I'm surprised how little I remember about Norman Dubie. I studied with him for a year and can’t recall a single instruction he gave. In the workshops we'd read our poems aloud and briefly discuss them. One time he played a videotape of a local news segment (in Ohio?) where UFOs called “rods” were spotted, and invited us to write about it.
As my thesis advisor, Norman would meet with me in his office once a week. The same crooked tower of random books on his desk kept gathering dust. He’d read my latest batch of poems, chuckling and occasionally jotting a suggestion. Sometimes he’d look up and say, “That’s good,” and I wouldn't know what he was referring to. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to tell me how to write, just as he wouldn’t expect me to tell him how. It was like having my own personal Buddha, who once said he never taught anyone anything.
Since his passing last month, Norman has been on my mind, and not because of any pearls of wisdom or tricks of the trade that transformed my writing. Lao Tzu said that learning can’t happen unless the teacher and student respect one another. Norman's appreciation and kindness emboldened me to keep writing, just as he himself had been doing for more than 50 years. He taught by example, like so:
The sunlight passes through the window into the room Where you are sewing a button to your blouse: outside Water in the fountain rises Toward a cloud. This plume of water is lighter Now, the white shares of itself are falling back Toward the ground. This water does succeed, like us, In nearing a perfect exhaustion Which is its origin. The water
Succeeds in leaving the ground but It fails at its desire to reach a cloud. It pauses, Falling back into its blue trough; of course, Another climb is inevitable, and this loud, falling Water is a figure for love, not loss, and
Still heavy with its desire to be the cloud. At the end of our last meeting, Norman opened his mail, and there was a check for a poem he sold to a literary magazine. He wanted to celebrate by treating me to dinner. We took my car, where I don’t remember. The passenger’s seat of my Corolla was a tight squeeze for him. Shins against the glove box, he was, indeed, larger than life.
Love & Peace,
Steve & Jackie
Whenever my father asked me, “Who do you think you are?” I never knew what to say. All that came to mind was the 1973 song whose title was that very question. Over the years, many people have offered me various suggestions. A Hungarian. A wise-ass. A first baseman. A writer. Oh, and this one: The power of the cosmos expressed in perfect intelligence, functionality and beauty.
The only sensible answer came recently from Amrit Desai: “You are never who you think you are. You’re making it all up in your head!” And so I wrote a little song called “Never Who You Think”. You can hear a recording by Julia Nem as you read along:
Sky inside a bird Song inside a word River in a stone Yes inside a no Cloud inside the rain Smile inside the pain Sunrise in the dark Heart inside my heart
You are never who you think you are You are never who you think You are more
You are never who you think you are You are never who you think You are more
Sky inside a bird River in a stone Heart inside my heart
Happy Love Month,
Steve & Jackie
My final trip to the grocery store before Christmas was an exercise in patience, as I expected it would be. As always, I decided to remain pleasant no matter what and reminded myself to just slow down, ’tis the season.
But there was this one little man whose slow and meandering behavior surely tested me and caused me to become just a bit snarky, if only in my mind. He was older, a little weakened by age and life, using his cart as a walker, cane hanging over the side. We were searching the same case in the deli section and he was continually in my way. Every time I attempted to go around him, he eased forward.
I tried coaxing myself with “it’s okay” and “just go around the other case and circle back.” But when I did that, there he was, occupying the very spot I was headed. I laughed at myself, and decided to just wait him out.
Then he turned and looked straight at me. His eyes were kind and mirthful, clearly having seen their share of joys as well as challenges. “You look like someone who knows where to find the bagels,” he said. Before I could respond, he added, “You also look like someone who’s fixin’ to tell me where I can find them.”
I directed him toward the bread and off he went down the center aisle. We kept running into each other, laughing each time as I encouraged him toward Aisle 16 where I hoped he would find his bagels. We complimented each other for being “such a nice person”.
I feel gratitude for the simple, joyful exchange we shared; what a gift this was. It's true, good things do come to those who wait.
Happy New Year,
Jackie and Steve
The quiet today is profound. For a moment I entertain the idea that I might be losing my hearing. But no, I can hear the soft whirring of the space heater across the room. I can hear the gentle rain even though the door is closed. It’s just remarkably quiet, inside and out.
