Double Nickels

28 07 2016
 Today is my birthday.

I’m 55. Double nickels.

Birthdays naturally call us to reflection, to assessment, to accounting. “What, I wonder, should I celebrate on this birthday – a life well spent or a future where more needs to be done?”(Doug Thompson’s 2002 article, “Dealing with the Double-Nickel“)

I could focus on the past, where there have been adventures and loves and moments of “glad grace.” I could spy, scattered among the litter of years left behind, all of my greatest experiences and best impulses. It seems only yesterday…there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I could shine (see poem, below).

Or, for a different take on the past, I could remember the first time I gambled, at a casino in Colorado. I played the nickel slots all night, plugging my winnings back in, over and over. The coins turned my fingers gray, then black. When I left hours later, they poured all those shiny silver nickels into a counting machine – and handed back to me the same ten dollar bill I started the evening with. Sometimes my life, on reflection, feels like that night – plugging my nickels in over and over only to end in the same place I started. Breaking even; a lot of change with the only visible difference being the grime left on my fingers.

Or I can forget about both sorrow and cynicism, and instead of parsing the past look to the future as if there is much yet to be lived and gained and created; as if my life has been neither gloriously squandered nor tediously labored at with little to show – but instead spent (nickel after nickel) preparing for this day. And the next, if I am lucky.

Ah, birthday angst. What are you good for, huh? Perhaps a little perspective?

Last night, discussing the annual birthday funk, a friend shared the Billy Collins poem, below. The ten year old narrator in the poem laments the loss of his single-digit years, remembering their magic while recognizing that the sad realities of adult consciousness are upon him. The poem points to both the pathos we feel at the passage of time AND the absurdity of lamenting it at each mile-marker.

Last night also brought lessons in how to approach looking forward on the eve of another birthday. President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was moving and inspiring – reminding me that hope is never wasted. We – every single day – get to choose our stance. In the minutes immediately after the speech I thought of Viktor Frankl, whose words have so often pointed me in a positive direction: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. And into that moment of profound reflection, my dear friend Molly tweeted this: “Emotional re-set. Let’s all wake up tomorrow and be better. Do better. Lead better. Speak better. #goals”

So, that’s where I’ve landed this morning, smack dab on my double-nickels birthday: with perspective on the past and goals for the future. That feels about right. Here’s to believing that 55 is my lucky year – because that’s how I plan on using my personal power to choose.

On Turning Ten by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

 

 

 

 

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From Just Plain Stupid to Stupid Easy

4 02 2016

foot prints in the sand

(Image from Pattysphotos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/34121831@N00/4592567496)

Lately, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time writing responses to posts on social media that either anger or disturb me. Sometimes, I carefully craft my response, being careful to choose words that are not intentionally incendiary, removing any accusatory or judgmental language. Other times I allow my fingers to type quickly, spewing forth the outraged reactive language running through my mind.

And then I erase them.

As I think about the swift passage of time, the ways my days run together and my weeks come to an end before I have time to blink, I realize that this has been stupidly wasteful of my time. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I erased these comments before posting them. But if I tried to add up the minutes of precious time I’ve wasted writing/erasing/writing/erasing them…well, let’s just say there are better uses for my time.

What often happens when I finally face the inanity of one behavior, is that the absurdity of other things I do becomes impossible to ignore as well. For example, on Saturday I spent the better part of the morning taking an online IQ test, simply because a friend on Facebook had challenged others to do so. After something like seventy-five pattern-recognition questions burned out my retinas, I discovered that I would have to pay $9.95 to get my results. No thanks.

Not all of my bad habits are internet related (though most of my time-wasting ones are). If I were to create an exhaustive list it would include things like getting halfway through writing a letter or card, stopping, and never finishing it. Or (God help me!) watching “My Diet is Better Than Yours” instead of turning off the television and picking up a good book. Or staring at the still unpacked boxes in my apartment, thinking about where I will put the stuff they contain…when I actually get around to it.

