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?


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.”


Movement

January 5, 2010

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is…more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life and in change there is power. ~Alan Cohen

I have given notice at work, and will be leaving full-time employment at the end of March. I will work a couple of part-time months at a library system, then retire. This will give me more time to build and market my new consulting business, as well as attend to soul time.

If you’re interested in the growth and development of libraries and nonprofits, you can check out my Web site here and my business blog here. Go ahead–critique and comment!

During this period I will be vigilant about keeping my new business activity separate from salaried work time. Mindfulness will be especially important for me in the upcoming months, so that I am fully present in whichever sphere I am working. But I am starting to feel the energy and power of movement!

Will 2010 mean change in your life? What adventures await you?


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.


Meditation

August 9, 2009

036
Prayer is the voice of longing; it reaches outwards and inwards to unearth our ancient belonging. ~John O’Donohue

I can’t say that I’ve done what most people call prayer in decades. But I actually showed up on my cushion today. (Hooray!) Meditating reminded me of the beautiful string of black and white meditation beads that my friend Elaine made and gave to me a few years ago. I adapted a sort of litany to use with them, and I suppose this qualifies as prayer, really.

Centering (large center bead)
Breathe in and out several times, quieting body and mind

Warm-up (four small beads)
Let me open my mind and heart
To the place of quiet,
To the silent prayer for the healing of pain,
And the soft, gentle coming of love.

Naming (first medium bead)
Count the miracles and blessings in your life.

Breath (five small beads)
Breathing in,
I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is the only moment.

Listening (second medium bead)
Feeling what comes
Self-appraisal
Places that call for reconciliation and atonement

Breath (five small beads)

Letting Go (third medium bead)
Empty the mind

Breath (five small beads)

Loving (fourth medium bead)
Lift up those in pain or need

Cool-down (four small beads)
May the courage of the early morning’s dawning,
And the strength of the eternal hills,
And the peace of the evening’s ending,
And the love of god, be in my heart.


Writers Group

April 4, 2009

Writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like in anything else. ~Katherine Anne Porter

Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see. ~William Newton Clark

This week I stepped out in faith to read my work and be critiqued in a writers group. I am thrilled to be part of a creative community, and I hope it will result in greater inspiration and courage to confront the blank page, as well as a honing of my craft.

This encounter suggested to me that my confidence often lags behind my skill, and I have to wonder if I sometimes come across as having false humility. It is not approval that I want so much as to embrace a realistic view of my writing, to see more clearly what I want to say and how well I am communicating it. (For more reflections on approval, see Judgment.) I believe participating in this group will lead to greater clarity.

Today, I am grateful for the Stonepile Writers, for the creative process, for this blog, for all artists everywhere!


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.


Loving the World

January 9, 2009

There is only one heroism in the world: to see the world as it is, and to love it. ~Romaine Rolland

Acceptance is coming up for me again today. When I can see the world as it is, and can also see how it could be so much better, how do I accept what I can’t change, change what I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference? I believe it takes intention and attention.

That old serenity prayer really says it well! It’s a good way to remember my intentions. I want to accept the world just as it is, and still love it (like Richard Nixon, maybe–we luv you, cuz you need it*). I want to discern the places where I can make it better, and to have the courage to foster change. As Donna said in the comments to another post, “Sure, the world is perfect as it is–but it could be better.” I just love that!

So I want to turn my attention to the things I can change, the places where I can make a difference, and stop spinning my wheels in futile endeavors. I want to keep my eyes open to the truth of the world, and at the same time, open my heart to it as well.

How do you do this?

*from Steve Miller Number 5


What Brings You Alive

December 6, 2008

The antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest. ~Brother David Steindl-Rast, from David Whyte’s Midlife and the Great Unknown: Finding Courage and Clarity Through Poetry (audio CD)

They say ‘I’ and ‘I’ and they could mean anyone.~Rilke

David Whyte is one of my favorite poets and authors, and this is a wonderful work. According to Whyte, when we are weary of the world, it is because we are not tuned into the world, not finding what makes us come alive. We are acting out of self-necessity, living strategically, rather than honoring where our energies lie, what we have affection for. “The antidote to exhaustion is whole-heartedness,” says Steindl-Rast.

