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Do, or do not. There is no try. (Jedi Master Yoda)

You know, there are few things in this life that irk me like folks who say they’ll do a thing, and then don’t do what they’ve said they will. There are few things that irk me like people who say that they’re trying – when they’re not.

I will be the first one to admit that I have exceedingly high expectations. Those start with myself, though. I expect nothing of others that I do not first expect of myself, and I hold no one to higher standards than I do myself. You can look at that two ways, I suppose. Either that I will be in a perpetual state of disappointment, or that I am in a constant state of expectation – which is really optimism, which is really faith.

I have an intense amount of faith in people. I believe in them. I believe the best about them. And yes, I am continually disappointed. And that’s okay. I had an interesting week, and I had some unique opportunities to have that faith affirmed in the most spectacular ways – ways which surpassed even my high hopes.

No matter how discouraged, disgruntled, disgusted, disappointed I have been by people, I have also been delighted, entranced, and bemused by them. I am often simply enamored by them.

I really do take a step back each time I find myself facing that disappointment, and figure out whether I am being fair or not. Sometimes I am being fair, and the only thing left in that case is to figure out how to call them on their transgression. Other times, I’m the one who’s being unreasonable – and if that’s the case, I’ll be the first one to say that I have been, and to apologize.

I have also reached a point in my life when I realize that my tendency toward high expectations is as much a part of me as the shape of my hands and the thickness of my hair. Ingrained, essential. And despite the frustration of being disappointed from time to time when people fall short of the mark I’ve drawn for them, I cannot be another way.

To stop expecting them to dazzle me with their brilliance, their kindness, their humor, their irreverence, their passion, is to stop expecting to be perpetually surprised by life and all that it holds. Because the thing is that so often, people exceed my expectations.

I really don’t see the point of ‘try’ – I’m no Jedi Master, but there really is doing a thing or not doing it. I can be straining and trying to lift a thousand pounds – but the fact of the matter is that unless I’m lifting those thousand pounds (doing it), I am not doing it. There is no try. And that applies to me, too. No, I’m not always clear on where I am with an issue, or how well I’m doing a thing (or how abysmally I’m not doing it). But I look at all of it, take it all in.

This week, I’ve been dazzled by the enormous potential for people to astonish me with their love, their generosity, their humility. And I’m inspired by it. I’m moved by it. My faith is invigorated by it, and renewed. Because I’ve seen folks out there not trying, but doing.

Oh yeah — May the force be with you. 🙂

 

 

Am I seeing it as a sign, because I want a sign and am looking for a sign? Or do I see it as a sign because it is a sign? I’ve always done this circular kind of questioning, this ‘which came first – chicken or egg?’ kind of wondering. Sometimes, though, I just allow a sign to be itself, and accept it, because it’s so fortuitous and timely and unquestionable that questioning feels like sacrilege.

When I first went to part time at my ‘regular’ job, in order to embark on the dream of being a Reiki Master Teacher offering her services at the shop, I went through a period of intense doubt (as do most people when they’ve made a change that feels huge). That day, standing outside of the office with my aunt, I watched a Strange Angel come to me with a sign.

I stood there, dumbfounded, as a woman popped out of a shiny black SUV and announced that she was the Mustard Girl. She told me how she’d left behind a life of certainty in order to start a new life as the purveyor of homemade and heritage mustards. How she’d doubted it could even really happen, but that now, she’s got accounts throughout the Midwest and a committed customer base, and it all happened because she’d been brave enough to ask an old man how to make mustard, and to follow where that passion led.

She glowed. She was so happy, so utterly in the moment, that she glowed. She handed each of us a few bottles of complimentary mustard, popped back into the shiny SUV, and went on her way. It was a ‘holy sh&#’ kind of experience. And it snapped me out of the miasma I’d sunk into – it stopped the little voice in my head. The one who dirges all day long, “Who are you to think you could do this?” A new thought replaced it – “If the Mustard Girl can do it, so can I!” A strange battle cry, to be sure, but it worked.

Seven months have passed since that fated sidewalk meeting with the Mustard Girl. Since then, a million things have happened, all of which led to me leaving my ‘regular’ job in order to take a chance on…. me, essentially. So, I gave notice, and I made plans, and I talked about it to everyone. And in the past month, it seems like each person that comes my way needs me to tell them what I need to hear most – that it is possible, that they can do it (whatever ‘it’ happens to be). They need me to be their Mustard Girl, and so I am.

This week is my first week away from that ‘regular’ job, and I am grateful for the way that it’s playing out – even though I wasn’t at first. I’d intended to revel in the freedom from that old routine and simply bask in the empty space left behind and let my creativity and juiciness bubble on up. Instead, I’ve spent the week minding the shop for Dani as she gets to revel in creativity, and homecoming, and a different kind of freedom. And I’m grateful to the Universe for setting it up this way, because it was good to give me something to do while I got used to the idea of having all that space and time and emptiness waiting to be filled with the longings of my heart.

I’ve spent some time second-guessing myself this week – hovering over or behind Wittler as he attempted to blow off steam in virtual pursuits (he’s a devoted World of Warcraft player). I mostly got non-committal grunts of assent or disagreement over the background noise of virtual people virtually exploding virtual targets. Even our most devoted cheerleaders get tired of the same routine when they’ve done it a few hundred times.

