I’m writing an epic poem based on the 12 links of dependent origination. I’ve been studying this teaching for years and it’s still giving me a headache. The main thrust is that nothing—including each of us—exists independently. Intellectually, it’s easy to grasp. We couldn’t have been born without our parents, we wouldn’t have food if not for farmers, etc. So why would we ever think or act from our own self-interest? Fear? Arrogance? The extreme is narcissism, and so the hero of my poem is Narcissus. Here’s a draft of the opening stanza, which is about the first link, not seeing things as they are: Little Narcissus Looked out the window And saw his reflection. Everything beyond-- Trees, clouds, People in the park-- Was insignificant. This was framed Like a painting Of reality. During the past few months, I’ve found myself attaching to my views and judging others by theirs. It's important to remember that we are not our thoughts. We need each other, maybe now more than ever. What if we all threw our views out the window? Love & peace, Steve
JUNE 2020 Prayer and meditation are my favorite tools to touch inner peace; I love the stillness. I even love the waiting and watching for, the allowing for, a glimpse of it no matter how brief. This morning I could not find my way to that peace. Nor could I sit still. There was too much sadness in my heart for my mind to be able to quiet.
I cried for the loss of George Floyd, and for his family’s suffering. I wept for the violent responses to his senseless death, and I prayed though it might have sounded more like begging. My heart breaks for the frustration, the despair, the anger and fear that so many of my brothers and sisters feel that I can not even begin to understand. I have no frame of reference with which to do so. For me to even attempt to speak to it would be an insult and I will not do that to people I love.
I am a teacher of peace. For a few minutes I wondered, “what good have I done?” What good have I done?
I have tried to embody the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by doing my best to bring light where there is darkness, and I have loved even in the face of hatred. I know that I raised my son to love and respect all people and he’s doing the same with his children. I think I have helped at least a few people to find peace in their hearts and I believe that it radiates from them and into their families and friends, and so on.
I believe that’s the truth. But even if it isn’t, I have changed myself and I’m the only person I actually can change. So, I will continue to attempt to sit in stillness, whether I can sit still or not. I’ll keep praying and listening for the voice of God. I will do my best to be able to keep seeing the truth of what is and I will keep believing in and working toward peace on earth.
Without exception, I love you and wish you peace.
What feels like lifetimes ago, a guy who introduced himself as Dave taught a meditation method involving a dynamic sequence of postures linked by conscious breathing. After I got the hang of it, he instructed me to go home and do the practice on my own.
At first, it was lonely, boring and unpleasant. You don't have your beloved teacher, the group energy of your peers, the jokes, the kindnesses, encouragement—none of that. You have three things: you body, your breath, and, God help you, your mind. Day by day, you learn to make peace with that mind. And if you can make peace with that, you can make peace with anything.
I've come to realize that when Dave told me to go home, he was referring to more than just my house. He meant home, within myself.
If you're homebound these days, this might be a good opportunity to come home to yourself. If you haven't already, try carving out 30 minutes or more each day to just sit, on a cushion or in a chair. If this is new or challenging for you, I've put together some simple instructions that might help. Maybe the poem below will inspire you.
PLEASE COME HOME by Jane Hooper Please come home. Please come home. Find the place where your feet know to walk And follow your own trail home. Please come home. Please come into your own body, Your own vessel, your own earth. Please come home into each and every cell And fully into the space that surrounds you. Please come home. Please come home to trusting yourself, and your instincts and your ways and your knowings, And even the particular quirks of your personality. Please come home. Please come home and once you are firmly there, please stay home awhile and come to deep rest within. Please treasure your home. Please love and embrace your home. Please get a deep, deep sense of what it's like to be truly home. Please come home. Please come home and when you're really, really ready, And there's a detectable urge on the out-breath, then please come out. Please come home and please come forward. Please express who you are to us, and please trust us To see you and hear you and touch you and recognize you as best we can. Please come home. Please come home and let us know all the nooks and crannies that are calling to be seen. Please come home, and let us know the More that is there that wants to come out. Please come home. Please come home, and when you feel yourself home, please welcome us too, for we too forget that we belong and are welcome, and that we are called to express and fully be who we are. Please come home. Please come home, you and you and you and me. Thank you Earth for welcoming us, and thank you touch of eyes and ears and skin, touch of love for welcoming us. May we wake up and remember who we truly are. Please come home. Please come home. Please come home.
Love & peace,
You may be disappointed. But if you’ve ever been a student of mine, you won’t be surprised.
I know you come here hoping for a bit of inspiration. I don’t have any magic words. I’m just like you, floating through all the emotions that this uncertain time has brought to the surface.
