Friday, October 30, 2009


I recently watched The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, which was part of our Netflix queue. My husband had seen it before, but I had somehow missed it and still wanted very much to see it.

Robert S. McNamara is a rather fascinating individual, as is his place in U.S. and world history - particularly with regard to foreign policy and military actions.

The eleven lessons in the title refers to a series of truths McNamara feels he has come to as a result of his years as Secretary of Defense; all deal with war.

The only one I struggled with was #9. McNamara states:

"In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil."

McNamara links this to the concept of responsibilities and duties as a world power, as well as national ideals or philosophies we may hold as a country. He emphasizes one must be as minimally evil as possible in one's pursuit of good, but he offers a sort of ends-justify-means argument here that smacks against some of my core beliefs about our larger responsibilities to one another as human beings regardless of geographic affiliation or national identity.

Perhaps it is incredibly simplistic to suggest one should never counter evil with evil, but it seems doing so must be inherently hypocritical and fundamentally ineffective.

A simple example. My child hits me. She is angry; wants to express that anger, so she hits. Now... I have the option to respond in a number of ways to help her learn that hitting is not an acceptable way to communicate one's needs to other people (i.e., hitting is wrong).

If I choose to hit her in response - exert my power (which is greater) over hers in order to use an authoritarian technique - then I have actually not taught her anything. I have used a corporal method, which is temporary, to exact obedience.

In other words, I can't hit my child to show my child hitting is wrong. Bandura's social learning theory backs this up, because we humans learn through observing/modeling the behavior of others (especially others who are significant in our lives). And so... my responsibility actually lies in choosing actions of response that align more firmly with my core values (e.g., compassion, kindness, mutual respect, etc.).

My guess is, if we were to peer into the hearts of most people... no matter where they might reside... they would end up being pretty similar. Just as so many religions and spiritual philosophies are, at their core, strikingly similar in their foundational tenets.

There is a quote by Shakespeare (via Marc Antony in Julius Caesar), that augments McNamara's:

"The evil that men do lives after them."

So does the good. Thus, it seems to me, McNamara's point strikes upon the very essence of building a legacy - individually, as a society, as a species. What do we want to live after us?

The reason this strikes such a clear chord with me... the reason I've been thinking about the movie and that specific lesson for about a week now... is connected to my grandfather.

Paw-Paw (my childhood name for him) served in WWII. He never, in my presence, discussed the war, his actions in it... anything. I knew he had served, but never realized where he had been stationed or what he had been doing.

And then he passed away... and then - many years later - my grandmother did as well. And suddenly we found a treasure trove of WWII artifacts he had kept and hidden away. Newspapers, medals, ceramics, pins, flags, uniforms.

And Nazi items as well. Swastikas ripped from shirts and coats, Nazi pins and buttons, a German dagger, a metal frieze of Hitler.

Evil. Elements of evil, sitting in my grandparents home, tucked in a box high up on a shelf in the downstairs bathroom - surrounded by fading contact paper and dust bunnies.

How did he get them? Who had they belonged to? Why did he keep them? What had he done to get them?

I don't think of my grandfather as an evil man, but the discovery of all those items changed my perception of him. Changed the way I thought about him, understood him. It changed his legacy.

And I have never questioned WWII - its purpose, its necessity. I question some of the aftermath of that war and the atrocities that can be laid at our feet. I question some of our tactics. And I often think about how it shapes our legacy, as a nation.

Evil exists. It has many names, many faces, many ways of being expressed in the world. And it's antithetical to our truer natures to think it should not be answered in some way. But perhaps not in its own guise, with its own face. Evil + evil just equals more evil.

May you consider your legacy today and what you leave behind in the wake of every moment.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


On Tuesday, I began an introductory meditation course at the Chicago Zen Buddhist Temple. It's a location I have long admired, and I even included it in an article I wrote long ago for Centerstage Chicago.

I love the space... and my husband was once a member there back when he practiced Buddhism more regularly. I figured it would be a good thing to incorporate into my life right now, and I also thought it wise to check out the temple and see if this might be a good spiritual home or at least a place of learning for right now.

One of the things our instructor taught the first night was the Buddhist concept of dual nature (sort of a yin/yang thing)... the idea being we all have beauties and uglinesses (light/dark, positive/negative, good/bad) within us. We fail, make mistakes, do great things, show incredible compassion... it's all there. Each of us with our own blend and ratios.

