Poem for a Sunday Morning

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade 
{Brad Aaron Modlin}

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,
how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.
After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s
voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—
something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted
Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,
and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.
The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.
And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,
and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person
add up to something.


art background batch blackboard

Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

#7 – Get Moving

This is #7 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


I feel an energized anticipation when I am getting ready to move.

I feel engaged – challenged, curious, motivated – when I am in motion.

I feel rejuvenated, refreshed, stimulated, creative, purposeful, accomplished, and unstoppable when I return and come to rest again.

Some version of this is true whether it’s a sniff walk with the dog, an aggressive uphill run or a long meander on a forest trail.

I am not made for sitting at a desk for long stretches, though moments of insight, inspiration and even revelation do occur there.

I have determined, however, that those moments occur at a frequency proportionate to the quality of movement that I practice when I am not there.

There is no doubt at all that how well I work, and how affirmatively I live my life, depends on my resolve to get and to keep moving.


gXZDyR6DTkatTgA9OBkyjQ

#6 – You Are Creative

This is #6 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”



There is no such thing as creative and non-creative people, only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.

— Brené Brown


Say to a room full of 1st graders, “Raise your hand if you are creative” and every hand goes up.

Say to a room of college students (in this case, business school students but I find it true for most adults), “Raise your hand if you are a creative” and about 10% will raise their hands.

What’s the difference? At a certain point in our development and our concurrent passage through traditional educational systems we are taught that creative expression is no longer valuable, that it is disconnected from skill and knowledge acquisition. This is not universally true, of course, and there have been rigorous efforts to change this model.

But we’re not there yet, not by a long shot.

This is a serious problem. First, because of the wholesale belief in a patently false narrative of personal devaluation. And second, because organizations consistently describe creativity as essential to their sustainability.

But back to you.

You may not paint or draw, read or write poetry or care much for museums. You may not play an instrument or design landscape features. None of these is large enough to contain your creativity.

You are creative because you are alive in the world, and by being so you engage the world, one decision, one challenge, one relationship, one opportunity at a time, every single day.

You can’t do that without creativity.

The 6-year-old inside of you knows this and is just waiting to introduce it to you once again. All you’ve got to do is invite them out to play.


brown wooden animal figurines on white table

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

#4 – Know Your Strengths

Between now and March 22, I am happy to share “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


What are you doing when you are at your best?

What are you doing when you feel the most accomplished, competent and confident? What are you doing when you feel energized, when time flies by, when your work is not work but a natural extension of yourself?

As you answer these questions, you are describing your strengths.

And your ability to do so – with clarity and conviction – is the best chance you have to make sure you get to use them as much as possible.

We are shy about our strengths. There is a common cultural conditioning to be experts at naming our deficiencies and novices at naming our gifts. This is a huge mistake, a massive cultural gap that will only narrow when you and I decide that it’s not just ok but necessary to name, to own, and to live out the very best of who we are.

We too often defer to others – especially authority figures, especially bosses – to tell us what we should be good at. Some know better than to do this but most do not. And so, it’s our responsibility to define them first so that we can be our own best advocates for doing more fulfilling work and living more fulfilling lives. It’s our responsibility to make it clear so that we can teach others how to work with us for mutual and sustainable success.

If after reading this you are scratching your head, wondering what your strengths are, go ask a few trusted colleagues and friends. Go ask them for examples of when you are at your best. Ask them to describe your strengths. And then listen, really listen, and trust what you hear.

The sooner you do so, the sooner you’ll give up on the temptation to fit the square peg of yourself into the round hole of that “great” opportunity. The sooner you do so, the sooner you’ll discover the consolation of awareness that leads to insight, and the insight that leads to action.


fullsizeoutput_20c1

#3 – Know Your Values

Between now and March 22, I am happy to share “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


Our values guide our decision-making. Clear values make it possible for us to assess any significant question (Should I move there? Take that job? Work with/for those people? Build a stronger relationship with this person? Fight for this idea? Spend my money on this initiative, project or idea?) and make a decision that resonates as true and appropriate to who we are and what we stand for. It’s the feeling of clarity, especially with the big decisions, that allows us to get to sleep at night once we’ve made them.

Your values, whether you understand them explicitly or not, are always at work. One simple way to find this out is to do a monthly review of your calendar and your bank statements. Undoubtedly, you will see a pattern of time and money spent that reflects your value system.

For example, if you notice a lot of time spent at the gym and a regular investment in workout gear, chances are you value fitness or health or wellness, however you choose to name it.

If you love to exercise but notice that you only ever do it with your friends and family, chances are that in addition to valuing fitness you also value relationships or community or an active social life, again however you choose to name it.

So, let’s run a little further with this idea that you are a person who, above all else, values your health and your relationships. Along comes an opportunity to advance within your company. This new role brings an expanded and exciting set of responsibilities, along with the requirement that you travel four days a week, three weeks out of every month.

Knowing your values of health and relationships does not mean that you would refuse the new work opportunity outright but it would help you to evaluate it in a more thoughtful and comprehensive way. You might take it as a challenge to get creative with your exercise and eating habits on the road. You might also invest more energy in coming up with new connection opportunities with friends and family both while you’re on the road and off it.

You might also decide that the new opportunity will satisfy another one of your values, let’s call it achievement, and that for the next six months you are going to allow that value to supersede the others, while keeping an eye on what happens to your health and relationships. You might decide, of course, not to take the job because achievement has never been as important to you as health and relationships. 

Whatever you decide, the point is that you know how to think about this decision, both critically and emotionally. You can do so because you have taken the time to conduct a values inventory, to identify, define and rank your values in a way that makes them readily available as perhaps the most important tool in your life management toolbox.

It takes courage to name and live your values. Doing so means that in addition to saying “yes” to a handful of core beliefs, you must also say “no” to many others. This can feel isolating, especially when others choose values that are not the same as your own. But over time it is nothing less than energizing and powerful to live a life that is guided by what matters most to you.

To me, this is the path to mature and lasting happiness.


WjileB%WQLOtEps5RY8FwA

#2 – Change Starts Within

Between now and March 22, I am happy to share “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.”


If I could only write about one thing it would be this: all meaningful, sustainable change starts from within.

For so many years I blamed my parents, my bosses, my siblings, my friends, my children, and even perfect strangers for my inability to get, to be, to have what I most desperately wanted.

I blamed them because I was not ready to accept responsibility for myself. I was not ready to accept the truth that I was the only one standing in the way of becoming the person I knew I could be, feeling the sense of security, composure and equanimity I knew I could feel.

I blamed them because that was much easier to do than to accept the fact that my old patterns of compensation were no longer enough, no longer capable of supporting my facade of competence and composure.

As many have said, “You are not responsible for what you received as a child but, as an adult you are 100% responsible for fixing it.”

When I finally did, the world opened up to me as it never had before. I found possibilities and experienced freedoms I never knew existed, because I was able to put to rest the old hurts that kept me from becoming myself.

All meaningful and sustainable starts from within.


green mountains and flowing river

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not Done Yet

I’m not done yet.

I’m not done becoming, growing, learning, discovering, adventuring. I’m not done becoming myself. I’m not done because there is no such thing.

All together now: there is no such thing as being “done.”

This is an unnerving, even frightening idea and it’s also an exhilarating one.

It’s both unnerving and exhilarating because I get to decide.

I get to decide where to go, who to be with, what to read, what to say, what to feel and  how much more to stretch my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual capacity. I get to decide all of that.

I’m not done yet. And I get to decide what to do about it.


FzD3M6YDT1GQZ1voD87OAg

 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Dear Darkening Ground
{Rainer Maria Rilke}

Dear darkening ground,
you’ve  endured so patiently the walls we’ve built,
perhaps you’ll give the cities one more hour

and grant the churches and cloisters two.
And those that labor-maybe you’ll let their work
grip them another five hours – or seven

before you become forest again, and
widening wilderness
in that hour of inconceivable terror
when you take back your name
from all things.

Just give me a little more time!
I want to love the things
as no one has thought to love them,
until they’re real and ripe and worthy of you.

I want only seven days – seven
on which  no one has ever written himself –
seven pages of solitude.

There will be a book that includes these pages,
and she who takes it in her hands
will sit staring at it for a long time,

until she feels that she is being held
and you are writing.


green grass

Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

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.


fullsizeoutput_20a5

You do not have to be good

In memory of poet Mary Oliver, who died one year ago today, I offer a reflection I wrote in 2016 on her poem, “Wild Geese.” 

flying_canada_geese

I tacked this poem onto my bulletin board a few days ago. It’s been staring at me ever since, trying to help me understand, to see in a new way. This seems like a good day to explicate it as best I can.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

In my reading of the poem it has three acts: permission, perspective, and invitation.

Permission

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

There are a couple of lines in this poem that stop me in my tracks, starting with the very first. If all I could have is that first line I’d be more than satisfied. I needed to hear it a long time ago. I wish I had known and believed it long before now. It’s a mantra, a meditation. It’s also the beginning of permission to simply let go of all of the “shoulds” and comparisons and the pervasive perfectionism  that prevents creative expression.

The permission in these opening lines simply says, “It’s ok to get off of your knees, once and for all, to let go of shame and guilt and ‘not enough’ and walk on timid but strengthening legs to that which is calling you forward.” It reminds me of the heart-wrenching scene in “Good Will Hunting” when Sean (Robin Williams) says to Will, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”

And just as that permission begins to settle in, I hear the poet’s invitation to unburden myself of my despair AND to be present to the despair of another. My pain is no greater than yours. Yours is no greater than mine. We are all hurting. And we must all get up and continue walking. And we must help each other do it. It’s the only way.

Perspective

Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

The world goes on. I am small. It is vast. I am important, but not nearly so much as I think. I want to be special, to be heard and understood as I’m sure I never will be. Won’t you give me more time? More attention? More care and concern? Why have you moved on? Why must we change the conversation?

Eventually, as my voice gets smaller, drowned by the gorgeous volume of a world in motion, I have to reconcile myself to the hard truth – hard, hard truth – that it doesn’t exist just for me. It is not a backdrop, an elaborate setting for my experience. It simply exists. As do I. And by existing as it does, it reminds me to keep returning to myself to learn what I must learn. And to never stop because there is no end to that discovery.

Invitation

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

If only I am willing to refuse my loneliness – that subtle device by which I convince myself that no one else will quite understand – it is all there for the taking. Gifts too beautiful to take in at a glance. I am here. You are here. The world is here, made to be free in.

On stronger legs now I stride into the world, persistent in my self-reflection, consistent in my regard for you, ready to learn all I must if I am to live into the possibility I can see just above the horizon.

That faraway place, always right here.