honor system

Acouple of weeks ago a friend texted me a photo from his local farmstand, where freshly picked cucumbers are priced according to length. Customers choose their produce, tally up what they owe, and leave their payments in a box. The farmer’s innocently suggestive drawing made me laugh.

But what really struck me about the photo was the nostalgic beauty of this age-old endeavor – a way of doing business which simply assumes the best in each of us. During a summer in which the Boy Scouts have apologized for the behavior of the President of the United States and PolitiFact rates just 20% of his statements as true and 69% as either outright lies or false, it’s hard not to feel sad and suspicious of our moral culture, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. As a nation, we are watching the criminal investigations into this administration unfold with a mixture of horror and fascination. Often times, as yet another presidential lie is exposed and supplanted by an actual fact, I wonder how this man goes to sleep at night. And what of those individuals who repeat his falsehoods in exchange for a paycheck? How do you live with yourself if you know most of the words that come out of your mouth are untrue and the things you do each day are dishonest?

When my son Jack was very young, his favorite story was Pinocchio. Although we didn’t watch many movies in our household, we did own the Disney version of Pinocchio and Jack watched it with endless fascination, as if that movie held for him the key to life. In a way, I think it did. There was Pinocchio, pulled again and again toward adventure and excitement and trouble, and tempted again and again to lie his way out of every jam. And there was Jiminy Cricket, whispering in his ear, “Go ahead, make a fool of yourself, then maybe you’ll listen to your conscience.”

What child really wants to hear “the still, small voice” that, as Jiminy himself acknowledges, “most people won’t listen to”? [continue…]

who is we?

If you’ve ever fallen out of touch with a friend, you already know this: reconnecting isn’t easy. You quiet your nerves and deliberate for a moment before, finally, after months, picking up the phone just to say “hi.” You wait a beat or two before hitting send on an email with a header like, “Everything ok? I’ve missed you!” That’s sort of how it feels to me today, as I sit in my somewhat messy, decidedly lived-in kitchen and type these sentences onto the screen. I could clean up all the dishes from the veggie soup I’ve just made and rinse out the cans for recycling. Or I can let them wait, take a deep breath, put my fingers on the keys, and trust that  words will come.

This morning I listened to an interview with writer Pico Iyer in which he explains why he spends the first hours of his day in silence. “I just sit there,” he says, “trying to sift through my projections, my distortions, trying to find the voice behind my chatter, trying to find, of all the things passing through my head, if there is any one thing worth committing to the page.” Although I haven’t been doing much sitting lately – there are too many weeds in the garden to allow for that – I’ve been engaged in a similar kind of daily sorting and sifting and wondering. “Speak only if it improves upon the silence,” Gandhi advised, words I’ve pondered while questioning my own writing, how to respond appropriately to the unfolding events in our world, and whether there’s any need to add one more voice to the clamor.

Reading the New York Times over breakfast, tuning in for the latest CNN breaking news updates as I peel potatoes in the evening, I’m at once pulled in and appalled. How to reconcile these small pleasures – the comfort of a morning cup of coffee, the routine of making a meal in my own familiar kitchen – with the deeply disturbing developments reported in the paper or on my TV screen? [continue…]

to the mothers

Like the mother of the world, touch each being as your beloved child.  ~ the Buddha

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a mother of grown children. My own two are in their twenties. The lives we all lead today – in three different parts of the country — are wildly different from the life we shared under one roof just a few short years ago.

And yet, although my duties have changed dramatically, I’m no less a mother today then I was then. In fact, most days I manage to find some opportunity to bring a bit of maternal energy into the world – perhaps on the other end of the phone with a son, or simply by watering a thirsty houseplant, offering a meal to someone who could use one, or sitting quietly with a friend.

Which makes me think: Aren’t we all mothers, whether or not we have biological children of our own? To be fully present for another is, in a spiritual sense, to be a mother.

Each time we support the dignity, health, and growth of any living being, we are mothering the world within our reach. To be a mother is to nurture life. To be a mother is to love without condition or expectation. To be a mother is to recognize the divinity of all beings, everywhere. To be a mother is to honor the invisible and the intangible – kindness, humility, tenderness.

More than ever, our broken world is in need of mothers — mothers of all ages and shapes and sizes, mothers who are both life-giving and life-affirming, mothers who know in their bones what it is that we’re really here to do: Take care of each other and of our precious planet.

I made this video for all of us moms – and for the many beings we mother, human and otherwise. It’s my early Mother’s Day gift to you, in honor of all that you are and all that you do. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I loved creating it. (Big thanks  to my own spiritual daughter, Lauren Seabourne, for putting my words and images together so beautifully.)

