If all we have is Jack Ryan, everyone looks like a terrorist


In her mesmerizing TED talk, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor tells the story of having a stroke in her mid-40s. She points out that, biologically speaking, we are not thinking beings who feel. We are feeling beings who think. Great intelligence resides in the space of our heart and when we nurture that with breath and awareness, our resilience and creativity in crisis increases dramatically.

This innate wisdom and gift of connection to our fellow beings is lost in the rush to analysis brought on by recent crises and instability around the world. We channel our inner Jack Ryan when we resort to habitual ways of relating to the crisis, to each other, and to any possible courses of action that occur to us. Still, in modern western culture, reason and analysis are revered above all. Anyone who suggests a more feeling response is ridiculed as soft or complicit. Continue reading

What happens when we return to trusting our senses?

11.7.15_Horse2_620wIn the final two chapters of his exquisite book, Becoming Animal, David Abram unleashes a series of simple and brilliant observations and proposals for a way forward. One point he makes is that when Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo discovered that the earth is not fixed after all, but rather orbits a fixed sun, the senses were increasingly derided as deceptive and untrustworthy. It was thought that our observations had led us astray into primitive and naïve beliefs about our place in the cosmos, and therefore about ourselves.

It’s true that oral, place-based, indigenous cultures did rely on the body’s perceptions of, for example, the way the sun left the sky and traveled beneath (within) the depths of the earth at night, reemerging in the morning to begin anew its daily transit of the sky. This observation kindled a relational understanding of the fire that is visible in the sky being in league with the fire that is within us. They understood through direct experience that the gravitational pull of the earth on our body is the same attraction between the sun and the earth. Are these two ways of perceiving mutually exclusive? Continue reading

Reimagining the myth of Ariadne and the labyrinth

1998_7.19_620wBritish mythic storyteller Martin Shaw says that the stories we most need now arrived right on schedule, 3,000 years ago. This story is a reimagining of the Greek myth of Ariadne that I put together from various sources. (Since this isn’t a scholarly work, I didn’t footnote it, but the references are cited at the end). I told it last weekend at the Restorying the Heroine’s Journey retreat to a circle of women gathered in a clearing in a very special forest in West Virginia. While it is about a woman’s journey to authenticity, it is relevant to men, and to our culture at large.

When Martin Shaw told an old fairy tale to our group seated around a campfire on a rainy summer day at Schumacher College, he prefaced it with a suggestion. Certainly, the effect of a story is heightened in a setting like that, gathered in a circle before a fire, listening to a master storyteller. Reading written words off a computer screen strips out the mysterious process that the collective unconscious works on us, the sensual connection to ancient practices. Since these old stories carry their own power, his advice has a place even here. Continue reading

Mirroring the courage to speak up and tell new stories


I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that my inner and outer worlds mirror each other. Even way back in college, I somehow knew that annoying people are reflecting something in me that I don’t like. I’m devoted to dream work and my morning journaling for the insights and clarity that often come, and to writing in this blog for the same reason. I tend to regard this reciprocal conversation as a way to diagnose what’s wrong from the inside out, more so than to notice and appreciate what’s right outside, and how it reflects goodness on the inside.

Yet it does work both ways, and it’s going on all the time. When someone I respect questions or refuses to encourage my latest grand scheme, that is showing me the degree to which I am not on board with it myself. But it’s also true that if I look around at my comfortable home, good health, lovely neighbors, engaging work, responsible husband, and yummy food in the fridge—all that is reflecting an inner world that is safe, healthy, and full of good companionship, worthiness, love, creativity, intelligence, security, and nourishment. Continue reading

Accept the muse’s assignment


2.15.15_Winter woods_620w3“Don’t forget to let it do its work on you.” These words were spoken by a retreat leader in response to my telling him I was eager to get back to work on my novel after the inspiring experiences of the week. It was a beautiful piece of advice, one that I knew immediately to be true on many levels. I was reminded of it again yesterday, reading Steven Pressfield’s blog post on how he healed his self-doubt by working for two years on a book about Alexander the Great, arguably the most confident man in history, one who knew and embraced his destiny even as a child.

