A Precious Broken Heart, a Timer, and Joy

“A broken heart is precious indeed…The best thing is to set aside a certain period each day to pray with a broken heart and then to spend the rest of the day in joy.”

-Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

How can a broken heart be a precious thing? A broken heart seems like a disaster to be avoided. Many of us go to great lengths to avoid heartbreak. Yet it is an inevitable part of living and loving. To think that we can find joy while experiencing a broken heart is hard to wrap our heads around. But it is hopeful and merits consideration.

I have recently found myself in meaningful conversations with numerous people who are experiencing heartbreak due to the death of loved ones or the death of relationships, jobs, institutions, and ways of life. It makes my heart hurt, too. Life is filled with endings; death comes in all shapes and sizes. Grief and pain can often take us by surprise. But so can joy.

As a culture, we don’t deal well with emotional pain and brokenness. When we experience heartbreak of any kind, we often try to push the pain down below the surface in an effort to resist, ignore, and/or numb over it. Oh, there are so many ways that we try to ignore the pain- let us count the ways! In doing so, the pain can creep into all the nooks and crannies of life, weighing us down, creating anxiety, stress, and unease. Emotional pain impacts our minds, bodies, and spirits.

Rabbi Nachman suggests another approach. A few days ago I shared the quote above with a dear friend as we spoke about grief, and she told me a story. When her son first went to preschool, he would cling to her, crying unrelentingly, unwilling to be separated from his mother. (Perhaps that is one of our earliest heartbreaks- being separated from our mothers). Once the teacher was able to peel him off his mother’s leg, she led him over to a quiet corner of the classroom with a timer. She told him he could cry until the timer went off, but then he must join the rest of the class. That approach helped him navigate his separation and entry into the class. What a wise teacher!

Spiritual teachers tell us that a broken heart can help us to grow. We can become awakened, and it can help us blossom into the people we were meant to be. It is possible, but it doesn’t always happen. Perhaps that is why we are advised to pray with our broken hearts. When we ask a loving presence larger than our small self to come into our lives with goodness and healing, transformation occurs. Given time, attention, and grace, we can discover that Love is at work accompanying, guiding, and healing us in surprising ways. By honoring our broken heart as a treasured guest, we create the space and opportunity for joy. (For more about the profound nature of joy, see my previous blog of December).

Blessings and love to everyone who is experiencing a broken heart. We have all been there and we will be there again. May you know the precious nature of this time.

Honor the pain in your tender heart. Lean into the joy. Remember that you are loved.

With a hug,



From Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us to Grow:

“A broken heart is not the same as sadness. Sadness occurs when the heart is stone cold and lifeless. On the contrary, there is an unbelievable amount of vitality in a broken heart.”

“How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change. And how ironic that the difficult times we fear might ruin us are the very ones that can break us open and help us blossom into who we were meant to be.”

“The experience of change and transformation is never complete. Something bigger and brighter always calls to shine through us. We are continually challenged to change and grow, to break down and break through.”

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

housed as they are in the same body.

-Mary Oliver, Devotions

“I further encourage you not to be concerned about your form or style of prayer. Seek only honesty and truth, come to your best sense of desire, and just be there as you are, with God as God may be…If there is any ‘right’ way of praying, it is that most simple and yet elusive one: to simply be yourself…just be real.”

-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart

“Prayer connects heart, mind, and body to a generous Spirit that stands ready to move through any available opening, bestowing whatever goodness may be possible in any given situation.”

-Robert Corin Morris, Wrestling with Grace



Joy to the World

It’s that time of year when the word “JOY” appears everywhere: in songs, on signs and greeting cards, and in glittering holiday decorations. We all need a little joy!

I’ve become increasingly intrigued by the concept of joy. With violence near and far, natural disasters of all kinds, a vicious political climate, and distress surrounding us, it seems natural to wonder about the joy. How can we have lasting joy amidst suffering, sadness, and turmoil?

