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Wednesday, April 18, 2018


My favorite series of books for children, hands down, is Frog and Toad Are Friends (sorry, Harry Potter!).  Arnold Lobell’s charming stories about two amphibian besties are remarkable for the simplicity that belies their true depth.  The profundity of these tales, which tackle such big subjects as anxiety, fear, risk-taking, self-esteem, the importance of patience, perseverance and goals and yes, most of all friendship, is mind-boggling (especially when you consider they are part of the Scholastic “I Can Read Series”, Level 2).

In the collection Frog and Toad All Year, a book about the changing seasons, there is a chapter called The Corner.  The friends get caught in a cold rain storm and Toad, the resident curmudgeon, declares the day “spoiled”.  Frog, the eternal optimist, soothes him with tea and cake and a story about how when he was small (“not much bigger than a pollywog”), his father promised him on a gloomy day that spring was “just around the corner”.
And as children (pollywogs) are wont to do, he takes his father at his literal word and spends the day searching for the corner spring is just around, without success.  Until he returns home and, turning the corner of his own little house, finds his parents working in the garden.  “I was very happy”, he says, “I had found the corner spring was just around.”

In case you hadn’t heard, spring has been very slooooow to arrive for those of us living in the Northeastern U.S. this year.  A particularly ambitious winter has reached its icy fingers deep into April, what with three decent snowfalls and only two days above 60 degrees so far (and most well below 50!).  Trees are leafless; grass is dull, sparse and yellow, flowers are few and very far between. 
It’s like the fabled Miser brothers got into a snit and Snowy emerged decidedly victorious; never mind the groundhog’s prediction of 6 more weeks of winter, we have hit 10 weeks and counting!  And the sun has been a no-show more days than not, to the point where we have started greeting it with a verrry sarcastic, “Well, helloooo, stranger!”  In the thought bubbles over our heads, not out loud; New Englanders are die-hard and prefer to suffer in silence.

Ha, ha, ha, but not ME, of course!   I suffer very loudly and publically, as anyone who reads my blog regularly knows.   So I won’t re-hash how freaking miserable things have been around here for the last 18 months or so, because you have heard all about it ad naseum.
But recently…dare I say it?  It seems perhaps Frog’s father is right:   spring is just around the corner!  Metaphorically speaking, that is—it is FREEEEEEZING and miserable as I write this.

In that same collection, there is a story called Christmas Eve in which Frog is late to a holiday get-together and Toad, considering all the horrible fates that may have befallen him, rushes about collecting the tools he would need to solve these (imaginary) problems. Although I prefer to think I favor the level-headed and wise Frog, there are several incidents where Toad expends extraordinary effort in order to accomplish something that could have been done with ease.  Like when he sings, plays music and reads stories and poems to his seedlings to get them to grow; or when he makes Frog spend an entire day searching for a lost button that was on the floor of his room the whole time; or when he literally bangs his head against the wall trying to think of a tale to tell his ailing friend.
Yeah, that’s right.  I’m more like Toad.  You can say it; I know.

In yoga, we are told to find the balance between effort and ease; it teaches us to harmonize our willfulness with our acceptance of the flow.  In spite of the fact that I have been practicing yoga regularly for going on 5 years now, I am still heavy on the “will” and light on the “acceptance”.  In fact, I am cringing a bit thinking of all the times my very excellent teacher will call a pose I can do with ease and I override her by doing something that requires a great deal of effort.
Effort is KING!  Ease is for lazy people!  Now, excuse me while I stage a 4 act play in order to assist my garden in growing!!!!

Is it just me?

So here’s the thing:  we all know that whether I stage the 4 act play or not?  Spring is just around the corner.  The sun will grow warmer, the garden will grow; trees will be reborn.
Spring is just around the corner!  And, as Dr. Seuss might say, it will come without begging, it will come without work. It will come without mowing, hoeing, or us whining like jerks.  Spring will come whether we have “earned” it or not; spring is given freely to everyone, the whole lot.

What I am starting to understand is that this is how MOST of life actually works.  Spring will come whether we lift a finger or not; we then repay the bounty we have been gifted by tending to our gardens, literally and figuratively.  The seasons exist to teach us, over and over again, that “patience is power…not an absence of action; rather… wait(ing) on the right time to act” as  Fulton J. Sheen puts it.
Patience is power.  We can run around like Toad planning for a future disaster or spend a lifetime searching for the “right” corner to turn, but what if we could just accept that spring will come and prepare for that future bounty?  Can we stop trying to force things and become more flexible in both our timetables and our goals?

Effort and ease.  Willfulness and acceptance.  Yes, "go confidently in the direction of your dreams!” (to paraphrase Thoreau), but observe poolside rules—no running and NO DIVING.
I cannot tell a lie (and people HATE this about me, btw)…on this very day, I found myself expending manic effort trying to solve a problem--the signs of spring in my own life, after such a long, hard winter have made me eager to hurry it along.  Yeah, I AM TOAD, and I admit it!  So I speak not from a lofty priestess perspective; I am down here in the trenches, trying to teach what I must learn.

Spring is just around the corner.  And just as it is the law of nature that the flowers will bloom again, so will we.  When we accept the ebb and flow of life, we trust that "to every thing there is a season" if we only have the patience to wait for it.

PS You can buy the ENTIRE Frog and Toad collection on Amazon for $7.99! 

Thursday, April 5, 2018


In the classic film The Rainmaker, Burt Lancaster plays con man Bill Starbuck, who promises desperate drought-stricken communities that he can produce rain—for a fee, of course.  And of course he can do no such thing.  But Starbuck is not a man without merit; he understands the power of faith.  And in encouraging a young woman to believe in herself, he not only helps to make her dream come true, he ends up “making” rain, after all.
We are all susceptible to what I will call “the expert opinion”; that is, when we have determined someone else has greater authority on a subject than we do, we will defer to their position.  This seems like common sense.  But as anyone who is aware of “the placebo effect” knows, in many cases our beliefs about a subject can be far more powerful than any facts; in other words, if you believe snake oil is a cure, it may very well be.  It is our faith in the expert or the cure that encourages positive results.

In the recent challenges I have been facing, I have realized what a transient thing faith can be for us humans.  When things are going well we feel blessed, but when things are going not-so-well?  Our minds tend to run amok, twisting our perception of our lives into an endless loop of “worst case scenarios”.  It is our desperation in this virtual drought that sometimes causes us to turn to the snake oil salesman for an answer.
And what I have learned is that this need not be a bad thing, actually.  There is power both in the surrender and in the notion that we ourselves don’t have all the answers.  There is power in asking for help.

I remember when I was in high school, a girl I knew was told by an “expert” of some kind that all she needed to do to lose weight was simply to stop drinking diet soda.  He told her just this one thing would help her shed pounds.  Now, she didn’t actually share this with me, a mutual friend did.  Of course I scoffed at the ridiculous advice and began to logically point out all the reasons why it was a ludicrous prescription.
To my surprise, my friend shushed me and told me not to share my opinion with the girl in question.  When I asked him why not, his answer was simple:  because it’s working.  Naturally I harrumphed, but in retrospect I see how wise he was; it was her faith in the “expert opinion” that did the trick.

My father was a bit of a “rainmaker”, when I think about it, because most children think Dad is an expert.  Until we don’t.  But still, there remains that parental mystique; the idea that the people who took care of us and “made everything better" when we were kids retain the magical power to heal a boo-boo by kissing it.
My Dad’s brand of “snake oil” was a faith in goodness.  He had this sweeping tendency to name everything good, or if not good, at least fine.  As in “everything is going to be fine”.   When he said it, I believed him.  And he was usually right, by breathtaking margins; his ability to accentuate the positive in any situation was often a game-changer.

Going through tough times has forced me to confront my own “faith deficit”.  My obstacles have at times felt as insurmountable as the odds Moses faced in crossing the Red Sea…but we all know how that turned out for him, right?  In this space we see logic is not always our best ally.
I inherited, by way of the universe’s awesome sense of humor, both my Dad’s absurd level of optimism and my Mom’s hard-core practicality.  My parents, who rarely fought in reality, have full-on knock-down, drag-out fights in my head; the part of me that says “Don’t worry, be happy” (Dad) gets cold-cocked by the part of me that says “tie up that damn camel” (Mom).  Faith and logic can be strange bedfellows, to put it mildly.

To complicate matters further, I am a gal who likes to make decisions (a “J”, in Myers-Briggs speak)…logic demands it!  All the while faith whispers, “don’t force things, let them unfold under grace”.  This push-pull creates a lot of frustration because, to be perfectly honest, once I make a decision my patience level for waiting to meet my goal is, um, subterranean.
And here we return to the snake oil—just like often it is our belief in a thing that makes it efficacious, it is almost always our belief in our decision that makes it “the right one”.  “Snake oil” is just a stepping stone to faith, once you realize how powerful your beliefs about anything can be.  Once you learn to overlook that which interferes with your goal and concentrate on everything you think will help you meet it, you become pretty unstoppable.

But still, faith requires patience.  And (grrr, I hate this) patience is actually the epitome of both faith AND logic.  Because even if you make a firm decision to go to San Francisco, you are still going to have to gas up the car and drive 3,000 miles.  It will take time to reach your goal, and if you cannot accept that?  Well, maybe your new goal should be to invent a teleporting machine.
In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes “Every human is a magician, and we can either put a spell on someone with our word or we can release someone from a spell. We cast spells all the time with our opinions.”  Like the “expert” who cast a spell on my friend to lose weight, or my Dad, who “cast a spell” to create positive outcomes, what we think and say about ourselves, our goals, other people and things can pack a far more potent punch than we comprehend. 

So use your “expertise” wisely.  Or, as my practical mom would put it, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.  That goes for your self-talk above all.
You are a “rainmaker”, whether you are doing it deliberately or not, so be mindful that your opinions are either a blessing or a curse to those who will listen.  Your faith is the “snake oil” that heals all wounds and conquers all obstacles.  And even if you won’t believe you have the power to part the Red Sea, don’t you dare tell Moses he can’t.

Anthony Trollope wrote:   “Above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.” 

Believe in yourself, even if that feels like “snake oil” at first; believe in other people, and help them escape the trap of self-doubt as well.  With each new day, new person and new situation, remember you have the power to cast whatever kind of spell you want. Choose wisely.

*metaphorically speaking, don’t sue me.  also, Mom is right:  tie up the damn camel.