Compassion in Action

On October 21, 1967 a 17-year-old girl stepped in front of the National Guard with only a flower in her hands. She opened her arms wide as if to say, “I have no weapons, only a flower.” In the Smithsonian Magazine article of the time, she said that at that point she felt tremendous empathy for the young men who stood in front of her. She might even have gone on a date with one of them. She realized that all of them were just human beings. She was an iconic expression of compassion in action.

It’s not 1967 anymore. It’s 2017. But we are faced with Americans against Americans again, not over Vietnam, but over racism, terrorism and hatred. A flower will not hold back the forces of hatred. Sanity, control and leadership might do so. The kind that Seth Myers spoke about the other night. I hope everyone listens to the video of him if you didn’t hear him live.

I have flowers in my garden. This is a photo of one I took today. It reminded me of the young teenager who had the courage to face the forces of violence and possibly death.
I hope we all have the courage to do so.



The Art of the Deal

The Art of the Deal was the title of Donald Trump’s first book almost thirty years ago.  We have now seen what that means in the past year: say and do anything to get what you want.

As I read the news every day since the election, I notice that he is backing away from the firebrand rhetoric that he used to rally people to vote for him.  He is not going to prosecute Hillary Clinton or her Foundation.  He is not going to put her in jail.  He is reconsidering climate change, deporting all Muslims, and his damnation of the press.  At first he refused to meet with the NYTimes.  His reasoning being that the press has not treated him fairly, that they have “failed”, and he threatened to sue them for libel.  He has attacked television network executives and anchors and said that the networks had been dishonest in their coverage of him.  Then he decided he would meet with the NYTimes and said the meeting was “cordial”.

What is happening to Donald Trump?  The art of the deal may get you in the door, but it may not keep you there. This is becoming apparent to him, I assume, as he seems to realize that he can’t bully the whole world into submission.  Now he wants to be nice and have people be nice to him.

Well, that doesn’t help the more than 700 people who have been attacked, harassed and intimated by hate crimes since the election.  According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, these hate crimes include anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-LCBT, Swastika, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-Trump, hate group recruitment, anti-Semitic and other multiple acts. He seems to have no awareness of the world around him and what he has unleashed.  It’s all a game, a deal in his favor.  A President for all the people?  Really?  Then why is he hiring all white males for his Cabinet?

Only time will tell what Mr. Trump will give to, or take away from, the democracy of the United States and its hard won freedoms.  It has taken more than two hundred and fifty years to build our country.  Let’s hope he doesn’t tear it down in four.


The Longest Week

This past week has been the longest week of my life. I went to cast my vote at the local fire station. I didn’t have to stand on line. There were seven districts and enough volunteers to accommodate everyone quickly and easily. Small towns have their advantages. Then I went home and waited. I couldn’t work that day. I had shifted all my clients to other days that week.

That morning I had awakened and all day I kept seeing Trump standing with his arms raised and balloons and confetti falling down around him in red, white and blue. No, no…I tried to switch it to Hillary winning, but the vision wouldn’t change. I knew, all day.

And of course, the polls coming in were wrong. Everything went wrong. My reality was wrong. As Shunryu Suzuki, the beloved Zen master of Tassajara in CA said many years ago: Not Always So.

My mind had to shift from hope and enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton, to shock and dismay for Donald Trump. I went to bed early on election night because I couldn’t bear to watch the reality that was unfolding before my eyes. I had nightmares of Donald Trump winning…over and over again.

I awoke to the validation of my intuition. Donald Trump had won the electoral college.
I couldn’t grasp it. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I felt unfettered, ungrounded. My whole life has been about the spiritual dimension of life. Was everything I believed about humanity wrong? I believed that we were gradually moving toward a peaceful world in which people actually wanted cooperation and compassion. I had just started a book club based on The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The first meeting was deep, rich and profound. Everyone contributed. And now? Where was the other half of American humanity?

I don’t know. I suppose if I look at the statistics, they will tell me. But I don’t want to. I don’t want to know those people. I don’t understand those people. I am afraid of those people. Anyone who could put on the robes of the Ku Klux Klan terrifies me.

Where is home now? Do I live in enemy territory? Only time will tell. I have only my own inner heart, my own inner compassion to hold onto. It is hard. Very hard. But I am grateful that my beloved friends are as shocked as I am, and we can share compassion with each other. We can console each other. We can prepare for the events to come, whatever they are to be. As they sometimes say in publishing, nobody knows anything.


