The wise will rejoice

Zaimu Challenge

I watched a short video this weekend, and it featured excerpts from a piece by Buddhist philosopher and peace activist Daisaku Ikeda. I haven’t felt anything resonate so deeply in a long time. I quickly jotted down all the words I could remember and then found part of the poem excerpted online:

Morning sky by nicole denise.
Morning sky by nicole denise.

Quietly ask yourself
if it isn’t in fact true
that each of us,
before being defeated by an external adversary,
is first defeated by ourselves.

The weak in spirit,
the cowardly,
even before wandering reluctantly
at the foot of the wall
that towers in their path,
shrink first before the sight
of their own shadow.
Terrified of illusory figures
of our own creation,
we are defeated by the bandits
that infest our heart.

The strong-willed,
the courageous,
are always the conquering masters
of their own minds.
Thus, they fear nothing,
remain unbowed, unflinching.
Whatever occurs,
they live in perfect accord
with the Daishonin’s counsel:
          The wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat.
They know that they themselves
are like that brilliant monarch, the sun.
Shooting bright beams
through the clouds
of impermanence and change,
they advance, heads held high
into the raging tempest.


From Be an eternal bastion of peace in Journey of Life: Selected Poems of Daisaku Ikeda

On Mission

Productivity

You will not find your mission by standing still. The only way to find it is by challenging yourself in something – I would almost say it does not matter what. Then by making consistent effort, the direction you should take will open up before you quite naturally, just as wide, new horizons open up before someone walking up a hill. Little by little you will come to understand your mission. That is why it is so important to have the courage to ask yourself what it is that you should really be doing right now, at this very moment.

It is likewise important to set your sights high. The greater the tasks you chose to take on – one step at a time – the more rewarding and joyful your life will be. A person with a strong sense of mission is a source of light. For such a person, there is no darkness in the world.

– A Sense of Purpose in A Piece of Mirror by Daisaku Ikeda

Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.
Departing Aspen, the view from my airplane window.

Two days after my 41st birthday, I ventured to Aspen, Colorado. I had never visited the state, nor participated in a Socratic seminar. Most of the texts we digested in preparation for the week-long session were “classics,” yet foreign to me for one reason or another. In more ways than one, the experience was an education.

Although I wrote primarily of the texts and our conversations around them, I also made heartfelt connections. Several of the women stand out, and two of them left me with words of encouragement related to mission. I spoke with them separately and about very different things, yet their guidance was quite similar. Although I “know” what they shared, it was a warm nudge and a great reminder to take action. Do the work, don’t just think about it, or wonder about it. Don’t just dream it. Live it.

If you discover an idea in a moment of inspiration, that’s your story to tell. Tell it! ~Stevie Kallos

Hermana, we are in this world together to create the opportunities that matter. ~Lisette Nieves

In short we all have something to contribute – something to do. Not only that, we don’t have to walk that road alone. Allies are nearby if we are open to them.

So it’s Monday, which is a great day for beginnings. It’s time to get moving. What is your work? How will you be productive this month, this week, this day?


Here’s the round up from the series:

  • The Aspen Seminar. Things get underway this evening and I plan to document my experiences while I’m here.
  • Opening. We just concluded the opening session of the seminar. We’ll be here another six days so there’s a lot in store.
  • First Full Day. Today’s session was on human nature. Our readings included Aristotle, Hobbs and Darwin.
  • Toklat. Today’s readings investigated individual rights and liberty.
  • Three Poisons. In Nichiren Buddhism, the three poisons are greed, anger and foolishness.
  • Over the Hump. Our morning focus was equality and social welfare. Notably today also featured poetry, fiction and writings from women.
  • Antigone. Perhaps the highlight of the day was our late afternoon performance of Antigone.
  • Leading from Within. Today was the closing session of the Aspen Seminar.

Have you made art today?

Love

I’ve been asking myself this question daily as of late. In part, because it reminds me that I am an artist – something I’ve only recently embraced. And in part, because it spurs me to action if the answer is no.

There’s a lot going on these days. It seems some of us have become caught in a cycle of  seeking and finding the worst in each other. Of creating solutions that perpetuate vengeance and violence rather than compassion or healing.

