One compelling aspect to my grandfather’s story is how differently our lives have played out. He grew up athletic, gregarious, surrounded by family (six brothers, four sisters): I was an introverted kid, a reader, with one brother. At age 31, he was sent off to fight a war; at age 31, I quit my job and moved to Oregon to get my doctorate. He married and had a child; I never wanted those things. He settled; I wandered. Yet there were still commonalities. As I roamed through photographs this week, I looked for intersections, juxtapositions (that word!) that highlighted both our similarities and our differences. Here are six pairings from our family photos.
Last week, for the first time since I started writing this blog in January, I did something I’m not entirely proud of.
I blew it off. Totally. Didn’t write a darn thing.
See, I was in New Mexico on a retreat. And I had a head cold that really took away my energy. And I had limited internet access. And I’m sorry I took off so completely without notice.
But I know in my heart that I chose not to write last week because I needed not to write. When I started this blog almost a year ago, it felt like the greatest work of my life. Inspiring, fun, enlivening.
These past few weeks I’ve felt a bit like I was “phoning it in”. So the break was quietly welcome, as I moved away from my keyboard for a while and simply observed life instead of needing to record it.
A few days ago, high up on a mesa in northern New Mexico, I had a flash of awareness that it’s time to change this blog. I am ready to make it something new, something different.
So this will be my last original blog posting at this web address. On Monday, Nov. 1, my blog will move to its new domain name, with a new format. I’m still working out the details, but I’m excited about what’s coming, and I think it will serve all of us in meaningful ways.
In the meantime, I want to share a poem with you, sent to me by my new (and already dear) friend Sandy Phocas. It mirrors well my life right now, and my hopes for this blog as it continues to grow and evolve.
if you move carefully
through the forest
like the ones
in the old stories
who could cross
a shimmering bed of dry leaves
without a sound,
to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
but frightening requests
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
while you do it,
that can make
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.
by David Whyte
The mid-life crisis is rife with cliches: the balding man with a faux tan, a red sportscar, and 25-year old girlfriend, for example.
And often our crises feel like head-on collisions, pile-ups on the interstate of life from which we stagger, stunned, wounded, and alone.
I’m here to propose that perhaps it doesn’t have to be so dramatic.
See, I believe that crises, or crashes, occur when we go through life unconsciously. When we put our spirits on automatic pilot, and fail to check in with ourselves on a regular basis to make sure we are truly living the life we want.
Unconscious living can look a million different ways: an unfulfilling marriage, a monotonous job, isolation and loneliness, or too much TV watching. These patterns of behavior creep into our daily lives like fog, until one day we look up and realize we can’t see our hands in front of our faces anymore.
The crash comes when we wake up suddenly and want immediate, dramatic change. If we have lived unconsciously, the change we choose will mirror our past, more immature selves: dump the partner and find a new one just like the old one; engage in extravagant consumerism; develop an addiction.
But if we are conscious, if we fully embrace the idea that we choose the circumstances of our lives, then the crash can be avoided altogether.
I propose learning to create a controlled skid. In motorcycle education classes, riders are taught how to handle it when they feel their bikes begin to slide beneath them. Staying calm, centered, and mindful, riders can turn a potentially fatal situation into a manageable one.
By becoming conscious, by developing awareness and appreciation for our feelings, intuitive urges, and bodily wisdom, we receive plenty of information beforehand about dangers just ahead on the road, and we can plan to handle them, rather than crashing headlong into the guardrail at 90 mph.
I say all of this because I am currently engaged in my own life skid. I have no idea what my life or career will look like in one year. I have no idea how all of this will work out. But I have just enough savings to feel secure financially. I have just enough work to keep some structure in my life. I have an amazing community of supportive people around me. I am in control of the structure of this change, so that life can safely upend me and take me in a new direction.
So what do you know about yourself so you can prepare for your own controlled skid? How can you avoid that crashing feeling we all dread? And what can you do today to prepare your spirit for what is next?
In this case, my guy was: tall, kind, responsible, employed, funny. We had decent chemistry and he treated my dog well. There was really no reason not to date him.
Except… when he showed up at my house unannounced, sometimes I didn’t want to answer the door. And when he went out of town I felt secretly relieved. And when he started talking about moving in together, and marriage, I immediately developed tummy pains and wanted to throw up.
Yet for over a year, I allowed my “logical” mind and that stupid laundry list to override the greater intelligence of my heart and body. And it’s not just me. Sadly, in Western cultures, worship of reason has eclipsed our other gifts of intelligence. We tend to ignore emotions or physical symptoms in the process of decision making, or in the evolution of our lives.
Happily this disparity is gradually righting itself. Increasingly in mental and physical health communities, we are coming to understand that “intelligence” actually lives all through us. We carry emotional enzymes throughout our whole bodies, essentially making our entire organism one great, living mind. We know far beyond the reaches of our limited brains.
Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” says it this way:
Our bodies are designed to function best when we’re doing [what] feels exactly right to us… Many people have been taught that they can’t have what they want and that a full life of struggle is somehow more honorable than one full of joy… It feels good in our bodies to think about and dwell upon what we want and why. We get excited and are inspired automatically by those thoughts and feelings, which in turn keep us in touch with our inner knowing and spiritual energy. The result is enthusiasm and joy – the feeling of heaven on Earth.
I imagine that as you read the previous quote, you maybe felt excited, skeptical, cheated or sad. The idea that we are supposed to feel good is heart-breakingly radical. But the truth is this: when we live in alignment with our truths, gifts, talents, wants, and needs, our feelings improve and our bodies function optimally.
So what happened when I finally broke up with that guy? Here’s what: I lost 5 points of worry weight. My skin cleared up. I felt a sense of liberation and peace so intense I coasted along in a mood of giddy joy for weeks. And I have never, ever looked back.
Want more proof? Two months ago I moved out of my house in Minnesota and away from full-time employment because my heart and my intuition told me to. I moved into part-time work with no benefits, a radically reduced salary, and a cheap apartment so I could continue not working very much. I moved back to a part of the country I love living in, to be near a wide and deep circle of mentors and friends who support my vision for my life.
Here’s the result: I sleep beautifully at night. I have tons of energy and run or hike nearly every day. My skin has cleared up (again). And I have never been happier in my entire life.
All this in spite of a life decision that made absolutely no sense when viewed through the lens of logic.
So come on over this way, won’t you? What’s your body telling you? What truth do your emotions want you to hear? What completely non-logical urge pulls you out of your comfort zone and into the unknown? And if you’ve got your own story to tell, please do! Share your inspiration with others!
It’s all waiting for you, just on the other side of your hesitation. Take that step. Get yourself out of the box.
Shut Up and Write…. Four words Natalie Goldberg asserts are the anecdote to writer’s block and writer’s blocking.
Natalie writes memoir, but she also writes about writing. My two favorites include her groundbreaking “Writing Down the Bones” and the more recent “Old Friend from Far Away”. Both consist of exercises and essays meant to inspire the writer in all of us from professionals to rank amateurs.
See, I want to be a writer. I’ve said this for about 10 years now. If I’m being totally honest, about 50% of my desire lies in my fantasy of a writer’s lifestyle: lots of coffee, feverish creativity, flexible hours, and pajama bottoms as appropriate “office” attire. My desire to live in comfortable pants fuels a disproportionate percentage of my life goals.
But I also want to be a writer because I simply love to write. This blog fuels that very love. When I write, another part of my personality gets to come out and play. When I write, the veiled privacy gives me free license to express opinions I might otherwise keep in check (see tag entitled “rant”). And when I write I am transcended up and out of my daily list of chores and “to do’s”. Freedom.
OK, so remember two paragraphs ago when I said I’ve wanted to be a writer for about 10 years? I’d say it’s only in the past year or so that I actually began disciplining myself to write most days. Not every day. Most days. Some days or weeks I avoid it altogether. Like me, you might be asking, “Yo, C-dawg (this is my not what my friends actually call me, but in my head I have street cred, so just roll with it), if you want to a be a writer, and you love writing, why don’t you just friggin’ write?”
The simple answer is I don’t know. Writing for me constitutes a form of deep-sea diving. In the morning as my half-pot of coffee percolates, I pace around my computer as though staring into the deep, looking for the perfect place to dive in. Then once the first cup of java has started to hit my veins, I take a deep breath and I jump.
I typically emerge 45 minutes to an hour later, breathing heavily, starved for oxygen. The writing is rarely easy.
I think we all hold inside of us a quiet dream that lies dormant because of the doing it demands. It’s easy to fantasize about an alternate reality, a future yet to be. A few weeks ago I met a student in Minnesota who talked about how much she loves Guatemala, and how envious she is that I get to go there every summer.
“How often do you get down there?” I asked.
“Oh, I’ve never been,” she said. “I’ve just heard a lot about it and I really want to go. I’d like to live there someday.”
Not easily shaken, I asked, “So what’s keeping you from going now? It’s cheap to get there. It’s even in the same time zone as Minnesota, so no jet lag. What gives?”
“Well I’ve planned to go four times, but something has always come up so it didn’t work out.”
I faced her squarely. “You need to buy a ticket. Just buy it. And then the rest of the details will work out because you’ll be committed.”
“Maybe…” she said, trailing off to another topic.
I’m not judging her because I understand all too well what she’s struggling with. We all do it. We have a dream or a wish or a fantasy. We think and we talk and we yearn. But when push comes to shove, something keeps us circling that deep, deep water. We fear the jump into the depths.
I’m a counselor so I can give an educated guess about this student’s hesitation: it’s scary to travel to a developing country alone, especially when you’re only 20 years old. To analyze my own fear proves more difficult. I can’t quite see through my resistance to the other side.
But here’s the lesson if you’re wanting one: Most days I show up. I circle. I dive. I splutter and wring myself out over this keyboard. Most days I resist. And most days I overcome it. It’s taken me 10 years but I’m finally here, doing the thing I’ve claimed to want for so long.
And my hope? If I keep at it, perhaps the resistance will fade into memory.
So let’s turn this bright spotlight on you for a minute.
What’s your dream? What have you talked about for years but not acted on?
And here’s the important part, and I ask you to take it seriously. Right now, grab a pen and a piece of paper…. Now, write one simple thing you can do today to get you started toward fulfilling your dream.
Find a flight. Book a room. Buy a how-to guide. Start a blog. Email that guy and ask him to coffee. Sign up for a guitar lesson. Buy a watercolor set. Take a walk. Think before you speak out of anger. Resist gossip. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat a salad…
In other words, Shut Up And Write.
The idea occurred to me as we sat over dinner and she related to me yet another intense fight she was having with her boyfriend, initiated by her irrational jealousy of any contact he had with other women.
As she related the fight to me blow-by-blow I realized three things:
One ~ Since sitting down for dinner, she had yet to ask me how I was doing.
Two ~ I had heard some version of this exact drama at least a quadrillion times over the five years of our friendship.
Three ~ I didn’t like the person sitting before me very much at all.
Two weeks later I called off the friendship, much to her shock and chagrin. In spite of her vivid anger, I felt colossal relief about ending the toxic relationship, and haven’t looked back since.
I realized that in the five years of our acquaintance, I had grown. She hadn’t. And I no longer wanted to be her pseudo-counselor for all her personal problems. I wanted equity in our friendship, and she was unable and unwilling to give it.
My responsibility lay in the fact that I agreed to her standards for far too long. I allowed her to put me into a tiny, uncomfortable box. I squinched myself up in that box until I couldn’t stand it anymore. At which point I stood up, said goodbye, and walked away.
Since then, I’ve become more adept at identifying boxes others would like to put me into… taking on too many tasks at work, changing my values to fit the preference of a man I’m dating, or giving an “A” to a student when a “B” is more appropriate. I know better now. And even when it feels risky, I’m willing to step up and out of whatever box is placed before me and be more my authentic self.
Here’s the Truth for today: You are too big, grand, and wonderful to be put into a box. And as you grow older, wiser, and more authentic, you will find you’ve outgrown the boxes that, in your younger years, felt plenty roomy for you.
So the question is this: What have you outgrown? In what areas of your life do you feel cramped, shut down, cut off, uncomfortable, or edgy? And what purpose does it serve to keep yourself in that too-small space?
I encourage you today to engage in some serious self-examination, so you can identify these areas starving for change, for room, for space and light and air.