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?


Retirement

August 25, 2013

When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people. ~Abraham Heschel

I have been retired from my day-job for three years, but I have officially retired from the consulting business now. I expect to take down my business website by the end of this year. It’s curious to me that once again, I return to this blog to mark a passage.

Thankfully, I am engaged in volunteer pursuits that keep me busy (enough). I am contest chair for the fall contests sponsored by the Georgia Poetry Society, I am treasurer-elect for the local Literacy Coalition, and I am volunteering in the Unitarian Universalist Church office (as well as singing in the choir). Soon I will go to the John C. Campbell Folk School for a week-long writing workshop, which I hope will inspire me to resume my writing practice.

“Retire” sounds like “retread” to me. And there is something to that image: a whole new out-look, more traction (less dis-traction), getting a better grip on things, even when it’s raining. (And it’s certainly done a lot of that here this summer!)

Age brings the blessings of greater understanding and wider perspective. Even as the body is deteriorating, the soul is expanding. I am grateful for soul-expansion!


Leaving Librarianship

July 24, 2012

For nearly 30 years, I have been working as a public librarian. Even when I “retired” in 2010, it was to do consulting and teaching in the field. I have now come to a place in my life where I want to make a space for something new. I don’t know what that something is right now. There is a certain amount of angst associated with jumping off the path and into the void. Where will I land?

Below are some words I am drawn to at the moment. As one who is typically mad for closure, it is difficult to rest in uncertainty, to not pick a new path right away. The challenge is to remain receptive in order to hear my soul speak. I am grateful for the luxury of choices.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~Joseph Campbell

The end of one turn of the spiral becomes the beginning of another…we are designed for possibility. ~Gabrielle Rico

There is only one success—to spend your life in your own way. ~Christopher Morley

Where there is a path it is someone else’s way. ~Joseph Campbell

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~Howard Thurman

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined. ~Henry David Thoreau

Trust yourself, then you will know how to live. ~Goethe


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?


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?


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.


The Year in Review

December 31, 2009

If what I say resonates with you, it is merely because we are both branches on the same tree. ~William Butler Yeats

At the end of the year, it seems fitting to review 2009 in at least three ways: (1) rereading this blog, testament to my passages this year; (2) going through my gratitude journal for the last year, and noting the “gratitude intentions,” that is, things I have wanted to be grateful for in future; and (3) considering the list of questions in the Year End Ritual described in The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka.

The Year End Ritual questions reveal my intention to move toward greater acceptance, connection, and egolessness. My summary aspiration statement is this: I will radiate love, acceptance, and gratitude from my authentic center into the world. (This shouldn’t take long, hahaha!)

Here are the themes from my gratitude aspirations during 2009: equanimity for both my husband and me as we move through family illnesses and deaths * robust health and vitality * practice (yoga, meditation, healthy eating, mindfulness) * a sheltering sense of community, warm friendships * letting go, acceptance, non-attachment * writing and other creative pursuits * love, compassion, and an open heart * right livelihood, meaningful work, being in tune with my calling * honoring my commitments to myself * opportunity to contribute to a better world * confidence, poise, and groundedness * more play, fun, lightness of being

And finally, here are selected blog posts from 2009, the “Cliff Notes” version of the year!

Generativity, February 9
Finding one’s true path is important for the world, as well as for the self.

Painting Myself, February 28
On the changing nature of autobiography over time

An Undivided Life, March 14
Discovering Parker J. Palmer and healing separation from self

Flowing Water, April 6
Surrender to the channel in which one’s life flows

Spiraling, May 1
Life is a spiral; each day we learn its lessons in a new way.

In Praise of Slowness, May 4
Basking in our lives instead of running in and from them–see also Moodling Day, August 2 and The Myth of Multitasking, October 25

Gifts, May 5
What’s easy for us might just be what we need to be doing.

Happiness and Belonging, August 10, an expansion of Thread, January 20
We are everything and nothing.

This is My Real Life, August 15
Transforming and softening our will into willingness

Groupthink, August 29
The antidote–laughter!

Goals Are Not Intentions, November 21
Read this before you make any New Years resolutions.

Wishing you all a joyous, mindful, creative, accepting, poetic, authentic year full of learning, laughter, love, and gratitude!


