What We Do When


I found a short poem by Raymond Carver who is always good to read if you’re feeling a little down and don’t mind staying that way. I love him and read most of what he wrote while he was alive – he died young in 1988 while I was trying to be a writer and looking for reasons to let it go.

I did let it go then, I just couldn’t be where he was, he was so there. When he died a note to himself was found in his shirt pocket – I paraphrase what it said, “just one more day, give me another poem to write.”

It may have been an old note, he may have written that poem, but I know he wanted more, nothing so simple as one more anything would have been enough.
Here’s the poem I found:

I find myself, at last, in perfect silence.
Knowing the little there is left.
Knowing I have to love it.
Wanting to love it. For both our sake.

I looked for something from Carver because I knew I would find a reflection to mirror the particular loss I feel at finding a note my daughter wrote to herself before she left. It expressed hope for love and success and happiness. It was totally the girl I knew. She happens to be the only person who’s loved listening to hits from the fifties with me. A dog or an occasional cat has – but no human in my midst. I say this because while we were listening to those songs, it was enough.

Not having her in my midst goes way beyond the songs, but it isn’t beyond Carver. Whether loss in love, death or trust, he has the phrases and stories that express even beyond my experience of grief. Writing can express a strength that’s there or inchoate, it can be a harbinger or a swamp. I practice writing a lot and I encourage my clients to do the same. Sometimes we don’t know until we’ve written or said something out loud. Joan Didion was known to say she never understands how she feels about something until she’s written about it.

That is quite dramatic. Writers do that for us and to the extent that we feel moved, we can join in.




Liam Three Months Out


You can tell me that grieving takes its own sweet time. I’ll tell you its not necessarily sweet, although its not always sad and wrenching. And that it pulses. Sometimes I feel like my food processor – lots of stuff put in and I’m supposed to turn on and find what to do with it. Find the correct blade and carry on.

As I write this my dogs have set up a howl. And I have joined them. Writing can only get you so far. Howling will do the rest. The greyhounds have a keening sound, high and deep in the throat. They sound when I’m not joining up properly. Now, as I’m writing, and even though my door is open, they know my mind is elsewhere. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find their minds filled with Liam. Images of him are rampant. Not just because he was a favorite subject for me but he was in all our faces – literally. Jules could never even start to walk out the door without Liam attached to his face in some very noisy way. He is downstairs as I write moaning and whining. He will not come up the stairs. When I “bring” him up, he might stay a minute but, unless I close a door or gate, he runs down to his bed. He is a simple, complicated dog.

Liam was straightforward, upfront, in your face. He could be subtle, I loved his tame look when he was abashed and wanted to be with me but wasn’t sure he could go – mostly he could. And, unlike most JRTs he would do what I asked even if he didn’t want to. He had another look for that. In all he was a dog of many natures, many gifts. There wasn’t a person who didn’t want his/her hands on Liam. I have many photos like the one above with everyone reaching toward him as they interacted together. He was always within reach.

I wish he was still.
Jules just came in and lay down.

A New Year




Sadie is an intense, loving, somewhat stubborn dog – the perfect companion. Quiet – much quieter than a mouse – she sits in the back seat of my car exactly where I put her and stays there until I ask her to get out, which she does with reluctance.
Minus looking at me, right now she is curled a few feet away, back to me, but looking like all the photos I’ve been taking of her recently as part of a photo challenge my friend Joan gave me. I’m not good at challenges, can’t remember how many days or what words – not a great sense of time. But I’m good with space. The challenge got me to another space – Space – that of looking at black and white again. I grew up with color all around me but photographs were black and white. As a BW photographer I tended to see shades of grey/gray. Digital photography came as my lungs were telling me to get out of the darkroom that had become my home for so long. But it wasn’t satisfying. The first digital – in my opinion – neither captured color nor nuance. I spent a bit more time in the darkroom beyond my time and I painted.
Even though I’m not completely won over, I do see more of what I care about in the digital images I create. I’m beginning to actually like it and plan some shots around what the camera and some basic manipulation (I’m not a friend of photoshop) can do.
Very grateful I am to the challenge I received – I’m looking to the new year to go further and see what happens. I love exploration, I love not knowing what anything will do. It’s the truth anyway – we know nothing beyond this moment.
So back to my future I go – in this moment and the next.
May you all have a Happy New Year, many great moments – in fact, may you see every moment for its greatness and may every moment give you a sense of its greatness and your own.

