Being Present With Oneself

It is hard to be present with oneself without trying to change oneself into a better version, even a more conscious one. I took a long walk and that felt so good. The ice is finally melting in the gutters and the sky is blue. I feel a bit more hopeful than I have been since Christmas.

I remember someone at Vernon Howard’s place telling me, “Leave yourself alone!” Wow. He was watching me objectively, something that is hard to do, and was offering me deep wisdom couched in sternness. I have yet to deeply practice this.

That is the situation. We know better than we can do. That is what the Work is about. Watching ourselves fail miserably on the outer level. That is because there is a gap between knowing and doing.

Unless you are doing the Work, you will never discover this, for the Work is about self-discovery. As Dogen Zenji wrote: “To study the self is to study the way.”

I am a hard person to get close to, due to my introverted nature. I don’t trust easily, not even myself. I am wary, shy and intense, diffusing attention placed on myself. The writer in me has no idea about this. She thinks I am as easily known as she is. If you wonder what I am talking about, you haven’t studied how many selves we house within. Some we should have kicked out years ago!

Vernon Howard was the epitome of the Work. He toiled ceaselessly to shame us into awakening, not to our good selves, but to our bad ones! This is the negative way and it works best for a handful of people. Never many. The majority want their truth candy-coated.

So I watch myself on a daily basis, fooling myself constantly, thinking I am better than I actually am. It is easy to exist in an imaginary laboratory and harder to go out into the real world and get slammed by it. But as the guy at Vernon’s said, we are good at slamming ourselves, too.

This is not a perfect world. We are not perfect people. The Work is not about that. It is about learning repentance and self-mercy. They sort of go together.

Vicki Woodyard

The Great Unknowing

I know rock bottom well. Once you have been there, you never forget what it feels like. It is, sadly, something that comes to us all at least once per lifetime. Even if it is death.

There is total freedom when you hit it. A dark humor blasts you awake as you endure the circumstances in which it is happening.

Nothing is what it seems, nor are you. Welcome to what seemingly is and isn’t. This is paradox country.

I write a lot about people that think they are enlightened and entitled to teach. People get very angry when I do this. They want to believe so badly.

There is nothing to believe, only the rock bottom knowledge that you are both enough and not enough. Endurance happens; it cannot be explained.

Acceptance is inevitable as time rolls over and over and over until we decide it is time to pet its belly.

Then something new may happen. We become happy in our insight. It really is like going to the Humane Society and adopting a pet that needs a home.

Now we have a reason to live for we have become the Beloved of God, of ourselves. This is not sorrow but a sweet unknowing, one that Leonard Cohen speaks of. It will be allowed room in our beds. We will save our leftovers to feed it and we will take it under the covers with us. It cannot go on a talk show and speak of its enlightenment. It is beyond that. It makes us so fragile that we live in a web of wisdom with live dew drops on it.

It is us. We need homes for our aching hearts and when it is time, we will be adopted into the Great Unknowing. I have my own unknowing now. Maybe one day I will name it.

Vicki Woodyard

Tittering on the Brink

The more I write, the rawer it becomes. I think that is a good thing. January sort of primes the pump for self-honesty. The chocolates have been eaten, the mess has been put away and now I am left with who I really am.

My voice took a hit back in November and has not fully recovered. I am hating the cold weather and am postponing trivial things on my to-do list. All I can do is mark time right now.

The paperwork for waking up has not been turned in. That sentence made me smile. Those that claim to have them are not enlightened but in full-on delusion.

If you wonder what I mean by paperwork, I mean what the interviewers read before introducing their awakened guest of the week. That is the part where I begin to nod off, for no one is their paperwork.

I have never gotten through an entire hour of someone interviewing an awakened human being. I am pretty sure that is because they did not live up to the hype, often written by themselves originally and requoted. That is how you learn to cut off the ends of a pot roast before cooking it. (If you don’t get this reference, see me after class.)

Vernon Howard told us more than once that not a single one of us had gotten it. That is why I have never turned in my paperwork.

Sometimes I teeter on the brink but somehow the brink always wins. Vernon knew that.

Vicki Woodyard


I never feel I have earned a bonus because I have not held a real job but once in my life. I worked at an ad agency before Bob and I married. In my extreme introversion I hated it. It wore me out; I would be in bed before nine every night.

Then Bob and I married and he was proud that I did not have to go out into the world and work. Instead I helped him deal with sorrow and he with me. Not by saying anything meaningful, but by enduring life one cold icicle drip at a time. Now I do that alone.

