Living with Loss


Saint Malo photo from

I just finished reading “All the Light we Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and already I am missing the characters. The novel takes place during WWII in a small walled city on the coast of France called Saint Malo and flashes back and forth between war time and prewar, Doerr carefully crafting the lives of different characters whose paths eventually cross.

From the very beginning, I sensed that this book would break my heart, as any book about war should. And it did. But carefully, in small doses.

Simultaneously, I have been reading “The Wild Edge of Sorrow” by Francis Weller who talks about the nine gates of grief. Where these two books intersect is in Gate Seven: Drinking the Tears of the World.

“Coming home to grief is sacred work, a powerful practice that contains what the indigenous soul knows and what the spiritual traditions teach: we are all connected to one another. Our fates are bound together in a mysterious but recognizable way. Grief registers the many ways this depth of kinship is assaulted daily. Grief work becomes a core element in our ability to sustain and maintain the well-being of our communities. It is a central means whereby our compassion is quickened and our mutual suffering acknowledged. It is also a form of soul protest, our wholehearted response to acts of violence and oppression.”

I have been seeking out historical fiction about WWII after watching “Foyle’s War” as a way to slowly face the facts of how lives were altered…a reality that was never fully taught in school history courses.

At this point, I find the fiction more emotionally manageable… a way to train myself to be aware of the world’s sorrows without being overwhelmed and immobilized. It’s the way that homeopathic medicine works, introducing small doses of dis-ease so that our bodies can do their magic.

In the same way, I hope that my heart can do it’s magic. Not to build immunity, but to build resilience. If I want to open to a rich emotional life, I need practice in all emotions. Practice in accepting and eventually releasing it all.

With Nine gates of grief, I wonder how we ever manage to experience bliss…and yet we do. I do. All of the time. I also experience grief. And I understand that they are both on the mobius strip of inner/outer, light/dark, happy/sad.

I read “All the Light…” eagerly because I grew to love the people. Which is why I now feel their loss. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Radical Change

DSCF2132 trees“Taking a vacation from (twelve step) meetings is like giving your plants a break by not watering them.”        Anonymous friend

I could say the same about writing.

And yet, during times of radical change, I often stop writing.

I recently moved from my 360 sq ft house into a 2600 sq ft house. I went from living alone to living with my Beloved. I left behind wide open sky and stunning views of Puget Sound and nestled down in a clearing surrounded by tall fir and hemlock and maple. Oh, and I retired from my canvas business of 40 plus years. Radical change.

Which is why I stopped writing.

Not that the changes have been bad. Far from that, my life feels charmed in a new way.



But what a shift! The discussion about moving was three months long, the preparation another three, and the actual move, well, I’m still unpacking.

And I haven’t been able to find a way to re-enter the blogosphere.

Then synchronicity let me to the writing of Brian Doyle. I reveled in his playing with words, with his putting together sentences that sang and verbs that he invented. Hungry for more, I checked out his books from the library and devoured the pages. Delighted in them. Became inspired about words again.

Natalie Goldberg was the first author to inspire me to develop a writing practice…one where I free write into notebook after notebook…letting whatever thought that arrives have a chance on the page. The writing isn’t necessarily pretty, but it is interesting. And it builds the ability to put process into words. Now that the radical change has turned into new routines, I have slowly resumed my writing practice and the word pond is refilling.


Time to wade in…


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Keeping the Light On.

photo by Reuters, Lisi Niesner

Photo: Reuters/Lisi Niesner

Have you ever been wrestling with demons in the darkness only to discover, when the light comes on, that the demons are not who you thought they were?

Since I fired Ambition, I have been in a funk. No passion, no pressure, no juicyness. Anxiety became my new companion along with Discontent and the more I did nothing, the more I wanted to do nothing. Art seemed frivolous. The word pond was dry. My days felt meaningless.

I was looking for a way to get busy again when what I really needed to examine was what happens when I’m NOT busy. Because in that dark place live a host of demons. And a few miracles. Stillness can bring contentment, but only when I have acknowledged, accepted and had conversations with the void.

How many times have you asked someone what they are up to and gotten the reply “I’m really busy”? Of course they are! We live in a world of delicious distractions. Not that doing things is bad but that overdoing can become avoidance.

It did for me.

