Friday, December 2, 2016


 My mother passed away two weeks ago.  Her name was Barbara.  Born in 1928, she survived the Great Depression and the Great War.

Barbara loved literature and music and the mountains.  She played classical piano.  When we moved to a new neighborhood in the spring of 1967, I remember finding my way home from school by listening for the sounds of Claire de Lune from her piano.

A little over a year ago, Barbara was diagnosed with a terminal illness.  She fought with such courage, it changed my life to be witness to it.  Last month, my sisters and I, and her very devoted friends, were with her when she passed.

My Mom taught me to love the woods, and she opened the world of books to me.  She taught me that the spiritual path is a normal part of living.  She and my Dad, and all of their generation taught me that when life knocks you down, you get back up.

After the graveside service two weeks ago, I was driving home. It was dark and quiet, and there was finally time for me to feel the loss.  As I drove down I-5, I was feeling sad, and then I started thinking about things I had done and said to my Mom that I regretted.  I decided to turn on the radio, to distract myself.  I was driving through the the dark, steering with one hand and tuning the radio with another,  but there was nothing but static on the radio, so I turned it off.

And suddenly it felt like someone was sitting in the car next to me.  Exactly like someone was sitting there, only I couldn't see anyone.  It felt like Mom was there.  It felt like her, like her presence, only also more.  There was a kind of hush and we just sat together for a bit.  I got to thinking again about the regrets I have about my relationship with her.  Impressions started to come into my mind, not like words, more like fully formed ideas, but they were formed the way Mom would have said them.

She "said" that there was more for the two of us to do, but that was okay because we would see each other again and we would finish.  She said "you are a good man."  She seemed calm and focused.  Then she said goodbye and the presence faded out, exactly like if you were turning the dimmer switch on a light.

Before this encounter, my grief for my mother felt like a hook that held me in a terrible grasp.  After, I felt the loss but also, peace.  I drove the rest of the way home reminded that the next world is much more available to us than we allow ourselves to think.  And that those who are in the next world are more alive than we are.

My relationship with my Mom, as Mother and Son, is complete.  My life continues; work, health problems, money worries, and walks by the river, sunsets and friends and family who hug me.  My Mother continues too, in a place not so far away, where who she was here is only a part of who she is forever.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Road Trip

This day has been so sweet, nothing to do but read, write, draw and nap in the cozy silence of my little studio.

Finally, about 3, I decide to get out of the house for a bit, maybe walk by the river.  By the time I get to the park, it is pouring down rain in the best Oregon tradition.  The river is as gray as slate, hurrying  along, the rapids of summer long gone, now it is a flowing monolith, punctuated only by raindrop impacts and the familiar "cat's claw" pattern made by incoming breezes.

The rain is driving, and I'm not wearing my rain pants. Within minutes, my jeans are getting soaked. I decide to retreat to the car. But now there is nothing to do. I have an appointment at four, but it's only 3:30. I have not brought my book.  What to do? My mind is a little frantic, confronted with empty, unplanned time.

 Of course. I breathe, and note the in breath. Then another, and another. Rain falls on the roof of the car, making hard sounds that contrast with the soft light outside.  Thoughts fall away, and there is only my breath and the rain.

30 minutes later, I am on my way to the appointment, refreshed and at peace.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


Today for the first time in six months I feel strong enough to go for a walk in the woods.  The recurring health problem I struggle with has left me with a gray succession of days, spent in exhausting pain.

Today though, there is a respite. So.  The wooded trail.  It is as I left it, muddy and silent, and golden with fall.  The leaves on one Alder tree are so bright that  for a moment I think the sun has broken through the tall trees on this rainy day.

As I climb the hill past the glowing trees, all the loss of the last year falls away; illness, the loss of my Mom, my job.  Here, the concerns of the future cannot press do not press in me as much either; money, insurance, my health and What To Do Now, all fall away with every step I go deeper into the woods.  Now there is only the trail, and the trees.

A silent mist marches through the steep forest, softening the edges of my vision.  Ahead, something brown crosses the path, visible for a fleeting moment, and is gone.  A deer, probably, though there are also cougar and bear here.

