How do I engage with inner freedom that is stable, independent of outer circumstances?

Outwardly, my life in the care center is shifting. Now we can rejoin the larger community and though we are all vaccinated, we from the care center must wear masks at all times, and stay distanced. To sit outside in the sun chatting with a friend, looking out on the pond in front of the main entry to Kendal, with no one to time me, or escort me, was like being on vacation. I relaxed in ways I hadn’t known I was missing. It has been very nourishing.

What is freedom? I wouldn’t recognize this gift if I didn’t already know it deep inside. Gratitude for the slow reintegration with other Kendal residents is blooming with the tulips.

Though still masked and distanced, I am reveling in new-found freedoms. leaving the care center to see the campus, friends, and community gathering areas once again.

Molting Goldfinch

I am shedding

my olive drab winter feathers

growing new ones of

aconite, forsythia, crocus, daffodil yellow

glinting in the spring sunshine

I dominate the bird feeder

propagate my species

crack open my sunflower seeds

while she delights in watching me

her seeds from a package

on top of her morning oatmeal

She is also molting

shedding gray prohibitions

of a pandemic

and growing new feathers

of golden hope

in trust for her species

I write from Ohio and am not sitting beside Lake Erie, but my body knows the waves.

Sitting on the Shore


Yesterday in the high wind

thoughts rose up

rising from the surf

of a thousand white stallions

crashing down on the shore

their flashing hooves

disappearing into sand

the foam sizzling away

only to arise and return

over and over again

Today my feelings are at low tide

the gentle slap and sigh

slap and sigh

lulled by waves

that come and go

to and fro

freely within

the greater body 

Sitting still

I gaze

beyond the horizon

from east to west

sitting still

what remains

beyond rocks that spawn each earthy grain of sand

beyond drops of all the rippling waters, salted and fresh

beyond photons of light radiating from our star’s fire

beyond molecules of oxygen blending into outer space

Sitting firm and utterly still

breathing in and out

freely like waves

within the greater body

Judi Bachrach

Writing on Water


Writing on Water

by Judi Bachrach

With thanks to Elaine Colandrea and Neil Dalal for languaging the ineffable

Like Hammurabi or Ashoka

we think

to chisel our dreams

our laws for moral behavior

our democratic systems

our individual life programs

in stone steles

skyscrapers, monuments, bridges


against forever

they crumble

into rigid irrelevance

We are all born of

the same ocean

the same ocean

our liquid eyes are pools  

reflecting what they receive

the art of writing on water

adapts to constant

fluid motion


the unstoppable effervescent

Intelligence of Life

Elaine Colandrea is a Continuum friend and colleague and Neil Dalal is an Associate Professor of South Asian philosophy and religious thought at the University of Alberta, Canada. They have both given me words for the poem above in each their own sphere of teaching. It was not one of those poems that fell ripe from the muse tree- nothing clicked until the last moment though the urge was swirling in the chaos of these times. There are days I am wedded to rigid stone for some kind of anchor. Then the next wave washes over me, my rocky island crumbles beneath my feet, and I am swimming again.


Diary 2/2/20 February

We have transitioned to the second month of the year. Today it was sunny all day, a wonderful rarity, and the temperature got up to fifty-four degrees. I do not object to the effect, only that I surmise the cause for this unseasonable warmth is not good news. I went out to Buttonbush pond to see that the green grasses of fall are way underwater though only the very center of the pond remains covered in ice. Bulbs in their beds are confused about whether to keep sending out shoots or not. Mostly the early bright sprouts are in a kind of suspended animation. There was a strong breeze sweeping in this warm front and by mid-week, it is supposed to drop back to thirty degrees again. I whisper to the gardens as I pass them outside, “Pull up the covers and go back to sleep.” I hope they can hear me.

I have been working with a sentence that was read to us in a small gathering of Quakers on New Year’s Eve. It went, “In our meetings, we gather in silence to sit at the edge of Everything.”

This phrase entered in like such a sharp knife, I barely noticed it had lodged in my heart. My mind tumbled the words around until it felt comfortable. All of my thoughts, my beliefs, my perceptions, and experiences will fall into everything. That feels right. But, then everyone’s thoughts, beliefs, perceptions and experiences fall in as well. All of Ohio’s, the country’s, the world’s, the entire manifest universe- all of it is Everything. So is Nothing part of Everything.

