the fuzzy stems on cucumber plants, and their massive leaves that grow and grow,
the colors purple and green,
the old blue blanket’s soft velvet nap,
the big red cardinal singing in the lilac tree yesterday,
the smell of cut grass and basil warmed by the afternoon sun,
the scars on my arms,
the holes in my heart,
the split ends that need trimming,
the chipped white porcelain mug filled with green tea,
the sweetness of Super Hit incense,
the candle flame burning next to me,
the rain’s melody,
the brightly decorated card in the mail this past week, reminding me that others think of me more than I often realize.
Thanks for this moment, these few words.
May I disappointment myself less, live deeply, love selflessly, dream boldly, create effortlessly, and give without thought, better than I’ve imagined, for however many days life gives me.
May I be a little more practical and a little less foolish. Or a lot more foolish, with the courage to make foolishness farsighted and wise, even if I never know it. So long as the world is more beautiful when I leave than when I arrived, having recklessly lived my days loving generous and well.
(Please note: I wrote this entry in two hours. It may show that investment. I hope it offers something useful.)
Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your destiny. — Gandhi
Since moving to the outskirts of civilization, I’ve done a lot of “spiritual work.” I don’t know what else to call it. I’ve experienced a shift in consciousness, how I see myself, and how I see the world. Stuff that I thought that I knew, I now understand better as a way of (B)eing. I previously posted a piece on loving myself, “A Love Story,” but there’s a bigger picture that’s unfolded: understanding myself as part of life’s beautiful play is finally sinking in.
The myth of separation dissolves. For today, I’m simply throwing that out there, do as you will with it, for brevity’s sake. Perhaps by the entry’s end, it will be clearer.
The past year, I’ve worked through many conscious and unconscious stories that governed my beliefs, and I’ve left the worst of them behind. And, yes, I do believe that these things can happen that quickly, when one is ready. Therapy wasn’t my answer, but committing to my creativity and spiritual path has unleashed insight after insight, in remarkable and demonstrable ways. Friends tell me of the changes they see. I smile. Nature is instrumental. I’ve come into myself by realizing how simple and magical life is without trying. Spring arrives, flowers bloom, tress grow. All this will pass, there will be a deep sleep, and the spring will come again.
I am one with the forces I see in the seasons, and I’ve merged with life and (B)eing, because life exists everywhere, here.
Education, for its many gifts, really fucks up life’s simplicity, on a fundamental level. We’re taught wonderful ideas, learn to ask better questions, and learn to answer with more sophistication, but self-love, awareness, and (B)eing are conspicuously missing from the curriculum funded by the incredulous student loan debt that I incurred and have since given to the Powers That Be to worry about. I am unlearning not only my stories, and my family’s stories, but the intellect’s hubris for its works and artifacts.
Last week, during an early morning walk, the world grabbed my shoulder, and got my attention. The sun hung low, a glowing ball shining through a perfectly clear blue sky, surreal in its clarity and depth. The valley and hills exploded with life, innumerable greens, birds, butterflies, insects, all the critters that remained invisible to my eyes. “I am the sky,” I heard myself think, “when light passes through me, life grows as it should, it happens without question or worry, and it will happen with or without my attention.”
God is a label. Gratitude another label, a way that language limits lived beauty and power and grace, the ineffable experience of being alive, and being part of life’s magnificence. “Gratitude” is how the mind places its attention, a practice that we can submerge ourselves in. It then becomes a loop, the more we do it, the better life gets. Beauty, joy, nature, poetry, the body’s strength, a good meal, a glass of clean water, a bird, whatever meaningfully grabs the mind and heart, no matter the circumstances, whatever feeds the soul and makes it feel alive, that’s where life presents itself.
I admit, it’s easier here and now. But during my psychotic break while living in Manhattan, I remember focusing on a pigeon nest across from my window, as I lost my mind, my family, faced eviction, had no food, and feared that I had entered mental nether regions from which I would never return. The wall between myself and the forgotten homeless living on the streets was a rent controlled building that I hadn’t paid rent on in months. For hours, I simply watched pigeons cooing and caring for each other, because I could do little else. They gave me serenity and a connection to living. Those hours in which I watched cooing gray birds, their nest tucked in between concrete slabs, affirmed life. And, therefore, myself.
