Jan 012015

I took an online class the other night with Briana Saussy about prayer and blessings. She spoke about the nature of prayer and it’s expression in the many different faiths and religions of the world. As she was speaking and explaining prayer I was remembering my own experiences and how my current expression of the practice is completely different from what I was taught as a child.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I remember being taught basic prayers as a child and having a hard time with them. I had a hard time remembering the exact wording and in religious education class, in Catholic school, that mattered as did the proper placement of commas and capitalization. I don’t know if the teachers thought it mattered or if they were mixing a grammar lesson into our religion class. What I do know is that it sent the message that there is one right way to pray and it is complicated. There was also a threat in there that doing it wrong would put you in disfavor with God.

That didn’t make any sense to me.

I exasperated more than one teacher/priest/sister with questions about prayer and God. Very few of them took the time to give me a thoughtful answer. Most of the time I was shushed or given a pat, dismissive answer that didn’t satisfy me.

“If God is the father, who is the mother?”

“If I’m a child of God why can’t I just talk to Him?”

“If God is so powerful that he created everything why is he so angry with his creation? Couldn’t He just do it over again?”


By the time I got to high school I was adept at tuning out of religion class. I knew I wasn’t going to learn anything new because the previous years had all been a rehash of each other. I also had given up any hope that my questions would be properly answered. I paid enough attention to be able to parrot back the information on a test. The rest of the time I doodled, counted ceiling tiles or watched the critters outside the classroom window.

I distinctly remember one day watching the squirrels play on the school grounds and Sister So-and-so was having us recite a particularly obsequious prayer. The tone of that prayer always annoyed me; still does. I remember thinking that it must irritate God to hear this drivel. If someone were to talk to me, ask me for something, even just to thank me and they did it in this toadying manner I would be disgusted by them. I have always wanted people to stand up in themselves, face me square on and have a respectful conversation. At the time I remember thinking I was only a fourteen year old girl, if it irritated me to be spoken to that way what must it be like to be God. What must it be like to be the creator of heaven and earth, and have people speak to you this way all the time. It felt manipulative and insincere. It felt wrong and insulting. Then and there I stopped doing it.

I played along for the rest of my school career; the grades mattered. In my private moments I had conversations with God instead of reciting rote prayers. When I was sitting in church I played along there too but I was actually meditating and observing. The ritual and space are meaningful and when I studied the practice of ritual and sacred space I learned a new appreciation for the Catholic Mass, but the experience of going to mass as a child and teen was always hollow. As I got older it became harder and harder to pretend there was anything there that connected me to the Divine. It actually interfered with my experience of God and by the time I graduated high school I understood why that was:

They had made God too small.

The God I was introduced to as a child served a purpose for the child and the Church. As I grew and matured the explanations of God did not grow and mature with me so I left them behind and sought my own answers. The God I’ve experienced since is so much bigger than I can explain and the prayers of childhood are even more woefully inadequate. During Bri’s class the other night she included my favorite quote from Kierkegaard:

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”


I have found that the most profound and sincere prayer is one of gratitude. We go through life taking things for granted that are, in fact, quite miraculous. The gratitude doesn’t even need to be directed to a deity for it to transform you. It’s the mindset and practice of gratitude that does the work.

The way I recommend starting when I am asked by friends and clients is a simple walking meditation. There is no heavy preparation needed. There is no limit on the time spent doing this. It is actually a simple, straight forward activity that becomes meditative in the doing of it.

Woman walking on the sandbeach

It’s walking.

It’s walking with a purpose.

With each foot strike you alternately say “Thank” and “you”; left foot “Thank”, right foot “you” or vice versa. Do this from your car to your morning train; while walking to get the mail; while looking for groceries; while taking your dog out for a stroll.  Do it deliberately as part of your daily exercise. Do it for a week and see what changes it makes for you.

May 2015 be a healthy and happy year for you.

Dec 302011

I don’t know how this year has been for you. The general consensus among my friends, family and clients is that 2011 cannot end soon enough.

I live in the Hudson Valley and we here are no strangers to snowstorms and blizzards but we usually only get one or two big ones a season. Starting after Christmas last year we were hit with at least half a dozen. We skipped right over Spring into a very hot, wet Summer which ended with Hurricane Irene followed a week later by Tropical Storm Lee. That one-two punch destroyed roads, bridges, powerlines, large portions of a few towns up here and many of the local farms. Somewhere in there we had a 5.8 earthquake that by our standards was unheard of but California would consider a minor annoyance. An F2 tornado touched down in our town destroying one house and dozens of big old trees in a one mile swath. Tornadoes like that almost never happen. The hot weather continued into October tricking the trees into forgetting it was Autumn so they still had all their leaves when we had eighteen inches of snow fall on them. All that afternoon and into the night we could hear boughs and limbs breaking and crashing to the ground. By Halloween most of the folks in town were a bit frazzled. There were even a few jokes about keeping an eye out for plagues of frogs and locusts. Folks are bracing themselves for what this Winter might bring.

