Little Piece of Heaven

empressMy son, Clay, was young, a teenage boy, when we headed to one of Seattle’s finest hair salons. I’d agreed to give the owner tarot readings in exchange for appointments but regretted the decision almost immediately.  I hadn’t realized what it meant to be privy to the inner workings of a salon filled with drama, love affairs and a stress driven owner. I was on the verge of calling it off when I took my son in.

A young stylist wearing a short skirt and broad smile took Clay to the shampoo basin, where she caressed his head into a lather of suds, then rinsed and toweled him off.

This was not treatment he was used to, having been given cuts by yours truly, until I got distracted one day and clipped his ear.  After which, he burst from the house, declaring our hair cutting relationship complete and final forever! There was no going back and no forgiveness. It was over.

His young stylist squared his shoulders to the mirror pulling strands of hair skyward, while lifting and stroking fringe near the base of his neck.  Clay purred beneath the attention, not knowing that his delights had only begun. The stylist then pulled him back against her enormous breasts where he released a long low sigh, as if resting on great celestial cushions. And the more she cut, the more he relaxed, his smile spreading slow and sweet, like honey on toast.  And when she finished, she brushed little piles of his blonde hair from the shelf of her breasts.  “There you go sweetie, you’re all done.”

He was a boy feeling handsome and cared for as we made our way to the car, his attitude erasing any resentment I’d felt.

“Mom, I really liked that haircut.  I’m pretty sure I’d like to come back.”

I smiled, a mama’s insightful smile.  “I thought you might.”


garden cahirYesterday a young couple (everyone is young to me now) came to buy my collapsible patio furniture, only it didn’t collapse.  She and I were content to load it in the truck as it was, but her man would have none of it.

Instead, he examined each chair and the underside of the metal table, hyper focusing on the task at hand.  I could almost hear him thinking:  “Ah, an opportunity to use WD-40 and a screw driver to solve a mechanical man puzzle.”

We women drifted toward the garden, speaking of plants and pots, as he worked to  solve the problem.

“You like that pot?” I asked.  “You can have it. No charge.”

“Oh thank you! Bob look. This will replace the one you broke.”

Bob looked up confused and apologetic.

“I broke one of your pots?”

Obviously an event so inconsequential, that it warranted zero memory.

After a brief moment of feeling muddled, he returned to work. “Oh, that’s it. They pull from the back, not the front. They were just rusted.”

Having successfully folded the set, Bob migrated toward a disabled scooter with exposed motor.

I watched his enchantment with the scooter, as she lingered in the garden, thinking again about how men build houses and women make them homes.

How different the worlds that men and women live in, and how nearly impossible to relate. And yet we do, deeply and lovingly. Their simple interactions left me with a sweetness that lingered.

The Leap

lion on fireToday I’m thinking about that space in between. The space between what you have and what you want. I’m thinking about the effort and trust required to go from solid ground into thin air, with the belief that your leap will be met with footing that is not apparent until you step into nothingness.

The idea of nothingness lands heavy, like breath stuck in your chest, inviting fears that have been  neatly tucked away to reveal their shadowed face. A visit that leaves brief paralysis.

But that is not who you are and you know it, so you gather yourself, breathe, and call on the light. “Yes, you can do this,” it encourages. “You can be terrified, unsure and resistant, and still step away.”  And you can trust. Not from blind faith, but from something older and wiser that oversees such things, something that knows that the death of the old can be endured, and even celebrated given time.

But these fears  don’t go away with good thoughts and pretty words, because you are opening and vulnerable. In this place you deny, reach for food, entertainment, drugs or anything that will numb the knowledge of what you must do.

Your dreams encourage you to jump, painting radiant pictures of a future self, while a frightened part believes that it cannot, and will not rise to the task.   “Retreat,” it cries,  “into places where growth is not required.  No, no, not today please, maybe tomorrow.”

And so, night after night,  you go to bed with the dark privacy of your deepest fears, wishing things could magically change, or that someone else could save your life. But there is no one else.  When morning comes, you wake raw and exposed, knowing you can no longer live with the pain of staying still and small, because something inside has shifted, something you can no longer deny, numb or turn away.  And so you prepare, asking what must be taken and what must be left, but not with words, because the answer lives in the language of feelings and instinct.

You know that the only way out is through, but even as you prepare to leap, the dying self clings, screaming excuses in your ears. “Stay small, stay safe!” But your listening is all used up. So on that terrifying and celebrated day, you close your eyes, call on whatever forces may guide and protect you, and finally, both with and without courage, you step away from what was. And that very act, that willingness and broadness of heart, opens and delivers you.

