Sunday, December 28, 2014

Our Life, Our Prayer

A small rug, round and woven in a mandala~like pattern, has been placed in the center of the room. Adorned with a single candle, a vase of flowers, and sacred images, it stands as an altar to the Source, the true center from which everything arises. All is ready.

Sára Rain, a gifted dance leader from Ft. Collins, has come to our mountain community to lead us in Dances of Universal Peace. This form of sacred dance combines simple movements with chants from the world's many and varied spiritual traditions. The heart~felt repetition of words and steps creates a profound stillness, becomes a meditation in motion.

People begin to arrive, faces known and unknown, some having traveled quite a distance to attend. Eager or hesitant, they stream in until we are an amazing 36 dancers strong. We are so many that Sára divides us into inner and outer circles, creating a natural division for chants that are sung in rounds. The words come from traditions as varied as Christian, Hindu, Goddess, Buddhist, Sufi, Jewish, and Native American.

No matter their origins, all are praise. As one dance follows the next, I am indeed brought into stillness, punctuated by a soaring joy. The truth that we are part of something larger comes to us now experientially. Individual personalities recede, as we move together around and around the circle, our voices rising and falling as one.

Each dance was magnificent, but one has stayed with me. I sing the words often, its rhythm a steady heartbeat running through my day, even when my thoughts are elsewhere. The first verse is in English, accompanied by a simple and repetitive sidestep to the left. The minor key melody is hypnotic, a perfect vehicle for the words, “My life is my prayer. As I live, so I am.”

The first line urges us toward an enacted spirituality. Each day and every action is an offering that could rightly be called prayer. It's our choice whether it be a prayer of love or of harshness. The second line reminds us that we become who we are through the accumulation of these individual acts, our moment to moment prayers. Each choice is a strand that cumulatively weaves our character and creates our experience.

Yet there is something more to this line. I Am has long been known as a name for God. With every act, we take the Divine Spark within us, lent us for only a brief time, and extend it out into the world. For good or for ill, the choices we make are expressions of that animating force within us. As we live, so I Am moves out into the world.

This sentiment fills the second verse, as well. Its words in Arabic are, “La ilaha il Allah,” which is often translated as, “There is no God but for God.” Sára, however, shares a slightly different mystical translation: “There is nothing that is not included in Divine Unity.” You and me, those we love and those we find difficult, kind and unkind acts, all we see and every sound we hear...all arise from and are expressions of the same Source.

While the tune for this verse remains the same, our dance steps change. As we sing, we step toward the center, arms raising above our heads, faces turned to the heavens. On a second repetition we move back out, lowering our arms and bringing our hands to our hearts. In keeping with the mystical translation, these movements honor that Source, recognize ourselves as expressions of it, and offer that expression back again, a cycle that continues without end.

In the coming year, may we become more conscious of the prayers we create with our lives. And may the Christ child, nestled in the manger of our hearts, shine out. Amen.

Leia Marie

Here's a link to a video of this dance. Though the words are slightly different and the movement to and from the center is missing from the second verse, the tune's the same. I hesitated to include the link as I think it might seem rather somber. But please know that when you're doing these dances, they are quite moving and joyful.

And here's a link to Sára's website. She's fabulous!

And a link to the Dances of Universal Peace website, which includes a way to search for Dances in your area under the Worldwide Network tab.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

All Is Blessing

Thanksgiving is now three days gone, and many of us are gearing up for the busy Christmas season. What better time to pause and reflect on the meaning of this just~past holiday.

Gratitude. We know it as a core value of all spiritual traditions. Most of us have also heard of the latest research demonstrating its many benefits to physical and emotional health. And yet, a living gratitude, one that infuses our day to day lives, often eludes us. I wonder, could we find a fresh approach to thankfulness that would serve us better?

For guidance, I turn to the Tarot. I choose the round Motherpeace deck, co~created by Vicki Noble and Karen Vogel. I sit on my cushion, hold the cards for a few moments, and then begin moving them from hand to hand in a gentle shuffle. I spread the cards face~down in an arc in front of me, and move my left hand lightly over them, sensing the card that draws me to it. And, in fact, one does seem a bit more insistent than the others. I turn it over to find this image~~

I smile as an answer already begins to form. I gaze at this woman soaking in a natural spring, healing water bubbling from deep within the Earth itself. I see the rocks of various shapes enclosing the pool, and the flowers floating on the water's surface. I note the woman's face turning slightly upward, eyes closed, as she welcomes the starlight streaming down.

