Friday’s Focus—Being Grateful and Yet…

Recently I’ve noticed when I ask people how they are, their response is a shrug of their shoulders as they say “I’m alright. I’ve got a job.” All in all this is great but what struck me was the tone of resignation, like there’s nothing more. There’s something to be said for being grateful for what you have—a job for example, which these days is a biggie. But, it’s the resignation in the tone that’s been bothering me. Call me a dreamer but I don’t believe in settling. There’s more. There’s always more of a quality of life that we can attain, rather than a quantity of things in our lives that so many of us seem to reach toward instead.

It’s a fact that to survive in today’s economy, daily living has become hinged on a paycheck and benefits. But that’s not living. That’s existing. To me, living means thinking, creating, moving, doing. Not just hanging on to the gray thread of a paycheck. To me, that’s dying. I believe in staying hungry. Staying curious. Yes, there’s always a worse off way to be but that doesn’t mean one has to remain placated and resigned.

Stay grateful but also stay alive! Find something each day that piques your curiosity, something that makes you wonder, laugh, even cry because all of the emotions have a place, but whatever you do, don’t die while you’re still living. Live, love, laugh, be hungry, be curious, and you’ll be grateful for what you’ll find.

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#takingitdeeper

 

Friday’s Focus—Sidetracked

The roots of the trees veined the road with some pieces poking through like bones; the roots so close to the surface it was just a matter of time before they were revealed by wind, rain, and tires and bleached white by the sun. Between exposed tree roots and ruts cut by heavy rains, driving over 20 mph made the car bounce like a carnival ride. I creeped along gripping the wheel, eyes constantly scanning the road ahead as I craned my neck out the window now and then to try and see around the bend a promise of a smoother road, but all I got was a sore neck and tired eyes.

Crawling along this stretch of road, it felt like the trees and birds were my only company. I continued to scan for holes and hills and eventually relaxed my body into the  roll and sway of the car as it dipped and climbed. Low stone walls appeared here and there broken only by a car-width dirt path leading up into the tree line. The fire numbers were the only other indication that people lived out here.

Isn’t it funny how it seems when we rush the most we find ourselves delayed even more—you’re late for an appointment and you get behind a slow driver; you spill something and you have to change your clothes; you run into construction on the road; your son forgot to fill the gas tank last night when he borrowed the car so now you need to make an extra stop this morning; it’s your turn to bring snacks for your daughter’s homeroom party but she didn’t tell you until the morning of, so it’s an impromptu trip to the market.

Or, you decided to take a side road home because you thought it would be a short cut and instead you find yourself crawling along a worn out road layered in alternating sections of gravel and dirt, and which is taking you much longer than if you just stayed on the road you knew.

I believe in being at the right place at the right time, and if I hadn’t taken that side road and forced to go so slow, would I have noticed the stream making its path down the mountain into a small gully carpeted with moss? Would I have heard the crows’ jeers and the scream of a hawk overhead as it was being harassed by the crows and chased from their territory? Would I have noticed the burst of Queen Anne’s Lace amidst a blanket of ferns? Probably not. And I wouldn’t have noticed the take your breath away beauty of the God sky as I finally came out into a clearing.

What I most likely would have noticed was a road, trees, water, birds, flowers, rocks, and clouds. Just things in my line of vision. If I wasn’t forced to slow down, I probably would have missed the beauty, breathlessness, and the God of what is behind all those labels.

Sometimes it’s not such a bad thing to be late or delayed. More than once I’ve wondered if there was something unknown and unseen that causes these delays for who knows why.

So maybe this time it was to show me—remind me—that there is more to watch and look at then a clock and the next appointment and errand.

p.s. I finally made it home only 10 minutes late, but with views I’ll never forget!

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#takingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—Again

It’s been some time since I’ve been here last. Did you miss me? I did! Literally. Things have been so hectic with the selling and moving from our home to not only a new house but a new state,  I feel as though I lost myself in the process. Everything was put on hold that didn’t have to do with the day job, lawyers, bankers, or real estate agents. The only writing I was doing were checks and emails. Subjects of blogs and short stories swirled in my head borne out of people we met and circumstances but there they stayed, behind the wall of my mind and never making it beyond the thought, “Oh, I should write about that.” It’s time to breathe life into those stories and writings again.

