Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Journey

                                                      Photo by David Ralph Johnson 

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice --
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save. 

~ Mary Oliver ~

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Color Of Our Thoughts

"Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; 
for the soul becomes dyed with the color of your thoughts. 
Soak them in such trains of thought as, for example: 
Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible." 
~ Marcus Aurelius

All the wisest and greatest teachers of our time - from Aurelius to Jesus, to Buddha and all the modern sages and scientists - tell us the very same thing: if we can not control the "stuff" of our consciousness and temper the ghosts of fear and anxiety and self-doubt, none of the rest of the stuff matters. Period. 

Dictionary.com says that the opposites of optimism are doubt, gloom, hopelessness and pessimism.That being said, why do we ever choose anything but optimism? Brian Johnson, in his book A Philosopher's Notes, talks about a study that was done with two dogs. They are both given shocks at random intervals. Both have levers in their cage. One can press the lever to stop the shocks and the other one can press the lever, but it does not stop the shocks. The first dog figures it out right away and is fine. The other dog, the one that can't do anything about it, eventually gives up and curls up in a corner as the shocks continue. (horrible test, I know!!!) Yuck. 

In the second part of the test, the same dogs are put into a new environment together. This time, both dogs can easily avoid the shocks. The first dog quickly discovers the trick again and is fine. The other dog, even though it now has the power to change things, just gives up - curling into a ball as the shocks continue. The dog has learned helplessness

                                            Star Prairie Gallery
We work in much the same way. After being shocked by life so many times, we fall into a pattern of behavior - a habit - that seems to erase the possibility of change from our minds. We forget that we have a choice to change our consciousness and choose a more effective response to the "shocks" in our life! And the more we buy into these negative habits, the more they are strengthened and empowered. And the stronger they are, the more likely we are to be swept away by their momentum we feel disappointed or betrayed. 

So how do we stop the momentum? First of all, we must at least have enough consciousness to acknowledge that we are suffering. Knowing we are responding with old habits, catching ourselves in the process, is the first and most difficult step. Without compassionately recognizing this in ourselves, we will remain stuck. It's impossible to free yourself from something you are not aware of in the first place. 

Secondly - change your environment! Do something different.

BWCA 2007
Pema Chodron , in her book, The Places That Scare You , says, "doing something different is anything that interrupts our ancient habit of tenaciously indulging in our emotions." She points out that anything that is non-habit will do. Sing, dance, take a walk, play with a pet - do anything that does not reinforce our crippling habits. This is not simply an exercise in avoidance. For example, when depressed, eating a quart of ice cream may indeed take your mind off of things for a bit, but it still reinforces our inability to be compassionate towards ourselves in response to life's shocks. Be careful to interrupt the momentum with a heightened state of consciousness and not one in which your are numb to the world.

And lastly, remember that this is a work in progress. Interrupting our destructive habits and awakening our consciousness is not something we do once or twice and master for a lifetime. This is a practice that, with time, will become easier, but will remain with us throughout all of life's ups and downs. Gently reminding us and offering us unlimited new possibilities for our response to suffering.

"Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible"!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Joy In the Doing

"The peace that comes with surrendered action 
turns into a sense of aliveness 
when you actually enjoy 
what you are doing." 

Eckhart Tolle 

I have never enjoyed peeling potatoes, really. I think part of the issue for me, is the timing. If you're making mashed potatoes, it's usually just about the last thing you do when preparing a big meal. The roast is done, the chicken has been fried, the ham is cut... Until later in my life, when I stumbled upon the glorious invention of "make ahead mashed potatoes", this task had always required quick peeling, fast mashing and a well-timed table delivery. Because of this, I had earned the title of "fastest peeler in the house". Which inevitably secured my position as chief potato peeler for all time...and eternity...times infinity...and beyond. Lucky me.

And then I got sick. Lot's of things have changed since my becoming ill. And almost all of them have been for the better.

Four generations.
My great-grandmother was a quiet women, at least when I knew her. The picture to the left was taken about twenty-seven years ago. It's a four generation picture of myself, my mother, her mother and my great-grandmother, Hazel Stanley. I wish I had more memories of my great-grandmother. However, out of the few that I have, one that has remained in my mind over time is that of her peeling potatoes. As you can see in the photo to the left, she was a tiny woman. When she would peel potatoes she would sit at the kitchen table, barely tall enough to rest her elbows on the wood. Knife in hand, newspaper below and a bowl by her side, she slowly peeled each potato with a patience and grace that only today do I understand. Unlike the harried, knuckle shaving manner in which I peeled potatoes, she sat peacefully with an open invitation for conversation.

They say that as we get older, we begin to un-clutter our minds. It is part of our Returning in the great circle of life. The gift that this gives us is space. And when we create space in our minds, we find beauty and joy in the simple things. If we are lucky, we figure this out before we grow old. From what I hear of my great-grandmother, she was one of the lucky ones.

I now sit when I peel potatoes. Fatigue and weakness demand it of me. There is no fighting it, no pressing on, no motherly martyrdom, no rush to the finish line. And just as old ages gifts us with a holy un-cluttering, so does illness. I suppose I could fight it. I'm not really sure for how long. But instead, I have chosen to surrender. The kind of surrender that comes from accepting what this moment requires of me...and doing so willingly. And performing any task in a state of acceptance means you are at peace while you do it.

This past weekend I needed to peel some potatoes for a salad we were bringing to a family dinner. I didn't wait until the last minute to do so, because I know better. If I can't finish the job, I need time to ask for help. So I started early in the day, with a certain mindfulness. In a way, I tried to feel what it was like to be my great-grandmother. I thought about her actions, the shape of her hands, the soft smile on her face. I peeled slowly, looking at my own hands. Feeling the dirt left behind on the skin, smelling the earth - connecting it all in my mind. Circles upon circles, connected as one.

And the next thing I knew... I was no longer peeling potatoes. At least not continuously. 

 I had a lovely conversation with Maggie.

I realized that while I was sitting there, life was happening. Waiting for me to participate. Like the watchful eye of Jake, wondering when I'll notice. Pleased at my acknowledging.

I did finish peeling the potatoes - eventually. To be honest, I completely lost track of time. It's funny, I've always looked at the whole ordeal as a sort of "means to an end". I didn't enjoy the peeling...but I sure did enjoy the potato salad! Isn't that how we spend much of our life? Doing this to get that. Waiting for the meaningful. I'll be happy when... I'll rest when... I'll have a good time when... Tomorrow I'll...When you make what you are doing in this moment the focal point of your life, your ability to take pleasure in what you do - and the quality of your life - increases greatly. You don't have to wait for some other time, for something meaningful to happen to start living - Joy is yours now. And the next thing you know - irritating, stressful, boring tasks become enjoyable.

Eckhart Tolle says that, "when awakened consciousness takes over, you may find that an activity that you have been engaged in for a long time naturally begins to expand into something much bigger when it becomes empowered by consciousness." Well, he's right...

As I held my camera that afternoon, I was slowly drawn outside by the moment. Life indeed, was happening all around me.

...filling my rock garden

...bursting in pots

...creeping along beds

...breaking through soil

...sleeping under my deck.

I'm not suggesting that potato peeling should always include an afternoon photo shoot. Most days we just need to get the job done! I think what I'm trying to say is that by un-cluttering our minds, creating space in our thoughts and finding joy in what we do, we not only enrich our lives, but we have the capacity to enrich the lives of those around us. We become instruments of peace. The 14th century Persian poet Hafiz states most eloquently when he writes, "I am the hole in a flute that the Christ's breath moves through. Listen to the music."

I wonder if my great-grandmother new she was enriching my life when she sat quietly in the kitchen peeling her potatoes. Like the seeds that fall in my wildflower garden every autumn, carried gently on the breeze - you never really know when life takes hold. But I am very sure of this -

What is miraculous is what comes through us into this world.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Final Analysis

                                                                                                           Photo by David Ralph Johnson
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives: Be kind anyway. What you spend years creating others could destroy overnight: Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it may never be enough: Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God: it was never between you and them anyway.

Mother Teresa

Monday, May 16, 2011

Just One Of Those Days

Some days come much easier than others. That's a pretty generalized statement, I know. But so true, none the less. Some days life just seems to work out in our favor. And then other days...well, we just wonder, what the heck? We attribute it to things like bad weather, getting out on the wrong side of the bed and the infamous "them". You know, "them". Those people. The ones that work for the IRS, the ones that move our stuff, the ones that hide our socks and purposefully find us on the highway when we are in a hurry. Those people.

I write in jest. But for people living  with chronic diseases - those "some days" cannot only be frustrating, but they can be painful, relentless and frightening. Those "some days" come when you least expect them. They come in the middle of your best days, they come at family gatherings, in grocery store isles, in movie theaters, at the gas station, in the car, while getting your hair done, on walks with your children...they come ten minutes after you have just taken a shower, curled your hair and picked out an outfit to have lunch with a friend. In fact, the best way to insure their arrival is to make any sort of a plan at all.

Last Friday I began having one of those days. The first indicator was an increase in neuropathy. Numbness and tingling, shooting pain, unable to balance on one foot, right hand doesn't work 'right'. And then the stiff neck...and then the headache...and then the vision problems...and then the diarrhea...and then the painful joints and muscles...and then the pancreas pain and eventually my heart starts to beat irregularly, sometimes leading to tachycardia. Not a pleasant experience at all.

I managed through the weekend pretty well. That's a Mom thing. Taking care of my family is good for me. It's good for my soul and it's good for my mind. But by last night, things had progressed and after only a couple hours of sleep, we were contemplating a visit to the ER. Have I mentioned how much I despise emergency rooms???

We made it through the night and were at the hospital by 7:00am for an already scheduled appointment, followed by IVIg. I figured if there was anything that needed urgent attention, they would catch it. After a lot of blood work and a couple of phone calls to my doctor's, it was agreed that we could proceed with IVIg. Being that this is also my chemo day... well, it was just one of those days. Except...

This is what I came home to:

A couple of months ago I finally made the decision to have someone come into our home on a weekly basis and help me with cleaning. It was a very difficult decision for me to make. Learning how to give up control take care of myself has been one of the hardest things for me. Little did I know that the women on the other end of that phone call would be such a beautiful person. Within moments of our meeting, I realized what a blessing Roxi is. Simply having her walk in the door, I am filled with the positive energy that emanates from  her. Honest, kind, compassionate and SO easy to talk to, there is never a lack of things to say.

Somewhere in between cleaning houses, spending time with her children and grandchildren, church work, gardening, yard work and taking care of her own family - she prepared this meal for us. And this meal is not just any meal. This meal is a casserole made with fresh organic beef off the farm and tomatoes from her garden, canned pickled beets, home made buns and frozen sweet corn...from her garden, of course, and the most amazing looking home made apple pie I think I have ever seen. WITH apples from her trees!

Mother Teresa has a quote that says, "We cannot do great things on this earth, but we can do small things with great love".

This was an act of great love.

And this day, this "one-of-those-days" kind of days, I am thankful beyond measure.

Oh, and by the way....

It was delicious!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Picture This

                                           Photo by David Ralph Johnson

One of the wonderful things about having a husband as a photographer is all the beautiful art that surrounds our home and fills our computers. Sometimes I forget. I take things for granted. Beauty becomes commonplace. 

While sifting through some of his work on facebook, I happened upon this picture. One of our friends had commented on it saying, "When you can get people to pause and try to figure out what's going on or imagine a dialog, you've got a good picture." I have heard the same idea stated by another photographer friend of ours when he says, "A good picture asks more questions than it tells". 

