We arrived in Delhi, India in the mid-afternoon.  As I stepped out of the plane, a waft of heat blasted my face and whirled into my nostrils, waking my travel-weary senses.  The surrounding horizon was dry, dusty, and shimmering with a reddish-orange radiance as if on fire.  I am certain I heard the trill of melodic, ancient mantras resonating from somewhere in the far distance. Dark, leather-skinned, black-eyed men grappled and fought each other to help us with our bags, chattering loudly in Hindi, studying us curiously — these white people dressed as if they belonged in India.  We wore our best saris and sandals, and we marked our foreheads with sandalwood-paste tilaka as is worn by Vaisnavites.  We wore strands of beads made from the sacred Tulasi plant looped around our necks, and we carried our japa mala, sandalwood prayer beads, in little cotton sacks marked with Sanskrit letters.  We looked like we could be Hindus, save the color of our skin.  We weren’t tourists, but we definitely were not from India either.

Laurie Schaffler, 2015
Laurie Schaffler, 2015

We followed our leaders down the stairs, across the tarmac and into the terminal like little goslings.  We had been chosen for this trip as a reward, a respite from the hard work we were doing in America —  distributing books and soliciting donations.  The pilgrimage was part of our spiritual journey, to expose us to the temples of India, to witness the culture, to visit the places of Krishna’s pastimes.  The idea was for the excursion to help us gain a clearer understanding of what we ourselves were trying to emulate, to give us a better view of why it was important that we spread the word and help purify the rest of the population.  As Bhakti Yogis, it was our role, our duty, to be of service to God and spread the Hare Krishna movement.

We were the young women of the Seattle temple, the girls who scurried back and forth across the linoleum floor of SeaTac airport to distribute literature and collect money.   Six days a week following our morning rituals of chanting, worship, and scripture class, we dressed ourselves in civilian clothes, grabbed a quick breakfast, and piled into the Winnebago camper to hurry south.  By 6 a.m., we were ready to welcome the first incoming passengers:  Alaska pipeline workers coming home for a break and G.I.s traveling to and from tours of duty, all with pockets filled with cash, flattered by the attention of a pretty, flirtatious girl.  We waited as the wave of passengers approached, picking the most likely givers out of the crowd, and we swooped in to pin flowers on their collars before they could protest.  We handed the travelers a book, saying, “We’re with ISKCON,” pointing to our badges, then told a story about feeding starving children and printing books in thirteen different languages. “You know, the International Society for Kri——— Consciousness,” I would say if they looked quizzical, being sure to blur over the word ‘Krishna’ and hoping it sounded more like ‘Christian.’  We had been taught tricks.  We would ask for large bills, explaining that it was unsafe for us to carry so many small bills in our satchels.  Most often this worked.  With a little coaxing, the traveler would hand over a twenty, a fifty, or even a hundred dollar bill, and we would give change slowly, stopping every few dollars.  With a tilt of the head and a little smile, we would say, “You can leave it at that, right?”  Each of us was assigned a minimum amount of money we were expected to bring home every day, and we took this seriously.  Lately, I hadn’t been meeting my quota.  I was tired.  People were starting to catch on.  They knew who we were despite our disguises and pretenses, and it was exhausting to be pushed out of the way and called a fraud.  For me, the leaders hoped the trip to India would cure what they perceived as my lack of surrender.  If this didn’t work, I would be matched with a husband.

In Delhi, we spent a few days shopping for saris, raw-silk fabrics, jewels for the deities, and temple paraphernalia.  We rode around the city in a rickshaw, well-fed Americans pulled by a thin, barefoot man.  The city buzzed with taxis and bicycles and rickshaws crisscrossing and running into each other, horns honking, bells ringing, and shouting people everywhere.  Vendors whistled and called to us, luring us into their alcoves, jingling bangles and ankle bracelets, snapping open colorful saris and silks, offering sodas with ice.  A snake charmer played his punji, coaxing a cobra out of its basket.  A smiling woman offered areca nuts wrapped in betel leaves, her lips and teeth stained a deep red from chewing the nuts.  Just on the outskirts of the marketplace, cows roamed freely, and women followed them, collecting piles of warm dung, forming them into large patties to dry in the sun, later to be used as fuel for stoves.  Holy men clad in loincloths, their bodies painted with ash and oil, dreadlocks piled high on their heads and beards dyed yellow with turmeric, sat crossed legged on the stoops of temples, watching us pass by with deep, knowing eyes.  The atmosphere was dizzying.  The food was spicy and pungent, even for my sense of taste which I thought had acclimated to Indian food and spices over the past couple of years.  Though we were careful about the water, we didn’t think about the ice, and I developed a mild case of dysentery.  For several days, my diet consisted of white rice, Coca-Cola, and buffalo-milk yogurt that smelled of the dry, grassy field.

