The Faces of Karma (by request)

forest6When you stand in the forest, and you look around at all the trees, they look like they are individual trees. In reality, they share the same root system and that’s what keeps them so strong.

We’re like that, too. We’re all these individual bodies running around doing this and that, but we are all connected. For left brain proof, if we need that kind of thing, we can look to Einstein’s paper on (and other scientists ideas about) quantum entanglement. For right brain proof (likely not as necessary), we look to collective trends in writing, art, and invention that are not market driven, but that are discovered very close together prior to any notable trend. Take the Elisha Gray/Alexander Graham Bell Controversy, for example. Was this a case of theft or a case of pulling from the collective goo in order to make that telephone we can’t seem to live without?

This connectivity is characterized by different laws. One of those laws is cause and effect. The butterfly flits about in the Amazon and we feel it here.  In Hinduism and Buddhism, the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous lives, determine how they will return in the next. This is Karma. But in Western culture, as we adopt terms and ideas from our Hindu and Buddhist family, we use the term karma synonymously with getting back what you put out. Sort of a negative or positive payback system.

I remember having a conversation with one of my youngest  son’s friends about karma several years back. He was talking about “getting back at someone” and I said something like, “That’s bad karma.”

“I don’t believe in that,” he said, fairly sure I was out to lunch.

“Really?” I asked. “Why not?”

“Well, because my mom did something nice for someone and they didn’t do something nice back…so that’s why.”

(It should be noted here that my kids friends know they are in for philosophical conversations when they set foot in my periphery.)

You can see how he may come to this belief. But karma doesn’t work on a timeline. It’s not like you buy coffee for the person in back of you at Starbucks and then suddenly your coffee right then is free. Nor should you buy that coffee because you expect to get something in return. It dirties the karma.

Last week in my film class, the assignment was to practice level two of giving in Tzedakah, the Jewish system of charitable giving. Here is that description:

Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other.

We had watched Louise Hay’s film, You Can Heal Your Life, where Gay Hendricks tells the story of a man in suicidal state calling him on the phone and telling him he was going to end his life. Gay told him to think of something he could do for someone else. The man said he remembered there was a pile of trash on a neighbor’s doorstep (he didn’t know the neighbor). Gay told him to put down the phone, go clean it up without knocking, and come back to the phone. When the man returned, his whole tone had changed. He no longer felt like taking his life.

I have seen the effects of this over and over, in my life and in my kid’s lives. One of the key steps in recovery from just about anything is service. There’s a reason for that. That’s karma. Whatever you do comes back at you, good or bad.

When my students came back and reported in the results were inspiring. They noticed that by having an assignment to anonymously help someone else, a mindfulness set in that direction. Instead of thoughts about what someone else was not doing for them, they were focused on what they could do for others. This thinking, in one of life’s great paradoxes, is the best form of self care available.

Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time…

“One of the most beautiful compensations in life is that no person can help another without helping themselves.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

PS Sorry, Ems. I know you hate it when people use quotes.

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Movie Me

film1I’m half through teaching my film class at the Center for Spiritual Living in Redding, California. I’m having the best time and I feel the need to tell you why.

I’ve never taught a film class before. I didn’t go to film school (yet!), and until the last few years, my interest in film was confined to the walls of the theater. Still, film and I go way back.

It started when I was 16 and worked at the Gateway Cinema in Anderson (when they actually used film) which is now a Shell station. Back in the day, I worked the night that “ET” came out, when the Halloween series was born, and during the time “Cujo” became a bigger hit than it really deserved to be. On my breaks, we were allowed to go fill up our popcorn and soda containers and go sit and watch a movie for 20 minutes. After hours, the staff would stay around and watch movies together until the wee hours of the morning then go up on the roof and watch the other stars so dense in the Northern California sky. Good times.

In my college years, I dated a guy who hired me and all my family to be movie checkers. (Here’s hoping it’s safe to now release our identities.) We would be given assignments to go to different theaters, buy tickets, order from the concessions, and go to the movies. After, we filled out a report, sent it to the corporate office, and were reimbursed plus paid a fee for our service. It meant movies were free (actually, you made money to go) and kept me regularly attending films. When we broke up, our checking life came to a collective halt.

But living in LA, movies abound, and I didn’t stop going. Also in LA, screenings are a big deal and everybody wants you to come to a free screening. I started enjoying that because you could often see scenes that weren’t in the final cuts. Take “Dances With Wolves.” Remember Kevin Costner’s bare butt? Well, in the screening, there was a lot more of it. (See what you missed?)

