the impulse to love ~mark nepo

If somebody were to cut me into a thousand pieces,
every piece of me would say that it loves…

The man who said this is a deeply spiritual person who is a native of South Africa. He like many others grew up under apartheid. He told me that he was taught by his ancestors not to stay bitter or vengeful, for hate eats up the heart, and with a damaged heart, life is not possible.

In a way, we are each confronted with the same dilemma that Chris faces: how to feel the pain of living without denying it and without letting that pain define us. Ultimately, no matter the burden we are given—apartheid, cancer, abuse, depression, addiction—once whittled to the bone, we are faced with a never-ending choice: to become the wound or to heal.

Terrible things are hard enough to experience the first time. Beyond their second and third and fourth experience as trauma, their impact can easily make us become terrible if we do not keep our want to love alive. Perhaps the most difficult challenge of being wounded is not turning our deepest loving nature over to the life and way of the wound.

This touching statement by this South African man affirms that the nature of the human spirit is irrepressible. Just as a vine or shrub—no matter how often it is cut back—will keep growing to the light, the human heart—no matter how often it is cut—can reassert its impulse to love.

~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

post du jour ~elizabeth lesser

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk and social activist once said that as he grew older he came to understand that it was not ideas that changed the world, but simple gestures of love given to the people around you, and sometimes to those you feel most at odds with. He wrote that in order to save the world, you must serve the people in your life. “You gradually struggle less and less for an idea,” Merton wrote, “and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”

Over the past few months my activity has revolved around my sister’s illness and her treatment and family. I had thought maybe my world would feel smaller as I stopped traveling and speaking as much as I usually do, as I scaled back at work, as I said “no” to invitations and events. But the opposite is true. My world is bigger than ever, if love is the measuring stick. When ego is the measuring the stick, the world never feels big enough. But love makes big from small.

I am not saying we should abandon all efforts to save the world, Continue reading

post du jour ~lissa rankin

My big a-ha from the teleclass I did with Brené Brown yesterday: Brené says the most terrifying emotion we experience as humans is joy. We’re so frightened of loss that we can’t even allow ourselves to lean into those moments when we’re standing over our children watching them sleep or when we’re falling in love and it feels like our hearts will burst. The second most of us start to feel joy, instead of relishing the blessings, we tend to get swallowed by the fear that the other shoe is about to drop.

Brené said, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.” Instead of allowing ourselves to feel the vulnerability of how much joy we feel and how much hurt we would experience if we lost what we have, we dress rehearse tragedy so we can beat vulnerability to the punch. We look at our kids with so much love and then imagine them dying. We feel such tenderness for the person we’re falling in love with that we fast forward straight to the day when we get our heart broken. If things are going well in our professional life, we imagine the day we get fired or lose all our money, power, and status. It’s like, by trying to imagine the worst case scenario, we somehow think we’re protecting ourselves from what we fear most.

But guess what? It doesn’t work. Continue reading

the issue of fairness ~mark nepo

As long as we see what has come to pass as
being unfair, we’ll be a prisoner of
what might have been.

This is a very painful issue to discuss for most of us, because so much of how we see the world hinges on a sense of fairness and justice, those truly noble human concepts that govern how we treat each other.

But the laws of experience in the natural world, in which we have no choice but to live, do not work this way. Rather, the larger Universe, of which humankind is a small part, is a world of endless possibility and endless cycle, a world in which life forms come and go, a world itself that has erupted and reformed countless times.

This is why the Hindu tradition has a deity known as Vishnu, who both destroys and bestows life, often in that order. Continue reading

pre first draft ~anne lamott

I had a great idea for a new book, although come to think of it, maybe it is just a Facebook post. But it would be called Pre First Draft, and address the way we suit up and show up to be writers, artists, and general tribal-two-stomp creative types.

I think it would begin with an admonition: if you used to love writing, painting, dancing, singing, whatever, but you stopped doing it when you had kids or began a strenuous career, then you have to ask yourself if you are okay about not doing it anymore.

If you always dreamed of writing a novel or a memoir, and you used to love to write, and were pretty good at it, will it break your heart if it turns out you never got around to it? If you wake up one day at eighty, will you feel nonchalant that something always took precedence over a daily commitment to discovering your creative spirit?

If not—if this very thought fills you with regret—then what are you waiting for?

Back in the days when I had writing students, they used to spend half their time explaining to me why it was too hard to get around to writing every day, but how once this or that happens—they retired, or their last kid moved out—they could get to work.

I use to say very nicely, “That’s very nice; but it’s a total crock. Continue reading

it is enough ~mark nepo

If you can’t see what you’re looking for,
see what’s there.

One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that beneath all our dreams and disappointments, we live and breathe in abundance. It is hard when in pain to believe that all we ever need is before us, around us, within us. And yet it is true.

Like leafless trees waiting for morning, something as great and as constant as the Earth holds us up and turns us ever so slowly toward the light. Our task is only to be rooted and patient.

Never was this more painfully true for me than during the aftermath of my first chemo treatment. I was in a Holiday Inn at five in the morning after twenty-four hours of vomiting every twenty minutes. I was slumped on the floor, holding the space of a rib that had been removed three weeks earlier. And my wife—in anger, in panic, in desperation—called out, “Where is God?” And from some unknown place in me, through my pale slouched form, I uttered, “Here…right here.”

