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Mana Souls

After a long year of pandemic-induced “sheltering in place,” my husband, Ken, and I boarded an airplane a few days ago and flew here to Maui, Hawaii.  We’d had plans to come over for a two-week vacation in April of 2020, but the pandemic dramatically squelched those plans.  So, we reserved the same two weeks for April 2021, thinking surely by that time COVID-19 restrictions would not be an issue.  Little did any of us know… But here we are.  Wearing a mask while walking on the beach clad only a bathing suit feels pretty odd, but I’m happy to say that people we’ve encountered here on the island have been very respectful of the current Maui mandates, with the general sense being, “Yeah, okay, this is weird, but hey, we’re just happy to be here.”  The feeling that “we’re all in this together” has been more predominant here than I’ve experienced many other places. The aloha spirit prevails, despite social restrictions, and people seem even more willing than usual to share a smile, even if it can only be conveyed through our eyes.  It just feels so wonderful to connect with strangers again, after purposefully self-isolating for so many months. To feel the oneness, the common spirit we all share is such a precious gift. One moment that especially exemplified this occurred just this morning as Ken and I were heading out for our morning beach walk. We noticed, from our fifth-floor balcony, a small gathering of folks, mostly men in matching jackets, standing on the beach a short distance from our condo.  We were curious who they...

Mrs. Beath

Mrs. Beath.  I smile when I think of her. She was a large woman. Like, 200+ pounds large.  She lived next door to us when I was in grade school. All the houses and front yards on our street in the little suburban neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA, looked pretty much the same – a couple steps leading up to either a little concrete stoop or a slightly larger covered porch, fronted by a rectangle of grass, all bordered on the right by a cracked cement driveway. All, that is, except Mrs. Beath’s. Her yard was a chaotic explosion of color – not a patch of grass or cement to be found. Instead, she had planted every imaginable color and type of flower, all intermingled in a gorgeous if untidy array. In the center of it all stood a 4’ cement statue of the Virgin Mary. To a five-year-old, it was a yard full of beauty and wonder. I’d spend hours smelling and exploring, and often, under Mrs. B’s supervision, I’d clip arrangements to take home to my mom. It was heaven. But even more heavenly than her expanse of flowers was her huge expansive heart. Many an evening, I’d go over and she would pull me up onto her equally expansive lap. I don’t remember much of what we talked about, but I will never forget how I felt. I felt safe. I felt seen. I felt loved. My parents saw Mrs. Beath through very different eyes. They commented on everything from her physical appearance (“How can she let herself be seen in public looking like that?”) to her...

“It Was the Best of Times, It Was The Worst of Times…”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair …” A few days ago, I came across this quote from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, and it struck me as a very relevant description… of these times, our times, even though this was written in 1859. Now, given our current world and political situations, you may be thinking, “I can relate to ‘the worst of times…foolishness…the winter of despair.’ But the ‘best of times? Wisdom? A spring of hope?’  Are you kidding me?!” It makes me think of the Chinese symbol for “Crisis.” I think most of us would agree that the US, and the world as a whole, are at a crisis point, from political madness to climate crises, and so much more. I often can relate to the “mind like an internet” quote below – and I know I’m not alone. So, in order to keep my own sanity, I dig deep for the “opportunity” aspect, asking… What can I learn from all this? Basically, I believe we’re here in these human bodies to learn what it really means “to love” – as an active verb. I also believe, as Einstein said, that a problem cannot be solved from the same consciousness level in which it was created. The ONLY solution to our current collective crises is to LOVE. More often. More deeply. More inclusively. More vulnerably. With more forgiveness. And more humility. In other words, it means I’m deepening my commitment...

“That Sunny Day in Ashland” – A Story About Connection

My husband, Ken, and I had positioned ourselves outside the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Box Office for the better part of two days now, armed with a little handmade sign, hoping to get two tickets to the final, sold-out performance of the world premiere production of “Manahatta.” Written by playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle, “Manahatta” tells a raw, compelling and historically illuminating tale of the Native Americans  (the Lenape tribe), who originally inhabited what we now know as Manhattan.  It had garnered rave reviews, but more than that, something inside me told me I must see this play. I’ve learned to listen to that voice. Hence, the box office folks and I were now on a first name basis due to my popping in regularly, in hopes a patron may have just called to turn in a ticket or two. The final matinee performance of the season was due to start at 1:30 p.m. At 1 p.m., Ken and I continued to sit on the low stone wall just outside the box office, on this sunny Saturday, chatting with other theatre-goers. And hoping. At 1:07, I went inside to check the box office yet again.  No go. By this time, Ken had developed a friendly rapport with Roger, obviously a kindred spirit, who’d recently come and sat on the other side of him on the Transaction Wall, hoping someone would show up with an extra ticket to today’s matinee performance in the other theatre space. At 1:19, Shepherd (the box office attendant who held the record for most times he’d checked the computer for me) came dashing out of the building, saying, “Nancy! Someone...

“No One You Cannot Love…”

In early September 2018, I held my Annual Women’s Retreat. I want to express my gratitude to and about the amazing group of women who ended up making that end-of-Summer retreat such a rich experience. The depth of love, caring and community that was established in one short weekend gives me hope for our world. Imagine if we could all come together in this way all the time, truly recognizing our similarities, our shared humanity, while treasuring and supporting each others’ unique talents and gifts. Imagine if we could always hold each other in such a gentle place of non-judgment. Although it’s months later as I write, now, I often think back to that weekend. I find its memory to be a wonderful antidote when the heaviness and overwhelm of outer world circumstances challenge my peace of mind, and tempt me to give in to the sense of malaise that is so prevalent these days. I use moments from that weekend, and other moments of Love and connection, as touchstones. I recall the exquisite vulnerability, the achingly beautiful depth of honesty….I remember what it feels like to be fully present, to be fully alive. I breathe into that softer place inside my heart, where I know that the only thing that really matters is love. And the only moment that exists in Now. If we are to solve the many challenges that face us as individuals and as a species, it will only be by each of us having the courage to make choices based in love, not fear. Oh, how simple and lovely that sounds, and oh, how hard it can be to put that into practice when fear overpowers or buttons get pushed – when I want to just...

Choosing Joy…and a Few Aussie Highlights!

“If you carry JOY in your heart, you can heal any moment.” – Carlos Santana One of the best parts of our Aussie adventure was being “unplugged,” away (for the most part) from internet, cell phones and news reports. As the weeks went by, we experienced a deepening, soul-lightening sense of relief. It just felt so wonderful to remember what it feels like to be….joyful. Which, to be fair, may bring up a response something like, “Well, sure, you felt joyful because you were fortunate enough to be traveling in gorgeous places for a couple months, with very few of life’s usual demands pulling on you, on hiatus from all the craziness going on in the US, and in the world.” “But how can I possibly feel joyful when _______?” (Fill in the blank: “…the country’s going to hell in a hand basket, families are being torn apart at the US borders, I’m working sixty hours a week just to try to make ends meet.”….or whatever.) It’s a question I’ve been pondering a lot lately. How can I maintain the sense of present moment awareness, the sense of perspective, the sense of connection and, yes, joy we were so blessed to experience on our trip? No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, most Americans would agree that anxiety, uncertainty, a sense of helplessness and even hopelessness (to name but a few), are creating an oppressive, divisive energy that many, many of us are experiencing on both overt and subtle levels everyday. In the months leading up to our Australia trip, I often found myself struggling to not...

Closing Chapters & New, Blank Pages…

It was so lovely to see the sun today, to feel its soothing caress as I did yoga on the front lawn next to Luna (our giant sequoia tree.) I easily put off working on this blog post until after a lovely couple-mile walk down our country road. While walking, I exchanged fond greetings with several neighbors who, like me, have been largely hibernating during the past few grey, rainy months. I counted 44 (!) wild turkeys grazing in a neighbor’s field. Curious horses across the way stretched their necks over the fences across the way to get a closer look as well. I exclaimed aloud to no one in particular how grateful I am to be able to walk and breathe fresh air and appreciate the astounding beauty of Mother Nature in oh so many forms all around me. It feels like an era of my life is coming to a close, and a new one is being born. I am blessed to keep quite busy doing a variety of things in various arenas. Within this past year, a new avenue of expression – playwriting – has burst upon the scene in a big way. I’ve had several short plays produced locally over the past few years, including End of the Rope (my short play about a woman, a rope, the fluid nature of reality and the enduring power of Love.) I played the role in its premiere production here in Eugene, Oregon in March, 2017. It will now have had 4 international showings within the past year: after Oregon, it was done in Hollywood, then on to the Philippines...

Of Smoke, Hurricanes, Death, and Life!

What a bizarre feeling it was, lying in our tent with my eyes stinging and my lungs aching from smoke, checking my laptop yet again for an update of the air quality forecast. Periodically, I’d then switch to the screen I’d kept open in order to track the progress of Irma, knowing our dear friends in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) were preparing for the Class 5 hurricane that was predicted to sweep directly across their idyllic island home. Meanwhile, I get a text from my daughter in Portland, saying it was literally raining ash, as winds carried in the sooty reminder that most of their favorite natural forest area along the Gorge was up in flames, and moving closer. I felt like I was in a scene from an Armageddon movie. We’d been looking forward to our family’s annual camping trip – a week at our favorite high mountain lake. My husband, Ken, and I were going to go set up camp, then a couple days later be joined by my daughter, son-in-law and new grandpuppy. But numerous forest fires in the area had forced cancellation of that plan, and driven us west instead of east, in search of clean ocean air – us and everyone else who’d been planning to go to the mountains! Not to mention those who were apparently making an impromptu Labor Day day-trip to the coast, in hopes of giving their lungs a break from the unsafe levels of smoke that had been hanging around in the Valley for several days. In the forty years I’ve lived in the Willamette Valley, I have...

Appreciating the Little Things

My friend, Kim, shared this story with me recently: When I was younger, I attended Catholic masses. I always especially enjoyed the part of the service in which members of the congregation were invited to offer their prayers for joint supplication – those who felt so moved, would speak their prayers aloud, in order to then be supported in their prayers by the congregation. This particular Sunday, as was the case most weeks, a group of mentally disabled adults had been brought in to attend the service. I always especially enjoyed hearing their prayers, as they were always so honest and heartfelt and exuberant.  They’d say things like, “I’m grateful I got to go to Valley River [a local shopping mall] yesterday and the sun was shining and I took the bus and I bought a red T-shirt! Let us pray to the Lord.” The congregation then replied with its rote response, “Lord hear our prayer.” This particular Sunday, though, was different. When it came time for the joint supplications, only one of their group spoke up, in a much more formal and rehearsed manner, saying simply, “For a private intention, let us pray to the Lord.” The congregation replied, “Lord hear our prayer.” From that day forward, there were no more spontaneous expressions of gratitude for the sunshine or red T-shirts. If verbalized at all, the prayer was simply for “a private intention.” Obviously, someone had spoken to this group of parishioners, and told them a more “correct” way to offer their prayers. Perhaps it was done in the name of expediency. Perhaps this instruction was offered by...

“Staying High” During Times Like These

Just prior to the election, I felt deeply inspired to write a blog piece. As I’ve meditated on what to write in this new blog post, I repeatedly come back to that message. The gist of that message is, to me, the most important thing we can be in conversation about right now. Although part of me is SO tired of having all this “political stuff” be such a focal point of seemingly everything we hear or read these days,  this truly goes way beyond politics. I once again feel compelled to share this crucial viewpoint. If you, too, continue to deeply wrestle with all this, I hope this will help:   In the weeks leading up to and since Election Day, I’ve felt an uncustomary heaviness in my heart.  At times, I’ve felt numbed and overwhelmed, like a sponge soaking up the generalized anxiety so pervasive in many of those around me. And I know I am not alone. The recent US election outcome is affecting our entire global family in unprecedented ways. I normally do not engage in much political discussion, especially in a professional capacity. But this is different. Like many others around the world, I am very concerned about what is already unfolding as a result of our recent elections. And like at least half of our country, I have grave misgivings about our new president and  his administration. At the same time, I believe political representatives are just that – representatives. An elected official cannot be other than a reflection of collective consciousness. To focus solely on bedeviling one individual is to miss a much larger picture, and...