The Parting Words of the Mystic Anthony deMello

How do you get a person from Point A to Point B? You give them a map. If you’re the mystic Anthony de Mello, you might be more like a mountain sherpa, leading people up a road that forces you to pay attention to your steps, breathe the air deeply, look around and observe the view in awe, and make it as wordless an experience as possible.

Those who know of Antony deMello probably know of the circumstances of his death. Born in India, he became Jesuit in his teens. As a priest, he developed his calling as a retreat master, teacher, and writer. As such, his popularity grew tremendously in the eighties.

His talent was his ability to zero in on spiritual truths that transcended dogma, culture, and even words. People were simply drawn to “Tony” because he clearly was walking the walk. As a pied piper of mystics, he implored his followers to come on the journey to awareness–to leave the sad, confused, world behind and wake up!

From May 20-25, 1987, Tony delivered a seminar in Pune, India, to an estimated 300 priests and nuns. He expected to deliver it a few days later in the United States. Sadly, that seminar never happened. Tony passed away very unexpectedly in New York the night before he was to deliver it.
His brother Bill de Mello, who has authored Tony’s biography, The Happy Wanderer, was able to collect detailed notes from the participants of the Pune sessions and put together a transcript of that last seminar–the same one that the US participants were robbed of by his untimely death. So this book, Swansong, is a true blessing to be shared! It’s our last chance hear what he had to say–to hear the words that wound up being his Swansong.

The book is short and organized by the days in which the presentations were delivered. Each day had an overarching theme, with a progression from awareness through love, holiness, the ineffability of God, “living” with God through meditation, and finally, release of ego.

Many mystics have provided a similar road map, which often start with the opening the heart and end with the abandonment of self. This short book is not a long, daunting tour through seven mansions, like St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle; nor is it a pedantic treatise on the mystic way, like Evelyn Underhill.

This mystic journey more like a fun adventure–a road trip with a sherpa who had a darned great time pointing out the scenery. This sherpa tells jokes, he tells you how wise you are to have embarked on this trip and he tells you to put away the guide book and just see and hear and experience and be.

Here are some of my favorite quotes for each Day:

Day One. 20th May 1987

We humans have scriptures and all we do is feed on words. It’s like going to a restaurant and eating the menu.

The finest act of love you can perform is not an act of service but an act of contemplation, of seeing. When you serve people, you support, alleviate pain. When you see them in their inner beauty and goodness, you transform and create.

Day Two. 21st May 1987

In a conflict between Nature and your brain, back Nature; if you fight her, she will eventually destroy you. The secret therefore is to improve on Nature in harmony with Nature. How can you achieve this harmony?

Think of some change that you wish to bring about in your life or in your personality. Are you attempting to force this change on yourself through effort and through teh desire to become something that your ego has planned? That is the serpent fighting the dove. Or are you content to study, observe, understand, be aware of your present state and problems, without pushing, without forcing things that your ego desires, leaving reality to effect changes according to Nature’s plans, not yours? Then you have the perfect blending of the serpent and the dove.

We are here, not to change the world but to love the world and in that love, change may come. If I try to change you and you don’t change, I have resentment. And if I think I have change you, I take pride. Remember – Love is – clarity of perception, accuracy of response.

Day Three. 22nd May 1987

Life to those who have the ears to hear is a symphony; but very, very rare indeed is the human being who hears the music. Why? Because they are busy listening to the noises that their conditioning and their programming have put into their heads. That and something else–their attachments. An attachment is a major killer of life.

Once you pick up these attachments you become a slave to them. Then comes the tension and anxiety which are the very death of love and the joyful freedom that love brings. Love and freedom are only found when one enjoys each note of a symphony as it arises, and then allows it to go, so as to be fully receptive to the notes that follow.

Day Four. May 23rd 1987

When you drop your illusions, you get a sense of space and time. Mystics get this sense of timelessness; of eternity, of everlasting joy; because they have dropped their illusions.

Once a projection is screened before us, we make it a concept–static. When we create concepts we bring out our paintbrushes. We pain things good or bad, according to the concepts we have created. The Mystic does not paint it. The mystic sees everything with a clean slate and experiences what he sees in present moment freshness each and every time.

I can’t put into words what I’ve seen. But now I make a formula and instead of seeing what I am pointing to, I cling to the formula. Therefore your biggest obstacle to finding God is the concept: ‘God.’