Why has this card beckoned? What might this image have to teach us about gratitude? I sense the answer in the woman's face. Fully receiving the gifts of healing water and starlight, there is no doubt that gratitude radiates from her in waves. She does not need to remember to be thankful. It is not a technique practiced or something to be checked off a to~do list. No, it flows easily and naturally from gifts that have saturated her core.

Perhaps we've been going about this gratitude thing all wrong. Maybe, just maybe, the trick is to thoroughly receive the gifts in the first place, to let them root deeply inside us. Then, gratitude will take care of itself. Like the woman in The Star, if we open to the starlight and healing waters of our lives~~no more gifts half~received on the fly, but ones welcomed deeply into our cell tissue~~would not thankfulness happen naturally?

And a thankful heart changes everything~~how we perceive the world, the choices we make, our reactions to the challenges that come our way. Living in appreciation transforms, and our actions and our very presence more readily become gifts to others. Having been filled, we automatically give back.

And that's not all. As our hearts become more open and responsive, our ingrained sense of separation begins to diminish. Our discriminative minds distinguish between giver and receiver. When receiving elicits a response that is of benefit to others, those divisions begin to blur. Everything is revealed as part of a grand flow. All is blessing, the receiving and the giving, the breathing in and the breathing out.

And as we grow in this awareness, we will no longer need a special day once a year to be thankful. Each moment will be received~~and given back~~as sacrament.

Thankfully yours,

Leia Marie

For a webpage that details the benefits of gratitude backed up by research, click here.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Deep Grain of Love

Oh, my gosh, but it's been a year! 

Most notably, it was a year filled with Dad. Sitting with him for hours in his decline. Accompanying him to the edge of death and loving him to that far shore. Receiving his box of ashes, scooping some out. Standing watch as a TSA agent tested him for explosives before we boarded the plane. Honoring him with a large family crab feast he would have loved. Looking on as he was placed into the rich Maryland soil, reunited at last with our mother, the love of his life who preceded him in death by 18 years.

As all of this was happening, life continued on. An array of work challenges stretched me beyond my comfort zone time and again, culminating in significant changes in the way I conduct my practice. And to top it all off, I just turned 59. Yikes!

In his elegant poem, The Faces of Braga, David Whyte offers an apt metaphor for grappling with life's challenges. After eloquently describing ancient carvings above a door to a monastery shrine room, he urges us to be like that wood, allowing “the invisible carver's hands” to sculpt us and “bring the deep grain of love to the surface.”

A noble goal, but tricky in the execution. This past year, I was often willing wood in the carver's hands. Sometimes, though, I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the chisel. But as the intensity winds down now, I know myself deeply changed. As I begin my 60th year on the planet, I trust more, control less. I am lighter, with a more immediate sense of that deep grain of love that's surfacing in so many places, including my own small life.

Often profound inner change calls for an external marker of some sort. One has appeared for me. My given name, Loanne, is a blending of my parents' names, Lloyd and MaryAnne. With them now gone, a new name has arrived.

Leia began as a spoken nickname, one that immediately resonated. It was not until I explored various spellings that I discovered that the letter combination I simply liked the look of~~Leia~~is Hawaiian, meaning “child of heaven.” Quite fitting. No longer child of earthly Lloyd and MaryAnne, I am freed now to be a child of the expanse they now inhabit. Spiritual traditions teach that that realm permeates this world of ours, vivifying each of us and the lives we live. It is this dimension I've learned to rely on more fully through the events of the past year. 

Life is not easy. We are challenged again and again, confronted with situations not of our liking. But what choice do we have? To accept and welcome the growth, or to resist. Accepting seems infinitely wiser. And more fruitful. In welcoming the carver's chisel, our true shape rises more easily from the wood, while all that is unneeded falls away. Our essence develops texture and depth. And the rest…just flecks of wood scattering upon the breeze.

Love, love and more love! May it rise to the surface, in ourselves and the lives we live. 

Leia Marie

Here's a link to David Whyte's exceptional poem, The Faces of Braga. Truly a gem!

More on Leia…It seems it can have a variety of mildly different pronunciations. My guess is it oughta be pronounced Lay~ee~ah, with a diphthongy thing happenin' with all those vowels. However, spoken quickly and without a lilt as English speakers simply must do, it comes out more like Lay~ah or Lee~ah, with the latter being my preference. (For any Star Wars folks out there, it is pronounced several ways in the various films; click here for relevant minutia. And just so's ya'll know, that fictional princess with the odd coif played no part in my name change!) 

And for those of you who know me personally and have had occasion to call me Loanne many times, I'm sensitive to the challenge imposed by changing names in mid~stream. So take your time and let the name gradually work its way into your psyche. It really is a fine change. See if you can feel the difference by repeating both names a few times, and I'm sure you'll come around in no time! But however long it takes, I do feel like Leia right now and have, perhaps, all along.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Pucker Up!

I might have appeared to be deep in meditation. Inside, though, my mind careened from one inane topic to another. As I was bringing it back to center yet again, the title phrase of that rollicking Mary Chapin Carpenter song popped into my head~~Shut Up and Kiss Me. I laughed out loud!

Of course, those words took on a wholly new meaning to me in that moment. They were a reminder that my incessant chatter was keeping me separate, preventing a deeper communion with the Divine. More importantly, though, they pointed out that I had been neglecting a step so essential for me. I needed to still my thoughts, yes, but I also needed to open my heart. So after my laughter ran its course, I did just that...and fell into a sweet surrender.

God as Beloved is a foreign concept for many Westerners. Ecstatic union is as well, with our spiritual practice often seeming rather staid and filled with shoulds. Across time, though, mystics have offered us a different way. Their writings, detailing rapture and an intimate relationship with God, can serve as a roadmap should we choose to travel into this unknown territory.

St. Teresa of Avila encouraged us to let God “settle into our bones,” and to allow our souls “to sing, dance, praise and love.” St. Thérèse of Lisieux described a divine kiss, and with a startling sort of intimacy she writes, “You kiss me with a kiss of Your mouth.” And that wild Sufi poet Rumi writes, “I am filled with you. Skin, blood, bone, brain, and soul.” He urges us to “stay bewildered in God,” and finds kiss an apt metaphor, too, as he prays, “Teach me how to kiss.”

In the weeks since that Grammy~winning country song enlivened my meditation practice, the words, “Kiss Me,” often come to my mind unbidden...
Riding my bike home from the Farmer's Market, paniers loaded with fresh veggies, I hear them. Thoughts stop, and my heart opens to the glory of the clear autumn day, the very air shimmering beneath blue skies.
My pager goes off, signaling a client in crisis. As I reach for the phone, those words remind me that the Sacred permeates even the most painful of experiences, and my awareness spontaneously shifts to greet it.
And writing this column now, as my husband prepares lunch in the kitchen below, “Kiss Me” comes again, awakening me to the holiness of this moment in all of its ordinary splendor.
St. Therese's divine kiss is just one of many metaphors used to spur our recognition of the Divine Presence dwelling in all things. Here's another, from Rumi again:“Fish don't hold the sacred liquid in cups. They swim the huge fluid freedom.”

So pick the metaphor that works best for you. Kiss, swim, dance, fill to overflowing or open to bewilderment. But whichever you choose, don't tarry. Do it now!


Leia Marie

And here's a link to the song, if you need a refresher~~Shut Up and Kiss Me

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Circle Remains

Around five a.m., I wake from a sound sleep. A power outage has shut off our white noise machine, and it was this sudden silence that awakened me. It lasts but a few seconds. With power restored, the steady hum lulls me back into sleep, ignorant of a small tragedy that has just occurred a block away.

A four~year~old Black Bear has died. Lured into our neighborhood by smells of unsecured garbage, she'd climbed an electrical pole as dawn approached. As neighbors tell it later, there was a bright flash, a loud boom, and this magnificent creature dropped to the ground.

When the grapevine brings the news, we hurry up the hill. Stretched on her side in an unguarded and final slumber, she is stunning. The morning rays find golden highlights in her chocolate brown fur, and her once inquisitive paws rest, vulnerable and forever stilled, upon the Earth. 

