Sunday, December 18, 2011

12/17/11 Integrity, aikido, heaven and earth, spiritual growth

I had these thoughts in response to aspen apGaia's blog, where he's been writing various things about aikido, and decided I wanted to share them here also. (

To me, integrity has to do with being whole, all of one piece, rather than fragmented or having contradictions between your beliefs and actions.  One with integrity is trustworthy, lined up, consistent, honest.  One doesn’t (fortunately, since none of us are) have to be perfect.  I have a feeling of organic growth, knowing oneself, having clear aims and goals, having strong character, being present and real, following through.  I believe it takes awareness, courage, knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses and limitations, the ability to interact with others without losing one’s own mooring and direction.  There is also a sense of goodness and rightness, that one would not harm others, and would do things to help others and the world.  One would be moving in truth and in love.

c.1400, "innocence, blamelessness; chastity, purity," from O.Fr. integrité or directly from L. integritatem (nom. integritas) "soundness, wholeness, blamelessness," from integer "whole" (see integer). Sense of "wholeness, perfect condition" is mid-15c.

"a whole number" (opposed to fraction), 1570s, from L. integer (adj.) "whole, complete," figuratively, "untainted, upright," lit. "untouched," from in- "not" (see in- (1)) + root of tangere "to touch" (see tangent). The word was used earlier in English as an adjective meaning "whole, entire" (c.1500).

In aikido, one would be lined up with earth, self (body and attention/intention), other, and heaven. One would be fully present in the here and now, centered and grounded, moving from one’s center, fully aware and alive, moving in clear awareness and harmony.  The attacking pattern breaks harmony, launching energy in a way that would harm the other person. Using aikido to blend with the attacking energy, one moves off the line of attack (so out of the way of being harmed), and turns to move (blend) with the attacker which restores harmony.  Your own center now becomes the center for both of you, and you now have control of the resolution.

If one is instead tangled, with lack of awareness, misaligned body, not centered, trying to force the other person instead of blending, then this doesn’t work.  Instead of harmony there is discord and fighting and struggle.  Heaven and earth are not brought together, your heart and the other person’s heart (and perhaps bodies) are hurt, and you are not moving in integrity.  Truth and love are absent.

The interaction of heaven and earth is a profound topic, with many aspects, reflected in many different cultures.  We are beings with body, heart, mind, and spirit.  Many of us have a sense of the earthiness of our bodies (in both positive and negative ways), the shortness and fragility of physical life, and a sense of eternity in terms of our spirits or souls.  We know that reality on this earth does not match our ideal visions and ethics. We have heaven and earth tied together in us.  We can choose lack of awareness.  We can choose evil or good.  We can center on ourselves or on something larger. We can vacillate.  We can grow towards wholeness (integrity).

In the Christian viewpoint, we can invite God to live in us (and us in God).  The Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Jesus also said that unless we become like a little child, we can’t enter the kingdom of heaven.  (I think this points to the importance of awareness, living in the present, being open to imagination and intuition, and straightforward knowing and love and faith, not all tangled up in thoughts of what other people will think or what you should do.)  One of the Hermetic sayings (and, I think, Sufi) is “As above, so below.”  From a non-theistic viewpoint, we can open to the highest in ourselves, or around us, and focus or dwell in that place. As St. Paul put it in the Epistle to the Philippians 4:8 (NIV), “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things”.  The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is common to many cultures.

There are 3 stories or writings that have come to my mind as I’m thinking about this. 

One is from a book about using stories to work with children, and it's about Heaven and Hell. An angel comes to a rabbi, and takes him to see Hell and then Heaven. When he is taken to Hell, the rabbi is surprised to see a beautiful meadow with a stream and trees and banquet tables full of wonderful food. However, the people at the tables are utterly miserable -- they can't eat because their elbows are totally stiff and won't bend, so they can't get any of the food or drink to their mouths. The angel then brings him to Heaven. Here things are exactly the same, but the people are all smiling and happy. They are feeding each other.

The second is from Khalil Gibran in The Prophet, in the chapter on Crime and Punishment.  (found on;  I’m quoting part; the whole thing is well worth reading.)

“It is when your spirit goes wandering upon the wind,
That you, alone and unguarded, commit a wrong unto others and therefore unto yourself.
And for that wrong committed must you knock and wait a while unheeded at the gate of the blessed.
Like the ocean is your god-self;
It remains forever undefiled.
And like the ether it lifts but the winged.
Even like the sun is your god-self;
It knows not the ways of the mole nor seeks it the holes of the serpent.
But your god-self does not dwell alone in your being.
Much in you is still man, and much in you is not yet man,
But a shapeless pigmy that walks asleep in the mist searching for its own awakening.
And of the man in you would I now speak.
For it is he and not your god-self nor the pigmy in the mist, that knows crime and the punishment of crime.
Oftentimes have I heard you speak of one who commits a wrong as though he were not one of you, but a stranger unto you and an intruder upon your world.
But I say that even as the holy and the righteous cannot rise beyond the highest which is in each one of you,
So the wicked and the weak cannot fall lower than the lowest which is in you also.
And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree,
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your god-self.
You are the way and the wayfarers.
And when one of you falls down he falls for those behind him, a caution against the stumbling stone.
Ay, and he falls for those ahead of him, who though faster and surer of foot, yet removed not the stumbling stone. .....
the erect and the fallen are but one man standing in twilight between the night of his pigmy-self and the day of his god-self,
And ... the corner-stone of the temple is not higher than the lowest stone in its foundation.”

