Tag Archives: Meditation

finding the flow

“If I have weaknesses, don’t let them blind me or camouflage all I am wary of. I could be sailing on seizures of laughter or crawling out from under the heel of love.  Reach in the dark. Reach in the dark. To overcome an obstacle or an enemy. To glide away from the razor or a knife”

Rhythm of the Saints Paul Simon

I spent the full year after living out and sharing chapters, refraining from expressing any inner experiences or written reflections publicly. With intent, I chose to withdraw socially. Engaging with only a few people, no particular community and retreating from professional pursuits. I directed my attention away from external obligations and focused inward with new intensity. What did this look like? What are the repercussions of a year focusing internally rather than externally? I am choosing to share, now a year later, as a means to help understand the answers.

Prioritizing this kind of time for one’s self is rare. If ever taken, we are taught that it’s selfish or unhealthy to do so. For me, I found the opposite to be true and landed upon some valuable lessons. I learned how to hear, listen to, rely upon and share with myself. Becoming my own boss, audience, motivator, accountability, critic, fan, and foe, I learned to accept my ebb and discovered my flow.

Without outside obligations to abide to, what would I do for myself on my own? Could I stay in step with my own beat while learning to live without evaluating or understanding everything I did and felt? Could I feel and be within my natural rhythm of time? Yes, in fact, I could. After finally releasing the reins, I stopped trying, flailed about and stumbled into my flow. What I found was an infinitely deep pool of water and words waiting to rush in. Meditation is the practice that directed me off the diving board.

At first, sitting with myself in silence was a strange and sometimes difficult thing to do. I had issues with the physical effects of sitting still and felt resistance in finding “the time” to do it in my day. The most difficult part of meditation though was simply facing my own thoughts directly without distraction. “Empty the mind. Silence your thoughts. Be in the present moment.” were the directives. I came nowhere near those outcomes in my first meditation experiments. Instead, I did a 180 and flooded my brain with thoughts at full force on high volume. All the questions and concerns I stored away bubbled to the surface and rushed into the room to sit with me in the “silence”. Racing questions with no answers were anything but calming or relaxing. How could I experience the present moment when all these questions from the past and future kept interrupting my here and now?

In my two years of practice since, I’ve learned to accept the thoughts and questions as a part of my present moment. The queries are no longer distracting, and I no longer seek answers. I simply listen in, welcome the thoughts and then let them leave. Living by a creek, I focus on the sound of rhythmic water to float these passing thoughts onward. Now, sitting in “my silence” is satisfying. Instead of distracting questions rising to the surface, there is a wide-open space of stillness that repeatedly is re-filled with breath and heart beat. In this rhythmic dance from past moment to future moment, there is constant motion and no time or room for hesitation or judgment in between. In these intervals of silent space, I now hear the answers before questions arrive. My moments in meditation conduct and orchestrate new movement and action in my day. And above all else bring creative energy that is flowing forth into spontaneous and free-flowing writing sessions.

I now spend hours allowing words to come as they want to, in ways they intend on coming out. I stop thinking, start breathing and feel into the process. Often I’m surprised by what emerges. I write about topics I had never thought about, and create characters I didn’t know existed. Thoughts move through my head and come concretely together on their own, in a way that is fluid and automatic.

I believe the origin of this flow comes from the space I have given it to grow from in meditation. I have broken down the walls where it once was contained and have not pin-pointed or directed a final destination or outcome. Releasing the reason to write, the specific audience to write for, and topics to write about frees me up to feel into my own natural current and move forward.

My sailor friend Jeffrey says, the key to sailing is to utilize the best of what you have access to: current, wind, tools and the structure of the vessel. Lean in and allow for the natural elements to do their work. Use observation and technical skills to make minor fine-tune adjustments to shift your direction along the way. This is something that I think I have been trying to learn my entire life. How do I release myself fully while making technical and observational adjustments along the way without heavy-handed control?

It’s a bit scary at first, like being on a sailboat alone without knowing how to utilize the assets and tools you have. Floating freely in foggy open water, not knowing if you will hit the shore or if you will be lost at sea.   At this point there is no other option then to release into the current, utilize the wind and learn the tools at your disposal. If you don’t want to ebb, it’s time to learn to flow.

Reach in the Dark.








