Tolstoy on Acts of Kindness

“As our self-interest diminishes, our anxieties disappear, and then comes quiet and firm joy, which always diffuses us with a good spiritual disposition and a clear conscience. Every good deed helps to kindle this feeling of joy within us.”

 Tolstoy

(from Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project, Moment of Happiness” on Tuesday. Visit Gretchen Rubin’s site, The Happiness Project, to sign up for a daily “Moment of Happiness” in your own e-mail inbox.)

Love and Gardening

A quote from Teachings on Love by Thich Nhat Hanh:

When we try to grow flowers, if the flowers do not grow well, we do not blame or argue with them. We blame ourselves for not taking care of them well. Our partner is a flower. If we take care of her well, she will grow beautifully. If we take care of her poorly, she will wither. To help a flower grow well, we must understand her nature. How much water does she need? How much sunshine? We look deeply into ourselves to see our true nature, and we look into the other person to see her nature.

Of course, my partner is a flower who can also care for himself well or poorly. In that sense, it might not make sense for me to take full responsibility for his growing well or withering. But because our lives are so intermingled, often it’s difficult to tell just where one’s influence ends and the other’s begins. In addition, my husband’s well-being is influenced by my own. If I don’t care for myself, eat well, get adequate sleep, my husband suffers as well as I do. It’s like when I wrote about how my husband and I view our individual goals as shared goals or family goals and work toward them accordingly. From this perspective, it seems like a fairly safe option to assume mutual responsibility for one another’s well-being.

It’s a good starting point, at least, loving one another as we love ourselves.

January is “Explore” Month!

Skiing at Merrits

This is not the kind of skiing I'll be trying out. (Image via Wikipedia)

If I’m an Eeyore when it comes to fun, I’m something of a Piglet when it comes to trying new things. While it really is hard to be brave when you’re such a very small creature (I’m 5’2″ tall), I recognize that a lot of my fears are rather overblown. It’s about time that I try to face some of them.

In some people’s estimation, I’m fairly brave. I don’t hesitate to pull up stakes and relocate every few years. I’ll give birth at home any day of the week. But these things aren’t scary to me, so they don’t really require bravery. Some things that require bravery for me:

  • asking an employee at a store where the bathroom is
  • walking into a hospital (even if I’m not the patient)
  • sending food back in a restaurant
  • driving in the mountains in the wintertime
  • flying on planes
  • attending baby showers
  • planning my children’s birthday parties
  • dancing in front of other people
  • speaking in front of groups
  • visiting new religious congregations

See what I mean? A total Piglet.

So “Explore” month isn’t going to involve skydiving or ski jumps or eating undercooked eggs (at least I don’t think it will). But it will involve me pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone just a tad so I can see if I can expand the limits of what I find fun and what brings me joy.

With that in mind, here’s the plan:

January 2011 – Explore
Focus: Go out on a bit of a limb and try some things I haven’t done before.

-Go cross-country skiing. I’ve never been skiing, but I’m terrified of it. My friend shared a quote by Erma Bombeck with me the other day that captures my sentiments fairly well: “I do not participate in any sport with ambulances at the bottom of the hill.” I found another quote that fits well, too:

There are really only three things to learn in skiing:  how to put on your skis, how to slide downhill, and how to walk along the hospital corridor.  ~Lord Mancroft, A Chinaman in my Bath, 1974

So although I’m going to face my fear of skiing, it will not involve any downhill skiing. I’ve got it all planned out. A friend is going to drive me out to Mountain Dell next Saturday after my son’s Music Together class (because I’m afraid of even driving to skiing). There are free lessons that day and a chance to try out new gear. We’re going to get there late and the lessons are first-come, first-served, so it’s possible I’ll not get to try out skis that day. There are also snowshoe lessons that involve a guided nature walk. I’ve never been snowshoeing, either, so if that’s all that’s left, I’ll still be able to try something new. My friend says snowshoeing is lame, but I think lame might be just about my speed.

