Saturday, December 27, 2014

In The Crack Between The Worlds

I love these days, the time between festive gatherings and the new year. Of course the "new year" is a human construct, but these days feel like an invitation to pause, to step into shamanic dreaming, to feel the shape of what is to be carried forward and what is to be gently released and left behind. 

I love the idea of perpetual creation, that all of this world- including us- is linked to and co-created in each moment by the Mystery that is both within and around us, by the Sacred Wholeness that is both what we are and greater than the sum of all the manifestations. 

These are realities I explore in contemplation, feeling their embodiment. When I first wake up, or before I go to sleep, on the bus, or while walking through the park-  I start with three deep breaths, watching the inhale, following the exhale, noticing how my attention slows my breath and makes it feel complete. And then, I let my body lead. . . . .feeling an inner and outer unfolding with each inhale. . . . letting go into gravity with the exhale and then. . . . pausing at the end of the exhale. . . . dropping into stillness and waiting without straining, allowing the impulse to inhale to arise from deep within. 

There, in the pause at the end of the exhale I touch something, open to something that is always seeking to touch me: awareness of the crack between the worlds of spirit and matter that are not separate but simply two ways of seeing one wholeness that excludes nothing; the taste of an Infinite Love that welcomes and holds us all.

Perhaps in this inbetween place we can breathe and dance together, dreaming a new year of deepening love and life for ourselves, every other and the world  ~Oriah (c) 2014 (Photo by Karen Davis at

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gifts of the Darkness

Dear friends, have not been on line at all as a nasty little virus has had me bedbound for the last couple of weeks. This too will pass, but in the meantime, I am appreciating the "opportunity" to move slowly and have lots of time for meditation and prayer. 

As usual, news of the world is a mix of mayhem and magic, of celebration and sorrow. Human beings take my breath away with our capacity for searing cruelty (thinking of the families in Pakistan who lost loved ones during an attack on a school) & boundless compassion (thinking of the Australian #I-will-ride-with-you campaign to support Muslim members of their communities after the hostage-taking there.)

Heartache and hope often hold hands. I think of this in particular as we near the Winter Solstice here in the northern hemisphere- the time of the longest darkness. I live in a culture so enamored with the light- with movement and doing, with striving and achieving- that we often overlook or avoid the gifts of slower, darker, times. It’s not that I object to the lights and tinsel, the candle-lighting and gift-giving. It’s just that I’d like to mine the gold of going into the darkness before we rush to the reassurance of the returning light.

Because there are real gifts in darkness- deep rest, new dreaming, a sharpening of other senses that allow us to feel the present moment shape of our inner landscape. A seed left sitting on the table in a well lit room remains a seed. But a seed placed into the dark moist earth splits open and pushes new life up toward the light. What kind of seeds might you be in your life and our shared world?

May the blessings of the darkness and the gifts of the light be received fully in this season of the longest night and (on the other side of the world) the longest day. May we plant the seeds of abiding peace in our own hearts, families, and communities in the way we walk through our ordinary days, the ways we choose to be with ourselves and each other fully. ~Oriah  (Another beautiful photo from Karen Davis at and thanks for the proverb to Barbara Susan Booth.) 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Feeling My Way

I am feeling my way into a different way of writing- which of course, means a different way of living. It neither abandons nor relies upon discipline of will- mostly because, although that has worked at least to some degree in the past, reliance upon discipline is not working for the new book I am writing, probably because this book is. . . . about the things that feel like they break us and the choices possible for real healing and a kind of transformation that is both terrifying and exhilarating.

And yes, I know that is a run on sentence, and for now that is how I need to write- hand-over-handing my way through the story, letting one thing lead to another. not knowing what comes next, letting the place where it takes me be a surprise.

Of course, it has always been true that to enter the creativity journey we must surrender our illusion of control.

Recently I heard James Finley describe the divine/God/Mystery as the Infinite Love that gives itself away with every breath.

And I thought, "Ah what would it be to go to the writing from that place? What would it look like to give my heart/myself away in love with every word, every sentence, every story?"

What if we came to every task that we both want to do and resist doing this way- letting go and giving ourselves to the movement in every moment? Contemplating this I can feel how this makes real mercy and tenderness unavoidable. And don't we all- doesn't the world- need more mercy and tenderness?

It is unfolding. Seeing the writing I do as one way to give myself away in love to the world helps me to keep writing, to keep praying- until the difference between the two is indistinguishable.

Oriah (c) 2014 ( (Photo by Lee Horbachewski- which I have titled in my head "Unfolded")

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Blessing of A Painful Choice

Sometimes a choice arises that is totally unanticipated. 

I’ve been very fortunate. Although I’ve had CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) for thirty-one years, I’ve never had the non-epileptic seizures that are often part of this neurological disease. Until about a year ago. At that point the regular night-onset exploding headaches started to occasionally be accompanied by blinding flashes of light and bed-side-lamp-busting thrashing about. (And yes, after more than three decades I have tried the full range of bodywork, inner work, spiritual practices, energetic healing modalities, functional medicine, food plans, supplements etc. etc. etc.- often with positive results on many levels.)

Two months ago a dear friend with a different kind of nerve/neurologically caused pain tried a new medication and stopped having the daily headaches that had plagued her for decades.

Intrigued, I spoke to my doctor. I’d been resisting meds but, as my doctor’d pointed out, the trouble with seizures is, even if you’re willing to ride out the pain, they may damage the brain (and with two parents with Alzheimer's I'm particularly keen to protect all the brain cells I can.) 

And so the experiment began.

Over the next six weeks there was good news and bad news. The medication (at the smallest dosage I could get, which was less than one tenth of the daily recommended amount) stopped the night-time inner lightning show and the ensuing pain that had often left me struggling and recovering for three to four days a week. Yay!

There was, however, a down side: My never-too-great-energy plummeted. Despite being reassured that my body would "adjust" in a week or two, the decline was continuous. Twice I had to talk well-meaning strangers out of calling 911 when I had to lay down on the floor- once at the post office, and once in the laundry room of my apartment building. (It sounds dramatic I know, but it did seem that laying down and resting until I could move on was preferable and considerably less dramatic than falling down.) By the end of the six weeks it was regularly taking me at least an hour (sometimes two) to muster the energy needed to get out of bed and take the four steps to the bathroom after waking.

Needless to say, not much writing was happening. Or reading. Not much of anything was happening. I was pain-free but unable to walk around the block.

So there was the choice: deal with pain or be pain-free but unable to do anything. To my surprise, my preference was clear. Pain is not fun. Pain takes a lot of energy to manage. But, with good practices and lots of grace, it can be managed at least some of the time so I can participate in some of what I love- so I can write a page, read a chapter, walk in the park, do a little yoga, visit with a friend or my sons. . . 

So, I stopped taking the medication. This was my choice for now, with this particular med. If the pain was more or the dulling of my senses with the med less, I might have made a different choice. And, I am no purist- I do at times use meds to help me manage the pain. 

Having chosen, I felt oddly elated. It felt like a confirmation of my love of life, an affirmation of my choice to be here even when “here” involves pain. The medication encased me in a pain-free fog of deep exhaustion, made me feel like I was sitting (or laying down) outside of life.

