health meditation

full moon, no sleep. what to do?

December 2017 moon

The moon has been splendid these past few days: a wonderful moment for night owls, lovers, and others who thrive in the late hours. But what about those who have a hectic job, a sick child, a term paper or business plan to finish, and a big presentation looming on the horizon?  Or all of the above?! “Letting go” as preached by the Zen masters sounds easy, but it is not. It is actually a skill of mindfulness, and you can get better at it if you practice.

As Monique Beck, a fellow student of mine in the SPARK program at Saint Mary’s College, and someone whose drive I admire, recently asked on LinkedIn: “Drive is great, but when you have too much, it can be detrimental to your health! What can you change today, so that your tomorrow doesn’t have to suffer?”

Going to bed earlier might help, unless your mind is still on overdrive. But what else is there?

Since May 2017, I have been following a routine of evening meditation that puts an end to all that internal chit-chat. I ensure that the bedroom is dark and cool, and that my bedclothes are loose and comfortable. Then, right before placing my head on the pillow, I turn on one of the guided audio meditations provided for free by the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness. (You can download it onto your phone.) The calm voice guides you to listen to your breath, and to listen to how you are breathing in and breathing out. It gently nudges you to return to the breath, whenever your thoughts go elsewhere. I often fall asleep before it’s over.

Give it a try tonight. You deserve a break from this harrowing world.

creativity Zen philosophy

Ichiro or the yellow cat: who would you rather be?

This semester we played some games in my classes to raise students’ awareness of their environment and how they react to it. This is one.

Teacher pulls out of a bag a bobblehead and a yellow Japanese cat figure, puts them on a table, and asks: “Who would you rather be, the best hitter of the era, Ichiro Suzuki, who led the Seattle Mariners in 2001? Or this yellow cat piggy bank?”

Students laugh. “Ichiro of course.”

The teacher: “Are you sure? Watch his head. Being an unaware human, he is a victim of the Mind. Thus when something bad comes along [Give the head a hard tap], he’s out of control.  [The head continues to bounce randomly, for a good three minutes or so.]. It is the cat we should emulate. The cat, with a low center of gravity, cannot be tipped over.”

This relates to all manner of actions. As Peter Ralston writes,

When our feeling-attention is put in the center region, the intellect does not dominate our actions and perceptions.  … Centering calms the mind, making it clear and powerful, unquestioning and unknowing, thus allowing access to a domain of spontaneous appropriate actions.

Begin by getting in touch with the center region on a physical level. Concentrate on the feet, when you stand in line or do a standing meditation. Notice how the feet constantly relate and readjust in relationship to the earth. It is the transference of weight from one foot to another that allows most of our actions and power. Adjust the waist and legs to accomodate a force. Keep you tailbone tucked under. Support your back and head from below. Remember that gravity is not just a mere “fact of the planet.” It is a profound force and possibility.

Consider this deeply.*


*Peter Ralstson, Cheng Hsin: The Principles of Effortless Power, 10-15.

I will consider it deeply as I head out now for a walk with Honey Girl!

health humor meditation T'ai chi trees Zen philosophy

flu symptoms and t’ai chi: to do or not to do?

Another day of feeling out of sorts. Made it to morning class but was showing flu symptoms by 2pm or so. Canceled a meeting to go home and rest. On the way home I felt sorry for myself, thinking, “I feel crappy. This is what I feel at this time of year every year, when the students get sick and then we all get sick and I hate the end of the semester, and I always get sick at Christmas, what a drag it all is, blah blah blah blah blah blah.”

And I thought, “God, are you boring. Shut up. This is today. The only today I’ve got. This is no longer those other years. What if I try the morning routine even though I feel crappy? Maybe my body would feel better. I can always stop and lie down if it doesn’t work out.”

So I did.

First the standing meditation, looking out the window from our son’s room here. Gazing at those colorful leaves gently moving in the wind, it was easy to practice the “fuzzy thinking” of Zen contemplation. With my hips more open from the V stance, the tightness and aches around my lower back faded away. With my mind peaceful and calm, I remembered the many fabulous things that are happening these days, and how lucky we are to be here in this pretty house.View from Max's room Nov 28 2017 Then, the T’ai chi sequence as usual, in the other son’s room with the shades drawn shut. (Master Peng told us to practice it that way. It is very calming.) And as I moved to the sinuous sequence of Yang long style 108, it seemed like my inner torso of organs was loosening up from the grasp of nerves and tension. Being very attuned to my queasy stomach and stuffy head, I observed as the symptoms drifted away. Doing that long twisty sequence, I felt like I was becoming animal-like, agile and fluid. I felt happy. I was smiling. I smiled for several minutes and ended in a state of alert calm.

