Cultivate a Calm and Healing Presence

I know people who can walk into a room and bring a sense of calm. Others might be nervous or upset, but these people seem to bring a peaceful presence just by showing up. 

I want to be more like them.

If I’m agitated, other people pick can up on my emotions and become agitated too. We humans tend to do that because we are socially attuned to each other’s moods. Likewise, if I can center myself, others can sense that and become more grounded.

When I’m open enough to listen deeply to someone without agenda or needing to counterpoint or defend, I create a space where they can feel heard, and they are more able to release their need for agenda or counterpoint or defense. Creating a space of deep listening brings the healing quality of connection, but it is not easy to do in stressful conversations.

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Momentary Awakenings

I have momentary awakenings throughout the day. These are not dramatic bolts of enlightenment; they are small moments of expanded awareness when I lift my head from the daily details that absorb my attention and see the world from a broader perspective. I become a witness to my experience as well as the actor in my experience.

These awakenings happen in planned and unplanned ways. When I sit to meditate or pray, I am intentional about settling into my body and opening to my inner and outer surroundings. At other times, the expansion happens spontaneously, when my attention is pulled from the fog of ordinary consciousness by something I hear or notice or remember.

The shift to expanded consciousness brings me into a more intimate contact with the juice, texture, and vibrancy of life. Things feel more intensely real, an intensity that is dimmed when I operate in the fog of ordinary consciousness. This intimacy can be peaceful, a sensation of breathing and merging with direct experience in an exquisite beauty of stillness. But it can also be uncomfortable, bringing up the urge to flee.

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Wise Words – The World Is Full of Magic Things

“The world is full of magic things waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”

William Butler Yeats


I can’t be sure this quote belongs to W.B. Yeats, but it certainly fits with how he saw the world, as a place of enchantment.

It places the source of wonder not in our powers of vision, but in the things around us. It is the world that is alive and we who are the dullards. If we can look up from the mental whirlwinds that absorb us and drop the preconceived packaging we use to keep the world safely in place, we can awaken our senses and see where magic is afoot.

For most of us, our perceptions are dimmed because we look at life through the same old, tired filters. These filters fog our perception like glasses made from Coke bottle bottoms. But we can revive our senses by dropping our filters, even briefly.

I will make you a promise. Try this experiment of attention and attitude for 30 seconds, and your senses will awaken to things you have been ignoring.

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I’m Not a Very Good Mystic

I’m not a very good mystic.

I spend most of my time absorbed by the tasks and routines of the day. I would call this my ordinary state of consciousness, where I am focused on my perspective as an individual, moving through the world as a separate being. Periodically, something shifts my state. It could be a passage I read, even a single word, like “grace” or “love.” It could be a comment I overhear about someone’s troubles, or a patch of color that catches my eye from a flower bed or a shaft of light.

In these small moments, I shift into an expanded consciousness. My senses widen and I drop into a more vibrant world. I feel the current of life pass through me as everything becomes unreasonably simple and clear, and I remember I am part of something larger. The shift sometimes feels abrupt, leaving me amazed at how I could have been satisfied with the shallow perception that filled my attention just a moment ago. I wonder, “How could I ever leave this more expanded, peaceful, connected space?”

But leave it I do. I am usually pulled back into ordinary reality fairly quickly.

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Wise Words – Your Most Important Spiritual Task: Opening Your Heart

“If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

C.S. Lewis


A sadness comes over me as I read these words and recognize the truth of it in me. Over the years, I have learned how to protect myself by armoring my heart.  

We all do, I suppose. Shortly after our birth, the world began to show us it can be a hurtful place. One moment, we felt a sense of union and safety with our parents, and the next, we felt the devastating ache of absence. So, we learned to shield ourselves from painful feelings by shutting off the heart. 

These preverbal lessons embedded themselves in the first layers of our psyche. And perhaps the most painful early scar was to adopt the false belief that somehow the fault must be in us, that we are not lovable. In various ways, we all share the early tragic misconception that we are not okay as we are.

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It’s the Small Things That Support a Steady Practice          

There’s a funny thing that happens when I sit to meditate. 

All by themselves, my hands find a familiar spot at my waist, one atop the other, turned upward like an open cup, middle fingers nested together at the first knuckle, the tips of my thumbs barely touching, as if they could lightly hold a piece of paper.

