June 2020

Only by coming together in a coordinated, global response will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face.
—His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Writing in my garden, photographed by my granddaughter Cooper.

Dear Friends,

I love you.

June is, indeed, busting out all over. I awaken every morning predawn with a fresh sense of anticipation, wonder, awe and enthusiasm. Mother Nature’s physical beauty has come to inspire, delight and teach.

Suddenly the frost is behind us and before us are warmer days, with beauty and color appearing everywhere. The hot pink geraniums are planted into the window boxes that surround the cottage, and this grace note miraculously transforms the entire energy of the cottage. When the sun shines on their vibrancy, whether looking in or out of open windows, the scene is quite breathtaking. Nature’s healing powers respond favorably to our own respect for her as well as our appreciation.

I’m deeply grateful to you for our heart connection during these excruciatingly difficult times. Thank you. I feel our interconnection is growing stronger as we support each other in a rainbow of wondrous ways.

For the first time in our lives, we are all facing a pandemic together, and at the same time a light is shining on the racial injustices that have been going on since the beginning of time. My heart breaks for the families and loved ones of the innocent black men and women who have been killed. To all those who are suffering, I send you loving kindness that I hope will flow to your own family, your friends and your community, as well as to all corners of the globe.

As we separate physically, you and me, I feel more deeply than ever a sense of oneness with our fragile planet. I feel a bond with you that seems to mysteriously travel through time and space. We are all fragile and vulnerable, especially those who are essential to keeping us alive.


The geraniums in my window boxes are the pink of perfection.

Since my last newsletter, I’ve spent a great deal of quality time in the privacy of my writing room, as well as in the downstairs study. Both spaces are about our becoming heart-mates, because each environment is about reading, writing, studying and the joys of the written word. In wondrously mysterious, inspiring ways, you and I grew into our respect, trust and fondness for each other through words. Whether written or spoken, our words speak volumes about who we are at our core. We are using our words carefully when we listen to each other, wanting to be helpful in our mutual healing and celebration.

Thank you for letting me know you are taking pleasure in all the little grace notes you’re able to create for yourself throughout the day. When we are feeling each other’s presence in our thoughts and actions, we experience the fullness of our being. Being present, awake and fully aware of our humanity, we’re free to let our spirits soar, raising ourselves to the full height and depth of our human potential. Because we are blessed to be on this exciting journey together, each one of us has the power to lift others up, encouraging them to feel comforted by the same openhearted, loving spirit energy we are able to share. When we become more whole—body, soul and mind—we have deeper wells of resources that naturally and genuinely will help others.

When I am thinking of you, I feel who you are. I am inspired when you share your feelings and concerns with me, and I am encouraged by our friendship, by your generosity of spirit and fundamental goodness. You are with me when I spend time musing, pondering, puttering, reflecting and putting words on paper, and I hope this is a sincere grace note that adds to your sense of well-being.

Ninis and Acts of Kindness

Peter loved pink, in all its sensual glory. A flashback for you to see again, and for me to live twice?

Most of you are familiar with my word nini. Ninis are little, often sentimental, symbolic or useful inexpensive things we give to each other. I can’t remember how we came up with this word for a little something we give to someone we love, but it has been an ongoing ritual in our family since Alexandra and Brooke were toddlers. We have not outgrown our love of ninis: they always soften us up, causing us to smile and have a private chuckle, as well as whetting our appetite as we anticipate adding pleasure and sentiment to a future time.

Some people call ninis a happy. Any small gift, no matter what form it takes, will always be appreciated when it lands in the right hands. Just to have a tangible object to touch, a fragrance to smell or something to eat or drink can be a delightful experience to savor, as we envision our thoughtful friend. I never failed to delight in Peter’s gestures of passing on newspaper or magazine clippings with his “Brown’s Clip Service” paper clipped to the article he thought would interest a loved one, with a quick few words and his signature heart.

A favorite scented bar of soap or a dark chocolate bar, from one chocolate lover to another, bring joy. These ninis are from people who know, with absolute certainty, that the trifle will be treasured and will speak volumes.

