Monday, February 28, 2011

Once more into the breach

When I was a kid, The Sword in the Tree -- a book about a young boy in King Arthur's time -- was one of my favorite books.  I suspect that like all children I struggled with feelings of powerlessness, and dreamed of being able to pull off feats that adults could not.  We don't tend to lose that longing as we age; even when I graduated to King Arthur, my favorite part was always the moment when he pulled the sword from the stone.  Excalibur, wasn't it?

A quick glance at the Wiki tells me the origin of the word Excalibur is Celtic, a blend of "battle" and "breach" (in the sense of cut or gap).  So that carries me to Shakespeare's Henry V, and his famous rallying cry, "Once more into the breach, dear friends."  And doesn't that just make you picture him charging forward with his sword raised over his head, encouraging his troops to follow him into battle?

I think all this is rising up because of something I read this morning in The Dove in the Stone, when author Alice Howell speaks of "the necessity to yoke the opposites of dualities rather than to choose one side over the other, to hold on to both of them consciously and heal the splits apparent in the world within our own individual psyches, no matter how deep or how awful the pain of it.  This is the nature of the Opus, the Work.  Only in this way can we hope to love and heal our world:  through working on our own stuff."

Reading this -- in the context of knowing I am still curious about what my own particular Opus might be -- I feel the words resonating with lots of pieces of me: the urge I always felt to reconcile the differences between my artist mother and engineer father; the fact that I then became an artist myself -- and married an engineer.  Was I somehow battling the gap?  Or just experiencing it within myself -- the left brain always so active and organized and responsible; the right so playful and reverent and creative...

A conversation I had with the Bishop in my final interview for my job as his communications director, when he asked, "Why do you want (or was it "feel called?") to do this?" and I responded that as the only child of two such different parents I always found myself bridging communication gaps; that that impulse had led me into the field of hi-tech marketing, where my role always seemed to be explaining something engineers had created to people who didn't speak that language.

And then as I spoke I remember noticing that I was standing with both arms straight out from my sides, as if to demonstrate the pull from one parent or audience to another.  "Hmm.  I remember saying.  And does this image look familiar?  Nobody ever said it would be easy!"  Because, of course, in that position, I resembled Jesus on the cross...

But now, having spent the last two months first developing a talk about Contemplative Photography as an Act of Faith for Seattle U (see link on right) and then writing a paper about metaphors used to describe photography, I am beginning to understand that even though what I'm doing now seems very different from other careers I've had over the course of my life, the impulse is the same: it's really about reconciliation, in the sense of closing the gap; bringing opposites together; about removing or reconstituting or re-visioning that which separates and often wounds.

And yet we all know -- especially we women -- that it is out of that wound, that cleft, that breach that new life emerges; the new life that is somehow the co-mingling of opposites.  And isn't that part of the wonder of our children -- that we see in them how characteristics we thought might prove irreconcilable find a new union, a new expression in their joining?

Hmm.  Lots to ponder here...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Light of the Self

"Why should it be so hard for so many simply to be kind?  To hear a new commandment: Love thy neighbor, he is thyself!  To know, not only believe, that the light of the Self in anyone else is the same light that is burning in the Self within us, so to reverence them both is to reverence the One, that great mystery of the Sacred."

These words from Alice Howell's The Dove in the Stone echo mightily in my heart this morning; they tie in very neatly with the final paper I rewrote yesterday for my class on Metaphor.

The essence of that paper is this: that the traditional metaphors for photography -- shooting, capturing, taking or making pictures -- don't really work for me because each in its own way designates the subject of my photograph as "other;" an enemy to be shot or captured, a prize to be taken, a clay to be molded...  I see the act of photography as a gesture of relationship with all that is holy in the world; a way of listening to and acknowledging that light of the Self that burns in all of creation.

It's been fun to explore the metaphors, and fun to evaluate what lies beneath them; fun, also, to understand a little better why and how it is that I do what I do -- which, at least for now, seems to be about "gathering images."  Those were the only words I've found (so far; I'm sure there's lots more thinking to be done on this subject) that had the potential to honor the sense of oneness and unity that lies beneath and behind my photographic efforts.

That said, I have to confess I do not have TOTAL reverence for creation: it's ant season (always a challenge when you live in a house built on sand) and I've been ruthlessly murdering lots of the little buggers these last few days.  Every morning I come into the kitchen to find them swarming over the dishes my late night sugar snackers leave by the sink.  Lysol works great on them, but I do feel a bit guilty wiping up all those little carcasses... Time to put out the 20 Mule Team Borax!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Meditatus Interruptus

This has always been one of my favorite spots on Shaw.  It's just a lowly storage shed, on the UW Biological Preserve; just a madrona tree, a hillock, some grass, some rocks, the roots of a tree long gone... But there's a rightness to it, an order, a balance, a serenity that really appeals to me -- especially on mornings like this one.

Because today I'm just... well... cranky.  And I have decided -- since it's happened before (and unfortunately twice in the last two days) to name this particular disease: it's meditatus interruptus.  And frankly, I wish it didn't bug me so much.

The crankiness isn't so much about the causes of the disease; in a house with four residents it is inevitable that if I am not careful about waking and meditating before 7 am, someone will probably get up and disturb me; I can hardly blame them (though of course that's my initial response; I'm only human!)

But this has always been my pattern: any emotion that even remotely resembles anger is always followed by guilt.  So even if my initial response is to be annoyed, closely on the heels of that response there follows an awareness of my own complicity in the problem: that mass of shoulds.  I should have gotten up earlier.  I should have remembered to bring my bag of Starbucks' half-decaf breakfast blend coffee back from Shaw instead of leaving it in the freezer there... or I should have mixed some decaf in with this morning's coffee so I wouldn't be so wired.  I should, knowing I was getting a late start, have gone into a room, shut the door, and put up a do-not-disturb sign.  And, finally, I shouldn't take one look at the pantry/office I'd meant to reorganize today and decide I just can't handle it.  And here's the big one: I shouldn't let it bug me so much.  If I were really the spiritual person I claim -- or at least want -- to be, one or two missed meditations wouldn't leave me feeling so disoriented and restless. 

Oy.  I need to stop being so hard on myself, eh?  Or maybe go back to bed and start over...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wisdom in a wreck

As Alice Howell says in her wonderful book, The Dove in the Stone,  "in every apple, every snowflake, every flower and crystal, everywhere in nature, wherever you look and learn how to see, there is an aha! waiting...Wisdom is not hidden.  She is everywhere, but she hides like a dove in a stone."

