Tag Archives: choices

Living Deep

I’ve been rereading James Herriot, who was a Yorkshire veterinarian. It’s been a long time since I last read him. His books are filled with love, affection and humor for the animals and people he spent his life with, but there’s another thread that runs vividly through all his books, a thread of place. He loved Yorkshire, the hills, moors and Dales, the little towns, the seasons and remote old stone farms, walls and buildings. Every page communicates his gratitude and contentment with his life and the place he worked. He and his wife raised two children. He worked all hours, and it was hard work. He was qualified before antibiotics and what we think of as modern medicine. He made very little money, but he was rich in love and contentment.

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Dr. Herriot knew how to live deeply. One of his greatest joys was to pull over during his rounds and sit in the heather with his dog, drinking in the air, the view and the silence.

As I’ve been reading Herriot, the Fourth of July holiday has come and gone. I’ve never liked it. I hate noise and crowds. Fireworks are terrifying for many animals, both domestic and wild. They’re also dangerous and a fire risk. My idea of a really good Fourth is a nice, drenching three-day rain during which I stay peacefully at home.

This year, in addition to the usual associations, we have a pandemic. Each of the holidays this summer seem to be dividing the country more and more painfully, and all the hype and noise around escalating infection rates, distortions, denials, lies, economic concerns and travel concerns made me feel particularly anxious and miserable this year.

My Be Still Now practice has developed nicely. I’ve done it every morning for more than a month and it’s become a useful and enjoyable habit. It occurred to me, as I was sitting over the holiday weekend, that during this time I have an experience of depth. As I breath and watch my thoughts move across my consciousness like clouds across the sky, I sink down to another kind of being, below the sound of boats, campers and ATVs passing the house, below my agonized empathy for animals, below my fear of fire, and below my general anxiety about the pandemic.

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In the space of sitting, I move beyond and beneath clock, calendar, distraction, and compulsion. There is only the peace of breath, sun and rain, birdsong, wind, growing things, and the cycles and seasons of this place and my life. I feel peaceful and content. There’s nowhere I need to go and nothing I need to do. It’s all right here, right now.

We all have access to this deep life, but it seems that the modern world conspires to keep us away from it. We are assaulted by so much noise, so much seductive glitter and shine, so much chaos and so many voices. Clocks, calendars and screens rule our lives, as do the numbers in our bank accounts and on our bills and credit cards. We are completely caught up in short-term, surface activity.

To live deep is to remember geologic time and rediscover patience and perspective. To live deep is to climb into the mossy throat of an old well, filled with sweet water that knows ferns and frogs and underground springs. Living deeply takes us to the roots of things, the quiet musk of earth, mycelium, mineral and microorganism. We enter the endurance of bones and seeds, the long memory of stone.

Most of all, living deeply takes me below my thoughts and into my feelings. It’s in that deep space that I find all the women and children I have been and all the wounds I’ve neglected. Without thoughts attached to them, my feelings are intense, yet simple. I discover an affection and empathy for my fears, old and new. I gain intuitive understanding and insight into my behavior and choices.

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I meet myself in the depths, my most primal, innocent, wise self. I put my arms around myself, kiss my own shoulders. Gratitude wells in me, along with comfort and love. Creativity and inspiration blossom. I rest.

This deep time anchors my day. I usually sit for less than an hour. Even 20 minutes of retreat below the surface agitations of life provide me with balance and peace. Living deeply prevents me from speeding and helps me control my compulsions. It helps me stay conscious as I make choices about how much media I allow into my life, how much distraction, and how much noise. It opens me to the simple joys of working in the garden, sitting in the sun, watching the trees move in the wind, listening to the birds, and playing with our two kittens.

James Herriot had fears, inadequacies and troubles, just as we all do. He knew a thing I’m only just learning, though, and that is the skill of downing tools and simply being, welcoming the joy of uncomplicated presence and feeling gratitude for the experience of life in all its magic and mystery.

The meaning and experience of life is not on a screen, on a calendar or clock, or in dollars and cents. Those are but glimmers on the water, the topmost leaves on a tree, a passing cloud, ephemeral and only meaningful because we make them so.

The real stuff of life is slow, deep, quiet and timeless. We carry it always within us, but no amount of doing or having can unlock it. The key is being, just that.

Perhaps I’ll see you among the deep roots.

My daily crime.

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In the Void

I’m fascinated with thresholds, the ground between us, the spaces between, and the edge of chaos. The void between one thing and another is filled with unknown possibility.

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Tarot cards appeared in the fourteenth century, when they were used primarily for play. Sometime in the eighteenth century, the cards began to be used for cartomancy. Tarot cards are archetypal (they illustrate recurrent symbols), and countless modern decks are available, some of which are beautiful works of art.

