Conch Shells

About a month ago, Hank died.   Hank had been my friend’s partner and ally through heart-wrenching losses and exquisite joys… distracting her with his antics, depending on her like a child, and adoring her every move.   But as Hank’s illness took more and more out of him and out of the family, my friend had to consider a tough question:  How do you know when “it’s time”?   Perhaps animals are more in tune with nature’s rhythms than we realize:  As he had through so many other tough transitions before, my friend’s dog, Hank, eased her through their final passage together.

A couple of weeks later, I held that friend’s newborn in my arms. I’d forgotten how the world stops when you connect with utter vulnerability and wordless, guileless innocence.  I felt an instant yearning, from deep in my belly, to protect him.  Every twitch of those minute fingers and every tiny, sighing shudder made me want to pledge undying loyalty and allegiance.  Be still my heart! I was holding absolute potential in my very arms;  the wellspring of life from which anything and everything is possible.  Their family was now complete, healed, unbroken again.

Yesterday, from a breathtaking hill-top view of flowing grapevines, I met with others to laugh, cry and celebrate the passing of another friend, Sue.  I hadn’t known Sue very well, but she had been a “pistol” in her day — the kind that exasperated parents and thrilled anyone looking to sneak out of a dorm window, ignore a curfew or two, or find some limits to push.  With a bobbing flaxen pony tail and sparkling smile, she was an instant best friend… and an instant party. If we all have a special gift or talent, then creating friendships and connecting people was hers.  We gathered on that hilltop to lattice a large gap she’d left.

I came home from Sue’s celebration to a sad-looking plant in my kitchen. It needed water, and some attention… and it definitely needed pruning.  I started with the yellow, crinkly leaves that almost fell off the stalk.  They had to go, of course.  And as I kept tugging and snipping… the choices became less clear-cut (so to speak).  Did this little dried bloom need to go?  Could that lime/yellow leaf make its way back?  Or was I just plucking now what nature would surely discard later?  I opted for plucking.  Some of my decisions felt almost cruel; but certainly justified… and, strangely, invigorating. Surely, it wasn’t just self-interested aesthetics… Surely, my “playing God” was good for that little plant.  We all know that cutting out the old helps the new buds form.

As I pruned, my mind meandered to Sue, to Hank, and to that mesmerizing thrall of a newborn: Each so different, each so captivating and crucial to different corners of my world.  Maybe, in a way, we are all part of one big cosmic plant.  And when someone we love is snipped away — or when it’s our time to be plucked, by hands known or unknown – maybe that vast, cavernous hole can slowly, slowly become a source for us.  And if we stay vigilant, letting ourselves fully experience the void, eventually the magical gifts of tiny shoots, inchoate buds emerge.

I once read that we are all like the billions of water drops that form the ocean.  Through the rise and fall of waves, and the churn and swirl of storms, we are never really separate from that endless, watery source.  And so, we keep forming and riding those waves, one after another.   Some are rough and tall and boisterous to the end. Others barely rise…making themselves visible only to keen observers before calming back into the ocean.

I think the trick is to embrace the gifts that lie on the sand after each wave has dissipated:  Hold those sand-dollars to our breast, keep listening to the ocean’s voice through those conch shells — while also remembering to look towards the horizon.  Deep in that briny womb, whole worlds of creatures thrive and waves are ceaselessly creating themselves, reaching their hands towards us, and leaving us gifts before they return to their source.

Oxygen

mother_dev03Friday’s meeting with a disgruntled employee did not go well. As she arrayed pages of documentation, blotched yellow to highlight her long-overdue-but-never-bestowed promotion, her tears beckoned me to dig down into my heart and witness her pain.  Perhaps she thought my duty was to comfort and protect her.  Perhaps I did, too. Maybe, in a way, HR is the corporate embodiment of that archetypal Mother: the keeper of ancestral cultures and norms; the stable, fertile ground that allows us to crawl, walk, run; the nurturing womb we retreat to when it’s just too much…

As tear after tear stained her face, and page after yellow-stained page was thrust in my direction… I wanted to experience compassion welling up inside me, and the instinct to wipe away those tears.  I waited for the urge to stand with her in outrage and embrace the cause for justice.  And yet, there was only a growing frustration that she was asking for a part of me that I wasn’t ready to give.  So, as if it were a smoldering campfire, I kicked dirt over that flickering irritation, shut off my feelings, resorted to technical details and “HR face,” and hunkered down for the storm to pass.  Her rage was enough to fill the room.  Fanning the flames of my own embers would only burn us both…  better no emotion than anger.

