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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How to Make a Million Dollars

I saw the link, I had to know. Here is what I learned: to make a million dollars by the time I'm 65, all I have to do is save $1698 a month. Well, geez. Had I only known it was that simple...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Tales of Rebirth, Part I

Sweet and sunny today and I finally cleared the back porch of a stack of holiday stuff, carried it all up to the garage -- my studio-in-progress, meanwhile still our storage unit -- and found my old bentwood rocker in the process. A favorite chair. I bought it 20 years ago at Pier I, my friend Renda and I loading it into the back seat of her Mustang convertible and driving it to whatever home I was living in at the time. (Was it the Burbank apartment? Yes, I think it was.)

Last night I woke up in the wee hours and lay awake pondering the idea of sound waves and light waves and vibration -- the universal throb and hum. I've felt it a lot lately, that hum.

In my last post I wrote of having been reborn at least three times in this life. One of those times was in a mountain forest near Mount of the Holy Cross in the Colorado Rockies. This was even longer ago than that Burbank apartment, when I lived in Boulder.

I'd been camping with a group of friends, and had wandered off in search of a more humble trek while they took on the Mount. I remember feeling a bit lost. I ended up deep in that forest, surrounded by towering trees with lichen- and moss-covered trunks, the ground beneath my feet a mattress of leaf mold and humus. And I heard it: that hum, that universal vibration that is everywhere present, but only audible -- sensible? -- when the drone of civilization is far, far away.

I went to a tree and leaned into it, wrapped my arms around it and felt something enter me, felt myself engulfed in the essence of that tree, that forest, that community. It was a life-altering moment. It is with me still.

That was rebirth number two... number one had happened seven years prior to that, number three seven years after. (Do you detect a pattern?)

I worry too much about how to be more of this and less of that, more compassionate, for example, less harsh with myself and others. More mindful. Less distracted. But in that forest, it wasn't mindfulness I experienced. It was something outside of mind, outside of my petty yearnings for truth and meaning. What I felt was the fullness of being alive. And if those are the moments I recall when I wake in the middle of the night, I know I'll be okay in this life. And probably even in the next.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why the Chicken Crossed the Road

I wish the questions were easier. I'm working on developing a broader perspective, a view from above, so when I find myself slogging through janfeb and all its chill and grey North American gloom I can say, "There, there, self, it's sunny down under, see? Ninety degrees in Adelaide today, beach weather. It's a small planet. Your turn will come."

I'm reading the Dalai Lama's book on ethics from a few years back, marveling at the man's humility and gentleness, at his ready acknowledgment that he wasn't always humble or gentle. Do you need to be reborn thirteen times to have that kind of inner peace? How many times have I been reborn? (I count three times in this life alone.)

The questions, the questions. How are we to live more mindful lives? How can we be more kind, less crazy? The other day I was talking to a friend about cell phones. She has one, I don't. She sees it as a necessary evil. I see it as one more bill I don't have to pay. Still, I go to the grocery store and see all those people on their phones and I used to roll my eyes, but now I 'm trying out a new perspective, marveling at how we are all longing to connect.

Sometimes the questions are unkind: "Who do you think you are?" This is the question my small self sometimes hisses in my ear when I step out beyond my comfort zone to try something new and different. "Who are you to try this?" I don't ever have a good answer. The best I can do is to say, I'm the chicken, this is the road.

The chicken crossed the road because the road lay in its path. Like the bear that went over the mountain, it had to see what it could see. Sometimes the answers only come with a broadening of perspective; a life less circumscribed. My small self may roll its small-self eyes, but really, what more reason do any of us need to do anything at all?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

May I Have Your Intention?

In ten’tion, n. [L. intentio (-onis), a stretching out, exertion, purpose, from intendere, to stretch out, intend.] 1. a stretching or bending of the mind, as toward an object. 2. the fixed direction of the mind to a particular object; a determination to do a specified thing or to act in a particular manner.

Earlier this week I wrote about going to a grant workshop and realizing I was unprepared to apply because I hadn’t taken the time to figure out exactly what I wanted to work on over the next 12-18 months.

So at the first available moment I sat down with my three-ring-binder and chewed my pen and wrote out some specific things I would like to do over the next year and a half. Not resolutions, but intentions, acts of desire rather than acts of will. I thought about what my life is like now, and considered ways to make it better, richer, more fun, more joyful, more alive. What might I allow in, what should I leave off? Never mind the grant; what did I really (really, really) want?

I like this process of setting intentions. It’s fun, it’s creative, and it requires nothing more than a fertile imagination. I can be as bold as I like, so long as what I include is something I truly desire. I don’t have to know how any of it might come about, or where the necessary people will come from, or the money, if money is needed. I leave those and other details up to the Source, and focus my energies -- my intention -- on the things themselves -- which usually are not things, per se, but accomplishments, achievements, and adventures.

I ended up with three pages of neatly categorized intentions. (I’m nothing if not thorough.) I formatted them with lots of colorful headings, printed them out and put them into my binder, snapped it shut, and congratulated myself on a job well done.

O my. Did I really think I was done? Setting intentions is just the key in the ignition, the buckle-your-seatbelts part of the trip. It’s just the beginning.

When you give the Source your shopping list, you better get ready to receive, which means you have to act. You don’t want to still be living in your 600-square-foot third-floor studio apartment when the Source shows up in the form of a delivery guy at your door, asking where you want to put the grand piano you so desperately desire. Imagine having to turn him away, saying, “I don’t have room… you’ll have to take it back… I thought I had more time…”

One of the things I included among my three pages of intentions was the desire to submit my artwork to a juried show sometime this year. Any time would do. No hurry. And the Source took note, saw that there was something coming up that would do quite nicely, and before the ink was even dry on my new 12-18 Months of Artful Intentions, I received via U.S. mail a flyer from our local arts council, a call for entries for a show that mounts in March.

And now I have to act. I have to pick two pieces of art and get them ready for a juror (and of course every piece of art I’ve created in the past year is suddenly awful, an embarrassment, nothing I could possibly enter in a show… but that’s a subject for another post.) The point I wish to make is that the intention was heard and the wheels are turning, as well they may be turning for you. The delivery guy is on his way with the piano… the book contract… the new job... the entry form. Ask and ye shall receive.

Isn’t it exciting? And isn’t it scary as hell? And – most important of all -- are you ready?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Travel Advisory

We awoke to a dusting of snow this morning, the first measurable snowfall of the new year. A quarter of an inch, perhaps. Now January feels like January.

Dragonstar and I are taking a long-desired train trip in March. I got the bill for our reservation from my credit card company this weekend, so I guess it's really happening. The BBPiT, who travels a lot, thinks it's kind of quaint that we actually want to spend a long time getting somewhere.

Today, though, we're staying put. There may not be much snow, but there is a layer of ice underneath that powder, and cars have been sliding around my corner all morning.

So I'm going to try my hand a making blog banners today, and reviewing my new 12-18 month Intentional Calendar (which I created after my last post, and will probably write about later this week.) And we have Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on dvd to watch (again), along with Season One of The Wire, and there are plenty of soup fixings and hot cocoa on hand. Bring on the snow and cold. We're set.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Long Now

I went to a grant-writing workshop sponsored by our local Arts Council this week, a practical, quick-and-dirty presentation of how to apply for individual artist grants offered by the state Arts Commission. It's good that our Arts Council offers things like this -- at no charge -- and better still that it was held in their main gallery, where we were surrounded by the work of local artists. An altogether inspiring 90 minutes.

Except... I don't have a clue what projects I might want to be doing 12 to 18 months from now, which is the grant's time frame. And I don't know if I can figure that out by the end of this month, which is the deadline for applying.

Here is my recent history in charting a 12-18 month time frame: About two years ago, after reading Barbara Sher's Refuse to Choose, I created two notebooks. One was a Big Book of Grand Ideas (I wrote about that here), and the other was a three-ring binder of specific categories and goals, things I wanted to accomplish within 12-18 months. I had entries for my musical stuff (learn to play the banjo; book a few public performances), for my art (make some paper; paint some canvases), my garden (plant bulbs; grow herbs), my writing (do more!), and my income prospects (get some!). There were anywhere from 6-12 items per category. I was on a roll.

Over the course of the next year and a half, I accomplished about 75% of what I itemized. I think I was successful because my goals were gentle and fun and infinitely do-able, things like "learn to make polymer clay beads" and "plant twenty tulip bulbs." The things I didn't get done were things I'd lost interest in, like songwriting, something I had enjoyed doing at one time but felt no great urge to continue as the months went on.

The time frame of the goals in that three-ring binder expired last fall, and after perusing the book around Thanksgiving, I set it aside, thinking I'd renew it with a new set of items for the next 12-18 months. Only I didn't do it. Not even January 1st inspired me to declare myself for the new year. I remained resolutely irresolute.

Since taking that workshop this week I've been wondering why I haven't set out any goals -- or intentions -- specific to the next year and a half. Am I afraid to venture past my current three-month comfort zone? Am I lazy? Or am I just living like one of my cats, in an ever-present Now?

I suspect it's a combination of the three. Don't we all crave some post-holiday down-time? Don't we naturally move to a seasonal groove? And don't we all love serendipity, those unplanned encounters with inspiration that infuse us with desire and renewed zest? And doesn't this all argue for resisting the urge to live our days in future-tense, with all those plans and aspirations, and instead embrace this idea of Being Here Now?

Well, yes... it's good to Be Here Now. And still... serendipity took me to that workshop, where I was confronted with the consequences of my reluctance to consider a somewhat Longer Now. Not necessarily the Long Now of this web site, but at least a 12-to18 month Now.

So here it is, January 11. And guess what? There is still time to sit down with my three-ring binder, to write a bit, and to apply for that grant. There is still time to consider what I'd like to do in the next little while. The end of the month is three weeks away. And wouldn't it be nice to look back two years from now at another list of gentle, fun and infinitely do-able things I've managed to accomplish? Of course it would. Silly me. I'm off to find my binder.

Credits: Tiki, my three-year-old calico hooligan, looking lovely at 8 a.m.