It’s not just the weather that is rattling everyone. The economy hasn’t bounced back as hoped. There are many vacant shops in town and quite a few people are still out of work. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the low-grade anxiety that seems to be everywhere. Each person who has wished me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Holiday has added that they can’t wait for this year to be over. I completely understand.

I don’t do New Year’s Eve parties. It’s just not my thing. I spend New Year’s Eve cleaning my house, catching up on my laundry and generally making sure I don’t bring unfinished business from one year into the next. Another thing I do, that seems to be a common practice for many, is to take an inventory of the outgoing year. Some people do this in a very involved way but I’m partial to Chris Guillebeau‘s practice. He simply asks what worked and what didn’t.  Truthfully I don’t even write this down. It’s more of a mental exercise for me and I go through it for a few weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve.

While I was thinking about this and how best to get out from under the anxiety it occurred to me you may want to join in. January is usually a down month for people. Business is slow. The weather is harsh. The excitement of the holidays is gone and there is the inevitable crash that comes afterward. Instead of New Year’s resolutions I prefer to come up with ideas to explore in the coming year. There is much less pressure with this approach and much more joy. What better way to start this off than to make January be about joy.

This will be simple and we can do it together. Little things every day or so to shift our focus. Rethinking exercises to bring us back to joy and squash the anxiety. Are you in?

Great! On January 1st I will post the 25 things I am grateful for from 2011. I invite you to do the same either here in the comments, on my Facebook Page or on your own blog (please link back here so everyone knows what’s going on). In keeping with the theme of Joyful January  I will be using the Joie de Vivre Tarot as my deck of the month. Here’s to making it a very happy new year.

Jul 082011

Years ago, when I my youngest was starting school, I joined an established book club of local women. Once a month we would get together over lunch and discuss the book we had all read that month. I didn’t last long. They had similar values to each other and I was the odd one out. I relate better with people who have a philosophical bent whether they are spiritual or not and have a very difficult time with people who seem to have no sense of humor. It can be quite a learning experience to be in the company of people who prize things and ideas you don’t care about. They were likeable and somewhat friendly but not particularly warm and I found myself holding back from them. You’ve had this experience, I’m sure. Everyone has. You just know these people aren’t ‘friend material’ and the relationship will never be anything more than superficial civility. When I run into one of these ladies now we are each cordial to the other. There are no hard feelings it was just a bad fit.

I stayed with the book club for a few months until the month we read The Four Agreements. Reading this particular book was not my idea and I was surprised that a member of this group would suggest they read a spiritual, self-help book and even more suprised when they all agreed. I thought perhaps I needed to reassess my opinion of this group. Maybe I’d been a snob, maybe I’d been unfair. The day came when we met to discuss the book and I was very interested to hear what everyone had to say. Let me just say that I think the four agreements themselves are very useful but I found the book a little cutesy new-age. I recommend it to people all the time because the message is, in my opinion, very useful. Well, the book club never got past the second agreement: “Don’t take anything personally.”

When it came time to discuss this agreement I was the first to say I thought it was wonderful. To me it was an ‘a-ha!’ moment. The truth of it seemed so clear to me that I was sorry I hadn’t thought of it on my own. Once I understood the idea it seemed so obvious. They all looked at me like I’d sprouted a second head. The concept of not taking things personally is rooted in the fact that people behave the way they do because of who THEY are not because of you. So THEIR responses and reactions to you, or any other situation really, comes out from where THEY are in life, what THEY believe to be true and so on. It’s NOT about you. Your interaction with a second person may trigger a reaction from them but if a third person were to take your place in the discussion the second person would still behave as they did. YOUR response to any interaction is YOUR responsibility. YOUR reaction is because of who YOU are not because of the other person.

The reaction from the book club was ironic. They all turned on me. For the next hour the discussion centered around things that had happened to each of them that were personal and how that experience invalidated the book. My first reaction was to be stunned. I hadn’t expected such a violent response to a book or for these women to not even entertain my idea. The group dynamic was amazing. Not a single one of them understood what I was trying to say and not a single one of them let me complete a sentence. This group of otherwise cordial women became rude and nearly hostile with one particular woman leading the pack. About ten minutes into it I realized that I was in a situation where I had to put my money where my mouth was and not take this personally. When the lunch was over I thanked the hostess, bid the ladies farewell and ended my membership in this group. That was early 2005.