My husband and I have gone to movies in the real theater (I’m not even counting the home viewing experience) for 20 years. In fact, our first date was Johnny Rockets and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” in the Santa Monica Promenade. We snuggled and he stroked my forearm for two hours. Lovely. I remember it just like it was yesterday. To this day, our date night is dinner and a movie. We rarely miss a week. When we’re feeling spunky we may even get two movies in over the weekend. That means over our relationship we’ve seen over 1,200 movies out. Between us, and all the movies I’ve gone to with my kids over the years, we’ve definitely earned the “buff” title.

Over the past year, I’ve become very interested in documentaries. This is crosstrainer stuff for me. I’ll explain. I do the crosstrainer for an hour and watch half a documentary one day and half the next. I average three a week because I exercise daily. I started developing a fascination with how much information I could learn in 2 hours. There’s no other way to do that. Reading takes me far longer on the ratio of learning to time. Audiobooks cut off my visual sense. But when I’m watching a documentary, I’m transported to another culture and dropped into a true story of something that happened.

All of it goes back to my love for story in all forms: oral, written, auditory, visual, live and on screen. I love it all, though right now I’m just really in love with film. I’m also in this process of awakening to my own spiritual truths. Don’t read that as religious, because that’s not even close. I think religious systems have a place for some, but they make me feel boxed in and more distant from my Creator. I think of spirituality as those steps that make that connection electric and constant, and that’s what I’m after.

So for this class, I chose spiritual films of all different types: documentaries, docu-dramas, regular dramas and shorts. It was important to me that the friends who would be watching these with me would be touched in the same way I was watching these films. I wanted them to leave, inspired, and ready to experience fuller, happier lives even if they were already happy. I wanted to drop uplifting visuals and words into their subconscious minds that would carry them through their days with a kick in their step. After the films are over, and we have some time to integrate what we’ve seen, I’m reminded so strongly how connected we all are, and how story is such a fabulous way to see that. When we’re all watching the same story it’s like a choreographed ballet under the moonlight while George Winston plays “Autumn” on piano at the Greek Theater. (That may be too specific of a memory for you, but for me, it’s perfect.) We laugh together, cry together, have an “aha” moment together–all in two hours.

I’m not about rushing things or shoving a bunch of stuff in, but we live in a world where that’s part of the gig. The kids need to get to their soccer games, the parents need to get to their jobs, the social stuff needs to find a place in the calendar, blah, blah, blah. We buy ready made veggies just to save an extra two minutes cutting lettuce. How many times do you hear people use the word “busy” to describe their lives (often with a badge of pride) and talk about how things will slow down when they retire. (In my experience of observing retirees, that rarely happens.)

Because of this, film makes great sense. There is really no other way you can learn about a culture of aboriginal people and their relationship with the whales while being transported to Australia and meeting indigenous leaders from all over the world in two hours. (That’s Whaledreamers about the Mirning people, their brothers and sisters the whales/dolphins, and the assault against their land. Phenomenal doumentary.)

Each week my class attendance has increased, and each week I feel more and more blessed. Today, my friend and student Christy stood up in front of the congregation and said (I’m paraphrasing), “You’re missing out if you don’t get your butts to this class.” That made me smile knowing she feels the same way I do about it. What started in a small rural theater as a high school job has turned into a passion, and I’m just so happy to have a group of students to share it with.

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Soul Synchronicities and The Medicine Wheel

medicinewheel4“Synchronicity” was the term popularized by Carl Jung. He even wrote a book on it and alluded to it in many of his works.  It’s what a skeptic may call a coincidence. Jung believed it was anything but happenstance. He believed events, visions, images, dreams tapped into a language, which when noticed, could live a sort of breadcrumb trail to Truth, one’s own individual truth as well as the collective.

I’m big on synchronicities. I’ve even had “synchronicity friends” who I share these with on a very regular basis, though that hasn’t been entirely successful–yet. They usually give up. I will find one, though. I’m sure of it. Because the more you notice and share synchronicities, the more breadcrumbs you get. And I love breadcrumbs. (If you’re reading this and you feel compelled to be my synchronicity friend, that could be a synchronicity!)

One way a synchronicity chain starts for me (if there is a beginning, because it can feel as if it’s more of a continuum than beginning and end) is in a strong Intuition, a Spirit hit (Spir-hit.) This happened to me when we moved into our current house and I had an impulse to have my teenager and his buddy place rocks into the shape of a circle with a cross in the middle right in our own backyard. The metaphor was not lost on me, just the translation. I recognized it as a Medicine Wheel, but did not know why I wanted to do that or what it meant.

“What is it, Jamie?” my son’s friend asked.medicinewheel

“It’s a Medicine Wheel.”

“Oh. What’s it for?”

“I’m not sure yet,” I told him.

That conversation would repeat for the next 7 years every time a service provider, neighbor, or anybody really walked in our backyard. I started feeling a little self-conscious about it. I kept thinking, I’ve really got to look up Medicine Wheels, or program a dream, or do some sort of investigation as to shed a little light on this circle of stones.

