Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Thursday, July 3, 2014


The moon over Manhattan
This is your reality
I just require a road map
An emotional picture
A sense of direction
For what's happening to me
Explain to me that chemical reaction 
When we connect with another human being
When we Fall in love
We take ourselves up to the top of the mountain
Then, knowingly, hurdle ourselves off
Trusting the free fall
The sensation of floating downward
All the while plummeting to the bottom
The rock solid ground below
Here in this busy city of movement
Frenetic energy unleashed
The pace is hyper-speed
All I can do is think of you
And continue this fall

Written October 8, 2002
Dedicated to Maureen

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On The Spot


All of life, every single moment offers a choice to be fully present and on the spot.  Each breath is a leap of faith.  Every moment and every breath of our life have two things intimately in common; they are all beginnings and endings, births and deaths.  Each moment we continue on, we are counting on a world to embrace us to hold us to support us to hold us, and the expression, “Place the fearful mind in the cradle of loving kindness,” may seem like an easy thing to say or something that makes no sense because the world may feel too aggressive and on fire and testy and speedy.  How can we rely on this? Why do we so resist this?  However, taking just a single moment.  To pause.  To stop.  To take a breath.  To feel the in breath as the ever present supply of oxygen nourishes all of our insides moving out to our limbs and feeding each and every last cell in our bodies. 

Each summer my sons and I give ourselves a gift of eight days full of moments to simply be.  We travel to northeastern Vermont to a retreat center, Karma Choling, and experience with 220 others adults and children what it feels to live in an enlightened way.  Society or community begins with two people.  And when each person is relatively aware of their own mind and heart and being, the relationship can be rich and supportive and open. 

This is what the family camp experience is built upon.  Some camp in tents, some stay in the lodge, some of the teens stay together each night in what they call the “Pav.”  This was our third summer camp experience and the first year my eldest son did not stay in our family tent pitched in the upper meadow on the mountainside.  I am not sure I ever even thought to miss him.  I knew he was doing exactly his own thing.  Being his own self and having his own camp experience. 

And this gave me and my younger son, who is twelve and a half, open space to just be together.  Just a sentence or two about the condition of my heart this past summer.  I had just experienced an ending of a relationship.  I felt like a bird with a broken wing.  Beginning the camp experience crying my eyes out, I was clinging to an idea or wish that the other person would do what I thought he needed to do to make himself available to me.  This was a view that was simply creating more internal suffering for me.  So after about three days of intense suffering, I let my camp friends know that I was hurting, and I let the love in the meditation room, in the camp and in the teachings hold me like a newborn babe as I cried my heart whole again. 

By day four, with eyes red and swollen, and a heart broken but still beating, I was ready to be at camp, to open my heart no matter how broken and battered it felt.

On this same day, five parents and more than ten teenage and tween age kids carpooled over to the notorious train bridge jumping spot. It was a quintessential snapshot moment of Americana, a placid lazy Vermont river, an old last century train bridge, and ten teens and tweens standing on the edge of the train trestle poised but not quite ready to jump. 

Six girls and four boys stood on the precipice taking their time before their leap to the cool water below on an early August summer camp afternoon.  The parents waited on the river’s shore gazing up at our children aware of their tentativeness as they considered their jump.  And at some point, one of us, or perhaps collectively, we heard a train’s distinct whistle as it chugged its engine and cars down the track straight toward our children on the very bridge it would be traversing in less than a minute.  We awoke to the sound and snapped to paying attention to the reality of the present moment.  Our children stood, ostensibly oblivious, on the edge of the bridge’s train track in the path of this approaching train.  The moms were the first to react shouting up in our higher pitch voices “Jump.” “Jump.” Jump!”  Finally one of the dads, in his deep baritone voice, hollered the definitive “JUMP!” followed by a resounding chorus and urgent appeal of all the parental voices, “JUMP!!!” 

