Old School

some things never go out of style

some things never go out of style

Are you back on the wagon, readers?  I’m curious about what you’ve committed to for these 30 beautiful, wintry days.  Fess up — I’m dying to know.

The commitment I made for January was to write 30 letters (in 30 days.)  Not 30 emails.  Not 30 Facebook updates.  Certainly not 30 Twits, or Tweets, or whatever you call those things.  30 bonified letters  — you know, those pieces of paper that can cost several dollars to buy and another 44 cents to mail, and that, once the recipient receives them, bear old news.  Yep, those.

my favorite cards

my favorite cards

I’ll be honest with you, it’s been quite a challenge.  I’m enjoying it.  I’m sensing some real appreciation from the fine folks I call friends and family.  I’ve even received two letters in return!  And, like many things in my world, the practice has brought up a host of metaphorically existential questions that have me considering the bigger picture of something as simple as scribbling off a small note to a loved one once a day.

Why walk when you can drive?  Why cook when you can order in?  Why knit a hat or a sew a skirt when you can buy either one for so much cheaper*?  And, why bother writing something longhand when the contemporary counterparts to letter-writing are cheaper, faster, more convenient, and more efficient?

They’re good questions.  They are big questions, actually, that give me pause.  I’m certain we all know quite well the beauty of a slower way of life — that’s why we take vacations, right?  So, we could ask, is more efficient always better?  Or, what’s with our obsession with efficiency, anyway?  Or, as my cousin Kristin queries, “what, exactly, are we in such a hurry to get to?”

handmade love

handmade love

In truth, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t appreciate a slower, handmade, homemade life in some way.  Even my most “modern” tech-obsessed friends will still linger for hours over a long-cooked meal or insist on doing their own home renovations, and conversely, the most soulful person I know in the world is absolutely entranced by race cars.  We all know the convenience of speedy things, (they make our lives easier) and we all know the unmatchable feeling of being as close as possible to our own vitality, something I’d call slow living.

a cherishable correspondence

a cherishable correspondence

The reactions I hear when I tell people about my letter-a-day practice lead me to believe a lot of us are wanting to slow down, or at least, have some more slow living in our lives.  Maybe the so-called tension is understood less by analyzing our obsession with speed and efficiency (or boycotting it) and more by exploring our values — those intrinsic and highly personal beliefs about what is important in life. Culturally, we value newness, speed, and productivity — that stuff is easy to come by these days.  But individually, maybe we don’t, or don’t…as much.  Perhaps individually we value spaciousness, self-expression, or connection — those things hard-won via text message or while moving a 100 miles an hour. Maybe we are simply letting our cultural values run our lives?

So, how do we connect with our personal values and then let them dictate who and how we are more of the time?  Well, first we have to know what they are.  (Awareness is everything, right?)  What do you most value?  What’s most important to you?  Is it fully alive in your life?

Admittedly, I might have thrown in the towel on the 30-letter-in-30-days around Day 9 if I didn’t stop

a welcomed greeting

a welcomed greeting

to consider what was really important about it for me.  When I saw that it was a practice that might build my reservoir of patience, and that it was a way to express (without my old favorite editing-tool, the delete button) my gratitude and love for people, it was easier to stick with it.  This small expression of slow living became more accessible to me once I understood where it was rooted.

Thanks for being with me on the Treelife Blog this January!  More on slow living coming soon.

*This is my first footnote on the Treelife Blog and I want to make it count.  “Cheaper” clothing, in almost any instance, is probably not cheaper when you actually consider ALL the costs involved.  Michael Pollan, with the help of his beloved farmer friend Joel Salatin, effectively articulates in Omnivore’s Dilemma the truth about the “higher cost” of organic food.  They put it this way, “whenever I hear people say clean food is expensive, I tell them it’s actually the cheapest food you can buy. That always gets their attention. Then I explain that with our [small-production/local/organic/sustainable] food all of the costs are figured into the price. Society is not bearing the cost of water pollution, of antibiotic resistance, of food-borne illnesses, of crop subsidies, of subsidized oil and water – of all the hidden costs to the environment and the taxpayer that make cheap food seem cheap. No thinking person will tell you they don’t care about all that. I tell them the choice is simple: You can buy honestly priced food or you can buy irresponsibly priced food.” While I know much less about the true costs of “cheap” clothing than I do about “cheap food” I know that the same basic principles apply.  That is, that the social, environmental, and long-term economic costs, notwithstanding the basic tenants of fair wages and fair trade, of producing cheap clothing are not figured into the price we pay for a pair of pants from the gap.  With mass-produced food and with mass-produced anything, really, true cost involves much more than the number of dollars we actually have to dig into our [mass-produced] pockets for.  Taking this into account, particularly if we are choosy about how we source our fabric and yarn, makes sewing a skirt or knitting a hat seem less-expensive than before.  For more information on true cost, check out The True Cost of Low Prices: The Violence of Globalization.

