career · gratitude · meditation

Stupid gratitude…

9.19.18.jpegThree summers ago, I was smack in the center of an stunningly risky leap: changing careers.

The Fall/Winter before that, having come to the end of my rope in administrative work—and being somewhat far from my regular spiritual practice, my mentor having moved away—I gave notice at my job.  I said, for the umpteenth time, that I was going to do something “creative.”  And again, for the umpteenth time, I had no true vision of what that meant, except that it would feel better.

By the time the following summer rolled around, I’d worked as a minimum-wage retail employee, a temp, and a model for a computer equipment photo shoot.  My “plans” did not unfold well… mostly because I had no plan!

Sometime around January, having driven across town from that retail job (8 hours standing on a concrete floor, pain in my feet, knees, heart), I sat on a friend’s couch bemoaning that I was too old to be flailing like this.

She said I needed to choose something, that frankly it didn’t even matter what.  Just a few weeks later, in morning meditation, the idea came that I should be a teacher (specifically a HS physics teacher, but whatevs).

So, I took that idea and clung onto it with dearest desperation of life, because frankly, continuing to do this “life” thing wasn’t seeming all that appealing anymore.

I reached out to a private school teacher acquaintance; I reached out to my former ed director at the Sunday School I’d taught at; I emailed my friend who was a public school teacher and asked to see her cover letter and resume.

I had begun a mission: Operation Teach School.

By that July, would you believe, I was teaching school.  I had harassed the summer school department at a private school for long enough that they found a place for me teaching creative writing for a few hours a day for 6 weeks.  Thereafter, I had no prospects.

But, before those few hours with students began, I did what I do now: journal and meditate.

The free meditation being offered at the time by Deepak and Oprah was the 21-day “Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude,” and I listened and wrote down what they said.  Every day, for 21 days.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not, at the end of those 21 days, sitting at my computer trawling for jobs, an email came through from the dean of my graduate department:

There’s a job, teaching, in Oakland, with Jews.

Fuhggettaboudit!

You gotta be kidding me.

I applied for that job.  I interviewed for that job.  I got offered a different job with them.  I accepted that job.

And lo, I was a teacher.  6 months after I had committed to Operation Teach School, I was a full-time, gainfully employed faculty member.  Cue divine trumpets.

I bought that damn 21-day meditation on gratitude.

And presently, I’m relistening to and rewriting down what they’re saying.

It’s the worst. 

I hate that I know that gratitude works.  That writing a gratitude list works.  That closing my eyes and conjuring things I’m grateful for, when I open them, the world looks just a teensy bit more magical and technicolor.

I hate that it works because … IT’S SO SIMPLE.

It’s so simple, it’s so easily overlooked, it’s so neglectable and discountable and ignorable… that I do.  I neglect and discount and ignore gratitude.

And then I am reminded.  And then I remember.  And then I try it again.  I close my eyes, I write those lists, I pause to say thank you.

And goddamnit it works.  I feel different.

I don’t know why it pisses me off that gratitude works, except that maybe I think it’s “too cheesy.”  That it “feels lame” to talk about being grateful, that it’s so saccharine, or maybe that others will think I’m naive (that maybe I may think I’m naive).

But I gotta tell you: Whatever the causation/correlation between my “Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude” meditation practice and my receiving an email that would ultimately change the course of my life, there is a piece of me that does truly believe Grace was hanging around, just waiting for me to open my eyes and my heart.

 

Advertisements
grief · trust · vulnerability

Safe Word.

9.17.18.jpgThere is hardly a conversation with my mentor that doesn’t ultimately return to the word “safe.”  How I retreat from others’ vulnerability: so I can “stay safe.”  How I limit my visibility in the world: so I can “stay safe.”  How I attempt to control the attitudes, behavior, and experience of others: so I can “stay safe.”

When I page through my personal history, there are dramatic highlights—or low-lights as it were—where it is crystal clear what there was for me to attempt to be safe from.  And while those circumstances of the past cannot be changed, the way that I have reacted and grown from them can be.

It made infinite sense for me to retreat, hide, and control in order feel safe in my world at the time/s.  Yet, as I come into greater awareness of these patterns’ domination, I notice a familiar grief that they had to form in the first place and a new grief at discovering how isolated my reactions have made me.

I cannot change what occurred or how people behaved, but that’s not what I feel steeped in today.  Today, I feel awed that those circumstances precipitated a chain of understanding that leads me to perpetually feel I am unsafe.  And in need of constant defending.

There is a sorrow, and a fatigue, in that defensive stance through life.

So while I may not, rather can not, wash the events of my history white as snow, I can in whatever ways, come to realize that continuing to use this same barometer in the world is inadequate:

What does an undefended self look like?

What would it mean to not constantly scan for the sniper?

How would I feel in the world if I wasn’t perpetually bracing for impact?

Can’t answer these yet, but noticing is a great beginning.

 

growth · self-flagellation · self-love

“How will I reward achievement?”

9.16.18.jpgSeemingly apropos of nothing, J would periodically say to me: I’m proud of you.

It was a strange thing to hear, like hearing someone say my eyelash hurts.  I didn’t really have a response for that, a place to settle it within me.

“Um, thanks? … Why?

Each time, I had to ask why, because it didn’t make sense to me.  It’s an odd phrase to hear from a grown-up about another grown-up—or at least it was to me.

For it to make sense to me, I needed to understand what about me was there to be proud of?  Why state that sentiment right then?  What on earth was going on??

As I reflect on it today, it reminds me of my previous experience of hearing compliments.  When folks would compliment me about pretty much anything, I would reject what they were saying in one form or another.  If it were about a piece of clothing I was wearing, well, I got it on sale.  If it were about a piece of music I performed, well, I could have done it better.  A poem I recited, well, it’s really old.

There were a thousand ways I could reject what you told me about myself — because I didn’t have a corresponding place within me that believed it.  Therefore, whatever you said was false and untrue, and immediately rejected as utter tosh.

Luckily, there came a point at which I decided very consciously to simply say thank you.  Whether I believed that person or not, whether I agreed with them or not, I was from then on to just accept their compliment.

Now that it is several years hence, I find it easier to accept positive feedback from others, though I am by no means adept at it.  I have, slowly, found corresponding places within me that agree with them, places that support and mirror what they’re telling me, and so those compliments can find a home within me.  They can land.

The same cannot be said right now for being proud of myself.  It’s clear that when J would express his pride in me, my hunting for reasons WHY was because I didn’t feel proud of myself.

When, honestly, was the last time any of us said to our own selves, “I’m proud of you”?

If you’re like me, perhaps you’ve never said it, or so seldomly it’s like Halley’s comet — rare, fleeting…and forgotten.

As I listen to the latest Deepak and Oprah meditation (“Manifesting Grace Through Gratitude”), I’m reminded of the concept that what we focus on expands.  If I am grateful for what is in my life, I will be given more to be grateful for (or, if that concept irks you, we simply become more aware of what is already here for which we can be grateful).

If what I focus on expands (positive or negative), what would it be like if I were to focus on points of pride about myself, my life, my work, my creativity…?

What if, instead of downplaying and badmouthing that I write a blog (because somehow that word feels so awful in my mouth), I celebrate that I have a commitment to and a passion for the written word?  What if instead of hating that I’m not taking voice lessons or singing regularly or practicing anything whatsoever, what if I celebrated those moments that I sing in the car or my hour on the piano this week?

My Goals Group question we’re to answer for this Tuesday is, “How will I reward achievement?”  When that was announced on the call last week, I made a vomiting noise into the phone!

BLECH, UGH, GROSS!

Reward my own achievement?? That’s dumb.

So and therefore, dear reader, accepting that I may be even a little deserving, just a teeny tiny bit, of my own praise, my own acknowledgement, and my own love… well, that sounds like a battle worth fighting.

 

humility · softness · strength

“Even smile in your liver.” ~ Ketut Liyer

9.15.18.pngIn conversation with my friend last week about work and how I was running into personality and style clashes more than I had been, I mentioned the Tarot.  In the tarot, you have 2 major arcana cards dealing with control: The Chariot and Strength.

Their numbers come one after the other, the Chariot first, with its image of a military man atop a sphinx-drawn chariot, scepter, gauntlets, determination, coat of arms.  According to my Tarot-for-Beginners book;) this card represents Victory, Will, Self-Assertion, and Hard Control.

The card of Strength depicts a soft-faced woman in a flowing dress and laurel headdress gently, but firmly closing the gaping jaws of a lion beneath her.  This card carries the qualities of Strength, Patience, Compassion, and Soft Control.

Which is better?  Which works most effectively?  Which is the one to use?

I told my friend that I felt like the Chariot, barreling through others’ softer manners with impatience and certainty of the way forward.  That I’d contemplated that perhaps I needed to use the softer control of Strength, gently but firmly guiding others to my will.

I did have enough insight to next say: But what if control is just not needed here at all?

I was holding up these two archetypes as if they were the only options for how to proceed at work—and in life.  But, what if there was “a third way,” as there always always is.

The third way is the Hanged Man.

I told my friend that this week at work I was going to “step back,” that I needed to stop attempting to control anything and just see what on earth was going on.  That my agida was actually causing pain in my liver, as happens when I’m repeatedly brimful with crackly emotions.

Who were my coworkers?  How were meetings being led?  What results were happening?  What was an objective manner of seeing the situation?

So, this week, I did.  I sat in several faculty meetings, with the letters “SB” inked on my hand and wrist (“Step Back.  Step Back.  For chrissake, remember to STEP BACK!!”).

So, what happened?  Well, at two of three meetings, I simply observed, watched.  What was necessary, what were the dynamics, how were others behaving?  I was able to take that step back and, wouldn’t you know, the meetings came off well enough.  Sure there were places where my voice could have been added, but mostly what I saw was a clear division between the stepping backs and the stepping forwards, and logged my opinions about all their behaviors (judgement being the next character defect I’ll address!).

At the third and smallest meeting, I took the step-back role allowing the person whose meeting it was to set the tone and pace.  Internally, I was screaming to jump in, and then not screaming, as I clicked back in to simply observing.

However, in this situation, it was actually needed that I “step in.”  While there were several ways the meeting wasn’t at all going how I would have wanted it to (and there was behavior I deemed atrocious for adult communication) that is not what I addressed as I stepped forward.

I addressed what we were there to do: plan a shared lesson.

I put forth my ideas—didn’t barrel them through—and a plan was written, enacted, and completed.  And the students had a positive experience.

I have so many opinions about how that meeting could have gone differently (ahem, better!), but in the end none of those opinions were relevant, necessary, or useful.  My experience and ideas as a teacher were what was needed, so that’s what I brought to the table.

The Hanged Man is a place of strength of itself.  It is the card of pausing, of stepping back, of “surrendering to win” — by suspending our (er, my) ideas, I can move forward in the world more easily.  And not least of all, I discovered that my liver hurts less when I’m not trying to steer the chariot or the lion or anything at all.

 

abundance · humility · wealth

Whatchu Got?

9.14.18.jpegAfter meeting with my new financial advisor this week, I was moved this morning to do a different kind of accounting: Gift certificates.

I carry around in my wallet: a punch card full and holding a $20 discount, a gift card for a free massage, a free entry to an SF museum, $70 to a local clothing store, $50 to a book shop, a $50 online gift card, and 5 free movie passes!

It’s all well (very well) and good to tally up my financial records, but if I’m not taking account of these bits, too, then I am not giving myself an accurate picture of my abundance.  I can look at my bank balance and see one number, but forget that I have over $200 in freebies IN MY WALLET.

May seem silly to warrant this a place in my daily blog, but when we stack up our assets and liabilities, are we being complete?  There are the obvious places to look for what is good and positive, but what about the forgotten heroes of our selves, and wallets?

Being where I am in my spiritual house-cleaning, I recognize the metaphor I’m playing out in real-time, collecting and tallying up the disparate assets of mine.  And I appreciate its showing up, because sometimes this self-/internal accounting can be written in red ink alone.

It takes courage, humility, honesty, and something like joy to allow myself to look at the assets written in black, the places where I have more abundance than I like to admit—whether that’s in my wallet, or in the mirror.

 

adventure · habits · time

Glycerine.

9-13-18.jpgWhile devouring a copy of the AARP Magazine—that I definitely didn’t steal from my building’s mail slush pile—I read a letter to the advice columnist.  The writer asked if their experience of time speeding up as they were aging was “just them” and the columnist replied, “Nope, not just you.”

The columnist wrote that as people aged, the bold markings of time were often fewer and farther between, with the big milestones in the past and an increasingly habitual pattern of everyday life.  Much of what we do each day follows the same general format.  Set enough of these days beside one another and, the author notes, it’s difficult to piece them apart into distinctive memories, which is what helps us to feel that time has slowed.

So… “Where did the time go” is a more germane question to ask when I, say for random sake of example, watch Netflix after work each night or putter about my generic homecare errands each weekend?

The columnist suggests to punctuate this tide of calendar pages with events that are out of the norm.  Say, again for random sake of example(!), going to see Trombone Shorty tomorrow night, or taking my keyboard down from storage and actually trying to play it last night, or visiting the art museum this week with my girl friend.

It doesn’t feel to me that the surge of lost days and years is a consequence of advanced age.  I’m a few weeks shy of my 37th birthday, and I know of what the letter writer speaks.

Allowing days to pass with no significant deviation from the norm may feel calm, but it sure don’t feel memorable.

 

accountability · habits · time

Action Jackson

9.12.18.jpgIn one of the circles in which I run, there’s an emphasis on using our time to best support our visions and goals.  If you’re anything like me, that’s not exactly a snapshot of my daily relationship with time!

While I have attempted to make inroads—using a time plan, creating a habit calendar, telling you guys I’m gonna do something!—the truth is that without a consistent external form of accountability, I continue to make little headway toward goals small and large (see: “Play ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ by Christmas” second year in a row!).

So, one of these folks’ tools is to have an Action Partner.  After many weeks of telling my Goals Group that I wanted one, was gonna contemplate who might be good, was gonna maybe possibly reach out to someone, did reach out to someone (not good), I finally had the brainwave of someone to ask and, even more finally, asked her.

And wouldn’t you know: she was just thinking about who to ask herself!

We spoke by phone on Monday to discuss the details of how it might work best for us and we decided to go for it, starting Tuesday.  Which we did!  Eek!

And here’s how it went: I came home yesterday early evening and felt the immediate gravitational pull to continue watching Season 7 of Once Upon a Time (Hook, marry me), but before I became couch-beached, I opened the text I’d sent to my Action Partner in the morning: What did I actually commit to doing that day, anyway?

Well, truth be told, a few things I hadn’t yet done and could certainly do.  So. I. Did.

I spent an hour lesson planning and changed my sheets (yes, that was on my Action List!).  I did some dishes, too, as it’s on my Habit Calendar and “Follow my Habit Calendar” was one of my actions for the day as well.

I’ll tell you what: I did 4 of the 5 things I said I would.  I knew the last one would be a stretch considering I had to be in several parts of the Bay yesterday, so it will go on another day’s list.  And the crazy thing about doing that is eventually it will be gone. 

Habit Calendars are great, but there’s no external accountability (which I need…according to my “habit type” from Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before).  My weekly Goals Group is great, but it’s only once a week and usually means a flurry of catch-up right before the call.

I’m excited/curious/nervous(!) to see how this will go, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to try something different — and grateful to feel good at the end of a day, to feel like I actually accomplished what I set out to do.