Perfect

September 24, 2013

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

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

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

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

 


Both-And

August 18, 2012

Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few weeks ago, I created a post called “Leaving Librarianship,” and said I wanted to make space for something new in my life. Since then, I’ve gotten a job with a Georgia library system to facilitate their strategic planning process, and I’ve volunteered to help start a local Friends of the Library group! Apparently, I’m not really leaving librarianship, at least not yet. And I realize (again) that making space for something new needn’t be done at the exclusion of everything else. Instead of either-or, it can be both-and. The poem I wrote about this a while back is here.

Life is a spiral for sure. I circle back to the same themes again and again, each time at a slightly new level of understanding. What themes repeat themselves in your spiral of learning?


Becoming Nobody

March 12, 2011

When I retired from my day job, I decided I wouldn’t do much marketing for my consulting business–partly because I no longer want to work full-time. So I have been content to let work flow in as it will, to observe what that looks like. Well…apparently the nature of consulting is feast or famine. After months with just a little (maybe enough) work, this week brought three new jobs, which means I’ll probably be much busier in the coming months. This unpredictability will take some getting used to, and I may have to say “no” at some point.

But I like having the ability to let life be whatever it is. Thoreau said of his time at Walden Pond: There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of head or hands. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.

Ram Dass says, You spent the first half of your life becoming somebody. Now you can work on becoming nobody, which is really somebody. For when you become nobody, there is no tension, no pretense, no one trying to be anyone or anything. The natural state of the mind shines through unobstructed—and the natural state of the mind is pure love.

I think of my shifting focus on being, not doing, as a great gift. Note the present participle “shifting”–I have certainly not reached that state of unobstructed mind Ram Dass talks about! But I feel fortunate to have had so many teachers and opportunities that have helped me reach this moment of awareness. May you all have the gifts of time, teachers, and opportunity to become nobody.


Live and Learn

August 8, 2010

Somehow, we always have the secret hope that we can get ourselves together, work out all our issues, discover all our talents, accept our life’s work, and then relax and get on with it. What a shock it is when we realize that “character-building” and growth are lifelong processes…. ~Anne Wilson Schaef*

Life is not for later, when we are more ready for it. It is happening now. I believe we get hung up on wanting to be, rather than resting in our becoming. There is no ideal future, when we will have all our ducks in a row! And this understanding is liberating.

Today, I want to live (just as I am today!) and learn. What about you?

* from Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, following Eleanor Roosevelt’s words: “Character building begins in our infancy and continues until death.”

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

July 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

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


Book Arts

May 31, 2010

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

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

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

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

What are you reading? What are you creating?


Self-Compassion

March 6, 2010

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

~Naomi Shihab Nye

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

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

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


The Wisdom Trail

January 18, 2010

My grandmother called a person’s spiritual path in this life “traveling on the wisdom trail.” She said it was a spiral, bringing us closer to the truth at our core each pass round. What this means is that we keep coming to the same places, intersections, and struggles over and over again, only each time we’ve expanded out, collecting more wisdom. Wherever you go on a spiral, there is no escaping from yourself…There’s no way to complete a journey on the wisdom trail, since it is a spiral of learning, healing, serving, learning. ~Dawna Markova

No Enemies Within, by Dawna Markova, is a wealth of wisdom. With quotes on every page, many of which I will be using here in future, and treatment of the sacred spiral, you might guess that I would relate to this book! Markova provides a friendly, readable yet profound prescription for healing through creativity, for becoming whole by “discovering what’s right about what’s wrong.”

The author describes the landmarks in our spiritual journeys: the enemies within, living disconnected, the turning points in which we reconnect with our lost selves, opening our hearts with acceptance, and using our imaginations and intuition to recreate our lives and make use of our own resources, so that we may ultimately serve and help others in community. Sam Keen said, “The word hero needs to be reserved for the man or woman who is willing to take the solitary journey to the depths of the self, to re-own the shadow, to exorcise the ancient warrior psyche, to discover the power and authority of wholeness.”