It strikes me that this is often a choice we have to make because life includes discomfort in a myriad of forms: grief, loss, uncertainty, anxiety, physical pain, trauma, etc. But it also includes laughter, joy, love, caring, creativity, ecstasy, belonging and all that good stuff. And if we want to be awake enough to feel the latter, we will encounter- and feel- at least some of the former. Don’t get me wrong- I am not glorifying pain. I continue to explore ways to have less pain and more energy. But a solution that eliminates pain while taking away the sense of participating in life is not, for me, any solution at all

There were a lot of things I could not do in the last six weeks, but I could pray. Some days, I felt like I prayed continuously (when I wasn't asleep.) Oh it wasn't all enlightened gratitude-and-love-filled murmurings. I prayed in desperation and confusion, seeking understanding, expressing frustration and letting the tears flow. I prayed for the strength to get up off the floor. I prayed for calm when panic seemed more reasonable. I prayed for patience and wisdom. 

And I prayed for the world, for the earth, for the creatures of the land and the water and the air, for the human family and for those were suffering close by or far away, In particular, I prayed for those who were ill or in pain who did not have a warm cozy nest of an apartment in which to rest or good health care, clean water, and nourishing food. (Prayer is sneaky that way- if I sincerely start from where I am it opens my heart to myself and then, inevitably, to others and the world.)

And. . . having made the choice that was mine to make at this time, I prayed in deep gratitude for the Sacred Presence that is always with me, that holds me and helps me and gives me life. It's like a little miracle really, how connected we are to life- how we are life- even when life is not easy. What we are made of is stacked in favour of choosing life, and I am truly grateful for this, for being here, for the ability to feel what is in this moment.

Oriah (c) 2014

Friday, November 7, 2014


This is a heart-song in praise of the constant change that is part of the gift of living here on this spectacular blue-green planet.

Oh, I know- there are times when I resist or grumble about the ceaseless change within and around us. I want to cherry pick, to have only certain changes that I can direct or that I pray for- like peace in the world, and patience, and immediately effective strategies for living wisely and sustainably together. Or. . .the physical strength to get my laundry done today (okay, I don't actually pray for that but it would be nice.)

And sometimes, when I am feeling spectacularly delighted or crushingly overwhelmed, I just want everything- inside me and around me- to stop for a moment, to stay the same. Sometimes I even try to make things stop and stay the same. Yeah, like that ever works!

Change just keeps on rolling.

Earlier this week I posted an update on Facebook about a few days of challenging pain and exhaustion. The next morning I was not as tired and the pain had subsided a little. I smiled in the darkness of my bedroom and whispered thank you to this reality we live for being one of constant change. Oh, it’s true, some days the change is not in the direction I am hoping for, but even when that is true we are reminded that change is a constant, invited to find hope in that fact that present conditions will not stay the same.

So tonight, I offer my gratitude for movement, for unfolding, for birth and death, for decay and renewal, for change in all of its manifestations. And, ironically, when I truly accept change- both that which is chosen and that which comes unbidden- I find at the centre of it all. . . . a still point. Right there, at the end of exhale, before the impulse to inhale, I find an awareness of an implicate stillness at the centre of explicit change, a Presence beneath, within, behind and surrounding this constant movement.

The flow of constant change and the ever-present stillness- both true, both blessings, both holding and moving us.

Oriah (c) 2014

(Pic of the full moon from last night by the photographer Karen Davis. A reminder that what is full will wane, and what is diminished will, eventually wax to fullness once again.)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Postscript to Survival Strategies

Thank you to all the wonderful women and men who commented here and on Facebook on my story “Survival Strategies." As I read through the comments I feel held in your caring. It is sad but not surprising to see how many mention similar experiences of violence in their lives. This is not the first time I have told this story that happened in my early twenties. I wrote about it in at least one of my books, although there were details included here that have not been published before.

The incident I described happened more than thirty-five years ago. I have been very fortunate to have worked with some wonderfully skilled spiritual healers and psychological guides. As the trauma was released and I healed I was able to use this experience to be more deeply present and openly accepting with others who have had similar experiences. It has been my honour in my professional and personal life to listen and hold others’ stories, to let those stories break my heart open over and over, to offer what help I can for healing.

For those of you who have asked: the man involved was not a stranger but someone I knew (as is true in the majority of cases.) Years after this incident, when my own healing felt complete, I did look into laying charges. All of the police and lawyers (one former crown prosecutor) I consulted told me that, for a number of reasons I will not go into here, prosecution was not likely to be successful and so would not be pursued. I did what I could- through my lawyer I informed some who were geographically and emotionally close to the man involved (members of his family) about his violence. I have some reason to hope that they have both monitored his behaviour and found help for him so that no other women suffer at his hands. That is my prayer.

Following the impulse to share this story now, and receiving feedback has had an unexpected positive consequence. I’ve been working on a new book which includes some different but difficult stories about my life. I have great faith in stories, in their ability to offer healing and meaning to both the teller and the listener in the way they reveal the glorious and messy truth of a human journey. But I also know the vulnerability of writing about personal choices, and sometimes drag my feet about sharing those stories, reluctant to be on the receiving end of others’ thoughts, opinions and feelings about my life.

The response I received on the story I posted here has encouraged me to continue to write- not only because I received overwhelming support and genuine sharing, but because I also received a handful of messages and emails that were. . . .judgemental, shaming, accusatory and just downright nasty. And it was okay. I was okay! Oh, I’ll admit, it’s never fun to be misunderstood or judged harshly, but the thing that made me smile was that my own response was mostly curiosity and bafflement. I did not feel compelled to respond or defend or reveal more than I wanted to in an effort to be clearly understood. I got it! Others’ responses are theirs, so I am free to write the truth to the best of my ability and send it into the world with a prayer that it do no harm. I laugh as I write this- I have no hubris about this clarity and the freedom it brings. I know that as human beings we tend to “get it” and “lose it” and “get it again” over and over, and that’s okay.

So, it’s back to the writing. I will continue to drop in and share here as the impulse to do so arises, filled with gratitude for the richness of our connections and sharing here. May you be well. May we live together on this small blue-green planet of beauty in a way that is truly sustainable for our bodies, minds, hearts and souls.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer © 2014

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Survival Strategies

I want to tell you something- a hard something. I want to tell it because all week on and off line, here in Canada, there have been conversations, arguments, and declarations about the truth or falsehood of allegations of assault against a popular radio host. At my last count there were eight women who've reported being punched, slapped, grabbed, or choked by this man without their consent (he is maintaining that it was all part of consensual rough sex.)

The part of this conversation that disturbs me most is that many have declared with absolute certainty that if the women were telling the truth they would reveal their identities (two women have) and lay formal charges. I’m not going to go into all the very good reasons why a woman might not want to be identified or lay charges, but I will speak from my own experience.

Many years ago, when I was a young woman, I was beaten and raped. It never occurred to me to lay charges. At the time my primary fear was that the man would make good on his threat to kill me if I told anyone. With good reason I did not trust that others- the police, the court system- could ensure my safety. Years later, after much healing work, I realized that I’d also been silenced by the fear that I would not be believed, afraid in particular that my own family (my parents, brother and grandparents) would not believe me, and I truly felt I could not bear that hurt on top of the physical violence.

