I sat this morning drinking my tea, my delightfully iridescent bird-adorned journal (some things will always make me kind of giddy-happy, like iridescence, especially iridescent pink, and thunderstorms, and white hydrangeas), and my favorite pen in front of me. Dim, overcast, slightly blustery light, that I somehow still find cozy and warm, flooded my spot at the table from the right, and from the left. I could see the haggard branches of would-be-green bushes, dead leaves swirling in the small wind, modest puddles of cold water on the concrete path leading away from our patio, and tarp-covered barbecues waiting for spring, or a brave chef.
I felt like writing, which is to say I felt like praying. The two have become intertwined since I started to journal as a means of encouraging my habits of prayer and meditation. But I couldn’t quite clear through the superficial fog in my eyes to get to the deeper stuff. Like the jewel-blue sky you know is anchored radiant and true behind those persistent clouds, omnipresent, yet inaccessible, try as you might.
So I sat. And drank tea. And stared at the bare branches of our blueberry bush that produced an entirety of seven berries this last summer. I thought about the time and that I actually love being awake and drinking my tea in quiet a good two hours earlier. I let my feet dangle in the warmth of the heater gushing hot air from the wall behind my chair. I thought about how I had stayed up a good two hours later than I really needed to; my body had started checking out long before I actually got up to get my tired head to bed. I drank more tea.
And then as I admired the grain of the birch wood making up our tabletop I found a little bit of magic in having just let myself be. Those tenacious clouds parted even if for only a glimpse of true blue.
I wondered if I practiced listening to my body’s cues for things like sleeping if I would in fact practice the discipline of listening to my soul’s promptings for prayer, of insight, or the realization of questions. And thus began a few journaled pages of musings on awareness, clarity of vision, purposefulness, striving for excellence, and diligence, among other things, coherent and otherwise.
Anything resembling profound conclusions in universal terms in those pages are a bit mired in my own half-formed thoughts and understanding, as if that’s any surprise, but I did realize a few things about myself. Things that, should I remember them and perhaps implement them, I might in fact encounter a bit less mental cloud-cover.
I love quiet contemplative mornings that give me a few moments to write and look out at the current state of things, and drink tea. I’d be happier if I could do this quite early in the day.
I am most strongly inspired by study during the mid-morning and early afternoon hours. My mind feels alert, clear, inquisitive, and ready for work.
I like to write during this time, recording my reflections, capturing excitement as best as I can.
Emotional, slightly intense, base-y music fuels this mood and readiness to focus. My husband has a Spotify playlist called “Epically Focused Work.” That about does it.
I like to be active around my home in the early evening, making dinner, spending time playing with my family, caring for our son’s needs and health, and generally reinforcing a sense of harmony, productivity, and beauty.
Later in the evening, I like to have attained a sense of accomplishment with my day’s time such that I can relax a while, multi-task on some chores if needed, but otherwise absorb a story, whether by way of a book or show.
Though, I recently realized there’s this untapped magical set of hours in which I could study with others! From about 9-11, my son is asleep, and my friends, with or without children are potentially also available. This is BIG, folks. I could arrange a weekly night for this purpose. A standing date. Whether anyone else can come or not.
The idea above made me realize again how much scheduling commitments with others makes it much more likely that I will follow through on something like “study”, a mandate often too vague to feel motivated about come after-dinner hours.
I feel most accomplished when my list of to-dos serves as a reminder rather than a strict guideline. Trying to get exactly all seven things done in a day feels less important than remaining genuinely productive the day through. Often, when I can be attentive to my energy levels and respond accordingly, I actually accomplish more than what my initial list set forth, even if some of the precise activities differ from that list.
However, estimating the amount of time an activity should take me with as much accuracy as I can muster increases my productivity immensely! This is a gem of a habit. It takes 10-15 minutes, and probably saves hours of time otherwise lost to distraction, ambivalent focus, and the expectation that one task will take more time than it might actually require.
As a result of this list I find myself striving and praying for more mindfulness about my unique triggers for enthusiastic productivity, a sense of purpose, discipline, and an attitude of joy, but also with flexibility, and detachment.
What have you learned about your unique best practices for productivity? How do you remain mindful and aware of your body’s and soul’s cues?
