Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Consider the fence

Consider the fence:
the aging boards
that separate us from paradise.
Who built them?
Was it you?
And if it is so aged
and so low,
what holds us back
when we long to tear it down?
Is there some ladder
we can climb
to get a better view
of the glories that await
on the other side?

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hard to be nice

My friends on Shaw keep this cart at the foot of their driveway -- just up from the ferry dock -- and change the saying on the cart as it suits them. This particular saying has a terrific bumper sticker quality: it's very amusing. But it also reminds me of a conversation I had earlier this week with my husband.

I'd been trying to tell him how I felt about something, but he could only hear it from his own perspective; he couldn't seem to imagine the situation from my point of view. I think that's actually quite normal; it seems to me sometimes that the real curse that sent us out of the Garden of Eden all those centuries is our human inability to see -- or sometimes even look -- beyond our own circumstances, to put ourselves in others' shoes.

Which is why, of course, this sentiment about kids and nursing homes is amusing, but also thoughtful. Of course we should be nice to our kids! We should be nice to EVERYone! But the truth is, generally speaking, most of us are more likely to be nice to someone if we think there will be payback -- even if the payback is way off in the distance. Because that's how we humans think; we tend to live in a me-centered universe -- and to be annoyed with all the folks who can't see our perspectives from their OWN me-centered universes. Which tends to make us... well... not nice!

In the end, I had to understand that, much as my husband loves me, he's unlikely ever to understand how I feel in this particular situation; we're made very differently. Which is a good thing: each of us gets exposed pretty constantly to another way of being in the world, which broadens our perspectives. But it also means that there's little point in attacking him. It's probably much more important for me to sit down with my own feelings and honor them myself; to get to know those parts of me that sometimes feel hurt or unloved even when I know that's not the case. Just another great opportunity to stop projecting and start taking a look at my own inner mechanisms.

... and here's a video that expands beautifully on this premise:

Monday, July 29, 2013

How do we speak light?

The cleared site is what I want.
Live in the opening
where there is no door
to hide behind.  Be pure absence.
In that state,
everything is essential.

The rest of this
must be said in silence
because of the enormous difference
between light
and the words that try 
to say light.


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The essence of hope

It's that time of year, when the tall stalks of the morning glories are everywhere blooming, singing songs of summer, and yet the light is already beginning to die and the days are growing shorter.

How do we hold that sense of both/and?  For some reason this reminds me of an email my husband sent me yesterday: Apparently Windows NT was released exactly 20 years ago yesterday, and he remembers architect Dave Cutler saying at the release party, "These are the good old days."

It seems inevitable that the height of perfection would always be tempered with an awareness that, at some level, "it's all downhill from here." The flower is perfectly beautiful, and yet inherent in our perception of that is the recognition that it will wither and fall: as it says in the Bible, "All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever." (1Peter 1:24-25)

... and that's the essence of hope, isn't it: that something -- we're not sure what -- endures forever; that there is some constancy that outlasts changeability, some ultimate union that surpasses all our petty divisions and disagreements?  And even, looking within ourselves, that there is some spark of being that remains immutable, unfailing, steadfast and true even as the physical plant is always in flux?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A moment of peace

The peace of a summer morning:
a boat tucked away in the shadows,
the waves lapping quietly at the shore,
the dog snoring softly on the deck,
the cat drowsily licking her paws,
basking in a patch of sunlight --
even the crows and the eagles
have stopped their noisy squabbling.
The only sound the delicate pop
of the scotch broom pods
opening to release their seeds
and the crunch of the drying grass
beneath my feet.

Friday, July 26, 2013


Birds make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn that?

The fall, and falling,
they are given wings.

-- Rumi 

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Happiness lies in hope.
The moment might be happy,
but unless one could feel confident
in the hope that there would
be other such moments,
the happiness was worth little.

-- Mary Balogh

True confession: I read romance novels.  And Mary Balogh -- who I strongly suspect is a person of faith, because of the wisdom she sprinkles graciously into her novels -- is one of my favorite authors.  Last night I finished a recent find of hers I picked up at a garage sale, called A Christmas Bride, and this thought was expressed as the plot was nearing its surprisingly moving denoument, which was all about the power of forgiveness.