A tiny gray bird, a Verdin maybe but I’m not certain, is flitting among the stalks of an agave cactus, landing on one, then another, fluffing his feathers seeming to collect raindrops, then pulling the feathers back in and shaking the water off. It dives into the lantana to rest a moment, somewhat protected from the rain before going back out to start the process again.
The lantana, gloriously overgrown, spills over the edges of the lava rock flower box. The green leaves and lemony, buttery colored blossoms are abundant and vibrant in the muted light. Its branches quiver as rain drums the leaves, blossoms filling to overflowing, the stems bowing their heads in grace to release the raindrops to the earth.
A third of the raindrops land in the gravel with such speed that they bounce, creating an illusion of tiny grasshoppers. And every once in a short while the gray white sky outside my front window fills with small murmurations of starlings performing their sweeping, swirling, synchronized aerial ballet then disappearing into the still, breathless sky through which the rain softly falls. Clouds hang so heavily that only the barely visible ridge line of the Phoenix Mountains gives them away. Peace is everywhere.
Joy to the world,
Jackie and Steve
Once upon a time, a co-worker of mine named Dallas received a letter from an evangelist he never heard of. It went on and on about a pitiful sinner who served in the revivals as an example of how a man ends up by going down the path of evil. After providing a detailed history of substance abuse, gambling, cheating, lying, perversion and so forth, the reverend revealed that the sinner had died, and offered Dallas, who was at the height of his advertising career, the job. This year, for April Fool’s, I conspired with Jackie and her brother Joey to scrawl a paraphrased version on Best Value Inn stationary and send it to my brother Mike. He appreciated it so much, he urged me to write a book about it. How do you stretch a joke into a novella? I had no idea, but in my research, I found this: “Make your tent bigger; stretch it out and make it wider. Do not hold back. Make the ropes longer and its stakes stronger.” —Isaiah 54-2 (New Century Version) In moments when we feel like contracting, we can do the opposite. We can expand our hearts and minds, and stretch ourselves in ways we never thought possible.
Here's to not holding back! Happy Thanksgiving, Steve & Jackie
I was listening to an Eckhart Tolle podcast recently. He shared that he’s frequently amused by people who mention something from their past and then say “but I’ve already dealt with that.”
He said he usually responds with “Of course you have. You dealt with it a long time ago. But it will come back, it always comes back.” I laughed along with the rest of his audience, because it’s true. And my guts squeezed into a tight ball, because it’s so true.
I have a button that gets pushed. It’s my issue. It must be mine because this particular button has been getting pushed for a very long time by numerous people. I’m the only constant in the equation so I really have to own it.
Recently, I was able to see a different aspect of the thing that allowed my perspective to shift. The new realization brought a great deal of relief. I felt like I could actually surrender into the reality of what is seemingly true and uncomfortable, because of the reality of what is also true but which brings me joy. I was excited to try, anyway.
Then the button got pushed again, and it screwed in a little differently. You see, the things always come back but in subtler ways, like ghosts coming back to haunt you. Sometimes it feels like a new thing. Sometimes it shines light on the fact that there is more about yourself to learn.
There’s a difference between surrender and just giving up. While two weeks ago I might have been able, today I can’t feel the difference between them. But I do know that I prefer one over the other. So, I’m going to continue my self-inquiry and be kind to myself for not having worked this crap all the way out yet. Yet.
Here's hoping all your ghosts are bringing bags of candy!
I wish you peace always,
SEPTEMBER 2022 A man sips his coffee, looks out the back window. Clothes are drying outside the apartment across the way. Filthy, he thinks. That's how these people do their wash? The irritation gives him gas, so he opens the window to let in some fresh air. The sheets, he now sees, are gleaming white. It was the window that was dirty.
To open the window is to open our minds and hearts, to look past our own schmutz and see things as they are, and connect directly with the world.
When a bunch of us were practicing together, Dave Oliver gave the instruction to keep our eyes open. He wanted us to stay aware of one another. "Don't go into your little yoga cave," he'd say.
The past few years have pointed many of us, for better or worse, in an inward direction. The window may have gotten a little sticky. It seems like a good time to open it up all the way.
Love and peace,
Steve & Jackie
We met Posey on a morning walk last week. She came barreling out of an alley with every tooth sparkling in the sunshine and muscles rippling in slow motion. All the pit bulls we've known have been sweethearts but, you know, we’ve all heard the horror stories, and this one was on the loose and running straight for us.
