Goal Setting and Global Perspective

It took me eight years to start to dream again post trauma. And start turning those dreams into goals.

People can encounter “starting over” through any major disruption, whether voluntary or involuntary. People can feel they’ve lost “everything” through death, illness, accident, divorce, geographical move, partnership, job change, etc.

In my humble experience, when starting over is involuntary, setting goals and dreaming about a future you choose can feel mighty scary or at very least pointless. I mean, won’t the rug just be pulled out from under you anyway?

Experience of groundlessness is a fabulous moment for spiritual awakening of course, so that’s the goody that always come from it.

As I’ve been working toward goals the past two years, small and large, I notice a recurring theme that could make anyone throw in the towel. But I don’t. I’m whole and healed enough to hang in there and believe in my future and the future of my dependent.

Here’s the pattern:

I lay out a schedule to focus my energies almost entirely on earning money and creating abundance, because one of my goals is to create a buffer between surviving and thriving. I actually have learned the secret of thriving without more money, but a girl can still have goals. It feels important to me to help myself whenever I have an option to do so rather than continue to rely on others in huge ways, as I had to during trauma. In other words, people have given more than enough and I have gratefully received, but if I have a choice to stand on my own rather than hold a hand out, I choose that.

Then something happens like it did this week. I broke a tooth and now have dental expenses (despite dental insurance) that equal the exact cost of the buffer I have created through diligent work over the past six months.

It can be anything, a sudden car failure or unexpected child’s expense. This happens over and over again just like the broken tooth, precisely when I feel I am finally gaining ground toward many of my goals.

Here’s where Global Perspective helps big time.

I can choose to see the fact that I have earned precisely enough to meet each minor catastrophe as a miracle. I feel loved and supported by the universe.

Instead of focusing on the fact that if I lived in a country with better health insurance and health costs I would not need to work as hard, I can focus on the fact that I have access to good dental care when the vast majority of people on the planet do not.

I can focus on the goals I have accomplished without impedance, like fundraising for, training for and completing a sanctioned full marathon. It was my 5th marathon training/fundraising attempt, but I finally completed it. So global perspective teaches me to acknowledge there are exceptions to Murphy’s law.

I will not give up.

May there be days like this.

 

Meditation for Kids

Having lived in the childhood cancer world for a time, I always appreciate creations that can help families who are there. I also understand the power of meditation and inward journeying to cope with life’s pain, so I am excited to share this resource.

Kids Kicking Cancer

You can find a series of breathing exercises including one about coping with fear of needles (big one for us) HERE

If my dad had access to technology when I was young, he might have created something about the Easter rabbit. Instead, we heard banging pots and pans as he chased a giant bunny out of the house each year. I believed a 9-foot rabbit existed for years.

This dad with animation skills transformed home videos of his kids into action adventures, and introduced me to Kids Kicking Cancer. Thank you, Action Movie Kid and Dad.

Measure of Self

IMAG0832(Abutilon, Chinese Lantern, favorite new houseplant)

How do we measure the Self?  Can we?

Recently I’ve become aware that concepts like “self-esteem” or “self-worth” have little to do with anything that can be measured. Yes, you can take a TEST that may lead you to consider how self-esteem impacts everything in your life and lead you straight to a therapist’s office. But I have noticed that letting go of the concept of a fixed Self actually fosters a sense of great possibility, happiness, and dare I say self-esteem?

Think of it this way. If someone says something negative about us, it is easy to feel bad about the Self. If someone says something positive, it is easy to feel good. We may arrive at a third assessment of the exact same thing about ourself. In all cases, this input may have zero to do with whatever Self is, may reflect more about what the person who said it is going through, or at least begs the question, “Where is the real self?”

Most often, though, feedback about what we perceive as Self is more subtle. Like assumptions when we are at a doctor’s office or workplace and everyone makes ice-breaking conversation about what you did this weekend for fun, who your spouse is, or what your local football team did. In truth, you may live a life and inhabit a “self” that does not fit any cultural “norms” or what people grasp as norm. No spouse, no love of football, and your version of fun would not be believed.