It reminded me of something Cynthia Bourgeault said once, at the book talk where I first encountered her.  Asked what the difference was between Christianity and Buddhism, she replied, "Christianity has hope."  And maybe that's where that redemptive hope lies, in the power -- and the promise -- of forgiveness? How can we ever hope for a better future if we cannot forgive ourselves and others, if we cannot cease to chew on all those old mistakes and betrayals and create a new and kinder future for ourselves?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A message in resistance

When I opened this image, taken a couple of days ago on Bainbridge on a foggy morning, my first thought was, "Well, that's obviously a throwaway."  But the more I looked at it, the more I thought it might actually the best of that particular set of photos, all of this one green boat, taken from several different angles.

But why?  I think it's the tension of it; the sense that the boat is pulling away from its tether.  For some reason it reminds me of a look my father used to get when he was having to say or do something that was uncomfortable for him: that same sense of pulling away, registering as a slight squinting of the eyes...

... which was, I should add, never a face you wanted to see, as it frequently preceded some sort of disciplinary measure.  Which again makes me ask, why this image?  What reluctance in my own life is echoing here? Where is the resistance? What is off-kilter, un-centered?  The older I get, the more I find it fun to ask these questions -- because the answers often mean something new to learn, some new foible to unearth and either heal or discard, some old fear that needs to be honored and reassured.  And you know what?  That's all good juicy stuff, stuff that moves us further down the path.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Though I took both cameras with me to the islands last weekend, I hadn't intended to spend time taking pictures: I wanted the trip to be about people, not images.  But I awoke to the ferry's foghorn on Friday morning, and couldn't resist the lure of the fog.

I told myself I'd just go down to the Neck, near the little cabin where we raised our girls; just shoot some of the old familiar scenes.  But those old familiar scenes are always changing -- new boats, old trees gone and new ones growing up -- and every day there's a new and different light in the sky.

I was thinking this morning that I've grown a bit complacent about meditation -- I haven't really been putting my heart in it lately, and that needs to change.  I might, when pressed, admit I've grown a bit complacent in my marriage as well; I need to give my husband a bit more attention, I think.

But I never seem to grow complacent about the beauty that is Shaw.  Why is it that my eyes are so much wiser than my heart?

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Four-Star Weekend

According to some studies, shopping is our nation's most popular pastime -- and I should confess that I am not immune to this particular temptation, particularly around Christmas and my birthday. My family members do not excel in gift-giving: it's not that they give BAD gifts, they just don't tend to give me stuff.  So after years of whining and complaining and generally getting grumpy about it, I've learned it's easier to just take myself shopping on those key occasions.

So during my birthday travels last week I also cruised through a number of my favorite stores -- artsy places and galleries, for the most part -- looking for that perfect gift, for myself.  And now I understand why my family members don't give me stuff: I'm very hard to buy for!  These were some of my favorite stores, and... well, nothing appealed. 

And the truth is, even though some part of me wishes I'd found something to buy, most of me is very grateful that my gift to myself this year was my trip, and the visits with my friends. I got so much pleasure out of those shared meals and conversations, hearing the lecture, attending the play, and driving around with my camera gathering pictures like this one.  It really was a four star weekend, and it seems quite probable that no mere "thing" could compare with those experiences.  Perhaps it's simply a function of age, or a reaction to the overwhelming amount of "stuff" we've been having to clean out of my husband's family home.  But I'd like to think I might finally have reached that magical stage where what I already have is enough. There's always the hope!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

One final birthday gift

After a long weekend away,
blessed with good times,
good friends, and good food,
one last glorious treat:
the Skagit potato fields
in fragrant bloom --
yet one more birthday gift
to unwrap and enjoy.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sometimes in summer

Sometimes in summer,
sweltering in the heat
my brush decides to paint
what my body misses:

Today, reveling
in a faint but welcome breeze,
it chooses to depict
what I now see
is a cold north wind.

And so I begin to wonder:
what else have I not realized I crave,
what other truths and hungers have I not seen
that, painted through me, are revealed 
to a watchful audience's eye?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Savor the ineffable

The fragrance of blossoms soon passes;
The ripeness of fruit is gone in a twinkling.
Our time in this world is so short,
Better to avoid regret:
Miss no opportunity to savor the ineffable.

--Loy Ching Yuen

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sit quietly

Sit quietly

And listen for a voice
That will say,
Be more silent."
As that happens,
Your soul starts to revive.

