“Shine a Light on Peace”  Peace Wall Lighting Ceremony by Cynthia Bronson

I’m sitting on my deck in the early morning sun, sharing the yard with a gentle mother deer and her two fawns grazing in the grass nearby, and I’m enjoying the lovely flowers in the pots surrounding me.  These little beauties are thriving this year, finally, because I moved them further into the sun.  I simply gave them more light.

Reflecting on this, I’m reminded that we need more light, especially in times of such darkness.  Which brings me to the Ashland Peace Wall, and the effort underway in the community to provide lighting to illuminate its vision and energize its power to bring viewers some inner peace and love into the world?

Originally called the Peace Fence, this Peace Wall is a beautiful collection of colored tiles, mounted on a steel frame in front of the Ashland Library on Siskiyou Blvd.  Each tile on the Wall is a photograph of a banner from the original Peace Fence. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

The Iraq War was raging on and antiwar activist and artist Jean Bakewell was frustrated and wanted to do something.  She also wanted to do something to honor her brother and sister-in law who had recently died.  As she walked along the railroad chain link fence behind A Street the idea came: Quietly get the word out inviting artists and friends to make peace banners to hang on the fence as a surprise on Mother’s Day.  Excitement and secrecy spread through town and on Mother’s Day 2007 the City witnessed a gathering at the new Peace Fence.  The Peace Choir sang “This Little Light of Mine”, in front of more than 200 beautiful banners for peace, each 3’ x 4’ or more with impassioned pleas for peace and Oneness.  Eventually more banners were made and sent to Ashland from Vietnam Vets, and all over the West Coast, Canada, and Norway.   School children from Ashland and surrounding communities made banners, one with colorful little handprints shining forth to dispel the darkness in the world. And the banners hung proudly until a few of them were stolen and the Fence was subsequently vandalized. The Ashland police pledged more protection and good heartedly stepped up their patrols.  A guest logbook had been placed at the fence for visitors to sign and on it were scrolled in large graffiti letters across two open pages of the book: “ASHLAND GRAFFITI HAS YOUR BACK “.  Someone had pledged themselves to act as Guardians of this Sacred Space. There was no more vandalism for that entire year.

Then early the following year on a cold rainy morning, Jean came upon a scene of devastation. Several banners had been slashed from the fence and stomped into the mud.  Huge hob-nailed boot prints on the paintings testifying to the anger and pain that was felt, made one stagger.  The waves of outrage and grief were palpable in the community.  It was unfathomable.  Jean, the diminutive Brit, pronounced that we must move to transform this act of toxic anger and energy into the energy of love.

Plans and ideas were set in motion to make the Peace Fence into a permanent Peace Wall and hang it in a more accessible public space for the world to see.  All of the banners including the repaired damaged ones were photographed and the new plan was to have ceramic tiles made. Assortments of other items were grouted around the tiles at the Illahe Gallery and Studio with the help of dozens of volunteers over many months.  A steel frame was then engineered into a “wave” of peace.  The City was contacted and after years of planning and raising money, the new artwork would be installed on the sidewalk in front of the Ashland Library.  Fundraising became a way of life with donations, soup sales, grants, and finally a generous anonymous donation that saved the day!  The Installation and Celebration ceremony was held on September 21, 2010 – after a three-year project in the making.    The only thing left to “put the icing on the cake” would be for the Peace Wall to be lit at night.

The time is NOW!  Nine years later you are invited to join us at the lighting ceremony at the Peace Wall to “Shine a Light on Peace.”  The City has given their approval and the lights will be turned on at 7:00 pm Saturday, September 21, on the United Nations declared International Day of Peace!

Peace House has been a long-time partner with the Peace Wall Project and will accept tax deductible online donations for the costs of the lights on their website until August 31st.  When you visit the website to make a donation, you can also watch a video of the original Peace Fence with the banners, and listen to the late Dave Marsten and Tami Marsten singing “We can be kind” in the background! We need your donations of any amount by going to:  You can also send a check with the

designation to “SLP” and mail to: Peace House, P.O. Box 524, Ashland, OR 97520 Questions? Email:

Cynthia Bronson, a long time Ashland resident, peace activist, artist, member of Lithia Artisans and supporter of the Peace Fence and Peace Wall.

