful and purely joyful days of my life. Nothing can ever take that joy away. It reminds me that joy is always there for us when we remember to walk with Love.
It sounds like an Agatha Christie novel, doesn't it?
Well, that's how she felt to us. Mysterious and marvelous all at once.
We saw here floating through the halls of the Courtauld Institute in London. She appeared briefly, then quickly disappeared again behind closed doors accompanied by handsome men in crisply starched shirts and colorful ties.
We followed her. Stalking might be more apt. We were stunned by her stunningness. She epitomized everything marvelous about England -- her lithe figure and porcelain skin, ginger hair and stunning emerald suit, the Ascot-worthy tophat, her tasteful purse and, of course, the ubiquitous English umbrella. She was marvelous.
Two more times, she crossed our vision -- flitting across a space to enter another locked door. Then, finally, she reappeared and crossed in front of us. She seemed to float through the exhibition, leaving a whoosh of air in her wake. She was gone! This time, we thought we had lost her. But then she returned -- with our friend Bryan, who had told her how much we admired her.
He had charmed her into agreeing to let our bunch of silly but enamored global wanderers take our picture with her.
In the photo, I have my hand on her shoulder. In retrospect, that feels so. . .wrong. She is too perfect to be touched. It feels as though I intruded on her aura. But other than my hand, she is an oasis of aristocratic calm in the midst of our tourist energy -- the sun to our rays, the source to our joy-filled grins.
Which is why I am sharing it today. Simply because every single time this photo pops up as I am searching for something else, I feel the same rush of joy as I did in that moment when we met her.
There are people like that. Moments like that. Marvelous. Mysterious. Agatha Christie like. Lady on the Train. Glamour and intrigue. But in this disposable day and age of technology and time crunches, they are fewer and further between. She is my reminder that the world I thought I was going to grow up into, as sussed out from the pages of my favorite books, still exists. We just have to look for it.
To know that will always bring me joy.
This weekend I had the honor of officiating the wedding of Samantha Peersen and Addison Bjork. Talk about Pure Joy!
I first met the future Mr and Mrs Bjork about four or five years ago, at Chiller Theatre in New Jersey. We chatted after they attended one of my talks. I really loved their energy and attitude and joy.
A couple of years later, I gave another talk -- and they were in the audience once again. That afternoon, October 25, happened to be the anniversary of my dad's passing, so I decided that I wanted to create a ritual by which we could all remember him in the week before Halloween. To give a little context, I explained that I had been studying rituals in my last year of seminary -- and was really beginning to click to all the ways that our family shared joy rituals. I don't think I'd ever mentioned that I was studying to be ordained as an interfaith/interspiritual minister at a talk before.
As it all turned out, right before I began, Addison turned to Sam and said, "Wouldn't it be great if Victoria could officiate at our wedding?" Five minutes later, I talked about becoming a minister.
I guess some things are meant to be. After the talk, Sam and Addison came down and asked me if, as a minister, I could do weddings. Since the ritual I had suggested to remember my dad was all about Saying Yes, there really was only one answer to that question. . .A HUGE YES! And that's why I spent this past weekend in oh-so-cool Asbury Park, basking in Love and Joy at one of the most wonderful weddings I've been to in ages.
As I said during the ceremony, So often in weddings, the minister feels like he or she needs to share their wisdom about love and remind the couple about the serious and sacred task not just of loving one another, but of caring for and supporting the well being of one another. But to be honest, I already feel like I’ve learned more from Addison and Samantha about love than I could possibly convey to them.
So instead, I shared a few lines from one of my father’s favorite poets.e.e. cummings, who wrote “Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star.”
I have come to understand these words even more deeply knowing Samantha & Addison. And I will be forever grateful to have been part of such an important day in their lives.
(For those of you who would like to know more about what an interfaith/inspiritual does in general -- and what I do in specific -- please check out my website: www.redshoesministry.com)
One of the biggest misconceptions I initially had about horror fans and horror conventions was my idea of the kinds of people who attend them. I thought they would all be, well, scary people. Not only are they not scary -- they are kind, generous, funny, sweet, interesting, loving, and polite -- but often horror fans come from (and so come to horror conventions with) horror families. Whole generations of horror fans show up together -- grandparents, parents, and kids. Even little tiny kids come. A couple of weeks ago at Spooky Empire in Orlando, I met three children under the age of two named after my dad. One named Vincent, and two named Price.
Kids love costumes. Kids love play. Kids love sharing play with their parents and siblings. It's not scary. It's just fun. To me, that is a wonderful reminder that often the things we adults persuade ourselves are scary can be transformed when seen through the childlike eyes of joy and love.
Look at this little girl. I took her picture a few years ago in Atlanta. There she is in her darling green costume (if I were a horror fan, I would be able to tell you who she is), surrounded by fellow green icons -- tiki monsters and the creature from the black lagoon. And she is just happy as a clam!
Whenever her photo pops up on my feed, I smile. She reminds me that fear can only talk us into believing it when we buy its PR. I'd far rather have this little girl's attitude -- that these supposedly scary things are really just playthings and props to support her lifelong adventure in joy and love!
If you would care to share some ways in which joy and love have transformed your own fears, please share them by emailing me at email@example.com. I would love to chat about them in an upcoming blog post!
My friend Alison and I were walking along New York City's Highline one late October morning when we saw a photographer taking a picture of these two men. We both had the same sweet thought. I'm wondering if you are, too, as you're reading this.
As I often do, I stopped and engaged them in conversation, and found out that, contrary to what Alison and I had imagined, they were having a photograph taken for their business: The two men are longtime business partners. I asked them if I could also take their photo, and they agreed.
I love this picture, because it reminds me of many joy-filled things. First of all, it is reminder that we all love to tell ourselves stories. That's not a bad thing -- but often the real story is far better than the one we make up in our minds. Because what I am reminded of when I look at this photo is that love comes in so many forms. We are a society that overvalues romantic love. And that makes us forget how vital it is to cultivate and cherish all kinds of love.
The Greeks had four distinct words for love: Agape. Eros. Philia. Storge. We focus so much on Eros (sexual, romantic love) that we forget that love takes many forms -- compassion, lovingkindness, affection, empathy, the unconditional love of a parent (or a Divine Parent) for their children, friendship, loyalty, community, charity, goodwill, partnership, collaboration.
It is only by nurturing and expressing all of these kinds of love -- and more -- that we show up to our own lives and those of others, and so to that of the Universe. To find love in every nook and cranny of our lives is the essence of any Daily Practice of Joy -- in work, in play, in our animals, in nature, in our business partnerships, and our family life, and in our beloveds. I am so grateful for this sweet exchange of love that I got to witness and now carry with me in my own heart.
That's what I called Nancy Cintron for the longest time. It is a term of endearment. (I LOVE goats AND I sometimes have a mental blank spot when it comes to remembering names. Thus, The Goat Lady.)
When Nancy first sent me a package with her artwork from a place called the Good Goat Gallery somewhere in Ohio, I was intrigued. She was a wonderful artist with a wicked sense of humor and a love of the absurd. Not to mention the whole goat thing. . .
A year or so later, she offered to join me for Monster Bash in Pittsburgh. So, we hung out for a weekend talking about art, while I introduced Vincent Price fans to her work. Which they loved!
Since then, Nancy has come to England and New Mexico, and I have come to Cleveland. And now, this past weekend, it has all come full circle. At the Good Goat Gallery here in Ohio, The Goat Lady put up my first ever art show!
I have learned a lot from Nancy over the years. But the best thing I have learned is to be true to yourself. As a lifelong people pleaser, I am learning how to show up in my own life as me encouraged by friend such as Nancy.
Guess what? It's a lot more joyful to be you than to work hard pretending to be someone else.
I look forward to many more years of friendship and absurd joy with my dear dear friend -- The Goat Lady.
This is one of the images from my upcoming art show. Here's what I wrote about it: This isn't the first photo I've taken on an artist's study of a famous painting in a museum. I love seeing a work of art I know and love through someone else's eyes. But this time, I became transfixed with the artist herself -- and realized that it was because she had a quality that reminded me of the subject of the painting. This, in turn, brought to mind a favorite quote by Oscar Wilde, "Life Imitates Art." So, of course, that is the text that frames the image. This one never fails to make me smile -- because it is both whimsical and passionate . . . as art so often is! EnJOY!
Part of my Daily Practice of Joy is connecting with total strangers and coming away with them in my heart -- whether I speak with them or not. The joy we all feel in connection can change our lives!
To find out more about this image and the stories behind the other images in the show, please click HERE or on the ART tab in the navigation bar on the top right of this page.
What does it mean to choose to live "intentionally homeless"?
I find so much joy in travel because it renews my faith in humanity. A faith that is much needed in these dark times.
I am in Spain for three weeks. This is a country with a history of brutal oppression and violence. That history has reared its ugly head again this past weekend as Catalonians sought to vote for their independence and were met with extreme and unnecessary violence from the Spanish police. Everywhere I have traveled in Spain, there have been reminders of the Inquisition and other very bloody periods of conquest and torture -- of decimation of whole cultures.
And yet. . .
There are places like this cathedral/mosque in Cordoba set in the Old Jewish quarter. There was a time when all three faiths lived together in peace. Until -- the Moors and the Jews were expelled at one time or another.
And yet. . .
This beautiful space is filled every day with thousands of tourists of countless faiths from all over the world witnessing the beauty and the mystery and the history of this sacred space together in peace.
On a cab ride home after a late dinner in Cordoba, the driver said to us, "How do you like my city? I think it is the most beautiful, the best city in the world. Here in my city, everyone lives together in harmony. All religions, all colors of skin."
Cordoba has witnessed an ebb and flow of cooperation and kindness coupled with extreme violence and hatred.
And yet. . .
The next morning, as I walked back from visiting the now-empty tiny Jewish synagogue on Yom Kippur, I witnessed a massive demonstration in advance of the referendum vote. There were Spanish flags and Andalusian flags and Catalonian flags. And everyone was marching together in peace.
The history of humans on our planet is often hard to witness. It is particularly hard to witness when we are smack in the middle of so much divisiveness and horror every day. And yet there will always be moments when we find a glimmer of hope.
Like the sunlight in this photo illuminating this beautiful place of worship, the light will always shine through the darkness. It will shine through our humanity --buy only, only, if we keep remembering to reach out past our prejudices and fears and connect with one another in our simple humanity.
When we shine our lights on one another, then we give light to the darkest of times. We do this by seeing one another through the lens of Love not fear, through the eyes of openness not through the dark glasses of hatred. And we do this by trusting that we all are, at the end of the day, all the same -- people trying to live our best lives in hope, joy, faith, kindness, and love.
May it be so!
Last Friday, I got to visit one of my favorite friends in the whole wide world. This glorious Ganesha at the Chicago Art Institute.
At first, I couldn't find him. I was bereft! He was and is my first stop whenever I am there. I hunted and hunted, and was just about to give up, when he did his job. The obstacle to my seeing was removed. He was not where I thought he would be. I had walked right past him at the entrance, and gone straight to where I had always visited him. Instead, he was exactly where he was meant to me -- greeting everyone who comes into the gallery.
Before I tell you why I love this Ganesha so much, let me tell you a little about him. Ganesaha. The Hindu God who is the Remover of Obstacles.
This Ganesha hails from Central Java in Indonesia. He is over 1,000 years old and he is made of andesite.
As the Lord of Beginnings and Remover of Obstacles, Hindus pray to Ganesha before every beginning. According to the Chicago Art Institute website, "The most often-told myth about Ganesha's creation begins with the goddess Parvati creating a boy out of the scum from her bath. She instructed him to guard her door from intruders, with no exceptions. While she bathed, Shiva returned home. Barred from entering, the enraged god loosed his superhuman anger and beheaded the stranger. Remorseful with the realization that he had killed Parvati's son, he sent attendant demons and dwarfs to return with the head of the first creature they encountered. The head of an elephant was delivered, and Ganesha was restored to life. For his bravery in defending Parvati's door, Ganesha is also worshipped as the guardian of entrances, many of which are adorned with his image.
Ganesha is shown here with a broken tusk and a bowl full of candy, of which he is very fond. Although not depicted in this sculpture, Ganesha's vahana, a rat, accompanies him as he carries out his divine duties. The rat is tiny by comparison to the portly Ganesha, but the two work well as a team. The rat can wriggle into places where Ganesha would never fit—another means of avoiding obstacles and achieving goals."
I love elephants. I love the gentle stolid bravery of Ganesha, and I love his "job" -- removing obstacles. But there is something about this particular Ganesha that I adore beyond any other I have met. Perhaps it is his softness, perhaps his pudginess, his cuddle-ability, his solid earthy peace. But each time I spend time with him, I am reminded that removing obstacles is never a matter of muscle and human will. It is releasing and letting go and leaning in and being led. This Ganesha is not lumbering off to save the day by ripping up marauders with his trunk or goring them with his tusks. There he sits in quiet contemplation, unseeing the obstacles that seem so real to the rest of us.
That's what I learned on Friday when I went looking for Ganesha where I thought he should have been and couldn't find him. When we are so busy looking for what we hope to find in the place where it is "supposed" to be, we inevitably miss exactly what we are looking for. Be it Love, be it supply, be in connection, be it hope, be it faith, be it joy. Getting quiet enough to remove the obstacles to our thought and vision, we see what has always already been there.