It’s one of those times, today. Like when you’re hungry but can’t figure out for what. Or when you feel like there’s something you’re missing, and cannot remember what it could even be.
Today I feel tired, and lethargic, but antsy all at the same time. I want to sleep, but I really couldn’t make it happen even if wrapped myself up in the coziest of blankets. I could sit here and work on my midterm (and I must!), but I really, really don’t want to. I want to lay out on the couch and watch movies…kind of. I want to work on projects…making things with my hands, beautifying! Only I still kind of want to lie down on the couch. I want to go walk through a foggy, crisp-aired forest and think about the birds of prey who watch me from above, and talk to myself about how unsuspectingly lovely the dried seed pods and dead leaves are, scattered about the ground and getting caught in my hair. But then I also kind of want to sit and drink a warm chai latte, and stare without a care for how long I’m sitting there.
One of those days.
I think for me, today, the mood is a result of two warring realities. I waited, and got what I expected, what I thought would be best. But I also now find myself wishing for what has not yet come to pass. What could have.
What weirdly, divided creatures we are, humans. Half yes, half no. Half light, half shadow. Half noble, gracious, radiant acquiescence, half screaming, flailing three-year-old-toddler-tantrum (even if it’s all safely locked away in our own internal monologue). How tiresome.
I suppose that’s just it. I’m tired.
I would like to go to another land, a misty place, and bright with green. With surprising outcrops of rocks. Quaint red houses covered in mossy roofs. I have this idyllic sense that in another place I would forget the tired, and relocate my wonder. I would like to go there.
But, then I still kind of want to take a nap.
And I suppose that’s okay. All of it. Sometimes it’s okay to be tired. It’s okay to want a magical existence, even if just for a day. It’s okay to long for the tired to go away. On occasion, it’s probably even good to have to long for the wonder.
As I’ve been thinking back to the day six years ago when Alex and I got married, one thing I feel that I have learned is that the kind of vulnerability and closeness that can exist in a marriage as a result of the tests and victories you go through as a committed couple brings a kind of joy that completely overshadows any conception of perfect love perpetuated by modern culture.
"I love you," is almost too simple a phrase.
Nevertheless, I say it now. May we always learn from our difficulties, and increase in our joy and love.
A couple of dear friends have recently expressed to me awe at all that I have on my plate, and that I seem to be gettin’ it all done. Let me just say, I’m glad it appears that way!
Or am I? Actually, I’m glad for the opportunity to encourage one another. And I’m glad for the opportunity to have honest, uplifting conversations about our day-to-day life, goals, tests, and victories.
My (our) life is indeed quite full. I’m constantly going through ups and downs of feeling accomplished, on-task, focused, and productive, then overwhelmed, concerned, exhausted, and despairing. And all the in between. In each of these moments, I inevitably realize, “Soon, I will again feel the other way.”
One day, as a form of coping, I made a list of the priorities I’ve chosen in my life and the subcategories of those priorities so that I can check my actions against them.
In reality, while I am a staunch believer in lists, it’s in our moment to moment thoughts that our actions are decided. I’ve been reflecting a great deal on my attitude toward that full, carefully - sometimes precariously - balanced plate. And one concept has gracefully saved me each time I manage to bring it to mind, or am lucky enough that it somehow traverses through the fog of my mental state.
'Abdu'l-Bahá, one of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith, stated at the ground-breaking for an important, glorious Temple built outside of Chicago that, “The Temple is already built.”
"The Temple is already built." This massive undertaking, requiring the collaboration, sacrifice, and dedication of many, with a vision to benefit any and all, is complete. Because the first step was taken. The earth was moved. What deep-breathing, brow-relaxing, heart-uplifting, vision-clearing, source of confidence! (Really, we’re talking about trust in God here, right?)
And Shoghi Effendi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s grandson, later reportedly stated with regard to the process of prayer, “Then, lastly, ACT. Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being…”
Oh! There’s the catch! We must put forth effort.
But that’s okay, because our breath is already at ease, our weary body is already straighter, our energy is already more vital, and our sense of reality is a good deal more hopeful!