Day Five. May 24th 1987

Reality cannot be known through concepts; much less, this reality we call God. He is not virtue and not vice. He is not light and He is not darkness. What is wrong is the use we make of the Bible. Don’t believe that reading the Scriptures will do you any good, unless you start working on yourself. You will not understand the Bible unless your mind, heart and eyes are clean; or else, you give it all sorts of interpretations to suit your own fears.

In order to meditate, you do not need to read the Bible. Instead examine your body, the five senses, the functioning of your mind.

I often hear, ‘I have no time to meditate.’ This is like saying ‘I have no time to breathe.’ Are you awake the entire day? Are you aware of your being, your surroundings? Are you aware of the sounds around you? The colours of nature which beautify this earth we live in? Of the melody of birds singing in the early hours of the morning or late evening? Of the sound of the breeze rustling through the branches of a tree? Staying ‘awake’ and being ‘aware’ for the entire day is meditation. Then you will realise that life is useless, worthless, not worth living, without consciousness. When walking in the jungle, you keep your eyes open to keep your feet from getting hurt. Likewise in life, in your relationships, find time to take the blindfold off.

A man comes regularly into a bar and ‘driving’ an imaginary car he ‘parks’ it in the bar. One day someone tells the bartender to tell him his bar is not a parking lot. ‘Why should I?’ says the bartender. ‘He gives me 10 dollars a week for parking here. If your illusion suit me, I don’t  mind stringing you along.

Swansong–Day Six, May 25th 1987

Remembering is an obstacle to seeing.  ‘Now’ is another name for love.

It isn’t as if God is the big dancer and you are the little dancer. You are not a dancer at all. You are being danced!

Dissatisfaction sets in when you cling to a thing, an event or a person.

If you really enjoy life and the simple pleasures of the senses, you’d be amazed. You’d develop that extraordinary discipline of the animal. Think of your body and compare it with the body of an animal that is left in its natural habitat.

It never eats or drinks what is not good for it. It has all the rest and exercise that it needs. It has the right amount of exposure to the elements, to wind and sun and rain and heat and cold.

That is because the animal listens to its body and allows itself to be guided by the body’s wisdom. Compare that with your own foolish cunningness. If your body could speak, what would it say to you? Observe the greed, the ambition, the vanity, the desire to show off and to please others, the guilt that drives you to ignore the voice of your body while you chase after objectives set by your ego.

Religion is not ritual, not intellectual, but purification. From that purified heart and mind, action will come.

You do not possess the wind, the stars, and the rain. You don’t possess these things; you surrender to them. And surrender occurs when you are aware of your illusions, when you are aware of your addictions, when you are aware of your desires and fears.

Faith, my dears, is the readiness to change in order to follow the truth.

What’s missing here in the words is the soul behind them–Tony’s charisma and presence–and so, I would encourage you to watch one of the many videos that are available for viewing.  Here’s one place you can go for that.

Tony’s passion in life was to get people to Wake Up! He repeatedly quotes Thomas Carlyle:  “The great tragedy of human life is not so much in what they suffer, but rather, in what they miss.”  Swansong is Tony’s last invitation to avert this tragedy–to follow this Mystic Sherpa on the path to a bird’s-eye view of awareness and joy.

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Noises off: The two channels of chatter

IMG_0926“In a sense, silence is God.” –Anthony de Mello

No one can dispute the lack of silence these days. Gone are the days when your boss could only contact you between 9 and 5. Gone are the days when you had to actually be home to get a phone call. Gone are the days when TV was a family event that took place after the dinner hour. No Hulu or Netflix or on demand programming to access on a variety of devices in a variety of places. It has all crept up on us so… silently. And now here we are–if our lives were a forest and noisy distractions were weeds–we would be an overgrown mess.

But there is another form of chatter that gets in the way of silence. My husband and I once went to a 3-day silent retreat. Initially I thought it would be great to get away from it all with my book and chill out from my busy life. But this silence? This was deafening silence. It was like quitting  heroin and dealing with withdrawal. I couldn’t focus on my book, because this silence kept ringing in my ears. When I saw my husband at dinner, his face confirmed he had the same experience–but his withdrawal had been even more crippling. “Whoa–that freaked me out!” he told me. “I had to sit with my thoughts!  That was scary!” IMG_1422To go back to the forest analogy, many say that silence is like the sun to us.  Silence is not just a microsecond of space between two sounds. It’s active. It’s real. We need it in order to be a fully realized human being. If we allow the weeds of busyness, human interaction, and constant distractions to proliferate unattended, the sun can’t reach our souls.

