Books or People?

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 “How fun is it to read a fantastic book if you can’t tell others about it, talk about it, and quote from it constantly?”

Yes! Just minutes before I read this sentence I’d refilled my coffee cup and sent a picture of the cover of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend * to my sister and my daughter, announcing, “good book!”

The story begins with the youngish bookseller Sara, who traveled from Sweden to a small Iowa town to stay with Amy who hasn’t shown up at the bus station to drive her to her home. Sara “who has never been anywhere,” and Amy became friends through their correspondence about books.

Books or people? The question, discussed in the friends’ letters, is central to the story of Broken Wheel.  “They’re meant to be better than reality… bigger, funnier, more beautiful, more tragic, more romantic.”

Sunday night at our family gathering for Keith’s birthday  friends announced “We are reading a fabulous book to each other.A rambling conversation followed about The Little Paris Bookshop and about how we share the practice of bibliotherapy –  ‘I know the perfect book for you’ with friends or even a stranger.

Fork in the road: Last summer I was walking with my foster dog when a man walked toward us excitedly waving a book.As soon as I said hello he shouted, “Have you read this book?”  I recognized the red cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and said ‘yes, I really liked it.’ He proceeded to tell me why he thinks Mark Hadden is one of the best living writers today! We introduced ourselves – Bob – and I chatted about writing and the bugs all around us. I learned that he’s a transplant from California where he taught entomology, and that he’s a published poet, and I learned about the delightful writing group at the Senior Center, which I sporadically attend with a table-full of new friends.

I’m back: Yesterday at our Tai Chi class, a woman I like very much who laughs easily, said “there is someone I’d like to bring over to meet you. She’s new in town and thinks it’s very hard to make friends here. She’s an artist, and I think the two of you could be friends.” Of course I said yes, and immediately thought of books about being the new person in town that I might share with her, including Broken Wheel.

We need opportunity to reveal our vulnerability. Our human hearts are full and we need others to whom we can reveal ourselves. Books give us mirrors and the best part is sharing who we discover. She or he comes out when they claim Oh, I read the best book, and we respond, tell me about it.




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Beginners Mind

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I think of beginner’s mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?  Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman

I love to write. No. I don’t love to write; I write. You wouldn’t know it in the gap between my last blog and this, but while life and death and thinking about life and death intervened I wrote.

Most days I start my morning dithering about on paper, maybe about a dream, or nothing in particular – maybe a note about something I want to remember to tell my daily correspondent friend or a grandchild. Sometimes writing devolves to lists – my intention today is… or damn it’s raining too hard to work in the garden.

That’s my real love. Gardens.

Writers read about writing. Two months ago I borrowed Old Friend from Far Away, an old paperback library book  about writing memoir by Natalie Goldberg. Two weeks ago I got the finger shaking message “the following book is overdue!” Bring it back lady.

 I told a library lady that I knew I’d returned that book with a pile of others.

This morning I knelt down to retrieve my glasses that had fallen beside my bed which led to retrieving some books from under the bed – you guessed it. Old Friend was there.

I settled in with my coffee and began reading while the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other tittered back and forth, “It’s an old book,” “but it’s not yours.” I was absorbed in Goldberg’s question, What do you think your passions are?  I thought I’ll write about the gardens I’ve left behind. Then in Goldberg fashion she questions, What are your obsessions? I thought, I’ll write about the gardens I’ve left behind. Then she writes, Tell me, what’s the difference between an obsession and a passion? Hint: Obsession is linked to suffering.

With that happy conundrum I’m back with a list of topics to write about.

One more thought. A participant in the group I’ve encouraged for seven months to write their spiritual autobiography or memoir, held up her well-worn notebook and told us, “I’ve filled my notebook with questions. Just questions. Hundreds of questions.”

Isn’t that wonderful? For seven months she’s written nothing but questions. She ended her confession. “And, I’m no longer afraid to fail.”


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Living in Community

Living in Community


If you remember a few years ago I was searching for a community of women. After long consideration I moved to Bellingham Washington because I have family here and “nearby” in Oregon.

This morning I’m writing while listening to Angell: Music of Angels, Ensemble Project Arts Nova, and II Adagio Cello Sonata in G Minor. The selections of music are from Audio Divina, a music assisted contemplative prayer CD* compiled by Mary Terry Rankin. Mary is an active participant in Stillpoint at Beckside the contemplative community that feeds me.

When I chose to move into a little house owned by my kids’ father – my ex-husband and family friend from childhood, I had no idea what was “in store.” We were 18 and 19 when Sally, our first of 4 children was born. It was not an easy marriage. We’ve been divorced for over 30 years but have remained family for better or for worst. We admit we can still push each others buttons but together we celebrate our children, their partners and our grandchildren.


The day after Thanksgiving Ross went to the emergency room in pain. Our family began a ride of worry and concern as he began a slide toward the unknown. Six weeks later he will move from rehab into a nearby retirement community where he’ll have more choices for assistance when he needs it. Yesterday I was in his condominium and on the phone with him making to do lists to help facilitate him moving.

