Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone through several periods of so much change in my self-identity that I feel like I don’t even recognize myself anymore. It’s as if there’s a stranger staring back at me in the mirror, and that’s a really disconcerting feeling.
Just recently I have been going through another one of these growth spurts, but this time around has been very different from what I’ve experienced before. Rather than feeling tossed about by the winds of constant change, this has felt more like an unfurling of new shoots of life coming forth from the core of who I am. Instead of being disconcerting and disorienting, this feels more like an ongoing celebration!
My book club discussed Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness at our meeting this month. Although Salzberg is a leading Buddhist writer in the US and a name with which I am very familiar, this is actually the first book of hers that I have read. It’s considered a classic in the field, from what I understand, so it was a great place to start.
The primary focus of the book is on the Buddhist practice of metta, which is translated into English as lovingkindness. The book covers this practice, several related practices that intertwine and grow out of a metta practice, and applies this practice to real-life situations that all of us face. It is unmistakably clear how powerful this practice can be in the way we experience the world around us and the amount of happiness that we experience.
A few years ago, I was going through a difficult time and my world seemed unusually challenging. On top of that, my hard drive failed, and I lost quite of bit of my writing that I had not backed up elsewhere: several years worth of poems, essays, novels-in-progress. I was devastated particularly by the loss of a couple of poems that had been particularly meaningful to me.
I wrote the poem below during this time as a reminder to myself that laughter is best way to brighten my world when all seems gloomy and as reminder that I can always write more poems. I had forgotten all about this one until I found it scribbled on the back of a sheet of paper in a drawer tonight, and it reminded me once again about the need to find more reasons to laugh.
I am finding that the more accepting I am of myself, the more readily I laugh. The more I allow myself to play with my creative side, the easier it is for laughter to bubble to the surface. The more I embrace life, the more joy wells up and overflows as laughter. I am slowly rediscovering laughter, and I love it!
“Funny how much of life feels like remembering & forgetting & remembering again. Perhaps if we did not forget what was essential we would miss out on the great AHA! & joy of all those moments of remembering.” ~Oriah Mountain Dreamer
The quote above is one from a Facebook status that Oriah posted quite some time ago. I saved it because it sums up my experience so well, and I was reassured to know that I’m not the only one who seems to keep forgetting those essential things I’ve learned along the way, requiring me to keep learning the same lessons over and over again.
I was reminded of this quote the last few days as I’ve been going back through and looking at old posts on my blog. It’s a bit embarrassing sometimes to see how many times I keep having to relearn some of the same lessons.
“It is not judgment that breaks the heart, but mercy and love.” ~Hasidic lore
I came across this quote tonight on Facebook, and it seems to sum up my experience of the day in an unexpected way. It’s been a day filled with blessings—full of mercy of love—that took me completely by surprise. And I’ve been on the verge of tears much of the day.
This didn’t make sense to me until I saw this bit of Hasidic lore, and it clicked.
This marks the end of the my second week of consistent gratitude journaling since I’ve gotten re-started with that practice. It’s been helpful to be doing this again in several ways, and it is very interesting to observe the process, the things that make it on my list, and the effect that it is having on me.
I’m already noticing that this is becoming a habit. It’s easier to remember to do each day, and I’m finding myself mentally making note of things during the day as they happen as things I want to be sure to add to my list that night. In that sense, it’s making me more aware of things I am grateful for throughout the day rather than just at night when I make my list each day.
I was talking on the phone a couple of nights ago to a friend whom I haven’t talked to in a while. We were doing the usual catching up on news when he asked me how I was. I gave the usual “Oh, I’m fine” response, but he persisted. “Are you happy?” he asked, and he really wanted to know. I stopped and thought for just a moment and discovered that I could truthfully say that I am. I am happy.
It felt good to acknowledge that. The last week or two has been filled with a lot of good things—from some significant amounts of rain (finally! yay!) to kind gestures from several friends to a few bits of unexpected good news trickling in here and there. I have several areas in my life that are in the midst of change or the beginnings of new things that all are looking very promising. It feels really good to be able to sit back and see so many blessings sprinkling in throughout all different areas of my life.
I am happy in a calm, contented kind of way. I am also feeling quite hopeful that these changes and new possibilities will bring additional good things my way. And I’m noticing that this brings up resistance in me. Hope has not always been a good thing for me. It’s a fragile little bird that is all too easily crushed.
“The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” ~Carl Jung
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about creativity and how it works. The initial impetus behind this line of thinking was my efforts at developing writing ideas—both the daily ideas necessary to find something to blog about and the more important task of giving birth to bigger writing projects to focus my efforts on.
So I’ve been reading about creativity in Jonah Lehrer’sImagine: How Creativity Works. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s teaching me a great deal about how to create better conditions for my creativity to thrive. (It’s a thoroughly fascinating book that I highly recommend, by the way. Look for a more in-depth book review soon once I’ve finished reading it.)
But a really odd thing has happened as I’ve been focusing on my creativity the last couple of weeks.
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” ~Mary Oliver
One of the challenges of being a writer, I think, is that I tend to live in my imagination a good deal. I move through my day simultaneously functioning in the real world and thinking about how I’d describe what I am doing or experiencing or thinking about through writing. (And that’s not even including all of the times when my mind is off in some fictional world of my own creation.)
But at the same time, writing is a practice that helps me pay attention in ways that I never do when I am not actively writing.
I’ve written before about my belief that our willingness to deeply feel our pain and sadness is what gives us the ability to experience the heights of joy. I believe that the two are interconnected and the refusal of one leads to the refusal of the other.
I recently came across a passage by Kahlil Gibran that speaks to the same topic of their inseparability. It is a marvelous reminder to me to always be open to whatever life brings in all of its fullness, the heights and the depths together. Continue reading →