Archives for posts with tag: a beginner’s mind

I haven’t been writing as often or as regularly. Are you missing me? I’m sorry. It’s Spring, you see, and this new job… life feels quite busy. Filled with tasks, meetings, conversations with my Traveling Partner about the perfect placement of “bass traps” and how best to fill the house with beautiful music. There are flowers blooming. There are others yet to be planted. Time ticks quickly by without me noticing, and days have gone by, again. ­čÖé

Primroses in the garden.

Maybe this is simply another step on this long journey? I sip my coffee and look around my studio, here, at home. It’s also my office, and the work day will begin shortly. I feel safe and content in this place – the space, yes, but also this time in my life. How odd. When did this contentment arrive? This odd little “oh, hey, yes, this is who I am” sort of feeling that also feels… okay? When did I find this loving good humor with which to face my relationships? This sense of loving kindness that says “it’s okay that we’re cross with each other right now – it hardly matters because there’s just so much love to be shared” feels new and enduring… has it always been within reach? Is it fragile or likely to fade in some moment of impatience? There’s part of me that wonders how one could ever be cross in the context of this much love… and I smile, remembering that “cross” isn’t really a “state of being” so much as a feeling. Emotional weather, not emotional climate – at least for me, personally, here, now.

…How much have I changed? How is it I still recognize myself at all? (And, how is it I can still make a cup of coffee this damned bad??? LOL)

I sip my coffee and sit with this contentment… contentedly. ­čÖé

Life is still pretty real. There is no “perfect” to attain. No A+ report card to receive. No ideal state of ease that never demands more of me. Shit breaks. Things need to be maintained. There’s always housekeeping to stay caught up on. Details. In fact, my Traveling Partner sticks his head in the door and gently pleads for assurance that I will “take care of the aquarium today, please?”; the pump is being a bit noisy, and one of the intakes is a bit blocked. I didn’t do my best work with upkeep tasks yesterday, sort of rushing through it between meetings during the work day. I assure him I’ll take care of it on my first break from work this morning; I know that sound grates on his nerves, and I also know that my fish rely on my attention to enjoy a good quality of life. So. No perfect here – and there’s always something that needs doing.

…It’s still important to take breaks, get rest, enjoy leisure, and really savor every lovely pleasant moment life and love offer. It’s a bit like an emotional savings account that is there for me “in case of emergencies” – funding, in a sense, the continued contentment and resilience when things do go sideways – and they will. I’m still very human. I don’t expect that to change.

It’s an utterly ordinary Thursday morning on a work day. This is a fairly ordinary suburban life in a small town in 21st century America. Nonetheless… there is much to do with the day ahead, and it wants a beginning. ­čÖé Am I ready? Does that even matter? ­čśë If I’m not – I can begin again.

Sipping my coffee this morning, and giving thought to yesterday. A good day at work. A weird, fairly alarming commute home by light rail (lots of feral humans, acting out, it was a bit scary at times). I think about how productive I felt, in the new location. I think about how many colleagues were smiling, that I don’t recall seeing smile so much, before. The thought has me smiling, now. ­čÖé

…Sometimes a change of perspective makes a real difference. Walk a new path. Take a different approach. View things through a different lens. Ask new questions. Hell, just step from here, to over there, and take another look. Perspective can change how things look, so much. ­čÖé

I think about the weekend, and the fresh bit of trail walking I’ve been doing. Where to, next? I’m eager to tackle a certain “loop” I have in mind (it is not particularly loop shaped, it simply does not require me to double back to get home). It will test my renewed endurance, although it is approximately the same length as the longest walk I’ve recently taken, at 3 miles. Nonetheless, it has one daunting feature, due to the lay of the land; it is very hilly, with several steep bits that mock the hill in front of the house (well… one of the steep bits is the hill in front of the house). Am I up to it? Regardless which direction I start off in, I’m facing serious inclines, or declines, and throughout the walk, an assortment of both. lol I’m still excited to give it a try.

…No expectation of “easy”. I just have it in mind to take this lovely walk I’ve never taken before. ­čÖé That’s enough.

