Posts Tagged ‘Elissa Elliott’

basket of goodies

April 5th, 2010    -    18 Comments

Have you torn into the kids’ Easter baskets yet? I set aside a secret backstash for myself, although I have to admit that this year I was far more excited about what the bunny brought than my daughter was. She smiled benignly at me and then asked if she could dye a pink streak in her hair. (She’s always one hop ahead of me.)

I have a basket of goodies for you to tear into:

To have a 40-minute gabfest with me, open this. Or, download it onto your iPod and listen to me laugh all during your 3-mile run.

To win a free signed copy of Hand Wash Cold, open this. You have until Friday to win, so if I were you I’d leave a long trail and keep coming back for a taste!

To choose one thing to read  besides Hand Wash Cold, open this. I mean every word of what’s written.

To find the motivation to start this week’s laundry, open this. And share it too. Those pages can use some cooler heads.

To make sure you’re in on all the goodness I’ll be sharing at the next Mother’s Plunge Retreat on Sat., May 22 in the Bay Area, open this and register. It’s about time to load up your eggs in one basket. The Mercy Center sisters need an early count on the chickens, and remember, you need not be a mother to come!

To give me an idea of how to handle the pink hair thing, please leave a comment with your parental wisdom!

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Pain, pain go away

November 30th, 2009    -    10 Comments

Elissa Elliott is an (imperfect) mother, (recovered) former high school teacher, and (happy) author of Eve: A Novel of the First Woman. She blogs (almost) every day at Living the Questions, and she’s the first of my daily guest bloggers this week.

Pain is a funny thing. We’ll do anything to make it disappear. Wouldn’t our lives be exceedingly better if we didn’t ache, pine, and grieve? Wouldn’t we be happier, for crying out loud?

Yet if you’re a reader (or a writer, for that matter), you’ll know that conflict in a story is the name of the game. Without it, the story limps along, boring and aimless.

Still, if we were to make a film of our lives, we’d edit out all the bad parts, the difficult parts, so our luckless viewers can have one continuous, happy viewing.


No story is good without conflict or tragedy. You need the lows to appreciate the highs. You need the winter doldrums to understand the summery successes.

Thus, today, I have a question for you and for me. Why do we wish a vital part of our life away? Why do we treat something as good or bad, simply because we can’t comprehend it . . . and don’t want to?

Here’s an idea taken from a book I’m reading called Living Zen, Loving God by Ruben L. F. Habito. Habito is a practicing Catholic and former Jesuit priest. He’s also a Zen teacher and a professor in the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Whatever your spiritual practice, you will find that he gives thoughtful and intelligent reflections on practicing Zen—to gain a more joyful and compassionate life. For him, the practice brings him closer to God.

Habito once joined a vipassana meditation session led by a Theravadan Buddhist monk at an international religious conference. The meditation theme was generating kindness toward others. Here is the experience in Habito’s words:

Our director-monk suggested we concentrate on some pain we may have, say a pain in the leg or in the back: just to be aware of that pain, without attaching any value judgments or desires such as “I want that pain to disappear.” After a while we will be able to accept the pain as simply pain, and be able to live with it and no longer consider it suffering, he explained. In other words, if one does not associate such ideas as “pain is undesirable” or “I want relief,” judgments already based on ego attachment, with the bare and neutral fact of the pain itself, then pain ceases to be suffering, and is revealed as mere experience.

“Mere experience.” Wow. Is it possible we could value every little adventure of our lives, without labeling it good or bad?

I think so.

Today, I offer you a small gift—a poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. She illuminates this topic so much better than I in her gorgeous “Summer Morning”:


I implore you,

it’s time to come back

from the dark,

it’s morning,

the hills are pink

and the roses

whatever they felt

in the valley of night

are opening now

their soft dresses,

their leaves

are shining.

Why are you laggard?
Sure you have seen this

a thousand times,

which isn’t half enough.

Let the world

have its way with you,

luminous as it is

with mystery

and pain—

graced as it is

with the ordinary.

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Falling upside down

August 10th, 2009    -    3 Comments

Mother’s Autumn Plunge
Saturday, Oct. 10, 2009
Assisi Heights Spirituality Center
Rochester, Minn.

There is a story about what brings me up so high this time, so far out there, beyond any place I’ve ever been or even seen on a map.

There is a story about how all of us – against odds, hope and reason – will come together for another day of effortless oxygen and quiet astonishment.

Listen. It is the story of your life.

About two years ago, I got an email from a complete stranger, the lovely writer Elissa Elliott. She had read a powerful essay by novelist and teacher Dan Barden, “Writer as Parent: No More Aching to Be an Artist,” in Poets & Writers magazine. Dan was another stranger to me, but he wrote convincingly about what my book had meant to him in the early confounding years of parenthood when ambition and opportunity seem forever lost.

Elissa read Dan’s words, and then mine, and in a flash, she let go of her well-founded fears about motherhood. “I believe I can do it,” she wrote to me.

I lost touch with her until a year ago this month, when I read about her adoption of Liliana, now three, from the Ukraine. We can always do the thing we are most afraid to do; indeed we must.

I’m humbled and awed at the mysterious force – wind, breath, words – that can release us from old fears and resistance. Awed, and yet it happens all the time. It happens when we exhale. And when leaves fall.

When Elissa wished off-handedly for a retreat in her northern neck of woods, I didn’t know where she lived. I only knew I could find it. I trust it’s on my way. More than that, I trust it is the way.

How lovely to see that Rochester has a 100-year-old tradition of healing. And that our retreat home, Assisi, recalls my own conversion experience to the unholy goodness of the whole wide world. How awfully kind that airlines are offering insanely low fares. I have my ticket to paradise.

If you live in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, South Dakota or North Dakota, I insist you come. If you live in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana or Michigan, I’m saving you a place. If you live north of the 32nd parallel, especially if you don’t even know what that is, let go and fall up to the Autumn Plunge. And tell your friends.

We’re blowing in the wind and diving into a golden pond of wonder. Turn everything that’s stopping you upside down.

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