This week I have been reading the New Testament: The Revelation of John, a series of stories written centuries ago offering guidance and understanding about our lives and how we should live them. This specific excerpt from the New Testament has not yet revealed any clear or illuminating messages to me. Granted, I only got about 12 chapters in struggling with the heavy layers of metaphors and ancient language and was ready to give in and get the cliff notes for the Bible (only $10 on Amazon!) Then a Living Chapters reader recently reminded me that these complicated layers of written revelations “were all written in a specific time-frame and oftentimes in response to a certain situation.”  She suggested that I “try not to take everything that is written so literal.” Basically my message from her was to lighten up a bit. Be open and have fun with this. She also suggested reading something more contemporary.

Well I have found it nearly impossible to take anything I have read thus far in The Revelation of John literally.  So instead of responding literally to the text I am reading this week, I will respond to the revelations that I am receiving myself this week through my own specific time-frame outside of the readings.  In an effort to become more comfortable and loosen up about this material, I will share the experiences of my current here and now. How am I reacting both to the external act of reading “John’s” revelations and to the internal act of creating and reflecting upon my own beliefs through my personal mediation practice.

Literature, philosophy and poetry have always been an inspirational way to reflect upon and come to an understanding about our belief systems.  Learning how others process ideas is a great way to validate or form our own opinions. One of the requirements from my chapter writer this month is to experience a spiritual practice with others in community to witness and open a door to new perspectives and insights.  I look forward to attending a service in a shared setting.  Maybe there I will find some translation for these layered explanations that I am reading in the Bible.  My preference currently though is to be open to exploring the new territory that is within me.  Our beliefs are personal and true to each of us. Right now I find it important first to look inward and be honest with myself about what my own truth and understanding is, what it may have been and what it may grow into.

My first choice of expression for sharing these revelations (and maybe my most fluent way of doing so) is through the creation of an individual visual language that can be read by many and interpreted in different ways.

This week I respond with a series of photographs. These images depict the experience I am going through here looking inward, validating and questioning my own beliefs and philosophy. They also express my feelings about seeking new ideas looking externally, in the shared quest for spiritual growth and knowledge.

Reaching out. Reaching in.

Do my images question what it is you see and believe? Are your beliefs based in organic forms? Are they based on a structure? Do we need structure for organic form to exist?  Do we need organic form for structure to exist? As in photographs, lights, darks, and gradations must be examined and come together in a balanced way for the picture to ever become clear.  This week I have had fun practicing, photographing and playing with the act of seeing all of what is in front of me, inside me and around me.

What do you see? And where do you look? Take a moment to explore around each window and door, you may find it as fun as I have.


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

It’s the whole building….


Chapter four writer, Amy Rothstein challenged me with a series of existential questions to ponder and investigate this past September.  Amy was one of the few writers who joined me on each and every task she suggested for the month including creating a life plan, a meditation practice, and a visit to an isolation chamber. In her post here, Amy shares her reflections on the ideas she explored in that chapter since living it out with me.

In September, I wanted to understand the relationship between what Eckhart Tolle described as “Life” and our “life situation”; between the “foundation” and the “superstructure”. (Click here to view that original ET passage.)

Since then, I have worked hard to identify exactly what my life situation goals are and to respect and validate these inspired desires. Once that was complete (it was a messy process) I began to proceed with a tangible plan, which is to restart my art making practice after almost eight years of inactivity. The process involved in creating work put a spotlight on the negative thoughts that frequent my mind. My inner critic roared, my skeptical philosopher probed, “why this…what for?!”  I was getting in my own way. I found myself relying on past teachings that often seemed like abstract and fluffy concepts. Remarkably, they make sense now that I am using them to help me work on my life situation, and I am changing with the help of these teachings now than ever before.

So I would add to ET’s statement that just as it is unwise to build one’s superstructure (or “life situation”) without a foundation (or “Life”), the opposite is also true. It is futile to build a foundation without a superstructure. The goal of building a superstructure (i.e.: overcoming fears, taking on new challenges) motivates one to lean on their foundation.

**I can also report that I went to the isolation chamber again recently and I’m not sure I need to go anymore. Meditation is equally (arguably more) effective and I plan to pick it back up again.


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protagonist parting words

This month Amy, Agnes and Grace challenged me to be mindful and aware of my thoughts, my body, my feelings, and the passing time that holds them all together.

I found great benefits in the exploration of meditation, silence, stillness as well as silliness this month.  Even though I feel as though I’ve merely scratched the surface in this exploration, I’ve noticed that what I have put into practice this month really has helped me to let go a bit more, relax into my resistance and disentangle from the situations in which I can not control.  I also learned that looking directly at my discomfort or resistance has lead to greater clarity and comfort.

I will keep my parting words brief and leave you with the above lessons I’ve learned as well as a few of the same questions that we started with to ponder.  I don’t suspect these questions will ever really be answered with any amount of reflection and meditation. I kind of hope that they stay unanswered.  I have enjoyed indulging in this exploration and hope to continue to do so in each future chapter to come.

