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day five, free at last

Hello on the final day of the five day meditation in the mirror challenge,

This experience has made me realize that I was on the right path before this challenge. Despite whatever anyone else might think, gazing out at nature is more valuable than getting too immersed in the self. Perhaps for those just starting out, it is useful to gaze into a mirror, but after ten months of the morning routine I have found the mirror meditation to be a tiresome and unnecessary addition to my life.

I also find many human interactions tiresome and unnecessary. (Sorry!)  As Bob Klein has noted, “Usual human interactions, centered around issues of self-worth, control and power in a social sense, become bewildering to a person involved in spirit breathing. The purpose and benefit of such interaction becomes unclear when viewed from the perspective of the Body-Mind. This perspective does not include the idea ‘I am better than you because…’ It is a perspective of connecting and unifying rather than overpowering.”  (Movements of Power, 75).

Nevertheless, here are the photos and descriptions as promised on 3/7. The setting: the sunroom of my beautiful historical house which will go on the market this Wednesday, via Cressy & Everett.  The mirror: an antique hand mirror with a long handle inherited from my mom, Mary Somerville (Sept. 7, 1930–March 11, 2015).

The photos are here and I leave you to draw whatever conclusions you choose.

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day two, persistence

Hello on day two of the five-day meditation in a mirror challenge,

Ever since yesterday’s event, I was expecting to do today’s 30-minute meditation in the downstairs hall, where there is a dimly lit full-length mirror. But for some reason, I ended up in the guest bathroom, and the mirror I chose is the one on the back of the door of the medicine cabinet (which is also a mirror), and when closed, faces another mirror behind the various toiletries arranged on glass shelves.

I chose it automatically.

From there, I was warm, enveloped in a pleasantly dim light and protected from behind by the inner wall of the bathroom. A slight turn to the right allowed me to have both a view of myself (as promised) and a view out the window over the river and where I could watch the snowflakes–big fat ones today–blowing around outside. If I turned my head farther to the right, I could gaze upon the nice clean guest room with its brand-new periwinkle blue sheets.

So many things to do before 11:30 when I must go out.

I read a bit of Subhadramati, Not Being Good, and meditated a bit on my best teacher (my mom). I agreed with what she writes about modesty and jealousy.

But I still feel like kind of a jerk for doing this experiment.

Three more days til freedom from the mirror. 90 minutes.

I’ll work now (tons more cleaning and tidying before 11:30am when I leave and the photographer arrives).

A demain.


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day one, limbo but fun

Today I’m in a weird kind of limbo. The cleaners come for whole-house cleaning in about 20 minutes, so why should I clean or even make beds? I could prepare for class, but I’m already prepared. I want to do my Morning Routine, but it takes 60 minutes.

So a quick blog post about the five-day challenge.

Day One of Meditation in front of mirror challenge

3/8/18, 8:46 am

Location: my study, 3rd floor of our house in South Bend, Indiana

Mirror: an ornate white-framed heavy old-fashioned mirror that came with the house. I’ve had it covered up for years with a fascinating print of a woman from an art exhibit I saw in the Marais. I never liked to have a mirror in my back, so it was a relief to cover it.

But today, and with the house showing coming up, I’ve now uncovered it. And here I am there I was and there she is. Pronoun confusion!

Rule: I will take a picture each morning to chronicle this challenge. Here are today’s self-portraits:

I just finished that 30 minute meditation in front of a mirror. Quick thoughts:

At first, I was irritated by having to look at that lady in the mirror, thinking, “I meditate to get away from Mind,” and finding the human appearance too engaging, if you know what I mean. As I calmed down, I noticed how beautiful I am and I started laughing. I realized, “Why did I doubt that it would show? It shows,” and laughing some more.

Later I became so comfortable with that lady that I decided to take her photo. It was hard to angle the phone and I didn’t want her to know I was taking her photo so I could only do it when she looked away. Which was hard, for some reason.

