Posts Tagged ‘ups and downs’

Women Holding the Long Lens

Monday, January 11th, 2016


I’m visiting family and marveling at how long my grandchildren’s arms and legs have grown, how my daughter has become an inventive and creative cook, and how my ex husband has turned into a gentle friend. As this year just begins to unfold, I’m aware of the longer arc, and of the graceful way life changes the way the path looked …way back then.

I’m reminded of the story of how an apparent tragedy occurs, only to become s portal for a fortuitous event, that then morphs into the doorway for another downturn. Age at least provides a lens for the long story, and presents an option not to get too caught up in the drama and apparent truths of each chapter of this wild and beautiful journey.

On this annual solo road trip, I visit family, see old friends, and will end up with seven close women friends who have been a group for over 35 years. We’ve watched each other meet obstacles, embrace blessings, and survive dramas great and small. Perhaps to balance out the complexity of our own sagas, we always pepper our reunion with as many movies as possible, separated by walks on the beach, home cooked food and less wine than we used to drink.

In our seventies, we know we face losses in the upcoming episodes of our reunion series. One of us has already lost a partner to a sudden, deadly heart attack. Another is recovering from a knee replacement and can’t make it this year. What will it be like when our numbers thin? How will we all get to our destination if we’re disabled? Who will die first, and how will we deal with that?

These kinds of questions are a reality of aging, and yet so far there is a saving grace. We have each other. Friendships forged at a progressive Episcopal church we all attended back in the day, our shared values run deep. We taught each others’ children in Sunday school, and so we care who they’ve married and how their children are doing. We also care whether each woman is finding joy, discovering new meaning, and whether she can take a good joke.

We all have common political views, and so we complain about the state of the world. But these are women who are change-makers. We haven’t given up. Back in the 70’s we named ourselves the Women’s Quilting and Terrorist Society, which we thought was funny then. Now we just use the initials, but the desire to shake things up is still very much alive.

Everything has changed for the one whose husband turned out to be gay and still is her best friend. For the one who lives close to the bone, after using all her savings taking care of her father. For the one whose bitter divorce was healed by a surprise passionate romance and marriage, ending in her partner’s sudden death.

And nothing has changed. The big arc of our lives is trained by faith in the unseen. The dramas in each chapter have been tamed by good humor. And the shards of old stories are held in a sacred pot by women who will treasure them, laughing and crying together until we can’t do it in person any more

This year I salute these women and all women and men who come together in groups, urging you to put these meetings first, even when it’s hard to put the important ahead of the seemingly urgent. Every time you meet, you put money in the pot. And the older you get, the wealthier you feel, finding that life is made, after all, not of victories or defeats, but of the stream of love embedded in the entire adventure.


This post is also available on Huffington Post at my author archive, Your comments there or here are appreciated.

5 Lessons From Living With Limits

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

89591-PH-SS-043I’m getting a graduate course in living with limits while recovering from my foot surgery. Since I can’t put any weight on my foot for six weeks and am getting around on a scooter and crutches, the lessons are varied and deep.

I’ll bet many of you know the drill. If you’ve broken a limb, had a knee replacement or been otherwise disabled, then you know the lessons appear to be mostly physical. I’ve learned to sleep propped up, with my foot elevated. I’ve had to learn to maneuver my scooter, and carry things in a tote bag I put on the handlebars, carry liquids in screwtop containers and bathe in a plastic chair in the shower with a showerhead on a hose.  My “nest” in the living room contains everything I need to keep occupied and pretty happy.

Of course there are other learnings I’ve generalized from these limitations, lessons I hope to take into my “regular life” as a lucky, normally able-bodied person:

1. We are adaptable beings! I’ve watched myself invent creative ways to get around restrictions. Like figuring out how to make chicken soup without burning or cutting myself, or falling. I want to remember how adaptable I am and approach what I used to call “problems” as a chance to be creative.

2. Time is relative. When you can’t do much and have stripped life of driving, errands, household chores, hours pass much more slowly. I want to remember this, since in my old life I kept convincing myself that rushing and pushing would somehow create more time. The opposite is actually true.

