Monday, December 28, 2009

Healing On Many Levels

In early December, I had a patellar realignment performed on my right knee. What this means is that my kneecap is now where it should be, and I wait 6~8 weeks for the soft tissue surrounding the knee to heal and for bone to knit to bone. Only then, can I begin truly strengthening my leg and moving toward full functioning.

While patience has never come easily to me, this enforced wait has not been particularly challenging. Other things have been, though. Claire, one of my dear friends in Maine, wrote concerning the surgery that, “the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual all are such an interplay, each fueling the other into awareness.” Oh, how right she is!

Obviously, my body is undergoing an intense period of healing. Yet, it feels as though realignments of heart, mind, and spirit are possibilities as well.

I first noticed that I was more emotional than usual. I cried easily when experiencing something sweet or sad, while evidence of the cruelty of the world unraveled me. It was as though the vulnerability of my leg had translated into greater sensitivity in general.

I also found myself confronted at times with the less pleasant parts of my personality, like a tendency to get caught in spirals of negativity or self~pity. While these arise most notably when I'm tired, scared or in pain, the truth is that their vestiges are never far away.

Whether a background tendency or a full~blown, blinding episode, I’m trying to hold my reactions in awareness.

The practice of mindfulness is a rewarding one, though it often entails dipping into what is referred to as the “shadow self”~~all those parts of our psyches we’d just as soon weren’t there. But mindfulness is a candle in the darkness. While we might prefer daylight, when darkness is where we are, a bit of light makes it easier to take.

When I can see into my internal process, I am better able to tend my thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, neither pushing them away or allowing them to run wild. And through such loving care, my rough edges soften and I lighten.

My recovery began with a prayer, envisioning a healing force moving through my body, clearing out pockets of pooled blood, infection, swelling, etc. My prayer has expanded. I now envision blockages releasing on emotional, mental and spiritual levels as well. A general, all~purpose rising up and clearing out~~of fear, resentment, the poor~me’s, lack of trust, illusions of separation, and more.

My recovery is going quite well. I’m now done with crutches and have only a few more weeks in the brace. When I hit a rough patch emotionally, when thoughts slide into unhelpful grooves, or when I misperceive myself as alone and isolated, I try to recognize these as internal elements fueled into awareness, just as Claire suggested. I hope to allow myself to simply know them and to hold them tenderly. Then I can let them go, releasing them to that vast river that is ever available for cleansing.

I am not always successful. Often I forget, realizing only after the fact that I’ve been unconscious in my reactions, at times participating in a full~blown meltdown. But according to a card Cindy, another friend of my heart, sent, “Success consists of getting up once oftener than you fall down.” By this definition, I have been a success.

When we encounter life’s trials, we do so most effectively when we search for the hidden gems, the places where we can learn and grow. If I am wise, I will allow this current healing of mine to open me so that I can better perceive the Light that infuses each moment.

My knee is bending more easily day by day and, hopefully, so am I. A gift, indeed.

Wishing you all the best on this holiday weekend. Here's to a great new year with knees that bend as needed so that we all might get up once oftener than we fall!

Loanne Marie

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Walking the Labyrinth

I follow the path through stands of scrub oak, mostly bare~branched now on this blustery late~autumn day. I arrive at the clearing and walk to the labyrinth’s entrance.

This one is modeled on the labyrinths of ancient Crete, with a circular, womb~like shape enclosing a spiraling pathway to the center. Its design is laid directly upon the earth, constructed of natural materials found near my friend’s mountaintop home~~stones of various shapes and sizes, and an amazing array of bones from creatures long gone.

Labyrinths are ancient, having been reliably dated to 1200 BCE in southern Europe. They are also ubiquitous, with the spiraled pattern having appeared in cultures throughout the world. Christianity incorporated labyrinths into many Medieval churches, most famously the cathedral at Chartres. In addition to use in contemplative prayer, penitents would often walk the labyrinths on their knees in atonement or as symbolic of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

A recent resurgence of interest in labyrinths has seen their inclusion in churches and hospitals across the U.S. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth’s single path promotes inner stillness as it carries the participant deep into the circle’s center and out again. In this way, walking the labyrinth is evocative of a journey to and from one’s Source and can provide a profound spiritual experience.

This morning, I stand quietly at the labyrinth’s opening, clarifying my intent. Usually I have no particular aim, but today is different. I ask for guidance and serenity concerning impending surgery on my knee. As the event draws near, doubt has crept in.

I step into the labyrinth and am absorbed by its winding trail. My gaze touches the ground beneath my feet, and the stones and bones and wind~dried desert plants that line the path. As I walk in rhythm with my slowed breath, I notice a certain heaviness begin to lift. I stop, turn toward the biting wind, and envision it carrying away all that is no longer helpful in my psyche.

As my walking resumes, thoughts relevant to the upcoming surgery rise effortlessly in my mind, spaced minutes apart. It’s as if I discover, mirrored in the labyrinth’s twisting path, the route that led to my decision for surgery~~activities curtailed by discomfort, increasing pain, unsuccessful PT, research into my condition, confidence in my surgeon. I note these thoughts and others, and let them fall away.

As I draw close to the labyrinth’s midpoint, the curves become shorter, tighter. Thoughts cease.

When I reach the center, I turn around and stand motionless. The surrounding hillsides drop off in this direction, and my eye flows to the plain below and up to the magnificent twin peaks rising on the far side of the valley. I sit on the earth and know my doubts for what they are~~simple fear.

My decision was reasoned. It felt right, too. It feels right still. I will proceed willingly and with a renewed commitment to release my energy from the fear that too often binds it.

After a few minutes of inner quiet, I stand and retrace the steps that brought me here. My pace is notably quicker. Relieved of the burden of doubt, I am renewed and filled with gratitude. I realize, if it weren’t for the knee thing, I’d be dancing my way past stone and bone and wind~dried desert plants.

I realize, too, that I am dancing~~on the inside, the only place it really matters.

May you walk your own labyrinths~~those lying within, those your life crafts and, if you are fortunate, those laid upon the earth~~with awareness and trust.


Loanne Marie

PS. As of this posting, the surgery is complete, the first stage of my recuperation done, and I am about to return to work part~time.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Eating Meditation

“We never eat on the run,” my friend explained. Annie~~pronounced with the accent on the last syllable in that lovely French way~~was speaking of her native culture’s approach to food. “In France,” she continued in charmingly accented English, “we set the table beautifully, sit down together, and we take our time. We enjoy the flavor, discuss our food, say “ooh!” and “ah!” We enjoy it more~~a lot more.”

Many of us have lost such a pleasurable relationship with food. In fact, it seems a rare person who eats with full enjoyment and presence, including listening to the body’s internal cues regarding food selection, hunger, and sufficiency. Luckily, we have opportunities galore to reorient ourselves to a wholesome relationship with food.

When we think of meditation, certain stereotypes often come to mind~~for example, people sitting in the lotus position on the floor, backs straight, eyes closed. But actually, we meditate in any activity to which we bring our full, undivided awareness. This can include eating.

Jan Chozen Bays, physician and author of Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food, describes eating meditation as “an experience that engages all parts of us…in choosing, preparing, and eating food. It allows us to be curious and even playful as we investigate our responses to food and inner cues of hunger and satisfaction.”

With this in mind, I arrange mixed greens on a plate. I add slices of red pepper, mushroom and tomato, a few baby carrots cut lengthwise, top it off with grated cheese. I allow myself a few moments to appreciate the vivid colors~~red, orange, cream, earthy brown, and varying shades of green~~beautiful against the black plate.

This dazzling array tells of the beneficence of sunshine and rainfall. It brings to mind the cows whose milk became the cheese and bees who pollinated the fields. The varied efforts of numerous individuals~~farm worker, trucker, grocer, and others~~are here, too, responsible for bringing these gifts to my table. I whisper a heart~felt thank you.

I dress my salad lightly. As afternoon sunlight flows through the kitchen window, I begin to eat.

From the first mouthful, I awaken to a variety of textures~~the hard crunch of carrot, tender spinach leaves, the soft burst of tomato. Sounds of chewing, seldom noticed, fill my head. Distinct flavors mingle, joined by olive oil and vinegar. Yes, this is good.

For dessert, I unwrap a bar of Lindt dark chocolate, a friend’s gift from her daughter in Germany. I break off one small piece~~oh, that smell!~~and note its deep brown color against the beige of my palm. I place the chocolate on my tongue, press it gently to the roof of my mouth, move it around a bit. I open to the rich subtleties of taste and texture. The chocolate softens as it melts. Long after the morsel is gone, flavors remain.

