Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Things We See When We Look

I am studying the no: a simple two-letter word easy to learn at two yet perhaps the hardest to say at forty-something.

I exist in a culture of yes: the Dallas Arts District alone represents over a billion dollars worth of infrastructure in just the last few years: Dallas is a city of yes, we can. This luxurious ether of possibility seeps into my days: openings and receptions, dinners and galas. Eighteen years later and a chardonnay at the entrance to an art exhibition became the practice.

A week ago I declared a new chapter for myself by creating a 100-day period of mindful re-construction of "me" down to the cellular level. I am "going dark" as they say in the theater world: studying how to replace desire with giving and noise with quiet.

I'm looking for ways to create a balance between the silence of emptiness and the glorious symphony of creating something new. Somewhere in this work is that little word: "no".

Matthew 5:37: But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your "No', 'No'.

My curriculum is the traditional elimination diet, and my textbook is me. Building new practices of "no" when it comes to gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol is making a clearing for a new meadow of "yeses": lower blood pressure, less inflammation, more clarity in thinking and more energy. Maybe elimination diet is the wrong word.

The etymology of eliminate:1560s, from L. eliminatus, pp. of eliminare "thrust out of doors, expel," from ex limine "off the threshold," from ex "off, out" + limine, abl. of limen "threshold." Used literally at first; sense of "exclude" first attested 1714; sense of "expel waste from the body" is c.1795. 

As I study the antonyms I see words like "begin", "give birth", "welcome" and "accept". By eliminating these five things (things I think I love) I am ratifying a different future for myself. And this kind of mindfulness, to change a future and be peaceful in the process is teaching me just how beautifully the mind works when paired with intention.

It hasn't been easy, but it has been joyous. In the first few days I faced the toughest challenge with a Members' Preview launching a new exhibition followed by a splendid dinner at one of Dallas' best restaurants. I started with a lesson from the late Princess Diana: she often ate a small healthy meal before going out to formal dinners in the evening.

Just before the opening, I drank a frothy, earthy Mark Hyman shake while I worked on my remarks. At the reception, I said "no" to the plump Chinese dumplings and "yes" to a sparkling water, savoring the moment of seeing the will in my will power.

Following the talk we ventured to the restaurant and I stayed present with my intentions and my goals: I delegated the wine selection and ordered a sumptuous tea: savoring the hospitality that comes with tea: cup, saucer, tea bag, tea pot and kind companion offering to pour. I paused to admire the ritual, so different in gesture from the pour of a bold cab.

I watched as the server brought little ellipses of butter to each bread plate at our left. Intention, Intention I murmured in my head, present in both my want of the butter, dappled with rose-colored Himalayan sea salt and my want for health and a future I empower. I studied the butter's glossy surface and salt crystals, the shimmer of wine in the wine glasses around me, the laughter of a room wearing a cloak of cocktails.

I worked my "no" muscle again when the cadence of dessert items flowed from the server's mouth. "Gibberish to me" I thought: I'm taking myself on, yes, water is a beautiful thing. I drank it slowly sending Hydrogen and Oxygen to every cell.

It was a different kind of evening for me: calm and relaxed, sitting with my "beautiful monsters" as Tsoknyi Rinpoche taught me at a workshop at the Omega Institute. I soaked up the conversations with our donors, our visiting artists and new friends. I fell asleep easily and was back at the office early the next morning, awake, alive and clear headed: cells happy.

With this practice of making a decision: when a "no" is a no and "yes" is a yes, something changes in my being. I am freed from the anxiety of wanting. No is a no and yes is a yes. I'm employing little mantras to remind me of my new "yes"

For well being: to every cell

For finding beauty in unexpected places: little alleluias everywhere

hen I feel the liminal response to a tray of champagne flutes: be like a monk. 

Be like a monk: minimalist, sensible, modest and practical. I am working to replace desire with acceptance, worry with peace and judgment with love.

The no is my threshold, the yes is my sanctuary.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Chapter of Mindful Intention: Under Construction

I woke up today in a new future. I've been planning this day, March 1st for almost a month. I've been working up to this day, March 1st for years.

Last fall the museum started looking at 2017 as a year of quiet: I called it a cocoon phase: dark, quiet and under construction.

The museum is close to announcing the plans for our physical transformation and construction: a sizable expansion, a re-brand and a launch as a museum in the public trust. I didn't realize as all of these conversations evolved that I, too am preparing for my own cocoon phase: I, too, am going under construction.

I've been working on myself for a few years now with the wake-up call of a diagnosis of thyroid cancer six years ago and remission twelve months later. I've learned that well being is a journey: moments of incredible focus and intention, moments of learning and leaving,  moments of straying and distraction. Today I woke up in a new moment. 

