Friday, December 21, 2012

Movement(s) (or) The Thrasher

Each spring the thrasher, with her restless tufts of finch feather,
considers her nest anew.
Whether she should build it from the fallen limbs
of a late March thunderstorm that rides on the heels of winter,
or pick apart the outworn shreds
of fluff and feather, disgarding tiny twigs in favor
of something more sturdy, with gold-crested leaves
that shimmer in the sun and wind.

There beneath the cypress and oak
we spread our ivory bedsheet, uncovering
last night's left overs, sprawling
our branched-out bodies spritzed with the light sweat
of an early spring bike ride.

I read to you from my favorite collection - The Fish -
waiting eagerly for your thoughts - impaled impressions -
a little scrap of something from the fieldscapes of your heart.
I look up and your eyes are cast downwards - reading,
and listening, but mostly reading.

I think of another far away time, a moment's snippet
from the scrapbook of our springtime picnics,
when I once read to you from this very same book,
and waited with this very same breath, abated,
for some word from your heart, and only heard the squaking
of the thrasher as she tossed about in the brush,
whisking pineneedles here, an unruly stick there,
purposefully rebuidling to her own, unspoken wishes.

I remember how, back then, I wanted for you to be
(so badly, so blindly), someone
and something - else -
which I had once loved.
And I remember how you beat your tail
against the bark of the tree
in protest! And tightened up the strong muscle
of your wing blades, anxious and defiant.
"You cannot shape me," your shoulders said.

The thrasher finds among the thin needles of a tall
and slender pine, new leaves for the taking.
I put down my book and watch her quietly
as you kiss my ankle -
and listening.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Paying attention to our dreams can be so interesting and fulfilling. I've always been a noticer of the night life. Lately my dreams have been alive and electric, profound and awakening.

My best friend and I went for a girl's overnight camping trip on the Appalachian trail. It was beautiful and arduous, a very tough hike full of gorgeous views and mysterious blankets of fog. We hiked 10 miles to a sweet little valley area where we set up camp for the night. After a delicious campfire meal of tofu sausage, rice, and vegetables, sleep was not too far from our grasp. As dusk settled upon us we tucked ourselves into our cozy tent and shut our tired eyes.

I fell asleep gradually, perhaps in the most gradual way possible. I closed my eyes, quieted my mind, and listened to the sounds of the night. The chirping and beeping and whizzing and whining all around us grew louder and louder as I let it all in. The sounds of the forest grew so loud and encompassing that I felt as if they were vibrating within and through me, my self melting into the great wholeness. At some point the image of the tent above me fell away and I found myself staring into the dark night of the forest. Then I began to see a light emerging from behind and slightly above the treetops. It grew brighter and brighter, as if it were moving from the sky and descending down towards me. I watched as this light moved in and shone down, reaching and extending itself right into my belly, and I joyfully exclaimed, 'my daughter is here!'

I awoke immediatley after. I cannot tell you exactly what time it was, but I imagine it to have been somewhere around 4am. A storm had kicked up and the rain was now pelting and pounding against our tent, pools of water swirling around us as we laid wide-eyed with wonder in our refuge. Lightening was dancing everywhere in the sky but we could not pinpoint where, but only saw flashes through the veil of our tent and shuddered as the thunder rumbled around us.

An all-too-short day later, I confirm there is indeed a little light growing inside my belly. It feels different than it has ever felt before. I am scared and careful, somewhat over-vigilant, and remarkably drawn inward. I'm not glowing with elation or beaming with happiness... but this is not to say that I'm neither excited nor happy. I am both, of course. I'm just taking it all in, quietly, with some snipits of nostalgia here and there, tiny forgotten sorrows, images of dreams that have left me and new ones that have arrived.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Practicing Harmlessness

A monk recently spoke about the importance of joyous effort and the three obstacles to joyous effort: (1) laziness (2) busyness (3) self-defeating attitude/self-doubt. I thought a lot about these three obstacles and investigated how they are each at work in my own practice in both gross and subtle ways. The more I reflect on these obstacles, the more it seems to me that they, too, have roots and causes. As I looked deeper, I started to see that for my own path, the root obstacle which has been generating these three obstacles to joyous effort is purpose. Why do I practice? No really, why?

What purpose might I have that could really, truly, sustain the practice? I went through many things, even trying to get the answer boiled down to one key word, such as 'gratitude.' But nothing seemed to fit quite as perfectly as this: practicing harmlessness.

Why do I sit every day, training my mind? To be peaceful, to be free from suffering, to cultivate wisdom. Yes, all of those things! But they are not just for me, they are also for you. And you, and you, and you! If I practice only for me, I get all tangled up in self-centeredness, critical of my practice, with unreachable expectations and too much desire for attainment. When I practice in order to take the best kind of care of others that I can -- everything simply settles into place. And the peacefulness, liberation from suffering, and wisdom which the practice naturally generates will also naturally be the qualities in me which takes care of you.

I like this exchange. It is a firm foundation, and makes my effort joyous.

It also contributes in its own way to patience and compassion in the practice. Training the mind is tough work. And it takes a great deal of time. This path is a gradual one, and contrary to our basic intuition which would tell us as much, I find myself having to constantly be reminded. One day we might sit for practice and the mind just wont settle down; it thinks and thinks and thinks and thinks. It's important to immediately tell ourselves that that's okay. That's what the mind naturally does. It's been doing that for a long, long time. Much longer than you've been practicing. It's easy to be aggressive with ourselves in our practice when the mind is so restless and defiant. It's far better to wrap our heart's arms around it and say in a sweet, gentle voice, 'that's okay. just notice the breath again.' And we may have to notice the breath again a thousand times in our little 30 or 40 or 60 minute sit. It's all a part of the practice. Practicing harmlessness must first begin with ourselves. There's simply no escaping that fact.

So, my friends, may you have patience with yourself in order to have patience with others. And may you have peace and compassion within and towards yourself, so that you may have peace and compassion with and towards others.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Being With

A morning meditative thought: Every second that ticks by is another second of your life which you will never have again. I kick myself everytime I catch myself thinking, 'I can't wait until I'm not at work but at home' or 'I just want this unpleasant activity to be over so that I can do something else.' By wishing ourselves into the future and away from the present, we are hurling ourselves towards death and ignoring the gift of our own life. Appreciate every moment of your precious life. Make the most of it, even those moments we don't 'want.'

For Vesak, I journeyed on a 20-mile river hike in the North Georgia mountains. The moon was full but being far down in the mountain valley I never caught a glimpse. Instead, there were snails and snakes, night creatures and bears not far afoot. I took along with me Andy Karr's book Contemplating Reality, studying the teachings in the late afternoon after camp had been set up, and meditating in the evening and morning hours.

Perhaps it was the deep contemplation spurred on by my reading material, perhaps it was the full moon, or being far away from the ordinary, tangled life in the city, but the 'reality' I was accustomed to began to slip away out there on the trail. The sound of the river water at night, with my eyes closed listening to the sound itself so intentely, water became wind. Wind became whispers. The forest awoke with an aliveness of spirits that I could neither see nor name, but only sense and feel all around me. I was visited by the spirit of a fox one early morning hour before the sun had risen, and felt as much protected by it as I felt mystified by its elusive presence and confused by my own simple lack of understanding in the mystery of the universe.

Happy Vesak.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Humble Living

Mulberries are in season down in the hot and dirty south. My more northern and northwestern friends are saying it's far too early! Here in Georgia, though, it's right on time...

Urban picking is one of my favorite joys. The bounty is a blessing and so easily overlooked by other city dwellers! Here I've come home with a solid 6 pounds of mulberries and fresh dandelion greens. The berries have turned out some savory jam and a spring pie in the making! Just in time for mom's visit...

Do you have any mulberry recipes to share?? I would love to get more ideas on how to use these. A dear friend was able to turn her mulberries into a liquore which we happily drizzled into our champagne flutes with proseco. Talk about divine!

The semester has come to a close. I find myself still processing the impact of deep transformations and learning, spurred on by my clients. I've held them all so dear in my heart. They've taught me so much about how to be therapeutic, and what the real gift of therapy is... To witness another's growth is the most profoundly moving and humblig experience. I feel honored to be a part of it, and honored to have been given such unique trust. I know it's not easy to trust a stranger, and one who reveals so little about themselves to you but who will see you in your best and your worst (though more often your worst). It's truly a testimony to the safety I've been able to give some of these people who've stepped into my life in this way, that they have been able to unravel a little and do a bit of healing, and a bit of growing.

It quiets the mind and soothes the heart with warmth, and love. I am more thankful than I've ever been in my life before.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vernal Equinox



Communicating via art. How I see the world; How she sees the world.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Child at Heart

Acorns sprouting their little green seedlings.

A momma and her baby cub.

The most beautiful, joy-filled smile of my favorite little boy.

Children at heart.

The nakedness of love.

If I were to ask my best friend in what ways her children are transforming her, perhaps she might say something along the lines of, 'they bring me most fully into the present moment, where every spec of the earth is filled with the fullness of the universe.'

We are all children at heart. We are all naked at heart. Each of us carries the world within us.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Beyond our skins, Beyond our selves

In what way are you being transformed right now?

This is the question my supervisor asked of me in my journey with practicum. Our clients change us, she says. They, and the process, transform us.

Naturally, this question occurred to me in a deeper translation: In what way are these changes and transformations deepening my practice? In what ways is my spiritual practice being challenged?

A few key words immediately come to mind: unconditional positive regard, compassion, patience, breathing, openness.

In a more process-oriented light, I'm beginning to become aware of the movement of the therapeutic process. Minutes before a client steps into my office, I close my eyes and step out of my skin -- I step out of myself and go forth. I don't put anything on, but I take something off. The client sits down with me and I feel a part of me, deeply sincere, raw, and yet also sharply defined and carved out, meets that other person in this bubble-like space we create together. That space is unique for each individual I sit with.

I think of Rogers and the interesting shift he made in the later part of his life where he took a turn from the humanistic into the more transpersonal realms of therapy. He didn't necessarily leave the humanistic behind. No, he had it with him as a foundation. But he began to find that he could transcend himself and still be with the other most fully, perhaps more fully, than simple congruence affords. This unique quality and way of being is presence -- something Rogers had only just begun to write about before he died.

Presence is what I hope to explore more of. If I bring anything to this field, if I leave anything behind, I hope it is to offer an exploration and deeper understanding of this quality, process, and way of being which is Presence.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Stairway

Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Like a worm on a hook, like a knight from some old-fashioned book
I have saved all my ribbons for thee.

Leonard Cohen.

How does it happen that two strangers pass with just gentle swipes of the shoulder, and one keeps steady while the other's heart leaps as if in the midst of danger? And all the while it's only the brussle sprouts who bear witness, and they could really care less. They're already about to be devoured.


Sometimes the past comes suddenly into the present, without warning. Each time I think to myself, next time, next time I'll be ready. What is it I'm ready-ing for? The final break from the illusion? A breaking revelation? The past to untie its impossibly tight knot?


I had a dream the other night that I was full of an electric pulse. I went to wash my hands in the bathroom basin and electrocuted myself. There was a violent shaking as a wild, untamed power trembled throughout my body. A bright spark popped and sputtered in the middle of my heart and I woke up gasping for air.


I go to practicum three times a week and listen to the sorrows of the world. Somewhere inside of me I bear an image of a woman carrying heavy buckets of water from an overflowing well. What is that woman going to do with all of those buckets of water, I wonder. Will it help the well? Will it stop the flooding? She needs to find the source, but she knows that will require that she go down... way down into the middle of the earth. Someone elses earth. Someone elses darkness. Does she have the lantern ready? Does she have the right amount of light so that not only she can see, but that she can walk that other person out too? Or will she discover, way down there, when she finally arrives at the source of it all... that she, and the other, are actually One?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Feral Children

An idea has sprung forth! A marvelous, inspiring, exciting idea!

Speaking on the phone the other evening with Rita, we got onto the topic of her art. I'd noticed on her deviant art page that she hadn't posted a new piece in quite a few months. Inquiring as to why, she confided in me that she hadn't had much inspiration lately. Being the ever-aspiring therapist (in-training) I am, I began to ask her more questions to see if she could find some answers to this blockage she felt she was encountering.

Her art, you see, is digital in nature. The confines of her illness limit her tremendously, which is why she has come to do art in the first place. She can't even step outside her back door. The closest to the outside world she can come, physically, is by lying on the floor of her living room watching the beautiful doves dance around her old, untended garden. Her art requires photographs... photographs of the outside world. Photographs which she has no way of taking herself. She has considered using stock photos, but they simply lack the inspiration necessary to engage her.

This is where the idea machine in me began humming. I have a few cameras. I have been aching for artistic purpose and inspiration for years now, having been swallowed up by the gulf of academic writing and research. What if we started a project together?

Here's the idea we've come up with so far: Throughout the week I take my camera with me everywhere I go, shooting pictures of things which speak to me. I'll send her all of my weekly photos and she'll then look at them in search of one or two which speak to her. She will then transform this photograph into one of her remarkable digital works and send it back to me. Then, I will take her piece of art and "listen" to it, writing either a poem or a little story to go along with it.

The end-product could be either a blog we keep in which we update a weekly 'art speak' creation... or we save all of our work and put it together in a book. I think we should shoot for both!

We're so excited about our new adventure together that we can already feel the electrifying pulse of inspiration rivetting our consciousness. The project is really about empathy, and how two friends communicate to one another via the media of art. I'm interested in the way we take up, interpret, and re-create that which we share with one another. I believe it will open up a new window onto the uniquely beautiful relationship we have together.

To begin, I sent her these few images shot over the last few years. If we find that we can work together in this way, we'll start this journey of speaking through the tongues of art...

