What is Your Beginning Place?

When Johann Sebastian Bach composed St Matthew Passion, he began with a celestial song of hope that included the angelic voices of a children’s choir. It was this beginning place from which he drew strength to unfold in music the events of Christ’s crucifixion and death.

Trauma specialists are finding that the beginning place of dealing with trauma is in having the client solidly remember a time of wellbeing. It is from that remembered goodness they are able to look at the unspeakable events in their life and begin to heal those wounded places.

As we watch events unfold at Standing Rock, we may notice the beginning place of those who stand in resistance to the pipeline. Their daily strength and fortitude come from beginning in the sacredness of water, the holiness of burial grounds, and the integrity of kept agreements.

In the three examples above, we are shown a beginning place of hope, healing, and connection. As we step into the possibilities and challenges of 2017, perhaps we would be served by reflecting on our own beginning place. What is our vision for our communities, our country, and our planet? What is our role in the unfolding of history? Our answers will most certainly affect the potency of our stamina, the clarity of our action, and the focus of our attention.

In this New Year, what is your beginning place?

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Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year: post-truth



In my growing up years, truth was a highly valued commodity. I remember being punished more than once by a parent or a teacher for attempting to alter or bypass this sacred principle. I soon learned that although telling the truth could be painful, not telling the truth was painful also.

In this new “post-truth” era, things are different. Truth is no longer valued, in fact it has become inconvenient, irrelevant, and downright bothersome. It is now unfashionable to entertain the complexity of things or to stick with the facts. We have become prisoners to the ease of a quick answer and the thrill of being emotionally charged. Lies parade as truth and we bow in worship.

In contrast to this era of post-truth, there was a man who lived from 1869-1948. His name was Mahatma Gandhi, and he dedicated his whole life to discovering truth rather than avoiding it. “Truth”, he said, “is God”, and it has its own power, a force he called Satyagraha. Gandhi told us that the way to seek truth was through nonviolence, through studying and learning from ones own life, through facing ones own demons, and by being as humble and lowly as a speck of dust.

There are those who tweet lies in the middle of the night arrogantly seeking to define truth. And then there was Gandhi who humbly sought to serve truth, not define it.

There are those who fight and kill for their small truth. And then there was Gandhi who respectfully dialogued with his opponents in the hope that no one would be harmed.

None of us can ever hope to hold or know the immensity of truth. But in a time where lies are creating untold suffering for the earth and its inhabitants, we can, like Gandhi, become humble seekers of truth and valiant defenders of its power and complex simplicity.  Gandhi helped show us the way.

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A One-Legged Bull



It’s over. In the United States we have a new president-elect.

I have close family who are elated at the results, hopeful for the next 4 years, and sleeping better at night now that Trump has been elected. I, however, feel the opposite. I see that hatred has been given a prominent place at the table; hunting season has opened on women, the earth, people of color, and non-Christians; and little girls have been left to wonder about their value. For me, walls are not the answer, the religious right is not the voice of morality, and the unwillingness to hold the common good is suicide.

Ancient yoga texts speak of times such as these where unimaginable corruption, greed, and cruelty find their way into positions of power across the globe; times where injustice, fear, and suffering become the norm. They call these times the Kali Yuga, or Dark Ages. Throughout the cyclical turning of time, these ages weave their way in and out of history.

What I find interesting is the symbol the texts use to portray these dark times: a bull trying to stand on one leg. Quite a visual, isn’t it? Since the election I have been trying to find a place to put all the pieces of craziness swimming around in my head. The symbol of the one-legged bull is that place. This image sums up the instability and imbalance I am feeling within and around me. It explains why everything feels wobbly, chaotic, uncertain, and downright crazy.

What to do when things are wobbling all around us? Remember the name of God, the texts tell us, with a constant prayer in your heart and a constant repetition of mantra on your lips. Looking for stability and balance? You will find it in the constant remembering of God’s name. Looking for clarity and courage to act with right speech and right action? You will find it in the constant prayer of your heart.

This turning of our hearts and minds towards the holy, towards beauty, goodness, and truth is not easy when hatred and blame are in the air. But the texts remind us that this is the sacred place where we find our balance and stability, and this is the sacred place where we find the clarity and strength for right action while the one-legged bull wobbles around us.

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Election 2016



In the US, we are nearing Election Day 2016. The events leading up to this day have been marked with extreme polarization and civic insanity. Far from insignificant, the outcome of this upcoming collective decision promises to have far-reaching implications not only for the United States but for the planet and all its inhabitants. This is a big day and a big vote that none of us can afford to take lightly.

Various comedians have made valiant attempts to find humor, irrationality, and downright bizarreness in the events leading up to this election. Talented political analysts have raised their voices, pointing out insights and implications that may have escaped our consideration. And many of us find ourselves taking refuge in the company of like-minded people where our confoundment and concern can be shared.

When the choice seems so obvious to us, and one of the candidates such an inexcusable possibility for reasons that seem endless, it is easy to forget that those same disgusting, inexcusable qualities can be found within each one of us.

The truth is that not only is there an important election about to happen in the United States, but there is an important election happening all the time within us. There are two candidates that constantly vie for the allegiance of our heart. One candidate is self-centered, tyrannical, and downright dangerous. The other candidate cares about the common good and is willing to make some sacrifices to that end. Both candidates are constantly asking for our vote; both are seeking to rule our hearts.

If civility holds sway, the battle for president of the United States will end on Nov 8th for another 4 years. But the inner battle will rage on as two candidates continue to vie for our attention. One candidate seeks to rule our hearts with fear and self-centeredness. The other candidate’s platform seeks ways where all can thrive and harmony can prevail. This, too, is a vote none of us can afford to make lightly, and we cast this vote day after day, moment after moment, with our every word and action.

We are familiar with Michelle Obama’s words, “When they go low, we go high.” May these words continue to guide us as we carry out our civic duty and vote for the next president of the United States. May these words also guide us as we engage our human possibility and vote for the inner ruler of our hearts.

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We Love Answers



As I teach on yoga’s ethical system at various studios around the country, I am invariably asked about a real life situation and the pressing question of what to do. Although the situation is always unique, the dilemma has a constant theme: how to be both non-violent and truthful in that particular situation. When I reply, “What a great question; keep asking it,” silence takes over the room. The disappointment in my “non-answer” is palpable.

I am becoming familiar with how much we love answers to the lived experience of our complex relationships. I hear it from others; I know it all too well in myself. It seems like a pervasive inner plea to make life easier by being told what the “right” thing is. But the ready-made solution that answers give tends to cheat us by preventing a deeper dialogue with the complexities these experiences bring us.

On one of my travels, I met a studio owner who shared her experience of conversing with nonviolence and truthfulness when her husband of 10 years suddenly said to her, “Honey, I’m working on myself and I want you to tell me all the things that you see I need to work on.” Wanting to honor his earnestness, yet knowing her response could prove disastrous to their relationship, she wisely asked her spouse to let her think about his request for a few days.

She had no idea what to do, she told me. But she was willing to sit in the chaos of not knowing and the complexity of her spouse’s request. She was willing to reflect on what it would mean to respond from a place where both truthfulness and nonviolence prevailed. She was willing to trust that the question itself would reveal an answer. Eventually she was able to say to her husband, “I’ll tell you what, I will give you three things I think you need to work on and 3 things that are awesome about you.”

She didn’t give her spouse a 10-page list of quirks. Nor did she play it safe by denying his request. She masterfully limited the list to 3 weaknesses and then balanced these weaknesses by including 3 strengths. Being able to sit in the “not knowing” allowed her to tap into a kind, authentic response that had previously been unavailable to her.

Simple answers hold an important place in our lives, but they can also steal opportunities for growth. The next time we hear our inner voice longing for things to be easier, perhaps is the time to welcome the gifts waiting to be discovered if we are willing to sit in the complexity.

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tree growing out of rocksLast month Dad turned 90 years old. I, along with my 2 brothers and our families gathered in Tulsa to celebrate. We laughed a lot and for the most part avoided touchy subjects. But mostly we told stories. They were stories packed with memories, the kind that sustain life by giving it roots and some sense of belonging.

In my mind I found myself moving through the details of my life with this man, holding each event up as if through a microscope to clearly examine what has so significantly shaped me. I was looking for a theme that could hold all the experiences. And then it became clear: I had learned about choices.

You see, my dad should have died in his mid 40’s when he had a massive heart attack while away on a business trip, where, instead of coming home, he spent a month hovering between life and death in a distant hospital. Dad was a driven man with one goal, to rise far above his childhood depression memories and give his family what he never had.

It’s what happened after Dad was released from the hospital that was so amazing. My dad chose to live. And in order to live, he had to change, well, everything. In stark contrast, Dad’s hospital roommate, ignoring Doctor’s orders to avoid any strain, went home the day he was released from the hospital and mowed his lawn, dropping dead in the process.

Two men with massive heart attacks, both released from the hospital on the same day, both given strict orders to rest, both wanting to live, but one died that day and the other is still living 45 years later.

Choices don’t sit in a vacuum, and they are meaningless if they aren’t supported by congruent action. There is a constant vigilance that life asks of us, to examine what it is we say we want and what it is our choices reflect.

In a world that seems to have gone mad with violence, wishing for peace has little impact. It is the moment to moment choices we make that will contribute (or not) to a safe and compassionate world.

Thank you, Dad, for showing me that my choices, no matter how small, require a daily diligence.

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Uncle Bill



My Uncle Bill died at the ripe age of 92 in physical pain, mental alertness, and spiritual security. He was considered by many to be a giant of a human being. Shortly before he died, circumstances brought me alone to his bedside where I took the opportunity to seek the wisdom carried by one who had lived long and learned well along the way.

Sitting by my Uncle Bill, I asked him, “What do you regret the most in your life?” His eyes turned reflectively inward as he answered, “I grew up in a community of immigrants from four different countries, all speaking their native language and living out their unique customs. In all the opportunity there was for me to play with children who had come from a country different than my own, I chose instead to play with the German boys because that was what I knew. I could have learned new words, played new games, tasted different food, and made new friends, but I chose to stay ‘with my own kind’. I regret to this day that I missed out on so much.”

It’s hard to convey the tangible heaviness in Uncle Bill’s voice as he spoke; it’s also hard to convey my own surprise that in 92 years of living this would be his biggest regret. But I witnessed the cost to my uncle and I am witnessing it today in a world that seems bent on defending what is familiar and attacking what is different. The resulting wars and suffering speak for themselves.

It is risky to reach across the boundary of difference because difference always carries an unknown outcome, and for whatever reason, unknown outcomes seem to frighten us. It is risky to step out of the circle of familiarity and extend an invitation of friendship. Fear and blame come so much easier for us.

In a world of growing polarities where each group is clinging to its own familiarity, my Uncle Bill’s words still live. They invite us to take the risk and the opportunity to “play with others”.

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What Are You Doing to your Brain?



Even though I don’t carry my cell phone with me all the time. Even though I have non-tech hours built into my day. Still, I am amazed by the power that little device holds over me in its insistence to be swiped, clicked, checked, and played with.

It reminds me of the experiments B. F. Skinner did with rats. In one experiment, he created a lever inside a cage for rats to push. By pushing the lever, there was a random possibility that food would appear. What he found was that the rats had a little rush of excitement to the brain each time they pushed the lever, whether food appeared are not. The result was the rats kept pushing the lever.

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