We ventured by train to Vrndavana, the holy land and place of pilgrimage where millions of Hindus visit yearly.  Vrndavana is the town where the Krishna stories are based, where it is said that Krishna grew up and played with his cowherd boyfriends and girlfriends, where he danced on the head of the great serpent, Kaliya, subduing him and saving the villagers from the deadly poison.  We stayed at the Hare Krishna temple that had been built there, one of many of hundreds of temples, but it was a temple revered by local townspeople.  It was grand and opulent and clean, having been built and maintained with American and European money.  It had become a tourist attraction, and parts of the temple were off limits even to us.  The air in Vrndavana felt magically ancient; it was hot and filled with the smells of incense and cooking fires and spices.  Peacocks fanned their iridescent blue and green tail feathers, whirring and singing to the peahens, their calls like the meowings of cats. Hundreds of little monkeys clambered up and down the roots of banyan trees and ran at us, grabbing at our belongings, hoping to snatch something from our hands.  Beggars squatted on the roadside with tin cups held out, pleading.  During the night, sentries sounded from rooftop to rooftop, signaling to each other that all was well.  In Vrndavana, we were treated as Vaisnavites, as authentic devotees of Krishna, and we were permitted to enter places that were normally restricted from ordinary tourists.

We walked up the hundreds of steps to visit the temple of Radharani, Krishna’s favorite girlfriend.  As we climbed, we stopped at dozens of tiny temples dug into the side walls along the stairway.  These temples had dirt floors, cleanly swept, and were dark, lit only with candles, their altars displaying brass and marble deities of Radha and Krishna colorfully dressed and bejeweled.  The priests offered us morsels of prasadam, food that had been offered to the deities, in exchange for donations.  We visited the Radha Kunda, Radharani’s bathing pond, and touched the water, placing our wet fingers to our foreheads.  It is considered to be the supreme of all holy places, containing the most pure and sacred water and is said to contain magical properties to heal.  While there, we were accosted and circled by village children who were bartering strings of beads made out of mud from the base of the pond.  They pressed the beads into our hands, signaling for something in return, pointing at our bracelets and hair clips.  These children were happy to receive anything we might have in our possession.  I gave a button with a picture of our guru, a bobby-pin from my hair, the rubber band that held my braid together.  One of the women I was traveling with became indignant when she realized she was expected to give something in return for her gift, and she chastised the child, raising her voice and pointing her finger, “I’m not giving you anything.  You gave this to me!”  The child tried to pull the strand out of her hand, breaking the string and scattering beads everywhere.  Within seconds, the adult villagers circled around us, pulling the waif-like children toward them, scolding us in Hindi.  How ironic!  This was the exact tactic we used at the airport at home.

It took a while to readjust after arriving back in Seattle from our pilgrimage to India.  We were given a couple of days to get used to the time difference and recover from jet lag, but soon, we were expected to get back to our airport duties and fulfill our quotas.  For me, this was impossible.  My trip to India had jogged something in me, something deep and unnerving.  I had a lingering and nagging awareness that, although I wore a sari every day, applied tilaka to my body, chanted the maha mantra, worshipped the Tulasi plant, sang in kirtans and studied Vedic scriptures, something about my practice was ingenuous, distorted, contrived, and forced.  My deep-down sense was that I was brainwashed and imprisoned by a force I didn’t know how to battle.  The life I was living as a Hare Krishna in America was nothing like what I had witnessed in India.   I was a foreigner trying to be something that I was not, stuffing myself into someone else’s culture.  I had been well programmed to push away any negative thinking, though, or any thinking at all, so I did as best I could.  My days at the airport were becoming filled with more and more hours of hiding in bathroom stalls, trying to get my nerve up and force my concentration, but secretly I fantasized that someone would come and save me, deprogram me, and help me to think clearly and on my own.  The temple leaders were becoming dismayed about my quota not being met.  They forced me into cold showers, yelled, accused, and belittled me relentlessly.  They gave me personal lectures about my inability to surrender and told me I was going to hell.  When nothing worked, a marriage was arranged.  But that is another story.




