Thursday, December 28, 2017

Finding a new way to frame my possibilities for the next year

Last week I had a great call with my life coach. I had felt stuck in creating my annual list of possibilities. There were two reasons for this. One, I had had an immensely rich year in 2017 and it was going to be hard to come up with ideas. But more importantly, I had realized in late November that I wanted to take a whole different tack on 2018 and that I wanted a year where self-improvement wasn't the focus.

We began to talk about what I wanted for next year (not what I thought I should want) and five categories began to form:
  • What I want to learn
  • What I want to practice
  • What I want to complete/end/let go of
  • What I want to create
  • What I want to experience/enjoy
These questions are proving a really interesting way to organize my possibilities for the coming year.

What might be on your list? 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Hibernation as a sacred practice

In this northern latitude where I live, December and January are very dark months. The days are short, for evening starts about 4 pm. And because we are a rainy climate, it's often gray adding to the low light of winter. A rabbi friend who lived for many years in Los Angeles was complaining to me about the gloom here, and I mentioned to him my thoughts on hibernation as a spiritual practice.

This is a time of year to slow down, to be inside, to go inside our homes and ourselves. A time for rest and reflection. Nature's energy is low this time of year, all the plants recuperating from the growth season and gathering its energy for the next spring. We can do the same. It's a time to create a rest practice, to read and contemplate. To dream up new ideas but not to put those ideas into practice, not yet.

While I still walk most days between the rain storms and love to gather with friends, I also crave more solitude in this season. I love the candles, the lamp light, the warmth of the interior. I am grateful for it.

What's your favorite form of hibernation?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sitting in the light of death and change

A woman I was once very close to died suddenly last month. She had survived breast cancer 25 years ago and melanoma some years later and was cancer-free. Then she went from a couple of months of not feeling well to a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and liver failure in a couple of weeks. She chose not to do a chemo that would only give her a few weeks at best and died surrounded by her family at home. She was beloved by many, including me. Although we had had an irreconcilable falling out about six years ago, I never stopped loving her or valuing what our friendship had brought into my life.

Her passing has seemed very significant to me. My parents are both gone, but their deaths were in the natural order of things. And I have not yet had a lot of close friends die although a woman I was close to in college died several years ago and a man I dated died as well. I miss them both. But they were not part of my psyche in the same way that Jayna was. It's not because we went our separate ways. I have no regrets about that and I know in my heart that we forgave each other and were complete. Rather, two other things have been on my mind.

First, Jayna lived a very full life. By that, I don't mean busyness, although she was active both socially and politically. I mean that she experienced life in a full way, in a pay-attention way. She wanted her life to matter and it did.

Second, the time to live a full life is now, right now, in this moment. Not next week, not when we've got it all figured out or lost enough weight or found the right partner. Now. 11:15 on a Sunday morning. Noticing the gorgeous orange leaves on my cherry tree lover out the window. Petting Frannie who's keeping me company by lying on my notes. Feeling the warmth of the heater on this late fall day when the sunshine is intriguing but cold. Being grateful to be in this life. Now. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Why is it so hard to figure out what we really want?

In the workshops I teach on living a sweet life, I ask a lot of women (and the few men who join us) to make a list of what they really want: what they want to do, what they want to have, how they want to be. It seems a pretty straightforward question. After all as human beings, we are creatures of needs and desires. And we live in a culture where a tremendous amount of good stuff and experiences is available and we're encouraged at almost every turn to want it all. But inevitably, most of the group feels stuck. "I don't know" is a curiously common response.

I've been pondering this a lot lately. It's not that the respondents to my question are unsure that intrigues me, but they are insistent about that uncertainty. They don't seem to want to figure it out. It's as if they're addicted to not knowing.
I think that those of us who claim we don't know what we really want do know. We are just afraid to want it and to say it. If we don't know and don't say what we want, we won't be disappointed. It's also true that it's quite unlikely that we will get all we want. And the problem comes, as one of my teachers says, if we pin our happiness on getting a certain thing or outcome.

But the answer doesn't lie in not wanting or pretending we don't know. It lies in wanting more, way more than we can imagine getting. It's wanting that new car, that better job, world peace, an end to hunger, and using that wanting to move forward into our lives.

So if you're one of those whose response would be "I don't know," get bold and figure it out. Magic can happen when you do. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Poem: On exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

Two aging acrophobes
We terrorized ourselves
For 3 hours and 22 miles
11 of them a one-way
Dirt road with switchbacks
And hairpin curves
Muddy ruts
And deadly drop-offs

My friend kept me
Clear and calm
Her voice
The voice of reason
Of caring
I quickly realized
She was talking us
Both into sanity

The views were astounding
We lived those mountains
For those moments
Alpine meadows
A clear rushing stream
Aspens turning from sage green
To New Cambodge
The evergreens shrinking
In stature
In the increasing altitude
A harem of elk
Near the 12000-ft visitor center
The peaks across from us
Miles away but knowable

The terror less
On our descent
Two lanes paved
Stone guard rails
Only a few dicey places

If I’d known
What was waiting
Up Old Falls River Road
I wouldn’t have gone
But I didn’t
And once on the one-way
No way back only forward like life
So worth living

Jill Kelly, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Trump as an oddly ideal American

In the olden days, feminists had a saying that the personal is the political. I think we're seeing how true this is in these dark and terrible days of violence and cruel behavior by leaders and citizens alike.

We have a president whose politics seem entirely personal. They don't come out of any reasoned understanding of the world, any education of thoughtfulness or reflection. They appear to be just what he feels like doing and saying. But in many ways, that's what our culture promotes. Our right to do and say whatever we want. We see that in spending money we don't have, using resources we can't replace, ignoring the hard work of taking care of the less fortuante. We see it in the defense of hate speech, the defense of sexual assault and endless war. It may well be the impetus for mass murder.

I'm coming to see Trump as the epitome of our consumer culture. Buy, consume, use, discard without any consideration for those around you, including all the non-humans. He is an odd kind of ideal that we have been moving towards since we began to worship at the altar of advertising, at the altar of the new and shiny.

Although independence = me first has long been with us, in the 1980s, our culture moved distinctly in the direction of Me First. It's my right to make as much money as I can. That's just capitalism. It isn't that any of this was new. It just became a more overt ideology. Grab what you can get. Other people just need to look out for themselves.

I watched through that decade as college education shifted from preparing good citizens to preparing graduates to get rich. Where clever and devious were valued and thoughtful reflection was considered unnecessary and even stupid. Where the humanities emptied out and the business departments grew fat in alignment with the "real world."

Thoughtful education is a civilizing thing: it turns us into a civilization, not a throng. We're lacking that now and paying the price.