My enemy within at the moment is the pull of numbing activities (computer games, for example) that prevent me from participating in those things that nourish me: writing, friends, and yoga among them. May I set one foot in front of another to travel the wisdom trail, the spiral of learning and growth where there is no escaping from myself, where I come ever closer to the truth at my core. May you find your truths on the wisdom trail as well.


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!


Calder, Results, and the Great Northwest

October 18, 2009

Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions. ~Earl Gray Stevens

Greetings! I have just returned from the Public Library Association’s “Results Boot Camp” in Seattle. Intensive Library Management Training. Planning, implementing, managing, staffing, allocating resources, and measuring for results. What a great week!

The content and instructors (June Garcia and Sandra Nelson) were intellectually stimulating, the food was fabulous (lots of nuts, fruit, veggies), and I was able to stay relatively present and energetic throughout. This is not always easy for an introvert in an intense social situation!

Friday afternoon I walked from the hotel to the Seattle Art Museum to see an Andrew Wyeth exhibit of Helga paintings. To my delight, there was also a Calder exhibit. I could’ve hung out for hours under and around the mobiles and stabiles.

Seattle was lovely. The people are more laid back than east-coast folks; there is coffee everywhere; they were flinging fish at the market. (And, yes, some of those guys in the video still work there!) Even walking through the soft rain to the museum seemed just right.

Although I am glad to be back home, I am also glad to have had the experience. And happy to be back writing here after some time away.


Mindful Management

September 25, 2009

tightrope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This is My Real Life

August 15, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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


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?


Plain, Common Work

May 26, 2009

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

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

Daily duties, daily bread. Sweet.


Gifts

May 5, 2009

Career counselor John Crystal offers the best way I have found to remember our gifts: “Think about those things you have always found it easy to do and don’t remember learning how.” We tend to value the knowledge and skills we have worked hard to acquire; if we earned it from the sweat of our brow it must be important, or so we tell ourselves. But when aspects of work or life come easy, we think they must not be all that important. Crystal asks us to consider the reverse, that the “things we have always found it easy to do” might point us toward our gifts. ~Russ S. Moxley, “It Also Takes Courage to Lead,” in Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer

Hey, maybe it’s OK not to know too much about how to write poetry, huh? I remember being dumbfounded at a poetry workshop years ago when poet Kate Daniels said to me, “You have a gift. You should develop it.”

I like this reversal of the idea that only that which we slave over is important. I know that the best dancers/artists/writers/athletes/you-name-its are the ones who make it look effortless. And while I’m sure hard work is an important element for making it look so easy, I don’t think they could ever achieve that without natural talent, without flowing with their gifts.

What can you do easily that you don’t remember learning? Do you devalue it because there was no struggle involved? Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge and develop it as your gift.


Spiraling

May 1, 2009

nautilus21

All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I imagine many layers of learning when I think about this quote. So often, I have heard and understood words of wisdom, only to return to them later with deeper understanding. I think of learning as a spiral; there are only so many truly important lessons in this life, and each day we learn them in a new way–returning to the same ideas, but at a higher (or deeper) level. If we are lucky, curious, and skillful, we acquire wisdom in the process.

It is such a loss for our culture that we devalue aging and the elderly. As I get older, I see so clearly the benefits of time and cumulative experience. If only we tapped the wisdom of our elders. Perhaps as the baby boomers move into old age, we can hope for a greater appreciation of this tremendous resource, but there is always a temptation to dismiss ones who are not “up on” the latest trends and technological gadgets.

I think Goethe is also saying that we must work at wisdom; it doesn’t happen as a function of simply living longer. Life provides opportunities daily to stretch, to delve, to reflect. We must pay attention, bring our intelligence and our hearts to bear on our experience.

I can see myself continuing to spiral higher, deeper, until death. How about you?


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!


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?


Pacing

March 2, 2009

Success is the sum of small efforts–repeated day in and day out. ~Robert Collier

One of the striking differences between my husband and me has always been his ability to pace himself and my tendency to rush headlong into every endeavor. Yet I am most satisfied with my life when I move more slowly, give myself time to experience each moment, to reflect on where I’ve been and envision where I’m going.