We value ninis because they so often represent a mutual understanding, a subtle nuance, an intimate connection that wouldn’t necessarily be known to others. One of my favorite recent ninis is from Pat, who came to the March Happiness Retreat at the Inn and presented me with a small jar of Olbas Oil with a note about all the ways to reap the benefits from the ingredients: essential oils of peppermint, eucalyptus, cajeput, wintergreen, juniper and clove. This oil is known as an aromatherapy inhalant for enhancing breathing, but Pat’s suggestions included massaging some on tired, sore feet. She knew what ails me and her nini was oh so healing.

Some small acts of kindness add up, become rituals and have a way of spreading goodwill, inspiring others to follow the lead with their little contributions to their favorite local charities. When my good friend Anu writes me, she always includes a dollar bill, knowing Cooper will donate it to her ongoing fundraising project for our local free library. The crazy good thing about this nini is that Anu is a regular letter writer, so the dollars add up.

Kindness, Courage and Patience

My question to you is simply, what can I do to be useful to you now that we are growing through this frightening novel virus that is indiscriminately contagious? Is there something you want me to explore in the months ahead on my website? I’d love to hear any questions you want to ask me as well as things you want to share with me. Many of you have serious concerns about how to manage your fears about your parents’ vulnerabilities. I’m interested in your own thoughts about aging, while trying to remain as independent as possible. We are all facing the paradox of a delicate balance between holding on and letting go.

Sometimes when I question, What can I do, right here, right now, to be useful? the answers come more easily.

Live with the questions. They can be answered in the thoughtful things you are naturally inspired to do. We can offer deep gratitude for the work of the frontline workers and the essential services our friends, neighbors and our community are doing every day to help us stay safe and healthy. Write a note or be sure to let them know you appreciate all they do for all of us. Consciously thinking of those dedicated workers who are in the trenches of this epidemic helps us to open our hearts wider than we knew we could if we hadn’t had to face, head-on, this once-in-a-century health and economic crisis. Hold them up in your meditation sessions, your prayers, and light a candle each day for their safety as you honor their dedication to their chosen work.

Each of us can help save lives by wearing a mask when we are outside, when we come in sight of others. Because we don’t know what we don’t know, assume I have the virus, and I’ll assume you have the virus. Until there is a proven vaccine and it is universally available, no matter whether we have preexisting conditions or are old, we are all vulnerable. Please do the compassionate, kind thing and always wear a mask when you are exposed to people. Wearing a mask is a badge of honor, a purple heart for valor, a noble gesture of leadership. We “lead from behind.” A mask is a symbol that is also proven to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Because of my great good fortune to live in Stonington Village, Connecticut, many people are drawn to come here from out of town, and many won’t wear masks. Our governor requests one of the two—masks or social distancing. For my peace of mind, a mask worn by someone in sight relaxes me when I go for my walks. Scientists claim that if someone sneezes, thousands of droplets can spread up to 20 feet.

Peter, my trial lawyer husband, wrote a book called The Art of Questioning: 30 Maxims of Cross Examination. Number 30 is “When you’ve made your point, sit down.” Here, here. I thank you in advance. 

This leads me to the key to our most sustainable happiness: finding ways to serve others. There are posters in different locations in Stonington that say, “We Rise by Lifting Others. Community Strong. Stay Home. Stay Safe.” Another poster, one on the front of our bank, reads, “Kindness, Courage & Patience Can Make a Difference. Community Strong. Stay Home. Stay Safe.”

Personally, I am doing everything in my power to stay healthy in mind, body and spirit. Pause for a moment. We are given a challenge greater than any most of us have lived through. Reading about historical plagues, famine and death seems so close to home now, especially when we know the person who caught the virus from someone they’ve been in contact with.

Think of the people who innocently sang in a church choir and became infected. Now that our country has opened up, there will be new cases and innocent people will suffer. The late Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen once instructed his flock, “Nothing, good or bad, lasts forever. We will adapt to whatever is required of us when we think of what’s best for others’ safety.”

Three words—kindness, courage and patience—are keys to our attitude about this extraordinary collective situation we are experiencing. What are we learning while living hour to hour in a world that has radically altered the way we think, feel and act? In order to generate the greatest good from our own lives, we will be rethinking our relationship with others, as well as with our fragile planet earth.

Growing in Resilience

Thank you, and you, and you, for sending me postcards. I've gone through boxes full of mail and unearthed some treasures.