I’m blessed with good friends, many who have had charmed lives. Truly charmed lives. Money, travel, life experience, prestige. Prestige with a capital P. While I was cleaning houses, they were traveling the world, making medical breakthroughs, starting NASDAQ companies, the list goes on. Yet, their lives are full of problems. Whenever we talk, I hear of some new crisis, some new problem, some melodrama occupying the most precious real estate on the planet, their mind. Relationships and circumstances always resolve, but you wouldn’t believe it from the way they talk.
Materially, they have more than 99 percent of the world’s population, but they believe they have nothing, believe themselves broken, believe something is wrong with them, see problems that don’t exist everywhere, and therefore create problems that do. They scream this reality with every-other-sentence out of their mouth, in their judgements of themselves, and of others. Instead of allowing a sunset to sink into their skin, or water’s music to slowly connect them to themselves, they fully inhabit their perceptions of the world’s failures. To look at, touch, and smell a flower, and radically experience it for a moment, eludes them, or leaves them far too quickly. Instead, they allow somebody’s annoying behavior or some situation rental space in their sacred mind, where we make and create the world we wish to live in. Nothing happens in the world, without it happening in the mind, first. I see them give away their life sentence by sentence, unconscious of where and what their attention is doing, at that moment.
This is the voice of experience writing, not the voice of judgement.
In the middle of nowhere, without a car, with a bazillion dollars owed in back taxes, student loan debt, and living, by some folks standards, a terribly uncertain future, I find myself the wealthy one, grounded and flourishing.
If I could give them gratitude, I would. But we have to find it inside ourselves, for ourselves, if that’s what we want. We’re free to do so, it’s all in front of us, with or without our attention. When my friends get tired of slamming their heads against that wall, when they realize that the pain they’re living isn’t worth the prices they are paying, they will come around. For those of us who know the talk, but struggle with the walk, it looks something like, “yes, I am grateful for x, y, z . . . but, [insert problem or complaint or whatever horrible thing that is happening far away, over which have very limited or no control over],” followed by more emotional engagement.
Most of this is fear. Fear that life will abandon them, fear that they can’t do it themselves, fear that they’re not worth what they say they want, which is presumably peace and happiness, which costs nothing.
It’s impossible to talk about accomplishing and doing wonderful things, then dive into melodrama. Most of us say we want all of life’s great things because we want peace and happiness, but the peace and happiness are already there. I finally get the platitude, “there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.” I also believe it’s the quickest way to stop violence and hate, because when you’re really connected to radical love and happiness, you do less dumb shit. I didn’t write, “no dumb shit,” just a lot less. At some point, some of the dear souls in my life will realize that love does it’s job, and surrender to it, because they know they deserve to. That’s it. That’s why we’re here.
That’s when gratitude, no matter life’s heart breaks, disappointments, and setbacks, becomes a way of life, for those who want to live as fully as possible, and not practice gratitude as a period at the end of sentence filled with anxiety and doubt.
You don’t do it all at once, but you can get better at it.
This is how it looks to me, today.
Video: Children’s Orchestra Plays Mozart On Instruments Made From Trash
“Impoverished” children whose homes are built on a garbage dump see the world different, and create a better one.
This morning I awoke about 4 am or so. Stayed in bed until 4:45, doing my lazy woman’s I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed meditation (“thanks for my life, thanks for this breathe, thanks for these moments, thanks for another day . . . [ a drift into silence] . . . thanks for this silence”), giving myself another 45 minutes under the covers.
Pulled myself out of bed, remembering Rumi: “The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep.” Okay, I’m up. Barely.
Open the front door. Smell the lilac. Listen to the birds and bugs. Watch the trees play in the morning light. Put the herb garden on the patio. Water and talk to them.
Chug a pot of yerba maté, made the night before so that I don’t have to think.
Check email. The Universe, that is ‘Notes From The Universe,’ tells me in today’s note that “There was a time in the life of every hero, champion, master, and tycoon, when they said to themselves,’I will not wait any longer.'” Yes, that’s it. Just do it. The note’s better than the yerba maté, I’m feeling awake now. Believe.
Write in my journal. Ask about having my self-imposed limitations dissolve, quickly and permanently. “Maya Angelou inspired confidence, in my way and my time,” I write.