Learning to Build Walls

In the early mornings, I take my dogs for their walk on the Baxter Preserve in North Salem, New York.  We dog owners are permitted to let our dogs run off leash before 9 a.m., before the horses and their riders take precedence over the dogs.  My dogs love romping and running with their friends;  they benefit from socialization and exercise,  and I start my day with an invigorating walk.  These are pensive moments, and even though I often run into fellow walkers, it is a time of reflection and solitude.  I am grateful for this, for the time to slow down and contemplate.

The Preserve, also known as the ‘Racetrack’ because horses used to race there decades ago, is a large expanse of donated land with open fields and endless trails.   It is beautiful in the morning when you can witness, at the same time, the sun rising from the east and the moon setting to the west.  You can walk for miles and miles along the trails, passing by black cherry, cottonwood, maple, apple, walnut and oak trees.  A great pond is in the center of the old racetrack, and nearby is the grandstand where people used to watch the races.  There are ancient rock walls everywhere,  still standing, constructed by former landowners hundreds of years ago, sectioning off squares and rectangles of property.


I think of Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall” as I pass by and over these ancient rock structures, and I find myself reciting, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.”  I imagine the farmers rebuilding their walls each spring, reforming the boundaries between each other, a wall high enough and solid enough to define what each considers his, but not so high that it completely blocks out the other.  It is a wall that protects the neighbors but also leaves them open.  It is a wall that continually needs maintenance because the earth shifts, weather beats down, an animal skitters across, knocking down a boulder or two.  There is something to be learned about constructing such a wall.

Lately, I have been considering the idea of walls and boundaries.  I was talking with a friend once, and she asked, “and how is that working for you?”  I couldn’t answer.   For me, the question was perplexing because most often I don’t know.  It is difficult to judge when something is working for me or not, on any level.  I haven’t known when to say yes and when to say no, and I tend to be more worried about how my actions and choices will affect another.  Now, when I reflect on relationships I have had with friends, bosses, co-workers, boyfriends, and family members, I can see how my inability to understand personal boundaries has negatively impacted these relationships to the point of permanent damage.  I do believe that most of us struggle with boundaries to some extent.  We want to be pleasing; we want to be loved.

For almost a decade of my life – most of my twenties – I was involved in a destructive, religious cult where I was not permitted to have any sense of self.  Destructive cults negate a person’s individuality; members’ personal boundaries are seriously and deliberately stripped away.  Members are programmed to ignore their own wants and needs but instead are told what to do, how to do it and when to do it.  There was no point in asking if something ‘worked for us’ or not.  We – ‘I’ – didn’t matter, and it was considered selfish – even sinful – to consider our own wants or needs.  It takes tremendous work to recognize and repair the trauma brought on by cult involvement; there are layers of damage.  I, personally, have suffered serious consequences because of not understanding the simple concept of personal boundaries.  I’ve believed people when I should not have, even when it’s been proven that they are not to be believed, and I’ve been extremely sacrificial about my own needs while putting others’ needs first.  This has left me depleted in every possible way.  I have assumed that those for whom I have sacrificed would do the same for me, and I have been wrong.  This is a dangerous assumption.   People will accept what we offer, but nobody really loves the sacrificial lamb.

As I have slowed and my life has become less frantic, I am learning to pay attention to what works for me and what doesn’t.  In this way, I am becoming more creative, energetic, healthy and happy.  I am learning to say, “I don’t care if he/she likes it or not.  This is what works for me.”  I am reading and working through Sarri Gilman’s book, “Transform Your Boundaries.”  Sarri tells us that boundaries are about yeses and noes, and that “no is life saving.”  I believe this to be true.  I said a resounding “no” a long time ago when the cult  leaders insisted I send my oldest daughter away to school.  I was not going to send my daughter away; I had seen too many bad things happen to the children in the schools.  I said “no” to protect my daughter and my children, and thankfully, that “no” ultimately helped me to leave the cult.  Now, my work is to find the “no” that works for me, that protects me in my daily life.

