Hello to everyone! Welcome to 2021 and all the possibilities it holds!! Many of us begin our New Year by enthusiastically writing our resolutions. Resolutions can provide energy and motivation as we stand on the precipice of a new year. Each year many believe that this time will be different, this will be the year that they actually stick to their resolutions.
It is difficult to create new patterns and behaviors. Most people will grow weary from maintaining their resolutions and end up losing motivation after a few months. Often, resolutions are about losing weight, eating better, exercising more or not watching as much TV. These resolutions, however, are about behaviors and do not address our inner core, our deeper needs or the feeling of emptiness.
Perhaps our New Year could be about creating a more purposeful life, a life that is dynamic and full of energy. A purposeful life is about engaging in the things that we are passionate about and feed our soul. A purposeful life is not about selfishness, but rather, it is about exploring how to bring joy to ourselves and others. Priya Parker, author of “The Art of Gathering,” talks about having purpose in any of our gatherings; a birthday party, wedding, family get-together or meeting up with friends. Parker suggests that we should identify the purpose and be creative in our gatherings instead of falling into old dusty traditions that prescribe how our gathering “needs” to be. Parker talks about being mindful of the moment, staying engaged and bringing our full energy to the day or to any gathering
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” — Eleanor Roosevelt.
A purposeful life is about saying “no” to things that don’t align with who you are in life or your higher purpose. It is about being ready to say “yes” to things that bring you closer to the integrity of who you are. It is about bringing full attention and intention to your life choices.
This New Year could be about finding what truly matters to you at your core. What helps you to be the best person you are able to be. Instead of creating a list of behaviors that you want to change, maybe re-focus your thoughts to the things that you intentionally want to champion into your new year and consider the things that you choose not to bring into this new year. You can start by identifying what brings you passion and joy and how you can spread it to others.
I came across a poem written in 1858 by Alfred Lord Tennyson and as I read it, I realized how much it correlated to our current times. I began to think that perhaps we, as a country, have not explored who we are at our core. That we as a country have not consciously created a purposeful life and that we continue to repeat many of the items (elements) written about in this poem. I invite you to read Tennyson’s poem and consider how it may relate to your individual life. Consider those things that you feel need to be shed in order for you to create this new space.
Ring Out, Wild Bells
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, The flying cloud, the frosty light: The year is dying in the night; Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind For those that here we see no more; Ring out the feud of rich and poor, Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause, And ancient forms of party strife; Ring in the nobler modes of life, With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin, The faithless coldness of the times; Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood, The civic slander and the spite; Ring in the love of truth and right, Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease; Ring out the narrowing lust of gold; Ring out the thousand wars of old, Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand; Ring out the darkness of the land, Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Make a list of things, people, belief systems, etc., that you want to “ring out” of your life
Make a list of things, people, beliefs systems, etc., that you want to “ring into” your life.
Choose one of the items on your “ring out” list and write about how that became a part of you and your life. What is the understanding about having that in your life? How has it impacted your life? And what has it prevented you from saying “yes” to?
Choose one of the items on your “ring in” list and write about why you want to welcome that into your life. How does this item fit with who you are as a person? How does ringing it in add cadence to your life?
After writing your list of people, places and things you want to ring out and ring in, follow the pattern of the poem and replace Tennyson’s words with your own.
As always have fun and feel free to totally ignore my prompts and follow your passion!!
In psychology, change is viewed as a positive aspect of a crisis as it provides the opportunity to do things differently. Yet, people fear change. Change of jobs, neighborhoods or schools. As life occurs, we inevitably experience change. There is the natural process of change, infant to toddler, school age child to adolescent and young adult to older adult. There are the biological changes and environmental changes. Some changes are self-generated and under our own control. Some changes can be dependent on encounters with others – family, friends, colleagues and intimates. Many changes occur as a result of circumstances or fate, the proverbial “date with destiny.”
