Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tools for the Journey #17 - Walking Towards Home

Walking towards home...this is a metaphorical pilgrimage and one which I feel is vitally important. The journey 'homeward' must be taken to one degree or another if we are to be emotionally healthy adults.

For some of us childhood was happy and the road home is well marked on the maps of our hearts. For others, the way home may be long and obscured by pain, hurt feelings, or words left unspoken. No matter which is true for us there invariably comes a time when we must make the journey towards home. Even if long avoided, this trip often finally becomes necessary due to the death of a parent...and by then it is too late to say some things worth saying. Avoid this tardiness at all costs.

The pain of losing my mother was profound but would have been unbearable had there been unresolved issues between us. I can't say everything between my mother and I was said but everything important had been.

Close your eyes for a moment and think of your parents. What comes to mind? Are your first thoughts filled with love, gratitude and happy memories, or do regrets and resentments come more easily? What are the lasting impressions, the indelible emotions you carry with you regarding your parents?

It is a universal truth - we are all someone's child. For the majority of us our relationship with our parents was our first, and unquestionably our most significant bond. For better or worse we become inextricably tied to these people, and this complex relationship defines us on many levels.

Most parents love their children and mean well as they raise them. However it is important to remember it is possible for someone to have good intentions and still mess things up. My parent's mistakes made me a stronger person, while the things they did right made me who I am.

If a parent is asked to close their eyes and think of their children, then tell what comes to mind, most will say something positive. Despite our shortcomings, parents often seem better able to set aside their children's mistakes and instead hold fast to what they know is good within them. If we follow their example and shift our focus towards the positive in our parents we may find more underlying goodness than we had previously realized was there.

The tool for the journey is our willingness to 'walk towards home'. This is not something endeavored once and then we are done; this is a process which can take many years as we 'walk' back again and again to explore the cobwebbed attic of our memories for snippets of our past. The richness of these images and the feelings they invoke can conjure up distant and complicated emotions. The goal is to find ways to gather up all of this and somehow distill the goodness from it.

Being able to see the good in my own parents and recognizing the 'gifts' they gave me has often come through conversations with their contemporaries. The perspective I've gained from talking with the parents of others has been invaluable to me and has increased my capacity to find the hidden treasures of my past.

Recently I made a new friend; she is the mother of an old friend of mine. Linda was born the same year as my own mother and in many ways she is a lot like my mom was. She is smart and funny, quick to laugh, and she is generous and willing to tell the truth about things. We've had some wonderful discussions - the kind of talks that nobody who is not your mother has any reason to be so generous about having. The seeds of remembering what matters are planted during such conversations, and I am indebted to her for the gift of these dialogues.

The good memories from our parents are the seeds they send us out into the world with. As adults we are supposed to plant those seeds and over time they can grow into 'food' which sustains us throughout our lives.

Our sense of value, our sense of family and religion and culture - of right and wrong - all of this begins in the arms of our parents and we must applaud them if they did these things well...and find a way to forgive them if they did them poorly. Just as we coax fire from embers, so we can coax good from our past. For some this is easier than others, but it is important work worth doing. Besides 'I love you' one of the last things I had the privilege of saying to my mother before she died was: "Thank you; you did a good job raising me." And I know now, as a mother myself, this is the one thing every parent hopes to hear from their child.

The 'walk' is transformational if we are willing to take it. This walk is not home, but towards is directional for a reason - because we cannot always get all the way there.The ties which bind us to whatever constitutes 'home' for us are like those invisible strings which make people fly in movies - we cannot see them yet they are there, they are strong, and if we trust them they will hold our weight as they are carrying us homeward.

Be brave and embrace the journey. Be diligent in seeking the good. Trust that if you take this walk there will be good which comes out of it - and perhaps you will discover the road home is not so long after all.

Blessings on your journey!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tools for the Journey #16 - What is to give light...

"What is to give light must endure burning."
- Viktor Frankl

Austrian psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Viktor Frankel survived Auschwitz to write the quote above, and his quote is a "gift" he gave me, a tool for my journey, though I never met Mr. Frankl.

