Wednesday, June 19, 2013


My friend nailed it the other day. We were talking about the benefits of belonging to a group where people  share spiritual beliefs, and contrasting that to a solitary search for the Divine.

“I enjoy the company of others who share my beliefs,” my friend said. “But in a group I'm apt to monitor what I say and worry about the needs of others. When I'm alone I can give all my energy to connecting with God.”

Fortunately, it doesn't have to be one or the other. It's enjoyable to be among those who have similar goals. In groups we can share experiences and insights, challenge each other to think differently or more deeply, and encourage one another.

But our culture generally supports a person's desire to seek out groups, whereas it may question a person's preference for solitude. Lone wolf, hermit, and recluse are not flattering terms. But as my friend pointed out, it may be easier for us to be our authentic selves when we are alone.

T'ime alone gives us a chance to let our hair down, say what we think, and give ourselves over to emotions and ideas we might not put on display for others.

Thursday, May 30, 2013


Four short-eared owls lifted off the ground and began to circle above me. I was walking early in the morning  on an expanse of high desert sagebrush and lava. It seemed like the birds had taken flight for my benefit. To delight me, to show off, to say hello.

An observer would have seen that my dogs had scared the owls. But if that were the whole story, why didn't they fly off instead of hovering, flying in small circles above me? One young owl dropped elevation on every circle, coming ever closer. When she was directly above my head, only 30 or so feet high, I said, “Good morning, Beautiful.” The owl replied, “Schreee.”

She probably was curious. But don't we investigate things that interest us and flee from what we fear? I realized I was anthropomorphizing, but I didn't want to let go of the idea that the owls were saying good morning.

Maybe they picked up on how beautiful I found them. Maybe they heard my heart say, “Thanks for staying around. Thanks for showing me your great wings and how you can soar.” Out loud I said, “I love you, I love you.

When nature comes close, it feels like it has a message for us. That morning, it seemed like the young owl said, “We are sojourners together. We both love the desert. We love early morning. We love flight and freedom. We are sisters.”

Monday, May 27, 2013


Some spiritual teachers believe there's a fifth dimension beyond the four we perceive—the three spatial dimensions, plus time. They believe people can find the fifth dimension by opening themselves to the presence of God. They say that dimension transcends the others and gives mortals a glimpse of the immortal.

Some scientists, too, are theorizing about the possibility of a fifth dimension (and maybe more) in hopes of explaining unsolved mysteries and apparent contradictions in the laws of the universe.

Many traditions believe the other dimension can be reached through spiritual practice, and point to silence and solitude as ways to achieve that. And while it's natural for us to to want to know more, understand more, and become wiser, we can have a humbler motive for seeking solitude. We may simply need to find refreshment after a period of scurrying. We may need to get away from our routines to enjoy nature. We may want to sort out thoughts, make decisions, or alter plans.

Whether we aspire to spiritual breakthroughs or just want an afternoon off, silence and solitude can be our precious helpers.

Monday, May 20, 2013


When the plane banked, I spotted the snow-capped Wasatch Range out my window. My eyes misted.

Usually when I travel, I catch planes in Salt Lake City, which is four hours from my home, to save money on fares. And when I return and glimpse the mountains, my heart does a flip.

My recent trip took me to Montreal to see my son, daughter-in-law, and infant granddaughter. Their neighborhood has pleasing stone and brick apartments on quiet streets. It's an easy walk to a large park, to fruit and vegetable markets, and bakeries that sell unimaginably good bread. My son and daughter-in-law are great cooks, and they have interesting and hospitable friends. The baby was hard to leave. Still, when the Rocky Mountains came into view, right where I'd left them, I had a familiar feeling of belonging.

What constitutes home geographically can be ocean, prairie, corn fields, bustling urban neighborhood, or quiet suburb. But those of us who grew up with the grandeur of mountains, with their wildlife, boiling rivers, and eagles circling on thermals, developed a deep connection to them.

For us, it is natural to go to the mountains when we are seeking deeper understanding. The mountains can help us come home to our selves. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013


When spring finally comes to northern climates, usually after several false starts, people are impatient to get out and garden. Styrofoam cups containing seedlings line up on counters. Wheelbarrows get new tires. Planting advice is sought on the Internet. The time of dreaming and scheming is over and gardening can begin.

“I am most at peace when I'm in my garden,” a friends says. Though her husband and children help with the work, she often finds herself alone with her flowers and vegetables. She values that as priceless reflection time.

Gardens give us a chance to slow down and notice what we wouldn't when we're in hustle/bustle mode. We close our eyes and listen to the hum of bees. Flower and earth scents fill our noses. We savor the sun warming our bare arms. When determined plants poke their heads out of the soil, we recognize we're in the presence of a miracle. 

Nature. Quiet. New life. We recognize gardens as holy spots.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


After a spring rain, a friend and I stood on the sagebrush hill behind my house and took in a wide view of freshly washed sky and greening fields. Sagebrush gave off a heady scent. Near our feet, patches of dwarf forget-me-nots were emerging.

A beautiful scene can lift us from our mundane concerns and help us feel close to the sacred. In our most glorious moments, the gap between ourselves and the divine appears to close altogether.

But many times we feel frustrated in our attempts to achieve communion. Sometimes it feels like a wall as thick as nuclear shielding separates us from the connection we desire.

At such times, it might be helpful to remember what formula for inspiration has worked for us before. For a number of us, as well as for many poets, philosophers, and mystics, an infusion of beautiful nature can point us to something transcendent.

Friday, April 26, 2013


If only we looked forward to keeping company with ourselves the way we anticipate actual company.

We might prepare something special to eat, or tidy the area where we plan to hang out. We might consider what activity we'd most enjoy doing on our own.

Instead, we go off alone only when the tasks we consider important are done, no one needs us urgently, and we can spare the time. Even those of us who schedule regular times of meditation or prayer often see solitude as something good for us rather than times to relish. 

Julie Cameron, who wrote The Artist's Way, a self-help book aimed at helping adults recover their lost creativity, advised readers to take an afternoon a week to be alone and play as a child, swinging on a swing at the park, feeding ducks, kicking rocks or a ball. She believed this to be crucial for getting in touch with the younger, true self.

She wrote, “Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others' versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else. When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if . . . if we had known who we really were.”