Of Being In The World

“We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well—places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As we stand in one of those places, fear may remain close at hand and our spirits may still tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.”  ~~Parker Palmer

Horton Bay heron

drawing by me, Kathryn Howlett. Heron in Horton Bay, MI.

We don’t have to “BE” our fears.  You may be  familiar with ” be not afraid” . There are two dozen examples in the Bible.  It doesn’t tell us not to fear. It means we don’t have to “BE” our fears.

‘Fear’ feels like my middle name these days. It follows and haunts me. I feel as if my body and brain have betrayed me with this aneurysm. Some days I feel as if my fears weigh heavily on me and I am sinking. I don’t know how to toss the weight overboard. Sometimes it feels like I am holding on to a bouquet of helium/fear filled balloons and am being swept away and carried here and there with no control. To contemplate letting go of the fear only presents as another fear, falling and crash landing.  So, how do I get across the fault line of fear and to move instead to firmer ground of trust, hope and faith?
I look for places and time in the day where I can stand on steady ground and regain my balance and perspective. From these vantage points I can look out at the world and life around me with hope and trust.
To be aware of these places and times, I have to pause now and then to create a place of non movement and silence or near silence in order to be aware of them and to allow them to come to the forefront of my thoughts. In so doing I move gently towards a place of promise, away from fear.
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day 
is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”
Etty Hillesum
Sometimes I close my eyes and listen to music, or just close my eyes in silence. Sometimes I draw. Sometimes I read, but often that makes me think even more!! Focusing on my breath helps. Whatever aid I enlist has to come from a birthing point of awareness. I have to be mindful to create these spaces because they do not always give birth to themselves!!
These spaces of rest and quiet between my breaths nurture something deep inside of me. They set in motion self care and healing .
Within this space come the words and thoughts “Allow this to be a learning experience that you will grow from.” I don’t have to live from the place of, or to be “fear”.
I have to do three things. One, be mindful of the pauses and allow them to bring me a sense of peace and grounding. Two, to rest in those pauses. Three to look around and reach out to those who are near.
There are some days, or moments in the day when I forget and get wobbly and off balance. In those moments I have to call upon “trust” and reach or call out to those near by to steady me or maybe even catch me. It is okay for me to do that. Not only don’t I have to be perfectly balanced all the time, I need to give up the thought of possibly even being balanced all the time.
I am coming to understand that while I may not be able to be even keeled all the time, there is a centering that happens through the awareness itself. When I breathe deeply and regain my balance, there comes an easy awareness of the pause between breaths and I can rest for a time in the presence and grace of that pause. And healing comes forward wrapped in a gentle blanket of quiet, trust, hope and faith. And when I am wrapped in that blanket the whirling of my thoughts slow down, and I am able to “be” in a space of less worry and fear. A place of balance and awareness where allowing just being to be enough.
Awareness allows me to have days that do contain moments of the healing pauses. The softer hours of sunset and sunrise seem to be the more fertile times for the pausing to arise. The slowing breaths, the quieting of the mostly ever present endless commentary of dreams, thoughts and worries, opens the door and allows for the stepping out into quieter, less kinetic places in my mind. And here, not unlike being out in Nature on a mountain top or standing next to the lullaby of ocean waves greeting the sandy beaches, I find myself in the places Parker Palmer refers to : places with names like trust and hope and faith.
Signing off now to go visit one of those places for awhile. Going to reflect on the way I want to choose to “Be” in the world as I recover and recoup.
A previous post: The Pause Between Breaths

Without Hesitation

Years ago we went panning for gold in Alaska! We knew the chances of finding any was slim, but the prospect filled us up and we spent a lazy afternoon in along the edge of a creek wrapped in happiness and sharing laughter. The chant “gold, gold, Gold, GOLD!” over of each pan that swirled just at the edge of the creek held the same magical possibility every time. Hope never faded.

We knew, of course, even with hope springing eternal, that we would not find any gold. And because of that we never contemplated what it would be like if we did find one of those enormous chunks that make headline news.

And we most certainly never entertained the idea of what we would do if someone came walking along and  asked us for that chunk.

There is a “folk” story…variations found in countries and in languages around the world called

“The Wise Woman’s Stone”

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food.
The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him.
She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But, a few days later, he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious.

“Teach me what you have within you that enabled you to give me this stone.”

walnut heart

Sure, this is a teaching story. So let’s think about it as such and learn. Instead of making a run for it, the man found he could not live with tricking and taking and returned to the woman. What he really wanted to know, and to have, was how “to give without hesitating.” To no longer cling and protect, to covet and take. Even with the potential of being secure for the rest of his life, he chose to return the stone and to try to attain something intangible.

There are people in the world today who do this every day and we rarely hear about them. Instead we are bombarded with words and actions that profess the opposite of this story.