Change is inevitable and it can disrupt the usual flow of our lives, but it also provides the opportunity to examine our lives and decide whether to stay the course or to change our direction. We can meet the change with acceptance and gratitude or with bitterness and resistance. If we deny ourselves the opportunity to explore the change, to understand it and to decide how it will be perceived and processed in our file of life, we can be deprived of the invaluable gift in powerful lessons. In the Psychology Today journal, Dr. Abigail Brenner wrote, “Change without transition may only serve to recreate old scenarios and reinforce old patterns of behavior – for change to have a salutary effect on us we need to learn – to effectively work with it and not to run the other way when it presents itself.”
When my son was 4-years old he began to cry when he found out that I traded our propane tank for another one. I wasn’t able to find a replacement for our current tank, so I resorted to trading in my empty canister for a full one at my local grocery. My son noticed the subtle differences between the one we had and this new “borrowed” one. Through his tears he voiced that he did not get a chance to say good-bye to it and that he would miss it. Change. We continually move toward it, looking to better ourselves, to improve our lifestyle, but yet, when change stares us in the eyes, we shutter at the prospects of what it will be, what this stranger offers, and if it can be trusted.
For many of us, even the idea of change is often overwhelming and anxiety-provoking. For some, change is something to be avoided at all cost. It is important to recognize those transformative moments and find the valuable lessons in your change moments.
Write a list of changes in your life.
Identify which changes were self-generated changes.
Identify which changes were out of our control.
Make a list of all the perceived negatives from this change.
Make a list of the valuable insights you gained.
Make a list of all the powerful lessons learned.
Finally, choose one of the items from your change list and write about it in detail. Maybe you were not able to see the gifts at the time of the change but now you can write through that change memory to identify the gifts now.
I recently had a new stone patio put in my backyard. There had been extensive water damage that required the removal of the deck. Once the drainage was addressed and a beautiful new stone patio was complete, I asked by 3-year-old grandson if he liked this new patio. His response surprised me. “No”. He informed me that he missed the other one, the wood one with the rotting boards and uneven planks – he missed that one. The wood deck was all he had knew. It was that wood deck where we played shaving cream games, tossing hands full of the thick white foam at each other, smearing it into each other’s hair and making designs and faces in the foam. The wood deck was where we sat on summer mornings and drank some chai tea, clanking our mugs together shouting “salud” as we giggled and took our first gulp. The wood planks became roadways for his Tonka trucks, that he raced back and forth for hours, crashing them into the side of the house while laughing and declaring a winner of the race.
The deck had several tears from the previous owner. She had an above ground -pool and the tears were like steps leading to the pool. I removed that pool my first week living in the house, not wanting to be a slave to the maintenance and winter care. The tears are now dangerous if you are not watching your step. But for my grandson, they were mountains that he would jump off of to the lower level. He was so proud of himself for the great height he concurred and demanded applause from all of us. Those variations in height became cliffs that his trucks would drive off and an ambulance would rush to the scene and magically fix the trucks and declare that no one was hurt as they were returned to the higher level of the deck once again. For my grandson, his mountains were removed, the cliffs were gone and possibly, he feared, that memories attached to those rotted wood planks, to the uneven deck that sagged under our feet were also gone. Change. He voiced not wanting the change, not being happy about the change.
This was a needed change but certainly not one I openly embraced because of the extensive work and expense to resolve the water damage. It was a change that came from necessity and safety and at a time it determined when it would be addressed – not me. I do, however, love the ease of movement now, the freedom of setting up my patio, arranging my furniture any way I desire without level constraints or safety issues. I love the solidness under my feet. The shades of burnt sienna, crimson alizarin, burnt umber and black stones remind me of the rawness of the desert landscape that I once enjoyed. My grandson has now moved his attention to the hill in the yard and rolls down it and sends his trucks flying down. Both him and his Pitbull sister, Raven, happily chase them and romp about racing to reach the truck first. He appears to have discovered another source of fun, reaching beyond the borders of the old wood deck and creating new play scenarios and even making space for his dog to join in. Change.