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Higher Conscious Living by Angelica Rose

Higher Conscious Living by Angelica Rose

Our mind operates like a computer filled with programs from stories we bought in to. These programs if fed often become beliefs. Some beliefs serve us and some don’t. There are beliefs we know of and others are in our subconscious. Some beliefs we experience joy and other beliefs sadness. This is duality living because they have polarity thoughts and emotions, such as happy and sad, right and wrong, accept and judge and love and hate.

If we commit to happiness, we live more from gratitude and appreciation. We live more in the “now.”  If we are around lots of negative influences or complain often, we experience more drama in our life. We attract more of that where we feel stuck or disconnected from feeling joy. If we judge the person or situation, it keeps us stuck longer in what we are judging. The thoughts and feelings become like an unruly child, stuck in the “don’t wants.” If you are sensitive to feeling other people’s energy, you can take on other people’s energy like a sponge. It is like an ever ready bunny that has gone wonky. It’s important to monitor how you’re feeling. If you notice your energy dropping, excuse yourself from the person or situation. Take deep breaths and neutralize your energy, by quieting your thoughts and bring it to a more centered place of love. Eventually, you will feel more empowered to be able to neutralize your energy while in the situation or with the person and move into love.  Judging or resistance will only keep you stuck more in the dense energy. Using colors helps because the mind cannot feel colors: pink for love, white for purifying and green for healing.

There is an easier way to living life with greater joy, love, and peace. I call this a direct connection to Universal Love. Some may call God, Christ, Buddha, or Higher Power. This is where you have greater gaps of silence and you live within your heart feeling Universal Love in a greater way. Universal Love is within. You start with deep breathing to relax. Focus your attention on the 3rd eye between the eyebrows where your inner spirit higher consciousness resides to quiet the mind chatter. Then move your focus into the heart and feel Universal Love filling up your heart by calling it in and being open to receiving this expansive pure love. The more you remember this, the greater the connection inside you feels with Universal Love. The human ego releases its control mechanisms of protection and you flow with greater love, joy, and peace and prosperity consciousness. This is because the connection to Universal Love only knows of love, joy, peace, prosperity, and health. It knows of no duality living. You enjoy life more fully experiencing greater joy, peace, love and prosperity consciousness. I explain how to get there in a greater way in my book, Transformation.

Helpful steps:

Exercise to let go of tension in the body.

Deep Breathing

Focus on gratitude and appreciation

Embrace what is

Allow the mind to go into gaps of silence as you focus on the 3rd eye

Focus on the heart feeling love

You can play higher vibration music and focus on a lit candle to help relax

It is phenomenal when you have that connection to Universal Love because you know the truth to what is real rather than what is an illusion to what you don’t want in life. You don’t have to suffer to get to bliss. You still have lessons to learn yet you can do it with greater ease, joy, peace and love.

© 2018 Angelica Rose, The Heart of Motivation, all rights reserved

Angelica Rose, An Angel Walk-in, is a Universal gifted Angel Messenger, Love Coach, Certified Hypnotist and Author of Books, EBooks, Relaxation CDs, MP3s, MP4s, Talk on Spiritual Oneness and Inspirational Stickers. Angelica also created an online series called, Spiritual Journey to Divine Love on MP3 and MP4. She has been certified as a minister of LOVE in 2007.

This article appeared in the Ashland Tidings on June 1st, 2019

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The antidote to hate

The antidote to hate is not more hate.  By Sally McKirgan

I woke up this morning with that headline in my mind. The antidote to hate cannot be more hate because that creates fear and worry.  Can hate be fought with more hate? For ten years this column has attempted to be an antidote to hate of sorts.  What is the opposite of inner peace?  I believe it is a simmering unrest, yes like hate, but mostly unacknowledged, with an undercurrent from trauma, blame including sadness caused by the pain of life.  The letter to the editor that began this column appeared as a Daily Tidings, guest commentary on Christmas Eve, 2008, titled:  “In this the Season of Love, give yourself the gift of inner peace.”  It was my antidote to the hate I felt at the time towards President Bush and the Iraq war debacle raging in the Middle East. 

For years I searched for inner peace by looking for peace in the world, but to no one’s surprise, I found that peace is an inside job.  The world is neutral.  We can see peace or hate depending on what is in our mind. What do I see, think, how do I feel, and what do I believe to be true?  What are my perceptions and are they tainted by years of false training?  For example in the first grade I was told by my teacher not to walk around holding the hand of the new little “black” girl who had just come to school.  She was the first black person I had ever seen; I thought she was amazingly beautiful.  My teacher told me it was inappropriate!  She was teaching division, hatred a false training.  And I wasn’t in Alabama but Washington State!  Hate hurts the hater.  Hatred causes stress, guilt, division, anger, anxiety, fear, ossification, resentment, obstruction of blood vessels, inflaming the brain, heart, joints, arthritis and other degenerative diseases.  Just watch TV ads to see all the remedies offered!