When you start to pull at a strand of Self, you soon realize the vastness of the ball of yarn. The interconnection of all that is and ever will be throughout time. Each of us is a piece of that. Self cannot be measured.

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I loved reading this letter to those who are struggling by Leo, the author of Zen Habits to remind us all about the miracles of never being alone as humans.

For me, human interconnectedness is only half the solace, comfort, joy and wisdom we can access being alive on Earth. The other half is non-human. There are days I seek counsel from a council of trees for even five minutes, and I come away replenished.

Each time, I wonder how many people have forgotten they can quickly access such a powerful source? I consider myself very lucky to live in an area rich in access to non-human life, but natural beauty can be found anywhere. Even in a sand pit. That’s what my childhood in a desert taught me.

I am the queen of alone. I do alone really well and find great joy in solitude. But all of us can experience loneliness, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, worry about making the “right choices” for ourselves. Should you need reminder you are part of one huge community, try spending five minutes somewhere near a plant, animal, trees, grass, and each time your lungs fill, focus on that living thing. Each time you breathe out, gift your breath to that living thing. If you do this for even 30 breaths, it is a powerful way to increase your awareness of being not alone. Ever.

Loneliness gone in 30 seconds. Self endless.

* * *

Should you care to watch a “spirit animal” that found me, here is one of the smallest mammals on Earth that despite their size can run 100 miles each night!

Pause

The temple bell stops but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.

~ Matsuo Basho

Loving the long days that allow time after the desk into the evening. As I meandered yesterday along a bluff overlooking the ocean, I listened to a buoy bell. Click video below if you want to hear a similar buoy. It reminded me of a temple bell. Silence of the green woods below the bluff was that much more palpable after the bell.

 

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Color and light

 

By Erin W

Country Crossers

Walking among giants

To cross the country on foot has been a dream for a decade now. From where I sit at the moment, gaining shapeless form while working at a desk toward some goals, such a walk seems more fantasy than probable for me. I do make an effort to walk some each day no matter what.

I wonder if a space in my life will open where the planning, logistics, support and financial wherewithal line up before I leave the earth. But if not, every time I learn of others who have even attempted the trek I say Bravo! in spirit.

Today I saw this NYT article, Running Across America, celebrating folks who cross the US on foot in any way (running, walking, crawling).  I realized such a walk is the only thing that will return me to social media, whatever app will be the norm by then.

Caution from Ms. Merino, runner featured in the article makes me appreciate how important good planning is:

“She says she will try again, and next time plan her route better, since she’d been surprised by finding that some of the roads on her route were closed.”

The article links to many who have crossed, but left out many names I’ve researched, including four from my small local community.

Dusty Dawson

Cameron Coupe

Louie Rochon

What about Helga and Clara Estby who walked the journey in 1896, when the US was a mass of forests, swamps, wild animals and people and few roads?

or

Peace Pilgrim, who crossed the US at least 5 times and more?

If my time should arrive, I would have no design on speed, only endurance.  I would want to train the body sufficiently to sustain a certain number of miles a day in general and map out a solid route plan.  But as most of the folks say who’ve accomplished the feat, it’s working with your own mind that’s the biggest challenge.  Maybe that’s why it appeals to so many.  The ultimate mind game.

 

Working With Worry

IMG_4306(troubled sand)

Worry: From Old English “wyrgan” or German “wurgen,” to strangle.  One definition: “to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts.”

It is finally sinking in for me that we cause a lot of our own stress.  We are the only ones who can really work with our own minds.  We can have guides or sounding boards, but in the end it is up to us to change what goes on in our minds.  Only we can know what’s really going on in there.

