Saturday, December 24, 2011

Silent Night, Holy Light

The incomprehensible vastness of our universe is never felt more keenly than when we look up into the dome of a starry night. If the sky were a solid black, fear might consume us. Awe wins out, though, in the shining of those stars, those innumerable points of light. No words are possible, none are needed. Humility rises of its own accord, and all falls into its proper place.

Perhaps this is why the essence of Christmas has always shone most fully for me within the darkness of the night that precedes it. As a child, Christmas morning was all about the presents. The night before, however, we touched the sacred.

Though the nature of this experience changed as I did, light was always the entryway. Just as in a starry sky, in each of my Christmas memories it was the light shining within the darkness that proclaimed the holiness of this night.

As young children we’d pile into the station wagon dressed in pajamas and winter coats to travel through a world transformed. Enchanted, we’d ooh and aah at trees decked out, houses strung with colored bulbs, the occasional sleigh and reindeer on lawn or rooftop~~all awash in light, dazzling light.

If we hadn’t fallen asleep before we returned home, we’d sit in a living room lit only by the twinkling magic of our own tree and the single bulb within the nearby crèche. The delicate light within an otherwise darkened room brought that timeless scene to life~~the smell of sweet hay, the warmth of the gentle animals, Mary and Joseph, baby Jesus in his manger, angels watching from above.

As I grew older, Midnight Mass was added. Again, it was the light that spoke strongest to me as a plentitude of candles joined with the pungent smell of incense to transform our church into a place far more holy than it was on any Sunday morning.

Not all of us have such idyllic Christmas memories, however. The night sky is not the only darkness we humans confront. There is the shadow side of the human spirit that shows itself in Christmases blighted by poverty, drunkenness and violence, by spirits riddled with pain and despair.

And yet, light shines even there, as children find wonder in the smallest things and believe in magic despite the bleakness of their days or the horror of their nights. Children, it seems, are especially equipped to find light amid darkness. Maybe that’s why Christ loved them so and stressed our need to become like them. Finding light within darkness is perhaps a necessary trait for entering heaven.

While no one knows the exact date of Christ’s birth, the early church chose well in picking a time close to the winter solstice. As the turning point in earth’s journey around the sun, the solstice is always a celebration of light. What better time to honor Christ? Light incarnate. True Light from True Light. Bodhisattva, Enlightened One.

On this Christmas eve~~this silent night, this holy night~~let us open to the Light streaming forth. Let it shine within our joy. Let it shine within our darkness.


Let it shine…

Let it shine…

Let it shine, shine, shine!!!

A belated Happy Hanukkah!
A belated Happy Solstice!
Merry Christmas!
Happy Kwanzaa!

No matter the tradition you honor, I send you wishes for a transformative New Year! Hold onto your hats~~as well as your centermost point~~as it promises to be a doozy!!!


Loanne Marie

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Face of Love

“Jesus gave me the message,” noted Martin Luther King, Jr., “Gandhi showed me the method.” He was referring, of course, to love as enacted through non~violence.

This theme was explored in a recent panel discussion at the University of Arkansas entitled "Turning Swords into Ploughshares: The Many Paths of Non~Violence.” The panelists were the Dalai Lama; Sister Helen Prejean, advocate against the death penalty featured in the film Dead Man Walking; and 80~year~old civil rights activist, Vincent Harding.

The Dalai Lama, in his broken English, began the discussion with what may seem a rather audacious statement. “I consider basic human nature is…gentleness.” Gentleness?!! What about survival of the fittest, aggression, and all the rest?

He supports his point by noting that since humans are born helpless and in need of care, the ability to bond is primary. He believes this points to “compassion, human affection,” as the core quality of the human species.

He goes on to reference continuing scientific evidence that emotions such as anger, fear and worry are harmful to the human organism, while love, forgiveness and kindness are conducive to health on all levels and, therefore, more in harmony with basic human wiring.

“The compassionate mind,” he concludes, “is very good for the society, very good for the family, very good for individual.”

Sister Helen Prejean spoke of witnessing convicted murderer Patrick Sonnier’s execution and choosing to be “a loving face” for him at the end. She also shared her hesitation to reach out to the families of those Sonnier had slain. When she did so, though, she was greeted not with the anger she had feared, but by a palpable relief.

Prejean quotes parent Lloyd LeBlanc as saying, “Sister, you can't believe the pressure on us to be for the death penalty, and I've had nobody to talk to. Where have you been?" She relates how this brave soul refused to give in to baser, though completely understandable, emotions. She shares LeBlanc’s words: “I didn't like the way it made me feel when I went to that place of hatred and bitterness…They killed our son, but I'm not going to let them kill me.”

Harding shared a similar story in the reactions of two friends to the bomb that killed 4 Sunday school children in Birmingham in 1961. Civil rights workers Diane Nash and James Bevel overrode an immediate urge for revenge and instead deepened their commitment to non~violence. Harding paraphrases them as saying, “We cannot copy that terrible path of violence. That is not who we are. That is not what we believe in…We must respond, but we must find another way.”

Non~violence is not a technique. It is not, in Gandhi’s words “…a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our being.” When we commit to transforming what King referred to as our “internal violence of the spirit,” a loving response becomes more accessible, no matter the situation.

My friend Val told of a mentally ill young man who was being loud and disruptive during a recent General Assembly (GA) meeting at Occupy Denver. “Five folks just gently stood by him,” Val shared in a recent email, “and, as a circle, slowly moved him outside of the larger circle, just listening to him. Since he had those 5 sets of ears, he just followed them.

“For an hour they listened to him rant,” she continued, “but well away from the group, so the GA could go on. After an hour, he calmed down and walked away.”

How very beautiful! To listen with kind attention to the cursing tirades of a wounded soul is not a tactic.
That kind of response comes from the heart. It is non~violence in action, love made manifest.

And yet non~violence may be only the beginning. In Harding’s words, “I'm deeply convinced now even more than I was then, that when we…commit ourselves to the building of humanity, then all kinds of forces…become available to us, and we are able to do much more than we ever dreamed.”

So let us love one another as Jesus instructed, and let us do so within the commonplace events and muck of human life. In the process, we just might find ourselves part of something much larger~~the healing of a world.

With love,

Loanne Marie

You can view the panel discussion in its entirety here.

And here’s a transcript, if that works better for you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Be The Web

When I was young, we said grace before our evening meal.
“Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
No one taught me this blessing. It was simply an ever~present part of our evening ritual~~which likely explains why I rarely thought of its meaning. I loved how the words cascaded one over the other in an engaging rhythm. But did I think about their significance? Seldom.

As I matured, things began to change. I became influenced by forms of spirituality that recognized that all was sacred. This, of course, included the food that came from the earth and nourished the body. During this time, a new grace appeared, one that continues to be a part of my eating life.
The silver rain, the shining sun,
The fields where all the wild things run,
And all the ripples of the wheat,
Are in this food that we now eat.
So as we sit for this­­­­ ­­­­­­______ (adjective~~lovely, delicious) meal,
With ______ (adjective~~grateful, joyous) hearts we know and feel,
That we are eating rain and sun,
And fields where all the wild things run.
Though I loved the poetry in these words, still I used this blessing infrequently. Earth’s bounty and my incredible good fortune in having such wholesome food were too often intellectual concepts rather than heart~felt experience. The habits of unconscious eating were still strong in me.

And then Thich Nhat Hanh came into my life. This gentle Buddhist monk forever changed my relationship to food and the process of eating. The first line of the eating prayer in Nhat Hahn’s tradition is~~
“This food is a gift of the whole universe~~the earth, the sky, numerous living beings and much loving work.”
The oatmeal that warmed me this morning was possible only because of photosynthesis, moisture, vibrant soil, farmer, salt miner, trucker, grocer, stove manufacturer and propane producer. One chain, many links. One web, many strands.

In Buddhism, though, a blessing before meals serves primarily to orient us. As a preamble to the experience of eating, its intent is to encourage us to be fully present throughout the entire process. Full awareness~~an appropriate response to “these Thy gifts,” don’t you think?