Take a breath. We’re never really in control anyway, and we can’t predict the future. All we can do is make educated guesses based on past events and imagined outcomes, then try to plan accordingly. But we have no experience with this. So take a breath.
Find something that brings you peace. Play your guitar, weed your garden, go for a walk, run, do yoga, clean your grout. I pray a lot. Whatever you’re doing, engage fully. Feel the peace it brings. Do it some more.
Recognize that your kids are freaking out because they’re scared. Try not to react (their fears are the same as yours). Respond with the same tender love as when they were newborns. They need to feel safe now just like they did then. Go do more of your peace-bringing thing, and then love them some more.
Pick up the phone. Call someone you can’t see right now and tell them you love them. Call everyone. Do that again.
Find peace, spread love.
My message is always the same.
I love you. I love you!
MARCH 2020 Tao Porchon-Lynch, Guinness Book record-holder for the world’s oldest yoga teacher, was once asked how she kept going after three hip replacements. “I’m the boss,” she said. I love that answer, and have been reflecting on it as I’m about to give my two weeks’ notice. It’s been a challenging couple of years not being the boss. When I was 16, my brother Mike, publisher of a local monthly newspaper, had me interview a Major League Baseball scout, whom our dad happened to know. I got to combine my two loves: baseball and writing. I submitted the manuscript, and few weeks later a fresh copy appeared on the kitchen counter. I was alone when I opened it. The byline had my name, but the article had changed. It was replete with corny baseball puns, starting in the headline. Dad had revised it. On the counter was a transparent cake dome. It may have contained an orange-frosted Bundt cake, I don’t remember. My fist came down and smashed the plastic. I scotch-taped it back together as best I could, and when Mom asked what happened, I said something to the effect that it was an accident. Last month I wrote a blog instructing senior citizens how to fall safely. My boss changed the headline from “If You’re Going To Fall, You Might As Well Do It Right” to “Don’t Fall For Anything!” When the urge came to smash a cake dome, or something, I figured it was time to plan my resignation. God knows what’s next. For the time being, I have a novel to complete and loved ones Jackie and are planning to visit. When the girls were little, they’d tell each other, “You’re not the boss of me!” Words to live by. Love & peace, Steve
FEB. 2020 "We’re all just walking each other home.” —Ram Dass
Shortly after my mother entered the hospital four months ago, she looked at me and told me that I should go home to rest. I held her hand and offered her a deal, “How about I’ll go home when you go home?”
We were walking each other home; it wasn't until the very end that I realized I was walking her all the way home.
As a family, we decided that I would remain by my mother’s side for as long as she was hospitalized. We couldn’t know then how long that would be but, as promised, we made sure she was never alone.
A ray of sunshine warming her sweet, quiet face. A simple home-cooked meal shared with family around the table. That crazy bird who throws himself at the window every morning. Dog kisses. The almost-full moon she watched on her last trip back to the hospital. Her fingertips running through the hair at my temple as I lay weeping on the side of her bed.
It’s easy to take mundane things for granted until you witness someone you love enjoying them for the last time. I have profound awareness of the faith that allowed me to keep standing well beyond what is imaginable. I’m filled with gratitude for every beautiful, every painful, every beautifully painful moment.
We're all changed by one another and the experiences that we share. I don’t remember who I once was. I know I always appreciated simple things, but now find that they are the only things.
I wonder who I’ll be now.
Peace be with you always,
JAN. 2020 The other morning I dreamed that the president of the firm where I work announced that he and his wife “bought the beach house in California.”
Everything was different.
Instead of their two daughters, they have a son, who’s in the office without a shirt making sweet-talk with his girlfriend. She’d like a coffee from Duck & Decanter.
“You want Ducky?” he teases.
The accountant, normally long-haired, sports a bowl cut crowned with a golden football helmet.
The senior art director has thrown out a wad of money. Correction: that’s not a waste basket; it’s a metal moving bin.
Are we relocating or dissolving? Nobody cares. Usually serious and business-like, the mood is loosey goosey. A colleague of mine from 25 years ago appears, also shirtless, and sits on my lap.
I woke up smiling. Instead of dreading going back to my tedious job on January 2nd, I could return with this crazy new perspective.
The Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa defines tedium as being tired not of work but of ourselves.
Want something to change? Change how you see it.
Happy New Year,
DEC. 2019 We've been enjoying Ken Burns' 16-hour documentary, Country Music. There's a segment on Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass. Monroe was a perfectionist, stubborn and quick-tempered. Even though he had a healthy ego ("Bluegrass is wonderful music. I'm glad I originated it."), the music came first. He could have made himself the lead singer, but he sang back-up to someone whose voice better suited that role. Monroe knew his purpose—and that it was bigger than himself.
