this one life hack will change your life forever

Did I make you click?  Huh?  Huh?  Huh?

Or did you think a robot had taken over kaybruner.com, breaking my strict rule against clickbaity headlines?

Whatever got you here, here it is, the one thing that will change your life forever:

Treat yourself with the same loving kindness with which you treat your best friend.

I've started saying this to clients on the regular, and you know what I get in return?

A shy laugh.

Downcast eyes.

A shocked look.

An "I never, ever thought of that."

"Be miraculously kind to yourself."  Church window, Budapest, photo: me and my cell phone

"Be miraculously kind to yourself."  Church window, Budapest, photo: me and my cell phone

Because you know what?  As women, we have been taught to treat everybody really, really well.  We are taught to be nice, to speak softly, to always say the kind thing.

And there's NOTHING wrong with this.

EXCEPT.

EXCEPT.

EXCEPT.

Our own selves are the exception to the rule of niceness.

We know that love and kindness, dignity and respect are the right things to do for everyone else, BUT we somehow think that we are supposed to give ourselves:

a good talking to

a good scolding

a good spanking

**Why are these things called "good" by the way?  Why?**

We would never, ever treat another person the way we treat ourselves.

We would never, ever speak aloud to others the mental abuse we heap on ourselves.

We would never do the kind of violence to another person that we do to ourselves.

And only one person can stop this violence against myself: me.

And so I'm giving my clients this wonderful, radical, crazy life hack, and I'm trying it out for myself as well.

When we are sad, when we are lonely, when we are depressed, when we are scared, when we are upset at all the wickedness in the world, we ask this question:

How would we treat our very best friend who felt like we're feeling right now?

We'd probably bring them a cup of tea and a really good chocolate, fuzzy blanket and our own favorite soft pillow.  We'd put on some soothing music and light a fire.  We'd get their favorite Indian take-out and watch their favorite movie together, even though it's only 2:00 in the afternoon.

We know what we'd do unto others, because we do it all the time.

Now the challenge is to do the same unto ourselves, because we are just as beloved, just as cared for, just as deserving.  

And there is plenty for us all.  No shortage of supply.

There is plenty of Love for us, plenty of kindness for us all.

Be kind to yourself today, dear friend.

And I will do the same.

Print Friendly and PDF

abuse revelations and the raft of rationalizations

Abuse revelations are much in the news these days.

Harvey Weinstein, Judge Roy Moore, Louis CK.  

Many more will come to light, I feel sure. 

Many more will never come to light, I know.

To victims, please know that I believe you.  I will always believe you.  I am with you.  I am on your side.

neighborhood clouds, photo: Andy Bruner

neighborhood clouds, photo: Andy Bruner

As we watch these revelations unfold, we see a range of responses from those accused of abuse.

There's denial, as in the case of Judge Roy Moore.

There's admission of guilt, as the case of Louis CK.

But wherever the accused fall on the range of responses, there's one thing we can count on for sure.

Rationalization.

Rationalization: the excuses that explain why things are not really as bad as everybody thinks.

Rationalization says:

"I didn't know it was wrong."

"I didn't think it would bother you."

"I'm a good person, everyone admires me."

"Mary and Joseph..."

The person who violates KNOWS that they are violating their own personal values, the law of the land, their marriage vows, the boundaries of another person.  They have to create a set of "reasonable" explanations--rationalizations--in their own mind to continue with their behavior.  

They violate, they can't face the reality of what this means about themselves, so they rationalize.

Every single offender rationalizes.

Every single one.

Whether it's a big-name celebrity or your porn-watching husband, every single person who violates their own values, or the values of society, will rationalize.

After many years of dealing with situations where there's a clear offender (abuse, adultery, addiction) here is what I have learned:

WHATEVER the offender says, early on, is going to be rationalization.

He's had to create rationalizations to deal with his guilt and shame.

He's going to verbalize those rationalizations, because this is the only story he has. 

The offender has made their brain work this way to keep offending, until it seems plausible inside their own head.  The offender thinks others will see it as plausible as well, so out it comes.

Sometimes you get a farcical rationalization like "Mary and Joseph" in the case of Judge Roy Moore.  

Many times, there's an attempt to pretend innocence, as if the offender doesn't know the ethical rules of his own culture: "I didn't know it would bother you."

A lot of times, you'll get a round of victim-blaming: "What was she wearing?"

Every once in a while, you get a much more sophisticated and confusing rationalization like Louis CK's statement.  (Hint: if the person tells you 4 times in his confession how much people admire him, he's still protecting himself with rationalization.  Be wary.)

Whatever the specifics, know this for sure: the offender is rationalizing. 

He can't help it.

Assuming that there's going to be rationalization keeps me off the galighting crazy-train, and I hope it will help you, too.

If we get on the crazy-train, then we're using the rationalization exactly the way the abuser does: to distract from the abusive behavior.

But if I recognize rationalization for what it is, and I don't waste time and energy engaging it, I can turn my attention to what is actually within my control: healthy boundaries for myself.

Given the facts of the situation, regardless of the offender's excuses, what is healthy for me, here and now?

This is what I can do: decide on my boundaries, hold to my boundaries, live within my boundaries.  No matter what the other person chooses, my boundaries belong to me.

Most of the time, healthy boundaries are what offender doesn't want, because boundaries will mean consequences for them and a disruption of the fantasy world that they've created in their minds.  Boundaries will mean, possibly, that the offender begins to face some of his pain.

He won't like that.  And culture tells women to be nice, so we don't like it either.  

Now.

It is totally possible for the offender to face reality in recovery, and stop the rationalizing.

There is hope for us all.

But facing the reality in situations like Roy Moore's or Louis CK's, or even our husband's, will be personally painful to a degree that many people can't handle at a deep level.  A lot of people, when their offenses are exposed, will simply figure out how to be more socially acceptable. 

Being socially acceptable is good!  It needs to happen!  Behavioral change is important, no doubt about it.

However, I think that for true healing, the person has to face their own demons in the same up-close and personal way that their victims have had to.  Their own personally-felt pain should be comparable to the pain they have caused others.  Not for the purpose of shame, but for the purpose of truth and healing.  If that doesn't happen, I suspect there will continue to be dysfunctional outbursts.