There was no mistaking the on the spot urgency of the adults below, and, as if on cue, the children began to throw their young bodies from the bridge.  It could not have been choreographed more elegantly.  As if a scene from the 1980s coming of age film, “Stand by Me,” first one, then two, then all plummeting into the river below.  Not one remained atop that bridge as the train chugged over that same bridge our children had just been standing only moments before.  One by one they swam over to the shore.  Reflecting back, not one of our youth froze and panicked.  They were all ready to react as the situation called for, being “on the spot” so to speak.  That “Stand by Me Moment” is indelibly inscribed I am certain on all the moms and dads standing on that river’s edge in the warmth and light of that sweet August afternoon.  What can that moment offer us in the way of a life teaching, of being poised and ready in our day to day lives of taking an authentic, on the spot leap of faith?

Thursday, September 19, 2013


It is true

There’s no need of convincing

A heart is true

When it is given away

It is true

My heart’s a home

In your embrace

Tight and spacious

I realize

It is true

That with love

It is how I feel

Not what I know

It is true

When you die

My heart will break

Into a million pieces

And little seeds

Will disperse over the whole world

It is true

That this love will spread vastly

To every corner

And the light of love

Will sprout watered by you

It is true

It is good

Not too good to be true

Rather good because it is true

Leap of Faith

September brings crisp definition to life.  Even as life begins its transformation, its descent into and toward death, the sun continues to warm the inhabitants of this northern hemisphere of earth.  I ride along the same route, with my eldest son, who is now a go-pro photographer with his own You Tube channel, and posting with the appropriate hash tag to get his work noticed.

We ride, he shoots video, and I steadily quiet inside myself.  My good calm mind watches the clouds pass, the leaves come away from their branches which they have hung onto all summer long, and my thoughts and feelings and emotions are as effervescent and fleeting as everything in this preciously and reliably impermanent world of ours.  There is relief in that realization.  There is also a mix of sadness and joy. 

Just as in love, which is as dependably impermanent as all of it, there is the resonant pain and pleasure.  This year brought so much to light for me, and uncovered a groundless strength inside of me that is ageless and reliable.  I have come to realize the profound truth of living in the impermanence of the moment -- even if love turns to pain, remember it started out as love.  And when it comes to love, there is small mind love and there is vast love, true love.  That is the love that remains, the love that always was, and the infinite goodness that connects us to the All.  That reminds us of our universal connection, that our separateness is only a perception. And that perception can be mighty convincing for sure at times.   

When we decide to love another, when all the stars align to bring two humans together, and they find there is chemistry, as well as a karmic connection, the sparks fly and the only thing for certain is that it will continue on until it is over.  

Loving is for certain about taking a leap of faith.  I like to think of the many loves in my life and how they have enriched my existence.  There are small loves and big loves, and they are all pearls on the bracelet of my life.  In love we experience both joy and pain.  Whether intentional or not, when someone hurts us, we experience so many emotions.  Some of these emotions seem to happen simultaneously, but actually what is happening is a firing of reactions within our mind.  I know what goes on for me is this.  I start to fixate on dates and sequence of events when things are beginning to fall apart in a relationship.  The memories of the relationship and time spent together start jumping back in to my mind. I sequence the events together trying to make sense of the pain I am feeling by remembering exact dates and days and hours even.  I am not sure if this is a coping mechanism or just a part of the way my logic or proclivity to make sense of the world mathematically manifests itself as I go through the struggle to unhook emotionally from someone.  Observing, noticing, becoming aware can help me make sense of the difficulty I am encountering, and actually move through the pain.  I have learned that leaning in to the difficult emotions actually speeds up the healing process, and this is good.

Here is what I know. I have experienced a few big heartbreaks in my life.  There were some smaller ones, some moments or time periods of panic thinking that I couldn’t make it alone, that I was being abandoned.  Thankfully somewhere along the line, in space, in my life, I realized I was on a good path, and that working with my mind was not only an option but a necessity. 

