Saturday, December 20, 2014

Regarding The World

           We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.  --Marcel Proust

            When I was a young thing in my mid-twenties I had a friend named Gert Behanna. I met her after she'd published her spiritual autobiography, The Late Liz. Gert, an authentic character who'd grown up in New York, lived an interesting and privileged life as socialite and wife of one of the  original founders of brokerage Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith (Smith). When she hit 50 her seemingly beautiful life disintegrated and she became a suicidal alcoholic. Upon recovery she turned her entire life around, transformed into a fiery Christian apologist known far and wide for the riveting speeches recounting her 'come to Jesus' story. A mutual writer friend introduced us and I spent many hours visiting with her about writing the spiritual journey. She said after she published The Late Liz and became a famous and sought after speaker, she loved it when people told her how they admired her and how brave she was to put it all out there for all to see and hear. She loved it not because she thought she was anything special but because it was the opening she'd been waiting for. With an equal measure of challenge and compassion she'd reply, "And you? What about your life, honey, what about your journey? I've put it out there, warts and all, now it's your turn. Let's talk about where you've been, what you've done and what you're going." After a medley of coughs, snorts, shuffles and bewildered looks from the earnest, Gert would just laugh and tell them it was time to get on with it, time to come clean and get right with their own vision of what it means to be on a path to spiritual enlightenment. That Gert, what an unforgettable piece of work she was. She lived the piercing truth that the spiritual path is best walked not by imagining the light, but by making conscious the darkness within.
An End, A Beginning             
          If you're thinking of writing your own spiritual autobiography, you should know that penning your story isn't the end of the journey to wisdom's edge by any means. It's just a great beginning. It gives perspective. It's the way to come to a point of view, at last, to regard the world. I've come to understand intimately Annie Dillard's warning that to write like this is to "cannibalize your life so that it will never be the same."  True. Sorting through the important stages and phases of life is a way to give new meaning to the past by putting things in order. It can define joy, invite gratitude and help you to let go of sorrows held in the heart for way too long. In the end, it opens the door to a more lighthearted present and a more mindful future uncluttered by all that leftover stuff stashed away in the dusty corners and crevices of a life unexamined in terms of a spiritual context. I'm publishing my spiritual autobiography next month and I'll be including more on how to write a spiritual journey. I like the timing...'tis the season to bring light into the dark of winter, to greet a new year with renewed hope and expectation, to move on to the next chapter.

 The Next Chapter
          I don't know what the future holds for me or for any of us. To be very honest, there are moments when my heart feels so heavy it threatens to break because of the upheavals, losses and despair afoot in the world. But  adding another sorrowful litany to what's already out there is not the voice I want to speak with. Instead, I'm offering a challenge to myself and to you, if you're up for it. Without denying the hard realities of these times, how can we live as conscious, creative, mindful and compassionate people every single day so that our small lives will count for what is good and not add to what isn't? That's it. I don't want to save the world, as I did when I was young and idealistic. I don't want to try to save anything, even my own children or grandchildren. I'll offer up my prayers and meditations for them and I trust they are finding their way to wisdom's edge. Just as I am. Just as you are. What I want now is to inhabit, in Huston Smith's words, 'a gracious matrix' where I can practice a conscious aging that  acknowledges, honors and shares the beautiful, sacred, and inspirational. I think that will count for a little something. Maybe more than a little. Maybe a lot.



Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Wisdom Guide


        One can’t look at anyone’s life story without seeing some devastating mistakes etched across it. These errors are not coincidental but structural; they arise because we all lack the information we need to make choices in time-sensitive situations. We are all, where it counts, steering almost blind. 

                                                                                      -- The School of Life



              The Philosopher's Mail ( is a daily online news source published by The School of Life ( offering, it says, the latest, biggest stories, as interpreted by a team of in-house philosophers rather than journalists.

          "The idea is that nowadays, the most attractive, charming, sexy and compelling news outlets enjoy unparalleled influence over the minds of tens of millions of people. But unfortunately, they rarely put out content that might make the world a better place. At the same time, there are lots of serious, earnest good people attempting to change things, but they put out publications full of very interesting and dense articles that only reach tiny and already-convinced audiences.

              Interesting. Admirable. Will it fly? I don't know, but the stated intention of The Philosopher's Mail appeals to me:

           "To be a genuinely popular and populist news outlet which at the same time is alive to traditional philosophical virtues.... rooted in popular interests, sensibilities and inclinations of the day.  To read and caption the news with an eye to traditional central philosophical concerns - compassion, truth, justice, complexity, calm, empathy and wisdom -- an occasion for the development of insight, generosity and emotional intelligence."

                   Hmmmmmm. Well  now I'm completely intrigued. Let's read on together, shall we? Here's a repost on the subject of wisdom...let me know what you think. 