Go dancing. In public. There’s a Sacred Dance Fusion class on Tuesday nights at Avenues Yoga here in town. I think I’ll try that out. There’s also contra dancing on the 22nd in town here. I’ve been contra dancing once. I did my best to avoid actually dancing. If I went this time, I would challenge myself to dance. There’s a beginner session at 7:30 and then the dance proper from 8-11. Maybe that first half-hour would be enough to build my confidence. I have friends who absolutely love contra dancing (not in Utah. These are friends in North Carolina, where I tried contra dancing before), so I figure I might give it a try.

Try a martial art. This one involves a fear similar to the one I have around dancing in public. I’m just looking for something to help me feel more at home in my body, and I want to try out a couple of different things to try to meet this goal. I think I’m going to sign up for either Tae Kwon Do or Aikido. I’m leaning towards Aikido because it seems more meditative and less combative. The only thing still drawing me to Tae Kwon Do over Aikido is that I had a friend in high school who was, like, some state champion at Tae Kwon Do or something, and she had the most amazing thighs. Although we were 17 years old at the time, and I’m fairly certain that 17 years and two children have pretty much eliminated all possibility of me ever having thighs like hers were then.

This is going to be a rather more active month, compared to the more cerebral months I’ve had so far. Which is all part of the “Explore” piece, since I’m way more comfy in my brain than I am in my body.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this month. I think it’s a little too scary for me to be very excited about it, but cautious optimism isn’t too bad. And it’s more positive than the mood with which I usually approach a new year, which I think is better described as cautious pessimism.

Happiness: “see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.”

Robertson Davies, Canadian author

Robertson Davies. Image via Wikipedia

Thank you to Tucker for this quote.

Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.

– Robertson Davies

A Warning Unheeded

One of the things I didn’t realize I would get when I signed up for NaNoWriMo was a pep talk from Lemony Snicket. Lemony Snicket, possibly the most ill-fated writer ever born. He took time out from his busy schedule of running away from ill-intentioned people in quest of unpleasant truths he will likely wish he’d never sought, to write a pep talk to me (and everyone else who signed up for NaNoWriMo) trying to talk us out of pursuing a path that would be difficult, painful, and ultimately leave us unfulfilled. I like all of the pep talks I get from NaNo, but Lemony Snicket’s really struck a chord with me. I especially like this portion, which seems to have been written especially for me:

“Of course, it may well be that you are writing not for some perfect reader someplace, but for yourself, and that is the biggest folly of them all, because it will not work. You will not be happy all of the time. Unlike most things that most people make, your novel will not be perfect. It may well be considerably less than one-fourth perfect, and this will frustrate you and sadden you. This is why you should stop. Most people are not writing novels which is why there is so little frustration and sadness in the world, particularly as we zoom on past the novel in our smoky jet packs soon to be equipped with pureed food. The next time you find yourself in a group of people, stop and think to yourself, probably no one here is writing a novel. This is why everyone is so content, here at this bus stop or in line at the supermarket or standing around this baggage carousel or sitting around in this doctor’s waiting room or in seventh grade or in Johannesburg. Give up your novel, and join the crowd. Think of all the things you could do with your time instead of participating in a noble and storied art form. There are things in your cupboards that likely need to be moved around.”

You can read the entire pep talk here.

Unfortunately, I read this caution too late.

50,374 is my verified word count. I’m a National Novel Writing Month 2010 WINNER!

NaNoWriMo Day 15: The Quiet Center

Slcold

Image via Wikipedia

Word Count: 26,705

The first verse of a hymn from Worship and Rejoice, the hymnal at the First Congregational Church in Salt Lake City, Utah:

“Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead, find the room for hope to enter, find the frame where we are freed: clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes, that we can see all the things that really matter, be at peace, and simply be.”

I wasn’t a big fan of this particular hymnal, but this verse really spoke to me. In all of my decluttering last month and writing this month, I’ve had a tendency to forget to take a breath and just be.

Book Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningWhat I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book isn’t just about running. It’s also about writing. And a little bit about triathlons and running a jazz club in Tokyo. I think it would have universal appeal, not just to runners or writers. But then, I enjoy running and writing, so I’m probably not the best judge of this.

I also really like Murakami’s novels. I found it reassuring to find that he seems to be just kind of a regular guy, even though he writes pretty off-the-wall books. It has helped me feel like I can write off-the-wall books without being any more odd than I already am. As my friend helpfully pointed out, just because I think Murakami sounds kind of like me doesn’t mean he’s not strange.

Overall, I found this memoir to be very accessible and conversational. It showed me a lot about Murakami’s process as a writer and as a runner and how these two things feed into each other. I just liked it.

Oh, and here’s a quote from the book that I think applies to many people, not just runners or writers:

“To be able to grasp something of value, sometimes you have to perform seemingly inefficient tasks. But even activities that appear fruitless don’t necessarily end up so.”

It’s this general thought that keeps me going as a mother. I also see my daughter learning this lesson as she practices her flute every day. That may not be exactly universal, but it’s broader than just runners and writers.

View all my reviews

Poetry Break

Original Winnie the Pooh stuffed toys. Clockwi...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been having fun spending a lot of time on my posts every night, but tonight, I decided to give myself—and you—a little break.

I happened upon this poem tonight in my daughter’s The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne. I love how Milne captures a moment of happiness for this youngster.

Happiness, by A. A. Milne (from When We Were Very Young)

John had

Great Big

Waterproof

Boots on;

John had a

Great Big

Waterproof

Hat;

John had a

Great Big

Waterproof

Mackintosh—

And that

(Said John)

Is

That.

Conscious Sacrifice

Here’s part of what I read today in Marion Woodman’s Addiction to Perfection:

The overconscientious perfectionist knows she cannot control her obsession; she recognizes at the center of her whirlpool another power to which she is hostile. The whirling through her daytime efficiency and nighttime compulsion avoids as long as it can the confrontation with the Eye. That confrontation demands surrender of the rigid, self-deceptive “I.”

…The attitude of the ego towards the Eye is everything. If the ego is hostile, then it experiences itself as victim and sets itself up for self-murder. If the attitude is one of acceptance–not resignation, but open receptivity–then murder is transformed into conscious sacrifice. That change in attitude opens the heart to the power of love radiating from the Eye–the all-embracing, nourishing love that can support rather than destroy the “I.” Psychologically speaking, so long as conscious and unconscious are enemies, the ego experiences itself in constant danger of death. Once they are in harmony the ego experiences itself open and supported by the maternal matrix of love.

This idea of murder being “transformed into conscious sacrifice” is intriguing to me. In the book, Woodman writes about a woman who eats compulsively choosing to fast for a week. The choice to sacrifice through fasting yields remarkable insights for this particular woman. This leaves me considering what the difference is between the “Biggest Loser” boot camp model of weight-loss and the inside-out sacrifice of fasting.

Listening to RadioWest on KUER this afternoon, I caught a portion of an interview with Judge Thomas Buergenthal about his memoir, A Lucky Child, which deals with his past as one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Buergenthal spoke about one instance in which prisoners were selected for hanging and then their close friends were ordered to perform the executions. One young man went to put the noose over his friend’s head. The friend took the noose and put it around his neck himself, kissed his friend’s face, then jumped from the platform. He turned a murder, literally, into a conscious act of sacrifice.

I don’t mean to imply that my situation is anything near that of a concentration camp prisoner or a compulsive eater, but I do think there are common human experiences from which I can learn. I don’t need to be a prisoner sentenced to death to engage in a conscious act of sacrifice. But the haunting story of this prisoner’s final act of rebellion, which was also an act of love for his friend, could give me insight into how I might move towards a similar state of psychological harmony.

Happiness in Marriage

Pride and Prejudice

Image by elycefeliz via Flickr

Today is my eleventh wedding anniversary.

In honor of this event, here’s a quote about marriage and happiness.

Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.

-Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

As far as I can tell, my husband and I have only grown more alike as the years have passed. I don’t know that this decreases “vexation,” though, as I am perfectly capable of arguing with myself. I do agree that it’s probably better for the defects of one’s mate to be revealed slowly over time rather than all at once at the beginning of the relationship. They may have scared me away had I known them all ahead of time, but as it happened, the revelation of both of our defects appears to have kept pace with the deepening of our affection for one another, which strikes a lovely balance, I think.