Category Archives: Perspective
We’ve been experiencing very unseasonable weather here in the Midwest. Last year on this day we were dealing with severe ice storms, power outages and dangerous roads. Yesterday (and today, most likely) there were joggers in shorts and reports of crocus breaching through the surface of the soil. The earthy moist smell of Spring has been in the air and it takes a moment to remember this is supposed to be the worst of the winter months.
This morning after the usual runabout in the pre-morning darkness of school buses and shuttling the blessed spouse to work, I came home and began my usual email and internet surf over a cup of coffee. Glancing out my window I realized a heavy and thick fog had enshrouded our nearby woods.
In seconds I had bolted from my chair, grabbed the camera, the tripod and thrown on my shoes. I was outside in a blur and had managed to forget my jacket. This happens to artistic folk, even more so with photographers, who understand the fragile and delicate mix of light, environment and time.
Why are misty woods so magical? Is it the constriction on the senses? The softness? The quiet? Sitting quietly in gray woods it is not hard to feel connected to something, to feel a gentle peace swirl around you. It can be a time of mysterious, magical peace.
It is said that when mists are thick it is a sign nature spirits are about. Obscured in the gray, they can move more easily, drifting just on the edge of eyesight, gliding on dampened leaves. I believe such a thing is possible. I asked the crows who flew by but could not understand their answer.
Mists form pocket domains and much like life, it is difficult to see where you are going. If you decide to move forward you can see only your next few steps. In looking back you may know where you have been but you can no longer see it. Your world is only that which either you move to see or the mist allows you to see. Perhaps this is the magic of fog and mist?
A physical reminder that we are simply walking in the middle between the past and the future.
What do these have to do with each other? I know it’s a reach but they did link together for me this weekend.
It all started a few weeks ago with my wife saying, “I’m going to do it!”
Knowing this could mean anything from baking a new exotic vegetarian dish, building a cob house or planning to run for Congress, I asked for clarification. Brandie pointed me to the Hoosiers Outrun Cancer site. She was claiming she was going to enter and run the 5K event and raise money for the charity.
This concerned me just a bit. No, not the charity part. I’m all for it. What concerned me was the “5K” part. Though being incredibly active and enjoying a walk or a small jog, my wife’s foot had been shattered in a car wreck many years ago. It was never properly fixed by the foot doctor and she deals with chronic pain from the trauma. She had not had any training in the past several weeks and like me with my own foot and knee issues extended running in the past had usually left us in discomfort far above the norm. She also had never distanced more than a little over a mile.
I asked again just to be sure I heard her right.
The big move in 100+ degree heat is finally over. The walkthrough of the old place is done and we’ve been given a thumbs-up. Boxes are piled around us and the new challenge of re-organizing is before us. We’re into our new place and we cannot get over how wonderfully peaceful it is here; no loud car noises, no yapping dog across the road. Only the roaring of the summer cicadas to lull us into a nice meditative stupor.
We’re also exhausted.
I spent most of the week being outside and carrying large cardboard boxes full of items that were not mine. (Oh, don’t get me wrong, my wife will happily explain how several of those crates were mine as well!) It’s a sneaky thing the heat will do to you. I was fine for the first few days but as we wrapped up and the week came to a close I became absolutely exhausted.
Sitting with the dawn
exquisite touch of a breeze.
Cicadas and crows.
Today, we’re resting and we’re doing so with all the passion and zeal in which we performed the move. Part of that has been catching up on email and Twitter. I was really pleased to see my post “On The Simple Haiku” made it onto the The Weekly World Haiku News page from Paper.li on the 24th!
It made my peaceful morning all the more sweet.
Yes, you saw haiku at the end of that last post.
I’ve danced around haiku for the majority of my life. During my walk a few mornings ago, the desire to write a haiku was nearly unstoppable. It came from a pressing desire to distill the essence of the moment so I might remember it and share it. To me, haiku are verbal photographs capturing a snapshot of the moment. Much like photography, if done well, you are able to share that moment with others and they “get it.”
After writing those haiku, I found myself at the local library with my daughter. She headed to the manga section and I decided to pick up a few books by and about one of the classic masters, Basho. I checked out a copy of “The Master Haiku Poet Matsuo Basho” by Makota Ueda. It covers his life, his style and the different phases of his haiku writings. I’m not even halfway through it and I’m even more fascinated with the art form and the man than before.
One particular phrase from the book spoke to me.
“Basho’s solution was based on the principle of “lightness,” a dialectic transcendence of sabi. Sabi urges man to detach himself from worldly involvements; “lightness” makes it possible for him, after attaining that detachment, to return to the mundane world. Man lives amid the mire as a spiritual bystander. He does not escape the grievances of living; standing apart, he just smiles them away.”
I also found this wonderful article on “Sabi, Nature and Relationship.”