Make another pot of yerba maté, for when I come home.
Wash my face. Brush my teeth. Throw on my sweats and sneakers for today’s excursion. New route the past two weeks. The hills are more arduous than the ones I conquered in April, and I am loving this route more. The first 15 minutes are a fierce, unforgiving incline. I’ve nicknamed it “Everest.” The views at the top are breathtaking, and my reward: a vista overlooking a valley of flourishing woodlands, and a panoramic view of The White Mountains’ outer edges. Only 4.2 miles today, 2.1 to the main road and back. The 5.4 loop tomorrow. Listen to Gould on the iPod. Listen to affirmations. Listen to the trees and the birds and the brooks and nature. Listen.
Back into the village. See my little friend, who waves and says my name with a sparkling smile.
Home. Check phone messages. Check email.
Make a large salad: one fresh avocado processed with fresh lemon juice and salt, a package of baby arugula, a few raisins, a couple of chopped dates, a chopped gala apple. Slowly devour in gratitude, while the stream and birds supply the meal’s background music.
Log into Facebook. Stumble on an NPR article about 91-year-young Harriette Thompson who is a cancer survivor and just set a world record for a woman’s marathon time in her age group. Remember this morning’s journal entry on dissolving limitations. Synchronicity abounds. Keep showing up.
Sit down. Listen to the birds. Smell the lilac. Watch the light dance off the tree tops. Write a brief blog post. Think of the things on today’s list, some of which I see as challenging and unpleasant.
Not so much. Attitude is everything. Just ask Harriette Thompson.
Live life vividly. V-I-V-I-D-L-Y, the word keeps making its way into my journal pages, highlighted, decoratively boxed, boldly scripted in greens, purples, pinks, reds. Live vividly, or it’s just existing. “Let everything else go,” I remind myself. Harriette Thompson would no doubt smile if I told her about my problems, and I do so with her when I see them from a 91-year-old’s record-breaking finish line. Vividly. She seems to know about that topic.
This morning was like many mornings, but I wanted to chronicle today’s unique and beautiful rhythm, and I wanted to remind myself that “when I get over that finish line, that’s the best part.”
[This entry was originally sent to subscribers with Ms. Thompson’s first name misspelled. The above reflects the correct spelling.]
I’m not a big fan of the word “truth” — the people I know who cling to it most tightly tend to be dogmatists, and not much engaged with reality’s malleable and imaginative aspects. Truth becomes a function of certainty, the belief that the world exists in a real way, and there are usually prescriptions for how we are to interpret this reality. That seems to me counterproductive at best, functionally delusional at worst.
My assertions may sound strange, especially as I spent a huge chunk of my life studying philosophy, and pursued an equally strange creature called “God,” or enlightenment.
Love, the practice of compassion, the art of forgiving ourselves and the world, is really the only principle — I deliberately write principle and not truth — that exists, and the best we can do is approximate what that principle looks like in the moment. For myself, the best response is usually intuitive, not something that can be predetermined. The other stuff seems to me just the mind doing its thing, and should be regarded as such, the mind doing its thing.
These days, I’m not too enamored of the mind. I am more or less bemused by its convolutions.
As I set down my story, and a series of other stories, I’m pretty appalled at who I’ve been, and at times gobsmacked by who I’ve become. Not because I was such a horrible person, or that I am so demonstrably awesome now. I’m appalled at the self-destructive behaviors and the self-loathing, the amount of unnecessary angst that I carried as a personal truth written in an unalterable understanding of my story, and my self. It was all so warped, a singularly stellar production of my mind. Who I was is now deeply disconcerting and very uncomfortable, the self-love and self-awareness being more constant with time.
Which got me thinking about all the melodrama and shock value that have been emerging from the pages. I find myself wanting to edit who I was, because that person’s perceptions were so unbelievably skewed. I know why she ended up that way, but seeing her play out the things she played out, makes me more than a little nervous.
Not in the specifics, but in the emotional lenses that got her there. My inclination is to give her an eye roll and hit her upside the head, which was precisely the problem, because all she ever wanted from me was a gentle hug and some understanding.
So I have been questioning the issue of transparency, and if all this “truth” is really necessary in my writing.
