Coffee, Conversations and Clarity: Reflections,on the Assignment


Cup of coffee

Photo credit- Cup of coffee (Migle Kasinskaite )

I walked into the neighborhood Starbucks, and my line of vision caught her right away. I was immediately transported back in time, over twenty years ago. A rush of gratitude washed over me; gratitude for the initial days of friendship, gratitude for the magic of reconnection. Gratitude for the many times my dear friend agreed to meet me at Roasted Bean, because I could not get enough of that little independent coffee-house. Gratitude for all the wonderful talks we’d had, in the past…. and what I knew would be a wonderful visit today…. at the ubiquitous Starbucks.

I hadn’t seen my friend since the summer of 1998. We’ve kept in touch…. and had some long, heartfelt phone conversations, over the years….. but our last face-to-face was almost eighteen years ago. There are friendships where you’d never guess when the last meeting was….. last week, last decade, last century.  These are life’s rare treasures; these relationships are a mirror that can only lead to clarity.

We hugged, then slipped right into conversation, as if we were meeting for  weekly coffee. There was no small talk, no idle chatter. It went deep, straight away. Well, it went deep and reminiscent…. we couldn’t seem to help but tie the present to the past. I recounted my recent windings, we discussed her collaborative writing project, something she passionately described. She said something very interesting…. she is just now seeing herself as a writer…. I replied that I had always seen her as a writer… a woman of words. Outside of trying to coordinate our classes, where we could share at least one a semester, if at all possible, we were in a book club together, our freshman year. Kelly always chose her words very deliberately…. very thoughtfully… very rhythmically . She read and spoke with profound precision.  Apparently, she didn’t see herself as a writer, then…. however, I did. I saw her as an old-soul, articulate communicator…. an artisan of words, oral and written. She thought and felt everything, thoroughly. She was one of those friends who could laugh and think…. really think… at the same time. We could bounce a facetious wordplay…. then a spiritual idea… onto an observation about  a class/professor… rapid-fire succession.  She could walk into the Pickle Barrel, and without spotting me, she knew I was there…. simply because the jukebox was trilling Chuck Mangione….   nobody she knew, she said,  would fill that space with “Feels So Good”… except for me.  Keen power of observation…. clearly a writer’s trait.

We recalled choosing a word, a theme, for a new year…. our first year of friendship, my word was clarity; I sought it then, I seek it now. We laughed about how one minute, I wanted clarity, the next minute, I had a pamphlet for the New Orleans Jazz Fest sprawled, talking about ditching the grind, to join the circus. “The funniest part about that was how ludicrous it was, as ambitious as you  were!” Ambitious is a word that has been tossed my way a lot, over this past year, from friends who met me as a young adult… here it was, again, coming from my friend who carefully assembles her sentences, with well chosen words.

I’ve never seen myself as ambitious… goal oriented, yes….. strong work ethic…. definitely.  Ambitious has a hard edge to it…. I’m soft….  yet, ambition is an admirable  quality. I   doubt my personal ambition when I get derailed…. and I’ve felt derailed, this past year. This time a year ago, I was set to move to China… and even though I know I made the right decision, in reversing my plans… and everyone around me, including Kelly, thinks I made the right decision…. I can’t shake the sense that I ran away from an incredible opportunity. Of course, it was an opportunity fraught with radical change, one that wouldn’t be so easy to undo. A two-year commitment, as far away from home as is geographically possible, not knowing a soul… with scant preparation, for such a journey….on top of a series of foundational changes.  If taking flight, one should always glide toward something, not away. I was not even gliding, I was careening….a vulnerable position…. and not the good kind of vulnerable. So, why the doubt, why the questioning of my judgment? The answer lies in what I’ve sought, my entire life…. clarity. My theme, my word.

Fulfilling assignments seems next to impossible, without clarity. A spaghetti bowl mind is all tangled; the search for clarity becomes burdened with tumbling thoughts… and perhaps more counterproductive, racing fears. “What-ifs” quickly turn to “Must be trues”… regardless if evidence is lacking. The human mind seeks patterns… if none are easily found, those steeped in humility (a good trait, when applied contextually) will ascribe cause to an oft-times manufactured character defect… leading to paralysis.

