A gift

Perpetrator. Victim. Hero.

In the absence of roles, stand solidly

Everyday seasoned sharers may be familiar with common vehicles of connection

And where do you go from here?

Creating instances of Memnoon Giving

Where all acts mindfully are gifts

Given joyfully, received eagerly

(This now embodied fully)

Gifts (wiping a counter, a book, a gesture, my presence)

Are created and given mindfully

Without obligation, fear of punishment, or zeal for rewards or approval

And now I ask for what I need

Rather than taking it

Knowing, confident in the generosity of those around me

All that matters is gift

Now I am giving

Now I am receiving


Earthquake Drill

I’m at my place of work, just headed out the door in the spacious airy stairwell with cement walls and high ceilings, when the loud blast of an some kind of warning siren pierced my ears. I struggled to wrap my coat around my head as it repeated itself a few times at very close distance and sensed a sudden surge of adrenalin, a rush of fear, and then anger that I didn’t get out the door a minute sooner before this thing went off.

I stumbled down the stairs and at the foot of the stairs was my coworker with a set of industrial earmuffs and an airhorn. Blocking the door (which was where I wanted to go) he smiled at me and said “Get in the door.”

“WHAT??” I said, confused, my ears still ringing.

“Get in the doorway!” he said a little louder.

I obeyed.

He said he would warn me before he did it a second time. I clutched my ears tightly and pressed myself into the niche next to the hall entrance.

“What are we doing here?! ” I wondered. The earthquake drill, I remember. This is supposed to prepare us, keep us safe in case of emergencies. Right. Now they’ll send around an email survey to all staff and ask what they did when the siren went off. Did you get under your desk? Did you stand in a doorway? Would you have been safe had this been an actual earthquake?

No I didn’t stand in the doorway. I nearly tripped down the stairs. I felt scared, angry and confused. Why would someone I trust do something to hurt me? If there were a real earthquake, I would have felt it with my body, my sense of balance, my eyes, and perhaps my ears, but I don’t think it would have sounded like an airhorn.

I thought of all the times that we teach people not to trust their own senses, but rather to rely on schedules, hierarchies, expectations, rules, protocols as to how to behave, even for the most basic instinct of survival. Eat your peas, drink your water, put on your coat or you will freeze. Do we really have to do this? Don’t we remember, and can’t we trust that we are equipped to do that, to survive?

Have we forgotten how skilled we really are? People can weave baskets, climb skyscrapers, “Say thank you. Say your sorry.” What ever happened to “Empathy. The Natural Apology.”?

Leadership and the New Science

From Margaret Wheatley’s book:

“We must engage with each other, experiment to find what works fur us, and support one another as the true inventors that we are.”

“We need all of us out there, stating, clarifying, reflecting, modeling, filling all of space with the messages we care about. If we do that a powerful field develops – and with it, the wondrous capacity to organize into coherent, capable form.”

And though this one, out of context is difficult to understand (unless you are already familiar with Schroedinger’s Cat), I found it very meaningful:

“And why would we ever peer into that box expecting a dead cat, when just by our powers of observation we could bring that cat to life?”

DHS of my dreams

I made my first visit to the Department of Human Services in NE Portland today to apply for food stamps.

Rows of theater seats face a large proscenium featuring a single pillar in the middle with a red “take-a-number” machine prominently featured.  In the background are three empty desks and one desk occupied by a very serious, moderately occupied man. There is a sign on the wall that reads “92”. My number says “21”. I look around the room. About 10 people sit silently in the theater seats staring at the very slow moving drama before them.

The walls are covered with posters and flyers that speak of some collective target audience that I can’t grasp. There is a children’s play area that contains one plastic teal and pink “playtable” with nothing else. Next to me on a chair there is an issue of HOME magazine from 1992 advertising a trip to an Italian Villa. An ironic sign reads “Self Sufficiency”. The flourescent lights buzz dismally. Otherwise, it is mostly quiet.

Then I spot a box that says DROP-OFF BOX. “Oh good,” I think, “I can just drop off my application like it says here– Mail, fax or deliver this application.” I approach the box. A big green sign says STOP- DO NOT DROP OFF APPLICATIONS. I am confused. I look for a human. Most of them are sitting in the stage seating staring at stageman or reading. Stageman looks very serious in a don’t-bother-me sort of way. I look for a sign. On the wall is a plastic holder labeled “APPLICATIONS”. I pull out a paper. It is a printed stapled list of current hollywood movies. I am confused.

I walk to the other side of the office where there is a window, partially closed. Aha. A human. “Sure! Put it in the box!,” she says, “A lot of people ask that question, and we just tell ’em to put it in the box, and they don’t seem to mind. If you’re really concerned, just go up to the man over there and ask- you don’t have to wait for your number.”