Free Stuff

December 27, 2009

All that is really useful to us can be bought for little money; it is only the superfluous that is put up for sale at a high price. All that is really beautiful…is offered us as a gift by the immortal gods. We are allowed to watch the sun rise and set, the clouds sailing along in the sky, the forests and the fields, the glorious sea, all without spending a penny. The birds sing to us for nothing, the wild flowers we may pick as we are walking along by the roadside. There is no entrance fee to the starlit hall of the Night. ~Axel Munthe

We have just come through a season of gift-giving, of consumption, of overextension for some that will cause unease in future. I wonder if we might have more meaningful holidays if we paid more attention to the simple joys of living, and less to the shopping, wrapping, and fretting about who gets what.

Sam and I stood on the deck last night and watched the sunset, brilliant fiery orange behind bare tree limbs in the West, and pastel pink streaked across a gorgeous grey-blue sky in the East. This was definitely a highlight of the holiday for me, in addition to the relaxing time off for quiet and reflection. I am grateful for these gifts.


Gratefulness

November 28, 2009


Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

I shared some favorite quotations on gratitude here. To those I add the following:

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. ~William Arthur Ward

I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our dispositions and not on our circumstances. ~Martha Washington

When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed. ~Maya Angelou

I believe gratitude breeds generosity and is an important element of happiness. Do you have a favorite quote that reminds you to be grateful?


Favorites on Gratitude

August 28, 2009

For some time now, I have been writing in a gratitude journal (thanks, Claudia). I also subscribe to daily quotes on gratitude from gratefulness.org. Here are some of my favorites.

As I express my gratitude, I become more deeply aware of it. And the greater my awareness, the greater my need to express it. What happens here is a spiraling ascent, a process of growth in ever expanding circles around a steady center. ~David Steindl-Rast

Recipients of our appreciation are apt to express their own gratitude to others, lengthening the unending, golden chain of connections-in-goodness that stretches across the world. ~Mary Ford Grabowsky

No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. ~Elie Wiesel

Gratitude is so close to the bone of life, pure and true, that it instantly stops the rational mind, and all its planning and plotting. ~Regina Sara Ryan

The more alert we become to the blessing that flows into us through everything we touch, the more our own touch will bring blessing. ~David Steindl-Rast

The day I acquired the habit of consciously pronouncing the words “thank you”, I felt I had gained possession of a magic wand capable of transforming everything. ~Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov

There’s a self-expansive aspect of gratitude. Very possibly it’s a little-known law of nature: the more gratitude you have, the more you have to be grateful for. ~Elaine St. James

Today, I am grateful for the gentle rain, the ability to work from home, the grant our agency was just awarded that will provide 45 scholarships for students to get a Master’s Degree in Library Science, the healthy lunch my husband made for me, my yoga practice, a weekend (without pressing obligations) stretching before me, and the beautiful place in which I live.

What are you grateful for today?


Rebirth

June 21, 2009

…human beings are not born once and for all the day their mothers give birth to them…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves. ~Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’m not sure it would be possible to count all the rebirths in my life, but I am grateful for most of them at least. There is something wonderful about new chances to move closer to what you aspire to be. I am now in the process of birthing a consulting business, which I plan to nurture slowly until retirement and bring into fuller flower (to mix the metaphor!) once I have retired. I hope this will give me the opportunity to share with others the benefit of my experience and learning over the years of my career.

In any event, I will no doubt continue to pursue learning, as it is my passion! And when we are learning, a myriad of possibilities present themselves. I hope to be reborn again and again before I have to leave this world.

Take note of the rebirths in your life. Are you moving always closer to the person you wish to be in the world?


From the Archives: June

May 29, 2009

lightning
I’m not afraid of storms for I’m learning how to sail my ship. ~Louisa May Alcott

As I review last June’s posts, I am struck by how few there are (five) compared to other months. And this month, only four. Hmmm, maybe this is the “off-season” for blogging for me! I do want to spend more time outside for sure. But here are three of my teachers from last year.

The Case Against Will helps me remember that only what I want to do, I will do. No “should-ing” will help me get there.

Graces enumerates a few of my abundant blessings, from The Shambhala Sun to music.

Attention! is another of my frequent reminders to myself not to squander my life away, but to be fully present for its unfolding.

