Tag Archives: Philosophy

The art of letting go and flying

An experience recently leads me to reflect on the courage required to let go and embrace something new.

I’ll quite terrible at this skill. I stayed in a not-very-happy-but-not-overwhelming-miserable marriage much too long because I was afraid. Afraid to be different than I thought I was. Afraid to admit I was wrong. Afraid to be alone.

If only I had had the courage to welcome something new into my life. Because I’m wildly content with my second husband. And I never would have met him if I hadn’t had the courage to let go at some point.

A letting-go-and-taking-hold midair moment is occurring in the fringe of my existence now, too, and I’m wishing for courage for some people who need to embrace something new.

There’s a great quote I can’t find right now about the moment a trapeze artist lets go of one swing but hasn’t yet grasped the next one (the circus aerialist has mastered this with the greatest of ease). Instead, I’ll share this post from the summer of 2012, when it was a lot warmer in the Midwest than it is now …

Letting go

A couple of experiences in the last 24 hours remind me of this Buddhist concept:

With every breath, we live; with every exhale, we die.

It was nearly 100 degrees again yesterday, and I spent the evening swimming in Lake Minnetonka with my stepson, my Beloved and a new friend (who had access to a great pontoon boat).

The lake was calm, the water was warm, a loon called while we enjoyed the sunset. It was one of those rare well-lived moments when everything was right with the world.

This new friend’s attitude influenced me, I’m sure of it, because she talked about being a caregiver this spring for a friend of hers who died 8 weeks after being diagnosed with ALS, the horrible disease that slowly (or quickly, I guess) robs one of the ability to move, then speak, then breathe. His sudden demise when he said “I have so much living yet to do” was painful. Now, she was vowing to live in the moment and soak up every joy of summer — on this evening, she was soaking with some friends on her pontoon.

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The habit of housekeeping elevates the mundane to the sublime

The Power of the Mundane resonates with me.

Rachael at Frugal Faye blogs about this in “The Power of the Mundane: Why I Love Housekeeping.”

She describes the Power of the Mundane as “sameness and routine that creates that sense of ‘this is how life is,'” and she argues that there is beauty in housekeeping exactly because it involves “repeated activities that are completed predictably over and over and over”:

“The cumulative years of those daily activities: cooking dinner, folding laundry, tidying up all matter. In a frantic, unpredictable world, these monotonous chores and exercises are comfort and stability.”

Is that the most beautiful description of housekeeping you’ve ever heard?

It makes so much sense to laud the power of repetition, however boring it may be. Exercising or eating a banana for breakfast can be boring, too, but exercising every day or eating fruit for breakfast every morning can change your health. Socking away a little bit of every paycheck in a 401(k) plan is not nearly as fun as spending it, but do that with every paycheck and in time, you’ll have a nest egg worth thousands of dollars. Arriving on time to work, lunch dates and appointments takes constant effort, but over time, it earns you a reputation of dependability.

Mahatma Gandhi knew the power of repetition, too, when he said: “Your actions become your habits, your habits become your values.”

Among my “what matters” resolutions this year is to “Make a comfortable home: Cook, clean, decorate, organize.”

It is not exactly the sort of resolution I would have made 10 years ago when I aspired to climb the corporate ladder and I was married to a man who did almost all the housekeeping.

But I am in a different place with a new man now. Part of my desire to create a comfortable home is altruistic (because I know my Beloved values it) and part of it is selfish (because if I’m going to spend as much time in my home as I do, it might as well be clean and pretty). Mucking out and redecorating my home office last year reminded me how peaceful a beautiful space can be.

The cooking part of the resolution is easier for me. Cooking is creative. I love assembling various ingredients I happen to have on hand into a creative dish (like frittata or soup). I love garnishes, too. Even when it’s just me and my Beloved, the plate is not complete unless it’s sprinkled with parsley or there’s a pickle on it, and I love putting dip into little metal cups on my plate.

Still, I hate housekeeping. Hate, hate, hate. But I realize if I want to achieve this resolution to make a comfortable home, I need to figure out how to make peace with these repetitive tasks.

Do I want to be known as the grumpy woman with a clean house or the cheerful lady with a clean house? The house deserves to be neat and clean in any case; I have the power to change my attitude.

I am reminded of what Thich Nhat Hanh writes about washing dishes in Peace is Every Step:

“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water and each movement of my hands.”

I shall attempt to harness the Power of the Mundane this year and be mindful about housekeeping. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change my little place in it.

If it ain’t easy, it ain’t meant to be

Most of us Americans get an extra hour tonight.

I’m already planning to sleep through it.

But what if we all had an extra hour every day?

Would you use it well?

Or would life’s minutia fill it, just like it fills Hour 24 now? Or Hour 23 for that matter?

Or maybe all your hours are already well lived.

Mine? I’m not sure.

Someone close to me (meaning, someone who should know) recently told me I was driftless. Then he amended himself and said “drifting, I meant drifting.”

Apparently, I’m riding high on the tides of time. I’m not frantically rowing my canoe to shore like a finalist on “Survivor.” No, I’m drifting, like the would-be contestant who never actually finished his audition tape.

There’s a little irony to this because I used to be driven, as in hard-nosed, hard-pressed and hard-edged. And I wasn’t all that happy. So I adopted a new attitude: If it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t meant to be. After a few years of practice, I now take life as it comes, I try to enjoy the present moment, I’m a little bit of a fatalist. This means I resist less, which doesn’t necessary mean I’m irresistible (but maybe … with some people … on the right day … I might be irresistible).

I’m going with the flow. And that sounds a lot better than drifting, even though it’s pretty much the same thing. Because to be honest, the flow is pretty sweet right now. The water’s warm. Let’s go for a swim.

May your extra hour bring you more of whatever it is you already have (and here’s hoping it’s something good).

A long story to share a mediocre recipe and a good lesson

Beauty is fleeting and springs from unexpected places.

As I was rooting around this evening in my herb garden, which is planted in the bottom half of a wooden barrel and is clearly coming to season’s end, I was frustrated by my puny little basil leaves and some weird plant that looks a little like cannabis, or possibly poison ivy (I should, in either case, study up on my botany facts, I suppose).

I was only there to grab a few leaves of fresh mint to brighten up the cucumber potato salad recipe that I found in the latest issue of Real Simple magazine. The salad wasn’t anything to write home about (or write a blog post about), so I’m not going to bother adding the link, but it caught my eye because it called for cucumbers, and I have about a thousand cucumbers from my garden (not complaining, just wishing my basil was as prodigious as my cucumber vines).

Anyway, the recipe called for plain yogurt and fresh dill (which is not growing, either well or poorly, in my herb garden, so I had to resort to using dry dill), which reminded me of tzatziki sauce (don’t know tzatziki sauce? Another good use of too many cucumbers. Try this recipe. Worth linking to.). Never one to leave a good recipe alone, I decided to add some fresh mint to my cucumber potato salad.

So, as I was bent over my barrel, plucking little mint leaves for my salad, a white butterfly erupted from the greenery. It was definitely a butterfly, not a moth, and I drew in my breath, this insect surprised me so.

She was appreciating my herb garden, even if I wasn’t. And she reminded me to appreciate beauty where I find it.

And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon.

Loving reality

Sometimes on Sunday mornings, I’m fortunate to take my run during Krista Tippett’s “On Being,” which is broadcast on my local National Public Radio station. Unlike so many fitness freaks, I listen to NPR more often than music when I’m running.

Tippett speaks soothingly in her interviews with all kinds of deep thinkers, and my run transforms from a slog into a meditation.

Today, she interviewed Jean Vanier, a Canadian philosopher and Catholic social innovator who founded a community centered around people with mental disabilities, L’Arche. Tippett called him “simply one of the wise men in our world today, an icon of lived compassion,” and listening to him as I ran was tranquilizing, even as I barely managed to keep a pace of 5.8 mph.

One of the things he said has me thinking, now hours later and I thought I’d share it here:

“And you see, the big thing for me is to love reality and not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or what should have been or what can be to this reality, and somewhere to love reality and then discover that God is present in the reality.”

To live a life not of could haves and should haves and regrets and wishes, but a life of acceptance of reality, that’s a gift.

For the whole interview with Vanier, click here.

Midnight moment

Today is the last day in June. Tomorrow begins the second half of 2013.

I’m still shaking my head that it’s three years into the second decade of the new millennium. I just was swatting Y2K bugs yesterday it seems. And here it is, June 30. Time to flip the calendar again.

It’s midnight time, the moment between first and last — first half of the year and last half of the year. I’ve written about this time before. I avoid the confusion of 12 a.m. and 12 p.m. whenever possible and aim to say noon and midnight instead. But midnight remains problematic. When it’s midnight, it is still today? Or is it tomorrow?

The book and movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” alludes to this dilemma of straddling two places or neither one, in the case of the garden, the place of good and the place of evil.

So now is like that. It’s a hinge, a place in the middle, a changing room … it’s midnight.

Midnight moments call for faith. I am reminded of the scene in “Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade” where Indy steps off the cliff into nothingness. He lands on a walkway that was there the whole time, he just couldn’t see it.

Faith is walking up to the edge of a cliff and stepping off knowing that one of two things will happen: A bridge will form beneath our feet, or we will learn to fly.

Tolle book puts new perspective on, well, everything

The title makes it sound like a self-help book, but author Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” is unlike any self-help book I’ve ever read (after hearing me rave about this book recently, you knew this review was coming, didn’t you?).

NewEarthInstead of presenting a long list of ways to combat your problem, whatever it is, Eckhart offers one thing and one thing only:

Live in the moment.

To summarize, that’s your life’s purpose.

Not to be organized. Not to be a good mom (or a good anything — in fact, good is just a “fragmented perception of the wholeness of life”). Not to make money. Not to save the planet. Not to worship God (though being present is a form of that).

Just live in the moment. That’s it.

But it’s complicated, which is why it takes him 309 pages to explain it. Eckhart’s philosophy involves the ego, the difference between I and me, “pain-bodies,” awareness and enlightenment, and he uses common language to describe these intangible concepts. Some people accuse Eckhart of being redundant, but I admired his attempts to describe this way of interacting with the world in different ways. I enjoyed the deep-thinking journey.

Ah, I enjoyed the journey! I am living in the moment! I am enlightened!

Whoa, stop right there. Eckhart explains as soon as you think you’re enlightened, you’re not. This enlightenment business is a constant battle with the ego.

If the measure of a book is how much it changes your life, this book was great for me.

Here’s a small example: Today is Father’s Day, so my Beloved wanted — felt entitled to — a certain meal for breakfast. My stepson, fresh from his workout, “didn’t feel good.” So they sat on the couch this morning reading Yahoo! news while I labored in the kitchen over three different cooking pots and a 5-pound watermelon that was loath to be sliced.

I was resentful. My thoughts were anything but charitable: Why was I making breakfast? My Beloved isn’t my father! I’m not the one who wants scrambled eggs and sausage? I don’t even like watermelon! And I’ll be the one to clean up this whole mess!

But Eckhart counsels in his book that there are only three ways to do anything: Acceptance. Enjoyment. Enthusiasm. “Not what you do, but how you do what you do determines whether you are fulfilling your destiny. And how you do what you do is determined by your state of consciousness.”

“Resentful” and “wishing away” my breakfast chores would not be considered aware and enlightened.

So I changed my attitude. I observed my resentful self, so attached to my role and my Sunday morning. I adjusted, and starting accepting, if not enjoying, this breakfast-making process of the present moment. I tried to create perfect little cubes of watermelon. I paid attention to the sausage so it wouldn’t burn. I enjoyed the sizzle of the eggs as they hit the hot oil.

I wasn’t 100% successful in combating my resentfulness or being present in the moment, but my Sunday morning wasn’t ruined.

If this description sounds like a bunch of mumbo-jumbo to you, you probably won’t like “A New Earth.” Eckhart says not everyone is ready to be enlightened, i.e., to understand the concepts he touts, and they won’t like his book. I think it’s a brilliant way to combat bad reviews: “Only the unenlightened wouldn’t like this book” (I need to remember that for my next book).

To be clear, I think this book is the beginning of enlightenment, not the end. But if you’re looking for a little Eastern philosophy served up with a side of Jesus to help you combat the chatter of your mind, “A New Earth” might be a good start.

Looking for other books suggestions? Check here.