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?


Acquiring and Letting Go

June 18, 2010

Edna Smith Hopper, November 3, 1922 to June 14, 2010

In pursuit of knowledge, every day something is acquired. In pursuit of wisdom, every day something is dropped. ~Lao Tzu

Today I have reread sections of Ueland’s If You Want to Write, and acquired a few bits of knowledge. And I have cleaned out my sock drawer and “dropped” a lot of socks! I’m not sure the latter brings me any closer to wisdom, but it was definitely a task I have needed to do for some time. Where do all those socks come from?

My friend Debra has a rule. She doesn’t turn on her computer until after noon. I tried it today. What a difference! Not getting sucked into to email, Web surfing, or computer games in the early part of the day changed my whole outlook and influenced the use of my afternoon time, too. So I have also adopted this rule and am dropping the morning computer habit.

My mother-in-law is no longer struggling, and for that I am grateful. Since her stroke on May 22, she had been declining steadily, and Tuesday morning she died at the age of 87. Her funeral service was, I believe, just as she would have wanted it, a testament to her many, many gifts to individuals, her family, her church, and her community. Rest in peace, Edna.


Godin On…Well, Everything

May 21, 2010

My definition of art contains three elements:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we we’re doing when we do our best work. ~Seth Godin

Seth Godin is one of the gurus of our time. He’s associated with marketing, but has much to say on other subjects as well. If the name isn’t familiar to you, be sure to check out his blog.

You can also get a free download of his compilation of wise words from many sources called What Matters Now. I likewhat Derek Sivers has to say about finding your true passion: “…just notice what excites you and what scares you on a small, moment-to-moment basis…You grow (and thrive!) by doing what excites you and scares you everyday, not by trying to find your passion.”

May you do your best work (your art) today, growing and thriving on what excites you and what scares you.


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.


Spiraling

May 1, 2009

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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?


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?


Loving the World

January 9, 2009

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

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

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

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

How do you do this?

*from Steve Miller Number 5


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?


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.


Questions

March 11, 2008

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

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

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

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

What do you think?


Riding the Currents

March 9, 2008

Victories won in an adversarial fashion come at a very high cost. These have led to the spiral of mutual hostility that we see acted out in Congress every day, where the last vestiges of partisanship and civility have virtually disappeared. ~Charles Halpern

Halpern, one of the country’s first public interest lawyers in the 1960s, has written a book, Making Waves and Riding the Currents: Activism and the Practice of Wisdom. I have just read about it in an interview with the author in the March issue of Shambhala Sun, and was reminded of my earlier post on Activism, as well as the one on New Ideas.

As to what’s wrong with the way activism has been practiced, Halpern says, “To go back to the early days of the environmental movement, there were ways we could have proceeded that were less polarizing. We could have been less self-righteous. I think of my own self-righteousness in my early days as a public interest lawyer, and it makes me cringe.”

He says, “Reagan became a symbol of a self-indulgent individualism, which is still a powerful force in this country. The idea that selfishness is a virtue, and generosity a kind of foolishness, received wide acceptance. That’s still a widely held point of view, reflected in the fact that we have enormous and growing inequality between the rich and the poor, that we’ve created a new Gilded Age.

We’re starting to see the prices of that attitude in environmental destruction, indifference to the plight of the poor, and idea that government is the enemy and taxes should only be cut, never raised. These are attitudes that activists have to work against, but they shouldn’t just be working to change corporate policy, or to get a new law adopted that will put, for example, stronger limitations on products sold to small children…they’ve also got to understand that these shifts in public policy are only possible, and ultimately, only effective, if they are attached to a shift in wisdom, and toward the values of community, mutuality, and interconnection.”

Good for Halpern! I look forward to reading the book.


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.


Now

February 14, 2008

When you have a disease, do not try to cure it–find your center and you will be healed.  ~Tao proverb

I can now highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. I have listened to about 3/4 of the audiobook, and now I am planning to buy the print edition.  Read it and learn why humankind is insane, and why we must individually and collectively save ourselves by learning to be present in the now. Instead of talking about how when we come to die, we need to have lived, Tolle talks about the importance of having already “died” (as an ego, a form), so that we understand that there is no death.

It is the wisdom of the ages, if only we could hear and practice it. There is no present or future, only now. It doesn’t mean we cease to plan or set goals, it just means we fully experience the present as it occurs, without mental reference to past or future.  We step out of time and do not resist what is.

I started this blog on August 12, 2007, by speculating that mindfulness was the key to “God, the universe and everything.” Now I am convinced of that. It is no coincidence that mindfulness is the largest tag on my tag cloud!

Mindfulness may be the antithesis of thinking, however; it is awareness of being in the body, of the emotions as manifestations of thought. Transformation is through the body, not away from it, says Tolle. Going within and focusing on the inner energy field of your body helps you stay grounded, still and rooted.


