Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

For the Love of a Perfect Shoe

ShoeI should have bronzed them and placed them on a fireplace mantel– a tribute on an altar to the shoe Gods. Those shoes were the sexiest, most wicked, most wonderful, bunion making black shoes I had ever owned. The purchase came at a time when I could least afford it–$60.00 for a pair of shoes in 1985 was a lot of money. Like I said, they were black.  They were black and high, with pointy toes and a little strap around the ankle that added to the allure. They were the ultimate “come hither” pumps.

The shoes, when lying on a carpet, looked like they should have an empty martini glass and a black lace bra lying next to them… real heart breaking, damage doing leather accouterments reserved for a Catholic girl who took all those many years of guilt producing catechism and slipped it into a pair of shoes that could be worn with a strut. God, I loved those shoes. They were practically a religious experience.  They gave me moxie on first dates, second dates, and “I might let you come home with me” dates.  They were familiar with dancing at the Roxy till closing time, and Donte’s–a little jazz club in the valley where I once watched Gabor Szabo fall off of the stage on a particularly wild night.  They had wobbled me home from dinners at the Ivy and nightcaps at the Hotel Bel-air.  They glided across carpeted rooms in a way that turned heads.  In short, those shoes were the world’s biggest confidence booster.

For a year I wore them with just about everything. My closest was not of the Imelda Marcus variety, but rather the single working girl variety. Among practical work clothes, I owned one classic black dress and one pair of fabulous shoes. Whenever I put those shoes on, I felt like a million bucks, and even as the heels wore away and the pointy toes became wrinkled, the counter slightly scuffed, my love was faithful. Putting them into the plastic bag that went to the Goodwill was a sad, and grieving day.

I cannot wear high heels anymore. I am at the sensible flats age of life, and I refuse to torture my feet , hips or low back the way that I used to regardless of how gorgeous the shoe is. Still, as a bonafied elder, the advice that I have for young women is this: a little torture may be worth the price.  Always have a perfect pair of black, sexy shoes in your closet that lets you strut your stuff and know that you are “all that!” You’re only young once.


Thanks to a Daily WordPress Prompt from the friends at WordPress!

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Letting Go

Each year I plan a retreat for my community. This year I am bringing Dr. James Finley to Boulder, CO on September 20, 21 and 22, 2013 to lead a retreat on Meister Eckhart and Letting Go. This is an interview that I conducted with Dr. Finley a couple of weeks ago. To learn more about the retreat and how to attend, please visit:

headshot 055(1)A Dialogue With Dr. James Finley About Letting Go
With Stephanie Raffelock

“Letting Go” is a phrase employed by psychologists and theologians alike that inspires and encourages us to loosen our psychic grip, if you will, on outcomes and desired resolves. But how exactly, beyond lip service, does one actually “let go?” And what does letting go mean in terms of our spiritual unfolding?

I sat down recently with retreat leader and psychologist Dr. James Finley to explore these and other questions about what it means to let go and how that particular process might inform in our daily journey into prayer and contemplation.

When we talk about letting go in spiritual sense, are we talking about a kind of surrender into something greater? Would you please distinguish between letting go and surrender?

The starting place for me is to accept the fact that it takes a committed effort to reach any kind of wholeness or fulfillment. For example, as it applies to love: Two people meet and fall in love and they have high hopes that over a lifetime together they are going to grow in love together, but for that to really work, they have to be doing love’s work. That is to say, the desire must be bolstered by a lifetime of effort.

The same thing applies when a couple decides to have children. It takes a lifetime of fidelity to challenges that good parenting requires. So too with committing ourselves to one of the healing professions, or to going through our own healing process. So too with poetry and the arts—all the fundamental modalities of a fulfilled life require an ongoing effort.

Yet, what happens as we commit ourselves to these transformative processes is that we come to points at which we reach the end of our own resources. We experience our limitations in being unable, by sheer brute force of our own efforts, to achieve our noble goals.

It is at such times that we are tempted to panic or get discouraged. Then we discover the way forward lies in learning to let go of imagining that we can force our way through to the goal we seek. As we relax into the situation, we begin to realize that the way forward lies in learning to let go of our own abilities as having the final say in what is possible, so that resources within us and beyond us can come rolling through, bringing us, in all sorts of unexpected ways, to the wholeness and fulfillment we seek.

The need for effort remains. But the effort is infused with a quality of an ongoing letting go that allows graced possibilities to flow through our limitations and shortcoming, leaving us grateful and amazed. Such is the disciplined effort of the mature lover, the parent, the poet, the healer. The way forward lies in leaning into what needs to be done in an ongoing stance of letting go that renders us supple and responsive to what needs to appear, what needs to happen next.