I recently found myself trying to explain how this concept fuels my photography, and decided that perhaps an image or two might convey it better.

While I was on Shaw, I found this old wreck in the woods by the side of the road.  And, yes, I get that it is not an apple, flower, or snowflake.  But nonetheless something in it called to me.

So I stopped my car, got out, and wandered over.  And this is what I found singing to me from that crumpled trunk.

You may not see what I see here, but that's really not the issue.  What matters is that it moves me: I pay attention, and hear a frightened creature, a call to honor and conserve, to become a more conscious consumer.  I feel a haunting reminder of the brevity of life, and I feel a bit the way my children used to feel upon seeing a single stuffed animal on a shelf in a toystore: Mommy, he looks lonely -- can I bring him home?

It's foolish, I'm sure.  And it could surely get entangled with the old confusions around pantheism and panentheism.  But can anything that awakens the heart NOT be a little foolish?  And isn't art itself a little foolish?  I should be out providing for my family, and yet my spirit calls me here, to observe and to share whatever aha's the world might have to offer. 

... and it's all good.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A snowy farewell

We awoke yesterday morning to find the island bathed in snow.  By the time we'd gotten the house cleaned up and everything packed into the car, the snow was several inches deep, and when we arrived at the ferry dock it was to watch cars struggling to climb the hill up from the store and failing.

There was no sign of a plow (they have to come from off the island, and were obviously busy elsewhere) and even after we reached Anacortes things were still a mess.  The roads were terrible, and cars and trucks were pulled off to the side, either waiting for plows or trying to put on chains to help them navigate the snow.

We were grateful for our all-wheel-drive, and stayed in that mode until we reached the highway, which had actually been plowed, and I kept my camera on for quite a while, capturing quiet scenes of the Skagit Valley in snow as we struggled home.  Snow is a rare occurrence here, and though it strips our rural landscape of its color, it's hard not to sigh at the enhanced beauty of the snowy scenes -- which is what my daughter did as she paged through the images on my camera when we finally arrived back on Bainbridge.

"Oh, mom, I wish I could have been there with you.  It's so beautiful..." (there was no snow here, and still isn't, though several community meetings were canceled last night due to snow predictions).  What is it that we love so much about those snowy images? Do we look at all those white bits fluttering down and think of snow globes? Is it just that the snow reduces everything to its bare black and white bones, and to silence?  Or because it softens all those edges?  Or is it just that it awakens childhood memories of sledding and snow angels, the thrill of being released from school; the taste of hot chocolate when we finally come in from the cold?

But of course, this snow is now just another memory, another moment in time, another image we carry...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The sacred feminine

The Shaw Island Library was open yesterday afternoon, and they have a wireless connection, so I took my husband there with his computer so he could check his email, and I went off to Neck Point, the farthest tip of the island, where we lived for three years in a rented cabin perched in the trees on a cliff above the water, looking south toward Friday Harbor.

The very tip of Neck Point is separated from the rest of the island by a narrow neck of land, just wide enough for a two-lane road, with beaches on both sides. The northwest-facing beach looks out to a small wooded island, a couple of docks, the mountains of Canada, and some of the most glorious sunsets I’ve ever photographed. The southeast-facing beach is separated from the road by a tidal lagoon stacked high with driftwood: the winds here are almost always from the south, and the beach itself houses one of the finest driftwood collections I’ve seen apart from the amazing ocean beach at LaPush.

It was here, walking this beach with my camera after my mother died, that I got my start in photography, and it was lovely to visit my old friends: many of the larger and more striking pieces of driftwood have been here at least 15 years, and though the day was dry so they were bereft of the beautiful colors they take on when wet, they were still calling to me.

This one, for example, which I have photographed many times and from many angles, speaks to me of the sacred feminine which we characterize so often as Mother Earth – perhaps because I’ve just been re-reading Alice Howell’s The Dove in the Stone: Finding the Sacred in the Commonplace, in which she says:

“The new theology speaks of a ‘creation-centered spirituality.’ For many of us this means a return of the goddess – or the feminine aspect of the Godhead – fostering a love and appreciation of our planet and its creatures, and a new ecology. If any stone is the House of God, by extension, the Earth itself is mother to meaning, to consciousness.”

I’ve never been one for goddess-worship, but I have come to know the feminine aspect of God (in my church we speak of “the Holy Spirit, who broods over creation like a mother over her children”), and know also that I feel closer to that feminine spirit here, on this tiny island, than I have anywhere else in the world.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

On aging...

I know.

I promised you beautiful, peaceful images.

But you never know what might catch the eye of a photographer – and as we sat in the ferry line yesterday, waiting for the 305 ferry that would take us to Shaw Island, I couldn’t take my eyes off this bit of plastic in the back of the truck beside us.

When I first noticed it, it was hanging like this, but when I went for my camera, the wind caught it, lifting it up so it sat hunched on top of whatever this is that’s wrapped up beneath it.

And it became a kind of game: the wind would drop it down, I’d position my camera, and up it would go again. I did get several pictures of the floppy piece lying on top, but this was the one I most wanted; I just loved the lacy wrinkled texture of it; like the skin of an ancient crone…

I’m not sure I’ll make it to ancient crone-hood; I’m not even certain I want to live that long (not that I have much choice in the matter). And I know from watching my parents age that it’s unlikely I’ll ever have that paper-thin, finely wrinkled skin I find so lovely in the elderly: my scandinavian roots seem to have guaranteed me skin too thick for that.

And why am I so aware of that texture of skin right now? Probably because I sang with the Community Singers at another assisted living center on Saturday. There was one very old, quite fragile woman, who got around in a sort of framework I hadn’t seen before, constructed of what looked like PVC pipe. I suspect they had created this sort of cage around her to keep her separate from the other residents, because it was clear she had a desperate need to touch people.

She would slowly, very slowly, inch toward one of the other residents, and her head would strain forward with this furrowed brow and a look of intense yearning, and then a thin bony hand would slowly come up, curled almost into a claw with one finger forward, and reach out to the face of the other person as if to stroke a cheek…

The other residents ignored her, and never even engaged in eye contact with her, and the cage ensured she would not be able to actually touch them. But I thought how sad it was to watch that naked longing.

