This is the prompt that popped up in my 5-year journal today:
Being a person who enjoys words and writing, I was hoping that some neat turn of phrase might bubble to the surface. Maybe something profound or appropriately witty or, even better, both. Something that would neatly sum up all of the many memorable events that have marked the calendar these past six months . . . experiences that stand as fence posts upon which I have strung the minutes, hours, and days.
It has been a year of many blessings and a year of loss. I believe that there is much that I have appreciated as a result of the many blessings and also much that I have learned as a result of the loss.
If you feel like sharing, please, do so in the comments section. I would love to read what you have to say.
To conclude . . What phrase did I write in my 5-year journal?
It’s the first thing that came to mind and now, after re-reading my list of Top 9 Fence Posts, it makes sense. Looking Both Ways implies some sense of caution, like what our parents tell us before crossing a street: Look both ways!
Answering this prompt has given me time to pause and to reflect. To exercise some counter-intuitive caution . . . not with where I am now heading but with where I have been. More advice to self: Don’t let where I have been determine where I am going next.
The 2nd half of this year is just across the road. I have Looked Both Ways, and I feel ready for the uncharted territory over yonder. Maybe I’ll leave my work gloves, shovel, and fence posts on this side of the road and let my tracks leave a trail. Thinking of this metaphor makes me wonder what I want my Phrase to be for the 2nd half of the year . . .
Click on the sky-blue link below for a free journal prompt that will get you thinking about your year’s Phrase. Happy journaling, as always. You are an interesting person. Take some more time to discover who you are!
When I really stop to think, my Conscious Day is spent counting. It starts out with counting and it ends with counting. Minutes left on my snooze alarm. Pounds on the bathroom scale. Dollars in my checking account. Minutes before I have to leave for work. Pages completed on my writing project. Calories. Fat grams. Minutes. Hours. Shots of coffee. Pieces of toast. Am I the only one who is consumed with and by counting?
Counting and measuring and weighing. Reality dictates that I take care of my health and that I maintain a healthy weight. That I pay my bills on time. That I be punctual at work. That I move my dream project forward. That I hold myself to some level of accountability concerning my food choices. That I caffeine-ate fully and properly each morning. That I try to stay under the speed limit when I am running late for work. That I care about things in life that involve the measuring and weighing by number.
I know me. Without counting, life would be a free-for-all that does not allow for any accountability to myself or to others. While I think on this, I search for the value, the meaning in the count. We have all wrestled with the concept of weighing quality over quantity. But even here . . . we are still measuring and weighing the benefits. We are taught to think that quality is more important than quantity. But still. Like the little girl that would rather have five pennies over one nickel, there are areas in my life where I tend to shoot for quantity.
Quantity in my hand. Quality of the moment. Where is the Real Value in the midst of the day and its ticking clock? Daily, I put my day on pause for five minutes of meditation. Are these five minutes worth more than five minutes spent watching silly videos on youtube? Research tells me that, yes, meditation is so good for us on so many levels. And I will continue to take those five to reset my inner self. But why do we judge ourselves so harshly when we aren’t doing that which is “good for us”? Yes, I know that I can lose that final ten pounds, but is it worth beating myself up each time I get on the scale? Am I really going to care, one way or the other, once I hit that Maui beach in December? After all, it’s difficult to be hard on yourself when you are living in paradise.
But being a linguist, I very much like the semantics that extend beyond grammatical agreements. For example, we English speakers agree to add the letter -s to most nouns to make them plural. Lest we get into the exceptions such as person/people, tooth/teeth, mouse/mice, and ox/oxen, we can agree that adding the letter -s to a noun will signify that we dealing with the Concept of More Than One.
And then there are those tricky count and noncount nouns and their plural forms or lack therein. According to the Purdue OWL, The Basic Rules for count and noncount nouns are as follows:
A count noun is one that can be expressed in plural form, usually with an “s.” For example, “cat—cats,” “season—seasons,” “student—students.” A noncount noun is one that usually cannot be expressed in a plural form. For example, “milk,” “water,” “air,” “money,” “food.” Usually, you can’t say, ‘He had many moneys’ . . .
Count nouns refer to things that exist as separate and distinct individual units. They usually refer to what can be perceived by the senses. Noncount nouns refer to things that can’t be counted because they are thought of as wholes that can’t be cut into parts. They often refer to abstractions and occasionally have a collective meaning.
