Focus on the Joy

October 16, 2011

For happiness one needs security, but joy can spring like a flower even from the cliffs of despair. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Years ago, I wrote a post called More Love, Less Fear. Today I say more joy, less fear. I think joy and love are intertwined and reciprocally generating. It occurred to me today that the way I overcame my feeling of being adrift after retirement had to do with focusing on joy rather than fear.

What is the security that Lindbergh talks about? I believe a basic physical safety, enough to eat, clean water, and community are the essentials for security. We can construct much more elaborate security needs when we come from a place of fear.

While I’m no Pollyanna, I do believe that most people hunger for true connection more than wealth and power. Many of them don’t understand the yearning and do bad things in the pursuit of security. What if they focused on what gave them joy?

What gives you joy? Can you pay more attention to that and less attention to the nagging fears that tell you to pursue greater security?


Angry and Afraid

April 4, 2010

I don’t want to live angry. I don’t want to live scared. ~John Mellencamp

My husband says the Democrats should be using “angry and afraid” to characterize right-wing Republicans (actually, that phrase seems redundant these days) every chance they get. Why don’t the Democrats wise up and learn to use the media and sound bites the way conservatives do? Anyway, I invited him to do a guest post on my blog, since he has a million wonderful and creative ideas and no good outlet for them, but he declined. So I’m sharing his idea anyway, hoping some of you will pick it up and run with it.

I’ve always loved these lines from that great song “Another Sunny Day” by John Mellencamp. They seem to me like good words to live by, and I agree with Robert Frost, who said, “There’s nothing I’m afraid of like scared people.”

Here’s a nice cover of the Mellencamp song.

What do you think?


More and Less

February 20, 2010

Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; love more, and all good things will be yours. ~Swedish proverb

Who could argue with that bit of wisdom? It got me thinking: What do I want less of? More of? Here’s my list. Hope you’ll share yours.

Eat less; move more.
Keep less; toss more.
Waste less time; write more.
Fret less; smile more.
Fear less; love more.
Sit less; walk more.
Acquire less; give more.
Look inward less; look outward more.
Work less; play more.
Ignore less; help more.
Complain less; express gratitude more.

What do YOU need less of? More of?


Why and Where is War?

January 19, 2010

Every war is against the world, and every war against the world is lost. ~Alice Walker

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

At the root of all war is fear. ~Thomas Merton

In a battle, the winners and the losers both lose. ~The Buddha

Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding. ~Albert Einstein

There is no way to peace; peace is the way.~A. J. Muste

If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Don’t throw anyone out of your heart. ~Neem Karoli Baba

We used to wonder where war lived, what it was that made it so vile. And now we realize that we know where it lives, that it is inside ourselves. ~Albert Camus

I have ordered a subscription to The Friend, the magazine of the Quakers. I am not a Quaker, but I deeply admire many of their beliefs and practices, not the least of which is their pacifism. I know that human conflict is complex, and that many have fought and even died for good causes. But I also know that it is important to speak out against war, to teach children how to be in community in spite of differences, to raise our voices against militarism. So today I offer the wisdom of those who have spoken much more eloquently than I ever could on this subject. Peace be with you.


More Love, Less Fear

December 6, 2009


On the deepest level, problems such as war and starvation are not solved by economics and politics alone. Their source is the prejudice and fear in the human heart—and their solution also lies in the human heart. What the world needs most is people who are less bound by prejudice. It needs more love, more generosity, more mercy, more openness. The root of human problems is not a lack of resources but comes from the misunderstanding, fear, and separateness that can be found in the hearts of people. ~Jack Kornfield, from Seeking the Heart of Wisdom: The Path of Insight Meditation

My friend Carol gets the credit for the title of today’s post. She once shared her aspiration for this succinctly-expressed way of relating to the world. While it may sound naive to some, I believe that this practice of loving will create a better world, as Kornfield suggests. I am only one, but still I am one! (This idea from Edward Everett Hale: “because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”)

I want to relentlessly love more and fear less in everything I do, trusting that it will make a difference in my own heart and soul and ultimately in the world, but knowing also that some will misunderstand, suspect, discount, or reject that love. Won’t you join me in this intention?


Competition

September 19, 2009

When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves. ~William A. Ward

Why then, are we so inclined to compete with one another? I believe competition with ourselves can spur us on to be our best, but competition with others I find fairly baffling. I’m sure I’m in the minority in this country, but I have actually struggled against feeling too competitive throughout my life. I see so much better results when people are cooperative and collaborative that I can’t imagine anyone choosing to be otherwise.

I think competition is related to a scarcity mentality, to fear. We seem to think that if someone else gets a share of the pie, it means less for us. We somehow believe that if we’re not on top, in front, most loved, we lose. I believe this attitude itself makes us lose–our human connections, our empathy, our ability to love ourselves and others unconditionally. Competition is at the root of envy.

In what situations do you feel most competitive with others? In traffic? With siblings? In your work life? How do you express it? Often, it’s not what we say and do but what we don’t say or do that indicates we are envious. What would happen if you focused on our shared abundance, on love rather than fear, on looking for and acknowledging the best in others?


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!


