What Did You Do In The Great Peace March, Mommy?

I dressed in black and drove to D.C. to march beside my Quaker friends and the (men and) Women in Black from my home town. As always, I was astonished at the diversity (of causes, backgrounds, beliefs and styles) which comprises peace gatherings. The only hostility I experienced came from about a hundred screamers who were thoughtfully held back, away from the peacewalkers, by a stolid line of well-trained policepersons. I was relieved that our peaceful protest thus managed to stay legal and non-violent….


I saw many creative and thoughtful posters representing free speech on both sides, some of which I agreed with, some not, but the best of which–like poetry–offered pithy aphorisms worth pondering:


VISUALIZE COMPASSIONATE IMPEACHMENT / MAD COWBOY DISEASE / BUSH HAS IRAQTILE DYSFUNCTION / QUAGMIRE ACCOMPLISHED / FERME LE BUSH / War is terrorism with a higher budget. / MAKE LEVEES NOT HUMVEES / LEAVE NO BILLIONAIRE BEHIND / Our son was once an embryo: don’t send him to Iraq. / IRAQ: A FAITH-BASED INITIATIVE / GOT VALUES? SUPPORT PEACE. / The rich get more; the poor get war. / No more BUSHIT! / BuSHAMErica / Impeach Bush: it was good enough for Nixon. / W = WORST (ever) / George of the Bungle / It’s a globe, not an empire (with photo of the earth) / Join Republicans Ashamed of Bush / End the war–draft the rich. / How many lives per gallon? / LBJ never looked so good. / What’s our oil doing under their sand? / Human need, not corporate greed. / We the People say No / (A child carrying) Don’t make me pay for the Iraq war. / Real men don’t drop bombs. / Boost troop morale; bring ‘em home. / (A peace sign followed by) Back by popular demand! / My son was not born to kill another mother’s children. / (Beside photo of Iraqi child): She is not my enemy. / Honor the warriors, not the war. / Which is worse, screwing an intern or screwing a country? / HEALTHCARE NOT WARFARE / Protest now before your kids get drafted. / Take the war toys away from Junior. / Violence is the refuge of the incompetent. / Impeach for sex but not for murder? / The Great Profit told Bush to invade Iraq. / Will Trade Bush for Peace / Drunk on Power, President Drives Country Into Ditch! / War is not a family value. / From New Orleans to Iraq—Stop the War on Poverty. / I never thought I’d miss Nixon / Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam / Kanye West for President: George Bush doesn’t care about black people. / God bless the whole world, no exceptions….


And on the other side, also original, funny and/or thought-provoking….


JANE FONDA LOOK-ALIKE CONTEST! / AL QUAEDA thanks you for your support…. / War protesters are Sheehanistas….


I was intrigued by a radiant young woman's homemade tee-shirt displaying a smiling photo of George and Laura, beneath which she had scrawled, “Meet the Fuckers.”


Halfway through the march, a man in our Women In Black group stopped to help a tired lady (Liz Sweet) struggling to carry a heavy rolled-up banner while pushing a child in a stroller. Upon inquiry, we found she had lost her son to the Iraq war and had somehow missed meeting her group, so couldn’t unfurl her banner. David immediately commandeered her stroller, while the rest of us were privileged to help her sadly carry her banner to the march’s end, and afterward, to her meeting place with other Gold Star Mothers, Military Families Against the War and Cindy Sheehan, at the big sound stage. Her well-made banner, about 20’X 5’, displayed a huge photo of a tenderly beautiful and vibrantlyalive young man in uniform (Thomas Sweet) and the words:




As we wended our way through crowds toward Ms. Sweet’s destinations, we thrilled to the up-close sight and sound of Joan Baez. I thought about the lies, about Liz's darling Thomas, and of Vietnam-era buttons which warned, “Truth is the first casualty of war,” while Joan sweetly sang the all-too-familiar refrain, “When will they ever learn…?”


The weather was perfect for a rally—just a brief misty rain, not even enough to warrant opening my umbrella. I would have liked to have seen many more clean public portapotties available. A petite, polished silver-haired matron who had visited them resignedly recommended her own decision:  “Next time I'll just go in my pants.” I personally abused the hospitality of the White House Visitors’ Center and The Corcoran Museum of Art, and smiled to overhear a young man confess, “If I go to jail today, it will be for public urination,” and his girlfriend’s rejoinder, “All right! Pissing for Peace!”


Maybe that’s what all of us were doing at the march, all 150,000+ of us…. Maybe we were all (as we once might have expressed it) “pissing into the wind.” But there was definitely some vinegar blowing in the wind around D.C. yesterday, too.


We are all still free to express the great diversity of our opinions–left, right and in-between–on how best to address and solve today's many difficult challenges. I know one thing for sure, though: no matter what the question, war is not the answer.