The month of May was beautifully lived in so many immediate ways. I’ve unearthed colorful storage boxes full of readers’ mail, my daily Common Books, newspaper clippings, photographs, quotations, postcards, notes, love letters from Peter. I am rethinking everything now through the long, wide perspective of uncertainty and change, and I am adapting to the best possible ways to think and act that generate the greatest good to the most people. What is essential now? I think we’re all undergoing a transition. I’m evaluating how I can make the most of the opportunities that are available to me.

What can we do, on a regular basis, while at home, to learn some new habits that will accumulate to be beneficial, no matter what the future world situation? As our challenges enlarge, we can grow our inner resources to become more resilient, more positive and determined to act appropriately for the greater good during a serious crisis.

People who exercise can now spend more time outdoors riding a bike, jogging, stretching and jumping rope. Friends are spending more time in nature, enjoying the fragrance from gardens and observing nature’s beauty with more focus. All the wonderous gifts of flowers, trees and growing vegetables keep our hope alive and remind us that the more we appreciate our natural blessings, the more we will grow in strength and resilience.

We can read more to cultivate our knowledge of how vitally significant it is to be in touch with our feelings. We can practice different ways to meditate, listen to mindfulness talks and learn new skills that help us generate positive emotions that will change our brains for the better. We can focus on all the good that is in front of us, right here, right now. We can practice self-compassion as we grow in empathy for these beautiful souls who are less fortunate than we are, to handle their pain.

The month of May’s events often brought me to tears. I find I’m crying more often than usual because of the shared reality of what we are experiencing. Crying is a healthy release of painful feelings when we witness grace on the frontlines or are inspired by the documentary on the graduating class of 2020, how they are our hope for glory in a brighter, safer future.

Healing Flowers

The first rose has bloomed outside the cottage, reminding me of my healing single-flower meditations.

I was touched by a story in The New York Times about Tanisha Brunson-Malone, 41, a forensic technician at a New Jersey university medical center, who bought yellow daffodils at a flower exchange to put on top of each white body bag in a trailer. The fresh smells of the flowers passed through the most secure masks. When the flower shop manager found out what Tanisha was doing with all these daffodils, she started to cry and gave Tanisha a discount for her weekly order.

At the flower shop they speak of Tanisha as a hero, finding her amazing. The New York Times described her approaching the trailer, with a fresh printout of the names of the dead tucked under her arm: “She sees the flowers as but a small gesture for the people they mark. The one soul that actually gets to experience a moment’s pleasure in them is her own.” Tanisha’s “quiet touch of grace,” in yellow, deeply touches me. How utterly bittersweet, to bring Mother Nature’s beauty and dignity to people who have died without their families. Tanisha’s story is a small example of human selflessness and the healing power of flowers.

We can use flowers in our own healing as well. I find it profoundly soulful for one of my meditations to be of a single flower. There is something so specific and symbolic about one lovely flower’s bloom. The first rose just burst forward, hugging our picket fence, a harbinger of June’s pink explosion of beauty to savor all summer long.

My intention is to smell the roses. I’m watching the purple iris opening up, and soon the pink peony buds will burst forth to keep the roses company. The blue hydrangea will be showing her color in July. Every season has her traditional blooming times to anticipate. In May the fragrant lily of the valley came out for Peter’s and my anniversary. The pink and white lilac’s perfume added delight. Gardenias continue to blossom, and I’m tenderly caring for jasmine plants that are happy in my bedroom in front of a window facing the harbor.

I’m choosing the good as I continue to write. There is so much more to share. Just remember to take extra self-care. Whatever you do that adds to your feelings of satisfaction and hope, as you find new ways to maintain your happiness, is the wisest and best use of your time now. Take good care.

Love & Live Happy,

Every act of birth requires the courage to let go of something … let go eventually of all certainties, and to rely only upon one thing: … one's own creativity.
—Erich Fromm

Those who have a "why" to live can bear with almost any "how." —Viktor Frankl

The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion. —Frederick Douglass


New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness
by Rick Hanson

Learn about how you can train your mind, heart and spirit to the remarkable ways of being, exploring the seven practices of awakening:

  • Steadying the mind
  • Warming the heart
  • Resting in fullness
  • Being wholeness
  • Receiving nowness
  • Opening into allness
  • Finding timelessness