Sunday, December 21, 2014

A for Effort?

I can't remember my parents ever saying it, but somehow I managed to grow up taking in the notion that if I work hard, I'll succeed. So, I always worked hard. I remember for the longest time it seemed I couldn't make the Honor Roll, which implied that you were smart, but I always made the Headmaster's List, which implied that you worked really hard. Eventually, I made both and surprised myself, assuming it was all the effort that got me that scroll of paper and a handshake in front of the school. There's nothing wrong with the idea that to make something great happen, we need to apply great effort. It certainly did bring me places in my life. But in my adult years, I have learned that there is another way to look at this and it threatens a deeply rooted way of being. If I keep digging, a part of me that fears the tree might fall. What I have been reconfiguring is that when I really want or need something these days in work, in social life, with family, it is not by trying hard that will make the thing come to fruition. Of course, that is not what it feels like. It feels like I must do something. It has a kind of panic to it, that if I don't take an action, not only will I not get what I need, but I will fall endlessly backwards down a rabbit hole. So how do I, or any of us, have a goal, or desire, or need and not think we need to make it happen? It is as though we are suddenly lost with our jobs taken away. We are asked, with all its discomfort, to sit still and wait.

What I lacked in my younger years was a spiritual life, that word that makes some people get squirmy, often for good reason. It makes me squirmy sometimes, too, if I forget what I mean by it. I equate it with being present or aware, acting mindfully, remembering our interconnectedness, being grateful (allowing for surprise and wonder as Brother David Steindel-Rast speaks of), letting go, and trusting. A spiritual life requires a particular kind of effort, but not the kind I used most of my life. From a spiritual place, when I am wanting something, I need to clarify and make known my wish, or goal, and make space for the thing to arrive, all the while being fully present to and grateful for what is right here (and this is the real key, which I'll get  to). It requires trusting what I can't see happening. It can raise my fears because it asks me to let go of thinking I control all the moving parts. We don't. But then we might ask, as I often do, "so what then does make things happen?"

If I have a clear intention of what I want, being sure it is coming from a genuine place in my whole being, not just from my intellect, and if I get the ball rolling, which doesn't take much if the intention is coming from a true place, then, the most important part is resting in a deep presence to the life right before me. I know that when I am walking down the street and seeing and appreciating all the things that there are to take in, I am truly alive. When I am truly alive, I attract the things I need. It is not effortful. It is the spirit of Christmas all the time. Receiving, giving, and joy flow easily. The colors, the sounds, the sensations, the fact that I can walk and breathe easily are all such amazing gifts to tap into in each moment. We can receive them and give back in our appreciation. It does not take much.

I needed to remember this again lately. Thank goodness for friends and teachers. I had been too caught up in responsibilities and busyness that I thought I had to make things happen and it was taking my joy away. In response to what I said about the future, my friend slowly and poignantly said, "I know you know that's not how it works." It was like cold water on my face. I awoke. I needed to hear it again. After I left my visit, I was walking toward Washington Square Park and I noticed this dog on a leash walking toward me. I was admiring the beauty of this animal and had a huge smile on my face. I hadn't noticed the owner, but when we were about to pass, I looked at his face, too, and saw that he had a huge smile in reaction to my smiling at his dog. In that split second of recognition, I said, "what a beauty!" I meant it for the dog, but it came out in the same moment that I noticed his smile and I thought to myself, there were two beauties! His showed in his presence. He noticed that I was enjoying his dog long before I was aware of him. His smile was appreciating my smile. What a beautiful thing! It was another great reminder of how I aspire to live. I went on with a lightness about my day and my future. Joy at this very life before me filled me again. I have spent my days since remembering to do things from my heart, to be present, and to trust. In these busy holiday times, or whenever there seems like there is more on my plate than I can possibly swallow, this is what I aspire to come back to. This is what will actually makes things happen. It is not about doing or results. It is against most of what we are taught as kids in this country. May we all remember to stop doing and start enjoying from our open hearts. The things that need to happen will happen. That doesn't mean we won't be busy or that there is no effort, but that our intentions are clear and our hearts are soft to appreciate, to receive, and to give. For some of us, and you know who you are, if there was an adult Life Honor Roll or Headmaster's List, we might be better rewarded for learning how not to be on it. That would be deserving of a handshake, or rather a hug. 

Happy holidays to all of my readers. I am so grateful to be received by you.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What We Do

It is time to confirm what I predicted might happen in my last post. Plans, wishes, and dreams don't always go according to plan. Last night, I realized that the big birthday soon approaching is not going to turn out as I had positioned it to. I awoke this morning to the disappointment stage of having had a desire unmet and of having to let it go, but then, a seemingly insignificant and great thing happened next. It was 7:15 am. I was driving to pick up my kids for our usual Thursday morning breakfast before school, feeling a bit glum, when I found myself at a stop light in the middle of town. I looked out and saw the window washer of the town's shops doing his job. He always looks like he is fully entertained and engaged. He had his usual getup on of sunglasses, black gloves, hat, and an array of ropes, chains, and many other things hanging thickly from his waist. Another man suddenly turned the corner and flew by him in that frantic, morning, "oh my gosh, the train's at the station" run. Just as  quickly, the window washer took a wide, low to the ground stance, with his arms outstretched to the sides, head turning from right to left as if ready to take an action on whatever else might come flying by. He was a momentary referee of the sidewalk. Then he burst out in laughter and resumed his work without a pause. Out of my gloom, I burst into laughter, too. I couldn't hear him from my sealed car two lanes over. He didn't know if anyone was watching. He didn't care. He was just having fun in his day of work. But, I did know he was there and I saw his fun and it made my morning. I kept laughing as I drove on. I wanted to thank him. He had no idea that he helped me. Now that is a beautiful thing! 

We often have no idea what our impact is on people, animals, nature, the world at large. Something as simple as my smile, or a gesture, or expression might change someone's day and I might never know. When I realize this, I am reminded that every moment matters. Every gesture has the possibility of goodness in it. It makes me as ask, why hold back what we can so freely give? Why be frugal with our love, our playfulness, our excitement, our joy? Why hold our sadness and pain inside and let it dampen our experience when there is the possibility of using it to make a connection instead? In so many ways, we can give another the chance to respond and be in touch with the same vulnerable human life force we all share. In all of this, the importance of laughter is huge. One day in the car this fall, my son said, "mommy, you have a very loud laugh." I do and I do a lot of it. We must laugh at what we go through, otherwise, it is all just too heavy.

I know as long as I keep experiencing life like I did watching this window washer and as long as I keep learning to share myself, despite fear, my birthdays will always be something to celebrate, plans or no plans. This is a beautiful life we have. Let us all have clear windows to see through so we can laugh, and cry, and marvel, and be guided by the knowledge that we have an impact on all things in ways we won't ever know. We can choose to be generous every day.