Efficiency Expert

writerwebI gaze out the window in that dreamy way one does when slipping into a new day, soft memories of night still clinging warm and welcome against my skin.

My assignment is to make a schedule and stick to it, to make the wide open spaces in my life boxed and labeled in order to be more productive. It’s not who I am or who I’ve been, but I’m determined to be happier at the end of the day because of all I’ve accomplished.

I sit to do it now as tea fills my nose with the scent of peppermint, and another radiant blue sky washes over the emerald expanse of the Topa Topa Mountains.

So, what shall I put in this morning between 8 and 10? I think about going back to bed with a heating pad, but return instead to the task at hand, dutifully making boxes with a ruler.  I draw Monday thru Sunday, dividing each day into morning, afternoon and evening.

Resistance creeps in slowly, like incoming fog.  There are so many what-if’s to consider. But my words won’t be set in stone, right? I get up to turn on my computer but it won’t start. Hum?  Must call the repair man. Unless of course it magically repairs itself, as it often does, like some cranky old man, agreeing to show up for work on some days but not others.

The Ojai Valley News waits in the driveway.  I saunter out in my favorite over sized shirt, flatten the paper’s curl to full attention and plop in an Adirondack chair beneath towering sunflowers. Twenty minutes later I know what’s happening in the valley and head back inside.

It’s 8.30.  I’m not doing too well with my calendar making. I’ll get back to it after oatmeal and a brief cleanup of the kitchen.

9.00. I study the lines, hours and days trying to imagine myself the kind of person who keeps a schedule, no matter what.  I usually swim between 7 and 10, unless I’m too tired, like today, then I might wait until 11. How do I write that in? How about swim sometime, does that count? I search for the answer staring into nothing, my eyes finally settling on remnants from a small battlefield to the right of the curtain, where corpses of smashed bugs still cling to the wall, their bloody little bodies adhered.  I remember the victory and my haste in running out the door before cleaning up.

I put down my tea, spic and span the mop and begin to scrub, which leads to multiple cobwebs in multiple corners all around the house, the grand finale happening in the bathroom, where drops of ceiling moisture above the shower have turned to orange stalactites.

Oops.  Off task again.  Since I don’t seem to be doing my scheduling, I vow to appease the Organizational Gods by making one difficult phone call before noon.

9.30  Is the computer ready yet? Maybe if I push the start button with something hard like the end of my pen. Nope.  Skype client at 3, computer must be repaired by then.

Ohhhh… I’ve left my red pen uncapped near the monitor and ink has bled into the Amish patchwork my now-dead mother bought me.

Big breath in.  Remain calm. Big breath out.

Okay, sorry mom.  I cover the stain with a wicker basket and begin making a list. 1. Drop a packet to Dennis on the way to the gym.  (Is it too late to go swimming?)  2.  Buy more stamps.  3. Call the computer repair man. 4. Pick lemons on the way home, oh, and we’re out of bread again.

It’s cool enough now, maybe I’ll forget scheduling and make an apple pie, or go back to bed with a heating pad. I really want to do that and pick this up in the afternoon.

10 o’clock. I’m in bed with welcome heat on my back. Birds are singing out the window and life is good.  I’ll do better tomorrow.

Mexican Time


The best thing to do if you love a Mexican man is to buy a lot of Valium, take up dope smoking, drink tequila or meditate until you’re blue in the face, because if you have any sense of time and order ~ at all ~ you will be challenged. For me, it’s like running for a train tethered to a sit-down donkey.

Case in point ~  Friday morning

Is your family coming for your birthday this year?

Julio:  I don’t know. I haven’t asked them yet.

But it’s tomorrow. Don’t you think it’s time?



Saturday Morning

Is your family coming today or not?


I need you to choose one:  The ‘coming’ part or the ‘not’ part. Which do you think it is?

They will come.

Oh! Then we need to get ready for a party. When are they coming?


What does early mean?

Maybe eleven, but they may not come at all.

Which do you think it is?

I think they will come ~ but they may not. Do you want to go to garage sales? Let’s do that and I need to paint a new canvas this morning.

No! It’s already 9.30. If you want your family to have something to eat or drink at eleven, we need to go to the market NOW and prepare the yard. Oh, it’s overcast and cloudy. That won’t do for a party.

Karen, are you mad at the outside?

Saturday at two

I don’t think anybody’s coming Julio. Let’s eat the salad. I’m hungry. And since we have all this food, let’s invite  some friends over. I don’t want it to go to waste.

I don’t want a party. That would be too much.

You’re not having a party now?

No, just family.

Saturday at five

His brother arrives with his wife and four children. The others call to sing Feliz cumpleaños!  I’ve made too much food and my attempt at a Mexican cream cake is a disaster. There is awkward conversation since they speak no English and I speak no Spanish, lots of gesturing and Julio translations. Mexican music cheers the scene as the children paint in the art studio,  swing in the hammock and clang wind chimes above the outdoor bath. My new roommate, Maya, arrives so I have someone to speak English with. Everyone is gone by nine.

Julio smiles.  See? We only needed BBQ, tortillas and beans. You must not make too much effort,  Karen, just relaxation.  But thank you for all you do, because this is my only family, closest to me.

It was great. Think I’ll go meditate for awhile.

To walk in beauty


I have never felt better in my entire life. Dare I say that? Something inside fears I may challenge a contrary part of the universe with such boldness, but there it is. My life is better than I ever imagined.

Each morning I sit in my backyard, as receptive to the sun as an Ojai orange, letting gentle morning light kiss every cell of my body,  ushering me into sublime states. I’ve been listening to Wayne Dyer demonstrate the power of sound, so I incorporate it into meditation with phases like, the universe dwells in me, as me. I place all limitation in the museum of old beliefs. And, the universe has unobstructed flow through me. I do not limit my abundance.

(I’ve never been comfortable with the Christian idea of God, so I use the word universe instead.)

After that I take a long hot soak in my outside bathtub surrounded by trailing petunias, nasturtiums and purple hyacinths. The roof opens into the bluest sky one can imagine – every single day – dotted only by the arrival of scrub jays dipping in and out of a bath of their own. A gift of wind chimes from my sister accentuates the silence, reminding me of our history, bond and love.

Blended strawberries, beets, ginger and yogurt propel me out the door and through the wooded bike path to the Athletic club, where I get to swim, stretch or do yoga with some of the finest instructors in the world. One could not imagine a more ideal setting. And when that’s finished, I pedal back home ready to meet whatever the afternoon might hold, with an open heart and grateful spirit.

When I saw my acupuncturist last week, she said I had the body of a twenty year old. Well, she’s right because it’s been in storage for decades wrapped and preserved against the cold, my only activity, some Olympic indoor swimming to outrun the devil darkness.

But I walk in beauty now. My days are full of richness and a kind of grace and gentle spirit I could only imagine in my former lives. I craved the sun before, complaining to anyone who would listen about its absence. I was depressed and heavy for years, like a plant put in a closet. I withered and become diminished in spirit, never fully comprehending the personal cost. Now, thankfully, all that has changed.

I remember my first days in Ojai when I realized that shorts, tank tops and sandals could be daily apparel, instead of fleece, long underwear and sweat pants. Literally ‘seeing’ my body every day was like visiting an old friend I had dearly missed.

“Oh, there you are. How nice to see you again! So that’s what you look like, I’d nearly forgotten. Welcome Home.”

Belonging to one another

street sleeping

Mother Teresa tells us to find the divine in each person, the divine in all its distressing disguises.

“If you really want to do something,” she said, “go out on the streets. Find someone living there who believes they are alone and convince them that they are not.”

I remember the first time I saw a homeless person sleeping in the street in New York City. I was a child on my way to a Broadway musical with my parents, when we literally stumbled over someone.

“Dad stop. There’s a man that needs your help. We’ll have to go to the show later. Look at him. He’s fallen to the sidewalk and is staying there.”

My father shook his head, giving my hand a tug. “We can’t stop for every bum in New York or we’ll never get anywhere.”

“But how do you know he’s a bum? Maybe he’s a good person who just fell down and got dirty? It’s getting dark and cold. What will happen to him?”

Father’s well groomed hand shown in sharp contrast to the crusted skin of the man on the ground.  “It’s the way of the world, Karen. Get used to it.”

But I never did get used to it and doubt I ever will. How easy it is for us to react and judge, and how different life would be if we stopped to tend our brothers and sisters. How often I have heard words like, “They’re just a bunch of street people, losers and drug addicts. They’re not contributing to society. You can’t help them because they don’t want to be helped. They could work if they wanted to. They’re just a bunch of stinking vagrants, thieves and boozers. They should  get a job like everybody else.”

So, let’s back up a little. None of us comes into this world as a dirty drugged out homeless person. We come in as innocent beings full of light, dependent on those around us to feed, comfort, house and nurture our spirits.  When that doesn’t happen, we go into hiding, and when hiding isn’t enough and bad things keep happening over and over again, we become smaller, fearful and broken, finally believing that life and all the beautiful things in it belong to someone else.

