Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

In pursuit of my dreams


A decade of work with people trying to make changes in their lives gives grist for my philosophical mill as well as private lessons of my own. Those who realize one morning they are living someone else’s life (not the one they had hoped for) have visions of a pivotal moment when the sky will open and lightening will strike their new life path at their feet. I can’t help think of my life as a flutist.

I have known since third grade I wanted to play music—an unrequited love if there can be such a thing for a musical instrument. I received a used flute all snuggled in a blue velvet-lined case for my 30th birthday. But for some reason while I had the vision, I could never bring myself to do the work to play it. I moved this aging flute from closet to closet for the "some day" when I would actually become the musician I wanted to be.

Serendipitously last fall my musical neighbor who knew I wanted to play the flute needed to do some community service work for her junior year of high school and approached me with a proposition to be my teacher. At last, the sky opened and I would become my musical dream. Right.

I struggled from the moment we started in the fall. First, while I poised my body, fingers and mouth just the way she told me I could not find some notes no matter how much I worked. The more I failed, the more I lacked luster to practice. Until one day my novice teacher (who had extracted some advice from YouTube) tried to play my flute. She couldn’t find the notes either. A closer examination sent the deteriorated thing off to the repair shop for $300 to make it playable.

I felt a renewed sense of purpose; only to find that while I could make a clear B flat, I was brought to my knees by the C. On the flute the C note requires that you almost let go of the instrument, teeter it between fingers and still form a perfect blow in the wobbling mouthpiece. It was awkward and at first unthinkable. Weeks and trials later, I finally found the C. My triumph was short lived as I progressed to the next song in my beginner's book.Now I struggle to consistently find the D and E flat. While hands are not the issue with either, posture, breathing and direction of breath are. It turns out that changing from not being a musician to being one is a lot like work--which finally brings me to my point.

When I envision or make changes, I somehow believe a miracle will follow. I am hopeful that just because I want it things will happen. I forget how long it took me to get where I am. I am naive to how many C notes I must craft, how many impossible movements I must overcome. I am humbled by my own optimism but am learning to laugh at my awkwardness. I am also learning to like the work I have to do and the accomplishment I feel when I conquer today what was unthinkable yesterday. Baby steps. Progress. Onward to F.

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The Journey

by Mary Oliver



One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.