On this blessed Thanksgiving Day I am mindful of all I have to be thankful for. I am also aware of the tendency to be grateful only for the "good" in our lives yet not the things which might be considered the "bad".

The "good" nourishes and sustains us, and this is a blessing. The "bad" or adversity in our lives can indeed devour us if we let it, but there is another possibility, another choice - it can instead be utilized as fuel to propel us can burn us and from there we become a source of light.

The roots of our pain may be deep but they are part of what is holding up the tree. Roots grow down, trees grow up so be mindful of directionality and which direction you want to focus your attention on.

We can find ways to alchemize our past pains, injuries, and sorrows into something new and useful. Just like a boat with a repaired hole - the point is it is repaired; it does not change the fact there was a hole but it renders this fact unimportant. The past should not be a place of residency - only a place of reference.

Our family and friends are a harbor for us, they are core to the "good" in our loves yet the "bad" or adversity, which may have caused some of the holes in our vessel, do not have to be an anchor. We alone get to choose how we look back and how we look forward. No one else chooses this for us.

Frankl said:

"We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's way."

Thanksgiving is a time to walk inward and seek out and hold up to the light one's blessings and gifts. For me it is both a time of appreciative remembrance and a time of anticipation...I have much to be thankful for and also much yet to come which I anticipate being thankful for in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. I am grateful for the harvest, for the bounty on my table today but I am also thankful for the seeds of things to come.

How do we measure the fullness of our lives? Hopefully we measure by the beautiful moments we have been blessed to experience...and even though human nature may compel us to want more of these "good" experiences (in whatever form) it is my prayer we each spend Thanksgiving Day residing in the place of feeling we have enough...and being thankful not only for the "good" things in our lives but also those things which "burn" us, those things which give us the increased capacity to be a light in the world...for what is to give light must endure burning.

Happy Thanksgiving.

"There are two ways of spreading light - to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." - Unknown

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Tools for the Journey #15 - Fear of falling / Joy of Flight

There is an ancient Japanese koan which reads:

"Do not mistake the pointing finger for the moon."

As with all important questions in life...the answer is not as important as the path leading to it. However in this case I feel some explanation of meaning may be useful to what I want to say today, thus I have provided one interpretation of this age-old koan.

"Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger."

In the years I trained at Aikido of Tamalpias dojo I had the unprecedented blessing to have not just one extraordinary sensei, but three: Wendy Palmer, George Leonard and Richard Strozzi Heckler. Each gave me valuable tools for my journey which I still carry with me and use even after so many years.

As my family and I walk this journey of cancer and chemotherapy (with my husband) and all it entails...I have been mindful lately of a particularly indelible lesson from Richard which keeps tapping me on the shoulder.

On a sunny autumn afternoon while attending one of Richard's classes - when I was still a rank beginner - I was having an extremely difficult time with the rolling and throws which are an integral part of Aikido practice...I could not seem to get past my fears about falling and flying through the air and thus was making precious little progress on the mat.

After watching me flounder for a considerable period of time, Richard came over to ask what was causing me so much trouble. "I am afraid of falling and hurting myself", I told him.

His reply to me was simple, and he offered no long-winded explanation for what he meant. He looked me in the eyes, paused for a moment (in that instant there were no longer 20 other students on the mat with us - it was only student and sensei) and this is what he said to me:

"You don't need a map to get where you are going in here. Experience more, think less. Your fear is outside of your Self...and your work here is to shine the light inside. You must strive to turn your fear of falling into the joy of flight."
Richard's words so long ago helped me to better navigate my way to becoming a stronger more centered student, and those same words have been useful on the paths I have walked in the years since then. Today I find I am hearing his words anew at this particularly challenging time.

As much as I wish it were otherwise I certainly have some "fear of falling" at the present time on my journey. I am fumbling as I search diligently for a "map" which could help me navigate these terrifying waters...and Richard's words echoing in my head..."you must strive to turn your fear of falling into the joy of flight" are a map of sorts...or better yet a homing beacon back to center.