May it be so!
NOTE: For the next three days, I will be in a spiritual retreat. I will not be posting any joy practices again until Saturday, August 12. Have a joy-filled week!
My favorite painting of Saul's blinding conversion on the road to Damascus is by Caravaggio. Whenever I am fortunate enough to be in Rome, I love seeing it in person. Caravaggio's canvas is all about Saul -- splayed out through the whole foreground of the painting and almost spilling out of the canvas. He has fallen from his horse and, blinded by the light, is reaching up to heaven, lost to anything going on around him. Even the fact that he is tangled between the legs of his paint horse, who is being led away so that he won't step on him.
I love this painting because I viscerally experience the paradox of Caravaggio's muscular drama and intense intimacy. He invites us to become Paul and ask ourselves what we would do, how we would feel, if the same things were to happen to us. He asks us to cross the threshold into the painting and experience Paul's conversion as Paul.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across this tiny canvas depicting the same subject by Rubens at the Courtauld Institute in London. The composition is typical Rubens, a pinwheel of activity in which fleshy figures whirl and throb the blinding light in static action. In Rubens' version, we don't just see Paul. We see the way that the light and the man shining it have affected everyone in his traveling party. The horses the dogs the other men -- they are all totally freaked out. Which, of course, they would be. I mean, wouldn't you?
Seeing Rubens' version really made me think about the "I" culture in which we live. When we read a book, see a movie, hear a song, we usually try to find our place in it, discover the characters with whom we identify. Between the pages of a book, in the darkness of the movie theatre, we tunnel our vision down to us. We tune out everyone else.
That's how most of us move through the world these days. We drive, fly, eat, sleep in our little bubbles -- focused, mostly, on ourselves and those in our closest circles. That's especially true when we find ourselves in a dark place. The world seems to close in on us, and we feel more isolated than ever. It is those times -- counterintuitive though it may seem -- that we must seek out the light, must commit to practice joy, must reach out to others.
I'm sharing this today to remind myself. To remember why I write this blog in the first place. There are days when practicing joy seems ridiculous, frankly. Like, well, why? And who cares? But as Rubens reminded me -- everything we do, everything that happens in the world, whether we let ourselves see it or not, affects everyone else.
Joy begets joy. When I practice joy -- even it begins halfheartedly -- something always happens: Connection. I connect with a person, an animal, a flower, a sunset, a cloud in the sky. What blesses one, blesses all. To practice joy is to remind ourselves and one another that joy is always inside us -- even in the darkest day.
Tolstoy believed, "Joy can be real only if people look upon their lives as a service and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness."
Every day, I know that most of us feel more and more called to DO something to help our world. I believe Tolstoy -- joy is only real if we see it as service and connection. In that light, one of the best things we can do every single day is to show up and connect by practicing joy. Today, I write this to remind myself. . .I hope it will also remind anyone else out there who needs a little booster shot of joy!
Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair’d in the adamant of Time.
- Walt Whitman
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
- Emma Lazarus
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
- Langston Hughes
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
-Katharine Lee Bates
Good morning from Birmingham, England.
It's Memorial Day in the US and a Bank Holiday in the UK. The city was up all night celebrating Gay Pride and a Kiss concert. I had my windows wide open all night (they open like sliding doors with no deck right out into the open air!) and I could hear all the excitement sixteen floors below. But now, all is quiet, and I can see for miles as the rain starts to come in. It is a perfect grey morning with a breeze, giving me quiet time to reflect on all that I have to be grateful for. . .
Last night, I got to meet a wonderful group of people here in Birmingham and have some amazing conversations about life and joy and what we're all doing here anyway.
As I look out at the city below -- a beautiful small spired church that managed to survive the bombing of World War II, blended in with industrial and uber-modern architecture, I remember that this planet has already seen everything many many times. And that we are simply here to try to be good stewards and help Mother Earth shepherd more generations through this journey of life.
On this Memorial Day, may we all carry the stories of the past forward into the present with the intention to do all we can to create a hopeful and healing future.
As a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, OF COURSE I was excited to be invited to officiate a wedding in Asbury Park!
I drove in late Friday night and was promptly welcomed by bright white lights proclaiming, GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK!
We were off to a great start. And then a Nor'Easter blew in, so I didn't see too much of the town for the next 36 hours. A quick rainy walk revealed tree-lined streets with iris and azaleas soaking up the welcome moisture in gardens of beautifully-restored Victorian mansions. While I soaked in the gorgeous Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel where we were staying.
But then Sunday morning dawned. Breezy, sunny, cool -- and out I went to explore everything. What a wonderful town! The famous boardwalk, cute boutiques, seafood restaurants, and lots of music joints. Including the famous Stone Pony.
I had paleo pancakes with real maple syrup for breakfast, and chatted with everyone who walked by and greeted my dog, Allie. Then I made the rounds of a fabulous Farmers Market, where I found some awesome jewelry by a local artist. More Victorian homes and boutique hotels, and of course a souvenir tshirt rounded out my visit. I wish I could have stayed longer.
I had heard that Asbury Park was undergoing a wonderful renaissance. There are signs of it everywhere. It is an absolutely beautiful seaside town. I could have photographed there all day -- so many sights to see.
But frankly, with as much as I travel, I have come to gauge a place more by its people and its energy more than its beauty. Asbury Park has wonderful people and a great energy.
Sometimes touristy places overwhelm me -- and I'm sure Asbury Park on, say, Fourth of July weekend might do just that. But on a beautiful spring Sunday morning, watching the waves and the birds and the people and the dogs -- taking in all the joy everyone seemed to be exuding -- I am putting Asbury Park on my must visit for longer list.
One of the real perks of a nomadic life is getting to see places I have heard about my whole life -- and finding out what they are all about. Meeting real people in real places and finding sweet connections -- like a shared hug with a new friend in the Farmer's Market -- that's what it's all about. Or to quote the Boss, in a lyric never more apt in these days of disheartening headlines: "Man, the dope's that there's still hope."
This is one of my new favorite places. I was driving through the village of Sleepy Hollow looking for a place to walk my dog Allie, when I saw Headless Horseman Bridge. Well, you gotta love that. Just on the other side I saw the gates of a large cemetery, and a sign with an arrow reading Irving.
That's how I found my way into the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and discovered an incredible walk into history. Beginning with the early Dutch settlers of the Hudson valley up to the present day -- and meandering through most of the great names of American industry and commerce -- Rockefeller, Chrysler, Carnegie, and even Helmsley -- I viewed an unusual glimpse at our nation's history. Through their memorials meant to encapsulate a lifetime in a moment of marble.
Of course, the cemetery is also home to Washington Irving's family plot, as well as tributes to countless veterans of countless wars. A beautiful stream meanders through the acres of rolling hills, covered with spring flowering trees and fragrant lilac bushes, and glimpses of the Hudson river in the distance. It is one of the most beautiful places I have walked in a long time -- a place to think about history, humanity, beauty, nature, and the meaning of life.
I found myself thinking about the great joy each of these individuals must have experienced in their lifetimes, and chose to hold that joy for them in my heart -- instead of the sorrow their passing brought to their loved ones or their admirers. I could not help but think how they would love all the beauty surrounding them this spring -- and the joy that countless visitors still find spent in their company.
There are places that sing to our souls no matter how often we visit them. Savannah is one of those places for me.
Like so many people, I learned about the rich and mysterious history of Savannah through the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. But that book alone would not have been enough to intrigue me. I owe my fascination with Savannah to my mother. It was a place she longed to visit. In fact, she had a "scouting" trip planned when the unexpected death of her brother forced its cancellation. She never returned. She wanted to come here because one of her great passions was historic preservation -- and at the time, the late 1980s, Savannah was at the beginning of its glorious revival.
Whether I liked it or not as a little girl who often just wanted to fit in and not stand out, I respected the fact that my mother was always a prescient pioneer -- years if not decades ahead of her time in her artistic and creative vision. She had been a key figure in the historic preservation and revival of Boston's South End, and Savannah was the place that called to her next. She hoped to start her next project here. That alone was enough to make me know Savannah must be a very special place. Whatever else I can say about my mom, she had an almost unerring eye for the cutting edge and potential, for beauty and uniqueness and history.
Although she never came here, I finally did -- at the invitation of another powerful woman dedicated to art, design, architecture, and historic preservation -- the founder and president of SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design -- Paula Wallace.
I have had the great good fortune of returning to Savannah as a guest of SCAD four times now (and two more at their Atlanta campus). Each time I come, I am struck by the beauty, history, mystery, and presence of this unique and gorgeous city. And I always think of my mother and of President Wallace -- two women with gloriously unapologetic vision. In President Wallace's case, her vision not only brought Savannah back to its former glory, but also continues to inspire countless young people to careers in creativity that push the boundaries of what is possible.
In an age of the disposable, of the what's next and what's new, I am always grateful to find myself in a place where old and new intersect to create a future infused with the best of what has been and immense hope for what is to come. That is Savannah, and that is SCAD. And I am always grateful to come here and enjoy its warm Southern embrace.
Every so often you have one of those days that -- against all odds -- turns out to be pure joy. My Sunday afternoon visit to Leiper's Fork, a small village about 40 minutes south of downtown Nashville, was one of those days.
First of all, the drive there is gorgeous. Particularly if you're a horse lover like me. Rolling hills, beautiful homes, big barns, and white picket fences with green fields dotted with beautiful horses. It was a true old-fashioned Sunday drive.
I arrived in Leiper's Fork about 2:30 PM on a sunny spring day in March. In my mind, I thought I was going to find some artisanal cafes, but what I found was a BBQ joint in front of which was parked just about every motorcycle in Central Tennessee. I was starving, so I asked a couple of guys where to order. When they told me to go inside, I realized that I had Allie, my dog, with me and she probably wouldn't be welcome. So, they offered to hold her for me.
I went in and ordered, and when I came out, my fluffy white dog Allie was happy as a clam with her two new biker friends. So I joined the three of them, and we all had a lovely 45 minute lunch together chatting about Nashville, politics, construction, road trips, and dogs. We had the nicest time.
After I'd had a little sustenance, I headed out to explore the town, which turned out to be filled with cool boutiques and lifestyle stores. I stumbled upon a small store tucked behind another one, and when I went in it was packed with women and kids chatting. So I looked around and found the cutest pink and blue faded plaid shirt for $28!
When I went to check out, all the ladies turned to me and started asking me questions about Allie, who is my joy ambassador. When I told them that we were on the road from New Mexico on a two-year walkabout of intentional homelessness, the owner exclaimed, "Well bless your heart. I think I need to give you a hug." So she did, followed by all the other ladies in the store. It was the most awesome group hug I have ever had.
We all stayed and chatted some more, before I headed out to wander some more. Leiper's Fork was definitely a sweet little town. But far far sweeter were its people. The memory of my new biker friends and those ladies who gave me that huge hug -- on a day I needed it more than I can express -- will keep Leiper's Fork in my Joy Scrapbook forever.
So, if you happen to go to Nashville, make time to go to Leiper's Fork and get to know its people. It is one of the most joy-filled places I have been to in a very very long time!
Yesterday I began recording the audiobook of The Way of Being Lost. I spend eight hours listening to the sound of my own voice.
Last night after my dog Allie woke me up three times in the middle of the night to go out and poop, each time I was up for hours on end listening to the sound of my own voice.
I sometimes spend weeks without seeing anyone I know well, so during those long stretches I spend most of my time listening to the sound of my own voice.
And even when I am talking with people Iove, I find that I spend way less time listening to them and far more time listening to the sound of my own voice.
Frankly, I am pretty sick and tired of the sound of my own voice.
Because we live in a society that values creativity, personality, uniqueness, self-expression, and big opinions, we all spend inordinate amounts of time listening to the sound of our own voices.
But, as we all know, when push really comes to shove and we're terrified or lonely or teetering on some terrible precipice (generally of our own making), we need to heard something that will break through the fear overload and make enough soul sense to calm us down, shift our thought, allay our fears. We need to be able to hear something, anything, except the sound of our own voices.
But how do we learn to do this? How can we learn to listen deeply to what matters instead of the monkey mind laundry list of calamitous crap most of us natter on about ad nauseum?
Last night, if I had to give myself a "listening grade", I'd give myself a D+. I was able to push beyond those careening kooky voices in my head about 3% of the time. Admittedly, not a great percentage. Bascially, I was listening to crazy talk 97% of the night.
But what I would give myself an A-/B+ for was this: For the most part, I was not impressed with the nut bucket in my head. And THAT was huge!! I attribute that to practice.
I have practiced meditation and prayer night after night for years now. I have practiced telling myself that no matter what the cray cray in my head says, it always sounds worse in the dark. Practice may not make perfect, but it makes better than what used to be.
The deal with practice is this -- we have to keep doing it and doing it and doing it, no matter what, no matter the immediate results.
