“Don’t make an identity out of suffering,” the bemused and quiet voice in my head repeated, enunciating clearly for the second (or was it third?) time, as though speaking to a friend in hushed tones in the back of church during a silent bit. An insistence underlay the bemusement; “No, really. Don’t make an identity out of suffering. There’s no need.”

On thinking back to what I was like as a child, I remember a buoyant optimism, and grounded conviction that the commandant to “love one another, as I have loved you,” was something that was a simple given. A fallen out friendship with a boy in second grade brought about matter of fact pronouncements to my friends that it was okay, that sometimes people still loved each other but couldn’t be together anymore because they were unhappy, but it would all be fine and they could go about living quite contentedly. It’s puzzling, then, and I’m not quite sure how it happened, that I spent much of my teen years, twenties, thirties, and yes…forties living the antithesis of that early optimism and grounded contentment, the connectedness to The Whole seemingly absent.

I went through seasons of depression, waves of despair. I clung to every negative story or event like a sticky burr on felt, weaving the experiences together into a thick and sticky cocoon. I stubbornly refused to forgive, even if I pretended I had on the surface, or to myself. It felt safe. People listened to my stories as I retold them again and again, further matting the threads of my cocoon into an impenetrable fortress, pretending to myself (and everyone around me) that I was a hapless prisoner. It’s an easy way out. You get to not really own your stuff, and people around you say kind things to reassure you. Nadia Bolz-Weber said it well: we are the small sheep because it feels safe and comforting.

Sometimes we repeat things enough that they become blindingly obvious, even to us: an elephant sized backpack of grudges, fears, personal opinions and beliefs is, well, elephantine. If we can move beyond our internal eyerolling and self castigation at that realization to a place of honest compassion and non-resistance, they are our most excellent teachers. The tougher an outer shell, the more obvious a hole becomes, even if it’s tiny, and especially when it lets the light in. Our egos have done their best to keep us safe, even if it was in a way that really makes no sense.

There is a subtle aliveness that we can sense inside our bodies, and it’s always there. There is space between our cells into which this aliveness fits, like a matrix. The aliveness is expansive and difficult to describe; on asking if it would be large though to haul around all my stories and beliefs, that same clear, bemused voice asked, “What on earth for?”

We are not our stories or beliefs. We are not our achievements. We are not our jobs. We are not our failures, our miseries, our clothes, our friends, our social media profiles. We are not even our physical bodies, and we are not our thoughts. We simply are.

With gratitude.

This evening I came across this National Geographic video about Glen Canyon Dam featuring a woman who had walked Glen Canyon naked in the 1950s. She is now in her 90s, and remains incredibly luminous. Her comments in the film about how alive she felt, with colors seeming brighter, sounds intensified and a simple (yet unforgettable) joy in her soul led me to think about the sacredness of the here and now. Could it be that what she experienced was a result of intense mindful attention to the present moment that just occurred naturally because of the space she was in, devoid of distraction, and in the company of a couple of close friends with whom she could be wholly and unapologetically herself? The simple action of paying attention to what is here right in front of us right now often results in a more vivid lived experience.

Our entire culture revolves around distracting ourselves from the Gollum quality of our souls, yet our grasping, wanting Little Me selves with all the antics are not our true selves. Our true selves are the deeper, observing still presence that resides within all of us and connects us to our Source (and each other), yet so often we forget it, listening instead to our Gollum, and continuing to believe that we are separate and alone. When you see your ego for what it is – a mess of mind stories that masquerade as a “self” – and sense the immeasurably deep presence underlying it, you can’t help but smile. Seeing the truth is liberating, and allows unconditional love to flourish; the more you see it in yourself, the more easily you can see the true nature in others, shining below the surface behaviors and posturing and chameleoning that frequently goes hand in hand with an age devoted to personal branding. The peace from recognizing that we are not separate or alone is immeasurable, particularly when we find ourselves physically separated from loved ones through geography or other circumstance (such as death).

The underlying presence is difficult to describe in words, suffice to say that when you see it, your heart will leap with joy, a burden will lift from your shoulders, and you will likely laugh with the compassionate recognition of simply how much delusion is wrapped up in your ego. I believe this essence is what is described by Buddhists as Buddha Nature, and perhaps in Christianity as the Christ energy or Holy Spirit (though having only recently reconnecting to my Christian roots, I’m still pondering that one.)

So what to do with this new found realization? It comes with an obligation to be kind in your recognition of true nature in others and seeing their egoic behaviors; they, too, struggle just as we all do. It comes with the need to remain humble, for we inevitably slip in and out of our remembrance of our true nature, too. Kindness, compassion, humility are where it’s at. What can you do today to honor those values?

Today she decided to give up high strung
At life’s rat wheeling vicissitudes
(That in truth were a figment of a rather fervent imagination,
A story of bourgeoisie suffering,
Rather than any real starvation or pestilences.)
“Perhaps the Taoists have it right,” she pondered
From her frangipani scented
Modern miracle,
Flowing cleanly from the spout in the bathroom wall
And enveloping her pale nakedness
With its gas fracked warmth.
There is joy in surrender to the path
Twisting and curling like water around
The river stone blockade
That stands stolidly
While the ripples laugh past.