The second piece is similar, though my experience of it is somehow less satisfying. When that piece is no more, I realize I’ve had enough. I am finished.

As Bays explains, “Mindful eating is not directed by charts, tables, pyramids, or scales. It is directed by your own inner experiences, moment by moment.” Eating in this way, in contrast to consuming quickly and with minimal attention, can, “help us tap into our body’s natural wisdom and our heart’s natural capacity for openness and gratitude.”

Each meal offers an opportunity to cultivate presence and appreciation. May we all 'show up at the plate' more often in the coming weeks. What an appropriate attitude to foster as we receive the bounty offered us!

Loanne Marie

Monday, November 2, 2009

Love as a Crucible for Soulful Transformation

This weekend, my husband and I celebrate our 35th anniversary of loving one another. When I look back over the years, I recognize how intricately we have been woven together, and I cannot discern who we each would have become without the other's presence.

All important relationships offer us a crucible, a container for the fiery work of soulful transformation. However, a life partner invites us into a truly unique and multifaceted alliance.

Here, romantic fervor foreshadows a sound devotion that deepens and matures with time. Dreams for a common future are woven through the routine events of daily life and unfold within the context of a shared history. A primal, physical intimacy coexists with a closeness nurtured by shared joys and sorrows. And this bond of a lifetime grows amid the knowledge, at times felt quite viscerally, that one or the other will leave, through death if by no other means.

When one embarks on a relationship such as this, one enters unknown territory. As Jungian analyst and author Thomas Moore describes, “The heart is a mystery—not a puzzle that can't be solved, but a mystery in the religious sense: unfathomable, beyond manipulation, showing traces of the finger of God at work.” When we travel in such realms, we're in for quite a ride, indeed!

To be sure, delights are scattered along the way, and we are wise to embrace each one of them fully. But this path is not for the faint of heart. Through daily contact in all kinds of emotional weather, our baser qualities awaken as well, rising to the surface to greet us and our partner.

As Moore puts it, “Relationships have a way of rubbing our noses in the slime of life—an experience we would rather forego, but one that offers an important exposure to our own depth." And this is as it should be, for only by dancing with our demons can we move forward into the process of transformation.

My husband and I are both strong-willed individuals who came into each others' lives with a full array of the usual baggage. Things, therefore, have not always been easy or smooth. Yet we nurtured an evolving commitment to do what our love required, each and every step of the way. Greater depth, healing, and an enlarged capacity to cherish ourselves, each other, and life itself have been the result.

Now we arrive at the 35th anniversary of those first steps on this path of love. And when I turn into the driveway after a long day of work, see the light on in the kitchen, and know he is there, my heart sings still.

This man is indescribably dear to me. He knows my strengths and my secrets. He loves me as I truly am, not in spite of my flaws, but because he has seen me vulnerable and transformed through them. And I try to love him with the same steady devotion he has taught by example.

Thomas Moore again: “A soulmate is someone to whom we feel profoundly connected, as though the communicating and communing that take place between us were not the product of intentional efforts, but rather a divine grace.”

Yes, my husband and I have worked hard at this loving, but there does seem to be something of divine grace involved as well. For this--precious jewel--I am very, very grateful.

Happy anniversary, my sweet, sweet man!

And may blessings flow to each one of you through the heat engendered within the crucibles of your own life.

Loanne Marie

Monday, October 19, 2009

Acting As We Are Called

In early September, my husband, Rod, began reading online about Donald Masters, a Denver motorcyclist who “went missing” after filling his tank near Missoula on August 31st. Donald was finishing a long road trip, with a last stop planned in Boulder to meet his newborn granddaughter, Ella.

As efforts to find Donald intensified, Rod felt the urge to join the search, though he didn’t know exactly why. The task was daunting since no one knew Donald’s exact route. Looking for one man within a 250~mile radius~~the approximate miles a Goldwing can go on a tank of gas~~in some of the wildest territory of the country seemed futile.

Rod toyed with the idea for a day or two. Then he packed his old Toyota pickup, laid his mountain bike in the back to assist in such a painstaking endeavor, and headed off~~and found himself welcomed into a group of incredible people, forming significant relationships that otherwise would have been denied him.

A bond was formed with Larry, who hadn’t known Donald either, yet devoted untold hours from his home in New York, organizing the search effort via cell phone and Google Earth maps.

Several law enforcement officers touched Rod’s heart as they gently and attentively supported family and friends alike.

Tom, a DJ and member of the local search and rescue team, shared his technical knowledge while providing Rod with free meals and a place to stay.

Rod grew friendships with other searchers, including Raven, a motorcyclist who came all the way from Tucson to search for this man she likewise didn’t know.

And Rod grew close to members of Donald’s family, particularly his grown son, Noah, and stepson, Justin, as he searched with them for the body of their father. When the news came that, despite hope for another outcome, Donald's lifeless body had been found, Rod bore witness to their grief in ways too numerous and personal to share here.

Donald’s body was discovered near North Fork, Idaho on September 20th by two men who’d stopped to watch a herd of elk. His bike had run off Route 93 at a tricky curve near the Salmon River, just 10 miles from where Rod had searched the previous day.

At the memorial service we attended 2 weeks later, the various strands of Donald’s life intertwined as person after person paid tribute to this unique individual. Rod began to know better the man for whom he had so lovingly searched.

I found a point of connection as well. Recently, I wrote about Centering Prayer, a Christian form of meditation that has become an important part of my spiritual life. Now I learned that Donald had been instrumental in bringing Centering Prayer into the Recovery community, not only in Denver but across the nation. He recognized it as one expression of the 11th Step’s call to “improve our conscious contact with God”, and he enacted his own 12th Step by introducing it to other addicts.

At the reception following the service, Rod was the recipient of love and gratitude by those who cherished Donald. He~~and me, by extension~~ were absorbed into a family we had not known existed a few weeks earlier. Communication has continued since, in online forums, by email and phone, and through Rod spending additional time with Donald’s loved ones, welcomed again into the inner workings of a grieving family.

There is a great sadness that Donald’s life has ended; yet, in death he brought valuable lessons about the power of love and connection, and the importance of acting as we feel called. It certainly would have been easier for Rod to have stayed home. But oh, what he would have missed!

When a prompting arises from a deep place and just feels right, we need to respond. It doesn’t matter if the cause seems hopeless or its outcome not as we would like. We act anyway~~doing simply what’s ours to do~~and trust that, though the results may not be known to us, something good will come.

I wish you each a wonderful few weeks acting as you feel called.


Loanne Marie

Monday, October 5, 2009

Watering Seeds

Buddhist psychology offers a helpful metaphor for transforming our lives: the concept of watering seeds.

Imagine a circle as a symbol of an individual’s consciousness. Now see this circle bisected by a horizontal line roughly a third of the way down. The area above the line is referred to as mind consciousness, while the lower portion is termed store consciousness.

All the potentialities of a human being reside in store consciousness. Here can be found seeds of joy, anger, generosity, sadness, compassion, cruelty, and numerous others. While in store consciousness, these seeds lie dormant and have no effect on our lives. Once a particular seed is triggered, however, it rises up and enters our mind consciousness.

At this point, an energy is manifested that influences our lives, although we are not necessarily aware of its effect. After a period of time, depending on the situation, this seed sinks back into store consciousness where it awaits another activation. The more often a seed is watered, the more easily it will be activated. Conversely, the longer a seed remains dormant, the harder it will be for that seed to manifest in our lives.

According to this framework, a person who is generally kind has had the seed of kindness watered frequently, either by others, by life circumstances, or by their own conscious choice. A person who is often judgmental has, likewise, had that seed watered repeatedly. It rises at the least provocation and influences not only the person’s actions, but his or her experience of life itself.

This conceptualization of human consciousness provides a way to approach the task of managing our human tendencies. It is helpful to take an inventory to discover which seeds~~positive and negative~~have been watered or neglected by our life experiences. Doing so activates the seed of clarity as we come to recognize more clearly the forces that shaped us and, most importantly, the choices available to us now.

We can choose to water our positive seeds so they will manifest in our lives more frequently and with greater strength. And once a wholesome energy is present in our mind consciousness, we can act in ways to nourish that quality so it will remain longer and return more easily.

But what about those other seeds? In this view, every negative human tendency is available to us all. However, we each have a few harmful seeds that have grown rather robust from repeated watering. We can become aware of these troubling seeds as they activate. Rather than watering them further, we can choose to stop and look deeply into our reaction to understand its true nature.

We can learn how and why we were triggered. With appropriate caretaking and deep listening, the energy expressed through the original seed becomes devoted to the task of managing and transforming our experience. As its animating power is withdrawn, the negative seed drops into inactivity once more.