We observe hate and fear “out there” but the solution is not to add further hate to the equation.  I was an antiwar demonstrator but could never hate the other side.  We can demonstrate against something with peace in our hearts if we hold a “we are the same” thought because that IS the truth.  We do have the solutions because they beautifully emerge in our society.  Like the answer to homelessness with the Medford and Ashland communities developing solutions with little houses and winter shelters with caring (loving) volunteers.  The answer is within each of us.  The person who is driven to kill and shoot at a School/Synagogue/Mosque is suffering.  Find whoever suffers (him/her) and hold them; include them; invite to lunch; hold out your hand; or give a pat on the back.  Try to connect even with a smile because he/she is hurting, feeling rejected and full of a resentment that will ultimately explode until they obtain a gun to kill someone or maybe themselves.  What is the antidote for this suffering that I can offer? I don’t always give money to people asking at Shop N Kart but I do give a smile or a wave.  Everyone is hurting at some level not just the homeless.   We have the right response within if we ask, and let it arise.

We have been programed or “carefully taught” like the song in the movie South Pacific: “You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made or people whose skin is a different shade; you’ve got to be carefully taught.”  If we observe our judgments they are probably from a past learning but we have the power to no longer accept, believe or live by them.

We have answers for the antidote. For example, Rabbi David Zazlow’s Congregation at the Havurah visited the Masjid Al Tawheed mosque in Talent and visa versa.  I know the United Congregational Church of Christ has done the same.  Jewish and Christian congregations cross pollinate as well. Small gatherings are not intimidating.  I’ve seen posters for many community gathering opportunities.  We need to meet, engage, enlighten and demonstrate acceptance and inclusion for everyone in all the Rogue Valley communities.

The Publisher of the Mail Tribune, Stephen Saslow’s May 5th editorial in the Mail Tribune, “If we’re ever gonna survive” called for a Band-Aid to violence and asked the community to start a dialogue and to take “our heads out of the proverbial sand.”  What are your ideas?   Let’s put our hearts and heads together because we have the answers within us. “Love is stronger than war because it heals.”  Send me your ideas and I’ll publish them in a column soon!

Sally McKirgan facilitates the Tidings Inner Peace Column.  Send ideas 600 to 700 word articles on all aspects of inner peace to 

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Are you on the pathway to “Flow”?

Are You on the Pathway to “Flow”?

By Peter Finkle

I wrote a poem called “Pathway to Flow” for two young friends I have played tennis with.  Brothers Taiga and Kuga are 12 years old and 10 years old.  After a year in Ashland, they and their parents recently went home to Japan.  They impressed me by…wait a minute…let’s get into the question of the title first, and then I’ll tell you why the boys impressed me enough to write this poem for them.  (The poem is in italics.)


Some young people listen very carefully,

but not very many.

Some young people who listen carefully

really learn,

but not very many.

Some young people who learn

really put it in to practice,

but not very many.

My poem is a mirror for me as well as for my young friends.  I hope it can also be a mirror for you.  First, are you listening carefully to your teacher, your friend, your spouse or your child today…not just occasionally, but moment by moment all day?  Listening carefully, being present, makes learning possible. 

After that, what is learning without practice?  Most likely just head-learning, a bunch of rote concepts.  Are you willing to put in the practice that creates whole-body-muscle-memory learning, the practice that creates heart-and-head-combined learning?  At that point, you separate yourself from the pack. 

However, many of us would rather take the easier path of doing what everyone else in our crowd is doing, or doing what we’ve always done.  Or you could be the person who “already knows,” with an arrogance that keeps you stuck.  These approaches help you avoid the fear that comes with challenging yourself, and you can end up in a safe but not very satisfying prison of your own making. 

Some young people who put it in to practice

are willing to keep making mistakes

until they get it right,

but not very many.

This is key.  Yes, mistakes are inevitable.  Mistakes are part of learning.  In fact, mistakes are crucial to true learning.  For example, one of baseball’s greatest hitters Ted Williams said: “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”  That excellent .300 batting average equals 70% “mistakes.” 

