With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Monday, June 28, 2010

Storm of Purpose

“When the cold front of demographics meets the warm front of unrealized dreams, the result will be a thunderstorm of purpose the likes of which the world has never seen.” (133)
- From Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink

In Colorado we witness many types of storms this time of year. During the four days of my sister’s recent visit we offended her Californian sensibilities with vigorous thunder and lightning, sheets of rain, hail, and even a final hot day offering flurries of cottonwood tree cotton. Today the mercury will hit ninety-two degrees and the draining heat makes it difficult to meet the challenges of mothering – and almost impossible to face the larger troubles spelled out in newspaper headlines or internet news briefs. Natural disasters, ongoing wars, recovery efforts and partisan bickering leave me gasping for fresh air, looking for some mental and spiritual refreshment. In recent days I have found my “lemonade of the soul” in Daniel Pink’s book, Drive.

Pink’s work addresses the science of what truly motivates human beings. Studies dating back decades reveal that monetary rewards are not the best motivators. Beyond a certain income baseline, people are most fueled by autonomy, mastery and purpose. For a quick video overview, you can visit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc&feature=player_embedded).

In the most recent chapter I’ve read, Pink focuses on the number of baby boomers reaching sixty. He offers, “at the beginning of the twenty-first century, anyone who’s healthy enough to have made it six decades is probably healthy enough to hang on a fair bit longer” (132) as in twenty or more years. (Are you reading this, Dad?) How does this relate to my heat and headline trauma? Read on . . .

Pink notes that anyone who has the accumulated wisdom of sixty or so years learns past to look past the profit motive and search for work with a purpose: work that will change the world. I can provide my father as an example; his work for his city and county takes him to meetings every day on a volunteer basis and he has enabled the local area to build a brand new food pantry to feed those living in hunger. He finds and writes grants, raises money, and educates himself and others to the need around him. Thanks to folks like my dad, I can sit here writing with a cup of tea and feel like the world won’t totally go to pot in my mental absence.

Here’s a thought: “the planet very soon will contain more people over age sixty-five than under age five for the first time in its existence, (and) the timing couldn’t be better.” (144) I promise not to abdicate my own volunteer responsibilities at the thought of vast armies of purposeful, talented and experienced individuals taking on the plight of the world, but I am grateful for the thought of these reinforcing armies. I am relieved to think that the science proves humans are intrinsically motivated by purpose. I am hopeful that – as summer heat and window-clogging cotton will eventually relent – the troubles of the early 21st century may be washed away in a thunderstorm of purpose.



Additional thought: In a follow-up to my post on the Tom Petty concert (Rocking Out - A Rare Late Night), I wanted to post this quote by Willie Nelson as written in Sunday (6/29) Parade Magazine: "Death is not the end of anything. I believe all of us are only energy that becomes matter. When the matter goes away, the energy still exists. You can't destroy it. It never dies. It manifests itself somewhere else."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What Animal Emerges from My Next Breath

"The inner working of a human being
is a jungle. Sometimes wolves
dominate. Sometimes wild hogs.

Be wary when you breathe.
At one moment gentle, generous qualities,
like Joseph's, pass from one nature
to another. The next moment
vicious qualities move in hidden ways.

In every instant a new species rises
in the chest - now a demon, now an angel,
now a wild animal, now a human friend."
- From "The Inner Workings" by Rumi

This poem broke through my hazy consciousness pre-dawn yesterday morning when my four-year-old inexplicably felt the need to rise hours earlier than normal. I was stunned to think that this poet, born 800 years ago, somehow knew me. Certainly in the first two weeks of summer my innards have resembled a jungle where peace and tranquility form a rare oasis as the children readjust to endless hours of togetherness and forced sharing - their toys, their snacks, my attention.

A lion emerged from my chest when the youngest fell into the baby pool during my volunteer shift at the older kids' swim meet. His ensuing screaming temper tantrum required my full attention, and my abrupt retirement from duties. He refused all offers of dry clothes and managed to draw the attention of nearly every adult in the pool and parking lot area before finally calming in the arms of my recently arrived husband.

Then again at a swim meet, I felt rather bearish when trying to watch my daughter swim in her final relay. The boys, who had been sitting calmly behind me, started to fight. Two lovely individuals called to me to address my poor weeping children (who were only fighting over a spot on the lawn chair), and one mom from the visiting team came up to my little one saying, "Oh honey, where is your mom? Are you OK?"