At the museum we've been studying existence: getting rigorous about how the work of work happens: promises and commitments and tracking it in places beyond the vast expanse of the brain. A new moment exists today and today is different from yesterday. Today is day one of one-hundred days. For the next one-hundred days I will engage in a practice of mindful eating in an elimination diet: no sugar, no caffeine (save for one green tea daily), no dairy, no gluten and: no alcohol. 

This Chapter of Mindful Intention as I am calling it includes creating new behaviors in joy, simplicity and minimalism. I will focus on who I am becoming in this future: a person who is clearer about the world and all I am to be in my being here. I will feel better:  I will give away 100 things and document them via social media. I will work hard and pursue happiness. I will strengthen my capacity for compassion. I will stay focused and intentional. 

As for well being I am creating a me that will flourish in 

lower blood pressure 
more fitness and exercise 
more energy 
less inflammation 
more capacity for yoga 
more clarity in purpose and thinking 

Writing this puts it all into existence: me in this future of health and well being: leading in contemplative work and heading up an art museum that celebrates the compassion that happens when art meets healing. I am my own best experiment, and I am taking myself on to be someone who is stronger, wiser ready for the good work ahead of us. Pardon my dust and please hold me to account every day. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017


I wish for the joy of nine five year-olds,
Half the wisdom of someone ninety.
The energy of being twice 22
And then one.

I am grateful for the numbers.
The quiet morning.
A return to yoga.
Earl Grey tea
And a french pastry from VIllage Bakery.

I appreciate my muscles: 45 years of moving me
Through this amazing life.
Bones and armature.
Balance. Feet that carried me.
To today. Downward Dog. Still got it.

The love of friends
Saying hello across the globe.
Even Bogata.
The happiness of a network
That holds me together and moves me
To be

The wisdom to be quiet.
To breathe three times deeply.
To know where Center is
And to know when I am not there.
The grace and permission to return.

To so many things I still don’t know.
Like how my nervous system really works.
And the mystery
Of a heart
That has real electricity inside.

The love of parents
And a brother, a sister, my first birthday
With Olivia: her first birthday with me.
Almost one year with Olivia.
Gift: Aunt.
A farm to return to today.
My first home. In February of 1972.
They put me on a blanket in the sun.
And watched me grow.

A family. Cards and laughter.
Willful suspense
And proud surprises.
I am forty-five.
They can’t even begin to know

How beautiful it is.
I am this many, but also zero.
Just beginning to see
What a magical place this is
When you stop
And take a look
At the time.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Place to Be Still

I am on a journey again, this weekend at a small conference for contemplative leadership: Search Inside Yourself with Mirabai Bush and Gopi Kallayil at the very special Omega Institute in upstate New York. Mirabai is among the early pioneers who ventured to India in the early seventies and brought mindfulness and meditation back to the United States. I've read her words, marveled at her work to build (with Gopi) a flourishing meditation and yoga program for Google and her luminous quiet courage to just ask us all to be quiet.

I traveled here with our Director of Education at the Museum. We made the pilgrimage across two flights and drove into the Woodstock/West Hurley area adding layers clothing with each passing mile. This dip into autumn places me just where I need to be: sun laced curtains of amber and crimson leaves surround me, and Jack Frost arrived overnight: his first visit to New England this fall.

This is my second visit to Omega, a place for reflection and learning bringing new breath to a very old summer camp for Jewish Children. As I arrived I excitedly looked for all the corners I found last summer: the path to the sanctuary, the "dessert bar" (Omega offers health in body, too), the little Buddha placed under a tree: the one holding an acorn someone left behind.

As an example of a well of Western Buddhism, Omega is the place for exploration, the place to be a kid again, returning to camp, looking for your favorite bunk and the view from it. The discovery of camp, like the discovery of oneself is layered with courage, independence and discovery.

The title of this workshop "Search Inside Yourself" offers many things: a opportunity to meditate with two of the best teachers in America, an opportunity to pause and ask yourself: why am I here? and most importantly an opportunity to pause. Last night Mirabai Bush and Gopi Kallayil opened our session with an invitation to understand our own Emotional Intelligence (EI). Mirabai and Gopi developed this beyond-popular course at Google to help employees increase EI and personal well being and thereby productivity and performance. Much of this is based on Dan Goldman's research and his book Emotional Intelligence.  

Emotional Intelligence is composed of development of the following:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Self-regulation.
  • Motivation.
  • Empathy.
  • Social skills.

