Tuesday, December 24, 2013


I may be unplugged for a few days, so I want to wish all my visitors and loyal followers from all over the world—over 70 countries so far—the very best of this season. For us Christians, that means MERRY CHRISTMAS! (para mis hispanohablantes amigos, ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!) For my Jewish friends, it's HAPPY HANUKKAH! For all of us here in the northern hemisphere, it's HAPPY WINTER SOLSTICE! 

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

THE BAGGY COAT – A Holiday Reflection

During this season of generosity swirling with obligation, of simple joy made sad by unmet expectation, of grateful abundance diminished by addictive excess, I'm trying on, once more, the baggy coat of acceptance, a garment whose fit depends on not its own but the wearer's measure.


What do you need to accept or let go of to let the simple, joyous spirit of the holidays wrap comfortably around you?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Get a charge out of static electricity.

Some dry winter day, shuffle slippered feet on carpet and touch someone’s unsuspecting skin—someone who can take a joke.

Rub a balloon on your hair and watch it cling to things. Pull off a sweater in the dark; see and hear the miniature electrical storm.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

NATURE’S A MIRROR – Why Shining Our Light Enlightens Us

I started my book, Under the Wild Ginger, as a collection of essays about noticing and exploring the world around us. As I considered which pieces to include, a friend with whom I’d been sharing some of my ideas pointed out how much more interesting the collection would be if it included an appreciation of the wonders within us.

As I considered his suggestion, what really convinced me was my belief that
what we see—or, perhaps more accurately, what we choose to see—is, in fact, a reflection of who we are.

One can’t be moved by Nature’s splendor without letting oneself be moved. And this is by no means a given. Take a walk in the woods, and even those of us who see ourselves as Nature lovers often have a hard time noticing the incredible details right in front of our noses. We appreciate being there…but we’re not all there.

    What we so often fail to realize is that Nature 
    can heal many of those hurts if we let her.

It’s not for lack of the right tools; most of us have reasonably well-developed senses. It’s because we’re so used to having our whole world revolve around “bigger” concepts. Business people looking for the next big thing; consultants promoting a new paradigm; friends simply distracted by their own commitments, conquests or simply coping. Whatever it is within us that hungers for a connection with things more universal, more timeless, it’s just not able to find its way out.

For others, the problem may be more than just being too busy. Too often, there’s genuine pain, from injury, loss or disappointment. It’s hard to put yourself out there when you hurt. And in a way that’s even more of a shame, because what we so often fail to realize is that Nature can heal many of those hurts if we let her.

I don’t consider myself a religious person, yet I’m quite spiritual. I believe
that everything and everyone is an embodiment of what I call God, an incomprehensibly vast and powerful force of beauty, goodness and love.

We are all, somewhere at our cores, sweet, innocent children. Problem is, our parents, our culture, our circumstances and, in some cases, a genetic or chemical roll of the dice has stifled that pure goodness, heaping layer upon layer of muck
on top of it: ambition, expectation, responsibility and guilt, to name a few.

And technology, like a delicious dish or drink best consumed in moderation, only goes so far before it becomes presence’s undoing. For too many of us, it’s discrediting every last excuse we have for not being
able to do everything, for anyone, all the time.

So truly connecting with Nature and wonder is about removing some of those layers. Rather than following the workaday world’s mantra of making things happen, this is about slowing down, quieting the voices that drive us, restoring healthy boundaries and letting things happen—things that, as it turns out, were there all the time.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, just as we learn to let Nature’s little hidden wonders find us, we would all devote the time and attention it takes to peel back some of our innermost layers and find ourselves? It might be a dirty, smelly job, but chances are what we’d find is something very good indeed. In fact, this innate, inner goodness is the one essential gift which, no matter what our condition in life—rich or poor, educated or self-taught, able-bodied or hobbled—we have to share with the world.

               Unlike more tangible gifts, 
               this one, if not given, is lost.

One of my favorite spirituality thinkers and writers, Marianne Williamson, in her book, A Return to Love, wrote about that essential good, that inner light that shines within each of us:

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone…As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Every day, I try to let these brilliant words hold sway over all the lessons of modesty and self-denial I was taught growing up. I remind myself that every single person I pass that day represents my chance to shine my light. Whether it’s by helping them, listening to them or simply greeting them with a smile and a kind word, that’s the gift I have to share. And, unlike more tangible gifts, this one, if not given, is lost.

If only it were as easy extending this blessing to God’s other creations. Too often, even if we’re successful in uncovering our inner, curious child, our understanding of Nature is superficial. We take her for granted, assuming that, because we so long to be with her, she’ll always be there and will always welcome us.

But that assumption fails to understand her sheer frailty, the damage we’ve already inflicted on her, and her urgent need for the same kind of understanding and care we’d give a vulnerable friend or a child.

By loving Nature superficially—wanting what she gives but failing to understand what she needs—we end up loving her to death. And in Nature we mustn’t forget that, as powerful as that image of shining one’s light may be, it’s only half the picture.