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The Wagon

stop breaking my balls

discipline ain't easy

Falling off the wagon…back on the wagon — I often get confused with this expression that I most often hear used in conjunction with the consumption of alcohol.  When I hear “wagon” I always picture taking a hayride.  I know, I know — the ones who have fallen off the wagon are the ones who are derailed from their discipline, whatever it is.  But, aren’t the ones on the wagon the friends in flannel shirts snuggled up on haystacks sipping something spiked?  Being on the wagon sounds like so much more fun.

Speaking of wagon, how is your 30-day challenge going?  The grapevine tells me the gyms are packed.  The bank seemed busy today — no doubt folks are dutifully opening savings accounts and getting their finances in order as they promised on Jan. 1.  And, I can imagine The Container Store has a run on… just about everything.  Has your chosen 30-day action started to feel like a habit yet?

I do a 30-day challenge often, and I use it in two ways.  The first way is getting back on the wagon with something that used to be a habit.  It’s helped me kick-start good general upkeep kinds of tasks — like making my bed in the morning or drinking enough water — that have fallen out of my daily life for one reason or another.  The 30-day rule plays a welcomed trick on my brain because I’m not telling myself, “I’ll do this forever.”  I’m just saying, “I’ll do it for 30 days.  Then I can quit if I want to.” In the meantime, my action is slowly becoming habitual, and continuing after 30 days is much, much easier than starting on day 1.  Which is to say, if you started a 30-day challenge on January 1st, you’ve already done the hard part.

I also think it’s fun to use the 30-day challenge for something I want to try on for awhile, but not necessarily adopt.  When used that way, I get a real taste of something to see if it’s right for my life before I make a longer commitment.  For example, maybe I want to try being a vegetarian or getting up an hour earlier in the morning or keeping a journal.  30 days in a row allows me to truly test whatever it is, and notice the impact it has on my life, judgment-free. There’s no voice that says, “you should be a vegetarian.”  Rather, it feels more like a game — and it raises my awareness around what’s best for me.  What am I noticing?  Do I like this?  How is it affecting me and my life?

As much as I wholeheartedly believe in the power of setting intentions, I don’t want to make empty promises.  With many things, there is a fine  line.  Sometimes a bit of simple structure like making a check-mark in my dayplanner for 30 days to track a newly-forming habit helps me make my intentions real versus them being just a nice idea.  Tracking success — even with the smallest of tasks — is a great motivator.

For those of you who are 14 days in, congratulations!  I’m reminded of a favorite quote from one of my clients who, when asked how she was progressing on a difficult goal, said,  “I’m almost at the 50-yard-line…but I’m not tired.” Discipline is a tricky thing…and can be so rewarding. For those of you who missed January 1st or have fallen off the wagon — I challenge you to start a new 30-day habit tomorrow.  After all, every day is the 1st day of the rest of our lives.

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What Are We Going to Do — Stop Growing?

2010 here we come

are you ready?

In the last week or so, I’ve interacted with numerous individuals who claim they “don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.”  Care to set yourself up for failure? they say.  Starting something new for the New Year is so cliche, they say.  Resolutions are bullshit, they say.  Well, I say, thank you for igniting my sense of rebellion!

Okay, okay, I see what they mean, these resolution grinches.  “Resolutions” — spontaneously deciding you’ll do something habitually or behave in a different way forevermore — can be total BS…particularly when they aren’t rooted in a deeper understanding of ourselves, or when we don’t take measures to actually hold ourselves accountable for the changes we’d like to make.  Point taken.  Seemingly arbitrary goals such as, “I’m gonna try to eat healthier in 2010″ or “Maybe I’ll sell some of my artwork this year,” lack specificity, timeline, measurability, and commitment and therefore, do raise my eyebrows in suspicion and doubt.   In fact, in most cases, they probably do set us up for failure.

Moreover, what’s truly missing from a laundry list of resolutions that sound ambiguous (“I’ll read the classics this year”; “I’ll call my mom more often”) is a sense of relevance:

What is really important about this action/habit/new behavior?

What’s it for?

What will be different about my life when I commit to making this change?

Setting our Grinch hats aside for a moment, let’s consider this: we can’t stop growing and changing. New behaviors — even tiny ones — that result from an internal shift are enormously impactful.  And, focused intentions set the stage for new behaviors.  When we make the effort to set an intention or commit to an action that is specific, measureable, time-bound, and relevant to what we value, there’s no greater gift we can give ourselves.

It’s a new year…a new decade…clean slate!  I figure, it is a pretty nice time to turn over a [snow-covered] leaf or two…get going on a fresh project…restart and old, great habit…take a risk on something exciting.  Why not take a look at the year that’s past and see what there is to celebrate, mourn, or just plain acknowledge?  What have you learned?  What’s important to you now?  What do you really value these days?  And, what’s moving in you to start anew?

ready, set, go!

ready, set, go!

