Party On!

26 April 2016

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You. ~Dr. Seuss

Party On

Here it is — a point that seemed so distant a year ago — the final week of this 52-week exploration into the fertile soil of cultivating a satisfying life.  I wouldn’t have missed a week, a day, a moment of it.

As has happened a number of times during the year, I find myself reflecting on a yoga pose this week.  This time it is the ‘king of the dance’ pose that drifts through my thoughts, although in my mind I refer to it as ‘the dance of life’.

It’s a beautiful pose, full of air and space and curves, grace and strength.  Aloft on one straight leg, the other curls out behind while the upper body extends forward.  With one arm stretching forward with the torso, the other reaches back to grasp the ankle of the leg behind and a taut connection is established that creates shape and tension in the same way that a string shapes a bow.  Every fiber in my body feels its own unique set of stresses and stretches, and each makes a significant contribution to the whole effort.  Without each piece there is no balance, no extension counterbalanced.  Body and mind, the concrete and the intangible, all unite and work together.

In a few weeks, I’ll be celebrating the passage of six decades of my life.  Approaching this landmark, I’ve become more aware, with that kind of certainty that affects everything, that life is finite.  This unsettles me, but as I look back over the years, I see each phase of life has been generous with its own pertinent opportunities, and so I’m poking around to discover what lays in the phase I’m entering.

Here and now, I see the chance to winnow away things that no longer matter, to clarify priorities, to focus on my intentions.  Here and now is the opportunity to let the fibers of years’ worth of living unify and work together.  Here and now is the gift of celebrating who we are.

The Hindu mythology about Shiva, the King of the Dance, is that his ecstatic dance of destruction was what opened the universe up for creation.  Amidst forces greater than he, such as the ongoing passage of time and the searing forces of chaos, he remained focused on his dance of bliss.  It’s a study in contrasts.  Of one thing giving way for another.  Of opposites nestled within each other.

Some days I tip and topple and can’t find my balance in this pose or outside it.  Some days life knocks me flat.  It’s not personal.  It’s the way.  If I’m lucky, I notice how I have been tempered by the flicker and flame of life, how some things have given way and others arisen.

When I lean into this dance of life, I sense a world of wisdom.  The leg stretched behind me reminds me of the ballast and stability provided by my past.  With my chest lifted, I am open-hearted, welcoming the unknown future.  And centered between both, my leg is planted on the very real ground of this moment.

In this willingness to stand amidst both the fury and the pain, the ecstasy and the bliss, is the chance to live the gift of life and dance with it all.



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Touchstone – Quenched

22 April 2016

We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves. ~His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Touchstone - Quenched

This morning I scanned back over post titles from 50 weeks of this year-long exploration of life satisfaction.  The seasons and a host of events played by in fast-forward motion.  Posts brought to mind the trigger that had prompted me to examine a subject.  A handful of quotes and images jumped out.  But mostly, I was struck by the diversity of facets I’ve discovered in this topic.

These different faces, this variety of relevant aspects, are a great gift.  Satisfaction, it turns out, has so many access points.  Accepting now, filling myself with enough, prioritizing love, defining my values  — all of these, at different times and in varying ways, are entries into living a life that pleases.

Teasing out my vague notions, coaxing thoughts into words and words into coherent language, has expanded my awareness and understanding of how I craft a life.  I believe there is value in this expedition into our inner lives, into what matters to us, and into how we can act upon those values.

Many of the great spiritual teachers remind us that love and peace begin within, with love for ourselves, with peace about who we are.  I have found that the work I do to know myself and nurture my honesty, courage and connection to satisfaction is directly reflected in how I both view the world and bring myself to it.  Contemplating and acting on behalf of our own well-being is not ‘navel-staring’ self-absorption or selfishness.  I believe it’s tilling the soil that allows us to engage from a place of authenticity and compassion.

The work of creating a positive, rewarding life is ongoing.  It’s not an event to check off a bucket list nor a destination with an arrival gate.  It is a journey.  An on-going relationship with ourselves and life.   It’s a good, reliable friendship offering the opportunity to deepen and sweeten our life experiences, to quench our thirst.



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19 April 2016

It seems that, in transforming our responsiveness, this is not only what allows us to be surprised by the world but to also be that surprise to the world. ~Colten Steele


You’ve probably realized that I love words.  I’ve used a lot of them in the last 50 weeks to explore this notion of creating satisfaction.

I’m convinced that language is not only a portal of communication, it is also a threshold into comprehension.  Language is the tool in which we find and make meaning.  Linguists believe that it wasn’t until after lapis lazuli pigments were developed that the word ‘blue’ was coined.  Until ‘blue’ had a name, it appears that people literally did not recognize that color in their environment, in their sky.  In a very real way, vocabulary and language expand our experience of the world.  And, so, they expand us.