Everyone has bad habits and self-indulgent time-wasters, I know. I am too old and, hopefully, too wise to strive for perfection in my own habits. On the other hand, experience has shown me that I can spend a lot of time spinning my wheels through inattention – that weeks and months and years of a life can disappear with little to show in terms of actually living in them. There’s the poem about how a man dreamed he was walking with God and saw his life as a set of footprints on a sandy beach. Often, there were two sets of footprints in the sand, but at the times in his life that were hardest, there appeared to be only one set. When he asks the Lord about this, suggesting that he had been abandoned in those times, he is told, “Those were the times I carried you.” My dreaming mind changed this story into a walk down the beach where, looking back, there were no footprints. Not because I was abandoned by God, but because I was abandoning my own life.

A week or so ago, I ran across a post on Break The Twitch, in which Anthony Ongaro shares his strategies for intentionally changing his habits. He talks about needing to establish good habits to replace the bad ones we wish to excise from our lives. Anthony says:

“I often refer to this quote from Annie Dillard when thinking about how to structure these specific actions:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

The hours of our days become the weeks of our months and so on. If I want to accomplish these goals, I have to do things that will get me closer to them every single day. To create these daily actions, here are the qualifications:

Stupid-easy. Each daily action needs to be stupid-easy, as in, so easy for me that I would feel absolutely ridiculous not doing it. Essentially, take a desired action and breaking it down to the no-possible-resistance level.

Focus on action, not the outcome. I focus on celebrating the successful completion of each daily task, not the outcome that it created. Some days, the outcome is great — other days, it’s crap. That’s why I’m focusing on the habit itself, so that I don’t get discouraged. If I complete it, I am #winning.

Establish early success. The two points above contribute to early success – establishing a habit of succeeding immediately. Quickly creating a successful chain of daily actions from the very start.

Start immediately. From there, I’d start immediately and refuse to wait for a new year or a certain day to get started. If I failed on any particular day I would not wait until a specific day of the week or turn of a year to start again.”

The very first qualification that Anthony shares, “stupid easy”, is a game changer for those of us who have difficulty establishing new, more proactive, daily habits. So many times, I’ve found myself setting expectations that, in execution, are too Herculean to actually accomplish: exercise for an hour a day; always wash the dish(es) I just used; 100 crunches as soon as I get out of bed in the morning; no sweets. (This gives you an idea of what passes for “impossible” for me, anyway, as beginning goals!)

But “stupid easy” – that’s something I think I can be really good at! After all, my time-wasters are already both stupid and easy! In order to begin, I’m going to pick one positive habit I want to establish: taking time at the end of each day for reflection and quieting of my mind. I’ve realized that taking some time to do this is a way for me to set aside the day’s anxieties while setting myself up for a more calm and peaceful sleep. If I just sit quietly, I tend to fall asleep – but not comfortably, nor having put to rest the worries of the day – which sets me up for restless sleep and middle-of-the-night wakefulness. And if I don’t make a ritual of it, I’m less likely to actually do it. So I need an activity that can become rote, while not also revving my brain up to further wakefulness. So here is my “stupid easy” habit, instituting today:

Habit: Daily, brief reflection before bed.

Stupid-Easy method: Write three short statements in my bedside journal each night – 1. Something I’m asking for help with; 2. Something I am grateful for; 3. Something “Wow” or awe-inspiring from my day. (Based on the premise of Anne Lamott’s book “Help, Thanks, Wow“)

I’ll let you know how it’s going. If this “stupid easy” habit gets established, I’ll add another. The idea is that positive daily habits, as they are established, crowd out the just plain stupid ones – the time-wasters and energy-suckers. I don’t know many things for sure, but I do know that life is too short not to inhabit each and every day. If I dream again that my life is a walk along a sandy beach, I want to look back at where I’ve been and see at least one set of deeply etched footprints.

 

Note: Will you join me (and Mr. Anthony Ongaro!) in trying your own highly beneficial daily activity(ies)? If so, I invite you to share in the comments!

 

 





Intense Clarity

17 09 2015

“There’s nothing quite as intense as the moment of clarity,

when you suddenly see what’s really possible for you.  — Christine Kane

Once, many years ago, I was driving down  Highway 30 at a good clip (about 75 mph). The road had just changed from two lanes to four lanes, divided by an emerald green grass median. I was in the right-hand lane, passing another vehicle on a curve, boxed in by cars both in front of and behind mine. And that’s when it happened: I saw a wooden palette fly off a truck taking the same curve from the opposite direction. As the palette cartwheeled across the median, I could see the line of it’s trajectory as if it was a lighted runway leading directly to me. Because of the cars on every side, I couldn’t speed up, slow down or move out of the way. Time slowed and stretched exactly like a film on slow-mo, the palette’s roll appearing gracefully choreographed. I followed my mind through each step of reasoning leading to the realization that there was nothing I could do to stop the impending collision, and I still had time enough to wonder, “So, this is it? This is how I die?”

News flash – it wasn’t. Curiously, there was no fear in that split second after the possibility that “this is it” occurred to me. But there was a certain clarity of mind that suggested I relax into the moment. What else was there for me to do? To my utter amazement, the palette smashed into my Saturn, then slid under it. There was no crash, though I slowed down, not really understanding how I was still on the road. The other cars surrounding mine didn’t hesitate though they couldn’t have failed to see the impact as wood splintered and flew in every direction. They disappeared down the highway as I finally found a hole and pulled onto the shoulder. There was significant damage to the car – both driver’s side tires were bent out at crazy angles. I had ample time, during my two hour wait for a tow truck, to wonder about that odd moment of clarity.

Since that experience, I have had other, similar, moments – in the midst of sudden unexpected events, that still moment of pause. These haven’t all been events when I thought I might be facing death. But each was a moment when I suspected that what was happening right that second might be the catalyst for a complete sea change in my life. The event that turned my life, or the community or even the world to a new course. A new path. And in the middle of each event, that still moment of clarity in which my conscious self stepped out of the slipstream of time to ask, “Is this it?” When that happens, any tension, anxiety or fear I feel dissipates. I am aware that I am aware.

Looking back, I can see that sometimes the moment was a significant or historic one and sometimes not. On the morning of September 11, 2001 when I watched in real time as the second plane crashed into the twin towers was definitely significant (and a moment I shared with millions). But whether each event changed my life’s trajectory, causing my own cartwheel through existence to appear graceful – or not – seems almost anticlimactic to the experience of that brief clarity and cessation of fear. Whether I remember what preceded or led to that moment, I remember those moments. Standing on the path through the national monument at Pecos, New Mexico staring into a raven’s eyes. Pausing on the hill above Cedar Rapids and seeing the downtown in complete darkness during the flood of 2008. On my bike in the woods, hugging a tree I had nearly careened into headfirst. In each mental picture is the memory of that curious calm, suffused with a clear mental light.

The past couple of weeks have been a time of frenzied activity and a certain amount of anxiety. My sleep patterns have been disrupted by worry-induced insomnia. My ability to stay centered emotionally and mentally through long, demanding days has been tested. And in the midst of that, another of those moments of awareness: late on a hot and humid afternoon, standing on a path leading through restored tall-grass prairie. Later, as I thought about it, I realized that I am notoriously bad at predicting, while in the experience itself, whether a moment is a pivotal one or not. I have generally assumed that having that moment of clarity is a sign of the importance of the moment as a turning point; but I have been proved wrong way more often than right. What if I’ve been thinking about this backwards? What if instead of predictive those moments are redirective?

What if the point of that clarity is to remind me that attempting to see the future is, well, futile? Or to remind me that I am more effective when I am centered – not when I’m trying to control circumstances outside my scope of influence? What if that still, uncluttered moment is my reminder that relaxing in this very present here and now, waiting patiently for the unfolding of whatever is to come, is the actual way forward. It isn’t that this moment is important and pivotal, it is that each moment is. I am aware that I’m aware. And that is enough for right now.

 

 





Feeling Time

26 02 2015

Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

One evening last week, I got dressed up (well, if fleece leggings under a long skirt passes for dressed up) and made my way to Minneapolis’ Orpheum Theater to see the musical, “Pippin!” I was very excited to go to my first big theater event in the Twin Cities – and there was the added element of adventure since I was attending alone (though I planned to say hello to my favorite usher, who was working that night). I had longed to see this show for several reasons. First, since high school, I have loved the show’s most well-known song, “Corner of the Sky”. Second, I saw a piece on CBS Sunday Morning about the preparations and practice the touring cast (the very cast I was about to see) had made to be ready for this physically demanding revival, re-imagined as a circus-themed production complete with acrobatics and high-flying aerials. Third, I knew nothing about the actual story, so the show would be almost entirely new to me.

A fourth reason I was excited about this particular experience was that it was taking place at the Orpheum Theater. Years ago, before I ever thought of moving here, I visited my friend Mike on a Halloween weekend. That visit was memorable for several reasons, most importantly because I met Mike’s sons (Alex and Matt) for the first time. One of the things we did that weekend was take a haunted tour of the Orpheum. It was a fun, almost magical, tour – but not once did it occur to me that I would ever attend a show in that beautiful, historic theater. So, as you might imagine, my heart was full before I walked in the door to see Pippin. (Oh, and my favorite usher, mentioned above? Mike, of course!)

I found my aisle seat, toward the back of the main floor. I was thrilled, as a vertically challenged viewer, to discover that no one was seated in front of me. In fact, mine was the only occupied seat in my entire row and the row in front of me. The house lights went down and the stage lights up, and I was in my own little envelope of space with the show.

A brief plot synopsis might be helpful. Pippin is a young prince who feels he is called to lead an extraordinary life, and sets out in search of his place among meaningful events and activities. In the end, however, he discovers that giving your heart to the life you have is truly meaningful, even if that life is one of ordinary pursuits. (Check out www.stephenschwartz.com if you want to know what the show’s creator has to say about its themes and meaning.)

In Act 1, Scene 4, Pippin visits his grandmother, Berthe (played in the show I saw by the amazing, Tony-award-winning Priscilla Lopez). Berthe’s show-stopping number, “No Time At All”, was a song I knew but didn’t realize was from Pippin. The 66-year-old Berthe/Lopez not only looks incredible when she strips down to a trapeze-artists’ costume, she manages to fly through the air AND SING, appearing completely at home in the aerial number. “No Time At All” becomes an audience sing-along, and while I thoroughly enjoyed belting out the choruses, by the last one, I found myself overcome by emotion.

Now, days after my Pippin! experience, I find myself still singing that chorus – and ready to share why it choked me up.

One reason was the sheer admiration I felt for Priscilla Lopez. What an inspiration that was – I hope in my mid-60s to be ready, willing and able to engage so audaciously with the challenges life offers me.

But there was also a more spiritual component to what I felt. Throughout my life, there have been moments when, in the midst of a special experience, I have felt myself step out of the stream of time. When this happens, my “normal” self remains as is, doing whatever it is doing. In this case, I remained in my seat thoroughly enjoying the performance. But my consciousness somehow steps outside my experience, and is able to look upon it (and myself) with some separation. Briefly, at Pippin, I stood outside the moment, and saw myself shining with enjoyment, radiating life and energy. The worries and cares of the day had dissipated, I was no longer concerned about the financial splurge required to purchase my ticket; no longer worried that I had forgotten where in the unfamiliar ramp my car was parked; no longer awkward about indulging in this experience solo. Looking at myself, I saw beauty. I knew that this is how we are meant to live: without unreasoning fear, without concern for conforming to expectations, but with energy and joy for this moment we have been given. The gift of this present.

As we grow older, our sense of time changes. It rushes past us, faster each year. Sometimes I am stunned that another week, month or even year is already gone. This feeling of time rushing past creates anxiety, bordering often on fear. Though people talk about young adults being in too much of a hurry, of their need to slow down and let their lives unfold, I am finding that this is much harder to do at 53 than it was at 23 or 33. Back then, I thought I knew there was time for everything. Now, I am very aware as each day passes that it was another grain of sand in a rapidly diminishing hour-glass. I can’t count the grains that are left and I have no way to accrue more than are already there. This makes it very difficult to allow my life to unfold. To have patience. And so the anxiety creeps in, ratchets up as I worry that I’m not moving fast enough in my life.

The gift I received during that musical number was awareness that this is a false sensation. It is always time to be living, always time to make the most of this world we’re given. Spring will turn to fall, it is inevitable. No point in getting all angst-y about it. No point in regretting the past or looking with fear toward the future. I am not in control of it. All I can do is choose how I interact with the gift of the present as it unfolds. I can be in it, living it, or I can waste it with fear, worry, anxiety.

When I arrived home after the show (after having no difficulty finding my car in the ramp, though I drove in circles on the one-way streets downtown for a while) I was still so energized by the experience that I couldn’t sleep. I posted this on my Facebook page:  “This is what the best art in any medium can do: shine a light into our shadowed spaces and allow us to see with new eyes.”

We are often advised in life to “pick our battles”. What I’m seeing with new eyes this week, thanks to Pippin!, is that my battle isn’t with Time. Time is unchanging – time is as and what it is. My battle is with false perceptions of time, which lead to fear and anxiety. And that is a battle I know I can win with faith in God, trust in myself, and attention to this gift of the present.

 





Sleepwalking Through Life

20 02 2014

Some days it’s clear
So I can see it:
What to be and how to be it
But some days I wonder
And some days I doubt it
Today I’m hopeful I can knock it off tonight
This sleepwalking through my life
–Lyrics from Kevin Devine’s “Sleepwalking Through My Life

Not too long ago, my friend Kathe and I were having coffee. We’ve met for coffee often enough, and at such a variety of locations, I don’t really remember those details. What I remember is the conversation coming around to the years in our lives that each of us consider “lost” in some ways. And Kathe said, with quiet fierceness, “I feel like I don’t want to waste a minute of the time I have left. I know people – a 20 year old who got pneumonia and is still not out of the woods after a double lung transplant, a woman dying of metastatic cancer (she named several others facing major life issues). These are people I know, not just know of. I’m not waiting for anyone else to approve, I’m going to go for what I want. I don’t want to regret how I spent my time.”

A few years ago, I made some changes in my life that led to the feeling of having awakened from a dream. Those “lost years” were truly gone, having been spent in a haze and rush of doing without any real sense of purpose. When I woke up, I felt that same sense of urgency as Kathe – this life is too precious and too short to waste any more of it sleepwalking. Since then, I’ve made a pretty good effort at living mindfully, at consciously choosing. I’ve actively said “Yes” or “No” based on a picture of my life being about more than getting through it.

Then this winter happened.

This winter has been a difficult one for many; the weather extremes have made it so. I am far from alone in feeling that meeting the daily challenges presented have required a much larger portion of my energy than usual – a few minutes on Facebook convinces me of that. And it isn’t that I stopped making choices or living as consciously as possible. It’s that it has became harder to maintain a center or core of certainty. Harder to maintain a vision of where I hope to go, how I hope to impact this world. Some days, I feel like I’m on the right track, I’m acting in ways that are moving me forward. Other days, I simply feel lost.

On Tuesday, like much of the midwest, Minneapolis experienced a truly beautiful, warm day. I decided to head outside, and walked several miles through the downtown, over to the North Loop. Along the way, I reveled in the sunshine, stopping to take photos and observe the city and its people. I stopped at a little shop I know of that carries awesome postcards. I went to a combo bike/coffee shop I’d heard of but never frequented. I stopped for a few groceries at Whole Foods market. Then I began the trek home.

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook already know the story of what happened next:

I was standing on the sidewalk (about two feet back from the curb), waiting for the crossing light, when a woman came up beside me. She said, “Here in Minneapolis we don’t know what’s coming, but we try to make the best of it, right? My only hope these days is in God.” I nodded and smiled, having nothing to add. Then she said, “This light is really long, think I’ll go the other way. Good luck,” and she walked off. Not 15 seconds later, a bus cut the corner too close to the curb and splashed through a pond of melted snow and slush, completely drenching me from head to toe, like in the movies.

I freely admit that the incident was funny. I wish it had been seen by someone I know so we could laugh together about it. Or, better yet, captured on video so I could share it with you. Once I got over the initial sputtering indignity of it, I resumed my walk home. However, my mood was completely changed. Instead of the carefree, “in the moment” feeling of my meandering walk downtown, the way home became contemplative. First, I wondered about the woman who spoke to me. Was there a special message intended for me in her comment about not knowing the future, but trying to make the best of things? Was the drenching intended to wake me up? Have I been living too much in the moment, and not enough in the world of making the future happen? Have I spent the winter sleepwalking after all?

I didn’t come up with any answers on the long, wet walk home. And as I’ve wrestled with the idea of whether I’ve been “sleepwalking” through life too much this winter, I did an internet search and came across a site that said, “The nature of things is that sleeping implies waking: anything that sleeps wakes up.” I found that thought to be a comforting one. Like so much in life, perhaps there is a cyclical nature to sleeping/waking in terms of conscious living.

So, for now, I’ve decided to be as awake as I know how to be. Some days that will be easier than others. Some days, I will just enjoy “being” in the bright sunshine of the moment, others I will experience the cold drenching of a wake-up call. Mary Oliver writes  “As for life,I’m humbled, I’m without words sufficient to say how it has been hard as flint, and soft as a spring pond, both of these, and over and over…” Isn’t that the truth?





Jenion, the Many-Handed: Chaos, Time and Change

16 05 2013
Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on. — Buddha
 
Chaos breeds life, when order breeds habit. — Henry Adams
 
When tempest tossed, embrace chaos. — Dean Koontz
 

My house is a shambles. Three times last night I either tripped or stubbed a toe on something that didn’t used to be where it currently is. Junk proliferates, and my vision of orderly packed boxes and neat piles of “to donate”, “to friends”, and “to the dumpster” dissipates. Just being with, and among, this chaos exhausts me before I even begin to work at bringing some order to it in the few hours I’m snatching back from the dinners and coffees that we’re cramming into these “last days”.

Two nights ago, I sat in my living room maniacally sorting through thousands of buttons – feeling like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned.

And that is just on the level of “what am I doing with all my stuff?!” The chaos is threatening to overwhelm me on an emotional level, too. After nineteen years in the same job, seventeen of which have been as a “live in”/”live on” staff member, the process of separation is really strange. For example, I had no trouble parting with files and piles of paper in my office. One day of concerted effort filled both the document destruction bin and several recycling receptacles. On the other hand, I’ve been slow to complete the work that needs doing before I leave – a pared down list of “final” things. Then there’s the commemoration of my longevity and the celebration of my impact on the campus which is sweet, poignant, and at times a little like listening to myself being eulogized. When it feels too surreal, I have to go walkabout – lots of extra visits to the chapel and the coffee shop in order to maintain emotional equilibrium.

In addition to kind words and amazing memories, I routinely get one or the other of these comments: “I’m so jealous” or “Congratulations on your retirement.” Both feel completely understandable while, at the same time, leaving me at a loss for what might be both an appropriate and kind response. By my calculations, and with what all of the prognosticators say about the increasing retirement age, I have a full two decades of work left. So I laugh (if with a slight hysteria) at the retirement comments.

The comments about jealousy are harder. It doesn’t feel like this place I’m in is a somewhere others want to be – uncertain, unknown, unplanned. Frankly, those who are most emphatic about their jealousy are in the best positions to be here without the narrow financial margin I’ll be balancing upon, which makes it incredibly difficult not to call them out – tell them they CAN be here, they just don’t choose to be. On the other hand, I understand their comments – it has been freeing in a manner I can’t describe to have put an end date on this particular stage of my life.

On the other hand…I find myself wanting to use this phrase to begin most sentences these days. The current level of chaos in my life lends itself to so many possibilities, I picture myself looking like one of the many-handed Hindu deities. On one hand, this. On the other hand, that. And on the other, other hand, something entirely different. Interestingly, Kali, the goddess whose name came up when I googled ‘many-handed Hindu deities’ is the goddess of Time and Change. Time feels in short supply right now, while I have a bumper crop of change to manage. And the only way I know how to do that is to lean into it, to borrow a recently popular term.

Leaning in to change, to chaos, can be both a daunting and an empowering experience. Some people have lauded my courage in taking this leap of faith – I feel less courageous and more like I’m whistling in the dark, hence “daunting”. But I do feel empowered, as well. For maybe the first time in my life the choices I am making are not being made out of fear or a need to control things in order to feel safe. I don’t feel safe. But I do feel right, somehow, as if this is the right thing to do at the right time to do it. Which lends a certain peace to the chaos that is my life right now – like the calm in the eye of a tornado or hurricane. The maelstrom is happening, and sometimes I’m whirled up in it and trying to relax enough not to be hurt by the buffeting. But in other moments, I experience the “rightness” at the center. And that feels empowering.

We live in a rainbow of chaos. — Paul Cezanne




Andy Warhol, Goethe, and Me

22 03 2012

“They always say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

                                                                                                                                              — Andy Warhol

 

They always say…

Even though we can’t name them by name, can’t even generally define who they are, we all tend to have an amorphous “They” who exert extreme influence over us. They will think I’m stupid. They will judge me. They will be sure to spout all kinds of ridiculous opinions which cause me to question myself.

Don’t even get me started on the “always-es” and the “nevers-es”. They are full of those polarizing words, too.

They don’t know how to stop talking. Never mind how often it is in the voices of real people versus how often it is voices in our heads. They always have something to say to put us in our place.

…time changes things…

Time is such an interesting construct.

If you stand still, it will act like a stream which flows around you, the water moving, things floating past, but you stay in essentially the same place. Other things change, but you do not.

If you think of Time as a stream, and you try to move with the current, you may find you have moved but you are still surrounded by the things that you started with, because they moved with the same current. Nothing is essentially different, except that years have passed.

Time can also be a riptide, pulling you along in whatever direction it is moving. You have to be aware, not panicked – deliberate in your movements – in order to move where you hope to go, rather than where time is taking you. What time changes is mostly external to you. Internal change is like learning to swim out of a riptide.

…you actually have to change them yourself.

This is the daunting truth. The truth that stops us from actually creating change in our lives – we have to do it ourselves. And we know it will take hard work, sacrifice, and a willingness to stay the course when we are mostly used to taking an easier path.

The joy that I’ve discovered, though, is this: the internal voices, the imagined “they”, may clamor loudly at first, belittling your desire to change. But the external voices, the real people around you? They will come forward with a generosity of spirit that takes your breath away. They appear from unexpected quarters to cheer you on, to support your effort, to be part of the positive difference in your life. I know this both from personal experience, and from the many others who have shared with me their own experiences of bringing big change to their lives. They, your giving supporters, may not be the people you anticipated would be there for you. They may, in fact, be people you thought of as incidental to your life. Nonetheless, a new crowd of voices will develop to uplift you and to combat the negative voices you listened to in the past.

The second, almost magical, truth about deep change (especially if you are a late bloomer, like me) is what it does for your concept of time. You begin to learn that time doesn’t have to be a stream or a riptide. It can be a deep pool, in which you float in a relaxed but aware state. There is no past, there is no future, there is this moment. Every moment, as you live it.

If you are wondering whether you can change, whether there is a way to create a life more in line with the one you dream of living, the answer is simply YES. And yes, you actually have to do it yourself. But the first step, the beginning, is the hardest part. And many things will come together to assist you once you set your step to that path in a committed way.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
                   — W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition