Thursday, December 30, 2010

RECLAIMING WONDER - A New Years Resolution

I believe I'm surrounded by wonders great and small, all the time, wherever I am.

I understand that many of those miracles lie hidden to first glances.

I will open my spirit to wonder. My eyes, my ears, my heart will follow.

I will make time for awareness, curiosity and wonder.

I will turn off the television, put down the book and start looking, learning and living first-hand.

I will decide for myself what entertains me and, more importantly, what nourishes my soul.

I will notice and celebrate the power of presence.   

I will carefully examine the myth of certainty, and value learning more than knowing.

I will be more aware of the miracle of grace that resides around and within every person.

I will shine the light of my own spirit, and will give other people the chance to shine too.

I will try to experience everything as if it were for the first time.

I will approach each day with faith in Nature's instruction, and with gratitude for being Her lifelong pupil.

I will be patient, not just with Nature, but with myself, celebrating small steps in the right direction.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I've just enjoyed my second metro-crippling blizzard of this young winter of 2010-11. This one, billed as the blizzard of the decade, has just left cocksure Boston speechless.

It's been an opportunity for me to try on, once more, the baggy coat of acceptance, a garment whose fit depends on not its own but the wearer's measure.

I'd spent Christmas with my daughter and her family at the home of her in-laws in Maine. My flight home from Boston was scheduled to leave Monday afternoon. When I heard the storm was plowing its way up the coast, I decided to drive down Sunday and beat the monster.

I chose not to fear nor curse the uncertainty, but to look deeply into it, marveling at the darkness of so much white.

The strategy didn't work. By the time I hit Portland, I was right in the face of the blizzard. Crawling down I-95, I felt as much as steered my way through the whiteout, nudged by gusting crosswinds. The ghostly tail lights of the semi in front of me became my guide and my meditation. I chose not to fear nor curse the uncertainty, but to look deeply into it, marveling at the darkness of so much white.

Monday morning, safe at my daughter's home in Boston, my reverie lapsed into frustration when Delta told me they wouldn't rebook that afternoon's canceled flights until Thursday or Friday, even though I knew thousands of people would be taking off from Logan Tuesday. The bile of indignation welled in my throat when the agent implied that, by not being willing to consider an alternate airport for departure—like Philadelphia—I was being inflexible. I was getting angry and I didn't like it.

I swallowed hard, trying to unclench my right to be in control. I told the woman I realized this wasn't her fault and hung up. I considered whether this was any more a personal affront than the blizzard itself had been. I realized the situation simply was what it was, that, in fact, it was no more or less than exactly what it was meant to be. I made up my mind I would enjoy it.

I realized the situation was no more or less than exactly what it was meant to be.

With this conversion from combatant to observer, I found my fate curiously changed. My very next try—this time unencumbered by expectation—rewarded me with a new flight where none had been available just minutes before, a flight not on Thursday or Friday, but Wednesday.

What I could easily have seen as an ordeal, I've embraced as a bonus, an unexpected two-day extension of my Christmas vacation. I've marveled at the beauty of all this snow. Though my daughter's still in Maine, I've enjoyed spending time in her lovely home. I've bonded with Cleo, her cat. I've read, watched a good movie and slept late. I've walked her daily route into town and enjoyed a leisurely latte at her favorite coffee shop, sitting next to the display of her handcrafts on the wall. And I've discovered that an extended texting conversation with her, despite— or perhaps because of—the sparing choices of words and abbreviations, can be warm and witty.

And I've written this. This too is a wonderful gift, a gift that derives from nothing more than the way things fall and swirl, like so many exquisite snowflakes, in this matrix where intention, acceptance and possibility intersect.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I may be without a computer for a few days, so I want to wish all my visitors and loyal followers from all over the world—34 countries so far—the very best of this season. For us Christians, that means MERRY CHRISTMAS! (para mis hispanohablantes amigos, ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!) For all of us here in the northern hemisphere, it's (a couple of days ago) HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE! 

Whatever your celebration, may these days be kind to you, your families and your loved ones!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

SHOW & TELL – The Lost Art of Conversation

Remember Show & Tell from grade school? What a great way to give a kid the chance to be an expert at something. Apparently some people enjoyed it so much that it forever shaped their notion of social intercourse.

With all the get-togethers of the holiday season, you won't have to look far to find them. They're the ones still showing and telling, to the exclusion of looking and listening. It's easy to spot their "conversations;" just look for the asymmetrical body language: the talker fully engaged, perhaps leaning slightly into the effort; the "listener" turned slightly away, avoiding eye contact, inching ever-so-slightly backward. Notice the furtive glances, the barely believable excuses to get away.

Want to say something? Fine, as long as it's about me!

My wife and I refer to this as the "And You?" caper. Its perpetrators, many of whom, for their education and upbringing, should know better, seem to assume they're so interesting that no one else could possibly have anything to say. If not for curiosity, at least out of common courtesy, is it so hard to summon those two simple, gracious words of transition: "And you?"

Apparently it is, since, as we've found, this condition is extremely widespread. As long as you keep showing an interest in them, they'll keep showing and telling. And, though a few might occasionally let you interject an experience or opinion of your own, most are deft at swinging the focus right back around to where they
want it.

     I like to see if it might dawn on them that 
     I know all about them and they don't even 
     know where I'm from.

I feel sorry for the show-and-tellers of this world. The whole time they're wracking their brains for more of themselves to bestow on me, they're unable to take anything in. They miss what's going on around them. They miss the possibility that they might learn something from me, that we might share an interest or even become friends.