At the pass, I pause to take a picture of a tiny white and gray mushroom pushing up from under some blackberry leaves.  In a depression in the cap is a tiny puddle of rain water. Two dark pine needles float there, in the shadow of the dark green blackberry leaves.

On the way down the hill, the cares of my life re-assemble themselves.  But they come back in a little lighter than they were before the walk.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


I'm with Hannah at Agrarian Ales today.  Hannah grew up with my boys, so I've known her since she was little.  Now she is a grown woman in her twenties.   She has all the pieces of a grown-up life; life partner, job, and a thriving artistic practice.  She's known grief and hardship, and she is so, so strong.

The grown-up Hannah retains the Sense of Wonder that little Hannah had, too.  She still revels in the simple beauty of a new flower, still feels and gives pure joy on seeing a friend.  Fifteen years after I met her as a little girl, the young woman still brings me back to these realities of life when I forget them.

It's a cold rainy day today, so we're sitting under an awning at this little brewery.  It's out in the country, on the farm where the hops are grown for the beer that's made here.  We're sitting at a picnic table, on wooden bench seats.  Behind us, a tall kerosene heater hisses with a tall blue flame in a glass tube.  It chases away the cold some, but we still feel the outdoor breeze, still hear the rain pattering down.

The beer is hand-crafted, and it's so fresh, you can smell a constellation of floral notes from the hops, feel the crisp, bitter bite as you take sip after sip.

Hannah, sitting beside me, is reflected in the tall glass tube of the heater.  Her image glows there, behind us, as we huddle over our glasses of beer and plates of home-made pickles.

A musician from Portland plays guitar and sings at the other end of the covered space.  I am in Flow, my senses full from beer, food, music and the pleasures of a cool , rainy breeze.

Hannah's image flickers in the heater's flame, and the real Hannah takes a sip of her beer and smiles at the singer.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Gentle Flow

That's the name of my new favorite yoga class.  Last week I went to a vinyasa flow class, and it was so hard I was sore for two days afterwards.

So for now, it's back to Gentle Flow for me, a slower-paced, less intense vinyasa class.  "Honor your own journey, and enjoy it,". The teachers tell me.  Finally, at my now advanced age, I have internalized this wisdom.

Danni leas us through a five minute mediation and then we start with seats twists and side stretches.  Soon we are in Down Dog, and Forward Fold, then Plank, moving fluidly through the sequence that has become a refuge to me.  Last week, Danni asked me if yoga practice was "comfortable for you."  And today I discover that it is.  I find myself simply enjoying the feel of my body flowing from one pose to the next.

I also find that I am discovering as I move.  When the moves are easier, I can linger in each pose, and take the time to discover what it has to say to me.  I feel my body move as a breathe in and out, I can feel bone and ligament and organ respond to the moves.  And I can see my mind slowing down and healing.

Too soon, Danni directs us to Shavansana.  I have an exquisite moment of purity, laying there on my mat, looking up at the skylight in the roof of the studio.  There are broken clouds in the sky and the light changes as I watch my breath come and go.  Then we bring hands to heart and say Namaste.

As of today, and I think because of how this session went, I feel like I have a yoga practice; a constant presence in my life that is a refuge, a challenge, and a spiritual journey.


Work is done for the day and I'm at home, making dinner.  At 7:30 in the evening, the light is just beginning to fade, and fat, yellow sun is shining it's day's end glow into the window above my futon. I stand at the kitchen counter with my back to it, slicing an heirloom tomato that is the same color as a ruby.  The fresh, rich aroma from the juice reaches me as I take the first slice.

I lift the slice to my mouth, take a bite.  And I am instantly transported to a different time; a time when I was a boy, and I was helping my mother make dinner on a summer evening.  And then I go to another time; a summer evening when I was with Kate, and we were standing in the garden, eating tomatoes right from the vine.  Like a time machine with a broken control knob, the slice of tomato has me reeling through the decades, like a game of hopscotch.

For a moment, I am confused.  For a moment, I think this time is like those other times.  But this time, when my tomato slice time machine brings me back to it, is like no other I've ever lived in.  This moment in the summer of 2016, I am an aging man living in a studio apartment in a suburb of Eugene, Oregon.  I am a social worker, a retired rock climber, a practitioner of yoga, a student of the arts.