There is simply so much cool stuff going on there. Quantity vs. quality. Count vs. noncount. We think of a life — a count noun — and we count the number of lives on the planet. But when we think of our our own life? We think “in terms of wholes that can’t be cut up into pieces.” It’s one whole life. It’s my life! And like grass, rice, and money . . . we don’t actually cut our own life up into pieces . . . even when we think in terms of annual events such as birthdays and anniversaries. It’s all one big whole that we truly prefer not to relegate to the Noun Category of Count. We want to make it count in the ways that are important . . . not in some grammatical or statistical way.
There is counting . . . and then there is making life count. As I go through the days and I count and I measure the pluralizations that I prioritize . . . I wonder. I wonder about the importance of quotas at work and pounds on the scale and hits on my website. I wonder about making my life count. So much to wonder about. Thank God that wonder is a verb in this context. Otherwise, I would be inclined to start counting the many wonders in the world around me.
My advice to self: Just live and give it your best in the moment. You’ve got this. While I appreciate the concepts of mindfulness and how important it is to be aware and to be positive, there is more. There is life as a noncount noun. It’s okay to count the little things as long as I remember the bigger picture. And sometimes it is so hard to keep sight of this enormous, huge, ginormous Universe of which I am but a tiny speck.
I think I answered my own Life Question About Counting. Stop counting. And when I do count — which I will surely continue to do — I will try to do so with wild abandon and appreciation for the abundance within life’s “separate and distinct individual units.”
Is the Fear of Failure holding you back? Does it feel like a lack of resources is underwhelming your life? Is there someone in your life who is telling you that you procrastinate and you never finish anything? Is there a voice in your head that always gives you bad advice? Don’t start. You have so much to do around the house. You have to get up early in the morning. You haven’t done laundry for a week. The garage is a disaster.
Do you feel like you simply do not have enough time to even think about starting something new?
You make the choice.
Well, there’s bad news and good news. The bad news: You don’t have enough time. The good news: You do have enough time. You choose which news you want your inner soul to hear. You choose.
I kept delivering the bad news to my heart, my mind, my hands, my spirit, while forestalling the good news for an unspecific time in the mythical future when “I had more time.” I was living in a steady hum of constancy that was focusing on everything that wasn’t quite right with my life: playing an elaborate shell game with finances, juggling too many jobs with school and homework, barely keeping up with household chores, and feeling like my life had all the fun sucked out of it by some cosmic vacuum cleaner. All of this MindSpeak was proving to be so exhausting to my Inner Spirit that I simply stopped trying to inject newness or creativity into my day.
It felt like I was buried by life’s stuff.
I wasn’t merely stuck. I was buried. I would find myself paying bills online while listening to a class-assigned podcast while brushing the dog while folding the laundry while feeding the cat. I was all over the place. All of this multi-tasking madness. . . until I thought to add a new personal challenge to the day’s mayhem: Try something new every single day.
In the beginning . . .
In the beginning, this challenge verified the bad news –> it was something that felt like an added extra that felt to be overwhelmingly huge and impossible. My MindSpeak went into hyper-mode: When am I going to have the time to try something new every single day?! My days already feel like pasta in a pot of water — on constant boil and threatening to spill over onto the clean stove top at any given second.
The Wooden Spoon Trick
But I was so craving Different in my life. Better. More centered and mindful. I remembered reading that if you lay a wooden spoon across a pot of boiling pasta that it won’t over-boil. The pasta can boil merrily away with no more messy stove to clean up. So simple and easy . . . and it works! This Wooden Spoon trick reminded me that life need not be so overly complicated. Just try . . . and do . . . and lay the spoon across the pot. And try again. It is absolutely possible to turn a moment of my day into a gesture of mindfulness. I can make it happen. I will make it happen. I scrawled across the top of the wall-mounted white board in my office with my blue marker: You’ve got this! Try Something New! Today! I mean it!
It has proven to be a bit of an experiment to see how it works.