Fixing Long-Term Relationships – #8 Insights Series

One of the most difficult challenges to long-term relationships is the time we spend together fussing over our shared pasts. Whether we’re with siblings, parents, children, other family members or friends, we drag around our conflicting memories and dredge them up over and over, analyzing them endlessly or sniping at each other whenever we get a chance to make our points—that we were right, back then, and others were wrong, that we were justly aggrieved and unfairly injured.
Our pasts are all dark and filled with resentments; none of us is an exception. We just didn’t understand very much. We were misunderstood and mistreated. And pretty mean, too. And stupid. And insensitive. And at times downright destructive. We generally made a mess of things—certainly our relationships—and none of us, none of them, were ever as forgiving and accepting and appreciative as we should have been.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just agree to let the past go, rather than try to change it, or dwell on its disappointments? What a relief that would be. Because, in fact, we can’t change the past. It’s not possible. The past is gone. It has passed. Maybe that’s why they call it “the past….”
Spending present moments trying to fix or change our variously  muddied versions of what happened in the past is a perfect waste of infinitely valuable present-time.
The present moment is the only time we’ll ever have to be kind to each other, laugh together, share interests and good times. The present is the only time we can ever actually hold in our hands, make the most of, do something with, and about. The present is the only time we’ll ever give or receive anything, any gift at all. Maybe that’s why they call it the “present….” 
The past is just gone. It isn’t, anymore. It can’t be fixed or remedied.
When we spend the present moment attempting to rectify something that happened in the past, we surrender all the fresh possibilities inherent in our sparkling new moments—to our sad pasts! Because in attempting to fix the past, we relive it.
If we want justice, vengeance, fairness, recognition, or love because of our unhappy pasts, and choose to use our present moments to work hard on addressing all that sad past stuff, we’ll just stay stuck back there in all its ugliness. By hauling our dismal pasts into our present moments, we’ll not only fill up our present moments with past hurts, guilt and regrets, but we’ll also insure that our futures will be as bleak as our pasts were—because we are not using our present moments to create happier realities.
Similarly, while reliving happy memories may have its place, when we dwell on them, try to relive or recapture them, we lose our present opportunities to create new joy. No matter how tender or alive the past feels compared with the present, whether incomparably sad, or incomparably sweet—either way, our happiest option is to leave the past behind us, get out of our past completely, and focus on what’s next, on creating whatever different possibility today holds for joy. (It helps if you can see yourself, your identity,  as a very light, empty container ready to be filled with present possibilities, rather than a heavy one already filled to overflowing with past influences.)
One can listen attentively to another’s past grievances, or express profound regret at having caused them pain. However, apologies work because they’re rooted in deep caring during the present moment. The only part of apology and forgiveness that heals is the part that conveys, in one way or another, “I deeply care about you now, you’re important to me now, your happiness is important to me, now.” Add to these a mutually concerted effort to let the past go, to forget that the injuries ever happened, and we have received a brand-new gift: a lifetime of new, present-moment opportunities to contribute to one another’s lives upon which to build our future relationship.
And what is a relationship, after all, but an opportunity to serve another person, permission to love them?
Will we ever hurt each other again? Of course we will. The uncontrollable and unavoidable cost of human relationships is their potential for unpredictable pain. We’re called humans because…well, we’re human! How we handle that pain, however, is what makes human relationships possible.
Unfortunately, beating one another over the head with our past sorrows never changed anyone, or any relationship, except perhaps for the worst. Whether we decide to leave our dear ones, or to keep on loving them, our best response to being hurt or having been hurtful is always to let it go, right now. Forever. It didn’t happen. And instead, do your best to make the next instant a great one, either with them or without them. That’s the best we can ever do anyway, for ourselves or for anyone else.
When we accept, appreciate and forgive ourselves and each other, right now, we’re free to focus on doing our best to create new loving and happy present moments, whether apart or together, right now. And if we don’t experience happiness right now, if we don’t choose to share love right now, when will we ever? Now is the only time we will ever have to do anything.



Against the Politics of Terror

A few days ago, I stopped at a neighborhood lemonade stand to sample the wares of three young girls raising money for the Red Cross. With love and idealism in their shining eyes, they shared their excitement about a rumor that some of Hurricane Katrina’s victims might even actually be coming to their very own (upper-middle class) elementary school! Each child shared her warmest intentions for reaching out to any such newcomers with open arms.


Later that day I read a story about a poor, young black man who had made the decision to leave Louisiana forever for his new home of Michigan, where so many generous people had offered him job opportunities, housing, possessions, counseling, training and friendship.


How is it that we fall all over ourselves to help victims of distant disasters, when daily we overlook or shy away from the sad, disaffected children already in our midst, or from our own hopeless, desperate fellow-citizens living in hovels just miles away?


Catastrophes like Katrina force us to recognize that we are all the same, and that we must all pull together in our unpredictable, leaky little boats or drown separately. Katrina lifted us all over the many carefully-constructed barriers we have erected to defend ourselves against the unfamiliar and the frightening, and once again allowed our fundamental humanity to emerge.


Like people everywhere, Americans are at heart deeply caring, idealistic and generous. We believe in equality of opportunity. We want to help the poor. We welcome interracial harmony. We hate war.


Yet as soon as media coverage of 9/11 died down, as soon as the deadly tides of the tsunami subsided, all our self-serving demagogues and warmongers jumped right back onto the public airwaves and the net with their steady drumbeat of political hatred and shrill argument, once again stirring up all our doubts and fears. 


They'll be back again, after Katrina, drumming up new terrors.


Confused and afraid, we repeatedly elect leaders who accept the status quo of separate and unequal neighborhoods and schools and services and pay and health in America. Confused and afraid, we wring our hands and mumble something about the poor always being with us, crossing our fingers that there but for the grace of God we won’t go down right along with them. Confused and afraid, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars yearly to send our armies to every corner of God’s once-green earth, to shoot complete strangers in the face beside their families, in the homes of their ancestors, in order to “protect our national interests”—leaving our citizenry bereft, with less than no money to spend on our own domestic challenges.


Every available statistic has shown that the chasm between rich and poor and black and white in America has widened and deepened. Yet many other countries have found very good ways to strengthen their economies, and to equitably distribute their wealth, goods, security, opportunity, education, health and jobs. Such exemplary nations have relatively inexpensive little militias which tend to stay home and mind their own businesses; not surprisingly, terrorists leave them alone in return.


Perhaps we need to let our own raging national terrors subside long enough to notice the enviable results of these other more peaceful nations. Perhaps we might reconsider adopting some of their social, economic and political approaches. Maybe we should reject all the clever, self-serving fear-based religious and political arguments we continually listen to, the ones that serve mostly to frighten us and separate us all further and further from one another. Maybe we need to spend more of our tax money lifting humanity out of poverty and racism, rather than wasting it on pushing distant cultures around and telling them how best to live their lives. Maybe instead of using bullets and bombs, we could create our own good example, for other nations, of what a compassionate and just democracy might look like.  


America will someday once again be a proud land of peace and equal opportunity for all, but only when we commit to working together in faith, hope and love—and not in fear—to find compassionate political solutions to all our challenges both at home and abroad.

Feeling Alone, Feeling Oneness – #7 Insights Series

Loneliness, one of mankind’s greatest problems, seems even more prevalent in the modern world than it used to be. In the midst of crowds, in the middle of a busy work life, in a teeming city, people still often feel alone, and then withdraw further to feel even more isolated in their separate living spaces.


