Friday, March 20, 2009

The Practice of Being Human

"The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet," according to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Likewise, the journey toward full experience of living as a human being begins within one's heart. I would also say this journey is all about the heart - specifically about learning to open one's heart to life, regardless of the situation. I can think of no better definition of what it means to be fully human than to learn to relate to oneself and others gently and with compassion.

Nonviolent Communication, the body of work pioneered by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, offers a skillful means to navigate this journey of the heart. Many people are familiar with the forms of NVC, and are aware of the “Observation – Feeling – Need – Request” construct for communicating. Going a bit beyond this form, we can relate to NVC consciousness as a way to support our self-awareness and development of compassion for ourselves and others.

The first step on this journey toward living from an open heart is to make friends with ourselves. We can become aware of how our habitual patterns of behavior are grounded in long conditioning, and notice when we are triggered by situations that do not align with our deep-seated beliefs. We can begin to recognize strong emotions, suffering, and despair as pointers to our longing for wholeness, and treat ourselves with a light touch. We can build this awareness into an aspiration to learn a new way of relating with the world, one that is life-affirming and fundamentally cheerful.

Once we begin to treat ourselves more gently, we naturally begin to extend this same compassion to others. We can be very intentional about our personal interactions, beginning with the simple yet profound act of listening with presence. We can discover for ourselves the beauty and power of really being there for another person, letting go of our own storyline and agenda and becoming fully present to what’s alive for another. Even in moments of conflict, anger, and sorrow, we can maintain compasssion for ourselves and others.

Having made friends with ourselves and begun to treat others with gentle compassion, we can embark on a dance of life that accommodates all of the ups and downs of our daily existence with spaciousness and grace. We can invite others to join us, supporting each other as we take many first steps on this journey of life as a human being, a journey whose distance could never be measured in miles.

I'm sharing some practices for this journey of life during a four-session class called Connecting Compassionately with Ourselves and Others in Manassas, VA starting on April 23. Follow the link if you'd like to know more.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Dr. Zelda Jeanne Rouillard, 1929 - 2008

Zelda Jeanne Ryan was born to Calvin and Marie Ryan in Kearney, Nebraska in 1929. She followed in her father’s footsteps as an English professor, attaining her B.A. in English at Kearney State College, studying as a Fulbright Scholar in Exeter, England, earning her M.A. in English at the University of Wyoming, and earning her PhD in English from the University of Colorado.

While a student at CU, Zelda met Theodore Chase Rouillard, and they were married in June of 1959. They lived in Nederland, Colorado for a number of years, and Zelda taught English at Nederland High School and North High School in Denver. Their son Gregory was born in Boulder in 1966.

In 1969, Zelda and her family moved to Gunnison, Colorado, and she began her long and distinguished career at Western State College. For almost forty years Zelda served the college community, teaching a multitude of undergraduate and graduate English courses, serving as chair of the English department for 6 years, and famously serving as the Commencement Faculty Marshal for nearly three decades. She retired from WSC in 2005, and has spent the last few years “sucking the marrow out of life” in her travels around the world.

Zelda was also very involved in a number of volunteer groups and professional associations, most notably Delta Kappa Gamma and the American Association of University Women (AAUW). She held offices and received honors at the local, state, and national level in these organizations.

Away from the campus, Zelda was active in the Dos Rios I Homeowners Association, serving in a variety of offices over the years. She also displayed great generosity to organizations such as the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley, the University of Nebraska Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Colorado State University Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, the ASPCA, the Colorado Historical Society, the Gunnison Valley Animal Welfare League, and numerous other local, regional, and national causes.

Zelda leaves a tremendous legacy in the many lives she has touched as a teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend. She lived every day of her life with courage, gusto, and devotion, giving tirelessly of herself to her family, her friends, and her profession. She died unexpectedly and peacefully of a sudden heart attack. At the last moment of her life, Zelda was “bubbling with excitement” about a recent trip, displaying the boundless enthusiasm for life that so many of us will miss. Her life and death are a tribute to what it means to be fully human, and provide an example of living that all of us can aspire to follow.

Beloved “Grandma Zelda” is survived by her son Gregory, daughter-in-law Cynthia, grandchildren Ryan and Katy, and feline companions Archimedes and Black Kitty.

If you would like to make a financial contribution in memory of this grand lady, your donation in her name to one of these organizations is greatly appreciated.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) is the world's largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding blood
cancer research, education, and patient services. Zelda is a lymphoma survivor.

Family HEART Camp is a week-long community experience in Northern Virginia for parents and children who are longing for more Harmony, Ease, Authenticity, Respect, and Trust in their families. Zelda’s son Gregory is one of the organizers of Family HEART Camp.
Zelda's life will be celebrated by family, friends, and community members at 2 PM on Monday, January 5, in the Quigley Recital Hall on the campus of Western State College in Gunnison, CO.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

sticking it out

tonight my best teacher has taught me about
this wonderful practice called "sticking it out"

through four score bewildering subtraction facts
and a stethescope, candle, two distracting cats

wishing to be somewhere else but at home
as my mind like a dog chewed and worried its bone

"just do it my way, my way is the best"
"if you don't learn it now, then you'll fail the test!"

as longer and longer dragged on this ordeal
a teaching arose with great tidings of weal

and once i let go of that story i know
about right and wrong and your way is too slow

we figured together, my teacher and i
that cooperation is sweeter than pie

we discovered another great opportune chance
to notice that being alive is a dance

that flows to its very own rhythm and yet
encourages each of us not to forget

that sticking it out, as in putting in time
means practicing patience, a jewel that may shine

and sticking it out, as in risking what's new
opens doors to the world left unlocked by so few

so next time i notice frustration and doubt
i hope i'll remember to

just stick it out

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Millions of the One Eye

if you take a walk some night on a suburban street

pass house after house each with the lamplight of the living room shining golden

inside, the little blue square of the television, each living familiy riveting its attention on probably

one show
nobody talking
silence in the yards

dogs barking at you because you pass on human feet instead of on wheels

everybody in the world is soon going to be thinking the same way

one thing I'll say for the millions and millions of the One Eye
they're not hurting anyone while they're sitting in front of that Eye

adapted from The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

waking up

you woke me up this morning
to swallow a glass of bitterness
and dress me up in red and blue

choking on too much water and too much help
i say yes to lying with my face in the pillow
can you hear me now?

i woke you up this morning
with love in my heart and time on my mind
too much too little…too late?

encountering resistance
no No NO!
i can’t hear you any more

together we came apart
apart we come together
nurture our hurts and still

hugs and kisses we both need
i love you i love you too
trust on two sides of a closed door

waking up

Monday, September 29, 2008

Finding the Ground

One of my favorite passages from the Tao te Ching is "a journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one's feet."

Here's a simple suggestion for finding the ground of a journey along the path of compassion and authenticity:


I find this advice so useful that I've written it on the white board in my kitchen, in bold red letters:


Now every time I come into the kitchen I have this reminder that all I have to do is breathe. It doesn't matter if I'm distracted by all the "doing" in my life, frustrated when I see the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, or delighted by the antics of the kittens - I can just breathe.

Noticing my breath brings me back to the present moment - again and again. The subtle feeling of air swishing in and out brings awareness of my body, and confidence that I'm a human being, not a human doing. Lungs expanding and contracting remind me to keep my feet on the ground and moving along the path.

Noticing the breath is also fertile ground for relating to other people. Sometimes when I find myself triggered by interaction with another person, I remember to breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Ahh... Discursive thoughts, "shoulds," and judgments become clear for what they are; spaciousness, self-connection, and compassion arise.

The best thing about breathing? It's always there - all I have to do is notice it.

Like the ground beneath my feet.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Who's the guy with the beard?

I recently retired after 20 years in the Marine Corps, and had a unique and very enjoyable retirement ceremony. Here's what it was like.

The typical Marine retirement consists mainly of the retiring officer telling the story of the retiree's military career, saying what a great guy he is, and pinning on a medal. Then the retiree gets to talk, thanking his family, boss, coworkers, etc. Then everyone eats BBQ or chicken wings, and talks about work until it's time to leave.

Being anything but a typical Marine, of course I wanted my ceremony to be different. First of all, no BBQ. I've been to so many retirements where I ate a coleslaw sandwich (or the like), I decided to have my reception catered from a vegetarian restaurant. Second, rather than talk, I wanted to play my guitar and sing. Finally, I wanted my Marine friends to hear about the rest of my life outside the Corps.

So I invited four close friends from my "other lives" - Bull Run UUs, The Shambhala Center of Washington D.C, the Capitol NVC Organizing Team, and the Men's Council of Washington D.C. - to talk after the Colonel had his say. And there was a twist - I asked them to relate how they experience their relationships with me, rather than talk about my activities and accomplishments. My desire here was to paint a picture of a human being as well as a human doing.

It was everything I wished for - Reverend Nancy, Larry, Jeanne, and Duane all spoke from the heart, and I experienced great joy in bringing together so many diverse people in one place. This was really an opportunity to practice integrity - no chance to play any role but "I am" with people from every corner of my life in the room.

Once everyone had spoken, I had little to say. I gave flowers and gifts to my loved ones, spoke my gratitude and appreciation for all who had spoken, and performed an original song in honor of my contractor buddies (now fellow contractors). Then we ate vegetarian food, drank organic juice, and talked about UUism, buddhism, NVC, and men's work until it was time to go home.

Funny thing, all the Marines seemed to leave right away - I guess they missed the BBQ and beer.