Homesteading For Armageddon

Are you prepared? That’s what everyone wants to know. Am I prepared, have I got the right stuff, will I need more – that I can buy, that I can learn – will I have everything I need for the occasions I am entering?
Retailers want you to buy stuff. Institutions of learning want you to buy stuff. Insurance and financial companies want you to buy stuff. How can you possibly have it all? Or any of it?
Of course, I’m not talking about what we buy but I am writing about what we think we need. Where do these thoughts come from? Who puts them in our minds? It is from our minds that we get these ideas, these states of lack.
It’s simple enough to say we weren’t born with them. It feels as if we were, so early and often do we get inoculated with the cultural and family identity we are born into that by the time a bit of pragmatism slips into our forebrain, we are convinced it’s our stuff.
I hear people struggle with their self image. Why are they so unprepared, why so confused, why so sure in the past and not now. There must be something wrong with them, they need more stuff, more courage, more knowledge – they aren’t prepared for this.
I used the word “occasion” earlier because I want to underscore the brevity and possible fluidity of whatever it is we find ourselves facing. “This too shall pass” is a great line to take, also try out “so what” when nothing to do comes directly to mind. The only way to know what to do is to trust your mind. The only way to know your mind is to know it – get used to it, know when it’s making stuff up, trying to sell you an action not geared for what you really need.
A client of mine (40’s) was looking at cars and her friend – young man in his 20’s – thought she should have a truck. She was asking for help to decide and I asked her where did she live – suburbs – when did she use a car – to and from work – did she haul stuff – never. So why get a truck? She had no idea, but he was so enthusiastic and had a better plan for what he wanted than she had for what she wanted.
Sometimes the best plan is your own. You may not follow the crowd, but you can follow your plan, you just have to know your mind.

Preparing to grow corn is different from preparing for a spiritual journey – but they might end up in the same place.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My Fairy Godmother


Her name is June and she’s rocking the moon. Comes up with everything I want and then some.
Don’t worry – I haven’t been hacked or taken over, I know this isn’t usually what I write about – although if I could have thought of a good rhyme for moon I would have gone on…. I took this photo some time ago in a slightly off-beat shop in Brattleboro Vermont and have been wanting to use it. Every time I write about her though, I find myself getting corny and cynical. So I thought I’d write about corny and cynical.
A lot of people come to me because they are ashamed to face themselves, who they think they are, not as you or I might see them – we are not so hard on those who are not ourselves.
They (we) have spent so much time hiding their true selves that they’ve forgotten what’s real and what’s not and if the game of hideout is really what they’re playing or are they just screwed up.
Most of us are smart about everything except ourselves. We applaud others while we don’t appreciate what we’ve done. It’s hard to look at our self with a fresh eye and some appreciation. I get so used to what I do that I forget it can be special or insightful to someone else – I am not alone.
So when was the last time you took a photo of your fairy godmother? Or even noticed her existence? She can hold your hand while you take a good look at yourself – appreciation and all. She can hang around and show you some moonlight while you look yourself over – we all look better in moonlight. She can dab a little sparkle in your eye, make things look a bit glitzier. That’s a great attribute.
Check her out, make her work for you, I’ll give you her number.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

“Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
The above quote is Cassius philosophizing to Brutus while they both struggle with the meaning of their lives in their complaints against their Boss – Caesar. (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act I, scene 2)
Soon and often in our lives we come upon “harsh” realities we feel obliged to maintain. No one ever asks for help who is in balance with the objects of their lives and their ability and willingness to sustain them. It might be a job or a relationship, the need of better resources – a new car or children’s schooling. The desire that gets us off kilter keeps us there. We institutionalize it, we become its slave.
In this scene, as in much of Julius Caesar, the plotting and the complaints against Caesar grow to the culmination of his death, and his former cohorts becoming murderers.
In the squeeze to perform and promote what have become our desires – no doubt changed from our first wispy fantasies – we put ourselves in the crucible of those desires and let them take us over. Often without a clue as to how we got here. We feel “fate” has led us or our “nature,” sometimes we blame a parent. This is suffering for sure.
There is always some exterior modifier to point out our lacks – we were born this way, at the wrong time, to the wrong culture. I used to tease my “well bred” mother when she would complain about my actions that I had been given the wrong genes.
But really – let’s get gritty – what can we do? Once we feel overwhelmed, panic riding us, solutions beyond our grasp, what are we to do? This is the most irritating part – it was for Cassius too – because it isn’t the lottery or the new car/husband/wife. It isn’t the dictator or even the next helpful book/workshop or prescription. It comes right back to, “not in our stars but in ourselves.”
How and what we align ourselves with dictates how our lives unfold. A choice here, a path or road there and we have momentum going for us. Is it a flood or a stream, a wind or a storm. What’ll it be? What will you have, what choice will you make to determine your course? And what will it take down the road to correct it if you need to? Murderers have a much harder row to hoe than the one of us who says, “oops, sorry.”
What’s your story? How do you feel?


IMG_0432It is just a week since Liam and I went on our last walk in the circle of the field Paula and I made for an infirm Tashi some years ago.
I wasn’t aware of anything much, going out as usual, gathering of dogs and me, a leash for Guinnie, no particular clothes – it was a beautiful warm fall day – we marched around the path’s circle, each in our own world sharing the gorgeous morning.
Open to all, I felt enchanted by the change of season, the enormous gift of sky and temperate weather, I turned around to repeat the circuit and was transfixed by the breathtaking view of Indian Mountain with her colors lit. Twenty steps later, Guinnie pulled the leash out of my hand, I turned behind to see Cho, Jules and then Guinnie, heads to the ground where Liam lay. The colors of Liam, always racing through the grass, on the path ahead and behind, were still. My mind could not grasp what I saw as my body reached him, my arms easily pulled him up and we all headed for the house.
In coordinated and purposeful motion we all reached the door, went in, my friend Rosie was here, I called, she drove me to the vet – not ten minutes had passed when I felt his breath gone and we were still a minute away.
I realized not one sound had come from him. He, so heavy in his life, so wiggly with promise and devotion to the next minute, was still and light in  my arms.
Incredible to me how fast change can come to life in death. How full and empty, weak and strong is the moment as it passes. I am always aware and at the same time dumb of change. I talk about it, teach it, this morning a week ago I got a lesson about it, with it, through it. My heart is full and empty, some human confusion in the empty bed and lap, the unseated place, the now extra dishes. When he was a puppy he would bury himself in toys or pillows or bed covers and we would ask, “where’s Liam?” I am asking that now, and every day he tells me a little more, teaching me, loving me from his place, just as always.

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“I have a question about passion”

I am often asked, “how do I recognize passion,” “how will I know what I want to do.”
It is easy for most of us to know that we like one food and not another, cold vs. hot or sweet, sour and the host of life’s daily choices. What I hear getting mixed up is how to separate out the not-so-fun stuff from “life’s bliss.”
Does the “dream” job entail no suffering? Is the “best” relationship without stress. Are children always positive – or negative. Most of you would say, “Of course not!” because (you’re not stupid) you know everything comes with a compromise.
But getting to the nitty of life’s choices can get gritty. Choices are bound up in habit. Habit is a mental construct we’ve agreed to over and over. The whole idea behind a habit is that we don’t think about it. Often we don’t think about anything leading up to it or past it.
That’s great when it comes to reflexes. Not so great with choices. Being an evolved human means we have choices as well as habits – not to mention the whole of our life which is lived without thought at all: digestion and all those great support systems we have without a moment’s conscious regulation.
I harrow the ground of the mind with meditation and mindfulness for the simple reason of free will; our birthright and our slipperiest slope.
How to separate passion from indulgence? Not simple, but here’s my take.
Passion is momentum. It keeps you going whether you want to go or not. If you are looking to follow bliss you will need to keep it going. Most of us get bored with the trinkets of life – days off, no demands – the touchstone of our hearts is where passion lies and it can be slightly different for each one of us.
What doesn’t vary is the momentum of what we do. I have a button that says, “entropy never sleeps.” What that means to me is that if I get caught in a downward spiral it will take discipline to get back up. To the extent that I have a chorus of angels calling my name and cheering for me, I will get on track. And to that same extent, how I have treated myself – discipline/indulgence (I need some of each) – will prepare the process.

