Thursday, December 28, 2017

Finding a new way to frame my possibilities for the next year

Last week I had a great call with my life coach. I had felt stuck in creating my annual list of possibilities. There were two reasons for this. One, I had had an immensely rich year in 2017 and it was going to be hard to come up with ideas. But more importantly, I had realized in late November that I wanted to take a whole different tack on 2018 and that I wanted a year where self-improvement wasn't the focus.

We began to talk about what I wanted for next year (not what I thought I should want) and five categories began to form:
  • What I want to learn
  • What I want to practice
  • What I want to complete/end/let go of
  • What I want to create
  • What I want to experience/enjoy
These questions are proving a really interesting way to organize my possibilities for the coming year.

What might be on your list? 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hibernation as a sacred practice

In this northern latitude where I live, December and January are very dark months. The days are short, for evening starts about 4 pm. And because we are a rainy climate, it's often gray adding to the low light of winter. A rabbi friend who lived for many years in Los Angeles was complaining to me about the gloom here, and I mentioned to him my thoughts on hibernation as a spiritual practice.

This is a time of year to slow down, to be inside, to go inside our homes and ourselves. A time for rest and reflection. Nature's energy is low this time of year, all the plants recuperating from the growth season and gathering its energy for the next spring. We can do the same. It's a time to create a rest practice, to read and contemplate. To dream up new ideas but not to put those ideas into practice, not yet.

While I still walk most days between the rain storms and love to gather with friends, I also crave more solitude in this season. I love the candles, the lamp light, the warmth of the interior. I am grateful for it.

What's your favorite form of hibernation?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sitting in the light of death and change

A woman I was once very close to died suddenly last month. She had survived breast cancer 25 years ago and melanoma some years later and was cancer-free. Then she went from a couple of months of not feeling well to a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and liver failure in a couple of weeks. She chose not to do a chemo that would only give her a few weeks at best and died surrounded by her family at home. She was beloved by many, including me. Although we had had an irreconcilable falling out about six years ago, I never stopped loving her or valuing what our friendship had brought into my life.

Her passing has seemed very significant to me. My parents are both gone, but their deaths were in the natural order of things. And I have not yet had a lot of close friends die although a woman I was close to in college died several years ago and a man I dated died as well. I miss them both. But they were not part of my psyche in the same way that Jayna was. It's not because we went our separate ways. I have no regrets about that and I know in my heart that we forgave each other and were complete. Rather, two other things have been on my mind.

First, Jayna lived a very full life. By that, I don't mean busyness, although she was active both socially and politically. I mean that she experienced life in a full way, in a pay-attention way. She wanted her life to matter and it did.

Second, the time to live a full life is now, right now, in this moment. Not next week, not when we've got it all figured out or lost enough weight or found the right partner. Now. 11:15 on a Sunday morning. Noticing the gorgeous orange leaves on my cherry tree lover out the window. Petting Frannie who's keeping me company by lying on my notes. Feeling the warmth of the heater on this late fall day when the sunshine is intriguing but cold. Being grateful to be in this life. Now. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Why is it so hard to figure out what we really want?

In the workshops I teach on living a sweet life, I ask a lot of women (and the few men who join us) to make a list of what they really want: what they want to do, what they want to have, how they want to be. It seems a pretty straightforward question. After all as human beings, we are creatures of needs and desires. And we live in a culture where a tremendous amount of good stuff and experiences is available and we're encouraged at almost every turn to want it all. But inevitably, most of the group feels stuck. "I don't know" is a curiously common response.

I've been pondering this a lot lately. It's not that the respondents to my question are unsure that intrigues me, but they are insistent about that uncertainty. They don't seem to want to figure it out. It's as if they're addicted to not knowing.
I think that those of us who claim we don't know what we really want do know. We are just afraid to want it and to say it. If we don't know and don't say what we want, we won't be disappointed. It's also true that it's quite unlikely that we will get all we want. And the problem comes, as one of my teachers says, if we pin our happiness on getting a certain thing or outcome.

But the answer doesn't lie in not wanting or pretending we don't know. It lies in wanting more, way more than we can imagine getting. It's wanting that new car, that better job, world peace, an end to hunger, and using that wanting to move forward into our lives.

