Wisdom in Silence

I’m attending a meditation retreat for the next 10 days, beginning this afternoon, and it’s likely to stretch me in unknown ways.

Nine of the 10 days will be spent in silent meditation. As I understand it, there is some instruction on technique…focus on breathing and other aspects of the art of meditation to help participants fully engage. You can also ask questions of staff, but there’s no chit-chat, no between sessions getting to know the group, no morning coffee warm-up and sharing of life stories.

The daily routine begins with a 4:00 am wake up call, and the first session starts at 4:30. The day is divided into group and individual meetings, with lights out at 9:30.The 10th day there is a return to speaking to prepare participants to ease back into their normal lives.

The setting is a rural northern California community, and as best I can tell from the website information, I assume this is a type of camp environment, so I’m expecting very basic accommodations. You bring your own bedding, leave behind your cell phone and other technology, no books or journals, and come prepared to sit and think.

I’ve been doing some reading on the subject, but to be honest, I’m not sure I can articulate the differences between meditation, contemplation, and deep thought. Although I believe they are closely related, meditation also incorporates a focus on physical processes like breathing, over a prolonged period, to go to a deep internal state, shutting out the surroundings of place and other people.

I’m alternately curious and eager, nervous and intimidated. I’ll be honest to say that though I see myself more on the introvert side of the aisle, I enjoy talking one-on-one or in small groups. I’m not shy, particularly. I can be quiet and self-contained in a large group, but I don’t know how it will be to keep silent for nine days. I hope I can do it…I certainly plan to follow the guidelines that are laid out for the retreat, and that are clearly spelled out…no surprises, they do a very good job of listing expectations. The question is: will I be surprised at how easy it is, or how difficult?

Closely connected, giving up my phone and internet access is challenging as well. This one is less about an absolute need to be online, and more about feeling cut off from family. There is a phone number for emergency contact, and I’ve shared that. But still…

One small irony, the food is vegetarian and styled as “simple.” Not sure what that will mean, but the contrast between 10 days of eating in this style, back to back with the week of Thanksgiving and all the traditional festive dishes, will be interesting, I’m sure. I’m not much of a meat eater, so I don’t anticipate the food will be the hard part.

In spite of my nervousness about all this, after several months of topsy-turvy living, major upheaval, and to-do lists that seem never-ending, I’m looking forward to a time of stillness, quiet, and reflection.

And maybe as I experience the art of meditation in person, as opposed to reading about it, I’ll be able to answer the questions more clearly…what is the difference between this art and other types of deep thought?

I’ll share what I’ve learned when I’m back, if indeed I can find the words. Nine days of silence may be an experience that defies expression, at least in the usual ways. I hope to gain some wisdom, insight, and come out on the other side with clarity and balance.

Until then! ~ Sheila

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My truth

Truth

Are you a truth-teller? A truth-seeker? I like to think I am. But while there are “real” truths…facts like 2 + 2 = 4, and forces like gravity, that will not be denied, at work in every moment…so much of what we believe to be true is shaded by perception, or intention, or seeing a chain of events unfold from beginning to end.

Is truth in the eye of the beholder? To a certain degree, yes. Though I don’t believe in a relative morality, things are not always what they seem at first glance. Context and understanding are critical factors in determining truth.

I’ve known some people who use truth as a weapon, a kind of battering ram to be fearlessly used and proudly claimed. Honesty and truth are closely interwoven. And sometimes truth hurts. But I’ll admit I’m always on guard when I sense this is happening. Someone who uses truth as a way to plow through life and over people needs to ask some questions about motive.

And that begs the question: who determines truth? All of us do, at least so far as we are able. Isn’t that what just happened this week in the election? Voters evaluated candidates, the economy, national security, healthcare, etc., etc., etc., and judged the truth of the candidates’ claims for themselves.

There’s another way we determine our truth, and that is by the words we feed ourselves.

Oh, I don’t mean that we change objective truths…telling myself I live in Florida when I live in Alaska is not going to take me very far. I’m not going to wake up in Disney World tomorrow.

But our version of truth in matters of the heart, in opinion, in assumptions about others, their motives, their intentions, their efforts…our version of the truth is dependent on our specific view of life, and how we interpret it.

This is the “glass half full” meme, or the optimist/pessimist struggle.

Only it’s bigger than that.

Words and thoughts are so powerful. They can literally change the world. They change the way people view themselves, each other, family…words are critical to truth.

I read words that build me up, inspire me, help me reach to become, and I do become. I become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It can work the other way too.

