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


Aging and Community

May 23, 2010

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life you will have been all of these. ~George Washington Carver

Today, my mother-in-law Edna is in the hospital having tests to confirm a suspected stroke. End-of-life issues are so difficult. How do we determine when to intervene medically and when to let the aged die peacefully? Just because we can prolong life, should we always, despite the suffering it may bring?

What about more community-oriented solutions? As do so many in her generation, Edna tried to stay in her own home and had to move to an institution when she could no longer do so. Moran and Rollins predict that the baby boomers will “transform traditional models of independent living” in this article. And the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging and Community has this as a philosophy: “The University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community is guided by the belief that it must move beyond the medical model in its approach to aging issues, viewing older adults holistically and acknowledging that they are community assets.” Amen.


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!


no one expects you to save the world

January 26, 2010

The headlines are begging for your help. Thousands needing homes, food.
But here, your own children, like inexpert stilt-walkers, flirt too often
with obstacles in the street. It’s no wonder you keep eyes glued
to them. The demands of love, or a job, the hard winter reining you in –
it takes all your muscle to keep your own life upright. And though you know
what you have is fortune compared to the great rift that earthquake left,
and the aftershocks continuing to destroy so much, somehow
that same fortune paralyzes, obstructs you with a heavy, gloomy guilt.
But no one expects you to save the world, no matter what you plan.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is to love everything we can.
~maya stein

I couldn’t possibly add anything, except thank you, thank you, maya, for your 10-line Tuesdays.


Mindful Management

September 25, 2009

tightrope

In October, I will be giving a one-hour presentation at the state library association conference on “Mindful Management.” I selected this topic because I wanted to learn what had been written about mindfulness as it pertains to management and leadership in organizations. I selected it because I want to practice more mindful management. And we all know that the best way to learn something is to have to teach it!

Here are some of the quotes and ideas I plan to share in this workshop:

Mindfulness is the process of deliberately paying attention to the present moment in a non-jundgmental way. ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
Michael Carroll, in his book, Awake at Work, encourages us to see things as they are, not as we would like them to be, to welcome whatever our work presents to us.

According to psychologist Ellen Langer, mindfulness is a habitual state of mind in which old schemes are continually reexamined and redefined…Mindfulness includes openness to multiple points of view, and a focus on process rather than outcome. ~Charles R. Schwenk
Dropping our identification with self, we can become open to others’ ways of seeing things.

Before you speak, it’s a good idea to ask yourself these questions: (1) is it true? (2) is it kind? (3) is it necessary? Will it improve the silence?

Power stress means subordinating everything to your own wants and needs. Compassion involves understanding others and acting to address their needs…For the leader feeling the effects of power stress, the place to start is by courageously asking a few basic questions: What am I doing here? What am I out to accomplish? Is this what I want in life? Am I being true to myself? Am I happy? ~Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee

STOP:
S top what you are doing.
T ake a conscious breath.
O bserve your bodily sensations.
P roceed with whatever you were doing.

Through purposeful, conscious direction of our attention, we are able to see things that might normally pass right by us, giving us access to deeper insight, wisdom and choices. ~Boyatzis and McKee

By working on ourselves, by coming to know ourselves better, and then by sharing our growing strength with others, we create a base of support that helps to make our lives, and the world, a better place to be. ~Tarthang Tulku

Have you ever had a manager you would consider to be mindful? What are your thoughts on mindful management?


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!


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.


World Community

December 27, 2008

Today the planet is the only proper “in group.” Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. ~Joseph Campbell*

The election results have had a significant effect on my outlook. I am almost tempted get that bumper sticker that says “Proud to Be An American.” But I won’t, because I don’t believe there’s any virtue in nationalism, as we are world citizens living on the earth interdependently.

Campbell’s words help me reconcile the enormous suffering in the world with our responsibility to live fully and joyfully. Carrying the weight of that suffering doesn’t help anyone. As Dorothy Day said, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

May we live more joyfully at the same time we open to the world’s suffering with our compassion. Awake and joyful living will show us the path to our right work for the welfare of all.

*Today’s quote comes from the Word for the Day at gratefulness.org.


Kindness

October 19, 2008

Is there a greater miracle than to see through another’s eyes, even for an instant? ~Thoreau

Read the wonderful poem, “Kindness,” by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Compassion and kindness, I believe, spring from a greater understanding of others. I am struggling this week to feel compassionate and kind toward those whose values, so different from my own, are leading them into actions that seem to me to be producing bad karma. I want to suspend that judgment and open to understanding. I want to create spaciousness in my heart, to breathe in their suffering and breathe out peace and light.

