About sophywisdom

I'm the best selling author of 13 books, award-winning plays, short stories, scores of essays, as well a children's books and radio plays. My works are translated into 26 languages. I'm best known for books on angels, intuition and things paranormal and spiritual. And now I'm publishing a NEW NOVEL, and I'm really excited about it. LOVE, ALBA is just a bit of lighthearted fun, a story of love, betrayal, friendship, sacrifice, and the older heroine falling (to her shame) in love. And all of it is told by a wise and witty little, cat! (named Alba as you probably guessed.) You'll hear more about LOVE, ALBA this spring. I'm a nut, but I'm happy, and it’s my belief that life is supposed to be happy – so how do we get there? Since my first name means wisdom (as in philo-sophy: love of wisdom), I choose what seems an egoistic title. Look me up on www.sophyburnham.com. I hope you like my work!

YOU HAD A LIFE!!

(Parables of Sunlight by Margaret Dulaney)

Every now and again I come across a book so luminous and lyrical, that I find myself telling everyone I meet – “Oh, I’ve just read the BEST book!”  in fact, I gulped it in two evenings, even though clearly the reader is supposed to open it at random, read a few pages, and put it down to reflect on and to allow the gentle aroma to lift your spirits with a tender smile.  It says something about our culture that these books are not the ones to receive awards or reviews.  In fact, The Parables of Sunlight, by Margaret Dulaney, is self-published.  (What a world! What a world!). 

     The book is about death and how we relate to dying, and also about the way we treat our animals and the humans on the journey of our lives. She is, as she admits, casual, even glib about this serious topic, (except when it comes to her beloved animals).  It’s an attitude, she writes, that none of us could have adopted “if we weren’t convinced that everyone on earth will one day enjoy their own otherworldly vacations.”

   And then she tells a story so lovely that all week I’ve walked around with a little smile at the corners of my mouth.  I keep repeating it to every poor person who makes the mistake of crossing my path.

    I’ll quote it, and then you’ll see why I ‘m so delighted by this book and by Margaret Dulaney, who deserves the widest audience.

I have a library (she writes)  full of ecstatic visions, near-death experiences and the writings of the mystics. And, though I am no longer looking for descriptions of heavenly landscapes, if I am able to find in a story of return from death even a morsel of new truth, I feel it is worth the attention.

  There is the man, for instance, who learned during his brush with death that none of his grand accomplishments—awards, successes, career advancement —could outweigh a small moment in the grocery store when he was particularly kind to the harried woman behind the checkout counter. There is the young woman who was reunited with (and could understand the thoughts of)  a bird that she had as a child. Given the opportunity to communicate telepathically with this old friend, she took the opportunity to apologize with great remorse for the times when she had tossed the bird to the ground after it bit her. ‘Can you ever forgive me?’ asked the young woman of the bird.

            ’Are you able to forgive me for biting you?’ the bird replied.

            ‘Of course,’ answered the woman

            ‘Then I hope you will forgive yourself for tossing me to the ground when I did so.’

            There was another woman who was greeted on the other side by an enthusiastic group of friends, none of whom she had known on earth, but whom, she understood, she had left behind when she had taken her plunge into her life. These dear ones raced up to her, apparently against their better judgment, which would have allowed her time to find her footing, and surrounded her. They couldn’t wait to hear about her life, eager for every detail.

            The woman told about her life thus far, without sugarcoating the details. She had not always behaved as she would have hoped. She had hurt people. She was no saint. But interestingly, as she outlined the details of her life’s journey, the faces of her friends did not alter from their original anticipatory delight. Bright and fascinated, they would respond, “but you had a life! A life!’

            They regarded her as if she were the bravest of the brave, an award-winning astronaut returned from a solo circumnavigation of the moon.

            ‘You had a life!!’

Afraid to die

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Every now and again, and often, it seems, when I’m most discouraged, I’ll suddenly get an email from a total stranger, telling me how much my books have affected their life. As if the Universe is trying to encourage me. It’s always surprising. And humbling. I’m made aware each time of how the angels, spirits, guides, gods and goddesses, totems and devas, are manipulating time and space, to bring us our dreams and the desires of our hearts. “Buck up,” they say.

