Presence and Peace

Hemingway or Wilson: The “I’m Okay” Story

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Have you considered how often you say the words “I’m okay?”

Usually the response follows a question from someone asking how you are or how you’re feeling. I heard the words during a talk given recently by author and philanthropist Mariel Hemingway. She appeared at an Enterhealth reception at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

The “I’m okay” story around mental health and addiction

Ms. Hemingway is known for her philanthropic work around mental health and addiction; in that work she speaks about her family–her famous grandfather, as well as her mother, father and sisters. Suicide from mental health conditions is rampant along with, in her case, obsessive attempts to control the out-of-control circumstances created from addiction and depression.

From the time she was young until she was 16 and moved to New York to make the movie Manhattan, Hemingway cleaned up the messes that followed her parents parties. In the middle of the night, she would get rid of the evidence, as she said, in hopes that the new day would bring hope (her word) and changed behaviors.

Like so many of us who grew up in homes where addiction was as much a part of the household as the furniture, Hemingway believed her role was a normal one. She believed every family had a fixer.

Ultimately, she spent decades trying to find where she fit, once she gave up her fixer role. She sought her identity through diets, religions, relationships and behaviors but nothing fit just right when she tried it on.

Finally, an answer

The answer to the identity she sought finally came during a private audience visit with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She and a group were allowed to ask questions but she simply sat quietly next to His Holiness periodically exchanging a smile.

He must have sensed her seeking because at the end of the visit, he leaned over, touched her and quietly said, “You’re okay.”

So simple, yet so profound–and so much of what I know but have to practice. I no longer have to run from my story or fix my past because I am okay in this moment. As Rev. Neil said yesterday at Cathedral of Hope, sometimes when the glass feels half empty, the best we can do is simply be grateful for the next breath we draw.

Moment by moment, being present is a powerful exercise.

It doesn’t matter whether your family name is Hemingway or Wilson or any other name, Mariel reminded us that there are always gifts and baggage.

I say it’s time to let go of the baggage and embrace the gifts. For that realization, I am grateful and I’m okay.

Photo courtesy of takeasnap

16 Quotes From Saint Teresa

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Mother Teresa, known as the “saint of the gutters,” died nineteen years ago today. Yesterday, Pope Francis declared “blessed Teresa of Calcutta to be a saint” during a canonization Mass in Vatican City.

Two words come to my mind when I think of Mother Teresa: Love and service.

She tended to others as I imagine Jesus did, with humility, grace and joy. She ministered in places and situations that few others would go.

Pope Francis said of her work,”mercy was the salt which gave flavor to her work, it was the light which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.”

Many have captured her words over the years. Today, I wish to honor the woman, the newest saint, with a few of the messages she shared about love and service.

A life not lived for others is not a life.

Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.

I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather he will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?

It is not the magnitude of our actions, but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.

Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.

In loving one another through our works we bring an increase of grace and a growth in divine love.

Why can’t there be love that never gets tired?

If we want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out. To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.

There is a terrible hunger for love. We all experience that in our lives – the pain, the loneliness. We must have the courage to recognize it. The poor you may have right in your own family. Find them. Love them.

The greatest science in the world, in heaven and on earth, is love.

I must be willing to give whatever it takes to do good to others. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me, and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.

At the hour of death when we come face-to-face with God, we are going to be judged on love; not how much we have done, but how much love we put into the doing.

Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God – the rest will be given.

If we pray, we will believe; If we believe, we will love; If we love, we will serve.

I’m just a little pencil in the hand of a writing God sending a love letter to the world.


Champions of Change, Survivors of Storms

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In and around the Texas Gulf Coast town of Rockport, there are magnificent centuries-old oak trees that grow nearly horizontal to the ground.

We saw them recently, on a few days respite from life in suburban Dallas. I was astounded by these incredible examples of God’s enduring strength, these champions of change and survivors of storms

There’s a lesson here about learning to lean where I’ve previously stood flat-footed and braced against the storms of life.

You can learn to lean and not break

There are times when the winds of this world threaten to snap you into  two pieces. I really don’t think I’m the only one who experiences the destructive nature of howling winds that slash at my metaphorical windows. They screech at you until, in your anguish you just know that you’ll be ripped from your moorings. Life as you know it will be finished.

Remember: those bent oak trees are still beautiful in their bentness. And you, no matter how storm-battered, are still beautiful too.

The trick to withstanding the storms of life is learning to pause, assess and respond without reacting.

How to get onPAR (Pause, Assess, Respond)

It’s okay to take deliberate steps away from crushing news. Lord, I can see how people become surly and jaded. When I’m exposed to nonstop news, including the diatribe on social media, I tend to sink into quicksand of sarcasm and criticism.

At those times when I find myself overwhelmed by life’s grittiness, I’m trying to pause (I’m not always successful!) before getting sucked into the grime.

I assess the situation. Do I need or want to play? Is there an option to walk away and not participate?

Once I determine my part, then I respond instead of reacting (the former being a proactive stance).

Here’s an example: Say there is some sort of work drama that affects my department or my piece of the work plan. I can’t walk away but I can choose to sit quietly and keep my mouth shut!

That’s only one example of two trillion.

I’m fortunate that as a contractor, I work alone in my home office. I don’t get pulled into the vortex of office life. But that doesn’t mean my world is always peaceful! Here’s what I do when faced with daily vicissitudes:

I take a break. I write. I pray. I take the dogs for a walk and I deliberately notice the stillness of the water in the lake. Peace, be still.

I breath and I bend, grateful for my flexibility.

One day at a time, I lean toward flexibility and fluidity searching for a profound sense of grace and fortitude. All will be well because all IS well.

So long as you bend but don’t break.

Shenpa and Learning to Listen

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In Tibetan, shenpa describes aggression or craving. Pema Chödrön writes that shenpa is “the root of all conflict, all cruelty, oppression and greed.”

Not to sound judgy, but there is enough shenpa in the world right now to fill an ark, two-by-two and squared.

Although the actual translation is attachment, Pema says she thinks of shenpa as “getting hooked,” while one of her teachers describes shenpa as the “charge,” like an electrical current, behind our thoughts, words and actions.

An example of shenpa is your response when someone criticizes you. The charge fires and you have to respond. You have to say something. You’re hooked.

Someone sends you a snippy email (or one you perceive to be snippy).

You’re running late and someone cuts you off on the interstate.

Your flight is delayed—six times—and then cancelled.

Do you feel that flare? That instant of “Oh my God! Seriously?”

That flash of emotion that scales up from annoyance to outrage and beyond? That’s shenpa.

Shenpa can be managed—that’s the good news. But it takes the consistent and frequent practice of presence.

Here’s an idea.

What if shenpa could be drastically reduced in homes, schools and communities by improving how we listen?

We are obsessed with talking. If we’re not talking, we’re thinking about what we’re going to say when it’s our turn to talk.

Now, I’m not implying that you don’t listen or that you’re not a good listener. But what if you began to practice radical listening?

Listening is the gift that grants peace, whether during a meaningful conversation or a solo stroll along an empty beach.

Quiet digesting of words and thoughts make up the truths and ideals that pull us back from insanity. I’m certain of it.

Listening lets you explore the edges and margins of life so as not to judge or draw conclusions, but to inquire and become more aware.

Listening provides connecting points and intersections of clarity or confusion, sometimes both. We learn to question who we are and what we want—and then how to invite our most cherished qualities of life to those points of connection.

Think of these virtues: love, compassion, forgiveness.

Let’s listen for them today. And then, let’s watch how shenpa—that snap-your-fingers nasty attitude behind so much of today’s snarly public discourse, fades to black.

Who knows? Maybe listening becomes a new cultural phenomenon—the very one that overtakes our distracting obsession with our gadgets. Stranger things have happened!

Photo courtesy of elephant journal

White Heron or Range Rover?

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Over the weekend, I was leaving my neighborhood when a majestic white heron, like the one pictured here, flew low across the street in front of my car.

Seconds later, I turned left onto Village Boulevard (speed limit 30 mph, I believe) when a burnt orange Range Rover with out-of-state plates suddenly appeared behind me, swerved around me and zoomed toward the main entrance.

Definitely not neighborhood etiquette, not to mention downright rude! I quickly opened my iPhone camera and tried to snap a pic of the license plate but I was too late.

I was furious! Good thing I was on my way to my regular Saturday morning 12-step meeting.

Then it hit me

Suddenly I realized how the previous 30 seconds was a microcosm of my life.

Two quick moments: Close encounters with a beautiful white heron and a rude driver of an ugly Range Rover–each eliciting strong, instant emotions. Which do I focus on after the moment has passed?

I laughed out loud when I got a mental picture of Little Beth stomping her foot and muttering through clenched teeth, “Range Rover.” But the adult, more expansive me? White heron, of course.

Choosing where to place your focus

You’ve had similar experiences, right? A moment of awe or wonder or thrilling adrenaline? And a second moment–maybe within the “good” one, that is ugly or hurtful or just yucky.

It’s the Cherokee fable about which wolf do you feed?

Your decision is crucial because it sets the tone for what comes next–darkness or light? Kind-hearted or gritchy? Loving or hateful?

In the split second you’re given to make the decision, try to see past your self-focused vision to the people your decision impacts. Your family, children, neighbors, or in my case, the people with whom I shared the suburban streets. Our decisions always have consequences.

James Allen said, “Man is made or unmade by himself. By the right choice he ascends. As a being of power, intelligence, and love, and the lord of his own thoughts, he holds the key to every situation.”

My entire Saturday hinged on the decision I made in the 30-second flash of the white heron and the Range Rover. We make those choices multiple times each day.

Teach yourself to be present to those moments and then choose wisely. Your day, and the days of everyone you encounter hinges on your choice.

Peace to all!

P.S. A quick shameless plug for Facing Addiction and the team on the ground in Cleveland at the Caucus for Addiction Solutions during the Republican National Convention. Catch Facebook Live news coverage and interviews. Next week it’s on Philadelphia to host the Caucus during the Democratic National Convention.

Photo courtesy of AcrylicArtist