July 11, 2021

may you kiss the wind then turn from it / certain that it will / love your back

blessing the boats
By Lucille Clifton

Some favorite classical music played in the background the other day and at some point turned to "The Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saëns. Did I always know that Bill Murray recited Lucille Clifton's "blessing the boats" over this rendition? I don't know that I did...and yet I'm sure I added it for a reason. Perhaps solely for the melody? Either way, it hit as if I were listening to it for the first time and now I can't stop.

may the tide 
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out 
beyond the face of fear 
may you kiss the wind then turn from it
certain that it will 
love your back     may you 
open your eyes to water 
water waving forever 
and may you in your innocence 
sail through this to that

June 13, 2021

There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.

By Mary Oliver

@poetryisnotaluxury is one of my favorite Instagram accounts of the moment, and of course I am always so pleased when Mary Oliver pops up in the feed.

"There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled." !!!

"There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, 
even, possibly, your own."

June 06, 2021

The result of a life spent chasing down every opportunity with maximum tenacity and plowing lanes where none previously existed.


By Dave Itzkoff

Been rooting for Anthony Ramos' success and was so delighted to see him on the cover of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times.

"That Ramos, 29, even finds himself in this spot, singing, swinging and charming his way through bodega aisles as the film’s irrepressible hero, Usnavi, is the result of a life spent chasing down every opportunity with maximum tenacity and plowing lanes for himself where none previously existed."

May 16, 2021

I am trying to pressure myself less on what a friendship "should" be.

Goodbye, again: Essays, Reflections, and Illustrations
By Jonny Sun

I hear ya, Jonny Sun. Friendship is hard! And it gets harder. Over the years I've struggled as friendships have remained consistent or evolved or disappeared.

Instead of constant questioning, I am now aiming to sit in gratitude for the varied friendships I do have and have had, and for the wonderful people I am lucky to know and be loved by. I try to show up as best I can when I can and give myself grace when I'm unable, continually reminding myself to extend that grace for others as well. It's an everlasting process.

I am trying to pressure myself less on what a friendship "should" be. Is it not enough to see someone once a year when we live in different cities and one of us is passing through the other's? Or get coffee once a year with a friend who lives in the same city when we are both overwhelmed and underwater with the rest of our lives? 
I've never been sure what friendship even is, but even so, sometimes I worry, shouldn't it be more than this?
I know that I have friends who I have spent time with in person maybe three times in my life, who I met through social media out of a mutual respect and admiration for each other, who I text a few times every week, who feel incredibly close to me.
Are friends supposed to be people I see in person on a regular basis? Am I supposed to hang out with my friends in a coffee shop in New York for a few hours every day? Am I supposed to even talk to my friends every day? And do text messages count in that? Does saying hi every so often in a group chat count? And if they don't respond, does that still count because I did the reaching out anyway? I don't begrudge anyone for not responding and not getting back to me, because I do that too. I understand other things get in the way, or that sometimes, the burden of configuring a response that encompasses everything that needs to be said is too great to face at the moment.
Who or what is influencing my thinking on what friendship "should" look like anyway? Where did I learn that from and why do I give that authority over my own experiences? Is there some standard for friendship that I internalized from a kids' show, decades ago, before the internet, before I grew up into a world that a kids' show never could have predicted, that I somehow still hold myself too? If my friendships don't adhere to the expectations I've learned from TV, from media, from hearing stories about other peoples' close friendships, then does it mean I don't have any "real' friends? Or do those expectations just make me feel guilty, or make me feel like the relationships I have with the people I care about are not enough, are never enough, will never be enough?
Perhaps the expectation of what friendship "should" be is ruining whatever semblances of friendship I do have. Maybe what I have—maybe a few texts a week, seeing someone once a year—maybe that's it. Maybe that's friendship enough. 
I do know that as I and all my friends are squeezed by this pressure to work in all aspects of our lives, everything and everyone else suffers and is squeezed out. I know that includes friendships. And everyone is so busy and under immense pressure trying to survive that I think we are collectively doing our best. 
I think I am better off just calling friendship by whatever it is that I have to call it by. If it feels like friendship, and I enjoy it, and I feel fulfilled by it, perhaps that's what it is. Perhaps I am safe to call it that. What else is there to go by, right? Or am I giving up?

April 18, 2021

This has strengthened my decision to be active forever and use every brain cell and soul spark so there will be nothing left when I go.