What is happiness? Is it something we can find or do we create it ourselves? How long can it last?

How do we balance the act of leading and planning our lives while allowing them to unfold?

Can darkness pain and resistance lead to clarity peace and understanding?

What can our physical realities teach us about our existential existence?

As long we are all making it through our existential crises day-to-day, I think we’re all doing ok!  Be here now.


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inside isolation: under the skin and in the water

“Come to New York for some isolation” she said. I had no idea I would also be spending the weekend staring at guts, blood vessels, body parts, skeletons, and still-born baby embryos?!? And somehow all of this happened before diving into the silence, darkness, and nothingness found floating in the pre-scheduled isolation chamber session. Wow! What a way to end this month’s exploration into existential spirituality! Gotta give it to this month’s writer Amy Rothstein for shaking “Living Chapters” up and literally pushing both my physical and mental comfort zones.

I warn the readers now that this entry is longer than most. I have found experiences in the past few days to be fascinating and at some point may write pages on the thoughts and questions that were inspired by this weekend’s excursion.  Tonight I will share what I can.

As suggested, I traveled to New York City to visit Amy and her husband Adam. I’ve been to the city countless times before and have always found it to be invigorating and stimulating (sometimes a bit overly so…)  I often come home from New York feeling as if I need to rest up from my trip. This was the first visit in which I’ve come home feeling revitalized and fully relaxed.

So, instead of shopping, gallery hopping, clubbing, or culture seeking, Amy had a not so touristy mission planned for us this weekend.  She asked me to step outside of the peaceful white wall, daily mediation sessions and challenged me to and take a peak under my own skin.  She asked me to contemplate not only who I am but what I am. What would happen if I looked directly into the dark isolated place of my inner self to seek existential answers?  I endorse following Rothstein’s approach of doing the nitty-gritty work of checking in with your day-to-day existence while pushing both your physical body, and mind to new places. It feels like a  bold endeavor and I thank Amy for asking this of me.

Day one: under the skin

Although not written directly into the chapter, Amy made one last request that we do together upon my arrival to the city. For the last week of this month, I was asked to focus on my body. How did I feel within my own skin in different situations with different people? Could I notice subtle changes? Could I listen to what my body was communicating and block out external sources? To assist me in this process, she suggested we attend Gunter von Hagens’ Body Worlds original exhibition “Pulse”

I had the opportunity many times before to see this exhibit, but have always passed it by. I passed up the chance to stare at and examine the stripped down layers of our human shells? I passed on the chance to be up close and personal with the human hide that we call skin, the marble like substance that we call muscles, the gorey guts that make up our digestive track, and the ligaments that somehow link our muscles and bones together. Oh and I somehow had been missing out on the opportunity to observe the slices of brains delicately displayed between glass.  Why had I passed up this great opportunity? Well it’s totally creepy!  So, Amy if you were trying to pick things that push my comfort zone, job well done – consider it pushed!


these photos are taken from the Body Worlds exhibition website. Please go there to see more images – the photos are amazing but they do not do the exhibit justice. Go see the show!

Overall, I found the visit to the Body Worlds exhibit to be a bit less overwhelming and unsettling than I expected but it did greatly affect me. Looking at our physical form stripped down to the basic layers was fascinating. I quickly became aware of my own physical reactions.  The darkened space and carefully designed light fixtures transported viewers to another space where we humans could observe ourselves as beautifully displayed objects or sculptures. It was when I started comparing the figures to my own body and bone structure that I started to feel the exhibit rather than merely view it. My palms began to sweat and I felt a bit light-headed. It brought my awareness directly to the current moment and physical state of being. I was not quite queasy but I was not quite right either. I was actually proud of both Amy and I for making it through the whole exhibit without passing out in public. (Amy is my only friend who like myself is prone to fainting in doctor’s offices when giving blood or even getting a shot.)

Being in the darkened space with this spotlighted specimens – I have never been more aware of my own shape, shell and form or more amazed by it. How precious each tiny piece and part played in the overall picture! Breaking it down in this visual way reminded me of how strong yet vulnerable we are. Each layer protecting the next – a complicated and precise system making up our each of our individual lives. It is entirely up to us to keep it all moving smoothly and working properly.  It is up to us to take care of ourselves body mind and spirit.  This exhibit was a clear reminder of that.

Interspersed between the display cases of flesh, muscles and bones were Tibetan prayers, quotes from existential poets, scientists and spiritual leaders. I found it fitting that the curators of the show also designed the viewing experience to be balanced out with these open-ended existential questions about life.  How could you not wonder about these questions when contemplating and viewing the visceral creation of the human body.

