Nobody Wants To Say

Someone told me recently that they enjoy reading what I have to say because I write what everyone thinks, but nobody wants to say or admit. That pleased me because thinking I have a connection with others is something I have struggled with all my life. The theme of the one recurring dream I have had is that I am on the outside looking in. The dream could be about a picnic or a party or a meeting but the feeling it brings up is always the same—I don’t fit in. The others do not reject me though; instead, I hold myself apart by choice, evaluating and assessing and yes, fearful, even as the heart of me longs to belong.

But this person’s observation brought into focus for me the universality of all our longings and to that end it gives me the courage to share something I learned just recently. It was an epiphany of sorts for me, although it may not be for you. It is simple: be kind to yourself.

When I said those words to myself for the first time not long ago, discovering them as an archeologist would discover a treasure sifting through a pile of rubble, they struck me with the same wonder. I saw my actions in lucid perspective—my actions toward myself, that is—and for the most part, those actions have not been kind. They have had a driving, critical and pushy aspect—like a stage mother whose child is never good enough. But with the simple phrase, be kind to yourself, I perceived a whole different way of treating myself, one that is forgiving and gentle and humorous and relaxed.

When I treat myself with kindness, I exist within the rich moments of my day, savoring them, not expecting any return or reward. I almost used the word ‘grateful’ here, but ‘gratitude’ is becoming a vague, sanctimonious term, stacking us against one another in the spiritual materialism department and that’s not a very kind thing to do to ourselves, is it?

So I’ll just say that reminding myself to be kind to myself gives me a long perspective, and like all long perspectives, it reveals choices.

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The Role of Worry

We, in the west, tend to think of worry as something unproductive. “You worry too much.” “Don’t worry about it.” “Stop worrying.” The old bromides underscore our rejection of worry as something worthwhile.

Worrying, however, is very worthwhile.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the emotion of worry (and the energy it generates) is linked to the stomach and spleen/pancreas. These organs are physically responsible for a great deal of our digestive processes.  They mix our food with enzymes, and create muscular contractions to roll the food around ensuring that the enzymes are well-distributed and that the food comes into contact with lots of surface area so the nutrients can be absorbed into our physical body, keeping us healthy.

The role of the emotion of worry is to do the same thing with less tangible “food.” Ideas and experiences need to be rolled around, looked at from several angles, broken down or teased out into more distinct concepts before they can be absorbed, or discarded as the case may be. Without the worry, we would swallow ideas whole, without knowing whether they contained any nourishment for us, without knowing if they filled our needs. As we worry, we are being honest with ourselves about what our needs are, and in this way we are strengthening our integrity.

Another benefit of worrying is that as we mull our needs over, it probably doesn’t escape our notice that everyone else is doing the same thing. This commonality connects us and, aware of the connection, we possibly now start worrying about whether others’ needs are also being met. In this way, our integrity further develops, since we now respect both our own needs and others’ needs.

So go ahead and worry. It’s good for you.

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Fame, Money or Power?

I exhibited my baskets and weaving at my first high-end craft show in 1996. Participation was by invitation only and I was excited to be picked, to be in the rarified atmosphere of craftspeople whose work I had often admired from a distance. I thought of all the stimulating conversations we artists would have while waiting for sales. We would talk about what inspires us; we would discuss techniques. We would bond as artists participating in a sort of salon, the kind that Isabella Stewart Gardner used to hold.

But it was all so very, very different. Everyone was kind and helpful to a fault, but the conversations, rather than being about craft and the deeply held life philosophies that had brought us to our individual art forms, were about something else. Money. Only about money. What kind of a booth would attract the most sales; how to crank out as many products as possible with the least amount of effort; what promoters and shows to avoid because of lack of sales. I was deeply disillusioned. I wasn’t making baskets and weaving cloth because that was the only thing I knew how to do, I was doing it for the challenge and the expression of creativity. For me, it wasn’t about the money. Which always sounds so noble, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t  any more (or less) noble than the motivation I did have, which was recognition, or to put it into less syllables, fame.

My father once told me—he had read it somewhere—that everyone has a primary life motivation that is one of three things: fame or power or money. My first thought was: that’s so tawdry—our strivings can be distilled down to that? But over the years, I’ve come to realize that that is not a bad thing.

We all want to think our lives have mattered. Fame is validation. Money is validation. Power is validation. Being motivated by one (or more) of these three is longing to achieve external validation—the seal of approval that our lives have mattered.

I just attended an event that celebrates children’s book authors and illustrators in a gallery that sells original illustrations from children’s picture books. And to my way of thinking it beautifully illustrated (ha) the truth of money and fame and power. The gallery, by bringing together artists and patrons, hoped to sell some of the original illustrations (money). The artists, by appearing and meeting their fans hoped to amplify their brand (fame) (which leads to selling more books–money) An award that was given out at the event underscored it as a influential voice in the children’s book world (power). Everyone’s needs were being filled; everyone’s motives being addressed.

Where’s the art in all this, you ask?

The art is back in the studio, in the solitude of creating, in the hard work of delving the depths day after solitary day.

A little money, fame and power is a just reward, I think, for such honest labor.

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Where do all my socks go?

And I’m not just talking about the ones that get lost in the dryer.

Every morning when I get out of bed I look for the socks, the big, fuzzy, socks I’ve worn the day before, to put on again. And nine times out of ten, there is only one of them lying on the floor.

Why? Where does the other one go? Is there a sock hop each night in some dim corner of our house and only one sock makes it back before dawn, while the other, too much to drink or seduced away, is luxuriating somewhere in illicit bliss?

I pick up my slacks of the day before and shake them. Nothing. I then sift through the layers of clothes piled on the chair. The Sock is not there.

So, sighing, because the socks have defeated me again, and it being so early in the morning I don’t have the determination to persist in the searching, I open my dresser drawer and detach a sock from its mate. I try to match it to the dutiful sock—the one that made it home in time—in terms of weight and fluff, but of course it is not the same. I put the socks on, keenly aware that these two socks are not meant to be together. Aware that I have just split up a happily mated pair of socks to force one to be with this neglected, cuckolded sock. And that just doesn’t seem right somehow.

But what can you do.

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Silence

There are few places where the silence of the natural world reigns. My pond, in the autumn, is one of them. Yesterday I took a walk down the dirt road and after a while I realized that the sound of my footsteps on the dirt was the loudest noise around and that if I stood still, I could hear the leaves as they fell, clicking against the branches on their journey to the ground. Not a bird call, not a motor sound—faint or near—not a voice, no human noises at all. Not one.

Without another human noise to connect to, to validate me and my existence, the silence pressed in—an immense hushed world, where I did not matter at all.

Connection. That is what we humans give each other. Little chips of connection that keep us floating in our self-constructed universes. Take those chips away, though, take away any visual or auditory clue to other humans, and you have only the silence of a neutral world. Which can feel a bit scary. But just as lonely-scary as nature solitude can be, it also offers the potential of unshakable strength. Because those chips can and will be taken away at times. But an openhearted connection to the natural world, by virtue of that very world’s disinterest, will always hold.

Boris Pasternak, in Doctor Zhivago writes: “And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness.”  But having the good luck to live in a world that can at times be silent of any indications of being in “a life similar to the life of those around us,” I realize that the sharing of happiness can be the sharing with yourself—a  gift of insight courtesy of belonging to the natural world. Because being comfortable in the silence means accepting the connection nature has offered you.

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