So, I left Wittler alone, and I made the bed each morning, and did the dishes and went to the shop. And I took care of business. And I mulled. And I pondered. Some of it was jubilant, if disbelieving – as though I were a dog that’d finally slipped its chain and didn’t know quite how to go about achieving all the things it had dreamed of doing. Some of it came from that crummy voice that mutters the nasty stuff, “I can’t believe that you thought you could make this work. You don’t even know the first thing about what you’re doing. You’re going to fail. You’re impractical. What made you think that you deserved this?”

Somewhere in between all of that, I came to the shop today and got down to business as normal. And then, it all slipped sideways. Dani always says, “Is it odd, or is it God?”

Was he a prophet, a soothsayer, a convenient pedestrian, a madman, a holy man, a sage, a way-shower? All those things? None of them? I don’t know. I looked up from what I was doing to see a brilliantly sunshine yellow shirt, and a key lanyard that said, “God is awesome” dangling in front of my eyes. He introduced himself as Artemus, and proceeded to tell me all about all of the ventures that he had going for himself – from advertising on the sides of dogs to helping others live their dreams to scouting out new talent. I kept waiting for the pitch.

He asked me what my dreams were. I told him, that ironically, I’d started to live them this week. I told him that I’d decided to leave the known behind and to do all of my “someday, I’ll’s” today. That I was going to build my Reiki practice, and that I intended to try really writing, instead of just playing at it. I wasn’t sure why I was telling all of this to a complete and total (and rather odd) stranger.

He turned to me and said, “Your time has come. The world will meet you.” And then he told me that he was looking for all sorts of things, one of which was love, and said, “I’m a revolutionary.” Then he thanked me, gathered up his dog advertising board and binder and left the way he came. And I stood there, bemused.

And I had that choke-y feeling at the back of my throat that I get when I listen to live music (which calls emotions from me with vibrancy and insistence). I felt like crying – in the good way, the grateful way. I let myself think about it a bit more – the yellow shirt made me think of the solar plexus chakra, our power center. Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, the female warrior, the protectress of women. “God is Awesome.” Indeed. Odd, all the way around.

Maybe I see signs where others see a slightly odd man, or a condiment peddler. Maybe I see just what I’m meant to see, when I’m meant to see it.

Whatever the reality or the truth of the situation may be, what I know and feel to be true is that when I stand there, mewling about my fears and getting bogged down in that feeling of undeservingness, I am sent a sign that is unmistakable and cannot be ignored.

Thanks Artemus. Thanks Mustard Girl. Thanks to all my Strange Angels.

 

 

One Alice chose to leap from the solid ground and follow the white rabbit, that’s when things got interesting. All the hesitating at the edge of the cliff? Everyone does that. It’s the leap that makes waves, makes changes, makes things happen. Creates the resounding ripple through the universe.

The past two weeks, I’ve felt the urge to mutter, “curiouser and curiouser,” hourly. Things have been really intense, and I retreated inward. I had a lot to process – about the decisions I’ve made –  emotionally, that I’d already processed mentally. Mental processing? Psssht! A snap. Emotional processing? Another matter, altogether.

It’s like I am finally able to sit back and see all the threads woven together now. Things that were coming to an end are buttoning themselves up, and resolution is everywhere. And all of that is GOOD. All of that is also accordingly intense.

I’ve been snappish like an old dog on a hot August day – testy, nasty, and plain-old no fun to be around. I’ve craved silence and solitude. I’ve longed for a hermitage somewhere, where I could go and let the wind blow through my hair, and the sun beam on my head, and let all of this stuff just assimilate itself into who I am today, now, in this moment.

The past two weeks, God (in infinite wisdom, I am sure) has taken the opportunity to make the things that are coming to an end SO uncomfortable that I am battered. And that’s okay. I know that the reason I need the battering is because I am so damn stubborn. I am learning, in no uncertain terms and in a way that I will actually remember later when I’m doubtful, why leaving this job is a good idea. Why it is an absolutely fabulously wonderful plan to go out on my own. Why it is so important, so necessary, to stop all my procrastination and dithering and just embrace the me I was always destined to be. Why it’s so damn important to just get on with it already.

The past two weeks have been bruising and horrid so that there was no way I could ever look back at this and fashion for myself some story of martyrdom – so that I’d always remember the honest gut-wrenchingness of it, and know that I made the right decision. So, I’m grateful. I’m applying salve to my wounds, but I’m grateful for the wounds.

The past two weeks have been liberally peppered with all sorts of affirmation, too – for every instance of negative reinforcement, for every single “Ouch! Quit it!” in the old situation, I’ve been given a balm that grows out of the new situation. People have come forward to tell me how wonderful it is that I am doing this (not what I was going for, but thanks all the same – it’s helped). People have affirmed my abilities. The universe has supported my plans with reinforcement from all angles. And I’m grateful.

I was not in this appreciative and magnanimous mood last night. Last night, I was a terror. I was annoyed, and short, and nasty to be around. I was mean to Jeremy, who did not deserve it, and mean to the cat, who never deserves it. I was not fit for polite company, and I was getting sick of myself and the mood in which I’d enveloped myself. So, I did something smart. I walked out the door, determined to return in a better frame of mind.