Day two: in the water

What the heck is an isolation chamber? I had been thinking about this since Amy unveiled her final request for this chapter last week.  She scheduled us both to spend 60 minutes in an isolation chamber. I can not say the request did not spark a tiny bit of anxiety at first.  There is something about the word “chamber” that creates a sense of fear that only bad horror movies involving torture and psychological tests could bring. Amy had posted a few links online for me to learn about the process and experience, but I purposely held back peaking at them so I could go into the experience with a clean slate (without preconceived notions or judgement). I decided to trust my friend and let go of the stereotypes that movies have led me to believe about isolation. My anxiety quickly faded to excitement and curiosity. Is it even possible to be in complete isolation in the midst of New York City? And if it was, what can isolation bring? Why do people choose to do this? These were questions, I was ready to explore. Also, Amy was along for the ride, so if it was torturous, we would weather the weirdness together.

After coming out of this experience, I am sure my description won’t do it justice. Reactions to this process, I am sure are intimate and unique to each individual much like our sensory experiences. Sound and sight are not the same for you and I so how could the absence of them feel the same to us both. I urge you to try this out for yourself (that is if you are not claustrophobic) and see what you get out of it.

So you may ask like I did, what is an isolation chamber? Basically it is a small room/large closet with a large tub in it (it’s about the size of the space I sleep in on the sailboat I live aboard). The tub is filled with water kept at body temperature. It has a high density of Epson Salt in it and possibly some chlorine. It is big enough to stretch out and float effortlessly in. The walls are sound proof and the darkness is opaque when the lights are turned off.

If you are wondering about the actual step-by-step detailed logistics of this process, I urge you to take a peak at the blog post (that I should have read before I entered) New York’s Last Sensory Deprivation Tank. This writer’s description of her interaction with Blue Light Flotation and its proprietor Sam Zeiger was quite similar and on par with my own observations. The only notes that I will offer in addition to her right-on review are my personal experiences being a first time floater.

I was not sure what I would get out of this “isolation” experiment. Amy and I entered the nondescript apartment building and told the doorman which floor and apartment we were visiting. Knowing exactly why we were there, he responded to us by asking, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Amy laughed a bit “Yes sir!” she said confidently. I shrugged my shoulders, smiled and followed her into the elevator. Exiting on the 4th floor we walked down a “Shining like” hotel hallway and passed by a silent young man, grinning gleefully from ear to ear. His expression was both blissful and a bit bonkers. He had just left Blue light – a first time floater maybe?

Sam welcomed us in his home and gave us both a brief (yet incredibly detailed) instructional session on how to get the best experience from the float. He was very particular about cleanliness, privacy, and efficiency. He explained that we would first shower before entering the tank, how to enter and exit the tank and then shower afterward. OK, yes this may have been one of the more bizarre things I have done in my life. Showering in some unknown guys apartment in NYC then floating naked in his self-made isolation tank full of salt water for an hour sounds like a recipe for disaster. These are the ingredients that make up most people’s worst nightmares but I can honestly say it just was not creepy at all. The guy outside in the hall was more unsettling than anything I experienced or saw inside Blue Light floatation.

Sam is one of the most professional and non threatening guys, I have met in a while. He believes in the benefits of floating so much, that he devoted his life to the process. In a sense his apartment in itself is his own isolation chamber that he can only really leave on Sundays (his day off) The rest of the week, he is booked back to back with curious visitors like ourselves and frequent floaters that come in to float for 3 hours at a time.  He finds himself rarely able to get out of the apartment to even do simple errands – he is stuck in isolation of his creation.  Now I can’t begin to tell Sam’s whole story after only talking to him for a mere 15 minutes but I can tell you about my first float.

I found very little to be negative about the isolation experience, in fact it was quite the opposite for me. The 60 minutes inside the chamber floating was the closest thing I have experienced to self-created and contained contentment or shall I say happiness. I would not call it life-altering or being bathed in bliss… by no means did any golden thoughts or answers fall from the universe into my subconscious during this time, but I have to say I felt ready and willing for them to do so.

When I first slipped into the tank I was surprised how buoyant the salt water made me. I floated directly to the surface of the water and stayed there. I had no fears or qualms about sinking. The weightlessness instantly relaxed me. I easily laid my head back, switched the light off, closed my eyes.  I focused in on the few things I could remember Sam telling us. He suggested doing a quick body scan or check in with each part of the body. How does this feel? How does that feel? Notice if there is any tension – don’t resist it. Accept that it’s there and breathe into the tension. Don’t ignore or avoid the discomfort, focus in on it and try to dissolve it. And practically, he reminded us, that staying still would obviously enhance the experience and of course warned us not to get the salt water in our eyes.

