Friday, March 30, 2018

Photo Friday Number 10

The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.

Photo: Summer Palace, Beijing, China

Guiding Star Check In: You Got To Have Friends

"What does a Buddy do?" came the question from one of my Guiding Star clients.

Good question. Here are some answers:

A Buddy asks for your monthly report (if you haven't sent it).

A Buddy reads your monthly report.

A Buddy talks through the possibilities with you.

A Buddy provides the perspective you can't see on your own.

A Buddy keeps you honest.

A Buddy lifts you up on the down days.

A Buddy helps you stay focused on your goals.

A Buddy gives you permission to change your goals when they're not working.

A Buddy celebrates the successes with you.

A Buddy stands next to you in the disappointments.

A Buddy makes all the difference.

Two Buddies

Monday, March 26, 2018

Ripped From The Archives: Disrupted

Since we've just experienced another Nor'easter this week, this post from 4 years ago is ideal. I've added photos (because I've learned in the last 4 years that you all like photos).

It's been a brutal winter here in the US, hasn't it? Having earned my badge as an official Winter Weather Expert surviving the Upper Midwestern winters of my Upper childhood, I am authorized to make that pronouncement. Did you know that on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014 there was snow in 49 of the 50 states in the US? And yes, that means Hawaii.

This has been going on since December, but it wasn't until the first weekend in February that I found the word to succinctly describe how I feel – disrupted.

There are the obvious disruptions. Snow needs to be shoveled. Events need to be rescheduled or canceled. Cars get hit by falling limbs or passing snowplows, which means insurance companies and auto body repair shops have to be contacted, appointments made, schedules readjusted again. The power goes out, which is charming for about three hours. Then life becomes difficult. Internet service drops. The house gets cold. Batteries die on devices. 

I've been coping pretty well with the day-to-day existence, but that early February discovery clarified for me just how much my creative energy has been disrupted. I've still been able to write or compose just about every day for 10 minutes (sometimes more), but I'm definitely having a harder time getting into the flow. My practice time, which is usually a warm oasis, has not been as focused. Teaching is more of a refuge than I often find it. Having to concentrate with a student (or students) means I can't obsessively check the weather forecast or traffic reports. 

Look, here's what I'm trying to communicate to you.

We're not in charge.

This is the lesson that I learn over and over again when some unforeseen event disrupts my Oh-So-Wonderful-Don't-You-All-Wish-You-Had-My Life.

We're not in charge.

Nope. Not even close. And that is what makes most of us nuts. We'd like to think we are in charge. We'd like to think we dictate our comings and goings, with an occasional whimsical day off thrown in to show that we're really not control freaks. Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I say this over and over again, to myself, and to anyone who will listen.

We're not in charge.  But I still feel disrupted and here's how I've been dealing with it:

I look up. Frequently. The winter sky is full of beautiful colors. The blue, on one of those sunny, bitterly cold days, is gorgeous. I take a mental picture to be replayed on one of those blisteringly hot days in July that you know are coming. I look at those leafless trees and marvel at the shape and structure. Until they come crashing down, they are a wonder.

I get frustrated. I love my work. Having it disrupted once is a nice change of pace. Having it disrupted on a regular basis is, well, frustrating.

I look out. My backyard, small as it is, is covered in a deep layer of white, untouched except for the tracks of George, the neighborhood cat. I'm astonished that after all of the snow I have seen in my life, I can still have my breath taken away by that dazzling plane of pure white.

I become exhausted. I don't like feeling frustrated, so I enter into a mighty battle with myself, attempting to convince the Me in me that I should relax, I should let go. The Me in me resists.  Exhaustion sets in.

I put on my coat and hat AND boots AND gloves (pet peeve: no complaining about the weather if you can't even bother to zip up your coat, let alone wear gloves or mittens.) I go outside. The dog and I walk as best we can. I shovel. I marvel in the amount of snow. I marvel that my body can still shovel, and actually enjoys it. I know, odd. And no, I am NOT available to come shovel your driveway.

I get anxious. I'd better leave early in case the trains are running late. No, wait, the trains aren't even running! Oh great, I'll have to take the trolley and the El. Are they running? I'll check their Twitter feed. Oh wait, I'm getting rotten service because the power is out. Dang! This is ridiculous! To make sure I'm on time, I'll leave an hour earlier than usual. Best to take along some toiletries in case they stop running as well and I have to crash at someone's house in the city tonight. Whose house can I crash at?....

I truck on. If I can make an appointment or commitment without the potential of too much harm to myself or others, I do it. I don't give up. I leave early. I've spent many extra hours these past months hanging out in coffee shops because the drive wasn't as long as I anticipated or because our local transit system was running on schedule. That's okay. I made it to where I needed to be and I was safe. Meetings could happen, performances weren't canceled, classes were held. Life could go on.

I get annoyed. Buck it up, people. It is only snow. It melts. And while you're at it, stop complaining. I agree, this winter feels relentless. But your constant complaining is not helping.

I try to attend to tasks on my daily list. I try to keep the routine because I know that's when I feel best. Even during the power outages (which, truth be told, only affected my house on two separate days), I still practiced. Why not? I don't need electrical power to sing and play a piano. How lucky am I?

I feel lethargic.  My self-diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder has clearly kicked in.  Sleeping in, followed by sitting in a chair all day sounds marvelous.  Standing up and doing a small task takes a massive amount of willpower. 