Pearls are what happen when an oyster or some other mollusk is irritated by the invasion of some disturbing intruder into its closed shell. A grain of sand may be slight but not too slight to cause a pearl to form. Pearls are layers and layers of soothing nacre intended to insulate the delicate mollusk from the irritant that has abraded it. At the very core, a pearl is a disturbance, a beauty caused by something that isn’t supposed to be there. It is the interruption of equilibrium that creates beauty. Beauty is a response to provocation, to intrusion.
Artists have the ability to invite intrusions into their lives and then use its fire as creativity. They turn the environmental irritants into words, images and sounds that renew the onerous attacks in the lives of others. Our world is an oyster and it is filled with irritants and disturbances. Many of us may try to keep our shell tightly closed to avoid any disturbance within. Others may be inviting this discord in closer, allowing a metamorphosis to occur. This change – even the most infinitesimal change – presents an opportunity to create a precious pearl in our lives.
I sit in my home office, pen-to-page, contemplating the irritants that have found their way into my life shell. A ladder of memories, both distant and recent, form on the blue lines of the page. Some bring pause like the larger events, divorce, births and deaths. Others slip along one after the other with only a glimpse out of the corner of my memory’s eye. All of them, meniscal or grand, torpid or alive, they all shimmer together forming the many pearls in my life. In writing this blog I have realized that each and every one of the pearls, black, white, cream or green, make up a life lived and experienced. How do I view the jewels of my painful moments in life? Do I honor them or merely place them in a crevice in my mind that goes unnoticed like a tarnished penny on the street?
Make a list of all the disruptions in your life.
Make a list of all the irritants – no matter how small – that have caused you to react in a way that set you on another direction in life.
Make a list of irritants you may have invited or allowed into your life.
Make a list of all the pearls that have been created because of the irritants you experienced.
Explore turns that have been sharp or maybe more of a slight deviation in your direction due to an interruption in your life.
Make a list of people that may have entered into your life whether they were welcomed or unwelcomed, and how they may have subverted your life or merely shifted your firm stance.
Once you have your list, I welcome you to do a free-write about the experience of the irritant entering your shell. Creating the layers of nacre over and around the irritant and then describe the pearl that was created in your life. Slow down while remembering and allow each layer to the story to be full and enriched with details. When your story is complete, spend time with it so that you can take in all the beauty of your transformation and resilience, wear your pearl with pride!
When my spouse walked out on me, he opened and closed the door behind him and never looked back. I thought I was going to implode. I knew it was the best thing for me but inside I felt like my lungs became stone, no air could pass, no breath could flow. I wanted to cry a monsoon but inside was only a drought, a basin filled with memoires, debris. They were washed there by the flooding waters and left as the monsoon softened bringing the torrid desert sun. My lips quivered and my body trembled as my mind struggled to comprehend what had just happened. Was I standing or sitting? was I inside or outside? I don’t remember how long I was there in this torpid state, alienated from anything around me and bound to nothing. I don’t remember how I was able to welcome my kids’ home from school that day or to parent them at all, but I know I did. I moved through task after task disconnected from family or friends and myself.
I began to feel this force inside of me, this propulsion, but I did not know what that was or how to release it in this turbulence. I reached out to my old writing group and found myself swaddled among all the other wonderful women whose voices and stories I had missed. I started writing again from a deeper space, from the basement and attic of my soul. I found myself going deep into the earth, below the roots of my life, and being able to look at them, touch them and feel the vibration of each and every one of them. It was writing that helped me to understand them. I wrote my way to some clarity and found my way back to me. I began to remember all my qualities and strengths, but more importantly, I remembered my passions. It felt as though I had been swept up in the eye of a tornado and I was sent spinning and twirling, a mere particle that had no control or say in what was happening. When I relaxed, I suddenly just dropped from the tornado’s hold and landed back in my life.
My new relationship with writing was the pearl that was created out of what felt like an unbearable pain. This pearl remains a critical part of me and one that continues to enrich my life. It illuminates every grain of sand that enters my shell, guiding me toward creating something better from life’s irritants, something worthier of a life lived.
In her book Writing the Natural Way, Gabriele Lusser Rico introduced the concept of “clustering” also known as “webbing,” as a creative technique to return to the playfulness and wonder of childhood storying. Traditional schooling programs our brains to write in a prescribed way that follows a sequence of events. When writing for school we write from the cognitive rational part of our brain. The creative part of the brain is often shut out of the process, which discard any emotional or sensory experience from the events in the story. This kind of writing can often feel dull and unimportant, which lead a lot of people to turn away from writing or retelling their life experiences through the written word.
Children love to create stories and hear stories. They learn how to translate themselves through the stories they create. The psychologist Renee Fuller termed “storying” as a term for what children do to try to create wholeness out of their experiences in an adult world. Our ancient ancestors also storied their daily experiences and life stories with their community around the fire. Images carved into rock or painted on rocks told the story of hunting and life in the early communities. Stories are a way for humans to connect, to have relationships and to express who they are to others.
Gabriele Lusser Rico explores how adults lose the sense of pleasure and wholeness in their writing that they had as children. As adults we trade curiosity for the mundane, delight of the new with worry for the future. Adults replace a free sensory notion of the world with a preconceived notion that has been written in a prescribed formula.
According to Gabriele, we do not lack ideas for writing, but we lack the access to them. Her clustering model allows for the creative part of the brain to be very active. The child curiosity and wonder are reignited.
To begin clustering Gabriele suggests that a single word, or a few words, are written down in the middle of the page. Then circle it. Jutting out from the initial circled word draw lines connecting to other words or phrases associated with the original word. Some words might become their own nucleus with many spokes coming out from them with connecting images or thoughts. Continue to allow the creative mind to make these connection and form patterns until it feels like you have exhausted any new ideas.
Below are some examples of words to choose from to begin your creative clustering experience. You can also place the name of a person or specific experiences you might want to explore deeper in your first circle. Include sensory experiences as a way to expand your memory and bring it to life. I choose the word prompt “things found” and wrote about my Gramp’s chair. I also provided an example below of the clustering I did first that led me to the short written piece. You can choose just to cluster or, if the story wants to be told, allow your clustered memories to take shape to form your story.
Fear, Pain, Hunger
Age, Body part’s (stomach, shoulders, feet etc…)
Myself, My mother (father, grandfather. . .), childhood memories
Letting go, Time, Dreams
Things or people Lost/found, things desired, things despise
The name of a person, a place or a time in your life, friends, enemies, person admired
Dinner table, favorite foods, places to eat
Travel, vacations, Events, situations and circumstances, concerts attended
Things said/things not said, things known and unknown
Jobs lost/jobs found
Pets you have had in your lifetime, car’s in your life
My Gramp sat in his bedroom chair twice a day, once to put his shoes on and once to take his shoes off. I don’t know where the chair came from or why it was the chair in my Gramp’s bedroom, but I remember sitting on his lap as he sat to get ready for the day and later to end his day.
The chair was a wood frame, burnt umber, with a hunt scene of horses racing across the chair in an eternal chase for the fox. A conservative block pleat wrapped around the edge of the seat and- a wood frame with line webbing criss-crossed beneath the horses and their riders. It had a barrel shape back that was softened by a cushion shaped with a larger surface for the back and two smaller sections that appeared to wrap around and hold my Gramp’s shoulders, supporting his rotund body comfortably. The chair sat lower to the ground like it was made for the purpose of putting on and taking off shoes.
I used to sit on my Gramp’s lap after he laced up his brown leather high top shoes. We sat there together in our generational union looking at pictures of people I never knew and would never know. Gramp kept a piece of corrugated cardboard wrapped around a parcel of photos tied with white string in his top dresser drawer. My Gramp would show me these small black and white photos, although they were more brown and cream colored. The photos were of people that never smiled and wore long dresses and men all in suits standing in place they just stood on a porch or what looked like a backdrop of plain cloth. Taller ones in the back and smaller ones in the front. All of them the men and woman wearing high-top leather shoes like my Gramp’s. Some of the photos were on what appeared to be a sheet of tin, the colors black and gray. Gramp always looked at them, all these people that he knew and loved and now missed, with joy as he named them and told a little story or two about a few of his family members, my ancestors.
