If You Like Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, With a Dash of Bill Hicks…

…you will certainly enjoy Anthony de Mello.

Anthony de Mello was a Jesuit priest and psychotherapist.   If his being Catholic leads you to believe that perhaps his view of faith might be different from yours, look further.  He didn’t preach dogma, he preached awareness, which was actually the title of one of his most famous books:  Awareness:  The Perils and Opportunities of Reality.

Reading him is like reading a little Eckhart Tolle (dying to the ego and disidentifying with thoughts), a little Byron Katie (accepting what is) and even Meister Eckhart (detachment). Overall, he embodies the wisdom of the sages and saints throughout time.

His approach is a little different–he’s part Aesop, part Joseph Campbell, part Bill Hicks--making his points with parables, fables and jokes (admittedly his jokes were a little cleaner than those of Bill Hicks).  His reading style is very easy, because many of the books he has “authored” are simply transcripts of seminars he gave to increasingly expanding audiences, up until he died prematurely at the age of 56.

There are some conspiracy theories about his death–he, like Thomas Merton, died an untimely death just when their popularity could be construed as a threat to the strict teachings of the Church.  Both Merton and de Mello melded Buddhism with Christian faith.  De Mello also often drew in teachings of the Bagavad Gita and other sacred teachings of his native India.  I don’t personally have any opinions as to the cause of his death:  as he himself would say, who cares?  But I only mention it because it shows how he, like many spiritual leaders who are most interested in the truth, defied fitting into a box based on ideology or religious precepts.

I read Awareness some time ago, and loved it then.  I don’t know why, but I was compelled to go back and read a little more–I guess as part of my New Year’s resolution to increase my mindfulness.

So, you know how when you go to Amazon, they say, “If you enjoyed THAT book, you might enjoy THIS book”?  Well, if you enjoy Eckhart Tolle quotes, you might enjoy this de Mello quote:

As you identify less and less with the “me”, you will be more at ease with everybody and with everything. Do you know why? Because you are no longer afraid of being hurt or not liked. You no longer desire to impress anyone. Can you imagine the relief when you don’t have to impress anybody anymore? Oh, what a relief. Happiness at last!

If you like Byron Katie quotes, you might enjoy this de Mello quote:

Suffering points out that there is falsehood somewhere. Suffering occurs when you clash with reality. When your illusions clash with reality when your falsehoods clash with the truth, then you have suffering. Otherwise there is no suffering.

And if you like Bill Hicks, you might enjoy this bit of de Mello stand-up:


I was really slow on the uptake, but it only occurred to me yesterday that this New Year was 1.1.11.  I’m not into numerology, but that just seems like a message hitting you between the eyes–a message similar to the old 60s poster:  Today is the first day of the rest of your life!

So, it seems like a good time to break my “blogger’s block” and get back in the saddle of posting.  I needed a word fast, as evidenced in some of my previous posts, and now that I’ve granted that to myself, I can proceed.

1.2.11 seems as good a time to post as 1.1.11.  It tells me, “come on!  You’re not going to miss this opportunity to live in this day as clearly and purposefully as a year that starts out 1.1.11, are you?”

‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day.”  Macbeth hit the nail on the head with that one.  Being in my sixth decade and approaching my seventh, I can bear witness to how time tends to roll downhill gathering speed.

To quell the avalanche of time, I have only one resolution:  To practice mindfulness as diligently as I can. Think about any resolution you’ve ever made, and ask yourself, if you had simply been mindful, could you have achieved it?  Have you ever tried to start a diet on New Year’s?  If you practice mindfulness when you choose your food, you can do it.  Have you ever tried to get your finances in order?  If you practice mindfulness as you make spending choices, you can do it.  Have you ever vowed to reconnect with loved ones?  If you practice mindfulness and recognize how important your connections are, you will put down the busy work and make some calls or write some emails.

My favorite play of all time, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is Our Town, because of the last scene where Emily dies very young but is given the chance to pick a day to return to.  What she learns in that heart-rending visit is that everyone, herself, her father, her mother, were sleepwalking through the time of their lives.   In anquish, she simply cannot bear witness to this, so she asks the Stage Manager to take her back to her grave:

I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another…I didn’t realize. So all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners…Mama and Papa. Good-by to clocks ticking…and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths…and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. (III.45-9)

And then she asks the question:  “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it– every, every minute?”

