Sunday, December 15, 2013

In Flight Entertainment and Plentiful Realities

When I am in flight, I read.  I should be doing other things (most likely work related), but I read.  I read to escape close confines and too-close seat mates.  I read because it feels indulgent.  And I read because I love to enter and exit a multitude of worlds, even when I'm moving between and among multitudes of worlds. If there has been one constant in my life, it is this.  On my latest series of trips (Four destinations in ten days), I read through a series of memoirs that took me out of my space and into lives of others.

[These books included:  Orange is the New Black, by Piper Kerman; Let's Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson--which, truth be told, should not be read in public as I laughed out loud so many times that I am certain I disturbed my fellow travelers-- and Chanel Bonfire, by Wendy Lawless--which made me alternately cringe and sigh.  I started the journey with The Circle by Dave Eggers (not a memoir)...but surreal, too close to possible reality, and a fun head game.  I would love to have the energy to share my favorite lines from these, but...suffice to say that each is worth the read.]

So, in the midst of my own journey, I engage in all of these lived experiences of others, combined with the lived experiences of those around me.  It's a strange amalgam of humanity--reality, fiction, fiction based on reality...and creates some interesting spaces to inhabit.  And these are just the "in-between" experiences, but they're all part of my own trajectory.

The tag on my cup of tea tonight read:  "The beauty of life is to experience yourself."  I am positive I agree with this, but with the addendum that the beauty of life is to experience it as a shared experience with others.  I am all down with knowing myself and being able to stand in my own skin, but I've been rocked to the core by the power of connections with the people I love of late.  I've shared cozy spaces with beautiful friends and family; I've cried as I said goodbye; I've walked forward knowing that these spaces and these tears make the moments of movement bearable.  And in the interim, I've connected in other ways with people I don't know--through shared story and unique experience, or by having to share an armrest or a space in line.

And tomorrow night, I'll experience myself in flight to a destination halfway around the world to meet up with a place I've never met before, but, thankfully, to meet a dear friend who I look forward to seeing again.  And it is all of this, place and space and time and love, which allows me to fully experience myself, in whatever form I take...all the while knowing that this form (whether it's apparent from the outside or not) shifts and changes at any given moment.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hopscotch: Bouncing Between Realities

I have been grounded (read:  on the ground, not in flight) since last Sunday, but I have been struggling to get my mind and body back in the same place all week.  I told my meditation teacher this last week, and she said, "well, you're in the right place."  I knew what she meant (that coming to class was a step in the right direction), but I thought, hmmm... maybe I am in the "right" place--maybe, sometimes, the present is an act of straddling many different spaces and knowing yourself well enough to know that these disparate spaces are where you are in the moment, and that you will re-align when you can.  And that you will find moments of presence even though.

For now my mind is hopscotching ahead of me across the country.   And in the spirit of randomness, and flitting between different realities, here are some things that have hopscotched across my mind in the last while:

[And I think the formatting weirdnesses below add to the theme, going to just ask patience with these as you read.  :)]

I read a post on by Katelyn Klug:  "30 Lessons You Learned After 20"--why I insist on reading through these lists, I have no idea beyond the fact that they are ubiquitous ("five ways to become happier"/ "ten things you should never do"/ "seventeen ways to escape orangutans" --note:  this one hasn't been written yet, but I'm certain it will be...) but I digress.  There were three items on Klug's list that I thought were worth sharing (and noting that these lessons will be re-learned as you enter your 40s and so on and so on and so on):
     a.  #4= "A person who often misinterprets good intentions probably doesn't have many good
          intentions of their own."
          [This one made me laugh out loud and realize that this pretty much summed up some confusing 
          interactions I've had in my life.]

     b.  #20= "Women who claim to get along better with men are trouble."
          [There are two exceptions to this rule that I know of, but that's it.]

     c.  #9="Absence makes the heart grow independent."
          [I have nothing pithy for this, but I do think there's something good here.]

I've just finished a book entitled Swimming at Night by Lucy Clarke.  I checked it out from the library on a whim because keyword "Bali" came up with the title, was an interesting journey.

Two quotes that struck me:
     a.  "Sometimes when people give you their opinions, they can end up becoming your own.  I didn't
           want that" (p. 50).
          [I am still working on making sure that the voices in my head are truly mine.]

     b.  "People go traveling for two reasons:  because they are searching for something, or because they
           are running from something.  For me, it's both"  (p. 22).
           [For me?  It's letting go.  It's leaning into possibility and into the recognition that there is not 
           much that we truly control.  And, maybe, it is searching and running.  Maybe that's fine too.]

There is a graffiti artist in town who has been stenciling "You will die." in various places along my walking routes.  I was caught off guard for a moment by these, but realized that my immediate reaction yesterday when I read yet another of the postings, was to look up, to look around, and to appreciate how gorgeous the day was.  If this response was not the artist's intent, I don't want to know.

I have a sense, though I may be wrong, that I will be more grounded once I'm back in motion for this next round of travel flurry.  It's hard to overlook the fact that I have a bag packed full of black and grey outfits for four different climates and four different tasks,  color-coded folders telling me what each of my different destinations requires, and that maybe, just maybe, when I land, my body and mind will join forces.  Here's hoping.  Bring on the plastic key cards and the moving walkways nearing their end. Game on.

Monday, November 18, 2013

When Things Get Gritty

In the past few days, I've had a series of events occur that are concrete reminders that "grit" pays off.  However, I realized that what I'm proudest of this year is not the pride in the outcomes,  but that I have learned (and re-learned) how to be present and to believe in myself even when I don't know whether or not the outcomes of my efforts are going to be what I hope for.  It is this that has taken more strength than I've ever been able to conjure before in my life.  And I breathe into this realization.  I had a dissertation committee member who told me last year that I would be finished with my dissertation when I had learned all I needed to learn from the process.  That idea caused a lot of anxiety for me for a while, but I think this applies to a lot of the things we do.  When we learn how to move through the waves of emotion, without attaching our identity to a particular timeline or an outcome that is supposedly going to be a result of what we're doing, then we are able to learn what we need from the process.

In her TEDx talk [], Angela Lee Duckworth defines "grit" as passion and perseverance for long term goals.  I've thought a lot about this idea as a teacher:  Duckworth cites Carol Dweck's research on "growth mindset" as an inspiration for her own thinking, and Dweck's research has informed how I communicate ideas to students--that the ability to learn is not fixed.  In my experience, it is clear that students who are willing to fail, yet who don't believe that failure is a permanent condition, are the ones who will see continued growth and success.   This is not a new story, but a difficult one to internalize.  The only limitations that I regularly see are students who limit themselves and the risks they take because they are afraid of failure.  I'm pretty sure that risk-taking should be a core component of every curriculum at every grade level.

These same limitations follow us into adulthood.  I look around me and see people paralyzed by fear of change, fear of failure, and fear of the unknown--a willingness, conscious or not, to settle into the status quo.  I sure as hell suffer from paralysis on occasion--we all do.  I think we can skip the facade of perfection and the fear of failure.  It's time to keep it realer than most and get grittier.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Seeing Things as Love, Actually

"One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things."  --Henry Miller

Today when I walked into the kitchen at work, staring back at me through the window was a man with squeegee in hand, perched on a hanging metal platform, suspended 25 stories above the ground.  I smiled big in my surprise, and waved; I received a peace sign and smile in return, and I retrieved my lunch from the fridge.

And, tonight, I walked into my Tuesday evening yoga and meditation class with a ticking list of to-do's in my head as I prepare to fly away tomorrow, and tinged by a sense of melancholy I've been unable to shake lately.  A brief exchange with the instructor, who is also relatively new to this area, reminded me that our experiences are rarely singular, that there are people all around me seeing and feeling the same things--from whatever vantage point and context they emerge from.

These connections, however fleeting, are love.  This is life, and it's just love.

"Unconditional love is loving because we are love not because we have found a reason to love."  --David Richo

"True love is the burden that will carry me back home."--Josh Garrels

I'm tired.  When I let myself sink into melancholy, it's generally somewhere along the lines of:  "Yes, my life is so glamorous and footloose that it doesn't really matter that I'm flying in and out of eight different cities in the next few one is particularly concerned about where I am or when I get back.  I've become a depressing movie whose name is eluding me at the moment."  Seriously?  Yep.  I share my underbelly because I'm tired of letting myself (or anyone else out there) think, even for a short period of time, that that there won't be amazing moments to practice loving others around me (us) all along the way.  I am grateful for a couple of interactions today that illustrated that for me.  I'm grateful, always, to be carried back to the fact that nothing can take away our capacity for this feeling:

"We can display it everywhere, all the time, to everyone." --David Richo.  

I can't think of much else that matters.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Walk on the Mindless Side: Quelling the urge to run amok

As I exited the BART station Friday night, I rode the escalator behind a woman who, with her luggage in tow, upon rising into Union Square, lifted her chin and smiled as she took in the lights and the people swirling above.  I was struck by the number of times in the past I have had that same exact reaction.  Ephemeral, but what isn't?

Glen Berger, author of the play that led me to the city on Friday night, explored this theme of life being both a constant balance between knowing that everything is fleeting and meaningless, and that every mundane moment is filled with meaning.  In his "Note from the Playwright" he stated three facts that he keeps in the forefront of his mind as he writes:

"1)  The universe contains well over 500,000,000,000 galaxies with each galaxy containing over 1,000,000,000,000 starts, of which our vast, blazing, and life-bestowing one.
2)  The Earth is 4,600,000,000 years old, in which time....a dizzying, terrifying number of inhabitants...have all struggled to live from one hour to the next.
3) I will die.  I will be dead in 60 years, though it's entirely conceivable that I'll be dead before the week is out."
Hm.  He says, "I write to keep myself engaged with the Bewildering and Infinite." 

I write to keep myself honest.  The bewildering and infinite are elusive right now.  And, full disclosure?  I've hit a point of wanting to lay myself down in utter mindlessness.  All of my careful practice and cultivation notwithstanding, I want to watch a full season of Glee and drink a bottle of wine.  I want to get in my car and drive far and fast, away from humans, listening to a steady soundtrack of Rusted Root, and pitch a tent in the desert of southern Utah.  I want to say, "No, thank you though, I'd prefer not to spend my day in a hermetically sealed office with a gorgeous view of San Francisco bay."  I'd like to put on a t-shirt, shorts, and hiking boots and wander and wander until I can see things differently.  I want to say the f*** word, and I don't want to have to ground my thinking in any theoretical framework.  I've been fighting these urges to run amok for some time now.  I know a break is overdue. What is causing them to rear their ugly head at this exact moment is the slew of flight itineraries in the next few weeks to different places to do different tasks, all of which need to be prepared and practiced, all of which need to demonstrate that I'm smart and capable, none of which I'm feeling prepared, practiced, or terribly interested in, yet each of them is important to a future-Lisa (**hopefully I won't be dead before the week is out, and this future-Lisa will have a chance to thank me for my leg work).

So, although present-Lisa is unable to conjure the mojo she needs at this moment to fully dial in these experiences, future-Lisa will be really pissed if they don't go well.  So, there it is, that moment when life becomes so ephemeral that you talk about yourself in third person.  I need to conjure some awe and perspective.  I need to recapture my ability to get on the escalator, rise on up, and say, "Holy shit, this is my life?"  For now, though, I cut myself some slack, pour a glass of wine, cue some Rusted Root radio on Pandora, and remind myself that in a month and some change, present-Lisa will be running down a beach and swimming with sea turtles and saying any expletive she wants.  And she will be back in the first-person when she does this.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Home in the Present

"Mindfulness helps you go home to the present.  And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes"  --Thich Nhat Hanh

As of this week I have lived in the Bay area for a full year.  And my singular takeaway?:  it's that mindfulness, and the art and practice of being present is all there is.   This move has allowed me to dig deeper into this practice than any other time in my life.

I've struggled wholeheartedly with space and place and how I move about in what I've lovingly referred to as "my year abroad."  I've also been afforded some of the most lovely connections with people who are dear to me in my life than I've had in a long long time.  

What I've learned has been the simplest, but most complex lesson I've ever internalized:  all of our years are years abroad in one way or another.  And to find "home" in our many years, in our many spaces and phases?  Is to find home in us; in the present.  I saw Thich Nhat Hanh speak last weekend, a pretty singular experience in itself, and in his simple reminder of "in breath, out breath," I smiled.  I thought:  Yes.  That pretty much sums it up.  

"There are so many conditions of happiness available in the here and now." --Thich Nhat Hanh

I sometimes chastise myself when I lose sight of the conditions of happiness around me, and I also know, without a doubt, that there is a deep connection between suffering and happiness.  And I love the idea that it is through this--this ability to suffer and to acknowledge suffering--that we can generate love and compassion, aka, happiness.  I am willing to accept that there are some people who are not able, for whatever reason, to cultivate their abilities to go home to themselves.  It can be darn scary to recognize pain and face it.  But to not be afraid to see and be seen?  To be present enough to actually be willing to be witness to my own pain and suffering and to those around me?  Well, I wouldn't trade that for anything.   

I have a vision of folding up my loneliness into tiny origami creations and sifting them through my fingers out the window of my living room and letting them drift down onto the street below.  Because these tiny creations would be honest, tangible representations, and, whether we admit it or not, are representative of a condition shared by any or all of us at any given moment.  And in that?  In that realization?  There is freedom, compassion, joy and tenderness.  And I think the world could use a little more of each of those things if we all want to serve each other well.  

[This sounds more preachy to me than I intended it to; I wrote it with an intent of celebration.  I hope it will be taken in that way.]

Friday, October 25, 2013

Effort and Ease

"Warriorship is so tender,
without skin, without tissue,
naked and raw.  It is soft
and gentle.

You have renounced putting 
on a new suit of armor.  You
have renounced growing a thick
hard skin.

You are willing to expose naked 
flesh, bone, and marrow to
the world"
--Chuogyam Trungpa

The image of warriorship as soft and gentle is fascinating to me.   I fell in love, for a moment, last month.  I fell in love with rugged hockey-playing stature coupled with acute sensitivity and honesty.  I fell in love with passion expressed with such vulnerability that I could see through skin.  Warriors are rare.  

I fall in love with moments of truth, with shared emotion, with feeling-tones exuded, and I fall in love with stillness. I fall in love with foggy redwood groves and flowing waters where harbor seals play.  I fall in love with smiles in elevators.  I fall in love with easeful moments of connection. 

We weather emotional battles, whether alone or with others; practical battles in the flurry of a day; logistics and laundry, and, yes, sometimes simply remaining upright.

The over-effort of the past weeks led to tears that fell in yoga this evening when the teacher reminded us that sometimes it's just as necessary to allow ourselves opportunities to be easeful.  I wanted to curl into that statement, into the ease of fluid connections with the world around me.  And I am. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Romanticism, Pop Music and Odysseys

I've just returned from my latest Odyssey, siren free, and I'm realizing what a huge role music plays as I move from one place to another.  There are the calming melancholy artists who I can listen to as background music as I doze on long plane rides; there are the tunes which span the 130-B.P.M. range, which have "natural party vibes" to them and that keep me moving from gate to gate or allow me to escape into a celebratory mindset amidst the grind of boarding a plane (I admit, I sometimes break into a dance while waiting for the first class passengers to board--I try not to sing out loud).  The beauty of these various playlists is that they allow me to be every age I've ever been and to appreciate how very real and true any and all of the perspectives on love, loss, and life are at any given moment.  And I'm grateful:  I'm grateful to the artists of my youth for allowing me some nostalgia, for singer songwriters who tug my heartstrings at this age, and for today's pop stars who remind me not to take my older self quite so seriously.

Three artists have inspired me in the last days.   Two of these are new additions to my playlists, recommended by Canadian colleagues this past week.

Serena Ryder, a fabulous Canadian singer-songwriter has been on repeat for me since I added her to my playlist last night.  Two teachers were telling me a story (excitedly) about having sat next to her while having a beer at a local folk festival in Winnipeg until they picked up on the fact that I didn't know who they were talking about.  I figured I'd better figure out.   Her song, "What I Wouldn't Do" begins, "If you should fall to pieces, you know I'll pick them up."  Regardless of my own stance on romantic love at this point in my life, I'm a sucker for the articulation of this sort of testament to an other.  "Whispering wind is blowing, telling me I'm not alone....Your love is like a river that I am floating down; I've never been a swimmer, but I know that I'll never drown."

Josh Garrels' "Ulysses" was the song that allowed me to release some tears after an exhausting week.  One of the teachers I had been working with over the course of the week handed me a post-it at the end of the session yesterday with the recommendation that I check out this song (the recommendation was prompted by the reading of a section of The Odyssey in our work together).  "I'm holding on to hope that one day this could be my right...cuz I've been shipwrecked and left for dead and I've seen the darkest sights.  Everyone I've loved seems like a stranger in the night.  But oh my heart still burns, tells me to return, search the fading light."  These are lines that remind me that I have a broken-open heart.

This power, this honesty, this hope that is illustrated in the songs that are written for public consumption never fails to inspire me, even if I'm not sailing home to anyone in particular, and even if I wouldn't follow someone to another country; sometimes it's enough for me to know that there are others who are and who would, and who hold each other in such regard, and with such tenderness even for a moment, that it makes it seem like the world is just a little softer, regardless if it's fleeting or not.

Lastly, I'm loving Lorde.  At this point, I think everyone has had a chance to hear "Royals":  "no postcode envy...we don't care; we're driving cadillacs in our dreams...we aren't caught up in your love affair."  And I love that.  I love the simple statement, that "we crave a different kind of buzz."  Lovely. And she's magically lovely.  I would have wanted to be her when I was a teenager, of this I'm certain.

And what's the point of these musings?  To say that there are so many beautiful ideas and words and beats and truths that flowed through my earbuds in the last days that have helped me both acknowledge and escape my reality.  There is so much emotion inherent in the music that we listen to.  I'm grateful, actually, that I'm willing to engage the emotion, to listen hard, to feel empathy, to feel connected, and to simply let it become a part of me.

[On a final note?  One that all of my friends will be embarrassed to see in writing?  Miley Cyrus' acoustic version of "We Can't Stop" on SNL?  Bravo.  Don't be a hater; that was fabulous.]

Monday, September 30, 2013

Acting in Our Own Best Interest

 “Anger is our friend.  Not a nice friend.  Not a gentle friend.  But a very, very loyal friend. It will always tell us when we have been betrayed.  It will always tell us when we have betrayed ourselves.  It will always tell us when it is time to act in our own best interest.  Anger is not the action itself. It is the action’s invitation.”  --Julia Cameron

"Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."  --Buddha

[Emphases in bold are mine.]

I pride myself on entering situations fully--with both freedom and fearlessness.  I also recognize that there are situations for which this might not be the best approach, in which case entering fully, but with wisdom and wakefulness is a more sensible way to go.  At this moment I am trying to restore, to recalibrate, and to settle into a space where I can act intentionally, deliberately, and naturally--this is what I can do when I'm feeling strong.  It's staying balanced enough so that we aren't bowled over that is essential.  

And, as much as I dislike anger (I've written about this before, I'm certain.), it is mostly the "holding onto anger" that I dislike.  I'm trying to recognize, as Julia Cameron offers in the quote above, that sometimes anger lets us know when we need to act in our own best interest.  Like everything else I think about, this is a balancing act.  How do we stay attuned, acknowledge the feeling when it arises, and acknowledge what it might be offering us, without holding onto it and burning ourselves?  I have no desire to act on my anger, to hold it tightly or to throw it at someone, but I have a strong desire to learn from the feelings that emerge and determine if there is a corresponding action that needs to be taken in order to remain present and proactive in any given situation.

One of my favorite quotes from therapy a couple of years back was, "What about that surprised you?"  These are the moments I'm trying to be attuned to--these moments when I'm caught off guard by behaviors that are not surprising at all, but I allow them to be.  I want to be able to hold to my center when these things come at me.

I was talking to a new acquaintance this past week, a man who works in a much more cutthroat field than mine, and he listened as I said, "Why would anyone be working for self-promotion instead of the greater good of a project?  And why would anyone assume this about others?"  And he said, "You're such an idealist."  He didn't say it in a belittling way, but as a matter of fact, and slight disbelief that I could operate from this stance.  Do I want to be anything but?  No.  Do I want to better navigate the world so that I won't be surprised when others aren't?  Yes.

There are so many people in my life who are willing to operate from this place.  We can share experiences and laugh and cry and laugh some more.  What I've noticed?  None of us are naive; most of us have had more varied life experiences than many of the people we are surprised by.  And none of us hold tightly to anger.   What we are all working toward, well, we're working toward this balance--letting go and also taking action.  Being proactive while also holding onto equanimity.  We're all fallible, none of us are "right," but all of us have a pretty solid compass for how we want to move about the world, and we are always refining and reconfiguring.  And I'm grateful.  Always grateful for the grace and wisdom of the people in my world.  

Monday, September 9, 2013

Feeding Two Wolves

One of my favorite stories was repeated during a day-long dharma talk I attended on Sunday: that of the two wolves in the heart--love and hate--and the response of the highly revered elder, who, when asked how she had found so much peace in her life,  answered that early on she had recognized that there were two wolves in her heart, and, "Everything depended on which one I fed each day."

I'm having a moment when I have so many ideas floating around my head that I'd love to be able to communicate, that I'm just going to have to give up the expectation that they come out in any particular organized way, and write them out.

One of my favorite quotes from Sunday was, "It's a joy to be hidden; a tragedy to remain so."  I think that this tension, this desire to be self-sufficient, to hide our vulnerabilities and our need for others is so prevalent in all of us, particularly in a culture that seems to communicate regularly that if we "need" someone else that we are "needy."  We can all discern between healthy and unhealthy approaches toward "needing" others, but the bottom line is that any feeling of separateness we may have is "an optical delusion of consciousness"  (aka, bullshit), and we all want to have people seek us out, to prize us, so why do we resist doing the same?

The interrelatedness of autonomy and intimacy is so essential for empathy.  We have to develop ways of understanding others, but we also have to develop ways of being able to stand in ourselves.  I don't think that standing in ourselves is in opposition to intimacy.  What I love is the idea that we can all support each other in tending to the causes--to notice what we're influenced by and what our actions influence, but also being discerning enough to know that we have no control of the results.  In this, I find agency.

I love the idea of settling the quarrels in my mind so that I can let go and love.   The hardest part, of course, is loving unilaterally.  What I appreciated in the talk I attended, was the idea that we, of course, have the freedom to walk away, to discern, to put down the quarrel without losing our ability to send loving kindness in all directions.  Does this mean that I want someone who has continually harmed me (or who cannot see me) in my life?  No.  But it does mean that I can continue to tend to me, and to not carry that person with me, to not cultivate hatred or ill-will.  This is freeing in itself.  It takes time.

I do believe that there are many of us who have such a secure base to operate from that we have a secure base to explore from and that we are able to "go forth into homelessness."  A friend commented, in response to this idea, that she was also awed by those who, even without a seemingly secure base, were willing to take huge risks--emotionally, spiritually, etc.  And I concur.  Our life circumstances, depending on how we react to them, allow for some pretty amazing freedoms--and I've been thinking a great deal about how important it is to be both quiet and malleable in order to enact these feats that require such amazing trust in the universe.

One last story that was shared was that of a monk who was violently attacked, bringing him to the edge of mortality.  When asked if he had feared for his life during the attack, he answered, "The only time I feared for my life was when I thought I was losing my loving kindness."

I had a heart tattooed on the inside of my left wrist last year to serve as a physical reminder regarding which wolf I want to feed, and even so, I still toss the other a morsel now and then.  Here's to tending to the causes, loving kindness, and leaving nothing out.  Easier said than done, but I'm having a difficult time thinking about anything more worth doing.

[Check out for more information on the speaker I heard and the inspiration for these musings.]

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Mighty in the Darkness

I was walking home from yoga last night when a friend sent a text message telling me she had just completed an amazing yoga class (in a city far from mine), and the theme for the practice was "mighty"--"as in" [her words] "the stronger we get, the more able we are to be vulnerable with ourselves."  I was feeling pretty "mighty," in the moment, and grateful for the timing of the word to describe the feeling.  After a week of "trying to right myself," of "trying to get through" what I had acknowledged to be a temporary rough spot, there emerged that lightness of being that is the strength we have to simply settle back into ourselves--in all of our beauty, all of our crazy, and all of our brilliance...and to be gentle with all of it.

Whenever I am feeling a bit detached, unmoored, unfettered, scared, etc., what I've noticed is that I'm becoming increasingly able to say, "Hey, I'm feeling detached, unmoored, unfettered, scared, etc., and I am pretty sure I am going to emerge shortly, but for now, this is what I'm feeling."  I have, for some time, acknowledged that these are the moments when I'm in the "wilderness" [metaphorically...and, I have to note that I most often find myself in the "wilderness" in my life when I'm furthest from it].  And I'm getting [a little] better at not judging myself for not always feeling like I'm riding high (because that would be ridiculous and an artificial expectation, yes?).

"When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed."--Joseph Campbell

The cycle of light and dark seems to be just this:  There is darkness, new realizations emerge, and we learn again and again to trust what's around us all of the time.  It's sometimes obscured, this support we can bask in, at least momentarily.  And, as much as I'd love to be someone who never loses my awareness of the support and interconnectedness that tethers me to the rest of the world, I do.  And I begin again, with a little less "woe is me" and a little more "woohoo," because that's where I know the truth is.

"The less there is of you, the more you experience the sublime. " --Joseph Campbell

The truth is in the woohoo.  It is.  And it's in the love I feel for you, and you, and you....

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Fragility and Vulnerability

This has been a week of slowly putting myself back together (feeling very humpty dumpty, yes I am).  A yin yoga class tonight asked me to enter a pose that that the instructor described as "a pose to experience fragility and vulnerability for a very short time."  I thought to myself, "if this is what fragility feels like, then what is the rest of my day?  life?  Hm."

I've been reading more Cheryl Strayed.  This time I've embarked on a journey with Dear Sugar.  In response to a reader's question of "What the Fuck?" as applied to daily life, she answered:  "Ask better questions.  The fuck is your life.  Answer it."  This answer, which in its entirety also articulated a cruelty she'd experienced in her own life, for which there could be no answer, made it infinitely clear to me that there are times when we ask this question in a light hearted way, and there are a few when we ask and the answer is a head shake, the knowledge that bad things happen, and there's no real answer beyond the acknowledgment and increased compassion.  The fuck just is.  Takes a long while to figure that out.  As the introduction to the book reads:  "Inexplicable sorrows await all of us.  That was her essential point." And I return to my belief that those "inexplicable sorrows" are what have the potential to create catalysts for our growth of humanity, if we don't shut ourselves down.

And, in the spirit of compassion and asking better questions, I don't truly wonder at the fragility and vulnerability in my own life any more.  I don't relish it, necessarily, but I don't have much choice for how I exist in the world at this point--you can't very well put blinders back on once they've been removed.

I read an article tonight in the East Bay Express about a man who has created a documentary of the lives of homeless recyclers in the bay area.  These hidden people are the ones who wake me before dawn on Tuesdays as they rummage through the recycling bins that line my street, and whose clinking shopping carts I can hear for what seems like miles in my pre-dawn-wish-I-was-still asleep haze as I toss and turn on my pottery-barn-down-comforter-high-thread-count-clad bed.  Fragility?  Vulnerability?  Sometimes I simply have to laugh at my self.

Monday, August 26, 2013


The past weeks have been filled with a series of destinations:  arrivals and departures, moving walkways nearing their end, and almost constant interaction with other humans.  I enjoy this immensely.  And it depletes me (introverts unite!).   On my flight home on Sunday,  I was no longer fit for conversation, and, frankly, smiling and making eye contact even became a stretch.   I had hit my own point of no return--I can sustain the social state (and love it) for as long as it takes to do good work, but when it's done? when I've pushed on just a little too far?  I'm hard-pressed to even carry on a casual conversation for a while.

In yoga this evening, as we were perched in half-moon pose, the instructor's words, "balance is not a destination" lifted me beyond some of my self-judgment about feeling so out of whack. Balance is not a fixed point we reach and then are able to sustain; it's a wavering wobbly state, with moments of perfect alignment.  And as I looked up, and felt my left leg shake and sway (and my arm follow suit), I was grateful for this perspective.  Off the mat, it makes even more sense to me, particularly when I'm feeling as off-balance as I am right now.  My skin is a bit tight, my nerve endings are closer to the surface than they usually are, and I can feel every bit of me retreating, needing to re-store, re-gain, and re-configure my self before I can enter back into the fray.

A colleague last week said to me, "I bet you're ready to be home."  And, caught off-guard, I thought, "I have no concept of what that might mean right now."  And then realized he meant Oakland, my apartment, etc.  This is home in the sense that my car is parked here, more of my stuff is here than anywhere else, and my mail arrives at an address in this city.  (And, when I woke up a couple of weeks ago from a rare night in my own bed, I thought, "wow, this hotel has much better bedding that the last place I stayed.")  But, the biggest gift I've been offered in the past year is being able to settle into the acknowledgement that the destination where I've arrived, wherever it may be, is home, for as long as it is.  And that it will shake and wobble at times, but there will be balance no matter where it is.  This understanding that I am home wherever I am?  To develop an interest in the destination?  To not cling so tightly to any one?  Priceless.

"Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music--the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people.  Forget yourself."
 --Henry Miller

And when it's time to retreat and provide some time for self-care and regrouping?  To acknowledge that I need some space to recover before I can once again take in all of the riches?  Priceless.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Gathered Up Inside": Wandering Forward

I was late to the read of Cheryl Strayed's Wild: a tale of love and loss and longing and hiking the Pacific Crest trail and returning to safety within (among other beautiful things).  I bought the book last summer in hardback, but gave it away when I realized I wasn't prepared for someone else's tale of mourning (regardless of catharsis);  I was still too much in the midst of my own.  However, yesterday, en route from Oakland, CA to Detroit, MI, I finally lost myself in the tale.  And, as happens in life, the experience came at just the right time.

"I didn't feel like a big fat idiot anymore... I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too"  (p. 234).

This quality of feeling "fierce and humble and gathered up inside" resonated so strongly that I had to set the book down for a moment, and simply think:  "Yes, you've named it, Cheryl Strayed, that's exactly what feeling safe is."  And in this ability to articulate the feeling, there is freedom.

I look back over the past year, and I see how much there was to mourn.  And I am grateful.  I am grateful that I took the time to wander forward, in sometimes meandering ways, because it allowed me to land, firmly, where I am.  And to know that all around me are people moving through, healing, and grieving--and finding places to land.  And we live, we grieve, we celebrate, and we try damn hard to be kind and graceful along the way.  Is it that simple?

"What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn't have done was what also had got me here?  What if I was never redeemed?  What if I already was?"  (p. 258).

I am ready to believe that being "unmoored by sorrow" may be the truest (and most amazing) life altering event.  One thing I know for certain?  There will be more moments of sorrow, but there will also be many more of celebration.   And "here" (metaphorically speaking) is a damn lovely place to be.

There are some fabulous quotes that Strayed chose for the openings of different sections of the book, one of which is:  "Will you take me as I am?  Will you?"  --from Joni Mitchell's "California"

Tomorrow I'll enter another year as me.  I am glad to know that I have so many people in my life who do, indeed, take me just as I am.  And I'm grateful to know that I am willing to take me just as I am too.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Growing Up (Still? Always.)

When I was in Winnipeg last December (a trip that should not be taken in winter, but will be again, by me, this winter), I bought a calendar for 2013 by a local artist, a "Happiness Calendar."  Each month there has been a new quote, and fabulous colorful artwork that accompanies it.  I've been able to gauge my receptivity to life by my reactions to these quotes more often than not.  I sit with each quote for the month, then attach them to my fridge in the hopes that these concrete reminders will stay with me.  The quote that has stood out for me most is:

"Happiness is a form of courage."  --George Holbrook Jackson

I've read this quote a hundred times over...some days believing it, and on others thinking that it was a ridiculously simplistic viewpoint.  I've spent the last couple of months teasing out how this is both a hugely complex concept, and a fabulously (not ridiculous at all) simple idea.  And, tonight, during a conversation after dinner, my lovely friend, as we were discussing our current feelings of satisfaction with our lives said it well:  "When you're happy, you're not always looking for the 'next best thing' and you can be present."** And the inverse is true:  when you're present, you're not always looking for the next best thing, and you can be happy.

I know I've tossed these ideas around for some time now, but there are moments when we think things through, and there are others when we feel them to our core.  I'm beginning to recognize that growing up is growing into these realizations:  not just parroting some teaching we've received, but actually living it.

This process requires a lot of wisdom (something that in itself is a fluid process) and lived experience.  Maybe there are some people who are just born into this perspective?  I'm not sure, but I do know I wasn't one of them.  I have been wise at different points throughout my life, but I've also been obtuse, immature, and reactionary.  I wish I could say there was some natural trajectory I've moved through, but I have to admit that these characteristics have been recurrent and have spiraled through me throughout my life.  I have been courageous, and I've backed down, away from my self.

Pema Chodron on Growing Up: "When we apply the instruction to be soft and nonjudgmental to whatever we see at this very moment, the very embarrassing reflection in the mirror becomes our friend.  We soften further and lighten up more, because we know it's the only way we can continue to work with others and be of any benefit in the world.  This is the beginning of growing up."  (From Comfortable with Uncertainty, pp. 125-126).

What I believe?  I believe that growing older, growing wiser, means:  we breathe before we react; we see what is instead of what could be; we love ourselves as we are; we find joy; we know that everything we believe about wisdom will probably continue to be revised and built on.  The difference is, when we're courageous, we're okay with this knowledge.

"Do not fear mistakes...There are none."  --Miles Davis  (A timely message sent from yet another beautiful friend.)**

**Surrounding yourself with wise and beautiful friends is also a sign of wisdom and courage.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Inquiry and Ego

There are moments when I feel my ego rear its ugly head, where my self-protective armor amasses itself, almost unwittingly, seemingly beyond my control.  And then, there's that moment when I sheepishly disarm myself.  Unfortunately, some time passes between these two events, most often.

I realize that in my own life, in my own mind, I provide myself with an endless feedback loop and inquiry into the practice that is my daily life. I am hugely fallible; I over-share; I think things one day that the next I roll my eyes at;  I have to self-correct on a regular basis.  And I continually process and learn.   I wish I could be "right" at some moment.  But, most often, when I think I am, I fall on my face the next day.

My professional inquiry this week has been a mirror of this process, and part of a larger feedback loop that I am providing for colleagues--feedback on performance that (in theory) will be used to deepen and develop more responsive pedagogies to support participants' learning.  And when I hit walls (aka resistance from others), I feel my own ego surface (in the form of "why can't you just take these observations in the generative spirit in which they are being offered?")  And I feel myself succumbing to the same sort of "I'm right/ you're wrong" stance I'm trying to disrupt.  An a-ha moment, indeed.  And one that is not new to me professionally (which makes my knee-jerk, hurt feelings, keep-a-smile- on-the-outside reaction seem even sillier).  This is not my first rodeo; this is not my first experience with "Hey you might want to consider..." that is met with body language that communicates, "Who the f--- are you to tell me what to do?"

From Pema Chodron (who always has the words I need):  Classifications of good and bad come from lack of maitri. We say that something is good if it makes us feel secure and it's bad if it makes us feel insecure. That way we get into hating people who make us feel insecure and hating all kinds of religions or nationalities that make us feel insecure. And we like those who give us ground under our feet.

What I'm learning this week, is that I want to be able to both support people (and myself) in feeling the ground under their feet, even if what I'm sharing brings out insecurities in them (and me), and I am learning that experiences that do not necessarily feel warm and fuzzy, are worth softening into.

When we feel resentful or judgmental, it hurts us and it hurts others. But if we look into it we might see that behind the resentment there is fear and behind the fear there is a tremendous softness. There is a very big heart and a huge mind—a very awake, basic state of being. To experience this we begin to make a journey, the journey of unconditional friendliness toward the self that we already are.  --Pema Chodron

It's a challenging journey; I'd like to continue on this journey without hurting myself or hurting others.  Going to have to keep practicing.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Lot To Learn

There is a regular character in my life, who I have named, "the yelling man" (This is not a very creative name, but is apt).   Most evenings (at least those I've been privy to),  around 9 p.m., the yelling man walks down the street near my house and yells loudly at an unknown character (who, from the yelling man's body language, would be walking on the other side of the street if said unknown character actually existed).   This evening, while walking home from dinner with a friend, the yelling man was letting it be known that unknown character "had a lot to learn" followed by a series of expletives, references to karma being a bitch, etc., etc.  It's pretty much a verbatim rendition of previous rants I've heard him offer to the world.  Tonight, though, after looking for the millionth time for the "unknown character" to whom he was speaking, it struck me:  This is an internal monologue made public. [NOTE:  This interpretation could be argued, but since I'm the one with first hand observational data, I will ask you to go with me here.]

I've had a slightly more gentle internal monologue of my own:  one where I realize, that, I both have a lot to learn, and that I'm constantly learning.  I won't call it "progress," (that seems like a silly word in this context) but I will acknowledge that my thinking is getting a lot more spacious.

I've focused for so long on restructuring, reconfiguring, expanding understandings of the narrative arc of my life, that I overlooked the simple fact that I was still operating within the narrative frame that I've been born into, that society has offered me regularly.  Chogyam Trungpa (from his talk "Loneliness, Relationships, and Ruling Your World") says:
"As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel we deserve resolution.  However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution."

Hm.  Yes.  All of that clinging and grasping and trying to rewrite a narrative in order to head toward some resolution that seems palatable?  Yes.  That's been me.  All of my attempts to figure out how to get myself back to a "comfortable" state  (or at least one that seems comfortable) overlooks the very very basic fact that none of these attempts in the past have ever led to anything but temporary comfort, or, as Chogyam Trungpa says more eloquently:  "Scrambling for security has never brought anything but momentary joy."

I'm down with some momentary distractions as much as the next person.  But I've been wrestling around with the temporality inherent in these momentary distractions.  Fun is fun, but it's not an "answer" (as if there was only one) nor is it "contentment"  (something everyone, including myself, is ultimately looking for in some really interesting places and ways).

And then, "We don't deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that.  We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity."
Theoretically paradox and ambiguity are two of my favorite things.  In practice, well, it's a practice to hold space for these states.  I'll gladly continue this practice.  I don't want to cheat myself out of a life of ambiguity.  This requires more than just a shift in my belief in narrative structure.  Shift happens?  (I know, I know, I couldn't resist).

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Returning again and again

...And again.

One of my favorite lines of Buddy Wakefield's is from his poem "Information Man":  "Even at your fucking worst, you are incredible.  So return to yourself, even if you're already there, because no matter where you go, or how hard you try, or what you do, the only person you're ever gonna get to be, and I know it--thank god--is you."

How often do we mistake ourselves and our reality for our mind's imagination of our reality?  How many distractions do we seek out?  I've thought a lot about refuge of late, and the fact that most often we seek refuge in the way we want things to be instead of the way they are.  And in the past weeks?  I've been afforded the luxury, the absolute embarrassment of riches, of finding refuge in the way things are.

I've found refuge in the past weeks in the spaces that have been present all along, but that require me to be able to get my mind and body in the same space so that I can actually see what is afforded me.  I had to get quiet and still enough--to fight my (instinctual) flight response--to be able to see where I am.

This journey to remain still was punctuated by a singular, but not isolated, experience of reconnecting with a best friend--of the past and now the present.  The simplicity of walking alongside someone who knew me in striped tube socks with chlorine streaked hair as the partner in crime who read every book in the school library in elementary school--and was right beside me in the quest.  A friend who knew me again as someone who couldn't quite wrap her head around the small midwestern town that she was plonked into as a teenager (when I showed up in Birkenstocks and flowing skirts in the world of blue eye shadow and permed hair).  And someone who has lived a parallel life all along--and sought out the tough answers all along as well.  For many this might be par for the course, but for military brats, this is not.  The connections and good-byes are recurrent, and the idea that paths will cross again?  Slim to none.  This latest reconnection was not a dwelling or worshipping of the past, but the recognition of the past that has shaped who we are.  It's so rare to be able to celebrate who we are and where we come from in this world.   So often we get trapped in the longing for the past or the constant stories, but sometimes it's so liberating to say, "whoa, we lived through all of that and learned a shit lot."  [Note:  I've determined that "shit lot" or "fuck lot" are phrases that should be used sparingly, but regularly.  I think they communicate quite a bit.]

So, here's to imagination and reality merging.  Here's to the embarrassment of riches we find when we truly inhabit the spaces we stand in.   Here's to no more second-guessing, to moving through, to not clinging, but to knowing who and what is important to make time for.  And breathing through the rest.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The View from the Solstice: Circuitous thoughts from the top of the year

The past eight months have been an ongoing street fight within me:  I've vacillated between thinking, "Oh, yes, this is a grand adventure" and "What the fuck."  And I'm guessing this vacillation will continue, but hopefully the swings between the two will narrow a bit in their extremes.  I keep showing up, though, even when I feel that I am as graceless as I've ever been.

Friday night I was reminded to look out at the view from the pinnacle of the longest day of the year:  an uphill climb with a descent to follow, and to note what is.  Many of us got to this point in the year by heading straight up with few obstacles, some of us got there on a meandering path, and others were fighting demons and destructive thought patterns along the way...or some combination thereof.  And I considered that these roles shift and change with every year, hell, every season, every solstice marking the way.  But in that moment?  For the moment?  I was able to look out at the view, to see and embrace the beauty.  I was afforded the luxury of leaning in and being exactly who and where I am.  How often do we take advantage of the luxury of presence? 

There are these fleeting moments in life where we can actually see the view, unobstructed by stories and piranhas of doubt.  I am convinced that these moments are closer to true than anything my monkey mind can conjure.  This is not a view of the future, nor is it a mourning of the past, but it is informed by both.

In my flying around in the past weeks, I found more wisdom in airplane reads... Liza Palmer, in her novel, Nowhere but Home wrote:  "Living in the past has its benefits.  Closing the door on this means I have to look to the future."  The present is somewhere in there, but is always obscured by the past if we continue to live there.  And per usual the nuggets I choose are centered around a protagonist's searching:  "I want chairs that don't match and a porch with a swing.  I want mason jars filled with wildflowers in the center of rustic wooden tables.  I want flickering candles and a fire in the fireplace.  I want mismatched dishes and old-timey silver... I want a place that feels like home.  A place where I belong." Thankfully, in a novel, the protagonist can suffer, return home, find love, and sift through a lifetime of experiences in less than 300 pages.  Life might be more like a trilogy:  Hope and justice in the first, pain and suffering in the second, intensity and resolution in the third.  Not sure which book I'm in.

I'm coming closer to finding home in me, but also coming closer to solidifying the vision of the "home" (writ large) that will surround me.   And I'm allowing myself the space to recognize that both of these factors are important.

This afternoon I found myself, not for first time, in the wiccan store down the block from my house, and found my eye drawn to a bracelet of fluorite ("for clear heart and mind to allow for clear action").  As I took the bracelet and a few polished stones to the counter, the gentleman chatting with the owner said, "you know, they make pills for that." I said, "Yes, that's my next step."  And we looked at each other knowingly.  And I asked the owner, "Good for making big decisions?"  She nodded and smiled.  I completed the purchase.  I think magic might just trump pharmaceuticals.  Or at least my belief in it will.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Caught Up

Tonight at yoga, the instructor said:  "And, if you find yourself caught up in your thoughts, just thank your mind and gently move past."  And she reminded us that this has been a practice, an exercise for a long long time in human history--this process of swirling about in thinking, and trying to quiet our minds.  I most often think of getting "caught up" as the time when I will be able to sit and quiet myself.  However, it's the constant state of being caught up in snake-eating-tail thinking that most often makes me feel as if I'm not fully on top of my world.

I've been laid to waste by my own thinking this past week, and finally had the opportunity to just laugh at myself (and not in a mean way), let go of the need to "figure things out" (in quotes because, honestly, who ever does?).

From The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera:  "There would seem to be nothing more obvious, more tangible and palpable than the present moment.  And yet it eludes us completely.  All the sadness of life lies in that fact."  I'm inclined to agree.  I have few present moments that cause me much sadness at this point.  If I let my mind move backward in time or try to project forward, there is mourning and there is fear (or a desire to cloyingly attempt to control outcomes) and neither of these states have any bearing on who and where I am at this moment.  Forever catching up.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fearing Differently

Lately I've engaged in a whole slew of conversations with women I love.  These conversations have circled back to a concept I've been tossing around for a bit here:  this idea of reconfiguring, re-evaluating where we are and where we want to head.  The patterns that emerged in all of our thinking have been truly striking.   I think we all do this (re-evaluate) all of the time, in big and small ways.  We formatively assess, we monitor and adjust, and repeat.  However, there also seems to be a time in life when this becomes a more and more "monumental" or "momentous" exercise.  Maybe, just maybe, as we grow older, we are more and more intentional about this practice; age incites a desire and a capability to move closer and closer to living as we truly want to be living--there's less time to continue to "make do."  And we cull and shed as necessary.

And I started thinking about what we embrace and what we fear at different points of our lives, and this quote from a book I finished on the plane a couple of weeks ago struck me:
"I used to believe everything my brother told me, because he was older and I figured he knew more about the world.  But, as it turns out, being a grown-up doesn't mean you're fearless.  It just means you fear different things."  --Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf  (and, no, I'm not recommending the book; it was a fun airplane read, though.)

Fear has interesting adaptations as we age.  It seems to manifest as anxiety more than fear of any concrete "thing" any more.  A friend of mine and I used to joke about "general malaise"--an unidentifiable illness, but a clear sense that we weren't "well."  We used to ask each other, "Is it a general or specific malaise?"  The general malaise was always the more disconcerting, frankly, because we couldn't just "treat" it or find a solution.  And I think this is what makes adult fear such a strange beast to conquer.  We can't identify one thing or event that is causing pain or discomfort, but there is a compendium of symptoms that collide and become anxiety-inducing.  I came down with a cold this weekend, and it was so refreshing to simply say, "yes, indeed, these are the symptoms of a cold, and they will pass in a couple of days, in a predictable manner."  I could acknowledge, control, and ride through this.  Easy-peasy.

And so it goes.  I like my list of things I no longer fear at this age I am, and I'm starting to actually embrace the things I do fear (because there isn't really a choice here).  I do have some fear of life being an endless series of events that lack "woohoo!"  But I also acknowledge that I'm in charge of my own well-being.  I sometimes worry that I'm making choices that move me further and further from what I really want.  But I no longer fear that every decision I make is somehow singular and loaded with great import; I am grateful to realize that not everything happens "for a reason" in life (though, there are times, of course, when this salve would have made certain life events more palatable).  As I write this, I'm becoming aware of the fact that "fear" is not a word I enjoy using.  And a lot of this is because the things I fear most have happened in the past.  I'm not very afraid of my future; I'm more afraid that decisions I've made in my past have led me to a future that isn't what it could have been.  How much of a cliche is that?

There are certain decisions that affect things permanently.  And those?  Those you deal with.  And?  If I'm Pollyanna, I realize that those decisions have allowed other things to happen.  No matter who I am? I realize that those decisions have been made.  And that now is now.  And fear?  Fear is mostly a waste of time (unless you're in a life-threatening situation--then, only then, will it come in handy).   Fear will remind you whether you are to climb a tree or curl into a fetal position if you see a black bear.  It will create the impetus to cut loose people whose insecurities will eat you alive, and to look both ways before you cross the street.  Trust you.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Core strength

Tonight's yoga class was punctuated by two teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh.  One resonated soundly with me (to be honest, the chatter in my head was so distracting that I didn't hear the first teaching).  The instructor read aloud a passage that explored the idea of the fleeting nature of emotion, and that in order to recognize that emotion would pass, it was important to get out of our heads, to go to our core.  And, as my intention for the class was, "to clear space," this particular teaching resonated.  I realized that I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to clear space in order to get to my core, and that my last series of musings have been an exploration of this.  What she also shared, was the importance of this being a practice when we are feeling solid, when there are no heavy emotions surrounding us, so that we have an ingrained practice when we are hit by waves.

This, riding on the heals of a new workout regimen that has left most muscles in my mid-section quite sore, made me aware that I had a very physical (albeit metaphorical) reminder / awareness of my core that might help me practice stopping all emotion from bowling me over as I let it swirl around in my head.

How do we cultivate core strength?  I think we begin by clearing the debris that hangs us up in the world of ego.  It's possible, that we continue our practice of asking good questions and not expecting "right" answers.  I think, quite possibly, we do it by thinking less and trusting more.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Honing in on True North

I stopped on my way to work today to write down this quote from Ram Dass:  "We're all just here to exchange notes about our own journey."  And I thought, yes, that's what I'm doing...  I'm offering up notes about my journey in the hopes that they are useful, not as blueprints, but in the spirit of transparency.   And because I love exchanging notes about life.  It's this amazing query with no answers, but lots and lots of theoretical memos.

I've had a bit of a battle with dishonesty and artifice lately, and what I've recognized is that I have very unproductive reactions to these components of human nature.  And I've got some work to do on cultivating my own grace and generosity in situations when I am confronted by particularly overt displays.

In conjunction with this work on my ability to be graceful in the present, is a corresponding quest to consider what my "non-negotiables" for my life are.  Because I'm in a rather unique position, in that I have no responsibilities outside of myself, I have time for these types of musings (for better or worse).

A friend of mine said, "Sometimes your skin just doesn't fit in certain places.  You don't need to apologize for that."  My skin doesn't fit when I inhabit some environs.  I feel the need to try them on so that I can be certain, but I have to acknowledge when and where I am most fully me.  I wrote once, "Look up.  The stars will save you.  They always do."  I don't particularly need saving at this moment, but I realized that stars are non-negotiable (Yes, I know that they are always in existence, but I want to be able to see them).  I've been weighing things: creating If/ then comparisons, considering trade-offs.

For example:
Do I need a Trader Joe's?  Nope.  Do I need seven yoga studios in a one mile radius?  Nope.  Would it be nice to have one?  Yes.  Would I trade good restaurants for a yard of my own?  Yes.  Is it possible for me to live for extended amounts of time without a dog?  No.   Do I really care about dating?  No.  (Great quote from Anna Quindlen:  "It would take quite a man to replace no man at all."  :)  Do I need work that is fueled by passion and desire to make the world a better place?  Yes.  Will I succeed at this work?  Probably not, but it's enough to try.
You get the gist.

Each experience I have, each situation I try on, allows me to hone in just a bit more on what is true north for me.  And each experience also allows me to see, just a little more clearly, that the only person who can determine what is best for me is me.  And I want to forgive myself the digressions because they are what help me find clarity.  Someone else's "dream life" does not have to be mine, and vice versa.  And slowly but surely I'm getting to a place where I can internalize this and operate from that stance.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Chaos Theories

"Where chaos beings, classical science stops.  For as long as the world has had physicists inquiring into the laws of nature, it has suffered a special ignorance about disorder in the atmosphere, the turbulent sea, in the fluctuations of wildlife populations, in the oscillations of the heart and the brain.  The irregular side of nature, the discontinuous and erratic side--these have been puzzles to science, or worse, monstrosities."
-From "Chaos" by James Gleick (1987)

I've been thinking about the types of problems we consider worthy of attention and the types of questions we ask (individually and collectively).  I have been noticing that different people ask very different questions about the world (and argue for their limitations in being able to answer these questions--or, on the other hand, argue for the limitations of the questions themselves), and through these questions, we learn a lot about how people view the world.  There are those who deny chaos, who want to control it, and then there are those who want to step in and explore it.

I was reading about Oppenheimer's Los Alamos lab today and the "Theoretical Division" which included a group of physicists and mathematicians (working on questions that were directed toward something I'd rather not think about), BUT, I find this idea of a fully funded, truly valued, "Theoretical Division" to be particularly compelling.  I read about Mitchell Feigenbaum, who had published only one article, but was seen as "real smart," despite the fact that he spent his time walking darkened streets (during his experiment with shifting to a 26-hour day), taking airplane flights to view clouds from different views, and noticing, just noticing.  Where did his wanderings lead?  To places I don't understand:  fractals and bifurcation of something or another.  But the thing is, his wanderings led to something that probably couldn't have been arrived at in a more linear way.  Maybe I'm not quite brilliant enough to have my wanderings lead to such monumental discoveries, but what I know is that I'm sick of asking the same questions.  I'm sick of asking questions and then trying to fit the answers into someone's format for "productive contributions to the field."  And, frankly, I'm sick of interpersonal relations and navigating human egos, and I'm sick to death of my own.  I want new questions, and I want some new ways of exploring.

What if we each created, as a space in our lives, a "Theoretical Division" where we gave ourselves space to consider how clouds form, how they move, how light looks at different times of day, and we gave ourselves space to really notice...and to wonder?  And what if we allowed ourselves to note not only the patterns of our daily lives, but the turbulence, fluctuations, and erratic movements that make up this world?  And what if that helped us recognize how worthy the questions and the noticing is?  And what if that allowed us to expand our view of the world?  And to not feel quite so compelled to make everything linear, quantifiable, and wrought with the burden of one right answer?  And what if there was freedom there?  What if these universal characteristics that allow the study of chaos are only the beginning?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Present Pressing

I filed for an extension on my taxes today, and I bought asparagus at the farmer's market.  These two events are related only because 1) I realized two nights ago as I sat down to do my taxes, that I had not received a W-2 form from one of the organizations I worked for last year, and 2) This day that I had dedicated on the calendar to completing my taxes instead included a trip to the farmer's market.

Now, neither of these events on their own are of any great import, but what is exceedingly clear to me is that time is passing--and quickly.  Yet, when I look back on the past weeks, I feel as if I've lived lifetimes--both in my waking existence and in sleep.  I woke Sunday night only to hear myself yelling "stop it" to some unknown (and scarily eye-less) assailant who was (in my dream) channelling negative thoughts into my mind.  I'm sure there's some fabulously Freudian explanation for my dream, but I'm not terribly interested in a heavy analysis.  I have been doing some heavy-lifting emotionally as I continue to make sense of my space and the transitions that I've worked through in the past months, and, really, there isn't much more space for figuring.

What is becoming clear is that once you stop the motion, particularly after a transition, there is space to think and feel.  And this?  Well, this space seems to offer up harder conditions than the constant motion.  Virginia Woolf writes:

"The past only comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surface of a deep river.  Then one sees through the surface to the depths.  In those moments I find one of my greatest satisfactions, not that I am thinking of the past; but that it is then that I am living most fully in the present.  For the present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you can feel nothing else"  
("A Sketch of the Past," from Moments of Being, p. 98).  

[Woolf presents this as a seemingly positive state, but, although she was brilliant, I have to take this with a grain since we all know how that all turned out.]  What I'm noticing is that I'm not fully in either space:  I'm still trying to figure out my present, but I have enough figured that my past is creeping back in willing me to tie some bows and close up some open-ended thinking that has been lingering.  And then there's the whole idea that distraction is actually quite pleasurable--How much "easier" (emotionally) is it to operate on a purely survival level (though it never seems easy in the moment) than it is to say, "Whoa, I've been operating on a purely survival level and now I have to figure out what the fuck is really going on in my psyche and in my world."  There is this idea of really local concerns and really global concerns in life:  If I wonder where I'm going to get a couch for my new apartment, that is so much easier than wondering why it is that I'm living in my new apartment.  (Note:  My apartment is absolutely lovely; I just haven't lived in one since I was 19).  

And so...I continue on a journey to clear space, to clear out what is superfluous (and clear out the to-do bin) so that I can that I can watch the shift in the season and be a part of it.  I know there will always be mourning in shifts, but I want to focus on the celebration.  And I simplify things as much as I can, recognizing for the millionth time in this lifetime that operating from a clearer stance leads to a clearer view of the beauty--of the asparagus, of the flame red strawberries that can be smelled from two stalls away.  I don't want to be afraid to wake up and to see,  to appreciate.  And to let the present flow over the past because the past makes it richer, not because the past is haunting me.

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness." 
 --Henry David Thoreau

I'm still teasing out the ideas of the above quote (and, yes, its author always demands a certain level of criticism), but there's something here.  Above all, simplify.  Note the shift in seasons.  Note the shifts in mindset.  File for extensions, but don't extend the past's impact on the present.  Trying.