Somehow we managed not to react. In that pause we saw the whole back half of that pup wagging so hard, her tail was slapping her shoulders. She wasn’t barking or growling. And she wasn’t baring her teeth—she was smiling! Teddy responded with mild curiosity.
After a boisterous introduction with mutual loving on each other for a few minutes, we told her to go home and headed toward ours. She came with. We tried to read the phone number on her tag but she was wiggly and strong so it was just a blur. I was glad she was following us because I wanted to make sure she was safe. She waltzed right in the house, helped herself to some water, and had a sniff around. Finally able to read her tag, I called her dad, who was running around looking for her and just a few blocks away.
She watched for him out the window and was thrilled when he arrived. It turns out they’re brand new to the neighborhood. The wind had blown their back gate open, and, lucky for us, out went Posey. We can't speak for Teddy, but Steve and I had fallen a little bit in love with her and were sad to say goodbye.
I think we’ve all felt time slow down in potentially dangerous situations. Maybe it's a shift in consciousness that creates this perception. What if we were that present all the time?
Love and peace always,
Jackie (& Steve & Teddy)
He paused on the sidewalk. “Remember A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?”
"Of course," I said, stopping short of running into him. I followed his gaze, looking for a tree big enough to have been there since 1943.
“They weren’t kidding,” he said, and we kept walking.
We were in New York last week. Plan A was to go in 2020 but you know the rest of that story, and last year, Plan B fell through. A recent invitation to a surprise 50th wedding anniversary party was all the motivation we needed. This time we were going.
We were cautioned about crowded airports, flight cancellations, humidity, thunderstorms, ticks, and the dangers of driving in NYC. We nodded our understanding. With no intention of entering the city, and no control over the rest, we agreed to flow with whatever took place.
I could tell you about meeting Steve’s cousins and their spouses for the first time, their kindness, how they made me feel as though I’d always been part of their family.
I could tell you how, trying to avoid tolls, I accidentally drove right into Manhattan even though I’d thrown a little hissy-fit at home insisting that I would not do it. Ever. I could tell you the second time was on purpose because the first time turned out not to be so bad. In hindsight.
Or I could tell you how with his childhood friend, we romped around in the same fantastically beautiful part of the state where they grew up.
Or about the day we spent crossing back and forth, back and forth over the Erie Canal as my long time friend and her husband gave us a tour of their little town and fed us.
Or about driving and hiking through the “Grand Canyon of the East”.
Or about perhaps the single best meal of my life—Trinidadian—not in New York City but Binghamton.
Or about our second-best meal (Italian) in Brooklyn during the last day of our trip shortly after getting my first in-person look at the Statue of Liberty.
Or how being with Steve in all these scenarios and seeing the places he'd lived made my heart feel all squishy.
I could also tell you about the extra hour on the tarmac, both ways. The sunburn. Getting lost over and over, unintentionally making a complete u-turn using clover leaf ramps. Running out of gas and having to backtrack 20 prayer filled miles. Leaving laundry in Pauline’s dryer which she kindly mailed home to us.
I could tell you about the mosquitos.
There were plenty of things that could have gone wrong. And some sort of did. But we kept to our agreement to relax into whatever presented itself and held each other accountable.
And so, I'll just tell you that this was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken and I came home more in love than I left.
Relax into whatever is and know that you are loved.
Jackie (and Steve)
JUNE 2022 Last week, in an interview to teach 4th grade English, I was asked what my greatest challenge might be. “Teaching to the student who doesn’t want to be there,” I said. I remember being that student. I feared math, until eighth grade. Mr. Jablanski, or Jabo as we called him, was low key—patient and kind. I didn’t dread walking into the classroom. Math wasn't scary after all.
Yogi Bhajan said the job of a teacher is to be a forklift. We’re all teachers, teaching by example. We can teach courage, sanity, whatever we want. We can uplift ourselves and each other.
Love & peace, Steve & Jackie
MAY 2022 They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But if you're the lemon? One morning I felt no inspiration to write so I wrote about feeling uninspired: I’m shuffling around the neighborhood like the most pathetic country-western song you ever heard and the box that says help yourself has one lemon left. It’s puny and past its prime, more orange than yellow. I put it back. All the juicy ones I took yesterday are plenty. On I go, until it occurs to me: Nobody wants the last lemon. Especially the couple who keeps putting them out there with the plastic shopping bags in fancy, easy-to-open knots. What are they supposed to do with it? By the time I get back there, it’s gone. I carry the empty box to their doorstep out of courtesy and go home. My key’s in the door when my stomach sinks. What if they take my bringing back the box as a hint to refill it? That would be pushy on my part. Rude even. I go inside, write a note, go back, and leave it in the box. Thank you for the delicious lemons. Here’s a tip I hope you find valuable. Before you cut a lemon, roll it around on the counter with the palm of your hand. You’ll get more juice.