When I went on that retreat, I thought that all that was going to happen would be the absence of external noise. But as my husband testified, after the external noise is gone, what is left is an internal noise that remained to be dealt with. Now that’s the hard part. You can shut off your computer, but it’s harder to shut off your thoughts. Thich Nhat Hanh calls this RNST: Radio Non-Stop Thinking.

When we listen to music, read a book, or pick up a newspaper, it’s usually not because we truly need that activity or information. We often do it mechanically–perhaps because we’re used to doing it or because we want to ‘kill time’ and fill up the discomfiting sense of empty space. –Thich Nhat Hanh in Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World full of Noise

So my discovery at that Benedictine retreat is that there are two kinds of noise: exterior and interior. The exterior noise is the bombardment of Facebook news feeds, text messages, advertising messages, ringtones, superficial human interactions, TV shows, CNN headlines.  Interior noise is the mental chatter that keeps our mind from setting down–the replaying of the past and the fears and hopes of the future–in other words, stuff that doesn’t even exist. The antidote to exterior noise is unplugging from the outside chatter. The antidote to interior noise is plugging in–to the present moment.

Thankfully we don’t need a three-day retreat to face silence head-on. All we need is mindfulness and awareness. As anyone who has practiced meditation can attest, growing in awareness is like practicing any discipline–you start and take few steps and expect it to be difficult until it isn’t. But on the other hand, those who are more practiced agree that you can’t “achieve” meditation results, because unlike our bucket lists and our financial goals, success in meditation is success at just being. Often silence and beingness just come in a flash. The Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello, author of Seek God Everywhere, Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, relays one of his singular experiences in awareness:

The day before yesterday I went to say Mass for some people in the seminary. I rose early in the morning and went outside to wait for a group of scholastics (Jesuits in training who have not taken final vows). It was quite cold. I was looking up at the sky and this thing hit me, this silence. It lasted for about a minute, but I am still experiencing the effects of it. It is the world we know but there is no knowing. We suddenly sense it. Each of us experiences it in different ways.

What has your experience been in mindfulness? How do you cultivate it in your life? When has it caught you by surprise? Please feel free to comment.

Change? Or Be Changed?

During these sleepy, snowy winter days, I have been reading a book called Stepping Out of Self-Deception:  The Buddha’s Liberating Teaching of No-Self by Rodney Smith.  This is the kind of book you read with a highlighter.

One line that the author quoted really hit me…

We are not here to change the world.  The world is here to change us.”

Yikes–that seems like totally convoluted to many of us.   Some of us who wind up being “Helpers” or “Idealists” in our Enneagrams see this differently.  Haven’t we been attached to our thoughts about how messed up this world is?  Don’t we go into careers driven to our part to change the world?  Don’t we feel the frustration when we see all that is wrong with the world–all that has to be done–and how futile it seems?   We feel like Atlas with the world’s problems on our shoulders–Oh, if only everyone saw the world the way we do!

Even if we wear our “Be the Change you Want to See in the World” it implies action and effort.  But my take-away from Rodney Smith’s quote and from the commentary on it made by Smith is that there is a lot of letting go that needs to occur before we take on the world, or even ourselves.  We are so motivated by “results,” by “goals,” that our self-improvement projects are like an old Victorian home waiting to be restored, making us Weekend Warriors on our own souls.

I can in no way succinctly or accurately describe Smith’s simple illustration of how we move in the horizontal plane vs. the vertical, but in short, the horizontal is where we are most comfortable because it is the road between the past and the future, and all the baggage we take with us on that journey–our memories, our sense perceptions, or fears, our hopes, our to-do lists.  The vertical is where the here and now, where simply “being” resides.   (Forgive me, Mr. Smith for my oversimplification!)   While each has its place, and integration between the horizontal and the vertical is important, we spend too much time on the horizontal, and then when we try to seek the vertical, we become disoriented because it requires leaving behind the land of the horizontal, where we’ve spent our whole lives.   If the horizontal is the head, the vertical is the heart.

We need to find a home in this vertical world of the Present in order to really change.  One of the things that this requires is being still.   It’s hard to harbor stillness in the horizontal.   But the vertical plane is where we get “the right answer” about who we truly are.  We don’t need to “decide” anything, or do checklists to determine our life path.  In fact, we don’t have to “do” anything.    Just allow ourselves to go home to our real selves.

If the idea of allowing the world to change us sounds kind of scary (what, THIS world?  I don’t want to be like this world!), the author doesn’t mean the material world.  He means, I think that, as I was taught by the Benedictine monks, we need to open up the ear of our heart and listen and be responsive to what we  hear.