The idea behind concentration meditation (which is what we are learning) is apparently to let those two sides reside together—without hanging onto either one. The mind keeps going... our light and dark sides rise to meet us as we attempt to find a place of peace and quiet... but we just keep focusing on being in each moment. Each breath. Sort of like those time-lapse images where the sky whirls past, but the mountains, trees, and earth just stay steady... doing their thing.

One thing I've noticed to the point of really noticing it this week is my need for validation. I think it has many shades and hues... maybe it's a self-consciousness expressed through my need to wear make-up or dress up when I go out in public, maybe it's the twinge I feel when no one provides feedback on my work, maybe it's feeling like it's been forever since so-and-so answered my email or that I've been waiting for thisperson to get back to me because I am afraid to move forward without their response.

I have started coming face-to-face more openly with my insecurity lately. Started to look it more squarely in its anthropomorphized face and see if I can begin to discern details or detect idiosyncratic quirks that might lead to greater insight.

My husband and I often talk about the famous quote: What would you do if you knew you could not fail? (attributed via a google search to Robert Schuller).

Lately... I've been thinking about adding some more pointed questions to my personal arsenal:

  • What would you do if you knew no one was watching?
  • What would you do if it didn't matter whether anyone cared?
  • What would you do if no one was ever going to say a thing about it?
  • What would you do if no one else's opinion of your actions mattered?
Because, you see, it's easy for me to choose right action (usually) when no one is looking. That one's simple. What I find difficult is deciding what to do when everyone is looking. Or at least when my actions are visible to people in my life whom I have deemed most important: family, friends, colleagues, mentors, etc.

I have noticed I am so concerned about validation I sometimes struggle to determine where I end and my conception of me-in-relation-to-others begins.

My big ah ha a little while ago with regard to my stuff was realizing I defined myself via what I possessed: books, music, clothes, items from other countries, antiques... the list goes on. While this has much to do with attachment and ego, it also segues nicely into validation - my sense of self was based (at least in part) on my imagined belief of what certain items meant to others and therefore said about me in response.

This is so circuitous and ridiculous and based on assumptions instead of actualities that it sort of boggles my mind and is rather difficult to articulate. Yet, in my recent quest to become more aware of my propensity toward validation-seeking actions and my challenge to myself to determine what is authentic and what is manufactured, I have started to strip things away... little by little.

Career paths

You name it... it's all on the chopping block. Everything gets scrutinized lately in an effort to sort between what is truly a source of happiness in my life and what is instead an empty thing resembling happiness but actually internally hollow and bereft of personal meaning.

Yuck. It's not fun. It really hurts sometimes. Some days feel exhausting and lonely... and sometimes, I've noticed, I get so tired I just want to throw in the towel and go back to my familiar, comfortable patterns. Let's buy stuff, let's just eat, let's get attention, let's fish for compliments.

One last nugget of wisdom our teacher shared on that first night: practice is work. Obvious. But sometimes we forget that pushing ourselves to keep growing and evolving as people requires a tremendous amount of effort, and an even greater level of commitment.

May you feel genuinely worthy and beautiful today, without thought of external acquiescence. May you push beyond the boundaries you believe to be the end - so that you truly surprise yourself.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I tend to do my blogging while my daughter is napping. It's a period of quiet in my day, it's a more meditative time in general, and I tend to look forward to it quite a bit.

I had a sense of what I wanted to say today... was sort of "writing" segments in my head all morning as I chewed on the concept of gratitude. And then I put Ari down. It's been 90 minutes, and she is still not asleep. Instead, we are doing quiet time during which she can play, lie down, color, sing, etc. - while Mommy gets some work done and has her own quiet time.

The important element of this setup connects to my emotional state during the last 90 minutes. My emotional state, in fact, as Ari has just come out of her room and announced she needs to use the bathroom.

Earlier, I had been crying. Sad, but true. I was angry, sad, disappointed, feeling suffocated. All those things that go along with the difficult times of motherhood/parenthood where your ego and attachment and darknesses get the better of you.

I was so sad to lose my time... all the things I had planned to do during the 2 hours I normally have to myself in the afternoons. It was a matter of being attached to some very specific expectations (and the tailspin following the thwarting of said expectations). And - the real lesson and opportunity for practice - my actions and perspective in response.

