In a nutshell


The squirrel absentmindedly chewed into the acorn. It was bitter, a little soft. She thought of herself as a bit of a gourmand when it came to acorns. She had learned in her eight autumns exactly when acorns were best, and which ones lasted through a cold winter buried in the ground. She told herself that her memory was impeccable, that every acorn she buried she found.

This was not true, of course. It was how the Creator had made squirrels. If they remembered all the acorns, no new trees would take root. The only reason they remembered where some of the nuts were was so they could survive to plant again for another season. Squirrels were designed to plant trees – nothing else. This is why their meat wasn’t safe to eat. Sure, in desperation, you could eat a few squirrels, but you had to be careful. Wild ones carried parasites. Hunters learned to take them after the first frost to be safe. Those who weren’t in a survival situation, not driven desperate by lack of food or money to buy it, would kill them, clean them (always examining the liver for signs of disease) and put them in the deep freezer to ensure any parasites were taken care of. But most people didn’t bother with squirrels. Too much work for so little meat. “Tree rats,” they were called, too. That was also a plan of the Creator. Have us not notice them, not even think of them as food, but as vermin. Not bad enough to be exterminated like rats, but enough to make you not have squirrel on the menu very often.

This squirrel had successfully made it enough years to plant all the trees that she was required to plant. Anything that she did after this was extra. Was this a form of squirrel retirement? Of a sort. She didn’t know it, of course. She didn’t even know how long she’d been alive. Every day was her birthday in her mind. It was always a special surprise just to wake up, to traipse about the forest. Everything was a joy, because she had nothing to compare it to. Every day was a new day – not better or worse than the one before. She had no family that she knew of – all squirrels were her family. All worked together as the need arose. Sure, there were squabbles now and then, but they never lasted long, much as with people who were stoned. They couldn’t remember anything long enough to be upset about it. Life was easier that way.

This squirrel had a special gift. She was an artist. But just like with planting trees, she was unaware of who she truly was. She didn’t think of herself as a gardener, or an artist, or even a squirrel. She didn’t think of herself at all. Her mind was not filled with thoughts about what she should do next or how to do it. There is no internal monologue, no comparison, no angst. Every moment was the first moment, the only moment.

She finally bit through to the core of the acorn. In one sudden snap she discovered why it was so different from all the others – so dark so bitter, so lightweight. The acorn was hollow, eaten out at least a week before by a tiny worm. She’d not noticed the tiny hole it had left as evidence of its meal, like a tiny breaking and entering. He’d cleaned out the shell of anything valuable, carrying it away in his belly. Then the damp had gotten in and darkened what remained, turning it sour.

She stopped absentmindedly chewing once she reached the void that remained. This moment was new. It needed to be memorialized. It was simply different – not good or bad. While she had hoped for a meal, she got an opportunity to create. She put down the husk and scampered about to find something suitable to place inside. It would be a sign to whoever found it to slow down, to notice, to pay attention. She found the tender tip of an evergreen and bit it off. It took a little effort to get it inside the nut bowl. Then she placed another tiny leaf. Her artwork was done, her masterpiece of the day. She carefully placed it on a stone to the side of the path. It wouldn’t do to have it stepped on and crushed.

Unintentionally she had placed it at a crossroads in the garden. This was a place where the stepping-stones merged to a center point – a larger stone telling the visitor to stop. In the language of this garden it was as effective as a red traffic sign.

Three days later the visitor found the creation. She’d come to the garden to celebrate her birthday. A special day required a special event, and a trip to this garden on the other side of town was in order.

She was dazzled by her luck. While it was almost December, the Japanese maples and Bradford pears were still wearing their autumn best – all cranberry reds and pumpkin oranges. The starkness of winter had not yet reached this special place.

Her eyes were used to the special beauty of her birth month, with its blue skies as clear and clean as a mountain lake, and the lightning-bright bark of the white birch trees finally able to take center stage now that their leaves had disappeared. No, November’s joys weren’t flashy like those from March through August. Those born in her embrace had softer eyes, attuned to subtle beauty. They had to be, or else all they saw was gray and damp.

She’d been dazzled by the unexpected exuberance of the garden and stopped to catch her breath at the center stone in the garden. It was then that she saw it. Perhaps she had been primed by the tsukubai nearby.



That was filled with rainwater and submerged leaves – an unintentional autumn vignette. This tiny acorn husk, propped on a nearby accent stone, resembled it in miniature, a perfect complement to this particular Japanese garden, compact as it was.

