A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

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Desire for Perfection

IMG_9852I had the opportunity last week to participate in an enlivened discussion at the first-ever video-taping session for Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map Book Clubs. It was an intimate meeting of women who have completed the Desire Map process and are helping others to discover the wonders of tuning-in to their own “core desired feelings.” You could feel the transformational energy alive in the room even before the cameras started rolling!

What did it take to get seven Portland-based women to spill our guts on camera to Ms. LaPorte’s worldwide audience? It took facing and overcoming the fear of not looking, sounding, acting and being PERFECT.

I can’t stop thinking about perfectionism. It’s a shadow that many of us live under, and yet it can be so hard to relax our standards, even when our health or relationships are at stake.

The slogan that keeps running through my mind is “Progress, not perfection.”

While contemplating that in the shower this morning I realized that my core desired feeling, Enlightenment, is indeed the “perfection” of my positive thinking.

Perfect. (Pun intended.)

I like this because each positive thought really is one step toward enlightenment. We don’t just wake up enlightened one morning. It’s a steady walk on the path, one foot in front of the other.

It’s progress toward perfection!

There is nothing wrong with reaching toward perfection. How else do we make art, excel at our worldly endeavors or maintain a spiritual practice? But can I practice toward perfection while being gentle with myself, laughing rather than getting down on myself when I make a mistake, and allowing others to do the same?

What is your relationship with perfection?


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Late Bloomers Unite!

Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 7.26.43 PMLast week I attended Pioneer Nation, an inspiring and exhilarating hands-on gathering of new economy entrepreneurs. Imagine three or four hundred of the brightest and most eager up-and-coming solopreneurs, all perked up on Portland micro-roast coffee and donuts, ready to download their next big idea. With this much brilliance and passion all in one room, the energy in the big hall at PNCA in Portland was off the charts.

Knowing a bit about Pioneer Nation’s mastermind, Chris Guillebeau, founder of the World Domination Summit (WDS) and author of $100 Startup and the The Art of Nonconformity, I harbored high expectations going in. Perusing the all-star line-up of keynote speakers and workshop leaders, I also anticipated that most of the attendees, like Guillebeau himself, would be millennials, in other words, young enough to be my kids. I was concerned about how I would fit in.

So one of my biggest surprises at Pioneer Nation was the age-diversity of the participants. I met grandmothers, and kids who barely looked like high school grads (maybe they were in high school), and everyone in between. Each person I approached glowed with such fire and passion that it was often hard to tell their age at all. There we were, a handful of hundred souls, all just focused on service, creative freedom and right livelihood. It was a huge relief that age or generation seemed not to matter at all!

A day after Pioneer Nation, while still high from the experience, I met up with a longstanding friend who’s just moved to Portland. Despite having a degree from an Ivy League school and the smarts to match, Courtney has never had a job. Rather she has followed her avocations while supporting her husband’s business and raising her children, her way. Nearly finished being a full-time mom, Courtney is now ready to embark on her own career. She has a great idea and the time and resources to devote to pursuing it. But still she has doubts. I asked Courtney what she thought her biggest obstacles were. She immediately identified a negative mind-set that bothers many of us who embark on a new path after the ripe old age of, say, 38: “It’s too late. I’ve missed the boat. I’m behind. I’m out of it.”

In a wonderful New Yorker article titled “Late Bloomers; why do we equate genius with precocity?” Malcolm Gladwell argues: “The Cézannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition.”

Yeah. It turns out that some people peak early because they are conceptual. They have clear ideas of what they want to create and they just follow the steps of creation. Boom. Some of us, on the other hand, proceed experimentally. We have to take our time.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes also talks about late bloomers in her wonderful audiobook, The Dangerous Old Woman Series, where she devotes a complete chapter to the subject. She compares the the different creative cycles to the plant world. While daffodils push through the ground in the early days of spring, sunflowers don’t bloom until late summer. Either way, we’re all perfectly in-tune with nature.

So for any of you who have ever felt you’ve missed the boat, to those who are concerned that it’s too late or that you’re too old to start writing that blog or book, or designing the widget you are over-the-moon passionate about, I’d like to offer a few thoughts:

Life is Impermanent. We don’t know how long we’ve got. Far from being a depressing thought, we can use this idea to help us focus every day on what most fires our passion.

