Marquis Musing

Posted in Live

Perfectly Imperfect Person Packages

How pleasant is the day when we give up striving to be young–or slender. (William James)

Today’s quotation is all about acceptance—especially as it relates to age, weight, and physical form. It’s a tough concept for many as it speaks to a truth that one is seldom taught but may finally arrive at through the wear and tear of life experience.

Living in a society that prizes youth and beauty and profits economically from the fear of such natural and unavoidable processes as aging and death, we are often taught to compare, compete, struggle, and strive to achieve the “perfect” body image. As a cultivated and ever-changing cultural ideal, obtaining a desirable body image or chasing after the latest style can be like pursuing an arbitrary and ever-moving target.

It is important to remember that body image is but an image. As a mixture of the tangible physical body and intangible perceptions created by oneself and others, it is—and is not—real.

It is true that one’s body can be altered, changed, or dressed up to varying degrees and for various effects. Body image, as studies show, can enhance, adorn, compel, and attract. Whether obtaining partners or promotions, beauty in women and handsomeness in men has proven social and economic benefits.

It is also true that body image can, like a distant vaporous mirage on a hot day, deceive and distort. Assumptions about intelligence, aptitude, character, virtue, or any number of other human attributes may not be congruent with external packaging. For better or worse, body image is but the outer shell of the “person package.” Whether glossy or plain, loose or form-fitting, the wrapping may enhance (or obscure) the real (or perceived) value of the gifts of the human being inside. Misperceptions and false appraisals of oneself and others occur all the time.

With a multi-billion dollar health, dieting, and beauty industry providing the public and professionals with research and marketing messages for increasingly attainable perfection, it can be difficult to accept and love ourselves as the loving and lovable souls we are. Whether caterpillar or butterfly, ugly duckling or swan, it is important to recognize and celebrate that the soul, spirit, or essence is the same.

We are not just exposed to messages extolling the virtues of physical perfection, we are immersed in them. It can be hard to recognize and buffer against the unfortunate value judgments that no amount of external repackaging may temper. While there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting and working towards the enhanced self-esteem and social acceptance that can come from customary appraisals of proportioned, aligned, and symmetrical attractiveness (especially if it hinders a sense of belonging or success in the social world), it is always important to temper this with a healthy appreciation of diversity and the many all-important aspects of inner beauty and worth.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the deepest and most eternal forms of love transcend anything as fleeting as external body image. To be preoccupied with body image—literally an “image” of what is relatively real—is to dwell unduly upon the “person package” rather than the heart, mind, soul, spirit, and essence inside.

To spend precious time developing one’s exterior, the shell  or vehicle that transports the most precious cargo of human potential, is to embark upon a journey that leads away from the deepest forms of connection with the social-emotional, psychological, and spiritual inner self.

In the dating world, personal “stats” such as age, height, weight, hair and eye colour determine all—very often neglecting consideration of other social, emotional, personality or character attributes that may make a desirable and compatible long-term partner. While there will always be a place for research, education, and innovation that improves the quality and quantity of life, it is just as important to be aware of one’s heart, mind, and character as an authentic and fully integrated person in the world. Personal vanity need not become a socially sanctioned end in itself.

While it might seem that preoccupation with the quality and quantity of life would be desirable, there is a higher ideal—a life of fulfillment and a serene, graceful, and loving acceptance of one’s place in the world exactly as we are. For me, this would be the same untainted innocence and joy-filled beauty that children are born with before socialization, education, and experience make them self-conscious and uneasy.

As inherently precious and worthwhile human beings with awe-inspiring human potential, I dream of all children and fully grown “inner children ” radiating joy, security, and serenity as they fully occupy a treasured place in their unique body and the world.

With love,

Posted in Live, Love

Forever Friends

A friend is one that knows who you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows you to grow. (Shakespeare)

Although days, weeks, and months may go by without contact with the kind of friends Shakespeare describes above, I know that these precious people are with me. No matter where we may happen to be in the world or how long since we’ve corresponded, they are with me just as surely and lovingly as I am with them.

Although time, distance, and circumstances constantly change and acquaintances come and go playing various valuable roles in life, it is my experience that the truest and dearest friends do not. They are timeless and eternal.

Although it is natural to reach out at times to make enjoyable contact or express care and concern as circumstances dictate, friends already know and trust that you care. On the deepest levels, they know that all is “good” between them just as it always has been and always will be. Why? Because friends know deeply who you are.

Deeply connected in soul and spirit, these friends know that whatever is most appropriate, timely, and mutually agreeable will emerge. There is no tug-o-war, no one-upmanship, and no power differential to worry about or contend with. It is a flexible but enduring bond of spirit-filled equals.

Whether a carefully cultivated friendship or, more likely, an instantaneous connection in which two souls see the beauty in one another and vibrate at the same exhilarating frequency, there is an abiding trust and faith that transcends any challenges imposed by time, space, or circumstance. Miscommunication and misunderstanding are impossible and there is never a ticking on the scoreboard of petty neglects or offences.  True friends know, trust, and believe in one another regardless of (often because of!) what others might consider mistakes, shortcomings, or human imperfection.