But, mind you, we are always on a track – which track do you want to be on?

My Teacher Says

A Teaching by Narayan Helen Liebenson

Reading the papers and listening to the news these days is not for the faint of heart. We may have the perspective that terrible events have always happened, but because of 24/7 media, we are just more informed. Even so, it may be difficult not to react with helplessness, fear, and grief. How can we stay connected to the pain in this world and engage in beneficial ways without becoming caught in emotions that paralyze?
Some yogis try to avoid reading the news because it is all too much. Personally, I’ve never favored this approach, other than when on retreat or when the intention is to disconnect from electronics for a given amount of time. For me, even during the time many years ago when I was hitchhiking around the country, I usually found ways to read the paper. Maybe my mind during that period left much to be desired but I still appreciated being in touch with the wider world.But how to read? Mindfully, of course! You already knew that. Mindful reading, viewing, and listening means awareness of reactions rather than becoming lost in reactions. It also includes awareness of motive. Are you connected or merely provoked? Is attention to the news an addiction or entertainment — or is it a vehicle of connectedness, an invitation to offer metta and compassion to the very real people being read about?One approach to practicing mindfulness while we read or listen to current events is to include attention to the body and the breath. Aware of the belly, aware of an ache in the chest, aware of numbness, tension, temperature. This is difficult in the beginning but becomes easier as we engage with it. Staying connected to the body keeps us connected to the here and now and allows something other than mere reactivity to take place.

By merely reacting, we join the crowd of frustration and fear. By reading, viewing, and listening mindfully, aware of the body, there is a deeper engagement with what with is being received, as well as a growing strength of heart to respond with greater wisdom and compassion. In this way, even if we are “faint of heart”, we can participate more fully in this world of profound pain and also, always, this world of deep inspiration and beauty — the ten thousand sorrows and the ten thousand joys.

 Narayan is one of the teachers at Cambridge Insight Meditation Society. I am a founding member and in the eighties I was happily in her “Old Yogis” (time meditating, nothing about linear years on the planet) group until I moved away. If you have a chance, it is a great and wonderful place of respite. 331 Broadway, Cambridge MA


Are You Home?

We are unique and we are many. Easy to say. Easy to see.
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We see ourselves in the mirror – photo above left – and we see ourselves in our lives – photo above right.
The “real” picture is both, of course, and most of our life is spent dealing with the emotional seesaw that fits us or doesn’t in our lives.
Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with a certain 20 month old that is my granddaughter. She has no difficulty with proportion and context. She is actually lucky that way. So many of us have huge interruptions at her age, and often those who do have life-long battles with self and context.
Her mother, my daughter adopted at the age of ten, has plenty of past disruptions. We’ve been talking about her path and realizing the power of her feelings – crying for one – and its benefits. I remember her crying unconsolably during the first months while we were still in Nepal waiting to come here. She remembers crying so much when my beloved greyhound Zoe died a few months after we were all home.
My granddaughter shows the benefits of crying better than anyone around right now. She howls with frustration, sits red faced and teary for minutes before letting go and joining the life around her. What a great and inspiring wonder of resolution she is.
I took the photo of the flower because as I walked by I realized it was the only thing of its kind in the midst of grasses and clovers and many small green-leafed things of which I have no idea.  So struck was I by its satisfaction to be what it is in a sea of difference. Nothing stopped it from being its fullest self, making its stamens and pistils, its color and fragrance. It wasn’t wilted from being alone, it didn’t take on extra responsibility for being the only representative – I can go on and on as I explore my own feelings.
But I’ll stop here, let you explore your own feelings. How do you cry? When? What happens? How do you love yourself? Are you home?