This summer which I have cleverly labeled the “summer of my discontent,” I ended a relationship.  It was a big heartbreak.  A hunch I had, a suspicion I carried and was expressed in the way my body felt, was confirmed and I felt broken when the truth was revealed about the deception within the relationship.  I felt like a damaged bird.  In fact my broken wing was not only symbolic and emotional, it manifested physically.  My body has been healing from an injury of my left shoulder blade and neck and back.  My story offers a quality of redemption and resilience, since this is not a story of a victim, but of an alive warrior in this world. I know now that when we experience moments of profound pain, that if we can meet these moments with an openness, even one that feels as if it might break us, then unconditional confidence and gentleness and boundless compassion for ourselves is available and will help us move through any heartbreak.  Just consider for a moment the human stories that have moved you the most in your life.  These great struggles of human suffering that, when met with grace and truth and complete honesty, are the stories of human resilience and true bravery of the heart. 

True bravery is when we feel suffering and we are in pain, and are able to meet it, feel it in our body and do not try to either run away or repress it or lash back.  It is when we stand resolute in our human moment of whatever we are experiencing, having a trust in the knowing that the storm will blow over eventually.  The awareness that just like every cloud that has ever formed in the sky above has for time immemorial dissolved into open blue sky and that we can rely on that and let it hold and comfort us.  We are all living in space and time, and the passage of a stream of moments will bring relief and the sun is still shining even behind the storm clouds.

When my heart broke this summer, I cried, the tears flowed and flowed and I did not try to stop them.  I let the dam break and the water crest over some emotional levy.  And remembering past heartbreaks that I had weathered, I knew and trusted that the deep achy dry pain would pass if I really allowed myself to feel, to feel and not be awkward or embarrassed about any of it.  This was the kindest thing I could offer myself.

In love and the decision to love again, we must take a leap of faith full well knowing that pain and heartbreak are a component in the love equation.  True love lasts though even when the relationship is over.  It is the love we offered and put out into the world.  The opening of our heart and offering of love to another, to the world, is healing.  It heals the deep brokenness that has defined our world for millennia.  But there is a slow and steady growing awareness that the world is changing, the world and the people in it are waking up.  And awakened beings have a responsibility to stay awake, and just by being awake make a difference as a noticeable radiance is emitted into the world.  We don’t need to talk too much about it, just be this radiant open goodness.  Trust and follow in this openness, just like a flower is first a seed then growing to a beautiful fragrant lovely colorful being, it moves the world and the heart just by being what it is at its core. 

I realized as I rode these country roads through the end of summer crisp evening air with my lovely teenage son, that we are all called to be part of a team.  I see us as a team of humanity at this moment on earth.  And I realize that loving and being open to loving again is who I am.  It is my essence, it is the way I impact and change my world.  I love. That’s what I offer, love.  And that it is not so much as what we know about another as it is about how we feel with another.  Loving others and finding out more about me is just the way I interact and experience my world.  I may be more aware after this experience of my last heartbreak, I may be more patient and pay more attention and listen more acutely and spaciously to myself, but I will open myself and heart again since I know no other way to deeply experience this good world of ours.


Friday, July 19, 2013

The Bluebird of Happiness

I sit here in the backyard of my village home on a mid-July morning.  Tibetan prayer flags sway to the morning breezes coming from the east.  The sun has long since risen and the neighbor children are at play gathering sticks, as I can see through the little opening between our yards.

Some sort of fatigue has set in and my mind and body need a shift.  Since I cannot go away to counter this depression, I have decided to move my bedroom outside into my own village backyard.  My tent that has an open net roof is now my bedroom.  I had fallen asleep to the setting quarter moon last night and awoken to the chorus of dawn birds serenading me with trill and chirps and one rather incessant crow who flew away in a tizzy early this morning.