I originally intended on focusing on one single something new to try for the 30 days — in an effort to create a positive new habit. My thought: develop some consistency and build some sense of discipline by adding only one thing for an extended period of time. Like one of those scary-clown jack-in-the-boxes, all sorts of ideas came popping up out of my mind’s Procrastination Department. Play piano every single day. Save on gas and ride my scooter to work every single day. Eat a healthy breakfast every single day. Work out every single day. Sort through one box in the garage and get rid of stuff. Do one or all of these things every single day for 30 days.
What did these things have in common?
But I found that these ideas weren’t working — and they weren’t very inspiring either. And besides, everything that I was thinking of involved fulfilling some obligatory should: be healthier, practice music, save the environment, clean the garage. All of which are very lovely ideas, but still . . . This challenge was supposed to be fun and invigorating.
As I was casting about for the best way to implement my challenge, I discovered that was working was trying something different, unique, and unexpected every single day. Examples? I started piano lessons — and have been pretty disciplined regarding playing everyday. I went dancing at a casino — great stories as a result of this adventure. I broke out the new orange-and-white kitchen towels that had been preserved in their pristine state in my kitchen drawer — now brightening my kitchen and thoroughly broken in with the hues of red wine, carrot juice, and tomato sauce. I introduced myself to a stranger — and we have since become acquaintances.
You get the idea. I called an old friend just to say hi. I bought Swiss chard at the vegetable stand. I wrote a long overdue letter. I told someone about my current writing project. I had dinner at a restaurant that I had been wanting to check out. I took photographs of garbage. I added kale to my morning smoothie. I had fun with some color and painted on canvas. And another new thing for me? I set aside judgment of “what is good” when I was done painting. I simply valued the experience and the time spent swirling color around.
I started reading my horoscope. I subscribed to a new-word-of-the-day website. I started blogging. I bought three tiny wooden tops, which are proving to create a really relaxing “stop point” during work and study time at my desk. I spin the tops and, while they are spinning, I do absolutely nothing. I learned that an absence of activity can feel pretty good.
My Try Something New Challenge has proven to be that magical wooden spoon on the pasta pot. I not only have enough time to Try Something New, I have plenty of time. Life’s harried pace has reduced its boil a bit. Not completely, but a bit, nonetheless. Nothing is boiling over and making a spilly mess that I have to clean up.
It feels like I have effected change. Like the motion of the little tops, the vibrational ripples have been spreading. There have been some really fun and surprising and happy results from being willing to shake things up. I don’t understand the way that time has expanded, but it has. What I learned about this personal challenge: The hard part was starting. The easy part is enjoying the expansive feelings of reward and appreciation.
You’ve got this!
Would you like to share in this challenge with me? Is there something new that you have been really wanting to do?
Please, leave a reply and post your One New Thing and share how it is enriching your life. We all would love to hear about it!
Life is a lively event.
Try something new, spin some tops, & effect the ripples of happifying change.
What’s stopping you?
Your personality . . . what is it exactly? Aside from the usual adjectives of fun or moody or sunny or temperamental or intense or Type A or laid back or . . . what exactly? What does it really mean to be assigned a personality type?
We’ve all pondered the big debate of Nature vs. Nurture . . . how the spark of life is blessed/cursed/or combination-therein by congenital behavior . . . or wait! Is it actually shaped by environmental and emotional factors? And then these is all of the vice-versa stuff that leads one to accept and embrace both and then not think much about it.
Fascinating research points to many interesting findings that help us to understand Who We Really Are, our emotional and social intelligence, and our perception of positive and negative influences. Nature or Nurture? It is an enormous question that no one can really answer with total authority. Take the story of the two children — identical twins, actually — standing on the ocean shore. They are enjoying themselves while the salt water is gently lapping at their toes. Suddenly, a rogue wave washes over the top of them. The same wave, the same temperature of water, the same element of surprise. One of the twins starts to cry and scream and run from the water. The other twin splashes back at the wave while laughing. While this story would neither withstand nor support the rigors of a research study focused on Nature vs. Nurture, I like it nonetheless. It gives me pause: Why not laugh? It’s a heck of a lot more fun than crying and screaming.
And in the midst of all of this wondering and debating and agreeing, I do believe that there is much to be said for the concept of timshel — the Hebrew word for thou mayest.
When I think on topics of this sort, my mind wanders back to a Time of Great Impressionability in my life, and I was reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. What a book! Well, “the story bit deeply into me,” and Lee’s treatise on timshel has stayed with me all of these curious years later — a testimony to the notion that life is one great impressionable moment after another.
It is my hope that sharing this gem of Steinbeck’s brilliance and wisdom will not act as any sort of spoiler. The book is brilliant and one worth reading. Like life, Steinbeck’s writing is intense and provocative and profound. He writes the sort of story that stays with you throughout the years. I thank Mr. Steinbeck for opening my eyes, my mind, my heart, my soul, and my sense of wonder to the notion of thou mayest: “the glory of the choice.”
Last week, I came across this quite lovely Personality Test online. I normally don’t click on these tests, expecting some sort of hook to be set before you receive your “results,” but something prompted me to go ahead and try this one. Before reading any further, go ahead and click on the link and visualize your responses to the prompts.
What do you think? How much of the explanation of your visuals did you feel was accurate? At the very least, I felt that I was given a sideways glimpse into me — parts of me that are actually true that I generally don’t consciously associate with my “personality.” I think about Steinbeck’s artistic weaving of timshel into East of Eden . . . and I am reminded that thou mayest carries with it a personal(-ity) responsibility of creative and paradigm-shifting mindfulness that requires daily cultivation, acknowledgement, and celebration on my part.
Personality assessment aside . . . overall, we need not be so hard on ourselves. I think we sometimes embrace the opinions of people — people who truly don’t know us — with far too much zeal, and we assign too much authority to the editorializing that is done by others. We have a proclivity toward jumping into the sinkhole: a morass of self-blame, regret, and guilt that we assign to nature- and nurture-defining personality quirks . . . epic actions that play with our hearts and attempt to define how we choose to forge present moments into future goals and dreams. Or . . . is this just my personality?
I used to have a quote taped up in every room of my house: Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen. In the midst of one particularly Challenging Time, I was re-reading the quote, and I realized that I needed to make an edit. I crossed out about to happen and scribbled in happening right now:
Always believe that something wonderful is happening right now.
The current paradigm of Overwhelm in that moment screeched to a halt, and life felt like it took a gentler curve toward heart-healing and happiness. When I realized that I had a choice to become someone new on the inside, my whole life shifted. This epiphany didn’t segue into some neat and tidy story-book ending, but it did nudge me into a new place, such that I could get back into a timshel state of mind: “the glory of the choice.”
I leave you today with the prayer, the wish, the hope, and the thought that today is a good day for you. A truly good day. One of gratitude and filled with micro moments that tell you that Now is Now and life is evolving, constantly evolving, as something that is wonderful. If this moment isn’t all that great, just wait for the next one. It will be here before you know it — full of promise and full of timshel. With some refining, life really can be borne from “the glory of the choice: . . . keeping “the way open.”
Click on the highlighted link below to download today’s free journaling exercise. Have fun journaling and putting a new spin on perceptions and keeping your way open!
[P.S. Here is the real Spoiler Alert: To read a longer excerpt that discusses timshel in greater detail from East of Eden, click here. If you are planning to read the book . . . do not click here.]
Today I told myself that I simply must get some laundry done. These beautiful and blue summer days have been dictating a distinct lack of focus on getting tasks done around the house. There are certain chores that provide feelings of satisfaction when accomplished. There are other chores that simply must be done. No questions asked. No whining allowed. You must get yourself in gear and motivate. Get some laundry done.
Then I started thinking of the time when I used to do laundry on an old wringer washing machine. I lived where there was no option for electricity, so this particular beast was one of those diehard Maytags that operated on gasoline and oil — all while belching exhaust and roaring at a deafening idle. Tubs were filled by hauling buckets from the lake. The empty-bucket trip was all downhill, the full-bucket trip was all uphill. Sometimes the wringer didn’t work, and I had to switch over to hand wringing. What with all the hauling and needing to literally kick the old Briggs & Stratton motor into action, life felt challenging on Laundry Day.
The blahs can affect the psyche in powerful ways. Laundry was a necessary chore that tended to rock my generally high level of positivity and my appreciation of living in such pristine beauty and solitude. Still. The sea’s doldrums hold as much gravity as can the wind. Hunger as can fullness. Indifference as can passion. There is certainly a balance within the blahs.
I look back and give myself serious kudos for taking on such an enormous chore on a weekly basis. Even then, in retrospect, when all was hauled, washed, rinsed, and hung, I rarely felt any glowing level of achievement. I experienced no grand sense of accomplishment when draining the last of the rinse tubs and hanging it up on the cellar’s wall. Laundry was one of those chores that lived and grew without notice. Like unbridled growth in a Petri dish, laundry took on a life of its own. It reflected my chosen priorities of the week with a clarity that no Mirror-Mirror-on-the-Wall could. Had I chosen to lounge on the dock in my bikini on that 93 degree day or had I chosen to fall the dead maple that was overhanging the Cellar?
The Laundry Bag did not lie. It was a snapshot of my week. Wood chips littered the floor as I upended the Bag. I saw a blue sweatshirt with a rip in the upper arm, and a chainsaw-oil-stained pair of Levi’s. Eau de petrol perfumed the air. My bikini? Still in my dresser along with my other Travel Dream Clothes: my sarong, collapsible sun hat, and cute strappy sandals. Daydreams of rowing around the lake and lounging on the dock were given over to the burrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip of a Stihl chain saw and the sparing of the cellar roof.
In the wintertime, while sloshing around outside in sub-freezing temperatures in knee-high snow, I used to daydream of the 1960s when the idea of the Paper Dress was being tossed around as being a viable fabric for clothing. It was brilliant. Functional by day and ready-made firestarter for when I lay the fire in the cookstove for the next morning. As I prepared for bedtime each night, I could don my chic and sexy tissue-paper negligee while crumpling up my work clothes from my day’s work. Dual purpose. And no laundry to be done!
And then one winter day something happened to me as I stood outdoors at the wringer in sub-freezing temperatures and snow – my hands in insulated rubber gloves and my feet in felt-lined boots, aching from the cold of snow and the slosh of icy water.
I don’t know how, but it all funneled into my first ephiphany: it was not the physical rigors that made Laundry Day a pain. It was purely my attitude. My thinking. I stopped. And took inventory. I had the unique privilege of resource, health, and time to complete the task. Time. I look back and remember how it felt to have so much Time. It was so wonderful and decadent, and I took it for granted every single day. And my body really didn’t mind the labor . . . I was outside. Getting some good exercise. Breathing wonderfully clean, pure, cold air. Looking at the tree branches dressed in snow. Listening to the silence ring and ricochet around the lake. How could a body complain about any of this?
My second epiphany: the Laundry Bag took on magical properties that paralleled the complexities and simplicity of man’s relationship to eternity. The Laundry Bag is bottomless, and it is never empty. There is always something growing in it as a result of some other action. My attitude grew to appreciate this. I was part of something that was much bigger than I was. The Universe. It all sounds so strange as I write this, but this is how it all felt at the time: life is very large. And I am a laundry-making contributor to the Wheel of the Universe.
I truly did switch things up after that. I started to sing loudly while I plunged in the wash tub and rinsed and cranked on the wringer — this was my happier version of being on the chain gang. I recognized the blessing in having Time for such a ridiculously time-consuming chore . . . one that now requires me to simply throw laundry into a magic tub and push a button and walk away while electricity and complex machinery do all of the work for me.
But. I now work away from home to compensate for the running water and the electricity that makes Laundry Magic. And, in order to pay for such luxury, my life work has taken an academic turn away from the physical. Life now moves to an urgency that is so different from taking my Time and hauling water and looking at the birds flying overhead and singing off-key bluegrass tunes about river banks and the glitter of gold and lost love and big rock candy mountains.
It feels like I have less time now . . . that there has been some sort of cosmic exchange that has played a joke on me. That somehow my modern electric front-loading Maytag burns up more time, resource, and energy than my gasoline-powered wringer Maytag ever did. The best way I can explain it is there is a dearth of presence. All of that hauling and heating tubs of water on the cookstove and wringing sudsy water out of my clothes made an impression that I would never trade for the joys of convenience.
Perspective. What a gift it is. I love the way time reflects around on itself and, in the doing, presents me with gifts that make my heart sing. Life is a flow of Universal Presence that all manifests in unexpected and miraculous ways.
Old School. Oh, how I love old school.
All very random things come to mind, and I love this stuff.