At first I did feel tension between my shoulder blades at the back of my neck. I was distracted by this for at least the first 5 – 10 minutes of the float. Other initial distractions included the thudding sounds of my heart beating, my now Darth Vader under water sounding breath and the almost deafening background sound of silence itself (which to me was like a ringing in my ears). I tried to focus in on the tension, and then went to focusing on my breath and then switched to listening to my heart beat.  As I focused in on one thing, the other sound or sense would fade. Not only was I able let go of the tension but I was also able to let go of holding my body entirely. I simply let go to the best of my ability and relaxed deeply into the floating feeling itself.

Thoughts of time came in and out of my head. “How long has it been? Is this supposed to be what happens in here? Don’t move – salt water in eyes would suck!” I also couldn’t help but be reminded of the tiny baby embryos in the Body World show.  I felt like one of them in them floating in the darkened womb.  When these thoughts came in, I steered my mind back to the silence sound and the darkness. The thoughts would then evaporate into the thick air. I tried to imagine the line of water around my body hitting the moisture filled air above me. Where was that line? Sometimes I still felt it around my face and sometimes it would disappear. When I was completely still, I felt as if I was floating in open space lifted in the air instead of the water. When I moved slightly it felt as if my body was spinning horizontally clockwise. Is this was astronauts feel like? Was I asleep? I thought for a few moments that I was. My legs got those jerk jolt reactions that sometimes happen just before or after falling into an REM state. At one point I felt as if I was floating face down instead of face up in the water. Did Sam slip something else in the water other than salt? These changing perceptions made me wonder.

Before I knew it I was hearing soft sad sounding music – this was the sign that the session had ended. I tried to sit up in the darkness and felt even more disoriented – I found the light switch and wandered back out into the world (Sam’s living room) where he had a cold class of herb tea waiting for me.  60 minutes had gone by in what seemed like less time than my 20 minute mediation sessions.

While waiting for Amy to take her 60 minutes in the chamber, I stood outside in the sun at the corner of west 23rd and 7th Avenue. I was basking in my isolation hang-over of sorts. I’ve never had such a great hang-over. I felt elated, yet grounded and surprisingly alert at the same time. I noticed my posture was even a bit better.  The world was moving quickly all around me on the busy city street but it didn’t bother or affect me. I patiently stared at everyone moving by and felt no need to be anywhere or do anything but be there in the sun.

Spending the hour-long session with only myself and the silence left me feeling not isolated but more connected with my surroundings and with a great sense of inner calm. The feeling stayed with me about an hour after leaving the float tank even amongst the hectic flow and pulse of the city around me. Was there something in the tank water? Was there something in the herbal tea? Or was there something in the simple act of looking inward instead of outward that brought me to sense of calm and comfort level in my own (newly salt covered and smooth) skin? Anyway you look at it – I rate it an A+ experience and would return to the isolation chamber. I will start tonight back on the boat in Annapolis, its my less intense version of the isolation chamber.


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day of silence


On my first day of silence last Wednesday, I opened up the hatches on the boat letting the crisp fall air and sun come in. It was a perfect way to start a “Day of silence” 5 minutes after settling into my morning meditation, I was startled and distracted by unknown voices outside on the dock. I glanced over and noticed 2 men standing a mere 15 feet from my meditation cushions. “Did they see me sitting here cross-legged with my plastic mustache meditation glasses on?” I realized that even if they did, there would be no way that I could explain myself at this point to them – it was a “Day of Silence” and I could not speak. I closed my eyes and sunk into the silence.

As a part of the Wild Card suggestion this month, I was given the challenge of taking one “day of silence” each week. When I heard this suggestion, I made an audible sigh of relief – what a pleasure and opportunity that would be.

The concept of what silence is and what it can bring to individuals has always interested me. I actually spent over 2 years creating audio pieces and photographic portraits exploring the role that silence has played in our lives. The project was called “Speaking of Silence”. Through that exploration, I interviewed nearly 100 people, listened and learned about what silence meant to and for those individuals. During those 2 plus years of examining the concept, I do not think I ever spent one full day being completely silent myself. I thank Amy this month for asking me to explore what the concept means for myself in meditation practice and I thank Agnes for pushing it a bit further.