So I thought I’d describe that to you.

It appears flu symptoms can subside under the impact of what the Chinese call chi or vital energy. It is chi that circulates in the body up the spine. I often look at the kind of strange pictures (below) that Master Peng gave us last summer. One is a Chinese myth of a journey that begins at the bottom of the spine and moves its way up to the head and enlightenment. The chi is symbolized by the ball of white fire at the navel. The goal of Tai chi being to move that ball of white fire up as far as you can while you move.

These pictures inspire me to describe the experience in metaphor instead of science.  If anybody wants to explain to the blog how T’ai chi works scientifically, that is fine with me; please do! (I’m no M.D.; I’ve got a degree in French lit!)

In his wise and funny books, Bob Klein warns practitioners of T’ai chi that everybody will think you’re crazy if you start talking about it. But with all the miserable people I see around the campus and city and country and world, and all the colleagues, neighbors, friends and relatives I have who seem to be getting decrepit, sad, and old before their time, I feel it is urgent to let people know that T’ai chi exists. And it still works, just as it did in Ancient China. I am living proof of it. I feel pretty good tonight!

Charts of chi and spine and organs all attached

creativity health humor T'ai chi wisdom

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.

creativity memory nature wisdom Zen philosophy

what to “do” with clouds?


Thanks to the unsettled atmospheric conditions, today is a wonderful day for cloud gazing. But how? When a cloud glides overhead and casts a shadow below, how do you react?  In fear and loathing for the rain that might follow? Or in silent wonder at the changing shapes?

For those of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, the most likely thought about clouds comes through Joni Mitchell’s 1969 hit, “Both Sides Now.”  (As I watched the passing clouds during my morning meditation, that song materialized in my head and I’ve been singing it ever since.) Mitchell’s sad love song goes, “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now / From up and down and still somehow / It’s cloud’s illusions I recall / I really don’t know clouds at all.”

But are there really only two sides to clouds? No!

As a spur to your mental liberation, consider three alternative ways to see clouds (and I welcome others!):

  1. Classify them. Consider the scientific classification of clouds from the World Meteorological Organization (pasted below). It includes no less than 38 ways to see clouds. Useful. But it is sort of a dead-end because once you’ve classified them and predicted the weather, then what?
  2. Use them to develop your MQ. In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp challenges readers to find at least three new associations with a passing cloud as a means of building up one’s Metaphorical Quotient (MQ, which is distinct from the intelligence quotient or IQ). As Tharp writes, “The process by which we transform the meaning of one thing into something different is an essential part of human intelligence. Without symbols, and the ability to understand them, there would be no writing, no numbers, no drama, no art. Everything you create is a representation of something else; in this sense, everything you create is enriched by metaphor.” One of the exercises Tharp suggests is this: “How many images and objects can you see in three minutes of cloud gazing? This is metaphor as visual translation. Metaphor is all around you. It’s never too late to raise your MQ.”*
  3. Embrace the stillness. If you seek a peaceful mind, you may like the ancient Chinese wisdom found in Mai-Mai Sze’s Tao of Painting (image below). “When the clouds parted, green summits rose. As the literati say, ‘In the midst of hustling activity, steal moments of quietness.’”**


What to “do” with clouds?  The choice is up to you.


*Tharp, The Creative Habit, pp. 157-159.

**Sze, The Tao of Painting, p. 217.




creativity health humor nature social media T'ai chi wisdom Zen philosophy

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.

creativity humor wisdom Zen philosophy

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.



memory nature wisdom

windy windy windy skies

dramatic-clouds-photo2-lIt is very windy tonight! The wind blew open my attic window and flooded the tiny room with good cool air smelling of the earth, of wet leaves, wood smoke, and change.

When the wind blows high like tonight, I think of the poem posted below. I was a little girl when I got it, on the back of a postcard from a counselor at Camp Robinswold. Robinswold is on Hood Canal, Washington, which if you don’t know it, is on the Olympic Peninsula. It is a place of huge ferns and shaggy fir trees dripping with moss, a real-live Rain Forest. So in my mind, French style and folklore, lush natural resources, and friendship go together.

This exuberant poem inspires with the colors of blue and white, the movement up into the air, and the soft touch. I don’t know who wrote it, but now it can be yours too.

Windy  windy windy skies

deep blue fallen over my eyes.

The clouds so white

as the sun is bright

The sea is so blue in place

as the wind blows in your face

The birds so loud & clear

as if you feel a soft

hand in the air.

Anon., ca. 1970, Robinswold, WA


Windy skies postcard Pomme de reinette