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.]