The issue, of course, is one of courage, not the narrator’s story. I knew when I began seriously thinking about this memoir that I would use a nom de plume, not because of shame, but because I wanted to create a safety zone. I am crafting from memory a character, and though her story’s emotional contours and extensive experiences are framed from my history, I barely recognize her as “me.”
Two anecdotes come to mind while I buckle up and address my reservations about self-revelation, as the girl that I once was emerges from the pages. During my recent writer’s conference, a poet who has recently published a brutally honest memoir stated, “the more specific, the more universal.” That bit of advice sticks to my skin like something resembling “truth,” a principle irrevocable and inalienable. Be specific, don’t elide the details to make the story palpable. Yes, I will be choosing which details to include, to craft a cohesive story, but I must not omit details simply because I don’t like what I see. Or worse, try to capture her in a way that makes sense, because my choices were chaotic. At times, there’s no making sense of that person, because there’s no making sense of a soul driven but lost. Or creative. Or both. That’s part of the story. The good stuff is the stuff that makes me wince, because that’s where something like beauty or transformation or redemption emerge. And that’s the universal, the material that binds us together.
In Buddhism, “the lotus of enlightenment blooms from the substance of the world.” The pond in which the lotus blooms is usually the nastiest mire of gunk. It’s not the fresh water pool of crystalline blue water in which the lotus takes root. No, it’s all mucky, stagnant, and repugnant. The lotus takes root in the mire, and that’s why its a symbol for the awakened soul, the one whose roots have gone down into the world, while blooming above it’s waters.
In Christian theology, it’s called “grace,” and understood in more stark terms: the more sin increases, the more grace increases. I prefer to side with Jesus (“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”) and the Buddhists on sin, rather than Paul. I think of sin as ignorance, not an abstruse theological truth requiring violence for atonement. At-one-ment: a recycled label of belief won’t get you there, a shift in consciousness gets you close.
Which brings me to my second anecdote. I once knew a man who wrote a memoir. Because he was married and had children, he omitted the experiences that would have created a compelling and powerful story. He left out all the extra-curricular sex, the buying of it, the affairs, the phone sex, the experiences that men and women need to hear, from a man’s perspective. He omitted much of what made him human, much of his-story. I understand why he left these details out, in deference to his family. But while his sentences were clean and elegant, the story felt disingenuous. Something was missing. Actually, a lot was missing. “The more specific, the more universal.” The specifics didn’t just fall to the ground, they were ignored. Yet it was all there, waiting to be told, the roots of his craft begging to take root in his life experiences.
As memoirists, we certainly have no truth telling us how to write, or what we must include. Life may at times constrain many narrative decisions. I choose to write a memoir that doesn’t ignore the muddy waters, to shape my story as it comes to me, no matter how much I dislike looking at who that girl was, because I am a writer. As memoirists, we don’t just shape stories, we shape ourselves, and our history. I’m writing my story, and in so doing, owning my life, while creating something that I’d like to call art. In a story’s specificity, we raise ourselves beyond our personal history, and touch those who may choose to pick up our book, read our blog entry, while we go deeper into our own personal truth, which is the only truth that life gives us.
Dani Shapiro once wrote: “I think it may be time for a literary education about what memoir is, and what it isn’t. Memoir is not autobiography. You did not pick up my 1998 memoir ‘Slow Motion’ because I’m an important, influential or even controversial person. You did not pick it up because I am, say, running for office, or just won an Academy Award, or am on Death Row. No. You picked up my book because –– whether you know it or not –– you wanted to read a good story shaped out of a lived life. You wanted to sink into a narrative that redeems chaos and heartache and pain by crafting it into something that makes sense. You wanted to read a memoir.”
Another friend — a man who taught creative writing, and is a published memoirist — exhorted me at length several years ago about art for art’s sake, when I mentioned the word “redemption” in relation to the craft of memoir writing. While I value his opinion, I agree with Dani Shapiro. Life is art, and writing is both life and art. To arbitrarily create boundaries and insist on something like art only for art’s sake seems to me to smack of another “truth,” as though we’ve got Venn Diagram aesthetics. “Art and art therefore art” is a valid syllogism; “art and redemption therefore life” is invalid. Embracing life, art, writing, redemption, and letting go of the labels isn’t just easier, it seems to me closer to the art that humans have enjoyed and shared since we first sat in circles to be entertained: our storytelling ancestors didn’t tell stories in an aesthetic vacuum, they connected us to each other, and the world. My friend’s position seems to me too dogmatic, too much a construction of the mind, although I admit that I’m probably stretching his meaning a bit to make a point.