This is a good picture.

I won't ever know the dialog was that filled this moment, I can only imagine. But one word resonates - pain. Emotional pain.

We are not without suffering in this life; it's a given fact. Despite even our best attempts at understanding or coping - or our attainment of complete consciousness - disease, loss, death... these things find their way into all of our lives and bring with them very real suffering. They come without warning and without choice. 

Emotional pain - the kind I imagine in this picture - is inevitable as long as we remain identified with our minds. As long as we are unconscious, spiritually speaking. Being "unconscious" means not living aware of the present moment. Instead, we live caught up in the pain of our past or the worry of our future. This type of living is consumed with thought. When we are consumed with thought we can not, at the same time, be aware of what is truly happening right now. And when the unobserved mind runs our lives, we create our own pain.
As long as we are unwilling to accept Now, we resist what Is. As long as we resist what Is, we will continue to suffer. Acceptance means freedom. And freedom means peace. 

One of the biggest problems with emotional suffering is that we project our pain onto others. If I am without joy, I will project my discontentment with life onto all those I come into contact with. And sadly, as is human nature, I will do so much more with the people that I love.  

When we project our own pain onto people, we can not see them for who they really are. 

Let me give you a real life example of this. My husband is a photographer. There are two main aspects to being a photographer (in my mind). There's the part about going out and taking pictures. And then there's the part about sitting at the computer...downloading, organizing, filing, working the pictures up, posting them to the web or online gallery... it's a big part. This can take hours. And hours. And hours. You get the picture - figuratively and literally. 

If I am suffering, in any way, the second aspect  can create an irritability in me that feels nothing short of toxic. After hours of self-talk (consumed with thought) I can feel slighted, jealous, angry, hurt, mad, self-righteous, vengeful, irritated, unhappy, discontent... Oh, the list could go on. And in passive-aggressive form, I will eventually make some sort of hurtful comment. Yep, that really can be me.  

If I am not suffering, the situation can be quite different. Lets say I am physically feeling on top of my game. Because of this, I make plans to be with my girlfriends - who completely fill my cup. Maybe it's an afternoon away, or maybe I am fortunate enough to spend a weekend at Clare's Well. Maybe I even spend a little money on myself. I feel good. How do you suppose I react now, to the hours and hours my husband has been on the computer? You guessed it. No problem! In fact, I may even feel joy in knowing that he was happy while I was gone and not preoccupied with loneliness or upset that he had to make his own supper!

What's changed? 


The second aspect of photography remains the same. It is my resistance to what Is, my preoccupation with the past and worry of the future - my very own pain - that  keeps me from experiencing peace. Or joy. Or happiness.  

When we find ourselves emotionally unpleasant towards others, it's a good indication that we need to pay attention to our own pain. 

Be still. Sit with it. Listen to it. 

Picture this ~
In accepting what is
we can transform the moment,
and become awakened to the beauty 
that surrounds us 
and lies


Friday, May 13, 2011

Less Than Perfect Me

                                                                                           Silly little artwork by your's truly!

Less than perfect me is…

P e r f e c t !

“Choosing authenticity is an act of resistance.”

When I first read this quote by BrenĂ© Brown, my mind thought of resistance  towards others, or towards the norm. Like a salmon, swimming upstream. But really, the resistance is more towards ourselves.  The part of us that likes to play it safe.

When we choose to be totally authentic, we are mustering up all the courage we can to be imperfect. It means being compassionate towards ourselves and completely accepting who we are – struggles and all.

For me, this is most difficult when I am not feeling well. Resisting the urge to press forward, make the best out of it, cover up my pain… is one of the most daring things I do. It means being vulnerable. Asking for help. Setting boundaries. Being real.

But I have also found, that it is during these days that I truly find joy. Joy that comes from the grace found in just Being.

This weekend I hope you are able to be perfectly Imperfect!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Letting go...

