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Last Thursday I went to a book-signing in town.  Not so unusual, except for the way this one went.  I found out about it from a friend who knows the author, Timber Hawkeye, and went in part to explore a new bookstore I had yet to go inside, and in part to support a fellow writer.

The book is called Buddhist Boot Camp and the author recently gave his first TED Talk.  He has a website, a Facebook page, and a blog, none of which I had encountered.  I went in knowing little of him and, in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t spend an hour or two boning up on who he was before I went.

Upon entering the room, I saw a short (6-inch) plywood-wrapped-in-carpet stage at the far North end with rows of chairs facing it. Typical book signing/reading, right? Until the author stepped down from the stage and began rearranging the chairs into a circle.  As people filed in, around 40 or so, we all chose chairs and waited.  Timber spoke,  “I haven’t ever done one of these before, so I don’t really know how it goes, but I do know that I want to hear from you all tonight.  I don’t want to be on a stage – this is not about the messenger, it’s about the message.”

For the next hour and a half, we proceeded to share stories of meditation practices, our individual journeys to Buddhism, and ask rather frank questions of Timber (such as, “Who named you ‘Timber Hawkeye?’ – the story is an entertaining one that I won’t ruin for you in case you ever see him speak; ask him yourself).

The message in this case is pure, unadulterated, unencumbered by ritual or dogma, Buddhist principles. The book itself is short and the chapters are each only one page long.  Whether you are Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, some or all or none of the above, the topics explored in “Buddhist Boot Camp” are simple, basic, and resonate deeply.  I came home wishing I had bought several copies to give as gifts (I still may) and determined to spend a little time each day exploring one of the ideas in the book.  By the end of the week, I had resolved to spend a little time each week discussing one idea with Eve and Lola.

I often wonder if I am doing my children a disservice by not incorporating some sort of formal spiritual practice into their lives.  I know that as a child I was thrilled with the mystique and drama of Catholic rituals, but couldn’t really reconcile them with the patriarchical dogma that was delivered in a vengeful, punitive way. Ultimately, when my parents divorced, it was a relief to leave the church.  I have, from time to time, talked to the girls about Buddhism, but Timber’s book may be just the ticket to helping my girls more fully understand why I am drawn to these teachings as a way of life.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Klamath Falls, Oregon

My spiritual journey has been, well, a journey so far in my life.  I’m certain that on the day I was born, nobody expected me to have a spiritual journey. They expected to baptize me in the Catholic Church, raise me in the Catholic Church, and bury me after a lifetime spent in the Catholic Church.  I guess, technically, that’s a journey, but it stays pretty well within the same track, or at least I (and my mother) always thought so.

Until I was eight or so, this worked out pretty well.  Enter: divorce.  We were fairly rigorous Catholics, going to Mass on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, taking confession (at least my parents did) and signing us kids up for catechism classes.  The path was preordained.  Until my folks split up. And the Church politely asked us not to return.  Bad example for the rest of the parishioners and all that.

Until that point I hadn’t questioned much about religion or faith. I didn’t know anyone who didn’t go to church on Sunday and I frankly loved the ritual of church, if not the time spent there on sunny mornings.  I loved dipping my fingers in to the font of holy water at the entrance to the church and crossing myself like I saw the adults do.  I loved genuflecting before entering a pew and memorizing the steps that went along with different prayers – when to sit down, kneel and stand.  I loved the music and the stained glass and knowing when to say a solemn, “Amen” or “and also with you.”

After my folks got divorced, Dad seemed to have no issue not going back to that church and sometimes, especially in the summer, took us to his version of church on Sunday mornings – a short hike near Crater Lake or up Mt. McLoughlin with a few quiet moments to stop and enjoy the view while he prayed and thanked God for our time together.  I much preferred that kind of church to the ones my mother tried out thanks to recommendations from friends – a new one every weekend we spent with her.