The Stage Manager replies, “Saints and poets, they do some.”

Well, I’m not a poet, and I’m definitely not a saint, but I do want to realize life.  Today, 1.2.11, I vow to look at the cup as I pour my morning coffee.  I vow to concentrate on the bites I put in my mouth.  When my husband talks to me, I vow to listen with my heart.

Someone shared this with me today:  Yesterday is History, Tomorrow a Mystery, Today is a Gift, Thats why it’s called the Present.  A good daily reminder.

By the way, here is a picture of the day that I witnessed about an hour ago, looking at the creek behind my house.

Happy New Minute.

Spiritual Simplicity I: All-Acceptance

I have a Brita pitcher with the filter in the top.  When you run water through it, you can’t do it too quickly.  The top well fills up and then it slowly passes through the filter down to the pitcher.

I tend to fill up my brain with words too quickly and they spill over, uselessly, into the parts of my brain that throw the overload into the mental shredder.  Trying to better my life with nothing but words–words written by self-help authors, the Bible, popular meditations is like running the water full blast while the filter backs up and renders most of the words powerless.

When it comes to spiritual simplicity, the formula is probably one part words to five parts meditation.  The words need time to sift through the filter and drip, drip, drip into the pitcher of our spiritual cores, where they have been purified by our reflection to quench our spiritual thirst.

Last night I woke up in the  middle of the night.   I couldn’t fall back to sleep right away.  I don’t mind that, especially when the next day is a day off.  So I just went downstairs to get a cup of tea and play on the internet.

Having felt the spillover of words I’ve read recently and having sensed a great waste of potentially great ideas down the drain, I was resistant to continuing to try to fill the well.  So for the fun of it I googled “spiritual simplicity” which was what I felt I needed at the moment.    The google search uncovered a wonderful gem by a Buddhist contemplative, Reverand Master Daizui MacPhillamy.  Appropriately enough, it was a talk he had delivered in 2002 called “Spiritual Simplicity.”   It was just what I needed, and while I encourage downloading the pdf and reading it in its entirety, I’m going to try to cull it down a little and bring out the main points.  It will take a few blog posts to cover it.

The first point he makes is that spiritual simplicity is about accepting what is.  This finding was a synchronistic idea, as I recently read Byron Katie‘s Loving What Is.  The ideas are the same:  Not resisting what is is key to spiritual simplicity.  All-acceptance cuts out a lot of that mental clutter.  The monk quotes a poem written by Nyogen Sunsaki in 1946, following his release from  a Japanese internment camp in the US after World War II:

Like a snail, I carry my humble zendō with me.
It is not as small as it looks
For the boundless sky joins it
When I open a window.
If one has no idea of limitation,
He should enjoy real freedom.
A nameless monk may not have the New Year callers to visit him,
But the morning sun hangs above the slums.
It will be honorable enough to receive the golden light from the east.

Resistance to this all-acceptance of what simply IS comes in the form of wanting to make things happen. We want to control not just our lives, but sometimes the lives of others–those we know and sometimes those we don’t know, as in those with whom we have ideological differences.  Oddly, sometimes when we fail to control others, we even feel guilty about it.   Think of parents of adult children who still feel responsible for their lives.  Sometimes trying so hard to do what’s right, by trying to change people, actually leads to quite a bit of wrong.  At its extreme, the Monk says, it can lead to crimes against humanity.  The problem, he says, is:

When we try to force or manipulate or—I’m not quite sure of the word, a subtler word than those—influence others to view things in our way, why do we do that? Well, sometimes it comes from what we might call “hating what is wrong,” or not being able to stand what is wrong, and consequently really wishing to bring it to an end. Now where does that come from? Often, it comes from trying ever so hard to do what is right, what is good. And, although hating what is wrong may or may not be a familiar thing to you, simply trying very hard to do what is good is familiar. But spiritual simplicity is simpler than all that.

Sometimes resistance to acceptance is built on deeply ingrained fears that have been somehow hardwired into our brain from a young age.   I’ve heard that fear is a learned response that we acquire in childhood, which is why it is so hard to break with certain patterns.  With that, no matter how well you intellectually grasp a situation, your biology has you beat.  In that case, it takes a lot of work, a lot of commitment, to overcome the resistance to acceptance.  Your spirit is willing but your flesh is weak.   It requires just as much work to get your emotions out of that psychic rut as it does to drive your car out of a deep ditch.  I think once you know that you can get on with the work and not beat yourself up because you somehow can’t just muster up that good old laissez-faire.