Shortcomings, both real and imagined, when deeply seen and accepted, are an important part of the transformative process of learning to let go. If we do not let go of the need to be perfect, our need to be perfect will get in our way. Likewise, if we do not let go of our fear of failing, our fear of failing will get in the way. But as we learn to let go of the need to be perfect and the fear of failure, the intimate, earthy stuff of being a vulnerable, loving human being begins to shine through. In an ongoing process of learning to let go we bear witness to the great truth that the master limps. The mastery of life is intermingled with the ongoing weaknesses and limitations that gives life its rich and many layered texture and meaning.

This blending of ongoing effort merged with an ongoing interior stance of letting go, gives insight into the nature of spiritual practices. Lovers cannot make the moments of oceanic oneness happen, but together they can engage in the acts that embody a mutual letting go that offers the least resistance to being overtaken, yet one more time, by the gift of oceanic oneness.

The poet cannot force the poem out onto the paper. But the poet can assume the inner stance of letting go that offers the least resistance to the gift of poetry welling up and out onto the paper. The one committed to healing reaches points at which he or she cannot make healing happen. But the one committed to healing can assume the inner stance of letting go that offers the least resistance to the graced event of healing.

The spiritual life seems to evolve out of moments in which we fleetingly glimpse a mystery, without which our life will be forever incomplete.
This awareness is followed by the realization that I, by my own powers , cannot force my way through into mystery of the fulfillment I long for. Nor can I coax the mystery to take me to itself. What I can do is learn to let go of the illusion that my inabilities have the final say in what is possible for me. What I can do is let go of the control I think I have over the life I think I am living. What I can do is get vulnerable in the messy, intimate process of letting go, so that what I am powerless to achieve can grant itself to me in my very powerlessness to achieve it. That is what makes the awakening event to be an “amazing grace.” Who would have guessed it? The mystery that is always beyond me is always giving itself to me in my ongoing stance of letting go of my ability to reach it on my own terms.

Much as we humans may try, somehow superstitions can and do creep into our faith. Would you talk a little bit about letting go of superstition and immersing in spiritual letting go?

Superstition is magical thinking that we buy into. A closer look reveals that it is not really trustworthy. In the light of the wisdom traditions, we can single out four superstitions we sometimes buy into: the first is the superstition that the ego can, by its own abilities, reach ultimate peace and fulfillment in love, in creativity or any foundational aspect of life. The opposite superstition is that my inability to achieve the noble goal condemns me to never reaching it. The third superstition is that some power will achieve the noble goal for me if I perform the right ritual or believe the right thing. And the fourth superstition is that anything other than whole-hearted effort accompanied by an ongoing stance of letting go is going to bring me to the wholeness and fulfillment I seek.

Someone said to me once, “Just surrender into God’s love.” And while their direction sounded poetic and beautiful, I didn’t really understand what such an action really meant. What is meant by surrendering into God’s love?

Someone comes into therapy, distraught and traumatized. If I say, “ Just surrender to God’s love,” I am disrespecting the painful place in which they find themselves. I must first acknowledge the reality of their suffering, let them know that I am so sorry this is happening to them and then sit with them in the intimacy of such suffering. Within the space of compassionate empathy, I may say, “I get the feeling that this suffering is not the only thing going on here. I get the feeling that this suffering does not have the final say in who you are. If it did, it would have annihilated you. Therefore, there must be something in you that is not reducible to this tragedy.” The point being that the notion of surrendering to God’s love in the midst of suffering becomes a real and helpful goal in the context of an intimate acceptance of suffering, infused with an intimate sense of God being somehow present in the suffering as kind of promise or hope that is somehow already present in some obscure manner that is not easy to explain. A lot of healing flows from two people sitting together in this intimate and obscure path to wholeness.

I know that recently you have been doing some work with The Twelve Steps of AA and the process of letting go. Surely there is a letting go process in the healing of addiction. Please tell me a little about that.

What I have been exploring is that each of the twelve steps of Alcoholics anonymous is a pathway to “mystical sobriety,” that brings a person to a liberation from the tyranny of suffering in the midst of suffering. Each of the twelve steps can be explored as a path leading to mystical sobriety that brings a person to freedom from the tyranny of death in the midst of death. The art of letting go lies at the heart of this path to mystical sobriety.

It’s easy to keep “letting go” as an ideal in your head, but is there a concrete process that you would share with your readers that each of us can take to begin the letting go/surrender process?

There are three guidelines in the wisdom traditions that can help us in the ongoing, daily process of letting go. The first guideline is to find your practice and practice it. That means to find that act, that person, that community, which, when you give yourself over to it with your whole heart it unravels your petty pre occupation with your self-absorbed self and in doing so sets you free to be who deep down you really are and are called to be. Your practice might be sitting silent and still in meditation. It might be gardening, or taking long slow walks to no place in particular. Or your practice might be reading or writing poetry, painting or some other creative activity. Or your practice might be being vulnerable and open with the person in whose presence you are taken to the deeper place. As Eido Roshi, put it, “if you are faithful to your practice, your practice will be faithful to you.” Little by little, practice becomes habituated into your day. Little by little, your life becomes practice.

The second guideline is to find your teaching and follow it. By this is meant to find those words that access your heart and elicit a deep “yes, this is true.” These words name me. They reveal to me who I deep down really am and long to be. These teaching may be found in the scriptures, or the words of a poet, or someone whose presence and teachings offers guidance and encouragement in your life. Little by little your daily life becomes your teacher.

And the third guideline is to find your community and enter it. Your community is found in a person in whose presence you know you are not alone on the path of letting go. Your community may be the presence of a teacher or mentor, a spouse or fellow traveler on the spiritual path. Your community might be found in a group that gathers for meditation or prayer that offers support and guidance on the spiritual path. Eventually, you discover everyone you meet, that all your fellow human beings are your community.

In the spirit of these teachings, James Finley will be in Boulder, CO September 20, 21 and 22, 2013 leading a retreat on Meister Eckhart and Letting Go. To learn more about the retreat and how to attend, please visit:


Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Small Musings On A Dream

iStock_000013123861SmallAs I was coming out of the dream I heard myself say: Holiness is not something attainable, rather it arises in each of us from an authentic heart—an invincible preciousness, as my friend Jim would say.

There are decisions and choice points in each of our lives that are the needle piercing the cloth, carrying the thread that weaves its way into the markings of the journey. My choice point began at sixteen in the back seat of a  Lincoln Continental–heavy make out sessions with my boyfriend Dan in his father’s car, followed by reading Khalil Gibran aloud to one another– a sensuous world punctuated by ancient wisdom. The religious experience, if you will, as put forth by Rumi—“there is some kiss we want with our whole life—It is the touch of the spirit upon the body.”

In the early days I simply experimented, open to anything that lifted my eyes toward the heavens and burrowed into my depths—dropping acid and looking for God in the Sierras; driving to Ojai to be with Swami Satchidanda as he conducted Sat Sang. Later I sat in churches with broad theological brush strokes that were inclusive; read A Course in Miracles and meditated until I was dizzy.  It was chaos that would one day make sense. I became a lay scholar, reading Howard Thurman and Reinhold Niebuhr, trying to wrap my head around the spiritual life , only to create a sticky affectation that would later require peeling away.

To put it in perspective now:  All the gurus and meditation, the silence of prayer and the beauty of cathedrals did not bring me any closer to enlightenment than my Labrador retriever and the joy of walking him in the woods. The authentic heart arises as I sit on my deck and watch the neighborhood march its children to the bus stop bundled like little Michelin men in parkas and hats, accompanied by parents and dogs who are part of the life ritual. God is not in the chalice, but in mittens dropped in the snow.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Never Again!

iStock_000007750112XSmallFirst off I should tell you that this story takes place in 1972. It’s important to note because people were doing all kinds of new and strange things in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The boundaries of consciousness were being pushed and that is one thing, but in many instances people who thought they were pushing the boundaries of consciousness were really just pushing the boundaries of good taste, and that is really quite another.

Tucked into a quiet Topanga Canyon, then home to artists, musicians, spiritual seekers and rabid vegetarians, was a place called Elysian Fields. It sat on several acres of scrub oak and meadow and was replete with tennis courts, a swimming pool, massage facilities and plenty of outdoor sitting area where one could enjoy the beauty of the natural world around them. It was the 1970’s version of a spa, except for one little detail—it was a nudist camp, a naturalist preserve…nobody had any clothes on.

I was barely 20 when my then boyfriend suggested that we visit Elysian and go au natural for a day, allowing for the freedom of being unrestrained by clothes. Twenty makes you think of stupid things to do like no other age I have ever experienced. Spending a day around other people with no clothes on—what could be so bad? We were young. We were free. This was the new age and so boyfriend and I packed up our car, though there wasn’t much to pack inasmuch as we did not need swim suits or tennis clothes, just a pair of Adidas, a racket and a couple of towels. Second thing to note: we were fully clothed on the drive to Elysian Fields. Fortunately, stupidity in this instance, was thwarted and no one was placed in the position of having to explain how free we were to the California Highway Patrol..