She stooped down to examine this tiny surprise and discovered the treasures within. What a marvel! In that moment she achieved satori. Perfection in a nutshell. There was no need to go through with any of her other birthday plans. This tiny unintentional gift was enough to keep her happy for the upcoming year. If it had been presented to her, it would not have been the same. An afterthought, an accidental surprise, a pause on the way to somewhere else – it was enough and everything at the same time. She was complete.


Stomach distress?

I’m noticing that many people right now are experiencing stomach distress.  They believe they have the flu or some virus.  I believe that their distress is unprocessed emotions related to the current political climate in the United States, which isn’t very “united” right now.

Many people were very surprised by the results of the election, and held out hopes that something unusual would happen to change it.  They waited until after the Electoral College voted to admit that their fears had been realized.  Now they are protesting everything that they are learning about.  People who were politically inactive before are now glued to whatever news they can get.

What you focus on expands.  What you think about, you are. If all you focus on is bad, that is all you will see.  Anger and fear leads to more of the same.

Life is all about choice.  You have a choice as to what you read or do or think, but first you must become aware.  You must become mindful of what is going on at the deepest level.

The stomach processes some of our most basic emotions – fear, anger, grief.  We feel things “at a gut level”.  We are “gutted” when something terrible happens.  Our stomach not just processes food, but feelings.  Our entire body is a sensory organ, and each unique organ receives and processes external stimuli in unique ways.  We accept that we see with our eyes and hear with our ears, but few people are yet able to understand that we have many other senses that are registered throughout the amazing gift of our corporeal forms.

When we are unable or unwilling to accept the reality of the messages that our bodies are sending us, we start to think that the messages ARE us.  We are able to understand that what we see through our eyes is simply a vision.  It is an observed phenomenon.  If we see a bird in flight, it does not mean that we are a bird.  Likewise, it is important to separate the sensations we experience through our other body parts from our selves, our being.  We do not have to be angry when we feel anger.  It is just a feeling, a sensation.

The purpose of being awakened isn’t to feel joyful all the time.  The purpose is to feel – everything – in a mindful and detached way.  You are not the feeling – you are feeling the feeling, just like you are seeing the birds fly above you.

It helps to be rooted in a faith that there is a guiding force that is over all things.  Having faith that the political leaders are not the true leaders is healthy and healing.

You must take care of your body in order to take care of your spirit.  There is nothing new here – diet and exercise count now more than ever.  Make healthy food choices.  Stress eating, eating “comfort food”, will bring your body and spirit down. Get regular exercise.  Just going for a short walk every day is excellent.  More is better.  Don’t overdo it, though, because that becomes a distraction.  It is important to be present.

Learn to be OK with sitting still in silence.  The need to constantly be busy is an addictive behavior the same as smoking cigarettes or drinking. Substance abuse isn’t just about drugs, but anything and everything. Doing anything mindlessly can be harmful to your body and spirit.

Having to check social media, read a book, or do chores can all be distractions.  Balance is what is necessary here. It is good to read a book – but if you feel anxiety if you are without one, then it is time to sit with that feeling and listen to it.  It is a sign that you feel a need to escape.  Use your feelings, regardless of what they are, to learn.  Do not run from “bad” feelings – they are trying to teach you that something is out of balance in your life.

Instead of protesting – of saying what you are against, spend your energy on building up.  What are you for?  What will bring healing to your community?  Who is hurting? Who is marginalized?  Go help them.  Go be a force for good.  Do what you can with what you have.  Your little efforts count.  Join with others to do more.  Don’t wait for the government to help – those times are over.  Be the change you wish to see.  Teach an immigrant child how to read and write.  Learn a foreign language.  Build a home for a homeless person. Teach a class on money management. Learn nonviolent conflict resolution.

Focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t.  Spend more time on figuring out how you can do something instead of coming up with excuses for why you can’t.  Don’t blame others for your own choices.

Poem – afterlife

Nobody can tell you
where the flame goes
after it is
blown out,
so how do we know
where the soul goes
we die?
How do we know
there is more,
there is life after life?

Is it a bedtime story we tell
(our children, ourselves)
to keep away the boogeyman,
the things that go bump in the night?

Now is all we have.
Why worry about
the afterlife
and waste the life you have?

Live before you die.

If there is an afterlife,
let it be a bonus,
an extra.
Don’t let it be your only,
because it might not be.
Don’t worry
about whether
it is
or is not,
because that steals away
from the life you have,

Vicious circle – on codependency

I know a few people who are having a hard time accepting what is happening to them right now. I’m really worried, and I want to help them. If only they could accept the reality of the situation they are in, things will start to get better. If only they could stop hoping and wishing that things were different, they’d start to heal.

Sometimes we are the ones who have to make a change. Sometimes we are in bad situations that are presented to us because we are the ones who are supposed to fix them.

But sometimes things just can’t be changed. Sometimes things are just as they are, and there is no getting around them.

Sometimes the only way is to go through the grief and the pain, and to see it for what it is.

But then I realized I’m doing the very same thing. I’m not accepting the reality of the situation. I’m not accepting that their pain and inability to face it is in fact the reality.

It is all a great big circle of codependency.

Poem – the moon does not change

The moon does not change.
We do.

The moon, with its waxing
and waning
its new and old,
the moon is the same
to the moon.

It is us who change,
us who move.

It is our tilt, our time, that is different.

We forget this.

We mark time by the moon, the months of our lives.
We celebrate, we howl, we dance,
all based on the moon
and how it reflects the light of the sun.

The moon doesn’t change.

It is still the same moon, reflecting the same sun, day by night,
night by day.

All the time, up in the sky, it is reflecting
the rays of the sun to someone.

Your day is another’s night,
after all.

So when we howl, when we dance, when we celebrate
what are we marking?

Why do we use the moon, the same moon,
to tell us
when it is time
to dance, to howl, to celebrate?

Perhaps because we have no other way
to say
that time
is passing by

Pay attention.

The winters only come once a year.
We can mark time by them, but then
it is too late
to change

The moon reminds us faster, and more kindly.

Yet we need to remember
that the moon doesn’t change.
We do.

Poem – Spring’s progression

First the redbuds, then the dogwoods
then jonquils
then irises.

They come, in that order, marching
into our lives, heralding

They flower together only in our minds.
They flower one by one,
in the slow progression of time.

None see the others in their prime.
The dogwood’s bloom dusts the ground
that the iris dances upon.

Time and time and time
and more.

We mark it by the flowers.

We know when is when by our eyes
and not by the calendar.

Soon the twilight will be lit up by fireflies.
A different kind of bloom,
but still a marking of time.

You are here, now, they say.
Enjoy it.
Soon there will be another delight, they say.
Enjoy it.

It won’t last, but that is part
of the beauty.

It is always Friday

There was a great sci-fi series called Farscape. There was an episode in the first season called “Thank God it’s Friday…Again”. In it, the residents of the planet were drugged into working every day. Every day they were told that the next day was going to be a “rest period”. Every day they worked joyfully, and then they partied at night. Then they would get up again and work hard in the fields again, thinking it was Friday, again.

It was genius, really. Convince them that they were almost there.

It was the carrot just out of reach.

It was the Promised Land.

It was retirement.

It was a vacation.

They were always living for some other time, some time other than when they were right then. They were happy because they were about to rest, but the rest never came. They were getting exhausted because they never really got to rest. They were duped by a society that drugged them into compliance.

Sound familiar?

Our society teaches us this. We are taught to live for the future. We are taught that there is a mythical tomorrow where everything is going to be better and brighter and happier. We are drugged by television “reality” shows and five hour energy drinks. We are drugged by too much of the wrong kind of food. We are drugged by ads that tell us “you deserve this”. We are drugged all the time and we don’t even know it.

I’ve heard of prisoners who were taught to meditate. They were taught not to focus on their lives that they imagined were going to be like once they were released. They were taught not to focus on what they had done to get in prison. They were taught to just be, in the moment, right then. Just feel the feelings that are happening right now.

We are all in prison and we don’t even know it. There is a prison without walls. It is the prison of culture that tells us that we aren’t good enough, and beautiful enough, not smart enough. It tells us that we simply just aren’t enough, no matter what.

We can do the same meditation the prisoners do. We can be, right here, feeling our feelings right now. We’ve been taught to run away from our feelings, from ourselves, from our lives. We spend so much time living in the past or the future that we never spend time actually in the now. Now is all we have.

So it isn’t Friday. It isn’t even Thursday. It is Monday, or Tuesday, and you aren’t there yet. It isn’t retirement. It is just your third year on the job, and you’ve got at least 20 more to go. It isn’t the Bahamas, it is the Bronx.

Be here now. Be right here. If you aren’t happy where you are, then you won’t be happy there either. If you don’t appreciate what you have, then why would you appreciate what you are going to get?

Stop living for the future. It never comes. When you get to the future that you’ve dreamed of, you’ll have spent so much of your life living in a fantasy that you won’t know how to just be in the moment, right then. It is better to start just being in the moment. Practice now.

Today is your “rest period”. What you have now is now. Enjoy it. Even if you are at work. Even if you are in a miserable marriage. Even if you are sick.

Be. Now. Here.

Be NowHere.


Good Morning

I’m reassessing how I do my mornings. I have an alarm clock set for 6:30, but I don’t seem to be able to get out of bed until 7ish. It is very frustrating. I’d like to think that I am in control. It reminds me of my struggles with any addiction. There are things I want to do that I know are good for me, yet I seem helpless to do them.

So I’m thinking about it. Why can’t I get up? What is the problem?

I don’t need to get up that early. I just want to. I want to have more time to write or paint or do yoga. I deeply resent having to spend 40 hours of my week at work. That is a lot of my waking time. It is a lot of my life. Thirty hours would be reasonable but that isn’t an option. Not only is that not something my workplace will even consider because of how the pension plan is set up, I’m not sure we could afford that kind of pay cut.

I find that it is hard to get up early for several reasons.

I usually stay up late to read. I don’t have much time to read otherwise. Back to the 40 hour work week. My main chunks of time, other than work, are spent asleep. I shoehorn in exercise, visits with friends, and everything else I want to do or need to do. I don’t have a lot of time to read. Or I don’t make a lot of time. I read at lunch, but right before bed seems to be the best. I’m not in a rush. Sometimes at night I really get into a book though and it is hard to stop. Then I don’t get enough sleep and I’m tired in the morning.

Another issue is my husband. He has to leave for work before I do but it is always a scene of frazzlement in our house when he is getting ready. The center of our house is the kitchen. It is where our computers are, and where he has all his work gear. It is the biggest room in our tiny house.

If I try to start my day while he is trying to leave the house it is the exact opposite of calm for me. It is not a good start for my day to be in that whirlwind. Ideally, he’d leave earlier, but running late is his normal. I can fight it or accept it and just get out of the way and not let this train run me over.

So I’m trying this. I’ve brought my Kindle into the bedroom. I can write for a bit, out of the madness that is the morning here. I can choose to start my day calmly.

It isn’t about the situation. It is about my reaction to the situation. That’s the key to everything. I can fight it or work with it or around it. My choice.


I had a meeting with a different spiritual director while at the retreat. She is the lady who is hosting it. I scheduled for just thirty minutes in the afternoon. I figured by then I’d be a little antsy and want a break from the whole silent thing.

Last time I was going stir crazy around 2 pm on Saturday. This time, not so much. This time I feel like I’m almost overscheduled. This time I don’t have a four hour block of time with nothing specific to do. Some of that is because I’ve got to keep going into the conference room and check on the prayer bracelet station. I’ve got to tie them and make sure the supplies are stocked.

I feel oddly calm and yet there’s more I can’t quite name. Maybe because I’ve done this, here, before. I brought stuff to work on. I know it isn’t like Cursillo. I know where everything is. I know the schedule.

But I digress. This usually means I’m trying to avoid something. So, let’s plunge on in. The best way to confront a fear is to face it.

She asked me what had I intended for this retreat. What was I trying to get out of it?

I had decided not to intend anything. I think that is part of my problem. I plan, and then either I’m disappointed or I only look for that intention.

I will set an intention before yoga and by the time the class is over I’ve learned something entirely different. I’ve received a different gift, and it wasn’t what I expected.

The last time we were together, my usual spiritual director had asked me how would I feel if I knew Jesus was standing behind a door with his arms full of gifts for me. Would I open the door?

So this lady went with that. She told me to imagine that Jesus has a gift for me right now. What is it?

We closed our eyes and I imagined this.

Here’s Jesus, all smiles, and he has a gift. It is wrapped up in shiny blue paper. No bow. Tidy wrapping job. I take off the paper. I’m pretty excited. This is a gift from Jesus, so it has to be good, right? He knows me better than anybody, and has my best interests at heart. It’s going to be awesome.

It’s a wrench. It is a used wrench, in fact. There’s oil on it. Not on the handle, but on the adjusting part.

Confused? Sure. Crestfallen? Definitely. I’m a bit hurt. What the heck am I going to do with a wrench?

Uh, thanks, but no thanks, buddy. It is this kind of thoughtlessness that is the reason I hate Christmas.

So the director asked me to sit with this feeling a bit. What does this mean? Ask Jesus why he gave me a wrench.

“It is for your heart” he says. To loosen it up. To stop being so tight and rigid. To be more playful, more childlike. To not have so many rules and limitations.

The more I decide how things have to be, the less I’m allowing them to just be the way they are.

It is like a bonsai. The more you force a plant into a certain shape, the less you are letting it grow the way God wants it to grow.

Something about organic and trust is in there. Not resisting. Acceptance. Being open to possibility.

I wasn’t really happy about this to start off with. Jesus should love me as I am, right? This sounds a little mean, giving me a wrench. I felt it was like going up to a friend and saying that she isn’t pretty enough, so here’s some makeup.

Nope, it isn’t that at all. True friends want the best for you. They want you to grow into your full potential. They challenge you. They call you on your BS too.

If I truly believe that Jesus is my friend, then I have to believe that he wants the best for me. I have to believe that this is an awesome gift, and exactly what I need, and in fact exactly what I’ve been looking for but I just didn’t know it.

So, a wrench. Why? I asked.

Because a seed doesn’t grow into a flower unless it is watered. It needs work. The seed is great as a seed. Jesus isn’t saying that I’m broken. He’s just saying that if I want to be better, then here’s the tool, and here’s the part that needs work.

So why is it oily and used, I asked?

Because he’s already broken it in for me. It is ready to go. Smooth action.

Then I get silly and realize that wrenches are used on nuts, which are just beads after all. They are hexagonal metal beads, with spiral holes.

Now I want to make a bracelet with nuts and wire.

But it isn’t about that. It is important not to iconize this. It isn’t about the symbol but what the symbol points toward.

While writing this I got a snack of hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows, and honey graham crackers shaped like teddy bears. I think this is a good start.

(Written on retreat, around 3 pm on 1-18-14)

On process and pain – chewing the steak.

We all have problems. Don’t identify with your problem.

You aren’t an addict. You aren’t an abuse survivor. You aren’t a cancer patient.

With the new guidelines for talking about children with disabilities, we are supposed to talk about the child first, and the disability second. He isn’t an autistic child. He is a child with autism. He is a person first. He isn’t defined by his diagnosis.

Apply the same rules to yourself. You are a person first. The diagnosis is second. It isn’t you. It isn’t who you are. It affects you, certainly. But you are so much more.

When you define yourself by your diagnosis, you are giving it power, and you are diminishing your own.

Now, you also aren’t going to win any friends if you are constantly talking about your terrible childhood or your abusive husband or your sciatica or how you have to take care of your Mom with Alzheimer’s.

We all have problems. We all have something we have struggled with. Sometimes we have overcome it. Sometimes not. Sometimes it seems we can’t ever catch a break. But if you only talk about this, you are going to be lonely. The only companion you will have will be your problems.

Buddhism has a story that speaks to this. A lady’s child had died, and she was unable to accept it. She carried her dead child around the village, going to every house asking for medicine. They were all horrified. One kind person suggested she go to the teacher and sent her to Buddha. Buddha told her to go to each house and ask if they had experienced a death in the family. If nobody had died in that family, she was to get a mustard seed from them. She was to collect all the mustard seeds and bring them back to Buddha, who would then make a medicine for her.

She went all over the village and wasn’t able to find a single family that had not experienced death. She came to realize that her experience wasn’t unique or special. She came to realize that death was part of life, and to hold onto it and identify with it was causing her more problems than the death itself.

Simply going to each person’s house, she created her own medicine. Buddha taught her to look outside of herself, and to not identify herself with her suffering.

How often do we hold on to our pains and sufferings, just like that lady carried around her dead child? How often do we think we are alone in our suffering, that we have it worse than anybody else?

We all suffer. That is just part of life. Holding onto it makes it worse. Accept your loss and your pain, but don’t identify with it. Accept it, because to not accept it means to not process it.

Pain, like a big steak, needs to be chewed thoroughly to be digested. Choke it down and you’ll get sick. Spit it out and you’ll miss the lessons it has to teach you.

Pain teaches us about holding on and letting go. It teaches us about what we think we have to have in our lives and what we really need. It teaches us to accept, and live in the now, rather than in the past or the future.

The past never was as awesome as we think it was. Even in the past we were looking back to “the good old days” and thinking about how great things will be “if only I get…if only I can have…when I finish…” In the future we will do the same thing.

The only island is now. When we aren’t on that island, we are drowning in the sea, stuck away from the solid stability of that island. The past isn’t real. The future isn’t real. The more we live there, the more we are missing out on the only real thing that is, and that is now.

How to get back to now? Start looking at it. Start being thankful for it. Make a gratitude list. Notice what you have, right now, and be thankful.

Pain teaches us about ourselves.

Once we are through chewing on it, we need to swallow it, and then digest it. Then it does its work and then we have to let it go. Holding into pain is just like holding onto poop. We get sick if we can’t eliminate our toxins. But it still has to go through us, all the way. Resist it, fight against it, and you’ll only hurt yourself. Just like a tree in a strong wind, if you don’t bend, you’ll break.