Category Archives: happiness

Surrender & Self-Love in February

I wrote a post a couple weeks ago for my gym, Muv Training, for its February newsletter. When they published it, I reread it, and was satisfied with how it had come out.

But then a few days later, I was wandering around in one of my ‘Cup of Comfort’ trances, and the lessons I had pointed to in that Muv article came back to smack me in the face.

What’s a ‘Cup of Comfort’ trance? Oh, yes, I haven’t published that story yet.cup of self love sketch

Well, a year or more ago, I was wandering around half an hour before work. I wanted a tea, or a coffee, or a hot chocolate. But I wanted a comfy seat, too, and a quiet atmosphere, and not too expensive. I was on foot, and checking all the cafes within reach and open in the time allotted was a formidable task. But as I flipped through my mental Rolodex, I realized none of them would give me what I wanted.

Because what I wanted was a ‘cup of comfort,’ that feeling of being warm, and cozy, and comfortable. And cherished.

hygge sweater cup of coffee

Tea, or coffee, or even hot chocolate, would not be able to do that.
So I went to work early, in a bit of a huff, I’m sure, munching on that bit of mental floss and how I could learn from it.

What happened this last time was the same search, but in the car–more choices, dammit!–and without the time limit–I was on my way home, and only limiting myself on the amount of money to spend as I once again flipped through the mental Rolodex of cafes open.

But this time, I’d just read my own words on self-love and self-care, and I realized, as I parked and contemplated Noraneko, parked and walked around Hawthorne, peering through windows, that what I was really searching for, what that Cup of Comfort held, is Self-Love.

Oof, ya.

I’d been trying my best to not go out, not spend money, create brilliant works of culinary art at home on a shoestring budget, and have that suffice. But my self-love well was getting low, and somehow, I wasn’t recharging it.

I went home with this realization, feeling at least sufficient enough to turn down the warm interiors on Hawthorne. But once home, how to replenish?

well of love margaret agnes rope stained glass

Self-care? I got a massage (on an account I’d long since had to deactivate), but that did not work. I tried bonding with the cats. That did not work. (Their pee on my rug thrice this week made me irritable.)

I could have gone to the gym, but didn’t. I might’ve gone to the show I had tickets for, but didn’t–it was miserably wet and icy Friday night.

I watched Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone. I traced how Harry found his way to the friends he needed. By chance! And I was reminded of the hardest piece of belief and trust and faith.

Surrender.

 

Have you battled such demons? Made similar discoveries? Do share.

 

Images via VidyaSury, DailyMail, & Pinterest (by the way, Margaret Agnes Rope, incredible stained glass artist of the Arts & Crafts movement–who knew?!?) 

Luminaries: Ward

This is the first in a new series called Luminaries, about people I’ve met who are guided by their own inner light. I’ve been inspired by them and here relate some of the wisdom I’ve picked up from each one.

long-haired ward

Ward Stroud

If ever there was a Multipotentialite, it’s Ward. I met him on his regular trips into the bakery where I work to have a Large Vanilla-Soy-Decaf-Latte. We soon enough started chatting on these visits, and I was more and more intrigued by all the activities Ward mentioned:

 

 

Not to mention that the background of all this activity was his owning a successful hair salon across the way. Really, I couldn’t believe the variety of things that Ward talked about, which is why I wanted to interview him, and there the germ for this series sprouted: who are these cool people, and how do I get some of their juju?

I sat down with Ward in the midst of the whirlwind that is his life, and asked him a few questions, but the conversation really wandered, imitating his life path and his thinking process.

When I mentioned Multipods above, that really doesn’t cover the whole picture, though, because besides being a try-everything-new-under-the-sun kind of guy, Ward is also a drill-deep kind of individual. This points to one of the core descriptors that characterize Ward: single-minded, whole-body, tenacity.

He told me the tale of how he came to be a Native flute player.

flute player at sunset

Ward had had recurring dreams of hearing whales singing growing up. It got to him, such that he started searching every music shop he knew, trying out every strange instrument he could find, to see if it would make the sound that haunted him.

Finally, after years of searching, he was at a craft festival in Oregon City when he heard the same sound: the whales singing. He dashed through the stalls of vendors closing up their stands at the end of the day, trying to locate the source of the sound. At the end of his search, he found the stall of a Native Flute artisan, who looked up at him and said, “So you’ve come for your flute.”

He was 30 years old at that time, and dove right in.