Then I remembered that thing they call a sefie—aha! So easy! And she’s pretty cute! Old-ish but still got it. When the phone beeped 30 minutes, I was surprised. In the meantime, I’d done a bunch of stretches and of course my heels were touching the whole time so my hip bones feel really fluid and comfortable. Maybe my friend is trying to tell me that I’m just as narcissistic as everybody else!  it would appear so, even though I’m not on facebook etc.


I liked that person in the mirror. Overall, she was nice and quiet, easy to be with. She looks like fun.

I guess I’ll see her again tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Time for T’ai chi!

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Bleak times, hopeful thoughts

These photos were taken yesterday and today. Not much happening except snow.

Living in the Midwest, we frequently hear dire warnings such as: “Stay home; it’s too cold,” and learn news of cancelled outings, gallery openings, and other fun life events ruined by winter weather. Why bother even digging out? It’s easier to stay in.

Outside there is more than a foot of snow. “Blizzard conditions through the weekend,” says the forecast. If all you have is a menu of this in mind, and a bunch of shoveling and slogging through the heavy cold stuff when you must venture out, not to mention the startling news blasting at you from the media devices you’ve naturally got close at hand, you may be in for some dark moods. Bleak thoughts.

But moods are situational. Things can change. Humans are adaptable thanks to our our agile minds. Minds like to do stuff, and a good challenge is an invitation to dig in. So how about a mind experiment? Here’s how it works: I’ll provide the content, you provide the alert mind. All you need to do is keep reading to add content. Then let it sink in, relax, move on, go about your day, and see what happens.

I know just the book to try it on: 29-year-old Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists. It arrived in the mail yesterday. I heard about this book when I was in Paris last month; a glowing review in Le Magazine littéraire gave Bregman pride of place. He actually seems to be getting some traction in Europe and Canada. He’s a young Dutch guy from Utrecht, whose life sounds very different, and much more relaxed and happier, than what we know in the US. Universal basic income is the idea Bregman takes on; in fact it is the main thrust of the entire book.

“Are you kidding?!” I know, I know, I hear what you’re thinking. It seems absurd to even mention such legislation when the current ship of state seems to be full of greedy rats. But in 1968, there was a strong movement in favor of a universal basic income, and according to Bregman, it almost worked.  (Chap. 4, “The Bizarre Tale of President Nixon and his Basic Income Bill,” Utopia, 77-94).

Just think, a Republican president–Nixon–was the most ardent supporter of a basic income movement in the US of A.  Truly, one cannot rule out anything in national politics. This should encourage us to think wildly optimistic thoughts and pursue radical kindness towards our fellow men, at least just for fun. Why not? It was once the law of the land, almost… Now it is today, February 10, 2018. What if we each did, said, or read something optimistic. Time for the mind experiment, which comes to you from Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There, by Rutger Bregman:

“It all starts with reclaiming the language of progress.

Reforms? Hell, yes. Let’s give the financial sector a real overhaul. … Break up [banks], if need be, so that the next time taxpayers won’t be left footing the bill because the banks are ‘too big to fail.’ Expose and destroy tax havens.

Meritocracy? Bring it on. Let’s finally pay people according to their real contributions. Waste collectors, nurses, and teachers would get a substantial raise, obviously, while quite a few lobbyists, lawyers, and bankers would see their salaries dive into the negatives. If you want to do a job that hurts the public, go right ahead. But you’ll have to pay for the privilege with a heftier tax.

Innovation? Totally. Even now, a vast amount of talent is going wasted. If Ivy League grads once went on to jobs in science, public service, and education, these days they’re far more likely to opt for banking, law, or ad proliferators like Google and Facebook. Stop for a moment to ponder the billions of tax dollars being pumped into training society’s best brains, all so they can learn how to exploit other people as efficiently as possible, and it makes your head spin. Imagine how different things might be if our generation’s best and brightest were to double down on the greatest challenges of our times. Climate change, for example, and the aging population, and inequality. … Now that would be real innovation.

Efficiency? That’s the whole point. Think about it: every dollar invested in a homeless person returns triple or more in savings on healthcare, police, and court costs. Just imagine what the eradication of child poverty might achieve. Solving these kinds of problems is a whole lot more efficient than ‘managing’ them, which costs significantly more in the long run.

