Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Glasses of Water

My impulse in the face of overwhelming pain and injustice is silence. Not because I don't care, but because I care desperately, and it seems to me there is no earthly path to coherence.

There are no words, for example, to make sense of the fact that there have been 92 school shootings since Sandy Hook and still our leaders fail to pass laws that could prevent such violence.

No words that capture the destruction that industrialized agriculture has wrought on our communities, our bodies, and our climate in the name of profit.

No words for the horrors of war. For poverty. For the rampant sexism and rape culture that continue to rear their ugly twin heads.

And certainly no words that can accurately describe the brokenness of a culture that could fail to hold Darren Wilson accountable for the killing of Michael Brown.

Despite my love for the power of language, I find it fails me often. And yet, I continue to try because silence on the part of those in a position to make change is part of the problem.

Anne LaMott writes the following in her stunning book Help, Thanks, Wow (in the section entitled "Help":

"Death will not be the end of the story. [...] 
Human lives are hard, even those of health and privilege, and don't make much sense. This is the message of the Book of Job: Any snappy explanation of suffering you can come up with will be horseshit. [...] 
But where do we even start on the daily walk of restoration and awakening? We start where we are. We find God in our human lives, and that includes the suffering. I get thirsty people glasses of water, even if that thirsty person is just me."

I don't know how to fix the world's ills. I have my opinions, some passionately held. I don't pretend to be an activist (and in fact, find myself somewhat nauseated by the waves of temporary "armchair activism" these events tend to provoke), but my eyes are open to--and weep for--the pain and suffering of the human predicament, and I attempt to live out my values in the choices I make, in how I relate to the world.

So I don't know the answer. I don't even know how to articulate the not-knowing. But I have found some things to be true for myself. And in times of great pain, when I thirst an unquenchable thirst for an answer that will not come, I reach for glasses of water.

Here are a few.

I know the opposite of death is life, and I know the definition of life is creation. So I surround myself with acts of creation: works of music, art, and literature that move me. I inhale books like they're air and I exhale through my own written words. In this way, I stay alive.

I know that technology helps us achieve incredible things, but that, for me, it does not replace the bonds that foster real understanding. I have started leaving my phone in another room during dinner. My laptop remains unopened most weekends. I stop whatever I'm texting to look cashiers in the eye. It's not much, but it's something and I sometimes feel my humanity depends on it. Perhaps it does.

I know that my perspective hinges entirely on having an intimate and sustained relationship with the earth. Like, the actual earth. Walking on it, hiking its mountains, and dipping my toes in its icy cold lakes.

I believe peace, inner and outer, is not a fortuitous state, but a conscious and deliberate act. I spend a lot of time by myself and I try to pay attention to my thoughts. I have awakened to the fact that I get to choose the ones I want to keep and discard the rest.

I know that prayer, even to an unnamed source, helps.

Sunlight helps.

And that a nourishing meal, thoughtfully prepared by hand from whole ingredients, can be an act of rebellion in a world of on-demand convenience.

Do not misunderstand. I have no magic answer, no prescription for what ails us.

I have no snappy explanation for human suffering, no cleverly packaged horseshit to offer.

But if you're thirsty too, perhaps we can get glasses of water for each other.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunday Snippets: Things To Do


Happy Sunday! Here are a few favorites from around the interwebs to wrap up your weekend.

Ward off this season's flu bug by beating stress

Doing distinctive and innovative work garners support--and criticism. Learn to embrace the latter.

Read about why bone broth, a paleo/primal staple, is catching on in a big way. (Someone please open one of these in Colorado.)

And if you're feeling inspired, make a belly-warming soup with one of these small-batch broths.

Listen to this gorgeous and richly layered interview on cultivating a wild love for the world.

Understand what you need to be happy.

To simplify your life, start with an empty container.

Then read this surprisingly evocative book on the life-changing magic of tidying up. (Gamechanger: keep only things that "spark joy" in your heart.)

And when you're done reading that, read this, this, and this.

Get your vanilla fix with this heavenly trio.

Then banish dry winter skin with one of these hand creams.

Become out-of-your-mind addicted to this podcast.

Cook something outside your comfort zone. I recommend a dish from one of these two breathtaking cookbooks.

Order a proper New York deli brunch spread for the morning after Thanksgiving.

Try an at-home yoga practice with this indie yoga playlist.

Then check out some lightweight ear candy.

Have a lovely rest of your day.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Don't Block the Tackle: Perfection & Getting What You Really Want

I've been working my way through the exercises in The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte, and at one point in the book, she recommends writing down what you want. It's a deceptively simple exercise. I say deceptive because most of us think we know what we want. We have our goals and our vision boards. We have our agendas, and our plans. Our "30 before 30" lists and bucket lists and on and on.

But how often do we ask ourselves the question so straightforwardly: What is it that I want?

It's interesting, the kinds of answers the mind provides.

Things like long hikes and solitary sunrises, skies streaked shades of neon pink. The feeling of warmth on my skin, to be engulfed by the smell of sun-baked pine, to wander along dusty trails, and to be astonished by the beauty of nature, over and over again. The mountains and the mesas of the American West, always. Thunderstorms, the kind that shake me out of my bones and bring with them lightning so bright it leaves imprints on the inside of my eyelids. To run long and hard. Yoga so transcendent I lose my mind...and find it again. To read widely; to worship at the altar of literature that makes me laugh or cry. Ritual, clarity, magic, and the courage to be vulnerable in the face of fear. Connection and community. Eight hours of sleep per night, and the occasional all-nighter that involves dancing till dawn. The most delicious and nourishing food I can afford. Dinners around the table, the faces of loved ones illuminated by candlelight. Whiskey, wine, and the kind of friends that prompt me to give tipsy, teary-eyed toasts to their utter irreplaceability. Really good coffee, preferably organic. A space filled with art, light, texture, plants, and the laughter of people I cherish. An easy and informed relationship with my finances. Work that makes an impact--that changes the definition of what's possible--and the opportunity to mentor and be mentored by those I admire. A messy, real, all-in kind of love. A messy, real, all-in kind of life.

You know what didn't make the list in any way, shape, or form?

The word "perfect." The concept of perfection. Or any variation thereof.

This does not surprise me.

Because here is what I know about perfection.

Perfectionism is a shield, a way to protect ourselves from the possibility of not being "enough" of something for someone. Because if we have to be perfect, we can't ever be ready and therefore we never have to share ourselves with the world. We never have to run the risk that we'll step up to the plate, swing with everything we've got, and miss. So, instead we sit on the sidelines of our life, silently practicing our moves to perfection under the guise of "preparation" until we realize the game has long since ended and the stadium has gone dark.

Perfectionism is a badge, one that we relish with a a twisted sense of pride at the chronic stress, illness, and exhaustion that accompanies its relentless pursuit. Our symptoms, we reason, are proof positive that we're working hard enough. After all, we've worn ourselves out with all our incredibly hard work! So we curl into the cocoon of perfectionism, safe in the knowledge of our own worthiness--relieved that our constant activity precludes questions like do I believe in what I'm doing? and does it bring me pleasure? and, perhaps most subversively, is it really the best use of my time?

Perfectionism is the whip that ensures we're hustling on the surface of our lives, never dipping into the substance. The great irony is that perfectionism lets us off the hook for the things that matter most. It removes accountability for the messy and difficult work of creating lives of true meaning and joy.

Obsessing over the level of cleanliness of the house leaves little time for examining whether we're living in a place, or a city, that feels like home.

Bemoaning a blemish in the mirror makes it difficult to notice how we feel about the person--as opposed to the appearance--in the mirror.

Beating ourselves up over a broken relationship or professional misstep means we never get to ask: What did I learn from this about who I am and what I want?

And you know what else is true about perfectionism? At the end of the day, it's really pretty boring. I don't know about you, but I've never hoped to be remembered for the cleanliness of my countertops, the tightness of my pores, or the lengths to which I went in order to avoid upsetting anyone.

The wonderful Cheryl Strayed wrote in Tiny Beautiful Things, "The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the mother[effing] shit out of it."

Perfectionism blocks the tackle. It keeps us in the periphery of our lives, while the real story, the interesting story happens under our noses yet out of reach. Not only is perfection not helpful in the pursuit of what we want, it's downright incompatible with it--maybe even its opposite--because it keeps us small, fearful, tired, boring, and bored...in other words, exactly the things we don't want to be.

No, I don't want perfect. Give me "the full catastrophe," as Zorba the Greek referred to the imperfect fullness of life, bursting with...well, life.

Life. Real life. Real, imperfect life and its infinite potential.

Now that's what I want.

Blitz!