I now say grace before most meals. As I look at my plate, I recognize all that it holds. And I see myself there, too. I re~member myself into that vast web. By nourishing my body, the food I eat allows me to move out into the world. How will I honor these gifts and carry them forward into the web?

If someone cuts me off in traffic, letting out an expletive or flipping the bird is certainly not being true to “these Thy gifts”. Walking in a haze through my day, reacting carelessly to whatever arises, does not do them justice either.

No, “these Thy gifts” asks more. It invites a loving attention, a soulful presence. When I’m operating from my best self, I bring nourishment to others. I hope, though, that even when I’m behaving badly, folks can take what I pass to them and turn it toward greater wisdom and overall good.

Many of us honored our gifts this past Thursday. Perhaps we can keep that thanksgiving going. In fact, I’m asking that everyone reading these words~~yes, that means you!~~ commit to sitting in gratitude before your next meal.

If we would each also vow to consciously use the nutrients within that food to fuel our own unique contribution to the world~~and to make it our very best offering~~that would be a lovely thing indeed!

And while we're speaking of gratitude, please feel mine streaming right now to you~~and you~~and you, too~~for all that you do, and all that you are, in this world.


Loanne Marie

P.S. For other Thanksgiving~themed essays, here are some earlier posts~~


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Soldier's Heart

Yesterday we honored our veterans. Today, I ask that you extend that observance just a bit longer while you read these words.

While all who left their homes and their families deserve our appreciation, those who endured combat have earned a special place in our hearts. The wounds sustained may be physical, visible in the body or not. Their afflictions may be of the psyche, visible in their behavior or not.

As a psychotherapist, my experience is with these psychological wounds. What our leaders ask of these men and women is not without cost. Of course, we’d rather not face this fact. Not really. Not fully. Just as many of us turn away from the vet with physical scars, we avert our eyes from his or her emotional suffering as well. We diagnose. We blame. We incarcerate. We ignore.

In a marvelous book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, educator and activist Parker Palmer refers us to a riff by the brilliant comedian and social critic George Carlin.
Carlin made a career of drawing our attention to the various oddities of our culture. In "Euphemisms," he hones in on how we use language to avoid painful realities, particularly the hurt sustained by our combat veterans.

“There's a condition in combat,” Carlin states, “…when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak…can’t take any more…The nervous system has either snapped or is about to.” Carlin then traces the various names we’ve used for this condition throughout the 20th century.

“In the first world war,” Carlin reminds us, “that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves.”

Then a change occurred in our language, one that took some of the bite out of the harsh realities of war. In World War II, “the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue,” Carlin explains. “Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much.” Surely nothing a nap or a week of R&R wouldn’t take care of.

Time marched on and one war was replaced by another. During the Korean War, the term had morphed into operational exhaustion. “Hey,” Carlin quips, “we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase…Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.”

Next, of course, came Vietnam and these psychological wounds were repackaged yet again as Post~Traumatic Stress Disorder. “Still eight syllables,” Carlin notes, “but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon.”

It’s that last line that haunts me. Carlin always makes me laugh, but my laughter has an edge to it this time, an uneasiness born of the recognition that his observations may be about language, but the realities he points to are about human beings. Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Children all. Children of our human family. Not statistics. Not machinery. Real human beings, living and breathing~~or trying to~~like the rest of us.

But Carlin missed one name for the psychological wounds of combat. Palmer tells us that d
uring the Civil War,“traumatized combatants developed a condition…called Soldier’s Heart.”

Soldier’s Heart. How incredibly beautiful. How honest. How true.

Heart comes from the Latin cor which, as Palmer notes, "points not merely to our emotions but to the core of the self, that center place where all our ways of knowing converge...The heart is where we integrate what we know in our minds with what we know in our bones." And this is where these kinds of battle wounds reside, at the very core of a the Soldier's Heart.

So on Veteran’s Day 11/11/11, we honored all our veterans~~the living and the dead, those here and abroad, individuals serving in any capacity. But let us each take a moment~~right here, right now~~to sit quietly and envelop every Soldier’s Heart within our own.

Blessings on every Soldier's Heart.

Loanne Marie

PS. Here's a link to Carlin's Euphemisms. Geesh, but I miss George Carlin!

PPS. And for those interested in learning more about an organization seeking to make sure the prevalence of Soldier's Hearts diminishes rather than grows, here's a link to Veterans For Peace.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Occupy Together!

An odd thing happened while I was busy living my life. The rich became richer.

Between 1979 and 2007, the average after~tax income for the wealthiest 1% of Americans rose by 281%, with these folks now controlling 42% of the financial wealth in the U.S. The gap between this 1% and the rest of us has tripled~~yes, tripled!~~over the last three decades.

The top 10% of Americans now control 93% of our country’s wealth. Taxes on the richest Americans are the lowest in decades, and Congress, beholden to lobbyists and their own interests, seems intent on dealing with our financial difficulties by gouging social programs.

I had not followed the Occupy Wall Street movement very closely, yet I jumped at the chance to participate during a recent visit to New York.

En route to Zuccotti Park, we were passed by a large group marching to Chase Bank. Soon another left on an anti~racism march to the African Burial Ground National Monument located a few blocks away.

So began my education on just how dynamic this movement is, an awareness that grew as I discovered the diversity of those within the park. Certainly there were lots of 20~somethings, but there were many with lined faces and gray hair. Truck drivers. Parents with children. Construction workers from nearby Ground Zero.

This motley group was unified by a profound concern for our country. While the movement has been criticized for lacking a coherent message, political columnist Charles Pierce believes this broad brush approach is appropriate and represents the movement’s unique strength. In an Esquire essay, Pierce states:
“…the wealth of the country is being swindled and gambled and frittered away by so many people in so many ways that to sharpen the focus on one of the long cons is to let a dozen others reach fruition.”
Historian Eric Foner offers a different perspective. In a CNN interview, he reminds us that throughout history “the role of protest (has been) to galvanize public opinion…to pose a moral question.” As an example, he points out that the Abolitionists of the 1830s “didn’t put forward a plan to for getting rid of slavery. They said our job is to convince people slavery is wrong.”

So, Americans come from far and near to stand their ground in a little park in Manhattan, just one block from where the World Trade Center once stood. And they come to various cities and towns across the country and around the world. In the latest incarnation of a tradition that is both honorable and sacred, they protest to pose a moral question, to galvanize public opinion, and to strongly state their view that the current situation, economic and otherwise, is wrong.

At Zuccotti Park, also known appropriately as Liberty Park, many make personal statements, some on hand~lettered signs. On that day two weeks ago now, these were the signs that spoke most dearly to me...

One 60-something carried a simple placard,

A more conciliatory somebody wrote,
99% + 1% = 100%

A sign obviously conceived, lettered, colored, flowered and glittered by the hand of the 7~year~old who carried it, instructed on one side,
with the other stating,

And in a play on a classic exhortation, one hopeful soul quietly held a sign that said,

What moved me most, though, was an auditory event. I was standing at a makeshift shrine, enthralled by swatches of cloth, crosses, prayer beads, candles, sacred icons and mandalas spilling one over the other.
Mic check, ” a young man 3 yards away suddenly called out.
MIC CHECK,” those nearby replied in robust unison.
We need some volunteers,” he continued.
WE NEED SOME VOLUNTEERS,” the crowd echoed.
To walk a few blocks from here.”
To get some cardboard for making signs.
With electronic amplification banned, protesters have developed this system, dubbed the human microphone, to communicate basic information, as well as the philosophical and political views a particular protester may wish to express.

And it brought tears to my eyes. For me, this adaptation embodies the essence of the grassroots movements that are spreading like wildfire around the world. So many individuals, each with a unique story, coming together, supporting one another, speaking with one voice.

There’s another metaphor here, too. Of all the various forces within us and around us, which ones will we amplify? To which will we give our precious voice?

Right now, mine sings out prayers...
for the protesters…
for the police...
for hostile others…
for our whole bewildered and bewildering species…
and for this beautiful little planet we call home.
Blessings on us all.