Remember the premise I started with: what we see reflects who we are? The other half of the picture is letting our light shine back into us. For it is that energy—which, as Williamson says, also kindles it in others—that recharges our own ability to shine in the first place. Whether it’s in Nature or with other human beings, only by giving that energy—the energy I call seeing generously—can we receive it.

Shine on, my friends!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

YAWN – As If For the First Time

Ten-year-old boys, it seems, are especially good at discovering and exploiting
the quirks of the body.

When I was in grade school, my best friend, Peter, showed me this truly odd little experiment in fluid dynamics. First, you have to yawn. (We learned it’s pretty easy to make oneself yawn on demand.) Yawning does several things: it opens your mouth (obviously); it draws your tongue back and up; and it produces a rush of saliva (tears too).

While your mouth is still open and your tongue back, you force your tongue quickly down and forward. The little pool of saliva that’s collected in the soft pocket under your tongue gets squeezed, and, if you’re lucky, a few drops will squirt out, maybe a foot or two. As you can imagine, we had contests to see how far each of us could squirt. (But Mom, we were just studying our physics—AP physics, at that.)

(It turns out Peter was not alone in discovering this odd phenomenon. It even
has a name: gleeking.)

Yawning’s an amazing and mysterious thing. It crosses all geographic and cultural boundaries. Humans of all ages do it—even those in utero. Nearly all vertebrates do it, including fish and birds, but with the exception, it’s said, of giraffes and whales.

It’s one of those bodily functions that’s so ubiquitous that, like blinking or breathing, it usually comes and goes without our slightest notice. But have you
ever felt a yawn coming on, stopped what you were doing and allowed yourself
to be fully present with the experience?

Here’s what it feels like for me: it starts, subtly, deep inside my head. It’s like my whole cranium, or at least some compartment or sac within it, is about to expand. Then in my ears I feel some kind of passages opening up; it sounds like the two sides, coated with earwax, start out pressed together and then pull stickily apart.

My mouth starts to open, not the way it does when I talk or eat, but from the back, as if the jaw hinges themselves were separating—like the way a python unhinges its jaws to consume large prey.

           The experience, much like farting, 
           is much more satisfying when you 
           really open up and let it rip.

Then the rumbling starts. Again, it seems to come from somewhere deep inside my ears. It's loud, but somehow doesn’t drown out the music and other ambient sound here in my studio.

By this time my eyes close reflexively. I notice I can keep them open if I try (something I’ve never been able to do while sneezing). I start salivating and my eyes water.

Sometimes I keep my lips closed while yawning—usually when I think someone might be looking—but the experience, much like farting, is much more satisfying when you really open up and let it rip. Same with that universal little non-verbal vocalization that always wants to accompany a good yawn.

For me, there’s a distinct tipping point in a yawn. Somewhat like a sneeze or an orgasm, it starts with an impulse, builds in tension, crests and then, inexorably, releases. Occasionally, it doesn’t quite reach that crest and fizzles disappointingly.

AWARENESS CHECK: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but chances are you’ve yawned at least once just since you started reading this. See if you can be aware of the next one coming on. I decided to log my yawns when I started writing this, and in the hour or so it’s taken me to this point, I’ve done it no fewer than nineteen times!



There are many theories as to why we vertebrates yawn. The most popular seem
to be: that it’s the body’s need for a rush of oxygen; that it’s a muscle-stretching process (which might explain why it’s so often accompanied by the urge to stretch the arms, legs and back); that it triggers a surge of alertness when the brain senses we’re asleep on the job (this one seems counter-intuitive to me); and that it somehow helps regulate the temperature of the brain.

None of these theories enjoys common agreement; in fact, most have been debunked in one study or another. All I know is my own experience with yawning. Yes, like just about everyone, I yawn when I’m tired and bored. But, more curiously, I also catch myself yawning when I’m nervous or anxious. How about you? When do you yawn?

        Simply writing about yawning makes 
        me yawn (doing it now, as we speak).

One of the most fascinating characteristics of yawning is its contagiousness. Among all the causal theories, none disputes this, although several possible reasons are suggested. Almost everyone agrees that it’s an empathetic response, one wired into the circuits of earliest man, perhaps to demonstrate our ferocity (as in don’t mess with me!) or even as a pre-verbal signal for a group to change activities.

Whatever the reason, this power of suggestion is undeniable. We don’t even have
to see someone yawning; we can simply hear them yawn over the telephone. And
I can tell you from my current experience that simply writing about yawning makes me yawn (doing it now, as we speak)—not just now and then, but repeatedly and often. (Since the awareness check, above, I've done it at least five more times.)

Are you aware of what triggers your yawns? Has reading this post, along with the inspirational photos, unleashed the ho-hum monster in you? Do you have a favorite memory or a trick involving yawning? We’d love to hear of your jaw-dropping experiences!