The third is from Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who was a philosopher and scientist, and whose writings were opposed by the church hierarchy.  I read a book of his for a college course, probably The Phenomenon of Man.  He talks of the evolution of man, and posits a tiny bit of spirit in each tiny bit of matter (atoms), and gradually with the development of more complex molecules and life, more and more spirit/consciousness in each being.  The world progresses from geosphere, to biosphere, to noosphere (formed by human cognition, gradually increasing in complexity and awareness, something more than what is inherent in each individual human), and finally the Omega Point, a maximum level of complexity and consciousness to which the universe is being drawn.  (This is a different thing than the Gaia hypothesis, though that is also a fascinating way of looking at the world.)

Our development as individuals in this world is highly complex and very interesting.  Physically, amazing things occur without us “doing” anything, and there are full disciplines of embryology and human development.  Psychologists have studied human psychological, cognitive, and moral development (Erikson, Piaget, Kohlberg...).  I believe positive systems for growth, healing, and spiritual development are all inherent within us, both individually and as groups/cultures. (For example, slavery, abuse, and the belief that women or different races or cultural groups are inferior, have gradually been changing over hundreds of years.)  I know personally through my lifetime I keep developing spiritually, and my experience is that God brings some new aspect for me to learn or work on as soon as I’ve finished the last thing.  Awareness and intuition (inner vision, hearing, and knowing, including a sense of being called to something), courage, and a willingness to know that I don’t know and am not perfect and have a lot more to learn, are all important for this type of growth.  This is what makes life exciting and worth living (along with the wonder of the world will all its variety and beauty, and love and joy and peace ...)  And I think this is how we help to tie together heaven and earth, and share it with others.

Thanks for sharing part of your journey and being and learning with me.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Vultures and crows, currents, communication, and compassion 12/10/11

Last week I was watching vultures swirling upward through the air, never even needing to flap their wings, wending their way in long slow gradually rising circles, eventually moving off into the distance on an unseen current of air. I was thinking about how water has currents that we can often see because of bubbles and ripples and things floating along; perhaps animals living in the water, like fish, can only feel the currents rather than see them, because the water is surrounding them. We live in the air, and can't see it, and can only see the effects of the currents of air from something moving in them, like birds or clouds or tree branches or leaves or dust, and of course we can feel the wind blowing against us.

Currents in the world of spirit are invisible to our physical senses, but once again we can feel things, such as love or fear or exaltation. And we can see people moving in unexpected amazing ways, and know they are riding the currents of the Holy Spirit. Unseen currents (water, air, or spirit) can have patterns we can learn, or can be unexpected; can be gentle and refreshing, or powerful and even dangerous; can transport us far from our starting points and guide us to distant shores and destinations. We can learn to sense and ride and fly the currents, but there is a power in them we can't control, and when we surrender to them we can go the farthest with the least effort, perhaps to places no one else has ever been.

The same day I was watching the vultures, some crows just on the other side of a line of trees set up a loud excited cawing that went on and on. Other crows from nearby cawed and flew over, and then more and more groups came, until all of them within hearing arrived. I'm sure I watched at least 50 fly over, over the course of 5 to 10 minutes. I don't know if they found something alarming (like a hawk or owl), or something to eat or hunt... but all of them in earshot responded. I thought about how when white blood cells in the body find an intruder they send out messages that call other white blood cells to come and attack. And I thought about how in a healthy group (of animals, or in a family, or in a village), when one sets up an alarm or call, others of the group come to help or investigate or comfort or protect, or heed the warning and go hide.

How do we make our larger communities (schools, businesses, cities...) sensitive to the cries of those who are hurt, or warning of problems, or who need help? I think we become overwhelmed by the amount of commotion and noise and distress and sensory overload in a place with many people, and don't feel a personal connection. Some of the psychological and sociological studies show that the more people that are around, the less likely someone is to personally help or call for help. They also show that if we are busy (supposed to get somewhere for an appointment, for example), we are less likely to stop and help. So we need to make space for connection, and space in our days in terms of time. Space for unexpected "divine appointments". Space for us to be ourselves. Space to connect with nature, and slow down to our natural rhythms. Places where we can truly see others and be seen, where who we are and what we do makes a difference (so we don't learn helplessness, or learn that we don't matter). We need to stay aware instead of tuning out. I think that we've let our society get too big and anonymous, perhaps in search of efficiency, or perhaps from lack of planning, and that we need to plan ways to create connection, intimacy, authenticity, integrity, compassion, and respect.

Acceptance and blessing, 12/4/11

A week of many things -- work and play and rest and talking/connecting and concerts and outdoors and a mild virus and aikido and contemplation and reading and exercise. The days felt full, the sleep restful, and the connecting positive and sometimes thought-provoking. I haven't been drawn to writing much this week, though I have a few images for future poems from some of my time outdoors.

I'm feeling a sense that accepting/welcoming all of life/experience is important, feeling that it's all a gift, and that there are things to learn and grow from in all of it; rather than judging this part as good and welcome and that part as bad and to be avoided/escaped from. As I lay on the grass tonight looking up at the tree's outline against the moonlight and starlight, I had a sense of layered complex beautiful patterns -- the cosmos, the tree, myself (the large part and the miniature parts inside), the earth with its currently cold surface (at least where I am) and tectonic plates floating on the molten core. A gentle curious questioning and questing and sensing. In beauty I walk.

May beauty surround you. May your heart feel the love of God and others, be fully surrounded by it and fully reciprocate it. May you be at peace and know you have a place and purpose in life, and a connection with the universe outside of you. May a quiet or exuberant joy bubble up from the depths of your being, even in the midst of difficulties and losses. May you continue learning and growing and helping and serving all the days of your life, in that wonderful circle/cycle of giving and receiving. May you frequently be able to pause and be still, rest and connect, laugh and play, love and hold and be held, forgive and be forgiven.

