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a mysterious yet trusting postcard

Last summer, I received the postcard seen here: a sinuous black-and-white icon symbolizing the lesson, “Don’t be Selfish.” After marveling over its beauty, I puzzled for days over the message, asking myself things like, “What French-speaker do I know who is also learning Thai? Why would someone go to all the trouble to send this card to me, knowing I cannot read it?” and most importantly, “Who would trust me to figure out the answers?!”

When I finally got the card into the hands of a Thai-speaker, who translated the signature as “Jasmine flower,” I thought immediately of a lovely young art student (named Jaz) I met this year. When I wrote to her, she replied, “Finally!!!”

What a gift!  What Jaz gave me is the gift of trust. She trusted me to figure out the mysterious message. She trusted me to do so in my own time. She trusted me and waited patiently, until I did what she had hoped I would do.

Why is trust so hard for us?

As Bob Klein writes in Movements of Magic, “Don’t you trust yourself? Don’t you trust that you are a good human being who, if allowed to do whatever you wished, would do positive and loving things? What lies have you fallen for? Have they frightened you into believing there is a monster within you? It’s not a monster. It’s Body-Mind, your own true self….  the artist within you, the true creator and apprentice of Nature herself.”*

The next time you are dealt a mystery or encounter a challenging situation, try thinking in terms of trust. You are most likely capable of handling it. That is why you received it!


Bob Klein, Movements of Magic, p. 18.

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A confession, an inspiration, and a way to feel better

pecan pie Nov 24 2017.jpg

  1. A confession: I ate one-fourth of this pecan pie yesterday, all by myself! And that was after eating a very large and wonderful dinner!  Pecan pie, made from the family’s secret recipe, is one of my all-time favorite foods. So I enjoyed it and had three lovely big pieces.  And do you know what?  It was good, very very good. 

Since I went right back to my normal morning routine today, I feel great. I have no regrets. How do you feel? Perhaps a little groggy or overwhelmed by all the food, the drink, the sales, the crowds, and the looming craziness of the “holiday season”?  Although we cannot change the noisy chaos and emotional manipulation coming at us from all angles at this time of year, we can liberate ourselves from its grip.

  1. An inspiring thought:

When the mind is quiet

With chattering thoughts at rest,

When the heart is gentle

With selfish thoughts given up,

The spirit will rise and soar.

–from Venerable Shi Wuling, Path to Peace, “November 24”

  1. A pact to feel better. One of the most powerful facets of practicing T’ai chi and studying Zen philosophy is that they lead to greater appreciation of the self and the present moment. Try this exercise and make a pact with yourself today.*

Don’t put yourself down and don’t be angry with yourself, for a full month. See what changes that puts you through. Anger is an emanation of the mind. It is not a direct emanation from creativity (the Body-Mind) but one coming from the fashioned creature (the Mind). When you make a mistake, don’t clench your teeth, frown your face, and tell yourself how stupid you are.

Just laugh a little!  We’re all beginners at this game. And we humans really are quite funny to behold.


*I’ve been making and renewing this pact monthly since August 13, 2017. Although I admit to kicking myself on one or two Tuesdays evenings after teaching a particularly challenging graduate seminar this semester, I have caught myself and made myself stop. When it happens, I stop, breathe quietly with eyes shut for a few moments, and shake my head at the sneaky way the Mind works, trying to keep me in its miserable power.

And do you know what? The pact works. Those bad old feelings of struggle, self-hatred, and doubt are gradually ebbing away. Life simply is, and it is good.

For more on this exercise and the philosophy behind it, see Bob Klein, Movements of Power, p. 48.

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a sale, a pillow, an event! and a break

Even pacifists like success and today was a big first for me: I sold the first Original Honey Girl Pillow, in what I hope will be a long line of Honey Girl Pillows!  Each will have its own special vintage feel and Zen vibe. This one’s name is Blueberry. Just had to celebrate a little!