Wisdom – A Short Guide

© AFP/Getty

      It’s one of the grandest and oddest words out there, so lofty, it doesn’t sound like something one could ever consciously strive to be – unlike say, being cultured, or kind. Others could perhaps compliment you on being it, but it wouldn’t be something you could yourself ever announce you had become.Nevertheless, though it’s impossible ever to reach a stable state of wisdom, as an aspiration, wisdom deserves to be rehabilitated and take its place among a host of other, more typical goals one might harbour. It’s woven from many strands.

          The wise are, first and foremost, ‘realistic’ about how challenging many things can be. They aren’t devoid of hope (that would be a folly of its own), but they are conscious of the complexities entailed in any project: for example, raising a child, starting a business, spending an agreeable weekend with the family, changing the nation, falling in love… Knowing that something difficult is being attempted doesn’t rob the wise of ambitions, but it makes them more steadfast, calmer and less prone to panic about the problems that will invariably come their way.

          Properly aware that much can and does go wrong, the wise are unusually alive to moments of calm and beauty, even extremely modest ones, of the kind that those with grander plans rush past. With the dangers and tragedies of existence firmly in mind, they can take pleasure in a single, uneventful, sunny day, or some pretty flowers growing by a brick wall, the charm of a three-year-old playing in a garden or an evening of banter among a few friends. It isn’t that they are sentimental and naive, precisely the opposite: because they have seen how hard things can get, they know how to draw the full value from the peaceful and the sweet – whenever and wherever these arise.
Giuseppe Ungaretti on a bench in a park smiles at a child in the cradle
© Mondadori/Getty

                The wise know that all human beings, themselves included, are deeply sunk in folly: they have irrational desires and incompatible aims, they are unaware of a lot, they are prone to mood swings, they are visited by all kinds of fantasies and delusions – and are always buffeted by the curious demands of their sexuality. The wise are unsurprised by the ongoing co-existence of deep immaturity and perversity alongside quite adult qualities like intelligence and morality. They know that we are barely evolved apes. Aware that at least half of life is irrational, they try – wherever possible – to budget for madness and are slow to panic when it (reliably) rears its head.
The wise take the business of laughing at themselves seriously. They hedge their pronouncements, they are sceptical in their conclusions. Their certainties are not as brittle as those of others. They laugh from the constant collisions between the noble way they’d like things to be, and the demented way they in fact often turn out.
Scientist Identifies Happiest Day of Year
© Getty

                     The wise are realistic about social relations, in particular, about how difficult it is to change people’s minds and have an effect on their lives. They are therefore extremely reticent about telling people too frankly what they think. They have a sense of how seldom it is useful to get censorious with others. They want – above all – that things be nice between people, even if this means they are not totally authentic. So they will sit with someone of an opposite political persuasion and not try to convert them; they will hold their tongue at someone who seems to be announcing a wrong-headed plan for reforming the country, educating their child or directing their personal life. They’ll be aware of how differently things can look through the eyes of others and will search more for what people have in common than what separates them.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt (R)
© AFP/Getty

                 The wise have made their peace with the yawning gap between how they would ideally want to be and what they are actually like. They have come to terms with their idiocies, flaws, ugliness, limitations and drawbacks. They are not ashamed of themselves – and therefore, don’t have to lie or dissemble in front of others. Without self-love or vanity, they can give those close to them a fairly accurate map of their neuroses and faults and of the reasons why they will be hard to live around (and therefore often aren’t such difficult companions).
Eyes of the poet Alfonso Gatto are reflected in a rearview mirror
© Mondadori/Getty

                 The wise are realistic about other people too. They recognise the extraordinary pressures everyone is under to pursue their own ambitions, defend their interests and seek their own pleasures. It can make others appear extremely ‘mean’ and purposefully evil, but this would be to over-personalise the issue. The wise know that most hurt is not intentional, it’s a by-product of the constant collision of blind competing egos in a world of scarce resources.
The wise are therefore slow to anger and judge. They don’t leap to the worst conclusions about what is going on in the minds of others. They will be readier to forgive from a proper sense of how difficult every life is: harbouring as it does so many frustrated ambitions, disappointments and longings. The wise appreciate the pressures people are under. Of course they shouted, of course they were rude, naturally they want to overtake on the inside lane… The wise are generous to the reasons for which people might not be nice. They feel less persecuted by the aggression and meanness of others, because they have a sense of where it comes from: a place of hurt.
Perry Street Prep Pride Rugby
© The Washington Post/Getty

                  The wise have a solid sense of what they can survive. They know just how much can go wrong and things will still be – just about – liveable. The unwise person draws the boundaries of their contentment far too far out: so that it encompasses, and depends upon, fame, money, personal relationships, popularity, health… The wise person sees the advantages of all of these, but also knows that they may – before too long, at a time of fate’s choosing – have to draw the borders right back and find contentment within a more bounded space.

