Tuesday, July 31, 2012

IN A NEW LIGHT – Attached to the Moon

(With the moon coming full tonight (1 Aug.), may this reflection move you 
to get outdoors and experience the wonder in a new light. By the way, this early August full moon means the next one will be a blue moon!)

Sun shadows fall heavy on the earth—stark, stretched, hard-edged forms, so common we barely notice their attachment any more.

Moon, though, lays down her strokes gently, subtle shades of black 
on black. Now we feel the attachment more than know it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

BESIDE MYSELF – A Chat With My Alter Ego

One advantage of talking to yourself is that you know at least somebody's listening. ~ FRANKLIN P. JONES

I’m the son of German-American parents. Both were wonderful, multi-faceted human beings. But they taught me that whatever I did, no matter how well I may have done it, I could have done better. Those lessons have served me well in many ways. They helped instill self-discipline. They helped me get a first-rate education. They helped me become a good, thoughtful, thorough writer and designer.

It helped shape me into a generally honest and unassuming man whom, if he were someone else, 
I think I might admire.

Those lessons were also about modesty. Stay out of the spotlight; don’t promise what you might not be able to deliver; let your deeds speak for themselves. This part of it too, while somewhat more subjective, helped shape me into a generally honest and unassuming man whom, if he were someone else, I think I might admire.

But such an upbringing also has a down side. I live with a little voice—a very persistent little voice—that constantly provides me with critical feedback on just about everything I do. More often than not, that feedback sounds something like, Okay, sure, you accomplished that, but let’s not go and get all self-satisfied about it. How could you have done it better? What are you going to do next?


This is clearly the voice of someone else, not me—perhaps that of my parents; maybe of my older brother, who's afflicted by the same self-criticism and whom I idolized as a kid.

Sometimes, especially on the tennis court, the encouraging voice starts to turn a little more negative. Well, yes, you’re hitting some good shots, but what about all those absolutely horrible ones?

Even though my parents were seldom overtly critical and certainly never denigrated me, I’ve managed to throw in some mean language of my own, eventually turning that measured tennis voice downright abusive. You idiot! You just missed a shot a three-year-old would have made! Can’t you do even the simplest thing right? Does that sound familiar?

That voice, wherever it was coming from, went on for years, then decades. Little by little I came to realize it was dousing my light, laying a heavy, mucky layer of woe over the freedom and joy of playing my favorite sport.

A couple of years ago, I was having coffee with a friend who’s in the business of helping organizations and their employees get in touch with the spiritual aspects of what they do and what they want to do. I told him of my negative self-talk and how it was stifling my enjoyment of tennis.

He mentioned that one of his clients had decided to engage his self-critical inner voice in a conversation. He’d even transcribed the dialog as it played out to see what he might learn from it.

I decided to try it.

I was amazed at how surely and naturally my 
own voice and, even more amazingly, the other voice, started to flow.

You can imagine how lame it felt sitting down with pen and paper and actually venturing an introduction between me, myself and I. At first, it felt like the entities I was introducing were in different rooms. But I was amazed at how surely and naturally my own voice and, even more amazingly, the other voice, started to flow.

It wasn’t like trying to create dialogue for a novel or a play. I’ve done that, and it was clearly an exercise in imagination. I’d have to think about each line, deliberately crafting it as I went along.

No, my silent dialog with myself felt, from the very first exchange, like an honest, unscripted, real conversation. I would say (and scribble across my legal pad) something spontaneous, just like what I might say to someone with whom I felt I could become good friends. And the response always came instantaneously, seemingly without the slightest conscious thought or device of my own mind.

Long story short, since then my alter ego and I have had many rewarding conversations. We’ve agreed that he doesn’t mean to hurt me or make me unhappy. He acknowledges that, being an amalgam of my parents, my brother and possibly a couple of other important figures in my life, of course he loves me and, in fact, wants me to be happy.

I acknowledge my tendency toward frustration and defeatism. He admits to tormenting me sometimes, as an impudent teenager might, simply because he can.

As for tennis, we’ve struck a sort of meet-you-halfway deal. If he’ll back off on the criticism, I promised, I’ll try to do better at appreciating and celebrating my small successes. Often, on my way to the tennis center, I’ll remind him of his end of the bargain and he reassures me he’ll be good.

Recently, I’ve even upped the ante and gotten him to agree that, while the absence of criticism is certainly welcome, maybe he could try a little actual praise on for size. So far, this is proving quite hard for him.