Unfortunately, the rules of toxic masculinity have socialized men to deny and repress emotions (big boys don't cry, be a man), then taught them that it's inevitable that they'll act out (boys will be boys, locker room talk).  

True recovery from these deep roots of offending is a dark valley to walk through.  Not only do they have to face up to the reality of what they've done, but they also need to rework their entire interior landscape. This involves the kind of emotional work which men have been actively trained against.  They have to learn the skills on the job, and the job is a big one.

I personally think this is a generational project, and that true healing will be carried on as we parent our children in gentler, healthier ways, teaching every child, regardless of gender, to be emotionally intelligent, well-boundaried, loving, self-loving human beings.

So just be aware that true recovery is a tall order.  Not saying it can't be done.  Just saying it is painful and difficult.  It's easy for the process to stall out along the way because it's just so hard to push through.  

Nobody can do that work except the person whose work it is.  We have to let them do their work.

And we hold to our boundaries, adjusting our boundaries as needed.  We can't get caught up in rationalization.  We have to continue to face the truth and let it set us free.

I often get asked about "restoration of relationship."  How and when does that happen, people want to know.

Here's what I think.  If you're a victim, you are IN NO WAY EVER REQUIRED to be in a relationship of any kind with your abuser.  Whether the abuse is emotional, verbal, physical, sexual, economic, spiritual, you are not required.  

You get to choose what's healthy for you, and if that's no-contact, I am with you all the way.

Other people can walk with the recovered abuser.  It doesn't have to be you.

If he tells you that you are required to be in a relationship with him, he is not as recovered as he claims. 

If his therapist says you are required to be in a relationship with him, that therapist is violating the professional ethic of client autonomy.  Call your state licensing board and report that therapist immediately. 

If it's your pastor who says this, find a better church.  

If it's your parents who tell you this, my heart breaks for you. 

Release them to it, grieve, and find healthy community that loves you, respects you, and treats you with care and compassion.

You get to choose a life that reflects the value and beauty of who you are.

You get to be treated and loved the way you want to be treated and loved.

Boundaries, my friends.  Boundaries.

Whatever someone else chooses, we can choose to be healthy and whole.

And free.

Free.

Free indeed.

Print Friendly and PDF

authentic self, connected and free

It is really okay for us to be ourselves.

We are loved and safe, just as we are.

Nothing separates us from Love.

If life, death, angels, and demons can't separate us from Love (Romans 8), then our honest attempts to live into the truth of who we really are won't separate us, either.

In fact, remember that definition of "sin?"  "Missing the mark," that's what they always said.  "Sin is missing the mark."

What if the sin is missing the mark of who we really are?

What if the mark is the Imago Dei that every human possesses?

And what if each of us bears out some precious part of the divine image, unique completely to ourselves?

And what if, in trying to hit targets outside of ourselves, set up by culture, religion, family expectations, what if THAT is the real sin?

What if we're just really supposed to be who we are?

What if?

The thing is, though, that

being our own true selves

feeling our own true feelings

asking our own true questions

finding our own true answers

all these things require being a separate self.

We are, at once, a necessary and unique part of a whole, and also a necessary and unique separate self.

A great mosaic, perhaps.

Alphonse Mucha window, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, photo: me and my cell phone

Alphonse Mucha window, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, photo: me and my cell phone

We are not separate from Love when we are a separate self.

We can never be separated from the great life-blood of the Vine, remember that.

But we are separate in the sense of being fully free,

not under the control, domination or oppression of others.

Love will never control, dominate, shame, bully, or oppress.

Only Love is our life-line, not others, no matter how religious, how expert, how powerful those others are.

We do not allow others to put themselves in Love's place as our source and supply. 

In that sense, we are separate.

We come to Love,

we let it flow through us,

and we Become.

We become the selves we were meant to be, our

whole,

healthy,

risk-taking,

rest-taking,

life-giving,

Love-receiving

selves.

Fully connected to Love.

Wholly free.

Free indeed.

Print Friendly and PDF

belief and faith (they are not synonyms)

I started reading James Fowler's Stages of Faith, subtitled The Psychology of Human Dvelopment and The Quest for Meaning.  It's very academic, and I've only limped into chapter 3 so far, but I wanted to share an insight of Fowler's that has already made the reading worthwhile to me, and that might be helpful to you as well.

Here we go: belief and faith are not the same thing.

Fowler says that belief is "the holding of certain ideas," and quotes Wilfred Cantwell Smith on faith, in contrast:

"Faith is deeper, richer, more personal.  It is engendered by a religious tradition, and in some cases and to some degree by its doctrines; but it is a quality of a person and not of the system.  It is the orientation of the personality, to oneself, to one's neighbor, to the universe; a total response; a way of seeing whatever one sees and handling whatever one handles; a capacity to live at more than a mundane level; to see, to feel, to act in terms of, a trascendent dimension."  W. C. Smith, quoted in Stages of Faith

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, photo: me and my cell phone

St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, photo: me and my cell phone

Fowler's separation of belief and faith is extremely helpful if we are going to be intellectually honest on our spiritual journey.

We need to acknowledge that, as human beings, we just don't know everything.  We like to think that we know everything, but we don't.

How many religious beliefs have proven false over the years?

  • Remember when the church believed that the earth was the center of the entire universe, and excommunicated Galileo for saying otherwise?
  • Remember when the church believed that white people were superior to people of color, proved it with Bible verses, then oppressed, enslaved, and murdered millions of brown people?
  • Remember when the church said it was God's will to vote for... well.  

Let's just accept that humans are prone to error, and in the service of intellectual honesty, it might be helpful to hold our beliefs as spiritual hypotheses rather than absolute truth.

"Based on what I know now, I believe that X is true.  However, if and when new evidence comes to light, I'll adjust my beliefs."

If we can separate our specific beliefs from our higher faith, we can continue to explore the world around us without fear.

If we can't separate specific beliefs from higher faith, when we conflate belief and faith, we're afraid to change beliefs, even when they are proven false.  And we end up with epic cognitive dissonance: we know things that we can't let ourselves know.