Since that morning, I’ve taken to using them as a tool to slow down, a meditative puzzle on how to see the world around me and place it into words. They place me in a receptive and pleasant state of mind which is what I am going for after all, right? I also see them as a journal, a way to mark the passing of my day by the interactions with nature I have experienced.
To that end I also checked out Basho’s “Narrow Road to a Far Province” which is a prose/poetry diary of his five month trip in the seventeenth century. That’s up next as soon as I’ve completed the one I am currently enjoying. I might even be a rebel and read them both at the same time.
And, yes, you’ll be seeing quite a bit more haiku on here.
I can guarantee you they will be nowhere near the quality of Basho’s. At least not for the next ten or twenty years anyway.
I tumbled out of sleep a quarter after four in the morning due to stress. It was the usual things you would expect for an unemployed father; finances, self-worth, simple and typical night time gremlins. No matter how simple those imps they always work their skill at stealing sleep.
To add to the anxiety, we’ve been ramping up for a full move to another apartment in the same neighborhood by the end of the month. It is a good move as we’re moving closer to the nearby woods and away from the constant sound of traffic from the all-to-near city street turned into major thoroughfare. Even though a good move, it still brings it’s share of chaotic influence. All food for the early morning gremlins.
When I wake like this I often turn to the internet or a computer game to calm me along with a glass of milk. It’s a tried and true fix. It’s usually a nice distraction, a silent hour staring at the screen, trying to shovel the dirt of the conscious over my subconscious dragons. It’s a fine remedy most times. However, this time, there was a restlessness hovering on me. Even after finishing a modest snack of a breakfast, it persisted and coaxed me with a need to have fresh air and to be outside. Barefoot, I walked out my front door and into the early morning night.
The blast furnace heat from the previous day had subsided and it was pleasant outside. The light of a waning half moon shone in the southern sky and a temperate evening breeze tussled the branches of the trees. It was more than pleasant. It was fantastic. Not content to stay near the house, I took a longer walk around our neighborhood and the pond at it’s center, enjoying the feel of my bare feet on concrete, grass, dirt and pathway mulch. Out here, in the air, under starlight, there was a connection in those quiet, dark hours and I floated with it.
There is a wondrous purity in these hours no matter the season or phase of the moon. It’s one of my favorite times of the day and I wondered to myself as I stood in the middle of our parking lot gazing upwards at the stars, why don’t I do this more often? Why do I opt instead to stare at a screen? Because that’s the easy way out of it? How little effort was involved in just stepping out my door! I know it to be the better answer but somehow always do an excellent job of forgetting it.
Cold rice before dawn.
The summer bluetime stillness.
Half moon crowns a pine.
Dawn eased forward and birds began to call to one another. I believe it was a cardinal that started things off. People began to stir around me. I sat on the steps outside our apartment and continued to enjoy the last remaining minutes before the day, and the heat, began. I had passed through something, a quietly hanging gossamer curtain, and once on the other side, life was calm, centered. As I was about to move and stand to go inside, Universe offered me one final gift before I moved on with my day.
Warm summer morning.
From the tall pond weeds, a doe
and her two children.
Persian: A thousand nations of the Persian empire descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!
Stelios: Then we will fight in the shade.
–From the movie 300.
A little over a week or so ago I was called in a meeting room at my workplace and handed a huge challenge.
I was laid-off.
Since then, I’ve been trying to get my feet underneath me as well as sticking to my strong beliefs that all challenges are actually opportunities. What can be learned? What can be changed? Over the past few weeks, however, this is proving to be a bit difficult.
I’m a firm believer in applying a survival mindset to all of all Life’s challenges, not just situations in the “wilderness.” A lot of things happen when you hear your weekly take home check is going away. Every one of those thoughts have a common denominator of Fear and it’s no different from learning you’re lost twenty miles into the mountains without a map and no food. The physiological responses are the same. Your system is flooded with stress hormones, your vision narrows and, if you get carried away, you can make a mistake. You have to slow down; take stock in what you have. Fear can be overcome. It can be managed, worked with, and if ignored can make your situation worse.
One of the ideas I had straight off was to use this blog as a vehicle for me to chronicle the next steps and as a venue to express what I, and my family, are about to go through. I hesitated at first. Why? Well, the above part about making a mistake by reacting in fear was a big part of that hesitation. Fear is sneaky. After sleeping on it for about six days, I realized that even that hesitation had been brought about by fear. I was worried about what people might think. I was worried I might say the wrong thing or take the wrong tone. I was concerned it might not be taken well.
Then, I realized what I was doing.