Ironically, but commonsensically, these are the cherished friendships in which both parties may confidently take each other for granted, knowing that they can take up exactly where they left off after the briefest update.

How is this possible? Why are some friendships like this when others take  constant upkeep, deliberation, and effort?  I believe that it is simply (and magically!) a matter of deep knowing and trusting what is in one another’s heart. A true friendship does not take “work.” It is not based on fear, insecurity, or control, but the deepest, most faith-filled love and trust.

I am so fortunate to have friends who know my heart and allow me to know theirs with this warm and comforting kind of love and trust. I am very blessed to have friends who are family and family who are friends. This is my small but precious Shakespearean circle of loved ones. Together, as Shakespeare  so aptly describes,  we know who we are, understand where we have been, accept what we have become, and still gently allow each other to grow.

May we forever enjoy and be deserving of one another’s love and take for granted that sacred, spontaneous, and interdependent trust.

With love,

Posted in Live, Love

Letting Go of Good Opinions

They have become strong enough to be independent of the good opinion of other people, or even of their affection. The honors, the status, the rewards, the popularity, the prestige, and the love they can bestow must have become less important than self-development and inner growth. (Abraham Maslow)

Letting go of the “good opinion of others” isn’t always easy or practical–but it is essential. Teaching children (and “inner children”) how to sort, filter, and evaluate the feedback they receive from the world and how to rely upon and trust their deep inner knowing is one of the most liberating, powerful, and altruistic gifts we can ever give.

While it is important to become one’s own person and find one’s way in the world–relying more upon our own thoughts and feelings about the situations we find ourselves in–it can be very difficult to let go of what others think, feel, or want. This is especially true if these people are in positions of power, influence, affection or esteem. Real and perceived dependence and other vested interests abound. Reliability, predictability, expectations, and other patterns of relationship emerge and even the wisest, most “centered” and “detached” of souls  may fall into the interpersonal dynamics of power and control. It is virtually inescapable.

While the adage that your name–your reputation–will always go further than you do in this world, it is also true, as the Tao Te Ching so wisely states, that if you try to please others you become their prisoner. This type of learned helplessness is one of the most painful, debilitating and life-limiting conditions ever. Our name or reputation should be based on an authenticity and truth that extends far beyond political correctness and people-pleasing–the shallow frozen artifice of press releases and photo-ops that obfuscate a deeper, richer, and more satisfying living reality.

Like all things, there is a happy and reasonable balance. While it is essential to look outward with enhanced and enlightened awareness and take in all the positive and negative feedback the world so glibly offers, it is especially necessary to look deeply inward for full understanding and more evolutionary guidance.

Given the wisdom of the adage that “life is not meant to be a struggle,” it is usually wise to “go with the flow” and work with the energy around us, absorbing, utilizing and redirecting as necessary. However, it is as wise to practice acceptance (not stubbing one’s toes by kicking against reality) as it is to stand in strong, serene, or even hostile, life-preserving opposition. Each circumstance is different and a myriad of choices are available. While many are labelled “expected,” “probable,” or “traditional,” few are ever clearly marked “right.”

We are each on our own journey, our own path in life. No matter how well intended our family, friends, teachers, and sages are, they are not there with us in every moment of every day throughout our lives. Despite the best intentions and the warmest of hearts, they have no crystal ball to read our future or really know what is best. The biggest gift we can give ourselves and our children is the ability to grow in self-awareness, understanding, courage, flexibility, and resilience–to know that “reality” is so much more than what we perceive with five (or six) senses and that the richest learning usually occurs while taking risks and makings “mistakes.”

Although I often reminisce fondly and miss some amazing people who I will always love as members of my life-long “family of friends,” I have often had to let go of their “good opinion” when it has limited who I am as an independent thinking, feeling, and ever-changing human being. Given the dynamics of human nature and the age-old interplay of self-interest and control issues that may define human relationships, it is difficult to let go with the trust and well wishes that only true love affords.

It is important to pick one’s inspirational mentors, role models, and heroes carefully. While my childhood heroes will always have a special place in my heart and in my life, it is essential that I stay open to those who I meet in life and literature who continue to inspire and teach. Young or old, rich or poor, formally educated or not, they are usually the most unassuming everyday heroes who seem mostly unaware of the good opinion of others. They are too busy living their truth with a purity of passion and purpose that touches me and others so very deeply.

As cliché as it its many tired expressions have become, ( the greatest testament of truth!) there is great wisdom and wonder in the following sentiment expressed so vividly by ee cummings: “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

Battling on, with love,

Posted in Live, Love


It is natural to every man to wish for distinction, and for the praise of those who can confer honor by their praise. . . (Sydney Smith)

It is a sunny summer day here as I look out to the city streets and all those making their way across the city at this mid-morning hour. As is often the case, I am feeling buoyed by the kindness and connection of those I admire and care about. In this age of email and text communication which is replacing so much of the long-hand letter writing I still enjoy, I cherish every opportunity to share words of wisdom, wonder, and wellness.