So if you're one of those whose response would be "I don't know," get bold and figure it out. Magic can happen when you do. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Poem: On exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

Two aging acrophobes
We terrorized ourselves
For 3 hours and 22 miles
11 of them a one-way
Dirt road with switchbacks
And hairpin curves
Muddy ruts
And deadly drop-offs

My friend kept me
Clear and calm
Her voice
The voice of reason
Of caring
I quickly realized
She was talking us
Both into sanity

The views were astounding
We lived those mountains
For those moments
Alpine meadows
A clear rushing stream
Aspens turning from sage green
To New Cambodge
The evergreens shrinking
In stature
In the increasing altitude
A harem of elk
Near the 12000-ft visitor center
The peaks across from us
Miles away but knowable

The terror less
On our descent
Two lanes paved
Stone guard rails
Only a few dicey places

If I’d known
What was waiting
Up Old Falls River Road
I wouldn’t have gone
But I didn’t
And once on the one-way
No way back only forward like life
So worth living

Jill Kelly, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Trump as an oddly ideal American

In the olden days, feminists had a saying that the personal is the political. I think we're seeing how true this is in these dark and terrible days of violence and cruel behavior by leaders and citizens alike.

We have a president whose politics seem entirely personal. They don't come out of any reasoned understanding of the world, any education of thoughtfulness or reflection. They appear to be just what he feels like doing and saying. But in many ways, that's what our culture promotes. Our right to do and say whatever we want. We see that in spending money we don't have, using resources we can't replace, ignoring the hard work of taking care of the less fortuante. We see it in the defense of hate speech, the defense of sexual assault and endless war. It may well be the impetus for mass murder.

I'm coming to see Trump as the epitome of our consumer culture. Buy, consume, use, discard without any consideration for those around you, including all the non-humans. He is an odd kind of ideal that we have been moving towards since we began to worship at the altar of advertising, at the altar of the new and shiny.

Although independence = me first has long been with us, in the 1980s, our culture moved distinctly in the direction of Me First. It's my right to make as much money as I can. That's just capitalism. It isn't that any of this was new. It just became a more overt ideology. Grab what you can get. Other people just need to look out for themselves.

I watched through that decade as college education shifted from preparing good citizens to preparing graduates to get rich. Where clever and devious were valued and thoughtful reflection was considered unnecessary and even stupid. Where the humanities emptied out and the business departments grew fat in alignment with the "real world."

Thoughtful education is a civilizing thing: it turns us into a civilization, not a throng. We're lacking that now and paying the price.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Poem: When you have to put your t-t in the wringer

I go every two years now
That I’m moving on in age
It’s a nice place
Friendly, coffee while you wait
A heated gownto put on 
when you’ve stripped to the waist
In the tiny cubicle
And locked up the valuables
you can take off
A better array of magazines
Than at my dentist’s
Though we all still gravitate
To the mindlessness of People

For despite the calm and cheer
It’s still a nervous place
Where fates change.

I wait enough time
To read all the cartoons
And “Shouts and Whispers”
In an old New Yorker
While the herald of bad news
Wears blue scrubs,
Calls women into
A tiny cubicle
To speak privately
Paper in hand

The others go on leafing
Their magazines.

I don’t.

I can imagine the conversation
In that tight windowless closet

My turn at last
I chat with Pam the technician
Ask about her job
We talk about my weight loss
Freedom from sugar
As she moves my valuables
Around on the imaging machine

Of course I want her to find it
If it’s there
But I don’t what it To be there
Don’t want to speak
To the herald in blue scrubs.

Pam checks her machine
One more time
You’re free to go, she says
You’ll get a letter confirming
The dread
I’ve tried not to feel falls away
Relief rushing in
And I say a prayer for the others
Not so fortunate
As I go back to my life.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Revisiting the idea of 29 daily gifts

I've been reading Jen Sincero's great book, You Are a Badass, and she speaks in it of a book that was popular some years back called 29 Gifts. A woman diagnosed with MS was advised to give something away each day for 29 days as a way to take action towards her own healing. By the time she was halfway through, the woman's health and outlook on life, after this devastating diagnosis, had vastly improved.

