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.