-- Rumi

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

No place like home

When I wandered into the kitchen this morning to grab my cup of coffee, I looked out the window and spotted these glorious clouds.  Formations like these are rare in the Pacific Northwest -- for the most part the sky is either blue or gray -- but these highlighted masterpieces immediately took me back to Vermont, to steamy summer mornings spent at Shadowbrook Farm watching the sun rise over the hills and spire of Bennington.  So I ran for my camera (and good thing I went when I did, because the sky now is an almost uniform gray) to capture this wonderful mix of then and now, East Coast and West.

And echoing in my head, as I labeled the photo and re-sized it to post here, was Dorothy's mantra: "There's no place like home; There's no place like home." I loved Vermont, loved living there and always look forward to my returns. But I love it here in Washington as well, and though some piece of me misses each when I am with the other, for the most part I've grown very comfortable with my split allegiance.  Perhaps we all need to keep a bit of a balance between where we are and where we long to be? Maybe that's a way of ensuring we never get too set in our ways; too comfortable...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rusted, busted

I understand that once, under the rust,
you must have been bright metal,
made with pride
and purchased with a sense of purpose --
a vision of a future (tilled,
planted and with produce later filled) --
as any mother, giving birth
imagines some bright future,
and some purpose for her child,
but must it always come to this,
this harsh encrusted withering,
outliving purpose,
masked by age and set aside
to gather dust,
no longer robust,
entrusted nevermore?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Animated landscape

You are on the way from here to there.
Your graceful manner gives color and fragrance
as creekwater animates the landscape through which it moves.

-- Rumi

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The healing process

I recently received an invitation to speak about my illustrated guide to the Gospel of Thomas at Seattle University's Search for Meaning Book Festival next February. (Yay!) One of the forms I need to fill out asks me to list books of mine to be sold at the festival, so I decided to take this opportunity to finalize the self-publishing of a spiritual autobiography I completed a couple of years ago.

It's been surprisingly fun to go back over the book and clean it up for publication -- partly because I love to edit, but also because it's a chance to walk again the path I've taken over the past twenty years, and to remind myself again of some of the insights gained along the way.

But it also forces me to re-visit some old wounds -- a difficult process on one hand, but rewarding on another: I can see now that even in the last couple of years additional healing has occurred, which means that some of the editing process involves a sort of wiping away of the occasional bits of venom that seeped from wounds that had not yet healed.

So it shouldn't be all that surprising that the painting that began so inauspiciously yesterday morning resolved itself into something that speaks of wounds and seepage; I call it "Slow to Heal."  I don't like it all that much -- it's not at all what I set out to paint -- but I'm not ashamed of it, and I do believe it's done.  And it's reassuring to discover that whatever it is that paints through me can still do so, even when I don't appreciate its efforts all that much...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

From lemons to lemonade

Late yesterday afternoon, after the third load of laundry, I was finally able to set aside some of my post-travel to-do list and paint.  But after only a week away it was as if I had never painted: nothing seemed to be going right and the results were incredibly frustrating. Which really shouldn't have surprised me, given that it had been well over a week since I've either meditated or painted.  I'm out of the zone, and it might take a bit to get back into that space.

Fortunately I'd spent lots of time with my camera over that week, so I could indulge my creative impulses this morning by playing with some of the blurry (and equally unsatisfying) images I'd managed to collect from a moving car. 

It was a lovely reminder: If I can just set aside what I WANTED to happen and follow the trail of instinct and possibility, the results might still be pleasing.  Of course things don't -- can't -- always happen as we've planned.  But there's almost always some alternative path to explore, with some new blessings and lessons to teach us.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A Maxfield Parrish day

"There seem to be magic days once in a while, 
with some rare quality of light that hold a body spellbound..."

  --  Maxfield Parrish

Street smarts

Just a little street-corner wisdom to start your day...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Glad to be home

After a long day's travel, I find myself at last at Seattle's Colman Dock, waiting in line for the ferry home. It's almost midnight, New Jersey time, but here it's barely 8:30: the sun is just beginning to set; the gulls are circling, hoping for scraps tossed by tourists as the ferry pulls in; the weather is pleasantly warm and dry -- a far cry from the blistering heat and humidity I've left behind. Though the house has been closed up in our absence, I know I'll be sleeping under a blanket tonight after a week of tossing even the sheets aside in hopes of a breath of cool air.