"I'm right here!" I offered through gritted grizzly teeth. "I have two crying and one in the pool, but it's FINE." She could obviously see the wildness in my face and quickly moved to the side.

I have been as stubborn as a goat, loving as a llama (I did not pick that combination for alliteration - after reading Is Your Mama a LLama? for years I actually think of llamas as loving), quick-tempered as a snake. Sometimes I despair that these negative qualities exist in me at all; in my working years as a single or newly married adult I never felt this range of emotional responses. Only young children (MY young children) seem equipped to bring out these reactions. Yet I have to own the menagerie that abides within, breathe out the various responses, and hope that once emerged from their cages, they have a hard time finding their way back.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Man in the Moon is Crying

"He's always smiling
He never looks mean
Even when the sun comes in between
The man in the moon is smiling
'Cause he's in love,
The man in the moon is smiling
'Cause he's in love with the girl in the world."
- From "Heavenly" by Harry Connick, Jr. and Ramsey McLean

My sister and I were sitting at our kitchen table yesterday, brainstorming story ideas with the children, when one of my daughter's comments about the moon sparked her aunt's memory of this Harry Connick tune. Of course, we couldn't remember the title or the lyrics, exactly; what we remembered was, "The man in the moon is crying 'cause he's in love with the girl in the world." A few head-scratching moments and a Google search later, we were in possession of the correct words but yet the image of the man in the moon crying for the girl in the world stuck with me. With the earth bleeding great gushers of oil from its floor in the Gulf of Mexico, wouldn't anyone who loved it be crying?

Later on in the day I received a viral email celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the famous “pale blue dot” photo – Earth as seen from Voyager 1 while on the edge of our solar system (approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home). The email also recalled the words of astronomer Carl Sagan upon viewing this photo:

"Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known."

I have no insight, no words to add to those of Sagan. I know of no adequate response to the disaster in the Gulf, no amount of tears that will compensate for the loss of entire ecosystems for years to come, and possibly species, forever. I can understand how our reliance on fossil fuels has grown to be an addiction: they have been cheap, easily transportable, and effective. They used to be plentiful, too. But now that we know more about fossil fuels - that they are dirty, that they are not unlimited, that they emit greenhouse gases, that we now buy them largely from unstable regimes, should we not try to do better? The earth is bleeding, living creatures are wounded and dying, and millions of gallons of "cheap fuel" are wasted. Can we not do better?

The man in the moon is crying, 'cause he's in love. The man in the moon is crying 'cause he's in love with the girl in the world.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Leggo my Ego!

“ If you think that the Truth can be known

From words,

If you think that the Sun and the Ocean

Can pass through that tiny opening called the mouth.

O someone should start laughing!

Someone should start wildly laughing –

Now!”

- The poet Hafiz, as quoted in Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao by Dr. Wayne Dyer

Today is the last day of school. For a child, summer vacation beckons wildly with orange flags, waving him on to homework-free days of swimming, park visits, sand and dirt wallowing, and tormenting his siblings. For a mom, this day indicates an end to rushed mornings and lunch-making, also the beginning of constant companionship, loss of structure, and a temporary end to personal time. As I sat in sun-dazed stupor on our porch last weekend I realized that writing will become a bit of a chore over the summer. It will be hard to wrest control of the computer or gather any time for thought. I sighed, picked up my book, and read above poem by Hafiz. Dare I think that I had anything meaningful to say? Dare I believe that my words have meaning? Ha! Someone should start laughing now, I read, so I did.

The poem comes from a section of Wayne Dyer’s book, Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao. I really like the book, and it is unusual for me to say that about any self-help type of writing. (I gave up the genre after finishing my tenth book on childrearing and breastfeeding and realizing that none of it helped.) The section I read over the weekend deals with the 22nd verse of the Tao, focused on flexibility, a trait that I am short on both physically and mentally. In this section, I embody everything that can be wrong and have none of the traits desired. I started laughing with Hafiz and laughed the whole way through the chapter – not cynically or disbelieving, but because I am a freakshow of inflexibility.

Dyer writes, “to be in harmony with the Tao is to be free of goals, immersed in all that you’re doing without concern about the outcome” (106). Be free of goals? I spent Friday evening doing a sprint triathlon in 90 degree heat and Saturday morning at my children’s swim meet, shouting myself hoarse. By Saturday night I had planned a trajectory of age group excellence in my triathlons and team stardom for my children. I don’t actually think Dyer is wrong about goals and outcomes, but I am not sure how to detour my way over to that path from my current career of competition.

Next I read, “Let go of having to win an argument and being right by changing the atmosphere with a statement such as ‘You’re very likely correct. Thanks for giving me a new perspective.’” (106) Honestly, what a great thing to say. The only problem lies with getting those words to actually emerge from my mouth, particularly in any discussion that includes religion, politics, childrearing, athletics, etc. I will try to start small, perhaps with flavors of ice cream.

Lastly, I read the following pearl of wisdom and psychological insight: “As rigidity appears, notice that as well, allowing the wind to blow as you exercise the Tao in place of ego! Seek to uncover the root of your stiffness and achieve greater flexibility in the storms of life.” (107) This phrase was underlined three times, and not just for the phallic reference. What is the root of my stiffness? Why does rigidity appear the minute that my children bring toys up from the basement, fight over brushing their teeth, scream at me to turn on the television? Should I not just notice this rigidity and let it pass? That would be delightful, I’m sure. I think that my need for control arises from my ego, and well, from my need for control. I’d love to let go of that, but I’m not sure how to accomplish this goal without letting the children run wild, dirty, over-tired and sugar loaded. Tell you what, my homework on this summer vacation will be to uncover the root of my rigidity, let go my ego, and survive the process. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rocking Out - A Rare Late Night

"Yeah runnin down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
I'm runnin down a dream"
- From "Runnin Down a Dream", Tom Petty, Mike Campbell, Jeff Lynne songwriters

So I am red-eyed and faintly reefer-scented this morning after an evening with Joe Cocker (http://www.cocker.com/), and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (http://www.tompetty.com/) at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. What a night . . . clear and cool at an outdoor amphitheater that has been sacred for many generations, watching passion play out on electric guitar, keyboard, vocals. Late nights out seemed impossible for many years (though late nights IN with sick or startled children were common) - and a late weeknight date is still rare. Only for great live music with friends would I pre-arrange two sitters (blessings on them), dinner for the children, dinner for us, and even lunches for the next day. But it was a blast - a few stolen kisses from my husband and a spousal duet on "You Are So Beautiful" made all the prep and planning (not to mention the sleepy day after) worthwhile.

At our pre-concert picnic our group's conversation turned from Junior High misery and High School pranks to how the great (aging) rockers still rock our world despite pickled livers and unknown drug-induced brain alterations . . . which led us naturally or not to the concept of life after death. It was a quick segue as parking cars encroached on our picnic spot and warm-up sounds from the band beckoned. Yet a quick survey revealed our many different ideas of the afterlife, ranging from none (no existence whatsoever) to reincarnation to continuation in the form of energy, or dark matter, or vibration. A mystery, we all agreed, but the only certain thing is this life, and finding joy and purpose right now. Which sent us off immediately to the concert and cold beverages.

We were seated only ten rows back with a great view of the singers and musicians. Rocking out to my left were two Japanese gentlemen; I recognized a few "arigatou's" but no other linguistics, though it was impossible to mistake the glee in waving arms and shared fist bumps. In front of us were two young people in high school, accompanied by a rocking mom. The kids were totally into the music and not the least scornful of us old fogies - at least not to the point of openly texting throughout the show. With each hit the crowd would jump up enthusiastically, each resonating to their own peculiar beat, his or her own favorite chord. Yet folks took great pleasure in responding together; individuals looking around to see others' responses and looking up into the immense stands in awe of the great swaying (and smoking) crowd.

If it's true that we leave these or any body forever when we die and carry on as energy or as vibration, a great concert provides me with a comforting mental image. Each person, like a guitar string or tuning fork, vibrating with great energy so individual yet tied to the whole. Music connects like that. For me it was great to see two rockstars who made it through the valley of drugs and distractions, attention and adoration, and serve up their dreams for us all to share. Life and all that comes after is a mystery, of course, but what a great way to lose half a night's sleep - to experience the dream and ponder the mystery with many thousands of your closest friends.