Growth Stories

A Skeptic’s Path to Prayer 480 640 Thayer Fox

A Skeptic’s Path to Prayer

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” Abraham Lincoln

It’s easy to depend on intellect and experience when everything is going well, but when hard times arrive, the self cannot bear the weight of our pain. Pain gifts us the willingness to reach out to a greater force in the universe. Prayer is an invitation to this force to enter our lives. You may assume that a steadfast belief in God or some higher being is a prerequisite to begin a prayer practice, and this is not true. The more I pray, the more my faith grows.

Something about the word prayer has always bothered me. It sounds submissive and sanctimonious. Many of us affiliate prayer with a rigid religious practice. The prayers at the Episcopal Church I attended every Sunday were dreary, and I was forced to kneel. In one of them, we apologized to God for our sins repeatedly. It made no sense to me because as far as I was concerned, he should be asking for my forgiveness, abandoning me in this mess of a life. No one explained God either. In illustrations, he was an old man who did not look friendly. And where exactly was he? And why did he care about me? Like the Santa Claus story, it didn’t add up.

My puppy Glennie died suddenly when I was eleven. Devastated, I cried and yelled at my bedroom ceiling. I made a decision then to abandon any possibility of God. Why would I continue to seek a God who kills a little girl’s puppy? As I became more aware of the suffering in the world around me, the atheist philosophy of Nietzsche and Sartre felt more accurate than anything I heard in church. Cynical and resigned, I steered my own ship until I smashed it to pieces and staying alive required me to lean on a group of strangers in church basements.

Finding a Higher Power is part of 12 Step Programs. The AA literature makes it easy for obstinant cases like me by offering options that replace a religious God. Early on, I heard a man say that if you think you’re the most powerful force in the universe go stand near the ocean and tell the waves to stop. I also realized that I’d been praying for a long time without labeling it. “Foxhole prayer” is the name people in AA called my frantic last-ditch pleas to nothing in particular.

Sober and stable, I built the life I thought I wanted. After a few years, I got too busy managing it to keep up the simple practices that saved me. I didn’t know how far I’d drifted from a spiritual path until after I had another awakening last year that reignited my faith in God. Afterward, I started craving meditation. No longer just an item on my to-do list, meditation became a sacred time in my day when I could detach from my thoughts and the buzzing world around me. But something was not transferring into the 12-hour blocks between sits, and I longed for more.

In January, a new friend came into my life who talked casually about prayer. It cringed at first but eventually became curious. My new friend is humble, and the way he speaks about prayer is enticing. He suggested I read a few essays in Power Through Constructive Thinking by Emmet Fox. After doing this, I was excited to experiment.

Emmet Fox was part of the New Thought Movement which developed in the United States in the 19thcentury. New Thought holds that “Infinite intelligence or God is everywhere, spirit is the totality of things, true human selfhood is divine, divine thought is a force for good, sickness originates in the mind, and “right thinking” has a healing effect.” PTCT was first published in 1932. Emmet Fox writes a lot about the importance of “scientific prayer”, which simply means a routine practice. Scientific prayer is not “The Secret”. Praying regularly does not rig the system so I get my way all the time. Over the past few months, many things have not aligned with my will, but because my faith is expanding, I know that whatever shows up is part of my curriculum.

My initial reaction to not getting my way hasn’t changed. I panic, get angry, blame, feel hurt, etc. I live in a body with a nervous system, so my physical response must run its course when I’m triggered. But now, I experience acceptance within an hour or two of being rattled. Letting go of anything that doesn’t serve my serenity is instinctual. The desire to be right or force an outcome has dissipated. There are fewer “problems”, more lessons. Navigating my day is easier and I feel pretty peaceful most of the time.

It took a while to re-wire myself, stop figuring things out and shopping around for advice. Answers formed by my intellect are biased and convincing. Logic never asks me to step outside a comfort zone or place someone before myself unless there’s something in it for me. The insight I receive from prayer is subtle but clear if I stay tuned in. Meditation is an important partner because it keeps the space open. Answers arrive in the form of a hunch, a person, an email, a phone call, a tug in my heart.

The good news is that you don’t need to define what you believe in, you can pray and be skeptical simultaneously. Skepticism is healthy and different from cynicism. A skeptic does research looking for evidence, a cynic rejects before investigation. Scientific prayer will grow whatever seed of willingness you can muster to get started. The power is undeniable if you take it on wholeheartedly.

All I need to pray is a few minutes alone. I pray before difficult conversations or meetings. I pray when I am nursing a stubborn emotional disturbance. I pray to express gratitude for my life as I walk to an appointment. I pray for people who are in pain. There is no right or wrong way to pray. Prayer connects me with the boundless wisdom that exists in my consciousness and all around me.

When I am murky or blocked, I wait to make decisions or run answers received through prayer by a trusted advisor. My will occasionally dresses up as divine guidance when I am physically off kilter. Exercise, sleep, diet, who I spend my time with are essential because it’s easier to hitch my wagon to historical perceptions and feelings when I am not taking care of myself. Regret waits for me in the past and fear in the future, so staying present matters. Once I realized that truth is only available right NOW, it became desirable to stay where my feet are.

“Prayer does change things. Prayer does make things happen quite otherwise than they would have happened had the prayer not been made. It makes no difference at all what sort of difficulty you may be in. It does not matter what the causes may have been that led up to it. Enough prayer will get you out of difficulty if only you will be persistent enough in your appeal to God.” Emmet Fox










Memories of Grace and a Drop of Doubt 640 480 Thayer Fox

Memories of Grace and a Drop of Doubt

I don’t remember much about my childhood. Thankfully, my mother lovingly documented it in a hunter green album. Aside from being crafty, my mother is also a skilled storyteller and throughout my adult life has attached narratives to many of the photos. Which memories are mine and which are hers are unclear, but there are two that stand out that don’t belong to a photo. They are seemingly mundane, not a holiday or a birthday or a beach vacation. I recently understood why these two memories were bookmarked in my consciousness.