It is not coincidental that, just before remembering to celebrate with you, I was reading my students’ papers about money in French literature. (All my classes in this my final year of elite college teaching are about money. It’s my gift to the world.)

This blog, despite its ethereal air, is part of a larger project that will begin in just 220 days, when I emerge from the cocoon of college teaching and begin running a small business. Through the creation of Honey Girl Books and Gifts and the ongoing “Write YOUR Story” workshops I plan to teach for adults and kids, I hope to contribute to what sounds like an exciting–if widely scattered–alternative economy here in the USA.

It’s not so terribly “alternative” as that, maybe, although I do hope to pay the seamstresses well, and to hire young artists looking for a break. But by creating comforting narrative quilts for individual clients or families, fun Zen pillows for college kids, and the adorable Honey Girl for anyone, my secret hope is to lure people away from digitalia. The future book line will aim for that too. I hope to help people learn to appreciate old-fashioned ways of production, and time-honored means of communicating through cotton, paper, satin, and flannel.

Be real. Together. Be real together. Be real, together. Be, real together!

Happy Thanksgiving. I’m taking a few days off now.



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rainy thoughts

Today it rained all day but that did not stop Honey Girl and me from taking a leisurely walk through the neighborhood until we were totally drenched, but peaceful. There is something melancholy and touching about the natural world at this time of year; there’s a stark sunflower, blackened and brittle, which always catches my eye. Its silhouette against the grey sky reminded me of that scary scene in The Night of the Hunter where Robert Mitchum rides a horse in silhouette against a white sky singing an ominous hymn. Tragic, sad thoughts mull around.

I look at the picture of my relatives, the woman from whom I inherited the sewing machine that has become my spiritual inspiration, and I used to think, “How miserable to live in White Salmon, WA circa 1915. That battle-ax in the middle looks like a real tyrant. It must have been so awful and boring in the rain, in a wooden cottage, etc., etc.”

Today I was thinking of that little girl in the front row, second from the right, because I cut up a quilt that I think she made for me. It is all falling apart, we found it in a drawer a couple days ago. I cut off a piece, restored it, and I’m using it as the basis for the SPARK quilt, since our mothers were so important to many of us SPARK students this session.

Now I realize I may have her all wrong! She may have loved running up and down and through the dripping trees during those wintry days, and playing tricks on that grumpy old grandma to make her laugh, etc., etc.

We can choose the spin we put on our memories. We can choose the spin we put on every person we meet, thinking, “Hey this guy is actually really ….. (positive adjective of your choice)”! and this day is not so bad after all.

SPARK quilt in progress Nov 18 2017


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turning in a circle about oneself: a dog and a Taoist meditation

The two dogs here represent morning and night.

The dog on the left was waiting for attention of a rather intimate nature this morning when I came downstairs. It was Honey Girl, so warm, soft and loving that you felt like lying down on the wood floor beside her for a while, just to feel her warm fur and listen to her breathing.

What a soft launch to the day!

It is not surprising that this day feels so mellow: the students were lively and smart, the conversations were meaningful, and I had chocolate torte for dessert. Perfect, right?

The evening walk with Honey Girl swept us up in cold wind and darkness. The sky had cleared from the rain, and excitingly dynamic white clouds were stretching, morphing and flying across a backlit dark canvas—it was very hugolien and thrilling to the blood.

When we came back in, Honey Girl grabbed one of her (embarrassingly numerous) squeaky toys off the floor—a navy blue and red fuzzy bone–and started making it squeak, then walking all around making a joyful ruckus. She does that when she’s happy. Which is most every day! She does it at our parties too.

Returning home is what I want to capture: a good theme for Thanksgiving!

What I related above is a particularly joyful version of a dog returning home, but the concept is important to human psychology and Taoist philosophy too. Since T’ai chi, Zen, and Taoism are philosophically related, I am keen to understand them better. I really like explanation in The Tao of Painting, and wonder what other people think.*  Chinese painter and writer Mai-Mai Sze (1909-1992) explains the symbol of the fan, the benefit of considering the universe as a circle, and of “turning in a circle about oneself.” Sort of like Honey Girl does every night on the couch.

