To Live It Fully

Adapted from my year-end e-newsletter.

Have you seen the new Pixar movie, Soul? What a gem! Move over, Heaven Can Wait and others of the genre. Now we can experience a funny-yet-resonant vision of the afterlife (er, beforelife) through the lens of a middle school music teacher named Joe Gardner…whose life won’t be complete until he performs at a top jazz club.

Aside from the entertainment value, I found the story moving and unexpectedly wise—the kind of work that stays with me.

One of the most affecting parts of this film is when new souls dive through the Earth portal from the before-place (where souls are designed). We witness their joy and wonder in this freefall towards our planet, where they will incarnate into human bodies.

When’s the last time you felt joy and wonder because you got to wake up here on this beautiful planet?

It reminds me of the most hopeful podcast I listened to this year: a conversation between Charles Eisenstein and Edith Ubuntu Chan (a physician). Chan shares the mystical experiences she has had, particularly the way her son came into her life. You have to listen to it, but suffice to say there are (in her understanding) legions souls eager to come to Earth because it is such a rich place of learning and transformation.

Having just been through a crucible of a year collectively, a year that pushed us to grow and transform personally and communally, it’s understandable that many here are weary. Many are grieving, angry, fearful, depleted—and with good cause. Many feel jaded, consumed by stories of things drastically out of balance. And yet.

There’s a bigger story we can tap into, one that is not just about this planet, not just about this physical body’s experience in it.

There’s the choice point, if you believe this way, of coming here in the first place. Followed by all the choice points thereafter, that shape how we experience the situations we’re born into. As a recent client put it: “Why is all this happening… for me?”

That in itself, that reframing from victim to seeker, is a choice point.

To look for the bigger picture, to fall into the possibility that everything we encounter can give us a chance to evolve.

Just as the soul voiced by Tina Fey released the hand of teacher/musician Joe (Jamie Fox) and bravely dove past the point of no return, we have all sojourned to this point alone and together, communally and individually bound to co-creating this reality we live in.

Moving into this next year, which so many hope and pray will be different from 2020, let’s not lose sight of the joy of being alive. Because (spoiler alert): “To live it fully” turns out to be the purpose and meaning of life. That’s not to say that every moment we breathe in will be joyful or even pleasant. But it is here, it is ours to experience.

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Want to know more about YOU, as in your soul-level essence? And let go of whatever’s been holding you back from fully shining your light into this world that needs you so much? I offer Soul Realignment, an Akashic Record reading that puts people in touch with their expansive soul-level selves, and assists with clearing blockages to expressing their fullest divinity. Available via Zoom. Book here.

This reading was so edifying and greatly resonant. It feels important to start this shift going into the New Year…
—Nancy M., Excelsior, MN

It is Your Life

A poet I admire, Mark Nepo, says we should only write while fully centered in the heart. His counsel: If your mind dominates, drop the pen, still the voice, turn to another activity until the heart can take the lead again.

From a recent podcast:

“I want to enter timelessness. I don’t want to plan to finish a chapter because of some deadline—then the expression is an ‘it,’ a product. I’m no longer in timelessness; I’m controlling.”

Mark Nepo

So much feels out of our control these days. Speaking for myself, I sometimes find that my itch to control whatever I can infects my creative work and daily life in unconstructive ways. I tighten up and end up with a headache or a sleepless night.

But, like Nepo, I want to approach my work (and my life!) from a place of expansion, not contraction. A simple invocation at the start of a writing session can reconnect me to that space.

When it slips away, as soon as I remember, I reconnect to the biggest possible frame—to who I am and what I’m about and why I’m doing whatever I’m doing. I want to contact the biggest why possible, which is always to be more fully aligned with my Divine nature.

So: to move into that spaciousness, to call in that alignment, is a way to enter timelessness, to reenter heart space.

And this is not just about writing. It’s about how I practice yoga, how I do my workity-work, how I connect with friends, how I steward my money. I have the choice to treat everything as a thing to get done or as a big-big-big picture action.

Doesn’t everything go better and feel so much more timeless when I first remember what it’s all for?

