Saturday, February 25, 2017


     I just got off the phone with my good friend, Gertjan, who is spending his last days in a hospice in The Hague. We first met in 1977, shortly after I'd moved back to the Netherlands, seeking a fresh start in the wake of my disastrous first marriage. We bonded instantly over our shared interests in folk-rock music, spirituality and holistic living, and have remained close ever since, even though we seldom wrote or spoke after I returned to Texas in 1979.  But we reconnected whenever I have visited the Netherlands (including our last meeting two years ago, pictured above), and each time, we picked up our conversation as if it had been just a few days since we'd seen each other, rather than the 2 or 3 years it would actually have been, according to the calendar.
     Then today, I got an email from my aunt, informing me that Gertjan is dying of liver cancer, and is in his last days at hospice. Shocked and saddened, I called him immediately, and was pleasantly surprised to hear his calm, cheerful voice coming through loud and clear, just as kind, caring and engaging as ever. Being a professional woodworker and an ardent gardener, as well as a long-time meditator and student of spiritual principles, he's always had a quiet, direct way of being, combined with a dry, piercing wit. As usual, we skipped right over the small talk, and went straight to discussing his impending death and the various ways he had prepared for dying consciously, including a detailed description of the beautiful, hand-dyed linen shroud and bamboo bier that are laid out on a table right next to his bed, as a graphic reminder of what lies ahead for his body.
     He said that ever since being diagnosed with advanced cancer about a year ago and declining medical treatment, he has felt happier and more at peace than ever before, which is saying a lot, since he's always had a fairly serene and tranquil spirit. He's only in his mid-sixties, but feels he's had a good life, having travelled widely, learned much, loved deeply and lived well. He is surrounded by a loving circle of family and friends, his affairs are in order, his soul is at peace and his mind is wide open to the Great Mystery of whatever comes next.
     We only spoke for a few minutes, and said goodbye when it was clear that his voice and strength were about to give out. We said a few words of warm, loving farewell; it was not sad or heavy in any way, even though we both knew that we would probably never speak again. After I hung up the phone, I automatically headed out into the sunshine, picked up a pair of pruning sheers and began cutting away some of the old growth in our flower beds, feeling Gertjan's strong, steady presence alongside me, smiling sweetly from the inside out...
     I'm not feeling any sadness as I write this, and there's no need to send condolences as you read this. To the contrary, I'm sharing this story with you as an affirmation of Gertjan's powerful teaching: that there is absolutely nothing to fear in the face of death, if we are willing to face and embrace death consciously. At a time when there are so many voices of doom, gloom and fear resonating in the air around us, Gertjan is gently, but forcefully demonstrating the power of focusing on a path of inner peace instead, and I for one, am deeply grateful.
With gratitude and blessings,
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Saturday, February 18, 2017


  I don't have a very good sense of geographic direction, and it doesn't take much for me to get turned around and feel lost. Whether driving across town, hiking on a hillside, or strolling through a shopping mall, I often have a hard time visualizing the way forward, much less how to get back where I came from. 

     Thank goodness for the GPS and Map apps on my smartphone. They've definitely made things easier. But the technology is not totally foolproof, because sometimes the street names shown on the phone screen don't match the street signs in front of me. Sometimes the signal drops and the app freezes up. And should I take a wrong turn, the process of getting re-directed by that maddening robo-voice can get mighty confusing. Plus, the phone is not much help at all when I'm trying to navigate the halls of a hospital or a large department store.
     For a long time I struggled with this issue, and invariably wound up berating myself and arriving at my destination feeling late and frustrated. And then, just a few years ago, I made an astonishingly simple, but effective, discovery:  as soon as I find myself feeling lost or confused about which way to turn, I simply stop and ask for directions. Silly, huh? Why the heck did it take so long to come to such a simple conclusion? Masculine Pride. Stubbornness. Shame. Thinking that I should be able to figure it out, like everybody else seems to be able to do...
     But it turns out to be surprisingly easy to just stop and ask for directions. People are always happy to help. And sometimes, just the process of slowing down and stopping for a moment in preparation for asking someone for support is enough to make it obvious which direction to proceed.
     Just as this works on the physical plane, it holds true on the metaphysical realm as well. Whenever I find myself feeling flustered or unsure about a decision that I need to make regarding what to do or where to go in a particular situation, it's helpful to pause my chattering Monkey Mind for a while, turn within and ask for guidance on the inner plane. To let go of my need to "figure things out" on my own, and make space for new information to arrive from the inside out, trusting that all my needs will be met.
     This guidance can come in a variety of forms: an intuitive insight, an unexpected phone call, a chance meeting. Sometimes, simply slowing down, getting grounded and turning within to align with Spirit is itself enough to allow a sense of calm and well-being to emerge - and for the feelings of urgency and inadequacy to dissolve, to be replaced with a broader perspective and the quiet resolve needed to take the next step. And to remember, once again, the ancient words of comfort from Julian of Norwich, "all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."
With gratitude and blessings,

Thanks for supporting the Circle with your time, talent and treasure, just by reading this you are tapping into our collective abundant consciousness of Love. Please consider making a financial donation to support that consciousness by clicking HERE.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


