Quiet Mind; Open Heart (with Ram Dass)

Photo by Amanda Fenton

Ram Dass is an American Spiritual Teacher, former academic and clinical psychologist. He’s 87. He’s one who has bridged western and eastern ways of knowing.

A friend, Joan Hitchens, recently recommended a Ram Dass book to me, “Walking Each Other Home: Conversations About Loving and Dying.” I’m interested because, well, aren’t we all seeking love, perhaps loving. And, well, aren’t we all dying.

I notice that I am sipping this book. Sometimes picking it up to read just a paragraph. And then giving myself permission to let those few words abide in me.

Here’s an example of a sip:

If I’m going to die, the best way to prepare is to quiet my mind and open my heart. 
If I’m going to live, the best way to prepare is to quiet my mind and open my heart. 

I love the contrast that calls for the same action and practice.

I remain a person committed to giving attention to the thing behind the thing behind the thing. It’s rather irrepressible in me. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes it feels philosophical. Most of the time it feels utterly and essentially on the ground.

It is my belief and experience that groups too, seek the deeper paths together. Groups too, seek meaning and purpose together. Groups too, sense that there is more to what is happening than what is happening. The language in groups is often more obscured, but I don’t think the desire is. The complexity is often more intense, but I don’t think the essential impulse is.

Groups too, seek process, to quiet mind and open heart. Groups too, seek healing beyond default pattern.

That’s my story. I’m sticking to it.



For The Interim Time

“On The Way” is a newsletter publication of The Central Pacific Conference of the United Church of Christ. I love the title. It shows commitment to movement and process. I’m working (and friending) with some really good people in that conference to support a cultural evolution and leadership centered in participation. I get to cohost their annual meeting again this fall.
This month’s “On The Way” included the poem by John O’Donohue, the Irish poet and priest who died in 2008. I love this encouragement to “dwell in the between spaces, refining the heart for the dawn of the new.” There’s a kind of spiritual maturity in that that continues to beckon for patience in the deep.
For the Interim Time
John O’Donohue

When near the end of day, life has drained
Out of light, and it is too soon
For the mind of night to have darkened things,
No place looks like itself, loss of outline
Makes everything look strangely in-between,
Unsure of what has been, or what might come.
In this wan light, even trees seem groundless.
In a while it will be night, but nothing
Here seems TO believe the relief of dark.
You are in this time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is too young to be born.”
You cannot lay claim to anything;
In this place of dusk,
Your eyes are blurred;
And there is no mirror.
Everyone else has lost sight of your heart
And you can see nowhere to put your trust;
You know you have to make your own way through.
As far as you can, hold your confidence.
Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.


One of the people that has taught me the most about the value of pause is Ann Linnea. Ann and I have known and appreciated each other for the last twenty years. She is cofounder of PeerSpirit and The Circle Way. She is author of books about nature, rites of passage, wilderness quests, and of course, circle. She is a good soul whose very pace of being can’t help but still the soul.

In the tradition that is The Circle Way, the pause is an essential agreement. “We agree from time to time to pause to regather our thoughts and our focus.” Often this is done with the ringing of a bell, bowl, or tingsha. I can hear Ann’s voice as clearly in my mind as I can anyones, her speaking after the pause — “I asked for the bell to give us a deliberate pause in our good thinking that is now becoming quite speedy. I want to feel deeply what is being spoken.”

Another person I’ve learned a lot about pause from is Roq Gareau. Roq is as smart and thoughtful as they come. He has “elder” written all over him. He is in his early 40s. And he is the kind of elder that I uniquely enjoy — he can turn to playful in a heartbeat. Roq is one of the most kind people I know that can come from deep eldering.

Roq has taught me about a form of pause, interruption. It’s related to pause, but different. It’s not the interruption of speaking over top of someone. It’s not the rude kind (though I get that this is sometimes needed). It’s the wise kind. I’ve often heard Roq revere interruption, in a way that continues to reverberate with me, “Our work is to interrupt the pattern of isolation that we find ourselves defaulted to in contemporary society.” This wisdom in Roq’s words is not about what follows the interruption. It’s not that level of specificity — not yet. His words are about the simple act of interrupting. Stopping. Daring to let go of the default. Taking a walk. Letting it go for a while. Interrupting physical, emotional, neural entrainment. Getting out of the deep carve.

Both pause and interruption are deep principles to me. They are practices, perhaps more understood by elders and people with eldering instinct. Pause isn’t paralysis. It isn’t freeze with fear. Pause and interruption are goto steps for me when I don’t know what to do, or when a group doesn’t know what to do. The are invitations to reground, and to trust in something less visible and less obvious. Pause and interruption challenge me, and I believe all of us, to go beyond the highly revered “doing” that contemporary culture so often demands (because there are deadlines to meet, right). Pause and interruption have a deep trust behind them, which is a rather good pattern to reinvoke in ourselves, with each other, and in the groups that we live and love our lives in, no?

Summer Rain


I’ve been enjoying a book of Maori proverbs lately. It was given to me by friend and colleague, Mary Alice Arthur, when I first went to New Zealand in 2009. The particular book I have is called, Earth, Sea, Sky: Images and Maori Proverbs from the Natural World of Aotearoa New Zealand. It is by Patricia and Waiariki Grace, with photographs from Craig Potton. I love the short and simple phrases that come from Maori tradition and from this land that has claimed a good chunk of my heart.

The picture above is one that I took last year, near Wellington. I was enjoying the distant horizon and the time with my then 18 year-old son. From the book, the proverb is:

He taru kahika.

Walk on,
as it is only the summer rain falling.

It’s a reminder to be aware of small adversity, and thus not to let it be a hindrance.