Pressfield’s advice on overcoming Resistance in his book The War of Art, fueled me through my novel’s first draft, so I tend to listen to him. His point in yesterday’s post is that the muse gave him the Alexander the Great assignment for his own good, and that all art is a soul contract. What that says to me is: don’t question the inspiration too analytically, just answer the call, put in your best work, and let it do its work on you. Continue reading

Creativity is clearing space to welcome the unknown


There’s an axiom that all successful people know, from artists to entrepreneurs to winning coaches: never let yourself be daunted by the scale of your ambition or the audaciousness of a goal. Instead, do what you can do today, as well as you can do it. And do the same tomorrow, and the next day. Think as little as possible—or never—about the actual goal. Championships aren’t won by obsessing over the championship game. They are won by focusing on being the best individual on the best team in every moment of every game.

I need to remind myself of this today, heading into the fourth-plus year of working on my novel. Looking over what I’ve got, what has already been thrown away, and how far I still have to go (which actually seems farther than when I started, if that makes any sense), it’s too easy to become intimidated by the undertaking. I’m finally understanding a little of what Don Quixote must have felt, and why that story has such universal appeal. Fortunately, I have Rilke with me this morning, whispering in my ear. Continue reading

Plus, perfection is beside the point


One of the most insidious effects of perfectionism is its power to shut down creativity and paralyze action. There’s a wonderful book called “Daring Greatly,” by Brené Brown, the Texas sociology professor whose TED talks on vulnerability went viral a few years back. The title comes from this remark by Teddy Roosevelt in a speech he gave in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Continue reading

The joy of creativity, risk and improvisation


I’ve been listening to a great TED Radio Hour on the theme of creativity. In one segment, the host interviewed a scientist at Johns Hopkins University, Charles Limb, who is researching the source of creativity by studying jazz musicians’ brains with an MRI while they improvise.

Keith Jarrett apparently improvises whole concerts; he just sits at the piano and channels music. He said he has, from long experience, an intimate relationship with the piano and even now he never knows what will come out. He considers it a great joy and privilege to be that channel.

One fascinating thing the Hopkins researcher found was that the prefrontal cortex shuts off during these improvisations. Continue reading

Sentimentality and Cynicism at the crossroads


Once upon a time, in a far-away land, a sister and brother lived in a tiny cottage at the edge of a vast forest. They were called Sentimentality and Cynicism. You might be thinking that the sister’s name was Sentimentality, while the brother’s was more befitting a man of the world. In fact, it was the reverse.

Their parents were lost to them when they were young children and they had fended for themselves for ten years. They had a few neighbors who sometimes dropped by with eggs or a loaf of bread, but for the most part, they were on their own.

Cynicism was older by two years and ruled the house with an iron will and military order. Sentimentality was grateful for the safety of a roof over his head, but he was happiest wandering in the meadows and fields surrounding their house, conversing with the grasses, flowers and birds. Fortunately, he had started a vegetable and herb garden, so his sister couldn’t complain that he was outside from sunrise to sunset nearly every day. He also cared for her with his medicinal herbs, for she often had terrible headaches and weeping fits. Continue reading



Our boat had just been yanked one-hundred-eighty degrees, spun on her keel in the opposite direction, and was now screaming northward up the Bay, back the way we had come. In the blackness, we could see nothing – not land, not a buoy, not another boat or – ominously – any ships.

“Why did you tack?” I yelled, to be heard above the storm.

“I didn’t,” my husband answered. “I’m just going with the wind.”

He knew that resistance was not only futile; it would be dangerous and stupid in the face of such omnipotent, unseen forces. His unquestioning compliance was the right response in a situation like that: a sudden thunderstorm sweeping over us in the dead of night. Continue reading