I had not been sleeping well for months and my mind would awaken me most nights sick with worry and negative thinking.  My emotional self has been in turmoil and I am aware of why this is.  It is the attachment and fixation I have to particular outcomes, to a driving need to wanting something to be different, to my worrying about "why" all the time.  If the why could dissolve into the next moment and just be another fleeting thought, oh that’s right, that is what it is.  I have come to realize that the responsibility of my house is overwhelming on my own, as the only adult here responsible for its maintenance.  We aren’t really designed to do it on our own, to raise families alone, or care for homes alone; we are social beings and live in community, so thinking we are the whole team that needs to do it all is really driven by fear, a need to control, and reliance on this cowboy mentality in our country of a supreme independence mindset.  What’s wrong with being dependent on someone or something, since we are at every living minute dependent on this lovely earth, the air we breathe, the sun beating down on us and each other living being.

What actions have I taken to shift this negative mindset?  Which causes and conditions have I pressed the reset button on to make my life and my good mind and my raw heart more aligned with the basic goodness that I know is the foundation of my existence? I have decided to downsize my bedroom to a small open air tent and lay down each night on the earth and gaze up at the vast open sky. To let nature and the natural good world have a crack at healing the raw woundedness I feel.  And frankly I don’t want to repress the open wound but I also don’t want to go around oozing it into the world of my family and friends and colleagues.  It is my responsibility to take some action to heal and rejoin the fractures I feel, but first I must feel them and feel them I will.  I am being reconstructed as I lay upon the earth each night as I sleep like I am in a cave with less worry and anxiety.  My panic is not taking me over awakening me in the middle of the dark night.  Instead, I am being cradled by something older than me and my wisdom has led me to this place of healing in my own backyard.  No one will probably ever love me enough to fill up that hole; onIy my own inner wisdom will hold me through all this living, breathing struggle. 

I have a view about the difficulty that I have encountered.  I am aware that we are not alone, we are part of a team, we don’t need to cover all the bases our self.  They don’t do that in sports games, so why would we think we have to do this in our own lives?  We are part of families and neighborhoods and work communities.  Some of us are even blessed enough to have loving supportive partners and spouses.  Love is bigger than all the fear in the world.  Kindness is the remedy for aggression.  When we are angry with someone, we could try opening to our kind hearts to love that person without thoughts, we might try prying open our tender heart even if it feels broken and brittle and little like the Grinch's and let a little bit of the serum of compassion pour out.  Funny, then we feel suddenly more connected and tuned in to the other.  And our beloved helps us feel our own hearts of basic goodness, our own sorrows and our own joys.

And in relationships we just have to have these difficult experiences to get to know each other and our self with the other.  And, there may always be a theoretical better someone out there for each of us, but for my part, I am tired of shopping and I could just use a break from all the mental struggle with my own need to control outcomes, secure love, be safe, and be protected. My attachment to being attached causes me great pain, yet we as humans are attached by that visceral broth of humanness and interdependence that this human flesh requires us to be.  I see that it is not so much attachment to the person in the end as it is to wanting that person to be a certain way, to want the relationship to be a certain way. How liberating and loving if I might just let go a little more to let the person love me either the way he does or doesn’t?

This ongoing struggle with wishing for a particular outcome, an afterward, that hasn’t happened yet, and fearing it never will be, is just a reality that I am now feeling and I had to take matters into my own hands and change my causes and conditions.  I had to find a medicine that would heal me.  I had to let the earth cradle me in loving kindness.  I need to trust the world enough to let it embrace me, to heal me, to embody the qualities that I aspire to be for my world and heal something deep within me that has bubbled up and will not go away until I feel it.  As a mom and member of my family, I couldn’t go on an away retreat so I brought the retreat to me each night.
This all takes kindness, gentleness and courage, and I find out time and time again that I have all those qualities, and it takes a visit by the bluebird of happiness of my own basically good backyard to just let it all be even if it means falling apart.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Love's Litmus Test

When there is summer and there is no wind it feels like 1000 degrees.  Today is exactly one of those humid summer days where the air feels close.  Where our skin feels like it is melting into space and that there really is no space between our body and what always seemed like space before.  It is as if we are swimming in a summer soup of body and hair and skin and air and space and room.  Room.

