Sunday, March 25, 2012

Contemplating Life

We are inextricably connected – body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit – to the world around us and to other living beings. Life is such an amazing miracle, which we often instead just nonchalantly accept as a given. Plants take air and water and sunlight and earth into themselves, and, according to their specific internal instructions, transform that into more individuals of their specific type (wheat grass or apple trees or roses...). We animals need the plants to process and bind the elements of sun and earth. We take plants and other animals and air and water in, and ... cats make more cats, people make more people, bees make more bees. It's miraculous that the same elements make a peach or a pine needle or a bird, and from such simple stuff. I could never make a cherry out of earth and water and air and sunlight... but, amazingly, I can help make another human being... and a cherry tree carries exactly the right instructions to make a cherry.

We each are little whirlwinds spinning across our century, picking up the atoms and molecules we need, and dropping them again. We are made of stardust which was formed billions of years ago, was flung out into the universe, and then coalesced into our planet. Air molecules we breathe now may have been breathed in and out by a dinosaur, or may have lived a while as a tree or an ocelot. Water we drink may have formed an ocean or tumbled down a mountainside, may have floated above us as a cloud, may have participated in the internal sea of another creature. There is a constant dancing interchange of particles between our bodies and the rest of the world. Our bodies are a bit like rivers, changing moment to moment, though still recognizable as us. Even the very cells and substance in the cells change, as do our brains and muscles and bones, reacting and growing as needed to deal with what we encounter and to allow us to do what we do. Such amazing ability to learn and grow and heal, to respond to the world around us.

The world of nature, the world of spirit, the world deep within self --- all places to learn and to grow, to find love and community, to connect with others ... and to learn respect and awareness and about places of danger. One can find oneself and one can lose oneself. We will experience joy and love and fulfillment, and we will experience pain and hurt and difficulties and death; all are parts of this life. There is amazing beauty; there are disasters and accidents and illnesses and evil. We are not in control. There are many layers, and we often learn much more in the difficulties than we ever would in ease, sometimes finding unexpected gifts in the midst of the pain.

What is God? The pulse and breath of life in me and in the world, the deep abiding love that surrounds me and stirs in my heart. Creation and inspiration, the great mystery, undefinable, a deep knowing. The sound and music and being and dance that underlie and move in all that is. One who can be found in silence and in service and in love and in creativity. One who knows me utterly and accepts and loves and guides and teaches, showers grace and blessings and forgiveness, moves me and helps me grow. One who connects us all, teaches me to delight in variety, contains the whole world and yet lives inside me, does not fit into my rules and understanding, is ever more.

Knowing God is there and loves me is like knowing a person (parent, mate, child, friend) loves me: I can’t prove it, I just feel and know it. It’s something that can only be experienced, not proven. It's similar with nature and spirit and self – one’s mind has to quiet, one has to spend time, listen, be, and experience. Then awareness can blossom, and wonder appear.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

3/8/12 Home

Reaching toward the deepest and the highest,
the fullness for which my soul yearns,
my true home --
which has not so much to do
with the particulars of life
as with how well I am tuned
to the divine music which plays through all things.
When I fully join in that dance, that song, that being --
there are no words to describe --
only a rightness and a joy welling deep inside,
a deep welcoming gladness that I am home,
a profound aliveness,
permeated with love,
connected with all things,
everything ordinary transformed into beauty
filled with light and meaning.
My heart sings.

So easy in this life to get distracted,
pulled off course,
caught in fear or anger or envy or greed or pain or tiredness,
focusing on what doesn't matter,
seeking after illusions, lies, compelling deceits and escapes.

We each have our own particular giftings and
paths of connection to the divine, and our own difficulties
and negative experiences that need healing.

Acceptance, trust, faith, waiting,
stilling myself, sensing, listening, feeling.
The image of a seed growing deep in the earth,
in the nurturing darkness, watered and warmed.
The image of waking from sleep.
The image of a feather floating on the wind of Spirit.
The kingdom of heaven is nigh.


For me, my preferred paths of connection include learning from others (books, classes, deep personal sharing and community), being outside in nature (the temples of creation), creativity (including writing and poetry, but also including music and art and inspiration in life -- it feels like I'm dipping into a divine well -- or river or ocean -- and things come through for me to learn from and share), helping and serving others, and as a Christian, asking God to live in me and quieting and listening and opening myself and my life more and more fully to God.

