Saturday, January 11, 2014



I was 10 years old when I walked out of our house, that morning. But even before the front door slammed shut behind me, I heard my mother's voice calling my name, 

"Stephanie! Stephanie, get back in here!" Her tone was urgent, as usual.

Sitting in her well-worn spot on the couch, in front of our Black & White TV set, she recited the familiar list of chores, for me to do. Soap operas took the highest priority, of course, so she handled that task, herself. She had a proactive approach to all the other stuff: she delegated. 

"Stephanie! Are the dishes done? Did you hang the wash out on the clothes line yet? Make sure your little brother lays down for his nap, would you?" 

Mom directed me with precision, as if she held a remote control, with a special button that bore MY name. She was really good at pressing that button so no work would go unfinished, while she kept up with the current gossip on The Guiding Light. (My mother must have been an early visionary, since, of course, remote controls had not yet been invented!) 

For years, I had been really good at jumping up to do her bidding. But on this particular day, my body refused to WILT with obedience. It was HOW she said my name. Her sense of urgency reverberated through me: "Stephanie! Stephanie!"  Demanding instant response, this harsh echo felt jarring. It jolted through me, piercing deep into the tissues and cells of my body. I was running from the sound of my own name.

"Stephanie!  Stephanie!  Come back here!"

Ignoring her command, I kept on walking, without looking back. My father had recently cut down one of our Eucalyptus trees. It lay across our acre of wild land, emitting powerful blasts of pungent resin. With the sound of her tone still ringing in my ears, I sat down on this log. But something rankled in my mind. A crucial question began to fuel my resistance. 

Can this be WHO I am?  I wondered. 

"Stephanie?" Am I my name? Am I the person whom my mother beholds, when she calls me? Does the tone of her voice indicate who I am? But 'Stephanie' is just a name. Just a word. Isn't it? How can this word possibly capture WHO I am? Surely, I am more than just 'Stephanie'? Surely none of us are ONLY our names? But what ARE we then? Who am I? What am I, REALLY!?!

Stuck on this question, and feeling baffled, I began to repeat my name out loud, trying to get behind what it meant. Reaching for myself through different inflections than the one my mother had used, while seated on that log, my name became a mantra. Over and over, this silent chant of 'Stephanie' continued, as if somehow, it might unravel this mystery.  

As the litany of my name tried to bore its way through this burning question, I soon found myself in "a place" of expansive spaciousness, a sort of ‘QUIET’ that I’d never experienced. It soon opened into vast empty space that was palpable and alive, yet empty. I sat with that for a bit. I began to suspect that there were no words for what “I” was (what we are). I got up from the log.

Wandering through my yard, I climbed up the gnarly branches of a nearby pepper tree. I reached for a nearby cluster of pink-pearls, dangling from willowy green fronds. Very carefully, I pealed away the incandescent shell that enclosed each tiny seed, marveling anew, as each gem revealed its hidden nature. Afterward I was left with the sense that 'self' was much more than what everyone seemed to think it was.

Perhaps none of us were ‘our names’? I also ‘knew’ somehow, that whatever I had ‘touched upon’ would be the same thing anyone else—asking the same question—would also discover. I have never forgotten that moment because it was one of those defining SHIFTS between past and future.


The next major SHIFT took place in a white wood-frame house, on a
street lined with sycamores. After my ceremony of initiation into TM (transcendental meditation), the chipper young woman who had given me my mantra, escorted me into a dark room where I sat down repeating my mantra silently, to myself, until she returned.

Twenty minutes later she gently touched my arm, inviting me to follow her back out of the room. I wondered why she’d returned so quickly. It felt like only a few moments had passed. I had melded with the chair and could have just stayed there. I could not say ‘where’ I’d been, nor ‘what’ had happened, but I cannot forget how the sunset hues of the ripe peach she handed me, shimmered with beauty.

Walking out of that house was like moving through liquid silk, each step a slow, deliberate miracle. Every leaf on the sycamore tree, that summer afternoon, was utterly awe-inspiring. It took me about 15 ecstatic minutes to eat that peach.

 Driving was delightful; something had turned the sound off in the world around me—It felt like everything was happening in a vacuum. When I got home, my roomate told me that my voice had never sounded so soft and serene before. My movements were more peaceful, my face looked different. In fact I was not at all the person I had been up until that moment. And I liked this new person waaaay better! Or I should say, I liked how everything was so much more present, so precious, and so very unique.


Thirty years later, I was walking down the corridor of the hospital where I worked as a NICU nurse. They had just called the ER response team for a 35 week pregnancy. As the RN assigned to attend the high-risk deliveries, that day, I grabbed my green tackle box of supplies and walked at a brisk clip down the hall. I will admit that such moments have always terrified me (even though it didn't show). So much could go wrong. The weight of responsibility was tremendous.

On this particular day I had been ‘doing something’ different—something I’d learned bit by bit throughout that recent year, while relating to my spirituality in an entirely new manner. I was ‘doing’ this at home, at work, with friends, alone, with strangers—everywhere, all the time. It had allowed me to step out of my life-long dysfunctional patterns. And now, as I walked down that hall, I was doing it—even in the face of the most challenging thing I have to deal with in my profession.