In tennis, the best players are happy if they hit slightly more winning shots than bad misses during a match.  But the best learn from every mistake, from every out, from every miss. 

This is a hard lesson, whether you are a youngster or an adult.  It takes patience.  It takes either tough determination or love for what you are learning — and preferably both.

Some young people go beyond getting it right,

go all the way beyond technique

to a relaxed state of flow (or being “in the Zone”),

but not very many.

To learn excellent technique is a huge accomplishment, not to be taken lightly.  Depending on the skill, it can take months or years of learning, mistakes and practice to develop excellent technique.  Excellent skills is what many businesses look for in their employees.  It is the goal for many of us in our lives.  Is this enough for you?

For technique is only the starting point to something called flow, which is also called being “in the zone.”  Having technique “down” allows you to relax into each moment of life as it unfolds.   Amazon’s summary of the book Flow says: “Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s famous investigations of ‘optimal experience’ have revealed that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.” 

Some young people

have an open mind for listening,

enjoy the process of learning,

climb the mountain of mistakes

and walk the patient pathway of practice,

to feel the simple joy

of presence and flow,

but this is very rare.

You don’t have to be a famous athlete to enter the relaxed concentration of flow.  But you probably have to be willing to climb the mountain of mistakes and walk the pathway of practice.  Whatever challenge you enjoy in your daily life can be a pathway to flow.  It could be quilting or music, rock climbing or cooking, writing poetry or working on cars, story telling or providing healthcare with empathy.

Excellent, unthinking technique helps open the door.  Gratitude for what you have already, this moment, helps open the door.  Letting go of the past (even the 1-minute-ago past) is essential in order to walk through the door.  That is why flow is so rare.  How many of us are willing to let go of our worries, our opinions, and most difficult of all — our judgments of ourselves? 

The good news: if you are willing, the door is always there, and the pathway is always there. 

The better news: it is completely up to you.  You choose if you want to walk into flow, if you want to live in the deep enjoyment and satisfaction of flow.

I wish for you

this Pathway


this Simple Joy

in your Life.

Let’s now circle back to the boys I wrote the poem for.  For young boys, they listen well.  Let’s say I give a suggestion as we play tennis this week.  They have impressed me over and over by not only hearing what I said, but also by putting my suggestion into practice to win more points against me the very next week.  They are constantly learning and improving.

So I see them enjoying the process of learning, climbing the mountain of mistakes and walking the patient pathway of practice. 

Now I hope that they, as young men, can learn to grow into the rare and simple joy of living much of each day fully in the present moment.  I hope they learn how to enter the state of flow, both in tennis and in life.  And I wish the same for you.

= = = = =

Here is the full poem without commentary.


Some young people listen very carefully,

but not very many.

Some young people who listen carefully

really learn,

but not very many.

Some young people who learn

really put it in to practice,

but not very many.

Some young people who put it in to practice

are willing to keep making mistakes

until they get it right,

but not very many.

Some young people go beyond getting it right,

go all the way beyond technique

to a relaxed state of flow (or being “in the Zone”),

but not very many.

Some young people

have an open mind for listening,

enjoy the process of learning,

climb the mountain of mistakes

and walk the pathway of practice,

to feel the simple joy

of presence and flow,

but this is very rare.

I wish for you

this Pathway


this Simple Joy

in your Life.

BIO: As one contribution to building community, Peter is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street.  Visit to see and read about local people, history, yard art, architecture, gardens and more.

The above article appeared in the Ashland Tidings on Sat. May 25, 2019

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Teaching Story: The Sincere Aspirant by Ed Hirsch

Teaching Story: The Sincere Aspirant  by Ed Hirsch   (IP blog?)

The story goes that a man had a powerful and illuminating opening into the Divine and felt called to share his inspiration with others. After fasting and fervently praying for how best to go about this, he received the illumination he needed. He gathered the people together and gave inspiring sermons on Divine Law based on readings from the Old Testament. All seemed well, and yet by the end of the week, he found that the people were lying, cheating, stealing, and sleeping around. Alarmed but undaunted, he returned to his prayers with increased devotion. Next week, after receiving Divine Grace, he gathered the people and gave sermons on Divine Love based on readings from the New Testament. To his surprise and chagrin, he found by the end of the week that the people continued lying, cheating, stealing, and sleeping around. Frustrated but not willing to give up, he returned all the more diligently to his prayers. “What must I do, O Lord?” he cried. Surrendering his own will, he again gathered the people. This time, he gave even more inspiring sermons, this time on submission to the Divine, based on readings from the Koran. But by the end of the week, he found that the people were still lying, cheating, stealing, and sleeping around. Now almost driven to distraction and despair, he returned to his prayers. “O Lord, I cannot bear this, show me the Way!” This time, after a tremendous revelation, he gave up his own lying, cheating, stealing, and sleeping around, and lo and behold, the people changed their ways.

Commentary: This can be read in two ways: On a more common level, it turns out that the man, who had been so focused on the errors of others, was committing those very same errors. On a subtler level, the man, who had been so focused on the obvious errors of other people, discovered that he himself was committing those very same errors but just in more subtle ways. By both readings, the message is that self-transformation has the greatest impact on others.

Ed Hirsch conducts free, drop-in weekly groups in The Practice of Presence at a local Ashland residence. Contact him at for information.

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Are We Safe: by Will Wilkinson

I was listening to NPR the other day and heard a woman being interviewed about the terrorist shooting in New Zealand say, “Now we can’t feel safe anywhere.” I felt a deep sadness rise up within me as I contemplated the truth of what she said. New Zealand has historically been a very peaceful country. So, if a horror like this could happen there, it could happen anywhere. That realization is chilling.

It’s true that tragedy can strike anytime, anywhere, without warning. But blessings can arise just as unexpectedly and they do, every day, if we’re looking for them. The key to what we see and experience resides in how we look.

Inevitably, in horror scenarios like the Christchurch shooting, heroes appear. Ordinary people act in extraordinary ways, like Abdul Aziz who chased the shooter away from the mosque and most certainly saved lives through his spontaneous heroism. So, knowing that now, where do we put our attention, towards hating the shooter or appreciating this hero?

We always have a choice as to where we direct our attention. Midst the cacophony of social media and 24/7 news feeds, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the stimulation and find our attention swirling around chaotically, with our emotions being enrolled in agendas of judgment and resentment and anger. Conversations can become like trading jabs at a punching bag, whether we are hitting on a murderer in the news, a politician we don’t like, or some friend who did something that offended us.

That’s not what a peacemaker does.

Those who bring peace choose differently. And they need more company from the rest of us. It can get tiring and brutally discouraging to labor with love in a field of hatred… even the strongest and most passionately committed social activists can lose hope. I remember the modern mystic Andrew Harvey recounting how he received a letter from a woman in Africa, someone he described as the strongest person he knew. She wrote, “By the time you read this I will be dead…” and went on to confess how her years of trying to help natives being abused and disenfranchised had worn her down to the point where she simply couldn’t go on and took her own life.

I wept when I heard that, for this woman unknown to me and for all the brave souls who carry on day after day, bringing peace to those in their immediate environments, often at great risk to their wellbeing and even to their lives.

So, how can we help? We all have our own lives and we’re surrounded by people who need reassurance, to be listened to, to know that someone cares about them. The question, “Can we ever feel safe again?” is impossible to answer if we’re wondering about external events. None of us control the universe, things will happen. But all of us can control what we contribute.

We can answer the prayer of St. Francis every day with the attitude we choose, the words we speak, and the actions we undertake. The words in this prayer leave no room for anything but heroic, peace-filled activism:

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

This is not a religious text; it’s instructions for being a peacemaker, regardless of your spiritual beliefs. Imagine if each of us decided to follow those instructions, if we re-invented ourselves as a person who was bringing safety wherever we were. I wonder what might happen if I did that, if you did that, if we could inspire others to do it?

It may sound like a grand proposal but I’m actually talking about the small moments of each day and the choices we make. How do we respond? For instance, a friend might complain about another friend. Do we gossip with them? Or do we inject a different tone, perhaps an attitude of forgiveness or understanding? Do we listen deeply and really care about the person we’re with, or are we not-so-patiently waiting to tell our own story?

For anyone who wonders if they can ever feel safe again, the fastest way to “Yes!” is to make sure that others feel safe with you.Will Wilkinson is a local author who has contributed to 28 books in print. He is developing an international meditation network which can be found at  

The above article was printed in the Ashland Tidings on April 6, 2019

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Lessons of Peace from Wild Animals by Janet Marie Sola

Lessons of peace from wild animals  by Janet Marie Sola

This last fall I finally realized a long dreamed-of trip to see the mysterious and beautiful wild animals of the Serengeti in East Africa: the legendary lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, zebras, ostriches as well as some we had never heard of: the tiny antelopes called dik-diks, the four-foot tall secretary bird, so called because of its quill-like head feathers.

On the first evening walking on the footpath from my tent to the campfire, a menacing head appeared in the tall grass. I recognized the profile instantly: the upright spotted ears, the slouched posture: a hyena, not 20 feet away, staring right at me. I froze. What should I do? All of the images I had seen on endless nature videos came back at me: predators lying in wait for their prey, the heart-stopping chase (where you’re partly rooting for the gazelle to get away from the lion, partly for the lion trying to feed her hungry cubs.) Nature programs are all about the hunt and the kill: a cycle of appetite and instinct where animals live in fear and conflict. In fact, when you think about it, most media is about that, building an audience by focusing only on the drama. So much of our perception of the world is built around those images.

The next day, we rose in the dark and drove in 4 x 4’s along bumpy dirt roads. When the red and gold river of the sunrise began to flood the horizon, it illuminated the endless and seemingly empty grass plain of the Serengeti. But soon enough our guide’s trained eyes began to spot animals. A family of giraffes, moving like slow motion dancers, were nibbling on the shoots of the acacia trees. A cheetah appeared a shadow of gold smoke in the tall grass. She was still; she seemed to be contemplating a bare tree in her sight line as if she was meditating. (I knew it was a she. She was pregnant.)  Further down the road, a group of lions lounged in the shade. In a wetland’s shallow pond, an entire community of hippos lolled about, fat islands of contentment. When a sudden downpour came, they opened their huge mouths upward to capture the rain.

In the late afternoon, we stopped at a water hole, surrounded by low hills that were dotted here and there with bushes and flat-topped trees. A couple of long legged birds were poking around at the water’s edge. Then a zebra came over a hill, striking in its coat of black and white stripes, followed by another and another. Soon after a family of warthogs arrived, trotting purposefully as if they had an important message to deliver.  They all lowered their heads to drink.

It came to me not as a thought but a feeling—a peaceful afternoon of animals sharing a resource in their natural land.  While evolved strategies for food survival are part of their lives they are not all of it. The media focus on flight and fight aside, much of the time the animals of the great natural parks of Africa live in peace. Who is to say they do not NOT enjoy their time at the waterhole, the rain in their faces, and a lazy afternoon of contemplation? Who is to say they don’t also experience caring for their fellow creatures? Darwin posited that the emotions of all animals, including humans, evolved in a complex weave. Despite the later denial of the behaviorists, it is now widely accepted that animals have a wide range of experiences and feelings: mice can have fun, whales fall in love, and elephants suffer from PTSD. And empathy provides the social glue that binds creatures to each other.

In our time there, we saw two male lion companions, one without his right eye and a lame rear leg. His healthy brother was alongside him, turning every so often to make sure his disabled brother caught up with him. They had been together for years, our guide told us. 

             Caring for each other, and living in peace, really is a natural state, one we share with all creatures, part of our birthright. As A. A. Milne (of Winnie the Pooh fame) said: “Some people talk to the animals. Not many listen though. And that is the problem.” Oh, and in case you’re still wondering about the hyena on my path, after staring at me for what seemed like a very long minute, he smiled his weird hyena smile and turned toward the more interesting view of the sunset. Perhaps just to contemplate it in peace.

Ashland resident Janet Marie Sola, a former journalist, now writes fiction. Her writing has been published in Painted Bride, Forge, San Francisco Chronicle and more. Her novel, The Overnight Palace, is a story of art, romance and transformation set in India. She can be reached at her website or at



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The Universal Present by Ed Hirsch

The Universal Present 

 Would you like to get in on a secret? The first part is the Open Secret that is always here and now, simple and available. The second part is a gesture that anchors it. Together they make the Universal Present that keeps on giving, always new, always now.

 Have you ever felt caught in an endless schedule or drama, and you knew that at any moment you could simply pause and get off the wheel—but you don’t? And then you feel all the more hooked, trapped, helpless?

 Have you ever felt imbalanced and then got caught in the complications of an endless project of analyzing, rebalancing, improving, self-correcting, self-perfecting—if not outright self-conflict and self-judgment?  

 The secret is the radical alternative. Cutting through the complexity, we come home to Here Now, Returning to Center, to That which is prior to ego, prior to reactivity, prior to problems, prior to mind. We can refer to it as the Power of Now, the Peace of Presence, the Silence, the Stillness, or even God if you like, or simply the nameless Mystery. It is beyond beliefs, doctrines, dogmas, for it is simpler and more direct than any of that.

What IS, Always Already, before you even take a thought, is the Now, which you enter through gesture and breath in the present moment. This brings the Formless into the living here and now, so it doesn’t become an abstract ideal that we know we “should” remember but keep forgetting.

 In the East, it is called mudra or Namaste, but it is universal and not confined to any tradition, East or West. Simply bring your two palms together at the heart. The two hands symbolize all the dualities of life and are extensions of the heart. By bringing them together, you connect with That which IS prior to all differentiations. The hands, agents of doing, are brought together in nondoing. By bringing them together at the heart, you drop out of the head into your depth, which we can call your True Nature or Spiritual Heart. Don’t get stuck on the terms, for this secret is prior to thoughts, prior to emotions, prior to energies. Enter directly into that Presence.

 The hands together at the heart bring you into here. Taking a deep, slow breath brings you into now. Your full attention, your being, is here now. If you like, a simple word can focus your attention on the inner felt meaning of the gesture.

 By making a deliberate action, you are not passively waiting for grace or hanging out in abstractions only. And yet by entering into this gesture, the doing, and even the one who is doing, alchemically opens into nondual Being. What is Prior becomes priority. You yourself are engaged, but it is beyond the separate “me,” beyond any ownership, control, or self-reference. And yet it is inherently satisfying and empowering.

 The universality of this gesture can connect you with the hearts of all by connecting through your own heart. We could call this prayer or meditation, but really it is prior to all of that. Call it a practice or ritual if you like, but really it is a non-practice, a non-ritual, for all its form opens and empties into the Formless, making direct connection with the Peace That IS Here Now.

 By coming to the Formless Center beyond any center, you are prior to attachment to any outcome or problem to solve. It is not designed to attract the perfect partner, job, or circumstance, and yet by coming to Center, you are accessing a central power, love, and wisdom from which to move in the world. As gracefully as form empties into the Formless, the Formless enters into form.

 This practice doesn’t require any belief system, and it is not a religion. You might begin and end the day with it, and you can enter it anytime in between in a way that feels appropriate and unobtrusive. It might take some practice before it feels natural, but it is not about getting good at a practice.  

 There, now the secret is out. Everything falls away to a grounded, heart-centered simplicity of BE HERE NOW. Live from That.


 Ed Hirsch conducts free, drop-in weekly groups in The Practice of Presence at a local Ashland residence. Contact him at for information.

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3 Life Lessons from a Cup of Hot Chocolate by Peter Finkle

3 Life Lessons from a Cup of Hot Chocolate

How many simple moments of life today have brought a smile to your face – or your heart?

 68 years of life have convinced me that my happiness does not come from the anticipated vacation, a promotion at work or a new possession.  Yes, those times are wonderful.  I am not minimizing their importance.

 But what about the other 95% of the year?  To put it bluntly, what about all those minutes of our lives ticking by, the moment by moment by moment of daily life when nothing “dramatic” is happening? 

 If we can learn to find simple riches in the moments of daily life, we open the door to living with contentment and satisfaction.  How to do that?  We will each have our own journey, but the journey starts with a decision: “Yes, that is what I want.”

This poem I wrote on a recent chilly winter morning offers some hints.

3 Life Lessons

from a Cup of Hot Chocolate

 This chilly winter morning,

The steaming mug

Warms my hands.


As rich dark chocolate

Fulfills my waking taste buds,

I am filled with that just-right “aaahhh” feeling.


Relaxed in my aaahhh-ness,

A mind-opening “awe” feeling emerges;

I suddenly see life lessons to learn

From this very cup of hot chocolate.


Balance the bitter with the sweet:


Faced with a choice, we take sweet over bitter, right?

Yet sweet alone is one-dimensional, cloying.

Only through the bitter “downs” in life

Do we learn to appreciate the sweet “ups?”

Only through bitter and sweet swirled together

Do we appreciate complexity in food, or

Growth and fulfillment in life.


History is important:

 The bitter-sweet cocoa and sugar in my cup

Both have an origin and a history,

As do I.

The cocoa and sugar come from the land

(is it cared for or neglected?) and from

The people who work the land

(is the food grown by child laborers or Fair Trade farmers?).

I honor, with each sip I take,

Choices this chocolate company made

To support healthy land and people.

While in my personal history,

I honor my great-great-grandfather,

Who fought to help preserve the Union

And end slavery in our Civil War.