I remembered doing this when the book came out and how both fun and challenging it was. So I've decided to do it again, this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is about 29 days. (Another friend is going to do it for Lent.)

The easy version is to give away something every day and not to worry about much variety in the gifts. The medium version is to give away as many different things as possible. The most challenging version is to give away 29 different things.

If you decide to take this on, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make a phone call to an older or sick friend you've been thinking of
  • Give away money
  • Give away food
  • Give your undivided attention
  • Pay for someone's latte or parking
  • Give away something someone admires that you own
  • Pick up trash
  • Let somebody else have the next parking space in a crowded lot or street
  • Send someone flowers
  • Send a greeting card to someone who would never expect it
  • Smile more
  • Open doors
  • Tip really big

Let me know what happens. Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Why doesn't Sisyphus just walk away?

In the Greek myth, Sisyphus is condemned for his sins to carry an enormous boulder up a hill, watch it roll back down, and then do it over again for all eternity. Futility of effort is a terrible punishment, and I've been wondering, as minds tend to do, why Sisyphus doesn't just walk away. He isn't imprisoned, he isn't chained. Instead, he accepts his fate.

This isn't so different from many of us. We bang our heads against the same wall over and over, knowing nothing changes that way, and accept both our fate and our impotence. The wall can be a job that isn't working, a relationship that isn't working, our addiction to a substance or an activity, or in the larger context, the circumstances and conditions of our lives and those around us all the way to the political and social scene.

There is, I believe, a great wave of impotence and Sisyphean futility engulfing us in these days of huge shift. The old order is clinging to the reins and it's cruel and violent. The new order has yet to show itself, and we all feel stuck, rolling the same old boulders up the hill only to watch them roll down again.

Maybe it's time to stop and walk in a new direction--perhaps around the hill or down the other side.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

From the amazing John O'Donohue


Give yourself time to make a prayer that will become the prayer of your soul. Listen to the voices of longing in your soul. Listen to your hungers. Give attention to the unexpected that lives around the rim of your life. Listen to your memory and to the inrush of your future, to the voices of those near you and those you have lost. Out of all of that attention to your soul, make a prayer that is big enough for your wild soul, yet tender enough for your shy and awkward vulnerability; that has enough healing to gain the ointment of divine forgiveness for your wounds; enough truth and vigour to challenge your blindness and complacency; enough graciousness and vision to mirror your immortal beauty. Write a prayer that is worthy of the destiny to which you have been called. 

John O'Donohue 
 Excerpt from ETERNAL ECHOES

Friday, November 10, 2017

Renegotiating our commitments

It's important to me to be a person of my word. I want others to be able to count on me, and it's even more important to me to be able to count on myself because as an addict, it's been my pattern to break my word with myself a lot. At the same time, I want to and need to be able to change my mind.

I recently felt stuck in two obligations I'd committed to. I'd agreed to X and Y without really thinking through all the implications. With X, I didn't realize the problems until I arrived and things became difficult. I had no way to predict that but I know enough to always have a Plan B and that time I didn't. With Y, I had advanced warning that things weren't going to work out well, but I felt just as stuck until my life coach reminded that I can always negotiate a commitment. I may disappoint someone or have to pay a penalty but I don't have to be stuck. I just have to figure out what I really want and ask for it. So I figured out, asked for what I needed, and was able to negotiate to get it.

I'm learning more and more that I shouldn't say yes to something until I've figured out what I really want. And then if things change, I don't need to stay stuck.

How do you choose your commitments?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Love on a train

Madonna and child
sitting across from us
Swaddled against her chest
the boy child gazes at us
with ocean-blue eyes
full of clarity in his safety
He has her cupid's bow mouth
and receding chin
He has her love
as she rubs his back
The train moves us
to the airport
and he sleeps,
his cheek against
the freckled skin
of her chest
I assume
to her steady heart
I envy him
that peace
that safety
that mother love

Monday, October 30, 2017

Lightening up for Fall

It's nesting season again. October rolls around and after the Indian summer days have come and gone  and we go through the rather meaningless ritual of returning to Standard Time, I get an urge to tidy and sort and clean things out so that my winter habitat is peaceful and supportive. It's also a good time to lighten my load.

