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Dispatches from the Hermitage

It’s been howling and pouring for the last two days — and now the weather folks are telling us the news: a big blow is coming! (That news story is California-centric, but its map is not.)

We’ve been having this-and-that warnings all week. High surf warnings. Travel advisories. High-wind warnings. At one point the Seattle area was under 14 different warnings at the same time. Portland, about the same. The pineapple express, usually semi-rare, has been running on a regular schedule this season. Even with the big storm less than 24 hours out, meteorological models are still arguing with each other about whether we’re expecting hurricane-force or fizzle. But what we’ve already gotten is impressive enough.

Of course, no matter what I can say about this part of the world, somebody else always has more drama. And welcome to it.

Whatever the weather where you are, may you be safe and cozy from it.


The howling woke me at 2:30 this morning. The wind was lifting decorative plaques on the outside wall just over my head, then slamming them back down against the siding with various thumps, chitters, clangs, and chatters.

Nevertheless, I woke feeling an uncanny peace. Normally I can’t meditate in the middle of the night, but my breath, and a nice, relaxed focus, came easily. I just went with it.

Eventually, both dogs and the cat realized I was awake and wedged themselves against me — kitty to the right, Ava to the left, and 50 pounds of Robbie lying on my feet.

So serene. So warm. So pleasant — until my legs demanded a little more circulation.


I’ve finally found a book that’s seriously helping my hermitting. A book from an unlikely source. Its author, Dan Harris, is, of all things, an ABC news guy (Nightline and Good Morning America).

He lives in New York City. Loves to travel the world. Had a loving, upper-middle class upbringing. Was raised hippie-artsy-liberal. Has been fiercely ambitious in a cutthroat career. Is happily married. Has a junkie’s craving for thrills and danger.

In short, he ought to be my opposite. I should have nothing in common with him. But OMG, the guy shares some major part of my brain!

His book is called 10% Happier.

More precisely, it’s called 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story.

That his opening paragraph reads: “I initially wanted to call this book The Voice in My Head is an Asshole. However, that title was deemed inappropriate for a man whose day job requires him to abide by FCC decency standards” … just makes it better.

He started out as an insecure, thrill-seeking young reporter (in over his head and knowing it). Then, with religion having become political, anchorman Peter Jennings chose Harris to be his religion reporter. Harris had zero interest in religion. He spent his early years on the beat mostly doing snarky stories about evangelical Christians. But then, in a winding course having to do with people he interviewed, he gradually became intrigued by, then interested in, then serious about, meditation.

Where the totally unexpected brain-sharing comes in is that Harris, like me, is not only a skeptic, but he’s somebody whose hackles rise at the merest hint, the slightest whiff, the faintest breeze of woo. Or of pseudoscience. Or unlikely claims. Or phoniness. He takes nothing on faith and believes nothing that can’t be either scientifically proven or empirically replicated. His BS detector goes off … well, about as often as mine does. And mine goes off so often and so loudly that I can’t even read most “spiritual” books or listen to most “spiritual” gurus without wanting to gag.

I have long been stuck with a combination of feeling intense “spiritual” longing and total fed-upness with overblown claims, fantasies, wishful thinking, lies, threats, myths, cheesy money-wheedling (whether ala Sedona or ala TV preacher), false fronts, spiritual fads, sentimental glurge, and airy wafting. This has made it really hard for me to progress spiritually — because spirituality is always wrapped in layers of such stuff.

When people try to pitch their belief systems at me (or even when I pick up someone’s “spiritual” book on my own, hopefully seeking), my response is: give me the facts. Not quotes. Not statements of your (or anybody else’s) personal belief. Not dire warnings about what your god will do to me if I don’t comply. Not gooey stories about guardian angels giving kittens to little girls dying of cancer. Not speculations about “astral bodies” or reincarnation or eternal souls. Not high-flown, but content-free, language. Just point me toward the facts that back your position and if I discover that those facts hold up under dispassionate examination, then and only then, will be interested in hearing more.

I had begun to conclude that I was never going to learn anything useful about matters of the spirit. I had become so soured and stubborn that, no doubt, I was rejecting some decent “core” stuff because it was wrapped in such thick glops of you-know-what.

Well, so did Dan Harris. But he got past the glop and got somewhere (and not by lowering his standards, either). Now I’m getting somewhere, too.


At this point, WordPress ate the rest of my post. So I’ll be back later after I recreate what got lost. Will — I hope — post that and some Amazon links people have requested this evening or tomorrow a.m.


  1. jed
    jed December 10, 2014 3:53 pm

    Hey, cool. Glad you found a path. I always figured that meditating with pets would be problematic. As for circulatory problems, have you tried sitting cross-legged, but with a big cushion under your butt? Last time I was at a Buddhist center (that was quite a while ago), I noticed they had mediation cushions available for just that purpose.