Each mediation session this month itself has been training in a way for these extended periods of silence. Practicing meditation has allowed me to create a silent space for my thoughts and feelings. I’ve used this space to focus on the present moment, becoming aware of the time itself between my thoughts, actions, and speech patterns. This process has been great to do alone – it has helped me become more still and slower – not in work or my daily activities but in my reactions to others and my environment. Giving me the time to really observe and respond accordingly. I am finding that taking the time to be silent even outside of meditation practice is helping with this as well. So throughout the month even on “non days of silence” I am making time each day to be silent. (organizing, walking, writing, observing others)

But what would happen if I brought my silence out into the world? What would a normal day be like with the added silence? How would others react? How would it make me feel to not be able to communicate easily? This week Amy asked me to delve into how I felt in my body, alone and in social situations. I am taking my days of silence to experiment with what it feels like to hold the space in a busy coffee shop, in a grocery store, down town and in conversations with friends.

Below are some of the highlights of my first speechless days. I will say I was not completely successful in not speaking or uttering a sound entirely, I did said “SORRY” involuntarily when I bumped into someone by mistake and I made some exclamations to myself during the day – once when I accidentally hit the curb parallel parking “Yikes!” also at one point I found myself whistling. And even though I gave up my phone I did not give up technology or communicating all together. I was lucky enough to schedule 2 meeting free and telephone free days but I did still need to send emails for work.

Enhanced experiences:

Organizing/cleaning – I am more focused and more efficient

Emailing/working: I am more efficient when I am not taking phone calls

Writing: I am taking more time to write what I feel rather than worrying about what the words sound like together.

Walking: I have been walking alone and without excess sounds, music or calls. I have enjoyed the physical environment more.

New experiences:

Communicating: I mostly communicate through written notes in a small book and on post it notes. I sometimes “mouth” words as well or “mime” an action. I did this while doing errands and grocery shopping. When people noticed that I was not speaking they treated me differently – they started speaking really quietly and also slowly? Hmmm… because I was silent I guess that meant I was also unable to understand or hear them? Some people wanted to write return notes to me rather than say anything out loud. One lady decided that I was deaf and started signing to me in sign language – I shrugged my shoulders not being able to tell her I didn’t understand sign language and just pointed at my shirt that stated “Day of Silence”. She continued signing to me.

Body motions: I noticed myself using my hands to talk (even more so than usual) I gave the “thumbs up” and “ok” sign so many times that I started to feel like a cartoon character. I also felt strangely like a mime when I realized that not only was I silent but my “Day of Silence” T-shirt was black and white.

I noticed myself smiling A LOT. I really did not want to appear rude or as if I was offended by anything the other person said by not speaking to them.

Strange occurrences and/or observations:

  • I got into a note conversation with the old man in a coffee shop – he spoke to me in riddles and I tried to answer him in written pictures – I am not sure who was more confused or amused in that interaction.
  • I started a race with a 2-year-old in the park who seemed to understand my silence more than his parents.
  • I had a telekinetic interaction with a squirrel.
  • I did not miss phone conversations one bit.
  • I realized how silent we are already in our communication with eachother
  • While observing my own communications – I realized I am more connected online through my writing, emails, and texts almost more so than my face-to-face meetings? I am more honest and open in my writing than my face-to-face conversations.
  • I appreciate the time in between the responses of written notes, text messages or emails.
  • I tried to help a guy with a mustang charge the dead battery in his car. I could not convince him that he had connected the cables incorrectly. I am not sure if he didn’t want to “listen” to me because I was writing him notes or because I was a girl?
  • I got into the best conversation I have ever had about “truth, loyalty, and acceptance” with a barista. The entire conversation took place on post-it notes.
  • I am good at playing charades – I can now order breakfast in charades.

I am thinking of instituting this “Day of Silence” at least once a month for the rest of the year, if can not schedule weekly sessions as I move forward.  I can not tell you how many benefits are coming from this experiment. I can not tell you today anyway, I am still learning. But I will try talk to you about it tomorrow!  Please share your silent experiences with me.


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September Writer Response: Amy Rothstein


As predicted, sticking to the meditation practice was really challenging at first. For the first two weeks, I was grouchy, my body resisted and my mind ran like a noisy wild bronco. I did stick with it, kicking and screaming inside. Around mid-month, my thoughts during meditation started to lose potency. They became quieter; and while they still arose, they were easier to let go of. As a result of the meditation, I’ve become slightly more aware of my thoughts at times when I wouldn’t normally be. Meditating has also made it easier for me to moderate my consumption of (legal) substances and to be slight more disciplined in general. I have still been only meditating for 15 minutes.

I have tried to make a frequent practice of listing persistent, reoccurring thoughts, which tend to be subtle fears. I have found that proactively surfacing these ghosts helps me to prevent them from snowballing and allow them to exist if necessary. I plan to keep doing this.

As far as the one-year, five-year and lifetime-goals go, I created a list like this in January of 2012 and I took this opportunity to revisit it. Beth and I discussed her (and my) resistance to this assignment. While she resists planning; I resist commitment.  We agreed to only list what genuinely comes to mind.

I seem to be striking some sort of balance between being comfortable with where I am and also taking action about the future- perhaps that balance between what ET calls “Life” while working on my life situation. At this point it’s obvious that I tend to ask a lot of questions. Knowing which questions are best left unanswered is a skill I’m also honing these days.

So, where is my sense of humor? Do I take this stuff too seriously? This month hasn’t been any more serious than usual for me but I always do a fair amount of clowning around. Most importantly, having a disciplined routine to help address big questions (with or without answers) has actually made me feel a bit lighter this month.

So far we’ve covered “just being” and “doing” and for the last week I’d like us to cover “feeling”.

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30 seconds of silliness

Take 30 seconds to be silly today. That is one lesson I learned from this month’s unpredictable wild card!

Leave it to a 9-year-old to tell me exactly what I need to do to make Zen meditation work for me. Wear a mustache attached to a pair of ridiculously over sized glow-in-the dark glasses! Of course… it’s the perfect remedy to all questions and conflicts with my meditation practice. Interjecting a bit of silliness into my goals and intentions has never hurt me before, why should I stop now?

As Agnes stated, leave it to the free minds of children that are always searching and seizing the moment for a good opportunity to have fun. I truly do feel like we could learn a lot from those younger minds if we paid attention more. I must remind myself as well that in the times in my past when I have found myself becoming stuck, stressed or too serious, I have always gravitated toward youth to help ease the overwhelming feelings or situations. Not only do young people continuously keep me on my toes and in the moment with their unpredictability but their sense of themselves and the world keeps me laughing and questioning. The two things that I believe are necessary for nurturing a balanced mind and spirit.


These photographs were taken before leaving St. Croix. I had received the wild card gift when I arrived on the island but had not read the actual wild card challenge at this point. Upon receiving the gift, I immediately thought that this would be the perfect thing to do with the glasses. (Grace and I must be on a similar wave length) During the second week of meditating, (before receiving these glasses) I was actually having difficulties with wandering thoughts and some negative thinking. I was getting a bit hung up on thinking I was “doing the meditation wrong” or not doing zazen in the “right” way. Since then my thoughts in mediation have moved away from these self-critical places. Wandering thoughts still bubble up and rise to the surface but they are much less negative or critical and I don’t struggle with them as much, I let them evaporate when they reach the surface. It’s starting to feel a bit lighter in a sense.

So thank you Grace for not letting me fall only into the “oh so serious side” of meditation. Thanks for reminding me that mediation practice does not have to be perfect or meet a certain standard that has been prescribed. It is simply a tool that will help us find what we need for ourselves. Grace’s wild card tells me that we don’t have to be always searching for some kind of bliss in the subconscious or somewhere out there in the universe and we should not expect mediation to do that for us – we do that for ourselves. The glasses as they itch on my nose while I am meditating remind me that I make my own bliss and happiness right here in the moment laughing and appreciating the rare and sometimes odd gifts that the wild cards in life bring to me.

Note: I also want to thank Cosmic Jim Naeseth, Living Chapter’s tried and true Referee and my good friend. He may not be a kid, but his mind is young and free and always inserting a bit of HUMOR in every situation that he finds himself in. This past trip to the island was for the purpose of sorting out the million details and decisions that he needed to make while building his dream house in the tropics. Thank you to Jim for letting me be a part of his sometimes serious and serendipitous adventure.  I feel lucky to be along on his journey at this point in my existential chapter.


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September: Wild Card

chapter4wildcard ch4

My daughter and I have finally agreed on a wild card.  It was through much deliberation on my end to come up with an enhancement for this month’s theme as Amy has thoroughly covered all areas, which I fully commend.  My daughter, Grace, on the other hand knew right away what she wanted for Beth to do this month.  Leave it to children and their “free” minds to celebrate an opportunity.  We know Beth is going through a lot of changes in her life at this time so we believe these requests are reasonable and beneficial for her.  So here they are…

Grace says – Beth must wear a mustache every time she meditates.  Now since Grace and I saw Jim before he left for St Croix today, and will be meeting up with Beth, he promised to pass on to her a pair of glasses with attached mustache that Grace insisted upon.  Stick on mustaches just wouldn’t hold up and these glasses are more like wearing a disguise or a hat.  It’ll definitely keep her in the moment of her meditating.  These “must” be worn anytime she meditates, even if it’s in front of others.  Testing the strengths of limiting distraction.