Ward has countless tales of this sort, tales that involve an intuition or ‘internal listening,’ a journey or search, and a serendipitous resolution that brings joy and fulfillment. Listening to some of these stories, I felt like he knew the secret to pursuing the impossible dream of Don Quixote, and put it to practice over and over.

don quixote art image

Another story he tells describes one of the transition times, in between these full-on pursuits of a dream. He had negotiated a sweet arrangement with a pioneer lady near Sisters, OR which meant he owned a hand-crafted log cabin that was a piece of art and an everyday inspiration. He’d filled it with treasures, and felt at peace whenever he worked and played in that cabin, with its  jaw-dropping views of the gorge in his backyard.

But it was far from the nearest city (Portland) where he could perform his music, and he thought that might be the next thing for him. So he was at a crossroads, and not sure which would be the right choice: Stay in the place he cherished in the country, or move to the city to play the music he loved?

He decided to throw the decision to the spirit of the universe (my phrasing) and go on a medicine walk. A medicine walk is a time when you meditate, pray, and go on a solitary walk, being willing to interpret signs on the walk as answers to your prayer from sources we can’t see or know.

Ward says he got only a couple hundred yards out the back door into the desert before he almost stepped on a piece of flotsam: a realtor’s For Sale sign. He started laughing–I bet it was cackling–right there, amazed at how obvious his unseen forces had been, and relieved to know he was leaning towards the right decision. He sold the house at the right time, and moved to Portland to perform all kinds of music.

if you were waiting for a sign this is it

How can we learn from such a Renaissance man? I think outside of the question of abilities, what Ward has cultivated to his benefit are 1) intense curiosity and 2) thinking of the world as all intertwined. I’ll pick these apart a bit.

Intense curiosity Everyone is born with this innate quality, I believe. But most of us are trained to let it fall by the wayside, i.e. ‘One can’t do everything, so one has to choose.’ (For others who disagree with that, see Barbara Sher (link to Powells) and Emilie Wapnick)

Being intensely curious means you want to know someone else’s perspective, you want to know how things work, you aren’t afraid to show your ignorance, or praise someone’s skill. I think we sometimes lose our ability to explore when we feel we’re too full of emotion ourselves, and can’t go out to acquire more knowledge when we’re still dealing with unresolved issues. Or perhaps we don’t feel secure enough to be able to show that we don’t know what were’ doing. Ringing any bells?

Seeing the world as all-connected Ward mentioned an important phrase in his lexicon: mitakuye oyasin. It is a Lakota word (Ward is of the Yaqui tribe himself) that means “all my relations” as well as “all things are one.” He described this as the ability to see how things interrelate, how things affect and are affected by seemingly very unrelated actions. It’s “like quantum physics for Natives.”

For an example in action, only take a look at the skills Ward has mastered, and that he says are not all that different:

  • photography–> graphic design
  • hair color–> painting with acrylics
  • learning native American musical language–> playing blues
  • crafting Native flutes–> sculpting wood (he even says it’s like jazz music!)

I think these two strongly-held beliefs constitute a mindfulness practice, one which is a good bulwark against the ills of modern society, with its information-overload, blasé attitudes, compartmentalized lives, and fierce loathing of vulnerability.

With so many passions to pursue, I asked Ward a final important question. “What grounds you, what balances you out?”

He had two answers:

“Painting in the quiet of morning with music”

“Being at the salon, in the social circle of my community, my chosen family”

ward happy in his studio

Are YOU intensely curious in YOUR life?

Do you feel too full or too busy to be able to feed that curiosity?

What balances YOU?

 

Images via CMC Art Share, Bolshoi Moscow, Productive Life Concepts

Balance 4: Mind Control, Flexible Mind

Do you attach a positive or a negative connotation to this word:

CONTROL

Think about it for a moment. I can think of both positive and negative associations, but overall, I’d say the Western society I grew up in generally favors control. Why do I think this? Let me count the ways…

hand holding puppet strings

Modern Western Approach

  • We try to control our bodies, with diets and creams and cosmetics and Spanx.
  • We try to control Nature, with our fracking, our levees, our mountaintop mining.
  • We even try to control Death, by using machines for lungs, devices for hearts, and other things that deny when someone is actually dying.

I think it’s safe to say that we like control. A lot.

Well, and what about the other side? Isn’t it good that we can prolong life, extract resources, and make ourselves look younger than we are? And also get a crapload of work done by scheduling blocks of time in a clever and efficient way?

(I think you know where I’m going with this…)

I think what we need is a little more balance.

accept change let go free yourself quote

Zen Approach

The opposite of this need to control I will dub the ‘Zen approach,’ since it borrows from some of the tenets of the Zen philosophy: detachment, acceptance, compassion.

When you practice yoga, you have moments where you feel thoughts of other things come up, and you must calmly sweep them away with your yogi mind so that you can be fully present. This is a paradox, since what are you doing if not controlling your mind? And yet what are you doing if not accepting the thought and letting it go?

In popular psychology, we are told that we can’t control what happens to us in life, only how we react to what happens to us. I think this is a good point for debate, but what I’m interested in here is how we perceive control. Do we need to direct actions around us? Or are we satisfied by directing our feelings about what happens around us? Or do we go further and say that we are only feeling and owning what life events bring up in us? Discussion can get boggy here.

Example, Experiment, Evolution

(hat tip to Therese for her E&E concept)

So let me take an example that illustrates both approaches, Modern and Zen. Let’s look at my dating life.

No, no, don’t keel over laughing yet. It has recently evolved in a very interesting way. I was in a serious relationship until 2008, and took some time to recover after that spectacularly crumbled. Then I decided to put some time and effort into dating, since at almost 30 years old, I was very interested in finding a life partner with which to enjoy life. What was my approach?

If you guessed Modern, you’re right. I was on OKCupid, obsessively checking profiles and attempting to send a given number of messages per week. I was responding to messages and attempting to meet with new guys a given number of times per week (oh you better believe I pwned the awkwardness of first dates). I even read through CraigsList listings, looking for that diamond in the rough.

Results were sketchy. One nice guy was a good fit until his ex got to be too much to manage, and the rest were awkward, uninteresting, or plainly incompatible (you drink how much beer in a day?). After a few years of on and off with this system, I decided it wasn’t worth it, ‘it’ being my time on the sites, my expectations for dates, my social time being sucked up by unfortunate escapades at spendy restaurants.

So I gave it up. I tried to adopt the Zen approach. I tried to convince myself that “Que Sera Sera;” the important thing was remaining open-minded about possibilities, and not to worry about it so much. I put work into other parts of my life instead (ahem, BOOK,* ahem). There still remained vestiges of self-doubt and recrimination: ‘not doing enough,’ ‘not trying hard enough,’ ‘too judgmental.’ But I think last summer I finally turned the corner on accepting the Que Sera Sera, and believed it.

My epiphany made me believe that whatever will happen in my love life, will happen. No sense worrying about it before that, it only racks up the head miles and wastes the present moment. I remember specifically the moment when I realized that even with a partner, my life wouldn’t be perfect, so why wait for someone to make it as good as it could be?

Revelation. And it launched me further on the path toward what I’m calling the Zen approach. Not all the way, but somewhere in between. And I feel so much happier about my decisions now. It’s actually a freedom from control.

Balancing Plans and Flexibility

What are we balancing here? Our need to control things in our lives, to a certain extent, and our need to accept events for what they are. Like all the continua in this Balance series, there are benefits to both sides of the coin.

We want to control events in our lives because we want to live a good life; nothing wrong with that. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d summon horses enough for my wishes to ride. But since I can’t, I work to make those wishes come true.

your one wild and precious life quote

I free myself from assumptions and others’ expectations so that I am sure what I am working for is what I really want, because what is worse than realizing you’ve been slaving away for something that you never really wanted? And I plan. Oh Lord, do I have fun making plans! So then what to do when Life alters the plan?

That’s why I need flexibility: the ability to accept changes, relinquish that inclination to control, and continue the struggle toward those dreams.

I have been walking around with this topic in my head for weeks, ever since it was remarked that I have a thing for feeling in control… and I still don’t have a very firm grasp on it. This post could well turn into a book! So help me out:

Are there areas where you could stand to give up some control? Don’t tell me I’m the only one…

Are there any rituals or techniques that you’ve developed to be more ‘Zen’ and less ‘Modern?’

Do you think there are other helpful approaches?

Add your comments for discussion below!

 

This was the fourth post in a series of “Balance” posts discussing the subject of balance from a transdisciplinary perspective (for more on this, see the  first second and third posts). I hope these discussions help you determine where you need to be on the spectrum to find your own inner truth.

Images via DeviantArt, Inspirably, and BlissInventive

*Please note this is an affiliate link to Amazon.com. This means if you click through and purchase something from Amazon, I receive a tiny percentage. Thanks for supporting those pursuing their dreams in any way possible! :-)