Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Places that scare us

In the years since Mom began showing signs of dementia life has been challenging and ever-changing as we both adjust to the limitations of a memory lost (when it comes to eating, taking medication, showering, washing clothes, etc.). I did my best to allow her to live her vision (in her house assured she would go to sleep one night and not wake up in the morning) until it was clear to all of us, including the doctor, it was time to get more support. Support to make sure she was healthy and safe.

I waited longer than likely appropriate to move her from her home of 55 years into independent living, the kind where you have your own apartment and own life, but there is a shared dining room, activities and common places. Her greatest fear was to "be put somewhere." And it was hard for me to explain (by the time she was ready to hear it) the brave new world including levels of "assistance," private space and community--a far cry from her nursing home memory and the morbid feeling that people put there were "waiting to die."

Independent living lasted just four months, waning during summer vacation when I was unable to be there for daily support. Meanwhile she developed what is known as "sundowners syndrome," where she napped throughout the day and made phone calls to family and friends at weird hours in the middle of the night. The staff, her doctor and I were sure it was time to move across the street to "assisted living" where there would be caregivers and more connection and maybe a more normal routine when she took her medication no fail.

I lost sleep for weeks preceding the move. I tried to explain it to her so she could understand the benefits, but I felt like a traitor. How could I put my mother somewhere she was convinced was a one-way ticket to her death? She protested the injustice of moving against her will, of the great conspiracy that binds her. I felt guilty while I completed the paperwork.

But after an uneventful move she nestled in. It didn't hurt that the loving cleaning, security and maintenance people worked in both places. It was inadvertent but inspired that her phone didn't get transferred for almost a week after her move forcing her to make it work with the caregivers. As it turns out she has been granted the attention she felt she always deserved. The caregivers and nursing staff, mostly non-native English speakers who come from cultures way more invested in respecting elders, wake her up each morning, put out her clothes, clean her apartment, do her laundry and make her feel loved throughout each day. Nothing less than amazing.

Proving once again that those things we fear most may turn out to be the best medicine. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Dorothy Rodham's legacy

Dear Hillary,

I am an admirer. I am also a daughter, living in the grip of dementia with my own 89 year-old mother. I deal daily with a person who relies on me more than I am able to provide. Some days it is difficult to be the compassionate person I’d like to think I am. Most days I trudge through compassion, guilt and anger.

I read about your mother’s death. My heart is with you and your family tonight. I just want you to know you said something about your mother that reminded me what is difficult to remember about mine on most days. You said,

"I owe it to my mother, who never got a chance to go to college,

who had a very difficult childhood, but who gave me a belief that

I could do whatever I set my mind.”

In all the emotion wrapped around my mother’s demise I sometimes forget the legacy she leaves. What you said about your mother is true of mine. She is also responsible for me being an excellent cook (we first experimented with a walnut chicken in 1965—a pretty exotic dish when compared to 50s and 60s meals). She bought her own home, ran her own business, and raised me mostly by herself when women around her were still living Donna Reed’s dream. At 40 she was riding skateboards down the hill next to our house and insisted we tell the doctor she fell off a ladder when she wiped out on a tree. She taught me that tomorrow will always be better and be sure that the ones you love know it because they could be gone tomorrow.

Thank you for thoughtful words that bring solace and remind us to be grateful. What a tribute to your Mom.

Respectfully and I must say fondly,


Sunday, October 09, 2011

Are you on the committee, or are you wasting your energy?

Those of us making changes in our lives have to watch out for time wasters--those things we have an opinion about, create an investment in and spend time and energy working on; like whether or not our daughter should charge rent to the squatter sleeping on the couch in her living room. These are time wasters because every moment we give them thought, they keep us from working on things we really can control, like putting on our shoes and going for the walk we keep promising ourselves we'll take. The truth is most of the time we are "not on the committee." The moniker itself came from a young woman I have known since she was a child. With humor she taught her mom and I about letting go of the things outside our control. Those things that will, sadly, be decided without us no matter our opinion (like whether or not our granddaughter will be named Agatha). We are not on many committees, although we act like we are. Maybe it's just a way to avoid committees that have the power to change our own lives.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Who knew there was such a thing as "tufa?"

This is Mono (pronounced moh'-noh) Lake, adjacent to Lee Vining in Central California. It is large, shallow and was formed more than 750,000 years ago as a terminal lake in a basin that has no outlet to the ocean. Because it lacks an escape, dissolved salts make the lake very alkaline and saline. It's claim to fame is the brine shrimp that grow here and feed a plethora of birds.