               The wise person doesn’t envy idly: they realise that there are some good reasons why they don’t have many of the things they really want. They look at the tycoon or the star and have a decent grasp of why they didn’t ever make it to that level. It looks like just an accident, an unfair one, but there were in fact some logical grounds: they didn’t work as hard, they don’t have anything like the drive or mental capacity…

            At the same time, the wise see that some destinies are truly shaped by nothing more than accident. Some people are promoted randomly. Companies that aren’t especially deserving can suddenly make it big. Some people have the right parents. The winners aren’t all noble and good. The wise appreciate the role of luck and don’t curse themselves overly at those junctures where they have evidently not had as much of it as they would have liked.
The wise emerge as realistic about the consequences of winning and succeeding. They may want to win as much as the next person, but they are aware of how many fundamentals will remain unchanged, whatever the outcome. They don’t exaggerate the transformations available to us. They know how much we remain tethered to some basic dynamics in our personalities, whatever job we have or material possession we acquire. This is both cautionary (for those who succeed) and hopeful (for those who won’t). The wise see the continuities across those two categories over-emphasised by modern consumer capitalism: ‘success’ and ‘failure’.

                 In our ambitious age, it is common to begin with dreams of being able to pull off an unblemished life, where one can hope to get the major decisions – in love and work – right. But the wise realise that it is impossible to fashion a spotless life; one will make some extremely large and utterly uncorrectable errors in a number of areas. Perfectionism is a wicked illusion. Regret is unavoidable.
But regret lessens the more we see that error is endemic across the species. One can’t look at anyone’s life story without seeing some devastating mistakes etched across it. These errors are not coincidental but structural; they arise because we all lack the information we need to make choices in time-sensitive situations. We are all, where it counts, steering almost blind.
Couple Sitting on a Bench
© UIG/Getty
                   The wise know that turmoil is always around the corner – and they have come to fear and sense its approach. That’s why they nurture such a strong commitment to calm. A quiet evening feels like an achievement. A day without anxiety is something to be celebrated. They are not afraid of having a somewhat boring time. There could, and will again, be so much worse.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Conscious Aging

            Bodhichitta is a Sanskrit word that means 'noble or awakened heart.' It is said to  be present in all beings. Just as butter is inherent in milk and oil is inherent in a sesame seed, this soft spot is inherent in you and me.            --Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun and teacher

                 The notion that we're living a story about conscious aging means that if it's a good story (and everyone likes a good story) we'll have plot twists galore. Hooray for game changers! It also means that if we are lucky and ready, with each plot twist we'll experience a bit more consciousness and awareness. Huzzah for light for the journey!  As I move closer to Wisdom's Edge I've noticed I often experience a huge plot twist just before the next turn in the road. Several years ago when  I discovered the Buddhist teachings of Pema Chodron and the sensible, friendly advice of neuroscientist Rick Hanson, I knew this was one of those game changing moments. When I read something by one then something by the other, I saw that in essence they were both saying the same thing but in different contexts: Spirituality vs. Science. Take a look at the teaching above, read the repost below, Hanson's August 1, 2014 "Just One Thing" blog,  and then compare the essence of the two. What do you think?  Looking forward to hearing from

Just One Thing

Just One Thing (JOT) is the free newsletter that suggests a simple practice each week for more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind.

A small thing repeated routinely adds up over time to produce big results.

Just one thing that could change your life.

(© Rick Hanson, 2014)

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Rick Hanson, PhD 
This comes from Rick Hanson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist, New York Times best-selling author, Advisory Board member of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and invited lecturer at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard universities. See Rick's workshops and lectures. 

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What's precious to you?

The Practice 
Find what's sacred.


The word, sacred, has two kinds of meanings. First, it can refer to something related to religion or spirituality. Second, more broadly, it can refer to something that one cherishes, that is precious, to which one is respectfully, even reverently, dedicated, such as honesty with one's life partner, old growth redwoods, human rights, the light in a child's eyes, or longings for truth and justice and peace.
Both senses of the word touch me deeply. But many people relate to just one meaning, which is fine. You can apply what I'm saying here to either or both meanings.

I think each one of us - whether theist, agnostic, or atheist - needs access to whatever it is, in one's heart of hearts, that feels most precious and most worthy of protection. Imagine a life in which nothing was sacred to you - or to anyone else. To me, such a life would be barren and gray.

Sure, some terrible actions have been taken in the name of avowedly sacred things. But terrible actions have been taken for all kinds of other reasons as well; the notion of the sacred is not a uniquely awful source of bad behavior. And just because some people act badly in the name of something does not alter whatever is good in that something.

Opening to what's sacred to you contains an implicit stand that there really are things that stand apart in their significance to you. What may be most sacred is the possibility of the sacred!

If you're like me, you don't stay continually aware of what's most dear to you. But when you come back to it - maybe there is a reminder, perhaps at the birth of a child, or at a wedding or a funeral, or walking deep in the woods - there's a sense of coming home, of "yes," of knowing that this really matters and deserves my honoring and protection and care.


