Paradise in Plain Sight

The Sunday Salon: Inspirational Reading

Although not a traditionally religious person, I am one who seeks ways to add a spiritual dimension to my life. I am also constantly struggling to define what that means: right now it’s a desire to connect to something larger and more lasting than my physical presence on earth, and to do so in a way that adds meaning to my life and to the lives of others. 

It comes through daily routines and rituals I craft for myself: time alone in the morning to think and read and write, walking outdoors, listening to and playing music. It comes from being with people I care about, bearing witness to their stories, doing things that might make their lives a little easier or more pleasant. 

And, not surprisingly, inspiration for my ongoing spiritual journey often comes from books. These are some of the books I’ve turned to - and keep returning to - for guidance and insight:

Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: I first read this classic memoir in the 1980’s when I was a young mother, dealing with the multiple demands of daily life with children and family, much as Lindberg was doing when she wrote it. It spoke to me of women’s eternal journey and struggle, and the deeper meaning in all the myriad details of our days.

The Crosswicks Trilogy, Madeleine L’Engle: Since I read A Wrinkle in Time in fourth grade, Madeleine L’Engle’s work has touched my intellect and my heart. These three memoirs delve into her history, her family life, her love of music, writing, science, and God and they way they all intertwine together. 

Magical Journey, Katrina Kenison: When I first read this warm and meaningful memoir two years ago, I knew I had found a kindred spirit. Katrina Kenison writes with an uncanny sense of prescience into my own soul. A woman's journey into and through midlife is fraught with uncertainty and change. Reading this book felt like Kenison was taking my hand and leading me gently forward into it with her, providing a guiding presence along the way.

Paradise in Plain Sight, Karen Maezen Miller: I knew nothing about Zen Buddhism or Japanese gardens when I opened this slender little book last fall. She opened my eyes to an entirely different reality - one where it’s not only permissible to let go of unrealistic expectations and perfectionism, but to embrace a sense of calm and peace, a belief that life unfolds as it was meant to do one moment at a time. 

Wishing you insight and inspiration for your own spiritual journeys this spring, wherever you may find it.


Life Goes On

“Each of us walks along a path with no sign of where’ve we been and no knowledge of where we’ll end up. The earth rises to meet the soles of our feet and out of nowhere comes a gift to support and sustain our awareness, which is our life. Some days the gift is a bite, and some days it’s a banquet. Either way, it’s enough.” from Paradise in Plain Sight, by Karen Maezen Miller I’ve not been sleeping very well lately, and there are some practical reasons for this. One of my little dogs has allergies and she wakes periodically in the night with a stuffy, sneezy nose. When she wakes, often about 3:00 a.m., I wake. And then I am restless and fitful until morning, my mind buzzing with thoughts, ideas, and always a running loop of my To-Do list.

Sometimes I leave my bed and go across the hall to the room that serves as my writing room during the day. There is a queen sized bed in this room, a bed covered with a quilt my aunt made me for a wedding present. The quilt top is cross stitched in an intricate floral pattern. She stitched every stitch herself, by hand,  then stretched the quilt top on the frame in her basement and quilted every tiny quilting stitch herself by hand. A labor of love, and one that seems miraculous to me, as I have neither the patience nor the talent for sewing. When I take my restless body and crawl under this quilt, I feel instantly comforted. It is the perfect heft to be warm yet not suffocating. It’s like being held close to someone you love, someone who knows just how to calm a racing heart.

bookEvery time I pick up my copy of Karen Maezen Miller’s book, Paradise in Plain Sight, it falls open to the page that contains the passage quoted above. This small, elegant book is very much about finding meaning in the here and now, so I think there must be a reason these words appear before me so often. What are they trying to teach me?

On these bright and beautiful summer days, I am spending so much time immersed in the lessons of my past. This is not a bad thing.  While collecting and curating my writing for this book I am piecing together, this book that is like a patchwork quilt of the past eight years, I am beginning to see myself not just in part but as whole, see the path I’ve walked along for not just the past decade, but get a glimpse of what led me to it in the first place. One foot in front of the other, sometimes through soft mossy meadows, other times through thickets full of briars, the path of my Life in General has led me here: to this place where Life Goes On.

“Out of nowhere comes a gift to support or sustain our awareness, which is our life,” Maezen writes. “Some days the gift is a bite, and some days it’s a banquet.”

Life feels like a banquet to me these days. I try not to be smug about that. Or complacent. After all, I know about the dark side. I remember those few years ago when losses stacked up like dominoes and then began to tumble incessantly. But I’m beginning to see those moon-shrouded days as part of the path I had to walk to get myself to this place, a place where I feel as if I’m right where I need to be to take the next steps wherever they might lead.

The gifts that come to me are usually small - the sight of a hummingbird at the feeder, my little dog asleep with her head on my pillow, the gentle harmony of wind chimes in the breeze, morning coffee in my favorite chair. My husband’s fingers intwined in mine. My son’s voice on the phone.

A gourmet feast.

Your banquet will be different from mine. But if you look at your world with new eyes, perhaps you will find more than just a bite to support you on your own path. Maybe you will find the incentive to walk briskly rather than just putting one weary foot in front of the other. It won’t happen all at once, it won’t happen every day. One sweet morsel at a time. One sprightly step in front of the other.

This is how life goes on.

Another reason I’m having trouble sleeping is because I’m in the process of developing something deep down, a sort of spiritual growth spurt that happens only when the body quiets down and the busyness of life is stilled.  I think these nights under my quilt are part of what I’m learning, like everything on my path these days. They remind me of the love that surrounds me, the care and labor that goes into everything beautiful.


The way a hundred thousand tiny crossed-shaped stitches can- when you stand back and survey them whole- become a wildly spreading garden of flowers.