The first one took place in a playground on The Upper East Side of Manhattan in the late 1970s. There was an old school flasher who wore a trench coat and hung out in the woods behind the swing set, making bird sounds. One day when this was happening, my babysitter told me to go play in another area near a sandbox. Sometime later she called my name and motioned toward the exit. Almost done with my sandcastle, I answered her in my mind that I would be there soon. She yelled louder, and I mentally repeated myself. Shaking the sand off my clothes, I looked up as she stormed towards me. On the walk home after being reprimanded, I was overwhelmed by the idea that I was alone in my head. Weren’t we all connected in one universal mind? Hello? Is anyone there? I said over and over. Even though I didn’t receive a direct answer that day, something inside me refused to accept that I was alone, I could have sworn there was someone else.

The second memory took place in Mill River, Massachusetts, where we had a weekend home. In the Fall, my father would rake leaves into enormous mounds for us to jump in. After doing a swan dive into one, I burrowed down deeper. Swallowed by the leaves, I was no longer a little girl. I felt small, but not insignificant, like a right-sized puzzle piece, part of a larger whole. The electric blue sky merged with the pile when the wind blew off the top layer. My sense of being part of the leaves expanded into being part of the entire landscape around me. The trees framing the sky, the wind blowing my hair, we were all part of each other.

These two memories were my earliest experiences of being connected to God. This is the reason they have traveled with me. I’ve had many of these moments over the past fifteen years but only recently connected the dots and embraced faith.

Faith used to occur to me like a cop-out or a weakness. Often, I hear it written off as a lack of education or scientific understanding. Our world is richer than ever in knowledge, and technological advancements and simultaneously masses of people are medicated for depression or addicted to substances to get relief from a pain they can’t name.

I believe the world is a magical place full of miracles. I believe there is a source of boundless love and wisdom that I can turn to when I suffer. I believe that suffering is just part of my curriculum. We will all transit dark nights of the soul where no human power will be able to reach us. I’ve been stuck in a few Godless realms of consciousness and never has my agony been more acute. Unconditional human love, even at its best, is limited and an unfair request to make of another.

A great teacher told me once to insert a drop of doubt into any fixed position. Rigid opinions and thoughts are symptoms of fear. We all feel safe being right like pain is avoidable if we circle our wagons and navigate smartly. The most significant shift in the past year for me has been inhabiting my faith as a daily practice. God, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, Higher Power, Divine Intelligence, Source, Spiritual Guidance, the name doesn’t matter, nor does the pathway, your intention is the door.

Getting closer to God has reunited me with the little girl in the two memories. She innately knew things that I’ve never been taught in schools or churches or therapist offices. We are born knowing the truth of our divine nature, getting curious is the first step of our homecoming.





A New Way to View Our Vices 1024 687 Thayer Fox

A New Way to View Our Vices

Do you have a vice? Many small ones? One massive one? What do you do habitually to release pressure when your system floods with emotion? Grab a bagel? Smoke a cigarette? Call a friend to “vent/gossip”? How long does relief last? Does self-loathing follow?

I define a vice as anything I use to detach from my experience of the present. Vices come in many shapes and sizes, some are innocuous; socially acceptable behaviors and others wreak havoc. They don’t have to take on extreme forms like alcoholism or an eating disorder to negatively impact your life. Most of us learn how to manage our vices by accessing quick relief without causing long term damage. Drinking, overeating, smoking, sex, TV watching, shopping, social media, gossiping- the list is long.

Emotions that trigger our vices are not necessarily negative. It all depends on the neural pathways carved out in childhood. Neural pathways regulate our feelings, reactions, and thoughts. Think of them as hiking trails carved into the gray matter that sits in your skull. Neural pathways explain why it’s easier for me to remember to brush my teeth in the morning than for my 8-year-old son.

Our history causes irrational relationships with present circumstances. When presented with a choice, our brain automatically chooses the path of least resistance. We are all wired up by the time we are twenty, our free will is an illusion.

It took me a long time to be happy without a sense of dread stealing the show. Due to my past, my brain kicks into high alert when the coast looks clear. Falling in love with my husband, without alcohol to calm my nerves, was a terrifying experience. It made sense why I drank heavily through past relationships, I was scared that everyone would leave me like my father did.

During the first six months of our courtship, I smoked and overate. Two packs a day was my average. I smoked first thing upon waking and right before bed. Sometimes I woke up with anxiety and smoked in the middle of the night. My fingers were stained yellow with nicotine. But smoking wasn’t enough, so I started binge eating. When I couldn’t sleep, I would sneak out of bed into my future husband’s kitchen and devour an entire box of cereal in the dark. I never felt full and wouldn’t stop until my distended stomach ached. These vices offered temporary relief by distracting me from the source of my discomfort. It was easier to obsess about my weight than get in touch with my belief that I was an unlovable and defective person.

It took time and rigorous work with my sponsor and therapist to identify the disturbance. Awareness is the first step. I learned that logic will not shift behavior, only action has that power.  A daily prayer practice finally gifted me the willingness to stop smoking. I’d never considered quitting, smoking was my best friend and first addiction. Even though I was skeptical, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. My desire to stop drinking had been lifted this way, so it was worth a try. Two months later, on a subway ride to work, I experienced a moment of grace. I threw out my cigarettes in a garbage can at the top of the subway stairs and went to a Duane Reade to buy Nicorette. I’ve never smoked again.

Binge eating was a gradual fade. After an injury forced me to abandon my punishing cardio routine, I followed a suggestion to experiment with other forms of exercise. Weight training and yoga planted me in my body. Respect developed as I grew stronger and I realized that my mind and body were partners. As my overall mood improved, I gave up caring about my reflection in the mirror. Working out to expand my mind and spirit changed the way I viewed exercise.