So much so that when I slowed down I was miserable. I had lost touch with my inner landscape and I didn’t know the way through the darkness. Ambition fueled the busyness, but wasn’t the demon. In fact, Ambition kept me from them. The real demons were grief, fear, lack of confidence, shame…the list goes on. Adrenaline, mental chaos and weekly money dramas were all covering the real orphans who only wanted to be heard. But I wasn’t listening. I was busy being busy.

Stopping, though not a pleasant experience, turned the light on.

Now the hunt for a new boss looks like a team would be a good idea. Maybe Ambititon along with Compassion, Patience and Mediation. I expect I’ll continue to have bouts of busyness. Work needs to get done and bills need to get paid. But the new team will be responsible for building good boundaries around doing…for having daily check-ins to see which orphans need attention…for keeping the light on to see clearly.

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The Messy Path of Awakening

It’s the last day of January and I have no New Year’s Resolutions. In my journey to find a new boss, I’m moving away from the idea of generally impossible to-do lists because they aren’t working for me. I might have crossed off a few items at year’s end, but mostly, those lists represented a disappointment…a lack of success…and why would I want to repeat that?

Instead, I’m embracing the new trend toward one word for the year.

Two years ago, I had a tagline for the year: goodbye to boring. That simple and catchy phrase was easy to remember and playful to implement and so I added more color to my wardrobe, found new meals to prepare and tried new ideas with my assemblages.


Grow montage

Last year, however, I dreamed up a long and clever phrase about farming and friendship and something else that I can’t remember without re-reading my journal. Although I built some new planting beds for vegetables and continued to build my existing friendships, I didn’t live the phrase daily like I did the previous year. In fact, mid way into the year, I couldn’t recall my intentions or inklings at all.

So this year, I decided to try just one word. I found an interesting and detailed process for discerning my word, a book on the subject, and a whole community around the one word idea.

But true to my rebel self, my word came to me on its own. I was in the middle of a spending spree when I stopped myself with the word “ENOUGH”! As in enough already…and I thought it might make an interesting path for the year…in keeping with what Rilke says:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

When I fired my boss, I didn’t know that the process of replacing her would be so…well…messy. Numerous personas of mine have applied for the job and although I have agreed to interview them all, some of them are dubious candidates: Anxiety, Apathy, Magical Child and some days I feel like a rudderless ship.

The word “Enough” may not be exciting like Inspiration or Vitality or Simplicity but it is a word that asks good questions and I like that. I also like how the word stands equally well for “I HAVE enough” and “I AM enough”. And it’s easy to remember.

I can see myself living this word for the year…and asking potential bosses what they make of the word and maybe, just maybe, I’ll live into some answers.

How about you? Do you have new year rituals that inspire you to live a life of meaning? Do share…

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A Symbol of Movement

I was reminded this week of the mobius strip that I wrote about here. Only this time, instead of focusing on the inner/outer nature of the strip, I have been focused on the movement/continuation aspect.

As a Vata type, my energy fluctuates constantly. My experience of this resembles an EKG graph more than a smooth wave. Like this:


Sometimes, when I am completely energized, I start to fear the downward slide which tends to bring it on. The thought of losing energy (instead of the thought “what-shall-I-do-with-this-energy…”) accelerates the loss.

When I saw the simple infinity diagram, I began to imagine rounding out my energy pattern…turning it into this:

Infinity options

If I add to the symbol the accompanying words as presented to me, I have Fire/Freedom at the top and Ice/Form at the bottom which adds more metaphorical possibilities to the journey since I have experienced this recognition before and simply forgot. The fleshed out image helps me remember and assess, in a new way, my options.

So this week, when I felt my energy starting to wane, instead of jumping immediately to “oh no…”, I asked myself where I was on the symbol. This reminded me that the journey is a continuous cycling. Or as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke has put it:

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”

Rainer Maria Rilke

The rounded corners (as opposed to the upward/downward arrows) suggest a gentleness and a flow, more like a meandering river than a waterfall. And, if my goal is to remain more near the middle area where Form and Freedom meet, then the recognition of movement is helpful. Hopeful. It emphasizes process more than product and, in my hunt for a new boss, that’s good news!
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Under New Management

I fired my boss.

She was all about long to-do lists and unrealistic expectations regarding the time needed to fulfill those lists. She fed on more and better and I wouldn’t mind her as a co-worker, but she sucked as a boss.