I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind when I started to meditate years ago, and that was how Shunryu Suzuki said to place your hands. Now, my hands take this position automatically, almost unnoticed. When I sit, this habit sets a quiet mood. Subtle signals to my brain remind me to relax and open.

This is one of the quiet advantages of keeping a routine in our practice. Our minds like the familiarity of patterns and will draw cues from repetition. Small routines work better than willpower in maintaining a spiritual practice. Setting up an environment that nudges our behavior is more effective than grit.

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Wise Words – A World in Chaos, or the Birth of a New Consciousness?

Just before [an airplane] cracks the sonic barrier, there’s increased vibration and greater resistance . . . In our present state of evolutionary development, you might say we are flying just beneath the sound barrier of consciousness . . . On the other side of the sonic boom, we discover heightened connection, transparency, integration and resonance – more unity. 

People all over the world are experiencing decidedly tumultuous times.  Perhaps this is a sign that we’re moving closer to the “speed of sound” – closer to new consciousness. Of course, the faster we travel, the more volatility we meet – until we have breached the membrane and exceeded previous evolutionary limitations. What a beautiful boom that will make.

Thomas Hübl, from his book, Attuned


We live our lives in the day-to-day, so it’s easy to miss the longer view. In the day-to-day, we attend to the details of living life. The coffee pot, the kid’s breakfast, the list of appointments, errands, deadlines, and obligations, these all have their rightful place and deserve our attention.

We usually view the news while in the day-to-day mode of attention. Each item appears on the screen as a separate event and taken together, they sometimes paint a distressing picture. Extreme weather events, shootings, scenes of war, political gridlock, social unrest, hateful displays – we absorb the parade of disturbing headlines and react to each, feeling our emotions and grappling to make sense of it. 

And it seems to be getting worse, each day more extreme, the suffering amplified, our bodies more fatigued, and our emotions more numb. The speed of it is disorienting. We want it to slow down, for the madness to stop, for things to go back to normal.

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Stop, Look, and Let Your Eyes Adjust

I live in Sacramento, a good-sized city. Light pollution from buildings and parking lots clouds the night sky, making star gazing a limited adventure.

I recently went to Crater Lake, Oregon, high in the Cascade mountain range, far from any population centers. At night, the sky was spattered with stars, like confetti littering the street after a Superbowl parade. I could make out the Milky Way, a faint background haze stretching across the black from horizon to horizon.

I was amazed, speechless, mesmerized. Now I know what they mean when they say “star-struck.”

I walked along the rim trail walk away from the lodge, the only lighted building nearby. When I felt the darkness around me was complete, I stopped and did nothing but look for several minutes. As I stared upward, my eyes continued to adjust, and the whole starlight show slowly unfolded. More sparkles appeared with each passing minute. They filled in the spaces where I had thought there was only black. I began to think that if I could see it all, there would be more light than dark.

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Writing to Remember the Things I Mostly Forget

Writing a weekly blog on spiritual growth is fascinating. It has become a consistent morning practice for me. I usually start with pen and paper and ask, “what wants to be written today?”  I love the delicious glide of writing with a fountain pen, watching words flow onto the paper in dark ink. I move to the keyboard once the shape of an idea begins to fill out.

Honest writing is hard work. It’s like throwing a vase on a potter’s wheel, except you don’t know when you start that you’re making a vase, so you do a lot of starting over. The drafting, editing, and re-drafting process forms a playground where I continually discover more about this spiritual road we’re all walking.

I write to clarify my thinking, to retrieve bits of myself that have scattered about, to find some ideas worth sharing with others. But perhaps the main reason I write is because I want to remember the things I mostly forget.

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Entering the State of Presence Through Beauty

Light and air are different in Ireland. Shifting clouds and the low angle of the sun against the landscape create an atmosphere filled with magic. On a drive through the far west, Linda and I break over a rise and are caught by a spectacular view where light, air and rugged coast join together to amaze. We stop, wordless, to watch.

The sun’s shallow light illuminates a fog above the whitecaps. As each wave hits the rocks, it throws out a spray that mingles with the mist. For a moment, all the parts cohere. Light and air become one thing moving over the water, absorbing the black rocks and green fields. The light emanates from everywhere with no discernable source. The air breathes, exhaling wet and heavy with each breaking wave. 

I am lost in the scene. I feel expanded, lighter, more real, remembering my place in a larger scheme. Taking in this impossible moment, this extravagant beauty, I am changed.

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