Thursday, November 16, 2017


The Mystery within...
My daughter and I went to see the movie LBJ.  I was twenty years old in 1963, and my daughter not yet conceived, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson became America’s 36th president.  The movie did an excellent job of depicting Johnson’s rough character but smooth political skill in getting Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for which I am forever grateful.  Although I was sympathetic to black American’s struggle for freedom and equality, I will confess in 1963 my immediate life was my primary focus.  In no way did I comprehend back then how indebted I would feel someday to those who spoke, marched, and even lost their lives advocating non-violently for equal rights. 

From 1962 to 1965 I worked for the USDA Forest Service in clerical positions, and then left to become a stay at home mom and had three children.  I returned to the Forest Service in 1975 after my husband’s depression incapacitated him and then became the sole breadwinner after his suicide.  It was the Civil Rights Act of 1964, particularly Title VII, that allowed me to participate in upward mobility training as the Forest Service worked to advance women and minorities to be in compliance with the legislation.  The establishment of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to oversee implementation of the Civil Rights Act also helped protect and advance my career. 

Given the opportunity to work my way up from clerical positions, first to a Human Resource Specialist in 1963, and then a Public Affairs Specialist in 1990, had a direct impact on my children’s and my life.  We were able to afford to stay in our home, have adequate food, clothing, transportation, education, and even take a vacation now and then.  After I retired in 1994 and struggled with my aging parents’ care, my economic independence allowed me to keep some distance from my father’s abuse.  I wrote in my memoir, “I came to appreciate the sense of paralysis anyone economically dependent must experience in an abusive relationship.  My economic independence became more precious to me." 

Watching the movie, LBJ, returned vivid memoires of my personal employment struggles and the help I received from the EEOC.  Political conservatives saw the EEOC as a violation of their belief in fewer government regulations and fewer federal policies.  To them, creating a strong economy, free from government intervention, would produce gains that would benefit the historically disadvantaged.  I know that to be a laughable premise. 

Though not depicted in the movie, Johnson went on to promote his vision of America’s “Great Society” with his “War on Poverty.”  Millions of Americans rose above poverty during his administration.  Many historians rank him favorably because of his domestic policies and the passage of major laws affecting civil rights, gun control, wilderness preservation and Social Security.  I believe America will only become great when we realize we all share a role as Good Samaritans to those in need.

Realizing the brave souls who made my life better because of their civil rights advocacy makes me want to be able to give something back.  I am also painfully aware there are so many more souls who have yet to be treated equally.

What if we all understood how indebted we are to others for our life’s gains?  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017


The Mystery within...
I had the very good fortune to attend the Himalayan Yoga and Meditation 2017 Annual Silent Retreat.  For three days I was removed from the everyday stuff of life.  During that time of silence I found myself periodically wanting to speak to others in our group.  The requirement for quiet shined a light on my ego. I smiled in gratitude, kept silent, and was led closer to the source of Grace opening me to reflection. 

Our retreat instructor, Dr. Dale Buegel, M.D. said, when the mind is quiet what matters will come forward and brings with it the potential to join with everything.  He said silence has an energetic effect; and when the dance between right and left energies within us (the ha and tha) come together we can experience absolute silence. His wisdom and instruction with gentle yoga stretches, different breathing techniques, and guided meditations relaxed me into healing.  I came to understand what matters from his statement:  “When we come to leave this body our self-development is all we take with us; and self-development is unique to each person.”

Reflecting on my unique self-development needs led me to want to:

Appreciate how hard life can be for others and myself--the pressures and expectations--so I can live with kindness and compassion for myself and all others.    

Love myself, my life, and all who enter into it.  They come to teach me.

Allow myself fulfillment in the simple acts of living—cooking, baking and sharing nourishment.

Love what gets done and what is left undone for another day or another lifetime. 

Moderate my exposure to outside stimuli (news broadcasts and even some public radio) to incorporate more silence in my daily routine. 

Pause and ask, “Am I on the right path to fulfilling my heart’s desire?”   

Forget the guilt for taking bike rides and long walks.  Do them  more often.

Don’t let negative energy stick.     

Let patience and gentleness be my strength.

Be content with where I am and know that all is good.

My three-day exposure to an Eastern tradition I was not raised in led me to understand there are many paths all leading to the same Energy, Source, Light and Grace. I was also aware of differences in the male and female approach to the Divine.  Integrating the two haunt the edges of my experience and may be the work of another lifetime. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sweet Love

The Mystery within...
The sparkle on the gently moving river, the dappled sun on red, orange and yellow leaves gracefully falling to the forest floor; the colorfully cushioned black earth path winding among sturdy trunks of tall beach, maple and oak; the quiet; the soft, warm, fresh air caressing my body; I wanted to keep walking right into eternity.  It was like a sweet love you just can’t get enough of.  Oh, God, how I love fall.   

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Life, Death, Life

The Mystery within...
Life and death are so inextricably linked and yet we now keep death at arms length and in the shadows.  Not too long ago our ancestors had first hand experience with the dying and death process.  It was common for people to die at home, and family members to simply prepare the body for natural burial.  They also lived closer to the life/death/life cycle in nature from which our modern, specialized lives now distance us.  Thankfully, we have hospice organizations to help us transition through the dying process at home or in health care settings.  And now a return to simple natural green burials is beginning to be understood as vital to furthering new life on our finite planet.

I have attended two natural burial presentations over the past few years sponsored by the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center’s, Spiritual World of Nature Program.  I went to the first program because I knew I did not want to rot in a sealed metal casket, encased in a concrete vault with my bodies’ natural fluids replaced with toxic chemicals.  I was curious if there were other options besides cremation to return me to the earth.  Presenters at the first natural burial program told of individuals willing to help family members prepare a deceased loved one’s body for natural more environmentally sensitive burial that included being interred in a simple shroud, or biodegradable basket, or cardboard box.  I also learned of a new environmentally sensitive, inexpensive process called alkaline hydrolysis that could quickly return the energy that was once me back to the earth from which I came.    

Natural burial sounds simple but there are hurtles to overcome.  The business side of death does not support simple inexpensive burials and not all cemeteries allow them.   Natural burials do not have to be restricted to cemeteries but then zoning laws can be another hurtle.  Being regarded as weird because of wanting to be buried naturally is another stumbling block and is what prompted me to return years later to a second natural burial program at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.  What a great environmental leap forward it would be to open nature centers and natural areas around the globe to natural burials.  I hope to live long enough to compensate the earth for all I have taken from it during my life by being buried naturally.

When my daughter’s beloved cat, Sophie, became seriously ill and the vet suggested it would be best to put her down, I suggested to my daughter we could bring Sophie back home with us and bury her ourselves.  She was reluctant until I asked the vet what our options were.  The list was long and started with private cremation for $360.00 and ended with the vet saying, “Or you could just take her home with you.”  I knew Sophie would have wanted to come back with us so we wrapped her in a soft towel and brought her home.  Clearing a spot for her burial, sawing away large underground roots from nearby bushes to dig a deep enough hole was hard work.  But when I watched my daughter gently wrap Sophie in a cream colored sheet, carry her to the grave, and nestle her in, I knew it was the right thing to do.  She put bright flowers on top the sheet, sprinkled some of Sophie’s late buddy Ben’s ashes around her, and then lit some sage.  That little ceremony reclaimed our connection to Sophie and Ben and all things beyond.  It was very cathartic.  After covering her with earth we put large flat stones on top to mark her grave. One of the flat stones has a straight six-inch long, inch wide, quarter inch deep, gouge running across it.  I learned it is a skid mark from a stone once encased in a glacier that etched that flat rock as it moved over it. Every time one of us mows the front lawn now, Sophie’s simple, yet magnificent gravesite, reminds us of where she and we are in time.

I am grateful to the Audubon Center, and John Hoff, who coordinated the first Spiritual World of Nature natural burial program, and to Sister Suzanne Moynihan who presented the second.  Thanks for helping me become more comfortable with being thought of as  “weird.”    

Sister Moynihan shared her poem “Transformation” at the end of her presentation and has given me permission to share it with you.


When I die
and after some time
has passed,

do not come to one marked oblong site
to remember me.

But rather,

feed the hummingbirds.
I am there.

Water your herbs.
I am there.

Relish violets, wild, persistent.
I am there.

Caress a cedar
whose branches respond
by gifting you with deep knowing
that all is indeed one.
I am there.

Listen to Sandhill cranes in love.
I am there.

I will be compost—that robust, dark life force:
nurturing oaks
feeding wrens,
breaking open seed.

Poem was written April 13, 2016
As I was reflecting on natural burial.

Suzanne Violet Moynihan, School Sister of Notre Dame