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Snapshots Of Serenity

“Etched Salmon” peony by Steve Johnson

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Eleanor Leonard

Don't Just Stand There - Do Nothing!“He does not seem to me to be a free man who does not sometimes do nothing.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman lawyer and statesman; 1st century BC

The letter confirming the August 1986 10-day retreat in California’s high-Mojave Desert contained the usual details about weather, suitable clothing, facility, housing, and this: “During the conference, there will be no television, radio or newspapers. Office telephone is for emergency use only. Please ensure that all matters at home – family, pets, job, etc. – will be taken care of during your absence so that you can devote full attention to the work of the conference.” Continue reading


create art!  make music!  explore!

It was the holiday season, my day off, and I was up to my eyeballs with things to do. So when my daughter phoned inviting me to make baked dough ornaments, I thought I just don’t have the time. But I really wanted to spend time with her so I happily put tasks on hold. I figured we’d hang out together, make a few ornaments and I’d get back to my to-do list. I arrived to a warm, sunny kitchen where she and a friend already had the first pan out of the oven displaying a few traditional cookie cutter shapes – stars, trees, angels – and some interesting one-of-a-kind creations. My daughter had inherited her father’s prodigious artistic talent so I was not surprised. My own drawing never got much beyond kindergarten mode — a cat made of circles, triangles and squiggly lines. Continue reading

Eleanor Leonard

Mahatma Gandhi said: “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” He was voicing ancient wisdom that goes as far back as the first century BC when the Roman poet, Virgil, wrote: “The greatest wealth is health.” Today we say, “If you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything.”

We seem to want good health. The majority of New Year’s resolutions center on the physical body: exercise more, quit smoking, eat better. Fitness clubs offer state-of-the-art equipment; television commercials hawk quick and easy weight loss plans, in-home exercise paraphernalia and plastic-encased ready-to- eat meals. We search labels for calories, grams, carbs and use-by dates; we toss out edible food because of a set of numbers. Continue reading

Eleanor Leonard

“Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.” — Lin Yutang

Hope for successful recovery exists today because millions of people have worn a path over the gravel and stones of addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous alone has helped more than two million people recover from alcoholism. Results of ongoing scientific and medical research are helping remove the stigma of addiction and improve treatment options. Still, the stories of recovery include stumbling, falling and relapses; and the harsh reality is that some addicts never do recover. So how does hope become success? Continue reading

seducedbysilenceI could hear my eyelashes! I blinked slowly several times. Yup, definitely my eyelashes. I was lying in a hammock under a spectacular night sky in the High Desert of the Southern Mojave in California. The 2,900 foot elevation and remote location far away from air and light pollution made the stars seem brighter and more vivid. My awareness, too, was sharper.

It was August 1986. I and 15 other men and women of various backgrounds from all over the United States had gathered for our first retreat with a spiritual teacher we had only read about or to whom we had been referred by earlier teachers. We had signed on for reasons as varied as we were.

By then, I’d been on a 10-year “quest” that had taken me to workshops, seminars, talks and retreats throughout the Twin Cities. I filled notebooks with truths and principles. I sought my own truths through daily journaling. Continue reading

eleanor_leonord3During World War II, Allied prisoners of war in the Philippines, amidst unspeakable brutality, disease and daily executions, put on talent shows that included singing, skits and comedy. It provided a sense of community and a temporary escape essential to their survival. A sense of humor, noted a survivor, was important: “One of the tricks of survival is to laugh, no matter what happens.”

New York theaters closed after the September 11, 2001 attacks then reopened two days later because people needed a place to share an experience and feel a sense of community. Broadway lights came back to affirm “New York must show the world the terrorists have not won.” Continue reading

eleanor_leonord3Holiday cheer and gaiety – there’s no escape: Deck the halls, colored lights, cookies, presents. Whether holiday depression is fact or myth (statistical evidence is inconclusive), the ubiquitous pressure is enough to bring on the blues!

When someone says “I’ve got the blues” we understand that life has gone a bit off kilter, that we’re not functioning at optimum level. Blues music is believed to have evolved from southern plantation slaves whose songs gave voice to cruel realities such as oppression, death, and lost love. Today, except for performers, we are not likely to sing about our blues. Since the discovery of serotonin-enhancers that improve a person’s mood, psycho-pharmacology has become a multi-billion dollar industry. We are also discovering that those very same drugs alter the brain in ways researchers never imagined, sometimes dangerously and fatally so.

Continue reading

Eleanor Leonard2What springs to mind with the word “retreat”? It’s a pretty safe bet you don’t  think about the enemy fleeing from the  battlefield or the military ceremonial  lowering of the flag. “Retreat” usually shows up in the context of time away from  daily demands. We imagine  enchanting resorts with white sand beaches, salty  ocean breezes on the deck of a cruise ship, a cabin nestled in northern pines, a  campfire under the stars. Mostly, “retreat” means to take oneself away from the  daily routine, either alone or with a group, with the intent of self-renewal. Continue reading