There’s another piece to this story. The man who had beaten and raped me forced his way into my apartment a month later. I remember standing in living room, looking at him and silently praying harder than I have ever prayed in my life. And what was my prayer? That God or the Universe or any power that could help me now keep me from passing out (as had happened in the previous incident when he had choked me.) My prayer was that I stay conscious so I could fight and fight hard- hard enough to either stop him (and he was well over six feet tall and I had not yet done any self-defense training so my odds were not good) or force him to kill me. I was not suicidal. The decision to fight hard enough to stop him or die trying was my survival strategy because I did not feel I could carry another beating, another rape, in my body-mind-heart, could not bear another violation that seared my soul.

I am not advocating this as a survival strategy, just reporting on my own state of mind and heart at the time. Anyone on the receiving end of violence has a right to find their own way of surviving. This was mine.

As I sent out my prayer, the man grabbed me and threw me across the room. He stood over me shouting insults and threats, and then left. I don’t know why. Did he pick up on my resolve? I have no idea. The next day I found a room to rent and moved to a location where I hoped he’d never find me. Happily he never did.

I’m not quite sure why I am telling this story now- but I am trusting the impulse to do so. What I want to say is: any conversation about a particular accusation or allegation regarding violence against women happens in the context of our collective and personal current realities and histories of violence. If you have been fortunate enough not to have had this experience and not to have had a loved one who had this experience, please remember that the overwhelming statistics on this (which do not include all the unreported cases) mean that there’s very good chance that there are others who are reading or listening to any public discussion who have had that experience. It doesn’t mean that every allegation is true, but it does mean that uninformed certainty that any unlitigated allegation must be a lie says to many of us for whom it was true at some point in our lives, “If this happened to you, it’s not a big deal, and if you can’t prove it you should be silent.”

And I want to say: it is a big deal, and if it has happened to you and you are still living and loving, still able to open your heart to others and walk in the world. . . . you have shown great courage and resilience. And if you have not already done so, may you find someone with whom you can share your story, someone who will believe you, someone who is able to hold you and your story in a way that enables you to find deep and complete healing.

As I hear and read the arguments my head understands the culture that creates the controversy and the reasons for the debate. But my heart aches with sadness for all involved, and prays for healing and an end to the violence.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Little Morning Magic

Sometimes The Call really is. . . . a call, complete with caller id. (And sometimes a synchronicity is just too much fun not to share.)

A couple of nights ago, I went to bed filled with the places where my writing had taken me, wondering how important the latest thread about discerning "real choice" was. Real choices are those that are truly accessible to us given present moment inner and outer limitations, resources and realities. Looking at my own life with more curiosity than judgement, I could see that some of the choices I thought I "should" have made simply were not available to me in any real way at the time. I also realized that I could never know if what I thought was an available choice for another was a "real choice" for them in that moment. Through stories I'd been exploring how and why we would pursue or turn away from deepening and broadening our "real choices." 

Given all that is happening in our lives and our world, it seemed important-  to know how to cultivate the healing and awareness needed to expand our individual and collective choices. But I wondered: had I gotten sidetracked in my writing, tangled in a tangent? (It happens.) 

Drifting off to sleep I asked the Grandmothers, a circle of women elders who often appear and teach me in my sleep dreams, for a little confirmation or course correction- whichever was needed. Was it good to keep following this thread about "real choice" or should I be going in a different direction? 

The next morning the phone on my bedside table rang and woke me up. The computerized voice of the phone's caller id spoke in its flat mechanical monotone: “Call. . .from. . . real. . . choice.” Skeptical, I squinted at the words on the caller id screen, and there it was in capital letters: REAL CHOICE. Still half asleep I wondered if I was dreaming. If not, I assumed I must be misreading and mishearing things.

I picked up the receiver and somewhat tentatively said, “Hello?”

The man on the phone spoke with a heavy accent. His voice was rough and filled with a sense of urgency. When I asked him who he wished to speak to he said something that sounded like my last name (House.) Unsure, I asked him again who he was looking for, and his tone changed. I could hear the smile in his voice now, as if he was pleased with my questions or had accomplished something he'd set out to do. Sounding more cheery than apologetic he said, “Oh, maybe I dialed the wrong number. So sorry,” and hung up.

Still not trusting my sleep-steeped perception I looked at the caller id history and there it was- the call had come from REAL CHOICE.

Wide awake now I fell back into bed laughing and called out, "Thank you," to the Grandmothers, to the ceiling and the floor and the walls of my tiny bedroom, to the light of a new day sneaking in around the edges of the curtains, to the faithful trees outside my window, to the Sacred Presence that holds and lives within me, to the mystery of strange phone calls and the creative process, to the almost unbelievable blessing of having this day to write.

Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kali's Fierce Love

I recently found Kali- the Hindu Goddess of Death, Change and Rebirth- in the bottom of my storage locker.


Well, okay- not the actual deity (although, is there any corner where the sacred cannot be found?) but images of her. And it's worth paying attention when this kind of thing happens.

Years ago I bought a book of Kali art post cards captivated by the vivid and colourful images of the sometimes blue-skinned, often multi-armed (and I mean that in terms of both appendages and a variety of weapons) Destroyer of Illusions. I’m not sure how I thought I would use them. It turns out that there aren’t many occasions when it feels appropriate to send a birthday greeting or message of condolence on a card adorned with a depiction of the divine wearing a necklace of severed heads, her long red tongue protruding to her chin.

Or maybe it is always appropriate. It's just that in my culture, it might be misunderstood.

I was surprised to find these images carefully wrapped in red silk and preserved in a zip-lock bag, mysteriously situated beneath the camping equipment and paint supplies. It felt timely to find Kali waiting for me there because I'd recently turned sixty. Which is not to say that Kali belongs only to later stages of life- often the one who points out that the Emperor has no clothes is a child or a young adult, or someone waking up in the middle of their life

Still, there she was, waiting for me, a week after my sixtieth birthday. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel as this seemingly significant threshold was crossed. On the one hand, it’s only a number. On the other hand. . . . it is minimally a measure of having more years behind than ahead of me.

What I had not anticipated was how turning sixty would bring a new level of clarity about choices that allow me to contribute to life in a sustainable way. And there is a lightness in my new-found knowing that speaks with a smile in her voice, stunning me with her calm certainty, whispering, "Oh, I'm sixty- I don't need to do that anymore." Often what I am saying no to is not a bad thing- an opportunity or invitation that has meaning and merit- but it's just not what is needed for my own particular "Yes" to be lived fully.

Kali confirms the dropping away of the illusion that I need to earn my right to be, that I have to cover all of others' "shoulds" before I fulfill my own purpose and passion, hopefully contributing the best of what I have to offer to the world.

And of course, it's not an all-or-nothing-once-and-for-all sort of thing. It's a clarity that's been growing for years, and hopefully will continue to deepen. But it's had a bit of a boost, and the unexpected boon is that I am not so readily enticed away from the writing that calls me, the pacing that suits me, the willingness to listen deeply.

Some Celtic traditions say that maturity allows us "see with the eyes of death." That's how Kali sees- without illusions, accepting what we are working with (within ourselves and in the world) in this moment. I think of the Crone archetype as the one who cannot be intimidated or seduced away from the truth she knows. That's Kali- the Fierce Mother, the Destroyer of Lies, the Dispeller of Illusion. And with some denying the reality of our unsustainable ways of living together on this planet despite recent revelations that the world wildlife population has diminished by fifty percent over the last forty years. . . . well, it seems like a little of Kali's fierce love might just be what we need.