This is not an easy practice, but it is a wonderful one. Our growing awareness leads us to tailor our lives so our positive seeds are activated more frequently, while negative ones rest longer in dormancy.

Whatever our spiritual path, we can walk it more fully when we wisely and lovingly tend these gardens of ours. As our beneficial seeds sprout and flower, in our own small way~~through consciously tending these tiny plots of ours~~we become a clearer channel for Spirit’s expression in the world.

Happy gardening!

Loanne Marie

Monday, September 21, 2009

Centering Prayer

I first encountered Centering Prayer over a decade ago. At that time, I was reconnecting with the church of my childhood and a Christianity from which I had felt estranged for years.

I was discussing this process with a friend who had spent time living among the Trappist monks at their monastery in Snowmass. When I shared my wish to blend my newly reclaimed Christianity with my love of Eastern meditative traditions, he told me of Father Thomas Keating’s work resurrecting the tradition of contemplative prayer, a form of Christian meditation.

I was enthralled. I knew my meditative experiences were authentic and knew, too, that something profound and true brought me to Christianity. The possibility that these two paths could merge into one resonated immediately. I bought Keating’s book Open Mind, Open Heart and was on my way.

Centering Prayer and Eastern meditative traditions have many elements in common. In both, attention is focused to allow a slowing of the usual thoughts that parade endlessly through a busy mind. In Centering Prayer, however, the intent is to consciously open to the Holy Spirit. Keating clarifies that this method is “not concentrative, but receptive” and aims at “the surrender of one’s whole being to God.”

This form of meditation “presupposes a personal relationship” with the Divine. While such a relationship is a component of other traditions as well, the idea of a personal connection stands at the forefront of Centering Prayer.

As a symbol of the intention to open to “the mystery of God’s presence beyond thoughts, images, and emotions,” one begins by choosing a sacred word to act as a focal point for the mind. Since this word only directs the attention toward God, it is not held tightly or repeated continuously, but is returned to whenever attention wavers or thoughts return.

To capture the essence of Centering Prayer, an experiential telling may be helpful. And so, I close my laptop and rise from my desk, walk slowly to my meditation chair, and sit. I set my timer so as to be less tempted to check the clock as the minutes pass by.

My breath finds a steady rhythm. I welcome my sacred word into my awareness, gently repeating it with each in~breath. Consciously I open to the Holy Spirit.

A soothing warmth soon fills my chest, though I sometimes have no particular physical sensation. I repeat my word until it naturally evaporates. I am receptive and still.

Soon thoughts arise~~of squash bought at the farmer’s market this morning and needing an onion to cook with it for a meal tomorrow. I realize the tangent and return gently and without judgment to my sacred word, repeating it in sync with my breath until it fades away once more.

The sensation in my chest wanes, but a sweetness of experience continues. My breath becomes soft and feather~light.

My left shoulder begins to ache. I reposition it, relax tense muscles. My sacred word rides the wave of my breath again until it quietly drops away.

I begin crafting an inscription for a book I will give a dear friend tomorrow. I reorient myself, word and breath together once more.

Father Keating describes Centering Prayer as bringing us “the experience of resting in the Spirit.” This is certainly how it feels to me in this moment.

My timer chimes. I bow my head in gratitude and return to my desk refreshed.

I certainly wouldn't attempt to prove that I have felt the touch of the Holy Spirit during these times. I know only that something good has occurred. And I trust that.

May we all touch something good in the coming days.


Loanne Marie

Monday, September 7, 2009

Welcoming the Day

We gather in the parking lot, breath visible vapor swirling in the pre~dawn air. Jagged peaks rise on all sides, silhouetted against a lighter sky that still holds stars and the brighter shimmer of a few planets.

A tiny Vietnamese woman, dressed in the plain brown robes of her lineage, leads us through gentle stretches as our numbers steadily swell. At the appointed time, she stops, places palms together, bows to us; we bow in return. She moves slowly through the throng we have become, and is joined by several other brown-clad monks and nuns.

We fall in behind them, matching our pace to their slow one. Inhale with one paired step~~right and left. Exhale with the next. Inhale. Exhale. Step by slow step.

And so begins this morning’s walking meditation. My friend and I have journeyed north to attend this 5~day meditation retreat. This is our first morning.

We traverse the adjoining parking lot. The only sounds are shoes brushing blacktop, the calls of a few just~waking birds, an occasional cough. We cross the narrow drive, merge onto the footpath that circumnavigates the large field. Sky gradually lightens as we walk. Stars recede, and mountainsides gain depth and texture.

Those in front, far ahead now given the narrowing of the path, come to a standstill. It takes several steps, however, before this stillness passes as a wave through our slender line. Finally, we stop, too. I look up, see the sun’s light touching the craggy tors surrounding us. And then I turn and look behind.

A silent line of folks stretches far back into the dim light, most having not yet left the parking lot. I didn’t realize there were so many of us! What is it about this long slender cord of humanity~~walking peacefully, silently, and with full awareness~~that brings tears to my eyes? I don’t fully understand it, know only that wonder fills me.

Our slow progression begins anew. We round the far end of the field and tears spring again. Another graceful line walks slowly, mindfully, silently toward us. Remembering only now that another group was to begin at a different location, I realize that I had only seen half our total before.

There must be nearly a thousand of us! Yet, I realize now that it is not the sheer number of participants that touches me so. It is our coming together, this gentle walking in harmony and in gratitude, that brings me awe.

We meet at the center of the field. Our two separate lines spontaneously dissolve, individual streams flowing into a common sea. We sit.

Outer stillness moves ever more deeply inside. Mountain air fills our lungs, flows out. A bell chimes. We breathe. Sunlight creeps down mountainside. Breathe. Birdsong rises. Breathe. A fresh morning breeze stirs hair, brushes skin. Breathe.

A small bird dips suddenly, darts here and there among us just two feet above the ground, flies off again. And still, we breathe.

In the experience of this morning, we are not separate beings. Belief in individual drops of water and distinct streams gives way. We recognize that we are, in truth, one sea.

The bell chimes again. We rise and bow~~to one another, to the beauty of the world surrounding us, to the sea itself that both buoys and suffuses us. Our slow pace resumes as we move toward the meditation hall. Inhale with one paired step, exhale with the next. Inhale. Exhale. Step by slow step.

Our day has begun.

Loanne Marie

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wisdom from a Leaden Figurine

My mother collected salt and pepper shakers. This unique assemblage~~ 83 marvelous pairs in all~~now resides in my home on the wooden wall rack my father constructed for them more than 50 years ago.

I’ve placed one of my favorites next to my computer as I write this. An Amish woman sits on a black rocking chair, hands folded quietly in her lap. Both woman and chair are cast of lead~~an unfortunate choice to hold substances to be sprinkled over food~~and together are less than 3~1/2 inches tall. The woman detaches for a sprinkling of salt, while the chair itself holds the pepper.

As I gaze intently at this figurine, my Amish woman begins to whisper to me. She tells of a multitude of interconnected stories, each a part of her journey to my desk.

She introduces me to miners and smelters. I watch a man in a small factory pour molten lead into the mold that births her, and an artist paint her features and clothing. I sense, too, the innumerable forces that brought each of these people to their place in my Amish woman’s tale.

We travel to a small country store where she abides for a time. I see my parents, decades younger than I am now and unburdened by the weight of years, walk through the store’s screen door, setting the attached bell to jingling. I feel their joy in finding this rare pair, woman and chair, on a shelf in a far corner.

My Amish lady and I travel back in time, before my parents meet. I observe the hard economic conditions that brought my mother north to a teaching job in Baltimore, and my father east from his depression~ decimated mountain town to climb poles for the telephone company.

I am shown the forces that brought my parents together, including the mailman whose crush on the widowed Mrs. Mac led him to encourage my father to rent a room from her. I watch my father move his few possessions into the three~storied brick house, where my mother, it turns out, shares a room with a girlfriend. I see my parents’ individual and family stories weave together, and watch my siblings and me rise from the mix.

And beneath it all, the earth carries lead in its veins, and grows seeds into edible plants to nourish all preceding and subsequent generations of laborer, craftsperson, store owner, postman, Mrs. Mac, and my own family. I watch upper air currents bring moisture to crop and animal alike, as ocean becomes cloud, and rain, and stream, and ocean once more.

I see the earth turn on its axis and revolve around a sun’s warmth, as that sun moves through an inconceivably expansive universe.

