Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Crux

This is my first day back at the climbing gym in many months.  The ritual is so familiar, a comfort really: dress down to t-shirt, loose jeans, and bare feet.  Get climbing shoes and chalk bag out of my day pack, find a quiet place, stretch out.  Then chalk up, lace on the shoes and start reading routes.  Once I set hands and feet to the wall, I am instantly entranced.  Even on “easy” routes, I have to shift my center of balance and use my core to make the holds work.  The intricacy and the physicality of it are completing absorbing.

From the moment my foot leaves the floor until the moment it touches down again, I am completely in the flow of balance and sequence. One route has a huge lumpy place in the wall, the only hold available.  To make it work, I must shift my center just so, palm the rounded shape and trust friction to keep me on.  These holds never feel like they’re going to work.  I just have to make peace with that feeling of “I’m about to fall off.”  When it works, and I ascend, it feels like flying.

I climb until I can’t even close my hands around the holds anymore.  Outside, the thought stream begins to come back, but it is not as insistent, or as convincing, as before.  I’m reminded that anything that puts me in the flow is not just a break from the thought stream.  Each time I enter the flow, it changes me, and I take a little bit of it with me, back to the everyday world.

Friday, October 31, 2014


I've been doing my chosen work for 17 years now, and after all that time, it feels like I am practicing a craft.  In fact, I believe we all are.  Or we all can be.  Craft comes from noticing and refining the finest nuance of the work.  For me, it comes in noticing the cultural context of the people I'm talking to, their emotional space, and many other indicators, and then adjusting my words, my body language, pace to them, so that I they feel "held."  The goal, of course, is that they will not notice that I'm doing this.

Like fine cabinetry, you don't necessarily see every touch of the cabinet maker, but you do see that work is fine.  This is what results when we bring pure awareness to our craft, whatever it may be.  Of course the benefit to the person who is practicing the craft is that they experience pure awareness.


Today there was some very difficult news from the family.  It's funny how news like that turn you into someone else in an instant.  Like adding on a room to your house.  I shared the news with a couple of trusted friends, but by the end of the day I just wanted to sit quietly, socialize and not talk about it anymore.

At the neighborhood pub, there were friendly faces and other things to talk about.  With a part of my awareness I noticed how the amber light in the pub was reflecting around the room; bottles, mirrors, even the varnished walnut surface of the bar seemed to participate.  The light seemed to penetrate these items, and when it came out, it was thick and rich and it seemed to be spreading warmth to all of us.

At home, I kept the lights low and started cooking.  Usually I have music on, but I left it quiet last night so I could focus on the warmth of my home and the elemental tasks of cooking.  Through all of this, the difficult news was still there, but so was the magic; reflected light, friendly faces and the feel of my knife chopping an onion.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Laughter, Elightenment

Today I'm walking down the quiet streets of Eugene with my friend, returning to the office from lunch.  The streets here are lined with trees, some reaching all the way across the street.  At this time of year, the leaves have turned, and we walk under a tunnel of gold, brown and yellow.  And then I say something that my friend thinks is awfully funny.  She starts laughing, so hard that she has to stop walking.  Her laughter makes me laugh, and it makes me say more things that make her laugh more.

When the laughter dies down, we realize that we have been completely present for a few minutes.  Sure it's a break from our cares.  But also, when we return to our cares, we see them in a new way.  Now they are just cares, to be dealt with.  They are not the real world.  We have just come from the real world, a world of quiet streets and autumn leaves in brilliant colors.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Calm Language

Today I'm at the office, lost in business, multi-tasking.  And as I rush through the reception area, there is a colleague standing there with a family of three; Mother, Daughter, Son.  They look lost.  And the colleague says "Bob do you have a moment?"  The family doesn't speak English, and she needs an interpreter.

I really don't have time, and thinking about taking the time puts me in a bit of a panic.  How will I get all this stuff done with these constant interruptions?  I'm so busy, I'm not thinking clearly, but I can't see it in the moment.  I put on my welcoming smile and invite the family into the conference room.  And I am transported.

