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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Just a Little R and R

Dear Faithful Blog Readers, it is that time of the year for all of us here at LaChapelle INK to engage in a little rest and recreation. Look for our return after Labor Day.

Until then, here are two September workshops that are currently registering:

Journaling as Spiritual Practice
When/Where: Monday, September 18, 6-8 pm at St. Margaret Mary Church in West Rogers Park.

Cost: $39/person

To register: Maximum registration is 12 people. Please contact me at 773.981.2282 or for more information or to sign up.

Workshop Description
Keeping a spiritual journal has been practiced for centuries by men and women of all faith traditions.  Private, personal writing encourages us to explore our authentic thoughts and feelings, especially those that express our encounters with the Divine in our day-to-day lives.

In this workshop, we’ll do several journal writing exercises to help guide us along our spiritual journey—wherever we may be in the process, and wherever we may want to go. All levels of journal writers, and people from all faith traditions, are welcome.


Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories
When/Where: Saturday, September 23, 10 am - 4 pm at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton.

Cost: Early Registration Price (by September 1): $130; Regular Price (after September 1): $143

To register: Maximum registration is 20 people. Register directly with the Newberry Library here: Register Online

Workshop Description
Whether in private journals, family histories, or published memoirs, telling our personal stories is a transforming experience. When we write down the important events in our lives, we better understand the meaning they have for us. Rachel Naomi Remen says in Kitchen Table Wisdom that “facts bring us to knowledge, but stories lead to wisdom.” In this workshop, we’ll use a series of guided writing prompts to recall and record our significant life stories. We’ll also discuss the various uses for our stories once we have set them down in writing. One session.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Spiritual Practice: A “Broad and Ecumenical” Definition

I’ll be conducting an introduction to Journaling as Spiritual Practice next month in West Rogers Park. And though it meets at my local church, the workshop is open to anyone interested in the topic.

One of the resources for the exercises I’m designing is Lewis Richmond’s book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser, which I’ve written about before on this blog. The workshop is not focused on aging per se, but much of what Richmond has to say about spiritual practice—both in the book and in this 2012 interview with—applies I think to adults of any age.

His own definition of spiritual practice reflects that:

Q. How do you as a Zen Buddhist priest define “spiritual practice”?

A. I define spiritual practice very broadly and ecumenically: as paying close attention to the things that really matter. What are those things? Beyond having a deep sense of meaning, there is also a feeling of belonging to something greater than ourselves. Research shows that people with an active church membership or spiritual practice live on average seven years longer than those who do not. That should tell us something. Finally, there is what I call a sense of the sacred or the divine, which the meditations I teach in the book invoke and develop.

To read more of the interview, click here:

To learn more about the Monday, September 18th workshop that meets from 6 – 8 pm, please email me at

Friday, August 4, 2017

Strangers on a Train

Carless now for 30 years, I walk, bike and ride pubic transportation everywhere. Each has offered an opportunity to meet and occasionally have meaningful encounters with strangers.

Which is what happened last week.

Riding the Metra train downtown from Rogers Park, I sat next to a casually dressed businessman a few years younger than I, in his mid-to-late sixties, old enough to have served during the Vietnam War, though not in Vietnam.

I learned all this because as I sat writing in my journal, he asked me if I was, well, writing in a journal. “Yes, I’m a writer, so am always writing.” With that as our official introduction—including first names—we didn’t stop talking until we reached Ogilvie Transportation Center some 25 minutes later. As we exited the train and waved goodbye, Paul’s last words to me were “I’m going to start journaling again.”

We crammed a lot into our brief conversation: how he’d kept a journal 15 years ago and enjoyed going back and re-reading it; how his father had emigrated from Greece alone and in his teens; and my experience of the Vietnam War through my relationships with two men who’d served there: Eddie, my first real love, who was killed in action at age 25, and Philip, whom I married after his tour of duty ended in 1967.

