Traveling Thoughts

I’m heading out for Colorado this week.  I’ll be driving. Road trip! I love to drive across the country and am busy planning and packing. I want to be well-prepared.

The hours of solitude are like a personal retreat for me. I take the roads less traveled whenever possible (in this case, Route 50 “The Loneliest Road in America”) and I carefully choose audio books and music to accompany me.

This trip, I’m taking David Whyte’s new 6 CD set “What To Remember When Waking” (available from David’s web site, from Sounds True, and from, among others).  The title of the course is taken from David’s poem of the same name, from which I offer this excerpt:

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
will make plans
enough . . .

. . . read more

Happiness & Possibility

Pursuit of Happiness

During the embattled years of law school, a friend and I clung together in our metaphorical fox-hole, confiding to one another all that was scary, going wrong, or likely to go wrong.  We’d spend hours (over nachos and margueritas) pep-talking one another into persevering.  Then, one day, she and I were together and I realized that I had nothing to talk about.  Just at that moment, nothing was scaring me, there was nothing to complain about – and I was at a loss.  What would I talk about?  I had nothing interesting going on.

“Nothing interesting going on.”  That thought got my ATTENTION.  Did I really believe that if there was nothing going wrong then there was nothing interesting happening? Then I began noticing that most of the conversations I heard revolved around some point of unhappiness; and if I began to talk about being happy (about things going right), the shift seemed to cause discomfort. . . . read more

What Is Important?

Workflow planners have lots of advice on time management but generally assume that you already have firm grip on your basis for setting priorities.

One of my favorite time planning systems, Steven Covey’s “First Things First,” charts tasks according to quadrants:

  1. urgent-and-important;
  2. not-urgent-but-important;
  3. urgent-but-not-important;
  4. not-urgent-and-not-important.

Very helpful; but, beyond the crying baby and the kitchen fire, I still need to figure out what is truly important.

There seems to be an assumption that we either already know or can sit down and – using logic – decide what is most important in the plethora of demands and desires that make up our lives.

Right.   Since I don’t just automatically know which tasks ought to go first, I’m supposed to DECIDE?  Everything I’m doing is important!  I can list lots of reasons each thing is important to me (including the fact that it is important to others that I do what I’ve agreed to do).

So, being a sincere and responsible adult, I sit down to figure out which things get put off decide on priorities.  I begin and here come the lists of pro’s and con’s, the calculator, the calendar, the waffling, the talks with trusted confidants, the worry about making a wrong decision or making someone unhappy with me.  And subtly, under it all, a secret struggle is engaged between what I am telling myself should be most important and my underground sense that the SHOULD trail leads away from the FUN.

To top it all off, once an order of importance is decided, my nag goes into full operation, running a critical eye down the list, second-guessing the ramifications and reminding me that things are languishing, deadlines are looming, expectations are teetering on the brink of disappointment .  .  .  blechk!

I need a way to know what is important.  I need way to set an order of priorities that my nag will sign-up for and support rather than use as a way to drain all hope of fun from my days.  . . . read more

Willpower and Willingness

My inner nag is pointing out all the things I’ve left undone . . . and my inner resister-of-authority wonders if the ‘not doing’ is about needing a break.  This is always a tricky question.  I am so ready to believe that I’m a slacker who is just looking for an excuse to play hooky. 

 Productivity / Creativity – getting enough of both

Does productivity rely on effort or nurture?  I know that creativity needs nurturing (plenty of inspirational experiences and freedom).  I’ve always assumed that productivity needed a firmer hand, a driving force.  Now I’m wondering if that is necessarily true?

My creativity can dream things up – but bringing a dream from hope to fruition requires discipline, which is, in my experience, a triumph of will over unwillingness (nose to the grindstone; buckle down; straighten up and fly right . . . you get the drift).   

Might it be possible to have robust productivity without tyrannical will-power and the abrasion of facial features?  . . . read more

Change of Habitude

I’d been waking up several times in the night feeling intense anger and fear. Weird.  No reason for that.  When I took a mental step back, I realized that I was actually experiencing a strong surge of physical energy and interpreting it as anger and fear.   Granted, I’m a 50-something female, which might be a clue about the energy surge, but what really riveted my attention was that my logic center had supplied “pain” as the default explanation of what I was feeling.  What’s up with that?  Why is my automatic interpretation of strong energy “pain” rather than “joy”?

What if you aren’t who you think you are?

Becoming watchful of my habitual assumptions about myself, my life, and the world, I realized that my understanding of myself  was based on a sort of scrapbook biography, a concoction of partial memories and anecdotes.  I was taking these shreds and patches to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth about me.  What’s more, I was expending huge amounts of energy protecting the morsels I liked and trying to erase the bits of which I was ashamed.  I was a puppeteer desperately believing that my puppet was me, believing that this piecemeal creature’s existence (and approval rating) was essential to my survival.

I was abiding by its boundaries, like an compliant child careful not to color outside the lines.  I was living a tamed identity, restricting my life, cowering in phantom shelter.

Safety by self-imprisonment.  Hence the habitude of anger and fear.

Wild Identity

Did you know that researchers believe a newborn doesn’t associate itself with a body during the first months of life?   Just for a moment, imagine your infant self dwelling in this world without boundaries.  You have all your sensations and you are unlimited, wild.

Merely supposing that I might fully inhabit the wild identity that  accompanied my infant self into this life was a liberating sensation.  How much energy would I have, how much freedom, if I just stopped pumping effort into the tatter-shawl identity I’d been so carefully curating?

But I couldn’t simply flip a switch.  I had a life-time of commitment invested in this puppetry.  And of course, my well-trained intellect was screaming, “Reckless!”  I’d depended for so long on the approved versions of myself for my safety—for my belonging.

I needed a practice, a touchstone, a way to re-call my wild self into presence.  I needed just to begin the conversation with something wider, bigger, deeper.

“And so long as you have not experienced
This: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.”

– Goethe (The Holy Longing)

Here is what I do:

I listen to music; read poetry; go to place of scenic splendor; visit artworks wherever they may dwell; I sit in a sanctified place; I spend long stretches of time without verbal input (read or heard); I savour sensations – the scent of the air around me, the ambient sounds, the taste of my coffee– and I and let the cascading interpretations of my busy intellect arise and fade without being adopted as ‘true’ or ‘false.’

That’s all.  I don’t expect an ‘answer’ or a resolution.

All I look for is a wider horizon, a broader frame, a deeper, clearer understanding from which to consider my response—to break free of habitudes, into the unbelievable freshness of an already eternal presence that is experiencing this life, this world, this participatory co-habitation of planet earth.

Engage in genuine conversation with this moment-by-moment life and the strategic plan will reveal itself.

Maybe what is happening for me in the night is just the bees in my heart, making honey.

The choice:

fitting myself to the system or communicating myself, ‘in my full stature and proportion,’ through the work and the way I choose to do it.

–Linda Alvarez

The common experience is that the man fits himself as well as he can to the customary details of that work or trade he falls into, and tends it as a dog turns a spit. Then is he a part of the machine he moves; the man is lost.

Until he can manage to communicate himself to others in his full stature and proportion, he does not yet find his vocation.  He must find in that an outlet for his character, so that he may justify his work to their eyes.

If the labor is mean, let him by his thinking and character make it liberal.  Whatever he knows and thinks, whatever in his apprehension is worth doing, that let him communicate, or men will never know and honor him aright.

Foolish, whenever you take the meanness and formality of that thing you do, instead of converting it into the obedient spiracle of your character and aims.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Spiritual Laws”

After seeing what was required to fit into the system of traditional practice of law, I realized that I was wholly capable of succeeding in that milieu and also realized that to do so would be antithetical to my character and aims.  A change was imperative. I began searching for what I would/should/could do instead, trying to make a plan, trying to imagine a new direction, a new occupation, and to “get it right” this time.

Available time planners and self-help books seemed to belong in one of two categories.  On the one hand, I found plenty of systems for those who already knew their calling—had fully imagined a new direction and were committed to that new path—and just needed a tool for organizing workflow.  On the other hand were a multitude of voices that advised finding and following a “bliss” regardless of financial imperatives.  (I noticed that most of their examples described people who had a spouse paying the way while the bliss-follower built the new dream.)

I did not have the option to quit my job and chase a dream with no visible means of support; nor did I have the energy to start a new career from scratch while simultaneously maintaining the one I was in.  Filling out questionnaires in workbooks and doing end-of-chapter exercises to illuminate my true bliss did not lead to ACTION.  It all left me feeling hopeless at the thought of all the re-schooling and re-tooling I’d need to leave the law.

I was yearning for a whole-hearted livelihood, not a job or career from which I would endlessly strain towards escape.  And I wanted to find a way to sustain my momentum and motivation once a choice had been made.  I needed a way to keep myself moving forward, bringing my dreams to fruition rather than watching them fade in the face of daily obligations and obstacles.  Unable to find a planner or system to fit my needs, I developed my own—the  Flourishment Planner—to discover and bring into being my new career. . . . read more

BTUs & Freedom

One bright morning, as we sat at the breakfast table with our good friends Phil and Rhonni, I looked down at the dreadful rust-colored indoor/outdoor carpeting that former inhabitants had glued to the floor of our cottage’s kitchen. To the table in general, I moaned, “I hate this carpet.  It would be so great to have a wooden floor instead; but I’m afraid it will be nearly impossible to get this dreadful orange stuff up.” And I sighed with despair at the hopelessness of it all.

Without a word and in one smooth, swift movement, Phil put down his spoon, whipped a mat knife from his back pocket, and without rising from his chair, leaned over and laid a long, tearing cut across two feet of the hated flooring.  While I was still drawing breath to shout, Phil re-pocketed the knife and reached down to rip away a large strip of the dreadful carpet along with an underlying layer of decaying linoleum.  Revealed in the gap was a strip of beautiful old heart-wood flooring—a sleeping beauty waiting to be awakened. At the end of that day, the finish on my lovely antique wooden floor was drying to a beautiful luster as we ate our dinner in the garden.

Phil’s “Make A Hole” philosophy of overcoming inertia &
My philosophy of
Freedom-Friendly BTUs

For those who work mainly in building, gardening, or other occupations that involve physically making/changing things – the above described approach is what I have come to call the Phil Perry principal of Make A Hole.  Start in a way that means you must continue.  Burn the bridge leading back  to “Reasons Why It’s Too Hard” and you are compelled beyond the inertia into “Now I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING” action.  Tucked into my day-planner  I have the little fortune cookie proverb from a years-ago meal: “The simplest answer is to act.”  (The lucky numbers on it are: 42, 17, 11, 5, 32, 24 – just  FYI.)

When you work mainly at a table, desk or computer, in order to get things done, you pretty much have to Apply Butt To Chair and spend some time there; hence, BTUs (Butt Time Units); but the imperative of BTUs often feels like a prison sentence.  . . . read more