Last night, I decided enough was enough and sat down to the keyboard to let my fingers do the walking so my mind can do the talking, and well, here we are. Again. Still feeling my sea legs in the new place, I look for corners and spaces as new homes for my yoga mat and books. Settling into a daily routine of day job mixed in with the new neighborhood sounds will take awhile, but in the meantime, I’m growing accustomed to the sounds of hammers and saws sprinkled with a few swear words from my husband, which has actually been helpful to use as a gauge on how well (?) repairs have been going!

This move is the cap of what has been a fierce 8 months (actually the last 3 years) of continuous major life events. Feeling tense and uptight had become very familiar feelings for me. Sitting within these new four walls, with the dust settling and the boxes slowly being unpacked, I can still feel the anxiety continue to surround me, which is exactly what I had wanted to change. “Maybe it’s too soon,” I tell myself. “I need to give myself time to slow the twitching and unwind from the hectic pace,” I add.

Almost as a ready response, I hear the words “no matter where you go, there you are” echo through my head and immediately recognize the truth in it. No matter where you go—house, hut, country, or planet you move or travel to, if the changes you seek aren’t made within, it won’t matter what zip code you land in.

I knew better than to expect a complete whoosh of having all my problems disappear as I watched the tail lights of the moving truck leave, but I guess to be honest, on some deep level, I must have expected it to happen all the same.

How we experience things all comes from our perspective, and if our perspective, our basic way of seeing something, doesn’t change, our experiences and our views will continue to be more of the same. This week, as I get myself back into my writing, and once again set my sight on the changes I want to make within (and without), I’m consciously refining my perspective of what each day can bring. This is not about seeing the world through rose-colored glasses but rather taking off those glasses to get a clearer and more honest view. One of the simplest and most profound ways of doing this is by intention, which is something we can all do.

Even if you don’t have any plans of moving or traveling any time soon, you can still set your intention and perspective anew each day and welcome yourself home.

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Friday’s Focus—Something From Nothing

There are some days, as a writer, it feels like I have nothing to say. The muse is off playing with the dog or helping some other writer slouched over their keyboard. Sometimes all that seems to fill a page are half sentences or phrases that start out hopeful but stop short of being anything more than a glorified bunch of nouns, verbs, and adjectives and the paper is littered with the glitter of wanna-be quips and stories.

For me, the way ideas come and thoughts develop into whatever they want—stories, poems, essays, doodles—changes depending on the medium I use to bring it forward with. It’s been interesting to notice how characters change and the endings shift depending on whether I use a computer or a good old-fashioned pen and paper. Hands down, my favorite way to write, or at least get started, is using pen and paper. I’m an admitted paper-a-holic and just can’t resist blank notebooks; paper that just begs to be written on. The pen also needs to be right and together, in the right combination, it’s as though the story is already there and the ink simply reveals it.

Writing with a pencil gives an entirely different feeling. I find my writing takes on more of the feeling of a doodle and I tend to edit more. The words feel “sketched” and less “committed” than ink. Writing with ink is like changing your Facebook status to “in a relationship.”

Finally, there’s the keyboard. I find that writing on a computer releases a completely different stream of consciousness. This may be the easiest of all to write with but it is also the coldest and least personal way of working to me.

Of course, I can, and have begun writing something with one medium and switched over to another (beginning with pen and then moving to keyboard) and every time I do the story changes—for better or for worse. I’m not talking about editing or revisions but rather that fact that I experience a distinctly different flow with each medium and the words just come out different.

When I began to write today’s post, I couldn’t find the rhythm no matter what I tried to write with. In a last attempt, I opened my laptop and like a Seinfeld episode (which is really about nothing), I began to write about nothing, but it ended up turning into a something (which is still about nothing). So this is my Seinfeld post; one that is really about nothing except to say whether you’re a writer, an artist, a musician, a chef, or you do anything that’s creative, if you’ve found your usual way of doing things isn’t working so well and you feel that your muse has abandoned you, try things from a different angle and see what happens. Don’t stop. You never know what something will come out of your “nothings”!

Have a great weekend!

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—A Note to a Friend

A truly personal “catching the tiger by the tail” moment in which I was simply the medium for the way this poem came through. This has been a week of transitions and moments of movement and movement and movement of people and events, all with a surprising softness in its unfolding. It’s almost as though the blocks and stop-gaps of the past few months’ energy is slowly exhaling her release and like a pebble thrown into the water, the circles are gently lapping outward ever wider. Borne to me early one morning, here is a poem called, A Note to a Friend:

Butterfly kisses and
Ladybug hugs.
Rainy day rainbows,
And fat, garden slugs.