    I don’t think I was the only little girl to have pondered unanswerable questions:  Who was I before I was born? How did I ever end up on this planet of suffering and sorrow and joy and love? Or, most often: What happens when you die? Now I have to tell you I know a number of people who announce with conviction that the answer is “Nothing.” Nothing happens. The corpse is tossed underground or onto the fire, and that’s it.  It’s over. Think black void.  

     But even as a child I could see that my beautiful cat, now dead, was no longer inside her body. Something had “left.” Walked out. The Greeks called it the Psyche, George Bernard Shaw called it the Life Force, and most western religions name it the Soul. Or maybe it’s the Buddhist “I” that is observing our beautiful world and noticing the miracles and marvels around us (a tulip thrusting up in spring, the hawk in flight, the wind in the high branches of the bare winter trees that hardly touches you walking down below. . . . Such beauty.) And also that observes ourselves. Who is this “I?”  Is it possible that we really are cared for? Are there truly spiritual guides loving and adoring us, who think we are beautiful? 

     Well, here is one recent letter, and you can decide for yourself where you stand and how much you trust that cavalries of angels are riding to our help, that we have some purpose to our lives and that we go somewhere when we shed the body and (so-called) “die.”  The fact that communication so often comes in the shape of butterflies or birds should not surprise us: Don’t we, too, remember when we once could fly?  (I’m sorry I can’t find how to insert “read more.” I can no longer find the icon that allows it, much less how to add a photo, now that I’ve been upgraded mysteriously.)

Dear Sophy ~

Having worked as a doctor in a New York City hospital for 30+ years, I have been around death a lot – especially during the AIDS epidemic, when I sat at the bedside of many dying children and teenagers, and the mystery of dying has always intrigued me.

If I may, I’d like to share two near-death stories with you.

The first one is about my husband Charles. He was scheduled to have a titanium “stent” placed in his heart to increase his heart’s longevity. This is usually a simple and speedy procedure, and the surgeon who was to perform it, knowing that I was a fellow physician, had invited me to “scrub up” and observe the proceedings, which I was delighted to do. But minutes later, things went terribly wrong. Charles’ heart suddenly stopped beating, and the overhead monitoring devices began screaming their loud alarms.

I was immediately asked to leave the room so that resuscitation activities could begin. Out in the hallway a strange silence seemed to hang in the air. It felt as if time had stopped, waiting for an irreversible decision to be made.

And then, suddenly, the sound of the cardiac surgeon’s voice echoed down the hall. I leapt to my feet with joy! My beloved husband was fine! In fact, he was more than fine, for while his medical attendants were working on his body, he had gone on an adventure of his own, being drawn down a dark tunnel, at the end of which he was greeted by several “advisors” who told him that it wasn’t his time to die yet, for he still had important work to do on Earth before his final departure. And indeed, Charles has acquired a strong desire to assist others in many different ways.

The second story is about my parents. My father was a surgeon, and I grew up hearing him rushing out the door in the middle of the night, again and again, to help people who were seriously ill or injured. Meanwhile, my mother was a kind and caring person who enjoyed helping our many neighbors, and I loved her deeply.

When she developed pancreatic cancer, I took a leave from my hospital work to be with her, as I knew she didn’t have long to live, with such a serious diagnosis.

Then one night, she called me to her bedside, where I found her in tears. She reached for my hand, and, holding it tight in hers, confided that she was afraid to die.

I wanted very much to reassure her that there was nothing to be afraid of, but she was clearly overcome by her fear. Suddenly, an intriguing idea came to me. “Maybe you could send me a sign of some kind, to let me know if I was right about not needing to be afraid, Mom. I’ve heard that birds can sometimes deliver messages, and you’ve certainly been a friend of birds, what with all the bird-feeders you’ve maintained in your yard. I bet one of them would be happy to do that if you asked!”

She looked at me oddly, not knowing whether to take me seriously or not. “We’ll see,” she murmured. Then my mother closed her eyes, and that was the last thing she said. She passed away that very night. And, interestingly, my father, who liked to boast that he’d never been sick a day in his life, died the very next night. Out of nowhere, he suddenly developed acute lymphatic leukemia, and in two days he was gone. I couldn’t help but feel that he was rushing off to catch up with her!

When Charles and I finished taking care of their affairs, including selling their house to some neighbors who were delighted to acquire it, we got on the next plane we could find that was going close to where we currently live. In a short time we were tumbling into bed, and minutes later we were sound asleep. 

But not for long. Just as dawn was breaking, we were woken up by an 

insistent tapping on one of the two windows that flank our queen-sized bed—to be precise, the window on my side of the bed. There, to our amazement, was a small bird fluttering repeatedly up and down and pecking on the window with its beak, stopping occasionally to sit on the sill and peer into our bedroom, as if to make sure we were paying attention. After about ten minutes it departed, only to reappear the next morning for a repeat of this performance – and then the next morning, and the next and the next. Each time, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “I can’t believe this is happening!”

As days turned into weeks and then into months, with no apparent intention of the bird to stop these visitations, we began to worry that the poor thing might exhaust itself in its efforts to get our attention, so we tried taping a large beach towel over the window, preventing the bird from looking in and theoretically dispelling whatever odd fixation it had. But this strategy did nothing to deter the bird: the determined little creature simply flew to the window on Charles’ side of the bed, where it continued its determined tapping. One day, the bird even brought a flock of friends who perched in a tree close by, chirping excitedly as “our” bird perched on our window sill and tapped away.

And every day I repeated the same six words: I can’t believe this is happening! It became like a mantra for me.

Finally, some friends to whom we had been describing this mysterious behavior suggested that we try speaking with an “animal communicator”, and though we had never heard of such a profession before, we immediately set up an appointment. When the day came, we said nothing about my mother or ourselves, not wanting to influence her perception of what was going on.

She listened closely, then asked us to wait while she “connected” with the bird. A moment later, she exclaimed, “Why, yes, I can feel how strongly this bird is drawn to you. How strange!”

She paused, then continued with surprise in her voice, “But wait, I’m sensing another presence here too – a human presence! I’ve never dealt with humans, but this presence is saying that she’s your mother! Could that be true?

Astounded, I said, “Well, yes, I guess it could. My gosh, I can hardly believe this is happening. But can you tell me this: why is the bird still coming after all this time? I don’t want the poor thing to get totally exhausted and not be able to live its own natural life.

The answer the animal communicator got was immediate: “What you just said is exactly the issue. The reason the bird is still coming to you is because you haven’t fully believed what is happening!

Suddenly, I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of my mother’s love. My heart opened wide in response, and all my stubborn doubts melted away. I was finally able to take in her amazing gift of reaching out to me from another dimension to let me know that all was well with her. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks, and inwardly I heard myself saying, “Thank you Mom, thank you! I love you!”

The next day, I awoke just as dawn was breaking and found myself automatically listening for the familiar tapping, but alas, it didn’t come. Sadly, but rightly, the little bird never returned. It’s mission had been accomplished.

As an expression of thanks, Charles and I maintain several bird feeders in our yard, where many different kinds of birds partake of our offerings on a daily basis, just as they did in Mom’s yard.

If you have any thoughts about these two stories, I’d love to hear from you.”

And if you, dear reader, have any thoughts or want to share your own experiences, I, would love to hear from you.  I have no doubts anymore: but I admit I’m not ready yet to die. I don’t want to leave this beautiful planet or the people that we are given to care for, and to love. Sophy

All Creatures Large and Small

All Creatures Great and Small

Today I saw a fox pattering along the edge of the forest, nose down, intent on its journey to catch mice in the horse pasture a quarter mile up the road.  The birds are twittering, a single crow cawing, and, high above, a vulture sways on the wind looking for voles and other small dead carrion in the fresh mown hayfield. As the pandemic  slows and shutters human activity, the hidden animals are coming boldly out.

    This spring I found a huge hole in my flower bed, so deep I could put my entire arm in up to the shoulder.  “Groundhog,” I thought, though I’d never stuck my arm in a groundhog hole in my life.  I rocked back on my heels wondering to do about these stubborn creatures who were surely eating the roots of my peonies.

     I couldn’t imagine killing it even if I owned a gun.  I would have to trap it.  I bought a Have-a-Hart trap, a cage big enough to hold a smallish dog. I baited it with cantaloupe, which I’m told is groundhog ambrosia, and some carrots and lettuce leaves, and I set it carefully that night.

   The next day to my dismay I discovered something crouched in terror in the cage, surrounded by dirt that it had scraped and thrown into the cage in its frenzied efforts to escape.  It was a skunk.  A small and beautiful black-and-white skunk, no bigger than a cat.  Her little paws must have been bleeding from the heavy wire bottom of the cage, where she’d tried to dig her way out. Now, exhausted, defeated, she lay there, unable to move for the dirt that held her in place on all sides. The hole she’d dug was so steep that the cage had settled half into it weight.

     Carefully I lifted the cage to level ground, heart twisting and opened the door. I would never have hurt her, given pain.  She stared up at me with huge sad eyes. I backed away to give her space to run, and after a few moments in which I could see her gauging the situation, wondering that escape had miraculously opened before her or if it was another trap; she put one tentative foot before another, then shot out of the cage and down the hillside away from the house to disappear into the woods

    She was never seen again. I could imagine her later describing what had happened to the other animals:  “Don’t go up the hill to that garden.” I imagined the groundhog taking it seriously.  

    I put the trap in the garage. 

    So, all summer we fought, the stubborn groundhog and I, about who owned the petunia blossoms on my deck.  Once, when I was reading there, the groundhog came right up onto the deck to eat petunias before seeing me. I screamed at him, which made him twitch his whiskers and waddle clumsily (and quickly – they are FAST!) away.  In the end, you see, I surrendered.  I don’t have petunias or even bitter marigolds in my pots anymore.  Just little green stubs, gnawed down. But it pleases me to know that down there, somewhere in the woods, a wild groundhog snuffles and lurches in its search for food — as do the bear that came into my yard last winter, the deer, the rabbits; and I rejoice at how fecund is nature, how rich, how inexorable, how bursting with reproduction, all the things that crawl, walk, skip, skulk, fly, hop, skitterall of them stubbornly alive.

    Bears, groundhogs, squirrels, chipmunks, foxes, owls, bats, mice, birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, coyotes, deer:  my woods, even here in the middle of a town, are overflowing with life, not to mention the ticks, spiders, ants, beetles, worms, maggots, flies, wasps and god knows how many billions of insects that dwell in the hidden darkness underground, feeding, chewing, laying eggs, spawning young.  Why?  Because of plants. All this vegetation. Because of the abundance of plant-life for some to feed upon and of flesh for the others, and of decaying, rotting matter for the hidden creatures in the dark earth. It’s because the pandemic skies shine clear and clean; and because the moonlit nights seem silent now, except for the scurrying of the whispered hunt.

    Now, the animals trudge up the wooded hillside to partake of my flower garden, and I think – Yes, Come. Eat. This is Eden, where God walks in the evening to view his garden. This beauty is what our great, great, great, great grandparents knew, and what we moderns have hardly known since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Come into the garden of Eden. 

    I find myself singing praise.  Praise to the beauty.  Praise to the groundhog and the skunk and the beetles chewing in the dark; praise to life, to death, to the eternal cycles of seasons, and to the trees and plants of this Eden that sustain us. Praise to the sorrows that draw us together, and the longing that shows we, too, are still alive.

The Healing Power of Animals

I want your story of your animals, dog, cat, birds, skunk. I think our animas are like angels, come to teach us how to love. For example: Sixteen years ago I prayed to God to bring me a Relationship, the companion of my heart.  I was lonely.  I wanted a man to share my life.  I thought a man would heal the ache in my soul.  Instead I got a horse.      