“Everything is figure-out-able,” as Marie Forleo often says. So maybe I’m not going to learn HTML or Mandarin in this life time, but there are so many amazing resources out there! From Google to Lynda.com to those geeky consultants who live to show us how to do what we want to do in 4 easy steps on YouTube, resources abound. So figure it out and have fun doing it!

Learning and growing keeps you young. You don’t have to believe me. There is scads of research to prove that keeping busy is the way to go if you value longevity and vitality.

So remember that you’re not alone. Many of us are pushing the creative envelope and cashing in years of life experience to pursue a long-cherished idea or dream. Reach out and find support in the tribe of late blooming entrepreneurs. You’ll find us next year at Pioneer Nation, rubbing elbows with the wunderkind.

 

 


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How to Be New at Anything | Reprise*

My magical friend Clare

My magical friend Clare

*I’m reprising this 2009 post and dedicating it to my new friend Marli whom I met yesterday at the opening of Pioneer Nation in Portland, OR. She is embarking on a new venture to help young adults and her passion and enthusiasm is infectious. May Marni have all the help and support she needs to launch her new career!

You don’t have to be a professional newbie to join the exhilarating ride called the learning curve. Whether you are looking to bring passion and excitement to the mundane aspects of your life or just anxious about an important upcoming life change, learning to embrace the beginner’s mind can enhance your experience.

I arrive at a downtown hotel, on time but rumpled and sweaty after hiking three blocks in my best heels. I stop for a name tag and choose a seat among dozens of jovial professionals as my panicky thoughts begin to drown out the din in the massive ballroom. Will I fit in? Will I say something stupid? Will they know that I am new?

I have just entered my first continuing education luncheon in my new career as a real estate broker. I stop to take a deep breath and ponder my current situation: middle aged, divorced, on my third religion and embarking on my fourth career, once again I have no idea what to expect. Yet having played the role of newbie hundreds of times in my life, I know that I will get a lot more than chicken salad out of today’s meeting if a follow my own simple rules for being new.

First, give up all pretensions of expertise. No matter how well you have polished your shoes or your story, everyone can spot a beginner. Once I began to relinquish my need to know every fact and my obsession with looking like I know what I am doing, I relax into the kind of in-the-moment intuition that opens doors and increases my learning capacity. Others agree.

Nancy Thompson recently put her corporate business travel career on the back burner to follow her passion as an event planner. Her company, Flourish, targets successful women like herself by offering forums and events to enhance the body, mind and spirit. With the open mind of a newbie, Nancy soon realized that despite a formidable professional business plan, she had no idea what she was in for. It wasn’t until she abandoned the plan, slashed her budget and scaled back her operation that her concept began to take off, attracting best-selling authors in intimate venues, events which bring women back month after month. Says Nancy, “by letting go of the way I was supposed to look, I filled an unmet need in the Portland community.”

Embracing rather than squandering your amateur status is another technique for the new in the know. “You will never be more focused, more curious or more passionate about your subject than you are at the beginning,” says. Nikki Gardner, top producing realtor at Windermere Realty Group in Portland, Oregon. Just a few years into her career, Nikki used her natural “drive to find out” from the get-go. “Having more questions than your clients,” pays off when it comes time to compete for a listing or represent buyers in a transaction. Nikki understands that by replacing her fear of the unknown with a curiosity for what might be, she let her enthusiasm substitute for the momentum that she lacked. Beginner’s luck is anything but!

Successful newbies also take advantage of their status as the new kid on the block. You will never be more popular or attract more good will than when you are new. When I was learning to windsurf in the Columbia Gorge, I rarely had to worry about getting my rig off the car alone in 40 knot winds. And if I was having difficulty with a particular move in the water, impromptu lessons regularly happened. People in this world-class windsurfing capitol were more than happy to share their experience with me and to show me their secret tips.

For some, being new is a well-developed art form that begins out of necessity. Rahul Vora, software engineer for the multinational software company, Autodesk, has mastered the art of being new. On arriving in the United States from his native India 23 years ago, Rahul confesses being overwhelmed by the changes. Now as chief architect for multi-million dollar software products, he uses the skills he honed as a student in a brand new country. Stress levels soar when deadlines loom and cultural and communication issues arise. “When I go into a high level meeting with the thought that I am hearing these issues for the first time, I begin to relax and become more creative. Often my relaxation is enough to ease the tension of all the participants in the room.”

I take a break from writing to attend my 12 year old son’s Little League game. Asher doesn’t know that he is my favorite coach in the art of being new as he readies himself to pitch for the very first time. Good-naturedly warming up until it’s time to take the mound as starter, he walks the first batter, strikes out the next, and then fumbles the ball resulting in a stolen base. One of his throws sails way over the catcher’s head. His team rallies behind him, cheering him on until the inning ends without a score. Asher’s wide grin across freckled cheeks tells the whole story of how to be new at anything—enjoy yourself and don’t be afraid to make a few mistakes!


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Resistance: Review of a Book Every Creative Should Read Now

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With his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield has done for us creative types, what the Buddha did for spiritual seekers 3000 years ago.

Upon awakening, the Buddha taught the first cycle of teachings, The First Noble Truth, long-misunderstood by legions of pundits to mean, “Life is suffering.” Actually the Buddha was identifying the problem, suffering, in order to set out the solution. Life is not suffering, suffering is not our nature, yet we must learn to identify suffering and its causes if we want to attain happiness. This reasoning is sound. Every successful military general knows that if he is to defeat the enemy, he must know as much as possible about it. Knowledge is power. Forewarned is forearmed.

Likewise, internationally successful author and screen writer Pressfield makes a brilliant study of what he calls Resistance, that particular quality of our thinking which keeps us grumpy, small, creatively frustrated and angry about it. He makes a masterful study, wonderfully pith and poetic, of the root negative thinking behind every type of procrastination known to sentient beings. Not just a manual for artists or writers, The War of Art is a must-read for anyone who has ever put off doing what they love or dilly-dallied their virtuous aspirations. I know I have done that. Have you?

With so many wonderful books, blogs, methods, systems, religions and TED Talks devoted to inspiring us to be our most creative and productive selves, why should we focus on the problem, rather than the solution? Because as the Buddha taught so long ago, and Pressfield proves, it is in knowing the problem that we understand the solution. By delving into the way thinking is hard-wired, we can short-circuit the habits that keep us from putting our butts in the seat and our feet on the path. Pressfield’s book is the place to start and for many years it has been my go-to manual whenever my own symptoms of resistance – sleeping in, skipping meditation practice, criticizing others, participating in family drama, etc. – kick-in and start to wreak havoc with my ambitions. I have read it countless times and I suspect I will read it countless more.

Read The War of Art. Locate your own favorite habit of resistance within its pages and then chop that repugnant enemy to bits. Or laugh it off and then go out and do what you have to do with a joyful heart. Today.


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Patience or Tolerance? What’s in a Word?

wireheartIn my work with coaching clients, seekers, beautiful and truly well intentioned people, I see sloppy language at the heart of many of our deeper dilemmas. We use words that we haven’t properly defined for ourselves and it’s so easy to hide behind them. Words such as “spiritual,” “angels,” “grace,” “compassion,” “positive thinking,” and “judgment” seem to be common places to store our misunderstandings about who we are and how things work. Yet as often as not, a few minutes of contemplation and research on our “spiritual” vocabulary can clear up a belief or habit of thinking that is keeping us stuck and unhappy.

Last night I attended a Buddhist teaching on patience. Along with generosity, discipline, diligence, mindfulness and knowledge, patience is one of the Transcendent Perfections or “Paramitas,” the heart of the bodhisattva’s practice.

After the teaching the group got into a discussion about tolerance. Wasn’t tolerance the same thing as patience? Shouldn’t I strive to always, under all circumstances, quietly put up with unacceptable behavior from others? Isn’t that the peaceful Buddhist way?

Well, no. This is a misunderstanding of the term patience. If we look closely we see that tolerance usually has an underlying flavor of anger. We don’t like something – a behavior, a person, or even an idea – and yet we refrain from acting, stewing about it all the while, presumably because we think that eventually some good will come of our forbearance. We should speak up when we see injustice or harm and try to muster the thought, “May this person be free from suffering and its causes!”

Unfortunately, a good result can never come from a negative intention. True patience means not reacting in anger, whether in thought, word or deed. At first this is a mighty challenging thing, and yet we improve with practice. Perhaps we first reach for tolerance, non-reaction, while understanding that we don’t like the anger that we’re feeling. Eventually, if we renounce our anger, true patience has a chance to take root.

It all starts with a word and the understanding of its true meaning.


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The Fragile Heart

FragileHeartA gift box arrived in the mail this week. It revealed a beautiful blown glass heart, exquisitely hand made in rainbow colors. I can’t help but notice that it comes at a time when my own heart feels fragile.

At the start of the summer I decided to work on re-branding my business and deepening my connection to my work. I set things into motion: hired a branding expert and coach, enrolled in a training and credentialing course, and set lists and deadlines for accomplishing the many detailed tasks associated with moving my creative life forward. With everything planned and organized, neat and tidy, I then went on vacation, looking forward to giving these tasks refreshed attention upon my return.

Life happened instead, and I returned home to find the ground literally shifting under my feet. I first got the news that we had to move and immediately began the process of finding  a new home. The day after signing the lease, a close relative landed in critical condition in a hospital in the Midwest. I dropped everything and flew to be with family. I returned with barely enough time to pack and prepare for moving day, while monitoring my nephew’s progress long distance. And yet life hasn’t let up. There are rescheduled client meetings and make-up classes to attend, doctor’s appointments and birthday parties, Back to School Night, and volunteer responsibilities, new assignments and deadlines. It seems everything, including dinner, has a deadline.

Today I finally said it out loud. I expressed my frustration with not finding enough time to care for myself and a wise woman replied with a question, “Where is your heart?”

It was a gentle question that nevertheless pierced right to the core. What does Carrie need right now? How can I take care of her? I was stunned not to know the answer.

When did I lose the ability to check in with my own heart? Was it when I was a child trying to survive a dysfunctional upbringing? Was it when I got older and learned to associate my emotions with drama, manipulation and shame? Was it as an exhausted mother and exasperated spouse just trying to get one more thing done?

My Mahayana Buddhist training tells me to do everything I do while holding the enlightened intention to become Buddha (True Happiness) for the sake of freeing all beings from suffering. And yet because of my own personal growth work in the past – everything from therapy and 12 Step recovery, story-telling and memoir writing, to yoga and Buddhist meditation – I recognize the self-destructive side of doing for others to the point of exhaustion. I know I am not alone in this particularly feminine style of dysfunction whose root cause sends women to pharmacies and breast cancer surgeons in droves. We women are suffering because, in the face of all we are expecting ourselves to do and be, we are failing to get our own emotional needs met. At the risk of being blunt, we are shirking our number-one priority and responsibility, to take care of our own fragile hearts.

Where are our hearts?

Each of us must answer this question for ourselves. It is only by staying true to our own hearts that we can truly serve others. As women, when we authentically check-in, we do not find lists and deadlines, flow charts and decision matrices. If we are honest, we find tenderness, vulnerability, moods, knowing without being able to show our work, and decisions that fluctuate and flow.

For me, staying too long in my head leads to dysfunctional emotionality. Without the balance of time for meditation, contemplation, dreaming, praying, creating, giggling, cuddling my cat, window-shopping and trusting my wacky self, I become needy and emotionally out-of-control. This always manifests as a messy house, jerky communication, and a chaotic life. These outward signs tell me it’s time to pause and contemplate, to discover where I have given myself away or sold myself out.

I’m sure you can discover your own patterns, positive and negative, if you investigate and make it a priority today.


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Self-care Manifesto

photoI feel my best mentally and emotionally when I take care of myself physically. There are certain habits I maintain simply because I feel better when I do them. After all, this precious human body has been my responsibility for some time now, I would argue, since long before I left my family to set out on my own. What’s more, I have realized that taking care of myself is not only good for me, it is good for others as well. When I have a foggy head because I skipped lunch, I not only frustrate myself, I’m also more prone to snapping at my family and I disappoint my clients  by not doing my best work. Below is my list of must-haves in a daily self-care routine. Of course I can’t always achieve 100% success, but at least I always know where to start when I want to feel better.

I feel my best when I …

  • Sleep no more than seven and a half hours
  • Rise at 6:00 am, go to bed by 10:30 pm
  • Maintain a daily meditation practice
  • Drink water all day, a glass every hour or two
  • Socialize outside my home and office for a few minutes
  • Eat three healthy meals, including breakfast before 9:00 am
  • Consume fresh raw vegetables or homemade juice
  • Use alcohol, caffeine and sugar in moderation
  • Walk for at least 20 minutes
  • Wash my face and brush my teeth morning and evening

This may seem basic, but how many of us were taught the principles behind these simple techniques? Maintaining healthy routines, whatever they are, is the single best way to love yourself and take responsibility for your thinking and your life.

What’s your must-have list for feeling and thinking your best?

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