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, February 06, 2014

Lessons from vacation: stop and pet a goat

I can't resist birds or horses or goats. I cannot wait to touch them and hanker to go face to face with them. They are at once aloof and personable. They are curious. So it wasn't a stretch when I found myself volunteering at a farm sanctuary to be drawn to the goats. 

But we weren't there solely to pet goats. We were there as volunteers to do whatever the director needed us to do. We raked, shoveled and carted composted manure. We raked, carted and piled manure to make a new compost pile. We weeded tree beds and fed them to the bunnies. We brushed bunnies. We covered the organic garden space with new netting. We painted rabbit houses with thick green paint. Physical, satisfying, tiring work. 

What made the work feel so good had to do with stopping regularly to pet a goat. Simple tactile medicine from interacting with what was right in front of me, in fact, something I love. Peaceful interaction with creatures where words don't get in the way. A way to rest briefly and spread the love. A way to feel connected to something bigger.

When we're working hard and dedicated to bringing change to our lives, we often forget that our down time is the breather we require to be resilient. We must have a regular dose of something sweet to sustain our positivity. Whatever "goats" you've been gifted I hope you are able to stop and pet them.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Lessons from vacation: law of the land

There's a sign on the way out of the Molokai airport that warns tourists to slow down. Indeed the only place I saw people move fast was in one of the grocery stores where customers and employees crowd the isles, half of them filling their carts, the other half emptying the shelves behind them. The chatter among them reveals relationships are monumentally more important than the transactions going on. Outside you'll find only moseying. One just isn't in a hurry here, and it doesn't matter how much of a hurry you want to impose, the law of the land says you go Molokai speed. 

Along the 40 mph highway on the way to our rental the roadside signs told of people who are suspicious of fads that would bring them fame and fortune. They don't want cable, they don't want cruise ships, and many don't want Monsanto that runs an experiment facility on the island. Our condo for the week was on the most unusual piece of property I've ever had the delight to explore. It took us nosing around for a day or so to figure out we were staying in a small part of a bigger dream that contained acres of ocean front property and an abandoned golf course and resort. The leftover cement paths are perfect hiking trails through the overgrown fairways, sand traps and putting greens. Now these paths are used by the wildlife, Axis Deer, wild turkeys and peacocks. And adventuring tourists. Though someone had a grand vision to run a resort, the place is a monument to a local law that defies encroachment and commercialism.

One of the lovely things about this part of the world of course is the sun and the fruit it sustains. As we perused the small farmers market, mostly filled with lovely, persuasive ladies in straw hats and polyester dresses pushing papayas and starfruit, which for some reason we grabbed. Vegetables are rarer and often sold cut up in plastic bags. But if you ask (Jeannie in the library I'm told) someone will give you directions to the island's premiere organic farm. There were no blueberries here shipped in from Connecticut. Here you find only things that are in season, grown on the property. I was absorbed in Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle at the time and this kind of buying and eating really struck a cord. You till, you plant a diverse garden, you weed, you water, you tender and you reap the benefits. There are no shortcuts. And there are no greater rewards than choosing to make a small impact on a fragile land and eat the fruits of your effort.

We walked on or climbed over beaches every day. My first day in the ocean I forgot a basic rule and got pummeled by a wave and frosted with sand head to toe. I know you don't try and jump a wave when it's close, but duck underneath it instead. The ocean wins. Period. A cheap lesson on my first day to seal my respect for my surroundings and universal laws of the land.

But perhaps the coolest thing about our vacation was the sun came up, the sun went down, we created a routine of things that made us feel good, we ate the local food because it's the right thing to do, we slowed down and appreciated, we took off our shoes before we went inside, and we honored the culture by following the laws of the land. It was comforting to methodically work our way into a new routine. We slept until we woke, ate breakfast, went out for an adventure, returned and ate lunch, went out for an adventure, saw the sunset and back to the condo and our books and conversation. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Lessons from vacation: adjusting to the rhythm of change

I think it started in the airport a mere 20 minutes from home. It was subtle at first, until I realized I had a side ache from walking down the concourse at a pace the hare would envy. It was 5am. "Hey," I chirped at my sweetie, "When are we going to slow down and ease into vacation?" It's pretty easy to tell when we are really on vacation, when our pace and rhythm chills.

Our friends met us at the airport and we drove to our rental on the Hana Hwy on Maui. Still at a work pace we engaged a week full of work on the farm sanctuary, checking out the local haunts to find the best food, back to the farm, back to the house, cook and eat dinner, next day pretty much the same (loving every minute). A perfectly busy schedule for a bunch of busy people used to the rhythm of a baby's heartbeat, fast and steady.

And then my sweetie and I headed to where it's quiet the second week, offering only the cliche pace of swaying palm trees. No electronics, spotty reception, 30-minute drive to town, empty exquisite beaches with unusually high surf, a fraction of the pace and rhythm. Here whatever you decide to do you have to invent.

It didn't take long to uncover the lessons we have been trying hard to learn for years, about being in the moment, grateful and curious about what's around us. The pockets of my cranky pants were filled with disappointments and adjustments. I am pretty sure cranky pants are sewn with threads of ego. Letting go of our ego meant letting go of our pace, our arrogant belief that everything around us should change to match our speed. 

When we did we saw things we didn't know we would see, we followed our gut, or sometimes nose, and that led us to adventure. We heard about and found the best swimming beach on the island, we sat and watched the swollen surf pound the lava rock shelves and peninsulas until sunset, we went out in the calm, early morning seas and hung out with a dozen whales. We awoke to the birds, drank our exotic fruit smoothies, shopped the local organic farm, cooked delicious and nutritious food, went exploring, found several perches to watch the wild sunsets. We decelerated to a saunter, and held hands during our walks. We adjusted to the rhythm of change.

My metaphorical head can't help but think about the connection between adjustment to the rhythm of vacation and adjusting to the rhythm of a life change. Our change might cause us to slow down or speed up, or make something out of nothing, or a bunch of other weighty things. We are rarely prepared for the change. I wonder if some of our failed attempts to change are really us bouncing off a different wavelength, out of whack, unable to make the shift, are uncomfortable with the adjustment and quit too soon.  

Me and Sweetie, we're getting better. I think it took us less than 36 hours to adjust. Baby steps, baby steps. Progress, progress.

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.