Philip was fortunate never to have seen action during that year, though the war and its aftermath did haunt him in some way, enough that his descent into drugs resulted in our separation and eventual divorce.

That conversation then led Paul and me to talk about the Wall, the Vietnam Memorial where I first saw Eddie’s name inscribed on a small traveling replica in Grant Park in the late ‘80s. (I’ve written previously about that experience and how it so undid me to see his name listed there--and nearly twenty years after he’d died.)

I then asked Paul if he’d ever seen the Wall. Turns out, he had. While working in D.C., he’d visited it the night before it officially opened on November 13, 1982. And when he started to describe the experience, he suddenly choked up and turned away to regain his composure.

Only it didn’t work.

Turning back toward me, starting to talk, he had to turn away again, the lump in his throat even more visible. Finally on the third try, he managed to speak about what had so moved him, including the stark, simple design of the Wall, and how each of the two sections slanted downwards into the ground. (And maybe put him in mind of the number of graves holding the remains of those 58,000 plus who’d died in the war?)

And then we paused, and the conversation shifted, got lighter. We even laughed about how there we were, two strangers on a train, talking as if we’d known each other for years.

And maybe we had, I thought later. We both grew to adulthood as part of the Vietnam generation, each involved in our own way in that war. We shared that history, a kind of bond, and so perhaps were not strangers after all.

Friday, July 28, 2017

“The Beauty Way”

I’m working on an essay about my newest and most favorite place to write: a two-seater wooden bench that sits under the shade of a tall River Birch and looks out onto a small garden of blooming  yellow, red, and purple flowers.

Best of all, the bench and the Birch and the garden are, for the most part, all mine, and for most of the times I go there to sit and scribble away.  It is the solitude and the silence, but especially the natural beauty surrounding me that inspires much of what ends up on the page.

And so lately, I’ve been thinking—and scribbling—a lot about beauty, including why it puts me in such a calm, receptive, and creative frame of mind.

Part of that thinking and scribbling drew me back to my studies of American Indian literature during my grad school days, especially to the following Navajo traditional prayer. Personally, a prayer dedicated to beauty is just what I need some days, whether to walk in it or write about it.

The Beauty Way

In beauty I walk.
With beauty before me I walk.
With beauty behind me I walk.
With beauty above me I walk.
With beauty around me I walk.
It has become beauty again.
It has become beauty again.
It has become beauty again.
It has become beauty again.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Everything Changes

In Lewis Richmond’s book, Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser, Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki is quoted as saying that the “the essential teaching of Buddhism…[is] Everything changes.”

Richmond goes on to write, “he meant that everything changes in horizontal time. In vertical time, things are just as they are. We can’t compare them with how they were before or how they will be after.” (See June 22nd post for more about vertical time.)

I’ll wager that horizontal time is where most of us live: we go through the day mentally recalling the past, imagining the future, and also being present in the here and now. Sometimes, if we’re really focused, we are so present as to not be aware of time even passing. I experience this mostly when I’m writing.

As we age, and the past grows longer, the future shorter, we are aware of exactly how much has changed, especially in our personal lives: transitions we’ve experienced in relationships, work, finances, health, births, deaths, places we’ve lived and traveled, and in our attitudes and beliefs.

Some of the changes we manage seamlessly; others are disruptive, even disturbing and full of distress. Many probably fall somewhere in between. But what seems to be true about change is that we can never fully anticipate how we’ll respond.

Which makes transitions great journal writing exercises. Not only can we record the details, but also reflect on how these changes affect us, i.e., what we think and feel about them. This often will lead to clarity about how we’ve done it in the past and may want to do it in the future, especially those inevitable changes that occur as we age.

And so I encourage readers to try out a journal writing exercise about a meaningful transition in their own lives, then email me their experience of writing about it. I know I’ll be doing more posts about transitions. How could I not? After all, they will continue to pile up just as the years do.

And maybe I can use some of these personal experiences—anonymously, of course—in those posts. They would certainly enrich them.

For information about my journal writing workshops and personal coaching, please email me at