Done and Done! | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. ~Michael Althsuler

August was the rare month in which I never wondered, where did the time go? In fact, more than once I wanted to hurry August along.

I had two goals to accomplish. The first and easier of the two: run 50 miles. The second, a sight more challenging: write every day. Publicly. Depending on your relationship to either running or writing, you may have ranked the goals differently. For me, the exercise was no sweat. I’ve run 50 miles in a month previously. It was my first time this year, but not my first time, you know, ever. Barring unforeseen challenges, I assumed it could do it.

The writing, however, is a different matter entirely. Unlike exercise, writing has never been a non-negotiable. Over the years I’ve made half-hearted attempts to write more frequently. Sometimes journaling. Sometimes blogging. And so on. But writing everyday? No. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that I would make it to the end without doubling up on posts some days, or just giving up.

Writing daily was a bit of a grind. Within the first few days I got tired of recommitting. I had to do it every.single.day. Couldn’t we just skip a few days and get to mid-month already? I wanted to meet my goals without the struggle of working toward them.

Thank goodness time paid me no mind. It’s only fitting that I would finish my goal during a blue moon.

I have more to say in the way of a debrief, but I’ma save that for later. The rest of this space is reserved for celebrating!  I am committed to self-love. That means every now and again I get to shimmy and twirl on my own behalf (you can join in at home):

YOU GO GIRL! YOU DID IT!

*shimmies*

*twirls*

*presses play on the embedded video and sings along*

And after you’re done singing, catch up on the posts you missed here.

Love at First Sight | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Love

Brida’s mom and dad were soul mates. Yet one day, her mom relayed the story of a loving encounter with another man. She sought solace about life, and headed to church to pray. He was awaiting a mechanic and visited that church to pass the time. The two began talking life and civilizations past (he was an archaeologist). Before long, the sun had set:

There was I, like a 38-year-old adolescent, feeling that someone desired me. He didn’t want me to leave. Then all of a sudden, he stopped talking. He looked deep into my eyes and smiled. It was as if he’d understood with his heart what I was thinking, and wanted to tell me that it was true, that I was very important to him. For some time, we said nothing, and then we said good-bye. The mechanic had still not arrived.

For many days, I wondered if that man really had existed, or if he was an angel sent by God to teach me the secret lessons of life. In the end, I decided that he had been a real man, a man who had loved me, even if only for an afternoon, and during that afternoon, he’d given me everything he had kept to himself throughout his whole life: his struggles, his joys, his difficulties, and his dreams. That afternoon I gave myself wholly as well – I was his companion, his wife, his audience, his lover. In a matter of only a few hours, I experienced the love of a lifetime.

From Brida by Paulo Coelho

I’m becoming more aware of my capacity to love. Or perhaps my capacity to love is expanding. Or both. In any case, I’m actively dismantling the fortress erected after a profound hurt. Walls reinforced by years of covert distrust. It’s been freeing – this heart opening, sharing of self.

Radical moments of vulnerability.  And they remind me that love is timeless. I couldn’t or wouldn’t always admit past love. Yet my delayed realization does not diminish the love that went unnamed.  I think the naming of love opens space for more love.

It is a channel for more of itself.

Or something like that.

And it’s not that I’ve found a soul mate. It’s simply that I’m learning to have more love for every day.  It’s energizing – being able to love, finally. And really, being able to love first. It’s dangerous, they may warn. Why spread love that hasn’t been earned? Is this or that person truly deserving of your love? Won’t it come back to haunt you? It’s the walls that haunt, not the love. They leave you trapped in echoes of distrust, regret, anger. Poison, all.

How much can you apportion (and receive) from your cage?

I say let us craft epilogues of love. And then weave love clear through to the end. Certainly would change a few stories, now wouldn’t it?

Good News | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Personal Narrative

I am so proud of my friend, Oliver. He’s the mayor-elect of Miami Gardens, Florida. It wasn’t a matter of luck; it’s been a dream of his for years. His dad, his name sake, passed away two years ago. “He really would’ve gotten a kick out of this,” he said.

~

I miss my parents. Sometimes the longing appears as a whisper, barely heard above the din of every day. Other times, it’s a bit more demanding. Louder. I hear daddy’s voice. Picture his shoulders shrugging as his body convulses with giggles. There was always a hint of sarcasm. Teasing.