In “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost playfully questions his neighbor about the need for walls, and his neighbor answers, “Good fences make good neighbors.”  Despite his questioning though, it is Frost who calls on his neighbor when it is time to rebuild their walls, to make sure the rocks are in place, to “set the wall between us.”  I like the idea of a mending wall, and I am building my own boundaries, slowly and carefully.  My wall formations may be a little awkward and crooked, but I have drawn a line, and I am strong enough to pick up the fallen boulders and place them back where they belong when they do fall.

A Time For Resolve

Today is the first day of 2015.  This is the time of year when resolutions are made, when intentions are set, when we start fresh.  Many of us are reflecting deeply on the past year as we look forward to a new year. We think about what we might have done differently, and we resolve to do better in the future.  We make commitments about exercising, dieting, drinking less alcohol or drinking none at all. We promise to save money, floss every day, be perfect recyclers.  We decide we’ll volunteer every week.  We vow to get more sleep and to be more mindful of our bodies.  In the days and weeks leading up to this first day of the year, we contemplate change and look forward to new beginnings, we plan our goals and compare ours with our friends’.  We make lists, we spend money on gym memberships, we join weight-loss programs, we buy exercise equipment, even our grocery shopping shifts in preparation for our new life, which begins today.


In truth, our new life – a new day – a new year – begins every moment.  Our new life is now.  We are as good as we are at the moment, and honestly, that’s plenty good enough.  For me, when I am intent and determined to forcibly change something I am doing or some thing about myself I am not happy with, I know it won’t work.  I’ve tried enough times to know this.  Maybe, a few days or a few weeks will pass with success, but it won’t last.  I will fail, and then I will flog myself for my failure, and then I will flog myself even more because this is yet another failure to add to my pile.  When I am focusing on the failure pile, I somehow forget anything good I have done or accomplished.  I neglect to remember the simple goodness in my heart.  I start to believe I am unlovable.  So, now, I don’t commit to unrealistic resolutions.  I try to set my goals in the spirit of kindness toward myself rather than with the idea that I am not good enough and I need to make myself better.

This year, I want to work toward living in the moment, lamenting less about the past and worrying less about the future.  I want to gain a deeper sense of gratitude for what I have and for who I am.  My goal for this year is to be attentive, to listen, to be present.  When I pay closer attention to the world around me, I experience a greater joy.  If I am joyful and smiling, I am more apt to spread that joy to others.  My aim is to be kinder to myself and be less judgmental about my imperfections.  In this way, I find it easier to be committed and resolute about my goals and life in general.  I will keep it simple this year.  I hope to maintain some semblance of balance and peace — even when I feel waves crashing against me.  I will write, I will sew, I will create.  This is simple.  This is what I love.

His Last Christmas

Billy was ten years old when he celebrated his last Christmas with us.  He was brought home from the hospital in an ambulance so that he could be with his family.  The driver knew what this trip was about.  He flashed the ambulance lights and gave an occasional siren whistle as he drove my little brother home.  How excited Billy must have been!  My parents had ordered a hospital bed and set it up in the dining room to ensure Billy’s visit was as comfortable and safe as possible.  My other brothers and I were filled with anticipation to have Billy home for Christmas, but we were also anxious.  We hadn’t spent much time with our brother recently, and we didn’t know what to expect.  Billy had spent the majority of the past year in the hospital; he had been diagnosed with lymphosarcoma, an acute form of leukemia.  My mother had taken him to see the doctor one day when she noticed some strange lumps on his shoulders, and she came home without him.  His prognosis was bleak.  There wasn’t a cure, and the disease was aggressive.

During earlier visits, Billy had been different from the brother we had known only a few months before.  He was bloated and glassy eyed, and he spent much of his time sleeping.  He couldn’t go out and play with us.  His hair had thinned, and one side of his face sagged because it was paralyzed.  For this Christmas visit, our parents warned us to control our wild behavior and roughhousing, to be careful not to knock into our brother and cause him to fall.  Billy was in pain.  He was fragile, sick and dying.  We were told it was his last Christmas with us, his last trip home,  but we were just too young to understand.  The magnitude of this information was beyond our comprehension.  Our excitement for the holiday season, for school vacation, Santa Claus and presents under the tree, was subdued by the mysterious melancholy and sadness that filled our home.  I can’t imagine the  helplessness my parents felt over those many months of watching their young son die.  I can’t imagine how it felt for them to know this Christmas was his last, how they possibly could have found even an ounce of holiday spirit.  They did all they could to celebrate– for us, for them, for Billy.