I paste here the cover and illustration from the page in question:


Fan (to turn over), shown here in its modern and old forms, describes the Taoist idea of “returning.” The pictograph represents the right hand turning something over. It indicates that the “other side” or the “returning” is the reverse of one and the same thing or process. The hand is specifically the right one; it appears to emphasize the manifest yang nature of the process.

The course of the Tao is not only circular motion but also, on the one hand, the marking off of a sacred precinct and on the other, fixation and concentration. The enclosing circle prevents “emanations” that, in terms of modern psychology, “protect the unity of consciousness from being split apart by the unconscious.”

“Turning in a circle about oneself” involves all sides of the personality, and has the moral significance of “activating the light and dark forces of human nature and, with them, all the psychological opposites of whatever kind they may be.”**

Wow! Didn’t know dogs were so deep, did you!?

Good night, dear readers, and sweet dreams.

*The Tao of Painting by Mai-Mai Sze, is a huge and impeccably scholarly tome (with its own distinguished box), that contains many beautiful color prints and the entire text of a painting manual from 1600s that is funny, witty, and rings true on many levels. It makes you love Chinese painting—something I never thought I would do. The manual explains things like the playful spirit of goldfish and the stern character of pine trees, the way that mountain ranges should seem to emerge in successive waves of energy, and how emptiness is compelling. I did not know, for example, that hollow trees were revered for the abundant chi that they held after a storm.

**Mai-Mai Sze, The Tao of Painting, 2nd ed. With a translation of the seventeenth-century Chieh Tzŭ Yüan Hua Chuan or Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting ( 1679-1701) (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1963), 16-18.


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on “consuming” content–how’s your digestion?!

I just attended a class on social media for small business owners in the program called SPARK at Saint Mary’s College. It is an excellent program overall. I found today’s lesson disorienting, however, because it so squarely confounded the way that human beings learn and evolve into creatures with wisdom. It was also revealing because of the assumptions laid bare, on what knowledge is when it exists on-line.

As an effective instructor, the teacher maintained a focused attention on two main criteria for social media: 1) on “content” and how to get it; and 2) on “consuming” the content most useful for you.

Let us stop for a moment and weigh what those words mean.

To “consume” means: 1) to do away with completely–to destroy (as in “the fire consumed the house”); 2) to spend wastefully, squander or use up (as in worrying “consumes much of our time”); 3) to eat or drink, esp. in great quantity (they “consumed a whole keg of beer”); or 4) to engage fully, to engross (he was “consumed with curiosity”).

Content” means: 1) something contained–usually used in the plural (“the jar’s contents” or “the book’s contents”); 2) the substance, meaning or significance in a work of art, performance, or writing; or 3) the matter dealt with in a field of study.

Now, if we put “consume” (destroy, squander, eat in great quantity, or engross) alongside “content” (something contained, substance, meaning or study), we can see what is wrong with this way of thinking.  There’s no there there.  It creates an endless echo chamber of words without significance, bouncing around in destructive speed, for no purpose.

May I suggest that we human beings in 2017 might want to spend less time “consuming” stuff and more time on digesting what we read, experience, see or otherwise encounter?

To “digest” means: 1) to distribute or arrange systematically; 2) to convert (food) into absorbable form; 3) to take into the mind or memory; 4) to soften, decompose, or break down by heat, moisture or chemicals; or 5) to extract soluble ingredients from.

It’s lunchtime now, so I’m going to sign off and eat my sandwich in peace. I may read a book for a class later today, or I might just stare out the window and watch the people going by, the squirrels running up trees, the leaves falling, on this splendid autumn day.

May I suggest we all stop surfing, tweeting, “liking,” and otherwise “consuming content” for a while?  Take the time to digest what you do read.  Try it just for one day and see how you feel.

Bon appétit!

FYI:  Definitions borrowed from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2002), 248, 249, 323.

