If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” – Lao Tzu

This quote from the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, seems like an over-simplification to me but one that still makes me stop and consider. Thankfully we’ve come a long way since the 6th century BC in understanding that anxiety and depression have much deeper causes and roots than a simple tie to time-focus.

However, I take the point that what I’m prone to is living in the future and it robs me of some peace. I tend to march toward it with a single-minded determination that is at best, mindless, and at worst, anxiety-inducing. Getting out of this rut is the topic of my Wise & Shine post: Asking Questions When a Groove Becomes a Rut

(featured photo from Pexels)

Peace is Free

Peace is not something you wish for; It’s something you make, Something you do, Something you are, And something you give away.” – John Lennon

The other night I made the mistake of working on my taxes before bed. After a night of tossing a turning, mulling over finances, I blearily made my way down to the family room to meditate. As I lit the candles before settling down on the cushion, I thought “At least you have enough money to buy candles.

None of this is new – not the worrying about money in January which I’ve done every year for the more than 20 years I’ve been in business so I know from the pattern that it all works out but still worry anyway. And not the thought “At least you have enough money to buy candles.”

However, this was the first time I realized the fuller meaning of that phrase. I have always assumed that it was a reflex reminding me how much I have. But I marveled on the morning in question that what my inner voice was also telling me that my path to find peace, meaning and joy is free. It doesn’t cost me anything to stop and meditate at any or every moment.

And it was telling me that I can do that anywhere or everywhere. I can still find the calm within when the life circumstances are hard. As the quote from John Lennon reminds me, it isn’t just wishing that creates peace but it is powerful and transferable sense worth working for.

It brings to mind an Oprah Soul Sunday podcast I heard where she talked about whispers (here it is on a video of Oprah’s lifeclass). That she’s found that God, the Universe, a Higher Power talks to us in whispers. And it’s only when we don’t listen, the voice gets more insistent, a pebble upside the head and then a brick, in Oprah parlance.

So for twenty years I’ve been sweating through January as I handle the not-so-fun tasks of getting my customers to pay their invoices and to nail down commitments for the next year. This is the first where I really listened to that inner voice and was able to find my internal peace while doing so.

I’m hopeful that I’ll remember that the price of peace is free next year. And also, not to do my taxes before bedtime.

Seeds of Faith

Believing is all a child does for a living.” – Kurtis Lamkin

The other day my 6-year-old daughter called for me. When I came into the room, she was holding her little brother because he’d tripped and fallen. When I took him from her and started checking for injuries, she huffed off.

When all was calm, I checked in with my daughter. She said that I loved her brother more than her. I told her how much I appreciated how independent and helpful she was. Then I listed all the ways we show our love and the privileges she gets because she is older. She nodded and said, “ At his age, you can see the love he gets better.”

Something more than the obvious sibling rivalry and jealousy struck me about that statement. After I sat with it some time, I’ve found such a precious seed of faith in that statement. Like if we could all trace back the roots of what we believe to the essential moments where we start to believe in what we can’t see we’d find seeds from moments like my daughter expressed. Faith in others, faith in love, faith in the Divine,

It’s as if I’ve been privy to watch her operate from within her God spot for all the years until now. She’s been operating from the natural trust that came with being so fresh from the Source. And now I’m witnessing her growth and awareness start to cover that over so that instead of operating without thought from her Seat of Unconscious, as I believe Jung would call it, my daughter is feeling out the ground on the other side.

While this leaves me with a sense of loss, I recognize it as a natural moving forward. Most of us cannot stay in a life free of ambition and embarrassment, fear and worry. We move away from that spot of grace that can bring so much peace and then have to work our way back, again and again.

But it strikes me that as she moves in and out of that unencumbered spot, the awareness is a gift of its own. It makes me conscious of my own God spot as well as hers and allows me to recognize when I need to help water and nurture her seed of faith — and my own.

The analogy of a tree that grows deep roots resonates with me. For my kids to stretch tall in their beliefs, their roots need to grow deep down. And I need to have faith that they will have faith.

(featured photo from Pexels)

A Meditation on Evenings or Evening Meditation

Wear your ego like a loose fitting garment.” – Buddha

We all have Covid (mild, thankfully) and are on day 99 (feels like) of quarantine. The one household member that doesn’t have Covid, the cat, is on a diet because a recent trip to the vet for her check-up revealed that she’d gained a lot of weight under all that fluffy fur. On top of that, she has to put up with us all home and as you can see in featured photo, my daughter trying to shoot her with a water gun. So, I think it’s fair to say that we’re all a little grumpy.

In the midst of this, I’ve noticed something interesting. We do pretty well until right around 6pm. Then it turns into a scrum unless I can find a way to redirect the energy.

What I find fascinating is that corresponds with about the same time of day that the voice in my head turns self-critical. The other night I was getting ready for bed and thinking about a proposal that I needed to do the next day when my inner narrator popped up with “There’s no value you can add for them that they can’t already do themselves.”

What?? The voice was talking about what I have done for 20 years that I do day in and day out and I know based on my track record of doing it for happy clients that keep me employed that I do it very well.

This reminds me of the preface to Dan Harris’ book 10 Percent Happier in which he said the working title for his book was “The Voice in My Head is an Asshole.” My voice doesn’t usually stoop to that level until after about 6pm. And then it is always a JERK!

I am a congenital optimist. For example, when I gain weight, it usually makes me think, “Well, at least I don’t have one of those hard-to-detect cases on cancer where the primary symptom is unexpected weight loss.” There is nothing I have knowingly done to foster this optimism but life has largely worked out for me – or maybe it hasn’t and I just think it has because I’m an optimist?

That’s the problem with the voices in our heads, right? They are completely subjective, often influenced by food and sleep and given how much they change in a day, totally unreliable. But I like my optimistic voice, just not the self-critical voice that kicks in for the evenings.

This is where meditation has saved me by creating an awareness that these voices are not me. That if I sit with ideas, actions and my path for a little while, a way that rises above the fickle swings presents itself. As the quote from Buddha above suggests, wearing the ego like a loose fitting garment helps remove it more easily. Just a moment’s space between thought and speaking or action can allow peace to prevail.

This gives me an idea for the rest of our quarantine. Maybe tonight I’ll try to get the kids to sit and meditate with me after dinner and we’ll have a completely peaceful and cooperative transition to bed. As you can probably tell, I’m writing this in the morning when my optimist voice is strong…. 🙂

Christmas Wish

The most effective medicine here on this Earth is unconditional love.” – unknown

I woke up this morning thinking of two types of people working on Christmas Eve. Healthcare workers and pastors. The former must be so discouraged to see the Omicron fears and anticipate the number of people who might overflow their beds.

And the latter must be so disappointed to see the Omicron fears, knowing that it’ll keep people away from services and reduce the number of people in their pews on Christmas Eve.

Growing up in a pastor’s house, Christmas Eve was a big deal. It was a chance to celebrate with the congregation and whoever else came along the hope, peace and magic of a story. It was a chance to hear silence because regardless of anyone’s particular beliefs, it is a day we close our stores and change our schedules.

It makes me wish on this day where our bodies might not be able to go where we want to be, that at least our hearts can be in the right place. May the spirit of Christmas with its hope, peace and generosity fill us wherever we are!

Happy Families

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

My mom told me that one of her friends from her retirement community keeps asking her about my kids. He’s 98 years-old, never married and has no kids, and he asks repeatedly about how I conceived them as a single mom and what I tell them about their parentage. As she was telling me this, I thought “Given that they didn’t even invent invitro-fertilization until he was in his 60’s, I can’t imagine what he thinks.” But in this most recent conversation they had, he started telling her about the traumatic childhood he had — his father’s abuse of his sisters, his mother’s nervous breakdown when she discovered the abuse and his mother’s instruction to him to make sure he never left his younger sister alone with his dad. At the end of relating the story he simply said to my mom, “I would have been a lot better off without a dad.”

This makes me so sad. First of all because I had a great dad. Nothing about what I’ve done is a commentary on dads in general. It was simply a matter of not having the right one for my kids and running out of time.

Secondly because of the shame he still seems to carry. The answer to his question about what I tell my kids is that I tell them whatever they ask but I don’t complicate it with more than they want to know at the time. The first time my daughter asked she said, “Did I have a dad when I was born?” and I said “no” and then she followed up with “Did I have a dog when I was born?” and I thought “that’s where you’re going with this?” and answered “yes”. We’ve had more in-depth conversations since then about me going to the doctor to become pregnant and a little about sperm donors but she’s not all that interested yet. I have no way of knowing how she or her brother will come to feel about this (and it’ll probably be many things) but whatever it is, I will do my best to make sure it isn’t shame. My primary tool to combat that is not to have any secrets about their origins.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a Tolstoy quote I recently came across, “Happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Given that Tolstoy lived long before invitro fertilization and also gay marriage, I’d say maybe in his time happy families were all alike. But they can look pretty different these days.

But I think Tolstoy was right that unhappy families have many possible reasons that can echo for a long time. I hope that we see my mom’s friend again soon and somewhere in the telling of his story and the grace of being interested in my happy children since he never had any of his own, he finds peace for his inner child.

Marking the Trail

The softest things in the world overcome the hardest things in the world.” – Lao Tzu

Almost 4 years ago I was out walking on the day after the mass shooting in Las Vegas and came across these beautiful rock cairns on the shore of a little local lake. It was a calm and quiet morning with the chill of October in the air and I just stopped in my tracks, wanting to spend a sacred moment in the presence of this inspired creation.

I imagined that in the wake of something so horribly violent, someone needed to make themselves feel calmer by creating something beautiful. Of course I’ll never know if it worked for them but I do know that just looking at this impromptu art installation worked to soothe that raw and exposed grief I was feeling.

When I think about whether anything I do, say or write has any meta-effect on the world at large, I think of those rock cairns. I might be working out my own grief, demons, cares and worries but if I do it in a peaceful and creative way, I have a small chance that it will express empathy and understanding for others walking a similar path.

Most of the rock cairns I’ve come across are on hiking paths marking the way to go. They are minimally invasive ways to communicate that the trail continues here. They are ways that one human tells another that they’ve walked this same way and don’t want anyone else to feel unsure or to be lost. May we all continue to be rock cairns for one another, marking the trail with peace.  

Motorcycle Man

Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” – Deepak Chopra

Let me paint the picture of my usual morning. I awaken early to do yoga, meditate and write. The house is quiet. Both kids are in bed sleeping and if the cat is inside, she’s curled up on the top of her tower resting. I do yoga silently in the family room and then I make a cup of tea and light candles to meditate by. I sit on my meditation bolster and start a breathing practice or two…and then at 6:37am a guy rides by my house on a motorcycle so loud that I can hear it for a block before and a block after.

This has been going on most weekdays for the last eight years. I remember meditating before I had kids with my beloved dog and the motorcycle would often set off a car alarm when it went by. I thought it was funny then – like a “wuhoo, now we are all raring to go!” But these days because it wakes up my toddler, I’m irritated.

I’ve tried accepting the irritation, appreciating it as a teacher, thanking it for drawing me away from my own monkey mind. None of it has made me feel more kindly towards the motorcycle man.

Until I made up this story about a child who grew up in a house that was too quiet. No one talked because if they did, all the feelings that they’d been holding right under the surface would blow apart the family. So they sat and stewed and this little boy dreamed of escaping to anywhere it was loud. When he grew up, he found himself in a marriage quite like his parents and couldn’t break the pattern by daring to speak until she finally did and what she said was “I want a divorce.” Alone, angry and confused he bought a motorcycle so loud that he could yell, scream and cry when he was on it and no one would hear. It was his freedom and even though he still had to work early mornings 5 days a week, he could feel unfettered on his way in. I hope the motorcycle man is growing freer to express himself in ways beyond the motorcycle every day. Now I’m rooting for him as he drives by.

Even though the story is utter BS, it helps me make friends with my experience. As I’m floating down the river of life, I’m trying to learn not to struggle with things I can’t control. Besides, this morning ritual is probably why “motorcycle” is one of my son’s favorite words and he can identify them by sound. Even as I’m working to find peace in to this daily occurrence, someone else in this house loves it showing me yet again, life is a subjective experience.

Five Pieces of Writing That Inspired Me: #6 Beginning

Sleep is the best meditation.” – Buddha

I set out to find my top five pieces of writing that inspired me and in doing so, found so many more. I thought this one didn’t make the list but then I had a restless night last night and I thought so much about the renewal that comes each night for me when my load feels especially heavy. So, I’m calling this the 6th selection in my top five. <wink>

The Truth about Morning

There is a vastness that quiets the soul. But sometimes we are so squarely in the midst of life’s foreces that we can’t see what we’re a part of. – Mark Nepo

The truth about morning is that it is the small light of the beginning breaking through, again and again. It is a wisdom so large and clear, one which carries us through our lives so quietly and completely that we seldom see it.

Day after day, we are covered with the dust and grit of what we go through. It tends to weigh us down, and then we think and scheme and problem solve. Then we worry if it will all really work, and if it is the right thing to do. It all makes us so dark and cluttered.

But despite our stubbornness of concern, we tire and must turn what has happened over to the hammock of night. This is a good thing. For no matter how unfinished we seem, the letting go into sleep is nothing short of a quiet miracle.

This letting go into sleep is an innate, reflexive form of meditation, no different than a fly rubbing its face or a doe licking its fawn. Sooner or later, without discipline or devotion, despite our resolutions and mistakes, we each much sleep. We must surrender to the quieting of all intent and regret, so that the small light of the beginning can rise in us, again and again.

There is no escaping this profound simplicity: what happens covers us like dirt. It covers our hearts and minds, till, at the shore we call exhaustion, we slip into the waters of sleep in a daily sort of baptism, so we can begin again.

So whenever you feel urgent or overwhelmed, whenever you feel pressed to figure things out or to rethink the unthinkable…rest…so that the endless beginning – which some call the voice of God – might break through what has happened. And you will wake feeling like dawn.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo

Life at the Lake

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” – Jimi Hendrix

Going to the lake as a kid and going to the lake with your kids are two different things. I’ve been lucky enough to do both with a family I’ve known since I was 7 years-old. Their lake place has been for all these years the perfect place for kids to adventure, swim, inner tube, find treasure in its many forms until like my son did the other night, you can’t even keep your eyes open to read books and just want to dive into bed.

What is most remarkable to me was the way this family has made their lake place work. The parents bought it in 1973. They come back every summer as do their three daughters in my generation and their families for as much time as they can. I’m invited too as an honorary member of the family because I lived with them my senior year in high school when my dad took a sr. pastor job at a church on the other side of the state. They have created a compound where everyone can chip in according to their strengths and politely ignore each other’s weaknesses and all the members of the family have chosen to so because life at the lake is more fun together.

Every morning we were at the lake I got up early and went down to sit by the water. The scene holds so much more than just liquid. It’s all the dreams I had of what life would be when I came there as a kid. It’s all the hope that I have for my kids to grow up in a beautiful world. And it’s all the love of the family that owns this lake place – both in caring for it and for each other. It’s also a hub of connection for grandparents, parents, cousins, sisters and extended family like me. Just sitting by a body of water that holds so much filled me with the peace that comes with all that perspective and love.

I get so choked up thinking of the lifetime of friendship I have had with my dear friend and her family. And now her incredibly delightful and talented daughters have both nannied for my kids so the love spreads through the generations. Nothing better than going to the lake with my kids and discovering that it holds them as it did me, in complete awe of the way one place can hold delight for so many!