The table speaks

This was a prompt in 2011.

Today, the table at the center of this piece found a happy new home. It felt important to dig this out and reread it. Needs some editing, but I honor the messiness by posting it as written.

The Table Speaks

I’d been thinking of “if these walls could talk” or “the dog knows everything” as a poem prompt, but Michael’s awesome furniture pieces redirected that prompt to this…)

During the furniture primer, they teach us How to Be There,

without being an obstacle. To be steady. To provide a reliable place to set.

And how to chair a meeting without interfering. At the time, that seems like enough.

What else could there be? Well, let me tell you, they don’t prepare us for this.

See, if you’re good, if you’re not just some temporary thing they fling together

like Ikea, you have to last. Stand. Withstand. If you’re 1 of the lucky ones, you actually become part of a family –one you don’t choose for yourself.

It may seem like furniture isn’t really doing anything, but we are. Think about it.

I have to weather internal storms without showing too much wear. Help with homework. Listen to the caustic in-laws without letting my legs buckle under.

Be ever present, no matter how many hot or cold or uncomfortable things they set on me. And worst of all, there is no training for knowing the truth, and staying silent about it.

She picked me, but he agreed. I heard them tell people that they found me first,

kept looking, couldn’t find anything more suitable, even for three times my price,

so they came back for me. When they told their friends this, it felt so good,

to feel how compatible they are, how well they matched, like they were one unit.

But there’s more to it, in the core, under the veneer. I felt it almost as soon as they unwrapped me.

You should see her, the way she knocks around slamming drawers, hip-checking chairs into place. I mean, somehow she folds laundry loud. Really, I feel worst for the floor guys – her feet are so heavy. But I know what that’s about, because I can also feel her, the way she sits. Silent,

fingers running melancholy up and down my spine, trying to overcome

the insatiable urge to set down her fork, set down her knife,

press her palms steady and quiet against me and push back, then stand herself up, and walk carefully across the kitchen, down the stairs,

And away



Not that he’s any better; it’s just different. He’s silent and steady like me.

Well made. Sturdy. A little scratched up, but strong. He needs to be strong

to keep it all in. Yeah, I can feel him too, it’s in his hands. I feel the quickening in his fingertips aching to slam his fists down, tear out or down, to smash something, maybe me, to tiny splintering bits at any second because…

because… well, I don’t know why because he’s so damn quiet,

but it’s there, this fury, this anguish, this power.

So the other day, it all came to a head. Of course, I was expecting

her rage and his rage to coalesce into something — well, it wouldn’t

have been pleasent, but it certainly would have been interesting–

Instead, they each just pulled out the good parts of their silences,

mixed them around together in that way they are when they are together

and came out with the sad but honest truth:

She’s going.

He’s staying.

I, of course, have nothing to say about who gets me.


A Meditation on Shift

Take a moment to notice your breath.
Notice the in- and out-ness of it,
and how grounded and real that helps you feel.
In and out.
The breath is, in this moment, the truest thing.
As you breathe in, see if you can empty everything,
except for the noticing that you are breathing in.
As you breathe out, simply be breathing out.
“Breathing in, I am breathing in.”
“Breathing out, I am breathing out.”

Notice how your breath helps your heart maintain its cadence.
Become aware of your heart.
The anatomical heart is slightly to the left of center.
It circulates the gifts of your breath,
without any effort on your part.
It beats. Sometimes fast. Sometimes slow.
It is beating now.
Can you find a gratitude for that in this moment?
The breath moving in, the breath moving out,
the heart circulating what is needed –
equally to every part of you –
without judgement, without effort.

Your energetic heart is at the center.
Perhaps as I say this you can notice
the warmth of your energetic heart.
Allow your breath to increase that awareness.
See if you can feel your energetic heart
from the front of your chest
all of the way through
to the back of your body.

See if you can visualize this about your heart:
The people you love who stand before you
come to you through the front of your heart.
The people who have loved you, the ancestors,
They hold your heart from behind.
Feel your energetic heart,
with the love pouring in from behind
And if it is full,
the love pouring out the front.
And if you can’t feel this,
notice what that is like for you.

