Casual Promises

July 15, 2010

I seek…the richness of a gathered and deliberate life, which comes from letting one’s belongings and commitments be few in number and high in quality. ~Scott Russell Sanders

Commitments that are few in number, high in quality…there’s the challenge! Lately, I’ve been reading posts from Jennifer Louden’s “Self-Trust Inspiration E-Course.” Jen posts at Comfort Queen (hey, another queen!). Not only does she warn us about making “casual promises” to ourselves, but she talks in her blog about “freedom from self-improvement.” Just love that!

What prompted this post was realizing that I had made a casual promise here a few days ago to leave my computer off until noon. That lasted about one day. Louden contends that when we do that kind of thing often, it erodes our self-trust. Just think about it–if you made a promise to someone else (e.g., “I’ll meet you at 4:00”) and then didn’t do it, you wouldn’t feel very trustworthy, would you? But rather than chastise ourselves for not keeping promises, it is more productive to be intentional about the promises we make to ourselves, and avoid those of the casual sort. Thanks to Jen for this idea, and to Scott Russell Sanders for his lovely prose. The entire quote is this:

Returning from a back country trip, I vow to purchase nothing that I don’t really need, give away everything that is excess, refuse all chores that don’t arise from central concerns. The simplicity I seek is not the forced austerity of the poor. I seek instead the richness of a gathered and deliberate life, which comes from letting one’s belongings and commitments be few in number and high in quality.

What promises have you made to yourself lately?


Mindful Health

November 15, 2009

Our life is what our thoughts make it. ~Marcus Aurelius

The attainment of wholeness requires one to stake one’s whole being. Nothing less will do…. ~C. G. Jung

Synchronicity again. I first ran across psychologist Ellen Langer when I was preparing for the talk on mindful management last month. Langer did early experiments in mindfulness and its effect on aging, so I hunted down her 1989 book, Mindfulness, and read it recently. Today I see that she has a new book, Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility, and that a movie with Jennifer Aniston, based on the book, will soon be coming out. No doubt, mindfulness is becoming more mainstream.

Langer says we have learned to influence health “by exchanging unhealthy mindsets for healthy ones and increasing a generally mindful state. The latter is more lasting and results in more personal control.” Jon Kabat-Zinn lists seven attitudinal factors that underlie mindfulness: (1) non-judging; (2) patience; (3) beginner’s mind; (4) trust; (5) non-striving; (6) acceptance; and (7) letting go. Cultivating these attitudes, Kabat-Zinn stresses, requires energy, motivation and commitment. May I establish daily practice in mindfulness for health.


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.


Love and Trust

February 5, 2009

One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others. ~Archibald Rutledge

For many years, I’ve believed that what hurts one member of the human family hurts us all, and what helps one person helps us all. It is logical, then, to rejoice when another is lifted up or otherwise graced with good fortune. I am learning that, like forgiveness, this practice is something that helps the giver at least as much as the recipient.

When we are jealous or resentful of others, I think we are coming from a scarcity mentality. In celebrating another’s fortune or success, we fear losing something ourselves, whereas embracing abundance (which leads to generosity) shifts our position dramatically. Gary Zukav, in his book, The Heart of the Soul, says that we release our energy into the world from either fear and doubt or from love and trust. It seems important to me to be intentional about staying on the side of love and trust as much as we can, opening our hearts to others.

How do you see it?


The Soul at Work

May 26, 2008

Tell a wise person or else keep silent.  ~Goethe

Our deeper struggles are in effect our greatest spiritual and creative assets and the doors to whatever creativity we might possess. It seems to be a learned wisdom to share them with others only when they have the possibility of meeting them with some maturity.  ~David Whyte, inThe Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America

This post began as a follow-up to the previous post, a balancing admonition about trusting others to understand our truths. It was prompted by my rereading one of my favorite books, from which these quotes are taken. I originally read The Heart Aroused in its first edition (published in 1994), and when I decided to buy a copy, I was delighted to find that it was revised in 2002. Exploration and revelation of our most authentic selves is certainly risky in the traditional workplace. But in the end, this post is less about the risks of disclosure and more about the broader subject of the soul at work.

Whyte helps us reconcile the world of work, or doing, with the soul, or being. He characterizes this divide as “a veritable San Andreas Fault in the American psyche: the personality’s wish to have power over experience, to control all events and consequences, and the soul’s wish to have power through experience, no matter what that may be.” Whyte cautions that “with little understanding of the essential link between the soul life and the creative gifts of their employees, hardheaded businesses listening so carefully to their hardheaded consultants may go the way of the incredibly hardheaded dinosaurs.” I believe this book should be required reading for all managers and students of business management.

Thankfully, there are environments that encourage the messy soul work that employees long to do. I came from (and helped create) one of those places, imperfect as it was, and I have since grieved for the belonging I experienced there. Whyte holds that when we do not feel belonging, “no attempt to coerce enthusiasm or imagination from us can be sustained for long.”

Whyte takes his title from the famous William Carlos Williams poem “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” which poignantly reminds us that “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.” Using poetry, psychology and myth, Whyte encourages us to face our fears and claim our authentic soul power in the world of work.


Trust

March 22, 2008

The key is to get to know people and trust them to be who they are. Instead, we trust people to be who we want them to be, and when they’re not, we cry.  ~from Thinkexist.com (unattributed)

Because I learned not to trust at an early age, perhaps I have been too eager to trust people in my adulthood, because I have often made the mistake of trusting people before I really know them. Really getting to know someone requires time, shared experience, patience, full awareness in their presence. In some cases, my instincts were dead on, and I developed a satisfying relationship in spite of my tendency to trust too soon. At other times, when someone turned out to be other than who I wanted them to be, I cried.

The foundation for those satisfying relationships is, of course, knowing and trusting one’s self. Getting to know ourselves (which also requires time, patience and full awareness) and trusting our lives to unfold as they should is a lifelong process, in my view. My friend Gloria once said, “Life can be quite radically trusted.” At the time, I had no idea what she meant. Now I want to rest in the lap of the universe, trust that it will hold me, and experience myself and others with crystal clarity. Although I’ve resisted it for years, the time has come for a mindfulness meditation practice.

May I learn the discipline of practice, the mindfulness to be fully present with myself and others, and the discernment to know when and whom to trust.


Privacy

November 10, 2007

What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen.  ~Thoreau

I have seen the first idea of this quote attributed also to Emerson, but I like what Thoreau does with it. As an INFJ, I tend to be a very private person. This blog is an exercise in bringing what is within out into the world. I know it feels risky, because I have only shared the site with people I trust. And I am still careful about how many personal details I reveal. Still, I want to live unguarded as much as is possible in this world.

I see such a stance as akin to an orientation toward abundance (safety) rather than scarcity (danger). Can I come from a position of trust and yet recognize and respond appropriately to danger? A John Mellencamp song says, “I don’t want to live angry; I don’t want to live scared.” My friend Gloria radiated love, which I believe protected her in many instances. Can I love first and self-protect only when necessary?