How do I transform my fear of falling into the joy of flight? How do I not mistake the pointing finger for the moon? Perhaps I can only get there through practice, just like those days on the mat in that beloved dojo. Maybe I need to think less and experience more...

Below is a quote from Richard Strozzi Heckler's book: Aikido and the New Warrior which expresses where I hope to be, but am not yet today, in my efforts to stay focused on the moon and not on the pointing finger and turning my present fear of falling into the joy of flight.

"When someone proceeds with an Aikido move they didn't think they could do, and then accomplishes it, quickly, with hardly any force used, that is transcendence. A person has done something not seemingly possible, by blending body and mind - and thus has revealed a bigger and probably truer self."

We know the words (the pointing finger) the doctors say about Paul's prognosis but the truth is not the pointing finger, it is the moon...and to look at the moon we must gaze past the pointing finger to a place further out in the distance.

If I want to see the "moon" in the distance more clearly I need to once again reveal a truer version of myself to myself. In order to do this I think back on all the skills Aikido practice gave me: centering, grounding, ki extension, blending, budo, relaxation, harmony, love, strong yet soft, breath awareness, embracing the attack, discipline, respect, sweeping circular motions and yes, how to turn the fear of falling in to the joy of flight.

We are in the presence of an "enemy" called cancer, we are on the battlefield under fierce attack, and it is taking all of my mental training to stay centered. My human instinct is to tense up, resist and fight the enemy attacking my family, but Richard's words and my Aikido training remind me there is untold power in non-resistance and if I "embrace the attack" I will have the force of the Universe behind me. From this place I have already won...and I will more clearly see the elusive "moon".

This does not mean I determine the outcome but it does mean I have power over my strength through the battle and my response to the outcome no matter what it turns out to be.

Blessings on your journey,

PS - If you'd like to know more about Richard's present work visit these websites:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tools for the Journey #14 - Ubuntu

Ubuntu ([ùɓúntʼú]; English: /ʊˈbʊntuː/ uu-buun-too).
Ubuntu means what makes us human is the humanity we show each other.

It is a Xhosa (South African) word and philosophy emphasizing community, sharing and generosity. Many parts of Africa have a similar word with the same definition and spirit.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains:

"Ubuntu is about the essence of being human. A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance which comes from knowing they belong to a greater whole. We believe a person is a person through another person; my humanity is caught up, bound up inextricably with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore we seek to work for the common good because our humanity comes into its own in belonging. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas the truth is we are connected and what we do affects the whole world."

The concept of Ubuntu runs counter to the die-hard Western creed of individualism. Our Western society bases so much of its values on the "Marlboro Man", solitary mindset...the lone cowboy riding the range. However the best of who we are as a people, as a community, shines brightest during times when we pull together.

There are responsibilities (and yes, hassles) which undoubtedly come with our interconnectedness, but there are many treasures associated with the same. Our true power lies in what we can do together as families, as neighbors, as communities, and as a human tribe.

Archbishop Tutu describes this perspective,

"Ubuntu is not, "I think therefore I am." It says rather: "I am a human being because I belong. I participate. I share." In essence, I am because you are."

Thinking back on the events of September 11, 2001, I am heart-full of those who gave their lives that day. Along with a nation, I cried on September 11, 2001 and every September 11th since then. I weep both for what was lost, but also in gratitude for what we gained. Ubuntu was alive and well and working overtime on 9/11/2001.

The unspeakable, horrible acts of terror witnessed on 9/11 were only overshadowed by the rising up of people around our country, the steely determination that we would pull together, we would help out, lend a hand, get our hands dirty, put differences aside and all for a common cause against an unfathomable evil which landed in our country that terrible day.

Most of us remember for weeks afterward people were kinder, friendlier, more tolerant and more patient with each other. I remember how it felt in those days and weeks after 9/11...I was deeply moved by the profound sense of connectedness to my human family during those times. Now my annual practice each September is to remind myself of those feelings, bring myself back into a place where I am freshly aware of my interconnectedness because in the final analysis what else is there really?

Life is messy; it just is. It is not a question of IF there will be some sort of "train wreck" in our midst, but only a matter of when. This isn't a tidy life no matter how much we try to make it so; it is a messy, painful, beautiful, breathtaking, heartbreaking, gorgeous, torturous and splendid life. People we love die; things don't always work out, we get hurt along the way and really bad things can and do happen to very good people. But we are all in this together and with this awareness of Ubuntu, I am better able to cope with my own hard times and more prepared to help you through yours.

As a human tribe we thrive together, not incrementally but exponentially.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tools for the Journey #13 - All The Good You Can

Do all the good you can
By all the means you can
To all the people you can
In every place you can
At all the times you can
As long as ever you can

- John Wesley

The poem above is a precious and valued "tool" for myself and my family. It is one of the cornerstones of our family culture and indeed it is part of the ground we stand upon each day. This poem hangs framed on the wall in our living room as our family mantra and motto. As a parent I talk with my children often about what this poem means - and what it does not mean...because both points are important.

To misconstrue Mr. Wesley's message would be unfortunate, and some undoubtedly have done so.

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can...

On the surface this poem could be interpreted as giving all of oneself at all costs...but this is not my interpretation. From my eyes Mr. Wesley was referencing something deeper, he was speaking about "the place we come from" rather than "the place we are going" and this is a vital distinction. If "being of service" is foundational, if it is the place we come from then there is a nearly infinite reservoir to draw from, and as I give, as I exhale myself out to others I am not depleted. If undertaken in the proper way then in my acts of giving I am also "fed" and thus I am sustained and even renewed by these actions. Conversely, if doing all the good we can is "the place we are going" and it is not foundational then to my mind this is finite and we can easily become depleted and this is not truly being of service.

Another quote (author unknown) which goes to make clear my point is this:

Temples don't exist on the outside
One has to become a temple
And the only way to become a temple
Is to create in your interior
An immense gratitude
For all that has happened to you
For all that is happening to you
Your reserves then are incalculable, immeasurable.

So, Mr. Wesley's message, his call to action, if you will - can and should be endeavored but in order to do so we must also include ourselves in the equation. We must remember to "feed" ourselves as we endeavor to be of service to others. Sustainability is elemental, and in order to have sustainability we must work to understand the tools we receive on deeper levels...we must learn to have "new eyes" in order to see the various uses for our "tools" which may not be apparent at first glance.

If you were to take my children aside and ask them, "What is the one thing your mother says to you again and again every day?" - This is what they would tell you:

"Pay attention to the world around you."

He was using different words, but I believe Mr. Wesley was saying the same thing with his poem; in order to truly be of service one must become skilled at paying attention to the world around them.

Thus, with this daily "mantra" from their mama, and Mr. Wesley's lovely "tool", I feel confident my kids have two key pieces of how to live a happy, textured and meaningful life. If they carry with them the tools which I have passed on and they learn to recognize the tools which are uniquely their own, then no matter how long I live I know when I leave them they will be okay.

The value of any tool, any gift, is not found simply in relation to where or whom it came from as much as in how it lands in our heart and resonates with us on deeper levels no matter the source. Mr. Wesley's tool is an integral part of the fabric of my heart and it is one I endeavor to use on a daily basis in hopes of doing all the good I can while I am here.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tools for the Journey #12 - Exhale Yourself

As rusty-hued autumn colors wash over me and all around me in these days of seasonal change and dwindling light…I am reminded once again of the impermanence of life. Just as springtime is a burst of life and color and things “becoming”…there is also this season of putting things to bed, of quieting down. The garden, the patio furniture, the summer sandals and swimsuits – all tucked away for the coming colder, more inward-reflective time. The changing seasons of the year always has me mindful of the changing seasons of life. This year these thoughts are particularly laden because my precious husband has stage IV cancer. Despite his diagnosis we endeavor to reside in a place of faith rather than fear and some days we are successful…other days not so much.