Thanksgiving (written 11/24/11)

Looking with gratitude, appreciation, and delight. Seeing beauty and truth. Learning from the world, in all its diversity. Getting ourselves, our preoccupations, our self-centeredness out of the way. However our own selves/bodies/senses/minds are the only instruments we have to interact with the world, and God creates us and tunes us a certain way – so how do I use this instrument of myself with clarity and truth? Loving and appreciating ourselves, befriending ourselves, pausing and realizing that this body and mind is my passport, my vehicle, my unique path through life, my only way of experiencing this world. Realizing that where I put my attention creates my structure and experience. (Literally my body will change –grow thicker, denser, bones and muscles as I exercise, grow new nerve connections as I try a new activity; my habits of thinking and feeling and my reactions will change as I learn and contemplate and ponder and try new ways of relating.) What’s the best way to nurture myself, to show myself loving kindness and appreciation? What about for the person next to me, and for each person I encounter? What about for all the beings on this earth, for the planet as a whole, for the people yet to come?

How do I create the conditions so that I will pause, savor, appreciate, deepen, grow, be more aware? For some of us, it might be to pause more often, to give ourselves more breathing room, to let some of the things we’re busy with fall away. For some, it might be to become more aware, to experience what we’re doing, with all of our being, as we’re doing it. For some, it might be to fully enter into some passion or calling or vision, and to carry it out in the world. Sometimes there might be a new practice to learn, or making a space to listen to intuition and spirit.

Some people have found that cultivating a practice of gratitude opens one to noticing and appreciating more and more things. It can start as simply as listing 5 things each day we’re grateful for in a journal (no limit if we want to list more), as in the instruction, “Count your blessings.” I have read of people’s lives being transformed by this. When I did it steadily for a few months I found my own positive attitude become even more positive. (A few books and websites, some of which I’ve mentioned in the past: Sarah Bann Breathnach, "Simple Abundance",; Ann Voskamp, "One Thousand Gifts",; Angeles Arrien, "Living in Gratitude", Brene Brown; "The Gifts of Imperfection",;

We often think gratefully of positive things, things of beauty, things that lift our souls and spirits. As we contemplate life, we can find things to be grateful for even among those we normally categorize as negative. For example, we may learn what not to do from watching someone’s problems, or how not to interact from someone who has hurt us in some way. Pain and difficulties in our lives can be some of our best teachers, and can sometimes be the impetus to transform our lives or the world. We can learn compassion and how to help others from our own suffering. Physical pain is actually a necessary gift that helps us keep our bodies intact and healthy (The Gift of Pain, by Paul Brand and Philip Yancey). (I like the quote, “If you’re still alive, there’s more right with you than wrong.”) Difficult, painful, evil, and frightening things can be used for the good in our lives by God’s grace. Certainly the “normal” human reaction in such situations is to avoid and escape, protect, or lash back in anger or pain or distress; and grief and depression are common. However, over, through, beyond, beneath is the opportunity for transformation, growth, awakening.

I appreciate all of you for caring about me, reading what I’ve written, and responding. I see the lymphoma I had as an “unexpected gift” that has helped me to grow spiritually and been an impetus to make changes in my life. I give thanks for all the people with whom I’m connected – family, friends, patients (many of whom are also friends), teachers, co-journeyers through life. I appreciate people to play with, talk with, share with, explore the world with. I am thankful for the gift of life, for the opportunity to love, touch, hear music, discover nature, see sunsets, dance in the rain, taste the sweetness of fruit, smell flowers and baking bread and newly cut sun-warmed grass; for the beautiful colors of autumn leaves, the sounds cranes make coming back to the wetlands for the night, the startling white of an egret, massage, hugs, human touch, the sun’s heat and energy, the coolness of dew, play, the ability to move around, warm purring cats, playful kittens, running horses, the ability of my body to breathe and let me know when I need sleep and food and exercise and to sense love and danger, books, imagination, dreams, learning, poetry, empathy, compassion, creativity, bunnies, the wind, fresh clean air after a rain, fire, work that engages my heart and mind and spirit, rock patterns, redwood trees (and oaks, weeping willows, poplars, pines, maples ...), lilies-of-the-valley, violets, roses, lilacs, California poppies, wildflowers, hills, mountains, the ocean, forests, birdsong, crickets, furry creatures, going on walks, colors, rainbows, clouds ..... (I could go on forever.) Happy Thanksgiving!

Some quotes on gratitude, from

God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say "thank you?" ~William A. Ward

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice. ~Meister Eckhart

Gratitude is the memory of the heart. ~Jean Baptiste Massieu, translated from French

The only people with whom you should try to get even are those who have helped you. ~John E. Southard

Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture. ~Kak Sri

If you have lived, take thankfully the past. ~John Dryden

As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily. The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world. ~Terri Guillemets

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. ~G.K. Chesterton

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink. ~G.K. Chesterton

Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live. ~Attributed to Jacqueline Winspear

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. ~Thornton Wilder

If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily. ~Gerald Good
Gratitude is the music of the heart, when its chords are swept by the breeze of kindness. ~Author Unknown

All that we behold is full of blessings. ~William Wordsworth

Musings on the world, without and within (written in November, posted here 12/10/11)

I participate in this physical reality through my senses -- touch, sight, smell, taste, hearing -- a way of peeking out of myself and encountering the world around me. Some of the senses are for a close range only (touch and taste), and others can let me know about things at a distance. My imagination and my spirit have their own ways of reaching out and understanding, in different ways from my physical senses.

