The Mountain Remains…

I am always with all beings, I abandon no one.  And however great your inner darkness, you are never separate from Me.   Let your thoughts flow past you calmly.  Keep Me near, at every moment.  Trust Me with your life, because I Am you, more than you yourself are…

~~~Bhagavad Gita

Hello all!  Blogger Slacker returns like a thief in the night, surprise!  A lot has been happening, and the truth is I’ve been living this life instead of blogging about it.  But I wanted to come by so the Spirituality blog and our dear readers don’t get too lonely 🙂

We signed my mom into hospice last week and I’ve been coming and going a lot.  I was thinking about all of this stuff the last time I was down there, and this post was the favorite of many, so I’m going to re-run it.  I wrote this post last summer and the funny thing is that not much has changed, but everything has changed.  Not much is different, but it’s all so different.  And such is the nature of life.  And so the mountain still remains…Enjoy 🙂


I spent the last few days with my parental units, in a little town in Southeast Missouri.  This is an area I blogged about last week when I was thinking of my grandmother and my memories of smells, heaven and so on.  Lest I sound too romantic, the other reality is that this area located in the buckle of the bible belt boasts some pretty startling stats:  Highest illiteracy rates in the state.  Nearly 30% of children and seniors live below the poverty line.  A neighboring county claims the state prize for the most arrests for operating meth labs  and is rampant with child abuse and domestic violence, drug abuse and alcoholism.  It is literally in the middle of nowhere, a dot on a state road map  in the foothills of the Ozark mountains.  My cell phone doesn’t work because it is so far from civilization and if there is ever an emergency, there is no ambulance service.  You buy into a 911 package that allows a helicopter to transport you to a hospital about 50 miles away.

This is an area about an hour from a hospital, an hour from a major grocery store or movie theater, an area settled centuries ago by native mound builders and which later experienced some fierce fighting and plundering during the Civil War.  The Trail of Tears was prominent all through this area and various Indian tribes lived there for centuries before the Europeans arrived.  Much of my ancestry can be traced to the Irish  who settled there then married Cherokees who managed to escape from the Trail and find a new life in those rugged hills.  An old Civil War road runs along a ridge toward the back of their property, a heavily wooded area full of deer and other game, birds and bugs and snakes of all stripes.  In the cemetery where my father’s mother is buried, about two miles back on a dirt road, there is a large hand carved stone, noting only that it is at the head of a mass grave of slaves and Indian mound builders.  No one seems to have other information, but it has always fascinated me.  So it’s not exactly Heaven on paper, but I actually believe Heaven is within, regardless of where I may or may not be.  And besides– God I love it there.  It’s nature at its best;  the people, landscape and its inhabitants wild and untamed, with rolling hills and valleys, which in this part of the world are referred to as “hollers.”

During this trip, we made pickles and tomato juice with ingredients straight from the garden, ran a few errands and I worked in the yard some.  This is my favorite part, the garden and cutting acres of grass.  My father has some big lawn mower things that are nicer than one of the cars I owned in college, a ratty old 4-speed copper colored Datsun  my friend Tom affectionately referred to as “The Turd.”   I learned pretty quickly as a child that if you are cutting grass or doing dishes, people just leave you alone to do your own thing.  This remains true even now. So I like to cut the grass.

Going to their place is always an adventure.  The drive down takes close to 3 hours and rolls through some gorgeous country, through little towns and hamlets named after characters and areas from the Bible, after people long forgotten other than a passing through their creeks or farms.   Yet these mountains and valleys remain, solid witnesses to the passage of time.   I thought of my grandmother a lot on the way down and her uncanny ability to predict the weather, among other things.  She swore that if the cows were laying down (which they were on Thursday) it was a sign of  “falling weather,” and to expect rain or snow or whatever seasonal precipitation falls that time of year.  For the record, the cattle were all sprawled out like college kids after a drinking binge, but the skies were sunny and  earth-bound blue, with no rain in sight.

So these are things you can’t help but notice on the way down.  Part of what I like about going is that I’m never sure what I might end up doing while I’m there.  My mother is not in good health  but is in this Energizer Bunny Holding Pattern, just sort of plugging along.  My clinical brain knows that one of these days, probably sooner rather than later, the batteries in the Bunny will stop working and she’ll sign into hospice.  When that time comes, I’ll go down there for the duration, but for now I just come and go and do what I can.   And when I can, I cut the grass and admire the rolling hills, these foothills of the Ozark mountains.

