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Daily Rituals

Benjamin Franklin’s ideal daily routine, from his autobiography

Given this schedule snippet, I think ol’ Ben Franklin and I could’ve been friends. Last night, my friend Jeff lent me a book he thought I’d enjoy, called Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, by Mason Currey. The image above is pictured alongside the title page at the start of the book, and right away I thought to myself: This is gonna be a good read.

I read the intro and the first 15 pages this morning and was hooked. Over 160 of the greatest philosophers, writers, composers and artists are featured in this collection of Daily Rituals. And I could relate right away with the author’s musings in the intro, which I took as a good sign of things to come. He writes:

 

My underlying concerns in the book are issues that I struggle with in my own life: How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time…More broadly, are comfort and creativity incompatible, or is the opposite true: Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?

…The book’s title is Daily Rituals, but my focus in writing it was really people’s routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism.

And my favorite line from the intro:

A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.

With the catalyst and accelerate of going to Deer Park Monastery every January for the past 4 years, to spend a few weeks on retreat, I’ve parlayed myself into something I’d been wanting for a long while: a consistent and diligent routine, primarily to help me develop a writing schedule that I could stick with. As someone on disability, who works a job-job just one day a week, I have a lot of unstructured time on my hands. But, as I am also someone who is highly organized and manages, plans, and hosts a wealth of different things, I perform optimally when I come up with a schedule to follow.

Every day I am balancing my passion for writing with my to-do list associated with being the director of a mindfulness community center, serving in my capacity as a spiritual leader to my cherished sangha, and being a grateful home-maker, helping to take care of my household and the people who reside within its humble walls. There’s also the delightful element of cultivating friendships, which is a great joy for me that I prioritize in my life. And last – but actually first in the priorities department – comes the relationship that I build and strengthen with my own self and my mindfulness practice. So, these are ALL part of my every day balance: writing, to-do list on the mindfulness center/sangha front, to-do list on the home front, staying in close contact with friends, and staying in close connection with myself. And in all sincerity, I do each of these things with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Each element nourishes me in different ways. AND, I actively practice to keep it that way. How we live is a matter of choice – it really is – and I choose to fuel up my joy and gratitude tanks on the daily.

While it doesn’t speak to everyone, of course, having daily rituals and a schedule works really well for me. Lately, I’ve been stepping into sharing about this side of myself more, which can be challenging, as there’s a tendency for others to either feel bad for not having such a regimented accounting of their own time or for them to be rather incredulous about the nature of how I craft my daily routine. What?! they’ll say, you get up every day at 5am?! That’s crazy! And then I’m all like: Is it? I mean, on some level I get that it’s not super common and comes as a surprise to hear, but on another level I’d rather not draw unnecessary attention to myself and have to field people’s shock-and-awe response.

But, as I’ve been working towards sharing more and more about myself, in regards to both creative and mundane matters – in the last year especially – this new read I’ve just started offers a wonderful writing prompt for me to embark upon. So this is me, embarking upon it.

I wrote this in my leather-bound journal early this morning:

Just as the sun needs to trade places with the moon in order to construct the most suitable conditions for life-dwelling, so too does my desire for solitude and stillness sit in balance with the nourishment and inspiration I richly receive from being in the direct and precious company of others. Like the in-breath and out-breath, I require both solo and collaborative time, in order to thrive.

 

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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Life & Death

Every year, for the past I don’t know how many years (8? 10? 12?), I help with the set-up for the Tree of Life Ceremony, which is put on in early December by the hospice organization I volunteer for on a weekly basis, meeting with patients. This annual event is a time to remember our loved ones who’ve passed away, whether recently or many years ago. There’s a tree lighting ceremony that takes place in Rose Memorial Park, followed by a non-faith based service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, situated a few blocks away, and is concluded with a reception in their fellowship hall. The reception is stocked with typically over 100 dozen cookies that the staff & volunteers bake, warm beverages, and is a chance to peruse the banners (see pic above) we put together, which display the many names that community members have submitted in memory of those who’ve passed away. This year, we had over 900 names.

Yesterday, while helping with the set-up process for this event, I worked alongside a hospice staff member who shared with me the story of how she just moved to town not long ago at the request of her daughter, who was wanting her help in trying to get back to school, while raising young children and still recovering from a car accident that left her with brain trauma just under a year ago. Her daughter was stopped at a light here in town and hit by a texting driver, going 50- mph.

