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May 17, 2021

Once Upon a Time (Part Four)

Missed parts one, two, and three? You can read them here, here, and here. Meanwhile, Frederick magically had co-opted humans Jack, Donna, and Zachariah to do his bidding. He wasn’t too proud to gather minions, but who would be the wiser? He really thought that Zachariah, with his disarming and gentle manner, could deliver the smoke more directly and close the trap for life. That, along with Frederick’s unceasing but more intense dragon black magic, should do the trick. Meanwhile, Charles had enlisted the support of Rose, then added Adam, who recruited Greg. Though Prince Walter didn’t know it in these terms, he now had a small army of warriors ready to defend him. Yes, Walter still needed help and relied on these people, but Greg really pushed Walter to fight for himself. “Now is the time!” thought Greg. What did Greg do? He asked Walter a simple question, at just the right time. “Walter, when you are on your deathbed, what will be your greatest regret?” Frederick and his crew tried desperately to choke Walter with as much smoke as they could and confuse his mind with their dastardly craft, but they couldn’t stop the response. “That I was never Walter,” was the answer. The light suddenly shone, and the smoke started to clear. Greg, Adam, and Rose continued their push for Walter’s freedom. Charles stayed inside of Walter, cementing himself more strongly than ever. Zachariah faded in the stretch, though not without a struggle. Gradually, Walter took more independent steps, but he took them. Then they became strides. Eventually, Walter stood firmly and walked gallantly as he now felt the courage to explore his outside and his inside world under his own direction. His curiosity and capacity was amazing! To Walter’s surprise, his body started to change for the better... View Article

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May 10, 2021

Once Upon a Time (Part Three)

Missed parts one and two? You can read them here and here. Poor Prince Walter just muddled along. He did not despair or even fail. Well, he did hit some pretty rocky patches and did some unsavory things we won’t go into here, but he always bounced back and landed on his feet. Little by little, Walter realized that there was always somebody supporting him and fighting for him. Over time, he noticed that some of these people really goaded him into following their suggestions. Eventually, Walter would get angry and leave their company. Other times, he became trapped. He had an uncomfortable sense that he was becoming co-dependent. There were others, though, who were more interested in what Walter thought. Their proddings were more like “Walter, what do you think about this?” Frederick, as you can guess, was manipulating the first kind as well as Walter himself who invited all of this, but Walter’s friend Charles was somehow behind this second, more dangerous group. A very dangerous group indeed, if you’re Frederick. The battle raged. At one point, Frederick decided “Enough! I need to turn up the heat, blow in the little fire I have, along with some smoke and spells. Confound it all, Walter has been listening to himself more and more! At first I thought it was manageable, just a phase, because Walter created a lot of pain for himself and others, but somehow he has managed not only to survive, but thrive. He even thinks he knows where he is going in life! No more! I know his weak spot.” So what did Frederick do? Slowly and discreetly, he wrapped his dragon tail around poor Prince Walter so Walter had a harder and harder time breathing. Walter felt the constriction, but couldn’t see or feel the... View Article

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May 3, 2021

Once Upon a Time (Part Two)

Missed Part One? You can read it here. Frederick the dragon somehow didn’t become aware of Charles until it was too late. Charles was a do-gooder who, to Frederick’s dismay, actually was a good and kind person. Charles was also quite clear about his mission and truly dedicated himself to it. You see, Charles had decided that his life’s purpose would be to fight for the rights and betterment of kids. Any child, not just his own, and not just children, but anyone in the community of any age, race, belief, or gender. People knew of Charles as a high school science teacher. What they didn’t know—and neither did Frederick at first—was that he too had learned a subtle skill set. You might call it white magic as opposed to Frederick’s black magic. Charles didn’t send smoke, he sent light. He didn’t cause people’s insides to smolder, he caused them to shine! Before Frederick caught on, Charles had sent his light right into Prince Walter, who felt it like a jolt! It made him take notice and smile. Walter actually felt a glow rise from inside of his being. Frederick growled and intensified his attack. Walter could see, talk, and interact with Charles, but he didn’t know about Frederick. Despite the glow, Walter knew there was a churning battle inside of him, but all he could do was ride it out. There are some things you need to know about dragons. They are persistent and long-lived, and Frederick in particular, loved a challenge like this: a covert war that he was determined to win. So Frederick the Cunning, as he liked to call himself of late, calculated and waited, still sending smoke and spells, but not as steadily. Frederick delayed until Walter left Charles to move on to other people... View Article

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April 26, 2021

Once Upon a Time (Part One)

This story is the first in a four-part series that will be posted every Monday for the next four weeks. We hope that you will enjoy this fairy tale! Please leave us a question or comment; we’d love to hear from you. Once upon a time, there was a small, quiet village in a non-descript, but pleasant township. The village was surrounded by a broad spectrum of life: from poorer villages, to wealthy ones in a hodgepodge relationship with easy travel between them all. In this general area of maybe 25 miles, unbeknownst to many, if anyone, lurked Frederick, a hungry and irritable dragon. Please don’t call him Fred, whatever you do! The villagers did not believe in dragons; they were far too sophisticated, even the least educated and poorest of them all. Frederick’s unpleasant mood and demeanor stemmed from a general lack of respect. He couldn’t breathe an intensity of fire like his brothers, and he wasn’t as big. Though he could fly, he wasn’t as agile. Frederick had been teased and deprived because of these supposed shortcomings, and became an expert at sulking. He did develop a sly sense of disturbing the peace. No one recognized dragons. They blamed all sorts of people and circumstances for the commotions. While his siblings made the news—some thought flying dragons were UFO’s, and the fires in the nearby not-so-quiet village were caused by human arsonists, which made all the dragons laugh, Frederick learned about a special power that not many other dragons had or even knew. Instead of breathing fire and wreaking destruction directly, he would cause a smoldering, smoky cloud of unrest inside of people, sometimes in the nicest of people. They were his favorite targets. It gave Frederick the greatest satisfaction to nag away and intrude on their thoughts... View Article

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December 31, 2020

There are Many Ways to Heal

Individual spiritual retreats are interesting phenomena. The time away is meant to be a break from everyday life to immerse ourselves into a space where we can discover and reflect on what is most important to us. The details of what happens during a retreat vary depending on you and your retreat guide (the person who organizes the experience). It’s not a vacation, though outsiders often think that it is, and scoff at any other consideration. The retreat guide offers spiritual practices, a shoulder to cry on, or a boot to the rear (called encouragement) when needed. Often, the guide provides a perspective on what may be happening in your spiritual and life experiences. Oh yes, the guide arranges for your meals and accommodations too—unless the retreat is done online which is becoming more common these days. The settings vary as well. Many people think that these retreats are in a glorious natural setting, in a cave in the mountains, or in a monastery in a bare cell (room) with a hard bed, chair, desk, and a meditation cushion. For me, my favorite retreats were in an attic in a suburban home. I had access to good food, a shower, musical instruments, books, recorded music, some nature nearby, and a great view of an urban skyline that was inspiring to me. My second favorite retreats were in a hut with access to nature but also to residential city streets where I could walk (and walk, and walk, and walk). Though universal Sufism, integrated with other approaches, is my primary spiritual path, long gone are the days of the ancient Sufi who hung upside down in a well (only during the day!) for 40 days. Thanks be to God! I was on a 12-day individual spiritual retreat at the beginning of... View Article

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December 21, 2020

Awake in the Night

Once again, as more times lately than I like to remember, I am awake in the small hours of the morning. Tired, yet awake. The first blush of sleep wore itself out and seems unwilling to return. I once was a champion sleeper:  fell out in seconds, and slept through to the alarm. Three fire engines could come to the neighborhood and I would sleep through it. When I had my baby, I feared I wouldn’t wake up to take care of him, but soon discovered that if he squeaked, I woke instantly to nurse and comfort him. The craziness that is the year 2020 has invaded my dreams. Last night, I dreamt that we went out to eat and had to take off our masks. Even in the dream-state, I knew this was deviant, something we should not be doing, even though the Al Pacino’s were just leaving and our drug money was contaminated. Enough anxiety? No, there’s still room for more. The economy is stalled, unemployment is high (including one of my sons), the pandemic is out of control, and the current occupant of the Oval Office is focused on threatening the foundations of democracy. What, me worry? We are not “food insecure.” We do not face eviction. I own more clothes than I can wear, and the heat is on. I’m working from home, even though I am retired, filling the days with Zoom meetings for social justice actions and four exercise routines. The hospitals are filling with the sick and dying, and there’s a 9/11 toll of loss of human life every day. A young black man was shot and killed by a veteran U.S. Marshall looking for someone else, this crushing violence repeating and repeating. If it is always the darkest before dawn, I hope... View Article

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October 28, 2020

So Much Beauty

Every day I walk for about an hour in my neighborhood if it isn’t icy, below zero, or raining cats and dogs. I say my practices as I go. Sometimes I pick up trash along the side of the road. When I am awake to the beauty of the world, I see it shining in its essence. If I am absorbed in thoughts about some problem or preoccupation, I miss the beauty that sings out to me, in the sounds the birds make, and in the branches waving in the breeze. I am especially susceptible to loving the color of the sky when it is clear and blue. How fortunate we are to live on a planet where the atmosphere appears in this incredibly beautiful shade of blue, punctuated by clouds of infinite shapes and colors. How we miss it when smoke and fire turn the sky red and orange. The light guilds the blades of grass and leaves of the trees, their green color standing against the blue sky. Gentle motions are graceful as dancing figures. Dogs bark and wag their tails, anxious to alert me that I am passing their domains. Birds crisscross the view, their arc of flight tantalizing the air. Homes are painted colors contrasting with trim and shutters, each one emblematic of its current owners who mow their lawns in diagonal patterns and cultivate flowers, bushes, and trees. Tiny chipmunks dart across the road into the weeds where they have their little homes. Everywhere, light dapples patterns on surfaces smooth and coarse, shifting with the passing clouds. All of this is invisible when I am caught up in worry, fear, and mental dullness, trudging through my walk as if it is a penance. With a bit of luck, a moment of perception will awaken me... View Article

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October 7, 2020

Putting on Earrings for an Online Yoga Class

Online yoga classes are a lifeline through the COVID-19 quarantine experience. Bodhi Tree Yoga has been where I have practiced for several years. This beautiful little studio, run by two women teachers with a mostly female membership, has been a supportive home for my yoga practice, which I started by watching a PBS yoga show just after my first baby was born over 36 years ago. The teachers quickly pivoted to an online format and I signed right up. A room in our basement has variously served as an office, bedroom, and storage space. I converted it to a combination yoga studio, martial arts dojo, and art workshop once the shutdown hit.  During the first anxiety filled weeks of quarantine, yoga classes were a dependable haven of relaxation and physical care. Monday and Friday mornings were my studio routine, but once my computer became a portal to the outside world, this expanded to nearly every day.  Seeing my teachers and the other students on Zoom was a vital connection to the normal flow of my previous life, the life where I went outside of my house, got in the car and drove to the studio or the store or the coffee shop. As these outings ceased and options shrank, yoga came to me. Getting dressed for yoga gives shape to the day, even though there’s no audience for my outfits except myself. More than ever before, yoga clothes are all-day clothes, comfortable and flexible for whatever activities come along. Sometimes, I find myself wondering whether to add the usual earrings, without which I never feel “fully” dressed. It seems silly; no one is going to see you, I think to myself, but when I put them on, I feel a little lift of the spirit. A little spark of normalcy twinkles... View Article

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September 15, 2020

The Thought That You Know Better

Certain words echo in the heart for years, filtering through the consciousness and developing slowly, like an old-fashioned film in a darkroom.  My spiritual guide would sometimes read aloud to his students from The Tibetan Book of The Great Liberation (Ed., W. Y. Evans-Wentz, Oxford University Press, 1954, 1968).  This is ostensibly a translation of an original text attributed to the legendary Tibetan guru, Padmasambhava, given centuries ago and hidden away to be found during this age.  I have heard these teachings and read them myself, more than once.  On one particular occasion, in a tent on the mountaintop at the Abode of the Message, a Sufi retreat center and community, Shahabuddin read the entire selection aloud to the assembled group. For a flash of a moment, I felt what had been read reverberating in my being at a deep level.  The moment vanished inexplicably and I was left puzzled.  When the session concluded, I approached Shahabuddin and asked him, “What stands between hearing it and getting it?”  He immediately answered, “The thought that you know better.”  I just took this in and walked away, turning the words over in my mind.  It was so simple, yet so much to think about contained in just a few words.  Over the years since, I have reflected this simple yet complex concept.  The thought that I know better shows up in so many ways.  This reaction is a barrier to the deeper understanding I am seeking and causes me to question and open my thinking.  When I believe I know better, I have the chance to stop and ask, what am I preventing myself from learning here?  What makes me think I know better? What goes on here?  The ego stirs itself to assert that it knows something that (probably) it does... View Article

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August 15, 2020

Reading The 1619 Project in 2020

The 1619 Project was published in the New York Times Magazine Sunday, August 18, 2019, along with additional material included in the newspaper. The print version sold out quickly, but I was able to obtain a copy after the reprinting. It sat on the table that accumulates papers to be sorted, mail to be dealt with and other detritus of daily life, for months until I thought, it’s time to get busy and read this important work through. The full project can be found online on the New York Times website. I received the standard middle class white suburban school district education, supplemented by my own personal reading list, and there is so much I did not learn in the classroom. Not surprising, given the demographics of my time, but perhaps odd, given my proximity to the 1960s era of civil rights struggles. The Times featured this quote from John Hope Franklin on the cover page of the supplemental section: “We’ve got to tell the unvarnished truth,” followed by a box at the bottom of the page that reads, “Four hundred years after enslaved Africans were first brought to Virgina, most Americans still don’t know the full story of slavery.” Nicole Hannah-Jones, staff writer, conceived of the project that examines the roots of slavery that can be traced through every aspect of modern American society, every institution, every organizational structure, every economic assumption, though multiple essays, painstakingly researched by a team of journalists. It is long past time for all of us to learn, acknowledge and understand the true history of the founding of our nation and the building of immense wealth on the institution of human slavery. The 1619 Project is at times horrifying and enormously painful, but also illuminating and insightful. It takes time to explore and digest,... View Article

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