Unfortunately, most modern cultures view humanity in the worst possible light, spreading the word that our fundamental reality is one of independent, separated beings struggling to survive and prevail, competing with one another for the fulfillment of our needs, defending ourselves and our self-images, fighting for our rights and our dreams. What perspective could be lonelier than that?


Yet all of nature and science and spirituality and religion cry out together in unison that our lonely sense of ourselves as separated, independent beings is complete nonsense, an illusion.


Look at nature. Nothing is independent in nature. Not one thing. Everything is dependent upon everything else for life, every single second. We couldn’t live a minute without the earth’s air and the sun's energy, nor a week without food and water. We count on the web of life for everything. Even in modern society, we rely on those who came before us, those who are living now–near or far–and those who come after us, for everything of value in our lives. And they all rely on us in return.


Every year at springtime, without fail, an apparently dying nature renews itself in a bubbling, burgeoning blossoming of rebirth.


So in what way are any of us doomed and separate beings, except in our culturally-programmed imaginations?


The healthiest, happiest perspective we can have (and also the most scientifically and socially sane one) is to see our fundamental reality, our identity, not as separate beings who struggle to survive and then die, but rather as unique and necessary aspects of a unified whole which never ends and never dies.


It’s a difficult “self” to grasp at first, and then to accept, and finally to live in accordance with. But it’s the only identity that recognizes, from somewhere deep within, the truth that “we are the world; we are the children.”


We can embrace this perspective by letting go of our resistance to ourselves, to one another and to the-world-as-it-is. We can’t feel the truth of our oneness when we are busy judging and picking on ourselves, or others. We cannot know our undivided self when we are holding it at arm’s length.


We can start loving and appreciating others and the world when we stop resisting ourselves. When we learn to be easier on ourselves, we’ll learn to see others, this earth and the universe without all the defensive negative coloration we paint over it, but instead, just as we all really are, just as the world really is, wonderful and completely amazing, just exactly as it was made and meant to be by its creator.


Right now, however, we see ourselves and all-that-is in the worst possible light.


But the “evil” world we see “out there” isn’t really out there at all. What we’re seeing out there is rather, what’s “in here.” The worlds we see are just our unhappy projections, our reflections of what we think we are, at our worst.


What if I could genuinely believe that I am fundamentally and forever safe, loving and lovable, powerful, and good, despite the mistakes I've made and will make? I would find it much easier to see others, both strangers and those I know, the same way.


Unfortunately, most of us have been brought up to see ourselves as messed-up—some might call us “sinners”—struggling, hopeless, frustrated, at least a little crazy, and a lot mean and angry.


And to be sure, we are still learning, still making a lot of mistakes, still feeling confused. But that doesn’t change the eternal and essential truth about ourselves—that on the most permanent, basic—and real—level, on the spiritual level, we are exactly as we were created to be, forever safe, lovable and loving, powerful and good.


The only thing that ever stops us from being happy on this earth, in peaceful oneness with one another and all of nature, is our resistance to accepting ourselves and others, and the world, just exactly as it is, and as we are. God is quite up to handling everything else in his own mysterious ways.


Now why is that so hard?


It’s hard because we have carefully built up, brick-by-brick, a hard-and-fast idea of who we are as human beings that is quite different from God's universally lovable and beloved creation 


To be sure, we've left within the nasty and sweeping identity we've hung upon humanity, one teensy comforting little clause, a convenient “out” just for ourselves (and maybe a few others we like,) one we can take out and look at whenever we need some reassurance: this caveat is that we are the lucky exceptions to the rule. It's all the rest of the people on earth who are the messed-up problem. Then we hurry to make every possible effort to shore up our confidence in our own specialness by defensively walling out most of the world, and walling ourselves “safely” in within God’s in-crowd. 


Unfortunately, such an isolationist identity, however dressed-up and fancy, is nothing more than a momentarily comforting fairy tale, all about how much better we are than everyone else, how much more deserving, how much smarter, how much less guilty, how fundamentally…different.


The bad thing is, though, we can see right through it. We can’t really buy into this temporarily reassuring illusion, not really. We just don’t believe in it. Oh, we want to believe it, all right, because we’d feel a lot safer if we thought that we really were basically different from everyone else. But in our deepest hearts, we know the truth, which is that we, uh, may, well, actually be, er, like, uh, human. Sort of, well, like, you know (gulp) all the rest.


Which scares the bejesus out of us.


It is such a relief to just let go of everything we’ve stored up against ourselves and everyone else, and live freely in the present moment, as both a giver and receiver in the great cycle of dependencies and exchanges which is our most fundamental nature, our truest reality. It is such a relief to stop worrying about distinctions and differences, and about human mistakes. So what, if some of us have been lucky enough to have learned more than others, if some are currently “ahead,” and others “behind,” in understanding? We’ll all eventually be given all the time and help we need to learn whatever it is we need to learn…. How else would a just and loving God operate?


When we use the present moment simply to give all we can and to take what we’re given, we can all just relax….


Happy lives are not about discriminating and selecting among those aspects of society we might want to associate with. We can start seeing ourselves and all others differently, learn to love ourselves and all others, give to all, enjoy all, embrace all. And as we learn to accept and appreciate ourselves and all others, there is no doubt we’ll be loved in return.


How lonely is that?




Stressed, Tired? Overworked? Hate Working?

Some lucky people just love their work. Or they always seem to love to work. Not me. I used to greatly resent the long hours I spent earning a living almost as much as I resisted my long daily list of “Things I Have To Do.”


It's not that I'm lazy. I just always thought that working interfered with getting on with my life, learning, and doing what I was supposed to be doing. Now I know that work usually offers just exactly the particular living, lessons, and opportunities I need. And now, more often, I enjoy all the kinds of work I do.  


Caveat: I’m now more often able to do work that appeals to me, but I haven’t always been so fortunate.


Here’s what I’ve learned about work that has helped me move from (generally) resenting and resisting it, to enjoying it:


I’ve learned that putting “work” and “play” into two opposing mental categories (play = good, work = bad) doesn’t reflect reality very well, because so-called “work” can often be very involving, and so-called fun/leisure activities can be quite boring. It all depends on where you're coming from, mentally, as you do the activity.


Marketers have pushed hard to convince us of this imaginary dichotomy (work = bad, fun = good) in order to sell us their long list of “leisure” goods and pastimes, such as tourism, food and drink, hobbies, toys and so on. Eventually, consumers started accepting as truth the notion that work is something anyone should want to escape from (to a car! to the boat! to the islands! to drink a Coke!) The idea of working in a cubicle all day started to seem pretty tough after a lifetime of exposure to a barrage of anti-work commercials advocating instant getaways–even though in actuality, cubicles are designed for concentration and privacy and personal creativity, and working in one might just possibly offer something far more interesting than a possibly dull day spent lying on a dock tanning somewhere. It all depends on how you're conditioned to look at it.


Some people love gardening (for instance) and spend all their leisure time at it. Others hate it but spend just as much time at it, because it's their job. Both people do the same activities, but because they're coming from different places mentally, gardening is fun to one and work to the other.


Mark Twain once attempted to define work as “what a body has to do,” which definition accurately distinguished work from play by focusing solely on where the do-er is coming from. If s/he is coming from a feeling of duty and responsibility, no matter the activity, it becomes “work.” If s/he feels at choice, if the activity feels optional,  the activity becomes play, rest, or relaxation.


From a long-term perspective, everyone is always at choice all the time, in everything we do. No one has to do anything at all. On any given day, we can choose to just up and quit and kind of fade away, or die. All we do, all our lives, is make choices, about when and how to die, and about how to spend all the hours we choose to live, in between being born and dying.


We need do nothing. Sudden illnesses and accidents prove this frequently, as presidents and slaves take to their beds and the world still goes on. Consider the lilies of the field: they neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed as one of these. 


However, most people have pretty big life-agendas, so most people stay busy.


My husband once pointed out to me that my long list of “Things I Have To Do Today” was in reality a list of all the things I very much wanted to do. Say what?! Like, I want to mow the lawn? Clean the toilet? Pick up the dry cleaning? Yet if someone put a gun to my head and told me that, from now on, I could no longer have clean clothes or bathrooms or a tidy-looking lawn, I’d freak. I want those things in my life. (Actually, someday I’d rather have something more ecologically-sound surrounding me than a lawn, but that’s another story….)


What if someone somewhere suddenly walked into my life and prevented me from taking care of my family or friends or possessions, from working, or learning, or exercising, or making any of the myriad choices I currently indulge in as I decide how to spend the few precious hours that make up my life? I’d be pretty mad, despite the fact that he would have effectively relieved me of my daily task list….


Last week our local YMCA closed for cleaning. I fretted and whined all week about not being allowed to do my usual workout routine. Hmmm. Usually I complain all week about having to do my usual workout routine. What is fun and what is work depends entirely on where I'm coming from at the moment.


Like everyone else, I occasionally get hyper about not doing more of the things on my life list of “Things I Want to Do Before I Die.” But such suffering is mild compared with what I endure when I forget that all the things on my daily “to do” list aren’t merely odious duties and responsibilities that I must somehow grit my teeth and hold my nose and get nobly past; they are exactly the very things I’ve chosen to do, from among all the options I’m currently aware of having, that I most want done.


Maybe it would be nice to be wildly wealthy and pay for lots of others to do more of my work. But then I’d have to expend a lot of time and energy managing their help and my money, and I don’t much relish those tasks either. Besides, if the lessons I most need to learn as an individual involve being wealthy, God will help me get there. And until then, he'll have other lessons for me to learn, in other ways….


Where we “come from,” mentally and emotionally, as we’re doing work, whatever the tasks, is what makes all the difference. I’ve happily retitled all my daily lists to reflect their more appropriate and accurate reality: now they’re “Things I Want To Do Today,” instead of “Things I Have To Do Today” lists. I work hard to remember, these days, to shift my mind from “I have to” or “I need to” or “I must,” to “I want to.”


Along these same lines, whenever my list is long (and it always is) but my schedule flexible (true more often these days than in the past) I’ve learned to ask, given a moment of transition from one task to another, “What do I want to do next?” instead of “What do I have to do next?” The results of this tiny little shift really knocked me out at first. I could hardly believe what a difference this small distinction makes, and I certainly didn’t know the power of this shift until I tried it.


To my great surprise, I found that whenever I genuinely asked that question—“What do I want to do next?”—and took a moment to listen/wait for the answer, I always found that the answer was already on my mental list of things I “needed” to do. Surprising. And amazing. Because I had always thought that if I asked such a question honestly, my subconscious mind would leap to answer me with “lie on a Hawaiian beach!” or “take a trailride down a mountainside!” or some such. But no. Not at all.


Checking out what I want to do before I begin the next activity always makes the next, “chosen” task much more fun, and certainly lighter. Furthermore, when I get an answer and follow up on it, I often find out that my new day's re-ordered schedule is much more efficient than my merely logical brain could ever have designed. My inspirations are always much cleverer than I am.


A related insight about work came to me not long ago while I was pondering the traditional meanings of a religious term, “God’s will.”


I used to think that whatever God’s will for me was, it must be something completely different than my own will for me. Probably, in fact, God’s will for me was in direct opposition to my own, me being a miserable sinner and all, with all kinds of disgusting impulses, and him being perfect. Surely our wills would be in complete opposition, considering the devil whispering in my ear and all. God’s will, as I imagined it, had to be something harder, different, and more self-sacrificial than any of my own very-dear-to-my-heart, most-secret wishes. Doubtless, I thought, God wants me to give all that stuff up, give everything I have to the poor, and come follow him to Africa or somewhere, leaving all I love behind.


So of course, for a long time, I resisted even asking God The Question (“What is your will for me?”) Being pretty willful already, well, I had plans, and didn’t need anyone adding to my list or crossing out my stuff, particularly not God. I was quite confident that none of his answers would agree with any of mine anyway, so I just didn't ask, hoping he wouldn't notice my modest  omission.


Surprise. When I finally did work up the guts to actually ask the question (and now I do it more often, day-to-day, and sometimes even moment-to-moment) I always get the same answer. God wants me to be happy. And he wants me to share my happiness with others. That's it.


And the specifics? He helps me with those, too. To my utter amazement and astonishment, I’ve learned that God’s will for me, whether over the long term, or from day to day, is always exactly whatever, on the deepest and highest level, I most want for me, too, at that time. He wants me to do, right now, whatever it is I most want to do right now. Sometimes what I really want to do is so perfect I've reppressed it, but God always dredges it up for me. S/he  just works that way, better than magic.


The specific work God recommends of course varies from time to time (and no, I don’t hear voices)—but on the most general level, his will and my will are always the same–to do something, in some small way, that is caring, accepting, supportive, kind, useful. That's the only thing that ever makes me happy, or anyone else, for that matter. And I do so want to be happy.


Mother Theresa once said there are no great acts of love, only small acts of great love.


Often the urge to “do something helpful” takes the form of caring gently for myself. Hey, I’m God’s beloved child too, even though I sometimes forget that. More often, I’m prompted to continue my efforts for others in some small way. All I ever need to do is to remember to ask the question/s—either one of them—“What do I want to do now?” and/or “What is your will for me?” because when I do, I am lifted back into my overriding purpose, and am more able to hold it in the back of my mind as I work or play or whatever you want to call it, feeling well-supported in my task, and receiving the help I need to get that task accomplished peacefully and well.


Staying in the present moment helps a lot too, especially when the present task seems daunting.


In the past, no matter what activity I was engaged in, I spent a lot of time fussing that I really should be doing something else. When I rushed through my half-assed approach to mowing the lawn, I would fret that I hadn’t yet had time to read the newspaper and keep up with current events. Later, as I hurriedly scanned the paper, I worried about doing the laundry. Hastily sorting the laundry, I entertained nagging doubts about not getting in my workout. Yet, running down the road later, I obsessed about neglecting my husband. Alone with him at last, I found myself pining for time to myself, but when I was finally alone, I felt lonely and anti-social and wondered if my life was too self-absorbed. So I’d volunteer, and spend my volunteer hours mulling about not having time left over to use my talents or have a creative life….


And so on and on, in a stupid endless cycle of never being here and now, never living in the present, but always focusing on how I hadn't been or done “enough” in the past, or else hurrying to have, do or be “more” in the future. Funny, but no one ever worries or frets about anything when they’re focused on their work in the present–only when they’re mulling about, in the past and future, which don’t even exist….


In the past, as I rushed to finish the items on my “Have To Do” lists, I often dismissed any possibility of doing anything as well as I could. I mean, why even try, with so many limitations, with so little time and energy to put into any given task, and so many other things to worry about? After all, I reasoned, the results of giving “my best effort” in such a constrained situation would only be embarrassing. So I wouldn't even try. And thus I rarely earned the very real satisfaction that comes with a job well-done, along with its many other rewards. 


I've since learned that, even given only a few minutes, one can do one’s best, strive for excellence, focus on one task at a time, stay fully present, pay full attention to each detail, and work hard to appreciate and accept “what is” in that moment. 


Alternatively, one can spend those same few minutes rushing around and fretting. In both these instances, the results and the experience of working for those two minutes are totally different. The difference lies always in where I'm coming from–what purpose I’ve given myself, my atttitude toward excellence, and whether or not I recognize that I'm doing something I want to do–or not.


I still often fall into these foolish work patterns (old habits die hard) but I’m also gradually retraining my brain to recall and apply my new insights more often, as new challenges arise.


I’m also finally learning to “chip away” at goals or tasks, to take very small steps, and to be persistent in sticking with each of them.


Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by all that I want to do (and even when I recognize that I’m the one who’s chosen to do all this stuff) I'll somehow manage to remember to mentally push away the whole big (scary) picture—the long impossibly hard list of undone things—and instead select and focus on just one small piece of one thing, and start “chipping away” at it. When I totally focus on that one small step, staying in the present, paying attention to detail, doing the best job I’m capable of doing at that moment (which is, admittedly, sometimes crap, but then, sometimes crap is my best), then I can accept and appreciate my own small contributions, whatever they are, along with my own fallibility and mistakes, and keep on chipping away at the next task.


I’m also getting better about not rushing, pushing or hurrying through work, although I still try to work efficiently and quickly. Again, the differences between these two approaches may seem like very fine distinctions, but the two are really quite different. Again, it’s just a matter of “coming from” a different place, mentally.


Whenever I hurry/rush/push, I just feel bad, because each of these words imply negative self-judgments (“You’re not good enough! You’re moving too slowly! You ought to think faster!” etc.) On the other hand, working quickly or efficiently has the different, more positive connotation of focusing firmly upon effecting my task well, without stress or carelessness. I can work quickly and still attend thoughtfully to the task at hand—something I cannot do when I’m rushing past the present moment toward some vague future urgency.


I learned another helpful work-related tip when training for a marathon: the process of getting there, of doing the actual work itself, that leads up to the goal, is almost always far more satisfying than the final achievement of the goal itself. True, I loved the day of the marathon; it was fun, exciting, exhilarating. But when I looked back afterward, what I really loved most of all was the training, all the good and bad and in-between workouts I got through during the months leading up to the marathon.


So—as all the wise sages know and express, but as I somehow was very slow to “get” on any personal level for such a long time–happiness is not something you find at the end of a journey, but rather, contained within the journey itself. Of course it’s fun to achieve success, but after a brief moment or a day or at most a week of exhilaration, such happiness wears off, and you just move on to the next challenge. Nearly all the fun, all the meaning, the involvement, all the interest lies in the long trip itself, not in the destination. So nowadays, once I’ve decided on a goal, I let go of it, stop thinking about it, and instead focus my attention on chipping away at that day’s or that moment’s work.


Another other good thing I've learned about a steady focus on “process” (rather than on the end-point) is that the final product, the result, usually turns out to be better too….


From my husband's example, I've learned that persistence in the face of huge challenges and overwhelming obstacles is not necessarily, as I was raised to believe, a foolish consistency–something maddening and frustrating, to be avoided at all costs. Difficulties had always been signals for me that, whatever my chosen task, it was now clear that it was inappropriate from the start, and so was no longer worth pursuing.