Viktor Frankl, a neuropsychologist, developed an approach he called logotherapy. It's using your life purpose as a way to heal. Once you know your purpose, it's clear what you have to do next, even if it's difficult, unpopular, unpleasant, exhausting or even ridiculous. This requires giving up your habitual comforts as well as your insecurities. That's what he means by:
What is to give light must endure burning.
This time of year we like to drive around at night and see all the lights. We ourselves can be a light for others. All it takes is self-honesty and endurance. Great music helps.
Love & peace,
Jackie & Steve
NOV. 2019 Last week, Jackie, who was visiting her mama, called to tell me to go check my email.
The subject line: Tiny Price.
Attached was the photo you see above: Zahra, our great niece, born the night before.
I started crying. I could hear Jackie crying on the other end. She had already cried with her mama over this baby and now she was crying with me.
What is it about a baby that makes us cry like one?
I think it's simply this: babies are beautiful. That's the first thing we say when we see one:
We all were babies once. We were beautiful. We still are, but somewhere along the way we forgot.
And then, every so often, along comes a baby to remind us.
Love & peace,
OCT. 2019 Last month we received a phone call that shattered my family.
For days, weeks, we pieced together two or three hours of sleep before the call resurfaced, startling us awake.
Much of that time is blurry now, with a few moments branded into my memory never to fade, no hope of being forgotten.
All the formalities are done, the family gathered and returned home, now life has to go on. I feel the hot breath of reality; the shock is wearing off.
I try to go about my days like I normally would, but once in a while I feel the scream that erupted from deep inside me and for a split second, I’m back in that moment, hearing the words again. Or my chest is crushed as my mind wanders ahead to family events that won’t be the same. Not that they would be anyway, but not for the same reasons now. I’m having a hard time staying present to what actually is in this moment. Or this moment. Even as I write this my heart is breaking again.
There is nothing I can think, feel, say, or do, no amount of praying or deal making with God will bring my little brother back. Nothing is ever going to be the same. I don’t know how to come to terms with that yet, but I know that it is so.
At the same time, I can’t let these painful thoughts dominate me, so I’m trying. I’m allowing myself to feel the grief of this loss but—as best I can—not by letting my mind skip back to moments that will forever be part of me but never come again or ahead to moments that will come but are not here yet.
Over and over I pull myself back to this moment by repeating as often as necessary, That is not happening right now. What is happening right now is that I miss him, sadness is spilling from my eyes, I whisper, “I love you brudder, I miss you”. When the tears stop, I will blow my nose, take a breath and do whatever is next on the list for today.
I wish peace for all of us. Love,
SEPT. 2019 I loved hating the Yankees. It gave my friends and me plenty to fight about. I was the only one I knew in the state of New York who liked the Minnesota Twins. Then, on August 2, 1979, I was driving my dad's Jeep Wagoneer, swerving past boulders and craters on Woodchuck Road, when they announced on the radio that Thurman Munson, the Yankee catcher and captain, went down in his small plane. I had to pull over. He was the last person I expected to die that day. I must have assumed he was invincible. Last month, baseball acknowledged the 40th anniversary of his passing. Ron Guidry, who pitched for the Yankees, recalled how he took it. First it's news, which doesn’t seem real. Maybe it's a dream. Or a mistake. There’s no hard evidence. Then it’s your turn to pitch. You’re on the mound, facing the flag in center field, hand on your heart. The anthem ends, the fans sit down. It's time to put your cap back on and turn around. And there it is: the hard evidence. The face behind the catcher's mask is not his. Try this practice: Think goodbye first, hello last. Goodbye first gets it out of the way, takes out some of the drama, but mainly it's to remind you that the person isn't invincible, a cue to appreciate them while you can. Then, when you part, think hello. This is to remember that everyone, in one way or another, continues.
In loving memory of our brother Johnny,
AUGUST 2019 Imagination.
I thought I could go to Florida for two weeks without Steve and still enjoy myself. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I think my enjoyment might have been magnified by his presence.
I was attacked by mosquitoes my first night there. While I did have a severe reaction, there were moments when I imagined it might be something worse.
I walked my nephew-dog every day. One afternoon, Cujo tinkled in the grass to right and left sides of the sidewalk and then stood in one place for about 5 minutes, simply observing. Or maybe my imagination projected that zen quality onto him; he might have imagined I was the one just standing there.
I recently received a disturbing phone call at work that left me concerned that the angry man I hung up on might show up. It turns out I was cranked by a celebrity crank phone call show. Apparently they imagined I might actually give them permission to use my voice on air.