CHALLENGE:

Start a New Action on January 1st and Do It for 30 Days.

2 weeks ago, when I posted the final Radical Idea for managing your time — to get in the habit of things — I revealed that if you do something for 30 days, you’ll always do it.   My friends, January 1 is the day to start a 30-day challenge. Choose something in your life that you’d like to become a habit – OR – just give yourself a juicy challenge and see if you can do it.  Then, make yourself a simple chart, or even easier, mark it off in your daily planner with a check-mark or a small note.  You’ve got a day and 1/2 to decide –  what will it be?

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An Off the Wall Memorial

michael

michael

We lost someone important last week. Personally, I lost my greatest musical love.  I’ve been contemplating the many ways Michael Jackson influenced me.  He infused my childhood with a sense of soulful groove and gave me permission to wear my heart on my sleeve.  He gifted me endless inspiration with which to embellish my own dance expression and opened a door to a whole collection of influential soul artists I might not otherwise have known.  He helped me see the world’s hunger, and he provided both a backdrop and a rhythmic language through which I could connect with both my brother and my dad.  I see, now, the influence will continue.

As is so often the case when someone dies, I notice there is much to savor about both Michael’s life, and, somewhat ironically, the impact of his passing.  Three important pieces stand out:

king of pop

1. Rock with You All weekend long, I noticed people everywhere were celebrating Michael.  Mine was one of 15 cars repeatedly blasting “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” on the highway and around the neighborhood.  There seemed to be retrospective dance-a-thons happening all over the place — in my living room, out my back window, across the street, in the park.  Michael Jackson songs were ringing out on nearly every TV and radio station, in lobbies and elevators, at picnic areas and playgrounds, in stores, on stoops, from farmer’s markets to supermarkets to stock markets.  In song and pulse, these rockin’ melodies seemed to bridge any class, race, gender, religious, or political chasm with a universal appeal more potent than…can I say it?  Obama.  Better than Obama?!  In fact, the past several days of Michael Mania have been of such enormous proportions as to rival his own living days of glory.

Black or White, my friends, this is what we call bridging a divide – let’s not lose it. While it looks different than what I’d ever expect, this is the kind of thing I’ve been aching for for years whenever I hear folks talk about what it was like to live in the Beatles era.  Michael Jackson, dead or alive, has this effect on us.

You can’t not dance to a couple of choice Michael Jackson songs, and if you don’t believe me, then put one on the stereo and look no further than at the person in your family who says they “don’t dance.”  I bet you’ll see a hip wiggle or a toe tap.  Rock with You?  Yes!  That is what we are doing.  We are rocking with each other, across cultural boundaries and political divides that are usually so rife with anger and assumption we don’t know how to go there.  I’d like to think this music, even for a moment or two, helps us see and experience our alikeness.  We Are the World and everyone can groove to Michael.

defying gravity

man in the mirror

2. The Man in the Mirror

Despite the inevitable ensuing controversy about the way he died, the way he lived, who gets the money, what I have witnessed in the real world (outside of the media) is a general focus on celebrating this man’s contributions.  That is to say, while the sentiments regarding some of Michael’s choices range from confusion to anger to outright despondency, what I notice these last several days is a general willingness to let the disappointments go to the grave…along with the man.

As we drop our judgments and just dance — emphasizing the best of this person, what illuminates for me is the imperfectness of every life.  In truth, we’ve all had our bad moments.  Some have been worse than others, sure, but we all have things we’ve said or done that we’ve regretted.  With less than the whole world watching, (!) those regrets are a little easier to get through.  I’m not defending anybody, but rather celebrating what I see: individually, we seem to be choosing empathy over anger, songs over sadness, and jam over judgment.  (forgive me that one — I couldn’t help myself.)

a-ok

a-ok

3. Will You Be There? What has me smiling in earnest the last several days is the way in which we are, truly, memorializing this man, the way it ought to be.   In fact, this might be the best darn funeral I’ve ever attended.  Why?  Because we are letting him go out the very way he lived.  We are, in effect, being with this man — his contributions, his words, his rhythms, his moves, his history  — and loving him for who he was.  We are letting ourselves feel something; letting ourselves go there, specifically, thoroughly, joyfully, and mournfully.   We are mourning him by shaking our booties.  Mourning him by singing along.  Mourning him by re-visiting the ways in which he touched us, as if for the first time.  It is painful to look back over the old photos, to re-live the super-human dance moves, to see the changes, and yet, it is who he was…and who he was is what we need to experience in order to let him go…and to let him live on.