So... it is still possible to feel gratitude and to write about gratitude today - despite being earlier derailed by my inability to maintain peace of mind and go with the flow. I am very grateful for my daughter. She is equal parts the greatest gift of my life and the greatest challenge at times, and her presence has required me to grow in ways I never anticipated.

Cultivating gratitude seems to be present in many major religions and spiritual paths. Some talk about it in other terms, some connect it to a larger purpose or a theistic framework, but many of them emphasize the necessity and impact of being able to feel and give thanks for the blessings or joys of your life.

Constructivist theory and narrative therapy tie into these concepts, which aligns with the Buddhist approach of maintaining peace of mind and cultivating a grateful heart, because it is in our perception of events that our emotional state lies.

In other words... the meaning we make of events, people, places, things, our history, our desires, the day-to-day ups and downs we all experience ultimately become how we characterize our lives. The way you write your story... or tell your story to others... or think of it in your head... is linked to how you view yourself and your life.

Tragedy? Comedy? Love story? Full of conflict? Satirical? A story of peace? Boundless joy?

How many of us can describe our days as truly joyful? I started paying special attention a while back to the way I answer the question, "How are you?" I had noticed I tended to narrate a sort of bleak, down, or at least somewhat dull and ambiguous tale in my responses. I was communicating to others my loneliness, unhappiness, restlessness, etc. through a sort of passive aggressive form of storytelling in which I was constructing a tale of a woman who is never quite free... never quite elated or at peace.

Which is not really true. I mean, it can be true, if I let it be so. But that is but one story... and one that most often I tend to feel is not actually accurate. It's sort of like an old costume I put on because it's familiar and comfortable and I know where to find it.

So. Gratitude. Gratitude is connected to the narrative we create for our living. It is linked to our perception and our meaning-making... in every moment. Long-term, short-term, any-term. Little pains, big pains... all kinds of suffering. We make meaning of those pains, and we can choose to see anything from an angle that affords the possibility for gratitude.

Today my daughter is not sleeping. My opportunity for practice happened to be the work of calming myself down, noticing the expectations I held for my afternoon and the emotional disruption I experienced when those expectations (to which I was very attached) were not met.

Instead of investing in a narrative fraught with poor me messages, it's instead a chance to construct meaning from my inability to stay calm and let go. It's an opportunity to think about how I am using my time, how my daughter and I communicate, how our days are structured.

It's also possible to see it as a time of great change and excitement. She is growing up! She's nearing a time when a daily nap will no longer be the norm. This brings new challenges, but also new opportunities and freedoms. And the bottom line is - I still marvel in her as a person. I relish who she is as a human being. A missed nap should not eclipse those feelings of gratitude and wonder.

The picture above is not the one I intended to take. I was planning to sneak in while the bunny was sleeping and take pictures of her sweet little napping face. But we wrote a different story today; one that requires a different image.

May you experience a sense of gratitude for the positive things in your life. May even the seemingly negative concerns provide an opportunity to re-write your story and find more peace.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I started reading a book recently by Thomas Bien (Ph.D.) called Mindful Therapy: A Guide for Therapists and Helping Professionals. It's the second book I've read for pleasure since finishing grad school (the first being The War of Art).

Although I am making slow progress, it's already afforded a little nugget of wisdom I've been turning over in my mind for the last week or so.

In the introduction, Bien talks about the distinctions we make between selfish time and time for others. This translates many ways... compartmentalization so many of us engage in using various labels. What I want to do versus what I have to do... me/my time versus his time her time time, their time. Freedom versus obligation.

He suggests this act of delineation (which is a process of labeling and attachment) actually reduces our ability to be mindful and present in whatever time we are using. We name it and pre-conceive the meaning we assign to those actions, and thus we are unable to truly be in our daily living and experience it authentically.

Of course, I'm paraphrasing here and he's much more eloquent in his explanation. But that's how I made sense of it and folded it into all the other lessons that overlap with this concept.

There is a concept in Buddhism, as best I understand it so far, about zen instruction. Essentially, the idea is that any teaching (be it a person, a book, a blog, a conversation, a meditation, etc.) is a "finger pointing at the moon."

Which is to say... the truth is not in the instruction, it's in the individual's understanding of the lesson to which the instruction is pointing. The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon itself... it may show you the way to look to see the moon, but you will not truly know moon until you have stopped looking at the finger and seen the moon.