3. Slowed way down, I notice more. The land around me is even more precious than before, so I keep binoculars in my nest. Really looking and noticing wildlife is my way of traveling outside my “confinement.” I want to continue to heighten my powers of observation and seeing.

4. Dependent on others, I am full of gratitude. My husband bringing me the mail and a drink from Starbucks feels like a major event. Dear friends who call or visit are heroines. I see how much I normally take for granted, and want to remain grateful and receptive.

5. My limitations show me what is really important, and I see that all I care about is what has heart and meaning. I could watch junk TV or eat junk food, but I do almost none of this. I want to walk that path of heart and meaning and just let everything else fall away.

All these lessons are so clear and easy to take in now. The challenge will be to live them when once again, I am on the move. Why is it that we seem to need hardship to really learn? And then back in ease, we forget so easily.

A lot of that return to old habits is just that: habitual behavior. To break a habit and replace it with new behavior takes repetition, rewiring of the brain. Will this recovery period be long enough?

What are the habits that hardship has inspired you to break? What have the lessons been that have come to you when you’ve been limited?

Recalling those lessons now, how can you form a new habit, new actions that will form the life you desire? So many of the patterns we blame on the outer world are really our coopting, our trance behavior where we give up our will. We give up what we say matters, just because it’s easy and familiar.

If you could pick one habit that you think falls into this category, what would that be? And if you could pick one practice to change that habit, what could you begin doing?

For example, if you want, as I do, to choose activities that have heart and meaning, then you could begin the habit of asking yourself every time you’re choosing to watch TV or take a walk or get a snack or pick up the phone…Will this choice bring me heart and meaning?

That way, even though every life has some limits, you might just find you’re freer than you thought!

Ode to Serena and the Mastery of Power

Monday, July 20th, 2015


I’m a big tennis fan, and so Wimbledon on TV was a bonus during this time of recovering from foot surgery. Feeling rather powerless and in need of some inspiration, a second bonus was spotting the invisible battle going on while Serena was winning the singles championship at 33.

Watching the outer battle…I mean, wow. The woman is a national symbol of the potential for feminine power. I remember watching her play with her sister when they were teenagers, the only black feminine faces in a privileged white sport. Not only have they both risen through the ranks, Serena has navigated the politics of sports, become an international star, and now has maintained and surpassed herself. She has overcome injuries, illness, inevitable aging, incredible competition—and is dominant in the world of athletics. That’s power.

Still, in her final match I watched her battle the personal demons that have come out to haunt her on international television in the past. As she admitted in her interview, her biggest challenge is not physical, but mental. Despite all her achievement, training, hard work and success, mastering herself is the hardest work of all.

I have compassion for her in this struggle. Tennis was my sport, and my biggest enemy was myself. I could rip myself apart faster and more viciously than any critic could have managed. I never did master myself through the crucible of tennis.

Watching Serena reminded me of the Hindu story of Arjuna, Krishna and the chariot. Lord Krishna drives a chariot onto the battlefield and Arjuna is a passenger seated in the back. Arjuna represents the embodied individual soul and Krishna, the higher Self– going into the midst of a battle between the armies of our “lower nature” and our Divine nature, on the inner battlefield. The reins are the mind, the horses the senses. And the whole operation works depends on collaboration between them all. (

I saw Serena’s real battle was to harness and channel the huge power she has amassed. It can be used, like all power, for destruction or for good. The bigger the power and the more fully we enter the bigger area, the more intense the tension gets. Looking through my lens it was not, “Will Serena beat Garbine Muguruza?” as much as it was “Will Serena let Arjuna keep the reins?”

Under pressure, we are all tempted to regress into the habit of allowing our ego or smaller self to grab those reins, triggered by whatever bugs us the most. When Serena’s serve goes sour, it must feel like her power is betraying and eluding her. Her ego must want to scream out obscenities and try to force the issue.

The maddening thing is, the opposite is required. The real battle is to create enough quiet to remain the neutral witness, to listen to higher instruction, to trust that magical flow is just outside our reach, possible once again if we relax and allow it. Letting go over forcing the chariot. Trust over fear.

