Monday, December 29, 2008

A New Year Full of Things That Have Never Been

Another year is about to dawn, one that will surely bring unanticipated joys and difficulties both. We would do well to pause for a few moments to reflect on how we'd like to greet these unknowns as we step over the threshold into 2009.

Setting such an intention is at the heart of the age-old tradition of making New Year's resolutions. While this ritual may have fallen a bit out of vogue lately, I've always been struck by the spirit it embodies. Something inside us utters a resounding “Yes!” whenever an opportunity to move forward is glimpsed. The blank slate of a fresh year, a new beginning, just seems to invigorate all that is waiting and ready to burst forth from within.

I love that! Undeveloped pieces of soul ever seeking opportunities to bloom.

Of course, we can ignore such impulses due to the belief that we don't deserve good things or out of fear that we will let ourselves down once more. We could choose to simply carry on as before, ignoring our spirit's nascent urgings. But with a bit of encouragement, permission, and trust in our own ability to grow, we can step forward with anticipation and purpose.

Perhaps you long for creative expression, social connection, a healthier body, or a more vibrant spiritual life. Maybe a new career path beckons, or you yearn for a more light-hearted approach to your days. Or you might feel no specific call at all, just a desire to cultivate curiosity and greet whatever comes with openness and a willingness to be changed.

Whatever it might be, how can that impulse be midwifed into vibrancy? By employing the same natural laws that govern all new growth, no matter its form.
  • Begin with a viable seed, since intentions which are not clearly articulated have a lesser chance of coming to fruition. 
  • Devise a realistic strategy, employing knowledge of your personal strengths, quirks, and potential downfalls. 
  • Pull in appropriate resources to meet your goal, setting in place supportive others and opportunities that will assist your aspirations in coming to fruition. 
  • Tend to the new growth, checking in frequently, noting progress and addressing roadblocks; this step is perhaps most important as new growth is a tender thing indeed, and can be trampled under the foot of busy life.
  • Modify as needed, recognizing that your resolution may very well grow beyond what you originally intended, shifting in unanticipated ways.
According to the Talmud, “Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.'” In 2009, you could be the angel to your own tender shoots, loving and encouraging them to thrive.

In addition, enacting a clearly articulated intention could be your personal offering to the new year. We all know that the best gifts are the ones we make ourselves, and the best of those come when we give of ourselves

In 2009, we could give our best. We could resist settling for a humdrum existence, and refuse to deny the promise of what we could be. We could live true to the gift that this life gives us~~the ability to become the being we are already at our core.

And with that intention, as the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke put it so simply, “Let us welcome the new year, full of things that have never been.”

I hope it is a year in which you each move closer to being the being you already are!


Loanne Marie

Monday, December 22, 2008

Seasonal Musings

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Thereafter, daylight will increase in a steady progression through the frigid days of winter and the budding of spring.

I've always found this gift of lengthening days comforting, arriving just as we hunker down for winter's onslaught. It reassures me that when things seem bleakest, the tide has already begun to turn. Increasing light as winter's harshness intensifies is proof that nothing is static. The seeds of what is to come lie within the depths of what is.

This truth is most clearly articulated in the ancient Chinese symbol of yin yang, a simple image containing much wisdom.
A perfect circle, without beginning or end, is divided into segments, black and white. This reflects the idea that the whole, denoted by the circle, is composed of complementary forces. The fact that the division between the two is demarcated by a flowing line, rather than a rigidly straight one, suggests movement. One swirls into the other in an interplay that brings to mind partners on the dance floor, each mirroring the swaying motions of the other.

Yet a still subtler truth is articulated in the fact that each segment contains the germ of its opposite. Amid the fullest portion of darkness, a white seed abides, while a hint of black appears within the heart of light.

This circle, symbolizing life itself, holds everything within it. The image, however, highlights that which is seemingly contradictory, yet entwined: increasing light within the cold of winter, potential sorrow amid moments of joy, silver linings in the gray clouds that come our way.

To the degree that we are attached to one facet of life, one portion of what is now ours, our anxiety over its loss will loom large. To the extent, though, that we can expand our vision to include the enveloping circle and welcome the interplay of all that it contains, we will be soothed.

The yin yang symbol reminds us to hold all things~~pleasurable and painful~~with an open hand, accepting that they are ours on loan only. It also encourages us to keep an eye toward the change that will make an appearance before long.

Shifts and permutations can then be greeted as confirmation of the eternal dance in which we participate. From this perspective, we become more inclined to consciously, and perhaps even joyfully, add our own unique steps to the mix.

This week as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child~~light amid the darkness~~we might also reflect on that which lies within us and within our own lives, waiting to be born. As we greet the coming of Santa, we could welcome, too, the ultimate and perpetual Gift Bearer, by cultivating a receptive attitude toward whatever comes our way.

And as we begin to notice that it is not quite as dark when the alarm sounds each morning, we could remember the wisdom of words spoken centuries ago by the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus: “Nothing endures but change.”

Nothing, that is, but the circle that holds it all and the dance that is eternal.

May your gifts be many and your steps joyful!

Loanne Marie

Monday, December 15, 2008

Trust in Yourself And The Answers Will Come

Our lives can sometimes feel like tropical storms gaining speed while heading for landfall. We're buffeted by multiple demands, and things are spinning so quickly that we can barely see a path before us.

Fortunately, these storms that our lives sometimes resemble come with centers--calm eyes around which the wildness flies. We need to remember to head for that eye when things are threatening to spin out of control--preferably before! We'll find not only a stillness there, but access to valuable promptings.

I am of the belief that we are not given challenges without the ability to meet them. Whether speaking of a particular difficulty or a quest to lead a more vibrant life, we have what it takes to not only prevail, but to learn something in the process.

Intuition points us in the appropriate direction. This sixth and sorely underrated sense tells us just what is needed in a given situation, and is an essential tool at our disposal as we negotiate the rough and tumble of a human life. 

The trick is to distinguish authentic perception from wishes, fears, and the usual chatter of a busy mind. Practice, as in most things, is the key to increasing this skill.
  • Begin by nurturing the notion that you have the capacity for intuitive discernment. Yes, even you! You needn't believe wholeheartedly--accepting the possibility that intuition is available and valuable is sufficient.
  • Now set your intention to open to it and trust in it. 
  • With this resolve in place, articulate an issue that has you stymied. The clearer the question, the better sense you'll make of the guidance that comes.
  • Be alert for answers. You may need to be patient as well, for often intuition is like yeast dough and requires time to rise. 
  • When a direction suggests itself, sit with it a bit. Try it on and see how it feels against the skin of your soul. Beware of the urge to rush. Impulsive action often arises from the tumultuous periphery of a psyche rather than its sage core. 
  • Run the idea by your intellect and moral code, making sure there are no areas of legitimate conflict. Check it out with trusted others.
  • If the challenge of these steps is met, your intuition is likely true. Now enact it, remaining alert to needed modifications as you move forward.
  • But you're not done yet. Reflection is needed, for it is often in hindsight--seeing how it all played out, what worked and what didn't--that perceptive abilities become refined.
Intuition is literally a Godsend. We regularly receive inner promptings, nudging us down the path our soul requires. We often just don't listen. While the problem may be as simple as not taking the time, I think it often goes deeper than that.

I believe we frequently do know exactly what our next step needs to be. We just don't trust ourselves enough to take it. Lack of direction is not usually the problem. Fear is.

By honoring and developing our innate intuitive gifts, however, we gain skill and confidence in their appropriate use. In the process, we will also strengthen our connection to that ineffable Source from which all things flow.

So, next time you're swirling fast in the storm that somehow has become your life, get thee to the eye! And while there, trust-and enact--the guidance that will surely come.

Wishing you a week of calm centers!


Loanne Marie

Monday, December 8, 2008

This Daughter Returns Once Again

I've always had trouble with the parable of the prodigal son. In that teaching, the younger son returns to his father's home after years spent away and is welcomed with open arms.

I had identified with the elder son in the story, the good boy, who found the lavish welcome unfair. This son had toiled dutifully for years without, he felt, such rewards as given the one who had walked away.

So, I didn't get it. Until now.

In the last couple of weeks, I've seen my plans for a much needed change continually thwarted. I did my best to listen and make adjustments, but the roller coaster ride of hopes raised and dashed continued.