Over the thirteen months of his illness, Billy fought like a brave little warrior.  At one point as he neared the end of his life, he said he didn’t know it was so easy to lose a life.   Billy’s little body was simply giving out.  His doctors and my parents agreed that nothing more could be done.  It didn’t make sense to continue the barrage of medications he was taking; he was administered morphine instead to relieve the pain and help him through his last days.   Billy wasn’t expected to live much longer than a week.  I think he knew he was nearing his end.  Our parents wanted to make this a special time for him and for our family.  He was a feisty little boy with a big heart, and they wanted to bring him home.  Billy’s caregivers had grown to love him, and though they are trained to deal with disease and death every day, they were deeply saddened to witness his dying.  Nothing more could be done to save him.  I am grateful to those caregivers for devoting their lives to helping our family, to helping families like mine who suffer through the terminal illness and death of a loved one.  They give us strength and guidance, and they hold us when we grieve and mourn.

It has been forty-six years since Billy’s last Christmas.  Often, I ask myself why I still feel that gloomy little cloud over my head during the holiday season.  Billy’s death was so long ago, but no matter how hard I try to shake off the sadness, it’s still there.  For me, it’s more than grieving the anniversary of a loved-one’s death.  Of course, I mourn deeply the loss of my little brother.  He would be fifty-six years old now.  I miss having known him.  I wonder what he would be like, who he would have married, if he would have had children.  I wonder what he would have done for a living, if he would have loved music or the arts or hunting or flying.  There is something far more profound that I am saddened by, though.  My brother’s illness and death was the beginning of the eventual demise of my family.  My family did not survive this loss.  My parents relied heavily on alcohol to mask their pain, and they eventually divorced.  My older brother killed himself through extreme alcohol abuse and drug addiction; I believe he suffered survivor’s guilt.  I turned to religion and joined a religious cult, hiding from my family and from society for almost a decade.  My younger brother dangerously started down a wayward path, but luckily caught himself.  My younger sister, who was conceived a year after Billy died, was born into a shattered and broken family and grew up alone with a heartbroken mother.

I will never forget that Christmas Day.  My young parents did the best they could and tried hard to create a Merry Christmas for all of us.  My brothers and I romped and played with our new toys and  gifts, fighting and bickering as we normally did.  Billy was brave; he intuitively knew he was dying, yet his excitement and joy filled the air.  He couldn’t participate in most of our crazy antics, but he loved watching us.  We did somersaults and cartwheels in the living room, driving our parents crazy, and we sang and danced for Billy while he sat on the couch and laughed at our silliness.  He watched us with smiling, soulful eyes because he was so happy to be home with us.  My every Christmas is touched with memories of our last Christmas with Billy whose gift was his presence, his love, and his joy.  I write this in memory of my brave little brother.


Cellular Memory

A few years ago, my daughters and I attended an all day writing workshop, a Spring Salon at Hedgebrook, the community of women writers located on a beautiful farm on magical Whidbey Island in Washington State.  As Susan and Lila and I rode the ferry from Seattle,  we felt the power of our friendship and of our kinship.  The mist of the salt-air blew across our faces and into our hair as we stood on the ferry’s deck, arms locked together in unity, silently watching the Island come closer as we crossed Puget Sound.  Susan was seven months pregnant, and we were keenly aware that the next generation of “Schaffler women” was with us.   Lillian’s story had begun months ago, and she was writing it now, even while in the womb.  Hedgebrook’s mission is to “support visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come.”  We were eager to experience this day as three generations of women, to tell our stories amongst other, strong women writers.  The Hedgebrook farm setting is serene and tranquil; you can feel the energy, and you can sense the spirits of the thousands of women who have written there, who have communed there and who have been brave enough to tell their stories.  You can perceive the potency of these women’s words as they continue to affect millions of readers.  The women of Hedgebrook author change.


My daughters and I decided to sign up for the same workshops, one with Storme Webber and the other with Kathleen Alcalá.  We loved taking the workshops together; we were eager to share the results of our work, to hear one another read out-loud to the group, to listen for similarities and differences in the results of our assignments, to marvel in the spontaneity of our writing.  We intuitively knew our unified energy could be felt by the other women in the group.  I have participated in many writing workshops, and never did I experience the level of intensity as I did on this day.  There seemed to be so much more at stake for us; we knew each other intimately.  Our life stories are not all bright and cheery; I have made my share of mistakes as a mother; sister relationships can be brutal.  Though my daughters and I trust each other, we are careful not to inflict pain.  We bare our souls when we write, and sometimes our truths can be painful.  We dive deep into our memory banks, conscious and unconscious, and we try to free the memories that live deep within our cells because this is how we write the truth.  My daughters and I felt safe, un-judged, supported and loved at Hedgebrook.  We took Lillian’s presence seriously and marveled when she danced in Susan’s belly.  We knew she was listening.  We knew she was excited to share her story with us.