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Spiritual Disobedience

I had a striking epiphany this morning in meditation. I've been working lately on feeling my way out of the habitual thought-involved mind and into the still clarity of witnessing. Looking at the way in which I typically engage with thoughts it occurred to me that part of the illusion with our minds is that we listen to and identify with our every thought. We think that it is "ME" who is thinking, me who is deciding, me who is liking and disliking and wanting to go here and there and on and on. In reality, the mind is simply producing via the faculty of thought a billion thoughts all day long. Due to our fundamental belief in the illusion of thought as self, we obey almost every thought that comes into our minds. We listen to them as if they were the holy grail. "I'm fat. I'm too tall. I hate this. I love that." Etc, etc.

Why not begin disobeying? I began to try this one small measure: every time I caught myself beginning to listen to a thought in meditation, I chose to disobey the call to listen. I coupled this with the labeling technique. My attention then would be pulled towards the thought and I would respond gently with "no, no attention" and then label it "thought". What took shape was subtle and did not involve pushing thought away. It was simply a matter of deciding to take control of my own mind. There is a wisdom far greater than the intellect. The soul knows this. Open to it with effort.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Gradual Path

Am I making progress? What kind of progress? In what ways am I progressing; in what ways ought I progress?

These are a few of the questions on my mind as of late, along with a host of others. I've been experimenting a little with meditating continuously (once or twice daily) versus taking breaks from mediation all together. What are the differences? How is the practice affected? What changes or does't change in the mind?

When I was practicing heavily, meaning two to three times a day up to nearly two hours a day, I had begun to easily notice the still point within and to maintain that still point with ease. When I take a "break" from meditation the still point can be found again upon return to the cushion but it is much less stable, tuning in and out like a cellphone signal. After a few days back on the cushion for 45 minute sits, the still point begins to settle in a little more and a little more each time I sit.

Although some say that there are different paths one can take in terms of progression, I'm finding solace (and patience and perseverence!) in the knowledge that buddhism and meditation is a gradual path. Insight, calm, and clarity come gradually. For some, and with certain techniques, these things can come suddenly and quickly. I've experienced this as well, but I have a lot less control over the sudden paths because it has only ever come to me spontaneously. The path of gradual progression gives me faith and hope, it keeps me going and reassures me when I begin to doubt myself or my progress.

It's important not to take the gradual path as reason to sit back on our laurels and wait for enlightenment, peace, and wisdom to come to us. There is still so much work to be done. But for a while, I find, I can give up the striving nature of the mind and relax into the meditation itself, watching the breath, watching the thoughts bounce around, watching the stillness come in and stay awhile, then watch it depart down the stream of thoughts.

I believe it's important to continually check in with ourselves to see how we're doing. Am I trying too hard? Am I too lax? How have I grown? In what ways can I grow?

I've found lately that I've been growing temendously in equanimity. There is a great deal of spaciousness within me when difficulties arise around me, or when a situation comes about in which I would have ordinarily become emotionally swept into. It's liberating to have that spaciousness and the opportunity to decide how I want to respond.

At the same time, there are still struggles between these two great polarities of the hindrances: restlessness and sloth and torpor. In meditation I can see the restlessness as a basic tightening, or tension, inside of me that either wants something I don't have or doesn't want what I've got. For right now, I'm working on meeting this tension with the active feeling of openning to it and and then warming it with love. Soon I will ask myself, is this technique effective? If not, what else might I try?

This is the way of the gradual path.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Age, New Moment

I've often thought of my birthday as an unfortunate circumstance: the Christmas "slash" birthday presents, no chance for a pool party when you're little, and always tending bar on my birthday night for the other New Year's celebrators. I'm happy to say that, this year, I'm finally beginning to imagine it a little differently.

I'm a New Year's baby. Born on a day full of hope (despite the hangovers), resolutions, renewed promises, thoughtful life-reviews, and moments of introspection. Everyone celebrates togetherness. Fireworks explode into the night sky. Southern families cook up black eyed peas and collards, toasting to prosperity and good health. Everyone kisses their sweetheart at midnight. A plethera of "unplanned" babies begin their journey (haven't you ever wondered why there are so many damned Virgos?!). It's a rather auspicious time to come into the world and I'm feeling very, very lucky.

This is despite my car breaking down. And my coworker never showing up to give me a ride to work. And the seat of my pants splitting right in the middle of my bar shift. Take it all in stride, I tell myself. Laugh, smile, be joyous. I'm alive! I was born today!

Dinner with my best friends. Laughing until it hurts. A flute full of golden champagne. A heart warm with love.

I spent some time going back through all of the entries in this journal for the last year and a half. So much growth! Up, up, and away. I'm so very pleased with my changes and the direction of my life. I'm at peace. The spiritual path is gaining width and depth. I'm learning and opening, and loving more and more the strangers I meet every day.

What changes do you discover when you look back over the year? Which one's make you smile? Which one's make the heart wince a little?