Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Impossible Decisions

Last weekend was the first real summery weather we’ve had. It was sunny and warm, lilacs exploding with scent, and blossoming trees heavy with flowers. And then, someone I know- a close friend of a heart-sister- had a massive stroke. In the blink of an eye, life as she knew it- filled with loving family and friends, an exciting new business and seemingly boundless energy- changed. She is on life support. There is brain damage. Doctors are waiting to see what happens next. There will probably be some hard decisions for her family to make. A couple of weeks ago I sat with another woman I admire deeply. Some routine medical tests revealed that she has a brain aneurysm. Doctors want to operate. If they don’t and the aneurysm bursts, she will likely die. But surgery will impact the brain in unpredictable ways. And I think to myself, “We don’t have what we need to make these kinds of decisions!” And yet, there is no one else to make them. The truth is, we can never know all the variables that deeply effect our lives and the lives of those we love. Part of me would like to have a chat Whomever-Is-In-Charge, would like to lodge a complaint: We are not equipped for this kind of responsibility! There is so much we don’t control and cannot know. There are real limits to life as a physical being: blood damages the brain. And yet, sometimes people recover when doctors thought it was impossible, and ongoing research is expanding our knowledge of many areas including neuroplasticity. Our impulse to hold on to life and each other is rooted in our very being. And yet, I think of my father before he died of Alzheimer’s. Over and over, in rare moments of lucidity and in the fog of his confusion he begged me to help him die, to help him escape the daily hell that Alzheimer's was for him. The best I could do for him was to ensure he did not get medical treatments that would prolong his life. How are we supposed to make these decisions that so profoundly impact our lives, when we don’t have all the information, don’t know what is truly possible or impossible. . . . when we would give our lives to help someone we love? But that is not what is asked of us. What is asked is something much harder. What is asked is that we do what we can with what we have to work with- incomplete information, few certainties, limited perception and aching hearts. Some of us have spiritual practices that help us feel held by something larger. Some of us do not.

We do the best we can with what we have. 

Often we stumble in confusion and anguish. Sometimes we are alone with our choices. Hopefully, more often we are held in the arms, hearts and prayers of others. I am in awe of how we do what has to be done, how we make impossible choices, how we hold each other in tenderness.
Last weekend- as is true every day on this beautiful planet we share- some people struggled with life and death decisions; some people had the life they knew changed forever; some people faced unexpected heartbreak and hard choices. 
And still the lilacs explode with scent, and blossoming trees are heavy with flowers.

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

Photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Another Day

Over time, if we’re paying attention, if we are given enough days on this beautiful earth. . . . many of the certainties we were taught, much of what we were so sure of when we were young. . . falls away.
I’ll admit it- some days I miss the certainty. I don’t miss the beliefs or ways of seeing that separated me from what was true and sometimes hard within and around me, but some days I feel a little nostalgic for that wonderful confident sense of standing on solid ground, however delusional that might have been.
Or maybe I’m just missing being young enough that my energy feels so infinite I take it for granted.
It can be tempting to stop taking chances when we realize how small and brief and biodegradable we are, when we see how little we control, when we experience how loss and searing pain can bring us to our knees.
But it’s a package deal- this life we are given. No risk, no loss, no sorrow means not being able to feel joy, to love and be loved. And the risks are real. We will fall, and some things (hearts, bones, promises, plans, relationships. . . .) will be broken. And there may be times when we will feel as if even that which seemed unbreakable- spirit, soul, love- has been shattered.
Perhaps nothing of what we think we are is unbreakable.
And yet. . . . everyday life calls to me, saying, “Live!”
The taste of a sun-ripened peach, laughing with my sons as I careen awkwardly around wearing a Virtual Reality headset (a truly comical scene,) the hand that reaches out as we help another or are helped ourselves to get up again and again. . . . these things are as true as any certainty I’ve ever had.
Every morning, my grandfather said with a tone of resigned anticipation, “Another day, another dollar.”
I used to live as if my inner morning salutation was, “Another day, another chance to get it right"- a set-up if ever there was one.
Now, when I open my eyes in morning, I think, “Another day. . . .” and on a good morning, on a morning when I can let the sound of the wind through the leaves of the tree beside my window find me, when I can feel the slight pause at the end of my exhale, before the next inhale breathes me into being, I whisper into the pre-dawn light, "Thank you."
~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016
Deep gratitude to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for another spectacular photo.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Surrendering isn't about giving up. Nor is it about laying back and going unconscious. It's about paying attention in a deeper way.

I cannot write the book I am working on using the same methods (time commitments, structure, rhythm etc.) that I used with other books. It doesn't work. Nor (apparently) can I quit. When I try to write the way I used to- or when I try to quit- in both cases, I get sick, I get 73 day migraines, I get tachycardia, my back goes into spasm. . .

The body does not lie -although sometimes it's hard to know exactly what is being communicated- but in this case, minimally it is, "This is not working!"

Surrendering is about listening with every cell in our being. It's about watching to see what happens- When do I lose the thread of the story? When does my energy plummet? Where do I get easily distracted? When does the process flow? Where does the energy want to go?

This book is deeply personal. It is a memoir. Some of the stories are hard stories. That's okay, because (spoiler alert) it works out well. I've started to think of the stories as small squares in a quilt. I am gathering squares. I will piece them together later- and the pattern they form will reveal itself then.

I can surrender to finding and making squares. I can surrender to listening deeply to what works- what feeds life and love right now- and what does not.

In surrendering we find the piece of the story that is ours to embody, to carry, to share and bring to life. In surrendering we find our way of weaving or quilt-making- which is to say, our way of participating in the Sacred Wholeness that is what we are.

~Oriah (Gratitude to Karen Davis at for this photo.)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Less Driving, More Dancing

I often sit outside in the morning sun listening, writing and drinking tea. The buds on the trees are beginning to open, their tender green fluorescent against the cloudless sky. Birds are building nests. Shoots are poking their heads up from the dark, moist earth. Everything shouts. “Live! Begin again, grow and blossom!”

Friends in tune with astrological insights tell me there have been a number of planets that appear (from our perspective) to be going backwards (retrograde) telling us that even as spring pulls us forward we are also drawn to looping back, to consider what to leave behind, what to make of what has been: trash, or compost, or something to tuck into our pockets for the journey.

How we do this matters. One foot on the gas and one on the brake will burn us out, but a gentle circling- more dancing than driving- can help us discern what has real value for us and what does not.

But no matter how we move- awkwardly or gracefully- the cherry blossoms will burst open in their own time. ~Oriah

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Just Another Spiritual Adventure With The Mountain Dreamer

People make assumptions. We all do it. I am sometimes surprised at the assumptions some people make about me because they’ve read something I’ve written, or heard my medicine name (and that can go either way: either Enlightened Spiritual Teacher or Flaky High-Woo-Woo Nut- wrong on both counts) or know someone who knew someone who once attended a ceremony I lead or a retreat I facilitated.

Once, a lovely young woman who was interviewing me mentioned something about a television show she’d watched and then apologized, saying, “Oh I know you wouldn’t watch TV – you’re probably meditating in the evening.”

Yeah. Right. That’s me- in a constant state of meditative serenity.

I could not help but think of inflated projections on Saturday night. I’d gone to get groceries after an early dinner. (Yep, life in the fast lane.) When I got home, unpacking included unwrapping a twelve-roll pack of toilet paper and stashing it in the cupboard under the bathroom sink.

Suddenly I noticed a strange smell- an odd chemical scent. I was alarmed.

For those of you who don’t know, I recently came out of a (new record for me) seventy-three day migraine. Like most who suffer from this affliction, my migraines can be triggered by chemical scents, and you can bet that after two and half months of agony I was hyper-alert to anything that might send me down that road again.

I sniffed around cautiously and discovered it was the newly purchased toilet paper. They make scented toilet paper! Who knew? I closed the cupboard door and stepped out onto the balcony to gulp some relatively fresh air. But there was no way around it- I needed to get rid of the offending toilet paper rolls. The trouble is, they were now mixed in with old rolls- all white, with no distinguishing pattern on the paper.

This is how I came to spend my Saturday evening sitting on the bathroom floor, sniffing toilet paper rolls one at time and stuffing the stinky ones into a garbage bag between breathing breaks on the balcony. At some point, as I lightly passed another roll under my nose to detect what the manufacturer called “chamomile fragrance,” I muttered to myself, “Yep, just another exciting and enlightening evening with Mountain Dreamer.”

And I started to laugh.

I was still laughing and shaking my head as I took the garbage bag to the recycling bin outside my building. The good news is I did not get a migraine, and laughing at the whole predicament truly sent me to bed with a smile on my face.

The truth is I don’t know anything about enlightenment- and have never claimed I do. But I do know that not taking myself too seriously makes life easier and more joyful. Laughter makes me glad to be alive, even if it is in a world where resources are used to create something as absurd as scented toilet paper.

Good to laugh, wherever we can, whenever we can.

Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Possibility of Healing After Death

My father died of advanced Alzheimer’s one year ago tomorrow- April 22, 2015. He was eighty-three. My brother died three weeks ago today, of an aortic aneurysm. He was sixty years old.
I’ve been kind of quiet this week, just sitting with my own heart and what arises in the stillness.
Often the death of those close to us reminds us of our own mortality and encourages us to live and love fully and deeply. In the shamanic traditions in which I was trained this is called making Death an Ally.
My father and my brother had not spoken in years. My father wanted nothing to do with my brother because he was an alcoholic, and my brother’s anger with my father for abuses during his childhood meant he did not want contact. I do not judge either’s choice not to be in touch- they did what they felt was right for them- although I was witness to the pain this choice reflected and created.
I cannot help but wonder if their paths will cross now, wherever or whatever continues of these two men I knew and loved. I have no set belief about what happens after we die (and I am fine with that.) I can imagine reincarnation, movement to other realities, or other scenarios, and I have an overwhelming sense that whatever happens it is truly. . . okay.
But, I cannot help but imagine some kind of encounter between my father and my brother. . . . elsewhere.
If this is possible- how might it go? Will death soften their hearts and offer them perspective on how each did the best he could without denying the harm sometimes done by the other’s best to self and others?
I don’t know. But as I sit quietly during these days of remembrance and grief, I find myself hoping for some healing between them. I like to picture them sitting in the small red row boat we had, fishing. I imagine them in companionable silence, enjoying the northern wilderness they both loved, appreciating the quiet together.
And I know that this is my vision. I can't know if something like this is even possible- and I am okay with the not-knowing and the holding of this hope. Envisioning this possibility is my way of holding them both in love right now, a way of remembering what matters and what does not, a way of helping to heal the family spiral. ~Oriah
Deep gratitude to Karen Davis for this beautiful photo found on Open Door Dreaming this morning.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Losing My Brother

I've been off line for awhile, dealing with some health challenges. Thought I would be back last week, and then (as so often happens) life intervened in my plans.

Last Thursday, on the final day of March, my brother Doug, died suddenly at the age of sixty when an aortic enlargement (that he did not know he had) burst. These enlargements run in the family and can be monitored if they are known- I have one, my father had one, both discovered by tests for other medical conditions.

Doug and I were only sporadically in touch over the years, but we'd had a number of phone conversations more recently when our parents were both diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He was often preoccupied with how he was going to die. Doug had been an alcoholic since he was a teenager and was beginning to show signs of alcohol-induced Alzheimer's. He was not interested in giving up alcohol, and I accepted that this was his choice. He was however worried that he would be incapacitated by Alzheimer's and linger long after he wanted to be here. In this, the death he had was mercifully quick and without suffering.

My brother and I lived very different lives- but, of course, we shared our beginnings. Here we are at Easter in 1960- I was five and he was four, with our baskets of chocolate eggs and jelly beans. I look at the face of this boy. . . .and I pray that he is now at peace, without pain or suffering. I remember his innocence, our shared silliness, and. . . . I hold tenderly the girl who could not protect her little brother, and the boy who bore the brunt of our father's woundedness. Like all of us, he did the best he could. May he feel held in love now. ~Oriah