I won’t go so far as to say that nothing is real, but I will say that our perception of reality is often based on preconditioning and preconceived ideas of what might be true, which is — at least partly — a product of our imagination. Stop. Observe. Suspend your ideas about what might be; see if you can discern what Is. Don’t let the clouds get in your way.
Peace and love, always ~ Jackie JULY 2019 Father’s Day weekend, I met Jackie’s father Jack and his wife Paula for the first time. We flew into Austin and then drove for about two and a half hours past cows and oil wells to the rural community where they live. I’d never seen Texas before. It’s the largest state, and it felt large to me in a beautiful way. There was a largeness of heart, at least in the few Texans I came across during our four-day visit. All the drivers waved. The Circle K clerk called me honey. And Paula and Jack—they welcomed me and loved me unconditionally. Even Grouchy, their skittish cat who never comes right up to a stranger, came right up to me and sniffed my hand. Love, Steve
JUNE 2019 During a recent lunchtime walk I overhear this exchange between two tough geezers:
"Where were you this morning?"
"I went hiking. With Sherry. I told you."
"I don't remember that. Where did you go?"
"You gotta watch out for snakes."
"What're you talking about? They gotta watch out for ME!"
I head back to the office before my boss fires me. On second thought, I'll fire HIM!
MAY 2019 I recently had the opportunity to reflect on the question “Who am I when no one is looking?”
This didn’t come at the suggestion of someone else, I asked it of myself. It’s usually an easy answer for me, usually. But just when you think you get pretty good at something, along comes an opportunity to take it to a new level.
A few days ago, I was called upon to show unconditional loving kindness and compassion in a difficult situation. I “showed up”, as you (and I) would expect of me, with all of those things and without hesitation. It required that I suspend judgment and live those qualities for the next 24 hours.
There are many layers to this story, but the gist of it is that my granddaughter asked me to help her mother, my former daughter-in-law. Someone who has brought heartache and sorrow to virtually everyone that I love most, and continues to do so.
My actions were genuine. It didn’t hurt me at all to be loving and kind toward her. In fact it lifted me up to know that I could set aside all that I know and rise to the occasion no matter how awkward or uncomfortable. I was glad to learn this about myself.
I don’t know that I wouldn’t have, but I don’t know that I would have done any of it — if my granddaughter had not been looking.
I wish you peace in learning to know yourself.
APRIL 2019 My novella or whatever it is at the moment is cut up into 155 little pieces of paper needing to be placed in some kind of order. The ones that feel uninteresting I put aside. There seem to be a lot of those—more and more as I go through.
Then the thought: This project is a big waste of time.
I put that aside, too.
Love & peace, Steve
MARCH 2019 I’ve gone dormant. Dormant comes from the French word dormir, "to sleep," and it refers to living things that are on a break, temporarily at rest—able to come to life but remaining inactive.
I zig-zag between trying to analyze (read: fix) myself and just letting myself be. When I get analytical I judge myself for everything that’s not getting done, all the ways and the things that I’m “not” and my self-judgment overshadows all the good things and all that I “am”. So rather than pick myself apart, I’m trying hard to simply observe and let myself be still.
My wildflowers didn’t bloom when everybody else’s did. I realize now that in effort to rid my yard of weeds in December, relentlessly extricating what was undesirable, I ignorantly plucked out all the potential for my wild gorgeous garden.
Last week I went out into the cold rain and sprinkled 5,000 African daisy seeds, hoping to utilize the moisture to both nourish the seeds and help “plant them”.
I’m patiently watching for something beautiful to sprout.
I love you always, Jackie
FEBRUARY 2019 A few people dear to us, including some of you who are reading this, have recently lost loved ones. When my mother called last week to inform me that Deb, my sister-in-law, lost her father, I refrained from responding with the old family joke:
“Where did she lose him?”
I know, it’s not funny. But it does bring up an interesting point. Can we really “lose” someone? How can they be “gone”? Where’s there to go?
My father, who “went” around 25 years ago, has gone nowhere.
“Steve,” I can still hear him say, “don’t get married, and don’t have kids.”
He didn’t mean it as an insult to my mother, brother and me. He was talking about karma. You can’t “lose” people. Once they’re there, there they are, as close as your own thoughts, your own heartbeat.
Love & peace, Steve
JANUARY 2019 Here we are at that time when many of us are looking back to assess the year, considering possible resolutions or thinking about making amends.
In December we were blessed to celebrate Steve’s mother’s 90th birthday with her. I am fortunate to still have all of my parents (I have two sets). All of our children and grandchildren, our siblings and their children are healthy. Many of those people were together with us on Christmas Eve. We have a fantastic dog and we still look forward to coming home to each other at the end of each day.
So, I’m not going to. I’m not going to assess or resolve or make amends. I’m simply going to be thankful. Thankful for everything that is and has been, and thankful for all the things that are not. Thankful that not a single one of the “What if _____?” fear-based thoughts from which I yanked myself back into the “That’s not happening right now” present came to be reality.
I’m going to go to bed early on New Year’s Eve and sleep peacefully. I’ll face the first day of the new year exactly the same as I face every new day — with an open heart and willingness to accept whatever it holds. I wish the same for you.
Peace and Love, always. Always.
DECEMBER 2018 On Thanksgiving, I finally met Joey. That’s Jackie’s brother who lives in Arkansas. He was on a job in Colorado and decided to zip down to Phoenix and surprise us all. Jackie’s Pa carved the bird. While he did that, I sat in the living room with Zack, Pa’s 22-year-old grandson and watched a little of The Godfather. It's not a comedy. With the exception of an old man who’d had too much wine, nobody smiled. Zack and I made a game of figuring out the plot. Finally it was time to eat. There wasn't room at the table for everyone. Gina, Jackie's sister, volunteered to sit at the island. Pa said grace. One of the things he prayed for was that we would all enjoy each other's company. It seemed highly unlikely that we wouldn't, but I suppose you never know. Zack piled and emptied his plate three times. I never saw anything like it. When he said he could feel his stomach stretch, I believed him. Jackie’s momma wasn’t feeling great but didn’t let that stop her. Her plan of action was wise: to go in the bedroom and lie down before dessert. We all wanted to go and lie down with her. Joey and I stayed at the table and fulfilled Pa's prayer by having an enjoyable conversation. We talked about simplicity. He likened working to a beer tap, tapping in when you need dough. I spoke of Einstein having nothing but identical gray suits in his closet so as not to waste precious mental energy choosing what to wear. Also present were our dog, Teddy, and Momma & Pa's dog, Molly Miller. They were getting along, too. Pa's prayer is especially effective on dogs. Love & peace, Steve
NOVEMBER 2018 Once in a while, I suffer from multiple personality disorder. Not often, but on occasion.
Those days when I have an agenda I think I have to adhere to and my mind set on sticking to my schedule no matter what. Then my intuition kicks in. Sometimes it shows up as a feeling, but on days when I’m busy being stuck in my head, it shows up with a voice and so ensues what feels like multiple personalities.
Such was the case last week on Thursday when I had the intention to visit a dying friend in Hospice, on Friday. I was comfortable with that decision, which allowed me to stick to my schedule, and I went to teach a class in the early afternoon. Then the voice in my gut showed up. During the 20 minute drive, I observed myself arguing. With me.
My head listing all the reasons it made more sense to go the next day, my gut continually responding with “Go today” or “Oh waa waa waa (mocking my own whining), go today”.
I often teach that our body always knows what we need and that we should listen to it’s wisdom. This is a consistent theme in the book I’m writing, so in effort to practice what I preach, I went.
I spent a couple of hours with my sweet friend and former yoga student. He was seemingly aware that I was there, but not quite responsive. I named every person I could think of that we have in common and told him they loved him. I teased him by starting the instructions of a yoga practice, which elicited the hint of a smile and I guided him in meditation; I chanted for him. I sat silently and held his hand.
Phil passed away a few hours later. On Thursday.
Listen to your body, trust your inner wisdom; it knows.
I love you, Jackie
OCTOBER 2018 When I was 12, John Lennon gave me his autograph.
First he asked me if I spelled my name with a V or a P-H.
"P-H," I answered.
"Ah," he said. "P-H." Then he wrote:
To Stephenprice With love, From Johnlennon
I later gave it to my friend David Laccetti. He was a much bigger fan of the Beatles than I was. When he went off to college, it got thrown out by mistake.
A few years ago, I dreamed I wrote this on a blackboard:
People are all the same. Things are all the same. People are more important than things.
Autographs aren't important, Dave. You are, at least to me. Happy birthday.
With love, Stephenprice
SEPTEMBER 2018 Teddy and I are taking a morning walk. She steps toward the street to cross at the first corner, and she’s a little surprised because I’m turning right today. She easily changes directions with me even though she expected to cross. Steve always crosses here when he walks her in the evenings. It makes me think about our different walking styles, Steve’s and mine.
They go every evening, without fail, and follow the same route every day. Our morning walks are not consistent and we’ve never gone the same way twice. Interestingly, our days are much the same way. He has his routine; my days are ad-libbed based on any number of variables.
I have the impulse to apologize to her not crossing as she expected. Instead, I imagine how she might experience the two different styles.
She enjoys walking the same routine every day. The pace is sure and gentle. She likes knowing where to cross the street, turn a corner, smell the same familiar plants and rocks to see who else has passed by. She loves that beautiful big green lawn where she does her business and she knows the next stop is the dumpster where her business gets tossed. The path is solid, dedicated, steady. Like her dad.
She enjoys exploring a new path, too. She loves following my lead crossing and turning, seeing and smelling new plants, recognizing familiar passersy and discovering new ones, knowing that I’ll linger when she stops to smell the new scents. She enjoys that I smile watching her watch and listen to birds. It’s exciting in its unpredictability. It’s moment to moment, spontaneous, fresh. Like her mom.
She doesn’t think that one way is the better way, she doesn’t even think to compare them. It’s all the different styles intertwined that create balance. I’m going to take Teddy’s lead on this one and celebrate my own way rather than finding myself lacking in qualities I admire in others. No one way is the right or wrong way…. it’s just the Universe in balance.
Peace and love, always, Jackie
AUGUST 2018 I recently accepted a full-time job at a small marketing firm. Having worked from home for several years, the return to the 9-5 grind has been an adjustment. For example, when the workload is light, I'll slip into a coma, and when I awaken I might see my feet and wonder, "Why am I wearing shoes? And what are these people doing in my house? Wait a minute—this isn't my house. I'm in an office!"
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says it's better to do your own job imperfectly than someone else's job perfectly. How do you know you're doing what you're supposed to be doing? Because you're doing it. I have moments of panic, doubting if the eblast or press release I'm writing is any good, and if I should be doing this job in the first place. But it's not a matter of should. It's what I'm doing.
Whatever you're doing at any given moment, that's your job. It doesn't matter what it is. It could be backing your car out of the garage. It doesn't matter if you forgot to open the garage door. If you were perfect at it, there would be nothing for you to learn.
Love & peace, Steve
JULY 2018 Through a camera lens I captured birds arguing over who would get to eat the fruit of a saguaro. The next day my lens caught them sitting peacefully together, all enjoying the sweet red flesh of the fruits.
I witnessed hummingbirds attempting to be threateningly territorial over the feeder as finches, a woodpecker, sparrows and others try to get their inappropriately designed beaks into the tiny holes. Only then to watch as the hummers hover in the air a foot away or on a nearby branch, waiting for the others to have their fill.
Teddy loves to chase birds out of the yard, yet I’ve seen her curiously watch as they drink from her water bowl. And whereas they would normally take wing in all directions when she comes near, I’ve also seen them content to peck at bread crumbs I toss out for them while Teddy helps herself to the largest chunks.
These so called lesser species know innately that there’s enough. Their differences aren’t enough to undermine that knowing.
Perhaps we could learn from them.
JUNE 2018 The evening before Mother's Day, Jackie and I heard the Phoenix Symphony play Schubert's Eighth Symphony, commonly known as The Unfinished Symphony. What struck us was the fragility. The notes, the transitions, the silences—everything delicately held together, vanishing as it unfolded, as if it never existed.
Last week we were in Florida. We stayed at my brother and sister-in-law's house while they visited their son and his wife in California. Except my brother didn't go to California. He went to upstate New York to attend the funeral of his friend's son, who was suddenly gone.
Meanwhile we visited my mother, 89 and living in an assisted care community. On our last day, it was pouring when we hugged and kissed her goodbye. Any goodbye could easily be the last, regardless of anyone's age or circumstance. Nothing lasts. Not rain or music or people. This is life, fragile and unfinished.
Love & peace, Steve
MAY 2018 I try to be very careful with my words. I understand their power and I frequently coach my clients to choose them thoughtfully and wisely. With clients I’m typically referring to the words they feel, think and say about themselves, but it’s a thing we could be cautious of no matter who is listening.
Here’s the thing. We can’t know the life experience of others in totality. We might know bits and pieces, maybe even chunks, but we can’t know the whole. And if we can’t know the whole, we can’t know how our words will land. A shared experience is not a guarantee the other or others experienced it as we did. Even when we are sure of our intention and feel certain it will be understood, we simply can’t know.
There is a teaching, practice, tool that I make an effort to use, when I can remember to. The teaching itself has been attributed both to Buddhism and Sufism, but I got it from one of my teachers who also happens to be my husband and, one of the kindest people I know.
Before speaking (or writing, texting, emailing), see if your words can pass through the Four Gates of Speech.
Is it truthful?
Is it necessary?
Is it the appropriate time to say it?
Can it be said more kindly?
If it passes, then say it. But say it with the knowledge that even though it’s passed scrutiny, we still can’t know how it’s going to be received. Of course, this caution could be taken too far; I’m not suggesting we should sensor our every word. We'd have to take a vow of silence to never risk the possibility of our words being mis-received by someone somewhere.