Switching…

While arranging the names on the banners, I unexpectedly came across my grandmother’s name: Claire Carlson. My grandmother, still alive, is on hospice care in Arkansas. I spoke with her just the other day and was the last grandchild to do so. She’s expected to pass away in the next few days.

When I think of her, I think of watercolor paintings of flowers and landscapes on crisp white paper, framed by my grandfather, when he was alive. I think of the tomatoes she was forever growing in pots and how I used to steal candies from her nightstand – though, I suspect she knew full well and didn’t mind.

When I think of her, I think of summers spent at boardwalk art shows, a mixture of sun and sea coating my skin and tangling my long hair. When I think of her, I think of my grandfather, even though he’s been gone for over 15 years.

And I reckon she passed down her artistic flare to me, though my mediums are the written word and music. Still, it takes an artist to decode this one, richly given life in such a way where melodies can be heard and beauty can be seen in even the smallest drops of everyday. With an artist’s eye, I look out onto the world, misshapen with strife though it may be. I gaze in its direction as though it were a sunset or rise, a marvel of ingenuity on display.

When I think of her, I think of how fortunate I am, truly, to be here, now.

Switching…

Sitting in a pew last night at the church, listening as the hospice chaplain and one of the bereavement coordinators shared skilled words of nourishment and support, I thought of the many friends I’ve had who’ve passed away, especially over the last couple of years. I thought of those who will pass away soon, such as both of my grandmothers. And I also thought of everyone I take for granted, thinking they will live another 30 or 40 years – all those I figure I will have an endless amount of time to absorb into my heart.

One thing I most appreciate about being a hospice volunteer is that in meeting with patients who are dying, it opens my eyes and my heart to those who are living around me, firm in the understanding that we can all go at any time. Befriending death allows me to befriend life.

Switching…

Written in August, 2016:

I’d been visiting Al every Tuesday at 10:00am for over a year, before he passed away, 3 days ago. He was 91 years old, though he often liked to tell me he was 100. I never disagreed, as it seemed to bring him a wave of pride and pleasure to share with me the fact that he had reached triple digits. Besides, I figured, whether 91, 94, 97, or 100, they’re all milestones in my book, each one indicating having lived a long life.

Back in April, during one of our weekly visits, I decided it would be a good idea to jot down some of the things he said. I sat next to him with some paper and a pen and told him my intention. He found it humorous, and mildly baffling, that I wanted to record his Words of Wisdom, as I called it. He didn’t feel what he had to say was of any special value or worth remembering. But he obliged me just the same.

Here’s what I scribbled down that one day:

Your mental attitude is hooked to well being.
You don’t realize how you can mold your life.You are the one commander of your own mind and body.Don’t let it get away from you.
I still think of myself as a young man. Hell, you have to.
A smile will get you more friends than a grimace. You’ve got to smile at society.
Nothing in my life has been dead serious. Nothing can’t be changed.
Gray hair ain’t heavier to carry around – and they take less water.
When you get up in the morning, get a smile on your face.
He called this one Al’s Secret to Longevity: If you have a choice between making a friend or an enemy, always make a friend. I always figured it was better to make a friend.
Walk away from cranky people, they’ll affect you.
Carrying a grudge gets to be pretty solid after awhile.
Boy, it’s nice to be alive today.

In memory of Al, 1925-2016

 

 

 

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On The Fence

Every month, for the past 4-5 years now, the same Jehovah’s Witness lady has been coming to visit me. Yes, it’s been that long. It may even be longer, as I can’t recall exactly when she started coming by. It’s worth mentioning, right off the bat, that I genuinely like this woman. She’s around my age and is very friendly and warm and kind. And, in the interest of expanding my own perspective and understanding of people with different views, I do read the publications that she drops off each month, namely: The Watchtower. She knows full well that I’m a spiritual leader in a Buddhist tradition and very invested in my particular community, and still she chooses to continue her visits.

For the past 2 years or so now, I’ve been on the fence as to what the best course of action was to take, in regards to her monthly visits. Part of me wanted to muster up the courage to ask her to stop coming, in light of it being sort of a waste of both my time and hers, and also that of the rotating friend that accompanies her. But the polite and friendly part of me that genuinely likes her, and appreciates her incredible diligence – even if I don’t subscribe to what she’s being diligent about – felt uncomfortable asking her to stop coming after all these years. So I’ve been teeter tottering on the fence of indecision about what to do.

