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day 14: face mask mania begins

sewing face masks day two April 2 2020

After another invigorating solitary walk this morning, I’ve been deeply focused on mastering the art of sewing cotton face masks.  The time flew by!  Pictured are my first four adult size, and one petite. I’m making them out of nice cotton, so they will last many washings. After all, they may become a semi-permanent part of our wardrobes in the days ahead…

Having a concrete way to help out during this crisis makes all the difference.  I’m offering them on a complimentary basis to medical personnel, and $5.00 each for other folks. Cash on delivery: pick them up at my home studio in West Seattle (with sufficient social distancing, of course). Thanks again to Farhad Manjoo and the New York Times for publishing the pattern and directions–that is a page I will treasure forever.

Wishing you a day of purpose–it’s the best route to happiness!

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Congrats to the caring professionals and Happy New Year to all!

Pair of Night pillows Jan 1 2019.jpg

Happy New Year, everybody!

To follow up on my post of December 17, “Tonight’s the Night!”:

Five caring professionals have come forward to capture the prizes in our second annual “Caring Profession Thank-you Week”:  a fire captain and a nurse from Seattle, two school teachers from South Bend, IN, and one school teacher from New Orleans, LA.

Congrats to all of you, and hope to see you and your feedback soon on the “Happy Clients” page of Honey Girl Books and Gifts.

Other big news: Tranquility Pillows are now available with Velcro fasteners or the traditional snaps, to make it easier for tiny or tired fingers to attach and remove the three cloth stars. As the tag says, “Snap on a star and let your feelings be seen. It’s as natural as a night sky.”

Night with velcro Jan 1 2019.jpg


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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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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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life is an event

the bird of November 12 2017the bird on periphery of sight nov 12

The neighbors may wonder why a small figure stands in the window of my house each morning. She can be seen in different windows depending on the day. Just standing there, she looks out. Sometimes she bobs up and down, stretches side to side, or reaches up with arms outstretched. Sometimes she’s still as a reed on a deep-summer day.

Why do I do it? Because I listened to Master Peng.

But first of all, I observed Master Peng.

I observed him over time and with deepening wonder at what I saw. Every time he arrived for our weekly class, he glowed. He said with a smile, “I feel great!” One day, he explained why. He told us that he was in the habit of getting up at 3am every morning and standing in a meditation with his heels touching, and feet at a 90-degree angle. For three hours!  He stood like that daily from 3am to 6am. (One assumes this was possible because he was on sabbatical leave during the year spent at Notre Dame, but maybe not?!)

This habit of standing meditation is not unusual in Peng’s hometown, it seems. He told us that a man from his village learned he had lung cancer one day. Since he was already in his 60s, the prospects looked dire. So the man withdrew from the world and stood meditating, with heels touching and his feet at a 90-degree angle, for three months. At the end of the three months, he re-emerged and resumed life as usual. He is now in his 80s and feels great!

Well, you can think what you want about the tall tales told by t’ai chi teachers. But no one will ever convince me that Master Peng felt anything but good during the months I spent studying him and his supple movements in class.

And that is why I do the standing meditation for 30 minutes, with my feet at a 90-degree angle, each morning. My hip joints do feel different as does my spirit–more expansive and elastic. My hips move more smoothly now and I have no fears about arthritis. I feel strong and supple.

This comes back to the point about life being an event.

This morning while standing in the sunroom window, I gazed at a bird in a nearby tree. You can see it in the top photo. Meanwhile, downstairs, I could hear the front door open and close, and footsteps moving around as Rich and Honey Girl came back early from their walk. I wondered why. Then I heard something, saw some drips of water, and understood. After opening the window to let in the gentle sound of rain, it was easier to still the Mind. I became silent and waited. I let my vision blur so that the bird was in the periphery of my sight. (As in photo no. 2, you’ll see he’s still there. My Mind kept wanting to check on him!) I tried keeping the focus acute yet blurry, so that despite my earthbound state, I might experience the sky like a bird.

If you ever doubt that your life is part of a larger event, just look out the window or go outside. In the little universe outside my window, a flock of three crows flew in, one by one, and perched on a tree. The little bird turned and hopped a step or two. Then it turned and faced away from the ruckus, looking off through the misty air and seeing who knows what event coming along next.

What comes along next?

That is up to you.

