Thursday, October 21, 2010


Condoleeza Rice, secretary of state under George W. Bush, has written a new book, “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family”, about who she is, how she got to where she is today, and about growing up black, female, and smart in “Bombingham”, aka, Birmingham, Alabama, where one of her girlhood friends was burned to death with four other little girls in a local church that was set on fire.
Given that she is such a well-known political figure, the former secretary of state is a bit of a lightening rod. Just read the comments in the Huffington Post following Russell Bishop’s article where he questions her politics but acknowledges her as an example of someone who rose from less than ideal circumstances to being one of only a handful of women to become secretary of state.

It’s tough but important work to encourage people to take responsibility for their lives. I’m not suggesting that we let the culprits and the bad guys off the hook—if we could even agree on who they are—but no matter how good the world gets, it will always be far from perfect. Our life with its boils, pimples, scars, discolorations and expiration date will always have room for improvement. We will always be able to find people, things, or events, natural and man-made, to blame for one deficiency in our life or another. But what will become of us if we spend our time blaming and moaning. Who will hear and who will respond, if not ourselves? Now, I’m not saying Condoleeza and I agree on all the choices she made as secretary of state, but she did make something of herself, and she didn’t ask me my opinion before she did.
What about you and I?
“What are you,” as the poet Mary Oliver asks, “going to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Ache and moan?
Or stand and deliver? (I know it’s a movie title, but I couldn’t help myself.)
Are we going to spend our lives as pieces of flotsam and jetsam being whacked in one direction and then another by whatever comes our way and complain about it, or are we going to be forces to be reckoned with as we work to make something of our lives?
I know Christmas is approaching, but Santa Claus is probably not going to save us. And even God, if you are religiously inclined, asks that we take steps in the right direction if we hope to get to someplace worthwhile.
It’s up to us.
So, what do you say, “Yea, or nay?”
But before you decide, remember, probably no one cares about your life and happiness more than you do. Though we are all subjected to circumstances beyond our control, no one has more power over your experience than you do.
You may or may not agree with the decisions made by the former secretary of state, but yours is still a wild and precious life, so think carefully before you give too much of it away to forces outside yourself.

Please leave a comment. Share how you are taking responsibility in these trying times to live a life that is productive, joyful, and full of gratitude. Many of you write to me privately, which is great, but sharing is good too. Namaste.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The half turn of your face
toward truth
is the one movement
you will not make.
                                                David Whyte

Sometimes, we turn away from the things that scare us and sadden us. Sometimes, we turn away from the truth that calls us, the love that awaits us, and the life we say we so dearly want. And, we don’t even know it.
In our time and place, one great turning away is from the body, from what is going on in the chest, the heart, the stomach, the shoulders, the legs, and elsewhere.
It’s a turning away from what we feel.
We struggle with the world, with sex, with joy, with love, with sadness, but we struggle from the neck up. One of the simplest and most powerful techniques of Tantra Yoga is simply to learn to use the breath so we can withstand greater and greater waves of pleasure during lovemaking.
As I write this I feel a bit of tension in my stomach. Part of me has a judgment about what I am writing. As soon as I become aware of the tension in my stomach, it eases and the words continue to come. I think of a friend and how she will possibly criticize these words as wrong or trivial. I feel it, take a breath, and am again able to continue.
We are comfortable feeling a certain size. As soon as someone begins to praise us and we feel ourselves getting ‘bigger’, we quickly deflate ourselves. Thanks, but no thanks, we say. We can almost begin to feel ourselves cracking.
Well-known relationship specialists Gay and Kathleen Hendricks say that often relationships suffer from what they call “The Upper Limits Problem.” The relationship is only allowed to get so big, only allowed so much intimacy, only allowed so much joy. Problems arise simply because one or both partners has reached the upper limits of how much happiness they can stand. Their comfort zones have overheated. Their rivets have popped. Their bubble…you get the picture.
If you look closely, you know this all too well.
Not so fast, we say. Not so high. Not so happy.
We’re afraid.
If we get too happy, we feel our unworthiness.
Or like we’re doing something wrong.
Or like we will be punished. 
We fear that we’re like Icarus in the Greek myth who used wax to fix wings to his body, who, as he approached the sun and the wax melted and the wings tore loose, was plunged to the sea where he drowned.
Many of us have a bit of the myth of Icarus buried in our chests.
It’s not always easy to make that half turn, but that’s where the truth of our life lies, the truth of what we are afraid of, the truth of the questions that have been waiting for us, the truth of who we want to be before we die, the truth of the music we hear when we are alone at night, the truth of what we long for and love.
One of my friends calls this turning towards the truth ‘leaning in’. Another calls it ‘curling around’. It really is that physical. It does require wrapping your body and heart around it. It’s getting cozy with what you fear, with what you don’t like, with what you want to get away from, with what you love and yearn for.

Hard to look,
but you know it has to happen
that it takes only the half turn of your face
to scare yourself
to the core.
Seeing again
that strange resolve in your new reflection.

Go for it, wrap yourself, body and soul around your life, and make it a good one.

 Please share. Namaste.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Today is my oldest daughter’s birthday. Gianna is twenty-six. I’m proud of her. I’m proud of all my four children.
She’s working on her Ph.D. She’s a scientist. She loves lab work. 
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist. Einstein was my hero. I wanted to be a physicist like him, studying the universe. I was a nerd. I had a lab in my basement. I competed in math competitions, and won both times. I dreamt of being the next Einstein.
But I never became a scientist. Just couldn’t pull it off. Didn’t even major in physics in college, or any other science. It was an unfulfilled dream that quietly gnawed at me over the years. Went back to school to get a masters in math, but didn’t go on for the doctorate. The unfulfilled dream at times became a festering wound that never fully healed.
I did teach high school math and physics. Some of my students went on to graduate school, and I did interview Walter Kohn, a Nobel Laureate, a physicist who won the award for his work in quantum chemistry. That was as far as I got.
            Now my oldest daughter is working on a doctorate in pharmacology. She researches compounds with possible applications to cancer treatment. I get to see my dream of becoming a scientist materialize in her as she does her work in Ann Arbor. 
And today is her birthday. She’s making her dream come true, a dream inspired by a gifted high school chemistry teacher.
But most dreams do not come true, at least not how we might have thought. I never became a scientist. I did not remain married to my daughter’s mom. My daughter’s life has been no different. She’s suffered her share of setbacks. Same thing was true for Einstein. Even he had his challenges, like his mentally ill son, and his strained relations with the people in his life. He struggled for over forty years to come up with a theory that would unify the forces of nature. He never succeeded. He was considered a bit of a flop by many younger physicists as he aged, though he’s not viewed that way now
            For a long time I was unhappy because I wanted my life to be a certain way. I wasn’t completely sure what it was, but I knew there was something missing and it made me unhappy. In Buddhism I would be classified as a grasping or greed type, always wanting more.
But I’ve learned. I learned to live more in the here and now, with what life offers, with the day-to-day. I’ve come to appreciate my life more than my idea of my life. Before I would argue with what is and miss it and not appreciate it. Now I see that the wonder of my life and my existence far exceeds any shortcomings I might imagine about my life. There is a hair’s breadth between me and Einstein compared to the distance between me being alive and me never having existed. The gift of life, whether mine or Einstein’s, is so staggeringly great and profound, that to lose sight of that gift by focusing on the differences between my life and his is like finding yourself at the most magnificent banquet table prepared by Merlin himself and wondering if your seat was as comfortable as the next guy’s.
You can indulge in that sort of thing if you insist, but it’s a sure recipe for unhappiness, even while in heaven. Now I know that some people suffer profoundly through no fault of their own, but that has not been my lot. Though I did my best, much of my suffering has been self-inflicted.
            And so, on my daughter’s birthday, my prayer for her and for all my children is not that they get the life they want, though I hope they do, but that they love the life they have.