As my husband utters a simple and tearful prayer, I kneel beside her lifeless body and stroke that dense fur. I am saddened by the loss of her. I am also grateful for the opportunity to be so close, to touch such a wild thing, to surround her with love at this precious time.

An hour later, we sit in silence at a Quaker service. My inner stillness is punctuated with images of the lifeless and still~so~beautiful bear. My husband's grief and helpless anger at humans, unaware or uncaring, is there, too, as are my own strands of anguish at our impact on the natural world. A sweeping continuum opens up before me, extending from folks who are careless with their garbage to rainforest and species destruction.

But thankfully, a nearby cough pulls me back, anchors me within this circle of Friends. My heart moves from one person to another, opening into connection with each, grateful for their presence and for this miniature circle nestled within the whole of life. It is then that these words come to me: “The Circle remains unbroken.” And I know our modest circle to be held within a much larger one, the Circle that holds it all~~the beauty and the horror, the kind and the dismissive. The dead bear, those who hastened her death, and those who mourn her passing.

Years ago I read, though I know not where, that “People don't need more talk of God. What they need is a richer experience of God.” It feels like I am given this now. As I move more fully into this quite visceral experience, I feel myself enlarging, deepening, my edges softening.

I know it is only a glimpse, the merest fragment, yet tears come to my eyes at the beauty of it all. The beauty of this Circle that holds everything within it.
This Circle that does, indeed, remain unbroken no matter what comes.

Namaste, dear Circle mates!

Leia Marie

And here she is, my friends~~

"My kind know neither Gods nor Goddesses, 
but only the breast of our mother
who is beneath our feet
 and above our heads, 
from whom we come
 and to whom we go
when our time is ended."

Spoken by The Fairy Queen
in Mists of Avalon
by Marion Zimmer Bradley

You have returned, beautiful one!
Your presence among us is missed,
and yet you are as near
as the ground beneath our feet.
We tread lightly in memory of you.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Today, I had planned to write about Love, imagining an exuberant piece on its joys and glories. But yesterday arrived and brought with it a swell of sadness.

By noon, work had taken me to a far~away mountain town to sit with five grieving women and tell them that their beLoved coworker died, not in an accident as they had been informed, but of suicide.

At dinnertime, my husband and I joined our community in a memorial for a five~year old child, offering what surely was scant support to parents gripped by a cruel and jagged grief.

In the evening, we attended a concert with a dear friend whose sorrow over the death of his wife of 69 years has burrowed deeply into his heart. And my father is just 13 weeks gone.

I have no complaints about my day. I wished to be no place other than where I was. But yesterday's events shifted the focus of today's musings. It is Love amidst the pain of life that interests me now. 

There is a Celtic saying, “We live in the shelter of each other.” When life’s harshness pierces us through, Love is often what makes it bearable. Simple presence. Touch. Listening. Bearing witness, soul to soul.

Yet even when we're alone, Love is there, too. This morning, amid an avalanche of technological problems that has me working from three separate computers~~don’t ask!—I was primed for a meltdown. I took to my cushion instead. I sat, stilled my thrashing thoughts, opened, and was, finally, soothed.

It was Love I opened to. In 1 John 4:8 we are told that God is Love. That Love, though, is not passive. It is a Love that infuses, envelops, holds, heals, and calms. God, as Buckminster Fuller wrote, is a verb.

We become expressions of that verb when we open and allow Love to not merely move us, but to move through us and out into the world. We drink it in in order to pour it back out.

Even when we don’t live up to this potential, Love waits. When I did finally melt down during a disagreement with my husband, it was Love that restored our bond and brought us back together again.  

Love shelters. Love envelops. Love soothes. Love restores. All verbs. All Love. All Lovely, indeed.

Love, Love and more Love for you and your day!

Loanne Marie

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A New Day Dawns

When I wake a little after five, I realize today’s the day. It’s been too long since I got myself to the lake early enough to see a sunrise in all its splendor.
I dress quickly and hustle my way out the door and up the hill. The clouds, awaiting my arrival, have layered themselves perfectly. They stretch now across the sky, companionably close without crowding one another. I know this dawn will be spectacular. I am not disappointed.
The colors! No simple pinks and oranges here. No, these colors require more evocative language. Indigo, plum, fuchsia, lavender. Cerise, rose, a streak of carmine. Salmon, coral, apricot. All shifting, blending, and morphing their way east to west above me.           
What is it about a sunrise that moves me so? Certainly there is beauty, but I can catch such colors on the other side of day, after the sun slips behind the mountains. But a sunset, no matter how stunning, is quieter, an ethereal suggestion to turn inward. Sunrise invites a different response.
Light bursting out of darkness excites. All is reborn, a brilliance emanating from the snug womb of night.  It is as though each morning returns us to the season of spring. All is new, fresh. Possibilities abound, and we are urged to open to them.
During this early morning walk, I vow to do exactly that. Both my parents are now gone, my father recently so. And despite the loss, it feels like dawn, the dawn of a new era in my life. A clean start.
Who knows where this time will carry me~~or where any of us will be by nightfall on this very day? Everything awaits: joys and sorrows, events pleasant or not, unknowns longing to be experienced.
Many spiritual traditions tell us our task is to greet whatever comes with openness and a heart~felt “Yes!” My bird friends model this for me now as I turn toward home. Their voices have risen with the fiery sun into a joyous cacophony of “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
In the last few minutes, daylight has chased the vivid colors from the sky, leaving in their wake a cerulean blue dotted with white clouds of various shapes. But as I look closer, I see that labeling them “white” misses the mark, as there are subtle variations here as well. Cream. Ivory. Swirls of pearls. A hint of peach.
My eye is snagged by one particular formation. A few moments ago, it was part of an elongated cloud, but a strong westerly wind has set it free. It is snow white and cup~shaped, open end facing the day’s first rays. A celestial goblet, dipping into sunlight, scooping dawn.
That’s it! I have scooped dawn. It fills me, spills over my edges, and gives rise to this morning’s prayer...

May all our cups be filled. And may we raise them high with a resounding “Yes!” as Light overflows.
Namaste, my friends!
Loanne Marie

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

Snippets of my father’s last days spin through my mind like home movies, treasured for the gems they contain. I share four of them with you now...

Movie #1: A nurse is changing the bandages that wrap my father’s swollen legs and absorb the bloody secretions that ooze from his skin. Though her task would undoubtedly be easier with Dad in a different position, she kneels on the cold hard floor before this aged and ailing man, humility, kindness and love radiating from her in all directions. 

Movie #2: We wheel my father onto the patio, and the sudden change is disorienting. Though he was lucid five minutes earlier, all is strange to him now. He doesn’t know where he is or why, and reminders and reassurances do nothing to soothe him. I go in search of a familiar face. I find her, ask this young aide to add to her many other duties by coming outside, hoping her presence will do what ours cannot. Five minutes later, she joins us, smiles, speaks my father’s name. He looks up, and clouds part in the muddled sky of his brain and the sun blazes again. “I remember you!” he says and begins struggling against the layers of blankets we’ve wrapped him in against the chill of the spring day. We help free his arms. “I’ve gotta give you a hug,” he says, reaching out. We don’t know it then, but this is the last hug he will initiate in this world, this man who has become easier with affection late in life.

Movie #3: I sit beside Dad’s bed. He mostly sleeps now, and words are rare. Suddenly his eyes open and he looks directly into mine. He holds my gaze as he never could before. Through those eyes, now the palest of blue, his heart speaks without words and of a love so pure I am forever changed.

Movie #4: Dad has breathed his last. An expansive, enlivening energy still infuses the room, though my father’s body lies inert in death. The funeral home arrives, fills their large bag with this body that has done what it was asked to do, carrying this soul through 94 years. Slowly, we follow the gurney down the long hallway, lined now with loving staff and elderly veterans, all come at this late hour to witness a final walk. Some are in wheelchairs, others stand upright or lean on walkers or canes. Hand over heart or raised in silent salute, all honor this man, his family and, no doubt, others who’ve left this world long before. As in the Book of Mormon, they “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”
*  *  *  *  *

Today is Father’s Day, and mine has been 46 days dead. I don't know what the day holds for me, but as I post this, I relish these lessons~~
     Kneel easily, with kindness and humility...
     Remind one other of who we truly are, especially when vision is clouded...
     Love with wide~open eyes and flowing hearts...
    And honor one another as we pass by.

Blessings to you all~~and to you, too, Dad wherever you may be.

Loanne Marie

For those who missed my last post on the experience of Dad's death, you can find it by clicking here.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sweet Release

I am home but a few minutes when the call comes. In the half~hour since I left, Dad’s oxygen has dropped to 47% and he has begun Cheyne~Stokes breathing, a sign that death is near. 

I hurry back into a car which, after many months, drives itself to the nursing home while I call my siblings. When I arrive Dad’s heart is bounding and irregular. Though still receiving supplemental oxygen, his saturation is now 23%, telling us the machine is doing the breathing, not Dad.

We gather 'round him, although two siblings who needed to return to their own lives amid this 12~day vigil are present by speaker phone. Hospice explains the oxygen can be turned off when we’re ready, and that we can expect three or four breaths before Dad slips away.

After a few moments, we give the word. The machine is turned off. And Dad breathes on his own for 20 more minutes. These breaths are not frantic or gasping, but automatic, shallow, moving only his shoulders. Such breathing does not oxygenate blood, with Dad’s saturation levels measuring first 3%, then 0%. And still he breathes.

Until he doesn’t. No movement. No sound. No heart beat.

If you had asked me to imagine my reactions at this moment, I would have predicted tears and a confused mix of emotions. What I feel instead is a wild, soaring joy. My father is released from an ailing body, from a life that had become increasingly difficult. I am happy for him, but this elation seems more than that. In the last several days, whenever I remembered to tune in and open up, I felt something in the room. An energetic presence. A quickening. A lightness. An effervescence.

Many believe that the veil between the worlds thins or parts at the time of death. This would explain the great inrush of energy I feel now and throughout the next few hours. It buoys me as I join two hospice aides in shaving Dad's two weeks of whiskers, in bathing and lotioning his body. It holds me as I lay beside that cooling body, whispering goodbyes, thank yous, support for and excitement about his continued journey. I feel it still when I return to his room after the funeral home carries his body away, as I sob my goodbyes at last, window open to the cold night air. 

This energy is so expansive, so good, so pure, that I have no doubt that Dad is enveloped by it. In fact, when I think to use the phrase “at peace” to describe him, it feels wrong. Dad feels “in joy” to me, at the time of his passing and in these hours since.           

And then something begins to shift, so gradually that I don’t recognize it at first. About six hours after Dad’s heart beat its last, the curtain is drawn once again. He is gone.

* * * * * * * *

Two weeks have now passed since Dad left us, days full of the emptiness of him. Grief rises and falls. Love remains. And gratitude.

Thank you, Dad, for your time among us. Thank you for sharing your passing, as I now share it with others. I love you. Blessed be and farewell.

Loanne Marie

Sunday, April 20, 2014 last!

It was early February when I first noticed a change in the quality of the light. As the weeks  passed, birdsong grew richer, and the sun began inching a bit further northward each morning as it cleared the horizon.

Daylight savings time arrived, and headlights were suddenly unnecessary on my drive home from work. The Vernal Equinox came and went, and now Easter is here. And I can believe, at last, that spring has arrived. Spring, glorious spring, that time of rebirth and renewal.

The trick with renewal, though, is that it is usually preceded by depletion. And to be reborn, one must suffer a death.

This winter has been particularly challenging for me. Nothing disastrous, but I have often felt depleted, and small, private deaths have come one atop the other. The details are not important, but expectations have shriveled and fallen by the wayside. The illusion that I know what’s best and can control the world around me has perished many times over.

I am quite certain that I’ve not seen the end of my tendency to want life to conform to my wishes. I do feel, though, that a major shift has occurred. This difficult winter seemed a definitive step in the process of slicing away that which is untrue or unnecessary, all that keeps me bound up and resisting the grand sweep of life itself.

So, while this time has been intense, I have not felt~~for long anyway~~victimized by its demands. Each discreet event offered an opportunity to open my heart wider, to trust more deeply, to play more fully my unique part in life’s unfolding.

The word remember literally means to become a member again. I have learned better to remember myself into the eternal flow. I don’t control that flow, nor do I sit passively on the river banks, observing what transpires with detachment. No, I am solidly in it, a part of it, one with it all. I do what’s mine to do, putting my heart and soul into it, and life takes me and those I love where it will.

Life, dazzlingly alive, continually moves us. Our individual stories unfold as night becomes day, and as Earth sweeps us ‘round the seasons. And here we are, brought once again through the darkness of the crucifixion, the sadness of grief. Christ’s example of willing surrender offers a model for how to meet our own travails. And his resurrection brings hope.

Spring doesn’t come without winter, but come it does. Spinach leaves poke through the warming soil of our garden. Trees bud. And from my core, hope sprouts anew. I am lighter from my winter’s work and stand ready to greet what comes.

Wishing you each a delightful spring of rebirth and renewal.    


Loanne Marie                   

Sunday, March 23, 2014


I step outside and into the pearly sort of darkness that tells of low clouds and falling snow. Sure enough, the white stuff is everywhere. It mounds on the ashcan, covers the cars, piles atop the birdfeeder.
This snow swallows every sound and brings a hush to the night. I stand still and feel the coolness of the air, its dampness against my cheek. I stretch out my hand and tiny flakes grace my palm. Dropping my arm, I remain a bit longer, steeping myself in stillness. Finally, my robe no match for the cold, I go back inside.
I have just taken what psychotherapist and meditation teacher Tara Brach calls “a sacred pause,” one of the key practices detailed in her thoroughly engaging book, Radical Acceptance. As the title suggests, Tara walks us through a process of receiving whatever comes our way with an openness larger than any preferences we might hold.
“Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our life as it is,” she writes. Accepting "absolutely everything" allows us to be aware, “of what is happening within our body and mind in any given moment, without trying to control or judge or pull away.”

Accepting the peace of a snowy night, though, is one thing. Let us fast forward now to a wholly different situation...

Sunshine streams through the dining hall windows as I sit at the nursing home with my elderly father. His cancer has returned, and I’ve just learned of two incidents of explosive behavior the day before. As we sit together now, he's telling me a story that's an alarming jumble of past and present, so confused I find it nearly impossible to follow.

I remember to pause. I then work with what Tara calls the two wings of Radical Acceptance. With the first wing, I simply notice…Tightness in my shoulders and stomach. Helplessness, anxiety, sorrow. An urge to ignore my uneasiness, or get rid of it by trying to fix what cannot be fixed.

Instead, I breathe deeply and welcome the second wing. I bring a compassionate presence, a kindly awareness to all that is rising in me and everything occurring in this moment. And something begins to shift.
No longer resisting what is, a tenderness begins to emerge. My body softens and my heart becomes less constricted. Gradually, it opens. Affection swells and spills over, affection for myself as a struggling daughter and affection for my father, in all his human fear, anger and confusion.
This is the fruit of genuine acceptance. Tara writes, “We meet the ever-changing stream of life--this living, dying, breathing world--with accepting presence, and our hearts invariably open.”
And it all starts with a pause, one that clears the way for Radical Acceptance. Such acceptance is not passive. We may act, but whatever action we choose will likely be wiser and more effective, streaming as it will from an open heart.

So, my friends, may we pause well and often. And may every aspect of our lives, those we relish and those we find difficult, open our hearts more fully.

Blessings on all your pauses,

Loanne Marie

I highly recommend Radical Acceptance. Tara does an incredible job making these concepts accessible within the context of our very human lives. To visit Tara's website, chock full of info and free audio and video talks, click here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Seeds Blooming!

In 1849, Henry David Thoreau published an essay on the imperative to follow one’s conscience in protesting unjust laws.
Decades later and a world away, Mohandas Gandhi read that essay and developed a framework for civil disobedience that ultimately ended British rule in India.
Martin Luther King, Jr. studied Thoreau and Gandhi, while more than 8,000 miles away, Nelson Mandela did the same. Each man applied the principles of non-violent resistance to the particulars of his time, hastening the cause of freedom.
A comic book on King and civil disobedience was translated into Arabic and distributed in Egypt in 2007. Yes, a comic book did its part to galvanize the Arab Spring!

The Arc of Justice and the Long Run, an online essay by activist Rebecca Solnit, is chock full of examples such as these. Ideas, planted as seeds in one time and place, emerge and grow to fruition elsewhere in a glorious web of cross pollination.

Solnit tells of Charles Black, a white boy in 1930s Texas who heard a young Louis Armstrong play trumpet at a white high school dance. "It is impossible to overstate the significance of a 16~year~old Southern boy's seeing genius, for the first time, in a black,” he said in an interview decades later. That Southern boy went on to write many of the legal briefs that ended segregation in schooling nationwide through Brown v. Board of Education.

Most of us will not see our talents bloom in ways as stunning as Thoreau or Armstrong, or influence millions like Gandhi, King and Mandela. Our seeds are small, their flowering more modest. We guide our children, interact with coworkers, offer random acts of kindness to friend and stranger alike, never fully knowing the results.

We are sometimes privileged to witness a fruition, though many seeds need time to germinate, nestled in a darkness hidden from view. Others emerge in a time and place far from our sight. But seeds do sprout. They bud and they bloom, offering their pollen freely to the wind, to be deposited we know not where.

So we plant our individual seeds and trust in their blooming and in the wholesomeness of their fruit. And when things look bleak in the world, as they may today, we hope. For Solnit, “Hope is a sense of the grand mystery of it all, the knowledge that we don’t know how it will turn out, that anything is possible.”

We are part of an intricate and interconnected living whole that, spiritual traditions tell us, is fueled by something greater still. Like the wind that carries pollen to points unknown, we cannot see it, only sense its influence. Anything is, indeed, possible.

So we plant seeds of love, trusting in their ultimate blooming. We welcome the pollen of others, and allow it to quicken the good that lies dormant within our own hearts. And we open to the grand mystery of it all, again and again.

Blessings upon all your little seeds. Plant with abandon!

Loanne Marie

To read Solnit's entire essay, which is full of gems and hope, click here. And to read more about that 16~year~old jazz fan who went on to become a scholar of constitutional law, click here.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Blessed Silence

I wake in the night. The house is quiet and my husband sleeps beside me, breath slow and steady. No noise explains my waking, and there is no worry in me this night. I lay still for several minutes, but sleep does not return. I begin to wonder if perhaps I’m being called. At the very least, meditation would be a much better use of my time than lying here waiting for sleep.
I rise, wrap my robe around me, climb the stairs. I sit on my cushion in the darkened room~~and am immediately drawn into a silence, broad and deep. This silence envelops me as it seems to hold everything~~the tick of the clock, the creak of the bird feeder swinging below my window, even the wind that sets such swinging in motion. Minutes pass, though the sweep of time, too, seems absorbed within something much larger, something vast and unchanging. My edges begin to blur.
In The Monk and the Rabbi, an online video, Benedictine monk, author and lecturer Brother David Steindl~Rast defines mysticism as, “an experience of communion…with the Ultimate,” one so complete that, at least for a few moments “an annihilation of the self” occurs.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow coined the term peak experience to describe those moments when we feel exceptionally alive, wonder~filled, and deeply connected to the world around us. Time stands still and individual concerns fall away. Brother David tells us that Maslow maintained throughout his life that “the peak experience was indistinguishable from the mystic experience,” and only avoided the word mystical to side~step the skepticism of his peers.
The capacity for such transcendence seems part of our human wiring, available to us all. As Brother David puts it, “The mystic is not a special kind of human being, but every human being is a special kind of mystic.”According to this man who has spent the vast majority of his 89 years as a contemplative and student of the Divine, the only difference between mystics and the rest of us is that, “the great mystics…allow this experience to flow into their everyday living.”
Sitting on my cushion, the silence swells and pulls me deeper. While I don’t know if I experience “an annihilation of the self,” my individual life does seem largely irrelevant, no longer a focus of attention.

No, the Ultimate holds me. Cradled in that silence, I experience the truth of Rumi’s words, “Silence is the language of God/All else is poor translation.” This language fills me until, at last, I gather myself together, and return to bed~~and find the Ultimate accompanies my every step.
It cushions me as I lay my head on the pillow, enfolds me as I settle the flannel sheet across my shoulders. It seems I needn’t have left my bed’s cozy warmth at all. 

Immersed still, I tumble headlong into a deep sleep.

Loanne Marie

Here's a link to The Monk and the Rabbi. And here's a link to Brother David's website,, which has lots wonderful things. I particularly enjoyed the longer videos under Spiritual Biography, in partnership with Commonweal here.