My Amish woman on her chair holds all of this and more within her. Remove any one of these elements, and she would not be exactly the same. As naturalist and Sierra Club founder, John Muir, writes, “When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

The idea that we have a separate and independent existence is, as Albert Einstein says, “a kind of optical delusion of…consciousness.” The trick is to experience life as it truly is~~not a collection of things separate, but something whole and indivisible.

My little Amish woman on her rocker is, indeed, hitched to everything else in the universe. And now she is hitched to you.


Loanne Marie

Monday, August 10, 2009

Opening To The Eternal

When an untrained person attempts to draw a table, he will tend to draw what he thinks a table looks like. Even with a specific table before him, this undeveloped artist simply won’t accurately perceive how much longer the legs closest him appear or recognize that the top seems more trapezoidal than square or rectangular.

The mental image of a table takes precedence over the table as it actually exists, and the subsequent drawing suffers. As artist and educator, Mick Maslen, states, “Before you are able to draw, you have to learn to see.”

A similar statement can be applied to the art of living. In order to live well, we must learn to accurately perceive~~and fully experience~~life as it truly is.

Too often, our energy is devoted to conceptions about life rather than to the experience of life itself. The present moment is abandoned, either to reveries of past or future, or to a running commentary about what is occurring, complete with interpretations and positive or negative judgments.

Meditation is one method to override this very human tendency. In meditation, we learn to attend to what is, to fully perceive and savor this moment and nothing more.

At first, of course, we become acutely aware of the restlessness of our minds and the extraordinary variety of ways we are lured from the present. Unfortunately, folks often misinterpret this universal reality as evidence of their inability to meditate. But if we stick with it awhile, we become more skilled at leaving the bait of a fidgety mind unbitten. And then something marvelous occurs.

We open to the majesty of what is. For within each moment, a jewel awaits. As theologian, Forrest Church, puts it, “Hidden by the veil of time, eternity is pregnant in every moment of our existence, here, everywhere and always: the eternal now.”

The eternal awaits us, and it awaits us in this very moment. It flows as a perpetual stream, bubbling through our temporal lives, animating and infusing each minute of our existence. Because this is so, theologian Paul Tillich states, “…every moment of time reaches into the eternal,” as well. All we need to do is still our incessant busyness and open to it.

While specific periods of meditation are quite helpful in this endeavor, any activity that seems to stop time can bring us to the here and now. Immersing ourselves in nature, filling with the rich strains of music, deep intimacy with lover, child, or dear companion~~all these and more can bring the breath of the eternal to our awareness.

But there are no special external conditions required. I don’t need to sit on a wooded hillside overlooking a mountain stream to partake of this essence. Since the eternal enlivens every moment, it is available wherever I am. Even now, as I sit at my computer typing these words. Even now, as you sit there reading them.

With focused attention, and a bit of practice, we can learn to pull back the veil of our ordinary preoccupations and open to the glory that is here always.

May you feel the touch of the eternal in the coming week.


Loanne Marie

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Meditation

Carrying my Mexican blanket, worn soft from years of use, I walk the path that leads from our campsite in the national forest. I move slowly, touching the ground gently with each step. My breathing, too, is slow, each inhale and every exhale felt fully in the rise and fall of chest and belly.

Pine needles and various green growing plants cover the ground, with flowers of a delicate lavender rising here and there under the deep shade of the canopy. The trilling of birdsong punctuates the steady thrum of the rushing waters of the Conejos River.

And I want to miss none of it. I want to fully experience the gift of being here.

The path carries me up to a tiny alpine meadow. Its wildflowers are an orangey~yellow, magicians who have transmuted to physical form the golden sunlight streaming from above.

I wend my way to the meadow’s western rim, step over its edge and down into the shade of trees spanning the distance to the tumbling river below. I place my folded blanket in an indentation fashioned by the roots of an old spruce.

And I sit. And I breathe. My body quiets further as it settles into this spot of earth.

I gaze into the river below, watch water spilling over submerged rock, doubling back on itself, spray flying.

A hummingbird appears to my right, hangs in mid~air not three feet away, trying to place the colors of my shirt into her vast store of flora knowledge. She drops briefly onto a needle~bare pine branch before flying on.

The soft breeze whips suddenly to a frenzy, and I turn my head to greet it. Skin cools, hair blows, shirt ruffles. And the smells of this hillside become my breath, fill my lungs, and radiate throughout my body by capillary splendor.

As the breeze softens again, my eye drops to filtered sunlight brushing the pine needles at the edge of my blanket. My vision moves to my left, skipping from one patch of light to another and another.

Varying shades of green walk me to the top of an adjacent mountain until I touch the sky. I reverse my course, eye flowing from blue to green and green and green, until I arrive back at my blanket’s edge.

The forest suddenly darkens~~a cloud conversing with the sun, no doubt. Though the breeze remains light, it seems to draw moisture from the river below. On this day in mid~summer, I am chilled.

Mentally, I begin stringing words like beads, wanting to describe this for you to read. But I call myself back~~to my body on this blanket, to lungs filling with clean mountain air, to the bird now singing from a tree branch above me.

Sunlight returns to the high mountaintop to my left. Light sweeps down that hillside and up my own, returning a dappled light to these woods once more.

And through it all, the river dances and laughs and careens ever downward.

Today, this is my church, my temple, my mosque. The forest, with the river below and azure vastness above, my Sacred Circle. My unwavering attention, my Sun Dance.

Edges blur. Nothing stands distinct, separate. A deep unity hums.

All is holy. And if all is holy here, is not all holy everywhere? Surely it is simply easier for me to perceive it amid such beauty.

I stand, lean down, retrieve my blanket, and begin the walk back to camp.


Blessings of all that is holy to each of you, this week and always,

Loanne Marie

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tolerating the Intolerant

Linda writes, “Do we tolerate intolerance? Do we draw a line and say we'll tolerate this but not that?” Excellent questions, and ones of importance to those of us who strive to express our spirituality in our daily lives.

Whatever example of narrow-mindedness I see before me, when I recognize that I have that same capacity, though possibly expressed in different forms, the fires of my own reaction calm and a subtle shift occurs.

Intolerance is, after all, part of the human repertoire. Remembering that, I will be less likely to vilify the other person for his or her intolerance, and more likely to recognize a kindred soul challenged by a very human tendency. Definitely a better stance from which to begin an interaction!

If I am unable to find such a starting point, perhaps intervening in any way will only make matters worse. No matter how perfect the language of my response, judgment will likely bleed through to fan the blaze, rendering that response ineffective. To meet someone’s intolerance with my own may only add more negativity to the mix. And as my Mama used to say, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

So, yes, Linda, I think we do need to be tolerant of the intolerance of others. As Voltaire put it, “We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly.”

Yet recognizing the shared nature of our human flaws needn’t make us passive in the face of injustice or condoning of harm done another. Our interconnectedness, in fact, seems to require us to speak out. How do we respond skillfully and effectively to intolerance?

Obviously, there are no one size fits all answers, as situations and temperaments vary so greatly. Yet if we center ourselves, imagine our favorite saint or deity sitting on our shoulder, and ask for guidance and an opening~~if responding is, indeed, ours to do~~likely a path will show itself.

Consider these possibilities:
  • When intolerance seems to stem from frustration, as when a frazzled parent behaves harshly with a child in public, a simple show of empathy and support may do much to ease the situation.
  • When an acquaintance makes a judgmental comment, you could reply that there are other perspectives and offer to share yours. Or conversely, you could share a similar view you once held and what led you to rethink that position.
  • When the actions of an individual or an established institution tread on the rights of a person or group, you might seek opportunities to stand up for what you feel is right, possibly invoking that venerable tradition of non-violent resistance.
Clarity often takes time to rise in our awareness, and delaying our response may be preferable to reacting unconsciously. Seldom will we miss entirely a chance for a conscious response. Creating an opportunity to continue an interaction, days or even months later~~perhaps even sharing the evolution of our reactions~~demonstrates an interest that might very well have a powerful effect. And if we can't resume a particular interaction, likely we'll have a chance to put into practice what we've learned with someone new.

None of the above is meant to imply that we can’t be passionate in our response. Showing that we care deeply about an issue can often be inspirational. But if our goal is to have a positive effect, blame is better left behind.

Of course, no response of ours is guaranteed to make the slightest change in another. Changing others is not our job. We are called only to do what is ours to do, in the best manner possible. This includes, of course, managing our own penchant for intolerance.

As the clergyman and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “Nothing dies so hard, or rallies so often, as intolerance.”

Transforming our own intolerance is our primary task. If we can also assist a fellow traveler in coming to see his or her own with a clearer eye~~either through witnessing our example, or in our skillful response to a shared interaction~~we have been a good friend, indeed.


