Speaking up 50 years later: TEDxBoulder

Deborah Bowman

Deborah Bowman

As a shy sixth grader I often imagined myself speaking to the masses.

I wanted justice for all and for people to love one another. I wanted to shout it from a podium like Martin Luther King.


My fantasies were a compensation for living in the shadow of an over achieving sister and a brother who crashed motorcycles. And because my mother valued racial equality.


I grew up in Ferguson, Missouri.


This last September I crossed the TED talk off my bucket list…..to see more click lessons in public speaking.

I wrote this article for elephant journal…yes, all lower caps. A great online zine devoted to personal and spiritual growth.  It helped me connect the dots of my past to present, seeing how my early dreams are manifesting today.

The talk is titled Falling into Grace, about how a near death experience became an opportunity to grow in awareness and compassion. The TEDx speech could have been titled How I was an Idiot and Survived to Tell the Story or even I Love Being on Stage and Almost Died to Get There. Whatever confessional twist you put on it, I am so glad to be alive and to have learned from my experience.  That story is worth telling.



Going Beyond Our Conditioning with Energy and Insight


By trusting in our own resources of understanding, energy and insight we have access to the power to go beyond the boundaries of our conditioning.  We begin naturally to explore the depths and possibilities of our own being.

~ Christina Feldman

IMG_9546_lzn May you be blessed with energy and insight in the New Year!

Warmly, Deborah

P.S. Temple photos from my trip to Taiwan in 2010.

Love in any Language is a Blessing


When purified of self-centeredness, passion is expressed as devotion to others, caring skillfully and utterly about their welfare; it is also expressed as joy in living and appreciation of the unique beauty of each moment.

Judith Simmer-Brown

At Doi Suthep, a large and beautiful temple in northern Thailand, I took a photo of these bells hung around the complex by practitioners.  From each bell hung a ringer in the shape of a leaf from the Bodhi tree where the Buddha first experienced enlightenment.  Prayers and blessing are inscribed on the leaf by the individual who placed the bell.

The shape of the leaf reminds me of a heart and the heartfelt wishes of the person making his or her offering at the temple.  Many are hung to commemorate a loved one and wish them well on their journey after death.  Others are asking for relief from suffering for a family member or themselves.  Some ask for the blessing of a healthy child or acceptance into a job or university. As the wind moves the bells and releases their music the wishes are sent on their mission.

Many Buddhist practitioners may make a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Doi Suthep as it is considered a great Buddhist site.  As I joined the many men and women circling the main stupa I felt a deep sense of reverence and joy shared by all.


Concentration: Returning the Market Place

Bangkok Floating Market 1

Bangkok Floating Market 1

My mind has three qualities: concentration, equanimity and loving kindness.  That’s it.

Dipa Ma

In a famous Zen proverb, one returns to the market place after the work of enlightenment. One brings the skills he or she has developed back into the world.  These women at the floating market south of Bangkok reminded me of this proverb.  Tourists are brought in hordes to this place yet the people marketing their wares go about their business with a calm and concentration that is notable.  It may not be enlightenment but I witnessed something we do not observe in many parts of the world; a people at peace with the bustle about them.

I went to photograph the floating market several years ago during a trip to Bangkok and was first horrified by the insane tourist “scene.”  It was only when I got inside the crammed water course that I began to notice the remarkable individuals in their boats and by the riverside.  What a delight  trying to capture their dignified essence!  I was lucky they were happy to ignore another curiosity seeker with her clicking camera.

Bangkok Floating Market

Bangkok Floating Market

Bangkok Floating Market 2

Bangkok Floating Market 2


The Female Buddha book

The Female Buddha book

At a reduced price at Amazon now!

Extending our Attention creates Joy

Japanese Traditional Music

Japanese Traditional Music

When we extend attention and appreciation toward our environment and other people, our experience of joy gets even bigger.

 Pema Chodron

I took this photo last weekend at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Denver. I highly recommend this yearly event with musical performances, martial arts demonstrations and lots of great booths with kimonos, dolls and t-shirts with rich japanese paintings.


Book image

The Female Buddha book on sale at Amazon!

Connecting to Others: Meditation and Tonglen

We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.

Pema Chodron

Do I spend time wondering how others are doing?  When someone sits across from me: yes.  Otherwise: usually not.

Pema Chodron’s suggestion has me wondering if this is enough.  I live a pretty whirlwind life: psychotherapist, professor, photographer, author, partner and friend.  When I’m not immersed in one of these roles my mind goes to problem solving and planning.

