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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Photo by Bao-Tich

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Saturday, my husband and I had the opportunity to spend the whole day in mindfulness and meditation with the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax. We have practiced with this sangha, led by Ahn Huong and Thu Nguyen, for many years in the tradition of her uncle, Thich Nhat Hanh. Ahn Huong is my inspiration and model for the days of mindfulness and women’s retreats that Ruth Fishel and I have been conducting.

I realize that leading the exercises of mindful breathing, walking, eating, and deep relaxation is a type of work that is also restful, not only to the people who are breathing and relaxing to my guided meditation, but also to me. We inter-are. But it was a treat to return to my teacher’s beautiful sangha, to be guided by her peaceful voice, to just REST.

For many people vacation is over today. Schools opening. Teachers teaching. Traffic increasing. Stress increasing. It’s a work day. So, here I am at my desk, working on a blog and my next retreat. Without traffic, without the stress of my many years in the classroom. Also without the excitement of meeting my new students. So I turn to you, my new audience of readers, less visible, less audible, but there.

There is a time for everything under the sun. I am so grateful for this period of my life when I am able to rest between periods of work and to attempt to make every task I do one of mindfulness and joy. I am still capable of becoming stressed about writing and publishing, capable of working without pausing. But, if I come back to my breath, at least three breaths when beginning a new task, occasionally during a task and at the end, my work is more productive and happy. My life has become so restful, so filled with joyful opportunities to merge work and rest.

How do you find rest within, before and after your work? Do you STOP occasionally to rest and breathe? What reminders do you use?

Photo by Lori Greig

Seth Godin, who has written 12 bestsellers that have been translated into 33 languages, laid a bombshell on the book world Monday. He announced in his blog that Linchpin would be his last book published in the traditional fashion – by a publisher.

“The thing is–now I know who my readers are. Adding layers or faux scarcity doesn’t help me or you. As the medium changes, publishers are on the defensive…. I honestly can’t think of a single traditional book publisher who has led the development of a successful marketplace/marketing innovation in the last decade. The question asked by the corporate suits always seems to be, “how is this change in the marketplace going to hurt our core business?” To be succinct: I’m not sure that I serve my audience (you) by worrying about how a new approach is going to help or hurt Barnes & Noble.”

Alerted to this news by my husband, who reads many marketing books and blogs, I was curious to see what other authors had to say as I begin this arduous task of getting my book into your hands – or computers? I don’t want to waste time with 20th century methods if new ones suit people better. Yet I yearn to hold my own book in my hands and to see it in yours on the metro.

I see that Tim Ferris and Jim Farley still find a place for physical books and the publishing world.
Tim Ferris on How Authors Really Make Money: The Rebirth of Seth Godin and Death of Traditional Publishing
“I find that it helps refine your thinking, just as having the content in a fixed form (print) forces you to consider your writing and editing more seriously than if you could change it willy-nilly like a blog post. There are certainly benefits to the multimedia books on the horizon, but I wouldn’t call them “books”, and I think the bells and whistles of video, hyperlinks, etc. will be used to mask sloppy thinking as often, if not more often, than they will be used to create a more compelling argument or presentation. The wordsmithing and precision of the language will suffer with the crutches of embeddable video, etc. Will they make perfect sense for some books? Absolutely. Will they distract and detract from the flow of the prose, story, or argument in most cases? Absolutely.

The compelling case for the printed book that resonated with my heart was made by Jim Farley, owner of a bookshop in New Hope, PA. I highly recommend reading Farley’s whole story! It gave me hope and spoke to the heart of how I want to touch people with my book. This process is about much more than “success” or “profit.”

Kindles Aren’t Books
I was twenty, newly tattooed and sobering up. I was running late. The Greyhound bus I boarded in Pittsburgh smelled like old sweat and food. A red-eye, I was going to move through the night, across the open fields of middle-Pennsylvania for a crack of dawn arrival in Philadelphia. There didn’t seem to be an available seat on the bus and the driver was watching me through the rear-view to sit down before he backed out into the steel city night. I scanned the bus, tired, in and out of it, and saw a seat on the aisle three rows from the back. A large black man was in the window seat, more piled there than sitting, a muscular pylon rising out of the fabric. Our eyes met. I didn’t have to look down into his to do it.

“Mind if I sit here?” I asked.

“Only if you’ll talk about Nietzsche,” he said.

I looked at my hands. I was carrying the Viking Portable Nietzsche in my left hand, the cover facing out to the world. Red-eye reading.

We spent the next seven hours talking about the nature of god, will, the meaning of religion. He was a studying with the Jesuits in New York, on his way home from visiting friends.

That never would have happened if I was a Kindle user.

August 20, 2010

Today I completed the third draft of my book The Power of Love! Hooray!

As I was compiling a bibliography, I breathed yet another prayer of gratitude to all the teachers and writers who have influenced me for so many years – Theilard de Chardin, Franz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Thich Nhat Hanh. Two leaders of the Sisters of Loretto whom I dearly loved are on the list – Sister Luke Tobin (Hope is an Open Door) and Sister Helen Saunders (More than a Renewal )- which contains an entire chapter about my participation in the anti-war action that is the subject of my book. I still have the copies of several “handbooks” I dragged all over the country hitch-hiking from trials to demonstrations to speaking engagements: Seymour Hersh’s Chemical and Biological Warfare, Domhoff’s Who Rules America , The Rich and Super-Rich by Ferdinand Lundberg and Baran and Sweezy’s Monopoly Capital.