Become aware of your heart, and with grace
accept that it wants what it wants,
and does what hearts do.
Your heart drives you to take yourself
through deeper and more esoteric patterns
of fullness, renewal and newness.
Your heart dances you around and around,
sometimes calling you to move closer,
and sometimes further away.

Finally, let’s pay some attention to your mind.
Notice how your mind conjures thoughts
to entertain and distract you.
Invite yourself to contemplate
that you have thoughts that you have created,
And also, some of your thoughts
are really just the news you’ve let in
from the minds of others.
You are not alone in this world,
experiencing either the darkness or the light
without the contributions, some true and some not,
of thoughts shared with you by your fellow humans.
You are experiencing thoughts from
the beloved humans who stand before you today
and the ones who have come before you.

And as you contemplate this,
invite yourself to ask these simple and profound questions:
“What do I give my attention to?”
“Do I stay focused on the simple and undeniable cadences like the sun and my breath? “
“Do I allow my focus to extend to longer, more patient rhythms like the moon and my energetic heart?”
“Do I believe what I observe, or what I am told, or what I know deep in my heart?”

Imagine, like some have said,
that there is a shift coming.
If you don’t hold that truth as one of yours,
simply imagine the word “shift”
as a metaphor
for where you are in this moment of your life.
You are not who you were yesterday,
You are not yet who you are about to become.
Today, you are simply the shift that is this day of growth.
In this moment, you are just experiencing
the shift between the inbreath and the outbreath.
On this day, you are just experiencing
the shift between whoy you were
and you are becoming.

What will that be?
That is yours to find inside.
And it starts with knowing deeply your own patterns
of anger and jealousy,
of love and grace,
of knowing and forgetting,
of seeing that your self-centeredness
is not the truest thing in the landscape today,
or ever.

There is a natural loving kindness
and great peace that is here in this and every moment,
if you choose to cultivate the practice
of making yourself available to it.

Please do that now.
We need you. We beloveds standing before you now
And the beloved who are yet to come.
Connect to the natural peace of this moment
To the wisdom inside of you
To the witness that can discern what is true
From what has been said but not questioned.

Join us here in this conversation
open to shifting some of those thoughts
that were never yours,
that were never true for you,
but that you were asked to carry.

Join us here in this conversation,
open to shifting into our consciousness,
something you know to be true for you,
something that may be a gift for us to know too,
to help us on our own path of healing and growth.



In counseling, relationship and leader training, we are taught important skills for being a good listener and for being open to allow others to explore what is true for them. Of course, this is an important skill, and also I’ve noticed it has a shadow side when it is over-applied to intimate relationships. In this article, I discuss 2 skills and their shadow side.

Keeping Options Open

Keeping options and language “open” can be a comfort and a skillful way to offer support to another.  Ultimately, we want to create a non-judgmental and non-controlling space that allows our beloveds to be who they are and to express that freely. So we might learn to use phrases that leave possibilities like “we might,” or “if you can let me know how it is for you.”

We can name options along the spectrum without weighing in so that our beloved can notice their own response: “Well, it seems to me the dinner options are to stay home, go out, or have friends in, and that we might choose the same option together, or make separate choices for ourselves this evening.”

The Light Side of Open Language

Open language and providing flexible options allows the other person to explore without feeling pre-judged or limited by a strong conviction. It creates a field in which feelings can be explored and shared.

The Shadow Side = Being Vague

If you actually do have an agenda, this behavior is misleading and can be a set up for disapointment. Worse, if you use this strategy to draw out a beloved’s perspective, and then they in fact do expresses their preferences and feelings it is important that you reciprocate. After their share, if stay in this vague, open place without reciprocating, it sucks energy from the other person who has to lean in to unravel the mystery of what you want. It makes the other person do the work of knowing and communicating for themselves, and for you.

Healthy Openness

If it is true for you that you are feeling open and flexible, let this beloved know that you are open to a number of outcomes, but don’t hide your desires, fears, boundaries or preferences within the options available. Do share what process or data might help you to develop a preference.

If you do have an agenda, even if you are open to changing your mind, be the first to offer the intimacy (and risk the vulnerability) by being clear about your requests and what would be your 100%. Listen intently to theirs and let the openness be about not wanting to change them.