My husband and I were ordering an early dinner in our hotel restaurant, when a tall young man came in and sat two tables away from us. It was cold and windy in Washington DC, and he looked glad to get inside where it was warm. He was wearing a thin coat, a hat and a backpack, and looked as though he might be a university student. I had a strange feeling about him, but I couldn’t define it. It was a Saturday night and he was alone. When the waiter came over, he said he just wanted “something sweet.”

Tom and I went on with our meal, which arrived shortly. When the young man’s dessert arrived, it looked lush and delicious, and in an attempt to be friendly, I commented on it. He immediately offered me some, which I declined, but said I wished a report on it when he was finished.

We turned away from our brief conversation, and Tom told me that his generous and spontaneous offer was very Arabic.

When all our meals were finished, I asked the young man where he was from. Qatar, he replied. Do you know where that is? Tom immediately spoke up and said “the Arabian peninsula”. The young man seemed impressed. He said he was a student in D.C. I asked if he missed his family. He said he had just visited them two weeks before, and sometimes they come to DC to see him there. He asked about us, and we told him we lived in New York and had known each other since college. Since college!? He looked surprised and wistful, as though he was thinking of what it would be like to find the love of his life so early and spend his life with her. I wondered if he were lonely that Saturday night, and how often he spent his weekends alone.

He paid his check and as he stood up from his chair to leave, he nodded goodbye. And then, without a moment’s hesitation, he said “Be safe,” and walked out of the restaurant.


Who or what is a source of comfort for you? I have been thinking about this for awhile now, reviewing all the important people in my life since childhood.
I realize that I have always been seeking sources of comfort. Love, kindness, prayer, meditation, warmth, friends, family, inner knowing, beauty, gardens, trees, grass, the sky and clouds. Water as waves, streams, rain, lakes, ponds, glistening sun on the ocean.
The deep affection and warmth of my pets. The comfort of my home. The ease of good friends. The comfort I feel when I do laying-on-of-hands for someone who needs comfort and healing.
Maybe we need to pay attention to all the ways we give and receive comfort, and divert our attention away from the pain and suffering in the world. If we can help provide comfort that will ease pain and suffering, then we should. But if we cannot, our consciousness needs to dwell elsewhere so as to provide comfort for ourselves. The inner comfort that our minds and hearts seek


One of the benefits of getting older, in my experience, is that I have acquired patience.  What used to annoy and frustrate me is more easily tolerated by taking a deep breath and accepting that I have a choice about how I will respond.  Instead of reacting impulsively, as young people often do, I realize that I am my own authority, in charge of my own emotional responses, and I do the best I can to honor all the years of meditation I have practiced (since I was 17).  That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes get angry or annoyed, but it means that I am much more conscious of what I’m feeling before I respond.

Teenagers are famous for acting out their feelings as they struggle with their own identity and the world around them.  They are not known for patience, which seems to be an acquired trait.  Life experience, many years of it, has taught me that the world is not always going to be the way I want it to be, and that going with the flow is often the best policy.  Everyone is struggling with something, and being patient is often the only way to be kind.

All my years as a pastoral counselor and healer have also taught me to be patient as I listen to hours of people’s sufferings.  I have to stay focused and concentrate. I have to stay grounded and calm.  I have to be present and patient as a story unfolds, sometimes over weeks, months or years.  Being patient elicits compassion and respect for the sufferings of others.  It also elicits kindness in the way I respond.

As we go through our days, developing the ability to be patient is a good spiritual practice.  It only takes one person to change several, so maybe patience can have a ripple effect in our lives.  Whether it can spread out to the rest of the world, we can only hope. 

Forgiveness and Letting Go of Judgment

To forgive is to let go of what is painful to us. This doesn’t mean that it is simply saying to someone, “What you did to me was not really that bad. I forgive you. I won’t hold a grudge,” and then thinking that there will be harmony afterwards. It is not quite that way. Rather, it has more to do with clarifying things to the other person. We don’t want to live through this any more. We want to free ourselves of the suffering and conflict and, if possible, help to free the other person as well.

Sometimes this means letting go of the preconceived judgments we have of people.  “He did that because….” She said this because….”  What seems true to us at the time may not really be true at all.  It’s important to get clarification, to talk, to communicate with the intention of understanding the other person; and, so the other person can understand you.

There is a difference between intentionally hurting someone and unintentional words or actions that hurt someone.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference.  If we hold onto judgment and anger because we believe that someone intentionally hurt us, then there is no room for understanding or forgiveness.  If we find out that the person did not mean to hurt us, then we may be able to allow for understanding and forgiveness. And, of course, sometimes we need to be forgiven as well.