These two statements have been running through my mind all week. ”The Temple is already built. The Temple is already built. Act as though it had all been answered…” A mantra of holy words that have turned my to-do list into a set of accomplishments in the making. Or rather, a set of accomplishments.
I’m collecting myself, the parts and pieces I want and need to keep. There are moments throughout the day when I see an image, read a quotation, watch an interaction between two people and go, “There! Wait, THAT!” The mental flag pops up, and I try to absorb all of the feeling that I’m given right then. I try to put it somewhere deep within me where I can keep it, and somehow remember to find it there again when I need it. Or, even better, where it can stand at the ready to fuel my very existence with all the gentle consistency, compassion, dedication, and joy of a very good teacher.
These days, with The Civil Wars on repeat in the background, I’m being taught that I might fashion something meaningful (namely, an MFA thesis) out of all the questions. The questions, of enormously varied sizes, which, upon reflection of them, stoke that fire, part soul, part color palettes, and part behavioral psychology, that makes me want to keep learning all there is to learn.*
And that drive to learn is exactly what ultimately helps me find and collect pieces of myself, what brings me some degree of increased certainty. When I’m centered in my desire to understand, what is expected of me from my advisors, what all the layers of work are that need to be accomplished, is really besides the point (not irrelevant, obviously). A drive to learn is such a powerful tool because it will eventually find the answers to all necessary questions. And the process will be engrossing, and overwhelmingly joyful.
*When I’m in that space, design feels like prayer. Is that strange? I think it is a little. But maybe only because the cannon of human experience does not typically own to links between such things. In fact, I think it’s the reality we would be much happier living within, were we to give it credence. Like, living with electricity, instead of without it. Like believing in electricity, instead of denying it.
At the exact moment when I’m making a decision, I have begun to notice a curious warring of tiny emotions. They’re tiny because they’re habitual, something that blends into the background. And when I actually, and suddenly, become aware of them, when I see them there in my mind’s eye, what I see is a set of acutely persistent tiny things. It’s the tiny emotions that can be the most worrisome.
Maybe worrisome is the wrong word. Concerning? Thought-provoking. Because I would never want to suggest the the feelings that we often feel are “bad.” They are the combined result of hormones, and thoughts, and our soul’s inclinations. They are.
But these feelings do inspire actions. And as such, we cannot ignore them. We must navigate them, and encourage those feelings which inspire noble thoughts, and subsequent noble actions. This is.
The most insistent tiny emotion that I have come to recognize over a number of encounters, I have realized, is fear of judgement. This tiny emotion is rooted into my neural pathways and in the promptings of my lower self like a rusted barbed wire sunk into the growth of an old tree. It’s been there for ages, innocent at first. Just a line of fencing resting up against the bark of the young sapling, a protection against certain anticipated, and unwanted influences. The sapling kept growing around it. But now that wire is still there, a pokey, obtrusive, fixture. I am that tree, and that wire is my acutely persistent tiny thing when I close my eyes.
Here’s the thing - what I’m afraid of, that judgement, isn’t really real. It is illusion. How often do you think we assume another person is judging us when they’re doing nothing of the sort? And if someone really is judging us - I’m sure that happens just as frequently - why do we insist on believing that it can actually touch us? Because it cannot - not our innermost core of heart and soul. Even if someone acts on their judgement and emotionally or physically harms us, nothing that they can do can actually, really touch us*. In most normative experiences, I think that thing we feel in those moments is actually guilt of our own devising and application.
Not only all that, but this obsession with an unreal mirage of judgement from others is self-centered. I’m laughing now because that sounds judgmental written down. But what I mean by self-centered is not “you’re being a brat”, but rather literally focused inwardly on one’s self. And I think we all have had some experiences or insights into the fact that focusing on one’s self can only get us so far. Enjoying the benefits of friends, family, and community as an assistance to our own life and well-being is certainly valued by many, if not most to one degree or another, the world over. In my way of thinking, trust in God all the time, but specifically when are least certain about our capacity to rise to whatever occasion looms before us, is our only other recourse. When we trust God, we know that we are each fighting our own hard battle, we are each doing our very best at any given moment, and when we make a mistake we must simply pick back up and try again without another look back for that is the fastest way to keep growing. And when we trust God, not the judgements of others, real or illusory, we are released from those feelings of fear, and we are released from those feelings of guilt.