Aggie says – each week Beth needs to take a “day of silence”.  Beth is able to choose which day but these days must consist of no talking…at all.  Only communication with others will have to be by notes – handwritten or typed emails are acceptable.  The objective is to pull within to the extreme of recognizing what truly needs to be expressed, overcoming expectations of others and self and exercising will power.  It’s very easy for us to speak without thinking and reacting to our environment, thus this will give her the time to silence her being, mind and allow clarity to come forth for the true desired expression.  Beth is encouraged to write down or log any thoughts which occur on a day of silence that need to be discussed at a later time but they must be succinct by the time she is ready to speak them.

OK that is it!  Grace & I hope Beth enjoys the rest of her month’s living chapter and that these are attainable without being stressful wild cards.  Let us know if any elaboration or clarity is needed and thanks again for the opportunity!

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What is your definition of paradise? Have you been there? Have you tasted it, heard it, inhaled it or held it?  Does “Paradise” exist? And why do we pine for it? I’ve been contemplating these questions this week, while attempting to meditate on the north side of St. Croix, a tropical island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

On this particular trip and in past travel experiences through exotic places, I often wondered if I would stumble across paradise. I listened for it in the rainforest, looked underneath coral and shells for it, went swimming under  turquoise waters looking for it and sipped down multiple fresh mango smoothies trying to fill myself up with it.  Like in meditation, I feel somewhat lost in this search for paradise. Its as if I am wandering about trying to find some kind of bliss I am not even sure exists. What is being zen? Do you feel that way in paradise? And if so how do you find paradise?

Before giving up on this quest entirely, I decided to look in one more place: The online Merriam Webster Dictionary… and there it was! Alas paradise and its true meaning(s)


noun \ˈper-ə-ˌdīs, -ˌdīz, ˈpa-rə-\

: a very beautiful, pleasant, or peaceful place that seems to be perfect

: a place that is perfect for a particular activity or for a person who enjoys that activity

: a state of complete happiness

These explanations left me a bit perplexed. How can paradise be so many things that are different and separate from one another?

So Webster is telling me this: Paradise is a PLACE, one that is so peaceful and beautiful that it seems to be perfect. Is it a place that makes one believe they are content and happy in its perfection, a place that intoxicates one with its surface beauty or the fruits it has to offer.

OR maybe

Paradise is a different PLACE for different people. It is really a place that is elusive in nature, and needs to be sought out and found in a step by step process. First by finding your individual “particular activity” or purpose then by seeking out the one and only and perfect place that will suit your purpose.

Merriam dictionary also says: Paradise is “an imaginary place or state of utter perfection and happiness”  So we have all been searching for an imaginary place of utter perfection? Did we somehow miss this definition in school growing up? I am not sure which is more difficult to track down – finding the imaginary place or one of utter perfection.

I looked a little further and found the origin of the word paradise.

“ Middle English paradis, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin paradisus, from Greek paradeisos, literally, enclosed park, of Iranian origin; akin to Avestan pairi-daēzaenclosure; akin to Greek peri around and to Greek teichos wall ”

The origin of this word seems to describe the feelings I  have personally when trying to define the word or search out this state for myself. I sometimes feel enclosed or boxed in, as if I have to follow Paradise’s prescribed notions. It was like Paradise itself had set up a boundary for me to search for something that may not exist instead of searching for and observing the things that do exist in my world right in front of me that bring happiness.

Well, where else would you go when lost in search of paradise?

Wikipedia of course: This is how it is defined there:

“Paradise is a religious or metaphysical term for a place in which existence is positive, harmonious and eternal. It is conceptually a counter-image of the supposed miseries of human civilization, and in paradise there is only peace, prosperity, and happiness. Paradise is a place of contentment, but it is not necessarily a land of luxury and idleness”

To me this seems like a bit more of a realistic description. Maybe its a post modern paradise?

I believe paradise can only be a place or state in which we interpret and experience individually. It is an existence that we can build for ourselves holding reality and positivity as a guide while, at the same time, letting go of all expectations of others’ definitions of perfection. It’s somewhere in the realization that we do not deserve, find or are given paradise – we create it.

So go ahead and find your own sweet spot wherever you are. Whether it’s in zen meditation, staring out the window of a car, waxing a car, playing guitar or taking 30 second videos… enjoy the process however you plan or live it out and don’t feel judged – it’s your own private paradise after all.


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