The Soul of a Woman: On Impatient Love, Long Life, and Good Witches
By Isabel Allende

"I would like to have Sophia Loren's full breasts and long legs, but if given a choice, I prefer the gifts of several good witches I know: purpose, compassion, and good humor."
(p. 83)
"According to Gerald G. Jampolsky, a famous psychiatrist and the author of many bestsellers about psychology and philosophy, an aptitude for happiness is determined 45 percent by genes and 15 percent by circumstances. That means that the remaining 40 percent is based on our beliefs and attitude about life. Even at ninety-five, Jampolsky is still seeing patients and writings; he goes to the gym five days a week, and every morning when he wakes up he gives thanks for the new day and commits to live it happily, no matter his physical state. Age should not limit our energy or creativity or our willingness to participate in the world. 
Now that we live longer, we have a couple of decades ahead of us to redefine our goals and find meaning in the years to come. Jampolsky recommends letting go of grievances and negativity. More energy is needed to sustain ill feelings than to forgive. The key to contentment is forgiveness of others and of ourselves. Our last years can be the best if we opt for love instead of fear, he says. Love doesn't grow old like a wild plant, it needs a lot of care."
(pp. 85-6) 

"This has strengthened my decision to be active forever and use every brain cell and soul spark so there will be nothing left when I go." 
(p. 87)

"For as long as possible I will crawl up the stairs to the attic where I write and spend my days entertained by telling stories. If I can achieve that, old age is none of my business."
(p. 88) 

"In brief, I am in a splendid moment of my destiny. This is good news for women in general: Life gets easier once we get through menopause and are done with raising kids, but only if we minimize our expectations, give up resentment, and relax in the knowledge that no one, except those closest to us, gives a damn about who we are or what we do. Stop pretending, faking it, lamenting, and flagellating ourselves about silly stuff. We have to love ourselves a lot and love others without calculating how much we are loved in return. This is the stage of kindness."
(p. 97)

April 11, 2021

The good thing about passion is that it pushes us forward and keeps us committed and young.


The Soul of a Woman: On Impatient Love, Long Life, and Good Witches
By Isabel Allende

Could talk endlessly about passions.

"We have talked about sexual passion and romantic passion. But what does it mean simply to be passionate? According to the dictionary, it's a disorderly mood disturbance; it is also described as a powerful and irresistible emotion that can lead to obsessive or dangerous actions.
My own definition is less somber. Passion is unbridled enthusiasm, exuberant energy, and determined devotion to someone or something. The good thing about passion is that it pushes us forward and keeps us committed and young. I have been training for years to be a passionate old woman, just as others train to climb mountains or play chess. I don't want to allow caution, so often prevalent in later years, to destroy my passion for life.
Almost all the female protagonists of my books are passionate because they are the people who interest me. I want characters capable of committing obsessive and dangerous actions, as the dictionary says. A safe and quiet life is not good material for fiction. 
I have sometimes been described as a passionate person because I never sat quietly in my house, as was expected of me. I have to clarify that my risky endeavors were motivated not always by a passionate temperament but because circumstances threw me in unexpected directions. I did the best I could. I have lived in a rough sea where waves would lift me and then drop me to the bottom. This surge has been so strong that before, when things went well, I would prepare for a violent fall, which I considered inevitable, instead of relaxing in the tranquility of the moment. Now it's not like that. Now I drift along day after day, happy to just float for as long as possible." 
(pp. 65-6)

"Carmen was my mentor and my friend. She used to say that we were not friends; I was her client and she was my agent, that we only had a business relationship, but that was not true at all. (Nor was her proclamation that she would have liked to be a kept woman. I can't imagine anybody less gifted for that role than she.) Carmen was at my side during my most significant moments, from Paula's illness to family weddings to my divorces, always supporting me unconditionally, always present. 
This woman, who was able to confront the biggest bully, consulted an astrologer; she believed in psychics, gurus, and magic. She would easily get emotional and cry. She cried so much that Gabriel Garcia Marquez dedicated one of his books to her: To Carmen Balcells, bathed in tears
She was generous to an extreme. For my mother's eightieth birthday, she sent eighty white roses all the way to Chile, and when Uncle Ramon turned ninety-nine she did the same for him. She never forgot his birthday because they were born the same day in August. Once she gave me a complete set of Louis Vuitton luggage because she considered mine cheap and old. It was stolen at the airport in Caracas the first and only time I used it, but I didn't tell her because she would have replaced it immediately. She would send me so many chocolates that I still find some hidden in the most unexpected corners of my house.
After the sudden death of this formidable Catalan lady, I had the feeling for a while that I had lost the life vest that kept me afloat in the stormy literary sea. But the agency she created with her talent and vision continues smoothly under the management of her son, Louis Miguel Palomares.
I have Carmen's photograph on my desk to remind me of her advice: Anybody can write a good first book, but a writer is proved by the second and by those that follow; you are going to be judged harshly because success in women is not easily forgiven; write what you want; don't allow anybody to interfere with your work or in the handling of your money; treat your children like royalty, they deserve it; get married, because a husband, no matter if he is a moron, looks good...
After I had published twenty books, which have been translated into forty-something languages, a Chilean writer whose name I don't remember said that I was not a writer, I was a typist. Carmen Balcells asked him if he had formed his opinion based on having read any of my work. His reply: "Over my dead body." This was when I was nominated for the National Prize for Literature. 
In 2010, with the support of four former presidents, several political parties, and Congress, I received the award. Only then did I finally win some respect from Chilean critics. Carmen sent me ten pounds of orange peels covered in dark chocolate, my favorite." 
(pp. 72-4)

April 04, 2021

What did we want to change? Nothing short of the whole world.