Loanne Marie

Monday, June 29, 2009

Of Butterflies, Candles, Blossoms and Fruit

The butterfly effect is an intriguing concept. It presumes an interconnection in life so profound that slight variations anywhere on earth can affect seemingly unrelated events occurring thousands of miles away. It is said, for example, that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil causes minute atmospheric changes that could result in a tornado in Texas or influence its trajectory.

The implications of this theory are far-reaching. We can never know the varied and layered effects of the choices we make in a given moment.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writer, and educator, uses another example to illustrate this idea: a lit candle. A candle burns in a vertical direction, beginning as a long taper and finishing as spent wax. However, this candle burns horizontally as well, as heat and light expand outward into the world.

We are like that candle. Certainly, our lives move in a linear fashion. We are born, mature, age, and die. But at the same time, we shine outward as well. We offer to our surroundings our thoughts and feelings, each action we take, and every kind or harsh word we speak.

Living cognizant that our current actions create unknown ripples can inspire us to proceed wisely. We may opt to bestow worthy gifts rather than give of ourselves unconsciously or in ways that may evoke harm.

“My practice,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in No Death, No Fear, “is to be reborn in such a way that my new forms of manifestation will bring light, freedom and happiness into the world.”

By rebirth, he is not referring to the classic theological concept of reincarnation. We are being reborn in each and every moment of our lives as we live them. We expand outward through our very demeanor. Each time we interact with another creature we extend, just like that candle flame, beyond our vertical dimension.

We give of ourselves and that manifestation lives on. Just as we are influenced by the actions of others, our essence flows out in every moment and is carried forward through those we touch. The end point, if one exists, simply cannot be known from our current vantage point.

This perspective comes with a responsibility to act honorably. While unseen good may, indeed, result from our shortcomings, by consciously and openly admitting an error, we send a precious gift into our world.

We are living members of an interconnected whole and cannot avoid this reality. If a butterfly’s tiny wings can have such unforeseen effects, how much more potent might our own words and actions be?

We are reborn many times each day, in each interaction and in what we bring to every moment. As we seek to become more conscious participants in this vast relay, this dance of life, the words of the poet Dawna Markova can guide us:

“I choose…to live so that that which came to me as seed, goes to the next as blossom, and that which came to me as blossom goes on as fruit.”

May our blossoms be bounteous and beautiful, and our fruit soulfully sweet.

Have a lovely, wing~flappin' kinda week!


Loanne Marie

Monday, June 15, 2009

Growing Hearts of Compassion

Recently a friend shared an evocative experience that occurred during a field trip with her elementary school class to the Ludlow Monument near Aguilar, Colorado. 

The Monument stands as a haunting memorial to those murdered on April 20th, 1914, when the Colorado National Guard attacked a tent colony of striking coal miners and their families. The 1200 residents of the tent village had lived there since September of the year before, surviving a brutal Colorado winter under harsh living conditions. While some tents were built atop wooden platforms, crude cellars had been excavated beneath others to enlarge living space, allow for storage of supplies, and offer refuge from the bullets often fired through tent walls as tensions with the coal company escalated.

At the current site, just one cellar remains. Lined now with concrete, it allows visitors a first~hand glimpse of what life in the camp might have been like. My friend’s third graders had just ascended from this cellar and were seated around the Monument itself~~granite column, plaque listing the names of the dead, and statues of a miner and a woman holding her toddler. An interpretive guide was explaining that members of the militia had set fire to the tent that had been erected above the very cellar the students had stood within just moments before, killing 2 women and 11 children through suffocation.

This is what happened next. Three students, moving as one, silently and without prompting, placed their hands together in the universal gesture of prayer and bent forward, “bowing their little heads until they rested on the base of the monument.” Four more children spontaneously followed suit.

“It was one of the most amazing things I ever saw!” my friend whispered, tears springing to her eyes. Tears come to mine as well.

I am grateful to these children. They remind me that compassion is part of our instinctive nature. No one instructed them in their response. It came naturally because their hearts were open. The suffering of others encountered no barriers; welcomed, it elicited an innate empathy. Such is the way of a healthy heart.

But there is another response common to humankind~~the tendency to recoil from hurt. While this might be an appropriate reaction to physical pain, brought into the emotional realm this tendency can cause grave difficulties. Hearts restrict, become wooden. We close off from life, falsely believing that in doing so we limit our pain.

We do not. By closing down, we simply diminish our experience of all that is joyful as well. Hardened hearts also limit our ability to heal from the sorrows we absorb anyway, despite all our attempts at protection.

With my friend’s third grade students as our guides, we can renew our relationship to the responsive heart we were born with. It is our birthright, and we can reclaim it at any time, and as often as needed.

Pema Chodron, Buddhist author and educator, writes, “When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless…that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there.”

By allowing ourselves to be moved, our hearts open further and grow deeper. And we expand with them. No longer needing to withdraw into a false safety, we allow life to touch us and to grow us into the precious beings we are, and have always been~~in our hearts.

May your huge, vast and limitless heart be touched throughout the coming week, and may that touch deepen you and bring you home.


Loanne Marie

Monday, June 1, 2009

Enlarging Our Screen

My husband has a terrible time with gray weather. He knows, of course, that just beyond those low-hanging clouds, a brilliant sun shines in a deep azure sky, and that farther on, galaxy upon galaxy swirl in an ever-expanding universe. Yet without a bit of effort, dreariness is all he knows.

Most of us are like that. Perhaps external weather conditions don’t challenge us, but when our lives get socked in by metaphoric dark clouds, we too narrow our focus. The screen of our awareness shrinks so that our discomfort entirely fills it. Discontent is all we see.  

While there may be truth in our misery, we deceive ourselves when we fixate on that misery at the exclusion of all else. There is always more. 

The fact that we are not aware of the wonder that lies outside the confines of our meager vision does not render that immensity non-existent. Just like the sun shining on the far side of the clouds, beauty and peace exist whether or not we perceive them in a given moment. 

Remaining cognizant of the vast reservoir of life is the task of evolving consciousness. Choosing our focus wisely, particularly in times of difficulty, is a skill we must cultivate.

The Gospel of Thomas is one of the ancient texts unearthed in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. Echoing Christ’s statement in Luke 17:20-21 that “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you,” Thomas too cites Jesus urging his disciples to recognize heaven on earth. In Thomas 113 and 3 respectively, Jesus says, “…the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it,” and “…the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.

How do we learn to recognize heaven here amid earthly concerns? Answers to this question are provided by many spiritual traditions, a multitude of methods offered for every temperament and situation. These are the things that work for me.
  • I begin each day with a period of silence. I orient myself to a larger vision and set my intention to honor that perspective throughout my day. 
  • As the hours unfold, I try to notice and respond promptly and effectively when my screen contracts. When my vision is consumed with a petty annoyance, for example, I consciously enlarge my view. 
  • When I encounter true pain in myself or others, I strive to bear loving witness rather than collapse into despair or rush into attempts to force a change. I try to broaden my sight, reminding myself that there is much, so much, that lies beyond the largest vision I can ever hope to attain. 
  • I bring my awareness to the present moment periodically. Whether washing my hands or walking down the street, I breathe with the fullest presence possible to me. 
  • I invite peace into my life through the activities I engage in and the attitude with which I enter them. I consciously seek and open to joy.
Yet, the parameters of my screen frequently revert to diminished mode without my noticing. If I feel any discouragement at my pace of this path of mine, I remind myself that I am still new at this, still but a little sister on this journey of consciousness. 

And life is infinitely patient with me, taking me by the hand each time I fall and raising me up once again.

There is a great vibrating pulse that thrums through us and around us. Just because it is so often outside our awareness does not make it any less real.

The kingdom is spread upon the earth. It is for us to develop eyes to see.

Have a lovely couple of weeks!


Loanne Marie

PS. For a delightful little book that makes clear the importance of our perspective, you might enjoy Zoom, but Istvan Banyai

Monday, May 18, 2009

Yama, Yama, Yama

Recently, I explored the ancient yogic concepts of ahimsa (non~harming) and aparigraha (non~grasping). Today I’d like to explore the remaining three ethical guidelines, or yamas, central to yogic philosophy.

Satya means truthfulness. On the most obvious level, this refers to not speaking lies--certainly its easiest expression. Being truthful with ourselves is infinitely more challenging. Such honesty requires assessing, with a frank and uncompromising eye, our thoughts and feelings, strengths and flaws, and the true motivations for our behavior. Satya also requires making our words true by keeping commitments to ourselves and others. The practice of satya, in other words, carries us toward a life of integrity.

But let us burrow more deeply into satya through exploring its etymological roots. “Sat” is Sanskrit for ultimate or eternal truth. Add the activating suffix “-ya”, and satya prods us toward living in active and conscious harmony with the ultimate truth that underlies life.

Of course, we may differ in our conception of that truth. For me, satya brings awareness that the vast energy that sets the stars to swirling radiates, too, within the individual moments of my own life. Satya encourages me to live with awareness of this truth.

Asteya translates as non-stealing. However, asteya means more than not pocketing an item belonging to another. Asteya refers also to not taking more than our share or more than we need. We steal when we use limited resources cavalierly, and when we buy cheap goods whose low price reflects underpaid workers or disregard for the environment. Yet we also steal when we diminish another. This includes harsh words or actions that rob someone of confidence or crimp their spirit. 

But don’t we also violate the precept of asteya when we don’t live up to our own potential? I think so. By staying small, we steal possibilities that might have been, for ourselves and others, had we not stanched our positive flow.

Asteya teaches about interconnection. It reminds me to give of myself freely and to receive with gratitude that which willingly comes my way.

Brahmacharya is a tricky concept for westerners, as it often refers to the practice of celibacy. However, by once more looking to the Sanskrit roots, this yama becomes relevant to us all. “Brahma” is another name for God, while “char” means to walk. Add that activating suffix “-ya”, and Brahmacharya translates literally as “walking with God”.

How exactly do we walk with God? Through the wise and loving use, moment by moment, of the precious life force given us. Brahmacharya urges us toward practices that enhance our perception of Spirit and our ability to live in accordance with it. Behaviors that numb us to a direct experience of life or extend harm into the world around us then begin to fall away.

Brahmacharya teaches about the conscious use of self. It inspires me to choose wisely.

When most westerners think of yoga, images come to mind of folks coiled into amazingly intricate postures.  However, the Sanskrit meaning of the word yoga is union. The true aim of the various schools of yoga is to bring practitioners toward union with God.

The yamas are one facet of the vast storehouse of centuries-old yogic wisdom. Whatever our spiritual tradition, our practice can be enhanced by bringing the yamas to life. For as we stop feeding the negativity that keeps us spiritually emaciated, we free ourselves to open more fully to a vibrant experience of the Divine.

I wish you all a lovely week. And if you find yourself taking your challenges a bit too seriously, try repeating the title of these two essays in one mouthful. It's darn hard to say, "Yama, yama, yama, yama, yama!" without smiling!

Go on~~try it~~you'll see!


Loanne Marie

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Schedule change

Hello there!

Just a short note to let you all know that I will be posting essays less frequently, at least for the summer. My goal is to post something twice monthly, rather than the weekly postings I've been doing.

With my pared down blogging schedule, I'm hoping to have time to explore other avenues for my writing, including possibly getting it together to write a book.

Have a wonderful summer!

Loanne Marie

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Universal Energy of Love

Today is Mother’s Day, a celebration in honor of the women who raised us. But within this tribute to that most personal of relationships, we can also sense the pulse of the universal. For love is a universal energy, ever-present, humming just below the surface of our existence.

If we are lucky, the women who raise us are clear channels through which such love flows freely and in abundance. Through their ability to manifest love in the particulars of our own small lives, such mothers impart trust in a universal loving presence. Thus they do much to shape a vibrant spirituality in their offspring.

In other mothers, however, the pathway for love has become twisted, emaciated, or clogged with debris. Children of such mothers often have to work harder to find their way to a loving spiritual connection.

Of course, most mothers do not live at either of these extremes. Just like all things human, mothers tend to be a blend of light and shadow, strength and weakness. Whatever model of love we experienced as children, we carry that example into the families we create and into all the significant relationships of our lives. This includes our relationship with the Divine.

As adults, our task is to clear our own channels. If we want them to run freely, we may need to modify what was given us~~perhaps only a little, maybe quite a lot. Whether our job is large or small, though, we have the resources available to assist us. Spirit is ever at the ready to help us heal.

In addition to the specific spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, and communal worship, you might find any of the following helpful in this endeavor.
  • Imagine a loving energy filling your heart center for several minutes each day. You might envision this as a light of whatever color you find healing. Sense it pulsing and growing stronger with each breath. 
  • Commit to a steady practice of loving~kindness meditation.
  • Devise an affirmation that embodies your specific intent, such as “I open willingly and gratefully to Love.” Repeat it often. 
  • Place images of the Divine Feminine throughout your living space, such as pictures or statues of the Blessed Mother or Kuan Yin. You might add pictures of your own mother and other women who taught you love. Offer prayers for the healing of your heart as you feel love’s blessings flowing through you. 
  • People your life with those who offer a healthy model of love. Value these relationships, and absorb their glow.
  • Choose activities that enrich and nourish your heart. Make wise choices concerning books and movies. Spend time in nature. 
This Mother’s Day we will, of course, honor the specific women who birthed us, and all women who were instrumental in shaping us, then and now. Without their profound influence, we would not be the unique persons we are today.
But we can honor, too, the universal force of love itself. We can commit to opening to that love more fully. And we can do our part in extending love’s flow, to our own children and to all those we come in contact with, as we walk this earth. 

I’d like to close by honoring my own mother. You are woven through me like a thread in a complex tapestry. Each time I love, you breathe again. Each time I pull back from love, I touch you also. Your channel was so clear, and ran more purely and steadily than most. Your lessons resonate in me still, and I am grateful for them all.

So, to all who mother~~in any way~~blessings to you, and Happy Mother’s Day!

Loanne Marie

For another take on Mother's Day, particularly relevant if your relationship with your own mother was difficult, see Mom Quilt.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Yama, Yama

I was running late. A session with a client had gone over, and I now barely had enough time to get to my hair appointment. 

As I rushed to the car, a fierce wind whipped a bag of cough drops from my hastily closed purse. As they landed on the pavement, I stomped down just as the wind lifted them again. Thus began a rather silly dance across the parking lot, though its humor was lost on me.

Finally in the car with cough drops secured, I found myself behind a woman driving with excruciating slowness. Until, that is, she came to a complete stop in the middle of the road, for no reason I could fathom. As I passed, I flashed an irritated look her way.
I arrived home, burst through the door to grab the checkbook I’d forgotten that morning, and immediately began grumbling about the wind, which had battered me again between car and kitchen. 

And then I saw my husband’s face. And I stopped.

Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term that is translated simply as non~harming. There is nothing, however, simple about living this tenet. Ahimsa is one of the five yamas, or ethical precepts, delineated in Patanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga. 

Non~harming means more than abstaining from physical violence. Ahimsa entails refraining from all types of harmful thinking and behavior. Mahatma Gandhi described the practice of ahimsa as aiming toward, “complete freedom from ill~will and anger and hate, and an overflowing love for all.”

No easy task. In the ten minutes between office and kitchen, I’d missed the mark three separate times. I had chosen annoyance and spewed it through my own psyche and out into the world around me. I hadn’t been aware of this choice. It was only as I watched the initial joy on my husband’s face at my unexpected arrival home fade into something a bit more guarded that I realized what I was doing.

Disregarding another yama is what had led me astray. Aparigraha translates as non~grasping. On a basic level, aparigraha refers to not accumulating possessions or holding onto them too tightly. However, non~grasping can also refer to how we hold attitudes and beliefs as well.

I’d had my agenda, you see. I knew the wind shouldn’t blow so wildly, the woman oughtn’t to drive so slowly, and I mustn’t be late for my appointment. I was attached to the way I believed things ought to be, disgruntled that life was not conforming to my expectations. In each instance, I harmed myself a bit and offered unpleasantness to the world around me.

Living the yamas brings us to a profound truth. As we free ourselves from negativity of whatever ilk, we are better able to touch life as it is. Its rich textures, its small miracles, and the face of Spirit become more palpable, less obscured by our own projections. As we grow in acceptance of what is, we engage more harmoniously with our environment. Whatever we find is ours to do, the yamas will point us toward the most effective and graceful internal approach to the task.

So, what did I do once I woke up to my options? With full awareness, I looked into my husband’s eyes, greeted him warmly, and apologized for grousing. We embraced for a few moments. And then I was out the door again.

Incidentally, I arrived for my haircut on time~~and with spirit intact!

I wish you well over the coming week as you greet what life brings your way.


Loanne Marie 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Aiming Our Awareness

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the use of affirmations to harness our creative powers. I'd like to explore that theme a bit further here. 

While affirmations may, at first, seem like New Age fluff, the concept has been used for decades in the field of psychology. It is accepted that negative comments made repeatedly to children become internalized, woven throughout the personality with far-reaching effects. Identifying and altering these largely unconscious beliefs is part of the work of psychotherapy and self-help practices. Devising life-affirming statements to supplant negative ones is an important tool in that process.

But affirmations are not just for healing childhood wounds. They can befriend each of us as we expand beyond our current limitations.

These personalities of ours are lenses through which we relate to the world around us. These lenses, however, are not of clear glass, but colored in ways unique to our dispositions and our histories. We do not perceive the world as it is, but rather interpret it according to the hue of our individual selves.

But these lenses affect also what we give of ourselves. Like a stained glass window, the unique light of the Divine flowing through us shines out through our psyches. Our task is to cleanse, as much as possible, our personal lens. Affirmations are a powerful method for doing just that.

To begin, choose an issue that keeps you from freely expressing your unique essence. A lack of trust in your ability to make good choices, for example, might keep you from fully committing to those endeavors that might enrich you.

To devise an effective affirmation to transform this notion, use the following guidelines.
  • First, a positively worded statement is best. “I want to stop doubting myself” is not as potent as “I want to trust my ability to make good choices.”
  • Second, a statement in present time, as though it were already true, will be strongest. “I trust my ability to make good choices” is, therefore, more robust.
  • Third, an affirmation should feel at least partially true, though you may need to root out its veracity if you tend to be hard on yourself. Most often, any affirmation you devise will contain that kernel of truth or you wouldn’t have conceived it. In our example and keeping in mind the plethora of choices you make every day of your life, you do make good choices frequently, don't you? And most of these are made reflexively, without undue anxiety or self~doubt. 
  • Fourth, affirmations that are active and imbued with pizzazz will most fully enlist your spirit in the process of change. "I direct the power of my innate wisdom to choose well today.” Now that’s a declaration with oomph!
Once you have your affirmation, repeat it several times daily. Enter it as your computer’s screen saver. Whisper it to yourself before sleep. Modify as appropriate. And enact your affirmation through behaviors that nourish it. In our example, explore the various options available, and then be still and allow your choice to rise from within. And perhaps develop a new affirmation to grow the fortitude needed to enact this choice in a sustained manner.

Through committed use of affirmations we strengthen, over time, the capacities we seek--just as we also reinforce our insecurities, albeit unwittingly, each time we batter ourselves with negativity or resist forward movement.

Try the following affirmations on for size: 
  • “I seize opportunities to grow faith and trust in God.”
  • “I embrace, with enthusiasm and trust, all that comes my way today.”
  • "I open to guidance that is always present, ever available.”
Affirmations are not wishful thinking. They are a powerful means for harnessing the incredible power of our minds and spirits to a positive end. 

Our pane of uniquely colored glass, wiped clean of accumulated dust and debris, can then recognize its own small place in that vast prism of the Divine. Wow!

Be creative and have a bit of fun with this technique. Play! And have a wonderful week letting yourself shine.


Loanne Marie

Monday, April 20, 2009

Another week off

Yes, life conspired once again to give me nothing new to offer you today. However, there's an essay I wrote a little over a year ago that comes to mind this morning. It's on the aging process, though I'm thinking of it due to having spent time yesterday with the woman~~now 99~~mentioned in that essay. 

If you're looking for something to read, this one's a possibility~~This, Too, Shall Pass

Have a good week!

Loanne Marie

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Easter Story as a Guide to Personal Development

The Bible can be read in several ways: as divine revelation, historical document, and guide for spiritual growth. It is the latter that speaks to me this year as we approach that most glorious celebration of the Christian calendar. Specifically, I am drawn to the lessons embodied symbolically in the persons and events of the Easter story.

I think first of Judas Iscariot. In the traditional gospels, Judas is cast as the betrayer of Christ, the man who sold his teacher, and his own soul, for a few coins. Yet viewed symbolically, this character teaches about the saboteur in our own hearts.

We all have a Judas within, itching to pull us from our path. While not as dramatic as the Biblical Judas, this inner voice encourages us toward ethical lapses in many ways. Perhaps our Judas justifies overtly explosive or self~destructive behavior. Often, however, his influence is deceptively subtle, urging us to forgo the endeavors that nurture our soul and create love in our lives.

Whatever these challenges, there's no need to deny this dynamic or be surprised by the setbacks it causes. Selling our deeper interest for short~term gain is just the way of the saboteur.

Enter Pontius Pilate and the angry crowd. They, too, live within us. Pontius is the part of us that knows full well what needs to be done. A weak Pontius, however, allows us to abdicate our duty to stand firm, and instead hands our higher good over to that raucous mob. Surrounded then by our own negativity, energy drains from us. We are led away.

So, our Judas sells us, our Pontius abandons us, our ugly crowd assails us. And we hang. And we wait. 

Fortunately, just as in the Easter story, we also have a chorus of wise women inside as well, offering moral support throughout our travails, standing witness as we move toward the inevitable conclusion. For Grace finally arrives, releasing us from our pain and bringing us new life. Somehow we wake up and get back on the path, with our earthbound selves expanded and connected once more to Spirit.

So there you have it, the cacophony of voices existing within the average human psyche, moving us again and again toward our suffering~~and redemption. For after participating in our own demise repeatedly, we begin to recognize the price of moving unconsciously through life. We gain wisdom.

Remember those inner wisefolk? As the process of spiritual maturation continues, we begin to lend our precious energy to their empowerment. Our wise ones gradually grow strong enough to support Pontius in doing as he knows he should. The power begins to shift away from Judas and the harsh crowd.

But this doesn’t happen quickly or easily. In fact, it seems that our challenges merely become more subtle, though so do our powers of discernment. Such is the journey of evolving consciousness.

So as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the coming week, let us also celebrate the many times we, too, have risen through suffering. And let us continue to fortify our inner resources and listen, willingly and gratefully, to the wise voices within as they grow stronger, bit by bit.

As this process unfolds, Christ has provided a model to guide us~~the path of surrender and faith in a redemption that will surely come. As we die again and again to our limited, earth-bound selves, we can open~~
consciously and willing, as did He~~to a resurrection in Spirit. 

Thus the beauty of the entire cycle shines forth, as it moves us inexorably toward unity with the Divine.

Happy Easter! And I send good wishes for your personal sufferings~~and for the resurrections they offer. 

Loanne Marie

Monday, April 6, 2009

Receiving What We Seek

As the self~imposed deadline for my last essay approached, I was confronted by an unusual phenomenon. I was totally without ideas. Usually, raw material for an article has been rumbling around for days before I sit down to write. I may have only an inkling of a theme, but I usually arrive at the keyboard with something. But not this time.

I found myself telling a friend that I had nothing to say. I joked that inspiration better strike soon or I’d be in trouble.

Then I stopped. I mentally replayed the words that had just left my mouth. The statement “I have nothing to say” expressed as permanent what was truly only a temporary lull. And joking about being “in trouble” could only nurture the anxiety that had already taken root. Such sentiments certainly weren't going to stimulate my creativity!

Even more importantly, though, these casual comments provided a window into the unconscious mindset I still carry with me. What I consciously believe is that we are surrounded and imbued with an unending fund of creative energy. I find that what needs doing in my life gets done most effectively without inordinate struggle. And I recognize worry as a toxic emotion that depletes my spirit.

But my words suggested a different internal reality, didn’t they? Old patterns were with me still.

I knew my energy would be better spent fostering a worldview that encouraged success. I am not a passive recipient, as the phrase “inspiration better strike soon” implies. There was much I could do. So, I reminded myself of my beliefs and crafted a statement to reflect them.

“I open to the boundless creative force that is always present, ever available.”

And I sat, receptive and still. Letting go of attempts to force anything, I allowed thoughts to rise up on their own instead. After a minute or two of emptiness, ideas began to stir and soon moved one to another. I found myself watching for avenues that beckoned.

And there, in that metaphor, I encountered the theme that grew into the finished piece (see Avenues That Beckon).

Making conscious the many beliefs we unconsciously affirm is a powerful method for assessing the current state of our spirituality and making modifications that better serve us. When I said “I have nothing to say”, I affirmed lack. When I instead acknowledged the presence of inspiration and chose to open to it, I affirmed abundance. And in affirming abundance, I received what I sought~~just as I had when I affirmed lack.

This is only a small and relatively insignificant example of this phenomenon. Think of the effect of any of the following statements, some of which you may have verbalized yourself:

Life sucks. 
I’m stupid. 
It’s hopeless. 
I’m all alone. 
I don’t have enough __________.
I hate myself. 
I’m trapped. 
Nobody cares.

As a psychotherapist, I recognize the importance of speaking what feels true, and of telling our experiences of personal wounding and loss. Authentic healing oftentimes comes through engaging in just such a process. However, we also are called to turn the full force of our creative powers toward developing an outlook that brings us a rich and vibrant experience of living, today and always. Affirmations can be a powerful tool to this end.

In a future essay, I will explore this theme in more detail. Until then, it might be useful to notice your own life-defining thoughts, particularly the negative ones that permeate the crevasses of your soul like chill fog.


Loanne Marie

For more on crafting affirmations, see Aiming Our Awareness.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A week off!

Hello there!

Things conspired to give me a week off from writing. Perhaps you'll read through some previous essays, or maybe take a week off yourself. 

I'll have something here for next week.


Loanne Marie

Monday, March 23, 2009

Avenues That Beckon

When I write, I become absorbed. Not just minutes, but often an hour or more passes with only my peripheral awareness. Writing transports me from my small self into something that feels larger and deeper both. It is one of the ways I touch the life in the present moment. In addition, the process and its results have brought me into contact with individuals and ideas that have further shaped and enriched me. Writing, it seems, is a lure beckoning.

A natural extension of the idea of Spirit’s omnipresence is that opportunities to touch the Divine are ever-present as well. As the mystic poet Kabir put it, “Wherever you are is the entry point.” While these points of access exist in each moment, they are often most enjoyably and easily perceived in those activities that attract us.

In the late eighties, Joseph Campbell, author and educator in the field of comparative religions, made famous the phrase “follow your bliss.” He felt that by so doing, “you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and (then) the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.” It seems that bliss, then, is the voice of our deeper selves reverberating down the avenues that beckon.

Now, of course, discretion is needed. Addictions and other soul-harming practices can, after all, be quite compelling as well. But most often we know the difference between pursuits that bring us to the warm center of an absorption that feeds our soul, and activities that numb us and pull us away from our true self. And if we’re ever uncertain, the fruit of an activity will tell the tale.

I find it curious, though, that we often resist doing those things that bring us into this rich experience. Some of us seem almost determined not to allow ourselves such abundance. It may be as simple as mistrusting our ability to choose wisely. Or perhaps we believe that we are undeserving, that a full life is for others, not us.

But often I think there is something else involved. Sometimes, as I sit to write or meditate, I recognize a certain resistance, an inkling~~or at times a huge dollop~~of avoidance. What’s to avoid? Both activities nurture me.

Of course, sometimes it’s simple laziness, since something is exacted from me by both endeavors. But when I search down to the bones of this phenomenon, I find a hint of fear. When we step forward into an unknown, no matter how enticing it may be, we are never quite certain what we will encounter or who we might become in the process. Intuitively we know that whenever we respond to our soul’s guidance, things will change, and often quite quickly, too. This can be unnerving. The alternative, however, is to live in the shadow of what we might be.

Whether we yearn to create art or a garden, to hike through the national forest or dance, to develop a spiritual practice or a new career, that urge may very well be the voice of our deeper self coaxing us forward.

Perhaps we would be wise to gather up all the insecure, lazy, frightened, and undeveloped pieces of our soul, grasp hands with our Higher Self, and step forward over the threshold into the future that awaits us, the one that calls our name.

I wish you well turning toward the voice of your own deepest self this week.


Loanne Marie

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cultivating Compassion

I have just finished reading about Rwandan women. It was a hopeful article, celebrating the resilience of lives rebuilt. Still, I find myself shaken. I am particularly touched tonight by a widow, now mothering seven traumatized children~~three born to her and four adopted ones, little beings orphaned by hate.

Perhaps it’s the weariness born of a long day, but this family’s story hits me hard. Tears do not melt the heaviness I feel. Rwanda’s tragic past has seeped into my heart. What to do?

Loving-kindness meditation is a practice designed to cultivate compassion. Just what I need to lighten my spirit while perhaps sending something soothing into the world.

I walk to my room, sit, take a few breaths. In this method of meditation, various key phrases can be used to encourage the opening of the heart. Tonight, words arrive spontaneously.

As the form instructs, I begin with myself.

“May I be healthy. May I be whole. May I be at peace.”

I silently repeat each phrase in sync with my breath until my heart softens and words drop away. I wrap myself, fill myself, with love.

After several minutes, I shift my focus to a dear friend.

“May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.”

Again, one phrase flows into another until love moves of its own volition, and we are both bathed in its light.

Warmth now fills my chest, vanquishing the gloom that held me earlier. I am ready to do what I realize I arrived at this moment to do. I visualize the Rwandan mother from the article, seven children gathered ‘round her.

“May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.”

The repeating words and the tenderness behind them envelop this constellation of living souls, stroking, nurturing, whispering encouragement as they rise from the rubble of war.

But after several minutes, I remember there is something else required of me, something I must steady myself to do. For in loving~kindness meditation, one also offers goodwill to those perceived as harmful. I resist this, recoil from the very idea of wishing well those who have murdered this woman’s husband, these children’s parents. I can stop short of wishing them harm, but can I wish them well? I can, and I must.

I envision these murderers, likely men consumed with fear or hatred from perceived wrongs done them. And I know again that healthy and whole humans at peace do not commit atrocities. I know they, instead, make amends for wrongs they have committed.

“May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.”

Something shifts as these words reverberate. I remember that I, too, might erupt in similar ways, given certain circumstances. I also recognize my link to those who watched from afar and did nothing to stop the genocide. Hard kernels of anger and self~righteousness rise up and melt away. Love flows into the spaces thus freed.

My focus expands now to include all of Rwanda.

"May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace."

This rippling continues, crossing continents and oceans until I gently and lovingly hold our brilliant planet and all its inhabitants in my awareness.

“May you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.”

My meditation is now complete. My heart is warm, open, healed.

My meditation was not ‘perfect’. My focus wavered often. However, each time my thoughts or emotions strayed, I returned. In defiance of despair, loving~kindness bloomed, again and again. And again.

In this and every week, may you be healthy. May you be whole. May you be at peace.


Loanne Marie

Monday, March 9, 2009

Habits Of The Heart

With the ground shifting beneath our feet in so many ways, feeling a bit unsettled is to be expected. Our choice of how we respond to the turmoil around and within us, though, is ours alone to decide.

Some of us may react with fear, withdrawing into cynicism or despair. Others might instead cling to idealistic notions that are unable to withstand the tumult of real~world application. While these responses may appear to be in opposition, they are actually twin temptations, linked by the truth that both prevent effective action.

In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, author and educator, Parker Palmer, articulated the need to “hold the tension” between these two poles, recognizing the value each contains but succumbing wholeheartedly to neither.

Notice the phrasing. Palmer did not encourage us to tolerate the tension or to withstand it. He urged us to hold that tension, for holding requires us to grow larger than either pole, greater even than both together. As we enlarge ourselves, we achieve the vision that allows us to assess both extremes, discern the truth lying within each, and conceptualize a viable path forward which incorporates the best of both.

Whenever we confront a choice between seeming opposites, it is wise to search for the synthesis between them. This has been described as going through the horns of a dilemma~~which certainly beats being impaled by either!

As we consider the current state of our world, though, how do we negotiate between the horns? This middle way includes facing head~on the very grave difficulties before us, but doing so with trust that effective solutions can be found and enacted through our hard and sustained efforts.

Simplistic and emotionally~laden thinking is the easy way. Far more is required of us now~~to fully appreciate the serious difficulties we face, accept that there are no simple, easy, or perhaps even already envisioned answers, and nevertheless trust that we can develop a viable strategy for moving forward.

With this in mind, Palmer also spoke of the challenge to cultivate appropriate “habits of the heart.” The ability to hold the tension between despair and idealism is one such habit. But there are many others, including...
  • Commitment to substantive discourse with those with whom we disagree.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Compassion, meaning literally “to suffer with”.
  • Appreciation for diversity.
  • Conscious use of our unique energy, in ways minute and grand.
  • Trust in the inherent goodness of ourselves and others.
We live in turbulent times, to be sure. Our response, though, is anything but certain. We could use these times to nurture precious habits of the heart.

In Parker’s words, we could then “take (this) broken~hearted experience in a new direction, not towards the shattering into a million pieces but toward a heart that grows larger, more capacious, more open to hold both the suffering and the pain of the world.” And, I would add, its piercing beauty and possibility, as well.

Whatever challenges we face personally and collectively, we could see in them opportunities, fodder in our quest to grow a healthier, more soulful heart.

Have a lovely week growing your own heart!


Loanne Marie