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“One day the hero

sits down,

afraid to take

another step,

and the old interior angel

limps slowly in

with her no-nonsense


and her old secret

and goes ahead.


you say

and follow.”

– from “The Old Interior Angel”, by David Whyte

Today I had one of those days that felt like deja vu, or a relapse to a time I thought I’d outgrown. But I suppose it’s like that point in every hero’s story where the hero sits down, feeling a little doubtful, wondering if he is really cut out for this work. Then he is reminded that this is his destiny. There is no other journey like this one, and there is no turning back.

Maybe it was all the inversions I’ve been doing the last two days in yoga. Standing on your head – repeatedly – will do things to your thought processes. Bringing fresh blood supply to the brain and reversing the flow in the lower part of the body…I’d love to see a PET scan of someone in headstand.

One of the things I realized today is that when you change, and stop playing the roles that people have come to expect of you, you might run out of things to talk about. It happened to me today with my hair stylist, who is such a fabulous woman and always good for a great conversation while effortlessly crafting my hair into something sleek with “somethin’ goin’ on”. The switch flipped when I tilted my head back in the shampoo bowl and announced, “No more school!”. She gasped loudly, “No more SCHOOL?? What are you going to DO??” I didn’t expect that response, given the fact that I had spent the better part of the last two years sitting in her chair telling her horror stories – at her request – of some of the clients I was dealing with. It seemed like every six weeks there was a new story. There were some favorites that she still remembers – like the time when I had a parents forum and one of the “lessons” shared by a family was “motivating” their three-year-old to practice by threatening to throw her Barbie dolls out the window if she refused. After that, I had the wisdom not to hold open forums for “sharing wisdom” among the group. Some parenting strategies are best left as “best kept secrets”. It was easier for me to sleep at night not knowing what happened in some of these homes.

But I was done complaining today. Read the rest of this entry »


Those who will not slip beneath

the still surface on the well of grief

turning downward through its black water

to the place we cannot breathe

will never know the source from which we drink,

the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering

the small round coins

thrown by those who wished for something else.

I’ve been hearing a lot about salmon lately. First it was a BBC Discovery DVD I watched with my 4-year-old niece this summer. It told the story of the Pacific salmon which journeyed from their birthplaces in small freshwater streams out to the depths of the Pacific Ocean, and then returned, against all odds, to the very same stream where they were born, in order to lay their eggs. Only one in two thousand salmon make it back to do their spawning successfully. Immediately after they lay their eggs, they die. Talk about having a purpose! The salmon are very clear.

The things that struck me were that the salmon lived most of their lives in the sea, and then at some point, they follow an inner guide toward their original birthplace. They are each headed toward their inevitable death. If they are one of the lucky in each two thousand, they will actually reach their destination and reproduce. But the vast majority become food for bears, wolves, birds, bugs, worms, and other forest animals. (The DVD explained how the salmon thus provide the most significant source of nitrogen for the entire Pacific Northwest region of the United States and southwestern Canada.) This doesn’t stop them from using all of their remaining life force and energy to struggle upstream toward their destiny, facing infinite challenges along the way.

The second time I heard about them was on a David Whyte CD I purchased in August. He lives on Whidbey Island in Washington, and wrote a poem, called “Song for the Salmon”, about all the ways in which he had not thought about the salmon. The act of writing that poem ended up being a pivotal moment of reconnection with his personal destiny of pursuing the life of a professional poet:

And I am ready like the young salmon

To leave his river, blessed with hunger;

For a great journey on the drawing tide.

He talks about it on the CD as an example of how only when we sit down to contemplate all the ways in which we are lost, all the ways in which we have put ourselves in exile, all the ways we feel disconnected from our world – only then can we reconnect with it. Only then can we be carried out on the current of the true journey of our lives, the journey that would also bring us home.

And then the salmon returned this weekend as a central image in John Beaulieu’s two-day workshop for us at CIIS. John is another great example (like Martha Beck) of someone who has combined solid science and work of the rational mind, with mysticism and imagery from ancient cultures. He opened his class by saying that while he studies the biomolecular effects of sound on the cells in our body, there is no reason to believe that modern scientists are any “smarter” than the alchemists of the Middle Ages or the shamans of the Amazon, who observed similar effects but simply had different ways of measuring and communicating their knowledge.

John’s therapeutic work with sound is based on the Austrian physician and scientist Hans Selye’s theory of stress. He gave us these new definitions:

– STRESS is a neutral term which simply means “adaptation to change”

– DISTRESS is a failure to adapt to change, resulting in the physiologic effects of activation of the sympathetic nervous system and triggering the immune response.

Over time, prolonged distress – prolonged failure to adapt to change – becomes crisis and illness. The longer we hold out and fail to adapt to change, the higher our levels of distress.

– EUSTRESS is a state of heightened consciousness created through adaptation, resulting in the physiologic effects of opiate release (the “runner’s high” feeling). Read the rest of this entry »

Tonight I’m reminded of the inspiring opening stanza of David Whyte’s poem, “Start Close In”, which I heard him recite aloud at Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes, CA, back in August.

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

Read the rest of the poem here

Don’t we all like to convince ourselves not to pursue our big dreams because of the great chasm separating “here” from “there”? Read the rest of this entry »

from David Whyte’s The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship, 2009.

I stop trying to work harder in each of the marriages and start to concentrate on the conversation that holds them together. Instead of asking myself what more I need to do, and killing myself and my creative powers in the process of attempting to carry it out, I ask myself: What is the courageous conversation I am not having?

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