As she stormed out of the meeting, I was haunted by my inability to assuage her, mother her.   Why didn’t I feel I had the capacity to metaphorically “kiss her tears away”?  And why didn’t I want to?

In this modern, disconnected world, have we lost our ability to nurture?  Are we so distracted that we let video games teach our children how to play, let Instagram instantly show them the world, and settle for texting instead of talking?  Even the idyllic At Home Mom… filling her days with vacuum cleaners, casseroles and talk shows; or shuttling down highways in Plymouth cockpits to the mall, music lessons, marching band… only to return repeatedly to the same silo and rolling thunder of garage doors choking the last rays of sunlight.   How do we find our way through the maze to our own hearts, to our own inner guidance and comfort?

We all yearn for the essence of Mother in our lives.  Like the children’s book Are You My Mother?…  when we don’t find that love inside our own nest, we must set out in search for it.  And with each rejection and mistaken identity (“I’m not your mother”) we feel a growing emptiness, frustration and even despair.  What we are really searching for, of course, is  true, authentic connection.  We are searching for home.  But some of us just don’t realize that until we’ve trudged  through fears, distractions and disappointments… and eventually made our way back to our own doorstep.  (Dusk has arrived, the street games are over, and the screen door slams to “What’s for dinner?”)  And in that warm light against the darkening sky, in that moment of nourishing calm, we feel the accepting embrace of truly connecting.  Whether we are simply connecting with the flow of our breathing, or feeling the euphoria of great music, or sharing our thoughts and dreams with a loved one… we have reunited with hearth and heart.

On this Mother’s Day, I’d like to honor that Mother in all of us… and acknowledge the importance of mothering ourselves each day.  We are all bigger, kinder, more generous humans when we feed our own souls first.  Like the flight attendants tell us at the start of each journey into the skies: be sure to put on your own oxygen mask first, before assisting others.

Search for the Unknown

I must confess to a deep, dark secret:  I love yard sales, garage sales, rummage sales, estate sales…  I love them all.  These erratic commerce events are one of the few ways I “put it in low-gear”and let myself glide, disconnect and unabashedly waste time.   Serene and detached, I roam through the ocean of clothes, kitchenware, crafts and discarded Christmas decorations, just to see what I see.   There is something delicious about mindlessly yet methodically meandering, stopping periodically to read a book-cover, check a shoe size, or consider the purpose of a newfangled gadget.  And, miraculously, every once in a while,  a golden treasure “sparkles” in front of my eyes.  This morning it was a book I’d heard about but wasn’t sure I wanted to read… but for one dollar, how can you resist?

One might say that  the sporadic nature of garage sales is, by
definition, what make them so addictive.  As B F Skinner contends, the very intermittent reinforcement of that occasional “pellet” is what keeps me on the prowl.  When I behold that  sporadic “steal of a deal,” the gush of dopamine in my brain clangs like the bells and whistles of a slot machine jackpot.  And so, like the senior-citizen- filled party bus gliding towards the flashing neon signs of Reno, my car seems to automatically veer toward those colorful advertisements for the next big bargain bash — “today only!”

Getting to the actual event is half of the fun, of course.  Like a treasure hunt clue, the glossy poster on the side of street lures me into the fray.  Surely, I don’t have to get home immediately… What’s a five-minute detour, when it could result in surprise treasure?   Each new sign hints of hidden gems to be unearthed, as I float right, then sail to the left… until the multi-colored, be-speckled yard surrounded by parked and hovering  cars announces that “x” marks the spot.

