Oak Trees

6:30 a.m. Last day of August. My favorite: time of day, time of year, spot on the planet. Most early mornings are spent in silence and solitude. These moments are improved by the beauty that is summer. I watch from my garden deck overlooking the oak savannah as a buttery sunlit field gradually spreads over the meadow. There is deep peace in this little spot of glory. Deep gratitude finds a similar spot in the center of my body.

It’s all perfection in this liminal time.

The time before the Issues and Improvements Department opens for the day.

Apparently there’s a lot of me that thinks I could use some help, could be better. Do more. Quit wasting her frickin’ time just hanging out. And she has a few things to say about duties and goals. She has a whole team with clipboards and plans for my day. She frowns on me from the other side of the door, locked out for now. I sit peacefully in my pajamas, watching the sky and the birds and animals show up for the day.

In the opinion of the Head of the Improvement Department, a quick Self-Help project is just what’s needed. Its operational mission is to convince me that I have a problem that can be fixed in any number of ways I have not yet explored. She keeps nagging me on and off throughout the day.

But mornings. They’re my time. For many years I have opened the day with silence. Then I pick up my pen and write my “morning meditations,” with the prayer and the hope that this will remind me of what’s really important to my soul as I prepare to for my day. This morning routine has become as necessary as breathing. There’s a good hour before the world around me begins to assert itself, to give me something I must react to. Before I move into the day’s lists and calendar items.

It’s a Be Here Now kind of start to the day. Breathing. Silence. Dreams re-emerge… Thoughts and images of all the people I hold close show up on the screen. I watch. Send love. Send prayers. Breathe. Be. There’s nothing to do. Nowhere to go (yet).
I write down a few observations about the wisdom of the season: the trees, sky, weather, the turning of the planet. What teaching does the world around me offer? Here. Now.

Then there’s an urgent phone call from the Improvements Department.  Someone in my world is a problem (usually me). After a thorough review, it has been determined that I must: stop eating all sugar, walk 4 miles a day starting today (on creaky knees, yet), read the Bible or the Tao Te Ching or the Bhagavad Gita. Now.

All of it is offered For My Own Good. Although there can be true guidance in the recommendations of the Department, much of it is the same old well-oiled loop of self-judgement: Strategies for dealing with some outworn thoughts that go something like this: I’m not good enough, fit enough, prepared enough, enough enough.

All the searching of the past thirty years has taught me to see most of these lies for what they are: an old, tired, narration of a story about me that hasn’t been updated for the last thirty years.

I thank her for her opinion and then go back. Back to Being. Here. Now. This morning.

This is the practice, the challenge, the evolution.

Peace. Awareness. Mental Loop. Note what needs to be heard. Thank the rest. Go back to breathing. Rinse and Repeat.

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Forest benchThis has been the perfect season for my highly competitive inner slacker. I’ve put up my feet and sipped ice beverages with the best of them. “Mañana” has  become my favorite word. All was good until I noticed that September is sneaking up behind me. And now Slacker Sue and Serious Susan have come to a face-off.

I sit right now in the mountains, savoring the summer air, listening to the nearby creek. I want to write about the stuff that folks from my home state Oregon are known for. Boring old Nature and mountains and beaches and stuff like that. The stuff of life.

That’s what I want to write about. And I will write that. But first I need to put aside all the roles and responsibilities and identities that keep demanding attention.  This means forgetting for a while that I’m a (Fill in the Blank): ____ mother/coach/mentor/teacher/wife/daughter. A Self who has Big Responsibilities.

This requires some amnesia about all the ways I could definitely improve myself, forgetting for a few minutes the next goal on my Self-Improvement Agenda. I’ve had a serious addiction to Self-Improvement for almost forty years now, so this habit of self- improvement has a bit of a toehold.

I’m tired of it. And yet, as I sit under this sunny blueness of a ripe summer day, I do remember…for a time. And then I go back to all the clichés of that Stuff of Life. The whole miracle of it.

Okay, having written that, Slacker is back in full-on form. Extreme-Slacker. Pause.

The month of August is half over now. I have a choice: A: to experience as much pleasure as I can jam in. Or B: as much presence as I can remember to have. I choose A and B.  The two seem to walk hand-in-hand.

That is the wish, my affirmation or intention or whatever you want to call it during this Ripest of Times.

Savor.  Presence. And Pleasure. The  marriage of the two.

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The Purpose of Life

July 31, 2014 Noticing

What All Animals but Man Know is that the Purpose of Life is to Enjoy It. -~Samuel Butler.

This bittersweet moment arrives every summer. The calendar flips and we’re in August. Not yet! We cry. There’s another month until Labor Day.

Some of us (as in me) wear blinders to the darker fall colors and school supplies subtly reminding us of what’s coming.

And yet. (And this is important): Fall is not here yet.

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The Grace of the Sea Stars

July 22, 2014 Body or Aging

Sea Star is the name of a watercolor in my office, painted by a friend years ago when she was traveling in India. She was on the beach in Goa watching the sea when a local woman, arms full of colorful, dancing scarves, swept up to her: “Sea Star, You want to buy? “ It took her a minute to realize that the woman was calling her “sister,” not selling her sea stars or starfish. Sea stars, or “sisters,” my dear women friends, have held me in kindness, given me tea and sympathy and laughter my whole life. The painting is a vivid reminder of the strength of this tribe of love.

And then there are the other Sea Stars, the variegated, orange and purple creatures of the sea that are also called starfish.

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A Burn Center and a Kind Universe

July 1, 2014 Confusion to Clarity

Einstein famously said that the most important decision we can make as humans is whether or not the universe is kind. As I’ve practiced Positive Paranoia in my life, I’ve looked for evidence of a kind universe for the last forty years. Based on lots of evidence, my own jury has pretty much already decided. But my mind is still open to new proof.

A few years ago my son awakened in the night with his bed on fire. He got out alive, even though the Burn Center doctor said he shouldn’t have awakened because of lack of oxygen to the brain.

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Positive Paranoia

June 24, 2014 Confusion to Clarity

1975. I’m 26 years old and my life is just what I always dreamed it would be, yet I’m raw and desperate. I’ve achieved all the things I set out to do: travel, happy marriage, a meaningful job. I’ve somehow proved myself Successful in conventional ways and unconventional ways, taking on all the tasks of being an acceptable member of the Counterculture of the time. And then, without knowing why, I hit a dead end.

It happens in a moment. I’m walking down the street and I suddenly feel flat and hollow inside. Not there. It seems like a dead end: there’s no exit in sight. I’m deeply scared, and my bed seems like the best refuge.

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To Life As It Is

June 17, 2014 Power of Connection

Only a few weeks ago I saw myself as a Recovering Rushaholic. I was experiencing a few days of peace and a deep sense of optimism. Just as the peaceful and hopeful and reflective Memorial Day holiday was ending, I pulled together my travel stuff, drove a couple of hours to an early flight, flew into the Heartland, drove another three hours, and spent a week in the muddle of family, caregiving, loving and experiencing losses first hand. My speed picked up. There was so much to do, to solve, and only a week to do it! By the time I capped the trip off with two doctors’ appointments and a twelve-hour reverse journey, I was past rushing. It’s taken three days for all my cells to return home. They seem to take longer than the luggage.

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Rushaholic Recovery: An Unbecoming Tale

May 13, 2014 Identity

It’s been years now since I officially retired from my first career as a teacher. During most of these 25 years all the roles of life converged: Teacher (over 150 teens a day), Mother, Daughter and Sister in a family continually in crisis. Toward the end I also wore the hats of Author and Speaker, with a new book out (and that “baby” to raise).
I know. Cray cray. You can look it up in your urban dictionary. It’s a word for that means taking crazy to a whole new level. Times two.

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Deep Spring

May 7, 2014 Noticing

At my cabin in the mountains there are many deep springs. As in deep pools of water bubbling up from below, with temperatures ranging from cool to dangerous. The water below ground is visible because the mantle of the Earth is a little thinner here. Even though I know where the springs are, they’re always somehow a bit of a surprise, a catching of breath, a tender mercy of heat on a snow day or chill in a heat wave.

Since I love playing with words, I’m thinking of Spring (the season), in the same way. Here I was, trudging through the mud and rain, and I come upon a clearing. A deep pool. Not too cold, not too hot, a blessing of refreshment and inspiration.

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The Daylight Bloom of Night’s Dreams

April 8, 2014 Confusion to Clarity

I’m a dreamer, and I respect (and sometimes remember) my dreams, in all their vivid and jumbled details. I made it a hobby more than thirty years ago to study them, at one time logging three or four dreams a night for several months. This has offered a window into the subtle realms of healing. From time to time, I delve deeply into the symbols and the details. This is great entertainment, but often there’s way much TMI to decode or recall. Over time I’ve found reason to trust the process, which is beneath and beyond what my conscious mind can grasp.

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The Great Un-Doing of Spring

April 1, 2014 Noticing

The early warning signs are so subtle at first… a swelling of the limbs, a softness of the breeze/breath, a whiff of possibility. I’ve usually been so busy DOING, strategizing and reacting to the demands of winter, that I barely notice the change around me. After all, my inner Drama Queen insists, we’ve been under siege, and Important Things must be done.

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Charms, Amulets and a Blessed Life

March 25, 2014 Family Stress
Charm bracelets were all the rage when I was a teenager. Tiny replicas of the Eiffel tower, new bikes, tiny dog figures, and figure skates tinkled from the wrists of the Popular Girls. I admired the look and the high style, but I never expected that I’d be in the circle of lucky ones who could afford such a wondrous thing. Even if… even if I did get a magical white box from the local jeweler for my birthday. Even if… Even if there was a gold bracelet inside. Even if…. that came to be, what good would it be? What charms would I wear?
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Giving Up the Bone and Proving Myself Wrong

March 18, 2014 Confusion to Clarity
A few days ago it happened. Again. I was wrong. I hate that. I had imagined how I would fit a couple of important gatherings with friends into my evening, sandwiched between two long trips. But my mind didn’t stop with logistics.

It found a bone to chew on, a way to try to manage lots of things that were none of its business.
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Discovering my Inner Neanderthal

February 18, 2014 Identity
My Christmas present to myself this year involved gathering saliva. First I had to collect it in a very little vial. It turns out that this isn’t a small thing. After sitting there for about a half an hour, imagining grapefruits and lemons, I had enough to send it to 23 & Me, an organization devoted to opening the secrets of your personal genetic code. I just received the results today. I open the virtual envelope. Drum roll, please….and…
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Snow Viewing: Lantern Optional

February 11, 2014 Noticing
Today so far I’ve moved from one window to the next, staring at the stark whiteness draping the trees outside. It’s the Biggest Snow since we moved here 35 years ago, about a foot and a half. I’m stunned into silence with wonder of it, with the ineffable beauty of contrasts. The fifty or so large oak trees visible from my window have exchanged their emerald capes for something softer and less enduring.

The beauty is so exquisite that I can’t seem to breathe it in for very long at all without wanting to own it. I try a little photo shoot with my phone.
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Groundhog’s Day and the Same Old Loops

February 1, 2014 Body or Aging
Today I awoke with the scenes from Groundhog’s Day (the Movie) dancing through my head. Not a big surprise. just when when my mind is seeming a a little more peaceful and this body is feeling stronger as a result of my focus in intention in the new year, I get a Change Back Attack. This is personal growth malady that usually includes certain symptoms: fogging out when eating, dropping exercise from my list for four days. and believing the old loops of thought that drove me to make resolutions in the first place.
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Catching a Wave with Your Future Self

January 29, 2014 Getting Unstuck
Every year I usually join in the fun of flipping over the old leaf and welcoming a New Me. Boosted by the ads for health and vitality all around me, I ride the wave of people who want change, who want to see results. This year my modest resolutions weren’t even creative. I changed up my exercise, got myself out for longer walks, went back to strength training, and attended yoga classes that weren’t always labeled “gentle.” Oh yes. And I cut out sugar. Just a few small steps to self-improvement. The part of me that loves challenge is enthusiastic about catching the Big Wave and believes she can ride it to the shore.
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Gracious Living on a Stuck Elevator

January 21, 2014 Body or Aging
I spent most of last week staying in my very own suite at a Gracious Living retirement center in Missouri. The blustery January weather and my mother’s limited mobility kept us indoors, relying on the elevator, which was the only way to access her apartment from the rest of the building.

When I first arrived, I skidded into the place with a screeching Wiley Coyote stop. Next I had to figure out that my mindfulness practice didn’t include taking on the halls as if I were in a video game with the goal of dodging walkers and wheel chairs.
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Welcoming Janus: Looking Forward, Looking Back

January 13, 2014 Getting Unstuck
Doorways and gates. Passages between what was and what is yet to be. A time between times, a time full of potential for transformation. The Romans knew a bit about the power of transition when they named their very own new month January, after Janus. Janus was a powerful Roman god who held the keys to enter all gates and presided over new enterprises. He had two faces: one looking forward and one backward.
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She Let Go

December 11, 2013 Getting Unstuck

Last week a dear friend sent me a copy of a piece I had read long ago. It was like being zapped by a magic wand, bringing this Queen of the Universe to a new sense of alignment. I had read it before, but so much depends on timing. Maybe I thought before that I could just let go just a little. Maybe I thought it was a cool idea. Maybe I wasn’t yet ready to take that Giant Step … or Leap. But today I am. I share it with you as a light and humorous and deep reminder. But more, it’s an invitation, as simple as that. Join me?
Join me?

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