A Year Revisited

I  discovered to my astonishment when I went to update my WordPress account that I had last posted on New Year’s Day of 2013.  Those who have followed my blogging journey know that I have fallen away from writing from time to time, but a year?  Last year was a moment, a lifetime, a daily slog.  In the end I added another slab of clay to a life mostly molded with a strong and recognizable shape.  My sculpture grew in some ways predictably, in others, less so.  My gardening became a massive bounty of produce that I never anticipated; shared with friends and strangers I never met.  I taught myself to preserve that same bounty in lovely sparkling jars now gracing my pantry shelves.  I learned new things about myself and others as well as what makes a great garden grow.

After a patchy go at trying to fill in the gaps for work and personal growth, taking college classes that aided both but never added up to that coveted piece of paper; I charted a course to finally achieve that, until now, elusive goal.  To that end I stepped back into a college classroom a few weeks shy of my 60th birthday and discovered that instead of feeling old, I felt experienced.  I took a single class that set me off in a new direction, with enthusiasm and excitement I lacked during every previous college experience.

For the first time in my life I chose to suspend my disbelief and open my heart to faith.  I learned quickly it is not an epiphany but a way of living; constantly reminding myself to open my heart and ask for grace in all things.  I never realized that the practice of believing can lead to belief, rather than having belief which is then practiced.  I know there are many gifted with the later, but it took a wise man of God to suggest that the opposite might work for a searching, but Doubting Thomas such as myself.

The grand and the minutia and all the daily bits of life sandwiched between; when one reflects back on a year, each has its role and place in memory.  Five years from now, which bits will remain and built upon?  Which bits will drift away into the mist and leave little reminder.  Even though we seek to live lives of value and honesty, it is a perplexing effort, trying to know which things will linger and add to the fabric of our lives. In this especially then, I wish all of you the grace to believe, and the opportunity to offer your experience and wisdom to those around you.

Happy New Year 2014 ~ C

This Moment

“Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place, not for another hour but this hour.”   Walt Whitman

So many wait to begin at the beginning; of the New Year, of the week, of the next perceived starting point.  Yet what are we doing while waiting for that perfect moment?  In some cases one actually undermines the future opportunity that lies ahead.  How many times is a diet or exercise program preceded by splurging on rich food and indulging in couch time?

We put off, we set aside, we make poor choices with the promise of doing better; all common behaviors.  Waiting for that perfect time to begin, so many hours and days are left languishing, sliding away, unused, unrecoverable.  Many long for more time to follow pursuits that seem distant, yet killing time is a common device.  More than any other benefit, mindfulness offers us more time.  Each moment that we can maintain our mindful presence is one well used adding to the storehouse of experience, knowledge and memory.  Arriving at one’s destination having seen each sight, breathed the scents of the waiting in lineplace, with the feel of the swirling air of the present on one’s skin, the journey becomes a piece of us.

There are dozens of lists detailing how to make the most of one’s down time; waiting being so much a part of the many errands we run.  Bring a book, write a list, call a friend; each useful and certainly productive.  But could we not also add breathe, listen, look about, dip you hand in the fountain?

As this day of fresh starts becomes the next and the next, let us remember that we can  wait until the next day or hour to become present in this moment.  We are here, we are now, and the storehouses of our lives are filled to the brim with all there is when we give over each instant to mindfulness and intent.

What I Missed

I have maintained a rather apolitical stance through all the election hubbub and refrained from posting any comments one way or the other on my Facebook page as many of my friends posted endless streams to support their viewpoint.  Some have been unable to let go, even as the election results are cast in stone and the work of running the country goes on.  One helpful post appeared (whether he realized it or not), directing the reader to a site that advocates for a national sales tax with some interesting aspects to allow those with little to better afford what they might buy.  Within the first site (ah the internet, one thing leads to another and another), I discovered a site that has a wonderful history of the tax system in the United States from European settlement to present-day. I include that link here because it is NOT political and I found it fascinating http://taxhistory.tax.org/

The main reason I suppose that I found it so fascinating is my lack of education in American History.  Yes, I took all the required classes, and did well, but much of it was rote memorization of parts of documents, facts and dates, an endless stream of information regurgitated for the instructor with little concern for comprehension.  I recall an exit requirement from the eighth grade was to memorize the preamble of the US Constitution.  By the end of high school I was memorizing key Supreme Court cases, and a brief one line synopsis of the issue.  Little of this gave me an understanding of who we are and how we got here.