As perhaps an answer to a prayer, I stumbled across a book that has been a tremendous gift: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World. Written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, two spiritual leaders whom I greatly admire, they share insight from their long lives and faith traditions. These men have experienced heartbreaking adversity, hardship, and suffering, yet they are two of the most joyful people on the face of the planet. They met for five days to share their wisdom, stories, and humor, and to answer the important life question: How do we find joy in the middle of life’s inevitable sorrows and suffering?

Their insights, captured by writer Douglas Abrams, reveal how to transform joy from a fleeting feeling into a lasting way of being. Don’t we all long for this? Joy is rooted in our spiritual DNA. We cannot let the cynicism pervading our culture engulf us.

Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama shed new light on joy and how it is different from happiness. Joy is much larger and deeper than happiness. Happiness is usually dependent upon external events, while joy reflects an inner quality—a shining contentment or a spiritual radiance born from a sense of deep well-being. You can be joyful while being unhappy. In fact, sometimes we need sorrow or sadness to find joy (see the Pixar movie, Inside Out!).

These two great wisdom figures identify and explain certain obstacles to joy. Ironically, these obstacles often provide the opportunity for growth, beauty, and joy in life:

  • Fear, stress, and anxiety
  • Frustration and anger
  • Sadness and grief
  • Despair
  • Loneliness
  • Envy
  • Suffering and adversity
  • Illness and fear of death

Now for the positive qualities that form the pillars of joy:

  • Perspective (there are many different angles)
  • Humility
  • Humor
  • Acceptance
  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Generosity

It is encouraging to note that these positive qualities can be cultivated and deepened throughout the course of our lives, leading to greater joy. The authors conclude with the insight: “Ultimately, joy is not something to learn, it is something to live. And our greatest joy is lived in deep, loving, and generous relationships with others.”

Given the authors’ ability to share the stories from their lives, inform us of the science of joy, and offer joy practices that we can use in our daily lives, it is a perfect resource to explore with others, especially in small groups or classes. I am grateful to have been immersed in this book while I help write curriculum for upcoming programs at Well for the Journey. It nourishes my spirit to read, reread, highlight, make notes in the margin, reflect, and learn how each of us can live more joyful lives. Meaningful change begins within each of us. Then, by the grace of God, it ripples out.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wishes to live a more meaningful, joyful life. Purchase the print copy so you can access and revisit it easily (and underline and scribble in margins). Below are some favorite quotes from the book for those who are intrigued.

Although this is a joyous season, it is also a tender, sad time, especially for those missing loved ones or suffering in others ways. May the joy that is within you shine like a candle and light your darkness.

Love and blessings,


Dedicated to my mother, Dede Wilson, who passed away on this day four years ago. Her spirit and life revealed how to live with joy, even in the face of life’s hardships.


“Joy is much bigger than happiness. While happiness is often seen as being dependent on external circumstances, joy is not.”

“Discovering more joy does not, I’m sorry to say, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet, as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartache without being broken.”

“The ultimate source of happiness is within us. Not money, not status. Some of my friends are billionaires, but they are very unhappy people. Power and money fail to bring inner peace. Outward attainment will not bring real inner joyfulness. We must look inside.

“Sadly, most of the things that undermine our joy and happiness we create ourselves. Often it comes from the negative tendencies of the mind, emotional reactivity, or from our inability to appreciate and utilize the resources that come from within us…We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people.”

“The question is not: How do we escape it? The question is: How can we use this as something positive?”

“Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and be free from the past.“

“If you want a happy life and fewer problems, you have to develop a serious concern for the well-being of others…The more time you spend thinking about yourself, the more suffering you will experience. The incredible thing is that when we think of alleviating other people’s suffering, our own suffering is reduced. This is the true secret to happiness. So this is a very practical thing. In fact, it is commonsense.”

“Our greatest joy is when we seek to do good for others.”

“Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world.”



Reclaiming Areas of Peace

To read or listen to the news is to be drawn into a battle. The challenge is how to live and love in such a polarized, emotional time.

How can we honor the perspectives of others, no matter how much we may disagree? How can we stand up for what we believe is right, while not dehumanizing, belittling, or shaming others? How can we maintain relationships in middle of forces that want to pull us apart?