Not to mention the minimum of three novels I need every week to keep me going.

Isn’t it the least I can do– to contribute one book in gratitude for all I’ve been given to read?

This morning I had such a great writing/editing session on my book. I LOVE to write, to polish the language, to make experiences that were powerful for me when they happened come alive for YOU. I started my goal of finishing my book (once I retired) by setting aside Monday and Friday mornings for writing. (See the blog on Balancing our Many Roles). It took discipline and prioritizing the writing to give myself the gift of those six minimum hours a week, to allow the training in mediation, home repairs, finances and dozens of other projects to disappear from my mind and agenda for two blocks of time every week. Even in “retirement”, there are many requests, opportunities and “business” that would interfere with this structure if I allow it to happen. The “urgent but unimportant” phone calls and emails keep trying to interrupt the writing.

The Covey process helped me write a mission statement, list my most important goals and roles in life and then schedule my week according to priorities(

Photo by CoreBurn

It is raining again, the morning after a tornado-like storm that downed trees and power lines.   I watched it all yesterday from a gentle sitting meditation room with friends.  Later people were scratching their heads at my daily meeting about why things happen.  Trees were down on Sligo, the creek flooded by the flash storm, electricity out at all over the region.  A friend was very shaken by a tree falling into the house where she lives.  The house was condemned and she can’t go in to get her clothes.  She rescued the dozens of pets and her computer.   No one was injured.  Cause and effect. The great God of weather.

I remember a wonderful film I saw about Cause and Effect.  It was a short documentary that traced what happened to one plastic cup….just watched it travel when someone tossed it out a car window, traced its survival through traffic, sewers, and oceans.  We don’t just “toss away” trash without it going somewhere.  Trees appear to fall suddenly, but the conditions for the fall may have taken many years to develop.  The tree in our back yard is leaning, has some rot on the side where the other tree fell, has been diagnosed as dangerous by several tree people.  It may fall eventually, possibly on our roof or the fence or on our neighbor’s new addition.  The arborist in our town will not give us permission to cut it down.

The oil spill in the Gulf was caused by so many factors that came together – dead dinosaurs from millions of years ago, WWII, oil dependence, greedy companies, government policies, our dependence on cars and wars.  Why do we need to imagine a god who sits up in heaven with a computer deciding whom to harm.  “This is” because “that is.”  It’s such a simple way to look at things.  Thank you Thay.

I suppose people’s minds want the “first Cause” to be a person, a great Mind.  Perhaps it is.  I don’t need to understand.  But I do want to be ever more mindful of my actions and their effects on people, nature, my body, the food chain, pollution.

I want my footprint to be gentle on the earth, my words to be kind to others, my actions to foster beauty rather than destruction. So, I take up my writing, looking deeply at its causes, hoping its effects will enhance beauty and understanding.

Eurythmie by Lyn

Do you ever have difficulty balancing all the roles in your life?  Blogging, writing, helping friends in need, serving my husband a balanced, healthy meal, organizing women’s retreats, exercising and meditating are all important to me.  I want to spend all the time with my granddaughter possible before she outgrows our fun together.  Is there ever enough time in a day?

Here is a fun exercise I have used in many Diversity Workshops.  It works best with a partner, so find one, shake hands and introduce yourself by naming all the roles you can think of in your life.  Try not to censor what you say and keep going until you feel you have exhausted all the roles you can think of – including ethnicity, religious affiliation, passions.  “Hi, I’m Joann.  I’m an author, a mother, a wife, a granny, a meditation leader,  friend,  neighbor, peace activist,  Irish American,  “older” woman, Buddhist meditator,  sangha member, sponsor, sponsee, a daily journaler, an investor, traveler, avid reader, retreat leader, artist, workshop conductor, teacher, cook, house maintainer, blogger, swimmer, weightlifter, big sister, aunt, email correspondent, recovering from a fatal, progressive disease that requires daily maintenance of my spiritual condition.

“Whew, that’s a lot of roles!  How does a person “carry them out” on a daily, weekly, monthly basis?  Several years ago, when I was also still teaching high school fulltime, I attended a great workshop on Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and First Things First ( We were urged to look first at our deepest goals and principles and to examine which roles fit with those goals and priorities at this moment in our lives.  Were we spending most of our time commuting to a job that was meaningless in relationship to our deepest life goals?  If our children were very important in our lives, were we spending fun time with them?  We wrote mission statements, prioritized the roles that would help us reach our goals, learned to map out our plans for the day and the week based on goals and principles rather than the “urgent but unimportant” tasks that crowd out moments for meditation, walking or writing a blog.

Rather than trying to achieve balance by compartmentalizing our roles, Gandhi observed, “One man cannot do right in one department of life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department.  Life is one indivisible whole.” This reminds me of an important goal of my life – to practice my principles in all my affairs.

Ah, perhaps I need to remember to identify, prioritize, see the interrelationships of my roles, relax and focus on the priorities TODAY, in this very precious moment of my life.  There is a flow, an interconnectedness to all my roles, goals and actions.  Achieving balance is a constant challenge.

How do you balance all the roles in your life?