The solution is rarely a question of providing a disadvantaged person a job, rather it’s a matter of slowly building trust, so they are able to overcome self-loathing, beliefs of not deserving, and fears that have been rooted in physical and emotional trauma. Wounding that manifests in self-sabotaging acts, like addictions and bitterness need to be addressed before life can be successful. Because all healing is first a healing of the heart.

One late evening in my thirties, I was riding around the streets of Portland, Oregon in a shopping cart. Yep, that’s what I said, a shopping cart. I no longer remember who was doing the pushing but know there must have been a few glasses of Merlot involved. We’d come from giving a late night performance at Storefront Theater and needed to let off steam. I was sitting on my coat, balancing a bouquet of roses I’d been given at the end of the show and acting silly and loud.

“Look at me. I’m the queen of the grocery cart, the queen of the city. And all I survey is my kingdom.”

I saw a woman sitting against a storefront window as we rounded the corner on airborne wheels. “Over there,” I said. “Take me over there!”  I was a tad too trapped and tipsy to leave the cart, so I bent over the front.

“Here, these are for you dear lady. Now you can be the queen of the city.” She stared up at me, confused. “Take them,” I said. “I’ve come all this way to give them to you.”

“No.”  She cast her eyes down. “I don’t deserve them.”

“Oh, but you do. You most definitely do.”

She refused, so I tossed the long green stems and blood red blooms near her blanket, where they surprised me by scattering against the cement like garbage. That’s what burned into my senses, the way a symbol of love and celebration in my reality transformed into trash when they landed in hers, like they’d passed through an energetic field that changed all meaning and relevance.

We create different realities by our thoughts and beliefs but we are not really different: the homeless person, the housewife, the corporate president or bus driver. We like to think we are because of our station in life and all we’ve achieved but inside we’re the same.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.” Mother Teresa.


street with lightAre you feeling restless and ill at ease?

There is a great stirring now to put away the small version of ourselves so we can open and allow the brilliance of our inner being to have voice.  Friends describe the process in conversations, clients seek guidance through the discomfort of the birth canal and I am pulled in the very same way.

It feels like our souls are trying to burst from confinement, so we can wear our purpose and passions on the outside for all to see.

I believe this is the revolution the Mayans foretold, the great ending and new beginning of civilization.

And since my feet are in the fire with everyone else, and my granddaughter thinks I’m older than God, I thought I’d offer a few insights for the journey.

First, pay close attention to the connection between your thoughts and actions, for it’s your thoughts that direct your life and mood. The phrase, whatever we think about we become, is absolutely true. Is your head filled with the beliefs and opinions of others or past hurts? This is a good time to sort all of this through because it’s yourself you owe. No one else.  If you feel stuck, invest in therapy or a shaman or whatever works to move you beyond limited vision.

Trust your intuition! In your heart you know where you should be and what you should be doing, so learn to trust that voice. Listen to your impulses, urges and inner guidance. That voice knows what is right for you and will lead you to your best realization.

Next, imagine what it is you want and know yourself capable of, then project it forward with emotion, desiring it with your whole heart. Think about what you can do and forget about what you can’t do, because everything is what you think it is, no more and no less. Everything you have ever imagined you lived, so put a picture in your head of whatever you want to become. It’s your thoughts going ahead of you that become your present, thoughts that always bring precisely what you expect.

Notice the creative force in all life, the divine part of everything that lives. This creative force is in the earth and every plant and flower and every creature that walks and flies. This divine force is in you, awaiting your instruction. It wants you to succeed and come forward in the fullness of your best self, because the world needs you be seen, present and living your gifts.

And last, appreciate the visionary in you. Because you can set things in motion there is often impatience, thinking that because you saw it as already done, that it should be manifest. It’s difficult to allow the passage of time necessary for dreams to become physical, and with waiting comes doubt and fear and thoughts that perhaps your inner voice was wrong. Well, its not. The best way to deal with that is to create a fearless confident self who refuses to have anything to do with fear and doubt.  The old you might feel overwhelmed but the bigger you can hold steady, knowing that what you want is on its way.

Case in point:  Years ago, as a young therapist, I worked with a woman from Science of Mind who affirmed every day that she was going to receive a huge inflow of money, I forget the amount but it was very large. I thought privately that her time and energy would be put to better use tending the poverty of her life than fantasying an improbable future. But she proved me wrong. It took nearly ten years but a distant relative died and left her the exact amount she’d asked for. A strong lesson for me in the ability of our minds to create our reality.

Missing Dylan


We were a house of three women. I worked as a healer a few blocks from home, my daughter, Kristen, studied at Marylhurst University and her daughter, Isabella was tricycle age.