Judgment

January 1, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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


What Others Think

December 28, 2007

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

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

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

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

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


Getting Out of the Way

December 3, 2007

…by simply listening to and recording your inner longings…they will begin to manifest in your life without your having to do anything else…by carefully listening to our hearts we seed our waking dream with those intentions. If we try to force our longings into being however, the door to their realization remains firmly shut…We have to get out of the way in order for the things we long for to start showing up, and when they do, they almost never look quite the way we had imagined.  ~Sarah Susanka’s blog at http://www.notsobiglife.com/

Well, this seems to be a theme this week–listening to the inner voice. I have read many accounts of witness to this phenomenon, that clutching the illusion of control inhibits finding that center. The concept of surrender has for so long been anathema to me, carrying a connotation of helplessly giving oneself over to the power of another. I spent my childhood practicing self-denial and self-betrayal (surrender) to survive, and my young adulthood rebelling against virtually everyone and everything that would try to control me. In the end resistance is no better than surrender, and I must learn to get out of my own way, to relax into all that is (what some call nature, God, the universe, a higher power). To wash myself of myself, as Rumi suggests, to be melting snow.

What is the middle way? Listening to the inner wisdom, being fully present in order to respond authentically from the heart, moving toward the heart’s desire but understanding that there is no controlling one’s life; there is only finding the path with that next step. How frightening that is!  But as Susanka says, “In fact we’ve never been in charge. We only thought we were.”


Exploring

October 9, 2007

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
~T. S. Eliot

I just love these lines from Eliot’s “Little Gidding” (No. 4 of “Four Quartets”).  They so perfectly express to me the cyclical nature of our understanding (spiraling, really, because we never exactly “arrive where we started”). It is said that you can’t put your toe in the same river twice. I would add that you can’t put the same toe in the river twice!

And what about the urge to explore?  Henry Miller said, “Until we accept the fact that life itself is founded in mystery, we shall learn nothing.”  St. Francis reminded us that “Who we are looking for is who is looking.” But perhaps Graham Greene said it best: “When we are not sure, we are alive.” I want to maintain the openness (Miller), the groundedness (St. Francis) and the curiosity (Greene) to keep exploring!


Aging

October 8, 2007

Give up philosophy because I’m an old man? It’s at the end of a race that you break into a burst of speed.  ~Diogenes

As my joints get creakier, my hair grayer, and my memory less reliable, I am most hopeful (and pretty confident) that Diogenes is right. Barring any serious health conditions, I expect to see more clearly (of course that’s figuratively, not literally!), understand more deeply, and be more centered as the years go on. Because it seems I learn something every day about how to be happier, I also expect to be more at peace as I age, with increasing capacity for gratitude and compassion. So I find myself today looking forward to growing in mind and spirit so that I can bear declining in body.  What’s your hope or fear for your “golden” years?

**Note:  This quote was taken from a new book by James Geary, Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists.  What an interesting character Diogenes must have been!  Geary writes: “Before arriving in Athens, where he eventually took up residence in a tub and lived with a pack of stray dogs, Diogenes was captured at sea and sold into slavery. During the auction at which he was up for sale he is said to have pointed his future owner out in the crowd and instructed his captors, ‘Sell me to that man. He needs a master.’ Diogenes got the buyer he wanted, and he went on to become the bad boy of ancient Greek philosophy.  He famously disdained conventional manners, morality, and metaphysics. The only worthwhile philosophy, he believed, was one that helped people live a good life in the here and now.”


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.  


Stillness

September 24, 2007

Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.  ~Herman Hesse

In sitting meditation, focusing on the breath, I reach occasional fleeting moments of what seems like stillness of the mind.  I believe this stillness is the place where illusions disappear.  I can’t say how this helps me, but I know it does–not only in the moment, but beyond.

I don’t want to say a lot “publicly” about my work, but I went into it a year ago with a lot of illusions.  Long ago, Terry noted that I find my wisdom in stillness.  And the more I have been able to be still, the more these illusions have dropped away.  In their place I find clarity, the ability to see a situation as it really is, not colored by what it purports to be, what I want it to be, or by my will to shape it.  What is, is.  And that is liberating!


Measurement

August 17, 2007

Not everything that can be counted, counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. ~Albert Einstein

What is now considered education, it seems to me, is teaching to a test, and test scores are the most important measure of the success of the educational system.  I’m all for using outcomes to measure the success of programs, as long as we remember that for many programs, it’s next to impossible to really understand their impact by measuring.  Who can say what reading great literature really does for a person?  Yet we know it is of value.

Is the liberal education really dead in our modern world of job training disguised as school?  As T. S. Eliot put it, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”–which reminds me of another of my favorite quotes: “Remember, Information is not knowledge; Knowledge is not wisdom; Wisdom is not truth; Truth is not beauty; Beauty is not love; Love is not music; Music is the best.” ~Frank Zappa