I didn't handle it well at all. My emotions ran the show, and trust and inner peace seemed always just beyond my reach.

The prodigal son squandered his fortune in loose living and cavorting with harlots. I spent mine in fear and its various manifestations: anxiety, doubt, worry, and choppy sleep.

It wasn't a lot of fun.

I did manage to maintain awareness of the process, though. I recognized that rather than simply doing what was mine to do and allowing events to unfold, distrust was causing me to try to make something happen. I just couldn't seem to stop myself.

One evening, though, I'd had enough. I think I'd finally just worn myself out. As I sat down to meditate, filled with disappointment and remorse for having responded in opposition to all I knew, suddenly~~instantaneously~~ something shifted. Like the prodigal son in Christ's story, I was welcomed unconditionally back home.

In a moment, I was back in the manor house, and felt as if I'd never left. There was no need for apologies; no harshness came my way. My 'punishment', if that in fact was what it was, had already occurred in all I had brought on myself while away.

I understood some things from this experience that I'd never gotten quite as deeply before. Living in harmony is our birthright. That is our fortune. Spiritual development is about growing into that abundance and living it more fully in every moment of every day.

Yes, we can~~and we will~~turn our backs on this bounty again and again. We shall squander our fortune in the way that is our wont. But we can return at any moment we truly wish. No questions asked, although depending on our behavior while away, we may need to right a wrong done.

I also saw that we each have our favorite methods of leaving this state of grace. For the elder son, who lived and worked in the fields of his father, envy and judgment and minding someone else's business were his particular temptation points. As soon as he fell for them, he too had turned his back and left the fields of plenty. He was squandering his fortune in his own idiosyncratic way, but will be welcomed back whenever he decides to return.

And that change I needed? As soon as I got myself out of the way, things did begin to unfold. It's quite likely that the end result will be far better than I could have conceived.

Good thing I'm not driving this bus!

I hope this week finds you living within the fields of plenty! 


Loanne Marie

Monday, December 1, 2008

Grasshoppers or Sweet Nectar

Decades ago, I read that grasshoppers are considered a gastronomical delight by members of certain societies.

I understood in that moment that what attracts or repels us is largely subjective. And I knew, too, that the ripples from this idea extend far beyond which foods we consider tasty.

Our basic stance toward life itself is likewise influenced by the family who raised us and by the culture within which we grew.

But what is truly compelling is that if such attitudes are simply a result of the particulars of our experience, perhaps we needn't enact them unthinkingly for the rest of our days. Isn't it possible that our basic approach to life is malleable still?

I think so. How we view the world and our place within it is largely up to us. We can choose.

This concept is vitally important, since the perspective we bring to daily life largely informs our reactions to it. And spiritual maturity begins when we assume full responsibility for that outlook and seek to bring it into better alignment with our overall principles.

An important first step is to look inward and ascertain our general tendencies, which often function outside our awareness. The following questions can begin this process:
  • What is our customary response when things don't go as we want? Do we reflexively modify our position while trusting that we can meet the challenge, or do we become waylaid by emotions of anger, discouragement, panic, and efforts to avoid the entire situation or force one more to our liking? 
  • Do we feel deeply connected to something larger than ourselves, or fear we're dangling alone within a vast and disinterested universe? 
  • Do we search for the lesson in everything, or imagine ourselves subjected to random events in a life without meaning or purpose? 
Once our usual posture is clarified through questions such as these, we can pursue steps to alter it to one more in keeping with the life we'd like to live, the being we'd like to become.

Attitudes, like other living things, can be cultivated. In our gardens, we plant a seed and provide a nourishing environment. The new plant grows and, ultimately, bears fruit.

The same process occurs with the tender sprouts in the garden of our soul. We begin with the seed of our intention. 

If, for example, you'd like to increase your trust that guidance is available in every moment, you've found your seed. Plant it.

Now consciously tend this growth in receptive awareness through specific periods of meditation, prayer, or journaling. Pause for small moments throughout your day to actively listen, particularly when difficulties arise. Converse with others who strive to embody this quality, or read from their written works.

And when intuition speaks, when you get even the slightest nudge in a viable direction, heed it. Nurture that still small voice by honoring it.

When you forget or find yourself doubting this new approach~~which you will, since gardening is not always easy~~simply shore up your resolve. Reaffirm your intention and carry on.

The roots of well~tended spiritual growth will grow deeper. Our seedlings will strengthen and branch out in unexpected ways as they rise toward the sun. Blossoms will appear. And from those flowers will flow a nectar that will sustain us through times good and ill.

Insects are an essential element in every garden. But we don't need to eat them.

Grasshoppers or sweet nectar. The choice is ours. After all, it's our garden.

Blessings, this week and always,

Loanne Marie

Monday, November 24, 2008

Of Lotuses And Muddy Water

Each year at this time, we are urged to be thankful for all the good things in our lives. What a delightful idea, this setting aside an entire day to cultivate gratitude.

But what about the not so good things that fill our days? Could we find a way to be grateful even for those? We all have struggles, some quite grave. Yet, if we approach these difficulties with an eye to the pearls they just might contain, wouldn't our experience of them change significantly?

If I have learned anything in 25 years as a psychotherapist, it is that beauty can rise out of deep pain. I have been schooled in this lesson by soul after brave soul who extracted jewels from the rubble of personal suffering. Rough times, when handled skillfully and with an openness born of a courageous spirit, can bring us great gifts. We needn't deny our distress, just discover the potential that lies within it.

The most difficult times in my own life have stretched my edges and deepened my heart. I have learned compassion from being wounded, humility from making mistakes, and kindness in both forgiving and being forgiven. Adversity has taught me fortitude, integrity, and the value of commitment. I have been nudged toward new and rewarding paths by situations whose heaviness grew day by day. And the gifts of being present at the deaths and near~deaths of loved ones? Oh, my! Difficult experiences, but ones I would not trade for anything.

Goldie Hawn, that kooky philosopher, puts it this way: “The beautiful lotus flower cannot grow any other way (than) in muddy water.” The muddy water of which she speaks lies within our hurt places and amid the trying moments of our lives. Those waters offer valuable lessons from which, ultimately, we can derive wisdom.

Christ urged us to love our enemies. Could not this entreaty be expanded to suggest a loving receptivity toward those slices of life that are not as we wish them to be? Our earth eyes divide experience into good and bad, pleasurable and painful, wanted and unwanted. Were we to see with wide open spirit eyes, perhaps we'd find that Grace is, indeed, everywhere, even in those moments that challenge us.

Since our spirit eyes tend not to function very consistently, we could simply choose~~right here, right now~~to honor the whole dance, not just its enjoyable or easy steps. And then we practice, growing in our ability to dance this dance of ours.

Many of us have a Thanksgiving tradition of pausing before that scrumptious meal to express gratitude for the good things in our lives. Perhaps this year we could also share a gem that came our way disguised as something else.

Difficulties will forever be part of the human experience. Our approach to them, though, just might determine the human we come to be. As Goldie says, “The flower that you become is not always easy.” Indeed.

Phoenixes rise from ashes, and clouds have silver linings. And to grow a lotus, you need a little mud.

Namaste, beautiful lotuses!

Loanne Marie

For another take on Thanksgiving, see Flow of Thanks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Awaken To What Is

Some of us conceive of the spiritual journey as an endeavor to find God. However, doesn't such a conceptualization presuppose that the Infinite has somehow become lost?

I realize that when folks think in these terms, they know full well that the Sacred is not a set of car keys or favorite necklace that, in our distraction, we misplace. Yet the words used to define a quest are important, as they unconsciously inform our approach to it.

If we see the Divine as something out there, we inadvertently reinforce a belief in a great dividing chasm, thus furthering a sense of separation. If we begin instead with the idea that the world and each moment of our lives are infused with the Holy, a different response is engendered.

With the latter perspective, we need only find ways to recognize what already is.

How do we perceive and, more importantly, increase our experience of the great Mystery? A vital first step is through enhancing our ability to pay attention.

This is no easy task as our brains are adept at creating fantasies that sweep us away. How often do we only vaguely perceive our surroundings ~~when driving down the road, for example~~while internally projecting ourselves into various imagined scenarios?

A reorientation is needed, away from thoughts that carry us out of the present and toward a direct experience of what is. Here are a few suggestions to increase the skill of living in the here and now.