What do we have within us that would allow us to just give…..? To give without thought of hesitation? Would we give only to someone we know or love? Would we give only with the understanding of an equal exchange or reward? Would we give only to people of like mind and beliefs? Would we hold tight and walk away?

How strong are our fears? How strong is the fear of uncertainty? The internal drive to protect and to keep?

It is difficult to do in this time in history in this country, but imagine yourself walking and finding a precious diamond or ruby, large enough to provide for you and your family for the rest of your life. No more wandering. No more want or hunger. Security and comfort are yours now. Forever. A fellow traveler comes and you generously share what little food you have. Then they see the precious stone and boldly ask for it.

Without hesitation you hold out your hand and give it to them.

IS that you? Could/would you do it? Why or why not?

Now, imagine you are the person receiving the stone. Inside you are giddy. You cannot believe your good fortune! But, by sunrise you are again in front of the woman. This time your hand is outstretched and you are handing her back the treasure of a lifetime. You no longer want that security. That wealth.

You seek instead to attain something intangible. You want what it is that allowed the woman to give away the precious jewel without hesitation.

What is it? Do you want it? DO you have it? Can you, we, attain it?



Keeping Quiet, a poem

I am basking in the contentment and deep joy of being with family and friends and offer this poem. Hoping you will stop for a moment and keep still.

Pablo Neruda

Now we will count to twelve
and we will keep still.

For once on the face of the earth,
let’s not speak in any language;
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.


If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

—from Extravagaria

The Best I Am Capable Of Being

“I will soothe you and heal you,
I will bring you roses.
I too have been covered with thorns.”
~ Rumi

I first read the poems of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī in college. Poems of love. Just authentic, unadulterated love. The kind of love the Greeks spoke of. All six kinds…..eros (sexual passion), philia (deep friendhsip), ludus (playful love), agape (love for everyone), pragma (longstanding love) and  philautia (love of self, two kinds)

I have come to drag you out of yourself, and take you in my heart.
I have come to bring out the beauty you never knew you had
and lift you like a prayer to the sky.”


Baby Mourning Dove. This is one of the babies from a pair that nested in the sandbox rafter. S/he is unafraid of the children who sing and coo to him/her. Mourning Doves mate for life.

love, love, love

It also seems I have always loved Rainer Maria Rilke. I do not even know when I first discovered him. There are very few of his words that do not penetrate my heart and cause it, and my thoughts, to soar.

“Everything in Nature grows and defends itself any way it can and is spontaneously itself, tries to be itself at all costs and against all opposition. We know little, but that we must trust in what is difficult is a certainty that will never abandon us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it. It is also good to love — love being difficult. Love is perhaps the most difficult task given us, the most extreme, the final proof and text, for which all other work is only preparation.~Rilke

The classic existential conundrum: why are we here?

“But because life here compels us, and because everything here
seems to need us, all this fleetingness
that strangely entreats us. Us, the most fleeting…
Once for each thing, only once. Once and no more. And we, too,
only once. Never again. But to have been
once, even though only once:
this having been earthly seems lasting, beyond repeal.
~Rilke, The Ninth Elegy

True? Because everything needs us? What needs us? The trees, the air, the Earth, the universe? Someone? Or, is it not so much about things needing us, being needed, but rather about having been here at all?

Knowing that our time, and the time of everything, is fleeting, what compels you to be the “best” you can be? For me, I am not sure I really know what the “best” me would be. I’d like to believe it would include being compassionate. I do know what, albeit in a certain context, I want to be here for. Living in and with and sharing the love the Greeks referred to as agape: selfless love. A love that is shared with all things on Earth and extended to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. To all. Even the “Other”, those I may dislike, fear, misunderstand, judge, condemn, turn from, ignore.

And it is not easy. As Rilke says, love is the most difficult task given us. I cannot do it without effort. I fail often. I feel whatever the opposite of love is…hate? I think hate is probably not the right word because truly it more of an anger/fear or an unknowing.

Discovering the best I am capable of includes making the time to look, to go within.

“Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.”
~ Rumi

Many folk consider this kind of “love for all” to be a cornerstone of human behavior. Lately however, I wonder. It is a difficult time we live in. And while there is certainly the case to be made that this is not the first time this may have been believed, we are so aware of all the suffering and violence that permeates our world, it does seem to indeed be a dark time.

When I have the presence of mind to “seek and find all the barriers within” that I have built against love, I find they are in fact there. There is Fear. Of many things. Especially fear of the unknown. There is Hurt. Anger. Mistrust. Clinging. Comparison. Disappointment. Sense of Entitlement. Lack of Knowledge. Misunderstanding. Assumption. Protection and Defensiveness. Confusion. Doubt. Separation.

And when I allow myself to see those things in myself, then I am able to work towards becoming the best I am capable of being. I cannot do it without the self-realization of what the barriers I have built are.