As an inveterate list-maker who also skews mystic, I have made a study of the intersection between getting shit done and falling into spacious/timelessness. I don’t thrive without timelessness, but I operate in a time-driven world. And I do want to finish and publish my book, keep in touch with loved ones, stay on top of bills, and show up fully at my workplace.

I am starting to see that moving with ease through all these arenas is possible. It’s not about following a strict list or schedule. Nor is it about floating in the ether every moment.

Photo from the Indiana Dunes, Fall 2018

It’s more about reconnecting on the regular to this big-big-big picture. Often that comes through movement, or stillness, or breath, while consciously invoking the love that’s all around. The fact that I am love, made of love, made from love.

The more I hew to my truest “who”… the easier it is to stay in my heart.

And if, as soon as I look at the clock and think what’s next, I lose this feeling, it’s OK. Because I know how to find it again.

In my notebook, I commune with my inner Wisewoman, who says things like:

Breathe deeply, this moment is not a thing to be gotten though, a task to complete. It is your life. What is coming into your senses right now? What is your body experiencing? Hold it all.

To which I say, Thank you.

Real Safety

Someone suggested to me that a thing I’m involved in is sketchy. It’s an experiment that admittedly looks mad from the dominant worldview. A project based on generosity, reciprocity and trust—making something our hearts know, that we are all One, tangible in the way we give and receive.

I have felt incredible support and uplift from the experience, almost a magical boost catapulting me—no, sustaining me—in this expansive place of possibility. Extreme self-responsibility—taking nothing personally—is the watchword.

Then I tumbled, with the questioning comment. I felt my ego rise up. Don’t let someone think ill of you! Defend! Explain! (Take it personally!!)

I had a visceral shift, lying in bed after this deflating exchange, in which I could feel my constriction melting and my consciousness merging with the All. It’s hard to describe, but I felt that I was expanding out beyond a fear mindset to a transcendent place that makes both suspicion and defensiveness irrelevant.

I still had trouble falling asleep. The ego does not go down lightly.

The ego talks my ear off all night, tightens up my body, obsesses over all my to-do lists. It’s all about proving itself right, and hiding vulnerabilities, and being in charge.

I know you are terrified, I tell the ego, but I am going to let another/greater part of me take the lead now.

Perhaps this is a microcosm of the wider world, in which the dominance model we are living under is not going down lightly.

I’ve been listening to interviews with Elizabeth Lesser, who wrote Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes. She referred to the “death rattle of the patriarchy” that we are experiencing as a collective. We see this globally, as the old guard hangs on tooth and nail to a way of life predicated on subjugation of people and planet.

Brene Brown, writing in 2016, predicted a “last stand” of this dominant worldview, and foresaw its messy, violent, chaotic trajectory. Last stands are desperate.

These systems live in me, and in each of us. My own desperate ego, afraid of dying, mirrors that death rattle. What will happen, yells my ego, to all my specialness, all my control, all my plans, if you move about the world in some kind of transcendent state? How will you stay safe if you change the story and make me irrelevant?

Real safety, I respond, comes from knowing who I really am, which is a part of the All in All.

If I holler back at the ego and make it bad and wrong, if I try to vanquish it with its own tools, it only deepens the chasm I’m trying to heal. But if I can speak kindly to that ego (while redirecting with both compassion and firmness), might it help to melt those systems of control—not just in myself but in the collective?

Well, even if it is just a moment here and a moment there, the experience of Oneness creates a template that has its own resonance.

Solar Eclipse, May 2012, Arizona

“When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.”
—East German dissident Rudolph Bahro

I’m so there. How about you?

Touching in the Time of…

Strange days indeed. When a hug or handshake could be, I guess, lethal? When what human comfort we long to give, we must give via pixels?

In this time of COVID-19, when “social distancing” has become our norm, I wonder what is being ingrained into the minds and energy-bodies of today’s children. Everything is a potential threat, particularly the hands of others. Any surface we touch could potentially be contaminated. We must be on high-alert at all time.

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Sign at the entrance of my father-in-law’s funeral.

This is starting to be ingrained in me as well. How strange it is that now, when I see people interacting on a TV show, I’m conscious of how close their faces are? Back up, I find myself thinking. Droplet alert!