For an overview, notice how you feel about the idea of "sacred." Are there mixed feelings about it? How has the rise of religious fundamentalism worldwide over the past several decades - or the culture wars in general - affected your attitudes toward "sacred"? In your own life, have you been told that certain things were sacred that you no longer believe in? Do you feel you have the right to name what is sacred to you even if it is not sacred to others? Taking a little time to sort this out for yourself, maybe also by talking with others, can clear the decks so that you can know what's sacred for you.

In this clearing, there are many ways to identify what is sacred for someone. Maybe you already know. You could also find a place or time that is particularly peaceful or meaningful - perhaps on the edge of the sea, or curled up with tea in a favorite chair, or in a church or temple - and softly raise questions in your mind like these: What's sacred? What inspires awe? A feeling of protection? Reverence? A sense of something holy?

Different answers come to different people. And they may be wordless. For many, what's most sacred is transcendent, numinous, and beyond language.

Whatever it is that comes to you, explore what it's like to open to it, to receive it, to give over to it. Make it concrete: what would a conversation be like, or what would your day be like, if you did it with a sense of something that's sacred to you?

Without stress or pressure, see if there could be a deepening commitment to this something sacred. How do you feel about making sanctuary for it, in your attention and intentions, and in how you spend your time and other resources?

Then, when you do sustain a sense of the sacred, or involve it in some way in some action, sense the results and let them sink in to you.

However it shows up for you, the sacred can be a treasure, a warmth, a mystery, a light, and a profound refuge.
I've teamed up with Happify, a website with science-based, fun activities and games - from Gretchen Rubin, Shawn Achor, and now me - that you can do to feel more confident, grateful, optimistic, and just plain happy. We've turned key ideas and methods from Hardwiring Happiness into 4 weeks' worth of reflections and easy little practices to rewire your brain for greater well-being. It's the Hardwiring Happiness: Grow Your Inner Strengths track. When you first get to the Happify site, you have to answer some questions, and then you can see my track. Like the other offerings on this site, you can explore much of my track for free - and you can do every bit of it if you upgrade to Happify Plus. Please visit this track and tell other people about it!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Wise Women Writing

                        The truth is that it is really quite difficult to describe any human being.  So the writer says, ‘this is what happened.’ But she doesn’t say what the person was like to whom it happened. And so the events mean very little unless we know first to whom they happen.
                                       -- Virginia Woolf, Author & Memoirist

I will never forget the women in the first writing group I put together in Taos, New Mexico almost twenty years ago. Remarkable women, vivacious, charming and so very talented, they were some of the best teachers I've ever had. We gathered once a week around the kiva fireplace in my tiny pink adobe cottage for about a year and what transpired then and there was an alchemy that only a midlife woman, endowed with a burning desire to know how to live fully her second life, could know.

           Twenty years ago modern day memoir writing was reaching its peak and anyone working with autobiographical material realized the debt owed to our chosen muse, Virginia Woolf. Virginia paved the way by laying a groundwork for the frankly personal writing then beginning to enjoy a resurgence. Known for her literary innovations in the early 20th century she brought her unique stamp of individuality to the genre, giving fair warning that many memoirs are failures for just one reason: They "leave out the person to whom things happened." She was adamant that if you want to write memoir, an understanding your past is the foundation for coming to a point of view about the meaning of the present. This is the prime prerequisite to finding your true writer’s voice and if you try to tell your story without this voice, the story you choose to  tell will not only lack interest it will probably languish or be instantly forgotten.  She said it well when she noted that "stories becalmed in the doldrums of neutrality become neither fiction nor memoir. The reader loses respect for the writer who claims the privilege of being the hero in her own story without meeting her responsibility to pursue meaning."

                I'd  learned the truth of this back in my journalist days when I wrote a weekly column about entrepreneurs and my job depended upon my ability to build a loyal reader following. I soon figured out I couldn't write to Everybody but I could write to Somebody. And I could tell them enough about myself so that they knew I was a real person with the ability to establish a relationship between writer and reader from the first sentence in. I wrote as if  I was having an intimate conversation about thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, desires and aspirations. I knew that Somebody wanted to feel they were being allowed to listen in on a series of confidences, that they’d been invited to sit on a special little perch with me that gave them a view they couldn’t get anywhere else. “Hi, good to see you again, and listen, you will never believe what happened, let me tell you the latest…”.  Clearly, it's really the voice and mood that are the important elements in conveying the necessary sense of immediacy and confidentiality. Any successful story, no matter what form it takes –  memoir, column, rumination, anecdote, diatribe, fantasy, food or travel story – requires above all that your reader feel spoken to directly and and that he or she feels they can trust the writer's voice to deliver the truth.
When I decided to take my journalistic skills and apply them to teaching I don't think I fully realized the enormous benefits I would reap. It was clear I had a lot to learn and these women were intended to be my teachers. Lucky me! As the weeks went by and our fledgling writer's group grew stronger the truth of Woolf's pronouncements became abundantly clear. All of us stumbled into deeper and more verdant places that revealed ourselves and our past, and each began to find the elusive ‘voice’ that is unique and special and precious. Even if we wanted to we could never mistake the voices that were becoming strong, loud and clear. It was, as I said, a special time and place with each woman ready to say hello to a past to which she would ultimately say goodbye. I think it was Annie Dillard, the brilliant writer and memoirist, who said that to write about your past is to cannibalize it and that once you've written it, you'll never be the same person again. It's true and the women in our group proved it.  Thank you ladies, you've meant the world to me.