   A horse? I didn’t want a horse, but once having ridden this young Arab mare (only three years old, just a baby), I was captivated.  I’d never met a horse so smart. Or so courageous.  One day we were riding with a group out on the spacious New Mexico mesa under that huge Western sky, when we came to the carcass of a cow.  The older  horses shied, balked, twisted, lunged, refusing to walk past the carrion smell.  It was my little girl, Spring, who at my urging stepped daintily past the corpse, leading the others in her wake.  

    I won’t go into my refusal to buy her. But one morning I woke from sleep with a sudden clear “knowing” that Spring was going to be sold and moved to Portland, Oregon— that I would never see her again. I telephoned the stable in New Mexico.  “If Spring is ever for sale,” I said, “please let me know.”  

    “That’s strange,” said Katherine, the stable owner.  “Only yesterday her owner called to tell me she’s moving to Portland, and she’s putting Spring up for sale.”

     When God is in charge, there’s nothing you can do,.  I put an option on the horse, and flew to New Mexico for a month to make a decision.  But I’d already made up my mind.  It made no sense for me to own a horse. I lived on the East Coast, with a vacation cabin in New Mexico. I’d always be in another state, far from my horse. And horses are expensive!  How could I afford a horse?

      But all that month, every time I sensibly decided to deline, I’d feel that little tap on my shoulder that I think of as the voice of angels: “Try again.”

      There is a character in Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, who “talks only of his horse. That’s me. (Actually that’s every horse owner that I know.)

      I won’t bore you with her beauty, the way she lifts her head or tail when she steps out in her long walk, the way she moves into the bit, or she lowers her head to make it easier for me to latch her bridle, or thrusts her head into her halter; and if she could, I think she’d probably buckle the snaps.  

     Moreover, she loves me.  Non-horse people don’t think that horses love.  Once I was brushing her beautiful hind quarters when she swished her long tail—and held it by muscular force draped over me. I was veiled in her embrace.  After three or four seconds, she relaxed, letting her tail fall free. I was shocked. That takes effort.  She deliberately held her tail over me, in a kind of touch.

     We have been together now for 15 years.  I brought her East. We have fox-hunted, done dressage, won ribbons in horse shows, but our favorite is jumping and trail-riding, and we trust each other enough that she will even go out alone on trails we’ve never seen before.  I say this because some horses I know will hardly leave sight of their stable, they get so nervous all alone.

   Now with the pandemic, she has become even more significant. My sister has a lap dog. One child has budgies. I have a horse.  Masked and isolated in lock down, I went for months without touching another human or being kissed or hugged. I was avoided by grandchildren and daughters and friends.  At the end of four months, I felt myself going bonkers. Humans are pack animals. We are supposed to touch, relate, not live in sequestration, like a prisoner in solitary. Few can live like hermits or a yogi in a cave.  (And this has given me new rage and indignation at how we throw prisoners into solitary confinement, letting them out once a week to walk outside one hour: some confined to solitary for months and years! Cruel and unusual punishment: that’s torture.) 

     Intellectually, I knew this sequestration was enforced for my safety, but my Unconscious mind had other ideas: that my children, grandchildren and friends wanted nothing to do with me— that I’m old, worthless, useless, unwanted, unloved. It was a message I fought and often lost.   Still, I had my horse. 

   Every day I could drive to the stable and brush my horse, or give her a carrot or apple. Even if we didn’t ride, I could run my hands down the smooth muscles of her beautiful neck, rub her ears, kiss her soft muzzle, breathe into her nose, so that we exchanged breath in an intimacy as deep and calming as sleeping with a lover. She would nuzzle my neck, gazing at me with her enormous brown eyes. The eye of a horse is the largest of any land mammal, exceeded only by that of an ostrich, whale, or seal. A horse is so sensitive that, even through layers of a heavy leather saddle, it can feel the blood pulsing in your thigh.  She knows, therefore, when you are excited, angry, frightened, irritable, and likewise when you are quiet and calm. Being flight animals, a horse responds to your emotions as she would in the herd, so that she jiggles or jumps in appropriate fear, according to your emotions, or else she walks calmly along, trusting you even in danger (a cow, for example, or smelly pig or goat, if she’s never seen one).  On the other hand, you learn to trust your horse as well. She snatches the scent of bear long before you, and tells you with startled hooves and ears of peril. Believe her. She knows more than you.