Even the smallest journeys have a purpose, a beginning, and an end; each journey a microcosm of the larger journey that is life. And as we travel, we can't help but notice the other journeys taking place around us, other sources, other destinations, other styles of travel, other choices... And now today, waking to a still lagoon, gray skies and blessedly cool weather, I know some of my time will be spent catching up and much of it will be spent reflecting, as the sea reflects the sky, on my most recent travels: remembering the heat, the joy of a family wedding, the challenges and rewards of sorting through another life's accumulation of memories and "stuff," the pleasures of spending time and sharing tasks with family we rarely see... It's all good. And I'm glad to be home.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Another Kind of Intelligence

There are two kinds of intelligence:
one acquired,as a child in school
memorizes facts and concepts from books

and from what the teacher says,
collecting information

from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence

you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence

in retaining information.
You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge,

getting always more marks
on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest.
This other intelligence does not turn yellow or stagnate.

It's fluid, and it doesn't move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.

-- Rumi

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Reach for the rope

When you do things from your soul,
you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
When actions come from another section,
the feeling disappears.
Don't let others lead you.
They may be blind or, worse, vultures.
Reach for the rope of God.
And what is that? Putting aside self-will.
Because of willfulness people sit in jail,
the trapped bird's wings are tied,
fish sizzle in the skillet.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Peer pressure: the sequel

Not everything in Susan Cain's Quiet is reassuring. Apparently, between 1951 and 1956, a psychologist named Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments on peer pressure, and showed that by planting actors who confidently volunteered wrong answers in groups of people he could get those groups to shift away from 95% accurate observations to a mere 25% correct observations.

But until the advent of the fMRI, no-one quite understood what was going on with those shifts. Yes, it was horrifying that 75% of the people gave what they knew to be wrong answers in response to peer pressure. But why did they conform with the group? Was it just to go along with the group because they weren't sure? Were they pretending in order to gain favor? In 2005 an Emory University neuroscientist decided to conduct an updated version of Asch's study, using the fMRI to watch participants' brains as they made their choices under the influence of the planted actors.

And what they discovered was that most of the volunteers went along with the group because they actually thought they had arrived serendipitously at the same answer: they were actually completely unaware of how much their peers had influenced them: the group had literally changed their perceptions. The biological imperative to fit in is apparently so strong that it can actually change what and how we see without our even being aware of it -- and those few participants who were able to resist groupthink showed heightened activity in the part of the brain associated with fear of rejection.

To me this helps explain not only mass hysteria phenomena like Nazi Germany and Jonestown but also a lot of what we're seeing on the political front in today's America. In a world where people's sense of connectedness depends more and more upon what they see on their computer screens, cyber-bullying becomes possible on an ever-grander scale. And don't those people who are somehow able to think independently despite group pressure become increasingly important to the future of our society? In such a world it seems to me to be more important than ever to work to maintain a healthy connection to Divine Wisdom, to That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves, if we are not to succumb to the individual ego's desperate need to conform. 

But I suppose there are those who could say that opinion -- that meditation is a way of staying in touch with some sort of grander truth than our own -- is a sort of mass hysteria of its own. It is, I think, a question of what is absolute truth, if there is such a thing, and or where we might find it, a question that has troubled mankind since long before Plato -- who claimed, incidentally, that absolute truth existed, but that truth on earth was merely a shadow of great forms of absolute truth existing in the universe. 

Many, of course, believe in relative truths, where facts may vary depending on the circumstances. Perhaps that's what this study was addressing.  But given that the students were looking a simple geometric problems -- is that line the same length as this one -- we could perhaps assume one answer was right and the rest were wrong.  It's an intriguing conundrum.  Mostly I want to be conscious of the ways my assumptions reflect those of my peers rather than stuff I can really know or believe.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Listening for wisdom

"If the bold and aggressive generally prevail," writes Susan Cain in Quiet, "why were the sensitive not selected out of the human population thousands of years ago, like tree frogs colored orange?"  Because, it seems, for evolution to progress, we need both loud and quiet voices. The fact is that animal groups of all kinds depend on their sensitive members for survival. 

Herds of animals, for example, that have a few members who are constantly stopping their grazing to use their keen sensors to watch for predators, are more likely to survive to breed again, and so continue to have some sensitive individuals in every generation: in fact, scientists have discovered that approximately 20 percent of the members of every species fall into the observant-versus-aggressive category.