Before we left the farm that day, my daughters and I purchased three little silver bracelets stamped with the words “Women Authoring Change,” one for each of us.  I have not taken mine off since I put it on my wrist — except for when Lillian wants to wear it.  This is the only bracelet of mine Lillian wants to wear.  I have other beautiful bracelets, but the only one Lillian ever wants is the Hedgebrook bracelet.  She puts in on her wrist and on her feet.  She plays with it in the bathtub and holds it tightly in her fist while she goes to sleep.  Somewhere in her cellular memory, I am certain Lillian remembers her day at Hedgebrook when she was cocooned in her mother’s womb.  When Susan was in labor, she absolutely refused to take her bracelet off, despite it getting tangled in tubes and tape. Our day together at Hedgebrook helped to drive a profound sense of authorship within the world Susan creates for Lillian, a world of empowerment, focus, and possibility in love, adventure, and crazy fun.

Lillian is now two; she will be three in June.  She is a serious little girl with a great sense of humor and style that is simply astonishing.  She is an old-soul, a kindred spirit; she looks at you with knowing.  Lillian is writing her story.  She is the next generation of women authoring change.  Between my daughters Susan and Lila, and my son Kana, there will be other granddaughters and grandsons who will write their stories and change the world, whose voices will be loud and strong.  I look forward to witnessing these generational forces, and I am certain their stories will be influenced by conscious, unconscious, and even by ancestral, cellular memories.

Learning to Listen

Several years ago, I realized I needed to hone my listening skills.  I was enrolled in a high-residency full-time MFA program, working full time at a demanding job, and commuting about 100 miles to work and back.  My teachers warned me that working full-time while pursuing my MFA would be difficult if not impossible.  “You are juggling too many balls,” I was told.  “They are all going to come crashing down.”  To me, it didn’t seem impossible at all.  I had accomplished my BA while raising three children by myself and working at least half-time.   I was good at juggling; even though an occasional ball would drop now and then, I always got the rhythm going again.  Quitting my job wasn’t an option, and I was determined to complete the thing I had journeyed from Washington State to New York to do: finish my BA in writing and complete my MFA.

My time was limited. The reading lists were long, and my writing assignments filled every spare moment I had.  In order to complete the assigned readings, I had to be creative and utilize every minute.  I discovered audio books, and I started listening to the audio version of any books on my reading lists I could find.  I was sure to have the printed books also, but if I could find the audio version, I listened.  During my commute,  I listened. Any time I was in the car, I listened.  I listened early in the mornings and late into the evenings when everyone was asleep.


The first book I listened to was Moby Dick by Herman Melville. What a challenge it was to have twenty-four hours of intense, dense listening ahead of me!  I would be driving along and suddenly realize I had missed an entire section – pages of reading.  My unfocused mind wandered, and I daydreamed.  I couldn’t navigate my way back to the place where I had stopped listening, especially while driving.  I usually didn’t even know at what point I had drifted off.  I couldn’t push the ‘rewind’ button because there wasn’t one.   Starting from the beginning was not an option because I had no time.  I had to learn to listen.  I had to keep my mind from straying.  It took practice and discipline, but I have learned to love this form of ‘reading.’  Now, almost every book I buy is in audio form.  Sometimes I also buy the printed or Kindle version, but I continue to listen.  My favorite way to experience a book is to listen.  My mind still wanders, and I find myself daydreaming, but I have become more attentive and am quicker to notice my mental wanderings.  I don’t miss as much.  I am able to reel my attention back and focus.

Listening to books has helped me to be more attentive to the world around me.  I pay closer attention to the things I hear.  I am an eavesdropper.  When I walk into a store or go to a flea market or take a walk down a busy street, I listen for interesting sound-bytes.  I love listening to the things people say.  I have a Twitter feed where I ‘tweet’ the things I overhear @laurieschaffler.  This motivates me to listen.  Plus, I want to record and remember what I hear.  Maybe someday I can turn my listenings into a beautiful poem!