By the time I was in high school I had thoroughly catalogued the hypocrisy I saw in my own family and friends Monday through Saturday and decided that church and religion seemed ridiculous.  I still liked the music, but there was little ritual in any of the churches we attended and I cringed at some of the messages of punishment and anger I heard over and over again.  I was relieved when I got a job at a local resort that held a huge Sunday brunch because I could beg off of church – we needed the money more than Mom wanted to admit.

I had also become increasingly interested in science and liked the ordered, logical view of the human body as a machine.  I renounced religion of any kind and decided I was an atheist.  I didn’t see any reason to think there was an afterlife and was openly disdainful of anyone who seemed to be simply tolerating their time on the planet until they could get to some paradise. I was determined to create my own paradise now – hedge my bets because I would be really pissed off if I discovered there was no Heaven after I had waited decades to get there.

Philosophy classes in college further solidified this view for me.  I took a comparative religion class and was astonished to discover how many really strange theories there were about different leaders and prophets and how malleable morality could be depending on which one you adhered to.  Couple that with the more complex science classes I was taking and I was definitely convinced that humans were basically machines.  Yes, we have emotions, but I was certain there were discoverable physiological processes that could account for those.  This view did not diminish the wonder of nature for me a bit – in fact it increased it more than anything.  The notion that there were so many variations in this mechanistic view of the world – that DNA could be expressed in so many different ways from a strawberry to a hyena to a human with Down’s Syndrome – that was truly miraculous to me.  And, ultimately, explainable with enough scientific knowledge.  Who needed religion?

And then Buddhism hit me.  It was not one of the religious views I had learned about in college and I knew very little about it, but about six years ago I started writing book reviews for Elevate Difference and was assigned a few Buddhist texts.  I also began taking yoga classes and heard more about Buddhist beliefs there.  The entire idea that a spiritual world view could exist without worshipping some deity or other was fascinating.  The tenets of peace and equanimity and love appealed to me greatly – especially in their inclusion of every other sentient being on the planet.  I was determined to learn more.

Today, I guess I would say that my spirituality is more deeply rooted in Buddhism than any other world view.  And while I still love the idea that the human body is a machine, and live that reality every day by trying to feed it well and rest it appropriately and work all of its parts with some regularity, my notion of it has expanded to include a spiritual component.  I don’t know exactly how I would describe it – a soul? some invisible connection between all sentient beings? I’m not sure.  But I heard an explanation on NPR (where else?) a few weeks ago that has slowly been settling in to my bones.  I can’t for the life of me remember what program or who said it or even what the context of the conversation was, but the question was whether animals have souls or not.  The answer came by way of analogy:  If you have a computer that is broken and you take it apart to discover why, you can fix it and put it back together and it will work (assuming you knew  at you were doing) the exact same way it did before.  If your pet (or your sister-in-law or your favorite dogwood tree) is ailing and you take it apart piece by piece and put it back together exactly the way it ought to go, it won’t come back to life.  There is something more, something extra, something intangible that we sentient beings have that defies mechanical explanation.

In my atheist days, this explanation would have thrown me.  I am certain I would not have known what to do with it, given that I had an entirely mechanistic view of humanity. You die and you’re dust. Period. Nothing else.

Today, I’m not so sure. Some might say it’s because I’m getting older and facing my own mortality, but I would like to think that one day I’ll be back in some other form to finish this journey of mine.  If I get to choose, I’d like to be a very pampered indoor cat who spends its days chasing bugs and sleeping in the sun patch at the end of the bed.


I love the notion of the Platonic Ideal. I don’t recall exactly when I heard the concept – probably in my Philosophy 101 classes in college – but it struck me with the weight of a 2×4 covered in goose down. A solid thwack with a side of oh.