For me, weekends are for creativity: a world beyond anything but the simplest words. Yet my imagination runs wild with textures and colors, stitching and molding fabric into designs. Yesterday I made a pillow for the grad seminar I’m teaching–ROFR 63490/40453: my creative project for class  honors the sensuous fabrics described by Zola in Au Bonheur des dames (The Ladies’ Paradise, the department store novel). I used the wonderful vintage satin that I inherited from a friend’s grandma, and stitched a variety of hues into a hoop-skirt design, added onto a woman’s silhouette, on a black-and-white flannel of fashion plates from the 50s.  Later on, I began piecing together the beginnings of the SPARK quilt, too…

The morning meditation serves as a grounding mechanism. It helps still the Mind. It reminds us that we participate in the seasons. Like the trees, we are always breathing and always in flux—today, the boughs moved only slightly, less than yesterday. One yellow leaf fell to ground.

During the school week, I treasure these 30 minutes as a vacation from work and the busy-ness and complexity of that ever-thinking Mind.  It is a little present of peacefulness, given to me from me.


Alan Watts explains the difference nicely between considering life as linear sequence of things or chores to “get done” (the Western mindset), and life as organic event unfolding as it will (the Zen mindset).  He reminds us how Western parts of speech do not account for change with the example of the word “fist.”  How can a fist [noun] suddenly disappear when a person opens his hand? Where does it go?

As Watts writes, “The object miraculously vanishes because an action was disguised by a part of speech usually assigned to a thing! In English the differences between things and actions are clearly, if not always logically, distinguished, but a great number of Chinese words do duty for both nouns and verbs—so that one who thinks in Chinese has little difficulty in seeing that objects are also events, that our world is a collection of processes rather than entities.”*

To shift into creative mode, remember it is work too, even if it is more gratifying for the spirit. As Twyla Tharp says: “It is developed through exercise, through repetition, through a blend of learning and reflection that’s both painstaking and rewarding.”**

Walk on!


*Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, 1st ed. 1957 (New York: Vintage, 1999) 5.

**Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2003), 9.

T'ai chi

about Master Zhanguo Peng, the source of t’ai chi awareness in South Bend, IN

Last year, the University of Notre Dame was fortunate to host visiting scholar and T’ai chi master Dr. Zhanguo Peng, an associate professor from the Institute of Chinese Philosophy at Lanzhou University, China. As the 7th generation of descendant of Yang style Tai Chi Chuan, he has practiced Tai Chi for over 20 years and is especially skilled in Pushing Hands. In 2007, he won the championship of Pushing Hands Competition in Gansu province, China. He was awarded Band Six of Chinese Martial Arts and is currently the judge and the guide for the Chinese Martial Arts Association.

I joined in March 2017 and never looked back. He taught in silence and poetic language, and we learned to watch carefully and let the Body-Mind lead the way.  After practicing T’ai chi with the Body-Mind in charge and emerging refreshed, one realizes that the Body-Mind wields an immense power for feeling good, and so life changes its course! Like a mountain stream tumbling through the rocks and roots of a forest, life regains momentum and integrity.

If you, like me, do not have a teacher in person, perhaps you might benefit from the video like I do, every morning. The link to Master Peng’s class at Notre Dame is here:  Master Peng’s T’ai chi class at Notre Dame

This blog is inspired by him and his teachings.



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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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how to stop battling your mind

Well, not every day can be a winner. Today’s mood and the dark, stormy weather inspire more sober thoughts on the battle between the Mind and the Body-Mind. (Even Honey Girl seems a little tired and droopy this evening.)

The desire for certainty and safety prompts people to identify their mind with their self-image. It [the mind] cannot let go of itself. It feels that it should not do what it is doing, and that it should do what it is not doing. It feels that it should not be what it is, and be what it isn’t. 

To cling to the mind’s self-image is thus to be in constant contradiction and conflict.  Hence [Zen master] Yün-men’s saying, “In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.”

In the end, the only alternative to a shuddering paralysis is to leap into action regardless of the consequences […] We must enter into it without second thought, without the arrière-pensée of regret, hesitancy, doubt or self-recrimination. Thus when Yün-men was asked, “What is the Tao?” he answered simply, “Walk on!”

— adapted from Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, 1st ed. 1957 (New York: Vintage, 1989), 138-139, 141.

Bon courage! and let’s hope tomorrow brings more fun!