After all, he rationalizes, he’s never had a very good role model. Oh, give me a break!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

HOW TO BE IN THE MOMENT – 101 Little Tips

TIP #33 
Value learning more than knowing.


Certainty's such an ill-fitting garment. It may have suited you once, 
but you and your truths have changed.

Asking, learning and simply being are all cut of the same miracle cloth; they fit you and the present moment perfectly and always.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

YOU'RE SO VEIN – Japanese Beetles' Lacy Leafy Art

Sour grape leaf, a favorite of Japanese beetles.
Like spoiled kids with crusty bread, they insist
on just the tenderest parts—unaware, I'm sure,
the bittersweet gift they leave the eye.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A RESONANCE OF LIGHT – Having a Blast With Wild Carrot

A blast of white, tinged in tender green, wild carrot's bloom reverberates in dark, verdant sky.

As the echo spreads, secondary bursts, strewn with glowing trails, explode in shards of light.

A few florets pop-pop-pop 'round the edge, their staccato whiteness a glowing ring that lingers in mind's eye…and ear.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

FIELD OF INTENTION – Doorways to Destiny

Mindfulness...wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of those moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth, and transformation. ~  From Wherever You Go, There You Are by JON KABAT-ZINN

So many of the truly memorable experiences in our lives occur accidentally. Sure, we can make plans for a project or a trip—or a lifetime for that matter—but isn’t it the delays, the unintentional side trips, the unexpected encounters that make the deepest impressions? Now I have nothing against planning—in fact, I’m a bit of a control freak myself—but, frankly, far more interesting stuff has happened in my life by coincidence than by intention.

It may sound strange, but I don’t think coincidence necessarily happens all by itself. Haven’t you known people who seem to live charmed lives, for whom everything always just seems to fall into place? You know, the proverbial golden boy or golden girl? Is there something about them that influences that roll of the dice the rest of us depend on for our fortunes?

James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy, sheds some light on this phenomenon:
For centuries, religious scriptures, poems, and philosophies have pointed to a latent power of mind within all of us that mysteriously helps to affect what occurs in the future. It has been called faith power, positive thinking, and the power of prayer. We are now taking this power seriously enough to bring a fuller knowledge of it into public awareness. We are finding that (it) is a field of intention, which moves out from us and can be extended and strengthened, especially when we connect with others in a common vision.
Redfield refers to coincidence as the opening of a door. He says that, when we're at our best—operating from our most secure, creative, aware inner core—we give off a sort of cosmic aura that everyone and everything responds to, and that this causes possibilities to open spontaneously for us.

For example, at times when he’s been searching for something (an idea, an inspiration, a helping angel), often, he says, that very thing has miraculously presented itself to him, without his having taken any conscious action to find it.

It may sound strange, but I don’t think coincidence necessarily happens all by itself.


This kind of magic can occur for us at any time. I experience it most often when I’m in Nature, but it can also happen in our travels, while we’re at work, even in our relationships. The key is our willingness to deviate from the script and surrender to impulse.

For some people this is easier said than done, but when you come right down to it, it takes only two things: curiosity and faith. For it’s only when we’re curious that we notice those little doors of opportunity that open for us; and only faith tells us it’s okay to venture through them.

Occasionally the rewards of such spontaneity are small ones, modest gifts like surprise or delight. And then there are occasions—more than you might realize—when one surprise leads to another, and that to yet another and, eventually, you look back and say that was life-changing. Life’s complicated, so it’s not always easy to trace such a series of events back to that opening of the original, serendipitous “door,” but I can think of a few that have proven life-changing for me. Do any come to mind for you?

You’ll see them in the movement of a twig, the 
waft of a new smell, or in any of a thousand 
little questions that invite themselves into your consciousness.

What coincidences have changed your life? Will your eyes, your ears, your heart and, perhaps most importantly, some sixth sense be aware of the next door that opens for you? It may appear in as obvious a form as an invitation to try something new, like a job, a volunteer position or a hobby.

Or it might be just a shift in your usual routine or a new acquaintance in your life. Sometimes it’s something even subtler, like that little voice we keep hearing from some corner of our consciousness urging us to do or say something.

Remember, opportunities sometimes come to us disguised as defeats, like getting laid off or divorced. How you perceive such setbacks depends, in part, on the lens through which you view them. If the doorwa seems mostly closed, try to keep your focus on the fact that it’s also partially open.