            Nadia tended to write in strong declarative sentences with very little superfluous description. She was our ‘just the facts ma’am’ expert. She’d grown up in Germany and was a small and frightened girl during the WWII bombing of Dresden. She still spoke with the merest hint of accent, and somehow it was perfect for holding everyone rapt when she read her story with just the right amount of historical detail and accuracy, bringing it to life with her descriptions of being driven almost crazy by the wailing warning sirens and the ensuing rain of destruction on her and her family’s hiding places. It was an experience that found us enthralled, knowing it was unlikely that any of us would probably ever experience anything like it. She finished her full blown memoir before any of us and it was, in a word, great. She had the gift of the storyteller, the mental approach of a builder and the focus and endurance of a long distance runner. That's what it took to get it out there and she inspired us all.

Earth Mother Katherine on the other hand, never failed to include some engrossing emotional or romantic detail generally concerning her own reactions to life as she found it. Her ethnicity was the focus on a number of occasions, revealing poignant tribal roots and stories while providing instructive lessons about the hurts and horrors of present day race relations. She'd been a devout Catholic, left the church, found a new spiritual path and later began to write seriously, entering her work successfully in contests. She was interested in psychic matters and used her abilities to bring an incredible depth and richness of feeling to the dramatic renderings she favored. It didn't take her long to master the 'you are there' element so necessary to unforgettable stories.

 Nancy was something of a blend of Nadia and Katherine as she knew how to describe a scene but wasn’t afraid to reveal some of her emotional landscape as well. The colorful sense memory was her forte as she had the eye and ear of an artist. She didn’t just grow up in  Connecticut, she ‘lived by the ocean, awakening each day to the snap of faded but still colorful beachfront flags whipped by the incessant winds and twisting throughout the day to provide directional cues to would be sailors.’ Wow, I thought, what I wouldn’t give to have been there. I kept in touch with Nancy for many years, until she moved back to Connecticut from Taos several years ago. She was so adept at bringing her experience to paper and had the fortitude of a bull (now that I think of it I remember she was a Taurus). But I've never forgotten her amazing ability to look deeply and profoundly into the hearts and minds of others and react with feeling straight from the heart. 

                Marvelous, musical and mellow, Martha entered shyly into the group experience, having lost herself for years in the lives of others. She wrote  stiffly in the beginning but soon developed a superb style that simultaneously and very successfully brought together factual recollection with the necessary personal emotional resonance. I remember to this day a description she wrote about her mother's wedding dress, the gauzy white lace flowing out of the dumpster where it had been deposited when she and her siblings had to clean out the old homestead after her mother's death. So poignant, so brave, so real. But that was Martha. You always got just what you saw, which was sometimes very little, sometimes more than she could hold in all at once. She worked for years on her memoir and dug deeply to uncover incredible riches acquired over a lifetime, realized fully only in her seventh decade.

              The oldest of us, in her eighties then, Helen simply forged ahead with her chronicle, scene after scene of factual recollection, a genuine family history intended for her children and grandchildren. Unremarkable in one sense and yet because she was who she was and had lived a deeply interesting and satisfying life, her remembrances were so authentic and true to her own voice that they could not help but be interesting and satisfying to us too. Her Jewish mother persona shone through loud and clear, a strong and archetypal image that I for one have always found it hard to resist. I heard she died a few years ago, still writing but having written enough so that her family has an irreplaceable legacy to cherish forever.

Marianne joined the group later and she tended to read as if she were whispering secrets and as we craned our heads forward so as not to miss anything, we heard her sweet, sometimes sad stories in droplets, little pearls tossed onto a pond creating ripples of deep emotion that took a while to register. We always knew when she read we would hear profound and unforgettable wisdom about how a life could ultimately be lived so that the idea of ‘highest and best’ could be realized. She’d been a Methodist minister, back in the days when this calling was still an extreme rarity for women and in her post-professional life she couldn't help but retain a sweet aura of acceptance and kindness. I felt simultaneously blessed and awed in her presence. as if she contained within her a deep well that would always be able to serve up a refreshing taste of wisdom.