Surrender

May 3, 2009

The goal of life is living in agreement with nature. ~Zeno

Here is one take on the idea of “surrender.” As the opposite of giving up one’s true nature or conforming, we can surrender to the truth of who we are and find our right place in the universe. I believe that is what we all long for. It is a theme I return to again and again: Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Finding Flow; what David Whyte talks about in The Heart Aroused (The Soul at Work); and what Parker Palmer refers to as the integration of soul and role (An Undivided Life).

Surrender in this sense is not giving in, but giving up the illusion of control, letting go of the defenses we have built against our heart’s desires. Those defenses may stem from parental or societal expectations, fear of failure, fear of success, or myriad other things.

If you surrendered to your heart’s desire, what would you be doing? What would your life look like if you were in agreement with your true nature?


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.


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?


What About The Future?

December 21, 2008

The fact is that the future is made of the present. If you take care of the present to the best of your ability, you are doing everything you can to ensure a happy future. When you waste your energy in fear, stress, despair, and worry, you are spoiling both the present and the future. ~Thich Nhat Hanh, from The Art of Power

The right path to our future is the one that evolves naturally and easily from our present. Pushing the rope is counterproductive. This makes perfect sense to me, but it seems to be a lesson I have to be reminded of often, since I have such ingrained habits of fear, stress, despair, and worry!

Taking care of the present is all we can do, though. This moment is the only one we have in which to act. Thay says, “You have the right to plan your future, but you have to let go first and put your anchor down in the present.” OMG, did he say let go?! “We don’t really have to think a whole lot,” he continues. “If we are healthy, light, happy, and fresh, our thinking is creative.”

How are my thoughts about past or future getting in the way of being present? When do I find myself pushing the rope? May I strengthen my mindfulness muscles (and weaken those negative habits) by practicing every day. May I set my anchor in the present moment and trust that if I am taking care of the present, the future will take care of itself.


The Case Against Will

June 1, 2008

When you will, make a resolution, set your jaw, you are expressing an imaginative fear that you won’t do the thing. If you knew you would do the thing, you would smile happily and set about it. 

So you see, the imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.  ~Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write (Graywolf Press, 2007)

It is easy to see why Ueland’s work is a classic and hard to believe I have not read it until now. I know already that it will be one of those I will want to reread every couple of years, as I do other books of distilled wisdom (Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, for example).

As one who has struggled for years to will self-care, I could not agree more with Ueland’s case against will. The harder I try to force myself to eat right and exercise more, the fiercer the rebellious resistance becomes. (If I knew I would do it, I would just smile happily and set about it!) She shares what I find to be an interesting insight: “People who try to boss themselves always want (however kindly) to boss other people. They always think they know best and are so stern and resolute about it they are not very open to new and better ideas.” (God forbid.) Describing herself as “a fearful self-disciplinarian” who has learned a better way, she promotes “dreamy idleness” as a way of quietly letting in imaginative thoughts. 

The best news is that Ueland’s “moodling” is (for the most part) simply being in the present moment! She says, “…when I walk in a carefree way, without straining to get to my destination, then I am living in the present. And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.” She tells us that “…it is the way you are to feel when you are writing–happy, truthful, and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten.”

P. S. Did Ueland coin the word “moodling?” Merriam-Webster does not know it.


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.


Living in Process

April 1, 2008

Living in process is being open to insight and encounter. Creativity is becoming intensely absorbed in the process and giving it form.  ~Susan Smith

In creative endeavors, I have tried to remember that process is important, usually (always?) more important than product. But I don’t know that I’ve applied this principal consciously to living itself. At least this seems to me a new way of thinking about familiar ideas. What does it look like to live in process? Smith gives us some definition: being open to insight and encounter.

Cultivating openness seems a worthy goal. And I love the fact that the quote addresses openness both to intuition (self) and in relationship (other). If we think beyond subject-object dualism, this is one and the same, I suppose. An open heart is an open heart. And I long for a truly open heart.

It is fear that prevents the heart from opening fully to experience. Creative moments are so ecstatic because we flow, for a moment, in the stream of process, without fear. Because we open our hearts to the experience, surrendering the illusion of control. In that place, fear has no substance, no power.

When are you most open to insight and encounter? How can we expand those opportunities for living in process?


The Beauty We Love

February 20, 2008

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~Rumi

What a beautiful last line. It almost makes up for Rumi’s dissing of reading! 😉 And just look at that first line that describes the human condition–not one that’s special (“like every other day”) nor one that is unique to us as individuals (“we wake up”). The question Rumi begs here, of course, is “What is the beauty you love?” This poem is one answer for me.

Only in midlife have I begun to understand that this is the right question, much less to consider the answers to the question. As a child, I don’t remember having dreams about what I would be when I grew up. It didn’t occur to me to aspire to anything in particular, even though I came from a solidly middle-class household that valued education and achievement. Possibly this was true for many girls, whose socially acceptable options typically consisted of teacher, nurse, wife and mother. Most certainly, though, the question in my family would have had more to do with accomplishment as measured by society than with the beauty I loved. 

So…what is the beauty I love? Poetry, words, music, textural arts (fiber, glass, multimedia), laughter, yoga, living spaces with feng shui, human connection, singing. What is the beauty you love?