My clearer understanding of Bien's words come in applying them to my experience, primarily in the present, as a mother, wife, pet owner, artist, and colleague. I noticed, as soon as I read those words, that I had been separating my time in many areas of my life, rather than experiencing it all as my life - interconnected, whole, and filled with opportunities for mindfulness at all points.

  • Things I do for me versus things for my husband and daughter.
  • Time when the bunny is awake versus times when she is sleeping.
  • Chores versus pleasures.
  • Grunt work versus fun work.
  • Selfish time versus obligatory time spent on shopping and cooking and bill-paying.
  • Time writing everything down ahead of time to get it okayed instead of just being able to go and do.
  • Walk the dog versus sleep in bed undisturbed.
It's been a true challenge, even in the last few days, to try and eliminate those categorizations from my thinking. To stop labeling and defining my experience as dichotomous and instead try to be present in and enjoy every moment... to value each action, each use of my time, and see it as fruitful. I think too often I throw my time away - even when I'm in it! - because I am busy wishing it was being used differently.

This not only shortchanges my experience of those moments, but it also gives less to those around me - ensures they do not have my full presence and attention in my interactions.

So... my act of mindfulness lately has been a continued practice of noticing when I am "assigning" my time - naming, labeling, compartmentalizing. There is no good or bad, no right or wrong, no happy or sad... should I choose it.

If I can see all my time as valuable and connected to my practice of mindful living, then it will all be. Just as it should. Without a seeming struggle between positive and negative affiliations.

May you embrace all of your living today. May even the seemingly most mundane of activities bring you an opportunity to learn and be closer to joy.

Monday, October 26, 2009


My husband is my dharma buddy. Not that I study the dharma at present, nor does he. But he's still my buddy and he still helps me find my way. So it seems a fitting term.

One thing he continually helps me remember is the ridiculousness of pre-worry. Pre-worry, as we discuss it, is the stuff that overtakes you before you even really know what's going on. It's the flights of fancy and panic your mind takes... the tightness in your chest that is ultimately linked to your imagined series of outcomes, rather than actual, tangible outcomes. It's a smoke screen... a neurotic response... a spinning of one's emotional and mental wheels - fruitless and messy.

I am very good at pre-worry. One might even say I am a master pre-worrier. I have imagined conversations in my head; see whole scenes of ramifications, conflicts, triumphant arguments, and dismal failures that unfold like narrative torrents.

Here is what I have learned about pre-worry: it never helps. Never. It has never been a positive, productive, present kind of response in any situation.

So... today, when trying to do some proactive legwork on the phone with my insurance company as I struggled to locate a good retina specialist in the area, I was afforded yet another opportunity to work on curbing my propensity toward pre-worry.

I was told there were no specialists in my area. Which meant any appointments (which I need, at this point, yearly to follow up on my eye surgeries) would be considered "out of network." It also meant any emergency surgery (which is a possibility... a 5% possibility for each eye, I think... maybe higher on the left because that one didn't actually fall off all the way - so it still could) would be considered "out of network."

Panic! scream my insides. And thus begins the pre-worry. I cry for a bit. I text Andy we need to talk at lunch. We discuss our options.

After my initial panic and crying... I do manage to calm down. I manage to stay mobilized... which, at this point in my learning curve is progress. I re-check everything... which leads to the location of one specialist, two hospitals where surgeries would be covered, and an appointment for my yearly check-up at the end of November.

And in the wake of this wee emotional roller coaster, I am thinking again about the larger lesson provided by such worry cycles. Though it might be argued worry is a form of caution and might therefore make us more attuned, more wary, and more able to handle stress... it might also be said it's a waste of adrenaline, leaving us - at best - exhausted from the ravages of panic or - at worst - paralyzed and inactive.

All in all, this was a rather gentle lesson about in living in the present moment. It's a touchstone to hang onto when I get too anxious about my eyes. Really anything. I must ask myself: Do you know the answer yet? (No.) Then why get all worked up about something that is not really true? (Um...) Has the future you imagined actually come to be? (No.) Then stop. Stop investing in unreality.

May you be free from worry today in any form. And, if you do worry, may you see the present reality clearly so you can continue to move forward.

Friday, October 23, 2009


I don't know about you, but I have been thinking - really thinking - about ego a lot as of late. I mean, A LOT. Maybe because mine thwarts me so. Maybe because it's at the crux of a very important lesson I need to learn. Maybe because it's a term of popular parlance in modern culture and seems to pop up all the time in the most banal places.

Whatever the reason, it's been haunting me lately. Showing up in my readings, my television shows, my morning news.

You see, I had always understood ego as the prideful side of me. The haughty, snooty, all-too-important, give-me-a-pony side rooted in childhood yearnings and unfulfilled wishes. But it has only been recently that I have also begun to recognize ego as the insecure and cowed side of me as well. The broken, dark, hopeless side convinced of failure and eager to point out moments of stupidity or ugliness in order to reinforce an imagined need for anonymity.

I guess ego can go both ways. It can make us feel larger than everyone around us, or smaller than dirt. And both are distorted visions of who we are and where we stand in relation to others - one increasing us to gargantuan size and the other working diligently to remain invisible because we are convinced of our smallness.

Ego is the voice that whispers to you and tells you convincing lies. It plays upon your fears and fishes through the caverns of your heart to find the perfect nugget that will unnerve you or jangle in just the right way so you speak in jumbles and don't say what you mean.

And here is the most important part, I feel, of this ego conundrum. Ego, which is the opposite of our larger self - the one that is connected to all people and all life and everything around us - ego, the little "i" of our seeing and being and living, is what ends up separating us from other people. Either because we feel we cannot reach up high enough to merit their attention or because we feel we are too far above to possibly be able to understand or even tolerate their presence.

This can be communicated and experienced in a myriad of ways. The most simple of which might be never seeing (really seeing) the people around you on the train as you head to work. Ignoring the man standing at the entrance of Starbucks, cup in hand. Forgetting to hold the door for the woman with a stroller wrangling two kids and a shopping bag. Talking yourself out of asking her out. Heading home early from a party because you were convinced everyone was ignoring you. Never sending out the manuscript you finished three years ago.

In its more insidious form, it becomes road rage, cruelty, racism, violence. The news stories all start to chant the tale of little "i": racially motivated hazing in South Africa, violence against women in the media, increased violence in Pakistan.

I realized this morning that if we all believed, knew and understood and embraced, that we were all connected - all part of humanity, or life, or spirit, or god or whatever you wish to call it - if we saw ourselves more in the context of the big "I" and not the little, then we would be much less likely to hurt one another. We would be more compassionate, more forgiving, more patient with each other.

There is an excellent TED talk by Jill Boltle Taylor about her stroke and how it changed her way of viewing and experiencing the world. As a neuro-scientist, she made meaning via left and right brain... but she also talks about how it connects to the different lenses we use to view the world. The ego vs. the larger self (little "i" vs. big "I"). The way in which she describes how she experienced a connection to everything during her stroke when her ego (her left brain) shut down was particularly significant. Something that has stuck with me.

Of course, contemplation is often so much easier than action. And so it was I had started down this path of thought, listening to stories of disconnection and sadness on the radio, when I encountered a garbage truck in the alley.

I could not get through. I was worried I would be late to pick up Ari at school. It was raining out. And so I sat, patiently at first, waiting for the man to finish loading in the large bins outside each building on our block. One. Two. Three. Four. Surely he must be done now. He looks at me. He gets into his truck, moves forward. And stops about 2 feet from his original position... gets out and begins to load in more garbage. He could have moved just a few more feet to let me pass. But he does not. He doesn't even look at me. Just loads up more garbage, truck smack-dab in the center of the alley.

It is at this moment I snap, start spewing forth expletives, and quickly turn around to go the other way and loop the entire block so I may go in my intended direction down Ridge. I am cursing him, feeling angry and mean, wishing to pour forth my ire in some tangible, unavoidable way so that he may understand the ignorance of his actions.

I consider stopping near the alley so I can roll down the window and scream some choice words at the man. Or maybe hop out and read him the riot act for being so blind to someone else's needs. But then I think: he's doing his job. He's got his own needs, his own morning, his own time clock to contend with. And even if he didn't move out of spite or uncaring or whatever... the bottom line is, my anger does nothing for either of us.

So I drive on, get to Ari with plenty of time to spare, and think some more about ego and "other" and the ways we imagine ourselves separate from one another. Mostly to justify our ego-driven decisions.