I honor my father, who chose

To help rebuild Europe in the Marshall Plan

After the devastation of World War II.


Savor each sip:

 Our culture has a habit of teaching us

Happiness will be found “after…” and “when….”

Meanwhile, the moments, days and years of life

Slip away, and are lost.

This cup of hot chocolate reminds me

To savor each sip,

To appreciate each moment of life unfolding.

There is no more need to fear life slipping away

If I can learn to savor today, each day,


Here are two more hints to help us savor each day.


Gratitude: Each morning, I write in my journal one to three things I am grateful for. 

It can be something big.  Yesterday I wrote: “I am grateful for my health.” 

It can be something small.  Last January I wrote: “I am grateful I was able to watch on TV as Roger Federer won his 20th tennis Grand Slam at the Australian Open.”


Wins: Each evening, I write in my journal one to three “wins” from the day.  Here are three recent examples of simple “wins.”

“I talked on the phone today with my son about his music.”  

“My wife and I took our old electronics to the transfer station for recycling.” 

“I met mystery author Ellie Alexander (Kate Dyer-Seeley) at Bloomsbury and she was interested in my WalkAshland website.”

 You can do these two simple writing practices on paper, or digitally on your computer or phone.  They will, over time, bring a new perspective to each day. 

 Imagine that you have done both for just one month.  You will be able to look back, read and remember 30 to 90 specific things that you have been grateful for.  You will be able to look back, read and remember 30 to 90 of your very own small and large “wins” or accomplishments!

 Could this lead to more moments of life that bring a smile to your face each day?  I believe it could.  If you decide to try this simple practice for a month (or more), save my email address and let me know what happens.



As his contribution to building community, writer and herbal health researcher Peter Finkle is walking every street in Ashland and writing an article with photos about every street.  Visit to see and read about local people, history, yard art, architecture, gardens and more.  Peter’s email:

 The above appeared in the Ashland Tidings on Saturday February 2, 2019 




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Prodigal Cat by Lorrie LeSage

Prodigal Cat
by Lorrie LeSage  

When I met you, you were just a tiny eight-pound thing who had been left for dead,
or merely overlooked as a trifle by someone preoccupied with more important matters.

Yet somehow despite the odds, you took it upon yourself to survive.
In spirit large and cagey as a lioness, you learned all the necessary skills.

You became a tiny but mighty monarch, in a queendom of your own making–
running with lightning speed to catch a meal, outsmarting the nightly mobs of hungry dogs.

Where others dismissed your beauty as common, I saw evidence of a royal lineage,
Attired as you were in your elegant sun-and-earth-colored coat, and careful velvet eyeliner.

And I understood why mere humans have long-recognized the divinity and magic
that abides within the cat, and why your kind are the chosen familiars of witches.

Over time we became again true and trusted friends, allies in an indifferent world,
our souls having already travelled many miles together in days gone by and long forgotten.

And I saw a deep and holy sweetness still perfectly intact within you,
uncorrupted by suffering.

And in your complete relinquishment of all to the warmth and glory of the moment,
I saw the mirrored-radiance of the One, and the perfection of love at the heart of all creation.

And because of that essential and unperturbable wholeness, I recognized you as my guru,
and you kindly gave instruction on the mysteries, merely through the beauty of your being.

Although the surging waters of time and trials have seen fit to calm awhile and let us rest,
I know that like all rivers you are still a wild, as well as wise, divine and sweet thing.

At your insistence, each night I must open the door to my heart,
and let your tiny frame go, out into the dangerous darkness.

That is Nature’s way, and whatever it is that draws you back there like an addict to her needle,
its tidal pull is vital and lunar, and cannot be obstructed.

And when you return, as often as not, wounded at dawn, I curse you as a crack-head cat,
and wonder if my addiction to you is co-dependent.

Connected yet always separate, now but never forever,
this is the paradox, the great grime and glory of embodiment.

So when I’ve cried and bandaged and doctored and forgiven and forgotten again,
as friends and mothers do, we drink once more a cup of peace from the unfathomable well of love…

My faithless, faithful, prodigal cat and I.

Lorrie LeSage is a retired Mental Health Therapist, and currently lives on a 6-acre farm in Ashland with her husband Tom. Her beautiful cat ‘Sweet Thing’ was already a resident of the farm when they purchased it about 8 years ago, and although it took some time to get to know each other, they are now the best of friends.


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