Cusco, Peru


It all started when my sister wanted to do some adventure travel, she wanted to climb Kilimanjaro. Now I like adventure travel but 19,000 feet sounds a little too much like suffering to me. So I suggested we try Peru first and see how we do at 14,000 feet first. I visited Peru in 2011 and loved it and really wanted to walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Inca.

One thing lead to another and the result was two sisters–Melissa and me, two daughters—Alexandra and Anne, and two friends–Lisa and Melanie– all with tickets to Peru. Alexandra came from LA and met me in Miami where we flew together to Lima and spent the night at a hotel near the airport.

The next morning we had an hour flight to Cusco in the heart of the Andes and the Inca Empire. The population of Cusco is about 700,000 and the altitude is 11,000 feet. I had a local guide Wilfredo ( pick us up at the tiny airport. Our first stop was a traditional lunch with potatoes and chicken, soup and avocado. There were two couples performing a traditional dance to give us the full experience.


Next stop was the cathedral in the main square. Built in the 1500’s, it is a gold and silver extravaganza with ornate carvings and saints. Tucked in a corner is a large painting of The Last Supper where Jesus is offering guinea pig instead of bread to the disciples. There is a black Jesus nearby which beautifully reflects the local culture and the universal love of the Christ.

Cusco Cathedral

On our way to Qurikancha, also spelled Coricancha, the Sun Temple of the Inca, we got Alexandra’s first alpaca fix. I promised her baby animals so an enclosed courtyard with puppies and kittens and alpacas was a great delight. The owner brought out a big handful of alfalfa so we could feed and pet them. A few streets down were women in traditional dress holding lambs with little knit hats. That was good for another round of cuddles.


Qurikancha is built from the Inca stones that are so precise that there is no mortar or space between the stones. They have internal notching like legos that make them earthquake proof. The Incan walls surround a monastery that the Conquistadors built on the site after removing tons of gold from the original temple.

inca wall

The final stop was Saqsaywaman, another Incan site on an epic scale. Massive stones were quarried and again precisely cut to build this ceremonial complex. You can see how massive the stones are because Alexandra is six feet tall and this single block of stone is many feet higher. We then climbed up to the top for an amazing view of Cusco in the valley. Storm clouds were all around giving a beautiful combination of pink sunset and dual rainbows.


It had been a long day and we were happy to see our charming hotel (Tierra Viva Plaza) just off the main square. Some pizza was the perfect ending to the day.






A few years ago I started to seeing a new symbol on jewelry, along side the usual hearts and crosses were infinity symbols. The infinity sign had been around a long time but now I started to see it on bracelets, necklaces, made in pink or blue stones symbolizing everlasting love and friendship. I was gifted one of these bracelets with the infinity sign outlined in pink next to a few other bangles about love and friendship. It is the one bracelet I wear often and for me it is a reminder of a couple of my favorite Tarot cards.


There are four Tarot cards that have the infinity sign, also known as the lemniscate. I’ve already written about the Two of Pentacles. On this card the man with a tall hat is balancing two opposing pentacles, ideas or demands. In this case, he doesn’t have to choose. The lemniscate is helping him balance the seemingly unbalanceable. He is able to juggle these two directions by holding them lightly and allowing the flow of life to keep it all going. He demonstrates that, with a little skill, you can balance the yin and yang of life.


The next card to have the lemniscate is The Magician, card number 2. Our magician has all the tools of the trade laid out for him to use to create his world. But, more importantly, he has the connection to the universe symbolized by the lemniscate over his head. He is connected and will use the power of the divine, the infinite, to create his world for growth and wisdom, not manipulation. He has this never ending loop to connect the physical world with the unseen spiritual world. He is in balance and is ready to start the journey through the lessons of all the cards.


Our beautiful and gentle Strength, card number 8, has the lemniscate over her head as she tames the wild beast of our animal nature. When you turn the 8 on its side it becomes the infinite connection with her higher self that connects her to the spiritual strength she needs. Now she has the right force at the right time and the right place to balance her world. She is controlling the lion with gentleness and compassion. She is using her inner strength to demonstrate bravery, endurance and steadfastness, important skills for the trials ahead on the path of life.


The lemniscate makes a fourth and final appearance in the grand finale of the journey. The World, card 21, has red ribbons on top and bottom of the laurel wreath surrounding the dancer of life. These red ribbons are lemniscates meaning that the connection to infinite wisdom is part of the whole being. The dancer is victorious after the long journey and is no longer separate from the eternal state represented by infinity. This is the state of oneness, always in the moment, beyond time.