Then there was darling Phyllis, whose writer’s voice carried a distinct sense of individuality. She too came into the group later but had an unforgettable voice and if writing can be loud, hers was. This was a time before ‘in your face’ took its place in the lexicon and had we known, it would have been the perfect modifier for a description of Phyllis' writing voice. I could not tell you the many times I trembled with admiration when she spoke with the confidence and vigor of the undefeated, knowing that it was born of the iron will of a charming but relentlessly insistent infant. To hear her was to marvel appreciatively at the insouciance of youth and yet  to shudder at the twists and turns that still lay ahead unbeknownst to her as she marched forward on her road to maturity.

 And me? I was the official asker of the question of ‘why’ and any philosophical meanderings present in our group usually began and ended with yours truly. I'm rather proud to say that by the end of our time together the group experience had shaped and transformed my writer’s voice so that instead of the constant (and sometimes whiney) ‘Why’, I emerged with an ability to say ‘Why not?’  Which has proven over the years to be lots more fun. Now I'm not saying my writing is always as colorful and raucous as a barrel of monkeys but, by god, I've still got a few laughs up my sleeve so just stay tuned....I might surprise you!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Never Too Late

             “If I could learn to play the cello well, as I thought I could, I could show by my own example that we all have greater powers than we think; that whatever we want to learn or learn to do, we probably can learn; that our lives and our possibilities are not determined and fixed by what happened to us when we were little, or by what experts say we can or cannot do.”                                                                                                     ---John Holt, Never Too Late


       I discovered John Holt years ago when I went back to college after marriage, childbearing, divorce and a brief stint working in retail. I was inspired to reach for more by this visionary educator known for  his pioneering research into the way children and adults learn. He wrote Never Too Late about how when he was forty he took up the cello despite having no musical background to speak of. The book is a testament to his belief in the far reaching and  not yet wholly acknowledged powers of the human mind and heart to learn, adapt and innovate. Holt defied the conventional wisdom that says we have to begin something as a kid and practice it the rest of our lives in order to get any good at it as time goes by. Don't believe it, he says, you have more power than you even know: to play an instrument, master a sport, learn a language or whatever you might decide to reach for. Here's someone who proves his point: Ninety-year-old yoga practitioner Phyllis Sues ( who took up yoga at 85. In this repost from Huffington Post's Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power, June 14, 2014, it's clear that Phyllis is someone who's not only arrived at wisdom's edge, she's hollering at the rest of us to come on over. (P.S. I am loving Arianna's Third Metric page and frankly wonder why it took so long for somebody so smart to figure out that success redefined beyond money and power is probably the only success that really matters as we age).

 The Amazing Things That Happened When I Started Yoga At 85 By Phylllis Sues, Dancer & Musician


 Giving Back
            Yoga is a way of giving back. The gift of life. Your body is a temple and if you give in, you will find universality. Yoga clears the mind and energizes the body and one is at peace with oneself and the universe. Yoga gives me a reason to wake up every day. Each day is a creative and positive day, when I'm practicing yoga. It allows me to face each problem and make the right choices. Yoga gives your body freedom to do things, you never thought possible. It's not bravery; it's dedication to working and practicing every day. When you make the decision to enter into a yoga program, your journey going forward will be positive, exciting and surprising. You will face challenges, that only occur with this practice. 

               Practicing yoga is a time thing. It's better to create, take time and enjoy the pose. In that way you improve the pose and most of all your body and mind benefits. Yoga is all encompassing. If you allow it and give yourself to it. Your mind and body will perform with amazing strength and your mind will be aware and alert. Practicing yoga is a truth serum. It will and can change your life! Yoga gives a life filled with health, joy, dependability and truth. It cancels out fear, fear of the known and fear of the unknown. It can produce spiritual power, that is, if you open up and allow it to enter. It's not desire; it's the action and your decision that motivates one to be inspired. I do not want to exist. I want to live and live a life with quality. That means a strong body with strength, elasticity, balance, and an alert, active mind.

 Looking Forward
              I'm not allowed to miss a day of yoga practice in my home or in the yoga studio. Yoga has become national and international. In my city, there is a yoga studio on every corner. I started yoga six years ago at age 85 and at that time, I had Arthritis in my knees and spine and Osteoporosis. Arthritis responds to movement and yoga. Osteoporosis responds to your own body weight. Practicing yoga is the building block and my way of life. I look forward to each waking day with joy because I practice yoga. In yoga practice there is no age limit, absolutely none! Whether your 20 or 50, it's a plus and possible and a given, that your body and mind will improve, and joy will be the sunshine in your life. Anthony Benenati is one of the great yoga teachers in Los Angeles. I have been practicing yoga with Anthony for six wonderful years. I recently sat down with Anthony and asked him some questions, so I could share with you.

Q: Your knowledge of how the body works is so all encompassing and you have brought that knowledge to yoga. Where did that knowledge come from?
A: I've always been a student of the body. It fascinates me. The most impressive, machine, imaginable. Its potential is astounding. I've dedicated my life to the study of it in yoga.

Q: You were in the military. How has that affected your direction and choice in life?
A: Yes. The U.S.A.F. from 1986-1992. I was a crew chief on C-141 cargo planes during Gulf War 1. I learned about discipline and integrity. Doing your job well and the satisfaction that comes with hard work. It has shaped my work ethic. Yoga is a perfect fit because it requires all of those qualities from the student.

Q: When did you become interested in yoga and why? It's a far cry from the military.
A: Injury, and a girlfriend many years ago brought me to yoga. I am forever grateful to her.

Q: Do you think yoga heals?
A: Yoga is a healing modality. People heal themselves all the time in yoga. I know from personal experience. I've had both knees surgically repaired and they are better than ever.

Q: What is the difference between an intermediate class and an advance class?
A: Beginning yoga is the foundation. Learning the language, the history, the philosophy and the basic postures and breath. Intermediate is exploring those postures further, while expanding the knowledge. Advanced yoga is like jazz music. The best jazz players are gifted and trained musicians. The have the ability to break the rules, because they know them so well. Same goes for yoga.

Q: What are the benefits of yoga for people over 50 or younger?
A: There is no age restriction for yoga. All can practice, no matter what physical condition they are in. We only modify the practice to suit their individual needs.

Q: What practice should you begin with?
A: A student should always start with an experienced beginning yoga teacher. They are the best teachers of yoga and if they are truly gifted and well-studied, they will be able to tailor the practice to fit their needs.

Q: Can Yoga help with Arthritis and Osteoporosis?
A: Two of the biggest reasons to practice are right there.

Q: How often should you practice Yoga?
A: I recommend at least 3+ classes a week for the beginner.

Q: Is meditation important for ones being?
A: Many would say it is the point of yoga. Yoga without meditation is Italian food without pasta.

Q: What would you say to people who are considering Yoga?
A: It isn't a religion. It is simply a practice, a tool to use in ones life to become more of your self. You must seek out a qualified teacher and study with them only, for a long time. If one teacher doesn't fit you, find another, and another, until you find your teacher. Don't give up!

Wise words! Thank you Anthony!
If yoga, my energy and drive were contagious, it's possible there would be health, peace and even joy in the world. It's worth a try!

Adam Sheridan-Taylor

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lunar Spirituality

                         I have been given the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season. 
                         --Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark

               I lived in New Mexico for about ten years and put on a summer workshop called Writing a Spiritual Autobiography at the Benedictine monastery in Pecos just outside Santa Fe ( I did this with my husband, a resigned Roman Catholic priest who is now a writer (  and author (The Gift by Louis Michalski at Amazon). The rustic old monastery, originally a dude ranch in the 1930s, is set on the Pecos River just a stone's throw from the property that was film star Val Kilmer's Pecos River Ranch and is not too far from Jane Fonda's Forked Lightning Ranch (which used to belong to screen legend Greer Garson). The bucolic setting invites the letting down of defenses and bravado, somewhere a seeker can feel safe and validated  by the accepting and supportive company of other wayfarers. True, there was the fluttering presence of a few well meaning, pursed-lipped resident priests trying their best to shush our group's sometimes raucous laughter and jollity as we all went about happily in search of our souls. But we didn't mind, we just wished them well and went on our way to gather at the river.

Writing Makes Meaning
        When we first began offering this workshop it seemed quite avant-garde, an opportunity for seekers to feel affirmed and listened to as they flung open the doors to perception and lay bare the heretofore shrouded and half articulated soul stirrings that brought them to such a workshop in the first place. The people who showed up were smack in the middle of a major plot twist in life-- career changers,  people with health challenges, those with relationship issues -- in other words, soul searchers (including ourselves) who were well on their way way to wisdom's edge. Over a three day period participants were asked to write about what the term spiritual journey meant for them and a fair number of them reported some rather profound awakenings about the evolution of their thinking. One man, a sociology professor, clinched his long simmering desire to ditch his current career and enter the seminary. Another participant, a young human resources professional from back east, said the whole thing had been life changing for her and that she'd found the courage to start her own life coaching business with a strong emphasis on the spiritual dimensions of redefining work.  A woman in training to become a Unity minister called the experience a time and place where she dared give voice to feelings and thoughts she wasn't comfortable sharing with her ministerial colleagues at home.  Writing a spiritual memoir has become quite popular over the years with such offerings as Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love achieving runaway best seller status and was later made into a movie.  I'm sure you can name similar offerings that have been equally entertaining and enlightening. With the resurgence of the genre, author and Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor in 2006 wrote Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith (  and has recently released an admirable new addition to the genre of spiritual autobiography, Learning to Walk in the Dark (HarperOne). It speaks to my intuitive and artistic sensibilities about the necessity of embracing both light and shadow for a life of balance and truth, plus I'm intrigued with the awakening and discovery story of how an over-60 female, trained in mainstream, patriarchal religious orthodoxy, evolved in her thinking and feeling about  her own spirituality. Seems to me it takes real inner courage to look squarely at the delicate matters surrounding a professional life dedicated to spirituality and then admit you might have gotten it wrong and so had to start all over. How she came to embrace an approach to spirituality that women across cultures and time have known about instinctively and lived by for thousands of years promises to be an exceptional  read. Here's an excerpt reposted from TIME e-magazine.