The Soul of a Woman: On Impatient Love, Long Life, and Good Witches
By Isabel Allende

Fondly remembering when my best friend and I started an all girls magazine in fifth grade (It's A Girl's World) and convinced some of our classmates to subscribe for a very minimal fee. I don't think we "published" it for very long, but I'm giving high fives & pats on the back to our former selves for being brave, cute, and feminist, before we even knew what that meant.

"Everything changed for me in 1967 when I started working as a journalist at Paula, a newly launched feminist magazine. (The name has nothing to do with my daughter's; it was one of those names that suddenly became popular and omnipresent.) The editor was Delia Vergara, a young and beautiful journalist who had lived in Europe and had a clear vision of the type of magazine she wanted. With that in mind, she gathered her small team. The magazine saved me from being suffocated by frustration. 
We were four young women in our twenties ready to shake up Chilean prudery. In our country, which was very conservative and had a provincial mentality, social mores had not changed much over the last century. We got inspiration from magazines and books from Europe and North America. We read Sylvia Plath and Betty Friedan, and later Germaine Greer, Kate Miller, and other writers who helped us define ideas and express them eloquently. 
I opted for humor because I soon realized that the most daring ideas can be accepted if they elicit a smile. That's how my column "Civilize Your Troglodyte" came to be. It made fun of machismo, and ironically became very popular among men. "I have a friend who is just like your troglodyte," they would say to me. (Always a friend.) Some female readers, on the other hand, felt threatened because the column shook the very foundation of their domestic world.
I was comfortable in my skin for the first time. I wasn't a lonely lunatic; millions of women shared my concerns. There was a women's liberation movement happening on the other side of the Andes Mountains and our magazine intended to spread it throughout Chile. 
From those foreign intellectuals whose books we read, I learned that anger without purpose is useless and even harmful; I had to act if I wanted change...
My three colleagues and I wrote with a knife between our teeth; we were a scary gang. What did we want to change? Nothing short of the whole world. With the arrogance of youth, we thought that could be done in ten or fifteen years. This was more than half a century ago and look where we still are today. But I have not lost faith that it can be achieved, and my accomplices from that time, who are as old as I, haven't either. And yes, I use the word old, which seems to be pejorative. I do so on purpose because I am proud of my age. Every year I have lived and every wrinkle I have tell my story."

April 03, 2021

Do you truly feel you deserve what you're asking for? Are you worth it? How you answer impacts what comes your way.

More Myself
By Alicia Keys

Good timing: Alicia's memoir was actually nearing its one year anniversary while I listened to it. On Instagram, she read a passage from the book about her shift from a scarcity to abundance mindset. I'm still learning how myself.

"Money, like all life, is an energy exchange. You give yourself over to whatever you're passion about and what comes back to you is energy in the form of monetary compensation. You attract more or less of what you want by how you choose to interact with it, as well as what you believe about yourself. Do you truly feel you deserve what you're asking for? Are you worth it? How you answer impacts what comes your way. What you focus on expands. If you focus on the goodness in your life, you create more of it and if you live with an open palm, rather than a closed fist, you leave room for immeasurable blessings to flow through your hands. It was one of the strongest lessons ever passed on to me in the classroom my life was becoming."

March 28, 2021

Finally, in my early 30s I stepped into my girl on fire energy. I moved back towards my essence.

More Myself
By Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys' music is a staple of my early years. But I don't think I became fully conscious to her spirit until recently. I remember viewing the Red Table (Piano) Talk episode with Alicia and feeling so completely seen and empowered as she described herself as a recovering peacemaker and people pleaser who'd awakened to her needs and her power, learning to give herself tenderness along the way. Listening to her read these passages from her memoir stirred something in me. 

"Oprah sat quietly for a moment before answering. 'For many years,' she said, 'I looked for someone outside of myself to dream up and create what only I could. I eventually realized that no one else could see your big picture. Only you know the journey you're on. Others can contribute, and you should definitely surround yourself with smart people who lift you higher and share in your vision, but the truth is, even with wise counsel only you know what your next step should be.' 
All of my best decisions in life have come when I tuned into what felt like the best moves for me. I'd spent much of my life looking at others for answers, allowing their opinions to drown out my instincts. My default was to substitute others' desires for my own. In fact, I'd done that so much that it became a habit, one I'm still unlearning. I've needed a lot of practice at putting my own ideas and intuition at the forefront and Oprah was encouraging me to, again, rehearse. As I sat there across from her, taking in her wisdom, I realized where my anxiety was coming from. I was expecting someone else to fill a space that only I could stand in. I've read a lot about what it means to listen to your inner voice, that whisper in your gut that is always speaking. 
On paper, I understood the idea, but in reality I was clearly still struggling. That afternoon Oprah articulated the lesson to me in a way that turned on the lights. 'You know what a resounding yes feels like,' she said. 'It's undeniable. Nothing's going to stop you from doing it, you're excited, you don't have to convince yourself to move forward. You simply know this is the right thing and that is what I live by.' 
I've made a lot of decisions from my head, I've chosen to go in this direction or that one based on finances, or because something seems like a great opportunity, or because I don't want to hurt people's feelings or disappoint them, or because someone is pushing me towards an agenda that serves them. But when I've listened to my heart, when I've trusted what my spirit is telling me, that yes has always steered me right."