I recently went through my closet and filled some donation bags for the thrift store, cleaned out my basement storage unit, setting aside old tax returns and papers for shredding and reconsidering getting rid of all that stuff I keep hanging on to. Will I ever need that air filter set up that I bought a decade ago? Do I really need three suitcases? Is it time to jettison those boxes of old journals?

I like sorting and tidying my stuff. It's a practice I learned from my mother, who parted with things easily, and who also taught me how helpful it is to know what we have--and where it is--in case we do need it.

What rituals signal Fall for you?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017


Took a walk
on Marmot Rd
on Mt Hood
Not a house in sight
only one set of mailboxes
and three gravel drives
into the thick, wild woods
of moss and ferns
pine and fir
yet signs of us were everywhere
A McDonald's cup and french fry sleeve
3 water bottles
2 beer cans
assorted plastic bags
the rings from a six pack
We watch as children
We learn what's okay
I learned not to do that
I know others didn't
but their indifference to beauty,
to the natural world
grieves me
And this is but a tiny consequence
of that indifference

Friday, October 20, 2017

Three things that make living spaciously easier for me

This year, my major intention has been to live my life more spaciously and use peace of mind as a filter for my decisions. When I do this, my life is so much better and when I don't, it isn't so great so I know that I'm on to something Here are three things that help me do that.

Do one thing at a time. When I write blog posts, that's what I do. When I do paid work, I do paid work. When I read for fun, I just read. No email, no Facebook. I might get up to stretch and get some water, but I take an intentional break and say no to the interruption of distractions and the myth of multi-tasking. 

Don't do any one thing for too long a time.  While it's great when I get absorbed in my work, it's not so great when I finally get up from the desk. So I set my phone alarm for 20 minutes whatever activity I'm involved in and do something quite different. In fact, I keep a list of computer-related tasks and a list of more physical activities so that I can balance screen time with doing the dishes or unclogging the bathroom sink.

Don't substitute just anything when what we want is something specific. I've put myself in some stressful situations lately because I've accepted invitations that I felt lukewarm about. I knew what I wanted--some time with a couple of close friends--but they weren't available and so I said yes to some other possibilities. However, they weren't what I wanted and while, like most of us, I know how to make the best of a situation, I don't want to do that if I can avoid it. It reminds me a lot of my active food addition days when I'd eat something sweet I didn't like (dark chocolate or raisins, for example) when what I really wanted was caramels or ice cream. Life's too short to settle.

When I practice these ideas, my life is more spacious. What makes your life more spacious?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Movie Review as Poem

I'd been told to go
Do it big screen
--You won't be sorry
And I wasn't
Two hours
emotional roller coaster
I was drowning
in a sinking ship
being strafed and bombed
on the open stretches
of beach
outswimming an oil fire
on the waves
Flying on the shoulder
of the Spitfire pilot
As he used up his fuel
to protect and serve
I lived the terror

for two hours
What a movie should be

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Challenge of Staying Awake to the World

The news gets worse and worse. Natural disasters exacerbated by our choices and those thrust upon us by the greedy and powerful. A rampant culture of violence against others by those in despair and rage. Polluted water and air. The stupidity of teenagers with fireworks who set off a widespread chain reaction of destruction and death in a nearby forest. If I let myself get overwhelmed by all this, a few dozen drinks or a few gallons of ice cream seem pretty tempting.

It didn't take me long in sobriety and abstinence to figure out that the challenge wasn't in giving up the drink or the food, it was being willing to stay awake and to do it all the time. To be present to what is going on in my life and in my world. To keep my eyes open and my heart open too. If I did that, I would see the astounding beauty of the world and the equally enormous suffering. And I would need to learn to do what I could and sit with the rest.

These days I'm finding this challenging. I want to numb myself into a sugar-induced nap for the afternoon. I want to watch mindless TV on an overly full stomach. I want a drink. I won't do that. I know only too well where it leads, but I want it to all go away for a while. Las Vegas. Houston. Florida. Puerto Rico. Eagle Creek and the Gorge. Feeling a lot of sadness today. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Poem for my friend Brian

Sitting in the dark with strangers
the bright glow
of a hundred candles
warming the space
that separates us
in a circle
that binds us

Words, tears, revelations
as the high holy days begin
in a religion not my own

We asked for what we needed
forgave each other
for what we could
no longer carry
Accepted our truth,
our responsibility
for this life
for this world
Invoked the names
and the nameless
of those gone before us

I opened myself up
to belonging
Ritual helps me do so
and I forget that I need that
in this life
in this world

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Love this quote

"Progress on a project changes everything. It changes the work--it exists!--but it also changes you. It gives you power over your life and choice that so few people have."

