What We Pay Attention To, an unfinished story


A few days ago 72 Catholics, as a part of the Catholic Action for Immigrant Children Campaign. were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. I am proud to call some of them friends. Two days before their action, over a thousand progressive Jewish activists and allies blocked the entrances of the ICE headquarters in D.C.; dozens of them were also arrested. If I knew them, I’d be proud to call them friends, too. Both of these actions are parts of larger campaigns to support our immigrant brothers and sisters.

Earlier in the week in Greenville, S.C, the same place where people attending a Trump rally chanted “Send her back,” a restaurant owner pledged to give 100% of the restaurant’s sales to the American Immigration Council.

Responding to that chant which was directed at her, Rep. Ilhan Omar quoted Maya Angelou:

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I rise.

Yesterday at the Big Four Bridge, my favorite place in my city of Louisville, KY, hundreds gathered in 90+ degree heat to “reclaim the space” after racist graffiti was sprayed on the bridge a few days before. They were responding to a Tweet by local poet, truth teller, and leader Hannah Drake.  

Weekly in cities and villages throughout Palestine, Palestinians, sometimes with Israelis and internationals, gather to speak out against the Israeli military occupation, speak to reclaim their space, reclaim, exclaim their dignity and right to be.

In Puerto Rico, in Hong Kong, in other places around the world, people are remembering their power and using it to speak out, to call for, to create change. Are we paying attention?

Empowering, creating change happens in public protests. It happens in quieter ways, too. It can happen as parents and grandparents listen and talk to their children and grandchildren about the world, relationships, ways we do and can relate to each other. It can happen as people choose to honor each other in the fullness and complexity of their divine humanness, not for what they produce, but simply because they are.

I’ve been reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy. Throughout the book, she offers this reminder: What we pay attention to grows.*

Knowing the stories above, the sense of courage and inspiration grows. I was going to say my sense. And then I remembered, I am a part of Creation, of All-That-Is. And if I am part of Creation and my sense of courage and inspiration grows, then the sense of courage and inspiration grows.

This evening on Facebook, a friend posed the question: If you could build anything, what would it be? There were many beautiful answers to this question from a large music school to cheap inexhaustible energy sources to a better world to a plan to fix our mental health care system to more affordable housing and on and on. Most of the answers fill me with hope and engage my imagination. We can only build these things if we can dream them first.

What we pay attention to grows.

I love this idea.

I believe it.

I don’t always know how to practice it well.

How do I or we bring to light devastating realities in a way that grows the healing and not the hurt?

Truth-telling is important. Empowering. And yet so often, in seeking to lift up the dignity-humanity-divinity of a person or group facing dehumanizing forces, we truth tell in a way that demonizes and dehumanizes the perpetrators of harm, thus perpetuating harm, though directed differently.

I get it. I’ve done it many times and since that way of thinking and speaking is all around me, I imagine I’ll do it again, even as I try to break the habit of shaming and blaming, a practice I turn both outward and inward.

My nonviolence and nonviolent communication training compels me then to ask this question:

How do I or we address these issues, these patterns of systemic harm in a way that honors the humanity of both perpetrator and victim, actor and receiver of harm?

Those actively doing harm, while perhaps not suffering in the way they are hurting others, are also suffering. They are not well, even if they are well-resourced.

Because when we are well, well at that deepest place within us,

well so that our divine-stardust-interconnected nature shines,

we don’t hurt other people. Not intentionally.

Or if we do,

in humility,

from that place of knowing that we can be both divine and imperfect all at once,

we find ways to try to make amends, to bring healing to the places of fracture.


When I lead Nonviolent Communication training, I often quote Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase 
each other
doesn’t make any sense.

Where even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense, I know that I cannot be fully healed until we all are fully healed. Until we’re all in that field.

The healing field.

The healed field.

If I wish harm to someone who’s hurt me or my friends or family or someone I don’t even know, I also suffer. I’m not in the healed field. Because that someone is a part of the Interconnected. And I am part of the Interconnected.

What we pay attention to grows. I do not want to pay attention to and grow the harm in the Interconnected.

I want to lie down in that field.

I want to pay attention to the potential for healing, to the ways of imagination that know and acknowledge the harm, that reveal it, but don’t get stuck in it.  

Yesterday at a retreat for a board I’m on, someone reminded us several times that we can’t do everything, but we can do something.

When we do something, we get unstuck.

Tonight my something is to write, first for myself, to process input in an attempt to create comprehensible output.

Then I share this with you, because maybe you didn’t know the stories I started with, or maybe you don’t know the work of adrienne maree brown, or maybe you’d forgotten that even though you can’t do everything, you can do something.

