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?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Inside out


Using your internal "knowing" to figure out where to go and what to do

Some revelations are a long time coming, though the word itself connotes a sort of sky-opening-angel-singing moment of brilliance. Mine started at the University of Oregon with one of my favorite faculty members and accomplished writer, Robert Sylwester. As a writing coach he urged me to “Write about what you know.” I knew then it was a nugget meant to direct my craft, but I assumed at that point it was my job to go out and learn stuff so I could know enough to write. It’s taken me decades to figure out what a profound piece of advice he proposed.

In my quest to learn and accumulate knowledge (which I do for sport) my students have benefited from the synthesis, but I often become overwhelmed with the amount of information available. Overwhelmed with the number of people out there researching and writing. So while I can teach using all that knowing, it doesn't do much for my writing. I can increase what I know, but it leaves me working from what I've grown to call “outside in.” Gathering intellectual capital and then trying to figure out what to write about it, and many times if I even care enough to go beyond first draft. Lots of ideas, not lots of completion. I have even noticed lately because of the social and economic crisis in this country I find myself overwhelmed with the options about what I spend my time pursuing—my own personal information overload.

And it’s not just me. People I teach and coach who are trying to make changes in their lives report this kind of overload of callings, options, opportunities and a defeatist feeling that creeps in and leaves them paralyzed.

Over the last year I finally figured out what Dr. Sylwester was trying to tell me.

Deepok Chopra defines intuition as a form of intelligence beyond the rational mind. When intuition is engaged the pre-frontal cortex lights up and gathers the contextual, relational and holistic information in the brain and offers up the connected dots as a “gut feeling,” a “knowing” that is outside the realm of rational thought (outside the research). For me it’s a voice from my core. When I listen and follow I am always glad. When I don’t I wish I had. When Dr. Sylwester told me to write about what I know, instead of some kind of accumulation of knowledge he meant my internal knowing.

As a gift to further my understanding the universe sent me an herbalist/healer dude who I was told had a certain magic that accompanied his herbs. So I gathered up my hankies and my writer’s angst and headed to see if he could help. In a single treatment he rid me of the sneezing, but he was just as interested in what I told him was a longing to find my writer’s voice. This was a topic close to his heart, because he has been working to craft his own pen for some time. He described for me the process he uses to get quiet and listen, and then he does what his intuition tells him to do. Previously he too had worked outside in trying to take topics and put them in words. Now he writes what he knows from inside out.

There certainly is a little magic in his space where I seem to spew out random thoughts trying to explain what is happening for me, and my epiphanies. He looked at me the other day as if it was so clear, “All of these random thoughts are connected. You just connected them. This is not an accident. Your job as writer is to connect them for your reader. And when you go inside and find that place within that has something to say and is connected to your passion, the space between the letters will be filled with joy that your readers will detect.”

Deepok Chopra in his quiet and unassuming (but oh so revered) way speaks about the process for tapping into this intuitive knowing. “Still the mind, ask a question, feel the body and it will guide you in making evolutionary choices.”

And for me this is a gift, a new way to look at sitting (or if you prefer the term meditating). When it was an outside in thing—others’ imposed, good for me, good for my health—I struggled to make it relevant (though I have been known to enjoy community meditation and I regularly do yoga). But meditation has a whole new context for me when I am sitting with an idea, getting quiet (that is disregarding all that chatter and information overload) and waiting for my internal knowing to speak, and knowing now I am there to interpret—the substance of my writing.
  
If you are attempting to make change, is it possible your life is moving so fast and there are so many options you are feeling overloaded, and this is the reason you feel immobilized? Are you trying to work from outside in? Is this a good enough reason for you to sit (in meditation) with your question and figure out what you know? Can you be patient with yourself as you cultivate this knowing into your own personal road map for where to go and what to do next?

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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.