I sip my coffee and think about walks, and paths, and journeys, and trails, and hikes… and realize I am ready, so ready, to begin again. ­čśÇ

Where does this path lead?

I am having a very good day. It’s wintry and quite cold – literally freezing – and I built my day around a practical sort of errand that didn’t turn out as planned, and another that turned out quite precisely as planned, and in between I hung out with my traveling partner for a little while. A very good day, indeed.

What matters most?

What matters most?

The afternoon sunshine streams through the patio door, heating my wee apartment nicely; it’s a wasted effort if I forget to close the vertical blinds as the sun begins to dip low, because the heat gained is quickly lost through the glass on a cold day, once the sunshine is gone. There is a luxurious quality to the passive heat of sunshine on glass that my senses tell me differs from the heat of the heater, although I have no way to confirm that very subjective perception. I just enjoy the feeling of the sunshine reaching through the glass, across the room, and bathing me in light and warmth. It’s a lovely moment, in spite of this headache, which developed some short time ago, while I stood in the cold waiting for a bus. I suspect it will dissipate with continued comfort, warmth, and a nice cup of tea or coffee… It’s a bit late for coffee; I decide on┬átea and put on the kettle and some classical music. Baroque – light on the ears, gentle on the soul, it fills out the background with something more pleasant that the sound of the dishwasher.

What does this new year hold, I wonder? Beyond changes in healthcare, beyond moving into a somewhat bigger apartment very soon, beyond replanting the vegetable garden in spring or pruning the roses next fall, beyond the days and weeks of everyday chores and everyday fun, I know the year holds surprises and changes that I have not anticipated or planned for. I wonder what those will be? How convenient if I really could plan for those, too! I can’t plan for the unknown as fully as I might for what I deliberately undertake, but there are a lot of little ways I can keep myself ready, generally, for all manner of changes. Taking care of me is a pursuit with a lot of layers, and a lot of potential to support me through periods of change, or a real crisis. I took time to think over a lot of that yesterday, meditating on what demands on my resources and time the move will make, and how best to prepare for it without throwing my current quality of life into the trash. Ideally, no matter what changes come my way I will stay focused on my longer term goals, and my everyday taking-care-of-me needs by maintaining the good practices I have worked so hard to build.

Again and again, I find value in the concepts of ‘perspective’ and ‘sufficiency’; I can’t know everything another person is going through, but I can listen deeply and be compassionate, and there is little chance I can ‘have it all’ in life – the vast amount of wealth required remains out of reach for me – but┬á‘having‘ has proven to be rather irrelevant once basic needs are met.┬áThere is so much more to a rich life than expensive goods or exotic services.┬á“Enough” matters more than ‘more’. My understanding of ‘quality of life’ has changed. The smile on my face matters more than ‘being right’, and contentment has proven easily achievable once I let go of expectations and assumptions about life’s entitlements, and stopped letting experiences other than my own have any weight in determining my path.

There are a lot of questions still to ask. The best answers I find tend to involve kindness, compassion, treating myself and others truly well, and being engaged and present in this moment right here, with the human being(s) physically in my company ‘in real life’ – and getting enough sleep. It’s probably not a coincidence that when I began taking a closer look at how I treated people and making changes in favor of treating people better (including me), people began to treat me better, too. It’s worth noticing. It doesn’t hurt to mention that when people do treat me poorly, I no longer internalize that experience, making it about me; people who treat others badly are making a statement about themselves, and although it is an unpleasant experience to have, it isn’t ‘about me’ at all. These are small things, each taken individually – but they have mattered so much! The Four Agreements was a good starting point on this journey. I smile, recalling the day my traveling partner recommended it to me, back in 2010. We have come so far together!

Soft music, the warmth of a fire, a pleasantly fragrant cup of tea, and quiet time in which to write...enough? So much more than enough.

Soft music, the warmth of a fire, a pleasantly fragrant cup of tea, and quiet time in which to write. Some of life’s riches don’t have a dollar value.

It’s another winter day. I have a headache, but so far it’s not affecting my mood. There is a fire crackling in the fireplace now, and an early dinner in the oven. I have no special plans, and no need for entertainment or distraction; the day is fine as it is. Quiet. I am content. This is enough. ­čÖé

 

It’s a lovely morning, cool, and quiet. My coffee is hot, and smooth, and somehow a much larger cup of coffee than I generally make – I’m sure that’s my doing, but it wasn’t quite a deliberate well-thought out thing. I used more water than usual, in some moment lost in thought when I might have benefited from paying more attention. ­čÖé

This morning I am thinking about the power of questions. All sorts of questions, really, but most particularly the sort of questions where I take a moment to ask (of myself, or of someone else) for something I want, or something I need – but in any case, the questions used to ask for something. Not the underhanded sort where a leading question is used to attempt to nudge someone into delivering on a need or desire – rather the honest, open, vulnerable simple questions that honor my heart, and respect the boundaries and resources of that other person. Straight up asking for what I want, no bullshit, no games, doesn’t feel very natural to me and it isn’t encouraged in all circumstances. There seem to be quite a few rules about asking for what we want, but they are rules we have built ourselves, and often on a fragile foundation of assumptions and expectations, criticism and judgement.

Always with the questions...

Always with the questions…

I am taking time to learn to ask the simple questions, whether it is ‘will you make me a latte?’ or ‘do you want to have sex with me?’ and to take care of me by avoiding the emotional trap of waiting around for needs to be met, or desires to be magically fulfilled by wondrous mind-reading beings who always know just what I want. Sometimes it is enough to make my needs – and my willingness – clear, sometimes it is important to be quite frank and direct (because assumptions suck, and cornering someone else into having to take action based on assumptions about what I may want isn’t as effective as using my words). I spent a lot of years living with people who invested heavily in coercive or manipulative use of language, and I didn’t realize how much of the simple power of directness I had lost over time. I do like language, and am prone to poetry and obscure vocabulary – and playful misuse of words – and those things can also be an impediment to clear communication. That’s a bigger deal when it comes time to meet real needs. It adds up to time to rethink how I communicate my needs, and how I ask for what I want in life.

My efforts to change how I ask for help, or ask for companionship, or ask for emotional support, or ask for a latte, are far more effective when they are specific, simple, and without pressure. The most effective requests are those when I am able to clearly state the outcome I am seeking, without putting pressure on an individual to provide fulfillment – and still make the request clear and uncomplicated. This does require a follow-up action from me, regardless of outcome; graciousness. Gracious and appreciative acceptance that honors and values the person coming through for me on my request if they say yes. Gracious acceptance and respect for boundaries and limitations that nurtures and supports the person who declines, simply and without bullshit or games. No tantrums. No manipulation. No ‘you owe me’ games. No ‘but I deserve this’ games. Getting the gentle dynamic of effective requests and gracious reception of answers quite the way feels best to me is a balance of emotional self-sufficiency (most things I might ask of someone are things I could legitimately do for myself, much of the time, or do without) and considerate openness (understanding that anything someone takes time to do for me subtracts from the time they have to do for themselves). There’s another balancing act involved here, too: reciprocity. If we’re hanging out at your place, for example, and I ask you to make me a latte (knowing how awesomely well you make them, perhaps), then the principle of reciprocity as a relationship value requires that when we are hanging out at my place I will be prepared – and willing – to reciprocate and make you a cup of tea when you ask (or politely offer you a beverage). It’s not a firmly required exchange, and it’s not a debt or obligation…it’s something more than that; a shared experience of openness, an exchange of emotional support, a connection, a willingness to be vulnerable enough to ask, and strong enough to answer honestly. There’s a lot of power to connect people in asking for what we want in simple and honest terms, and being open to hear the answer without being invested in a specific outcome. I’m finding it very freeing…sometimes frustrating. (Learning to comfortably decline when asked, when that is what best meets my own needs, is a challenging related bit of life’s curriculum.)

Feeling my way in the dark on something that has direct effect on the shared experience with others can feel stressful. It’s worth getting past that to be more aware of myself, my core needs, and what’s really going on with me – the process of asking for something I want forces me to be more mindful of what it is I do want, and why, and whether it really has potential to meet my needs over time. Straight up asking tends to find me looking at the content of the question more closely; is the request truly worthy? If I am going to be vulnerable, and ask in the first place, it makes sense that the question be refined and clarified in my own thinking before it becomes words at all – why waste time on confusion, if that can be avoided? Do I really want a latte? Or do I want to hold hands and yearn for that brief moment of contact between fingertips as I accept the warm mug? A latte doesn’t actually meet the need for hand holding, does it? It matters to ask the most relevant question. So much to learn.

Children seem to get asking questions, more or less, but their undeveloped narcissistic and demanding approach is a poor fit for adulthood; they lack awareness that others have no obligation to serve. It’s a free will thing. ­čÖé Still, not a bad start for asking…and I have been studying how it’s done by these wee experts. “Can I have a glass of water, please?” from a being too short to reach the faucet seems simple enough. As an adult, I’d likely want to be more specific and personal, “Would you get me a glass of water?” – acknowledging I could reasonably do it for myself. How often have I heard myself say, to a partner in motion, “Are you going to the kitchen?” – when what I truly intend is to ask, at some point, for a glass of water? Where did I learn to be vague, leading, and manipulative? I guess that question isn’t really important to answer. The more useful question is “what can I do to be more clear, more direct, and more specific, without conveying a sense of obligation, sounding demanding, or being┬ámisleading?”

I am a work in progress, and life’s curriculum develops in a very personal way. I’m already more about questions than answers… Perhaps it is time to also become quite skilled at asking for things, not merely about them. How much harder is it for loved ones to provide support, encouragement, or to meet needs, if they have to continuously guess what those might be? It was something my traveling partner said to me on a recent visit that got my attention on this. “Relax. If I need something I’ll ask for it.” He said, after several attempts on my part to offer hospitality of a variety of sorts. We had a much better time hanging out when I stopped trying so hard to guess what he might need┬áto┬áoffer it to him before he asked. It got me thinking about that whole thing, though, and I recognize┬áthe potential pitfall of setting up an┬áexpectation within my own thinking that others would be behaving similarly, trying always to anticipate my needs – that’s not only unrealistic, it doesn’t respect them as individuals with needs of their own, and the power to ask.

Today is a good day to be open, vulnerable, and self-aware – and a good day to ask for what I need. Today is a good day to be gracious, whether supported or not, and understand that we are each having our own experience, with our own needs, our own desires, and our own finite resources. It’s a good day for kindness, and learning to say ‘no’ when I must, and to do so gently and without harm. It’s a good day to be appreciative when someone says ‘yes’, and not take ‘no’ personally. Will it change the world?

This morning I woke gently, and rose with a smile already tugging at the corners of my lips. I went to bed last night in a lot of pain, and on waking this morning I notice it has not diminished much. I am very stiff. I treat myself with care this morning, taking my time, and since I give myself so much of that in the mornings, there is no need to rush through any of the morning tasks or practices. Since I slowed myself down a few days ago (weeks?), my quality of life has improved.

I linger in the shower until I feel the stiffness of my arthritic spine ease. I make a point of relaxing and really enjoying the fish as I feed them, and watching them live their fishy lives. I breath deeply. I allow myself to listen deeply to the woman in the mirror, this morning – how is she doing? What can I do to make her more comfortable? What are her priorities as the day begins? I let in the fresh morning air, ┬áopening the patio door and taking a moment to look out across the lawn; at this hour there are rarely any lights on elsewhere, aside from the walkway lights. I enjoy the pre-dawn quiet and the scents of morning, before making my coffee.

I have noticed that when my practices become ‘routines’ over time, they sometimes lose their ‘magic powers’. It’s not that they don’t really work, or that they have failed…It’s something simpler; I’m failing myself by doing them ‘mindlessly’. It’s easy-ish to fix. I have to slow down, begin again, and approach each such task or practice with a beginner’s mind, with willful mindfulness, and yes – a bit of discipline now and then, taking the time to fully embrace the task, the practice, the moment, engaged and present. I don’t berate myself over it when I drift off course┬á– there’s no productive point in doing so. I don’t feel I have ‘failed myself’ grievously – I’m human, and these are practices for a reason; they require practicing. Going through the motions doesn’t count as ‘practice’ – or as living.

