Friday, October 6, 2017

Personal Authenticity and the To-Do List: An Exercise in Self Discovery

When you retire or your life changes dramatically, sometimes you are left wondering "who am I?" Here is an exercise that can help define activity in the world that more clearly reflects the "authentic" you.

First, create a to-do list.  This can be a mix of things you wish you were doing, as well as things you think you should be doing. Don't fuss about how much is costs, what training it requires, or what people will think of you if you "do it". Just get the ideas down--shoot for at least ten items. Number each line.

Then, on a blank sheet of paper, write in the very middle that one great aspiration you have.  Here are some examples:

  • To Show Compassion to All
  • To Nurture others
  • To See Reality
  • To Love Well
  • To Create Beauty
  • To Stand for Truth
  • To be an Icon of Patience
Think long and carefully about what your central driving aspiration is.  Once you have placed it on the paper, draw a circle around it.  Then, pick what your secondary aspiration is, write it on the paper above and outside the first circle.  Draw a larger circle around both the central circle and your new word, beginning to create a mandala.  Proceed at least five "circles" out. When you are done, you should have five concentric circles, each with a single aspiration within it.

Now, go through your list and plug the number of your "to-do" list into the mandala.  For example, if I wrote down that my great and central aspiration was to create beauty, and #5 on my to-do list was learn to do Medieval Card Weaving, I'd write #5 inside that aspiration circle.  One by one, drop in the "to-do" list into your aspiration mandala.

When you are done, take up your journal and write about your mandala.  Does your "to-do" list truly reflect your central aspirations?  How might you adjust your life and choices to better reflect how you spend your time and energy in the face of the deep motivations you have for your life?

I personally was very surprised at how little of my "to-do" list reflected who I have become after 27 hospitalizations, a divorce and remarriage, a cross-country move, and a change in what I am able to physical do (or rather, what I can no longer do). I have no illusions that it will take a while to "live into" this new reality of self, but bringing my actions and aspirations together on one page has certainly made me conscious of the deeper parts of myself.

I hope you give it a try!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Choose to Love

My step-daughter recently garnered a number of important awards in High School golf, and our local TV and newspaper has made a big and wonderful deal out of her milestones.  I'm also the assistant coach on the team, making sure we keep the food and water stocked, utilizing my yoga therapy certification to help with everything from a slightly tilted pelvis to acute back spasms on the course. And when "women's issues" arise, I'm glad to take point.  I was so sad when her mom (my husband's ex) immediately texted my husband, furious that a picture of Mike, my step-daughter, and I had aired on the local television station.  "I don't want my child associated with THAT woman."

Sitting here this morning, sunlight streaming across the open field outside my dining room window, I feel such deep compassion for her. To take the joy and excitement of her daughter's accomplishment and make it about petty jealousy is just a kind of violence to self I often see in folks who have gone through a divorce.  And it is always a violence that rebounds, injuring the minor child so much more than the adult. So what do I do with such energy?

The only thing I really can do: I breathe and practice compassion. And I write.

I know there will come a day when my own children will meet a new stepmom for the first time. I pray I have the wisdom and kindness to support the new relationship they will enter into, knowing deeply that my children will be loved into a larger circle of friends, family and life. In this crazy world, that is one commodity I hope overflows into my children and their children.

I imagine
the empty house echoes,
when she is away,
speaking to me of the time
when she will not burst through the door,
sparkling with teenage glitter and grins,
or trudge up the path,
shoulders rounded with some small grief.

The questions will come--
Who am I now?
Who loves me now?
Who will see when I laugh or cry?

I know this energy myself--
that's why I can see it in her mother.

I am more than my children,
but they are knit into my bones-
yes, even the ones
I am not related to
for better or worse
leave wonderful and muddy footprints on the fabric of my life.

So when the little and the nasty and the rude shudder their way
into my view in print or glance,
to not weep for their mothers and fathers,
to not feel the looming empty nest
just before adults themselves learn to fly again
would slash a larger wound.

I choose love.
And to keep loving
breath by slow breath.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Americans are Becoming Machines

With increasing regularity the past few years, I've noticed a kind of machine-level rude behavior, particularly in medical offices.  Sometimes it's a little irritant like--"Can you hold? Thank you." without being given a chance to answer "Yes" to the question.

One awful experience occurred when I went for a vision check.  The woman who did my initial check-in sped ahead of me down the hall, totally oblivious that I was struggling to keep up. (This also happened to me at a local hospital just before a lung function test.  I had recently gone through a total knee replacement and speed was not my forte!!!)  I called up to the vision clinic woman and asked her to go slow. "I've just had my knee totally replaced so I am at full speed right now."

The woman sat down in the office we finally arrived at and what was the first question she asked? "Have you had any recent surgeries?"

I stared at her. 

Then firmly said, "what did I just say to you in the hall?"

These kinds of incidents are increasing in our society--from the check-out person who never smiles or responds to you to hospital personnel who don't listen to their patients. The ability to interact with another human being is becoming an increasingly lost skill.

And we all suffer.

So do we call folks on it when it happens?  Suffer in silence? Write a polite letter to the office or store where the behavior happened?  Shrug and let it go time after time after time?

What would you do?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dogen: "Time goes from Present to Past"

I'm revisiting an "old friend" this week--the Zen Master Dogen of 12th century Japan.

I was arrested by the phrase, "Time goes from present to past." The first time I heard those words--see it already is true--I was about 28 years old and attending Aquinas College.  They were "interesting" in an intellectual sort of way.

But sitting here today, I see time constantly moving from the present to the past--the flowers outside my window are almost instantly compared to the time when the hummingbird was sipping their pink hearts and the rest of fall wasn't showing up on the tips of the leaves.  The single Blue Jay reminded me of the riotous family of the same breed swamping my feeders just weeks ago. Every glance, there is the movement--present to past.  It happens so fast with me.

That's one of the reasons why I am not a big proponent of "linear time"--consciousness doesn't work that way.  At fifty-two, I'm not struggling with such things, though. The panes of past-present-future all flicker like a movie and I allow them to do so.

It's what the rock knows.
It's what the tree proclaims.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Delight in the Small: Tiny Treasures of a Forest Walk

Walks in the forest with a camera can be a delightful way to tune into the "small".  I am recovering from a full knee replacement (thank you Dr. Hollander of Traverse City Orthopedics!), so as my husband nips and cuts out a new forest path, I follow behind, clearing off loose branches and then sitting in a portable camp chair. It's in the stillness that the woods really begins to speak, and I notice the textures, the tiny beads of interest strewn all around. I am in no way a photographer, but I delight in trying just about anything new. In the looking, I become clear and present, going from merely looking to finally seeing.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Forest Faces: Photography

One of my favorite photography "hunts" is to look for "faces" in natural objects.  Facial recognition is one of our earliest cognitive skills--and it's fun to "revert" to childhood and see what I can find. Here are three faces I found in the cedar in our forest yesterday.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Illusion: A Poem from Easing into the Mahabharata

Illusion American-Style

More than a hundred years ago,
they raised the statue.
Hope carves like that—
stiffening onto stone,
motion, breath,

Today, others want to tear such things down,
laying Paper Mache and blogs and airwaves
bird shit and weathered bronze,
sweating and cursing in the humid air
to make the outside
some insides.

Move the outer world around as much as you wish—
yell you are “for it” or “against it”.

All Time’s child play with objects in a sandbox.