Honor the lemon, whatever it may be, and the lemonademakes itself.
Love & peace,
Steve & Jackie
APRIL 2022 Hi Honey, We’ve all been called Honey, whether by a loved one, the school nurse, or the server taking our order at a diner. Why is that simple term of endearment so medicinal? Maybe because, according to an ancient teaching, honey is what we are.
Madhu-Vidyā means honey vision. It's seeing the truth that we are honey for each other and for all things and that all things are honey for us. Honey itself, when you consider everything required to create it, teaches us that everything is interconnected and vital. Even hardships that seem like sludge or quicksand are honey in disguise.
You can practice honey vision by calling everyone and everything Honey, verbally or mentally. Or just be aware of the interconnectedness in whatever you’re doing. If you feel a sweetness arise in you, let it spread to those around you.
As the song goes, what the world needs now is love sweet love.
Honey & Honey (a.k.a., Jackie & Steve)
One morning as were having our breakfast, a hummingbird and a finch shared theirs at the feeder outside the window. I have an affinity for birds, so to say viewing this brought me joy goes without saying.
I then heard another hummingbird chittering or squeaking, however you would describe their particular voice, coming from the fireplace. I imagined him sitting up on the chimney. I kept making Steve stop eating so he could hear it with me. But every time he became still, so did the bird.
As Steve cleared the table, I noticed that the bird only sang when I lifted my coffee cup or smoothed the tablecloth, and when I stilled, he hushed.
Turns out the chittering was coming from a plant on the other end of the dining table, near the fireplace. Every slight movement of the table caused two dried up leaves to make a faint sound which I had interpreted as coming from a hummingbird. Singing. To me.
I had to laugh at myself. But also came the knowing that joy is inside us, and for whatever reason we feel the need to create something outside ourselves to access it.
I’ve decided to find the joy inside first, and let it spill over into things outside myself. At least I will try.
May our world know peace in our lifetime.
A Sufi boy ventures off to pick flowers for his mother. When he hears them singing the praises of the divine, he can’t bear to uproot them. He returns home with the flowers in his heart. Our teacher Franklin Wood offers this instruction: Take in a flower’s beauty, leave it be, and then share it by letting someone see it blooming in your eyes. You can do this with a sunset, a song, a baby’s smile—whatever fills you with peace or joy. Happy Love Month, Jackie & Steve
nverting your teacup at bedtime is a Tibetan practice to acknowledge that the day has passed. In the morning, you turn it right-side up to celebrate awakening to a new day, a fresh opportunity to make the most of our precious human life. We can bring this quality of appreciation, moment by moment, to everything we experience.
This is what it means to get off on the right foot, an expression from ancient times when the right foot was believed to be the lucky one.
Here's to putting our best foot forward.
Happy New Year, Jackie & Steve
As my brother and I outgrew Hanukkah, our family stopped observing it. The presents over eight nights, our consolation prizes for not having Christmas, lost their pizazz. The menorah stayed in the liquor cabinet, collecting dust along with the booze nobody drank except for an occasional tablespoon of brandy administered by my father as a decongestant along with a noseful of Vicks.
Four decades later another menorah shows up, gifted to Jackie by a friend before we were married. Now every year, Jackie finds out when Hanukkah falls. She buys the candles and brings out the prayers for me to read. The light that lasted eight days continues. It's the same light that's in the stars, in candle flames, on Christmas trees, and in us.
According to the yoga sutras, focusing on the light within brings deep peace. You might feel it in the center of your chest, or radiating from your eyes. The instruction in Matthew is don't keep your light hidden. Let it shine on everyone around you.
Love & peace,
Steve & Jackie NOVEMBER 2021
BEWILDERMENT PRACTICE. A Zen student was given tasks but never told how to do them. He was continuously bewildered, never sure if what he was doing, or how he was doing it, was correct. How was he supposed to move that boulder? He was scolded when doing something wrong but never offered instruction. He had to figure everything out on the spot.