We can re-wire the neural pathways that regulate our mental state and emotional responses at any time. Living a Groundhog Day existence is a choice. There’s a lot of brambles to whack through in the beginning, so patience and compassion are essential. To grow, I must be honest with myself about any behaviors that stand in the way of my serenity.

Dealing with extreme vices requires courage. Removing the vice is not the hardest part of the process. Waking up in a life that you didn’t consciously create requires re-structuring. Many people return to their vice because the amount of work occurs as overwhelming. It’s a more comfortable short-term choice to stay numb, but the long-term cost to your soul is deadly.

So why bother looking at your vices if they don’t hurt anyone or you can manage them? Because if you’re schedule and conversations revolve around your TV programming, consider that you haven’t yet created a life you love. It’s waiting for you. As a recovering TV zombie, I can say this with certainty. Trading down vices is a significant first step, especially if you have a big one to confront. Watching TV for 4 hours a night was better than pounding two bottles of wine. Don’t get me wrong, Sunday at 9 you’ll find me glued to GOT but some nights I don’t even have time to turn on the TV because there are so many other things I want to do. A great show or meal becomes an additive after you face unprocessed emotions and fill your void with meaning.

The fewer vices I have, the more awake and open-hearted I feel. Acceptance of myself and others expands as my loathing self-talk dwindles. My creative energy has doubled. I feel more generous; nothing makes me happier than being of service to someone else. I sense the presence of something greater around me, inside me and I never feel alone. My capacity to be with upset has increased. I learn from painful experiences as they are unfolding. I don’t view lows as bad and want to rig my life to get more highs, I want it all. Above everything, I want to be free, and my freedom is dependent on my ability to identify and let go of mental states and vices that that block me from living in the sunlight of the spirit.


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver



Notes From a Silent Meditation Retreat 511 478 Thayer Fox

Notes From a Silent Meditation Retreat

Friday Evening:

I arrive at the Garrison Insitute late afternoon and check in to a closet-sized room. At dinner before the opening program, women near me discuss their concerns about being silent for three days. I wish they would stop talking, but I join in, so they don’t get offended.

At 7pm a bell rings, and we all file into a meditation hall with enormous stained glass windows. I find a chair front and center as I always do. Jack Kornfield welcomes us and begins a guided meditation. He explains the practice of Noble Silence that he requests we keep for the weekend. This silence is different from keeping secrets, shame-based silence. There will be periods to ask questions and speak with teachers. Noble Silence was a practice of the Buddha. He would often remain silent when asked questions that were irrelevant or unanswerable. Silence will help us tune into our inner experience. We should observe the desire to communicate when it arises. What is that we want to say? What needs lie beneath our words?

Jack explains that Buddhism is a science of the mind, not a religion. You can identify as another religion and practice Buddhism too. The Buddha never claimed to be a God, just a person who was awake. He did not teach Buddhism, he taught a way of life. Buddhism is about engaging in practices to discover what is true for you. Buddha taught to end suffering. We all have the potential to wake up and become Buddha’s.

After the session concludes, I make a cup of tea and sit in the library on my floor. People sit near me quietly. I notice there is no discomfort in silence when it’s a shared agreement. I enjoy being with people in this way, without the draining chatter that we are habituated to engage in at a young age. Silence is far more intimate than anything we could say to each other. Why is it the agreement in our society to always be talking? Are words the reason I rarely feel connected in conversation?

Saturday Morning:

I wake up happy in my white monk cell. I am grateful for the simplicity, of having only what I need. At breakfast, my judging mind takes over. That one keeps whispering to her friend, and that one took too much food and pushed to be first. That one keeps giving me dirty looks, what’s her problem. I eat and interact with these thoughts for a while until two questions arrive. Why am I judging them? Who cares what they are doing? It doesn’t affect me unless I allow it too. Maybe it’s awkward for her to be with a friend in silence. Maybe she takes too much food as a way to push down pain that is bubbling up in her silence. Maybe I can have compassion for the woman giving me dirty looks, she must hurt inside the way I do when I behave like that.

Not having to wear my personality is a relief. The way I talk is akin to using a battering ram to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a desperation to it that stems from my desire to connect. But no conversation will ever fill me, my longing is misdirected. Striving causes pain, there are no answers out there. During an extended meditation, I am astounded by a calm, safe garden inside me.

A lady behind me starts coughing. I startle back into the room annoyed. She won’t stop and keeps clearing her throat. Self-righteous anger floods me. Why doesn’t she leave, consider the rest of us? Instead of expanding my complaint like I normally do, I am able to freeze it. Zooming in, I notice how familiar it looks. It’s a thought I get lost in daily that causes me pain. Once my mind becomes disturbed, it sees disturbance everywhere. I can return to the garden or waste the morning obsessing about the coughing woman. I see clearly that my focus is always my choice.

Jack says later that separation is a delusion, a manifestation of the small self. He quotes Alice Walker, “One day when I was sitting quiet and feeling like a motherless child, which I was, it come to me: that feeling of being part of everything, not separate at all. I knew that if I cut a tree, my arm would bleed.” Harming self is harming others and vice versa. I am overwhelmed by how much love I suddenly contain.

