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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Touchstone – Spring Fling

1 April 2016

Laughter, song and dance create emotional and spiritual connection;  they remind us of the one thing that truly matters when we are searching for comfort, celebration, inspiration or healing:  We are not alone.  ~Brené Brown

touchstone spring fling

 

I’m a person who needs solitude.  I try to cultivate space in each day for thoughts to arise from beneath the surface.  I value that mental expanse in which my connection to the love in life and awe of existence can unfurl.

But I need the flip side of the coin just as much.  The mingling of joy and laughter.  The combining of experience and perspective.   A union of understanding and appreciation with others.

This sharing has often felt frightening to me.  The fear of being judged has kept me from authentic expression.  The fear of being inadequate has kept me from letting loose the reins and being myself with whole-hearted abandon.

As nature lets loose her reins into spring, I am surrounded with reminders to come out and arise, to be curious and creative, to add my life to the vast panoply of lives each going about their important additive business and doing the thing only they do — each a string vibrating its own note into the orchestra’s music.

We humans have a wonderful ability to notice and appreciate our world.  I see this as a form of reverence for our earth.  When I explore this same ability with others, gently allowing myself to truly see and be seen, I’m opening to emergence and inspiration.

Our uniqueness is a great asset to the community.  Just as flowers all express themselves in their own colors and shapes and preferred habitats, each of us is different, too.  Spring’s fling is a clarion call to engage and commune.

 

 

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Spring Fling

29 March 2016

Dance like no one is watching.  Sing like no one is listening.  Love like you’ve never been hurt, and live like it’s heaven on earth.

Spring Fling

Spring is busting out in every possible way here in Northern California’s central valley.  The oaks, the sycamore and the buckeye are unfurling shiny new foliage.  The birds begin their choral rites at the faintest hint of dawn, their songs silvery and sleek and enchanting.  The wildflowers throw out blankets of white and gold and lavender and their fond names feel good on my tongue;  Butter and Eggs, Tidy Tips, Delphinium and Dichelostemma.  The breeze is a heady potion perfumed by jasmine and wisteria and lilac.  There is so much to savor, so much zest to celebrate.

Every living thing turns potential into the tangible every moment of every day, but this time of year it is more apparent, more fulsome, a brimming over of vitality and a spilling over of eagerness.  Winter is the time for burrowing in and husbanding resources, reflecting upon and charting life courses.  Spring is about turning possibility into reality, emerging and rising anew, spending the wad.

It’s all utterly contagious.  The generative urge and the buoyancy of beauty course through me because, like each of us, I’m part of it, too.  I feel eager and playful.  I want to skip out into the garden and poke my nose into the blossoms the butterflies adore and see what miraculous events have transpired this morning.  I feel the urge to create.  A desire to take part and be part of.

Creativity is one way I experience who I am and what I might add to the world.  Curiosity opens me to what’s around me and engages me with it.

This time of year is a giant, actual-reality invitation to step right up and stick our hands and hearts into life with creativity and curiosity.  It’s a great time to tweak routines, to feel a bounce in my step, let my laugh be easy and see what comes of it.  Can I lift my heart in song like the birds?  Where can I unfurl new leaves or push myself up from the soil to lift a fresh face to the day?

While life is mysterious and at times tremendously challenging and painful, I believe that at the core of existence there is a support for ongoing life and a bedrock of connection that links us all.  I think of this as a type of love.

In this winsome season, love is in the air.  Enticing us to set out on something new, to explore something exciting, to lean into beauty, to create ecstasy.  And to share it all, broadcast it around us, whenever possible.  To all take part in and be part of spring’s great fling.

 

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Touchstone – Owning My Life – Attention and Intention

25 March 2016

Most people believe that their actions have consequences but don’t think through the implications of that belief.  But Steve did.  He believed, as I do, that it is precisely by acting on our intentions and staying true to our values that we change the world.  ~Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation, referring to Steve Jobs in Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc.

Touchstone Owning My Life Attention and Intention

This week I’m thinking about how I can give away my agency over my own life without even realizing it.  Along with this, I’m thinking of the flip side — how to claim and own my life more strongly and definitively.

It takes courage to stay in our own lives and act with conscious attention and intention.  It’s often seems easier to blame, judge, shame.  It’s often feels safer to hide, numb the pain, gloss over.

But these behaviors inhibit the active creation of life.  They are reactions that appear to defend me or serve me in some way, but in fact detour me away from the greater desires I have for connection and compassion.

It’s clear that there’s lots of places where I have no influence over outcomes.  Which makes it even more important that I focus on the areas I can affect and practice the skills that help me shape myself and my life.

Byron Katie classifies the affairs of life in a way that helps me remember where my efforts can be most effective.  She separates situations into three types of ‘business’.  My business.  Your business.  God’s business.

God’s business is weather, earthquakes, when I’ll die.  Your business is where you go on vacation, how you handle your finances, when you mow your lawn.  My business is what responsibilities I take on, how I navigate my work, when I mow my lawn.

If I spend my energy on God’s business and your business, I restrict the energy I have left for my business, the place where my attention and intention can make a difference.  Being in God’s business or your business can make me feel frustrated and powerless because I have no actual authority in these areas.  Putting myself in my business, gives me a chance to act with clarity and effect.

Sometimes I want approval or validation from the world.  Sometimes I need support from my husband or a friend.  And when I don’t get those I can move into a defensive or blaming posture.  But there’s an opportunity in times like this to tend to myself, to my business, by aligning with internal guidance and focusing my energy where I can mobilize it constructively.

It comes down to a choice.  Do I want to cherish hurt and blame?  Or nourish a life that aligns with my heart?

Focusing on being the person I want to be is all up to me.  And, like all the big things in my life, this is a practice for me.  Some moments I manage it.  Other moments, I remember I can begin again.

 

More on Byron Katie’s three kinds of business.

 

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Owning My Life — Attention and Intention

23 March 2016

Accept — then act.  Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it… This will miraculously transform your whole life.  ~Eckhart Tolle

Owning My Life Attention and IntentionAmazed that only six weeks remain of this year-long blog, I’ve scanned back over the months of posts about a variety of topics that weave together, all of them strands within the sinuous, beautiful braid of creating satisfaction with my life.  Each strand adds texture, color, strength or sparkle.  Some strands are like tools in a tool box, with a specific time and place where they are useful, while others are handy everyday.  Many of them are related, different threads combining in a single strand.

One theme that surfaces repeatedly is that of being present with the current moment and I’m visiting that again this week.

One of the benefits of bringing my attention to this moment is that then I open the possibility of putting my intention into it.  In this simple act, I become a creator of my life.  I choose to be with what is — attending.  And I clarify what I value — setting an intention for how I want to interact with that moment.  This act of attention and intention, consciousness and design, is owning and stepping into my life.

Focused on this over the week, I’ve had great wake-up calls about how often I give up authority over my life in small, but significant ways.  I accumulated a host of grudges around things I wanted and hadn’t gotten.  I was unhappy that my family wasn’t more openly interested in the thing I was excited about.  I was taken aback when I shared a birthday celebration and instead of getting a big whoop, I put someone off.  I had an overly busy day when I felt like life owned me.  In short, I looked at things in a way that made me the victim of circumstance and other’s actions.

When I stopped and looked at all these small hurts I was cherishing, I could lay them down.  Attending to these hurts, I could remind myself that I don’t desire to suffer needlessly.  And then I could look for the places where I had the ability to act, where I could initiate what I’d expected from others, where I could shift my life toward what I desired.

Reality can be scary.  Denial can seem safer.  I can feel inadequate to meet a challenge square on and try to squirm around it.  I can be afraid and look the other way.  But ultimately it’s myself that I let down by refusing to face the moment.  Because without meeting it, I lose the chance to connect and respond in a real way.  It’s a bit like Anne Lamott says, ‘Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.’

In this huge world of copious stimulus and input, it’s easy to always be externally-oriented consumers of the culture, in search for validation and happiness.  I believe that contained within each of us there is a very rich and rewarding inner life.  Connecting to it, by attending and intending, allows us to better develop an understanding of who we are and live from that place that is uniquely us.

When I focus on my intentions, I find strength to face a tough situation.  Regardless of the circumstances, my life becomes a creation over which I have a great deal of influence.

Connecting to the moment with attention and intention is powerful.  It is a place to come to know myself and own the ability I have to shape my life.

 

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Touchstone – To Boldly Go

18 March 2016

You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown.  But there’s no such thing as the unknown — only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.  ~ Captain James Tiberius Kirk 

There’s another way to survive — mutual trust and help.  ~Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Touchstone To Boldly Go

I value authentic relationships.  And that means I need a comfort zone large enough to hear opinions that challenge mine.

Even within close friendships there are varied experiences, perspectives and values.  Even without warping around the universe on the Starship Enterprise, it’s a big world and it’s not getting any simpler or less diverse.

We humans are genetically coded for tribalism, for socializing with likenesses.  Differences naturally and instinctively push little alarm buttons.  But resorting to fear and blame, putting the other person down to win an argument, are cheap, easy shots.  They don’t serve my desire for caring relationships and a better world.

Though I feel more comfortable with people I agree with, differences enrich my relationships and my life.  Like with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, it is the other perspective that enlarges my picture of the world.  It is the combination of skill sets that unravels the puzzle.

With their amalgamation of personalities and view points, Kirk and Spock inspired their crew to believe in and work together to create win-win solutions for all.

And they are still inspiring me, reminding me that the genesis of open-minded actions begins when I offer a place of both self-respect and other-respect.  A place where I support, ask questions, listen with the intent to understand.  And ask for these same things in return.

 

 

 

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To Boldly Go

15 March 2016

If it’s authentically within reach, you can deliberately, even willfully settle yourself in love as a central quality in your mind. This is not phony: the love that’s there in you is genuinely there. In fact, choosing to love is twice loving: it’s a loving act to call up the intention to love, plus there is the love that follows.  ~Rick Hanson

To Boldly Go

Last night I voiced an opinion to my husband that differed from his.  My comment seemed innocent and innocuous to me, but it tripped an insecurity in him and his response rebound into me, putting my defenses on alert.  The ripple effect mounded up and suddenly we were both hot messy mountains of hurt.

Intellectually, I know that we don’t all see things the same way.  Yet when this fact comes to roost close at hand, with family or friends I think I know and understand, I can get twisted up in a hurry.

Which might be why I’ve had a peculiar urge today to watch some old television, the original Star Trek to be specific.  Geeky and really dated, right?  Star Trek is the show I recall watching regularly in my childhood days.  And here was a desire to travel and adventure with my old friends.  What was this about?

Reflecting on this, I’ve realized it’s about wanting to connect with love in those hot messy mountains of hurt.

From my subconscious arose the image of two unlikely compatriots:  Captain Kirk, impulsive, brash, charismatic and daring, and his perfect foil, Mr. Spock, the impassive Vulcan, logical and scientific to-the-enth degree.

Just picturing these two characters that I’d idolized and adored made me smile.  I thought about how they respected one another’s uniqueness and created a friendship that expanded both their lives.  They forged an alliance that benefited their entire fellow crew.  In the world that they faced together, with overwhelming odds stacked against them repeatedly, nothing seemed impossible.

I know.  It’s tv.  But, these two characters imprinted on me some hallmarks of deep and true friendship — the ability to be authentic to myself and also genuinely support differences in another person.

It isn’t easy.  My family of origin emphasized right or wrong, one or the other, winning the argument.  Except no one really seemed to win.  I certainly never felt good ‘winning’.  Exploring the gray zone in the middle is the place where relationships find and forge their mettle.

When I consider how we each experience life uniquely and filter it within the context of our singular hearts and minds, not agreeing actually seems more likely than consensus.  But I’m wired for tribal loyalty, genetically coded to bias toward likeness.  I have to remind myself that I and the world are both better served by pooling thoughts, creativity, skills.  Like Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.

It’s a tall order to accept my own worth enough that I don’t need the bolstering of congruence.  When push comes to shove, I frequently fail at this.  However, there are moments, tiny flickering moments, when I recall love.  The love that is everywhere.  The love I want to have for this person.  The love that is a beacon to a better outcome.

Within those moments, I lay down tactical advantages and instead spot the opening where I can listen better and find a bridge.  As I increase my connection to my values of loving and growing, these moments become more prevalent and more compelling.

But at times, I still wind up in that place where all the artillery has been used and no one is left standing.  And still, love is the answer.  It’s courage and love that can repair the collateral damage.  The courage to sort through the fallout and admit my mistakes and misfires, and the love to honor another’s truth as I honor my own.

Dynamic friendships are where I literally come face-to-face with some of my greatest vulnerabilities, and largest opportunities to expand understanding.  There are all about boldly going were no one has gone before.  And letting love power the trek forward.

May we all live long and prosper.   😉

 

 

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Touchstone – Romancing Life

11 March 2016

I no longer want to be someone who imagines a better future, someone yearning for things to be different, someone who hopes her way into missing what perfection is, right here, in her face.  ~Sonya Lea, Wondering Who You Are

Touchstone Romancing Life

What does it look like to romance life?

This week it’s looked amazing for me.   A crazy, exciting week when a friend and I spontaneously decided to take a trip to Death Valley to walk among the wildflowers bursting up in a big celebration of the 3” of rain that fell here last October.

It’s been a week of courtship with life.

Courting is heady.  The world feels fresh, splitting open with eager energy, boundless in love.  Lavishing attention on the creation of wonderful life is easy.

In a long-term relationship, and life is that, it’s not always exactly like that.  Like any adventure, life does not always go as I anticipate or hope.  But, just like with my husband, when I show up grateful and willing to take responsibility, my relationship deepens and thrives.  Life and I get to know each other better.

My feeling of staleness was a chance to open up and ask, What am I missing?  What do I want?  What can I create?  Am I tired?  Do I just need a good night’s rest?  Or is it time to summon up an adventure?  How might I flirt with joy?  Can I sink more resolutely into this moment by remembering that even the ordinary, sometimes especially the ordinary, is precious?

When I romance my life, I welcome the ordinary that makes my life rich and woo the crazy-off-the-chart stuff that adds highlights.

Walking with my friend amongst the wildflowers in Death Valley this afternoon, watching the incoming storm’s light show spotlight the mountains flanking the valley and then driving smack into the storm as new rain fell, the temperature dropping 40 degrees, k.d. lang’s Hallelujah in the iPod sang out loud for both our hearts.

 

 

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Romancing Life

8 March 2016

One cannot help but be in awe when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, or of the marvelous structure of reality.  It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.  Never lose a holy curiosity. ~Albert Einstein

Romancing Life

I watched my friend’s finger as it swirled around the inside of the tulip, gently pushing open the closed petals so we could peer in, her fingertip circling the stamens and brushing into the pollen clustered at the tips of the filaments.  Familiar and fond as I am of flowers, as present as they are in my daily life, I wasn’t sure I had ever been so intimate with one.

Flowers are something I enjoy looking at and smelling.  I bring them into my home regularly.  I hike the spring hills with my friend searching for wildflowers.  Yet, here was a new way to connect.  Suddenly, I was eager to do the same.

I’ve been battling staleness.  The repetitive, obligatory, burdensome feeling of every day life.  Gratitude for good fortune didn’t shake off this trudge or the lurking question about this being all there is.

Day-to-day is repetitive.  Often obligatory.  Sometimes a burden.  And, at times, inevitably difficult.  But, the conditions of life are not the issue.  The issue is how I bring myself to it.  The issue is knowing each moment contains new territory.  Even the familiar ones are shiny possibilities.  Like the inside of a flower to be explored.

What makes something ordinary is a state of mind.  With an altered point of view, the whole world changes.

The same routines, the same guy across the table at breakfast, the same basket of laundry can seem boring.  But interestingly, these moments that are so easy to take for granted, or even resent, can be the ones that are missed most when they disappear.  The comfort of those routines.  The love and history shared with that guy.  The ability to bend over and pick up a heavy basket of laundry.

The impermanence of every thing I hold dear is frightening, yet simultaneously, this is what brings me back to a freshness, an expansive appreciation.  And awakens my eagerness to show up, curious and caring.

Once upon a time I acted as if I could change the way life is, just like I thought I would change the things I didn’t like in my husband.  But, when I stop rejecting or judging, I’m loving my husband more, appreciating the whole package he is, learning to be with him in risky or challenging ways.  Life is a similar relationship — an invitation to lean in and work with what’s there.

I believe intentions are powerful.  As I clarify my understanding of life as a relationship that I help create, doors open.  I see opportunities where before I saw burden or pain.  I spot the opportunity to uncover something new about myself or a longtime friend.  I cherish the opportunity to take someone’s hand and share uncertainty or fear.

When I’m exhausted, this is hard.  When the world at large or the one very close around is painful, it doesn’t seem reasonable.  But what if, like a plant in the falling rain or the flower spread open under the sun, I truly showed up to the gifts, the opportunities of the day?  The joy of an unexpected phone call.  The comfort of an old friend’s voice.  Intimacy with the shirt in the laundry, with myself, with a flower.

What if I practiced romancing my life, lavishing it with the attention and care we give a beloved?  What if I was devoted to the quotidian affair?

The petals of the tulip were cool and silky.  The inner parts delicate and also resilient.  It felt alive.  I did, too.

 

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Touchstone – Filling the Sieve

4 March 2016

Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.  ~Malcolm S. Forbes

Touchstone Filling the Sieve

Often I turn outside to satisfy my hunger.  To bolster my sense of being enough, I stuff myself with other people’s answers.  I cram in activities.  I judge someone.  I buy another skin lotion.

It seems to work initially.  But ultimately, it doesn’t tame the deep-rooted Little Shop of Horrors demand of ‘Feed me!’  It isn’t, as it turns out, enough.

Enough.

At first glance the word suggests something that is completely unremarkable and unenticing.  A dull utility kind of something.  But, there’s allure in enough.  In ‘satisfaction’ and ‘sufficiency’.  Perhaps it is their very unassuming, every-day quality.

Sure, they lack the impressive glitz of abundance.  However, they are like the people you develop a deep relationship with, the friends that will be with you through thick and thin.

I value and desire peak experiences, the thrill of personal bests, times of staggering happiness.  But there in between the bucket list items is the day-to-day warp and weave of living.

Sometimes I wonder what I would do with only 6 months to live.  There might be some fantastic trip or first-time-ever adventure, but mostly I think I’d yearn for time in connection, for simple ordinary things.

My own greatest good does not require what’s slightly beyond.  Most of the wisdom in my life comes from deep communion with another, from walks in nature, from showing up during tough times.

The flow of life is ever-changing.  A sieve placed into the flow will always contain different things and always be full.

Feeling empty originates within.

So does the willingness to be satisfied.  The willingness to fill up.  To let enough be just exactly that.

 

 

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