This morning as I listen to the music I am so grateful for my prayer-full, laughter-full community. I did not need to go into detail with the 2 women I work most closely with; I only sent a brief email and asked for prayers for Ross and my family. I knew that they, and others in our community, would also pray for me in this unusual situation – an ex-wife caring deeply for the father of her children. When we make the promise, ‘til death us do part, we have no idea what that means.  Stay tuned…


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This morning I sat in the dark listening to a CD of chants praising the coming Light. My thoughts kept wandering to my promise to host two “strangers” for the week after Christmas.

My daughter Sally’s Buddhist Center is sponsoring a week-long retreat for 30 people. They were scurrying to find housing for their guests so she asked if I’d host someone. That some one turned into two women billeting* here – an artist from Vancouver BC and a woman from Portland Oregon.

As I sat my thoughts wandered to seeing my home through the eyes of a stranger – the dust on the globe, the spatters on the kitchen widow. What will they think about me and my trailings – my tell-tale signs?

Sally had suggested that I don’t spend preparing for Christmas in a frenzy of deep cleaning. I laughed when she said “many of the places where we stay at retreat centers have a trail of mouse poo.” (So far I haven’t seen signs the local mice know that my cat died.)

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Finally it struck me. This isn’t about me!

Christmas is about inviting the stranger in!

christmas blog 014 inside my front door

I began to wonder about Buddhism and hospitality and found chapter 11 from the book Hosting the Stranger:Between Religions. by Andy Rotman titled “Expecting the Unexpected and Acting Virtously.”

“Accounts in these materials of Buddhist laymen and laywomen interacting with Buddhist monks, who all too often arrive unexpectedly and at what seems to be the wrong time, form a template for Buddhist hospitality more generally. Even today, among Indians of all faiths, there is a common saying, atithi devo bhavah, meaning “the atihi- the guest- is god.”  One author, about the practice of Hindu worship, writes “the entire sequence… has one overall purpose: to make the god or goddess feel like a welcome guest.” ~Lawrence Babb

This is the Christmas Story!christ mas blog 004

Merry Christmas and may we all be blessed to entertain goddesses and gods, angels unaware, in the New Year!

*billet (v.)

1590s, “to assign quarters to,” earlier, as a noun, “official record or register” (Middle English), from Anglo-French billette “list, schedule,” diminutive of bille (see bill (n.1)) with -let. Related: Billeted; billeting.


  • Gaulish *bilia tree trunk; compare Old Irish bile landmark tree) + -ette -ette
  • Anglo-French, Middle French billette, equivalent. to bille log, tree trunk (
  • late Middle English bylet, bel(l)et 1400–50
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Giving thanks

Giving thanks II

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“In trailing the jumble of threads that are created from our choices we weave our identity. These same labyrinths become the keys to our advancement, and the locked doors that keep us from it.” (from Raised by Wolves, a Circus Automatic, 2012 )

Needing some inspiration before I meditated this morning I opened one of my favorite books, Fingerpainting on the Moon, by Peter Levitt.  He finds that reading poetry, literature and spiritual teaching awakens his intuition. “Working in this way was a bit like weaving a tapestry where the next thread just appears in your hand, which is what happens when your intuition and imagination become fully alive. You don’t know how the new thread is going to fit into the design …. but more often than not it does.”

Pausing for a moment I looked up and saw the old, outdated World map hanging in my living room. This old map has red lines stretching from continent to continent relating the miles from one major city to another across the world.

I saw a succession of peoples continually moving across these miles however they could – poets, artists, writers, bakers, peace makers, iron workers, craftsmen – men and women carrying their children and a few meager possessions to places they’d heard provided safety and or a living wage.

I imagined my ancestors planning to leave Prussia on a journey to Canada to save their sons from fighting in the Franco Prussian war, or my ex- husband’s Jewish family escaping Stalin and then Hitler, or my daughters-in-love families leaving Scotland or Italy just one generation ago for better lives for their families. Looking at the map I see a constantly moving trail of people believing that on the other side of fear lies freedom.

I’ve just returned from the weekend retreat with Matthew Wright about interspirituality. As we were ending he read the following email from Kabir Helminski, founder of the Threshold Society.*

1. Stand with those free of bias, superstition; the mystics and Gnostics.
2. Keep your spirits up – the light is growing. Keep a sense of humor and keep your heart open.
3. Be humble in your belief. Our own understanding is limited.
4. There is only us. If we blame them, we weep for us.

One of our participants told us about a Youtube Ted Talk titled How to Occupy the Noosphere: Ian MacKenzie at TEDxVictoria 2013, well worth listening to.

We are interdependent. Sending love bombs and mind bombs.  M


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giving thanks

Giving Thanks

Three friends and I are preparing to travel to Canada this weekend for a retreat with Matthew Wright, theologian, The price was right; the presenter is young, and brilliantly energetic. The topic is relevant to our retreat center, where we teach and support contemplative prayer practices, spiritual direction/companionship and mentoring.