My brain creates a seamless representation of reality -- putting together small glimpses into an apparently fully experienced surrounding. Testing has shown this really is a "virtual" semblance; that we actually can be unaware of something that's there, depending on where our attention goes. In fact, there have been tests that show that our eye movements on looking at a picture can totally avoid an area that we would be uncomfortable with, and that we don't therefore consciously see it, though we must have done so unconsciously or else we wouldn't have avoided it. We all have true physical blind spots, an area we can't physically see because the optic nerve (which doesn't have light receptors) is in the middle of the field of receptors at the back of our eyes. We "extend" what we see in our brain to fill in the blind spot, so we're unaware of the gap. In someone with bad glaucoma, there is a bigger and bigger blind spot, but a person doesn't realize it until it is truly huge, because we're so good at filling it in plausibly, as an extension of what we do see.

We tend to psychologically and intellectually see the things in the world that reinforce our prior beliefs and attitudes and conceptions, going places and talking with people in ways support what we already think. How many people have a true, open, interested, learning type of conversation with someone of a different political leaning, rather than avoiding or debating? How many people actually go to learn from a person in a totally different way of life, rather than judging from afar (whether that person is poor or rich, or homeless, or mentally ill, or in or from another country, or a different race or culture). We tend to listen to news and read magazines or books or newspapers that resonate with what we already believe. If we think we're "bad" at sports or math or art or music, we don't tend to participate in them. We go ahead satisfied with our current vision, seeing nothing to contradict it.

On the other hand, our understanding and learning are also based on using our imagination and empathy, and simulating or emulating some part of the outside universe in our brain. (It could be a person, or a concept, or an animal, or a thing.) New neuroscience research talks about "mirror neurons" that activate when we see someone else doing something or feeling something, that lets us feel/do the same thing in our own brain. People learn this way, as a child mimicking what an adult does, or someone of any age using another person as a model. Likewise when in meditation (or aikido) I imagine being like a mountain, or a deep still pool, or putting roots into the ground like a tree, I'm understanding and emulating something in the world around me, and my "self" enlarges and can take on new attributes. In my family we've had cats and rabbits as pets, and sometimes my children and I would play like we were bunnies or kittens.

Play and awareness and open curiosity make it the most likely we'll actually learn, rather than creep carefully (or move forcefully) through the world peering out blindly from our encrusted shells seeing only what we expect to see. Love and compassion and awareness make it most likely that we'll understand those around us (and ourselves), and work together to make things better for all. Awareness and openness make it most likely we will see both opportunities and dangers around us. Fear and anger and judgment will tend to close us off, make us less likely to be able to learn, and more likely to be hurt by something we don't see.

Aikido (mostly written in November, posted here 12/10/11)

The other night aikido practice was wonderful. It always is. Aikido brings into play body, mind, and spirit; and there’s immediate physical feedback as to the quality of my presence, the flow of my energy, my awareness, and my connection with the other person and their energy. It’s an exemplar, a metaphor for all parts of life. I feel a strong sense of play, joy, delight, and of deep connection with myself, the other person, and the universe. I feel and see the energy flow – grounding, extension, moving my center, blending, connecting. There’s immediate difficulty or failure of a technique if I’m not fully present, if I’m trying, forcing, doing, trying to make something happen or make someone else do something, thinking about what to do, or struggling or fighting with someone. We all are teaching and learning together, from and through each other, deepening with laughter, love, and play.

Words are inadequate (though I’m trying). I so appreciate the flow of connection, welcoming, loving, accepting, exhilaration, learning, experience, the laughter that bubbles through me with a good fall, teaching, feeling, sharing, presence, ease, falling, relaxing, connecting center to center, moving in harmony.

The other night there were two things that happened that I don’t remember having noticed before. First was in practicing what is sometimes called the unbreakable arm. One extends energy through the arm (from earth through center through arm to the horizon). I variably think/see/experience it as energy, as light, or as a firehose full of water. When someone tries to bend your arm, if you try to keep them from doing it, there’s a feeling of fight or struggle and difficulty, and it will either bend or not depending on whose muscles are strongest. If you experience the flow of energy, there’s no struggle, and it’s much more difficult for them to bend your arm. This night I used the word “giving” and imagined giving the energy instead of it just flowing through me, and there was a different quality to it, somehow more open and easier and loving.

Second was working with a technique where the attacker punches you in the belly. The first couple of times I didn’t feel much of a connection; it felt likethe person I was attacking had the idea of what he was going to do, and was doing the motions, but wasn’t including me. A couple of words of feedback, and then there was a good connection and throw. The following time was absolutely amazing. Before I even started the attack, I could feel his center and energy connecting with me and affecting me. I almost couldn’t attack – I wanted to fall down right there before I had even moved. (I didn’t – I made myself attack and fell very quickly when he moved in the technique.) There was something in his stance and energy and presence that shared a connection with something much greater, that’s very hard to put into words. There was a fullness, a presence, a welcoming loving embrace, a deepness, a strength, almost like running into a mountain, or encountering a deep still pool, but one fully aware of everything including me –he was at the center of it, fully connected to it and to me. Had I been a “real” attacker, I never would have attacked him.

