With spring on its way, the ground thawing, and perennial green matter ready to reveal itself again, a few of my favorite poetries rise to the surface of my mind.
Crocuses Painting by Toinette Lippe
To the bottom of the lake,
Yet no trace is left.
He sits alone in his room,
As the pines grow old
And the clouds idle.
Willows are green, flowers red.
Steadfastly doing nothing, sitting there
Spring comes and the grass sprouts of itself.
Without any intentional, fancy way of adjusting yourself, to express yourself as you are is the most important thing.
An enlightened being should develop a mind that alights on nothing whatsoever.
The Diamond Sutra
Do you ever wonder about certain combinations of ingredients and who first dreamed them up? For instance, who was the very first baker to blend lemons and poppy seeds to make muffins? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how wonderfully these two tastes pair up.
This recipe is so simple that you can have a delectable breakfast or brunch treat in less than an hour. Feel free to play with the ingredients, make substitutions, add more lemon zest or poppy seeds. It’s almost impossible to ruin the outcome.
As with many of the sweets I make and love—with no refined sugars or flours—these muffins can be frozen, so that there’s always a treat waiting for you, or something to serve with tea for an unexpected guest or bring to a brunch when you don’t have time to bake. Enjoy!
Myochi’s Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin Recipe
…continued from Discovery 1:1
Understanding and Acceptance
Have you ever noticed how people (perhaps even you) seem to hate change and yet always wish for it? This mood of dissatisfaction expresses itself in our lives and most especially in our work. How many people do you know who are satisfied with their work? How many people do you know who like what they do but hate their boss? Or vice versa? How about those who complain no matter what they’re doing? We seem to always want things to change, yet when they do we don’t handle it very well. Perhaps we direct our dissatisfaction toward our work because for us work doesn’t have a human face; it is impersonal. There is no one person responsible. There is no one person capable of making the changes we want. There is no one person who can assure us that nothing will ever change. Perhaps we complain about our work because others do or because we always have or because it’s safer to attack work than it is to look at the issues that really upset us.
And why do company mergers create such tremendous anxiety among all levels of employees? Because such an event is a loud, roaring signal that things are about to change. It brings us face to face with the fundamental reality that was simply dwelling beneath the surface prior to the announced merger: change happens. And when we dwell in the unknown—what will happen to us? will we lose our job? will our benefits be reduced? will we be asked to move?—we let our fears take control. We indulge our runaway anxiety. After all, we are merely pawns in the company’s hands. But what we don’t realize is that nothing has really changed except our awareness. Even prior to the merger announcement our work situation was precarious—there were no guarantees, no stability, no security in any position. Whatever the situation, we need to find stability within ourselves and go there each time the fear of losing something we have, or not getting something we want, arises. We must find our inner strength and know that whatever happens we will remain intact—able to support our families and ourselves. The whims of our bosses, the fluctuations in the economy, the shifts in the demand for the product or service we offer, are all out of our control. So we must firmly plant ourselves in the soil of spiritual groundedness and sway gently with the changing winds of time, knowing that none is strong enough to uproot us. We will survive, we will prosper, we will be happy so long as our roots are firmly imbedded in the solid rock of acceptance and understanding.
On a hot day many people walk around complaining about the heat, miserable and cranky because the weather doesn’t suit them. These same people also complain when it’s rainy and cold or simply not a picture-perfect day. What these people lack is an acceptance of what is and an understanding that they are not in control. There’s an old Zen saying that you might want to write on a piece of paper and tack up over your desk or work station, or carry around with you, to remind you that you are not in charge.
When it’s cold, shiver. When it’s hot, sweat.
And not only are you not in charge of the weather, but you are also not in charge of company policy or how it gets executed or who your co-workers are. (Even if you are the boss who sets the company policy, you cannot control every little aspect of a dynamic organization.) So…
When it’s cold, shiver. When it’s hot, sweat.