Her name is Ambition and she was shocked when I said “no more”. She didn’t grovel and she didn’t demand, but she did quietly attempt to reassert her position. But I was prepared. We have, after all, spent a lifetime together.

Up until now, it hadn’t occurred to me that I needed a new boss. I thought that self employment required Ambition… that without her I would wallow in my inertia… that I would never finish what I began… that I would not meet my financial obligations. But Ambition didn’t fix any of those challenges. She only added a sense of “not-enoughness” to my failures. And added items like self improvement to the lists.

Not that I don’t want to work on my self. I value inner work. I just want to do it in a different environment.

Which brings me to the real challenge. What kind of a boss do I need?

I have been drifting in a void since I fired Ambition. I am not familiar with any other form of motivation and in my either/or way, I imagine total chaos without her. But I’ve taken the leap now and I’m not turning back.

What kind of boss do you have? Does She/He foster collaboration? Establish reasonable timelines? Inspire you? If so, I want to hear how it’s done. I’m ready for a workplace change in the new year and I’m not going to make resolutions. That was the old way. Instead, I’m looking for a 2016 Intention and you can help.


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Bicycle Epiphany

Bicycles galore

I’ve just returned from a week in Amsterdam where I immersed myself in the bicycle culture. From the moment I got on the heavy, matte black bike with a comfortable seat and upright handle bars, I felt at home.

But the first ride through the city was a shock. So many bicycles! And they were weaving and turning and passing at a rate faster than I was prepared for. I had brought my American bicycle sensibilities of waiting and looking both ways and gawking at the scenery and it didn’t work! I had near collisions at many corners and at one point, I almost ran into a pedestrian.

Days went by before I realized the great dance that is Amsterdam cycling. Instead of stopping before turning right, you just turn. Those behind you will adjust. It is a beautiful give and take that only a culture steeped in bicycle travel offers. There are some cars. And crazy scooter drivers winding between the throng. But it all works because the bicycle comes first.

Of course, it’s also flat in Amsterdam. And the city is small and I never broke a sweat (except for a few tense moments!). I observed every kind of outfit as traveling gear and it wasn’t spandex. Skirts and suits and high heels and wing tips were the norm. Ordinary folk commuting to work or the store. No helmets or bicycling gloves. And when it rained, a few ponchos popped out and umbrellas carried with one hand…but most just kept on riding to their destinations where, most certainly, waited a dry pair of shoes or a different shirt.

One day, we bicycled to a small town south west of Amsterdam called Ouderkerk where half of the town was reached via a one lane bridge being hand scraped of paint. While wandering with cameras in hand, we witnessed the most amazing sight: around 3:30 in the afternoon, waves of bicycling children rode down main street, sometimes two or three abreast, laughing, smiling, talking loudly. Some of them shared an image on their smartphones or rode with scooter towing bicycle…a mix of modern and traditional. Later, the direction reversed with soccer sticks tied to handle bars and bright jerseys in contrast to the dark bicycles.

I wanted to stay forever.

When I returned home, I was eager to retain some of that Amsterdam bicycle experience so I hopped onto my bike and rode 6 miles to the garden where I work one day a week.

But it wasn’t at all the same. I rode my wide, white striped lane next to cars going 60 miles per hour. It was noisy. There were hills. And I was alone.

Ultimately, that was the heartache: No sea of faces to swim in, no sound of bells letting me know someone was passing, no overheard conversations. Just me and my mountain bike.

Here on the rural island where I live, the cities are small and far apart. While the grocery store may be close, the school isn’t. And most of the houses are spread on 5 acre parcels between the cities. Cycling as a mode of transportation is neither easy or practical. And it is secondary to cars because we live in a car culture and no amount of adding bike lanes will change that. We make our choices to embrace the bicycle as individuals, not as the collective.

So I took note when this quote drifted across my computer screen.
“Ask yourself what is really important and then have the wisdom and courage to build your life around your answer”
Lee Jampolsky

I am determined, as much as possible, to build my life around the magic that was Amsterdam. But the epiphany is that it wasn’t really about bicycling although that was certainly fun. It was about connection. Riding among the locals, I felt a part of that city and its values and I wanted more of it. Now that I am home again, it’s time to examine my choices…and then have the wisdom and courage…..

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