Loanne Marie

Addendum: The momentum for this movement continues to build. Earlier today, my husband and I were in a small mountain community, population around 5,000. Walking down the street, we were suddenly swept up in the first Occupy protest march there. Fifty or so folks, most with gray hair, organized the event and plan to meet every Saturday to demonstrate their concerns.

The number of these groups seems to grow daily. To find out how you can help, to see what's going on near you, or to begin something yourself or with a few like~minded folks, you can find helpful information here at Occupy Together.

This is truly an exciting time. Yet, change seldom takes a smooth or simple trajectory. Let's keep those prayers and/or simple good vibes flowing...
...for the safety and clarity of the protesters;
...for the greatest wisdom for our elected officials and for the police who have been given such a difficult task and who are, any way you look at it, truly part of the 99%;
...for an increase in the ability of human beings to listen respectfully to and care about one another;
...and for the best possible outcome for all concerned.

And this just amazing reaction from across the globe. Click here to read about how Egyptians are supporting Occupy Wall Street from Tahrir Square. Amazing times these are!!!

And something else just sent to me~~an ad for Occupy Wall Street. It's short~~only 33 seconds!

Oh, c'mon! Here's another thing just in (today's 11/1) that I really just gotta give yas the link to~~a poll about who is supporting the Occupy movement.

11/4/11 Addendum~~Check out this aerial view of the numbers in Occupy Oakland! Something very big is afoot!

11/6/11 And a very inspiring, hopeful, powerful (and short) video here!

11/27/11 This one's the best~~here!!!

Blessed be!

Saturday, October 15, 2011


As any parent knows, when a child’s behavior is rewarded with attention, that behavior grows. A similar process occurs within our own consciousness.

We can attend to what is lacking in ourselves and our world. We might catalog our resentments. Or we could devote ourselves to our worries. As we do, each will grow in importance and assume a place of honor in our awareness. Of course, for we are lending them our precious energy.

Luckily, however, we can choose our focus. We can direct our attention to peace or beauty or the oneness of all life. We can choose trust over fear and acceptance over the push to have it our way. And with practice, these will be the qualities that will grow and begin to inform our experience of life.

Bhava is a Sanskrit word meaning “attitude” or “feeling”. It can also refer to a general mindset. In her beautifully~titled and exceedingly helpful book Meditation for the Love of It, Sally Kempton describes how “we look at the world through the glasses of our particular set of bhavas and imagine that what we see is the way things really are when actually we are seeing only the reflection of our bhavas.”

So, whether a tendency to worry has us seeing problems everywhere, or our propensity for anger leads us to hone in on slights and wrongs done, we see what we expect to see. The fact that others respond quite differently to similar situations only confirms that our responses are, indeed, ours.

The good news is that since these bhavas underlie all our interactions, any shift in them will lead to a significant change in our experience. The practice of consciously working with our internal bhavas is called bhavana, a method employed by many eastern spiritual traditions. Bhavana translates as “cultivating” or “calling into existence.”

Isn't that a beautiful phrase? Calling into existence. What is it that we want to call into existence? Certainly not fear or mistrust or selfishness. Yet these may be the very qualities we unconsciously nurture. No surprise there. We all have bugaboos. The point is that they needn’t be set in stone.

If we relate to life from a distance or with a certain harshness or negativity, for example, techniques which soften the heart are gifts beckoning. Following sage bumper sticker advice, we could practice random acts of kindness. We might chronicle our gratitudes before bed each night, or say an authentic and heart~felt grace before meals.

We could engage in specific meditative practices designed to open us~~consciously breathing with a feeling of love, visualizing our breath swirling into and out of our heart center, or extending goodwill from ourselves to others in ever expanding circles as in lovingkindness meditation. We could envision meditating at the feet of the Divine and greet everyone we meet as though he or she were Jesus in disguise.

And when our favorite bugaboos rise up to greet us~~as they most certainly will~~we could interact with them kindly, holding them in our hearts and surrounding them with the compassion they desperately seek.

It’s not easy to alter an ingrained approach to life. How exciting, though, to try. As a wise parent, we can nurture the life~affirming capacities of our own evolving consciousness~~ and delight as they expand.

“If you practice a particular bhava long enough,” Kempton writes, “it will become natural~~it will actually become real for you. That’s because your consciousness is so creative that it can shape itself completely around any feeling you hold and recreate itself in that image.”

Bhavas clothe our spirits. Surely we want to choose our wardrobe with care, especially because the gala event we’re attending is nothing less than our very lives.

Blessings on each of you and your own bhavana practice!

Loanne Marie

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Of Trees and Arrows

Tasks appear on your to~do list faster than you can cross them off. Time vanishes. Pressure builds as deadlines draw near. Or maybe you’re struggling with something far more critical. Perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness or have had a recent heartbreak.

Whether our difficulties are mundane or profound, how do we manage them? For starters, we can choose to not make things worse.

At a recent retreat, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh shared a teaching of the Buddha’s known as The Second Arrow that speaks directly to this issue. A person is hit by an arrow that pierces the skin. It is removed, but immediately afterward, a second arrow strikes the same spot, intensifying the pain and complicating the healing process.

Metaphorically, this is often what we do with our own difficulties. Story~making creatures that we are, we take our original hurt and embellish it. Using our considerable creative powers, we expand the wound.

In the first example above, I may tell myself that I’ll never get it all done and spin a tale of being incompetent or helpless. I may unwittingly convince myself that I am a victim of a deadline or that finishing the task to perfection is a reflection of my worth. In more serious situations, I might tell myself that my anguish is more than I can bear. I may blame myself or others for my misfortune or conclude that I’m jinxed or powerless.

I can, in other words, shoot myself with a second arrow. Heck, I’ve been known to shoot myself with a whole quiver full of arrows, each one furthering the original distress and limiting my ability to respond appropriately and effectively.

The wise person stops with the first arrow.

This teaching encourages us to stay with the original experience, simply as it is. It warns against both exaggeration and avoidance. It advises against spinning into anger, despair and blame. It urges us to attend to our difficulties without complicating matters further by piling on additional layers. In this way, our wound remains just what it is. Nothing more. We are then better able to take constructive action.

This teaching is often used to illustrate the subtle distinction between pain and suffering in Buddhist thought. Pain is a reality of this world. Suffering comes from how we relate to that pain. Looked at in this way, pain may happen to us, but suffering is what we do to ourselves. For most of us, our pain turns into suffering automatically.

Another image offered at the retreat has helped me interrupt this habitual response. The branches of a tree blow wildly in fierce winds. The trunk, however, is unmoving, particularly as it nears the ground. When we are in crisis, we are like the branches of the tree, flailing around to beat the band. But when we move down into our trunk, into our root even, we touch stillness.

I find this image instantaneously helpful. When my thoughts and emotions are running amok, I remember the branches. And I choose instead to identify with the trunk. While it’s difficult to describe, I energetically pull out of my mind and move down into my torso. Feeling the rise and fall of each breath in the abdomen can have the same effect.

Immediately I am calmed. Not happy perhaps, but no longer thrashing about. A much wiser choice, indeed. And besides, while I’m busy makin’ like a tree, I won’t be shootin’ myself full of arrows!

So to all you magnificent trees out there who may, in certain situations, believe yourselves to be branches alone, get ye to your trunk! And leave the quiver full of arrows on the ground!


Loanne Marie

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Bundled against the autumn chill, I walk up the hill to a grouping of large sandstone rocks rising in lovely swirling formations. The westerly wind is already stirring, so I find a protected alcove and position my blankets in that soft curve of hard rock.

Light is just now coming to the eastern sky. As I take my seat, vivid pink brightens the bottom of a single cloud, farther away than the others. This morning’s sky~~a layering of clouds within an otherwise clear expanse~~promises a lavish display of progressing light. The anticipation quickens my senses, yet I stay with each moment so as not to miss a single step in the process.

I settle into my breath and know that I do not breathe alone. Life is one grand inhale and exhale. Beings and galaxies come into existence and pass out of it again. Rocks rise up from the earth and are eroded back into dust. Tides ebb and they flow. Seasons move one to the other as Earth ambles along its elliptical path around the sun, sweeping to the furthest point before turning back again. Night follows day as day follows night.

