Ancient wisdom anyone?

It happens this way …

Two weeks ago, a Facebook friend posted a reference to the 1997 spiritual classic, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz. I remember enjoying this book in the early 2000’s, so I was happy to see a renewed interest in its ancient wisdom. And, I’m happy to say, I found a copy on my bookshelf.

agreements coverOne of the more meaningful ideas early in the book is a familiar one: we all made mini- contracts with ourselves about ourselves based upon what other people told us was true. Ruiz calls these agreements the Book of Law.  It contains the beliefs we adopted from the moment we were born to the moment we opened our computer this morning and brewed our first cup of coffee. To challenge these beliefs – or narratives – takes courage because, even though they are probably wrong, adhering to them makes us feel safe.

Consider this: By the time we were 12, most of us had been reprimanded 150,000 times. We went to school with its hundreds of quizzes, tests, report cards, and classmate critiques. Then, our working lives were filled with performance reviews. Now, if we live with a significant other … well, I won’t go there! In any event, that’s a long and complicated story-line we’ve lived with and believed in.

As Ruiz explains, ” … even if we know we didn’t choose all these beliefs, it is also true we agreed to all of them. The agreement is so strong that even if we understand the concept of it not being true, we feel the blame, the guilt, and the shame that occur if we go against the rules.”

Want to read that again?

Today my thought forward is to take a quick look at the four agreements over the next few weeks to see what wisdom they hold for us in 2019. What can they teach us that we haven’t already learned? Let’s give it a try.

four agreements (1)





This one couldn’t be more timely, no? Voltaire was correct when he said, There are some who use words only to disguise their thoughts. We could add, There are some who use words even when they don’t have thoughts. But that’s them not us!

As teachers, students, writers, parents, spouses, friends, family members, we’re surrounded by words every day. Lots of noise pollution! Perhaps you’ve seen that other Facebook post that asks that before we open our mouths, we ensure that our words are true, necessary, and kind. Can you imagine the blessed silence we’d experience if even a minority of people put their words through this test?

I get the “true” and “kind” part, but the “necessary”? Of course my words are impeccably necessary! Yet, do I have to counter every story I hear about another’s grief, success, struggles, travels, whatever with one of my own? Can’t I just let the spotlight stay on them and not move back to me? This is something I have to work on.

On the other hand, words are not just symbols and sounds. They are powerful energies that can lift others up or destroy them. In this age of social media where anyone with an opinion is an expert, those energies can throw kerosene on kindling or they can heal and uplift in miraculous ways.

But you know all this. So do I. Enough about words then. Actions are needed. I’m going to try to be more aware of the words coming out of my mouth this week to see how true, necessary, and kind they are. How “impeccable” are they? Ruiz defines this as taking responsibility for them without judging or blaming ourselves. That’s a fine definition. I’ll remember it when I hear the words I send out to the Universe. How about you?


R.I.P., Mary Oliver

It happens this way …

Few poets have captured the poetic imaginations of readers around the world like Mary Oliver. Her passing today at the age of 83 unleashed an out-pouring of sentiments from the likes of Hillary Clinton and Madonna to a dear neighbor across the street. Millions of accolades to this extraordinary woman will no doubt continue.

Of all the things already being reported about Mary, what touched me deeply were the comments she made about her partner of more than 40 years, the photographer Molly Malone Cook, who died in 2005.

Though you have known someone for more than forty years, though you have worked with them and lived with them, you do not know everything. I do not know everything — but a few things, which I will tell. M. had will and wit and probably too much empathy for others; she was quick in speech and she did not suffer fools. When you knew her she was unconditionally kind. But also, as our friend the Bishop Tom Shaw said at her memorial service, you had to be brave to get to know her.

“You had to be brave to get to know her”: What a commentary on the task everyone in a committed relationship — or a deep friendship relationship – has. I’ll be pondering that for a long time to come.

I’m throwing my poetic hat into the ring of praise for Mary with a poem inspired by her.

Here’s to you, Mary!

You do not have to be good.

– Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

Ain’t that a kick in the head!

After all the bunk about straights and narrows,

wrongs and rights, confessionals

where venial sins are laughable,

it’s come down to this: we’ve been duped.

Friday fish, forty fasting days, crownings

in the Mary month of May; rosaries,

callused knees, indulgences that smudge

our sins: they don’t add up to good.

Neither do tidy rooms, top grades in school,

nor mandatory modesty.


So let’s delete the snake behind the apple tree

and every bite of stale theology.

Let’s resurrect original wildness

and ramble through valleys scratched and scarred,

down unquiet streams, across raging fields

of blooms disguised as weeds.

Let’s celebrate every fleshy flaw,

each mistaken thought that turns out true.

Let’s race wild geese to the nearest star,

cheering on imperfect

nakedness with disheveled glee.


Thinking it forward

It happens this way …

You’ve heard of that lovely concept of paying it forward? This week I discovered it’s mate: thinking it forward. I’ve been listening to You-Tube clips of one of my favorites: the American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. In an interview with Bill Moyer,  she explains that after her second husband admitted to an affair and asked for a divorce, she was thrown into a tailspin of anger, and then terror at the depth of violence of her anger.  She explains to Bill how she finally dispelled her darkness, but the punch line for me was her embrace of the thought forward of becoming a Buddhist. When nothing else worked — no therapy, no dabbling in other spiritual disciplines, none of the typical escape routes –  she was seized by the passion to learn how to use the energy of her life  — even the negative energy of her painful experience — to wake up.

Wake up to what? How our minds — often closed and afraid — effect not only ourselves but the world; how, if we could open and soften our hearts, we could move toward de-escalating violence and aggression and escalate loving- kindness. That passionate thought moved her forward into a life-long quest of learning how to open and soften and into sharing what’s she’s learned with millions of people.


Pema Chödrön

Call it what you will – grace, inspiration, the thought forward – but how many times have we heard an urgent voice within nudging us to do something, but we mute it because it would take us out of our comfort zone? Pema talks a lot about living with uncertainty, groundlessness, ambiguity, and insecurity both as individuals and as a society. It’s the fear of these realities of life on this planet that freezes us in our tracks and stops us from doing good things for ourselves and others.

I was talking to a friend at a poetry reading recently who has resolved to invest more time connecting with people she loves and admires. She had a dear friend from her past who lived in North Carolina, and she often thought about contacting her. Before she took action, however, the friend died. Now her thought forward is not to miss other opportunities to spend time with those who can enrich her life as well as those she will enrich.

Personally, I’ve been blissfully living in a cave for the last few years – enjoying my solitude, shaping days to fit my rhythms, dabbling in all kinds of creative activities – by myself. However, a thought forward has been nagging at me lately and I’ve actually begun to take some risks to act on it.

I’ve known for decades that my essence contains being a teacher. For the first time in 35 years, I taught a poetry class in 2017 for the Writers’ Mill, a group of prose writers and poets who meet monthly at the Cedar Mill Library in Portland.

On April 28 I’ll be presenting my fourth program to them and have subsequently risked contacting Happy Valley Library to set up some classes nearer home. In June, I’ll return to Watchung, New Jersey to do a fund-raising poetry workshop for my dear Sisters of Mercy on the 29th. In the audience will be students I taught at Mt. St. Mary Academy back in the ‘70s. Coming full circle seems so right. Listening to that thought forward has become a passion. I am a teacher and it’s time to embrace – and act – on that.

Think about all the thoughts forward that have been nudging you: the book you keep saying you want to publish, the trip you want to take, the people you’ve thought about recently and need to contact, the classes you’d love to sign up for. Whatever. What’s holding you back? If it’s lack of confidence or uncertainty, that’s fine. Acknowledge it and move forward anyway. Learning to break the bonds of fear is part of a life-long process that will wake you up to the essence of who you really are. Undoubtedly, it will pay itself forward in ways you can’t begin to imagine – yet.





Coming this February …

It happens this way …

I’m thrilled to tell you that my fourth poetry collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, is scheduled for release mid-February by Unsolicited Press. Thanks to Shawn Aveningo Sanders, owner of The Poetry Box, for the stunning cover, and UP’s Summer Stewart for her astute editing advice.

Unsolicited Press, 2019, 130 pages

ISBN: 978-1-947021-71-6


About the collection

Martin FinalFrom the universal to the personal, the formal to the experimental, A Penchant for Masquerades takes an unflinching look at the fluidity of truth, time, identity, history, death, and relationships.

Martin time-travels from the Neanderthals, Lucy, and Big Foot to 9/11, then on to the future collapse of a holographic universe. She mines scientific discoveries, nursery rhymes, biblical characters, and the works of Issa, Horace, Yeats, Frost, Williams, Szymborska, and Collins in poems that are both playful and thought-provoking.

Since she believes re-incarnation is a distinct possibility, she suggests that death need not be taken too seriously (“Re-Entry Interview,” “A Case for Sudden Death”). She riffs on an Issa haiku (“Thoughts on a Translation”), sits down to dinner with Horace (“Notes from a Water Drinker”), and promises literary revenge on a reviewer who negatively critiques this collection (“To the Reviewer Who Missed Too Much”).

A lover of all things poetic, Martin has created an eclectic collection for readers who have a penchant for words and who are open to believing in everything and nothing.

My pre-lease price: $15.00 includes shipping.

Email me TODAY at for ordering details.