From my chair: Quality of Looking

“The quality of our looking determines what we can see.” – John O’Donohue

This view greeted me thirty minutes into my morning “looking”:

Seattle Fall Sunrise

I am constantly surprised by joy when I remember to sit in my easy chair and look at the dynamic wonders of nature and man flowing across and around the Puget Sound.

I am constantly surprised by the joy of social media for reconnecting me with the people a lifetime of interactions has passed by.  This week a colleague from thirty five years ago reached out to see what I was up to.  I shared with her that I was reading John O’Donohue’s Beauty: The Invisible Embrace and that I was starting a new series of blog posts “From my chair”.

She followed up with an email from Richard Rohr (one of my favorite Christian authors) suggesting that I was doing something akin to a practice in seeing that Rohr recommends:

Practice: Lectio Divina in Nature

Step out onto the Planet.
Draw a circle a hundred feet round.

Inside the circle are
300 things nobody understands, and, maybe
nobody’s ever really seen

How many can you find?

—Lew Welch [1]

We are created to read the book of creation so that we may know the Author of Life. —Ilia Delio, OSF [2]

Lectio divina (Latin for sacred reading) is a contemplative way of reading and praying with Scripture. Rather than trying to rationally understand a static text, this practice helps us be present to the Living Word of God and allow it to change us. In lectio divina, God teaches us to listen for and seek God’s presence in silence. Although the Bible is most often used, many people practice lectio divina with nature. Franciscans believe that the first act of divine revelation is Creation itself, so it makes sense to “read” or observe God’s presence in Brother Sun and Sister Moon, in animals and plants.

As with other forms of lectio divina, the practice is divided into four steps. Find a place where you are surrounded by the beauty of nature and where you feel safe to be quiet and alone for 20 or more minutes.

1. Lectio/Read

In silence, be attentive to your surroundings, opening to the mystery of these beings’ existence and prayerfully asking them to address you. Simply asking is creating a space in which a response can happen. If you like, use a journal to write down any impressions that arise.

2. Meditatio/Meditate

Ponder what you are observing, being attentive to whatever is in front of you as though you could be in dialogue with it. For example, as you look around, if you see a flower, gaze at it and also consider what it would feel like for the flower to look back at you. What it would be like to be in mutual relationship with all of Creation?

3. Oratio/Pray

Oratio is an opportunity to enter into dialogue with God, offering gratitude as well as lifting up your hopes, fears, and pains. In oratio, you are invited to surrender all of these things and allow God to transform you and the world through this encounter.

4. Contemplatio/Contemplate

Contemplatio is simply abiding in the presence of God. Rest joyfully in Mystery after lifting up your prayers and problems to God, confident that your needs are known.

From my chair, I have the gift of seeing fifty miles into the distance of the Cascade Mountains beyond Seattle, while observing the fall colors fifty inches in front of me.  The oscillations of views “from my chair” remind me to stay with this dance no matter where I am.  Now to add daily conversations with my creator.

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From My Chair: Reading Beauty by John O’Donohue

“Without, or with, offense to friends or foes, I sketch your world exactly as it goes.” Lord Byron.

I love my view of the Puget Sound from our perch on Bainbridge Island.

I love my chairs to sit and watch the world go by.  If it is warm and dry, my red rocking chair on our deck is first choice.  If cold or rainy, my green easy chair looking through our picture window beckons.

Sunrise first light

This morning the sun rises so quickly I almost miss the instant of first light.

“When we awaken to the call of beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world.  We were created to be creators.  At its deepest heart, creativity is meant to serve and evoke beauty.  When this desire and capacity come alive, new wells spring up in parched ground; difficulty becomes invitation and rather than striving against the grain of our nature, we gall into rhythm with its deepest urgency and passion.” – p.7 from Beauty: The Invisible Embrace.

To the north, Mt Baker peaks over Wing Point.  To the south, Mt Rainier reflects the early morning pink rays of sunrise under our sentinel pine.  My day has begun from my green easy chair.