My husband loves challenges. When he gets one, he lowers his head threateningly, snorts loudly, bellows, and paws the ground thunderously with a glint of fierce joy in his eyes (well, metaphorically speaking, anyway.) He loves it when someone tells him he can’t do something. It makes him laugh. His whole body visibly shifts, readying for action. He loves it when a task is impossible, because for him, impossible takes just a little longer. Challenges energize and focus him, probably because his past persistence has been so well-reinforced by his past successes (and yes, he’s had some failures too, has had to finally give up a time or two, too.) But overall, the harder and more challenging the work, the more he enjoys it. All this came as an amazing revelation to me who grew up with the attitude that if something was difficult, obviously I had picked the wrong task for my talents, and needed to drop it and choose something else to do.


My husband has also taught me by example that a good way to work harmoniously with others is to work hard to make them successful, and also, to help them with what is most important to them (which, to my surprise, is not the same for everyone, and rarely what I would want most, but instead, varies greatly from person to person.) Observing his experience with this, I’ve noticed that most of the many people he has taken the time to understand, help, and support, later have come through for him when he needed them the most.


He’s also taught me something about myself that is probably generalizable to most people—that I’m happiest when I stay busy. I used to rush through my long lists of tasks in order to get a moment to relax and escape from them (and I still enjoy napping and reading.) But for the most part, these days, I try to stay busy and productive. I find staying busy works best all around for me in a lot of different ways.


I'm also learning not to worry about what I leave undone. Even when I try my best to follow all the above “rules,” some important things just don’t get done. But a lot of other things do. And I’m learning to be OK with that kind of imperfect result. Because the depressing fact is, well, ummm, I’m human. (How embarassing.) Which means I’ll never do anything perfectly or to my complete satisfaction, and that’s OK, as long as I know I did my (often meager) best at the time (an important condition!) To err is human (to my surprise), and I’ve recently decided to humbly give up the good fight and join the human race. Learning to be more accepting of others’ imperfections has helped me become a lot easier on myself.


Regular exercise is never selfish. In fact, it’s the most unselfish way you can spend time in your life, along with ingesting wisely, getting a good night’s sleep, and prayer—because you are more able to help both others and yourself when you feel good.


The most tiring thing in the world is the stress of constant judgment, whether it’s directed toward yourself or toward others. Whenever I'm feeling very resistant—about myself, others, or the way the world is, no matter how routine my work of the moment may be, I'm soon exhausted. So one key to peace of mind and relaxation at work (and at play, if I must continue to make such distinctions) is to find new ways to let go of my resistance to others, to myself, and to the way things are in this best of all possible worlds. When I can find my acceptance again, I always return to every task with renewed appreciation for it and for everything and everyone, including myself.


Here’s what else I’ve learned about feeling tired when working: I rest or do something else, briefly, when I can, or at least take a moment to take three long deep slow breaths. I also try to avoid rushing through the present moment in my hurry to get to anticipated rest/reward/relaxation/escape, or to different tasks. Mr. Tortoise was right. Mr. Hare was wrong, remember? He collapsed in exhaustion and never got the job done? A steady work pace offers me a much more productive and peaceful routine than rushing-and-resting-and-rushing-and-resting.


I enjoy my life so much more these days as I’ve gained control over my various addictions. Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, drugs, and food addictions gradually increase body tension and inevitably work against anyone's ability to enjoy work.


Transitions between tasks often challenge me. I'm too tempted to want to hold onto the excitement of my last accomplishment. Although it's always wise to step back and admire my own small achievements and pat myself on the back before moving on, I mostly need to keep moving on. I read somewhere recently that someone has a computer screensaver that says, “What’s Next???” in bold letters. Whoever he is, he has learned to keep on moving, to go on and take the next step, no matter how small. The present always holds new gifts, very different from the gifts of the past. (That’s why they call it “the present….”)


Whenever I’m working, it helps me to remember what the purpose of all my busy-ness is. What is my overriding goal in life, in general, as well as my goal for each specific task I do? The only goal that will ever be satisfying to me or to anyone is always the same one, although it has many faces and many names. Some call it God, others call it peace or truth. Sometimes it’s called service, or kindness, or love, or healing, or joy, or oneness or giving. All are exactly the same goal, shining in all its many different facets. Whenever I’m clear about my purpose as I begin each task, that task goes well and easily. Whenever I lose sight of my goal, or have some other goal in mind, then things don’t go so well.


And what if my current task seems somehow beneath me, unworthy, uninteresting, or radically different from what I would prefer to be doing?


Our culture puts a lot of importance on choice in career, vocation, avocation, i.e., in what we spend our time doing. And since we change a lot as we grow older, and learn more about ourselves, and for all the other reasons it’s so hard to change directions in life, we often feel stuck in work that doesn’t feel right for us.


It is indeed a wonderful thing to be able to do what your heart is pulling you toward. But when I feel I can’t choose that for now, when I feel compelled to work at something which isn’t anywhere near my first choice of activities, I can always make it more interesting, more worthwhile, and more involving by investing my love and time and best efforts and attitudes in it.


My favorite example of this approach is the very nice plumpish lady who runs the bus station in our town. When I first entered her mostly-empty station, I thought about how I’d hate such a boring, scary sort of job. But each time I go there, she is so efficient and kind, so courteous and warm to the regulars who come and go, so helpful and thoughtful with each newly confused customer…. The whole place simply shines with her attention. Her beautiful plants adorn each sunny window. She does her job as well as anyone could do it, and she enjoys her day because she extends her quiet, unassuming and gentle kind of love and intelligence and effort to every person who walks in the door. Since she recently (uncomplainingly) lost a leg to diabetes, she has found new resourceful ways to make the necessary adaptations to continue her cheerful work.


We’re given the tasks before us for a reason. It’s impossible to be in the wrong place or at the wrong time, for the universe always offers us exactly the lessons we need to learn right now (and when we don’t use the present opportunity to learn them, well then, the universe will offer them to us again, and soon, in another form. So we might as well get on with it.)


I try to remember to jump in when something not-my-favorite just has to get done. I try to use the moment to learn, grow, and do my best no matter what it is I have before me, trusting that other doors will open, and other challenges will appear after I’ve learned to do this job well. What I’m doing right now is what I most need to be doing, as long as I’m doing it the best I can. I cannot be but in the right place at the right time. There are no accidents.


It also helps to remind myself that I’m not punching a temporal time-clock anymore. With my newfound perspective of having all of eternity to get things right (however “eternity” may look—no one knows) these days I relax more, feel less rushed and hurried. (But I’d still rather learn to be happy sooner, and to share my happiness sooner, so I still try to get on with it.)


It’s also relaxing to remember that mistakes are OK with God, and with everyone else too, no matter what others say or act like, because they've made them too, and will make more of them. And the higher up the career ladder they go, the bigger their new mistakes will be, and the more they'll make. Messing up big-time is what being human is all about—that, and learning from our mistakes, and moving on to our next (usually harder) lessons. I see nothing in nature or in the nature of God (although I see much in formal religion) that condemns anyone for their mistakes, and I see great rewards inherent in learning from them, and moving on.


I’m dearly loved by God exactly as I am. He made me exactly as I am because that’s the way he meant for me to be—fallible. As the saying goes, God don’t make no junk. With this eternal—and eternally “forgiven”—perspective in mind, I’m much less likely to rush around trying to make up for my far-less-than-perfect past or worry about some vague future. If it’s enough for God that I relax and focus on the task at hand, it’s enough for me, too.


God never ever gives up on anyone. The life he gives us is about just-keep-on-truckin’, and he gives us all the time and help we'll need (if we ask him) to do whatever he wants us to do. God never goes away mad, although we often do. He just keeps on waiting around until we come back around to him.


My family teases me because I've always been one to keep on making (and raving on and on about) all these great astounding new spiritual discoveries that revolutionize my life—but really, they’re always just the same old rehashed ones, reappearing over and over in different guises. It’s just that I forget about them for awhile, and then I get excited about them when they come up again, all reinforced and seemingly brand shiny-new. God has been so very patient with my comings and goings.


I sometimes think dogs are the special creation that God gave us, to teach us what unconditional love really means. God always greets me upon my return to him in just the same way my darling joyous little spaniel Tally greets me when I come home–even when I’ve just stepped on his tail coming hurriedly in the door, and oops, I forgot to feed him, and drat, I’m late, so he’s suffered the indignity and disgrace of having to pee on the floor. What the hell, he says, hey, you’re the greatest! Wow! I sure love you! YAY you’re HOME! With God and his children, it’s always all about “what’s next?” and never about whatever happened before we came home again.


Trying to use your special talents if you can (and we all have some) is always a good idea. What are they? They’re all those abilities you’ve always taken for granted, all the abilities you devalued, the ones you were certain couldn’t be all that wonderful because they were always somehow just there, without much effort on your part. People always told you that you were good at them, and to be sure, most other people weren’t so often good at them. All those overlooked  and under-appreciated gifts you tended to denigrate and blow off? Yes, them. They're your talents. You have them.


Whenever I’ve developed and used my talents in service to some small slice of humanity, in some small way, it has always been so very satisfying. My gifts were given me for a very special (often unfathomable) reason. So were yours. And someday, looking back, we'll both know why.


On the other hand, no one, ever, ever (ever) who ever achieved anything remarkable, whether it be in a career or in any other field of endeavor–whether the work involved special talents or no particular aptitude at all–no one has ever achieved any level of success without a whole lot of struggle, many difficult tradeoffs, very long hours, and a lot of hard hard work. Just because a person has talent, just because they have a real interest, or really really want to do or be or have something, or just because they’re a whiz-kid and a natural wunderkind, doesn’t mean they still won’t have to overcome incredible challenges to reach success in their chosen field or in their chosen goals. This applies to whatever anyone wants most, whether it’s a successful marriage, a career, a lifestyle, an education, spiritual growth, whatever. A lot of life is about tradeoffs, and we'll someday know what was important to us, when we look back at our lives and see where we put our time….


Similarly, just because something apparently costs me an unreasonable number of hours or days or years of struggle to achieve, doesn’t mean I’ve chosen the wrong goal or career, or whatever. It only means that I am toughing through all the necessary work it takes to grow into an ever-more useful and happy person, meeting challenges, enduring a thousand failures and mistakes and kicks in the face—just like all the great leaders who have ever lived. Study Lincoln sometime if you want to read a long history of disastrous and heartbreaking failures, right up until the time he became President (and sadly, even after that.) Our greatest leaders aren't perfect. What they are is willing.


I’m trying to learn to persevere, for when I do, I find plenty of opportunities for renewed humility and the new wisdom that accompanies each temporary setback, along with the reinforcement that comes with renewed purpose and commitment. Perseverence through difficulties will help me become that much more productive and effective and useful and marketable than I ever was before. God never closes a door without opening a window.


I haven’t yet learned to apply all this stuff consistently, or in all situations, and I never will (at least not in this lifetime….) But I'm chipping away at it, and am much enjoying this joyous and rewarding lifetime process. I’ve come a long way toward becoming a happier, more productive, and less stressed-out worker.


This particular missive, howevr, has gone on way too long, and I've missed my workout and I'm late in making dinner and I'm stressed out and tired.


But happy. So herein endeth my tale.



How to Polish Up America's Image Abroad

When I was a child, living in Tokyo after the war as part of the American occupation army, we took every opportunity to visit Japanese shrines, gardens, and teahouses, to learn to play Japanese games, sing their songs, speak their language, to watch traditional kabuki plays and join in national celebrations such as Boys Day, cherry-blossom viewing, and fireworks on New Year’s Eve.


Despite the fact that we were no doubt perceived as representatives of a conquering nation by everyday Japanese folk, who must have seen us as responsible for their currently grave economic depression, the destruction of their cities, and the humbling of their leaders, nevertheless, our family’s irrepressible enthusiasm, respect for and interest in Japanese culture was gradually reciprocated by our neighbors’ gentle curiosity about our own “odd” customs—our funny Indian-and-Pilgrim Thanksgiving celebrations, our ghost-and-scarecrow Halloweens, our mysteriously compulsive habit of singing off-key Christmas carols at the tops of our lungs all over our neighborhood at Christmastime….