  • Look for small moments within each day to come to an inner stillness. As we wash a dish, brush our teeth, or gaze out the window, for example, we could do so with full awareness.
  • Greet loved ones and coworkers authentically. No matter the specifics of history or personality, as we say hello we could open to the divine spark present in the other and within our interaction. 
  • Post evocative words or sacred images in places you will often see them. In this way, the bathroom mirror, refrigerator door, or computer screen act as reminders, pulling us deeper into the vast Mystery inherent in the present moment.
  • Make a commitment to open to the Divine for whatever specific period each day fits your life. Remember, whether you sit in receptive silence or read from a sacred text, it is far wiser to do so for 5 minutes each day than to set unrealistic goals that are abandoned in a few weeks.
These are only a few suggestions. In a quiet moment, ask for others that reflect your current needs, and listen for the answers that arise.

One of the paradoxes of life is that the force which shapes and propels the vast universe itself is present, too, within the tiny moments of our own small lives. It is the task of our evolving consciousness to grow in awareness of that reality, and to increase our full experience of it as well.

Sleeping and awakening are both part of the human experience. Perhaps it is time to give our awakening the greater share.

Have a lovely week!


Loanne Marie

Monday, November 10, 2008

Open Letter to McCain Supporters

While I am thrilled by the election of Barrack Obama, my heart goes out to those Americans who just as strongly supported McCain.

I well remember how I felt after the elections of 2000 and 2004, and can only guess that you’re feeling now some of what I felt then.

I suspect it might be too soon for anything to soften that upset. This election was an expression of the very real divisions that exist within our nation. However, I trust that we will find a way to bridge those divides over the next few months and years.

No, I don’t imagine it will be easy. A democratic republic requires hard work.

However, history is on our side. Strong differences have been the norm throughout the history of this country. During other times of strain, we survived and things moved forward. In just this way, we will move forward from this current juncture as well.

We are in this thing together, even though we viewed the candidates and the issues differently. We are fellow citizens of an amazing country, one that we each love dearly, and one that deserves our hard work and good faith to make better still.

Loanne Marie

A Shift In Consciousness

Martin Luther King's dream, voiced so eloquently 35 years ago, was finally realized this past week. The American people judged a black presidential candidate, not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.

This election obviously speaks volumes about the healing of the deep racial wounds of our nation, and the tears shed by so many of us Tuesday night honored this reality. However, I believe something still deeper has occurred.

The election of Barack Obama demonstrates a shift in consciousness,  as well.

There are moments in human history that are truly transformational. They creep up on us gradually, and can generally be perceived only in hindsight. I believe we are now living such a moment.

Millions of Americans cast individual ballots, some in the weeks of early voting, others on election day itself. Not until the tally of those votes started coming in did we begin to realize what we might have done as a nation.

It was not, however, until a somber and dignified black man walked onto that stage in Grant Park that we began to really get it. And as we listened to his sage and inspiring words, we knew. America, all of America, had a leader once more. And we, as a people, had grown stronger and deeper and united in a way we had not been the night before.

Our highest selves stood with us as we felt Obama's quiet strength, as we saw the gravity and grace with which he approached this historic moment. Our cynicism had evaporated without our even knowing it, and we allowed joy to overflow.

We had abandoned an ethic of divisiveness and pessimism, and allowed unity and hope a place at our collective table. We not only rejected fear as a political strategy. We rejected fear itself. And that is huge.

Of course there will be difficult times ahead. Much is expected of our new leader, and he well knows it. However, there is much expected of each of us as well. 

We will be given opportunities again and again to retreat into fear and skepticism. A shift has begun. It is up to us to nurture that new growth so that its roots reach deep and become sturdy.

We have given Obama a powerful mandate to move forward, to move us forward as a nation into uncharted territory. We must move with him, by stepping into that future with an ever-renewing faith that we can succeed.

You know, there really is no way to speak or write about this moment without sounding a bit corny or cliched. And the fact that we do it anyway is evidence of the transformation of which I speak.

Our election of a black man is truly historic. But I believe it was a deeper paradigm shift that allowed us to do so. It is this profound metamorphosis that will lead us to confront in novel ways the challenges that lay ahead.

And there is every reason to believe that the transformation we have experienced this week will continue to unfold, if we allow it, and sweep us into a future we can, from our present vantage point, only begin to imagine.

I can hardly wait!

Blessings to us all on this amazing journey ahead,

Loanne Marie

Monday, November 3, 2008

Be The Change

A vibrant spirituality cannot be something confined to morning meditation or weekly church service. For spirituality to be a living thing, it must be woven throughout our entire existence.

As we mature, we are often better able to articulate our core spiritual values. Actualizing them, however, is a challenging and ever-evolving process.

If we believe in love, we are called to love not just our family and friends, but all with whom we share this world. Easier said than done, certainly.

If we assume an interconnectedness with all life, a wise stewardship of the earth’s resources will follow, as will compassionate and substantive assistance to those of our own species in need. But what form shall these intentions take?

If we recognize that other cultures and religions are comprised of good people like ourselves who simply reflect another facet of the Infinite, we will honor our differences. What, then, is the appropriate response when these differences lead to conflict?

Tough questions, to be sure, but difficulty does not excuse us from our task. Enacting our spiritual principles must ever be our goal.

Nowhere is this challenge more acute than in the political arena. In fact, the political process is often a contest of values and of competing proposals for how best to advance them.

When someone asks for our vote, we need to listen carefully to both what the candidate and their party says, and how they say it.

The specific policies and proposals are, of course, extremely important, as are critiques of the state of the nation and our place in the world. Only a portion of pre-election proposals come to fruition, however, and then often in a form different from what was originally proffered.

That is why, more and more, I listen specifically for how a candidate conveys his or her plan. The tenor of the rhetoric, the images invoked, the emotional quality conveyed all give me insight into temperament, closely held values, and an idea of how he or she will approach the issues that concern us most.

No one can know the specific challenges our elected leaders will face, for we live in uncertain times. The issues confronting us are enormous: financial instability, sociological shifts, political upheaval, climate change, poverty, and violence around the world.

While times of smooth sailing have been rare in human history, the increasing rapidity of current changes, combined with the shrinking of our world through increased population and technological advancements, makes ours an era of unprecedented challenge.

But it is also a time of great potential. Events have conspired in such a way that we are poised on the cusp of profound change, for good or for ill.

When Gandhi exhorted us to “be the change you want to see in the world”, he was urging us to demonstrate our spiritual principles in every facet of our lives.

I’ve continued over the years to clarify my core spiritual values, and have tried in my own imperfect and evolving way to live them. This year, I’ve also listened to the candidates for the Presidency.

There is one who stands out, one candidate who best reflects my principles, both in the what of his policies and the how of his rhetoric.

My choice this year has arisen naturally from who I am, and who I perceive the candidates to be. This year, I cast my vote with ease.

I cast it with hope, as well.


Loanne Marie

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Still Small Voice

The woman woke to the silence of the night as she had been doing all too frequently these past few months. She noticed once more a strange heaviness and that vague, but increasingly familiar, dissatisfaction.

While the particulars vary, many of us have known such times of unease. Perhaps an unexpected event rocked the security of our world. An old wound or neglected passion may have roused after long slumber. Or this discontent might have seeped in slowly, only to be recognized when it was already in full swell.

Whatever the specifics, at these times our usual pursuits, even the pleasant ones, do not bring us the rich experience we crave. We feel incomplete, with a gnawing sense of being off kilter.

An opening has appeared.

Inquietude often arrives as a messenger, heralding a time of growth. As distressing as these occasions may be, they prod us to see, with clear eyes, the lives we have created, and they encourage us to make the adjustments that best reflect our soul's evolving sensibilities.

We may know exactly what our next step needs to be~~a shake up in our personal or professional relationships, a commitment to a deep healing, a more vibrant expression of our creativity or spirituality. Then again, we might have no clue at all~~only this restlessness and a vague yearning for something more.

Ultimately, it makes little difference whether the path before us is clear or appears as fog in a tumultuous night. We are called to follow.

A simple calling, that is all. We are not required to move. We can ignore the summons, make efforts to avoid our discomfort, try various methods to numb a screaming despair.

Many of us do refuse the call, temporarily or as a habitual approach to life. But there is a cost in doing so~~a weariness born of going through the motions of an unlived life, an existence spent in the shadows of what could be, of what we could be.

