Category Archives: reflection

Willing to Be Disturbed



As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally—our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.

We weren’t trained to admit we don’t know. Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers. We’ve also spent many years listening to others mainly to determine whether we agree with them or not. We don’t have time or interest to sit and listen to those who think differently than we do.

But the world now is quite perplexing. We no longer live in those sweet, slow days when life felt predictable, when we actually knew what to do next. We live in a complex world, we often don’t know what’s going on, and we won’t be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing.

It is very difficult to give up our certainties—our positions, our beliefs, our explanations. These help define us; they lie at the heart of our personal identity. Yet I believe we will succeed in changing this world only if we can think and work together in new ways. Curiosity is what we need. We don’t have to let go of what we believe, but we don need to be curious about what someone else believes. We do need to acknowledge that their way of interpreting the world might be essential to our survival.

We live in a dense and tangled global system. Because we live in different parts of this complexity, and because no two people are physically identical, we each experience life differently. It’s impossible for any two people to ever see things exactly the same. You can test this out for yourself. Take

any event that you’ve shared with others (a speech, a movie, a current event, a major problem) and ask your colleagues and friends to describe their interpretation of that event. I think you’ll be amazed at how many different explanations you’ll hear. Once you get a sense of diversity, try asking even more colleagues. You’ll end up with a rich tapestry of interpretations that are much more interesting than any single one.

To be curious about how someone else interprets things, we have to be willing to admit that we’re not capable of figuring things out alone. If our solutions don’t work as well as we want them to, if our explanations of why something happened don’t feel sufficient, it’s time to begin asking others about what they see and think. When so many interpretations are available, I can’t understand why we would be satisfied with superficial conversations where we pretend to agree with one another.

There are many ways to sit and listen for the differences. Lately, I’ve been listening for what surprises me. What did I just hear that startled me? This isn’t easy – I’m accustomed to sitting there nodding my head to those saying things I agree with. But when I notice what surprises me, I’m able to see my own views more dearly, including my beliefs and assumptions.

Noticing what surprises and disturbs me has been a very useful way to see invisible beliefs. If what you say surprises me, I must have been assuming something else was true. If what you say disturbs me, I must believe something contrary to you. My shock at your position exposes my own position. When I hear myself saying, “How could anyone believe something like that?” a light comes on for me to see my own beliefs. These moments are great gifts. If I can see my beliefs and assumptions, I can decide whether I still value them.

I hope you’ll begin a conversation, listening for what’s new. Listen as best you can for what’s different, for what surprises you. See if this practice helps you learn something new. Notice whether you develop a better relationship with the person you’re talking with. If you try this with several people, you might find yourself laughing in delight as you realize how many unique ways there are to be human.

We have the opportunity many times a day, everyday, to be the one who listens to others, curious rather than certain. But the greatest benefit of all is that listening moves us closer. When we listen with less judgment, we

always develop better relationships with each other. It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do curiosity and good listening bring us back together.

Sometimes we hesitate to listen for differences because we don’t want to change. We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things. If we don’t listen, things can stay as they are and we won’t have to expend any energy. But most of us do see things in our life or in the world that we would like to be different. If that’s true, we have to listen more, not less. And we have to be willing to move into the very uncomfortable place of uncertainty.

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives. Great ideas and inventions miraculously appear in the space of not knowing. If we can move through the fear and enter the abyss, we are rewarded greatly. We rediscover we’re creative.

As the world grows more strange and puzzling and difficult, I don’t believe most of us want to keep struggling through it alone, I can’t know what to do from my own narrow perspective. I know I need a better understanding of what’s going on. I want to sit down with you and talk about all the frightening and hopeful things I observe, and listen to what frightens you and gives you hope. I need new ideas and solutions for the problems I care about. I know I need to talk to you to discover those. I need to learn to value your perspective, and I want you to value mine. I expect to be disturbed by what I hear from you. I know we don’t have to agree with each other in order to think well together. There is no need for us to be joined at the head. We are joined by our human hearts.


Wheatley, Margaret J. Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future San Francisco: Berrett-Koshler Publishers, Inc., 2002

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as is


My heart hurt thinking about you

so I bought a book of poems

I may already have:

a line so small and heartbreaking

crept up on me

and slipped itself inside me and

stopped me dead in my tracks

and I trembled

– and yet, I may already have this line

in the very same book I may already own

and yet what if I am wrong

that is the question

about the book at home

and later this evening,

the store closed,

lights out, everybody

gone, home, alone, one lamp lit,

wondering how I dreamed up such a mistake

– what a terrible desolation – and

yet I am now driving home,

book in hand, so to speak,

in a bag resting in the passenger seat,

and the only surprise still possible

is this:

what if on the other hand,

I now have two beautiful slim volumes

of the exact same book of poems,

each with the hidden line I love,

one for me and the other for you.



chris woodhull

A Letter to Rejection

a letter to rejection image

Rejection isn’t something we want to talk about, it’s embarrassing. We don’t like knowing that someone thought we weren’t capable enough.

I recently applied to a degree program. It was like a “DIY” degree program of sorts. I was so sure that this was the program that would solve all of my problems and answer all my questions about how to turn my interests into a job.

I slaved away on my application for months, talking with the director of the program, different professors and students trying to formulate a kickass curriculum for myself.

The day finally came for my interview. I walked in with confidence and spoke with confidence. I laid all my cards on the table, showing my portfolio and everything I have ever been involved in and why.

I thought I had done splendidly. And then two hours after the interview I was in class when I received and email saying that I was not accepted into the program. I walked at warp speed to the bathroom and sobbed in a stall, calling my mom repeatedly until she answered.

I had never experienced rejection like that. What was I going to do? I was so sure that plan A would work out I hadn’t even thought to formulate a plan B.

After having a sad day I woke up the next day furious. I wanted so badly to march up to the committee that interviewed me and say, “You missed out!” Alas, I didn’t. It was just a wonderful daydream that helped me deal with my feelings.

Just like most experiences (good or bad) I learned a few things.

First, feel what you’re feeling. Get mad and say a bunch of words your mama wouldn’t approve of.

Second, accept that some people won’t see your vision, as you know it is.

Third, know that you have a right to affirmation. For some reason we’ve got it stuck in our heads that looking for affirmation is “weak.” Well, I’m tellin’ you it ain’t. It’s called being a human.

And lastly, remind yourself to keep doing, keep making mistakes and keep getting rejected, its bound to be acceptance eventually.


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Bathing Abstract


My body is before me. I linger above the bath, a cylinder of light and water. I see my body. I am in my thoughts above my body and above my thoughts in a pool of bubbles collecting into lines of meaning trailing up and away into a soundless puddling at the surface; I am returning to my self in my body. Gently, quietly. In my skin and in my body in the water.

My soul surrounds my body from within my body. My thoughts slip in and out of my soul. My name is hidden; it dissolves. Everything outside my soul is what I call my life in the hours of my day. I am now completely at home in my body held all about me by my soul. The stillness of the moment is alive with my soul who knows who I am.

I come into a wordless knowing that God is just like me.

–  christopher woodhull / art by pia bramley

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I keep picking up the phone



It rings, and she picks up.

The muffled sound of struggle, rummaging for a moment (no doubt untangling her curly phone cord from around a plant or other objects in the vicinity.)

Hello? She says hello

I feel her joy

laughing at my jokes.

showing a genuine interest in my life.

loving me.

I tell her stories, she listens and enjoys them whole heartedly.

Then a couple weeks later I accidentally tell her the same story. She doesn’t stop me and say, “You told me that last week, remember?”


She sits and listens again and enjoys again.

Yeah. I love that about her.

Even though she passed, when I call she always answers.

And always will.


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Photo Credit: Mario De Biasi

Photo Credit: Mario De Biasi


Love is breathing; it’s alive like a pulse. Move to Stevie Wonder’s, “Love’s in Need of Love Today.” Or Gregory Porter’s, “I Fall in Love too Easily.” It goes where it will. It is emphatic and fleeting. It has body. Love only needs love with me in the middle.

The thing about love is that it resists control. If you use it too much or squeeze it too tightly it vanishes.

Let love be, let it sit in the palm of your hand like some wandering ladybug. Don’t contain it by wrapping your fingers around it. Let it inhale and exhale and maybe even flutter its wings in flight suggesting leave-taking.

Love is sumptuous. It’s belongs to other things besides relationships. Scientists say we have discovered 14% of the species on earth. The same with love I say.

We pass love daily, and don’t know it. That’s the beauty of love; it can be found in every crinkle and crease of life if you’re patient and open and let it capture you.

-christopher & paris

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Reduce. Reuse. Rekindle.


“Boston Cream” By Lee Price

“Getting back in touch with nature.” What does that even mean? How have we “lost touch”? Perhaps, because we have literally ceased touching nature.

Truly coming into contact with nature is not only physical, but it’s about clearing and opening your mind to listen to the unknown. And I mean really listen. Listen to nature in such a way that you are coming into the conversation without any preconceived ideas of what it will look and feel like. As John O’Donohue wrote in his book Beauty, “What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation.” Thoreau’s Walden is an experiment in moving backwards in order to think forward. By backward I mean reducing, simplifying, pairing his basic needs down to the elemental. By moving forward, I mean as a result of the experiment, decluttering and clearing his mind towards more conscious thinking. But is Thoreau’s approach relevant in our world today?

Encounters with nature can come in all different shapes and sizes. Smelling a rose, taking a walk, or breathing in the crisp fall air. These are the kinds of encounters that we think of when regarding interactions with nature. Yes, I suppose those are all legitimate encounters with nature, but an “encounter” is not just physical. Everything about us is nature: the luminosity of our skin, our steady breath, the way our ears funnel sound, even the way in which we think. But over time we have let our smarts get in the way of carrying out a natural life. And I hesitate to even use the term “natural life” because, it should not be viewed as something that is a question or option.

As human beings, we are extremely susceptible to customs, outer forms. We love to have traditions and routine, and few break free of this monotony. Luckily we have strong humans such as Henry David Thoreau to help us rethink our ways. According to Thoreau, “Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in.” Whether it be land, valuables, or simply money it is often passed down through generations in families. Thoreau calls to question how this societal custom has shaped our thinking and, as a result, our lives. The surroundings that we are born into often serve as a vehicle for our thoughts: not always shaping them, but having a definite influence. What if we went back to the earth, the meandering waters, the cool wind, the soft dance of leaves? Our minds would become clear and we would become strong human beings.

O’Donohue poetically explains that, “The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows.” As humans, we are animals on the earth. We often forget this and think of ourselves, instead, as our own entity. We need to stop seeing our bodies as devoid of nature, but as an actual element of nature. Thoreau understood that if we were to reacquaint ourselves with nature we first would need to reacquaint ourselves…well…with ourselves.

Thoreau reprimands humanity in the midst of his first chapter in Walden by noting that, “We are made to exaggerate the importance of what work we do; and yet how much is not done by us!” Thoreau notices that one of the biggest causes of humanities’ problems is the emphasis of what we do and what we create. Thinking, Constructing, and getting praised for a job well done: we eat it up. It feeds our egos and cushions our lives. Truth is, we do not matter to the world as much as we tell ourselves. If we were not on this earth the natural world would still continue without us, if not flourish. Coming to this realization is one of the first steps in gaining back our innate place in the natural world. When we step back and divorce ourselves from our egos, we start to see a clearer and more opaque perspective. And that view is that we are mere puzzle pieces of a larger creation. Yes, we serve a purpose, but we are not what defines this world.

Now how do we go about getting back to our natural state? Now, not all of us have the luxury to quit our jobs and go hole up in a cabin in the woods and have pensive and revolutionary thoughts. But, we can take small steps. So I challenge humanity: Spend a few moments a day outside. Sit still and listen. Don’t think about how Jennifer needs to pick up her room or how you can not believe your boss trusted you enough to let you take the reigns with the companies newest client. No, just sit there and feel what you feel. Your first few times you might feel fidgety or restless, but the more you practice the more you will understand. One day you will feel your inborn connection with nature tugging at your middle. I’m far from an authority on the topic, but I have an inkling that if more people practiced listening to the world around them we would have lower crime rates, lower rates of disease, and less pollution which would be just a few results. It sounds farfetched, but it really is not at all. Do not think about it, mull over it, or try to pick it apart. Just do it and see what happens. Think of a child drawing. Instead of shoveling through a box of crayons they simply pick the first one that catches their attention. The child wraps the entirety of their dimpled palm around the waxy piece of color and moves they’re arm around the page with a jabbing motion. They feel. They don’t plan then execute, they do. Become that child.

Nature is beguiling.
Nature is erotic.
Nature is transformative.


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My Love


My grandmother’s death was exactly how she would have wanted it to happen. She didn’t decline over a long period. It was just a couple days. A few minutes before her death we were all surrounding her, holding her hand, touching her arm, brushing her hair out of her face and all of a sudden her eyes opened wide. She seemed to be looking right through all of us. She was seeing something and whatever it was, it was magnificent. Twice this occurred. At the very end she raised her arms as if she was reaching for something beyond our knowing.

Of the many wonderful memories of Cheers, that’s what we called her, Cheers, my best were the ones I spent at her house as a child. Often she would take me down the stairs to her basement that served as her studio. It was always scattered with pages ripped out of magazines, tubes of paint, a multitude of brushes and supplies, and canvases of all shapes and sizes, some displaying finished paintings and some with doodles and ideas. As soon as I stepped over the threshold entering this space I was hit with the smell of acrylic paint. It was home.

She never told me not to touch things like grownups frequently do to small handsie children. I was free to admire, caress and use anything in that sacred space. She ignited my love for art.

Cheers was a strong woman. A real fighter. Meaning she was real, her own self, not a copycat.  It makes sense because art is the most challenging lover. Art cannot be created without vulnerability and vulnerability creates real human beings. It is this process of imperfection that creates vividness and life.  That is what I learned from her.  I don’t want to be perfect, I want to be real.

Cheers was a true artist, with her painting and the life she lead.

I think a life is well lived when it doesn’t stop.  Her spirit carries on in many of us, it’s too beautiful and precious not to.  And in that way, she lives.  There is simply no need too say goodbye.


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I went to therapy, every week for about a year.

My mother drove me up to the office complex. I stepped out her silver Honda CRV and walked up the fake stone steps.

I opened the door and entered a world of soft Christian music wafting an air conditioned message of “Jesus is our lord and savior” in an overcrowded space of ugly wholesale dining room furniture and plastic plants, a kind of televangelist set.

It was a safe place I suppose and I hated it.

Don’t get me wrong, I really wanted to like it. I knew in some way I needed help and this did seem like a place that could help.

I am a white teenage girl with divorcing parents; I am sure that is a huge pie slice in some demographic chart. I really wanted to feel like a character in a teen drama. “Poor Paris.” And this allowed me that fantasy.

I thought to myself. “The only thing that you thought to be stable is crumbling down.” “That must be really tough for you Paris.”

My therapist would greet me in the waiting room and we would walk up the carpeted stairs with the laminated “appears to be wood” banister, everything a cartoon representation of something real somewhere else.

She was adequately pretty with a calm voice I found irritating.

I wanted emotions. Not that calm shit.

It quickly became a pity party. My private and fully paid for pity party. Exactly what I thought I wanted.

But not really. Not at all.

I wanted emotions. I wanted to pull the fire alarm. I wanted to use inappropriate language. However sick and self-destructive this may sound, I wanted to feel my sadness, deeply and fully. I did not want suggestions or a resolution or something approximate. I did not want comfort. I wanted courage.

Also, I didn’t want to pick things apart, at least not out loud. I prefer for the act to occur in the vicinity of my brain. That way it can tumble about at my own rhythm. I can break it apart. Let it sit in pieces.

I’m not trying to down therapy. Whatever keeps you from overdosing on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream while watching reality tv reruns is cool by me. I just don’t think therapy happens only in that room I was in. It was the wrong place for me.

It was like trying to hammer a nail into a wall with a Philips head screwdriver. It just didn’t get me very far.

Eventually I stopped. I missed one of my appointments; I had double booked myself and never rescheduled. It was my out.

Instead I pursued art and beauty in larger doses.

I read, blogged, painted, wrote, sewed, Pinterested until I became cross-eyed and overly inspired. I told my story to a select few; I listened to theirs.

And you know what?

I found my way.


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Esperanza Influenza


My father and I are head over heals in love with Esperanza. He was first but my second was like some beautiful virus, I caught the Esperanza influenza.

We consider her a goddess of sorts. With her frothy Afro, slender figure, snappy clothing, and ability to make music that causes your soul to bounce.

As soon as Esperanza’s tickets could be purchased at the Tennessee Theatre box office I was the first or one of the first to claim two of those precious (interjection: “precious” is my favorite Esperanza Spalding song.) tickets for the two of us. No back row balcony tickets would make us content. We wanted to be so close we could feel her breath sweep across our awestruck faces.

Waiting for that concert made me feel like a child waiting for Christmas. It dragged on sllllloooooooowwwwwllly. Tauntingly so.

But finally the day arrived. I’ll admit, picking out my outfit for that night was a challenge. I wanted to be sharp. After tossing seven different outfits on the hardwood floor of my room I went the all-black route. “Very New York,” I thought.

My father pulled up to the curb, I hopped in, and we were off.

We walked to our seats, third row center, and sat down. Me next to my dad and my dad next to a quiet lady. Being polite my father asked her if she had “ever seen Esperanza in concert before?” He might as well walked into the bathroom and asked the same question to the door of a stall and probably would have gotten a more satisfying reaction. Not even a flinch. Pure unadulterated focus. Turning back to me we exchanged a look of shared wonder then returned to our excitement.

The first note strikes and out glides Esperanza. Flawless, exquisite Esperanza. The lady next to my father lit up like a bonfire. And I mean LIT UP! She wasn’t speaking to my father out of protectiveness for her idol. She was keeping Esperanza all to herself. I don’t blame her.

The entire production was perfection. It filled me up. Folded me up like a paper airplane and launched me. I couldn’t help but smile the entire time. I wasn’t surprised at all to find out that Esperanza was a true performer on stage, introducing each song as if she was a character in a play, her play.

My father and I were in the presence of a person who is completely her self. The truest, purest, and most unrestrained form of herself in full bloom. A flow and constant whoosh of creativity. It was magic. It was heaven.

You know that little exaggeration, “I was so inspired I couldn’t fall asleep.” No exaggeration here. I must have laid on my back staring at the scattered florescent glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling for at least an hour and a half. Blog posts, sewing projects, books, painting, drawings…I was overflowing with ideas.

I got the Esperanza influenza and I hope I never recover.


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