A very good friend of mine made a startling confession to me a couple of weeks ago – the implications of which I’m still wrestling with. I know this man well. I know him to be highly intelligent, well read, insightful, very skeptical, analytical, educated and articulate. He graduated from a respected university, makes his living as a researcher, has an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and is a master of logic and reason. He is a true  polymath. I love this man, and maybe more to the point, I respect him.

Every now and then we get together to share good beer and conversation. Our meetings over food and drink are much more than just Saturnalian beer swilling. We dissect history, religion, culture, politics, evolutionary theory and everything else we can think of in a Socratic format of questions and answers, each of us testing our mettle against each other.

It’s an instant feedback loop of ideas and criticism.

We pass no judgments but pardon no folly. These engagements and my greater friendship with him are one of the true joys of my life. And so I was gob smacked when he looked me square in the eye and told me he had once come face to face with Bigfoot.

I was stunned not because of what he had just said to me or because it was specifically him who had said it – but because of my reaction to it.

Let me be very clear on this: this isn’t about him this is about me.

My immediate and reflexive response was, “Oh, I believe you.”

And I’m still wrestling with that.

I’d like to think my reaction was a combination of the beer and a desire to not offend. And while those two things certainly colored my response, I know deep in my heart they don’t tell the entire story. The truth is, I want to believe in Bigfoot. I really do. I want to believe there is something yet to discover in nature, something really, really big; something scientifically earth shattering and paradigm shifting.

Do I really believe in Bigfoot? Do I really believe that my friend actually saw one? These are two different questions. He saw something. Of that, I am certain. I will leave it to him to decide what it was.

But I have to decide what his story means to me and about the nature of belief itself.  The difference between knowledge and belief is the difference between having facts and  having faith. I want to believe in Bigfoot just as I would like very much to believe that there is a loving god who watches over me.

But my constitution won’t allow me to surrender to either notion without a consensus of evidence. I remain skeptical. And yet, I understand how and why believers believe. When you really, really want to, it’s easy. When you really want to, it’s easy to reflexively say,  “Oh, I believe you.” But before I dive in with both feet and start living as if these things really existed, I must stop and examine my motives. Is this thing really out there or do I just wish it were?



Sing, My Darlings

That’s all. Just sing. If you can talk, you can sing. I don’t care if you can carry a tune or not. Don’t let the judgments of others stop you.

Just sing (and maybe dance a little).

If you can’t sing out loud for some reason, sing softly to yourself. Or hum.

But sing. Do you know what your soul does when you sing, especially when you allow yourself to become the song, just for a moment?

It rejoices and sings right along with you, lifting you up and making that light burn all the brighter.

So crank up the tunes and belt it out!

imagesWalking on Sunshine,

May 4, 2012

Some things should read out loud, especially poetry.

On a recent plane trip, I took a book of poetry by Rumi to read. I have read bits and pieces of his poems and fell in love with his passion.

On an impulse, I picked up a copy of his collected works. Seven months later, my first opportunity to read the book occurs on a plane trip to San Francisco. (A sad commentary on the lack of time for simple pleasures, but that’s for a later discussion.)

After dutifully reading the introduction about ecstatic poetry and the life of Rumi, I was ready for the payoff. The poems.

Silently I read the first one… and was disappointed. No passion, no emotional charge, nothing.  Well, I thought, maybe this one just doesn’t have anything for me. Ah… but not so, the next three were also disappointing.

Determined to connect with the poetry, I skipped forward to the poem that had the “bits and pieces” I first encountered. Again… no emotional impact.

I’m became curious. The first time I heard Rumi’s poetry, it sang to me. It touched my heart. So what’s happening? Then it struck me.

I heard it the first time… it was read to me… the words were spoken.

It couldn’t be that simple could it? Flipping back to the first poem, I read it out loud very softly. Just barely audible to myself. (I was on a packed airplane, after all.)

There was a difference. A small spark of emotion. So quietly, to myself, I recited the next two poems. Again small sparks, but the emotion was tiny, quiet… like my voice.

I put the book away.

Once I got home, and unpacking my suitcase, I came across the book again. I opened to a spot in the middle and read silently the poem on the page. It felt flat, dull and somewhat boring.  Then in a clear, strong loud voice, I let the same poem tumble out of my mouth.

There was the passion; there was the emotional spark.

My body became engage with the meaning of the poem. The words moved through me as I took them in with my eyes. I gave them form with my lips & voice and my ears provided the audience that poetry needs to become alive.

In other words, the poem became me and I became the poem.

That was my first inkling of the power of the spoken word. The words we give voice to have more impact than the others we write. They have a life of they own. Once they leave our body, they can influence, for good or ill, anyone that hears them. Ourselves included, because we hear the words we speak.

Spoken words can’t be crossed out, erased or deleted. They shape how we feel, how we react and how we interact with other people.

Over the last month, I’ve begun to really listen to not only the words I spoke, but also the words of others.  It became apparent that most of us, myself included, tend to speak words unconsciously. What I mean by this is that we speak without thinking about the meaning of the words we’re giving power too. What we say to others, to ourselves, shapes who we are, what we believe, what we value and ultimately the world around us.

If we truly create our own reality, then the words we speak are the bricks and mortar of that reality. We should choose them carefully.


April 26, 2012

Everyday we are surrounded by a gaggle of people who want a little piece of us: our kids, our spouse, our boss, our pets, and our friends – an exercise in herding cats. At some point, we have to withdraw and recharge. This is important. Sometimes our ability to sequester ourselves in a womb of solitude protected from the demands of others can mean the difference between sanity and lunacy. I know.
Some years back I had a job that kept me on call 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. I was responsible for the uptime on a centralized mainframe computer system supporting a major military installation. The military operated non-stop, therefore the computer operated non-stop, therefore I operated non-stop. Fourteen to sixteen hour days were typical, including weekends. I averaged at least one telephone call per night between
the hours of midnight and five A.M. On average, two of these trouble calls per week would require me to get out of bed and drive out to the shop to fix a problem. It was exhausting.

No, let me rephrase that: it was killing me.

The frustration, stress, anxiety and depression were driving me inexorably to a final dance with my revolver. There was only one thing in my life at that time that was powerful enough to keep me interested in life: my piano. Having a creative outlet save my life.
Human beings create. That’s what we do. We use our imagination and the gift of opposable thumbs to make things. This compulsion to create is what sets us apart from the other animals and our nearest competitors, the Neanderthals.

Somewhere between 20-30 thousand years ago, Homo sapiens ventured deep into caves to create art. They did this at great risk to themselves. In areas where even today access is difficult with the latest technology, they spent hours of precious time investing in the act of creation. So far as we can determine, our Neanderthal cousins did not do this. Only we did. It is what makes us who we are. It is what makes us uniquely human.

In addition to other foundations of culture – supernatural beliefs, burial rituals, rites of passage, and language, we humans developed art for art’s sake. Art historians and anthropologists do not know, exactly, why early humans created these paintings, but I think I do.

They did it in order to create something beautiful and harmonious, something elegant and timely, and something that could transport them away from the short, brutish lives they lived. Whether your daily existence is kill or be killed or a constant battle to separate oneself from the relentless demands of a modern career, the call of art creation springs from the same well of desire: a need to fully experience our humanity.

We live in a world where humans move through the quotidian more as machines than people, more as automatons than fragile souls. Our time is pressed upon. Our personal strength is sapped by others – vampires of time, energy and creativity. That’s why it’s vital to spend time each and every day doing something creative for our self. It is how we connect with our true nature, our core humanity.

There is a reason why art is used as therapy for PTSD victims. It works. We now know that creative endeavors such as art and music build new neural connections in the brain allowing us to see the world differently. Art helps us to gain a new perspective on our worn out paradigms. It allows us to escape into something that belongs only to us. It is time well spent engaging in our personal space, learning about ourselves, exploring our own ideas without interference from others. And it may be that engaging in the creation of art for art’s sake is a very real evolutionary artifact that developed to help us cope with reality, connect with our true nature, and imagine our way to a better future.



Every couple of weeks I get together with a friend to do a little writing, a little talking, and a little healing. At this last session, the word we drew from the writing box was “Emerge.” On the same day, the subject of a blog* that I follow was “The Courage to be Uncool.” Call it coincidence, synchronicity, or what have you, but the similarities between the two did not escape my notice.

Emergence is one of my favorite topics. The courage and the willingness to allow your true self to break out of its shell and be seen in all of its uniqueness inspires me to no end. To stop being what you think other people want you to be, and to be the person that you need to be is a defining choice in anyone’s life. I’m not entirely sure that I’ve stepped fully into my own yet, but every day I get a little closer.

