9.29.11 Mistaking the Raft for the Shore

Photo: Hipfel/Starck

Early this morning, my two-year-old girl woke up crying in fear of the booming thunder and pulsing lightning outside her windows. With none of my soothing tricks or cry-it-out methods working this time, she and I waltzed downstairs, turned on some Keith Jarret, plopped on the chaise lounge in my study, and each took a book to read. I: essays in the new anthology The Mind (published by The Edge). She: The Handmade Life: In Search of Simplicity by Wm. S. Coperthwaite. Not that she “reads,” yet, but she does like to flip through some of my books, especially ones like this one with words and with photographs.

For whatever reason, she’s become fond of this book. It’s a subtle book without big glossy photos – and none with puppies. But maybe this little mirror senses in this book what I love and what my wife must have sensed when she saw it at the bookstore and bought it for me.

Coperthwaite is a builder, designer, and teacher who lives in Maine. In the book, he simply offers his meditations and reflections on just what the title and sub-title say – a handmade life in search of simplicity.

So, on this lightning-riddled morning, she turned to a page and urged my attention with a “Look, Papa” and a pointing finger. The photograph she pointed to is of an early morning blue-lens coast shot with nothing but a misty horizon in the background and two stacked stones in the foreground. All cast in pre-dawn blue. And, no kidding, she pointed to the quotation beneath it. It reads,

My teaching is a raft whereon men may reach the far shore.
The sad fact is that so many mistake the raft for the shore. – The Buddha

I’m not sure how you read that statement, but here’s my take: Maybe it means that the teachings themselves are just that – teachings. The teachings aren’t the end; they’re the means, the skillful means, no less. They’re the conveyor. The suggestions. The “interventions,” to use psychologists’ lingo. We have to do the rowing to get there. We have to practice.

Anyway, I thanked my little raft for showing me the photo and the words and hoped we’d make it through this rainy day safely. So far, so good.

What’s your take on those words?

Regardless, share your day’s three highlights and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
Jeffrey

9.27.11 The Myth of Purrfect Moments

The revered Miklos

My two-year-old girl can pounce my fifteen-year-old cat with love and affection. Lay on top of him with joy. Grab at his nose with adoring delight.

But when she eases her strokes and caresses his gray head with feather-weight kindness, his internal engine revs up as if to say, Purrfect.

Many of us seek, I suspect, those moments when the world stops pouncing on, laying on, or grabbing us and just says, “Here. Here’s a stroke of affirmation for no other reason than you are here and deserve to be loved.”

Or those moments when we can rest, our bellies round and content, our company brimming with gentle words, and we know for a moment at least no wrong will come our way.

One myth of the purffect moment might be to say there are no such moments, that every moment sneaks in some element of unrest, dis-ease, and tension even if our pebble-sized awareness is unaware.

But another myth of the purffect moment might be to say that every moment is fine as it is, however rough and unsymmetrical and complex.

Perhaps all we need is a gentle hand, a gentle eye, and a gentle ear to take ’em all in, accept them, and caress them.

What were your Tuesday’s three highlights? Share them here and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

9.26.11 The Meaningful Life & Meaningful Mondays

The guy who gave us the phrase "the pursuit of happiness" (in Greek)

I’ve been reflecting a lot on meaningful work and how wonder can remind us what’s meaningful. But I haven’t yet defined what is “meaningful work” or laid out how wonder gets us there.

Then this morning, I started reading Martin Seligman’s essay on “the good life” in the anthology The Mind: Leading Scientists Explore the Brain, Memory, Personality, and Happiness. Seligman is known as one of the psychologists who put “positive psychology” in our lexicon. In the essay, he writes

…meaning consists in attachment to something bigger than you are. The self is not a very good site for meaning, and the larger the thing that you can credibly attach yourself to, the more meaning you get out of life.

A dozen years ago, I would have fled from anything that said that self & meaning are not likely soul mates. I suspect many of us hold onto the idea that meaning is private, is personal. Just today on Twitter, I posted a series of reflections about meaningful work. Someone commented about how lucky people are who can fund their “private dreams.” But I’m not sure meaningful work is, by Seligman’s definition at least, “private.” In fact, his definition is not his; it’s a claim derived from several psychologists’ decades of studying what others claim to be meaningful activity.

Meaning, he’s saying, is in part social and beyond the self. A marriage and a little girl later and client work that feels in service beyond my own needs feels immeasurably meaningful and far greater than this collection of neurons and spirit and personality and actions that comprise this self.

Meaning happens in exchange. Meaning humbles me.

Seligman goes on to write

Aristotle said the two noblest professions are teaching and politics, and I believe that as well. Raising children, and projecting a positive human future through your children, is a meaningful form of life. Saving the whales is a meaningful form of life. Fighting in Iraq is a meaningful form of life. Being an Arab terrorist is a meaningful form of life.

So, on this Monday, where did meaning appear? In what moment or hour or action or conversation were you part of something larger than yourself? When were you of service? When did something you did or said or heard or felt or experienced seem to connect this little self boat to an ocean of meaning?

Just curious.