Today is Ash Wednesday, and so I’m going to concentrate on that this Lent.  Of course “doing something for Lent” is a horizontal plane task, but I’ll just use it as the bus to get me to that space where I can suspend my mind and rest easy in my heart for a spell.

you-have-the-power-to-be-changed

How gratitude fuels prosperity

thank youYes, I’m still working through my prosperity classics.

One of the abstracts in Tom Bowden-Butler’s book sounded so interesting to me that I looked it up on Amazon and found that it was only a couple of bucks on Kindle, so I bought it.  It was Charles Fillmore’s Prosperity.

Charles Fillmore was one of the early New Thought leaders of the last century.   He founded Unity, a church within the New Thought movement which includes thinkers and spiritual leaders such as early ones like James Allen to modern-day New Thought practitioners like Caroline Myss.

One of the things you find in a lot of these New Thought/Positive Thinking books is that the secret sauce is gratitude.  You can work your butt off.  You can list goals.  You can network a web around every mentor and business leader and prospect in the country, but unless you do all of this with an “attitude of gratitude” your mileage on the road to prosperity is going to be akin to that of a Hummer.

“Many people who order their lives rightly in all other ways are kept in poverty by their lack of gratitude.” – Wallace Wattles

However, if you simply fill the tank with gratitude for anything that comes your way–if you simply thank God for the mundane as well as the miraculous, you may find you’re driving your way to prosperity at 50mpg.    Much higher efficiency.

Why is this?  To be sure, the mystics all talk about gratitude.  Meister Eckhart famously said that “If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you’ that will suffice.”  But what does that have to do with opening up the door to abundance–to prosperity?

Poet, author and teacher Stephen Levine says:

Gratitude is the highest form of acceptance. Like patience, it is one of the catalytic agents, one of the alchemist’s secrets, for turning dross to gold, hell to heaven, death to life. Where there is gratitude we get the teaching. Where there is resistance we discover only that it keeps us painfully ignorant.

So when we are grateful we tap into the flow.   When we tap into the flow, we have access to an aura of abundance that that creates a magnetic attraction.  People become attracted to us.   Doors become open to us.  We, no longer resistant to what is, are open to walking through those doors fearlessly.

Daniel Peralta describes this phenomenon in Louse L. Hay’s book, Gratitude: A Way of Life:

When you express gratitude, you raise the vibrations around you to a higher frequency. You create positive energy that emanates out from you and returns to you as wonderful experiences. You become magnetic. Good things and good people gravitate toward you because you’re such a joy and delight to be around.

An attitude of gratitude is naturally attractive. It has the power to turn challenges into possibilities, problems into solutions, and losses into gains. It shifts the energy. It expands our vision and allows us to see what might normally be invisible to someone with a limiting attitude.

So, taking this concept, adopting it, and making it “actionable” in the parlance of business leaders means that once that gratitude has seeped into your consciousness like rum in sponge cake, you are in the position of accepting your present circumstances.  More than accepting them, you embrace them.  You call them good.

Good leads to good.  So if you’re starting from a place that you deem to be undesirable, what good can come of it?   So by turning the switch from the attitude of scarcity to an attitude of plenitude, you are on a different trajectory.  You are on your way to exponential goodness.

“We should form the habit of blessing everything that we have. We know that we are setting the law of increase into operation.” — Charles Fillmore

So, let’s just lean into our gratitude.  Let’s not just thank God for the obvious.  Let’s thank God for everything that is now in our field of vision.  Everything we can see.  Everything we can embrace joyfully.  Everything we can accept gratefully.  Everything we can change purposefully.

Here’s a poem about the joy of gratitude that expresses how I’ve felt at times:

I Kissed It

I was ironing the other day
And I found myself
Kissing
My son’s white T-shirt
Size 8
It was a silly thing to do
I did it anyway

I was wondering what to cook the other day
And I found myself
Kissing
A small rutabaga
It was a silly thing to do
Kissing a rutabaga
(Purply-waxy little thing!)
I looked around sheepishly
To be sure I was alone
And I kissed it

Some things make sense to kiss
You kiss a spouse
You kiss a cheek
Or two, if you’re in France

But there are things
So beautiful
So wonderful
So awe-inspiring
(To my eyes anyway)

That the desire wells up
Irresistibly
And I…
Sshh…
Just have to sneak a peck!