 The Problem Is This
                Christianity has never had anything nice to say abut the dark. Darkness” is shorthand for anything that scares me — that I want no part of — either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. The absence of God is in there, along with the fear of dementia and the loss of those nearest and dearest to me. So is the melting of polar ice caps, the suffering of children, and the nagging question of what it will feel like to die. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love — if I could just find the right night-lights to leave on. At least I think I would. The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life (literally or figuratively, take your pick), plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, nonetheless I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. The witches have not turned me into a bat. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.

And Not Only That
                  The problem is that there are so few people who can teach me about that. Most of the books on the New York Times “How-To” bestseller list are about how to avoid various kinds of darkness. If you want to learn how to be happy and stay that way, how to win out over your adversaries at work, or how to avoid aging by eating the right foods, there is a book for you. If you are not a reader, you can always find someone on the radio, the television, or the web who will tell you about the latest strategy for staying out of your dark places, or at least distract you from them for a while. Most of us own so many electronic gadgets that there is always a light box within reach when any kind of darkness begins to descend on us. Why watch the sun go down when you could watch the news instead? Why lie awake at night when a couple of rounds of Moonlight Mahjong could put you back to sleep? I wish I could turn to the church for help, but so many congregations are preoccupied with keeping the lights on right now that the last thing they want to talk about is how to befriend the dark. Plus, Christianity has never had anything nice to say about darkness. From earliest times, Christians have used “darkness” as a synonym for sin, ignorance, spiritual blindness, and death. Visit almost any church and you can still hear it used that way today: Deliver us, O Lord, from the powers of darkness. Shine into our hearts the brightness of your Holy Spirit, and protect us from all perils and dangers of the night.

Solar Spirituality
                     Since I live on a farm where the lights can go out for days at a time, this language works at a practical level. When it is twenty degrees outside at midnight and tree branches heavy with ice are crashing to the ground around your house, it makes all kinds of sense to pray for protection from the dangers of the night. When coyotes show up in the yard after dark, eyeing your crippled old retriever as potential fast food, the perils of the night are more than theoretical. So I can understand how people who lived before the advent of electricity — who sometimes spent fourteen hours in the dark without the benefit of so much as a flashlight — might have become sensitive to the powers of darkness, asking God for deliverance in the form of bright morning light. At the theological level, however, this language creates all sorts of problems. It divides every day in two, pitting the light part against the dark part. It tucks all the sinister stuff into the dark part, identifying God with the sunny part and leaving you to deal with the rest on your own time. It implies things about dark-skinned people and sight-impaired people that are not true. Worst of all, it offers people of faith a giant closet in which they can store everything that threatens or frightens them without thinking too much about those things. It rewards them for their unconsciousness, offering spiritual justification for turning away from those things, for “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). To embrace that teaching and others like it at face value can result in a kind of spirituality that deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention. I call it “full solar spirituality,” since it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith. You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith. This sounds like heaven on earth. Who would not like to dwell in God’s light 24/7?

Lunar Spirituality
              If you have ever belonged to such a community, however, you may have discovered that the trouble starts when darkness falls on your life, which can happen in any number of unsurprising ways: you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, your child acts out in some attention-getting way, you pray hard for something that does not happen, you begin to doubt some of the things you have been taught about what the Bible says. The first time you speak of these things in a full solar church, you can usually get a hearing. Continue to speak of them and you may be reminded that God will not let you be tested beyond your strength. All that is required of you is to have faith. If you still do not get the message, sooner or later it will be made explicit for you: the darkness is your own fault, because you do not have enough faith. Having been on the receiving end of this verdict more than once, I do not think it is as mean as it sounds. The people who said it seemed genuinely to care about me. They had honestly offered me the best they had. Since their sunny spirituality had not given them many skills for operating in the dark, I had simply exhausted their resources. They could not enter the dark without putting their own faith at risk, so they did the best they could. They stood where I could still hear them and begged me to come back into the light. If I could have, I would have. There are days when I would give anything to share their vision of the world and their ability to navigate it safely, but my spiritual gifts do not seem to include the gift of solar spirituality. Instead, I have been given the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season. When I go out on my porch at night, the moon never looks the same way twice. Some nights it is as round and bright as a headlight; other nights it is thinner than the sickle hanging in my garage. Some nights it is high in the sky, and other nights low over the mountains. Some nights it is altogether gone, leaving a vast web of stars that are brighter in its absence. All in all, the moon is a truer mirror for my soul than the sun that looks the same way every day.