This is what I have been doing lately. I didn't actually know that I was doing this until today. Twisting and turning and pulling, trying desperately to "arrive". Thoughts flood my brain. Frustrated by my minds inability to hold on to or organize any ideas. Discouraged by the barren screen in front of me. Exhausted by disease. So much to say.

So much to say.

I've begun this writing at least five times. Wonderful, glorious thoughts have come to me in my moments of reading and mediation. I want desperately to share. A Mother's Day, full and beautiful. Reflections of daughters' and relationships and the unconditional love that surrounds them. Hope, and the excitement that comes with experiencing 6000 people gathered together under the dream of One Heart One Mind One Universe. Sadness, by the suffering that our judgments bring.

These things keep me awake. So many things.

My ego and I, we work devotedly to each other, under the best of intentions, to bring our message. Twisting and turning and pulling in every direction. Not listening, not listening, not listening...

Under of the rumblings of my distress
I hear...

Let it go.

Set it down. 

Give it space.  

 Things become clearer when not held so tightly.

Watch the beauty unfold. 
Breathe each letting go.

Feel the freedom.
Follow the flow to stillness, as the space takes what is complicated...

Making masterpieces 
our mistakes...

...and finding

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Beauty From Within

Artwork by me...
for my daughter Aleela a few years back.

The Beauty of Old Bodies
by Mary Logue

In the locker room, old women bend
and take off their clothes.
I watch them.
On the border of their country,
I want to see
what will happen to me.
The folds of their bodies
tend toward the earth.
These aging women move
as if they have more time than I do;
they carefully hang their clothes up
and wrap towels over their breasts.

I lie in the sauna with them
and see their bodies as pots
that hold more
than is comfortable.
They're dimpled
and rumpled with life,
curving and sagging
with the stuffing that flavors it.
Their flesh is soft and in dim light
doesn't look like marble,
but flows like a worn cloth
generous in its cut.

I trembled at the first puckering
of my skin
and I'm sure I'll wince again, 
but in a heated glow,
I see that beauty
comes from enduring life,
carrying it within.


Celebrate the women in your life this weekend!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Before I got sick, I was a business analyst (in the IT world) for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. Early on in my career, I was very fortunate to "study" under a gentleman by the name of Joel Schwartz. Joel had been working at DHS long before I ever came into the picture and continues to this day to be quite respected for his skills in system architecture. I use the term "study", because I, along with many others, consider Joel more of a teacher than that of a business associate. Although, in the end, he became one of the closest friends I have ever had - impacting my views on things such as politics, philosophy, spirituality and relationships to name a very few. It's only been within the past couple of years that I have come to realize how his fundamental and intrinsic understanding of Buddhist philosophy is the clarity through which his immense wisdom emanates from. It took me awhile to slow down enough to understand these things. I can not tell you the frustration I felt as a green BA needing to "get the job done" when our daily meetings would begin with statements such as, "there is no self" and other profoundly ontological quips. How these things had anything to do with building software applications was far beyond me.

But I learned.

Speaking from an analytical perspective, one of the foundational truths he taught me when building any new system - or working on any project for that matter - is that you always begin at the end. Totally counter intuitive to how I was used to functioning. Seems only right - you start at the beginning.

Input - Process - Output

But the best way to insure a correct end result (output) in programming, is to figure out the piece right before the last, sequentially, leading backward to the first (input).

Output - Process - Input

I have since realized the value in this wisdom and it's implications on things well beyond the IT world.


Since the news broke Sunday evening, millions of people have been discussing the death of Osama bin Laden. It is horrifically tragic when the life of a human being becomes directed toward the destruction of so many other human beings. Yet this has been true of countless individuals throughout the history of this world, perhaps the most noted in recent times being Adolf Hitler. I have sat at my keyboard motionless since this event took place. Wanting to say something. Most of my time being spent reading other people's responses to the event. As time passed, I then found myself reading responses to those responses. But still the words didn't come - at least not for this blog.