You can do something that grows your vision of what you want the world to look like. Even one small thing makes a difference.

And then maybe when you remember you can do something, that one small thing, you’ll do it.

And maybe someone else will notice.

And maybe they’ll remember their power, too, and they’ll do something.

And maybe someone else will notice and do something

and someone else and do

and someone




*She also writes a zillion other beautiful, simple, challenging things. If you haven’t read her work, check it out!

Witnessing Hearts

A year ago I didn’t know yet that I was creating heart portraits. I didn’t know yet that I would soon come to see and interpret symbols and messages in the hearts I was drawing.

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I had been drawing hearts since fall of 2015. So many hearts. It started when I was preparing to go to Palestine to do human rights and accompaniment work; I was feeling afraid for many reasons. As I was trying to talk myself out of the fear, an image came to me: a heart- my heart- nested in others, like Russian dolls. I drew the image. Then I drew it again. And again. After that I kept drawing hearts. The forms and styles changed over time. But I couldn’t stop. Occasionally my thinking brain heaped judgment on my creative brain, trying to convince her to draw something other than hearts. Thankfully, Creative Brain didn’t listen and kept producing hearts. Eventually, Thinking Brain ceased trying to stop her.

Early in those heart-drawing days, as part of a New Year pay-it-forward activity, I drew a heart for an acquaintance. I sent her a digital photo of it, but never gave her the actual drawing. Fast forward two and a half years.

I had started studying Reiki and found that I had intuitive gifts that I hadn’t known about before. As I practiced Reiki with people, words and images came to me that felt connected to the clients. I shared what came to me and very often, the clients told me that the messages and images made sense to them or that they’d experienced similar images or words during the session. I wanted to understand this newfound ability, so I sought out intuitive people who might help me comprehend. One was the person I’d made a heart for years before.

The morning of our meeting I created a second heart image for her. When we met, I sheepishly gave her both, conscious that in over 2 years I hadn’t managed to get the first heart drawing to her. She received them graciously and told me the meaning each one held for her.

Then she looked at me and asked, “How long have you been tuning into people?”

I shifted in my seat. “Uuuuuuhh.” More shifting, “Since I started Reiki training?” About 6 months before. Then I realized I’d just given her a “tuned-in” drawing I’d created 2 1/2 years before.


I don’t remember much of the rest of the conversation. I do remember creating an intention shortly after our meeting: I want to draw people’s hearts.

Heart images came and this time they were connected to particular people. One of the first was a friend’s heart that seemed to be shattering, in pain, even as a brightness was emerging from within. After I drew it, I sent a photo to my friend.

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“When did you make this?” she asked.

“Just now.”

“I’ve been working with this imagery today,” she told me.


More images came. I began to sense that, as with Reiki, the hearts I was drawing had significance beyond the image. What appeared in the hearts symbolized struggles, pains, joy, love, points of high energy, energy available, and energy depletion. I was hesitant to share the interpretations at first. When I did, the recipients told me that what I was seeing and saying resonated, made sense, gave them a sense of being seen.


I realized that was showing up in the drawings and interpretations was not necessarily public knowledge. With this realization, I knew that I needed to ask permission of the intended recipient before drawing and interpreting. Not doing so seemed like a violation of trust and a misuse of the gift I was given.

Trying to understand this new manifestation of intuition, I sought out volunteers, people I didn’t know well or at all (I didn’t even know where some of them were located geographically), who would allow me to draw a heart for them and offer an interpretation. I asked for their feedback in return.

The recipient of one portrait said I’d identified an issue in her life that she rarely talked to anyone about.

In another portrait, created for someone I only knew by name, I got a sense of a “spiritual crisis.” I was hesitant to use those strong words, so when we spoke, I talked about a deep spiritual pain. At the mention of it, she proceeded to describe a spiritual crisis she was working through.


After these trials, I felt an urgency to share this gift with the world. Only about 6 weeks after discovering I can see people’s hearts and lives in this way, I started offering heart portraits on a commission basis. I’ve created dozens of them now for friends and strangers alike.

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Over and over, recipients have asked, “How do you know that?” as I offer some reflection about their life. My truthful answer, “I don’t know.”

Over and over, recipients have said, “This is beautiful,” even when the hearts show signs of brokenness and pain.

I do not tire of saying, “Yes, this is beautiful and it is a reflection of you. You are beautiful.”

The portraits seem to be getting more detailed and the interpretations longer. I continue to be surprised at what appears. I continue to be in awe of the beauty and complexity of people. I continue to be curious about how this gift will evolve.