I don’t know what to think about all this. But it makes me sad. Isolation is not a healthy state for any human, and I can’t imagine living alone right now (or living without furry companions).

What I do know is that there are more ways to touch than through the physical realm. When a friend was barred from seeing her dying mother because the nursing home closed to visitors, I texted, “I believe that you can contact your mother by getting quiet and reaching for her in your mind and heart.”

Maybe this time of physical distancing will shorten our learning curve (as a species) for connecting through other means. I don’t mean Zoom or FaceTime, though those are a godsend.

I mean: Think of someone, put them in your heart, and part of you is with that person in that moment.

I mean: Connect by touching the same earth, reaching for the same sky (as a recent EmbodieDance class explored).

I mean: Feel how we are each more than our molecules, bigger than our bodies, part of the All in All. Meet me there.

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Gratitude: A snuggly nap with my cat, Edgar (Eddie).

Tip of the Day: See if it’s possible to replace worry with a heart-connection, or prayer, or spiritual delegation. Send the object of your concern a lighter energy than worry. (But don’t be hard on yourself if you do worry. Lord knows these are worrisome times.)

Resource of the Day: Meditation teacher Tara Brach is offering a free online mindfulness class to improve sleep and address anxiety. It is free until March 30, so check it out soon. You can download it and take the course later.

Wishing you expanded awareness during this contracted time!

Love in the Time of COVID-19

I keep thinking of the parable of the long-handled spoon. In one room, people starve, unable to feed themselves from a stewpot because the only available utensils have handles longer than their arms. In another, the people have the same utensils and stewpot, but they are well-fed and happy.

In untroubled times, those of us with some measure of privilege can act like we are in this world alone. We’re socialized to live cut off from nature and each other and our own hearts. And we’re impoverished even in the midst of plenty.

Society tells us that we dwell in the hell of longhandled spoons that can’t be brought to our own mouths.

But look: Right where we are, in the midst of our current pain, fear, and grief, can we find the paradise of feeding each other with the very same utensils? An identical world, with a shifted perspective.

OK, we’d have to sanitize the crap out of the spoons first. But you get what I’m saying.

We each have a say in our collective evolution at this critical moment in our history. How do we want to show up? Let some claim that perilous times bring out the worst in people. I intend to look for the softness and kindness afoot. I intend to create the world I want to live in.

Here’s an example: People are giving direct aid to those whose income is affected by this crisis.

I am going to post daily (?) gratitudes, stories, photos, etc. as well as I can. Along with resources and tips.

Gratitude: Here’s a video I made to record robinsong this morning. May birdsong hearten you as it did me. (If you can’t see it, let me know. I’m figuring out the tech part.)

Tip of the Day: Tap or rub the fleshy outer edge of the heels below your Achilles tendon to work your “shock points.” This is a Donna Eden Energy Medicine exercise helpful for moving through a traumatic event.

Resource of the Day: Watch Jen Louden’s short video on coping with the strain and uncertainty we are all facing right now.

Hacks for the Holidaze

If you, like me, are a sensitive sort prone to getting off-kilter this time of year (whether that’s about year-end goals, consumption of food/drink/stuff/media, family drama, past losses, expectations on the part of yourself/family/others, or any other cluster)… I give you five hard-won holiday hacks. These are good in any stressful time but especially useful this time of year.

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“Stress Elf” Photo by Dylan Tweney, via Flickr Creative Commons