As you can see the meaning of the lemniscate grows and becomes richer the further down the path of life’s journey. The cards use this elegant symbol to represent the never ending loop of love and spiritual power to our higher self and source if you choose. You are always connected. It is just about remembering that connection. Maybe a bracelet will help.


Hilton Head beach

What is it about water? Why are we so fascinated with it? We pay a premium to live by water. We go to places just because we want to be by water. We must drink it daily, use it to clean our bodies, baptize our babies. We listen to it, gaze at it, touch it, smell it, taste it for purity.

The water calls me. If I wasn’t so happy in my rural home in the foothills of the mountains, I would be where every moment of the day was accompanied by water. Fortunately my morning walk is beside a lake and I have moments to breath in the beauty.

The ocean calls me. I need time by the vastness of water, looking out to see nothing but water and sky. Every year I find a way to be renewed by the salt and sand, sky and starkness. It is the starkness of only water, sand, sky that I crave. The stripping of life to only the essential elements that renews my soul building it back from the foundation stones of existence.

For the first time I have come to the ocean alone. No children to play in the sand, no friends to share the experience, no husband to walk hand in hand on the beach. Just me. I have to be with the ocean. I’m using the excuse that I need time to write and I do. But it is the longing of my soul for the primordial water to cleanse myself in the salt water, like cleaning a crystal, an act of life-affirming renewal.

I’ve come to this same little borrowed hideaway for many years so I have my routine. The first morning is a long walk around the pristine neighborhood, seeing my favorite houses, hear the clang of metal against metal of the sailboats. This morning I walked out the pier and saw a solitary dolphin fishing for its morning meal. Every few minutes the fin or snout surfaced and I had a moment of joy.

I headed to the beach to read, walk and bob in the water. It is September so there are families with very young children and retirees, the people that are not bound to school schedules. The weather although still hot is not as intense as a month ago. I feed the parking meter and gather my chair and beach bag with the essentials: sunscreen, drinks and koozie, snacks, books, towel and phone. I alternate between reading, walking, swimming and just looking at the waves.

The water is just cool enough to be refreshing without any need to slowly get wet. Sometimes I face the vast distance and watch the birds skim across the water. The pelicans with their prehistoric silhouettes come in twos looking for fish. The seagulls fly just above the surface in large groups making the sound that is so familiar at the beach. Their squawk is as essential a sound as the crashing waves. Sometimes I face the shore with the colorful umbrellas flapping in the breeze and the colorless sea grasses nodding in agreement.

I’m not the only one who craves the ocean and aloneness. On the mantel of the cottage is a slim book, a book I had been thinking about for the last couple of week. Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, is a small book of wisdom and comfort for the inner life. Anne deeply craved solitude, her life of celebrity, family and personal tragedy left little time for quiet. In a two week trip to the beach alone, Anne wrote this treasure that has comforted women for decades.

Every chapter is telling a very familiar story woven around the beauty of shells on the beach. Anne needed time alone to sort out who she was from the world around her of demands and schedules. She voices the truth that so many of us share. Quiet, alone, solitude are not experiences to be shunned but moments to be savored as gifts to yourself so that the voice of your heart can be heard.

“Woman must come of age by herself…
She must find her true center alone“

“Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.”

“I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.”

― Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea


Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson


Thomas Merton


Last week I had the most unexpected delight. Brother Luke from the Abbey of Gethsamani wrote me this note.

Many thanks for the thoughtful and generous reflections about your visit to us. Rest assured, the company of our fellow pilgrims is a blessing and enrichment for us there in the choir. Every warm best wish and encouragement from us all!

I was so pleased that our time together was a blessing even though the Brothers in Gethsemani and I have never met. The quiet interaction of our devotion was equally beneficial to our hearts even though our conscious mind didn’t know the specifics. It is through the quality of our heart the blessings are received. This is one of the great mysteries and graces of the devotion of the pilgrim.

How do we grow the quality of our heart? So glad you asked! Because one of the most important spiritual writers on contemplation and devotion was a Brother at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Thomas Merton. All you have to do is open one of his many beautiful books on the contemplative life and you will find the answers to the way of a Spirit filled life. You may have heard of Thomas Merton before but if you haven’t I want to introduce him to you because he brought contemplation into the 21st century and continues the long line of Christian mystics going back to John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. You will find his influence on many of the lives of current spiritual writers.

Thomas, known as Brother Louis at Gethsamani, was born in 1915 in France to non-religious artist parents and spent his childhood going between France, England and the United States. He ultimately ended up Columbia University where he got a masters in literature, with a thesis on William Blake, the first clue of his future. By the time Thomas was in his mid-twenties, he had no living family and a deep Christian conversion. He felt called to the life of devotion and eventually found the Abbey of Gethsamani. Thomas wrote about his childhood and conversion experience and first days in the Abbey in his classic best-seller, The Seven Storey Mountain. With a great talent for writing about the contemplative life, Thomas continued his work as a writer as his vocation in the Abbey. Eventually he was able to move to a small converted hermitage on the Abbey grounds where he could spend his time in the solitude he craved. The last few years of his life (in the early 1960’s), he became increasingly interested in social justice and the common spirit between Buddhism and Christianity. He made a famous trip to India to meet the Dalai Lama and attend a global conference on world religions. Unfortunately Thomas died on that trip in an accident exactly 27 years to the day of joining the monastery.

I’ve known about Thomas Merton for many years but the visit to Gethsamani gave me the context to read his books I had collected. I could spend a lifetime with this amazing writer and mystic. But let us go back to the original question that we asked, how to grown the quality of your heart. Thomas has some beautiful suggestions. He said that you didn’t have to be a monk or nun to live the contemplative life, that the life of prayer is open to all of us. It doesn’t require hours of meditating or renunciation of the world to make your own life an act of devotion. Our lives are perfect for growing the heart for it is the act of taking time to connect with the Divine everyday and see everyone we meet and our work as service to the world. He wrote, “to be a saint is to be myself.” Doing the dishes and the laundry, our commute, caring for our children and our elderly parents can all be acts of devotion and love.

Yes, every part of our lives can be a chance for awakening. One of Thomas’ most profound experiences wasn’t in the monastery in prayer but in a moment while on a busy street in Louisville, Kentucky.

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. . . . This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. . . . I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Be who you are, love the life you have, spend moments in silence, start and end your day with moments of prayers, sing a hymn, read a scripture or inspirational book, notice the birds and the wind in the trees and realize we are “all walking around shining like the sun.”

Books by Thomas Merton:

New Seeds of Contemplation

The Seven Storey Mountain

Thoughts on Solitude


Books on a modern contemplative life by Marsha Sinetar:

Sometimes Enough is Enough  

Ordinary People as Monks and Mystics

Abbey of Gethsemani

Trappist, KY

A few weeks ago Hamilton set out early in the morning to visit friends in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, to do whatever grown men do that is legal and moral. I find it usually involves metal objects that have letters and numbers instead of names and is in a language totally unrecognizable in my world. But that morning I decided tag along because the next stop on my sacred tour of rural America was just 45 minutes up the road in Trappist, Kentucky, just south of Bardstown. We met up with another couple outside of Danville, putting the men in one car and the ladies in another to go on our separate adventures. Barbara is a native of the area but hadn’t been to Trappist in many years. So we headed down the empty, winding roads through the beautiful back country of central Kentucky.

Tucked into a corner of the rolling country side is a Trappist monastery, Abbey of Gethemani, officially known as Cistercians. I don’t know about you but rural Kentucky is not the place I would go looking for monks; Pentecostals, tiny non-denominational churches, maybe even snake handlers but not Cistercian Monks who live in silence and prayer. Apparently Bardstown was settled by Catholics in 1808 in a very non-Catholic region of the world. Seeing as how the Catholics don’t have a ban on alcohol like the other local Protestant religions, Bardstown became the seat of the bourbon industry so the local landscape has enclaves of bourbon warehouses next to a half a dozen local distilleries. It is a strange but charming combination of religion, ‘demon rum’ and southern history with My Old Kentucky Home presiding over it all.

The Abbey of Gethsemani was established in 1848 and on a cold day in late December the monks began singing the Liturgy of the Hours seven times a day and haven’t stopped since, 168 years of devotion to prayers for the world without ceasing. The prayers start at 3:15 am with Vigils and continue at intervals throughout the day until Compline at 7:30 pm. In the morning between prayers the monks work. In the past there was farming but now they produce bourbon fudge and fruitcakes to support the monastery. In the afternoon, there is time for reading, prayer and contemplation. Although they are not vowed to silence, silence is part of their way of living.

I first heard of the Abbey of Gethsemani many years ago because there is a large guest house open to anyone of all faiths for silent retreats. The simple and tidy rooms are attached to the church. There is a library and extensive grounds for long walks. There are no classes or events, just time and space to go on an inner journey of silence and healing on this holy ground devoted to prayer.

I arrived about 10, on an overcast and very humid August day. I spent sometime in the welcome center where there is a movie that highlights the history and an average day at Gethsemani. Next door is a lovely gift store with local pottery, spiritual books, handicrafts from other monasteries and of course the bourbon fudge and bourbon fruitcake made on the grounds. I bought a sample of each to bring home. Nothing makes me happier the sugar blessed by monks.

The most important part of the visit was at 12:15, Sext, the prayers just before lunch. I sat outside under the trees waiting for the appointed time, the breeze helping with the humidity a bit. The peacefulness of the land and nearby cemetery gave me time and space to find my own inner quiet. Visitors are allowed at any of the services but must sit in the narthex under a small balcony. There is a barrier and then the long thin modern sanctuary stretches out to a distant altar. The bell tolled and about three dozen monks started to enter one by one from several doors and took their appointed places. They each wore a long white tunic with a brown scapular cinched at the waist with a brown belt except the three novices who had white scapulars. Under the narrow stained glass windows, they sat in the choir divided in two by the aisle facing each other with a small organ in the middle of the right wall.

The bell tolled again and the organ played and the monks began their prayers. Nothing was spoken only sung and the words of those noon prayers echoed that day as they had over 60,000 times since the monastery opened so long ago. About 20 minutes later, the prayers were finished and the bell tolled again and the monks filed out to their next duty. The other 20 or so visitors quietly left to go back to their own prayers and retreat. No one wanted to break the beautiful silence of that moment. As I walked back to my car in the heat of the noonday, I felt blessed by those beautiful prayers and so thankful that these men had devoted their lives to God and for the blessing of all the world.

Languages of Faith


photo by V Budayr

When I was twelve I remember very clearly the minister of my childhood church telling the congregation that “This is the one true church.” I remember asking my mother how he could possibly know this. It was many more years before I could form better questions but looking back on that moment, it was the beginning of my quest. I couldn’t figure out why God could make 6 billion people wrong and just a handful right; it didn’t seem fair.

Through the years I have explored all the world’s major religions. I figure I could just cover all the bases in case one has the true answer to eternal life and I wanted to make sure I was good. I’ve always had Christianity as my base for that is the religion of my ancestors, my culture and my language and I am baptized as a Christian. But, over time, I have branched out and found that learning about other religions has helped me be more comfortable with Christianity despite my shaky beginnings.

My fundamentalist Christian friends would take great offense at my version of Christianity but I keep that to myself, I know the greatness of the Christ and know he doesn’t care about how some governing body defines him. What I know of the Christ is that he is our story of the enlightenment journey, he is the example of divine love and compassion.

I’ve been drawn to Buddhism for many years and have read a lot of the wisdom of modern Buddhist leaders. I find the words of the Buddha comforting and add a dimension to my experience of life. A few years ago a Rinpoche, the abbot of the monastery, established a small monastery in my county and on one of his visits I took the Vows of Refuge, something I had always wanted to do. I take refuge and comfort in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanga.

As a child, I kept the Sabbath like the Jews and didn’t eat any unclean meat. The tradition of the Sabbath as a day to keep holy is something that our modern world could use a little more of. A day of quiet and family and to take a respite from our technology has made a come back in some circles. As a child I didn’t like the rules but as an adult I remember the Sabbath with nostalgia as a cozy loving time. I’m also told by my Jewish friends that I make very good Latkes.

One of the defining moments of my spiritual quest was Darshan, a meeting with the Hindu saint Mother Meera. In total silence Mother Meera blesses each individual that comes forward to kneel at her feet. She touched my head and looked into my eyes and my world changed. She put me in a place I had never been before but can get back to when needed. Some of my favorite music is an obscure opera about Gandhi using the words of the Bhagava Gita sung in Sanskrit. It is magnificent. Oh and I want a harmonium, the little organ used in chanting. I need one if I ever want to moonlight as an ashram. Got it on my Christmas list.

When I was in Egypt I visited the Citadel, the magnificent Mosque made of alabaster, that overlooks all of Cairo. My fellow travelers and I sat in a circle and listened to the teachings of Islam. Everyday I was there I heard the 5 prayers a day sung from the Minarets, calling the people to prayer. Those haunting melodies in a very mysterious language were healing, reminding me of the power of prayer.

The beating of the shaman’s drum, the gentle melodies on the wooden flute, the prayers to Mother Earth, bring the healing power of our Earth into my body. As I pray to the four directions for wisdom and guidance, I connect with the natural world, the sacred energy of the Earth where I live.

My daughter is a scientist and mathematician where the quest for the divine takes yet another language. Scientists see the world through the beauty of the stars overhead, the quantum particles too small to see and the elegant and universal language of math.

I’m no expert in the world’s religions but I’m an expert of my own heart and I know that honoring the world’s religions has brought great beauty to my life. Because in reality it is all semantics. We use different words and stories but at the core of our human experience is the same desire to know the Divine, the part of us and the Universe that us unknowable to our finite minds.

Camp Chesterfield


Memorial Garden, Camp Chesterfield

The last two years my passport has been tucked away as I have tended to family and refilled my travel fund. Fortunately rural America holds many hidden gems and I’ve traveled the highways and byways in search of the sacred. I’ve visited Vonore, Tennessee, Cullman and Tuscumbia Alabama, Peebles Ohio, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Vergas, Minnesota, Carpenteria and Ojai, California, and now I have a new place to add to the list.

Last week I was headed to the Great Lakes Retreat in Olivet, Michigan, (a wonderful experience, I highly recommend) I stopped by Chesterfield, Indiana, to spend the night with a friend to break up the journey. About half way up the eastern side of Indiana amongst vast cornfields and tidy farm houses is the historic Camp Chesterfield, a spiritualist community. My teacher Rachael is a spiritualist minister but she comes from the English tradition and so I’ve never heard of the spiritualist camps in North America except Lily Dale, New York. Spiritualism is the communication with spirits and people who have passed away through a medium who is sensitive to the vibrations of the spirit world.

Camp Chesterfield was established in 1890 to provide contact with the spirit world and train mediums. There were many such camps across American during this heyday of mediumship but Camp Chesterfield is one of the last remain. Mediumship has become popular again as TV shows featuring mediums and the need for the comfort mediumship brings to people who are grieving lost loved ones.

In the morning after breakfast in the little cafeteria where each menu item was a dollar, my four dollar breakfast was perfect. My hostess had a reading to do for a friend so I happily headed out to explore on my own. Now if the Magic Kingdom in Disney World decided to make “Spiritualismland” it would have to be modeled after Camp Chesterfield. It is a playground of delights all with a patina of age and history. In the middle of the camp is an extensive park. First, there is a small cathedral and a chapel for services and messages. I poked my head into the little chapel and heard the organist practicing for a memorial service later that day. I moved on to the two hotels. The Sunflower built in 1914 is no longer used but I peaked in to see; it had the smell of a very old building and I would suspect it was very haunted, so I was glad that wasn’t my place for the night. The Western was build in 1945 and still houses the guest that come for classes. In the basement was a long room with two rows of twin beds each with a dressing table. In the back was a rack of dresses in case you forgot yours and needed something to wear for giving messages from the platform—-dress, pantyhose and closed toed shoes are required for the ladies, suit and tie for the men. The upstairs rooms were sparse but very clean. Across the way is a museum that was closed but has spirit art and apports (objects that manifest into physical form during seances)


I headed into the glen sparkling in the morning sunshine where I enjoyed the American Indian memorial and the totem pole located on Inspiration Hill. The Garden of Prayer is a grotto, perfect for mediation. I walked the labyrinth in my bare feet so I could feel the ground. After that I sat on what was left of The Toad Stools, two dozen small tables and chairs under the trees where mediums gave messages to the campers, an old fashioned psychic fair. The table tops were engraved with the names of the mediums.


toad stools

The Toad Stools

I wandered over to the Trail of Religions where there is a memorial to the world’s great religions with a bust of 10 leaders from Osiris to Mohammed. There was a memorial garden with the ashes of many of the mediums that had worked at the Camp. I gave my respects to Quan Yin and circled the outside of the camp where around three dozen summer cottages house the residents. The houses are close together and in every condition from needing lots of love to very pristine. Most have angel and St Francis statues decorating the tiny lawns. Many of the houses had signs in the front indicating that a reader lived there and the type of readings.

trail of religionsosiris

Trail of Religions

The camp was charming beyond belief and I enjoyed the atmosphere of church-summer-camp-meets-the-spirit-world. It is still an active camp in the summer with classes and a seminary. A unique place that has lasted a 125 years producing mediums of the highest training and integrity. There is a great need for good mediums. Over the years, as I’ve had hundreds of readings in my house, I have watched people come through the door broken and grieving and come out of a reading with renewed hope and healing. The loved ones in our lives are so precious and to reconnect without a doubt with the help of a great medium is a gift from Spirit.