America’s best chance for gaining international respect and understanding will be to increase our own respect and understanding for all other cultures—for their histories, values, traditions, customs, styles, religions, concerns and problems, and their political and economic approaches and ways of life—through more extensive teaching of all forms of acceptance at all levels of schooling—and through more Americans (perhaps our most  influential cultural leaders, such as Limbaugh, Robertson, and Cheney?) traveling to other countries, living with ordinary folk, listening, learning, asking questions, opening their hearts, and marching in solidarity with them at their own sad national commemorations of tragic losses stemming from political violence of all kinds, whether terrorism, assassinations, espionage, or war.


Furthermore, since we already direct a lot of tax money toward other countries (but always for U.S. goals) why don't we find out from global citizens (not governments) what's uniquely most important to their countries (projects, problems, goals…) and give generously toward those projects?


Only when we’re willing to polish up both our image and our reality as a country that is respectful, appreciative and generously supportive of the unique cultures, values and concerns of other nations, then (and only then) will we have some hope for an image abroad as an informed, compassionate nation worthy of the interest, compassion and support of others.


Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Treat others as you want them to treat you. This golden rule is the only basis for any relationship—whether personal or international—that ever works.

Hurricane Katrina – A Convenient Scapegoat Arrives Just in Time to Rescue President Bush

I’m frustrated. And not just by the tragedy that past political indifference has exacerbated in New Orleans, or by the obvious fact that the U.S. is as ill-prepared for serious trouble at home as it is anywhere else in the world, or even by the fact that–well before Katrina–the U.S. economy was, if not on the verge of disaster from gross mismanagement, then at best, going to hell in a hand basket.


I’m frustrated because I thought all of President Bush’s chickens were finally coming home to roost.


All that money his Republican cronies made off of 9/11 fears, all the profligate sums paid into their friendly war machine’s gaping, indiscriminate maw—on technology and bodyguards and spying and weapons and occupations and war and all the other security approaches that shore up every engine of war profitability and make us all less secure, all that expensive marching off to all corners of the earth to push people around and tell them what to do—I thought all that bad business had finally caught up with them.


They’ve soaked the poor and given gobs to the rich. They’ve neglected the environment. They’ve failed to create good jobs. They’ve exacerbated the energy crisis. They’ve propped up favored industries and neglected others. They’ve endangered our economy by irritating people all over the world, who finally wearily resist buying American whenever they can, and take their vacations elsewhere.


For once, I thought, all their stupid policies were going to land squarely on their own doorstep.


Then along came Hurricane Katrina.


And now all of sudden, none of it is anybody’s fault. Our administration’s hands are tied—by Katrina.


Without a doubt, Katrina has added immeasurably to the many enormous problems that the U.S. already had before the storm turned her wrathful face upon our citizens.


But along with her destruction, Katrina has provided President Bush and his Republican pals the perfect blanket excuse for every failure that was about to be firmly laid to their door.


The budget deficit? Unimaginable government overspending? Blame it on Katrina.


Our ill-conceived war going badly? Sorry—must divert our efforts to Katrina


Dysfunctional international relationships? Too distracted by Katrina.


Health care collapsing? Gotta spend the money on Katrina.


Lack of energy reform and high heating oil and rising gas prices everywhere? Katrina.


Global environmental catastrophes and dangers at every hand? Katrina.


Crumbling national infrastructure? Katrina.


Underfunded education? Katrina.


Terrorism? WMDs and weapons proliferation? Katrina. (Say what?!)


Stock market tumbling, real estate buckling, economy faltering? Katrina.


For years, the Republican administration has neglected domestic problems and aggravated international ones. Now it’s too late to do anything about any of them.


Because, you know. Nature’s power and unpredictability and all that. Shrug shrug. Wink wink. Because…. You know.  



Fire and Rain and Answered Prayers

The morning after our house burned down three years ago, we sat in stunned silence, taking in the wreckage and work that lay ahead. In a weak attempt to cheer everyone up, I joked, “I’d better watch out what I pray for, because my prayers are powerful, and I’m afraid I’ve been praying for more excitement, and more time with my family….”


As our losses faded with time and our lives returned to our various versions of normal, my feeble “night-before-the-fire-prayer” attempt at humor has become family lore, growing to include (retroactively) pleas for time off work, for new stuff, stronger muscles, weight loss, unique topics of conversation, time in nature, novel experiences, interesting stories to tell my future grandchildren, new learning, and more patience…. And yes, I received all that.


The chaos and tragedy on the Gulf Coast can be in no way compared with our relatively tiny little personal loss (no one was hurt, we were insured and financially secure, our neighborhood, jobs and support systems were intact.) Hurricane Katrina’s suffering victims have endured the irremediable and irreparable tragic losses of loved ones—family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Many have been injured, and most have lost all they ever worked for, and must begin rebuilding again from nothing. Many lost their jobs and their livelihoods, all their social support, the towns they grew up in, everything they might once have fallen back on. Everything, in fact, except God.


What prayers, the night before such a devastating storm, could possibly have been answered by Hurricane Katrina?


I’ll give it a try.


Dear God,


Help me to appreciate my family, friends, and neighbors, my faith, my character, my education, my memories, and my two strong hands. Help me appreciate all that I have—my home, my possessions, my comforts, my pleasures.


Help me to see with new eyes the good in people, and to remember that the highest value is the value of human life everywhere. Help me to focus on helping, not hurting, and to learn to give as freely as I have received. Help me see clearly that mankind is one family, that we are all neighbors, that we are all, in fact, one, completely dependent upon one another.


Help me to drop my childish barriers toward differences in education, social classes, races, colors, religions, and nationalities, and to see only the face of God in everyone, especially those in need. Help me to support a proud, reliable, world-class American disaster-relief system available anywhere in the world, at a moment’s notice. Help my country avoid adding to the sum of human misery by turning forever away from war and every other form of political violence. Help me to work to build a wiser global energy future, and international and domestic harmony.


Help me become part of creating an exemplary, environmentally-inspired American Gulf Coast, and a safe, modern, compassionate New Orleans retaining all her unique greatness, spirit and traditions.


Help me remember that it’s always darkest before the dawn, to look for silver linings in dark clouds, and to accept that the Lord works in mysterious ways.


Help me to remember that you are my strength, my hope, my ever-present help in times of trouble. You maketh me to lie down in green pastures, you leadeth me beside the still waters, you restoreth my soul. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.