Notice Your Life!

I heard an interview recently with the writer Robert Greene who wrote the book Mastery. The interviewer asked him what he says to people who tell him that they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

My ears really pricked up when I heard that question because this question has been on my “Top 10 List” for most of my life. And his answer shocked me. And chastised me. And embarrassed me.

He said: “This question always disturbs me because it tells me that this person hasn’t been paying attention to his life. Because if they had been, they would know what they should do, or be.”

I felt embarrassed for thinking for so long that my vocation would somehow be “revealed to me.” I felt stupid for mistaking “calling” for something you were supposed to “hear” in your mind,  rather than something you were supposed to be continuously “noticing.”

Calling isn’t something whispered in your ear; it’s the continuous watching of how you act, what you do in your spare time, what you avoid, and perhaps most telling, what you do when you procrastinate.

If you started paying attention to those kinds of things you would know exactly who you are, what your talents were, and what you should be doing for work.

But most of us have not been noticing. We have been sleepwalking through our lives. Either that, or just allowing ourselves to be flippered from thing to thing like some pinball, hitting bumpers, racking up points in some game we aren’t even aware we’re playing.

As a result we can get to a pretty advanced age without knowing who we are and what we ought to be doing.

And this is pathetic. And a waste. And totally unnecessary.

I know so many people who are on the brink of retirement and still don’t know what they should be doing with their lives; they don’t know who they are, or what their gifts are. They are getting close to the end of their lives and they haven’t even come close to maximizing their full human potential.

And that is why they fear death. Or at least the next birthday.

But it’s never too late! Never! Start making lists. List everything you love and everything your hate.

Why do this?

Because these lists will show who you are. If you keep adding to these lists  you will notice trends, and how interesting and complex you are, and where you are a totally unique blend of character traits, and propensities, and weirdnesses. That’s your gift. Then all you have to do is figure out how you can add value to the lives of other people with your special brand.

And when you can add value, you hit the jackpot. You then start living a life of value and purpose. And that’s the whole game.

The First Day of Spring

Today it snowed. Two inches of heavy wet snow on this astronomical “first day of spring.”

I got up, made coffee and raisin toast, filled the bird feeders, then headed up to my cozy lair, turned on the space heater and settled in for a long write.

Yesterday a book I had ordered called, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings by John O’Donahue came.

I had come across a poem from this collection recently,  and fell in love with it, so I ordered the volume.

And today, while the snow fell softly, and my room filled with warmth, I sat and read it from cover to cover.

And wept.

And underlined.

And wrote notes to myself so I would not t forget this.

And stared out the window. And thought about my life, and my death, and time and love.

And as the snow continued to fall, I got up and checked the mail, and for the first time in many years there was no letter. And I was sad.

Every year for the past 6 or 7, I have led a Yoga Nidra class on New Year’s Eve and at the end, I offer the people who come the opportunity to write a letter to themselves.

I write one, too. And it always starts like this, “Dear Kath, I have been waiting for you to get really quiet and listen to me because I have so many things I need to talk to you about, darling.”

This is a letter from my soul, my heart, inner wisdom guide. And after yoga nidra, I am so deeply dialed in, that I don’t even write it. I just surrender the pen to her, and she tells me what I really need to know.

When the letter is done, I seal it in an envelope, and collect all the similar sealed, self-addressed letters of the participants, and then mail them all to arrive in mailboxes on the first day of spring.

But this year, I didn’t have the Yoga Nidra class. This year I didn’t write my letter, and so today, there was no letter from my soul.

Maybe that is why the universe sent me the astonishingly beautiful Blessings from John O’Donahue.

Spring has always been my favorite season. From this day until the Summer Solstice, I have always felt, since early childhood, a quickening and a coming to life at this time of year.

Spring does not always have the best weather here where I live in northern Pennsylvania. It is a fickle season of rain and snow. It is a season that teases, then withdraws.

It is often muddy and cold and sullen. But every day is a bit longer than the one before. Every day a new bird arrives at the feeder, a new flower pierces the snow crust.

Tomorrow I think I will write a letter to myself and give it to G to mail to me on the Summer Solstice. I like getting letters from my  spirit in the mail.

But for today I would ask that if you are so inclined, order this John O’Donahue book, and read it in your cozy lair.  I think you will be amazed. I will leave you with this excerpt from his poem ,A Morning Offering:

May my mind come alive today

To the invisible geography

That invites me to new frontiers.

