Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Resolutely I jump off the train

Await my lover

In the barbershop

Old worn black barbers

Shave and style

Young black men’s heads

I intrude

And still I am welcomed

Phone rings

I answer

Playing secretary

Wanting so badly

To be accepted

Am I stuck in my whiteness?

Unspoken desperation

Desire for acceptance

For a brief time

We connect

The humor of our game

Our barbershop quartet

Plays on.

(Written on February 22, 1991 in Michigan City, Indiana)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hold Me Up

"Sleep we sleep
for we may dream
while we may
dream we dream
for we may wake
one more day
one more day"

(Neil Diamond, "Lonely Looking Sky"
Jonathan Livingston Seagull)

I walked back into my house, a disheveled kitchen, my mind pointed on my heart, on my great big sad heart.  I just escorted my mom down my few kitchen stairs to the car, gently holding her, supporting her balance, as bone grinded on bone of her left knee.  She is so frail, or more accurately her body is frail, skin and bones, grating, weakened bones.  How our bodies deceive us, some of us become like stick figures with muscle and sinew and bone growing smaller, weaker, until there is nothing but the spirit holding onto space, just empty space. 

As I helped her descend those few steps that my sons and I take for granted every day, it took all her concentration and muscle and tension full well knowing what a fall would mean for her.
My father, too, has a lot riding on him.  He is my mom’s primary caregiver and it is tiring and unnerving to be sure.  But how we humans can be so impatient, even mean spirited at times when others' suffering is impacting us, blaming others for our own suffering.  It must be extremely difficult for my dad to watch his wife dissolve before his eyes.  How easy it is then for those in pain to lash out in return, I witnessed this exchange of anger, indifference and helplessness between my parents. Watching on feeling quite helpless myself, but trusting in my heart to lead me. 

All I could do was stand by and offer my arm and try to remain open with love to both of parents at this difficult time in their lives.  I gingerly assisted her into her seat in their car and came back into the kitchen full of dirty dishes and broke down, wishing only for a partner to collapse into, for a chest and strong arms to hold me up, someone brave enough to support my sadness and rawness.  The only one to hold me was me, my strength, my gentleness, and the kitchen wall as I laid my forehead to the wood and let it all weep out of me.  That was all that I had in that moment.


Watching my mom suffer and witnessing her ego crushed and her will snapping takes a gentle courage and willingness to accept the inevitable impermanence of all our lives here.  Her will to live collapsing under the weight of her disease, her struggle to remain fixed on this earth.  Why do we want to remain fixed here when heaven is awaiting us, why do we struggle against the inevitable?  Why don’t we want to give up the suffering?  I have to see and feel my world without my mother in it.  This is the most compassionate thing for me to practice right now; this is a way of being kind to me and to my mom.

My boys heard me crying and came down to see; they came down to their mother, Mama Jean.  And, they wanted to know the why of my tears.  I couldn’t quite tell them in words and they came to me to hold me up, to hold me up with their hearts so brave and true.  Kailen and Aidan in their wisdom always know what to say to me. Kailen in that moment looked me straight in the eyes as Aidan stood by my side, “Mom it is okay, this is just how it is now.  You have them right now so don’t waste it.”  He gently spoke these words with such confident knowing; I took rest there, in the expression that all life is lived in the present.  The fear of losing is so strong; it is tempting to reside there, in the place of fear and miss all the moments of living that are available to us in the present. 

The three of us, our little family in that moment, moved to the living room, to sit.  Tears magically turned to laughter and I felt that the full range of human experience, being born, living and dying, is what holds me up, is what holds all of us up.


