Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stuck Or Amused?

I spend time each day reading other people's blogs. Here are two blogs I enjoy a lot -two very different ones. One is Ted.com and the other is DailyDroool. Ted.com is by smart people getting together discussing anything from computer technology to science and enlightenment - with fascinating lectures about ways and wishes to change the world for the better. The problems of the world are defined, and interesting solution presented.

Daily Droool on the other hand, is by one smart Mom in Seattle, who is stuck at home with her baby. She has a funny, self-deprecating, honest way of writing about it all. Her blog is to the point, and not cluttered with product reviews for the "shop untill you feel better" crowd. It's about the husband who is a vegetarian, the dog who is well, a dog, and the baby, who is endlessly fascinating, frustrating, adorable, and inspiring unique insight, with Mom on the emotional roller coaster. There are the useful restaurant reviews and the funny video clips about sex while "married with children".

This young Mom's blog is interesting because it is a great peek into how difficult this spiritual path of motherhood is - especially in the beginning, ... middle and end. What end? It is the ultimate heart versus brain battle. The smarter you are the harder the battle. It's hard to admit you feel stuck at home, and bored and frustrated with your child when you are, and there truly is an art to writing about it. There are very specific antidotes to feelings. The antidote to feeling stuck is to feel amused. Maybe this is why this Mom's blog works so well - she does on some level always end up being amused by it all.This blogger gets it off her chest in a way that lets you know how much she loves her husband, baby and dog. As the posts accumulate and you read them in a row it is great to watch how things get resolved - sometimes seemingly by themselves.

The grass grows by itself.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dream Of A Phone Number

Next month we start our work at San Francisco State University where over the next five years students will be offered a three day workshop to help them recognize their inner resources and use them more effectively. This is a preventive approach to address the problems we face regarding violence and suicide at our nations schools. The workshop is both a study as well as a gift to the students in hopes to make a difference, even while the workshop is still being evaluated as a useful tool. We have already done a pilot study before this one, that has shown extremely promising results.

The workshops were developed at the Wise Wishes Institute which was founded by Dr, Cherie Safapou who has made it her mission in life to reverse the current trends of meaningless suffering. It is said by the wise ones, that suffering because we love is worthwhile, but suffering because we hate is a total waste of our lives. We need to learn to bear and transcend the suffering that is a by-product of growth in love, and we need to learn how to avoid the useless suffering we inflict on ourselves and others because of hate and fear - and we need to learn how to know which one is which.

Dr Safapou invited me to develop the meditation and art section of the study, as well as the workshop that we will be conducting in collaboration with SFSU. This all came about because one night, Dr Safapou had a dream with a phone number in it she didn't know who it belonged to. The next day she dialed the number - frightened enough to hang up the first time I answered. The second time we talked and agreed to meet to see why she might have dreamed my number. I told her all I had to offer was mediation and a children's book to help people find their inner treasure.

Life is very mysterious, and I have very mysterious friends.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Lowly Spouse

I was 24, had just a few month earlier given birth to my second child, and was invited to attend the 1982 Stereo Review Best Record Awards in New York City with my husband who was the publisher of Stereo Review Magazine at the time. This was the kind of "date" where you don't see much of your sweetheart until you meet up again in the limo going home. Your "date" is actually working, and you are invited to have fun, make him look good when he needs you to, and above all, don't embarrass him by being a shy and uninteresting spouse. There are always many of those at business parties and as the wife of the publisher, aka head-spouse - I considered it my role to make these poor souls feel comfortable, engage them in conversations so we could all overcome the awkward feeling of well, being "just spouses".

I felt vulnerable myself, that night, because I was still nursing, and away from my baby for the first time, and in a room full of celebrities, superstars and business people. After a while, I noticed this poor, shy spouse standing off in a corner with no-one to talk to and looking rather uncomfortable - for way too long. My maternal instincts in full gear I headed straight over there and introduced myself, ready to sacrifice myself to a lengthy and boring conversation. He was male, too - and being a shy, uncomfortable male spouse at a business party in those days, was twice as embarrassing. Nobody was paying attention to him, and his wife, or whoever had brought him, did not seem to be anywhere in sight. He looked completely out of place.

Taking care of him took care of me, too, and so we talked and talked. He had an accent, could hardly look at me for longer than a shy minute, was a composer of musicals - talk about a dreamer with no future - and when he told me that the musical he was working on right now was going to have all the actors on roller skates, I really started feeling sorry for this guy. Spouses often have these "at home, but writing a book, screenplay, musical"- stories. I patiently let him explain everything and we had a nice long conversation. He did seem grateful to have me there - pretty much for the duration of the party. I don't remember talking to anyone else during most of that evening. Suddenly it was time to go home as indicated by a wink from across the room by my husband. I said Good Bye and Good Luck to my lonely, sweet friend and hated to desert him there in his corner. But, I was starting to leak and needed to get back to my baby, too.

Relating my Mother Theresa story to my husband in the limo, he looked at me and said: " Honey - that was Andrew Lloyd Webber, the guy who wrote your favorite musical."

He continued writing my favorite musicals... and then, there he was on American Idol last night - and I was sent back to that evening I had almost forgotten. He's still shy...

And as for that roller skaters musical....

Starlight Express (From Andrew Lloyd Webber's Website

Starlight Express started life in 1975 as a sort of Cinderella story which I hoped would be an animated movie.

Starlight Express - Bochum productionIt never got off the ground. Then in 1983 I rewrote it for my children, Imogen and Nicholas, in the version that opened in March 1984 in this theatre. Nine years later we revisited Starlight whose new music was dedicated to my son, Alastair. Starlight was always meant to be fun, hopefully an entertaining piece of live theatre for a new audience.

Everything in Starlight is played and performed live, though the orchestra is invisible under the stage. We are all proud that Starlight not only because the second longest running musical in London theatre history in April 1992, but also has spawned a new generation of theatre-goers who perhaps never considered going to the theatre before and who may have gone on to other (perhaps more conventional!) things.

Andrew Lloyd Webber
From the 1992 London production programme

Find out more about Starlight Express

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Every Day Is Earthday

Today was Earth Day - and because my little guy was sick we missed it. Until we remembered it. I guess the TV wasn't on enough for us to notice at the beginning of the day. But later in the evening, when we did notice - he went outside. His hands were chaffed and he held them into the rain and returned triumphantly with soft, moist skin.

Daily at school he learns about global warming, salmon dying, air and water being polluted, and comes home sad about it all. His favorite "show" is "Planet Earth" which we watch together three nights a week to balance the dying earth visions in his head. I reassure him that the earth knows how to heal itself and that many, many smart people are all working on better cars, and cleaning up the water and air. Lucky he was asleep on the airplane last month when they were showing a bee documentary. Bees are dying by the millions. The beekeepers blame a new nicotine based insecticide by Bayer - but "more studies are needed" as always, just like with autism, which parents connect with immunizations. No-one has proof - so let's err on the side of spraying nervous system destroying chemicals on our crops, and injecting foreign proteins into our babies - by people who do mean well, but have a profit motive.

Now I feel sad. Maybe I'll go outside for a while and look at the moon on the water.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Give Birth By Listening

20 years ago today, our fourth child - our second son - was born. He was born at home. Such a happy and wonderful day for all of us!

My husband, my three older children, three of my best friends, as well as three midwives, where there to stand by and let things take their course. It was a long and peaceful day of playing cards, music, back rubs, good food, and when the sun went down, a brand new baby boy, welcomed into so many arms. Expecting my fourth baby to just pop out (– the third one had come so fast the doctor had to catch her while yelling at the nurse to bring him a chair) - we finally figured out that the soothing music we were listening to all day, had slowed down labor. We turned it off and the baby came really fast.

It must be the listening part of my brain that gives birth.

It is the listening part of my brain that is the best to raise children with, too. It always works better than talking – I am still working on that one even after all these years. The birthday boy is a great listener! He listens so well, sometimes you don’t notice he is in the room, which is a rare quality. It means he is not judging while he is listening - very scientific. Then when he says something you can always tell that what he is saying, is informed by listening. It is a great quality he has.

When people ask me how I came up with Here You Are – I have to honestly tell them that I didn’t. It came to me out of the blue after meditating for days. Meditating could be called a form of listening just before and just after the deeper levels of silence. Then when I tried to bring the book to life and it was way too much work and way beyond my skills – listening made me put one foot in front of the other until it was done. Many of those steps - especially the tech ones, I made with the patient help of my son. So listening is something to recommend highly – all kinds of things come to life if we do. I always listen to The Bear, and so does the rest of the family. Sometimes what we’re listening to is simply his ability to listen. Happy Birthday, Bear!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

No Thou, NoTears, No Publishing Contract

Today I met a wonderful woman, kind and peaceful. She approached me about publishing her book. I get approached all the time since Here You Are became popular, and the "slush pile" in my office of all the book submissions we get at BoathouseBooks is full of "almost great" stories. We pass the stories around and summarize the feedback in a letter back to the potential authors. In addition to the comments about the writing, I then also take some time to make recommendations as to how the story could be stronger from a spiritual perspective. This takes time, but I consider it a worthwhile effort and people are very grateful. Because of our submission guidelines, the stories all have a strong spiritual element to begin with, so when I mention an area that could be improved it is recognized instantly, with very few exceptions.

The story I was handed today, which I read while we were sitting in the sun sipping our tea, was a spiritual gem and does not need any improvement. It moved me to tears the way people are moved when they read Here You Are. That is the criteria here at BoathouseBooks - no tears - no publishing contract! Those tears are tears of joy, gratitude and recognition, and of humility and loss - the loss that is required to gain spiritual wholeness. Many mothers have it. Unfortunately, not many start writing, but when they start writing children's books - often with their own children as editors - it is a great gift to future generations. Is there a market for those books? You bet! From what we have seen, parents are craving books for the souls of their children. That is why they are writing them themselves, too. Children's spiritual well being is endangered early, and persistently, in our culture. Often religions and churches are not an option for many families for a variety of complicated reasons. If we can reduce spiritual guidance to the fundamental and universal spiritual truths at the root of all the world's religions, and bring it to children and parents in the form of children's books, we feel that we are able to honor the "thou" in children, parents, and in BoathouseBooks. Children are little Buddhas that look to their parents, grandparents and teachers, to confirm to them what they know inside, so it doesn't get lost. If the only regular "spiritual practice" in our busy lives is reading a true book to our child - it will be enough. This tiny seed will grow.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Using Legs To Fly

There are so many books about "how to" meditate. Using words to go beyond the mind is much like using legs to fly. If you run fast enough you can fly - provided you spread your wings and allow your legs to dangle uselessly - until they are needed again when you land. That is how meditation works. Letting your mind go useless and idle - suddenly you notice you are free.

This is an inner process, and much like flying, the longer you meditate the better the flying, the weightlessness, the freedom, the vastness, the timelessness, the peace. When you return to the ground, you are changed. The many limits of flightless existence, don't depress you as they do others who know nothing of the sky. The nagging wife, husband or boss - the physical or emotional pain we live with - in other words all our suffering - is a minor nightmare in the context of the vastness of this, our inner freedom. The more we suffer in life the more inclined we are to look for this inner sanctuary.

Flying, like meditation requires the spreading of wings. As far as meditation is concerned this means opening our heart - completely. Some people's hearts are naturally more open in trust and love. Those are the ones who get easily hurt by harsh words and actions of others because their protection is thin. Others create a more protective tension around their hearts to avoid this pain and come across as tougher or meaner. Both of these "hearts", often paired in "sweethearts", suffer in their own ways.

In meditation the heart needs to be so wide open as to not provide any resistance at all. If someone came around to hurt us, there would be nothing there, as if their words were like a vicious fist striking thin air. "Thin air" may be too close to cold indifference - Sufis call it a heart "soft as wool" - as it is struck, it is met with warmth and softness - in other words, compassion and kindness. It is what Jesus meant with "love thy enemy" and "holding the other cheek" - not the martyrdom that we mistakenly turn it into. This compassion and kindness cannot be cultivated like a virtue. It is a side effect of being grounded in oneself because one knows how to fly.

Unlike just flying though, meditation is more like floating deep in the sea. In meditation, the light and the freedom of the vastness of the sky, is one with the power and the silence of the deepest depths of the ocean.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Seriously Humbling

Following is a post that was on Dr Laura Schlessinger's blog today. It is titled "Choosing Life", which, I am assuming rightly or wrongly, is intentionally misleading, making people expect a post about abortion. That in itself was interesting on many levels.

I was happily surprised to find it to be instead about the letter she read on her show the other day, that had created such a moment of truth in my car, that I turned the car off in the parking lot I was in, and stayed to listen, even though I was in a hurry "to get things done" before - well, all the other things that needed to get done.

While she was reading the letter, and talking about it, it was clear, that she felt that one of her readers was living what she preaches in her new book "Stop Whining, Start Living"- better than she is, or thinks she is, or could, without being in the same circumstances. She kept saying repeatedly, that it was "seriously humbling". "Seriously humbling" stuck in my mind. That is the way I felt myself, because of this reader's letter.

Her blog post unfortunately does not come close to convey the silent moment of universal truth that was created on the radio that afternoon. Such are the limits of blogging versus a radio show.

I think Dr. Laura's post would be stronger without the Satan story. If you are allergic to any mention of Satan skip that paragraph. What in ancient times was called Satan, now is often called "the illusion" or "maya", or the "Ego" that Eckhart Tolle tries to teach people to dissolve. In Christian Science it is called "mortal mind", versus "divine mind". Psychologists call it our shadow side. If your attitude is like the Dalai Lama's as in "My religion is kindness", Satan simply becomes irrelevant.

Irrelevance - ouch!

Here is Dr. Laura's post:
I want to share with you a letter I got from a woman who listens to my radio program:

Two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with a serious, progressive, degenerative disease, which will eventually end in a torturous death. That’s the bad news. Now for the great news.

I believe this may be the best gift I could have been given. Thanks to you and just the title of your book, “Stop Whining, Start Living,” I realize I have received knowledge most people never get-that is, that this is my best day. I will never feel better, so I CHOOSE to live it thoroughly, and wring out every last drop of love, laughter and giving that I can. Tomorrow, I will CHOOSE to do the same.

You can’t imagine how energizing this is, to know that each day is the best day of your life.

There is an old Rabinnic story lesson that Satan’s most potent weapon is to let humans believe they have “all the time in the world.” That’s because when we feel that time is limitless, we tend to put less value in each moment…in each day. When we don’t value the moment, we don’t tend to make the best, most noble decisions, and instead, follow our impulses - thereby making our souls more “available” to Satan, as the story goes.

When I received this letter, I was truly and deeply impacted. I wondered at first, as I suspect most of you would too, if I could dig that deep into myself to pull out that perspective and live it. I then realized that this woman’s thoughts would be in my head for the rest of my life, and would inspire and guide me if I have to face imminent and painful mortality. My final reaction, with a slap against my own forehead, is that we need to live each day with her mentality.

She isn’t ignoring or denying her disastrous fate. She is CHOOSING to live each day in order to make it the best she’ll ever have. In her case, it’s literally true. For you and me, it is figuratively true, and therefore, wholly dependent upon our choice of mood and behaviors.

Her letter is at the philosophical center of my book, “Stop Whining, Start Living.” It humbles me to be reminded of my own words by people who are struggling more than I. I am reminded of the values I hold most dear, and which help me survive the nonsense and villainy that tempt every day’s despair. Purpose is the antidote to despair. And teachers need to be reminded of that, too."

The woman is right - the title of the book is enough. But, if you need the book here is the Amazon link as well as the link to the blog.