With your hearts fed by the clarity of what’s on the inside for each of you, you can now co-create actions and choices that work for both of you.

Sharing that there is something you aren’t ready to share in this moment

Let’s start by stating something obvious that is sometimes forgotten in mainstream society: It is not a reasonable goal for our beloveds to know everything about us, or for us to communicate all of our inner workings to another. In fact, sometimes what is going on for us on the inside is a mystery even to ourselves. Yet, when something big or important is brewing in there, even if we aren’t ready to name it, we know its forming, and our beloveds usually know something is up as well. So naming that can be a gift.

During an idea incubation period, it can be an excellent relationship skill to let your beloved know that you are in an exploration, that you want them to know about that exploration, but that it isn’t formed into something you can share yet. Like I discussed above, this saves them emotional labor.

For your kids, that might sound like “I’m thinking about all the different fun vacations we can take in June, but I haven’t made a decision… do you have any ideas or inputs that might help me?” In an emotional adult context, that might sound like “I feel like I’m doing some deep work on grief as the 1 year anniversary of my Grandma’s death approaches. Something is shifting for me, and I know I’m a bit distracted. I’ll let you know what this is all about after it makes sense to me.” In a heated moment, that might sound like “I really want to answer that question, but I’m so emotionally charged right now, I won’t be able to express myself as clearly as I want.”

Similarly, when we are guides or teachers, we might have important information to impart, but know that the other person isn’t yet ready to understand it. Thich Naht Han encourages us to always be honest, but to speak with an awareness of the listener, to share what they are ready to hear. This can be a challenge.

The Light Side of Naming a Mystery

This level of emotional transparency can be a vulnerable but powerful way to let your partner know that you are growing and that your intention is to stay connected. On an energetic level, if your beloved feels empathy and altruism for you, just naming this need for space can provide them with a deep sense that the space is something they are giving, rather than wondering if your taking space is due to something they’ve done or need to fix.

The Shadow Side of Mystery

Be mindful that this kind of converstion can be a powerful control drama on your part. By telling a beloved that there is something they don’t know, you can be subconsciously hooking into their emotional and thought space where they will expend energy trying to figure it out for themselves. It can land as abandonment, banishment, or punishment.

Healthy Mystery

Before a share like this, check in really honestly about your intentions. Are you putting up walls you want them to chip away at? Are you afraid that what might be emerging in you will be unacceptable to them, so that this “not telling” is an attempt at some kind of softening or insurance against that blow? In short, are you baiting them to expend energy on you or are you genuinely asking for some space?

If its a healthy FYI and request for space to unfold, see if there are some detail you can offer to provide context and grounding. You can tell them what domain or topic you are exploring, or what experience triggered this exploration. You can give them an estimate of time this kind of thing usually takes to crystallize for you. You can share what you are doing on your own to allow the clarity to unfold.

Some Insight from the Poets

A very soft and loving context for this type of experience is beautifully named by the poet and philospher David Whyte. He explains that when we come into the unfolding of a new love – which might be a new vocation, a new relationship, a new physical space, or a new unfolding of awareness of our self – when we come into this new love, it is useful to not name it too soon. If it is a true love, he explains, by its very nature it will change us, and open us to a new vocabulary. If we name it from the start, we will use our old vocabulary and unnecessarily box it in. In this way, we might know we are on the forming edge of something, and let our beloved know that we are aware of that, and that we’ll key them in when the vocabulary ripens and catches up to what is as yet unnamable but noticable in our heart.

With that, I will leave this, one of my favorite poems that is in a common book of readings used in UU churches. It was also one of the readings we had at our wedding ceremony, and became something I read to myself often as that relationship was transitioning, Now, it is one of my favorite ways to celebrate when I can do a reading at personal growth workshops I attend or lead.

We come together this morning to remind one another
To rest for a moment on the forming edge of our lives
To resist the headlong tumble in the next moment,
Until we claim for ourselves awareness and gratitude,
Taking the time to look into one another’s faces
And see there communion: the reflection of our own eyes.

This house of laughter and silence, memory and hope,
is hallowed by our presence together.

by Kathleen McTigue from Singing the Living Tradition

Imperfect Love

Here’s a little love note I wrote a while ago, and just discovered today. How lovely.

Virtually everything we ever do, especially when we are not self-connected/God-connected, becomes riddled with yucky stuff that has nothing to do with what is true.

One time, I had a fight with a beloved while we were eating ice cream. My ego has them tied together in a way that is obviously illogical. So, I notice that I can hate ice cream if I indulge the samsaric thought that I’ve been abused and neglected as a person. Ice cream is not hate-able. That’s just a story my mind makes up to protect me from getting hurt again. The actual cause of the hurt is deeper than the situation of ice cream. The cause is my human suffering, and the Buddhist teach that there’s really no getting out of that one!

I love to connect to communities, and to put what I hope is “right effort” towards creating them. And in each connection, there’s always that thread of suffering. Instead of noting that each of these people and groups has “given me” a tickle with a slap, I’d like a reframe. I believe in my heart that each and all of these are part of the same evolutionary pull to create community and move humanity forward to something holistic, integrated, ascendant. I feel drawn to them even more than to ice cream because I’m ready to live a life of connection rather than self-gratification.

Of course, me, humanity and each of us individual humans to which I want to connect are still riddled with ego, forgetting, misunderstanding, early learning and so on. So every single time we move to gather together, we bang our teeth on each other’s foreheads. It hurts, but the alternative (being a hermit or waiting to only connect with perfected beings) is the antithesis of what is called for in this life.

There is a world of abundance, people, opportunities standing just on the other side of this struggle waiting to flood in as soon as we are ready. Let’s be ready. I wonder what that involves?

I am riddled with ego, forgetting, misunderstanding, early learning and so on. As I acknowledge that and offer myself forgiveness, it makes being present to the beauty of this moment so much more real and possible.heart-love-romance-valentine


Right in the middle of the beginning

The change of the year has a weight for me because the new calendar year corresponds to my biological birth-date. I flip the calendar and add a year to my life-count in the same week. So this always get’s me reflecting and feeling a bit archaeological. Luckily, I write a lot, so I’ve left myself a pretty decent digital pile to sift through when I’m feeling this way. I’m sure this writing is a missive to my future self, and I look forward to being able to look back on this and see what turned out to be persistently true, and what turned out to be only true for this moment. It’s fairly complex and wandery, because, welcome to Rayellen. Thanks for following along.

What I’m noticing today is how words can have so many meanings. Sometimes, words become invocations or spells, sometimes intention and premonition, sometimes a plea or a prayer. The poet David Whyte encourages us to not name a new love too soon, because if it is a true love, it will change us in ways that create a whole new vocabulary. Naming from the starting point, he explains, will box this new love into the limited vocabulary of the current self. So I’m reflecting today on ways I’ve named things in the past, and what types of words those were.


In 2010 (at the start of my 40s), I began a private journal and I named it “Myddle”*. At that time, I thought I was in the middle – middle aged, middle income, middle on the spectrum from failure to success, mid-way through raising kids from 0 to 20ish. There was something about being in the middle that felt comforting – it’s a safe place to hide out, the middle is. Everyone thinks you are at least a little bit like them when you are in the middle.

Here was my first entry in Myddle, 2010:

How do you know when you are half way there?  It seems the first half of the thing is all anticipation and discovery – laying down immutable decisions before you have any clue what walls they will erect for yourself.  So, then what is the second half?  Regret? Reminiscence?  That’s not the goal.   Maybe it should be refinement.  I’d expect the optimistic risk taker I was in the beginning would expect my forty something self to still be charging forward, creating, emerging until its over.

So here I am in the middle.  Like Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions, I feel like I need to contemplate and shed to lighten the load for the next steps in the journey.

As I reflect on these words, I recognize that the middle is also a dangerous place, where one can get lost or be unseen. What I knew at 39 was that I didn’t want to keep having the same years I’d been having over and over again, and I had no idea what would come next. So I knew it was time to shed, but I desperately didn’t want to lose the things that had meaning to me. It was like Anais Nin said:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin

And the middle can also be a place for connection and perspective. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama has a meditation he suggests where you picture yourself sitting in the middle — of an infinite line of people, with everyone to one side more fortunate and everyone to the other, less fortunate, than you. I wonder now whether I learned that idea before or after I named my journal “Myddle?”

At any rate, what I was in the middle of then, on reflection 8 years later, was dismantling my life and “starting over.” What I know about transformation is that it includes break down, chaos, and then growth, fruition, and harvesting the “rewards.” I also know now that I can stall and get stuck in any of those stages, but I can’t really speed them up or avoid them. So in 2010, I welcomed the shedding part, and apparently the mystery.


In 2014, I started a Facebook photo album which I called “Letting the Dreams Begin, again and again.” Somehow I’d gone from the middle to the beginning! I remember feeling sacredly called then, and that somehow this nascent beginning would be something WE would look back on together after this gift to the world we were creating had matured. I didn’t know who all the “we” would be, but I felt sure they would come, and it felt hopeful, innocent, and audacious to be venturing this way. I didn’t feel ready, but I expected I’d become ready as we grew into the opportunity.

Now, I wonder instead about the premonition of the “again and again” part. I think I meant for that to indicate discovery and an opening to newness and surprise. Having dismantled my life, I thought I was ready to begin the building of a new one, and I expected it to be iterative. And I wanted it to be a totality – family, work, home, spirit, lovers, poetry, art, beauty, nature —  all wrapped in Tenderness with a fairy-light agile-ness that would be balanced by pragmatism and competence (or at least an ability to ask for help). It was such a hopeful dream, and even with fear, it was something I committed myself to without naming it too soon.

That “again and again” thing didn’t turn out to serve me as much as I’d wanted it to. What it turned out to be was a stubbornness/tenacity of trying over and over again, even though the obstacles were clear from before the venture started, even though the mismatch between the dream and the capacity were so in-congruent, even though parts of me became less and less expressed inside of that dream.

Even though it stopped being tender. Again and again, we weren’t tender.


So after trying to begin so many agains and agains, after I clung to re-engineering and rebooting more times than is worth counting, it ended in 2017. It had begun, again and again, and then it stopped. Full stop. That change is not far enough back in the rear view mirror for me to fully articulate, but it felt quite different than the 2010 middle, and I’m needing some words to hold it. It didn’t devastate me, but it was a totality. I stopped a family, a home, a work, a lot of dreams, a connection to a land that had loved me so tenderly, and a heart-life with a human I had intended to be with until my final walk home.

Some of the teachings I called in to support me with this change included understanding shadow and ego, being with what is, and allowing myself to show up in my brokenness. One afternoon before the stop, I was pruning hedges and listening to Pema Chodron talk about helping a trauma victim who had been unable to experience the emotions related to that trauma. Pema described that she guided this woman through — by simply being with her gently in her meditation and feelings with the simple word “Stay.” Pema invited her to finally let the feelings come, and to just stay… stay… stay… until they passed through. Pema talked about the 90 seconds it takes for an intense emotion to pass, and the way we meditate on the sound of the chime to both witness the fade, but also to see if we can discern the instant it ends. I am coming to understand that connecting with impermanence, rather than being indifference or loss, is an invitation to freedom.

After “the end”, I painted the word “Stay” on a rock and brought it to several ceremonial spaces with me. In the middle of an end, I didn’t intend for that word to prevent me from leaving, or plant me in the place I was moving from, rather in trusting that my goodness and wisdom would go with me and that spirit was always here. “Stay” helped me be more present during ego storms and to do something different than clinging. It was an invitation to stay still, listen, not stir the muddy water, to be present while clarity slowly returned on its own. In order to leave, I needed to Stay — more committed to my own knowing than to my breaking heart or my clinging to a faulty dream.

This refinement of the ability to STAY also helped me as I walked my dear aunt Peach through to the moment when her breathing, and then her heartbeat stopped. I don’t have the words to describe that, but I do know that it was an experience of being with what is — which is the point of why we are here, even if we are only good at it during certain times in this all too brief life. The experience of being with Peach and her people during her transition puts the futility of clinging and the imperative of presence into a perspective worth practicing.

Right in the Middle of the Beginning

So, now I find myself right in the middle of the beginning (I stole that line from a film I cannot remember the name of, but it is such an important mantra for me, I’m keeping it without attribution). Right in the middle of a new beginning. And the mystery doesn’t scare me like it did (or should?). Right in the middle of the beginning. That is where we always are, if we are paying attention.

The themes that insinuated themselves into my life to help me name this were circles and roots.  Sometime in the last year, I began to re-imagine that meditation of being in the middle of that line of suffering people as being in a circle instead. I think that’s more true, and harder even to grasp. I am both more and less fortunate than everyone else in the circle; each of them suffers both more and less than me. And it circles around until I am no longer able to measure it and that may be the point. There is no front or back of the room in a circle. We are all in the middle of that continuous line when we circle.

Another time this year, when the invitation was to speak from the CENTER of a room, I chose instead to “stand up for myself” by speaking powerfully from my place seated IN the circle. It felt different than hiding out in the middle. It also felt different than making it all about me. It felt like becoming with. It is belonging. It is one of the places I feel most like me.

So that’s unexpected. As I turn 49 and enter the final year of the decade of my forties, it seems I’ve gone from the middle to beginning to stop, to something not even on a line. I’ve come to something more foundational. To circles and to roots. The circle piece is about belonging, and the roots piece is about source, connection, support, communication. Both are feminine. They are about being. This is a true love I won’t name too soon, and that probably will remain un-name-able for the rest of this lifetime. It is a knowing that creates an entirely new vocabulary, but one that is mostly experiential. And I’d like to be understood, so I will continue to invite people to join me in these experiences, so we can each have our individual knowings, together.

At this moment

From this place in the circle, growing and witnessing the connection to roots that has always been here, I welcome the moments that will be happening soon, and my robust participation in as many of those moments as my practice teaches me to be. Pragmatically, I have everything I need and considerable abundance for sharing. Including the gifts that I have of disappointment, loss, broken-heartedness. These are gifts that help me see with much sharper clarity the deeper truth of wholeness, connection, and that there will always be enough love.




Gifts and Sorrows

His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggested this excellent exercise (paraphrased through my mind):

Picture yourself sitting in a line of other sitting humans that stretches out as far as you can see to your left and to your right. Now bring to your consciousness a sorrow or burden you feel.

Imagine yourself looking to your right. Imagine that all of the people in that direction have more resources and an easier time with their sorrows and burdens. Maybe they have fewer problems, more or better friends, they are more clever, and they have abundant access to whatever they need to ease their suffering. Imagine they suffer less that you.

Now imagine yourself looking to the left. All of the people in this direction have it worse than you. They are carrying burdens and disabilities that are more challenging than yours. They have fewer resources to draw upon to meet those challenges. Imagine they suffer more than you.

And now bring your consciousness back to yourself and check in again on your gifts and sorrows in this moment.

I have found that exercise to be quite useful. And now I realize that I prefer circles to lines. I love the small circles of family and tribe. I participate in many gatherings where we form circles for celebration and communication.

So now I’m picturing, curling that nearly infinite line of sitting humans to my left and to my right into a circle, and this meditation becomes quite powerful.

I am an equal part of the circle.

As I become aware of my tribe mates,

I am aware that each has gifts and sorrows greater than my own. And that I have gifts and sorrows greater than theirs.

In this moment, which is all there is.

Perhaps we can be useful to each other’s sorrows with our gifts.

Riding the train out of high school (1995)

All these questions

All these contradictions

Searching for

Searching for answers to…
You ask:

“How?” Why?” “What?” “Who?”
You forget

You forget the key –>

The question that is the answer

To all these questions:

“When are you?”

And the answer is:


You are now.

On the bridge.
Not a kid. Not one of them.

In the middle. On the way.

Part way there. Not there yet.
Cradle yourself.

Do not demand so much.
Cradle yourself.

Gently take this journey.

Which you can not stop,

Should not fight,

May not speed up.
Just be now sweet darling.

Gently ride this train 

Into adulthood,

Where the questions

won’t be answered,

But they won’t hurt so much.