Archives for the month of: February, 2014

My commute home last night got me thinking about The Big 5 again: Respect, Reciprocity, Consideration, Compassion, and Openness, but last night, mostly Consideration.

Every open door is another opportunity to choose well.

Every open door is another opportunity to choose well.

I was struck first by how tired everyone looked. Well, sure, end of the work day, that makes sense; we’re all tired and eager to go home. What I saw next in so many faces was the sheer force of will it took to refuse to consider others.  A lot of faces, a lot of commuters, each actively engaging in processes of mind intended to sooth themselves and justify decisions to hang on to their seat, their spot by the door, the empty seat next to them, or whatever ‘win’ they scored on that trip that evening on that crowded commute. I saw a well-dressed business man, younger than me – late thirties, perhaps – steadfastly refusing to make eye-contact, or even look toward, the pregnant woman standing in the aisle next to his seated self. She was obviously very uncomfortable, and not quite tall enough to easily reach the dangling handles. In fact, not one of the healthy fit adults in the train car offered her a seat. Nor did they offer one to the elderly woman a few steps further down the car. They didn’t offer a seat to the harried mother of many little ones trying to keep assorted toddlers and a tween in check on her journey. Some of the seated commuters are ‘regulars’. I see them each day. They occupy their seats with a certain firmness, as if to say “this is my train, my journey, I do this daily and I have earned this seat.” There was also an assortment of woefully inconsiderate teens, just out of school activities for the day, and while I don’t excuse their callousness, their age makes it less mysterious, and less offensive. Yes. I am offended by the invested disregard for others that so many of us fall into as adults. I’m not judging, as much as observing with a certain sadness, and empathy. I used to be that entitled, self-satisfied, resentful, callous adult grabbing a seat on the train with a certain smug determination, and a sense of possession, and boundary setting.  My stomach churns bitterly and becomes a tight lump of something unpleasant settled inside myself when I acknowledge it honestly. It sure isn’t the best I have to offer as a human being. It definitely is not considerate.

What about last night? I stood for the commute. Why not? I’m not the strongest, youngest, fittest, or healthiest commuter along the route on most evenings, but I get by, and the courtesy shown when I can offer my seat to someone who needs it more than I do is an enormous investment in a very different feeling about life, about people, about the value in our shared experience. It matters.  I reflected on simple courtesy, and my Big 5, all the way home. There will be other commutes, and new opportunities to reflect on The Big 5. Consideration is a tough one to define, and might be the most important one, when I view ‘Considerate’ as ‘consider it’… isn’t that what it comes down to? Considering things fully? Taking a moment to consider that the woman or man standing nearby may have needs? May be in pain? May be suffering a moment of great sorrow? May need to get off their feet for even a minute or two on a rainy night? May feel alone, burdened, and unsupported? How many of my own worst moments of behavior come down to simple lack of consideration? What about yours?

I’m also keenly aware of ‘bystander effect‘. Last night I wrestled with understanding where the line between ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘meddling’ really is. If I ask someone else to give up their seat for someone who clearly needs it, am I ‘meddling’? Am I diminishing the personal authority of the person I intervene for? Am I being inappropriately critical or judgmental of the individual of whom I make the request? Are the answers to these questions easy for you? (I find them a challenging puzzle.) Culture changes over time. It once seemed a little silly that the buses and trains have signs and announcements reminding people to give up their seats for the elderly or disabled. It now seems obvious and necessary to make such reminders; we are not a considerate culture.

Today I will explore ‘consideration’ all day long. I will pause to ‘consider’ my actions and choices as often as I can remember to do so, and really consider the indirect outcome of my actions, not just the planned or desired outcome. Kindness is a free service. Compassion presents no inconvenience – and can as easily be learned.  What about you? Feel like helping me out with making the world a friendlier, easier place to enjoy life? Will you take a few moments, an opportunity or two, to be more than usually considerate? If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes!