And if it works for me, or against me, when the words are my own, the impact is even stronger when it comes to the things I allow myself to believe about others.

Why?

Because I’m the only person in the world that I can get into. I know my motivations, my intentions. I know when I make a mistake that I tried my best. That allows me to see my truth…I did the best I could. My heart was in the right place.

It’s not always so easy to see that truth from the outside. I don’t want to feel suspicious, or doubtful, or assume the worst about someone just because I can’t know the whole truth about them. Because when I do that, I create my version of their truth. Whether it is really “true” or not.

So why do we do it? Why do we let our assumptions get the better of us? Why do we let them color our views?

Drama is more entertaining than unvarnished reality. Sometimes prettier too.

I’m trying to be an honest person, trying to pay attention to those moments when I rush the story, mistake perception for reality.

It’s not easy, because I get in my own way. It’s a conscious battle, every day, to let truth come out without my assistance. It’s really tough.

Truth is universal. But it’s also personal…at least the version we tell ourselves. Finding the real thing…now that’s priceless.

Think the best of each other, especially of those you say you love. Assume the good and doubt the bad. ~ Jeffrey R. Holland

What we see depends mainly on what we look for. ~ Anonymous

 

 

Spirit of gratitude

“Gratitude precedes the miracle.”

The first time I read that I thought the words implied some sort of magic formula: if you live a life of gratitude, more good things will come your way. And while I agree with that interpretation on one level…living with a spirit of gratitude does open my heart to more good things, to seeing more good in life…there’s another, deeper meaning.

Living with gratitude precedes the miracle that occurs within me. Maybe “miracle” is too strong a word, on some days. On others, it’s the perfect term to describe what happens to a spirit filled with thankfulness.

Did you know, I’ve learned when you’re filled with gratitude for whatever is happening in your life, you literally can’t feel anger?

There are things that deserve anger…injustices and wrongs that need to be addressed. And I’m not addressing those here.

I’m talking about life on a very personal level, and I’ll acknowledge that I haven’t experienced tragedy to the degree that some people live with. But gratitude doesn’t erase the negatives from my life. Instead it helps me see beyond those, to focus on what I want to emphasize.

No one is unscarred, unscathed by the hurts of living, growing, suffering, dying, and waking up each day to start all over again.

I’ve loved and lost. I find the best way to acknowledge those I’ve lost is to remember the best of them, all the good. I celebrate that.

I’ve been amazed and I’ve been disappointed. I’ve lost some battles and I’ve had success.

I’ve learned when I have setbacks, low points, it helps to reframe. And that brings me back to gratitude. What can I pull out of each situation that feeds a spirit of thankfulness?

Let me tell you, it’s not always easy. I’m the optimistic sort, and more likely to be up than down. But even so, some days are hard. Some days grace and gratitude are not my default settings. That just means I’m human, normal, susceptible to the blows of life. Who isn’t?

I’ll admit: I wonder if I could rise to this challenge if I faced the burdens some people face? I hope I could. And though the externals of my life look good, it is far from perfect, far from easy.

Sometimes I have to stomp around and talk out loud, pace and rant a bit before I can right myself. That’s healthy and even necessary. You have to acknowledge the hole you’re in before you can begin to climb out. When you’re wounded, you have to stop the bleeding before you can begin to heal.

But after…after…I can reflect, and look for the rays of light.

And when I can see, even on the most basic level, that I’m blessed, I’m fortunate, how can I be anything but thankful?

And thankfulness brings me to joy.

Did you know, I’ve learned when you’re filled with joy for the blessings in your life, you literally can’t feel fear?

Joy quiets the fear that comes from the question. “What if…?” It’s so easy to find the negatives, when I’m afraid of the outcome.

And joy leads me outside myself, inspires me to reach out, be generous, look for ways to share with others.

At the deepest level, a spirit of gratitude doesn’t lead me to compare myself with others and feel smug when my situation seems better. A spirit of gratitude leads me to help in a literal way, to have a gracious and humble attitude toward those who struggle with greater challenges than any I face.

It’s a full circle miracle. When life gets me down, I’m moody, easily hurt, feel sorry for myself.

But then, gratitude creeps in, soothes my heart, eases my hurt, shines a light on my complaints. It’s a life cycle that I see on a regular basis.

The spirit of gratitude…it really does precede the miracle. And that has made all the difference.

“If anyone would tell you the shortest, surest way to all happiness and all perfection,
he must tell you to
make a rule to yourself to thank and praise God for everything
that happens to you.

It is certain that whatever seeming calamity happens to you, if you thank and praise God for it,
you turn it into a blessing.

If you could work miracles,
therefore, you could not do more for yourself
than by this thankful spirit.

It heals and turns all that it touches into happiness.”

William Law, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life

Checkbook surprise

A few months ago I published a little ebook on Kindle, (shameless plug) and then with the house listed and life turned upside down, I largely forgot about it. Not that I wasn’t interested. But I was overwhelmed, and preoccupied…too busy with craziness at the moment to focus on my budding self-publishing career.

So imagine my surprise when I was balancing my checkbook in September and noticed a deposit from Amazon. The first thought that flashed through my mind was that this was a refund for something I had bought from Amazon. But I immediately realized that didn’t make sense…I buy with my credit card, so anything that was refunded would show up on the card activity, not in my checking account.

It actually took me a couple of minutes to realize…this was a payment to me from Amazon! It was a royalty payment for my book sales!

And it was for a grand total of $20.24.

Alright, I’m not making a fortune here. But do you know what that represents?

And yes, I do understand that self-publishing in the digital world is not quite the milestone as say…having a book hit the New York Times best seller list.

But still…I actually made money from something I wrote, and something someone else bought.

And a few days ago, it happened again. This time the deposit was only for $16.74, but it was there.

And it whetted my appetite. If one little book generates two small deposits, maybe there’s opportunity for more.

Haven’t I been looking for ways to move my income stream to the digital world? And isn’t this income?

Well, so far I could do a couple of fast food meals, or a few rounds of morning coffee. It’s a modest beginning.

But it is a beginning.

Do you ever think about the end of the story? You know, the way movies often start…at the end, showing the outcome of the story, then taking you back to see how it all unfolded?

That’s the scene I play in my mind. I’m not forecasting that I’ll become a famous author, or even a wealthy one. I do have a fantasy that I’m self-funded, and looking back to how it all started…little by little, growing into a steady stream of deposits that support more than a coffee habit.

I’m thinking about other titles…what books do I have in me?

I’ve been curious about the Kindle publishing platform for a long time. I buy Kindle books on a regular basis, and I wanted to walk through the process to experience it…see how easy or difficult it was, see what it would be like to have a book on Amazon.

Well, now I know. It actually works!

Not that I was skeptical. I’ve certainly read enough from others who have published via Kindle to know that it is a legitimate publishing venue, to say nothing of having the powerhouse of Amazon behind it.

And let me say, just to be clear, that I am a hearty and staunch supporter of independent bookstores and printed books. But I am a realist, and I believe there is room for both digital and print books, for online retailers and the brick-and-mortar shop as well.

But there’s no doubt that for someone like me, digital publishing offers an opportunity that I would likely never have in the print world, at least not at this point, not with my approach.

So I’m grateful for the incentive that two little deposits in my account have given me.

And I’m doing a little daydreaming about the end of this story.

Here’s the other thing. I’m sharing this to say, if I could do this, so can anyone else. The digital world is amazing…levels the playing field in so many ways, and opens the door to creativity and determination and ambition. Like a little engine that could, I hear myself….I think I can, I think I can, I think I can!

And you can too! See you on the playground!

Stephanie’s day

Happy birthday to Stephanie!

I’m a fortunate woman to know the joy of motherhood and the joy of adult children. And when I say “joy,” I mean just that.

It takes a while for the transition to occur…and I’ll speak for myself, and not the whole world of mothers here…for a long time I thought of myself in relation to my kids as “mom.” And of course that’s natural. That’s the beginning of the relationship, and for 18-plus years that was the defining role I experienced with them. And it continues, in the biological sense. Sometimes I slip into that mindset for a particular conversation or situation.

But mostly, now, I feel like we’re friends. And that’s a rich reservoir of emotion and experience.

And though I know that friendship between mother and children, mother and daughter, is not uncommon, it’s not a given. So I’m grateful it’s been given to me.

It’s an amazing thing to watch the flowering of adults, the only ones in the world that I’ve known so intimately since birth, and to be privileged to see their lives unfold, develop, mature…there’s an enduring bond that ties my heart to theirs.

Stephanie has been a gift to my life, the beginning of seeing the world through the eyes of a child, teaching me responsibility and forcing me to grow up in ways I couldn’t anticipate, until I found myself doing and stretching, learning because I was on the job and had to rise to the occasion, whatever the occasion might be.

She still teaches me, shares with me, makes me beam with pride.

She’s a daughter who is a mother, and a great one. She’s a daughter who is a friend, and a special one. She’s a daughter who is a woman, and an amazing one.

She’s my Stephanie, and a part of my heart that is walking around outside my body.

“Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ”
― Elizabeth Stone

Stephanie's Birthday card

Voices on the page

I read a post today on the subject of the individual writer’s voice, specifically the use of punctuation, breaking rules of grammar, using the same style of writing repeatedly…run-on sentences, dashes, parentheses, foot notes, etc…

The post included quotes from several writers talking about their personal writing style quirks, why they use them, how their writing style is part of their message, and it was validating, encouraging, reassuring.

Sometimes I’m intimidated. I know the blogging world is nothing if not a platform for the individual writer’s voice, and that includes everything from the way some writers have humor pouring our of their keyboards to the way others use profanity, to the use (and mis-use) of punctuation, spelling, and grammar in general.

Still, sometimes I worry. If I write the way I talk, inevitably, I break rules. And I’m not funny enough, or a strong enough writer to get away with it. Am I?

Don’t answer that! I’m not looking for reassurance, just typing out loud here.

The answer is, no, I’m not that good a writer.

But maybe, in this forum, that’s not important.

What’s important is that I’m sharing my reality, and I’m always happy when someone comments as if to say, “Hey, that’s a reality I know too!”

I’m happy when someone comments out of empathy, or sympathy, or to share a different perspective. Because that’s the truly rich world of blogging.

Did you ever think that writers of past eras didn’t get the kind of feedback and interaction we receive through this medium? Good or bad, you’re putting yourself out to the world, and the world (or your 10 readers, or whomever!) has a chance to interact.

That’s exciting to me. It’s fun to me to have the exchange that comments offer…to know this isn’t a one way street. Whether I’m commenting on someone else’s post, or reading and replying to comments on my blog, the process reminds me I’m part of a larger group, a circle of writers, just like me, who use this platform to say just what they want, just as they want.

And the more I write, the more I read, the richer I become, and the better I become. No false modesty here…like anything else, practice actually does help this process.

So going forward, I’m going to write a little more freely…I’m not built to disregard the rules of grammar completely, and poor spelling is a particular pet peeve of mine. But I’m going to think less about style and let my voice speak for itself. I’m not likely to win any awards, but that isn’t what this is about anyway.

Here’s a link to the post. Maybe you’ll see something of yourself in the comments! Enjoy!

Bare necessities

I’m wandering around in the little apartment that is a temporary home, looking for things I know I brought over, wondering how anything could be lost in this small space.

There’s nothing like a move to put me in perpetual hide and seek mode. Why is it I can see exactly where the thing I want was stored in the house? And I have no idea where it landed when I unpacked boxes two weeks ago. But I knew to expect this…I’ve been through all the games before. My favorite is the one when I begin to question…could I have left something behind? Or did a box really get lost between the last address and the new one? Even though I did the last walk through the house and know there was nothing there, not one thing…still, inevitably, I’ll wonder.

You know the feeling when you’ve looked everywhere twice, and you know you put it in…some item that wasn’t even that important, until it’s nowhere to be found. And now it’s an obsession. Must.find.IT!

I once lost some little collectibles for about a decade, didn’t find them for two moves. They had been so carefully wrapped and stored in a little cedar chest that they lived, quite safe, but totally lost to me, until I was doing a sort for a third move. Well that was a mystery solved! I had long ago thought they fell off the moving truck and given up looking for them.

Another thing I find happens with a move…I almost immediately begin to forget what I own. Not the big stuff…I can certainly remember the big items. And some of the little things…sentimental stuff, or sometimes just random odds and ends. One good thing about storing most of the things from the house…it will feel like Christmas when I open the boxes.

I’m always surprised when it comes to unpacking, how out of sight is quickly out of mind. In some ways I feel good…maybe I’m not too attached to the stuff if I don’t carry a mental imprint around, waiting till I see the real things again. On the other hand…maybe I’m not as attentive as I like to think…if I could forget about half of what I own so easily, maybe I’m not paying enough attention to the details of life?

Well, that hardly seems right. In fact, sometimes I feel consumed by detail. That’s the effect of a move…I feel reduced to lists and to-dos, to the tedious chores of the day-to-day.

I’m ready to live simply for a while. Good thing, because it will be a while before I unpack the bulk of the boxes, make a new nest.

For now, I’m a minimalist, and I think I’m enjoying it.

This apartment is furnished with a hodge-podge of furniture…bits and pieces that are functional and practical, but not gathered into a cohesive look or style. The kitchen is basic too. With a variety of folks coming through to work at the clinic, and this apartment being one of the landing spots for the temporary help, the kitchen is outfitted to work camp standards but little more. There’s a crock pot, a toaster, a basic cook top and oven, a basic fridge and microwave. No dishwasher. The cookware is a combination of left-behinds and inexpensive non-stick pieces. The times I’ve been in this apartment in the past have been for a few days or a weekend here and there. No ongoing need to cook or make the kitchen functional beyond a few meals.

But since I may be here for months, I needed to do a little better than that. So I brought a few things.

I chose some favorite sheets and a quilt for the bed, and my own pillows. Nothing sleeps like good linens that are just the right weight. A few other homey touches made the list…scented candles for the coffee table, some favorite books, my Rowenta iron, some glasses and plates.

I brought a few of my cast iron pans to see me through.

The cast iron pieces, and my Kitchen Aid mixer…yes, I hauled it over, and it will drive out with me eventually. I brought favorite utensils, a couple of good knives, a sharpener, my coffee maker, a small blender. I brought my herbs and spices…well, what good would they do me to in storage? NO food items can go to storage.

I must admit, I likely won’t need a lot of them. But I figured I could leave those behind for someone else to use. (This is an apartment that benefits from past users’ leftovers, and I’ve been fortunate to find a just-opened bottle of olive oil or other pantry item I freely used because I didn’t have my own jar of whatever…a convenience of sharing a community space. The rules? If it’s yours, put your name on it. If you’re not coming back, or you don’t mind sharing, just leave it in a common space.)

Moving creates these crazy conversations in my head…keep or get rid of, what to do, what to do, what to do?!

So now I have a ton of spices on the shelf here, just in case I’m inspired to whip up anything exotic, and this week I had to buy a hook to hang on the bathroom door…one of the things that I can’t find, even though we had several at the house, and I thought they were in one of the boxes I hauled over.

Silly, really, but when I’m feeling a bit displaced, it’s the little things that begin to irritate…like not having an easy place in the bathroom to hang a robe, or drape a towel.

I hung my plastic hook on the door last night and put my morning robe on it, and felt a little better. It was a familiar sight, and that feels good. However small, a sight of home is still a sight of home.

In the past when we’ve stayed here, I’d fall back on a combination of soup and sandwich meals, simple warm-up dishes, even stocked up on some of the more upscale frozen pizzas. But now I’m doing my style of cooking, making real food that satisfies more than the quick and easy stuff of call weekends.

That’s not to say I’m whipping up gourmet fare. No, this kitchen isn’t inspiring heights of creativity. But a few familiar dishes, along with the other little touches that add comfort, and I find myself relaxing, de-stressing, catching my breath.

I find myself feeling grateful for an easy place to transition, never mind that the look won’t be featured on Pinterest.

It’s not a forever home. But even a temporary spot can be a shelter from the storm, and in the mornings, drinking hot coffee and wrapped in a cozy robe, I know it will do for the in-between time.

And maybe, before I’m done here, I’ll find what I’m looking for.

In Between

I’m in the land of in between. That is, I’ve left my last permanent home, and I’m not sure of where the next will be. That’s ok, and was part of the plan. Now that I’m here, temporarily situated in a small apartment, thinking about next consumes a lot of my time and energy. I’m working, finishing some projects that I’d begun for this small clinic, so I’m busy enough. But after hours and on weekends, the task is to focus, to research, to outline.

We’ve had a nomadic course through life, staying put in some locations for years…I think 12 years was the longest time we lived in one location. Other places were home for two, or three, or five years. We’ve roamed about the country, sampling different regions and climates, and there’s been good about most of our choices.

Now, I’m feeling the pull of family again, feeling the need for a road system, and for a choice that can serve for the years to come.

Closing in the on the year, the goal is simple: pick a ferry date for January, and a plan for driving out. We’ll keep work going in Alaska, but it’s time to invent a new formula for living. And that means a new location for the down time.

We’re looking for four seasons, a soft winter climate, something on the western side of the country. Looking for a smaller community but with access to a regional airport. We’ve considered everything from Sonoma County, CA to Lane County, OR, to Walla Walla, WA, to Grand Junction, CO…and we’re still looking, still sorting.

So, anyone have a suggestion? Where would you choose to live if you could go anywhere?

“Even the smallest actions are steps in the right direction.”    

“This is the beginning of anything you want.”