My time with Kelly was less than ten minutes old, yet we had each already held up an empowering mirror.

As our visit continued, we fell into  topics that were familiar, just with  fresh seasoning. The spiritual, from multiple angles, the root, of what we’re each doing, becoming… only Kelly would reverse the order of those two things. She explained how she’s gracefully moved from a focus on doing to being. This sounds simplistic zen, but for many of us, it is painfully difficult. We are conditioned to believe that worth is measured through achievement. We only feel as worthy as our latest tangible creation/project/result. We are bottom-line people, with little patience for process. Yet, this trusted, wise friend was telling me how her life is so much richer, for having truly embraced “being”…with a spiritual certainty that “being” is the bedrock of meaning. The concept wasn’t necessarily new…. but the effect was  right between the eyes. I’d tell a friend to be gentle with herself….. I do advise friends to tread lightly, with their process. So, the age-old question… am I not a good friend to myself?

She went on to describe how her new relationship with “being” has led to appreciatively cradling beauty (music, candles, fine wine….  things that are aesthetically pleasing) as fuel for doing the things that are much harder (the grimy parts of our assignments). She drew parallels between joy and service…. not just the joy of service, but the joy of filling one’s cup, to maintain balance. She disinfected my wounds of perfectionism, even as she detailed cleansing her own. Admonishments that extended clemency and empathy, for my battered sense of self. Clarity…. a clear vision of the seeker’s way forward. Again, more of a revelation, on individual terms…. but so compelling, in place and proportion.

I had no problem reflecting the truth of Kelly’s gifts…. gifts she’s just  now claiming… yet, I struggle with accepting my own. I struggle with wondering if I took the right fork in the road.  The scales are always tipped toward deprecation; this leads to a lack of clarity. I can’t claim assignments if I feel ill prepared. I suspect there are many who are challenged with this discomfiting, stifling companion. Modesty is a virtue; abasement is masochism.

We met with a hug, we parted with a hug…. the words, though, will envelope me, for a long while. Kelly brought me a mirror for peace… peace within. There can be no spiritual co-agency without peace… or clarity. Peace precedes clarity…. clarity precedes fulfilling assignments. We each left knowing that the other strongly believes in the gifts of her friend… perhaps eighteen years is too long for such a reminder.


Take the Long Way Home: Squaring With the Windows, on the Assignment


Time capsules are funny things. Whether mental or physical, they have a way of grounding one, for good or ill. Fortunately, we get to choose which way they work.

1977:  The first Apple computer goes on the market…. Elvis leaves the building….. The Panama Canal goes home…… a construction is set, on Laguna Vista. Which one of these doesn’t belong, in this sentence?

Typical time capsules are pieces of collective history, but they can contain bits of personal reflection, too.

My grandparents gave my mother a down payment to build this house, as a wedding present, for her third marriage. In my immediate family, wedding season became a semi-annual event.

For some unknown reason, life has brought me back to this area….. a very strange, unbidden, weird coincidence. It’s brought me back, if just for a visit. I didn’t argue.

This window….. very symbolic. The first window where magic occurred….. granddaddy, on a ladder, rattling bells, on Christmas Eve.  Grandmother, my life-long hocus-pocus fairy, in wonderment, with me.

Staring out this window, wishing I could run away….. parties get old, at four. Jumping up on wet bars, to mix drinks, gets older.

Listening to the music….. if there was one blessing, in this dysfunctional construction, music was surely it. Looking through the sky light, sitting behind the couch, with the headphones on. One advantage to disconnected parents is the freedom to take in the scenery.

Last Friday afternoon, as I made my way to this house, I was flooded with memories…. which was the point, I suppose.

Looking down the street, two doors down. The house that Ron (eventually husband number four)  and Candy built. An indelible image of Ron, in my Micky Mouse ears….. wishing that was all the innocence he’d stolen from me.