In this audio (which is excerpted from a longer audio series, Clear Mind, Wild Heart) Whyte advocates cultivating a relationship with the unknown, living in a place of spaciousness and possibility. As a person who has always been uncomfortable in uncertain and in-between places, this is a lesson I need to learn. To live with ambiguity, to clarify and celebrate the questions, to remain open to the conversation that wants to happen between myself and the world.

I believe the path to whole-heartedness is mindful attention to what feeds us, recognition of what we love, and the courage to follow our hearts. What brings you alive?


Challenge to Myself

November 7, 2008

It is not enough to find a purpose that unifies one’s goals; one must also carry through and meet its challenges…intent has to be translated into action…Few things are sadder than encountering a person who knows exactly what he should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do it. ~Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, from Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Commitment to healthy living has been a theme in several previous posts (Commitment, Focus, Healthy Habits, Health, Healthy Habits Redux), and I am returning to it today. I am so good at planning, but so often fall down in the follow-through. I’m banking on the fact that posting my intention here–once again–will help, as it gets more embarrassing each time I proclaim an intention and fail to live up to it!

There have been times in my life when healthy routines were habitual and I couldn’t imagine going a day without them, so I know I can get there again. This morning I discovered Growing Stronger, an online book that I hope will help me get motivated and stay with a fitness program long enough to get back into a positive cycle.  It is incremental, gentle (for older adults, after all!), and includes a 12-week workbook to chart progress.

So I hereby congratulate myself for being willing to get up, recommit, and start over. I know exactly what I should do, and the time has come to muster enough energy to do it! I ask for your expressions of support for my efforts–whether you wish to just whisper your encouragement to the universe, leave comments on this blog, or join me in my challenge.

Namaste, and with gratitude.


Woundedness

September 18, 2008

Don’t turn away. Keep your gaze on the bandaged place. That’s where the light enters you. ~Rumi

There are things in this life that hurt! The challenge of the wounded, I think, is in not identifying with woundedness, in being more than that. But when we avoid or repress the woundedness, we don’t heal properly. Recently, old repressed pain has been bubbling to the surface for me (see also these references to heartbreakthroughs). An image came to me this week of a wounded bird, trapped and panicky, in need of soothing. I want to open my heart and let the grief and pain pass through and away, but it is difficult work.

When I considered the image of the bird, two things came to mind: a ring I have worn for years, and a collection of spirit stones my friend Elaine made for me a long time ago. The ring came from the Southwest Indian Foundation and has a prominent thunderbird motif. The spirit stones Elaine chose for me, and the characteristics they represent, were the following: Otter-laughter; Spider-creativity; Bee-organization; Loon-solitude, singing; and Thunderbird-spirituality. Some Native Americans believed that the water animals were healers, the land animals protectors, and the air and sky creatures embodied spirituality and wisdom. I like the idea of protecting (bandaging) myself with creativity, and of healing with laughter (and perhaps solitude and singing, too)!

I have resisted the thunderbird, though. In fact, when the ring came in the mail, I was disappointed, since the catalog image was a ring with tiny pueblos in relief. On my ring, little sections of pueblos flank a large central bird. I knew each piece was hand-crafted and so a unique design, but I expected the ring to look more like the photo. I even asked if there was any possibility of exchanging it, but received no reply. Now I think it might have been meant for me. Perhaps my life journey is moving from wounded bird to powerful thunderbird, eh? For now, I’ll do my best to keep my gaze on the bandaged place where the light enters.


The Tyranny of Expectations

September 17, 2008

The unexpected will certainly happen, while the anticipated may never come. ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

…you cannot control the result of your actions. As painful as it is to admit, oftentimes you cannot even know if the results are truly positive or negative just because initially they appear to be one or the other. ~Phillip Moffitt, “The Tyranny of Expectations”

The title of Moffitt’s piece from Yoga Journal says it all. We can create a lot of suffering for ourselves with our desire for a particular outcome. Focusing on right effort is the key. Moffitt says, “The Buddha continually warned us not to be attached to any specific outcome, yet he also stressed the importance of making an effort and sacrifices, of living a life of moral discipline…The difference is in what you control. You have the power to choose your level of effort, you can learn from experience how to improve it and how to be balanced in what is skillful and what is not. But you cannot control the result of your actions.”