Now I will say I am drinking a Lemon Drop Martini made with fresh berries and squeezed lemons and Mango Vodka (purchased at the Duty Free in Saint Kitts in the Lesser Antilles where I was conveniently stranded during an early February snow storm this winter) and Triple Sec.  All perfectly shaken and chilled with lots of ice on this close hot sultry summer evening in Western New York in early July.

I just finished a seven mile bike ride with my eldest son who is now 15 and a High School Sophomore in September.  I don’t actually think about how much I love these rides with him and our conversations, but now that I am writing this essay I realize how grateful I am for the ease of our communication as we both face forward riding into the summer air on this July day.  We just start talking to each other freely without agenda.  My usual worries and concerns which may very well seem like a rant to him at times, as they ought to, since he has had some serious lapses in judgment where school was concerned his first year in high school – the transition and high school learning curve was quite steep and I am still mystified on how a boy of his high intelligence could let good grades slip through his proverbial high school fingertips.  Despite all this, mom and son ride into space facing forward and the words just flow. 

I do confide in my eldest son quite a bit I think because I don’t have a partner living with me.  I lean on him like I might a husband at least as far as figuring out certain household issues or other life matters are concerned. And he is deliberate in his thinking and analysis and very considerate in his responses. 

Our conversation this evening orbited around creation versus evolution.  Recently he said to me during a rather difficult week of my life mainly having to do with the one I love needing space and me needing closeness.  Funny how someone we love saying they need space suddenly equates in our mind to ‘I don’t love you anymore.’  We may feel so confident in one moment, and then we feel deflated, and even worse, completely unlovable and worthless when the one we love turns away from us even if for a day or week.  Our ego can so fixate and cling to the other as if all the oxygen we ever needed is being provided by that one alone. 

I said to Kailen even this evening that there are three people in my life right now that if something happened to them and they were taken away from my life that I would feel I could not live without them.  Kailen said, “Well mom that tells if you are really in love with someone.  It is the In Love Litmus Test.”  And as we rode on through space I thought to myself about that for a moment.  And I said but I know I love so many other people but could somehow live on without them and how is that possible.  I then became aware that it is because of the clinging my mind and heart have to those three.  I am fixed on them like they are my true north.  And that may be the definition of true love but it is also the definition of fixation.  We both agreed and rode on. 

So as we moved through space so did our dialogue.  Kailen has shared a little secret about deliberate contemplative conversation.  Sometimes he has an idea he is formulating and he decides not to share until the idea or concept has gelled in his own mind.  I often thought if a man I loved held something from me he was holding his love from me.  It took years, really decades to realize that it is a sign of intelligence to give some consideration to thoughts or feelings and how to express them cogently in words before just simply spewing them forth. Or, it is just a different way, equally good.  And that I, too, have held back when I wasn’t sure how to quite put something out there into the world.  Now sometimes it is courageous to wait and sometimes courageous to deliver the message on the spot.  It is a matter of discernment.  And you can be sure that we will not always get it right and that is okay.   

We sort of blended the idea of creationism and evolution into a radical idea that probably neither camp would be too crazy about, neither the scientists nor the dogmatic believers would accept as a possible scenario.  There seems to be a gap in the evolution scenario somewhere between the hominids of the Neanderthals and the homosapiens and this, from the standpoint evolutionary biology, has not been bridged or reconciled.  What if there was a creator and that creator was simply a more intelligent life form from somewhere off in the cosmos, the great vastness of space beyond our planet but not beyond our own minds?

Our ride ended with that thought and I poured myself a martini and continued sitting in the quiet of this stunningly close July evening.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


"You remember the great things and the bad things but not the regular things, those you forget. " Wise Words of my 12 year old son
“There are all kinds of love in this world but never the same love twice.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby


Basic goodness is everything.  We can have confidence in our own basic goodness.  We can take a rest there.  Our mind is clear.  Our mind is stable.  Our mind is strong.  Vulnerability is a sign of strength and it takes great kindness and gentleness to expose our most vulnerable self to another human being.  For me it has been much easier revealing myself, my darkness, and my well hidden secrets to the phenomenal world of nature.  I could hold on for dear life to the bark of a tree’s trunk and rest my chest and forehead against the upright strength of the tree standing before me, holding me and the full weight of my human body and fears and be with this other without words.  I could go to the forest and drop my guard and sob into the arms of a tree.  I could lay my body down on the soft earth and be as fractured as I felt and feel pieced back together by the breath and pulse of the earth beneath my weight.  I could sit crossed-legged and cry my eyes out to the wildflowers so alive and seemingly frail as they waved their delicate bodies in the air currents.  I could rest, really inhale my breath, and let my fatigue from keeping secrets go as I lay held in the arms of a large stone boulder, laying prone with my face to the sun above as insects landed on my body and crawled over me.  None of these beings were out to hurt me or get me or do me intentional harm.  Humans only do those things because of their ignorance and confused minds, because they doubt their own basic goodness.  They have sadly forgotten. 

In the forest, or by the water, I could utter my deepest hidden pain aloud.  The words came straight out of my heart knowing and trusting that none of the non-human beings in the world would betray me.  They were only here to protect me, a fellow traveler on this planet in this solar system in a vast universe.

I have lived a life of joy and sadness.  I am in my late 40s and my parents are aging and my children growing up.  I am open to my world, my sweet good imperfect world that is really and truly basically good.  I am confident in my basic goodness and the strength of my own mind.  I feel my human heart alive and awake in my world.  But I still wonder where I belong sometimes, and where I need to exert myself to start moving down the path that is my next teacher in life.  I know that everything is impermanent, every relationship, every person, every situation, every cause, every condition, every thought, every feeling, every day, every moment, every breath.  All of this completely and beautifully and tragically impermanent. 

Our hearts are the barometers for the way we move through our world.  Hiding and deception are covers for a fearful heart.  All hearts get touched and broken and the further we open to our world, the more we empty of concepts and ideas and memories that hold us back from being touched.  But this doesn’t mean that at times we don’t panic or collapse or shut down or seize up.  I have walked through my world with an open heart and have asked for it to be broken because of this way of being.  I have met some open hearted others who also let their hearts be touched in their own way.  When we choose to let ourselves love another, we are asking for a heart break.  Separation is inevitable.  Everything changes.  Yet to empty ourselves of our preconceptions and stories of how it should be or will be or thinking we know what the other will do or say, we allow the possibility of real connection, of being loved, really loved for the essence of who we are, not the idea of who we are.  We give space for being loved and accepted like the natural world loves and accepts us, without pretention or judgment or drama or expectation. 

This morning, I shared with another human being my dirty messed up dark and yucky parts of me in the light of my radiant, resilient goodness that shines like a beacon through the fog of old wounds.  I exposed my tender most little being that feels frightened and raw and in need of protection.  I have a man in my life, for how long I cannot know, that sits still and listens with a mind and heart of goodness to my ache, as I drain the muck from my insides all the while knowing that I am good and wholesome and lovable and worthy of love and loving.  I had been hiding this secret from the person I loved because of my fear that I was marred in some way that was irrecoverable.  Before I could let my sadness and grief out, I had to empty myself of old ideas and notions of who I am.  I feel redemption in this act of sharing.  With the force of the past feeling like a wave gaining force and power in the middle of my chest, I realized that the only thing I could do was let it pour forth.  In this I realized again there’s truly nothing about my life, or past, or childhood that needed any further hiding or defending.  All that I needed, all that any of us ever really need is in the present, the moment we find ourselves alive in.  The essence of being alive, being human, is being the breathing present being we already are.  And no matter what we’ve done or has been done in the past to us, we are all still worthy, worthy of our own love and another’s love.  We all deserve protection and truly loving another means offering the protection of our shared humanity.