I suppose this lesson is one blessing of age, at least for me. My body will simply no longer support my impulsive activity in the same way it did when I was younger! Of course, with the spiral nature of life, I have to learn this lesson over and over, each time in a slightly different way, from a slightly different place.

I have found it hard to restrain myself when I can see so many things I want to do. Patience has never, after all, been my strong suit–or even an acquaintance, really. That’s why I think a practice, such as this blog, is so important for me. It reinforces that idea of the cumulative effect of small things. Intention is also a critical element–imagining who I want to become, then giving myself permission to take only one mindful step at a time.

What is your secret for proper pacing in your life?


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.


Change and Growth

January 4, 2009

Change is inevitable; growth is optional. ~Tavis Smiley

Thanks to Carol for passing on this great quote. There are many people talking these days about change, the pace of change, the disorienting effects of change, “change management.” (Now there’s an oxymoron!) But I don’t hear much about growth within change, rather more about just keeping up, staying sane, not falling farther behind. There is something lost in this discussion. I don’t want to spend my energy just treading water; I want to swim into new water! Remembering what Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

I think the first step for growth is embracing (or at least shaking hands with) the change itself, accepting it as a condition of modern life. Why struggle against the inevitable? But beyond that, I have found stillness and mindfulness useful for getting in touch with the part of me that hungers for learning and growth. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the plethora of choices today, and this stillness helps us hear what we need above the din.

How have you approached change? Growth? How do we not only stay sane in this crazy-making proliferation of options, but expend our energy wisely for both our own development and a better world?


The Heart’s Door

January 2, 2009

A basket full of bread sits on your head; yet you go from door to door begging for crusts. Attend to your own head. Knock on your heart’s door. ~Rumi

Today I want to swaddle my heart, protecting it from harm, and feel it beating through my whole body. But I also want to crack open the door and peek inside, get just a glimpse to help me on my way. Fear of opening that door has existed long past its usefulness!

The truth is, things have been leaking out for years…I just wasn’t sure where they were coming from. Perhaps that’s a gift of middle age, the capacity to become reacquainted with your own desires and passions, to claim them as your own.

My often-neglected passions include creative expression (but isn’t this true for everyone?), balance (think yoga, solitude vs. relationship, work-life balance), and learning. What would you find behind your heart’s door?


New Year’s Challenges

December 29, 2008

If I leave my writing for one day, it leaves me for three. ~Madeleine L’Engle

The creative process is a process of surrender, not control. ~Julia Cameron

Despite Julia Cameron’s words, I have decided to participate in the somewhat controlled Creative Every Day Challenge for 2009. Within this very loose framework (the creator gives full permission to participate stress-free–that is, however and whenever you like), I hope to enter that process of creative surrender more often in the coming year.

My first act in the CED challenge will be to create a list on this blog of as many possible creative activities I can think of that I might like to try this year. I hope you’ll add your creative ideas to the list when it’s posted in early January.

In addition, I’ve signed up for The Power of Less New Year’s Challenge at Zen Habits. This requires a pledge to practice something, anything, but only one thing, 10 minutes a day for 30 days. I figure surely I can work in 10 minutes of yoga every single day during January. Don’tcha think?

So rather than resolutions for the new year, I am giving myself two challenges. No one has asked, but I’ll confess to having fallen off the strength training wagon I committed to here. It seems like a great program, but it’s just not right for me, I discovered. So I am going to call that not failure, but learning!

Will you set challenges for yourself in 2009?


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 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?


Not Knowing

December 7, 2008

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. ~Wendell Berry

My mind is certainly employed this morning! How do I break through resistance and protective barriers to be in full and intimate relationship with myself, my husband, my friends? I think this may be the real work in which I need to be engaged at the moment. Can I embrace (or at least shake hands with*) the not knowing how to get there?

Sam Keen says, “Hope is rooted in trust in the unknown. Work, wait, and hope. That is enough.” And from Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

It is so tempting to feel comfort in knowing, though! Rousseau reminds us, “We do not lose our way through what we do not know, but through what we falsely think we know.” May I let go of what I think I know, open to imagination, and at least shake hands with not knowing in order to make space for possibility.