I did, on the other hand, express my views somewhat publicly on my personal facebook page. In a time of unprecedented and universal emotion, I am very proud of the conversations I was a part of - as few as there were, they were good, healthy conversations. It took only two responses before I realized why I could not find the words to write this blog. After stating my opinion as to why I believed the killing of Osama was not something I agreed with or felt should be cause for celebration, the question was asked of me, "Then what is your solution?" As the words appeared on the screen before my eyes, I can honestly tell you that not even breath found it's way into my being. I was paralyzed. All the work I have been doing over the past two years, all the reading, all the soul searching, all the "truths" that once glared so clear seemed to have skipped out the back door while I wasn't looking. And in a moment of panic, I was empty.  


People, me included, want solutions. "How do I keep from getting sick?" "How do we prevent bullying in our schools?" "How do I loose weight?" "How do I control my anger?" "How do I get out of debt?" ... We have problems. We seek solutions. Without getting caught up in semantics here, I feel as though we are a people very concerned with solutions and not all that concerned with answers. In my mind, solutions do one thing - they solve a problem. Maybe. Often times, temporarily. Answers, on the other hand,  lend themselves more towards understanding the nature of why there may be a problem in the first place. Like...what lead to the problem? What sequence of events, played out over time, created an unfavorable outcome? Do you follow me?

Output - Process - Input. I took my fingers off the keyboard and I grabbed a piece of paper and began to write...

What's the Output?

Compassion. True Compassion. We can not hate what we have compassion for. Genuine compassion is based not on our own projections and expectations, but rather on the needs of the other: irrespective of whether another person is a family member or an enemy.

Yes, it's a big subject. Break it down. Go backwards. What comes right before compassion? Think about it.

Empathy. We have compassion when we realize we are all equal in our suffering. When I learn there is much more that makes us the same then different. When there is no more Us and Them. When I see myself in you.

How do I find empathy?

Connection. I can not be connected to something that I keep my distance from. Connection forms when I recognize my interdependence on all people and all things.
How do I feel connected?

Vulnerability. Really. In being vulnerable we actually feel more loved, more sure, more connected. Think about it. Vulnerable people are the first ones to say I love you, they're the first ones to get into relationships that may not last...they are willing to risk, because risk is neither good nor bad. It's neutral. When we are weak, we are strong. In forsaking all, we gain everything. It was not until I lay on my death bed that I realized this. And it was at that point that my real life (my life of being real) began.

Alright...keep going. How do I feel safe enough to be vulnerable?

Un-attach. Less stuff, less to loose. Let go of identities, expectations, labels, things, thoughts... I'm not saying give them all up. Un-attach yourself from them. Open yourself to the unfinished statement, "I AM." Period. Don't add anything.

Okay, I could keep going - really, I could just keep going. But I won't, because I think you get the idea. Sifting down through the rubble of our lives we find ourselves in the fine details of what make up our every day experience.

I can not solve the problems of the Middle East. I have no immediate solution for the problem of terrorism. Or bullying in our schools, or violence in our homes, or a broken health care system. I do have a basic, fundamental belief in the sanctity of human life. There is no one solution to any of these problems. But, there are millions and millions of little choices that lie in between, that we can make. That we do have the answer to. That make sense. THIS is how change occurs. One choice at a time.

I won't see the solutions to many of these problems in my lifetime. But I will be part of the answer. I know that violence, met with violence only escalates to more violence. I know that before I can love anyone, I must first love myself. Little by little, grain of sand by grain of sand, choice by choice, generation by generation... we are changed.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Heart of Compassion

                                               Photo and art by me....hands by Anna.

Call Me By My True Names

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow - 
even today I am still arriving. 

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am a mayfly metamorphosing 
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his 
"debt of blood" to my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills four oceans.

Please call my by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

                                      ~ Thich Njat Hanh