Pond rippleI have a habit of throat clearing. It seems there’s often a froggy sensation that simply must be cleared. Until the other day, I’d never thought of the possibility of clearing other parts of the body…or the psyche, at least in any kind of routine way.

An idea came up last week when we co-hosted a couple of amazing musicians. Their names are Gina Sala and Daniel Paul. Both are highly respected for kirtan, a kind of meditative music most people associate with yoga classes. Kirtan is sometimes described as “yoga for the voice.”

It’s a form of chanting that becomes a meditation for the heart through song. I’ve noticed that it’s also very useful for the mind. According to many ancient traditions, chanting the names of God brings us closer to him/her/the mystery. I’m all for that, in theory. But in reality, sometimes my mind balks a bit.

Two or three members of my family play and sing kirtan at events and festivals. So I’m around it a lot. And I’ve come to appreciate the meditative repetition of the songs. Except when my thinking gets in the way. When my mind is convinced it has people to see, things to do besides settling into the practice. Some days that’s 90% of the time. But meditation has taught me that there’s always hope for people like me. For the thinkers.

All that mind chatter we do can get very tiring. So Gina shared a perfect mantra for the head. Here’s how it goes:

Pat your head gently, sweetly thanking it for all it gives.

Next (repeat while bringing the hand over the face from the top of the head): “Oh sweet mind, I love you.”

When I do this, it seems like my thinking mind just loves to be recognized. This is part of the magic.

But, even better, by repeating this phrase to my head, I remind myself that I’m not my mind.

It’s a little wake-up tap.

A blessing. And not a bad habit, either.

The habit of remembering.

What habits do you have for remembering what’s important to you or who you really are? Prayer, rosary or mala beads, breath, writing, singing. Anything can become a way of remembering what’s deeply True for you. Not your mind. You. The sweet essential being that is You.

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SalmonA small, hopeful group is gathered here in anticipation of the event. Indian summer, and we’re poised over the impossibly picturesque mountain stream, cascading and rivuleting and pirouetting downhill.

Each of us has our own opinion about what we’re waiting for. All we know is that it’s called a Salmon Release, and each of us has a vague idea about what that means. And it’s an hour late.

We’re miles from a highway and a mile from a paved road. So the sleek aluminum truck that appears, carrying a large tank, surprises us. It’s the kind of rig that usually wears the imprint of a local dairy, full of milk ready for processing.

This cargo isn’t getting ready for the market. It’s going the opposite direction: back to the wild.

Until about the last hundred years, the migration of the salmon upstream to spawn was as inevitable as the shortened days and slanted light of autumn. But numerous dams throughout the Northwest have severely thwarted their ability, despite their enormous drive, to return to the shallow pools where they first came into being.

Around fifty large fish, ready to spawn, swim in the water of the tanker. They’ve been shuttled upstream from a fish hatchery on the other side of the dam, where they have grown to adults-who-are-ready-to spawn in the protected waters. A giant hose is attached to the truck, a flip is switched, and a flood of water and fish come pouring out. They turn flip-flops as they hit the stream.

As they come gleaming into the water they dance and breach and swim a water ballet around each other.

Each of them are deeply programmed to swim against the rapidly flowing creek, over boulders and curves, to seek out the right shallow pool. As they following this destiny, they also bring their essence back to the ecosystem. Their offspring began their six year round trip, one which now includes being shuttled past the dam going downstream and leads a thousand miles to Alaska and back.

Many of us who watch are moved to tears. Each of us is stirred by our own deep and particular understanding of the meaning of things. Words just won’t cut it.

But writing helps me land the feeling. The ecological importance resonates with my personal evolution. It speaks of the power of swimming upstream against boulders, obstacles, and the odds. I reflect on all the times I’ve questioned my early conditioning and my social roles to find a voice that is truer and deeper within. It reminds me of the necessary return to what is essential and true in my own wild nature. It reminds me that sometimes I’ve needed to be carried by my family, my tribe, my elders, and the universe itself.  Then, when I’m restored and ready, I can take on the next step.  And I remember once again with gratitude that, although the journey is sometimes tumultuous, I don’t have to do it alone.

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Morning Ritual: Rinse and Repeat

September 2, 2014 Noticing

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.

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My Inner Slacker vs. My Self-Improvement Junkie

August 19, 2014 Radical Kindness

This 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. “Manana” 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.

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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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