I profoundly believe that it begins inside each of us. Peace originates from within. We need to find ways to tap into the deepest part of ourselves – that Source of peace and love (the God-part) – that exists within each of us, and then share it with others.

Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who lived and died in the horror of the Holocaust wrote:

“Ultimately we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”

While working in the hellish Westerbork transit camp, Etty’s spiritual awakening transformed herself and others. She was able, remarkably, to look at the pain and suffering around her, the injustice and horror, and also delight in the goodness of life. Wow.

So, how can we reclaim areas of peace, grow more and more peace, and reflect it outward towards others?

After many years of working in the spiritual wellness arena, here are some suggestions that I offer humbly:

  • Choose to respond not to react. Learning ways to pause and reflect and get in touch with the Divine within can help you to respond thoughtfully and more peacefully. For me, a short centering time in the morning (even five minutes), can make all the difference in how I live my day. Even taking a few deep breaths when faced with a stressful situation can help to diffuse a stressful situation. (See mindfulness below).
  • Turn off the constant news cycle. The media seduces us into believing that we need to know everything, in real time as it unfolds. Thanks to smart phones, social media, and the nonstop twenty-four hour news cycle, our culture is addicted to news. Checking in once or twice a day is enough.
  • Try to know yourself. Become more aware of what makes you tick and what patterns of behavior and preconceived notions create blind spots that prevent you from truly seeing or hearing others.
  • Try to know “the other.” Be curious rather than judgmental. Try to have conversations that go below the surface of opinion and rhetoric. Listen with the desire to understand, rather than to respond. Remember that the other person is often doing the best that he/she can.
  • Mindfulness. Mindfulness is both a practice and a way to approach daily life. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field, defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” A friend recently shared her simple definition: “paying kind attention.” Mindfulness becomes a way of life that keeps you in the present moment so that you don’t become overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s happening around you.
  • Compassion. Last, but not least, compassion can transform our world. Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Remember that everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about (Shout out to my niece, Meg).

We have to change ourselves first before we can change the world. Let’s reclaim areas of peace and help them grow, bit by bit. Small things ripple out. We can each play our small but significant part.



Note: Etty died in Auschwitz.


Etty Hillesum. An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork. New York: Holt, 1996.Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go There You Are. New York: Hyperion, 1994.

Love Poems From God

Have you ever considered that God has love poems for you? What experiences could be messages of love from the Divine? How can you listen for whisperings from The One Who Loves You Into Existence (one of my favorite names for God)? The inner cynic is each of us would have us quickly dismiss these questions. Please don’t.

As children and adults across the country are preparing Valentines for their classmates and sending flowers and candy to loved ones, the holiday of love is a time to remember that Love is breaking through all the time…every day, every moment.

A few years ago,  I came across Daniel Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West. An assortment of writings from saints and mystics from eastern and western spiritual traditions, it includes “love poems” from writers such as St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, St. Catherine of Siena, and Hafiz. It rattled my sensibilities (a good sign, by the way). In his introduction, Ladinsky writes, “Words about God should never bore because God is the opposite of boring.”

Since discovering this book, I’ve been increasingly intrigued with remembering God’s love as an essential dimension of Valentine’s Day. We can celebrate by taking a moment to be grateful for the deep, ever-present, creative love that is at work in ways that we can’t even imagine.

Here is a short love poem for you from Ladinsky’s book that will likely expand your image of the Divine.

“I won’t take no for an answer,”

God began to say

to me

when He opened His arms each night

wanting us to


~ St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)

Wishing you all the best dancing.

Love, Mabeth

Source: Ladinsky, Daniel. Love Poems from God: Twelve Voices From the East and West. New York, NY: Penguin, 2002.

Salutation to the Dawn


This morning I awoke before the sun came up. I have much on my mind. Today is Caroline’s birthday. My youngest sister is 49 today. Thank you, God, for blessing me with such a wonderful sister.