There was a picture of my Gramp as a young man after he graduated from college in engineering. He was on a ship heading to Canada as a graduation gift from his father. I didn’t recognize him in that young skin, wool pants and matching jacket. He had what looked like reddish-brown hair and even though he didn’t smile he looked into the camera with a slight grin. I suppose he felt proud of his accomplishments and excited about his travel adventures. I loved to look at that photo, always trying to find the Gramp I knew in that tall slim body. I tried to imagine what he was like back then, a young man so full of energy and with a bright future ahead of him, sitting there on a boat alone about to embark on a journey.
I would look through each and every photo and hold onto the metal ones. I was so amazed at how they got a picture on this material and I wondered how my Gramp could know so many people that came from a time I was not to experience. He would put them all back in order and wrap the corrugated board around them for protection. He tied the white string in a coil around them, securing his memories before laying them to rest in the dresser drawer on top of his handkerchiefs. They would be tenderly lifted from their repose in the evening and the ancestral tails would be my bedtime story that lulled me sleep.
After fifty years, I have his chair again and it sits in my extra room. It had been in a basement for many years and never attended to or sat on or even noticed. I ran my fingers over the old tattered fabric with the horses and riders now faded, the back cushion missing, and the wood discolored, and I remembered my Gramp, now among the ancestors. I plan to restore this chair and maybe I will sit in it and share photos with my grandson and tell stories of my Gramp, his great- great Grandfather. But the photos will be in color now and he will see some wonderful smiles and goofy expression on the faces of our family. I will bring out the ancient parcel of photos and show them to him, but I will only remember some of their names most likely not all the details of the stories. Those stories now all live within the faded colors of the small thumb size pictures and metal sheets.
One evening after work I was out walking my dog, a small terrier – mix named Pumpkin. I suppose that Pumpkin has forced me to take more mindful walks due to her short stature. I now notice things around me that I wouldn’t ordinarily notice because I would be more focused on distance and cardio level.
As Pumpkin and I were strolling, I noticed how many signs fill our neighborhood. Signs with directives, instructions and absolute orders: “no passing on the left”, “one way”, “no parking here to corner”, “bump”, “one way”, “stop”, “do not enter” and even playground instructions or “play smart rules”. Signs with the name of streets and even signs in people’s yards showing a dog squatted to poop with a circle and a line through it, often with the word “PLEASE” highlighted above the dog image.
I began to think about all the messages that these signs project to the community. I wondered if we could flash a sign, perhaps on our foreheads, that would provide information to others. Information about our needs, requests, wants and even warnings. How nice that might be. No need to explain, argue or feel bad for asking questions. The message merely lights up on our foreheads and others need only obey the directives or simply be informed.
Think about some of the bad dates you might have had. Don’t you wish that your date bore a sign like; “be prepared to stop”, “exit only”, “hidden driveway” or “keep left”? How many “I told you so’s” could you have avoided? I wondered about all the conversations that felt more like monologues by the other person. Wouldn’t It have been helpful if they had a sign that said something like “one-way street” or “no U turns”? How extremely helpful that would have been – not to mention, a great time management tool.
How many of us have missed the sign for the “Recharge Vehicle station”? Instead, we continue to burn energy with work and commitments to friends and family until our engines stall and we find ourselves stuck on the side of a remote street.
Sometimes we might not see the sign before we enter into a situation, but the signs do present themselves and it is important that we do acknowledge them. I have heard many people talk about the “red flags” they were aware of but had ignored at the time. Perhaps they were preoccupied by the scenery and did not fully grasp the meaning of the sign or they did not trust what they saw.
I began to think about these signs and the ones I would like to have available in certain times of my life or particular times of the day. When I am sitting at the computer and am pulled out away from my body while writing and then someone knocks on my front door or decides to ask me a question. I wish I had a sign “road closed”, or “caution” or “no parking.” When I am playing with my grandson, I need the sign “beware unfenced road for next 150 Km” or the squiggly arrow for a crazy ride! There are some people that need a “do not enter” sign and others I would like to see have the “share the road” sign”.
Think about the people in your life and what signs you would like or need to light up on your forehead when you are around them. Or what sign you wish would light up on someone else’s forehead to warn you or welcome you. Have fun with this and as always keep your pen moving and “no parking.”
Some sign examples: “stop”, “yield”, “R/R”, “dead end”, “no U turns”, “no passing”, “do not enter”, arrows pointing in various directions, “pedestrian crossing”, “parking” and “no parking”, “one way”, “slippery road” or “sharp curves”, “give way”, “wrong way”, “traffic light”, “bike route”, and “trash sign-Pitch in”, “construction ahead”, “caution”, “road under construction”, “speed limits”, “food and gas signs”, signs “warning of falling rock in mountain areas” or “animal crossings”, there are even “social distancing” signs now, and of course signs with “rules at swimming pools, playgrounds and parks”, “avalanche area”, “no vehicles beyond this point”, “pavement ends”, “blind corner proceed with caution”, “cross traffic ahead”, “hard hat area”, “private driveway”, “road may flood”. Look around as you walk and notice signs and imagine how and when you might use that sign.
Find as many signs as you can and write them down.
Begin to make a list of people you feel you need a sign for to either welcome them or to keep them distant.
Imagine you are able to have these signs light up on your forehead when you encounter these people. What would they state? Who would you need the sign’s for?.
Write about what that would look like and how that would feel.
Write about the signs you wish someone else had on their forehead and how that would have been helpful.
Write a list of situations where you could use a special sign (in social settings, walking your dog, on campus or at work).
Write about a sign you wish was on someone else.
Create a scene where every character has a sign. Maybe it is a first meeting or a job interview. Imagine how that scene would play out and write your scene.
When I was in high school, I was invited by a very popular boy to our senior prom. I was not one of the popular kids. In fact, I was surprised he even knew me. I was very excited of course but also nervous since I had not dated anyone in high school. I worked at an equine center to earn riding lessons. I worked every weekend and a few nights a week mucking stalls. While everyone else was “hanging out,” I was working.
I told my mom that I was invited to the prom and she took me shopping for a dress. We looked at only a few stores and I was acutely aware of the need to keep in a budget. I did find a dress that fit well, and I was comfortable in and so my mom put the dress on layaway. She was to pay the balance and pick up the dress 3 days before my prom. I could see her hesitation on getting the dress, not because she didn’t want me to have it, but I think she knew something was not right. I wish that her thoughts could have been displayed on her forehead. The ones I saw in her eyes said, “blind corner, proceed with caution”.
Three weeks later and two weeks before the prom, this popular boy stopped me in the hall at school and asked what the color of my dress was so he could order flowers. I told him blue – not a deep royal blue, but a robin’s egg blue, soft and innocent. Four days before prom night he called me over to his locker and told me he was not going to take me to the prom, he said he was taking someone else that he really wanted to go with. I wish that I had seen the sign on his forehead before this, a sign that stated, “U-turn”, “Dead end”, or “bridge out do not enter.” I stood there leaning against the grey metal locker, #105. I don’t really remember what I did or didn’t do but the appropriate sign would have been the yellow crime scene tape. Or “detour”, so that I could have remained frozen and everyone could have gone around me, left me there invisible.
I did have to tell my mom, so she did not pay for the dress still on layaway. I chose to tell her I decided not to go. I put up a sign that stated, “drive slow saves lives”. She never asked me about why I had decided not to go or to try to fish for the real reason. But I imagine my mom went to the store to get her money back for the blue prom dress with a sign on her forehead stating, “private road no thru traffic”, or “no idling allowed”.