Possibility

April 12, 2014

…if we describe revenge, greed, pride, fear, and righteousness as the villains–and people as the hope–we will come together to create possibility.  ~from The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander

Just yesterday, I found myself telling a story with another person as villain. I SO know better than to do that! I know that it makes me feel mean and small, that it has potential for hurting others and creating ill will.

How easy it is to judge, to condemn the behavior of others, to set ourselves up as right and righteous. How destructive, how counter-productive this is, when we have the capacity to enter the realm of possibility instead. In The Art of Possibility, the Zanders eloquently state the case for moving toward a WE story, for focusing on what is best for all of us.

I am so grateful to Maureen Ryan Griffin for reminding me about this book. She first mentioned it when I was a student in her writing workshop at the John C. Campbell Folk School, where she told us about one of the practices from the book. Here is the practice: When we are trying something new and not completely succeeding, we are to throw our hands into the air and say “How fascinating!” Guaranteed to help us take ourselves less seriously.

“It’s all invented,” say the authors. This is the second book I have read in the past few weeks that makes this point.* I have come to believe it. Here is the practice offered in The Art of Possibility to help us create a new framework.

Ask yourself:

What assumption am I making,
That I’m not aware I’m making,
That gives me what I see?

Then ask:

What might I  now invent,
That I haven’t yet invented,
That would give me other choices?

May I realize the power I have to create my life orientation, to choose to look toward possibility rather than dysfunction, and (importantly for me) to contribute by practicing my gifts. May I abolish the notion of failure, throw up my hands and shout “How fascinating!” rather than measuring myself against some standard of perfection.

Are you the creative director of your life? How does the story you have created prevent you from opening to other possibilities? What would expand your choices?

__________

*the other book is The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Be the Creative Force in Your Own Life, by Robert Fritz


Perfect

September 24, 2013

All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is this: Act as if it were impossible to fail. ~Dorothea Brande

“Everything you do is perfect,” insisted Maureen Ryan Griffin, my writing teacher at John C. Campbell last week. And isn’t that true for all of us? We are perfect just as we are, and we must strive to be better. Holding these two thoughts simultaneously has always been difficult for me. But I’m getting there! And the writing workshop moved me closer. What a warm circle writers create when they work together under the right conditions. And Maureen created just the right atmosphere.

During the week, we learned to “sprint,” to “gather,” to “sprawl,” to write dialogue, to ask questions, to list, to “leapfrog” off another’s work, and much more. If you haven’t seen Maureen’s excellent book, Spinning Words Into Gold, check it out. It’s full of great writing advice and exercises. She writes a weekly Word-zine that you can receive by email, too.

Thanks to Amy, Brenda, Dave, Harvey, Judy, Maureen, and Victor for making last week so special for me. I am going now to plan my writing practice schedule for the weeks ahead. I’m sure it will be perfect.

 


Cheerfulness

August 29, 2013

While there is a chance of the world getting through its troubles, I hold that a reasonable man has to behave as though he were sure of it. If at the end your cheerfulness is not justified, at any rate you will have been cheerful.  ~H. G. Wells

Lately I find myself asking how one maintains good cheer in the face of not only the world’s ills, but our own aging, infirmity, and ultimately, death. I think it must be intentional. But in addition to learning and practicing good habits (morning affirmation, gratitude, etc.). I believe it involves surrender.

Pema Chodron, in her wise book, When Things Fall Apart, says “…we cannot be in the present and run our own storylines at the same time…anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present without reference point experiences groundlessness.” We must make friends with fear and groundlessness, surrender to the reality that we have no control, and live our lives anyway.

Randy says our task is to “live until we die.” In my most serious depressive depths, I have not even wanted to do that. But today I do, unequivocally. I aspire as Wendell Berry does in “The Wish to Be Generous“: to “…bow / to mystery, and take my stand on the earth / like a tree in a field, passing without haste / or regret toward what will be, my life / a patient willing descent into the grass.”

What are the ways that you maintain good cheer?


Facing the Blank Page

July 30, 2012

Writing is easy.  All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler

I have discovered two more favorite books on writing to add to my previous list: Writing From the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo and Writing Your Heart Out, by Rebecca McClanahan. The former encourages us to work with our own resistance rather than fighting against it. The latter helps us explore what matters to us. I used to think I read books about writing only when I was stuck and couldn’t write. But I’ve enjoyed these two titles in the midst of an ongoing practice.

At this point in my life, I am staring at a blank page, both literally in my daily writing practice, and figuratively, as I move from my library career toward an unknown future. And, as Fowler says, it can make you sweat blood! My facing the blank page each day, though, may ease me through this uncertain period. Just as writing begets writing, I believe courage begets courage.

What is your story about facing uncertainty?


Small Stones

July 2, 2011

Recently, I discovered a wonderful book by Sage Cohen, Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry. And, as is so often the case, this book led me to another amazing author: Fiona Robyn. You can see her blog, Writing Our Way Home,  here.

After just a couple of hours of perusing her materials, I’m already a huge fan. I have read her free downloadable book, How to Write Your Way Home. (Get it here). I have ordered two of her books from Amazon (Thaw, which you can also read for free, here, and A Year of Questions: How to Slow Down and Fall in Love with Life). I have signed up for her quarterly newsletter and weekly writing prompt, as well as a week-long free writing course, “The Art of Paying Attention.”

Robyn advocates careful attention to “small stones,” which she collected every day for a year. “Small stones” serves as a metaphor for noticing the world, opening our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and hands to experience life just as it is. Here is my small stone for today:

Squawking titmice
flurry at the feeder, scatter.
Only swinging remains.

My “Artist’s Way” creative cluster class is on track for Monday evenings, 6-8 p.m., beginning September 26 and running through October 31. I know that we will be using some of the material from Fiona Robyn and Sage Cohen. The class will focus on the creative process in all its manifestations (not just writing). Watch the NGCSU Continuing Education site for registration information. Meanwhile, write a small stone of your own!


Open Mind

June 19, 2011

My new book of daily readings/meditations is proving to be a blessing. It is Open Mind: Women’s Daily Inspirations for Becoming Mindful, by Diane Mariechild. As with all books, it seems, I don’t remember where I came across this title, and I debated about ordering it for a while. I think I finally gave in because of the subtitle; it made me think the book might be just what I needed.

I don’t follow the rules, reading one entry a day on the date assigned to it! And I no longer believe (as I once did, perhaps)  that answers lie outside of myself, in others’ words or on others’ authority.  But I find the readings helpful in stimulating the discovery of my own wisdom, learning to trust my own truth.

As Jane Hirschfield says on the back cover, “Both the quotations and the editor’s commentary offer the chance to step into each day replenished and widened–more fully awake, more fully assenting to our own particular life.”

Are you assenting to your own, particular life? Say yes already!


Politics of the Brokenhearted

May 14, 2011

I am looking forward to Parker J. Palmer’s forthcoming book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. I have just read the essay from which this book springs, “The Politics of the Brokenhearted: On Holding the Tensions of Democracy.” You can read it here.

Palmer speaks of breaking the heart open, not “into a thousand shards,” but into “largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy.” He speaks of the essential violence in majority-rule decision making, and urges us to consider the Taoist concept of wu-wei–“literally purposeless wandering, or creative nonaction, making space within and around ourselves so that conflict and confusion can settle and a deeper wisdom emerge.”

We are an impatient culture, desiring quick action to settle differences. Palmer offers that “only in contemplative states are we able to touch the truth.” He makes the case in this essay for holding the tension between reality and possibility in ways that open our hearts, that honor the soul rather than succumbing to cynicism or dreamy idealism.