"Rather than basking in the glow of those miracles, I shrank. At certain moments, I even dumbed myself down or chose not to talk about the many blessings I received. I figured that if I shared my experience in its entirety, if I took the lid off my joy, it would push others away or make them feel small. As my career progressed, that tendency took another form in my interactions around the industry. 'I don't need much, nothing has to be too grand, I'm cool with my little piano, my bench and a cup of water.' In a sense, that was true. I'd never been an over-the-top kind of girl, but what's also true is this: some part of my spirit was always signing up for less because that is what I believed I deserved. For so many years I thought I was just being modest. I never wanted to come across as self-absorbed or as someone with a big head. It's how we women are brought up: don't ask for more, don't take credit, don't outshine others. 
But there on the couch it hit me that my alleged modesty was just a disguise, a mask for a lack of self worth. It was a huge revelation. For me, that seed of worthlessness was planted in childhood. As well-intentioned as Craig was, and as much as he was dealing with in his own life, his absence impacted me in ways I'm still uncovering. It left a hole in me. When a child's parent is not there, even if the reasons are completely legitimate, that child interprets the absence exactly as I did. 'I don't matter enough for you to show up for me. I'm not important.' And in those early years, when I was forming my identity, I took on a belief parallel to that interpretation. 'If you don't value me, I must not be valuable.' A big part of my journey has been about changing that view, as well as getting clear on the other beliefs passed on to me by my parents. 
"There are only two people you ever have to deal with," a life coach recently told me. "Your mother and father." As I deal with the man who gave me life, and as we work to create a new story, what I've discovered is this: neither Craig nor my beloved mom is responsible for where I go from here. I am. The price of admission for self-ownership is total responsibility and I can move forward only if I'm willing to ask myself the hard questions and examine my beliefs. 
In life, we don't get what we ask for, we get what we believe. And what we believe about ourselves shows up in our energy. It's how we walk into a room, it's how we communicate through body language. 'I don't deserve to be here.' It's whether we sit up straight or hide out in the back of a meeting. At times, my own energy has been saying 'I'm cool with the bare minimum, don't give me more.' Without knowing it, I stunted my growth because I was scared to be magnificent and doubtful that I was. If you asked me at age 22 whether I thought I was worthy, I would've answered loud and proud "YES!" But it's possible to declare a woman's worth and yet not fully know your own. It's possible to say you want a grand life but then continue to play small. In many ways, I have played big. I've embraced experiences I never dreamed I'd have and I've risen to some enormous moments, but there's still more I can do, other ways for me to grow. 
And as I keep relearning, it's okay to own a desire for more. In fact, it's how we honor those who have paved the way for our place at the table. 'You don't want modesty,' Maya Angelou once said. 'You want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me, and I'm here because I've been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I'm paying for someone else who has yet to come.' When we dim our light, we don't do anyone a favor. It's a disservice because when you're in the presence of someone who knows his or her worth, like the extraordinary Maya did, you want to shine brighter. Self-honoring energy is contagious. 
At the start of my career I thought I was such a novice, but at 19 I knew the one thing that is most important to know. I understood who I was at my center, I was closer to my truth than I'd become during my twenties. It's not that I wasn't authentic to some degree at every stage, it's just that out of a desire to please others or to squeeze into a mold, I made the outside world my point of reference. 'Will they like me if I dress or speak or walk or talk this way?' Finally, in my early 30s I stepped into my girl on fire energy. I moved back towards my essence."

Aforementioned Red Piano Talk. Alicia performs "Girl on Fire" at the end. 

Also all of this, starting with a performance of "Show Me Love." 

March 21, 2021

When we see love as the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same.


all about love: new visions
by bell hooks

Full circle revelations and a mind expanded. These only scratch the surface of all I highlighted!

"Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts to love fail." 
(p. 67)

"There is no better place to learn the art of loving than in community." 
(p. 129)

"When we see love as the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same."
(p. 136)

"Generous sharing of all resources is one concrete way to express love. These resources can be time, attention, material objects, skills, money etc...Once we embark on love's path we see how easy it is to give. A useful gift all love's practitioners can give is the offering of forgiveness. It not only allows us to move away from blame, from seeing others as the cause of our sustained lovelessness, but it enables us to experience agency, to know we can be responsible for giving and finding love. We need not blame others for feelings of lack, for we know how to attend to them. We know how to give ourselves love and to recognize the love that is all around us. Much of the anger and rage we feel about emotional lack is released when we forgive ourselves and others. Forgiveness opens us up and prepares us to receive love. It prepares the way for us to give wholeheartedly."
(p. 163) 

"When one knows a true love, the transformative force of that love lasts even when we no longer have the company of the person with whom we experienced profound mutual care and growth. Thomas Merton writes: "We discover our true selves in love." Many of us are not ready to accept and embrace our true selves, particularly when living with integrity alienates us from our familiar worlds. Often, when we undergo a process of self-recovery, for a time we may find ourselves more alone. Writing about choosing solitude over company that does not nurture one's soul, Maya Angelou reminds us that "it is never lonesome in Babylon." Fear of facing true love may actually lead some individuals to remain in situations of lack and unfulfillment. There they are not alone, they are not at risk. To love fully and deeply puts us at risk."
(p. 187)

"Understanding that death is always with us can serve as the faithful reminder that the time to do what we feel called to do is always now and not in some distant and unimagined future."
(p. 203)

"Contrary to what we may have been taught to think, unnecessary and unchosen suffering wounds us but need not scar us for life. It does mark us. What we allow the mark of our suffering to become is in our own hands. In his collection of essays The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin writes about suffering in the healing process, stating: "I do not mean to be sentimental about suffering—but people who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never discover who they are." Growing up is, at heart, the process of learning to take responsibility for whatever happens in your life. To choose growth is to embrace a love that heals."
(pp. 210-1)

"Forgiveness not only enables us to overcome estrangement, it intensifies our capacity for affirming one another. Without conscious forgiveness there can be no genuine reconciliation. Making amends both to ourselves and to others is the gift compassion and forgiveness offers us. It is a process of emptying out wherein we let go all the waste so that there is a clear place within where we can see the other as ourselves."
(pp. 217-8)

March 14, 2021

Living simply makes loving simple.

all about love: new visions
by bell hooks

I'm super into love right now. 

I seek it everywhere—especially in the stories I consume and in the music I listen to. (Maybe someone/anyone could put me on to some good modern love songs, because the current love songs playlist I've had on repeat is a favorite but super vintage.)

I am reconsidering how I can improve in love and better receive it in all of my relationships, and so am feeling a deep appreciation for this thoughtfully researched & healing meditation.

"Imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition. The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb. I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the world "love," and was deeply relieved when I found one in psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book The Road Less Traveled, first published in 1978. Echoing the work of Erich Fromm, he defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Explaining further, he continues: "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will—namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love." Since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually."
(pp. 4-5)

"Raised in a family in which aggressive shaming and verbal humiliation coexisted with lots of affection and care, I had difficulty embracing the term "dysfunctional." Since I felt and still feel attached to my parents and siblings, proud of all the positive dimensions of our family life, I did not want to describe us by using a term that implied our life together had been all negative or bad. I did not want my parents to think I was disparaging them; I was appreciative of all the good things that they had given in the family. With therapeutic help I was able to see the term "dysfunctional" as a useful description and not as an absolute negative judgement. My family of origin provided, throughout my childhood, a dysfunctional setting and it remains one. This does not mean that its s not also a setting in which affection, delight, and care are present."
(pp. 6-7)

"Living simply is the primary way everyone can resist greed every day. All over the world people are becoming more aware of the importance of living simply and sharing resources. While communism has suffered political defeat globally, the politics of communalism continue to matter. We can all resist the temptation of greed. We can work to change public policy, electing leaders who are honest and progressive. We can turn off the television set. We can show respect for love. To save our planet we can stop thoughtless waste. We can recycle and support ecologically advanced survival strategies. We can celebrate and honor communalism and interdependency by sharing resources. All these gestures show a respect and gratitude for life. When we value the delaying of gratification and take responsibility for our actions, we simplify our emotional universe. Living simply makes loving simple. The voice to live simply necessarily enhances our capacity to love. It is the way we learn to practice compassion, daily affirming our connection to a world community." 
(p. 125)

March 07, 2021

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.


Daring Greatly: How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love Parent, and Lead
By Brené Brown

Instead of written annotations, I have a note on my phone filled with takeaways I typed while listening to Daring Greatly. Over the past few years I've watched her TED talk (below), Netflix special, and other conversations and presentations, so the themes are familiar but they feel more poignant as I get older. Her conclusions on vulnerability, shame, perfectionism, joy, connection and belonging are life-altering. I carry her lessons with me and try to remember to refer to them as often as possible while I move and heal through life.

Here's her take on wholehearted living. I'm halfway there.

"Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It's going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn't change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging. This definition is based on these fundamental ideals:
1. Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children. We're hardwired for connection—it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.
2. If you roughly divide the men and women I've interviewed into two groups—those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle for it—there's only one variable that separates the groups: Those who feel lovable, who love, and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. They don't have better or easier lives, they don't have fewer struggles with addiction or depression, and they haven't survived fewer traumas or bankruptcies or divorces, but in the midst of all of these struggles, they have developed practices that enable them to hold on to the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging, and even joy.
3. A strong belief in our worthiness doesn't just happen—it's cultivated when we understand the guideposts as choices and daily practices.
4. The main concern of Wholehearted men and women is living a life defined by courage, compassion, and conviction.
5. The Wholehearted identify vulnerability as the catalyst for courage, compassion, and connection. In fact, the willingness to be vulnerable emerged as the single clearest value shared by all of the women and men whom I would describe as Wholehearted. They attribute everything—from their professional success to their marriages to their proudest parenting moments—to their ability to be vulnerable."

February 28, 2021

They had already made each other's acquaintance in the delirium of their noon dreams.

By Toni Morrison

My first Toni Morrison. I can't wait to dive into more of her works. One wild ride, this Sula

"Which was only fitting, for it was in dreams that the two girls had first met. Long before Edna Finch's Mellow House opened, even before they marched through the chocolate halls of Garfield Primary School out onto the playground and stood facing each other through the ropes of the one vacant swing ("Go on." "No. You go."), they had already made each other's acquaintance in the delirium of their noon dreams. They were solitary little girls whose loneliness was so profound it intoxicated them and sent them stumbling into Technicolored visions that always included a presence, a someone, who, quite like the dreamer, shared the delight of the dream. When Nel, an only child, sat on the steps of her back porch surrounded by the high silence of her mother's incredibly orderly house, feeling the neatness pointing at her back, she studied the poplars and fell easily into a picture of herself lying on a flowered bed, tangled in her own hair, waiting for some fiery prince. He approached but never quite arrived. But always, watching the dream along with her, were some smiling sympathetic eyes. Someone as interested as she herself in the flow of her imagined hair, the thickness of the mattress of flowers, the voile sleeves that closed below her elbows in gold-threaded cuffs. 
Similarly, Sula, also an only child, but wedged into a household of throbbing disorder constantly awry with things, people, voices and the slamming of doors, spent hours in the attic behind a roll of linoleum galloping through her own mind on a gray-and-white horse tasting sugar and smelling roses in full view of a someone who shared both the taste and the speed. 
So when they met, first in those chocolate halls and next through the ropes of the swing, they felt the ease and comfort of old friends. Because each had discovered years before that they were neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them, they had set about creating something else to be. Their meeting was fortunate, for it let them use each other to grow on. Daughters of distant mothers and incomprehensible fathers (Sula's because he was dead; Nel's because he wasn't), they found in each other's eyes the intimacy they were looking for."
(p. 52)

February 21, 2021

If you do your best in the search for personal freedom, in the search for self-love, you will discover that it's just a matter of time before you find what you are looking for.

The Four Agreements
By Don Miguel Ruiz

Will gratefully fill my cup with these words of affirmation. 

Two years ago, Don Miguel Ruiz recorded a soothing guest episode for WORDAFUL, titled "PERFECT." I knew then I'd need to read The Four Agreements someday.

I'm reminded that over the past year I had this revelation while reading old journal entries that I was perfect just as I was 5/10/15 years ago, and I wished I'd seen it then instead of desiring to always be different than I was. So with that wisdom in mind, when I'm feeling down I've started to tell myself I'm perfect as I am to save future me from that regret.

Domestication and the Dream of the Planet
"Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive—the risk to be alive and express what we really are. Just being ourselves is the biggest fear of humans. We have learned to live our lives trying to satisfy other people's demands. We have learned to live by other people's points of view because of the fear of not being accepted and of not being good enough for someone else."
(p. 17)

"If we can see it is our agreements that rule our own life, and we don't like the dream of our life, we need to change the agreements."
(p. 22)

The First Agreement: Be Impeccable With Your Word
"Through the word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything. Regardless of what language you speak, your intent manifests through the word. What you dream, what you feel, and what you really are, will all be manifested through the word."
(p. 26)

"When you are impeccable, you take responsibility for your actions, but you do not judge or blame yourself...Sin begins with rejection of yourself. Self-rejection is the biggest sin that you commit."
(p. 31)

The Second Agreement: Don't Take Anything Personally
"If you keep this agreement, you can travel around the world with your heart completely open and no one can hurt you. You can say, "I love you," without fear of being ridiculed or rejected. You can ask for what you need. You can say yes, or you can say no—whatever you choose—without guilt or self-judgment. You can choose to follow your heart always."
(pp. 60-61)

The Third Agreement: Don't Make Assumptions
"If others tell us something, we make assumptions, and if they don't tell us something we make assumptions to fulfill our need to know and to replace the need to communicate. Even if we hear something and we don't understand, we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don't have the courage to ask questions."
(p. 68)