Sitting on the cushion in meditation I notice my designing thoughts fashioning syllabi, gardens, page layouts, budgets, retirement, interventions, trips, counseling centers, paragraphs, presentations, emails, household chores, ad infinitum.

The mental computer loops through tasks while I practice coming back to my breath again and again.  I always imagined I was 180 degrees different from the engineering lineage of my grandfather, father, uncles and brother.  Yet nonstop I engineer superhighways of the mind to accomplish tasks at higher and riskier speeds.

Do I wonder how my actions affect other people’s hearts?  All the strategic thoughts are seamlessly connected to actions. But are they genuinely connected to others?  In the abstract: yes.

My bigger endeavors have given hundreds of students a stellar education in transpersonal psychology.  I’ve initiated or designed several successful counseling programs at Naropa University.  Those tasks occupied large tracks of cerebral space for years.

Now authoring books occupies the dominant parcel of mental real estate. I want to share inspirational images and quotes of women from around the world.  Blogging about the process helps me feel more connected to my audience and other authors.

The practice of tonglen helps me move from the abstract to the personal. It’s a structured exercise in Tibetan Buddhism to breath in the pain of others and then breath out an offering of compassion and relief.  Pema speaks of it as a natural process we’ve lost touch with in our hurly-burly lives, something a big open heart does without thinking.

Tonglen reminds me to deliberately consider family members, friends and colleagues; especially anyone who is suffering or someone I’m having trouble with. I’d like to embody the process a little more off the cushion and in my daily ruminations towards others and myself.

Setting the intention is the first step.  Over and over I see a line of progress when I begin with a straightforward question and an open heart.  No beating myself up, simply breathing in the pain and starting fresh again.

How about you?  Where is your mind wondering?  Where could you use a little compassionate relief?

Creativity, Commitment and Establishing Balance

Our minds are habit-prone and it is very difficult to get out of old habits.  Establishing new habits means giving ourselves a push, which must not be too hard or too gentle.  It has to be balanced, and only we ourselves know where that balance lies.

Ayya Khema

Share an “old habit” that has been difficult to kick.  What has contributed or gotten in the way to finding the right balance for change?  What approach has been “too hard” or “too gentle?”

Here is one of my worst habits and a true confession.  I don’t exercise my photography muscle and find myself at square one every year when I go overseas to shoot in Asia, the land of amazing photo opportunities.

This spring I took a photo class thinking it would be a warm up to get going. The shooting assignments were over after a week and nothing since.

Not that I haven’t been doing related things.  Editing and re-editing photos, framing images on book, web and newsletter pages, creating photo surveys, and blasting photos out on twitter, facebook and linkedin.

It’s been more than a year since I really shot something interesting, a sumptuous wedding on my husband’s side of the family.  It had all the ingredients of a foray to Southeast Asia.  We were sweating like dogs in the Iowa sun, people wore unusual clothing, there were many interesting foreign faces and we walked on holy grounds where family and friends gathered for a special event.

That shoot was over a year ago!  My photography skills are in reverse.  Abundant in excuses I work full time and have been frantically (and ironically) building a platform for a book of photographs to come out who knows when.  Clicking off tasks on my best days and pushing aside guilt on an occasional hike with friends in the Rocky Mountains.

When I grouch about not using my camera my outdoor buddies suggest I bring it on our hikes.  It’s hard to explain why it wouldn’t work. First we’d have to start at 4 a.m. to catch the early morning glow.  Then I’d be fiddling for hours with finding the right spot, the right lens or the just right light.  Maybe it’s not so hard to explain.

A tripod has never really been my thing and that’s what nature photography is all about.  Not that it wouldn’t stretch my palette for capturing stunning shots of temples dotted across the landscape of Myanmar.   I’m going there in December and would love to be able to capture those images.

Yet those skills are not in my oeuvre and it’s not going to happen in three months.  It’s the same thing when I write out goals to do a photo shoot every week; it just doesn’t happen.

I do need to get out before the trip to Myanmar.  What about shooting one day in October and then over the Thanksgiving break? The rest of September is impossible.  I’m committed to writing for this blog invitational everyday for the next two weeks!  Halfway into October I’m writing a paper for a conference in Bangkok that pays for my flight in December.

Can I kick this old, lazy habit with a reasonable goal?  Not too ambitious, not too slack?  Could it be the beginning of a commitment to get out once a month with my camera and a better attitude towards discovering the splendor of vanilla Colorado?

Now I have you to be accountable to.  We could have fun comparing the pitfalls and breakthroughs in the creative process.  My old habits include isolation and treating photography like it was just another job.  Now I could have companions to not only hear my confessions but also to share in the wonders of the universe.

Will you come out and play with me?