Palmer asserts, “When the heart dares to be vulnerable in the presence of power, it can become a source of countervailing power, keeping our best hopes alive in the hardest of places and times.”


Same Site, New Name

February 12, 2011

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is the only moment.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Hello, quotesqueen readers. You’ll notice my new blog name, “Only Moment.” The URL has not changed. It’s great to be back!

This present moment I am sitting in the sunshine that is pouring into my kitchen. I have just come in from the back deck, where I heard lovely birdsong I don’t usually hear–a lot of melody, a varied repertoire, not at all like the squawky, fussy noises of the titmice, chickadees, and goldfinches that throng our feeder.

I am about to finish Julia Cameron’s book, Finding Water, and I have proposed a 12-week class through North Ga. College & State University Continuing Education to explore creativity using The Artist’s Way. Cameron offers guidelines for “Creative Clusters” here. I am hopeful that the class (if accepted for the fall) will result in a continuing group. But even if it doesn’t, we should have fun going through the 12-step program Cameron outlines for “creative recovery.”

How do you nurture your own creativity? I’d love to hear your ideas.


My Five Ls: Life, Light, Love, Laughter, Learning

July 10, 2010

We clear space in our lives in order to center and clear space in our hearts. The soul’s voice, the voice of guidance, then ventures into the clearing we have created for it. ~Julia Cameron

My mornings are my clearings. Since I have resumed the practice of morning pages, I have added a new practice of daily readings from two books: Cameron’s The Artist’s Way Every Day and Everyday Osho. The quote is from today’s selection, and below I am sharing the guidance that came into my clearing this morning.

As a plant moves toward the sun, I can move in the direction of life, light, love, laughter and learning. Keeping my heart open, I notice what feeds me, what depletes me. I notice that there is nothing in these five Ls about regret, guilt, shame, self-criticism. There is no failure; failure is just learning.

I want to focus on what my heart is drawn to, not what I want to escape, forget, or atone for. These five Ls are about what pulls me, not what pushes my buttons! In my experience, when we focus on what we don’t want, we end up getting more of it. Likewise, when we focus on what we do want, we end up getting more of it.

Today, I want to look up and out, not back and in. I want to be fully present for life and love and possibilities. How about you?


Praise, Blame, and Failure

June 28, 2010

This has been going on through the ages.
They criticize the silent ones.
They criticize the talkative ones.
They criticize the moderate ones.
There is no one in the world who escapes criticism.

There never was and never will be,
nor is there now,
the wholly criticized
or the wholly approved.

~Buddha

Fall down 53 times. Get up 54.
~Zen slogan

This morning, walking down the hill to my mailbox, I stepped onto uneven pavement or slipped on loose gravel, twisted my ankle, and fell with all my weight onto my left palm, which now has a nasty cut that won’t stop bleeding. Then about 10:15 I had a call from my doctor saying I was supposed to be at her office at 10:00, a missed appointment that I will have to pay for. In my earlier morning pages,* I reflected on haunting missteps from my past, resolving to move forward with what I have learned, rather than dwelling on what I should have done differently.

So it felt like a personal message from the universe to open my email and find these quotes and other wise words from Margaret Wheatley, an excerpt from her new book, Perseverance. You can read her brief excerpt here. (Be sure to click the arrow on the first page, “Praise and Blame,” to get to the next, “Failure.”)

Wheatley says praise and blame are two sides of the same coin. I couldn’t agree more. For my take on that subject, see a previous entry, “Judgment.”

And now I’m going to get my hand stitched up. May we all walk more mindfully, with acceptance that we are human, and with compassion for ourselves and others.

Namaste.

*If you’re reading this blog, you probably don’t need the explanation that writing three pages in the morning (“morning pages”) is a technique for enhancing creativity described by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way


Acquiring and Letting Go

June 18, 2010

Edna Smith Hopper, November 3, 1922 to June 14, 2010

In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is acquired. In pursuit of wisdom, every day something is dropped. ~Lao Tzu

Today I have reread sections of Ueland’s If You Want to Write, and acquired a few bits of knowledge. And I have cleaned out my sock drawer and “dropped” a lot of socks! I’m not sure the latter brings me any closer to wisdom, but it was definitely a task I have needed to do for some time. Where do all those socks come from?

My friend Debra has a rule. She doesn’t turn on her computer until after noon. I tried it today. What a difference! Not getting sucked into to email, Web surfing, or computer games in the early part of the day changed my whole outlook and influenced the use of my afternoon time, too. So I have also adopted this rule and am dropping the morning computer habit.

My mother-in-law is no longer struggling, and for that I am grateful. Since her stroke on May 22, she had been declining steadily, and Tuesday morning she died at the age of 87. Her funeral service was, I believe, just as she would have wanted it, a testament to her many, many gifts to individuals, her family, her church, and her community. Rest in peace, Edna.


Monday Morning Motivator

June 7, 2010

YOU’RE REALLY, REALLY GOOD, YA KNOW IT?
Actually, you don’t know it. Not really. The fact is we’re so much better, so much stronger, so much more talented – and necessary to the world – than we know. We’re so obsessed with our shortcomings, the times we missed the mark, the time someone slapped a “C” on what we thought was our best work – that we doubt ourselves and play small. So what’s the cure? Actually, it’s pretty simple: Keep a running list of the good stuff – the times you knocked it out of the park, the times you made the sale, got the vote, or just got back up after you fell down. Forget the other stuff. Hey, remember what the MGM casting director wrote about Fred Astaire? “Can’t sing; dances a little.” Thank God he didn’t stop doing either. So don’t you. Not this week; not any week.

~Gail Blanke

I first encountered Gail Blanke when I read her wonderful book, In My Wildest Dreams, which she followed up with Between Trapezes. (Come to think of it, I probably need to reread that one, since I am in an in-between space in my life at the moment!) Her most recent is Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life. It has an accompanying Web site, where you, too, can subscribe to her “Monday Morning Motivator.”

I really like getting this short, inspirational message every Monday. It reminds me to be grateful, to love myself so that I can love others, and to live life mindfully. Today’s MMM validated a practice I’ve had for a while now, and that I frivolously call my “smiley book.” Each day (as I remember to do it), I make a list of the good things I have done for myself or others: yoga, mindful eating, connections with others, meditation, appreciating nature, and so on. A focus on these positive things really seems to reinforce the behavior.

How do you motivate yourself to be the best you can be?


Book Arts

May 31, 2010

Why should we all use our creative power and write or paint or play music, or whatever it tells us to do?  Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.  Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it.  And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others?  ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

I have just returned from a wonderful creative weekend at the John C. Campbell Folk School. My teacher, Joyce Sievers, embodied what I feel all good teachers possess: some ineffable combination of inspiration, acceptance, and equanimity.

I notice I am again choosing a Brenda Ueland quote. Seems to be my theme for May, so perhaps it is time to reread her classic, If You Want to Write.

Meanwhile, am reading a fascinating novel by Olga Grushin, The Line. I loved her first book, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, and had hoped her second wouldn’t disappoint me. Instead, my attention is riveted, and I am loving her beautiful prose and her ability to weave a story that is compelling and surprising.

What are you reading? What are you creating?


Self-Compassion

March 6, 2010

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

~Naomi Shihab Nye

Today, I am exploring a wonderful book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, by Christopher K. Germer. It has led me to an interesting website, Self-Compassion, by Kristin Neff, a psychologist at the University of Texas in Austin. According to Neff, self-compassion is not self-pity, self-indulgence, or self-esteem. She draws distinctions at the site. There’s also a revealing test there to help you determine how self-compassionate you are.