I am often inspired afresh by spoken or written words of collegiality, compassion, and care while also energized by every such word I send in return. Although it is true that one almost always “catches more flies with honey than vinegar,” there is no mistaking that kind words make our social world a warmer, happier, more dignified place. Words of warm regard are sweet indeed to the human heart.

As my dear sister and I have often talked about, deep down everyone longs to be special. . . and in the most spiritual sense, we are! No matter how effusive or purplish it may seem, I believe that we must err upon the side of encouragement rather than discouragement whenever possible.

While we may have an intuitive or empathetic inkling what it may be like to walk in another’s shoes at times or to sense if we are having a positive or negative effect upon the life of another, we cannot know often or long. This, of course, is the rich and dynamic mystery of human life and relations but it’s also the crux of all misunderstanding and miscommunication. Whether heartfelt connection, devastating heartbreak, or any point in between, so much depends on our ability to fully and deeply see, understand, and appreciate others for who they are as they are.

Lacking the time and ability to project ourselves into the mind, heart, and soul of another in the hurly-burly-bizziness of everyday life, I believe in one overriding default position: “give a little love.”

No matter how tired or over-used it may seem (rather like the word “sweetie” served up warm and sweet like syrup by the waitress at the local diner), giving a little love keeps everything moving along.

So, with all the luxury and idealism that writing across time and space afford me , I’ll go one further. I’ll sign off by sending a whole lot o’ love!


Posted in Live, Love

Walking the Leader’s Talk

Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. (Warren G. Bennis)

I’ve worked with some exemplary leaders in a variety of organizations and workplaces throughout the decades but my most recent leader is the most accomplished and humanistic I have known. I dedicate this post to her.

While I have worked with leaders who have been reasonably competent and conscientious, as well as others who have been very caring and empathetic, I have never worked with a management professional who fuses these two sides so seamlessly—in such a steady and sustained way. This leader is, in the words of another ardent admirer, a “rock star!”

As an administrator charged with the heady task of maximizing human potential over time, her success is all the more admirable and trickier to sustain. Unlike business or other organizational structures in which such things as quarterly sales or shareholder return are readily quantified and easily compared, all measures of human capacity building are value-laden and subjective. Any tests of human progress are quasi-empirical at best, and must ultimately pass the steeper challenge of purpose, value and relevance. What is the effect on more than three hundred diverse and dynamic human lives? After great investments of time, money, and effort, will the chosen goals have been the most relevent, timely, and worthwhile?

These are the often life-determining questions my leader and colleagues grapple with each day—very often in the evening, on the weekend, and over the holidays.

Although I only worked with this leader part-time, I am fortunate to have had a tiny foothold– a place to belong and serve as new opportunities emerge.

So what is it that inspired me to take two buses, a ferry, and a carpool to work in a setting where systemic challenges sometimes overshadow the many small delights?

More than anything else, it is my leader, the “rock star” with personal qualities and a professional skill set that touch minds, hearts, and souls in the most profound and inspirational ways.

In keeping with the best research, this leader has the qualities of the most successful parents and teachers. She maintains the highest expectations and exudes the highest levels of warmth and approval possible. She envisions my colleagues and our clients reaching a level we may not always dream is possible and is extremely responsive to the needs of the wider community we serve.

She articulates in words and body language her belief in each person as an individual and as part of a collective that is greater than the sum of its parts. She draws upon her own life example, believing in who we may become with sustained effort and, at times, gruelling hard work. She uses faith-filled restorative practices when we fall short.

Unlike an apathetic or burned out counterpart, she works hard and is highly visible. You always know where she is. Unlike otherwise well-intended leaders who may lack awareness, insight, vision, temperament, tenacity, or be ill-suited to the role, she has extensive awareness and deep understanding. Even more important than knowing physically where she is, on the most important issues, we know exactly where she stands. Amazingly, this highly visible and ever-present leader is the most steadfast general, the most energetic cheerleader, and the most compassionate and authentic human being.

Whenever possible, this leader chooses love-based faith in people’s inherent goodness over short-sighted and fear-based accountability. She knows, as research shows compellingly, that most employees will forego raises and other job opportunities to stay in a workplace where there is challenge, autonomy, and trust in management. Most importantly, she believes deeply in the natural human capacity to grow, excel, and give meaningfully in a supportive and nurturing environment. What is good for clients is equally good for colleagues.

In keeping with the quotation at the top of this post, this leader knows the long-term benefits of grassroots excitement—a shared commitment to a transcendent cause that captivates minds, hearts, and souls. Despite the ever-pressing demands of ill-fitting tops-down initiatives that often result in mediocrity due to unnecessary control, compliance, and conformity, this leader champions staff who respond to authentic human need and “go where the energy is.” Wisely, this leader clears unnecessary obstacles, reduces strangle-holds of red-tape, and minimizes regulation that do not leverage, lighten, or enlighten. In just three words, “She gets it.”