It can certainly feel frightening to walk into the unknown. However, that fear can be softened by remembering that we don't travel there alone. The messenger does not abandon us when we decide to move forward. It was ever only one guise of the Sacred that accompanies us always, particularly when we agree to enter uncharted territory.

That still small voice offers wisdom at each juncture.

How do we increase our capacity to receive and trust in this guidance? By actively turning toward it. As we engage in activities that strengthen our bond to that vast and nameless Mystery~~as we listen~~the once small voice grows stronger.

Of course our problems won't disappear, and we may have difficult work ahead of us. But as we step out of our paralysis and our fear, we allow ourselves to be lead further down our own and very unique path.

As we move deeper into ourselves, we become more fully alive. In so doing, we further our quest to become the person we are meant to be, the being we already are at our core.

Here's wishing you a small voice that grows ever stronger!


Loanne Marie

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spirit Shimmering

The afternoon sky was dramatic, with varying shades of blue and gray brooding clouds resting one upon the other, all nestled within the immense curve of that enclosing dome. 

Below, everything danced in the darting breeze~~leaves of the gnarled tree caught mid~way in transition to gold, bushes stretching along the fenceline, tall grasses running out to meet the road.  

Everything shimmied and quivered, swayed and trembled.

And the sheer life of it all pulled me from my preoccupations. I felt the vitality, and my soul roused in response. There was a palpable energy afoot, difficult to ignore. I don't know if my pace changed, but there surely must have been a shift in the quality of the steps I took. I walked aware and in awe. Open.

I was being treated to one of those glorious moments when the veil lifts and Life shines out unencumbered. At such times, our vision spontaneously deepens. That tree and this bush cease to be objects held at arm's length; they pulse with the joyful breath of the Infinite~~right here, right now. And something deep within us responds in kind.  

Most religious traditions include a meditative or mystical thread which teaches that the Sacred can be perceived within the small moments of our own small lives. We are urged to be fully present with what is.  

Of course, this is easier said than done. These minds of ours are quite skilled at carrying us away into one imagined scenario or another. Just because our brains are otherwise engaged, though, does not change the fact that this world vibrates with the Divine.

While the veil can lift spontaneously at any time, these incidents seem to arrive as gifts hoping to whet our appetite for more. We can indeed cultivate such moments, gathering them together like beads on a living and ever~expanding rosary.

While it is quite the trick to live in this state always, it is not really so difficult to taste of it. It is there for the savoring~~even right in this very moment.  

As you read these words, your awareness might expand to include your surroundings and the objects and living creatures with whom you share your space. You may notice the quality of the air as it touches your skin, or the sounds and smells it carries your way. Each rise and fall of your breath and every beat of your own tender heart could call you more deeply into this present moment. And you might also, through this heightened awareness, find yourself greeting the edges of that animating Force that supports and enlivens it all.

The Mystery is there always, offering Itself to us.  

It whispers in the rush of water streaming over thirsty skin as we bathe. It breathes with us as we drive, alone or with children laughing or sulking in the backseat. It calls as we slice vegetables for our evening meal, and sings as we kiss the cheek of a loved one good-night. And it is there, too, offering Itself when we awaken suddenly in the deepest darkness.

Yes, the Mystery is always there. The choice to openly receive, however, is ours alone.

May you gather some rosary beads of your own in the coming week.


Loanne Marie

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Spirit of Writing

Anais Nin wrote,“We write to taste life twice”. This certainly is how it feels to me. An evocative experience revisited often blooms with delights not fully perceived the first time around. Whether an encounter occurs in my outer or inner worlds, through putting words on the page, my experience of it deepens.

Too often I move through my days in a manner that prevents a fullness of experience. My attention is divided, my schedule busy, my emotions jangled. When I write, I slow down. The process of moving from word to word, idea to idea, paragraph to paragraph leads me beneath the surface waters to a deeper awareness.

Oftentimes I come to my keyboard with only the vaguest notion of what will appear. I type out a sentence or two, a few ideas. Gradually, subtly, a shift occurs. The words draw breath. A thought calls to me and as I follow, new possibilities appear. I search my thesaurus for the perfect verb, and words I find there reveal fresh and beckoning avenues.

A liveliness, an aliveness, takes form~~and shifts and morphs and grows until, before I know it, a completed piece exists. The original impulse has taken wing and flown, through various shifts and permutations, into new worlds.

Writing is a rich, organic process. The original idea, experience, or sentiment evolves, in tune with its own nature, into a form I often could not have anticipated.

And so, while writing does allow me to taste life twice, it becomes so much more than that. Through the process, I approach the creative force that lies at the heart of life itself.

Writing feels relational. When I create with words, I touch something and am touched in return. Though I don’t claim to have any more than a fleeting acquaintance, what it feels like is that, at these moments, I come into contact with the smallest smidgeon of the vast Mystery.

In other words, writing is a spiritual experience.

I maintain an active meditation practice. I touch Spirit in my work as a psychotherapist. I sense the Sacred within the natural world. And I write. All are ways of opening myself to the Divine.

We create children or art or workshops or meals. We stand in awe of autumnal sunlight dancing on leaves of gold or stars as they circle in an inky blackness. We kneel for the Eucharist, read from sacred texts, chant in a sweat lodge. We look into the eyes of loved ones or grieve our loss of them. The avenues to Spirit are endless, as Spirit is endless. Points of contact are ever present as Spirit is ever present.

It is said that a kitten sees the toy in everything. As human folk we would be wise to see the Spirit in everything~~in each molecule and every experience. A richness is there, whether or not we recognize it. However, by practicing an active receptivity, we welcome a vitality that enlivens us and brings a profound immediacy to all our experience.


Loanne Marie

Monday, September 29, 2008

Posting Schedule

I know they say that time is an illusion, that there is only the eternal Now. In my small world, though, I have only 24 hours in a day, and often must choose how to apportion them.

In Praying With My Feet, I discussed my calling this year to political action. As Obama’s campaign moves into its final days, I’m moved to devote more of my time and energy to ensuring he becomes our next President.

With my life already rich and quite full, that time must come from somewhere. And right now, my guess is that it will come from my writing.

So, I likely won’t post an essay a week for a while. I may post none until the election comes and goes. Time, as they say, will tell. But praying with my feet is, for now, my priority.


Loanne Marie

Monday, September 22, 2008

Spirituality: Balm or Bludgeon

Last week I wrote about the challenges of going with the ebb. On a related note, the belief system we carry with us into that ebb will help determine our experience while there.

One of the many imports from Eastern religious traditions is the concept of karma, the law of cause and effect applied on a grand, soul~development scale. Obviously, this notion is quite helpful in encouraging us toward a larger vision. However, the way this theory is applied can often perpetuate harm.

The inspiration for this essay was the half~joking comment made by a friend of mine this morning, referring to some unknown bad karma as the cause of her ongoing and expensive troubles with a lemon of a car she bought a year or two ago. However, bad karma has also been used to explain experiences of rape and childhood abuse, starvation and poverty, and incarnation into an ethnicity, country, or religion that is subjected to war and genocide.

We humans are meaning~making creatures. We want things to make sense, since the only thing worse than suffering is to suffer without meaning. And so the idea of cause and effect is beneficial as it shores up our belief that life, which may often seem capricious and incomprehensible, is playing by the rules, some rules anyway. If a situation seems terribly unfair and just plain wrong, we can rest more easily knowing that an explanation can be found in an individual’s actions, whether several months or years ago, or during a former, albeit unremembered, life.

Now, let me clearly state what should be obvious: I know not the mind of God or the vast workings of the Cosmos. Perhaps it really is that simple. As with most spiritual concepts, however, my guess is that we humans pare down the notion of karma into a form the Angels would hardly recognize. How could we not, as our wee brains grapple with the Infinite? What I’m interested in exploring here, though, is how our simplistic explanations affect the victims of atrocities and the ones who watch from the sidelines.

First, the victims. I have spent years working with trauma survivors who have taught me how the hate and disrespect inflicted by their abusers becomes internalized. Abusers, who don’t allow authentic guilt to dissuade them from their actions, seem to transfer to their victims both their unclaimed shame and the malice and disregard that propels their behavior.

This dynamic is most clearly seen in instances of sexual and physical abuse, in which there seems to be an almost energetic transmission of shame and loathing. The abuser walks away, and the victim carries the disgrace for him. This shame then weaves its way throughout her psyche, and pops up in some unexpected ways that seem, at first glance, removed from the original experience.