Friday, November 16, 2012

A Poem for Remembering

“For Bruce”

I’m 550 lonely miles away from you tonight

And the music played on

Bruce’s guitar awakening my soul

Enveloping my being

Healing my spirit

Music, a voice for our inner recesses

Not so much a reminder of physical reality

As a gauge for our own buried emotional selves

I confer thanks to the Boss and his band

It was their music that found its way deep within a lost me

Reminding me of how I was

Who I was—

Feelings of 15 years ago

Your grace, your smile;

Your boundless energy

Your songs helped me

Remember how I once felt…

How difficult, intense, afraid, self-conscious

I had been

How much I misunderstood my own fears and motivations

How much I missed another's love – even as penned in words, black and white before my eyes…

I read other motivations on his part

What a mixed up young woman I was

Still how real my emotions, feelings…how they marked my being and shaped my persona

I re-read

“I’m 550 lonely miles from you tonight”

From your smile

From kissing you at red lights

From daring to be your lover

I’m 550 light years from you

Trapped in my dogma

Trapped in my fear

Trapped in my anger

These 550 miles of lonely separation

Confirm my devotion to our loving

Confirm my sadness in our parting

Confirm my fear in your leaving

Tonight in my present world

A scientist on television affirms my greatest regret

My keenest knowing

That it is time not space

That separates you from me

I am 15 busy, fully-lived, somewhat enlightened, hair-graying, life-giving years form you tonight

With my husband asleep on the couch

With my baby slumbering in his childhood dreams

I sit here reading old letters of love, remembering

Piecing together the loneliness

The intensity

The naïve and innocent love that once separated you and me

Now it is apparent how damn stubborn I was

Thankfully, how much I’ve grown

Undoubtedly how much I still must learn

And I give thanks to the musical reminder

That transported me back in time to a space

Defined as 550 lonely miles separating you and me

(Written November 22, 1999 following a Sprinsteen Concert and revisiting a long gone me)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes the darkness and sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

(From David Whyte's collection of poems entitled, The House of Belonging)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Heart to Heart

“You ‘belong’ in this moment, so does everything else.  If you have resistance to what is, you will not feel as if you yourself can belong, relax and be free.”

(Author Unknown)


As the Buddha said long ago, “Don’t believe everything you think.”  Maybe what he meant is that we think one way at one moment and then perhaps the thought changes in the very next moment.  Thoughts are not fixed.  We are more than our thoughts even though at times we feel that we are completely defined by them.  Then these thoughts get our bodies responding, and before long, we are experiencing difficult emotions and feelings.  These too, the feelings and emotions, are highly mutable.  In love, we feel the cascading wave of emotions, feelings, like upheavals, peaks, valleys, elation, and crashes.  Most of us have been there, we are in love, then we get hurt for one reason or another, and we feel like we cannot breathe another breath or take another step or eat another meal or wake up another day.  But we do.  And the love changes from that state of intensity and passion to a memory.  It fades. The passion fades and that is a good thing.

The reason we don’t understand this is because we are ignorant, ignorant to the fact that everything is much more amorphous and empty than we realize even though this emptying and transforming keeps happening over and over and over again throughout our lives.  We just don’t believe it even though it is our experience day in and day out, moment by moment.  We want to find a fixed point, a safe haven, a truth north, a resting place.  The only sure resting place is the moment we find ourselves in, the breath and the relaxation that comes from breathing and dissolving outward with our breath into the next eternal moment of now. What is neat though is that through time, experience, the living of our life, we are capable of gaining insight and wisdom.  We are capable of remembering that the emptiness is a place of wisdom, joy and wonder, a place of change and transformation.

We really are capable of changing since by being the living organisms we are, we by definition are changing at all times, moment to moment.  It is our thoughts that resist change and in turn create difficulty for our bodies leading to various emotional states like fear and resistance and joy and elation.

The ego really wants to protect itself, maintain a state of stasis; it tries to accomplish this by holding on with stories and explanations.  The fact is that so much suffering comes with the clinging and grasping.  In the practice of letting go, we find some relief, some contentment, and dare I say even joy.  For some, this joy comes through various practices of mindfulness like meditation or yoga or walking or music, for others it comes through prayer and contemplation and union with others.  For others still, it comes from loving, loving oneself deeply enough to love another, to reach across the empty space between two beings, and transmit love into another’s heart. 
This heart transmission seems to be a rather rare occurrence but need not be.  And it is not predicated upon sexual or physical intimacy but that element could also be present.  The fact that we open our heart to another, which is alive, raw and pulsating very actively in our chests, offers a chance for the other to do the same.  The other will not always necessarily open up or open the exact way we may have, still an invitation is extended and it takes great courage to even move to this offering place in our busy, frenetic world of electronic communication and distraction.  I feel the risks are worth the rewards of true heart to heart transmission.