We had new neighbors, Genevieve from England, married to Troy from the United States.  We’d met briefly on the street with a wave and welcome but little more. Until one morning Genevieve knocked on my door, her young son, Dylan in hand.

“I have a job interview in a few hours and no one to watch my son. Would you take him for me please? It should not be long.”

Her desperation coupled with his big brown eyes could produce nothing but a definite, yes.

That afternoon young Dylan walked through our front door and straight into our hearts. He fit in our family like he’d been born to it, making all of us look forward to any occasion that might bless us with his company.

One memory stands out – a room to room chase with Isabella and Dylan tearing through the house,  their screams and laughter filing the air. I had just toweled dry in the bathroom, my hair still dripping as I made my way to the dresser.  Then, slam! My bedroom door sprang open. Dylan raced in, saw me naked, stopped like he’d been struck by lightning, eyes as wide as dinner plates and said …not a word. Clearly his first revealing look at a woman’s body.

“Sorry dear,” I said grabbing underwear, “better run back out and play.” And he did, with a changed look in his eyes. Oh my, I thought.  Best be careful.

We were all in love with Dylan and he with us, so much so that when he began daycare the following year, he took a photo of his three women to tape to his cubbie. His mom explained as she froze our smiling faces in Fujicolor. “It’s to help him feel at home.”

Then came the sad day when Genevieve and Troy announced their return to England. I remember holding Dylan on my lap under a cloudless blue sky in the cozy comfort of our side yard. He fingered my long hair as he turned, his innocent young eyes looking straight into mine.

“If we go so far away, Ma, how shall I ever find my way back to you again?”

I promised we would always stay in touch with his parents, making a clear trail for him to follow. This gave him shallow comfort as he pulled painfully away from our lives and hurting hearts. And they did come to visit years later, but I was living in the country, far from Kristen and Isabella, too ill to make the drive.

Honestly, I have no idea how many years have passed now, but Dylan has a younger sister older than he was when we knew him, and the young master himself is more young man than boy.

I found this photo of him on Facebook today and wept from missing him.

The Dance

A poem by Lena Star Helen describing her healing experience. This was such a delight to read, I had to share.

(Photo by Kristen Francis Photography)

To talk about the journey
the journey of my soul
down through the underworld
deep into the chasm of unknowing

Karen,  my guide,  my teacher
holds a place of honor
delicately opening the passage of knowing
uncovering the untold tales of self
Revealing the pulse,  the force of my existence
We journeyed

Karen,  Mountain Woman to the Cherokee,  Spirit Keeper to me
offered direction,  like a mother beside her infant,  gentle
like an elder in his wisdom,  cutting

A cup of salvation, life in the garden
clear, abundant, all ways new
The liquid of redemption cradles my wounds

We journey,  she beckoned,  I entered
a dance
Her leading,  me following
a dance
Where my heart is born,  healing
a dance
Where my spirit rises, singing
a dance
Where my soul rests,  bows humbly and says
Thank you

Giving Thanks

It’s dark. Six o’clock on Thursday night and I’m at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club finding my spot on the floor. The lights are soft – the room, clean, spacious and airy.

Robert, my yoga teacher, bounds in, ready to pretzel us into health and vitality. I smile, remembering my initial reluctance. “I’m not a yoga person,” I’d tell anyone who asked. “No thanks. Who wants to spend an hour on the floor with bent knees?”  I came to class as a curiosity, because I’m a swimmer. That’s all I’ve done, and it’s been enough.

But after trying, I saw how easily accomplished the exercises were, and noticed enhanced strength pedaling home on my bike. So now here I am, occupied with folding poses like “downward facing dog” around a recently eaten burrito, or trying to do a reclining twist without putting my foot in Nelson’s face. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. No chanting, just good solid body therapy, smiling faces and Robert’s teaching delivered with joy, humor and reverence for life.

I reach for my toes, amazed that I can touch them. When did that happen?

And my neck that has always resisted turning to the right is now fully mobile.

The class exhales into bridge pose, as I remember a card from my chiropractor in yesterday’s mail. It read, Long Time No See. I’d long ago accepted that my low back would always hurt, I could not bend at the waist enough to touch my toes and a visit to the chiropractor would be a monthly thing. But in seven short months, all that disappeared.

Music by Louie Armstrong fills the room:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I am filled with gratitude for this beautiful athletic club, new friends made, the masterful teachers who work here, the beauty of Ojai and my ever improving health. I savor the music and the moment as Robert’s voice trails toward the door, “Thanks for showing up everybody and for keeping me employed.”