When the announcement arrived for the retreat there was a small map showing a lake and the camp where the retreat will be held. We live in Bellingham, Washington a few miles as the crow flies to the U.S. Canadian border, so think nothing of driving back and forth. No problem. We’ll figure it out.

The directions arrived via email with a long list of things to bring like sleeping bags, pillows, warm clothes and water bottle, ear plugs and flash lights. We laughed about getting a bit old for bunk beds, but gamely assigned Linda as driver and me to figure out the route. I read directions to the site – the first from the Victoria B.C. airport, and then directions from three ferry docks to the site. Hmm. Interesting. No directions from the border. But we’ll figure it out.

Those of us who live in Salish Sea territory are familiar with taking “the ferry” to the many island cities along the Washington and British Columbia coast. Still it took another minute to dawn on me that we were signed up to travel to Victoria, the large island off the coast of B.C.! I sent an email to Linda saying this isn’t a quick trip across the border, and, “save your pennies, it’s getting expensive.”

Even though Stillpoint has a small budget, $5,000 this year, personally many of us live on the edge. Another $100 for the ferry, plus gas for the car was really pushing our individual pocket limits. We wouldn’t have committed to the retreat had we known this extra cost was involved.

I wrote to one of my guardian angels and asked “for a donation of $100 for ferry travel.” He responded immediately, “sure, but it’s going to cost more than $100 for 2 people.” Yes. He was right. It was $103 each way for 2 people and the car. Our angel paid for our reservation.

A third friend recently signed up to join us for the retreat so we’re sharing the “another person in the car,” cost. We agreed to use “the truck crossing” closer to her home. I’m urging us to leave a little earlier because sometimes in early morning there are longer waits at the border…

Which brings me to the point of this Thanksgiving story…



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This time I want to find my way, explore my way, take my time. I want more than I have ever asked of myself before. Maybe it requires a silence and a centering that I have not yet – in my whole life really – given myself. ~ Pat Schneider

Sunday my ex-husband who is also my landlord, and I had the following interaction as we left a family supper: Me. “Oh, the gate was ripped off by the wind.” He replied, “Yes, it is on the ground.” I said, “No, I picked it up.” He questioned “Why?” “Because, “I didn’t want it in the way.” I shrugged and we said goodnight and left.

That night as I drifted off to sleep I started to laugh. We were talking about two different gates! He’d taken the back fence down to pull out the trailer stored in my back yard. Because the winds were heavy he realized that taking the mast off the large boat was a fool’s errand, so left the “gate” on the ground hoping for better weather. I was talking about the much smaller gate into the back yard. I’d left it open. The wind caught it and tore the old rusty screws from the post, dumping the gate cross-ways across the entry to the back yard.

How often do we believe we’re in conversation, from Latin conversationem nominative conversatio, “act of living with” and we’re just jabbering?

On Monday in an early morning meeting with two co-facilitators, L. said she was tired. She’d spent the night in ER with her husband who needed stitches in his arm. I interrupted to show-off a huge, ugly bruise on my arm. After we oohed and ahhed and talked about how we need to be aware of where our bodies are, my friend returned to her story. When I got­­ home I felt bad for jumping on her story and emailed an apology. I felt especially silly because in the conversation about assigning participants to small groups  we were wondering about those whose needs are so great they can derail a group. There I sat, exhibit A!

In the famous dream of King Solomon, he was asked what he would like to receive from God. Above all the material blessings of this world, he requested, a hearing heart … that I may discern between good and evil” (I Kings 3:9). The word for a hearing or listening or obedient heart is lev shomea, from the same root as shema, hear.*

The path for this 8 month journey we’re facilitating, begins with Thomas Merton’s book New Seeds of Contemplation. Our motto is “awareness, awareness, awareness!” We’re encouraging practices based in body, mind, heart and soul that invite us into awareness of our relationship with what/who some call the mystery with capital M. Along with meditation, spending time outside and contemplative reading, (Lectio Divina*), we’re inviting participants to write a spiritual autobiography as a way of deepening awareness of multiple dimensions of spirituality in our lives.

…my own writing that matters most to me are those pieces that have taken me out to the very edge of what I know and do not know I know. ~ Schneider

A year ago I began a quilt for my oldest grandson with a pattern he choose. Sewing the pieces together went terribly wrong. Clearly I’d cut once before measuring twice. Last Friday I tore it apart one more time and cut triangles into squares and sewed them together in a totally different configuration. This will form the centerpiece for a new pattern I’m creating based on his love of kayaking.

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Sometimes, like the missed conversations and this quilt, pieces of my life are jagged triangles that twist and pull around me. I trust that by peering into the truths I “keep company with;” that by measuring my story twice the pieces “turn about” and provide a bigger picture of my own relationship with the Mystery.

*Pat Schneider, How the Light Gets In, writing as a spiritual practice, 2013.

*Conversation definition from the Online Etymology Dictionary, (



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