Finally, about a month or so ago, I stopped hemming and hauling over what to do and made a decision. After contemplating the matter further and inquiring with myself about what was in the mix, mentally & emotionally, I decided I did not feel right in asking her to stop coming, and I also didn’t want to be on guard anymore either, not knowing when she’d be happening by while I sat writing or working on the computer – so the only other possibility I could realistically think to implement was to stop half-assing our limited time together at the door every month, which is what I had been doing. I decided to start practicing not being on guard; and instead of being wary of her intentions or frustrated by the interruption in my day or be relatively closed off during our interactions, I would invest my energy into opening my heart-space a little more and being more friendly when she came by. So, simply put, I committed myself to the practice of no longer looking at her visits as an intrusion on my day and time and see them instead as opportunities for me to engage more with someone with whom I judge to have little in common with.

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Posted by on November 18, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Mundane Moments Brought to Life

One of the writing avenues I’ve been traversing upon lately, involves working on my second book, for which the subtitle will help you glean its premise: Short Stories of Alleged Humor & Insight – my plan being to include non-fiction stories by which I can insert both elements. I use the word alleged because one of my greatest and ongoing hopes is that my own brand of whit and wisdom has the capacity to travel outside of my own use. While I routinely find myself extremely delightful and funny, the question always remains: Will anyone else? And so, as a writer, it is my sincere hope that my words are  translatable.

Something worth mentioning: I’m not a skilled storyteller. While you wouldn’t know it, based on how much I write here on my blog, I am a less-is-more sort of gal, in terms of verbal dialog and social interactions. My idea of a face-to-face response to the question: How did you meet your husband? would be something like: Through some mutual friends. I would then just stop talking, considering that answer good enough. My husband, on the other hand, would tell the whole lovely and winding tale, consisting of all the kismet qualities that bring it to life and create interest for those hearing our story for the first time. And I am quite aware that his version is far more engaging than mine.

So, given that I’ve decided to craft a book in which I’m really not qualified to write, I’ve taken to composing stories about mundane or otherwise seemingly uneventful moments, which on the surface seem not to posses much of anything in the intrigue-department, in order to actively practice honing the art required for the book I’m writing: the art of storytelling. I’m happy to report that the practice is going well. And, since I need all the practice I can get, here’s another hopeful attempt:

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Posted by on November 5, 2017 in Creative Writing

 

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Digging the Well

On Wednesday night, I attended a banquet dinner on campus with visiting guest speaker Ann Holmes Redding, as part of DiverseU, entitled: A Piece of the Peace. Ann is a former Episcopal priest, who was defrocked in April 2009 for having become a Muslim in March 2006. She is a faith leader, an author, a public speaker, and a teacher, who identifies with being both of Christian and Islamic faith.

Among many other things I greatly appreciated in her talk, she shared this parable:

“The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.”

― Jalaluddin Rumi

One of the things I most enjoy, is attending evenings such as this. Opportunities that allow me to practice breaking down what Thich Nhat Hanh calls our illusion of separateness.

In a stroke of good timing, I felt attending this particular evening paired well with another topic that has been circulating for me recently, centered around our local Festival of the Dead (FOD) celebration – which took place last night – and the concerning matter of appropriation. I’ve been a part of FOD for a number of years, as a performer with Unity Dance & Drum, a local dance troupe. This year, the social outcry about the issue of appropriation, in regards to our Missoulaified FOD, reached a record high, to the point of causing enough ruckus as to greatly deflate the participation and attendance at the parade procession down Higgins Avenue last night.

In the interest of trying to further find my way around this confusing topic, I wrote this in my journal early this morning:

Appropriation: something (as money) set aside by formal action for a specific use. (Merriam-Webster, circa 1997) Apparently, this is one of those words commandeered by the masses and then sent to drift on an ice flow far away from its origination. So long, old chum! Safe sailing on the seas and swells of change! Because as I understand it, appropriation is a dirty, no good, rotten word with negative connotations – but I’m not getting that vibe from Webster’s definition.

In the same kind of funny way that femme fatale follows feminism in our household dictionary, it seems we’ve re-calibrated the word appropriation to match our western culture’s sometimes over-correcting tendency to be offended on behalf of a people who are not offended enough, by the actions of blundering white people, or BWP.

Please understand, I include myself in the BWP demographic and admit readily and upfront my ignorance when it comes to all things white privilege related – it’s also likely that I’m more of a femme fatale than a feminist, so there’s that to consider, too.

While there’s part of me that wants to generate more of an understanding about the culturally important topic of appropriation, another part of me wants to relegate it to those who are better equipped to serve directly in its deconstruction and called to guide its direction. Cuz we can’t all dig appropriately sizes wells when it comes to all subjects in need of attention and transformation. There’s only so much digging one person can do. And we pick our 1, 2 or 3 spots and dig there, alongside others who are digging there, too. And occasionally we lift our heads up, look around, and take solace in the fact that there are a multitude of others digging simultaneously in a myriad of different places.