It’s a mighty challenge for every one of us, collectively and individually. And at the top level of sports, we see the truth: that in a battlefield where every top player has already achieved top fitness, strategy and skill, it comes down to the inner stuff.

What we’re all after is Realization, or whatever you’d like to call it. Peace, happiness, joy, flow. We’ve all had it, and we’ve all lost it. Every one of us is on that battlefield and the skirmishes won’t stop, whether we’re playing on a tiny neighborhood court or in the halls of Washington.

Who’s driving your chariot, or piloting your plane? Are you even acquainted with that higher Self? You’ve met her in those moments where the magical flow just swept you along through difficulties you didn’t think you could master. That’s what I’d call your Arjuna, your Divine Self. You could just call it The Friend. I call it Big Pam, as opposed to Little One.

How can you allow the Friend to take the reins again? Well, I think the first step is always, Just STOP. When anger or panic or pushing or striving or forcing has got you by the throat, just STOP.

Now breathe. Just breathe right into the feeling, wherever it lives in your body. Give it a chance. Give it a little space, a little pat. It’s just your own private angry toddler. Surely you won’t let it drive. You know how that ends. DUI’s or worse.

Now ask. Ask your Self, your heart, for help driving this unruly vehicle. Ask, and it shall be given. Maybe you won’t win the match. But you will have practiced your power serve. You will be one step closer to what I see Serena mastering: authentic power.

Finally, thank your inner Self, your master charioteer. Serena thanks her Jehovah God, which used to annoy me. But now I get it. “It is His strength I rely on,” she confessed. You can call your charioteer Joe if you want, or Delilah. But when you have surrendered the reins and harvested the reward, give thanks and then try to keep doing that.

Your inner crowd will stand up and cheer.


A New Window on the World

Thursday, July 9th, 2015

My Window on the World

I’m writing you from my bed. I’ve been here a good deal since my surgery six days ago. I do get around on my scooter walker, and also have a wheel chair we used today for my first post-op visit to the doctor. Things are going well on the whole–and this land out the window is an important spot for the healing I still have ahead.

The Sutherland Valley where I live is a beautiful, unspoiled place on the edge of the wild, and has been my healing sanctuary ever since we moved here 14 years ago. Then, I was in the middle of chemo treatment for my first round of breast cancer. These mountains and this land have been a comfort and source of beauty and inspiration for what seems like too many physical challenges.

And yet, I keep recovering, keep learning, keep being inspired, keep finding that life still holds magic and mystery and unanswered questions and unexplored territory that compels me to answer a call.

The view out the window beckons me to enter the majesty of life, even when I am trapped in pain or limitations. Look at all there is! The endless, ever-changing play of light, the land moving from parched to green and back. The line of shadow that seems to be an impassible boundary but is not. Shadow and light. Beauty.

Beauty is my medicine, and I am graced with it all around me. Even in this season that I’ve always proclaimed to hate I find wonders.

So I will write to you from here, musing about the view outside this window, showing you some of its moods, and sharing some of mine. I’m not sure what to expect on this next journey of healing, but I’m on it. Committed. On the way. What will be revealed–in the landscape, in my own nature? How will my foot and the rest of my being respond to this surgery? How will I begin to walk when the time comes?

It is way too soon to know. This is a time for quiet. For being, not doing. For resting, not working. And yet writing is part of my solace and my reaching outside these four walls for contact, for dialogue.

Questions for you to ponder:

  • What do you do and how do you respond when you are sequestered and limited?
  • What is your part in the journey of healing? How do you work with your body? Your emotions?
  • How does the land around you participate in your process? Do you feel energy from the mountains, or water sources or land features nearby?
  • How do you make larger meaning out of an illness or surgical procedure, even if chosen? How do you turn it into an opportunity?

These are questions I’ll be pondering in coming weeks. Let me know your thoughts!


Communicating with a Controller

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

I remember flying along this gorgeous coastline in Baja, Mexico, with my husband Jon. It was before I got my pilot’s license, and so when he urged me to stop photographing and take the controls, I got instant butterflies. 95% of me wanted to fly, but the 5% that was terrified had the capability of ruining everything.