My parents, with their sense of service and care for others and the people they brought into my life built a certain foundation. All the traveling I did and living in other countries, my friends, my husband, my children and my career choice, my own faith and melded spirituality, have helped me open the door and look in and face these barriers of mine. Each day I own up to them and chip away at them, with the hope that one day they will be gone. Because that is the best I am capable of….

….breaking down all my barriers against the love called agape.

Agape, the evolving love that I know is inside of me for the sole purpose of being extended to all people the world over. The best I am capable of is allowing and sustaining the agape inside of me at all costs and against all opposition.

Rest In The Grace Of The World

                                                                    The Peace Of Wild Things

heron2When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~Wendell Berry

This is a favorite poem of mine. I come back to often, looking at the written words. Saying them out loud. Bringing them into my heart. It’s all there. All around us. The reminder of what matters. What the foundation is. A path that leads to resting in the grace of the world.

There are some days when I do feel as if I am waiting for the light of the day-blind stars. For me there is comfort in the star light of night. It is in the darkness with what appear as tiny specks reflecting light from an unseen source, that I feel small, not so important….where I experience awe, wonder, amazement in the most profound way. The world becomes quiet. Harshness softens. Reflection and gratitude have their time.

Now, obviously, given the title of the blog, I appreciate the sunrise also….that is when I wake up in awe, and listen to bird song, watch colors that cannot be recreated float across the sky. My mind wakes up and thoughts percolate. I have the feeling of being something very tiny in a world, in universe that is very large. Nature. It is Nature where I experience the sublime. This is what is holy, spiritual for me. Standing outside with the wind giving voice to the leaves, softly brushing my skin, feeling the heat of the sun or the seeing by the light of the moon, I am reminded over and over again

“we all dwell in a house of one room…”

~John Muir

There is grace enough for all of us in this world. Sometimes we have to stop, slow down, stop thinking in order to see it. To feel it. To know it. And sometimes we need to reach out and help others stop, slow down, stop talking to see it. Feel it. Know it.

We have to step out of world of important things. We have to stop the movement, the doing. We have to turn off the noise, the music, the computer, the phone. We have to figure out how to “……..go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.”

Here, resting in the beauty we have a chance to find clarity and balance. These two things are so needed in our world today. When your back is flat against the earth and you have to close your eyes to the brilliance of the sun and your skin feels the heat, all that heals you. The music in your ears, the rythym of the rippling water and the singing birds, is the most beautiful music there is.

Go now, go and lie down. Rest in the peace of the wild things.

So Much More

It was a powerful experience listening to people from all walks of life, all faiths, talk about the man they knew as Muhammad Ali. A boxer who could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, and yet he was so much more than that. He was in fact a brilliant reminder of what people can be when their hearts are full of love, respect and compassion.

He spoke the truth. He refused to kill people and go to war. He knew war was wrong on a multitude of levels.

He played patty cake with children and shook the hands of Presidents.

He was a physically powerful, articulate, vocal, Black Muslim man who an entire nation paused to pay its respect to. Flowers rained down as his body traveled miles through a red state, in a nation that seems to be currently wrapped in a scratchy blanket of intolerance, racism, fear and hate.

He believed in a God of compassion and kindness. Of Peace and Community. And he was very, very, very clear about what his God, Allah, expected.

If you love God, you can’t love only some of his children.”

A few days after his death I was listening to Krista Tippet from OnBeing interview Rebecca Solnit. She talked about love like the love Ali spoke of. Ali found his love for all under the banner of his God. Let’s be clear though, God is not the only channel love travels along. Others find, give and share love for the sake of love. Just love. Just love for all. Rebecca pays attention to events we call “disasters” and takes note of the transformation that takes place when ordinary divides and patterns are shattered and people come together and understand we are our brothers keeper. Joy, purposefulness and connectedness arise.

It’s easy to love some groups of people. Usually we love our family. Our parents. Our children. Our partner. We have groups of friends we love, and people in our neighborhood or church.

We know instances where love binds, heals, nurtures, gives life. Rebecca points out there are so many things and people to love besides those in our groups.

So many things and people in the world need love.

“There is so much work love has to do in this world.” Rebecca Solnit

There is so much fear, hate. There is so much persecution, oppression and racism. There is so much violence, injustice, poverty and profound suffering.

How do we step away from those things and walk towards love? Do we want to? Are we able to?

How do we lend a hand to love and get to work in this world? What will it take for our hearts to be as full and giving as the one of a boxer who grew up facing racism every day, won an Olympic medal for his country and then, in his own country was still refused seating in a restaurant because he was Black, who refused to go to war and kill people and went to prison for that, who called all people God’s children.