I walked out across the streets. It was dark, and cool and breezy. It helped to blow off the head of steam I’d built all day. It was quiet. I wandered down the alley behind the shop. I crossed “Love Bridge” behind the place where the farmers’ market is held, and I went to the river. I went to the water. I sat there, in the calm dark and I just listened to the river rushing past.

I brought my journal, thinking I’d purge some of this bleck out of me. The universe is wily and doesn’t pull any punches – as soon as I started recounting my day and bemoaning my state (whine, whine, cry, cry, poor me), my freaking pen died. I am like the best Girl Scout ever created – always prepared, except today. No extra pen. I had to laugh. I did laugh, out loud. Just me and the river and the biggest spiders I’d ever seen in my life.

So I walked around, and let the peace of it seep into my soul. I checked out the abundant and abnormally-sized arachnid population. I watched them at work. I watched them skittering back and forth, weaving patiently through the night, hoping that somehow (having faith) they’d benefit once all these strings had been drawn together. (If you knew me, you’d know that watching spiders usually gives me the heebie-jeebies. But these were outside spiders. That’s their house, and in their house, I’m fascinated by them. In my house, I’m terrified. Illogical, I know.)

I came home with a measure of peace. I hadn’t found a cure-all, but I’d soaked up some measure of solace. I could be nice. Mission accomplished. I could even laugh at myself.

And tonight, I started thinking about where I got all of the ideas for how life should go, and why – for me – certain things scream of “settling,” and why there’s something within me that just won’t abide it. Why I couldn’t just accept my lot, and be content with what I’d had. Why I’d so often felt like a square peg shaving away at its corners to try to squash itself into a round hole. And I remembered. Thoreau.

Thoreau’s writing has always really hit me where I lived. I couldn’t dismiss it the way I could other messages. It was always like he’d written it all, just for me. So I pulled it out, and I reread it – you know the one – THE passage that got to you. Everybody’s got one – if not Thoreau, someone else.

Here’s mine (bear with it, and remember, that the chaff cradles the good stuff):

To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

We must learn to reawaken and to keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour. If we refused, or rather used up, such paltry information as we get, the oracles would distinctly inform us how this might be done.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. (Thoreau, “What I Lived For,” Walden)

Thanks, Henry David Thoreau, for daring to be thought a nutter by everyone you knew. Thanks for writing it all down – all the discovery and the struggle and the enlightenment you found. Thanks for fanning that spark within me – that carpe-diem, seize-the-day, life-is-short, burn-brightly spark within me.

I’d rather be speeding down the rabbit hole into the unknown than standing on the edge, looking down and wondering ‘what if.’ I’d rather be hurtling into life, fully present and engulfed by the living of it than seeping away slowly. I’d rather be doing this than what ‘I ought to be doing.’

And every single time I doubt that, I am going to open that book and read that passage. Seize the day people – take chances, dance in public, go after what you want, wring out the pleasure from each moment. Be a brilliant flame. Light the way for others. Don’t look back. Grab your resolve, wry grin in place, and rush, headlong, deep into the moment.

 

 

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

 

Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter

Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 

Little darling, the smiles returning to the faces

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun

and I say it’s all right

 

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes…

 

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting

Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been clear

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,

and I say it’s all right

It’s all right

(George Harrison)

 

This is one of my rock-out-in-the-car-by-myself songs. Where I sing loudly (and badly), and dance a bit, and hope that no one’s really looking (and if they are, who really cares?).

This is one of my feel-good songs, my the-world-is-a-great-place songs, my every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining songs. And I should be listening to it on loop right now, because I need an infusion of that hopeful and bright energy.

Today is yet another overcast day. I am downright hungry for sunshine. Yesterday morning, as I blearily stumbled out of slumber, I blinked several times in confusion, as I tried to determine the source of the glow illuminating my living room…it was sunshine. And yesterday, I got a little taste of what we’ve all been missing, and I want more.

I want to shake off this malaise that’s been pressing down on me. I want to cast off this pall and get motivated to do something, go somewhere, change something, create something.

Prescription? The Beatles – obnoxiously loudly – sung at the top of my lungs until I believe the words I’m singing. Anyone care to join? All together now….

 

 

Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

By all accounts, I was one of those unsettling children who look out at you from a child’s face, but speak with a tone, confidence, and vernacular far beyond their years. I was what people tend to think of precocious in the classical sense, and not as a thinly veiled euphemism for too-worldly.

I have only ever known what it is to be precocious, and therefore, don’t exactly have the same perspective on many things that others (who weren’t quite as precocious) have. It is now, as an adult woman, that I look and see what that precociousness meant and what it wrought for me throughout my life. It is as I watch children and see them interact with one another, and watch them blooming “on schedule,” or “ahead of schedule,” or “behind schedule” with adult eyes. (Who determines these things, anyhow?)

In retrospect, I see my own journey with some clarity. (Can it ever happen any other way?) I can see how I tended to lack true peers – I could play the game well, and “fit in” with kids who weren’t quite at the level I was, but it felt like a lot of work. I could speak to adults with the maturity of one of their peers, but it came out of a child’s mouth and was often disregarded because of that – and I lacked the experiences of an adult, so that was one more barrier.

You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

I really wouldn’t say that I technically had a lonely childhood, but in some ways, that was very true. I realize now, that my love for reading and my passion for stories and books was partially inherent (I think we all come here with leanings toward talents and interests), and partially cultivated. I soon realized that having a book in front of your face gave you two things: a barrier and an excuse to not have to socialize, and something to talk about if you were made to interact.