Once safely disembarked at this new frontier, I make it a point to start simple conversations with my fellow pilgrims .  After all, these are my kinswomen who, like me, come in search of something unknown to even themselves.  We compliment one another’s hunting skills, ask our neighbor what on earth this gadget could be, or entice each other to snag that bargain: “That would  be perfect for you… you have to get it!”  And the proprietress is always to be engaged with.   Like ancient marketplaces from around the globe, we are pulled into a historic relationship, with its rituals and norms.  Even the novice patron knows to acknowledge the beauty of the wares displayed; haggle, successfully or not, over a valued object; and upon departing, to always thank the owner for hosting us in her garage, on her lawn, or under the pop-up tent erected to keep us cool.

Understanding that the search for the unknown and unknowable elusive treasure somehow answers an unmet need deep in my psyche,  my husband smiles paternally when I return home to parade my new-found (and, yes, recently discarded) riches before him.  He puts up with the crazy gadgets we never really use, the unread books on my crowded bookshelves, and the sandals, scarves and sunglasses that end up in the Goodwill basket.  He knows it’s not about the items as much as it is about thrill of the hunt, the search for the unknown, and the fleeting moments of connection in a stranger’s garage.

Please share your experience with these charming treasure hunts…yard_sales
garage-sale-signs-III

The Path

Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar.

(Wanderer, there is no path; the path is made by walking.) 

Antonio Machado wrote this poem a century ago in Spain, and Joan Manuel Serrat turned the words into a hit song in the 70’s.  Maybe it was his lilting, lisping Castillian, or the fact that Serrat was young, romantic and fighting for causes I so wanted to align with…but those words have stayed with me through the years.

And when I find my avoiding a project by swirling and drifting through meaningless tasks like a stylus gliding over album tracks; or when I balk at the fear of “judgy”comments behind my back, or –far worse – the half-smile and averted eyes of the sham compliment to my face, Serrat’s voice is the siren’s song that beckons.  His words remind me  that hey, that email isn’t going to write itself… until I start clicking some keyboard keys.  And that stupid misunderstanding isn’t going to clear itself up… until I start talking.  Sometimes it takes a lifetime’s worth of faith to type that first “Dear…” or voice that first “So…”  But when I do take that inaugural step, the path begins to appear.  The fear-fog lifts, the next word forms, the connections magically materialize.  Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly… Se hace camino al andar..  

In the book Mindset, Carolyn Dweck speaks of the “fixed” vs “growth” mindset.  I’m in fixed mindset when I see the outcome — failure or success — as defining me.  And it’s the fixed mindset that has me read one more book, get one more opinion, shore up one more detail before starting “that” project.  After all, If I’ll be defined by the result, I’d better be darn sure I’ll succeed at it.  (Or that “L” may be emblazoned on my forehead permanently.) Yet Dweck says we can purposefully foster growth mindset by reminding ourselves that we are far more fluid than that.  We are not fixed… and neither is our fate. In fact, we are a never-ending work in progress.  Those neural pathways keep changing and developing based on what we focus and effort towards.   And, yes, even old dogs can trick themselves into looking at failure as one step in the path.  Like a tourist who understands that the destination is nowhere near as fulfilling as the journey itself…  Growth mindset helps us focus on the path — including the inherent missteps and wrong turns — that we create by moving forward.

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to experience lava flowing from a volcano to the ocean.  The sulfur smell, muggy heat, and the trudging, deliberate , indomitable progress of glowing ooze mesmerized me.  I keep a picture on my office wall of that volcano spewing golden-hot lava.  It reminds me of the power that flows from deep within me — the invincible force in all of us.  If we can release the fixed mindset, and its inherent fear of failure that immobilize us,  we can take that first step.  Like lava flowing to the sea, the path will rise up, carry us, push us onward… eventually leading us, full-circle, to the “growth” selves we were always meant to be.Lava-Lake-Springs-into-Being-atop-Volcano-in-Africa-466085-6

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante, no hay camino,
sino estelas en la mar.

  • Wanderer, your footsteps are
    the path, and nothing else;
    wanderer, there is no path,
    the path is made by walking.
    Walking makes the path,
    and on glancing back
    one sees the path
    that will never trod again.
    Wanderer, there is no path—
    Just waves in the sea.

“Proverbios y cantares XXIX” [Proverbs and Songs 29], Campos de Castilla (1912); trans. Betty Jean Craige in Selected Poems of Antonio Machado (Louisiana State University Press, 1979)

 

Healing the Rift

 

“Enlightened leadership is spiritual if we understand spirituality not as some kind of religious dogma or ideology but as the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention.” –Deepak Chopra

Decades ago, I took a test to clarify my career interests, and learned that my true calling was to be a minister.  In actuality, I relish the idea of looking into a crowd of earnest eyes and experiencing that magical “click” of an idea taking hold and tectonic world views slamming into new formations.  And, ultimately, I believe we all want to know we’ve made a difference in others’ lives. The slight problem with becoming a minister, however, was that I couldn’t find a church that made me want to stay through a whole service.

It’s not that I’m an atheist, or even an agnostic.  I know there is something there, and I do love exploring and basking in the spiritual realm.  I meditate; I am as devoted to “new agey” books as my husband is to Indiana basketball; and while I still can’t settle into church services, I settle into yoga poses religiously.

And so, since I wasn’t entrepreneurial enough to start my own church of Joannism… I settled for teaching.  My father thought I was avoiding reality, and encouraged me to ditch the academic ivory tower for banking… but the idea of serving in the very temple of the root of all evil disgusted me. (I was young.)  Eventually, I moved into recruiting, sales, management and finally into HR. At a glacial pace, I  warmed to business as more than a necessary evil to pay my rent… then mortgage… then Alt. Min. tax.  Years later, I took that same vocational interest assessment again, and found that my true calling had evolved to personnel director.  (Maybe there is something to those tests, after all.)

When I read Deep Chopra’s quote yesterday, it was as if a tsunami had tossed me high on a wave,  and plopped me back into a mirror world.  Could this be the way to finally resolve the schizophrenia between my idealized vision of Pastor Joanne and results-driven reality of Personnel Director Joanne?  I’ve always yearned for the blending of business results and compassion.  Not namby-pamby, pat-on-the-head, “take your mother to work day” niceness; but the hard-core, strength-of-metal compassion that changes the world.  And certainly not the holier-than-thou, we-don’t-serve-gays, arrogance of wolves in sheep’s vestments… but the broad-minded diligence of micro-lending, conscious capitalism and Fortune’s Change the World List.

For me, Chopra’s quote shows the way to a new reality that mirrors an ancient truth: The spiritual realm and the physical world are two sides of the same coin.  Accumulating money is only “evil” if we refuse to acknowledge its ability to do great good.  Successful leaders (yes, even political leaders) are those who honor and/or leverage our need for truth, goodness and compassion, while also focusing on the bottom line.  Businesses are finding that mindfulness and yoga classes help employees envision disruptive technologies that can heal the sick and feed the multitudes…

And so, I symbolically “genuflect” to the enlightened leaders like Deepak Chopra, whose awareness and vision bring us full-circle and heal the rift between heart and mind, body and soul, spirituality and this-world reality.

Please add your thoughts about the Deepak Chopra quote, my thoughts, your experience…

 

 

 

May the Force Be With Us

I’m no Star Wars fan… by any means.  But soon after those Redbox missives hit my inbox, we were watching The Force Awakens on DVD. While it’s a fun ride, this isn’t a movie that’s going to change the world.  In fact, it’s more a mirror of our first-world group psyche; and when compared to older Star Wars flicks, is reflects some old truths told in a new-world way.

The Force Awakens is Rey’s story.  Strong-willed and determined like Princess Leia — but no longer the moon orbiting a more powerful man — Rey embodies the female, or yin, force awakening in all of us. In fact, she surpasses and replaces the “solo,” swashbuckling yang force of Han Solo… literally watching him die at the hands of his son, Ren (Darth Vader, Rev 2).  We witness the awakening of her power  throughout the arc of the movie.