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embrace the inevitable

rosebush up close

Gearing up for another week of work or school in mid-November can be a challenge. May these words of wisdom by Peter Ralston be a guide; they are from a chapter on “the Principle of Inclusion” (more on that to come on this blog!):

There is a state of being that shows itself as power, has free and uninhibited life force, with no thought or refuge being taken in the intellect, which honestly and simply abandons itself to the task at hand.*

Whether your task is reading, preparing a speech, or just waiting for a ticklish raindrop to fall off a leaf (or your nose!), it helps to think of yourself as living-in-process. Whatever you fail to embrace now, you will simply have to confront later.

Roll with the punches, let go of ego and angry recriminations, allow the energy to flow uninterrupted.

An example:  Just now, I said to someone, “It is nice and cool outside today.” The person replied, “No, it’s actually warm. Much warmer than yesterday.” Since my comment was inspired by a desire to connect with the person, untroubled by ideas of being “right” or “winning,” I merely smiled at the contrarian. Remembering Ralston’s wise counsel, I replied, “Yes, it’s nice and warm today.”

* Peter Ralston, Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power, 1st ed. 1989 (Berkeley, CA: Blue Snake Books, 1999), 79.


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thoughts on balanced imbalance (le déséquilibre équilibré)

Today was a day of ups and downs. The news is crazy scary, and that’s enough to explain the downs, but I also woke up with a migraine which, as all those who are migraineux will know, is a huge drag. Doing my standing 30-minute meditation by the window was helpful, and the 30-minutes of T’ai chi I got in before I had to go out were excellent and stabilizing, as usual (thank you again and again, Master Peng!).

By the end of the day, the headache was gone, the heavy feeling had lifted, and I just got back from a walk that was not only invigorating and fun, but was also kind of mystical. Walking through the North Shore Woods in the dark tonight made me feel like I was moving through a fairy tale and turning the corner to discover who knows what marvelous surprise! One time, Honey Girl and I saw a full-size buck, who gazed upon us with cool dignity. And didn’t move. At all.  For minutes.

I said, “Go on! Shoo!” and he just gazed at me softly, wondering perhaps, “What is she thinking? Go away little woman and dog-on-a-leash, and let us freely roam where we live.” Or maybe, “Huh?” or …  who knows!  That’s part of the wonder.

We don’t know what they’re thinking. We don’t know what Honey Girl is thinking. Hell, I don’t know what Rich is thinking, even though I’ve been living with him for the last 38 years.

All of us are all going up and down, riding currents of seasonal beauty and wonder, angst and regret, hopefully edging out the dark with hope and gratitude. C’est juste ainsi. It just is. And it is good, right? The French call this attitude of Zen-like realism le déséquilibre équilibré: a state of balanced imbalance. Breathe deeply, this is it.

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the great chain of quilts began one year ago

One year ago, you know what happened. Ever since that day, I’ve had this urge to do something kind, wise, and generous to people. I’m on the 11th quilt, in a great chain of quilts that started happening spontaneously from under my hands, last fall.

Taking care of my own spirit and body so that I could emulate the noble truths, has become the only concern. A right livelihood is growing up alongside me. (more to come on that later!)

Just as Bob Klein, Alan Watts, Shuling Wu and Master Peng himself said, something emerges from the daily practice of T’ai chi and meditation! Something unexpectedly wonderful. You just feel better, every day!

All that happened in my world, since November 8, 2016.

What’s new with you?

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Hello world, this is the mistress of Honey Girl. We walk every day for 45 minutes or so, and she takes me where we need to go.

Through my adorable adopted pet, as well as the daily practice of T’ai chi and meditation, I have learned to see the world through multiple senses and I feel so alive!

Creative thoughts come along daily!

A friend told me I should start this blog. And people have been looking at me funny lately, as if there’s some light or something.

So I figured I’d share whatever it is. Because it is good stuff. Learning to stay low to the ground, centered, and present. Laughing at private jokes! Remembering how to begin, again.