… I hugged my husband and daughter quite tightly when I came home. And yet the woman’s yearning lingers still…

Monday, February 21, 2011

Off to Shaw

One of the many wonderful things about having grown children living with us is that we can leave the house for a day or two and know the dog, cats, and fish will be taken care of.

So, given that a couple of regularly scheduled activities aren't happening this week, we've decided to head up to our cabin on Shaw Island to try to solve a water problem that surfaced over the winter.

Which means I may or may not be able to post to the blogs tomorrow (there's no internet at the cabin, but I might be able to work at the library).  But it also means, though the cabin is deep in the woods, that I'll be photographing more scenes like this one (which we'll pass as we drive to the cabin).  Time spent on Shaw always seems to feed my soul -- it's a wonderful, peaceful, beautiful, and deeply spiritual place with lots of positive associations for us -- but of course this will be a working vacation; might not be as much fun as usual.  With luck though, our time there will feed my camera, and I'll be returning with some more peaceful images to share with you. 

I wish you blessings on your day, and on the week to come...


Sunday, February 20, 2011

One small moment of peace

The image of this still and quiet pool caught my eye this morning; I suspect it's because it reflects the difference between today's meditation and yesterday.  Yesterday I was simply trying to escape the relentless pounding of the surf outside my window; the thundering noise and the rattling of the house in response, and all the anxiety that provoked.

But today the seas outside are calm, and so the pool inside is calm as well.

I was reading this morning, in Interspiritual Meditation, a story Ed Bastian tells about having had to live in Varanasi for a year, and how disappointed he was to have to endure the constant clamor and insistent vitality of that noisy, holy, Indian city when he was engaged in such important spiritual work.

But as an experiment, he began, at the end of his meditation periods, to visualize the city and its inhabitants; its noise and its clutter; and try to imagine the peace of his meditation spreading out into that environment.  And what he found was that his own attitude toward the place began to shift.

Ideally that's how meditation should work for each of us: it should be more than simply a quiet respite; should enable us to carry what peace we find out into the world, for the health and happiness of others. I notice that's a should -- and I also notice that I'm not there yet.  But this might be an attempt: I find that peace inside myself, and offer it to you in the form of this peaceful image.

May you find health and happiness and some small moment of peace today -- and here's another something that might help...


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Not always easy

It's a beautiful morning here -- clear, cold and sunny; the mountains (that's Mount Baker off in the distance) are out from behind their usual cloud cover.  But the wind is fierce and cold, out of the north, and pounding our beach so hard that it's making the light fixture in our bedroom rattle.

Which means sleep has been fitful for all of us this morning; we keep giving up and wandering downstairs to watch the waves and then going back up to bed again, exhausted.  My daughter even went out into the wind at one point to see if she could figure out what was rattling at her end of the house. (Turns out it was something on the roof; nothing she could fix.)

But it is, for now at least, a minor inconvenience; I keep thinking of the people of New Orleans back during Hurricane Katrina, standing on top of their houses waiting for the winds to stop, for the waters to subside; hoping desperately for rescue... And those thoughts carry me to all the other troubled places in the world, places where things seem to have gone hopelessly out of control; where people are just wishing that whatever it is would just stop, that someone could come and make it all better, keep them and their loved ones safe.

It can be difficult, if you take the time to watch or read or listen to the news, to carry the knowledge of all that's wrong in the world without beginning to feel helpless and hopeless.  And I wish I had an easy or reassuring answer for that challenge. 

But we both know there are no easy answers; no simple solutions.  I just have to trust that it's enough to be aware, to pray, and to do the best I can to follow where I'm led and do what I feel called to do. But it's not always easy to listen, or to know, it's not always easy to do, and there are definitely days when it's not easy to accept that that is enough. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

That time of year -- again

Shakespeare has a wonderful poem which I have always loved:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold    
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang    Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,   Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

I mention it now because this was the image that called to me this morning, and I realize it's because that time of year has come again, not the one with the autumn leaves, but the one where I begin to hunger for color and light.

I'm sure that's what was driving my recent fascination with Assisi -- and then yesterday, in looking for an excuse to go to Assisi, I happened upon an upcoming Wisdom Week in New Mexico with Cynthia Bourgeault and Richard Rohr (already, sadly, fully booked; even the waiting list is full).  I haven't been to New Mexico in years, but I adored it when I went, and the hunger to return always grows particularly acute this time of year.

No, this is not New Mexico, it's the Alamo.  (All seventeen rolls of film I shot in New Mexico were destroyed by the airport x-ray machines, a loss I've mourned ever since).  But these are the colors I'm hungering for -- the deep blue of sky, the rich yellow of adobe, the stark contrasts of the desert... Sigh.

That hunger -- like all hungers -- is probably symptomatic of something internal, something spiritual; a feeling within of a sort  of gray muddiness, a longing for light and clarity.  Which might speak to some shift occurring, or to the imminence of Lent -- or perhaps it simply reflects the fact that this morning's meditation was interrupted twice, and so I'm not operating on a full tank today.

I'm thinking, after I drive my husband to the ferry, I should try again...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

In gratitude for peace

Yesterday's post was a little light, but it led me to write what I believe to be one of the best poems I've ever written.  (Notice I don't say one of the best poems ever written, just the best I've written). 

The reason I mention that here, with this picture, is because I wanted to say that the poem was fueled -- though it says nothing about that -- by the spirit of St. Francis.

It all started with the image you can currently see off to the right of this post, of an urn, seen through some dusty mottled glass.  I took the photo at a winery in Tuscany, and we were told the urn contained a rare and precious wine.

So I wrote a poem about that, which you can find here, and then, because I liked the poem, I created a video of it, which you can find here.  And after I loaded the video into youtube -- and then watched it, to be sure it was rendering properly -- I found I was really moved by the ending; after the words were done, the way the light lingered on the top of the urn, and then faded.

(You need to understand: I don't claim a lot of ownership of this work -- the poems, the videos -- it's more that it passes through me, so it's not like I set it up to have these effects, they just seem to sort of happen.)

And seeing the light fading on the urn, I was instantly transported back to the tomb of St. Francis, in Assisi, which lies deep within the bowels of this beautiful church, the Basilica of San Francesco, in Assisi.  What I remember is going down the stone steps, and seeing the statues that marked the tombs of his friends, and coming to the crypt where Francis himself is presumably buried.  (I did not photograph it, but you can see a picture of it here).