“What makes a chair a chair and not a table?” When the professor asked the room, I’m certain we were all thinking he was high. Or at the very least that we were infinitely more intelligent than he. Honestly, who asks that kind of question?
He went on to explain and get us to think. Why is a chair a chair? Both a table and a chair have four legs. Both are often made of wood.
“A chair has a back you can lean in to,” someone called out.
“You use a table and a chair differently,” came another answer from the room.
As the discussion continued, we realized they weren’t all that different, though. A beanbag chair has no back, but we still consider it a chair. Some kids sit on top of tables. Especially in college. Some tables don’t have legs – what about a tree stump in a rustic setting? That could be used as a table, too. So what is it that makes a chair a chair? Is there some essential quality of a chair, every chair, that makes them chairs? No matter the individual design elements, we still recognize them as chairs, in some particular category of solid object that possesses some essence of “chair-ness.” And if you extrapolate that out to every object, is there some seminal essence that renders each of these things exactly what they are? Is there some quality of dog-ness, car-ness, cloud-ness for everything?
What about me?
I have spent a lot of time lately trying to define just who I am. Perhaps it has something to do with recently turning 40. Perhaps it is because I am finding myself at a bit of a crossroads as a writer trying to decide which project I move forward with (or not). How can I be the best me, the best version of Kari? I have to incorporate Mom-ness, wife-ness and writer-ness, all things that encompass multiple things within them. It is a process fraught with peril. I would have thought I had some definition of myself by now – know myself well enough to know what drives me, what is important to me, which things need to fall away – but it turns out I am not as close as I thought.
Some things have fallen away. I no longer define myself as a sexual abuse survivor or a child of divorce. Those things are part of who I am but like the tree whose trunk grows around the nail placed in it as a young sapling, I have formed a scar and incorporated them into myself.
So the question remains, what is the essence of me? At my core, what are the definable attributes that make me Kari and not Bubba or Eve or Lola? Or, on a larger scale, my mother? (Yes, that is a concept to wrestle with, too, as I age.) How am I different, unique, special and, yet, the same as these other humans near and around me? What is it that makes up my inner essential quality?
As I examine this notion, I am struck that it is not as frightening to ponder as I once thought it was. What ever these things are that make up my essence, they are immutable. Whether or not I ever discover them and am able to put a name to them, they will exist. Whether or not I can excavate them and polish them to a perfect shine does not really matter. Like the chair, even though I have a special “chair-ness” all my own, I am free to express it however I want. Like the chair, I can have four legs or three, or none at all. I can be plush and velvet or carved from a redwood. It does not change my essential Kari-ness and the fun is in playing with that, secure in the knowledge that I am me. No matter what.


When I was a child, I looked forward to the day when I could stop “learning” and just be secure in my knowledge of, well, everything. For a while during my teenage years I put on a good show that I already knew everything, but to that girl in the mirror I admitted I was frightened that I only had a few years left to learn so much more.

Lucky me! Turns out there is no “all” to know. Fully present in my fourth decade on this planet (yes, I don’t turn 40 until October), I often feel as though my learning has accelerated in the past five years. I’m not exactly sure why, or what is to come, but I do know that I am much more open to new experiences and perspectives than I ever have been before in my life. I am genuinely curious about a vast range of things and somewhat frustrated that my brain isn’t nearly as absorbent as it was when I was eight or nine or ten.
More than the actual collection of data, though, is the way in which I understand things as an adult. Thanks to the knowledge have gained from a variety of sources about many disparate things, I am often able to put together pieces I wouldn’t have in the past.
This realization has come to me recently as both a fascination and a curse. When I completed the rewrite of my manuscript a little over a year ago, I took off my “Writer” badge and replaced it with a “Salesperson” one. I had polished the book thanks to help from an editor and was ready to find an agent and publisher. In the meantime, I’ve donned the “Writer” badge for other projects – blog posts, essays to submit to various publications and contests, and a new nonfiction book project – but haven’t really revisited the first manuscript except to update the introduction to reflect relevant changing political issues.
For the last couple of weeks, I have felt a tugging on the “Salesperson” badge. I have found myself wondering if I ought to look over the manuscript again and give it some more attention. After several agent rejections, I thought maybe there was something they were seeing that I hadn’t. Then last week, I spoke with someone who might be able to help me find an agent (it’s not what you know, but who you know…) and I found myself describing my project in a much different light for some reason. By the time we hung up, I realized that my personal evolution in the months since I completed the edits might do well to be reflected in my writing. Before submitting the first two chapters, I decided to take a good, hard look at them.
I was appalled. The chapters read like a newspaper story – facts squarely at the forefront, devoid of most emotion, and completely lacking in any communal human, spiritual (not religious) context. I spent most of the weekend rewriting these two chapters to express the deepening knowledge I have come to have about what it means to be a woman, a human being fearful of consequences and repercussions, and how emotional isolation compounds that fear. I know that these chapters are much more powerful and meaningful because of this new perspective and, while I know I have much work ahead of me to weave those threads through the rest of the manuscript, I am grateful to have had this past year or so to stretch my awareness and understanding. Of course, this all leads me to wonder whether twenty years from now I’ll pick up my own book somewhere and laugh at the naive almost-40-year-old who wrote it.