The same can be true for any group that is subjected to mass abuse and disrespect. We humans are social creatures. What that means is that we are open to one another; our boundaries are permeable. Hate gets in. And once in, its corrosive effect travels throughout our beings and molds us in ways we cannot always see.

An application of the concept of karma to explain harmful situations in life is, therefore, something that requires a clear~eyed examination. If someone chooses to believe that being born into an abusive family is a karmic reaction to past wrong behavior, that’s fine. But not until he spends some time examining that belief for evidence of good old fashioned victim~blaming.

Now what about the folks who attribute difficulties in the lives of others to karma? While I understand the relief gained in finding an explanation for injustice, personally I find it troubling. A belief that a victim in any way karmically ‘deserves’ her difficulty makes an authentically compassionate response less likely. It also heaps additional burdens on a person who is trying to heal, as well as strengthens a climate in which overt blame can take root.

In the case of societal abuse, the concept of karma tempts us to not actively challenge systems that give privilege to some at the expense of others. A clear link can usually be found between systemic oppression and economic and political policies that support it, and anything that makes that truth easier to ignore, rather than actively oppose, is dangerous. We risk becoming passive bystanders who accept the unacceptable from a position of a rather smug detachment. And that attitude will, if there is any truth to this theory at all, certainly set in motion a negative future karmic reaction.

An assumption of responsibility, without specific evidence, is a form of judgment, no matter what spiritual terms are used. And we need to tread cautiously when we approach that path.

So, what is a helpful and spiritually nurturing reaction to injustice? For me, it is to respond with an active form of compassion. When confronted by the pain of others, I need to respond from the awareness that we are all linked, and harm to one is harm to us all. That requires that I then do what I can, that I do what is mine to do to ameliorate the harm. Depending on the situation, it may be to listen with an open heart as private horrors are shared. Perhaps I’ll need to pray with my feet by working for a certain political candidate who has the best chance of redressing wrongs. It may mean holding a person or situation in my heart during meditation, or sending money to support a particular cause. It does, I feel, require doing something.

And, what attitude is best to bring with us into our own personal ebb tides? The very same~~an active compassion. We can hold ourselves gently while doing what is ours to do. We can also allow our pain to connect us with the pain of others, to grow the boundaries of our hearts so that we break free of isolation and become softer toward ourselves and others in this challenging experience of being human.

If there are lessons to be learned from difficulties~~and I believe there always are, regardless of whether responsibility is ascribed~~we will learn those lessons so much better within a supportive context. This is true for our children in school. It is equally true for all of us here in Earth School as well.  And with active compassion as our approach, our spirituality becomes a balm for what ails us.

So, I wish you success in bringing an active compassion to your own tender places and difficult times, as well as to those of others.


Loanne Marie

Monday, September 15, 2008

Go With The Ebb?

Yes, indeed! We are often advised to go with the flow, but no one talks much about going with the ebb, do they? While going with the flow is certainly challenging when that flow is moving in an unappealing direction, going with the ebb seems infinitely more difficult.

I am writing this essay from the backwaters of a major ebb. I am on the 9th day of an ultimately harmless, but immensely annoying illness. I’m stuck. Nothing is moving, and no apparent progress seems made~~no matter that I am doing all those good and right things one is supposed to do when sick. Given this state of affairs, I’m being challenged to thrive with what is.

I’ve always had particular difficulty maintaining a good frame of mind when my body feels bad. Whether from pain or illness or lack of sleep, it’s easy for me to sink into an emotional funk, even a spiritual one, when I’m physically distressed. I suspect this is in part evidence of having been given a body that is seldom seriously ill. If I had an omnipresent physical ailment, wouldn’t I learn to swim a bit better in the ebb tides? I certainly hope so.

However, this issue extends beyond physical maladies, and I know it is not unique to me. During most of life, things are happening. Like it or not, there is movement, a progression, and hence something for a person to do. But other times, nada. We feel stale, weary to our core. Our best efforts seem futile, and there is nothing to do but wait for the tide to turn.

Stagnant periods are likely particularly difficult for those of us who most dearly hold a belief in personal control. We find these times try-ing because try as we might, nothing changes. We, or at least our small wills, are powerless.

Personal power~~a complex concept indeed. On the one hand is the idea that we are more powerful than we dare believe, as so splendidly voiced in the passage Our Deepest Fear by Marianne Williamson. On the other lies the stream of debacles we humans create as we attempt to force life to meet our expectations.

I suspect a main purpose of our time here on earth is to resolve this dichotomy. We humans do have a depth of untapped resources, as well as a tendency to force our wills. I think the key is to discern, in each instance, the province of our personal influence, to act appropriately therein, and to let the rest be. This notion has never been more simply and clearly expressed than in the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

When we find our lives in ebb mode, we need to scrutinize the situation with an honest and wise eye to ascertain if there is, in fact, further action that is ours to take. If so, act. If not, then it’s time to give the ebb its due and let go. Accept. We need to ride that receding tide, trusting that the waters will turn once again.

But how exactly do we ride the ebb with good grace? There’s the rub~~and the growth. We need to repeatedly align ourselves with something larger than personal discomfort. Those of us with a spiritual bent are obliged to embrace the constancy of that vast ocean, while feeling the sway of its individual tides. 

And if we fall short again and again, no matter. We’ll be given opportunities galore to perfect this capacity that lies insufficiently developed within us all. Keeping this greater task in mind will likely bring at least a bit of relief our way when we’re stuck.  And by using our stuckness to reinforce our loyalty to a truer vision, we will, at the very least, have something to do!

So, I’m off to gargle, swallow some more immune boosting supplements, and soak in a hot bath.  And as the steam rises from those healing waters, I will also consciously breathe a dazzling radiance into my ailing body and spirit.

Blessings of health and growth to you all!

Loanne Marie

A few days later...the tide has turned!  I am feeling much better.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Praying With My Feet

This has been an inspirational week. My husband and I are slowly working our way through the major speeches of the Democratic National Convention taped during our recent travels. At the same time, we are actively involved at the local level in a debate on how to best address the problem of poor cell phone reception. Whether in the grand scheme of national government or the smaller world of our tiny town, I find myself called these days to act.

How best to express spiritual values is a fundamental question for every seeker. The balance between inner experience and outer action will be unique to each of us, as our constitutions, proclivities, and life lessons are varied. But I know that my spirituality must move outward into the rest of my life. Of course, it must extend to how I relate to my family, friends, and clients. But I also know it must be reflected in the way I greet the cashier at our local store, in how I respond to the stranger on the street, and in my involvement in both local and national politics.

The latter is a bit of a stretch for me, particularly given my somewhat introverted nature and disenchanted political history. I came to adolescence in the 60s and effortlessly absorbed a leftist sensibility that I have never abandoned. While my radicalism lessened as I grew older, I continued to see Democrats as hopelessly conservative. When Bill Clinton arrived on the scene and I finally voted for a president who actually won, I accepted that it was enough to have someone in the Oval Office who at least said the right things. I had become a grudging Democrat.

And then came the Bush~Cheney years. Oh, my! Any thoughts I still harbored about it making little difference who was in the White House rapidly evaporated. I watched our country shrink on every measure of moral authority and conduct, and I knew without a doubt that it all would have been quite different under a President Gore.

My spirituality deepened during the Bush~Cheney years, particularly during their second term. I wonder if this is entirely coincidental. Perhaps watching my country deteriorate on so many levels, apparently with the support of a fearful citizenry, propelled me inward in a search for something constant and true. I’ll never know.

What I do know is that as I now listen to speech after speech so eloquently describing both the peril and opportunity facing us, I feel something stirring within me~~an urgent hope. I know that I must act, not just as an American who has the power to cast a vote, but as a spiritual being who has the opportunity to pray with her feet. It is not sufficient for me to meditate and extend a deepening spirituality into my personal world. I know I must act politically, even though such expression does not come easily to me. I know I must do what I can to elect Barrack Obama and Joe Biden.

The Democrats and politics in general will likely disappoint me time and again. Of course they will; they are part of our imperfect world and reflect our human flaws~~as do I. The existence of imperfection is no excuse for passivity or hopelessness. No, it is reason to pray with my feet. And my voice. And my time.  And my keyboard.