Mama comes bearing warnings and stories in equal measure. Reminds me to tie up loose ends. Flashes me scenes of days past.

I miss them, especially her, most, when there is good news.

Starting a new job, completing a degree, earning an accolade, I want to call Mama. Her happiness would surely top mine. But then I remember, I administered her estate. The phone was long ago disconnected. She’s not there to laugh, to exclaim, “Really!?” There are no follow-up questions, getting all the details to share with all her friends.

“They’re with you in spirit.”

Yeah.

Beyond the Bright Side | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality, Temple Building

Success is not a matter of accumulating more of this or that; it is not measured in quantity. It means changing the quality of your life. Wealth, power, fame and knowledge alone cannot make you happy, no matter how much of these you acquire. Nor can you take them with you when you die. But by improving the quality of your life you will at last approach true happiness. ~Daisaku Ikeda

But how does one change the quality of life? Lots of guidance encourages us to remain steadfast in difficult times; refuse to give up during challenging circumstances. Some people mistake this kind of rhetoric to mean just look at the bright side. This understanding is inaccurate, or at the very least, incomplete. The better reading is that you should become the bright side. It means build the kind of core, that regardless of your surroundings, you can maintain hope and cheer. Furthermore, actively radiate that cheerful, hopeful state of life in the actions you take to change your surroundings for the better.

Easier said than done.

One way to build this kind of core is through a practice of gratitude. Far from something “hokey” or “mystical,” it’s a grounded practice of being present and appreciating even the slivers of goodness in daily life. This does not mean you don’t notice when things are awry. This does not mean you can only see the glass as half full. But it does mean that even if your glass is half empty, you can be thankful for the half that remains. And as a second step, take action to help make fuller glasses more likely in the future. Anyone can sit back and complain, but how does that improve quality of life?

Developing a solid state of life is not a spectator sport. It’s an act of creation. We witness. We appreciate. We build.

Unasked. Unanswered. | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge

I met my aunt for dinner this evening and she surprised me with a gift: vintage photographs of my maternal grandparents and parents. I don’t have access to a scanner, or I’d show them to you.

One photo, black and white, features my grandparents, my tiny mom, and her tinier brother. We figured it was from 1944, as there was no newborn sister yet, and the siblings were born almost exactly a year apart. They sat on the grass in front of the house my grandparents built, looking as people often do in older photos – kinda smiling, kinda uncomfortable. It’s one of the few pictures I’ve ever seen of my grandfather. He passed away when I was very young. 

Another photo, color, was taken two decades or so later. Aunt, uncle, grandma, and grandpa are standing on the porch of the same house. Mom and dad are holding center court, sitting on the front steps. My mom was so skinny! She remained small most of her adult life. As an aside, her arms look very toned in this picture. My arms look like that right now…

I see old pictures like this and I am often filled with questions. When did my parents meet? Is it true they only dated 2 weeks before they decided to marry? Why did they elope and keep it a secret for a whole year? What was it like growing up with my grandparents? Five people with one bathroom? Really? Was grandpa a nice man?  What is my birth story? 

My parents are both deceased and there are countless questions I wish I had asked them. They weren’t the kind of people who would randomly sit you down and share a story without provocation. And for whatever reason, it never crossed my mind to ask them while I could.  I have relatives who are gold mines of family knowledge, and I plan to collect oral histories to preserve the family memory. But my parents’ own stories of their lives are forever gone with them.

On Framing Death

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality

Although born with breath in our bodies, at some point we exhaust our share. Our supply runs out. We draw the last one. When that fateful day happens, we die. Whether we merge into the cosmic consciousness and become one with the essence of all there is, take a mystical trip upward or downward, come to inhabit another body, or simply cease to exist, is another matter entirely. I stake no claim on knowing.

But we can say with conviction: no one continues in their current form forever.

Death is something no one can escape from. It follows life as surely as night follows day, winter follows autumn or old age follows youth. ~Ikeda

Since we arrive with the guarantee that we will also depart, I always wonder why some people frame death, especially when it is the result of an illness like cancer, as “losing.” As in, “she lost her battle with cancer.” Such wording, while meant to convey the way a loved one has died, implies they could’ve been immortal if only… They lost, as if, had events gone another way, they could have “won.” But what might winning mean? In a battle for life, death is the certain winner. So perhaps life and death are not best framed as competitors.