  1. Switch off the sirens. Your nervous system is most likely on alarm overload, like a firetruck siren that keeps on shrieking long after the six-alarm fire is out. In the modern world, this is a widespread issue that leads to adrenal burnout—and that’s why it’s so important to develop calming practices. This video shows some calming practices derived from the energy medicine tools of Donna Eden, but you can also simply take deep slow breaths, note your surroundings and safety, come into your senses, place your hand on your heart/belly/cheek and send your nervous system some love. Especially helpful: Leaning against a tree while doing any combination of these.
  2. Strenuously commit to missing out. I skip holiday parties if my body says “no.” I tune out most media, and turn down the noise of social media in particular. I know I miss out on certain things. Whole categories of pop culture and current events pass me by. I enjoy airplane mode from time to time, even when not inflight. I figure I can take a little trip to the insides of me. This tends to give me more energy than endlessly scrolling, which is what can happen if I’m tired.
  3. Reframe your emo-pictures. This tip comes by way of creativity coach Jen Louden, who suggests renaming unwanted feeling states. The goal is not to bypass the uncomfortable emotions, but to experiment with widening out in possibility. I tried it and found that I could reframe my anxiety as alertness, my sadness as soulfulness, and my judgment (sometimes) as clarity about my boundaries. An interesting tool to play with!
  4. Give yourself a big gift. Do what you want, only and exactly what you want, for a few hours. If you worry that this is selfish, your family will hate you, etc., consider the findings of Adam Grant, a generosity researcher: People give more over the long term when they keep their own goals sacrosanct. To my mind, if I avoid burnout by giving myself this gift…I’ll be more resilient, more loving, more present, and more generous over the long haul.
  5. Watch the birdie(s). By this I basically mean: watch your emotions and sensations come and go. (We just got a bird feeder and I’ve been watching the birds come and go, like my internal states.) I’ve also heard this skill taught in terms of identifying with sky vs. weather or (Jen Louden again) observing fish in an imaginary aquarium without getting in the tank.

However we can, as soon as we remember, the idea is to separate identity from emotional state. A friend who intensively practices mindfulness will say to herself, “sadness is present in my awareness,” to put distance between her essential self and the emotion. Isn’t that so much lighter than “I am depressed” or “my life is miserable”? It’s a ninja move designed to decrease reactivity. Bottom line: The more we can observe ourselves with compassion and curiosity, the more we are able to pause in the presence of strife, confusion, or (in my case) that fudgy brownie that will jack up the nervous system for sure.

Bonus hacker tip: Look for the nourishment. When deciding what to give (yourself or others) or how to spend your time or what to consume, discern with your body what feels truly nourishing to you.

My earlier post, Tips for the Anxiety-Prone, may help too. What about you—what hacks do you have to share for holiday time?

I, Wonder

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Lake Hawea, NZ

A quick program note: I periodically send e-newsletters to my mailing list, with explorations of personal resilience and big-big-picture musings. My heart is full as I share these missives. Click the subscribe portal labelled “Spaciousness: An Invitation” at the upper right, if you would like to partake. (My gift in return for subscribing is an e-book I compiled of my most uplifting and “spacious” posts.)

Here are some previous e-newsletters, for those not yet on my mailing list.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Here’s a photo of just one of the small things that stopped me in my tracks last week.

Damselfly with iridescent wing on my back door

I left the country for two weeks in April to tour New Zealand, my insane good fortune to have the opportunity to travel through one of most beautiful places in the world.

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Milford Sound. Dolphin at lower left of frame.

(Traveling abroad feels so weirdly privileged and consumerist. I’m so glad I went, but I had mixed feelings about the way we sort of appropriated another country as our playground, with nature as a thing to be snapped up in a photo and taken home. Yes magazine came just after we returned, with a whole issue dedicated to radical travel, summing up all the issues with business-as-usual touring.)

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Rainforest rainbow, Fox Glacier, NZ

Yet I wouldn’t give back the stupefied feeling I had nearly every day, in the presence of these stunning landscapes.

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Sea Lions near Allen’s Beach

Since I’ve been back, I’m cultivating wonder daily. Reminding myself to listen, look, sniff, feel, even taste the world. Especially on my morning outings with Opal the poodle.

Things in nature don’t have to be totally grand or far away to stupefy. This treescape against this Indiana sky is big enough to evoke wonder.

Morning walk, here at home

But in a pinch, any old ant will do. (Not pictured: eye-level ant marching up the tree trunk where I leaned this morning).

Teeny anthill. The littlest creatures can move the earth.

I mostly sit behind a desk, but I love to get up close and personal with the beings that share our world. I recently took part in a bird banding day at Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary, and had a chance to briefly hold and release three different birds. Just a second or two of quivery warmth before opening my hand and watching them sail away into the treetops.

