Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Swan

The Swan

This laboring through what is still undone
as though, legs bound, we hobbled along the way,
is like the awkward walking of the swan.

And dying - to let go, no longer feel
the solid ground we stand on every day -
is like his anxious letting himself fall

into the water, which receives him gently
and which, as though with reverence and joy,
draws back past him in streams on either side;
while, infinitely silent and aware,
in his full majesty and ever more
indifferent, he condescends to glide.

--Rainier Maria Rilke; translation by Stephen Mitchell

Monday, March 24, 2014

This Thing Called Happiness

Ask any parent what she wants most for her child, and she'll say, "Happiness."

But happiness is confusing.

Am I happy? I look at my circumstances . . .  and see problems.    

I scan my feelings . . .   and they're not all "happy."

I remember the most honest prayer I ever heard from a pulpit. The minister paused as we bowed our heads. "Lord," she sighed. "We try so hard to be happy. It doesn't get us anywhere."

We don't know how to get this thing called happiness. 

Should we keep looking?

"There are good reasons that the whole notion of  'seeking happiness' is flawed to begin with." --Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking

When I'm searching hard for happiness, I can hook into things that make me unhappy - without even realizing it.

Social media, for instance. In the past month, I've cut down 90 percent on my social media use. I thought I loved networking and was having fun.

In truth, it was becoming addictive. I used a journaling process to help me discover that: 1) I was running to Facebook as a distraction to avoid unhappy feelings throughout the day. 2) It usually made me feel worse.

I hadn't even noticed!

It sounds simple, so ridiculously simple, to ask the question, "What makes me happy?" And yet we don't know.  

To start with, when things go our way we should be happy, right? Yet we all know miserable millionaires, gorgeous people who feel ugly, successful folks who are lonely and lost. People we think should be happy aren't.

When we find our day in the sun, we fear the shadow.  

And there's the flip side. When things are going badly, sometimes the happiest feelings arise. My sweetest memories happened in two tiny rooms where I lived with my little girls after leaving their father. We were broke, and heartbroken. Yet there was happiness, and much singing.

I can be happy and unhappy at the same time. I can be frustrated, yet content, discouraged and yet brave, frightened and yet at peace.

There is happy, and there is other-happy.

It's a deeper sense of well-being. It's when the search becomes a spiritual quest.

That quest starts with honesty.

What if we were totally honest with ourselves about unhappiness? When I get quiet and pay attention, I notice my hopelessness, even in good circumstances. I discover how clueless I am about creating happiness. 

I give up my designs.

I connect to the other-happy Presence.

I sense a happiness that is independent of . . . well, happiness!

Again, if this sounds confusing, it is!

This is something you can do with a pen in hand. When you catch yourself trying to be happy, take a mental step back. Notice what works and what doesn't. 

A place to start is with the question:

What makes me happy?

Here are answers some folks gave. (Thank you, Craig Daniels.)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spring Cleaning: Who I Used to Be

Going through closets and cupboards, I’m finding things I haven’t touched for years.

•    Cookie cutters for baking with the kids, all of whom are in their twenties now
•    A professional black and white blazer
•    Pumpkin carvers for Halloween 
•    Red satin heels that went with dresses I no longer own 
•    A lace jacket that scratched my skin
•    Medicines for past ailments
•    A black cashmere sweater that gave my neck a rash
•    Strong’s Concordance for studying the Bible

These things reflect the person I used to be: the mom who doted on her kids, the eager-to-please wife, the on-and-off again administrative assistant, the conservative Christian.

She was willing to wear uncomfortable things for the sake of looking nice. She was conscious of cost, and didn’t throw out anything that had been pricey. She invested greatly in her children and family and their times together.

But life asks us to recognize the present. To acknowledge our changing.

Really, I’m not very good at spring cleaning. But I am getting the message about what to notice.

This person whose things I’m giving away - I’m not that person anymore. There’s a part of me who doesn’t want to let her go. Yet I’m willing.

I’m at a crossroads, with a new empty nest, a changing focus, an evolving creativity and relationship with God.

I remember another crossroads fifteen years ago. A friend shared a Zen Kōan, the story of a man who crosses a river, then picks up the boat and carries it with him wherever he goes.

Once you have taken the boat across the river, you don’t need it anymore.

There are many rivers I’ve crossed, and I honor them, and I’m grateful for all the vessels that have brought me along.

And now as I take the next step on land, I’m a little lighter, a little more free.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Moon, the Stars, and Nurturing Yourself

Once upon a time I looked upon astrology as misleading, evil, or satanic. If it wasn't all those things, then at least it was silly and unscientific.

I've changed my mind.

I've come to view astrology as a wonderful resource on my journey.

Formerly, I wrestled with not feeling my astrological sign, Virgo. She is fussy, perfectionistic, moralistic, demanding. Ugh! These have been qualities I've railed against and worked to minimize. I've taken things even further, as a coach who helps creatives banish critical thoughts.

Not connecting to my sign, it was pretty easy to discount astrology. What I've learned through astrologer Jenna Abernathy, however, is that my sun sign only represents a part of what influences my identity. Jenna pointed out that I am a Pisces moon, and that, like many people, I am much more identified with my moon sign, that internal, quieter identity that follows a gentler rhythm.

This discovery floored me. I love and totally relate to my Pisces moon. I'm imaginative, dreamy, sensitive, intuitive, creative, emotional - it fits perfectly. I've also come to realize that the Virgo side does hold sway, helping me be disciplined and think critically. Yet it doesn't feed my soul.

Astrology teaches that your moon sign gives you cues to what nurtures and restores you. It's about that innermost personality.

According to "Stars Like You," I need escape time in order to feel nourished and cared for. This is spot-on. I've found I need dream time, stretches of quiet, and unstructured play. When I don't get this, I start feeling stressed, and I reach for my Pisces-moon addictions, which tend to be internal rather than external like other Pisces traps. Some of my pitfalls are obsessing, the Internet, self-pity, and depression.

The Maker of the Stars has designed me with exquisite care. I am much more than my signs, and yet these tools can offer wisdom. Honoring my rhythms and needs honors my self and my Maker. 

If you're like me, you can fall into the trap of ignoring your needs and feeding your addictions - whether those addictions are food, alcohol, shopping, trying to control others, or you-name-it. Finding out about yourself and how you operate, and getting encouragement and support from others, can help you not only understand yourself, but find a sweet life balance.

So what is your moon sign? How are you honoring yourself? How are you taking care of yourself? I'd love to hear about it. 

By the way, here's Jenna Abernathy's upcoming course: Moonshadow, which teaches you how to honor this nurturing side expressed by your moon sign. It's going to be amazing.

Jenna Abernathy of Divine Hunger