Jessica Abel, Growing Gills

Monday, September 25, 2017

The weight of the world

Humans aren't built
to carry the weight
of the world
We can manage
the cares of

our tribe
our community
but the larger scale
the global view
won't fit on our narrow shoulders
We can care for family
and some of those we don't know
but the plastic-filled oceans
with dying sea lions
and nuclear fish
the melting poles
and starving white bears
the hurricanes and forest fears
the greed and corruption
that cares for no one but self
is beyond our ken
beyond our kin
Many of us try
We pick up a few hundred pounds
of what's wrong
work to solve
dog fighting
sex trafficking
racist hate
child neglect
but we weary quickly
the impotence to change anything
too discouraging
and we go back
to our own life
already fraught with
its own sadness
from accident, cancer
factory closures
old mistakes  
our own or someone else's

Humans aren't built
to carry the weight
of the world

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Baffled by conservative family

I don't come from a particularly large family. I have three siblings, four nieces and nephews, and nine cousins. I am in regular contact with my siblings and we have pretty much the same values, the ones we grew up with. But some of my cousins are another story and our Facebook friendships have become anything but.

There are some differences that have contributed to this. I grew up in Western Oregon, which is quite liberal, and they grew up in Northern Idaho, which is not.I have a lot of education, as do my siblings, and my cousins do not. I appreciate that their lives have been different and have fostered different values in them.

But what I don't understand is the desire of one of my male cousins to make fun of my beliefs. I don't question his. They're his. He's clearly a Trump supporter and a lot of people are. I don't understand what they see in him but I don't question their right to see it. But he clearly questions my right to my opinions and that isn't something that either of us grew up with. Curious.

Friday, September 15, 2017

The joy of stickers

One of my projects this year is to make my art practice sustainable and regular, not just a when-I-have-time practice or a when-I-feel-like-it practice. My coach was surprised to hear I wasn't putting it into my calendar along with other appointments. I'd tried that, I told her, but I just ignored it for things that seemed more pressing, like paid work or a Netflix mystery series. So she challenged me to figure out something that would work.

I thought about my good friend Margaret, who often rewards herself for difficult tasks with stickers. I don't find making art difficult, quite the contrary. It's a source of great joy and pleasure for me. But I find getting to it difficult. So I needed some reward for changing that.

For the last three weeks, I've been using stickers. I get a sticker in my paper calendar if I paint during the day and another sticker if I do something else art-related (watch an instructional video, work on my inventory, sketch, look at other artists' work). I can earn up to 3 stickers a day. and it's absolutely working.

I splurged on some beautiful stickers from the gift shop at the Japanese Garden so they're visually fun too. And it is so satisfying to look at my calendar and see 16 stickers for a week, proof that I'm living into my intention.

What might you use stickers for?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Cremation of Beauty

My father was 16
in August of '33
Rode in an open-back
cattle truck
with friends from school
to dig fire-break trenches
at the Tillamook Burn
350 thousand acres
of old-growth gone
in a month
The ghosts and skeletons were visible
in my own youth
as we drove to the beach
in the summer
Now the Gorge
a kid, a firecracker
friends from school
the same powder-keg conditions
a weapon of mass destruction
The land will heal
but not in the years
I have left
So glad I looked
on each drive up and back
worshipped the green cathedrals
as my friend Mary called them
Now grieving the forest homeless
the countless beings lost
to human foolishness
Aching for the beauty
gone up in smoke

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

From a Stressed Life to Your Best Life

Join me at Portland’s New Renaissance Bookstore for a hands-on workshop on innovative ways to use our time, money, and energy in creating spaciousness and peace of mind. Bring a journal, scissors, and a friend!

Sunday October 1, 2017
2-5 pm

Registration: 503-224-4929