Cut the nanny state? Spot on. Let’s ax those senseless, overweening reemployment courses for the out of work and let’s … quit degrading recipients.

Freedom? Sing it, sister.

The time has come to redefine our concept of ‘work’. … to spend more time on the things that truly matter to us.”

With thanks to Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists and How We Can Get There, Trans. Elizabeth Manton (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 258-260.

Utopia for Realists Bregman


With those hopeful thoughts swirling in mind,

I am off to do T’ai chi now with Master Peng…. 

Bon courage till we meet again.

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happy thoughts about friends, France, and stuff


Hello readers!

I am happy to announce that I am back from a long, long trip.

“Where were you?” you might be thinking?

Well, I was away seeing friends I need to see as often as possible. Took a couple weeks to live without media, in France. You see, I love France. Have for 40 years!

I just decided to go see friends and not work. Just travel around Paris to Angers, then Saint-Jean-des-Mauvrets, seeing great people.  A pastoral interlude with safe friends from wayback, beautiful young women I knew at age five and three.

Then back to Paris in a whirlwind of talkative visits with dear friends new and old, back over to the USA and wham, right into the maelstrom of Newark — New York –Subway–A Train–dark and thundering intimidating and thrilling world of New york City!!  Thank you Joyce for two days I will never forget.

But, whew.  That was a long time and a whole lot of talking for an introvert like me. I sometimes don’t realize how much I don’t talk. Until I’m out there.

Out among you,

Mes semblables, mes frères.

(I missed my sewing machine.)

And now I’m stunned to be sitting here sitting on the sofa,

Chapped lips, dry throat, cold windows and air.

I feel stunned.  The only thing to do is stop.

and write instead, a little, til I find my voice again tomorrow in the classroom.


The lesson of my travels is: Carpe diem!  Enjoy your lives! Go see your friends and loved ones, that’s where money should go.


By the way, Delta lost my suitcase on the way over, and I was stuck for three days in Paris with no change of clothes. This problem was quickly solved by the nearby and remarkably well-stocked, excellent Monoprix, and a very nice crew-neck acrylic pink sweater I got for ten euros on rue Mouffetard. Later that night, I noted that the sleek blue trousse de toilette they gave me at Delta was a strangely familiar site. All four of us already have Delta trousses de toilette. The man’s Tshirt was a nice touch, though.

Anyway, that was three weirdly anxious days. Not really anxious at all, I thought, making do with good will on a stubby toothbrush and a thin comb. But when I came back from Saint-Jean to Paris, and that adorable man at the desk of Hotel de l’Esperance said, “They brought your suitcase back!” I was shocked by how happy it made me. I felt waves of love for my favorite jacket and clean underwear.

Ohhhhh stuff, we love you. You anchor us to the earth, for better or worse.



Photo credits: Félix Vallotin, Le Rayon, (The Sunbeam) and a hopeful spring moment caught late one January night on Square Medard, Paris, 5e.

Thank you, and heureuse année, to all my friends over in France and New York City!



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a sign for the times

Honey Girl at the forest's edge Nov 10 2017

On our way back from the forest, in the cold windy night tonight, Honey Girl and I walked right under a sign that holds wisdom for the holiday season, I think.

It says, “Yield ahead.”

What a good idea. Why disagree? It’s all temporary anyway.

Next time you feel like saying, “If  ___________________ (person you dislike) says (or posts/tweets) that stupid joke again about my ___________________________ (marital status / weight / graduation date / job / joblessness / choice of pet / bra size, Viagra, etc.), I’m going to scream!” stop yourself. Give yourself a little smile, knowing that you are above such things. Your mind is aware. You are calm, and easily keep your distance from trivia.

Remember that in the big scheme of things, mean words and rude behavior are nothing more than negative energy. They burp briefly into existence and contaminate the atmosphere if allowed to multiply, but they fade quickly if no one pays attention to them.

Leave behind the culture of complaint. Yield and forgive, now and then. You might find that you like it. The world would be a more peaceful place if we could all remember to yield, now and then.


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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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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.