Part of my challenge has been how to avoid overstuffing my life with things to do, knowing I have limits (and acting as if I do), and making sure I connect and listen well in the midst of busy-ness.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

1/7/12 Boundaries, Love, Helping and Healing

I think when we think and talk about boundaries, codependency, and loving and nurturing ourselves, we have to be very careful. Actually, I think we have to be careful when we talk about helping others as well. I think it’s very easy to be confused with this, and that we often may think we are doing the right thing but may really be doing something unbalanced or selfish without realizing it, while following the best of human motives and current wisdom. I am absolutely thinking of myself as I write this. Over the years the best I've come to is that I can't know, and can be pulled the wrong way by my own "selfish" desires, even the desire to help, or the desire to act rightly; and that the only "right" way to act is to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in each case (knowing that I can sometimes even be mistaken when trying to do that, because I'm human).

I think any set of rules saying, "Always do this," is wrong. Even following the parable of the Good Samaritan can be "wrong", because some evil people prey upon that by pretending to be hurt and then killing or robbing those who stop to help. It takes discernment and guidance from the Spirit each time. ("Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves" Matthew 10:16) Or, for example, certain ways of helping can actually be saying to the person you are trying to help that you think he or she is incapable, unable, and needs you (or would fail or die or whatever); while other ways build up that person's ability and confidence, and imply that you are both co-travelers in life, each of whom may need help from time to time. (There's interesting psychological writing on triangulation, and especially on the victim, attacker, and rescuer triangle, where roles can easily change, and the one who was trying to rescue now either gets attacked or becomes abusive.)

All of the writing and wisdom about codependency, boundaries, tough love, and the like is very useful, especially if we didn't have good modeling of appropriate boundaries growing up. However, true, good, and right love and healing cross boundaries. Jesus crossed boundaries in his work all the time. He also had utmost respect for people's selves and autonomy and decisions; he often asked if they wanted to be well, and responded to people calling or coming to him. He did very different things for different people; he did not use a formula.

If we try to make a rule for ourselves, we can easily err, either on the side of being selfish, hiding behind the rule of boundaries; or by exhausting and depleting ourselves following a rule that says we always have to give. I am human, and limited by time, space, and my body. I, for example, can only be a mother, a friend, a wife, and even a doctor, to a limited number of people. I could not be a doctor to all the people of a city, or even a medium sized town. There might be a person who could be physically or psychologically or spiritually saved by my extending beyond my normal boundaries; there could be another who might only be "saved" by my insisting on his or her own ability and accountablity, and I might be "lost" in trying to give and give to such a person. I am not wise enough on my own to know the difference.

Again, the best example I have found for trying to maneuver through these pitfalls is that of Jesus. He would spend tremendous time and energy healing people and teaching crowds. Then he would withdraw into places in nature to be alone and pray to God (even when people were still begging for his time and attention). He said he only did and said what his Father told him to do and say. He looked to the spirit of the law, not to its literal interpretation. He looked at people's hearts and spirits.

Love and healing come from somewhere deeper and higher than our laws and rules do. Laws and rules attempt to codify things and make them safe; in the process things can become rote and bureaucratic, with overtones of slavery and unwitting evil. There is a glorious freedom and health that comes from wisely breaking those boundaries when led by the Holy Spirit. Breaking them when led by our own selfish desires leads to misery and pain. It takes experience, prayer, earnest seeking, discernment, wisdom, learning, and listening to the Holy Spirit to know the difference. (And I don't personally pretend to be more than partway on this journey.)

Love and healing are built into us. We naturally turn to our parents and then to others with love; our bodies naturally heal. There is a higher and deeper level of both; we recognize it at a remarkable level in some people, for example with Mother Teresa. Lawrence LeShan wrote an interesting book called "The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist", and then "Alternate Realities", talking about different ways of looking at and experiencing the world. For example, in the western scientific method, we've achieved amazing technological and medical discoveries. He says that in the world view of a mystic, it's like each of us is a wave on a vast ocean, and the power of the whole ocean can be focused on an individual wave, allowing miraculous results (such as healing that would be beyond the ability of the body to normally achieve). There is no way for such a thing to happen in the scientific worldview.

Our western society systematically embraces the scientific worldview, and in our usual pattern of school and work and peer pressure tends to stamp out mystical tendencies. (We're supposed to be on time, not daydream, focus on and believe what we can see and feel, etc.) I think prototype experiences and inclinations are probably there in each of us as young children in each of the various ways of looking at and experiencing the world. (For example, who hasn't had the experience of thinking about someone and then had them call on the phone, or found out that something unusual was going on for them at the time?) As adults, we can specifically nurture and train those ways of thinking and being and experiencing that may have been suppressed by our families or culture.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Changing Focus

Changing Focus, or Where do I put my Attention?

When I am stuck in a concern or emotion or question, when I quiet myself and meditate, I have found that concern doesn't matter on the level of the deeper spiritual place.

When I am upset or angry or hurt, I sometimes use journaling to sort through things (often the dialog section from Progoff's Intensive Journal Method), and something new and deeper invariably comes to light, and I'm no longer going in circles with my thoughts and feelings.

A photographer, Dewitt Jones, who worked for many years with National Geographic, has made some wonderful short teaching videos (see Star Thrower, at I've been inspired by the ones shown at some of the management classes at Merced College. He talks about focusing one's vision (in the most recent one I've seen); taking time to immerse oneself and use one's intellect, intuition, and passion, let the unimportant fall away, and be left with a strong vision. He is able to illustrate what he means by showing a series of photographs and the difference between a "regular" picture, and the beauty and clarity that happens when you focus your vision. I just checked out his website, and found I could sign up for free to receive a "Celebrate What's Right with the World" weekly photograph, at

I can focus on the emptiness in the glass of life, the stressful things, what I think I'm lacking; or on the fullness, dwelling on what I am grateful for and what I love.

I can focus on what I want and need or on what I can give to others. I can dwell on my problems, or help others with theirs. (This doesn't mean to ignore what I need or a problem I have; it's more a perspective issue, of what looms large in my vision.)

I can focus on wanting more, or on how much I can do with what I have.

I can worry about what will happen if ..., or I can fully live this moment now.

I can mourn and become depressed with the loss of someone I love, or appreciate the connection I had with them, what I learned, their impact on my life.

I can dread conflict, or realize it's an opportunity to make things better for everyone involved.

I can be upset and fret about delays, or use them to teach myself patience, give myself a short break, or focus on something beautiful or enjoyable. I can be upset with the driver in front of me, or think about possible difficulties he or she may have, and wish him or her well.

I can focus on the problems I have, or on God, who is able to solve problems or teach me through them -- I might even find they are an unexpected gift (as I found with the cancer I had).

I can worry, or I can pray.

I can complain, or I can give thanks.

I can be bored or stuck, or I can play or learn.

I can stop to see the beauty around me, smell the flowers, listen to the music, or I can half-live life, never noticing the amazing things around me.

I can focus on the incredible ability of my body to heal, and listen to it warn me of problems, or I can worry about my health.

I can try to control my life and others around me (and probably steer into huge problems), or I can learn to surf the waves of life with awareness and a sense of joy and play, and let others live their own lives and learn their own lessons.

I can stay stuck, or realize and explore the tremendous variety of possibilities that exist (even given whatever I might be stuck with).

I can bemoan all the tragedies going on in the news, or I can a) do something about a problem (if I'm called to do it), and b) realize the overwhelmingly greater number of good things people are doing for each other and the world, that are rarely in the news.

I can fear change, or I can accept that it will happen, and find ways to preserve positives from the past and welcome the opportunity to discover new ones.

I can get stuck in ruts. or I can intentionally travel new routes, sit in different areas of a room, try new things.

A few related writings and quotes (many taken from and

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.” -- Henry David Thoreau

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes.” -- Charles R. Swindoll

“Life is full of beauty. Notice it. Notice the bumble bee, the small child, and the smiling faces. Smell the rain, and feel the wind. Live your life to the fullest potential, and fight for your dreams.” -- Ashley Smith

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -- Howard Thurman

Serenity Prayer (used in Celebrate Recovery)

God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did , this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. In Jesus' Name, Amen     -Reinhold Niebuhr

My Identity in Christ

Because of Christ’s redemption,
I am a new creation of infinite worth.
I am deeply loved,
I am completely forgiven,
I am fully pleasing,
I am totally accepted by God.
I am absolutely complete in Christ.
When my performance reflects my new identity in Christ, that reflection is dynamically unique.
There has never been another person like me
In the history of mankind,
Nor will there ever be.
God has made me an original,
one of a kind, really somebody!

From Search For Significance, by Robert S. McGee

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

-this version is credited to Mother Teresa


The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today.”-- James Dean

“To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.”

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.”-- Flora Whittemore

“Carpe diem! Rejoice while you are alive; enjoy the day; live life to the fullest; make the most of what you have. It is later than you think.”
-- Horace

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure”-- Peter Marshall