Accidental Life?

Version 2“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I hadn’t thought of that question for a long…..well….very long time.  But when I said “Yes” to talking to high school juniors about a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), it screamed back into my mind – along with a tremble.

“A tremble?  Really?  With this simple question?”, the inner commentator opinioned.  “Yes, REALLY!”  I snapped back.  The sound of my voice startled me back into the moment.  “Okay… Okay… Okay,” I murmured, taking a few deep breaths to gather my composure.

I hadn’t expected an internal ruckus over this seemingly simple, ordinary event.  “Where in the world did this come from?” I wondered.  So, I decided to do some internal investigation work to see what I could discover – for the students and myself.

This nudge was all my mind needed to launch a memory search.  I found that when I was in high school, I hated it when someone asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.  Why?  Simple.  I didn’t have an answer.  But not liking a question is different than the  heightened visceral reaction of a tremble.  So, I went deeper and gave myself time to see what would come, if anything.

A couple of days later when I was walking Dakota (my dog), a memory appeared, not the kind where I remember a specific incident, but rather a memory that revealed how I thought about my life.  I saw that somewhere along the way growing up, I got good at figuring out where I was going next – having answers made life feel certain.  “I’ve had enough uncertainty,” I had concluded.

How did I create certainty?  I did whatever it took to get me to a known, comfortable place. Back then, this was relatively straightforward to do.  I studied for tests and good grades.  I practiced piano, cleaned my room when necessary, and did my best to stay within the bounds of “being considerate” to others.

“What did I want to be when I grew up?” was different.  It was a pivotal question, taking me into a future – I place I knew that was fully  unknown.    “Goodness,” I thought, “I have enough issues being a high school teenager, much less having the ability to consider where I will go, or what I will do.”  Tremble, indeed.  The seemingly simple “I don’t know” had rocketed itself into the stratosphere of uncertainty.

∞∞∞

Dr. Seuss - you have brainsA week later, I began my talk to the students with a question, a different one than I was asked:  “How can you plan a future that does not yet exist?”  They looked  puzzled, but I was undaunted and continued.   “I couldn’t, in fact, I had no idea.  But what I could do was know what I liked and what I was good at; what I was curious about and what might challenge me.

“Math, was my answer.  From where I stood, it seemed to have the potential of opening a whole new, adventurous world.  In terms of where, my choice was Purdue.  It was and is a great school,  it was more diverse, meaning there were boys there, and was a lot bigger than my small all-girls high school.

“What happened?  The future took care of itself.  Having been accepted into the Math Honors program, I was enrolled in Honors Math classes that took advantage of and integrated the emerging field of Computer Science.  Where my friends used slide rules, I was solving Calculus problems writing computer code.  Little did I know then that I was on my way to a yet unknown career in technology and innovation.

“My advice?  Whatever you know about what you want to do or what you want to study, be open.  Let life open possibilities you couldn’t even imagine, waiting for you to discover where you’ll go next.”

∞∞∞

For all that seems to change in this fast-paced world, some things don’t change.  Yes, we get more experience and knowledge from which to consider today’s  choices; but irrespective of all these facts, we still cannot plan a future which does not yet exist.

Eckhart TolleI’m amazed at my teenage-self.  I knew then, exactly how to proceed.  One step at a time.  Trust.  Say “Yes” to the doors that open.  See what I like, what doesn’t fit.  Learn.  Trust again.

I am grateful to have been with the students and I am even more grateful for what I learned.  Now, I ask myself a new question.  “Am I ready, willing, able to be here today, to stand with grace facing an uncertain future, to feel the paradox of vulnerability and trust all in the same breath?”  I respond “yes” when I can.  When I can’t, I feel my teenage wisdom’s ability to tremble and keep on moving.

Truth is, I still don’t have a definitive answer to that initial question.  So, “How’s it going?” you may ask.  Just like then, it’s looking good so far.

Thanks for reading!
Kathleen

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Love Story

Version 2Happy Day – Happy Valentine’s Day!

Truth is that it wasn’t my intention, my mindful intention, to post this blog today.  But when I woke up this morning, I knew it was the day.