Germer recommends taking the test, practicing some of the techniques from his book, and then taking the test again.He offers five pathways to self-compassion: (1) softening into your body, (2) allowing your thoughts, (3) befriending your feelings, (4) relating to others, and (5) nourishing your spirit. As someone who has dealt with a lot of emotional “stuff” over the past several years and who has learned at least a modicum of self-compassion as a result, these practices seem spot-on to me.

If you have even a slight tendency to berate yourself for shortcomings, to feel isolated by your emotional lows, or judge yourself a little too harshly when you fail, go now and take the test. Get the book. I’m looking forward to developing even greater compassion for myself, taking better care of myself emotionally, and feeling more connected to and compassionate toward others as a result of finding this clearly-written, useful work. I just love the way books (and teachers) come to me when I need them!


Prickly Pear

January 9, 2010

If you brave the heat and gritty sands to reach us
Chollas
prickly pears of independent bearing
We can fuel your midnight fires
fodder your lean and loyal burros.

~Marti Keller

My heart is overflowing with the poems of my dear friend Marti. I am a lucky recipient of her chapbook, Prickly Pear, a stunning and beautiful collection of her early poetry.

This work feeds me like the Chollas, but is smooth as moonstones. A few exquisite words paint the richest stories of love, lust, longing, tenderness, melting snow and fierce independence; words that say as much by what is not there as by what is. I will read and reread these perfect and complete poems, in gratitude.


Writing as Discovery

December 21, 2009

We also want to find out what our own inner self wants to reveal to us in the midst of the clatter of the world. This takes letting go of our manic lifestyle long enough to pause and be silent so that we can hear the chords of our own being above the cacophony of our distracting and seductive world.

Poetry is too intimate to be nailed down in strictly linear terms. Reading a poem is more like comprehending a multifaceted totality all at once than like following logical steps to a single conclusion. It is more like entering spirals of possibilities than like walking a straight line to a single destination.
~David Richo, Being True to Life: Poetic Paths to Personal Growth

Writing is discovery, and psychotherapist David Richo affirms this with his wonderful new book. I believe poetry is the written form that brings us closest to the unconscious in us, and it can be as revealing as our dreams. I have taken Richo’s suggestion and begun writing my journal in poetry-length lines.

As I read this book, I encountered over and over things that resonated with me–“spirals of possibilities” not the least of them. (My new business blog is called “Spiraling,” and I use a nautilus as a sort of logo–see “My Other Blog” box at right). Imagine my surprise when I visited Richo’s website and found a free downloadable book with a nautilus as the cover illustration! Positively synchronistic.

This book is a gem for anyone who writes poetry, who wants to write poetry, or who just wants to better understand the self. Richo provides solid guidance and writing and meditation (visualization) exercises that will help the reader uncover the poem that wants to write itself in the service of healing.

See other entries on this theme: “Why I Write” and “Being Flow.”


Gourd Afternoon

December 5, 2009


Blessed is he who has found his work. Let him seek no other blessedness. ~Thomas Carlyle

When we have the courage to speak our minds and use our voice to send the desires of our hearts from our inner world to the world outside, we take a bold step in making them happen. ~from yesterday’s Daily OM, “Freeing Our Inner Desires: Using Our Outside Voice.”

I have spent a lovely hour or two at The Gourd Place this afternoon, the always-interesting shop of my friends Priscilla and Janice. They have indeed “found their work” and have persisted in sharing their artistic vision for many years. You can read their story in Priscilla’s wonderful book, Gourd Girls, source of the Carlyle quote above.

There is something inspiring and uplifting about visiting them and the shop, about contemplating their efforts to live authentically, to speak with their “outside voices.” Today, as usual, the shop was full of well-wishers and positive energy. Janice and Priscilla have drawn around them a community of people who admire and appreciate their integrity and their found work. May we all strive to live in such a way.


Mindful Health

November 15, 2009

Our life is what our thoughts make it. ~Marcus Aurelius

The attainment of wholeness requires one to stake one’s whole being. Nothing less will do…. ~C. G. Jung

Synchronicity again. I first ran across psychologist Ellen Langer when I was preparing for the talk on mindful management last month. Langer did early experiments in mindfulness and its effect on aging, so I hunted down her 1989 book, Mindfulness, and read it recently. Today I see that she has a new book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, and that a movie with Jennifer Aniston, based on the book, will soon be coming out. No doubt, mindfulness is becoming more mainstream.

Langer says we have learned to influence health “by exchanging unhealthy mindsets for healthy ones and increasing a generally mindful state. The latter is more lasting and results in more personal control.” Jon Kabat-Zinn lists seven attitudinal factors that underlie mindfulness: (1) non-judging; (2) patience; (3) beginner’s mind; (4) trust; (5) non-striving; (6) acceptance; and (7) letting go. Cultivating these attitudes, Kabat-Zinn stresses, requires energy, motivation and commitment. May I establish daily practice in mindfulness for health.


The Myth of Multitasking

October 25, 2009

To do two things at once is to do neither. ~Publilius Syrus

As I read Patti Digh’s Life is a Verb, try syncing my ipod once again (still can’t figure out what’s wrong with it), and check my Email, I run across today’s quote (p. 186 in Digh’s book) and am reminded that I often say that multitasking is a myth. Splitting our attention among tasks likely means that we are not fully present for any of them. But even if we are, it means that our energy and time leaks away during the shifts in our attention.

Edward Hallowell, in his book, Crazy Busy, says, “It is fine to believe that multitasking is a skill necessary in the modern world, but to believe it is an equivalent substitute for single-minded focus on one task is incorrect. It may be convenient or necessary to multitask…however, you will not be doing any of these tasks as effectively as you would if you were doing them one at a time.” Hah–now I have Crazy Busy perched on top of Life is A Verb, and I am blogging in addition to the rest…how easy it is to practice this way of living!

I am putting down Crazy Busy. I am unplugging my ipod to troubleshoot another day. I am closing out my blog entry. Now, I will sit back in my reading chair and finish Life is a Verb like the good unitasker I aspire to be.


Reading, Not Writing

August 30, 2009

It’s easy, after all, not to be a writer. Most people aren’t writers, and very little harm comes to them. ~Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot

I have just finished Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, from which this quote comes. I’m on a reading jag; I’ve read 3 books and 2 magazines this weekend!

The other quote I flagged in the book was from sculptor Anne Truitt: “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.” I can relate.

This week I will attend my writer’s group (for only the second time, since they took a summer break). There’s something about being in a group of creative people that makes the air vibrate with energy. I am hopeful that it will be an inspiration for me to write–that, and my new book of poetry by Jane Cooper. Here’s a short one of hers:

Praise

But I love this poor earth,
because I have not seen another….
~Osip Mandelstam

Between five and fifty
most people construct a little lifetime:
they fall in love, make kids, they suffer
and pitch the usual tents of understanding.
But I have built a few unexpected bridges.
Out of inert stone, with its longing to embrace inert stone,
I have sent a few vaults into stainless air.
Is this enough–when I love our poor sister earth?
Sister earth, I kneel and ask pardon.
A clod of turf is no less than inert stone.
Nothing is enough!
In this field set free for our play
who could have foretold
I would live to write at fifty?