Barrack Obama is a candidate I can enthusiastically support. An individual who is intelligent, wise, and has the temperament to make reasoned choices. A person who understands the struggles of average Americans and will advocate for their needs within a bureaucracy that is often unresponsive. A man who is schooled in the Constitution, and will uphold it through his appointment of justices, including nominees to the Supreme Court. Someone who will repair our standing in the world community through a foreign policy that stands in accordance with our values, relying on diplomacy, choosing war as a last resort, and abolishing the use of torture. 

So, I will continue to register new voters. I will make my Obama calls and perhaps go door to door once more. And I will continue to press myself toward involvement in local politics as well. All of this is an expression, an extension, of my spiritual self.

I hope your spirituality has also found its ground. And with feet strong and sure, may it run!


Loanne Marie

Addendum: A few days have passed since I wrote the above and my enthusiasm has waned a bit. I’ve remembered that US foreign and domestic policies have always had a seamy side, no matter the president, and that the choices of our elected leaders often raise the question of who their constituents truly are. I guess I still remain an ambivalent Democrat.

Yet hope endures. It really does matter which imperfect persons sit in that imperfect White House. I continue to feel infinitely better with the prospect of Obama and Biden there than the alternative.

And pray with my feet I shall!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Clear Eyes

I return from a month’s absence from these pages to reflect on the delights of time away. What is it that is so magnificent about a vacation, even from work that is engaging and meaningful? While time off can be filled with wondrous moments, I haven’t found these to be necessary in making a vacation beneficial. For me, it is the break in my routine that is essential, and what such a break brings my way.

I become so acclimated to my daily life that I cease to fully experience it. For example, we live in a particularly beautiful part of the world. I know the mountains that ring our town are amazing, and yet I become so accustomed to their presence that I no longer truly see them. One of the joys of having folks spend their vacations with us is that I borrow their eyes to behold what is here before me each and every day. And certainly one of the delights of leaving our small town on a vacation of my own lies in coming home to it, seeing it fresh once again.

In just this way, when I take a break from the routines of my life, I gain a perspective that allows me to return to them refreshed and open. I can see my life as it is, without the familiarity that leads me too often to take aspects for granted. And such a clarified vision may prompt a much needed evaluation. There have certainly been times in my life when the angst I felt at returning to a particular job, for example, powerfully signaled that an examination was in order. But whether I return with gratitude for the life I am blessed to live or an uneasiness that tells me it’s time for modification, I usually come back with a clearer perception than when I left.

Yet some vacations bring, along with the break in routine, special delights. This August, I spent nearly 2 weeks in Greece. There I found ancient traditions, beautiful terrain, a language new to me, foods I had never eaten and familiar ones prepared in novel ways, and a whole culture which differed from my own. I was exposed to fresh views of my own world and life in general, ways that I trust have become part of the weave~~at least in small part~~of who I now am.

When I am away from my routines, life takes on an immediacy. Everything is so there, vibrant and without the overlays bred of long acquaintance. And I am reminded that this intimate and vivid experience of life is the goal of any deep spiritual practice. I meditate to slough off the tendency to move through my days on autopilot, to better see what is with fresh eyes, to be more fully and richly present in each moment. These are the very things I value most about a vacation.

Meditation as a vacation from the routine of life? Yes, it seems so to me. And all without the expense and jet lag!

So, now I return to my life. The discipline of weekly writing is a part of that. Tomorrow I resume my work with folks who dig deep for healing and search for an enhanced awareness of their own lives. My wish is to better see, through eyes more thoroughly cleansed of preconceptions, the unique variations of Spirit reflected in each individual and in every interaction that arises between us. And, as always, I hope to more truly recognize and graciously welcome the guidance of that indefinable Other who always shares the room with us.

May your week, too, be full of moments of unbridled perception.


Loanne Marie

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Few Weeks Off


This short entry is to let you all know that I’ll be taking several weeks off. August is slated to be a wild month, with lots of events, a two~week vacation, a major family do, and significant travel. Flexibility requires me to accept that writing weekly essays will just be too taxing.

So, if you’ve found this blog for the first time, please read my other entries and perhaps check out my website, If you’re a returning someone, know that I, too, shall return. Please check back early next month when I should be in writing mode once again.

I hope you all have a wonderful August, and I’ll see ya in September!

Namaste and blessings!

Loanne Marie

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mastering One's Own Nature

I work with a young man who behaves badly when he believes he’s being treated unfairly. I’m sure you’ve seen this process: perceived injustice leads to outrage, outrage triggers explosion, explosion results in consequence, and the original inequity is all but forgotten. Except by the young man, of course, who harbors resentment which becomes kindling for the next match.

In our discussions about this, I have invoked the spirit of Gandhi. My TIVO found the wonderful Attenborough movie Gandhi with Ben Kingsley. It also found a Biography Channel segment on this amazing man. At least initially, my client reacted favorably to the idea that there is a way to fight that enlarges, rather than cripples, the fighter.

As so often happens, an effort to assist another brought riches my way as well. I don’t know when I first became aware of Gandhi~~certainly well before I saw that award winning movie in my late twenties. I had been quite affected by his approach to injustice and the courage he demonstrated in standing up to power. Just like my client, battling unfairness was a major focus when I was young.

At 52, however, I was struck by something else this time around: Gandhi’s emphasis on self~mastery. As I saw footage of Gandhi explaining that it would be wrong to harm the British for qualities we all possess and teaching his followers that the real task is to master one’s own nature, his tutoring reached within me to a deeper level.

I began to ponder this notion of self~mastery. I know it is, indeed, my work in this lifetime. Of course, I believe in harmony, in being kind, in speaking my truth with respect. Am I always successful in enacting this approach? Absolutely not! I also believe that even the most painful experiences can teach us much if we choose to truly listen. However, I succumb to victim thinking in one of its many forms~~self-pity, anger, insecurity, fear, discouragement, hurt feelings~~all too often.

While I do feel regret if I have hurt another or missed an opportunity to grow myself, I don’t feel particularly bad about my shortcomings overall. It is simply my life lesson, and I am a work in progress. Life will always throw me something that will test me, and I will pass or fail those tests. This is just the way things are and, I assume, the way they are meant to be. As long as I’m attentive and generally moving forward, I feel I’m doing okay.

Seeing my task as self~mastery makes things rather simple. Each interaction becomes merely a different verse of the same song. No matter what confronts me~~from within or without~~my challenge is the same. When I choose to perceive the incident as opportunity rather than imposition, the context changes. I am offered an opening to deepen, to smooth my rough edges, to grow in wisdom. That certainly beats victim mentality any time!

I think self~mastery has been given a bum rap. Our 60’s culture taught a necessary wariness of control and discipline. By self~mastery, though, I don’t mean a regimentation that strangles the life from each moment. As we all know, some of the most spiritually advanced individuals are also the most spontaneous, flexible, and child~like in their ability to find pleasure in the simplest experiences.

By self~mastery, I am referring to the quest to know oneself well, and the ability to act from a deeper place than superficial egoic impulse. Self~ mastery requires and inspires an allegiance to a higher good than momentary personal whim.

In marital therapy, individuals are often assisted in aligning themselves with the needs of the couple, rather than simply pushing their own agendas. Self~mastery requires this same type of shift to that which is good for the whole. If I ‘win’ a battle by diminishing another, it is a Pyrrhic victory indeed since my adversary and I are joined in this thing called life. However, when I find a way to be true to my own conscience while respecting my opponent and the opportunity we are both being offered, an authentic victory is already achieved, no matter the actual outcome. And this type of victory is one that can enlarge us both.

So, let's bring this down to earth. The decision to write this essay came to me in the wee hours of the morning as I sat meditating (see Hot Flash As A Call To Prayer). I saw my task then as mastering a mind that prevented sleep by grabbing on to minutiae, a spirit that spun disastrous webs about the effects of sleeplessness on my day, and a will that was having trouble welcoming meditation when sleep was preferred, albeit seemingly out of reach. And of course, after the idea for this essay was established, self~mastery included releasing these thoughts to return to my meditation. This morning when plans for the day changed due to another’s anxiety, mastery included being flexible and welcoming other opportunities. When Plan A was reinstated, mastery required compassion for the rippling effects of fear. Mastery also entailed discussing with a dear friend my reactions to a misunderstanding, and doing so without rancor.  And within this writing itself, self~mastery reminds that when one word doesn’t work, a more appropriate one will appear and I needn’t fret. In other words, whatever occurs is just part of the song, and my reaction the next verse.