"We make the assumption that everyone sees life the way we do. We assume that others think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge, and abuse the way we abuse. This is the biggest assumption that humans make. And this is why we have a fear or being ourselves around others. Because we think everyone will judge us, victimize us, abuse us, and blame us as we do ourselves. So even before others have a chance to reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. That is the way the human mind works."
(p. 69)

"The way to keep yourself from making assumptions is to ask questions. Make sure the communication is clear. If you don't understand, ask. Have the courage to ask questions until you are clear as you can be, and even then do not assume you know all there is to know about a given situation. Once you hear the answer, you will not have to make assumptions because you will know the truth. 
Also, find your voice to ask for what you want. Everybody has the right to tell you no or yes, but you always have the right to ask. Likewise, everybody has the right to ask you, and you have the right to say yes or no."
(p. 72)

The Fourth Agreement: Always Do Your Best
"Action is about living fully. Inaction is the way that we deny life. Inaction is sitting in front of the television every day for years because you are afraid to be alive and to take the risk of expressing what you are. Expressing what you are is taking action. You can have many great ideas in your head, but what makes the difference is the action. Without action upon an idea, there will be no manifestation, no results, and no reward."
(p. 82) 

"Whatever life takes away from you, let it go."
(p. 83)

"If you do your best in the search for personal freedom, in the search for self-love, you will discover that it's just a matter of time before you find what you are looking for."
(p. 86)

The New Dream: Heaven on Earth
"Imagine that you love yourself just the way you are. You love your body just the way it is, and you love your emotions just the way they are. You know that you are perfect just as you are. The reason I ask you to imagine these things is because they are all entirely possible! You can live in the state of grace, the state of bliss, the dream of heaven."
(p. 126)

February 14, 2021

"Thing is, we're a community, and we got each other's back."

By Zadie Smith 

Zadie Smith read Marcus Aurelius' Meditations early in the pandemic for practical assistance (her words). A few months later: the publication of Intimations, a series of essays inspired by his musings. In addition to "The American Exception," which was published in The New Yorker last April, her book includes "A Woman with a Little Dog," which she read aloud during a fantastic conversation with Ashley C. Ford. It is so specific, humorous, and a moving reminder of what we've lost and would miss so much: the seemingly insignificant exchanges that made up our lives before everything went down. Ashley describes it as foreboding. I loved it.

"There she sat on that last day—I was passing with my little dog; a final chance for Maud to pee before we put her in the rental car—and I could see Barbara was preparing to bark one of her ambivalent declamations at me, about the weather or a piece of prose, or some new outrage committed by the leader of a country which, in Barbara's mind, only theoretically includes her own city. Already missing New York, I was keen to hear it. Instead she sucked hard on her cigarette and said, in a voice far quieter than I'd ever hear her use: "Thing is, we're a community, and we got each other's back. You'll be there for me, and I'll be there for you, and we'll all be there for each other, the whole building. Nothing to be afraid of—we'll get through this, all of us, together." 
"Yes, we will," I whispered, hardly audible, even to myself, and walked on, maintaining a six-foot distance, whether to conform with the new regulations or to avoid Beck biting me in some vulnerable spot I couldn't tell."
(p. 51)

She starts reading "A Woman with a Little Dog" at 24:55—oh and just before then she describes her relationship with writing. ("I do need it. I'm not particularly proud of the ways I need it, but I need to organize my ideas, I need to set things down, I need to feel like life has meaning. And so that's why I do it. I do need those things.")

Their talk filled me up and it's well worth the watch. 

February 07, 2021

Well, there is time left—fields everywhere invite you into them.

By Mary Oliver

One of my favorite things to do - lately - after a long day of excessive screen time at my desk, is retreat to my rocking chair, grab Devotions, and turn to a random page for a dose of poem.

This one made me a little teary. I had an inspiring conversation with a mentor on Thursday morning. That discussion and these tender words in the evening were perfect, complementary bookends to the day.

Have You Ever Tried To Enter The Long Black Branches

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches 
of other lives—
tried to imagine what the crisp fingers, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early summer,
feel like?

Do you think this world is only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot 
    in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
    with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left—
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
    from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one's foot into the door of the grass, which is
    the mystery, which is the death as well as life, and
    not be afraid!

To set one's foot in the door of death, and be overcome
    with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
    god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,

nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
    present hour,

to the song falling out of the mockingbird's pink mouth,

to the triplets of the honeysuckle, that have opened in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
    to the wild roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge red, 
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters, 
caution and prudence?

Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what's coming next
    is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
    upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn't ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean's edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

January 31, 2021

They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say: I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are, over and over again.

World of Wonders
By Aimee Nezhukumatatkil

This is a book with gorgeous intent, and it regenerated my yearning for the natural world, a place I love so much but engage with so little. It laid new magic words in my lap (senescence, crepuscular!) and was a reminder and a motivation to be in the world more often, to know our fellow species more intimately, and receive their nourishing and sustaining lessons.

Completely inspired by Nezhukumatatkil's technique, I found myself thinking about the tiny personal stories I could tell—I think of the firefly (photinus pyralid), honeysuckle (lonicera), earthworm (lumbricina), to name a few—and falling into a bit of nostalgia recalling a trove of childhood memories I had forgotten...

Fireflies remind me of spending summer evenings with my family in the Bronx and holding my mom's hand on our late-night bus rides back to Queens. The first time I tasted honeysuckle, I remember the feeling of sweet surprise that something floral could give back to me in that way. Once my neighbor friend and I dug our hands into soil and encountered earthworms and felt gentle, awed and unafraid. And on.

I miss fireflies and what they remind me of: timeless youth, which I now know is at complete opposition to what their light means for their lives. It hadn't occurred to me that most children today will have a different experience of them, or none at all.
"For a beetle, fireflies live long and full lives—around two years—though most of it is spent underground, gloriously eating and sleeping to their hearts' content. When we see these beacons flashing their lights, they usually only have one or two weeks left to live. Learning this as a child—I could often be found walking slowly around untrimmed lawns, stalling and not quite ready to go inside for dinner—made me melancholy, even in the face of their brilliance. I couldn't believe something so full of light would be gone so soon.
I know I will search for fireflies all the rest of my days, even though they dwindle a little bit more each year. I can't help it. They blink on and off, a lime glow to the summer night air, as if to say: I am still here, you are still here, I am still here, you are still here, I am, you are, over and over again. Perhaps I can will it to be true. Perhaps I can keep those summer nights with my family inside an empty jam jar, with holes poked in the lid, a twig and a few strands of grass tucked inside. And for those unimaginable nights in the future, when I know I'll miss my mother the most, I will let that jar's sweet glow serve as a night-light to cool and cut the air for me."
("Firefly," photons pyralis, p. 12)

"Why all the fuss and euphoria over some greenery? Well, I still coo over its delightful pinnation, the double-leaf pattern feathering outward then inward from both sides of a single stem, and its spherical lavender-pink flowers, which bloom only in summer, and look as if someone crossed a My Little Pony doll with a tiny firework. But its best and most notable feature is that when you piano your fingers over the leaves of this plant, they give a shudder and a shake and quickly fold shut, like someone doesn't want to spill a secret."
("Touch-Me-Nots, mimosa pudica, p. 25)

"Bonnet macaques reminded me how good it felt to laugh, to keep laughing in love. To make my love laugh. To let my laughter be from a place of love."
("Bonnet Macaque," Macaca radiata, p. 74)

"I'm certain it's not any magic in my mouth, no special twist of tongue that only I have unlocked. But I think it's the quiet way you settle into the crook of a tree trunk, the still and slowdown of your heart in a world that wants to be quick and to move onto the next thing. The secret in talking to birds is in the steadiness of each limb as you make your way into their territory, in the deliberateness of each movement and bend of tree branch and grass blade. And just like the potoo, who is rewarded for her stillness by having her lunch practically fly right to her mouth—perhaps you could try a little tranquility, find a little tenderness in your quiet. Who knows what feathered gifts await?"
("Potoo," Nyctibius griseus, p. 97)

Reading about an animal's slow death delivers a specific kind of heartbreak, and I always notice it. I don't *like* it at all, but I'm drawn to it, maybe because the description taps into the most empathetic, deep feeling sides of me. (See Cheryl Strayed on a bird's death, Chris Jones on a massacre at a zoo, W.C. Heinz on the death of a racehorse.) Here is Nezhukumatatkil on her experience with a dying octopus, which is 100x sadder after she explains how smart and sensitive they are.
"Instead I focused on its golden eye, how it fixed upon my shape. How its arms wrapped and drooped around my wrist and up my forearm while it took me in, tasted me. In those moments I held it, how many things it might have felt or known about me. Could it sense the love and exhilaration I felt for it or my sheer despair once I realized it was dying in my hands? I only know that I had never been looked at, consumed, or questioned so carefully by another being."
("Octopus," Octopus vulgaris, p. 107)

"On those weeks in Mississippi when the air outside is like a napping dragon's exhalations, there's no sweeter cocktail to lull us out of a sleepy, slow summer evening. If you do catch a sunburn, you can mash up a bit of the dragon fruit flesh and apply it to the tender pink of your skin to help soothe it like an aloe. The dragon can be both the wildness we call out when we see this pink egg, and it can also be the balm. This is the fruit for a time of year when the sun and all its gallop don't merely feel as though they have nudged us from a static winter, but into a fully alive, roaring season—when everything you touch feels like it could give you a blister and a bit of wild burn."
("Dragon Fruit," Hylocereus undatus, p. 115)