Deep yellow sunshine glows around me and a hummingbird flys by the window.

Every shadow, every light beam, every taste and smell in this moment is perfectly unique.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Morning Commute

Today is a Salem day, so I'm up and out the door by 7:30am.  I'm still crawling down the little lane that leads away from my home when the horrible, sinking feeling strikes me.  "You've left the door open" it says.  At once, I recognize this feeling as irrational.  I have a checklist in my head for leaving the house and it includes ensuring that the door is closed and locked.  The feeling will not let me go.  I have a cold, flowing feeling in the pit of my stomach, and the urge to turn around and go check the door is palpable. 

This is the anxiety monster, come to sit beside me in the car on my morning commute.  I've learned to greet this feeling and sit with it, to remind myself that it will pass, that it is not rational.  It is accumulated stress from my work week, trying to find a place to be real, instead of just being a bad feeling that exists in my head and heart.  I ride with it as I drive.  By the time I reach I-5 and turn north, the anxiety has gone down a little, and I no longer have the powerful feeling that this is real.  The anxiety fades and I'm left with just a sad, tired feeling, an emotional hangover from a hard, hard week.

A shiny new Toyota Camry passes me and the Toyota logo on the trunk catches my eye.  The day is brilliant with sunshine and the silvery logo flashes in the light.  My yoga teacher advises me, when I'm feeling unsteady, to steady my gaze.  The gaze will steady your mind, he says.  I focus on the Toyota logo as it recedes from me, staring intently at it, then relaxing my body into the sight of it.  The anxiety is way down now, and the sad little feeling is moderating.  I can start to notice other effects of the sweet morning sunshine.  As cars go past me in the fast lane, I can see each one reproduced by the sun, a stretched and distorted image of the car, in black, traveling north with the car itself.  The shadows are as stark and clean as the sunlight itself.

Shadows also move across the broad valley floor, borne by the same breeze that moves the huge, fluffy clouds that populate the June sky here in the central valley.  I am suddenly in this moment, and the anxiety no longer stands in my way.  I feel relaxed and safe.  So, of course, the feelings surface.  There has been some hard stuff this week, and now, finally, it has a safe space to come out.  It's a painful process, but also cleansing and liberating.  They are after all, just feelings, white noise left over from the difficult experiences of a busy week of practicing my craft.  They flow and they are gone.  And I'm left with a pure process of living this moment; sunlight catches on the deep green fender of a tractor as it plows a broad, brown field.  A log truck to my right lumbers along, bark chips flying from the cargo.

And from the radio, Debussy.  By the time I reach the Salem office, I am transformed, joyous in this new day, excited for the opportunity to practice my craft yet again.  And all I did was pay close attention to the process, from anxiety to emotional release, to present beauty.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

A New Moment

As I'm lying under a maple tree in the park, reading about the history of Pompeii, I grow drowsy and rest the book on my chest.  It is such a perfect day, blue and just warm enough to be a comfort.  I can hear raptors singing above me, and before me, about a hundred yards away, the river is rushing along.  My breath rises and falls as a background.

Suddenly I am feeling an odd, faraway feeling, a sad feeling.  I don't know why.  As I examine it, my first impression is to blame the surroundings.  They remind me, I think, of difficult times that went before.

And then I recognize this for the mistake that it is.  Every difficult time can be linked to something that is a reminder in the present.  I bring my attention back to the river sounds, to the red tail Hawks calling out above me, to the blue, blue sky and the warm air drifting over me.

And suddenly I'm having a brand new experience, unique to this moment.  After I strip away the thoughts and comparisons, and return to the raw sensory experiences, I see that this day is unlike any other that I've ever lived.  Because I am unlike I've ever been in my whole life on this day.  The similarities to other times dissolve.  There is no other moment like this one, and there never will be! The sensory inputs are unique to the me that is now, the mind inputs are unique to now, it is all fresh, brand new, and delicious.

It happens in the space of a breath (or maybe because of a breath!).  I watch my thoughts and I move them to the present.  And in an instant, I and the world around me are transformed. The book calls to me again.  Without a doubt, the Pompeians too sat under a tree, enjoying the day, and struggling with their thoughts.  Perhaps in a way that would be foreign to me culturally, but in another way, perfectly familiar.

Every moment is fresh and new.  Every single one.

Friday, May 27, 2016

First Yoga Class

Last Sunday, I woke feeling excited and a little nervous.  I had made an agreement with myself to go to a real live yoga class for the first time today.  I've been putting it off, mostly because it scares me little bit.  What if everyone is younger than me, or fitter than me, or slimmer than me?  Today's the day, I tell myself, no more excuses.

Truth to tell, I'm pretty excited about going.  I roll up my light green yoga mat and put it in it's little white bag, put on my loose-fitting pants, fill the water bottle.  And drive to the studio, which is in downtown Eugene.  As I pull up outside, I have a moment of angst, when I almost chicken out.  Everyone I see going in there is in fact, younger, fitter and slimmer than me!  I have to give myself a stern talking to; you've planned this, you are ready.  What finally pushes me out of the car is contemplating what it would feel like in the coming days, walking around knowing that I had let fear win.

So I go in, and introduce myself to the instructor.  He is a perfectly age-less man, taller than me, about six foot two, and very slim.  He tells me this is the right class for a beginner, and he invites me take a place anywhere in the large room.  But the studio is full of students already.  The only spot left is in the front row, right in front of the instructor's mat.  Oh well, I think, and walk courageously past row after row of yoga mats and spread out my own right in front of the instructor.

We begin.  And in no time, I'm moving through poses with the group and feeling a warmth and a welcoming that feels like a home long lost and re-discovered.  As I move with the group, I get to know my classmates, in a way.  To my left, a young man, very muscled, is always doing more than the instructor asks, and he seems very serious.  To my right, a woman about my age struggles a little. She seems very flexible, but her breathing is labored.  I think the class is challenging her.

Soon we are in savasana, and the instructor comes around and puts some oil on our foreheads.  We all sit up and he asks us to finish the class with some "Ohm-ing."  I did not expect the religious aspect of the class, the chanting and anointing with oil.  But it seems okay.  The Ohm chanting turns out to be especially powerful.  Done with fifty voices in unison, I can feel it vibrate in my chest and it is very soothing.

As I leave, I smile at a woman who is gathering her things.  She must be seventy years old, and she gives me a smile that is absolutely electric.  Outside, walking to the car, I feel like I'm two inches taller, and very confident.  My mind is clear as a bell.  And then it hits me; this is way I used to feel after a good climbing work out.

I'm going to come back next Sunday and take a harder class.

Yoga Morning

This morning when I rise, I can't wait to get to the yoga mat.  It isn't always like this, but I love it when the practice calls me.  I put on some Debussy and sit cross-legged on the mat, in front of my wide living room window.  The light is still low, the sun not yet up.  And it's perfectly quiet, except for Claire de Lune coming from the iPad.

As I start to move, my mind clears.  The cares of the day had begun to press into me, taking over my awareness.  But the joy of movement quiets these thoughts, over powers them; it isn't time yet to attend to these things, and there is nothing I can do about them right now anyway.

I move into cat-cow and do some rhythmic breathing, synchronizing with the movement.  From there, to the pigeon pose, and up to forward fold.  A slight smile spreads across my face, from the pure joy of movement.  I wind down into a bridge and finally, Savasana, for a few minutes until I stand, face the sun and clasp hands toward my heart.  The light is full now, the sun shining in my face.  I feel so grateful to have health, movement and positive outlook on the new day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


When my case manager comes into my office and tells me Mrs M is on the phone, my stomach sinks.  Mrs. M is legendary for being difficult to deal with.  I don't want the case manager to deal with her alone, so I've asked her to come get me when she calls.

Sure enough, when we pick up the phone, Mrs M. starts right in.  She's huffing and sighing at everything we say, as if we are so stupid it's just exasperating to deal with us.  Her words are a string of false accusation and hateful, personal insults.  I've dealt with bullies enough in my life to know that each accusation and every insult is bait.  The temptation to engage is almost overwhelming, but I know if I give her that, she wins.  Because she doesn't want to make a point or fix anything.  She wants to fight, and most of all, she wants to hate.  So I answer every hateful accusation and insult with further clarification about what we can and can't do, and what her responsibilities are and how she must meet them.

This is, as the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, the place that scares me.  I suppose we all have our worst fears.  For me, it is being hated and falsely accused.  I also suppose that this is a fear that many people share with me.  As Mrs. M pours the hatred onto me through the phone, a small part of my personality stands back and watches as the fear runs rampaging through me, breaking all the china in the house that is my ego.  When Mrs. M doesn't get anywhere, she runs down and concludes the phone call with "is there anything else, Bob?"  Her voice is drenched with sarcasm.

When I tell people I am a social worker, often they put on a patronizing voice and they say "you must be so patient."  How do I tell them that the real theme of social work is not patience but courage?  Courage, because when you try to do something good, the first reaction many people have is to hate you for it.  And to be hated is a terrifying thing and a demoralizing thing.  That's why social work is hard.

And yet, oddly, being hated also opens the door to the state of Flow or mindfulness that I write about in these pages that is so very valuable to me, and to the human condition.  There is liberation in facing your worst fear squarely and merely watching it as it unfolds.  In the words of the great Pema Chodron in her book "The Places that Scare You,"

“A further sign of health is that we don't become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it's time to stop struggling and look directly at what's threatening us.”

So this morning I'm raw and exhausted and I haven't slept.  I've spent the night looking the boogie man right in the eye.  And today I'm going to do some more social work.

Friday, April 15, 2016


Today I have the day off from work.  The first moment of waking is so clear, so revealing, it's too bad we miss it on work days, what with jumping out of bed and getting ready to go.  Today, as I gradually come awake, my eyes roam around my little home.  It's a cozy, small place, just right for me.  There are windows on three sides; east, south and west.  In the morning, I can watch the sun rise from my futon.  I can also see the sun make it's annual journey from due east, to the north in summer, and way, way down south in winter.  My pots of herbs sit on the window sill in the morning sun: Oregano, Rosemary, Basil and Sage.  This is such a sweet little place.

This morning as I lay on my futon, scanning the room, something feels "not quite right."  Not bad, but not right.  In an instant, it comes to me.  There is clutter.  On the shelf by the west window, in the little wooden bowl on the butcher block table, on the nightstand, the kitchen counters and in the bathroom, where I cannot see right now, but I know it's there.  And it's bugging me.

It's a fine line for me, this neatness thing.  I like a casual place, and I enjoy having my things at hand. But there seems to be a threshold too.  Maybe it reflects my inner process.  Today, I want my little place to be tidy, welcoming and kind.

Oddly enough, I am attracted to the yoga mat first.  On reflection, I suppose that is not odd.  I want to tidy up in this body before I tidy up the house.  I prefer quiet this morning as I take my Vinyasa, flowing from Cat/Cow to Forward Fold, Plank, Down Dog, Peaceful Warrior.  The moves are like home now.  And when I'm done, I feel tidy in my physical self.

Now it's time for the sweet little studio.  All the odd bits of stuff have a place.  Do I use this every day?  Leave it on the counter.  My French knife, my little cooking pot, toothbrush, drinking cup.  Everything else has a place.  And I find those places while Dizzy Gillespie and his background singers fill the air.

I make some food, eat.  And lay down and sleep for an hour.  Spring sunshine floods my studio when I wake.  And I'm off, to walk in the woods, have a beer, listen to some music.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Cloud Towers

This time of year, the weather in my little valley in Oregon is schizophrenic.  There can be rain and cold, biting winds.  And fifteen minutes later the sun is shining so hard you can feel the warmth on your skin. Today when I get to the river path, the sun is shining and there is a warm, welcoming breeze, a breeze scented with blossoms.

The river is huge today, rushing through town as if on a desperate errand.  The rapids are standing waves, a long curl against the current, dark green with white foam on top, turning and turning.  As I walk, the breeze turns suddenly, and fat, cold drops of Oregon rain fall down on the green water, leaving pock-marks and ripples in the water as it speeds past me.

The rain is cold and hard on top of my head.  And as soon as it started, it's gone and the sun is heavy on me again.

