Monday, June 30, 2008

Watering Seeds of Compassion

A few weeks ago, I went to a meeting at work, and a child psychologist (Charlotte Peterson) presented her experience of going to the Seeds of Compassion gathering in Seattle in April. The gathering hosted speakers from many faith communities (most notably, the Dalai Lama), as well as brain researchers who presented on the science of compassion and how the capacity for it can be developed in children.

Charlotte explained that 80% of the brain is developed by the time a child is 5 years old, and depending on the child's experiences, more growth will happen in different parts of the brain. If a child experiences compassion from caregivers and feels safe in their world, their pre-frontal lobe will grow more, and that is where our capacity for compassion develops. If a child experiences a lot of stress and anxiety because they do not feel safe (physically or emotionally), their hind-brain will develop more, and that is where our primitive, fight or flight responses come from. So, by the time a child is 5, their ability to feel compassion has been shaped considerably.

Although much is influenced by these early experiences, we still have the ability as adults to continue "growing our own brain" by choosing what experiences, sensory input and thoughts we engage in.

Brain researchers at the Seeds of Compassion gathering talked about the types of practices that physically change the brain by increasing its capacity for compassion. One of the suggestions was to have a meditative morning ritual like the one below.

A Precious Human Life

Every day, think as you wake up,
Today I am fortunate to have woken up.
I am alive, I have a precious human life.
I am not going to waste it.
I am going to use all my energies to develop myself,
To expand my heart out to others,
To achieve enlightenment for
The benefit of all beings.
I am going to have kind
Thoughts toward others.
I am not going to get angry,
Or think badly about others.
I am going to benefit others
As much as I can.

-The Dalia Lama

For more suggestions on cultivating compassion, check out

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


At Dad's memorial, my cousin, Molly read from The Book of Qualities, by Ruth Gendler. This is a beautiful book. My dad gave me a copy when I was 13 years old. It has been well-loved. The binding is broken, and there is a stain on the top of the pages from where the book leaned against some purple irises I picked from our yard.

Dad also gave Molly a copy, and he told her to read the section called Confidence and think of him.

Confidence ignores "No Trespassing" signs. It is as if he does not see them. He is an explorer, committed to following his own direction. He studied mathematics in France and still views his life as a series of experiments. The only limits he respects are his own. He is honest and humble and very funny. After all these years, his sister doesn't understand why he still ice skates with Doubt.
This is such a great description of some aspects of my dad. Of course there was more to him than this. I know he prided himself on being a free-thinker, not taken in by dogma, and willing to stand alone if that is what it meant to stay true to himself. That is why he opposed the Vietnam War before it was popular to do so, and that is why he pursued alternative therapies when he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

I really admired that Dad had an internal compass for ethics, spirituality, and health. He trusted his own sense of things, and he found his own path. When I think of Dad, I think of that confidence, but I also think of his incredible vulnerability. I know when he got cancer, some part of him was absolutely terrified. Yet he made the decision over and over to not give in to despair and fear.

I keep having this phrase go through my mind: "You just do the best you can with what you have." I know this might sound simplistic, but what else is there, really? There are things you can control and things you can't, but in all cases you can choose to invest yourself fully in life. I don't know if Dad ever said that to me explicitly, but he certainly demonstrated it with the way he lived and they way he faced challenges.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Little Parenthesis in Eternity

At Dad's memorial, my cousin, Jeb, read this passage from Deepak Chopra's book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, a book my dad reread many times and often referred to.

We are travelers on a cosmic journey -- stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. but the expressions of life are ephemeral, momentary, transient. Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, once said,
To watch the birth and death of beings
is like looking at
the movements of a dance.
A lifetime is like a flash
of lightening in the sky,
Rushing by like a torrent
down a steep mountain.
We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment, but it is transient. It is a little parenthesis in eternity. If we share with caring, lightheartedness, and love, we will create abundance and joy for each other. And then this moment will have been worthwhile.
My Cousin Jeb

Monday, June 23, 2008

No-Coming, No-Going

Saturday, June 21st, the day of the summer solstice, I met Michael's dad (Ben), two brothers (Dan and Franz), and sister-in-law (Mary) for the first time.

We took a picnic to Fall Creek Reservoir, and while Dan and Franz raced to see who could catch the first fish, Michael showed me how to use his paddle board.

Getting on the board was a little hard, but once I was up, I felt pretty stable. I started paddling out into the lake, keeping an eye on the few speed boats that could send a wake my way and possibly knock me off the board.

Once I got a good rhythm down, paddling first on one side, and then on the other, the board skimmed easily across the water, and I felt an expansive sense of freedom and joy. I really didn't want to stop paddling. Eventually, I got tired (especially after paddling into the wind), and I knew Michael would want a turn, but I felt reluctant to step back on land!