And while we’re on the subject of mothers. . .

In honor of Mother’s Day, May 14, I’m offering personalized, signed, gift-wrapped copies of all of my books (some at special discounted rates — while supplies last). Details below.  But don’t delay: deadline for all orders is Tuesday, May 2. 

 

books!   

signed, sealed, delivered, they’re yours 

– in time for mother’s day

Want to order a signed book (or several) for the special moms in your life? It’s easy. Here’s how:

1. Click here.

(Note: This link will brings you to my own landing page on my husband’s website, Earth, Sky & Water.  Steve sells beautiful posters, note cards, and laminated nature identification guides. And because his business is already all set up to take online orders and fulfill them quickly, he’s kindly offered to handle this special sale for me. While you’re there, feel free to browse his offerings, too.)

2. Want your book(s) personalized? Leave instructions for me in the “ORDER NOTES” FIELD on the shipping address page.  Include the book title(s) you’ve ordered, the name for the inscription, and any special message you’d like me to write.

3. If there are no instructions, I’ll simply sign your book(s), gift-wrap them, and have them sent to the address specified.

4. For Mother’s Day, I’m offering a reduced price that includes free gift-wrap by yours truly. Spend $80 or more and your shipping is free. (Use promotional code 4JOY on the shipping address page.)

5. Every copy of my NEW book, Moments of Seeing, will include a bookmark featuring quotes from the book.

6. Hurry!  Deadline for all orders is Tuesday, May 2.

parenting advice
from a 24-year-old son

A few weeks ago, I called my son Jack for advice.

I’d been invited to California to speak to parents of teenagers, and I was just starting to think about what I could say that might actually be of practical use, especially to parents whose kids are giving them cause to worry. It occurred to me that the best person to consult was my own son, whose challenging adolescence is still fresh and raw in my memory.  (I imagine it’s pretty vivid in his memory as well.)

At twenty-four, Jack is sober, self-sufficient, and making a difference in the world.  Working full-time as a mentor in a residential treatment center for troubled teenaged girls, he’s been able to transform his own youthful experiences with addiction and recovery into a gift to others who are struggling.  Had he not walked this walk himself, he couldn’t extend his hand so whole-heartedly to the young people in his care now. He’s received extensive training on the job, first during a year-long stint as wilderness-therapy counselor and, for the last seven months, as a team member at this therapeutic facility in North Carolina.

But I think he’d  agree that his effectiveness at work is as much a product of his own first-hand knowledge as it is a result of his training.  In fact, it’s both, in combination with his innate curiosity, his sense of humor, his gift for listening deeply, and his calm demeanor, even when things get tense and crazy.  Jack isn’t attached to being right and he doesn’t get flustered, the way we parents so often do. Yet when he speaks of the young women with whom he works, I hear the pride in his voice, especially as he describes moments of growth and change and healing.  I couldn’t be prouder of him.

And as it turned out, Jack really was the perfect person for me to call.  “I figured you might have some thoughts about how parents can stay connected to their teenagers,” I said.  “I do,” he replied.  “Every single girl I work with has some kind of conflict with her parents. I think about these kinds of things all the time.” [continue…]

an oasis of silence

We need to recover an oasis of silence within the rhyme and reason of our active life, for it is in the silence that we meet the face of God. ~ Max Picard

It is still dark as I type these words. The sliding doors of the guest room at my parents’ house in Florida are open to warm night air, the rolling sounds of distant traffic, the first low laments of mourning doves. For the last week my mom and I have been alone here together. Our plan when we arrived was to spend these precious days taking walks, reading our books (I ambitiously mailed myself a whole box from home), exercising, making healthful meals and enjoying each other’s company.

We’ve done some of that. But in all honesty, we’ve been distracted from our modest intentions. The drama playing out in Washington has overshadowed too many waking hours. Instead of immersing myself in the novels on the bedside table, I succumb to the pull of three or four different newspapers and magazines on line.

In years past, my mom and I would spread craft supplies out on the table and create home-made cards and tiny hand-sewn books with leather covers. This year, we’ve been sharing articles and posts from our Facebook and Twitter news feeds. And watching Colbert and Saturday Night Live clips. And making phone calls to senators and representatives. And signing petitions. And donating money. (And, as I mentioned here last week, not sleeping all that well.)

A few minutes ago, when I switched on the bedroom light and reached for my laptop, this quote about silence was the first thing I saw.   It arrived at the top of an invitation to a contemplative retreat. The words leapt out — an oasis of silence. I wanted to sign up immediately.

[continue…]