A silly way (to be sure)
To simply say
Thank you

–C.M.Boyd  ©2012

Not Just Any New Year: the 60th Anniversary of Peace Pilgrim’s first step

This is the way of peace:  Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.–Peace Pilgrim

60 years ago today, Peace Pilgrim stepped out to walk her walk and her talk of Peace.  I first learned of her in 1999, and was immediately drawn to her simplicity of purpose, and the joy in non-attachment she had.

She was a woman who walked well over 25,000 from coast to coast spreading her own rendition of the Golden Rule and living a life of peace and simplicity.  Her message is so basic and pure, uncluttered by religious dogma, nationalism, or any other –ism, I have become deeply inspired by it.  Love is The Thing.  Typically, so many things clutter up that message.  But she simply got rid of all those other things in her own life and was left with the Big Thing.

Here is an NPR article about her in honor of the 60th anniversary of her first step.

Here is the Friends of Peace Pilgrim Facebook page.

And here is the full text of Steps to Inner Peace.  I have several copies of this little booklet, which I try to give out when I can.  This is a short post, but I would rather you read her words directly.

Happy New Year, and may this year be a year of peace for all.

In order for the world to become peaceful, people must become more peaceful. Among mature people war would not be a problem – it would be impossible. In their immaturity people want, at the same time, peace and the things which make war. However, people can mature just as children grow up. Yes, our institutions and our leaders reflect our immaturity, but as we mature we will elect better leaders and set up better institutions. It always comes back to the thing so many of us wish to avoid: working to improve ourselves.– Peace Pilgrim

What’s Wrong with Bucket Lists?

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Bucket List: 1) Reduce stress 2) Complete bucket list 3) Reduce stress created by not completing bucket list

Everyone knows what a “bucket list” is–the term was popularized by the 2007 by the movie that starred Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.  In the movie, the two men meet in the hospital as in-patients for cancer treatment, and they embark on fulfilling their “bucket lists”–things they want to do before they kick the bucket.

The notion is not new–and the movie’s title was based on the term.  Google “bucket lists” and you’ll find all kids of lists you can steal from and be inspired by:  The Thrill Seeker’s Bucket List; Bucket List for Men; 28 Places to See Before You Die.  The Huffington Post even has an article on the Reverse Bucket List:  things NOT to do before you die.

Sounds inspiring to come up with a to-do list of Meaningful Activities.  But the idea has always bothered me for some reason, and I think it’s because of the faulty logic:

  1. Focusing on 5, or 17, or 98, or 1000 things to do before you die assumes that THOSE THINGS are the things that matter.
  2. Aiming your arrow at those few things pushes the things you are doing right now into peripheral vision.
  3. Therefore, the moments you ARE living, prior to jumping out of airplanes or crossing the country on a motorcycle are placed in your mind as not as important.
  4. Then, what if those bullseye activities aren’t as fulfilling as you had hoped?  Haven’t you ever gone to the prom and it was nowhere as magical as you had imagined it?   I think that’s what Stephen Covey refers to as having the ladder against the wrong wall.
  5. At that point, have you been chasing an illusion?  An expectation that this one thing, or dozen things on your list should be the things that count, when, after all, you find they weren’t?

Which brings me to the thing that bothered me the most about the movie.  While Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman were sitting on a mountain in Sedona or wherever, Morgan Freeman’s wife was trying to track down her husband, and essentially was shut out of the bucket list.  The movie tries to mitigate this by adding expository about some existing trouble in the relationship.  OK.   I’m sure there are people who are sorry, at the end of their lives, that they tolerated stale relationships, but maybe addressing relationships should be #1 on the bucket list as opposed to a fancy dinner with a near-stranger in Paris.

I’m not saying life shouldn’t be an adventure. and a quest for our heart’s desire.   Dorothy had to have that experience in Oz before she came right around to learning that her heart’s desire is in her own “backyard”  (a metaphor for inner self, or divine guidance, or the kingdom within).  But, the bucket list is not a mythological quest:  I think we must guard against making our bucket lists diversions from our true inner quests.

To me, a bucket list is like jumping over running streams right in front of you to chase a mirage.

My bucket list has one thing in it, and if I can accomplish it, I don’t have to worry about check marks and timelines.  In fact, the timeline for my bucket list is very, very short.

My Bucket List:

  1. Be here now.

Jessica Sanchez: I Just Do What I Do

Sanchez: "I just do what I do."

I LOVED the title quote, from Jessica Sanchez, American Idol contestant.