I think that meditating and practicing that deeper connection and awareness (whether it be by sitting, or praying, or connecting with nature, or in aikido, or in a creative pursuit), grounds us and links us to something greater in the universe, that then affects us and the people and world around us. The things that matter to my ego don't matter in that deeper place of spirit, and fall away. I can go back and forth, and do. (I remember especially when my kids were young, and if one of them said something angry to me, I could respond calmly several times, but after 4 or 5 rounds I might catch the anger or frustration myself, and respond similarly, and have to give myself a time-out.) I definitely prefer the peace and love and beauty of that deeper place, and the more I practice it, the more I am able to stay connected with it in the daily world, and, I hope, help others to connect to the same place. Practicing aikido gives immediate feedback to me as to where my awareness and connection and spirit are, and practice in regaining the deeper stance, and blending (accepting, loving, being at peace) with the other person. It focuses me on what I am doing and bringing with me, rather than what the other person is doing. When I reach (and stay at) that deeper level, the aikido techniques flow easily; when I don't there's difficulty. There are few other places in life where I can see this so clearly, with an easily seen and felt physical metaphor and demonstration. Aikido allows me the space and safety to correct and change and transform, so that I can stay there longer and more deeply.

A little more thought on aikido and metaphors: for me aikido, besides being a physical exercise and useful for self-defense, is also a mental and spiritual exercise, and a metaphor for living life, doing and being and relating.

Rooting: imagine yourself like a tree, with roots going down from your feet deep into the earth. (Try lifting someone when they are doing this and when they aren’t.)

Unbendable arm (extension of energy): Imagine energy (or light, or water), coming up from the ground through your feet, through your center, out your arm, extending from your fingers, across the room, out to the horizon, like a fire hose. (Try bending someone’s arm when they are doing this and when they’re not.)

Blending energy: Blend your energy with that of the person approaching/attacking you: Move so their impetus – speed, direction, strength – continues unimpeded. Join with them, so your center becomes the shared center, and your energy extends further along their path. Then you may add to or change the direction into a throw, still rooted and extending energy.

In the experience of aikido, one can experience difficulties. If it’s hard, you’re not doing it “right” – you’re not in harmony with yourself, the other person, and the universe. Most commonly you might experience blocking, resistance, fighting; or a trying to do, to make things work, to make the person go a certain way; or losing connection with the person, not affecting them, having the idea in your head; or perhaps a lack of clarity on your direction of energy– holding them up instead of directing them to fall.

One can experience competent performance. The rooting, energy extension, blending, and throws are all done well, with ease, successfully. It feels good, it works well, the physical movements and energy are flowing and harmonious. It feels normal and natural (both throwing and falling).

And one can experience the amazing. A connection you feel from the other person’s center before you even start to move to attack. While continuing that connection, a movement of their center and body, and you fall before you touch them or they touch you. The connection incorporates a spiritual dimension and energy that is very hard to put into words. Something like that if I’m attacking, I’m running up a hill or a mountain, or running into a whirling wind and gravity that moves me – down into a fall, or spinning away from them. At the same time it’s loving, exhilarating, deep, full of laughter and play. It feels wonderful (even when you’re the one doing the attacking and falling).

Waking up and living fully (written in November, posted here 12/10/11)

I’ve been thinking more lately about awareness, being fully awake spiritually, and the struggle I often have between things I want to start doing regularly and old tendencies/habits or perhaps a rebellion against doing what I think I “should”. Sometimes just when I have had a few really positive ideas and experiences and think that I’ll make that a regular part of my day, some part of me seems to resist. I may spend the day doing all house work, doctor work, playing Mahjong on the computer, and/or reading fun books ... but not exercising or seeing friends or walking or meditating or writing. (I’ve even had times when I went outside to meditate, and found myself walking away to do something that crossed my mind, and needed doing, without consciously deciding to stop meditating.) It feels a bit like having a part of me that doesn’t want to be “made”or told or coerced or pushed or forced into anything, even if it’s something I know is good.

Perhaps it means I’m approaching it wrongly, that it’s not best to make a list or schedule of things. On the other hand, all the people I’ve read and seen who develop a deep spiritual life or a balanced way of living write or talk about setting aside time in a habitual disciplined way for things such as meditation/prayer, exercise, writing (or whatever creative endeavor they engage in). But I clearly see in me a resistance to that. I think as I write this and feel/think about it that the process of inner feeling/vision/calling or discernment (asking/praying about each choice) feels better – I get a ‘yes’ feeling about that. Perhaps it has to do with my tendencies to want to do things well (perform) and be approved of, and if I make a list it feeds into those tendencies, while if I feel at each moment I’m more aware on the spirit level.

I’ve been thinking about the “shadow” self, that unconscious area we don’t accept or are unaware of or are afraid of, that Carl Jung wrote about. People who write about it say that often if we’re annoyed or angry about something in someone else, we should look at ourselves, because we often have that trait within us. Also I think if we admire or want some quality someone else has, we probably have that trait (at least to some extent) in ourselves, probably unrecognized and undeveloped. We often project our struggles and concerns on the people around us. It’s illustrated in the basic way we see the world and what we tell ourselves about it.

Sometimes I have the sense of really, truly encountering the world or another person without my own baggage and preoccupations interfering – a true connection and flow. The other day I was taking about a 45 minute slow exploring, meandering, experiencing walk in a park area I’m not usually in. I let myself wander wherever I felt like, and stop and look and feel. I saw hummingbirds, an owl, fat sparrows, mockingbirds, a jay, flickers, and a bird I don’t know the name of; small animal trails in the grass; many plants and flowers and trees; rocks; sun and shade. There was a numinous connection, and I felt refreshed, reborn. Sometimes when I’m with a patient or friend I totally forget myself and my attention is focused on them and I sense/feel what’s going on for them, and connection and communication are full and effortless and feel very good to both of us.