May you notice others around you today with a sense of compassion and connection. May you feel embraced by the world around you.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I was checking out a local zen center last month and stumbled upon a blog they create. The post I happened to reach that day was about Layman Pang and his act of putting all his worldly possessions into a big ol' body of water.

The author focused on the multiple ways to understand this story. What jumped out at me in particular was his focus on the assumption we make in reading such a story that the decision to go to the lake happened one day - like a bolt out of the sky - and that was that.

He argues that such types of renunciation - acts of detachment - often require more time, thought, and energy than we foresee when first we conceive of them. And part of the journey of letting go is the multitude of steps along the way wherein we must question, falter, convince, and recommit ourselves to our chosen path.

That really resonated for me. And so I spent a long time thinking about Layman Pang, this particular story, and what lessons it might hold.

In this time of "reduce, reuse, recycle" it's difficult to conceive of simply destroying the bulk of our possessions. Even if we've taken the step of simplifying our lives and really looking over what we need, what we value, and what we can let go of in order to enjoy more freedom and peace in our lives (be they tangible or intangible things)... we still most likely feel some impulse or urging to not let those things go to waste. To do something useful with the detritus or at least see if they can be reborn/reimagined/repurposed in some other way or by some other person.

We had a huge garage sale before moving to Evanston. We were moving from a two-story, 4 bedroom home with extra rooms into a two-bedroom, one bath apartment - and we knew downsizing was not just something to consider as we played with the idea and struggled to embrace the concept of simplification. It was downright necessary or we were going to be miserable and overburdened with belongings.

So... we had two sales and ended up parting with many, many things. A good experience, a good boost to our bank, a good way to finally let go of some estate items I had been reluctant to relinquish, and ultimately successful because our apartment feels livable, at least.

When we got here, I realized there was even more from which I could metaphorically unclench my fingers. So much extra stuff I was holding onto and carting around. Stuff. Just stuff. With no real purpose in my life and very little in way of being a source of joy or impact.

Which is when I encountered the post about Layman Pang... and began to wonder why in the world he did not sell his possessions, donate them, reuse them, etc. Why destroy them? Why dirty up the Earth with one's old things?

My guess, lately, is that he did it as an act of compassion. You see... when we pass along our unwanted items to other people, we are relying on their sense of need and their expressions of attachment to rid us of our own. We successfully unhinge ourselves from the imagined importance of the fifth trinket on the right behind the dusty doodad on the highest shelf... only to pass it along to some all-too-willing person who has not yet recognized his or her own displaced act of need.

Layman Pang, I think, wanted to spare those around him from the fate from which he had finally extricated himself. Why perpetuate that form of greed, that type of attachment, that consumerist mentality to which so many of us is accustomed? Instead... he selected that which he no longer needed, threw it into a boat, rowed out to the middle of a lake, and chucked it all into the water. Good riddance. May you never trouble another.

I consider that a compassionate act. One that is difficult to emulate in modern times because it would be littering to toss all my stuff into Lake Michigan, and I can't just start a huge bonfire in the backyard, and I do believe that some items would actually be of use to other people. But I think about Pang's act a lot, and I continue to ponder my role and responsibility in shedding the attachments of my life for which there is no longer room or purpose. How do I do so in the most loving and respectful way possible?

I suppose I'll let you know if I figure that one out.

May you see the attachments in your life with clarity; may you deal with your "baggage" (in whatever form it may take) with compassion for others.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Buddha Within

After many, many months of persistent prodding from my husband, I finally read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Very good book, by the way. Something I would recommend to anyone who feels there is a creative calling they are not following in some way.

Pressfield, in this book, speaks a lot about resistance and the ways in which we deny, derail, or disregard our inner natures... which he links with our true talents, our soul's purpose, and a higher calling.

This was particularly relevant for me - especially in this time of my life - because I am feeling a bit wayward and lately spend copious amounts of time trying to figure out what I should be doing with my life. This could be said, however, for the last 10 years or so of my life. Maybe longer. So that's rather important. That lost-ness. What I should be doing.

The "should" is the tricky part there, because - I believe - it connects more to the concerns and insecurities of my ego... a part of my psyche probably not best suited to making life-altering decisions or serving as a guide toward my higher purpose and authentic self.

But the ego likes to step in and insist on playing that role. Often. At least, mine does. Maybe yours does too. Maybe you have learned to ignore the little voice that strives so hard to sound bigger and more important than it really is... like a small child so used to being ignored she thrusts out her chin and shouts at the sky in an effort to be heard.

Anyway... ego aside, I really like what Pressfield says about the concept of purpose, our higher selves, and the authentic expression of our talents (which he believes are God-given... a point I am unlikely to argue). He argues to stifle your creative energies and talents is to deny the world the gift of what you have to offer. No one can do what you do. No one else has your voice, your eye, your mind, your soul... and so what you produce will invariably be unique and (dare I say it) perfect within the interconnected and intricate space of life because you are the only one who can do what you do.

It connected perfectly with something I had read a few days earlier in a book I bought for our daughter: A Pebble for Your Pocket by Thich Nhat Hahn. We randomly selected a story the other day and it just so happened to be about what Hahn names "the inner Buddha." He's talking about the non-ego self, the one that is connected to all things, all life, and is the most authentic and true expression of you that can be.

So... my focus and mindfulness exercise for the rest of this week (and perhaps beyond!) is to try and clear away the pushy, validation-seeking voice of my ego and to see if I can hear my true soul's call. Who am I - really - without the bells, whistles, fears, insecurities, past, future, etc.? What do I want to be doing? How am I preventing myself from my truest form of expression?

That last may be the most important. I am a woman of ideas. Always have grand plans and great schemes and beautiful dreams; but I rarely actually follow up on them... move them from the imagined to the tangible. It is, I feel, equal parts fear of failure and fear of success. It's my way of roadblocking myself. (Perhaps this sounds familiar...?)

So. No more roadblocks. Movement in the face of fear and work in the midst of inertia. I will not stop moving. Even if I don't know where I'm headed. It's still better to keep walking toward the light you have faith is real than to sit down and let the self-made darkness consume you.

Walk into your light. Listen to your truest voice. Don't be afraid.

Monday, October 19, 2009


One of the realizations that set me toward creating this particular blog in this particular month was connected to an aspect of my personality I have long struggled with: anger.

I think most people who know me would be surprised to hear I consider myself an angry person. Or would be unused to thinking of me in that way. In fact, I have shared that info with friends and gotten disbelieving and confused responses.

But... truth be told, anger is something I have struggled with for a long time, and my ability to redirect it and/or express it in the most diplomatic way possible (usually) is the result of many years of concerted effort.

The sad part, for me, is knowing that the public face and persona I share is much more evolved than the private one. I fear my family and closest friends receive the brunt of my anger and often are at the difficult end of my least compassionate and diplomatic moments. I'm not sure why that is; perhaps I believe I can slack off around them... or I have a fundamental trust they will love me no matter what I may say or do... that, ultimately, all is forgiven.

This is, of course, unfair and not too kind on my part. Maybe even presumptuous and arrogant.

So... I had come face to face, again, with my anger recently - most notably in the form of impatience. Impatience with my husband, with my daughter, with my parents. And I began to really think about it. Where does it come from? How is that connected to my sense of self? Why do I feel able/allowed/at liberty to express such a lack of compassion or kindness for those most intimate to me?

The big ah ha I had (which may seem small to you) was recognizing that impatience is a form of ego. The little "i" believing itself to be a big "I" and therefore more important than everyone else in the room.

My impatience arises out of a belief that I am right and others are wrong... that I am trying and others are failing somehow... that my efforts hold merit and others somehow fall flat or short or become inconsequential or not enough in comparison.

All of which is quite lacking in humility, kindness, or empathy.

Sometimes it's hard to look at my own ugliness. Particularly because I am, at heart, a rather insecure person. And so, it's already a struggle to separate the authentic dark spots from the imagined ones. But they are there - the real ones... the ones that warrant scrutiny and sharp, unflinching honesty.

My impatience is a very dark spot on my heart at present. I have become more aware of it, more mindful of it in my day-to-day living, and so it has taken on the presence and steady knocking of a dripping faucet or ticking clock.

I'm not sure I've figured out yet how to change it. The impatience that is rooted in anger that is - I suspect - ultimately rooted in a deep sense of unhappiness... a lack of belief in myself separate from the sought-for or imagined validation of others.

Which is ego. All the way.

If and when you look into your own darknesses, may your courage see you through to a new light, a new perspective, and a new way of being.