Each time you look at it, and each time you hear yourself complaining about the weather or your job or your boss, let this saying remind you that the only way the weather, or anything else, will change is if you move to a different climate, or when time takes its course. But before you make any drastic changes, consider that staying put and sweating or shivering might be the best answer. Moving away will not guarantee that the new situation will be more to your liking. Let this saying also remind you that while you may not be in charge of the weather you are in charge of your reaction to it. And this is where you must look to understand why you are dissatisfied and what you can do about it. You must look to yourself.
You must first pay closer attention to the actual circumstances and come to an understanding of how and why things are the way they are. And sometimes you must learn to accept what is, without expecting any deeper understanding. This may sound obvious and simplistic, but the truth of your life may surprise you once you take a closer look.
So, as you begin look at yourself and your work life keep in mind the following questions: Is your work nature different and separate from your nature outside work? Is your job, your work, the cause of your dissatisfaction, or does the source lie elsewhere? Write for a few minutes addressing these two questions. Then sit for a few minutes and reflect on what you’ve discovered about yourself. Perhaps nothing new will reveal itself yet. This is okay. Or perhaps these two simple questions will stimulate more confusion than you’re ready to handle right now. This is okay, too. Just breathe, relax, and know that there is no right response. You are not expected to be any place but exactly where you are right now, in this moment. If you’re confused, be confused.
After you’ve taken a few minutes to contemplate them, put these two questions aside and move on. Come back to them from time to time and pay attention to the shifts that take place as you learn more about yourself and your approach to work. Know that what you touch on now is the merest beginning. And keep in mind that more will be revealed as you move along in this process of discovery, toward a clearer understanding and acceptance of who you are and what work means in your life.
Tao te Ching (#8)
The highest form of goodness is like water.
Because it benefits all things without competing
and has no trouble abiding in places that none would care to be,
it comes close to the Way.
In dwelling, what matters is keeping close to the ground.
In thinking, what matters is simplicity.
In dealing with others, what matters is benevolence.
In speaking, what matters is sincerity.
In business, what matters is efficiency.
In activity, what matters is timeliness.
When you are true to yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
you will live with honor.
To be continued…
from Work From the Inside Out – 7 Steps to Loving What You Do
…continued from Becoming Aware 1:3
Situating Yourself: Clean Sweep Your Mind
As you become aware of your busy mind, one exercise might help before you look closer and deal with what’s actually there. You can do this exercise to give yourself a break from the din and to create some space so that you can approach and absorb the suggestions here. You can do it not only now, at the beginning of your journey, but at various points along the way when things get to be a little too much to handle comfortably. It does not offer a long-term solution to busy mind, but it introduces some temporary peace. As you move along the Quiet Corner path, taking the suggestions here, your mind will gradually become quieter and more serene. A time will come when you no longer need this exercise. But in the meantime, use it when your stress level is high or when you can’t sleep at night for all the voices and the who-what-when questions yapping at you. Or use it as a daily exercise until you achieve permanent quietness of mind.
Find a relatively quiet place where you can be alone and sit undisturbed for a half-hour or so. Bring your purpose tool with you and ground yourself in the here and now. Pay attention to the space around you and the way your body is feeling. Then sit comfortably, close your eyes, and take three deep, full breaths. Notice how you’re breathing. Then visualize your mind (or your brain center) and imagine that you can see all the various aspects that contribute to the noise there. Begin to isolate each one. Give each a shape, a name. Don’t judge. Don’t criticize or blame. Don’t analyze. Just observe.
Each time you identify a voice and name it, make it as small as possible. See it shrink in your mind and become just dust or ashes. Put it in a corner and move to the next voice and the next and the next, until you’ve identified and shrunk everything that crops up during this session. Then imagine this pile of ashes being swept up and thrown out. Imagine a gentle wind collecting it into a vortex and sweeping it out of your mind, through the crown of your head. Then imagine these ashes being blown into some sort of vessel for safekeeping. You might want to have with you a favorite bowl, vase, or box in which to deposit them. When you’re finished with the exercise, set this container alongside your Quiet Corner question bank and use it each time you practice this exercise.
Now, sit quietly and breathe. Take three long, deep breaths and just concentrate on your breath. How do you feel? Is your breathing any different now after this exercise? Don’t think too much. Give your brain a rest. Relax. Just breathe.
Now, do something nice for yourself. Go buy yourself some flowers or a book of poems. Sit in a garden or by a stream. Play with your dog or cat. Pick your child up early from school and play in the park, or go by yourself and sit in a swing. Just breathe, take a break, a long walk around the neighborhood. Pretend that you don’t have a brain for the rest of the day. Go out for dinner or let someone else cook. Don’t make any decisions. Care for yourself as you would a newborn. Be gentle and loving. Don’t worry, you will think again, and only too soon. For now, though, enjoy the luxury of no-brain existence and just breathe in the glory of life.
Trust that this exercise will make you more aware of what is in your mind—what can easily go, what you hold on to, and how much of what is there is uniquely your own. Your voice will slowly begin to whisper its presence to you, and you will begin to hear it.
Making the container for your brain’s ashes can be another fun project. If you’re handy with wood you might construct a box that suits your particular taste. Let your imagination run amok. If you knit, a wild-colored stocking with a flapped closure could be fun. If you want to make something but haven’t a clue where to begin, ask your children or a friend to help. Make a family project out of it. Or designate an old jewelry box or new coffee mug for your ashes. Be inventive. Be creative. Because you are.
To be continued…
from Just Listen – A Guide to Finding Your Own True Voice
I first read May Sarton’s journal in the early 80s. I recently reread it and being now closer to the age she was when she wrote it, I had a deeper and richer experience this time. As with all great works of art, they stand the test of time and this is most definitely in that category. Here are but a few of the gems that resonated for me:
It is only when we can believe that we are creating the soul that life has any meaning, but when we can believe it—and I do and always have—then there is nothing we do that is without meaning and nothing that we suffer that does not hold the seed of creation in it.
Here I am at fifty-eight and in this past year I have only begun to understand what loving is … forced to my knees again and again like a gardener planting bulbs or weeding, so that I may once more bring a relationship to flower, keep it truly alive.
If we are to understand the human condition, and if we are to accept ourselves in all the complexity, self-doubt, extravagance of feeling, guilt, joy, the slow freeing of the self to its full capacity for action and creation, both as human being and as artist, we have to know all we can about each other, and we have to be willing to go naked.
For of course one is never safe when in love. Growth is demanding and may seem dangerous, for there is loss as well as gain in growth. But why go on living if one has ceased to grow? And what more demanding atmosphere for growth than love in any form, than any relationship which can call out and requires of us our most secret and deepest selves?
The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room, not try to be or do anything whatever.
We are aware of God only when we cease to be aware of ourselves, not in the negative sense of denying the self, but in the sense of losing self in admiration and joy.
… if one does not have wild dreams of achievement, there is no spur even to get the dishes washed. One must think like a hero to behave like a merely decent human being.
I suppose I have written novels to find out what I thought about something and poems to find out what I felt about something.
Become the Person You Already Are
If you have children or have been around children, you’ll notice that they are often quite content and satisfied to exist in their own little world, fascinated with the particular project that at any given moment absorbs them. Whether they are playing with building blocks or digging in the sand, for a certain amount of time they need no one and want nothing. They are comfortable in their own skin and often seem to be transported to another world.
As we become adults and assume responsibilities in the world, we tend to stop this practice; we become other- and outer-directed and relegate all childhood activities to the past. When these childlike inclinations are stifled, we lose the sense of wonderment that often accompanies them. Our creativity becomes boxed up, and we wonder why life has become dull. That child is still within us, though, and can be rediscovered in our quiet corner. It is there that we can once again get in touch with our true spirit.
Visit a neighborhood playground or ball field and watch children as they play. Volunteer to coach a Little League team, or just observe the kids as they play and let them coach you. Allow them to teach you what it’s like to be free and uninhibited. After a snowfall, make a snowman with the neighborhood kids or engage in an innocent snowball fight. Ride the waves at the ocean and delight in the freedom of it. Rake leaves into a big enough pile to hide in and have some fun. As you loosen up and begin to discover how to let go and be spontaneous, take this attitude with you into your quiet corner and nurture it there. Before long, your true nature will reveal itself and some of the tension in your life will disappear.
Get to Know Yourself Again
Most of us can’t remember sitting in rapture as a child. Or if we can remember, we merely mourn the loss of such times and consider them over and done with. To alter our “grown-up” way of seeing, we simply need the key of willingness.
Be willing to spend time alone with yourself. Look closely at who you are, what makes you laugh or cry. Let go of old encrusted notions that bog you down. Ease them out of your mind. Invite your idiosyncrasies to have their say, and keep the ones that thrill you.
As you spend more time with yourself, your view of the world will begin to change. You’ll see yourself in a new light and have a new understanding of who you are in the world. Long-forgotten parts of you will rise to the surface and come alive. You’ll be more involved in your life than ever before, thanks to your own quiet corner.
from Find a Quiet Corner – A Simple Guide to Self-Peace
Although we may find ourselves sitting down through much of the day, how many of us ever make a conscious decision just to sit? Usually, when we’re sitting, we are also driving or eating or working or watching a movie or relaxing. Sitting is usually about something other than just sitting. And if we’ve ever contemplated the idea of sitting for the sake of sitting, perhaps we’ve concluded that it would be a simple waste of time—so even if we’ve been advised to do it, we often choose not to.
Just the thought of sitting and doing nothing may terrify us, especially when it’s linked to the word meditation. Take this moment to discard all your preconceived notions of what sitting still is all about. Drop the word meditation from your vocabulary. And then allow yourself to be open to sitting in a new way.
Just sitting—here, you will find the source for your serenity. Just sitting—here, you will develop a practice of being still that you can then bring into all your other activities. Just sitting—this is the only suggestion in this book that it’s best not to skip.
So take a seat with the clear intention to just sit. Begin with five or ten minutes, and use your body and your breath to do it. Let your mind come along for the ride, or in this case, “the sit.” Concentrate on your posture (erect), your breathing (deep and slow), and your fingers and toes (relaxed). Begin each session with closed eyes in order to draw your attention inward. Then once you’re focused, gently open your eyes and just breathe. There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go.
Watch as your mind tries to pull you away from any discomfort you might experience. Breathe deeply into your belly. Expect nothing. Simply and gently, just sit and breathe. Practice being still. The longer you still your body and the deeper into your belly you breathe, the quieter your mind will become.
This practice of sitting still and doing nothing will eventually create space between thoughts. This space will hold pure, intrinsic awareness. This will be the breeding ground for serenity—not just as you sit, but at all times. So sit still and discover this internal mechanism for creating peace and harmony within, no matter what is going on outside. Then you can carry it with you always and tap into it whenever you need it.
from Serenity in Motion – Inner Peace: Anytime, Anywhere
What do most of us long for? A happy, healthy life? Certainly. And if you feel that you’re not yet living that, then it must follow that you are unhappy in some way. Once you acknowledge this you usually make the connection that liberation from your suffering will bring the desired contentment and so you long for that. It can become a vicious cycle: dissatisfaction — desire — happiness — longing — dissatisfaction. But liberation is possible, and here in the first three steps of this process you will learn about your cycle of frustration and what has prevented you from living happily, especially with the work you do.
Although it may be hard to look at the how and why, you cannot extract yourself from the pervasive dissatisfaction of your life until you do. Here in “Discovery” you will come to understand how you have been looking all your life for something that doesn’t exist. That which you thought was solid is constantly changing and moving—you along with it. But rather than being frightening, this truth can be reassuring. As you continue to make your way through these first three steps, as you confront the truth, you will slowly (or in some instances, very quickly) realize that this truth will set you free. You are not a cliché, but sometimes your life is. This is neither bad nor good—it simply is.
Approach the work suggested here as you would a job that you love to do. Put everything you have into this work. Practice and see it as an opportunity to express your beliefs, your ideals, your inner truth. And then take this same approach to your life’s work. What you learn here can be immediately transferred to your everyday work life. This is a practical, usable process, not a theoretical one.
Some of what you uncover may be difficult for your ego to accept. Do not judge or criticize what you discover. Instead, use it for your own benefit. Don’t let it rule you. Know that you are in charge here and it is for you (and not your ego) that you do this work.
By the time you get to “The Path” you will have a clearer picture of who you are, where you’ve come from and where you want to go. You will be ready to accept the challenges of this process and your day-to-day work experience will begin to improve. You will spend more time each day in the events of the day rather than in yesterday or tomorrow. This alone, in a very concrete, experiential way, will usher in a new sense of peace and contentment. In “Discovery” you will learn how to be in harmony with the changing circumstances of your life and be comfortable with nothing permanent to hold on to. Your spirit will then be able to soar and your work life will mirror this newfound strength and happiness.
But don’t take my word for it. Discover this for yourself. Do these first three steps with thoroughness and you will see for yourself. What can be better than that?
To be continued…
from Work From the Inside Out – 7 Steps to Loving What You Do
February can be a challenging month, especially for those of us who are lucky to live in an area with four distinct seasons. Sometimes when it’s frigid, icy, windy weather—which we’ve had a lot of this year—I don’t feel so lucky. But it definitely reminds me of the impermanence of all things, including whatever mood I might suffer as a result of being cold and cooped up, waiting for a resolution to whatever plans I’ve made, or dealing with a myriad of things beyond my control.
I ran across the two quotes below in a document tucked in a folder on my computer and thought they were perfect for my mood today. I hope you find something in one or both to help ease your burden.
One thing is for sure: Spring will be here in the very unpredictable month of March!
“When we look at our lives we see that we tend to just go round and round in our habitual patterns and negative tendencies. Occasionally we might feel inspired to do some practice and emerge from our habits a little bit. But then, habits take us over again, we lose our momentum and inspiration, and we fall back into the same kinds of patterns and traps. Then we try to get out again, but it seems so difficult and we lose heart. This is samsara.
Samsara is not life itself, but the neurotic way we live, driven by hope & fear, which are the mechanisms of samsara that perpetuate suffering.”
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Situating Yourself: Mind Noise
…continued from Becoming Aware 1:2
Once you start to become aware and take note of what your mind is doing, create a Quiet Corner bank (some call it a God box—if that works better for you) in which to store all your questions, self-judgments, and self-criticisms. Perhaps you could make something out of construction paper. Make it colorful and big enough to hold many slips of paper. Don’t try to imagine how many questions you might ask yourself before the questions slow down. You can always make a second or third or fourth container if the first becomes too small. Once you fill one up, you can create a ritual to burn them all!
Have some fun. Make a game of it. Use magazines or old newspapers or even an empty coffee can. Paint it, decorate it, label it. And then put it away. Let it be the vessel for your nagging questions. This is the beginning of clearing your head of some of the noise so that you can begin to hear your inner voice. Be aware that once you write a question down and put it in the bank, it may revisit you. That’s okay and perfectly natural. Simply write it down again and redeposit it. There may be something to learn from the repetition.
The Aha! Experience
As we go along, I will make suggestions of things to do that will help you along your path. So far I’ve suggested that you
1. Carry with you and use your “purpose tool,”
2. Observe your mind as it works,
3. Write down your mind questions (and judgments and criticisms), and
4. Make a mind question bank.
A lot of suggestions just to begin! If you’re anything like me, you might judge them as silly and inconsequential or resist doing them at all. At first glance, many of the suggestions in this book will seem slight and meaningless, but try to think of them as a grocery list. Before you go shopping you know what you have and what you need, but a list is always helpful in assisting you in your chore; it helps you to remember all that you need and to avoid buying things you don’t need. A list may seem unnecessary (you have it all in your head), but it can be useful. And while each ingredient you buy is not always or necessarily a meal in itself, it will combine with other ingredients to form a perfect meal. That’s how you can look at each suggestion here—as just one ingredient to be included in a life of serenity.
You can also look at these suggestions as nuggets of surprise. Until you actually do them, break open their shell, you can’t know what’s waiting for you inside. If you’ve ever discovered or learned something in an indirect way (in trying to solve one problem, the answer to another is revealed), you’ve had the aha! experience. So keep an open mind as you approach the suggestions because they have the potential to work this way. And each one will reveal a secret just for you.
To be continued…
from Just Listen – A Guide to Finding Your Own True Voice