Our previous dog would not walk into it. Our current dog has no problem with that. Just something I noticed.

For the past few weeks, Medicine Wheels have started to come on the scene of my life in rapid synchronicity which means it’s calling out for exploration. Example. Last weekend I took my teen and his buddy to a rap concert in Concord, a dream of his for some time now, for his birthday. The next morning, I was working out in the gym of the hotel and did one of those machines where I went on a hike in New Zealand to the Blue Pools. While looking for something to listen to on my Blue Pool’s hike, I stumbled upon a Medicine Wheel podcast.

The podcast said the Wheel represents all parts of a person with the Soul at the center. It’s a healing tool.

Now it just happens that the book I took with me to the concert weekend was Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. (I mean, wouldn’t you, if you were dropping two kids at a Chris Brown/Omarion/Kid Ink/blah blah blah concert?) And, I’d been thinking about what Soul means a lot lately because I’m in my third year of a spiritual practitioner/healer program and we talk about the Soul often.

Additionally, beyond the individual level, I’ve noticed a huge collective shift in self-development and spiritual circles in this direction. In the general public, we are falling away from the conversation of dogma and the old guard rules to more of a direct relationship about the Life that sustains us, give that whichever title you prefer. Even Pope Francis, the Catholic Dalai Lama,  is on board. Nearly every new book on the spiritual bookshelf or workshop given contains the word Soul. There’s a strong focus on waking up, and a recognition that you need to look into that Soul part to start.

As I finished my Soul-focused Medicine Wheel podcast, I took off my headphones and did some free weights. On the TV was a commercial for the sequel (we need a sequel?) to the movie Ted. A scene flashed where the judge is asking the stuffed bear if he thinks he has a soul and he belts out a soul song. The word confusion is supposed to make us laugh (which always works with me, but then I’m quick to laugh), but the serious underlying point is everything has music in it. It’s just a matter of how that will be played out. It makes us think more deeply about what is “Soul.”

When I got back home, I remembered another synchronicity. A dreamer friend, Amy, had posted in-depth information on Medicine Wheels on the Global Dream Initiative, a global collection of dream images and symbols on Facebook originated by Stephen Aizenstat Pacifica University. I jumped in and read. It’s very in depth, but here’s one thing that jumped out from that research:

(Excerpt from Seven Arrows. HYEMEYOHSTS STORM, 1978.)


‘The Medicine Wheel Is the very way of life of the People. It Is an understanding of the Universe. It Is the way given to the Peace Chiefs, our teachers, and by them to us. The Medicine Wheel Is everything of the People. The Medicine Wheel is the Living Flame of the Lodges and the Great Shield of Truth written in the sign of the water. It is the Heart and Mind. It Is the Song of the Earth. It Is the Star-Fire and the Painted Drum seen only In the eyes of the Children.”

I don’t think I’m done with the Big Reveal of the Medicine Wheel. But this is why I love synchronicities. They are like storytellers that you can trust to keep on narrating. They make your life magical, fun, and entertaining. Feel me?


MedicineWheel (2)


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Dream Catchers


I’m coming out of the closet (or at least I’m in the doorway of the closet) on my dream life. I’m not sure why I’m in that doorway in the first place, except that dreams are a subject few people I’m around really get or care about.  They don’t see any relevance to the night world. When I talk about dreams, they may politely nod, but I watch their eyes glaze over and I’m well aware I’ve become that 3 year old recounting a movie plot line.

Abort! Abort! yells Eddie Cat, my teacher for all things appropriate and inappropriate in social interactions.

As not to torture my dream-disinterested friends and family, I decided I needed to find new LIVE people to further my study of dreams. Over 20 years, I had studied books, taken a class at Santa Monica City College on dreams, and done my own recording of dreams for over a decade, but I sensed there was much I was missing. I needed dreaming humans. About a year ago, I spoke my intention out loud in a class full of metaphysical students: I intend to make myself open to people who are interested in the power of dreaming to find me. I will form a dream circle.

After that discussion, a classmate told me she was interested in meeting and had earned a Master’s in Jungian Psychology from Pacifica University, an amazing higher learning campus for depth psychology degrees just out of Santa Barbara, California. We met, along with another classmate, and started to notice an overlapping of dream themes between us. At one point, we incubated a dream for each other, and shared our results. What each of us dreamed for the other person was exactly what the other person needed to know. I knew I needed to probe further into this phenomenon.

To this end, I spent a long weekend down in Santa Barbara at a Dream tending Conference.  Dream tending is an out-of-the-box method honed by Stephen Aizenstat to manage dream symbols, not so much for analyzing a dream, but for merging night images and day images both collectively and individually. Why? To heal the world’s suffering in ways that are not currently being used.