     It's that humbling time of the year again for a gardener like me, who has neither the time nor the skill to do much more than the bare minimum of yard work. We had a relatively mild, wet winter in South Texas, so most of the flowers, fruit trees and shrubbery in our yard remained lush and green well into New Year. But then we had an unusually hard freeze in mid-January, when temperatures dipped down to 18, and burned all that greenery in one fell swoop. Seemingly overnight, our yard became a sad sight, full of long, scraggly, grey branches and crumbling brown leaves.
     So, here I sit, going through an internal wrestling match. In one corner stands my innate desire to start pruning all this "unsightly" growth, so that our yard will look "tidy" again, especially since the size and amount of "dead" branches is larger than usual.  In the other corner stands the conventional gardening wisdom, which says to wait till after Valentine's Day to start pruning, lest some new growth appear on the branches and be nipped by a late freeze, which theoretically can happen as late as March 2nd -- or March 10th - in this part of town, depending on which source you choose to believe).
     And then there's the fact that I love pruning; it's such a direct way to feel connected to the earth, and yields clearly visible results - so unlike the endless stream of phone calls, e-mails and paper trails I generate on a daily basis. Plus, it's a particularly beautiful day, with clear blue skies and an energizing breeze beckoning from outdoors, where I'd much rather be than here working at my desk.
     On the other hand, there's the late freeze date to consider. And who's to say that a bunch of gray, spindly branches are "ugly" anyway? They have their own claim to aesthetic beauty, right?
     But as I stop the mental debate about pruning long enough to relax and breathe calmly for a minute, I realize that what I'm really wrestling with has little to do with the garden. What I'm feeling is a deep sense of loss and grief, in the aftermath of a dear friend's death, whose memorial service I wasn't able to travel to this week. And the impending death of another friend who is in his final days of hospice care.  The bare bushes and branches in the garden are merely acting as tangible reminders of these losses, forcing me to stare into the uncomfortable reflection of my own mortality.
And the desire to go out and "fix" the garden by pruning today? That's just a way of avoiding the unavoidable grief and discomfort... One of the most important things I've learned on the spiritual path is the importance of simply "being with" any discomfort as it arises, rather than strengthening it through avoidance and/or resistance. As the saying goes: "What you resist, persists." 
     Rather than grabbing either my pruning shears or my laptop computer, I chose to sit and simmer in the silence, breathing slowly for a few more moments. It doesn't take long before I'm reminded once again: " All is well, and all shall be well" - not just as an intellectual idea, but as a rich, resonant field of calm, centered energy moving through every cell and fiber of my being. Ahhh... Now I'm ready to get back to work at my desk. Nothing's changed, and yet the willingness to face and embrace my discomfort has made all the difference. The garden can wait. 

With gratitude and blessings,
Thanks for supporting the Circle with your time, talent and treasure, just by reading this you are tapping into our collective abundant consciousness of Love. Please consider making a financial donation to support that consciousness by clicking HERE.

Friday, February 3, 2017


     The array of objects shown in this photo hangs on the wall of the Circle office, adjacent to the main entryway to our house. The key-shaped sign reads:  "There is no key to happiness. The door is always open." Good words. We pass by this sign every time we enter or leave our home. It's right next to an old rusty clock and a statue of Quan Yin, the Chinese Bodhisattva/Goddess of Compassion, nestled on the hand-painted heart altar that Zet created for her. We put this collage there as a reminder of how we aspire to live our lives: there is always time to live with love, compassion, peace and happiness.
     Occasionally, I'll do what I'm doing right now: pause at that corner and take a moment to breathe into the beauty of the sight and reflect on those noble aspirations. It's wonderful to stand here, perched at the threshold between the safe harbor of our peaceful home and the Big Wide World outside, consciously choosing to enter the "open door" to quiet happiness in the center of my heart, feeling peace, love and compassion for myself and All Beings...And, then go about my comings and goings. 
     But way more often than not, I tend to rush by without noticing these potent images, hurrying to get into the house or out to the driveway. That's just the way it is. Would it be helpful to notice them more often? Of course. Is it hypocritical to leave these meaningful words and images hanging there, knowing that I usually don't pay much attention to them? Maybe. Should I take them down, and not bother with those aspirations? Absolutely not.
     In the words of the late writer and cultural activist, Keshavan Nair, "Most of us look at our ideals, see how far we are from them, and get depressed. But it is powerful simply to say, 'Here are my ideals,' state them before the world, and then spend your life trying to live up to them."
     At a time when voices of anger, hatred and division seem to be louder and more ubiquitous than ever, it's mighty easy to forget our ideals and join in with the chaotic chorus of voices resounding all around us. So it goes. But that's all the more reason to return again and again to our aspirations. To do what we can to get in touch with that inner space of peace, love, and compassion - and then go back out into the world and do what is ours to do with as much of that peace, love and compassion as we can muster. At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

With gratitude and blessings,
Thanks to everyone who has supported the Circle with their time, talent and treasure in the past and those still willing to offer support. You can always make a donation by clicking HERE.