I listen. I can tell before I get out of bed if it has snowed. That distinctive hush. No traffic, felted silence. Or the whipping of the wind, as it swirls around outside. The phone ringing at some ridiculous hour. Even from the second floor, I can hear the machine in the kitchen, “Good Morning, this is the Lower Merion School District.” I roll over and go back to sleep.

 I become irritated.  Even the slightest thing throws me into an internal fit.  Who moved the bowl on the entrance table?  Why is there that speck of dirt on the floor that I just swept?  Why can't that colleague respond to my email now?  Practicing compassion for others takes a Herculean effort, at which I fail, miserably, on a regular basis.

I take a deep breath. I sit in my chair and watch the wind as it whips the power lines and trees around. I feel gratitude that I am inside a home, filled with love and warmth. Then I pull out my computer, grateful that the power is currently on and shoot off some more  rescheduling emails.

As I write this post, we've had no major events for 4 days and even better, there are none in the forecast. The temperatures have risen and the snow is melting. It almost feels like all those crazy happenings never happened.  Doesn't matter. I'm going to keep practicing the moment-to-moment marvel of not being in charge. Here's hoping I get it right one of these times.

Monday, March 19, 2018

My Neighbor Is An Award-Winning Poet

Caught you with that title, didn't I?

Well, it's true.  She's also a teenager.

You know, I feel bad for teenagers right now. What kind of life are we handing over to them? Anxiety, stress, discord, our environment in a mess. If I were a teenager right now, I'd be mighty mad at the adults. And I know just about every generation says this, but we're doing a rotten job as a society of showing them how marvelous life can actually be. I know that you, like me, do it individually, and truth be told, that's probably the best way. Right now, it feels like the only way.

So when my neighbor, Manar Alberakati, placed 2nd in the Teen Division of the 13th Annual Charlotte Miller Simon Poetry Contest, I gladly took a Sunday afternoon to attend the awards ceremony.

You know what that event gave to me? Pleasure. Sheer pleasure. Have you had pleasure in your life lately? It was sheer pleasure to hear these poets - one was 7 years old! - read their words and express their deepest feelings. One poet, the 2nd place winner in the Children's Division (I believe she was 13) had written a powerful poem, entitled "This Is Where The Soldiers Fight". She nervously stood next to the podium as the emcee read her poem. Her words were terrifyingly honest and mature; I can understand why she didn't want to read them in public.

And how about the family of Charlotte Miller Simon, who financially sponsor this competition? One could argue that with their money, they could feed people...well, they DO feed people. They feed people's souls, all in memory of a woman who I never met, but who obviously loved words.

That Sunday afternoon was simple, charming and so pleasurable. Here were people, expressing their individuality through their creativity. It's a simple act, an act that is available to each human on this planet, an act that can take courage, persistence and the willingness to listen to your own soul.

Here's Manar's poem:

by Manar Albarakati
I want to leave my mark on the world
Trace my footsteps in the sand
That no wind would dare to blow away

I want to rip apart the ocean
To walk across its deepest floors
Just to show myself that I can

I want to rise up beyond the towering hills and mountains
And out-glow the sun in the background
To shine on the lands beyond me

I want to whisper my dreams to the wind
So it can sweep my voice wherever it goes
And inspire the people it meets

I want to reach my arms out
And write my name on the stars, billions of miles away
So no matter how far you are, you'll always remember me

I want to rearrange the clouds
Into the shape of my thumbprints
So Mars and Pluto can see through to my existence

And I want to spin the Earth on the tip of my finger
Because no matter how big this planet is,
it's just a pinpoint in the universe

And one day this universe will be proud that I'm its child.

Thanks, Manar!

My award-winning neighbor, Manar Alberakati and me.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Photo Friday Number 9

But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. 

Photo: Storm King Wavefield by Maya Lin, Storm King Art Center, Orange County, NY

Monday, March 12, 2018

When In Doubt, Create

I have 21 minutes before my first appointment of the day. An inane list of tasks flutters through my head. Some are of value, some are ridiculously unnecessary (are you really going to watch all of The Sopranos? Do you really need to download it now?). The fluttering in my brain leads to a tension in my shoulders. I can feel myself hunching over to push against the day.

There's also that grabbing in my solar plexus. Drat - I thought I had eradicated that grab; at the very least I thought I had found a successful way to manage it. Fooled myself again, didn't I?

The higher me, the saner me, the calmer me ignores all of these messages, pulls out my gorgeous sand timer (thank you, Jackie), a journal and a snazzy pen. I write. I write the above. I settle. I begin to feel grounded. I notice the tension that starts in my right hand and leads all the way up to my right shoulder, a protection for my fingers as they weaken. My brain stops fluttering, my shoulders unhunch, my solar plexus expands. I expand to the world, to the day, to my life.

Life will unfold; some I can manage, some I cannot. As the timeless prayer states, give me the wisdom to know the difference.

Wisdom. I want that. Don't you? Wisdom feels so deep, so eternal, so noble.

Noble. There's a concept that has been lost. Much maligned when used as in the word nobility. But to be noble. That's different.

These are the words I will give to my fluttering brain today. Wisdom. Noble. These are the words I will ponder today. These are the words I will attempt to live today.

When in doubt, create.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Photo Friday Number 8

Inline image 1

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

Photo: The Monastery of St. Ivan of Rila, Bulgaria