Then my mind is finally stopped. My mind cannot possibly comprehend Everything. That is when the seed planted in the heart of silence took root. In the Silence beyond my mind I taste limitless, spacious unbound Everything. For my mind this is terrifying and there is simultaneously a sense of intense freedom. The edge of Everything is neither comfortable nor uncomfortable. Those sweet tastes radiate from the moment of knowing through to my dense everyday self and brightens the corners where I like to hide. The corners are habitual obfuscation where I imagine that I am other than I am, which is thoroughly human and fallible.

I long for the sharp edges when I am complacent and yet, I am learning to embrace unconditional joy more often as it arises. I am less invested in doing my practice. I am given to and shaken and taken to new places more than I could ever assume that I was responsible for manifesting by myself. Listening in a meeting, sitting with others in silence, purposely sitting on my own or lying down at the interstitial moment between wakefulness and sleep- Everything is itself and I am also Everything.

This was written as a response to the prompt. “If I could”, that I was given in one of my writing groups.

If I Could in an Unraveling World/ 1/14/2020

If I could still happily skip everywhere

like I did as a little girl

despite my dysfunctional family

If I could still climb

two thirds of the way up Mt. Katahdin

as I did on my honeymoon

despite the invisible creep of MS

If I could still split open with joy

at the birth of my two daughters

despite illness closing down my body

If I could relive the moment my husband’s body

was taken from the silence

when I ran into our empty bedroom

laughing AND crying to the only one

who could’ve understood,

“Richard, you’ll never guess what just happened.

You died!”

If my heart could still bear

those dualities

I might better remember how

to hold both

unfettered delight in loving my new grandson

and my utter grief

for his apparently unraveling world

P.S. My grandson is two months old today. In twelve days, Richard will be gone for two years

Signs and Synchrony

Diary 7/11/19

I know this post is longer than usual, but I wanted to share further ripples from my retreat with the signs and synchrony I saw. Human beings are pattern makers. We connect dots of everything from stars in the sky, to the implications of Chinese fortune cookies. We may or may not take them seriously, but it seems to be a way that we endeavor to make personal sense out the vast impersonal universe in which we find ourselves. I no longer question, “Where did this come from? What does it mean? How did this happen? Is it real?” The experience of honoring my response is enough. It takes me out of the logical concrete world and opens my intuition and imagination alongside my left brain dominion. I don’t know that there are answers to those questions, or if there need to be any. I more easily allow myself to be tickled or touched or grateful as “messages”appear before me.

July 4th, with backyard fireworks taking up airspace all day and into the night, was when animals at the retreat center began to show themselves to me. Because I could not traverse their territory out of doors, they had to make themselves known to me through windows. That day, I had a conversation with Richard; my first. I have not sought out such communication, it simply arose in my mind and I chose to listen. He teased me by saying, “What? Did you think that just because you have a body and I don’t, that we are separated? Remember what Emilia wrote down for me to give to you when I was still in the hospital, when I could hardly retain coherent language, let alone hold what I had just said?”

This is what he dictated for her to put down on paper: “Adoration for my Beloved, I am always with you. I will always be with you. Forever. Thank you so much my darling. I’m here with you forever.”

I told him that, no, I hadn’t forgotten. I keep that paper and its sentiments as a treasured gift. He replied, “ Well, it is real, I am here with you and always will be. I know you can feel my love right now.”

I put down my pen and sat still again. There it was, a warm, visceral sensation in my heart. The sensation of warmth and heart feelings expanded and swelled until my whole body felt like I was immersed in a warm bath of love. I thanked him for this physical reminder and we went on to speak of other things. He said he had been learning how to appear as animals in the embodied world, and assured me he was going to visit me soon. Speaking of bodies, I told him I was having a hard time with my body at this retreat. It was also unpleasant to be the only one who showed their infirmities, whereas at the Care Center at Kendal, I am one of many. Here at the retreat, people would wince as they saw me struggle to get up from a table and were always rushing to open doors for me or take my food tray to the kitchen for cleanup. My pride was a little aggravated by all this solicitous attention.

Richard reminded me that I owed my life to the kindness of strangers. When I was born eleven days after my father died, my grandmother took me to live with her on Long Island for a year or so. My mother, with my three and five year old brothers, returned from Kansas to live in Woodstock, N.Y., the summer home of her teenage years. My grandmother had poor health and the neighbors across the street, in the upstairs apartment, and friends across the hall, often took care of me each time she fell ill. Richard’s reminder helped me to readily thank those long gone strangers by more graciously receiving the help of those who were caring for me in the present.