Aizenstat  approaches dream work more as indigenous people did, giving the images voice and finding out what they want to say. It’s a position of respect, listening, and nurturing– an alliance, if you will. Together, these images can bring clarity to this healing.

Out of this methodology, the Global Dream Initiative was born. This is a Facebook group where people from around the world belong and share dream themes, poems, thoughts, ideas, and so forth. But dreams are very personal and fear definitely holds posters back. I can feel that. I understand, also, that posters are selective about what they share.  Nobody really wants to share all about their dream lovers (though that might make for an interesting feed.)

Rather, you begin to see patterns. For example, I kept having dogs in my dreams night after night. This wasn’t all that surprising because we had a new lab puppy who was taking all my time and energy. Next, I dreamed about snakes for a week, definitely not my favorite creature. I mentioned this to Amy, an amazing dream tender and PhD student in this work at Pacifica, in my dream group, The Hummingbird Dream Clan. Amy said, “Did you know that dogs and snakes were the healers in dream temples back in the day?”

No. No I didn’t.

Furthermore, people from all over the world were having dog/snake dreams as well. The only way we knew that, though, was because we were remembering and bringing back our night offerings to share at the GDI breakfast table.

Well, so what. People are having the same dreams. Who cares?

We should all care because we are all connected. This has shown up in my smaller dream group repeatedly. Most members of that group live in Santa Barbara area so they meet live and I have no idea consciously what happens. That night, I have a dream that is of particular relevance to the members of that circle and to that meeting. (They’ve called my dreams clairvoyant and psychic, though those terms feel awkward to me for some reason…like they’re emanating from ego in a way I don’t want to emanate. I prefer to think of it as acutely tuned-in to the frequency they are tuned into.)  I may get symbols that repeat in many forms, or a particular sequence of words, or an image. The next day I post that on our secret group feed and they tell me how it tied in 600 miles away in miraculous ways. It’s still so exciting every time we see the connections, and while we shouldn’t be surprised at this point in the game, we always kind of are.

This information, then, draws italics to a thought, idea, concept. We toss it around and think of how to “tend” to it, both as individuals and as a collective. It takes patience, curiosity, and a strong knowing that this is important work and not irrelevant.

It is also something I believe every person has the ability to do. Many people say they don’t remember their dreams, but that is often accompanied by an “oh well” sort of attitude. Until a person feels that is important, and follows proven steps to remember, that will continue to be what happens.

Some proven ways to remember are:

  • Tell yourself before you go to bed, “I will remember my dream.”
  • Put a journal and a pen (I use a pen with a light my friend Nathan bought me at the dream conference) right by your bed.
  • When you awake, lay still with eyes closed and play back what just happened. Quickly write down one word, symbol, anything. If you are an artist draw the picture you saw.
  • People who sleep with their phones by their bed speak into the recorder to remember.
  • Offer respect to the night world, believing that it has much to offer the day world.

Then, in the morning, log the information in your dream journal. My dream journal is now 60,000 words, 200 pages—the ideal length of a young adult novel. It takes place over 4 years when I started putting it online instead of on paper. I can look back and see patterns, watch premonition dreams unfold, see precognitive dreams serve as beacons in my waking path, track beginnings and endings of relationships, heed clear warnings, know who needs me to contact them, know what subconscious material needs unraveling, see what is happening communally and globally, understand how I may serve that communal need, and just plain see worlds with so many colors and sensations that don’t exist here.

The other bonus is if you work with your images, even the scary ones, it’s like you graduate to a new level. I used to have dreams of people chasing me, but once I learned how to turn and face those images in the dream state, the scary image would fizzle out and be replaced with a comedic, non-threatening being. One I distinctly remember was this terrifying clown coming at me with a knife. I remembered to turn and ask, “What do you want me to know?” The clown turned silly, folded himself up into a jack-in-the-box and said, “That you must turn and ask that question.” Then he sang a silly song and disappeared. I can’t remember the last scary dream I’ve had and that one was several years back. I’m convinced it’s because I faced my fearful images.

And that’s what dream tenders do. They help you dialogue with your images in the waking hours so that you may learn all those parts of yourself trying to communicate with you.

Fascinating. I can’t wait to see what I learn next.

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The Scurvy Elephant

dyerI read Dr. Wayne Dyer’s family’s statement concerning his recent passing. Their pet title for him was the scurvy elephant. It was a term he used to show that going against what everyone thinks you should do can often be the path to your personal success. Like the kite rising against the wind.

What a perfect fit. Not only was he one of my most revered spiritual teachers (and continues to be), but he was so playful. He stood strong for his inner voice. He was a gentle giant, both physically and spiritually. Always the teacher, he has stirred many, many souls.