When Ren captures and tries to overpower Rey, she soon succeeds in getting him to take off his mask.  We are surprised to see a lonely, effete man-child behind that eerie disguise.  Had we really been afraid of him?  The illusion is dismantled.  And in that moment, we acknowledge that un-masking and truly seeing something for what it is empowers us.

All deception is maintained by mutual agreement between deceiver and deceived… It only holds sway as long as we allow fear, social mores, desires or other distractions to keep us blindfolded.  But Rey doesn’t play that game.  (She also doesn’t try to use brute force — another illusion, as there really is no such thing — to overpower Ren.) Instead, she asks to end the deception… and suddenly we are all able to see that their bold forcefulness and lonely vulnerability are two sides of the same coin: like good and evil, like Rey and Ren themselves, and even like their names.  As Rey demonstrates for us, it is by asking to see and accepting what is shown, that we awaken our power and access The Force.

Rey learns quickly.  No one sits down to explain this power to her, and she doesn’t wait to be taught.  After just a glimpse of her new ability, she develops it like a toddler learns to walk: she tries, fails, and immediately tries again.  Initially attempting  to imitate Ren, she soon finds her own voice.  We feel her body and tone relax.  No longer striving to control, she accepts the power within and around her, and allows herself to be the vessel through which it flows.  And just as there is no stopping us when we find our own “flow,” Rey quickly outwits her guard and is free.

The story continues, and Rey reverts to her former ways… using her intelligence, courage, fortitude and personal strength of character to accomplish incredible feats.  (Great powers are seldom bestowed upon victims and weak characters, after all.)   Only when she is close to perishing in a desperate light-saber battle does Rey remember The Force.  We see her relive that initial moment of realization and acceptance that had allowed her to overpower her guard.  And together with Rey, we all recognize that The Force can be called upon any time. Like Rey, we visibly relax, breathe and smile.  And it is at  just that moment, when Rey realizes her true, unceasing power, that the planet itself changes, forming a bottomless chasm between Rey and her enemy, Ren.

Once she knows that she can, Rey no longer needs or wants to slay Ren, and can now retreat with honor.  We know they will both return to fight again, through generations, for eternity. There is no courage without fear, no good without evil, and no yin without yang.  In this worldly existence, however, they are consigned to different camps, destined to the Sisyphus-like struggle of endlessly breaching the chasm.  

We also know that Rey’s awakening has made the world a different place.  When the resistance forces return home after a successful battle, the centerpiece is Leia and Rey, women of different generations and world-views, supporting each other in their grief.  We sense that the outer successes of the bold, yang fighters are crucial to survival of a world that, nonetheless, revolves around a yin center that quietly knows, embraces and accepts.  We come full-circle from the earlier Star Wars movies with, perhaps, a broader sense of good and evil, success and power.  May the force be with you.

What did you think of the movie?  Of Rey?  Of this interpretation?

 

 

 

First Journey

 

I begin my first journey today, April 7, 2016, with my first blog post.

I love to travel, I love all kinds of journeys, and I love to return home with a fuller sense of myself, others, and the world.

Work is a journey every day… Raising kids, raising a husband, raising myself, too.  For me,  life becomes a Full Circle Journey when I become a tourist in my life…  when I relax, breathe, and relish the novelty of every quirk:  That shy nod, the way the he squints as he concentrates, that lanky flower peering over a sea of bushes…  If I can but relish it as a tourist would.

Then…. then resist the urge to distance myself from its aliveness, to freeze it into the stillness of a photo.  The full circle comes from removing the barrier of the camera lens, emotional lens, analytical lens.  Can I admire it from afar, gazing at the goings-on from a balcony perspective, while at the same time stepping into the heart of it, barefoot, bare-armed… both object and subject, witness and witnessed?

The journey begins.

Tourist for Life,  Joanne

Full Definition of full circle

  1. :  through a series of developments that lead back to the original source, position, or situation or to a complete reversal of the original position —usually used in the phrase come full circleMisc 047

Tourist for Life