There was a steady stream of tourists passing through, but they would come forward in groups of five or so and stand or kneel before the candles in front of the tomb, and then move on.  And when it was my turn to move forward and stand before the tomb, this incredible sense of peace and acceptance stole over me; a very physical awareness of spirit echoing within me.

It was that awareness, those echoes, that resonated in me once again on seeing yesterday's image of the urn.  How is it, I wondered, that I could have passed over that image so many times as I wandered through my photo images, and never noticed its power?

I can't answer that question, anymore than I can explain how occasionally a poem or video of mine can seem inspired.  I can only be grateful for the sense of peace that flows through me in response; may you find that peace in your work, as well.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hang out and wait

This morning there were two images that leaped to the forefront as I sifted through my files.  Both were taken at Verrazanno Castle in Italy, and both have to do with guarding, protecting and ripening.

This boar's head hangs (if I remember rightly) in the room where they hang all the ripening grapes that have been gathered in the harvest; I believe that's a mirror on the wall, reflecting the long strands of grapes.

It's possible, of course, that the boar's head is just there for decoration, or atmosphere, but it feels to me like a warning to leave the grapes alone until the ripening process is complete.  "To everything," it says in Ecclesiastes, "there is a season."

It is a gentle reminder, I think, not to rush or hurry that which is ripening within us; a reminder that someone else is in charge here; someone who knows what the timing is for the end product to be the best wine it can possibly be.  We are only the grapes, and sometimes all we can do is hang out and wait.  You cannot rush perfection.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Partners on the journey

Wandering through my photos this morning, I found this curious image, shot through two car windows (mine and hers) from a taxi at a stoplight in Naples.

I like the fiery intensity of her forward gaze; the determined set of her mouth, the vaguely patrician nose... I also love the colors, and the curious intensity of the shapes in the lower lefthand corner.

So I tidied her up a bit, intensified the color and the contrast, and named her Woman on her Way.  We're on  a journey together, she and I -- and you, too, of course -- and I doubt our paths will ever cross again; surely we wouldn't realize it even if they did.

But I feel a kinship with her that I am endeavoring -- through meditation -- to cultivate with all human beings, and with all creation.  Because we are all journeying together, each of us cradling that spark of divinity in our hearts in a sort of cosmic relay; hoping to learn what we need to learn before we hit that finish line...

Monday, February 14, 2011

The play of light

This morning I was listening to a piece from Carlos Nakai's album, Canyon Trilogy.  It was about time for me to finish my meditation, so I was slowly emerging from my contemplative state, and I found myself thinking, "Oh, what a lovely call and response piece this is."

I love the idea of call and response. I grew up in the Presbyterian church, and there were lots of call and response opportunities in our services; I also enjoy call and response as a musical tradition.  And, of course, call and response is an integral part of my understanding of my relationship with the Divine: I call for help, and there is a response.  Or I feel called, and I respond.

But as I listened, and my attention level grew, I realized the piece wasn't really call and response at all; it was about echoes.  And I could somehow visualize the lonely flute player, standing at the edge of a canyon, playing his mournful melody.  And instead of a response, all he gets is an echo, resonating in the emptiness.

A bit of sadness stole over me as the song drew to a close, and I realized I was feeling a little of that this morning -- and don't we all, in times of transition?  We hunger for that call, but until the time is ripe all we hear are echoes of our own hunger...

Yesterday I went for a walk on the beach in an effort to try to connect, to listen; looking for some kind of sign or direction.  But mostly, though I was trying to look with new eyes, all I could see were the same old familiar ingredients of this beach: the stones, the shells, the sand, the driftwood; the little bits of plastic detritus -- nets, bottletops, and the like -- that always come in with the tide...

But at one point there was a flash of light across the water -- actually just the pale gray of the sky peeping through the nearby trees -- and so I took a picture.  And this morning I feel good about it; glad that I looked away from what's immediately beneath my feet, looked slightly farther to see this flash; looked up to notice the trees and the sky that created this reflection.

And now I see this was no echo  -- there was no light in me at that moment to echo.  It is indeed a response; a reminder that black moods are just tiny specks of seaweed compared to the light that's always flowing into our lives.  And the patterns that we think are so deeply ingrained are, in reality, always moving and shifting, ever fascinating -- if we're willing to step apart and watch; to notice the play of light upon the water.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On peace and passion: being Crusader Rabbit

I've been doing the (wonderful) 20 minute meditation tape that comes with the Spirituality and Practice website's course on Interspiritual Meditation.  But what I find is that it's not enough: it does a terrific job of getting me into "that space" -- whatever that space is -- but I don't get to stay there long enough to get some of the work done that usually happens for me in Centering Prayer.

Not that it's work, exactly... but there's a sort of awareness that can occur if I can get into the space and sit with it long enough both to watch what thoughts are bubbling up and to listen for what lies beneath.  My realization of this -- there's always a lesson in everything, isn't there! -- came from noticing my blogging process felt more awkward, more contrived; it didn't seem to flow the way it usually does. 

So I decided to tack on another 10 to 15 minutes of music after the provided meditation ends: pieces from Carlos Nakai's album, Canyon Trilogy (so beautiful!). This picture captures the way I felt after this morning's combination of Interspiritual and Nakai: so deep and cool and clear and peaceful...

But then instead of writing I went to church, where Bill was preaching on that awful passage in Matthew, the one after the beatitudes, about plucking your eye out if it sins, and hellfire, and marriage after divorce as adultery... Oy!  So I'm kinda not in that peaceful space anymore.  Not in hellfire, either, but... you know.  Sometimes the Bible takes WORK; you can't just take it literally.  Which means now my brain is engaged, trying to put the violent imagery of this passage together with the peaceful soul I've come to know in Jesus.

And I think Bill's right: Jesus must have been pretty angry when he said this stuff.   And thinking about it, I find myself feeling angry, too.  Because what he's talking about is the difference between playing by the rules -- obeying the letter of the law -- and Abiding by The Rule -- his cardinal rule of Love. And when I think about that, I think about people in high places who somehow manage to make piles of money and stay unpunished even though they are responsible for bilking thousands of others out of their life savings, or the ones who keep sending thousands of soldiers to unnecessary trauma and death in order to protect our oil interests, or who can poison an entire Gulf with relative impunity.