In the craft of life, I see no reason not to be artful; in being artful, I see no reason not to redeem my life from its ignorance, while putting metaphorical pen to paper, one day at a time.
I choose to write a narrative that isn’t always pretty, but in owning its muddy waters, I may come closer to a life and craft that serenely float on the world’s waters, while fully rooted in its muck and heartache.
Last month, after some intense meditation on where next to take the book project, I discovered a conference taking place in Florida. According to its promoters, the conference not only focuses on refining one’s submission, getting the agent, and getting the contract, but on writing from a personal and meaningful space. In other words, the conference’s creative premise is that the quality of content is just as important as understanding the work as a product which must be presented and marketed to get an audience.
Several New York Times best selling authors will be there to help us understand the mechanics of both processes, writing and successfully submitting materials — and offering the best they have to give for those of us hammering out a dream.
When I stumbled on this conference, I felt like this was something I should do — a knowing. I never heard back from the coordinator when I requested information on a scholarship application, and I thought, “well, I guess your gut was wrong.” Then, two weeks ago, out of the proverbial blue, I received an application for the scholarship — tuition reduced by fifty percent. It was the last space, and I didn’t have a dime in the bank. I pressed for the space to be held, and it was reluctantly saved for me.
Through some very fortuitous circumstances — and I do mean, fortuitous, because I lost the scholarship twice, and got it back twice — I procured the scholarship. “We rarely do this, we’re making an exception for you,” the coordinator wrote me last week. Welcome to my world, I thought. Yes, I’m the exception, and the better for it. I’m the one who shouldn’t be here, but here I am.
I also quickly found cheap digs for staying, not easy in the heart of a Florida convention center city, and a generous friend has used his frequent flyer miles to get me there.
Here’s what’s inspired this entry. My dear friend called me yesterday to book the reservation, and I was trying to micromanage flight times, squeezing in this and that, insisting that I could only afford to stay three nights, even though I have this feeling that I should stay the day after the conference. I don’t know why, I just do. Micromanaging the money and then trying to figure out how I could squeeze in an extra day wasn’t working at all: the bus trip from New Hampshire to Boston, then the flight to Florida leaves small windows for transfers and check-ins. I got all wound up in my predictable indecision, frustrated and not really certain how or what to do. When pushed against the wall, I like to let circumstances dictate, pretending that I am going with the flow, when in reality I just don’t know what I am doing. It wasn’t happening, circumstances weren’t dictating anything, I needed to make decisions. My friend gently said to me, “here’s what I recommend,” and he convinced me to stay 5 nights in Florida. It felt right. Logically insane, but it felt right. “You will make it work,” he confidently said, without any doubt that I will do I need to do to stay for five nights in Florida. I realized then that doing this trip right meant honoring the investment of myself that I have already made, and the conference deserves a full investment of my courage and wits. My friend graciously swept away my insecurities, and my limited ideas.
I breathed deep. It was beautiful and it felt right.
Some gifts are priceless, extending beyond a frequent flyer plane ticket.
With this gesture, his confidence broke new ground for me. I majorly upped my life game during the course of one conversation. If this is something that I know I am to do, then why would I worry about the extra bucks and set myself up for unnecessary stress because I thought I had to cram everything into a short time. I’ve already given away most of what I own, hunkered down in the middle of nowhere without a car, and I’m going to worry about two extra nights in Florida? His insight was part of the big picture, the thing that’s unfolding.
Yes, I will make it work. It’s not in the budget, although that assumes that I have a budget. But I will make it work, and it will work. Because it will.
I can also cross one thing off of my new yearly list: “Every year, go one place that you have never gone before.” I can’t say that Florida is a place that I would have wished to go, but I’ve never been. So I’ve got one goal met, and since it’s early in the year, maybe I can squeeze in a visit to somewhere else that I’ve never been before 2015.
Five nights in the land of hanging chads, following my bliss into yet another leap into the unknown.
