Vocations

“The test of a vocation is the love of the drudgery it involves.”
~ Logan Pearsall Smith

All activities seem to have a bit of drudgery about them.  The trip to the beach still means gathering the items necessary to enjoy the sand and sun, and removing the remnants on the return surely is not a joyous task.  Most every job entails some sort of repetitive work that can become drudgery without a passion for the outcome.  That love of the outcome; whether it is a family raised with tenderness and strength or a sweater knitted of a thousand stitches, lifts us above the mundane of the moment.

Sometimes I find writing sheer torture, yet it is the outcome as much as the process that drives me on.  To see the words lined up in the precise order I choose and expressing the thoughts we may all share, yet with words uniquely mine, gives me the energy to accept the painful aspects and dive in. Once immersed I find that mindfulness  yet again is the tool to appreciate the process, revel in the drudgery, find pure pleasure in the now.

Yesterday as I was chatting with the mentor of my change, I realised that mindfulness has been the overarching catalyst of my self-discovery.  Paying attention to every instant, and then viewing it through a lens of positivity, some would call rose-colored, has added a depth and richness to my daily activities that I never imagined possible.  Training myself to step back and see myself from a distance while at the same time being fully present is challenging, the rewards are great.  Sometimes I give myself permission to be impressed as I would be if I saw someone else doing some of the things I do.  This is very new to me, to see and appreciate who I am and what I do, and that alone is enough to propel me forward.

Each life has its share of vocations, be you a priest who writes, a mother who teaches or a business executive who mentors a child.   In those activities of passion and love we find the best of ourselves and drudgery is not a force to sway us, but simply an accepted piece and often treasured of the picture, one that we do not struggle against, but accept willingly.

NaNoWriMo

Earlier this year after reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin I found inspiration to begin writing again.  I was especially taken by the idea of writing a 30-day novel and determined to give it a try.  I apparently skipped over the brief mention of National Novel Writing Month, but it must have stuck with me because I decided that November would be my month.  My reasons were weather (the first month of more indoor time), and the obvious fact that November has 30 days, perfect!

While I was enjoying the Sunday paper I stumbled upon an announcement about November being NNWM and decided to look into it more this morning.  I am now officially registered on the NaNoWriMo website and will be participating in any local events and entering my work for judging.  The last bit was wholly unexpected, but it is a useful tool to keep me on it when the going gets rough.  For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the 30-day novel is 50,000 words (the approximate length of “Catcher in the Rye” and “The Great Gatsby”) written in yes, 30 days.  That means 1667 words a day, give or take.

Anticipating the things that most often derail my attempts to focus on a task that has the potential to frustrate and make me want to quit, I plan on employing a few tactics in advance.

First – the ongoing office disorganization.  I will spend at least one hour a day for the next 15 days regaining order and making sure I have all of my supplies at hand.  Being able to find what I am looking for and not having the excuse to run out to buy printer paper will keep my eyes on the screen and my fingers on the keys.

I plan to follow a schedule similar to the one I have now but stretching out the writing time to allow for an additional 1667 words a day.  Part of the challenge is NO EDITING, saving that for December.  How I will manage that I have no idea, but the point is to grow creatively and resisting interrupting the flow to edit is key apparently.  As a result, I will complete each day’s writing in one sitting with my inner editor locked in the closet.

Make this my number one priority.  The dishes, the laundry, dealing with email, chatting on the phone with family and friends; any and all of those will be on hold during my time to write.  And how much time will that take?  I’m not sure and expect it will vary daily.  I will give myself a two-hour window to start and then adjust as needed.

Likely this blog will see shorter entries, some about this endeavour and others on the usual range of topics.  If you are planning on participating in this challenge, let me know, I hope to keep up with my fellow writers with encouragement and when that fails commiseration.

Life Lessons

In my time away from writing blog entries I have done little that involved writing and spent much of my time outdoors.   Which leads me to lesson one:

Just because you take a break from something, no matter the duration, you can always come back and pick it up again.  This goes for hobbies, a project you’ve lost interest in, a stubborn problem that needs a new approach.  Stepping away is not quitting and likely when you return it will be with a renewed and refreshed point of view.  In the past, once I had stepped away I would begin the process of berating myself for being a “quitter” and never finishing anything.  Once I was thoroughly beaten down, starting again was daunting.  This time I gave myself permission to take a break, and a general timetable to return and best of all realized that there is no finished, just done for now.