What, specifically, does this most impressive leader do? She listens actively, hears compassionately, deliberates deeply, chooses wisely, implements slowly, and responds decisively. She welcomes feedback, shares success, and expands the spotlight to its broadest and most inclusive dimensions.

She is, of course, the master of the “touch back”–resolving problems and fulfilling pledges. Athletic and fit, her energetic “touch backs” ensure “touchdowns” instead of the mumbling and grumbling that result from fumbled footballs.

What else does this leader do? She takes full responsibility for setbacks, re-frames problems as creative challenges, and handles resistance or “pushback” thoughtfully–knowing that it is better for a team to resist or challenge the leader than to turn upon one another.

While I continue to find inspirational mentors in colleagues and clients of all ages and I have always believed the adage that “true leaders lead from any chair,” it is an especially rare and wonderful thing when a wise and deeply rooted leader occupies the decision-making chair.

A great leader inspires confidence. She is the one that we choose to emulate and follow. As expressed in the old Afghan proverb, “If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.”

How refreshing when a leader “walks the talk” with competence and care. She steps with sure-footed confidence and blazes a trail to an unknown future destination that many others do not see but still deeply need and long to go.

While this leader now prepares for her pending retirement at the end of this calendar year and I have now moved on to the most exciting challenges of my career and life ever, I am pleased and proud to call her a friend that I take with me in heart and mind wherever I go.

With love,

Posted in Live, Love

Thinking Thoughts and Becoming Beliefs

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. (Mahatma Gandhi)

As a thinker, writer, and human being, I spend  all my time working with human thoughts and beliefs. These mental constructs are, as Gandhi suggests, all-powerful. For better or worse, strength or weakness, abundance or poverty, we are all very much the product of our mental activity, our internal dialogue and the voices in our heads.

Thoughts (whether fleeting or recurring), and beliefs (whether shifting or steadfast), have a direct impact upon human feelings, words, and deeds—the visible and “lived” life of human beings.

Thoughts and beliefs shape and contour every human being’s life; whether directly or indirectly, they are the source of life expectations and interpretations. These occur in an ongoing and reciprocally determining way much like the classic “chicken versus egg” conundrum.

We are, to a large extent, the thoughts we think. We may literally become our beliefs. Whether positive or negative, strengthening or weakening, enhancing or constricting, our mental activity determines our real or perceived life experience. Along with the ever-shifting tides of history, culture, and other variables of happenstance, it is ultimately true, as Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” Our thoughts, beliefs, expectations, and interpretations are subjective, relative, varying, and even arbitrary.

There is great potential for detachment, choice, and personal power in this realization. For those battling depression, there is always the power of immediate thought-stopping—recognizing the familiar emergence of distressing thoughts and literally refusing to go there while deliberating choosing to energize around a new and more uplifting idea. For those seeking more positive or hope-filled outcomes in daily life, there is the power of affirmations, mantras, or gratitude journaling. For more spiritually empowered folks, there are a variety of meditative practices (from breathing to writing to yoga to walking) to quiet the mind and quell anxiety. For those more intellectually minded, there is a new opportunity to see through the socialization and educational messaging of a time in place in culture and history that give power to arbitrary assumptions, definitions, and judgments that may or may not validate or favour an individual or group in society.

As part of my own spiritual writing practice—my inner journal journey that includes all kinds of intentionally affirming thoughts and beliefs intended to augment my inner and outer life–I ask for the gentle release of all limiting, weakening, or constricting thoughts and beliefs each morning. This includes the ones I am aware of and the ones I have not yet recognized in my socialized, conditioned, and educated self

I am aware that my thoughts and beliefs affect how I feel, what I say, and how I act or react in any given situation. There are days when I go into further detail, examining and working with the ones that are in my awareness or ones that have created real or perceived problems in my life. Although this inner work will never be “done,” I know that I am better off for my ongoing recognition, my openness to the power of the mind. It is just something I do to get closer to who I really am so that I am better able to be and see with wisdom, wonder and wellness. It is also my hope that it also brings me in some small way creatively closer and more connected to you.

With love,

Posted in Live, Love

Blue Skies of Possibility

You are stronger than whatever circumstances you’re facing. Potential is the one power you always have. The mind-set that propelled me forward came from having nothing to lose.” (Ryan Blair)

This quotation is all about the exhilarating power of potential. We all have it—even (or especially!) when things seem their darkest. Potentiality is a mindset of hope and possibility that we may claim at any time. It is always there whether we acknowledge it or not. Sometimes it pops up unexpectedly. Other times, it is a deliberate choice.

Potentiality, like the most translucent shimmering blue sky, is abundant and recurring. Although it is often ignored and may go to waste, there is no denying that is always there, waiting for the grey clouds of routine, boredom, exhaustion, and distraction to float away, revealing the vast blue sky that is possible any day of the year. No matter the season or temperature, blue skies of potentiality can and do emerge.

We only need to pay attention and to choose it. We need only flick the switch and reframe our whole sense of who we are and what we may become. What our heart, mind, spirit, or soul desires may yet be possible.

If we choose to claim it and believe it, possibility and potentiality exist. Human history and invention is a testament to things once believed impossible. To remain open to the magical and mysterious—the things not yet understood or conceived of—is to embrace the inexhaustible power of potential.

As I have so often reminded young students through the years, everything that is now considered commonplace and so often taken for granted was invented and re-invented in an ongoing cycle of innovation. Everything that is not strictly a part of the natural world was created by someone. Whether inspired by necessity, wonder, or whimsy, human inventions and innovations cannot emerge without a prevailing sense of possibility.

Even in the most trying circumstance, at the end of the longest day or in the most defeating loss, potentiality exists. We can always reframe our circumstances and use them as a launching pad. We can always strive to reach new heights of achievement. Whether we aspire to greater depths in our inner journey or better circumstances in our external world, we must believe that it can and will be so.

As expressed so well by Richard Bach, “Argue for your limitations and sure enough, they’re yours.” By extension, the opposite is equally true. Argue for your potential and sure enough, it’s yours too. Smile a deep inner smile of vast, eternal, blue-skied possibility and potential. No matter our circumstance, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

With love (and both the ‘headiness’ and ‘heartiness’ of human potential),

Posted in Live, Love

Conscious Capacity Building

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning. (Mahatma Gandhi)

It has been a full and busy spring in which I have had ample opportunity to wrestle with my long-held and hard-earned beliefs about human capacity-building in settings that do not afford the time and resources for fully personalized and individualized learning.

As with effective and powerful leadership, I continue to believe that the highest expectations and the highest possible warmth and responsiveness are vital to achieve any individual or collective human goal. While I believe strongly in starting from where each person is “at” and celebrating every “successive approximation” towards full mastery, I bristle at thoughts, beliefs, or practices that lower overall standards or unwittingly limit long-term potential.

I recognize that human beings are dynamic and diverse so there is no such thing as perfection or panaceas. I also realize that the deepest and richest learning comes from “non-examples”–prized “mistakes” that lead to reflection and replay in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

As much as I believe in guided mentoring processes that build capacity over time with constructive feedback and repeated trials, there is an inherent danger in losing focus or perspective. This danger is often expressed in such sayings as “not seeing the forest for the trees” or “taking our eyes off the prize.” The prize, of course, is the biggest, broadest, and most worthwhile long-term end goal—the one that builds human independence and opens doors of possibility for an always unknown future.

When it comes to consciously and deliberately building life-long human capacity, I believe that attitude, like perception, is everything. While particular skills and specific knowledge or understandings may be acquired for certain situations or settings, the primary and pivotal attribute is attitude. More than anything else, our “can do” attitude takes us any place we may choose to go. It determines whether “The Little Engine that Could” gains the self-confidence, task persistence, and desire to chug, chug, chug. . . up, up, up. . . over life’s hills and mountains. Along with such biggies as luck, destiny, and happenstance, attitude decides future and fortune.

It has been magical for me to witness a struggling learner equal or surpass his or her peers through sustained effort and the intoxicating audacity to achieve a goal beyond what anyone thought possible. This is why I worry about the dependence and “learned helplessness” that results from lowered expectations. While it is important to offer scaffolds (tips, techniques, and tools that draw upon past successes whenever possible), it is equally important that they are not premature or prolonged. Like training wheels on a child’s two-wheeled bike, they must be timely and temporary. Implicit in their use is the conviction that the goal will be met and the child will learn to ride the bike. They should be age-appropriate, pro-social, and, most importantly, flexible. They must be adaptive and liberating rather than maladaptive and constricting.

As education and parenting studies have always shown, children will most often rise or fall to the level of parent and teacher expectation. They know what we value. They know what we believe. And they know quickly what we “mean” whether or not we say it.

While there are other metaphors and sayings of timeless wisdom that have become oft-repeated clichés, they are often lost on modern citizens who are now “wired” to seek “new,” elaborate, empirical, or otherwise slickly marketed “expert” solutions to even the simplest concerns. The gentle but consistent teaching of self-discipline and self-regulation require time, tenacity, and consistency. They do not win short-term popularity or satisfy adult ego needs to be liked, but may, instead, result in personal pride and respect.

While every situation is different and we are all doing the best we can at the time, to adapt, modify, excuse, rescue, or lower expectations prematurely or for a prolonged amount of time is to send the most dangerously debilitating message that can last a lifetime. It is our primary role to build human capacity and, just as importantly, character. In the words of Ramana Maharshi, “Wanting to reform the world without discovering one’s true self is like trying to cover the world with leather to avoid the pain of walking on stones and thorns. It is much simpler to wear shoes.”

With love, laughs, and soles (or is that souls?) of leather on the path of life we share,


Posted in Live, Love

Creating Ourselves with Sticks in the Sand

“A notebook can be a clearing in the forest of your life, a place where you can be alone and content as you play with outrage and wonder, details and gossip, language and dreams, plots and subplots, perceptions and small epiphanies.” (Ralph Fletcher)

Whether I am writing in cursive on lined paper with a fine black pen, coaxing ink from the scratchy, well-worn nib of my calligraphy pen, tapping intently on the metallic keyboard of my netbook computer, or one-fingering it on my iPhone while commuting, I am immersed in the world of creation and connection. I am, most often, creating and connecting with myself and others. Nothing satisfies, integrates, and grounds me more.

Although I am a social person who is energized by spending time in meaning-filled conversation with like-minded and –hearted people who are socially conscious (but unapologetically and irreverently human), I am seduced by the transcendent power of reflective dialogue. I believe in the enduring power and potential of the more thought-full pace and presentation of written dialogue reminiscent of Rilke’s famous Letters to a Young Poet.

Unlike faster-moving spoken conversation in which both parties may be easily distracted and give limited attention to one another’s ideas while anticipating the need to provide a response, there is always the possibility of going deeper and extending the conversation longer in written dialogues. As research shows, written dialogues are often revisited and replayed many times over, allowing for deeper processing and more reflective thought. The fact that this is often carried out over greater expanses of time and space (very often leaving a digital or paper trail that spans generations) helps too.

For the past two decades, I have spent all my available time and much of my money creating opportunities for youth to engage in a written reflective dialogue with the humanistic belief that this is expansive, engaging, creative, encouraging, and above all, expressive. Starting with drawing, scribbling, and scribing and moving along naturally, it is my contention that learning to read and write can and should be as joyful and easy as the way in which a toddler learns to speak. With the exceedingly rare instance of a profound learning disability, it is not rocket science. If we communicate with a child in print at an early age with excitement, interest, modeling, meaning, expectation, and reinforcing feedback, proud and purposeful readers and writers emerge as if by magic. While we have an ever-increasing number of wonderful programs, books, and technological tools designed to inspire, teach, and assess this now ancient process, they are supplementary. Powerful reading and writing can be taught with sticks in the sand.

As a bibliotherapist, I am forever inspired by the realization that society’s young are very much a product of their internalized perceptions of experience and reinforced familial and societal expectations. So innocent and so very impressionable, children deserve our very best. In keeping with the quotation at the top of this post, they deserve a life-long supply of journals or anything that serves as a “clearing in the forest” of the human heart, mind, and soul.

Human beings need a safe place to think, feel, reflect, and express—to internally process and externally manifest the ruminations of the mind. Especially in these fast-paced modern times, they need a place to deeply assess the applicability and merit of the multi-layered and often conflicting messages society expects them to know, understand, and believe. Whether this is the latest “news” or advertising headline, the latest research study (so very different from a contextualized meta-analysis), or the latest family gossip or community story, the ability to think critically, compassionately, divergently, and creatively in later life will be paramount.

So innocent and impressionable, children need a safe and encouraging place to express the marvels, suspicions, and deep truth of their own hearts and minds. For children (and inner children of all ages), it is essential to have a safe place for the expression of internal dialogues. Given that this may not emerge without guidance and modeling, it is so important for young writers and readers to have a positive mentoring relationship with a patient, experienced, and non-judgmental model.

With the knowledge that we weave our individual and collective stories with threads comprised of values and beliefs that may expand and strengthen (or, unfortunately, constrict and weaken), it is essential that we learn to read, write, record, and share our deeply internalized stories in ways that move us beyond the disconnect from ourselves and others. We need to be able to challenge the constricting and weakening negative and uphold the expansive and strengthening positive.

On a personal level, writing has been my raft through life’s waters, whether eerily still or stormy. No matter how precious my family, friends, colleagues, and clients are, there are so many moments in life that I am alone and instances when I may feel “alone in a crowd.” As the saying goes, “wherever I go, there I am.” To help young people befriend themselves and have a safe, creative place to explore the wonders of mind, heart, soul, and worldly experience is so important. They need to process, assess, filter, and ultimately integrate thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a deeper way than daily life affords.

Sadly, reading, writing and many other types of creative expression are taught and measured as decontextualized skills. Stripped of deeper meaning and their link to true humanizing potential, they are clinical, lifeless, dull–so unpalatable that even the most capable reader or writer may choose not to engage in them or ever experience their long-term transformative power.

As the most cultured civilizations have always known, the stories we tell ourselves, whether the same or different from the stories we tell others, determine who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. They are the narrative of our individual and collective lives. However rudimentary or exquisite, it is the ability and willingness to express thoughts, feelings, and experiences and tell our stories in a meaning-filled way that preserves, extends, and enhances life. A richer and more nuanced understanding can always liberate us from the mundane and mediocre. In the words of Carol Shields, “This matters, the remaking of an untenable world through the nib of a pen; it matters so much, I can’t stop doing it.” Me, either.

With love,

Posted in Live

Giving from Deep Abundance

“. . . the greatest art seems unsophisticated, the greatest love seems indifferent, the greatest wisdom seems childish. . .” (Tao Te Ching)

As I sit here at this tall, towering, and wackily-wobbling table at one of my favourite downtown cafes, I am content to watch the shoppers stroll by and the line-up of coffee drinkers ebb and flow beside me.

Moving from café to café on my writing days, buying a relished or obligatory cup of coffee at each, I am happy to be “alone in a crowd.” Each downtown coffee shop has its own vertical and neighbouring community, its own increasingly predictable patterns of interaction and relationship.

As much as I like making occasional eye contact and exchanging greetings with the many regulars who frequent each location, there is a happy, healthy balance between this interaction and the reflective expression that is my soul purpose. I am heartened to know that people want to chat and share thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I know how desperately and longingly we all wish to be truly heard and understood.

At the same time, I continue to wrestle with how much and how often as I hasten to meet my writing deadlines and heed the creative callings that are my oft-neglected life’s work.

Not only is it necessary for me to change coffee shop locations for inspiration and not wear out my welcome in any one place, I also need the “privacy” and “anonymity” this affords. Distracted too long or too often from what “needs” to be written, I grow frustrated and weary like anyone who misses what sustains and motivates him most.

As deeply immersed as I am in my writing–musing longhand in cursive in my journal, answering letters in black ink calligraphy, sending email on my iPhone, or tapping away on my netbook–I am almost always attuned to the hum and the drum of life around me. It is for this reason that I so seldom write at my desks at home. Although I am loath to admit it, I can’t!

As beautiful as the city and country views have been from my writing desks and alcoves through the years, it is people that fascinate and inspire me. Although my time to chat is limited, I desperately want to understand each person, contextualize every snippet of conversation, and visualize the world as each person lives and perceives it. Taking a “good, long loving look at the real”–the perspective that a dear educational mentor and friend shared with me so many years ago–is my passion. Paradoxically, my impetus for writing is as social as it is solitary, and I remain committed to finding creative ways to honour both.

Although lacking in cinematic score, I have always had the dramatic sense that heroic, tragic, and comic characters are all around me as I read and write–as much or more than when I read a work of fiction or go to a movie or play.

I admit that each coffee shop experience is a psychological and sociological “field study” which is my most favoured way to learn from both literature and life. Whether sunken in a soft, comfy chair or perched atop a stool at a wibbly-wobbly table, I am the observer and the observed (for I am seldom alone in this pastime). Real life is infinitely more fascinating than fiction!

In person, (in admittedly smaller and smaller doses as I accept and embrace my soul-full longing to go inward and choose quality over quantity), I wish with all my heart to listen fully and deeply. As an aging teacher, librarian, counsellor, and writer-type, I find that listening as deeply as possible is one of the rarest and most precious gifts I can offer. With every passing year and the growing realization that trendy ‘group think’ so seldom hits the mark for searching souls, I become less able to give voice to the pat answers and platitudes that are so common in personal and professional life.

As I continue giving humble, heartfelt, reflective expression to all that’s inside me for children and inner children of all ages through creative nonfiction, narrative poems, and children’s stories, I am happy and fulfilled. No matter how “insignificant” or “childish” it may seem when compared to so many programs backed by (quasi-) empirical research that are popular in my chosen professions, know that I am giving from the deepest abundance and most life-affirming place I have ever known.

This, soul-full generosity is my wish for givers and receivers all!

With love,

Posted in Live, Love

Freedom from Fury

I wouldn’t have turned out the way I was if I didn’t have all those old-fashioned values to rebel against. (Madonna)

Although I am a person who relishes the shades of grey in life, there are times when I am obstinately black and white. Despite spending so much of my time pondering the real, lived human experiences that are so subjective and relative, when it comes to maximizing human potential and ensuring the quality of life for society’s most vulnerable or dependent, I am staunchly idealistic. When it comes to society’s obligation to the young, old, poor, disenfranchised, and infirm, I cannot bear anything but the highest and most expansive standards as I unabashedly define them. It is at these times that I have been argumentative and I find it so very difficult to detach. It is almost impossible to let go.

Coming from my childhood experiences and the values instilled within me by a mother who modeled selflessness and fought valiantly to overcome the limitations of her childhood, the passion to “be fair” and “do right” easily incites frustration and fury.

Although more inclined to write than speak, I have spent my adult years acknowledging the elephant in the room, speaking truth to power, and challenging self-serving or hypocritical assumptions about the greatest good for dependent others. Such actions are seldom appreciated and I have paid a price for my advocacy.

Although very much a proponent of the subjectivity and relativity of human perception, and very spiritual in terms of the big picture beyond the five senses, I am nevertheless triggered by any perceived sense of injustice or instances where it is only sheer audacity and might that makes a decision “right.” It is in such instances that an otherwise pleasing and agreeable gentle giant can become obsessively oppositional and lawyer-like in his resolve to seek redress and prove his point. As family , friends, and colleagues know, it is not a pretty sight.

What is at the root of this? What makes a big teddy bear become so ferocious that he attacks blindly and subjects himself to the truckloads of guilt he will suffer for betraying his highest ideals of conduct? What is it that ironically propels him to act as mightily and self-righteously as those he is resisting?

Having had decades to reflect upon this topic, I have come to believe that the root of my fury rests in the shifting nature of human values and beliefs.

Although very much a proponent of human diversity and freedom that does not adversely impact the lives of others, I am often lulled into a naïve belief in shared values that do not always exist. It is always a rude and bubble-bursting experience when values that I assume to be universal are not shared. Whether it is a problem of the value itself, its translation across generations, cultures, and subcultures, its applicability to a certain situation, or just its execution on a bad day, incidents of mismatched or non-existing values definitely arise. It is from there that shock, disbelief, and extreme dissonance emerge.

It is at such times that I am challenged to remain present—seeking first to understand and resisting the urge to be the one who is understood. It is at such times that I must breathe deeply and rhythmically—allowing my awareness to vacillate between what I jokingly refer to as my “still spark belly button centre” and the “big, bald-headed survey level” where I imagine myself looking down upon my bald-headed self and the situation I’m in as if from the clouds.

It is at these times that I need to take the time necessary to assess whether I have the composure, words, and wherewithal to express my truth calmly, confidently, and constructively—speaking spontaneously only if the words are “at the ready” and my audience is ready to listen and hear. To have the faith and trust in times when no particular response seems effective or timely is critical. The delay gives me time to assess the situation using my mind, heart, and intuition to determine the time and course of future action, if any. More often than not, the synchronistically right response will emerge at the right time. . . or the situation will resolve itself some other way. Although this sometimes feels like a type of apathy or indifference to the suffering of others that my mother’s child would find unconscionable, it is not. Things usually work out for the best and a new day always dawns.

This post, of course, is about awareness and detachment—a way of being “in the world but not of it” and letting go with love, faith, and trust in the unfolding. Nothing could be easier—or harder. In the words of Caroline Myss, “If we let go of things, our life is going to change. And the reality is that we are actually more afraid of change than we are of death.” Oh, the folly, fun, and occasional fury of being a human bean.

With love,

Posted in Live

Going Confidently

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined. (Thoreau)

I am thinking of the friend and colleague who gave me the ornamental plaque with this inscription on it many years ago. I am sending her and her family, friends, students, and colleagues love.

So much has changed since the time when I opened that gift box on the official occasion of my parting. While I must admit that I have sometimes lacked the confidence and have taken a reluctant detour or two along the way, I have held true to the spirit of this famous quotation. I now know the importantance of deep, quiet courage and the profundity of one’s proverbial ship coming in on a calm, confident, and faith-filled sea.

This first week of July marks the end of my “transition period” and a new beginning–the proverbial first day of the rest of my life. Sitting here at dusk overlooking the Pacific Ocean, I am feeling more optimistic and content than I have for some time.

I’d even go so far as to suggest that I am now, in this moment, going confidently in the direction of my dreams. I am living the life I imagined. How about you?

With love and trust,

Posted in Live, Love

A Chisel In My Hands

It is only well with me when I have a chisel in my hands. (Michelangelo)

Although it has been more than two decades now since I first read this quotation and began using it widely, it still holds true today. At first impressed by its meaning or message as much as its source, it resonated deeply within me. It spoke my emerging truth. At first fledgling, but now full-forced, I am still realizing the wisdom, wonder and wellness it imparts.

This quotation, attributed to a fine master, gave me permission to do that which I longed to do. Create! Even further, it made it an imperative—something I must do to remain healthy and well.

As the creative and “sensitive” son of a gentle father who suffered immensely from paranoid schizophrenia (and at times inflicted his suffering on his vulnerable young family), I was terrified that I might wake up to discover one day that I, too, was not well. To extend Michelangelo’s sculpting metaphor, I was secretly worried–paranoid even–that I would become a “chip off the old block.”

While this adolescent fear has long since abated with the passage of almost five decades, what has remained is the habit of writing for hours each day. Although successful and fortunate enough to continue seeking my healthiest and happiest place in the external world, it is true that “it is only well with me” when I am creating and re-creating that world with every stroke of the wordsmith’s pen.

Even now, as I make the renewed pledge to post on this blog, it is only after numerous hours of “journal journeying” that I may do so. As has been my habit for more than two decades now, I write in longhand every day for as long as life and the demands of the day afford.

Cursive handwriting, by far the smoothest and fastest mode of self-expression for me, allows me to move the pen across the page and express the yearnings of heart, mind and soul that are my greatest joy and bliss.

Going deeply inward, while simultaneously expressing outward, my cursive scribbles are my calming and comforting meditation. Repetitively “mantra-like” in their affirmative and visualizing nature, they are simultaneously free-flowing as an expression of gratitude, prayer, and all-too-human rambling—evidence of my distraction as I take in the whirligigs of life all around me. While it is also true that my journal writing is my own germinating place and the source of seeds for many creative and educational projects, it’s also important to note (as I often joke), I’m just not fit to be around without it.

With heartfelt appreciation to Julia Cameron for the profoundly positive influence her life’s work has had on my life, my “’morning’ pages” link me to the most profound wisdom, wonder, and wellness I have ever known. Whether morning, noon, or night, it is only really, truly, and deeply well with me when I have a chisel in my hand.

With love,