When we have cognitive dissonance, then we have emotional turmoil, and when we have emotional turmoil that we can't be honest about, we project that fear and anger out onto other people in the form of Spanish Inquisitions. 

It's happening in our country today, all in the name of "protecting religious freedom."

Those of us who care about justice and mercy, we have to let the revolution of righteousness begin within ourselves. 

We have to be people of rigorous honesty and self-responsibility, so that we don't join the chorus of insanity, baying for the blood of whoever it is that represents our cognitive dissonance to us.

We have to be willing to face the truth and let it set us free, even when we have to say, "I was wrong.  Racism is a thing.  Misogyny is a thing.  Transphobia is a thing.  I was wrong, and I will change."

Because that's really the problem with changing our outdated beliefs: our ego doesn't like it.  We'd rather be arrogantly wrong and let others suffer, than admit we were mistaken.

God help us.

But the reality is this:  we can set our FAITH on higher ground than our specific, often-mistaken beliefs.

Here's what's true for me:

LOVE.

My faith that God is LOVE.

LOVE is the bedrock of my life, my North Star.

I no longer believe many of the things I used to believe. 

But my faith is stronger than ever.

The deep, rich, personal quality of Love within me, oriented with compassion toward myself, my neighbor, the universe? 

That part of me is more open and available than it's ever been.

The ability to respond in Love, to see and handle life with Love, the capacity to live in Love, to see and feel and act in Love in both the mudane and trascendent moments of life? 

That part of me is richer, fuller, deeper than ever before in my life.

Making Love the faith-center of my life has meant that along the way I've had to leave behind specific beliefs that are incongruent with my faith that God is Love. 

  • I've had to drop the belief that my perfect behavior was going to save me and mine.
  • I've had to drop the belief that shame was a good, helpful tool that would keep me in line.
  • I've had to drop the belief that shaming others would make them into better people.
  • I've had to drop the belief that controlling others was my job in life.
  • I've had to drop the belief that God wants to shame and control us into perfection.

No doubt I'm still carrying beliefs that are incongruent with Love.

No doubt I have things left to drop along the way.

But I know that this is true:

every time I trust Love more,

I have more freedom.

I have more beauty.

I have more light.

And all that freedom and peace and beauty and light is well worth the work of changing some mistaken, outdated beliefs along the way.

But don't just take my word for it.

Try it yourself and see!

Print Friendly and PDF

self love

A while back, my daughter friendship-evangelized me into the yoga world, and once I was converted to the wonders of yoga, I became an enthusiastic evangelist myself. 

My favorite teacher is Adriene, of Yoga With Adriene on YouTube.  She's cute, she's sweet, she wears normal clothes, and says non-stressy things like "Find what feels good," as opposed to the studio teacher who wanted me to stand on my head the first day I was there.  "You don't trust your body," she accused me.  I gave her my stink eye and came home to Adriene.

I always feel better, even after just a few minutes with Adriene's voice coaching me along to "Breathe lots of love in, breathe lots of love out."

My counseling clients know that I hard-core preach the benefits of yoga, research-proven to help alleviate even the toughest anxiety.  (If you haven't read The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, or at least listened to his interview at the OnBeing podcast, you're missing out on the research behind the yoga revolution.)

For clients who aren't quite willing to take the plunge, it often becomes a joke between us to see how long into the session it takes me to suggest that yoga, might, maybe, possibly, be a helpful thing to just try this week?  Just a sweet little, low-to-the-ground anxiety-cure practice?  Just a little alternate nostril breathing, pretty please, because three minutes of this will make positive brain changes?

So.  I love Adriene, and Friday morning, the Yoga with Adriene roadshow came through Dallas.  It was a red-letter day, y'all.

IMG_20171013_112621978.jpg

It was wonderful to be in a room with hundreds of people breathing lots of love in and lots of love out.  I had lots of good, teary moments, creating lots of emotional space inside myself. 

My friend Shelly came along, and it was fun to practice with a friend, and then we stood in line for ages to talk to Adriene, and then we went for lunch in a super trendy industrial-concrete-floor-meets-cozy-upholstered-furniture sort of place.

It was a lovely, lovely day.

The only bump in the road was when I went to buy a t-shirt from the merch table. 

And the t-shirt says "Self Love."

I don't know if this is just me, but somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that it's not a good thing to love myself. 

It's good if God loves me.

It's nice if other people love me.

But if I love me? 

That's selfish. 

That's narcissistic. 

That's unspiritual.  

So goes the story in my head, anyway.

I've learned to treat the story in my head with a certain amount of suspicion, because a lot of my head-stories are pure, vicious fiction.  Horror genre stuff, some of them.

So I bought the shirt, because I wasn't willing to trust my head-story without further examination. 

Plus, you only get to go to the Yoga With Adriene roadshow once in a lifetime, and after all the free hours of yoga on YouTube, I felt like I owed Adriene the price of a shirt.  Or 100. 

I wore the Self Love shirt all day Friday and all day Saturday.  

I thought a lot about self love while wearing the shirt that says Self Love.

I thought about how powerful my love is.

I know that my love is a power for good in my husband's life.

I know that my love is a power for good in my childrens' lives.

I know that my love is a power for good in my friends' lives.

I know that my love is a power for good in my client's lives.

Eventually, I asked myself:

Why can't my love be a power for good in my own life, too?

You know what?

It can.

And it will.

I don't have to ration this love, divert it away from myself, starve myself of my own affection, or in any other way deprive myself of this power for good that is my love.

I'm discarding that old story about how self love is bad. 

I'm going to let myself have as much love as I want. 

As much love as I need. 

I'm going to give myself just as much love as I give to all the other people I love.

And then let's just see what happens, shall we?

IMG_20171014_085939503_BURST000_COVER_TOP.jpg

For all these great gifts of yoga, Lord, I am truly grateful.

Print Friendly and PDF

centering practice

For a while now, I've been practicing contemplative prayer. 

Some people call it centering prayer. 

Sometimes I sit in silence and stillness, letting myself feel connected to Love.

Sometimes I move and stretch and breathe my way through a yoga practice. 

Sometimes when I'm able, I walk circles, spirals, labyrinths.

The Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye, photo: me and my cell phone

The Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye, photo: me and my cell phone

I've been listening to Richard Rohr for a couple of years now, and just recently his daily meditations have been talking about the illusion of separateness.  Rohr calls the Trinity "the circle of relentless affection."  Our idea that we are separate from that circle is what gets us into trouble.

I've also been dipping into Pema Chodron's little book, The Wisdom of No Escape, because the title sounded so perfectly apt for this time in history, when there seems to be no escape and dear God, we need wisdom in it.  

This thought of Chodron's seems to echo Rohr to me:  "You begin to realize that you're always standing in the middle of a sacred circle, and that's your whole life...Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you're always in the middle of the universe and the circle is always around you.  Everyone who walks up to you has entered that sacred space, and it's no accident."

When the world is loud and crazy and clamoring.

When the twittersphere is full of threats and innuendo and amygdala-revving insanity.

When everything around is going absolutely apeshit. 

When it's all wrong and bad and awful, that's the time to center.

To remember that we are not separate from Love, but deeply connected. 

To remember that we are always in the center of sacred space.

To remember that we are not alone, abandoned, forsaken, forgotten.

We are loved, we are safe, we are centered.

LR Knost is one of my favorite parenting gurus.  She says, "When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it's our job to share our calm, not join their chaos."

And I think that applies to the world at large right now.

There's a lot of overwhelm.  

Everywhere we look, there are big, scary emotions. 

And it's our job to share our calm,

not to join in the chaos.

Centering ourselves in prayer, in meditation, in calm, in quiet is not a selfish exercise in escapism, but a way to create space inside ourselves for Love, so that we have Love to give to others.

Contemplative practice builds that sacred space inside of me.

What works for you?

Print Friendly and PDF

how to live in Rome

Born into a world so much like ours, Jesus came. 

Controlled by the military-industrial complex, a violent, selfish oligarchy, with countless numbers of people enslaved to the system, barely surviving, living under laws that elevated the few and oppressed the many.

Trajan's Market, Rome, photo: Andy Bruner

Trajan's Market, Rome, photo: Andy Bruner

Born off in a tiny, unimportant corner of that massive empire, Jesus came.

He blessed instead of cursing.

Loved instead of hating.

Included instead of excluding.

Turned the other cheek instead of promoting violence.

Jesus walked out this radical Love-life to such an extent that the Jewish fishermen who walked with him GOT IT.

They became people who tore religious walls down.

Dietary laws, gone.

Separation of races, erased.

Circumcision, eradicated.

People whose bible clearly told them that they were the one and only special people of God, required to be separate from their spiritual inferiors? 

They came to write these words:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28

HE is our Peace, who has broken down every wall.  Ephesians 2:14

THAT is the miracle of Jesus, this counter-cultural Way.

And that is the miracle that each of us can effect in our Rome today, because we are branches of that Vine.

No matter how much we are told

to exclude,

to return evil for evil,

to buy more guns so we can kill each other if need be,

we all have the choice to follow Jesus.

To follow Jesus,

instead.

Into a faith that is not about our own protection, ego, power, dominance, or control,

but about the Way of radical Love

and radical inclusion.

Sitting with the suffering.

Standing with the marginalized.

Supporting the wounded and weary.

Healing the hurting.

Inviting the ostracized.

No turning back, no turning back.

The Vatican, Rome, photo: Andy Bruner

The Vatican, Rome, photo: Andy Bruner

I could end this blog post here, on that inspirational note.

But this is a week that requires deeper honesty, I believe.

This is a week where easy, inspirational answers are inadequate.

And on weeks like this, we have to admit:

The Way of Jesus feels like nothing some days. 

It feels like powerlessness, it feels like losing.

And I think that's why we don't want to follow the Way of Jesus.

I think that's why the Devil's path sounds so much better:  "Fall down and worship me," he says, "And I'll give you all the kingdoms of the world."

The kingdoms of the world are a way better deal than losing all the time.

So we took the Devil's bargain, and here we sit, in this "Christian nation," littered with the bloody bodies of the dead, the suffering, the wounded: the whole world gained for rich, white men.

And our souls lost in the process.

Funny how the words of Jesus so often turn out to be true.

We can see it on the big screen of our nation today, the consequences of religion lusting for power.

But we all do it on our own personal micro-level all the time: we get tired of the long, hard work of Love.  We want the easy way out and the quick fix of control.  Our ego wants to be stroked with success and approval and comfort and excess.

We find ourselves far away from home, lost, and on a road to nowhere, and we always have this choice:  TURN BACK TO LOVE.

Do justice.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly.

This, I think, is what Jesus came here to show us:

how to turn to Love, even though you're living under Roman rule,

how to be loved even though you'll never be perfect,

how to extend Love to others even though they aren't perfect,

how to shine like lights, even though the world is dark,

and, yes, often full of terrors.

Print Friendly and PDF

walking the spiral

I didn't know what to do with myself this morning, waking up to the news of the Las Vegas shooting.

I remember so clearly after the Sandy Hook shooting, thinking that surely now something would change: surely we can't, as a country, be okay with children being slaughtered in a school. 

But it seems that we are.

This morning when the news broke, I just thought, well, this is our nation: violent, afraid, and willing to sacrifice countless human lives to the god of the Second Amendment. 

I don't know what to do about that, so I went out and walked the labyrinth at Kessler Park United Methodist Church in Oak Cliff. 

Sheltered by live oaks and magnolia trees, surrounded by the witness of those who built this labyrinth, and who share my hopes for this broken world.

Labyrinth, Kessler Park UMC, Dallas TX

Labyrinth, Kessler Park UMC, Dallas TX

Eastward, toward the rising sun, the journey begins, folding and unfolding, the spiral path, circle-contained.

Encompassing every direction: north, south, east, west. 

Including every possibility.

No turn left untaken, every stone a part of the one path.

"May the seeds of peace be scattered, birthing trees whose shade gives us rest." 

These words from The Brilliance are my mantra, my prayer, as I walk this Monday morning.

Into the center, where all the directions, possibilities, and paths converge.

Breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe.

Listen to the wind, the chiming bells, the laughter of children, cars on the street.

Breathe, breathe, breathe, breathe.

