Jan 152020
 

Humility shows itself in the people with whom I am connected — both online and in real life. I love the conversations about becoming better  at who we are and what we do. Lately they have been about the balance between a commitment to continuous self-improvement and acceptance: of self, of others, and of life as it is. So how does one balance a desire to improve with gratitude for the way things are? I don’t know about you, but I struggle. And I seek greater humility.

I struggle not to compare myself and my accomplishments to those around me, striving always to applaud and appreciate others’ successes. Recognizing that we may have different strengths, interests, opportunities, privilege, resources, life circumstances, or abilities helps steer away from jealousy. The struggle is sometimes to recognize my own accomplishments — I’m not denigrating them, I just don’t always remember them when I should.

“Humility is truth.” ~ Desiderius Erasmus

Humility is truth. ~ Desiderius Erasmus Click To Tweet

I’m not interested in loud, brassy self-improvement like artificially adding “best-selling” to my author bio; but continuing to improve as a writer? To be recognized by my peers? That feels right — especially when I couple that commitment with the hope that what I produce lands with people who will enjoy it and, perhaps benefit from some of the ideas. It’s not a SMART goal but it’s a way of thinking about life and growth that’s meaningful to me right now.

Humility Makes us Real

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. ~ Thomas Merton Click To Tweet

Until checking the dictionary, I thought I might be trying to approach self-improvement with humility. But once there, it became apparent that I needed to discard most parts of that definition. Rejecting “a feeling of insignificance” and “low in rank” left space for “not arrogant” and “courteously respectful.” So many definitions of humility seem to ask us to present ourselves as “less than” and, to me, that doesn’t square with acceptance. What if humility is an accurate self-appraisal and an understanding that there are those whose skills are better than ours and those who know other things? Perhaps it has more to do with just being or with something our culture has rechristened “authenticity.”

Practice Radical Humility

Practice radical humility. Take no credit for your talents, intellectual abilities, aptitudes... ~ Wayne Dyer Click To Tweet

Searching for others’ thoughts on humility led me to a pair of popular writers whose work embraced a combination of creativity, spirituality, and helpfulness.  Thinking about them together makes me smile as I picture them having a cup of coffee together. I wonder if they’d enjoy the other’s company — and what the conversation would be.

My first Maya Angelou quotation places me (or “us” if you choose to join me) in a continuum. It places us in time, honoring those who came before and those who will follow. “What humility does for one is it reminds us that there are people before me. I have already been paid for. And what I need to do is prepare myself so that I can pay for someone else who has yet to come but who may be here and needs me.”

And, as is true with almost anything I’ve ever read by her, she points us to honesty. “Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘Run like hell and all of fire.’ You don’t want modesty, you want humility.”

I finally arrived at a favorite thought from Wayne Dyer. His advice? “Practice radical humility. Take no credit for your talents, intellectual abilities, aptitudes, or proficiencies. Be in a state of awe and bewilderment.”

So what can I do with this? How can I incorporate humility into my day-to-day life? Here are five simple ideas, a list that could, perhaps, be titled “Five Simple Ways to be a Better Person” or “Don’t Be Such a Jerk.”

    • Turn off your cell phone. I like instant access as much as the next person but liberal use of your smart phone’s Do Not Disturb function allows us to be fully present to the meal we are eating and the people with whom we share it. (Pro tip: I didn’t know how, so I asked the artificial intelligence to do it for me!)
    • Vacuum behind the furniture. I’m far (way too far) from being a neat freak but this one speaks to our place in time and doing our work completely whether or not anyone else will see it.
    • Supermarket behavior. Some venues are better practice than others and for me this is it. When I can let someone go ahead of me in line or return their empty cart, my behavior says their time (and their car doors) matter as much as mine.
    • Passing along a favorite book may say “I thought of you while I read this.” (Or, in the case of self-help? “I got a lot out of this, would you like it next?”)
    • Saying “please” and “thank you” — frequently and in many formats. A text. A hand written note. A small gift. The more I practice this the more ideas come my way.