I am an American Idol groupie. American Idol has been my guilty pleasure since Kelly Clarkson days. I don’t seek spiritual transcendence from it, just entertainment, but I loved the spirituality behind 16-year old Jessica Sanchez’s kind of zoned-out response to Ryan Seacrest’s question. After she was “saved” by the judges last night, he asked, “What was going through your mind when the judges were coming up on the stage to save you?”

“Nothing,” she said. “I don’t expect anything. I just do what I do.”

Is anything more spiritual, more Zen, than that? More Zen than pure in-the-moment detaching yourself from the results?

Contrast that with AI contestant Hollie Cavanaugh, who hasn’t reached her stride yet despite an amazing voice. In trying to find that peak performance that the judges have been looking for, she picked the song “Perfect” by Pink, because that’s how she wanted others to see her. That’s what she wanted to be.

After her performance, Ryan asked Hollie what she was thinking right before she started singing. Tellingly, she said “I better not mess up.” The judges gently pointed out to her that “perfect” isn’t the right bullseye. Forget perfect pitch–perfect isn’t perfect, unless you are perfectly one in the moment–one with the task, with no expectations. A lesson for us all. Mind you, I’m not putting Hollie down–I relate to her. I was the only kid in my 4th grade piano recital who had to have my sheet music as a crutch because I was afraid of forgetting the notes.

A blog post in the blog Early to Rise calls out one of the principles in the Deepak Chopra’s book in which I first learned of this miraculous concept of detaching from the results:

As Deepak Chopra says in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, when you are constantly classifying, labeling, and evaluating, you “create a lot of turbulence in your internal dialogue.” The more internal bickering that takes place, the less time and room (in your mind) for constructive thinking.

This week I had a report to do, and frankly, I was stressed about it. I did what I usually do under these circumstances and I set my alarm for 4:30 am so I could get an early start to worrying. No, really, getting up early is my way of keeping distractions at bay. My way of thinking is, “if I’ve sacrificed the wee hours so I can get things done, I better not waste them!”

But in spite of getting up at 4:30, I felt I was still groping in the dark with this report by the end of the day.

On Wednesday, I finally got to the point where, in desperation, I prayed, “Dear God, I trust that you are going to work through me and allow me to present this material creatively, intelligently, and cohesively.” Then I let it go.

The next morning I got up (at 4:30) and by 8:30 it was lookin’ pretty good! I didn’t think about my client. I didn’t think about my job prospects. I just did it.

Jessica Sanchez, I’m going to tape your quote above my computer: I Just do What I Do. I Don’t Expect Anything.

Leaning Into Purpose

We see every new year as a reset button for our lives

Happy New Year!

Last night, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve showed clips of New Year’s in different cities around the world.   I was struck by the similarities in our celebrations:  fireworks, revelry, resolution, hope.  Didn’t matter whether it was Buffalo, Berlin, Bangkok or Beijing, we were all at the same party.  It was amazing!

What does it mean?  It’s just a number.  It’s just another day.  Some of us will jump out of bed and dust off the treadmill in the basement.  Some will wake up nursing a hangover and decide to postpone the New Year until January 2.

Seems we all want a reset button.  A chance to begin again.  A promise that if 2011 was not fun, 2012 will be better.  To paraphrase that wonderful song in Les Mis, not “another day another destiny,” but “another year another destiny.”   Days come and go, and while some days can be lifechanging, we have seen all to often that you band 365 of them together, and chances are, your life can be quite different for reasons sometimes not in your control.

As for me, some years have been branded.  1974 was a great year.  I also look fondly on 1968, 1985, and 1998-1999 (that was a doubly good time).  2005 and 2008 I could have done without.

So we know we’re going to have good years and bad years, so we try to do what we can to control them with our resolutions.  I’m a one-goal-at-a-time person, because if I have more than one, neither gets done.  But I have a big dry erase board just outside my kitchen with my One Goal on it, and if it’s important enough–if I’ve been driven to it by sufficient pain or desire–I get it done.

Goals are fun.  I find that the good thing about sprawling a goal on a dry erase board that’s placed where you spend most of your time is it helps to keep it front and center.

I heard a great term from Kathy Freston, an author whose concentration is on healthy, conscious eating.  She adopts a more gradual approach to achieving goals and changing habits.   She does not recommend radical conversion.  She doesn’t prescribe a 21-Day To Change Your Life plan.   In encouraging her own dietary plan she uses the term “leaning into veganism.”

I like that.  The idea is to just keep the intention in front of you as you slowly empower yourself to make lasting changes.