Puget Sound Panorama

I look forward to reading and reflecting.  Instead the sunrise beckons me to sit back and “see” the sun remove the shadows of the transition from night to day.

The starlings are flocking to the flinging of peanuts in the shell from our neighbor’s early morning sharing.  The squirrels are close behind picking up the remains.

Instead of reading about beauty, I spend a half hour drinking my coffee and absorbing what is right in front of me.

From my chair.

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Lifelet: I love my Fitbit!

I love my Fitbit!

I had not worn a watch or any device on my arms since I experienced an Outward Bound trip in the 1980s.  Through the Employee Health benefits of Conga, I ordered a Fitbit Alta HR and an Aria 2 scale.  I figured that the Alta HR was small and thin enough it wouldn’t bother me.  Yet, for six months I still didn’t put it on.

In April 2019, I decided it was time I needed a health coach and joined Arivale.   [Unfortunately, Arivale shut down a month after I started.] As part of the service, you could connect your Fitbit to their system so that your health coach could view your data.  My impetus to wear the Fitbit came when my coach suggested that sleep was the most important health factor to work on.  The Fitbit automatically records your sleep parameters.  I had my rationale to now start wearing my Fitbit.

I love my Fitbit!

How could I love an inanimate device?  I was introduced to this concept by Katherine James Schutemaker who shared with me her research that led to the HP ad “I love my HP Laserjet!”  She found that with objects that people really like, they often transfer human emotions to that object.

What transformed my liking a Fitbit to a love affair was when I started noticing the implications of activities of daily living on my resting heart rate.  As part of the work with my health coach, I decided to go all in on Colin Campbell’s Whole Plant diet nutrition recommendations.  After two weeks on the diet, my nightly resting heart rate decreased from 69 bpm to 60 bpm.  I couldn’t believe it.

Then I noticed that when I went off diet by having a drink of alcohol, my resting BPM went up by 10 bpm or more even while sitting in front of the TV.  When I would eat a small piece of meat or a piece of cheese or a dish of ice cream the resting BPM would go up by 8 BPM or more.  I was dumbfounded that this device could detect so quickly the physiological changes of diet.  I was hooked.

Then I found that the Fitbit App could also do the mapping of my exercise routines.

Boulder, CO, Wonderland Park

You can see how painfully slow I am walking at altitude and in the heat.  My excuse was I was stopping to enjoy the views and the para sailing.

Once my daughters found out that I had a Fitbit, they asked me to share my data with them so we could compare our exercise activities.  Now the exercise records become a social activity.  However, I still have a long way to go to catch up with their occasional 40k steps per day.

I still get surprised by the vibration and fireworks animations when I pass 10K steps in a single day.  My fitbit even cheers me on WHILE I am doing the exercise.  What’s not to love?

As a “tracker” (not a planner or storyteller), I love that I can set an exercise goal for myself and then my Fitbit just quietly goes about passively tracking my progress towards that goal.  Whether the goal is sleep, or resting heart rate, or exercise, my Fitbit is always on the job.  When I forget to feed it electric power, it sends me an email asking me politely to give it some more juice.

I love my Fitbit!


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Is my Honda CRV watching me?

As we drove down the long hill to Moab, Utah, my 2018 Honda CRV started beeping, shaking the steering wheel and flashing information messages to me.

Driver Attention Level Low, Time for a Break

I immediately started looking all over the front driver area for the camera.  Indeed I had just yawned.  We were near the end of our first day of driving returning to Seattle from a visit to our daughter in Boulder, CO.  How could the CRV possibly know I was getting tired and needed a break?

Entering Moab, Utah

I poked my wife to look at the information display and asked her to look for the camera that was watching me.  Neither of us could find the inside camera.  She looked at our information manual and found the section on “Driver Attention Monitor.”

We both started laughing and realized that we were glad our first days journey was near an end.