Friday, October 16, 2009


I have been thinking a lot lately about the concept of purpose. Perhaps some think of it as direction... or purpose-fulness... or meaning. Many names, likely many varieties and variations.

But something we all seek, I think. Something we all yearn for.

So what is purpose? I have been trying to parse out my own definition for it, and think it links to something that is larger than myself. Being actively engaged in a daily sort of way in an activity or being or pursuit that ultimately responds to the people around me in a way that is compassionate and engaged.

I might also add authentic. So... engaged, compassionate, authentic - and useful. One of the reasons I began to question theatre as a career was I often felt it was not useful enough in the lives of the people who came to see it. In other words... I began to wonder if there might be a way in which I could interact with others that might ultimately serve them in more concrete and lasting ways.

Which is not to say performance and art and theatre have no purpose. Quite the opposite. I think I needed to be out of it for 4 years to see and appreciate the effect and impact such expressions can have.

But I do believe my larger purpose... my ultimate purpose... might be a bit different than simply standing on stage and performing for others. Perhaps I will eventually be led back to my many buckets theory - which would suggest my truest and most connected form of self might best be attained by doing several different things (for example: a bit of teaching, a bit of theatre, a bit of dance, and some counseling).

Lately, I've begun to wonder if writing is something I should have fought for and worked on a bit harder. If one is to consider the possibility of serving others in some way that is connected to a larger purpose... a divine... a "god" or collective of some kind then I do think that maybe one of my most powerful forms of expression is through the written word.

I'm much better on paper than in person. I've always been able to be more intimate, more honest, more direct, and more articulate via writing. This is in some ways a strength and in other ways, quite a failing.

Purpose, I think, blends our fortes and frailties. It's equal parts triumph and evolution because it affords us the opportunity to both shine and grow. That's my take in this moment, anyway.

So... on the off chance this is the best way to fulfill my purpose as it reaches up toward something bigger than the little "i" of me, I will keep blogging. Just in case it has meaning beyond my experience of tapping keys, snoring dog, and whirling-internal-questioning.

May your purpose be clear to you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Still Looking Around

So... here I am, 8 months past my final post on One Joy, One Sorrow. I am in a new town. I am in a new home. I am in a new lifestyle setting (staying at home instead of going to school/ working).

And all of this has helped to create a space and time that is both full of possibility and poised for springing in multiple directions, while also being rife with rut-i-ness and the dangerous pull of inertia that sometimes accompanies the necessity of self-discipline and an internally imposed sense of direction.

In short, I feel a bit directionless. I also feel a bit clearer. Perhaps clearer than I ever have in the last 10+ years of my life. I have started to notice things about myself, my perspective, my assumptions, my interpersonal interactions and habits, etc. that warrant deeper introspection and spur me on to make some sizable and more positive changes in my life.

One such change: getting back to blogging. There was something deeply meditative, spiritual, grounding, purposeful, connected, and fulfilling about doing my first blog. That blog was tied to my sense of feeling called during a Unitarian Universalist service - and the resulting ups and downs of the year that followed as I made a series of decisions that took me toward and away from such service... changed my direction within my counseling program multiple times... and had me looking all over the place for a spot to land.

The end result: I have decided I am not a UU. It's not the right fit for me, though I do love many aspects of the way the services, mission, and activist outreach of that particular faith are set up. I think, ultimately, it was perhaps still too Judeo-Christian in focus for me. Which is not to poo poo those expressions of faith. I believe spirituality or religion must be suited to each individual - and that there is no "right" or "wrong" along whatever path one may choose to take (including atheism). Do what works for you.

What works for me is starting to look more like an interfaith or Buddhist perspective. But time and exploration will tell if those assumptions are correct.

In the meantime, I think it will be helpful to have a space within which to more formally and publicly share the meditations and ruminations coming up lately. And I do still think I am "supposed" to serve in some way. Perhaps it's through writing.

More on that next time, I think.

In the meantime, enjoy the shift of weather that has begun so markedly for many of us. I don't know about you, but for me the approach of winter brings with it an intense array of sense memories, nostalgic feelings, and happy recollections. There is so much I love about this colder time of season... cinnamon, the smell of wood fires, crisp air, apples, the scent of wet leaves, the hush of night.

May warmth and remembered joys find us all.