Not My Normal Diet

Sansaku:  Not My Normal Diet


When I worked at Timberline, the vacations wore me out.  I tried to do too many things.   It’s how I feel about my sister’s visit. I’m over-full with what we did and all we ate.  I run better on lean.

But in spite of that, I’m grateful. She lets me step inside her life. I’ve never known anyone so transparent with her feelings. She’d make a lousy poker player, but does great stand-up.

I never have to guess how she feels about people or things. If it’s not obvious from her eyes and face, she’ll let you know in full detail. Her language is colorful and dramatic.

Not surprisingly, navigating her mind is like driving in heavy traffic. If you want to merge, you need to speed up and be ready to shift lanes fast. She rarely signals and often side-swipes with a story.

Normally I walk, but not with her.

I just happened to have listened to a TED talk a friend suggested.   The speaker was an economist, and highly cognitive. He said, “I’m suspicious of stories.” My sister is just the opposite. She’s suspicious of people who don’t have a plethora of stories.

Trouble is, we’re in bad need of better stories. When I watch the news this is painfully clear. We have a terrible confusion around what is meaningful, what is not, and we can hardly discern the deep from the shallow.

Because Sheryll is such a character, she tells good stories.   So do her kids.   Her husband said, “You don’t just like characters, you breed them.” She wouldn’t deny it.

I don’t think all families encourage their kids to be characters, and I’m grateful I grew up in one that did.   Not all places are character tolerant, but I worked at two that were, Timberline and the Counseling Center.   Healthy forests are like that.

Stories and character go together. Why are we surprised that different characters tell different stories about the same things?

Sheryll and I can’t help but disclose our past, and we force the mythic characters from our family and history into dinner conversation.

Our brother enters the table talk and that’s as far as it gets. Right now he’s being an itinerant wizard down in New Zealand. He’s an obvious fit to the family, and the story gets told again and again.

When it comes to our mother and father, we don’t agree, but that’s not a problem.   She knows we’re different.   Don’t try to persuade her; she knows what she feels. Her husband learned the hard way not to argue. She doesn’t just go after content. She goes for the eyes.

For the most part, I get a pass.   She doesn’t mind I wear my headband like a girl. She’s fierce in her loyalties. I’ve always felt well protected.   She has a tongue she can use like a sword.

One time, playing golf down in Farmington, my sister was approached by a well-dressed man who pointed at me and said, “I wonder where he got that cap? I want to be sure I don’t go there.”

He had no way of knowing I was her brother. We don’t look alike and dress even further. She looked him up and down and said, in her most characteristic and wicked of ways, “Too late. I think you’ve already been there.”

She’s real, like a T-Rex, and maybe that’s why I’m so worn out and tired. I’ve been trying to keep up with her. That’s not my normal diet.












Time Travel

Sansaku: Time Travel


It’s always a bit risky to trespass into memory.   This is especially true with sacred sites.   They don’t look mythic to mundane eyes.

Mesa Verde and Shiprock are two landmarks in the collective family memory.   We often passed them on our way to Phoenix to see the cousins, and strained to be the first to spot them. But that’s not what they meant.   Our father had a magic side.   He spoke Navajo, had a Navajo name, and wasn’t afraid of trouble.

And today, my visiting sister wants to visit the past.   We’re stepping across one of those boundaries the others in the car won’t see.   We’ll probably drive them nuts with our reminiscing.

The two of us are very different, but come of a common root.   I understand and accept her, and she does the same for me.   We celebrate our kinship.

Her memory, however, is much different from mine.   I’ve studied dreams, and they’re the way memory looks if you could step into it. Sometimes I feel as though I live in memory and not time-space.

My sister travels around the world and has a bucket full of things most people dream about. She’s been there and done that. My bucket list is full of things like this: To walk the river trail, to greet Chyako in the morning and eat my favorite breakfast.   It might sound boring, but I’m grateful for this ordinary magic, the life I get to live.

And I’m grateful I’ll be traveling with my sister today, into sacred memory.   I can’t wait to look for Shiprock when we reach Far View. And there’s that vision of Cliff Palace from the rim.   It will carry us.

We were talking about our father last night at dinner.   The others at the table suffered us gracefully.   There wasn’t much room to enter.   My sister is a passionate speaker.   She might overwhelm most, but she’s easy for me to follow.

We were still a family when we’d journey across Colorado and down into Navajo land.   Dad told us stories and we knew for a fact they were true.   We believed in magic, and he was one of those dwellers at the edge who had crossed over many times.   He knew how to take us.

Sheryll traveled with him years before I did.   He was younger and wilder than when I knew him.   But the man was undoubtedly the same. No disguising that.

She graduated from the U of A in Tucson, and he lived close to her in Tombstone. I was still in high school. She told me stories about him, and I’m not sure I believed her.   Then I met him.

We’re going there today.

I don’t think we’ll find it. Trying to revisit a sacred place in memory is dangerous. The magic moves on and finds new hiding places. Maybe this is why so many of us are restless and looking to find.

Since I have to go and meet her and the others now, I won’t quite finish this sansaku.   I’ll finish it after the pilgrimage, and I’m curious to see.

Today is yesterday’s tomorrow.   My sister was wound like a tick-tock time bomb and most anything set her off. It happened more than once. She couldn’t wait to get there.

So when we did, and it was a near perfect day to enter, I made her stop at the visitor’s center, the boundary.   I needed to slow down myself. By the time we looked down into Spruce Tree House, she said, “I like to time travel, when I come to places like this.”




Om Mani Padme Hum

Sansaku: Om Mani Padme Hum


“Why do we think the psyche is the interior, something inside?   We are immersed in psyche.”   This is from David Abrams, who was speaking at the college in ’06.   From the way I write, I can’t discern which thought is his and which is mine.   They blur together.   It’s one of my many academic weaknesses.

The unconscious, said Jung, is out there. Look at the night-time sky, out to sea, the mountains in the distance.   Or watch the news and see all the faces from around the world. The unconscious, it’s out there and we’re living in it.

David told stories while he twirled a silver dollar around and through his fingers.   It was mesmerizing and he knew how to use it.   The dollar dropped at the exact moment, when the outer world in the form of a buzzard, made face-to-face contact with his inner one.

He translated the Om Mani Padme Hum chant as May All Sentient Beings Fall in Love with Each Other.

He traveled in search of magic and healing, and found that the shaman had largely been sold down the river. But those who were truly magic were also exceedingly bizarre.

He explained how they worked with perception as a painter, and the medium was magic. These medicine people didn’t primarily see themselves as healers, even though people treated them this way.   They saw their primary role was something different.

They are dwellers at the edge.   And it was at this point I could no longer distinguish what was his and what was mine.   I’m going to assume for now, it’s mostly his, but it’s a small difference.

These are the ones who can listen to both worlds.   Their style of consciousness puts them just outside the boundary. They pay attention to the forest and the trees.   The wind speaks to them.   Everything is intelligent and alive. It’s the traditional role, he said, of medicine people. They’re the sensitives and empaths.

They can’t help but feel what others feel.   This kind of sensitivity isn’t valued by this culture, but earth seems to produce generation after generation of them.   Why the marginalization?

Whatever the reason, these people migrate to the edge of things, and their role is to tend the boundary.   It’s the boundary and relationship between the human and everything else.   We need to keep it open, and must never forget it.   It’s place we must return to, and cross again and again.

The medicine people know exactly where to go to experience a certain boundary crossing.   And once you’ve crossed and entered, it’s very hard to go back.

He says that many over-sensitives are diagnosed with attentional disorders and don’t fit into the workaday world.   They’re organizationally challenged.   But these boundary dwellers know how to be true to themselves.   And it makes them look odd.

Abrams said not to go to Alaska or the Amazon to find magic, but to bring it into your life as it is.   It’s what we need right now.

Think of gravity, he said, it’s one of those weird and wild laws, the attraction of bodies for each other.   It’s Eros, and it’s always there.   It’s like falling in love, this cosmic pull toward the other.

Magic is the awareness of being inside the inside of being.   Feeling contained and attuned, we chant, Om Mani Padme Hum.

A Biblical Story

Sansaku: A Biblical Story


I’ve been picking apples and seeing them in dreams. My brother and I used to go worm hunting at night. We used a flashlight and both of us had night crawler dreams.   I remember one where I was pitching, and watched a big worm emerge from the baseball. It disappeared back into its hole as soon as I saw it. This doesn’t happen with most things.

It’s not the night crawlers and it’s not the apples; it’s the associations.   And my sister, who visits from Portland today, just reminded me of Bill.   He was my friend during those night-crawling years where we snuck into back yards to pick apples.

I adopted his family, but kept my own.   I needed two of them.

I was aware we were poor, but not what that meant to others. I wasn’t a self-conscious kid.   I didn’t feel sorry in the least for us, and was proud of the family.   Except for my dad.   I didn’t know what to think. But I watched him very closely.

All three of us kids have trouble remembering that time in our family’s life.   It was hard to process, even for mom.   She joined one of the earliest chapters of AA in Boulder in her attempt to understand.

Maybe because she didn’t drink, my conception of AA was a little skewed.   I wasn’t inhibited, and often talked about AA picnics or meetings. I ate a second breakfast at Bill’s house, and they knew all about it.

Since they had a triple A sticker on the car, I thought it was something similar.   My childhood brain assumed things.   It was on an apple picking day that I learned this wasn’t the case.

I’m aware that the apple and the snake are forever entangled in the Biblical story, and I don’t think it’s just by accident, that my innocence ended in a similar way.   There’s also a Cain and Abel theme.

Bill and I had been climbing in their apple tree, and started to wrestle. We were always a bit like brothers, and I cannot imagine my childhood without his presence. We grew up together.

He did well in school, and I excelled on the playground.   When it came time to choose teams, we always chose each other. But he had blue eyes and mine were a cloudy mix of colors.   He belonged to Boulder’s upper crust, and we lived in the shadows.

My clothes were not like his, and on this day he accidentally ripped my favorite shirt.   Emotions flooded me, and I was both extremely mad and sad, all at the same time.   I let him know, and left for home.

I found a box on our porch the next day, and was as happy as Christmas morning. In it were jeans and the kinds of shirts I’d always wanted.  I showed my sister who explained charity to me.   I was horrified and that was the Biblical scene.

I recently told some friends about this, and one of them said, “I hope you wore them.” Damn right I did, and I loved them more than the old.

After I learned they came from Bill, and I don’t know how I missed that, I let him know the apology was accepted.   But our lives were never quite the same. Now I knew.

Before that, I didn’t see myself as others did.   It changed me. My child’s sleep had ended and a new one begun.







The Sunrise Meditation Bell

Sansaku: The Sunrise Meditation Bell


I write about the sunrise every morning.   It strikes me like a meditation bell, and for a brief moment I wake from my writing and look out the window. It’s part of my gratitude and praise practice.

It’s a ritual moment during a ritual time of my day.   Time, already slow, just about stops as the sun begins to rise.   The same thing is different every day, and that’s what stays the same.

Last week, a strawberry moon grows full. We watched it together in the dusk.   This morning, the dawn looks the same as that dusk.

Leafing through my journal, I find little haiku poems.   Sky pale blue/ Almost the hint of green/ The trees.

On other days, the Zen bell strikes and strikes again.   Four or five times, and the sun doesn’t come.   It’s not even dawn/ And I’m looking for it/ The Fall Equinox.

A scarlet sunrise/ This movie is going to be heavy/ I can’t wait to see it.

The sky, if possible/ More purple now than red/ Darkens by the moment/ I say the word, ominous.

The sky continues to darken/ This is really weird/ Bright red becomes like slate, both blue and grey.

A hundred morning skies/ To think I used to write/ With my back to the wall and window.

Only slowly, the light this morning/ The ash tree begins to change/ There’s a silence in the sky.

I know it’s too early/ But I look out the window/ At first it’s only black/ And then I see, the ghost image in the glass.

Looking up and out, I see the dawn.   What a sky.   There’s a jagged hole and a satin blue pool behind it.   The patterns shift.   The dark cloud looks like a gargoyle, and the opening appears a bird in flight.

Now the hole in the sky doesn’t look like a bird, it’s the clouds that have taken to flight.

It’s the time of year when the ash turns yellow, and like the sunrise, I want it to last. I do my best to hold it.

Best is a word that applies to sunrise.   And every day is best.

The seasons spin, I sit/ The snow settles and suddenly it’s Spring/ It’s Summer and Fall again/ Listen to the silence/ What is all this rush?

Outside, fall rain/ Weather forecasters say/ When it leaves, maybe the first frost.   Too early to tell.

Hard rain and wind continue/ The ash tree responds/ Bright yellow leaves in the dark/ I can hear them.

The storm roars and comes on even harder/ I can almost hear myself say/ Too much, too much/ But something changes and it feels like desire/ Bring it on, there’s never too much.

Sexual love, sometimes a storm and sometimes a full moon rising.   A slight touch, a subtle glance back, to see if you are looking.   This describes it so much better than a word like fucking.

I’m thinking about William Carlos Williams. Family is coming to visit, and we have a wild back yard.   The trees obscure the vision of the town down below.   And there’s a shed with wood stacked up against it. But who would prefer rooftops and city streets, over the rain glazed wheel-barrow by the fence?

I won’t read the news today, the rain made sure of that. The paper turned to pulp.














A Shift in the Center

Sansaku:  A Shift in the Center


When we’re at a point where things could go from one extreme to the other, it’s called a far from equilibrium condition.   Yeats wrote “The Second Coming,” about this state: “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” Anything could happen.

1976 was one of those years for me, and it’s strange that I forget. My life could have gone in any number of different directions, all of them would have made a substantive difference in my life.

I chose to say good-bye to my girlfriend, who wanted me to go down to Durango with her.   But neither of us were convinced.   So I took her to the bus station in Denver, and drove back to Boulder alone.

I couldn’t sleep that night and walked downtown to a coffee shop.   I had my journal and what I read this morning, has made me wonder about that time.   I think I’ve underestimated its importance.

Evolution usually looks to me like the slow unfolding of an infinitely complex pattern, but sometimes it speeds up.

I did something that night. I started to write a story and it turned into something else. I was having a dialogue with an inner personality.   It was the start of a relationship.

He didn’t tell me his name, but I gave him one in the journal that night. I took it from an experience I had in childhood.   It was l957 and we had just left Colorado and were living in Sedona. I started keeping secrets.   I’d found a rattlesnake up the wash and wouldn’t betray it.

I called him Sedona, and here’s the recording of our first meeting.


He was the kind of person you’d expect to find in a college town like Boulder.   He was unkempt and slightly derelict, and had no claim to fame.   He didn’t care.

I’ve tried to describe him to others, but I’m never very happy with the attempt.   He’s better kept as a secret.

From the very first time that I saw him, there was a quality or essence to his being I could feel.   Back then, I just wanted to know him.      

We met in a bar. He was alone and reading, but I noticed he was quite content and more real than the others.   He seemed to be in good company with his thoughts and I wanted to join him.

Normally I won’t approach in bars, but I went straight up to him and said, “We’re reading the same book.”   And I showed him.   He smiled at that and said, “Why don’t you join me.” I did.

This was the beginning of a long conversation.   I spoke mostly in metaphors and analogies back then.   I still do.

A friend of mine was curious about my journal, and asked me what I wrote about. Since I usually start with my dreams, I briefly told him about a dream snake I’d encountered.   When he asked about its meaning, I didn’t really go there, but it reminded me of Sedona.

In the dream, the snake was conscious, and the eyes were closely watching. I was aware the snake could see my thoughts and feelings. I wasn’t scared, but respected him and kept some distance. The snake followed, close behind, and we were close to talking.

It was during that time in Boulder when I decided to listen to Sedona and the snake.   They seemed to know me better than I knew myself. I listened, and when things fell apart, like Yeats prophesized they would, the center had shifted. That’s when I moved to Durango.










That’s Not What It’s About

Sansaku:   That’s Not What It’s About


I pulled out a book a few days ago, but didn’t start reading it until yesterday afternoon.   I immediately confronted a synchronicity.   This is a code word for me.   I try to pay attention.

I’ve read most of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, but the first one I listened to.   I hadn’t read it in print. I typically underline and write in any book I read, and this copy was clean. Not for long.

Blink begins with a story about an ancient Greek sculpture that the Getty Museum badly wanted to acquire, but there were questions.   They hired a team of scientists, who authenticated it, but when a number of experts first saw it, they knew in a moment something was wrong. They turned out to be right.

Then he describes a study where students watched very short clips of teachers, and they could almost immediately know how to rate with a skill equal to the students who were actually taking the classes.

The book is about that skill and how to educate it. Yesterday, I wrote how most therapists can diagnose very quickly.   Sometimes, it only takes a few seconds to get at the heart of things.

The Counseling Center performs depression screening events in the lobby of the student center, and most of us hate to do the barking.   We’re lousy at attracting students.   Luckily, there are peer volunteers who can snag, and, on this occasion, one of them was very pretty. I watched her with a boy who was obviously interested.

When she finished with the feedback, and it was very persona-professional, I asked her about the experience.   “How did you feel about him?” I had to explain in several different ways, none of which resonated.   She was bothered by my asking.

It started a fascinating conversation. She didn’t like what I said. I told her, “He was flirting with you. He couldn’t have cared less about the screening tool or feedback.” She was still arguing with me five months later.   But that’s another story.

I decided to take what I’d experienced to training group, but sometimes we watch videos, and that’s what we were doing on that day.   Wouldn’t you know it, the same damn thing.   The client was obviously infatuated with the therapist.   Everyone else could see it, too.

What do you do when that happens? As synchronicity would have it, our consulting psychiatrist, Mark, was in that day and it’s exactly what he talked about.   It had become quite comical and synchronistic.

I liked how Akkun, our young nephew approached it. He was looking at a photograph on Chyako’s shelf, and was obviously intrigued.   Something was wrong with the picture and he knew it. “What’s that about?”

It’s a colorful photo of some young monks in Myanmar.   Chyako explained it to Akkun as best she could.   He looked at her and finally said, “Excuse me, but those are children.”

Sometimes the more information we get about something, the more we miss what really matters, like how we feel.

Listening to the news last night, the irony was almost too much.   We’ve never had so much information, and we’ve never been so starved. It’s mostly junk food poison that we’re served.

There was piece on the war in Syria, you know what Akkun would have said, “Excuse me, but those are children and people.”