Attention is the greatest gift you can give


Life throws so much at us, we can forget to slow down and do one thing at a time. I recently heard the story of a woman who had difficulty as a child getting her parents’ undivided attention. Forced to settle for whatever they gave her, she eventually came to believe that she didn’t have anything important enough to say that would warrant their — or anyone else’s — full attention. She stopped sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings with people, resulting in isolation and loneliness.

When I share genuinely with someone, I am unconsciously looking to be seen and treated as the most fascinating thing going in that moment. In acknowledgement of this universal longing, there’s a wonderful African greeting. When a person arrives in a village after being away, they say, “I am here to be seen.” And the response from the group is, “We see you.” Isn’t that what all of us want? Continue reading

An opportunity to look anew at the world


We’ve had a couple of good snows lately. It’s a lovely excuse to take a walk with the dog and my son, with a long-lensed camera. I love seeing what he finds interesting, what attracts his eye and how he frames what he sees. We poke along, stopping even more than the dog would prefer. So much to see and to take in.

Our neighborhood is a wonder in the snow, the tall trees frosted, bare limbs against a close, slate gray sky. An extravagance of plant textures: spiky bursts, waxy rounded leaves, globes of red berries trembling on frail-looking stems. Fences’ every vertical and horizontal graced with white. A homely, forgettable concrete block wall in an alley looks like the moat enclosure of a Japanese castle. The cracked paving of the same alley is transformed into a postcard: one pair of tire tracks curving away on the fresh white surface, a staccato of rabbit and cat paw prints weaving among them. Continue reading

The awakening of divine light in all of us


This day, in the Christian world, is a celebration of new life, of the birth of the Christ child. This story invites a re-awakening of the spark of love within each of us, as divine consciousness embodied. All of Christ’s teachings are stored in our very DNA and can be accessed by anyone, regardless of religion.

It’s not random coincidence that miraculous humans emerge at times of struggle, to lead and inspire others to live from that divine light in the face of great hardship and suffering. Examples abound: Gandhi and Indian independence, Martin Luther King and Civil Rights, Nelson Mandela and Apartheid, Aung An Suu Kyi and democracy, Wangaari Matthai and tree planting, Malala Yousufzi and the right to education. All of these, and others, stood up to forces of oppression and darkness that sought to silence them through fear and violence. Continue reading

Reconsidering the all or nothing stance


In the book, Outrageous Openness, the author, Tosha Silver, is having tea with her left-brain economics professor friend, a guy who is a complete skeptic about anything spiritual or mystical. She asks him if nothing at all had happened in his life that defied rational explanation. He responds with this story:

One snowy night in the college dorm, his roommate decided to go out to some bars, and he, being tired, stayed in and went to bed. At three in the morning, he awoke suddenly to his roommate shouting his name. He heard it clearly, twice. Wide awake, he looked around the room and realized he was the only one there. In a stupor, he stumbled to his car and drove through deep snow, without conscious thought as to direction. About ten minutes later, he arrived at a snow bank, into which his roommate had driven his car. The roommate was freezing, incoherent and drunk. He was able to get him back to their room to warm up and sleep it off.  Continue reading

Reconsidering our origin stories


What is your family of origin? In this tapestry of a country with its multi-cultural past, how often have you heard or asked that question? My grandmother used to put it differently, just straight out: “What kind of name is that?” Which, translated, meant: “What is your ethnic background?” Although she had great curiosity and zest for life, in this case, the subtext was less generous. She was a WASP to the core, and a dedicated xenophobe.

At our Restorying retreats, we ask people to introduce themselves by starting with the phrase, “Once upon a time,” and then tell about their birth as if being interviewed by Hans Christian Andersen. I like how it brings people directly into the mythic “everywhen” mind that immerses them in the realm of symbol and archetype. Why does this matter? At the heart of living into the new story of connection and belonging is a reconsideration of our origin stories, both personal and cultural. Continue reading

Singing to the deer


The fifth of this seasonal series is another story I told at this weekend’s retreat, on Saturday morning. Two deer stories in one day! I kept expecting to see some deer materialize out of forest mist, but it was not to be. This is a great story to tell to a group gathered around the hearth with the smell of the Yule Tree wafting over. It works best to sing a couple lines of the carol, and then sing the whole thing together after the story.

In the days nearing the Solstice, the woods are bright in a snowy way, the sky pearl gray above the stately maples and gnarled burr oaks. Our friend Patricia especially likes to walk among the sleeping trees in the half-lit silence of winter dawns. Maybe you like to do that, too. She often encounters deer on these walks, but they keep their distance. An instant after they see her, they usually bound silently away, their white-flag tails on high alert. Then one day, on the Solstice, a strange thing happens. Continue reading

The eternal within the everyday


To be well engaged in work takes discipline. I need a routine, a way to concentrate and tune out distractions. Work at its best, the attention and focus, is a kind of prayer. Mary Oliver says it well:

“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, . . .”

This attention is a crossing-over from multitasking non-presence into an eternal place of connection. A place where I feel well employed, using all my senses, including imagination. The ears of my heart tune in and listen with devotion. Continue reading

Being doing dreaming acting


“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” Dalai Lama

Sometimes I wonder about the axis that runs between dreaming and action. I seem to gravitate more naturally to the dreamy end of things, for which I feel vaguely guilty, as though I’m not a fully contributing member of society. It’s not enough to dream or imagine; you have to do something, right?

Our culture does seem to be biased towards action, which isn’t surprising as it’s heavily weighted towards masculine values and skewed away from feminine qualities of introversion, open receptivity and non-action. This is not to say “men” versus “women,” since we each have a dynamic balance within ourselves of qualities that are both masculine and feminine. Continue reading

What can we know about the unseen?


The writer Margaret Atwood spoke in a recent interview about the “Third Man Factor,” which is when a person in an extreme situation feels and hears a spirit-like presence, a sort of guardian angel that encourages, gives guidance, or imparts vital information. The explorer Ernest Shackleton and aviator Charles Lindbergh have both spoken about the experience.

The human imagination is so vast as to seem boundless, and it’s only one tiny part of the dream of the universe that gave birth to us. Many phenomena are simply beyond the reach of rational analysis, but curiosity compels us to study them anyway, using the tools we have available. And, in our culture, science has arguably the highest status among those tools.

In his book on the subject, John Geiger makes the point that, despite scientific study, we don’t know definitively what’s going on. Continue reading

The poetry of thresholds


Former Poet Laureate Billy Collins has quipped that poetry will continue until everything has been compared to everything else. I like to play with that in design and writing, to bring in something seemingly unrelated and let it illuminate a previously invisible aspect of the subject. It’s one of the joys of collaborating with other people – their contributions always open a door into new possibilities.

Comparison reveals hidden connections. The poet Pablo Neruda’s view of art has been described as coming out of a longing for mutuality. Isn’t that what poets do so well? Rilke asks a knight to tell us how, by remaining armored, we miss out on the beauties and joys of the world. Or he erects a bridge to give us a way to move between contrasting (possibly warring) aspects of ourselves, especially to try out our little-used qualities. Continue reading