“Finished?” From To Hear The Forest Sing 

by Margaret Dulaney

Several months ago, I spent a week at a retreat center, a sort of summer camp for adults, with a focus on mind, body and spirit. Every day all types of classes and presentations were offered to a population of about 130 guests. I met a full bouquet of different varieties of people, from the young to the ancient. And, I discovered that like a crack speed dater, I was very sharp at categorizing each one within the first seven seconds of introduction.

“Oh she’s the type that prefers to focus on the body rather than the mind,” I would say to myself “he’s one of those who would dismiss any of the contemplative offerings altogether.”

In an effort to try and help me to break this ridiculous habit, the heavens kept contradicting me.

“Gosh, I’m surprised to see that woman on a meditation hike,” I would say to myself in mind-stretching puzzlement. “Wait a minute, that guy is taking introduction to watercolor? I never would have guessed. Hold on, those two came to the casual sing-along?”

By the end of the week I had had all of my tidy summations about the entire population of guests blown to little bits.

Over the course of the week it became clear that this process was also happening to other members of the population. We shared communal tables for meals, and the question would come up of which programs people had enjoyed the most. One very grounded woman with a high-powered, government job in DC confessed to having broken down in tears during a class called “Sound Healing,” a program that she would have dismissed as “woo woo” the day before.

“I was surprised at how much it did for me,” she sheepishly admitted. “It opened up an old wound that I thought I had dealt with, but had obviously just been buried.”

Oh, and just to let you know how un-evolved I am, I dismissed the program altogether because I overheard that its teacher, near the end of the one class, suggested that the participants (quote) “marry themselves.”

“Oh, no, no, no I won’t be going to that class.” I said, “I would find that keenly embarrassing.”

Why do we do this to ourselves?

I was travelling with two good friends, one of whom had bravely attended the final class of “Sound Healing” and had much the same reaction as the high powered woman from DC – she really loved it. Dang!

Why hadn’t I tried it? Why do I limit myself so?

Do I think I’m finished? (and by that I mean complete) I am not finished!


There was a young woman whom we befriended midweek, in her late thirties, and apparently the prankster of her family. This family had shared a highly unappealing doll that had been used as a practical joke for decades. It would present itself in the most unlikely places, once in the face cradle of a massage table while this woman’s unsuspecting sister lay down to have her body rubbed.  Not long ago, this woman confessed, the doll had shown up at her grandmother’s funeral. It had occurred to her that it might be hugely funny if, at the cemetery, while the family was throwing in little handfuls of dirt on the casket, she were to whip out the doll and throw it in along with the earth. Apparently the grandmother would have been the first to double over in hysterics, with the rest of the family following suit. It was a successful stunt, giving the family a much appreciated yuck fest.

Later in the week of summer camp, I learned that this young woman was member of a rather strict orthodox Christian sect, and had spent much of her time in her room with her bible.

“But these two disparate facets of her personality are too contentious to fathom,” I thought, as the door to my mind groaned on its rusty old hinges.

Like someone wearing pink pants and a bright orange sweater, she clashed!

But then she isn’t finished. None of us is. We will wear all sorts of discordant ideas, try on all manner of philosophical combinations before we find just the right harmony, the true theology for our distinct souls.


I have come to understand that, more than anything else, it is my frozen notions, my rigidities that keep me from growing. These are what retard my movement toward enlightenment.

While thinking about writing this the word disabuse kept popping into my mind. Disabuse.. disabuse.. I have found that my muse (angel, writing spirit, spiritual scribbling cohort) will often toss a word into my head while I am forming my thoughts around a piece of writing. These words are almost always ones that I have never used, the meaning of which I am not at all sure.

“Disabuse …” I wondered, “why is that word coming up?” I had to look it up. Disabuse: To free from deception or error. To persuade that something is untrue.

“Ha!” I thought. “That is precisely what was going on during my week at adult summer camp.”

And, what a marvelous opportunity to toss out some of my petrified fuddy-duddy. Thanks be to God.


My brother told me about an interview he had read with the Dalai Lama, where the interviewer had asked, “What if you get to the other side of death and discover that your theory of reincarnation was all wrong? What if you discover that the truth is that we do not return and return to the earth, and therefore you could not be the reincarnation of the original Dalai Lama?”

“Then I would let go of the idea and accept the truth.” Was the Dalai Lama’s simple answer.

Clearly he is very comfortable with being proved wrong.

This has me thinking that I might have discovered my next daily prayer. Dear God, please disabuse me of my calcified notions of how you work in this world. Surprise me, please. Take the starch out of my theology.

Please don’t ever let me think that I am finished.


To Hear the Forest Sing by Margaret Dulaney“Finished?” is excerpted from To Hear The Forest Sing, Some Musings on the Divine by Margaret Dulaney. Find the book on her website: ListenWell.org and on Amazon and other major bookstores.

Margaret Dulaney is the voice behind the online spoken word website ListenWell.org, with monthly offerings designed to puzzle out spiritual themes through story and metaphor. Among the subjects explored on Listen Well are: mindfulness, spirituality, healing, hope, Christianity, Buddhism, conscious living, inspiration, creativity, God. 

Read Jean Sheldon’s review of this book here. (Spoiler alert: She recommends it, straight from the heart! Title of the review: “Author’s Passionate Spirit Re-Ignites Our Spirits”.)