Couldn’t be happier knowing that my inner GPS and I are working it out just fine.
Not coincidently, I discovered a mesmerizing TEDTalk this past week, and it was part of the game changer mentality.
“Fake it until you become it” is a holy mantra these days.
Amy Cuddy On TEDTalks. Twenty minutes worth investing in, if you’ve not seen it.
The spirit is larger than the body. The body is pathetic compared to what we have inside us. — Diana Nyad
I still have a handful of posts that I’ve pieced together, but not finished — as usual, I’m trying to do too much in a single post, instead of just hammering out something somewhat entertaining and enjoyable.
But they are good posts, and will be completed. Although there is a tension between writing them and working on the book, which is gaining momentum, to the exclusion of most everything. But training. And art. Because the writing and the training and the art are all connected, informing each other in an inexplicable and mystical and creative dialogue that constantly amazes me. It’s not me who does a lot of this. I just show up. The rest comes with time and practice. I show up. Stuff starts happening.
I just returned home from my best 5 mile time in too long, and I thought to post a quick entry on the joys of training.
This post on training is actually part of one of the other posts I am working on, but posting this sequel entry first seems to make sense, for reasons that may be clear, should you read both entries.
I didn’t realize until a month or so ago that I had accidently landed into a paradise for training. My front steps lead to four different routes for biking, walking, or running. As a local friend said to me, “I didn’t realize it until you brought it up, you really are in the best spot in this area for taking off on the roads, aren’t you.” Four routes converge on my doorstep — the only place in this area that can boast such a wonderful fluke of circumstance.
It’s really extraordinary, yet another confluence that’s taken place in my life. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect portal to place myself for training, with the hills, the pines, the rivers, the lakes, the fresh air. And there’s no fighting with cyclists or cars for the right of way — a bane of existence during my life in Cambridge. The few drivers that pass me here are excessively courteous, slowing way down for the strange, foot bound humanoid that is less common in these parts than deer.
The joys of training. One mile becomes two. Two miles become three. Three miles become five. Every day, a little more. Soon the challenging five miles is not only effortless, but invigorating. Not just invigorating, but thrilling and nurturing.
Today, I not only did my best time, but I came home energized. Some of the hills around here are steep and unforgiving, and today for the first time, every incline was skillfully managed by slowing down, breathing deeply, and letting the endorphins kick in. No stops. No feeling like I was going to puke. No making the hill and then stopping for the breath, while telling myself I had just made the hill while stopped at the top and checking the monitor as an excuse to catch my breath. Just concentrated effort. And breathing.
Before today, some of these inclines have inspired not much more than an “oh shit, here we go” with an immediate heart rate spike, well past the safety zone.
Today, there was simply the joy of pushing through, maxing out my heart rate while pushing through and filling my lungs with fresh air.
That’s another joy. The air here. Having my lungs fill with this clean, pristine air.
I considered everything I have pushed through in the past few years, some of which I mentioned before, some of which comprises the entry that will follow this one, and I’ve often had the feeling like all the strength had been sapped from me. But today’s easy 5 miles — soon to be 10 — reminded me how incredibly strong I am, how resilient and fortunate I am to be given everything I have been given. Here’s a truth: just when we think we can’t make it, if we push through just a little more, practice patience with ourselves and with life, there we stand, edging closer to the person that we want to be.
This invigorating 5 miles, by the way, happened after a mild back injury last week, which I quickly recovered from thanks the miracles of the modern heating pad.
Injury is usually temporary. Giving up is always fatal.
Today, by just showing up, there was inscrutable joy — the sound of the birds, the trees, my heart beating, the sound of my feet on the open roads, my lungs filling and feeling like they never have. Thanks to the mountain air, deep breathing takes on a whole new meaning. I was completely present and in the moment, and it was beautiful. Everything sang in unison, and I was part of the choir — contralto, no doubt.
So I eased on home strong — cutting a full 15 minutes off of the times I previously clocked on this one route.
My heart rate’s been dropping fast during a cool down, indicating that I am building great cardio strength again.
Better. Stronger. Faster.
Never give up. Humans are capable of so much more than we allow ourselves to believe.
“Better. Stronger. Faster.” Although I’d qualify that its the human spirit is the actual bionic powerhouse, for we simply follow our spirit’s lead: