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Children Keeping it Simple, Teaching Simplicity


A few inspiring comments from my teachers in simplicity, children.

  • I was participating in Seattle’s Martin Luther King, Jr., March and Rally this year with some of the faculty, students and parents from the school I work at. During the march one of our first graders looked up at me and said, “Oh, I know why you’re here today, Ashley.” “Why?” I asked. “Because this is all about friendship… and you’re the friendship teacher.”

    (fyi: I host Friendship Groups, a class that all the students in the class participate in just like math or reading. The aim is to help students deepen their ability to connect with and understand themselves and others. It’s all about friendship… with ourselves, others and the world around us!)

  • During Obama’s presidential inauguration Rev. Joseph Lowery was talking about love,
    “And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.”

    I looked in front of me as a Kindergartner was staring down at his little hands, shaping them into a heart. That image summed up where my hope for our future lies… in love.

  • After the inauguration we hosted an Open Space with the 3rd graders. One child’s closing remarks, “I learned that when everyone pitches in just a little bit, it can make a giant difference.”
  • Words of wisdom that a 2nd grader told me over lunch one day that I am practicing and trying to better embody, “Just listen until your mind gets deeper and then you’ll understand.”

I am so grateful for all the gifts that are bestowed upon me by these wise humans who are so willing to share their world.

heart photo by samantha celera

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Brains, Beauty, Love, Learning and Celebration

For the next three days I’ll be attending the Learning and the Brain Conference which is focusing on social brain research. It is very exciting to be learning more about the science and neurology that underscores much of the theoretical philosophies and intuitive knowings that are the foundations for much of my work and inspiration. I hope to learn more about mirror neurons, theory of mind, emotional regulation, memory and wisdom, and promoting social and emotional intelligence.

The last couple of days I’ve been hanging out with the remarkable Amy Lenzo. Amy has created an enticing world over at the Beauty Dialogues. I greatly appreciate Amy’s willingness to recognize the beauty and potential not only in the physical world around her, but also in the human world. She has been a pivotal supporter in encouraging many creative hearts to find their voice of expression and share it with the world. I am very grateful to have benefited so much from her recognition of and encouragement towards Easily Amazed finding ways to grow into all it can be! Thanks, girl!

Over the next few days I will be paying attention to how beauty and allurement fit into this world of social and emotional brain research. Brian Swimme suggests that love begins as allurement and attraction. We know that attraction and allurement between a baby and its parent propel the relationship between them and this relationship fundamentally shapes the development of the child. As Mary Gordon so aptly states, “Love grows brains.”

And we can never have too much love in our world. On Sunday, my friend Tracy Davis, took me to the incredibly inspiring and healing Glide Memorial Church, a place that is actively promoting the forces of love, celebration, inclusion and equality in a spiritually and culturally uplifting way. This was a beautiful expression of social, emotional and spiritual wisdom deep at play. I’ll leave you with a poem that is Glide’s Core Values:

The Ground We Stand On

Radically Inclusive
We welcome everyone. We value our differences.
We respect everyone.

Truth Telling
We each tell our story. We each speak our truth.
We listen.

Loving and Hopeful
We are all in recovery. We are a healing community.
We love unconditionally.

For the People
We break through barriers. We serve each other.
We change the world.

Celebration
We sing. We dance. We laugh together.
We celebrate life!

looking up at mom by dolanh

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An Invisible String That Will Stretch and Not Break

photo by D.Hyuk

An amazing story about the bond between a mother and a daughter. I think it’s a beautiful analogy that any family could play with.

Meredith has an ongoing story about an “invisible string” attaching her to her mother. This story began in a literal manner, when she at age two would wrap one end of a string around her mother and then wrap the other end around her own wrist and say that they were “connected forever.” The string has morphed into an invisible string, that will “stretch and not break” when necessary, such as when she is at preschool. We have come to think of this string as an indication of her internal emotional state and a metaphor for managing separation.