Male indigo bunting. Not my hand (but I did get to do the release.)

Meanwhile here at home, I hear song sparrows trilling every morning, and one sometimes shows himself, toward the tail end of my walk.

Song sparrow preparing to trill

Even while pumping gas, I can find a chickadee taking a dust bath in the dirt of a neglected landscape island.

I believe we all can find wonder wherever we are. We actually contain wonder: Consider the fact that our very cells integrated another coevolving organism. At our core we are symbiotic beings. According to Ed Yong’s book I Contain Multitudes, our mitochondria are descendants of ancient bacteria that became integrated into the type of cells that eventually gave rise to all complex life.

Smallest of all, and most wondrous to contemplate.

Where do you find wonder?

BodyMindSpiritEarth

I had a realization at the close of yoga class, while resting in savasana (corpse pose), eyes falling back into their sockets, head heavy on the mat. It’s just this: I have a skull.

Oh I knew that of course. In theory. But it’s weird to think of this thing—used as symbol for poison, or to provoke ghoulish fright, the bony remains of a human—being embedded under my skin RIGHT NOW.

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Photo by Kate Bunker, via Flicker Creative Commons

Maybe this is not so revelatory for you. Well, I’m the girl who recently discovered, to my amazement, that the bones of my pelvis start way higher at my sides than I had previously pictured. When I thought “pelvis,” I thought “sex organs.” I thought “hips.” I didn’t think “bony parts at my waist just a few inches below my ribcage.”

In this level of bodily cluelessness, I may be unusual, but I think not. Do we really know what goes on under our skin? Do we key into the intelligence of our organs all working together, our blood flowing, our skeletons? Do we connect to the slime and gore of our insides, cached away under the outer layer that meets the world?

It’s easy to forget all that stuff, in an age where we think a whole lot. We can end up experiencing ourselves as brains on a stick, using the body to move the big brain from here to there. This brain that will save the day! (That’s working great for humanity so far, as our “progress” continues to wipe out species and their habitat at unprecedented rates.)

On the other hand, in spiritual development circles, we experience ourselves as bigger-than-brain, as soul or Higher Self, and we know that we go on beyond the body and the body is just dust and ashes.

I submit that this laudable idea can be just as alienating, even dangerous, as the big brain idea.

Of course we are our intellectual capacity; humanity makes incredible use (and misuse) of our curiosity, our capacity for logic, and our problem-solving prowess.

Of course we are our souls; that bigger perspective feeds many a spiritual seeker, including myself.

But the bones, the blood, the viscera—they have their own story to tell, and they don’t just exist to tote us from problem-solving puzzle to enlightened insight. Divorced from the body, the mind is imbalanced, the soul unmoored.

The energy within the body IS us. The blood moves, heart beats, bones/muscles/organs support each other in an integrated system that boggles the mind AND spirit.

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Photo by Marco De Stabile, via Flickr Creative Commons

I am not a mind. I am not a spirit. Not only these. I am a bodymindspirit. I come to practices like yoga and qi gong because I want to experience myself as all three, integrated and invincible.

Like most of us I’m good at neglecting this body. I push it past fatigue, I feed it poor fuel, I ask it to digest too much too fast, I wish it would just sit down and shut up so I can do my real work, but what if my real work is…a dance? A prayer-in-motion?

What if my real work is to sink back into this body that is part of the earth, that needs me to care for it in a deep and loving way?

shedding

What if, by disowning the body’s “ugly” innards, and ignoring its whispers and clues and shouts and cries, I’m only contributing to the disregard of our precious earth’s wisdom?

That’s the bigger picture: bodymindspiritearth. Could I experience myself as all four integrated, and what would that look like?

What dance would I offer then?

Who Makes the Sun Rise?

Have you seen the gorgeous children’s book Who Makes the Sun Rise, by writer/painter Lois Main Templeton? The concept: A rooster takes credit for daybreak because his call precedes it.

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Photo by Kamweti Mutu, via Flickr Creative Commons

We saw the artist’s work last weekend at the Indiana State Museum. Her abstract paintings often incorporate handwritten verbiage into intriguing and beautiful images. (Her story is inspiring—she started creating at the age of 51 and hasn’t stopped, though that was nearly 40 years ago.)

But to that rooster, and his question. I’ve been thinking about how the thing I want to grasp is always just a little farther on. I’m not talking only situations or possessions. I mean: How I want to be is how I am not now. I’d like to be braver, physically hardier, more sure of myself, more centered, more incisive, more evolved. Better.

But: Who makes the day break onto this ideal future self? My present self, with her choice to turn toward everything that is in the present.

I always have the choice to come closer to acceptance, or to distance myself from what is and fixate on some ideal I can’t possibly match.

So who is that elusive future self? The one who will clear out enough mental and physical and schedule space to finish her feckin book. That’s who. The one who will always work to dismantle oppressive structures, who will be properly assertive without alienating, who will see all projects to stunning completion and never get the least bit snippy.

Who will always match inner and outer.

Who will let go of perfectionism once and for all.

See how this future self is so great (embodying all opposing ideals) that she keeps me from loving the flawed being that I am, and will surely remain?

But if I can remember to sink into compassion just for one short moment, I might find that I have just enough courage, and can let go of just enough perfectionism, to do one small thing. Like write for 15 minutes nonstop about something that scares me. Or lift a small free weight. Or say no to one thing I really don’t want to do, so I can turn back to the book. Or say the uncomfortable thing that needs to be said, awkwardly but willingly.

Who makes the sun rise? Into that new dawn, shining bright? My present flawed self, with her choice to act—even if the action is less than well executed, even if she doesn’t know for sure what the hell she’s doing.

Agency, isn’t that what we all need? A sense that we are somehow making life roll on, creating the future. Which we are. We make the day break anew every day. Through the smallest of choices.

So I’ll join that rooster and say without apology: I make the sun rise.

The Alchemy of Yoga

Sometimes, looking at the horrors of our present age, my thoughts run to “what is the ever-loving point of any of this?”

It’s a heaviness that gives despair the reins. In the wee hours, my brain chatter runs to the bleakest possible things. Teachers I admire and love, young people I care about are attempting to teach and learn… while fearing they might be the next victims of a school shooter? Devastating, terrifying. Unthinkable.

And what of the shooter, of shooters-in-the-making? How deep does our alienation go, that we continue to look away while people tumble into darkness? Would a life-affirming culture continue to produce people with little respect for life?

Yoga is where I get a visceral sense of alienation’s opposite. Yoga means union. In yoga practice, I alchemize my despair, and hold space for the collective to heal. The dysfunctional culture plants its stunted seeds into me, waiting for me to curl inward, grow cynical, turn my back. Yoga grows a new plant entirely.

I go to yoga class to be with my people. My yoga studio welcomes people of all body types, ethnicities, ages, and orientations. (My teacher is one of a new vanguard of instructors extending yoga to populations that might not gravitate to it: veterans, people with addictions, older folks, people with disabilities.)

We roll out our mats, sometimes josh and tease, sometimes get serious right away. Our teacher guides us into quietness through simple breath awareness.

We don’t have to stop the mind from its prattling. Just notice where it’s gone and take another conscious breath.

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The movements may be slow and easy, slow and challenging, or flowy and strenuous, depending on the class. But always there’s the pairing of breath with motion, the sensation of really inhabiting the body that so often goes ignored. Union.

If tears threaten, we let them come. It’s all OK.

We are here to challenge our habitual patterns of mind. We are here for community and communion. We are here to find some silence in the fray. We are here to refill our wells. We are here to stretch bodies that sit too much, or ease bodies that work too hard. We are here to touch into timelessness.

By the end of class we’ve been rearranged a little bit. We might leave class kinder than we went in. We will go back to the fractious world, the intractable problems, contributing in whatever way we do, letting go of “what’s the point,” at least temporarily.

The closing invocation might fall into the much-maligned “thoughts and prayers” category, but for me it is a powerful statement of connection that does not preclude action. It invokes what can be, what must be if we want to survive and thrive as a collective.

“May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings know peace, be free from all delusion, and walk through their lives with ease.”

And the light within each of us grows brighter, so we can continue to hold others in Light.