Walking in to the pub, I feel fresh and full of possibilities.  There's a man there with a guitar, tuning up.  And Ivy and Faliesha are there, and they are full of possibilities too, reflecting hope and purpose back to me.

The singer has started now.  Sunlight frames him from behind, through the glass walls of the pub behind him.  Outside, it has started to rain again.  The clouds are vast, white towers, and the sun glances off of them.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

New view

From my living room window I can just barely see Spencer's Butte in the distance, where I hike all through our mild winters here in Oregon valley.  This morning, standing at the window while I drink coffee, I realize it is not visible.  There is huge maple tree in the way.  It is a big round blob of soft green, because it's beginning to leaf out.

For a moment it seems odd, because I've been looking at my little mountain in the misty distance all winter.  I know I can see it from here.  And then I do see it, through the green haze of the budding maple leaves.  It's right there behind the maple tree.  It's just that through the winter, there were no leaves on the tree to get in the way of the view.

I don't mind, I guess.  The maple tree is good to look at too.  And I look forward now to a new process, a new view; as the leaves on the maple tree mature, the hill behind it will gradually disappear.  It will be back though.  In the fall.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Work, Ego

After 20 years in my chosen field of work, I still love what I do.  On Sunday afternoons, I start looking forward to Monday morning; what will I do tomorrow, what will I create?

At the moment, my position requires that I train and advise, in a day-to-day service environment.  I am an implementer, not an administrator.  My biggest decisions affect the agency, but not the whole field. 

So it was with some apprehension that I attended a policy group last week.  My boss couldn't make it, and she asked me to go in her stead.  Upon entering, I saw people I've known for many years, some for as much as twenty years.  They greeted me warmly, but I felt out of my depth.  There was nothing for it but to put my head up and act with confidence.  In the group, I began to share my opinions and my vision for the future of our collective endeavor.

As I did so, a curious thing happened to my sense of self.  I heard myself talking with confidence and with experience.  My views were careful and reasoned.  As I heard my own voice, I realized that if someone else had said those things, I would have thought that person was wise and determined and tough.  A person who knows that compassion is not easy or simple, a person who knows that the hardest thing about doing good is accepting that you will fail along the way, and you'll have to live with that.

As I heard my voice, I heard a stranger talking.  This hardened, patient, quietly wise person could not possibly be me.  My sense of self would not allow it.  But it was un-deniable that I was the one who was speaking.   And in that moment, I saw and felt my ego step out of the way and allow me to be the "me" that I had become.

In that moment, I experienced "me" without an ego in the way.  Just for a moment, I was only the assembled aspects of awareness and action, a point in space-time where something was being done without a doer.

These moments come along frequently in my work now.  I've learned to watch for them, to give in to them when they sneak into the room and sit down beside me.  I know now that every time they happen, I come away more aware than I was.

Friday, January 1, 2016


A few nights a week I stop for groceries at a little market here in Eugene called the Red Barn.  I love connecting with people, and going to a store is a place where it can always happen.  There's a moment of forced togetherness there that feels like an opportunity.

Because I like connecting so much, I know most of the people who work at the Red Barn.  But there's one who is newer, and I still haven't broken the ice.  Today could be the day, though, I can feel it.  As I come to the counter she smiles and says hello and starts checking out my things.  A few times, I've said things like "how's the day treating you?" But she's only given polite answers.  I'm looking for that unguarded moment, that "I know you now" moment.

I'm trying to think of something to say when I reach into my coat pocket to look for change and my hand rests on a chocolate-covered Oreo cookie. Before I even know what I'm doing, the words are out of my mouth:

"You know what's so great?" I say, holding up the cookie in its neon pink foil wrapper.

"What's so great?" She says, and her smile is a little skeptical.

"When you put something really nice in your pocket and then you forget it's there until later."

And then, it's there.  The completely un-guarded, we-connected smile.  It's big and lazy and lopsided, and it tells me a little bit about what kind of person she is.  She says something about finding money in her pockets when she does laundry.  But it doesn't really matter what she says, because the smile was the thing.  It was the smile that marked the moment when I made a brand new connection. My guard came down too, and just for a moment there was no "otherness" between us.

I wonder what will happen next time.