Self~mastery. A challenge that offers gifts aplenty. I hope this week finds you reaping your own rewards.


Loanne Marie

Monday, July 21, 2008

Welcoming the Light

As a psychotherapist who has somehow managed to develop a specialty in trauma work~~no conscious decision, this~~I routinely hear stories of sexual harm, beatings, witnessed murders, accidents and disasters, and wounding words. I have become skilled in listening intently without absorbing the other’s pain. I am certainly moved by the stories I hear~~ often deeply so~~but seldom do I become confused about whose trauma it is. I don’t make another’s pain my own.

The ability to be fully present yet unbound by the suffering before me is sometimes tricky, but after many years, I find it most often manageable. It is also essential. Folks heal, not through my collapsing into their pain, but by having a steady someone to walk with into the darkest places of their lives. They need me to be quite clear about this distinction. And as I said, I usually am.

However, occasionally someone comes into my life whose trauma goes well beyond the average soul piercings. These are folks who have sustained abuse of mammoth proportions. The world in which they were reared was so pervasively perverse that it left damage of a particularly all-inclusive kind. Their spirits seem shattered and their sense of self tenuous. Disorganization of this degree often leaves the simplest coping skills just out of reach.

And my own coping strategies can be overwhelmed through witnessing such devastation. I’m pushed to look into the face of a horror that is far easier not to see. Such experiences require me to use~~and to welcome~~all my resources simply to retain, and in some cases regain, my equilibrium.

After a session this week in which secrets were shared and the depth of the struggle to function laid bare, I found a heaviness had crept into my spirit. I recognized what was happening to me, but couldn’t seem to shake it. And a busy evening ahead was not going to allow me the time I needed to work it through, to let it go. Or so I thought.

As often happens, I was given exactly what I needed, this time in the form of a poem that came my way early that night~~Check, by James Stephens. The rich imagery describes a growing darkness that is not, however, able to obliterate the light of a single candle. I had my metaphor.

With that image, my focus changed. I remembered my own spark and chose to expand its brightness once again. I welcomed the larger Light into my own in order to dispel a darkness that, though cast on another’s flame many years ago, sought now to cover mine as well. And my candle grew bolder, more robust. I felt myself revivify and slough off the sludge I had unwittingly absorbed.

Long ago I realized I would never comprehend why some folks experience such grave misfortune while others do not. I also accepted that there is truly no reason I should understand, given that I am a soul immersed within her own phase of this journey. However, while such large issues are beyond me, I do know that our task is to align ourselves with the Light at each juncture. And I trust that when we do, we give that Radiance a greater access to our psyches and to our world.

Professionally, my job is to welcome the Light into the room. The experience I’ve gained over the years, the specific techniques I’ve acquired, and my intuitive sensibilities can all be seen as methods for enlarging the opening for Light through increasing the capacity to receive it. And when that Beam touches and illuminates the darkness, shattered spirits begin to heal, reuniting with that enduring essence within which was never harmed to begin with, just covered temporarily by muck.

The Light is there waiting, always. Our job is simply to open to it. Such is my belief and my experience.


Loanne Marie

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Her Name Was Arrow

How does one say good-bye to a spirit so true, a companion so steady? Let me try…

Her name was Arrow. She was not only as fast as one, but resembled her namesake from the 70’s animated film, The Point, though she wasn’t blue. Her color had been described as champagne, though that sounds a bit fancy for a dear soul who’d been abandoned to the streets one frigid winter~~luckily a brief sojourn before moving into our home and into our hearts.

Arrow’s eyes were a soft brown, her spirit gentle, attentive, constant. She accompanied me wherever she could~~living room to kitchen, kitchen to bath, bath to bedroom. Everywhere but upstairs because, although we’d carpeted the open slatted steps so she’d be more comfortable, she never got the hang of stairs. She’d just lay in her place by the couch waiting, without regard to time, until I came back down.

Her bed lay at the foot of ours. I’m usually the first human to rise in our house and Arrow my first connection in what is often a long day of meaningful contacts. She’d rise and she’d wag, eager eyes welcoming me to the morning.

We were a therapy team on the days she accompanied me to the office. She’d lay at the door, front paws crossed before her, ready to greet folks arriving in search of healing~~a welcoming presence who put tender souls at ease. I never tired of learning from her about timing, noticing when my furry co~therapist listened to a client’s tears from her blanket and wondering how she knew it was time to move forward, to offer a soft ear to stroke, a brown eye of comfort, a reminder that soothing can exist in this often harsh world of ours. Her instincts were always true.

On the days I went to work alone, she’d be waiting on the porch when I returned. After a few yips of greeting, we’d move to the bedroom, and while I changed into my off~duty duds, the Happy Dance would be enacted in earnest. Arrow’s version was this: playful puppy pose~~front legs outstretched, butt in the air~~interspersed with full body circles and wild rubbing of her face against her bed, all accompanied by deep-throated groans of sheer joy.

Despite her tolerance for upset with our mutual clients, Arrow reacted visibly whenever my husband or I were agitated, particularly so if we were angry with one another. She was our barometer. As soon as a discussion would begin to heat up, she was there, gentle eyes urging our better selves forward. On those occasions we deliberately chose to disregard her sound advice and have at it anyway, she’d simply lay down at our feet, patiently waiting for us to be done with such foolish waste.

Arrow was a shining presence~~in our home, in our lives, in the lives of others. But on Saturday morning, this dear dog let us know it was time to let her go. The Inflammatory Bowel Disease that had plagued her for years~~we assume a legacy of surviving (barely) on garbage so long ago~~had returned with a vengeance this past week. Antibiotics were no longer effective. After some short~lived improvements, she now turned away from food, could barely walk, vomited water.

Asking for guidance~~or more likely, reassurance~~I drew the 4 of Swords from my Waite-Ryder Tarot deck. An effigy of a knight lying in repose on a casket. This card does not tend to be associated with a physical death~~ more of a retreat and withdrawal~~but in this context, the message seemed quite clear~~particularly after my friend, Kelli, pointed out the connection between arrows and swords, the number of swords and my 4-legged friend. Yes, it was time.

So, we gave this loving dog one last loving gift. Euthanasia comes from the Greek eu-, meaning good and thanatos, meaning death. We gave our Arrow a good death, kneeling on a blanket beside her, attended by the gentle hands of Dr. Lori who’d already given her an additional 3 years of quality life. We stroked those velvet ears for the last time, cried tears from hearts grown deeper and richer through her presence in our lives, and said farewell to an amazingly sweet and loving soul.

And now it is the day after and I return to a life without Arrow. No tail wagging or warm brown eyes greeted me when I rose. I walk between rooms unaccompanied now. The space left by Arrow's passing is enormous and I feel the loss keenly. I am sad and empty and a bit discombobulated. In other words, I grieve.

Yet, it is not so very terrible. Arrow continues to teach from beyond, this time offering a deeper knowledge of acceptance, of letting go, of putting myself in harmony with the Great Round of life and death. It is easier to do anything when one is truly loved~~and I have been truly loved. And I have truly loved in return, and I will cherish this dog, my companion on this earth walk for 12 precious years, forever.

Arrow Shuka
November 25th, 1994~~July 12th, 2008

Good-bye, my Arrow Shuka girl. Namaste, my dear, sweet dog.

Loanne Marie

And for a tribute to Sasha, Arrow's husky friend who lived half a year longer though she was over a year older, click here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hot Flash as a Call to Prayer

So, I’m laying in bed in the wee hours of the morning, wide awake after yet another flash of heat yanked me from a sound sleep. I’m knowing I really gotta find a helpful way to look at this particular challenge or I’ll make myself nuts. My dear husband, having heard more than he ever cared to about this transition of mine, is having challenges of his own in this regard. For both our sakes, I gotta get a grip!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a firm believer in whining. Just ask those who nicknamed me Mona Lott during our ill~fated women’s hike through the mountains of Maine! Whining. An important activity, but only to a point. As a way of life, it leaves something to be desired. After the moaning is done and the groaning spent, it’s time to get down to figuring out a way of relating that works. That’s where I was regarding my hot flashes. It was time to get serious about living with them, perhaps even using them to live more fully.