So I tooled around on the Cadillac of lawn mowers, very Zen-like.  Well, Zen-like other than being lost in thought.   But at least Buddhist in the sense of mostly being really present to the moment.  I love watching the birds dive into areas I just cut, scooping up the bugs that bounce around like kids in bumper cars, scattering wildly to escape the whirring blades.  I love watching the clouds come and go, love hearing the cicadas sing their bluesy summer songs, love the heat and sun, love the ways the earth seems to stand still and move so  steadily at the same time.  The snakes really will leave you alone if you return the same courtesy and they provide the valuable service of keeping the mice and bugs away, so there is a general sense of “live and let live,” which is fine with me.

So I cut grass and soak up sun and sometimes I’m so present to the moment that it aches.  So many people I know are feeling apart from the Divine right now, so apart from who they believe themselves to be, so soul-weary.  I watch my own mother and remember the hundreds of people I worked with in hospice, knowing that you can hold onto life for a long time, but eventually you just become a weary traveler wanting to get home.   I was thinking of the verse from the Gita I listed above and many others, just letting the blades whir around and letting the sun melt some of my own thoughts away.  The Gita is part of the Hindu Scriptures and translates as “The Song of God.”  I love the passage that says God is more me than I am.   I love thinking that I am One with the Divine and those mountains, with all that is happening, all that is so big and small, so real and so surreal.

Later, as one storm after another brought the most ominous looking clouds and dark skies, pounding rain, thunder and lightening vibrating the house and illuminating the mouth of the George Ward Holler (I have no idea who George Ward was, but the storms always come through the valley of his old farm) near their home,  I thought of my grandmother and of how the storms in our own lives just roll through like that.  Some sun, some rain, and usually some warnings for dark skies if we are paying attention, even if that is cows laying down on a hot afternoon.   But then that passes through too, dripping with much needed nourishment for the soils of our souls, lit up, maybe even shaken or stirred a bit. This weekend reminded me of all of these things, and I thought about it a lot.   Mostly the skies in this life are clear, but clouds pass through, that’s just part of it too.  But doing this inner process in deep communion with the Earth makes it more do-able for me and reminds me of a passage from the Prophet Isaiah,

You shall go out in joy, and be led forward in peace; the mountains and hills will break forth before you in singing, and all the trees of the fields will clap their hands…

So I thought about all of that while I mowed and cleaned and made sweet pickles and tomato juice, trying to soak up time like a sponge, feeling it slipping through the hourglass, knowing you can’t hold onto anything or it just cuts as you try to grasp it, feeling time pass with a sense of Amazing Grace.  I find the only way to do this time (or any time, for that matter) is to be present as much as possible– so present that it aches a little…but there is also so much joy there, and that grabs you too.  The Buddhist word for that place is Bodhicitta, which the Dharma teacher Pema Chodron describes as “the soft spot.”   Volumes have been written about this, but it’s basically that soft place inside all of us that holds some pain, some joy, some tenderness, like an old scar that never fully heals.  And all you can do is touch it lightly, like painting a prayer on a cobweb, holding it all in the tenderness of a mother with a sick child, knowing that you are the mother and child all at once.

There is something powerful about that soft spot, knowing it is as eternal as the mountains and valleys, knowing that mountain remains in spite of its own soft spots and pounding rains.  There is something really comforting about the eternal yet so very temporal nature of time and the passage of it, something so very comforting about the deeply personal nature of this time and the universal nature of it as well.    At some point we all experience death–hopefully we all experience a life.  That’s really my primary aspiration with all of this, to be so present to all of my life that it aches, but to take this life, as shaken and stirred as it may feel at times, and really live it.

The poet Li Po pondered these same things, as we all have throughout lifetimes and the ages.  Yet the mountains remain, a witness to our grief and joys, to knowing no matter how dark it feels, we are One.  Nearly 1300 years ago in China Li Po wrote, possibly on a weekend like this one,

The birds have vanished into the sky

And now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,

Until only the mountain remains…

So tonight I sit, honoring mountains and time, watching the clouds drain away.  And like clouds in the sky,  we all  pass through, changing forms and moods like the weather, always changing, always eternal, always One with All That Is.   And the mountain remains.

Night moon.

Night stars.

Peace 🙂


Whole Hearted Courage

Courage is the power to let go of the familiar…

~~Raymond Lundquist

Hello all 🙂  Blogger Slacker returns…

I took this pic a few weeks ago in  a remote place called Cathedral Canyon, in The Middle Of Nowhere, Missouri.  To reach this place, you have to leave all that is familiar, drive 2 hours from a major city, then hike  even further  into the more-middle-of-nowhere.  I must say~~ it was totally worth it.  The pic doesn’t do it justice.  I spent a few days in that part of the world, totally off the grid and reconnecting with myself.  It was lovely in a million different ways.  During that time, I pondered why it is that I often have to leave all that is familiar on the outside to reconnect to what I love that is familiar on the inside.  But that is another blog post for another day.