For example, after a long and challenging day recently, she said that the string was very short and would break if her mother left her side. Her baby sister started crying, however, so then she added that her magic wand had turned the string into a “long golden thread that would stretch and not break” while her mother tended to the baby. “But,” she warned, “when Rosie stops crying, it will turn back into a very short string that can break easily.” She mentions the string every month or two, and we have come to appreciate her use of creativity and abstraction in expressing her psychological state.

~Seattle Mom

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Signs of Change


Please take a moment to watch this video I helped Thomas Arthur make after Saturday’s march protesting the passage of Proposition 8 in California.

In cities across America people took to the streets in national demonstrations to promote love and marriage equality rights for every American. Saturday’s marches showed the importance of each of us speaking out for change we believe in. There is a strong current of belief in this country right now that if we work together for a shared purpose, we can make a difference, we can have an impact on the policies in our country. Please take a moment to watch the video and feel the positive spirit of change that marched through the streets of Seattle. Stand up for change and equality.

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Fear, Nourishment and Beauty


Last week my heart was nourished as I spent 5 days in Atlanta with family and friends. A place of intimate relationship and comfort with a dear friend of mine was restored. I am beyond words with gratitude. I am touched with love’s grace.

Fear
I also went to the oncologist with my dad and his wife to learn about his chemotherapy treatments that begin on June 5. It’s time for me to make friends with cancer. I figure it’s here so we might as well get to know each other.

For me, being directly connected to cancer generates a lot of fear while also illuminating much beauty. I’m witnessing and am an integral part of this story where a cancer diagnosis of someone I love initiates transformation and growth to many in his circle… touching hearts wide open and inviting expressions of life and love to travel closer to the surface. For this I feel thankful. At the same time, I feel guilty for feeling thankful. (My judgment towards myself can be quite harsh.)

And still, there is the big fear of Cancer.

Being back in Seattle, I noticed last night that it feels good to step away from that fear for a bit. I also feel guilty that I am able to take a break.

Cancer is scary. Cancer is powerful. Cancer is unpredictable. Cancer is unknown.

What am I afraid of?

I’m afraid that my dad will fall into the sickness… that he’ll be taken over by being sick and fall away from being alive.

I’m afraid that I won’t have my dad in my life for a long time to come… that I won’t always be able to depend on him to answer my questions, to gather family together, to dazzle people with his charm, to be my little girl’s daddy. That’s a big one. The little girl inside of me won’t always have her daddy around.

I’m afraid of seeing him suffering… of being held hostage to the helpless feeling that there is nothing I can do to relieve his suffering… that he is in pain… that is the reality… and I must just accept and be with him in the pain. I’m afraid that I will be overwhelmed with my own pain… that I will be flooded.

Nourishment
My friend was recently at a workshop for compassion fatigue and she reminded me again of how we can’t take away another person’s pain. No matter how much we would like to, we can’t change what is for them.

Yet we can support them by making the space around them as nurturing as possible. We can be aware of where we focus our own attention and how we tend to their physical space, psychological space, relationships, etc.

I think about creating sacred healing space around someone who is ill (physically, emotionally, spiritually). To me sacred healing space does not mean that it’s somber and serious with New Age music playing and people in deep meditation. Sacred healing space varies for each person. What is sacred to you, what is healing for you? For my dad, I believe that having music playing is healing… it creates a sacred space. Sometimes that music is southern rock, sometimes folk, sometimes world, but music seems to churn his soul to a place of familiarity when it might otherwise be spinning in a realm of fear or anxiety about the unknown.

Sacred healing space has some element of comfort and familiarity. I believe it’s not just comfort for the obvious person in need of healing, but comfort for the whole. Who are the stable figures in the scene and what elements in the environment are a source of comfort for them? For me a prime space of comfort is in the psychological realm. I feel a nourishing deep breath of peace when I have some knowing of what is going on inside of others… when they communicate how they are experiencing our shared moment. This is healing to me, it invites me to surrender to this moment more fully, it expands my perspective to embrace not just my sense of the whole but also a validated knowing of how others are experiencing the whole. What makes an environment feel comfortable for you?

Beauty
If I could make a wish for my dad right now… it would be that his heart would keep opening and surrendering to life’s beauty and this moment’s preciousness. For me beauty is not an idea, it’s not even a perspective (“I find this beautiful, you find that beautiful”). For me, beauty is a profound and embodied resonance of YES!, WOW!, AHHHHH… Life’s Beauty is a sense of completion, perfection, harmony. I feel something is beautiful when my soul knows it. When I relate with something and as a result feel more alive, I know it is beautiful (or our relationship is beautiful).

Beauty is everywhere, everything is of the essence of life and existence. Regardless of how nasty and gnarly or evil and deceitful it is, it is of the fundamental patterns and origins of life. There is always a way to look into something and see the wholeness of what is currently in a not-so-whole state. To see the beauty in the pattern of a pile of shit… or the beauty of an innocent child and the brilliance of human defenses that have given way to a hateful adult. This is my optimist speaking, this perspective is the force behind my shaman. If I slow down and settle into the moment, life is cloaked in beauty and alignment with beauty and grace is effortless.

And so, of course, how can I have this wish for an opening, surrendering heart for my dad without it being a wish for me? At the core of my purpose, it is also a wish for you and all those that walk this earth now and in generations to come. How can we cultivate a sacred healing space for ourselves so that, in turn, we may help shape sacred healing spaces for others?

These are a few of the many questions and conversations keeping me company these days!

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Returning Home

I’m back in Seattle now after a little over 2 weeks in Atlanta with family and fate. I sit in one of my favorite coffee shops. Drink coffee, eat a bagel, watch the people around, smell the smells, hear the many sounds, feel the quiet/loud, stillness/activity. It’s sunny outside. I see the light shining through new spring leaves. That makes me smile!

There are so many thoughts, feelings and sensations moving through me. Is it that I don’t know where to start or am I afraid to dip into the well, what might I pull out?

My heart has been deeply touched and changed through life experiences of recent days. I went home to be with my dad and family as my dad had major surgery. I was there before hand, during the 4 hour surgery, at the hospital for the 8 days of healing, at home a couple of days, and back to the hospital just before I left town yesterday. Our family has grown closer and supported each other phenomenally through the stresses of surgery and the surprise of a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Our spirits stay high, the laughter continues to rumble and some of our outer shells slowly soften. We cry also!

One thing I’ve been fascinated by is how disordering it can feel when one is unable to play the accustomed (habitual) roles in a social system. For me it was in my family. For a few of us, we noticed that there are roles that we generally play, that are expected of us. In times of stress and intensity, sometimes it wasn’t appropriate for us to play those roles. And then we felt a loss of identity. If I’m not the helper. If I don’t know how to be supportive and how to express my love in valuable ways. If my presence isn’t a comfort. Then who am i? What is my purpose?

And now I return to ‘my life.’ What is my role here? I’ve been immersed moment to moment in the life of my dad and how each of us around him, who love him so dearly, are responding to the intensities of change, fear and discomfort… to the heart-touchings of life’s fragile importance, of love’s expansive blessings, and of the gentle gifts of grace that emerge from vulnerability and closeness.

Now I’m in a coffee shop with other people on their computers, the espresso machine clicking, the guy walking by and smiling, a child trying to figure out how he pays for and receives his drink all by himself, the humm in my head of what I need to do today to return to this world… Life just keeps going. My body’s here now. My mind and much of my family are still there. And I’m confused. Peaceful… and confused.

It’s hard for me to stay centered in this moment. I drift away… drifting backwards through the stream of experiences that happened in the hospital, at the house, in the car, in the woods, on the phone, by myself, with my loved ones, in the silence. Those were some of my favorite experiences… the pauses between the moments… especially with my dad. Being with him, sweetly and genuinely, in silence. Just there. Together. No boundaries between us.

My mind also drifts to the future. What lies ahead for him? What will he experience? What will we experience? How do I proceed? How can I be so far away? And gently, I remind myself to breathe. I feel my lungs rise and fall. I try to focus on some part of my body. I notice what’s going on around me. And then, settling into here… I feel confused… and wonder, how do I proceed?

The Way You Live Today by Omraam Mikhaël Aïvanhov

Your entire destiny is contained in and determined by the way you live today: the orientation you give to your thoughts and feelings, and the activities on which you choose to spend your energies.(…)

This is something that has to be done every day: be conscious and aware at each instant of how you are using your energies…You can do it while you are walking to work, on the bus, at the dentist’s, or in your own kitchen. Wherever you are, at any moment of the day, you can always glance into yourself and ask yourself: {What is alive right now? Is it helpful to focus my attention here?}*

Let the word ‘harmony’ soak into you at every moment; keep it within you as a kind of tuning fork: if you feel that you are beginning to worry or get upset, pick it up and listen to it, and do nothing until you have tuned your whole being once more. Harmony is the foundation of every successful venture, every divine realization. Before undertaking any activity, whatever it may be, learn to concentrate on harmony and your work will bear fruit for the rest of eternity.

*My own questions, not from the author

I stare at that tree with the light shining through the green, green leaves. I soak in that harmony. There is harmony all around me in the outer world. I invite this harmony to soak into me at every moment. I will carry it around with me in the form of a smooth polished stone, inviting me to be present, surrender and listen to this moment. To trust in this moment. And to tune my whole being, once more, to harmony. I get to learn who I am now… and what does harmony in my life now feel like.

Green Leaves by Cathryn Cooper

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Love, Courage and Being Human

We’re so human.

Sitting in the hospital has the effect of causing me to think a lot about being human, having a body, how the body works, how we humans are connected to each other, and particularly the many, many different life experiences that we each have, the infinite possibilities that there are.

I’m in the ICU waiting room right now. Sleeping relatives, people reading, conversations, pacing,cell phones, tappering fingers at the computer, reading the newspaper, staring. What brings them all here? What is their loved one experiencing? How long have they been in ICU? Was it a planned visit like ours is or was it an emergency that brought them here?

A question passing through my head… How does each person cope?

And then I hear a laugh, and a woman somewhere on the other side of the plants says, “Ahh… you’re such an optimist!”

I woke up this morning thinking about bravery, courage and love. My dad continues to astonish me with the courage that he’s showed throughout this entire experience. Coming out of major surgery, he baffled all of us with his completely lucid, spirited, curious and informative self. Really, this guy just spent four hours in surgery. He had his stomach opened and then his entire digestive system was re-organized (gallbladder removed, part of pancreas removed, part of stomach removed, bile duct removed, and a tumor removed). Everything was sewed back together in new ways and his stomach stapled shut. Now he’s asking if we took a picture of all of us in the waiting room, he’s telling us about the synchronistic connections with the anesthesia doctor and making jokes with the nurses. How is that possible? How amazing is our human spirit and the ability to not just survive but to do so with the will to flourish.

I really believe that a lot of his success has to do with his bravery and courage. I would say he walked into this surgery open-heartedly. For me an open heart has trust and is available to connect with what ever is coming its way and even surrender to it. I continually see him taking in the facts, meeting what is known about how he (and his body) are experiencing life, and then being with what arises. That includes being with his fear, his nervousness, the hinting inevitable ‘what-if’s. Being with it all… and not stopping there… having the courage to push beyond what-is to hold the perspective of what could be – healing, fast recovery, his own bed, LIFE!

As I write now, it is day 3 after the surgery. He’s out of ICU. This morning he took his first walk around the nursing station. This afternoon he made three laps. One by one the tubes are coming out and at the moment his legs are dancing under his covers to the Keb Mo playing on the CD player!

He believes that so much of his progress is from his huge network of love, support and care. He is a man well loved and respected by those in his life.

And so the questions that sit with me right now… How might each of us touch that place in us that feels well loved and respected (especially loved and respected by ourselves)? What happens when we live from that center? How do we allow that to be medicine that empowers us to have courage to move towards the possibilities of what could-be that feel alive and vibrant?

And as for my dad, you can follow his journey on The P Train.

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