I was fortunate to have spent two years in relative solitude at a lakeside cottage nestled   into a wooded hill. I had plenty of time to contemplate my navel and all sorts of things from the minute to the cosmic. Those Thoreau years were blessed with many opportunities to “Know Thyself” more intimately.  One day the word “forgiveness” wafted through my thoughts. I let the thought pass, but it left me agitated. I had already forgiven my parents for “ruining” my childhood. What more did I need to forgive? In those days I didn’t yet realize that agitation was a harbinger of an “aha” moment.

During my stay at the cottage, I developed a close relationship with my soul, a tender and compassionate being called Domini. We had frequent dialogues from which I learned to trust Domini’s guidance. I also discovered that Domini is quite a rascal, a trickster, and a hard task-master. Domini relentlessly poked and prodded me to expand beyond my conditioned perceptions about myself and the world. When I got lazy or resisted opportunities to expand, Domini delivered blessings disguised in grubby packages.

One day in late August, when the mornings in the mountains can get quite cool, I was contemplating my need for wood to heat the cottage in winter. I am proud of my ability to think ahead and develop strategies to achieve my objectives. Brilliance struck! “I’ll trim the dead branches from the trees surrounding my cottage. That’ll save me from having to buy so much firewood.” I retrieved my trusty chainsaw from the shed, checked the spark plug and starter rope, tightened and oiled the droopy chain and fired the sucker up. It worked perfectly. I planned to begin cutting and storing the wood the next day so it could dry out before temps and snows fell.

The next day all went well until late afternoon. I was feeling tired and drenched in sweat that glued wood chips to my skin. I was ready to quit for the day, take a swim in the lake and have a cold beer. Then I spotted a dead 20-foot-long limb. It was perfect: four inches thick, and when cut into sixteen-inch lengths, it would fit neatly into my wood stove. When I positioned myself on the sloping ground, I found that even on my tiptoes, I was a few inches shy of being able to cut the limb. I retrieved a ladder and placed it against the tree trunk. I climbed the ladder and balanced awkwardly on the top step. The chainsaw quickly ripped through the limb. But when it finally broke free from the tree trunk, it kicked back, knocking me off the ladder. The chainsaw flew out of my hand. The next thing I knew, I was lying on my back on the ground gasping for air. The limb had landed across my chest, pinning me to the ground. My first thought was, “Well that was really DUMB. I could have been killed!”       

Somehow I lifted that limb off my chest. It didn’t take long for me to realize that my earlier dismissal of forgiveness had provided me with this experience to learn to forgive myself for doing really dumb things. Oh well, I guess l just learn some things the hard way.

From this event and the lingering pain in my ribs, I learned to pay attention to seemingly insignificant thoughts and to honor my body. When I don’t, I can push my limits and get careless, even reckless, and do dumb things.  The dialogue with Domini continues. I think I’m getting wiser about the use of my thoughts and feelings because I’m having to forgive myself less frequently.



One day, deep in the clutches of despair, I dragged myself to Maria’s. A petite lady, she was eccentric and a most unlikely mentor, but I credit her with saving my life. She could always tell when I was vulnerable. I fondly called her studio the torture chamber. On this day she had me stretch out on my back over a padded barrel, then she placed ten-pound weights in each of my hands. She pounded her fists on my chest. I felt my defended heart opening.  Maria’s tactics were unorthodox but led to emotional breakthroughs. She looked at me and said softly, “Al, the way out of grief is through it. Feel it in every cell. Acknowledge it. Welcome it. Come to know it intimately. Make it an ally. Consider it to be the rich black soil out of which will grow the greatest joy you will ever know.”

“When will I feel joy, Maria?”

When you relax your willfulness and allow your life to unfold naturally.”