“Are they selling?”  questioned a voice, from behind. A current neighbor thought I was a realtor, preparing a marketing campaign.

I explained to him that my family had built this house…. sorry for the creepy picture taking. He laughed…. we had a few good laughs.

I cried the whole way home.

It was a good afternoon. Really.

Getting grounded, on the Assignment, is necessary. Sometimes. to move forward, we need to take a step back….. sometimes, some giant steps.

The Assignment is filled with mystery. Even when it’s painful, follow the footsteps.


Cautionary Tales: Recklessness and Reflection, on the Assignment


Life has many intersections; forks in the road, which provide opportunities to react or respond.  Constructing a response takes contemplation, reflection…. good use of the experiences that have previously paved the road.

When I was a child, this particular corner was not regulated by anything but a two way stop sign; most people did not acknowledge right-of-way. Passing through this intersection, usually without fail…. someone would make a false move that could cause a wreck.  My mother was not the most patient person in the world….. I’m pretty certain some substances contributed to this….  so she addressed them, each time, with a very pointed moniker….. “A$$hole!”

Not a very spiritual response, but bear with me.

I remember most things from my childhood…. in fact, those who are incriminated say I remember much too much. However, I don’t remember the following…. but the story was repeated so often, it does remind me of the “lesson” my mother taught me.

My grandparents came to visit a lot…. because they’d had me on a permanent basis, until I was around two…. and even then, my mother, with her flavor of the month, would often request their services….. a blessing for me.

One day we were going through this intersection…. and the usual lack of common courtesy occurred. Grand”daddy” made a comment about reckless drivers…. and I helped him to understand … “Oh, this is the corner where the a$$holes live. Mommy said.”

Deduction at its finest.

What are we to make of people who are reckless, with others’ time, hearts, belongings? What do these experiences have to do with fulfilling one’s sacred assignment?

Recklessness is an issue that causes great heartache…. for the recipient and the perpetuator. The term  perpetuator is deliberate: first, it removes judgment…. secondly, it highlights that people tend to repeat patterns.

Fulfilling sacred assignments requires a high degree of alertness. The most well-meaning person makes mistakes, to be sure….. says the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong place…. without any malicious intent. People who live purposefully, benevolently, have usually built enough good will that the occasional mis-speak/misdeed will not cause great harm. Their pattern is established… one false move does not negate the typical.

Those who are reckless have a different trajectory…. and the lack of awareness merits two responses, depending on where one is, in relation to recklessness. If one is on the receiving end, self-protection becomes critical;  reckless hearts can inflict serious wounds.

If the relationship to recklessness is personal (the individual, him/herself is reckless)….. compassionate attention is required.  More often than not, reckless behavior indicates a spiritual battle….. something is hurting, and the person wants to escape. Escape becomes the modus operandi, leaving all people and places vulnerable, in its wake. The reckless individual is, incidentally, usually a victim of his/her own abandon.

Sometimes, life teaches us what to do…. then, there are the lessons where life teaches us what not to do. Cautionary tales are excellent instructors, but only when based in observation and contemplation.  Lessons in what to avoid are not fodder for accusation; rather, they provide a road map, for protection, of self and others.

The Sacred Assignment is filled with forks in the road. As we approach each juncture, we recall the times that decisions were made in haste, along with the more reflective responses. Reflection is not a guarantee for 100% positive outcomes, but it does provide some insurance against snap decisions…. courses of action that gets us, and everyone around us, way off-track.

Reckless words, reckless actions (or inactions) , reckless intentions….. leech love and light. Yield signs exist for a reason; the assignments require the pregnant pause. This is not an invitation to paralysis…. it is a commitment to considered action. People may not always agree, with one’s final analysis… people may even say you’re “wrong”. Yet, sitting in judgment is reckless, too. Considered responses are the best guarantors of the greater good…. a huge part of each individual’s Sacred Assignment.

Flames of Change: The Role of Anger, on the Assignment

Anger matchstick

“Lovers in anger….. block of ice…. harder and harder….. just to be nice.” – Joni Mitchell, “Shades of Scarlett Conquering”  (photo credit : ExperienceLife!)


Recently, I was thinking about sadness and anger, the two typical responses to painful events. I marveled, a bit, at the fact that I seldom get angry; I feel sad, about things, but anger is not an emotion with which I’m well acquainted. My grandmother used to tell me that anger can be motivating, purifying, when it is righteous. To her, anger was righteous, if directed at injustice or mistreatment, of self or others. Still…. no internal fireworks for me.

If there is one thing I’ve learned….. taunting the Assignment…. it will get your arrogance rewarded, every time.

I don’t believe my thoughts were necessarily haughty…. no particular pride in the thought that I don’t anger easily. In fact, it was more of a question, in my mind, and a curiosity, if this was a healthy trait…. or less healthy.

I woke up this morning really angry….. with little explanation as to why.

There are always irritations, throughout the day, that create minor annoyance. Waking up with full-blown anger, though….. not a reasonable state of being.

“Anger can be motivating, purifying…..”  Anger can also be lethally dangerous, if not handled the right way. What in the world can anger have to do, with Assignments?

A. Anger is fuel:  The thought about anger, as a purifying motivator? Not half bad…. as long as the anger is directed and contained. There is a lot of injustice in this world. It is very difficult to walk through modern times without feeling some degree of sadness, anger, or a combination of the two. I’ve always gingerly embraced the former, as a by-product of an empathetic spirit. The latter, perhaps, has been a more frightening concept… and therefore avoided, even on a sub-conscious level. What I have noticed, the few times in my life, when I got REALLY angry? Much like the Hulk….. you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. I don’t like me, when I’m angry….. yet, anger is fuel. Anger can often be the flipside of confidence, if one is aware, alert and ready to transform negatives into positives. Apathy never achieved anything….. anger can be transformed, to move mountains…. in relationships and the culture, in general.

B. Anger is normal: Emotions are never good or bad, right? They simply exist, with our rational minds, as arbiter, of how they are expressed. The trouble with anger is its tendency to fly out of the shoot, before it’s been modified into something more palatable. There is no question that certain events trigger a primitive response… being bullied, stepped on, having one’s dreams mocked, exploitation, unfair attacks, ad hominem attacks…. any of these, plus so much more, can incite anger. Witnessing the subjection of others, to these treatments, can result in a  mighty anger, as well. The myth is constantly perpetuated that nice people don’t get angry; that is simply not true. Anger is a natural, normal response to imbalance….. sadness is often anger that is turned inward.

C. Anger is a signal: Much like physical pain is a signal that something is wrong with the material body, anger is a signal that something is amiss in the realm of the emotional/spiritual. Anger indicates that it’s time to take inventory…. especially if the anger is unbidden. In the case of my inexplicable anger, there are actually quite a few reasons I might be feeling some justified anger, right at this moment… and it’s healthy that the anger didn’t somehow transmute into tears. My internal response system let some emotions through, without window dressing. Tears are also a healthy release… but they’re not always the appropriate response. If anger is what’s called for, sadness brings one into submission… and there may be instances where submission is quite counterproductive.

The very good news is that anger is powerful, fiery…. and completely controllable. It is not something to be ignored or shunned. Much like fear, it rises from a legitimate place…. the threat center is triggered…. one perceives a threat to mercy, justice, right action…. and anger meets that feeling of vulnerability. The vulnerable are prey; the consciously incensed are not predators, but rather gate-keepers…. gate-keepers of fairness, truth, kindness…. essential ingredients, for fulfilling Sacred Assignments.

As it happens, anger is not such a bad companion…. for brief periods of time. It must be transformed… but not always to tears. Bold action is often required, for those who choose to meet the siren song of Sacred Assignments. Anger is a tool that can help, immensely, as one meets the enemy of inequity. It must be tempered…. but it mustn’t be excommunicated.

"Accidents", Detours, Joy, Pain….. All Parts of Each Person's Sacred Assignment.