Don’t blame the lettuce

It happens this way …

In twelve days, we’ll celebrate our 26th anniversary. It’s been a fabulous journey of self-discovery and other-discovery, and of learning and re-learning lessons we were drawn together to teach each other.

One of the latest – and biggest – lessons we’ve tackled is how to stop our incessant blame- storming.*

You left your dirty plastic bags on the counter again.

They’re not mine. They’re yours.


Please clean up the mess you made on the stove top.

I didn’t cook anything tonight.


You left the heat on again.

You were the last one downstairs. Why didn’t you shut it off?

And so it goes.

What is it about blaming the other that seems both satisfying and self-protective? (If you’re up to it, note how many times politicians blame others for situations they create.)

We just discovered the best remedy to release the blaming habit. It comes from Thích  Nhất Hạnh. He explains:

When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun.. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.

Now, when we start to blame, we use a code word to bring it to our consciousness. We simply say “lettuce.” This will make the next 26 years so much more productive!

* The process of assigning blame for an outcome or situation

Steeped in Words at the Chinese Garden

It happens this way …

DSC06407Yesterday was a perfect autumn day at the Chinese Garden where we gathered in the Scholars Room to share beauty, camaraderie, and poetry. Thanks to all the folks who came in body and to all of you across the miles who were there in spirit.

Here are a few unedited audio clips to give you the flavor of the day. Since this is a public garden, the ambient noise reminds us of the world outside. Enjoy this wondrous fall wherever you are!



Stunned into understanding

It happens this way …

EducatedI just finished reading Educated: a memoir by Tara Westover and I can’t remember the last time a book has so unnerved me. It is a well-written, provocative, and disturbing story that helped me understand why certain groups of women in this country believe what they believe: that “boys will be boys,” men rule the world, and that they have little worth other than being servants of the family.

Since the publisher brilliantly summarized the book, I’ll borrow its words:

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. As a way out, Tara began to educate herself, learning enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University. Her quest for knowledge would transform her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Tara Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.

What is not mentioned here is how Tara’s parents, chained by their internalized beliefs about the world, cast her an evil person for leaving a family that has spiritually, emotionally, and physically abused her. Even though she will excel at Cambridge and eventually earn a Ph.D., she still longs for connection to this dysfunctional clan and doubts every outsider who attempts to affirm the intelligent woman she is becoming. Even when her parents “rewrite” her history – challenging her memories of abuse by substituting their more benign ones – she still searches for “a way home.”

What shocked me awake was the power of brainwashing. When parents, churches, schools, governments collude to define who a child is and where his or her place in the world is, how does one break free?

I’ve spent decades washing my brain of those beliefs that programmed me since childhood: beliefs about what is right and wrong, about what it means to be a woman and a compassionate human being, about what the Divine is and how It manifests in the world and in each of us.

This is a work-in-progress because my internalizing has been strong. Yet, I want to believe because I believe, not because I’ve been told what I should believe. While both may lead to the same conclusions, the latter is the realm of childhood, the former the empowerment of  adulthood.

Even when Tara crosses oceans and achieves academic acclaim, she still perceives herself as the evil daughter of righteous Idaho survivalists. How strong the chains that bind her, how miraculous – even though it takes years – that she finally breaks out of them. Her story makes me feel compassion for women in this country who don’t even know – or can admit – they are chained. It challenges me to continue to discover and break free of my own.

You can go home again, but …

It happens this way …

A few weeks ago I flew to NJ to visit relatives and friends. I hadn’t been back in three years and it was time.

My 94-year-old mother lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Ewing. One of my two brothers and his family are five miles away in Titusville.

Mom and Me

My mom and I at Seaside Park on a picture-perfect September afternoon

The big epiphany of this trip? Memory is a trickster. Siblings who had the same parents and went to the same schools have very different interpretations of the same events. I call these my “brown outs.” At least I remember what happened, but my brothers would disagree about how or why they occurred.

And then there are “black outs”:  the holes into which memories have completely disappeared.

For example, when I was an English teacher at Mount St. Mary’s Academy in the early 70s, I accompanied a group of students on a fine arts trip to Italy. We were one of three groups on this adventure – a detail I totally forgot. In fact, I forgot most of the trip! What I remember:

Visiting Assisi and Cimabue’s crumbling murals of St. Francis.

Crying when I saw St. Clare’s golden locks enclosed in a glass case. (I don’t remember why!)

Being lifted off my feet by a group of sturdy Germans as we crushed our way through the Sistine Chapel – which was much too small for my taste!

Being diverted to Montreal on our flight home because JFK was fogged in. God bless the Canadians who shuttled us to various hotels in the middle of the night.

The rest of the ten days is a blank. Good thing a sister/friend who was my traveling companion has such a great memory. When I saw her on this NJ trip, she shared dozens of events that eluded me. I was happy to hear we climbed to the top of St. Peter’s dome – that was a feat I’d want to claim! – and that we ate meat on Good Friday because our more rule-rigid companions grabbed up all the fish – what enlightened flexibility!

Memory is a trickster for sure. I’m still trying to sort out what-I-did-when-with-whom at various moments in my life. I’ve taught in four schools, lived in three states, and presented management programs to more than a quarter of a million people before retiring in 2008. Good thing I have astute friends and acquaintances who can bear witness to the good stuff and have the grace to keep me blacked out about the less-than-good!