I was thinking today about all of the horror in Japan, reflecting on the impermanence of everything we think is familiar, all we hold dear.  The funny thing is that as things change or become unfamiliar, the human tendency is to engage in our familiar patterns that often don’t serve us….old patterns of shutting up or down, lashing out or in, running away instead of running toward the change.  Yet there  is so much change happening all the time and that’s what we call life.  When we like the changes we say things are going well, when we don’t like the changes we say they aren’t.  But that’s familiar too.  I think it takes real courage to go with all the flows of life, to swim through what might feel like a tsunami with an open heart.  I’m amazed by how many people are able to do just that and I’m grateful when I can do it myself.

This is a time of Lent for some…fasting, prayer and reflection.  This is a time of loss and horror for others…unprecedented, horrible loss on a scale I can’t even begin to comprehend.  This is a time of joy for others…birth, new jobs, new homes, dreams coming true.  This is a time of death and illness for others  and on and on the list of changes goes.  No matter what the circumstance, it takes courage to face it and walk through it with an open mind and heart. And in the middle of it all, in the middle of all the magic and all the tragic, we all crave connection with others.  I have come to believe with my whole heart that the only way I can have a connection with you is if I have a connection with myself first.  And, at least for myself, I feel most connected in a helpful way to myself if I feel connected to the Divine and all of the ways in which God moves within.

All of this  made me think of Brene Brown and her work.  Brene has done some very interesting research in the fields of courage, compassion, shame and how to live with a whole heart.  She speaks of the original meaning of the word “courage,” meaning to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.  Her research is very interesting and beautiful, I’ll post a clip at the end of one of her TED talks.   It’s well worth the 20 minutes or so it takes to watch.

As you ponder courage and living life with a whole heart…If you are so inclined, please remember those for whom this is a hard or tragic time.  If you are further inclined, perhaps you could hold yourself and others in the gentle and loving space of a whole heart, or at least hold the aspiration that you can do so, for yourself and others.  We are all we’ve got, sweet friends.  And I think it’s important to remember we are all enough.  YOU are enough.   Yes, you. May you go forth with that knowing and the courage of a whole heart of peace and kindness toward yourself and others.

With that, I leave you with Dr. Brene Brown, her bio and video.

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Brené spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She poses the questions:

How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?

Getting There

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
~~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Hello all 🙂

I was talking with some folks over the weekend about the paths we walk…how we think the path we are on will lead to a certain place, but part of the journey is accepting when it wanders into other areas.  Staying on the path and getting there aren’t necessarily the same thing, but probably all part of the same path.  It reminded me of the wonderful poem by David Wagoner, so I thought I’d post it.  We’ve all earned this ” worn-down, hard, incredible sight  Called Here and Now…”  I hope this finds you enjoying it.  Have a great day!

Getting There

You take a final step and, look, suddenly
You’re there. You’ve arrived
At the one place all your drudgery was aimed for:
This common ground
Where you stretch out, pressing your cheek to sandstone.

What did you want
To be? You’ll remember soon. You feel like tinder
Under a burning glass,
A luminous point of change. The sky is pulsing
Against the cracked horizon,
Holding it firm till the arrival of stars
In time with your heartbeats.
Like wind etching rock, you’ve made a lasting impression
On the self you were
By having come all this way through all this welter
Under your own power,
Though your traces on a map would make an unpromising
Meandering lifeline.

What have you learned so far? You’ll find out later,
Telling it haltingly
Like a dream, that lost traveler’s dream
Under the last hill
Where through the night you’ll take your time out of mind
To unburden yourself
Of elements along elementary paths
By the break of morning.

You’ve earned this worn-down, hard, incredible sight
Called Here and Now.
Now, what you make of it means everything,
Means starting over:
The life in your hands is neither here nor there
But getting there,
So you’re standing again and breathing, beginning another
Journey without regret
Forever, being your own unpeaceable kingdom,
The end of endings.