I am blessed beyond measure. I cannot help but smile and give thanks. May I remember that all beings want to be happy and free from suffering. May I learn and practice the “tender gravity of kindness.”


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.


Love and Creativity

July 12, 2008

For I know that the energy of the creative impulse comes from love and all its manifestations–admiration, compassion, glowing respect, gratitude, praise, compassion, tenderness, adoration, enthusiasm. ~Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, Graywolf Press, 2007)

How vain it is to sit down and write when you have not stood up to live. ~Thoreau

Two of the poems I submitted recently (see Submission), “Easter” and “White Pine Cabin,” will be published in the anthology at Kennesaw State University (Poetry of the Golden Generation, volume IV)! I think Ueland was on to something, because both of these were written from love and its manifestations, and I do believe that all my poems are from that place, regardless of their subjects.

Today I want to be grateful, loving, compassionate. I want to recover enthusiasm, so noticeably absent lately. Perhaps instead of sitting down to write, I need to stand up to live.


Anger

May 12, 2008

If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist.

When you get angry, go back to yourself, and take very good care of your anger…Most of us don’t do that. We want to follow the other person in order to punish him or her.
~Thich Nhat Hanh, from Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

This morning I realized that I hold a great deal of anger in my body. While I have had this thought many times, I have rarely felt it so clearly in my body. So I returned to Thich Nhat Hanh, whose wise advice on anger has been seeping in slowly since I read this book a few years ago. He likens anger to a baby who needs holding:

When the mother embraces her baby, her energy penetrates him and soothes him. This is exactly what you have to learn to do when anger begins to surface. You have to abandon everything that you are doing, because your most important task is to go back to yourself and take care of your baby, your anger.

As practitioners…we hold our baby of anger in mindfulness so that we get relief. We continue the practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking, as a lullaby for our anger. The energy of mindfulness penetrates into the energy of anger, exactly like the energy of the mother penetrates into the energy of the baby.

When we begin to cultivate the energy of mindfulness, the first insight we have is that the main cause of our suffering, of our misery, is not the other person–it is the seed of anger in us.

And because you have not practiced the methods for taking good care of your anger, the seed of anger has been watered too often in the past.

May I be mindful enough to recognize anger when it arises. May I remember to go home to myself and take care of that anger, rather than water the seeds of the anger. May I then have compassion for those who may seem to be the cause of my anger, but who may be in reality suffering.


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?


Gratitude

November 17, 2007

…food reveals our connection with the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth….We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness.  Having the opportunity to sit with our family and friends and enjoy wonderful food is something precious, something not everyone has. Many people in the world are hungry. When I hold a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I know that I am fortunate, and I feel compassion for all those who have no food to eat and are without friends or family….Mindful eating can cultivate seeds of compassion and understanding that will strengthen us to do something to help hungry and lonely people be nourished.  ~Thich Nhat Hanh, in Peace is Every Step

In this season of Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the kindnesses I have encountered along my life’s journey, the countless advantages I have taken for granted, and the sweetness of life as I experience it. Gratitude is (in part) being more aware of what you have than what you don’t have. Gratitude as a practice can remind us daily of the impermanence of life and the perfection of the present moment. Gratitude “cultivates seeds of compassion” for those who are suffering.


Bumper Sticker Wisdom

August 26, 2007

Live simply. Give generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.  ~from a bumper sticker (thanks to nonprofit consultant Illene Roggensack)

I particularly like the “give generously” part. I find that generosity serves me well. (Is that a contradiction?) Here’s how: approaching life from a mindset of abundance, rather than scarcity, not only makes me feel richer, but helps me see the goodness in others. So many of us on this earth are wounded, act out of woundedness, see the world as hostile–or at best, something to be struggled against and overcome. Acting generously, I can give first to the other, and often reciprocity follows. Giving first is giving up nothing.


Lies

August 15, 2007

If we were consciously aware of what we really know about ourselves and others, we could not go on living as we do, accepting so many lies. ~Erich Fromm, from To Have or To Be?

There are so many things we are unaware of, and must be, to live in the world.  If I consciously attended to the news about our president’s war, deeply felt the planet’s anguish, held those in distress close to my heart, how could I happily eat the carrot salad I had for dinner, or drive 75 miles one way to work?  I am drawn to expanding my heart and practicing compassion, and at the same time terrified of letting in what hurts.