Singing frogs and dripping rain.
The kitchen fridge hums against tyres that sloosh past
On their way to
Nowhere in particular.
Darkness outside cocoons the harshness of the kitchen light,
A simplicity of chairs against a blue floral papered backdrop.
The world does not come crashing down
Despite silent suffering or
Wailing and gnashing teeth
And desperately scrabbling resistance
Against what is.
Nor does it tapdance at our joys.
It simply goes on dripping. And singing. And humming. And slooshing.

Somewhere along the way, I developed an aversion to the word “sin”. It conjured images of piously judgmental, sternly frowning clergy and thinly pursed lipped old women looking at me and obviously finding me wanting. It reeked of everything I hated about religion…the human judgment of human foibles, the stone throwing from within rather precarious glass houses, and yet the stuff that is called “sin” is everywhere, and is pretty normal human behavior (as much as we don’t like it). But substitute the Buddhist idea of unconsciousness – or unenlightenment – and the idea of sin becomes more workable, gentler, more amenable to change.

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our unconsciousness
as we forgive those who behave unconsciously around us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from our delusions and those of others
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.


We, as a culture, both in the United States and Australia, spend an inordinate amount of time fighting Things. We fight other humans in ongoing military arenas, obviously, but daily life has also become absolutely saturated with the language and zeitgeist of fighting everything from cancer to drugs to clutter to thigh gaps. We are at constant war… ever vigilant against others and ourselves. You have to wonder what this constant saturation of fearfulness and ready to fight or flee posturing does to us: I suspect it isn’t good.

Yet there is power in surrender to what is, even if we don’t like whatever it is that is happening. At a certain point, fighting becomes exhausting, and we have no choice but to surrender and let go. We let go of expectations. We let go of wanting things to be different. We let go of needing to be right, to be the “winner”, to stand out from the crowd. There is a quiet dignity in stand still in the moment of surrender, feeling the roaring of the collapse of our egoic dreams as they shatter and crumple, leaving us naught but the simplicity of surrender, for it is in this moment that we are able to hear the quiet whisper of God. If only we allowed this to happen without all the fighting amongst and within ourselves first, without the grasping of our mind to the idea of What Will The Neighbors Think? or This Is Not How My Life Should Be.

I don’t believe in the Devil as an external being, but The Devil as utterly delusional unconsciousness that torments us in our minds as irrational beliefs and thoughts? Now that one I do believe in. God manifests in us as the wordless stillness that accepts everything and judges nothing. God manifests as the small, quiet voice of reason that recognizes the rest of the crap that we rail against or cling to – constantly and unnecessarily. It is through the shattering of our imagined reality that real reality can manifest.

Stop fighting it. All of it. Really. Just stop. There is peace beyond understanding in acceptance (not meaning we have to stay in bad situations, but we can accept the present moment for what is is with clarity), and the possibility of a different direction emerging when we do.

It’s easy to jump on the bandwagon of new years’ resolutions. This year I’m going to get skinny! (And then I’ll be happy.) This year I’m going to get rich! (And then I’ll be happy.) This year I’m going to eat only vegetables lovingly raised in fields where music is played to the plants every night and cosmic healing ceremonies are conducted to optimize growth! (And then I’ll be happy.) Ad infinitum. The problem is, when we attach ourselves to something external in the hope of making ourselves happy, it’s doomed to failure, because of the very nature of externalities: in short, they’re a band aid that sooner or later falls off and floats around aimlessly in the swimming pool of life, ultimately just clogging the filter.

Having said that, I have known for some time that I need to make some changes in my life. I’ve been groping around looking for answers (mostly in books), but ultimately ignoring the elephant in the room: a complete lack of authenticity. Many of us, particularly women, are vulnerable to the chameleon effect where we become cleverly adept at adjusting our own behavior to fit with others’, particularly when we want them to like us. Small amounts of this can be helpful in increasing our capacity for social interaction; large amounts can mean we lose sight of who we are. Sometimes we get so good at chameleonism that we don’t realize when we’re doing it. Adding the societal expectation that women in particular are supposed to be self sacrificing in order to be a Good Woman is a recipe for deep unhappiness.

So, with great trepidation mixed with courage and curiosity, I embark on a journey this year to figure out how to be me, to find that authenticity. This doesn’t mean a year of focusing on me me me necessarily – some of the things I know I’d like to figure out are focused on others – ultimately I hope it brings happiness to those around me as I move toward being more comfortable in my own skin and more able to help them. In short, this is about putting my own oxygen mask on first, then helping others.

In no particular order, some things that I can identify right now that will be focal points along the way (and more may emerge):
      * What brings sensory pleasure? Touch, taste, hearing, vision, smell. I’ve become so autopilot oriented that I seem to have forgotten.
      * What do I really want to say an emphatic yes to in my life? And what would I rather say no to? And what barriers have I put in place to either that I can now remove?
      * Things that need letting go of. Beliefs. Ideas. Actual things. Perhaps even people.
      * My spiritual quest – religion and exploration thereof, unencumbered by the beliefs (or non beliefs) of others around me. The last few years it has focused on Buddhism, but I feel drawn back to my Christian roots and a need to understand it better.
       * What can I share with the world to make it a nicer place? What is holding me back, and how do I remove the roadblocks?

I invite any fellow explorers of authenticity to join me, either by sharing blog postings with each other, or discussion via the comments section. I can’t promise posting with any kind of regularity (though I would like to), but it would be nice to have some fellow travelers on the road.