I could have continued spiraling down the rabbit hole of despair, but I trusted Maria. Her methods were part psychological, part shamanic, part dance and always in my best interest. Above all, they were loving. She introduced me to the idea that my psychological agitation can be the prelude to profound “aha” moments. She taught me to use my mind, my body and my emotions to open my heart. She helped me see my battles with dualistic rights and wrongs as opportunities to know myself more deeply. Maria assured me that as I did this inner work, joy would come to reside in me one day.

Maria was right, of course. One day joy did arrive. I heard birds singing. A child in his mother’s arms smiled at me. I thought of my sons at that age. The cloudless blue sky and sun embraced me. I felt alive.  My heart overflowed with joy. My body seemed too small to contain it, like I might burst.

Friends who have known me for a long time have asked, “Al, what happened to you? You used to be so angry, but now you seem mellow. Did you take a miracle pill or a potion? Did the cosmic kaleidoscope shine a special light on you?” I tell them that I’ve been working to  discover a sense of neutrality within. That requires me to be mindful and honor all things. I’m less swayed by the turmoil of external events. I trust in my authentic self, my soul’s guidance and the divine nature of all people and all things. I explain that these practices have begun to dismantle my sense of separateness so that I’m more open to seeing Creator everywhere.

Sometimes I smile for no apparent reason all day long. I’m discovering joy even in my challenges. They present me with opportunities to see the silliness in incidents of separateness, mine and others.  Whenever I see this illusion being played out in my life and in the human drama, I can laugh now. Not at it, I will not mock it. That would feed it energetically. I honor it by seeing its folly and saying, isn’t Creator amazing! 

Maria once said, “When you feel joy, share it with others.” I’ve learned that joy is abundant, and when we share it more will come. I promise.


I had ignored her call last summer and my body suffered for it. A stiff neck, pounding head and sore throat hounded me for months. I can always sense when she’s about to call me again. What does she want from me now? It’s always something I value. Will this be the time she devours me completely? Then she whispered into my heart: You can turn the page onto the best chapter of your life only after you grieve. Damn it! Do I have any more tears to give her?

For months I had anguished over closing my architecture firm, ending a relationship, leaving dear friends behind, losing homes I’d designed and built and most of my material assets. Would I ever get out of the financial hole? The ocean between me and my beloved sons was unbearable. And yet, I had chosen two decades earlier to embark on a path to discover my authentic self. I had no idea then what this path would cost me. After meeting every challenge she presented me, could she still want more?

If she wants more from me then I demand to know: Why am I here? What is mine to do? Where do I belong? Enraged, I demanded my old life back.

I fought with her! Then I remembered that going into her darkness, as scary as it has been, I emerge with more clarity. This was the incentive I needed to defeat my terror and answer her call to enter her emptiness yet again. I chose to surrender my body and my mind to the Void of grief. With the holidays approaching, I went to my old recipe for grieving.

 One comfy chair                                                                                                                                          

One pair of baggy sweat pants

One hoodie                                                                                      

Seven parts sap from holiday season Hallmark movies                                                              

Four parts CBS’s Steve Hartman “On the Road” segments                                                      

Hourly mugs of brewed thyme tea laced with a dollop of honey

The perfect medicine! Decades of encrusted grief dislodged from my lungs. It was not pretty! In fact it was downright unmanly. My defenses fell like heroes on the battlefield. Relentlessly, I wept. Tissues flew in every direction and fell to the floor, soaked with tears and yellow-green snot. Grief’s departure was palpable.

In the wake of this release, all illusions of my aloneness evaporated. Lighter now, rising on love, once again, she embraced me. Then she handed me the key to unlock the door to the expansiveness I crave. Will I ever learn without the rituals of pain and fear? Will I ever look forward to her calls? When I return from her darkness, I always forget the preceding terror. Afterwards, I can’t wait to share all that she has taught me.  I honor and respect the creative power of my emotions. They are great gifts. Oh, this wondrous Void! She’s teaching me to empower my intentions with love. What a process! Why was I so afraid of her anyway? Good Grief!