Groupthink

August 29, 2009

hands
You don’t get harmony when everybody sings the same note. ~Doug Floyd

I have just read Doris Lessing’s Prisons We Choose to Live Inside, and it has caused me to reflect on my relationship to family, community, and groups over the course of my life. “Very few people indeed” Lessing says, “are happy as solitaries, and they tend to be seen by their neighbours as peculiar or selfish or worse.” She concedes that we are group animals, and the problem is not in belonging to groups, but “not understanding the social laws that govern groups and govern us.”

For groups exert pressure to conform. In groups, we believe we are acting as individuals, and can point to our differences of opinion as evidence. But there are underlying assumptions and sacred cows that are never discussed–that are usually not even noticed–by those within the group. Lessing holds that there are very few nonconformists, “original minds,” and that “on them depends the health, the vitality of all our institutions.”

I am in a period of very little interaction with groups but have felt hungry for community. Can I move back into community with an open heart that will also accommodate a cool, self-aware head? One encouraging passage in Lessing reports that “researchers of brain-washing and indoctrination discovered that people who knew how to laugh resisted best.” People who don’t laugh at themselves, she says, include fanatics, bigots, tyrants, and oppressors. “True believers don’t laugh. Their idea of laughter is a satirical cartoon pillorying an opposition person or idea.”

May I embrace my “group animal” nature without succumbing to groupthink. May I laugh open-heartedly and open-mindedly at myself!


This is My Real Life

August 15, 2009

Being Zen
Although I can try to push away my experience, the fact remains that whatever is happening right now is my genuine life. Like it or not, want it or not, this life is what is. To embrace it rather than push it away is the key to freedom. ~Ezra Bayda, from Being Zen

What a treasure this book is! Bayda helps us understand how practice can help us become free of the constriction of fear, awaken compassion, and “learn to be at home, even in the midst of the muddy water of our lives.” His prose is so clear and practical that I would not presume to paraphrase.

“The key to practice,” he says, “is not to try to change our life but to change our relationships to our expectations–to learn to see whatever is happening as our path. Our difficulties are not obstacles to the path, they are the path itself.”

“What we need is a gradual yet fundamental change in our orientation to life–toward a willingness to see, to learn, to just be with whatever we meet…To simply be with our experience–even with the heaviness and darkness that surround our suffering–engenders a sense of lightness and heart.” Learning to approach pain and suffering with “…a certain lightness of heart…is what transforms and softens our will–as ego, as striving, as struggle–into willingness.” (I love this idea…see more on will here.)

Bayda offers a lovely meditation consisting of four-line rounds that repeat several times, moving from self to others to all beings. He distinguishes this from affirmations, which he says are “like mental injections we use to change or cover over our feelings.” (I couldn’t agree more–see Positivity). “This practice is the opposite: it is not about changing or covering over our feelings, it is about experiencing whatever is present.” It focuses on the physical awareness of the heartspace, and so is not simply a mental exercise.

As Bayda’s teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, says in her introduction, “Even though all reading is preliminary, it is a crucial first step.” Now to practice!


Plain, Common Work

May 26, 2009

The best things in life are nearest; breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life. ~Robert Louis Stevenson

I can hardly believe it’s been 21 days since my last post. What happened? Busy-ness. Vacation at Fort Mountain State Park. The Evergreen (software) International Conference. Excitement about the idea of starting my own consulting business. Family caretaking. Not enough yoga. Out-of-town meetings. Business lunches (fortune cookie: “A bold and dashing adventure is in your future within the year.”). Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival. Too much Facebook. Lots of reading (Olive Kitteridge may take its place among my favorites.).

Daily duties, daily bread. Sweet.


In Praise of Slowness

May 4, 2009

There is more to life than increasing its speed. ~Gandhi

For fast-acting relief from stress, try slowing down. ~Lily Tomlin

Carl Honoré gives us a wonderful introduction to the Slow movement with his book, In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed. For a long time, I have included on my blogroll a weblink for Slow Down Now, the delightful “official” website of The International Institute of Not Doing Much. Honoré has produced a more serious work on this topic, described by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as “part reportage, part manifesto…an engaging, well-written journey into the various ways that people around the globe have attempted to live more patiently.”

Honoré is not against speed on principle, pointing out that “speed has helped us to remake our world in ways that are wonderful and liberating,” using the examples of the Internet and jet travel. He just cautions us against “accelerating things that should not be accelerated.” He is against overwork, sleep deprivation, children coming home to empty houses, and our society’s loss of the art of doing nothing. We must use speed and slowness in tandem to avoid the crazymaking do-everything-faster mindset. (The author’s wake-up call was when he found himself elated to discover “One-Minute Bedtime Stories” to read to his two-year-old son.)

In one of the bleaker passages he writes, “Time-sickness can also be a symptom of a deeper, existential malaise. In the final stages before burnout, people often speed up to avoid confronting their unhappiness. [Milan] Kundera thinks that speed helps us block out the horror and barrenness of the modern world: ‘Our period is obsessed with the desire to forget, and it is to fulfill that desire that it gives over to the demon of speed; it picks up the pace to show us that it no longer wishes to be remembered, that it is tired of itself, sick of itself; that it wants to blow out the tiny trembling flame of memory.'”

I do think we often use speed to avoid living fully, to “temporarily” escape the awareness of death, to self-stimulate. Honoré reminds us, “All the things that bind us together and make life worth living–community, family, friendship–thrive on the one thing we never have enough of: time.”

May we be mindful of our obsession with speed!


Why I Write

April 26, 2009

Today I am inspired by a poem by Dawna Markova, “Why I Write,” from Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer

There is a wonderful book of essays by 26 writers called Why I Write: Thoughts on the Craft of Fiction, edited by Will Blythe. This book, the poem by Markova, and the many writers I have read on writing (see also Writers on Writing) have inspired me to think about the question for myself.

It seems to me that I write in order to hear myself think. Parker Palmer suggests listening others into speech; perhaps writing is my way of listening myself into meaning. Markova’s essay is called “Thinking Ourselves Home.” She says, “I start in solitude. I start in silence. I start from the truth of where I am now to engage in a live encounter with myself. I start thinking myself home…What brings us to wisdom is using our consciousness to reflect on our thinking. It doesn’t just happen to us as we grow older.”

Why I Write

I write to hear myself into meaning,
to note echoes and mysteries.
I write to be aware of each sensation,
to approach it curiously,
to tunnel as close to its center
as my attention will allow.
I write to open to discovery,
to learn, to learn
to dive below the turbulence
where the water is calm and flowing.
I write to encounter
the unfolding of experience
so that when it has passed
I have known it.


Let Your Life Speak

March 29, 2009

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent. ~Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Now I become myself.
It’s taken time, many years and places.
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces….

~May Sarton, “Now I Become Myself”

Palmer reminds us that the word vocation is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” He has come to understand vocation as a gift to be received, rather than a goal to be achieved. Watching his granddaughter during the early days of her life, he could see that she had inclinations, preferences, and her own personality from birth. He says, “We are disabused of original giftedness in the first half of our lives. Then–if we are awake, aware, and able to admit our loss–we spend the second half trying to recover and reclaim the gift we once possessed.”

And he says: As May Sarton reminds us, the pilgrimage toward true self will take ‘time, many years and places.’ The world needs people with the patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act. The world still waits for the truth that will set us free–my truth, your truth, our truth–the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being.

And: Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks–we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’

This small volume of essays from Palmer leads us through his choices about vocation, his depression and dark periods, and his ultimate realization that he is a teacher. He believes our shared vocation, leadership in the world of action, is an outgrowth of our inner journeys. We should support one another’s inner work by creating “communities of solitudes,” not abandoning or trying to fix each other.

