Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Trying Not to Shape My Days

"Try not to shape this day as you believe would benefit you most. For you cannot conceive of all the happiness that comes to you without your planning." 

--From A Course in Miracles 

This quote seems to epitomize my life right now. Every day I get up with an idea of what I (we) are going to do and what is going to happen and I find that I am wrong. Very, very wrong. 

Nothing is going to plan right now. No idea or appointment set in stone. I am left wondering what The Universe is preparing me for.

What I know for sure is that I am taking a crash course in letting go and staying in the moment that I do not remember signing up for. I think I am Acing it for the most part, though not without a lot of study and practice. 

Maybe one day I'll get to the point where I throw out my calendar and when someone asks me what I am doing next Tuesday I will automatically respond by saying, "I have absolutely no idea. How could I possibly know what I am doing next Tuesday? When next Tuesday comes I will let you know."

This is the truth as we live it, but for some reason we don't seem to know it. It's not what we have been told, what we have been taught. It is in fact the opposite. 

We are asked (and ask others) about our futures all the time: What are you doing later? Tomorrow? Next week? Where are you going on vacation next year? What college would you like to attend? When are you getting married? Having children? Etc. 

And for the most part we answer. These are questions we have considered and think we have the answers to. We think we know. We make plans. We make lists. We make reservations. Not considering as we do that we are in no way in charge of what will happen to make these plans unlikely, improbable, impossible even.

I do it all the time. And when I do I behave as if I am carving something in stone, instead of sketching a brief outline of what may, someday, if all the stars align, come to pass. 

So at least until school starts and our days take on a more regular quality I am trying not to shape my days with quick-dry cement, but rather with malleable clay that can be constantly reformed to fit the whims of the Universe in the present moment.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Begin it NOW

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now." 


Today on Dear Soul Sisters, advice to a would-be radio star. Use our tips to make YOUR ultimate dream come true! Love from the Sisters.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Saying NO

"...[I]n order to cultivate the experience of yes, you must be able to say no, to speak up calmly for your own convictions...The time to say yes is when both your head and your heart freely say yes." 

--Frank Andrews, PhD from his book The Art and Practice of Loving 

As I continue to make my way through this book, I feel like I am learning and expanding my understanding of love and my capacity to love every day. As I make my way through the nine myths of love (chapter two), I realize that I have been susceptible to nearly all of them. And as I read about saying YES, I realized I had to say no. 

To Burning Man

I did not go.

All summer as we talked about and prepared to make this journey, I found myself frustrated and annoyed whenever it was brought up or any time I had to make time for a meeting or read something or do research. I just never seemed to "find the time" to work on Burning Man. 

Excuses, I had those in spades: We had guests staying with us. We were just getting back into the groove after having guests stay with us. More guests were coming; we were getting back into the groove again. 

Finally I had to admit that there was no "just" in this situation except for this one: I just did not want to go. I found all of the necessary props (hats and goggles and costumes oh my!) and preparation (packing everything in plastic bags and bins, stocking up on pedialyte, and buying a survivalist's share of water) more of a pain in the ass than anything and finally I had to admit to myself (and to my husband) that I just did not want to go. 

I have to admit, last week's quote gave me pause. Was I missing out on a chance to say YES to life? 

It wasn't until today when I read this quote that I had the whole picture. What we are saying YES to is LOVE and sometimes that means saying NO to what does not feel like love to us. For many in my Burning Man group these props and preparation are all part of the experience, part of the joy, part of the FUN. 

For me, that was just not the case. And that required my heart to tell my head, very politely and calmly, NO.

Friday, August 26, 2011

One Wild Wave

"Only the supremely brave ever admit
How helpless they are in the hands of God!
As for the others, building and decorating their sandcastles 

Look how one wild wave shatters them all." 

--RUMI (from my DailyOM Year of Rumi)

This quote arrived in my inbox on a day in which the wild waves of life were shattering my sandcastles. As I lay amidst the piles of sand that were once my life, I tried to be brave. I tried to start rebuilding,  with no expectation of permanence.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Shades of Gray

“...[A]lways remember that no one is completely bad. We're all a mixture. In each of us there's a little of the 'good guy' and a little of the 'bad guy.'" 