When I work with the Tarot, I use a common classic 10-card spread called the Celtic cross. One of the richest and most enigmatic parts of the Celtic cross spread are the seventh and eighth cards, representing the querent as he/she sees him/herself and the querent as others see him/her.

I’ve learned, after decades of working with the cards, to pay close attention to what lands in those two places. If the cards have similarities, I know I’m living with reasonable authenticity. I’m staying grounded in who I am, and I’m showing up in the world and in my relationships honestly. I have a sense of being at home, of belonging in my own life. My connections feel solid and healthy.

If the cards are wildly opposing, however, I think carefully about what’s going on. In emotional intelligence coaching, this gap is key. Whatever is hidden between our own authentic experience and how others see us can be excavated, examined, healed, released, and/or renewed. The most effective coaches coach to the gaps.

In psychology, this idea is expressed with the Johari window, a model used to illustrate the relationship between ourselves and others.

Johari window

What’s in that square of the Johari window that nobody knows, not us, and not others? What lies in the cleft between the way we see ourselves and the way others see us? What possibility or potential sleeps or hibernates there, waiting to wake up or be discovered? What insight and information are we missing as we look at others and ourselves?

Here are some possibilities:

  • We have crafted a highly-polished and highly-defended pseudo self and our authenticity is buried underneath it.
  • We are keeping too many secrets out of shame or fear; our authenticity is blocked. We are trying to stay safe.
  • We are low in our ability to emotionally express ourselves.
  • We have no idea who we really are; we accept the expectations of others about what we should or must be and try to fit those definitions.
  • Our closest connections are not healthy; those around us are employing abusive tactics like gaslighting, projection, smear campaigns and chronic blaming. We know who we are, but we’re overwhelmed by what they say about who we are. We’re in the wrong place, connected to the wrong people.
  • We ourselves are a Cluster B disordered person; we are unable to have insight into why we do what we do or the ways our behavior and choices affect those around us. We think of ourselves as victims and blame others.
  • We are in denial.
  • We are too fearful to explore ourselves or others or ask or answer questions.

It doesn’t matter if we approach these kinds of questions via a mystical route or a more science-based path, to be human is to ponder about who we are and what we are for; to strive to make meaning out of our lives and experience.

We believe we know what we know, and we spend a lot of time defending that knowledge. We’re much less comfortable with what we don’t know, and some people refuse to explore that terrain at all.

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For me, however, that uncharted territory, both within and without, is where all the good stuff is. The cracks and crevices, the blind and blank spots, are filled with the possibility and potential of insight and clarity. Healing is there, though it may come about through cautery or amputation. Growth is there, though it might mean our bones ache and we must alter our lives to accommodate that growth.

As humans, we are social, and we need others in order to survive and thrive. When I consider the rift between how I see myself and how others see me, I remember the power we each have in the lives around us, and the power those around us have on us. We can’t change other people, or save them (especially from themselves), but we can and do have influence on others. When we believe in the good things in others, we are making a difference. When we choose to manipulate or tear down others, we are making another kind of difference. This is the line between friends and frenemies.

It makes me squirm to understand the people around me know things about me I’m blind to, and see me in ways I can never access. I feel exposed and vulnerable. Yet the same is true for everyone. If my friends feel the same kind of affection and willingness to allow me to be who I am that I feel for them, I’m both humbled and grateful, but I’m still squirming—just a little!

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I learned long ago that the people I want to be closely connected to are willing to live with some degree of authenticity. My best friends have been those who told me the truth; the ones who let me know when I’m off the rails, or otherwise acting like an idiot. If we can’t tolerate feedback from others, we lose a quarter of the Johari window; a quarter of our available experience, potential, strength and growth.

Likewise, if we are unable or unwilling to give honest feedback to others, they lose a quarter of their Johari Window.

It’s only in the tension of connection that we become greater than the sum of our parts, greater than we could ever be on our own. The powerful friction and shaping that occurs in relationships forces us to explore, discover, question, learn, unlearn, adapt and adjust more than we would ever do in isolation.

Living in the complex, enigmatic, fascinating void between how I experience myself and how others experience me. My daily crime.

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Integrity

Oxford Online Dictionary lists several meanings for integrity: “The quality of being honest …, the state of being whole and undivided, the condition of being unified …, internal consistency.” Integrity is an important piece of emotional intelligence. Like success, integrity is a quality we define for ourselves. If we don’t do so, the world is filled with people who will impose their idea of integrity upon us.

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Integrity is not about optics. We’re all familiar with people who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Internal consistency and wholeness mean our words, actions, intentions, thoughts and feelings work together. Integrity is not flashy, sexy, loud, or the center of attention. It’s a quiet, steady reliability; a deliberate and focused intentionality.

Integrity is not by any means perfect, or a destination. It’s a daily practice. It holds us accountable and responsible for our choices.

From an emotional intelligence perspective, the practice of integrity begins with keeping our word to ourselves. It also requires authenticity, or honesty. It sounds simple, but when I first began thinking about integrity, I felt blank. Honesty, yes, I could get a handle on that. I don’t cheat or steal. That seemed to me a superficial look at integrity, however. I wanted to push deeper into it than cheating and stealing.

At the same time I was learning emotional intelligence, I was reading a book titled The Energy of Money by Maria Nemeth, Ph.D. Several pages are devoted to excavating one’s individual standards of integrity. It’s a fascinating and provocative exercise, starting with exploring who we pretend we are, who we’re afraid we are, and who we really are. Nemeth provides a series of exercises, at the end of which I had a 3 x 5 card with six to eight words or short phrases that seemed, at that point in time, to be the bare bones of my integrity.

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Then I came to Maine and my whole life changed. For a long time, I felt myself to be in utter chaos. I still had the card with my standards of integrity on it, stuck in The Energy of Money like a bookmark.

Gradually, the dust settled. I stood up tall again and looked around me. I began to master emotional intelligence, transformed my health with a different way of eating, and wrote myself out of confusion, loss and my old life. I reread The Energy of Money, and the book, along with other resources, helped me heal my relationship with money. I put the card with my standards of integrity on my bulletin board in my work space, where I could look at it every day.

Then I encountered the idea of minimalism about a year ago. I gave up my habit of making lists, and lists of lists. I developed a practice of reverse listing—taking brief daily notes about how I in fact do spend my time—rather than making long lists of what I HAVE to do or SHOULD do. I worked on feeling good about what I do accomplish instead of focusing on what I’m not accomplishing. I started to trust myself to the flow of each day and where my curiosity, creativity and standards of integrity led me.

Integrity does not provide me with a higher moral ground or a sense of righteousness. I don’t wear it like a medal. In fact, more often than not, it requires me to deal with life in ways I’d much prefer to avoid, like having difficult conversations with people, allowing myself to be seen and heard, or making hard choices and dealing with painful consequences.

Minimalism is, for me, largely about keeping it simple. One day I took my 3 x 5 card and started re-working my standards of integrity. I wasn’t happy with the language, and my life had changed a great deal since I had first written them.

I had changed a great deal.

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For a couple of weeks I played around with words and ideas. I thought hard about what really matters to me in a week, a day, an hour. One of the basic tenets of minimalism is that if everything is important, nothing is. What are the most powerful ideas guiding my choices, the absolute essential core of who I am in the world? What are my best tools for navigation through life?

When I was satisfied, I got a new 3 x 5 card, labeled it Standards of Integrity, and listed: authenticity, creativity, seeing it clear, and warriorship. I put it back on my bulletin board. These four simple standards are always with me, as I write, as I work, as I relax, and as I interact with others. I visualize them as a circle of four overlapping circles, connected, with no beginning and no end. If I’m groping in the dark, trying to see something clearly, I’m resisting and fighting denial, assumptions, arguing with what is, and my own not-so-useful internal narratives. That’s warriorship. I’m in pursuit of understanding and clarity about the places where I can learn, grow, and use my power effectively. That’s authenticity. I’m sharing and communicating honestly with others in my life about my needs, thoughts, experiences and ideas. That’s more authenticity and warriorship, along with creativity.

I rarely use one standard without employing the other three.

I’ve discovered that these four standards make to-do lists redundant. As long as I’m living by the standards, what I’m actually doing is less important than my being. My current daily to-do list is the same simple items every single day: Eat well. Hydrate well. Exercise. Write. Keep it simple. Stay now. If I successfully accomplish those most important tasks, that’s what matters. On busy days, when I deal with a lot of other tasks, housework, or hours at work, I might complete a lot of productive activities, but if I haven’t addressed my own physical and emotional needs and written, I don’t feel good about the day and the way I spent it, because I didn’t keep my priorities straight. The next day, I try to refocus.

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Developing personal standards of integrity is not some kind of a silver bullet. It doesn’t mean I float through life, confident, beloved by all (!!!), and never making a mistake. (I can’t even write that last sentence without giggling.) Most of the time, I feel like a hot mess. I’m constantly second-guessing myself. I’m rarely lost, though. My integrity is a compass, a way to ground and a place to start. Let’s face it: life is messy. We are all fallible and flawed, which is to say we’re all beautifully human.

I can’t make life less messy, but I can simplify my own life and the inside of my head. Developing standards of integrity is something of a hero’s journey because it requires us to take a long, hard, honest look at ourselves in relationship to not only money, but all the other things in our lives. For me, that journey was well worth taking.

Authenticity. Creativity. Seeing it clear. Warriorship. My daily crimes.