Please share your thoughts on humility and self-improvement in the comments. Thank you.

Nov 202019
 

 

Inspiration. What does it mean to live an inspired life? It’s a phrase that can bring to mind images of artists, monastics, and martyrs. It also makes me think of sweeping the floor and tending my weeds.

I think the phrase got stuck in my head the other day when one of my friends referred to another as an inspiration. Word nerd that I am, I was intrigued: my friend the inspiration has a serious breathing disorder and one of the definitions of “inspire” is “to breathe in.” In fact, the word dates back to about 1300 when it meant “to breathe upon or into” or simply “to breathe.” Today I am thinking about the relationship between inspiration and breath in our day to day lives.

She’s an Inspiration

What does it mean to live an inspired life? Click To Tweet

purple coffee cup in woman's hands

Spending time with other writers and artists, I hear a lot of talk about “inspiration.” It can sound magical and mystical; it can appear impossible to achieve. Sometimes we sound like we’re sitting around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick.

Hit by the Inspiration Stick

I don’t think I’m alone when I say my ability to produce quality work ebbs and flows. I’m not always happy enough with what I’m writing to share it with you — even here. I think that has more to do with my personal standards than a lack of inspiration.

I don't want to sit around waiting to be hit by the inspiration stick! Click To Tweet

The other day a colleague told me she considered my first book  What Kids Need to Succeed  “inspirational.”

Apparently I was silent for too long.  She went on to explain that, although she thought the book contains good and useful information, she believes that its greatest value is to provide support and inspiration to parents… especially when they doubt or question themselves.

I was only quiet because I was moved.  Deeply moved.  Frankly, it’s hard to imagine something better than throwing a virtual life preserver to a drowning parent and helping them to shore.  (Except maybe for those parents to not to feel like they’re drowning in the first place.) Speaking as both a formerly single parent and an author, I can’t think of a better compliment.

Speaking as both a formerly single parent and an author, I can’t think of a better compliment. Click To Tweet

Throwing a Virtual Life Preserver

Being a parent can bring us face-to-face with some of the most powerful versions of anything we feel:  love, pride, joy, fear, self doubt.   Many people are fortunate to have had great parents to show them the way.  Others have to work much harder to extract the value from some of their early lessons. Buttons get pushed.  People hurt.

But feelings aren’t facts.  They can be a valuable source of information. Sometimes we need help to translate our feelings to thoughts that can be more useful to us. By the way, a little reminder: one does not have to be a parent to feel overwhelmed in the face of a seemingly impossible task. It can happen to authors and artists, sales people, and those facing physical or medical challenges.

What if “I don’t feel like I can do this” means:

  • I need support
  • I don’t know how to ask for help
  • I’m taking on a big challenge
  • I’ve never done anything that matters more
  • I’m in pain
  • I need to improve my skills
  • I’m going to get more training
  • I’m looking for a mentor
  • I want to make sure I’m looking at (and compensating for) my “blind spots”

Sometimes We All Need Translation

But what if “I don’t think I can do this” means you’ve got the open-mindedness and willingness to be great? What if it means you have something inside of you that wants you to go beyond any of the pictures you currently have? What if you’re in the process of establishing a new normal?

What if “I don’t think I can do this” is a signal that there’s something inside, yearning for more? What if it has to do with being great? Click To Tweet

 

“Breathe in. Soften. Go a little deeper.” I’m new to yoga and fascinated by the various instructors’ descriptions of breath and the ways they coach us to be aware of it. Maybe that’s part of what has me thinking about inspired life.

the words namaste yall against a starry sky

My husband goes on silent meditation retreats. Silent meditation is another place where ‘breath’ takes center stage. I’m told that counting breath is a way to re-center, to come fully into the present, and to stop thinking.

Some of my friends paint. I write. And occasionally try my hand at other forms of art: redacted poetry, multi-media painting, landscape design. It all feels connected.

What’s Your Jam?

I also just finished reading Painting Life by my friend Carol Walsh. It’s a memoir about balancing her life as an artist with her life as a therapist. And about the endless process of reinventing the self. Her book made me wish I had known more about both self-care and reinvention when I was a young therapist and advocate. I burned the candle at both ends, pushing beyond comfortable limits both at work and at home. I rarely said “no.” It took time to see that I short-changed everyone — especially myself. Eventually, I learned to embrace both self-care and personal evolution. Maybe there is no “wrong.” Maybe there’s only “next.”

What if the fact we have breath means we are inspired? Click To Tweet

What if inspiration only meant “breath?” Does the fact that we have breath means we are already inspired? Could inspired living simply mean using our breath? Using our lives in the best way we know how? Is it really all that simple? How do we best use that precious gift?

 

 

 

Oct 232019
 

Still back home after so many travel adventures and schedule disruptions — and it still feels wonderful. (And, no, I don’t care how positive my attitude is on any given day, I still cannot bring myself to call a hurricane evacuation an ‘adventure’ — at least not this last one. Sue me.)

Being back home gives me the security to dig in to new projects and make big strides on some of the longer term variety. Oddly, being back in the office is stretching me in several areas: creativity, productivity, and congruence. I feel challenged to do good work while maintaining healthy boundaries, particularly in my commitment to build on some recent health and fitness gains.

Back at Work at Home

Working from a home office has not always been a body-friendly activity: I can sit too long, exercise too little, and quickly revert to old, unhealthy eating habits. But my newly rekindled appreciation for being here finds me setting up new routines. This sort of scheduling extends beyond laundry and groceries — I’ve been making exercise appointments with myself— and actually keeping them. (I may be sharing this with you to help me stay accountable. We’ll see.)

Working from a home office has not always been a body-friendly activity: I can sit too long, exercise too little, and quickly revert to old, unhealthy eating habits. Click To Tweet

The temperature here in my still new-to-me home turf is starting to break. And while cries of “It’s fall y’all” still seem a bit premature, the occasional rainstorm, crisp morning, or an extended breeze let us know that cooler temperatures and more comfortable outdoor time are on the way. The dogs are happy — and paying closer attention every time I lace up my walking shoes.

Concept. Attitude. Place.

Last week’s post and some of your comments challenged me to think more about the concept of ‘back home.’ Yes, sometimes it’s a concept. Sometimes an attitude. Only occasionally is it a physical place.

Sometimes ‘back home’ is a concept. Sometimes an attitude. Only sometimes is it a physical place. Click To Tweet

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned. ~ Maya Angelou

You don’t teach morals and ethics and empathy and kindness in the schools. You teach that at home, and children learn by example. ~ Judy Sheindlin

Your body is your temple, it’s your home, and you must decorate it. ~ Gabourey Sidibe

Every day is a journey and the journey itself is home. ~ Matsuo Basho

I’m really quite simple. I plant flowers and watch them grow… I stay at home and watch the river flow. ~ George Harrison

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. ~ Robert Frost

All I was doing was trying to get home from work. ~ Rosa Parks

Middle age is when you’re sitting home on a Saturday night and the telephone rings and you hope it’s not for you. ~ Ogden Nash

 

 

Oct 162019
 

Home is where the heart is. Where the dogs are. Home is where there’s always something that needs attention — could be laundry or groceries or dust bunnies and dog hair. Yes, home is where there’s always something that needs attention and today that makes me smile. I’ll get to what I can and the rest can wait. I’m home from a few more adventures than I’d anticipated, settling in, and happy about it.

The travel has been a little overwhelming: Favorite Husband and I took driving vacation which was quickly followed by a hurricane evacuation and a short visit from our now Krakow-based son.  The stars lined up for fairly spontaneous European adventure with a close friend and, finally (at least for a while, I hope) the 15-hour round trip drive to my first major German Shepherd Dog show. I’m bruised and sore and happy.

Seeing with Fresh Eyes

It’s interesting to be able to see home base with fresh eyes. Upon each return, we’ve managed to create fairly large donations to our local thrift store. My clothes closet is about 90% Kondo’d and roughly 500 linear feet of bookshelves have had a healthy trim. I’m getting ready to do it again. There was a time I couldn’t let go of that sort of thing: meaningful items just disappeared. At the time I didn’t get it. I think I’m glad. Healing and spontaneity and wonderful, enriching experiences that seems to make “stuff” less important.

There was a time I couldn’t let go: meaningful items just disappeared. Click To Tweet

Over the past few months I’ve met some wonderful people — and some real stinkers. The good ones have far outnumbered the others who, for better or worse, have provided me with lots of laughs. After all, the rude, the arrogant, and the entitled miss out on so much. Maybe they were put in my path to create contrast — like in a painting.

And now I’m home, hanging around with Favorite Husband and all three dogs. Back home in my lovely office. Taking care of the to-do list that sort of blew out to sea with the last major hurricane threat: a painting to the frame shop, an area rug to the cleaner. My book club starts up again tonight. Some chapters take an evening, others a month or more. And while the book discussion is good, the connections developed and deepened between the participants are even better. Close friendships with other women are another type of home.

Finally taking care of the to-do list that sort of blew out to sea with the last major hurricane threat... Click To Tweet

When Home is a Trap

There have been times that “home” made me feel stuck. Trapped. Overwhelmed. A partner who was impossible to satisfy: nothing was ever big enough, neat enough, tasty enough, or clean enough. The only item in the dirty laundry basket was usually the one he ”really needed.” Same for the groceries: whatever we were out of was what he wanted. Unfortunately, I loved him. So I tried.

The music was wrong. My clothes and my job were wrong. My friends were wrong. I was wrong. Always, always wrong. Despite owning the building and paying all the bills, I never, ever felt at home. Life was good when he was happy so it was my goal to keep him that way. And when the moments of happiness got shorter and further apart, I tried harder.

I began to sleep with easy-on clothes and shoes on the floor, just under the edge of my bed. I hid an extra key to my car. The day he finally hit me was one of the best days of my life: the emotional abuse was insidious. When he crossed the line, it was in a big way and I could no longer ignore it.

And here I am, reveling in being at home while sporting large bruises and being unconcerned about who sees them. I feel such gratitude about not caring whodunnit: I did, while I was out having fun with dogs and friends.dogs and friends. On my last adventure I tripped, resulting in some pretty intense bruising on the poor arm I used to prevent a much bigger fall. And when I was finished, I got to come home to a safe place. A very safe place.

But It’s Life and Death

How did I get from fun and adventure to domestic violence? Maybe it’s gratitude for the contrast. Or maybe it’s because a pink tsunami of well-funded breast cancer awareness groups have long ago overshadowed Domestic Violence Awareness month. While I appreciate the progress that has been made in treating breast cancer, I know that domestic violence thrives in secrecy and darkness. It’s not a sexy cause. There are no cute slogans. People don’t think about it — until they need to.

Domestic violence thrives in secrecy and darkness. It’s not a sexy cause. There are no cute slogans. People don’t think about it — until they need to. Click To Tweet

There are millions of men and women who are not safe in their homes. Some are well aware of their circumstances but know it’s not yet safe to leave. Others are like I was: being held emotionally hostage, groomed for the tangible violence to come.

I felt safe in my travels. I feel safe at home — where I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. And dust bunnies.

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The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or online at the Hotline.Help is available, free and confidential 24 hours per day, every single day. (Including holidays.)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Help is available, free and confidential 24 hours per day, every single day. #DVAM2019 Click To Tweet