When I was doing my student teaching internship, I happened to bump into one of my high school teachers. She remembered me instantly (having taught 168 kids a year, I now know how rare this is), and said that she remembered that I was never without a free reading book (again, having taught, I now know how rare this is).

Those books were my solace, my inspiration, and my shield. I was never really alone – I had a whole cast of characters holed up in my head. I was never really bored – even when I was stuck without a book, I could conjure one of the many stories I’d read to ponder.

I am going through the rest of the boxes I still have at my folks’ house, and I’ve come across some very old friends. I saved two things for last: my books and my genealogy research. Both are precious to me.

I share Einstein’s affirmation that anyone who is not lost on the rapturous awe at the power and glory of the mind behind the universe ‘is as good as a burnt out candle.’ (Madeleine L’Engle)

As I open these boxes, some for the first time in five years, I am transported. I remember the edition of Tom Sawyer that my mom’s parents gave us when I was about ten. I remember the huge, ponderous collection of Shakespeare’s Collected Works that my former mother-in-law gave me for my birthday one year. It has a maroon cover, and Bible-thin pages. I remember the copy of The Velveteen Rabbit my mom gave me shortly before I got married – a story that carries special significance in our house. The Bible my Aunt Margaret gave me for my confirmation. The canning books I bought when I thought it would be cool to make my own preserves (still planning on it, someday…).

The animal and plant guides I bought when I started to explore the complexity of our world… The poetry volumes I purchased as I discovered new voices… Philosophy… Spirituality… Religion… Life Sciences… My “Beach Reads”… Books from the Banned Books List… Classic Fiction… Eventually, I hope to have enough shelving to store / display them in some semblance of “order,” which will probably only make sense to me (which is fine, since I’m the one who’s into them all the time).

Then, this weekend, I came to some of my very old, very special friends. For Christmas, when I was twelve years old, my Uncle Dave gave me a series of books by Madeleine L’Engle, which I fell in love with. I’ve read my copy of A Wrinkle in Time so many times that I’ve loved the cover to smithereens. I promptly petitioned my parents for the rest of the series, and have read and re-read them repeatedly.

I am reading them again now, as an adult woman, whose precociousness, subsequent experience, and continually developing perspective, give me a new appreciation for the gift of them. These were the first books I’d read then, at twelve, that didn’t try to scrub the ugly things clean, in the way that so many people try to for children. They let the ugly be present, and they let the good and the beautiful be present, side by side, and gave the reader enough credit to make sense of it themselves.

Infinity is present in each part. A loving smile contains all art. The motes of starlight spark and dart. A grain of sand holds power and might. (Madeleine L’Engle)

L’Engle couched truths within fiction. I encountered God there, and science. I met with the age-old predicament of what I think of as can-or-should (as in, just because we can, does it mean that we should?). I entertained ideas of cosmic scope, and eternal reach, of infinite perplexity and infinite simplicity.

I lay on the couch last night, following Meg Murry through her troubles, her struggles, her challenges and triumphs. I walked along the path with old friends for a time, covering territory that felt familiar and brand-new at once. I spotted seeds of later-thought within the story – ideas that fueled the genesis of my spiritual questioning and my reasoning.

I lay there, at once twelve years old again, and brand-new to the world with all the wide-eyed optimism and belief in the possible – and at the same time, as I am now at 31 – older, a bit more cynical, a bit more hesitant, a bit more jaded, a bit less hopeful. I captured, for a bit, that sense of who I was when I’d read them for the first time – the wonder they awakened, the daydreams I embarked on, the debates they encouraged.

I like that girl I was, and there are days when I really miss her. In some ways, she was far braver then, than I am now (it helps when you don’t know all the facts of a situation, I suppose – it’s easier to talk myself out of things, or around them, now). Having got that sense of her – that essence of possibility and dreaming – I carry it forward into today. I marry it to my experience, and in that, I attempt to balance naiveté and experience.

I am grateful to Madeleine L’Engle for giving young readers enough credit, for having the guts to put it all on the page. I am grateful to Uncle Dave (and everyone else) for the gift of books – the gift of ideas, really. I am grateful to my parents for encouraging my precocity. I am grateful to my twelve-year-old self for having a courageous mind, and a questing heart, and an empathic way. I am grateful to have these thought-worlds to revisit, to rediscover, to recapture all the selves I have been. I am grateful, because they all contributed, and in this latest incarnation of self, I am especially pleased.

It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment, she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real. (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time)

 

I once had a garden filled with flowers that grew only on dark thoughts but they need constant attention & one day I decided I had better things to do.  (Brian Andreas)

At my “regular” job, my desk is directly next to a humongous picture window – and it is one of the few reasons that my day behind a desk is tolerable. I get a front seat to the doings and happenings out there, the comings and goings, the small dramas of mothers pushing toddlers or lovers hand-in-hand (or not as friendly, and therefore, more dramatic).

Most of these passersby don’t ever even notice I’m there. But every single morning, without fail, the elderly man who does outside maintenance for the company next door, walks by with his scoop bucket slung over his shoulder, and he waves. Every single morning. I wait for it – in my head he’s the scoop-shovel-man. I don’t even know his name. I know nothing other than that every morning, we share a wave and a smile – and that he’s an important part of my day because of it.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  (Leo Buscaglia)

I marvel at these moments when virtual strangers are able to connect and share something important – a small moment, a small mutual experience of being human. I tend to be something of a Pollyanna (I hope you all know who she was – Disney made a movie about her a loooong time ago, based on a 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter). According to Dictionary.com, a Pollyanna is an excessively or blindly optimistic person – I wouldn’t say that I am quite that extreme, but I make a real effort to see the sun peeking through the clouds on more days that not.

I don’t know if any of you have felt the energy shifting lately, but I sure have. It was funny – I was on facebook the other night, and one of my friends posted something along the lines of, “Is it a full moon or something? What a really weird, intense day!” I posted back, telling her that it was, in fact, the new moon that day, and those energies could be just as – if not more intense – than that of the full moon. Not sure what she made of that, but I hope her day went more smoothly, anyhow.

This shift links to something that keeps coming up for me in the everyday – a newer unwillingness to put up with things and people in my life who bring bad juju. And this brings me to the phenomenon of the Negative Nellies. A Negative Nellie is the antithesis of a Pollyanna. I am sick unto death of people who, when asked how they are, heave a deep and mournful sigh, and proceed to tell you how everything in their life is utter crap. Aack. Tired of it. These people leave a legacy trailing off behind them like a comet’s tail, too – but, instead of kindness, they sow sorrow.

When confronted with a Negative Nellie, don’t even think of mentioning the weather – this is one of their favorite whipping boys. If it’s a clear sunny day, it’s too bright; if you have a warmer day after a lengthy stretch of bitter winter, they’ll tell you how horrible it is that all the snow is melting and everything is wet. If you are in a ten-year drought, and the long-awaited rains have come, they’ll tell you how there is not enough rain, or too much, or the water just isn’t quite wet enough.

The dismal outlook of the Negative Nellie extends to literally every event, emotion, occurrence, or happenstance that could be conceived of by man (and some that haven’t yet). If you see a silver lining, they’ll find a spot of tarnish. And, lately, I find myself less and less willing to give them even a moment of my time – which presents me with a bit of a moral conundrum: I believe that one of the most important things we can be is kind, and I believe that there is good in every person (somewhere) – but then, I find myself wanting to absent myself from these folks who propagate and spread negative-vibes (which also eliminates some opportunities to show kindness).

I find myself unwilling to be subjected to or held unwilling captive to the Eeyore-ish moanings of these nay-saying doom-and-gloomers. So, I absent myself from their presence, from the conversation, and from the bubble of negativity that they cultivate & surround themselves with – and it made me feel just a bit guilty. Aren’t I supposed to be spreading sunshine and daisies wherever I can?

And then, I came across the following quote from George Eliot: It is good to be helpful and kindly, but don’t give yourself to be melted into candle grease for the benefit of the tallow trade. I had to read that a few times before the depth of her (George Eliot was a woman) message sank like a pebble into the still pond of my heart and rippled outward. How can I go on spreading kindness and a helpful hand if I allow it to be devoured by all and sundry? And, especially if I squander that energy on those who don’t WANT to think or see anything positively? (Depending on how you look at it, I either do the Negative Nellies a disservice by attempting to inject positivity into their contented discontent & melancholy – or, I make them deliriously happy: whenever I make a positive statement, they get the chance to spread negativity seeds with each rebuttal).

So, I think I’ve devised a new modus operandi – I will continue to extend kindness, politeness, courtesy, generosity, and compassion to all I meet – but, when I note the presence of an ‘event horizon’ surrounding these black holes of energy, I will pull back, retain my energy (and my integrity), and move on to offer the gift of my being to others (I realize that “gift of my being” sounds unbelievably conceited – but, I swear I don’t mean it that way – I see everyone in my life as a gift, so it’s hypocritical not to think of my self that way, too).

This new determination is all well and good, but I know there will be times when I slip into the maelstrom with the Negative Nellies and that’s fine – I’d rather take a chance with someone than squander the possibility of a wonderful interaction out of fear of being burned. I’ll just have to continually tweak my Nellie-o-meter.

What it comes down to, really, is this (said by those who’ve said it best):

Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.  (Author Unknown)

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. (Dalai Lama)

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Plato)

The other night as I was trudging up the colossal flight of stairs stretching up to our apartment, lost deep in thought, and laden with bags & belongings, an elderly gentleman who I’d seen around the building was making his way down. He has extreme difficulty walking – it takes him minutes to traverse what I can in a few seconds. He said something to me, which broke me out of my myopic fog, and I said, “Pardon?” And he says, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!” And I look about for a moment, uncomprehending – until I realize he means the fake grass thingie I’m carrying under my arm (it looks like the wrong end of a hula skirt all tied up). And I just started laughing!

My laugh is a booming, chest expanding one – I hold nothing back. And I said to him, “Have a good night, sir.” And he said, “Thank you. You, too.” And I got the feeling that he was thanking me for more than my well-wishes. I hope he knows that my laughter was a thank you, too – for a moment shared on the stairs with a stranger, who saw an opportunity to reach across the silence, and make a connection.