Even if the door appears to be swinging shut, sometimes that little pulse of positive energy is all it takes is to reverse its direction and change the sequence of events. From perception to belief; from belief to action; from action to reality.

Of course, there’s a parallel to all of this in our relationship with Nature. The opportunities, the doorways, are everywhere. You’ll see them in the movement of a twig, the waft of a new smell, or in any of a thousand little questions that invite themselves into your consciousness.

All it takes to see the sliver of light shining through is your surrender of mind and spirit. As I’ve said so many times, you cannot make it happen. You must let it happen. There's a big difference.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SEE LIKE A 5-YEAR-OLD - Take the Pledge!

In this increasingly sped-up, dumbed-down, 140-character world, are you starting to hear, as I am, that little voice of unease from somewhere deep in your soul?

Doesn't some part of you just want to say no to all that virtual "reality," all the quick, shallow relationships this digitized culture expects us to buy into, and get back in touch with more real-life, first-hand experiences? Don't you yearn to recapture that sense of wonder we all felt so naturally when we were kids?

Use the ideas as goals, resolutions, or just occasional affirmations of your intention to live      a more attentive, curious and grateful life.

That's what my Reclaiming Wonder Movement is all about. It's recognizing that yearning, and beginning to make our own choices as to the kind of depth and substance we want in our relationships with ourselves, each other and Nature.

The movement can start philosophically and leads, most likely, to lifestyle changes, but it's inevitably a spiritual journey. Lots of people want to take part in this journey, but don't quite know where to start. That's why I've crafted the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge.

Think of it as a list of first steps and/or mileposts to guide you on your quest for more mindfulness. You can use the ideas as goals, resolutions, or just occasional affirmations of your intention to live a more attentive, curious and grateful life.  
You • can • do • this!!

Framing example only; frame not included in offer.
Use the peach-colored order form to the right just below the "POPULAR POSTS" listing and above "FOLLOWERS." ––>
Print it out, frame it, or make it the background of your computer desktop. Give a framed copy to someone you know who's also yearning to reclaim wonder in his/her life.
Thanks for taking the Reclaiming Wonder Pledge! Have a wonder-full day!

Friday, July 6, 2012

RUDE AWAKENING – Saved by Intuition

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." ALBERT EINSTEIN
To a veteran observer of Nature, seeing the invisible is no oxymoron. It happens all the time. You know something’s there because you can see or hear or smell its effects on stuff that’s around it. A branch breaks, potential prey scatters, a leaf’s folded over in just a certain way.

In those instances, there’s really no trick to it; you’re still just calling on your five basic physical senses, albeit asking a bit more of them. But there are other ways to sense, ways not so easy to explain.


This is new ground for most of us, a place where the physical becomes irrelevant, and where the rational and irrational begin to collide. It’s the realm of intuition and its inseparable companion, faith.

You know that feeling you get when you just sense that someone’s looking at you? Or those “little voices” that occasionally tell you to do something you weren’t even aware needed doing?

Call it what you want; dismiss it if you must. But I believe intuition is one of many credible ways of knowing. I accept it for the mysterious gift it is, one I hope to understand better, and one which already has proven quite real for me.

       She was sitting on the floor, hands 
       to her neck, fighting for every breath.

Can you really know about something even though there’s no rational way you could have known it?

Many years ago, my kids—then about five and six years old—were staying with me for the summer. Since my apartment was pretty small, I’d arranged for us to house sit the beautiful, sprawling, modern home of a couple of University of Minnesota astronomy professors while they traveled.

I took the master bedroom, while the kids—well, you know kids—they slept in bedrooms as far away from me as possible, on the lower level of what you might call the guest wing of the house.


I’m not a light sleeper, but one night at about 3:00 AM I suddenly sat straight up in bed and knew something wasn’t right. I listened hard for a few seconds and heard nothing. I could easily have dismissed the event as a bad dream or a quirk of being in a strange house, but the feeling was too insistent.

Still just half awake, I hurried across the living room, downstairs, past Jeff's room and right to Amanda’s room. She was sitting on the floor, hands to her neck, her face beet red. Fighting for every breath, she looked terrified.

         It’s tough to separate the whims 
         from the wants from the warnings.

Long story short: I called 911; the ambulance came; the paramedics slapped an oxygen mask on Amanda; and away we sped—lights, siren and all—to Regions Hospital. By then, her breathing was back to normal. The ER doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her and sent us home.