Then turn.

Turning, turning, turning, walk the path out, past all the possibilities again, until my face points west on the outer rim of the labyrinth, toward the setting sun, bearing sorrow and hope and possibility out into the waiting world.

I don't know these Howard Girls, but their brick matches my shirt today.  #sistas

I don't know these Howard Girls, but their brick matches my shirt today.  #sistas

I've walked a number of labyrinths this year, literally and figuratively.  And then I ended up in Ireland and Scotland, where everything is all about circles: the passage tombs like Bru na Boinne, the circles of standing stones, the Celtic crosses all wound around with circles, the ancient fairy paths.

Fairty Glen, Isle of Skye, photo: Andy Bruner

Fairty Glen, Isle of Skye, photo: Andy Bruner

Every time I walk a circle, each step reminds me of our great oneness with each other: the sorrow, the pain, the confusion, the questions--and always the unwinding into hope and light.

We are all part of each other.  There is no "other," no matter what our political and religious leaders say.

We are one.

All God's children, all precious, all beloved.

When we harm another, we harm ourselves.

All of us are harmed this morning by the shooting in Las Vegas. 

We feel it in our bodies: the heaviness of our hearts, the tension in our shoulders, the nausea in the pit of our stomachs, the tears in our eyes, the numbness in our souls.

My hope is that as we face the pain, as we grieve our losses, as we face the anxiety, we might come out of the darkness and into the light. 

Instead of buying yet another gun to protect ourselves, we might instead live open-hearted, brave, and vulnerable: light a candle, walk a labyrinth, pick up some trash, read a book to a child.

In the face of evil, let us LOVE. 

Let us receive Love.

Let us extend Love.

Let us not grow weary while doing good. 

Let us not grow weary while loving one another.

Let us stand up together at the gates of hell, without backing down from Love.

And so let us finally see that Love Wins.

All is not lost
Is not lost
Mm-mm

All is not lost
Is not lost
Mm-mm

The pain
Of life
I know
It well
It knows
Me well
The road
To peace
I know
Is hell
I know
It well

All is not lost
Is not lost
Mm-mm

All is not lost
Is not lost
Mm-mm

May the seeds of peace be scattered
Birthing trees whose shade gives us rest
May the seeds of peace be scattered
Birthing trees whose shade gives us rest
May the seeds of peace be scattered
Birthing trees whose shade gives us rest
May the seeds of peace be scattered
Birthing trees whose shade gives us rest

Peace Maze, Castlewellan, Northern Ireland, photo: Andy Bruner

Peace Maze, Castlewellan, Northern Ireland, photo: Andy Bruner

Print Friendly and PDF

path of light

"It felt like a resurrection."

That's the first thing I wrote in my journal when I got home from a ten-day trip to Ireland and Scotland.

And this feeling of resurrection?  It started in a 5,000 year old passage tomb, Bru na Boinne.  

Built by Neolithic people at least a thousand years before the great pyramids at Giza, Bru na Boinne stands in a bend of the Boyne River, overlooking a valley that contains many dozens more of these passage tombs, several aligned perfectly with this particular tomb.  

Bru na Boinne, photo: Andy Bruner

Bru na Boinne, photo: Andy Bruner

The stones that built these cairns come from sites 40 or 50 kilometers away.  Some 200,000 tons of stone compose this particular cairn, including 40+ huge slabs that compose the interior passageway, as well as a dozen or so standing stones on the exterior. 

Our guide told us that experts have estimated that it would take weeks and even MONTHS to move ONE of these huge standing stones up from the river, using log rollers.

Foreground: standing stone; background: wall detail

Foreground: standing stone; background: wall detail

Now think of this: the average life span of Neolithic people at this time was 25 to 30 years.  I would be the ancient old crone in this culture, had I survived to my current great age of 51.

People who were only going to live 25 to 30 years on average spent MONTHS of their lives rolling a stone up hill to stand in this spot.

That is an intense measure of devotion to whatever was happening here, to say nothing of the engineering and mathematical precision that designed the site, and the skilled craftsmanship of the stoneworkers, whose mortar-free domed ceiling is still standing inside a structure built 3,000 years before Jesus walked the earth.

"You are very welcome to Bru na Boinne," our tour guide said. 

A dozen or so of us had ducked our way under the lintel stone and squeezed ourselves down the narrow passageway, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a small round chamber.

"You are standing in a cruciform tomb," she said.

And sure enough, as I looked around, I realized: this structure is a miniature of every great cathedral in Europe.

The passageway we just squeezed down is the nave, and we are pressed together in the transept, with three niches around us, just like a chancel at the head of the cross, and a transept chapel on each arm.

In the chancel-niche is a very famous piece of Neolithic art: three spirals, woven together, dancing on the stone like breath and wind and Spirit and life.

The passageway we just squeezed along is perfectly aligned with the winter solstice, our guide tells us.  There is a window above the passageway, and the passageway is perfectly angled so that the window is level with the stone in the chancel-niche at the head of the passageway.  The stone with the three-spiral carving.

When the great stone door of the tomb is opened on the longest, darkest day of the year, the rising morning sun of the winter solstice will perfectly strike the window above the passageway, flooding this tomb with light.

That event has been occurring every single December 21 for 5,000 years.

Our tour guide turned out the lights and we stood in silence, a dozen strangers pressed together in a tomb, breathing, waiting for the light to return.

In this tomb, built for light.

In this tomb, built somehow for hope.

The mystic sweet communion with all of humanity overwhelmed me in that moment, that Neolithic people built a structure that is a poem for me today, giving language with stones and light and interwoven spirals to all that humanity holds dear.

We all carry with us the inevitability of death, the one last thing that not one of us will escape.

We all carry with us a capacity for hope, even on the darkest days and through the longest nights.

We all carry these things: all of our sorrow, all of our hope. 

All of our darkness, and all of our light.

There are no Others, only Us, the dearly beloved.

In my Evangelical tradition, we don't think much of what came before Jesus, about 2,000 years ago. 

We don't think much of those bearers of Imago Dei who lived outside the pages of our book.