What helps me see beyond my own fear of letting go is to recognize that I can’t see the whole elephant.  You can get all zen and learn to look at the suchness of things with no-mind, that’s great, but sometimes a person needs motivation.   A person needs to know why they should do the incredibly difficult work to overcome these primal fears and achieve all-acceptance.

And for me, that would be knowing that there is a reason for my walking this path.  I could endure suffering, and I could accept the unacceptable by recognizing that my little pea-brain simply is too limited to know what was to come of it.   “It’s God’s will” sounds like a cop-out to some people.   But for those with faith and all-acceptance, it means that we’re not on earth be in charge.  We’re on earth to work the divinity inside us moment by moment on the high wire of life and we’re not to look down.

Just as Paul McCartney sings in his masterpiece, “there will be an answer, let it be.”

Just as the Thirtieth Psalm says, “Weeping may endureth for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

Just as the Zen master Bankei said, quoted by Master MacPhillamy:

Abominating hell, longing for heaven, you make yourself suffer in a joyful world.  You think that good means hating what is bad.  What’s bad is the hating mind itself.  Good you say, means doing good.  Bad, indeed is the mind that says so.  Good and bad alike–roll them both into one ball, wrap it up in paper and toss it out.  Forget it all.  Notions of what one should be doing never existed from the start.  Fighting about what’s right, what’s wrong, that is the doing of the ‘I’.”

So we say fuggedaboutit; we say I accept it all–the good and the bad; we say whatever comes to us can wash over us because it comes from God and who are we to argue; we say I open my hands, dear God, and accept it all.

Infinite Riches in the Present Moment, on the Basketball Court and Elsewhere

The road sometimes seems endless, but deep looking at the magnificent sky can keep you in the moment

I haven’t had as much time to blog lately, because of work commitments.  A large part of my job is to go to different cities and interview people at 45-minute sessions.  These past few weeks I’ve had over 100 of these kinds of interviews to do.  Of course, I am so thankful for the work, which I love, but as you can imagine the interviews tend to get repetitive.

I used to get to about the 6th interview in the day and start counting ahead–“oh, good, only 4 more.”  But I have a different outlook now, because I’ve found a trick that works GREAT for pushing through when things start to get mundane.  When I’m on my 7th or 8th interview and I could be thinking about the glass of wine that I’ll be having in 3 hours, I focus completely on the person I’m speaking with.  I look deeply into their eyes and I hang on their every word.  In short, I put myself in the moment.    Doing so, I open myself up to chronic peak experiences.  And in truth, time ceases to exist.  There is no, “when will this day be over” or “can’t wait for that Cabernet!”  Those thoughts become irrelevant.

Wisdom along these lines recently passed through my hands by two very different people.  One was Norvene Vest, in her book, Desiring Life:  Benedict on Wisdom and the Good Life.   She refers to a quote by the contemplative writer de Caussade:  “the present moment holds infinite riches.”  I don’t know why, but that short phrase really stuck to me last week, and I found myself using it as a mantra of sorts.

The second person is the basketball player Michael Jordan.  I found this quote by him at the website Faith in the Workplace:

I’m trying to get in the proper frame of mind for another night in our 82-game regular season schedule. The key to being Mike during a game is to live in the exact moment of time. This means that I forget about whatever just happened prior to that moment, regardless of how I felt about it, regardless of whether what I did was perceived as good or bad. When I’m able to prepare myself, when I get in this “zone,” I have some of my most spectacular performances. Not only do I not remember anything that happened, I also don’t waste any energy thinking about what might happen in the future. When I play this way, at times I surprise myself with what I’m able to accomplish by staying focused in the moment.

So I look forward to my upcoming week of interviews, inspired by the words of Vest, deCaussade, and Jordan, ready to take the challenge of channeling the power of the present moment to enrich me and my work.

Now that it is 2010, I switched my calendar from my 2009 Thich Nhat Hanh calendar to the 2010 calendar that my son gave me for Christmas.  But before I threw out the old calendar, I pulled out one page–the page with the following:

Waking up this morning I smile.

Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment

and to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion.

Thanksgiving: Deeper than the mealtime grace

Tulip that broke through asphalt, taken in my backyard the spring after we paved over the garden

Every year Thanksgiving comes around and people pay homage to what is probably America’s most universal holiday.   Unlike some exhausting holidays, all that is required from us is time with family and good food.  Of course, by definition, it also requires a little bit of gratitude.    The various churches, synagogues and mosques in my area take turns hosting an ecumenical service–what a wonder Thanksgiving can accomplish, if nothing else other than to bring such diversity of faith together in joint prayer for one day a year!

Sometimes we may be in a situation where we are asked to go around a room–classroom, a church service,  a small group table for instance–and say something we’re thankful for.  Inevitably, we hear “I’m grateful for my health,” “I’m grateful for my family.”   We don’t often hear, “I’m grateful for my financial difficulties,” or “I’m grateful to be out of work,” or “I’m grateful for this crisis in my marriage,” even though we always hear that adversity makes us stronger and has the potential to put us in a better place–a place only God can see for us now.  Hard pressed, I’m sure that each person who may be experiencing financial difficulties, unemployment, or relationship issues might actually be able to find a silver lining–maybe not now, but in hindsight.

So, to celebrate Thanksgiving, perhaps we can forego the platitudes of the obvious–the joys of having good health and a loving family.  Perhaps, like the Pilgrims who weathered murderous winters on a foreign shore in order to get to the first Thanksgiving, we can be grateful for our ability to practice acceptance, faith and hope that whatever we are embroiled in today, we will be thanking God for it next year.

Not unlike the battle-weary Confederate soldier who, as legend has it, wrote the following prayer, which is worthy of any mealtime grace at the Thanksgiving table:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve,
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked God for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for
– but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among men, most richly blessed.

Found on the body of a Southern soldier


Edited to add postscript:  This is my 50th post in this blog.  At some point I had it in my mind to write something special for the 50th post,  then  forgot, and didn’t realize until just now, after publishing today, that this post is the 50th–and an appropriate one it is.  Thank you to everyone who has dropped by,  thanks to those who have shared, and thanks to all those from whom I have drawn inspiration!   cmb

Simple Home, Beautiful Home Part III: Keeping a home and a life

images-1The cart before the horse is neither beautiful nor useful.  Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation…”  –Henry David Thoreau

“…and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation.”

images-2The other day was a rainy one.  I had no particular urgent place to be, no particular desire to be anywhere else but home.  Cleaning the bathroom was on my to-do list and I started out in a usual cleaning pace, dashing around collecting the glass cleaner, the floor cleaner, the tub cleaner, the toilet cleaner and four different rags to use with them–sponge, paper towel, old terry towels, one small, one large. I yanked on my rubber gloves and went at with a vengeance.

Somewhere between the last sparkle on the pedestal sink and the first sweep of the floor, it occurred me that this was the kind of day that I could feasibly spend hours in the bathroom if I wanted to.  I didn’t have race through the chore to get anywhere, as I too often do.  I didn’t even have to race through it in order to get to something fun–what would that be, anyway?  A brain-dead hour in front of the TV?  A visit to the refrigerator to see if there’s any more Friendly’s Fudge Swirl?   I had already determined that this was going to be a slow, uncommitted day.

So, I slowed down, and committed myself to enjoying what I was doing at that moment.  After all, I had just gathered up the pile of dust and dog hair, and had begun swiping the grey-white tiles clean, and the result was beginning to delight me.    I was on my knees, hand-polishing the tiles in the small bathroom, and they were becoming almost mirror-like.  So I downshifted once more, enjoying the movement of the arc of my arm across the tile, the rhythm of my entire body against the immobile, cold floor, the emergence of the hand-wrought shine.

Housework for me is usually a necessary evil; and definitely not as necessary to me as it is to some.   Things have gone undone in my house far too often.  I think that part of the reason is that when the clutter meter starts to ding in my visual field, I mentally disconnect altogether, much like the circuit breaker in my house.  At that point, I simply don’t see what I should see.   At that point, cleaning becomes a low priority, as I involve myself in activities that are more alive in my brain.

But now I’m thinking that oddly enough, maybe Thoreau has something in common with Martha Stewart, or Alexandra Stoddard in his belief that the first step, the foundation of a beautiful home, should be the housekeeping.  Also, the living.  He says that if you are to build your home upon a rock you must keep it well, and you must live well.

In the book Sweeping Changes:  Discovering the Joy of Zen in Everyday Tasks, Gary Thorp described a zen master elevating a mundane task into a spiritual dance:

My first encounter with Zen cleaning was at Zen Center in San Francisco…After meditation and breakfast on Saturday mornings, we had a work period….My favorite part of the work period was observing the manner in which one of our teachers, Katagiri Roshi, tackled his jobs.  It was a joy to see, for example, the energy flowing through him as he applied paste wax to the zendo floor.  How could washing the floor be that important?    Yet, there hw as, devoting himself to this mundane task.  Next came the arduous, amost acrobatic act of polishing, which no one else seemed able to perform with quite the same grace and verve.  Bent over the polishing cloth, Katagiri Roshi would run from one end of the zendo to the other, pause briefly, and then run back.  The movement was graceful, natural, unaffected….’Zen is meditation and sweeping the garden.’

If housekeeping is what matters, it becomes essential.  If housekeeping is what matters, we can turn it into a prayer.  In doing so, rather than being a heinous interruption in our weekend, it can elevate our lives and turn those small acts into the rock, the cinderblock, the foundation of our simply beautiful homes.

Simple Home, Beautiful Home, Part II: Stripping of your life

The cart before the horse is neither beautiful nor useful.  Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation…”  –Henry David Thoreau

“…and our lives must be stripped,”:

Years ago, I took this picture of my own dining room table when I saw the irony of where the bumper sticker, a gift from my son who had visited Walden, wound up.

Years ago, I took this picture of my own dining room table when I saw the irony of where the bumper sticker, a gift from my son who had visited Walden, wound up.

If I had a chart that showed the times of my life at its most frenetic, and overlaid it with a chart that showed the times of my life when my house was the least welcoming and the most cluttered, they would line up nicely.   It’s hard, if not impossible, to maintain peace at home, when your life is out of control.

A study, “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” by Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers was recently released and highly publicized in the news.  It showed that despite great strides in the women’s movement, women are actually unhappier today overall.  Why would that be?  We have spent the last thirty years bringing home the bacon and frying it up in the pan.  Does that mean we have time to eat it?

Perhaps a correlation could be made in a book about another paradox, “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz, which makes the case that too many options does not create feelings of well-being; on the contrary, too much choice winds up being overload for our psyches.  So, the myriad of options that opened up for women in the last few decades has actually left us wondering, “What now?” in a way that is disconcerting and confusing.  And for society in general, we are simply overwhelmed.

Thoreau tells us to strip down our lives, which can be taken to mean, choose!  “Let your affairs be of two or three, not of a hundred,” he wrote.  Choose your value system, choose your day, choose your desires, and leave the rest alone.   Richard Foster, in his book “The Freedom of Simplicity” tells us that the first step is the most important:  “First seek God’s kingdom.”  Seems easy, but what does that mean?

Maybe we can learn from the choices made by some of the more spiritually evolved.   St. Francis sold everything in order rebuild the church.  That was how he sought God’s kingdom.   In one of my posts, “Decluttering, Purging, and Peace Pilgrim,” I talked about the woman who made her life’s work walking across the country time and again for peace.  That was how she sought God’s kingdom.    I was lucky enough last week to see the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh at the Beacon Theatre.  He has made it his life’s work to teach people to be compassionate through mindfulness.  That is how he sought God’s kingdom.  I’ll bet that none of these people have spent an inordinate amount of time wondering whether to buy the LG flat screen TV or the Samsung; whether they should go to Cancun or Paris on vacation; whether they should stay in their marriage or leave.  If you’ve ever owned a good SLR camera, when you focus on something through the viewfinder, the rest blurs out of sight.  I imagine that’s what seeking God’s kingdom is like.

I’m not sure how to begin the life stripping-down process, but here’s a little brainstorming:

  • Let go:  of stuff, of worry, of anxiety, of things you can’t control.
  • Stop being a people-pleaser:  Say no once in a while.
  • Be happy with what you have:  Cut the coveting.
  • Don’t go it alone:  Ask for help, hired or otherwise, to share your burden.
  • Recognize that’s it’s impossible to have it all.  What are you trading off for your life?
  • Be easy on yourself.

Finally, the other night, Thich Nhat Hanh told the sell-out crowd that the kingdom of God is right here.

My dining room table today

My dining room table today

Right now.  Right now you can only be in one place.  Right now you can only do one thing.  Right now you can only think one thought. Be present right here, right now in this beautiful moment and you have found the kingdom of God.

For me, that’s where the stripping down starts.

Simple Home, Beautiful Home: Part I

The cart before the horse is neither beautiful nor useful.  Before we can adorn our houses with beautiful objects the walls must be stripped, and our lives must be stripped, and beautiful housekeeping and beautiful living be laid for a foundation…”  –Henry David Thoreau

I think there are about three blog entries that the above quote can be a springboard for, but let me start with a little visual inspiration.

“…the walls must be stripped…”

One of my favorite books is Peaceful Spaces by Alice Whately. The pictures above are all from this book.  I keep it out on one of my living room tables.  Every picture in it is inspiration for serenity and simplicity in the environment of the home.   Sometimes it’s hard to tear myself away from the picture to read the advice:

On Space Clearing:  “By questioning the purpose of everything you own, you will quickly realize that it is you, rather than the stuff that surrounds you, that must take center stage in the home.”

On Balance and Form:  “To achieve harmony in the home, it is vital to create a balance between form and function.  This concept derives from the Zen aesthetic of yin and yang, or in layman’s terms, opposing forces which, when equally represented, create a harmonious balance of energy.”

On Living Spaces:  “Opting for an uncontrived palette allows for the display of different furnishing styles and for the introduction of pattern and discreet touches of luxury.”

On Sleeping: “Keep your sleeping space simple.  Reduce furniture to the bare minimum, adopt a cohesive color scheme and rely on space, light, and texture to create a sensory haven.”

On Eating: “As long as your eating and cooking space remains warm and clutter-free, it is possible to create a feeling of wellbeing through the creation of two very different styles.  If you’re the efficient type, the clean-cut minimalist look is best.  If you’re earthier and more relaxed, the modern rustic look is likely to be more appropriate.”

The stripping-down theme that Thoreau suggested long ago is put into practical terms by Alice Whately.   My husband and I recently refinished our living room floors.  Actually, “living room” in our house is a misnomer.  Like most people whose homes were built in the 70s and 80s, our “living” is done everywhere in the house BUT the living room.  We spend most of our time in the family room.  Now, of course, the newer homes have evolved the concept of living rooms and family rooms  into “great rooms” where the living spaces include the kitchen.

Yet, I really love this particular room, which I’ll simply call my “living quietly room” because rather than making it a museum-like space for the occasional visitor, I use it as a creative space.  There are bookshelves in it, and a piano, and parsons chairs by the windows where I can sit in the light and look out on the world, and a table for writing, or eating or sharing tea with a friend.

The point is, to refinish the floors we had to remove all the furniture.  At the same time we decided to paint the walls, so we took down all the pictures and window treatments.

When it came time to put the stuff back, I made a conscious decision to put back ONLY what was necessary, rather than try to find a place for all the stuff that I had–which was a paradigm shift for me.   It made all the difference in how I feel when I’m in that room, surrounded only by things that have a purpose, whether functional, or aesthetic, or both.

The other thing that made a big difference was simply in the literal stripping down of the floor and the repainting of the walls.  When the foundation is clean and pristine, you don’t need to cover up flaws with stuff.  Before my floors were refinished, I had them covered up with inexpensive rugs.  But once they were gleaming, I was able to eliminate the rugs.  So, Thoreau’s admonition to strip the walls should be taken literally, if beauty is to be found within.

When rooms are suited to our spirits, they become our temples.  I, for one, prefer a simple chapel such as the one I frequently visit up at the Weston Priory in Vermont, with its neutral walls, flagstone floors, bare altar, and long windows from which you can watch the sun rise over their pond during matins at daybreak.

Those elements of bringing the outside in and creating a space for the soul can be adapted by anyone–you don’t need to live in a monastery.  As Pablo Picasso famously said, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.”  So, all you really have to do is start eliminating.


Transition: A Moment in Autumn

Whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside.  Not at the houses or the rooftops, but the sky.  As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you’ll know that you’re pure within and will find happiness once more.”  –Anne Frank

The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early as in the spring.–Thoreau

It’s September 21st and therefore unofficially, or perhaps officially, fall.   Here in the Northeast there are very few signs–few red leaves sticking out like the lone grey hair on the head of a forty-year old–but the calendar says it’s fall.  The early a.m. says it’s fall, because a chill has replaced the steamy summer mornings.

The temperature is no longer an enemy–as in the summer when you barricade the doors shut and turn up (down?) the air conditioning.  Our air conditioner has been broken for three years now, so we’ve just partnered with the summer heat, pulling in the evening’s dousing of the day’s sun with a simple electric fan.

One of the many reasons I quit my job was because I was getting angry when seasons sped past in a blur.  Because I was in a typical climate-controlled office building, I lost the feeling that I was one with the winter, spring, summer or fall.  I’d rush out of my office building and into my car, also climate controlled, and then rush to make dinner in my house, also climate controlled, and then relied on the television to tell me how hot it was going to be the next day, although it didn’t matter really because I interacted with the weather maybe 30 minutes a day, at most.

So, now I sit outside briefly every day, so the days don’t escape me.  “Just stop right there!”  I tell the afternoon sun.  “You’re not disappearing on MY watch!”  And I take in the long shadows, the wafts of the evening breeze, the cool blades of grass.

The quotes above by Thoreau and Anne Frank tell us how lucky we are simply to be able to soak up a dram of nature, and doing so liberates us from any prison we happen to be in.  It frees us, indeed.  Thoreau’s quote speaks of being in an almshouse, yet being able to see the sky; Anne Frank’s quote is written as she is buried within four walls protecting her from a brutish political world from which she cannot escape.  Yet, the  mere sight of the sky gives her joy–the mere hope that one day, the sun will warm her again.

I would share my own experience outside today, because if I wanted to I could upload a short video, but if I’m concerned with preserving the moment, I miss the point of living in it.  I don’t want you to see my moment second hand, so there are no pictures in this post.   It would be better for you to look outside your own office window right now, or go outside into your own backyard, and mark the transition to this new season, today, this hour, this moment–before it’s too late.

Let It Be and Know that I am God

IMG_0891Paul McCartney has begun his 2009 US tour.  I saw him on his tour here in 2005–the $750 seats were a gift I gave to my child within.  Or, the absolutely crazy Beatlemaniacal teenage girl within.  I was 12 when I first heard of the Beatles.  “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was playing on the radio as my friend’s mother drove us to school.  “That’s the Beatles,” my friend Joannie said.  “Who are the Beatles?” I asked.  She looked at me as if I had just asked her who President Kennedy was.  “You’ve NEVER heard of THE BEATLES???”  she asked.  She did have an advantage over me.  She had four older, very cool, sisters from whom she learned everything you needed to know to be as cool as they were.  They knew everything in that department, as far as I could tell.

In any case, I’m happy that I recall the very moment I heard their name, and their sound, because nothing was the same for me after that.  

My fave Beatle was Paul, and my fave Paul song became “Let it Be.”  Still is.  I still find such solace in the message and the music, with the title mantra encouraging us to not worry.  It will all work out.  So says someone from beyond who reassures us gently.  

Coincidentally, I was thinking of the topic of simply “being” for my blog post this week, and then I recalled that Paul McCartney was probably singing the perfect theme song for a post like this somewhere that very night to a sell-out crowd.  


I ordered a book this week from Amazon by the famed contemplative, Bernadette Roberts.  Her books on the path to no-self are classic, and I was very interested in what she had to say.  When the book arrived, I opened it, and thought to myself, “Oh, heck, this book is filled with WORDS!”  As if I expected anything different.    And it really wasn’t a thought at all, it was a feeling that while I was drawn to the idea of moving towards unity with God and ultimately the experience of no-self, just words weren’t going to get me there.

I’m looking to learn, and hopefully to grow, but suddenly I’m tired of the traditional ways of learning.  Analyzing, synthesizing, rationalizing, justifying… been there done that.  What should I do now?  

What I feel compelled to do is to just be still and listen.  Be still and let go.   Let it all just be.  After reading the likes of Thomas Merton and Thomas Aquinas, St. Theresa of Avila and St. Theresa of Lisieux,  Richard Foster and Richard Rohr, to use Bernadette Roberts’ phrase, I’ve grown weary of learning “above the neck.”  Now I feel a need for my learning to be “below the neck.”    There will be an answer.  Let it be.

My pastor had a really interesting way to close a sermon on the Biblical injunction, Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10), and I use it frequently in meditation.  It goes like this:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.


Enough said.