When all was quiet within me again, I went downstairs to sit before the open windows of the library room outside the dining hall. I still felt embraced by Richard-love and sat quite still until I had a nudge to open my eyes. Immediately one of the resident does ran across the front of the building and away into the woods. I closed my eyes, and again came the nudge. A squirrel ran up the trunk of a tree and out on to the end of the branch directly in front of me. I chuckled as he stared at me for a few minutes before he turned tail, ran down the trunk and ran back up to stare at me all over again. “OK, Richard, I see you,” I thought.

I went into our silent dinner, and afterwards did a double take as I saw something large and brown outside of a glass door on the way back to my room. It was a doe, lying on a patch of tall ornamental grasses, planted to block our inside view of two electrical transformer boxes facing the parking lot. She also stared directly at me, poised for flight. But she didn’t stir. I tried not to have predatory eyes in gazing back at her. Then I saw her mouth was slightly open and she was panting. I saw her entire belly rolling and realized she was in early stage labor. Her teats were swollen, and when not staring at me, was lifting her back leg up to lick at herself. Richard and I had birthed enough lambs together to know a laboring ungulate when I see one. I kept telling her, over the ten minutes we were communing, that she had to find another place for giving birth. “I know there are fireworks going off all around here. It seems safe behind those boxes and on this grass, but this is also a place where many humans traverse every day. It is too exposed for you. Please move on now.” She looked at me intensely, shook herself, and bounded off into the woods.

Touched by that encounter, I went back to my room. Immediately, as I sat down in my meditation chair by the windows, a female cardinal perched on the closest branch and looked at me, one eye at a time. When she flew off, two American goldfinches alighted next. Their feathered sunshine danced and flittered together until they both stopped to gaze back at my laughing face. When they departed I felt thoroughly in touch with Richard.

I only looked at my phone now and then to check the time and eliminate too many emails from piling up to answer on my return. To cap off these these animal encounters, there was an email from Dennis, our good friend, and a Jungian oriented sand-play child therapist, sending me a chapter that he was dedicating to Richard from his new book. This chapter was about encounters with Pan, the wild element in us all, and how Dennis works with panic attacks that he has helped so many children resolve.

Dennis and Richard had gone on a trip to Tuscany together years ago. I think he said to me they had climbed some hills and crossed fields to find a spring burbling up. They were delighted to happen upon it until they realized that the hoof-prints all around it were those of wild boars. It was, according to Dennis, “the hour of Pan”, and they beat a respectful retreat. Make of it what you will, but for me, these overlaps of my world and the animals around me deepened my sense of physical communion with Richard.

In my second floor bedroom, there were two, side by side 3’x8′ windows. They looked directly into a cluster of very tall Balsam fir trees, maybe 80-90 feet tall. Two different thunderstorms invoked such intense downdrafts that they set these giant standing people into visual chaos before me. I felt seasick as both the vertical and horizon planes of my ordered world were thrashed violently with the arms of massive green carwash rags on my windshield. Accompanied by rollicking thunder and lightning, I could not help but regard these trees with awe.

One night, just before I climbed into bed, I was thinking those trees were like Christmas trees with post doctoral degrees. Not only do balsam firs have that classic curved-up bough design, but instead of tinsel or glass icicles, these had slender green pinecones hanging down to decorate their branches. Just then, a firefly slammed into my window with a single blip of light. I looked out, and there were a dozen fireflies zooming up into the deepening dusky green depths. Now the trees were completely decorated with blinking lights. A Christmas treat delight in July.

Miracles? No. But surely a result of slowing way down and paying attention to my one amazing world.

Falling in Love

Diary 7/10/19

I am back from my silent retreat. More of that below. My younger daughter is 33 years old today. Amazing. We had a psychic friend who channeled a delightful entity named Emmanuel. Our friend gave us a reading the first week we brought Marion home from the hospital after her traumatic life and death birth and Emmanuel told us, “An altar for your faith is born.” Marion was certainly a family life-changer for Richard and me and her older sister. As her biological challenges (mild brain damage, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, epilepsy) were slowly revealed to us throughout her childhood, we found our own vulnerabilities and strengths to support and learn and love her through her struggles. Love’s altar has been a beautiful one, and today Marion lives independently with aid from a variety of agencies. She paints extraordinarily colorful and fantastical images, and finds her life full and under her control. We communicate daily through video cyberspace, and that makes it tolerable for me that she is still in N.Y. state while her sister and I are now in Ohio. Happy Birthday, my dear, wise daughter.

My week of silence was wonderful. It is not easy to put into words such an internal non-verbal experience. There was one day of signs and synchronicity which is easier to share which perhaps will show up in my next post.What I can say about the rest of my time is to acknowledge the spiritual muscularity it requires to face yourself honestly, minute after minute, hour by hour, and day after day. It evokes exactly what you can imagine of listening to and observing all the subtleties of your personality. The thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations fly by and you can pack heaven and hell into the space of an hour, let alone during the long, dark mysteries of the night. Navigating this in a context of healing, of the longing to be whole, brings you to face to face with the need to surrender a lot of what you thought necessary to defend yourself from the world “out there.” Instead, you find the startling lack of difference between “in here” and “out there.”

Many hours of intermittent deep peace and joy balanced the work with suffusions of stillness in mind and heart. This Jesuit retreat facility itself was lovely in all ways. It was spacious and comfortable. With 57 acres surrounding the main building, it is an ideal location for a retreat center on the west side of Cleveland. Every window looked out into greenery of forest, field, lawn, or landscaped areas.There were pathways that led all over; to a grotto here, statues there, with many benches and even a fountain dedicated to forgiveness. Though I could not go far away with my rollator, my fellow retreatants would disappear outdoors flowing in every direction, with journals and backpacks to sustain them on their journeys.

By the fountain, there was a plaque with the following quote on it. It summarizes my own discoveries of finding out that I have recommitted to live in one world where the sacred and mundane are one and the same. Staying in love is my chosen work.

Fall in Love

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University. Used with permission.

Water and Spaciousness

The pond at Buttonbush Bridge is a magnet for me. My friend, Linda, and I are going to spend a week in silence during the first week of July at a nearby Jesuit retreat center. I am drawn into silence more and more deeply as the time approaches. I have done ten day word-fast retreats in groups before and with Richard from time to time, but this is the fist time I am going only with one friend to a place neither of us have been. Since we declined their proffered religious instruction, we will be totally on our own, in our private side by side rooms, sharing silent meals with others. Linda and I have yet to sit down to make loose plans together.

There are beautiful grounds surrounding the facility, with woodland trails that I doubt I will be able to access using only my rollator for stability. We need to agree on signs- Do you want to walk outside after lunch? Do you want to sit together this afternoon? Do you/I need a hug if we are stuck and are going through a hard time? How are you doing?

My personal choices for myself abound as well. Hopefully the facility will respect my vegetarian- no gluten diet as they indicated, and I don’t need to bring any food. My biggest focus for this retreat is about releasing the wordsmith in my brain. I’d like to get to a point where I can sustain longer periods of time without words constantly naming, labeling, judging, reporting, and shaping my experience. That is a real challenge for the writer in me.

We all have quiet moments after vigorous activities, both mental but especially physical, when we lean on our rake, or knees, or desk, and simply stare out into the space around us. We are not particularly focused on anything, we just allow the quiet reflective moment to be. We don’t have to report to anyone but ourselves in those times. They are restful and nourishing and complete in and of themselves.

Meditation is like that for me. Lately, I find that as I practice sitting in meditation, I am less and less interested in the thoughts that stream by. They are there, but I am on a different wavelength below them. If I am caught by a daydream, I find I am simply less concerned about how it turns out, and drop it like Alkaseltzer into a glass of water. The fizz doesn’t even grab me anymore. The sound track dissipates into silence.

For that reason, sitting by the pond is as close as I can get to an open sky, gentle stillness, and absorption in something other than myself. It only takes a few minutes to get my “pond eyes” working. There are no big dramas; only very small ones that are revealed as I become more still.

Buttonbush Bridge Pond

Bodiless swans

feather the breeze

cottonwood tree puffs

skid along the surface

edging delicately down

to the algae mats

Small birds appear to

walk on green carpets

fluttering along twigs jutting up

between water soaked roots

A single frog glurks

another croaks repetitively

triggering a belching circumference

amphibian territories

rounding off into silence


subterranean turtles

water striders

the swift dip of a bird wing

gentle circles of doomed cottonwood seeds

Like a watercolor painting

stillness beneath


stillness within

I take the landscape with me when I go.