Regardless, share your Monday’s three highlights and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

9.23.11 Magic: An Urban Fable of Awakened Senses (and a Wish for You)

I hope you don’t mind my repeating myself today, but I wrote a piece for Psychology Today this morning that seems fitting here.

One morning a Manhattan man with Wall Street numbers clouding his mind hurries down the sidewalk. Hedge funds and his daughter’s college funds and his rising investment portfolio define his reality. Apply shrewd analysis, take calculated risks, and, frankly, finesse some accounting sleight-of-hand, and the numbers grow. This formula he has learned to count on. So this one late September morning should be like the other previous 800: the beginning of more number games.

But a crash stops him. A cab has smashed into a limo. Shouts ensue. No one stops. They’ve seen it before. No one, that is, but him. And it’s not the irate cab driver yelling in the demure limo driver’s face that secures the broker’s attention. It’s the crimson color hanging just beyond the traffic. Maple leaves in the avenue.

He’s never noticed trees there before, he realizes. Never noticed fall had arrived.

For a moment, the air’s crispness seeps somewhere inside the man’s mind, and he feels like the boy he was 43 years ago when he climbed the old oak that showered his family’s backyard with leaves each autumn in Illinois’s Highland Park.

For a moment, an image from last night’s dream flashes across his mind’s ticker screen: ORANGE…RAIN…WNDR09.23.11.

For a moment, he hears music among the din of screams and horns and engines and exhaust. Everything sings, and he feels more alive than all the world.

But as quickly as a leaf lets go, the moment fades, and he cannot endure the trembling in his limbs and returns to his tempo down the sidewalk, a rhythm that measures hours by buys and sells, a rhythm with no senses.

***

Magic is not a trick of the senses. It’s turning on the senses. It is a shift in awareness. It is surprise mixed with meaning and wonder. For a moment, we recognize how much more reality exists in the dance between the mind and the world of material things. Poets like Neruda have sought magic in onions and old socks. Andre Breton sought it in dreams. Sculptors find it in scraps and twigs. Animal trackers hear it in the languages of the woods and skies. And a broker might feel it in a maple leaf.

So on this second day of autumn, may you stop and let the magic fall inside.

What about you? In what small sensory moments do you feel magic? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Share your day’s three highlights below and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tracking-wonder/201109/magic-urban-fable-awakened-senses

9.22.11 Yes the Down & Feel Fall

I am a fan of four seasons or eight the way I’m a fan of multiple moods not two.

This time of year around here something in the shifting mix of oxygen alters a trunk’s blood, so to speak.  It has given the summer its best. Has housed the cat birds and squirrels and raccoons and opossum. Has lapped up carbon and given back oxygen. And now it trembles. Leaves strip their green clothes and reveal their yellow, orange, and red skins.

Then one by one they let go. cummings writes this:

1(a

le
af
fa
ll

s)
one
l

iness

These days I hunger to be like the trees, to tremble and release, to let extremes fall down and dissolve. “I want the losing it all,” as Jane Hirshfield writes. To be that l and 1. To listen to the leaves.

The leaves laugh and sing on their way down. What do they sing?

Hunker down, hunker down.
Let the wind blow.
Stop climbing for now
and find the language of ground.
Down, down, yes, the down.

Enjoy the equinox.

What were your day’s three highlights? Share them below and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

9.21.11 Ode to the Day’s Dark Lover

We burn bulbs to keep the dark at bay, but beyond walls night pours across the globe – at least on one half of it at a time.

Night is day’s tragic lover, always chasing it but never able to catch and caress it.

Pablo Neruda, that lover of almost everything, writes this to night:

You thrash around the sky
like
a flag,
you pour yourself into
sierras and seas
and the smallest cavities, too:
the exhausted peasant’s hardened
eyes
and the black coral
of people’s mouths
opened wide in sleep….
you work with your eyes closed
so that others may open
and the water may sing,
so that our lives
might be born again.

In the night’s lair, in the night’s hands, our creative minds dissolve. Borders melt. We broach death and yet return renewed and ready to sprint yet again until the next nightfall.

So here’s an invitation: Heed your night’s highlights from last night or this night or tomorrow night. Include them, too. The day might be honored by our acknowledgment of her dark lover.

Share your day’s (and/or night’s) three highlights and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy

9.20.11 Will You Die Day-Rich?

Tonight is Finance Evening. We cut it short. At least, I did. I’ll catch up next time. Honestly, even in these times of economic madness, what drives me more than balance sheets is the currency of a day.

We say we spend days.  We say we spend and save and waste time. Something there is about the way time flows and the way the sun appears to cross the sky that makes us pine, perhaps, for a Way of Finances that feels comparably natural.

There is something to be said about the woman who dies with no memory. Either she’s impoverished or wealthy. Either she’s memory-poor or regretless-rich. Either she savored each moment that no memory was needed or she zapped past each moment with such busy-ness that no moment was heeded.

I want to hoard moments.
I want to invest in images.
I want to cancel out regrets with contentment.
I want to invoice hope.
I want to leave an inheritance of how to relish relationships.
I want to die day-rich.

I hope my wife and daughter don’t mind.

What about you? Will you die day-rich? Do you want to? If so, share your day’s three highlights and let us know where you’re writing from.

See you in the woods,
The Three Highlights Guy