Notice opportunities to practice this, doing what you’ve never done, or something you’ve done a million times in a new way. Notice how little knowledge you can get away with, and how much you can rely on your intelligence and wisdom.
Before your next task, make a face as in the photo above and say this mantra:
I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.
Love & peace, Steve & Jackie
LEAF PILE PRACTICE. Autumn, 1972. My friend Glen Wheeler’s backyard is covered in leaves from the old maple. He and Willie Francis and I rake them into a pile as high as our chests. Then we climb the tree and, like leaves ourselves, drop. There’s no summer behind us, no winter ahead, just the crisp air, the tannic scent, the golden crunchy cushion rushing up to meet us. You don’t need a meditation cushion to drop in. All you need is whatever’s in front of you. The leaves. The dishes. The guy playing Bach on a ukulele.
Love & peace,
Meet Katy. She showed up on the bathroom floor recently. She was not in great shape; only one leg, a front one, seemed to be functioning. I was more compelled to let nature take its course than to move or get rid of her. She didn’t seem to mind Teddy, Teddy didn’t mind her.
The next day, Katy managed to use that one good leg to drag herself from the bathroom and across our bedroom to sit in front of the arcadia door. I thought I’d scoop her up and put her out, assuming that’s where she wanted to be, but I knew she wouldn’t last half a day out there, if that long. Instead I researched what grasshoppers eat. Herbivores. I brought her some spinach. She ate! The next day I gave her more and she ate again.
Later that night, she was all the way across the bedroom, out in the hall trying to climb a wall. Climbing wasn’t going well for her so she tried out her hops. First try, she flew to the far side of the living room to have a seat on the couch. I congratulated her and told her goodnight.
Yesterday Teddy noticed her sitting in the window sill. With her health greatly improved, I decided to liberate her. Using a bowl and the edge of an envelope, I scooped her up, took her outside and tossed her into the lantana out front.
Before landing, she opened her wings, made a U-turn, flew up over my head and kept going. I turned to watch her. I had no idea grasshoppers could fly so far or high; it was like watching a long-driven golf ball as far as you can see it. She became a speck that disappeared into the distant clouds. I guess I should have named her Popeye, strong to the finish 'cause she eats her spinach. Toot-toot!
By letting nature take its course, doing nothing more than offer a little support in the way of sustenance and then observing, I was gifted with a moment of pure awe, of joy and an odd sense of accomplishment.
I suspect you have a bit of a smile on your face right now. If you zoom in, it appears Katy does too.
Peace to every part of your being.
I love you,
CLOSE DOOR buttons in elevators don’t work. They were disabled in 1990 because of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires elevator doors to stay open for at least three seconds.
Why, then, did manufacturers continue to include these buttons when they don't do anything?
To let passengers think they’re in control.
Well, guess what. That illusion is going on all the time.
The moment unfolds whether we like it or not. Rush ahead to the next one? That’s impossible. We have three seconds we won’t get back. Three seconds here, three seconds there. We can waste our whole life jabbing at buttons that don’t work.
Relax, be where you are, repeat.
Love & peace,
Steve & Jackie
Tuesday was my first piano lesson. Jackie's friend Keith came to the house to teach me and instantly became my friend as well. We popped open some beers, talked a bit about the great songwriters of our generation, then got down to business. He taught me the seven major chords, how to make them into minors, and add a bass note. Then he shared a website with a zillion songs I can print out, play just the chords, and sing along to.
After a few days of practice, something was, as Jackie put it, “going on.” I couldn’t stop crying and wasn’t sure why. After a few hours I knew. It was the piano.
Jackie grew up listening to her grandfather and mother play that piano. When it found a new home in our living room, it was so out of tune that the piano tuner warned us that at least a few strings were likely to break. None did.
Then came Keith, who drove 40 miles for the love of music and a couple of Scottsdale Blondes (yummy by the way, brewed in the Kölsch style that originated in Cologne, Germany).
Then, just to sit down in front of it, the same instrument played by Claude Debussy and Jackson Browne and Carole King and so many others whose music has affected me in the way only music can.
Then—check it out—fingers! I have what I need to play the piano.
