Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Try a Little Tenderness

Sometimes, preparing a meal when I am tired and cranky and want to argue with the assertion that popcorn is not an entrée, I catch myself grumbling, and I stop for a minute. I sit down in a chair and take a deep breath. I feel my weariness and I lay my hand on my heart, and wait for a little tenderness to arise.

And then, moving more slowly now, I prepare the meal, noticing the crispness of the red peppers, the scent of the cilantro, the creamy smoothness of the avocado. And, on a good day, if I can let go of rushing, I can allow my desire to nourish myself or others infuse and guide my preparation of the meal.

And I swear you can taste the difference.

Because intent- HOW we do something- shapes and to a large extent determines the impact of our actions. Actions taken solely out of obligation lose the fullness of their ability to touch the other or the self with that which is healing, expanding and renewing. Tenderness becomes elusive, and the effort is exhausting.

This holds for self-care as well as care of others. I have a long list of things that I know are good for me: eating well, going for a walk, doing my morning practice. . . .But if I do them out of obligation (to some ideal or “should”) and without any real tenderness toward myself, I find I am going through the motions somewhat mechanically and the impact- the restoration of balance and energy- is diminished.

And yet, I don’t want to make this quality of caring another “should.” Some days, all we can do is go through the motions- and sometimes that’s enough to make us available to the grace of a larger Mystery that carries us beyond obligation to our true and compassionate nature.

I am learning to catch myself when I move too fast, when I am driven by real or imagined obligations. I am learning, as the song says, to try a little tenderness with myself and others.

~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House 

In keeping with this theme, as I look at this photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming, I think of Stephen Mitchell's translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching: "Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass it."

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 https://www.facebook.com/OpenDoorDreaming/?fref=ts 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