I have inklings…

Recently I experimented with heart sketches- heart drawings created quickly in the presence of the recipient and interpreted on the spot. I look forward to creating more of these.

I believe there are other ways this gift will manifest as I rely on an Imagination Greater Than My Own.

And so I keep drawing.

And I lean into trust.

And I treasure this gift I have discovered of witnessing hearts.

Mending of Hearts

For more than a year, I’ve been playing with hearts…artistically.

I didn’t know when I started that I was working on my own heart in ways words couldn’t express, but my hands, given the freedom to do so, could.  

First by cutting and ripping pieces of paper and forming hearts or broken hearts or mending hearts in collages.

Then by drawing hearts within hearts within hearts, smaller hearts nested, protected by the larger ones. All open hearts, sometimes naturally, sometimes broken, jagged-edged.

Months ago, my dad, an artist, who I often show my not-like-his creations, noted, “Your hearts are changing.”

No longer broken and dark, but open and bright, filled with light.

I noted that the same had happened inside me. Somehow. Inexplicably. I had only a few weeks before returned from a most difficult stint in Palestine. In that place of deep brokenness, my heart returned to me, to the world, brighter and more open, willing to take in the hurt of the world only long enough to send the pain out buoyed by the light I had found in myself.

After that, I went a few months without creating anything. When I started again, my hearts made their way into otherwise abstract drawings of intersecting ribbons and swirls and strings of beads. I don't know why.

Last month I spent a few days alone in a cabin in the woods. I spent my days walking, watching, writing, drawing. Noticing the spider webs everywhere glistening in the sun, watching a spider in my screened-in porch devour one spider…and then another… I could only draw spider webs. Imperfect webs of connection against blurry backgrounds of creation. No hearts.

Almost 2 weeks ago, I was on a very different, and equally rich, retreat, spending time with the Benedictine sisters in Erie, PA, and a number of other wonderful women. For the first time since my previous retreat, I felt the impulse to draw. Again, webs. But this time, each web I drew had strands of silk that formed one heart, or a few. Ever since my sojourn into the woods, I had been paying attention to spiders and webs. They, or at least one, had been demanding my attention, biting me in inconvenient places (including inside my belly button) on more than one occasion (Side note: this was when I learned that lemon juice helps to soothe the itching and the swelling of spider bites when over-the-counter creams do not).

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In Native American traditions, according to Jamie Sands, spiders represent “the infinite possibilities of creation.” Perhaps my spider was reminding me, not so subtly, that I had some work to do: weaving love into the web of my own creations.  

After yet another bite (I hope the last), my webs have not simply contained hearts, but been made of hearts within hearts within hearts. 

I created my last simple drawing a few nights ago. Bewildered by the troubles of our world, I started the web, first with the strands that met in the center, all bright colors. Then the strands that connected one to another around and around and around. In hearts.

Shortly after I began, I heard shouting in front of my house. Reluctant to leave my heart-growing endeavor, I went out on my front porch and saw two men who seemed to be attacking, one even beating with a stick, another.

One of the attackers, curly light brown hair, striped blue and gray shirt, saw me. “Call 911!” I didn’t understand what was happening and took another moment to take in the scene, trying to process what I was seeing. After a few more seconds of shouting, the man on the ground stopped resisting, thankfully conscious and, as far as I could tell, unharmed.

“He tried to steal a purse,” Curly told me, breathless. It had happened at a bar a few blocks from my house. “Call 911!” I dialed the number and handed him my phone. My pregnant neighbor had come out to see what was going on.

As the self-appointed doers-of-justice stood and the accused sat on the ground, my neighbor and I talked and watched. The accused stood up, the other two vigilant, ready to subdue him again. The accused asked me for water.

I noticed he was sweaty, his kelly green t-shirt nearly soaked. I wanted to give him water, but equally wanted to remove myself from a situation I still didn’t fully understand.

He asked again. I hesitated.

He ran. They chased. He only made it across the street and a few houses down.

My neighbor and I continued to watch as another man arrived to stand guard, now three surrounding the accused. Then the police came. The men from the bar left. An ambulance arrived.

I went inside, not knowing if the accused left in a police car or an ambulance.

I resumed the web of hearts.

Strand by strand.


Color by color.


I knew that what I could give to the world that night was a representation of the world I wish to help create.

Not fine art, perhaps, but sincere.

A simple vision, so difficult to manifest in 3-D.

But possible.

I have to believe it’s possible.

I do believe it’s possible.  

Tonight, I was reminded that I am not the only person who believes this.

We can create a web of love.  

Linking us one

by one

by one.


to you

to whom?

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