I first discovered Dr. Dyer in an unusual way. My youngest son (now 17) was a young child, picture book age. We read to him nightly and were always on the lookout for material that opened him to higher consciousness than the average picture books were pulling off. I stumbled upon two of Dyer’s works for children. They broke many rules I’d been told at writing conferences one shouldn’t break (like they rhymed, for example), but they soon became my favorites because Dyer’s spirit came through loud and clear.

I started reading his other work, not the early bestsellers, but the ones after he’d shifted into the path lead by his own intuitive voice. Those are the ones I love because his authenticity comes through. He talks about this transition in his movie “The Shift.” Hay House (his publisher) has recirculated this film following his passing, and is offering it for free for a short time to honor Dr. Dyer.

In that film, set at Asilomar in Monterey, California, we see a variety of people in different stages of trying to find out what indeed stirs their soul. In the the A-plot, Dr. Dyer is being interviewed about a current book he is writing, by a frustrated, high-strung filmmaker. The two men are in very different life phases. The filmmaker chases all the wrong rainbows. He’s rude and restless. Dyer, on the other hand, is very invested in learning about Asilomar and being very present. He wakes at 3:15,  says Thank you to Spirit, and he moves through the day soaking up each moment and interaction.

He talks about how, when he made this shift to wanting to write about this spiritual connection, his agent resisted. The agent wanted him to write about sex and money–stuff that sells. Dyer refused to go against his inner voice. He insisted he needed to write this “spiritual” book, despite all the publishing push backs and small advance. These writings were, of course, his greatest hits. Dyer’s commitment to his intuition reminded me of the importance of really trusting your inner voice, even when the pressure gets strong to ignore it.

An avid collector of Dyer’s work, I owned this film when it first came out. I loaned it to someone, forgot who (if you are reading this, I wouldn’t mind if you returned the DVD), and forgot about the film. When I got the link to watch for free this past week, I did. Just having been to Asilomar for a conference a few months back, I experienced walking the grounds in a whole new way during this viewing.

It is not the first conference I’ve been to at Asilomar. I can’t say that when I’ve been there, I’ve been in love with the facility. It’s rustic. The rooms range from very rustic to nice rustic, but they’re all rustic. I prefer places with robes and slippers (as does Portia di Rossi in the film.) The meals are expensive for what they are. It’s hard to find the various rooms and I get lost every time, especially at night. Parking is hard to come by and you usually have to park far away and walk until your feet hurt, often in the rain.

But as I sat there and watched, I felt ashamed of myself for not appreciating the beauty more when I’ve been there. I felt like the filmmaker in the film who was too preoccupied looking at what’s wrong to see what’s right. I decided this: I am going to look at Asilomar differently next time I go. I will be there next spring because I serve on a Board that has their annual conference there and part of my service means I go to Asilomar annually. It will be a good time to practice.

Last night, in my dream, the words the scurvy elephant popped into my head. I woke up and guess what time it was? Yep. 3:15. I walked to my office, thinking about how Dyer said he loved the house at that hour when everybody was still and asleep, and sat at my desk in the dark. I reached to turn on my desk lamp, but I had placed Dyer’s little book of Everyday Wisdom where the switch was. I smiled, opened the book in the dark, and turned on my lamp. I had turned to page 137 and this is what it read:

No one can create anger in you. Only you can do that by the way you process the world.

How poignant. And what’s more, you can substitute the word anger for any emotion: indifference, irritation, happiness, bliss–you name it. It’s so simple, and yet so profound.

The scurvy elephant continues to shine the light on me, and I know for sure, I’m not the only one.


Posted in conscious living, health, healthy living, Inspiration, metaphysical, mindful, spiritual, Synchronicity, United Advocates for Children & Families, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Choosing Perspective

perspectivecollageWhen I start a novel, I think a lot about point of view before I ever lay finger to keyboard. Should I write the story I want to tell in first person or in third person POV? Each has advantages and disadvantages. The breakout session is available at pretty much any writing conference.

I often make a choice to write it one way, then end up rewriting it the second way, which sucks and consumes about an extra year. The reason, though, is that perspective is key to the story, and it’s not always obvious which is the best perspective to choose. Which view does the story demand?

Such is the truth in life. We have to think about how we want to look at things.

Things happen. People we love die. Pets we love die. People we love suffer. We suffer. Markets go crazy for this reason or that. We worry if we’ll have enough…

Enough love. Enough life. Enough time. Enough friends. Enough house. Enough money. Enough.

We attended a funeral for one of my best friend’s from high school yesterday whose wife died recently. I had been disconnected from him for the past few years, but wanted to support him, and my mom read about her passing in the obits which (disturbingly) she reads daily.