I am not a machine. I don’t actually benefit, long-term, from rigid habit, and life planned out thoroughly moment-to-moment, beyond the value toward simply getting shit done. Even for me, rigid habits and a strictly enforced disciplined approach to daily task completion are┬ánot something I thrive on – it’s just one method of coping with my injury, my poor memory, my challenges with maintaining a comfortable lifestyle┬áover time. It’s not an ideal way to live. Living alone I can more comfortably explore life on a less habitual, less routine basis; moments of chaos and confusion are less likely to affect others, and any time I need to I can slow things way down, and be patient with myself; I don’t get stalled having to explain it to someone else. I am learning to live without the crippling burden of the [perception of the] expectations of others weighing me down.

The loss of so many small routines and habits sometimes catches me by surprise. This morning my cell phone wasn’t charged. I had remembered to put it on the charger; I had forgotten that the other end wasn’t plugged in. I changed my habit from leaving all the cables of all the kinds just plugged in and dangling all over the place┬áto a much tidier practice of carefully putting away┬ácables not in use . My environment is lovelier, tidier, and still quite┬áconvenient – since all the cables of all the kinds for all the chargers, devices, etc are conveniently in one location, together. It’s still a change. I forgot about the need to plug in both ends. ­čÖé Surprise! I don’t take it personally, and I’m grateful for the quiet amusement, and practical perspective on the small inconvenience; there was a time it would have been enough to blow my morning, possibly causing some nasty pointless tantrum┬á– I suck at frustration, even now. (It has been easier to learn not to be frustrated by certain kinds of things, that to learn to deal with the experience of frustration, itself. I don’t know whether that will be the wiser choice over time, but it does offer some relief now.)

Letting go of rigid fixed habits tied to time and timing, and all the expectations and assumptions those tend to support, has been a big change. The need to take great care with each task and practice, invested, engaged, aware, and fully living each moment becomes quite profound, lacking the foundation of rigid habit. Rituals exist because, perhaps, it is not so easy to approach every desirable practice in an utterly mindful way. I do like ‘easy’… but… I also really like living, eyes wide to life’s wonders, attentive, aware, savoring my experience,┬álearning to thrive, and becoming emotionally self-sufficient. So many verbs involved. It’s scary sometimes. What if I forget my morning medication? What if I suddenly just stop doing things? What if I discover my values or preferences are at odds with the expectations of my loved ones? What if I’m not who I think I am? Well…I guess I’d begin again. ­čÖé

The sun is up now. I take a moment to make my bed, and tidy my bedroom. I finally feel ‘moved in’, in a very complete way. I think it is a combination of the love seat, and the wee trash cans which arrived over the weekend. I find myself wondering if the story of human progress can be told in the improvements in waste management over the course of history… I definitely feel the improvement in my own quality of life┬áhaving a small trash receptacle in the bathroom, in my bedroom, and by my desk – I’d been having to walk every used tissue, bit of string, or piece of waste paper all the way to the covered kitchen trash, or recycling bin, and while it is a very small apartment and no real inconvenience to do so, nonetheless – I feel more ‘moved in’ having what seems the ‘proper’ number and placement of small trash baskets around the place. Funny which details matter to me. It’s exciting learning what matters most to me, myself.

I have time for another coffee, and some household chores that will ensure I come home to a lovely place – built for me, by me, based on what matters most to me. It’s a ┬ánice feeling. Enjoying the moment┬áseems to cause┬ámy brain to attempt a sneak attack, coming at me from behind with dire warnings and launching a salvo of ‘what if’ scenarios filled with house fires, burglars, unknown assailants, and all manner of extraordinarily negative [and incredibly unlikely] circumstances…I assure myself I’ll remember to turn off the stove, lock the doors, and be aware of my surroundings. My demons slink off into the darkness grumbling quietly.

Going my own way, having my own experience.

Going my own way, having my own experience, and feeling prepared to face the world.

Today is a good day to take great care with each task I face, with each practice I practice, and to face life with a beginner’s mind. I am a student of life and love. I am my own cartographer. The way I face the journey – and the direction I take – are mine to choose. It’s a very good day to set down some baggage and walk on.