The next day, Sunday, June 22nd, was Sage's 1st birthday. Michael and I took my mom and his family to the coast and had a simple ceremony on the beach. Michael and I shared some poetry and blessings, and then we each took a handful of rose petals and scattered them into the ocean.

I want to thank Michaels family and my mom for helping making this day very peaceful and sacred. I've read that the child's birthday can be one of the most painful days of the year for bereaved parents, but that was not my experience. It seems to help to be with people you feel close to, and to do some small symbolic act that honors the child.

We had intended to scatter Sage's ashes that day, but in the end we decided to wait until Waldo Lake is open for the season and we can take the ashes there. The lake is still closed due to snow. Michael and I were married at that lake, and Sage's placenta is buried there. We can't imagine scattering his ashes anywhere else.

Here is one of the poems that Michael shared with us on that day - a year after we held Sage for the first time:

Contemplation on
No-Coming and No-Going

by Thich Naht Hanh

This body is not me
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries
I have never been born,
And I have never died.

Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
Manifestations from my wondrous mind.
Since before time, I have been free

Birth and death are only doors through which we pass
Sacred thresholds on our journey
Birth and death are a game of hide and seek

So laugh with me,
Hold my hand,
Let us say goodbye
Say goodbye to meet again soon.
We meet today
We will meet again tomorrow
We meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sage

Heceta Head, Oregon Coast

Today was Sage's birthday. We spent the day at Heceta Head with my mom and some of Michael's family members. I want to take some time to write about this day and post some photos, but it has gotten late, and I need to get some sleep, so I'll have to postpone writing. I'll say goodnight and leave you with a short poem:

Very little grows on jagged rock
Be ground
Be crumbled
So wildflowers can come up
where you are,
You've been stony all these years
Try something different


Friday, June 20, 2008

The Way Wings Should

Today my coworkers at the Relief Nursery gathered together and planted a dogwood tree on the school grounds in honor of Sage. This offering was organized by the Relief Nursery Board of Directors. The tree will produce white flowers, and in the fall its leaves will turn scarlet.

Lupe and A.J. plant the tree.

Everyone helps.

R.N. staff with the beautiful little tree.

While we were gathered to plant the tree, my friend, Gretchen, read the following Rumi poem. It reminds me that children, not just our own, but all the children we encounter, need us to show them it is possible to live joyfully, passionately, and with fully open hearts. In my mind, this poem expresses the purpose and spirit of the Relief Nursery - to help the children (and the adults) in our community endure their struggles and wake with their hearts wanting to play . . . the way wings should.

The Way Wings Should

What will
our children do in the morning?
Will they wake with their hearts wanting to play,
the way wings

Will they have dreamed the needed flights and gathered
the strength from the planets
that all men and women need
to balance the wonderful charms of
the earth
so that her power and beauty
does not make us forget our own?

I know all about the ways of the heart - how it wants to be alive.

Love so needs to love
that it will endure almost anything, even abuse,
just to flicker for a moment.
But the sky's mouth is kind,
its song will never hurt you,
for I sing those words.

What will our children do in the morning
if they do not see us

~ Rumi ~

A hug from Gretchen.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Accepting with Grace

Sagey and his friend Maya

I've been feeling a little fragile these last few days, probably because I felt so much build up to the memorials, and now they are over, and life . . . goes . . . on.

Wednesday was the hardest. I took our jars of baby food into work to donate them. I threw away an opened box of rice cereal. I cried. And then the kids got there, and the day moved forward.

There is something in me that wants to fight against the vulnerability of this frequent, sudden crying. It is frustrating because there is nothing to DO about it. I guess I am learning to BE with these feelings, because that is really the only option.

In my Ai Chi class, we do a movement called "Accepting with Grace." This is the hardest of the series for me. It requires both balance and a willingness to let go and trust that the water will support me. I mentioned my difficulty to the teacher, Teresa, and she said that sometimes the first step is the acceptance that I am not in acceptance. So this is what I am working on . . . not resisting or judging my struggle to accept with grace.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Small Things with Great Love

This is what I read at Sage's memorial. I want to share it here for those of you who were unable to attend.

When I was in the hospital, I was offered some words of wisdom that have served as a touchstone for me ever since. My husband, Michael, looked at me and said, “We have to live in the light that Sage brought to our lives, and share that light with others.”

By asking you to join us today, that is what we are hoping to do - share the beautiful, loving energy of our son so that it can nurture the beautiful, loving energy in each of you.

In this way, we offer our little boy to all of you. Please help us carry his life energy forward.

We know you will help us with this because you’ve been doing it all along, holding our little family in your hearts since before Sage was even born.

You were with us through the sweet anticipation of pregnancy, the enormous joys an
d challenges of being new parents, the delight of watching our baby grow, and the devastation of losing him.

Thank you all for helping us give Sage a happy life.

If we could ask you for anything now, it would be that you take those Random Acts of Kindness Cards out into the world and do something amazing with them.

Mother Teresa said, “We cannot do great things in this life. We can only do small things with great love.” And that is the spirit of those cards.

When Sage was born, the first thing I said was, “I have a baby!” I said this with some surprise, as though through the course of labor I forgot exactly what the outcome would be.

The second thing I said was, “This is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” And without a doubt, knowing Sage was, by far, the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Blessing for a Long Journey

I got an email today saying that the other parents in our Birth to Three group would like to adopt a sea turtle for Sage's 1-year Birthday gift. What a wonderful idea! If you want to learn more about adopting turtles and turtle conservation, here is the website:

These turtles have amazingly long migration routes, as you can see on the map below.
Here is a little blessing for the turtles and for us all. My friend from work, Gretchen, sang it at Sage's memorial.

May the long time sun shine upon you,
All love surround you,
And the pure light within you,
Guide your way on.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Oceana (age 2) on the horsey that
Grandpa Faulkner made for her.

I have only a few minutes to write before work, but I wanted to say that the memorials were wonderful, better than I could have imagined. So many people got up to speak (and sing) at Sage's. Michael and I were amazed by the powerful love of our community and family.
We both cried, but it was that good, healing type of crying.

Dad's memorial, on Sunday was just as moving and beautiful. Everyone who attended contributed something. I know Dad would have liked how it turned out - lots of laughter, lots of stories, lots of good food, and a walk through the orchard when it was over.

This weekend was a threshold for us, and we walk forward with new gifts.
Dad always liked to say,
"This is the first day of the rest of your life!"
How true.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Dwelling in the Present Moment

My sister, Sarah, and Sage

It has been nearly a week since my last post. With Sage's memorial today, and Dad's tomorrow, there have been a lot of preparations to take care of, and I have not had the mental energy to write. At this point, though, most of the planning and preparing that can be done has been done, and the only thing left is to relax into the experience.

Thich Naht Hanh offers the following meditations:

Feelings come and go
Like clouds in a windy sky.
Conscious breathing
is my anchor.

Breathing in, I calm my body,
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Unending Love

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms,
numberless times...
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade
the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck
in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love,
it's age old pain,
It's ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past,
in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star,
piercing the darkness of time.
You become an image
of what is remembered forever.

~Rabindranath Tagore

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Treasure Hunt

Dad and Oceana

In the back of Dad's address book, in tiny, scribbled writing that was barely legible, I found this poem by Mark Nepo (also a cancer survivor).


Death pushed me to the edge.
Nowhere to back off.
And to the shame of my fears,
I danced with abandon in his face.
I never danced as free.

And Death backed off,
the way dark backs off
in a sudden burst of of flame.
Now there’s nothing left
but to keep dancing.

It is the way
I would have chosen
had I been born
three times
as brave.

-Mark Nepo

I imagine that when I am able to return to Dad's house, I will find things like this, artifacts of his life and his thoughts tucked away in unexpected places. Poems, letters, photos, drawings we kids gave him 20 years ago. Dad would have liked this - surprises, unanticipated treasures. I am reminded of when we kids were little and one of us lost a tooth. The next morning, under our pillow, we'd find a little note with a clue on it. Dad sent us on treasure hunts that lasted all morning. Each clue would lead to another clue, until at the end was some surprise. I don't remember any of the surprises, but I do remember the search for clues. Maybe that was Dad's way of teaching us to enjoy the process as much as the prize.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Arriving Where We Started

Today I went to the Birth Center where Sage was born. I was able to see Chris, the midwife who delivered him, as well as the lactation consultant, Hope, who offered me support and encouragement during the first (very difficult) weeks of breastfeeding.

I sat for a time in a rocking chair in the room where Sage was born, thinking: This is where I first saw you, first held you. This is where I willingly experienced the most intense physical pain of my life in order to experience the happiest moment of my life.

I ran my hand over the wooden bed frame and the quilt covered with dragonflies. I noticed the details of the room that I had no awareness of the last time I was there. There is a black and white photo of a baby nursing. He has a wonderful grin on his face, like he can't imagine life getting any better. Sage often smiled like that while nursing, and I remember thinking there couldn't be a sweeter feeling than seeing my child so satisfied and content.

As I received the hugs and care of those women who walked with me on my journey of birth and motherhood, I cried. And I realized then that my return to this place was one of the many gates through which I have to pass. The building is so full of the memories of mothers, fathers and infants. It echoes with screams, sobs, and groans . . . and the speechless joy of holding a newborn. Sage, Michael and I are part of that place.

We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring

will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.

--T.S. Elliot

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Live the Questions

... have patience with everything
unresolved in your heart

and to try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms or books written
in a very foreign language.

Don't search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.

And the point is, to live everything.

Live the questions now

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~