She was 51. I’m 51. She grew up near Salinas. I was born in Salinas. Even though I didn’t know her very well, it was really the first time a peer so close in age went so quickly. I told my husband on the way to the service that my perspective on death is so different than most other people I know and it makes me stop and wonder why…how it got that way.

When someone dies, the first thing I feel is gratitude for any time I might have had with that person. Every person I meet (even the ones that bug me) are such a unique representation of Spirit that I feel I could spend hours in their back story, learning the nuances of who they are and what made them that way. The next feeling I have is excitement for them about their next experience. I suppose that comes from not believing that death is the end, or that a future is bound by this or that religious restriction. It’s my perspective. This POV is not one I sit around and convert other people to or demand is right at cocktail parties. It’s just how I see things.

The beautiful thing is everybody sees things differently. Let’s take religions. There are so many gems to be taken from the various traditions and to be enjoyed by all. In Thich Nat Han’s “Roots of Peace” documentary, he compares religions to fruits in the orchard and how we can enjoy all of them. The apple does not get jealous of tasting the mango or the banana. 

I’ve always believed that. I love the fact that each person can have such different experience, such different perspective, and that we can share with each other what those are. I believe how each person reacts to that exchange really colors the life they will lead.

Let’s take the weather. It’s changing now, the hot days of summer giving way to Autumn. People complain all summer long about the heat, but I guarantee you in no time someone will say, “I’m ready for summer” especially if it starts to rain for more than two days in a row. But it really is always perfect, if you adjust your perspective. It depends on you.

This past weekend, my husband and I took our new puppy to a Redding landmark (the Sundial Bridge) which is really the center of many controversial perspectives. The reason for that is it cost a bunch of money in a town that isn’t rolling in the dough and though funded by private foundations, was thought to be a waste. Perspective number one.

But as we walked our 4 month old little guy across the breathtaking Sacramento River, watching the geese float down and fly over early morning fishing boats as they scaled the river for salmon…as we stopped and talked to friendly locals and out-of-towners alike, bonding over our love of just taking a simple walk with a pet and soaking up the shifting clouds…working our way down the hill to the river’s edge and watching our pup frolic in the cold Sacramento…and wandering through the paths of plants and trees to the Children’s Garden…

I thought, This is such a good reason to come to Earth. Just to soak up these simple, perfect moments. And then, How easy it is to miss these moments, communing with nature and life, because we’re so busy doing this or that or the other not as important thing or worrying about what was or what is to come…

We walked up a path to a water feature and watched Kai just soak up the moment. We laughed at his ability to play and just be present From his perspective, nothing was better than that moment. There was no market crashing in China, no novel to finish and sell, no house to cleanfountain, or bill to pay, or plan to re-evaluate, or future to worry about, or funeral to think about, or religion –anything. From his perspective, it was all about the feel of the froth on his tongue and cold water on his belly. That’s all that mattered.

We can learn so much from our pets if we just listen.

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Collaboration, Consensus and Connection

Circle HandsEach child is so unique, so precious. My youngest boy (nearly an adult at this point) is a post-modern leader. He, like Nelson Mandela, leads from behind. He’s all about consensus and the group. He has never been the kid that needs to hog the basketball and make the most points at the soccer goal. There’s a place for those leader types, but that’s not the type of leader he is. It’s a very post-modern/ancient stance.

Because in the West we value the aggressive, take charge kind of leaders–a holdover from pioneering days, no doubt– sometimes his skills go unnoticed in the small rural town where we live that still adheres to Friday Night Light Football. However, there is no single doubt in my mind that he will go on to bring groups of people together to do great things. That’s because I see his unique position in the universe, his gifts to both lead and follow, in an evolutionary kind of way.

That, in fact, has been the theme of my week. Working together and relationship. I see so many groups of people make such slow progress because of two very predictable things: their inability to get along and the lack of passion (compassion) to an overall purpose which serves not just themselves, but all of humanity. They want to be the heroes in the kingdoms they choose–to score all the baskets–because that is what makes them feel best about themselves in their world. They feel they help their team and their egos all at once.

I find this annoying. Yet the truth is, there’s a place for all types of leadership, even the ones I feel are rooted in ego. Because of that, I have made a decision to see the God behind each person unconditionally. I mean everybody. And that’s not always easy to do because some people are just plain obnoxious and mean, and their motives are not always pure.

So what I do is ask myself this question: if I was this child’s mother, what would I see in that child that I loved?  What do I see in this person as a strength that I would want to nurture to make that child the best they could be?

That brings me to this week. Our culture often does this “other” thing with children who have mental health challenges. They act as if their own children shouldn’t play with a child who has mental health issues or they may catch it. They stigmatize the child which makes the problem worse. In reality, all of us have experienced emotions, that had they extended past the current DSM measurement, could be considered mental illness. When this happens to children, and there is no net there to catch them, we have wasted an opportunity to direct another change agent.

Yet many places are doing this right. They believe in (alas, invest in) prevention and early intervention (PEI) of mental illness, getting in right at the beginning signs. Someone explained to me this week that in California PEI  falls at the bottom of the funding pyramid. By the time we get down through the funds for crisis situations there’s very little funding left.

But, California, wasn’t that what the whole Prop 63 (aka Millionaire’s Tax aka MHSA funds) thing? Hundreds of millions of dollars were to be allotted to prevention and early intervention in children and adults, were they not? It seems to me, having sat in a few of these meetings and leaving completely frustrated, that these monies are being taken over by mental health agencies and not being used in the way they were intended by Darrell Steinberg when he wrote the initiative. Am I right, Mr. Steinberg?

I KNOW there are solutions that would work. Let’s take peer mentoring programs. Children with mental health issues have a tremendous difficulty making true friends and developing solid, stable, healthy relationships. Mentoring programs are evidence-based in reading and social development. Why not have the great mental health advocacy groups joint venture to develop strong mentoring programs where children on both sides would benefit? The mentor would develop compassion and understanding, while the mentee would get a taste of what healthy friendship in somebody close to their age range looks like.

It will take collaborative leaders (and world views) like my youngest son. It will take team work without ball hogs out to stroke their egos. We’re moving in this direction in our collective consciousness. I see it in the kids, and it gives me hope.


Posted in co-creating, conscious living, early onset bipolar disorder, healthy living, hope, mental health, mental health and children, mentoring, parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Getting off the Red Chair

FullSizeRender (1)It’s nice and cozy in the familiar. I like it there. My favorite familiar is my big, overstuffed dark red chair and my laptop in my office.  When I plan my weeks, I’m very careful to squeeze out as much chair time as possible. I’m selective about coffee dates, phone calls, and social calls. As I near the completion of my second novel, my word count directly correlates to my chair time which makes time there all the more valuable to me.

In fact, it’d be easy just to stay in my big red chair and not go anywhere. I get lost in that spot and in the stories in my imagination. It’s where I’m most relaxed.

But the familiar is not necessarily where we grow. It’s the unfamiliar–the new, the never done–that creates the tension necessary for evolution.  And these are the things that make us anxious and butterfly-y. (That should be a word if it’s not.) When things make us anxious, it’s easy to pull back and release the tension by avoiding the unfamiliar landscape instead of exploring new lands with humans in them as we are meant to do. It’s easy to quickly fall back in the big, red chair.

I totally get it. In fact, I have the dialogue with myself constantly. Yet, when I do the new thing I’m prompted to do, the resources always line up and I find myself witnessing a line of synchronicities that prove how magical life is. I grow.

A few of these new things are going down for me over the next few weeks. One of those is the Parent Cafes I’m hosting with my friend Marcia for United Advocates for Families and Children. Since there’s no money to spend, I’ve been going out wrestling (and I do mean wrestling) donations in a town where many of the vendors are donationed out. I have to follow up 4, 5, 6 times in some cases.

“Me, again. Not here? Okay, can I leave a number?” That’s my line.

It’s tiring.  But we want to put on a nice evening for parents to bond, brainstorm and feel supported–a respite from the confusion of parenting a child with mental health challenges–and you can’t really have a “cafe” without food, right? (I mean, I could, but I’m talking about the rest of the world.)

Getting the grub, laying out the evening, coordinating around two schedules, wondering if we will connect with the people who really need this–all this pulls the tension. Not on a huge scale, mind you, but on a scale strong enough that I feel myself squiggling outside my comfort zone.

I keep thinking, I’ve got to do this every month?! 

That’s when the love/hate thing happens. It’s like going to the gym. It’s hard to get yourself there sometimes, and it hurts to work hard, but nobody ever leaves the gym feeling worse. On the contrary, they feel empowered…stronger. We know that we are co-creating the world that we live in and it is up to us to be an equal partner in that creation. To work our muscles.

Where is your big, red comfy chair? More importantly, where do you need to get out of it and go?


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The River

kayak2We’re all just walking each other home.  Ram Dass

…or maybe we’re kayaking…?

I had a dream last week about a river. This is how I would describe it to my dream group.

The River

River winds through a lush green valley. He is wide, and green and beautiful. Lush foliage licks his sides. The sun can hardly compete with the canopy of green. But where it shines through, I see bright, powder blue fading into Indigo shades. River sparkles. I watch it flow. There is no doing in this moment. Only watching, being, feeling the connection of all of it. 