In the shamanic medicine we call it making Death (the knowledge of our mortality, of impermanence) an Ally- that which helps us see what matters most.

Kali's love of life asks us to trust that when we each find a willingness to see what is within and around us and set aside fear driven distractions to do what we are called to do, offering and receiving help where it is available and needed, life is nourished and sustained. It’s about faith- faith that doing what we are truly called to do, alone and with others, is enough.

~Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An Update From Oriah

Words spilling onto the page, the kind of writing that comes from the sweet ache at the centre of my bones, always takes me home. It helps me catch up with myself, discover the state-of-the-union (or disunion) within, find healing and meaning. It opens me to sorrows that have been avoided and, as these sorrows are allowed, fresh joy in the ordinary and the extraordinary is felt fully.

Making room in my life for this kind of writing cultivates an otherwise often elusive and always delicious indwelling in my own body and heart. The words take me, make my breath catch. I find myself scrambling for pen and paper as I move past dark glossy eggplants and feathery white mushrooms in the grocery store. Turning on the light in the middle of the night, I scribble words on the pad always within reach at my bedside. After I have turned off the light, I lay in the dark grinning and whispering, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I’ve been off social media since June in order to turn my attention to writing a new book. I miss our exchanges but it has become apparent that this truly is the right (write) thing for me to be doing now.

Oh, it hasn’t all been chuckles. Life always has its little challenges. For some of the days and a couple of the weeks I have been housebound or bedbound with frustratingly unpredictable flare-ups of the chronic illness I’ve had for over thirty years (CFS/ME/FM.) Enjoying time at a friend’s cottage despite symptoms, I joked that the new book could be titled, “My View From the Bathroom Floor.”

And, at the same time, the needs of my aging parents (both with Alzheimer’s and increasing physical challenges) have required time and attention.

But still there are moments, hours, and sometimes days when the words flow. The writing I love flourishes in slow-paced, open-ended, inwardly turned time, time that allows me to wander where the words can find me. Regularly checking my emails, blog, and Facebook cultivates a speedier, outward focus that pulls me away from the story that is unfolding.

So, for now, I will not return to regular posting although I will drop by with occasional updates. I decided to post now because I will soon be heading up to northern Ontario. Knowing I will be alone in the bush at a cabin on a lake where there is no phone or internet connection, I can sift through comments today sure that I will not be tempted to slide into the delightful distraction of daily connection during the week ahead.

Next week is my birthday and although I will celebrate with others when I return, I will spend the day doing ceremony alone in the wilderness. I will do prayers for myself, others and the world. I will sink into the silence. I will stretch my body on the massive sun-warmed outcroppings of pink granite and creamy quartz. I will listen to the voices of Grandmother Earth. I will swim in the dark water beneath the light of the full moon and let the stars sing me to sleep. I will align with the wilderness within and around me and open to the Great Mystery, the Sacred Wholeness that holds it all. I will dream for myself and my people- knowing that on the level of soul, all sentient beings are our “people.”

And, of course, I will write.

Sending much love and gratitude, Oriah

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Stepping Away

There is this thing I sometimes unconsciously slip into that does not work well for me. I learned it early- a coping strategy in a childhood home where th­­e adults’ underlying rage and unhappiness was like an ever-present threat beneath the antiseptic scent of well-scrubbed appearances.

What I learned to do to survive was to continuously tune into others: to vigilantly and constantly watch and listen with my whole body and being; to anticipate what might be required; to disconnect from any sense of my own life- whether casual preferences or soul-deep desires- in order to serve the other’s priorities.

I felt I had to earn my right to be for one more day, every day. 

When my marriage to my sons’ father ended I remember telling a friend, “When I live with another I turn too much of my inner face toward them and lose myself over time.”

Over the years I've become better at setting and keeping clear healthy boundaries with friends, students, clients and colleagues. But in times of great change- even desired change- as my all-too-human anxiety arises I sometimes unconsciously slip back into focusing my inner attention and energy on the other, losing track of myself on some essential level.

As most of you know I've been working on a new book. The writing is deeply personal, a story of healing losses that both cultivate self-sabotaging survival strategies and offer some life-shaping gifts. But to write this story, to live the fullness of the healing the writing offers, I have to be deeply connected to my own life, body, heart, spirit. . . . I have to turn my face toward the inner landscape..

So, I am stepping away from Facebook and my weekly blog. Honestly, social media has brought incredible joy into my life- has brought connection with wonderful people around the world; a way to offer something and engage in and be stimulated by conversations that have added insight and contemplation, new ideas and laughter. (Yes, I enjoy a good giggle-inducing cat pic as much as the next person!)

But it has also offered me a way to turn my face away from my inner world when the writing I am doing makes it easy to want to look elsewhere. The hundreds of weekly emails, messages and comment filled with stories of challenge and courage touch me deeply. It's easy for me to unconsciously slip back into the old belief that I must exclusively focus on others’ needs to earn my right to be (or write or rest or pay the bills. . . ) The more the writing provides the possibility of truly uprooting this belief (a possibility that is simultaneously exhilarating and petrifying) the easier it is to turn my face to the many others with whom I connect on social media.

Here’s what I know: I have to write this book. Whether or not it is ever published or ever sells more than a dozen copies, I have to write it. For my life. For my health. (Oh how my fingers itch to write- for my contribution to the world- but I want to let the flourishing of this one small life be enough just for this minute.)

So I am stepping away. I will leave the pages up- but I will not be posting, reading, commenting, liking, sharing. . . .  I don't know for how long. For as long as it is something I need to do.

The Grandmothers in my dreams (who usually tend toward understatement) have said repeatedly: “Write or die Oriah.” It’s not a threat- it’s just a description of what is true for me. Death can be a slow moving away from the vibrancy of life, a hardly noticeable shrinking of living deeply and loving completely. Writing from the centre of being is what opens my awareness, what brings me to the Beloved within and around me, what cultivates the fullness of Life in me.

So the adventure continues. I hold you in my heart and prayers. May each of us find the next step in our journey. This is mine. In deep gratitude, Oriah

Oriah (c) 2014 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Neither Driftwood nor Masters of The Universe

On a pretty regular basis someone responds to something I post on Facebook with an enthusiastic, "JUST go with the flow!" 

It's understandable really- our you-can-do-anything-and-should-do-everything culture tends to cultivate an inflated sense of individual control over and responsibility for all aspects of reality, and that can feel exhausting. Surely we could do with a few lessons in surrendering and acceptance, particularly in the places where we do not have control (for instance, over other people.)

On the other hand, we are not driftwood. 

Consciously or unconsciously, we are all, to some degree, co-creating participants in our shared world and life. We have free will and are often able to make some effective choices. Of course choice is tricky, often shaped by aspects of self that are largely unconscious. Effective free will expands proportional to our awareness of what is happening within and around us, and let's face it- some moments are definitely better than others on the awareness front.

To my mind (and heart) it's not about flipping between or orchestrating the perfect mix of reaching for control or passively going wherever the strongest current takes us. Being an effective and full participant in life is a different way of being, one where we hold the tension between the idea of haplessly going with the flow and the fantasy of being masters of the universe.