But how did it know?  From the CRV manual:

“If the system detects that attention is down to Level 1, it will beep, vibrate the steering wheel, and suggest a break.”

OK, but how do you detect a Level 1 or Level 2, 3, or 4?  Hmmm, nothing in the user’s manual.  I guess it will remain one of life’s mysteries.

Our round trip from Seattle to Boulder, CO, to visit family was our first long trip in the year since we purchased the CRV.  I was not able to use all the advanced driving features like cruise control driving locally.  I was in for a treat.

I am old fashioned and like to drive a stick shift.  My personal car is a 2006 MiniCooper S variation from Cooperworks with all the cool handling options and extra horsepower.  It is a six speed that is a joy to drive – for short periods.  For long trips, the Honda is more comfortable and gets much better gas mileage.

I did not realize how all the new features would actually make me a better driver.  If you don’t use your turn signal when changing lanes, the steering wheel shakes and the LCD dashboard flashes all kinds of messages that you’ve left your lane.  So the camera and radar are both helpful and a reminder to drive safer by signalling your intent.

When we got to Eastern Washington and the open spaces, I was able to use cruise control.  As I looked down there was a new information light – LKAS.  What the heck is that?  My acronym brain went to work and I bet that it had something to do with lane keeping assistance.

“A camera mounted between the windshield and the rear view mirror determines if your vehicle moves away from the center of a detected lane while driving between 45-90 mph.”

What I didn’t realize is that LKAS also combines with Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS).  This system not only gives you alerts, but if you are using cruise control it automatically slows the car down when you get too close to the car in front of you.  That was a bit of an unexpected surprise the first time it cut in.  Here was another system that made me a better driver – it knew the distance where I should either brake or change lanes.  Cool.

In addition to the obvious safety advantages, the different cameras help with staying alert.  How is my judgement compared to the actual measurements of LKAS and CMBS?  How do my rear view mirror alerts to cars passing in my blind spot compare to how situationally aware I am to cars around me?

In spite of always wanting to be in control, I found the CRV a joy to drive with all these safety features.  I am not looking forward to the day when we have self driving cars as I actually enjoy driving and taking long trips.  However, I am delighted at the safety features that Honda and other car manufacturers are putting into their new autos.

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Lifelet: A Double Sunrise?

We are blessed daily with one of my favorite views in all the world – the ever changing Puget Sound and Elliott Bay looking towards Seattle from Bainbridge Island.

Seattle Sunrise with Ferry

Each morning whether clear or cloudy is a study in an artist’s color wheel.  Some days the pinks and oranges slowly emerge from behind the Cascade Mountains.  Other days the multitude of grays, fog and rain close in around the water.

And some days are meant to be painted.  The following sequence shows the original photo, the Google Photos Stylized Photo and my abstract painting of this sunrise:

Seattle Sunrise

Stylized Seattle Sunrise

Abstract Seattle Sunrise

For the last couple of days, I’ve had the painting on my table in our living room.  By accident, I placed the painting so that it catches the morning sun and the evening sun.

Double Seattle Sunrise

In the middle right, you can see the sunrise shining through the “sunrise.” I just created a double sunrise.  Is this like a double rainbow? Can we build a myth like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

Whatever it is, I like the photosynthesis.  There are at least four phenomena going on here:

  1. The original excitement at seeing the sunrise and grabbing my camera to capture it.
  2. Google Photo’s automated enhancement of the colors it “saw” in the original sunrise photo.
  3. Translating the observed experience and the photography into an abstract painting.
  4. Seeing the morning sun shining through the sunrise in the painting and the capturing a a photo of the “double sunrise.”

Each of the phenomena is about being awake enough to see the world around me. Each of the phenomena is about being interested enough to record the observation. The “recording” creates another artifact to remember the initial observation.

This blog post is another attempt at a meta-photosynthesis.  That is a new thought.  I’ve just created a synthesis of multiple photosyntheses.  Well, this discussion got circular in a hurry.