I have a friend who is almost eighty-three years old. He refers to himself as an octogenarian. My friend has lived a long life of giving — both of his time and of his money. He gives to charitable organizations regularly. He is an active member of his local Kiwanis Club and continues even today to participate in their community and charitable activities. He has supported homeless shelters, college scholarship programs, and animal shelters. He himself has adopted dozens of dogs and cats, and he has provided them all safety, food and health. He mentors kids and helps them with school work, he buys blankets for the homeless, and he donates food for food pantries. He also gives to his church.


My friend has been a church-goer since he was a little boy, and he started tithing as a young adult. If I conservatively calculate how much he has given to his church over time, the sum is well over one-hundred thousand dollars. Even as a conservative estimate, this is a significant sum of money.

In a recent conversation, my friend told me he is becoming bitter, and I asked why. He explained that he had forgotten a monthly tithe. It must have been the month when he had gone to his sixtieth college reunion, he told me, and it slipped his mind. Unfortunately, the church sent him not one, but two dunning reminders about the oversight. I was sad to hear my friend is not attending church as regularly since receiving these notices. Church is a sanctuary for him.

It is understandable that the church relies on the tithes of its community. Charitable and not-for-profit organizations rely on the contributions and pledges of their supporters. Sometimes people need to be reminded about these commitments, it’s true. I don’t think my friend expects a pat on the back for all he does, but perhaps a gentler reminder along with a note of gratitude would have been a better way to communicate about the oversight. He certainly would have felt more appreciated.

My guess is that organizations are more successful with fundraising efforts when they ask for help in the spirit of appreciation and gratitude. The holiday season is a time of giving. We typically receive many fund-raising appeals for great causes during this time. We are reminded about the importance and benefits of giving. I wholeheartedly believe, as I said in my last post, that the more we give, the better we get. Let’s remember also to appreciate the giving and to thank the giver. A little pat on the back never hurts.

Today is Giving Tuesday


Black Friday begins the mad flurry of shoppers shopping for the holidays and taking advantage of retail sales. Stores and malls open earlier and earlier, and shoppers flock in droves to go buy stuff. There have been reports of violence and mob scenes, deaths and injuries, as shoppers shove and fight to get their hands on the things they want. Some retailers are even opening their stores on the evening of Thanksgiving, creating an earlier shopping opportunity called Gray Thursday. Then we have Small Business Saturday, a valiant effort to encourage us to do more shopping in support of small businesses, and come Cyber Monday, we can all stay home and shop for deals online.

Sometimes and often, we shoppers buy stuff just because we think we are getting a bargain. Honestly, who can pass up a 50% off sale? I am certain most of us have rationalized the purchase of a bargain, whether needed or not, by telling ourselves, “I’m sure I can use this thing.” I know I have. I’ve come to believe that it’s important to be mindful about the difference between need and want, to pause before making a purchase and ask, “Is this thing really necessary?”

A fair amount of effort goes into analyzing and speculating about the results of Black Friday sales. If it is true that sales are down by about $7 billion this year – that’s 11% less than last year – I wonder if this is because we are becoming more mindful about our spending and about what we are buying. I really hope so. We are expected to consume in order to bring our society to economic health. I want our economy to be healthy, but I’m not convinced that we need to buy, buy, buy in order to achieve this goal. The more we buy, it seems to me, the more we have to store and the more we are willing to waste.

Today is Giving Tuesday. I like this concept – a day dedicated to giving. This day came to life as a direct response to the commercialization and consumerism that takes place during the post-Thanksgiving Day season. I wonder if we will spend as much time, energy and effort analyzing the giving data as we do in crunching numbers reported on sales. Maybe this is an impossible set of data to measure, though. How does one measure giving? Maybe it’s as simple as this: the more we give, the better we get.

Yoga then Yoga

After an hour of careful breathing and the gentle coaxing of my body into various positions, an hour of twisting, bending, and sweating at the local yoga studio, I am laying flat on my back in the Savasana pose, palms facing upward, eyes closed, breathing, calming, relaxing, reflecting. The yoga instructor has changed the music for the last five minutes of our Vinyasa practice, and we listen to a beautiful voice, accompanied by a tamboura and a harmonium, singing, “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna . . . . . .” The lights in the studio have been dimmed, and all is silent save our breath and the music. I am new to this yoga. I am stiff and heavy and physically inflexible. I feel as though I have just painfully wrung years of toxins from my cells, and my inner organs have shifted and feel a bit revived. But something else has happened in this wringing. I find myself suddenly flooded with unexpected emotion, with deep cellular memory of a past life, of a life I have rejected and feared, a life I have loved, and a life I have hated. As I bridge decades, I am moved to tears. I was a yogi, once.  I was a Vaisnava, a Bhakti yogi.