The ‘thing’ I’d been doing was to abandon myself to the present moment with absolutely no energy going toward the past or the future. In each instant I would do it all over again. I’d done it right up until that instant when I was walking down the hall, and then when I realized what I was doing, I wavered,

“But this is a matter of life and death—not one of your ‘mundane life’ moments! Isn’t it rather a risk to take such a stance at a time like this?? To be with whatever arises, not trying to control it or resist it? To remain free of worry or plans? How safe is that?”

That's when it hit me. To take such a leap of faith is the only way to know if something is REAL or not. If it’s really true, then it must apply to everything, and to all situations. If it has exceptions then it’s not actually true. So I decided to abandon myself to the present moment then and there. I asked myself

     “What IS my present moment?”  The answer was obvious: FEAR. DREAD.  INSECURITY.

     “Well, then I will have to abandon myself to this…and that doesn’t sound like such a good idea.” My dialogue continued (it was a long walk down a timeless hallway).

      “Is that the ONLY thing that’s happening at this moment?”

      “Well, I also have this simultaneous sense that I can totally trust everything to work out. But that doesn’t have any basis in anything I’m certain about.”

     “These are all thoughts about what might happen or what you have felt in the past. What else is actually true in 'just this moment'?”

     “The only thing that I can really say is true right now, is that I am walking down this hall. Alone. Hoping that everyone else will show up on time and that everything will go well.”

     “VERY GOOD! So abandon yourself to that!”

I followed my own advice and simply walked down the hall, knowing that THIS MOMENT was the only thing REAL. And a strange thing happened. I trusted it. It was deeper than trust, really. It was a sense of being held, of knowing. Not of knowing anything in particular, but just a reassurance from the universe, that in this instant I was where I belonged, doing precisely what I was supposed to be doing. Nothing more. There was strength and a certainty; a ’rightness’, and a sense of being ‘in the Tao’, that I’d never known before.  

It was like that day on the log but this was taking it to a new and amazing level. Words don’t touch it. They can only hint.


When I entered the delivery room I saw the entire scene in a brand new way. It was as if the 'old me' was missing. Scanning the room all at once, I saw the newborn 'warming table' well prepared, the team ready in sterile garb, and the father holding his wife's hand looking excited and scared at the same time. One of the doctors in blue scrubs made a warm, yet playful comment and we all laughed. 

As I laughed, it was strange to notice how--without the 'old me' (and its baggage of stress and insecurity)--everything was unfolding within a spaciousness of freedom and clarity. I could actually SEE the couple and FEEL their joyous exhaustion. I could actually HEAR the playfulness and DELIGHT in the doctors voice. At the same time I could fully LISTEN to the nurse who shared some important patient data with us all.

There was a noticable absence of anxiety and a soft ease in the room. An aura of trust engulfed the entire experience. The delivery went well. The baby screamed, was healthy and needed no resuscitation. We did a brief examination and placed him into his parents arms. Effortless innocence bathed everything. I was struck by the utter absence of any self-consiousness whatsoever. Each one of us felt like harmonious parts of a greater whole. I loved being there without the 'old me'! She was not missed. She was not needed. Truthfully, I had no need to encounter her again.


For the next month or so, I remained “there”, oriented toward being fully honest and present for ‘things as they are’. I continued to return in each ‘next moment’ to the essence of what was happening at the core. I remained free of the 'identity-based me' whom I've catered to all my life. My interest was not oriented toward mind-chatter, nor feeling-tone. But merely the acknowledgment of whatever was taking place. 

IT was all part of a WHOLE that grew increasingly obvious the more I paid attention to it. Any sense of separation or distinction (making me feel that there was a need to choose between me or you, this or that, now or later, right or wrong, etc.) all dissolved. There was only the ‘next obvious thing to do’.

I could see, feel, and know, exactly what was needed. I would hear myself saying something before my mind had weighed in on the matter. It was all flow. There was no sense that I was ‘doing’ any of this. It was life doing itself. "I" was no longer there. There was only AWARENESS noticing, being, speaking, feeling, doing, loving (it was all LOVE, unconditional, non-emotional, all-inclusive LOVE) and this love did not distinguish between nice/ugly, good/bad, smart/dumb etc. It held everyone and everything with an equal regard and an infinite support.

Sadness, death, loss, pain, fear, anger, confusion---the whole host of human dilemmas were there. Compassion soaked through it all. Not in a sticky, dramatic way. It was clear that this AWAKENESS, this CORE ESSENCE: THIS was clearly what we all are. 

“What you’re looking for is what’s looking!“ 

Clearly, the AWARENESS itself was always ready to do exactly what was necessary. It was very practical. And supportive. Any of us can be its agent. It is there in every particle of existence. If we don’t get in the way of it, then it acts effortlessly through us. This is what I discovered.

The one sense, remaining almost constantly, throughout this time, was GRATITUDE. I was so touched by the grace (or whatever it was) that allowed me to partake in such revelation, such beauty, such ONENESS of being. It was a continual feast of gratitude and sometimes I felt that I almost could not contain my joy and appreciation.


Then, just as suddenly as this happened, just as unexpectedly as it had begun; it ended. One moment I was just back to being caught up like before, like most of us, most of the time. And according to the teachers, and pioneers, of this territory, this ‘coming & going’ is typical. Most of us are WAKING UP gradually. The way it happens is different for everyone. Whatever any one of us is doing right now, THAT is part of our path. We are all ON our way. Nothing is left out of waking up. No one is left out.

Reprinted from previous publication @:

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