My Ordinary Skills

Today’s WordPress prompt asks, “what ordinary skills are you bad at?” An interesting question. I guess we’re all “bad” at something although that’s such a subjective and judgmental word that I’m not sure “bad” is an effective way to describe anything.

So, okay. What ordinary, daily thing am I less than effective in doing? The first thing that comes to mind is remembering what day it is. In other words, I’m not so great at the skill of memory: ask my husband, my children, my friends, my students. If I don’t write it down, I probably won’t remember. And this isn’t an age thing, it’s a pretty much all my life thing.

So I got to thinking about that. Actually, I wonder about memory a lot, write about memory a lot, try to figure out why I remember some things and not other things a lot.

Now here’s the funny thing. My son just called and asked why he couldn’t get on a family website anymore and when he repeated the password, I realize I’d changed it and forgotten. Oh. Good thing I write things down. Especially passwords.

I’ve thought a lot about memory, and one of the things I’ve considered is how much I rely on what I call “messages.” In other words, much of what I rely on are the words that come into my head to tell me what to say. For example, most mornings when I wake, I ask myself, or my mind, “what day is it?” and wait for an answer. I find that odd. Not that it happens, but that I do it at all.  

In some circles that would be called schizophrenia and in others mysticism. I was somewhat startled, reading the book Muses, Madmen, and Prophets to learn that hearing my name called from somewhere outside me (i.e. not in my head) was a signal of schizophrenia. I’ve heard my name called most of my life. What? I ask. Sometimes I get an answer and sometimes the call simply turns me in another direction. I’ve considered those moments spirit’s promptings.

But then it’s also true that many mystics have been medicated out of their minds, so to speak. Seeing signs and wonders is not necessarily a valuable commodity in our world. At least, not since Freud. Carl Jung, on the other hand, was a little wiser and willing to be filled with wonder.

So there you are. A musing on musings. A wondering attached to what do I do least well. But then again, another question arises: perhaps our weaknesses are also our strengths if we recognize and accept them. Perhaps by allowing my hard drive memory, as it were, to remain empty of unnecessary verbage, I’ve allowed it to fill with space dedicated to spirit. I suppose the argument could be made that spirit resides in our hearts not our heads, our solar plexus not our amygdala, but perhaps spirit, in whichever way we follow it, resides wherever it wants to.

Right now it said, find an image of hands knitting. So I did. Hopefully that image means something to you.

Happy New Year! May your journey bring you peace of mind, peace of heart, and a healthy body. What more could you ask?

Janet

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Solstice

Today’s the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, marking the official beginning of summer. In the Southern Hemisphere, this Solstice marks the beginning of winter; i.e. the Winter Solstice. A Solstice, and there’s two of them each year, one in June and another in December, mark endings and beginnings.

The Summer Solstice, for example, marks the entry into the summer season of play and light clothes and friends and picnics. But at the same time, it marks the end of the Earth’s tip toward the Northern Hemisphere. In other words, our days begin to get shorter, even if incrementally, and we’re falling into winter – although I can hear my friends who each winter long for summer moaning at this reminder.

We don’t always remember to hold our endings when we begin – anything… a life, a project, celebrations. We’d rather hold the longing for a beginning rather than recognize the end coming with it.

I’m trying to hold all that now and think about it – hold a beginning and an ending at the same time. Here’s a concrete example to grasp: the oak tree that shades my writing space rustles in glory. It’s a mature tree, tall, and the sun won’t hit the front window here until about noon – at which time it will pass over the house so this room stays cool. But in the winter, that same tree has lost its leaves and allows the same blessing of sun, only its opposite, to enter this room and warm it.

But those are only examples. The reality of holding endings and beginnings at the same time – well, there is no concrete reality. Holding them both is a concept, rather, a knowing, an “is” which is hardly more help. That’s sort of like knowing God is an “is” in the great “I Am.” Okay. And what’s the reality of that???

I’ve been thinking about the reality of is-ness a lot lately.   

The world IS in a stew, to say the least; the weather IS pretty chaotic; drought IS in Western Kansas while flood IS in Eastern Kansas. Oh, and by the way, the Sun IS a little nuts right now and today hurled a solar flare earthward – which will reach earth’s magnetic field about the 23rd. Thank you for the early fireworks.

I’ve given up making sense of just about anything – except my life IS okay. Right now. And right now IS what we have.

Perhaps that IS the way to hold the beginnings and the endings – staying in that place of is-ness.

So there’s my meandering wandering for today. Any insights would be welcome.

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Laughing Loud

The other evening I was talking to my friend Kate in Montana. Kate and I have been friends for twenty-some years and adventures – and we’ve remained friends, with her in Montana and me in Missouri, because we laugh so well together. The other evening was no exception.

When I came down for dinner, Cliff said, “I heard you talking to Katie. I love the sound of your laugh! What were you laughing about?” I didn’t remember. I honestly didn’t remember. Some family story or some escapade story or just the tone of our voices. It didn’t matter. Kate and I have always laughed together.

The same is true with my sisters Judy, Jeanne, and Julia. And with my sons, and with Cliff. I like laughing. A lot. If laughter is the best medicine, I guess I’d rather take a couple of spoonfuls every day if given the choice. Or the opportunity.

I know there’s the saying cleanliness is next to godliness, but wouldn’t it be better said if  we substituted laughter? Think how our world, our economy, our interpersonal relationships could benefit from that kind of medicine!

Laughter is free. Cleanliness, on the other hand takes water, and the world, as we know, is short on water.

The Gift of Creativity

The Christmas wrapping paper is put away for another year and now it’s time to consider the coming year. What have you planned for? What do you want to accomplish in 2011? Visiting writer Maril Crabtree considers the gift of creativity, connecting Christmas and the New Year. Enjoy!

            A friend’s blog recently posed questions about creativity:” As we move towards a fascinating new year . . . how can I open myself more  to my creative energies? How can I offer myself the time to play with self-expression? How do you offer yourself these gifts?”

            Good questions. My intention is to live a creative life. That means more than writing, which is my first love and which I look forward to doing at least a little of each day. It has to do with seeing creativity as part of my ground of being, the stuff of everyday living. It means finding ways to honor the creative energy hidden in even menial tasks.

            I do this best when I take time to focus on what I’m doing and really pay attention. I’ve decided that this year my goal will be to relegate “multi-tasking” to the bottom drawer, where it belongs. If I’m successful at doing this, it will mean big changes. It will slow everything down. I’ll probably get fewer tasks accomplished. And “accomplishment,” achievement, getting lots of things done, has always been a big motivator.

            For the next while, though (I’m not going to commit to any length of time – this is an experiment, after all!), I’ll use creativity as the way to help me focus. How can I make each task more creative so that I truly enjoy it? Example: meals. It’s all too easy to get in a rut and fix the same old things for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why? Because I don’t have to think about it, it’s routine. But “routine” is often what takes the life out of things. Why not try a little cinnamon in my coffee or some fresh cilantro in the salad?

            This holiday season abounds with opportunities for gifting myself with more creativity. Martha Stewart aside, I can still focus on each package I wrap, thinking about the recipient and finding a special “something” to put with the wrapping. I love to reuse and recycle, so most of my holiday decorations come from the local thrift store, where it’s fun to browse and see what I can find for a mere quarter.

            I looked up the word “create” in the dictionary. It means “to cause to exist; to bring into being.” Now and in the new year, I look forward to seeing what new thoughts, words and deeds I will bring into being – by focusing on my innate creativity and letting it guide me, instead of being driven by accomplishment.

Imagination

A post from Janet Taylor at the Temple Buddhist Center in Kansas City.

In our search for happiness, imagination is one of the most powerful tools available to us.  Stephen Batchelor has a wonderful chapter on imagination in his book Buddhism Without Beliefs.  In it, he describes that the three most important factors in mastering mindfulness and meditation are: 

  • First is commitment.  We make a conscious commitment to ourselves to devote time and effort to this worthwhile practice.
  • Second is technique. We study and practice the techniques of mindfulness and meditation in order to master them.
  • Third is imagination.  It might seem surprising that he would elevate imagination to such importance.  Why would we need to have imagination in order to awaken? 

 Why meditate in the first place?  Why care about learning mindfulness?  To relax? To de-stress? To find answers?  There are many different reasons to begin a meditation practice, all excellent motivators in their own way.  But one of the best motivators is our imagination.  We imagine that life could be different.  The first step in learning anything new is imagining that things could be different. 

When people get depressed, one of the most debilitating aspects is that they cannot imagine living without being depressed.  When we are in pain, it seems that we lose our ability to imagine life without pain.  We all get caught up in the experience we’re having, clinging to it with the unconscious assumption that things will never change.   And yet, it is possible.  In the midst of a difficult experience, in the middle of reacting in our old unskillful ways, we can remember to imagine how things might be different, we can awaken to the incredible experience of living beyond our limited thinking and feeling. 

How might we use our imagination as a powerful tool for passionately living life?  Here are some ideas to consider. 

First, we can recognize the ability to access imagination in each moment.  Each moment is sacred—not just the ones spent meditating.  Each moment.  We are creating our life moment- by-moment.  When we feel stuck in a certain situation or overwhelmed by the circumstances in our lives, we can remind ourselves to leverage the power of imagination to see clearly the breadth and depth of each situation, the possibilities beyond our limited way of thinking.  We are deciding moment-by-moment how to live.  Most of the time, we fall back on the easy answers, like what our parents did, or what our friends are doing or what we think we should do.  We might think of so many moments as just getting through life, doing what we have to do…

Rodney Smith, a Vipassana teacher, encourages us in the following way:  “We often feel our everyday existence is a distraction from our spiritual intention. When this happens, life is divided between the sacred and mundane, and the mind pits one concept against the other. But belief shapes reality, and if the belief is maintained that the sacred lies somewhere else other than Now, our spiritual life will be governed by that limitation.”  We can choose to see the sacred in each situation, know our practice is not separate from living in each moment, visualizing the vast, limitless resource of imagination that creates our experience.

Second, we can practice using imagination.  Our ability to think beyond our limitations is a learnable skill.  Visualizations can be a powerful part of the practice, like the loving-kindness practice that we do, or imagining ourselves as the Buddha.  These visualizations may at first seem corny or superficial, but that’s still a good place to start.  Buddhist teachers encourage us that, even without thinking anything is changing, we are planting seeds.  We know that a flower or plant begins to grow beneath the soil once it is planted, regardless if there is any change visibly seen.  So are the seeds of love and compassion calling forth the awakening of innate Buddha nature, just by the mere practice of imagining. 

Think of yourself as an artist.  Each of us is creating a life.  Each of us is writing the unfinished story of our life right now.  Each of us is making choices about how to live our lives right now.  The limitations that we think exist are in most cases, self-imposed.  Take a few minutes, and imagine all the possible ways that you might live your life from this point forward.  Think beyond your current circumstances, beyond any assumed limitations, beyond any self-imposed constraints, beyond, beyond.  With this willingness to stretch beyond our boundaries, each of us can more wisely choose the possible ways we could live life to its fullest. 

 Third, we can never run out of imagination.  Everyone feels down at times, we get sick, and get old, we feel scared and angry and frustrated.  But, the truth of our being is that there is a never-ending source of light within us.  We may feel angry, but we are not anger.  We may feel afraid, but we are not fear.  Thoughts and emotions are NOT who we are.  We can remember that we are pure awareness, we can imagine that we are love and compassion.  We can imagine being fully awake, fully present. 

This innate goodness within us is like the Sun.  The sun is always shining. It never stops. It doesn’t need something outside of itself to shine. It just keeps shining–no matter what. There may be clouds in the way, it might be nighttime, so we don’t see the Sun, but the Sun is still shining.  The light of our being is the same way.  It might be covered up or out of view, but it’s still there .  This unique point of awareness is always present in each moment.

Who or What is having this experience of living anyway?  Who or what is having these thoughts or feeling these feelings right now?  Who or what are you?  Loosen any certainty that you are a certain way, loosen the clinging to misconception that life must unfold in a certain direction, that living is limited to a few old emotions and recurring thoughts.    Imagine that you are not a thing or a body,  but rather pure awareness manifesting anew in each moment.  Imagine the possibilities.

Know that imagination is always available, in every moment, to every person. Access it, exercise it, strengthen it, leverage the power of it, use it as the fuel for our lives unfolding, and know the power it provides for transformation. 

In fact, we would not have this Buddhist path, these powerful teachings, if the Buddha had no imagination.  He would have not found a new answer, because he would not have imagined one to exist, and therefore would have not gone seeking a new way of living.  That’s the power of imagination.