April 29, 1998


I have to deal with the boulders. I knew that it would eventually come to this, but I just did not know what to do.

I have been living in my new house for almost a year now. The one hundred and eighty feet of street frontage is lined by boulders. We are not talking rocks here. We are talking large boulders that could be moved only by heavy machinery. This is not a traditional New England wall built stone by stone. No, the boulders were tossed roughly in place as a farmer would do when he cleared his fields.

I like the boulders. They give a lot of character to the property. But the boulders are not lined up right. Instead of forming a continuous line they form a squished together “Y.” Somehow, for part of the frontage, a double row of boulders was laid, forming the top part of the “Y”. A new driveway was cut recently and maybe some or all of the second row was relocated from that area.

In between the double row is a mess of scrub, stumps and saplings. This area needs to be cleaned out, cleaned up and made orderly. I will need some of the boulders to finish off the entrance to the new driveway. But how should the wall be moved? What are the changes that need to be made?

Decisions like this one are not easy for me. I have been studying this wall since I moved in, wondering what needed to be done. I only think about it every time I walk past it. Should this be such a tough decision? Do I need to hire someone to help me decide?

For the last two weeks I have been working in and around the boulders - planting grass seed, clearing brush and leaves. The other day, I figured out what needs to be done. It did not come to me in the night or when I was out somewhere. It came to me when I was standing on the wall. I needed to muck around in the problem for awhile before the solution would come. I had to make the problem a visceral part of me, and then the answer became simple and clear.

The large pieces of glacial debris out front are not the only boulders in my life. I have boulders of fear which are the true obstacles in my life. How I deal with these boulders affects all of my decision making.

When I was practicing law my job required that I make many decisions. The decisions were based on knowledge and experience but they had to be made quickly. Often, a lot was on the line. I had no trouble saying yes or no, or go this way or that way.

But I discovered that I would use the same speed for decisions in my personal life. The decisions would be hasty and often would not work out for the best. I found that I was more interested in getting the question to go away than in getting the best result.

I have two decisions which are on the front burner right now. One is financial and the other is vocational. My energy level is up, I am enthusiastic and I want to make the decisions. But I know that I am not ready.

I learned that decisions have their own timetable. Some of the best decisions that I have made were the times when I decided to make no decision. I knew it was not time. Over time, the answer always becomes clear. The problem often resolves itself.

So for my pending decisions, I need to stand on my boulders of fear. I need to get more information and muck around for awhile. I need to clear away the underbrush that is clouding the issues. I need to move slowly and patiently forward.

I go within to my heart space and ask myself if I am ready to make a decision. Today the answer is no, but I know what I need to do next, so that a good decision will be reached. Standing on the boulders, I breathe deeply.

April 24, 1998


I live in a dangerous neighborhood. This country town by the sea is not your normal high crime area, but we have our share of trouble. Our problems never make it onto the police blotter, but we know what is happening. We do not have drive-by shootings - we have fly-by’s.

I was first introduced to this problem when I was living in a neighboring community. One morning I was standing in my kitchen when I heard a large thwump at the front of the house. I ran to the window and saw the bird feeder swinging wildly on the garage. A blue jay was lying in the middle of the driveway, dwarfed by a marsh hawk which was pecking it to death. After a few minutes, the blue jay was carried off by the hawk. I stood stunned in silence. For the first time I knew, yes, violence and death were part of suburbia.

On a recent warm spring evening my wife and I and our small dog, Kachina, went for a walk down our street to the marsh and the river. On the way we passed an open field with an unusual sight: a skunk rooting in the earth. I had only seen skunks at night in my headlights so this daytime viewing was special. He was so cute as he dug and dug, flopping his tail around. He had not heard that skunks are supposed to have one white stripe down the back. Instead, his back was all black and the broad white stripes ran down both of his sides. I felt honored to see him.

We continued on our walk and eventually turned around and retraced our steps. My wife pointed out the group of birds up ahead who seemed to be suspended in the air. They were large birds and they were hovering by flying into the breeze at just the right angle. Their suspended flight was majestic. They would hold their places for a minute or so and then they would break and float together in large circles.

We are not good bird identifiers, and we guessed that they were hawks. But we had never seen hawks flying in a group like that before. I hurried up the road mesmerized by their flight. I hoped that they would stay so that we could watch them up close.

Half way up the street it hit me. The hawks were not going anywhere. They were there for a reason. They were there for the skunk.

Sure enough, as we reached the skunk in his field, the hawks were flying low, right above us. I imagined out loud that they were sizing up the skunk and voting on who would do the dirty work and go in first. My wife was convinced that one of the hawks had his eye on our little dog, who was about the same size as the skunk. So she picked up the little dog and we hurried home.

I do not know what ensued back there at the field. I can only imagine. Maybe nothing happened. Maybe cooler heads prevailed.

So we have six hawks and a skunk. Is that an omen? Do you believe in omens? Maybe I should start believing in omens or at least suspend my disbelief for awhile. What would this mean? What do hawks and skunks mean in mythology? Is this like dream work?

I have no answers here, but I do have a lot of questions. The day after this sighting my life took a sharp turn - a zig, if you will. I know that the skunk, the hawks and I are connected just by being here. But we are unable to get together for coffee to sort this whole thing out. So my questions will persist. And I will zig on.

April 21, 1998

No Reservations

NO VACANCY is not a sign that I like to see. Nor do I like to hear some customer service representative tell me that there are no rooms available on my chosen night. There are no rooms at the inn.

I got what I deserved. My wife and I had been planning a long weekend vacation for a couple of months. I should rephrase that. We were planning to take a vacation, but we were not engaged in planning it. That is because I was in charge of planning.

Planning has not been in my lexicon lately. I have been in a blue funk and the only planning I have been doing is choosing which store to go to in the next hour to pick up some sugary treat. No lists were created. No appointments were set up. I was living in the moment, but not as that phrase is usually used. I was in the moment but not present. I was stuck in the past and the future and unable to get off the mark.

I tried to make reservations at our favorite hotel in Newport, Rhode Island, but they were booked for a conference. So I decided to put off any further decision. We would wait to see the weather forecast just before it was time to go, and then we would decide whether to go north or south.

We went south, and so did most of the other families from Massachusetts, since it was school vacation week. We went to Newport but all of the hotels and inns were full. We tried Jamestown, across the bridge, but only one musty old place was open and I did not want to die during the night from a mold attack.

We headed further south, in the rain. Oh yes, it was raining hard. We were checking places and making phone calls, all in the rain. We finally landed at a small place in Mystic, Connecticut. The place was fine but boring and we were cranky.

The next day we tried to find another place, but the bigger hotels in Mystic were all booked. We headed north and Foxwoods Casino was also full. We headed further north, figuring we could eventually just go home, and we found an inn in Westerley, Rhode Island. Again, it was okay but boring, except for the smoke alarm above the bed which went off in the middle of the night.

The conference at our favorite hotel in Newport finally ended and we moved in for the last night of our vacation. All of our favorite things were there or close by. It was grand.

So what did I learn from all of this? Do not go places without reservations. That is the easy part. But I also learned something about expectations. I was unable to enjoy the other places which I visited, because they were not what I had planned. A lot of other people had visited those same places by choice. Why could I not enjoy them?

When I have expectations, any detour will not work because I shut down to the possibilities of life. I have decided exactly how life should go. I want to be in control. Life is still going on around me but I am too locked in to one view to notice all of the other views around me.

I need to live life with no reservations. I am not in control. I am not in charge. The offerings of a single day are beyond comprehension and belief. I need to receive from the world and just be part of it. Otherwise, I will be forever locked inside the small and boring rooms created by my mind.

April 3, 1998

Setting the Bar

How do I measure success? Well, it depends. How high do I think I can jump today? Not too high. How come? Life happens.

I measure success by the little things. Did I get out of bed? There were dark days in my past when I could not answer that affirmatively. Did I shower? Did I shave? Of course I did! And yet there were times when those were great accomplishments.

Did I give a talk or workshop today? Did I do a big thing like that? No, but I was not scheduled to do it. Could I have done it? I am not sure but I think so. I could have done it but I would have paid a price. Thankfully, I did not have to test myself today.

So what did I do today? I did what had to be done. I got up, showered and shaved, made breakfast, met with my clients, sent a few letters, read a little, and wrote my ZIGZAGS. Yes, I did what had to be done. I did what I had agreed to do. Maybe I did not do it filled with joy and humor, but I did it.

The key to all of this is what I demand of myself. I know that these down times happen in my life and so I keep my commitments flexible. Some days I lower the bar, but there always is a bar, a level of performance and commitment which I demand of myself. The trick for me is to keep inching up that bar of performance over time by stretching what I do.

I read of one person who said that a successful day is whenever he wakes up above ground. I am jealous of that attitude, but it is not mine. That attitude denies the tension and paradox of daily life. It denies suffering and growth. It denies the significance of the push, the struggle and the victory.

The danger in viewing success as performance is that performance may become the only measure. A bigger question always runs through my day: How did I love today? If performance pushes me beyond the space in which I can be lovingly present, then it is not worth it. It is a false success, a false measure.

Down times present a challenge. Did I love myself today? Probably not. Did I love others? I hope so, but not as well as I could have.

It is then that I want to scream - Jim, didn’t you do what needed to be done?! Didn’t you get over the damn bar?! Enough already!!! Go to sleep.