So, whatever your New Year’s Resolution is, lean into it.  You have 365 days to work on it!  If you vow to hit the gym every day and you skip a day, you don’t have to throw the whole idea out.  Instead of writing on your dry erase board “Go To Gym Every Day!!!!” write, “by December 31, 2012, I’ll be eating 500 fewer calories a day and I’ll be exercising regularly three times a week.”

Lean into healthy purpose, or lean into loving purpose, or lean into financially sound purpose.  But just lean into it.  Over the days the mindfulness of that leaning will creep into your daily life and drive you to that place.

One more tip for reinforcing the mindfulness on a daily basis is to steal a practice from the Ignatians–the Daily Examen.   At the end of every day, just mentally sweep through the day and think about how you did with your goal.  The idea isn’t to beat yourself up–it’s just do a checkpoint with yourself to identify what worked and what didn’t, simply to make it easier to do better the next day.

In the book Switch:  How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by the Heath Brothers, (a great book by the way), one of the first rules they talk about for finding ways to change is to look at success.  Don’t waste your time figuring out why you failed–look at why and how you (or others) succeeded.   You might do that with your Daily Examen.  Forget the donut you ate.  Think about how good you felt after taking the dog for a brisk walk.

Here’s a link to the Ignatian Daily Examen, but a lay version might look like this:

  • Just chill.  Depending upon your own spiritual practice, find a way to center yourself.  Count your breaths, recite a mantra, simply focus on the God within.  Try to shut off your mind from all that internal chatter.  I simply snuggle into bed, turn off the light, and when I’m as comfy as can be, I become aware of my breaths until my mind shuts down
  • Be glad.  Be grateful.  Say what you are grateful for–out loud or silently.  Like Pollyanna, play the Glad Game–try to find ways to be grateful for good stuff as well as the crummy stuff that happened.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as they waft past.  If you need help with this, there are tons of great books on mindfulness.  Transforming your feelings is like tearing down a wall that is keeping you from living the life you want, so don’t skip that step.
  • Think about one part of the day.  Pick a successful moment and think about how good you felt at that time.  Give yourself a pat on the back.
  • Visualize tomorrow.  Think about how rewarding it will be to repeat that tomorrow.  Visualize how tomorrow you will lean into your purpose.

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –

best preacher that ever was,dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

~ “Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver ~

Today is a glorious day. So, this will be a boring post, nothing much to say, nothing much to learn. The learning is right here, and the saying is being done by the birds with their own special dialects: some whistling, some chirping, some calling, some lilting. Shadows cast by a rising sun are crisp and bold, and it’s cool for a summer morning.

Can't beat this office space--computer, coffee, and a windowless world!

This poem by Mary Oliver reminds me that waking up late on a day like this is like leaving money on the table. Lately, I’ve been taking my computer outside with my coffee and feeling like I have the best “office” in the world. Some boast of their corner office with views. How much is the rent for a space like that in New York, I wonder? But can it be any better than my “office”? No, you can have your corner office, I’ll take my windowless one with my view of the potted plants and the birdbath, and Nessie at my side.

Many “doers” and self-help gurus tout the benefits of waking early from a productivity standpoint. Leo Babauta, of zenhabits speaks to it in his blog entry: 10 Benefits of Rising Early, and How I Do it. Ben Franklin claims early to bed and early to rise will make us healthy, wealthy, and wise.

From a spiritual standpoint, I think rising early makes you feel part of the natural order of things. Sometimes when Nessie gets me out of bed for a walk as dawn breaks, I feel like I’m in the natural equivalent of “rush hour”–when dawn’s first light hits, you start hearing the bird’s morning chatter, the squirrels have already started staking out the goods underneath the trees, and the day is on the move!

This daily transition from sleep to wake, silence to action, inner world to outer world is all part of the ebb and flow of a harmonious life, and another reason waking early helps ground me–sets me up firmly on the balance beam we traverse during our waking hours.

A great self-help guide in walking this beam are the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. I am a novice in the spirituality of St. Ignatius, but I do know that it’s a very practical spirituality. I’ve been reading about it from authors such as Margaret Silf, Larry Warner, James Martin, and from a really great website, ignatianspirituality.com.

What I’ve learned so far is, in a nutshell, is that Ignatian spirituality is a discipline that is both contemplative and very active–a discipline you can wake to and go to work with. It’s a program of reflection, meditation, self-examination, and determining God’s will for us, and how to take the inner silence that this discernment requires and go out into the world doing your job, whatever that might be. It helps me store up the first cold press of the day, and use it as a generator for the active life. The result: the ability to find God in all things–the mundane and the chaotic, the kind as well as the “miserable and crotchety.”

