T is for Tests

Energy River copyright Debra Myers Woodward
Energy River
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

I have often lamented the battery of standardized tests that my kids have to take every Spring. It isn’t given just to score how well the school is teaching children in my state, it determines whether they can move up to the next grade level. I find it tantamount to treason (and 2 more T words!)

In life though, as we learn new concepts, we are often put to the test. The situation comes up once again, suspiciously similar to the last one that “taught us a lesson.”  And we have the opportunity to put our new-found knowledge to use. Or not.

If not, we can be assured that it will come up again…and again….and again.  Life is very thorough in that way. We will get to keep repeating this grade level until we pass the test. Then we are given more to handle.

I have thought about this in terms of career and relationships and other life responsibilities.  Like many people, I would love a successful career. But have I demonstrated that I can handle the one I have yet?  And I realize I have no idea how I would handle a lot of clients or customers or commissions. I don’t know how to do large-scale business deals. These things I am not even prepared to approach!

Its been a great thing to notice this so that I can watch for what lessons I am learning and what tests I am being given. And great incentive not to fall back on the old ways of doing things but to take what I learn and use it.

S is for Shopping

"Spring Rain" 24"x30" copyright Debra Myers Woodward
“Spring Rain”
24″x30″
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

Today is Earth Day, possibly my favorite day of the year. I am particularly fond of this little corner of the universe and all those who inhabit it.

This morning I received an email from a certain retail establishment that I frequent.  The subject said, “Celebrate Earth Day with Free Shipping.”  And the obvious ridiculousness of that prompted this post.

How about we celebrate Earth Day by NOT shopping at all? I recently took a quiz online (here) to see how many earth’s it would take to support the whole population if everyone in the world lived like me.  I live in North America, so I wasn’t surprised to see that it would require 4.7 earths.  This was not an encouraging number (and that means that Mars alone isn’t going to help much if we were thinking we could just colonize another planet.) In this article, I learned that Earth Overshoot Day was in August of 2015–the day that the 7.1 billion people on this planet passed the mark of consuming more resources than our planet can sustain!

So it seems essential that I take steps to improve my footprint on the environment. Pollution from the constant growth in manufacturing goods (not to mention the extraction of materials from the earth) is causing great harm on the environment, regardless of your position on global warming.  Whatever we can do to lessen our impact will help Her to breathe a little more easily and allow us to live on it for a longer time.

I believe this starts with our thoughts, as all things do! So before I reach for something sweet, for example, I ask myself, why do I want this? Am I trying to sweeten a feeling in me? Do I feel sad or upset or lonely?  The same is true about our “need” to purchase things we don’t actually need.  Its worthwhile to ask ourselves do we really need this? Or are we filling an emptiness inside?  Is the rush of walking through a beautiful store and choosing things distracting us from something we find unattractive?

Sitting with these questions for a bit (it won’t kill us and in fact, might help us!) instead of compulsively buying more stuff is the best thing we can do for our home, planet earth.  And perhaps, with all of that extra time and mind-space freed up, we might come up with new technologies that improve the environment while providing food, clean water and sanitary living conditions for everyone on the planet.

R is for Reading List

Refraction copyright Debra Myers Woodward Sold
Refraction
copyright Debra Myers Woodward
Sold

Today I will just list a few of the books on my reading list…Share your list in the comments!

  • The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan
  • New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
  • I Am That by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
  • Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong
  • Consolations by David Whyte
  • Plan B by Anne Lamott
  • Mornings Like This: Found Poems by Annie Dillard
  • Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
  • Stillness Dancing by Adyashanti

Q is for Quiet

Atmosphere of Spirit copyright Debra Myers Woodward

Today was a quiet day. I really,  really like quiet. It gives me space and time to think and not think, and to just be.

But when I think about it, is it ever really completely quiet?  No. There is always sound. Always. And if I stop to listen, I will hear it.  The air conditioner running. The refrigerator. A bird calling. The wind. A far off truck rumbling down a highway.  Maybe even a lawnmower (although I rarely miss hearing those!!)

Really what I notice is the more still and quiet I am inside, the more I notice these other things that are present with me now. This is true for noticing the more subtle aspects of my personality as well. Things may go unnoticed–an irritation with someone, a nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right in a situation, a physical discomfort–until we get very quiet and still within.

I love a quote by William Butler Yeats,
“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.”

What more is there to say than that?

P is for Purpose

"The Deep within" copyright Debra Myers Woodward
“The Deep within”
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

I know we hear a lot about purpose these days. We hear that we are supposed to have a purpose, that we need to find our purpose, that we need to live out from our purpose.

I was recently listening to Byron Katie on YouTube talk about purpose. She took it down to the basics.  Her purpose was to sit in that chair in that moment, to breathe, to move her hand in just that way.  This could seem simplistic, but what I came away with is that our purpose is to be in the moment!

Can I live out from this moment and “move at the impulse of Thy Love,” as an old church hymn goes.  Can I take this day as it comes? Can I listen and do what comes to me to do without argument? without resistance? without complaint?

“Do the dishes.” Move to the sink and begin washing the dishes. “Wash the dog.” Gather the towels, soap and take poor pup to the patio.  These are the instructions we hear in our thoughts, not what comes from another person.  They might also tell us to rest, or run, or work, or play.  Instead of justifying our taking a rest and complaining that we have to help someone, lets be with our purpose to live this moment however it comes to us to live it. Own it!

 

O is for Octopus

"Moon-age Dreaming" copyright Debra Myers Woodward
“Moon-age Dreaming”
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

I recently had a dream about going on a train or subway with my son. We had an octopus that we had to put in a plastic box.  It filled the box as we put the lid on.

I have a book on Native American animal imagery and meanings they have for different animals.  Unfortunately, octopus wasn’t included, so I did what any modern-day inquisitor does, I googled it.

It isn’t so hard to discover what associations octopi are likely to yield: creativity, ingenuity, intelligence.  Have you watched videos of their amazing escapes? I read just the other day of an octopus named Inky escaping from the National Aquarium of New Zealand. Now that  requires ingenuity! Swim free Inky!

But this got me to thinking about my dream. Have I boxed in my creativity, my ingenuity and intelligence. I could answer yes, definitely so. I am just beginning to write again, thanks to this April A-to-Z challenge. But I go long stretches without painting. And not because I don’t have ideas!

So one of my intentions this week is to make room for painting.  Are there things you haven’t made time for that you know would be good for you?  Its never too late to create a space of even 10 minutes a day to cherish your well-being by doing what you love. Maybe this small opening will lead to the freedom of the ocean like it did for Inky.

N is for No-mistake

An Irish halo copyright Debra Myers Woodward
An Irish halo
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

I loved reading in “A Thousand Names for Joy” by Byron Katie that when people started arriving at her door saying, “namaste'”, she thought they were saying “no-mistake”.  She said she couldn’t believe how enlightened they all were. She had never heard “namaste” before, so she had no reference for it.

And since Namaste’ means “the divinity within me greets the divinity within you”, doesn’t that indicate that there is no mistake there? No mistake in me, and no mistake in you.  That’s who we truly are. Thats how we were made, “in the image and likeness of God,” as stated in the first chapter of Genesis.

But what about those who do bad or even horrible things? What about when we say and do things we aren’t proud of, things we consider mistakes?  There is no person on the planet who has led what we humans would call a perfect life. Its impossible.  So learning to love one another and stay centered and grounded despite these difficulties is part of our life-long earthly classroom. It softens us, shows us what grace looks like, heals and blesses…eventually. And for each and every one of us, it teaches us patience.

We are all born of and carried with this divinity for all time. So next time you meet someone, look deep within both yourself and them and see our divinity and speak to that.

Namaste’….no-mistake.

 

Note: The photo was a “mistake” taken as I held my phone while waiting in line for the “photo booth” at a wedding I attended. But I LOVE it! No mistake!

M is for Mess-making

In the studio copyright Debra Myers Woodward
In the studio
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

As an artist, there are many ways to go about painting a painting or creating a sculpture or building a pot, but almost all of them involve the willingness to make a mess.  Even if the process is a fairly neat one like drawing, there is a certain amount of messiness to the process, even if its just in the process of going from idea to finished product.