With some tea in our cups,
We sit, you and I.
Two good friends…still…
All these years, by and bye.

We’ll talk of days past
And the hours to come;
Watch dragonflies and sparrows,
And maybe hear honeybees hum.

Neither distance nor years
Can keep us apart as dear friends.
All the magic’s still here,
Seen through a kaleidoscope lens.

Our cups, they’re now empty,
And the church bells, they chime.
This is not a good-bye
But rather, so long… ’till next time.

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#takingitdeeper

Friday’s Focus—Setting the Timer

All good things in moderation. How about all things in moderation? Good is subjective. It’s good to have a job but if you’re working 10 to 12 hours a day, unless you’re throughly in love with what you’re doing, it’s not so good. If it’s not our jobs, many of us find ourselves giving to our spouses, our children, our families, our committees,  and our friends. Did I miss anyone? Oh, yeah. When do we give to ourselves?

Commitment is commendable but so often, and so quickly, we find ourselves chasing our own tail and living in fear of making sure we did what we were supposed to and make sure all angles are covered.

Each one of us has a personal motivation for doing what we do and for however long and hard we choose to do them. Typically, the urgency and frenetic energy of the “hamster on a wheel life” starts to feel like the norm and anything otherwise can tend to make us feel lost or like we’re missing or forgetting something.

I think we all know on a root level when we are doing too much and become out of balance. Once we see it, it becomes a matter of taking our attention deeper and consciously setting the timer to approach whatever we’re doing in a manner more aligned with balance of anything that’s been missing (or been pushed out).

It’s not just important but imperative to our mental health (which influences our physical health) to find that benchmark within us and understand the driving force behind what is creating the one-sidedness and drive.

The realization came for me as an almost physical click. Sitting quietly one day, my monkey mind was incessantly chattering away as it swung from thought to thought “And then this [inhale] but then what if [exhale] oh yeah and then that [inhale]…” when suddenly I felt a tug in my solar plexus and a loud “NO” reverberate through me.

I was done. Cooked. In all of its frenetic energy that monkey ripped away a veil that had been covering what I finally recognized as feelings of fear I was using as my drive: fear of missing something, and then the deeper dirt-honest fear of not being good enough and making mistakes.

So, now what? So now I set the timer. Some time for this. Some time for that. Like a New Year’s resolution, it’s so easy to set an intention, but it’s another to put it into action. Recognizing and understanding motivations is a great start. To make any sort of difference though, we need to go the next step and put the intentions into action.

No matter how good we are at our jobs, at our roles of parent or spouse, it’s impossible to cover all angles all of the time and make sure that something isn’t overlooked there, or a skinned knee is missed here. Sometimes we need to set a timer on our overload of one-sidedness. Making a mistake is not a taboo. Wearing a band-aid is not the end of the world. You’ll live. We don’t need a permission slip from anyone else but ourselves. And admittedly, sometimes that’s the hardest permission to get.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Signs, Signs, Everywhere Are Signs

Signs, signs, everywhere are signs….the clocks moved ahead, the flowers are budding, Easter candy has been on sale since February….all signs indicating that Spring is around the corner (at least after the next predicted snowfall). There are always signs around us, guiding us, informing us, playing with us. How often do you notice them?

If you’re on the road, notice license plates and slogans on trucks. Listening to the radio, notice if a song or a chorus resonates with you. When you’re watching TV, talking to people, or reading a book, become aware of any word, phrase, or idea that keeps popping up (“That’s the third time I’ve heard that today!”).

Make it a game! Sometimes the Universe uses what’s around us to reveal answers to a particular question or something that may be on your mind, while other times, what we see is just a fascinating reveal of simple patterns. One of my favorite authors, Robert Moss, talks about this regularly and it is the focus of his book Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life. He calls these reveals, sidewalk tarot. Be aware of your thoughts and aware of your surroundings as you go about your day and see if the Universe doesn’t have a word or two to offer you.

Last September, I wrote a post called “Don’t Stop Believing,” about keeping the faith and hope alive even when you can’t clearly see the path in front of you. What inspired me to write that piece was my going through a difficult time where it seemed that every area of my life—from job to health to family was being squeezed. You name it, and there was an issue or at least a concern with it.

During that time, the song of the same name, by the group Journey, kept popping up during some of the deepest experiences I’ve ever had in playing sidewalk tarot. I started to notice that moments when I’d get lost in thought of “How am I…?” “Where are we…?” Journey’s song, “Don’t Stop Believing” would come on the radio—sometimes from the beginning, sometimes the middle, and sometimes the tail end, but just enough of the notes for me to recognize the song. I heard it so often during these times of personal questions, I couldn’t help but notice it had long crossed the line from coincidence to message.

One particular afternoon I’ll never forget, my husband and I were people-watching from a bench in the center of the town we’ve been talking about moving to. We dreamed and schemed about how we can arrange things and make this our new home. At that time, there was no clear way that we could see it happening, so we kept pleading our cause to the Universe.

As we continued to sit and talk about the house we would have and what we would do once we moved there, a blue pick-up truck came into the local traffic queue and in the most perfectly-timed sidewalk tarot orchestration I’ve ever seen, the truck drove past us, and through it’s open windows we heard the undeniable voice of Steve Perry belt out those three words “Don’t Stop Believing.” That was it for me. Not only was it the appearance of that song, but what stunned us was of all the lyrics, it was those specific three words that we heard as the truck passed directly in front of us as if in answer to our questions. I didn’t know how but I knew  from that day things would work. Six months later,  we’re now in the process of moving to the town we’ve always talked about.

There were other moments  when those three specific words showed up for me, and now looking back, I can see that it was always during the times I needed to hear them most. Because I had become aware of the message, each time I heard them or read them, I was able to take a moment and just close my eyes and say ok. I wasn’t alone.

Signs can come from anywhere and everywhere, from an image in the clouds to a phrase in a commercial. Sometimes you’ll see the signs when you least expect it and other times when you’ve specifically asked for them.  I hope you use today’s Focus to go out and play and see what the Universe has to say to you today—Is it an answer? Is it a new opportunity? Is it a new pattern? Whatever it is, just Don’t Stop Believing!

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Hyacinths in Bloom

The sounds of the neighborhood waking up with its barking dogs and chirping birds and the ticking of the living room clock keep me company on this rainy morning as I write this. I noticed yesterday that the Hyacinths are starting to come up. They always reminded me of Spring, Easter, and my mom. They were one of her favorite flowers and I always brought her some for Easter. Seeing them start to bloom is bittersweet. It reminds me that it’s been nearly 3 months since she passed away. I don’t know where the time has gone and though I’ve been making peace with her passing there are still some days that are harder than others and I’ve found that a stranger’s condolences and a momentary kindness can still bring me to tears.

The medical bills are arriving and with each one, I’ve needed to make a phone call to verify submission to insurance or to get some clarity on the services charged but not explained. Conversions begin business as usual: name, date of birth, account number, relationship to patient; rote questions coming over the phone from a faceless office worker probably counting the days to Friday like I do.

To help explain why I’m calling about a bill 2 months overdue and that it’s not a shirking of responsibility on our part, I explain that it’s just been forwarded to me from the facilities and that my mom had passed away in December. Suddenly, the numb drone becomes a human being and with a soft intake of breath comes, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Please accept my condolences.” It’s a kind sentiment that’s appreciated and something that still makes me twitch when I hear it, but it’s the personal stories that follow are what brings the feelings of loss fresh all over again.

I can’t begin to say how much it annoys me to have to make these calls to follow-up with doctor offices and agencies, but by the end of the calls, my attitude has completely changed. What starts as a business as usual call ends up with me tearing up listening to sage advice and deep personal experiences that the other person has gone through with the loss of their mother or other loved one.

One woman, now in her late fifties, lost her mother when she was 14. She told me about how she still misses her and the memories they never got a chance to make. She shared with me what she’s learned over time and ended the call with a blessing. I honestly felt that God takes moments and people like this to make direct connections to remind me, all of us, that we are not alone.  

None of us will ever know what can come out of our experiences and how it can help others. There are certain levelers in life that will happen regardless of age, sex, and status, and this is where the human heart comes in if we let it. Those people didn’t have to share their personal stories, but they did, and I was completely changed from each, small conversation. I cried because it was suddenly one grief acknowledging another but I also smiled at the sincerity of the connection. It’s so easy to feel alone because of a death or an illness in the family. 

It’s also easy to feel alone when sometimes the day or recent events have just been difficult, challenging, and going in directions you never imagined. Connecting with a stranger or a friend by one small conversation, one sliver of a share of memory, or genuine good wishes can make the world of difference. It won’t solve our problems or be a miracle cure but when you share your heart, that’s a healing in of itself and a moment you will never forget or regret.

I hope today’s Focus inspires you to keep your eyes open and your heart open wider. You never know what today’s conversations could bring. The birds are still chirping but the rain has stopped. I just looked out the back window and a ray of sun is shining directly on the Hyacinth buds. I think I’m going to go out back and spend some time with the flowers and remember how much she loved them.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Morning Lotus

Throughout history, the question has dogged beggars and philosophers alike—why are we here? What are we here to learn? What is the greatest thing that we can learn while we are on this Earth? In this body?

The answers depend upon what corner of the church we face and what God we ask them of. I am no philosopher nor do I propose to know the answer to one of Life’s greatest questions, and I don’t propose to know more than I’ve learned. Even then, I really know nothing. Not truly.

But then there came this.

One morning, sitting in stillness, the questions, the thoughts, the “what if”’s fell away and for the first time were replaced by a knowing and a feeling of undeniable truth. Surreal and yet sacred in its delivery, the questions and answers came without hesitation. The moment had been waiting and I was ready to finally listen.

What is the most important thing we can learn in our lifetime?

Compassion.

Without compassion, the love we feel for another will still have attachments and conditions.

Without compassion, the forgiveness our lips speak does not match the anger, hurt, and resentment still in our heart.

Without compassion, the understanding we have for the other person will still depend on their skin color and faith.

Without compassion, the peace that we fight for is nothing but murder and an excuse.

So how do we find compassion? Through suffering. Without personal suffering, there is no compassion. Suffering is more than having “bad” things happen to you. Suffering is going through a situation that is negative or unpleasant but it’s also the opportunity to take the situation from cries of “Why me?” to something that will forever deepen our understanding of others and our own reactions.

No one can know how they’ll feel or react in a situation unless they’ve been in it. Anything outside of that is just an opinion. To have compassion for anyone else means walking through your own fires first.

The importance of compassion is one of the key teachings in Buddhism. It is also one of the key teachings in learning to be fully human. No one is above suffering but we don’t need to perpetuate the feelings of suffering from what we are suffering from.

#takingitdeeper

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Friday’s Focus—Anchors

I’ve found a trail, around a lake, that takes me deep into the woods, up some hills and around rock ledges and edges and dwellings of animals for sure. I’ve found a place where the wind drives through the groves of pines and one by one, each tree joins in the whoosh as they sway back and forth; once in a while, the limbs add their creaks and their groans.

The wind catches my hair across my face and I look up to see the slow and majestic movement of the branches swinging to and fro. And I hear

Nothing.
Not one bird.
Not one human.
Not one dog.
Not one car.
Not one chainsaw.
Not one plane.

Just for this moment.
Just for this breath of a second

There is just me.
And the woods
And the wind
And the water

and I find myself anchored. The air is cold and crisp and clean. I take a few slow deep breaths, luxuriating in the scent of the trees and the earth itself. I can actually smell the colors of green and  brown around me. With each inhale I take in from this place, there is an exhale where I let go of the noise, the commotion, the pollution that’s inside me.

I notice a shadow pass on the dirt path and when I look up into the sky, squinting at the sun, I see a huge blackbird fly by. So silent in its flight but its very existence, right at that moment, carried a message that couldn’t have been any louder.

I closed my eyes and knew.

This is where I can find rest.
This is where my soul can find peace.
This is where my body can relax.

This is where I knew my heart could let go.
This is where I knew my heart could fill again.
This is where I knew I could heal.

This place is my anchor.

It brings me home into my own skin and grounds me.

I believe we all need a place like this, that just allows us….
It doesn’t just have to be a place. It can be a person, a song, a book…

It’s that which holds us in place long enough to give our souls the chance to knit itself back again. To close the gaps and holes that tore it open. It’s like a salve on a wound, bathing it in medicine that is so pure it can only be from God, gifted to us humans through the Muses.

Sometimes we are lucky and find our anchors while consciously seeking that one thing, that one person, that one….but then there are those anchors that show up by chance, maybe led by a tickle of intuition to go there, zig instead of zag, listen to that, turn left instead of right,  and then there you are.

I am lucky to have a few such anchors in my life, each one different but no less powerful. Yet this place is special in its extraordinary culmination of senses. It takes my breath away. The air tastes sweet, the colors soothe my eyes, and my ears can rest from the cacophony of city sounds but best of all, I can find the peace and quiet again to be able to hear my soul sing once more.

Not just for today, this Friday focus, but for every day, I wish that each of you find your own anchor that is best for you. An anchor that is not a burden but rather one that gives you tranquility and peace.

#takingitdeeper

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