Somewhere in here is a personal creative process:

  • Be awake and observe
  • Take a photo
  • Paint it
  • Write about it

Or as my colleague David Robinson always reminds me:  Experience First, Make Meaning Second!

As I reflect on these steps of my personal process, I can feel the learning effects of sleep and memory.  Of all the observations I make in a day, what rises to the level of consciously being awake to observe and photograph.  After living with the memories and the photographic artifacts, what leads me to paint something in the abstract.  Then what rises to want to explore these right brain processes with some left brain writing.

As I sit here writing this blog post with the morning sun blinding my screen, I wonder if the title should be “triple sunrise.”

Now I know I need another cup of coffee.  Wake Up!

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Lifelet: Infinity and Beyond?

“What is the next number beyond infinity?” my oldest grand asked.

I love these questions.  And I have no idea how to answer her in a way that she might understand.

“Do you know the symbol for infinity?” I ask trying to buy some time.

“Yes, we learned that in kindergarten today,” she replied.

“Can you draw it for me?” I asked.

“Sure, granddad.”

Infinity and Beyond

“So what is the circle around the infinity symbol?” I inquire.

“Silly.  That is what is beyond infinity,” she shared.

“But you still haven’t answered what is the next number after infinity?” she reminded me.

“If you take your crayon and go around and around the figure 8 of the infinity symbol isn’t that beyond infinity?” I question.

Realizing that I wasn’t doing a very good job explaining to a six year old, I switched tactics and asked her if she wanted to make a painting out of the infinity symbol.  Using our collaborative technique that we enjoy, we painted infinity and beyond.


In the wonderful world of synchronicity, I am reading Sharon Stanley’s Relational and Body-Centered Practices for Healing Trauma.  She uses the infinity symbol to signify oscillating attention.

“Oscillating attention between the polarities of “forgotten” experience and sources of vitality differentiates neural states that may be fused, then allows them to link as new neural connections. Oscillation can be expressed visually with the infinity symbol, the figure 8 on its side. See Figure 8.1. Differentiations of phenomena reveal the opposites contained within an experience, and linkage brings the opposites into a more expansive form, leading to perspectives that integrate polarities.”

Stanley, Sharon. Relational and Body-Centered Practices for Healing Trauma (p. 124). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Infinity Oscillation Polarities

Just as I have difficulty explaining to my grand what is beyond infinity, I look forward to trying to understand what is beyond oscillating attention.

Until I can figure out an answer of what is the number beyond infinity, I think I will continue to oscillate the young lady’s attention.

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Lifelet: A Pueblo Prayer

So what does our garage curating philosopher sign say today?

A Pueblo Prayer

The message catches my eye:

“Hold onto what is good, even if it is a handful of earth.” – A Pueblo Prayer

My mind immediately races through all of my strolls through vineyards with Alan York and Barney Barnett.  How many times we reached down to grab a handful of dirt.  We wanted to see and feel and smell the power of biodynamic fine wine growing.

I also realize that the prayer is probably longer.  While on the ferry to Seattle,  I find the full prayer:

Hold on to what is good,
Even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe,
Even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do,
Even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life,
Even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand,
Even if someday I’ll be gone away from you.

I search to see if someone has creatively combined the text with imagery.  I stop and stare at the beauty of the face embodying the prayer.

Hold On – Pueblo Prayer

Hold on – to what is good, to my beliefs, to what I must do, to my life, and to my hand.

As I reflect some more, I remember the title of a poem my wife used for the title of her grandmother’s autobiography – “The Long, Far View.”

The Long, Far View – Katharine McAfee Parker

There’s a long, far view to take of a day,

And the nights are made for rest,

There’s a long, far view of a life and a death,

And the long, far view is best.

No small thing lives.

No great thing dies.

I know. I know.

And so I try to live each day with a long, far view,

And the years go swiftly by.

The journey to Seattle this day goes swiftly as I “Hold On to the Long, Far View”.

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