To break the dead shell of yesterdays,

To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today

To live the life that I would love,

To postpone my dream no longer

But do at last what I came here for

And waste my heart on fear no more.

13 Things You Should Get Rid of in 2012

I have started thinking about New Year’s Resolutions lately. Not that I am going to make any, but I am thinking about things that I would like to do, or see happen in the coming 12 months. Mostly I think of adding things to my life when I think of changing it, but sometimes it’s more interesting to think about getting rid of things.

I think I have managed to get rid of most of the following 13 things from my life for the most part, but it’s always good to be reminded of what does not serve. I really think that that these things Have. Got. To. Go.

1. The extra 13 pounds you gained during the holidays (and before). Fewer cookies, more cardio.

2. Grouchy people.  Get rid of them. If you are married to them or they are your children or your relatives you are going to have a hard time with this one.  One thing I do with grouchy, negative people is laugh at them.  Yeah.  A grump pretty much hates not being taken seriously and will avoid you or move out of your vicinity if you make light of their situation.

3.  Get rid of dirt, grime, filth.  Clean your space. Throw stuff out. Get a dumpster if that’s what it will take. Do this. It’s important to your mental health.

4. Get rid of your fear of hard work, fear of success, fear of failure, and of all the other scary (non-existent) monsters under the bed. Stop procrastinating.

5. Get rid of the idea that you are going to live forever, or that you are probably going to die at a very old age and that you still have a lot of time left to get your act together.  You don’t.  The days are long, but the years are short.  Make things happen.  Now.  Don’t defer doing what you always wanted to do.

6. Get rid of the idea that only big things count.  Everything counts, and just like Mother Teresa said, we can’t do great things, only small things with great love.  Get rid of the idea that there are “small things that don’t count.”  The smallest little act of kindness or consideration counts.

7. Get rid of the need to be thanked or appreciated for anything.  People don’t write thank-you notes any more.  (When was the last time you wrote one?) So don’t work for the nod. Do your job, or whatever you do, because you want to do it and derive pleasure from just doing it.  Nobody is going to give you a trophy just because you played, or tried your best.  Life isn’t Little League.  Stop expecting praise.

8. Get rid of laziness.  Start by never admitting that you feel lazy even when you do.  Never say the word lazy.  Banish it from your vocabulary.  Don’t call anyone else lazy either.  Lazy does not exist anymore.  Get rid of the whole idea of it.

9. Get rid of bored, too.  Once you’re past age 3, there is no excuse for bored. Once you realize that you are going to die some day, there is no more “bored.” Never be bored.  Bored is just a form of lazy and we kicked that one to the curb in number 8.

10. Get rid of all your slovenly health habits.  Really people, floss.  I’m serious about this. Brushing your teeth doesn’t count.  Brushing your teeth doesn’t do a damn thing except make your mouth feel pretty.  There’s still garbage dumps worth of crap between each tooth.  Floss.

11. Get rid of other bad habits, too. Like eating on the run, or in front of the TV or computer.  Eat as much as you want, just don’t do anything else while you’re doing it and then just watch as those 13 pounds we talked about in number 1 disappear.

12. Get rid of anger.  Stop getting angry. It doesn’t help you or the person you’re angry with.  Ever.  Instead, develop your non-violent communication skills. There is a book that will help with this.  Get it, and start learning how to think in terms of identifying your needs and trying to get them met with the help of others.  And if you can’t?  Give up on them.  Seriously.  Take my word for this.

13. Get rid of complaining.  Complaining makes you a living breathing crap magnet.  Don’t complain anymore and walk away (actually, run) from chronic complainers.  If they don’t have an audience they’ll stop.  They really will. You can even try making a game of this. This book tells you how.

And finally (this one is just for me), Get rid of your need to hand out unsolicited advice or  tell people what they should get rid of on your blog.

It’s annoying.

Foisting Books on People

I really don’t want to be a foister, but I am.  I am reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin at the moment and all I want to do is buy 20 copies and give them to people, press it into their hands with that annoying, desperate pleading in my eyes and say, “Pleeeeze!  You simply MUST read this!!”

And I’m not even finished it yet; I’m only on page 120.  This is such an important book (I believe), it’s about becoming indispensable.  Like all his books, it’s brilliant, super easy to read, and so very RIGHT!

Here are a few of my underlinings:

“The job is not your work; what you do with your heart and soul is the work.” (p.97)

“When you have a boss, your job is to please the boss, not to change her. It’s okay to have someone you work for, someone who watches over you, someone who pays you. But the moment you treat that person like a boss, like someone in charge of your movements and your output,  you are a cog, not an artist.”

And here is what linchpins (aka indispensable people) do:

“They produce more than you pay them to, because you are paying them with something worth more than money. They do more than they’re paid to, on their own, because they value quality for its own sake, and they want to do good work. They need to do good work.  Anything less feels intellectually dishonest, and like a waste of time.” (p. 36)

The whole book is about doing emotional labor, work from the heart, work that goes beyond what’s required.

It’s a great book and you should read it!  Now! Today!  Go on Amazon and order it! If you can’t afford it, I’ll buy it for you, just let me know.

And here I am being a “foister” and I really hate foisters.  When someone tells me that I have to read something, I feel this icky pressure, particularly if I know, love and respect the person.

It’s just that we might not have the same interests, the same taste in books.  The person foisting also might not understand  that I have a STACK *this high* of books already queued up, waiting for some time to open up to get to, and their recommendation is just adding to the pressure of that stack.

But all that being said, if you want to be indispensable? If you want to live in a world where people are going the extra mile in their lives and in their work? If you’ve ever experienced first-hand a person who makes a business simply because they give so much more than they  have to, who are emotionally invested in their jobs and in their life? If you want the recipe for this?  Linchpin by Seth Godin

(Sorry for the foist.)

Books That Changed My Life #2

Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Writing Down The Bones completely ruined my handwriting.

We’re talking about years of Palmer Method here, countless copybooks splotched up with ovals and push-pulls.  And today?  Can’t even sign my own goddam name on my credit card receipts with any sort of legibility.

I totally blame Natalie Goldberg.

In Writing Down The Bones, a book that I credit for making me a writer—good, bad or mediocre, she said that you just take your pen and …GO.

No concern with grammar, punctuation, spelling, or Palmer Method.  The only important thing?  Keep up with your thoughts.  Thoughts fly, the pen is s-l-o-w, so you need to scribble like a fiend.  Not holds barred.  Write everything.  Write crazy, bawdy, self-pitying, self-congratulatory. Write funny, satirical, ironical.  Write irreverent. Write crap.  But write.  Write it all down as fast as you can think it.  Don’t miss a thought, and for that, speed is required.  And speed entails slovenly when it comes to handwriting.  “Chicken scratch” would be a compliment.

So after years of Writing Down The Bones, my perfect Catholic School Palmer Method Oval and Push Pull handwriting is totally and irrevocably gone.

Along with the right answers to catechism questions, saddle shoes, and my goody-goody I’m-Not-Supposed-To-Even-Think-That-Way mindset.

Now, I don’t even give a shit.  I just go.

Natalie Goldberg ruined my handwriting, and set me free, and made me a writer.

Thanks, Nat.


Books That Changed My Life #1

I listened to the This American Life podcast the other day and the theme was “Books That Changed My Life.”

(Ira Glass, the host, thought it was a rather unusual idea that a book could change a person’s life. Whatever, Ira.)

Not me.  Oh no. There have been many books that have completely changed the trajectory of my life.

The first one I thought of (but maybe not the first one that changed my life) was Richard Hittleman’s Yoga: 28 Day Exercise Plan.

I think it was 1976.  I was a senior in college.  I don’t even remember where I bought this book.  The college bookstore?  Walden Books at the Mall?  Who knows.

All I remember was taking it out every afternoon, spreading an old beach towel on the green shag carpet of the house I was living in, and doing it.  28 days in a row without a miss.

The blonde model on the cover wore a leotard and tights (with feet).  The illustrations were in black and white.  Each day there were a few exercises (yeah, he called them “exercises” not “asanas”), followed by a little one page “Thought for the Day.”  And then there were these words:

Do not do any additional Yoga exercising today.

Really?? This was revolutionary.  That a book about something good for you would not advocate doing it as much as possible and as hard as you could for as long as you could, was a totally novel concept to me.  And kinda crazy.  And intriguing.

Why wasn’t I allowed to do any more today?  Would something bad happen if I did more of these yoga exercises in one day?  I wasn’t going to take any chances.  I obeyed.  And everyday I came back for more.

I think it was that mandatory stop that kept me curious, interested, and hungry.  (I once heard about a Guinness World Record holder who ate an entire Volkswagon.  He did it by swallowing one little piece a day.)

That Hittleman book hooked me on yoga.  It also revealed to me an essential piece of my basic nature: as long as I can do something a little bit every day, and not have to swallow a whole big thing in one gulp, I could learn yoga, or eat a Volkswagon.