I love a good philosophical discussion. Especially when it is a pure exchange of ideas versus an attempt to come to some conclusion. Add in tea, smart-as-a-whip women, and some chocolate, and I’m in Heaven.

The other day we happened to be discussing a book we were all reading, despite the fact that this gathering of women is in no way, shape, or form a book club. One of the ladies wondered aloud how the writer could possibly reconcile the idea of free will with his notion that there is some predetermination of outcomes.
Back in my college days, before I truly discovered philosophy and was strictly a Science/Math/No Such Thing As Woo Woo Spirituality kind of person, I would have laughed in the face of predestination. I would have taken the definitions of both free will and destiny to their most concrete meaning and decided in favor of free will, assuming that the two could never co-exist. Never. Ah, ah – don’t even try to take the conversation any further. Lalalala I’m not listening!
Predestiny scared the crap out of me. The idea that I couldn’t be in control of each and every moment of my own life frankly sucked. The notion that some of the nasty things I had lived through were actually supposed to happen to me was unfathomable. Even considering the possibility that I couldn’t make my own decisions and effect change gave me hives. As I have grown and lived, suffered and triumphed, read about and experienced things that I can’t explain using laws of matter and physics, I’m not so sure anymore.
Kristine entered the discussion by talking about her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and went off on a tangent about not booking a photographer to take any family pictures, despite having a conversation with her brother about it months before the event. Of course, it turned out that as the entire family was assembled in one place celebrating, a stranger came by, engaged them all in conversation and offered to take their picture. Of course he was a professional photographer who proceeded to take hundreds of shots of them all, burn the images to a CD on his computer on the spot and present them with the finished product before the party ended.
So it occurred to me to wonder whether this was an example of precisely what we were dancing around. If Kristine is one thread in this tapestry, running through at some angle she can’t comprehend, one part of this work of art she doesn’t have the perspective to appreciate, does she have free will even as she is bound by the borders and edges and the threads that surround her? She can dive down beneath an adjacent thread and come up an inch or so farther down the line.
Before I risk becoming too nebulous, let me put it this way: Say Kristine and her brother had booked a photographer for their event. If it turns out that this other photographer was “destined” to be the one taking the family photos, it is possible that despite the first booking, the original photographer gets sick or cancels for some reason. In that way, it was through no action of Kristine’s that the events occurred, but the eventual outcome happened because it was supposed to. Is it just the stuff of fairy tales and horror movies that we can’t escape our destiny or is it possible that even as we exercise our decision-making skills according to our beliefs and knowledge, there is some larger framework that exists that will, in some subtle way, exert itself to effect the outcome that needs to happen?
I used to need to know the answers. All of them. I used to think it was possible to find them – that they existed out there somewhere and I simply needed to discover them. Now I accept that, as one thread in this vast tapestry, it is my connections to others and the ultimate picture that we all make together that are more important. I don’t have to know all of the answers and I can still exercise my free will to make decisions for myself and my family and know that if I dip when I should have flown, it will all work out in the end and the end result will not suffer.