Lesson two:

Sometimes when life is bleakest, the reward for persevering is a powerful moment or one of extraordinary beauty.  This comes from sitting with some of my lowest feelings over the years and reflecting on the grace bestowed upon me when I emerged from despair.  It came together in  stunning visual clarity after I spent 14 long hours behind the wheel, in driving rain for a large part and on a dark, rainy, windswept mountain road at the end. My reserves spent,  I was fully focused on avoiding becoming another highway statistic.  After stopping for the night, I returned to the road to finish my drive home and the stunning beauty of a river gorge awash in fall foliage greeted me and was my companion for much of the day as one river became another and the colors ranged from molten gold to deepest bronze.

Three:

It isn’t personal, even when it is.

A long list of events in the last few months, any of which would have sent me to a corner in a funk in the past, sailed right by with hardly a ripple.  The difference is in my self-talk, a change in perspective that has allowed this shift to occur.  Even in one particular situation when a friend said, “that is such a slap in the face”, and perhaps it was.  I took it as the other person having an agenda different from mine and since she was the decision maker, her agenda took precedence.  At this rather late juncture in my life I am able to see that I do not need to take ownership of another’s opinion of me,  that I do not need to take something personally even when it was the intent.  Some might say that the fight has gone out of me, and I suppose when one finds oneself at peace, that is true.  The fire, passion and enthusiasm have not waned though, and those are the traits I cherish most in myself and others.

Being mindful in the moment, giving myself time to sit with my feelings and reframe my expectations, choosing to find my peace wherever I am has given me greater clarity and wholeness.  I look forward to resuming my daily writing, with even greater enthusiasm.

 

 

 

 

 

Nature AND Nurture

I have worked on my garden off and on the last few weeks, but it seems that no matter what my priorities for the day might be I find myself doing something with my garden project.  And it is a project, to be sure.  First off, the things that grow best here are rocks.  Creating any suitable growing space requires digging and lots of it.  Even when the boulders and large rocks have been removed the dirt needs to be screened to remove the next batch of rock, leaving mostly pebbles.  Organic compost of some sort is a must, otherwise it is just pebble filled dirt, not even close to soil.  Then there is the fence issue, or rather the lack of fencing issue, which means the deer are compelled to sample everything including the leaves of my tomato plant (yuck) to the “deer resistant” plants that I put in for color.  Undaunted, I plug away.

I realized this evening as I transplanted my basil seedlings ever so carefully that this is my outlet for the nurturing part of my soul.  Each night I carefully cover my rose-bush with a 30 gallon garbage can weighted with rocks; I knew rocks were good for something!  All of my veggies that I have here at home are in pots, which are nightly placed in the shed, then brought out at first light each morning.  As I did this again this evening, it dawned on me that the need to care for something is a deep and abiding part of who I am.

Yes, I take pleasure in the visual result of the products of my labors, be it a clean house, the yard neatly trimmed or the myriad tasks that take my time and effort.  But that I wander back to the garden to pluck a spent bloom, stake a drooping pepper plant, or work just a little more compost into the soil, speaks of something deeper than the esthetics or practicality of gardens.  To nurture nature and all that it holds and symbolizes, and to allow nature to nurture me, is to bring myself and this place to harmony and balance.

In the greater picture it seems that it is not a debate of nature vs. nurture; they are not adversaries.  It is instead how the nature of a person or place is brought along to be their fullest and most beautiful self as a result of kind and mindful nurturing.  To be fully present tending our garden of lovely blooms, be they persons or plants, giving all of our attention and care in that moment, is to be the help-mate of nature in all of its splendid variety.

Just Thinking

I am rereading “When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times” by Pema Chodron.  Although nothing is falling apart in a dramatic way, nor am I going through a difficult time, I began the book again as the result of simply dusting.  I picked up the book and began to flip through it as I recalled it was helpful at a previous juncture in my life and that there is mention of mindfulness and meditation which have captured my interest of late.  I had highlighted one of the pieces of advice to help with the meditative process of emptying the mind and becoming fully present in the moment which is to catch oneself when a thought creeps in with the phrase, “just thinking”.

The point is that thoughts are not reality, but are just thinking.  That we might change them into something concrete, through analysis and planning, no doubt.  But in the moment they are nothing more and nothing less than just thinking.  So often that thinking is worrying or trying to come up with a solution to a perceived problem that may in fact exist only in thought.  Staying focused and centered in the moment requires turning off the internal chatter, letting go of the notion of control, and yes, letting things fall apart.