Some might say these folks are just being honest, that they're indeed simply not interested in me or anything I do. They don't have to be. But come on, don't take me prisoner! Maybe I'm not that interested in them either, but at least I'm giving them the chance to engage me. If they can't reciprocate, I wish they'd come up with their own lame excuse not to talk, instead of forcing me to do so.

      Oh, I'm sorry; I've been going on and on.

I'll admit it's condescending, but I've devised a couple of defenses against the more aggressive show-and-tellers. The first—surely the more compassionate—is to turn from enabler to observer. If they insist on showing and telling, by God I insist on looking and listening. I keep responding curtly, but I study their face, looking for those little cracks that reveal their insecurity.

I note the way they take a quick breath at the end of a sentence so I won't have time to interrupt their train of self-promoting thought. Then, after they've gotten used to the rhythm of my asking and their telling, I'll just stop priming the pump.

I just stand there in silence, sometimes for ten or fifteen seconds. I like to see if it might dawn on them that I know all about them and they don't even know where I'm from. It rarely does.

My other tactic is far more direct—perhaps more honest. I resort to it only when all else fails and I have nothing to lose. I feel bad afterward, but the satisfaction far outweighs the guilt. I wait for the slightest sign of interest in me. Nothing. I execute the pregnant pause technique; still they're unfazed. I try every dialect of body language.

If they're still pontificating I simply break in and say, "You don't have the slightest interest in me, do you?" Usually—and I take this as the ultimate confirmation of my assessment— the person walks away indignantly. After all, the only other option for a polite, caring person would be to ask me what I mean. And that, apparently, is not allowed in Show & Tell.

Oh, gosh, look at me; here I've been going on and on. What do you think?

"But enough about me. Let’s talk about you; what do you think about me?"FROM THE 1988 FILM, BEACHES – ADAPTED FROM THE NOVEL OF THE SAME NAME BY IRIS RAINER DART 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

 TIP #6
Just when you think you've seen something interesting, 
keep watching for another 30 seconds.

Photo by Artequa –

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ARE WE HAPPY YET? – Knowing How Much Is Enough

As the holidays approach, with their propensity for expectations and excess, do you sometimes yearn for a simpler life, one in which small miracles get noticed? One where your schedule leaves room for spontaneity? A life of humility and gratitude? This popular little parable about knowing happiness when you see it bears repeating:

An investment banker stood at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The banker complimented the fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The fisherman replied, “Only a little while.”

The banker asked him why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish.

The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The banker then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”

The investor scoffed, “I'm an Ivy League MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, and eventually you'd have a whole fleet of fishing boats.”

    Do you sometimes yearn for a simpler life, 
    one in which small miracles get noticed?

The investor continued, “And instead of selling your catch to a middleman you'd then sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You'd control the product, processing and distribution! You'd be able to leave this simple village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles and eventually New York City, where you'd run your expanding enterprise.”

The fisherman asked, “But how long will this all take?” to which the banker replied, “Perhaps 15 to 20 years.”

“But what then?” asked the fisherman.

The banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you'd announce an IPO, sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You'd make millions!”

“Millions. Okay, then what?” wondered the fisherman.

To which the investment banker replied, “Then you could afford to retire in style. You could move to a small coastal fishing village where you'd sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you'd sip wine and play guitar with your amigos.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

BLACK & WHITE – And Other Shades of Gray

One of my first college studio art assignments was to create an 8-inch by 8-inch paper collage, each of whose 64 one-by-one squares was black. The squares could actually be taken from any sheet source—paper, fabric, plastic or any other material—as long as each one was pure black.

I used all of these materials, including many samples taken from magazine photos of black objects: a car, a dress, a night sky, a piano.

With my grid lightly penciled in and my little squares neatly stacked, I started gluing them all down to the cardboard base.

     If you see anything as black or white—
     as purely one way or the other—you're not 
     looking carefully or thoughtfully enough.

What took shape was not a solid sheet of "black." Far from it. It was an elegant mosaic of deep, rich colors, each brought out only by its contrast with its neighbors. What might have seemed common black in its original, unchallenged environment now shone with distinct color: eggplant, mahogany, claret, midnight blue; deep woods green, ebony.

And it wasn't just the hues; a range of textures came into play too. Even the blackest value rendered on newsprint now looked dull and flat next to a sample printed on glossy magazine stock. A square of black muslin paled next to, of all things, a swatch of black plastic garbage bag.

The second part of the "Black & White" assignment was to do exactly the same thing with "whites." Suffice it to say the results were every bit as surprising and beautiful as those with the "blacks."

       I'd already learned that truth comes only 
       in shades of gray; now I was thinking, if 
       only it were that simple.

This project left an indelible impression on me. It reinforced my nascent understanding that, at least in terms of color, everything is relative. It illustrated what we'd been learning about color theory, specifically that perfect white comprises all colors, while perfect black is the absence of color. And that any but the truest black owes its hue to some color it's not absorbing, while shades of white fail to reflect all colors.

On a more philosophical level, the exercise reminded me that there are no absolutes. I'd already learned that truth comes only in shades of gray; now I was thinking if only it were that simple.

In life, as in art, things you might think plain at first prove to be rich with nuanced beauty and meaning. If you see anything as black or white—as purely one way or the other—you're not looking carefully or thoughtfully enough. For the fact is, in triumph or defeat, in health or disease, in agony or ecstasy, there always exist undertones of the opposite.

Isn't this what makes life so interesting? Do you find, as I do, something reassuring and hopeful about it? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

(For a fascinating look at subtle distinctions of color, check out this fantastic color visualization tool)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

 TIP #89
In the Thick of Thin Air

Stand five or six feet away from a sink heaped in fresh soap suds; blow toward the bubbles; watch and listen.

"The air surrounding Earth weighs more than 5,600 trillion (5,600,000,000,000,000) tons!"