The word can be used in different ways.  I can “worry something” like a scab, or I can “worry about something” happening in the future.  In both cases, I’m piling up stress onto whatever situation is occurring.  No doubt, many situations might be “cause for worry,” but what happens if we lean into our tendency to worry?

I’ve been a lifelong worrier, so I’ve had a lot of practice observing this feeling of being strangled and self-torment.  Currently a personal situation is allowing me to face this head-on.  Just me and worry in the ring for an extended period of time.  It’s really interesting what happens when I shine a light on it.  Worry becomes more like a shadow boxer.  Calm and reassurance ensues.

Then I watch a sifting take place where either solid solutions or soothing pop up like little bubbles in response to whatever “substance” there is for the worry.

Q&A I find helpful:

  1. What can I do about the perceived cause of my worry?  If the answer is “nothing,” let it go. If the answer is “something,” do that thing.
  2. Where do I feel worry in my body?  Relax it.
  3. Is the worry about something that hasn’t happened?  (99 times out of 100 it is).  Possibilities: Go for a walk, listen to calming music, take deep breaths, sit with the feeling and wave hello to it. Whatever you do, do not eat an entire bag of crunchy-munchies. You will feel sick tomorrow. Listen to your heart racing and see if you can count the beats. The beats usually slow.
  4. Isn’t it weird how close “Worrier” is to “Warrior”?  Yup.  Take that, worry.

 

Drive

Where does inner drive come from?  Where does it go?

I am enjoying watching the Olympic games, in fact, so much that I am sleep deprived. But I am also looking forward to the Paralympics from September 7 through 18 in Rio, so I can see this woman compete.

I appreciate reminders of what is possible.

I know several families who’ve adopted from orphanages halfway around the world and also families with children who face serious “disability” who are thriving. It’s hard not to believe there is some cosmic design when such people are connected and lives blossom.

That the drive inside a person may be so strong, they may draw to them some mirror (in this case a mom) who sees what is possible when others do not.

Horizon

“All experience is an arch wherethrough gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades for ever and for ever when I move.”

Alfred Lord Tennyson

(I enjoyed encountering this quote on a park’s memorial bench on which I meditated this weekend).

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Goals, shmoals.

All my life, I’ve not liked to make lists. I suppose checking off some box is less fulfilling than the experience, and the items that are not checked off stare at me at the end of the day whispering “you have failed.”

But watching the 2016 Summer Olympics, seeing all those goal setters arrive at their destination reminds me of the importance of looking at the horizon.

To that end I’m jotting my current goals here looking at a 3-year horizon:

  1. Pay off all debt.
  2. Build a cushion for self-employment taxes so I’m working on the year ahead instead of the year ago.
  3. Give my 17-year-old “peacemobile” (bumper sticker says “Peace: An idea whose time has come”) to my child as soon as she can pay for insurance and fuel.
  4. Continue to support all my child’s activities until she graduates high school and/or she is financially independent or in full-time school.
  5. Buy a new, efficient, small car.
  6. Relocate to a location with lower cost of living and find a tiny comfortable space to live.
  7. Attend my first 10-day silent retreat.
  8. Take steps toward enrolling in a two-year mindfulness meditation teaching program like THIS or forest therapy guide training THIS, with the goal of learning skills to help others and myself along the way.
  9. Alternatively, take steps towards a degree in Environmental Conservation. Which means retaking community college math courses I took 5 years ago. Joy. (sarcastic joy)
  10. Save toward a trek like THIS if I can find one that doesn’t include horseback riding since my allergies can’t work with horses.
  11. Buy a tent, sleeping bag, and backpack.
  12. Goal set B: Stay put should anything change my parents’ good health, in which case I will put caring for them first.

7, 8, 9 & 10 involve spontaneous community, the power of which I lived firsthand a decade ago and long to experience again, to contrast my current solitary work and life that feels necessary now to maintain if I am to reach these goals.