All this fanfare has my wheels spinning about exactly the way we, as a culture, could memorialize each other.  If only we would be willing to cry hard, laugh hard, and love hard — as we say goodbye, in particular, and as a way of letting go.  If only we would remember each other the very ways we were present in each other’s lives. For Michael, it comes in the form of dancing, and singing, and literally, remembering the time in music and video.  For someone else passing on, we need only look at who they were when they were living to find clues about how to both grieve and celebrate their lives, whether it’s embarking on a camping trip, preparing a feast of signature foods, reading some favorite books, or any other of the thousands of ways we humans make our mark on the world and on each other.  I hope we can see, with this exuberant example, the ways in which therapeutic healing is so available to us in death when we look no further than at the person who has passed.

Thank you, Michael, for being human, and for doing your best.  Thank you for providing such a unique and powerful example that makes mourning you so damn FUN.  And thank you for living on.

peace out

peace out

(Take a look at this one last clip and watch his feet!)

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Food: The Love Factor

The Official Book of the Month, my friends, is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  It’s slaying me, as my friend Abby would say.  (If I read half as much as Abby, I’d have three honorary doctorates right now, but that’s another blogpost).   I’ll allow you two tries — that’s what it took for me.  The 1st time I picked it up, it seemed altogether too celebratory about a topic that is actually an international health, food, and farming crisis.  The fact that it doesn’t take the kind of tone we humans reserve for crises, had me a bit skeptical.  Where were all the scary statistics?  The fear-based arguments?  Where was the anger?  The blaming?  Don’t they want me to feel like an idiot for eating what I’ve been eating my whole life?  9 months ago, I put this book down after 15 pages…and then along came the intelligent voters of my book club, and alas, here I am reading and absolutely adoring it.  In what context is timing (and, perhaps, mandate) not everything?

steam

delayed gratification

So, request it at your library.  Grab a copy of it used.  Or, borrow mine when I’m done.  I think it’s even out in paperback now.  Just promise me you’ll read it this summer, because, let’s face it — summer is when the bounty is highest.

I’m not going to make this blogpost a book report, so go ahead and keep reading.  In fact, I’m not going to attempt to sum up the beautiful and most compelling argument this book makes about what to eat and when.  Barbara Kingsolver, even on a bad day, could persuade me to consume copious amounts of dog vomit, and convince me it was tasty, with her lovely turn of phrase.  You’re going to read the book this summer anyway — you already promised — so I don’t need to restate what’s already been said so well.

This is what I do need to say:  Food!  The Love Factor. All this talk about food — what’s in it? what’s not?  where’d it come from? who touched it? where did it spend its adolescence? how far did it travel before I bought it? how many precious fossil fuels were used? who’s selling it? who’s reaping the major reward here?  gets me, truly it does.  The who, what, when, where, and why of food production has dramatically altered the way I shop and eat.  If I could talk about food politics as beautifully as our gal, Babs Kingsolver, I’d get on my soapbox too.

Barbara is held in high esteem

Barbara is held in high esteem

And at the same time, there’s a central point I want to drive homeMake fresh and healthy food at home, from scratch, because that way you can put love in it. You read me right — love.  I’m talking about an ingredient that can’t be measured — whose impact can never be made statistical.  Love.  We need love in our food.  Why?  Because, we are what we eat, my friends.  Foodlove heals, fills, and nourishes in a way empty, processed, calories never can and never will. This is one of life’s tastiest mysteries.

is there love in there?

is there love in there?

What I’m really talking about is an old thing I’ll call “The Grandma Effect.”  Why does the food Grandma makes taste so good?  Why is it so healing?   Because there is actually love in it.  Cups and pints of it.  Now, I don’t mean to be cryptic or cute.  I realize I’m stating an obvious thing — and yet, we get away from it.  We — so many of us — fill our lives with Costco frozen appetizers and Krispy Kreme platters and call it a party.  In the meanwhile, we are starving for foodlove.

3 ingredients

3 ingredients

I want to break it down this way: There are two kinds of love found in food:
1. Active Love. Active Love is simply — just doing it.  It means I care enough about you to go to some effort.    This is the one Grandma may not even realize she’s doing because she doesn’t know it any other way.  This is the Love that implies we know and understand where our food comes from.  We respect it, and want to use it well — do it right.  This is the Love that means we make the time because someone is coming over to our home to share a meal.  We get our hands wet; dirty up some dishes; start at the beginning.  The Active Love involved in making something from scratch sends this message: “Your presence here is important to me.  I want to take care of you.  I made this with my own two hands.” Simple as that, whether you are making a 3-ingredient fruit salad or a 3-day, 3-layer cake.

making dough

active love

Barbara Kingsolver takes it many steps further, and with good reason.  I don’t want to put words in her mouth, but the love theme runs rampant in this book!  The farmers love their crops and their customers and the land enough to treat them all right.  The vegetables and animals love their lives.  The cooks and gardeners love the satisfaction that only comes from hard work and a sense of ownership.  And, of course, the eaters love the results.  Wholesome.  Homegrown.  Homemade.  Garden.  Farmer. Harvesting.  From Scratch.  Don’t those words alone make you want to roll out some dough?

The Love Quotient runs high in the Kingsolver kitchen because Barbara and her family take the concept of eating locally to a whole new (actually, very old) level.  They befriend their local farmers, harvest their own chickens, can, pickle, make cheese, and mostly grow their own.  They truly eat with the seasons — waiting all year for those 6 weeks when their asparagus plants sprout, and then eat asparagus like they’ll never eat it again…and they won’t, for about 46 weeks.

communal cooking

communal cooking

The philosophy is this: by the time it’s no longer “in season” you are sick of eating it anyway, and a year later, you can’t wait to bite into it again.  Delayed satisfaction.  Quality and Simplicity.  Hard Work. Well, wrap an American Flag around me — aren’t those the kind of values our country was founded on?  Why does this make the love quotient higher?  Because it brings the earth into the equation. It sings the praises of nature — the way it provides for us (with a little canning and hoarding through the winter thrown in) which, inevitably imbues our lives with a sense of abundance and perfect order.  Eating locally means taking care of everyone — that’s love.

intentional love

intentional love

2.  Intentional Love. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle doesn’t cover this kind of love, hence my need to write this blogpost.  Once you have started making something from scratch (Step 1) Intentional Love means actually putting love into the dish (Step 2).  Mindfully put it there, as you are stirring, chopping, or frying.  Love it.  Think about who will eat it.  Put your own unique healing powers into the soup or the souffle by simply taking a moment to want them there.  Infuse the food with your own intentions.  (This is the Grandma Effect, Part II, I assure you.)

"There's so much love in the room, I can hardly stand it!"

"There's so much love in the room, I can hardly stand it!"

Alas, my friends, the message here is simple.  It doesn’t matter what you are making — just make it from scratch.  Stay home.  Have people over.  Feed them.  Nourish them.  Go to a bit of trouble for them. Love them. Put your whole heart into it.  I promise, it will taste amazing.  Is there absolutely anything in the world we need more, as human beings, than to feed each other?

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Total Surrender

in plain view

enough said

Monday night, I had the good fortune to be sitting in the balcony at an intimate solo acoustic concert of one of my favorite performers, Sam Beam, of Iron and Wine.  Alone on the stage with only his sister singing backup, he played the 9-minute song, “The Trapeze Swinger.”  (The version linked here features a different special guest).  You’ll see, the song is cyclical and totally repetitive.  It goes around and around like a ferris wheel — a simple little melody and Sam’s colorful, nostalgic lyrics.  The only words repeating are the plea, “please, remember me.”  It is 9 minutes long, so, if you are able to listen to the song concurrently, it should take you through the rest of this blogpost, and then some.

pause….pause….pause….. I’ll give you a moment to work that out….

The song itself is riveting, yes, but what has had me up at 5:00 a.m. the last two mornings was the impact of the performance. It was urgent and breathless; raw and guttural. It rose and fell, earnest and sad and hopeful, and totally in the moment.  There was a split second when I could literally see him enter the space of the song– letting the realness of him inhabit it, and then letting the realness of the moment be shared.  It was, as one of my beloved clients says, total surrender.  It was so captivating to see, it seemed we all held our breath, while this human being made his heart visible…for 9 whole minutes.

plain as day

showing up

9 minutes, my friends, of total surrender.  It’s available to all of us, and I do witness these little moments — but rarely for more than 3 or 5 seconds.  I’m talking about total presence when someone finally offers up the truth in their heart. A simple apology (“I am so sorry I hurt you”); a sincere and direct compliment (“you are radiant”); a request for help; a genuine thank you; an uproarious laugh; a long and full embrace.   Every time, they fill our eyes and our hearts, and then, almost immediately, we started dabbing away at ourselves with tissues and apologies. This one, though, was 9 minutes of someone baring his soul.

Sam Beam has a lovely soul, I’m sure, and he crafted a beautiful song through which to share it, but what occurred to me is this: sharing is not what we think it is.  Sharing yourself, I realize, is really just showing up; inhabiting the moment.  Sharing is releasing the attempt to control what others might think of us, because that’s none of our business anyway.  Sharing is not needing to look a certain way and just allowing others to witness us, exactly and imperfectly as we are.  Sharing isn’t about giving; it’s about being. Total surrender.

What occurred Monday night was Sam showed up and his essence filled the whole auditorium.  There was so much energy generated in those 9 minutes, we were drenched in it.  Drenched in the beauty of him, and moreover, drenched in the possibility of our own beauty. If he can be this raw, this tender, so can we.  What would happen if we allowed — even encouraged — each other show up the same way?  To surrender to our own humanity?

uncensored beauty

uncensored beauty

It makes me think about why we love babies so much. It’s that we haven’t censored them yet.  They are exactly who they are — nothing more and nothing less.  Not dressed up.  Not deciding to act a certain way.  Not concerned with what people think.  Just purely themselves — perfect and hilarious and not-the-best-timing, and human.  We have no way to “tell” them how to behave — and we can’t control them.  So, they take us under their beautiful raw spell and we fall victim to its simple and painful beauty.  Potty smells and food on the face and loud screams.  All perfectly fine, and even more, we’ll rearrange our whole lives around them.  We will sit and marvel at the glorious unfettered wonder that is human life.

Who are we when we aren’t censoring ourselves or “trying to come off” a certain way?  Moreover, where does this liberated baby go?

Witnessing it — pure presence of heart — for 9 minutes Monday night felt like a gift from the gods.  If these moments of pure presence of heart are so wonderful, why are they so scarce and shortlived?   What are we so busy doing?

Exchanging niceties, feigning interest, hiding our pain, taking stands, holding tight to what we “believe” versus feeling what we feel, saying “you” instead of “I,” busying ourselves with what’s “appropriate,” suppressing laughter, competing with each other, making plans, changing the subject, cutting short our moments of celebration, filling our conversations with details we’ve rattled off a dozen times already, shooing away compliments, half-listening, holding in our gratitude.  This is how we fill our phone conversations; our time together.

blooming brightly among the weeds

baring all

Remember when Cuba Gooding Jr. won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for “Jerry Maguire”?  As the Academy tries to get him off the stage to take a commercial break, he gets louder and more effusive and more animated, and more physical in his acceptance speech — taking over the music and the stage with a mission to express his gratitude.  Every other winner politely says “thank you this and that” but Cuba lets it all hang out, as though it was his last moment on earth and he wanted to be sure to express how he really felt.  And, wow, not only was it okay that he did that,– he had the entire audience on their feet!  A standing ovation for pure, raw authenticity, as if to say, “thank you, Cuba, thank you for taking this in, letting it impact you, sharing your true self, and reminding us we can too.”

So, if we give standing ovations for authenticity — for total surrender, then what are we doing avoiding it so often?  If we would only — even for a few minutes, 9 minutes, a day — speak from our hearts, what impact would it have on the world?  On our lives?  On our relationships?  I’d dare to say, we wouldn’t need much.  I’d dare say, we would simplify our lives and release ourselves from regret.

Picture this: If we had heart expression available to us — if we made it safe for everyone to exist from their heart-center and we, ourselves, could have access to the feelings and pure emotions that resonate and live in our hearts  — what would our lives look like?  Who needs a better TV or another pair of shoes when you have ripe, juicy, authentic heart expression available to you?  Who needs elaborate plans or protocols when you could have the truth of the matter?  Who needs excuses or complaining or blaming or any of the things we do to avoid knowing what’s in our hearts when right here, right now, you know you’ll get a standing ovation for total surrender.  A standing ovation for total surrender.  A standing ovation for total surrender.  Thank you, Sam Beam.

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the Real Deal

small space collaboration

small space collaboration

Two nights ago, I attended a 15-person birthday dinner party at the home of my friend David.  David’s apartment is a classic [tiny] Brooklyn studio with a kitchen the size of my closet (about 2 square feet of counter space) and just adjacent, a “main room” the size of a suburban walk-in closet.   It was 90 degrees outside in an apartment with no air-conditioning.

This is the kind of space where one would think you couldn’t do much cooking (let alone, entertaining) beyond heating up the occasional potpie.  There is a limited number of chairs and nowhere else to sit except on David’s bed.  The bathroom is right there, its proximity making audible any sounds or activities that occur inside it. This is both the quintessential New York scenario and also the basis for the kind of excuses that I hear all the time from people around these parts — “I can’t have people over, my apartment’s too small.”  “There’s no space to cook in my kitchen.”  “I don’t have any furniture.”   “My only day off is Monday and no one wants to come over on a Monday.” “I’m not a good enough cook.”  “I don’t have any time.”    blah blah blah blah blah.

making homemade gnocchi

making homemade gnocchi

What I love about David (and what I loved about this night) is that he appears virtually unaware of his own limitations. No counter space?  Great!  Let’s make the most labor-intensive and space-requiring food that exists — homemade gnocchi!  Hot apartment?  Great!  Let’s crank up the oven and roast 2 fatty pork shoulders for several hours.  Tension among the invites and lots of big personalities?  Great!  Let’s turn up the music and let them fight over the chairs!  Meanwhile, we all basked in the hilarity of real life.  Real life, without pretense.  Real life, with successes (incredible gnocchi) and failures (inedible panna cotta).  Real life, with real people who aren’t being careful.

What I love about David is that he’s not waiting around for conditions to be perfect in order to do what he wants to do. Small space and no A.C.?  Who cares?  He wants to have a dinner party to celebrate his birthday and to cook for his friends and so, we want to be there for it.  Sure — a rotating fan or a different locale entirely might make it a bit more comfortable but really, being available to do it on these terms — David’s current situation — is really the most fun.  It makes space for failures.  It allows us to see, firsthand, the actual sweat that goes into making something from scratch, and we can actually taste the love in the results.  And, it relinquishes us from the almighty grasp of needing to look or think or be a certain way and just show up for what is right now.

cooking for 15

cooking for 15

What I love about David is that he trusts his friends to love him unconditionally. What ensued over the course of that evening was that we dug in and made a real experience out of it.   We collaborated.  We threw a few extra hands into the tiny kitchen to create an assembly line.  We held chicken liver pate in one hand and a slice of poppyseed dessert cake in the other.  We ate and drank and talked and laughed and we sweated our asses off in the process.  We cracked jokes at David’s expense, took pictures of our floury, sweaty mess, and passed the delicious food around like we were family. That David trusts us to enjoy him and love him in these conditions has us open our hearts in a new way — not just to him, but to each other.

I’m not going to ask David for his panna cotta recipe, but I am going to walk with this:  when we sit around and wait for the conditions in life to be perfect — for everything in our lives to line up just so, so that we can make the move we want to make — we aren’t really living.  We are waiting.  And, in the meantime, there is so much fun to be had, success to celebrate, food to share, risks to take, failures to learn from, and real people out there who want to see us for who we really are.  Why wait?

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more Sugar…please

April in the City

Tax Day Coming

New York City — please!  Take it easy on us.  We’ve been dutifully taking the subway all winter and tolerating your annoying bus transfers in cold precipitation.  Must it last into “spring”?

The past few weeks, with a few exception days, have been entirely too rainy, windy, and cold for April.  This is the kind of “extended winter” that has one feeling a bit exasperated.  I would think Tax Day was set for April 15th with the thought in mind that we could all crunch numbers and madly fill out forms with a nice vase of new spring flowers staring back at us while we nibble on bright red strawberries.  Not this year, anyway.

For the rainy, the weepy, the I’ve-got-no-money  blues, do yourself a favor and put your taxes away for a few hours so you can go see the movie, “Sugar.”  I’m telling you, go today.

Now, I’m no movie critic, and I’m not going to pretend to be.  I’m also not really into baseball.  I won’t disrespect you by saying that this movie isn’t about baseball.  Before I went to see “The Wrestler,” a kind, but I think slightly confused soul told me that the movie wasn’t “about wrestling.”  Cut to 2 days later, I’m stuck in the middle of a very packed theater watching two men grotesquely staple-gun each other’s faces, and wondered, ahem, what what in the world was she talking about?

Cue “Chariots of Fire” theme song.  For anyone who has ever had a brother…or watched a little league game…or simply knew what it was like to have a chance at a dream.  For anyone who has ever heard their mother’s voice on the phone from far away…who has ever felt alone in a big place…or who has ever had the feeling of “coming home” to themselves…suffice it to say, this movie will undoubtedly bring a tear to the old, nostalgic eye.  It does it for us jaded New Yorkers, it’ll do it to you.

Don’t get me wrong, this is no “Little Miss Sunshine.” This movie is less about feeling good, and more about being real.  This movie is about listening to your instinct and letting it lead you.  This movie is about shucking the advice other people give you.  It’s about questioning the promise of fame or fortune or even a sense of grand accomplishment and stopping to listen to your own heart (always there; wanting to be heard!)   This movie is about peeling back the layers of who we think we ought to be to and discovering who we really are.

Aha, (thank you, once again, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck), this, my friends, is the message of the times.  This is the reason we’re here and the reason to bother doing anything at all (including those dreadful taxes).  Without the illusion of stability — the illusion that we don’t have enough or that any single thing in the world matters beyond our own integrity, we are left with the real truth — we’ve been here all along.

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The Color Quandary

outhouse
outhouse

I recently re-learned how to knit.  Like anything else, starting is the most difficult part.  Amid the quagmire of “casting on” duties (aka a handful of confusing knots and turning over and under), my beloved teacher kept saying to me at the precise moment it was supposed to happen, “…aaaaaand, back from whence you came.”   We put it to tune, and it quickly became a necessary refrain.  Back from whence I came.

This past weekend I was sequestered in rural Pennsylvania for a Coach Summit.  15 coaches, make-shift sleeping arrangements, a bonfire pit, and the probability of ticks.  For 3 delicious days, we talked Soul.  I left Brooklyn at 4:30 a.m. on Friday so as not to miss a single moment of scintillating conversation, thinking I was leaving the drab, old, fast-moving city for the colors of country.  Ahhhh.

city landscape

city landscape, bye bye

I got the scintillating conversation, indeed.  I got a good dose of Earth-based spirituality, some amazing energy work, and a stronger sense that now, more than ever, is the time for us all to be diving into the deep and fruitful realms of our souls and bringing what’s in there out into the world.  Now is the time.

Colors of the country, though?  Not my favorite this time of year.  Walking among the dry grasses and leafless trees I found myself yearning for color — yearning for evidence of life, a reminder of why we make things, a sense that the world will show us light when we feel dark.  I was disappointed.  Where’s the beauty?  These trees are boring when they aren’t in full bloom.

I trudged through the woods feeling sorry for my eyes when everything started to shift.  Oh. My. god. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  In what seemed like an instant, the forest around me transformed from still grayness to X-rated storybook.  The trees were having sex with each other!  They were flirting!  Tango-ing!  Engaging in threesomes!  Once I opened my eyes to it, it was everywhere.  It was like catching people in the act, or more — a public orgy!  I practically had to avert my eyes.

copulating trees

copulating trees

This is the important fact: when trees are not in full color, they are naked. When they are naked, we see who they are at the core.  (kinky suckers).  Like so many of life’s dirty tricks, this has me thinking about us humans, when we are naked.  Naked, yes, in the biblical sense, but moreover “naked” in the sense of being without things to hide behind.  Without fancy clothes, big vocabularies, credentials, and pieces of advice.  Without important lists, niceties, shoulds and shoudn’ts, and tricks to make the day go by faster.  Naked in our truth.  Naked in our raw pain, our raw sexuality, our raw and unexpressed desires.  Naked in our acknowledgment of what we don’t know.  Naked as we realize we are truly alone.

ménage à trois

ménage à trois

Until a few days ago, I believed trees are their most beautiful in the fall and spring when their inner mystery is revealed in the unique colors of their foliage.  I am forever changed in this regard.  Naked trees hide nothing about themselves.   As compelling and complex and captivating as we can be in full bloom, like the trees, we humans are even more fascinating when our colors fall off and blow away.  So much so, that people may have to avert their eyes.  How do we do it?  One leaf at a time.

Time to finish the knitted scarf I’m making — to “cast off” the knots and twists and turns and arrive at nothing again.  Aaaaaand, back from whence I came.

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Raise your hand if you caught a late-winter cold.

Hating the cold; Loving the Source

My muse.

It seems like clockwork.  Around March 6th every year — bang!  Down and out with what always seems like “the worst cold I’ve ever had.”  Anyone else?

I had the lucky chance to spend the last four days with this handsome guy (my nephew).  He’s been coughing, sneezing, heavy breathing for over a month.  His nose runs like a faucet but he doesn’t care.  Not impacted in the least.  Still laughing his way through the day and stopping to rest when he needs to.  What a concept! Me, on the other hand.  Admittedly, I’m taking the opportunity to writhe in pain.  I’m like this guy.

the healing power of touch

the healing power of touch

All I want is what you see pictured here.  To be wrapped up in a hooded towel and held by my mom.  Sung to.  Bathed repeatedly.  Even to have my nose wiped every once and awhile wouldn’t be so bad.

It all has me musing on the mind-body connection.  Sure enough, I have a thousand things to do, people to call, workshops to plan, a website to launch.  My body, on the other hand, has quite another agenda.  It wants me to do nothing.  Doesn’t this always seem to happen when we feel our busiest?  When we are living and operating from our heads and have convinced ourselves that the world needs us to show up and deliver our very best?

With a cold in particular, it is as if the body says, “I see you have a lot going on and some important plans, so I’m going to shut down 4 of your 5 senses for the next 7-10 days.  You won’t see, hear, smell, or taste anything in the way you are used to.  I’m going to give you no other choice but to cancel everything, lie down, and listen. Just be.”

While shaking my fist at the injustice of it, and taking a moment to wallow in my own disappointment, I ponder the natural opening presented here:  What is so darn important that can’t wait a few days?  What does my laughing, smiling baby nephew understand that I have so plainly forgotten?  And, the more pressing question: who are we when we stop “doing” and let ourselves be held?

One of my clients told me her acupuncturist always says, “colds are your body’s way of ridding what you don’t need in your life.”  Hmm.  Perhaps there is some fat to trim here — things that don’t actually need my attention and energy.  I’m seeing now that I’ve been separating my mind and body.  When we do that, the body always wins.  Time to realign.

By the way, the Treelife site is up.  (Thank you Jeff Yas for all your hard work!)  At long last, I am waving my branches in the airwaves!  So, check it out, look around, take advantage of the opportunity to tell a friend about Treelife.  And, please say hello in the Comments Board below!  I’ll be updating this blog frequently, so check back often…. It’s good to be with you.

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