For all of Ali’s hype, all he wanted was to be remembered in this way:

“I’d like for them to say he took a few cups of love, he took one tablespoon of patience, teaspoon of generosity, one pint of kindness. He took one quart of laughter, one pinch of concern, and then, he mixed willingness with happiness, he added lots of faith, and he stirred it up well, then he spreads it over his span of a lifetime, and he served it to each and every deserving person he met.”

There is Trump. There is Syria. Today there is Orlando. It was Paris and Brussels. It is the refugees drowning by the hundreds. It will be someone else and someplace else where fear, hate, pain and suffering reign rampant.

And there will be more Ali’s, more Berrigan brothers, more Jimmy Carters, more cities like Salt Lake City working to end homelessness, more European countries with 100% literacy. There will be more countries like Switzerland almost totally eliminating poverty, or the UK with the lowest gun related violent deaths. There will be more Icelands where childhood mortality has almost been eliminated. There will be more countries like Canada who open their doors to refugees…..let’s stop calling them migrants shall we? They are not looking for work, they are trying to stay alive..to not be killed by bombs and guns.

If you’re reading this you’re most likely fairly privileged, and you get to have a choice. You have a voice you can use. You have opportunity and resources you can use. Stand side by side with all your brothers and sisters who have only their often unheard voice and help them be heard. Use your voice to stand up to injustice, hate, fear, poverty, violence. Do not become apathetic or unconcerned because you are not affected. Your sister is affected. Your brother is affected. You are a part of this family that is in pain and suffering.

We champion the reason for, and the protection of, the freedoms we enjoy in this country. There is only one problem. Millions of people in this country do not genuinely share in those freedoms.

 “There is so much work love has to do in this world.”

Like the familiar adage “Many hands make light work”, let’s join our hands together in and with Love and get to work.


Along Comes A Teacher

There are few master teachers in life. … But there are many who can listen to life so well that they can hear the vastness in everything and in you. A teacher is someone who has learned to listen to life. Someone who has found a way to listen well. Any real teacher is only a finger pointing. In the end, we may find out more by not following our teachers but by following what our teachers follow for themselves. From a good teacher you may learn the secret of listening. You will never learn the secrets of life. You will have to listen for yourself.” Rachel Naomi Remen

We have all kinds of teachers in our lives. Not just the ones in school or college. Life teachers. Spiritual teachers. Unexpected teachers. You never know when you’ll find a teacher. Seems like one shows up when you least expect it, aren’t even looking for one. On occasion you may not even aware one is in front of you.

I’ve known this particular person for several years now. She’s much like you and I. Her alarm goes off in the morning but she might not have time to eat breakfast. She doesn’t want to be late for morning meeting. Her lunches tend to be pretty balanced and she likes to have conversations while she’s eating. She likes to talk about movies and actually she often points out little nuances in them that I never noticed.

During the day she methodically gets her work done. She has to figure out how to work with a variety of people. She has to speak up to be heard sometimes, to express her ideas. Sometimes she is insistent, sometimes she acquiesces. Like you and me she has to problem solve and every now and then she needs to ask someone for help. She doesn’t ever seem to be hung up on needing and asking for help.

She enjoys her leisure time. Hangs out with friends, runs, relaxes, tries new things. She loves to be outside. She loves books and movies. She has an eye for art. She is very kind. Effortlessly, she is thoughtful, generous, caring, concerned, curious, loving, helpful. She is the first one to reach out to someone.

Two things stand out about my friend when I think about her. Once or twice I’ve watched her just watching birds. She was outside one beautiful day and she whispered for her friends to come over….”Come here.” she softly called, “Look. It’s a bluebird.” Even though she whispers you can always hear her enthusiasm. The kind that makes you get excited too. She loves to share what she knows about birds. It’s just her thing, so to speak. One of her friends started walking closer to the bird. “Stop” she admonished softly…”Just look. Listen. You don’t need to get closer. Just be still.” Of course the bird flew away. “All you had to do was just watch.” she adds a little sadly.

On other occasions I have observed her during the busy hum of the day just sit and close her eyes. She just sits like that for a bit. Kind of like collecting herself. Sometimes it is noticeable the way her body begins to relax. Often I notice she is different afterwards…a little calmer, perhaps a little more focused. One time I asked her what she thought about when she sat quietly like that. She kinda smiles and laughs. “Nothing.” she says. “I don’t think about anything! It’s just quiet.”

When you might not expect it, along comes a teacher. She’s one of those people who I realize is teaching me. Her bird watching caught my attention becasue I love birds too. When I see her sitting quietly I can’t help but smile as I watch her body so still and serene, eyes closed, no thoughts twirling in her mind. She can seemingly find a moment, just a moment, any time during the day to be still and quiet.

She teaches me to just be still. To look, watch. And to listen. To find moments to close my eyes and let thoughts go.

In the end, we may find out more by not following our teachers but by following what our teachers follow for themselves.”

Best part is, my friend is five!!!