We’ll never know what would have happened that night if I hadn’t felt drawn to Amanda’s room. Did my instinct and a little oxygen save her life? Or might the only consequence have been that she and I ended up with a great story to share? Either way, I’m so grateful I was able to feel that little disturbance in the universe that night and decided not to ignore it.


Our little voices come to us in many forms and in many tones, from the dire warning I experienced with Amanda, to the quiet inner counsel one might hear about a new relationship, to the much-needed encouragement we sense when a risk just feels like the right thing to do.

In fact, if you’re like me so many little threads of intuition lace through your mind that it’s tough to separate the whims from the wants from the warnings. How do you know which of your little voices to heed or not heed?

I suppose, in the end, the guidance we receive from our various muses is not so different from the advice offered us by people. We learn, by experience, that some can be trusted, some we file away for future reference, and others we politely acknowledge and then wholeheartedly ignore.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

RIVER DANCE – The Art of Survival

The sultry summer sun was just dropping behind the Franklin Avenue Bridge before nestling into the treetops for the night. Except for the lazy current, the Mississippi seemed as still as the saturated air.

Then I noticed the small circular ripples—lots of them. They pecked the water like a light rain as far as I could see. But the sky was perfectly clear.

Dialing up my vision to close-up range, I could tell there was something different about these ripples. Instead of the little rebound that swells up after the impact of a raindrop, here there seemed to be a depression, as if from a tiny pluck at the elastic surface from below.

              I noticed that the shiners were 
              not just dining; they were dinner.

I squatted on a rock to see if I could see what was causing them. Sure enough, there were two-inch-long shiner minnows rising to the surface. Some appeared to be taking tiny gulps, pulling gently at the surface membrane; a few darted to the surface, even breaking part-way through it; a couple of them actually jumped in little arcs like miniature dolphins.

While each break in the water’s surface seemed mute, together, by the thousands, they gave off a barely perceptible hiss like a light rain shower. I figured the minnows must be feeding on something.

Then, in a span of about twenty seconds, Nature dramatically unveiled the whole mystery. First, I noticed that the shiners were not just dining; they were dinner. Small groups of them would dash desperately in one direction, some even skittering across the surface as if hoping to take flight.

Though I couldn’t see their predators, subtle wakes pushed up by their torpedo lunges gave them away—I'd have bet they were smallies—smallmouth bass.

Just at that moment, the sun broke through into the space under one of the bridge arches, flooding the scene with its warm, golden light. And there, suddenly backlit against the dark wooded bank on the other side of the river, was the reason for the whole drama: millions of insects, so small I hadn’t noticed them when they were in the shade.

  The river, like a giant roll of flypaper, snagged 
  and held the unwary until they were gobbled up.

Now, like a pointillist’s cloud, they illuminated the air. They moved randomly, except when some would billow, swept by a breeze's gentle hand. The river, like a giant roll of flypaper, snagged and held the unwary until they were gobbled up by the shiners.

A few minutes later the sun finally set behind the trees, and the insects once again evaporated into shadow. But, as if drawn to my curiosity, a few of them presented themselves to me, landing on my clothes and skin. They were tiny golden wasps no more than about an eighth of an inch long.

As incredible as this event was, it wasn’t the first time I’d witnessed such a predator-prey spectacle. Many years ago, while fishing near Puerto Vallarta, I found myself in the midst of a feeding frenzy on a somewhat larger scale.

Schools of herring-like bait fish were being chased by larger predator fish, which became prey for still-larger tuna, which, in turn, were hunted by Homo sapiens—all this while several species of diving birds exploited the carnage for a meal of their own.

PHOTO: Mike Baird
It’s amazing enough to study a single creature or witness one phenomenon occurring in Nature. Next time you’re outdoors, no doubt you’ll do that, spotting critters large and small. But try sometime, as I did that evening on the Mississippi, playing with the lens of your vision.

    See if you can spot the gripping predator-prey 
    drama constantly playing out all around you. 

Use wide-angle to see the broad, generalized movements and patterns. Then focus in on just one detail to see what clues it might provide to understanding the big picture. And see if you can spot the gripping predator-prey drama constantly playing out all around you.

Since survival is something those of us at the top of our food chains tend to take for granted, it’s good that we’re reminded, now and then, of the stark reality of daily life for every other living thing with whom we share this wondrous planet.