Weeds

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote got me to thinking how I tend to view all plants as equal, yet I so easily consider other things in life “weeds.” Meaning one thing is inferior, somehow lesser than another or out of control compared to where it’s supposed to be: in control. The next time I catch myself judging something or someone as inferior, I am going to tell myself they are simply a “plant whose virtues have yet to be discovered.”

Including DT in this perspective is a challenge for me, yet I will rise and say his greatest virtue is creating a crucible for people of all philosophical bents to clarify what democracy, diversity and sacrifice mean, and reaffirms my preference for my lifestyle. That I would rather work 70 hours a week at something with integrity than live in the lap of luxury on the backs of others. Countless virtues.

In the Pacific Northwest, both English ivy and Himalayan blackberry are incredibly “invasive” and labeled “noxious weeds.” Any gardener will agree. People spend hours of manpower and/or toxic chemicals trying to control them. Yet, ivy can be a living paint job on a house wall, and blackberries this time of year certainly make a mean and tasty pie or cobbler.

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(today’s roadside blackberries from the neighborhood)

A spiritual ideal in almost any religious tradition is to view every last human as having some inherent goodness, some core of true nature that is inviolable, separate from whatever trauma or circumstances or messiness expresses or presents through that person. This summer, we have no shortage of victims and victimizers on the world stage. The great spiritual challenge is to invite every last weed to the party.

There’s ideal and then there’s practice. Would I really be able to see the natural goodness (buddha nature) for example in an individual responsible for the largest single-handed massacre in the world? Who by the way lives in Norway which has a criminal justice system that is adamant about treating every human as rehabilitatable no matter their crime. An entire justice system based on inherent goodness. This is so completely different from the US criminal justice system in practice that I barely wrap my mind around it. I’ve grown up in the ethos of a different way of labeling people.

These are extreme examples, but if we keep throwing weed killer at weeds, will not a superweed take its place?

The next time I encounter a “weed” I will practice pausing to consider its undiscovered virtues.

By Erin W

Three Compassion Words

I see you.

These words arose in my mind as I did something out of my comfort zone. I felt a strong presence inside myself that said “I see you” and “I am here for you.” Self compassion in action. It made it possible for me to carry a burden in the “discomfort zone.” It felt more powerful than anyone outside me could have done for me.

I’ve spent several years focused on transforming relationship with myself since relationships with others were not going so well or at least not maintained on my part. In fact, instead of becoming more comfortable with who I am and more confident in forging relationships as I age, I observed the opposite occurring the more I tried to establish and maintain close relationships. Greater and greater fear. I am aware my heart carries a lot of pain around this part of life. This is where I must start.

Start where you are (again and again).

You might think that there are no others on the planet who hate themselves as much as you do.

What you do for yourself, any gesture of kindness, any gesture of gentleness, any gesture of honesty and clear seeing toward yourself will affect how you experience your world. What you do for yourself, you’re doing for others.

~ Comfortable With Uncertainty, by Pema Chodron, excerpts p.108

Three years ago I wrote a post about doing a private marriage ceremony with ring and all to cement a commitment to loving myself. I even sit down with myself and periodically review finances just as a committed couple might do and make every effort to work toward goals so that I show myself I can rely on myself over and over.

This weekend I attended a wedding between two lovely people who are committed to loving one another. Weddings are uncomfortable for me on many levels, but as a spiritual person, I value the spiritual symbol of aspiration of two people joining lives.

As far as marriage, I doubt success for me personally, nor is it a goal of mine. Plenty of external data corroborates that two people joining lives in a long-term committed way is possibly the biggest challenge any human can undertake. Success rates are slim over time. Crossing paths with those that successfully continue a shared path whether “married” or not, where each protects the other’s freedom to grow is a beautiful thing. Like finding a patch of flowers in the middle of a trail.

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(Lovesprouts by Mary Jo Oxrieder)

If you would like to play around with a few practices of self-other compassion, here is an excerpt about tonglen from Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying.