Keep Reading, Keep Learning, Keep Growing

Some ideas and observations are worth a revisit. This entry was originally posted about 3 years ago and I find that it has relevance still today. I’ve  changed the title and did a bit of editing but the essence remains:

Perfection is an inaccurate term to use for a human being, I believe. There is a positive force to embody in our lives regardless of the term we apply to it. As I continue to savor random moments alone with How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach, I find myself kind of floating emotionally in a soft cocoon. My head hums a bit, my chest alternates between tightness and the most clear and weightless expanse of breath I can ever remember having. Realizations and fear, regrets and hope all ebb and flow. It’s like having a misty aura pulsing around me. Very spiritual. Very new. Very different from the reactions to the texts I usually read and write about.

A current passage that has insinuated itself into my thoughts contains references to the dilemma of pride. Pride is especially troublesome when it has installed itself within a student and the master or teacher must find a way to refocus it. One of the pending titles for my blogging is Teaching People How to Learn. I still may use it later on, but for the moment it serves as a better example of the trajectory of this post rather than a guide for a separate entry. As the narrator tells us, pride must be hit or beaten with a figurative stick until it becomes “a healthy kind of confidence” ( 135). One holds onto pride jealously but confidence is flexible. It can be shaken, it can be restored, and it does not begrudge change.

Confidence is what many of us lack when we endeavor to write. Pride is what stops us from learning. Those of us that have allowed rejection letters or the disinterest of influential people or difficulty with insecure bosses  to define our worth have allowed a perception to dominate our overall sense of ability and worth. That is not to say that there is a ceiling to learning and that writing is a static medium. The negative must be analyzed closely to find the realities within that collapse of hope or momentum.

This leads me back to teaching people how to learn. I have students who go into throws of anxiety and confrontation when they get a C rather than the expected A (Read: grade earned for simply producing the work). I see them as people with potential to evolve if I can assist them in realizing that earlier grades came at earlier periods in their education. Perhaps the standards were lower as well–let’s be frank about that. Many do not know how to evolve from the platform they have rested upon and refuse to find that there is more work ahead. Their pride is blocking the growth of their knowledge base. I am the wall they hit or the stick that beats the barriers down if I can.

What overcomes the obstacles? Reading of course. The text is life. Each text is a portal into a new perspective on life as it was or is if you see it for its potential rather than only its concrete form. How Yoga Works teaches us that things are not “themselves” or, rather, don’t have an unyielding unchangeable identity. Our engagement with the world creates or molds the nature of what we behold and that nature “itself” is not static. Roach offers us an example when the narrator engages her jailor in a discussion about a bamboo pen on his desk. Is it a pen? To him, yes, but is it only a pen? He comes to realize that it is also  a tiny piece of nourishment: “I mean that impression, that sense of division is so strong . . . I simply never realized that I make the pen itself ; my mind takes the pen a pen, just as the cow’s mind draws the same green stick as something good to eat” (118).

Now, I don’t  believe that our perceptions are an illusion or that people do not create texts, art, or even meals in an unconscious state that only others can give concrete form to as they engage with them. We are not passive vessels nor are our accomplishments eradicated by lack of witnesses or missing accolades. What this text brings to me and what I take from my interaction with it is that we can change our perception so that pain and discomfort do not concretely define an experience. If someone is cruel, the unhappiness is real, but the root cause of our pain may be suppressed or veiled by the surface actions. What is truly cruel in the moment?  The actions or the causes of these?

For a non-spiritual on non-philosophical example, think of the “kick the dog” syndrome. Someone is raked across the coals by his unhappy boss who is looking for someone to abuse because his wife made nasty comments that morning. The employee, feeling victimized and powerless, then spits profanity at someone who accidentally bumps his arm causing hot coffee to burn his hand. The person soundly abused for an honest mistake cuts someone off at a turn feeling the need to assert her authority and presence. The person who narrowly misses hitting that car comes home shaking and, as the dog trips him in his glee at finally having someone to play with, kicks the animal for also being in the way.

These examples and questions are not meant to confuse your sense of order or make you doubt your eyes or heart. Doubt is not the goal. Doubt is real at the moment you feel it, but it should not be a  manipulative tool for preventing the emergence of self-assertion and confidence. The key here is that self assertion must be based in awareness and tempered by acceptance of the changeable nature of what Roach calls “universal powers” and of perception.

The text I am reading is life. What you are reading is life. As it should be? As you agree? Does it matter? We are experiencing the opportunity to learn and grow from the nourishment that is found in the narrative.

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Do We Have to Stay the Same?

 

changeAn old friend of mine recently asked why it was that I had written about financial insecurity when she remembers me as someone who always had so much. I had not thought about those who knew me reading this and comparing the person in the post to my younger self. It’s kind of like an author or  musician changing styles and those in their circle saying “What’s up with that? This [fill in identity here] is who you are.”

Well, what’s up with me is that I actually always had financial concerns. The difference was that they were “concerns.” They were not real. Nowadays, there are actually some pressures but, as I wrote in the last post, they could be much worse. My goal was to express my understanding of how our desires and hopes or fears drive our consciousness. This also ties in to being able to present the people in our stories or articles as close to their true selves as possible. So, hopefully, we can be mindful on and off the page. My ultimate goal for this blog is to promote the writing and teaching life alongside the philosophies that are part of yoga practice, so truth and evolution of the self is part of this process.

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So, getting to the title of this post: Do we have to stay the same?

NO. Hopefully we don’t stay the same. Hopefully, we evolve and even in the down times, learn and grow in spirit, practice, and profession. If we strike someone as so different from before, then we are. Or they are. Or both. Still, to surprise people is actually a good thing. I’m glad I’m not the same as I was 30 years ago. I would be so bored.

 

What is the Value of the Written Word: Part II

images-8Part I was the response to the literal question. When we make a living writing and editing, we have to put an objective, concrete value on our words in order to survive and thrive. But that should be just a necessary evil. Today, we will visit the figurative or philosophical aspect of the query. So, business aside, what about the value of words gauged by other means? Do they have a measurable effect on us and our quality of life just as a paycheck related to these words might?

Words themselves are priceless and enduring. The carefully chosen ones produce life-changing insight, poetry, beauty, and enlightenment. The wrong ones may cause personal harm and wreak havoc on our souls, create unnecessary confusion, or set off  a chain of miscommunication and permanent damage. So, there is power in how we use our language, but so many people don’t consider this. Nor do they consider that learning how to structure our verbal interactions is of vital importance.

College students taking required composition classes most often treat their writing assignments as a burden and as something to be gotten past. They don’t realize the power they have when they wield their language artfully and strategically. There is grace in touching someone with words of significance. This is part of the overall struggle we in the humanities have when fighting to maintain respect and funding for Liberal Studies.

The “value” in communicating clearly is immeasurable. If you are still stuck on the financial side of “value,” then understand that poorly written missives don’t even get you onto the ladder of success, much less up any rungs. You’d better hope you are so brilliant otherwise and that you will be in so much demand that you can afford a personal assistant to mask your failings in this arena.

The real value, I think, is in what your words will do for others as well as for yourself.

It’s All Good Experience

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Calvin’s  idea is one way to address the harder aspect of writing. I think there are other possibilities. Just recently I took on some nonfiction work for an educational publishing company that I have a long-standing relationship with. These tend to be short pieces for dual-language learners or ESL students. Let’s see, the last educational text on I worked on was Skyrocket Your Grammar (under Heron Moon Press on my site’s menu). It was an incredible challenge because I had to write songs, stories, and mock interviews using only the grammar excercises each chapter focused on and the topic at hand (e.g., insects, sea creatures). I’m still rather proud of the results. I’ll be gathering some examples of the different kinds of projects to post here soon.

Over the next months, I’ll be doing more nonfiction and fiction for various grade levels. I was crazy enough to try to write a graphic novel type of layout for a biography of Florence Nightingale. I made it way more complicated than it had to be for the grade level. This was for 1st graders. So many restrictions on vocabulary and sentence complexity (actually, lack of complexity). I have to do a nonfiction piece for 5th graders this week. I’ll be doing fiction for the same grade in the graphic novel style soon. My editors may need therapy before I am done, but I’ll do my best to meet their requirements.

Basically, what drives me to to do my best for my employers, besides regular income, is that I was on the editing side of the desk for a long time. I was a project editor and was sent into spins when writers sent me useless  or off target work. I had one writer tell me that she was “just a gun for hire” and that she was not really worried about perfection. She wrote for the check; she was not a writer. It showed in her submissions. She wasted my time and the company’s money. While many of us don’t worry about a corporation’s bottom line, the more money wasted the less the employees have a shot at good raises and improved working conditions. Anyway, the point is, I know how important even the shortest essay for a textbook is to the group working on it and I respect all of the people who rely on me.

What does it do for my own work? I have a clear audience in mind and challenge myself to make sure I understand their interests and needs. I have to think about how extensive my own vocabulary is or how effective I can be with less. How clear can I be without boring everyone? Let’s face it. Little kids have short attention spans. They are a tough crowd! Using an obscure synonym for happy does not impress all grown ups. So, the more I take on genres that I would not usually gravitate towards, the more I can figure out what I do best and for whom.

Who do you write best for? Why? How?

 

 

 

A Most Inspiring Post from a True Bodhisattva

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I subscribe to Seeds 4 Life, a wonderful site on which many wise and inspired people share their words of wisdom. Ok, I did post there so I may seem to be bragging, but this is not my point or goal. The following was posted by Moshe  Kessler and it is a much more accurate and helpful perspective than the traditional “Hindsight is 20/20.” I felt it was very timely since I am working so hard to move forward personally and professionally. I hope this is of assistance to you as well.

The quotation that he reflects upon is from Søren Kierkegaard: “Life Can Only Be Understood Backwards; But It Must Be Lived Forwards”

Moshe writes:

Never in history has humanity been as advanced as we are today. No matter what field you examine, incredible strides have been made. From medicine to space flight, from human rights to standard of living; we are far better off than our forbearers. Yet with all of these advances; in certain moments, we are no different from our ancestors of the distant past. When serious challenges arise; we still ask that eternal question, “why is this happening to me?”

In that stillness of time when we are hit with a traumatic event, there really are no answers. What often does occur is that as we gain some distance from it, sometimes a beam of understanding pierces through the darkness. Perhaps what we initially thought was to our detriment turned out to be to our advantage. Maybe we were forced to take a more rigorous look at the direction our life was taking and make some painful adjustments. Sometimes we were forced to admit our powerlessness and learned to practice acceptance.
As we emerge from that life changing event, we hopefully have attracted new levels of wisdom and understanding. From that point, the trajectory of our lives must be forward. It’s crucial to avoid the trap of dwelling in the past. Rather than bemoaning our “bad luck,” we can recognize that we have been given a second chance. We become gripped by a powerful drive to make every day count, and even every minute count. To do otherwise would debase the profundity of what happened to us in the first place.

 

Per The Seeds 4 Life: “Moshe and his beloved wife have 3 children and 7 grandchildren. He loves to meditate, journal, and do tai chi and yoga. He is also a member of a number of 12 Step Programs. He believes that insights from these programs can be of help to anyone. On a daily basis he blogs at http://www.wisdomfromtherooms.com.”

We Are All Movers of Obstacles

Meditation does not guarantee peace. It is very much the job of the mind to encroach upon our precious moments and deposit obligations, regrets, great plans, and worry any moment there is a chance of quiet or calm, and our consciousness often acquiesces to these distractions because they are so incredibly strong and very important to us. After all, they design and direct our goals and create a structure for our behavior.

imagesThese obstructions, like many others, are possible to move aside given that you have the right fulcrum. There is no certainty of the existence of a chant or theory that will be the catalyst for your “aha” moment, but, what is certain, is that you can create it for yourself. You are the foundation of your quieted mind.

I came to agree with this ideology—as I often do come to understandings or even questions—as I lay upon my yoga mat after an especially vigorous class. On this day, the outside world and its cares were rather easily forgotten. Like many of us, I do have a tendency to let shopping lists or big ideas flow around when I should be savoring my down time. The darkness was let in and welcomed and the familiar horizontal streaks of insistent daylight played in front of my lids. As I let go, images and lights flashed around incoherently. As they gelled, I had a vision that each of my fellow practitioners was sitting upon her mat in the form of Ganesha and each had a flame over her head. The room was not fully formed, so the background was a general haze of pale yellowish light. I was mesmerized and fascinated and happy and still disengaged from interpretation or analysis. As the voice of my teacher, Alison Levine, gently enticed us back to the moment, I held on to the feeling of wonder.

When I discussed this with Allison, neither of us really knew what to think of this. Obviously we knew it was Ganesha and I have a fondness for that deity, but that did not help me understand why he was manifested as a student and topped with the tongue of a flame as you’d see in relation to the Holy Ghost in Christian scriptures. I was raised Catholic so it’s possible some of the love and beauty from these teachings aligned with this deity, and being blessed with the Holy Spirit is much like being filled with the confidence of the Mover of Obstacles. But Ganesha is related to wisdom and intellect–a guide for those who prefer more active engagement with spirituality. I see the Holy Spirit related to surrender rather than action.

Interestingly, Ganesha is also associated with writers and a writer must remove any obstruction that impedes the creative or analytical process. Inspiration is really not an outside force, but an inner movement motivated by openness to possibilities. Upon reflection I felt a sense of surety that I was identifying each student present as their own mover of obstacles if not in life, in practice on the mat. We were all capable of embodying the idea of challenge and the flame was a reiteration of being infused with this potential.

This idea of possibilities in yoga crosses in to my teaching and writing often. The end is not always what I am concerned with , but the process and what coming to the mat, computer, or notepad may ignite. Your initial intention may very well be moved aside to make room for more or different experiences and output.

As you know, there is much out there on how to remove negative mantras from our thinking patterns, and the term “mindfulness” is becoming a mainstream catch phrase. But do we always find a personal connection to these pieces of advice or terms? And what about those who are interfered with by outside forces rather than internal and who may not have the spiritual resources, yet, to circumvent or fully remove these human or financial trees from the path? I find that when people say “get rid of excuses” or some such maxim, there is insight lacking in their statement. Excuses are formed of matter that bad experiences (perceived or real), low energy (spiritual or physical), and poor self esteem merge to create. An excuse is a symbol of much deeper concerns, not a generic barrier used to casually avoid change. BUT, once the platform for the excuse is restructured or razed, the practiced rationalization is no longer so dear or poignant to the person’s personal rhetoric. The obstacle has been removed or reworked and a new story can be written.

What is your obstacle? Is it a tangible object or a thought that impedes your forward momentum? As a practitioner, do you find any particular impediment to your practice or your quiet mind?

 

What’s Your Word Count? It May Reflect Your Style.

I just recently wrote about Colum Mcann and how his recent New Yorker article triggered my creative juices and awakened my curiosity about the world in general and the writing world in particular. As I watched an interview with David Brooks–one of my favorite essayists–on Q&A tonight, I was again charged up to get back to my keyboard and push myself out of my best intentions and actually write. One of the things he said reinvigorated my sense of belonging and self acceptance in the world of writing. Actually there were many points he made. The first was that he confirmed that writing is terrible and hard. It’s work, people. Unforgiving moody, vacillating in submission to your will, erratic, and glorious. Like some drugs. And, like coming down, you cannot be left with the illusion of greatness for long. In some moments, you come out of your reverie and find that the world is the same as you left it and the magnificence of your dreamy outpourings is full of holes and generalizations. Except in this case there is produced something concrete to review and something that maybe able to affect the future.

Brooks also stated that every writer has his word limit. Not the exact statement but I can’t remember the specifics. His point was that we have in us a natural comfort or effectiveness with specific lengths. The essence was that a writer may very well shine in a particular word count as well as genre. Eureka for me!!!!! I like my blogs. I like the short story. I’m not a verbose person much less writer. I am more comfortable working on small, separate blogs that may be related thematically and may be potentially turned into something larger or on short fictions that pinpoint a moment so profound to the characters that it is larger than those before or after.

Of course, Brooks was not saying that short works are ok to stick with if you just always run out of ideas or just don’t have much to say. A good writer has something to say and an impression to make, so let’s not cheat and say that Brooks said we don’t have to try or should be a person who simply stops writing at a number reached. Create something worth reading. It’s ALL hard if you do it right.

I prefer straight to the point, compartmentalized pieces of communication. With time and practice, I may become a more prolific writer of longer works. For now, these blasts of sharing buoy my spirit and energize me.

But what kind of writer are you? What is your comfortable word count? And is this per idea, subject, or writing session? Brooks admitted to having a time limit that he cannot pass without producing mediocre work. I think we owe it to ourselves to note our own boundaries and use them for a kind of framework in which to perfect our skills. Don’t fight it, count it.