Then there are times when I’m aware of myself, almost like I’m playing a role on the screen of my life, aware that I have 10 other things I need to do, and I’m not truly being there, not truly connecting, not truly loving. Times where I’m resisting, retreating, wanting to close off, move away, numb out, escape.

So how do I wake up, become unstuck, untrapped, aware?
– become able to sense clearly, reflect and choose rather than just moving along in a realistic dream (following the flow of the world’s way, my family’s way, my friend’s way, my way, my ideas of the right way)?
– not automatically turn down the road the way I usually go?
– re-member (make myself anew)?
– inquire, feel, listen, be, choose, follow fully; with the right timing, right attitude, in full love, in full awareness, in Spirit, in body, in heart, in mind, in right relationship?

It feels like part of the answer is to retreat in a positive way, spend a minute or an hour or a day or a week to re-nourish and re-ground myself so I can truly perceive and care and love. And part of it is prayer, praying to the Holy Spirit, who moves in all things in this world, to help me sense the movement of spirit in and around me, so that we move together, in love and harmony and beauty and truth.

Possibilities and creativity (written in October, posted here 12/10/11)

I had a possible free continuing medical education course to go to in Fresno, but gave myself permission to go or not, and just to sleep as long as my body wanted. So I didn't go, since I woke up at 9 and the class was from 8 to 12. Feels better to do it this way (like a feather floating on the wind). Now I have time to write here, go on a walk, get the oil changed in my car, see a friend, and be leisurely with my day. Often many different choices are good, like walking on different paths through a wood; we can appreciate the blessings of whichever way we go. (I remember reading a letter to Ann Landers by a woman who had a baby with Down's Syndrome. She used the metaphor of going on a trip. She and her husband had planned a trip to Italy, read the travel brochures, all their friends had gone there, and they were looking forward to it. The plane ended up landing in Holland instead, not where they had expected, but full of beautiful things also....)

I enjoyed creating and sharing the poetic writing I posted last. When I first saw the clouds on my walk that morning, the image of blankets thrown back across the mountains came to mind, and I filed it away in my memory, feeling a poem there. (Luckily my memory is working pretty well now, much better than in the middle of chemotherapy, though I'm still forgetting some things I would usually have remembered.) The next day, when I came home late, I had the desire to sit down and write. The following morning I edited and polished it while typing it into the computer. Then during the day, I enjoyed reading comments people wrote, and I shared it with my family, coworkers, and some of the patients/friends who came in to see me at the office. There is a sense of joy and clarity and a wish to share shining through the whole thing, even when I reread it. Some of my writing (like today's) is clearly just me thinking and talking to you. Other days, with the poetic writing and with some of the spiritual/psychological writing, there is something coming through me, not just me, and I also enjoy it and learn from it, and will go back and reread things to let them sink in and more thoroughly learn them.

I have an image of dipping deeply into the well of Spirit, and coming up with something to marvel at and share; that well or current or wind or resource is always there and all of us can have access to it through our spirits (but not with our everyday busy task-oriented mind). I can recognize it in things people say, in their writing, in their being when I see them. There's a sense of it in a group of people when one person shares something deeper, and the whole group goes to a deeper, more intimate level. It has to do with the deeper (or higher)capacity that I believe God created in and for all of us, only our culture tends to steer us away from that toward more superficial things. (In fact, I think our education system, at least elementary and secondary school, is almost designed to squelch anyone going to that deeper place.) For me there seems to be a number of ways to access it: getting deeply quiet and meditating; being out in nature; music; writing; reading; talking deeply with people (one of the things that's so satisfying to me in being a doctor). There is a deeper, larger love and rightness about it. (Not the personal you-me love of friendship or child-parent or mate, although certainly they can partake of the deeper love, but something more profound, even impersonal compared to the personal love (or perhaps more profoundly personal, relating to our deepest being), something that can't be spoken in our words but resonates in our spirits, pointed to by God giving his name as "I AM" in the Bible, or "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao" in the Tao te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

I can feel it in people when they fully pursue their gifts and their callings, whatever they are (whether it's drumming or writing or massage or teaching or homemaking or serving or helping others in some way,or anything else). There's a fullness of presence, a deepness, a rightness, an acceptance, a joy, and a love in such people that inspires me. I think when each of us pursues that depth in ourselves, it makes the whole world more right, more what it's supposed to be.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

10/8/11 After the rain: seeing the world with the eyes of a poet

It rained last night. Moist coolness met me when I walked outside; the air has been rinsed out, and invites me with its freshness. The sun peers down from a clear blue canopy, shining warmly on my face. On all sides clouds are piled up, like a rumpled comforter thrown back across the mountains, gentling them with heaping billows of grey and white, in some places layered softly, in others sharply etched in complex patterns.

Oh, to be such a one who rises with the dawn and throws back the coverlet of clouds, greeting the day with a fierce joy. What might I do and see, striding across the earth!

All too often I slumber unaware, while miracles play about me unnoticed. Such an enchanting, amazing show as life on this earth provides would fetch a high price. But we so often make our way through it oblivious, unappreciative. What value a breath, a sunset, a song, a tree, a hug, the curve of a cat's tail, a child's laughter, the touch of a lover, the fragrance of lilacs, the stretch of our muscles, the sound of leaves murmuring in the wind? Truly we are rich beyond our wildest imaginings, and must respond with rapture, joy, delight, wonder, and gratitude. Such would be woven throughout the tapestry of our days were we fully awake, alive, and aware.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

10/6/11 Love versus Fear

We have two main choices in how we react to things that are happening.

The first is with love and acceptance, for example:

 This is what is – seeing and feeling clearly.
 I’m okay, you’re okay.  You are here in this world with me.  We’re different. We can learn from each other.  We can share with each other.

 A deep love and cherishing, this person is created by God, beloved, a blessing, meant for something wonderful, a gift to me and the world.

        This circumstance, even if unwanted or negative, can be used by God to help me and help others.  How can I open to God's presence during this time, and align myself with his purposes?  How can I help to bring into being something good?  What do I have to be grateful for?  (This doesn't mean not to feel grief or sadness or anger, it means to be aware that there's more.)

Or we can react with anger/fear/control:

 With this I react against what is, desperately want it different, and relate negatively to it.  I try to beat it into submission, destroy it, run away from it because I don’t like it, or make it do what I want, when I want, how I want...  I get caught in the situation and my life is defined by the situation, like I'm fighting with Tar Baby (in the story by Uncle Remus).  I'm more and more stuck, and can no longer see all the beauty and opportunities in life, which are still there if I would just look around.

We want control. We want to be able to make things the way we want them to be. But we don't have control.  The more we try to control, the more difficult things become.  By letting loose of this, and learning to see and feel what is, and surf the waves or float on the wind, we gain perspective and wisdom and flexibility.  We can guide ourselves with  vision.  We can blend and flow with the energy of the situation.  We can move, sometimes even counter to the wind if we tack our sails.  We can have access to the whole resources of the universe. We can flourish and grow and help make things better.
It doesn't mean we will be "a success" by the world's standards, or even survive -- none of us come out of life physically alive.  We all die.  It does mean we have a chance to make a difference, to live our calling, to be the unique person each of us is.  This world has natural disasters, illness and death, inattention and accidents, and evil in it.  It also has amazing beauty and love, intricacies beyond our knowledge and ability, things of wonder and joy, deep peace and silence beyond the noise.  It's our choice how we live, and with what we engage ourselves.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

9/25/11 Be Here Now

I thought about what I might want to write tonight. The main thing that came through was, "Be here now." I think I first read the phrase in a book about a utopia, and they had taught the mynah birds to fly around and say that. Really, we can't be any where else than here and now, but our minds dwell elsewhere enough that we aren't always aware and appreciative of here and now. Often we get caught up in dwelling on what happened and what we wished had happened instead (unhappy with either someone else or ourselves), or what we wish for or are afraid of in the future (which most likely will never happen). I can't remember in which book, but I read something about suffering which said usually we can deal with whatever pain that is happening right now, but as we project forward with the fear that it might go on forever, or be worse, that is what causes the severe suffering that feels unbearable. Someone else said that a coward dies a thousand deaths, a hero only one. (In anxiety we imagine many more negative things than ever happen.) Someone else said that if we're still alive, there's more right with us than wrong.

Our minds are very powerful, and can be used to great good, but untamed they can take us on very scary and depressing and unnecessary trips. We can learn to stop this by thinking about good things, by focusing on blessings (things we're grateful for; a gratitude journal can be very powerful), by meditating/praying/relaxing, by moving/exercising/dancing. Jon Kabat-Zinn in "Full Catastrophe Living" describes some mindfulness meditations focusing on the breath, the feelings in your body, your emotions and thoughts, and that in allowing yourself to feel the feelings (they're there anyway), you often find they start to change.

Tom Brown, Jr., from whom I took wilderness survival classes, tells a story about a man who finds a demon (this is in the far East, and the demon is not an evil being) who will do anything he asks. He is overjoyed, and asks it to cook him dinner, and clean the house ... and it does very quickly, but each time comes back saying, "Master, it is done," and looks a little bigger and more powerful, and wants something more to do. So he asks it to find him a wife, then to build a palace, then to ready a feast, then to invite all the neighboring rulers... and when it's doing that he runs out into the forest to try to escape it. He finds an old wise man, and tells him his trouble, and the wise man gives him one of the curly hairs of his head and tells him to tell the demon to straighten it. He doesn't see how that will do anything, but when the now very large demon finds him, and roars, "Master, it is done!", he tremblingly holds out the hair and tells it to straighten the hair. It straightens it, smiles at him, and then as it starts to hand the hair back, the hair curls again. It gets slightly smaller, tries it again, and the same thing happens. Finally it is back to normal size, and the man takes away the hair, says, "Take me home", which it does, then gives it the hair to straighten once more until he needs something else. The demon is our mind, and the hair can be anything a culture uses to calm the mind, a ritual, meditation, yoga, candles, prayer, and so on. The mind can be tremendously useful and helpful, but a tyrant if we let it hijack us with worries, fears, doubt, bitterness, despair, and so forth.

"Being here now" can be as simple as noticing our breath moving in and out, really tasting the food we're eating, noticing the feel of our body against the ground (or chair or bed), feeling the warmth of the dishwater and looking at the little bubbles of soap, watching and listening to the trees move in the wind... There's peace and beauty and acceptance. Even for someone with chronic pain (physical or emotional) this can be powerful. I remember one person who used to attend my weekly chronic pain class/support group, and he would say that he did this and could put his pain in one box, and it was always there, and he could come back to it anytime, but he could go experience other boxes when he did the relaxation meditations. Jon Kabat-Zinn has a chapter where he describes the experiences of people with chronic pain who attended his stress reduction clinic, and most of the time the intensity of the pain and suffering improved.  Eckhart Tolle wrote a whole book on "The Power of Now".  Brother Lawrence, in "The Practice of the Presence of God" said, "The time of business does not differ with me from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were on my knees." Tom Brown taught some visualization/ spiritual meditations where you imagine healing loving relaxing white light slowly filling up your whole body, and then imagine a shape and color and texture and size for any discomfort, then change it into a round black stone, and let it fall through the light into the earth. Many people had a brief change or stopping of their pain, and he said having it stop briefly or forever is only a matter of degree -- if it can stop briefly, it can stop for much longer. John Sarno, a physician, has written books about back pain (and other problems), and has taught people about coping with stress and relieving tension in their bodies, and found that many people have the pain go away when they do so. For those who believe in God, the "I AM" was, is now, and ever shall be, and the divine love in the eternal now has complete power.