In certain wisdom teachings, it is said that “Desire to sharpen the sword will make it dull.”  For me this means that the desire to change the moment will cause me to actually miss the moment.  The focus on something missing, or it could be better, or even the focus on something, like a text message, or smart phone, detracts from being present to the transmission of the moment, to the transmission of someone else’s pure heart.

Sometimes we get so swept by our ego, our habitual mind and we only want what and whom we want that we miss the love right in front of us.  How daring to set aside our preconceived notions of how someone must look, sound or be.  We want the one who wants someone else and we are consequently not noticing the one who has opened their heart to ours.  Why is there so much fear to love, or let ourselves be loved or be with someone we want to love?

There are no assurances that love will be forever even when you think that gosh at this stage of life, I know who I am, I know who I am not, I know what is important to me, and what I can let go, realizing that companionship is worth more than controlling the situation and having things just the way we think we might want them.  I have this sense, maybe a wisdom, that being in companionship with a partner now as our life turns towards middle age and the next half of life, that true companionship is built on similar temperaments and sensibilities, also a wide berth to the relationship at times and other times a sense of both people wanting to lean into the intimacy and life wisdom and lessons a relationship offers.

Similar sensibility and temperament and spending time doing simple things that are the most meaningful like a simple walk in the park or lying back on the blades of green grass staring up at the clouds and sky while reaching out to find one another’s hand.  Cooking food together and finding one another between stirring and simmering and swaying our bodies together to a love song. Why there are such barriers in our culture to falling love in the most vulnerable and true sense of the word and opening our hearts to the journey of where this fall may take us has been a curiosity of mine for my entire adult life.  I sense it has to do with the truth that so many of us haven’t become familiar with our own minds and hearts and are simply afraid to transmit all the beauty and basic human goodness that is innately and essentially who we all are.  It is worth the risk though to recognize first our own self as dear and beloved and then to extend that same compassion and kindness to the other who we finally come to realize is standing right in front of us.


The light plays a pattern within this dwelling

It dances shadows and light across this circular space

We are each rooted on our mat

Some kneel, some sit cross-legged

Like nomads resting quietly in stillness

The sounds from outside join in

The silent stillness of quiet breathing

An occasional sniffle

A crow’s caw

All amidst the scenery of sound

We are on this collective journey

Consciousness awakening, then crashing apart

As the wind whips the world outside

Death is always waiting

Smack dab next to life

The invisible doorway of death

A turnstile

A revolving door of life and death

Beginning and end

Tears come up from the buried fears

Which sprout up from this mat of mine

This nomadic space

Spirals around and around

As my body spreads outward

From my fears, my butterfly’s cocoon

In a more awakened state than before

I am no longer me kneeling on this mat

I am kneeling on all the mats in this room at once

Meanwhile the fan circulates counterclockwise

And I feel an urgency to reach out my hands

To the women on either side of me

Whatever happened to laying our heads in one another’s lap?

Stroking one another’s hair back in a gesture of solidarity and oneness

Now I am with my sisters in Kabul, Gaza, East Aurora

I want to continue with you all

I want to be held in the cradle of loving kindness

I feel someone’s, something’s arms around me

Like the sky’s winds and air currents

Which hold our earth in a constant, unquestioning embrace


I cannot do life myself

I need you

As I am becoming my true self

Whoever she might be
(Written February 1, 2009 in the Yurt at Healing Waters Mindfulness and Yoga Centre in East Aurora, NY following a weekend Shambhala Meditation Retreat)