Mono Lake also boasts a shoreline of "tufa." Tufa is a variety of limestone, made when elements ooze up through the bottom of a salty lake in porous, dirty-white mounds that look a bit like dried white coral. Tufa columns are an unusual form of tufa typically stacked in towers. Pictured is Rabbit Brush, a shoreline of tufa, the salty lake and the Sierras in the background.

Tufa lining the shore.

I preferred the tufa in silhouette. What it reminded me, once again, is that no photo comes and knocks at my door. I get shots of this incredible planet because I get away from my computer and what's familiar to me and go explore the world. The least learning happens when we are hunkered down in our small world.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

On bearing witness

I enjoy weddings because of the profound thought and deep feelings they evoke. Yesterday's was no exception. In the late afternoon contrast of hot sun and deep shade I sat in a white plastic chair and watched the bride's sister walk up the grassy aisle, trying desperately not to cry. Her emotions lodged in my throat as she passed and I was struck at how quickly I was wrestled to tears myself. She joined the poised groom and other attendants at the simple alter under the walnut tree at the front. The bride's full-length emerald green dress cast with the purples and blues of her entourage sent murmurs into the sky. The officiant was relaxed and engaging; at one point she asked the bride and groom to face the audience and look at the faces of those who had come to celebrate and support them on their marriage journey. When the rings were presented the onlookers were asked to send uplifting thoughts and prayers to bless them. The magic of the wedding ceremony, I realized, is the simple act of bearing witness to the power of love and intention to hang in there no matter what life brings; it is bringing together people who support that intention.

In the afterglow of this joyful celebration I'm still ruminating on the potency of bearing witness; for using it for other things in our lives. I'm wondering if making changes and choosing new directions could be more successful if we gathered together our friends and family, told them of our intentions, asked for their blessings and support and danced the night away to seal the deal.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Such a fine line

between clever

and foolish.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Monday, August 01, 2011

Do what you love

no matter what.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hang around with people who share your values.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hang around really cool people

They can increase your shelf life.

Monday, July 04, 2011

What you think is everything

If you believe everything is a planter, anything can become a planter.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shadows can prevent change

Some of us feel small in the large shadows of others.

Some of us create shadows by standing in our own sunshine.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Making change requires . . .

. . . knowing when to paddle and when to go with the flow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Look to others for guidance

but steer your own course.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taking a stand for or against

determines the energy of your work.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


Alone, insignificant, disconnected from enviable others
by internal chatter, self-loathings, often fear.
Surrounded by icons and noise, shades of superficial nothingness;
fenced by others' expectations, judgments.
Unable to love, let alone share,
the golden luster of our own light.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The world moves fast

Keep your skateboard firmly underneath you.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Global free hugging weekend, Portland Oregon May 7-8, 2011

Be the change you want to see in the world!

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

"I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that."
~Martin Luther King Jr

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Flip in focus

C sent me a note asking for suggestions for quicker progress with some of the things she has identified as issues. Like me, she is trying to go with the flow more and hard charge less. I couldn't help but think of me at one of my first appointments with my acupuncturist. He made me cry working on knots in my shoulders before doing the needle thing. "It was pain that went into these shoulders and pain that's going to have to come out," he assured me.

After placing the dozen-plus needles in calculated pressure points he told me to relax and "cook" for 15 minutes. As he left the room I asked, "Is there anything I can or should be doing while I lay here cooking?"

He laughed and said as he exited, "Leave it to you to want to DO something. If you must, connect the dots between needles. Otherwise you could just lay there."

In order to do something I needed to do nothing.

And so I'm thinking about C this afternoon and wondering if after all the thoughtful ground work she has done, if now is the time to sit back and watch herself unfold.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Look beyond your barriers

Time and persistence will weaken them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Learning to go with the flow

I've always believed traffic is prescriptive and metaphorical. It reveals its rhythm when we merge; choose to go or not to go with it. It's smoother if we go with the flow that surrounds us. Gotta love those perfect merging zippers. In my mind accidents happen when one driver "goes against the flow." Too fast, too slow, sudden movements outside the mainstream.

When I teach I also talk a lot about being intentional. I believe we either set up the motion of our action or we let others' random forces direct our energy. So it was pretty embarrassing after a day of preaching the intention gospel I found my beloved car slammed into the back of a building-size Ford pickup in bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic. The impact exploded my air bags filled with a dust that smelled of burning carcinogen. The force fattened my lip and smacked my wrist, leaving a golf ball-size lump in a second. The good news is I was only going 25. The bad news is the cop called by the cheerful witness came long enough to write a report, hand me a $345 ticket for following too close, scold me and leave me waiting for the tow truck in the space between off-ramp and interstate freeway. Bad day.

Let's back up, though. This debacle happened at the end of a long line of misalignments. There was the crud I contracted on Christmas Eve and hobbled away from a month later long enough to travel with my adult children. There was the relapse upon my return, followed closely by an onslaught of allergies, sneezing and blowing until nauseous. There was the slight twist as I opened my office window leaving a pain in my back that whimpered when I breathed and yowled at the end of the day. And me with a heavy teaching load. When I left the classroom the afternoon I totaled my car, all I wanted was to be home on my heating pad in my jammies.

Each time I was knocked down, I would get up. I kept trying to surrender and take care of myself instead of examining my part in the downturn. It wasn't until the accident that I finally said, "What is the lesson here?" Truth be known, all my struggles can be traced to my difficulty assuming the rhythm of things happening around me. I love to make things happen. I struggle to let them happen. The fall had been filled challenges to my own ability to go with the flow.
  • All the kids home for an extended time during the holidays (I wanted it to be special).
  • One daughter's impending backpack trip to South America (if you are a parent I don't have to say more).
  • My anxiety-ridden aging parent with failing memory (if you are the child of an aging parent I don't have to say more).
  • My own developing writing voice (I want it to happen faster).
And the reason I had the accident is that instead of inching my way onto the freeway like the crawling line of commuters, I quickly turned my head over my left shoulder to scope out the oncoming lane of traffic and my possibilities for escaping the flow. When I looked back the pickup bumper and the air bags were in my face.

I confessed this abysmal behavior to one of my healer peeps. I told her that I felt like a fraud. She understood the feeling because even as she prescribes therapies and practices to her patients, she's unable to perform them perfectly in her own life. Her optimistic viewpoint is that even though we aren't perfect, we keep trying to learn the lessons and that gives us a slight lead on those who don't. That makes us teachers.

I'm reminded that even when we are smart and really trying, change is hard. Even when we know who we want to be, choosing behavior that matches is life's work. And while today I'm feeling okay about making baby steps of progress, I keep wondering how many times it will take to truly learn the lesson. Maybe I need to change all my passwords to "gowiththeflow1st."

Sunday, March 13, 2011


only a worthy leader.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Go ahead make some ripples

We are delighted again and again by stories from those who are making changes in their lives, and the effect it has on those around them. Make a change and watch the ripples you create in the pond around you. In some cases others cannot change their behavior until you change yours. The latest story is a simple but powerful example of what you can create when you have the courage to make a small change.

One of our students was fascinated by the "ripples in the pond" concept so decided to experiment. He parked in the same parking spot for most of his tenure at his company and so decided to park in a different spot for a week and see what happened. The first five employees he encountered:

Employee 1: Hey Jack where's your car??
Jack: It's in the parking lot, why?
Employee 1: I didn't see it when I came in.
Jack: It's out there.

Employee 2: Hey Jack, did you get a new car?
Jack: No, same ole volvo.

Employee 3: Hey Jack, did you drive your truck today?
Jack: Nope, drove my car.
Employee 3: I think it was towed, there's a truck in your parking place.
Jack: No, I think it's still out there.

Employee 4: Why did you park in a different spot today?
Jack: I felt like making a change.
Employee 4: WHY DID YOU DO THAT?
Jack: Just to try something different.

Employee 5: Jack why did you park in my spot today (teasingly accusatory)?
Jack: I'm parked in YOUR spot? I didn't see your name painted on it.
Employee 5: Laughs
Jack: I tell you what, tomorrow I will park where Scott normally parks so you can have the spot back. He's not here anyway. Both laugh.

Jack was amazed by the number of people who walked right past his car and then expressed surprise to see him at work; curious about the hubbub he was able to create just parking in a different spot. He's so dazzled by this new power he's wondering what to change next.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Change your story, change your life

The danger in being too sure

When I started writing I was asked to join a writer's group, a long-standing cadre of mostly poets, who met each month, read their work and asked for feedback. I can remember each time I was asked to give feedback on a poem, I prefaced my comments with, "I know nothing about poetry, but . . ."

I told those who asked, "I'm not sure what I write yet, I'm still looking for my voice, but I do know I don't write fiction and I don't write poetry." My writing was slow and tortuous. I went to my writer's group most often empty-handed. Until one day I was in the shower, actually present to the sensory experience and a poem spilled onto the page. I figured it was an accident until I found short poems popping out on a regular basis. I do write poetry.

I continued to write non-fiction and poetry until one day I was writing a very short piece about a little girl and her dad, a situation that didn't really turn out the way I wanted it to, so I wrote it my way. I wrote a tiny piece of fiction. Soon after I wrote a longer story with a moral inspired by a group of women. I was embarrassed at how preachy and self-serving it sounded. So I rewrote the story as a conversation amongst the women instead of first person-know-it-all. I wrote a bigger piece of fiction. The next thing I tackled was a fictionalized version of a very personal story of a friend. It's the best thing I've written to date. I do write fiction.

When asked what I write these days, I say, "most anything that speaks to me." I changed my story and am writing more and better everyday.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Plan no regrets

José María Morelos, Mexican Roman Catholic priest and revolutionary rebel leader who led the Mexican War of Independence. One occasionally finds his broad face in a crowd of Morelians.

Our struggle with finding vegetarian-friendly food had taken us to a neighborhood restaurant not too far from the apartment we were renting in Morelia, Mexico. It was recommended by an aunt, a restaurateur who had adjusted her celebration menus to accommodate our eating habits on more than one occasion. Our gratitude spilled into the hometown eatery, with its simple décor and waitresses dressed in traditional costume. We were elated at the prospect of more than a cheese quesadilla, and though it was late, we cleaned our plates full of enchiladas.

I’m not sure why he needed to talk to me, but a well-dressed gentleman in his 80s who was sitting directly behind me seized my attention and the next thing I knew my chair was facing his and I was looking in his eyes. He spoke tentative English, but asked where we were from and why we were visiting Mexico. I told him our elaborate story of traveling from the U.S. to meet the family of my daughter’s boyfriend, and launching the kids on a South American sojourn. I'm not sure how much he understood, but he held on to the interaction like a small child hangs on to a toy, eyes glued to mine.
He touched my arm, and his eyes filled with ears. “I wanted to travel to America, but we were stopped in Texas.” He lapsed into Spanish and I was lost. He introduced me to his wife. In English he tried again, “I wanted to see the world, but it’s too late now.” I told him I was sorry. He reverted to Spanish and I asked for my daughter’s help. She saw our distress and jumped in with generosity, filling in the blanks the language left between us. Local custom says it is bad manners to keep someone from their meal, so my group was exiting and adding pressure to end our interlude. The dear man gave us their address and invited us to visit them. I kissed him on the cheek and we said goodbye.

I was reminded that whatever in life you are called to do, you only have so much time. Living with regret is heartbreaking. Check out Bronnie Ware’s Regrets of the Dying and get busy creating a life without regret.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

There's no place like (someone else's) home

Kayaking trips spawned a family joke because my sweetie was always looking for the fastest side of the river. Whatever side he was on felt like the slow side, and sure enough once he maneuvered across to the faster side, the side he just came from looked faster. I'd call to him "Is the water always faster on the other side?" We thought we were pretty funny.

I noticed how we slipped into faster-on-the-other-side mode when we arrived in Mexico. Immediately we came alive, became observant and appreciative of how lovely things were. We hung out in the beautiful downtown area where everything happens. We visited the hometown sites and attractions. We noticed individual faces and stature. The truth is we already live in a amazing place. People who love us are here. We are about an hour from both the coast and the mountains. It is beautiful and green. There's a lot going on, whether or not we get out of our routine and go enjoy it, like we do when we're on vacation

My daughter, wise beyond her 17 years said on the train as we were gulping the scenery from London to the countryside, "I wouldn't want to live here."
"Why," I asked.
"Because I wouldn't want to sleep on the train."

We spend way more time speculating on the speed of the river elsewhere than we do enjoying the flow of our own side. Today I'm speculating: Is the water really faster on the other side?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Looking at the world from a different viewpoint

As a vegetarian traveling in a country of meat eaters I had tough restaurant encounters in Mexico where pretty much everything is made with meat, poultry and fish and their by-products. I was raised in a sanitized world where children are shielded from their food sources and meat is in packages wrapped and stacked in plastic. My first face-to-face experience with an animal head was walking through Quiroga in Michoacan on a narrow walkway between vendors to the square where one finds infamous "carnitas" (pork tacos). Something caught my eye and when I turned it was a pig's head all pink and dismembered staring back at me. I cringed and moved on quickly. So when I came upon this bloody shelf in Morelia's Mercado de Dulces, I decided to be a real photographer and take the shot even though it grossed me out, rather than pass it up because I couldn't handle something so foreign. Note to self: disregarding things one doesn't understand makes one narrow-minded, and going to places that scare me is a first step to understanding, something I aspire to do.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.