We can’t stop talking. Our voice is a source of joy to some, or many and we can’t stop expressing ourselves. So, be you. Be the best, most caring and kind you that you can. And know that there will be moments when your words don’t land as you intended. Know that sometimes they might cause damage to a relationship, possibly even irreparable damage.
If this happens, then look for the lesson. Embrace it. Own it. Grow. Forgive yourself for not knowing what you couldn’t have known. And forgive them for not being able to understand you beyond their own life experience. There is no fault, there just Is.
I send you Peace and Love, always, Jackie
MARCH 2018 We all know March is the beginning of spring, but did you know it was named after Mars, the god of war? And that he's also the guardian of agriculture?
Mars is often perceived as an angry warmonger, the ultimate symbol of masculine aggression. But in his time he was heralded for directing his military prowess toward the vigilant preservation of peace, guarding against the harshest forces of nature so that crops and new life could thrive.
March is also the month of my mother’s birth. She’s just been through a period of great difficulty, at war with a couple of very hostile natural antagonists, standing guard over and cultivating fertile ground where life could once again flourish. Through the ordeal, she developed a sense of inner peace so inspiring, at times we found ourselves looking to her for strength.
Stand firm in your desire for and defense of peace. Diligently cultivate your environment such that your life and growth are uninhibited in spite of—and even because of—whatever difficulty you face. Be strong like Mars. Like Moma. Happy birthday, little lady.
In deep gratitude, Jackie
FEBRUARY 2018 My latest project is a book on The Heart Sutra, a teaching given by a student of the Buddha on Vulture Peak. I became curious about vultures and did some research.
Vultures are in the eagle family. I no longer call them vultures. I call them holy eagles.
Back in the day, corpses were left to decompose on the charnel grounds, sacred places where death was honored and observed. Holy eagles would eat the flesh and sometimes the bones, and then ascend into the sky, taking the soul with it. Whether you choose to believe that or not, you can't disprove their ecological importance. Their strong stomach acid kills bacteria, which can be deadly if spread by rats or other animals or insects. Holy eagles are masters of sanitation.
The Heart Sutra is about getting out of our head and into our heart. May all beings, including holy eagles, be happy and free.
Love & peace, Steve
JANUARY 2018 December 31st, 1982, approximately 11pm. My friend Greeny is determined to woo the hostess. His hand is on her thigh, in plain view of her husband sitting on the other side of her on the couch. I promise God that if we survive this, I'll never go out on New Year's Eve again. I fondly recall a few years prior, alone in my nice warm bed listening to Marshall Tucker's live Auld Lang Syne.
These days, even that would be pushing it. Sunday night, I intend to be asleep by 9:45.
Wishing everyone a peaceful New Year, Steve
DECEMBER 2017 At the end of some days I wonder where the time went, and feel I haven’t accomplished enough. I don’t much care for the way that feels. I also know there are others who feel similarly. So I decided to make a practice of acknowledging the things that others do, hoping to help them see that their days are more productive than they might otherwise think.
Every day in November, I wrote Steve a sticky note thanking him for something (large or small) that he does regularly that makes me and Teddy feel loved and supported, ways he makes our lives better. Then I stuck the note somewhere I knew he would find it.
This practice was to let him as well as others know that I see and appreciate what they do. The interesting result was that I developed more awareness of the little things I do between the bigger “accomplishments”, and at the end of a day I can now better see how I have spent my time rather than wonder how I wasted it.
Reaching out to uplift someone else, I uplifted myself. Funny how that works.
With love and gratitude, Jackie
NOVEMBER 2017 Recently, Jackie and I went to hear Phakyab Rinpoche discuss his remarkable recovery from an onslaught of spinal tuberculosis, gangrene and other afflictions. The doctors said if he didn't have his leg amputated, he would die. But Rinpoche decided against it. "Cutting is not healing," he told us. Instead, he meditated 12 hours a day for three years. It wasn't easy, but he's alive and well with two good legs. The title of his book says it all: Meditation Saved My Life.
So there's this small wart on the underside of my forearm. It's never bothered me, but for whatever reason, I'm feeling the need to eliminate it. The pharmacist recommends Freeze Wart Remover. As I touch it with the applicator, it sizzles. What I'm doing, with a highly flammable mixture of dimethyl ether, propane and isobutane, is inflicting freezer burn.
The next morning, giving a talk on nonaggression, I notice bright red stains all over my pants. Is there a marker somewhere that's leaking? No, it's the wart. The teaching—aggression only makes things worse—is being demonstrated in real time.
The pharmacist says if it doesn't go away in a couple of weeks, give it another freeze. I say no. Freezing is not healing.
Love & peace, Steve
OCTOBER 2017 I’m well past looking outside myself for approval, acceptance, or fulfillment. However, I believe there’s great value in looking at those around us and recognizing our own reflection in them.
Such was the case a few days ago as I sat outside with Teddy, enjoying the peaceful surroundings of our new home, needing nothing more than what was present. She remained by my side, even when a bevy of quail came from around the corner of the house. There were about 14 of them, as best I could keep track—male and female, some adult, some not quite. They foraged in the gravel and talked amongst themselves. “Quick quick," they seemed to be saying, though they were taking their time, unconcerned about us. They meandered, circling around and regrouping, eventually working their way to the back fence, then up and over.
Teddy never made a move. She sat with me, alert, observant, curious. Occasionally she looked at me, with smiling eyes that seemed to ask, “Aren’t they wonderful?” When the last one made his jump, she wagged her tail and ran off to sniff where they had been. It dawned on me that this might be a realization of the promise made in Yoga Sutra 2.35: In the presence of one firmly established in nonviolence, all hostilities cease. Maybe her lack of desire to chase them off is a reflection of my own establishment in nonviolence. I can choose to see it that way. I do, and I’m grateful for the awareness.
I’m also aware of work I have yet to do. Because if I find a scorpion in my house, I will smack it with a flyswatter as if it weighed 40 pounds. I’ll cry, and beg its forgiveness, but I’ll kill it twice if I have to. Unless….unless my hero is home. He who scoops them up with a plastic bowl and a piece of cardboard, then delivers them safely into the alley. Like me, he is concerned for the well being of himself and his family, but if the scorpion poses no immediate threat, he’s equally as concerned for the well being of this other sentient being.
I love and admire that in him. I’m not there yet, and I’m okay with that. To belittle myself in comparison or see myself less than him in this regard would be a form of violence. Subtle, yes. Life is a growth process; the more work we do, the subtler the work becomes. And the quieter we get, the more we see those subtleties.
Wishing you peace and love always, Jackie
SEPTEMBER 2017 Ram Dass says, "If you think you're enlightened, go spend a week with your family." I just spent 10 days.
On one of those days, Ruth, my 88-year-old mother, needed some new outfits, so Jackie and I took her to a vast clothing store. The moment we walked in, Ruth and I launched into the same debate we've been having since I was 10. She insists on buying me clothes, I insist I don't need clothes. As my father used to say, "He would rent his underwear if he could." But here I am, once again taking her generosity as an insult. Later on, Deb, my sister-in-law, offered me a simple solution: Let Ruth buy me a shirt, and then give it to someone who needs it.
I suppose I could do that.
Love & peace, Steve
AUGUST 2017 I’ve always been easily moved by the written word: poetry, novels, lyrics, Hallmark commercials….How fortunate for me that I married a writer! There’s another writer, though, that has also captured my attention and whom, through his books, I consider to be one of my spiritual teachers. Neale Donald Walsch is the author of Conversations With God (Books One, Two, Three and Four)and more than 30 other books. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with him and a handful of other people from around the world and engage in a free flowing conversation.
For five days and nights we shared meals, bathrooms, and in some cases, bedrooms. We lived like a family with Neale and his wife, Em. And their dogs. Each morning we gathered in the living room, no agenda, trusting we would somehow "get what we came for”—even those of us who had no idea what that was.
I definitely have some processing to do, and it will no doubt shape my life as I continue to integrate in the days and weeks to come. But by the end of the first day, there was one impression that had come to me more than once, which was in the back of my mind through each day. It was simple, and not something that I didn’t already know.
This was a unique gathering: nine people from five countries, with varying cultures, professions and income levels, brought together by a willingness to be open and vulnerable in our desire for insight and growth. I observed each person seeking understanding of their life challenges, issues, and traumas. In each of them I witnessed tremendous compassion and love. We laughed together and cried together, all of us quietly holding space for one another. It was in this way that we became a family.
What made this group unique? I wondered. One thing. By the end of the first day, we all recognized that while we are all very different, we are all exactly the same. “No matter who they are, people are just people,” I wrote in my journal several times. We’re just people—all doing the best we can in any given moment, within the framework of our own experience and conditioning, under the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. None of us can begin to comprehend how all those elements come together for another. We don’t need to. We can simply look beyond our own perceptions, and remember that they’re no different than us.
The next time I’m faced with something difficult that I'm inclined to hold inside, I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to speak it out loud. Because I know, without a doubt, that there will be people who are going to say, “I know what you’re going through, let me help.” I know this, because compassion arises naturally in each of us. Because it's our nature to reach out and help others suffer less. Because we're all the same.