Have You Stopped Asking Yourself Questions?

I was reading a post about asking yourself some big questions in the quest to find, or find again, your life purpose.

Some people have stopped asking, and among the many states that might be described, there are those who are simply stymied, mired in the march of time and the confusion of life.

I wonder if that latter state isn’t related to the part of the parable where good seed fall among weeds. It has grown, it showed promise, but the care and business of this life swallowed up all the available time and energy.

Not being able to breathe and grow, the questions just slowly stopped. Because there doesn’t seem to be any reason to keep asking. The sunlight is blocked, the root starts to wither in a dry place where no moisture of inspiration any longer can reach.

Asking Questions Begins Making Room

It makes room in your mind. It gets you looking for a way to climb out of your rut.

People today love to talk about passion. The concept has turned into a buzzword and marketers use it as a hook, because there is still hope that with this passion comes reward and renewed sensitivity to beauty and life. Sadly, the way it is used it is mostly emptied of any real meaning.

Although allowing the focus of truthful and sincere questions may direct our attention back to the essence of what we mean when we say the word “passion”.

That which we have figured out we really, and truly care about. That which we are willing to expend our selves and the currency of our lives on. Things which matter to us versus what we say matters to us.

What Are Those Questions?

The post I read gave me that author’s thoughts on them, and they were very good ones. I wouldn’t argue with their validity. At the same time it made me think that he meant them as a springboard for me to ask my own questions.

Here are mine:

  1. Have I put off becoming the person I want to be? Have I traded my life so far for a distant carrot of “someday”, only to wake up and find that I detoured from the road?
  2. If I am truly convinced that “God is the answer” (forgive this cliché, but you all know what I mean by it), why have I given Him the leftovers of my inner life? Did I really believe that all my time spent thinking selfish, foolish, bitter, angry thoughts would make room for Him and for His nature, or even a connection with God? The mantra of  “forgive me” and “help me” didn’t take the place of actual repentance and the work (giving actual time, thought, and energy) of becoming friends with God.
  3. What can I do to become present in relationships? with God, with people, with endeavors, …. with myself?

Those are the main ones for me at this time.

I also call into question some of the ideas submitted in that article, at least as I have understood them. A big one for me is this.

Understanding that life demands sacrifice

I understood very early that there are hard things in life and disappointments. In fact, I’d say I prided myself on having persistence, endurance in the face of  difficulties, or personal “grit”. I tried to pass that on to my children.

I wonder if it didn’t backfire, for them and for me. I mean I truly wonder, because I don’t know how to look at it today. I think it was a good quality, but should have been tempered with wisdom.

Rejection, criticism, failure are parts of life, yes. But I made too much of them, and then spent an awful lot of time backpedaling and trying to repair the damage that came from that imbalance.

That is enough introspection to give you an idea of where my head was at when I thought about making a small list of life “to-dos” in order to move forward.

  1. settle the question that life has meaning.
  2. Don’ t delay acting on your understanding it
  3. Be Kind
  4. Use Your Questions To Add Meaning
  5. Do No Harm

A short explanation of what I mean by each of those actions.

  1. Humans keep struggling for it, so it is a big time and life waster to keep insisting that we live only for the moment and that there is no meaning. Or act like there is none. We will only wake up wasted and full of regret. So just settle it, like making it a basic premise: life has meaning and we have meaning within it.
  2. You don’t have to have everything figured out before moving forward. Life has its own momentum, and little actions add up into a force. You understand an infinitesimal piece of the puzzle? Make your action, thoughts, and direction come into harmony and alignment with that. Sometimes understanding is actually built from that, not the other way around.
  3. This is underestimated. Maybe because we think we have to understand the picture we see and must pass some sort of universal judgement of worthiness. Our business is to show kindness as often as we can. We cannot possibly gauge the power to change the world for the better that this one decision makes.
  4. So many use their questions to destroy another’s sense of meaning. Gaining a sense of meaning is so much more important, and takes so much effort in the confusion and chaos, that energy is better used building and outlining the positive. Not a mandate, just generally a good rule to pursue. Otherwise we can waste all our time destroying others and not having built anything for ourselves.
  5. We step on life without even thinking, so borrowing this adage from the medical profession is a reminder to value life. To understand our own power, and to use it wisely. Stop deliberately hurting others. It does not empower you. Eventually you will find this out, but you may have developed a debilitating habit by that time. As much as you can, benefit. Even those you don’t think deserve it, those you don’t like, those who seem small, or too big for their britches. You don’t have to aright the universe, you just need to nurture the little your short life will allow you.

There it is. My thoughts for the day. and should you wish to read the post that triggered this one, 7 Strange Questions

Productivity And The Trouble With Gurus

I read a couple unrelated blogposts today which, of course, I am piecing together in my mind. They do have something, both of them, to do with productivity. Productivity is a subject I am interested in at the moment. Should I list the posts in the order that I read them? Why would I do that? … it really doesn’t really matter. What matters is what they have to say and some ideas that the two of them sparked.

The Posts

First post, ‘Keeping Your Options Open…’

One had to do with whether keeping ever open choices, or having many options is a good thing or not.
Keeping Your Options Open Will Cost You

This post took ideas from two books and posed the question “Why are you really keeping your options open?” and whether that is a good thing or not. Author Betsy Wuebker lists these pertinent books:

One of the writers cited in the first post submits,

“…by keeping your options open with more choices, you’ve levied higher opportunity costs.”

I haven’t read the books, but I know that people who keep their options always open are frightened to close the deal on their decisions and -more often than not- in order to escape responsibility. They can feel like victims who are helplessly overrun by those who do make decisions. So the ideas caught my interest, and I started to consider them. I don’t have problems making decisions, myself, I go through a deductive sort of process, but there are times when I have difficulty knowing when a good time to close the door and take a specific direction is the best thing to do.

The difficulty is in the balance, because being quickly decisive is not always a good thing “act in haste, repent at leisure”. And yet, none of us wants to be in a constant cycle of confusion, unable to move forward; nor do we want to have expensive life failures from seeming (or being) arrogant.

If you are thinking what I am at this point, you realize that, yes, this can be complicated. Another time in which wisdom comes in handy, to steer our path in the right direction, to close doors, and/or keep them open at the best times… for relationships, for career moves, for retirement, for most of the decisions that crop up. These are often the things that make or break resolutions and goals.

The Other Post I read

From INC., 5 Trends to Ignore in 2013 posits that we don’t always have to listen to the Gurus. What must we do in investments, in blogging, in relationships, in child raising, … IN LIFE? Everyone who writes articles seems to want to establish their authority, to be the next important guru that everyone must pay attention to…. only, sometimes that is not going to work out for you. And I might suggest here that if you have lots of experts all telling you things that are musts, necessary, and urgent… you will likely be unproductive in the very area you hoped you would find your magic formula for success. It is the “too many cooks” syndrome.

Most of that last paragraph is my own thinking as inspired by a somewhat more business oriented information article. INC. simply pointed out how unnecessary some of the big trends in business are. They aren’t necessarily important for you. Which is exactly what we can apply to many voices of authority.

Although what I wouldn’t try to say is that we can figure everything out on our own, or that whatever seems right to us is just as valid as what anyone else thinks. Like it is all some homogenized cosmic palaver.

It might appear to be in certain cases, but that would likely be just a fluke… a random stroke of luck. There is true authority, actual expertise, and we would raise our chance of success and happiness if we found and followed those voices.

It all comes down…once again… to discerning what is true. That is always the big quest in life, isn’t it?

Not “what is true for you”, not “What is truth?”, but finding real truth. Gurus may not be the best way to do that. Just saying.

the bigger life lesson

There are many time times when everything seems so mundane. The every day, every day. But woven in between is “the bigger life lesson”. It is there, if only you have the heart for it, for it is seen with the heart, understood with the heart…. and if you are only taken with life’s details you will miss the bigger lessons.

Don’t do that.

Don’t make life merely about the details.

There is a lot of big stuff going on in your life, a lot of meaning and lasting importance. It is there.

I haven’t thought about Edith Schaeffer for a long time, but with this thought about looking for the bigger lesson in the smaller acts of life… she comes to mind. Serving a meal isn’t just cooking, serving, and cleaning up the dishes…. it is an act, of love and of meaning.

Even something as small as a smile isn’t just a mindless expression or even the kindness of a moment… it is a connection that creates an impact, and all those small impacts add up. Your life is adding up, my life is adding up, and if we take time to think of the summaries we will find those bigger life lessons.

Why is this sense of meaning so important? It gives us direction, it connects us, and it forms the choices we make. It gives us the context of “the other”.

Looking at life with the desire to note “the bigger life lesson” is second nature with me, but it still requires a certain decision and determination, because life can become an avalanche of demands and mundane chores. We can lose sight of the forest for all the trees, but one of the keys to finding those important lessons that define our lives is to slow down and look.

God gave us our senses. Using them to touch eternity is part of what sets us, as humans, apart from the rest of creation.

Our humanity …now, there is one of the bigger life lessons.

Andrew Wyeth and Wintery Thoughts

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape . . .Andrew Wyeth (1917- 2009) quoted by Richard Meryman in ‘The Art of Andrew Wyeth’, 1973
Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life

Editing a winter navigation page in my garden website which contained that quotation, I looked up “Andrew Wyeth” to find his date of death. That search led to his obituary in the New York Times: he died around this time of year, January 16th, in 2009. A bit coincidentally odd to be this time of year, but it was the discussion of his art and the illustration of the painting that became the icon of an Icon,”One picture encapsulated his fame. “Christina’s World” …” that drew me along this winter path of thoughts.

Continue reading Andrew Wyeth and Wintery Thoughts

Remarking Upon Garden Lessons

I find I am not the only one to find metaphysical material in the occupation of gardening, Melissa Schubert of The Scriptorium writes of her own garden observations, and the paths of thought that has inspired. “When Faces Called Flowers Float Out of the Ground” lightly harrows the topic of growing a personal garden, a subject of width and breadth that yields a lifetime of lessons and experiences. And it is funny how this is both universal and unique at the same time. I suppose there is an essay in itself in that sentence, but Ms. Schubert touches on a few things that brought my experiences to mind.

First, in growing from seed, she discovers the joy of accomplishment, of participating in the nurture of new life. There is something reaffirming and a core of celebration whenever we are able to be a part of that: new babies, new puppies, new plants. Schubert seems to be a fairly new gardener and finds some of the early lessons in the tension that is always present in the natural world. While planting something she desires, she finds that somethings undesired have the stronger presence: weeds. Gardens are the places where we learn that there is balance in creation, that much of life is about achieving and maintaining balance. The futility and travail we perceive is in how fragile that balance may be, how little we understand of it, and how much effort it takes to live properly within it. The creation was never meant to function outside the influence and care of the Creator… the imbalances remind us of that constantly.

She shows a Calvinists struggle in the rationalization of beauty for beauty’s sake:

Gardening has exposed in me a certain singularity of taste as well as an indulgence in the decorative. While I don’t think it represents any moral failing on my part as gardener, I am suspicious that in other areas of my life I behave similarly. My aesthetic is simultaneously underdeveloped and tyrannical. All too often in my life I choose the beautifying over the economic good. I indulge my tastes more often than I seek to expand or mature them.

So I am going to start a vegetable garden this fall.

But as I wrote in my articles on a cutting garden and a kitchen garden, those aspects may be harmoniously pursued. And if my own practice is any example, the individual character qualities are more expressed, and not so much mollified by such mechanisms. No matter how I plant vegetables, my garden always tends more towards the decorative. Hollyhocks, marigolds, and sometimes other flowers, found their way into the sanctum of garden space that was reserved for food production. All with good cause, of course. Maybe our ideas of virtue are not necessarily …. balanced. Perhaps it takes time and a few lessons to accept ourselves and our place in a way that celebrates our own variety of characteristics.

And as she revealed her circumstances, Ms. Schubert also shed light upon her choices, “I rent my home[…]and I garden in ground that I do not own “. I remember when I once did that same thing, the desire to grow something outweighing any practical considerations of how long I would enjoy it; and her same lessons were ones I also faced- the short tenancy meant I was only a steward . Now I know that no matter how long I live at a place, and even if I own it, my ownership is but a short period in the long march of time. Someone else will always come after me, with more or less interest in the garden that I made and gave myself to. Everything I have, I am lent. In the short term we plant short term gardens… annuals, and perhaps some vegetables, rarely shrubs or trees. In the long term we replace our immediate satisfaction with a discipline to put in something that requires our faith and imagination. If we should have sights on the future beyond which we expect to see… Well, then we plant oak trees.

…And we connect.

I garden aware that doing so connects me to this particular space, the very land I’m living on.

So, even though I do not know Melissa Schubert, and am fairly certain that we are worlds apart in many ways, I once again find that there is a sisterhood in gardening, and a deeper one in faith that makes me understand the lessons with an inner resonance.

::reposted from August 28,2008::

Roads Abandoned

While reading a book review by Jodi Delong, a writer I admire and enjoy reading, her blog here, I began mentally following the pathway it presented. The book reviewed was one that I’d love to purchase, How to Keep a Naturalist’s Notebook.It is what I’d call a “helper book”, one that guides the reader in developing skills to accomplish a specific goal. In this case, keeping a nature journal utilizing drawing and painting in a literary and artistic record.

At the beginning of the review Jodi Delong says, “It is one of the great griefs of my life that I am unable to draw or paint.” And that started me considering not only one of the regrets of my life, but wondering why I continue it. You see, I can both draw and paint, and at one time was considered quite talented at it. The note of regret surfaces in the phrase,”at one time”. I long ago abandoned this pursuit that is very fulfilling to me, always intending at some point to again take up the occupation of transferring the alchemy of thought, sight, and expression which is the act of drawing and painting. Always, but not quite, returning to the intention. I have even gone so far as to accumulate art supplies. But they remain untouched.

The reasons for abandoning, and then remaining alienated, from this early love and once cultivated talent are several and personal, but add up to something I think might be common to others. That is the blockade formed within me, which has successfully hindered every effort thus far, every New Year resolution, every willful intention that I have had in reintroducing the creation of this form of art back into my life. I have found other routes to express my creativity, gardening was one, this new found effort at intentional writing that forms the blogposts found online, a somewhat forced entry into digital photography, but none give me the peaceful employment of my desire to create that drawing and painting once did.

It is only today that I am giving careful thought to this nonsensical phenomenon. Some of the reasons to continue to hesitate are, of course, the obvious. There is always a sort of fear in accomplishment and creating. There is a particular type of fear that follows a certain degree of mastery: “what if I cannot regain my technical ability, that time and neglect have atrophied?” After all, in my case, the unforeseen assault upon my visual acuity and eye health has given a hollow mocking haunting to my old ideas of resuming my art in a Grandma Moses sort of way…. after raising my large family, after taking care of my (grandma/ dad/ mom’s) needs for my time over a sequence of years, after getting the housework done (that speaks volumes right there, doesn’t it?), and on…

But now as my life wanes in the denouement of the final acts of the half century mark, I must take into account… what really kept me from creating the art, carving out the creative time, giving priority to fulfilling the dreams?

I wonder if there isn’t some involvement of the “toxic thoughts” as Dr. Caroline Leaf spoke of in an interview about her book, Switch On Your Brain (The Switch On Your Brain 5-Step Learning Process (DVD/Workbook) (Learn How to Learn)

The reason I suspect that there is something more “blockading” me than the simple reasons and excuses I have presumed to be at fault is the fact that when the barriers are removed …my children grow up, I have more time for creative activities, I have the supplies ready to use… what remains is simply the block. So that I almost tell myself that I no longer have this type of expression, and doubt whether I had it to begin with, so long has it been dormant. Did it exist or was it only imagined? Perhaps, too, I am thinking in this direction because I have seen the presence of these toxic sort of thoughts at work in other parts of my life.

So far, I have cycled through some of the defensive ways of healing from these mental blights. I have read self-help books addressing various factors rooted in some of the same causes; I have distanced myself from as many of the people who continue to trigger some of these toxic thoughts and views as is reasonably possible; I have changed my behaviors and responses. But still I have found a stubborn residual barrier to healthy expression of my life and the fulfillment of the potential that is my contribution to the social tapestry of our lives. What I am yet able to give- for we all have something good to contribute to the stream of life and history.

This has expressed itself not only in the fact that I am having difficulty developing my abilities in contributing to the work I produce, but in taking care of myself… making necessary health changes, going to doctors, and many other seemingly normal and necessary actions.

I am hoping to find my way back to some of these roads, and cut away the overgrown briars in this late autumn period of my life. Does the rose bloom in winter? I hope it does, and I hope to see it come to this, in my own life’s garden.

Family- Where Art Thou?

This summer fulfilled the personal goal begun last year, focusing on family and reconnecting frayed ties. It was imperfect in results, but some important gaps were bridged. Along the journey some insights emerged.

Triggering some thoughts was a son’s question,“What useful purpose does a family reunion serve?” in response to the resurrected attempt to meet together with scattered members of my paternal side. In light of the direction our culture has taken in its view of defining family (during my generation’s watch), the question is quite valid. In fact, it is one I posed in my own early family life, in my twenties. We are making our own family circle, what good can former generations, or far flung members of a shared progenitor contribute to us? And what difference do we make to them?

The thoughts took me back to the time when the definition of family, and the outright attack on the benefit of a nuclear family unit made its way through the issues of the day. Parental rights, child’s rights, definition of marriage, divorce issues, and gay rights have all held interest in the destruction of traditional views of what purpose and benefit is contained in the form of a family and its call on relationships. The change in our thinking is accomplished … and so it can be something of a personal epiphany (as it was to me) that reconnecting along bloodlines might hold some esoteric value. Esoteric because we no longer hold a sense of belonging to each other through family ties as a general way of thinking, even though individual families may have kept such values alive for themselves…. not unlike the Biblical example of “the house of the Rechabites“. I’m not saying it is all gone to anarchy, just that it has dropped precipitously in our priorities and view of relationship benefits. It had to, given the widespread practice of divorce.

So, we have had a general disparagement of the traditional family that is fully accepted in our present culture.

I could pursue closing the arguments on that statement, but I think you can follow up the line of thinking on your own. The practices we follow in our daily lives further deteriorates the value of family ties. We don’t have time to make our own family meals, or to sit down together on a daily basis. We don’t have time to sit around and talk, especially when it can become unpleasant…. it disturbs our TV show schedule or our video game, or our computer time. We walk around in our own world of ipods, and make it distinctly difficult for someone to hold a conversation with us. A bother. A distraction. Uninteresting.

Family ties can be seen as anachronistic in such a world.

Such a world stacks the importance of self on top, with “others” playing a supporting role, at best. And should they seem unsupportive, then they may face “the axe”. And we move through a life with a constantly changing set of relationships which largely are based in “what we do“. Who we are, especially in terms of relationships, becomes increasingly irrelevant.

So you can see how a family reunion may suffer in our view of its benefit and the worth of spending time and effort .

This whole aspect of our attitude towards, and value of nuclear and traditional family structure, affects not only something like whether we meet together in a reunion, it is evident in our other structures of relationship, as well. It affects church, business corporate, and community relationships as well. We are dependent on making a case of how something benefits the individual. The group identification largely remains empty. But with a placeholder.

That placeholder can become something very threatening in many ways. Largely because the need for belonging in the human experience does not simply disappear. It searches, it waits, and it needs to be fulfilled in some way. Rejection and denial in no way diminishes this wiring in our psyche.

I still have some of the story to tell. Maybe this will be a “mini-series”.

A couple quotes to consider:

“Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation” ~ Margaret Mead.

The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people – no mere father and mother – as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born. ~Pearl S. Buck

Reflections on Waiting

The inspiration for this post is from a new blog on the block. There are many, many blogs… but this one is a blog I think you will want to add to your reader, or your bookmarks. Only three posts in and it has made me feel calmer and more centered just reading the thoughts. Alicia’s Roses says, “I have often dreamed of writing a blog that would bring hope to the hurting and encouragement to the weary. May this be such a place.”.

You have succeeded well in your “New Beginnings“, Alicia.

Alicia’s thought for yesterday was upon the sense of waiting that winter brings for her.

Life is full of the dance of waiting and taking action. Balance comes from knowing which step in the dance the music of time is playing for us. God, the Great composer, desires for us to choreograph our steps into something originally creative and meaningful under His inspiration. It is a thing of joy to learn to dance in rhythm with God’s direction.

But the challenge for us is the same as the challenge that any dancer must face, and that is the discipline that one must pursue in training the body to respond to the music and choreography to give the desired resulting meld of music, imagination, and performance. When we are ambitious and determined we think that striving and work will best accomplish this effort, but in truth, without the rest and waiting performance fails and creativity dries up.

Sometimes waiting is difficult because it seems so useless and helpless to wait. We are reminded of our dependency or our limitations when waiting, and perhaps it is that rein upon our wills which is one of waiting’s richest lessons. We do not command nature, and we do not command the Creator, …. we work best when we “work with”.

Recently, I did a short lesson with my children on the concept of “deference”. Deference is waiting for our own desires, while giving other’s desires preeminence. That sort of deferring of our own will and pleasure is not a practice which finds much popularity in today’s world. I think “waiting” and “deference” have something of a connection. At times waiting is preparation, as Alicia noted, and sometimes it is cooperation. Often, it is accommodation. It helps us to rest, while incorporating a flow between us and others, and especially with God.

Jesus called us to come to Him and rest. God promised us results from our waiting.

In dance, and in every other demanding action upon our muscles and bodies, we need the resting period to repair and restore, in readiness for continued ability and greater strength of execution in performance. The dance of life is no different. This resting and waiting is not one of indolence or laziness, but a focused and mindful syncing with how God has set forth the realities of life. That is why I think Alicia’s observation rings so true:

Recently I realized that more happens while we wait than almost any other time.

Today, I am waiting on God for many things. I have confidence in His goodness and tirelessness to bring me into the dance in a whole new way. What do you find yourself waiting for at this time? Are we listening to the music? Are we mindful of the rhythms? Is it time to partner or to solo? What dance do we create today?

I Meant To Write

I’ve said that alot in life. I love to write, actually, and have for as long as I have a memory of being capable of putting pen to paper and making word pictures with it. I have that active sort of mind that likes to form thoughts and plays with ways of expressing them, but it seems that I need to have a certain inspiration, a certain mode, to work within. Is this a flowery excuse? No, I am past excuses… it is more about the time it takes to birth writing that communicates not just the structure of the thought, but its spirit.

It isn’t like the experience I have of taking photos. In photos there is a mix of the moment, the equipment, and the eye. Then there is that obsessive need to record what one wants others to see. I think that last part is what writers share most with photographers. But for me the pen has more in common with the artist brush. There is that thing called “the muse”: the time when the idea and the mode all come together in a mad rush to create.

Too often that is what I want happening when I mean to write, but don’t.

Right now, I partially blame winter. This time of year I find I lack “heart”. My heart is not in the creation process, maybe a result of cabin fever- being cooped up with less to stimulate creativity, too much stored up information, maybe some ennui. Perhaps that is why some people slack off from their New Year’s resolutions – the shine has gone off the goals and we kick into a type of survival mode.

Too, I think perfection is something of an enemy. In the quest to give our best efforts to crafting the beauty or the precision of expression we become entangled in over thinking to the point where the original thought and effort now seems pointless. That is too bad, since many small ideas inspire and come together into something much larger than the sum of its parts. A collage is made of a number of very mundane components, but the way it is arranged and the texture formed from the composite results in something of specific and sometimes moving meaning.

The lack of heart may be something else, though. Plain old vanilla procrastination and laziness means that the best ideas are never brought into the light.

And so, I take stock and decide that in order to write something of value, or beauty, or meaning will require a little bit of focus through setting goals, jotting down ideas in a common place, siphoning it into actions that bring dreams to life.

Now I think I have a plan.