Life is often messy as well.  And like many if not most people, I tend to think that messes are “bad” and clean and orderly is “good.”  But putting those judgments on any given moment in a process is really self-defeating.  If I am not willing to go through messy to get to a fully realized state, whether talking about art or life, then I will often be frustrated and stressed about what things look like. And then resistance shows up. Creativity does not thrive in this environment.

So I am trying to embrace messiness as just a snapshot in time.  Its merely a stage, not a state of being–a stage that comes around again and again and again.  And in making art, like living life, messiness is necessary.  The more we embrace the process, the more we will stay centered and strong through it. We can even celebrate that we are moving forward and stepping into unknown territory (as if we have a choice!)

Each day is new. We have never done this day before, so there is always a possibility of a mess. Lets try on this idea of accepting it and seeing it as part of our journey to peace with ourselves.

L is for Love (although it could also be Late!)!

Morning dew on tiny flowers Copyright Debra Myers Woodward
Morning dew on tiny flowers
Copyright Debra Myers Woodward

This weekend my nephew got married to the love of his life, really of all of our lives. They are a beautiful couple both inside and out!

So this got me to thinking, just what is love?  That may seem like a ridiculous question, right? We all have experience with this thing called love. And yet the word love can be used to describe how we feel about chocolate as well as our sister, or our favorite sports team  and our spouse.

So it seems useful to say that this is something that should be meditated on early and often to find what it means to us.

Perhaps one way to make a distinction in types of love is whether it is selfless or covetous. If your “love” leads you to covet the object of your affection, like chocolate or your boyfriend, maybe that’s not love but desire or possession. On the other hand, a love that is selfless or unconditional is truer to the real thing.

The Bible says that God is Love. And I see this as the truest form of Love. It is spiritual and universal. It heals and redeems. It encourages, uplifts, and comforts. And this divine Love embraces the whole world and all that is in it without condition or requirement. And that is truly a saving Grace.

Love seems to be easier to define by what it does, how it looks, and its effect than by its essence.  What does love mean to you?

K is for Kaleidoscope

Nautilus Shell copyright Debra Myers Woodward
Nautilus Shell
copyright Debra Myers Woodward

Remember the kaleidoscopes we had as a kid that were cardboard tubes with all sorts of things sandwiched between two pieces of plastic probably.  You could shake it and here them, and hold them up to your eye and twist the end to watch them tumble in the fractured, repeated image.

This reminds me of a concept I learned about nature that is pretty freaking amazing.  In nature there are these things called fractals. Fractals are patterns that repeat at every scale.  The pictured nautilus shell is an example, as is ice forming on a surface.

I learned that some trees follow fractal patterns–all the way from their cell structure, to the veins in the leaves, to how the leaves attach to branches, and branches to trunks and even how they grow in the forest.  That was an amazing discovery.

Here is an experiment you can do for yourself.

Take a look at a tree sometime.  Notice how the branches are positioned. Do they come out of the trunk directly opposite one another? Or do they come out all at one point? Or do they come out staggered up the trunk?

Now look at how the leaves are attached to the branches.  Do you notice that they are exactly positioned to the branch as the branch is to the trunk? And look at the veins on the leaves. Don’t they match this pattern as well?

I remember reading that the formation of how the trees grow in the forest (for some species at least) will match the pattern as well! That would certainly make it easier to anticipate where to look for a specific tree if using it for medicinal or dietary purposes.

I bet most people aren’t aware of these patterns in nature all around us.  And I believe that all life is a series of patterns that we miss, because we can’t see the whole picture or we don’t look closely enough. What might you notice if you looked for patterns of behavior, or patterns in societies? Might there be a bigger picture that we just haven’t noticed? And how might that help us live more peaceful and happy lives?

I have appreciated learning more about behavioral patterns through study of the Enneagram. Through this study, I have discovered ways that my personality runs on auto-pilot in specific ways. Seeing these patterns has helped me to alter my behavior toward more healthy ways of relating to myself and others. It has helped me to break bad habits as well.

For more about the Enneagram, check out the Enneagram Institute here.