some seasonal advice

12 03 2010

Unfurl yourself this Spring……

photo by Pippa Green, an amazingly talented designer and gardener living and working on Bainbridge Island. You can hire her or have a proper cup of English tea with her @ pipgreen@gmail.com





the joy of unfollow

9 03 2010

Twitter has taught me some really amazing things. One of the things it’s taught me is how to use my Unfollow button.

And I don’t mean just on Twitter. I’ve also started using the Unfollow button in my life outside of Twitter, and I am here to tell you, it’s making me feel a little giddy and a lot empowered.

I’m one of those people with the kind of martyr complex that thinks the harder the thing is the better it is for me. It’s especially true when it comes to relationships of all kinds.

Here’s a good example of my particular pattern before I discovered the unfollow button;

Someone in my life is negative, critical, tells me all the reasons why it’s not a good idea, why it won’t work, tells me who I am, analyzes me constantly and is usually wrong, undermines me, is generally not enthusiastic and supportive, and is lacking a can-do attitude.

When I am around these people, I feel a loss of confidence, a drain of life force, a claustrophobia, defeated, anxious, and overall like crap about myself.

Now. One could make the argument (I’ve made this exact one myself for YEARS), that having these sorts of people in your life is good for you. That it develops a certain ability to be impervious to criticism and negativity and that if you really want your dreams, these people cannot deter you, and that dealing with negative emotion directed toward you is somehow good for you.

I imagine that is true on some level, but the cost of building that kind of thick skin has taken me from the actual work that I want to do. The dreams I want to bring to fruition. For years!

I have mistakenly thought that I HAD TO grind away with people who don’t make me feel uplifted and energized and capable.

I thought to shape my inner sanctum with only people who I felt good around was somehow cheating.

On Twitter that’s what we are all doing isn’t it? Creating a tribe of like-minded people who make us feel good and move us forward on our journey? Yes I think we are.

Why not create that in my face to face contacts? Recently at a dinner, I had to tell someone that after the Spring I was going to move on to work with someone else. I just haven’t felt like this person is really a positive can-do kind of person and I find myself deflated inside after I leave a meeting with them.

I just don’t have to hoe that row anymore. I really can surround myself with people I am inspired by and who want to embrace life fully with a can-do attitude.

Life is just to darn short not to use my Unfollow button. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it’s a kind of spiritual act to know what you don’t have to engage with in your life anymore.





what i learned at couples counseling

2 03 2010

I’m someone who is an unabashed proponent of therapy. I’ve never really understood the shame that I’ve heard many people have around going to therapy. I look at it like an Adult Continuing Ed. class in Emotional Education.

I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to go to therapy. I’ve also noticed (myself included), that often people would rather do anything (root canal included), than look inward, and take responsibility for their lives, and make the necessary changes internally and externally toward a more fulfilling life.

I didn’t grow up in a home where emotions were valued or expressed. Well, let me rephrase; toughness and do-it-yourself-ness and everything-is-fine, if those are emotions were valued and expressed, but I found myself wanting a broader and more genuine range, so out of a kind of frantic claustrophobia mixed with despair, I went to therapy at around 20 years old. I’m still at it, and hope to be until well into my eighties. I want to keep learning about human psychology and emotions, my own and others.

Things don’t have to be going wrong to go to therapy. And that’s the spirit that my girlfriend and I decided to start going to couples counseling twice a month. A sort of, “Hey how can we really make sustaining dynamics in the foundation of our relationship instead of stale habits?” And we were both sort of talking about this idea of “What does it really mean to be with each other?”

I heard something last time we were there, that has been resonating with me, and that I keep thinking about and wanted to share with you.

The (Buddhist) therapist said to us (I’m paraphrasing), “What makes a good relationship is actually not great communication. You could master all sorts of communication techniques and still not have a good relationship. What makes a good relationship actually, is the ability of each person to be with the other person in whatever state they are in.”

This is where I was sitting there thinking, WTF. I think I said out loud, “Seriously?”

She continued, “Yes. Whatever emotional state arises in your partner, you want to just be fully present with it, without pushing it away, or trying to change it, or give advice, or become annoyed by it, or anything like that. You just want to be fully with them in it. That,” she said, “is real intimacy. And that is what sustains a relationship.”

I have been reflecting on my ways of being towards Meg in light of this rich statement by the therapist. I am surprised by how often I am uncomfortable for whatever reason by her responses to things. I’m a fixer and an action-taker. How often I want to separate myself from her when I am uncomfortable with her state or words. I have been trying to drop those things since our last session and just see if I can be fully present to her and that’s it. Just really be there. In the kind of naked stripped-down kind of thing just as it is.

It’s an amazing and slightly terrifying thing. The intimacy is immediate and full-throttle, and very rewarding. A natural compassion arises for her and for myself and for the situation.