~ David Wagoner ~

(In Broken Country)

Rest for your souls…

Stand at the crossroads and look; ask about the ancient paths, “Which one is the good way?”   Take it, and you will find rest for your souls…

~~Jeremiah 6:16

I snapped this picture when we had just hiked over Skull Bridge, at the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)  near Abiquiu, New Mexico.  The Trail head is just over that bridge and heads south into the Rio Chamas Wilderness area, a gorgeous place no matter what time of year.  I wrote about this trip recently in a post titled Smile at Fear;  if you are interested, you can read that entry from the Blessings Blog here.

It’s funny to me how small the world seems when I sit at my desk and type, when I can instantly communicate with someone in Nashville or Australia, when I can click a few buttons and pretty much anything I want is at my fingertips.  But the world takes on whole new dimensions when you are actually out in it.  I am often filled with wonder and a deep sense of unease that it is easier to speak with someone hundreds of miles away via text  than it is to walk across the street to talk to a neighbor.   I have a house full of things  my grandmother’s generation was told would save time and make life easier and I suppose in some ways they do.  But time for what?  More work?  TV?   Stress?  Family and friends?  What do we do with this supposed extra time and ease we were granted?  We live in a world moving so fast that when something takes mere seconds I say it is moving slowly. But that’s when I’m inside, dealing with the non-human, unnatural world.   Traipsing around on a trail that literally runs from Mexico to Canada makes the whole thing suddenly come into a more realistic perspective.

One of the reasons I love hiking is that the planet truly takes on a whole new dimension when you are walking through it– deserts and woods are not like other places.   For one thing, they are just huge, but more than that they are full of wonder and scenery, challenge and  solitude, hope and a sense that we are not alone.  Interestingly, when I get away from all the stuff that is supposed to save me time, I have all the time in the world.  When I get way from the hustle of the millions of people on the planet, the less alone I feel.  Wilderness trails  offer  a chance to reconnect to myself and in doing so I reconnect to my God as well. I love the water, but put me on a trail anywhere, especially in the mountains or the woods, and  I have found my bliss.  A path simply takes you from one civilized place to another, but a trail…Ah, a trail takes you from what we like to call civilization into the unknown.   I believe the further we travel into the unknown, the more we travel the path the ancients knew led to the Heart.  By doing so, we allow the soul to take the ancient paths which lead to peace and rest.  I think of Augustine’s line,

My soul is restless, O God, until it finds rest in You…

There is something so comforting about knowing that just as this area on the CDT was traveled for centuries before Europeans “discovered” America, so too has the Path of Life has been journeyed for generations before me.  The Prophet Jeremiah wrote those words about ancient paths  sometime around 600 B.C.E.  We really haven’t changed that much in all of the years we’ve roamed this planet…we’ve always been restless, we’ve always sought rest for our weary souls.  Leaders and subjects come and go, tides ebb and flow, children are born and someday die in old age, relationships are complicated and endure, money is made and lost and on and on.  Cravings have always been with us, as has emotional pain and bliss, but time marches on and the search for meaning transcends generations.  This has always been the nature of humans and  I assume this will continue on long after I am gone from this body.  Our technology has changed, but deep down we all want the same things we’ve always wanted…health, love, safety, joy, freedom from suffering, the chance to live and love and enjoy those with whom we live and love.  These are the ancient paths we all walk, and while the details may change, the human story is pretty much the same over time.

The ancient paths are the ones I think we all long for in our depths…we all long to connect to ourselves and loved ones, to something greater than ourselves and to all Life can offer.   Tillich said the word “solitude” reflects the joy of being alone, while the word “lonely” reflects the pain of being alone.  We all need to have time alone to walk the path, to feel the pain and the joy of that “alone-ness” at times.  And while it is comforting to know others have gone before me and I am never alone, the truth is that it is still my path to walk and the choice is mine to walk it.  Growth is optional and not everyone chooses it, but that is also an ancient path.   Buddha said, “You cannot travel the path until you become the path itself,”  and I realize more and more how true that is.   As they say in Zen, the obstacle is the path, and we can only truly travel that path with an open heart.  What fascinates me is that we all have teachers and endless opportunities to open to the path, but we can only apply the lessons within if we choose to do so with an open heart and mind.  So we all travel the path, but our choices can lead to a path of heartache or one of joy.  As usual, discernment is the key.

What the ancients knew, that we all must learn, is that the good path will only open to us as much as we can or will give ourselves to it, without judgment of ourselves or others.  In doing so, eventually we find what all the mystics tell us over and over about the path…such as, we are not punished for our anger, but we can be harmed by our anger.  We are not rewarded for our good deeds, we are rewarded by them, including the ways in which our  immunity and our cellular structure becomes stronger and more resilient as we practice compassion and joy.  The deeper we go, the more love and humility and compassion we find,  thus the more rest we find for our weary souls, which leads to more compassion and humility.   I’ve come to believe essence of true humility is knowing I am neither too much nor too little, and that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone—even me.  But that was one of the lessons of my path, I didn’t come in with that understanding at all.  Like all of us, I grew into it and hopefully will learn to walk this path with a wise  heart.