Suddenly, I'm doing social work.  There is some tension between Mother and Daughter, and I have to concentrate to gather the subtle clues that inform my work of untangling the controversy.  In addition, I am speaking Spanish and interpreting, which takes even more concentration.  Quickly, I'm in the flow, working.  All other distractions fade and then disappear.  As the talk progresses, I find out the Sister speaks English, but the Mom doesn't.  When I use a few words of English, I can see the distance in Mom's eyes, and the cultural gulf that separates Daughter from Mother.  I make some jokes, and they both connect through laughter.

All is not solved, of course, but the tension is reduced, and we make a plan.  And as I leave the conference room, I notice all the busyness in me has gone.  And I notice too, that I am not as busy as I thought I was.  So I've received a free gift today; a moment in perfect concentration, a moment that set me free from my runaway thoughts.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Fifth Summer In Eugene

About a woman I know who probably has the purest heart in the world...

Fifth Summer in Eugene

Jesus runs the car wash
Buddha juggles fire
Dad's in Wyoming
Loving me

Boy stands me up and I wanna cry
Child makes pancakes and I smile through tears
Ride on home on a tangerine bike
In a flowy skirt by the river

Armchair on the roof
Tribe is hugging me
Beers on the patio
In the shade with kind old man

Jesus is a bouncer
Buddha hits on me
Grass smells like sleep
In the fading summer sun, I am twelve

On Your Left

This morning on the river path, the cottonwood blossoms are making a summer snowstorm.  They ride the breeze down from the heights of the trees, cross the path in front of me, and mostly fall in the river.  There's cloud cover today and the air is just cool enough to make it comfortable walking.  Bikes spin by on my left, punctuated by calls of "on your left," cheerfully given as the rider passes by.

Every time I go for a walk, the magic happens; the cares that sit on my mind fade to the background, and the experience of walking takes over.  The scenery floats by at just the right pace to be enjoyed.  Cares fade, and joy deepens.

Soon I am past the river path and into the city streets, and the scenery is less natural.  Still, the rythm of walking is with me.  I am in the city, but as a pedestrian, I'm connected to the people around me. Smiles and hellos are common; I collect them, to be savored later, as my day goes by, each connection with another person precious, no matter how casual.

At the office, I greet my team and work begins.  But the day has a certain luster because it began with a walk on the river path.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Connection Magic

Last night at the pub I sat alone, drinking a beer and reflecting on the day.  And then, there was a woman, about my age.  I was looking up, so I saw she was looking for a seat, and I asked her to sit down.  When we started talking, she was a little teary.  She talked about her recent move from California, how she was staying with her daughter, and trying to figure out what to do next.

I know the feeling.  She said she was having a "weepy day" riding around on her bike, feeling lonesome and maybe a little afraid.  And we connected there, in the place where humans say "see, this is my pain.  What is yours?"

Then she said she wanted to do some work, giving care to people.  And I told her that part of my job was hiring care givers.  Her face lit up, and her whole body relaxed.  And we connected in another human space; the expansive and welcoming space that opens up when we know, once again, that we belong here.

Today she came into the office and filled out an application.

Monday, May 12, 2014

River Walk

Monday, May 12, 2014

Today is positively summery here in Eugene, Oregon.  My walk to work this morning takes me down the river path, and it is its old self now; a long, winding tunnel of green, composed of tall swaying cottonwood trees.  The canopy is far overhead, a hundred feet or more.  Tiny cotton balls drift through the air in front of me, on currents of warm lazy air.  And the river rushes over rapids only a few yards to my left.

Later in the summer, the river will run lower, creating quiet pools to swim in.  But for now, it still has its full winter size and it sill strains against the banks that contain it.  It is blue and green, reflecting the colors above it.  From where I stand, I can see it winding up stream a mile or so.  Rapids create wave crests, white and sparkling, and the Osprey are fishing in the clear morning air.

Next, I am in the office, greeting co-workers and sitting down to my desk.  But the river and the bright, reflected sunlight are still in my head and heart.