We all let fear and doubt keep us locked away in a box. Fear of being rejected, of being not good enough, or of being just “too much” can cause us to keep our lights small and hidden. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: your fears are not unique. That thought that maybe you really aren’t as smart/talented/wonderful as you think you are, and that one day you’ll be exposed as a fraud, is very common. The worry that your family won’t understand you is one that everyone has at some point. The fear that you may be seen as a “freak” is the same fear that lots of other people have (especially the really creative ones).

Embrace your inner freak. Know that if others lack understanding, that is not a condemnation of you, but a chance for them to expand their horizons. And trust me when I tell you that your truth is your truth, your insights are your insights, and they don’t need external validation to be true.

What is needed is for your lights, your weird and wonderful lights, to grow and shine for all to see.

When I have the confidence to let my own light shine, with all of the human foibles that may be attached to it clearly visible, perhaps someone else will find the confidence to let their light shine. Or even to just find their light, as too often we’re so confined in our boxes that we forget we even have light to share.

So emerge: break out of the shell, tear open the cocoon, kick down the walls, and let us see you, warts and all. I can’t promise that everyone in your life will appreciate your willingness to be truly yourself, but I can promise that you will find strength in being honest about who you are. You will find wisdom in the words and actions of those who turn their backs on you. And you will find community with others who share their unique visions with the world.

I have faith in you, and can’t wait to see the colors of your bright and shining light.

*the blog is “Owning Pink,” by Lissa Rankin, MD http://www.owningpink.com/blogs/lissa-rankin

We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one.

Thus sayeth The Doctor, and I’m inclined to agree. If life was truly a competition, the winner wouldn’t be the person with the shiniest toys or most money or greatest political influence: it would be the one with the best stories.

Because that’s what memories are, really. They are the stories we tell about ourselves and others that bring a smile to the face or act as a warning. When someone dies, what do we do after the service? We sit around and tell stories about the deceased. I despise funerals, but very much like these gatherings of friends and family.

We tell stories of adventure and bravery and kindness and wisdom and utter joy. Stories are embarrassing and humbling and inspiring, and the most memorable often involve a serendipitous event (note that the event might not have been serendipitous for the actors, just for the story in hindsight).

I was recently blessed with the opportunity to spend a week co-creating stories with a dear friend, and it occurred to me that it is easy to create stories while on vacation but it is often a little more difficult to create them during a regular work week. Well, good ones anyway. It is far too easy to create bad stories during the week, and that’s one of the challenges of life: to create good stories in our daily lives, without the benefit of vacation or travel or visits from old friends.

I strongly suggest taking a note from The Doctor. Wear a fez to work (or a tiara to the mall), go outside and soak up some nature, do someone a kindness, and remember the words of Charles de Lint: “No one else see the world as you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell.”

“The Big Bang,” Doctor Who, Series 5, Episode 13, 2010

Right Living

JG07SP Natural Garden Azaleas

Right Living is living a life of meaning, of purpose, and of generosity.  Do not let the word “purpose” intimidate you: for every single person living a life with a grand, expansive purpose, there are many more living lives of a more intimate purpose, such as sharing wisdom, spreading kindness, rearing compassionate children, creating art, providing care to others, or speaking truth with grace.

Right Living does not take advantage of others in a way that brings harm of any type, nor does it diminish the value of the contributions of others.  It does not negate the experiences of others,  ridicule their dreams, or create discord or fear within the soul of another living being (of any species).

To engage in Right Living is to look inside to find out who you truly are.  It is to embrace your identity, including the parts of yourself that you are not proud of.  It is to make a genuine effort to transform harmful habits into helpful ones.  It is to use the energy and the power of anger to remove yourself from harm or to remedy a situation and then to ground that energy out rather than allow it to consume and control you.  Right Living does not require you to be always happy or upbeat, as that is both unrealistic and a lie; rather, it allows you to feel the full range of human emotions without having them rule your every waking moment.

Right Living is choosing peace and joyful solutions whenever possible and properly directing action and energy when peace is not an option.  It is forgiving those who harm you; forgiving yourself for the harm you have caused others (or self); and striving to accept the perfect imperfections within.  It is a path that must be consciously chosen every step of the way, and one that will always welcome back those who stray for a time.  It is a path of reflection and response as opposed to reaction without thought.

It is a way forward when the world seems to be hurtling toward the past, and when you find yourself at a crossroad, it is a path worthy of your consideration.

PHOTO: Steps lead the way through vibrant azalea bushes in the Natural Garden of the Portland Japanese Garden. Photo credit: David Cobb