I learned something very important last night. When Google offered the first mediation classes, attendance was very light. As we do at the Crow, these classes were offered as "stress reduction" and antidotes to stress. Google employees, and humans by nature are high achievers, and didn't want to go to a class that might be an indicator something was "wrong". Gopi recalled "When it was stress reduction people did not flock to it." And so, like all amazing leaders, the planning team went back to the drawing board and with Dan Goldman's research offered new promises gained in mindful work:

1. Teams that feel psychological safety are higher performing teams / and have a higher degree of EI
2. Peak performance is also driven when you create a little space in your life
(from the course Search Inside Yourself, Gopi Kallayil and MIrabai Bush)

Gopi invited us all to create a spacious place to sit back and think. How often do I hear a colleague say "we just don't have any time to think". And so the practice begins again, with me sitting here at a beautiful sun-dappled farmhouse table on a rock ridge in Upstate New York. With the space to think. What if you took just ten minutes today under this autumn sky and settled into yourself, in quiet? What corner would you find?

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Friday, September 23, 2016

The Waiting Game

The following poem was written on retreat at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Wendy Johnson: Mind of Autumn: Timeless Writing and Zen

Someone said, "If you see clouds in the morning
it is certain to rain
in the afternoon."

Is that a promise, I wonder?
Some folklore of the Sangre de Christo Mountains?
Does pilot know this and cricket, too,
when a cloud casts a shadow on morning dew?

Nature beguiles, this I know.
The suspense in expectation tells me so.
She doesn't plan the burst of shower, the ray of Sun.
She waits until our glance is gone.

The sunrise that tricks, a thousand hues,
The rainbow. The pinecone, wonder anew.
Sit and listen. Secrets are shared,
That one who hears Nature will never be prepared.

For the moment of Awe,
At a hummingbird's shimmer,
The drip of a raindrop of pine needle's center.
The push of a cloud into dragon or bear.
The patterns of breeze as lake's skin meets air.

Sit and listen. She waits for you,
To lose your compass, your time, your place.
To awaken the pulse, stirred by grace.

The grace of alive.
The blessing to see,
The bounty of nature just sitting under a tree.

Baptism Equinox

The following poem was written on retreat at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a workshop with Natalie Goldberg and Wendy Johnson: Mind of Autumn: Timeless Writing and Zen

Baptism Equinox 

I lost time at the Buddhist Temple. 
Left the cell phone, perhaps with needed intention
On a bench. 
In the middle of the La Posada Hotel lobby. 

Time sits there on a bench. 
Watching the comings and goings
Of Expectation and Consequence. 
The nice couple who just wanted a room with a view. 

The pen is full, though paper empty, 
No clock on the wall. 
They will take care of me, 
Buddha sits before me. 
He is time, 
And complete forgiveness, 
Sitting though the seasons. 
A pinecone placed in his lap. 
Cobweb on pinecone. 
A new home in the Lotus Pose. 

I am the cobweb, 
Creating new places
to walk under a Cerulean blue New Mexico sky. 
It rained last night, 
Rocks dry responsibly as Sun requests them to. 
Skies scrubbed fresh, the Sun pulls back, 
Hibernation begins. 

I am the pinecone in the Buddha's lap. 
Chosen, held, placed by someone else. 
I am the structure for new spaces. 
Sitting in the center of One with An Open Heart. 
Listen, he says, Be Quiet. 

Cricket and dove, pine needles have something to say. 
Through them Wind says hello to Autumn, 
pushing droplets of last night's rain on to my knuckles. 
Bluring the "o" in hello. 
Reminding me that I am real. 
In a skin that feels rain. 

The rain that comes from the place of stars and universe. 
And that's real, too. 
The place where time began. 
With a measurement, and a theory. 
The time we created to mark the hour when I left my cell phone
on a bench in Santa Fe. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Compassion and Consequence

Several weeks ago I attended a conference in the Rio Grande Valley: a lush collection of old railroad towns along the border of Texas and Mexico. As an alumni of the Texas Lyceum, the organization presenting the meeting, I was intrigued by the topic: Beyond the Hype: Immigration and Border Security in Texas.

My husband grew up in Pharr and San Juan, two adjacent towns just a few miles from the border. When we met in 2002 and visited "The Valley" a year later, I fell in love with this part of Texas: a blur of consequence, identity and place. I loved it so much we married there in 2004. Two communities, overlapping for decades over a very fluid river border: employees and employers, access and opportunity are now in the middle of a front page fight about violence, drugs, walls and political will.

I attended this meeting to try to understand more about this very complex problem, or rather set of problems. I went looking for someone to help me make sense of it all: economic impact, ISIS, Drug trafficking, immigration and trade. I went looking for the human story. I went looking for compassion.

On the morning of the second day we filed into the "great hall" of the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas. On the way in we passed two army tents in the empty parking lot. We were greeted warmly by Mayor Jim Darling of McAllen. He shared a story, just two years ago, of a city and a region in crisis. You'll remember it: thousands of refugees arriving in the valley, fleeing the horrors of gang violence and crime in Central America. It was August 2014. Hundreds of asylum seekers arriving on our side of the river daily: dehydrated and sunburned, hearts weary from sometimes as many as nine months making a dangerous journey across Mexico. It is a story I remember, but it is also a story I forgot.

Sister Norma didn't forget. She didn't get distracted by the next headline or crisis (real or perceived). Two years ago Mayor Jim Darling called her and he asked her to help. Sister Norma, one of the leaders at the church, was called in those critical hours to open the doors to the very humans we build walls to keep out. She spoke to us with warmth and luminous compassion. I'd actually seen her at the dinner the night before, and not yet knowing who she was, said to myself, "that is a woman I would like to know". Two years ago, she quickly designed a harbor for these refugees with one mission in mind, "To restore human dignity".  To restore human dignity. What beautiful words. As she spoke she described a most beautiful protocol. Asylum-seekers, the lucky ones who make it across the swift and dangerous currents of the Rio Grande, are greeted by the Border Patrol on the US side. They walk toward these border warriors with their hands up. They are children, sometimes traveling alone. They are mothers, sisters, brothers, fractured families who have paid immense sums to get to the safer side of the river. They've risked everything, a certain indication that what they've endured on the journey far outweighed the threats of home.

The Border Patrol gives them water and refuge. But before they are taken to the Day Shelter at the Sacred Heart Church, their ankles are banded with a monitoring device: a GPS tracker they will have to charge three-hours a day until they are cleared by the court in some future "Sanctuary City". And where is the plug for that when you're homeless?

As we sat listening to this unimaginable story, 16 asylum-seekers walked in, across the front of the room. I fought tears watching them. Sister Norma explains how she does it, how she restores dignity to these beautiful and brave humans. Her actions, deeply compassionate and astonishingly simple are this:

1. Process the paperwork: welcome them at a table with a warm smile. The children are engaged and acknowledged. I noticed they were hauntingly quiet. They are given bus vouchers and a plan. They are given a sign that says in bold letters "I do not speak English. Please help me find the correct bus."

2. Help them find clothes and toiletries from a vast assemblage of tables piled high with used-clothing donated from well-wishers across the United States. Each section is categorized, and a volunteer helps them find just the right clothing to make the rest of the journey.

3. Take them outside to the army-issue showers. Sister Norma turned the church parking lot into two large tents equipped with showers. When the Governor of Texas called and asked her what she needed this is what she asked for. A hot shower for these weary dispirited souls. One step forward.

4. Feed them. Guests to this day-harbor are given a meal, perhaps the first they've had in days.

5. Say goodbye.  Sojourners are taken to the bus stop where they will begin a multi-day journey to parts very unknown.

In most cases they are traveling to meet a family member. The suspense of this journey must be unimaginable: mothers and fathers separated, waiting for the word of the impossible: the miracle that these loved ones survived the immense impossibilities of this flight.

If they make it to Sister Norma's open arms, they weren't killed by coyotes in a drug exchange gone-wrong. (These travelers are commonly used as a diversion.) They survived dangerous transport on the tops of trains. They didn't die of heat exhaustion on the US side in 105+ temperatures. The twelve year-old girls might still have the "Plan B" tablets they were given when their journey began: sent with real prayers that they wouldn't have to use it. These survivors are human miracles. Sister Norma and the Sacred Heart Chapel receive 80 pilgrims a day on the average.

We cannot turn away nor can we forget these future Americans. We look at Greece and Syria and shake our heads when we read about European countries closing their doors to those in need. This is happening right here in our state, on our watch, just 500 miles from Dallas. The problem is complex: overshadowed by terroristic threats (there have been zero incidents of ISIS crossing over the Mexico/US border), a drug war and an emotionally-charged presidential campaign. In the mix of this is trade: 22 states consider Mexico a number-one or number-two trading partner. The trade between Texas and Mexico represents over 200 Billion dollars and 465,000 jobs. Just in the region of the Rio Grande Valley, Mexican nationals spend 13 Billion annually. Annually 18 million people cross the border to visit McAllen's Outlet Mall. 

It is a complex matrix and these are not small numbers.

The Governor of Texas is asking for an additional $170,000,000 in aid to "secure the border" bringing the total close to a billion dollars of state-support. Texas State Troopers come by the hundreds to "help"--monitoring the river in Swift boats. The machine guns on their boats are more for show than action. The Border Patrol isn't sure how this is helping. It's a very mixed-up model of enforcement and accountability.

And then there's the wall. One leader in law enforcement lamented that in the days after the seventeen-foot wall went up, they started finding hundreds of eighteen-foot ladders left on the US side. They are now piling up in warehouses.

Money. Commerce. Terrorism shroud one issue: our response to the human seeking refuge: asylum: the freedoms we promised in our charter of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  

I don't have the answers but I can be inspired to do one thing: love like Sister Norma. I watched her holding strangers, washing their feet and restoring their dignity. I am different because I watched her compassionate heart in action. I watched what happened to those she harbored. Sister Norma hasn't forgotten. I won't forget.

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