Lately as I ponder thoughts of life and death I have been reflecting on some wisdom my former Aikido sensei, Wendy Palmer, gave to me many years ago:

"Your inhale is what you take in; it is the gift the World has for you. But your exhale is what you give back to the be very careful how you exhale yourself."

When we are born the very first thing we do is we inhale; we must take this first breath and it is our arrival gift from the World. The very last thing we do when we die is we exhale - we give back the gift we first took in. We come in taking but we go out giving and all the time in between those two points we have a choice about how we exhale ourselves.

As I have walked through my daily life in all the years since Wendy was my sensei I have worked to stay mindful of my exhale. However, these days I have a significantly heightened awareness; I am attempting to stay centered, grounded as I watch Paul valiantly fighting this horrid disease. It is far easier to be centered when not faced with incomprehensible loss…but “Center is not referenced on loss”, Wendy would say, “it references on what is emerging and what is possible”.

So for today, for this moment I strive to stay centered and look to what is possible. To help me in my endeavor I am leaning heavily on the “tools” Wendy gave me all those years ago in a dojo in Marin County. As I pull these tools out and hold them up to the light it serves as a reminder of how even the “old tools” remain useful - have their place in the order of things - and don’t need to get tucked away even when the "seasons" change!

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale...and the cycle goes on and on. Wendy's words echoing in my ears have value still:

"Be mindful of how you exhale yourself."

It is my wish, my hope, my fervent prayer that my exhale might one day become a “tool” which someone else will pull out and use to prop themselves up, help them through a tough season, just as Wendy’s wisdom from so many years ago is propping me up today.

Blessings on your journey!

"If the body is a light bulb and it burns out, does that mean there's no more electricity? The source of the energy remains. We can discard the body and go on. We are the source." - Joseph Campbell

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tools for the Journey #11 - Plow Down The Corn...

Many of us (perhaps even most of us) remember the film: Field of Dreams.
The key event in the film which begins the entire story is when the main
character plows down half of his corn field to make room to build a baseball
field for ghost baseball heroes of days past to come and play. Needless to say
everyone thought this guy was crazy!

"If you build it they will come."

The plowing down of his corn field is a beautiful metaphor; one which I love
and think of often when I need to push through to the other side of a problem.

If I build it they will come but first I must "plow down the corn!"

I must look and see what is "in the way" of my progress, what is in the way of
my dream bearing fruit? I must identify this "corn" and I must be willing to take
the risks and have the courage to "plow it down" so room is made for what is
becoming, what is unfolding, what is before me waiting to arrive. All the while
aware of how many will believe I am crazy or at least making a mistake. This
is where trusting myself, trusting my gut and my instincts is key because there will be plenty of people standing by to tell me: "you're nuts".

Plow down the corn -

This is a powerful tool for my journey.
When I am stuck, when I find myself residing in fear or doubt or trepidation...
I pick myself up, dust myself off and begin to examine which corn to "plow down" so there is room
for new possibilities, new information, new insights, new perspective, new viewing points,
new adventures, new people, new ground upon which to stand for both myself
and all that is headed towards me.

If you are willing to use this tool - even at the risk of appearing "crazy" like the farmer in the film; if you are willing to identify and plow down what is in the way of your forward
progress...what you will witness is miracles all around you, coming
at you from all directions, once the way is clear for them to arrive.
Things you could never have imagined would come your way will manifest
before your eyes once the "corn" is removed and the space is there
for these gifts to "land" in your "corn field".

A "farmer" such as this is a person who is engaged to life. Inhabiting this frame of mind - one eventually becomes a resident of a place within which little will remain unrevealed as long as there is willingness to keep eyes, heart and mind wide open. These revelations will help to distinguish which "corn" to cut down and which to keep for the harvest.




"Not being known does not stop the truth from being true!" - Richard Bach