I’ve decided to go ahead with it, lay it on the line. My main thought is what better way to show people how to maintain a positive attitude of grounded happiness than to go through something most people do not equate to “pleasant.” There are a lot of challenges in front of me, now more than ever before. The thing about a lot of challenges is that, to me, it can also mean equally rampant opportunity. I can decide to wallow in the enormity of those challenges or I can decide to take a grounded mental attitude and suit up. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be all rosy and pleasant. There are some damn difficult decisions coming up on the financial calendar which are far from “fun.” (One of which will be a hard lesson in learning to let go of some key important but ultimately material items.) What it does mean is that I have to carry a much different attitude about those decisions when the time comes.
The opportunities I have currently? What resources do I have? First off, I have an amazingly supportive wife. I have children that are awesome and who unknowingly (and knowingly) make me smile every day. I have a wide reaching network of friends and allies. In all of those things, I am as wealthy as Midas.
I have more time to focus on multiple things that mean a lot more to me than what I was doing previously. I can get things organized which have been dormant for many years. I can spend more time with my kids before they grow up and fly from the nest. I can get back to more writing. I have an opportunity to take all the things that I have worked on privately and apply it, test it. If me taking the time to get this down helps someone else down the road in a similar position then I think it’s the best possible result of the whole situation. Matter of fact, it’s what Jane McGonigal of “Reality is Broken” would call an “epic win.”
To me, it’s a matter of not accepting the status quo, perhaps taking a hit now in order to be better later, in believing that in the middle of a devastating situation you can find everything you need to come out of it better and stronger then you were before.
It’s about survival with a smile. Or, if all else fails, perhaps just a stalwart grin.
I look forward to being able to post here about the upcoming adventures, the rough struggles and the eventual victories. I won’t promise they’ll be pretty and I’m definitely not going to promise to use nice language. What I will promise is some perspective, some amusement and that, most importantly, we’ll get through this one way or the other.
I think it’s funny that within 24 hours of making the goal of writing here three times a week that the Universe decided to drop a box of crazy on me. I KNEW the holidays were going to be a little tough but it’s always what you don’t see coming that throws you off. As I like to say, you can have the best plan ever but you should be ready to meet Mr. Murphy at the door. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Murphy, please see this link. It might save you considerable frustration down your own road!
As I come out of my birthday, dash through Yule and sprint towards the New Year’s, I’m realizing something. I’m realizing that I’m using a lot of verbs focused on hurrying and racing about my holidays. Why did I do it? Because there is something that overhangs our culture that says that is what you should be doing. Hurry to get your presents! Go go go to get on the road. Rush rush to get the baking done. Scramble to get the tree up and the lights hanging! What kind of holiday is that? As I simplify my life more and look to what is REALLY important I realize we all run the risk of needing a vacation from our holiday.
The real kicker? It’s all our choice.
So, this Yule I am intending to kick back and I’m encouraging everyone I meet to put the caffeine down and step away from the hectic. Take a look at what you feel you SHOULD be doing and weigh it against what you want to be doing. Take a deep breath and relax.
It’s the holidays after all, right?
What is it that makes you, well, YOU? We are told early on, “define yourself”, “understand yourself”, “be yourself.” We take to it with great zeal. “I like thunderstorms! I like ponies!” or “I like outer space so I wanna be an astronaut.” As children, we’re sometimes told what to like. We take it to heart. “If you’re from here then you have to love football,” or “Any good child of the family needs to like grandpa’s chili.”
We also learn to define ourselves by what we don’t want or like. “I don’t like tomatoes and I don’t like the color blue.” We tell ourselves this. We tell other people. And, as the years go by, as we hear it over and over, things get locked into place.
Our pain defines us as well, emotional and physical. Initially, pain is a teacher. It teaches us what NOT to do. But, if we hold on to what caused that pain, it can become a handicap. It can twist us. A child may have been stung by a bee. “I hate all bees!” he proclaims loudly, “Bees suck!” Someone else might have had their heart broken by a lover with blonde hair. She might tell herself, “I’ll never date a blonde again! They can’t be trusted!”
If we don’t, from time to time, take a look at the definitions that we’ve given ourselves we run the risk of getting trapped within them. We miss the wonder of watching bees work a field of flowers. We pass on the blonde friend of a friend who could be our soulmate. In this hectic world, it seems easier to just keep running ever forward, from one hectic emergency to the next. Do This! Go here! Buy that! Buy This! We don’t take the pauses we need and we get locked into the very definitions we’ve given ourselves. We get so distracted we forget to pause, to reflect.
Hopefully there comes a time when something inside you causes you to stop. A moment when you question things, when you become curious. “Wait a minute, maybe I DO like the color blue.” Or, “Why do I dislike bees again?” It might take months, it will probably take years. This is redefinition and it’s those very moments which keep you young. If you ignore those moments, brush them off as fancy, than you’re on a declining path to stiffness and true “old age.”
You’ll notice I put “old age” in quotes. It’s because I’ve met 80 year old people who knew how to think like they were 20 and I’ve met 20 year old people locked into frozen and old-school mindsets. The body ages but ultimately it’s the state of mind which defines our youthfulness and this state of mind is powered by curiosity. If you want to stay young then you have to stay curious. Curiosity supports redefinition. Redefinition feeds curiosity. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
Recently, I was dealing with yet another wave of stress and I was blessed with a moment of pause. It came out of nowhere in the middle of a very hectic, depressing and blustery day. I asked myself, sitting in a heated car, in a warm coat, and sipping on a tepid cup of coffee two simple questions. “What the heck am I stressed out about again?” And, “What is driving my discontent?”
The questions caused me to focus internally. It wasn’t the cold. It wasn’t the tepid coffee. What I found was that much of my issues of the day were being driven by old pains, old limits. Old items that were, quite frankly, worn out and no longer applicable. I realized I had a choice to redefine them. I was choosing to define them out of fear, or, more importantly, the fear of perceived pain and stress. It was my call not only how I perceived them but also what I chose to do with that very perception.
I could choose the old model and wonder why I my blood pressure was so high or I could redefine things, redefine myself, and hopefully make a better choice.
Oddly enough, it was just that simple.
I’ve finally found the time and the energy to get an update to this blog! July and August were an odd mix of pain and pleasure for me. Matter of fact, when I look back over it all I can’t believe it was only two months. It felt like six!
Mid-July brought the passing of my wife’s grandfather and a little over a week later, my closest friend and companion, Pooka, my dog of 12 years, passed away suddenly. (He was featured in a previous post with my spring maple bonsai.) I have more to say about him but, for now, let’s just leave it that his departure rocked my world.
I still wasn’t fully recovered when it was time to start planning for the first full blown, 10 day long family vacation trip in August. On top of that, there was medical stress, doctor’s appointments, financial issues and school starting for the kids. All in all, I’m not sure I remember the last week of August!
The dust of all of it has finally started to settle and as one of the most intense summers in my life comes to a close, I’ve felt a yearning to work on this blog again. During the Summer, this site was always in the back of my mind, pecking away and reminding me that it was still here, postless and waiting. Part of my energy of returning to it was spurred, in part, by our vacation.
For the first time, we bundled the entire family up into the car and drove North of North into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The area had always been restorative for me and this trip was no exception. I was honored to be able to introduce it to my wife and children just as it had been introduced to me by my grandparents. Passing this onward to another generation has already been placed on my year’s list of greatest gifts.
I think the first seeds of inspiration for more posting to this blog came from that trip. I’ve got some cool ideas and I hope you’ll enjoy where the momentum is taking me. Some of it I wanted to do during the summer but the Universe had other ideas for me. It’s ok. With the scorching hot weather hopefully coming to a close, I can start moving forward in the more comfortable climate of Autumn.
Stay tuned! Good stuff coming along shortly!
The sun has finally broken through the clouds in my area. Unfortunately, the sun is not the only thing that has decided to do it’s share of breaking! My computer, from which I do most of my work and writing, has decided to go belly up. Thankfully, I’ve had time to back-up all my documents, writing and photography both. I wanted to just post a quick note to let everyone know that I’ll be back just as soon as I can get things sorted out and back into action. I will still try to post some writing but the pretty pictures will have to be on hold.
With that said, some moments of nature!
I’ve had a couple really excellent afternoon trips to my local lunchtime birding spot. Yesterday, with the sun shining brightly and winter wind blowing, I watched a large flock of robins which had descended on a particular sumac tree. The last time I had seen robins matter of fact was the last time we had seen bright sunshine. The two I am sure go hand in hand. After my earlier encounter with robins and waxwings eating crab-apples I was able to learn the cold temperatures actually begin a fermentation process in the berries and that waxwings have been known to get, well, drunk on them. I contemplated if the same thing goes for sumac berries?
As I wandered to the car got to see yet another new bird to my lifelist, a rose breasted nuthatch. I have pictures but, unfortunately, I have no way to get them uploaded just yet. I’ll get them up as soon as I can.
Today, the robins were still there and had been joined by a large flock of starlings and a northern flicker. As I went to leave, I surprised a male cardinal who immediately went into making alarm calls. It was my turn to be surprised when out of nowhere two crows came cawing and swooping in the tree next to the cardinal. Both birds began eyeballing me and then the cardinal as if they were trying to get a read on the situation. Knowing that crows love to torment and chase off predators, do crows regularly patrol areas, like security guards, and respond to alarm calls from smaller birds? They certainly rushed in when the cardinal went off. I’ll have to start looking at crows a bit differently if that is the case. The next question is do the smaller birds listen for the crow calls as a system of listening for predator threats?
Something to think about and I’m sure someone with a bit more experience would know the answers. If you’re reading this, chime up! I’d love to know.
I’ll be back just as soon as I can.