*thanks to Whitney for this notion of compromise!


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?


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?


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.


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…


Pushing the Rope

September 7, 2008

The Sun Never Says
Even
After
All this time,
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe
Me.”
Look
What happens
With a love like that,
It lights the
Whole sky.
~Hafiz

Dang! I am pushing the rope again.* Making life harder than it has to be. I need to remember that this day, my life, the universe will be what it is. I am not in control, nor am I owed anything. I can radiate love and light only when I am shining from my center, and not by willing myself to do so. On rereading a previous post (The Case Against Will), I am resolved to spend the day “moodling” in dreamy idleness.

Learning is hard! When the same lesson comes around again and again (there’s that spiral again), it must be important, eh? Today I am reminded to cease struggling and to listen for clarity.

*a concept described by Sarah Susanka in The Not So Big Life


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.)


Do What You Love

July 24, 2008

Pursue the things you love doing, and do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you. All other tangible rewards will come as a result. ~Maya Angelou

I love blogging! I am surprised by that, as it is not something I would have ever thought I would enjoy so much. I’m astonished that I have been writing here for almost a year. I’ve always known I loved words and writing, and all my writing came out as poetry until I found this medium. But I’ve discovered that I really like writing these short, personal essays and ruminations. As I said in the last post, writing pulls me along into the work I need to do, suggests new ways of looking at life, and helps me make sense of the world. Grace Paley said, “You write from what you know, but you write in what you don’t know.”

What do you love doing? If you can’t do it for a living, how can you do it as an avocation? Or what small bit of it can you integrate into your life right now?


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.


Showing Up

July 18, 2008

When we show up for our life, we are actively participating in being a happy person, achieving our goals, and generally living the life our soul really wants. ~from the Daily OM

Sometimes it’s all about showing up…for others, for ourselves. I am about to show up in my own life for some difficult work, that “heartbreakthrough,” I think, that I mentioned here. I am acknowledging and “containerizing” my sadness, rather than pushing it down (as has been my habit), in order to feel and deal with it at times when I can. So Iris’s “No Time To Cry” will become “time to cry later” for me. I’m certain that I’ll do this work imperfectly (as we all do everything, after all), but it does feel good to finally understand on a gut level that it’s what I need.

That may be another post entirely–the lifelong attempt I’ve made to understand everything intellectually, even those things we can’t figure out that way, like emotion. The only way out is through. Grief cannot be rationalized away. So I will show up when I can and let it be.

What do you think about feeling? Feel about thinking? How do you show up for life?


Conformity

June 2, 2008

We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves, in order to be like other people.  ~Arthur Schopenhauer

My mother used to tell a story she found amusing. It was about coming to fetch me from school in the first grade. I was standing in front of the class when she arrived, pretending not to know my colors. I don’t remember this event, but this is one of the saddest stories I’ve ever heard.

For I had been happily reading at least since age 5, had known my colors for far longer, and was academically way ahead of most of my first-grade class when I began school. But I had been admonished so strongly not to “show off,” to be like others so I would be liked, that I had hidden my abilities in the quest for acceptance.

It was many years before I was aware of my conditioning, and many more before I could move beyond it. Even still, I find myself thinking, “How will this look to others?” when I decide on a course of action. This is actually a skill that has served me well in career and political situations, but I have had to come to an understanding about the limits on its value. And I have suffered from applying it in situations where it is not needed.

I think this explains why authenticity is so very important to me now. I cannot bear to pretend any longer that I am something I am not. I actually think age is helpful in this regard, as we who are in public service approach retirement and can be whoever we are. How do you deal with this dilemma, in a political world?


Power & Love

April 14, 2008

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of my personal hot buttons is feeling powerless, ineffectual. This is one of those things I have known for some time intellectually, but I know now on a deeper level. It is time to claim my own personal power, regardless of any external conditions in which I find myself. I have been operating with the old (and now useless) behavior patterns of self-protection from my childhood, afraid of my own power.