Just then stageman calls “94”. I wave and approach stageman with a smile, “It says here that I can deliver this application, shall I put it in the drop box?” He looks at me grimly over his moustache and glasses and then at my form and instantly detects a blank space at 5 feet. “You forgot to sign here. No. Take a number and have a seat.”

Two hours later (when they were on number 5), I left. Now it is late in the night. I am awake. Here is the DHS of my dreams.

There are windows. The chairs are turned with some tables and clear signage that says things like:

 “We at DHS value a world where we all work together to care for ourselves, each other and our environment. We value your role in our society as parents, friends, neighbors and creative individuals, and that is why we are here to support you. We know your time is important as you probably have other things to deal with right now (personal injury or disability, domestic violence, child custody, difficulty in relationships, lack of funds, court orders etc. etc.). We are working as quickly as possible to meet everyone’s needs, but it may take a while before we can help you. 

While you are waiting please make yourself comfortable. Feel free to move the chairs and cushions as needed and browse our resource library full of materials that speak of human value, unconditional love, practical local resources and current news and information. Pamphlets are available on topics like, Parenting without Prizes, Stickers and Spankings, Compassionate Communication, Reduce your Carbon Footprint and Lower your Monthly Expenses, Using Foodstamps for a Healthy Organic Vegan Diet – Sample Grocery List and Recipes, Ten Ways to Find Cash, Clothes, Food and Health Care for those with Limited Mobility,  Removing Toxins from your Lunch and your Living Space. 

Have a seat at one of the tables  and balance your checkbook, continue work on your novel, or chat with other small business owners, can collectors,  and homeless transients about your challenges and successes. For those with small children take this chance to interact with other parents and children in our play area- feel free to sit on the floor, bring toys to share or take turns watching the children while adults fill out necessary forms. Need to get something off your chest? Visit our empathy table at the back of the room or put your feet up in our quiet area. Thank you for your visit to DHS.”

Los niños son cariñosos (Children are loving)

In my search for authors who share their insights in native Spanish about unconditional love and trust in children’s natural abilities to grow and learn I am reading Carlos Gonzalez’ Bésame Mucho; cómo criar a tus hijos con amor.

Gonzalez, from Zaragoza, Spain, is author, teacher, pediatrician and founder of the Asociación Catalana Pro Lactancia Materna.

I’ve enjoyed reading his sometimes humorous anecdotes that illustrate a compassionate take on a child’s point of view. Rooted in an evolutionary and somewhat continuum-concept-y point of view, he points out the many ways adults have different rules for children than they do for themselves. He demonstrates ways in which children are compassionate, sincere, brave, honest, loving and forgiving, rather than the adult-assigned labels of being selfish, mischievous, deceptive and needing control and rules.

As far as I can tell the book is only available in Spanish, but here are a few interesting excerpts I’ve found thus far to share with those who don’t read Spanish:

  • He makes a distinction between choices that we make as rational animals, and actions that we make as a genetically evolved species: “The first gazelle that spent the day licking her baby didn’t do it just for fun, or because it just occurred to her at the time and she didn’t have anything better to do, nor did she do it on purpose thinking, “This way the leopards won’t smell my child.” She did it because a genetic mutation changed her conduct; she couldn’t have done anything else.  And if the gazelles of today continue to do this it is because, in effect, this behavior happened to be useful. On the other hand, the first person to hit a child, or let it cry without picking it up, or that put it on a feeding schedule, or that made it wear an amulet, these people did in fact do this because it occurred to them. These are voluntary behaviors, that don’t obey the genes.”
  • There is a lovely anecdote about a mother with her distraught child standing by the chimpanzee enclosure at the zoo. An adult female chimp approaches the glass and reaches out kindly toward the crying child and then offers him her breast.
  • He also makes an interesting distinction between animals who cry when left alone (many larger mammals and primates), and those who don’t (rabbits, fish, amphibians), pointing out that nature has a reason for the crying. “If scientists were to find a new animal, unknown until now, and wanted to find out quickly (without weeks of observation) which is its normal way of caring for its young, they could do a very simple experiment: take the mother away and leave the babies alone. If they stay quiet and still, it is normal with that species that the young stay by themselves. If they start crying out for dear life, it is normal in that species that the young are not separated from their mother for even a moment. What about your child? How does he react when you leave? What do you think is normal for our species?”


I want to remember for safe passage in my encounters. So I am writing it down.

Empathy. Real empathy. Really trying to understand where the other person is.  Not trying to guess correctly where they are (and congratulate self for understanding). Not trying to fix them or change them. Not offering advice or solutions. Really caring about them. Really giving. Attention and presence. Really being curious. Genuinely, authentically. Observing, witnessing the feeling. Holding space for the feeling. Staying present and connected.

Crepe paper neck ties

I told Julian about the time I wet my pants in second grade because the teacher wouldn’t let me go until after prayers, how I was embarrassed in front of the whole class and how I was teased for years after that.