I italicized that for a reason. Even though I’m a Westerner, and know I’m surrounded by so many who don’t value the dream’s place in the world as I do, every ounce of me knows dreams hold vast information that can upgrade our experience individually and communally. I love being around those who know this because the work becomes deeper and does not rest in the cold water of the surface. There’s no getting used to the conversation or funny looks that go along with it. I can immediately drop down into making connections about what matters, what can be helpful.

This is not to say the dream needs to be defined any more than a dip in the ocean needs to be defined. But just as when I swim in the ocean I feel the connection to all that is, rocked to and fro by Gaia herself, I feel this with dreams.

Still, over the years, I’ve developed a dictionary of symbols in my head. They are my own and can’t be found in the back of a dream book. Rivers, for me, are life. Green rivers are paths to grow by. We travel down the river and we can choose to flow or to swim upstream. People join us and they fall off. Sometimes it’s messy and sometimes it’s beautiful. But most of all, it just is.

I think that’s why I like dreams so much. They aren’t filled with bullet points and lists. Hell, I don’t even know if I have clothes on in my dreams. I’m always looking out, not examining my physical being. In waking life, there is so much focus on that, but in dream life, it’s all just taken care of. No laundry. No picking outfits. No meal planning. It just is.

As the Dalai Lama says, “Sleep is the best meditation.”

And dreaming, then, the purest form of visualization. The beauty is in the noticing of details, of listening to the sounds, of integrating all these into the day time. How peaceful life would be if we could just sit and watch the river.

Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake? Leonardo da Vinci


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Seeking Solutions

rainbowI had a conversation last week with a consultant who worked in Los Angeles Department of Mental Health for 36 years overseeing children’s mental health services. He’s seen many changes. The most profound, perhaps, is the amount of money available now vs. then in the 80s when it wasn’t believed children could have mental health issues.

People often ask me whether they think too many kids are being diagnosed with this and that, or if we are just learning more about the brain and are not sticking our heads in the sand as was our legacy from the 50s. My experience has been that families struggle to get a diagnosis, and that it can take years to get a correct one. In my 20 years of interfacing with stories involving the mental health system I’ve never heard a parent/grandparent/caretaker say, “Wow they rushed in on that diagnosis.”

Nope. Never.

But outside that controversy, we can probably all agree on one thing: as a community, we are ill-prepared to deal with the amount of children and teens (counting transitional youth, or TAY as they’re known in agency circles) that are suicidal, depressed, or spinning out in some way that is destructive to them, their families, and their communities. This is true across the country, world, and in both urban and rural areas. However, rural areas have their own set of challenges, and I have seen those in Shasta County.

First, there are agencies like Department of Mental Health. I’ve never interfaced with this department personally, but I’ve heard stories. My sense is–and I have no first hand knowledge–that the agency works for those patients who qualify at a certain economic level. In classes I’ve taught, I’ve heard foster parents talk about wrap-around services for the foster kids. I’ve heard people who qualify for Medi-cal talk about services for their kids. But I don’t hear or see too many solutions for the kids on the edge who are still living with their original families, and whose families make too much money to qualify for services, but not enough to fund all the help they need.

For these children, not only are they prevented from services to help their families and themselves on the agency side, but they also struggle to find help in the private sector. Even if they have insurance and can pay the high fees/co-pays for psychology professionals, finding them is a near impossibility in rural areas. Mental illness is not a poor people disease. It is an equal opportunity disabler.

This has been a frustration of mine over the past few years. I hear the parents of children/teens/TAY talk about how they’d like to help their kids (and they know something is wrong), but had no idea where to turn and find their loved ones in prison/dead/run away. Tragic endings where there didn’t need to be.

But this week I saw a rainbow in this cloudy conundrum. Following my conversation with this previous employee of DMHLA, I felt inspired and hopeful. He has been a consultant on a program that USC has been piloting using the Telemed idea of Skyping with patients. They have joined forces with LA County and are on the final stages of joining with United Advocates for Children and Families to set up shop in Monterey County. The families have access to care several times a week via computer and high speed internet. If that is not a resource they have at home, a “suite” is set up near the home that they can use. It is my dream that all levels of income can activate this system at some point.

Why? Because the results have been outstanding. In fact, 75% of families say this has worked as well or better than in person meetings. Some reasons are they don’t have to take their mentally ill child (who have been known to try and jump out of moving cars in an episode) to an appointment. The child’s more apt to show their true colors in their own atmosphere. Additionally, more people can be seen by multiple therapists through this system instead of just having one per county with a list so long there is no possible way kids can be seen.

Early intervention with children is key. Procrastination (either by family or professional services) can cause irrevocable brain damage and emotional trauma. This Telemed system just might be one answer to how we avoid losing kids while we fix our broken mental health system.

I’m inspired.

Posted in bipolar disorder, co-creating, conscious living, early onset bipolar disorder, healthy living, Inspiration, mental health, mental health and children | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment