Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve

While so many are focused on the new and what is coming, I'm going to take for my model the Roman god Janus. Straddling the calendar's shift, today is a time for looking back.

A few years ago, I was invited to a Solstice ceremony. Everyone was asked to bring a piece of paper and to write down all those things that we wished to leave behind us in the dark. These papers were then burned to create the new light of things to come. So today I'm considering what needs to be left behind.

First, and foremost, is fear in all it's aspects. I am determined not to carry with me fear of financial disaster. It may very well hitch-hike along for the ride or pop up like a jack-in-the-box, but I'm not wrapping my arms around it or claiming it for my own. We are almost all in the very same leaky boat on that score so it is useless to worry about it. Whatever will come, will come and there is no use angst-ing about it in the meanwhile.

I'm also all done with the fear of rejection. Most of my life I've held myself back, generally assuming that my presence was not welcomed. This was based on nothing more than a lack of self-esteem as many people seem more than happy to have me around. Granted not everyone, but that is always going to be the case for everyone. And, only by risking the rejection do I open myself up to opportunity for acceptance. I figure a 50/50 split is probably do-able.

And the fear that makes its appearance through lack of trust has also got to go. I don't plan on being reckless by any means, but I do plan to allow folks to show me just how wonderful they are. If they don't, well they don't, but I'm thinking most of the people one comes across are worth the effort. And, if they aren't, they don't get the second shot at me.

I'm going to leave behind pain, as well. I don't think I get the option with physical pain, although if someone would like to cart off my migraines and bury them, I wouldn't object. I mean the emotional pain that clouds new joys. Like everyone, I've had my share, but it is not going to go forward into 2009 with me.

Resentment also has to go. I'd already taken steps to eliminate the most egregious causes of resentment, so it's just the niggly little things that require digging up at this point. But it is time to get out the trowel and dispose of them as well. I'll probably also give the heave-ho to the nasty little pet names that I have given to those resentment causers.

That seems like a lot. However, given that they are all rather heavy and no utter use to me, I expect that it will be a relief not to lug them around any longer. And, when one is tightly clutching things in one's hands, it makes it impossible to open those hands to receive new gifts. So, prior to lifting a glass to welcome in the new, these things need to be tossed over my shoulder first, without a backward glance.

Monday, December 29, 2008


"Health food may be good for the conscience but Oreos taste a hell of a lot better." Robert Redford.

As generally happens at this time of year, people's minds turn to resolutions and, most commonly, to losing weight in the new year. As I listen to people talk about their determination to lose weight, I can't help but notice that their language reflects attitudes of struggle and sacrifice which would seem to handicap their efforts. And there also seems to be an undercurrent of virtuousness behind those struggles. This got me to wondering about both diet and the wider issue of "noble" suffering.

The average American diet is widely acknowledged to be a nutritional nightmare. I think this stems in great part from our hurried attitude towards most things. We must have fast food, fast cars, fast downloads, fast you-name-it. And with this speed comes an inability to savor anything. Meals bolted on the run do nothing beyond fill the stomach and quiet hunger for a while. Food swallowed whole has no opportunity to play on the tongue, although in the case of fast food that is probably for the best. We pursue neither nutrition nor enjoyment in our meals.

We look at dieting for weight loss as self-deprivation, further hampering our efforts. We focus on what we "can't" eat or on what we "should" do, eliminating from consideration what we can and may do. This simply has to set us up for defeat even before we've begun.

How might it be different if we looked at it from an attitude of self-indulgence rather than lack? I believe Alan Watts once wrote that if we were true hedonists we wouldn't consume more and more, we would insist on only the best. This would involve a bit of a time commitment, but what if we spent a few minutes finding the best tomatoes at the grocery or took the time to find the perfect pear? The enjoyment of them would begin from that moment and extend through the preparation and consumption. Surely this indulgence would enhance the experience and take away the feelings of deprivation. It would also lead to healthier eating overall, which might, just maybe, help us achieve our other eating related goals.

My other thoughts were set to unraveling the notion that suffering is somehow more virtuous than enjoyment. Perhaps this is a worn out hang over from the mythos of our Puritan ancestors, but it does seem to weave its way through our cultural consciousness. If I am miserable, I must be good and if I'm not, not. I'm not sure why this has stuck with us, but I vote that we attempt to un-stick it.

We could enhance our diets, our enjoyment, our lives by indulging ourselves in the freshest foods available, pleasing to both eye and palate. We could lovingly prepare nutritious, attractive meals for ourselves and our families. We could gratefully indulge in good tasting and good looking dishes. We could pamper our bodies with the best we could find. Certainly there is more virtue to be found in taking care of the one and only body that we've got than in trying to whip it in to shape. The result would be most likely the same and it would have to be better for our psyches.

If we consciously approached our eating, and indeed all of our lives, as a good to be enjoyed, we could also eat the occasional Oreo with no ill effects.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


There are many different types of silence: good silence, bad silence, silences that are meaningful and those that are truly no more than an absence of sound, full silences and empty silences. While being snowed in recently, I noticed an increase in several types of silence, some comfortable and some decidedly uncomfortable. And I began to think about these various silences and how they impact me.

The snowstorm imparted a deep physical silence. The snow itself muffled most of the everyday background noise that we tend to ignore in the course of our daily lives. The shutdown of ground and air traffic filtered out even more of the man-made sounds until one felt quite cocooned in a blanket of quiet. In the beginning it was comforting, even inspiring, like being new born into a new world. After several days, however, this very same silence became oppressive and I found comfort in the sound of the heater kicking on and resorted to electronic noise-makers to keep me company.

So what had changed? The silence remained what it was, mere silence. The duration had lengthened, but not beyond anything I hadn't tolerated deliberately before. I thought about other times when I had purposefully entered into silence for up to seven days, when the silence did not oppress me.

On those occasions, I chose to go into silence as a retreat from the noise and busy-ness of my life. The silence was an escape that I had freely and eagerly embraced. It represented an opportunity for rest, reflection, and a break from the more distasteful parts of my life. Sometimes I was alone and other times I shared the silence with others, but, in every case, the more deeply I allowed myself to sink into the silence the quieter I became internally and my thoughts were freed to gently drift into whatever paths seemed most restful or enlightening.

These planned forays into the depths of silence fed me in ways that constant chatter simply could not. In fact, after extended periods in silence, I found re-entry into the so-called real world to be extremely jarring and would find myself very quickly overloaded by the stimulation. I had to plan gradual re-introduction of activities for awhile.

Given my appetite for extended silence, I was surprised when I found myself uncomfortable with the silence of being snowbound. Not only was the world itself seemingly mute, but my phone took that opportunity to fail and I couldn't get out to replace it for 3 days.

I think my discomfort came from a couple of different sources. The first being that this silence was unplanned and of unknown duration. The first 4 days were enjoyable for me. I blissfully spent my days reading and knitting, admiring the snow falling outside and quite content with the reduction in responsibilities to be met. Then, sometime during day 4, I began to feel stifled by the very same silence that I had previously savored. It came to represent isolation and loneliness for me. The silence had to be broken, even shattered.

I don't think I was alone in this. While trudging a mile to the store and then back again, there were several people risking slips and falls to be outside, some were even skiing down the street. Everyone seemed friendly and eager to connect with others. I met neighbors that I hadn't even seen in the entire three years I've lived here. And the break in the silence enabled me to remain in the silence again when the snow began to fall once more.

The second source of my discomfort seems to have been that I am simply out of practice with being in silence, externally or internally. The hurry, struggle and chaos of the last few years left me unprepared for both the gifts and the challenges that silence brings. My muscles have gone flabby which means I should probably make plans to exercise my internal silence more in the new year. It is time to re-develop my skills in just being instead of doing. I've allowed myself to fall prey to the misconception that activity endows meaning and purpose.

Despite succumbing to a bit of isolation craziness, I think I've learned the lesson that the silence of the snowstorm had to give me. Now to see if I can retain it through the thaw.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Snow Revisited

I know, I know, previously I was all Zen-like about the snow storm. Yarn, rabbit, cocoa all at the ready, I would not be daunted by what passes for a snow storm in the Pacific Northwest. But the stuff is still coming down and they are predicting that we will be inside for at least two more days, if not longer. So what has changed? It isn't the snow, obviously, but the old mental state is slowly but surely shifting into the slightly batty range.

It isn't like I'm the sort that would be chomping at the bit to get out to do last-minute Christmas shopping. I avoid that like the plague, generally engaging in one dash to the stores to get anything that I can't acquire quickly on-line. I'm aware that we could be housebound through Christmas, but I don't feel any angst about that element of the situation. However, ramen for Christmas dinner might be a bit off-putting.

We're fortunate that our electricity is holding steady and so the heat is on. Don't have to worry about excessive cold. I am a bit miffed that the few festivities that I had planned on attending were canceled. Lost out on some much valued socializing there. But that's hardly enough to send me slipping towards the edge.

As I smugly watched others go bats after two days, I didn't imagine that this would continue to the point that I would join them, but here I seem to go. Why? As is my wont, I've been giving the situation a think and I have come up with a possible answer, or at least a partial one.

I first noticed myself slipping when I realized that I had not done enough grocery shopping for an extended snow-in. I'd gone to the store on Friday to pick up a few necessities, but I did not stock the pantry by any stretch of the imagination. Now this is a crucial point for me. When I was a child, the month always exceeded the paycheck and I learned to value a well stocked pantry. It symbolized security (as well as meals) to me. So this extended snow must be rattling my inner sense of security on some level, despite the fact that I am warm and fed at the moment.

This, of course, leads my mind to other security issues. Could that be the reason so many find themselves with, what is lightly referred to as, cabin fever? Is there a loss of security in being stuck inside? In spite of the fact that inside is safer than outside, I think this might be it, at least in part. When we can direct our days in any manner we like, we have a sense of safety in that we never have to face our constant and very real vulnerability to life. When Mother Nature asserts herself in our lives to the point that we cannot make choices that we otherwise would, we come face to face with the idea that ultimately, in some senses at least, we do not control our own destiny, whether that destiny be a trip to the grocery store or keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. We may not recognize this threat overtly, but when we are constricted, it burbles around in our subconscious and niggles at our sense of well-being.

All of us like to think that we are in control, on one level or another. Even though I often acknowledge that I have very little control over what life decides to serve up, I also like to control the little things to give myself the comfortable illusion of control. But a blizzard, or an earthquake or a hurricane, will very quickly send that illusion flying out the window. And, perhaps, this is why we become so very uncomfortable internally, as well as physically, during such times.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


We've had several snow days recently, but only today has it increased to a level of a bona fide snow storm. So today, there will be no heading out at whim, no quick dash to the store, no going out. Period. This has its good points and a few irksome points.

I sit here watching the snow blow outside my window, collecting in lovely clumps on the camellia, admiring the contrast between the whiteness and the deep green leaves. The wind speeds up periodically causing the falling snow to swirl and it makes it feel colder somehow. The birds have disappeared, no sight at all of the ubiquitous crows that live around my home. The cool blue winter light filters through the windows giving the room a chill. And I see that the tenacious rosebud has finally given up the struggle.

I've spent most of the day puttering. The chores have been virtuously completed and a quantity of knitting has been done. In the background, A Christmas Carol is playing on the television. There is no need to go out and so I find myself content to stay in, separated from the winter outside. This was not the case earlier in the week.

During the earlier snows, when the city shut down for no apparent reason, I found myself quite restless and resentful of inactivity. It got me to thinking about the nature of cabin fever and why it hits sometimes but not at others. Today, just like those earlier days this week, I am inside and most definitely will not be going out. But today I am content whereas before I was not. So, what is the difference?

Previously, I had plans for my days and evenings and could see no good reason for those plans to be disrupted. Having grown up in a different part of the country, part of me does not totally understand how such a little bit of weather can have such widespread effect. So I went out while others stayed in lamenting their inactivity. I just wasn't fazed by it. And, I'll admit, I was also a bit cocky about my Midwestern experience of "real" winters. Don't get me wrong, I completely respect bad weather and won't engage in foolishness during a storm, but my definition of bad weather is a bit stronger than some folks.

Having had my earlier plans thwarted by what I considered insufficient reason, I really struggled with the imposed inside isolation. I thought it was because I was not able to have full freedom and control of my own activities. But I don't know that that was quite correct. Today, I am also confined to the house, as the snow continues to fall all day long. But I do not feel any of the restlessness that accompanies cabin fever for me. I am no less restricted than those earlier days, in fact, I am more snowed in now. And yet, I am content.

Perhaps the difference in my reaction lies in the recognition that this particular storm is its own restriction. It isn't imposed on me by others deciding that the weather could be bad enough to cancel my plans. This hemming in of my options is due to a truer reality than what I perceived as the timidity of others. There is no arguing with an actual storm and, thus, I don't feel constrained. I could be wrong about this. It could be that two or more days of "real" weather inactivity will bring cabin fever just as the other days did. But, for now, I am content to curl up in my chair, with my rabbit at my feet, and knit the day away.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


"I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks." Daniel Boone.

This quote tickled me when I first came across it and I was sorely tempted to write it off as 18th century machismo. But then my mind got churning on what it means when we say that we are lost. And, I suspected, that it would relate to something other than wandering through uncharted territory. Daniel Boone just might have been onto something here.

Unlike Mr. Boone most of us never open up previously unexplored physical territories. I think the last human to do that may have been Neil Armstrong. But the rest of us mere mortals are constantly exploring the uncharted territory of ourselves or, at least, we could be. And sometimes on that trek we feel that we may be lost. But what if, like Daniel Boone, we are only confused for a while?

How might we become "lost" on this most important of journeys of discovery? One way might be that we are given incorrect directions. Any time someone tells us who we are or what we should do or where we should go, there is the possibility of our losing our way. These helpful others may wish us well and be trying to help, or they may not wish us well and be trying to control, but, whatever the motivation, it is very likely that they are wrong simply because they cannot know our interior landscape in the intimate way that we do ourselves. And should we alter our course to accommodate their direction, we run the risk of becoming profoundly confused about our path, our identity.

Another way could be when we choose to ignore our own intuition and neglect to follow the signs we see along the way. Those "aha" moments that we shout down internally so as to make ourselves conform to what is defined as practicality. We stop ourselves from reaching for the stars because that would not be prudent and, thus, we put blinders on, shielding our sight from a better path for us.

Still another method is to follow only the established paths begun by others with the street sign labeled "THE WAY", whether that be the path of established rules of business, religion or society. By denying ourselves the opportunity to question and explore, we also deny ourselves the possibility to discover and celebrate our unique vision and expression of life, to be our true selves.

Granted risk taking is, well, riskier, but the sure things seem to give much less in the way of personal rewards and growth. The innovators of mankind, in every sphere of human activity, have always been those who take the risks, think outside of the box, and dare to be themselves. Our risks do not have to be grand, earth-shattering events designed to touch all mankind. Indeed, they most likely will take humbler forms, such as not saying "yes" when we really want to say "no". Or asking for what we really need in our lives, or opening our hearts to another so that we allow ourselves to be known. Reaching for what would truly feed our spirits does not mean that we will be able to grasp it all, but it might cut down on the periods of self-confusion and those sad feelings of having lost our way and our very selves.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Wind and Longing

The wind has been a spiritual metaphor for many things in my life. Today it speaks to me of longing. In all its various guises, it stirs gentle memories and raging passions, joyous laughter and wistful sighs.

In its lightest, most elusive form, a breeze that barely flutters a leaf, it carries a snippet of a forgotten tune or the whiff of long ago cooking drifting through a youth with rare pleasures. It teases out partial memories and gently tugs out a desire for days that cannot return, for things that should have been, for people who should have stayed. It is the quiet voice of loss that never is totally silenced.

Another is like the cool breeze of spring, moving the grass with waves of hopeful promise of what yet might be. Stirrings of new life skirting through the trees carrying the scent of turned earth and budding flowers and disappearing down the lane, leaving a laughing invitation to follow in its wake. Running after it to discover what is just beyond our sight, offering promises of new joys.

Most invigorating perhaps are the roaring passions of the storm winds, stirring up feelings of depth and intensity that awake awareness of life lived to its limits in ways the breeze cannot even hint at. It couples power and risk, offering those who are not too timid to reach for fulfillment, if only they will dare. It blows away the dross and leaves a landscape cleared of the usual, offering new perspective and new possibilities.

There are long, lonely winds that whistle at our windows on cold evenings. These winds keen to us of loneliness and loss. Like mourners crying low in pain, they resurrect old sorrows and current emptiness and refuse to subside for their season.

Even the lack of wind leaves its own special longing. The hot, stuffy days, when there is no movement, feel pregnant with waiting -- waiting for the merest stir of the air which signals relief. And that relief could come in the slightest of breezes or the strongest of tornadoes, any movement at all that would disperse the stagnation and weight of humidity and heat. Setting in motion the desire for change at, almost, any cost.

Each longing has its own wind, its own time, its own expression. The winds of relationship seem to be ever present, if variable in type. There are very few places in life or on earth that have the same wind at all times. But the wind itself is constantly present, just as longing within the human heart is always present. And I notice which wind of longing is blowing and from which direction in the same way that a sailor must. I also wonder which way it will shift and what corrections in course I will have to make in order to accommodate it.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Outside my kitchen window on this chilly December day is a coral-colored rosebud stubbornly clinging to the top of an otherwise barren bush. I have been watching this little bud for several weeks now, speculating as to when it would succumb to the inevitable and reflecting on the lesson of this almost flower for myself.

I wonder at its timidity in keeping closed in on itself, holding itself tightly, afraid to open up and share itself. Did it not get something that it needed to bloom? Was it missing adequate light or love? Surely, it didn't fear that its beauty would be rejected or ignored, that its sisters would outshine it. Perhaps it believed that it came too late to the feast and felt unable to participate, left on the outside looking in.

I marvel at its tenacity, holding on through rain, wind and chill, never letting go of its tenuous hold on life. Unfulfilled and yet more long lived than its cohorts, keeping a tight grip on possibility long after its season of hope.

How many of us are like this little bud at one time or another? Fearful of showing our core, we hold ourselves tightly closed with only the barest hint of our sweetness escaping. Perhaps, when first we tried to bloom, the air was chilled with rejection. Maybe our roots were not nourished with the warm mulch of love. Or we were pruned back too severely by convention and expectation. And yet we cling to the hope of possibility that we have not, in fact, missed our blooming.

But, unlike this rosebud, we do not fall after a season. We have the possibility to nurture ourselves during the fallow times, to aerate our roots, trim back the dead and open ourselves up to the possibility of blooming again in the spring. We have multiple seasons. And, as I notice my own growing and changing, and that of others around me, I feel a little less chilled by the sight of this tiny, unfinished flower. I can continue to dig around my roots, add new components and hope for an even more lush blooming with the change of a new year.

Certainly it is riskier, this always becoming. Next season may produce not even a bud for all the effort. It could, in fact, kill off the entire bush. But the possibility of expansive growth seems to be worth the risk. It is necessary to trim off the bud of lost hopes in order to cultivate the potential for what may yet be.

".... and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." -Anais Nin.

Monday, December 1, 2008


"You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." Jack London.

Not being a fan of Jack London's work, I was surprised when this quote caught my attention. And, while I reject his muy macho, blood-thirsty image, it has got me thinking about the nature of inspiration.

According to the Online Etymology dictionary, the word inspiration comes from the ideas of breathing in life or animating with an idea. This life/animation can take many forms and come from unlikely sources. It also depends on the disposition of the receiver. So, it would seem, that inspiration is that point where the external possibility joins with internal receptivity to create something new.

I believe London was correct that passive waiting for inspiration to arrive is useless. But he was wrong in his attacking analogy. It is more akin to farming than hunting. It requires a fertile ground on which to fall, a welcoming climate, and careful cultivation and nurturing until the fruit springs forth.

One of the components must be time. While I have had the occasional poem spring, seemingly, fully formed from my mind or heart; most of my writing comes from taking the time to write, manipulating words and thoughts until the result bears some resemblance to what inspired it. But beyond the actual time spent writing is the time taken to notice and observe what is around me and within me, hoping to catch sight of what will inspire me next. Always turning things over, looking for unexpected facets and ideas.

Another piece is the rich compost of everything around us. There are lofty ideas, heroic personalities and jaw-dropping beauty which offer insights for creativity. But those things may be too limited. There is a much larger crop of the so-called mundane around us that offers new possibilities for the mind that is ready to receive them. They are more accessible and immediate to us than the Elgin Marbles and offer new windows into the beauty that exists all around us. No less than their more magnificent counterparts, the daily-ness of these things offers us the opportunity to step beyond what we might otherwise overlook.

A few years ago, I was at an Arlo Guthrie concert. And Arlo was talking about how he came to write a particular song. He said that he believed that songs and ideas were floating all around us. He said that this song was written during a time when he and James Taylor were sharing a house. He believed that it sounded like a James Taylor song, but when it floated past Arlo was the one who had the pencil. I believe Arlo was right and inspiration visits those that are ready for it.

And it is not only the artistic or officially creative among us that these things can enrich. This cultivation of inspiration requires only that we show up and open a space within ourselves to receive it. How it will then express itself is limitless. Some will write or paint or compose. Others will concoct a perfect salad or create a welcoming home. Still others will create an inspiring lesson or a beautiful garden. In a very real sense, it doesn't matter how it expresses itself, so long as we allow it expression in our lives. Whether it be small or large, the result will enhance its moment and place in our lives. All we have to do is watch for the opportunities all around us.