being here

I am learning to befriend restlessness
To spend fewer moments sleep walking
Or giving into continuous movement
Disguised as productive activity
Learning not to resist by collapsing
Into endless distraction and dissatisfaction
(So many shiny objects disappoint)
I am learning to ground in the scent of here
The taste of what is
The soft sound of my breathing
The colour and texture
Of landscapes- inner and outer
After all these years of longing
I am learning to be

Oriah Mountain Dreamer


It takes both

Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance ~ Osho

What is the goal in the spiritual life? Is it to be happy, to ease or end suffering, to be at all times peaceful and content? I don’t think so. I think that grabbing ahold of any spiritual teaching or religious effort with this goal in mind is misguided. Nirvana isn’t the lack of sadness. Nirvana is this moment, lived completely. Only this one moment. This moment is all we have. To live a life fully, to be engaged and experience what IS, right now, is nirvana. To experience this one precious life, this one precious moment, is to come face to face with sorrow and pain. Not hiding, not numbing, not covering over. Being with the sorrow, sitting with the pain. It is the path of non-resistance.

We all want to be happy. We all want to feel joy. But joy and happiness don’t come alone. Sorrow and pain are their shadow companions. In order to experience life fully, to dive into joy, to dance with happiness, sorrow and pain must also be acknowledged. They also must take a turn on the dance floor. To reject and hide from pain is to lesson your ability to experience joy. To live in this moment, fully engaged and awake, we must welcome the dark as well as the light. Without fear, without reservation. We must be willing to dive into sorrow with the same abandon as we dive into joy. In doing this, we find the treasures hidden and come away changed.

And what are these treasures? I’ll speak of one: a heart that becomes increasingly more open. To dance with sorrow is to learn compassion, for ourselves first and then for others. We learn to walk softly with others, to recognize the pain hiding behind the bluster of those who previously irritated us. Our hearts become more open to the suffering of others as we become slowly aware that they desire the same happiness and struggle with the same brokenness. An open heart is the shining reward for sitting with pain. Open to life, open to others, open to receive all that this precious life pours forth daily, hourly, in each moment.


How many of us are there who had stoic, iron-willed fathers who insisted their children keep a stiff upper lip? How much suffering has been caused by our continuing as adults to hold ourselves to impossible standards, to deny weakness? To resist suffering is to run straight into its arms. To become liberated from suffering, it must be embraced, shown kindness and compassion, invited in for tea. Anthony’s death was the crowning lesson in facing suffering squarely and letting it be.

And yet, life continues to teach. We don’t learn important lessons all at once. The process is long and merciless. Life will not allow us to skip a grade. Step by tremulous step, trembling and fearful we continue, day by day, moment by moment. And then, suddenly – there it is! The next lesson, the unexpected arrow, the quivering and wounded soul taken by surprise once again.

The pain of watching a loved one suffer is unique. We can come to a place of acceptance with our own pain. We can learn to invite it in, sit it down, say welcome. Say sit, let me care for you tenderly. But what if the pain is another’s? What if we are forced to watch a loved one suffer? What then? How do we allow this pain to have a place at our table?

With Crohn’s Disease, suffering and stress cause flare, cause illness. Being ill is its own challenge. I always felt I was letting Daddy down when I was ill. Why couldn’t I control my illness? I was a sickly child, bronchial asthma, in and out of hospital. Unfortunately, to make it all the more unbearable, there was a misunderstanding of asthma in those days. There was a suspicion that the ill child was somehow making itself sick. That control of emotions would bring health. So my father was often disgusted with my illness. His disapproval stung me without a word. When there were words, they were like arrows piercing my heart. I was filled with guilt and shame.

I still struggle with guilt and shame when I am ill. On a normal day, when my pain is manageable and I have some energy to care for everyday tasks, I push through. But the days and weeks when I am not able to manage the pain, when I am too bone-weary to do simple tasks, I am filled with shame. I know in my head that this is wrong. One day, my heart will finally understand. Perhaps on that day I will be able to be a better friend to myself when I am ill.

And the guilt and shame arise when a loved one is suffering. I feel deeply my own failure. Why could I not prevent this suffering? Why could I not protect and save them? I know it’s illogical to believe that I can keep those I love from pain. And yet, there it is. The guilt. The shame. The taste of failure, bitter on my tongue.

This rambling has no real purpose. There are no easy answers. All I am able to do, at this point, is to notice. I notice that I am filled with guilt and shame. I listen to the accusations, to the inner voice turned suddenly against me. I try to pause, to take a few breaths, to allow these feelings place. To grant myself compassion and kindness. I try and then I try again. All the while staring into the darkness, thinking how lovely it would be to just stop. For the pain to just stop. For my failures to just stop. For life to just stop.

All day I find myself whispering, “I’m sorry”. Whispering to the grandchildren I have lost. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you. Whispering to my children. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I failed you. I’m sorry my love wasn’t enough to prevent you from a life of pain and chaos. Whispering to this precious child who now suffers. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I tried so hard to help, to protect, to be the bridge to wellness. I failed. It feels unforgivable. I’m sorry, Daddy. I’m sorry I’m sick. I’m sorry I’ve failed again and again and again.

I’m sorry.

rethinking religion – repost from 2010

Reposting these thoughts from 5 years ago. And so it continues, in all it’s changes; from chaos to clarity, from longing for certainty to comfort with groundlessness, from grief at the loss to joy at the inexpressible spaciousness of mystery, from clinging or resisting dead twigs to immersion into the wild, juicy freshness of now.


“To be nobody but yourself  in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”  e.e. cummings

I think I’m beginning the process of remembering the good from the almost 20 years I spent identified as a christian.  I’ve had a lot of anger — some directed toward the church and some self-directed.  Now that the anger is beginning to clear a bit, I’m starting to remember the good and to understand a little why I lost myself and what returned me to myself.

That is probably the best thing my spiritual quest brought me.  It returned me to myself.

I remember clearly when I began to imagine that there might be a spiritual realm that co-existed somehow with the physical.  I was in my early 30s, a confirmed atheist of 17 years.  I’d taken a world religions and philosophies class at the local junior college, having heard it was good.  And it was!  I absolutely loved the instructor and the class itself was fascinating.  I was especially taken with Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism.

I felt a long-slumbering part of me begin to stir.  I began to re-imagine reality.  I even started to imagine a divine creator or mother.

Then I took a sharp turn.  I had what I felt was a “spiritual experience” – a vision of sorts.  Not to get bogged down in details of which I have yet to answer the questions as to what to do with all of my religious experiences … I’ll just say that going the Jesus Way became my quest.

When I first started church – I fell hard into it all.   I spent every minute in the church that it was open – listening, watching, taking copious notes. I began a 2-decade long study of the bible, which never lost its passion for me – even after I stopped mindlessly believing what other folks said and began studying in the hebrew, greek and aramaic.  Even after seeing how many things were mistranslated.  How the divine was sanitized of all of her feminine attributes and names.  How the patriarchal leaders twisted things.  Even after learning and understanding that the authorship of the books were misrepresented and reading ‘banned’ gospels — still, I loved the book.  Now loved as a collection of sacred poetry and wisdom, similar to the Tao Te Ching or the Upanishads.  Beautiful, poetic, even instructional when read metaphorically and with the right spirit.

But I digress.

As I continued on in my own spiritual quest, I couldn’t help but notice that there were few of us lining the pews that were really searching.  Most were sort of just there, out of habit or obligation or fear.  Whatever.

I learned who the passionate followers were and hung out with them.  My prayers began to be quieter.  I spent a lot of time meditating, listening.  I started hard work on myself.  I began the quest for authenticity that led me to where I am today.

I can see that in my years searching for God and seeking to be pleasing to the divine, I underwent massive healing in my emotions and memories.  I forgave, I processed.  I learned how to inspect myself, to search out the motives behind my words and actions.  I discovered a well-spring of compassion and tenderness I’d kept hidden as a younger person.

I never quite ‘fit’ into church.  I was too doubtful, too questioning, too confrontational. I never went for the “only those who say the prayer right get into heaven” story.  It just didn’t jive with what I had learned of God in the book.  I argued that the loving heart of this divine being would reach into the heart of a seeker regardless of their sex, age, culture, geography, time period, etc.  I never lost my love of other religions – they added richness and texture to what I believed as a christian.

This made me a bit unpopular with the church leaders.  As were my views and arguments on submission and women’s place in home, church and society, homosexuality, masturbation and other sexual matters, hell as a real place, life on other planets….well, I could go on.

Anyway.  Where I’ve been going with this is that I’ve begun to appreciate my own personal spiritual path.  Yes, I took the long way to come back to myself.  But it wasn’t a complete waste of time.

And really, some of my anger at losing myself in the church is misplaced.  I’d already lost myself, long before church.  Of course, once I was in church, the die was cast.  At least it was, until my own truth became important to me again.

So here I am – out at 50.  Late to the game.  Late to myself.  Late to life.  But still, here at last.

I’m still processing.  Still allowing myself to sit with my memories and the emotions they bring.  The sadness, the anger, the grief, the regret, the frustration, the eventual peace.  Peace because this has been my life.  Yes, my way has been twisted and the path strewn with obstacles, but it has been my path. Every bit of it – the sorrow, the anguish, the joy and the gladness – are mine.  They’ve informed me, they’ve transformed me.  I refuse to negate any of it.

And if there are a few who won’t understand where I am and where I’ve been, so be it.  I may be misunderstood, but not by myself.  I know who I am and I love who I am becoming.  I even love who I was.

Someone once told me never to look back.  They said to look forward, because you won’t be able to see where you’re going if you’re looking behind you.  I get what they’re saying, but I no longer agree.  In life, we face the past.  We may try to crane our neck to see the future, but we cannot.  The future remains unknown and uncertain.  We can, however, fully face the richness of the vista laid out before us – our own path, be it winding, twisted, straight…uphill and down, through mountain passes and deep forests, past long dry stretches of arid desert plains…to where we stand in this present moment.

And as I stand in the ‘here and now’, looking outward over the ‘there and then’, I begin to make out the order and beauty in the twists and turns my life has taken.  And I bow to my past in reverence and wonder, as the unknown future rushes ever into view.  And I’m thankful to be awake, to be noticing, to be alive.

“I’ve not forgotten the song of those dark years, the song of the starved soul.  But neither have I forgotten the joyous, deep song … the words of which come back to us when we do the work of soulful reclamation.”  Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As I’ve been getting reacquainted with my soul, I’ve rediscovered its oddities and eccentricities. I must say, I’ve come to realize that my individuality is born in these quirks and unexpected shadow tendencies of my soul, more so than in normality and conformity.

Besides, as that great dame Katherine Hepburn said, “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun!”

Awhile back, I seem to have crossed a line. One I don’t intend to step back over. I heard my soul shout, “I will be who I am“!It was as though I’d awakened into this new place where the climate was twice as bracing as the old; I was invigorated by the more oxygen-rich air. I’ll not turn back. I’ll not climb back in the box.

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. (From the gospel of Thomas)

unlocking the softness

Maybe the most important teaching is to lighten up and relax. It’s such a huge help in working with our crazy mixed-up minds to remember that what we’re doing is unlocking a softness that is in us and letting it spread. We’re letting it blur the sharp corners of self-criticism and complaint. ~ Pema Chödrön

I love this quote very much. I needed it about now. I’ve been busy beating myself up for perceived failures and shortcomings for weeks. I’ve assigned to myself responsibility for the pain and crisis my best loved ones have been living through and that isn’t right. I’ve tried to talk myself out of this warped perspective with logic, to little success. But this thought, to lighten up and relax, helped me take a deep breath and feel release. Once again this humble and wise teacher helps me remember what it is I am doing.

art by Joanne Rose
art by Joanne Rose