Archives for category: living with intention

I stood in the pet store aisle considering the object in my hand. It was a brightly colored plastic stick-shaped dog toy. “Scented!” read the copy. “It floats!” said the packaging. I was thinking that this might be great to buy for my upcoming trip with our Shepherd/lab mix Sugar. We would be lakeside for two weeks, and I envisioned myself hurling the toy over and over into Lake Superior as she joyously splashed into the water to swim and retrieve.

But then I stopped and remembered: we will be right on this Great Lake. We have a sandy beach and we are in the forest. What exists there naturally, and in huge abundance?

Driftwood. Sticks. Of all shapes and sizes. Fun to throw, easy to float. And they must smell of fish and animals and insects and earth and rain and sunshine and all the things dogs intensely love to sniff.

I glanced around the store and thought about what else Sugar might need. But other than food and a few necessities, what Sugar needs is not on these shelves or hanging from these displays.

What she needs is eye contact, a friendly voice, a comforting stroke of the hand. She needs a loving home, long walks, and crazy playtime. She needs quiet, regular reassurance that she is a Good Dog and that she is doing the Right Thing.

I put back the chemical laden manufactured product and thought about walking the beach and the woods with Sugar, looking for the perfect piece of natural wood for that day’s play.

 

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If I have developed one skill lately, it’s to embrace change.

I’m at a crossroads in almost every area I can think of: my personal life, my career… yet many things chug along as they always have. I still have the same responsibilities and new ones to come. Each day brings sublime little moments and take-a-deep-breath challenges.

This crossroads stuff is scary, but it’s also refreshing. It’s a reboot, akin to those uncertain years of high school and college. It’s back to figuring out who you are, what is important to you, where to go next.

And it’s a reminder to me that we are all in a state of continuous change, just like the greater world around us.

Whether your next move is groundbreaking, or just a subtle shift (either can be huge)… you are utilizing your life energy and you are moving forward. It’s when you keep things static that you run into trouble.

So enjoy the moment and keep it flowing.. your mind, your body, your outlook. Shed old ideas. Remain true to who you are. Hit reset. Hit go.

The morning birds are chirping and the days are getting longer, but it’s a stretch to say that spring is in the air. Not in Chicago. Usually not ’til May, because we are known to skip straight to summer, seemingly bypassing the season of rebirth altogether.

Personally, this winter has tested my resolve in many ways, least of all the globally-reported weather. Yet out of winter’s dormancy comes growth.

Somehow this season has always been a comfort, despite the howling winds. An Ayurvedic doctor suggested it was in my Northern European blood. I’m more content on gloomy days than on sunny days; a mild storm does me better than a picture perfect day. I veer straight away from drama and chaos, but if a gray cloud wants to settle above me for awhile, I’m okay with that.

So I don’t mind still facing down the snowbanks, teetering cautiously on ice, and moon walking on two feet of packed snow to get to the compost bin. It’s only February; the winter wolf is still roaming these parts.

Time will move forward and as we approach the vernal equinox, I’ll be ready. A spring morning with the scent of new earth, a balmy and still summer afternoon, a succulent summer night. I look forward to all of these.

But I will still bid a longing goodbye to winter.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to go whale watching. I think that if I was lucky enough to encounter a sperm whale bursting out of the ocean just a few feet away, those fleeting, thrilling moments would last a lifetime.

We often go through a lot of effort and expense to have a great experience that lasts a short time but remains forever in our mind’s eye. We wait in line for 45 minutes for a 2 minute ride at the amusement park. We travel halfway around the world to see with our own eyes a historical landmark or a natural wonder.

And sometimes, very rarely, these moments come to you. I had a landlocked version of the whale experience many years ago, and I still think of it surprisingly often.

When I went to college in a small Southern town, I rode a motorcycle (a beloved vintage ’73 Honda CB350) everywhere I went and for a short time lived on a farm 25 miles out of town. It was literally an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods commute.

Riding home late one perfect Autumn evening, I was heading out of a wooded area into open land. Even with the din of the motor and with my helmet on, I heard a loud, crazy screeching sound. For some reason I glanced up and what I saw was the white underbelly of a massive Barn Owl just a foot or two above my head. Its impressive wingspan fanned over me, at the same speed I was traveling, and I swear I also heard the whoosh of its wings. I don’t know if it dove down to fly above me or if it noticed me at all, but I felt like a mere mortal in the presence of a higher being. It was an absolutely magical moment, and it lasted probably four seconds. Then, as quickly as it made itself known, the owl disappeared into the night.

This experience was perhaps more modest in scale to a sperm whale bursting out of the ocean, but it was equally transforming. And I remember it as one of the best moments of my life.

I love to get rid of things. If I were more patient about it, I would make a little money selling on eBay or Craigslist (which I do sometimes). I’ve given up holding yard sales as well. As I feel unnecessary objects piling up around me, I get very restless. I feel the weight of excess ownership upon me. So I clean the offending items up and donate them to my favorite resale shop whose proceeds benefit a local charity. (The financial balance is that the donations are tax deductible).

Lately I’ve been focusing on books. To my mind, books are highly worthy objects, so this has not been easy. But as I looked over my overstuffed bookcases, I knew it was time to make choices.

Several years ago, I started discovering book sale sections at local libraries. I would spend hours with these shelves and bring home armloads of books for which I only spent a few dollars. What I wound up with are books about Tolkien and his writings, books about gardening, health, nature, hiking, art, essays, poetry, all the things I love to read about. When faced with personal loss, I picked up book after book about grieving and loss, hoping they would help me process my emotions. But the reality is, I didn’t read most of these books cover to cover. They were simply objects that represented my interests.

And owning these books wasn’t really enhancing my life; it was overkill, clutter.

So this week, I pared them down dramatically. I still have one book, or several, on everything that interests me. I still have my old Tolkien trilogy and my newer Hunger Games trilogy. I just no longer have different versions of these books or companion books or anything else.

I also went through the books I bought through the years for my children. This was especially difficult, but I realized that I was the one tied up with these books, not my kids. I was emotionally invested because I had made the choices in bringing these books home to expand my kids’ horizons on one topic or another. Most books had simply been outgrown; a few never interested them much in the first place. But of course I kept some beautiful classics and old favorites.

When it was all done, I had three big heavy boxes to bring to the store. And looking back to my newly open shelves and more carefully curated book collection, I saw that the books I loved most were no longer hidden in the shadows of the others. They were right there for me, as they had been all along.

Have you ever had a day when things keep going astonishingly wrong, hour after hour as the day ticks by, and you wonder what kind of bad karma you’ve projected to create such a day?

And have you ever had a day when things just click into place, hour after hour, and you wonder what you’ve done to deserve such a day?

Earlier this week I had a simple day of driving through the state of Michigan, and it totally rocked.

Starting just north of the Canadian border, I crossed the International Bridge and headed through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the famous Mackinac Bridge. As I pulled up to the toll booth, I was ready to apologize to the operator for not having correct change when she said, “The driver in front of you paid your fare.” I was shocked and asked, “Why would they do that?” and the toll booth operator shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s an act of random kindness. And the driver asked you to drive safely and have a good trip.”

This small and generous gesture had its intended effect:  my heart completely swelled and I felt like all was right with the world.

An hour later I headed toward Traverse City to attend a reading of the fantastic memoir I had just read (Bootstrapper, by Mardi Jo Link, a Michigan writer). I was running late and kicking myself for not getting an earlier start. This part of the drive follows along the shores of Lake Michigan and is postcard gorgeous. But since I was afraid of being late for the event, I barreled along at top speed past the pottery shop, the cherry orchards, the farm stands, and the wineries where I usually love to stop.

As I reached the venue, I resigned myself to the fact that I would be walking in 15 minutes late. However, I quickly learned that the event schedule had changed, and now I was an hour early. I had time to enjoy lunch in a spot overlooking the entire bay before returning to the venue. The reading was lots of fun, the author was just as kindhearted and smart as she appeared in her book. and I had a great chat with her.

As I left Traverse City and bumbled along a country highway through farmland and forest and canoe bases and small towns, I wished that I had had a chance to pick up some produce and wine from the region. Far further downstate I stopped at a gas station with a big store featuring lots of things to do with guns, hunting, beer drinking and…. a lovely selection of wines from the Traverse City region. I happily chose a few while waiting for the freshly brewed coffee that the clerk had put on just as I walked in.

Further down the road I came upon the most picturesque farmer’s market I had ever seen, and I gathered up peaches, plums, apples, giant cauliflower, oblong tomatoes, multihued peppers, and candy onions, After paying for these and loading up the car, I headed on the last stretch to Chicago.

Perhaps I’m easy to please, but this long day of driving down the length of this Great Lakes state, tuning into local radio stations along the way, felt charmed and beautiful and very much like a very good day.

So I had this little fall, one false move, on the stubborn ice of late winter. It began a journey of injury, surgery, and rehab. A small injury by many standards, but a torn rotator cuff causes an impressive amount of trouble.

At first, I continued yoga at half mast. Three months later, post surgery, I ran around town in a massive sling. Six weeks later, off with the sling, but then my right arm didn’t work from being immobilized for so long.

Enter physical therapy, three days a week. Joe, my awesome therapist, made a little speech at our first session, assuring me he knew what he was doing. I’m glad he told me this, because there were many times I thought he was trying to break my arm.

Through this experience, I’ve learned a few things.

In yoga, your instructor reminds you to stretch to your edge but back off at the first sense of pain. I applied this practice to my home rehab work. After six weeks, my surgeon registered his disappointment in my progress by gently grabbing my arm and demonstrating how it should feel when I work. I learned quickly that therapy doesn’t involve a gentle yogic stretch. It’s not even old school “feel the burn”. It is dig in and push yourself right past the barrier you thought existed.

I’ve also learned that my sense of empathy is heightened, always a good thing. I understand that my experience, as challenging as I find it, is minor compared to what so many people face.

I’ve long had a reverential appreciation for what our bodies can do, and now that mine is floundering, I feel that I owe it everything I’ve got to recover.

My sense of self discipline is getting a nice workout in itself as I keep up the therapy routines at home.

To that end… I’m not much of a TV watcher. But suddenly, every time I walked through the living room there were zombies staggering around on the screen. Never having seen such a thing, I sat down and while I watched, I cranked my arm and hardly noticed the pain. I learned that it’s OK to binge watch episodes of The Walking Dead. It can be therapeutic to work on my routine while watching silly horror TV, summer evening after summer evening, with my teenage son.

A friend recently invited me to a Yin class, my first yoga class in months. Yin is a perfect re-entry into yoga, because it is quiet, open, focused, and can be modified for anyone. I’m thrilled that I can move into Yin and eventually back to all that yoga has to offer.

As much as I have missed restful nights, a strong right arm, and my favorite summer sports of bicycling and kayaking, I’ve re-learned an important truth… that pain and challenge opens the mind to a greater appreciation of all we have.

I’m psyched! I just signed up for a writer’s workshop run by some of Chicago’s top writers. So now I know what I’m doing the next two Saturdays.

And that’s really good, because lately life has been full of personal challenges and difficult work.

We all face tough times — too much of something for weeks then too little of something else for much longer. And it’s easy to get “stuck in your head”; rarely coming up for air to notice the truly good things in life or to notice how we are taking care of ourselves.

But by giving yourself some structure in your daily and weekly routine, like exercising regularly or attending a class, you create a reality base for yourself (yes, you do have a life outside these problems!) It clears your mind, helps you focus, and allows you to say adieu to much of that built up stress.

On the next level, by scheduling personal events that are intriguing by your definition, you create a meaningful and tangible near future. Give yourself something to look forward to, and you can manage today.

For me it’s the summer workshop, a trip up north, an Atoms for Peace concert in the fall, and more. I’ve got a few great events planned, and in between these events, I hope to create many moments of peace, spontaneity and balance.

Riding the bus today, I felt a slight tap on my knee. I looked up, and the man across from me asked, “Are you a poetry lover?”

I very much am, so I laughed a little in surprise and responded, “How did you know that?”

Turned out that this polite man was a Vietnam vet and a street poet. He was selling 10-page booklets of poems he had written himself. In the interest of poetry and in the interest of helping out a fellow human being, I paid him for a booklet, dropped it in my bag, and exited the bus.

After I was back home a while, I pulled out the booklet and was delighted to find a genuine effort and beautiful work. The poems are accompanied by drawings which I assume he also created.

The gentleman’s name is Marcus L. Green, and he wrote a poem that is aligned in thought to my recent post about forces beyond current scientific understanding or the laws of nature, so I wanted to share it:

ENERGY

Energy – We are electro-magnetic fields
Encased in ectoplasm, embodied in prototplasm,
And as such, permanent fixtures of
The universe forever because of
The first law of thermodynamics
Which states: Energy cannot be
created or destroyed, only changed
In form. That is reincarnation.
We come back again and again.
The universe does not deal in vacuums.

          — Marcus L. Green

Peace and good health to you, Mr. Green.

Metaphysics. Astrophysics. Chemistry. Parapsychology. Hard sciences and conceptual hooey. What is proven, what is real?

When I learned we are made of stardust (embarrassingly, not too long ago) … well, that did it for me. Energy can transfer in all kinds of astonishing, scientific, and mystical ways. Based on a few life experiences, I’m open to them all.

Our world and the way we interact within it and respond to it is infinitely complex. Throw in relationships among ourselves, and the layers get even deeper. Thinking of someone and receiving a phone call from them minutes later is not a coincidence that keeps happening over and over. It’s akin to the way my dog senses the kids getting out of school and heading home… she perks up and stares out the window toward the bus stop at the same time each weekday, long before she sees the visual cue of them walking toward her.

An incident that stands out most in my mind, though, makes me a believer in precognition, and I’m eternally grateful for it. When my son was eight years old, he was sitting at the kitchen table, engrossed in an art project. I was two rooms away in my home office. Russell wandered into my office and asked for an art supply, glue or something. At that moment, I heard an indescribable sound — a combination rumble, loud crash and long flowing noise, if that makes any sense.

I thought of my daughter and her friend, also young, playing in the house, then of the tall bookcase in the den. I rushed out. The girls were fine and the bookcase was intact. Then I walked into the kitchen, where Russell had been working.

A large three-shelf cabinet, completely filled with food in glass bottles, cans, and other packages had seemingly jumped off the wall, clearing the narrow counter below and crashing full on to the kitchen table and landing at a crazy angle on a chair. Cans and bottles were strewn in a huge path over the table and onto the floor.

The wonderful scent of pure Madagascar vanilla extract filled the room, as the small bottle of vanilla and a bottle of oil were the only containers that broke.

I was a bit in shock and didn’t start cleaning up the mess right away. The kids were, of course, shaken as well, and I immediately called my neighbor to come pick up her daughter who thought our house was haunted at this point.

And it wasn’t until much later that it hit me…. my son had been sitting, happily busy, in that chair, the chair that was now contorted and bent under the weight of the cabinet. He would most certainly have been deeply injured or even lost his life under the weight of that huge fallen cabinet and its contents.

We learned later that the cabinet had been improperly secured to the wall. But I will always wonder… what led a child to get up and walk away seconds before a horrific weight would cascade down upon him?

I know Russell well enough to believe that he had sensed something more important than the immediate need for a bit of paper or glue. I believe that the atoms or electricity or whatever in his body went on high alert and prompted him to move away from danger.

Close call? Coincidence? It happens every day. Most we win, and some we lose, which is when tragedy strikes, but I think we all have powers within us that have saved us more than we know.

And although I’m fascinated by studies of science and phenomena, I don’t really need all the explanations. I just think they are a wonderful part of experiencing life and our world and ourselves.