Just as Jesus said to love one’s neighbor as self, and Buddha said there is no one more deserving of your love than you, we all have to walk the path of embracing our own goodness.  We have all faced demons and struggled on the path.  We have all embraced the path or run from it, not realizing it was all still the same path.  We have all had conflicts with parents or children, friends or bosses, teachers, lovers and maybe even someone we called an enemy.  But choosing the good path leads to rest, and a rested soul is a wise soul, and wise souls usually come to understand the conflict is within, not outside of us somewhere. Thus they seek the wise path of peace.

We all walk these ancient paths, and the paths often diverge into addictions and an experience of suffering.  The path always eventually leads to the same place of Home,  but not everyone knows to ask up front, “Which one is the good one?”  But the Universe, in all of its gracious abundance,  always lights the path before us until we know to ask, until the answers become clear.  Because this too is the nature of the path, leading us from one civilized place to another, ever offering the Light yet another day.  Gautama Buddha addressed this hundreds of years ago with his own disciples, hoping to shed a light on the path for them, yet hoping they would also take responsibility for illuminating it themselves.  He said to them,

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.

But do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

So today, for all of us standing  at the crossroads and asking, ‘Which one is the good way?’   I wish you peace and clarity, and rest for your souls.

peace 🙂

The Bridge, a Story about Consequences

“To confront a person with their own shadow is to show them their own light…”

~~Carl Jung

This is a story about fear, about our choices and ultimately what we are responsible for in our lives…To what do we owe ourselves and the Other, whomever that may be?   How do we face our fears?  If you like this story and the following questions, I wrote a post on the Blessings Blog called Smiling at Fear, about how we face these choices and deal with these inevitable situations in our lives.   If you are interested, you can find that here.

I got this story some time ago from Missy Bradley, the teacher of the Heroic Journey Seminar.  If you get a chance to see her in your city, it is so well worth it!  You can find her schedule here.  This is a great story, and it a total cut and paste, nothing original here but not much I can do to improve on it, so enjoy!

The Bridge

By Edwin Friedman

There was a man who had given much thought to what he wanted from life. He had experienced many moods and trials. He had experimented with different ways of living, and he had had his share of both success and failure. At last, he began to see clearly where he wanted to go.

Diligently, he searched for the right opportunity. Sometimes he came close, only to be pushed away. Often he applied all his strength and imagination, only to find the path hopelessly blocked.  And then at last it came. But the opportunity would not wait. It would be made available only for a short time. If it were seen that he was not committed, the opportunity would not come again.

Eager to arrive, he started on his journey. With each step, he wanted to move faster; with each thought about his goal, his heart beat quicker; with each vision of what lay ahead, he found renewed vigor. Strength that had left him since his early youth returned, and desires, all kinds of desires, reawakened from their long-dormant positions.

Hurrying along, he came upon a bridge that crossed through the middle of a town. It had been built high above a river in order to protect it from the floods of spring. He started across. Then he noticed someone coming from the opposite direction. As they moved closer, it seemed as though the other were coming to greet him. He could see clearly, however, that he did not know this other, who was dressed similarly except for something tied around his waist.

When they were within hailing distance, he could see that what the other had about his waist was a rope. It was wrapped around him many times and probably, if extended, would reach a length of 30 feet.   The other began to uncurl the rope, and, just as they were coming close, the stranger said, “Pardon me, would you be so kind as to hold the end a moment?”

Surprised by this politely phrased but curious request, he agreed without a thought, reached out, and took it.

“Thank you,” said the other, who then added, “two hands now, and remember, hold tight.”

Whereupon, the other jumped off the bridge.

Quickly, the free-falling body hurtled the distance of the rope’s length, and from the bridge the man abruptly felt the pull. Instinctively, he held tight and was almost dragged over the side. He managed to brace himself against the edge, however, and after having caught his breath, looked down at the other dangling, close to oblivion.

“What are you trying to do?” he yelled.

“Just hold tight,” said the other.

“This is ridiculous,” the man thought and began trying to haul the other in. He could not get the leverage, however. It was as though the weight of the other person and the length of the rope had been carefully calculated in advance so that together they created a counterweight just beyond his strength to bring the other back to safety.

“Why did you do this?” the man called out.

“Remember,” said the other, “if you let go, I will be lost.”

“But I cannot pull you up,” the man cried.

“I am your responsibility,” said the other.

“Well, I did not ask for it,” the man said.

“If you let go, I am lost,” repeated the other.

He began to look around for help. But there was no one. How long would he have to wait? Why did this happen to befall him now, just as he was on the verge of true success?   He examined the  side, searching for a place to tie the rope. Some protrusion, perhaps, or maybe a hole in the boards. But the railing was unusually uniform in shape; there were no spaces between the boards. There was no way to get rid of this newfound burden, even temporarily.

“What do you want?” he asked the other hanging below.

“Just your help,” the other answered.

“How can I help? I cannot pull you in, and there is no place to tie the rope so that I can go and find someone to help me help you.”

“I know that. Just hang on; that will be enough. Tie the rope around your waist; it will be easier.”

Fearing that his arms could not hold out much longer, he tied the rope around his waist.

“Why did you do this?” he asked again. “Don’t you see what you have done? What possible purpose could you have had in mind?”

“Just remember,” said the other, “my life is in your hands.”

What should he do? “If I let go, all my life I will know that I let this other die. If I stay, I risk losing my momentum toward my own long-sought-after salvation. Either way this will haunt me  forever.”  W ith ironic humor he thought to die himself, instantly, to jump off the bridge while still  holding on. “That would teach this fool.” But he wanted to live and to live life fully. “What a choice I have to make; how shall I ever decide?”

As time went by, still no one came. The critical moment of decision was drawing near. To show his commitment to his own goals, he would have to continue on his journey now. It was already almost too late to arrive in time. But what a terrible choice to have to make.

A new thought occurred to him. While he could not pull this other up solely by his own efforts, if the other would shorten the rope from his end by curling it around his waist again and again, together they could do it. Actually, the other could do it by himself, so long as he, standing on the bridge, kept it still and steady.

“Now listen,” he shouted down. “I think I know how to save you.” And he explained his plan.

But the other wasn’t interested.

“You mean you won’t help? But I told you I cannot pull you up myself, and I don’t think I can hang on much longer either.”

“You must try,” the other shouted back in tears. “If you fail, I die.”

The point of decision arrived. What should he do? “My life or this other’s?” And then a new idea.

A revelation. So new, in fact, it seemed heretical, so alien was it to his traditional way of thinking.

“I want you to listen carefully,” he said, “because I mean what I am about to say. I will not accept the position of choice for your life, only for my own; the position of choice for your own life I hereby give back to you.”

“What do you mean?” the other asked, afraid.

“I mean, simply, it’s up to you. You decide which way this ends. I will become the counterweight.  You do the pulling and bring yourself up. I will even tug a little from here.” He began unwinding  the rope from around his waist and braced himself anew against the side.

“You cannot mean what you say,” the other shrieked. “You would not be so selfish. I am your responsibility. What could be so important that you would let someone die? Do not do this to me!”

He waited a moment. There was no change in the tension of the rope.

“I accept your choice,” he said, at last, and freed his hands.

The End.

Copyright 1990, The Guilford Press, under option to Snaproll Films

The questions that come with the clinical book with this story are:

1. How would you get the man hanging from the rope to take responsibility for himself?

2. How much responsibility does the man on the bridge have for the other?

3. Why is is so difficult to let go once we are experiencing “rope-burn?”

4. What is a higher value, self-sacrifice or achieving your own salvation?

5. Why do the needy often get most needy when others around them are functioning best?

6. Why are the dependent so often calling the shots?

7. If the man on the bridge never got away, could the man handing on to the rope be accused of murder?

8. How does this story get played out in families, schools, religious institutions, health-care delivery centers, business organizations and government?

9. Could both men be the same person? If so, how?

10. If someone came up to you and said, “Hold the end or I’ll jump,” what would you do?

Food for thought.

Have a great weekend.  peace 🙂


The sun shines and warms and lights us and we have no curiosity to know why this is so; but we ask the reason of all evil, of pain, and hunger, and mosquitoes and silly people.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve been reflecting lately on changes and illusions and all that happens as we age (even if we don’t grow up), all that happens as we grow and change and how much of life is how we see it.  In the pic above, do you see two old folks,  do you see the vase, do you see the woman coming through the doorway, do you see the young people?   It all changes as your viewpoint changes.  So much of life is like that.  So much of health and relationships are like that.  So much that happens internally is like that.  I’ve been reflecting on this a lot lately, especially physical changes and how that impacts relationship changes and all of  life, or at least our viewpoint about it.  I think  Ralphie is right– I ask the reasons for all kinds of things, especially silly people 😉  But then even that changes.

Bodies change for sure.  It’s funny—they probably change more when we are kids, but we don’t notice it.  The adults around us notice it, as in, “I can’t believe how big you are getting!” (fyi, it’s not appropriate to say that to a 40 year old woman no matter what) but I think I am more acutely aware of the changes in my body now, at  40, than ever before…print seems a little smaller, hair a little more silvery at the top, those pounds I gained when I quit smoking still linger,  friends throw out words like peri-menopause and talk about hormones and sick parents and getting older in whole new ways.

My longest, best-est friend and karma sister recently had a lump in her breast.  The same breast that had a pre-cancerous lump in it a few years ago.  A lump I went to the doctor with her to get checked because it was scary and didn’t feel quite right.  A lump that we both assumed would be OK, but a lump nonetheless, considering how many people we both know who have had not-happy lumps.  Her lump turned out to be a cyst, but it got me thinking about all kinds of things, got me feeling all kinds of things, got me pondering all kinds of things.

It’s a certain kind of stress when someone you love is sick or hurting, or might possibly be sick or hurting.  I think it’s harder to deal with a sick loved one than to be sick yourself, thus the literal definition of compassion means, “to suffer with.”   There was a study done a few years ago about caregivers of hospice patients.  Researchers asked hospice patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest possible pain.  On average, the patients put their pain at about a 4 on a 10 point scale.  The caregivers of these hospice patients were then asked at what level they would rate the patient’s pain.  Caregivers nearly always rated the patient’s pain at an 8 on a 10 point scale–the caregivers essentially doubled the patient’s pain.  I believe this is because they were experiencing what is known as  caregiver burnout or  compassion fatigue– their own pain plus the patient’s pain.   The weight of care-giving, of feeling the pain of a loved one, can be a heavy burden indeed.  But at the same time, it’s a joy to really care for someone you care for, to be that present to someone you love.  It’s an interesting mixed bag.   It can be exhausting to be on either side of the coin, but I honestly think being the caregiver is harder in some ways.  But then that changes too, as time passes and bodies change.

This sister and I have been through fire together and have been on both sides of that coin.  It’s one that I suspect over time will be flipped again and each time we show up for each other, feel the feelings, face the fears, dive into the deep end holding hands and still find some giggles along the way.  I was thinking about all of this stuff in the last week…sick friends, sick family, sometimes my own sick mind 😉   But how we can all do it together and that always makes it better.  Not always easier, but better.  I just spent an intense weekend with my mother, doing some life review and going through boxes of old stuff in closets, which I will probably write about another time.  But it was deep and intense and sad and interesting and sort of surreal in a way.  Boxes of stuff in closets, pictures, all of it marking the passage of time and changes along the way.  I guess someday someone will do that with some of my stuff.  I hope it’s a little easier for them than it is for me at times, but we all have our own viewpoint, our own places that feel tender or hard, so who knows?

My  friend and karma sister have been through a lot of this together and I know as things change in life, we will just keep walking the path.  We’ve done a lot of this stuff together already and we are both still young.  Both sides of the coin are interesting.  When my mom was in some of her last stages of treatment options for breast cancer,  I ended up with a “mass” on my ovary.  A ginormous, bigger-than-a-baseball size mass on my ovary.  My left one. A mass my primary doc seemed rather in a hurry to put through additional testing. One that made my back hurt and upset my stomach and seemed rather concerning to her. Whoa.

My clinical, I-worked-in-hospice-for-years-and-know-the-signs-and-symptoms-of-ovarian-cancer brain kicked in, and while I understood at a very cognitive level that the signs for a cyst that size and the signs for a tumor that size are …well, pretty damn much the same at that stage of the game, I was still vaguely aware of a anxiety that was far greater than about my own happy female parts.

My mom was still doing chemo and other treatments for a malignancy that is best described as an already untamed breast cancer gone totally wild, with metastases doing the rumba all through her body…the organs and bones, the skull and the chest…it was everywhere by that point. My aunt had just finished her own surgery and treatment for breast cancer, and one of my other very good sister-friends was starting radiation for—you guessed it–breast cancer.  Some of the most beloved people in my life have died from cancer and I suddenly felt surrounded by it, engulfed by it.  Part of the problem when this stuff happens is that I know too much after working in hospice all those years.  It’s great to know what to expect, but at the same time sometimes it’s a real bummer to know what to expect.  I am not afraid of dying and long ago made decisions about what my treatment choices would be if faced with this sort of situation.  I think my friends were more worried than I was, and I tried to not provoke any additional concern (or sisterly wrath, for that matter) by refusing to investigate further.

I was so not in the mood to be doing my own journey down oncology lane, but there I was… getting tests, giving blood and letting people poke and prod me.  Nice people, but pokers and prodders nonetheless.  I am generally not a welcoming recipient of poking and prodding and this was no exception.  But off I went, swept away in a regimen of testing and waiting.  I didn’t tell anyone in my family and shared it with only a few close friends.  I wasn’t trying to be secretive, I just couldn’t talk about it yet.  I simply did not have a vocabulary for how it felt internally….almost non-attached in a surreal way, but with this profound sense of keen interest, curiosity into this unknown journey, one I have observed from the outside hundreds of times as a health-care provider, a daughter, a sister, a friend.  But not one I had ever experienced internally.

It was extraordinary in a way, like crystallized moments caught in time, this very conscious feeling of “don’t lose this, something significant is happening here.”  There was depth to it, like the way it feels to be underwater in the silence, knowing there is sound and movement just above you, knowing you can break through the surface at any time.  It reminded me of the way the first apples taste in the fall, crisp and juicy, tart and sweet, aware summer has passed but the cold is not upon us, trying to let go and hold on at the same time. Time itself took on this very weird quality, and I kept thinking of this mantra from Buddhism,

whatever arises today is fresh, the essence of realization, the source of my awakening.”

I tried to practice really being with it, giving into a direct experience so visceral that I didn’t know how to talk about it, could only sit with and touch lightly.  It was one of those times of feeling all the opposites and knowing it’s all One, this experience of being full and empty, having an experience that was so very personal and yet so very universal.

Two weeks seems longer than normal while waiting for results and then more weird tests.  My primary physician, a very kind and knowledgeable woman whom I see only under duress, sent to me another doctor.  A male doctor.  A not-quite-60 looking male doctor who is an ob-gyn, an oncologist, a lawyer, and a surgeon.  I wanted to ask him if he went to medical school straight out of kindergarten, but I managed to control myself.  A kindly but all-about-business sort of guy, he had more letters behind his name than in his name and a large office staff.  He worked at the end of a very long hallway in a very bright yet somehow drab medical building, the kind that is used to stressed out people wandering through its maze of corridors and signs, aching for news, clutching reports and desperately in need of a cup of decent coffee. The whole thing was decidedly unnerving.  My good friend and karma sister went with me that time, declaring when one is off to see a physician with that many scary initials on his business card, you should not go alone.  So off we went, down the brightly lit, artificial feeling hallway, not really alone but feeling like it anyway.

But I was so glad to have her come.  Because while I was quite certain this was only a cyst, nothing to worry about and nothing I would treat conventionally if it turned out to be worrisome, the whole thing was unsettling and a honestly a bit intimidating. Big words in the halls and on the office door like “Women’s Oncology Center,” and “Cancer Research Center” are scary words.  They just are.  And I found it bringing up grief for all the other women who go through these things, and how, as Lily Tomlin said, we are all in this together, by ourselves.  Honestly the thought of having cancer didn’t scare me as much as what they might want to do about it, and while he was very nice, all the testing is just unpleasant.  More pelvic exams and ultrasounds (for the uninitiated, suffice it to say these should at least come with beer, cigarettes and some small talk.  At one point during the ultrasound I wanted to ask him if he was looking for my ovaries or my tonsils.  Again I restrained myself).  Then more scary words, more medical histories, etc, etc, etc.

And even though all was well, there was still so much grief in me…as a woman, a daughter, a friend, a niece, a soul sister…so much grief for all the women and families who do this every day, alone even when surrounded by friends or family, not wanting to worry anyone else yet needing the support and feeling anxious internally…for all the women who have always had such a capacity for life, for the place in us that is so resilient and has the ability to bounce back, and yet we are also so fragile.  We are all so fragile and all so strong and so resilient, and I am in awe of those among us who are aware of how much we always walk a thin line between life and death, always doing both at the same time, always making choices in one direction or another, somehow trusting the process of life to just take us to the next right thing, the next right place, the next step in the journey.  Bless those walking it, and those who walk with them, those who light the path and blaze the trails.

And bless us all, and all the changes we all go through every day…

Night Moon.

Night Stars….

🙂 peace

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