What have you learned lately?


Beauty Seen

April 25, 2009

Beauty seen makes the one who sees it more beautiful. ~David Steindl-Rast

Who Is Seeing

A dark cloud streak
topped by silver-white brilliance
hovers above
the pink-orange corona
of the rising sun.

I have been tugged awake
inexplicably,
called to beauty
by the part of me
that is sunrise,
or the part of sunrise
that is me.


Love and Kindness

April 12, 2009

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. ~Aesop

The important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love. ~St. Teresa of Avila

Today we visit my mother-in-law in the nursing home. She will know who we are, but she won’t remember we’ve been there. Still, she loves the hot tea Sam brings her and enjoys the attention while we’re there. So it is important to go.

Today, I want to focus on the kindness, the connection, the beauty of this sunny Easter day, and not the aging and end-of-life ruminations that usually take me over when we visit. I want to be mindful of each moment for what it is, and leave the thinking out of the experience. This is difficult for someone who has spent her entire life relying on “figuring things out” with her brain in order to survive and thrive.

I am grateful for growing into more love, less thought. I am grateful for another day in which to practice mindfulness, kindness, love. Namaste.


Moonlit Morning

April 10, 2009

Something precious is lost if we rush headlong into the details of life without pausing for a moment to pay homage to the mystery of life and the gift of another day. ~Kent Nerbern

Only Moment

Moon floods the morning kitchen,
trumps even the coffeepot
for my attention.
I am drawn onto the deck
to stand in the stillness,
the only sound a soft purr
from the cat on the rail
rubbing herself against my winter robe–
not even a meow of greeting.
My headache gives way to wonder:
clouds racing through the constellations.
The only moment of its kind, I think
as I move on
to poems, coffee, books.


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!


Living Still

March 24, 2009

Living still, I presume? ~from a greeting card, showing explorer in pith helmet peering through jungle growth (get it?)

This may be the longest interval without posts since this blog began nearly two years ago, so I thought I would say that I am still here and still thinking, reading and writing.

My library haul just for today includes another Parker J. Palmer book (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation); The Retirement Challenge: Will You Sink or Swim? (I intend to swim, thank you very much!); Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life by Gail Blanke (in honor of spring); The Simple Living Guide, by Janet Luhrs; Not So Big Remodeling, by Sarah Susanka; and the audiobook The Plague of Doves, by one of my favorite fiction authors, Louise Erdrich.

I am so grateful for libraries, books, and writers! What are you reading?


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.


Happy Wise

March 8, 2009

Be happy. It’s one way of being wise. ~Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

Thanks to Pat Wagner for this quote and the lovely photo of her bathtub full of catnip that accompanies it on her post card. In times of depression, of course, the exhortation to be happy can be a mockery. But I like the implication that for most of us, most of the time, if we have a few tools and techniques at our disposal, happiness is a choice, and a wise one.

This must be true, if we take into account the many who are in suffering and need much greater than our own, but are still able to maintain this state. Consider this quote: “Don’t be concerned about being disloyal to your pain by being joyous.” ~Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Here are some of the ways I encourage myself to be happy:
practice yoga
go outdoors, especially in the sunshine
pet my cat
make love
learn something new
keep a gratitude journal
share with others in a variety of ways
visit with close friends
blog
keep track of the good things I do for myself each day
read
write poetry
make a donation to a cause I believe in
meditate
draw
organize and simplify
crochet or knit
smile

What are the ways you practice being happy?


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.


The Inner Voice

December 20, 2008

The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside. Only he who listens can speak. ~Dag Hammarskjold

Success has always come relatively easy for me. I was a good student, never had difficulty finding a good job, have generally gotten along well with others, had some lucky breaks, and accomplished some things of which I am proud. But for the last couple of years, I seem to have gotten in my own way. I have found myself less effective in the outer world, and I think it is in part because my inner world was demanding to be heard.

In a more nurturing society, at least the beginnings of this process might have taken place early in my life and been my “vision quest” or “walkabout.” In our culture, I believe this process is often postponed by our focus on external success, and I think many never get there. So while I sometimes feel developmentally delayed, I also feel fortunate to be called by this inner voice now.