Nudity wasn’t exactly new to me. I sometimes sunned in the back yard sans top…but here at Elysian Fields, where the sign at the front desk read “clothing optional,” I felt like naked on naked. Adding other people to the mix was just weird. The people walking around without clothes didn’t really seem all that free; more like self-conscious about the fact that they were naked and pretending that they were “free.”

Boyfriend and I signed in and headed toward the tennis court where some others were playing too. I don’t really want to describe the things that flop around and smack you in the arms, face and legs when you are playing tennis without any clothes on. It was the weirdest tennis game I ever played—naked and absolutely nothing sexy, let alone free, about it.

To allow ourselves the full experience of being so friggen’ free, which was now beginning to feel somewhat annoying, boyfriend and I found our way to the pool, which at least seemed a little more natural, given that water allows for some cover. Diving boards provide a similar “please don’t let me see that flopping around” purview as playing tennis, albeit blessedly briefer. So, the pool experience was not any better really than naked tennis.

Then reality hit: with the exception of boyfriend and I, most of the Elysian Fields clientele appeared to be over the age of 50. Now 50 is not a bad age, but it is definitely an age where clothing optional behavior should be limited to ones own private house. 50 in this instance felt creepy as opposed to free. The realization of clientele age and images of tennis that neither boyfriend or I could get out of our heads, led us to make a departure swifter than initially imagined. In the dressing room at the front desk, I was never so grateful to put on clothes.

I like clothes. If I want to feel free, I take off my shoes. It is one of those 1970-type of experiences that makes for a good story now…but I tell you what—never again!



This is a Daily Prompt Post:

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

A La Natalie Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg
Natalie Goldberg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember—my first class with Bobbie Louise Hawkins, how she did timed writing and sang Natalie Goldberg’s praises. We wrote for 10 minutes in notebooks in a day before laptops were part of the college scene in a day before the inanity of Facebook and Tweeting. We were a small rag-tag bunch of wanna-be writers who huddled in cold classrooms, four or six of us at a time, accountable to one another for our participation in classes so small that if someone dropped out of the dialogue, there was a lull and we all jumped down their throat for it later.

We spent Friday evenings at Penny Lane, chain smoking and drinking coffee, notebooks in front of us. We applauded for the people that got up and read their poetry, offering support while scrutinizing the words and how they were strung together.

When I was graduated, Bobbie Louise gave me a copy of “Writing Down the Bones,” with the inscription, “I expect great things from you.” I lost contact with her when life intervened. I interviewed Allen Ginsberg before he died for a small paper in Aspen. I wrote a couple of short stories for the Aspen Writer’s conference and then I went about the business of being a wife and nesting, coming eventually to partner my husband in business. I felt like I had let Bobbie Louise down. There were no great things coming from me.

I continued to keep spiral notebooks of writing but after awhile the writing became less and less.

Somewhere near the intersection of 60 and holy crap, I rediscovered the me that sat at Penny Lane listening to poetry; the me that went to student films at the art center and I pulled out those spiral notebooks only to discover that I had actually written a lot more than I thought in the years when I wasn’t writing. I began again in earnest. Timed Writing, new Natalie Goldberg books because now she had been writing about and teaching writing for 20 years. And I started giving away what was in my heart. That was a big part of my education at Naropa: community service with whatever you talent skill or ability was. So I started teaching creative writing in the jail at Jefferson County where I discovered that you couldn’t help anyone.

I remember learning that you can inspire and cajole. You can suggest and teach, but ultimately whether or not someone takes your help is on them and you are not part of that story. There was a young woman—Jessica. She had spent a year at Jeffco jail for meth use. She had energy and enthusiasm and I thought I could help her. I wanted to help her. I set up contacts at Naropa for her to call when she got out. I emailed Natalie Goldberg and told her about my student and Natalie arranged for a scholarship to a writer’s workshop. When I knew Jessica was getting out, I gave her a copy of “Writing Down the Bones,” with the inscription similar to Bobbie’s.

She never called anyone and three months later she was back at Jeffco. Naropa had become a place for trust fund babies and gone were the days of starving student writers who wore their angst like proud badges of courage. Jessica may never have found any comfort there.

I remember that I write because I love it. Sometimes I remember that it’s a discipline and other times I remember that it is a compelling inspiration. Still other times I remember that it is the doorway into my examined life, a painting with words that portrays who I have been, who I am and who I am still becoming.