 

Try not to become a [wo]man of success but rather try to become a [wo]man of value.  (Albert Einstein)

I have never questioned the fact that I am here to be of service to others. I have, at times, questioned where the line between service to others, and disservice to self, lay. But, I have never for one moment believed anything other than that we are to be helpmates to one another. This whole concept has been popping into my screen for days now, and I find myself devoting a lot of time and thought to it. And then tonight, I read one of the blogs I follow, and her post drove it all home for me (http://bonesigharts.blogspot.com/2010/02/payments.html ).

I can remember a lot of times when my father gathered up his tools, and went to build something for one of his siblings. He never expected payment – he only knew that he had the necessary expertise, and willing hands. My mother has spent her life in service to others – to her family, to her extended family, to her friends, to her students. They cast a long shadow. Growing up, we were expected to do for others, and it was taken for granted that helping out is just what you do. Of the many gifts that my parents gave me, for this, I am the most grateful.

I went to Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and one of the pillars their entire educational philosophy rests upon is service. Each class seemed to include some service component – in the course of pursuing my degrees, I have done an intense amount of fieldwork and volunteering. And I can remember wondering, when some of my classmates would complain, and argue that there was no educational value in these experiences – if they could see no educational value in reaching out to their fellow human beings in friendship and kindness, what on earth did they believe we were doing here?

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. (Albert Schweitzer)

I am no Mother Teresa, I am no Gandhi, I am no great humanitarian. But, I look for the moments where I can be of service in the every day, in the small ways. The other day, I was on my way to lunch at work, and I saw a very elderly lady struggling to get her groceries from her cart and into her car. Without hesitation, I was there, like the stereotypical Girl Scout, with a “Can I help you with that Ma’am?” And she was really grateful. When I first saw her, she looked anxious and she was struggling – and when I walked away, she was smiling.

And afterward, I thought about the fact that I never even considered doing anything else. (I also thought about the fact that elderly people might be wary of offers of assistance, and that this was something that I was going to have to start taking into consideration, even though the entire reason for their wariness makes me intensely sad). And I realized that this was the kind of thing that makes life GOOD, and makes us feel GOOD about being here and being human.

Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves. (Helen Keller)

I’ve encountered all sorts of people who believe that we aren’t here to be of service to others, that God expects nothing from us, and that we are only here to experience happiness. I find that a hard bite to swallow. I find that line of thinking impossible to believe – if that is true, then I am bereft and adrift. If that is true, then why do anything?

I think what I am really getting at here is the concept of empathy. Of being able to feel what it is like to walk another’s path, and to reach out to them based on that understanding. I have always been an insatiable reader, and when I read, I joined those worlds, became those characters – I struggled with them, wept with them, laughed aloud with them. I sank into the experience of what it would feel like to be them. I think that this is what has really helped me grow my already empathic nature.

If you have empathy for someone, you have compassion for them – you reach out to them in a way that preserves their dignity, and honors the bond we share as living beings. This is different than pity – pity puts you on a pedestal, and others somewhere beneath you. Compassion is one person reaching out to another laterally, and with detachment.

In Milwaukee, a twenty-one year old man was shot and killed by the young men who were attempting to rob him, because he had no money to give them. They shot him in the back as he fled. At the trial, one of them turned and grinned at the murdered boy’s parents, as if to say, “This doesn’t touch me. None of this affects me. I have no remorse.”

One of my coworkers was set upon on his way home from work by a group of six young men, and they attempted to beat him – when he wouldn’t go down, they ran off. When they were caught and questioned, they said that they did it because they were bored. Things like this happen every day, and I cannot understand how or why. If these attackers could empathize with others, they would not do these things, because they would know that to hurt another is to really hurt yourself.

Great and wonderful acts of generosity and kindness and compassion happen every day, too – large and small acts of service, performed out of empathy and compassion. That is what I choose to focus on. That is what I choose to spread along my path. The final Reiki Principle states, “Just for today, count your blessings and be kind to every living thing.” This is one of the easiest for me to follow (not always the count my blessings part, but I’m working on that!). This is the one that I wish was indelibly tattooed on my forehead. This is the one that I want to permeate my being – and the one I most want to spread to others.

So, this week, I plan to make a special effort to honor myself by honoring others. By looking for all the quiet moments where I can be of service. By setting my foot soundly on the path with purpose.

Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile. (Albert Einstein)

‘Nuff said.

  

Man, this week is off to a rough start. I don’t know what’s worse — that my case of the Mondays leaked into my Tuesday, and is threatening to infect my Wednesday, or that I’ve had a pounding, crashing, pinching, blinding headache for as long. That’s a lethal combination, and I suspect both conditions feed off of one another… Hmmm…

It just feels like the Universe has been sending all sorts of “old” stuff my way — situations I thought I’d resolved, relationships I’d thought I’d dissolved, transgressions I thought I’d absolved. Every which way I turn, it feels like there’s something lying in wait, with bated breath, poised for the perfect moment to pop up in ninja-like fashion to throw me off my game. With a yelp and a shaky, “Well, hello there, didn’t expect to see you here,” I set off to figure out how it fits into a pattern of prior behavior, and to ascertain why (why, God, why) this is coming up for me again.

I’m starting to see how it all comes down to choices — I’ve made some very deliberate and clear choices in the past six months that were definitely life-altering (for the better) and which were far more in alignment with who I am and who I am choosing to become — and it’s almost like the Universe is saying, “Well, Carolyn. Let’s see if you meant what you said. Let’s see how much you mean what you said….” and sets me on a collision-course with a situation that is designed to make me choose between honoring myself or devaluing myself.

I find myself muttering, “Just for today, I will not be angry… Just for today, I will not worry…” a lot. I really feel like adding this to the Reiki Principles, in capital letters, bold-face print: JUST FOR TODAY, I WILL HONOR MYSELF. I think I will add it, actually (even though, if you adhere to all of the other tenets, you do honor yourself, it does me good to have that unequivocally stated).

The choices I’ve made up to this point have led me inexorably to this place, this specific square-foot of toe-bitten dirt on my path. I’m rather attached to this spot. Getting to this place demanded work, struggle, and shedding of that which no longer served me. It required me to look long and hard about stories I’d adopted or written that were designed to excuse things which I should never have accepted. It required me to rewrite those stories, and recast the characters.

It made me take a closer look at the plot — and how I wanted the main character (me) to grow and develop. How I wanted her to shine with the brilliance of the sun, instead of dimming her light to avoid standing out. How I wanted her to embrace all of her shining facets, her talents, her voice, her strength, her compassion, her creativity. How I wanted her to look at herself in the mirror and see herself as a moon-kissed dreamer, a bespectacled organizer, a goddess of both creative and destructive power, and to see herself as all of these things at the same time, and as more than them.

Just for today, I will honor myself.

Just for today, I will say no to others, so that I can say yes to me.

Just for today, I will break away from old patterns which no longer serve me.

Just for today, I will see myself shining with the possible.

Just for today.

Each fumbling step on this crooked path is fraught with peril and possibility. But I believe that I am supported. I believe that the choices I’ve made to this point have led me exactly where I am meant to be. I believe that I have the power and the strength to encounter these old foes and come out the victor. I believe that I have the wisdom and the power to make new choices which honor my becoming-self.

Tomorrow is a new day (a Wednesday, I hope) glimmering softly with the promise of new challenges, and new blessings. Tomorrow is a new day in which to practice my newly-amended creed, a new opportunity to find ways to honor myself.

 

Faith is reason grown courageous. 

Sherwood Eddy

I have always struggled with my faith. I struggle with the very idea of faith – much less putting faith into my life as a practice. I was raised to believe that God helps those who help themselves – and I come from a family of hard-working, do-it-yourselfers, to whom asking for help is anathema.

I remember in college, reading about Dorothy Day – a socialist reformer turned devout Catholic. I really connected with her story, because at one point in her narrative she says, “I could not go to God on my knees.” She could not conceive of surrender – the idea that she must do for herself, that she was the only one on whom she could reliably depend, was too ingrained. She struggled, and eventually she came to a point where she was able to have faith.

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.
St. Thomas Aquinas

I remember that one sentence, out of all of the things that we had to read for that class. I could not go to God on my knees: I could not arrive in supplication; I could not allow myself to rely on that which was outside of myself; I could not have faith.

In recent years, this struggle has come to the forefront for me. I do believe in God – one who is loving, forgiving, patient, etc., etc. I do believe in mystical experiences, I do believe in miracles. I do believe that God has the power to and the ability to intercede in people’s lives. I guess the problem might be that I have a hard time conceiving of that God ever noticing me enough to intercede in mine?

Whatever my hang-ups, of late, I have been presented time and again with situations that demand my faith, first – and then what I long for materializes. Maybe that doesn’t sound difficult, but it is for me. And, I find it ties into what I am facing on my path to mastery: if you have faith, you do not worry; if you have faith, you can honor others; if you have faith, you have no need for anger. Aack.

In honesty, I long to have the kind of faith that would leave me with the certainty and security of knowing that, like the lilies of the field, I will be provided for. I long to have the sensation and knowing that I am held in the palm of God’s hand – safe, loved, and protected…treasured.

I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about this. I am trying to discover how to bend, to trust, to allow – instead of being so stubborn, so myopic, so determined to do it my way. Especially since when I do let go of the need to control, things FLOW – things go perfectly, and I am cared for – things materialize, and I have to struggle so much less than when I try to do it all on my own.

Faith is not trying to believe something regardless of the evidence; faith is daring something regardless of the consequences.
Sherwood Eddy

It seems like such a small cost, doesn’t it? Just have a little faith, and invest that faith. For me, that is like asking me to hand over limbs. It’s so safe here, behind my intellect and reason – so safe trusting in only me; no one can disappoint you if you never give them the opportunity to do anything for you. It’s also a very lonely and isolating way to live. One of my refrains is that “I am tired of feeling like Atlas – I am tired of holding up the world.” It’s exhausting to never trust anyone enough to allow them to do things for you – it’s bone-wearying to try to be the God force of your own life.

Along with the soul searching, I have been trying to put my faith into action in my life. I actually used to be rather good at this, but I also used to be very optimistic, and kind of naive. Then, I went through a divorce, and all of that changed for me. I became much more skeptical and cynical – much more negative, and so unwilling to allow people into my sphere, my trust, enough to disappoint me. At that time in my life, I just couldn’t take anymore disappointment. I would have rather been driven to my knees by the sheer weight of the world, rather than bend them willingly in faith.

If I purport to be actively walking on a path to mastery, then I cannot allow myself to continue this faithlessness with consciousness, and I recognize the need for a shift. The question is how? How to willingly bend, how to let go control? How to master the fear that relinquishing control creates? How to have faith that I can allow it all to fall out of my hands, and into God’s?

I have been presented with some very strong lessons in this in the past year (a kind of wonderful-terrifying, fabulous-frightening year). Situations kept coming to the forefront. On the one side, I stood there, with a white-knuckled grip on things, and deeply unhappy. In order to obtain the things I deeply wanted, I came to see that the only way to get from here to there was to have faith, and to take a leap – a nigh impossible task. The fact that I did it at all is due to the fact that I cannot stand the idea of being a hypocrite (I’m always telling people to take risks and really live their lives – how can I do less?) and that the potential happy outcomes were beyond enticing.

Faith is courage; it is creative while despair is always destructive. 

David S. Muzzey

The most confounding part of all of it is that I have had burning bush moments – times in my life when I knew without a doubt that I walked with the Divine, that God was a presence and active force in my life. I have seen the joys born out of having faith in that Divine wisdom and will and power, and experienced them firsthand. So, why is it so hard to bend to that faith time and again?

All of my questioning, all of my soul-scouring searching, all of this struggle . . . and at the end of the day, I must face the fact that I already know what I must do – get out of my own way, get out of God’s way, and allow. To stand in the knowledge that faith has moved mountains in my life – and that if I can relinquish control long enough, my entire reality could shift.

Namaste,

One Seeking Faith

Choice_by_vladstudio

 

At some point in the past year, one of my friends mentioned that there was this site out there on the world-wide-web called “fmylife.com,” where people could go to post about their ridiculous and outrageous misadventures, the twists and turns of fate, and the crappity things that happen to them.

Being an intrepid web-traveler, I figured I’d give it a shot. Posts ranged from the truly horrific and tragic to the whiney, superficial, and dramatic. I came, I read, and initially, I sat there in sympathy and commiseration with these anonymous unfortunates.

I felt encouraged to focus on all of the small annoyances in my own life, and to mull over the larger tragedies – and then, to just sit there…in that. Not terribly healthy. And then, I realized that wading through this effluvia had an undesirable and marked effect on me – it dragged me down into the slushy muck of self-pity with them. I’m fully aware of how easy it is to slide off the path and into this mire on my own, and I don’t want that kind of encouragement, thanks. I haven’t gone back to their site.

Some weeks later, I stumbled across a site started in response (and perhaps rebuttal?) to FML, called Givesmehope.com (GMH). Instead of posting all of the ways their lives have been fouled up, people write about all of the wonderful, touching experiences they’ve had, heard about, or witnessed – all of the times, ways, and shapes in which they’ve encountered the love of the Divine here on earth.

As I read through the many posts, a lump grew in my throat, and I found myself tilting my head back in order to blink my tears away. Generally, I am not one of those gals who cries at refrigerator commercials and stuff, so I was a little surprised at how affected I was. And, then, insidious, a small voice in the back of my mind murmured, “It’s probably all made up…people don’t do that for one another…what tripe…can’t believe you’re swallowing this ridiculous twaddle…don’t believe it…” and so on and so forth. This “loop” brought me up short and gave me a lot to ponder.

Why did I have such an easy, effortless time believing the negativity posted on one site, and such a hard time believing the optimism on another? And…why did I care if it were true or not? Each post on the GMH site reflected someone’s willingness to believe in compassion, love and unconditional kindness – and that, I decided, was the true thing; Their willingness to believe in goodness.

I started to think about all of the hopeful moments on my own journey, all the times I chose love over fear, all the strangers who’ve extended me love or kindness without expecting anything in return. And then I felt it – that glow, that feeling of utter connectedness to everyone and everything – that sense of knowing that what you foster within yourself, you offer to the world, whether you know it or not.

And, I could see how these two websites symbolized one of the most eternal choices we are given; to choose to live in love and foster love, or to live in fear and spread fear. Every moment of every day of our lives, we are presented with choice.

On Sunday, my only day “off,” I was rushing around, hurried and harried, and growing increasingly crabby, as I tried to get a whole mess of chores and stuff done, so I could get to my folks’ to do our laundry. In my myopic state, I could only see all that I had left TO DO. I was getting into my car in the parking lot of the last store, when an old man parked next to me and said, “It looks like you’re leaving home!” I burst out laughing – I carry loads of stuff with me all of the time and my fiancé, my dad, and my grandpa have said that to me pretty much every time they see me. The old man’s interest and concern snapped me out of my funk, kept me laughing all the way to my folks’ house, and GMH.

It’s so easy to lapse into fear and the negativity that fear breeds – “I have so much to do…how will I ever get all of this done…why is this all on me….” etc., etc., etc. I’m grateful to the Universe for all those “wake-up” moments that remind me that I have a choice here – love or fear.

For your daily dose of optimism, visit:

http://www.givesmehope.com/

(Founders of givesmehope.com, Gaby Montero and Emerson Spartz, say “We’re tired of hearing about what’s wrong with this world…who couldn’t use a few more reasons to hope each day?”)

Come have a look through my kaleidoscope eyes. Come walk with me, as I make my way down the Path of Mastery (complete with fits and starts and pitstops and potholes). Our very impermanence is what makes us burn so brightly, and struggle so valiantly, and feel so deeply – it’s what makes us seize the day, and the moment. Come in, settle in, share a moment with me.

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"Who are YOU?" said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, "I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then." (Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 5)