None of this is to say that I have not always tried to act from integrity, to better understand and define my values, to be guided by inner wisdom. But the voice is now more insistent, and is becoming clearer, for which I am grateful. Time shifts our stories. Not only is it not possible to step in the same river twice, but we cannot put the same toe in the river twice. Life is a spiral.

Has your inner voice ever had to shout for your attention?


Engage

December 19, 2008

How long will you keep pounding on an open door, begging for someone to open it? ~Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya

What a great reminder that (as my friend Shirley used to say) “I have everything I need to be happy here and now.” Don’t we all sometimes just want to be rescued? How tempting it can be to be the damsel in distress, the victim, waiting for the white knight (read: lover, father, boss, president, savior) to come along. It is seductive to feel absolved of responsibility for our own lives. But in the process we are turning our power (and our joy) over to others.

How much more satisfying to engage in our lives, be mindful, celebrate all that is–the universe in its infinite wisdom; our friends, relations, and coworkers who are who they are; our life situation, which is no doubt perfect for the lessons we need to learn. Who are we, after all, to question the design of goddess/nature/god/spirit/life?

Yesterday I had a moment of profound gratitude for life, for breath, for the world just as it is. Today, I bow to the mystery and to you. Namaste.


Sadness

December 1, 2008

For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness? ~John Steinbeck

A profound sadness envelops me this morning as snow falls outside my window. As usual, I want to distract myself, to banish it. But I am trying to just be with it instead, to notice its character, to write about it.

I know that this sadness is from several sources: lifetime accumulation; visiting sick relatives and gravesites over the Thanksgiving holiday; awareness of my own aging and mortality; too much isolation. And in spite of the fact that the holiday season has never been my favorite time of year, I am grieving the fact that it will never again be what it has been for over 30 years.

Thankfully, I also know this sadness will pass, and that joy is just around the corner. I know that soon I will recreate the holiday season, accept the impermanence of life, and move forward into health and wholeness. But today I honor the sadness that is part of life, the grief that change can bring. Today I sit in solidarity with those who are sad.


Thank You

November 24, 2008

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you,’ it will be enough. ~Meister Eckhart

My friend Claudia gave me a gratitude journal for my birthday. Although for a while I had a gratitude practice with an e-mail buddy, I wasn’t sure I would use the journal. There’s something inhibiting about writing on a bound blank page…But I tried it, and now I am hooked!

I like the design because each double-page spread has a place for “gratitude now” on the left, and “gratitude intentions” on the right. I am writing about things I wish to see on the right side, as though they have already happened. For example, right after the presidential election I wrote, “I am grateful for living in a country that is once again a model of peace, democracy, and the best in human relationships.” When I was thankful that my missing cat had come home, she did. When I was thankful that my mother-in-law had come to accept her life in the nursing home, she had. So although I’m not sure I completely believe in this magic, there is something about articulating what we want that seems to have power.

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful to have this gratitude journal that prompts me to write about all the large and small blessings and joys in my life, and to visualize the good that can be. For what will you say “thank you” this holiday season? Don’t forget to also state your gratitude intentions!


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.


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.


Senior

October 26, 2008

How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? ~Satchel Paige

Today I turned 55. Officially senior by many definitions. I’ve always welcomed getting older, because it has brought equanimity and a better understanding of myself and others. But somehow this birthday makes me feel as though time is running out. For one thing, I still don’t have a consistent exercise and meditation practice after decades of trying. If not now, when?

When I contemplate Satchel Paige’s profound question, I’m concerned that I would feel older than I am in years! Yikes!!! Maybe it’s just been a hard year, or maybe my bad habits are just catching up with me. I want to think of 55 as my health watershed, to get younger by taking better care of myself.

So I am promising myself during the upcoming year to do these ten things:
1. slow down and pay attention
2. remember to take deep breaths
3. remain curious
4. practice gratitude
5. observe my experiences rather than trying to control or judge them
6. minimize sugar, alcohol and bad fats in my diet
7. do yoga as much as I can
8. get outside more
9. notice what feeds me, find flow
10. be gentle with myself

Learning has always been important to me also, and I believe it’s an age-busting practice. I didn’t list it, because it is already so much a part of me that I would have to try NOT to learn!

What are the things that make you younger?


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.”


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


Rain

September 9, 2008

Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.  ~Bob Dylan

We have had lovely rain today, and this time not because of any tropical storms threatening others. There is something about rain, this gentle kind of rain, that is soothing and beautiful. Mist hangs between the hills, and things are still and quiet now except for an occasional rumble of thunder. The trees and plants are rejoicing, and there will be more grass to mow this year. I am grateful for this rain.

How often have I thought of rain as that inconvenience that makes me wet, that I don’t like to drive in, that ruins an outing? More times than I’d care to remember. I want a rhythm in my life that allows for being with rain. I think it would be heaven to awaken each morning and tune in to what the day will bring, adjusting one’s activities accordingly, rather than forcing our artificial routines on the day.

There is so much beauty in the sound of rain, as much as in the sound of poetry to me. Gentle or torrential, on the grass or a tin roof, rain can have a mesmerizing, meditative effect. May I listen to, feel, and be with the rain as often and completely as I can.


Deeper and Wider

August 19, 2008

You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth. ~Shira Tehrani

I have been considering death and dying a lot lately, as death’s shadow falls on members of my family. Of course, mortality and the knowledge of our mortality are conditions with which we all have to contend. As a young person, I remember thinking I had some sort of “edge” on understanding it because of losing a parent at 14. But midlife brings a new level, a new way, of understanding. Life is a spiral, after all.

Given that the length of my life is an unknown, I am cheered to think about having at least some measure of influence over the “width and breadth” of my existence. Learning every day is one of the most important ways I sustain myself and engage with the world. Writing is one way of learning, as I write into understanding, not from it. Today I am profoundly grateful for learning, for writing, and for you, the imagined reader.

Namaste. (All that is best and highest in me greets and honors all that is best and highest in you.)


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.


Graces

June 15, 2008

It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop.  ~Vita Sackville-West

Life has been slipping by these past few days, with work-related travel, oppressive heat, visiting relatives who are not well, and general malaise. But I’m told there is at least one person who misses these blog entries when I don’t do them (besides me). So Janice, this one’s for us!

I’m behind in reading my Shambala Sun issues, so I took a half-finished copy with me on my recent trip to south Georgia. I was struck once again by how much I enjoy that magazine! I’m not sure I even consider myself a Buddhist, (although it’s probably the organized system for which I feel the most affinity), but there are always authors and articles within the Sun that inspire and teach me. So it is one thing I am grateful for today.

Another is the steadfast love of my husband waiting to greet me from my travels. There is language that enriches my life immeasurably. True friends who teach me something about the impact of my presence on earth and who want only the best for me. Yoga that helps me focus my attention on my body. Music, always music, that has the magical ability to lift my spirits and my spirit. Of course there are too many things to list here; these are just a few that grace my life.

What comes to mind when you consider life’s blessings? How does it change from day to day, month to month, year to year?


Radical Acceptance

May 3, 2008

Radical acceptance can keep us from becoming progressively constricted and diminished in the face of painful experiences.  ~from The Mindful Way Through Depression, by Williams, Teasdale, Segal & Kabat-Zinn

You may note that I have changed the tagline of this blog to “words that illuminate the path to understanding.” Still way too many syllables for my taste, but more descriptive of what this blog has turned out to be. How would you say it more concisely?–send suggestions!

I have found so many of those illuminating words lately. It is great to be in a May-long break (is that at all like a bee-loud glade?) from my formal studies, so I can read other things!

I love this book from which today’s words come, in part of course because it validates what I have come to discover over the years and wrote about in my very first post to this blog (that mindfulness is key to God, the universe and everything). I read the research version a while back, and I am glad that the authors have now published a popular edition.

It includes one of my favorite Rumi works, “The Guest House,” translated by Coleman Barks:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.


A Hand Up

April 25, 2008

What do we live for, if it is not to make life a little less difficult for each other?  ~George Eliot

I am writing less, working more, and handing power over to stress these days, in spite of the beautiful greening and flowering of spring. Stop. Breathe. Rest. Pay attention. I have to remind myself. It is easy to get far removed from creative impulse, to forget to listen to inner wisdom, in this world so full of distractions.

Last night my friends made me laugh in spite of myself. Eliot’s quote makes me think of a bad poem I once wrote with an ending something like: “Why would we be here/if not to offer a hand up/still reaching with the other?”

This evening, the indigo bunting is what takes my breath away.


Community

April 19, 2008

Once we become relatively independent, our challenge is to become effectively interdependent with others. ~Stephen Covey

Woke to gentle rain
Mist obscures the distant hills
Funeral today

We have lost something in our movement away from communal living. A lone city dweller might argue that the extended family brings too much closeness, calls for too much conformity, but (paradoxically), through it we may actually learn to be more tolerant of differences. Take the “crazy aunt” or that “funny cousin”–yes, they were labeled and talked about, but were still accepted as part of the family, and could count on the support of the group in times of crisis. Robert Frost said it well: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

I have had a love-hate relationship with community and family all my life. Because I felt like the “different one” in my immediate family, and because we had no extended family in our town, I have always had a certain craving to live anonymously, to be left alone, or at least not discouraged in becoming who I was to be. It is probably a big reason I didn’t have children of my own.

I am grateful, though, for my socialization, my ability to “look like” part of a group, to fit in where I can without self-betrayal. And I am so very thankful for my husband and close friends, who serve as my chosen community/family. May I continue to nurture my close relationships, and also be more open to the larger community around me.


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?


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?


Development

January 17, 2008

Undoubtedly, we become what we envisage.  ~Claude M. Bristol

I think this is true as far as it goes. I posted a quote attributed to the Buddha that expresses a similar idea. But there is something to the idea of developmental learning that I think all teachers should understand. Until the student is ready, nothing can happen.

Years ago, I knew in my head (logically, intellectually) many of the lessons I have only integrated in the last few months. I had to be developmentally ready to absorb and use them. How interesting that process is! I could have “envisaged” any number of things back then (and did), but it wasn’t until much later I could actually become them.

I think curiosity is becoming my best friend as I look toward old age. I am so grateful to be where I am, to have come this far, and to feel curious about the rest of the journey! What are you developmentally ready to learn?


Sleeplessness

January 10, 2008

True silence is the rest of the mind, and is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.  ~William Penn

As I often do these days, it seems, I woke at 3:00 a.m. with a sinus headache. My experience tells me that the only cure is to get up and be vertical for a while. And I actually love the silence of the morning. There is something about silence that is like a warm cloak on a cold day; it feels luxurious, comforting, and calming. I am grateful for silence.

Solitude and silence are grounding, too. Thomas Á Kempis said, “If you wish to grow in your spiritual life, you must not allow yourself to be caught up in the workings of the world; you must find time alone, away from the noise and confusion, away from the allure of power and wealth.” Who among us today knows the joy and value of solitude, of silence? There is something disturbing about the ubiquitous cell phone, and the apparent addiction of so many people to that form of connection. What are all these people talking about? When do they listen to their own hearts?

Later today I will conduct a training session for about 30 public library trustees. Tonight I will visit with two close friends, share stories and laughter, and bask in their loving presence. And all I do today will be more mindful, more effective, more enjoyable for the solitude and silence that have fed me this morning.


Thankfulness

January 9, 2008

If we meet someone who owes us thanks, we right away remember that. But how often do we meet someone to whom we owe thanks without remembering that?  ~Goethe

If you want to turn your life around, try thankfulness. It will change your life mightily.  ~Gerald Good

I have written three thank-you notes today on some lovely handmade note cards I got for 50% off after the holidays. I often wonder how many paper-and-pen thank you notes are written anymore. I’m sure it is far fewer than ever before in my lifetime; the advent of e-mail made it much easier to say thank you without a lot of bother. But even though I don’t always do it when I have the urge to, I love sending thank-you notes for thoughtful gifts, support during a hard time, special favors, or other expressions of generosity.

Yet I know there are many to whom I owe thanks that have never received such a note from me! It is easy to forget how many people help us along our way without our knowledge–or those who assist in ways that seem inconsequential, expected, or even suspect.  Who are the many people you have never thanked who probably deserve your thanks? I think I’ll make a list.

Namaste.


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.”


Year-End

December 31, 2007

There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day.  ~Alexander Woollcott

The last day of the calendar year is no exception. I am blessed this morning with a day of vacation before tomorrow’s holiday. In fact, I have had a lovely long break from my day job at the end of 2007, and I am trying not to spoil these last two days by fretting about going back to work (i.e., being other than in the present moment)!

A few days ago, I wrote about the unimportance of the calendar in marking beginnings (see “A New Year” below), so I suppose the same goes for endings. Still, December 31 does prompt us to review the past year and to look ahead to the next, and I think there is value in that activity (see “Becoming”).

May I remember that each day of the new year is grace. May I live fully and with awareness and gratitude each of those important days.


Lessons

December 9, 2007

I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.  ~Kahlil Gibran

So many lessons in life have to be learned the hard way. I’m sure parents encounter this phenomenon often–the frustration of being unable to help children benefit from parents’ experiences. As a species, we just seem to have to learn some things through our own difficulties.

Gratitude is easy toward those who are kind to us, who assist us, who model the best in human character and effort. But there are so many who show us a better way by their own weaknesses and flaws. I was fortunate early in my career to have a boss that exhibited the antithesis of my management aspirations. Kindness is so important to me because I understand how it feels to be on the receiving end of unkindness.

Let me model the best in human character as much as possible, and hope that my actions flowing from my weaknesses can also be instructive to others in their development.


Silence & Healing

December 1, 2007

Silence means you are under complete control of all your emotional reactions, which are conquered in silence. Everything that happens in our bodies happens in complete silence. And when you start hearing from it, then you know something is wrong! The principle of healing is to invoke silence–going into the silence.  ~Mother Serena

Both concepts–silence and healing–resonate for me today. So I will sit on my zafu and be silent, as I need emotional healing. I am weary of the world this morning, so I will think on all the things for which I am grateful. I will listen to the inner voice for clarity. And I will do nothing today out of anger, will not express my frustration and disappointment while I am weary, as all may look different on the other side of sitting.


Contributions of Others

November 25, 2007

Many times I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow-men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.  ~Albert Einstein

It is easy to forget our indebtedness to others (and to circumstance) when we want to take credit for an accomplishment. Yet any accomplishment is the result of numerous factors, most of which have little to do with our own abilities or efforts. We are in the right place at the right time to make something happen. We have had advantages of mobility, exposure to people and ideas, wealth or class privileges, freedom from oppression, health, support, leisure, and so on.

This is not to discount the importance of seizing the opportunity, of having the preparation, intelligence, insight one needs to make the most of these advantages. It is just to say that taking sole credit for anything is specious. We are interdependent with one another and with the world. And Einstein had the rare ability to understand that.

Incidentally, the more quotes I come across from Einstein, the more I love him!  Maybe I need to read something longer than a paragraph. It was he who also said, “The only way to escape the personal corruption of praise is to go on working.” But that is for another day.


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.


Happiness

November 12, 2007

Happiness is not a station to arrive at, but a manner of traveling.  ~Margaret Lee Runbeck

The gorgeous fall colors light up the mountains, and clouds drift above them, grey clumps against a pastel blue sky. It is getting toward dusk, which used to be my favorite time of day. I realize I hardly ever take time to really see it anymore. And yet these moments ground me, remind me that life is good.

For a time, I made a practice of gratitude. There is always something to be thankful for. And today I am happy to have health and to live surrounded by the natural world. I’m reminded of a poem I wrote on seeing a rainbow over these hills.

Rainbow

It is easy to see where each foot lies;
one at the base of Chestnut Knob,
one at the end of Cedar Ridge.
Tinting trees and rocks, it arches
over our dailiness, still and rooted.
Beauty, being for its own sake,
flickers in and out with the sun,
with God, then disappears.


Let It Be

September 25, 2007

Let life happen to you.  Believe me: life is in the right, always.  ~Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

My friend Gloria (now in her family cemetery) said to me once, “Life can be quite radically trusted.”  At the time, I was intrigued by that but really had no idea what she meant.  Lately, I have been letting go of my (illusion of) control of things, and what a relief that is!  Resting in the net of the world that supports me, trusting life if not radically, at least more than ever before. It will unfold as it does anyway–and the trick seems to be just being present for the unfolding.

Incidentally, I am so grateful for the Rilke book–it is one I have to read every couple of years.  On every reading, I “hear” something new or am reminded of something I am ready to absorb in a new way.