This past weekend I learned that one of these women, the one who most vociferously defended taking things personally, was involved in sabotaging something I was working on in our community. She told a mutual friend that she was happy I didn’t get what I wanted because she hates me. The actions she was applauding hurt this man, this mutual friend as well and until that was brought to her attention she didn’t realize she’d injured him because she had been so focused on interfering with me. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around this when I learned it. I can’t imagine setting out to undo someone or delighting in another person’s loss. I didn’t really understand what motivated her.

We had had a minor confrontation in 2006 where she came after me and I defended myself but that was five years ago. I thought that was that.  We almost never interact and I can’t remember the last time I even thought about her let alone spoke to her. She told our mutual friend that her intense dislike of me stems from that confrontation. That was amazing to me.  I sat in our booth on Sunday, in the rain and pondered this. I wasn’t hurt by this revelation but I was angry for a few minutes because of the callous way my friend was treated. It’s actually quite a waste of energy to be so vindictive and petty that you hurt innocent people to satisfy yourself. As the rain fell and I thought this over I pulled a card to find out where this woman was coming from. I got the Five of Cups.

She’s focused on what’s not there, what is lost. The cups are about emotions and the empty cups can be symbolic of places of need or emotional injury. The two full cups behind the figure are being ignored. This figure prefers to focus on what’s missing, what’s lacking and so that becomes their world view. There is a flowing river right nearby and the cups could easily be refilled but instead they are left where they fell and the figure stands there, cloaked in sorrow, staring at them. I thought of that Richard Bach quote “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours” There is no real reason for this person to be in this situation beyond the personal decision to stay there like holding a grudge for five years. Kind of sad isn’t it.

Jun 062011

I woke up just past four o’clock this morning. It was unintentional. One moment I was sound asleep and the next moment I was wide awake. Not that ‘I just woke up’ sort of awake but the ‘I’ve been up for hours’ kind of awake. It’s annoying when this happens.

All my life I’ve been a sound sleeper. One night, when I was about twelve and living on Staten Island, we were hit with a nasty hurricane. The winds were fierce and powerful enough to uproot a sixty year old sycamore tree in my across-the-street-neighbor’s yard. It fell toward my house, blocking  the street, pinning another neighbor’s car and the top of the tree landed on the porch roof right outside my bedroom window. I slept through the whole thing.

When I do sleep now I still sleep pretty soundly but over the last five or so years I’ve been waking up for no good reason in the middle of the night. It was unnerving at first. So much so I asked my doctor about it. He said it was hormones. (As an aside to all the doctors out there, when you tell a woman that her problems are because of her hormones back it up with something concrete. Men have been dismissing women’s feelings and ideas for years by chalking it up to female hormones and it’s downright disrespectful and irritating. You may be 100% correct that her issue is hormone related but without some serious backup you will piss off your patient and lose some credibility. Guess how I know.) After storming out of his office and discussing this with some friends my own age I have learned that I’m not alone in this. Not only that, it’s not anything to worry about. My favorite explanation was from Joanna who said that we wake that early because the dawn has secrets to share with us. I like that.

Being who I am, I did some research. For most of human history nighttime was dark. People didn’t stay up watching TV or reading by artificial light. Shortly after the sun set people went to sleep and they also generally woke up with the dawn. Many of them didn’t sleep straight through. They would experience an hour or so of wakefulness about four hours after they went to sleep. Sleep studies and sleep historians seem to agree that getting up for an hour or so in the middle of the night is perfectly normal. It is called a biphasic sleep pattern. Pre-industrial people used to refer to it as early sleep and late sleep. I like that, too.

Reading all this research was really quite relieving for me. I prefer to sleep soundly for the whole night and am still a little annoyed when I get up four hours after I fall to sleep but at least now I’m not worried about it. After I got over my irritation with my doctor I started to make note of when I woke like this. (He could be right. It has happened on occasion)  I’ve tracked it for ages now and I can’t find a pattern. If in fact it’s tied to my hormones I’d think it would coincide with other things on the calendar. It doesn’t. It may be because I’m in my forties or it may be something else entirely. I’ve decided not to stress about it and just accept that this is how things are now.

 So, when I woke at four in the morning and it was just me and the birds, I decided to do the Morning Pages exercise. It’s a wonderful use of the time and Joanna was right. About halfway through the Dawn revealed her secrets.