In beginning to read the tax history I was immediately confronted with my lack of knowledge in general and resolved before too long that it is time to focus my non-fiction reading on US History.  That I know so little and yet consider myself intelligent and fairly well read and well-informed was not so much a shock as a reminder that it in the age of information overload it is easy to focus on the minutia and overlook the big picture which reveals itself to us in the study of the past.

In my short exploration I found that our tax history points to a couple of trends.  The first is that taxes have been used to the end of social engineering since their inception, and I suspect I would find that the case even if I continued to trace tax history to the days of the Roman Empire.  Second, the opinion of the value of private wealth to the greater society ebbs and flows, often with the overall prosperity or lack of, in those with the least.  In times of full employment and wages balanced against cost of goods, personal wealth is more accepted.  That taxes have such a consistent history, albeit a roller-coaster ride with the economic times, opened my eyes to another aspect of the axiom “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, George Santayana.

And thus my resolve.  Learning our history with an eye to what drove the events will help me to understand the present more clearly when I am able to see the patterns of the past.  Perhaps it will also help me temper my reactions to my dear friends who are so insistent in pressing their passionately held beliefs on others.

Don’t Panic

My first reaction when life turns on a dime is to swing into action and do something, anything to fix the problem.  Yesterday was one such day and I reacted as I always do, with rapid fire decision-making and jumping in to make things happen quickly.  In the cold light of a foggy fall morning though, I realized that the adrenaline charged decisions I have made in my life were not always the best ones.  And even if they were a good choice or perhaps the only choice, I wouldn’t know because I never took the time to weigh the options, to look forward to the consequences and make a calm, reasoned decision.  That is my goal for today.

First I need to breathe, and find the inner calm I know exists when I turn off the fire alarm reaction and look directly at what I am facing.  I suspect that the impulse to charge off in one direction or another is in part a way to avoid looking the dragon in the teeth.  The next step then is to look at the dragon.  What is the very worst that can happen?  And if it is the very worst, what will I do to adjust to that reality?  If I am to do something now, what does that look like?

I have received advice over the years when confronted with any choice to look at the short-term and then the long-term.  How do the choices I make today to cope with what may very well be a short-term crisis affect my long-term goals?  The cusp of this decision rests on the essential question of my priorities.  In the end, how do I want this to look?

Instead of making lists of things to do, which was my plan of attack; I will instead look at the options and weigh them against the goals I have for myself and the shared goals of our family.  Once I have a clear picture of our priorities for the coming months and years I can decide which option makes the most sense today and then down the road.

In many ways this crisis at a crossroad is a good thing and I suspect I would have been less likely to take the steps to really analyze the most critical choices if not confronted with the need to stare hard at the components.  By taking the time to sit with my life picture I will take yet another step towards choosing my life path instead of it choosing me.  Ah, I feel better already!

Building Confidence

When Bonner School, a Montana middle school, resumed classes this fall they decided to shake things up a bit and try to implement some changes that would help the students through the difficult transitional years of sixth through eighth grades.  Studies show that body awareness combined with wide ranging levels of physical maturity, often cause girls to hang back and participate less in coed gym classes.  But in a small school, same-sex classes were a scheduling challenge.  To make it all work, in addition to gym the computer classes are now single sex as well.

After nearly two months, the results are even better than expected.  Gym teacher Josh Illig sees more participation by girls that are less athletic and has seen their confidence grow, not just in gym class but in general.  The boys are louder and more physical during gym, but exhibit far more concentration during the computer class time with the same-sex environment.

There is still plenty of class time and free time when the students share the classroom and develop the skills to work with each other.  In this critical time though, the girls especially, have the chance to increase their body confidence and activity levels; both critical developmental issues in the middle school years.  This preparation for the larger world of high school and beyond gives all the girls a chance to feel strong and confident, critical to success in any setting.  The boys as well are benefitting from increased activity during gym and a more focused environment in another critical skill area, the computer class.  The girls as well remarked that it was quieter and easier to work in the computer class with the all girl setting.

This is a win-win solution, requiring a little imagination and the determination to foster the growth of all the kids in one of the most difficult and important times in their schooling.  The result; strong bodies and strong minds growing from resourceful and creative administrators and staff.

Believe in You

Once she knows how to read there’s only one thing you can teach her to believe in and that is herself.” ~ Virginia Woolf

This speaks to the power of books but also to the struggle for women to find ways to believe in themselves.  One of the most powerful tools that any person has is their intuition, that gut feeling that may or may not drive decisions, depending on how well-developed it is and whether one trusts it.  Recent research has discovered that there is far more to “women’s intuition” than old wives’ tales.

“Intuition is the result of the way our brains store, process and retrieve information on a subconscious level says Professor Gerard Hodgkinson of the Centre for Organizational Strategy, Learning and Change at Leeds University Business School. According to his research, intuition is a real psychological phenomenon which needs further study to help us harness its potential.

Through analysis of a range of research papers examining the phenomenon, the researchers concluded that intuition is the brain quickly drawing on past experiences and external cues to make a decision on a non-conscious level. In other words, it happens so fast that we’re not aware that the intuition actually stemmed from a supercharged burst of logical thinking.” from Rebecca Sato in the Daily Galaxy 3/6/08

When we discover ways to harness this supercharged thinking it will have added applications; but the first step is to trust this phenomena.  Women especially are adept at this particular style of decision-making because the storage of emotional responses is more readily available in the female brain.  Yet women are more likely to second guess themselves and look to external factors to drive a less intuitive response.  This may come in the form of self-minimizing; I should try harder, I’m being too sensitive, too emotional, etc.

It is vital that we support the women in out lives in a way that allows them to trust themselves and teach girls the importance of looking inward for answers to life questions.  For all the wonder of a great book, the secret to trusting oneself is not between the covers.

Coming tomorrow…how one middle school in Montana made a tiny change with big rewards for girls and boys.

Doin’ Nothin’

There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.” ~ Calvin to Hobbes ~ Bill Watterson

Some days it feels so good to put the to-do list away and take time to do nothing in particular.  Of course we still breathe and eat and sleep, so we aren’t actually doing nothing, but the delicious extravagance of unscheduled time is a luxury many do not often allow themselves.  We feel the need to be doing something, anything, that we can look back at and say, I crossed that item off my list.  As we go-go-go we then impose that on our over-booked children as well.  How many times has your child had to choose between one activity and another because there just wasn’t enough time to fit everything in?

Teaching our children the art of appreciating down time, simply sitting and observing and taking in the world around them.  A trip to the park that does not involve soccer, or elaborate preparations; just a walk down the block to swing or not, to mosey rather than hurry, to just slow the pace to know how that feels.  We owe it to our children to teach them the value of quiet that does not involve study, but just the simplicity of being.

At each stage of life these moments of doing nothing seem hard to find.  But in the end, will it matter if the floor was swept 1000 times or 1000 and one?  One can always find something to do, but it may also be an excuse to avoid paying attention to the quiet.  Discovering the inner peace that comes with mindfulness and the sheer joy that comes from free spontaneous play are gifts we give our children when we allow them to do nothing at all.  And in that nothing grows imagination, observation, love of the natural world and the ability to be self- entertaining.

We all deserve our down-time, our doing nothing moments. Breathe and jump in a pile of leaves.