There is much sadness in the air…and also so much beauty. Caroline’s husband has entered home hospice after a long, valiant battle with cancer. She, her husband, and their young boys are saying the long goodbye as he lives his last few months. Another friend’s husband will die within the next few hours, if he has not passed. Such bittersweet time filled with remarkable moments of beauty. Hanging over all of this is worldwide grief resulting from the horrific Orlando massacre, with so many young lives cut short. In the midst of it all we hear beautiful stories of the heroic compassion that emerged in the midst of the horror.

Help me, God, to stay in the present, holding the sadness and beauty gently. Help me live well in the present moment. Help me to love well. This is my prayer this day.

The morning sky was waking up. Gorgeous. I snapped a few photos of the vibrant pre-dawn sky just before the sun rose. Little did I know that it was going to accompany a gift from beyond. I welcomed the rising sun, forced to turn away as it got too bright.

After the sun was up for the day, I came inside and called my sister to wish her Happy Birthday. Afterwards I decided that I should send her dawn photo. While scrolling through my pictures on my phone, I discovered a photo of a poem that I captured off of a blackboard on a recent retreat in California. I re-read it again, and thought, Wow- this is good. What is the source? A quick Google online revealed its source. Ha! It is a Sanskrit poem called “Salutation to the Dawn.” What a God-moment!

Perhaps this poem is also a gift for you.

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day

for it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence
the joy of growth
the splendor of action
the glory of power.

For yesterday is but a memory

and tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well-lived
makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.

Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

-ancient Sanskrit poem attributed to Kalidasa

With much love to you this day,


Death After Dinner?!

“And after dinner, our topic will be death.” Imagine you are on a weekend retreat/workshop and you hear these words. Those of us who found ourselves in this situation groaned and laughed nervously as we realized that our Saturday evening was going to be anything but typical. What happened to chocolate, wine, or even an after dinner mint?

I was recently in California for immersion training on “Conscious Aging,” a program designed to help us grow older in a positive way. The goal of this particular segment on death is to transform our fear of death so that we are able to live well and die well. A part of me dreaded what was ahead. It was NOT what I wanted to be doing on my Saturday night.

Hours later I found myself completely captivated while watching an award-winning documentary called “Death Makes Life Possible.” The film explores the mysteries of death and life from a variety of perspectives and world traditions, including agnostic and atheist. It features some of the world’s leading scientists, anthropologists, philosophers, spiritual teachers, and thinkers of our time. The imagery, stories, and insights were fascinating, including research about near death experiences, mediums that claim to communicate with the departed, and evidence suggesting the possibility of reincarnation from decades of research conducted by the University of Virginia. So intriguing!

One particular interview really resonated. Dr. Rudolph Tanzi is a Harvard neurologist who has done groundbreaking research with Alzheimer’s disease. He has impressive credentials and gravitas and was recently named one of “TIME 100 Most Influential People in the World.” He explained that from a scientific viewpoint, there are two approaches to consciousness, memories, and identity. First, there is the view that all consciousness is held by the brain and is purely physical. This certainly is what most of us have grown up hearing and adheres to conventional science. The other, an emerging theory, is that consciousness is part of evolution and eternal, not subject to birth or death. Having spent his career mapping molecules and studying the human brain, Dr. Tanzi has come to believe that consciousness – which he describes as “soul” – is the keeper of our identity, and that consciousness transcends the physical parts of us. I love when a scientist confirms something I believe intuitively.

At the end of the evening a few of us decided to meet together in one of our tiny bedrooms with wine and snacks (alas, no chocolate) to discuss this death thing further. We shared stories about our own experiences with death, including communication from loved ones who had passed. We asked each other questions, listened to each other’s stories, and offered our perspectives on what we believe happens to our souls after death. It was a comfort and a relief to be able to discuss this in a safe setting.

What is it about death that freaks us out so much? After all, it is going to happen to all of us. It is universal to being human. As my brother says, it’s happened to billions of people so far in our history. Yet, society treats death like it is a disease to be cured. What if we got intrigued about it and didn’t treat the topic like it was taboo?

You have probably met people who seem to have a remarkable peace as they face death. I remember my mom telling me that after she confronted her fears of death and wrestled with them, she was able to tap into gratitude and live more fully. That peace allowed her to live her last years with a zest for life that was awe inspiring given her dreadful cancer diagnosis and the toxic effects of chemo.