But that day at Bru na Boinne, I felt an intense kinship with the hopes and fears of all the years, an immense respect for the skill and knowledge of the people who built Bru na Boinne, and a deep gratitude for these seekers of light who, 5,000 years ago, made this path of light for me to walk today.

"I wish peace to every man, woman and child, and I pray that the image and likeness of God in each person will enable us to acknowledge one another as sacred gifts endowed with immense dignity."  Pope Francis

Print Friendly and PDF

wild Irish and Scottish roads: an itinerary for adventurers

Twenty-two years ago, I saw a picture of Milford Sound, New Zealand in a travel agent's window. 

"I don't know where this is," I said to Andy, "But I want to go there."  

A few weeks later, we were in a camper van, on the road in New Zealand, with Milford Sound as our destination, stopping along the way for anything that looked interesting and exciting.

Our trip to Ireland and Scotland was composed this same way: beautiful images of far-flung places, stitched together with many kilometers of scenic roadways and surprising stops along the way.

IMG_20170914_110809682.jpg

This was not a trip for the city-lover.  Although we did visit and enjoy the wonderful cities of Dublin and Inverness and Edinburgh, the cities were, for us, gateways to the open road and the beautiful, wild places.  

The absolutely fantastic thing about Ireland and Scotland is that you've arrived in the land of the B&B and the pub.  So, you can drive as far as you want, hike to your heart's content, and at the end of the day, someone will serve you up a wonderful dinner and a pint.  There will be music, and a fluffy duvet to burrow into until the morning comes.

Bring your rain jacket and your waterproof hiking boots, and you're good to go.

So, without further adieu, here's our five days of driving through much of Ireland, then three days driving in the Scottish highlands, with a day in Edinburgh to wander around.

(This is going to be a long post, so I suggest a cup of tea, perhaps a biscuit to nibble, and a comfy seat as you take it all in.)

Day 1: Dublin to Belfast

We landed in Dublin early, rented our car, and headed north. 

Or, as the signs on the motorway say in all caps, The NORTH. 

Like a prophecy.  Like a portent.

Our very first stop was the World Heritage site, Bru na Boinne, a Neolitic passage tomb older than the pyramids at Giza.  I don't yet have words for how I felt at Bru na Boinne.  I'm working on better words, but for now let me just say that I wept like a child and then couldn't speak without crying for an hour or so after.  It was one of the most deeply moving spiritual experiences of my life, feeling a deep connection to humanity throughout history, and the oneness of our common experiences with death, sorrow, hope, and light.

Wearing sunglasses because I'm crying so much at Bru na Boinne.

Wearing sunglasses because I'm crying so much at Bru na Boinne.

Our next stop was Monasterboice, site of a monastery founded sometime around 500 AD.  The high crosses here, including the highest in Ireland, date from the 9th or 10th century. 

IMG_20170911_131030725.jpg

We stopped for lunch at the Monasterboice Inn. Don't worry, I'm not going to show you all our meals, but this one includes our first pint of Guinness, and the meal itself featured potatoes three ways: topping the Cottage Pie, and side dishes of mashed potatoes and chips.  We shared, because there was Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert.  HEAVEN.

IMG_20170911_133323173.jpg

After lunch, we wandered The Peace Maze at Castlewellan.  I wanted to find some labyrinths to walk on this trip, and when I Googled labyrinths, this came up.  It was gorgeous, and almost deserted, exactly the way we like our tourist attractions to be.  We were entering Northern Ireland at this point, and with its long history of troubles and painful division, a peace maze seemed like a spiritually appropriate beginning.

IMG_20170911_153303534_HDR.jpg

By this time, it was late afternoon so we quickly nipped in to DownPatrick to pay our respects at the Grave of St. Patrick, quite remarkably humble and secluded.

IMG_20170911_161747427_HDR-EFFECTS.jpg
IMG_20170911_162155149.jpg

We spent the night at a Hilton in Belfast--the worst bed of the trip, but the best breakfast.  Fried soda bread.  Why don't we have this in America? 

Here we learned that our GPS can't pronouce the Irish any better than we can.  In fact, the GPS chick took words I can figure out, like "Templepatrick" and made them into unrecognizable things like "TempLEPatrick."  As a result, we couldn't always figure out what GPS-chick was trying to tell us.  Fortunately, roundabouts (rather than stoplight junctions) mean that you can just keep going around and around until you get back to the road you were supposed to follow.

Day 2: Belfast to Portrush

Our first stop of the day was The Dark Hedges in Balleymoney.  It's one of the most-photographed sites in Ireland, and was the film location for The Kings Road early on in Game of Thrones.  I love this picture Andy got with the tractor coming through.

Dark Hedges, photo: Andy Bruner

Dark Hedges, photo: Andy Bruner

After The Dark Hedges, we headed for the village of Cushendun on the coast, via the Glendun Scenic Route.  It was so beautiful, so lonely and wild.

Arriving in Cushendun, we went to climb around in this cool cave area we'd read about, and then found a sign saying that it was a Game of Thrones location, too.

Cushendun caves, photo: Andy Bruner

Cushendun caves, photo: Andy Bruner

The narrow roads in this area were bounded by huge hedges of fushcia in full bloom, and giant brambles of ripe blackberries. 

We'd seen so many enormous hedges by this point that I started hypothesizing that a biological imperative toward hedge-planting is likely an accurate test of whether you've got Irish roots.  Forget ancestry.com.  Do you feel a deep-seated need to plant hedges?  You're probably Irish.

We found our first red telephone box near Torr Head, where we stopped to climb the hill for a majestic view along the coastline.

IMG_20170912_105106875_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170912_110330299_HDR.jpg

After spending the morning in this very remote and quiet area, we hit two tourist traps in the afternoon: Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, and Giant's Causeway.  

The rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede connects a tiny island to the mainland, and was first built by local salmon fishermen, before America was even a country.  It's a tourist trap because it's cool!

Giant's Causeway is another World Heritage Site and simply spectacular.  There are tons of people around, but if you wait til just the right moment, you can get a shot without humans in it.  The guards told us we were too close to the edge and in danger of being washed away by crashing waves, so clearly a fine time was had by all.

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, photo: Andy Bruner

Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, photo: Andy Bruner

Giant's Causeway, photo: Andy Bruner

Giant's Causeway, photo: Andy Bruner

We stopped by Dunluce Castle (Castle Greyjoy in GoT), where we were too late to get inside for a tour, but were able to climb around the outside, and even found a sea-cave that comes in under the walls. 

_DSC5819.JPG

Day 3:  Londonderry to the Cliffs of Moher

We started our day walking the medieval walls of Derry.  I took this photo on the wall near Bishop's Gate, and if you look on either side of the cannon, you can see Protestant church spires on one side, Catholic on the other.  I was glad we had already walked the Peace Maze.

IMG_20170913_085259077_HDR.jpg

Other than getting to the Cliffs of Moher for sunset, we didn't have set plans for the day.  Andy looked along our route and decided we'd drive through Glengesh Pass to another set of cliffs called Slieve League, taller than the Cliffs of Moher, but very remote and less visited. 

When we arrived at Slieve League, we hiked up from the car park, past a lot of sheep, through gale-force winds, to a good picnic spot. We were eating a sandwich on a bench near the cliffs, when we saw a bit of a rainbow. 

This, in fact, was Rainbow Number 12 for the day.  But we were still liking them, so Andy took this picture.

_DSC5857.JPG

Then we realized that the wind, blowing strongly toward us, was pushing the clouds rapidly inland.  As the clouds cleared, the rainbow kept growing and growing and growing, getting brighter and brighter and brighter.

For at least ten minutes, we sat spell-bound, watching this rainbow being born, until a complete arch formed all across the cliff face.

_DSC5861.JPG

At this point, we called the trip a raging success and everything that happened afterward, a bonus. 

On this particular day, the bonus included WB Yeats' resting place in Drumcliff, the ruins of Clare Galway Franciscan Priory (now inhabited mostly by birds, St. Francis would approve), and the Cliffs of Moher (aka The Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride) at sunset.

_DSC5870.JPG
Clary Galway Fransciscan Priory, photo: Andy Bruner

Clary Galway Fransciscan Priory, photo: Andy Bruner

Cliffs of Moher, photo: Andy Bruner

Cliffs of Moher, photo: Andy Bruner

Day 4: Dingle & Rock of Cashel

We got up early on Day 4 for a long drive around Slea Head Drive, Dingle. Afterward, we turned back inland to Rock of Cashel, headed back toward Dublin.  This was a very long days' drive, and that informed our decision to drive the smaller peninsula of Dingle, rather than the larger and more well-known Ring of Kerry directly to the south.  We were perfectly happy with our Dingle-drive decision.  No regrets at all, when your lunch spot looks like this.  No filter.

Slea Head Drive, Dingle, photo: Andy Bruner

Slea Head Drive, Dingle, photo: Andy Bruner

We took the guided tour through the Rock of Cashel, then stopped just down the hill to end the day with sunset at the ruins of Hore Abbey.

Rock of Cashel, photo: Andy Bruner

Rock of Cashel, photo: Andy Bruner

Hore Abbey, photo: Andy Bruner

Hore Abbey, photo: Andy Bruner

Day 5: Back to Dublin

Day 5 begins with the sad tale of Irish breakfast tea gone amuck. 

We spent the night at the lovely country home of Helen, whom we discovered through Air BnB.  Helen's home had the distinction of being the only place we stayed where there was a hair dryer (note, I wore a hat most of the trip).  More importantly, it was the place of the tea disaster.

Helen was a very friendly person who gave us great advice for our Day 6 itinerary, plus the run of her kitchen for breakfast.  She told us how to make ourselves REAL Irish breakfast tea, with leaves, in a pot, and not with those desecrations to good tea known as tea bags.

So, the morning of Day 5 arrived, Helen was off to work and we were on our own with the detailed tea instructions we had received.  We boiled the water, made the tea, sugared it, took a sip, and both went, "Faugh!" 

(Really, there's no other word.  Faugh is the best I can come up with.) 

"Why is this so SALTY?  Is real Irish tea made with seawater?" 

We could not understand why anyone would drink salty tea. 

But in Scotland, they have haggis, so Irish tea might be salty. 

Who knows.

Human taste is a mystery.

"There's no right or wrong," we said, "To each his own," we said, but we could not drink this tea. 

So we poured it out (sorry, Helen, sorry!!!) and went with the substandard tea bags for round two.

Meanwhile, poking around on the table, I found a ramekin of brown sugar and decided to try that instead of the white sugar in my second cup of tea.  The open bowl of white sugar was fairly depleted from our previous use, and I wanted to leave that for Andy.  So I fixed up my second cup of tea with brown sugar, and he dumped the remaining white sugar into his second cup.

"Faugh!" he says again, "Faugh!"

And that's when we realized: the little open bowl of white sugar, with which we fixed our first cups tea, and with which Andy fixed his second cup of tea: SALT.

After slinking away from the tea-disaster at Helen's, we managed to find ourselves in the best ruin of the trip: the Rock of Dunamase.  It was very early, we were alone in the quintessential Irish countryside, surrounded by rolling fields full of new-mown hay and grazing sheep.  Nobody stopped Andy from climbing the walls, and I took a lot of pictures of old rocks and ivy.

_DSC5957.JPG
IMG_20170915_093249197_HDR.jpg

I waded through hay and brambles to take my favorite photo of the trip, looking back at Dunamase.  Traveling in September, the rose hips were gorgeous everywhere and made wonderful frames for so many beautiful scenes.

IMG_20170915_100112341_HDR.jpg

From Dunamase, we drove through the majestic scenery of the Wicklow Mountains National Park, to the estate of Powerscourt with its beautiful waterfall and gardens.

Powerscourt Walled Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Powerscourt Walled Garden, photo: Andy Bruner

Finally, we wound up back in Dublin where we visited the Book of Kells and the Long Reading Room at Trinity College, then said farewell to the Irish countryside on the hill at Tara of the Kings. 

IMG_20170915_164656526.jpg

That night, we had dinner and a cider at Merchant's Arch, where the music was not traditional, but where Stevie and Lee made themselves heroes when they mixed Let It Be with No Woman, No Cry.  The Beatles and Bob Marley, together, and everybody singing at the top of their lungs: musical perfection.  Thank you, Dublin.  You did not disappoint.

IMG_20170915_200722302_BURST001.jpg

Day 6: Edinbugh to Inverness

Early on Day 6, we were up and at the airport, into the complete chaos that comprises boarding a Ryan Air flight.  Getting on board this super low fare airline is a blood sport.  Come early, and bring your yoga breathing, that's my best advice.

Once we'd gotten out of the chaos and into our next rental car, we headed north out of Edinburgh, across the Firth of Forth, for a trifecta of Outlander-inspired destinations: Cullross Village, Clava Cairns, and Culloden Moor.

Cullross Village

Cullross Village

Clava Cairns

Clava Cairns

Culloden Moor

Culloden Moor

We also saw two wonderful bridges on this particular day: the 300-year-old arched bridge at Carrbridge, and Glennfinnan Viaduct, also known as the Harry Potter train bridge.

IMG_20170916_135202210_HDR.jpg
IMG_20170916_145013807.jpg

Day 7: Isle of Skye to Glencoe

Day 7 found us hotfooting it out of Inverness at 5:45 a.m for a long day of driving.  Well, trying to hotfoot it, until our car set off its sensors, beeping and flashing a "puncture" warning.  Andy got out and looked around.  He didn't see anything obvious, there was no spare in our super fancy sensor-equipped rental, and we for sure were not going to call the emergency number and wait three hours for a rescue if there wasn't an obvious problem.  As a concession to the car's sensors, we decided to add air to the tire just in case.  The most challenging part of that operation was figuring out, in the early-morning dark, which coins made up the 50p charge.  Once air was added, the sensor stopped flashing and never bothered us again. 

IMG_20170917_060312791.jpg
IMG_20170917_060316746.jpg

We drove down the western shore of Loch Ness, atmospheric with early-morning fog, stopping to look at Castle Urquhart and Eileen Donan, then over the bridge to Skye.

Castle Urquhart, photo: Andy Bruner

Castle Urquhart, photo: Andy Bruner

Eileen Donan, photo: Andy Bruner

Eileen Donan, photo: Andy Bruner

After greeting the local inhabitants (highland cows), we drove to the Fairy Pools.  True confession: we came to Skye because I saw a picture of the Fairy Pools on Pinterest.  I had been told by friends that Skye was a must, but the Fairy Pools photo is what convinced me that the extra long drive was worth it.

Turns out, the Fairy Pools are like someone you met on match.com: they may be perfectly nice, but they look absolutely nothing like their online photographs. 

Apparently, many visitors have trouble recognizing the Fairy Pools from what they've seen online, because a fair way up the track there's a sign that essentially says, "You've seen them.  Turn around and go back."

Me, about to get gently whacked by this cow's horns... photo, Andy Bruner

Me, about to get gently whacked by this cow's horns... photo, Andy Bruner

The Fairy Pools, as I saw them

The Fairy Pools, as I saw them

At the Fairy Pools, though, we met up with a family who gave us our hot tip of the day.  We absolutely HAD to go to the Fairy Glen, they said.  So off we went.  And it was magic: terraced hillocks, rocks to climb, stone circles, and a little waterfall with a red-berried rowan tree.  

_DSC6051.JPG

We had planned to do a couple of hikes on Skye that afternoon, but instead we hit an epic traffic jam.  Somebody ran off the one-lane road onto the boggy shoulder, which blocked traffic in both directions.

It was like one of those puzzle rooms where they lock you in and you have to work together to get out. 

Mostly a lady from Pennsylvania, wearing a red jacket, ran back and forth up the road telling which car to move next. 

After all that, we were not anxious to pull off the road into potentially boggy ground.  We made a couple of quick stops with well-graveled car parks, and kept moving along to the refuge of Glencoe.

IMG_20170917_132510135.jpg
Lealt Falls, Skye

Lealt Falls, Skye

Day 8: Glencoe to Edinburgh

The drive from Glencoe to Edinburgh was everything I ever thought the Highlands would be: majestic mountains, windswept moors, placid lochs, crumbling castles. 

Aaaaaaaaaaaaand, swarms of midges that let you get just far enough away from your car, then attack with bloodthirsty intent.  If you wonder why nobody lives up here, the midges provide a clue.

Glencoe Moor

Glencoe Moor

Loch An-Achlaise

Loch An-Achlaise

Our favorite castle visit of the day: Castle Doune, which plays host to many film crews.  As you explore, you can sing along with Monte Python's knights of Spamalot, le sigh over Jamie and Claire's first meeting in Outlander, and roam the great hall of Winterfell from Game of Thrones.

IMG_20170918_143207113.jpg

We made a wise decision at the end of Day 8: on our way back in to Edinburgh, we stopped at the airport and returned our rental car, then took the tram into the city.  Our hotel was just off the Royal Mile, in Advocate's Close.  A super cool and perfectly central location, but not someplace you want to try parking.

IMG_20170918_194346897.jpg

Day 9: Edinburgh

In Edinburgh, we explored St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum, and even stepped into the Scottish Parliament to observe its session for a few minutes.

IMG_20170919_093314045.jpg
IMG_20170919_101859269_HDR.jpg

Late in the day, feeling a bit worn out, we climbed Calton Hill where we could look over at Arthur's Seat without making the 45-minute climb to the top.  After snoozing in the sunshine for a while, we went down to The Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote the early Harry Potter books, for afternoon tea before heading out to the airport for our long journey home.

IMG_20170919_155829051_HDR.jpg

Andy and I celebrated our 30th anniversary this year.  We've been all over the world and back again.  We used to travel for work, and now we travel for fun.

I'm deeply, endlessly, grateful to be a witness to the beauty of this fragile and enduring planet, and to witness the wonder alongside my best friend. 

IMG_20170917_121250765_HDR.jpg

My dearest hope and fondest wish that we'll always be singing along with David Francey:

Long road, dark night, nothing but headlights
But I'll see some bright lights, when I get home to you
Framed in your doorway with your arms open wide
I'll hold you in my arms, enfold you inside
And I want to tell you
Come rain or come shine
That I'll always be your love
If you'll always be mine

Print Friendly and PDF