Falling apart is what happens, it is how life works.  In all manner of things, falling apart and coming back together is the cycle of life.  In my garden the items in the compost bin are falling apart, only to come back together as compost to give new life and energy to the soil growing my vegetables.  Once harvested, the spent plants and trimmings return to the compost bin to start the cycle anew.  It is the same with our lives.  Some things become spent and yet do not disappear, they take on a new and different value in our lives.  Perhaps the spent bit; a relationship, a job, an old stomping ground; will nourish us for the next round of these things.  But to try to hang on to last year’s tomato plant in the hopes it will produce again next year is not only folly but denies the garden the nutrients needed to grow and prosper in the future.

Our “thinking” is a way of trying to hang on to what is spent, attempting to pull the past forward into the present.  “Being” is difficult in a society so invested in intellect and thought.  Yet in those moments of just being, mindful of one’s surroundings and senses we rediscover time and again, our true selves.  As I dig one shovelful after another of rocks large and small, untangle the grass and weed roots from the dirt, I can let myself and my thinking drift away and only be aware of the hot sun on my back, the strength in my legs and arms as I work, marveling at the earthworms in the rocky sandy dirt that will someday be soil.  The state of grace of just being in the world instead of feeling batted about by a torrent of thoughts that I came to associate with being “me” is profound and enriching.

Finding this center, this quiet place, requires a realignment of habit.  Turning off the internal chatter to connect with the moment takes practice and constant reminder.  The mantra, when one finds themselves becoming enmeshed in a problem to which there is no solution, pulling thoughts from here and there to create a different reality, is “just thinking”.  And adding the further reminder that thoughts are not real, can bring one back to mindfulness of the present and grounded in the peaceful knowledge that everything is changing all the time, falling apart and coming back together, and while we are a part of the process, our only responsibility is to notice.

I’ve been a SLACKER!

Okay, so I thought I would post weekly but life has overtaken me!  It all started innocently enough when I was volunteering at my community garden with the Library Kids In The Garden project and got to know the Master Gardener, Colleen.  From her I learned that I did not need fencing to have my own garden, that I could make a compost bin from items I had on hand and thought I would burn (eek) !  It went from there.  So now I have a quarter plot at the community garden and one about the same size here.   The one here is my writing slacker excuse du jour.  First I had to haul railroad ties from else-where on the property, uphill of course!  And I had to mow down the grasses and weeds; oh, and build my compost bin from old broken down pallets that remained from  when the house was built and thus pre-dating me.  And, and, and….created a writing furlough in my mind.

Did I mention the rose bush?  I found myself busy and productive, the good stuff; but yet again leaving my life’s passion in the dust.  I am over and over regrouping to find that balance in my life.  It seems I live on a teeter-totter rather than a balance beam and I need to find a way to migrate to the better location.

Tonight is my first step in finding balance, which means that I cannot leave my passion for writing behind; I must make room for things I value such as the gardens and library; and lose the time wasters.  Distractions are so easy to come by and so hard to set aside, but that is my goal.  Identifying the distracting elements and focusing on the productive ones.

You will find me circling back to writing more, but maybe a bit about gardens, kids, the library, composting and weather instead of the more philosophical topics, but then again all of those things can generate a bit of philosophy or at least some homespun wisdom.  Like all things in life, blogging evolves and we shall see where this goes.

Stay tuned……

What Do You Contain?

“The beauty you see is also in you…
You only see what you contain”

Isn’t it one of the lovely circles of life that the beauty we take in, we hold, and it in turn allows us to see and experience more beauty in all things?  I am privileged to live in a most beautiful place and it has opened my heart to other beauty in my life.  The beauty of a group of 15 kids ranging in age from 5-12 working together and helping each other in our community garden in our Libray Kids in the Garden program.  One child has profound hearing loss and speech difficulty, yet was easily welcomed and included by all the others.  The youngest seems painfully shy, yet found his footing with the help of another child a couple of years older.  The two oldest, where there seems to be a marked difference in maturity, hung together at first, then realized the younger ones were struggling with the scavenger hunt and split up to help the younger ones.  All of this coöperation, with not one episode of unkindness or lack of enthusiasm, was truly a thing of beauty.  As the weeks go by and our tomatoes, carrots, broccoli and assorted other goodies begin to ripen and the kids get to know each other better I expect there will be more moments like this.  This day, which was glorious in every way, with warm sun and clear skies, came on the heels of gray day after gray day, punctuated only by rain and wind.  I felt deflated and filled with the kind of gloom that only a long Montana “sprinter” (spring on the calendar – winter outdoors) can induce.  Then suddenly sun, smiling excited faces, and my hands in the dirt to turn it all around in a quick two and a half hours.