When reality is ugly, brutal, far from utopia and idealism, art shows us beauty and possibility. It encourages. Resonates. Reminds. It gives us new questions and new ideas. It pushes. Heals. Helps us to expand. Art is activism.

Whether you paint or dance or cook or sew or write or act or sing or whittle or sculpt or compose or love or…

Have you made art today?

The institutions of human society treat us as parts of a machine. They assign us ranks and place considerable pressure upon us to fulfill defined roles. We need something to help us restore our lost and distorted humanity. Each of us has feelings that have been suppressed and have built up inside. There is a voiceless cry resting in the depths of our souls, waiting for expression. Art gives the soul’s feelings voice and form.

~Daisaku Ikeda

Probability, Possibility and Change

30 Day Blog Challenge, 30 in 30 April, Love

I believe in the potential for change. Change is, after all, one of the few constants in life. Even at the cellular level, there is always change. Birth, aging, sickness, death. Rebirth. Change.

I’m speaking about it in grand terms, but what I’m really talking about is the potential for individuals to evolve. To shift in attitudes, ways of thinking, and behaviors. To learn new things and be affected by them.

Ultimately, I believe in the potential of humans to be human.

…humans are always evolving (Freire). Not in the sense that humans are some how deficient, but rather that they, like plants, continue to seed and bloom and remake themselves. To live is to grow. Stagnation is, in effect, death. 
~Nicole D. Collier, In Defense of Inquiry

Earlier today someone mentioned in an offhand manner that grown people don’t change. Moreover, an attitude a man held five or six years ago would still be his attitude now.

You could make the case this is likely true. But as someone committed to developing my potential and helping others realize and develop theirs, I’m not so stuck on probability. I invite you to embrace possibility.

If we all stuck to what was probable, inventions we take for granted today would never have been birthed. If we dismissed things based merely on probability, who would ever take risks? What would be the purpose of ever dreaming beyond the present moment? There would be no bucket lists. No Nobel Prizes. No late blooming ballerinas. No manned missions to space. What use would anyone ever have for toiling or exploration?

When we are quick to write off the very possibility of human change, it becomes easy to write off those who have made poor choices in the past. Because they’ll “never amount to anything,” we expel kids from school without a second thought. Because “they’re worthless,” we allow people to die slow deaths in cages. And those who get out alive can scarcely live because, “they’re criminals anyway,” so they’ve proven they can’t handle voting, making an honest living, or {insert thing “good” people can do}.

I’m not arguing that we should ignore current evidence of ideas and attitudes people hold. After all, it’s sage advice to believe people when they show you who they are. But they’re showing you who they are at a given moment. Not who they were at birth. Not who they’ll be at death. Life shaped us to be who we are right now. Are you satisfied that this is the final version of you the world will ever see?

Human revolution cannot be pinned down to one specific thing. It is any action that leads to positive change or improvement in the inner realm of a person’s life. It is an ongoing process. The important question to ask yourself is whether you are on a path of continuous personal growth. ~Daisaku Ikeda

If we’ve not bothered to investigate – to engage another in a conversation, to see if evidence warrants new opinions, we’ve denied another human being the chance to be human.

Transformative learning occurs when one makes meaning of her life experiences. It often happens after a disorienting event. Something knocks you off balance and you are thrown into emotional vertigo.

Someone you love dies unexpectedly and you question the meaning of life. You travel abroad and confront culture in previously unimagined ways. You experience a profound betrayal. You read a book or watch a movie that elucidates a deeply resonant truth.

Whatever the event, you’re suddenly off-kilter and you must fight to reorient your life. Sometimes this reorientation means revisiting images of the past and reframing them. Or discarding them completely.

But the point is, you change. Your perspective changes. You release long-held beliefs. You alter your behavior. You’re different. You do what humans have the capacity to do. You learn and grow. You evolve.

It can happen at any point to any one of us. Even you…

We mustn’t discard possibility.

On living, aging and growing old.

Personal Narrative, Spirituality

It is important to remember that aging and growing old are not necessarily the same. ~Daisaku Ikeda 

I cringe whenever my peers claim they’re getting old. Of course years pass and we physically age, but a lot of what they are claiming is more about mindset than time.

A friend argued that maybe those people are beaten down by life – they’re getting weary, not getting old. Perhaps.

My favorite models in life are my aunts and uncles. Three of them are active on social media and in real life. Here’s a picture:

Uncle Grisby, Auntie Jessie, Cousin Big Sis, Me, Uncle Arnsel. 2011.
Uncle Grisby, Auntie Jessie, Cousin Big Sis, Me, Uncle Arnsel. 2011.

Auntie Jessie, who will be 85 this year, called to wish me a happy birthday Wednesday. When we spoke around 9:30 p.m., she was just getting home after a full day, that started, of course, with yoga in the morning.

I’ve actually never heard her say I’m getting old. Years ago, she told me she knew she’d be around because longevity runs in our family. This was despite the fact that some of her siblings died at or near retirement age. She simply keeps living life to the fullest each day.

I logged into Facebook recently and noticed a conversation between two of my uncles. Live the life of your dreams starting now, wrote Uncle Grisby, age 78. Let the past be the past. Uncle Arnsel, 71, agreed, writing: I wouldn’t tamper with my life. I don’t want to miss out on what I have NOW! 

I agree. There are many past choices I would not make today, but I chose them based on everything I knew about myself and life at that moment. Those choices were also my teachers, and the decisions I make today incorporate the learning of the past. To erase the lessons may erase the past hurts, but doing so would also erase the wisdom that comes in healing.

But what if you’re still suffering from past choices? What if getting old really just means your dreams are slipping away?

If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present. ~Nichiren

Nichiren implies here that not only are the lessons from the past contained in the present moment, but the power to change the present and create a new future are here as well. Youth does not spend its time looking backward, constantly lamenting what if? Youth looks forward, on to the next dream, a new goal, a different adventure.

What is youth? It is the inner strength not to stagnate or grow resistant to change but to stay open to new possibilities. It is the power of the spirit that refuses to succumb to complacency and strives ever forward. ~Daisaku Ikeda

Uncle Grisby was born on leap day, and yesterday he celebrated his 78th birthday. He shared this advice along with the following photo:

Start every day with a smile!!!

laugh every day

Here’s to growing older, while maintaining the spirit of youth.

xoxo

Welcome to cocostudio

Personal Narrative

Last night, Blue glanced over at the clock and smiled as he asked, “How do you feel in your last minute of being 39?” I laughed.

I felt great. I still do.

In my late 20s, I looked forward to turning 30. I was sad though, in those last few minutes. My mother had passed away a few months earlier, and I hadn’t considered greeting that milestone without her in my life. Despite my grief, I joyfully welcomed the new decade and all the excitement 30s held.

Blue's brown sugar bourbon bundt.
Blue’s brown sugar bourbon bundt.

It seems as though I merely blinked, yet here we are at the dawning of another decade. I’m not sure how one is “supposed” to look and feel at 40, but I truly believe another magical time is here. I have life lessons and accumulated wisdom on my side, along with the vitality and determination of youth.

I have big goals for the next 5 – 10 years. I’m not sure of action steps or how they will manifest, but I do know I’m completely invested in creating the life I want and enjoying every moment.

I still haven’t blogged about my theme for 2014 (I have one), but it, along with my 40s theme “building” involves deeper exploration of my identity. Who am I and what do I contribute to the world? In thinking about that, I wanted to reclaim cocostudio, which has been dormant for a couple of years.

I’m still working out the kinks, learning new widgets and playing with layouts and colors. You may notice a few changes in the coming weeks as I get settled in. As always, I welcome your feedback and comments, so please share your thoughts and repost your favorite entries when you’re moved to do so.

Welcome (or welcome back) to cocostudio.

Everything begins from now!
When we live in the present moment with our entire being,
our lives will shine with glory and success!
~Daisaku Ikeda

Can’t build your temple without laying bricks

Temple Building

Today was a cardio day, but yesterday was weights.

I got down.

Weight lifting is interesting for me. On the one hand, I love seeing progress. I can lift the weight with less effort as time goes on and see real strength. My muscles get sculpted. I lift and carry heavy groceries in a single bound.

On the other hand, it’s hard for me to get psyched up to do it. A run in the early morning? No problem. My favorite aerobic workout before sunrise? No sweat. Weightlifting, however, requires some mental gymnastics to get motivated.

But yesterday? Crushed.

I do a full body workout with a barbell and plates. Ten tracks including warm up, squats, chest, back, biceps, triceps, lunges, shoulders, abs and cool down.

When I first started the program (Les Mills Pump), I wasn’t on the road, so I was able to follow it as outlined each day. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been traveling. That and other circumstances as of late led me to take it easy with my workouts. I found what amounts to a comfortable challenge for each track and stuck with it. For weeks.

In the past couple of weeks I decided if I was going to hang out at these easier weights, I’d really focus on form, and I have. But it was time for more.

Yesterday I felt energized, motivated, and ready for a challenge. It reflects an overall mood I’ve been in the past few months – one of action and forward motion. I’ve not yet blogged about my theme for 2014 (see 2013, 2011) but it definitely incorporates movement. I’ve started new projects and made strides in new areas.

And so yesterday, when it was time to get that barbell out, I knew it was also time to kick it up a notch. I increased weights on all working tracks. I worked harder than I have in a long time and it felt great! I was proud of myself all day and flexed my muscles in every mirror.

One of my favorite things about exercising is learning the lessons my body teaches. Yesterday’s lesson? If you keep doing the same things, you’ll find yourself in the same place. Progress requires effort. Lay down those bricks and build that temple.

When you become stuck in a rut
of apathy, your life stagnates,
leading to setbacks.
~Daisaku Ikeda

What are you creating?

Productivity, Text Talk

I’ve come across a lot of things worth sharing as of late. Long ago I used this space, not only for musing, but also for sharing news articles or other things of interest. Sometimes a video catches my eye. Other times, it could be a picture. Today, it’s a word. Something to ponder:

There is no one lonelier or more unhappy than a person who does not know the pure joy of creating a life for himself or herself. To be human is not merely to stand erect and manifest intelligence or knowledge. To be human in the full sense of the word is to lead a creative life. ~Daisaku Ikeda

What did you give today?

30 Day Blog Challenge

Lots of things going on today, but I still want to contribute to the blogosphere.

Enjoy!

If a person is hungry, we should give them bread. When there is no bread, we can at least give words that nourish. To a person who looks ill or is physically frail, we can turn the conversation to some subject that will lift their spirits and fill them with the hope and determination to get better. Let us give something to each person we meet: joy, courage, hope, assurance, philosophy, wisdom, a vision for the future. Let us always give something. ~Daisaku Ikeda

What is happiness?

30 Day Blog Challenge

I’m not short on ideas, but I’m short on the energy to write about them. I started working on a post in my drafts just now, and just petered out. I’m low on focus at present, but not low on determination. I said I would show up, so here I am.

Today I’m rereading one of my favorite essays by Daisaku Ikeda. It’s called What is Happiness? and it challenges us to remember that true happiness is forged through inner work. Writes Ikeda,

Happiness is not a life without problems, but rather the strength to overcome the problems that come our way. There is no such thing as a problem-free life; difficulties are unavoidable. But how we experience and react to our problems depends on us.

Sometimes I feel stagnant, or catch myself thinking, “I’ll be happy when…” In those moments I check myself and probe to see what it is I’m doing or not doing in my life. Why am I looking for happiness in a time and place that simply don’t exist? What is right in front of me that I can impact today? Have I settled with an attitude of complaint or complacency? What am I staking my happiness on? How can I make the shift to become self-reliant and grateful for the little things that are undoubtedly present, even if difficult to spot at first glance?

True happiness is to be found within, in the state of our hearts. It does not exist on the far side of some distant mountains. It is within you, yourself. However much you try, you can never run away from yourself. And if you are weak, suffering will follow you wherever you go. You will never find happiness if you do not challenge your weaknesses and change yourself from within. Happiness is to be found in the dynamism and energy of your own life as you struggle to overcome one obstacle after another. 

Happiness is an active, not a passive state. Are you actively pursuing your happiness? If not, today is a great day to start.