This is a Snow Day, a bonus day. I don’t have to do anything but endure it unto the end. Rob offered to cook and I told him we’ll take the day off from cooking. I bought a Cuban sandwich at the grocery yesterday and there is a can of Progresso we can split. So much for hard work.

I write this bonus note for a reason. My heart is aching with loss as it does every day, whether snowy or ninety degrees. That is all you can expect of a heart. Leonard Cohen explained that to us again and again. You see, aching is what hearts are for. If they didn’t ache, we would be automatons. Actually I see them all around me and I myself try and emulate them. Sadly.

My best quality just may be that I cannot recover fully from life. It is simply too much for me, so I play the role of automaton very well. I smile, I cook, I shop, I watch TV. But love has found me out; it knows me better than I know myself.

Love is meant to break you wide open. If it hasn’t already done so, it will. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel an anxiety that nothing can quell. It is the sure knowledge that life dies and is reborn and we are nothing but witnesses to it. Tears and laughter are caught in passing.

Today is a Snow Day and tomorrow will deliver me back to automaton status. Somewhere someone is trying to hold it all together and I think I know who that someone is….

Vicki Woodyard

Nobody Wins

Nobody Wins

The cold is so brittle you can snap off a piece of it, but why bother? It will ultimately change form just like everything else. At least I don’t have to wash my hair today; I will see nary a soul. The kitchen is full of goodies that I don’t need and that will be the biggest temptation of the day.

I love Leonard Cohen; I guess you know that. He is pounding home the message that nobody wins in this conflicted old world; they just seem to. Same with losers. Losing feels lousy and no one ever really feels like a winner. They just feel like losers who are happening to win momentarily.

Whenever I see a child star I cringe at the way their life will go. They will be adulated and forgotten, go into rehab and try to live a “normal life.” Good luck with that. There is no punishment worse than adulation itself.

In spite of what I just said, the human psyche cringes at the prospect of never being good enough, no matter how hard they try. It just ain’t gonna work out. And still we must slog on through the undertow.

Why don’t we just quit? If I had the answer to that, I wouldn’t continue to write. “I don’t know” is the only acceptable answer in this quasi-reasonable world.

If you claim to know, you don’t know.

Love is not about knowing, by the way. It seems to be about nothing that is describable. It is an experience that happens to us. We never choose it. It chooses us.

Time for tea and probably way too many cookies.

Vicki Woodyard

I am toast….

Leonard Cohen speaks of becoming the work itself. In that, I also find effortless being emerging. The me that brought in the groceries is not the me that writes to you on a daily basis. The fine line is somewhere; I just haven’t seen it clearly enough to put it into words.

Everyone knows what they like and are good at. For me, it is the point in the day where I address myself to the pointing pixels. I try to discover who I am when I am not focusing on groceries, meals, cold fronts coming in, etc.

I remain an unknown quantity when I write. Winter air dries out my skin and sinuses and I feel a lethargy borne of solitude. Not enough people in my life in cold weather. I went to the mall yesterday and had lunch. That was therapeutic.

Who is it that actually runs my life and why can’t I get it through her head that she is good enough as she is?

Where is the energy located that prompts me to write intimate words to strangers that also feel alienated from what is truly important.

My grief has grown strange feelings in me over a period of many years. Like my grandmother, who lost 2 little boys, my feelings of loss are quite real. They are spread over a lifetime of trying to accommodate them while not being drowned in the process.

But now I am drowning in a sea of grace. The waves are whipping up a storm and I am clinging to the words that I type before I die to myself. That will be a sunny day on a calm sea. Or never. Who knows?

I had cheese toast for lunch and it tasted heavenly. I am easy to please on some basic level. I just want to know why I fear my own psychic death and why I cannot engineer it. The hints are on the box I came in but they are written in a different language. And there is never a receipt.

Vicki Woodyard

Overcoming Inertia

Overcoming Inertia

So here is what happened. I forced myself out of the house despite the freezing temperatures. I returned something at Bed, Bath & Beyond and then drove to Macy’s, where I also had a return to make. Those snap shopping decisions do not always turn out well.

I did find a top on sale at Macy’s. They no longer use paper coupons, thank goodness. I was chatting with the woman as she rang me up. Turns out we were meant to meet. I said something of a spiritual nature (I forget what) and her eyes lit up. “Ooh, I needed to hear that today!” She said. (Whatever it was….)

She went on to say that she studied New Thought under Rev. Barbara King. Now I remember. I was saying that I had watched the TV program about the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death. At the time, Rob was six months old and we were visiting in Memphis. Gunfire had rung out in the neighborhood after news of his assassination. I remember putting a chair under the window to protect us from gunfire.

Now here we both were, 50 years later, both of us seniors and resting in the knowledge that principle is the only thing to live by.