    That book sounds interesting enough I might check it out.

    Our weather here is sunny and unseasonably warm. Pessimist that I am about winter weather, I assume this means that when it does turn wintery, it’ll be extreme. But a good storm still makes me feel good. I don’t if it’s the ozone, or the sound effects, or some other thing, or just the overall gestalt of it. And no, recordings of storm sounds don’t do it as well.

  2. Claire
    Claire December 10, 2014 4:06 pm

    jed — Oh, yeah, I know about various meditation positions. This morning’s “cozy” meditation was just governed by my inertia and the critters’ closeness. It wasn’t so much the position that was cutting off my circulation as Robbie lying on my feet. (And yes, meditating with pets around is definitely problematic.)

    Enjoy your sun and warmth while you’ve got ’em. I don’t know if our storms are scheduled to hit you or go north or south. But sounds as if everybody but you is getting a wallop (east cost, too). Bwahahahah, your turn will come.

  3. Karen
    Karen December 10, 2014 4:49 pm

    Winter is due here this weekend. Today was 50 and tomorrow is forecast to be 60. Very weird for Colorado in December.

    Meditating with animals can be done, with the right animals, of course. The closest I’ve come to meditation used to be while milking goats. The rhythmic motion while leaning my head against her side and just listening. Wonder if Robbie, Ava and cat would like sharing you with a nice goat. 😉

  4. Claire
    Claire December 10, 2014 4:59 pm

    LOL, Karen! I do occasionally think about getting a goat (more to keep the lawn mowed than to get milk), but then I think about a friend who had such a soft spot for all animals that she always said she could never get goats because the next thing she knew she’d be inviting them in to watch TV with her and her dogs and cats.

    I do grok how rhythmic movement (and a warm critter) can be meditative, though. Personally I’ve found that I’m better at meditating in motion than in traditional sitting.

    Good luck with that weather. It sounds as if you’re going to getting the remnants of our pineapple express (which you so often seem to). And you guys way, way up there always get “our” weather in more interesting forms than we do. First the warm, then the OMG …

  5. jed
    jed December 10, 2014 7:39 pm

    While I haven’t attempted any meditation in a long time, I think I wouldn’t get any interefence from the fish.

    Snow on Sunday? Boooo! I’d best get my outdoor stuff done on Saturday then.

  6. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal December 10, 2014 7:40 pm

    My best meditating always comes when my hands are busy and my mind is free.

    I used to know a woman with a goat. A goat she would let in the house- even if it was slightly reluctantly, or because her boarders would leave the door open. The goat’s name was Rodney. He was less interested in watching the TV than just posing atop the kitchen table, looking at anyone who passed through. Outdoors, he loved standing on the sheep. Indoors, the table had to suffice. Nice goat.

  7. Pat
    Pat December 11, 2014 6:27 am

    Ordinarily I wouldn’t be interested in meditation or Dan Harris, but have to admit, after reading from his book at Amazon, that I’m just a little curious as to where he’s going and how he gets there. I may buy the book yet.

    Maybe it’s his unconventionality because the conventional approach to meditation definitely turns me off, and I’m no longer looking for “spirituality” in the psychological sense. But his honesty is compelling, and it’s nice to know a media-man can be thoughtful and willing to “change his spots.”

  8. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty December 11, 2014 10:01 am

    Doesn’t your word press have an auto-save, Claire? I’ve never lost anything at word press myself, but had to retrieve a few things Nathan has written. Otherwise, just hit “draft” once in a while to save it until you are ready to publish. Just an idea.

  9. Claire
    Claire December 11, 2014 10:09 am

    Yes, it has an auto-save. AND I usually hit the Save Draft button frequently. I agree WP is generally very good about not losing anything. I don’t really know what happened yesterday. I got to ranting and didn’t hit save as often as I usually do, then when I did hit it, I got some strange error message and when I returned to the editing page I found 1/3 of my post missing. Looked in vain for the auto-save I expected to be there. It’s a mystery.

  10. Matt, another
    Matt, another December 11, 2014 12:59 pm

    I don’t recall that I have ever sought spirituality. I have seen as many charlatans being “spiritual,” as I have seen being religious. Spirituality has always seemed to me to be seeking religion without the trappings of religions or God. I could be off because I don’t pursue or really ponder spirituality. Meditation for me has always been accidental. I don’t seek time to meditate. When I come close to meditating it is ususally on the side of a warm hillside with a view of miles and miles. The best I do then is just to focus on that moment, those sights and smells and not think about all the rest of the world and its woes.

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