I told him how the children who arrived to school without a proper uniform were made to wear a crepe paper neck tie. The child was brought to the front of the class where the teacher would staple on a “tie” and be scolded that if you wear the proper uniform next time this won’t happen.

Picking up on my sensitivity about punishments used in my grade school, Julian asked, “So what else would they do instead of stapling a paper tie on?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, would they wrap them up in crepe paper so it covers your nose and mouth so you can’t breathe??” he asked, seeking out the worst.

I told him I only have so much imagination in this life time, and I’d rather spend it on imagining other things.

“Like what?”

“Well, what else could they do if someone forgot to wear their tie to school?” I asked, “What would you rather they do?”

Suddenly lights came on and an outpouring of scenarios filled the room.

“They could give the boy a new tie. They could let them go to the bathroom in the middle of prayers. They could bring them something to write with and a light. They could have a bath in the school, in the middle of school and the teacher could put on their back-up pants if they needed, and let them have a nap if they needed and let them wash their hands when they wanted to, and they could set an alarm for when they wanted to be wakened up. Let them make their own food in the cafeteria, and if its a winter day they could put them on a heather so they get warm!”

Ahh. Such healing, such empathy.

Small connections

Trying to pay the bills, I decide on my next tactic. Ebay! I will sell all that stuff I’ve hoarded, knowing it must be worth something.

I jump through the hoops, climb the learning curve, and voila! In one short week I’ve made $10.34!

I am at the post office packing the plates into prepaid boxes. I did not bring enough bubble wrap. I look out the window and see the free newspaper stand.

Opening the pages to crumple up, a story catches my eye. About an Oregon cargo pilot who crashed the plane and died. While delivering packages.

I think about the pilot, who was there because of the plane, that was there because of the packages, who were there because of the people sending them.

If it’s all the same, next time, I’ll choose to get my $10.34 by holding a neighborhood garage sale.

Connecting from right here

I remember being taught that I needed to get somewhere, before I could succeed, before I could feel real. That once I crossed a certain point, passed a test, got accepted, became a member or attained a degree, then I would be somewhere where I could really start. But why not start from here? From right where I am.

Look at the parts that are closest to me, by proximity, by relation, by chronology. With whom do I share my space, my time, my heritage, my future? Who are the neighbors on my block, the person in the cubicle next to me? Notice the tree across the street, the books on my shelf, the squirrel on my porch, the sun through my window, the person in line at the grocery, the body I live in? And wonder intentionally, why are there gaps and holes? What parts are most disconnected? What do I want to change?

The place where I am is just right. It is the best, and in fact, only place that I can be. It turns from an unattainable spot on a ledge high above me to a flexible presence that grows organically, and moves as a whole to other unpredictable places. What if I shift my awareness from a remote destination, to the very center of where I am right now? What if I hold that priority, that of connection, above all else? Above accomplishment, above greed, above fear.

I stop finishing a sentence if I feel the link between our hearts drop. I turn down a well-paying job. I take a break even when I am driven to push on. I do strange things, that from the outside may seem foolish, or confusing. I change paths suddenly. I may go for a walk when it is time to eat. I may give you a gift on a Tuesday, and forget about you completely on your birthday. I may do something I said I wouldn’t do, or surprise us both with something I hadn’t planned.

I heard a story on NPR about “confidence men”. They commented that the first appearance of con men in the United States came back in the mid-1800s back when there were still thousands of types of currency. Those who fell prey, were almost always those mesmerized with greed, those who would place confidence in an untruth for the sake of getting more than they need. Con men, they said, took root at the point where the American dream began to thrive, where people dreamed of being successful independently by using their own brains, rather than depending on connection. What if the new American dream were to succeed by being connected, and by working together to get what we need?

Freedom to Choose

As a parent, I do my best to allow my child their own freedom to choose and trust that a child is capable of making the best choices. But also as a person I must make my own choices. And whether I intend it or not, I will serve as a model for my child. Even if I free myself from making choices that control their lives, I am still making choices about our lives.

I might strive to fill my world (our world) with the richest options possible. I might stack the shelves with delicious fresh healthy food. I might line the walls with beautiful paintings, fill the air with joyful songs, and the kitchen with wonderful smells. I might choose to surround myself with other grounded, beautiful and caring people, each a window onto intriguing, lovely and enchanting worlds of their own. I might spend my own time grounded in each step, looking into eyes as a I speak, taking time to care for myself, the people and things around me. As the children grow older, others will vie to place options in their way. While I am in this place of power, what wonderful things can I bring to surround us?

My friend’s life graces me regularly. Her room is full of plants. A meal comes with a napkin, each piece of food colorful served beautifully on handmade plates. Chalk drawings and love notes in the hallway. Photo collages and paintings from her heart. A scarf in her hair and shoes that match, on her way to the park to play in the sun. It is a life created, a life full of little choices she has made. Her son plays joyfully in the middle of it all.