So, here I lay, now in a pair of dry PJs, but finding no amount of position~ shifting or pillow~fluffing effective in returning to sleep. And I’m trying. I really am. I’m thinking I need to put my money where my mouth is~~we’re not given challenges without the tools to meet them...there is help available even in difficulties...all is holy...blah, blah, blah~de~friggin’~blah!

But I know it’s true. Or at least I know that it is a much more helpful way of looking at life’s challenges than getting stuck in victim mode. So, I set about finding the gift in this. After all, it’s not like I’m sleeping, am I? I have time to burn, so to speak. And this is what comes to me...
  • Christ’s exhorting us to love our enemies. While I know this is usually seen as advice on how to relate to those who don’t have our best interests at heart, I don’t believe it’s the only interpretation. Couldn’t the enemy be seen as something unwanted in our psyches, in our lives~~even in our flippin’ hormones? If our true challenge is our own nature, perhaps this teaching is urging us to take a softer, kinder, and more helpful view of our internal foes. 
  • The Muslims call to prayer. I’m touched each time I hear the rich, haunting voice of the muezzin calling followers to ‘hasten to prayer’. I love the image: a whole community, five times each day, ceasing all activity save turning attention to the Divine. How wonderful to weave worship throughout the day! 
These two thoughts meld together to suggest a helpful coping strategy. Could I use my hot flashes as reminders to turn my attention to what really matters? I could hear them as my own personal muezzin, calling me to prayer at random times of the day or night.  I could recognize in them the whispered voice of Spirit urging, “Pay attention. Breathe. Be here, right now. All is well (albeit a bit toasty).” On a night such as this, after I stop feeling sorry for myself because I can’t get back to sleep, I could decide I’m being offered a chance to rise up and meditate instead. It could work.

However, I do get stressed about the fact that I likely won’t be my best in the morrow with so little sleep. Notwithstanding the spiritual lessons ripe for the taking within this tendency, my mind moves on to...
  • Feminist explorations of how things would be different if men had some of the challenges women do. (Just google ‘if men could menstruate’ or ‘if men could get pregnant’, if you need a refresher!) Our society insists that women hide their menopausal symptoms, pretend their bodies are the same each day, deny the existence of the overheating furnace within. It doesn’t have to be this way, does it?
  • Some native traditions seeing women’s transitions as beneficial to the whole. For example, in some tribes, women are seen as particularly powerful during menses, with dreams important for the welfare of the whole tribe.
These ideas press my thinking further. If our society were woman~friendly, how would it deal with hot flashes and other indications of movement into later life, our wise years? Honor them, of course. A gal would be free to dress comfortably, would be proud of her sweaty brow. A woman who didn’t sleep the night before would be given paid leave, a flexible schedule.

And then my two images merge, and I envision a society where women’s hot flashes are honored as calls from Spirit. Hot flashin’ souls would cease all activity~~albeit after shedding a layer or two~~to attend to an inner voice. Others around them would drop into awe~filled silence, privileged to witness such a divinely~inspired moment, a visitation from beyond that was surely a gift to the whole community. Nearby The Red Tent would be The Cool Pool, welcoming amid an oasis of shade trees. CITs (Crones-In-Training) would be encouraged to retire there as often as needed, allowing cool waters to freshen, time apart to replenish.

A bit out there, it’s true. But it was 3:30 a.m. and I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep! Still, there are truths within such wild visions.

Hot flash as call to prayer. Why not? The alternative may be to feel victimized by evidence of a natural passage into our later years. While I’m a firm believer in doing anything possible to bring our bodies into a balance that will soften this transition (hey, just cause ya can learn from difficulties, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything you can to minimize them!), when a symptom remains, you may as well seek a positive interpretation of it.

We humans need reminders. Our lives are so busy, with numerous squeaking wheels clamoring for our grease. Markers that remind us to pay attention, to remember what is truly important, are of great benefit to us all, from whatever source they arise. And the reminders that most interest me these days are the ones that come from the stuff of my life, those that are organic, personal.

Hot flash! My own form of adhan, a call to prayer.

May you see each of your challenges as a call to prayer. May your inner muezzin ring out in a voice rich and haunting. And may you heed the call.


Loanne Marie
a.k.a. Svetta Lott, or at least Svetta Tuddon-Mutch

PS. As an aside, this essay has been percolating for many months. However, in our group meditation last week, an incident occurred that propelled me to write it. I’d been having great trouble staying awake, kept nodding off no matter what I did. I asked for help. Within minutes, I was hit with a hot flash. That certainly woke me up, and I had no trouble remaining alert for the rest of the time. When I shared it with the other folks afterward, I found that 2 other women had also hot flashed. Now this could just be a coincidence as many of us are CITs and the day was hot. Or it could be that, not only should I be careful when the gods give me what I ask for, but that my requests oughta be a bit more specific! My fellow meditators would be grateful.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Playing With God

Folks take God quite seriously. Or rather, we take seriously our versions of God. We work diligently to shrink this vast Mystery into a box we can hold in our hand, and mistake the box for the Essence itself. But we don’t stop there. We obsessively begin to embellish this box with designs of our own nature, and before we know it, even the box~a poor substitute itself~ becomes obscured by our ornamentation. This time, we confuse our artwork for the real thing. And yet another layer stands between us and the Divine.

This predilection to reduce the irreducible is simply the way we humans are wired. Our brains, well-suited to the demands of human life, have a penchant to make everything simple and understandable. This tendency is often quite helpful and necessary. Where God is concerned, however, the results are often problematic. At the very least, this process can close us off from the experience of the Mystery. For those with a compulsion to convince others that their vision is the only true one, the results can be disastrous. As I see it, most of the damage done by religions over the eons has been promulgated by people who take their version of God too darn seriously~and insist others do, as well.

My own particular bent encourages me~and you!~to have a bit of fun. To play with God. I begin with acceptance that the Divine is much grander than any box I can construct to contain It. Spirit is larger than I am, larger than I can conceive. With this as my starting point, it becomes easier to relax and to allow into my God experience a sense of play, of fun, of joy.

When I accept that I will never grasp God, it’s easier to hold my beliefs more lightly. It’s natural to honor all faith traditions for the beauty they contain and the face of God they reflect, without needing to prove them true or false. When I'm in this state of mind, the contradictions inherent in life don’t frazzle me as much, because I don’t expect life to conform to my expectations, to reflect my human sensibilities. My own doubts are more easily tolerated. I can experiment with faiths, ideas, and practices, seeking to distill from them something that feels true without the need to explain it all with my rational mind. And I don’t need to take everything, especially my own thoughts, so seriously. Yes, I can play with God.

Years ago, I heard the Indian fable* concerning the reactions of a group of blind folks when a heretofore unknown animal~an elephant~wandered into their midst. The one whose hand ran the length of the animal’s trunk concluded that an elephant was long and tubular, like a snake. A young child who felt one of the massive legs believed an elephant to be upright and sturdy like a tree. A woman, touching the broad expanse of the animal’s side knew an elephant to be large and flat, like a massive wall. Another, stroking a tusk, assumed an elephant was like a spear. A tall man noticing a slight movement of air, reached out to touch an ear and determined an elephant was very much like a fan. And the last, grabbing hold the tail, presumed an elephant to be like a rope.

I’ve always loved this story. Not only does each individual in the fable accept their version of the elephant as true, they are~each one of them~blind even within their own experience! They can’t even totally know their own version!

This fable is used to explain the futility of any of us being able to accurately know God, and as a cautionary tale to not get too carried away with our own beliefs. It certainly helps rein me in when I become full of myself. However, theories and beliefs don’t tend to engage me. I find myself becoming bored and impatient with prolonged discussions of God. My search is not for knowledge about God, but experience of God. This is where play comes in. Whatever brings me an experience of the Divine is fair game, a meaningful play. This approach keeps my spirituality fresh and alive. 

I realize that I am, ultimately, merely describing another piece of the elephant~~my own perception of God. If I were to embellish this fable with my own designs, I’d say that I care not what the elephant looks like. I want to know how it moves.  I yearn to know the thrill of its flank beneath my hand, to I inhale the scent of its leathery skin. I want to be wrapped round by that mighty trunk. And I wish to topple headlong into the abyss hidden within one wise and fathomless elephant eye.

May your own elephant play bring you riches galore!


Loanne Marie

*For a poem based on this fable see Blindmen.