I have chanted the Maha Mantra over 5,676,000 times.

I have meditated for over 7,000 hours.

I have blissfully danced and sang in over 6,500 kirtanas.

I have recited the Bhagavad Gita, in Sanskrit, from memory.

I have studied the Vedas and the Upanishads and the Mahabarata.

I have worshipped the sacred Tulasi plant.

I have taken pilgrimage to Vrindavana and washed my face with water from the Yamuna River where it is said that Krishna subdued the great serpent, Kaliya, and where he played with the cowherd boys and girls.

I have bowed on the banks of the holy RadhaKunda, the bathing place of Krishna’s favorite girlfriend Radharani, and I have worn mud-beads from its banks made by little girls who bartered for buttons and bobby-pins.

I have been welcomed into temples where no tourist has ever set foot only because I was a Vaisnava, a devotee of Krishna.


I joined the Hare Krishna movement when I was just eighteen, and I spent nine years in the group. I loved the philosophy of Bhakti Yoga, the food, the saris, the music, the meditation, the idea of serving God and being committed to the greater good. I still love these things. What I didn’t love, though, was the abuse, the overwhelming lack of freedom, the brainwashing, and the destructive and narcissistic behavior of the leaders. Unfortunately, the group distorted the philosophy and used it to control and manipulate its members. I was brainwashed, and I could not see what was happening to me. Even to the point of having an arranged marriage, I believed the group leaders knew what was best for me. It was only when I had my first child and was instructed to give her to another woman to wet-nurse that I said “No.” Then, when it was time to send my almost five-year-old daughter to a Hare Krishna school, I rebelled. I had seen children abused and mistreated. A spark of independence stayed with me thanks to my mysteriously acquired maternal instincts, and I made a terrifying decision. With my three children in tow, I left my husband and the Hare Krishna movement. I have always believed that my children saved me.

After leaving, it took a long time to re-acclimate to the mainstream having been insulated and isolated from society. I was totally unprepared to be responsible for so many little people’s lives. It frightened me that I had allowed such abuse and manipulation to affect my life so significantly. At the time of leaving, these nine years made up an entire one-third of my lifetime. Being quite naive as I adjusted to ‘normal’ life, I was compelled to reject my involvement in the movement and the philosophy. I was determined to put as much of it behind me as I could. I can still see, in slow motion, my beautifully burnished sandalwood meditation beads in their little saffron cotton sack soaring up and into the dumpster where I tossed them. Nine years of burnishing gone. Or so I thought.

Today, I am happy to be learning how to be a new kind of yogi, a yogi who respects her body, her mind, her spirit, and all of everything that makes up who she is. My hope is to maintain balance. I can be mindful, wise, graceful, compassionate and kind without living a life of austerity and deprivation. I am happy, after all of these years of reluctance, to confidently enter a yoga studio, to sit on my own yoga mat in a lotus position, and to practice yoga. I am grateful that my past-life cells are waking up and bringing to the surface positive memories and a sense of pride for those nine years. I am willingly embracing the idea that many of my strengths and uniquenesses are directly related to my past life.

Stitching is a Meditative Practice

Do What You Love

I love stitching by hand. It is a slow and deliberate process – a meditative practice.  When I begin a hand stitching journey, I really feel the power of the story I am telling.

It’s reassuring to listen to the needle popping through the fabric, to hear the glide of the thread as it follows the needle, to quiet the mind and listen.   I like slowly unraveling a story that wants to be told.

This is a piece is built on a denim jacket I found at the Salvation Army Store. I started with the word “Trust”.IMG_0574

I didn’t have a plan. I trusted the process and kept stitching.  The piece continued to evolve, and the words “Do What You Love” appeared.IMG_1616

This was a convenient project to take with me wherever I went – it fits my body – so I wear my work in progress! I just have to carry my needle, scissors, and thread.

There are literally tens to hundreds of thousands of stitches, and it all started with one.