It's more about using our free will to come into alignment with and surrender to present-moment surges of the surf -conditions within and around us- while relaxing into our limited but profound ability to shape where a wave will put us down. Often it's about timing- knowing when to paddle hard and when to let something larger carry us.

It's about choosing the wave to which we want to surrender, and deciding how we want to ride it in this moment. 

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Take a Walk with Me

Some days you just have to surrender and let life show you the magic.

Monday I was feeling blah- woke up with the migraine I'd had the day before. It happens. But I put on my runners and headed out for my brisk morning walk. (I'm a little late to the party on this one, having only recently discovered the profound effect that exercising first thing in the day has on mood and metabolism.)

I stuck a twenty dollar bill in my pocket, thinking I might go pick up a few things for my post-walk smoothy. I was grumpy about needing to do this (I blame the headache) but as I walked I was lifted as I often am by the beauty of my neighbourhood: the spectacular old maples and oaks; the lilacs still blooming; the kids running and laughing on the way to school; an elderly couple walking arm in arm pushing their granddaughter in a stroller. . . .Life! I was listening Bill Withers singing, "Ain't No Sunshine,"  on my earbuds ( as I arrived at the grocery store, now smiling and thinking: I love this city, this life, people.

Now the shift in my mood was magic enough, but then things started to. . . get weirdly wonderfully. An older woman (ie- a woman my age) who was stacking the produce shelves paused to help me find mint. We found one package but she frowned and took it from me, saying, "Wait." She tapped it on her hand and looked closely at the herbs, before announcing, "Okay- they are still alive! Otherwise by tomorrow they'd be no good." I thanked her, touched by her caring.

Of course, by the time I'd gotten to the check out line with my chia seed, mint and bag of kiwis (the things I'd come for) I'd also picked up an avocado and a huge elephant garlic. My total was $22.92 so I told the cashier to take off the garlic and avocado.

But before she could do that, the woman in line behind me said, "I'll pay the difference." Shocked, I turned to her and assured her that she did not need to do that, but she insisted, saying, "I've done it myself- been a little short. It's no problem."

I agreed and thanked her, in part because I was starting to get a little choked up at her spontaneous generosity to a total stranger.

As I walked out of the store, I pulled my sun glasses from my pocket. A young man standing ahead me of waved and pointed saying, "You dropped something." Turning I saw the key card to get into my apartment building on the floor. I picked it up and thanked him, leaving the store more than a little overwhelmed by the courtesy and caring of total strangers.

Smiling as I walked along, I said a prayer of gratitude and muttered, "I get it. Head pain or no, I am not alone, I am connected, I am cared for, I am part of this big messy beautiful family of life. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

I wandered through the tree lined streets toward home. Suddenly a group of children were moving toward me on the sidewalk, herded by three women quietly urging them forward. They were in pairs holding hands, hats on, all between two and three years old. They made me think of ducklings bumping along, easily distracted, alternately wandering and trying to keep up. As they approached me I stood aside but one little girl stopped abruptly (causing a bit of a gentle pile-up behind her) and thrust her hand up to me. She was holding a bright yellow dandelion. "For you," she said with a big smile.

"Oh," I said startled. She'd caught me so off guard, I didn't know what to do.

She frowned, a line creasing her forehead between startling blue eyes, and then repeated with some fierceness, "It is for you!"

"Ah," I said smiling and taking the flower. "It's beautiful! Thank you."

And I walked into the little park a few steps away and sat down on the grass. It would be fair to say that by this time I was a little undone by the random kindness of the morning. I just sat there my heart aching with fullness.

Some days life breaks your heart with all that is hard: injustice, illness, injury, poverty, violence . . . But there is also courtesy, caring, kindness, generosity, connection, and incredible beauty. I'm not into conspiracy theories, but I think that Monday morning some power, some force- the Great Mystery- conspired to show me the simple healing magic of everyday life,  the beauty that reminds of us of our wholeness every day.

And I am filled with gratitude, carried by grace.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

She Grew Down

I am writing this week- and doing a bit of a dietary detox (time will tell if that was a good idea or not, to be doing the two at the same time.) So, instead of a regular blog, here's a little snippet, an epigraph that introduces one of the sections of the new book I am working on. Just where all the pieces fit never becomes clear to me until near the end, when chaos reigns and I wonder if I have a book at all. All just part of the messy creative process. But in the meantime- here's a glimpse at the landscape of the story:

She'd grown up too fast.
Now, it was time to grow down  
into the earth. 

She wanted to be a woman 
who couldn't be seduced 
or intimidated 
into abandoning what she knew
in gut and heart, in blood and bone.

So she grew down
into the life she'd been given,
into this being human.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Here: A User's Guide

Every time I post something that some consider "negative" I get a little flurry of emails and messages urging me to think more positively. The latest was a Facebook post when I mentioned that the weekend had not been the respite I had hoped. Care for my father who has advanced Alzheimer's had required a lot of driving and some difficult decision-making so I was offering up a little prayer that my sleep be deep and replenishing.

Several people wrote to tell me I was making myself tired by acknowledging this condition, suggesting that I simply keep saying to myself, "I am not tired. I am full of energy."

Now, I know that how we view conditions- both inner and outer- profoundly impacts our experience. But I was tired- not dying, not angry about being tired, not panicked or catastrophizing in any way. Because I could acknowledge I was tired, I went to bed early.

What bothers me about this so-called positive thinking is that it assumes that all thoughts of what is, when what is does not meet our ideals, are negative. There are often truly positive things that come out of days when I am tired and can acknowledge it- I deepen my kindness toward self and my compassion for others who are not having a full-throttle day. Tired isn't in itself negative or positive- sometimes it's just what is.

Fundamentalist positive thinking implies that acknowledging conditions creates them, and that denying what is will instantly create desirable change. But while we are human beings we are embodied souls/ ensouled bodies living in a physical reality prescribed by certain conditions. If I jump off the roof of my building with only positive thoughts about flying, I'm still going to hit the ground, because gravity trumps thinking in the experience of falling.

If we don't honour the physical realities of being an ensouled body, we aren't likely to honour the very real conditions of living on a physical planet- and this is really what concerns me. An economic system that relies on and tries to create infinite growth on a finite planet ultimately can't work. And just having positive thoughts that it will all be okay is not enough to change our unsustainable growth and voracious accumulation of stuff. We can't think away the garbage we've put in the ocean, and if we believe that thinking about that garbage is what creates it, we're not likely to do the thinking necessary to find a way to repair and stop the on-going damage so that life can be renewed and sustained.

Denial isn't just unnecessary, it's dangerous.

I have tremendous faith in human ingenuity, creativity and the inspiration that comes when we are aligned with Life and Spirit. But all of that happens within the very real conditions of being here- and being here is a gift. I want to receive that gift in all aspects- those I find easy and those I find not-so-easy with my eyes and my heart wide open, and in deep gratitude.

Oriah (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Two Ways To Avoid Being a Menace

I've noticed two very common ways we get into or create trouble. You know, the places where we do not do what we know (at other times) is good for us or the world; the moments when we are baffled that others could misunderstand or react to us as they seem to be doing; the occasions where (in hindsight) we inexplicably did something that created unproductive chaos and confusion for ourselves or others.

Many how-to missives boil things down to numerical lists: Six Ways to Enlightenment; or Seven Steps to Being All You Can Be; or Thirteen Things You Must Know About. . . Women, or Men, or Cats, or Your Colon etc. etc. Finally, I can add to the number-loving trend. Because it seems to me that there are two primary tasks that need tending if we want to maximize acting on our best intentions and minimize wreaking havoc on ourselves or others. We need to:

1) Recognize and be with our anxiety when it arises in ways that do no harm.

2) Set and keep clear, healthy boundaries with others.

Anxiety arises. It's part of the human experience. Sometimes it is caused by external conditions and sometimes it seems to arise on its own, perhaps pointing to an inner concern that isn't even conscious. Or, maybe we just watched the late night news. Life is a wild and woolly place that includes anxiety-provoking pain and loss.

Recognizing anxiety can be tricky since everyone's moments (or months) of inner mayhem show up in different ways- mysterious tears or laughter; loss of memory or focus; hyperactivity or paralysing procrastination etc.

People are not, on the whole, masochistic. That's why we often reach for something- anything!- to deal with anxiety. Anxiety is uncomfortable and cake or alcohol or overwork or hours of television (and a thousand other things- in this human beings are endlessly creative) can numb us to its raw edge. But numbing to discomfort, numbs us to joy. So, having other, skilful ways to be with anxiety (regular meditation, exercise, skilful distraction etc.) keeps us open to life's beauty even as we may be experiencing this inevitable aspect of being human.

Boundaries- or rather, the lack of them- is often a source of anxiety. If I don't know where I end and you begin, if I can't tell if something is my business or yours, or ours, or that which belongs to something sacred and bigger than the two of us together, I am likely to feel easily overwhelmed and overburdened- and that can create anxiety.

I was raised by a mother who had no sense of boundaries. She spoke always of "us" and "our" (meaning her and I) - as in, "our thighs are heavy," (I was a skinny nine year old!) or "we don't go along with that," (which referred to any of the many things she found unacceptable in other people, including me.)

Knowing that my mother's take on things was just that- hers- and not about me, took some work (and years.) But not getting continually emotionally batted around like a ping pong ball by other people's opinions, perspectives, agendas, or concerns is what lets us remain open and connected. Otherwise, we'd get so overwhelmed we'd hide in the woods. (Not that I haven't done that- I have- but I prefer to have real choice about embracing times of solitude or being with others.)

Here's the tricky part for us "spiritual" types: Being rooted in a sense of our deepest soul-self may seem like the "cure" for both of these challenges. After all, if we are aware and awake to the true nature of inner and outer reality doesn't that banish anxiety and offer us clarity about where our attention is required?

Well, yes. . . and no. Being soul-centred helps us hold our humanness tenderly and without judgement- and that goes a long way in easing anxiety, and discerning boundaries. But there is no cure for being human- and that's a good thing. Because the gift of being here is found not in separating from our experience, but in embracing and learning from life as an embodied soul/ensouled body- as one small, gloriously messy and spectacularly beautiful human being!

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Gift of Resentment

Oh I know what you're thinking: How could resentment- that nasty, sticky, often covert anger that drains us of energy and blocks access to joy- ever be a gift?

Well, here's what I've discovered: Every time I feel resentment about something someone has said or done, I uncover a place (and it takes a little work to drag this sucker up out of the depths where I've hidden it) where I've unconsciously made some kind of "deal" that I feel has been violated. Usually the deal involved me making some kind of sacrifice (keeping quiet where I wanted to speak up; taking responsibility for something or someone when I wanted to lay down and rest etc.) in exchange for some kind of reward (being loved or seen or forgiven, belonging etc.)

When these resentments arise around other people the first question we need to ask is: Was this ever an explicit deal made with the other? For instance, did s/he know that I was silent about being hurt by their comments so they would overlook any unskilful communication from me? The answer is usually, No. The other didn't even know there was a deal. Not that people don't sometimes break clear agreements- but I have found that those violations are easier to speak to (because they were explicit) and the feelings they stir are often cleaner and more short-lived than smouldering semi-conscious resentment.

Sometimes these secret deals (as in ones I often don't even acknowledge to myself) aren't with other people but with some kind of higher power- God, the divine, the Universe- that I am vaguely hoping will reward unasked-for sacrifice with things I know are not earned- like perfect health and inner peace for myself and those I love.

And I know I am not the only one secretly playing Let's Make a Deal with God. Recently, someone confessed to me that she was hoping that giving up chocolate would mean her house would sell quickly for a good price. She was a smart woman, but she gave up chocolate just in case.

Resentment is a gift because it points to something unconscious and gives me a chance to bring it to consciousness. When I bring a bit of gentle curiosity to resentment I discover unconscious deals made and broken. It usually makes me shake my head and quietly laugh. And quiet laughter dissolves resentment, lets us hold that small crazy inner deal-maker tenderly, reassuring her that she does not have to wheel and deal for the beauty of life with all of its inherent rewards and challenges. All she has to do is receive the gift of one small, spectacular human life.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How To Let Go

This week I had a chance to consider letting go in a new light. I've written before about how I rarely find the admonishment to "let go" helpful when I'm hanging on by my finger tips, even when I can see that what I am hanging on to is not particularly useful. I have found the inner directive to "let it be" somewhat more fruitful in helping me loosen a desperate grasp and rest in what is.

Letting go of beliefs or mental/emotional preoccupations that are causing suffering isn't so much an intellectual decision (oh that it was- most of us can see when it's not doing us any good!) If we believe it is we'll probably bury what we think we "should" let go of in our unconscious- and that only makes matters worse. Now we're hanging on, but we aren't consciously aware of hanging, so how could we possibly let go? Not a step in the right direction.

At the beginning of a yoga class last week, the instructor urged us to rest deeply while laying on the floor. And then she said, "Make sure you have what you need to lay on the floor comfortably- because your muscles can't let go if you're uncomfortable, if the way you are laying down is causing strain. If you can find a comfortable way to be here, your body can let go much more deeply."

And something in my brain lit up as I thought, "Oooooo, what would that look like when we need to let go mentally or emotionally? What might help us find a supported position emotionally or mentally from which we could more easily and deeply let go of preoccupations that are causing us suffering?

The first things that came to my mind were tenderness and mercy. When I slip into the feeling of tenderness, of holding my own or another's thoughts and emotions without judgement but with a sense of real caring, I am more comfortable with whatever arises- and I can let go of those thoughts or emotions more easily, allow them to rise and fall, to appear and pass away. It is, strangely, the very act of judging and tightening against what arises that makes it hard to let go.

We often think that trying harder will get us where we want to go. And sometimes, it does. But in the letting-go-endeavours- whether physical, mental or emotional- finding an inner or outer place where we can rest comfortably with what is, is much more likely to help us truly let go where we may have been unintentionally holding on.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


There is so much we do not know- particularly about the journey of the soul during those big transitions of birth and death.

For the last year, visits to my father have been heart-breaking. Confined now to a wheelchair with advanced Alzheimer's he responded to my presence by sobbing and begging me to "Help!" over and over. He was clearly suffering, and I took his call for help to be an expression of his desire to leave this life. And who could blame him

Recently my father had an infection and I was called upon to determine what level of medical care should be offered. I asked that he be given palliative care- care that would keep him comfortable but not keep him alive if his body was dying. The next week he rallied, seeming to shake off the immediate infection, but remained in palliative care. He was weaned off all medications.

And then something new happened: he became very calm. Last week when my eldest son and I went to see him he was not agitated or crying at all. He also did not seem very present. When I spoke to him there was the briefest flicker in his eyes, and then he receded back to whatever was happening for him elsewhere. He'd just woken up from a nap and was lying in bed, deeply relaxed, . . .fading. . . shrinking. . . sinking into the bed, and (I imagined) physically returning to the earth. There was a new and different kind of ache in my chest to see him leaving, to not be able to connect with him, but I could not help but be relieved and grateful that he did not seem to be suffering as he had for so long.

Trained in shamanic medicine I've been honoured to be companion in the dying process for some, have left my body and journeyed with an individual who was on the edge of death. I know that there is often a process of going out and coming back, a time of wandering in the inbetween.

It reminds me of birthing- probably in part because today is my youngest son's birthday. Thirty-one years ago, he was born at home as planned, all twelve pounds and ten ounces of him. I was guided by a midwife who allowed that process to unfold and supported me in being present with my body wisdom to ensure safe delivery of this small (okay, not so small) new life.

Each person's needs, abilities, resources and preferences are unique. But it occurs to me, watching my father and remembering my son's birth, that the processes of birthing and dying may be more similar than they appear, may involve things on a soul level that we cannot perceive.

Acknowledging there is much we cannot know, it would seem wise to err on the side of patience and loving care, to allow the process to unfold with maximum support and minimum interference. I am filled with appreciation for the men and women who are caring for my father daily at the long term care facility where he lives. They do so with good humour and great tenderness. They are truly the midwives to his dying, and I am deeply grateful.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who Doesn't "Get It?"

"They just don't get it!"

Ever thought or felt this? I have, and I've heard it many times from retreat participants and clients. Who are we talking about? Sometimes we're running commentary on the general populace but more often, if our level of frustration is high, we're talking about people in our lives- family, friends, co-workers. . . people whose choices impact our lives.

And what's the "it" that "they" are not getting?

Well, if the complaint is made with a wail of incredulity, it's often something about us- something we feel is important, something we feel we've been communicating consistently.

I work with a lot of people who have chronic illness, and I often hear, "They just don't get it!" in reference to the failure of other people to comprehend current physical limitations. At other times though, I've heard this same complaint about treasured values and ways of perceiving the world or living our lives.

Why don't "they" get it? Because it's not always easy to understand fully the experience of another. Because we say one thing ("I'm really am not able to attend a day-long event;" or "Doing art is central to my well-being;") and then do something else (show up at a day-long event; fill our time with everything but the art we say is critical.) Because people are more likely to believe our actions than our words.

Because we don't get it.

I'm not saying that if we really get and live by the conditions and values we recognize as our own that everyone else will. But most of the time, the reason the people who matter to us do not get what we say is true in our lives is because our behaviour does not match our words, because we are still internally quibbling or in denial about the thing we want others to grasp.

The good news is that every time I feel frustration about someone expecting or wanting me to do something that is just not a fit for me (after I think I have made that clear,) every time I think "S/he just doesn't get it!" I pause and consider: Is there something that I am resisting, some form of inner denial that renders my words hard to believe?

Maybe I don't really want to attend an event but think I "should" and so am using my physical limitations where they don't really apply. Maybe I keep doing what I say I can't and paying the cost later when I am alone. Can I give myself permission to live in alignment with what I know is true for me right now (re: preferences, values, choices, conditions, probable consequences etc.) without agreement from others (who are bound to have their own preferences, values, choices. . . .) ?

Most of the time, what I desperately want someone else to get about me and my life, is something I am just not getting, something I need to be with, facing whatever feelings the realities I don't want to get stirs in me.

So I offer a little prayer of gratitude for the other who didn't "get" what I thought I wanted them to "get." They point me to the places where I need to pay attention, need to be with what I just don't want to "get," hopefully with tenderness and mercy.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When Good People Do Bad Things, And. . . .

I admit it: at moments, I can be a little bit of a contrarian. Even when I agree with something, part of me often silently mutters, "Yeah. . . but what about. . . . " Some of this is just what mind does- it wonders, questions, and puzzles over things for fun. And some of it is that I am fascinated by how a truth that helped me in one moment is sometimes not so helpful in another.

You've probably seen a piece floating around the internet titled "Anyway." Apparently it is based on eight of the ten "Paradoxical Commandments" written by Kent M Keith in 1968.( version I've shared below is the shorter one that Mother Teresa had up on the wall of her children's home in Calcutta. 

When I'm in a snarly mood (usually because I'm over-tired) and feeling like an imaginary deal whereby I was promised some kind of reward for doing the right thing has been thwarted, this piece is very helpful. It reminds me that behaving well is something I would really like to do for my own sake.

But, at other times- times when by grace I am more centred and less confused- I long for something a little more affirming of the human potential for goodness and sanity. 

So I wrote a piece in response to the "Anyway" version of "The Paradoxical Commandments," not as a criticism or a rebuttal, but perhaps as a companion piece. Grateful for the creative stirring the original offered, I don't think one replaces the other. People are at times unreasonable, self-centred, unkind, dishonest etc. And. . . people can also be reasonable, generous, kind, honest etc. 

Some of the time we need to be reminded that what matters most needs to be done without promise of reward for its own sake. And, at times, we are able to truly see the best in ourselves and others.

"Anyway" (as presented by Mother Teresa, based on "The Paradoxical Commandments" by Kent M. Keith)

People are often unreasonable and self-centred.
Forgive them anyway. 
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway. 
If you are honest, people may cheat you.
Be honest anyway. 
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. 
Be happy anyway. 
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. 
Do good anyway. 
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. 
It was never between you and them anyway. 

"And. . . ." by Oriah

People are reasonable and generous.
May we give them every opportunity to show us this.
If we are kind, people will most likely trust us.
May we hold that trust as sacred.
If we are honest, people will do their best to treat us fairly.
May we support their efforts to do so with appreciation and presence.
When we find happiness, others will be drawn to us.
May we share our happiness when it arises, 
and lean into each other's happiness when ours is hard to find.
The good we do ripples out in unseen ways.
May we trust this without knowing precisely how this shapes the world.
May we give the world our best.
It is enough.
In the beginning, the end and all points in between, it is always about us and the Mystery.
May we know ourselves and every other as a manifestation of the Light of the Divine.

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Faithful To The Beauty You Are

What would it look like if we simply decided to stop whatever we are doing and wait until the impulse to move came from a deep awareness of sacred presence within and around us and then followed wherever it led? 

When I think of this happening in the world I imagine a work-weary woman in a busy office suddenly pausing at her desk, doing nothing for a moment, and then getting up and quietly walking out the door, leaving her computer running and her co-workers baffled. 

I imagine a man sitting in his living room dozing in front the TV as he does every night after dinner, suddenly turning his head as if to catch the echo of some sound coming to him from a great distance and after listening for a minute, getting up and without bothering to turn off the TV, walking outside and continuing in the direction of the setting sun.          
Oh I know what you’re thinking: How will the woman pay her bills without her job? What about that man’s responsibilities to his family? But you’re leaping to conclusions about what will happen next. 

Maybe the woman finds another way to provide for herself and her family that does not rob her soul of the joy she longs for everyday. Maybe she finds she does not need as much, or maybe she returns tomorrow and finds a different way to be in that office.

Maybe the man, waking up from his habitual patterns and walking toward that which calls him, really sees his family for the first time and can offer them something more than the tired absence of daily routines divorced from the meaning at the center of his life.
I am not suggesting that listening to the call will necessarily require that you leave your job, or turn off your TV, although I admit I think I could launch a pretty good argument for the latter. One person may be able to be faithful to the beauty of their awareness of their essential nature, to the ecstasy of touching the Beloved daily and still work in an office, while another may need to leave. 

The hard part is that we cannot predict what the call will require, how that sacred stillness at the center of all that is might inspire us to move if we have the courage to simply sit with it and follow the impulse to move when it comes.

Excerpt from The Call by Oriah Mountain Dreamer (c) 2003 Published by HarperONE, San Francisco. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Setting Our Lives On Fire

Last week I rediscovered a whole bunch of poems that I'd once memorized. I have not forgotten a word of this one, and have been reciting it quietly all week. I suppose it says a great deal about me, that this poem is one of my favourites. (Read it out loud if you can.)

The Message by Rabindranath Tagore

I see a light but no fire.
Is this what my life is to be like?
Better to head for the grave.

A messenger comes, the grief-courier, and the
message is that the woman you love is in her house
alone, and wants you to come while it is still night.

Clouds unbroken, rain all night, all night.
I don't understand these wild impulses-
what is happening to me?

A lightning flash is followed by deeper melancholy.
I stumble around inside looking for the path the night
wants me to take.

Light, where is the light?
Light the fire, if you have desire!
Thunder, rushing wind, nothingness.
Black night, black stone.
Don't let your whole life go by in the dark.

Evidently the only way to find the path is to
set fire to my own life!

A great poem raises as many questions as it answers. Who is the grief-courier who comes to tell us that what we love still waits for us? Perhaps the heart that knows we have abandoned dreams central to our soul. What does it mean to set fire to our own lives? Surely Tagore is not calling for callous self-destruction, but the disintegration of what we thought we had to do, so we might embrace the life the soul came here to live.

Oriah House (c) 2014 (Pic is "Soul Mates from

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Tough Teacher

I once saw a Youtube video of an “Enlightened Teacher” who said that if we are fully in the present moment we will never feel any pain. I admit, I muttered at the screen, “Oh yeah, put your hand on the table here and let’s see what happens if I just give it a little rap with a hammer.”

Most of us understand the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is the searing agony that has ripped me out of sleep for ten nights in a row between two and six am, a silent scream from nerves in different parts of my body. It’s not new, although I admit it has been awhile since I’ve had the acute pain that is sometimes part of the chronic illness that has been part of my life for thirty years (CFS/ME/FM.) 

As with other times the particular precipitating cause is a mystery, which is both frustrating and hopeful- presumably it could end as unexpectedly as it began.

What surprises me is how- even with all these years of experience (some years being much better than others)- pain can still be a challenge. It wears me out, muddies my thinking, makes me grumpy and scares me (particularly by Day 10.)

Sometimes pain- emotional or physical- can be useful, can point us toward something that needs to be tended, healed. But after three decades my faith in the usefulness of these periods of inexplicable and acute agony has waned. When it feels as if muscles are being pulled from bones or a heated ice pick is being inserted into an eye socket, all spiritual aspirations go out the window. I just want the pain to stop. So I do the things I know sometimes help (and believe me, there really isn’t anything I have not tried- and some things do help to some degree, some of the time,) and I wait for the pain to diminish.

But the real challenge is to keep the suffering in check. Suffering is the fear-fueled-speculative-stories that pain stirs- that this will never end, that I will not be able to bear it, that I've done something "wrong" to cause this, that the pain will stop me from ever doing the things I love (like writing and studying.) These kinds of frantic mental meanderings pop up and create suffering when my guard is down and the pain is high- often just as I wake up.

This is all I really know about stopping suffering: I have to be simultaneously firm and tender with the franticness that arises if I am to cope with the pain in this moment and not drive myself over the cliff of unbearable agony. 

So I speak to myself as I would to anyone I love, whispering to the inner voice that is hypothesizing unending anguish and predicting imminent disaster: “Shhhhh. . . .breathe. You cannot know what the next hour or day will bring. Stay here, stay with your breath. What do you hear?. . . . The breath moving in and out of the body, bringing life; the children in the park; a lone robin singing spring into being. Soften around the pain. There. . . . let it be as it is. . . . do not pull away . . .Another breath. . . and another. . . . one at a time. . . each one softer. . . . . lean into the breath and the pain. . . . . let it be. . . ." 

And I pray, I call on the ancestors who love me, the powers of Love and Goodness and Healing and the divine Presence that is called God, the Sacred Mystery, the Great Mother to hold me, to help me. And I keep praying, tears streaming down my face, slowly feeling myself held by something larger, a Love that can help me bear all pain and turn away from suffering.

Pain is tough teacher. It can stir frantic suffering or teach boundless compassion. Most often I find it creates some of both. But the fact that the compassion can ease the suffering is what cracks me open to the blessing of being human, is what opens the door to an impossible gratitude that carries me to the next breath and the next. . . . 

Oriah House (c) 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Learning To Love

Self-love spills over, ripples out to include others.

The same can be said for self-hatred and self-abuse or neglect. That too spills over, contaminates those around us, ripples out into the world.

I am not suggesting that we remove ourselves from life or others until we have learned self-love. It is often the world and others that teach us about love of self and others. 

It’s not a one-way linear process. Giving birth to my sons opened me to a well-spring of loving that I did not even know existed within me. Some days, when self-love feels impossible, when I don’t even know what it would look like in a given situation, I think of Brendan and Nathan and ask myself how I would offer my presence, my heart to them if they were feeling the way I am. And suddenly I know, perhaps only a little, but at least a place to start, a way to offer something that is self-loving.

And the reverse is also true. When someone – friend or stranger- is behaving badly and I barely check the impulse to judge them or say something nasty, I can pause and think about a time when I have not been at my best, have perhaps behaved badly because I am angry or frightened or feeling pressed beyond my resources. And, I consider how I hope others would respond, what kind of response might stop the spiral of my bad behaviour, and in doing so find a way to respond to the other who is having a less-than-stellar moment.

We don’t learn self-love or how to love others and the world alone in our room. Although we can send love out from solitude, we learn how to love- how to find and act on that feeling of connection and caring- in the fires of daily living in community where so much is beyond our control.

The Grandmothers who have spoken to me in my night dreams for thirty years say, “Intimacy heals.” That’s what love is about- a willingness to intimately be with ourselves or the other, hearts open, feeling the joy or the anguish.

Intimacy- and in turn healing- of course flourishes where there are clear, healthy boundaries. Knowing that I can distinguish between what are my choices and what are yours, is what allows me to love, to be present with my heart open without fear of disappearing or interfering with your autonomy.

And healing happens. We’re built for it, made at a cellular/ energetic/ molecular level in the image of a sacred and creative life-force that always turns its face toward growth and healing, even in the moment before death (and on some level, even in the moments after as all that dies composts and nourishes new life.)

As to what else happens after death- I do not know, but I feel a strange and abiding peace and more than a little excitement about where the adventure will take us next. 

Oriah House (c) 2014