As I passed by another counter I saw my old friend, Medina, who used to be in charge of the shoe department at Macy’s. She has had a promotion and I told her she richly deserved it. I also told her my voice was not the same after being ill and she assured me that it would be okay.

“How do you know it will be okay?” I asked her.

“Because I am a positive person,” was her answer. And I smiled. Then I took myself to lunch at Ted’s, right outside of Macy’s. The chairs were still upended when I got there. I was the first customer. I got a Naked Burger and some coffee. Ate half and took the other half home to Rob.

I was so glad I got myself up and out of the house. All’s well that ends well.

Vicki Woodyard

The Silence of the Heart

I am made out of sludge, or at least it feels like that. I had an appointment to get my teeth cleaned tomorrow and I cancelled. The temperatures are going to be frigid and frankly, I am not quite up to par.

I look within and talk to my own heart. I confess my weakness and worry that my voice will not come back like it was. It has been weeks since I had the virus and I am still quite hoarse.

I should be busy with a number of things, I tell my heart, but all I want to do is sit and fret about myself.

The silence surrounds me. Inertia prevails. Sitting seems to be inevitable.

All the adages are pointless as I am brought straight up against the iron wall of what is.

I sit.

The heart knows exactly what is in store for me. I must wait on it and table all the motions made by my mind.

My mind, with its silly lists and listlessness, has been kayoed by my heart.

The silence of the heart wins every time.

Vicki Woodyard

Cold Reality

January is so cold. I have no inclination to do anything but endure. As I sat wearily in my chair this morning, I thought of how seldom I write humor these days. I conjured up Swami Z when my husband was dying and he got me through some horrific years. I haven’t seen him in quite some time. You know he is imaginary, don’t you?

Since he is imaginary, I thought I would see if I could persuade him to visit us for a few paragraphs, just to see how it would feel.

I begin to type.

“Vicki, Vicki, Vicki,” was the first thing I thought I heard him say.

Grumpily, I moved over to make room for him on the couch. “You sound like Julius Caesar,” I said.

Swami looked exactly the same. Tiny little fellow with skinny ankles and a bald pate. He has never been known to be what a guru should look like.

“I can’t write you anymore,” I said.

He regarded me dolefully as he slung his feet onto the coffee table. “I know you can’t,” he said. If you could have, you would have. In the old days you would give anything to get a laugh.”

“Remember Larry and Ruin and how I said Ruin was the real guru. Well, I was right.”

“You always thought you were right, Vicki. That is why I came to live with you.”

Now I was beginning to feel the old irritation with him. Just like that, he could turn me into a raging inferno of frustration. “Get your feet off the coffee table,” I yelled.

Sadly, he obeyed me. And then he embraced me in all of my wrongness and I begin to weep with joy and sorrow. That is how I always experienced him in my head.

Swami reached into his old robe and handed me a clean white handkerchief. I blew my nose. “Say something funny!” I ordered.

“When I said something funny, you always got mad at me, Vicki,” I typed.

“That was the fun of it,” the old coot said. Now that you don’t need me anymore, I can’t be funny when you tell me to.”

I had to admit that he was right. And I hated that. I mean, I am the one who always has to be right.

Before I knew it, he had evaporated into thin air and here I am alone again, in all of my rightness.

At least I knew that you can’t get rid of anything that wasn’t real. At least that is what most gurus say.

All I can say is that they never met Swami Z. He seems to be permanently installed. I sure feel a chocolate chip cookie attack coming on. I’m just sayin’….

Vicki Woodyard

The Mind and I

I am faint of heart in January, as so many of us are. The country is crippled by cold and inertia arrives after the frantic speed of December.

I sit in my favorite chair grabbing hold of the truth and clinging to it for dear life. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Yes, the Jesus prayer holds water on so many different levels.

If you try to argue against it, you are doomed, for it is the way back into the sacred heart from which all of life arises.

I have a tattered copy of a book I found in Arizona many years ago. In it, the unknown author says that “All prayers that seemingly go out into the universe are really answered within one’s own heart.”

This discovery is made again and again by me, the perpetually anxious one. I sit there with no inclination to move, feeling jittery and unsafe. I murmur the prayer and feel its power.

My own heart knows itself and my mind forgets.

How can I ever hope to transcend the forgetful mind?

Only by the route of this prayer said in a state of anxiety and a real sense of doom.

I know I am doomed; we all are. The mind is too delicate a thing to last more than a lifetime. It begins to betray us at middle age.

However, and I cling to this, I am known only by my heart. The mind and I have never met. That is a very good thing.

Vicki Woodyard