This morning we are back to “sprinter” even though summer is only days away, it is wet and cool again.  But the beauty lingers in me and I see how green the grasses and trees are, washed clean overnight; and the wildflowers continue to burst forth with the long hours of daylight with or without the sun.

Continually watering the inner garden and filling oneself with every moment of beauty and tranquility grows inward radiance becoming one’s gift to the outer world as well as to oneself.  Add a full mix of care, compassion, hope, joy, wonder and beauty of all kinds.  The more one contains of the positive  the less room to hold anger, sadness, cynicism or indifference.  Taking care what is added to the container, mindful that all that one contains colors all that is seen and done; choose wisely.

Knowing Your Path

“You will recognize your own path when you come upon it, because you will suddenly have all the energy and imagination you will ever need.”

What if the right path presented itself as a dazzling staircase that we only had to climb to find ourselves exactly where we needed to be?  Would we do it?  Or would we look at the amazing path and tell ourselves; it is too high, it looks too slippery, I’ll come back to it later when I am not so busy, it might be an illusion?

We have  myriad ways to convince our-selves not to do the thing that we know is best for us, meant for us to do.  I just finished a book that I cannot more highly recommend, “SWAY, The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior” by Ori and Rom Brafman.  It delves into the question of why we would do or believe something that makes absolutely no sense, and yet somehow we convince our brains, or vice versa in some cases, that it does.  A fast-paced read on a topic that could change how you operate and best of all, how to get unstuck from a behavior or relationship you have tried to escape.
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2118114.Sway

If today the thought of one activity, one person, one idea, creates that spark of energy and imagination, then it is time to seize it with all you have.  Don’t climb that staircase, run up the staircase, shout from the top, slide down the railing and run up again.  Embrace this moment and give it your full attention and heart.  All of the paths are there, the bright sparkling ones, the cool deep ones that lead into the enchanted forest, the precisely laid stone, the overgrown tangled vine laden paths.  Which one intrigues you and calls you further along?  The path that resonates inside is not the same for each of us, rather it is the connection we feel to that path that has grown inside us as we have passed by so many others knowing they are not the right one.

Do not be cautious, do not choose with care!  Fling yourself at your path with all the daring and courage that you can muster.   The time for care and caution will be when you think you want to veer from that path to find another.  Be sure you have explored this one fully and allow yourself the time to reflect whether you have merely come upon a log you must climb over or if it is the end of this path and time to find the next.

And each time, let yourself light up, feel the thrill and magic of travelling exactly where you belong.  It is not luck that one finds oneself on the right path, all that you need is being open enough to see it and brave enough to take it.  Step quickly now, your path is right ahead!

Cross-Training

For those of you who have read this blog daily, a heartfelt thank you!  I realized with three sick days off that the dailiness of this has served its purpose and I am indeed writing every day.  But it has become confined to my blog and I have set aside other writing in favor of what you read here.  I want to add back working on the poetry and writing exercises that I hope will allow me to continue to improve as a writer and have some new things to add to the other pages of this blog.

I think we all need to change it up once in a while, whether it is our exercise routine, the route we take to work or the myriad other things that we do every day.  My cross-training just happens to be changing forms of writing.  As I have said in my “About Me”, I am not a storyteller, but I would like to become one.  And I haven’t written a decent poem in a long while.  So I am putting on my cloak of imagination and setting off.  I will put a note in a bottle and float it your way now and then, and in the not too distant future I hope to have some new poetry and perhaps a short story to share.  And since I can’t help but have those philosophical musing moments a new post on the topics I have written about these last few months is bound to pop up.

Where did it go?

I wrote what I thought was a decent post on stopping and going – and it went!  Hit the magic publish button and all I had left were the title and tags.  Somewhere in space float my thoughts about stopping negative thoughts and getting back on a positive track.  We all know that positive thoughts help us move forward and negative thoughts nail our feet to the ground.  I don’t need to tell you, I just needed to remind myself.  That done, I will take some action, even it only means getting outside (it is cold and raining) to find a different point of view.  Looking down the lovely valley, even in the cold mist is uplifting.  A little stretching, a little fresh air and a happy romp with the dog will take my mind off the frustrations of the weather and technology.

So if you too are rooted in front of the computer screen, stand up, stretch and take a few deep breaths.  We all need a little nudge now and then.