A Few Steps More

Just a few steps after I wanted to give up, to turn around and head back down the hill, the trail flattened out, an unexpected stretch of grace and ease that allowed me to keep going.

I really wanted to be done, to acquiesce to my limitations, and if not for this change in the landscape, that’s exactly what I would have done. But, right on cue, there it was, the breather I needed to support my flagging confidence.

I kept walking, in no way because of some special resolve, but because the circumstances allowed me to do so. This was a gift, plain and simple.

The lesson is not to grind it out at all cost. The lesson is to appreciate that sometimes, with a few extra steps, we may be lucky enough to discover that the world has turned just slightly in our favor.


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Do you dare?

It was above the timber line. The steady march of the forest had stopped as if some invisible barrier had been erected beyond which no trees dared move in a single file. Beyond was barrenness, sheer rocks, snow patches and strong untrammeled winds. Here and there were short tufts of evergreen bushes that had somehow managed to survive despite the severe pressures under which they had to live. They were not lush, they lacked the kind of grace of the vegetation below the timber line, but they were alive and hardy. Upon close investigation, however, it was found that these were not ordinary shrubs. The formation of the needles, etc., was identical with that of the trees further down; as a matter of fact, they looked like branches of the other trees. When one actually examined them, the astounding revelation was that they were branches. For, hugging the ground, following the shape of the terrain, were trees that could not grow upright, following the pattern of their kind. Instead, they were growing as vines grow along the ground, and what seemed to be patches of stunted shrubs were rows of branches of growing, developing trees. What must have been the torturous frustration and the stubborn battle that had finally resulted in this strange phenomenon! It is as if the tree had said, “I am destined to reach for the skies and embrace in my arms the wind, the rain, the snow and the sun, singing my song of joy to all the heavens. But this I cannot do. I have taken root beyond the timber line, and yet I do not want to die; I must not die. I shall make a careful survey of my situation and work out a method, a way of life, that will yield growth and development for me despite the contradictions under which I must eke out my days. In the end I may not look like the other trees, I may not be what all that is within me cries out to be. But I will not give up. I will use to the full every resource in me and about me to answer life with life. In so doing I shall affirm that this is the kind of universe that sustains, upon demand, the life that is in it.”

I wonder if I dare to act even as the tree acts. I wonder! I wonder! Do you?

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1999), 123-124.


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It’s in Your Pocket

In a recent talk, Tara Brach shared the following story:

“A master thief waited his whole life to acquire the most valuable diamond in the world. When he heard it had been purchased, he spent three days trying to steal the rare jewel. He failed.

Finally, the thief walked right up to the owner and asked, “How did you hide this precious jewel from me?”

To which the owner replied, ‘I placed it where I knew you would never look—in your own pocket.'”

That thing you’ve been looking for, that you’d be willing to steal, that thing you have convinced yourself is too far out of reach, have you checked your own pocket?

Chances are, it’s already there.


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What Will Be?

It is worth remembering that between takeoff and landing there is a period during which you are aloft, held up by unseen forces – the miracle of air flowing over a wing.

This is the gift of in-between time. Just as the excitement and stress of preparation recedes and just before the anticipation of arrival enters in, there is a space, sometimes brief and sometimes generous, called flying.

You are not meant to take it for granted. You are meant to marvel at your suspension over the earth, granted for a time the gift of neither here nor there.

No longer leaving and not yet arriving. This is the time for a long look around. Not to solve, not to know, but to wonder, what will be?


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The Consolation of Completion

I am a master of getting things done. Sometimes, it’s even stuff that has to do with my  growth, learning and development as a human being.

I am a master of knocking out the dishes, wiping the counters clean, spinning over to the couch to fold the laundry. I am a master of getting that laundry distributed and put away. I am a master at mowing, edging and weed pulling. I am a master at unpacking my bag after a trip, dirty clothes in the basket, clean clothes hung up or put away.

I am a master at doing all of the things that have a clear beginning, middle and end.

Checking those things off my list feels fantastic. It fills me with feelings of pride and the clear knowledge of having made a contribution to my household and family.

Every single one of those things is important. And every single one of those things is a convenient hiding place from the real work of becoming the better version of myself that I aspire to be.

That work cannot be charted on a task list but only on the pages of a much bigger book, messy scribbles writing a messy story, one that keeps inviting me back to make a bigger mess and to trust that the mess, the incompleteness is, in fact, the evidence of becoming.

Everything else is consolation.


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Poem for a New Year

Here’s to a new year of living slowly into the best versions of ourselves; grateful, humble, purposeful, intentional, focused and forward, always forward.

You Start Dying Slowly
{Martha Medeiros}

You start dying slowly
if you do not travel,
if you do not read,
If you do not listen to the sounds of life,
If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly
When you kill your self-esteem;
When you do not let others help you.
You start dying slowly
If you become a slave of your habits,
Walking everyday on the same paths…
If you do not change your routine,
If you do not wear different colours
Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly
If you avoid to feel passion
And their turbulent emotions;
Those which make your eyes glisten
And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice…


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Which 15%?

I recently shared an idea with a group of 20 people.

Three of those people affirmed and encouraged it. That’s 15%.

Three of those people rejected it. That’s another 15%.

I did not receive a response from the other 13 people, the remaining 70%.

Now, the decision is mine: do I fixate on the 15% who rejected it or the 15% who encouraged it?

I am hardwired to do the former. We all are.

But no dream of creation ever came into being because it was hardwired. Sometimes all we’re given is the tiniest shred – far less than 15% – and our job is to take that sliver of possibility and breathe it into life.



DOUBT
{Kay Ryan}

A chick has just so much time
to chip its way out, just so much
egg energy to apply to the weakest spot
or whatever spot it started at.
It can’t afford doubt. Who can?
Doubt uses albumen
at twice the rate of work.
One backward look by any of us
can cost what it cost Orpheus.
Neither may you answer
the stranger’s knock;
you know it is the Person from Porlock
who eats dreams for dinner,
his napkin stained the most delicate colors.


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You Have to Plug It In

Dec 13, 12:47pm – Oakland Airport: A man looks up between bites of his Mesquite Grilled Chicken salad and sees a “Short Story Dispenser.” Intrigued, he sets the salad on the seat next to him and approaches the machine, the sensation of his unwitting participation in a social experiment growing in his mind. He pushes the button for a “1-minute Story” and nothing happens. He pushes the 3 and 5-minute story buttons and nothing happens.

The man notices that the “Short Story Dispenser” is, in fact, unplugged. Increasingly confident of the social experiment, the man bends down and plugs it in. He hears a brief whirring sound and then…nothing. Oh, well, he thinks and returns to his seat for more salad.

Moments later, he glances up and sees that the machine is lit up now, each button outlined by a small circle of light.

Certain that he is being played, and unable to resist, the man returns to the kiosk, pushes the “1-minute Story” button again and to his delight, a story comes tumbling from the mouth of the machine.

As he finishes the story he sees another man at the machine, a braver man who has clearly pushed the “5-minute Story” button given the length of the scroll that emerges.
The first man is envious and also satisfied. And when another man approaches and receives a story, and then a small boy does the same (bravest of all because he prints two stories!!) his satisfaction deepens and becomes happiness.

He knows, and will always know, that he is the man who plugged in the story machine at the Oakland airport on a Friday in December.

(Alternative post title: “Things that happen when I am not holding my phone”)


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Silence Amidst the Noise

Above all, be alone with it all,
a hiving off, a corner of silence
amidst the noise, refuse to talk,
even to yourself, and stay in this place
until the current of the story
is strong enough to float you out.

{from Coleman’s Bed by David Whyte}


The season of Advent has an exceptional quality of quiet, reflective waiting. It is a period of darkness, punctuated by the seasonal reality of the shortest days of the year, within which exists both the invitation and the expectation of the gift of light. It is no accident that the shortest day of the year comes right at the end of this time.

This brief four-week season, as it is understood in the context of Christianity, can also be thought of as a time of filling up. Gradually we gather our thoughts and reflections, we attempt to live the questions of our own becoming with intention and we work to stay grounded in the simplicity of a period of time, the sole purpose of which is to mark the birth of an immigrant child into the humblest possible circumstances.

It is that birth that we understand as the light that finally punctuates the darkness, a new life representing the blessing of all living things and, for believers, the incarnate promise of everlasting life.

But that’s getting ahead of things. That light is still a long way off and that filling up has only just begun.

For now, it is the dark and the quiet that command my attention and support my intention. To find the “silence amidst the noise” is a gift to myself as I attempt to reconcile my unanswered questions against the certainty the world demands. To rush what cannot be rushed is to seek protection from the anxiety of feeling stuck.

To stay here, in these questions during this time, is to trust that there is water rising (even if I cannot see it) and the current is forming (even if I cannot feel it) and that if I can just hold on long enough it will float me out of the darkness of the unknown and into the light of understanding.


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A Different Kind of Darkness

These early days of December are beautifully dark and brief. I am up before dawn most mornings and enjoy the privilege of watching the sunrise from the warm comfort of the living room. It is in this quiet place, as a witness to the new day, that I find myself most at ease with the unknowns of my experience.

The deep anxiety that haunts me when I find myself awake at 2:00 a.m. is simply not present over a cup of coffee at the beginning of the day.

I wake into possibility, the pre-dawn darkness offering reassurance that does not exist in the stretch of night that comes before.

It says, “Just now, even if for a short time, let this darkness surround you with both peace and purpose; the peace of knowing that you are enough and the purpose to step out, once again, into the sacred unknown.”


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