* There are certainly extreme cases of trauma and abuse that put our core well-being to the test.
I find that every few years I end up making a furiously written list on some scrap of paper, or several pages in my journal describing that elusive person - the one I see in my minds eye if I squint and put my hands over my ears, blocking all other input and distractions and mirages - that person I want to be. Don’t we all have that image of that ideal we can never quite attain?
I’m thinking it’s probably a fact of life that we always feel distant from that person. What else would keep pushing us forward if we were to “arrive”? A frustrating as that seeming truth may be.
My most recent list is longer than the one before it. That short list was very clear and specific, and something I carried around with me like a cheat sheet. Literally! I needed reminders of what I was striving for. I think that’s usually the case when one is in the midst of a tormenting, disorienting storm of what some might call growth. That little list was my sign post, a mile marker, a compass rose.
My new list is going to keep me busy for awhile…a long while, I think (see above).
Who is this person? (I want to be.)
Purposeful. Like deft hands. Like a sure gaze. Like a focused vision. Like a flexible mind.
Courageous. Like awareness of one’s emotions, and like will power to choose what follows.
Observant. Like an ever-active mind. Like a broad, open, searching gaze. Like wide-eyed owls.
Faithful. Like certainty in uncertain surroundings. Like a trust fall. Like joy, and gratitude for what you believe to be there.
Prayerful. Like walking through an enormous, tranquil forest. Like closed eyes and clasped hands behind humble but sure steps. Like a master tradesperson who always has their best tool in their back pocket, well-worn and trusty.
Wise. Like silence. Like a listening, learning heart. Like compassion, like justice. Like seeing truth. Like humble words and proper timing.
Radiance. Like joy! Like love and light! Like wonder at every heart. Like a living lens, seeking and finding beauty at every turn.
Honest. Like a deep breath, a small smile, and open eyes. Like vulnerability and trust. Like being worthy of others’ trust.
“While they are at your side, love these little ones to the uttermost. Forget yourself. Serve them; care for them; lavish all your tenderness on them. Value your good fortune while it is with you, and let nothing of the sweetness of their babyhood go unprized. Not for long will you keep the happiness that now lies within your reach. You will not always walk in the sunshine with a little warm, soft hand nestling in each of yours, nor hear little feet pattering beside you, and eager baby voices questioning and prattling of a thousand things with ceaseless excitement. Not always will you see that trusting face upturned to yours, feel those little arms about your neck, and those tender lips pressed upon your cheek, nor will you have that tiny form to kneel beside you, and murmur baby prayers into your ear. Love them and win their love, and shower on them all the treasures of your heart. Fill up their days with happiness, and share with them their mirth and innocent delights. Childhood is but for a day. Ere you are aware it will be gone with all its gifts forever.”—George Townsend
If I bang my elbow against a hard, sharp corner one more time, I shall be forced to start wearing elbow pads all the time, despite the unfortunate, and likely consequences to my already modest (thanks, grad school) social life.
Riding ten miles on a bike at the gym is probably not the best way to get back in the game after a six month hiatus from working out. Ouch.
Fireworks are loud. They wake up toddlers from otherwise restful sleep. They are also beautiful.
Lastly, remember not to start doing laundry at 10:30pm. Especially, not at the end of a really long, productive, happy day.
Let’s see. Since I last posted anything of substance here, consistently, I made it through my most difficult term yet, we started a junior youth group, took a few road trips, ran a few loads of laundry, and didn’t burn the house down. I’m feeling pretty darn accomplished.
Fall term ended toward the latter half of December, and you’d think I would have had time to keep up with something (this blog, among other things) that I really want to maintain regularly for myself and family far away. But apparently one needs a few months to recuperate from, not just fall term, but the last eight months. They have included summer term (harder than this last fall term if only because it’s twice as fast), a two-pronged root canal (after the tooth died - something I would gladly trade for childbirth any day), a couple of weeks alone while hubby was off in a very remote field sampling location, oh, and then hubby’s new job.
Yup, that began right after fall term ended.
So all of that may come across sort of complain-y, but I can assure you that while I am quite open and willing to share my challenges, I am equally, if not more, aware and appreciative of our blessings over the last several months. One of which is said job.
Alex had been working at his first, straight-out-of college job for five and a half years. He started just before we got married - and I mean just. To the point that we could take a three day honeymoon because it was too soon to ask for any more time off than that. The job was great for long enough, but once we moved to Oregon, and he transferred to the Portland office, communications with his boss got harder to manage than they already were. Work became tedious. And rather uninspiring.
Alex is as steadfast as they come. We had just had Jasper around the time work started to suck the life out of him. But he kept on keeping on because he was the provider for me and Jasper while he was at his smallest.
His new job is glorious. It’s the opposite of tedious and uninspiring. It’s the opposite of easy. And he’s as happy and fulfilled as I’ve seen him since he first started his straight-out-of-college position when you feel like that degree you spent however much on is actually worth something. And that makes me so, so happy. There are few things like watching your most-loved-one go through such feelings of confusion, and uncertainty about their life, and their worth, and their abilities. There is even less like seeing your most-loved-one overcome that and surge upward into a realm of endeavor that refreshes, invigorates, and challenges him, but - even better - that also provides him with an opportunity to truly serve others, while subsequently growing himself. We should all be so lucky and blessed.
My main endeavor since Fall term ended has been to narrowly escape Spring term classes. …no, actually because of a glitch in my schedule last summer, I had no more classes to take this Spring until I pass my Midpoint Review - a thesis proposal, and portfolio review. Here you can see a bit of what I’ve been working on. I’m pretty darn excited to be able to design my own focus for the next year and a half or so. I’m even more excited about what I am going to design.
Jasper is, of course, ever more adorable, and amazing to us. He’s talking like a frickin’ 10 year old or something. It’s surprising. And I have to remind myself sometimes that he’s still two, haha! He loves to sing songs, and play his array of instruments. He’s sweet, and social, and playful and has the best laugh in the world. The intention here is to inundate you with pictures of videos of him, so I need not say more for the time being. :)
As a means of holding myself accountable, I’m attempting to articulate here the facets of my self that I am seeking to refine, to better. When one is overwhelmed with the magnitude of the task, and the accompanying emotion of that, sometimes all that can be done is to write. At least all I can do is write. It is my meditation. And therefore my prayer.
I’ve been stuck in a wash of hurt, confusion, desperation, anger, and fear, off and on for about two years. Much of the strength of those feelings has since ebbed, but then, like an unwelcome (are they ever welcome?) jack-in-the-box, a moment of that pain will suddenly jump at my face with a menacing look, and no amount of compassion. My whole being cringes, my breath stops short, and any bit of composure or strength I had is overcome.
But that isn’t all. The backlash may be worse. I’m just tired. So tired of experiencing those exhausting emotions, but I’m even more tired of the self-directed frustration at being unable to get past those emotions yet.
…those feelings are really not doing anyone any favors.
So then I try to remind myself of the newly reemerging sense of empowerment I am starting to feel, thanks to an incredible guide, a patient husband, and a special group of friends. This work may be highly motivated, but it is also incredibly hard. And so I find a moment to myself, and try to remember:
I will give those unwanted emotions their moment, that they might simply grow restless, tired, and move on.
I will breath. I will breath deep, generous breaths.
I will take a break away, on my own, when I begin to feel overwhelmed.
I will trust and seek my inner wisdom and intuition. They are strong, and they are mine.
I will speak when speech is needed, and I will do so with compassion, trust, and wisdom.
And I will try, over and over again, to remember to discern when something isn’t mine.
“But I have learned that you make your own happiness, that part of going for what you want means losing something else. And when the stakes are high, the losses can be that much greater.”—Emily Giffin, Something Borrowed (via definitelydope)
The things making me really happy right now: 1) thinking of Jasper’s shrieks (and I mean shrieks) of delight upon watching the snow fall this morning, 2) listening to Bollywood music while I study (Why didn’t I think of this sooner!?), 3) the little two year old boy gleefully catapulting himself off the arm chair next to me, over and over again, 4) I’m done with two out of three finals, and 5) its snowing again. At least kind of.
"The social dislocation of children in our time is a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition—it cuts across them all. It grieves our hearts to realize that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as labourers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made the objects
of pornography, abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimization too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by the parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation. Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realization should spur us all to urgent and sustained effort in the interests of children and the future… Children are the most precious treasure a community can possess, for in them are the promise and guarantee of the future. “
Loving Kindness: How do we respond to tragedies like this one?
Yesterday a young man, a man of only 22 years, opened fire in a mall where some of my friends and family shop. One of the two deceased was a friend’s coworker. Yesterday, I didn’t know anyone involved directly. Today I do. And I was surprised at how much MORE I felt this tragedy once I did. That is a tragedy in and of itself.
This friend who’s coworker died teaches a children’s class for the younger siblings of the middle schoolers who participate in a junior youth group that my husband and I facilitate. Today, while I stayed home studying (but for this emotional respite), my husband went to meet with our junior youth group, to talk about the things we normally talk about, and to talk about this tragedy.
"What forces of society push people to this point?"
"How do we respond to such situations?"
"How do we respond to violence in general?"
As I thought about how this conversation might go, I realized that a big part of the pangs of my heart were for these youth and their younger siblings. These youth and children who faced with trying to understand issues like this. Like this! How do we help them do that?
A few months ago, I wrote about a moment of reflection after some words about a similar tragedy that was - thank God - averted. I wondered about our reactions to something like this, and whether they are complete. I wondered what it is that we can start by doing, proactively, any one of us, to help avert the feelings that may pull someone so far down that, for them, committing such an act is not only conceivable, but some kind of salve. Can you imagine the despair one would have to feel to go that far?
I could say more here, but I won’t. The rest of my thoughts are already encapsulated below.
Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.
Whenever I’ve mentioned this quote to a group of young people - middle-schoolers whose company I’ve enjoyed in the context of a junior youth group - there is always someone who immediately goes, “Ewwww! Love everyone?!”
I am ready to respond, “Is that what the quote means by ‘love’?”
It is so striking to me that this is a predictable response to the word “love.” Clearly, we’ve got a few different definitions going on. And one definition is highly propagated in society today, to the point that 12-year-olds are decidedly convinced of a certain range of possibility when it comes to love and what it entails.
This quote, to me, is not defining love as a physical entity, comprised of attraction, lust, and romance. Don’t get me wrong, my husband and I are attracted to each other. And that’s an element of this complex thing we enjoy called “love.” But the type of love I share with my husband is, at the same time, very different and exactly the same as the type of love I will share with a friend, a relative, you.
This quote seems to suggest this. Let your heart burn with love for everyone! That must imply that we can love everyone. What does that love mean? What does it look like? What are we loving about everyone? From my perspective, and from my understanding of that of the Baha’i Faith, when we love someone it is out of an appreciation and admiration for the qualities of God that they manifest. Like, compassion for all people of the world, kindness toward friend and stranger alike, honesty towards others and about oneself, humility in times of desolation as well as in times of supreme success, determination in the face of difficulty, etc. And these are things that every human being on this great green planet can express, to one degree or another, and according to the effort that each puts into being a person of excellent character.
So, if that’s what unites the love that we can feel for anyone, anywhere, anytime, what’s the difference between the love of two friends and the love of two romantic partners?
In my mind it’s simply about the manner of expression, and the purpose of the relationship. I may show a strong love for a dear friend by calling to check in with them regularly, or by hugging them when they need comfort. Appropriately, signs of affection for my spouse will be much more intimate.
Scientific understanding helps us understand this as well. When considering the role of hormones in human systems throughout the life span, it makes sense that the person with whom one shares the most sacred of relationships is also the person with whom touch is most important, necessarily, and relevant. Oxytocin, the bonding hormone, helps two people feel more attached to one another, the more they touch, the closer they are. Considering the purpose of my marriage to my husband, touch is especially valuable.
But in either situation, my heart will recognize, admire and appreciate the qualities of that person’s behavior. And I will love them.
(For those unfamiliar, the Baha’i Faith is a religion that envisions unity and equality amongst all peoples and nations of the world, the potential for material and spiritual progress worldwide and within each human being, and that each human being is a fundamentally spiritual creature with an inherent desire to know truth, constancy, fidelity, love, among other things.
'Abdu'l-Bahá is one of the central figures of the Baha'i Faith.
Junior youth groups and childrens classes are two of the core activities that Baha’is worldwide are endeavoring to learn about and offer anyone with interest. These activities are open to anyone from any background, and strive to engage participants in an open discourse of learning, developing spiritual understanding, service to ones community, and positive habits of personal growth.)
Our day to day existence this season has been so full, and hurried. Piles of work to do, and only 24 hours in the day. Much of it is joyful work, but nonetheless even joyful work has a deadline.
This morning as I’m sitting down to attend to my days’ particular pile, I find myself taking in and releasing big, deep breaths. ”What do I have to get done today?”
This tension tries to pull back on my breath, holding muscles tense, and brow furrowed. Like a weight is attached to my center by a string, and is slowly creeping toward the wrong side of a cliff.
But I stop myself. This is not the reality I want to take on. My shoulders don’t need this weight. My day’s endeavors don’t need this dark cast.
Instead, by some divine grace, I’m reminded of the fact that I have the opportunity to follow a calling that invigorates facets of myself that cannot be roused by any other means. And that my most intimate relationship is safe, loving, joyful, but most importantly, full of the effort needed to strive towards what will make us always better together. My little boy is constantly in a process of figuring out this world that he’s only been a part of externally for two years, and I get to witness that.
See, it isn’t just that I’m grateful for love, and life, and all the people in mine. I am grateful for those things, of course. But right now it’s the chance to learn, to better myself, for which I feel so blessed. Really, if we can’t learn, and strive, and seek a higher vista that is in turn helpful to others around us, what else are we doing with ourselves, with our small amount of time?
And so then my day’s pile doesn’t seem quite so dreary. It calls to me again. My center is pulled in another direction, away from the cliff face and up, to a place where difficult striving and effortful growth are the reality, and, curiously, a source of the deepest kind of joy.
This month I watched everyone’s status updates about all that they were thankful fo reach day. I could related to most of what people said - thankful for time with family, for kindness, for the opportunity to grow, for beauty, adventure, and comforts.
All those things were on my mind as well, but it felt redundant to add that to the digital banter! :) Others seemed to have the proclamation end of things well in hand.
What got me excited was Thanksgiving Day itself. I didn’t see it coming, but I suppose that element of surprise is what can really give gratefulness an edge in moments of the otherwise routine.
I found myself having synchronous, enlightening conversations with two people that have been in my life for a long time, but with whom I have not had a long, meaningful conversation in some time. In one instance, I happened upon someone who’s study in human services links quite directly with interior architectural design, namely the concern that residential design 1) allow the occupants to age in place and, 2) homes and neighborhoods which encourage “village life,” like pocket neighborhoods.
The second conversation was with my younger cousin, now in college, but who I remember as an infant, a toddler, and an ever-increasingly impressive growing young man. He’s learning about environmental engineering, taking a nod from his dad who has been in the business of green building systems for some time now. He started talking about net-zero spaces, and I shared with him information about “cradle-to-cradle” design (don’t get me started).
In both cases, I could have ended up having a fairly normal, mundane, “how’s it going” kind of chat with these people, but fortunately somewhere along the way we really decided to be invested in learning from the other. I could not have been more grateful for such an edifying few moments. They went so very nicely with my mom’s supremely delicious cranberry-walnut mold, and my dad’s garlic mashed potatoes.
I was just sitting here, working on a quiz for my sustainability class, when I got distracted thinking about a very moving meeting I had with a dear friend recently. It was during our discussion, and in some follow up correspondence, that I began thinking further on the topic of one’s talents, and the related ideas of “bragging,” and how one shows humility.
Questions about what is really at the heart of the emotions around these ideas first surfaced during yet another conversation a few months ago with a handful of my closest girl friends. We were asking ourselves whether or not it was appropriate to share our successes and victories with one another in an open way, or if it was more prudent to keep those things quiet, for the sake of humility.
We all had some different thoughts on the matter, and probably still do. What I felt at the time was that we should be able to share the absolute truth, at its worst or, hopefully more often, it’s utter best. Even when, especially when, it’s about ourselves. Especially when we’re with some of our closest friends.
For me at the time, this came down to being able to trust in those who you’ve chosen as your closest - vulnerability. We try not to fear judgement about our faults, why would we not try to avoid the same for our life’s wins?
As I sat here thinking about this more, I realized there is yet another issue at play. Typically, we think of our talents, here defined as those inherent abilities that we may discover in ourselves and chose to develop towards excellence, as a feature of ourselves that is of benefit to our own self - our day to day experience, our careers, our character, our reputation, etc. If this is the case, perhaps to talk freely about our talents would only serve as a boost to the ego. While a healthy sense of self is great, too much can lead to arrogance and other faults that may ultimately make life harder for ourselves and others. That isn’t always the result, but it can be a slippery slope.
What if we were to think of the purpose of talents differently, in a way that I know many strive to do: as a feature of ourselves that is of potential benefit to the betterment of humanity and ourselves? Suddenly, the talking about our talents isn’t necessary about our own unique individuality anymore. The talking about ourselves does not necessarily become a sinkhole of ego. Instead, consulting about our process of growth as it relates to our developing talents is perhaps a source of social good. We learn from one another in such conversations because, well, no one has the monopoly on all the good ideas, valuable experiences, or useful insights.
If such an environment were to exist, perhaps we would all feel a bit more inspired to work towards discovering and developing our innate talents. Perhaps, in fact, we and humanity would be better for it.
This all leaves one question: where’s humility hanging out in all of this?
Well, fall is officially here in Portland, Oregon. And with it has arrived my desire for squash, potatoes, (more) greens, and, yes, pumpkin pie. While we didn’t get around to the pie, here’s a meal we threw together the other night. The acorn squash was made from a combination of various online recipes adapted to suit our tastes that night, and the salad was straight out of our own fall-delirious imagination. Both recipes are gluten-free, and vegetarian. The squash could be made vegan with the omission of butter.
CINNAMON MAPLE ACORN SQUASH
Preheat that oven to 400 degrees! Then, split and de-seed two acorn squashes (sufficient for two adults and a babe of two years). Those seeds make for some tasty roasted snacks if you feel like cleaning them out from the squash innards!
Scour the inside cup with a fork, then add a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon or two of maple syrup, a sprinkle of cardamom and a few generous dashes of cinnamon. One recipe we came across suggested adding a full tablespoon of brown sugar, but we opted out, counting on the already-sweet maple syrup to carry us through on that count.
Once the oven’s ready, place the squash on a baking pan filled with 1/4” to 1/2” of water. We added a little pan of peeled garlic cloves to roast next to the squash. That was a great little treat on the side once the meal was ready. Let everything bake for one hour, minimum, possibly up to an hour and fifteen minutes or so.
In the meantime, how about some APPLE KALE SAUTEED SALAD?
Warm a pan and about a tablespoon of sesame oil. Dice two or three green onions and sauté on medium to medium-high.
Slice up one average-sized apple, or two of those teeny-tiny apples (what we had in stock at home for Jasper), and throw them in with the green onions. You can turn up the heat a little here so the apples don’t so much cook but cook/crisp.
Before the apples get too soft, throw in a whole-bunch-o’-kale. This was about half a bag of the really dark leafy stuff from Trader Joes. Add two-three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar. Stir, and then add walnuts.
Stir some more, remove from heat, cover. The sauted salad kept nicely while the squash kept baking. Do keep in mind though that the salad is a quick one, so you might want to wait a while before putting it together if you only just put the squash in the oven.
After waiting through all of the delicious aromas filling our kitchen/living room, we finally sat down to this:
Jasper: “I worked.”
Me: “Oh? Where did you work?”
Jasper: “I worked in the office.”
Me: “Wow! What kind of work did you do there?”
Jasper: (he stops, looks to the side, thinking, then breaks into dance)
Me: (laughing) “That’s so great that your work is to dance!”
Jasper: “And then the squirrel hit Jasper in the face.”
Me: “Oh, no!” (Unsuccessfully trying to hide laughter.)
Jasper: “And then I cried. I cried.”