In short, each of us, whether quiet or loud, has something to offer the world. And how ever much we need the active and aggressive members of the species to defend turf and keep the food pouring in, we also need the quiet observers to preserve the tribe for the future.  Every voice stifled or out shouted can be an opportunity lost or knowledge and wisdom never heard or shared. Just as each experience, whether pleasant or wracked with pain, has something to teach us, every voice may have wisdom of value.  It's time we learned to listen more intently to one another.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

From character to personality

On the recommendation of a friend, I've begun reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.  It's quite an eye-opener: even though I'm only one chapter in I already feel a sense of recognition, and a sort of broad cultural understanding of issues that I've struggled with most of my life.

Apparently, with the advent of Dale Carnegie and the Twentieth Century, America went from a Culture of Character (in which how you gracefully and quietly and responsibly conduct your private life is the most important thing) to a Culture of Personality (in which the image you project -- preferably of a sort of can-do confidence -- is the most important thing).

So of course introverts in such a society find themselves at a disadvantage.  But, more importantly, doesn't this trend imply an emphasis on form rather than substance?  And it seems to me that if we constantly choose the illusion of competence over actual competence we may be simply building a house of cards which is eventually doomed to collapse.

On the other hand, this trend means that the brash newcomer who is full of inventive new ideas is no longer ostracized for "not fitting in."  So it's not necessarily a bad thing; it's more that we need to find a way to balance the two; to appreciate and support both quiet and noisy contributions to society and culture.  And here I am again, advocating the middle way, the via media -- such an Episcopalian thing to do...

Friday, July 5, 2013


You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.


Thursday, July 4, 2013


Differences are just illusion and vanity.
Sunlight looks a little different
on this wall than on that wall
and a lot different on this other one,
but it is still one light.

-- Rumi

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It's all true

What I love about this image is that the scale of it is just subtle enough to awaken the viewer's imagination.  Is this a rocky point, with huge cliffs arresting an algae-stained sea? Are there people, or cars, or picnic tables huddled on the sandy beach below? Or is this just a piece of driftwood, catching the afternoon tide as it rolls back out to sea?

I like the mystery of that -- but then I always seem to appreciate a bit of mystery: I prefer things to be slightly less than obvious, and like it when there's room for interpretation. Which is why I love abstract art.  Not all abstract art, but the kind that invites me in, that suggests a story.

This also explains why, unlike some of my more rule-based classmates in library school, I loved it when we were told "there's no right way to catalog a book; the important thing is to know your readers and give it cards and numbers that will make it easy for them to find."  It meant we were at liberty to imagine a better way; a world that worked, and accommodated individual preferences.

Which, I suspect, is what makes it easy for me to be a person of faith.  Because faith -- believing that we are each of us loved and cared for, that bad stuff usually makes way for new good stuff, that we are somehow connected to and rooted in all creation  (all of which would be lovely) -- well, it really doesn't make a lot of rational sense. You can't nail it down.  Someone can always find "proof" that none of that could possibly be true. 

But it seems to me that faith is like a smile: if you use your muscles to emulate it long enough, you'll begin to feel it, even feel your mood become more positive.  So I don't really need it to be a fact; don't need to know the answers.  But I like living as if it's all true -- and I love imagining a better, kinder world where compassion -- not money, or facts, or power -- would be the most important thing.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


When we use our disturbances
as materials of expression,
we see that everything in life
is fuel for the creative process.
Creativity puts toxins to good use.

--Shaun McNiff, in Trust the Process

Monday, July 1, 2013

Everything fresh and new

Speaking of his teacher, Dipa Ma, in Bringing Home the Dharma, Jack Kornfield writes: "Asked whether life was boring and gray after getting rid of desire, anger and passion, Dipa Ma burst out laughing. 'Once greed, hatred, and delusion are gone, you can see everything fresh and new all the time.  Every moment is new.  Life was dull before.  Now every day, every moment is full of taste and zest.' "

We all know people who are easily bored, who consistently seek, attract, or create drama in order "to keep life interesting."  But if they could set aside their need to be catered to or entertained and seek instead to be fully present to what is, they might, like Dipa Ma, find each present moment to be fully endowed with infinite joy and glory -- which brings me back again to that wonderful quote from Gilead: "Wherever you turn your eyes, the world can shine like transfiguration.You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see."