Finally, this is what happens. The instant those fingers press down on the keys, the sound pours into you and overflows and there’s no stopping it. Suddenly you remember: you are capable of tremendous beauty. And it doesn't need to be anything fancy. Just play an A minor. Or start the car. Everything is music, as proven by this poem:
Freshen The Flowers, She Said by Mary Oliver
So I put them in the sink, for the cool porcelain was tender, and took out the tattered and cut each stem on a slant, trimmed the black and raggy leaves, and set them all-- roses, delphiniums, daisies, iris, lilies, and more whose names I don't know, in bright new water-- gave them
a bounce upward at the end to let them take their own choice of position, the wheels, the spurs, the little sheds of the buds. It took, to do this, perhaps fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes of music with nothing playing. Love & peace,
Steve & Jackie
I’m sitting on the patio when, once again, the rabbit enters my periphery. This time I move nothing, not even my eyes. It keeps coming and settles just a few feet away. Now if only I can keep my mind from moving, or at least from making any sudden moves. A thought appears--maybe it’ll sit in my lap—and off it goes. Of course. Imagine how peaceful Saint Francis of Assisi must have been to befriend wild animals. Look at his eyes in the painting above. Imagine being that free of reactivity, judgment, attachment, fear—even thought. I’ll see how it goes with the rabbit. Wish me luck. Love & peace, Steve
Remember the children’s book, Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman? The lost baby bird asks a kitten, “Are YOU my mother?”
Then he asks a hen, a dog, a cow, a car, a boat, a plane, and a steam shovel. According to the Buddha, the answer would be yes each time, because we've all been each other’s mother in one lifetime or another. Regardless of your beliefs, the instruction is a good one:
Love everyone as unconditionally as a mother loves her child. If that feels weird, start with this: Mentally ask everyone you encounter—the mail carrier, your cat, somebody who cuts you off in traffic—“Are YOU my mother?” To take this practice to the next level, ask them aloud. Then let us know what they say. With motherly love, Steve, Jackie & Teddy
Anybody remember Otis from The Andy Griffith Show? After an evening of copious moonshine, he'd lock himself in jail and let himself out in the morning. Might we all have the key to our own freedom? Aren't we free by nature? Patty Griffin has a lyric: When you get there you’ll see you were already free What does it even mean to be free? Of all the things to be free of—debt, habits, anxiety, drama, gluten—what if it’s not the thing itself but rather the way we see it? What if it boils down to understanding, as the teaching goes, that the truth will set you free? For my latest book, A KEY FOR OTIS, I took a preposterous amount of poetic license to investigate what freedom really is. And now I know even less. Love & peace, Steve, Jackie & Otis
What is it about taking off our shoes?
Why does it feel so good? There's the sensation of relief, but it's more than that.
Taking off your shoes is an act of arrival, of coming home to yourself, being where you are, as you are. Try this. Next time you’re restless, imagine the feeling of removing your shoes and notice if it brings a sense of contentment and belonging. Feel the release not just in your feet but in your entire body, and in your mind. See if that helps you relax or fall asleep. You can use this mantra from the closing theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies: Sit a spell. Take your shoes off. Love & peace,
Jackie, Steve & Teddy
Presumably, it’s that time again to reflect upon the year that’s about to end. In this case, maybe it’s best to wait another 50 years to do so. From a cosmic view, 2020 is just another orbit around the sun, no different than, for example, 1970, when my family celebrated New Year’s Eve in the restaurant of the Algiers Hotel in Miami Beach and, at the age of nine, I was sipping champagne from Mom’s flute. She didn’t touch the stuff, claiming that if she had one glass of anything, “you’d have to pick me up off the floor.” Dad wasn’t a drinker, either. Smoking was his thing—unfiltered Lucky Strikes—and for the occasion, a box of Royal Jamaica cigars. My brother Mike, 14 at the time, convinced him to give one to each of us boys. Mike lit his own first, and as he held the match for me, folks at nearby tables began pointing and laughing as I puffed away. In the morning, Mike was facedown in his pillow, not moving, and they were about to stop serving breakfast downstairs. We first tried pouring water on his back, which elicited nothing more than a grunt. I went down the hall and filled the ice bucket. That woke him up. I like to look at it as Mike’s spiritual awakening. Among his first acts as an enlightened master was to apply Crest toothpaste to my face to get rid of my freckles. Sure enough, 50 years later, they’re gone. Another confirmation that all things shall pass. Happy New Year, Steve
We call my mother what everyone else calls her: Ruth, sometimes Ruthie. It’s simple that way, and that’s how she likes things. Since being in hospice, she hasn’t had many questions, and the few she’s asked have had nothing to do with her condition. If she wakes up in the morning, she’ll wake up. And if she doesn’t, well, as Wally Amos of Famous Amos cookies once said, “it won’t bother me any.” Is it warm out? What did you do for dinner last night? When is he going to get a haircut? When she asks the doctor how long is this going to last, she's not referring to her own personal suffering. She means COVID-19. Millions of seekers through the ages have meditated, prayed and done all kinds of practices to liberate themselves of their own self-centeredness. And here’s Ruth, never having stepped on a yoga mat or considered herself religious or spiritual, who’s been enlightened all her life without giving it a thought. She’s not wondering who she is or what’s it all about. She just wants to know where I got that sweater. Jackie and I spent the past ten days or so with her. Much of the time she slept, including one afternoon when a music therapist came by with a guitar and sang a few songs, ending with "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)". When will I get a haircut? When Jackie cuts my hair. Here’s a holiday treat for you, straight from Ruth’s recipe box: WHISKEY COOKIES 3/4 lb. butter 1 cup sugar 3 beaten egg yolks 1 teaspoon baking powder 3 1/2 cups flour 3/4 small juice glass of rye whiskey 1 teaspoon vanilla Mix everything together, refrigerate, make small balls, indent with rounded-top clothespin, fill hole with jams (raspberry, mint, orange, lemon), bake 350 degrees until light brown, top with powdered sugar. Love & peace, Steve
I recently began studying and practicing lucid dreaming. It starts with intending to stay aware during sleep, remembering your dreams, and then maintaining that vivid yet relaxed quality of attention during your waking hours. What you start to discover is that attention operates the same way in dreaming as in waking. We dream up, at least to some extent, our own reality. Over the past few weeks, I found myself harshly judging a friend of ours for his political views. What I was doing was superimposing my own view onto him—in essence, taking a perfectly decent human being and turning him into my own nightmare. Then last night, I had a dream about him. We were at a restaurant having a pleasant conversation. I don’t remember the topic, just that it was casual, nothing to do with politics or anything heavy. I was able to see him accurately, without judgment, simply as a friend. It took a dream to wake me up. A teacher of mine named Dave used to cite this nursery rhyme: Row, row, row your boat, Gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream. In other words, be diligent, be kind, and enjoy life while you can. And if you're going to dream, in or out of bed, might as well make it a good one. Love & peace, Steve
Entering the meditation hall, a student notices a painting is crooked. He straightens it, then goes and sits on his cushion.
The teacher walks up to the painting—and tilts it back the way it was!
Our views are deeply conditioned. When something isn’t how we envisioned it, our inclination is to change it rather than change ourselves.
Instead of straightening the painting, what if we left it alone, and cocked our head?
Love & peace, Steve
I’ve always felt stumped by the question, “Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?” The best I could do would be to describe a state of being; if pressed to provide details, I made up a story that sounded good but that I knew full well was a bunch of hooey. I’ve never been much of a visionary.
I don’t think a single one of us could have envisioned many of the details of our lives right now. Many things have changed and will continue to. For a lot of us, it might mean we need some new perspectives: What is most important to us? How might we continue to do business but in a new way? Where might we be of best service in our community? Whose children are these, anyway?
I couldn’t even have made up this story but, deep down, my state of being is as I would have described. I know who I am; I know my purpose on this earth.
I’ll admit that there are moments when even to me it looks like I’m doing nothing. But when I sit and allow my “vision” to expand so that it encompasses a larger picture, I can see that I’m still serving my purpose, perhaps in a more profound way. Maybe. Just a little shift in perspective allows me to relax into that possibility and in those moments, I begin to feel inspired; I feel growth emerging.
How might you shift your perspective?
Peace and love, always,
I’m in the laundry room, and can’t help but notice what feels like an icepick piercing my foot. I look down: a scorpion crawls away.
What is this pain teaching me? Basically, that I neglected to see the scorpion, or the possibility that one might appear, or that humans aren’t the only species inhabiting the desert.
This is a case of not seeing things as they are. According to various wisdom traditions, this not seeing is the root cause of all suffering. When we don’t see things as they are, our experience of life is limited to how things relate to me, me, me.
I don’t know about you, but at least 99.9% of my suffering is self-inflicted. The good news is, something can be done about it.
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.