Not much has changed in the world, since my last post. I missed a couple of days, sick; not that terribly horrible ill sort of sickness that results in real misery, I just felt incredibly weak, and had a bad headache, then found myself sleeping round the clock and very fatigued. I woke feeling fine this morning. It did result in a bit of a break from the internet – and the world.

This morning I took time to catch up: Facebook, email, forums I read, blogs, all the stuff 21st century connected sorts might find themselves falling behind on while away.  I try not to be disappointed.

Very little changes in a day or two, despite how much change there is, generally speaking.  People still limit themselves with their assumptions. Politicians still tell lies. Industries still lobby for favors from government. No one wants to pay taxes. People treat each other badly – in some cases even people they claim to love. People still seem inclined to insist that their way, their morals, their rules are the only truth, the only way, even in the face of considerable evidence that many ‘ways’ work out just fine, and that many ‘truths’ are just more pretty words.

On the other hand, the internet is also still filled with cute pictures of kittens, puppies, and children. Lovers still love. There are some damned fine recipes out there I have never tried. My amazing friends are still doing amazing things. There are still individuals and groups standing up for ‘the little guy’, and working to bring change, and improve lives. Archer exists. So does love. So does compassion. So does romance. Good seems as likely to triumph over evil as evil does over good – maybe that’s progress, or balance?

Another day, another experience, another moment to choose wisely, enjoy more, and live heartily. Spring is coming. I enjoy that, every year.

Fragrant blossoms at dawn.

Fragrant blossoms at dawn.

My work in the garden continues. It’s mostly ‘winter work’; tasks that get the garden started in spring, like pruning, getting beds ready for bulbs, cleaning up this and that, making room for my hopes and dreams, and seeing my vision of the garden come alive as the weather warms and the days grow long. I spend so many gray winter hours leafing through garden catalogs, scribbling on graph paper, asking partners odd questions about colors, forms, scents, and placement. I garden all year long.

Gardening has a lot in common with self-growth. This year I explore so much more of this with my eyes wide open, aware, observing, learning. I’m not going after some illusive standard of perfection; I love having my hands in the soil, connecting with living things, and simply enjoying the timeless wonder and delight of the garden. I have roses, herbs, bulbs, vines, trees, things for sun, things for shade, things that bear fruit, things that fill the air with wonderful fragrance…and two little chairs and a small table. On pleasant days I love to sit with my morning latte as the day unfolds, listening to peeping little frogs, chattering squirrels, the strident cry of the neighborhood hawk, and the songs of assorted little birds. It’s all very ordinary, I suppose, certainly the words don’t tell the tale with any power to really connect to the experience.

There have been years of my life when my garden was the entirety of my fragile hold on sanity. It isn’t fair to make a small plot of earth and a few vegetables and flowers do the heavy lifting involved in keeping me connected to what is good in life, but my garden has been there for me when I needed it, and never failed me. The garden connects me to my Granny, a woman of incredible will, wisdom, and humanity. It connects me to my Dad, too. I have no idea how old I was the first time I pulled weeds in the garden, but the first summer I did so for my Dad was early in 1973, I think. I remember sitting on the recently tilled ground, fretfully crushing clumps of dirt, instead of weeding, when I thought no one was watching – and mumbling about indentured servitude. I wasn’t exactly a fan of manual labor, and preferred the quiet of my room, and the excitement of a good book.  When adulthood hit me with tsunami-force after I joined the Army, it was the gardening that I yearned for, it was the gardening that I sought out for solace, and time and again even my life overseas found me with my hands in soil – potted plants on apartment balconies, tiny window box gardens, or a tree in a pot on a patio.

Seeds, like ideas, begin so small. They sit quietly, without evidence of their future size or usefulness, and wait. They wait for their moment. They wait for conditions to be right. Timeless and impersonal, they are still and small, all potential.  I love planting by seed.

The front garden is nice. Trim and pretty tidy, with a bit of brick path, another bit of slate path curving around the side, some shade, a lot of sun, and the small patch of lawn that is the suburban hallmark of home ownership. I brought in more (and different) roses, colorful wildflowers, pots of herbs, more roses, and feeders for hummingbirds and songbirds.  I love taking a garden space, and seeing it change over time as plants, and ideas, are added.  This spring I started big. Along the brick walk has been a low evergreen hedge of heather, and I like it ‘well enough’ I guess… perhaps not in that location, or maybe not so much of it, or…

Heather. Lovely, evergreen, not what I want in that space.

Heather. Lovely, evergreen, not what I want in that space.

As pretty as it is, it’s rather taking over that space, and just isn’t what I’m looking for in that spot. So… it’s out. I had a plan, before I got going…

Change presents so many opportunities.

Change presents so many opportunities.

In the dim light of dawn, early yesterday, I looked at the bare earth where the heather had been, and I felt just a bit sad for a moment, thinking of the experience of choosing to cull some living thing from a less than ideal circumstance, for lack of aesthetic, usefulness, or quality of character. I thought, too, of the experience of being culled…laid off from a job, fired, divorced, or any number of similar unexpected changes of life that I’ve faced. How easy it can be to take it very personally.

I considered my plan for that garden bed, clearly no longer ‘a hedge’ of any sort at all. I selected flower seeds with care; a variety of colorful California poppies, hybrids and fancy ones, and I chose some dark leafed kale for dense green vegetation – pretty and useful – and planned groupings of gladiolus with their bold colors and ‘reach for the sky’ approach to life. I’m hoping the new plantings are light-hearted and fun, a playful foreground for my Graham Thomas rose in the background. This year he will begin to stretch out in the front bed, reaching for his full size. I enjoyed putting down the earliest seeds in the afternoon…and like a little kid, I’ll check every day for seedlings, even though I know it will be days. 🙂

There is always more to do in the garden. Each year I get started at the end of February, thinking for just a moment “am I starting too soon”? It seems to work out just fine, though, and surely the slugs are already busy… they know spring when they feel it. lol.

Slug life... there's probably a metaphor here.

Slug life… there’s probably a metaphor here.


Life never let’s up with its curriculum; there is always more to learn, more to understand, more understandings to topple under the weight of new knowledge, and there is always change.

Every choice we make brings some moment of change. This morning I am ‘on call’ at work…does it change my experience of Saturday? Maybe. How much of any perceived change is truly due to ‘being on call’? How much may be due to the limits I, myself, set in some arbitrary way, based on my own assumptions? What is choice? I’ve been studying this, lately, in a deep and I hope meaningful way.  (Books are powerful, I am currently reading Emotional Intimacy, which delightfully enough is not at all ‘self-help-y’ and is very ‘science-y’.)

Relationship drama, every day life, and my commitment to ‘being a student of life’ put my focus on limits and boundaries this morning. For the sake of easy discussion, let’s go with a shared understanding that a ‘boundary’ is something we set, willfully, based on our understanding of our needs and values? Let’s also agree, then, that a ‘limit’ is something we have the understanding is imposed upon us by our physical world, our resources, or our perception of the boundaries placed by another? So, simply put, we set boundaries, and we face limits. Easy enough for our purposes, yes?  I watch the aquarium waking up for the day, and contemplate limits and boundaries. I set boundaries for their fishy lives by placing them in a glass container from which they can not escape, surrounded as they are by impenetrable walls, because I do not care to have water everywhere and fish flopping about unpredictably and dying in the open air. For them, those glass walls are the limits of their world, beyond which they can see, but can’t venture forth. So, limits and boundaries have a relationship in some instances. I find this worth contemplating.

How we define ourselves, and what we accept as our limitations, changes what we can choose.

How we define ourselves, and what we accept as our limitations, changes what we can choose.

I don’t see much to argue with if I apply these observations to relationships in my life. I have my boundaries, and all my friends, family, loves, lovers, and associates of all sorts, have theirs as well. How firmly any one of us insists on them varies. I find that I have limits and limitations in life, and I don’t know anyone personally who doesn’t. Something about the finite nature of things, and entropy, perhaps. When I set boundaries, they become someone else’s limits – but we are also limited by circumstances, resources – and choices. Strangely, I’ve begun to learn, it is my choices that are often the biggest hurdle I face when I look at my life through the filter of ‘my limits’. More of those limits are self-imposed than I understood, and often in a peculiarly arbitrary way. I choose to understand that ‘I can’t’ do or have something, or go someplace, or enjoy some experience – and later, on closer examination, I can see where I chose to place those limits on myself, and often based on erroneous assumptions, or worse still, as a bold act of self-sabotage. Choice embodies change – and freedom, and wide open vistas of opportunity.

As a fun exercise, take something you regularly deny yourself on the basis of “I can’t…” and just for the sake of some intellectual fun, rephrase it as “I can ___, if I ____.”  What would it really take? “I can’t be president” becomes “I can be president, if I run for office and am elected.” Wow. Just that simple. By now you’ve notice that I omitted the ‘because’ statement that is the heart and soul of self-imposed limits. “I can’t become president because I’m a woman and we’re just not ready for that as a nation.” is pretty damned disheartening, and at a glance can’t be easily overcome.  I could stop right there, and so often in life I have.  Frankly, this is an uphill battle I fight daily, these days.  Those self-imposed limits have no actual substance. They aren’t ‘real’ in the sense that the laws of physics seem real. They are not provably ‘true’ – they are only as ‘true’ as I accept them to be.  Defying those limits through force of will works for some people; great moral, political, and emotional battles have been fought and won through force of will alone. It’s a hard fight, and even emotional wars have casualties. Perhaps there is some gentler opportunity in simply changing our operating assumptions about life, about ourselves, about our choices? I’m just saying it is worth thinking about.

Why are so many people ready to place extraordinary limits on themselves through unsupported assumptions? Is it simply emotionally easier to say that “I can’t, because…” than it is to say “I won’t”?  “I can’t” means I don’t have to be accountable for my values, my boundaries, or my choices – it isn’t my fault! ‘Will’ doesn’t work that way, and I am learning what a crippling effect it has on my will to undercut myself again and again with “I can’t” when “I won’t” is more honest and true to my values, and boundaries. Allowing myself those “I won’t” moments also pushes me to examine why. That has to be pretty important if I’m going about throwing my will around!

Every day life these days pushes my limits, questions my choices, challenges my understanding of my boundaries, and insists that I understand, redefine, and use my will in a deliberate and adult way; accountable for my actions, and choices, and prepared to speak to my choices rationally.  I have some difficult choices ahead of me. Somehow, a quiet Saturday morning, a good latte, and watching the fish swim makes it all seem so much clearer; it really is about limits, boundaries, and choices. I am ready to understand the difference between ‘willful’ and ‘disagreeable’, and I am ready to change my world.

As far as the eye can see...

As far as the eye can see…

This morning I am yearning for vast open spaces, big skies, broad horizons, and distance – distance to call ‘my own’. What I don’t ‘know’ is whether I am best served to look outwardly for what I need: real estate, vacation planning, walking a thousand miles for a cause… or am I best served to seek the space I think I need within myself?

What is it I am seeking? Certainly not answers…I am still more about questions than answers. As layers of self-imposed madness, and a life time of trauma and confusion fall away, I find myself still seeking…something. Quiet within which to be aware. ‘Room to breathe’. A moment of utter stillness, timeless, tranquil, pure… for… something.

Another work day begins with meditation, yoga, a beginner’s mind, a heart filled with love, and the ‘second half’ of my life ahead of me… where do I want this to take me? How do I get there? What is ‘my own’, and does that even matter? My map is incomplete; I am the cartographer on this journey.