Friday, April 25, 2014


As a child I believed my thoughts should be the exactly right ones,
definitely Not-Too-Grand ones,
mostly like the second-hand ones, passed on
by droning teachers and frowning preachers
standing at the front of the room, talking down to us,
well-meaning folks whose ideas tended to
travel in straight lines for as far as their eyes could see,
but not much further. 

The rules were clear: 
No fun,
No flying,
No skipping ahead,
No trying to expand beyond the boundaries,
No big ideas here, please.

Accustomed to such circumstances,
I didn't take too many chances
and simply did what I could.
Whenever possible, I would hide, motionless,
in the woods near our house
quiet as a mouse
doing my best to remain invisible
scrunched down in the crotch of the hackberry tree
I claimed as mine
tucked high up on the skinniest branches I dared to climb.

Sitting alone for hours on end,
watching my five brothers and their many friends,
an endless stream of neighborhood boys,
always making noise
always keeping score
with more and more home runs, field goals and
touchdowns being bashed out during loud games
full of skinned knees and bloody elbows

Meanwhile, I chose to digest my thoughts
in silence,
munching on the unfettered dreams that came
tumbling out of nowhere
slip-sliding through my heart
whispering sweetly, urging me softly:
come closer, think bigger, live larger.

All these years later, I can hear them still
echoing through the trees in the soft, spring breeze
drifting into the silent spaces between my thoughts
whispering:  come closer, think bigger, live larger.

With blessings and hopes that you, too, are being fed by the fresh greenery and energies of Spring,

PS: There's still time to sign up for our Spring Retreat on the banks of the Guadalupe River, scheduled for next weekend, May 2-4. It's a great opportunity to nourish your Inner Life and listen to the whispers of your Soul, in a beautiful, natural setting, designed to support you. More info in our Special Events section below! 


Friday, April 11, 2014


           I've been blessed with the opportunity to savor a 10-day silent retreat spanning most of the past two weeks. Ten days of silence and solitude, spent in a rustic, but comfortable Hill Country cabin that a friend of a friend has built by hand back in the 1980's, on 18 acres of land located halfway between Blanco and Wimberley.
            The owner calls it "God's Country" for a reason. Surrounded by an abundance of wildlife, trees, expansive horizons, a large vegetable garden and a splendid sense of complete isolation from other people, I feel myself being pulled, time and again, into the heart of Rumi's ancient invitation  "to sink down and down in ever widening circles of being."

            The absence of speech is an active presence here. More than a matter of being alone, of not using a phone, TV, or computer, of not hearing words or music from anyone or anything in my environment, the idea is to empty myself out. I'm fasting from all human-generated stimuli and consciously avoiding any input, other that what the rocks, trees, birds and breezes have to tell me. This is an opportunity to really listen and pay attention to all those random voices passing through my mind - and remember that I AM none of those voices.
            But, mostly I'm here because I'm feeling tired and overwhelmed by the ongoing demands of my work, family and community. As much as I love the life that my wife and I have created for ourselves over the past 34 years together, I've often found myself feeling inadequate to the task(s) at hand in recent months. Various wise friends have counseled me to take some time off to recharge my batteries, so here I am, enjoying this sacred, quiet space of solitude.

            I'd considered spending this time at one of several retreats centers, where someone would have guided me through a specific schedule of meditation sessions and exercises designed to facilitate that process. But that would have involved more input, teachings and guidelines - when what I am seeking is "more Less" in my life for a while.
            The first few days were tough, forcing me to face a harsh, unavoidable truth: much of the noise and busy-ness in my life is self-generated by the tireless committee of self-appointed critics and taskmasters that live in my head, ceaselessly squawking out their laundry list of criticisms, complaints and compliments. And out here, in this isolated, rural setting, their voices are louder than ever.

            But gradually, day-by-day, the silence has become a warm cocoon, a known space, a way of encountering grace through my bodily senses, in a realm far beyond the dense confines of words.
            I find myself feeling moved and engaged by little things, the way our son often did when he was a toddler:  each rock, leaf, butterfly and bird's nest I encounter feels like a uniquely, personalized blessing, specifically conferred on me by a loving, gracious Father-Mother-Mystery-God, deeply present everywhere I turn.
            So it takes me by surprise when a pickup truck pulls up alongside me and the driver asks for directions while I'm out walking along the quiet country roads in the area. Wanting to keep my 9-day streak of non-communication intact, I avoid eye contact, shrug my shoulders wordlessly in the universal signal for "I don't know," and keep on walking, hoping the guy will drive off and look for someone else to bother.
            But, he won't take no for an answer; there's nobody else around to ask, and he's clearly feeling lost, anxious and hurried. When he repeats his request with an added note of urgency, good manners require me to reply, so I shrug again and mumble something like "Sorry; I'm just a visitor to this area myself," the nearly-forgotten sound of my voice sounding like a far-off, croaking frog.

            Instead of taking the hint, the stranger re-states his need for assistance once again. Suddenly it occurs to me that while I know very little about local geography, (and often feel directionally-challenged under the best of circumstances), I do know how to get back to the cabin, and from there, remember the way back to the nearest town of Blanco. So that's what I tell him.
            Bingo. "That's exactly where I'm going!" says the suddenly grinning face under the straw cowboy hat, before flashing a grateful smile, gunning the truck in reverse, then spinning around and zooming off into the sunset, leaving me puzzled and pondering what has just occurred.
            I came out here to the middle of nowhere with the clear intention of avoiding human contact and maintaining silence and solitude, for ten days, and have been quite successful at doing so for nine. Why talk now?
            "Well, why not?" answers a voice inside, which I instantly recognize as not being one of the regulars on my internal committee. "What's so important about you and your intentions that you can't be flexible enough to serve someone else? Why not just relax and enjoy the sensation of having been of assistance to a fellow traveler?"

            Walking back to the cabin, it occurs to me that while I don't know much about this area, the little bit I did know was sufficient to help someone else in need. All I had to do was get over my own agenda, as well as my habitual, knee-jerk insistence that "I don't know enough" and simply offer up what I could.
            And maybe, just maybe, that's a helpful hint for when I get back home to my desk and all the rest of those responsibilities that have felt so heavy lately. Rather than feel overwhelmed by the long list of things I don't know or haven't done, why not release my grip on my preferences and prejudices long enough to get in touch with whatever I do know and have done - and let that be enough?
            Hmmm. Sounds good...  We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, the sun has set in a blaze of glory, giving way to dusk, then darkness, as the Evening Star is joined by first one, then four, then twelve, then countless other stars, twinkling in the vast canopy overhead. How odd to realize that they've been there all along, all day, every day. I simply couldn't see them until the sun had set, when I could view them from a different angle, in a different light. Like so many other things in life, it's just a matter of time, space and perspective.
            With gratitude and blessings,

Friday, April 4, 2014



           From time to time, when I find myself feeling distracted and/or discouraged from living from a place of power and purpose, I go back to the magical memory of encountering the Shoe Doctor several years ago...            
            I'm walking down a long concourse of DFW Airport, past endless stretches of gleaming metal and glass surfaces, with countless glitzy advertisements and shopping opportunities vying for travelers' attention at every step. Those folks who aren't busy buying something or hurrying somewhere tend to be wearing their Waiting Masks, slumped in chairs and staring off into space.      

            But there is one singularly, bright and lively exception at work in the middle of DFW Terminal D, where an ordinary looking, but highly unusual man is holding court at his shoe shine stand, wielding a can of polish in one hand, a brush in the other, and a smile as big as Texas on his face. When asked, he politely declines to share his given name and points to the back of his jacket which clearly states his preferred title in big, bold letters: THE SHOE DOCTOR.
            This man radiates so much joy that there's a small crowd gathered around his "operating room." Some are waiting their turn for a shine; others seem to be glancing at their canvas running shoes regretfully, knowing that they're disqualified from being treated by The Doctor today. Most, like me, are simply watching in fascination at his single-minded concentration and palpable sense of joy as he applies layers of leather cleanser, conditioner, polish, and finish to the shoes in front of him. 
            My plane is scheduled to begin boarding pretty soon, but there's been a slight delay. Plus, I can't seem to tear myself away, so I decide to take a seat and wait my turn. The man seems friendly enough, answering or asking questions as they arise, but he's clearly not one of those service-industry guys who hustles tips by buttering up his customers with jokes or small talk. No, it's obvious that Doc's top priority is making sure that each and every shoe he handles will shine as brightly as possible when he's done.

            When I was young, my father was adamant that each of his six sons take good care of their own shoes. That meant that, at the very least, we had to polish them every Saturday night in preparation for church the next morning. Keeping my shoes shined has been a habit ever since. But it's obvious that the Shoe Doctor operates at a completely different level. When I ask him how he managed to make my footwear glisten so much brighter than I (or any other shoe-shine professional) had ever managed before, he answers with twinkling eyes:  "because I LOVE doing this!"  In response to my quizzical look, he went on: "When you - or almost anybody else - shine your shoes, it's a chore, right?  You just want to get it done, and get on to something else. But when I'm doing this, there's nothing else I'd rather be doing than getting your shoes to shine as bright as I can. Period." He obviously meant it, and his proof lies in a gloss like I'd never seen on my shoes before.

            The Doctor's joy is infectious, and I can't help grinning as I hand him a generous tip and stroll down the concourse, feeling like a million bucks. Boarding my plane right on time, that shine radiates from the tip of my toes to the end of my nose, and I feel a renewed desire to use my skills and tools to do what I can to make the world a shinier, brighter place, too. Thanks, Doc!

With gratitude and blessings,