It’s what all the teachers have been saying. Just be fully present to your life. Don’t try to push anything away or force a change because we think it would be better if we tweaked it slightly. Just be with it. Why would the teaching be any different in its application to relationship?





those fork in the road moments

24 02 2010

A common refrain: “What should I do?” Another common refrain: “I don’t know what to do.”

These questions refer to both logistical as well as emotional decisions. A decision can be a nanosecond to many months in the making. Either way, we are always asking ourselves some version of these two questions on a million levels all the time.

I have been a student of Buddhism for many years, and when many of us approach the teachers and ask them these questions, the coda response to the refrain question is, “What would you usually do?” “What is your usual response/action?”

And then they say, “So don’t do that, do something different. Try maybe even doing the opposite.”

It’s very uncomfortable to hear this and then try to face the answer and then do it. The teaching dumps upside down my comfort zone and habitual ways of being and exercises muscles that are under-developed.

The creative life, or the awakened life, thrives on randomness, accident, spontaneity, vividness, and immediacy to name a few.

When we are responding or reacting the same way over and over again to the confusing circumstances that present, we cut off the possibility of any of the above-mentioned qualities from entering our lives.

Our habitual ways of being are a gerbil wheel. We feel like we are moving, but it’s an endless cycle of unhappiness and an unexpressed life.

Why not next time you are wondering what to do, ask yourself, ‘What do I usually do?” and then do the opposite.

I’m doing it in my life right now, which is why I’m writing this post, and I’m terrified. But I’m awake and present and open to something new flowing in. I prefer an artful life to a robotic life.





a post from danielle laporte

23 02 2010

When someone posts something that is so spot-on to what you are going through at the very same moment, is a sister to you, and says it as well as you could, or maybe even better!, the only thing to do is post the whole canoodle on your blog.

So here it is, DANIELLE LAPORTE from whitehottruth.com on;

THE PERILS OF JUSTIFYING YOURSELF:

Me, you, or someone you know:
“I don’t want to do it anymore. I’m going to …”
Fill in the blank: Quit, sell it, leave, cancel, give it away, walk, resign.

That practical voice inside your head, well-intentioned friends, your granny: “Now, why would you do that?! It’s … (fill in the blank) good money, a great opportunity, you’ve worked so hard, what will you do without it? Can’t you work it out?

And you bite the hook. In fact, your psyche’s been hanging on it for quite sometime, gnawing on 101 good, practical, and perfectly reasonable reasons why you have the right to make the decision that you’re making. You know, rationalizing. Well how about this rationale:

It doesn’t feel right.

Stay there for a few seconds. It’s a very powerful place to be. It’s elegant. It’s clear. Declared feelings have sonic reach.

And… it can be very uncomfortable. Like the truth can often be before it sets you free.

I recently left a gig because it just didn’t feel right. I struggled with all of the yes, no, make adjustments, suck it up, expand your perspective, get more creative kind of options. A few people thought I was nuts to walk away. Great exposure, cachet, extra money… All true. The “facts” usually are.

I made the tastiest Excuse Sandwich about why it didn’t work for me. I need to find a baby sitter, it interrupts my week, it’s not what I signed up for, I need a haircut, I don’t like so and so or such and such, I need to focus on … All absolutely true. And in the grand scheme, in the greater gestalt of what I’m capable of, totally lame and absolutely surmountable.

If something felt right, I’d drive all night in a push-up bra to get there. When it really feels right, you go out of your way. When something feels right, you put inconveniences in their place.

THE CORROSIVE AFFECTS OF OVER-JUSTIFYING YOUR FEELINGS

JUSTIFYING YOUR FEELINGS:

  • automatically puts you on the defense. When you’re on the defense, you burn more energy. Rationalization can be incredibly inefficient.
  • over-complicates things.
  • perpetuates cleverness. Clever is not a good word in my personal dictionary. It rhymes with slick, manipulative, covert. When you’re trying to rationalize something that is very often amorphous and insular you’ll reach for smooth answers that you think people – or your subconscious – want to hear. And that makes you a salesman.
  • depresses your essential self. The more you load rationale onto your feelings, the more padding you create between you and your most powerful, unlimited resource. If you make a habit of keeping your instincts at bay, that tend to stay at bay.
  • makes you look and feel like a victim. In an effort to prove and protect, you make up reasons that appear to be more important than your refutable instinct. You whine. You nit pick the situation. You start sounding like the whimp you don’t want to be – instead of the hero that you essentially are. When the passion is there, so is the solution. No problem looks insurmountable when you’re turned on.

Of course, sometimes your greatness demands that you explain your reasons in no uncertain terms. Taking the time to explain yourself can be a fantastically creative act. If that’s what’s called for, then explain how you feel. Hold the excuses. Stand by your heart. Make it matter.





comparing

19 02 2010

Mynde Mayfield from myndemayfield.com wanted me to comment on comparing ourselves to other people. Her twitter handle is @myndemayfield

My short answer about comparing is that it’s ALWAYS a losing game.

So why do it? You’re never going to come out on top, so do yourself a favor and resist the temptation.

It’s human nature to always be checking ourselves. But there is another way. We can practice just allowing ourselves to be.

We can begin to practice letting go of the reference point of “other” to know we exist and are okay.

We compare ourselves to others to either feel superior or to feel like crap.

We like to feel superior so we can fortify against any soft spot we know darn well is there.

We like to feel like crap because there is some weird comfort in our little putrid cocoon of low expectations for ourself, and our victim story that goes round and round and gives us an excuse not to take responsibility for our lives.

If we feel like crap all the time and keep feeding that, we never have to take any risks, and never have to feel the bracing wind of vulnerability, or failure, or *gasp* success!

There are always going to be people doing things better than us, and doing things worse than us. The main thing, from my viewpoint, is to be as genuine as you possibly can in everything you are doing and to be fully present. My teachers have mentioned about a gazillion times to me, that those two things can bring you ALOT of happiness and contentment in life.

SECRET: there’s nowhere to get too. There’s no giant prize for being the best. We can just relax and enjoy the process of expressing ourselves fully and releasing our attachment to the outcome. Things don’t have to be perfect or masterful to be effective. Notice how AFFECTED we are by dogs and children. They certainly don’t know how to write well or market well or get a lot of followers on Twitter. But they are genuine and present and are doing the best they know how. It’s quite beautiful isn’t it?

Trust your own path.  A Buddhist teaching goes something like this; Better to walk your own path well than another’s poorly.





a reader’s questions answered on writing

18 02 2010

Kathleen Nolan asked a few questions on writing. You can find her at

http://alongerletterlater.blogspot.com

On Twitter @readwritecook

* Why is it so hard to write even when it is the thing I most want to do?

There are endless reasons, and some that are common to all writers and others that are specific to you. I can only answer the ones common to all writers, but I think each writer must answer for herself the specific why’s as to the difficulty of writing. Self-knowledge is an imperative for a writer. It’s my opinion that the extent that we know ourselves is the extent we can know our characters (in fiction), and other people (in non-fiction). You cannot be a really good writer without a whole bunch of looking inward, although people try it all the time, and in my opinion, the result is writing that is shallow or undeveloped and ultimately uninteresting.

Some of the common reasons; (I am a non-fiction writer so therefore am going to address that genre here)

-to sit in a chair alone not speaking to anyone for hour after hour is plain old difficult.

-Grace Paley once said in a workshop I was in that the state that writers need to be in to work, is the state that most people are paying therapists to get out of.

-writing in particular is an art form that creates something from absolutely nothing. We make worlds with little black marks on the page and they have to make sense, be emotional, and touch something universal as well as reveal something personal.

- the level of vulnerability is hard to live with.

*In your opinion, what makes someone a really good writer?

For me, there are three things that make someone a really good writer.

1. The amount of personal emotional processing that the writer has done in their own life with regard to the past.

2. Their voice (which is to say, their ability to connect with the reader)

3. Craft. The writer’s understanding of rhetorical frames, architecture of the piece, rhythm, editorial surgery, etc.–all the aspects of the craft of writing. (And there IS an actual craft to it, which is where many writers stop. It takes years of practice to learn the craft of something).

*How do you get your own writing done? Do you suggest a writing schedule?

I make many sacrifices in my life to write. it’s just the way it is when you feel you must pursue something. I know the Winter Olympic athletes understand, and I don’t view myself as any different from them, although I wish I could get a sponsor and have great sporty clothes to sit here and write in and look as strong and healthy as them.

Nothing gets done without setting up some kind of schedule and sticking to it. People get up early everyday and go to the gym, it’s the same thing. You must log many many hours at the desk of practice, and so because human beings tend to take the path of least resistance in most cases, a writing schedule can be very supportive if you tend to cast it aside when something else comes up. I view my writing as a job. I show up for it just like I would do for any job, the difference is, I really enjoy showing up to write.

*What are some of your favorite books on writing?

Mostly, I view books on writing as comforting, but none of them have gotten me writing. What has gotten me writing and where I HAVE LEARNED TO WRITE is from reading reading reading. I read like people drink water. I read everything I can find that may be of interest, inspiration and help. When I was first starting out, in the early 1990′s back in Palo Alto, California, I read Virginia Woolf and Ethan Canin and John L’Heureax and Annie Dillard and that’s how it started even though I have been writing consistently since third grade. Reading them made me want to make stories of my own, and I have always felt I have something to say through writing.

But here is a small list of some books on writing that I have read and have gained some useful insight.

Brenda Euland, So You Want To Write

Joyce Carol Oates, The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art

Stephan King, On Writing

Annie Lamott, Bird by Bird

Virginia Wolf, Moments of Being, and, A Writers Diary

E.M. Forester, On Writing

Hope those answers are a start. The main thing is not to let any voices stop you from getting to the desk and writing. That’s the main thing.









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