I am now voluntarily and consciously and happily amped up on digital options — which I do dearly appreciate. I enjoy the benefits of having a computer with its backspace key, copy/paste options, and font changes. My iPhone has command of my attention. I love being able to text my Sweetheart and loved ones to tell them I love them. And some days, my longing for Old School or Simpler Times feels to be absurdly archaic. I have to ask myself, “Would I really trade my fabulous front-load washing machine for the old Maytag with the wringer that ate socks and seized up in the winter? I know the answer.
Changes abound at lightning speed and I manage to keep up with the velocity, even when I am not consciously aware of doing so. It is a bit a miracle, really. How we swerve and maneuver through this thing called progress and improvement and convenience. And Life. I sometimes feel as if I have been thrown a’kilter with my intense desire to corral the slipperiness of time in order to prioritize, accelerate, delegate, procrastinate, designate, expedite, precipitate. What’s that old Steve Miller song? “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ . . . into the future . . . there’s a solution.” I am thinking, Do something Old School today.
Writing prompt: Are you waiting for the right moment to do that exact thing that you want to be doing? Learning? Exploring?
If you are waiting, stop. And then start. Start. Do something. Do anything. Do one little thing that will point your compass in what you think might be the right direction. Point it in any direction. After all, the Universe has no map. There is no GPS for navigating Infinity. And it is all out there — all right here — just waiting for you to start. At the very least, put on a blindfold, spin yourself around a few times, and start moving. You never know which donkey is going to to get a start from you pinning a tail onto its hindquarters.
Simple for me to say. I was talking to someone today who is wanting to lose weight. She said, “Something can be simple but still so hard to do.” I thought that this was a really profound statement. It can be both. But it need not be. Or does it?
A small-scale example: I would love to have one of those garages in which I can park my truck. The outlines of wrenches and saws and C-clamps all Sharpied on a piece of pegboard. Bicycles hanging from racks. Holiday paraphernalia stacked in clear, plastic tubs out of the way in the corner. It all sounds so lovely. And so simple. And so hard, too.
Instead, it is all quite the jumble. Not entirely unmanageable. I can get to the fuse box and can find a hammer when I want to hang a picture on the wall. I don’t know. I am most likely being too hard on myself. I tell the people who come to visit, “Don’t look in the garage!” but it does indeed seem like a paradox to be embarrassed by my own stuff. There is something about this that doesn’t quite resonate with a sense of balance. It is like wanting to distance myself from the choices I have made.
I clearly do not feel that having an amazingly organized garage is going to make me a better human being. And it is not important enough to forfeit a sunny afternoon down by the bay. And the time it would take to sift through the dust, memories, cobwebs, and paperwork isn’t worth not meeting friends for dinner or spending some time playing piano or taking my easel out to the back deck for some color therapy.
Is starting (and stopping) all about listening to our priorities? Is what we truly want so evident and transparent to our Sense of Priority, that we don’t really have to think in any conscious way when we point the compass in a new direction. Some call it procrastination, but I am wondering if procrastination is nothing more than your soul allowing your priorities to have control of the throttle. My overall conclusion: procrastination is possibly being unfairly reviled by those who have all of the plans mapped out. I am thinking that it is okay sometimes to turn off the Garmin and just do some meandering.
It is tricky to avoid mixing my metaphors when it comes to the universal sense of time and life lessons. A compass, a map, GPS, a blindfold, a game about a donkey, an airplane’s cockpit. No wonder I lose my path — my trajectory. I’m all over the place! Yet . . .all of these signs along the road. All of these maps that point us in this direction and that direction. . . when all of what we truly and most dearly want stems from our inner world — our soul, our conscience, our spirit.
So, what is it that you are aiming for? What is it that would be just so much fun to be experiencing right now? Be fearless, put your compass in your pocket, don your blindfold, pick up your thumb tack and paper donkey tail, spin around, and start pinning that tail on whatever suits your fancy. Pull back on the throttle and fly. You never know. Truly. The Universe has a distinct way of rewarding our sometimes-fallible attempts to better enrich and experience life.
Thomas Edison said it so beautifully: “To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Love this! This man would not be judging my garage or my sense of priority! His words put my garage into perspective and get me outdoors on a sunny day. Time to quit beating myself up, allow my imagination to soar, and enjoy inventing with the “pile of junk” in the garage.