g a t h e r i n g s


On the occasion of Johnny Cash’s birthday, my mother’s favorite singer, I was flipping through the latest magazine from my high school. I was touched by the photographs of the beautiful students so engaged in life, starting out, full of joy.

Toward the back, there was an “In Memoriam” section. There was a name I recognized but couldn’t quite recall. I didn’t know him, though I could have. Even the smallest groups break into clusters based on ridiculous things, the superficial things that separate. They feel so real at the time. Mindless certainties.

There was just one line written, the fact that he was dead and the time of his death. I googled, and a man came into vague focus, but that one line was most powerful. The simple, stark statement announcing his departure against a backdrop of all those young faces, their chubby smiles and lovely awkward bodies.

I think this evening of Bart, of my mom and father and brother, of friends already gone, of your family members and friends. I think of me and you. I think that life is a constant declaration, whereas death is a simple fact.


In listening to someone’s history I am listening for the systemic events and dynamics that form the secret database for current problems. The process of out-picturing allows both facilitator and client to begin to visualize the undercurrents of the family and of the original community, and simultaneously, the ways in which the client may be caught in those undercurrents.

The systemic out-picturing process also reveals the sometimes-forgotten language of life force that carries our families and communities forward. My focus is trained both on the challenges and the gifts of the given system — including what is embodied by those who have been rejected, whether now or in generations past.

What is called “good” and what is called “bad” will exchange places many, many times over the life of a system, and over the lifetime of an individual. The opportunity to create, and benefit from this changing alchemy requires that we be in motion. What comes next doesn’t have to be defined by the past as long as our feet are moving. Information flows from what was — not destiny.

Being in motion has many meanings. It is physical, intellectual, spirit driven. It is small or big, inwardly directed, alert to the external; it is connecting, grateful, realistic, cumulative, celebratory. Being in motion is feeling, action, sequence; we know it by its results, for as we meet others along the way, our hearts are open to the best in them and, especially, in ourselves.

Optimism draws oxygen from the spaces between gift and challenge. As I stand with you, I am listening for breath.

Where Does It Hurt?

Happiness. We often support each other in the belief that there is a “secret sauce” or golden key or right practice to get us there. Sometimes, we are the ones trying to sell it. What is the “happiness” everyone is striving for? Is it carefree? or giddy? Is it a euphemism for love and companionship, money, security? Is it the stripping away of fear, anxiety, loneliness, depression? Is it an adding to or a taking away?

“I just want to be happy,” people say. I say it too. What do they mean? What do I mean?
The doctor asks, “Where does it hurt? On a scale of 1 to 10, how painful is it?” Others in the helping professions ask similar questions. What does your sadness, anger, fear feel like? Is it hot or cold, sharp or dull, slowly building or suddenly bursting? Where do you feel it in your body? Can you recall what brought it on most recently? Who accompanies it? How is this time similar to other times? How do you prepare? All interesting questions. They help us, perhaps, to stop spinning in our own alphabet soup — scrambled letters that sometimes become words. More helpful to me lately is asking other questions though. Maybe it will be helpful to you. When I can look up and report, “Oh, yes, I am happy” — what does that feel like? Where in my body is it? Is it warm or cool …?

Right now, I can look directly into your eyes to say, “I am happy.” It is a soft feeling that calms the fluttering that too often occupies my chest. It is warm in my head, and cool in my hands. It is an addition that makes more room for itself in this moment. I brought it on — or it arrived and I noticed. Those who love me and have loved me are here, whole and perfect now. On a scale of 1 to 10, there is no number.

I think it happens most reliably when I am writing. I feel most myself tapping away at these keys. I feel at home in this multilayered sphere of happy, whether giddy, carefree, or melancholy, always in good company.

Still, I know this happiness will not last. My demons are well-versed in the subject of me! They know how to siphon my optimism, my energy, my clarity. They rise up sometimes. It’s okay, though, my own “right practice” includes this knowledge, doesn’t pretend otherwise. So, I am not so surprised when the demons show up, not ambushed. And turns out they are little, in fact, though their shadows are cast huge against my walls.

Here’s what I am learning: As I can get to know my own happiness — its personality, texture, purpose, pace, color — I am better able to re-call the state even when it passes. I can look forward, at least peak out, to the border between what has become present to that place, happiness, I marked out deliberately on the map. I paid attention, didn't take it for granted, showed respect, felt gratitude. Yes, I recall the state, a warm, cool place where my chest rises and falls softly, where love is happy to see me. I recall that sometimes my fingers tap away at the keys and with each click a light comes on. I can report that the shadows are no longer present, but only if you ask, because I do not notice exactly when they slip away.