In addition to being a word geek, I love wide open space.  The word ‘satisfaction’ is defined in my dictionary as ‘the fulfillment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this’.  Maybe part of why I’ve been intrigued by satisfaction is because there is so much territory between wishes, expectations and needs.  Which makes satisfaction complex and layered, full of footpaths and vista points.  Its expansiveness feels like a place I can rely upon to encompass a full spectrum of life.

I entered into this year of wondering about life satisfaction with the hope that I’d uncover some bedrock upon which I could stand at the end of a tough day, upon which I could, ultimately, rest at the end of my life.  I don’t speak of death here in a morbid way at all.  The prospect of death, mine and especially that of those I love, does frighten me.  But, the other side of that coin is that death also offers motivation for a sharp focus on how I live my days and for bringing myself as fully as I can to creating moments of significance and meaning.

Happiness is not something I can always get my hands on or wrap my heart around.  Nor do I aspire to this.  There’s much in the world to grieve.  A whole continuum of emotions compose this amazing human experience.  Joy is not something I can turn the knob to and stay tuned to all the time.  Satisfaction, on the other hand, seems both more accessible and durable.

This year of probing and parsing has convinced me that satisfaction’s complexity and nuances make it a quality I can practice and attend to in any moment or emotional state.  There is always some relevant aspect at hand in the satisfaction toolkit — a way to help ease a difficult situation, a perspective that enriches understanding, an opening to lean into.  Or, perhaps, simply beginning again with a gentle breath.

‘Satisfaction’ may not have quite the upbeat appeal of ‘joy’.   My early elementary school report cards had three little boxes for the teacher to check — unsatisfactory, satisfactory or good.  Which implies ‘satisfactory’ is somewhere around a ‘C’ grade equivalent;  perhaps barely a passing mark, hardly sufficient.

But this year I’ve found satisfaction is not that limited.  It’s all about recognizing enough.  It’s completely compatible with ‘joy’.  It’s a companion to turn to in hard times.  And it’s equally at home with bliss and exuberance.   

For most of my life, I’ve been busy raising the bar, accomplishing one thing only to promptly lift my sights up to the next objective.  I still like this strategy for a lot of endeavors, but high expectations can be counterproductive.  Despite my long-term bias against this, I’m learning that leaving expectations behind can have surprising and exceptional results.  Several years ago, I joined a writing group led by Jena Schwartz.  Every day for two weeks she sent us a writing prompt.  The assignment was to write, to keep our fingers moving for ten minutes, and then, without editing, to post our essays to the group.  Jena assured us the crappiest stuff ever printed was welcome and made it safe to post without apology or groveling.  I’ve been in a number of her groups now and have repeatedly been jaw-dropingly stunned by the honesty, courage and beauty that has come forth in this environment.

When I shoot for satisfaction, it’s not a prelude to humdrum mediocrity at all.  Nope.  Instead, it’s actually one of those portals into a larger landscape, an expanded opportunity to engage with the intricacy and surprise of life.  A place where something ‘imperfect’ is part of a greater whole, where heartache and delight are equally natural, where every moment contains a host of possibilities.


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Touchstone – Sculpting Good Questions

15 April 2016

Instead of being in the world, let the world dwell in you.  Open yourself up to it all.  You won’t loose yourself.  You will find you are big enough, bigger than you ever imagined.  ~yoga nidra

Touchstone Sculpting Good Questions

My nephew, a student of Eastern Philosophy, introduced me recently to a Daoist concept he translated as Wa/onder, a joining of the words ‘wander’ and ‘wonder’.  For me, the term provides a charming image of this concept of life as a conversation, an interactive process of inquiry and exploration.  A process in which it seems to me we affect the reality we experience by shaping the filters through which we perceive our lives.  And, also, I think, we shape some of what comes to us in utterly mysterious ways.

Wandering through life’s territory can be intimate and exciting, or foreign and frightening.  Shutting down, wanting the answer now, defending how I think things should be are all familiar strategies for coping with difficult stretches.  But what I really want is to stay fresh with life, awake to interpretations or relevance unnoticed before.

It is not required that we know it all.  It is not required that we do it all alone, strong, perfect and apparently effortlessly.  I have banged my head into the walls of these notions for years because they had such a pervasive hold on me.  It is impossible to care and to grow without stumbling and falling, hurting and being hurt.  Life is big, messy, difficult right alongside being dear, glorious and magical.

Having a conversation with life, asking questions that aim toward what I value, is helping me learn to trust the many facets of life.  It is like creating any relationship:  A way to receive another and offer who I am.  To appreciate the time together.  To ask for help.  And trust that there is a hand held out somewhere if I wander and wonder my way toward it.


We shape ourselves                                                                                                                            to fit this world                                                                                                                                   and by the world                                                                                                                                are shaped again.

The visible and the invisible                                                                                                   working together                                                                                                                                  in common cause,                                                                                                                                  to produce the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way the invisible air traveled at speed                                                    round a shaped wing                                                                                                                        easily                                                                                                                                      holds our weight….

…So may we, in this life                                                                                                               trust                                                                                                                                                to those elements                                                                                                                                    we have yet to see                                                                                                                                 or imagine,

And find the true                                                                                                                     shape of our own self,                                                                                                                            by forming it well                                                                                                                                        to the great                                                                                                                                   intangibles about us.                                                                     ~David Whyte, from the poem Working Together



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Sculpting Good Questions

12 April 2016

And so the ability to ask beautiful questions, often in very unbeautiful moments, is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it as it does by having it answered. And you don’t have to do anything about it. You just have to keep asking. And before you know it, you will find yourself actually shaping a different life, meeting different people, finding conversations that are leading you in those directions that you wouldn’t even have seen before.  ~David Whyte, in an interview with Krista Tippet on On Being

Sculpting Good Questions

Often, I am at a loss.  A loss as to how to help when I so hope to.  At a loss as to how to proceed when clearly I must.  At a loss as to how I feel about matters that decisions hinge upon.

In younger days, I considered this a failure on my part.  I was pretty sure everyone else had things figured out.  They seemed to know their destination, chart their course and proceed with fine navigational skills.  They didn’t appear to get overwhelmed or come undone like I did.  And do.  One of the great benefits of good friendships, reflection and reading has been developing an acceptance and appreciation for the vast scope of human opportunity and challenge.  Often I am at a loss because life is big.  There is no simple or obvious answer.

It can be tempting to think I want a familiar and well-trod, comfortable and predictable life.  But that’s not my nature.  Maybe it’s not anyone’s true nature.  Life, with its flux and flow, doesn’t allow us to anticipate everything.  An innate desire for growth and novelty ambles my steps onto the delicate foot trail.

When I feel vulnerable and uncertain, I can be seduced by the promise of an easy answer — leaping to the security of having a position, checking off the short list of things to do to solve my problem, turning to an expert who’s got the answer.

Except, the quickest, easiest or most strident answer is usually not the one that fits me.

So, more and more, I’m developing a relationship with my questions.  I’m seeing how useful they are in helping me define what I’m seeking.  I’m realizing how influential they can be in crafting the answers that arise.

In the face of not knowing, I’m beginning with a question that waves an arm in the direction I hope to go.  A question that contains within it the seeds of what I intend or hope for.  A query that opens the outcome up to the realm of my dreams and aspirations.

Good questions aren’t complicated.  They lean into where we want to go.  Where can I find compassion?  How can I help you?  What is the gift of this moment?

Good questions abound.  They are the questions that embrace a desire to expand understanding.  The questions that crack the door open to mystery.  Or lay the table for love.  The questions that are bread crumbs, the clues to the trail with an unexpected vista point.

A question like this changes things.  How I view a problem shifts when I frame it within an inquiry referencing values and intentions.  It also changes me.  My own ground becomes receptive and fertile soil.

At times it feels like talking to myself.  It might start there.  But, already, it’s a give and take of exploration.  And at some point, it moves beyond me.  To another person.  To an interview I randomly turn to on the radio.  To the impulse that lifts out of me on my walk the next day.

David Whyte refers to this as the conversation with life.  I love this term.  I love this idea of engaging in life like I engage in my marriage or friendships.  Of showing up, present and willing, to probe into problems and discover frontiers of solutions.

Still, much as I love this, I can sidetrack onto questions that are more about whining.  Why does it have to be this way?  Questions that are more about judging.  Why would you do it that way?  Just writing these down it’s easy to see I’m not entering into open-hearted discourse.  These ‘questions’ aren’t constructive.  When answers narrow my world, justify my judgments, or serve to rationalize feelings, they aren’t really shaping answers I want to live with.

John Lennon’s famous lyrics, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’, sums up how life makes no guarantees about conforming to our predictions or hopes.  We do not call all the shots.  Yet in this ever unfolding, awe-filled world, I believe we are resolutely welcome at the table, invited to show up and inquire how we can sculpt our experiences to reflect our values and desires.



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Touchstone – Into the Heart of the Matter

8 April 2016

I must be willing to give up what I am in order to become what I will be. ~Albert Einstein

Touchstone into the heart of the matter

I like it when, later in the day, I remember my morning horizontal and vertical stretch.  Just the thought of this pose eases my shoulders out and straightens my bearing toward vertical.  Suddenly I have room for more breath, and that quickly, instead of being focused ahead of myself, I stand back into the present.

I can get lost in my doing.  I can get so wrapped up in it that I lose track of my being and life feels hurried and tight.

When I bring my attention onto being, it rarely changes what I’m doing, but in some subtle way, it almost always alters how I’m doing it.

That tiny expansion in my body reminds me that space is available in every moment.  Our thoughts seem to all flow together, but between this one and the next it’s possible to insert a gap — and a presence.

That gap moves me beyond the horizontal plane of doing to a vertical reflection from a larger perspective.  It lets me connect into the love I feel humming in the background of life that I want to embed into the doing of my hands.

That moment of conscious spaciousness opens the door both beyond me and within me, a merging at the heart of being my life.


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Into the Heart of the Matter

6 April 2016

Beauty is not in the face;  beauty is a light in the heart.  ~Kahlil Gibran

In the Heart of the Matter

One of the first stretches in my morning yoga is not really a yoga pose.  It is a simple extension into the vertical and the horizontal.  Standing, I lift my arms up from my sides to shoulder level and push the heels of my palms away from my body.  Simultaneously, I reach the crown of my head up toward the sky.  I imbue my morning poses with intention and for this pose my intention is about joining these two symbolic vectors — the horizontal and the vertical.  The horizontal is symbolic of the physical tending to our lives, the work of householding, the daily doing of our hands.  The earth.  The vertical represents the shaft that plunges in, sinking into reflection, and rises up, into spirituality.  The sky.  At the intersection of these two vectors lies the heart.

I love pushing my palms out as far as I can, feeling the fibers in my arms stretch.  I relish the sensation of my head gently drawing up my spine.  Crooks and crannies increase their intake of air.  My heart’s capacity expands.

In this beautifully evolved world, I’m not sure it’s an accident that at this meeting of our deep reflective capacity and the ability of our hands to manifest rests the organ from which we create connection and develop wisdom.

Years ago, I stepped way beyond my comfort zone to attend a silent Buddhist retreat.  My knowledge of Buddha’s teachings is very limited but I know one of his aims was to reduce human suffering.  The point of the silent retreat, although I didn’t understand this beforehand, was to put us in direct contact with our mental machinations — pretty much a guaranteed prescription for suffering.  Steeped in the travails of a mind left completely to its own devices, I experienced a screenplay of anxiety and discomfort.  By the third day of the ten-day retreat, my mind was in hyperspeed with intent to damage.  It railed against this self-indulgent reclusion when there was so much in the world that needed to be done.  It pelted me with every possible criticism, past, present and future.  My body, naturally inclined toward motion, vehemently protested the double-digit hours perched on a meditation stool every day.

Because I am a hard person to pry from the track I lay for myself, I persisted.  Slowly, very slowly, the doubts, the pain, the self-criticism quieted.  And I recognized the power of witnessing, of being trapped in the maelstrom with strict directions to simply sit with it.

Observing myself created space.  And this spaciousness, this gap between me and my thoughts, allowed me to realize I was bigger than my thoughts, more than my actions.

I appreciate the pose that calls this to mind because often I get stuck in my horizontal plane;  feeling behind, always trying to get more done, comparing my days to others’, thinking that when I accomplish the next milestone or achievement, then I’ll feel happy and worthy.

But when I open up to that spaciousness inside, it’s not a hungry space.  It’s a roominess, an ease, a capacity for fullness.  It’s satisfied and loving.  It rests in being uniquely enough and doing accordingly.

More and more I take it to heart that happiness and life satisfaction are indeed inside jobs.  That they come not from what life presents, but from how I engage with whatever is presented.  Other people don’t make me safe.  Things arranged in the way I want don’t assure enduring happiness or satisfaction.  These qualities are a result of living from that place where my being and my doing mingle and merge.

I went to the retreat hoping to connect to a source of wisdom and peace.  At the end, I found what I was looking for.  Within me, laying at that connection of two axes, was a place that contained both, a harbor of peace in the storm and wisdom to guide the hand ready to reach out.

I have forgotten and remembered this thousands of times in the years since I went on that retreat.  Remembered for a day perhaps or recalled for only a moment.  But, either way, I believe these moments are cumulative connections that build heart to nurture this place and muscle to return to living our own unique life here between earth and sky.



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