I don’t believe that I’m alone in my ambivalence about claiming my own power, especially among women. Power is considered a dirty word by so many! What does it mean to claim my own power? I think it means equanimity in the winds of change, with the willingness to yield and bend when that is called for. I think it means standing up for justice (actively loving) when that is needed. Its foundation is a feeling that I have a right to take up space, that I belong in the universe–fundamentally, a love and sense of justice that include (even) me!

What is your relationship with power?


Flow

March 8, 2008

Life is a series of natural spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them–that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. ~Lao Tzu

Flow with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. ~Chuang Tzu

Boy, do I need these quotations this morning! I am feeling battered by my situation, and it is so tempting to sink into bitterness or depression. I have just reread The Not So Big Life, and although I intellectually understand the concept of not “pushing the rope,” I find myself doing it over and over.

My whole orientation as a manager is to work toward positive results, so how do I let go of the results, “let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like”? I think one reason I long for retirement is to escape this conflict in me, but I do understand that is not the right reason to retire.

May I center myself by just sitting with things today, letting my mind be free. May I learn to let go of resistance, making way for acceptance of whatever I am doing.


Lasting

January 27, 2008

To be somebody you must last.  ~Ruth Gordon

I got this quote out of the little book of Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much. The daily meditation that accompanies it is about perseverance, but I prefer to think that Ruth Gordon was talking about living a long life. It is only recently that I have had the thought that I want to live a long time. I think because it is only recently that I have really learned how to live.

When I was young, I assumed I would die young–I’m sure it was part of my overly dramatized depressive persona. Later, I just feared I would die young. Now I want to be a feisty, or at least spirited, old woman who says exactly what she thinks, does what she pleases (which will certainly involve learning), and laughs a lot.

Michelle Shocked sings, “When I grow up I wanna be an old woman,” and that seems about right. Meanwhile, I’ll keep in mind what Ruth Gordon says and try to last.


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?


Fun

January 12, 2008

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

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

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

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

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


Becoming

December 19, 2007

The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.  ~Anna Quindlen

I have just completed the year-end ritual described in The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka. One of the questions (perhaps the most provocative and important one for me) is “What am I becoming?” The answer to this question, in my view, incorporates all one’s desires, longings, previous experiences, conditioned behaviors, reflections, and aspirations. What are you becoming?

Another question involves summing up all one’s desires and longings into one simple statement. My response at the moment is “I embody loving acceptance of what is, without fear or anger.”

And finally, I have once again confirmed my love of learning for its own sake.  I want to learn whatever is available to learn in a situation–inquisitively, not acquisitively. 

The Year-End Ritual instructions can be found at http://www.notsobiglife.com/resources/documents/TheYearEndRitual.pdf. Consider sharing your results!


Being a Beginner

December 15, 2007

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.  ~Shunryu Suzuki

I’m convinced that the most direct path to our creativity starts from a place of unknowing. Or perhaps the creativity is the path. Young children know how to play their way into understanding, making mistakes, falling down, trying new approaches. But as we grow, those creative impulses are trained out of us. We become afraid of looking foolish, of not knowing, and we cling to certain answers, indisputable facts, narrow views. I want to recover the ability to see as a beginner, and I want to practice being a beginner over and over again, so that nothing becomes fixed and without possibilities.


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.


Learning

November 13, 2007

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

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

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

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


Mystery

November 3, 2007

Until we can accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing.  ~Henry Miller

When we are not sure, we are alive.  ~Graham Greene

Dear Lord, let me seek the truth, but spare me the company of those who have found it.  ~Anonymous

I know nothing, still I cannot help singing.  ~A. R. Ammons

Openness and curiosity are characteristics I want to cultivate. My friend Claudia gave me a beautiful book called Keeping a Nature Journal, by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth. The authors suggest that, once an object is identified for sketching, the journalist try writing down at least one question about the object. Examples they give: “How did it get there? Where does it go in winter? Can it also be found in other habitats?” What a great way to exercise one’s curiosity!

As for openness, I am pained when I remember times I couldn’t bring myself to show ignorance and therefore failed to learn a lesson that was available to me. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we could recover that two-year-old’s propensity for incessant questioning: “What is that? Why? Why? Why?”