Presence and Peace

Play the Game of Mindfulness: B Present to Win!


This final post of 2013 pays tribute to the many ways you’ve been present this year.

Take a moment to recall the many specific instances when you gave someone your complete attention or so completely focused on a project or task that you lost track of time.  Maybe you found yourself in awe of a scenic or historic place.  Maybe some sort of duty called you somewhere or to someone and you ended up being fully present.

When and how have you been fully present?

One of my many moments happened in September while standing at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.  I was awestruck by her towering majesty.  When I thought of her history, of what it took to get her to the island in the New York City harbor, then of all the people like me who had stood there pondering freedom, a tear slowly fell from my eye and I couldn’t speak.

I was fully and completely present in that moment.  I was a winner in the game of mindfulness. Feelings of appreciation and gratitude were my gifts.

It’s fairly easy to remember the big moments, isn’t it?  But what about the smaller ones?

Everyday moments of mindfulness

Let’s see if I can help jog your memory with two small examples from my recent past.

One happened while walking the South Padre Island Beach on Christmas Day.  I’m always attracted to anyone with a dog so it was not surprising when I hailed an older couple and their much younger (20 months) dog named Molly, a retriever mix.

We chatted about our dogs, where we lived, even the political climate in California, all while Molly waited patiently, occasionally snuffling her nose in the sand.  Finally, I decided to move along and wished them a Merry Christmas.

The woman looked into my eyes and said, “Thank you for making our Christmas a little more merry.”

Yes, I was stunned.

The second example occurred a couple of evenings ago.  My sweetie and I were attending the monthly recovery celebration at our 12-step group.

We gave a congratulations card to a young woman who was celebrating one year in recovery that very night.  Neither of us knows her very well, so to us the card was, well, just a card.  Clearly it meant so much more to her because I got a Facebook message from her the next morning that read, in part,  “I realized that I have no idea how many people love me and support me in my sobriety.”

How cool is that?

Once again, we were present to someone and our small gift was returned with a bigger message.

As this year concludes, I challenge you to set an intention in 2014 to play the game of mindfulness a little more often.  You know the rewards are huge–just take a look at some of your past experiences.  B present, stay present, and your winnings will grow and multiply!

Peace to you in the coming year and thank YOU for the gift of your readership in 2013.

P.S.  Speaking of recovery, many of you know I’m passionate about the addiction recovery movement that’s committed to ending stigma and shame associated with recovery.  We are building an online advocacy center and storytelling space–called ManyFaces1Voice–to expand the growing network of recovery advocates.  I shared the story of how I got involved with the organization here.

P.P.S. We gratefully welcome tax-deductible year-end donations to help us create more recovery videos and continue our advocacy work.   Please click here to donate.  Help us bring recovery EVERYWHERE!

What if There Were No Christmas?


Years ago, the poet James Dillet Freeman wrote a column for Unity Magazine titled “Life is a Wonder.” A recent issue of the magazine contained an excerpt from his column called “Embracing Christmas.”

In the article, Freeman noted the annual complaints about Christmas.  You hear them every year.  “Christmas is too commercial.  What happened to Thanksgiving since decorations go up at Halloween? Nobody seems to care about the real meaning of Christmas!”

The complaints are true, and while there’s plenty more where they came from, Freeman asks the question, “What if there were no Christmas?”

Could you do without Christmas?

Let’s be honest.  There are at least a few moments–for some, complete days–when you wish  Christmas was just done.  No more frantic gift-buying for people who don’t really appreciate the presents anyway.  No more standing on your feet for hours in a messy kitchen baking and cooking for guests who stuff their faces and leave.

No more trips to that Christmas god-forsaken place called the Post Office.  No more cards, no more bolts of paper and tangled ribbon.

No more guilt when you side-step the red kettle.  No more TV messages from soldiers stationed in faraway places.  No more continual music from your city’s “only station for Christmas music” (then why do they all play holiday tunes?).

Best of all: No more You-Tube videos of families rapping in their Christmas jammies and Facebook photos of antlered pets!

Take a second to think about ALL of the above being gone.  I mean, really think about it.

What if there were no Christmas?

Now, please read these words from Freeman’s article:

“I do not think we would be the holier for giving up Christmas trees and Santa Claus and gift giving or even Christmas cards.

Christmas is a flowering. Ancient truths, too important, warm, and deep for words—truths about ourselves, about our world, about our lives—have found expression in these lovely forms that are our ways of celebrating Christmas. They were planted in our minds long, long ago, some beyond all known events or recorded memories, and they have grown through many centuries. They have grown because they satisfy in natural and joyous ways our happy fancies and our deep-down needs. We have a wish and a necessity to express our wonder and love and joy and delight in beauty and in one another—yes, and our faith that if the spinning globe we inhabit wobbles toward winter, it will wobble back again to spring.”

So maybe we go a little overboard.  Isn’t that human nature?  I don’t know about you, but when I read Mr. Freeman’s words, my heart grows a little, like the Grinch’s does before he soars from Mount Crumpit down into Whoville.

They’re both right–Freeman and the Grinch–that Christmas lies in the heart.  Christmas is there because, more than anything, Christmas is about the giving of ourselves.  Christmas is about believing that the light and joy of the holiday will illumine our spirits and cast aside the long days of darkness.

If you believe, it will be so.

Merry Christmas from my heart to yours.

Me and the Charlie Brown Tree


I put Dad’s Charlie Brown Christmas tree up a few nights ago while I was staying at his house.  It took about a minute and a half from start to finish.

He hasn’t decorated for Christmas since Mom died; that was her thing, he’ll tell you.  He really doesn’t want to mess with the lights (Ah, the childhood memories of a dozen or more strands laid out on the basement floor to make sure all the bulbs worked.) and “all the things that just take up space.”  In truth, he probably doesn’t want to roust all those sad memories.

But last year when I brought the CB tree to Dad, opened the box and showed him how the four pieces went together (including the red ball ornament), then set it on top of the television, he said, “I think I can handle that.”

Hooray!  Instant holiday decorations.

The season of Christmas is my favorite time of year because people try a little harder to be respectful and courteous and to think about the needs of others.  At other times of the year, a store clerk might mumble “have a nice day” but at Christmas, is more likely to look you in the eye and wish you a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.

I like that about people.

Maybe I’m living in a fantasy world, but it does feel like people are more loving and more willing to make heartfelt connections.

I’ve read that there is no historical confirmation that December 25th is the day Jesus was born. Apparently no one knows for certain when the great event occurred.

In fact, Dr. Tom Shepherd, professor of theology and church history at Unity Institute and Seminary, writes in the November/December issue of Unity Magazine“Christmas wasn’t considered an important date until the fourth-century church, when officials decided to create a holiday commemorating the Nativity.”

Dr. Shepherd continues, “Lacking any evidence, Pope Julius I arbitrarily selected December 25, probably because Romans held two popular winter festivals of Saturnalia and Sol Invictus around that time . . . Lengthening days heralded the annual march from cold and darkness to springtime warmth and light, so everyone understood the metaphysical significance of selecting December 25 as the birth of Jesus.

As the centuries passed, the customs that make our Christmases meaningful–Santa Claus, stockings, yule logs, caroling, and this year’s Elf on the Shelf–mix with the spirit of Christmas.

I love it all and this year, perhaps more than any other, I have learned to appreciate the sacredness of Christmas, of doing what is mine to do.  Even the week’s unusual circumstances can’t derail my zeal for the holiday.

If Charlie Brown can come to believe that a spindly tree embodies the spirit of Christmas, that’s good enough for me. I know Dad’s tree has comforted me; I hope it gives his heart a lift when he returns home.

Image courtesy of

The Upslide to Icemageddon 2013


I’ve been out of my house twice in the last four days, both times for a two-mile, round-trip, carefully timed excursion to the grocery store. I think I’ve gained 10 pounds.

You may have heard that Dallas/Forth Worth, like much of the country, was besieged by arctic temperatures and, the death knell of any metro area, several inches of ice. As a quick aside, ice is ice whether weather people call it freezing rain, sleet, or–here’s a new term learned just this morning–freezing fog.

I’m extremely thankful for my warm house, the food and a safe little area in the yard for Jazzy to do her business.  Many, many more were not as fortunate as my little family; particularly those stranded for 12 hours on an interstate in the northernmost region of the metroplex. I cannot imagine the fear and bone-chilling cold.

An abundance of time

I spent the weekend getting some work done, reading and watching my beloved Missouri Tigers get beat in the SEC Championship game (It’s okay, boys. What an incredible sophomore year in the conference!). I also spent a fair amount of time in prayerful contemplation about the year drawing to a close and the lessons delivered through the grace of my willingness to receive them.

This month of December feels like a time of culmination, like the entire year has been spent in preparation for ending the year on a high note and then sending it to eternity in style.  This year, perhaps more than any other and certainly in the recent past, I’ve been acutely aware of striving to learn lessons in humility, simplicity and forgiveness. During this Christmas season, I believe we each have an opportunity to have something new born in us, or at a minimum, to at least become aware that we share an inherent goodness with the rest of mankind.

I’m wondering, do you feel a similar sense of culmination?

Ah-ha’s of awareness

First, I think of my life a little more than four years ago, before I entered what I call my Technicolor phase, as one of anticipation.  Seems I was always in a state of: Just wait until . . . everything is good now, but who knows what will go wrong when . . . the other shoe is going to drop like a lead-filled boot at any time . . . sure, I’m fine now, but . . . you just never know when you’re going to wish that . . . 

And my personal favorite: But what happens if . . . 

Even though I was in recovery then, life held very little appreciation of the present because I was absorbed by pending (and imagined) catastrophes, big and small.  Then there’s now. On good days–like today–I revel in simplicity. Cyclones may whirl around me but as the old sage said with a twinkling smile, “Let ’em whirl.”

Second, I’ve been feeling like a kid in one of Anne Lamott’s Sunday School classes.  She says she never fails to tell them that they are loved and chosen just in case they don’t hear the words anywhere else. Lately, I’ve imagined Anne’s words draped around my shoulders like a softly knitted shawl and like those kids are asked to believe, I too believe that I’m meant to do great things in this life.

As are you.

Finally, and this one is kind of funny, I’ve had an acute understanding of late that energy flows in the direction from which it originates.  I really need to stop downloading games onto my iPad.  Since actions generate energy, when my attention is given over to the blessed games, it’s not on something of bigger importance, like sleep.

Sleep means I’m more productive during non-sleeping times and these days, my head needs to be in the game.  I’m doing some really exciting work for one of the most important issues on the planet–the recovery advocacy movement–so I need more focus! Where do I want to focus my energy?  On creating tremendous writing content.

There you have it.  The upslide to the weekend’s icemageddon.  How was your weekend, and better yet, how is your 2013 shaping up?

Be safe. Be light on your feet (especially in icy conditions) and most of all, be love.

“The Dash” is a Poem of Comfort and Action


I’m in the final week of my first (and probably last, at least for a while) grad school class. Below is an updated post that originally ran in July 2010.  

There’s a poem called The Dash,” written in 1996 by Linda Ellis.

The story in the poem speaks about the measure, or the width, of our existence, what we do with the years after we’re born and before we die.  The dash represents our hopes, dreams and accomplishments as well as our failures.  It is the sum of each of our moments and how we’ve chosen to string them together.

I thought about The Dash once while listening to someone express its meaning in a different way.  He reminded his audience that the first sentence, actually a question, of Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous reads:  “Who cares to admit complete defeat?”

As hundreds of heads knowingly nodded, he went on to refresh our memories with the first sentence of Step Twelve which reads, “The joy of living is the theme of AA’s 12th step and action is its key word.”

As I listened to the chorus of ahs around me, I remembered the dash.

A friend’s dash

A guy I used to know named Jim had his dash inscribed after he died in a motorcycle accident.   Several of his friends are good friends of mine and

I pictured them standing in the parking lot of the funeral home, before they fired up their Harleys, cussing and discussing his dash.  For Jim, and for my friends, the dash and the distance between the sentences of Steps One and Twelve are synonymous.

I suppose the dash is the final mile marker on the distance of Jim’s journey.

As it is for all of us.

Sometimes, though, I get caught up in a small incremental portion of the dash I’m creating.  During those times, I definitely do not want to admit complete defeat and there is definitely no joy in my living.  I’ve completely cast aside the key word of action.  Typically, I have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired before I holler “uncle!”

I’m ready now, though. This year has been especially trying. The details don’t matter, because when push comes to shove, everybody has tough days, months and even years. How we deal with them by taking responsibility for choosing differently, all gets built into the dash.

My dash (could be yours too!)

I’m choosing differently now. I’m taking action. After all, I embrace the lines of another favorite poem, “Invictus”

I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.

These lines from “The Dash” help me make things better:

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
​the way other people feel.

Like Jim, when my journey’s distance reaches its end, I want my spirit to smile broadly, knowing that I’ve chosen the joy of living and created a really wide dash.

To read “The Dash” in full, click here.

Photo courtesy of click