For example, I gravitate towards hospice work and matters concerning aging and death and dying – do you? If your answer is no, I bet you’re glad to know I’m digging the well here in this particular spot, even if you have no interest in joining me.

We cannot do the work of a million hearts with the one life we’ve been so richly given.

And this truth does not have to be deflating.

Do not allow the fact that you can’t do it all keep you from doing all you can.

Pick up your shovel and dig where you’re called.

(and do so with gladness and joy)

 

 

 

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You Are What You Think

This is me preparing for another teaching-style talk at my local sangha Be Here Now. So, while it may not be the most riveting post for you to read, my much-appreciated friends, it does offer me a great platform and outlet in which to figure out what it is I’d like to say – and I am reminded of the ending statement I recently heard from Hemingway’s acceptance speech from 1954 for winning the Nobel Prize: “…A writer should write what he has to say and not speak it.” Of course, my motivation lies in writing about it in order to speak about it, but I am nourished by this statement just the same.

I’ll also be giving this talk jointly with my husband Mike, which we’ve been doing once a year for the past 2-3 years. We’ve entitled it: You are what you think and we’ll be offering it on Monday night, October 23rd.

On an introductory note, for those of you sticking around to read this through :), the topic for this talk was spurred by coming to the realization of how a lack of self-acceptance is one of the largest obstacles on the path of healing, growth, transformation, and well-being. In having been attending a meditation group virtually every week for the past 15 years, where we have an open sharing circle built into our format, it’s become very clear to me just how much people give themselves a hard time about ALL kinds of things. But it’s only recently been an insight of mine that this is in fact one of the greatest roadblocks we face in regards to living more mindfully and skillfully, with more ease and balance.

My husband will be talking first, for about 20-minutes, and plans on focusing his segment on highlighting what a thought and a view are and what the differences are between them. The idea being that our long-held views are what shape our thoughts, and our thoughts are what fuel our words and actions. Most of us are not well in touch with what our views are – our deeply held beliefs that have shaped us and continue to shape us. A guiding quote for us is one from Thich Nhat Hanh:

Attachment to views is the greatest impediment to spiritual growth. – TNH

For my portion of the talk I plan on opening with a psychological exercise that I recently learned, which will prompt folks to get in touch with how they talk to themselves internally while in the process of doing it.

As for what I’ll say, here goes:

If it were as easy as just stopping giving ourselves a hard time we would’ve all done that by now. Most of us know when it is we’re being hard on ourselves or beating ourselves up over something. So just stopping this particular habit is most likely not a realistic thing to expect to have happen. And the reasons are 1. We’ve been practicing this internal dialog for probably our whole lives, so it’s deeply ingrained and thus will take time to transform and 2. Because when we get stuck in our intellect it keeps us from developing the necessary actions it takes to embody whatever it is we’re looking to work on in regards to our own growth and well-being. So just because we know something in our mind intellectually doesn’t mean it translates into an embodied experience, which is what’s necessary in order for us to progress on our path. Knowing is not enough – knowing is a critical first step, but we need to pair knowing with doing, in order for transformation and healing to take place.

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Diversity Training #4

For the purposes of this particular post, I plan on focusing on Diversity Training #4 – to read all 7 of the Diversity Trainings, please click here: https://goingoutwordsandinwords.wordpress.com/?s=diversity+trainings. Our local sangha, Be Here Now, which meets on Monday nights at the Open Way Mindfulness Center here in Missoula, MT, has taken up the 7 Diversity Trainings as a 7-month series. Once a month, on the first Monday, we have a different sangha member give a short talk on one of the trainings, and then we open up for community sharing centered around whichever training we’re on. Tonight, we’ll be on #4.

I only recently became aware of these Diversity Trainings this past January, so I am still getting familiar with each of them and forming my own relationship to them. As a writer, what better way is there to foster this relationship than by writing about it?!

Diversity Training #4:

Aware of the suffering caused by intentional or unintentional acts of rejection, exclusion, avoidance, or indifference towards people who are culturally, physically, sexually, or economically different from me, I undertake the training to refrain from isolating myself to people of similar backgrounds as myself and from being only with people who make me feel comfortable. I commit to searching out ways to diversify my relationships and increase my sensitivity towards people of different cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, genders, and economic means.

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