    Sometimes I would go to the stable anxious and upset, but in only a few minutes of brushing her, I would grow calm under the influence of her love. I think I could feel her sending out waves of loving tranquility.

    Lockdown is easing now. Restaurants are carefully opening outdoors. People still wear masks, stand apart, careful not to touch.  My grandchildren still will not come near me, fearful of infecting me. But when I go to the stable, my horse out in her pasture pricks her ears and lifts her head at hearing my car. She steps out in her loose long walk, approaching me, and she lowers her head for her halter.  Then we walk along together, companionably, to the stable, where she will be brushed and touched and massaged and then ridden, she and I out for an adventure together. I will feel her muscles moving under me in a walk or canter.  I come home, take a hot shower, and all is well with the world.

   I had wanted a man. I got a horse.  

at a horse show

How Strangely Needs Are Met

This is a story of how our needs are met. It’s also about an angel, but mostly about how Spirit, the Guiding Principle, the Universe, God, whatever you choose to call this incomprehensible Mystery, works invisibly to heal our pain. The solutions are not what we’d impose if we were in charge, but the quiet, almost unnoticeable outcomes work miraculously not only for ourselves but for people we never even thought involved.

I felt I was managing the pandemic pretty well. I have it easy: a cottage, a garden, a car, the internet, TV, radio, a phone with which to call a friend. How could I complain?

But one morning, after 12 or 13 weeks, I woke up exhausted—at end of my rope.  I was undone by loneliness. I felt I couldn’t go another day without a hug, a hand on my shoulder, just human touch. My two daughters live nearby with their families, but they have carefully avoided coming close. Intellectually, I knew they’d withdrawn to protect me. But, unconsciously, the interpretation that pounced that morning – like a lion— was distaste.  If I were loved, said the primitive brain, I would be touched, hugged, kissed.  I knew it wasn’t true, but I pitched into a hole of despair.

A recent article in the New York Times confirms our need for touch.  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/04/well/family/coronavirus-pandemic-hug-mask.html

It’s so powerful that babies left untouched, uncuddled, don’t develop properly, and surely we adults, left alone for too long, fall back into mire of “not good enough,” “unloved,” “useless,” “undesireable.” Indeed, scientists now find the stress and isolation of the pandemic has created a historic wave of mental-health problems.

Looking back, I felt I’d been infected.  Continue reading

Talking to Myself

If there is one benefit to this coronavirus isolation, it’s in offering the luxury of time.  But when, like me, you live alone, the days are sometimes long, especially on dark, rainy, soggy, sad days like today— which gives me time to watch what I’m thinking about.

Here’s what I’ve found:   90% of what’s in my mind is none of my business. It involves things I can’t do anything about:  gossip, daydreams, politics, ecology, past disasters or future ones to fear. But the other 10% is my business, and this is where it’s interesting. I wouldn’t talk to a dog the way I talk to myself. When I meet a dog, I burst into happy smiles:  “Oh, look at YOU,” I say, bending down to stroke his ears and face.  “Aren’t you beautiful!”

I never talk like that to myself. I say, “What nonsense!” and, “Well, that was stupid.”

I read recently about a little girl, maybe four years old, perched fearfully on the top of  the BIG sliding board. Finally she took the dare and SLID. As she hit the bottom, she raised her fist in the air and shouted, “YAH, ME!”

I never do that.  I never say, “Yah, Me!”  I say, “Ok, you’ve done the dishes. Now for the laundry. ”

Yesterday I decided to say, “Yah Me!” all day long.  Continue reading

The secret of getting well

 

A few weeks ago I “pulled a muscle.”  You’d think at my age that I would know better than to shovel snow; but it was such a pretty, blue-sky day, and I felt so good, that I simply didn’t think.   Two days later my back ached. By the end of the week I couldn’t walk, and soon an old sciatica, reignited, was shooting pain down into my foot.

I’ve done everything imaginable to get well again, including doctors, chiropractors and PT, heat, cold, back brace, and prayers by wonderful Silent Unity, plus energy work like Reiki and Cranial Sacral. It’s just going to take time. Meanwhile I would find myself falling sometimes into such self-pity that I started scolding myself for the pity-parties I despise.

“If self-pity hastened the cure,” laughed one friend who has her own problems,  “I’d have an amazing recovery!”  And yet the pity is not wrong.  Instead of critical self-pity, though, why don’t I call it self-compassion?  When I acknowledge my sorrow,  my low spirits shift, move off.   Let’s talk, therefore, about loving ourselves with all our frailties and failures.

Last week as I lay on the massage table for a long and luxurious cranial-sacral treatment, drifting in and out of awareness, I found myself praying to my body.  All my life my body has done whatever I asked of it, and I don’t think it had ever occurred to me before to give it thanks. Continue reading

Intentions. Connections. Only Connect

Oh boy, here we are in January. The new year. This time the new Decade. January is the month when we make Resolutions—and usually forget them in a week. Instead of resolutions, I offer myself one word, an Intention, that I can muse on and meander beside throughout the year.

One year I took the word Gratitude.

Another year Generosity, and a third Beauty and Bounty, which I liked so much that the following year I repeated it as Bounty and Beauty.

An intention requires no effort, no demands for success.  It is simply that throughout the year I remember my word and pause to look around, especially in challenging moments, reminding myself of gratitude or the beauty and bounty and goodness and generosity that lies about me, that fall as blessings with mercy and grace, unearned.

An intention is similar to an affirmation, but different. Continue reading

gifting and Receiving

We all know Christmas is about giving. We forget that receiving is another gift.  It’s hard to receive.  It’s as hard as asking for help.  Some people naturally know how to do it: They open the present slowly, shaking the box, pulling off ribbon with delighted attention, mischievously examining the paper, wondering what’s inside . . . followed by a cheer of delight. But others—I know a man who just can’t manage it. As the son of an alcoholic, he was never taught to break into a smile, eyes crinkling with pleasure, much less leap to his feet and give the giver a kiss at receiving “just what I wanted!”

It takes some of the pleasure out of giving. Not everyone is by nature exuberant. But this man is an extreme example. Another person might cast down her eyes in shy embarrassment, or slide the present under a pillow in an effort to take the attention off herself; and still you know she liked the gift. Sometimes a gentle smile, a quiet nod, is enough to tell you that your gift hit home, and moments such as these are treasured as well.    On the other hand I know a little girl who, without any training at all, knows everything about the gift of receiving. “Oh!” she cries, her face lighting up. “This is the just the best!”  And even if you know it isn’t, that you had to buy a less expensive version than you wanted, her pleasure is so infectious that you feel the warmth lift up your frozen heart.

But giving is hard too, and fraught with perils, like sunken shipwrecks ready to stove us in. Once my former husband gave me a whole set of cooking pots for Christmas. I burst into tears. I wanted something related to my work. A typewriter ribbon would have done. Continue reading

Fear and Anxiety, ghosts and ghouls

“Writing is a form of therapy: sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation.”   Graham Greene

 October, and again we have the pleasure of frightening ourselves with witches, goblins, ghouls, and ghosts; with skeletal hands reaching from the grave, or zombies clunking heavily toward us with sightless eyes to drink our blood.

Why do we like to frighten ourselves? Most animals find life quite scary enough without adding in imagination. We court fear.  We pay to watch horror films (there is always a girl who descends the basement steps in the dark where you KNOW the murderer lies waiting!). When I was just a little girl, I remember reading Dracula late one night in my father’s study, and being so frightened that I couldn’t leave the lighted room to go to bed! Such is the thrill of being afraid—when it’s safe.

Then there’s unsafe fear.  Once when I was a young girl I met a man who confessed that he saw a therapist for his anxiety—and my innocent response, “What’s anxiety?”

I don’t think I ever heard the word as a girl, but as I grew older, a wave would wash over me sometimes, boiling me like an ocean breaker. I’d be sitting at a swimming pool watching my little children play, and suddenly I’d be overwhelmed by the sense that I ought to be somewhere else, except I didn’t know where— Continue reading