Nessie in a morning meditative state

Today is the first day of a 31-day “IgnatiusFest” sponsored by Ignatian Spirituality.com. Here is the link to a cool calendar–each day has a new topic. Today’s is “What Is Ignatian Spirituality?” Tomorrow’s is “Why Do We Pray?” I encourage you to check it out. When I first started exploring this spiritual program (which the AA 12-steps were supposedly loosely based on), it seemed like it would be reserved for spiritual heavyweights, but this 31-day IgnatiusFest is a great way to learn about the spiritual exercises, break them down, and see how you might use them as part of your own spiritual journey.

Good morning.


Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

New Jersey back yard, May 2011.

I just changed the subhead of my blog to the above–“Pay Attention.  Be Astonished.  Tell About it.” by the poet Mary Oliver.

If you read my last post, you know that I sequestered myself for six weeks to try to listen to the “still, small voice” within me.  Part of this effort was my attendance at a Lenten series at Stella Maris, a retreat house on the Jersey shore.  One Monday night, Sister Ann Marie passed out a very homemade bookmark with this on it, from Oliver’s poem, Sometimes:

Instructions for Living A Life:
Pay Attention.
Be Astonished.
Tell About It.

“Pay attention” is a hallmark of so many spiritual leaders.   The Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh, whom I so greatly admire, is one of them.  Paying attention is SO important.  What else do we have, but these precious moments of our lives to which we should pay attention?

“Be Astonished.”  It’s so easy to just take things for granted, but just imagine you are an entity new to this creation.  How astonishing is it that life on this Earth is so prolific?  How astonishing is it that we have the ability to cry at the mere experience of a rainbow?   How astonishing is it, to see the perfect symmetry, the perfect order of the petals of a simple garden flower?  If we all took just 10 minutes a day to act as if we were new to this earth, how would that change our lives?

“Tell About It.”  And here is where I can thank God that there is a blogosphere.  There are so many wonderful writers who are telling what they see, what they feel, what they hear about the miracle of Life, and I’ve learned so much from them.  And of course, thank God as well for all of the authors who have paid tribute to the pure miracle of life and our human experience.  I’m humbled by them, and I thank them all.

On this topic, one of my favorite diary entries was written exactly 43 years ago to the day, when I was 16.   It speaks of one simple moment when I was paying attention, was astonished, and was driven to tell about it.  I pray to God that I can continue to experience more of these precious moments.  There were a LOT of moments between 1968 and 2011 that I’ve wasted in this regard, and I don’t want to waste any more of them not living out Mary Oliver’s advice:

Connecticut back yard, May 1968

May 22, 1968

I must write to you now because everything is so beautiful.

I am filled to the brim with (I don’t know what to call it!) extreme happiness.  I have never seen so much beauty as I do now in this simple situation.  Everything is perfect.

A couple of weeks ago I made a little window seat in my room.  Between my bed and my closet is a space about 3 feet wide with a window governing this tiny wall.  Here I am sitting–reading The Thread That Runs So True while my white voile curtains flow over my legs.  I have finished cleaning my entire room (it took two weeks–I’m lazy) and it is beautiful.  I painted it scarlet, and it is my private place, with the pure white curtains and bedspread, my statue of Mary and my guitar on my wall…it is so beautiful I could cry while I lean on the window sill, part of Mother Nature herself.

I looked especially good today.   My hair, for once, looked as I have always wanted it to look.  I am wearing the dress that Ann Marie  today told me she loved.  I made it–a Swedish print dirndl and matching gold jersey top.  My complexion is free from blemish for a change, and my eyes looked more sparkly and expressive.

The weather is a huge part of the way I feel today.  Every day for the past three days it has been shining one minute–raining the next.  So, while reading my book, I was paying equal attention to the sun.  Suddenly, a big black cloud hid the sun and it poured.  Hail was falling by the buckets.  It was beautiful.  The thunder pealed and hailstones bounced off my screen. That was an hour ago.  Now, the rays of the sun are abundantly overflowing on the violet lilacs and freshly washed leafy trees.

I love this new type of weather because it gives me a chance to appreciate all of God’s gifts at once–the sun, then the cleansing of the earth, and then the flowers’ and trees’ appreciation to God for their bath.

Words cannot describe the beauty I see from my seat tonight.  There IS no word to tell you the happiness I feel in my soul.  My heart cries out thanks to God for bestowing me with so many rare and wonderful gifts.

Tonight, indeed, I am the luckiest person alive!!!