And thinking about that, I'm totally there; I can totally get frustrated with that sort of rampant disregard for fellow man; can totally imagine myself saying, goddammit: if you even THINK about pulling shit like that, pluck out your goddam EYE!  It's sort of this angry parent thing: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!  YOU'RE GROUNDED, young lady.  GROUNDED!

Sorry.  I get like that sometimes.  I was reminded of my capacity for that sort of passionat anger when my daughter sent me this youtube link to Crusader Rabbit.  I think I must somehow have watched that show in my formative years.  Because normally I am this small sort of quiet rabbity person inside (even though I'm 5'9" and 175 pounds) but when I'm brimful of righteous anger on someone else's behalf I get FIERCE.  Not to say that's good, or a great quality in me -- it's definitely gotten me into trouble on SEVERAL occasions.  It's just... what I do.  Who I am. 

Which is probably why I'm someone who NEEDS to meditate everyday; NEEDS to get back into that peaceful space: it's a way of containing and channeling that energy, keeping it directed where it needs to go; reminding me that I am not infallible, reminding me to always ask that wonderful Joey question: what is it about that person that I don't like in me?

So yeah -- that was a tough passage to hear.  But it's good, I think. Not that we want to get fixated on what sinners we are.  Just that we need to be reminded that none of us is perfect -- which means we have to be very careful about directing any of that righteous energy anywhere other than right here where it belongs: on fixing our own stuff; reconciling our own relationships, straightening out our own lives.  Let Jesus deal with everybody else's sins; I've still got plenty of my own to work on...

Hmmm.  can you tell we're heading into Lent?  To paraphrase a remark a friend left on Facebook: if Eustace Tilley arrived in my mailbox this week, can Lent be far behind?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The heart wants what it wants

It was silly, really -- or so I told myself.

I'd seen a piece of furniture I really thought we could use -- an old-fashioned oak wardrobe, with an oval mirror on it; the sort of piece I'd been looking at and admiring in antique stores for years -- and the price was irresistible; less than half what most such things were going for.

So I told him -- since he was going into town anyway -- to stop by and have a look.  But when I came home later that evening, and asked what he'd thought of it, he said he'd never gotten around to it.

He hadn't gotten around to walking the dog either, though it was almost 10 pm, so I did that and went up to bed and started reading myself to sleep.

But sleep just wouldn't come.  And I had to face the fact that I was hurt he hadn't bothered to look. And maybe I'd been daydreaming a little -- that, having told him I liked something, he'd get all indulgent and just buy it for me; you know, surprise me.

Silly, I told myself.  Greedy.  You don't even need it (though you've thought for years something like that would make a perfect closet for the guest room.)  And stupid, too, to have wanted it in the first place -- it's not a perfect specimen of the breed, not as enchanting as some I've seen over the years.  And things like that don't happen to girls like you.  Wait.  What was that voice?  Where did that come from, that last remark?

Having heard that one, I began backtracking, and noticed the other voices, too: the ones that called me silly, and stupid.  For wanting something; for wanting someone to notice that I wanted something.  And I could hear echoes from my childhood; times when I wanted things and was told I was stupid, the thing I wanted was tacky, or silly.  And then, the kicker: don't be so greedy.  And that old saw -- only children are such spoiled brats.  You don't want to be one of THEM.

They'd always been there, those voices.  And of course I heard echoes of them in that failed first marriage.  My way of dealing with the voices -- when I got the courage, finally, to extricate myself -- was to vow not to count on someone else to treat me well: I'd take care of my own needs; I would never again ask someone else to do that.  And I did -- I got a good job, and learned to listen to that voice that wanted.

But of course I built in my own parent, installed voices in my own head to say don't be stupid, or greedy, or silly.  Learned to cut corners and make do; to compromise  -- it's silly to want that, it's foolish to want this; you're already so fortunate -- you don't need that: think of all the starving people in the world.  Or you'll never find that, they don't make stuff like that for people like you.  Here, this'll do just fine.  Settle. Some part of me was always telling me to settle; that I was foolish and greedy to want whatever it was I wanted.  Don't make such a fuss about not getting what you want.  Those are wants, not needs.  And of course, I didn't want to be one of those people with entitlement issues.  One of THOSE people.

Sometimes I got my courage up, stifled the voices, asked for what I needed, or felt I deserved -- even got it.  But that would always launch these desperate people-pleasing behaviors afterward -- because I felt so guilty, not just for asking, but for getting.

So there I was, lying there, in the dark, trying to sleep and feeling all those echoes from the past wash over me.  And of course that mature adult parent voice started to kick in, saying don't be silly.  But I heard it this time.  I was listening for it.  And then I could hear another voice, underneath that one.  And it said, Wait!  That was a feeling you were feeling.  Feelings are good.  Keep feeling that.

And as I felt my throat starting to close up, I could hear Brene Brown's words -- which I published here just 3 days ago -- about the numbing thing: that if we numb our feelings at the sad end of the spectrum, we numb them at the other end, too.  Don't do it, I thought; don't shut down.  Feel the hurt -- even if it is stupid or silly. I couldn't outshout that other voice.  But I could try to stay with the feeling.

Because it's just important to listen.  Because the heart wants what it wants.  Why not just let it want?  Wanting is okay.  Sad for not getting is okay.  But it's not stupid.  And wanting doesn't make us greedy. Why are we so embarrassed to want?

So then, because I was afraid I might forget, and go back into the numbness, I came downstairs to write.  Some part of me was already accusing: see, you're running away.  Running to words, instead of staying with the feeling.  But I've grown so forgetful lately -- and feelings, and their triggers, have a way of disappearing before I have a chance to look at them, acknowledge and honor them.  So I decided it would be good to write.  But of course if I'm going to blog, I need a picture.

And look what I found.  It tells me just what I needed to hear -- what everyone needs to hear.

"You are the best thing."

You are.

Really you are.

Friday, February 11, 2011

On cultivating stillness

This morning in Brene Brown's book,  The Gifts of Imperfection, I am reading about the importance of cultivating calm and stillness -- and they are not, as you might think, the same thing.

Brown defines calm as "creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity"  -- as in, staying calm in a crisis; maintaining equilibrium in situations where your natural tendency is to fly off the handle.

Stillness, on the other hand, is more about meditation; making time in your day to be still.  And if meditation is still something  you have trouble imagining yourself doing, I think you'll appreciate her definition of the kind of stillness she's speaking of:  "Stillness," she says, "is not about focusing on nothingness; it's about creating a clearing.  It's opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question."

Stillness is not about tying yourself to a chair and forcing yourself to empty your mind for 20 minutes.  Stillness is about grace, and acceptance; about giving yourself time, each day, to listen to where your heart is taking you.

Sometimes I think the reason our minds seem so cluttered all the time is because they're like small children clamoring for attention: the more you ignore them, the louder and more insistent and more rambunctious they become.  Stillness is about honoring all those voices in your head, making time for yourself and your thoughts, creating a safe space where what needs to be said can be heard, where what needs to be expressed can be felt.

Yes, sometimes there's some divine input that falls into that quiet.  But mostly there are all those thoughts clamoring. By observing, acknowledging, and releasing them, and choosing to return to the stillness, we are inviting all the parts of us to be heard and valued, and at the same time inviting each of them to join us in that peace.

It is only in stillness that we can get an accurate reflection of what needs to be heard.  And it is only in stillness that we can stare into the depths of the shadows, and see how rich and beautiful that darkness could be.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The critical importance of rest

I'm getting conflicting messages this morning.  On the one hand, Brene Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, is inviting me to inventory what works in my life right now, and then to compare that to our current wish list.  It is her conviction that what's working may well be the important things of life, and that the wish list is to a large extent extraneous.

At the same time,  the Spirituality and Practice website's course on Interspiritual Meditation is encouraging me to visualize what I want to become, and to work toward transformation, using meditation as a tool to facilitate that.

The first challenge is about accepting things as they are and living in the now.  The second is about understanding how we have failed, what might be missing or imperfect and working toward some higher good; it feels very future-oriented.

And I'm thinking that this is part of why choosing the spiritual path is so challenging: how do we maintain that constant balance between being attentive to, accepting and appreciating and finding divine wisdom in the now while at the same time working to improve and enhance our abilities as compassionate thoughtful service-oriented beings in the world?

As I think on this, I realize it's a bit like driving a car: some part of me is attuned to the car itself -- to speed, pressure on the accelerator, direction, hands on the wheel, preparedness...  And some other part of me is always scanning the environment in which the car moves, attentive to sudden shifts and changes as well as expected ones; to the deer at the side of the road and the stop sign and the man walking his dog and the traffic and the car that's coming up too fast from behind and planning to pass me on the right...

And all the while there's an awareness of time, and of destination, and of what's expected of me when I arrive.

It's not that any one piece is critical; it's that all the pieces are essential, and we somehow find a way to balance our attention, keeping it centered and yet constantly moving.

So what is this image saying to me about all of this?  I'm thinking it's about the actual subject of this particular chapter in Brown's book: Play and Rest.  The only way we can pull off this complicated task of life is to make time to rest: to pull the boat out of the water from time to time, and instead of spending our time sanding it down and repainting it, to just appreciate it for what it is; to relax and enjoy the colorful layers and the sturdy construction of life just as it is; to let that to-do list just hang there for a bit.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The divine womb of compassion

Yesterday's lesson in  the Spirituality and Practice website's course on Interspiritual Meditation was about an aspect of gratitude I hadn't previously considered: Prayer and Opening to Help.  Here's what they had to say:

"With the sense of trust and commitment established in yesterday's contemplations, we open ourselves to the source of our gratitude for help and support. This is either done through a simple act of will, or by expressing a particular need or desire, perhaps even planting it like a seed in the womb of a compassionate source in the universe. This latter expression is what we usually think of as prayer. Of course, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of this kind of "petitionary" prayer. So it need not be directed at an external being with expectation that they might grant our wish.

Whether our prayers are directed to a divine source — within or without — to the universe, or to the deepest potential within us, we are expressing a deep wish that is far more profound than the mundane desires that generally run through our minds. Prayer activates support and the power of our spiritual capacity to actualize our most profound and benevolent aspirations for ourselves and others.

I love the idea of "planting it like a seed in the womb of a compassionate source in the universe."  And it particularly resonates with me when I see it in the context of this image and my life.  This image, which is just a pattern of rivulets in the sand of a beach in Oregon, has always looked like gratitude to me.  And my life -- well, I have a daughter who is driving across country this week, and she called a few minutes ago to ask for advice because her windshield wipers keep icing up, which makes it hard to see.

No mom really wants to hear that her daughter is driving in 20 degree weather with a fine mist falling that's icing up her wipers.  But of course she tells me the roads are fine and I shouldn't worry.  Can I just say how grateful I am for my belief that there is "a compassionate source in the universe," and that fervent prayers for her safety are really the only good way to channel the anxiety I feel?

I just have to trust -- there's nothing I can do (though I did tell her to stop at a gas station and pick up some spray de-icer).  And that can be so difficult... So I'm taking deep breaths, remembering gratitude, visualizing her safety, and planting my "most profound and benevolent aspirations" for her future and safety in that divine womb.  And breathing.

It's important to keep breathing.  And doesn't it look like that's what the figure in this image is doing?  It looks like she's breathing light into the world.  I think that's what breathing in faith does, as well.

So keep breathing...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Risking the storms

Doesn't this look like an incredibly idyllic retreat?  I know nothing about it; just spotted it while photographing some nearby boats.  But to me it looks like the stuff of dreams...

But I wonder how the people who live there feel about it.  Do they grow immune to the pleasure and beauty of it over time?  Do they get to spend much time there?  Is it a vacation home, or a full-time residence?  I imagine the pleasure of falling asleep listening to the waves beneath the cabin.  But what would it be like in a storm?  Is this cove reasonably sheltered, or do they regularly get buffeted by fierce winds?

Or, maybe, to put it in more personal terms: if this house were for sale, at a reasonable price, and I were looking for a home, would I be tempted to purchase it?  Or would I look for a safe place, away from the wind and waves?  Because it looks to me like this house would be both more fun and more scary to live in than the average suburban residence.

I am reading this morning about gratitude, both in the Spirituality and Practice website's course on Interspiritual Meditation and in Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection.  And they both point out that gratitude is more of a practice than an attitude: we need to be consciously thankful for the gifts in our lives.  And those gifts include, not just the peaceful mornings like this one, but the stormy ones as well.  Because the storms -- and the fear and anxiety that accompany them -- have their own gifts to bring us.

And here's one of the most important things Brown has to tell us about that: if we attempt to numb ourselves -- whether through drugs, or alcohol, or excessive use of the internet, or overwork, or shopping, or eating -- so that we don't feel the impact of those storms, then that numbing also makes us immune to the joys and pleasures at the other end of the spectrum.  Which in turn deprives us of the sustenance we need to get through the next storm. 

If we open ourselves to feelings at one end of the spectrum -- the emotional equivalent of buying the house on the water -- then we open ourselves to the storms as well.  But if we close ourselves to the storms -- the emotional equivalent of buying the safe house -- then we cut ourselves off from the pleasures of life as well.

We have to be willing to feel, not just the good stuff, but the bad stuff, too.  And it seems clear that if we make a practice of gratitude -- of noticing, and being thankful for, both the blessings and the challenges of life -- life will prove to be a much richer and more colorful experience. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Trumpeting our stories

After such a full weekend -- class all day Friday, the Book Festival Saturday, long conversations on Sunday -- I feel like my head is exploding with stories.  Certainly the initial minutes of my meditation time were spent sifting through all the stories; it seemed to take forever to get back down into that quiet space within that feeds me.

And it seems to me that that was one of the key learnings of the weekend -- this weekend of storytelling and sharing: that however strong the urge may be to trumpet our stories, the truth is that we are NOT our stories; that in fact story gets in the way of knowing, of presence, of wonder and awe, of connection...

Yes, a tiny piece of story can build that first bridge -- like the wonderful connection I felt with Rose, a woman from Australia who was in town to hear her sister's presentation.  It was fun to hear we'd grown up not far apart, in small towns in Ohio; fun to hear she lived not far from my niece in Australia; moving to hear that she, too, had recently spent time at the deathbed of a dear one.  But the connection came not in the details of the stories but in the sharing of responses, and feelings.  We only spoke briefly, over lunch.  But I felt a wonderful bond with her, and still treasure the sense of affinity we shared across the table.

I felt that again, listening to Anne Lamott.  Her speech was marvelous: she peppers her talks, as she seasons her books, with references to incredibly juicy stories.  But it is not the story that builds the connection you can't help feeling with her: it's the emotions, the revelations, the responses, the discoveries that emerge; the vulnerability she shares, and the hope she reveals, that make her such a joy to listen to and read.

At some point in her talk, Lamott shared something she'd heard that she thought might challenge us.  "The opposite of faith isn't doubt," she said.  "It's certainty."  But my husband (who was amazingly wise this weekend) said later, driving home, that he thought that observation was a little off.  "I think what really happens" he said, "is that faith begins where certainty ends."

Thinking about that now, I'm thinking that stories are often about certainty.  This thing happened to me.  This is my reality.  I'm certain I was victimized, or betrayed, or damaged by this (so often that's the root of our stories).  And I think he's right.  Faith is that sense of mystery and wonder that comes in when you realize you can no longer be certain (maybe even certain that someone else is at fault, or that you were at fault, or that fault and blame even matter).  It's the piece that lies below the story, the breath that stops when you get past the words, the mysterious sense of connection you feel when all the masks and pronouncements and language we use to declare ourselves to the world fall away and the vulnerability beneath lies revealed.

Which of course makes me stop in my tracks -- I am, after all, an inveterate storyteller.  That's what this blog is about.  But it comes back to the balance I mentioned in last night's post.  There needs to be a balance between story and wonder.  Story alone won't get us there: we need to step into the silence that follows the story; to stop and sense that which lies beneath.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A striking balance

Don't you just love these colors?  Even though these are just plastic boats (I usually prefer to photograph old wooden dinghies) I thought they were just beautiful together.

And part of the reason is that blue and orange are opposites on the color wheel (like green and red, and purple and yellow).  Which means if you were to mix them together, you'd get this ugly brown color.  But when you put them side by side, they just pop.  Which is a good thing!

Which makes me think about a conversation we had at dinner tonight, about the importance of balance.  Initially we were talking about hi-tech corporations, and how they need a balance of sales and engineering to function well.  And then we thought, well, humans need a balance of right and left brain functions. 

And then I thought, well, marriage needs a balance, too -- and certainly mine (in which we are opposites in lots of ways) seems more stable as a result of that.  But we kind of need to stand a bit separate, be who we are, not blend into one another, because maybe things get a little muddy when we get too interdependent.  At the same time, what keeps us together is common values, shared experiences, and a sense that both of us are committed to something larger than ourselves.

And what does that say about our two-party system, or the imbalance between rich and poor?  Isn't it possible we need all these different ways of looking and being in the world to achieve a balanced picture?  And maybe it's not important that we all agree on all the issues -- because surely in such a case something important might get overlooked.  Perhaps it's only necessary for us to find some common ground -- or water -- in which we can float together; some shared commitment to something larger than ourselves...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Instead of judging...

Have you met Gladys yet?

I bought Gladys last summer on Ebay, when I was creating that deck chair for the lawn chair exhibit.  I photographed her on a webbed chair, in the grass, and then printed the photo on canvas and suspended it in one of those old-fashioned deck chairs...

Anyway, the thing with full-size mannequins is, they take up space -- wherever they stand.  So Gladys has been living in a little-used corner of our living room since her deck chair debut.  And when winter came we decided to dress her in warmer clothes.

But we've grown used to her -- we don't really notice she's there -- so we're always a little surprised when new people come into the house and sort of reel back in shock.  I mean, well -- she's Gladys.  She's part of the family now.  She belongs.

But I found this photo today and decided to put it up (warning, this is not one of my usual morning blog posts, just something I heard that I wanted to pass on) because we were driving home from my talk at Seattle U (yes, it went WONDERFULLY: Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers) and we were remarking on one of the lectures we heard, noticing that we'd both projected negative thoughts onto the speaker until she spoke, and I just had to share this comment I heard from one of the students in my metaphor class at Antioch yesterday. 

It was Joey, a young man from Jersey, handsome, athletic, with a big booming voice that reminds me SO much of my Uncle Bob (also from Jersey) that I always have to smile when he talks.  And Joey said this -- I could hear him way on the other side of the room during one of our breakout sessions --  "You just have to ask: 'What is it about that person that I just don't like in me?' "

Isn't that a great line?

So if I look at Gladys -- or anyone else for that matter -- really look at her, and think, hmm, not sure I like that about her, it's a pretty good bet that what's putting me off is something I don't like in ME.

Yeah, I know, you've heard it all before.  But this is just a reminder -- having just made that mistake AGAIN -- that you should maybe be wary when your mind starts judging.

And here's the best part.  I told my husband this story, and he said, "Well, you know what I say: I just assume everyone I talk to is God."

"No,"I replied, "you never told me that."

"Oh," he said, "I just thought you knew.  It's kind of like that line from the Bible -- you know, doing it to the least of these is doing it to me?  I just think, this guy could be God; could be he's having a bad day, or testing me or something."

Wow.  No wonder I'm still married to this man after all these years...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fitting in is not belonging

This morning, in Brene Brown's wonderful little book,  The Gifts of Imperfection, I am reading about the importance of belonging.

"Most of us use the terms fitting in and belonging interchangeably, and like many of you, I'm really good at fitting in.  We know exactly how to hustle for approval and acceptance.  We know what to wear, what to talk about, how to make people happy, what not to mention -- we know how to chameleon our way through the day.

One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging.  Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted.  Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are."

At one level this seems really obvious -- or, at least, it should.  But with one of those flashes of epiphany you get sometimes, I could see, upon reading it, that a lifetime spent moving from one community to the next (Before Bainbridge, I never lived anywhere or attended any school for more than 3 1/2 years) was excellent training for fitting in, but poor preparation for building a sense of belonging.

Which explains a lot, I think, about my current malaise.  Some part of me -- having lived in one place for almost ten years now -- is deeply restless.  And I think it's because I can finally see that fitting in is NOT the same as belonging.  Which means I have work to do, if belonging is important to me (and, since I'm human, it definitely is.)

Belonging, says Brown, "is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.  Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it.  Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."

Guess I gotta work on that one...

So then, as always, the question becomes, why this image?  Partly just because I like it, for sure.  And the thought of rowing standing up is pretty harrowing.  But I think it's because I was never, growing up, part of a team; I never did sports.  And looking at this, I can see that in order for a team to function well together, each member needs to be clear about their struggles, their strengths, and their weaknesses -- at least in that particular sport.  But to make yourself vulnerable on that physical level probably means you're vulnerable on an emotional level as well.  So missing teams may be another reason I struggle with this one.

Not that I'm looking for excuses; mostly I'm just trying to understand where the work lies, and to relate it back to my own experiences being -- or trying to be -- part of various communities over the years.  But actually, Brown makes it clear where the work lies. "We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection."

Understanding this distinction between fitting in and belonging, she says, "forced me to acknowledge that cultivating self-love and self-acceptance is not optional.  They aren't endeavors that I can look into if and when I have some spare time.  They are priorities."


How's that self-love thing working for you?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not as rational as you think...

I'm not sure why this dirty plastic horse is lying on this dock.  Perhaps it was retrieved after floating in on the tide?  But why leave it here?  And why did I photograph it?

The answer to the last question is easiest, of course, because I'm explaining my own behaviors, not guessing at someone else's.  But even then, do we really understand our own behaviors?  I THINK I shot it because of its incongruity.   And I suspect I have a softness for old abandoned toys -- even if I didn't read the Velveteen Rabbit until long after I reached adulthood.

But -- as I'm learning in my class on metaphor -- what we consciously control in our brains is tiny compared to the unconscious pathways our brains naturally travel.  Jonathan Haidt, author of The Happiness Hypothesis, asks us to consider each human being as a tandem enterprise: a lawyer trying to ride an elephant. "The part of us that is conscious, careful and calculating (the lawyer) is often outmatched by the huge lumbering bag of electro-chemical processes, appetites and cravings that characterizes the physical human body (the elephant). The good news is that our intellect is often quite reliable in telling us what we need to do. The bad news is that the intellect is often overwhelmed by the “elephant’s” unrelenting unconscious bodily impulses. What passes as human rationality is born of a conflict between these two aspects of who we are."

Which means that to some extent I am as clueless about why I photographed this horse as I am about how it ended up there in the first place.  My conscious awareness is merely "a rider placed on the elephant’s back to help the elephant make better choices. The rider can see farther into the future, and can learn valuable information by talking to other writers or by reading maps, but it cannot order the elephant around against his will. I often believe," says Haidt, "the Scottish philosopher David Hume was closer to the truth than Plato when he said, 'reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.' In sum, the rider is an advisor or servant; not a king, president, or charioteer with a firm grip on the reins. . . . the elephant, in contrast, is everything else. The elephant includes the gut feelings, visceral reactions, emotions and intuitions that comprise much of the automatic system."

What Haidt articulates so well is known understood by each of us, even at a gut level. We are constantly at war with ourselves. How else can it possibly be that so many people act in ways that are contrary to their cherished principles? How else could it be that so many sincere humans act absolutely contrary to their self-defined best interests?

I mean, think about it.  It's February, right?  Have you broken your new year's resolutions yet?  How's that weight loss plan coming?  How many times a day do you find yourself in front of the refrigerator or snack cupboard, contemplating something else to put in your mouth?

I'm obviously speaking from experience here.  But I'm also trying to say that we delude ourselves if we think we're wholly rational human beings.  Which means, I think, that there is work to be done.  We need to understand and accept that we are not as in control as we think we are.  Which means we're not as right, or as highly motivated as we think we are, either.  Haidt says, "To live virtuously as individuals and as societies, we must understand how our minds are built. We must find ways to overcome our natural self-righteousness. And we must respect and even learn from those whose morality differs from our own."

It's a tall order, to be sure.  But certainly worth looking into.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Courage, Compassion and Belonging

My wonderful blogsister Louise at Recover Your Joy posted a terrific video by Brene Brown last week.  It's about wholeheartedness as an alternative to shame and vulnerability, and I wanted to share it with you here because it's definitely brought both light and a little lightness of heart into my life.

This morning I started reading her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (which is appropriately subtitled "Let go of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are") and I can already see what a gift this is going to be.

This morning, for example, she's talking about the importance of courage, compassion, and belonging, and she says this:

"Courage sounds great, but we need to talk about how it requires us to let go of what other people think, and for most of us, that's scary.  Compassion is something we all want, but are we willing to look at why boundary-setting and saying no is a critical component of compassion?  Are we willing to say no, even if we're disappointing someone?  Belonging is an essential component of Wholehearted living, but first we have to cultivate self-acceptance -- why is this such a struggle?"

Why, indeed! How lovely it would be to peel away all those surface needs to please people and come to love the warts and moles that lie beneath that protective skin... I can see this will be a delightful adventure -- and I really like the idea of getting better at living wholeheartedly.  So, stay tuned -- and have a terrific day!