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?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lessons from vacation: look for the good

You're far away from home and you've dug your cranky pants out of your suitcase because things aren't quite going the way you pictured; you're on mosquito bite number 17, on your earlobe. It swelled immediately and continues to burn and itch and feel hot. You can't leave it alone. It is bigger than your head.

This is the kind of circumstance that sours even the sweetest vacation. When 
I let it. Change brings with it this unfamiliar and vulnerable place where I find myself longing to return to what is familiar (there has to be some explanation why people marry the same person a second or third time) rather than stick to a new path (even when the change is desired).

But in order to get over myself in the first days of my last week of vacation and make a memorable time I needed to let go of what I brought and embrace what was there. And what was there was amazing . . .

There were beaches in front of us in both directions. One of them known for its rambling shore and the blond color of its sand. One of them was the beach we used to stage our wedding vows last year with a chestnut colored rock face rising up perpendicular to the blonde sand.  We had to climb over lava rock and walk across small beaches with lava rock sentries. We feel particularly vulnerable and alive here. We witnessed the humbling power of the ocean with the arrival of unusually high surf. We sat and watched the largess of universe collide in a small cove.

The lanai where we ate most of our meals was full of comfortable and beautiful seating and we did look out on the mostly beautiful blue ocean for more than a week.  It was the breakfast bar on the lanai that held our ripening mangoes, papayas and avocados. It was the bar on which we ate salads and drank exotic fruit smoothies using as much local ingredients as possible. The neighbors we eventually connected with after regular contact on hiking trails had stories and tales. We saw our first moon set. We got photos of a breaching humpback whale. We hiked most of the abandoned golf course, tracked the local turkeys and spotted dear called Axis. There were at least two kinds of cardinals, at least one peacock, and whales on the horizon at least once a day. We had a nap one day, holding hands sitting on the couch on the lanai. We hung out. We shifted our energy to adjust and appreciate what was in front of us.

Only when we used what was around us for good rather than evil, did our vacation shift into high gear. Every downside has an up and every upside has a down, and mostly it's our choice about how we view all of it. And it was much more fun when we focused on the good.


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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.