Saturday Afternoon:

There is time to ask questions and speak to teachers. I wait in line to talk to Jack. I intend to thank him, tell him how much I love being here in his presence. I don’t know how to describe Jack because he is somewhere beyond personality, unattached and emergent. When my turn comes, tears accompany my words. He looks at me and says slowly,” Maybe you were a nun or monk in a past life, maybe a few lives. Living in the cloisters and monasteries, and now you have a different incarnation.” He asks my name, where I live and what I do to fill my time. I tell him about my family and life in New York City. He nods and says, “must be a difficult incarnation for you.” I laugh out loud, the truth of his words makes me feel lighter. A question arises, and I ask it, “How do I stay close to the purity I experience in silence? People normally feel messy and false. Their personalities out of alignment with their true nature.” After the words leave my mouth, I see they include me. There is no separation from what I am and what I see. Jack looks at me kindly, “Why do you think they are false?” Since my question includes me, I know the answer, “because they long to be loved.” Jack smiles, “Exactly. That’s all they want, and they don’t know how to get it, so they do what they learned as a child to receive love, and they do that still. Why don’t you practice loving them?” I walk away knowing that loving them depends on loving myself.

A woman shares with the group about feeling the suffering of the world, especially the animals. She cries. She says that she knows her relationship with suffering started in childhood when she was abused. I feel her pain and cry. I feel my pain and inability to be with suffering. Jack tells her the first of  The Four Noble Truths of the Buddha is that suffering exists and will always exist. The Buddha taught people how to liberate themselves from suffering through The Noble Eightfold Path. We don’t have to suffer.

A man shares next about battling an illness that carries a death sentence. He is afraid, he doesn’t want to die. He cries, and I cry too. Not just for him, but for all our human fears that lead us to the mother of all fear, the fear of death. Jack comforts him. He talks lightly about death, how we are passing through this life and will all die. Impermanence is the nature of all living things. Jack tells us the phrase “Do not be afraid” exists 366 times in the Bible.

Saturday Night:

My tolerance is expanding. I barely notice the coughing woman. Staying present to my patterns, even when it’s uncomfortable. Sit with them, no judgment. An old sadness overwhelms me for a while. I allow it to be there, without writing a story about what it means or grasping on to it. Eventually, it passes, and I am back in the garden. I sense an ancient part of me, something that is just traveling through the identity I inhabit now. I knew it was there as a child, it’s why I looked for aliens and Narnia. I make note that teaching my children that the doorway is within them is the greatest gift I can offer as a parent.

I have faith that my soul contains all the answers I seek. All I have to do is be quiet and pose the question inward. When the answer comes, listen with respect whether I like it or not. God is not an old man with a beard who hangs out on a cloud. God is inside me, inside of everyone at the retreat, in the trees outside my window. God is the sacred energy of life.

Sunday Morning:

I look at my email for the first time. Skimming a response from a friend, I am off to the races, my amygdala hijacked. Flooded with self-righteous anger, I notice there is a lot of energy in this pattern. The details don’t matter because what triggers me is the same thing that always triggers me, I didn’t get my way.

All morning my body feels like a beehive. My thoughts are raging toddlers, and I can barely hear the teachers. Desperate to shift my state I rush over to DaRa, a female teacher, when the break begins. I tell her how I ruined the retreat by reading an email. Now I am disconnected from the beautiful source I located yesterday. DaRa smiles, “It sounds like you have a specific perception of connection?” I consider her words. Yes, I do. I have a specific way that everything should be, including spiritual practice. DaRa continues, “All human beings have a nervous system. This is just what your body does when it perceives a threat. It can take a while to settle. Practicing meditation will help. Connection includes chaos and pain. To become enlightened is to be intimate with life, not to avoid it.” My upset disappears by the time I sit back down in my chair. The story that I was connected and now disconnected made me panic. Panic is sticky, it traps our thoughts so they can’t pass through. It’s so easy to let go, why do I always hold on?

Sunday Afternoon:

Jack says that we are all learners in this life. It’s essential to stay in a “Beginners Mind” and seek people who exist in this mindset. Experts are stagnant. “Many of us have made our world so familiar that we don’t see it anymore. Ask yourself before bed: what did I really see today? Do this with loved ones as a practice.”

Being angry is a practice too. Mara is what Buddhists call “the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment.” When Mara would visit the Buddha, he spoke to her lightly. “Hi Mara, come in, please stay for tea but don’t stay for too long.” Don’t push away suffering, be with it but don’t attach to it either. When we get activated, step away from the source of upset when possible. I use my children as an example. Say to them with love, “I don’t want to add to your anxiety with my own. I want to keep myself steady and peaceful so I can be there for you.” Love is still accessible in anger if you practice.

Jack asks, “What does your heart long to give to the world?” He says the best way to find your work is to imagine yourself ten years in the future. Ask yourself if you lived the life you wanted to live. Yes, I am living the life I want to live, but there is still something missing, something not enough that haunts me. I know I could be more, do more. As if he read my mind, Jack adds smiling, “and give up living up to your potential! None of you will ever live up to your potential.” Whatever is missing disappears with my laughter. Jack wears life loosely, makes a lot of jokes. Humor relaxes me. Why am I so serious? I love to laugh.

We learn the Metta practice. Exactly what I need to gently override my judging mind as I navigate life in New York City. Whenever I catch myself disturbed from judging people, I can swap out my thoughts with “May you be well. May you be safe. May you be peaceful. May you be brave. May you know your worth.” Tailor my own version for loved ones.

Sunday Night:

My heart feels open and free. Everyone around me glows. I am touched by their dedication and my own. It’s a gift to have this time. The busy world won’t slow down so I must. My mind is the source of suffering and joy. Mindfulness and meditation change the way I interact with my mind. Notice when I get attached. That moment is the beginning of suffering. The quicker I let it go, the less I suffer.

Monday Morning:

I am sad to leave, I am just sinking into the silence. Out of all the places I’ve traveled, this has been my favorite destination. I share my feelings with the group. Jack responds that we can create pockets of silence in our lives daily. There can be space around words. We can pause in conversation, and that pause will give us a choice. We don’t have to jump on other people’s trains.

Jack hands out red strings and invites us to take place in the Three Refuge Protection Ceremony. I take a vow with each of the three knots I make before a woman seated next to me ties it on my left wrist. This red string feels more precious than any jewelry I own.

Jack’s parting words to us are to practice daily and take responsibility for who and what we allow into our space: people, news, etc. Take a stand in the world with love, in a playful way. Only love will conquer hate. We practice not for ourselves, but so we can go out into the world and serve others with compassion and love. Plant beautiful seeds and trust that they will create miracles you will probably never see.

No more measuring my existence or seeking outside for a source I will never find. I leave the retreat knowing that I am whole and already connected to everything I need.

“To be holy is to be home, to be able to rest in the house of belonging that we call the soul.” Anam Cara by John Donohue


How to Create an Irreplaceable Union 513 640 Thayer Fox

How to Create an Irreplaceable Union

I love my husband now more than ever. When I used to hear older couples say that love deepens with time, I would roll my eyes and interpret that sentiment as a nice way of saying, “marriage is boring but we are old, tired and less attractive so we say this to make it bearable.” Thank God, my assumption was incorrect.

My husband and I have been together for over thirteen years. Like all couples, we have weathered tough times: colicky babies, financial pressure, accidents, sleep issues, health scares and an ongoing power struggle for top dog. We are both warriors with hot tempers and firm ideas about how things should unfold.  We have attended couples therapy, worked with coaches and participated in transformational workshops together and separately. We meditate and go on a weekly date night. Every year we love each other more and blame each other less when we go through inevitable periods of dissatisfaction and restlessness.


Here are 8 suggestions that I have taken away from the work we’ve done:


  1. Stop blaming your partner- for anything and everything. Take a closer look at areas that you could grow in. Whenever I fixate on all the things that my husband could do differently, I’m heading down a dead-end road. Trust me, if changing someone worked, I would have made it happen by now. The more I grow myself, the happier I am in all areas of my life. Grow you, grow everyone around you.


  1. Don’t expect your partner to be everything. Hire a shrink or coach, go talk to a priest or rabbi or wise older friend about your problems. Your partner is not a therapist and has issues of his/her own. My husband prefers watching sports to reading Rumi, and it’s ok. One person cannot be everything, let go of that childish notion and supplement with friendships where needed. It’s your responsibility to make yourself happy.


  1. Acknowledge your partner regularly. Look for reasons to praise your partner for something every day. I am a habitual nag, so this requires effort for me. Small and straightforward is a way to get started. “Thanks for putting your mug in the dishwasher,” instead of “Wow, it’s amazing you finally realized that we have a dishwasher.” Stop expecting, appreciate.


  1. Create Space. You don’t have to watch the same TV shows, work out together or talk five times a day to be close. You can even go on separate trips and have friends of the opposite sex. Anything is possible if you have trust. Being a close couple has nothing to do with sharing mundane habits. Too much time together can lead to taking each other for granted. Missing each other is essential.


  1. Stop compromising. Years ago, a therapist told us that compromise was the root of our resentments. Compromise creates a tit for tat scorecard mentality. If something is important to you, then make a request from your heart. Give up “you should” or “I need” and think a favor through carefully before asking. And always ask with respect.


  1. Make connecting for fifteen minutes a day a priority. In person is obviously best but phone or facetime works too. This can happen when the TV is muted, and a hockey game plays in the background, but it’s preferable without distractions. The conversation doesn’t have to be soul shifting, which took me a while to accept. A “how are you?” asked with care and a shared intention to listen is enough.


  1. Focus on emotional intimacy, and physical intimacy will follow. I hear long term couples waiting to be struck with desire and blaming their spouse when this doesn’t happen. Tending to intimacy is a commitment. Do everything above with great care and passion will be a by-product.


  1. Identify and support your partner’s highest values above all else. This item is the most important. If you are not doing all the others regularly, as long as you are doing this one, your relationship can grow. Even if your partner’s values take them away, encourage them to go. My husband attends a few ski/golf trips a year without me. He also plays in a hockey league all winter. My version is meditation retreats and writing/reading alone. When you support each other in this way, you both feel seen and fulfilled, that’s irreplaceable.



Redefining Loyalty: How Loving Opposition Can Help Us Grow 640 480 Thayer Fox

Redefining Loyalty: How Loving Opposition Can Help Us Grow

We all crave loyalty. Associated with honor, loyalty is demonstrated by a “Going down with the ship”, “No man left behind”, “No matter what” mentality. Loyalty is cited in Psychology Today as one of the top three qualities people look for in a relationship. An ironclad contract with no wiggle room, loyalty keeps marriages intact through rocky periods and also fuels loveless partnerships of convenience. When loyalty becomes enabling, it serves neither party. How do you define loyalty?

When a trait is unanimously preferable, we all agree on it. People who are loyal are good, and people who do not meet our criteria for this label are bad. This becomes more complicated if we zoom in on all our different definitions of what it means to be loyal. One friend feels it’s disloyal to miss her birthday party. Another one doesn’t care if you skip her party, but you must ignore a mom she detests at school pickup to prove your allegiance. Our definition is obvious to us, so we operate with the assumption that everyone is on the same page. Rarely do we communicate our expectations yet we judge harshly when people don’t behave how we want them to in our allotted time frame. Our friend circles are composed of people who share our belief systems and nod as we rant about the latest injustice in our life. We don’t like people who disagree with us. We internalize opposing viewpoints as conflict, which triggers our survival instinct.

But we stop developing when our thinking is not challenged.

As a child, I was a loyalty fanatic. Growing up in a family with an alcoholic, there was a lot of inconsistency. I sought out people who “had my back”. If you loved me than you needed to prove it by doing everything my way. Noncompliance was viewed as treason and grounds for exile. I used the concept of loyalty to control people, and it worked, keeping my friends and boyfriends silent. A synonym of loyalty in the dictionary is obedience which explains why our personal definitions rarely leave room for constructive feedback.

My thoughts on loyalty have evolved over the years. What does it mean in a relationship to be loyal? What exactly am I being loyal to? The Buddha nature in someone or their fragile identity which houses blind spots, complaints, and excuses? When getting along is the dominant rule of engagement, loyalty mutates into co-dependency. Melody Beattie is an excellent resource in this area. You cannot show up in the world and be of service if you are not taking care of yourself first.

Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who do you spend the most time being loyal to? How do their energy and thinking affect you?

Loyalty for me includes saying it all. However, honest feedback without love is anger in disguise. The trending concept of “brutal honesty” perpetuates the self-righteous anger of our egos. I need to check my intentions before engaging in challenging conversations or offering up unsolicited advice. Whenever my amygdala is hijacked, it’s essential to keep my mouth shut and turn to prayer and meditation until I reconnect with my heart. Voicing an opposing viewpoint with love requires patience, courage, and commitment.

We are also loyal to ways of thinking that cause us pain. When we parrot opinions handed down by our parents or based on past experience, we exit the present moment. How often do you operate with blind loyalty to an unexamined belief? How I identify with my thoughts and emotions today is a choice. Holding what I believe loosely makes room for new information and experiences to integrate. I want the right to change my mind as I grow and be surrounded by people who give me the space to do so because they are growing too.

Mark Twain said this beautifully, “Loyalty to petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul in this world—and never will.”



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The Everlasting Solution to All Our Troubles

Mid-life, there is no place left to hide. The panic that follows this realization is such a common phenomenon in our society that we’ve named it. Over the years, I’ve witnessed and supported friends in the grips of a “mid-life crisis”. Buried beneath their unlived lives, excavation is an overwhelming prospect. Change comes at a cost. They delve deeper into their vice of choice. More wine, more bread, more plans or more stuff. Anything to stay numb, they “re-arrange deck chairs on the Titanic”.  A few are hopeful that a new romance or job could fix their internal dilemma. They seek the aid of therapists, playing a weekly game of whack-a-mole. Some are flat out depressed and find relief in medication which doesn’t seem to last for long.

And now, it’s my turn.

This month I turn forty-five. I’m restless and swarming with questions. I feel guilty that I’m not grateful for my blessed life. I fantasize about buying a one-way ticket somewhere far away and warm where I can shed my identity. Wondering how I ended up a statistic in the status quo with all the work I’ve done, my default mode is to shake the world for answers. I know that happiness is an inside job and yet I still grasp at worldly structures and conclusions until I get into enough pain and become willing to try another way.

This week, a quote I love, penetrated my self-centered turmoil.

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

When I first heard this Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quote years ago, I assumed that I was already living in the second sentence.  Having had a handful of spiritual experiences, I considered myself a transformed being. What I have come to understand is that yesterday’s awakenings did not turn me into a spiritual being once and for all. I wish it worked like that and it does not. The gravity in the world around me is powerful. I am continuously pulled by longing and disturbance. Staying connected to my spiritual nature takes a Herculean commitment. I must tend to my spirit like the keeper of a sacred fire. My most important job every day is to stoke the flames. I do this by engaging in practices like meditation, prayer and seeking support in spiritual communities.

If cultivating a spiritual life sounds like work, it is. No different than going to the gym or taking a class or anything else that yields results with consistent effort.  So why bother?  Why add one more thing to your busy day that doesn’t directly correlate with advancement in work or personal relationships? Because everything falls into place when I nurture my spirit. It’s a relief when I connect with an energy greater than my identity. Running the show is overrated and exhausting. My way never lasts for long. I must continue to row the boat of my life, but relinquishing the navigation to the higher intelligence found in my deepest consciousness ensures that I will end up where I am meant to be.

I celebrated fifteen years without alcohol on January 2nd. Friends and family outside my sober network associate my achievement with extreme discipline. It’s awkward to explain in passing that I can’t take credit for my course change that included giving up alcohol and other substances that were blocking me from deeper communion with spirit. I don’t drink today not because I fear alcohol but because I know that alcohol is a false idol. It could never provide me a shred of the contentment I have found in my sober, spiritual life.

When I’m living as a spiritual being, I feel unconditionally loved. This is a miracle for a little girl who believed she was broken and unlovable. No human relationship can make me feel loved for long. We cycle through relationships our entire lives blaming people when we don’t feel loved enough. We have an expectation that family, friends, and spouses should offer us endless love and support. This can be true for the luckiest among us, but human love never quiets the patient whisper that tells us every time we fall that we will never be enough. When I take care of my spirit, I am at peace, whole, complete, exactly where I longed to be my entire life.

And when I slide back into unconsciousness and treat the world around me like that’s all there is, I become afraid. Afraid of not getting my way, afraid of getting older, afraid that I will enter my grave with the song still in me and afraid of death. Death is the mother of all fears. Studying Buddhism this Fall while simultaneously expanding my meditation practice eased this primal dread. The truth of our existence is that each of us will die. Everyone we know will die too. It’s not tragic, it’s the promise of our humanity. When I am planted in my spirit, I see that death is just part of a cycle and life is everlasting.

As we evolve into smarter rats, we believe that we have more control over our lives and the world around us than ever. Control is an illusion. Our choices obsess us, they become our masters. We are worn out by the endless decisions required of us to navigate mundane life. Choices perpetuate the illusion that we are running the show.

There is a reason monks live in monasteries on mountaintops wearing the same robes every day and eating what is offered to them by villagers nearby. I only understood this after staying in a monastery Labor Day weekend for a silent meditation retreat. Simplicity is a pathway to spirit. As is silence. The shiny bells and whistles of the modern world distract us. If I do not carve out time to be alone, I lose my way easily. Pain, my loyal guide, nudges me back on track when I stray too far away from a spiritual solution. Few among us come to spiritual practice naturally. The majority of us find our way after surviving through the dark night of the soul. We roll our eyes at the concept of God until we lose a loved one, get sick, have our heart broken or our house burns to the ground. Only then do we turn to prayer.

For those of you that associate prayer with religious doctrine, I invite you to suspend your belief that religion is the opiate of the masses. That’s too easy an out. Try it on that different religious institutions are spiritual support systems all in service of the same force. When I “take the good and leave the rest” in spiritual practice and my entire life, I am surprised by what I receive.

My favorite line in the Big Book of AA is, “God could and would if he were sought.” This has always been true for me over the past fifteen years. Please don’t take my word for it, if you are in pain, go seek for yourself.  And if you are not ready yet, your time will come. And it’s never too late.


Four books I recommend reading if you are interested in developing a spiritual practice:

Buddhism Plain & Simple by Steve Hagen

The Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox

The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield

Anam Cara by John O’Donohue





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Dharma: Bringing Forth What Is Within You

What is it that you can’t stop being? I’m not referring to your job, your to-do list or your identity as a parent or partner. What are you unconsciously doing or being as you go through your daily routine? What grabs your attention? When do you feel clear and charged like you downed an espresso? These clues will help reveal your Dharma.

Dharma is a central concept in Hinduism and Buddhism that does not have one translation. “The path” is the most accurate nutshell definition. The implication of dharma is that each person has a right way of living for them. Once you inhabit your true nature and align your life with a path of expression, the journey towards enlightenment begins. Don’t tune out because the word enlightenment feels too lofty, enlightenment in Buddhism just means awake. When we engage in our dharma, our heart awakens, transforming our experience of the world around us.

Years ago, after reading Stephen Cope’s, The Great Work of Your Life, I set an intention to notice what I couldn’t stop being every day. Stephen said to look closely at your childhood. What did you love doing? What characteristics stood out in your personality?

As a child, I loved reading and writing poetry. Under the covers with a flashlight, I whispered the poems of Yeats and Arnold late into the night. In 5thgrade my English teacher noticed my passion and asked me to stay after class. We started meeting regularly, and I shared my journals with her. The memory is vivid because it was my first experience of feeling seen by another person. Observing the “Buddha nature” in someone and reflecting it back to them is an act of love that can change a life.

Writing is now an expression of my dharma, but my dharma is not necessarily to be a writer. What drew me to poetry were the emotions that the writers boldly displayed. The courage in their vulnerability gave me access to my shut down heart. Something inside me desired to be brave and open too.

The next time I noticed a glimpse of a path was at a soup kitchen with my mother. I was twelve years old, so it was suggested that I stay in the kitchen and make cheese sandwiches. As soon as things got busy, I snuck into the dining hall and chatted with the men and women seated there. Moved by their rawness and transparency, something dormant inside me was activated.

Assuming that being of service or a volunteer is part of my dharma is too basic a translation of the soup kitchen memory. Making a difference for the men and women at the soup kitchen did flood me with light, but it was who they were that made that possible. The same as the poets. What reached out and grabbed me in both circumstances was the purity in the communication. It’s the same reason I love attending AA meetings fifteen years later. Alcohol hasn’t been an issue since my first year of sobriety, but I can’t get enough of the brave people there who share from their hearts. I feel blessed to be an alcoholic, so I have access to those church basements.

As a parent, understanding dharma is essential. My greatest responsibility is to notice what my children can’t stop being. Burying them in my dharma would eventually cause them grave pain. My daughter sings as she brushes her teeth in the morning and as she reads in bed at night. My son uses two boxes of aluminum foil to build a robot at 6:00am. It’s not my job to interpret what any of this means, but I can keep exposing them to opportunities that may reveal the next step in their journey. I highly recommend a book series that I love reading to my children called Ordinary People Change the World by Brad MeltzerEach book describes a dharma journey, and I’ve never made it through one without getting choked up with tears of awe.

A quote in the Bible sums up the importance of connecting with your dharma: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”  The destruction referenced in this quote is rarely cataclysmic. Most people destroy themselves slowly over a lifetime by making small unconscious decisions that lead them farther and farther away from their truth.

Being disconnected from my Buddha nature for fifteen years almost killed me. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to stop drinking. Without alcohol, far from the right path, my experience of the world was excruciatingly empty. Even without an addiction, the world is a distracting place, and most people get lost or coached away from their dharma at an early age by well-intentioned mentors and peers who are not fully expressed themselves.

But it’s never too late. Ever. Finally, at forty-four, I feel peaceful and fulfilled, closer than I’ve ever been to a right way of living for me. On days that I’m impatient because I want it all figured out, I remind myself that dharma is not a destination, it’s a lifetime of becoming.


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The Hallway: The Space Between the Comfortable and the Unknown

Have you gone through a period where you no longer fit comfortably into your life? The old routines, relationships and ways of thinking that used to yield results and fulfillment no longer work? You are confused because you are doing everything right. You feel alone because you don’t know how to describe what you are experiencing to loved ones around you who may take it personally. If any part of this resonates, then you are or have been in “the hallway”.

The hallway is long, and there are many doors. Some areas are not well lit. Whenever I enter it, my reaction is to exit immediately through the door which led me in, return to what is comfortable. But I have found that staying comfortable comes at a high cost to my soul. At best, comfortable is the field of poppies in the Wizard of Oz.

Taking an inventory of your vices is a great way to determine if you choose comfort over growth regularly. Staying stagnant requires numbing agents because it goes against our ever-evolving nature. For years, I was engaged in a ferocious game of whack-a-mole, using different vices as anesthesia to numb my instincts. After I quit drinking, my smoking took on a new fury. Then I stopped smoking and picked up food. Obsessive exercising eventually replaced overeating. After injuring myself multiple times, I turned my focus to shopping/accumulating stuff. Simultaneously, I filled my schedule with social commitments that didn’t align with my core values. As a result, I often felt awkward and relied on gossip as a way to connect with my environment. And busy is a vice too, being busy ran my show for years.

Running out of vices was the best thing that ever happened to me. Without them, I couldn’t squeeze myself into a life I’d outgrown. I was tired of being Alice in Wonderland crammed into that house after she ate the cake.

Without vices, my pain and longing became acute.

The first time I entered the hallway was when I stopped drinking at age thirty. Not picking up a drink was the easiest part of getting sober. The struggle was waiting in the hallway between my old life and a new life that had yet to reveal itself.

One night, when I was around ten months sober, I went out to a group dinner at a trendy Manhattan restaurant. Some people at the table were friends, others acquaintances. I had been laying low, doing my best to avoid environments that could trigger me, but these dinners had been the bulk of my social life, and it was time to re-engage. After settling in, I was relieved that the wine on the table didn’t tempt me. But as the evening progressed, I became increasingly uncomfortable. The music in the restaurant was loud, so it was impossible to carry on a conversation. Hot and crowded, the waiters bumped into my chair. No one at the table drank heavily, but they were buzzed, swaying and smiling.

I was bored, lonely and longing for something I couldn’t identify yet. I ate to quell my unease and ended up eating everything that I could get my hands on. The void  I felt was the same one I used to flood with alcohol. Food was less effective, but it did the job. Hazy and bloated, I excused myself as soon as the check was paid.

The next day I felt horrible, physically and emotionally. I called my AA sponsor and described my non-alcohol induced malaise. She laughed and told me I was suffering from an emotional hangover. Emotional hangovers occur after spending a lot of time vice free (this is the key part) in environments or with people who do not align with your core values or even worse, trigger old trauma. Symptoms of emotional hangovers include circular thinking, self-doubt, low energy/depression, and anxiety.

But what was I supposed to do? Those were my friends, and this was my life. Something must be wrong with me. That’s when my sponsor told me I was in the hallway. Naming my location made waiting in the unknown more bearable.

That wasn’t my last group dinner, I continued to return to old patterns, hoping that something would click into place. Nothing did. I became willing to try some of the other doors in the hallway. Placing myself in different environments was scary and exhilarating. I met new people inside each door. People who appeared strange at first, and now I can’t imagine my life without them. The more risks I took, the less attached and afraid I became.

I am in a hallway now, growing impatient and wanting to force results. But after many visits over the past fifteen years, I know that if I stay open and curious, the next phase of my life and development will be revealed.

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Look for the Heroes

Last week on Lexington Avenue I witnessed a new breed of hero.  I was walking with my ten-year-old daughter when we heard yelling behind us. We turned around to see a man in a suit cursing at three construction workers. He continued to yell profanities as he walked down the block towards us. One of the workmen, sick of his bravado, called his bluff. “Let’s go” he yelled, and the two men walked towards each other, fists up.

The workman grabbed the man by his suit collar and threw a punch. The man in the suit fell to the side, his ego hurt more than his jaw. He recovered quickly, ready for round two. One of the other workmen stepped in and shoved him hard down to the ground. People started gathering at the edges of the brawl, including a few strong-looking men, but no one intervened. I took my phone out, planning to film the fight if it escalated. My daughter’s safety was my priority so that was all I could think to do.

Then, bursting through the crowd of gawkers leaped a petite, twenty-something woman screaming “Cut it out!” She fearlessly placed herself between the three male bodies pumping with adrenaline. The man in the suit tried to dart around her and resume the fight. She shifted her stance to block him.  “Stop” she screamed again. It was awesome to behold. No one in the crowd moved to back her, but it didn’t matter, she had it under control.

I started crying as we walked away, the emotion catching me by surprise. “What are you crying about?” My daughter asked annoyed. I told her that I was crying with joy. In just a few moments, that feminine powerhouse gave me immense hope for the future.

We all love heroes. They inspire us to step up in our own lives. They make us feel the world is good and that we are safe. So why do we spend so much time focusing on the villains when what we focus on becomes our reality? When I look for the heroes, I expand into something mightier than the collection of opinions that form my identity. How much time do you spend looking for heroes?

The word hero traces back to Ancient Greece. Heroes in Greek mythology often had divine ancestry and were men and women of special strength, courage or ability. Many of the greatest Greek heroes were also deeply flawed. If your definition of a hero doesn’t allow for anything less than perfection, it’s no wonder everyone resembles a villain.

Most of us look up to the well-known biography worthy heroes. We forgive their flaws because they are dead.  My top two are Mother Teresa and Gandhi because they devoted their lives to causes greater than themselves. I once placed them on pedestals and stood paralyzed nearby in awe. Their contributions were too sizable to replicate in my mundane life as a mother. I believed that if I couldn’t move to Calcutta, my impact would always fall short of substantial. Once I awakened to the fact that we all share energy, all the time, I realized that anyone who strives to serve others with kindness and compassion is a hero, including me.

In New York City, I live near a small fire station. I pass by it on purpose when my schedule allows. Pausing across the street, I have watched the firemen work together to complete simple tasks like hoisting the flag or painting the façade. I have also seen them rushing to a fire, becoming one organism as they grab equipment and ready the truck. It’s bold and beautiful and easy to miss amidst the cacophonic New York City landscape. On the days I unhook from the endless stream of Thayer radio and get present to the lives of the men who are willing to rush into a burning building, something transformative happens. The awe-inspiring nature of their commitment shifts my thinking and my day.

So many of us are already heroes or heroes just waiting for an opportunity to rise. You can catch glimpses of heroes in small gestures. The kindness of a tattooed skateboarder who offered me his subway seat after I tripped in high heels, cracked my heart wide open the other day. And once you start to look for the heroes instead of the villains, you will realize that you are surrounded. It’s a beautiful feeling.