This makes me think of the beginning of my career, when I was a classroom teacher worried about maintaining discipline. Even on days when I had 95% of the class involved and focused, I was always afraid of that 5% that might take those controls away from me.

If “flying” is a metaphor for the 95% of us that knows how to break free of gravity and soar, we still have to learn to deal with the 5% that suspects we might crash at any moment. I call this “communicating with the controllers,” which is Lesson 5 in my book, Flying Lessons.

The challenge of this lesson is dealing with negative feedback. That might include the kind of inner voice I heard when my husband urged me to take the controls and I was afraid I couldn’t do it. Or, it might be outer feedback, like the kind I would get from disruptive students.

I would submit that our reaction to both kinds is fear: fear of the fear we feel, or fear that we will not be able to stay in control. Or fear that we were incapable all along; thinking we were was just a lie. And fear can hijack a good intent, a calm mind, an open heart and a good experience.

The lesson I learned from Clio, my flight instructor, was about discernment. Which voices are telling the truth that will keep you safe and set you free? And where is your true voice, which you need to use when standing up for yourself is the answer.

Here’s a summary of Clio’s advice:

1. Be kind. The 5% may be afraid. Fear can make them (whether they are outer or inner voices) say terrible things. Take that into consideration.

2.  Be fair. Remember, they are the 5%. Are you listening to the 95%, or are they just invisible, their hands folded politely on their desks, their voices muffled behind their modest smiles…What if you asked them to raise their voices in song?

3.  Ask for help. Ask your partner, your friend, your angels, your guides, your God, whomever you trust the most for help. For listening. For caring. For hugs. For company. The 95% of the controllers are trying to help you survive.

4.  Keep the whole journey in mind. Remember, it’s this part that is hard. The big picture journey probably has a much more beautiful arc to it.

5.  Remember, everything is relative. You sometimes think the world is coming to an end. When yours looks like that, so does the larger one. Still, there are those other times when all is glowing, when the leaves of every tree are on fire with sunlight, and when the moon is huge and white and all-knowing. When life is holy. When you are perfect, just as you are.


Humor and style

Monday, January 24th, 2011

This is one of my favorite Sand Spirit images!  I talked about this one at a recent presentation at the Escape! conference for cancer survivors and advocates. They were an inspiring and humbling group of people who have been through a daunting spectrum of challenges. Not only have they navigated these with incredible grace, but the participants all were accepted at the conference because they chose to give back by creating programs for their communities.

So back to the Sand Spirit. When I was diagnosed over 10 years ago, I could see that I’d need some humor and style to make it through surgeries, chemo and whatever treatment or possible complications might follow. This image helped me see how I might summon that humor and style. I see a woman who appears to be wearing a plumed hat, cape and scarves, and who is sauntering along the beach with grace and ease. I think this is partly because she doesn’t take herself too seriously and employs a healthy dose of humor to challenges big and small.

How could this image help you today with your own challenges? Could it be that having some humor and style could help you in practical ways? Just shifting our attitude can make all the difference.

Try writing down three ways that humor and style can help you right now with whatever is on your plate. I look forward to your ideas!

How Sand Spirits Reveal Your Personal Myth

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

I love using the Sand Spirit Insight cards to reveal a personal myth that might give you insight into a theme in your own life.

Choose three cards from the pile face down, or just think of three numbers between 1 and 36 and pick those. I chose #33, #16 and #11.

From a completely intuitive place, use the three “illustrations” to stimulate a story that pours out with the least amount of thinking possible. Here’s mine:

One day a mother was thinking hard about how to juggle all the activity and all the dynamics in her family. She had a very colorful, very vibrant family, but sometimes they all were confused and troubled by the changes among them and in the world. They were looking for signs about the Divine path they all might follow.

At times the mother despaired, feeling the grief that surrounded her own helplessness, and wondered if all her experience counted for anything.

Into her dreamtime flew a strange and comical bird, who in his serious form showed her how hunched over she might become if she took all the weight of the world upon her shoulders. Another way, he pointed out, would be to take it all lightly, like a sweet and funny story that was really based on love and on how alike we all are.

See how this story might have helped me? What do you see in the three cards? What story would you tell? Myths, especially when they come from ourselves, give us the gift of the big picture, the universal. This takes us out of the small world that entraps us when we forget that we are all connected and part of one Creation. The spirits from the sea evidently want us to remember that while we are all drops, we are part of the great ocean!

My Happy!

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Maggie just had her “happy” and she is two.  What did she have to say about that? “My happy June.”  Yes, her birthday was in June. And on the day, she just kept saying, “My happy.”

It is her happy. She has every right to have “happy.” None of us would want to deny a two-year old as adorable as my grand daughter her “happy.”

And as for the rest of us? Do we know as certainly as Maggie that it is natural and right for us to have our own “happy?” If so, why does it seem hard to hang on to sometimes? Why are we so affected by outer events that we forget about that birthright? Why do we just hand over the power we have to claim “happy” for ourselves?

This is a simple wish for you to find your “happy” right now, independent of any challenges or sadnesses happening in your life. It is still your “happy” and it doesn’t even have to be your birthday, or June.

This is your moment.

A Message from the Sea

Friday, June 4th, 2010

This is Sand Spirit Insight Card #26.  I “drew” it for today by just picking a number and clicking on it without knowing which image would come up. This one has morphed over time. I used to see a woman in it, offering a gift to the heavens. I still can see her today, but more often now I see a face of a male figure who appears to be a wizard. He tells me he can see the invisible, see below the surface. He is warning us about the necessity for humankind to move away from the personal and the ego into the realm of greater consciousness and responsibility to the earth. He is talking about the tragedy of the oil spill as the most recent example. His left eye (his more feminine or intuitive side, connected to his right brain) is his more active eye. His right eye is focused on the heavens. This is his doing side, and he has surrendered to divine guidance for all his decision-making.

This is serious stuff, but how else can we respond to all that is happening now?  A volcano erupts in Guatemala, followed by floods and the appearance of a giant sinkhole in the capital. Oil threatens our ocean, our sea animals and a whole way of life on the southern coast. Whatever actions we must take, this looks like the time to begin them.

The card I drew coincides with my finishing Craig Hamilton’s course in integral enlightenment and moving beyond the ego. The shift we must make requires a new kind of effort–one that begins with surrender to forces greater than ourselves. We live within the Great Mystery, and it looks like it’s time to respect it again.

How will we each begin?

7 Tips for Riding the Wave

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

the waveCan you believe this wave machine? This surfer was one of the only ones who stayed on for any length of time. And that included people who appeared to have surfing experience. Probably that’s because this is a new kind of wave–harder to ride than the usual ones. Kind of like the events and changes out in the world that are new kinds of challenges, harder ones to ride than the usual ones.

So here are some surfing tips I picked up from my early history as a surfing groupie, and from my observations:

1. Watch first. Good surfers check it out, watch how the waves are breaking, observe how other surfers are doing, see where the wind is, and know whether the tide is in or out. Whatever your challenges are, be the detached observer before you try to act.

2. Pick your spot. You don’t want to sit and wait for a good wave in a bad place. No point in being in too thick a crowd, or too near the pier pilings or in a place where the waves aren’t breaking well. Position yourself to get the best ride possible. Be smart about where you start and how you place yourself before you try to make a move.

3. Be in front of the wave. Clearly surfing is about being carried by the energy of the wave, so you have to have it at your back. This is like the old Irish blessing about having the wind at your back. That’s the only way to get assistance from the Universe.

4.  Paddle like hell until you catch the wave. You have to act. it’s about timing, and it’s also about effort, at least until you know you’re being carried. Then you get to play and experiment.

5. Get all you can out of the ride. Surfers don’t come toward the beach in a straight line; they angle so that they are at the breaking edge of the wave or sometimes then inside the curl, so that they get the maximum time and opportunity to try out their skills. When the Universe is carrying you, get all you can while the getting is good!

6. When you wipe out, try again. It’s clear that wipeouts are part of the deal. We get tumbled and crunched. So we paddle out and give it another go.

7. Have a blast. If it isn’t fun, then why are we surfing? This is a ride on earth, and it’s meant to be a joyous one whenever we can make that happen.

And your tips? Let’s hear them!