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Monday, September 30, 2013


Years ago, when my father passed away, a friend called, and instead of offering sympathy or comfort, she said she knew I would be fine because I knew about detachment and the eternal nature of the soul. I was not comforted by her words. Beware using the wisdom of spirituality as a weapon against others, couching useless advice in helpful terms.  The cruelty of telling someone to 'just get over it, no matter how lovely the language used, is a violation of the sacred trust of relationship. If you are offering advice, make sure it has been asked for, and then offer it only if you have lived your way fully to the heart of it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Having It All

We do such a disservice to ourselves and others by continuing to have the conversation about whether it's possible to have it all.  It is such a distraction to the more important question of whether what I cultivate, create, nurture and sustain are imbued with meaning and purpose, and reflect the sort of person I am and the life I intended.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


The hope of the spiritual journey is not that you will be free from suffering or magically freed from facing the very real challenges of your life.  The hope is that your spiritual practice and approach will strengthen you and make you better able to face the challenges that cross your path.

Just like a climber going up a mountain doesn't expect that their training or equipment makes the climb less of a challenge, so it is on the spiritual journey.  The better a climber you are, the better your tools and equipment, the more rigorous your past climbs, the better you are able to manage what lies ahead.  And, like any practiced climber knows, after you have seen what is possible by scaling the mountain, an easy stroll on the sidewalk seems less interesting.

There is no need to go thrill seeking on the spiritual path, no need to seek the emotional and spiritual and psychological challenges that push us to the limit or test us the most.  Life itself provides an endless array of challenges.  We might be faced with unexpected loss, or change we didn't want, or the fulfilment of every dream only to find the dream empty, or the isolation of feeling stuck in our own creation, living with fear or uncertainty or boredom.  There are 10,000 ways that life challenges us.

Today, a father told me about the death of his 13-year old son by suicide, and how real the pain is all these years later; his son would be 30 today were he still alive.  And how the most helpful thing at the time was a friend who came to the visitation, didn't say a word, but embraced this man for many minutes, just holding his friend and crying with him and then letting go without ever saying a word.

And this man understood from the hug everything that words could never say: that his friend was there for him, without judgement, wanting to help but knowing that no words could help in that moment, and that he would show up and be available no matter how hard it all got.

You don't have to look far for the biggest mountain you'll ever climb....

Sunday, September 8, 2013


The spiritual journey doesn't magically free you from suffering.  It doesn't liberate you from struggling.  You could be one of those who choose to put all their energy into transcending suffering, cultivating detachment and freedom from the complications of human existence.  But it still doesn't free you from yourself.

Even if you step away from the kind of entanglements with others that seem to obviously lead to suffering, you still have yourself to contend with at the end of the day.  You still have to wrestle with who you are and what you're about, and those answers aren't always easy or obvious or pain-free.

Sometimes the best the spiritual journey offers is the courage to honestly face yourself and accept what you encounter with as much grace as you can muster.  We have deficits, each one of us, parts of ourselves that are undernourished, underdeveloped, neglected and ignored, and we suffer ourselves, and inflict suffering on others, in so many way, large and small, because of it.  

Even when we have a clear sense of ourselves at our best, our ability to honor that best self in thoughts, words, actions and relationships, especially when circumstances are difficult, can be almost impossibly disappointing.  Disappointment that the potential that exists in ourselves and those we love can so often be betrayed by the most ordinary, mundane failings.

Anyone who tells you that suffering is illusion, that it is not real, is ignoring the reality of their own experience. There is nothing so tangibly real, nothing that roots you so completely in your own humanity, your own frailty and weakness, as suffering.  There is nothing that binds you so tightly to your humanity and nothing that can isolate you so fully as suffering.  

It is not the whole picture, but when the suffering is yours, it fills up reality with its vast presence, defining everything else in relationship to it.  And you don't walk away from it by dismissing it with spiritual philosophy.  You have to go through it.  You have to walk through the middle of it and come to terms with it and accept that suffering is part of your humanity, not the obstacle to your humanity. 

No reason that suffering has to be permanent, but it carves space into our hearts and minds and lives and demands attention, and we ignore it at our own peril.

Accept what is in front of you.  Don't embrace or hold on to it longer than necessary, but accept what is there, ask it why it has come, what it has brought, and what is now required of you.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Which Story?

The real trick in life is knowing which version of your story to believe in, to keep and to tell.  Because there's never just one version of who you are, how you got to be yourself, and how you want to share that with others.

Sometimes you reach a point where the story you were so certain reflected you the best stops working altogether.  And there's nothing to do but re-write that story, understand how events and your experience of them are knit together, unravel them, and reassemble them in a way that serves you better.

Like an old sweater made from a pattern once trendy, but now hopelessly out of date, you can re-use the yarn but re-imagine the design.  Maybe an old knit tunic becomes a scarf and hat. Maybe a vest becomes a cardigan.  Same basic elements but a completely new outcome.

What is the story from your past that has lived on past its usefulness?  What is the way you have understood yourself that keeps you feeling bad or powerless?  Who have you dismissed or included that doesn't belong in the story of your life anymore, or at least not with a starring role?  

You are not just a victim of circumstances, and no matter how influenced you are by your past, your future holds within it what you nourish and encourage and make a home for.  It's up to you, maybe more than you realize.  

Starting Anew

You don't get over a broken heart any more than you get over a broken arm. Healing comes from the inside out, and it takes time and rest and the energy of something new to begin. The break has to mend, the cells have to repair at the most minute level, with progress invisible as bones knit back together, as a solid connection forms between the broken parts, and strength starts to return.  But it is a slow process, and impatience doesn't change the pace of healing.

And so it is with the heart. Seemingly invisible healing starts to happen, the spaces opened up willingly in love, and then torn open wider in pain, begin to mend, with the heart becoming stronger, no longer just wounded and bleeding, with hope returning where there was only despair.

But - broken heart or broken arm - healing cannot be rushed, and wisdom lies in knowing that is takes the power of time to transform.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Best Thing...

Sometimes the best thing about new beginnings is beginning anew. Sounds obvious, but so often we mean to make changes, we mean for things to be different, we mean to move forward, but we get stuck trying to fix what isn't working instead.

We think about what went wrong, what didn't work, what should be instead of what is. And it's the most natural inclination in the world.  Not one to be dismissed, but also not one to be indulged until the putrefying remains of the past pollute the possibility of a fresh start.

Knowing where to leave off from the past and begin anew takes some paying attention. When sorrow outweighs joy, when tiredness outweighs energy, when confusion outweighs clarity, then you know.  You know you've used up what was there and it's time to move on, to move forward, to create something new.

And the end of what doesn't work can be the most liberating place. It frees you from holding on and trying so hard to fix what is irretrievably broken, and allows you to put all that energy into whatever is next. Because as long as you're breathing, there is a next, another chance, more possibilities ahead.

I hope your new year is full of newness, that your mind and heart are filled with lightness and joy, that the hope that was born in you finds fulfillment, and that you feel the blessing of G*d's loving presence with you at every step of your journey.