Part of this art, I think, is accepting and loving what is (including our imperfections in doing so). As Tolle reminds us (see Denial and Surrender), that doesn’t mean accepting the status quo, the whole situation, but rather embracing the present moment as it is. I am reminded today to turn my attention to right effort, to let go of expectations of results, and to rest in the present moment without dwelling on past or future.  

See also Expectations


Just Do It

September 15, 2008

The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. ~Annie Dillard

After two days of moping around the house and playing computer games, I am sick of myself! Today I will practice yoga, mindfulness meditation, and writing. I am trying to come up with a sign for my office with the sentiment, “Just Do It!” only using different words, so I am not reminded of an advertising slogan. I endlessly read about my passions–mindfulness, soulwork, writing, exercise, simplifying, poetry, yoga, creativity, meditation–rather than practicing them! It is (past) time to move from learning to doing, from watching to engaging.

Here it is appropriate to recall the famous lines that were probably from a translation of Faust by John Anster (more here), but were attributed to Goethe by Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray, “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

How do you move from intention to action? Hey, send me your suggestions for wording for my sign…


Faith

September 6, 2008

[Here I had the poem “Faith,” by David Whyte.]

I want to rail against faith, the way we arise, day after day, to face the brutal truth of the world. We wane and wither in the dark night of the soul, then in spite of ourselves, wax bathed in the light of encouragement.

May I continue to arise as the sun keeps coming up, as the moon rides the shadowy clouds to its fullness. May I take comfort in the words of Mignon McLaughlin: “The best work is done with the heart breaking, or overflowing.” May I find those slivers of light before the final darkness.


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.


Think Globally, Act Locally

July 5, 2008

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

It matters what we do, day in and day out, on the smallest scale. In fact, that is where it matters most. I have always had a bit of guilt that I was not more politically active on a grand scale. My introverted nature was a big factor, as was the personal work I needed to do, but also it was hard to know whether the “movements” of my day were really helping or further polarizing people (for more on this idea, see Activism and Riding the Currents).

Certainly the civil rights movement has made a difference, as has the struggle for women’s rights. But it is the decisions made by individuals back home, day by day, that are the proof.  And those actions stem from our thoughts and often require courage. As the Buddha says (from another previous post):

The thought manifests as the word;
the word manifests as the deed;
the deed develops into habit;
and habit hardens into character.

So watch the thought and its way with care,
and let it spring from love
born out of concern for all beings.
~the Buddha


Healthy Habits

May 17, 2008

Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.  ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is the weekend of the public declaration of my recommitment to taking good care of myself. Starting over. Again. I have just returned from a public library directors’ meeting, where I ate a pecan-studded brownie chock full of chocolate chips the size of Manhattan. Not to mention the wine, lasagna, key lime pie, and other assorted deadly comestibles I consumed during the trip. And of course no exercise beyond bending my elbow to eat all this great stuff.

Although I have started over many times in this attempt to take better care of myself, I now believe I can succeed in sustaining this effort. I have a better understanding of the reasons I indulge, I have more resources than ever to draw on, and I know firsthand the benefits of being fit. In addition, I understand–with my whole being, not just my brain–that health and fitness (like life) is the result of a series of moment-by-moment choices.

So, in order to hold myself accountable, I have set some goals. By the next public library directors’ meeting in September (seems as good a target as any), I will have lost 15 pounds, will be practicing yoga and meditation, and will be habitually exercising (at least 4 times a week).

How do you maintain healthy habits? Let’s support each other!


Life is Now

May 9, 2008

Forget about your life situation for a while and pay attention to your life.  ~Eckhart Tolle

I am rereading The Power of Now. I realized this time that while I agree with almost everything Tolle says, I am reluctant to experience it. His story of losing everything on the physical plane (relationships, home, job, socially defined identity) terrifies me, even though he reports being in a state of indescribable bliss at the time. How many of us can afford to go there, and would eventually come out on the other side as a famous spiritual teacher?

This resistance is identification with my mind, Tolle might say, which comes between me and myself, between me and others, between me and nature, between me and God. I can’t use thinking to experience Being. Tolle suggests focusing attention on the inner energy field of the body, that is, feeling the body from within. That, he says, puts us in touch with our emotions, which is a good place to start.

May I put aside past and future when they are not useful in the present moment. May I feel the body from within, be in touch with my emotions, and let go of my mind-identification. May I focus more on my life and not my life situation, which is illusory and exists in time, whereas my life is now and real. May I trust that the universe will hold me up as I find my true path.


Just Write It!

April 17, 2008

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark places where it leads.  ~Erica Jong

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.  ~Ray Bradbury

More writers on writing (there’s an earlier post by that title). Today I broke down and bought a Moleskine notebook at Barnes & Noble. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I have been lusting after one since I read this post at Put Things Off.

I want to write, to be drunk on writing, to be a writer (and NOT a writer-who-doesn’t-write). This blog is the closest I’ve come in years to having a consistent writing practice. Maybe I’ve been avoiding the dark places or the scary blank page or my own power. But, as with many situations in life, the best solution is to act with courage. To write.

so much depends
upon

a black Moleskine
journal

lined, with back
pocket

beside the blue
notecards.


Questions

March 11, 2008

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.  ~James Thurber

It’s not the answer that enlightens, but the question.  ~Eugene Ionesco

There are surely many more quotations on this theme! Rilke, in his Letters to a Young Poet, advises, “…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

And the point is, to live everything. Cease struggling against what is, worrying about what might be, regretting what has been. That is my intention, difficult as it sometimes is in practice. These quotes remind me, though, that engagement with the questions themselves gives my mind something to do. Clarifying, articulating, and posing those questions to myself might be the practice.

What do you think?


New Ideas

February 7, 2008

I can’t understand why people are frightened by new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.  ~John Cage

Without changing our patterns of thought, we will not be able to solve the problems that we created with our current patterns of thought.  ~Einstein

Sam and I watched Michael Moore’s “Sicko” last night. After he has shamed us in the U.S. for our refusal to offer universal health care, and shown us the secure (and healthier) people in Britain, France, and Canada, Moore asks, “Who are we?” Good question.

We need some new ideas. But beyond that, we need to reconnect to the values of democracy, and yes, true Christianity (not the mockery some have made it, in which doublespeak is rampant). Jesus was all about giving to those less fortunate and not amassing wealth. What has happened to the concept of raising all boats, of pulling together for the common good?

I am sick at heart from the cynicism, the greed, and the lack of real statesmanship that I see in the political arena at all levels. Selfishness and ambition has replaced leadership and public service it seems. And our system is constructed to support that. What decent person with genuine concern for all seeks public office anymore? I believe a will to power should disqualify a candidate! How do we reverse this tide?


Judgment

January 1, 2008

Positive judgment hurts less acutely than criticism, but it is judgment all the same and we are harmed by it in far more subtle ways. To seek approval is to have no resting place, no sanctuary.  ~Rachel Naomi Remen, from Kitchen Table Wisdom 

The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working.  ~Einstein

Remen begins her essay on this topic by asserting that “the life in us is diminished by judgment far more frequently than disease. Our own self-judgment or the judgment of other people can stifle our life force, its spontaneity and natural expression.” Amen! But she goes on to remind us that approval can make us just as uncertain of our true worth as criticism. How have I “performed” for approval, either from others or from myself? From the time I was barely reading and was prompted to recite selections from Cautionary Verses* for company, to my career accomplishments, I have to admit there have been many such times.

As Remen also points out, one of the joys of aging is the recognition that we are whole people, with the full range of human characteristics: “fear and courage, generosity and selfishness, vulnerability and strength.” What we consider our shortcomings sometimes turn out to be strengths, and vice versa. And I love these concluding lines of her chapter: “Things that I have hidden from others for years turn out to be the anchor and enrichment of my middle age. What a blessing it is to outlive your self-judgments and harvest  your failures.”

It seems to me there is little else to be said about the absolutely perfect antidote Einstein supplies. How has judgment affected your life? What have you learned from your pursuit of approval?

*Cautionary Verses, by Hilaire Belloc, is a collection of droll, satirical moralisms with titles such as “Matilda, who told lies and was burned to death” and “Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion.” These are two I can still recite, along with “Henry King, who chewed bits of string and was early cut off in dreadful agonies.” One of my favorite stories about Belloc is his chosen epitaph: “When I am dead, I hope it may be said: His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”


What Others Think

December 28, 2007

Enslavement to the opinions of others is the source of a great deal of duplicity in modern society. How often we discover our action to be prompted, not by the divine Center, but by what others may say or think. Sadly, we must confess that our experience is all too frequently characterized by endless attempts to justify what we do or fail to do.  ~Richard J. Foster

You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.  ~Olin Miller

How many of us were taught to consider first the appearance to others of our actions, rather than the rightness to ourselves? I have spent half a lifetime and a lot of therapy dollars unlearning that lesson, and still I catch myself sometimes justifying to others what I do or fail to do. Just look at my “About” page if you doubt me.

How liberating, though, to realize that I am my best counsel! Remaining open to the opinions and ideas of others, I strive to ultimately listen to my own voice, “divine Center” or conscience. There is a dearth of real courage in our society (as opposed to machismo/violence/aggression passed off for courage). I believe real courage requires us to be still, silent, reflective, and receptive–and these states are increasingly discouraged by modern lifestyles.

How do the opinions of others (real or imagined) shape your behavior, your thought, your deeds? What would change if you listened to your own wisdom?


Depression

October 21, 2007

Be melting snow. Wash yourself of yourself. ~Jalal Al-Din Rumi

There is no better advice for me today. I am bent on being dissatisfied, feeling sorry for myself, dwelling on what isn’t working. It’s time for yoga and meditation. For looking outside my own head. For dissolving, like melting snow.

Depression is so tempting! Familiar, safe, responsibility-free. Furthermore, it’s all about me! And yet a subtle shift in perspective can sometimes have the power to obliterate it. May I find the courage to act.


Power

October 7, 2007

When one does not know how to convince, one oppresses; in all power relations among governors and governed, as ability declines, usurpation increases.  ~Madame de Stael

The question is, on a national/world and on a personal/workplace level: How do we assist those in power in gaining ability–or failing that, how do we make sure that those who gain power are skillful? My observation is that most of the powerful people who lack skill also lack humility, have little self-awareness of the need to develop.

So it seems our most important task must be advancing those who do have ability, somehow renewing the respect for learning and wisdom, supporting those who lead and reach, even if they should fail. We need leaders with vision and courage, not just a will to power. And we need to give them room to be human beings, tolerating the imperfections we all have. Which is worse: Clinton and a little sexual misconduct, or Bush and the slaughtering of thousands of innocents?


Integrity of the Person

September 26, 2007

The image shaped by the beat writers is partial, but without it any sense of life in these post-atom bomb years is incomplete. The solution is not, as is often absurdly suggested, to add Bohemia to suburbia and divide by two, thus achieving a golden mean or a shabby compromise. The solution is to be where you are, what you are, with such persistence and courage as can be called to life. The best of the beat writers exemplify precisely that state of secular grace. In this world of shifting conflicts, the integrity of the person might not be enough, but without it, all else is lost.  ~from A Casebook on the Beat, ed. by Thomas Parkinson, 1961

Does anyone read the beat writers anymore? Are we so far from the “post-atom bomb years” that we have forgotten the context in which this paragraph makes sense? Of course I believe it all holds just as true today, and that without “the integrity of the person…all else is lost.”

Do you know any truly courageous people who are able to persist in being who they are and where they are? I want to hang on to those people for dear life! (not to mention be one of them as best I can)