It is fair to acknowledge the cause of death. And of course we can acknowledge our loss; our sorrow that our loved one’s time with us was shorter than we, and perhaps they, would’ve liked. But I don’t think we give life or death their full measure when we say someone lost because they died. Our loved ones may leave us, ’tis true, and perhaps it is of little solace that they are immortalized in our memories of them. But I would like to think that if we love them in death, as we loved them in life, they won.

Don’t Give Up | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Productivity, Writer's Craft

Anyone who has ever made a resolution discovers that the strength
of their determination fades with time.
The important thing is not that your resolve never wavers,
but that you don’t get down on yourself when it does and throw in the towel.
~Daisaku Ikeda

23 down. 7 to go:

I have made a commitment to write (and share) every day for 30 days. Some days it’s been a joy – especially those days when I have time to truly craft or be playful on the page. It’s also rewarding when I’m feeling a bit righteous and want to make a little noise about something on my heart. Unfortunately, not all days are sunshine. When I’m tired, or my day simply hasn’t gone as planned, I often debate skipping and just catching up the next day.

But so far I haven’t done that.

It’s difficult, continuing. I think it’s important to just acknowledge that. Even if you enjoy something, you may not enjoy it the same every day. And even if you’re committed to something, your commitment may not look the same every day. But here’s the thing… even though we acknowledge something is not as easy as we’d like, I think we owe it to our commitment not spend too much time lamenting.

Lamenting is the magic expander. It makes everything loom larger than it actually is. This is so hard, we think to ourselves over and over again. And suddenly we’ve made the thing heavier. We’ve made the task larger. And then it becomes too much! We mop our brow, woozy from the imagined strain. Tomorrow, we think. Maybe I can manage it tomorrow.

Just when I’m whipping out the handkerchief, ready to call it a night, I often realize that I have the same power to shrink the task as I had to enlarge it. And I tell the lamenter thank you, but your services are no longer needed. I remind myself of my original goal, and go from there.

My goal is to build a writing habit. That means I simply need to write. Something. Anything. Even a five-minute freewrite.

It all counts.

That doesn’t mean there won’t come a day when you really don’t have it in you. Not five minutes. Not five words. And that’s okay, too. On those days, be gentle with yourself. Who deserves your love, if not you? Don’t give up on your original determination. Don’t give up on you.

And this makes 24. 9:53 p.m. Home office.

Returning for Love | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge

It was love at first sight – the Caribbean Sea. A girlfriend and I celebrated her birthday on Barbados. We made friends with the locals, navigated roundabouts while driving on the wrong side of the street, sampled the island rum, and won prizes dancing and guessing famous songs. I purchased a beautiful amber bracelet with matching earrings from a man on the beach. But mostly we bronzed in the sun and played in that divine water. Water ski. Jet ski. Snorkeling. Sitting still, admiring.

I cried when we left.

And maybe I shouldn’t have, because my tears brought me back. Daddy died suddenly. Friends, family and serendipity brought me to St. Maarten to mourn. The water was a little unsettled there, or perhaps it was my broken heart. But it was healing, nonetheless. The sight of it. The smell of it. The feel of it. The taste. The sound…

Weeks after my return home, I couldn’t sleep without hearing it. I still have the nature sounds clock on my nightstand a half decade later.

And so today when someone asked, Where would you like to go? I immediately imagined those gorgeous waters. St. Lucia.

I don’t know who, if anyone will accompany me when I go. But I shall go for love.

Favorite Things | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Productivity

From time to time, friends mention various and sundry ailments or concerns, and inquire as to whether I might recommend a remedy. Occasionally, I can! Below, you’ll find a brief catalogue of the items I share most regularly.

Beginning Meditation
Most people naturally assume my Buddhist practice incorporates meditation. It does not. However, meditation, even a few seconds once in a while, can benefit anyone. One year I felt unreasonably harried and unfocused and thought learning more about meditation would help me slow down a bit. It did.

I particularly like Jack Kornfield’s easy going and clear delivery and guided practice sessions. Once every year or so I listen to his mini-lectures and sessions again, as a good reminder to slow down and be fully present.

Shallow or Irregular Breathing
If you are like me, you rarely breath as deeply as you should. And in fact, there have been times we’ve I’ve caught myself holding my breath for no discernible reason at all! Andrew Weill’s two CD set includes a great lecture on the benefits of proper breathing as well as guided practice sessions.

I first heard this years ago, and still incorporate some of these breathing techniques whenever I need to wake myself up or relax.

Monkey Mind
Sometimes I simply can’t turn my mind off at night. For someone who needs a great deal of sleep in order to maximize productivity, it’s no bueno. There are many strategies one can employ, but my favorite is p.m.yoga. This is a big deal because I’m not really a fan of yoga for exercise. It’s just not my go to, despite wanting to enjoy it.

Gaiam’s DVD features a 20 minute series of poses that wind down the mind and body. Any time I follow this DVD, I fall asleep right away, and sleep deeply throughout the night.

As an aside, just doing a few of the poses helps me as well, if for whatever reason I’m not able or willing to pull out the DVD.

As another aside, I’ve only ever done the morning series twice – both about 6 years ago. But recently, I’ve found myself naturally wanting to do sun salutations some mornings. Maybe I’ll look at that DVD again…

Overall Wellness
I was very interested in tai chi a few years ago and purchased this DVD. I prefer the a.m. tai chi series over a.m. yoga (as I prefer the p.m. yoga over the p.m. tai chi). That said, I did both morning and evening tai chi for several days in a row and noticed a dramatic improvement in my overall feeling of well-being. I wasn’t expecting it, but there it was.

The main benefit I noticed at the time was the feeling of space around my organs. It was as if the air could flow more freely throughout my body.

Napping
I believe in power naps. I’m not sure I always did, but a busy schedule doesn’t really lend itself to hour-long siestas. Can you really feel refreshed after a 20- or even a 10-minute rest? Yes. The Ultimate Nap CD is the answer. When I bought this in a store, the CD came with napping supplies! I don’t usually have the ability to whip out the eye mask, and the lavender is just too strong for me, but the music is the thing. If you have earphones, even better.

I’ve used this on short plane trips, secreted away in my car, in my office. Well, you get the drift. If you can carve out a few minutes, you can take a good nap with this CD.

~~

So these are few of my favorite things for recharging and refreshing. What are some of yours?

Continuing Faith | #30in30 #WriteLikeCrazy

30 Day Blog Challenge, Spirituality, Temple Building

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

Nichiren wrote The Difficulty of Sustaining Faith to one of his most trusted disciples, Shijo Kingo. Shijo was being pressured to give up his practice of Buddhism, and Nichiren reminded him that difficulties were predicted in the Lotus Sutra – that he must bear this firmly in mind and remain steadfast.

Although this letter is about maintaining faith in Buddhism, the encouragement is applicable to anyone. Victory lies in never giving up. It requires one to be relentless in her commitment to a task.

How many times do we start something – anything – with energy and verve, only to be to swayed when difficulty comes along? For instance, let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. You’ve found a training plan that makes sense for your level of fitness. You’ve chosen the perfect marathon, one that is bound to have great weather and a relatively flat course.

After a few weeks of training, you need new shoes, but your funds are low. You simply can’t run another mile in your current kicks, and you must put off training until you can get a new pair. Obstacle? Or maybe your training isn’t progressing as planned. You can’t seem to break 10 miles without hitting a wall. Obstacle. Or here it is, a couple of weeks away, and you sustain an injury that will force you to miss your race. Obstacle!

These obstacles must be signs, right? You think to yourself, Maybe marathons are for other people.

Maybe. But the obstacles don’t decide that. You do.

To accept is easy; to continue is difficult.
But Buddhahood lies in continuing faith.

As human beings, we can’t control our environment, our circumstances or the timing of things. The only thing we can control in a given moment is our ichinen – our single-minded determination. For various reasons we might not be able to run the marathon we intended. But we can still run a marathon.

Choosing to strive again another day, even to start all over if circumstances warrant – that’s continuing faith. It may seem more than merely difficult – it may seem Herculean. But the decision to keep moving toward your goal, undaunted by the inevitable setbacks; to keep believing in yourself even in dark times, that, that is enlightenment.