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

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.

Growing Patient

“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
Proverbs 19:11

Wisdom is not something one can seek as much as something that descends upon us when taking the time to sit with life and let its lessons reveal themselves.  For me it was slowing my reactions and responses to offenses real and imagined.  Quick to imagine less than kind intent in the smallest slight, I internalized these and my responses became even more rapid.  When I was finally able to step back, and let the events rest on their own, I began to see the people behind the supposed offense.  To see more clearly required time for observation and reflection.  Mindfulness took away the urgency; not just being in the moment, but paying close attention to my responses.

With my new-found intimacy with the present I discovered that Patience also yields Wisdom.  They are inseparable and one continued to benefit the other.  I suspect that wisdom is closely associated with age not so much due to accumulating experience, but the natural slowing of the pace of life that gives one time to put that experience in perspective.  The added awareness that life is short, when it becomes rather obvious with age, results in a softening of the edges.  The lack of benefits to taking offense push it to the “why bother ” ledger as I search for those things with the greatest payoff in the least time.

Have I gained wisdom and patience?  I like to think I have grown in that regard as much as in any other.  Losing the habit of taking offense and then feeling compelled to act, leaves more time for joy and acts of kindness.

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.

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.

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!

What Inspires You?

Inspiration, a tricky thing.  That little spark that can jump into flame with timing, effort and enthusiasm and just as easily slip away.  Looking for topics to comment upon on a daily basis has caused me to wonder what happens that allows a quote or a side note in another blog to cause my mind to kick into gear and the words to begin flowing.  I certainly do not wake up every morning with some brilliant piece already formed in my head just waiting to be typed!  For the most part when I hit the publish button, I am satisfied; thoroughly pleased on occasion and really excited once or twice.

So how do I inspire myself to keep writing day after day?  As I surf for quotes or pull out the bookmarks from passages previously read, I let my subconscious do the wander-ing and make some of the connections behind the scenes.  Even though my personal ah-ha moments are few, I find the “likes” and” follows” and especially the comments written by my readers motivating.  To read that a particular phrase resonated with another person creating a connection with them is thrilling.

I have read so many “About Me’ stories across the blogosphere and they are truly inspiring. I look to each writer for ideas, topics and famous quotes they have discovered and have moved them in some way.  Each person has something unique that touches them, a photograph, a bit of humor; something that tugs at their sleeve for attention.  Some are passionate about a cause that is close to them or an all-consuming life event that begs to be shared.  Others see the mundane and add a perspective that makes it sparkle.  The inspiration behind each story, behind each life, is as distinctive as it is original.

So what inspires you?  What causes you to becomes animated and excited, eager to share and create?  Looking inward and drawing out the best of your inspired self allows you to greet the day with enthusiasm and joy.  And when you can’t find it inside, just look around.  It seems when one begins to look for something it pops up everywhere.  Keep your eyes and heart open, be inspired!

We Are Not Alone

That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

As I continue to write this blog I have come to discover so many like-minded people out there who are doing the same.  As my followers grow, I look to their writing to see what might have resonated for them.  Some are a mystery, in others I find kindred spirits. The longing for connection is universal; the ability to connect with such a diverse and far-flung audience is one of the great gifts of technology against which I sometimes rail.

Literature takes the connection into the realm of flight.  Words knitted together with golden needles; emotions laid bare, stripped naked; portraits of places visited only in dreams; all found lashed together, placed in a pocket or bag and carried about for quiet moments of reflection and joy.  Peopled with characters familiar as a friend; struggling, celebrating, tackling the fearsome and mundane with grace or collapse; relatable all.  Literature, the craft, the inspiration and the gift do not come to most who write. It is rarified air those few breathe, as they take what is known and recognizable and build around it a stone castle of enchantment and wonder, a cave of terror and pain, turning the people and problems on end to tell the tale.

In the end though, the thing that captures us is the ah-ha moment when we see ourselves and know that we are not in this alone.  That another must have felt the same sorrow or despair to be able to so clearly describe it, to feel as though they were peering into one’s mind at the very moment of grief, gives us a small dose of hope in the darkness.  Be transported, uplifted, informed, inspired; great authors connect your world with theirs.