And I have been given a front~row seat. As the earth rotates me toward the sun, the cirrus clouds high above grow salmon~colored, a backdrop to the cumulus below, whose gray has just now shifted toward purple.

A deer and her twins munch their way through the meager grass below me. My head turns of its own accord toward the bush that brushes my left shoulder. How can it grow here, in only a few cupfuls of dirt collected in a shallow dip of rock? As I look closer in the strengthening light, I notice what I have missed before~~the tiniest, most slender catkins I have ever seen! Less than an inch in length and thinner than a piece of yarn, they are this bush’s ultimate gift, an offering from deep within its genetic code. And I open to its teachings.

Life gives of itself so freely, so beautifully, so continuously. The sun’s warmth and the glory of its rising and setting, the magic of photosynthesis, the begetting of the next generation of flora and fauna from the one that comes before~~everywhere one looks, this reality shines out.

The fawns are nursing now, one on each side of their mama. High above them, pink walks its way westward, followed by a rich and brilliant orange which gradually dissolves into a simple golden light. From my rocky perch, the whole valley opens to me. Vast stretches glow golden in the angled sunlight, the occasional hillock and cluster of trees casting long shadowy fingers.

As I breathe it all in, I wonder what my exhale will be. Having received so much, what will I pass on?

A neighboring husky releases a series of ululating howls, her offering to the risen sun. As the last soulful note dies away, I gather my things and return home.

I prepare a bowl of oatmeal, add yoghurt, a sprinkling of nutty granola, and sweet cantaloupe chunks the color of the sky I’ve just seen. Placing my hands on either side of the bowl, I utter a silent blessing for these gifts. And I vow to transform the energy given me according to the deepening capacities of my own soul. I vow, also, to give back with the same generosity with which it has all come my way.

My actions, my thoughts, the choices I make in each moment~~these are my own slender catkins, my offering to life.

Blessings on all our catkins. May these fuzzy little flower clusters, in all their marvelous and varied manifestations, tickle our world pink!

Loanne Marie

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh

The most effective way to learn a foreign language is the immersion method. Rather than sitting with dictionary and grammar book, one actively lives the language with others.

I have just completed such an immersion program, though the language was not truly foreign to any of the attendees. It was a language heard now and again by us all, one as near as our own breath, as close as this very moment.

For five days in magnificent Rocky Mountain National Park, 900 of us took part in a meditation retreat led by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Tik N’yat Hawn). Born in central Vietnam in 1926, Nhat Hanh entered the monastery at the age of 16 to begin the practice of meditation and scholarly study. In the 1960’s, confronted with the war’s devastation, he became a proponent of “engaged Buddhism”, a movement that blended a life of meditation with a commitment to alleviate suffering in the world.

This was meditation~in~action. While rebuilding bombed villages and setting up medical clinics, the nuns and monks meditated. They breathed with an inner calm while creating schools and advocating for peace.

This approach continues in Nhat Hanh’s present~day activities, including the retreat I attended in which formal teachings were actively applied to the most ordinary moments of life. While there were periods of sitting meditation, these were not the backbone of the retreat. We meditated continuously, living and breathing the present moment in every act.

It was marvelous! We were a village of meditators, each one of us committed to being as aware as possible, all of us trying to live the reality that all is one, despite the divisions our earth eyes might see.

While eating, we looked deeply into the food on our plate, seeing sun and rain and numerous living beings reflected there. While walking slowly, we touched the earth with reverence. Listening to daily talks by Nhat Hanh, discussing our experience in small groups, greeting one another in silence with only eyes and smiles to communicate~~in virtually everything we did~~we returned again and again to the spacious qualities of the present and our interconnectedness with all of life.

Yet it was not all bliss. The mind can be a tumultuous place. Without the usual methods of distraction and avoidance, habitual patterns of thought and emotion became more obvious. We were encouraged to greet these as opportunities to practice, transforming any difficulties we encountered while actively nurturing our positive capacities.

As one experience moved into the next, and each day streamed into the one that followed, my inner stillness gradually deepened and an openness to the world around me, simply as it was, grew. When my husband and I took off for a few days of camping following the retreat, I took the experience into the forest. I carry it with me still.

When I studied at a language school in Mexico decades ago, I was thrilled when first I dreamed in Spanish. I recognized it as evidence that this new language had seeped deep into my core. Last night, I dreamt in the language of awareness.

In the dream, a person with whom I’ve had a great deal of conflict was speaking in the way I often find offensive. I did not, though, react as usual. I saw clearly the pain that gave rise to his behavior and, importantly, recognized this same pain in myself. Rather than responding with anger or defensiveness, I breathed with compassion~~for him and for me and for us all.

My immersion program has come to an end. It is time now for me to speak the language on my own, amid a daily life that will surely offer me many opportunities for practice.

Wish me well!

Loanne Marie

Here's a lovely little song, No Coming, No Going, which we sang at the end of the retreat.

If you'd like to learn more about Thich Nhat Hahn, here's a link to the website for his monastery in France, He also has monasteries in New York, California and Mississippi.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Shout of Joy, Praise and Gratitude

I was on the massage table when I heard the song. It played softly in the background~~and into my mind.

It was there when I went to sleep and greeted me when I awoke. While I drove the highway and as I washed the dishes, it played on. It was never grating, the way some songs are when they stick in the mind. No, this one was welcomed always.

My husband and I were at a restaurant a few nights later~~and there it was again, a gift from the musician playing in the adjoining bar. Curious about this song’s coming my way twice in one week, I googled it when I got home.

It was everywhere. Jeff Buckley. Sheryl Crow. K.D. Lang. Willie Nelson. Bon Jovi. Rufus Wainwright. Alexandra Burke. It was even in the movie Shrek! Apparently I wasn’t the only one taken with this song.

As I listened to rendition after rendition, I found the melody even more hypnotic. All those minor chords carrying me up the scale and suddenly resolving~~it got me every time. Oh, and that one~word chant of a chorus! It soared and dipped and wove its way deeper into me with each repetition.

After spending more minutes than I had on YouTube, I finally got around to looking up the lyrics. Now, as anyone who’s listened to the music of Leonard Cohen knows, his lyrics can be somewhat cryptic and not a little weird. This song was no different. In deciphering its meaning, however, I recognized an ode to the beauty of life, even amidst the pain.

Cohen, in a 1985 interview in the French music magazine Guitare et Claviers, says that with this song he wanted “to affirm my faith in life, not in some formal religious way but with enthusiasm, with emotion....It's a rather joyous song.”

“It's the notion that there is no perfection,” he continues, “that this is a broken world and we live with broken hearts and broken lives but still…you have to stand up and say hallelujah."

Hallelujah is both the chorus and the title of this haunting piece. The dictionary defines the term as “a shout of joy, praise, or gratitude.” Well, Cohen hallelujahs with the best of ‘em. Using a love affair as his subject, he writes of welcomed hallelujahs, holy hallelujahs, and those that are seemingly wrung out of us. “Cold and broken” hallelujahs, too, get their due.

“All the perfect and broken Hallelujahs have an equal value,” Cohen asserts in the 1985 interview, and his last verse reflects this.

“And even though it all went wrong/I'll stand before the Lord of Song/With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

What if we learned to greet it all with hallelujah? For whether you believe in intelligent design, evolution, or some harmonious combination of the two, isn’t it miraculous that we are alive, here on a tiny planet twirling within an inconceivably immense universe?

Whether life pleases us in a given moment or not~~hallelujah! In moments of pleasure and those of pain~~hallelujah! Some folks even manage a hallelujah when confronted with the seemingly tragic. Should that one day be me, I suspect I’d experience the full range of human emotion, just as we two~leggeds seem meant to do. I hope, though, that I’d eventually come to rest on a simple, a humble hallelujah.

After listening to this song many, many times and writing this essay, I may never get Hallelujah out of my brain. And that’s just fine by me.

May you each find your own unique hallelujah, within the particulars of your own precious lives.

Loanne Marie

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And here's some more...

For those of you who would like to listen, this song is right at your fingertips. Here are some renditions for you to start with, though no doubt you can find others~~

Rufus Wainright, Alexandra Burke, K. D. Lang, Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi, Alison Crowe.

And though Leonard Cohen’s version is not a favorite~~his genius is in the writing~~here’s his rendition of Hallelujah.

And though few singers sing all the verses, here are the lyrics in their entirety. Give them some time~~they do make sense!

Lastly, I share comments from two musician/singer friends who I asked for help in understanding just why this song moved me so.

First, from Peggy KempHenry, a classically trained musician who’s lovely inside and out and has a singing voice that is pure, sweet perfection~~

“I have just had a Lovely hour plus listening to 11 renditions of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and thinking about why it has such a "pull". For me, it is the strength of the "hook" that makes it so enduring. It is basically a CHANT...on one word. Chants have been used in all times and places ~ they unify, consolidate, bring together, under~score commonality, repeat, repeat (think "mantra" and how it allows the mind to still down to one thing). Three lines of only 3 notes, with the 4th line resolving down with two more notes....Very Simple, Very Repetitive.

The verse is similar, using only 4 notes in an almost spoken quality, repeating without Any musical interest, then rising out of that Dirge with an ascending musical scale ~ it can't Help but Lift! It is under~stated genius.

However, i still think that what makes that song so "stick~in~the~brain" is its' chorus ~ this Simple One~Word Chant.

I listened to versions by KDLang, BonJovi, AlisonCrowe, AlterBridge, TheAccafellas, DamienLeith, RufussWainwright, AlexandraBurke, and of course SherylCrow. I liked SC's Accompaniment the best, but my favorite Singer was Wainwright. However, i STILL didn't get all the words, so i brought up AlexandraBurke's version because the lyrics were written on the screen. I really enjoyed her performance, altho i think it was for some competition and was heavily "worked" and orchestrated. But i FINALLY got all the words and understood "There might be a God above / but all i ever learned from love / was how to shoot somebody who out~drew ya." Which now i KNOW, but still don't understand....

From just a "singers" point of view, KDLang has got it all over everyone else vocally ~ but that's her strong~suit : she is the best technical singer i've heard since Barbara Streisand, and a consummate performer. But she is so good that i find myself listening to the magic of her technique and her ability to completely merge/submerge into a song,.... and the actual Song slides into third place!”

And now from Monica Wood, another multi~talent, dulcet~toned beauty, whose singing I could~~and have~~listened to all night! And by the way, Monica is also a published author with a memoir due out next summer. She frequently adds comments on this blog, and you can find out more about her, and read an excerpt from her new book at

Oh, yes, this one’s a killer. Here’s why, I think. The chords rise up the scale, and then, instead of heading where they seem to be going, they “resolve” just before they’re actually ready. (this isn’t very technical, more an emotional response to the way this song is constructed.) It’s the same way a storyteller might build suspense, and because this is mostly minor chords to begin with (which gets any human heart in the melancholy mode), that added technique of resolving in an unexpected place just adds to what you’re already feeling. Also, the way the lyrics are set up, you have a small pile~up of syllables at the end of certain lines, and again, that echoes that most fundamental of all human knowledge: we do not have time to complete our journey. Both music and lyric seems to be in cahoots to reinforce this subliminally. I don’t know anyone who has not gone solemn when listening to this. The words don’t even make much sense, but you throw in a hallelujah and it becomes, just to put the frosting on the cake, rife with religious overtones.

Genius song.

So, that’s all from here. For those of you who’ve stuck it out this far~~Hallelujah! Of course, for those who didn’t feel so inclined~~Hallelujah, too!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

My, oh, my, my! Maya again!

A couple of weeks ago I visited a dear friend, Linda, who was in the midst of moving from our mountain community back to Denver. Art supplies were already gone, with clothing and items from her home office the next to be carted off.

We walked her spiraled labyrinth one more time, and were greeted again by stunning beauty at every turn~~mountain, sky, desert plant, bird, stone, bug and bone. We ended our visit sitting for a last time on her porch, talking of our lives.

As I drove off down her winding road, I finally realized that Linda was truly leaving. Sadness at the loss of her filled my chest.

I had fallen yet again into maya.

Maya (pronounced "my~ya") is a term I’ve only just begun to understand, though I learned of it decades ago. The word comes to us from ancient Sanskrit, and means “illusion” or “that which is not.” While the term is commonly used in several Eastern traditions, all religions teach that human sight is limited, bound as we are by the temporal and the weavings of our own minds. We enter into “that which is not” and make it our home.

In the practice of lucid dreaming, one remains conscious during the dream state, interacting freely with what occurs. Sharon Janis, filmmaker, musician and author of Spirituality for Dummies, uses this concept to teach about maya. “Developing an understanding of the nature of maya,” she writes on her website, “…is like learning to be a lucid waker…You can dance more freely through your life, without holding on to old habits and fears.”

It is not that this desk before me doesn’t exist, or that my friend is not moving to Denver, or that my sadness is an illusion. As a “lucid waker," though, I awaken to a fuller reality and let go my incomplete perceptions and inaccurate assumptions.

For example, although this desk seems solid, we know that on the subatomic level whole galaxies whirl within it, and that empty space predominates. Even in its familiar form, it is not separate, but linked to trees and sun and rain and the energy of those who transformed all these into a desk.

Allowing maya to drop away means that, though Linda will live in Denver now, I recognize that she has not left me. We are woven together and will remain so, even were we never to set eyes on one another again. My sadness arises, in part, from my maya~driven tendency to grasp after what I perceive as good, rather than remaining open to what comes my way and passes by again in this vast, swirling thing called life.

When I reorient myself to the larger picture, the veil of maya is parted. I understand what Janis means when she writes, “We…are playing wonderful, important, and ultimately illusory roles in this universal play of Consciousness. With this insight comes a sense of appreciating both the ups and downs of human life.“

Linda is a good friend. We have meditated together, attended retreats together, hot~springed together, and walked a few years of our individual journeys together. Her physical location is changing and I will miss her.

But my sadness is softened as I remember that we both arise from the same Source and are forever connected through it. The outer shape Linda’s life is taking will allow her unique spirit to shine more fully. And as I allow the maya of separate individual selves to dissolve, I recognize that as a gift to me and to us all.

In this dance of Light, you are a part of me, Linda. Vaya con Dios, my friend.

Namaste to you all!

Loanne Marie

PS. You can check out Sharon Janis's website at

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Forest and Flutes

Have you grown too old for fairy tales? I hope not, for here’s one just for you…

Long, long ago in a land beyond the mountains and across the salty sea, there lived a young family in a cottage at the edge of the Great Forest. The Forest was an eerie place, woven through with magic. It was also averse to human contact. Whenever someone drew near, the outer branches would clasp one another, forming tight knots that prevented entry. Sword and ax were useless against the Forest’s decision to be left alone.

Still, parents kept their children close, since one could never be too careful with woods such as these. Children, though, are curious and active creatures, and little Lucia was no different. One day as her parents worked the garden, the child vanished. They found the book she’d been reading on the ground near the tall trees and tangled bushes, and their frantic efforts to follow their daughter were for naught. It seemed that the Forest, having claimed their child, now returned to its former ways, binding branch to branch, impenetrable.

Lucia’s parents rushed to the wise woman of the village, and after much boiling of tea leaves, reading of cards, and crystal ball gazing, she told them what they must do.

“Cut a branch, each of you, from the best loved tree in your yard,” she instructed. “Hollow it to form a simple flute. And play.”

“But neither of us knows a thing about flutes!” cried one. “We can’t waste time on such nonsense!” howled the other.

“This you must do,” replied the ancient woman gravely. “Allow the wood to teach you, and play the notes that come. Hollow and play, and play and hollow. Perfect your flute and your song, and await what unfolds.” She returned to her chair by the fire and would say no more.

Desperate and with no other option, the parents did as they were told. Each chose a branch from the dear old maple that Lucia loved to climb. Sitting at the Forest’s edge, they began removing the inner wood to form a clear channel and guessed at the placement of holes for fingers and mouth. The first few notes weren’t notes at all. Yet, the two continued to hollow and to play for, truly, what choice did they have?

Occasionally, one or the other of them would produce a sound rich and soulful. As these pleasing notes became more plentiful, the air around them softened and began to shimmer, though neither noticed, so intent were they on their task. They hollowed and played through that long night.

“Look!” whispered one, pointing to the woods as darkness gave way to morning light. Clenched branches had relaxed ever so slightly, creating tiny spaces that had not been there the day before. “Keep playing,” murmured the other, and so they did, their music sweetening by the minute. As morning ripened into afternoon, the trees eased further, and their trunks stepped slightly apart.

Suddenly, Lucia’s bright voice rang out. And there she was, skipping down a narrow footpath and into her parents’ welcoming arms. They breathed deeply of their daughter’s special scent, mixed now with the wild, clean smell of the Great Forest.

And so, my tale comes to a close. May you fashion glorious flutes from the wood of your own life and may your song be sweet and strong. And may the frightening and eerie places in your world yield to this lovely music and bring you precious treasures, shot through with wildness and mystery.

Blessed be,

Loanne Marie

Saturday, July 9, 2011

I and Thou

The way in which humans relate to one another and to the world around them has always been of prime importance in spiritual tradition. The early 20th century philosopher Martin Buber ventured deeply into this issue in his theological classic, I and Thou.

According to Buber, human nature allows for two basic approaches to the world: I~Thou and I~It. In these terms, our relational nature is highlighted as subject and object merge to form a greater whole.

“There is no I taken in itself,” Buber writes, “but only the I of the primary word I~Thou and the I of the primary word I~It.” The I in each case is substantively different, as is the relationship that results.

When we approach life from an I~It mentality, we step into a world consisting of separate parts, each isolated from the others and from us. Setting aside a deeper connection, we travel over the surface of life, reducing the dazzling totality to a mechanism for fulfilling our own needs and desires.

However, when we begin from I~Thou, we stand on entirely different ground. “The relation to (a) Thou is direct,” Buber writes. “No system of ideas, no foreknowledge, and no fancy intervene between I and Thou.”

As an example, he suggests we look at a tree. I might classify it as a species, notice its structure, recognize the biological laws that govern its growth. All these are concepts that relegate the tree to an object separate from me.

I can, though, enter into relationship with the tree. Without losing or ignoring any of the attributes listed above, I can perceive this tree directly and wholly. In so doing, I am no longer looking at something outside myself. The tree has become Thou, and my I has been changed in the process.

The same, of course, occurs with our fellow humans. We can remain in the world of I~It, weaving a storyline from our previous contacts with them, or others like them, in which they have pleased or displeased us, met or not met our needs. Or we can approach our companions as Thou, and watch as something profound changes. When we enact I~Thou, time stops. We step out of our customary way of being and perceive what is, without bias or judgment. True relationship is achieved.

And something else occurs as well. “Every particular Thou,” Buber continues, “is a glimpse through to the eternal Thou…the Thou that by its nature cannot become It.” According to Buber, all efforts to define or explain the essential nature of God, as well as techniques to achieve particular spiritual states, arise from the realm of I~It. For a direct experience of God, it’s I~Thou we want.

“The world, lit by eternity, becomes fully present to him who approaches the Face,” Buber writes, “and to the Being of beings he can in a single response say Thou.”

When we live in I~Thou, we move toward what comes our way, openly and without preconception. We experience it wholly, within an authentic relationship.

So, I wake this morning with the intention to meet the day without bias. Despite my to~do lists and wishes, I will greet what comes my way as it is, with openness and welcome. And when I become distressed because life is not conforming to my expectations or I find myself grasping after an experience that pleases me, I will recognize that I have fallen once more into I~It thinking.

And with Thou on my lips, I will return to relationship with a world shot through with the light of eternity.

And to every one of you reading these words, I bow and utter a heart~felt "Thou".

Loanne Marie

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Fourth Moment

I have always been awed by the sand painting tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Monks, very slowly and with deep meditative awareness, spend days or even weeks creating a piece boldly colored and intricately detailed. Spirituality merges with art in this process called dul~tson~kyil~kho, literally “mandala of colored powders”.

Mandala is a Sanskrit word loosely translated as circle, though its meaning is much richer than that word may convey in English. A circle symoblizes wholeness, eternity, All That Is in perfect balance. A mandala then becomes a symbolic representation of life itself, a sort of cosmic diagram. Each shape and ancient symbol embedded within the finished whole is rich with spiritual significance. But so is the process of its creation. The monks’ complete absorption is a teaching in itself and illustrates the Buddhist concept of the fourth moment.

We are all familiar with the division of time into three parts~~past, present and future. The fourth moment, however, refers to those states of consciousness that stand outside time all together. Ken McLeod, Tibetan Buddhist, teacher and text translator, describes it as an “open awareness that is the capacity to know clearly and respond appropriately to what arises in experience.”

When we are in this state, all seems particularly vibrant, fresh, flawless. We expand beyond our everyday awareness and are saturated by a sense of timelessness. Such states often come through deep meditation and prayer, though we can fall into this exquisite awareness within the ordinary moments of our lives~~while, for example, immersed in nature or a loved one’s eyes, engaged in a mundane household chore, or absorbed in a creative endeavor.

The fourth moment is a term new to me, a gift from multimedia artist Sarah Bouchard. In her MFA thesis by that name, she describes an artistic process that emerges out of a silent meditative awareness. “I devote time and space to witness the mind at work,” Bouchard writes, while “…allowing each movement of the hand to be as considered as a Buddhist’s intake of breath.”

Bouchard walks the reader through the creation of a large~scale installation at the Masonic Temple in Portland, Maine. When completed, hundreds of spheres, individually crafted of vellum and paper mache, will be internally lit and suspended within the grand Corinthian Hall.

Bouchard’s meditative approach is beautifully depicted in the following passage describing the cutting of the thousands of strips of paper needed for the mache.

“At first, each passing of the scissors through paper requires pin~point focus. A wavering of thought produces a tear in the paper that impedes subsequent steps of wetting and applying the strips. Eventually, there is a letting go, a recognition that focused, self~conscious effort is not only unnecessary, but an impediment to smooth progress. A gentle ease sets in and the movement of scissors through paper becomes integrated, taking on an effortless motion, until another disruption of the mind starts the process again~~effort, focus, letting go, ease.”

Bouchard beautifully characterizes art work that arises from this sort of contemplative awareness as “an experience of eternity in bodily form." And that brings us to another teaching from the Tibetan sand painting tradition~~an instruction on impermanence. The final painting is ritualistically destroyed soon after completion, with the spent sand often released into a body of flowing water.

What a graphic reminder! That which stands beyond time can never be captured and held tightly within it. The paper on which Bouchard’s thesis is printed will age and disintegrate. Her artistic creations, as well as her physical body, are on the same trajectory. The things of this world are indeed fleeting.

Each one of us can, though, take the grains of sand that are the stuff of our individual lives and consciously craft from them a unique piece of art, boldly colored and intricately detailed. And when our time is done and our mandala complete, perhaps we can smile as all those varied grains of colored sand, on loan to us for a short while, are swept back into a larger flow.

Blessings on your very own mandala in process~~it is, indeed, uniquely yours and a thing of beauty!

Loanne Marie

PS. I highly recommend Sarah's thesis, especially for those of you who are artists. More lovely words on the blending of art~making with meditation, lots of luscious quotes, and several evocative pictures. Her thesis can be purchased here~~The Fourth Moment. And you can learn more about Sarah, the artist, on her website

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Fountain of Blessings

My day began with a big, beautiful sun shining a vivid orange through the thin bank of clouds at the eastern edge of my world. As I offered gratitude for the beauty I walked within, a quote from the Roman poet Ovid came to mind. “Thanks are justly due for boons unbought.” For truly, how exactly did I deserve that brilliant orb this morning? How did the mountain air filling my lungs become mine to ignore or take for granted?

Rabbi Marcia Prager, a respected teacher in the Jewish Renewal tradition, guides us through a study of gratitude in her lovely book, The Path of Blessing. By way of illustration, she tells of a fountain she once saw in the form of a tree, with each cupped leaf collecting water before spilling it onto the leaves below. Individual droplets gathered into a pool at the tree’s base only to be pumped to the top in a continuous cycle of flow and return.