So what can we do about this death concept? Death is not going away. What if allowed time and space to understand it better? I purchased a copy of the film to leave at Well for the Journey. Perhaps we could put together a “Death After Dinner” party bag with popcorn, and discussion questions so that people can gather their own group and explore these issues. You can supply the chocolate and/or wine. We certainly need one another to give us the courage to discuss these life and death matters. Stay tuned.

Schlitz, Marilyn. Death Makes Life Possible. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2015 (book)


Bryan Stevenson: “You Can Change the World”

Are there people who rock your world and inspire you to do something? Who touch some kind of nerve, challenging your thinking? Who tug at your heart or soul, stirring up a new kind of compassion? For me, it’s Bryan Stevenson: lawyer, human rights advocate, and holder of hope in the most dire of circumstances.

I’ve read, reread, highlighted, and pondered his award-winning book, Just Mercy (and recommend it to everyone I meet), listened to his TED Talk, watched his story on 60 Minutes, and recently traveled to Frederick to hear him speak. If he were a rock star, I would be a groupie. I keep going back to read his story and traveling to listen to him speak because he strikes a chord. He is calling me – and us – to a new way to treat each other as human beings.

So, who is this man? Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls him “America’s young Nelson Mandela.” His work and message are changing the landscape of compassion, justice, and mercy. Mr. Stevenson has spent much of his career in prisons, jails, and courtrooms fighting for the most vulnerable: the poor, the mentally ill, children, and those unjustly accused and convicted. He is working to transform our world, and invites us into that work.

He often begins communicating his message with some grim and startling facts:

• The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
• The U.S. comprises only five percent of the world’s population, yet it has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated.
• One in every 15 people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison. One in every three black male babies born in the century is expected to be incarcerated.
• Failed drug policies and the incarceration of low-level drug offenders are the primary causes of mass incarceration in the United States. While we treat alcohol addiction as a health issue, we treat non-violent drug offenders through the criminal justice system.

Please reread those facts. They are unbelievable. He invites and challenges us to be part of the changes that are desperately needed.

His best-selling book reads like a John Grisham novel. Tragically, they are true stories. He shares the stories of men, women, and children who are experiencing incarceration due to the most unfair, corrupt, and unjust circumstances. Remarkably, he is able to maintain hope, even when he is unable to save some of his clients.

I am in awe of Mr. Stevenson’s humility and gentle spirit that shine through his fierce advocacy for mercy and justice. In telling a story about a racist prison guard whom he encountered in the Deep South, he is able to look below the surface behavior and recognize him as a human being, rather than a racist. Reminding us that “each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” he challenges all of us to treat one another as human beings.

At his speech in Frederick on April 21, he framed his speech with the message: We can change the world. He set out four main ways that I now pass along to you:

1. Get Proximate. You cannot help others from a distance. He observed that many people offer opinions and solutions without getting close to the problems and the people impacted. You must get into proximity with those who are suffering.

2. Change the narrative. Our narratives must change. We buy into narratives of fear and anger that lead to harsh, unjust policies of all kinds. Also, we must change our narratives regarding race and look honestly at the effects of slavery on our country, our history, and our humanity. Our warped narrative has caused slavery to evolve into more subtle forms of oppression, humiliation, and injustice.

3. Be Hopeful. Hopelessness is the enemy of justice. We need hope in order fight for a better humanity. In his book he explains that hope is not a pie in the sky type of optimism. Rather, it is an orientation of the spirit “that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power.” (Just Mercy, p. 219)

4. You have to be willing to do uncomfortable things. You cannot confront oppression and injustice while you are sitting comfortably on the sofa. Boom.

I’ll be going to hear him speak again on May 11 in Baltimore when he speaks to lawyers at an event benefitting the Public Justice Center. Yes, a groupie, I suppose, who desires to tap into his remarkable hope and vision for humanity.

If you are at all curious, please read Just Mercy. Perhaps we can be part of changing the world.