--Cifford B Hicks from his children's book The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald 

This quote is from a book that was published in 1960. It was mine as a child and I recently read it with my boys. They loved it! And so did I. It was fun and funny, adventurous and mysterious, wacky and just a little bit unbelievable. In other words, the perfect book for two boys under ten. 

What I loved about it can best be summed up in this quote. It wasn't all black and white as many kids' books are, there were shades of gray. Shades of gray in Alvin's relationship with his sister and with his parents, shades of gray in his friendship with his best friend Shoie, and shades of gray even in the "bad guy" in the story. 

It's something that has always bothered me about kids' books, movies and TV shows - and which I have always admired about the truly great adult entertainment (Dexter, The West Wing, The Wire) - there are no shades of gray. It's Good Guys versus Bad Guys, Us versus Them, The Force versus the Dark Side.

But life is just not like that. Life is lived in shades of gray. And there is good and bad inside of all of us. So much of what causes us pain, I believe, is this idea that we can be all one or the other. Most of us choose to try and be good, but we can't be good all the time. We can't be perfect, nor should we try. 

We are all doing the best we can and the best we can is somewhere between black and white, good and bad, The Force and The Dark Side. It's in the shades of gray.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saying Yes!

"A loving experience is one in which you approach the object with a positive attitude, think positively about it, and act openly toward it. You can mix love into any experience by mixing some 'yes' into how you interpret it." 

--Frank Andrews, PhD from his book The Art and Practice of Loving 

Naturally speaking, I am a naysayer. My first instinct in practically any situation, is to say, "No," and to go into three or four reasons why the idea in question will never work. 

As I travel along my spiritual path, however, I am beginning to see that what is called for is to be a yeasayer. Saying "Yes," is much more likely to move one along the path towards enlightenment than saying "No."

I kind of had an inkling that this was true, but when I read this quote I knew Frank Andrews had put into words something that had only been rattling around in my brain, but hadn't quite made it to the conscious thought stage yet. 

Loving - a person, an experience, life itself - comes from saying Yes! to it all. The good, the bad, the ugly, the uncomfortable, the painful and the blissful. 

One week from today, I will be putting this theory to the test. My husband and I (hereafter known as Mr Z) will be heading out to Burning Man for a few days. 

As complete and utter newbies, we have been told to bring water, bikes, sunscreen, goggles, and lots and lots of plastic bags. We are both excited and trepidatious, but for better or worse, we are saying Yes! And I am going to try my damnedest to make it a loving experience.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What is enlightenment?

Heart Not Head

"Enlightenment is the journey back from the head to the heart. "
 --Ravi Shankar via @SandraSmilovits on Twitter

Ever since my heart vs. head epiphany, I have been trying to get out of my head and into my heart more and more. My friend Loretta sent me this picture to help me out. 

It is a photograph of the drawing Ketut Liyer gives to Elizabeth Gilbert in the movie Eat Pray Love to help her with her practice. It looks a lot like enlightenment to me. 

What does enlightenment look like to you? How do you define it? Send me your picture or definition via the comments, I would love to add it to my collection.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Putting Me to the Test

"When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside - walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know. "

 --Laurie Halse Anderson from her novel "Speak"
Last week on Dear Soul Sisters, the advice column I write with my sister, someone wrote in to ask us about the Law of Attraction. We said, among many other things you will no doubt want to click over and read, " If we ask for more peace in our life, what may arrive initially is more turbulence and upset, in order that we may learn peace."

Last Friday on this very blog I wrote about letting other people off the hook for our happiness.  In true Universe fashion, a few days later I was given a test of my willingness to walk my talk. 

On Monday my younger son had a playdate scheduled. He had asked that the playdate be at our house, which I had happily arranged. The day of the playdate, my older son woke up lethargic and feverish with a sore throat. Crap.

I called to rearrange things for the playdate and the mom in question was more than willing to have the playdate at her house. She even agreed to pick him up so I wouldn't have to leave my sick child or drag him along. 

About five minutes before she was due to arrive my younger son announced that he did not want to go on the playdate after all. He had really been looking forward to playing at our house and he just didn't feel like playing at their house. Double crap.

I was totally thrown off by this announcement. It immediately sent waves of fear and anger emanating through me. Now I would have to cancel the playdate. Now I would have to explain to this parent that my son did not want to play at her house. Now I would have to disappoint. (This may seem an overreaction to some, but if you were raised in the mid-west - where disappointing others is a crime punishable by death - I have no doubt you'll understand.)

I started down the road of questions: Why did X have to be sick today? Do I make Y go on the playdate anyway? Do I call the mom quickly and lie, telling her that he is feeling sick as well? 

Or, do I do what I would want someone else to do, what I would encourage someone else to do, what I believe with all of my heart is the right thing to do? Do I speak up for my son, tell the truth and let that be okay - as I believe that it is and should be? 

In other words, do I (can I?) trust them to be responsible for their own happiness?

I couldn't think straight and I didn't know what I was going to be able to do in the moment so I ran into the bedroom to scream into my pillow. The doorbell rang. 

I walked out into the living room, still not knowing what I was going to do. Luckily,  I didn't have to do anything. 

I answered the door, the mom and her son came inside and she asked my son if he was ready to go. He shook his head, No. She looked at me confused. 

I got down on my hands and knees and asked my son what was going on. In a small but clear voice he said, "I don't want to go." 

She looked at me again. I asked him, "You just don't want to go today?"

"No," he repeated. 

"Okay," I said. 

I stood up. I apologized and said goodbye, wishing them a good day. The mom was still confused and said, "Maybe he's coming down with something."

"Yes, maybe he is," I said. Still hoping with some part of me for an "acceptable" excuse.

After they left I went over and gave my son the biggest hug I could muster and told him how proud I was of him that he spoke his truth and stood up for himself. It was something I could never have done at seven and would not even have been able to do at thirty seven. Maybe following his example I will have mastered it by the time I am forty seven. I hope so. 

I don't want to diminish the value of honoring your commitments and following through, but as we said on Dear Soul Sisters this week, "Sometimes [saying no] is necessary despite causing upset to others." When saying yes would dishonor yourself, you really have no choice but to say No. And to trust that the other person can handle it. That they can be responsible for their own happiness.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Balancing Act

"Ideally we will find a way to communicate our ego's needs and passions while being able to see the Bigger picture and follow the path of Soul."
--Harmony from her astrology blog inHarmony
This quote is from a great astrology blog that I read from time to time, usually after the fact, to help explain what I have been feeling. If you have been feeling tired and sluggish lately, and like nothing is moving - good news! - it's just the Mercury Retrograde that will end on August 26th.

In keeping with this energy, I have been feeling like I need to take a "time out" this month to regroup and find a little bit of balance between my ego's needs and passions and the path of the Soul. Posts for the remainder of the month will likely be short - perhaps quotes only in some cases - but hopefully still meaningful.

Blessings as you try to find the perfect balance for your life this week.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Off the Hook

"Tell everyone you know: 'My happiness depends on me, so you're off the hook.' And then demonstrate it. Be happy no matter what they're doing. Practice feeling good, no matter what. And before you know it, you will not give anyone else responsibility for the way you feel – and then, you'll love them all because the only reason you don't love them is because you're using them as your excuse not to feel good.” 

--Esther Hicks, from "Ask the Coach" on Facebook 

"Amen, sister!" And a huge "I'm sorry," to all those in my past who I have made responsible for my happiness. 

Maybe it was reading this quote last week that allowed me to make a different choice when we arrived at our friend's cabin last weekend for a couple of days at the beach. 

It was around 8:00 at night and the sun was starting to set. We had bags of clothes, bedding and a cooler full of food to put away. I started to work on getting settled in when my husband said to the kids, "Let's head to the beach!" 

My heart immediately sank, I was going to miss the romp on the beach because I had to put all of this STUFF away. Pout. Then something clicked and I realized, I didn't HAVE to do anything. 

The clothes and bedding could wait, the food was on ice....I COULD go to the beach. 

So I went. And in so doing, let my husband and my sons off the hook for my happiness, which worked out better for all of us. 

Try it this weekend and let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Working with Anger

"If you can be patient in one moment of anger you will escape 100 days of sorrow."

--Chinese proverb, from Dr. Cat's Helping Handbook: A Compassionate Guide for Being Human

It's no secret around our house that I am a yeller. It has been my vice and my challenge for most of my life, but particularly since I had children. The pressure of all the time spent doing instead of being builds up in me until I let it all out in one spectacular display of anger.

I have known from the beginning that this is not what I want for my family or myself and it was this realization in part that led to my awakening. 

I have come a long way in the past nine years; particularly in the past few months. Somehow things have all come together and my yelling has diminished quite noticeably - at least to myself. I guess it hadn't quite come to my son's attention because a few weeks ago, after he had yelled at me I turned to him - in a very kind and calm voice - and said, "Please don't yell at me."

He hurled back, "You tell at us all the time!"

To which I responded: "Do I?"

He thought about it a moment and then started to laugh. I laughed too and said, "I don't really yell that much anymore do I? In fact, when was the last time I yelled?"

He thought about it for a moment and then laughed again. He couldn't remember.

I basked in the glow of that moment for days. I felt it was a turning point. I had arrived! Yelling was no longer a part of my personality. I had left it behind. I had moved on. I had evolved.

This basking was followed - a mere week later - by a "not-so-much" moment.

We were in the car on a long road trip and I had decided that we were done with "screen time" for that day of riding. My son was MAD. It was hot, he was bored and he just wanted to sink into a video game and forget that we still had four hours of driving to go before arriving at our destination.

In her book, "Poser: My Life in Twenty-three Yoga Poses," Claire Dederer says the following, about her daughter reading as they pulled away from the home they had come to love to move back to Seattle, "Lucy sat silently, reading hard as we drove away...And I let her read. I didn't ask her to be present for something she want[ed] to miss; I didn't ask her to be a part of my story when she didn't really feel like it." 

I wish I had remembered that on our car trip. That day I made my son be a part of my story and my story was this: We are a family on vacation and we are enjoying riding in the car together. We are chatting and interacting, we are noticing things out the window and sharing them with each other, we are not burying our heads in video games and just waiting to get there, WE are ENJOYING THE JOURNEY, WE are LIVING THE MOMENT. 

Except, of course, that we weren't.

Simply by TRYING so damn hard to make it so, I was somewhere else, somewhere up ahead or in my head in a place called, We are the perfect family so THIS is how we enjoy a family vacation together.

And of course it didn't work. In fact, it failed miserably.

My son was MAD, MAD, MAD and he started yelling at me, "I can't believe it! You can't make us! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!" 

And that was all it took. My head spun around like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist. My voice mimicked that of the Demon: "I HATE YOU TOO!" I screamed full-out. Then I turned around, crossed my arms over my chest and huffed.

Immediately his eyes got wide, his face fell and tears burst forth. "I can't believe you said that, you are the worst mother EVER...." he started down this path again. The path of blame and recrimination.
Usually after I yell at one of them I am willing to go there with them, but not this time.

I did feel bad about what I had said. And I felt disappointed that it came so soon on the heels of such a great moment. But as I thought about it further I realized that neither moment was the absolute truth. 

Yes, my yelling has gotten better and I am less likely to scream and yell when things get tense around home. But that doesn't mean that I am "done" or "fixed" or in any way beyond my anger. Anger will always come up, it's HOW you express it that determines how much damage it does. 

But on a deeper level, the problem in the car didn't start with my anger, it started with my thoughts and my judgments. My thoughts and judgments about our car ride and what would make it a "good" family vacation. It started with asking my sons to be a part of my story when they didn't really feel like it. It started with my head. 

My son and I were wary of each other for a couple of days after that, but in the car ride home we had a good talk about it and in the end I think it was a good experience for him in that he learned that his actions (yelling at me) have consequences and that people sometimes say things they don't mean when pushed to their edge. 

It was the first time in our relationship that I didn't take all of the blame for my yelling, but required him to acknowledge his part in it and I think he got that.

And then I had to pick myself up and go back to square one. I had to acknowledge - to myself and to my family - that I still have work to do. I had to start over.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Off the Wagon

"There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting." 

--Buddha, from my Wisdom of the East Mini Calendar 

I fell off the wagon of my one-year alcohol fast this weekend. 

You know the story....friends in town, out to dinner....

It was nice. A cocktail before dinner, a glass of wine with my meal. I felt relaxed. Fun. Funny. 

The next day it was payback time and all of that relaxation, fun and frivolity turned into despair, despondency and depression. 

Two drinks and it was as if my whole life had changed. Very definitely for the worse. All of a sudden, I hated my life. I hated everything and everyone in it (including myself, of course) and I just wanted to run away from it all.

Twenty-four hours later I was back on track. The alcohol was out of my system, I had found my center and it was all blue skies and clear water again (it didn't hurt that we spent the weekend at the beach). 

So, once again, I am starting where am I and moving forward from there. 

In many ways I am grateful for this "mistake." It taught me something important about myself and showed me the way forward. It was good practice in descending into a pit of negative emotions and trying to crawl back out, inch by painful inch.

I started to breathe. I dropped into my heart. I reminded myself that it was all an alcohol-induced illusion. And I made it back. 

Now that I'm back, I don't ever want to leave and I have recommitted myself to clean living and clean thinking. I am making my way forward, one day, one step, one moment at a time....

What knocks you off of your path and how do you get back? 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Smiling not Crying

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." 

--Dr Seuss 

As I make my way through my first week post-quitting my job I am trying to live this quote. 

I smile as I remember the good times with my co-workers, the laughs, the goof-ups, the pranks and the conversations we had when things were slow and we were just shooting the shit. 

I smile as I remember the special moments with the members who I always looked forward to seeing, the ones who touched my heart in one way or another. I think of them carrying on without me and my heart aches a little.

I smile as I sit on the couch - my new home for my "work" in the world - typing away on my keyboard, checking email and Twitter, snuggling up with my boys and reading a good book, knowing I am where I need to be right now. 

What are you smiling about this week?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

And the net appears.

"Leap and the net will appear." 

--Zen saying, on a clothing label

I have heard this Zen koan batted around a few times since starting to pay attention to that sort of thing. It's one of those that I heard, liked, wrote down, and didn't assimilate into my being at all. Until recently. 

When I was making the decision to quit my job, it was one of the quotes that kept rattling around in my brain, nagging at me. "You SAY you believe this. Are you willing to put it to the test?" 

And that was part of the reason I said, "YES!" to taking what felt like a leap off of a tall building into the great unknown. I wanted to leap and see if the net would appear. I wanted to see if everything I believe is true. I wanted to really trust the Universe and have it come through for me.

I am happy to report that it did. 

Just days after I gave my notice we got a call from our brother-in-law asking if he might be able to use our kitchen for a commercial shoot he was working on. They needed an "average kitchen" (read: no granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances or cherry cupboards). 

We said, "Sure!" And with that, the first net slipped into place. We got the commercial and with it enough money to cover my salary for the next two months.

A few days after that I was emailing with the marketing manager at my job about my last blog post for them. She asked if I might want to continue blogging for the credit union as a "member blogger" instead of an employee blogger. 

I said, "Sure!" And with that, the second net slipped into place. 

I had my first writing job and I hadn't even left yet. 

As I continue to walk my walk I am noticing more and more opportunities all around me. The Universe is throwing up net upon net upon nets to support me as I leap into the unknown of this new life. And I am grateful.

When have you leaped and had the net appear? I would love to hear your stories in the comments.

Monday, August 1, 2011

We are all in this together

"We are all in it together. The river of stones, and the river of life. We can encourage each other....We can take comfort in the knowledge that every single [person] ever has had terrible doubts about what they're doing. We can learn how to encourage ourselves, and get better at this as we go along. We can eat chocolate. We'll be JUST fine." 

--Fiona Robyn, writer and midwife of the river of stones

This reminds me of one of the first blog entries I ever wrote and it reminded me of this truth: WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

After I read this quote I walked around looking at each person I saw and thinking, "We are in this together." 

Sometimes it was easy to see - my husband and my sons. Sometimes difficult - the annoying person in front of me who can't drive, the homeless man who wants money from me and whose gaze I am tempted to avoid.

But there is no one walking this earth who can be exempted from this togetherness. And when I remember to drop into my heart I can do this.

Participating in the River of Stones project this past month has been great practice in living this truth. As I went about my day, searching for small stones, I knew that there were hundreds of other writers around the world doing the same thing and I felt that we were all connected. We were all searching for the same thing and in that we were supporting each other, encouraging each other and blessing each other in our efforts.

It's the same with those we live with, work with, meet in the grocery store, or just pass by on the street. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. The River of Life. So why not encourage someone today? Support someone today? Bless someone today?

It can be big or small. It can be a huge favor or a tiny piece of chocolate. It can be a gift, a glance, a smile, a ride. Whatever you can do today, do it. However you can live this truth today, live it. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.