We live in an instant gratification society, so the idea of practicing something over and over again for a lifetime doesn't appeal to most of us. And so, when 36-year-old Roger Federer wins his twentieth Grand Slam singles title, as he did last night in Australia, we call him the ageless wonder. Sure this seeming tennis immortal may go down as the Greatest of All Time, but I know it has not been without a shitload of practice. If the rest of us practiced as much as Federer or Nadal or the Williams sisters, we might not ever win a Grand Slam title. But I bet we'd sure as heck be a lot better at whatever it is we are practicing than we are now.
So even though the goal of my practice is to stop hearing so much of the sound of my own damn voice and hear more of the still small voice of Love, when most of what I hear is me nattering on about crap in which I am mostly deeply disinterested, how do I change the channel and start listening to something else?
Prayer. Meditation. Long walks. Deep reading. Music. Yoga. Try them all, find the ones that offer a glimmer of hope, and then commit to practicing them.
But then what?
Well, here's the deal with practice: It only works if you do it, so if you berate yourself for not practicing, for practicing "badly", or for not having the results you hope to have, you are never going to keep practicing.
So while practice required daily, deliberate, conscious commitment, it also requires kindness. Practice without kindness is fruitless.
This goes for every area of our lives in which we wish to change our habits. The only way we are going to practice shifting old patterns is with a little encouragement -- from ourselves. This means that what we most need to practice is . . . yes, you've got it . . . listening to the sound of our own voices. But -- and this is the key -- our own voices speaking kindly to ourselves.
And so, as with everything else, it all comes down to the same thing: Love. For, as Henry James so wisely wrote: "Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind."
Today -- and every day -- let us all go out and listening to the sound of our own voices practicing kindness.
Today's Soul Sunday post comes to you from Allie. It's short and sweet. . .but it says everything.
I am an ordained interspiritual/interfaith minister, but I was raised as a Christian. Although I have struggled to reconcile so much of what has been done in the world in the name of Christ with the message of Love that I was taught as a little girl, I still celebrate Christmas as the coming of the Christ.
What do I mean by that? I believe that the Christ is the way in which God's Love for us is understood, experienced, and expressed humanly. The Christ is the translation of spiritual divine qualities into human language and experience. As such, the Christ is not something limited to Christians. It is a Universal language beyond words. It is Love reflected in all the love here on earth.
Christians believe, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . .and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us."
I do, too. But I believe that this Word is Love -- the continual outpouring of Divine Love that creates and sustains us all. And that anytime we choose love, that Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.
I believe that is what Jesus (and Buddha and Muhammed and the Dalai Lama and so many other prophets) came to teach us. So when I say I celebrate Christmas, I am not celebrating the birth of a baby boy. I am honoring the expression of Love incarnate -- and recommitting to manifesting that Love in every encounter.
That's why last night's news headlines this holiday season hit me like a punch in the gut. The current political administration -- as influenced by a group of people who call themselves Christians -- has apparently demanded that the Health and Human Services Department -- health and human services, just take in those words -- redact these seven words from the vocabulary of the Center for Disease Control: evidence-based, science-based, entitlement, vulnerable, diversity, transgender, and fetus.
I would just like to respond to this news in a way that I understand to be Christian:
evidence-based: Jesus proved himself to be the Son of God by healing the sick and raising the dead, and then he even came back from the dead himself. Jesus gave evidence-based proof that he was the Son of God by controlling and curing disease. This is a core tenet of Christianity.
science-based: Jesus said very clearly that he came to show that what he could do, we could do -- and even better -- because his healings were not miraculous at all. If science is a "systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject" -- then the evidence of Jesus' healing power provided the proof that was the basis of a future religion called Christianity (a systematically organized body of knowledge of Jesus) -- AKA the Science of Christ.
entitlement: Our Declaration of Independence is widely held to have been created based on Christian values -- the core of which are the inalienable rights of human beings to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". An inalienable right is something to which we are all entitled.
vulnerable: Paul, the man who spread the message of the Christ around the world, gives the ultimate definition of vulnerability: "My power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insult, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, I am strong." By this definition of a man whose words are revered by Christians the world over, to be vulnerable is to be the most "Christian".
diversity: This is as core a Christian teaching as there is. "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body. So it is with Christ." OR "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. . .To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines." In other words, diversity IS spiritual and an expression of the Christ in each of us.
transgender: "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. . .There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Again, a core Christian teaching. The way I read this teaching, it means we are all transgender.
fetus: In every creche all over the world right now, there is an empty basket waiting for a baby to be born. On Christmas Eve, that baby appears and we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Christians regard Jesus as the Son of God, born into the world through Mary. In the nine months before he was born, even Jesus was a fetus. An unborn child who was born into the man whose life here on earth Christians celebrate this holiday season.
So, as we celebrate the Word of God, which is Love, made flesh in man called Jesus who embodied the Christ or Love of God to us, let us remember this evidence-based proof of God's Love. Let us be grateful for the science-based proof that Love conquers all -- even the hatred of ignorant men like Pontius Pilate and his current heirs. Let us celebrate our entitlement to feel and experience and express God's Love this holiday season and every day. Let us choose, this holiday season, to be vulnerable enough not only to honor those who have less than we do, but to acknowledge our own anxiety and stresses that this year and this holiday season brings. Let us celebrate the diversity of the expressions of Love through the message of the Christ, of Hanukkah, of Kwanza, of family and friends and holiday lights and spread that joy to the world. Let us recognize that Love bridges gender, race, religion, class, and every other supposed way that we seem different from one another -- and so be glad that Love is transgender, transrace, transreligion, transclass. . .because Love is All-in-all. And finally, let us spend less time celebrating the fetus that was birthed into the Baby Jesus, and spend more time living the message of the man he became through the the WORDS that Jesus spoke:
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that he also love one another."
This is the true meaning of Christmas.
Back in the old days boys and girls, female flight attendants used to be called stewardesses. (Male attendants were pursers.) Then sometime in the 1970s or 80s, the terminology changed to something gender neutral, and both became flight attendants.
Back in the old days boys and girls, there was a Republican president who called himself a "steward of the people", and regarded his most sacred trust as being a steward of the land. He created national parks to preserve and protest the land for future generations. His name was Theodore Roosevelt.
To be a steward meant to protect and preserve something precious. Safety, human life, the future of our planet. It was a sacred trust. Not something demeaning, but something essential and meaningful and true.
You don't hear the words steward much anymore. It is an old-fashioned kind of word. It's is associated with servitude. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This month a Republican president took back national park land -- land sacred to Native American tribes, those of us who love and honor and revere Mother Earth, as well as to birds and animals and plants -- and turned it over to big business intent on privatizing, exploiting and destroying it.
Back in the old days boys and girls, people understood, "We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children." We seem to have forgotten the truth of this Native American wisdom.
At this rate, by the time our children and grandchildren grow up, our beautiful earth will look nothing like it does now -- and whole species (not just obscure little insects but polar bears, for example) may only exist in captivity or in picture books. Climate change will render parts of our planet unlivable for one reason or another. Before this presidency, we were minutes aways from the witching hour on the cosmic clock of self-destruction. Now, without anyone in power acting as a steward of our planet, many feel it may be too late to turn back time.
I, however, am a perennial optimist.
Bonaventure, the 13th-century theologian, wrote that we cannot begin to love ourselves, others, let alone God, if we cannot love nature (God's creation) first. He said, "Whoever is not enlightened by such splendor of [God-]created things is blind."
I chose this photo as my Soul Sunday post, because I hope that everyone who reads this will look deeply at this image. It was taken on a summer's day a couple of years ago in my home state of New Mexico. I like to think that no one could look at a view like this and not see something larger and more powerful and more profound than our little human concerns -- and so be awakened to the beauty and love of life. To be awakened, to see for a moment not through a glass darkly but through the sparkling and hopeful eyes of Love -- this is enlightenment.
As Rachel Carson wrote, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
As you look deeply and see the beauty of this image, here's some good news to ponder: Old white men with hardened hearts are not our future. Children look at stones and see the beauty in them. Children don't need to become enlightened. They already are. Those children will grow up to be the grownups that have the capacity to save the world. But IF -- and only IF -- those of us who are marginally awake -- will do our level best to be stewards of their future by being stewards of the land.
I am writing this impassioned post as my Soul Sunday blog because for my entire life I have found my church in nature. I am not alone in this, I know. But those of us who love nature cannot sit back and be passive and then wake up one day and wonder where it has all gone. To be good stewards for the land and for our planet's children and grandchildren, we need to think globally, act locally, and contribute in whatever way we can to saving the land.
To become good stewards, we must go out and begin to become the kind of change that will honors and preserve our planet. As Wendell Berry reminds us, the way to reverse all that is being done to our planet is to at once acknowledge our part in it and then NOT to "indulge in a lot of breast-beating and confession". Instead, we need to know "that there is much good work to be done by every one of us and that we must begin to do it.”
To find out more about what you can do to help, please visit Patagonia's home page online. Patagonia, Native American tribes, and other organizations are fighting the good fight to keep these lands from being stolen.
To help closer to home, find out what you can do in your neighborhood to preserve public lands and keep them clean.
To find out more about what you can do in your own heart, go outside and look at the trees and the sky. Hear the birds. Feel the sun. And be grateful for the joy they bring you. Then carry that joy in your heart into every decision you make.
In these dark times, we all hope for heroes. What we don't realize is that we can each be one.
Gandalf, the beloved wizard in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, perhaps voiced this best:“The rule of no realm is mine. . .great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?”
Let us all be stewards so that the world can still grow fair, bear fruit and flower again, once this dark night passes. Let us speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Let us all do whatever we can to make sure our children's children can know the beauty of the world.
Not a day goes by when I am not reminded of at least one way that I am -- and will always be -- my parents' daughter. There are days when that is a mixed bag -- those old childhood stories come up and bite me in the butt from time to time. But sometimes, like yesterday, I feel both of my parents with me in the most glorious of ways -- and I am so grateful to them both.
Yesterday two friends and I visited the New York Botanical Gardens Holiday Train Show. I can't really think of a holiday show more suited for me. I love love love Botanical Gardens -- and have visited them all over the world. I love love love trains and train sets. To me, there is still not a more romantically wistful sound than a train whistle in the distance. And I love rollie coasters -- in that I am, and will always be, my father's daughter.
This holiday train show takes over the entire glass conservatory of the New York Botanical Gardens -- a magnificent century-old glass structure enclosing acres of greenery. The trains themselves are incredible -- the largest size model trains, G size, so big that you feel you could hop right on and take a ride. They weave their way through orchids and euphorbia and other lush tropical greenery, while outside it is winter. All of that would be more than enough to create a glorious spectacle. But that's not the best part by a long shot.
The best part is that the trains weave their way through New York buildings and baseball stadiums and amusement parks -- all built entirely out of natural substances like twigs, branches, leaves, cinnamon sticks and berries. And they are massive and detailed and marvelous. It is like wandering through a toy New York -- seeing brownstones and mansions and bridges, culminating in the entire New York skyline. My mother, the architectural designer, would have loved this so much. I felt her looking over my shoulder with a huge smile on her face the whole visit. I myself oohed and aahed for hours in sheer delight.
This video is their re-creation of the world-famous Coney Island coaster, the Cyclone. For rollie coaster aficionados, this is one of the great classic coasters. I stood there yesterday for at least five minutes watching it with a huge grin on my face. Pure un - adult - erated JOY!
But that joy is not why I am making it the focus of my Soul Sunday blog post. The real reason is that rollie coasters have become one of my chief metaphors for the spiritual journey. The slow climb up toward something which we desire -- feeling both anticipation and terror -- then the release into the stomach-lurching drop at the same time screaming in joy. The sweeping turns, the loop-de-loops, and then -- at least on the newer coasters -- the chance to do it all over again. . .BACKWARDS. If that's not life as a spiritual journey, I don't know what is.
In 2011, the year of my dad's 100th birthday, the one thing I really wanted to do was to ride some rollie coasters. So I went to Elitch's in Denver with a friend. The summer I was seventeen, my dad was doing his one-man show about Oscar Wilde at the Elitch's Playhouse, and while he was working, I had a free pass to wander through the park riding every ride. I had such fond memories of that amusement park, and I couldn't wait to ride the big old wooden coaster there.
My friend and I got on the ride and off we went -- the slow climb up and then the drops and curves and spins. But years had passed since I had ridden a coaster, and it felt a lot different as an adult. I was laughing and white knuckling every drop and curve, all the while a steady stream of expletives were flying out of my mouth. And I couldn't stop any of it. Laughter, fear, and cursing the whole way. I looked over at my friend and she was doubled over laughing at me, tears streaming down her face.
When we got to the end, I breathlessly asked her what she thought. "You were the best part of the whole ride," she exclaimed. "You were hilarious. Let's do another!"
So we went over to one of the newer coasters. On this one, the cars crept up a ramp so steep that it went almost vertical, and then whipped down and around loops and corkscrews and whiplash turns. It was insane! Once again, I laughed, white-knuckled, and cursed my way to the end -- only to realize it wasn't the end at all. Up we went again, but this time to do the whole thing in reverse. Apparently that released from me a string of curse words so choice and creative and heartfelt that my friend almost choked laughing. We were both laughing -- but only one of us was laughing at me. At my elation, joy, terror, resistance and eagerness, all at once, to engage in this crazy "amusement".
Well, isn't that life? Don't we feel all of those things all at once all the time as we laugh til we cry, cry til we laugh, fear til we love, love as we fear, hold on tight as we fling ourselves off the cliff, and dig in our heels as they drag through the dirt when we really just need to let ourselves freefall?
Life is a rollie coaster, I always say. And I mean it.
But last night, as I watched this sweet little twig replica do its gyrations, all of a sudden I had an epiphany. One that in 55 years had never occurred to me. Life is a rollie coaster because we are always on the tracks. It just doesn't feel like it most of the time. Sometimes that's the way we like it. We want the adrenaline rush of risk. Sometimes we dip and drop and turn and flip and spin all the while kicking and screaming -- forgetting that we are still on the tracks and that the ride will come back to where it began, the place where we willingly climbed aboard.
This is our spiritual journey. What we forget are the tracks of Love holding us even as we fly through the air and scream bloody murder. Life is a rollie coaster -- and we are all on this ride together. In these trying times, let us try to remember that. Even as we fear what is around the next bend, even as we feel that we are having to experience this whole whiplashing ride backwards over and over again, let us remember that we are all on this ride together, and that the tracks that hold us hold us all.
We are all held by Love.
In the theatre, actors learn that to go on stage with either kids or a dog (or worse both!) is the "kiss of death". Meaning an audience will always pay more attention to children or animals than they will to the play or the adult actors in it. In the real world, however, kids and animals are the kiss of life. Kids and animals take us out of our adult head spaces -- the to do lists, the ego first, the me me me, the what am I here for -- and remind us of the true things we all need to remember: love, joy, life, and spirit.
I was a teacher for over a decade. I taught kids from age nine up. I also taught adults at university. But I loved teaching kids most. I loved their curiosity, their innate wisdom, their joy, their enthusiasm, their uncomplicated generosity of spirit. When I stopped teaching, I went through a long stretch of deep and profoundly unsettling anxiety. Without a daily connection to children, I felt unmoored and unsure what my purpose in the world could possibly be.
I had the privilege of spending my Thanksgiving holiday with these two amazing boys -- Brennan and Dylan. Of course, I had the advantage of bringing with me my Love Ambassador -- Allie. The boys immediately fell in love with Allie, so when they told Allie that she would always be a part of their family, by proxy I was included. That melted my heart. The hows or whys of love don't matter -- it's the expression of it. This weekend was one big love fest. And I, for one, am grateful to have been a part of it.
This morning I read that the "purpose" of love is to wake us up in the areas of ourselves where we are most asleep and where we avoid direct contact with life. Love puts us on the path to movement and change by showing us where we most need to grow. If we go where we most need to grow, we open our hearts both to our own inner aliveness as well as the vibrant loving aliveness of the world.
Being with these two boys and Allie reminded me that loving is really very simple. It's we adults who muck it all up. I, for one, am always grateful for the refresher course in love that kids and animals provide. . .
Or as one of my favorite poets, e.e. cummings, said much more better, kids and animals know:
love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail
it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the see
love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive
it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky
When I found this picture of my mother and me standing on some railroad tracks in God knows where in the late 1960s, I thought it looked like an Arbus photograph. Two uncomfortable, unhappy misfits in our matching coats.
Much of the healing of finishing my book, The Way of Being Lost, has been around my mother. For the first time in my life, I realize that all I feel for her is love. All the old memories have finally faded, and all that is left is what was always true: We loved each other. Not wisely or well, but deeply.
This past Friday, I attended a Shabbat service where my friend Rachel was singing with her two sisters. I was sitting a few seats over from their mother Iris. I could feel her beaming at her daughters up on stage, without even seeing her face.
At the end of the service, the rabbi told the congregation that Iris would be out in the foyer afterwards kvelling about her daughters. For those of you who don't know Yiddish, to kvell is to burst with pride.
Against all odds, my very English mother had complete fluency in Yiddish. She had apprenticed in New York's Garment District, where she had jettisoned her British accent and sought to fit in by sounding like she came from Brooklyn. In fact, by the time my dad met her at a party in Bel Air, that's where he thought she was from. Yiddish was frequently used in our house -- and an expression I heard over and over again was: "I don't want to hear you kvetching." Or in shorthand. "Don't kvetch." For those of you who don't know Yiddish, to kvetch is, well, to bitch about something.
On Friday night after the Shabbat service, I had an epiphany. For all of my mother's Yiddish, I never heard the expression kvell. I knew what it was, of course. My aunt Ruth (my mother's best friend and a larger than life Jewish mother) kvelled all the time about her children. I was the flower girl in all four of their weddings. She kvelled about me, too. My mother never kvelled.
I like to say that in life everything comes down to love or fear. That we have the choice of whether to expand into love or contract into fear. To resign into no or leap into yes. Now I would add to that -- we have the choice of whether to kvetch or to kvell.
To kvetch is to see the world as one big problem about which we are here to complain. To kvell is to glow with joy at being alive and surrounded by so much beauty and love -- and then to do everything we can to nurture that beauty and love so that it lasts or grows.
Although I was brought up never to kvetch -- and so I rarely do -- I was also brought up never to kvell. About myself or those I love. To kvell might be misconstrued as hubris or pride. This week I learned something new. To kvell is simply to love.
I choose love.
Kvetch or kvell? Which one do you choose?
My mother always hated having her picture taken. As a designer, she looked at everyone and everything with an eye to how it could be "better". This meant that she always saw through the lens of "not good enough". Much as I have tried not to, I inherited her judgmental gaze. Like her, that eye has made me good at my job as a designer. But it has also made me incredibly lousy at loving, or even much liking myself.
I have to have my picture taken a lot. I rarely like what I see. And I particularly loathe candid photos -- full of wrinkles and bad posture and an inevitably silly expression.
Last weekend, however, a friend took this candid photo of me on a beach in South Carolina -- and I actually liked it. Because instead of looking either for what I loathed or could tolerate, I found myself looking at the image in a new way. There are many cultures which have resisted the capturing of photographs, because they fear that their soul will be trapped. In this photograph, I finally saw beneath my surface to my soul.
The evolutionary scholar Beatrice Bruteau writes about the spiritual journey as our return to our "natural face" -- the essence of who we are underneath our names, identities, bodies, histories, personalities, feelings, worldly identities. Many people have called this true spiritual self by many different names -- but I love her language. I love the idea that we all are born and still retain our natural face, which is the reflection and expression and emanation of the Love which is all our truest essence.
This picture reminded me that I don't have to present my smiling self to the world and hope that the world will see me as I hope I am. Rather I need to move through every day in honest connection to the soul of Love within me, and when I do, smiling or not, wrinkled or not, stooped or silly expression or not, perhaps I will give someone a glimpse of my natural face. And when I do, what they see will not matter. It is what they will feel. They will feel Love emanating through me. And THAT is what we are all here to do: We are all here just to love love love. And then love some more.
Although traveling every day this fall is wreaking havoc on my blog posting, it is giving me plenty of opportunities to practice joy.
Yesterday, I attended an all-day workshop in Charleston, South Carolina, in a church surrounded by an ancient cemetery. So during each of the breaks, I wandered among the gravestones and read about the lives of people long gone. Gradually I began to realize that one word kept surfacing on the headstones: Sacred.
I have always loved the word Sacred. It is a beautiful word -- meaning many things related to divinity, devotion, religion, reverence, and awe. It can mean many things to many people. For me, for example, practicing joy every day is sacred. And sacred to me implies something both larger than mundane everyday life and yet also simply present in the simple act of being alive.
I believe joy is sacred because it connects us to our hearts, to one another, and to the planet. When we vow to practice joy, we are vowing to keep our hearts open to wonder and awe -- even at the smallest things.
Take a close look at this tombstone and you will see a tiny piece of lichen. Go on. Admit it. You might have overlooked it had I not pointed it out. I did. I overlooked it when I took the photo. I only saw it when I looked closely as I was adjusting the photo for this blog.
I love lichens. They show up in sage greens or vibrant mustards on stones and trees and almost anything else. They grow all over the world and have many uses -- including in the making of medicines and in religious rituals.
But here's something very cool you might not know about lichens: They are symbiotic. They cannot exist without either algae or cyanobacteria. Their entire lives are dependent on cooperating with these other forms of nature: The fungus uses the algae or bacteria to produce energy, while the algae or bacteria enjoys the protection provided by the fungus. They are cooperative by nature -- and they can grow almost anywhere in the world. They exist by sacred trust.
Sacred is as sacred is: Sacred is what we make it and how we live it. Sacred to me might not be sacred to you, but my respect for whatever you deem sacred is a sacred trust that allow us both to live lives of peace, connection, understanding, awe and wonder.
Sacred is always holy even if it seems profane, mundane, or even inane. Because sacred is always true -- as this wonderful poem by Stephen Dunn called The Sacred illuminates:
After the teacher asked if anyone had
a sacred place
and the students fidgeted and shrank
in their chairs, the most serious of them all
said it was his car,
being in it alone, his tape deck playing
things he'd chosen, and others knew the truth
had been spoken
and began speaking about their rooms,
their hiding places, but the car kept coming up,
the car in motion,
music filling it, and sometimes one other person
who understood the bright altar of the dashboard
and how far away
a car could take him from the need
to speak, or to answer, the key
in having a key
and putting it in, and going.
I get it. I am a traveler. My car is my church, the drivers seat my pew, and I pray at the bright altar of my dashboard every day on this road trip of my life.
But stopping and being still enough to love a patch of sage green lichen is also sacred. As is snuggling each morning with my dog or finding meaning in the pages of a book or getting to see the moon rise or hearing the sound of water.
Whatever is sacred to us, we must nurture. But like lichen, we must also honor whatever is sacred to others -- even if we don't always understand it. For, like the lichen, our very existence depends on this mutual cooperation. Without it, our sacred planet will not survive.
Love whatever is sacred in your own life, and honor it in others. This is the sacred trust with which we have been charged in the healing of this sacred world in which we all live together.
This is my favorite season. The light, the colors, the sky, the air. I adore autumn.
In reality, of course, autumn is both the bittersweet precursor to winter, and the last hurrah of summer. The beauty of the leaves belies the fact that they are falling away. Here in the Northeast, after this next big storm due to arrive later today, many trees will be bare for months to come.
I think this is why I love autumn so much. It is a reminder to be grateful right here, right now, right where we are. To find the beauty in what is, instead of being afraid of what is to come.
I took this photo on my morning walk here in New Jersey a few days ago. The only kind of selfie I take. I love them, because they remind me that wherever I go, there she is -- my shadow.
A few years ago I was introduced to shadow work -- being willing to look at the aspects of "me" that I have been told to avoid or ignore. The less than perfect parts, the tricky bits, even the darker stuff. To look at them -- and actually even invite them in for a deep conversation.
Debbie Ford, who wrote a number of wonderful books about shadow work, believed, "Your life will be transformed when you make peace with your shadow. The caterpillar will become a breathtakingly beautiful butterfly. You will no longer have to pretend to be someone you're not. You will no longer have to prove you're good enough. When you embrace your shadow you will no longer have to life in fear. Find the gifts of your shadow and you will finally revel in all the glory of your true self. Then you will have the freedom to create the life you have always desired.”
I began learning to make peace with my shadow happened when I started attending horror conventions, like the one where I find myself today -- Chiller Theatre.
My mother brought me up to always present my "best self" to the world. Even if that meant hiding some very true parts of me. Perfect, my mother seemed to believe, might actually be possible, if I wore, said, did all the right things.
At horror conventions, wearing the right thing means having a pair of scissors sticking out of your head -- as one audience member at the talk I gave yesterday did. (Might have been my favorite "costume" of the day -- so subtle, and so, well, pointed!) Saying the right thing might mean knowing more about my father's movies than I ever will and sharing that knowledge with everyone you know because you just love Vincent Freaking Price so darn much. And doing the right thing may mean plopping down on the floor next to me, as one woman whom I'd never met did yesterday, and chatting with my dog non stop for half an hour -- much to my dog's utter delight. (Something I always want to do when I see a dog, and something every dog loves!) And those are all just subtle examples. Mostly at horror conventions, people wear, say, and do whatever they want whenever they want to do it -- and the feeling of joy and freedom is utterly infectious.
You see, that's my shadow. I was that wild free child who said, did, and wore whatever she wanted -- until my mother trained it out of me for good. Coming to horror cons reminds me of that me, and by embracing that shadow side, I am becoming the butterfly I always hoped to be.
The key -- as Debbie Ford knew -- is having understanding and compassion for our less-than-perfect parts. By befriending them instead of judging them, we show up in the world in more truth. Whenever we do that, we judge others less. Whenever we do that, we make the planet a better place.
I love this photo because it reminds me that right there -- right "inside" my shadow -- are the most colorful parts of me. The most colorful parts of us all. And when we remember to love instead of judge them in ourselves and others, we live as our truest selves.
So this Halloween week -- celebrate your own dark shadows by loving the parts of you that you thought you needed to hide. Find joy in your supposed faults, learn to see your theoretical weaknesses as your strengths, and find the positive in what others have called your negatives.
Learn to love your shadow, and you will learn to love yourself. Love yourself -- and it is a lot easier to love others. Love others. . .well, that's the whole key, isn't it? Love others -- and we love the world whole.
Happy Halloween, my friends!
I have always been fascinated by the idea of pilgrimages. Perhaps it's because my father told me that we were related to Peregrine White, the first child born as the Mayflower sailed into Plymouth Harbor. (Had I been a boy, apparently my name would have been Peregrine.) A peregrination is another word for a pilgrimage. Perhaps it's because I had a map over my bed when I was a little girl on which I tracked all of my parents' journeys. Perhaps it's because I have always been happiest when I am moving. But even as a little girl, I loved reading about people who made pilgrimages. I still do. Now, I have the added joy of getting to make a few of my own.
I am writing this blog on a train from Barcelona, Spain, to Lyon, France. It is the first foggy rainy day since I arrived in Spain three weeks ago. I love it when the weather affirms that it is time for me to leave someplace! These past three weeks have felt like a pilgrimage in so many ways -- and not just because I visited so many spiritual and religious sites. They have felt like a pilgrimage back into my own life.
For the past 20 months, I have been writing a book called The Way of Being Lost: A Road Trip to My Truest Self. It has been a process unlike any I have ever experienced. One in which I went so deep into the depths that most of the time I felt as though I was swimming in some amniotic fluid of the essence of myself far beneath all the stories that I have come to call "my life". Although I did spend a week while I was in Spain doing a minor rewrite of the book , for the most part, I have spent the past three weeks just here re-learning how to be present in the "real world". I feel like I have been swimming up from many leagues beneath the surface of the sea, slowly slowly so as not to get the bends. An unconventional pilgrimage, but a pilgrimage to be sure.
I love Paolo Coelho’s affirmation that “life is a long pilgrimage from fear to love”. I couldn't agree more. John O’Donohue believed that “at its heart, the journey of each life is a pilgrimage through unforeseen sacred places that enlarge and enrich the soul.” That is so true.
Certainly this last year and a half of living on the road in intentional homelessness has been the most profound pilgrimage of my life.
So, between now and the end of the year, as I begin to find a rhythm of posting again -- even (especially?!) while I am on the road doing a small US book tour -- I am going to focus my blog posts on paths, journeys, road trips, learning to see, and the joys I have experienced as I have learned to embrace the pilgrimage of my life.
Today, I want to start with Montserrat, Spain, a place that many pilgrims spend a lifetime hoping to visit, but which I stumbled upon quite by accident.
It is the home of a Black Madonnna, venerated by Catholics from around the world. High in the rocky (serrated -- thus the name) mountains above Barcelona, is a very isolated and ancient abbey. You can access it by road, by cable car, by foot, or by funicular. We opted for the cable car, which was built in the 1930s and takes five minutes to whiz up over the rocks.
Once there, we experienced incredible views, a short mass with angelic singing by a boy's choir that has been in existence since the 1400s, a funicular ride up to the top of the mountain where we hiked to hermitages and grand vistas, a museum, a lunch with an amazing view, visits with local famers making cheeses and honey and almond goodies, and, of course, a chance to see the Black Madonna.
No one really knows why there are so many Black Madonnas. Countless theories abound, but they have incredible power -- as witnessed by the number of people who come to see this one, blessed by popes for centuries.
This was the first shrine I have ever visited where I have had to wait in line. Some people waited hours to slowly climb up the stairs to the tiny gold chamber from which the Black Madonna of Montserrat overlooks her whole basilica. She is the whole reason the monastery is there -- and watching so many people with injuries or tears in their eyes visit this beloved icon was frankly as or more moving than seeing the Madonna herself.
I have always adored ritual -- which is odd, because I grew up in a religion devoid of ritual. Even though I do not practice any rituals sanctioned by organized religion myself, I am so moved by the practice of others who do practice Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, African, Native American, or many other rituals I have had the privilege to witness.
My own rituals are much simpler: I speak to every place I stay or visit -- be it a country or a hotel room -- thanking it for its kindness and hospitality to me. I kneel down and "talk" to every dog I meet. I smell flowers and talk to birds. I carry certain totems with me, and I wear certain color bracelets. I do not do any of these things to achieve a desired outcome of any kind, however. I do these things to remain conscious.
What does that mean? Are we not all conscious simply by being alive and breathing. No. We're not. Most of us go through our days on autopilot. Think about it. We climb stairs every day -- a fairly complicated endeavor, which we can do without thinking because our bodies know how to do this already. It is only when we encounter a riser that is the "wrong" height or a series of stairs built of rickety or unsteady material that we pay attention to this complicated act. This is true of so much of life. We move through the world unthinking -- and only when we are jolted awake do we clue in to what is going on around us.
For me, to be a pilgrim is to intentionally move through the world with awe, wonder, reverence, joy, gratitude, generosity, open-heartedness, open-mindedness, curiosity and acceptance.
I have come to believe that it would benefit us all if we thought of our lives as pilgrimages from fear to love and every step along the path as an act of veneration and gratitude. That is what I hope to share in the coming months with posts about the joy of this pilgrimage most people call life.
As Houston Smith so brilliantly wrote, "To start out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life." For the next few months of this daily practice of joy, I am going to challenge myself -- and all of you -- to live each step on our paths with more consciousness, gratitude, presence, kindness. . .and to commit to facing down fear by learning to live more fully in love.
May it be so.
I am emerging from almost two years of intensive writing. My book is called The Way of Being Lost, and I certainly got lost many many times while writing it.
I filmed this video in the 100-year-old labyrinth in the Royal Alcazar in Seville, Spain, on the day after my book manuscript was accepted for final editing. It was a day of celebration and reflection. But mostly, just another day to get lost and be found.
In this video, I share some of what I am learning on my Way of Being Lost.
As a kid, I was never allowed to watch TV until after dark. (Except for major sporting events like the World Series, of course!) That meant I missed all of the other shows kids watched -- especially cartoons. When my friends talked about Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig, I knew who they meant, but I couldn't have told you a thing about them.
As I grew up and caught up on some cartoon viewing, I felt "too old" to enjoy most of them. Except for one: I ADORED Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner. I still do. In fact, poor Wile E.'s mishaps remain my go-to metaphor for many of my own more bone-headed maneuvers in life.
This week on the road I felt exactly like my coyote friend -- in hot pursuit of a goal the reason for which I had long since forgotten, only to realize that, just I got within spitting distance, I was . . . well, you get the picture from my picture. In a word, my whole week was one long Yikes!
I think the reason we all love poor Wile E. is that he is the cartoon embodiment of all of our human monkey minds. We get so focused on some ridiculous goal, which probably isn't a real goal anyway (I mean, what would Wile E. even do without his "friend" the Roadrunner?!), and then we run ourselves ragged only to realize that all we've been doing is hurling ourselves off the same ontological cliff, over and over and over again.
Today's Soul Sunday post -- written on a day when I was planning to be doing something vastly different than what I am doing (which is, by the way, perfectly lovely) -- is a reminder to stop chasing the Roadrunners of our lives and befriend them instead. To put down the TNT and the tacks, get out of the rocket car and lose the number for Acme/Amazon, and just stop and be. . .right here, right now, in gratitude and presence for what is inside our souls. Sure, maybe that's not cartoon material. But it is fodder for a very grateful and hopeful life.
May it be so for us all!
The way forward is unclear
The night is dark
And we seem to have
Lost our way
The Light is always there
To guide us home.
All the newspapers keep telling us what a rough week this has been for the President of the United States. I would have to say that it's been a lot rougher for many many other people in this country, in this world. Heck, it's been a rough year (or two or decade for that matter) for anyone with a heart. Which is all of us. It is a challenging -- and yet also an amazing -- time to be human.
These are dark times. Dark times filled with beautiful pinpricks of light. Dark times where sometimes such streamingly brilliant and beautiful light breaks through that we remember why we love being human. These are the dark times that make us show up to not just our own light, but to the light of the world.
It is feared by many of us that our country is being taught to hate again. But I don't think that's ultimately true. When we counter every hate with love and kindness, in fact, what we are being taught is how to be great -- the greatness not of isolation or of exclusion based in fear, but the greatness that comes from showing up to the Golden Rule of Love. These days, for every act of hate, we have all been witnessing such beautiful acts of love and forgiveness. This is the impetus we all need to show up as our better angels in this world.
Whether we like it or not, we are being pulled away from the complacency of comfort and being forced not just to stand up for what we believe, but also to demonstrate it every day in quiet acts of love and kindness toward everyone we meet.
Tomorrow is the Great Solar Eclipse of 2017. People are calling it a Reset Button. I sure hope so. We need one. Many of us are traveling out of our way to be in the totality, when the whole sun will be covered and the world will go black into darkness. We are seeking out that darkness. And yet, during that darkness, we are told, it is most dangerous to look at the sun. We can be blinded, literally, by the light. Metaphorically, that is what the darkness wants us to believe. That the darkness is safer than the light. That hate is truer than love.
Tomorrow, those of us seeking out the darkness are doing so because we know that it will be short-lived, and soon the sun and the sky and the familiar blue will return. We need to trust that this, too, will happen in our world. That the darkness and hatred threatening to overwhelm our planet will always be outshone by the daily acts of lovingkindness. Even in darkness, we must look for the light. Because nothing -- not even officially-sanctioned hate -- can ever eclipse Love. It may have been a rough week on our planet. But even, maybe especially during this rough week, we are all remembering the one thing we all need to know: Love is love is love is love -- and love always always wins.
This morning, as my heart breaks for the world -- for the hatred and violence and angry divisive rhetoric escalating everywhere -- I am going to my sacred place. It is an aspen grove at the top of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains at 11,000 feet. It is a place I feel safe, I feel loved, and, most of all, I feel hope for the world.
Why? Because this aspen grove, like all aspen groves, is a living breathing example of what is really true: We are all one.
Aspens -- those slender beautiful trees with the shimmering leaves -- grow by what is known as the vegetative method. This means that aspen roots remain near the surface of the ground and from the roots of one first tree every other aspen in the grove sprouts. Each new tree is genetically identical to the first "parent" tree. All of the trees in each aspen forest are interconnected by these roots and are, in fact, one genetic entity.
Just like us.
We, too, are one living organism living out from one root system. We have just forgotten this.
When you hike through an aspen forest, you can literally feel the power and grace and beauty of Unity all around you. You feel held. You feel hugged. You feel hope.
When you hike through an aspen forest, you have to pay attention. Because those shallow roots are everywhere underfoot. It is a place you can easy take a tumble. This is one of the reasons I love to hike in my sacred grove. I have to be mindful of every step I take. When I do this, I see everything around me -- from the tiny purple flowers to the knots on each tree in sharp relief. I take nothing for granted. I am steeped in gratitude.
When you hike through and aspen forest, you can see the silence. Hear the beauty. Touch the interconnection. Smell the color. Taste the stillness. Every sense meets every other in interdependent wonder, and you feel present to the possibility of everything inherent in nature.
If this is true there, I remind myself. It is true for us.
But how can we remember?
I love these lines by the poet Naomi Shihab Nye:
There’s a place in this brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddles: wind and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.
It’s late but everything comes next.
When I am in my sacred aspen grove, feeling the oneness that is its and our truth, I remember what is possible. I touch the riddle of a world without hate -- its wind and seeds. When I remember, I know that there can never be a too late, which is, of course, what we all fear. And when I remember, I know that everything will come next.
So that wildflowers can come up right where you are
You've been stony for too long
Try something different
This poem by Rumi has become one of my daily mantras. Every day it reminds me that to crumble is not to be weak, but rather to create the disturbed fertile soil where I can blossom. This poem reminds me that the safety of stoniness is not safety at all. This poem reminds me that to rely on the same old same old will only result in, well, the same old same old. And so to keep being willing to try something different -- and mostly, and always, to surrender.
I am in Chicago at a horror convention. Over the past two days, I have hugged and held so many people who have broken down into tears as they have told me what my father meant to them growing up. Through lonely or difficult or traumatic childhoods, as a shared joy with a parent or grandparent they loved, during long periods of painful convalescence. As they shared their stories, their tears fell. And as we hugged through the tears, apologies always followed. But why are we so embarrassed to show our tears to one another, to share our tears of sorrow or of joy? A few years ago, I would have had a million good reasons not to cry, let alone cry in public. Now I see shared tears as a holy wholly beautiful experience.
This is the story of how I began the journey of releasing my stoniness when I was in my early twenties. As a little girl, I never cried. Ever. My mother told me that crying meant that you felt sorry for yourself. She told me that, for the daughter of a movie star raised in a 9,000 square foot mansion with every privilege imaginable, to feel sorry for yourself was unconscionable. I believed her. I stopped crying when I was about four years old. I never cried for another twenty years.
By the time I was in my early twenties, I walked through my life with what felt like a stone in my chest where my heart should have been. It felt rock hard and terrifyingly real. An imaginary stone of impenetrable hardness. I hated this hard heart of mine. I was so scared I was going to have to spend my whole life living as an emotional rock, an isolated island.
Then, one day in my early twenties, living in the mountains of New Mexico, a Joni Mitchell song started to play on my car tape deck. Suddenly I felt tears fill my eyes and my chest well up in pain. I was starting to cry! But I had forgotten how.
As Joni sang about the crocuses she would bring to school tomorrow, tears finally came — and with them an almost unbearable ache in my heart for my dad and the sweet sweet memory of my elementary school days, when he sent little pots of crocuses with me to put on our classroom window sill so my friends and I could all watch them grow. I realized how much I missed my dad’s sweetness! I had been missing it since my parents’ divorce. The tears that had been hidden away for so long, that I had forgotten they were even there, finally flowed. Foreign and unfamiliar in all their tender sorrow.
I remember watching myself cry as though I were in a movie of my own life, and thinking, as I wept with discomfort and relief, Ahhh. So *this* is why people cry.
My tears fell freely that day. As, thankfully, they do often these days. But I still can never let myself cry without first reassuring myself that it really is okay: I can be grateful, and humble, and cry.
The moment the tears came that long ago afternoon listening to Joni, that hard place in my heart that scared me so much began to release. But I have always been afraid it would return. Always been afraid that perhaps I am truly stony at heart.
Reading Rumi’s poem brought the sweet reassurance that every time I let myself wildflower, I am rejecting the stoniness I fear and instead choosing the disturbed soil where I can bloom in Love.
To do that, however, goes against so much of what we are taught. We are taught that rock is a firm foundation. Stoniness is safe. Growing up in Los Angeles, you know that the place you want to be when The Big One hits is on the bedrock. So much of L.A. is built on huge pools of oil, the same oil that created the famous La Brea Tar Pits, where countless dinosaurs met their dramatic demise. Stony is good.
Religion tells us the same thing. Don’t build your houses on sand. Choose the firm foundation of religious rock. But for many of us who have felt excluded and rejected by the rigid views of traditional religion, that Rock has been anything but safe. We have felt called to leave behind the stones which build the walls that separate, the stones that entomb, the stones too often thrown.
To truly wildflower, we have to risk leaving all that stony supposed safety behind and trust our seeding to the wind, our blooming to the disturbed soil.
Ken Wilber, a man whom I think of as the Albert Einstein of the interfaith/interspiritual movement, is revolutionary thinker with a deeply rational scientifically mind guided by a deep spiritual desire for wholeness. Reading Wilber is no walk in the park, but every so often a phrase or idea can jump off a page and change your life. As these words did for me: Transcend and include.
What Wilber means is that life is a cycle, in which what no longer serves us must be released. But when we do, it is not about throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. It is about releasing what no longer works *and* keeping what still serves us and including it in our growth.
Having a firm foundation is important, but so is loving our disturbed soil. Both. And. Transcend and include. Which is EXACTLY what wildflowers do. Evolving into new species, hybrids, colors. Letting the wind and bees take them where they will. And in doing so not just surviving. But truly deeply thriving.
What I learned that afternoon in my twenties listening to Joni Mitchell, what I have learned with every aching and beautiful tear since then, is that to thrive, to wildflower in our own lives, we must be willing to discover new ground. Crumbled ground. Disturbed soil. And then, we must water that soil with the tears of our joy and sorrow, our struggles and our victories, our fears and our hopes.
Turns out, my mother missed the mark on tears. Tears can be holy water blessing the disturbed soil of our lives. To share our tears with one another is one of the most beautiful vulnerabilities -- as we both crumble ourselves and water our earth, we can each help one another bloom and blossom and grown in one glorious garden of gratitude.
When I was a little girl, my dad appeared in a very short-lived Broadway show called Darling of the Day with Patricia Routledge. Everyone thought the show would be a hit. Although Pat won the Tony for her performance, the show flopped. It broke my dad's heart.
I loved that show. My dad played an artist, and because I knew he loved art more than anything in the world, the character he played felt so true to him. Much more true than the scary people he played. (He was the least scary person on the planet!) I knew every song by heart -- but this one felt like it could have been my dad's anthem. It was all about the power of art to transport us to wherever we wish to go.
I am sharing this post of my dad singing "I've Got A Rainbow Working for Me" on The David Frost Show in March 1970 as my Soul Sunday post because one of the greatest things I learned from my dad was that church is where we find it. My dad found church chiefly in art and in people and in poetry and in flowers and in opera. He taught me by example how to connect with Soul and Spirit through whatever sings to my own heart -- nature, animals, art, poetry, travel, photography, walking, flowers.
Every Sunday I like to post these Soul practice posts, as part of my joy practice. Marianne Williamson says that our souls are the truth of who we are. That quality or feeling or essence within us that connects us to Something Bigger than we are -- the Universe, our fellow beings, the Divine. Connection = Soul.
At the end of the day, soul is always a little bit mysterious. Ultimately undefinable. That's what makes it so powerful. It is a bigger than we are feeling inside each of us that connects us to the Great Mystery.
Soul: It doesn't matter whether you can define it, it doesn't matter how or where you connect to your soul, it only matters that you do. Or, as Rumi said, so much better than I ever could, "Wherever you stand, be the soul of that place."
For those of you who would like a little glimpse of all the things my father loved -- including me (his then seven-year-old daughter), Edgar Allan Poe (he reads a VERY timely poem by Poe), his fellow actors (there's a great story about Peter Lorre), striptease (he sings a song and strips a la the great Gipsy Rose Lee) -- and how joy-filled he was in everything he did and with everyone he met, here's the rest of the David Frost interview:
threshold: 1)a strip of wood, metal, or stone forming the bottom of a doorway and crossed in entering a house or room
synonyms: doorway, entrance, entry, door, gate, gateway, portal
2) a point of entry or beginning.
synonyms: beginning, commencement, brink, verge, cusp, dawn, opening, start
The Irish poet John O’Donohue wrote and spoke so movingly about the nature of thresholds. Hearkening back to the etymology of the word, he reminded us that it comes from threshing, which is to separate the grain from the husk. He believed that “the threshold, in a way, is a place where you move into more critical and challenging and worthy fullness.”
O’Donohue went on: “A threshold is a line which separates two territories of spirit, and I think that very often how we cross is the key thing. . . If we cross worthily, what we do is we heal the patterns of repetition that were in us that had us caught somewhere. And in our crossing then we cross on to new ground where we just don’t repeat what we’ve been through in the last place we were.”
When we find ourselves standing at a threshold, we may believe that we are standing between two places or two people or two ideas. But as O’Donohue understood, in fact we are in a place of transition between two territories of spirit -- a place which, by its very nature, is always inviting us to move into a more critical and challenging and worthy fullness. What that says to me is what the poet Adrienne Rich also knew: The fact of a doorframe is simply that. A fact. And a door itself makes no promises. It is how we cross any threshold in our lives that determines who we become on the other side.
Will we simply cross and repeat, cross and repeat? Or can we leave behind that which no longer serves us — all the life-limiting narratives we have learned -- and so discover whole new territories of spirit which we can finally believe ourselves worthy of inhabiting?
Worthy of inhabiting. That bears repeating. For those of us who have struggled with self-loathing, this is not always as simple as it sounds.
This weekend I have been writing about the time in my early twenties when I found myself standing in the threshold between my old life and the one I hoped to create. Out there somewhere in the future was the person I wanted to become. Behind me in the not-so-distant past was the person I had always been. I wanted to go through, but I was scared of what I might find there — not in the world, but inside me. I knew I didn’t want to go back, but I was scared to leave the comfort of being the person I had always known. I was at the threshold between childhood and adulthood, and the door was making no promises.
I was discovering the healing ground of liminal space. One of the definitions of liminal that has always most intrigued me is this: Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a door, a boundary or threshold. But here's the thing: When we try to occupy a position on both sides of a place of transition, we find ourselves in neither. We are split, both inside and out. It is impossible to present either place — and we feel unsure of who we are, because there is nowhere we fully belong. That is the place of greatest stress. That place of in between.
The greatest healing of my life has come from understanding that these interstices of life are not places to fear, but rather spaces we must fully inhabit. Because right where emptiness seems to be, we inevitably discover that to which we have always been called.
Right there, in the liminal space between two conflicting ideologies, between an old way of being and new way of seeing -- there, where our differences push up against one another, where we have been taught to see one way as right and another as wrong, lies the way of being lost to dualities and opposition. A way in which we neither flight nor flee, but instead hold the creative tension.
Yes, the threshold between known and unknown, fear and love, between hope and horror, comfort and change, usually feels wildly unpleasant at first. Because it asks us to throw away the safety of the familiar. But when we are willing to crumble our deeply-entrenched dualities — to depart from a stonily binary world of separation to enter a new triune world of reconciliation — we surrender to the ultimate healing.
We discover the field that Rumi knew existed beyond all our learned ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing: The Unified Field of Love in which we all will finally meet as One.
I’ve never really understood it when someone is criticized for changing their mind too much. It’s always so liberating to recognize our own limited thinking — and then turn it around. We need to hone our ability to rethink things that no longer serve us. That’s what the word repent means. A word that gets tossed around a lot in religious circles, and tends to conjure up images of people down on their knees confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness so that they don’t go to hell. That’s not what repent means. Repent means literally to change one's mind. No one ever said anything about repenting meaning having done something wrong or bad.
One of life's gifts is the human ability to recognize when some way of thinking about someone or something or some group has missed the mark (which is the original definition of sin, by the way — an archery term) and needs to shift — and then we can choose to think differently about it. Thinking is like hair. It can grow out if we have chosen a style that doesn't suit us. It can get cut off if we have let it become unruly. And we can change color,s if we have come to feel it does not reflect how we want to express ourselves in the world. We know and celebrate that about hair — and call it fun. It’s no different for our thoughts. Change your thinking — change your life. (Change the world.)
As we read in the news far too often these days, changing our thinking can have both positive and negative effects. That’s why today I want to share a word about which I had a very limited understanding until a few years ago. When I changed my thinking about this word, it changed the way I see and understand the world.
The word is NAMASTE.
Truth is -- I didn’t have a negative feeling about the word, but rather about the kinds of people who used the word. People who, I thought, were hopelessly woo woo and so, instead of saying hello or goodbye like “normal” people, would put their hands together, bow slightly, and say Namaste. These were not people who hailed from anywhere in Asia, but were as Western as me. OY! I would think to myself. Just say hello like a normal person. I viewed these people like the people I used to loathe in the 1980s who said Ciao instead of good bye. People who had never even visited Italy. Seriously? I would think. Ciao? Who are you? An extra in The Godfather?
So here’s the deal about changing your mind. You have to be willing to look at your own ignorance first. In all my cynical judgment about the Namaste Bowers, I never even KNEW what the word Namaste really meant until a few years ago. When I stumbled across the definition in this image, I realized it was one of the most beautiful words in the world. I thought to myself, That’s how I try to see everyone I encounter. That’s how Jesus and Buddha and Rumi and all of the great spiritual teachers I admire moved through the world — the Divine in them seeing the Divine in others. Their souls honoring the souls of everyone they met.
Turns out, Namaste is far more than a word or a greeting. It is a spiritual path, a way of living, the most essential life philosophy.
Namaste is one of my core soul practices these days. I go though every day letting the light in me see the light in someone else. Now I see through the lens of Love instead of the fogged-up glasses of judgment, separation and fear.
Malcolm Gladwell writes, "I change my mind all the time. And I sort of feel that's your responsibility as a person, as a human being – to constantly be updating your positions on as many things as possible. And if you don't contradict yourself on a regular basis, then you're not thinking.”
Every day, let's have the courage and humility to change our minds about each other -- and so to honor the light, love, truth, beauty and peace within everyone on the planet. This is the daily practice of joy.
Well, I've been up since 3:38 writing, editing, and then writing some more, keeping my foot to the pedal on my book deadline. I really really want to take a nap, but since what I've been writing about all day is how creating a Daily Practice of Joy changed my life, I find myself wanting to post my Sunday Soul practice before I snooze. Besides, I just put some chicken in the oven, so I need to stay awake until it is done! :)
I took this photo about a year and half ago here in Austin. In a trailer park on my morning walk. A morning walk I was on because of my promise to myself to practice joy every day.
A few years earlier, I would have found my surroundings disheartening. But that morning, I saw everything beautiful -- the spring flowers, the cute yard ornaments, the kids playing with their dogs. And this sign, reminding me that we can find a blessing wherever we look. But only when we remember to look.
I decided to post this photo today to remind myself to be grateful for everything that I am experiencing in my life right now. The beautiful and the difficult, the joyful and the challenging.
So, before I eat my chicken, take a quick nap and then get back to the keyboard, I just want to express my immense gratitude not only for this Daily Practice of Joy blog, but for all of you who read it and share your joy with me.
When you live on the road, as I do, weeks or even months can go by where you never see anyone you really know. Sure I meet wonderful people wherever I am. Yesterday the highlight of my day was exchanging contact information with the sweetest guy who let me play with his eight-week-old Australian Shepherd puppy. When I told him I had traveled all over the US and Europe with my two Aussies, he ended up asking me all kinds of questions about Aussies and about traveling with dogs -- and then asked if he could reach out to me. Of course!!! But other days, when I am tucked behind my computer screen for sixteen hours at a stretch, knowing that you all read this blog is the great gift of my day -- reminding me that I am always grounded in the community of Love.
So, today, the blessing, I count is you. All of you. Thank you for the shared gift of our sweet joy community. I look forward to growing it with all of you. And I know your own joy practices bless others -- because whatever blesses one of us, blesses us all. So keep spreading the joy, my wonderful joy family.
In gratitude. In joy. Have a glorious Sunday.
Yesterday afternoon at SoonerCon, a genre convention here in Oklahoma City, a gentleman named Bat stopped by my table to chat. He shared how much he loved watching my dad’s movies — especially, of course, The Bat. Then he went on to tell me that he was the grandson of a famous comic strip artist from the Golden Age of Comics, and asked me what I knew about comics.
Not as much as you, I assured him. Please enlighten me.
So, he did.
I mean he really enlightened me.
He shared exactly what I needed to hear.
It’s all about the ego, he began.
I couldn’t argue there.
Think about these characters — Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and Tony Stark.
Well, I was hesitant to admit, I don’t know much about them. But I really loved Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange in the recent movie!
Did you know that his middle name is Vincent? Bat asked me.
Benedict or Dr Strange? I asked.
Dr. Strange, of course, rejoined Bat. His creators loved your dad so much that they made his middle name Vincent. He inspired them.
Cool! I said. But tell me more about the ego.
Well, he said, None of them set out to be superheroes or to make the world a better place. They started out trying to fix something broken, but from a place of ego. And then they had to lose everything -- including their egos -- to become superheroes.
I thought about Dr. Strange — about his accident, his journey to Tibet and meeting Tilda Swinton (sorry, comic book fans, I have no idea what the character’s name was!) and about his reluctant evolution into the master of the mystical arts and, as such, a superhero savior of the world. That journey was all about the reluctant release of ego — the same ego that had caused his accident, though he didn’t see that right away. Only by releasing the hubris of his own human history could the forces come through him that he could use to save the world from its own destruction.
I reflected that back to Bat and then asked about Spider-Man and Tony Stark. Bat shared similar stories about them. I saw it immediately. He was absolutely right.
I loved that connection, because that’s what I’ve been writing about in my book, The Way of Being Lost: Being willing to become lost to all the accumulated stories of our egos to unlock the greatest superpower of all. Love. The superpower with which we are all born.
Then this morning, I read something Father Richard Rohr wrote about some other spiritual superheroes named Jesus and St. Francis: “True liberation is letting go of our small self, letting go of our cultural biases, and letting go of our fear of loss and death. Freedom is letting go of wanting more and wanting better things, and it is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others. It is letting go of our need to know and our need to be right…We become free as we let go of our three primary energy centers: Our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem.”
I had to smile. It seemed to me that, in describing the lessons he had learned from the lives of Jesus and St. Francis, Father Rohr was also describing Bat’s three superheroes to a tee.
I love it when I get to see something I have always known in my heart through new eyes. But that's because, in fact, there is only one message. It just comes through to us in whatever way we need to hear it. So, whatever each of our favorite superhero may be, I believe we all will come to learn the lesson of releasing our small selves for the freedom of a larger letting go into Truth and Love.
Which brings me, of course, to Wonder Woman. After the movie came out, I loved seeing all the social media posts from little girls, in particular, resonating to her superhero powers of knowledge and Love. So, of course, I had to go see the movie. Which, it all turned out, I enjoyed immensely!
That’s why, when The Good Goat Gallery posted this photo of Wonder Woman in front of all of the images from my art show, it made me ridiculously happy. Because I know that having this show was due in large part to reclaiming my own inner Wonder Woman.
Let me tell you what I mean by that: One of the first steps on my journey toward being able to create art was becoming a designer. I came to design as a last resort -- out of the need to pay my bills, not the ego of thinking I had anything spectacular to offer as a designer.
I never ever wanted to be a designer. You see, my mother was a very successful designer. I didn’t want to do anything my mother did, from a place of childish resistance. So, when I became a designer, I never thought of my surprise career as a kind of reflection of me — but rather as an extension of skills I had learned along the way, particularly the skill of being able to resource and work alongside truly artistic and creative people. So, of course, design quickly became a safe place for me actually to feel creative, because I saw myself as a conduit for creativity, not a creator myself. It was that newfound creative joy and freedom led me to an epiphany.
It turned out that the lack of ego in that area of my life was its greatest gift. Far greater even than being able to pay my bills during a very scary time. So liberating was that feeling of freedom from ego, that I realized that I wanted to achieve that freedom in other areas of my life. So, I resolved to try to peel away the layers of ego around the things I loved -- writing and photography and inspirational speaking in particular. The more I did that, the more I began to create from a place of joy and Love.
Out of that journey came my first art show, which happened earlier this month; the book I have always wanted to write, which will be out next February; and my new life as an itinerant intentionally homeless inspirational speaker.
How did this happen? Because, like Wonder Woman, I discovered that underneath all the voices of darkness, we all have access to the greatest superpower there is: Love. Like Wonder Woman, I am choosing knowledge and Love to face down the voices of fear inside and out. To do that, I am always beginning where all of us must begin first — in our own lives. As I do that, I can begin take my message out to inspire and encourage others.
Today, my new life finds me once again at SoonerCon, where I will be moderating a panel about fear! How perfect is that! I can't wait to hear about how others face their fears, and I particularly look forward to facilitating a dialogue about how we can all support one another in releasing the accumulated weights of our small selves, so that we can all become our inner superheroes -- donning the Cape of Love, and saving the world one life at a time!
Last night I was given the incredible gift of being in a gallery watching people spending time looking intently at my photographs. Really spending time with the images, seeing them deeply.
I have not only hosted many many art openings in my day, but I have also been to many many more. Getting to watch people spend time with my work -- go on their journey, be on it with me -- proved a gift beyond measure. It felt like I was co-creating community in a way I had never understood possible as an art dealer or art historian.
This image, Dark Flight, was the first photograph I created for my show. As I was playing around with the text and the color, I hit some button by accident and everything reversed. I immediately loved it. At first I thought I would show both versions together. But in the end, this was the one that stuck. It stuck because it captured something I had been feeling during the beginning of this year. That we can take wing even during — perhaps precisely during — our darkest nights of the soul.
This past January, I captured the image of these two birds taking flight from a rooftop on a rainy early morning walk in The Sea Ranch, Northern California. I always love when I capture birds just leaping into flight. But there is something about this black-as-night image with almost neon bright blue birds that makes the leap of faith that is flight feel even more poignant and powerful. That is why I chose to place the text — snippets of poems about birds, flight, hope, and beauty (in particular Emily Dickinson's Hope is a Thing with Feathers) — under the wings like whooshes of air.
Sometimes, when things seem darkest, comes the time to leap without knowing where we will land. Those moments require our greatest faith. That is what I feel when I see this image: The reminder to keep the faith, even when the night is dark. Because when we leap, we will fly!
I have had to keep the faith a lot during these past months. I am still keeping the faith. But every so often, like last night, we are given the gift of connection, community, hope, beauty, shared joy — a gift which provides the lift under our wings when we need it most. That is something we can all do for one another — show up in love and attention and kindness — to be the wind beneath one another’s wings. That is the truest journey of the soul.
"We build too many walls, and not enough bridges." -Isaac Newton
Yesterday, seven people were killed in two terrorist attacks in London, England. Twenty were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan. In the last week of May, these two countries have been victimized by horrific terrorist attacks. On May 31, 100 people were killed in a terrorist bombing in Kabul. On May 22, 20 people were killed by a suicide bomber in Manchester, England. We read about these incidents and see images of their destruction. But the ones that hit home to most Americans and Europeans are not the images of Afghanistan -- a war-torn country we believe to be far far away. But rather the images of places that seem populated with people "like us" -- places we may have even visited. As I did this past week on my trip to England and France.
I'll be honest. Terrorism crossed my mind in every train station, airport, metro and tube station, public square and museum. It crossed my mind on the day I attended the French Open, and every time I saw armed soldiers -- which happened many many times a day. It also came up for me every time I crossed a bridge . . . and in Paris in particular, I walked across the Seine a few times a day. Each time, I was aware of my surroundings and thought about the fact that we have the choice to walk through the world in fear or in love. Each time terrorism crossed my mind, I chose love. Over and over. A conscious act of loving.
So, last night, as the news came in about another vehicle killing pedestrians on a bridge, my recent bridge crossings came to me. But what came to me next were the many other kinds of bridges I crossed on this trip. Through conversations I had with people about terrorism -- people who had fled their own countries to seek a better life in other places, because of the way terrorism and extremism had come into their daily lives.
I spent late Friday night and early Sunday morning with a cab driver in Paris from the Ivory Coast. When I flagged him down, he jokingly asked me if I wanted him to take me to the Ivory Coast.
"By all means," I rejoined. "I have always wanted to go to West Africa. How long will it take us to drive there?"
"Oh, we can't drive there now. There are too many bad people between here and there. We wouldn't make it."
We began talking about all of the countries between here and the Ivory Coast, and I told him the country I most wanted to see was Mali.
"Oh Mali," he replied. "It's really bad there."
Then he went on to describe the political situation in a country that I think of as a magical place filled with incredible earthen architecture and wood carvings that I have adored since childhood.
"It's everywhere," my friend said. "Terrorism."
The next morning, our conversation continued. About climate change, international politics, terrorism, raising children, pop music, sports, traffic, the weather, tourism, the Olympics, playing a musical instrument. We talked the whole way to the airport about the kinds of things that people who are getting to know one another talk about. Except we were two people from different continents, neither of us speaking in our native tongues, one black and one white, one a father of three teenage boys, one a single woman, one a cab driver, and one his passenger. We talked and talked and talked. When we left, we felt like new friends. Though we will likely never see one another again.
This happened to me over and over again on this trip. I met people from Moldavia, from Afghanistan, from all over Europe and Africa, with whom I connected deeply as we talked and talked and talked about the state of the world. Overall, none of us felt very encouraged or hopeful about what was going on around us. And most of the people with whom I spoke had been far more directly affected by it than I have.
But here the amazing thing. I felt something different than I have ever felt in my whole life. I felt -- and I have felt this for a while now in my travels -- like people are trying harder and harder to let other people know that they are good and kind and loving and compassionate. That they want the best for their fellow human beings. That's how these conversations all felt. That we recognized and acknowledged our differences, and yet we were consciously trying everything we could to find common ground between us.
When I look back on this trip to England and France, the thing I will remember the most are the bridges. NOT the beautiful bridges I walked over the Seine or the Avon. Not the bridges in England or France that sparked momentary thoughts of terrorism in me. But the bridges that I built with every exchange and conversation and interaction I had with a supposed stranger.
Many of these supposed strangers had come to the places where we now found ourselves together for reasons far different than mine. They had not come by choice.
On my last two nights in Paris, I had dinner with one of my dearest friends. A woman who, as a teenager, had to find the courage to defect from her then Communist homeland to live a life of freedom. She is one of a few very close friends who have had to make that same horrendous choice at a very young age. She said, very quietly, as we talked about the fear that the Western world has of terrorist and refugees: "No one ever really wants to flee their home. We do it because we have to." She articulated what each of the people I met on this trip implied. They did not want to leave home, but they did because they had to. To live a better life.
So, what is the solution as our world manifests more and more chaos? Is it to ban and block and make our borders more secure? Or is it to understand that every single human being on this planet really wants the same thing -- a life of freedom and hope and healing? Is it to build walls that keep what we fear out, or to build bridges to find that we all have the same common ground in love?
Recently, the US Secretary of Homeland Security said that, if we knew what he knew about terrorism, we would never leave our homes. Before I left on this trip, United Airlines offered me a full travel waiver if I didn't want to go because of terrorism. I felt like I was being told to be afraid. Be very afraid.
But what happened when I went away? I found heart and love and hope and healing -- not fear and terror and anger and revenge, as we are led to believe -- out there in the world. I found extraordinary people whose courage to live is a daily act of faith.
The Dalai Lama is perhaps the most famous political exile in the world. A man who has every excuse to be angry -- and yet gets up at 3AM every morning to meditate for four or five hours about how to forgive and to face the world every day with lovingkindness. He has said that he believes that peace is the manifestation of human compassion. I agree. Peace is not found through borders or walls. Peace is found by building bridges between us -- bridges that find our common ground by approaching every interaction and exchange with as much hope and love as we can bring to it.
This is a website that tracks all TERRORIST ATTACKS that occur around the world. There are areas where the colors glow, because there are so many. There are vast areas of the globe where there are none. During the first five months of 2017, there have been 534 attacks, and 3,629 fatalities.
In the face of this kind of violence, what are we to do? Stay home? Lock our doors? Bar our windows? Look at everyone outside the safety of our little confine as a threat? Or are we instead to go out and build the bridges that can change the world? The three men in Portland who are being hailed as heroes did that. There are countless more heroes. More love than fear. More hope than harm.
But we can each do something "heroic" every day, by choosing to see everyone we meet -- and I mean everyone -- through the eyes of Love. To see everyone else on this planet and behave toward them as we would want them to see and behave toward us.
Every single religion has its own version of this Golden Rule. That's because it is The Only Rule That Matters: Love as you would be loved. See as you would be seen. Act as you would be acted toward. Heal as you would be healed. This is the way we can all begin to build bridges of hope and healing in a very broken world.
Yesterday afternoon, while meandering through the Asian section of the Victoria & Albert Museum here in London, I came across this Buddha. There was something about it that simply overwhelmed me with a feeling of great peace. At the end of a lovely but long day, it was exactly what I needed to feel.
I was brought up by a man who treated art as his church -- and so I often feel, when I am in a museum, a great wave of peace and comfort and joy come over me. Sometimes it is simply the space -- the vastness of quiet halls shepherding people through their own individual experience of grace in art. Sometimes it is a feeling in a piece of art. I still remember seeing Thomas Eakins famous painting of a single rower bathed in golden light for the first time when I was a teenager -- and feeling the quality of that gorgeous light, I was both overcome and fundamentally reassured by the sensation of it washing over me. Sometimes it is revisiting a favorite (Velazquez, Vermeer, "my" Twachtman) which feels like a reunion with long-lost friend. And other times -- as when I saw Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece -- it is sheer awe and wonder that almost brings me to my knees.
"Peace," said Reverend Martin Luther King, "cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding." This does not mean intellectual understanding. Although I find myself spiritually and intellectually and emotionally at home in a museum, many people do not. They feel there is something they should know or understand in order to appreciate and be present. Museums feel hard, strange, even alienating. A building full of shoulds. As places of worship sometimes can for others on whom a religion has been foisted. No. To feel peace, to share peace, to live peace, all you need is an open heart and an open mind.
The same is true of peace on this planet. We do not need to understand a culture that seems foreign or incomprehensible to us. We only need to see others with open hearts and open minds. Is this easy to do? Not always. Just as certain works of art feel difficult or strange, so, too, can other cultures.
But if we move through every experience and encounter with an open heart and mind, at some point, when we least expect it, that feeling will wash over us. It is the peace that passes all understanding. That is the peace that we can all keep. Because it is the peace with which Love has encoded all of our hearts.
May we all open our hearts and minds to the peace that passes all our understanding (for better and for worse) and bring us to the knowledge with which we are born -- that we are, always have been, and always will be All One.
May it be so.
Last week, at the wonderful dinner following the wedding I had just officiated, a guest asked me whether I advertised my services as an interfaith interspiritual minister. I told him that I had a website, but that I did not advertise. That my referrals came by word of mouth.
This Wednesday, as I met over dinner with a wonderful couple whom I will be marrying in October, I realized, once again, just how much I love these heart connections that come through my ministry, my public speaking, and my writing. So, I had to ask myself, why don't I tell more people about what I do?
I realize that this has always been the case with me. I never have been good at "promoting" the things that feel most deeply connected to my heart and soul. It's always been easy for me to "sell" the things that feel public -- things created for consumption. I have worked in advertising and sales many times in my life, and I was the salesperson you wanted -- the one who came in at double or triple quota every day. If my job was to sell, I sold, and then some!
But when my job was to sell art, I found it so difficult. Art, it always seemed to me, should be given the space to just speak to someone's heart -- and that someone would then simply be guided to know how to hear their heart. Art isn't something that should be purchased so you can "own" an artist or show off a canvas on a wall as a status symbol. Art is a manifestation of a deep connection -- between an artist and what they have chosen to convey, and between the person to whom that resonates, and between the canvas or sculpture or weaving or or or and whatever viewer it beckons. How can you "sell" that? So, this great salesperson was terrible at selling art, because it felt untrue to my heart.
The same has always been true of "selling" myself -- as a writer, an inspirational speaker, and now as an artist and interfaith and interspiritual minister. Because those are the "jobs" that have never felt like work. They have been heart-based passions that allow me to connect heart and soul to the hearts and souls of other individuals. How do you "sell" that? And why would you want to?
Well, that second question is easier to answer than I thought it would be? I want to because I loved that heart and soul connection. And to make people aware of what I love to do allows more connection. But how you sell that, I always believed, isn't up to me. It would just "happen".
I think the difficulty is the word sell -- which means to persuade someone of the merits of something. Advertising has famously been defined as the art of persuasion. Persuasion, however, has that smarmy snake-oil feel to it. At least it does to me.
In the case of art, how can I persuade someone of the merits of something that only their own heart can know? In the case of myself, how can I feel anything other than egotistical and disingenuous trying to persuade you that I will inspire you or that we will have a heart connection through art or ministry or speaking or writing.
So, for today's Soul Sunday practice, I decided to ask myself that question. How would it feel, I asked myself, if I shared more about my ministry?
On the surface, it feels just fine to tell you that, if you are interested in learning more about what I do as an interfaith and interspiritual minister, please visit my website: RED SHOES MINISTRY.
But that's just because I've passively shared something that you have the choice to do or not do.
What feels much harder is to say what I want to say.
And this is what I want to say: I love writing. I love public speaking. I love officiating weddings and helping to create ceremonies and rituals of all kinds. I love connecting with people and helping them through coaching and conversation to reach their highest aspirations by reconnecting with their Truest Selves. Please help me have the opportunity to do more of what I love and share what I love with you and with others!
But there you go. I said it. And you know what? That wasn't as hard as I thought! Because I asked you from my heart. I didn't pretend I was cool or that I just wanted to offer you a service. I spoke my truth. I told you how much I LOVE what I am privileged enough to be able to do -- and then I asked you to help me find a way to have more of this heart and soul connection.
That, it seems to me, is the key. Persuasion is using our minds to connect to other people's minds, pocketbooks, shoulds. Persuasion hopes to convince someone they need something about which they have not yet formed their own heart feelings.
To speak heart to heart and soul to soul is to be honest in a way that we are not taught. And yet, imagine if we all did it! The world would be such a vastly different place.
I've always loved this lyric by Van Morrison: “If my heart could do my thinking, and my head begin to feel, I would look upon the world anew, and know what’s truly real.”
We spend so much time buying and selling, getting and spending things that we hope will make us enjoy life more. But, at the end of the day, as was proved in the findings of a recently-released Harvard study, what we discover about life is that "connection is the whole shooting match".
What makes our lives meaningful, bearable, livable, are our connections with other sentient beings. In every indicator studied by Harvard researchers, those connections were far and away shown to be the most important determinant of quality of life.
So, how can it be anything but holistic, healing, and hopeful for any of us to connect with others from our hearts -- and to ask other hearts to help facilitate more of those connections? The answer is, It can't!
The professor who conducted the study says that happiness in life comes down to two things, and two things only: One is love, and the other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away. So, I guess I have answered my own question. How could sharing my desire for more heart-based connection be anything but the most essential kind of love practice for us all?
What kinds of heart-based connections would you like more help finding? How can we all help one another connect from our hearts?
Please share your ideas in the JOY CONNECTIONS forum!
And please reach out to me about inspirational speaking, weddings or memorials, rituals or life coaching, or any other heart-based connection by EMAIL! I would love to hear from you.
Today is Mother's Day -- and I got to spend my morning doing four things my mothers loved. Which is to say, I got to spend Mother's Day morning with my mom in spirit.
I'm in Asbury Park, New Jersey, having officiated a wonderful wedding her last night. Since it poured rain all day yesterday, this morning was my first chance to look around. So I took my mother with me in my heart as I explored a new place (she loved to travel), watched the ocean waves (her favorite moment was right before a wave crashes down upon itself), walked and talked with dogs (my mother, like me, probably loved dogs more than people), and looked at Victorian architecture (my mother was one of the early advocates of historic preservation -- especially in Boston's South End).
Needless to say, this was a wonderful way to spend Mother's Day morning -- having deep conversations with her about my gratitude for all that she gave and taught me.
But although my mom gave me many many gifts, her greatest gift was sharing her spiritual path and practice with me. So, since this is my weekly Soul Sunday entry, this felt even more perfect!
My mom's favorite synonym for God was Soul. Soul, my mother felt, was what was behind all beauty, creativity, artistry, and inventiveness. She loved to see God in all the beauty -- natural or humanly created -- in the world.
As someone who derives my greatest solace from seeing beauty in the world -- for me it is like prayer, like walking meditation -- I am grateful every day for the ways in which my mother taught me to see the Divine in everything. This is the way that the people we love and who love us get to live on through and in us. By carrying what they loved and so taught us to love -- and to love it forward. This is the true journey of Soul.
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
- Mary Oliver
My adult life has been a long journey of forgiveness with my mother. I know my mother loved me and did everything she knew to do to provide me with every advantage. And I loved her. It's just that some of her messages landed in ways that have been harder to erase than I might have imagined. But the last year has given me so much release and healing with my mother. These days, all I feel is gratitude and love for her.
There have been so many breakthroughs in our journey together, but one came this winter, when I spent two weeks watching storm after storm pound the Northern California coast in a place my mother loved as much as any in the world -- the Sea Ranch.
My mother always used to tell me that she adored watched waves crest and crash -- and that the moment of translucence just before the waves roll was her favorite moment. I spent 12 days watching for that moment -- and trying to capture it on film. It was like spending 12 perfect days in a conversation with my mother about beauty. It made me realize even more just how grateful I am to her for all of the things we have in common -- our love of nature, animals, beauty, exploration, learning, culture, and Spirit.
So much has been written about the healing power of forgiveness, but at the end of the day it's simple: Forgiveness only loves. To see my mother through the eyes of forgiveness -- for us both -- is exactly like that beautiful cresting moment of the wave: Before it crashes down upon itself and rolls back into the ocean, it is clear, translucent, pure and powerful. Just like Love.
The practice of forgiveness is rightly regarded as one of the most essential spiritual practices there is. When we come from a place of gratitude and forgiveness, we cannot help but feel joy and love.
Man has always dreamed of flying. Socrates said, "Man must rise above the Earth — to the top of the atmosphere and beyond — for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives."
Yet the story of Icarus, the youth who created wings that allowed him to fly, is remembered as a morality tale of hubris -- what happens when someone tries to fly too close to the sun.
The first aviators were awed by the experience of flying. Charles Lindbergh wrote, "Sometimes, flying feels too godlike to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see …" But now we remember Lindbergh much as we think of Icarus -- for his hubris and not his courage in facing the unknown and doing what no one else had done.
This week, we all read about the United Airlines debacle. But the fact of the matter is that flying these days is often fraught with fear and frustration. So, whenever I fly, I view every experience as holy.
As I rise above solid ground, I begin to pray to feel the awe and beauty and grace and joy of being in the clouds and the infinite blue. I pray to hold everyone on my flight and those on the ground connected to my flight in love -- and to see us all as expressing the same divine qualities.
As a result, I have had some of the most extraordinary spiritual experiences on airplanes instead of churches. Profound conversations, connections, and communion with fellow travelers. The utter awe of feeling one with the Universe in its immense infinite beauty and wonder. The gratitude for all that flight expresses -- joy, freedom, movement.
Sometimes I have had to face down fears -- of unruly passengers, mechanical delays, poor weather, turbulence, unexpected maneuvers, or just the pounding of my own heart and the chatterbox monkey of fear in my mind. But those experiences have provided me with some of the purest and most healing moments of my life. When the illusion of control is removed, we have to do what otherwise we mostly only give lip service to doing. Let go and let God. If the flying buttresses of Gothic cathedrals were built to help conveys the souls of worshippers up to heaven, what better place to feel divinely uplifted than in a plane?
My friends like to tease me because I love planes and flight in such a childlike way. I always have. I even have an app on my phone that lets me look up a plane flying overhead and see where it is coming from and where it is going. I feel such joy imagining that journey. And I try to send that joy to anyone on that flight who might be feeling something other than joy for any reason.
These days, it is easy to dis or even fear flight. But I prefer to think of flying as time with my better angels. Because, as Mark Twain wrote, "The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn't it be? — it is the same the angels breathe."
Every Sunday, I post my Soul Practice. Although I am no longer a consistently traditional churchgoer, I still love churches, temples, cathedrals -- spiritual sanctuaries of all kinds. But now I also find my "church" wherever I find myself -- in botanical gardens; in forests; on the beach; in a dog park; in a conversation with a total stranger, on a plane, train or automobile.
I grew up in a church devoid of icons and statues, but as the daughter of an art lover who became an art historian herself, I have found myself in many different places of worship. Whether the statues, paintings or iconography have any specific religious resonance for me matters not one whit, as it all turns out. When I am in a place of worship, the essence of what brings people there in communion is always a felt thing for me: The longing for peace, grace, blessing, and communion. The Oneness with the Divine.
I took this photo of this Madonna in a very quiet purely white church in Brussels. Outside, on a bustling square, homeless people mingled with businesspeople, and a busy fishmonger shucked oysters for his clients to eat standing up and small tables. But inside, there was pure peace. I needed that peace right then. My drive from the train station to downtown had been fraught with "issues" -- and a very impatient and unhelpful cab driver. I was hot and frazzled and, actually, lost. But in that sweet sanctuary, I found the peace I needed. I sat in a pew and watched worshippers kneel and pray and light candles -- and felt their sincere desire for grace. It felt the same as mine.
On my way out, I passed this Blue Madonna. She looked down at me and seemed to offer me a blessing -- a reminder that whatever I could feel inside me in that quiet church I did not have to fear losing in the outside world. That precisely the peace we need to feel whenever we need to feel it is always inside us. It is not where or how or with whom we worship. It is in that still small voice that always speaks to us of the peace and love that are always within each of us. We carry it in our hearts.