Prager compares this fountain to the unceasing movement of grace in the world. “All we are asked to do,” she writes, “is to be aware that we are leaves on the fountain, endlessly filling and pouring.”

In Jewish tradition, gratitude is enacted through making a brakha, a prayer of blessing, at various points throughout the day. While this practice encourages receptivity and awe in the practitioner, the results are believed to be more far-reaching.

“Jewish tradition teaches that the simple action of a brakha has a cosmic effect,” Prager writes, “for a brakha causes shefa, the “abundant flow” of God’s love and goodness, to pour into the world. Like a hand on the faucet, each brakha turns on the tap.” Or like a pump in a fountain, a moment of gratitude cycles the water through, to be given out again and again.

“A brakha completes our energy-exchange with God,” Prager explains. “We are partners in a sacred cycle of giving and receiving…When we offer our blessings, we raise up sparks of holiness, releasing the God~light housed in our world back to its Source.”

And what happens when we hold back, hoarding or taking for granted the energy freely given us? We create kinks in the tubing. “When we allow all the daily miracles to be passed by, our openness to the abundance of divine blessing withers…When we fail to cultivate a practice of appreciation as potent as our capacity to appropriate, we become despoilers, destroying both ourselves and the whole.”

What a powerful line that is~~”When we fail to cultivate a practice of appreciation as potent as our capacity to appropriate, we become despoilers.” Humans can so easily appropriate without return. Cultivating a practice of appreciation seems truly to be our cutting edge and, in this view, a sacred practice as well.

Amid the bustle of a busy life, it’s easy to lose track of the gifts generously circulating through our lives. But by engaging our free will in a practice of thanksgiving, we can consciously encourage the flow and enlarge its channel, within us and throughout the world itself.

In just this way, we do our part to maintain an exquisite balance. We openly receive what is given us and, in our turn, we give back~~spilling blessings onto our fellow leaves and offering praise to the Source of the fountain itself.

Noting that all of creation contains a spark of the Divine, Prager continues, “When we walk the path of blessing, we begin to recognize the presence of these holy sparks in everything and everyone around us. Day by day the world becomes more alive, more magical, more miraculous!”

My day ended with my husband curled around me, arms holding me close, warm breath caressing my shoulder like…well…a blessing. A blessing that caused me to lift up my heart in a brakha of praise and wonder and gratitude for this life that is mine.

And now, I extend a heartfelt brakha for every one of you reading these words, and for all the gifts you cycle into this world of ours.


Loanne Marie

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Small Choices, Beautiful Music

We humans are particularly adept at mucking up the waters, complicating that which doesn’t need to be complicated, confusing what doesn’t need to be confused. So it’s wise to regularly sweep the slate clean and return to the basics. I found the novel, Breakfast With Buddha, by Roland Merullo, helpful in this regard.

Merullo brings us a delightful character in Volya Rinpoche, a Siberian monk on a road trip across America. In his halting English, Rinpoche shares many spiritual concepts in plain terms with Otto, his unwilling and often disgruntled tour guide. Case in point, a discussion of free will.

“Many times every day,” Rinpoche explains, “you can go one way or the other way. You can go with anger or not go. Go with greed or not go. Go with hate or not go...These feel like small things, small choices, but every day, across one life, across many, many lives (you can) choose the good way, again and again and again, in what you are thinking and what you are doing.”

So, when life seems overwhelming and I lose sight of the big picture, I can consciously zero in on what’s right in front of me. Each and every moment offers me options, and choosing among them is really all I need to do.

I arrive at an appointment to find my name not on the schedule. I notice tears in someone’s eyes. A glass slips from my hand and shatters on the floor. I witness unkindness. I’m late for work and behind an exceptionally slow driver. I walk through the beauty of nature with my thoughts drifting elsewhere.

In every situation, options are available to me. Which will I choose? How will I direct this precious life energy given me?

While most of us generally try to do the right thing, this kind of specificity requires an awareness that makes it a life practice indeed. Yet, according to Merullo’s Rinpoche, by repeatedly choosing wisely, an inner quiet can begin to develop. “And,” Rinpoche explains, “that quiet space gives you a chance to see deep, deep into the world if you want to.”

Do we want to? Will we make room in our lives for deep looking? Another choice.

When asked about violence and hatred in the world, Rinpoche's answer is also simple. "I don't know the why. I know the is. This is the world and always the world...Inside the big world that you cannot control, you have the small world of you that you can control. In that small world, if you look, you can see whether to go this way toward good, or that other way.”

He goes on to explain that in his lineage, God is not seen as “up in the sky looking at you and judging you.” Instead, God is “giving out love and giving out love and giving out love…like a very nice music always playing. If you hurt people you make yourself deaf to this music, that's all. Not God’s fault, your fault. Not God’s judgment, your choice, you see? You make yourself no chance to feel God, or the moon going up, or any good love.”

Small, seemingly insignificant choices, minute by minute, day after day. Choices that help us find our way to the love streaming through every minute, to the joy of the music that is always playing.
Now that’s a kind of simplicity I can hang with!

May we all grow our ability to hear the music.

Loanne Marie

PS. And thanks to Linda for lending me Breakfast with Buddha!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Open That Love~Window!

When I was a little girl in that developmental stage between highchair and big person chair, my mother would place our 4~inch thick big~city phone book on a grown~up seat and help me climb aboard. I saw this scene repeated with my younger siblings at dinner tables spanning years. The ritual usually ended with a statement something like, “Now, let’s move that chair in so you’ll be in the same county as your food.”

That line returns to me now as I think back on my brisk walk around the lake this morning. I was moving within a crescent of mountains, beneath a huge, shockingly blue sky, the sun low in front of me. Too bad I wasn’t there.

My body may have been walking within beauty, but my thoughts were some place else. Likely I was thinking back on an interesting conversation, or scheduling my day, or simply drifting from one random thought to the next. But I definitely wasn’t fully on that lakeside path. To paraphrase Mom, I wasn’t in the same county as my nourishment.

A week earlier, I’d attended a performance by musicians Jenny Bird and Michael Mandrell. One of the songs of that evening popped into my head this morning and helped return me to the lake. In Some Kiss We Want, Jenny put to music the Rumi poem of the same name.

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of spirit
on the body.

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face against mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language~door
and open the love~window.
The moon won't use the door,
only the window.

Sound advice, I thought. So with Rumi and Jenny as my guides, I once again closed the language~door. I let go my thoughts and opened my heart, my very own love~window.

And I woke to what was...Early morning light dancing on ripples of water churned by a soft breeze which riffled, too, my hair...Glorious blue of a sky found only at high altitudes, streaked with the feathery remains of a plane’s vapor trail mingling with a bevy of cirrus clouds...Solid earth beneath my feet, and delight in a body that brings the capacity to perceive such beauty.

And just then, a Great Blue Heron, hidden behind a rocky outcropping nearby, took flight. Broad wings beat a leisurely but powerful rhythm, lifting a body wrapped in blue~grey feathers, long stick legs trailing behind, orange in the morning light.

Having been alive to the experience, I saw and felt it all.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with language or the thinking of thoughts Rumi was referring to in his poem. But thoughts unchecked can whisk us away. And words, as much as I love them, are not real. They give us only an approximation of reality, merely pointing us in a certain direction. As the Buddha would say, words are the finger pointing to the moon. They are not the moon itself.

And it’s the moon we long for.

Rumi’s words, imprinted in my mind by Jenny’s marvelous voice, pointed me to the moment. I needed only to take the next step. When I opened that love~ window, the moon~~and the lake, the sky, and that magnificent heron~~ breathed into me.

What joy! A joy that urges me to remain in the same county as my nourishment, throughout all the moments of all my days.

Blessings on your very own love~window. May it open wide!

Loanne Marie

To learn more about Jenny Bird's music, go to her site And here's the link to the Mystic Muse CD, which includes the Rumi song above and quotes put to music from other mystics and visionaries. You can listen to St. John for free!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Just say "Yes!"

A man who’d never before seen olives was given a bag of them and told they were full of oil. He took them home, sliced each one open, and was disappointed to find no oil at all. It was there, of course. The fruity essence was simply hidden within the pulp.

“So it is with God,” writes Paramahansa Yogananda, an Indian yogi who was one of the first to introduce eastern meditative practices to the west. “Everything in the universe,” he continues, “is saturated with His presence—the twinkling stars, the rose, the song of the bird, our minds. But one has metaphorically to “squeeze” God out of His material concealment.”

So how do we squeeze God from our everyday experiences? Since the Divine is omnipresent and we are multifaceted, there are an untold number of avenues. Graciously greeting whatever comes our way is one such approach.

Author and social activist Reverend Deborah Johnson encourages us to adopt a “sacred yes”. She points out that we tend to say yes conditionally and “on the backend”, after we’ve decided that a particular experience will feel good and comes with sufficient guarantees to make us secure.

“This concept of yes has to be on the front end,” Johnson explains. “The declaring of the yes opens up the doors…so that we can be more accessible to resources that are all around us.” In other words, by welcoming what comes our way, we greet the Divine within it all.

So does this mean we say yes to injustice, for example, and go about our merry way? Of course not. We can, though, say yes to this injustice arriving in our life at this moment. We can say yes to determining and enacting our unique response. And we can say yes to allowing ourselves to be transformed through a profound engagement with what is.

Welcoming every person and event, every pleasant and difficult experience, saying a resounding “Yes!” to them all, is undeniably a formidable practice. But the alternative is to live on life’s edges, never fully entering the stream. When we say yes, we open ourselves and step into that vast current. We present ourselves as we are and touch life as it is. In the process, we open ourselves to the Sacred.

“In joy, the devotee sees God playing hide-and-seek with him in the blossoms,” Yogananda writes. “When his eyes are spiritually opened, the devotee beholds, peering at him through the eyes of everyone, the eyes of the Infinite. Behind the kind or unkind voice of everyone he hears the truthful voice of the Infinite.”

The Sufi poet Rumi says it this way in his poem, The Guest House.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

In this column, we’ve traveled from India to present~day California and back in time to 13th century Persia. We now reach further back, to a village on the way to Jerusalem. In Luke 17:21, Jesus says“…for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

The message is the same. God is right here, right now. All we need to do is open our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to be touched.

Yes! Yes! And a thousand times, yes!

Loanne Marie

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Look Within

There has been much discussion about Terry Jones’s decision to burn the Qur'an, as well as the subsequent retaliation of Muslims in Afghanistan. Now it’s time for my two cents.

I won’t spend time critiquing the acts of Jones or condemning the backlash it released. I’m sure most who read these essays agree that neither was justified and that, moreover, Jones’s intentionally going after this kind of response was particularly disturbing. My current theme, though, is a bit different. First, some background.

Several years ago, my husband ran a program to treat court~ordered perpetrators of domestic violence. Whenever there was a high profile case in the news~~ a man having murdered his wife, for example~~the men in my husband’s groups would immediately jump on the bandwagon of self~righteousness, detailing the ways in which they were different from that man. My husband’s job, bless his heart, was to lasso them from this easy avenue of discussion and insist they address a much harder question~~in what ways were they the same?

Consider yourselves lassoed. In what ways are we the same as Jones and the rioting Afghanis?

Few of us will be tempted to burn a sacred document of another faith or to murder someone in retaliation for an insult to our cherished beliefs. No, our temptations are of a subtler nature, but in their essence not so very different.

Most of us can be judgmental and harsh in our dealings with others. We often act out our mistaken assumptions and our upset, while justifying our own negative behaviors. Our emotional reactions can close our hearts, allowing whatever personal agenda is primary at the time to make us unresponsive to another’s pain. These very human tendencies routinely cause harm to ourselves and those close to us and, given the right provocation, they can explode into something much worse.

Terry Jones is not the problem. He is an angry, wounded man who finds temporary relief in public acts of hate that garner him notoriety. Muslims who commit atrocities are not the problem either. They are simply using their sacred text to justify the violence within their own hearts, as have folks from many religious traditions over the course of time, including Jones.

While we certainly need to speak in opposition to such acts, our real foe is not another person, religion or culture. Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh, who watched innocents die as his country was torn apart by hatred, has earned the right to teach us something on this subject. He writes, “Human beings are not our enemy. Our enemy is the violence, ignorance, and injustice in us and in the other person.”

He reminds us that we humans are more alike than different, that the seeds of every human impulse lie within us all. Those seeds that have been “watered” by our life experiences grow sturdy, while the ones that get little attention lie fallow, waiting only for the right conditions to sprout.

Anger, wonder, despair, compassion. Hatred, delight, competitiveness, kindness. We share these tendencies and more with our fellows. We each have a responsibility to curtail our unhelpful tendencies, while nurturing our wholesome impulses~~the ones that accurately reflect our spiritual traditions. Thus, we grow in our ability to live together in peace.

So, while we rightly speak out against hatred in its various forms, let us not forget that we are capable of behaving similarly. And let’s also not shy away from looking within ourselves and assessing~~and transforming~~the ways in which we behave unconsciously and thereby hurt, either directly or by proxy, our fellow human beings.

In so doing, we pay true homage to our sisters and brothers the world ‘round who are being harmed~~even as I type these words and even as you read them~~by cruelty of any kind.

Blessings, please, on our whole complex, amazing, confused, endearing, often misguided, yet ultimately redeemable species!

Loanne Marie

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"We Are All Alike"

A few weeks ago, we watched in rapt horror as a tsunami washed away whole communities. Our minds struggled to grasp the intensity of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the kind of damage it could do. And our spirits sank further as we learned of damaged nuclear reactors and the multi~system breakdown that prevented their cooling.

In the midst of such devastation, though, another type of story began to emerge from Japan. Tales of folks banding together, of perseverance in the face of so much destruction, of workers at the Fukushima nuclear facility risking death to protect so many others.

In a report by Diane Sawyer, we were given a name for the phenomenon we were witnessing. “The Japanese call it etai,” she explained. “It means to come together as one person.”

Etai shone through again in an online letter from an American named Anne who is living in Sendai, Japan, one of the hardest hit areas. “We share supplies,” she writes. “We sleep lined up in one room, eat by candle light, share stories. It is warm, friendly, and beautiful."

"During the day we help each other clean up the mess in our homes," she continues. "If someone has water running in their home, they put out (a) sign so people can come to fill up their jugs and buckets.” Upon returning one day to her abandoned house, she writes, “I find food and water left in my entranceway. I have no idea from whom, but it is there.”

Last week I had lunch with a friend of mine, Nancy, whose dear mother is entering the final stages of Alzheimer's disease. Iris sleeps a lot, rarely speaks, seldom calls her daughter by name, often doesn't recognize her.

Recently, family members were gathered in her room discussing events in Japan. Nancy's father was sharing his struggles understanding how God could allow something like these triple disasters to happen to a people. Iris, who had seemed oblivious to the conversation, sat bolt upright and said very clearly, "It's so we can learn that we're all alike." She then fell back into herself.

Iris was right. We are all alike.

All of us live and learn on a tiny pearl of a planet we call home as it spins within a vast and ever changing universe. Our bodies are made of the same clay, and we are each enlivened by a spark from the same divine source. We can be devastated by tragedy and we can awaken through it to the truth of our common bond.

We are profoundly interconnected. The same radiation that seeps into the air above Japan will find its way into our bodies as well. And the same love that flows from our hearts in the West will surely reach our friends in the Far East.

So as we attend to the tragedies ravaging this earth we share, we would do well to honor Iris’s brief, but stunningly clear awakening, through living her insight while remaining awake ourselves. We are all alike, and we can come together as one person.

Half a century ago, John F. Kennedy gave a speech that included the line, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” While I have no idea how to write this in Japanese, today we can each truthfully say, “I am a citizen of Sendai.”

After you read these last few lines, please pause with me for a few moments to hold our Asian brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and all our Japanese kiddos in our hearts. Please do it now and frequently throughout this day and those to come.

Loanne Marie

PS. You can read Anne's letter from Japan HERE.