More ideas from Parker J. Palmer here.


An Undivided Life

March 14, 2009

Here is the ultimate irony of the divided life: live behind a wall long enough, and the true self you tried to hide from the world disappears from your own view! ~Parker J. Palmer

I have just finished reading Parker J. Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. How can every sentence from Palmer be exactly the sentence I would write if I could think and write as clearly and beautifully as he?

This book covers virtually all the themes I have explored in this blog–integrity, the open heart, connection, woundedness, respect, attention, letting go, and many others–in the investigation of an undivided life. Bringing inner and outer worlds together is a process Palmer refers to as the joining of soul and role. Rejoining, really, because in his view we were all undivided at birth. But he cautions that this process is much more than “embracing the inner child,” since “we carry burdens and challenges children do not have.”

Solitude Palmer defines as not necessarily living apart from others, but apart from ourselves. And community he says is not necessarily living with others, but rather “never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other…being fully open to the reality of relationship, whether or not we are alone.”

We cocreate each other in encounter, Palmer says, and he gives a specific method for establishing “circles of trust,” safe “communities of solitudes” where people can listen to their own hearts, discern their own truth, without being invaded or evaded by others. He likens the soul to a wild animal, shy and self-protective, and says we must not go crashing through the woods (arguing, preaching, proclaiming, advising, trying to be helpful). We must sit in silent attentiveness and hopeful expectancy if we want the soul to appear.

I already knew a little of Palmer, a Quaker, from the many times my minister/friend Marti spoke about him from the UU pulpit. But (as with most books), I have no idea by what route I got to this one. I am just grateful to have discovered it.


Painting Myself

February 28, 2009

Painting myself for others, I have painted my inward self with colors clearer than my original ones. I have no more made my book than my book has made me. ~Montaigne

One of my friends often cautions me about maintaining more privacy. She is amazed that I bare my soul as much as I do in this blog, and I know she believes I will end up hurt as a result. But I am finding this experiment in personal revelation both clarifying and strengthening. I believe that vulnerability is, as David Whyte has said, “the door through which we walk into self-understanding and compassion for others.”

The quest is for personal truth. I have just read the introduction to Phillip Lopate’s anthology, The Art of the Personal Essay. He tells us the essayist is fascinated by the changeableness of human personality, understands that we all start from self-deception, and uses the additive strategy: “offering incomplete shards, one mask or persona after another…If we must ‘remove the mask,’ it is only to substitute another mask. The hope is that in the end…all these personae will add up to a genuine unmasking.”

And so this blog serves as a collection of fragments describing my journey–with movement, changing personae, and contradiction. Lopate writes, “The harvesting of self-contradiction is an intrinsic part of the personal essay form…the personal essayist is not necessarily out to win the audience’s unqualified love but to present the complex portrait of a human being.”

Writing this blog is making me, even as I am making it.


Courage to Create

February 8, 2009

Do one thing every day that frightens you. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Writers are not just people who sit down and write. They hazard themselves. Every time you compose a book your composition of yourself is at stake. ~E. L. Doctorow

An artist feels vulnerable to begin with; and yet the only answer is to recklessly discard more armour. ~Eric Maisel

The word courage, as Rollo May reminds us in his book, The Courage to Create, is related to the French word, coeur, meaning “heart.” What I give my heart to, I commit to, I also fear to lose. This is one kind of creative fear, the kind Shakespeare described in these lines:

Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate,
That time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death, which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007) talks about another kind of creative fear: “For years I persuaded myself that it was hard to use my imagination. Not so. The only hard part in using it is the anxiety, the fear of being mediocre.” This fear of being mediocre is the one that manifests for me as paralysis before a blank page. So I try to remember that I have to write a lot of bad poems in order to write a good one.

Social courage, the ability to be open to new ways of thinking, is its own danger. Einstein said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”

And then there is the existential anxiety of nothingness. “To live in to the future means to leap into the unknown,” says May. Creative effort is encounter. “To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger” ~James Baldwin

May reminds us that if we do not engage the creative encounter, if we do not listen to our own creative impulses, we will have betrayed ourselves. Further, we will be depriving the human community of our unique contributions. Let us find the courage to create.


Mandalas

February 7, 2009

We will know what both the fullness and fulfillment of life mean only when the consciousness that the Spirit is our own very self comes to life within us. ~Paul Brunton, Perspectives

Be careful reading Carl Jung! As a result of delving into Memories, Dreams, Reflections, I became interested in mandalas. I found Creating Mandalas, by Susanne F. Fincher, and then of course I had to try my hand with my sketch book and colored pencils.

Thunderbird

Thunderbird

Within a circle of growth, I am emerging from a dark night with boldness and hope. I connect to the elements of earth, air, fire, and water. The sun is shining on me, but I also walk a dim labyrinth. Pushing up from my unconscious are the will to thrive and bloom, and greater understanding of and groundedness in the man-made world, society.

Well, that was so much fun, I had to draw another one!

And the day came when the risk it took to remain tightly closed in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom. ~Anais Nin

Flowering

Flowering

Dark seeds in my heart are dwarfed by healthy growth, the will to thrive. The path is winding, but I am flowering, bathed in light, moving outward from a solid heart center.

What will your mandalas reveal?


Love and Trust

February 5, 2009

One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others. ~Archibald Rutledge

For many years, I’ve believed that what hurts one member of the human family hurts us all, and what helps one person helps us all. It is logical, then, to rejoice when another is lifted up or otherwise graced with good fortune. I am learning that, like forgiveness, this practice is something that helps the giver at least as much as the recipient.

When we are jealous or resentful of others, I think we are coming from a scarcity mentality. In celebrating another’s fortune or success, we fear losing something ourselves, whereas embracing abundance (which leads to generosity) shifts our position dramatically. Gary Zukav, in his book, The Heart of the Soul, says that we release our energy into the world from either fear and doubt or from love and trust. It seems important to me to be intentional about staying on the side of love and trust as much as we can, opening our hearts to others.

How do you see it?


Making Meaning

December 22, 2008

It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard. ~May Sarton

I awoke (awakened?) at 3:30 with the images from this morning’s poem and had to get up and write. It was influenced by my reading of Dr. Eric Maisel’s book, The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression. Maisel contends that all creatives suffer depression, and that liberation from depression is possible by creating meaning, forcing our lives to mean. He offers a prescription, in fact, consisting of such things as nurturing self-support, opting to matter, braving anxiety.

Maisel acknowledges that there is a role for anti-depressant drugs, and that early trauma is often a contributor to depression. But he clearly believes that creative people are primarily depressed as a result of their need to make meaning of their lives.

I am just a little over halfway through with this book, but I have found it both fascinating and practical. For example, he offers a sort of mantra of self-soothing in the following passage: “You have to tell yourself, ‘I am the beauty in life’…You combat what shaming did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what criticism did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.’ You combat what a sterile environment did to you by whispering, ‘I am the beauty in life.'”

Meaningful creating seems to involve working soulfully, a path with heart. How do you create meaning?


Solitude, Silence, Spaces

December 13, 2008

Every kind of creative work demands solitude, and being alone, constructively alone, is a prerequisite for every phase of the creative process. ~Barbara Powell

Winter is a natural time for hibernation, re-creation of ourselves, inward exploration. After three days of being with others, I am relishing my Saturday morning solitude. Jung said, “Silence is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.” I can relate to that!

Yet how many of us take time to listen to ourselves, to retreat into silence and solitude as healing practices? It is very difficult in today’s world of instant and ever-present communication. Our environments have increasingly become loud, busy, cluttered palettes without the pauses that allow us to make meaning of them.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says,”Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.” In a world where there are few spaces and silences, I think we must protect that dreamy idleness Ueland calls moodling (more here); that percolation process Bonni Goldberg writes about in her book on writing, Beyond the Words.

How do you create spaces and silences that help you digest your experiences, that make room for creative response?


Lost Fathers

November 23, 2008

I believe in stories. The world has enough dogma. It’s stories we need more of, stories that reverence the still, small voice that sings our life. ~Sue Monk Kidd

Sometimes I am astonished by synchronicities and things that come to me when I need them. I’m not even sure how I heard about the book on writing by Laraine Herring that I loved so much and mentioned here. When I read it, I felt as though I had a new friend! And now that book has led me to another book by her, Lost Fathers: How Women Can Heal From Adolescent Father Loss. Today I read it in one sitting. (That’s not entirely true; I stopped between chapters to have lunch!)

I even began doing the writing exercises at the end of each chapter, the “re-storying” Herring suggests. I was doubtful that I would find anything new by writing about it, as I was pretty certain I’d been sufficiently over this ground. But I was wrong. I am looking at my experience from a new perspective, and so discovering new things. As Herring says, “Time shifts our stories.”

And so today I’m grateful for Laraine Herring and this book, for writing that helps me discover and connect with feelings, and for the opportunity to “re-story” my life in a way that is in alignment with who I am now.

If you think of your life as a storyline, how is the story different today than it was at other times in your life?


A Poet Must Write

November 12, 2008

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be. ~Abraham Maslow

So begins a terrific book on writing by Laraine Herring, Writing Begins With the Breath: Embodying Your Authentic Voice. I am definitely adding this one to my list of favorites (see Writers on Writing). Yesterday I shared it with Teresa, and we made a date to write together. Hooray!

After reading this book, it occurred to me that my nagging desire to go for a PhD might just be a result of my frustration about not writing. Hilda Downer said, “If someone thinks writers are crazy when they’re writing, he or she should see them when they’re not.”

Today, I am grateful for Teresa, for Laraine Herring, and for awakening once again to my desire to write.


We’re All In It Together

October 12, 2008

Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see? ~Bob Dylan

Tara Brach, in her powerful and important book, Radical Acceptance, says, “Our capacity to look away from the realness and suffering of others has horrendous consequences.” She contends that we look away because we are focused on the differences, holding tightly to our views of right and wrong, of self and other, of “good” and “bad” guys. “Once someone is an unreal other,” she continues, “we lose sight of how they hurt…All the enormous suffering of violence and war [and I would add poverty and hunger] comes from our basic failure to see that others are real.”

And it is not just for the “other” that we should care about economic injustice, but also for ourselves. The division of the world into haves and have-nots creates suffering and fear, not just in the poor, but in the rich. When it is possible for all to have enough, our having too much not only does not make us happy, it corrupts us at the core, creating in us fear of loss, suspicion of others, and greed for more.

How do we stop perpetuating this inequality? What can one person do? Here are some of my ideas:

1. Volunteer at or donate to a social service agency.
2. Get to know someone better who seems different from you in some way (socioeconomic status, disability, age, race, educational level). Learn to see them as real.
3. Live small. Conserve, recycle, and donate what you don’t really need. Expand your definition of what you don’t really need.
4. Educate yourself about economic disparity and its consequences. A good place to start is the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), and their Agenda for Shared Prosperity.
5. Practice opening your heart and widening your circle of compassion for others, and developing an abundance (rather than a scarcity) mentality.

We’re all in it together.


Interbeing

September 21, 2008

In one sheet of paper, we see everything else, the cloud, the forest, the logger. I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am. That is the meaning of the word ‘interbeing.’ We interare. ~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Being Peace

I have just read the book Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach. Before I read this wonderful book, I had a post by this title. I’m sure it was Brach’s book that was referenced by the authors I quoted in that earlier post. All that to say that this idea of radical acceptance is one that echoes for me as something I need to embrace.

Letting go of the idea of control allows us to better see and be receptive to the gifts that come to us. Brach says, “When we put down ideas of what life should be like, we are free to wholeheartedly say yes to our life as it is.” When I cease to struggle with the life I have, I see the beauty of the hills across the valley, feel the cool air of fall streaming in the window, hear the quiet on this Sunday morning, and know the peace of feeling safe and loved. Only when I can understand the great grace that has fallen on me can I feel true compassion for others. And that understanding is not with the head, but with the heart.

May I understand from the heart that we are all interconnected, worthy of grace, and responsible for each other. May I live my life as though I am no more or less than any other in the universe, and as though every breath I take ripples through all.

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.

~Thich Nhat Hanh


Simplify! 10 Tips

September 16, 2008

In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Does it seem to you as though everything is getting faster, more frenzied, and less personal? I am convinced that the frenetic pace and complexity of our modern lives detract from its quality. I want to remove unnecessary complications in my life, to single-task with focused attention, and to pace myself on a human time scale, with plenty of time for rest and reflection.

Suggestions for simplifying one’s life pop up everywhere these days. Here are a few of my own ideas. Note that I don’t come anywhere near practicing all of these, but they sound good! Perhaps I’ll adopt one at a time for the next several months.

1. Register at Catalog Choice and “opt out” of all the catalogs you no longer want to receive through the mail. This is something I actually have begun doing. It works like a charm, is good for the environment, and reduces the temptation to buy things you don’t need.

2. For every item you buy and bring into your house, move two items out. I confess I stole this excellent twist on the one-in, one-out idea from Leo over at Zen Habits, where you’ll find a myriad of organizational tips and ways to reduce clutter (as well as some very cool quotations!). Bought a new belt? Discard or donate two old belts or other accessories that you rarely wear.

3. Keep only one calendar for all activities (work, family, and leisure), and write everything in pencil. Make this a calendar you can carry with you at all times. If it will accommodate a to-do list, even better. That’s a good place for your list/log of activities. Keep your current address/telephone directory in your calendar also, and you’ll have it with you when you need it.

4. Buy greeting cards and even gifts ahead of time and keep them on hand, so there is no last-minute rush when you suddenly remember that a friend’s birthday is this week. I love pottery, and when I see something I like, instead of buying it for myself, I buy it to have in reserve when I need a gift for someone. I have the fun of buying it, but I’m not wondering what to do with it later!

5. Use your public library instead of buying the books you want to read. If you have the money and believe that buying the books is simpler (since you don’t have to remember to return them on time), donate them to the library after you’ve read them.

6. Develop a wardrobe of simple basics and invest in a few highlighting accessories to change your look. Gray is a good foundation color, and I don’t think you can go wrong with black and white, either. I read somewhere that Jamie Lee Curtis is wearing only black and white these days. Simple, huh?

7. Cancel your cable or satellite contract. We recently did this, and now use Netflix to get the movies and TV shows we particularly like. Not only are we no longer subjected to annoying commercials, we save a lot of time we used to spend channel surfing dozens of channels with nothing worth watching! Think you’d miss your local weather? Explore the National Weather Service, the Weather Channel, or your local TV channel online.

8. When you get gifts or chachkas you don’t want or need, see how quickly you can pass them on to others. Keep these potential giveaways in a special place and raid your stash as often as you can. People will love to see you coming with their latest “prizes!”

9. Be very, very selective about what you collect and choose to keep. I am getting better all the time at appreciating things without having to own them. How many shells do you really need from your beach trip? I have some shallow shelves above my desk where I keep a few (small) items that are meaningful to me. Otherwise, I try not to collect things (of course I can say this only if we don’t count books and music!).

10. Keep a “tangent journal.” This is an idea I (again, shamelessly) lifted from another of my favorite blogs, Write to Done. But it doesn’t have to apply just to writing. Use it for reminders to yourself, to capture great ideas you hear about, or to record interesting things you’d like to know more about. Or better yet, instead of creating another journal, use that to-do list in your calendar!

How have you simplified your life? What are your techniques for keeping your composure in this whirling dervish of a world?


Renewal

August 30, 2008

The wave always returns and always returns as a different wave. ~Marina Tsvetaeva

Jekyll Island, 2007

These words are from the Russian poet’s essay on lyric poetry. According to Tsvetaeva, renewal is the “pivot of lyricism.” Edward Hirsch writes about this idea here, and I love what he says about poetry causing us to “deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness.” Geez, no wonder I love poetry!

There’s something lovely and hopeful about this line. I’m reminded of new mornings that bring a fresh perspective, rain that clears the air. Today, I have practiced an old yoga routine, one that my body remembers from long ago–so long ago, in fact, that I practiced to a Richard Hittleman LP (that’s long-playing 33rpm record, for those who aren’t sure!). A returning wave, but a different one as well, rolling through this 54-year-old body.

Earlier today, I worked on my journal project. I am culling things I want to keep from old journals and destroying the rest. Things I want to keep are generally quotations (are you surprised?), ideas about writing, poems, titles of book I’ve read, and major events of my life. I am almost caught up to the present and can certainly say that renewal has been a theme. Although these journals may read over time like the same old same old (and are often quite boring!), I can see from a longer perspective and condensed view that each time I wrote about a returning wave, it was also a new wave. 

What does renewal mean to you?


Words That Sing

August 29, 2008

In journalism, there is no music that does not conform to truth; in poetry, no truth that does not conform to music. If you can’t find truth that makes music, you must change truth to make music. ~Judson Mitcham

I’m sure that is not an exact quote, but it is the gist of an idea I heard Mitcham express in a writer’s conference in 1996. He asked, “Where does the poem sing?” At the same conference, Mike Fournier asked us to consider how a poem would sound to someone who doesn’t speak English. He said the sound of a poem is what makes it memorable.

The two books I remember from my earliest reading days were a cloth book and a Disney book. The cloth book began, “How big are you baby, why don’t you know? You’re only so big, and there’s still room to grow.” The Mickey Mouse book began, “Bang, bang went the hammers, and zzzzz went the saws. A new house was being built.” I remember these lines because they were music. As were the Cautionary Verses of Hilaire Belloc I memorized and recited as a child. (“The chief defect of Henry King/was chewing little bits of string…”) Verses may not be poetry, but they can teach us about words that sing.

Charles Olson talked about the poem as syllable + line: The head, by way of the ear, to the syllable. The heart, by way of the breath, to the line. Makes perfect sense to me. I don’t know if this one sings, but here’s a poem from 2004.

Wildflowers

The ones we saw: violets in profusion,
dwarf crested iris, trillium,
the ubiquitous cinquefoil.

We stooped to see the brilliant red stamens
on the tiny star chickweed
and exclaimed at acres of mayapple
umbrellas all along the trail.

The ones we didn’t see–
pink lady’s slipper, mountain laurel,
and the majestic rhododendron–
will come in their own time.

And the ones we overlooked
will keep their secrets, while we
will go on planting our huge feet
one in front of the other until
we must lie down with our sisters
among the leaves.


Finding Flow

July 19, 2008

The real challenge, however, is to reduce entropy in one’s surroundings without increasing it in one’s consciousness. The Buddhists have a good piece of advice as to how this can be done: “Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.” ~from Finding Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

I finished reading Finding Flow* last night. It was very different from what I expected, but interesting! The subtitle is “The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life,” and the book reads more like a science-meets-religion treatise than a self-help book. In the end, I found myself thinking optimistically of the “new earth” that Eckhart Tolle talks about.

In Finding Flow, the author encourages us to engage mindfully, to take ownership of our actions, rather than spending our leisure in passive entertainment. This, he says, will create flow as well as increase happiness. I have certainly found this to be true in my experience. It’s easier to work a crossword puzzle than to stare down a blank page and write a poem, less effort to watch TV than to call a friend, but I know which of these feeds me and leads to greater happiness.

And again the idea of loving what is pops up–what Nietzsche called amor fati–“the love of fate.”  Csikszentmihalyi warns us that people can also learn to love what is destructive, so we must choose our goals wisely. Science has helped us to understand what promotes and sustains growth, life, and order, and to understand the uniqueness of each of us. He says “each one of us is responsible for our particular point in space and time in which our body and mind forms a link within the total network of existence.” Being virtuous (that is, acting to preserve order, taking into account the common good, the emotional well-being of others) is not the easy path, but the satisfying one, and connects one to the flow of all that was, is, and ever shall be.

*Finding Flow was previously mentioned here.


Blogsickness

July 2, 2008

There is nothing that can stop the Creative. If life is full of joy, joy feeds the creative process. If life is full of grief, grief feeds the creative process. ~Stephen Nachmanovitch, in Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts (p. 196)

Again I will say that this is one of my favorite books. The last chapter, from which the quote is taken, is called “Heartbreakthrough.” I love that idea, and in fact have been having visions of my heart breaking wide open. Although I must say, I have not been able to tell that my grief of recent days has fed the creative process. It must have (else from whence came visions?), but I’ve been “blogsick” at being unable to write here lately.

So I’m glad to be back at the keyboard today, talking to myself with a hope that someone kind is eavesdropping. Iris Dement in person last week, what can I say? Claudia said I was acting like it was Elvis, and I said, “Iris is my Elvis.” The enormous fun I had with friends brought my loneliness into sharp relief. Iris didn’t sing “Got No Time to Cry” but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Have you ever had a heartbreakthrough? I feel one coming on…


Vitality, Beauty, Community

March 19, 2008

The three components of human happiness are vitality, beauty, and a sheltering sense of community. We always start by relying on ourselves and looking for these three things in power, order, and fellowship as the world understands them. Failing to find them there, we eventually seek them in the only way that makes sense–in Being, which transforms, fulfills and brings us to new life.  ~Karlfried Graf Dürckheim, Zen and Us

I am so happy to find the source of this idea! For years, I have had it written down as “vitality, beauty, and a sheltering sense of community, rather than power, order, and fellowship,” without attribution. As I was rereading Dürckheim last night, there it was!

I love this book. Originally published in West Germany in 1961, it discusses what Zen has to offer the rational West. Dürckheim emphasizes that Zen is Being, is experience, and experience only. He says, “This doctrine is not a philosophical theory of being, and has nothing to do with metaphysical inquiry, but expresses an inner experience–the experience of Being, which we ourselves are, in our true nature.” I thought of Bill’s wonderful haiku in response to a recent post: reading about Zen, grasping it intellectually, is not Zen.

Anyway, the notion of “vitality, beauty, and a sheltering sense of community” as components of happiness seems right to me, and also the idea that they are often sought, but not to be found in the usual power, order, and fellowship that society offers. What do you think?


Riding the Currents

March 9, 2008

Victories won in an adversarial fashion come at a very high cost. These have led to the spiral of mutual hostility that we see acted out in Congress every day, where the last vestiges of partisanship and civility have virtually disappeared. ~Charles Halpern

Halpern, one of the country’s first public interest lawyers in the 1960s, has written a book, Making Waves and Riding the Currents: Activism and the Practice of Wisdom. I have just read about it in an interview with the author in the March issue of Shambhala Sun, and was reminded of my earlier post on Activism, as well as the one on New Ideas.

As to what’s wrong with the way activism has been practiced, Halpern says, “To go back to the early days of the environmental movement, there were ways we could have proceeded that were less polarizing. We could have been less self-righteous. I think of my own self-righteousness in my early days as a public interest lawyer, and it makes me cringe.”

He says, “Reagan became a symbol of a self-indulgent individualism, which is still a powerful force in this country. The idea that selfishness is a virtue, and generosity a kind of foolishness, received wide acceptance. That’s still a widely held point of view, reflected in the fact that we have enormous and growing inequality between the rich and the poor, that we’ve created a new Gilded Age.

We’re starting to see the prices of that attitude in environmental destruction, indifference to the plight of the poor, and idea that government is the enemy and taxes should only be cut, never raised. These are attitudes that activists have to work against, but they shouldn’t just be working to change corporate policy, or to get a new law adopted that will put, for example, stronger limitations on products sold to small children…they’ve also got to understand that these shifts in public policy are only possible, and ultimately, only effective, if they are attached to a shift in wisdom, and toward the values of community, mutuality, and interconnection.”

Good for Halpern! I look forward to reading the book.


Sweet Forgiveness

January 20, 2008

When you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life–not just to love, but to persist in love.  ~August, in The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd

Sweet forgiveness, dear God above
I say we all deserve
A taste of this kind of love
Someone who’ll hold our hand
And whisper: ‘I understand,
And I still love you.’
~Iris DeMent

Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand,  but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions, such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as joy and gratitude, which increase you.  ~Arabic proverb

I finally read The Secret Life of Bees, which has been on my reading list for some time now. It’s a good story, and I enjoyed the singular voice of the protagonist and narrator, Lily. I found the themes echoing around my head and heart afterwards–love, empathy, parenting, faith, acceptance, forgiveness.

Forgiveness is sweet on the receiving end, as Iris DeMent poignantly sings, but it is also one of those things that benefits the giver as much as (often more than) the receiver. There is nothing more stunting to our growth than holding a grudge, nursing a hurt, or keeping account of times we’ve been wronged. But so many are unable to “persist in love” in that way. And so we have war, and conflict, and separation from one another.

I think our ability to forgive others, as in Lily’s case, is in part dependent upon our ability to forgive ourselves. Setting high standards for ourselves gives us something to strive toward, but can be a trap for self-denial as well. I am getting better at forgiving myself for all the stupid, thoughtless, unkind, and self-destructive things I’ve done. I want to be completely free to forgive and feel compassion for all.

Do you give yourself the benefit of the doubt as often as you give it to others? Can you think about failures or mistakes you’ve made in the past without a trace of angst?


Editors’ Choice

January 13, 2008

The worst thing about reading new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.  ~Joseph Joubert

Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.  ~Kathleen Norris

I have spent nearly the whole afternoon getting the audio version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire into iTunes to put on my iPod–17 discs! (Thanks, Kay, for urging me to try Harry Potter.) I listen to a lot of audiobooks these days, what with my 72-mile commute 3 days a week and my frequent traveling around the state.

The Booklist Editors’ Choice was recently released for 2007. Here are the books I have chosen from the Adult Books list to add to my own reading list. See the Booklist site for the annotations.

Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson
Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo
The Gathering, by Anne Enright
The Maytrees, by Annie Dillard
On Chesil Beach, by Ian MacEwan
Strange as This Weather Has Been, by Ann Pancake
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

Wait! There’s not too much really fun stuff here. How about Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, by Jonathan Gould? Yes, that goes on my list, too!  Truth be told, there’s not much fun stuff on the editors’ choice list, either. I’m almost finished listening to Alan Alda’s Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself. For a serious guy, he can be pretty funny! The book is basically a compilation of addresses he’s given at various graduations, memorial services, and other occasions. But I have to say it’s better than I expected, and now I want to read Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.

What funny books have you read lately?


Fun

January 12, 2008

You see, I don’t believe that libraries should be drab places where people sit in silence, and that’s been the main reason for our policy of employing wild animals as librarians.  ~Monty Python 

Having just visited the delightful BookLust site, I am inspired and resolved to have more fun in my blog. Yes, I might actually give you (and myself) a break from my serious pondering, my search for enlightenment, and my “always do right” attitude! Won’t that be refreshing?

So here goes:
There once was a blogger who laughed,
(when she found a new blog that was daft)
“I can make this fun
and I will,” whereupon,
she created a whimsical draft.

Let’s get cracking!  What’s your favorite joke/riddle/pun/funny quotation/silly poem? I mentioned Cautionary Verses in an earlier post. While we’re on the subject of books, here’s a link to Sarah Byng, who could not read and was tossed into a thorny hedge by a bull. Enjoy!

P.S. You can see I just learned to embed links, so of course I had to show off and use 3 of them!  Isn’t learning fun, fun, fun?


Stories

January 11, 2008

It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.  ~Doris Lessing

Yesterday I read Doris Lessing’s acceptance speech for her Nobel Prize for Literature, from which this quote is excerpted. Children in Zimbabwe crave books and stories, while we take them for granted at best, and pass them over for the more immediately-stimulating, instantly-gratifying Internet. Lessing tells such a compelling story. You can read it here: http://books.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,331488257-110738,00.html.

Books are companions to the lonely, nourishment for the mind, engaging and satisfying, recreational and life-changing. Charles W. Eliot said, ” Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”

What are the books that have been transformative in your life?


Writers on Writing

January 2, 2008

Why should we all use our creative power and write or paint or play music, or whatever it tells us to do? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it. And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others?  ~Brenda Ueland

Intention endangers creation. ~William Stafford

To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating.  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

WORK. RELAX. DON’T THINK.  ~Ray Bradbury

In no particular order, here are my favorite books on writing:

*Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
*Writing the Australian Crawl and You Must Revise Your Life, by William Stafford
*Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
*Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind, by Natalie Goldberg
*On Writing, by Stephen King
*Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
*If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland

…and a couple of titles on the creative process: 

*Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts, by Stephen Nachmanovitch
*Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking, by David Bayles & Ted Orland

And when we start taking ourselves too seriously, there’s always Steven Wright: “I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.” (See Wright on Writing.)


Learning

November 13, 2007

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten. ~B. F. Skinner

I have read so many books I don’t remember well and can’t tell you the plot of. When I think back on much of what I’ve read, I am not sure now why I liked/didn’t like/was indifferent to a particular work. But I’ve always known in some deep place that I was different for having read it. That’s why I love Skinner’s quote–he just puts it right out there that we’re going to forget the details!

I’m glad to have a love of learning. There is so much joy to me in “stretching my mind” to accommodate something new. I am even fairly tolerant of formal education, which I think in many cases does as much to stifle curiosity and creativity as it does to nurture them. And I feel lucky that learning is something I can do throughout my life…unlike competitive gymnastics, for example!


Beauty

October 14, 2007

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.  ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I am reading You’ll Be Okay: My Life with Jack Kerouac, by Edie Kerouac-Parker, and Above the River: The Complete Poems of James Wright.  I am also listening to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on my commute.  I can’t imagine a life without books, a life without poets, a life without magic.  And though sometimes those wordly cares Goethe speaks of do nearly obliterate the sense of the beautiful, I always know deep down which is more important.  What do you do to retain and nourish that sense of the beautiful?