A few weeks ago I was asked to share a “life journey story” for a project, actually a new social enterprise organization, I’m involved in (more on that in a later blog).   I began with this writing assignment as I typically do – feeling it first, with little idea of how I would morph that feeling into words.   Over days, and weeks, it did.

Here we go.  A Love Story.

∞ ∞ ∞

Stories. My story. It sounds so simple, but where do I begin? What story do I tell? One that’s easy? Or do I dare go deeper?

You see, for a long time, I didn’t tell my life’s stories. It wasn’t that I chose not to share them, I just didn’t. Life was life. And, if I were savvy enough back then, I could’ve said something “new-agey” like “Oh, that was then, this is now. I’m living in the present moment.”

That would’ve been furthest from the truth. It wasn’t until my life changed dramatically – the kind of eruption where who I thought I was, what my life was about, and ideas of my future were totally blasted – that I came face-to-face with my stories – the ones I had tucked away a long time ago.

“The teacher appears when the student is ready,” they say. It’s easy to surmise that the teacher is a person.  But what is it like when the most poignant teachers are our own stories – challenging us to love all we had sentenced to be unlovable, offering to transform old stories into new ones?

I’m ahead of myself, so I’ll begin at the beginning.

∞ ∞ ∞

KK youngWhen I was born, my dad was hospitalized for TB, the scourge of the 50’s. My mother and grandmother went to work to support our family; and my older brother and I were given to 2 different sets of great-aunts and uncles.   I was an adult before I saw the surviving pictures of that time. I was a happy little one. But that wasn’t the story I tucked away.  It’s this one.

Like every morning, I was eating corn flakes in the breakfast nook. Only on this day, my uncle, Uncle George, came to breakfast with a drawn face and puffy eyes. I was three. Holding back tears he said as cheerfully as he could “Good news. You’re going home.” He meant, of course, I was going back to my biological family, which was now together, healthy.

“I am home!” I announced. And, without a word, he brought me into his arms. He was crying. I was crying. He said softly, “We love you. They love you. It’s time. You’re a strong little girl.”

I’ve gone back to that little one many times since that day. I wanted to know how she felt, then; and what she tucked away as her memory. With 3 years of life under her belt, she made the only logical conclusion she could. “No matter how great life seems, it can change instantly; so be watchful, be a good girl, be strong.”

She was. She was, that day, standing on the front porch of her parent’s house, watching her uncle and aunt drive away. She was, hearing a knock on her 2nd grade classroom door, watching the nun ask for her, listening to the words that Uncle George died that morning. She was, sitting at the funeral home in the midst of people and carnations, feeling her lifeline to home, gone. That afternoon, her conclusion became even stronger, “Life can’t be trusted. It takes away people I love.”

All of this was forgotten as the daily rituals and a young girl’s life experiences took over – school, friends, brothers, brownies, summer days and evenings, snowmen, bikes, piano practice, and first boyfriend. Days were on track, normal, wonderful, yet mysterious in all the ways growing up is for a young girl.

∞ ∞ ∞

Life was as normal as normal could get the spring I turned 14: in a few months, I’d graduate 8th grade from our small Catholic school and in the fall, I’d go to the local high school. It was all myself and my friends could think or talk about.

So, normal it was one evening. My brothers were clearing the table; I was loading the dishwasher; and mother and dad were finishing up a conversation. As they left the dinner table, they said they wanted to talk to me. “Okay… I’ll be there in a minute” I said. And they continued, “let’s go in the living room.” “Yikes,” I thought, “We never go into the living room.” Unease crashed into my stomach.

They began, “We’ve been thinking….” After that, I only heard the ending “And so, we’ve decided the best thing for you is to go to an all girls Catholic boarding high school 70 miles away. The arrangements have been made, they’re allowing you to work to pay for your room, board and tuition. We know you’ll love it.”

It felt as if the air had been sucked from the room. I just sat – there – silent – stoic – being a “good girl” – promising myself not to cry. “What about my friends, my room, my life here?” Something about it felt strangely familiar.

Summer passed by and with fall in the air, I packed my suitcase and followed mother and dad to the car. Seventy miles and two hours later, we arrived at my new school with plenty to grab my attention – roommates, nuns, campus, work responsibilities, class schedules. As mother and dad drove away, I stood on the front porch of the dorm watching. Something about it felt strangely familiar.

That evening, my “worker” job was washing pots and pans. Standing at the biggest sink I had ever seen, my arms were fully immersed in suds; and behind the noisy clanking, quiet tears ran down my cheeks. Thankfully, no one noticed and the next few hours had plenty of distractions.   With my first day  done and as the “lights-out” bell rang, a monstrous wave of grief crashed through me. “This is your reality, now,” it stated.  “A bell replaces your mother’s nightly tuck-ins,  her loving goodnight kisses, and her reminder ‘Sweet dreams’.”

Somewhere in the night, I tucked it all into my buried story book: loss trumped love, again.   And, by the next morning, my sense of loss had morphed into sheer determination. I made another promise to myself. “I’m fine. I don’t need all that other stuff anyway.   I’ll be fine. I’ll find my own way and take care of myself.” With that settled, life as a high schooler took over. Even working was fine. I loved cooking; and the early morning cleaning of empty classrooms was a welcomed  refuge.

∞ ∞ ∞

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how we spirited human beings have an uncanny capacity to move on with life? They say “time heals all wounds”. It seemed true for me too. High school was followed by Purdue, new jobs, a developing career. I decorated my homes, found adventure in travel and volunteering. In my early 30’s I married, had a beautiful daughter, become an entrepreneur, and we bought our dream home.

But the deep, forgotten stories, don’t go away. The psychologists tell us that they are always present, unconsciously impacting our life and choices.   That was okay. I was in charge. I had a plan.  The plan was working.

∞ ∞ ∞

The Buddhists teach “impermanence” as a path of coming to peace with beginnings and endings. And so it was in my life, one beautiful September day when my marriage, and as a result my home and life, shattered like brittle glass.

On the outside, one day my life looked one way, the next day, it was totally different.  On the inside, shrapnels of shattered glass pierced the vaults that held my buried stories. The grief, the aloneness from decades before erupted into the moment. No one, including myself, knew where all the tears were coming from. Words, much less stories, were not yet available.

Over time, the stories, now free from the inner darkness, offered to be heard and honored. Then, they began to teach. Their lesson, on the days I could listen, was that it is not time that heals all wounds, it’s love – not the love we have come to expect from others, rather the love that runs through our life.

What else could the voice be, but love – in the quiet moments cooking,  or waiting for my daughter in carpool line, that whispered “There are new choices. A new life coming.”

What else could music be, could the winds be, could the warm rays of the sun be, but love – touching my heart, inviting me to feel gifts that could heal my grief.

What else could synchronicity be, but love – as teachers came to sit with me, and help interpret the old stories in new ways, knowing it was possible to come to new understandings in my own way and my own time.

∞ ∞ ∞

Version 2As you might imagine, there are many more stories to tell. For now, I’ll end this one with where I stand today. You see, somewhere in those years, between the then and the now, I began to imagine new stories – ones that didn’t pit loss and love against each other. Rather the new stories recounted the paradox of wholeness that embraces love and loss in one breath like each day holds the light and the dark.

I discovered a new truth in the saying “This too shall pass”; a truth bigger than the simple attempt to discard what hurts too deeply to keep. The new truth looked and felt like nature’s beloved seasons. Springs’ excitements and summer’s blossoms flow into fall and winter. Leaves fall. Trees stand bare. Here, all that was, nourishes the ground – the ground that gives life from the life that came before.

And so it is that love’s stories found me.   My parents’ love let me go to be cared for when they couldn’t. My uncle and aunt’s love let me go into my life that was waiting. In high school, life’s love expanded my world beyond the boundaries of what my parents and small town could provide and set the foundation for the woman I was to become.

I am beyond grateful. And I still cry. A teacher told me once that when your heart is open, your eyes leak.

 

The Invitation, Excerpts

Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living,

I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream…

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.

I want to know if you will risk looking like fool for love,

for your dream, for the adventure of being alive….

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.

I want to know what sustains you from the inside and

if you can be alone with yourself and

if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Thanks for reading,

Kathleen

Posted in Integrating Life | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

A Fresh Start: From Then. . . To Now

IMG_2108When I started this blog, I wanted to write pieces that I wanted to read.  Sounds simple enough.  After all, it didn’t make sense to write otherwise and expect others to read something I wouldn’t.     What did I like to read?  Blogs with topics and perspectives from which I could learn, explore, question, be curious about the world, life, and myself.

As a place to start, I chose topics within our common experiences – like love, home, family, travel, leaving, journeys.  Then, I dove in to explore what it meant, how it felt.  Like trying on a new outfit.  Does it fit?  How do I feel in it?  Is it like other outfits in my closet or does it stretch me beyond my comfort zone?

This all seemed to be working fine until one day my writing didn’t feel right.  Then this one day turned into weeks and months.   It wasn’t so much about the content or topic, it was about the resonance of my voice.  I wrote the words, they made sense; but like great music which touches our hearts beyond the notes, the blogs were not great. They were okay, but they didn’t touch my heart with a “Yes!”

“No problem,” I thought, as my mind rallied to solve the dilemma.  “We need more focus, more discipline, a plan,” it opined.  That’s what I did:  meditation – to access my creative channels;  reading – for inspiration and writing tips; time-on-task writing at the computer; and the all time favorite – setting of deadlines.

What happened?  I had a lot to show for my work – more ideas, more words, a satisfied mind having checked the boxes on the prescribed schedule; but still, no resonance and an unused “Publish” button on the WordPress screen.

But somewhere along the way, in what initially seemed to be a diversion from writing, a new writing emerged, like a reluctant crocus on a warm spring day.  I abandoned the computer and picked up the artist sketch pad.   The over-sized blank pages offered my mind, heart and emotions open space to wander aimlessly through life and its paradoxes,  to say what they needed and wanted to say, unconstrained, honest.

Across these pages, an intimacy slowly unfolded through words and I began to discover the truth of my experiences, real-life, real-time.  David Whyte beautifully exposes this process.   An excerpt…

PROCRASTINATION

is not what it seems… What looks from the outside like our delay…..may have more to do with a slow, necessary ripening through time and a central struggle with the core realities of any endeavor to which we have set our minds….

… Procrastination when studied closely can be a beautiful opening to the way we are, a parallel with patience, a companionable friend, a revealer of the true pattern, already, we are surprised to find, caught within us; acknowledging for instance, as a writer, that before a book can be written, most of the ways it cannot be written must be tried first, in our minds; on the blank screen on the empty page or staring at the bedroom ceiling at four in the morning…

…Procrastination does not stop a project from coming to fruition, what stops us is giving up on an original idea because we have not got to the heart of the reason we are delaying, nor let the true form of our reluctance instruct us in the way ahead.

To properly procrastinate is to be involved with larger entities than our own ideas…. and wrestle like Jacob with his angel, finding as Rilke said, ‘Winning does not tempt that man, This is how he grows, by being defeated decisively, by greater and greater beings.’

‘PROCRASTINATION’ From CONSOLATIONS:   The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. © David Whyte & Many Rivers Press 2015

∞∞∞

EcclesiastesWhat looked like stopping on the outside was an inner call to go deeper, within – not to find more words, but to discover the essence of what the words meant and how they felt; not in the abstract, but one moment at a time.   One person at a time.  One me at a time.

I don’t know how it feels for you to love, to laugh, to cry.  I don’t know what smiles touch your heart, or how you calm your fears in the dark nights.  But, in this winter of writing, I have come to to know how it feels to me.  And, I know that in this space of feeling and knowing life intimately in our own way, we are connected.  Here, we share life.

Thanks for reading,

Kathleen

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Miracles

IMG_5968 - Version 2Throughout time, teachers have taught the wisdom of the power of thought, reminding us it’s a creative, energetic laser beam.  Fortunately, these wisdoms have come into current consciousness through affirmations.  One of my favorites is “Where my attention goes, my power goes.”

But,  I have also discovered that irrespective of the intensity of my attention or conscious belief that I can make things happen – life does the happening.  Sometimes things go as I think and want; other times, they go totally differently.

……… In simple things – fixing dinner for friends, having thought lovingly and excitedly about the evening, I accidentally dropped the cake as I took it out of the oven.

……….In bigger things – feeling an excitement of moving, putting my home on the market, I discovered that no one was interested in buying.

………..In BIG things – loving someone dearly and seeing a life with them, I watched them leave.

I’m not unique, quite the contrary, all of us, no matter how hard we might try to circumvent life’s critical eruptions, they come anyway.  Here, we find ourselves face-to-face with the reality that life happens – in its own way.

∞ ∞ ∞

Being a mindful person, trained to seek understanding, I went looking for insights into the relationship between my thoughts and life.   Fortunately, there are a lot of places to go –  science, religion, spirituality, psychology, poetry, art for starters.

For awhile, knowledge helped.  From a distanced vantage point, I could look back into my life and better understand “Why” something happened.  And, more often than not, the initial angst transformed into gratitude.

I also discovered that I was becoming more aware of the smaller eruptions during the day.  This gave me the chance to remember the affirmations and choose my thoughts.

But then there were the days when I found myself smack-dab in the midst of an unwanted, uncomfortable situation.  It took me awhile, but I finally realized that my successes  with transforming past conclusions and small disturbances had lulled me into believing that when the tougher storms came, they wouldn’t be as big or at least, they would be easier to get through.

∞ ∞ ∞

Albert Einstein once said “There are only 2 ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is.”

As it turns out, the miracle he was speaking of is not that the storms don’t come or that we easily circumvent them.  The miracle is life itself – it’s full range of experience and feeling.  Perhaps this is what Eleanor Roosevelt was referring to when she said “Life is a daring adventure, or nothing at all.”

∞ ∞ ∞

For me, as each day passed, knowledge morphed into a way of living.  As I wake-up, I turn my attention to the newness of the day.  If my thoughts wander to worry, I remind myself that the day has the same excitement of planning a trip with anticipation of discovery when the familiar feels new and when new feels expansive.

In quiet moments, I sit with the Buddhist wisdom of “Impermanence” and life’s ever changing nature.  Here, I embrace my emotional self – the parts of me taking charge of keeping me away from what might hurt.  I remind myself of my  courage and strength; and that whatever has been and whatever will come “This too shall pass.”

Then, as often as I can, I remember to move through the day with the walking mediation of  “Presence.”  For accustom as I am to setting forth a destination and a thoughtful path, this reminds me that life lives me and to be present in the moment.  Here, I relax into letting-go, being with what is, and treasuring it.

∞ ∞ ∞

campbell quote being aliveWhat does this look like?  As it turns out, when I told my guests, I had dropped the birthday cake on the floor, everyone laughed and the evening became lighter.

Three years ago when my home was for sale and there were no buyers, I discovered my deeper desire – it wasn’t so much a place as it was the feeling of “being home.”

Over time, I came to see the gifts of those I felt I had lost.  Each person, every situation brought me here, to this moment and the richness I am today.

∞ ∞ ∞

Yes, the teachers knew.  It’s just that along the way, I’ve come to understand more of what they meant.

Thanks for reading,

Kathleen

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Going Beyond Words

NOTE:   Originally, I wrote this for my Fusion Advisors blog that has a business tone and perspective.   Then I realized that the diverse readers of my personal blog might enjoy it as well, since we all have many aspects to our lives.

Beyond WordsAs children, our mothers had a tone in their voice – one which we understood when she called our name.  Good or bad, we knew what she meant – no explanation needed.

In much of our life, we take this sense – to know beyond what we see and hear – for granted.  It just happens.  We feel the connection with another person behind their smile.  We effortlessly change lanes when we sense a car coming over before it does.  When a friend tells us that everything is fine, we know whether they’re telling us the truth or not.

Intuitively, we know this sense is part of our life – one of the many things that makes us uniquely human.  And yet, somewhere along the way, we learn differently.  Sensing morphs into thinking and analyzing.

∞ ∞ ∞

imagesI learned a long time ago, that when I’m presented with a choice between 2 options, I need to look carefully.  More often than not, situations and choices are not as simple as they first appear.  The options function as a clue to see that there’s more than what meets the eye.

What would it look like to consciously re-integrate our sense to go beyond the words into our trained abilities to think, analyze and draw conclusions?

First, it’s relevant.  The fast pace of information, technology and the media increasingly captures the attention of our physical senses.  And, in the business world, we’ve expertly honed our data gathering and decision making skills to support thoughtful, analytical conclusions.

Re-integrating our intuitive sense to go beyond these mechanisms would enliven our ability to relate to others, to get to the root of what’s going on, behind the words.  In fact, researchers at MIT recently released a study about the effectiveness of teams.  Their conclusion was that women engage their intuitive sense to identify issues behind the words.  As a result, teams with more women are more effective getting the job done.

Second, it’s practical.  For example, many of my friends take great pride in having a “sense of direction” only to discover that when their phone and GPS aren’t working, they have to scramble to reboot the connection to their internal guide.

Third, it’s effective – though, as I learned first hand, a bit uncomfortable at first.  We all have stories about who, what when, how – I’ll share one of mine.

In my first, full-fledged healthcare-technology entrepreneurial position, I was VP of Sales and Customer support – the place where the rubber meets the road in young companies – no customers, no revenue, no business.  On this particular day, the CEO joined me for an important prospect visit to a large health insurance company.

After the meeting was done and we were walking to the car, the CEO gave his assessment “That was a great meeting!  We’ll have a new customer soon.”  I started to laugh – I thought he was joking, “You’ve got to be kidding, that was terrible!”  With barely a breath, came his intense reply that started something like “That’s crazy..they said this and that… the right people were in the room….”

Somewhere in the midst of his litany, I realized I had not verbalized the cues I picked up behind the words.  So, I explained why I drew my conclusion. “We didn’t have their attention – they were polite, but not all that interested.  Their body language and side glances across the table were not encouraging.”  And then I concluded  “We did our best with all of this, but they weren’t buying, don’t quite know why, but they weren’t.”

Two perspectives.  Two sources of information.  Two different conclusions.  We could’ve argued all day about who was right and he could’ve pulled the CEO trump card.  But we were curious about what would happen next and what we could learn.  So, we created an experiment.  With a detailed plan on what we would do for next-steps and follow-up, we’d track the prospect’s responses and what happened.  Though our plan and actions were intense, the result was not –  there was no response.  None.

UnknownAlthough this prospect didn’t become a client, many did because of that day.  We, as a company, learned how to have a conversation about the dynamics within situations.  We developed a rapport with each other to discuss both the facts and what we sensed behind the words.   We didn’t always agree, but we got better at understanding what was really going on, the problems that needed to be solved, and how to work well with the people who made decisions about our technology.

The result of integrating our mindful and intuitive approaches?  We had great track-record of closing business after the verbal “yes”.  And, once a customer came on, they stayed.

∞ ∞ ∞

It makes sense to use all of our senses – the factual, the actions, the words and all that’s behind them.  Yes, it takes practice; along with a sense of curiosity and adventure to get through the sticky, uncomfortable spots, but that’s how we learn, everything.

Thanks for reading!

Kathleen

If you’re curious and want to learn more, here’s a few sources that are a good start.

If you’re interested strengthening the channel to your intuitive senses, there’s a number of ways to get started.

  • A meditation, contemplation, prayer practice is a great way to quiet the mind and begin developing a relationship with your inner senses.  It’s easy to start.  In a quiet moment, pay attention to your breath.  In and out.  Over time, let it expand beyond a few breaths, into minutes.
  • If you already have an exercise routine, consider switching the news and talk channels on your iPod to music that puts you in touch with your movement.  Then, watch your breath, feel the muscles and bones in your body move as you do.
  • One of my favorites is to re-acquaint myself with the non-mindful books on my bookshelves.  They draw my attention to the world I know by feeling and sensing.  Sometimes, it’s a fun book – on cats; other times Rumi.  Sometimes it’s an art book or a nature book; other times it’s a contemplative author.  If books aren’t your thing, go to the web.  There are fabulous websites to tickle our inner senses.

∞ ∞ ∞

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Heart’s Desire

IMG_0314As each new day begins, irrespective of what happened, or didn’t happen yesterday, the day holds its promise for the known and unknown.  Now, with a new year, these possibilities explode into calls for action in “New Year’s Resolutions.”

For me, the idea of “Resolutions” didn’t settle as easily as in the past.  It seemed that I didn’t need new actions or resolve; rather what I needed most was to be centered, grounded in myself where all my calls to action (which I am good at making by the way) were connected into a greater whole – a whole that honored all that I am capable of bringing into my life and the world.

******

Many years ago in a meditation group, I did an exercise called “My Heart’s Desire”.  It’s purpose and gift was to quiet our chatty minds filled with opinions and “should’s” so we could listen to the deeper knowing of wholeness within our heart.   Since then, the exercise has been a staple in my inner life and in my teaching.  And in a New Year’s conversation with friends, they asked me to share it.  So here, we go.

Heart's Desire - blankIt’s easy to begin.  Sit comfortably in a quiet space.  Get a pen, pencil, and paper; or your favorite technology.  At the top of the blank space write “My Heart’s Desires”.  Then along the left hand margin, write the numbers from “1” to “13”.

Next, ask yourself, “What are my heart’s desires?”

Listen.  Let the answers be simple, a part of you – the desires in everyday moments.  For example, good health for yourself, child, parent, friend.  A better job, one that inspires you.  An accomplishment in your current career.  Loving relationship.  Exercise.  Peace.  Laughter.  More time with good friends.  Travel.  To contribute to the world, making it a better place to live.

Heart's Desire - listWrite everything that comes.  Big and small.  Ordinary and extraordinary.  You might think that this is too simple, that the desires have to have an importance about them.  But the truth is, my truth is, our heart knows the incredible gift it is to be human – to move about the world, to feel, to live, to create, to share, and to be.

When you’re done, take a deep breath, two, even three.  Then, look at the list.  Marvel at what you see.  All of this is you.

The yoga practice teaches “Beginner’s Mind” and reminds us to look at ourselves and what we are doing as if it were the first time when we are awash in novelty and curiosity.  Here, breathe in the awe of you – the  depth and breadth of your life – your interests and desires.  Feel the uniqueness of you as if you were just getting to know yourself.

*****

Heart's Desire - list - 2Now, the fun begins.  Look at the list you’ve written, read # 1 and #2.  Breathe them in and pick one.   Circle it, put a star, a check by it – whatever works for you.

Next, look at #3 and #4.  Pick one.  Keep going through the list, pairing your desires and choosing one from the pair.

The key is to smile, breathe, and listen to your heart.  Don’t think too much; and if questions or comments arise like “how am I going to do this?” or “this is crazy!”, thank your mind for sharing and chose what you want.  After all, it’s just a piece of paper – if you don’t like it when you’re done, you can tear it up and start over.

When you’re done, breathe and smile.  Congratulate yourself!

*****

Heart's Desire - list - 3We’re not done quite yet.  There’s another round.

Look at the desires you’ve just chosen, pair the first two up and chose one.  Again, continue down the list – pairing the next two and choosing.

By now, you know the pattern.  After this round, you will do the same for each round.  The number of rounds will depend on the length of your initial list.   Eventually, you will get to the final 3, final 2, and the final one.

******

Heart's Desire - list - 4Here you discover you – the magic and connection of your wholeness.

(1)  Desires are connected.  In fact, often, they are part of each other.  For example, if your list had “Happy family life”, “Fulfilling career” and “Love”, you might have found that you chose “Love”.  Love connects families in good times and bad.  “Loving” our career choice imbues the feeling of being fulfilled.

Look through your list, where are the connections for you?

(2)  In a world that seems to be filled with competing roles and desires, prompting us to  talk about “balance” in our life, here, with Heart’s Desires, we see that all our roles are a part of us and our full life – daughter, sister, friend, team member, parent, volunteer.  Perhaps a quest for a formula of “balance” becomes an understanding of a “flow” between dynamic choices.

What might this mean for you?  Would you make choices differently or perhaps find peace in the choices you are making?

(3)  The kinetic energy that began with the list and choices transforms into a sense of peace that comes through the process of listening, honoring, and feeling ourselves connected to ourselves – who we are, what we do, what we want, and how we feel.  It’s a peace born of honoring the wholeness of our being.

Notice how you are feeling.  Remember in the daily bustle, you can revisit your Heart’s Desires or create a new one to return to your center.

*****

LOOKING INTO THE CREEK

The way the soul is with the senses and the intellect                                                                        is like a creek.

When desire weeds grow thick,                                                                                        intelligence can’t flow,

and, soul creatures stay hidden.

But sometimes the reasonable clarity
runs so strong

it sweeps the clogged stream open.
No longer weeping

and frustrated, your being grows as powerful
as your wantings were before

more so. Laughing

and satisfied, the masterful flow lets
creatures of the soul appear.

You look down,
and it’s lucid dreaming.

The gates made of light
swing open.

You see in.

Coleman Barks, Rumi, The Book of Love, p 100

I wish you a wonderful, joyful, blessed New Year!

Thanks you for reading.

Kathleen

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Not Knowing

Mud settle picFrom the moment we’re born, we have a built-in protection system to survive and a passion to thrive.  So, we’re curious.  We want to know.  And we begin, learning, knowing more.

I’ve been on the “Knowing” trail all my life, thank goodness.  It got me through school; it  was key my career; it helped me be a better parent and friend.   As life brought new situations I didn’t understand, I used my “knowing” skills to learn, more so I could move through it.

∞ ∞ ∞

What do we do when “knowing” is not enough?  When we can’t change an unwanted situation?  This is where I found myself when my mother was dying, my marriage was ending, my companion cat, lost.  But it’s not just the “big” times in life, it’s the every day moments when life feels in charge –  like being stuck in traffic, computer crashing before a deadline, not getting the expected call back.

Often, our first reaction is to “do” something, anything; after all, action is a great elixir for feeling in control.  We find ways to fix situations, solve conundrums, understand them, distract ourselves from them, sometimes, we just shut down.

∞ ∞ ∞

wheel_2_lgAn essence of the Buddhist tradition is the “Wheel of Life.”  It portrays the nature of our cyclical experience: life and death – birth is followed by death, death is followed by birth; feeling good and feeling miserable – one moment all seems to be going well, we’re happy and the next moment we’re upset about something.  Their teachings help us open awareness to see the patterns and discover for ourselves, our path to peace.

Now, I’ve “known” this for many years.  At times, I’m aware enough to see the pattern and have the presence to fall into a broader, more loving perspective.  I remember, “All is well”, “This too shall pass”, “I honor the wisdom I cannot see”, I look to find the hurt behind the anger and open my heart to loving both.

Other times, I get lost.  Life draws me in:  I see things going on in the world I don’t like or don’t understand.  Or something happens to me that seems so foreboding, unfair, crazy, inconsiderate that it lights my inner fireworks.  Kaboom, I’m spinning on the wheel, diving into my mind and emotions to get the support and justification I need to feel better.

The past few weeks, in life’s flow, I’ve found myself spinning on the wheel.  I’ve done everything I know to quiet my inner reaction to life.  I got busy taking care of things; I went to the movies, I repeated affirmations and dropped into meditations.   But none of it worked, for long.

∞ ∞ ∞

DarknessVulnerable.  A challenging place to be.  Not only that, in the midst of life’s commotion, the more I did, the more tools I used, my feeling of vulnerability intensified.  I thought all of this would help me steer clear of the wheel and its inner tsunami, or at least calm it for awhile. It didn’t.  I got more.

Finally, one moment, in one day, vulnerability exploded into despair.  I collapsed and cried “I don’t know.  I’ve done my best, all that I knew how to do, I can’t do anymore.  I don’t know.”

∞ ∞ ∞

images-1Spiritual wisdoms teach us the concept of surrendering to Life that exists beyond us.  Here, they tell us, we come into tune with sacredness – the love and grace that is Life’s essence.

But, surrender is counterintuitive to our human minds.  Our human selves like succeeding and winning.  It’s built-into our way of life – school, work, hobbies, and even self-help programs.  Yet, experience reminds us that we don’t always hit our targets, win the game, stay in relationships; and that somehow in coming through the hardest of hard times, we find our inner strength and a deeper ability to love.

My cry, “I don’t know”, was an explosion of deep surrender.   There was no place to go, nothing to do.  Never before have I experienced this inner quiet – a place of deep, deep peace.  A place without words.  A place of feeling connected to Life – not as I know it, as it is.

∞ ∞ ∞

My mind has no idea what this means or where I go from here.  I will say I feel more present to life, grounded, centered.  And, I know that I am not alone – not because my mind tells me so, but because I feel it to be true.  In this moment, that is enough.  I’ve begun again.

START CLOSE IN

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

River Flow, David Whyte

Thanks for reading,

Kathleen

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