So -- become aware (body, mind, heart, and spirit). Wake up. Really feel what you're experiencing, with an open, curious, appreciative attention. Give your mind positive things to focus on, appreciate and use its power when you need it, and keep it tamed. There's joy, peace, beauty, amazement,freedom, and a powerful energy in being here now, even in difficult circumstances. The only place we can act is now. It's the only place change can happen.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I posted this on CarePages last week, but thought I would include it here as well.

Thursday I set aside the morning for some contemplation time. I was still tired when I first woke up, so I went back to sleep. I spent a while in the late morning sitting outside in a shady area. Some of my initial conscious thoughts -- what are my next steps, how do I avoid getting caught in the always-more-to-do cycle (that can get me out of balance, never get finished, and eat up my life), how to live and love well (God, my family, everyone I work with and care for, all people, the world, myself), how to make sure I have enough time for things important to my spirit.

(As I started to relax and deepen into a more meditative state, a tiny feather came floating across the yard and landed right next to me on my right side, less than an inch long, a very defined down feather.)

I want to be fully awake, aware, vibrant, alive, able to accept and act, free ...and yielded and joined with the Holy Spirit.

Awake! Live. Love. Surrender.

Listen. Feel. Act. Be.

Cycles, Phases, Seasons.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Go deep.

East, South, West, North.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter.

Live, Learn, Act, Reflect and Integrate, Die.

Truth (what is)

Step by step

Center, ground, extend, flow, blend

Move with the breath of God

Fully see each thing anew



Stand for, integrity, Love, persevere

Prepare the earth, plant the seed, water, harvest


There's not just one way, there are many (trails and unmarked). Go where heart and spirit draw me.

Listen for the calling, the song
Feel for the ease, the source
See and live the vision
Sing the song
Move from the center, in balance and wholeness, in the spheres of Heaven and Earth
Walk in beauty.

(I have a sense of beauty, of peace and joy, of angels and spirits all around.)

God, you are my God, and I will ever praise you.
Grateful heart.
Then sings my soul, my savior God, to thee.

(Another down feather floats across the yard, landing a little to my left, this one even smaller and more flowing/feathery, gray, so soft I can barely feel it.

The feathers, like the poplar leaves, move to the tiniest movement of air, float on the breath of Spirit.

I am left with a very peaceful sense that I don't have to figure this all out, just need to move with the breath of Spirit in my life.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

9/17/11 Peace

I've felt quiet and peaceful since my meditation time on Thursday, when I dropped my wish to figure it all out, and instead trust that I will move on the breath (or wind) of the Spirit.  My mind has quieted.  I've gone on several walks.  Fahren's Park is beautiful.  Today I watched hawks (both on the way there, and during the walk) -- they moved in the air with nary a wing flap, turning and rising on the currents of the rising thermals, needing only to hold their wings out and steady, and make tiny movements to swoop or turn.  I saw them first clearly (and very beautiful) just above the treetops, and within a few minutes they had been lifted very high. ("You are the wind under my wings...")  In the park I watched jays, a hummingbird, dragonflies, butterflies, a kingfisher (first I've seen in a long time), a junco (I think), a robin, and the grass, eucalyptus, stream, many trees and plants, and some kids throwing water balloons at each other.  I noticed that the real beauty of the eucalyptus bark shows after storms and other stresses have stripped off the outer darker thick rough bark....  I trust that God, who can make feathers float to me at precisely the time and place of my meditation to give me a strong sign, and who can bring beauty out of storms, will move my life to precisely the right effect and beauty ...  and it will need no effort on my part, just awareness and listening, and floating on the breeze, riding the wind....  Love, Barbara

Friday, September 16, 2011

9/16/11 Introduction

I've been going through an intensive life and spiritual experience the last 4 months.  I found a tender lump which turned out to be a Stage1 lymphoma in early May 2011, and have just completed chemotherapy and radiation.  I've been posting regularly about this, with various experiences, thoughts, poems, and writings, on (my page there is BarbaraShowalter) over this time.  Several people have suggested I start a blog and keep sharing, so here it is.

The lymphoma is gone, and I view it as an unexpected gift, one which encouraged me to make changes and better balance my life, and has led me to look at different possibilities now rather than at some indefinite time in the future.  Some of the new things I'm drawn to are writing and leading healing retreats, which I'm just starting to investigate and move toward.  I'm working part-time as a family doctor, rather than full-time plus.  I'm attuning myself more to moving with the breath of the Holy Spirit rather than long "to-do" lists.  I'm looking at what I really love to do (like being out in nature, reading, aikido, connecting deeply with people), and spending more time with those things.

Yesterday I scheduled myself a morning for contemplation rather than at work in my office, and the peace from that (and from aikido in the early evening and taking a couple of walks) has extended through today.  (I wrote about the contemplation time last night on CarePages.)  One of the images was floating like a feather on the breath of Spirit.  Awake, aware, effortless, arriving at exactly the right place and time.  (Nothing I could ever do by trying on my own. No need to have it all figured out.  We can't do that anyway, nor can we control things.)

I wish you joy and love and peace on your journey.  Perhaps we will move together on the wind for a while.