The presence of God has never eliminated pain, only made it more bearable. Now, when things don’t go the way I want, Continue reading

growing wings: the power of change ~martha beck

I used to think I knew how some caterpillars become butterflies. I assumed they weave cocoons, then sit inside growing six long legs, four wings, and so on. I figured if I were to cut open a cocoon, I’d find a butterfly-ish caterpillar, or a caterpillar-ish butterfly, depending on how far things had progressed. I was wrong. In fact, the first thing caterpillars do in their cocoons is shed their skin, leaving a soft, rubbery chrysalis. If you were to look inside the cocoon early on, you’d find nothing but a puddle of glop. But in that glop are certain cells, called imago cells, that contain the DNA-coded instructions for turning bug soup into a delicate, winged creature—the angel of the dead caterpillar.

If you’ve ever been through a major life transition, this may sound familiar. Humans do it, too—not physically but psychologically. All of us will experience metamorphosis several times during our lives, exchanging one identity for another. You’ve probably already changed from baby to child to adolescent to adult—these are obvious, well-recognized stages in the life cycle. But even after you’re all grown up, your identity isn’t fixed. You may change marital status, become a parent, switch careers, get sick, win the lottery.

Any transition serious enough to alter your definition of self will require not just small adjustments in your way of living and thinking but a full-on metamorphosis. I don’t know if this is emotionally stressful for caterpillars, but for humans it can be hell on wheels. The best way to minimize trauma is to understand the process.

The Phases of Human Metamorphosis

Psychological metamorphosis has four phases. You’ll go through these phases, more or less in order, after any major change catalyst (falling in love or breaking up, getting or losing a job, having children or emptying the nest, etc.). The strategies for dealing with change depend on the phase you’re experiencing. Continue reading

anne lamott on facebook

pathwriter’s note: What a gift Anne Lamott is. I’m so glad her son and her editor talked her into getting on Facebook, because it means she writes posts like this from time to time—and usually just when I need them, like today. 

This is a true story.

I have been doing a bunch of radio interviews to promote the coming paperback edition of Some Assembly Required, and so was in San Francisco recently. There was no street parking to be found, so I parked in an underground garage. I stuck the ticket in my wallet, went and did the interview, came back to the car, and got ready to leave.

But I couldn’t find my ticket. It wasn’t in my wallet. I looked for it there, again and again, but couldn’t find it, so I rifled through my purse. The ticket wasn’t there, either. I took everything out of the purse, put it on the passenger seat, and pawed through it, like a Samuel Becket character.

Sighing loudly, I looked everywhere it could have fallen—the console between the front seats, the ashtray, the floor, the glovebox. Then I got out, exasperated with myself. I am getting so spaced out.

I don’t want to be put in a home yet! Continue reading

everyone is on a path toward wisdom and compassion ~domyo burk

A friend of mine has a saying, “It takes all kinds of people to make the world go ‘round. Unfortunately.”

Other people are the most challenging aspect of our lives, particularly when we strongly disagree with their views, choices and behaviors. The ideal of unconditional love and acceptance of all people can sometimes seem like reckless folly, but on the other hand we can exhaust ourselves with endless worries about, and judgments of, the actions of others.

Try this idea on for size: the development of individual human beings tends generally from ignorance toward wisdom, and from selfishness toward compassion. In a sense everyone is on their own path toward greater wisdom and compassion, although these paths tend to be circuitous. Over the long term someone’s path leads eventually toward greater wisdom and compassion, but at a given time they may clearly be headed away from these virtues.

Seeing everyone as being on a path of positive growth and development may seem like Pollyanna-ish wishful thinking. It may seem like a hypothesis impossible to prove, but it can actually be confirmed by direct observation of life. It is similar to a hypothesis that every object will eventually fall to the ground. Such a hypothesis is not proven only when every last object has fallen to the ground, because life goes on – there are always still birds, clouds, satellites and planes in the air.

Continue reading

misery ~mark nepo

If peace comes from seeing the whole,
then misery stems from a loss of perspective.

We begin so aware and grateful. The sun somehow hangs there in the sky. The little bird sings. The miracle of life just happens. Then we stub our toe, and in that moment of pain, the whole world is reduced to our poor little toe. Now, for a day or two, it is difficult to walk. With every step, we are reminded of our poor little toe.

Our vigilance becomes: Which defines our day—the pinch we feel in walking on a bruised toe, or the miracle still happening?

It is the giving over to smallness that opens us to misery. In truth, we begin taking nothing for granted, grateful that we have enough to eat, that we are well enough to eat. But somehow, through the living of our days, our focus narrows like a camera that shutters down, cropping out the horizon, and one day we’re miffed at a diner because the eggs are runny or the hash isn’t seasoned just the way we like.

When we narrow our focus, the problem seems everything. Continue reading

how do you define love?

Thoughts on Theatre does it again! :)

Thoughts on Theatre

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

love

In spirit of Valentine’s day, time to let kids tell it like it is. So honest, so profound. A group of 4 to 8 year-olds were asked the question, “What does love mean?” Below are their answers.

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.” Rebecca- age 8

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy – age 4

“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Karl – age 5

“Love is…

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