Wednesday, April 30, 2008

EverydayBliss: A Bit of Indoor Bun

Our rabbit, Zoe, in her Bollywood look.

I thought we could use a mental palate cleanser after the seriousness of the last post!

EcoBliss: Joyful Car-Free Living, Part 2

My newest bike, barely a year old, Holly GoLightly.
(A Giant like Genevieve.)

Listening to right now: Amelie Soundtrack

Today's Happiness Formula: Rediscovering music that is transcendent and makes me feel filled and slightly floaty at the same time.

Relevant-to-this-Post Headline: I've been told that our Erie Mayor will be announcing a bike-to-work week, which will take place May 12th to the 18th. Details about other activities will be forthcoming!

After deciding that giving up our car for a year's experiment was a go, I looked at everything we did on a regular basis and figured out how to do it without a car.

The only thing I could not get to without a car was cat litter. Yes, cat litter! We went through a lot of it, having multiple cats, and the bags were too big and heavy for a bus ride.

So I looked into the idea of an occasional car rental, which turned out to be very cheap on weekends through Enterprise. (And they are not paying me to say this!)

That was that. Fast forward seven years and we rent very little. Perhaps 8 weekends a year. Holidays, family out of town visits -- that sort of thing.

Now, if you have children, your first line of defense for you car will be them, so I direct you to a blog about a family living car free.

But WHY do this, you may still be asking, so here's the list, and it's certainly not exhaustive:

**It slows you down to a more human pace of life. Were we meant to go 70 miles an hour? When I look at the anger on people's faces in their cars, I know the answer is "no."
**It's great for your overall health. No more gym. No more stress. Driving, now that I don't do it all the time I can notice this, driving really shoots adrenaline into your system. It's a trying-to-survive thing.
**You notice things about where you live that you would have never noticed in a car. And you'll feel more invested in where you live because of this.
**You won't spend as much. The average car -- and this is an 8 year old stat from a book by Katie Alvord -- costs 5 to 7 thousand a year. And every time you think of some little thing you "need," it's so easy to jump in the car and get it -- no more.
**You won't be running around all the time. Whenever we do rent, we run some errands, and I think about how people do this kind of running almost daily. Two days of it every couple of months almost drives me batty.
**You'll have more time to do what really matters. Since you won't be running around so much and since you'll have more disposable income and maybe can cut back on work that you don't like (if that's the case), you can spend quiet time with your family, plant a vegetable garden, read poetry, paint a masterpiece -- listen to your heart's yearnings.
**Be European wherever you are! Living without a car makes me feel like I live in a village. And when I have flowers in my front basket and fresh produce in my back basket, I can imagine I live in one of those very Miss Marple towns (but without the murder, thank you!).

Nothing simplifies your life like getting rid of your car.

And now the harder stuff (you knew it was coming):

**We are at war for oil. Period. Wars are always about resources. And this war will turn into more wars, if we don't figure this out.
**This problem is one of demand and not one of supply, as we are treating it. We must take responsibility for this war every time we fill our gas tanks and it doesn't matter how you vote -- if you drive every single day by yourself in a car when there are other options. We can find other "fuels" but in fifty years we will discover the error of our ways yet again. Nothing is perfect. Every fuel comes at a price.
**We subsidize our addiction by taking away from some of the solutions. Our roadways, our gas prices, our car manufacturers -- all of them take government subsidy money away from railways and buses, more efficient forms of transportation, bike paths, and on and on.
**The problem does not stop at fuel: the manufacture and subsequent disposal of that car wears on the environment in a larger way than the extraction of the fuel that goes into it.
**This list will not go into the details of all the death: human, animal, and otherwise.

Al Gore called the truth of all of this "Inconvenient," and yes, for many people, that is how simple it is, and so they continue to choose convenience.

But there is so much more to this issue that has to do with the beauty of our humanity...

the connections to nature that we are missing...

the infinite power of our imaginations that we are denying every time we take the easy way...

the lives that we are missing and exchanging for speed and consumption.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

EcoBliss: Joyful Car-Free Living

My Bike, Genevieve, at a park near our home.

Listening to right now: Revista do Samba

Today's Happiness Formula: Another "yes" in my inbox to a request for an interview; I am overwhelmed by people's positive responses to this idea.

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man.
Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish.
Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.
--Iris Murdoch, 1965

"Where to start?" I always ask myself when I'm thinking about telling someone about our car free lifestyle and what it means to us.

At the beginning.

When we still had a Paris-quality patisserie in this town, whose walls were sunshine yellow and whose owners always smiled and whose pastries, well, they could almost make you believe you had died and this was definitely heaven.

I had a partially eaten chocolate croissant on the table. Partially eaten, that is how used to this heaven I was. A cup of perfectly not-over-roasted coffee at the right hand corner of my journal.

In which I was scribbling, furiously. I was writing a list suggested by Julia Cameron's Right to Write.

And that was when an impossible sentence spilled from my pen: We could get rid of our car.

We could get rid of our car, it whispered, and you could have more time to write and she could have more time to paint and...

I looked up to see if the world had stopped spinning.

And this seems like hyperbole, but in this culture, really, is it?

For my partner, the thought of not having a car was instantly do-able. For me, I was much more attached to being able to get around quickly.

And I was a bit lazy. Admit it, that is part of the issue. Cars are so easy.

And we don't live in Boston or Chicago or any such place. I have lived in Chicago; I have experienced real public transportation.

The public transportation in a small city like ours can be...startling.

In order to get myself to do it, to make the leap, I made a deal with myself: this was a one year experiment. You can do anything for one year. Right?

We handed in our car at the end of July in 2001.

We have (barely) looked back. Yes, every spring, after a winter of partaking of very poor buses that only run every 45 minutes, every spring, I get the urge, I lust after a car.

Just a small one, I say, as my mouth waters like the post-diet, starved-for-chocolate, about-to-fall-off-the-wagon woman we have all been at one time or another.

Every year, this wandering eye lasts shorter and shorter amounts of time. The first few years, I could go a month or two comparing and contrasting all the possibilities. This spring, about a month ago, my lust was down to a few days.

Because our life is good.

Really good.

Without a car. With the occasional rental.

This choice was made for all the right reasons -- quality of life reasons -- and those override lust every time.

How do we do it? What does the day to day look like?

Tomorrow, we'll get into the nitty gritty.

For now, just try to imagine it. And if you can, imagine it with a chocolate croissant at your side, yellow walls promising summer around you, and make some lists -- lists about how you could slow down, spend less, and savor more.

Monday, April 28, 2008

SharedBliss: Taking Submissions for May Edition

"Meditation" by Marcy Hall

Listening to right now: Django Reinhardt

Today's Happiness Formula: Ocean blue rubber bands on my braces (11 months to go!, no more TMJ pain, and finally -- straight teeth at age 40).

Besides sharing my own thoughts and stories about bliss, there will be bliss interviews coming soon! I asked two people, thinking I might be lucky to get one 'yes,' and I got a 'yes' from each of them!

So totally geeked!

And starting today, I am launching a monthly SharedBliss, which will be a post comprised of your words. Here's how it will work:

**Each month, I'll supply a different topic.
**Submit your post (new or old) from your own blog that speaks to that topic.
**Email me (go to my compete profile) a link to your post.
**Please link back to these instructions in your blog, so that others may participate!
**If you don't have a blog, put your writing in the body of your email -- no attachments, please!

(Drum roll...)

SharedBliss topic for May: What is your PrimeBliss*? How did you discover it? How do you live it day by day?

PrimeBliss (n): that which everything else is connected to, comes from, is affected by; that which you wish to share with the world; your driving passion in life; the thing that makes you you.

WRITE!

EverydayBliss: Aragorn in Town!

A cloudy day but...

This is the area on our peninsula where Aragorn was here, in town, filming his new movie, The Road.

We were driving around looking for birds (oh dear, so many layers of geek in this post!), and we came upon the semi-trucks and the security.

Alas, no actual Aragorn, but close enough for such a fan.

Today in my inbox, I received a quote from the Thomas Merton Institute that reminded me of something Gandalf says. For your consumption and comparison:

"So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” (Gandalf to Frodo)

And Merton: "If I had no choice about the age in which I was to live, I nevertheless have a choice about the attitude I take and about the way and the extent of my participation in its living ongoing events. To choose the world is not merely a pious admission that the world is acceptable... It is first of all an acceptance of a task and a vocation in the world, in history and in time...To choose the world is to choose to do the work I am capable of doing..."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

EverydayBliss: The Tao & True Power

Two miles from our house.

Listening to right now: Lila Downs

Today's Happiness Formula: The smell of a burning candle and kittens sitting in sun spots.

Three versions of the same chapter of the Tao (chapter 33, actually!):

Knowing other people is intelligence,
knowing yourself is wisdom.
Overcoming others takes strength,
overcoming yourself takes greatness.
Contentment is wealth.

Boldly pushing forward takes resolution.
Staying put keeps you in position.

To live till you die
is to live long enough.

--Translation, Ursula K. LeGuin

One who knows others is clever.
One who knows himself has insight.
One who overcomes others is forceful.
One who overcomes himself is truly strong.
One who knows he has enough is rich.
One who does not divert his mind from
the realization of integral virtue is wisely willful.
One who preserves his natural integrity will endure.
One who embraces the subtle essence dies
yet does not perish
and thus enjoys true immortality.

--Translation, Hua-Ching Ni

To conquer others is to have power;
To conquer yourself is to know the Way.

--Lao Ma, from Xena, The Debt, Part I

Saturday, April 26, 2008

EverydayBliss: Big Sky & Hafiz

Out our back door.

Listening to right now: Edith Piaf

Today's Happiness Formula: Two rabbits in our backyard playing and jumping many feet into the air, over and over -- and managing not to crush one piece of asparagus!

We have not come here to take prisoners,
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.

We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.

Run my dear,
From anything
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.

Run like hell my dear,
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.

We have a duty to befriend
Those aspects of obedience
That stand outside of our house
And shout to our reason
"Oh please, oh please,
Come out and play."

For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wondrous spirits,

But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom, and
Light!

--Hafiz

I did not intentionally pair Hafiz's poem with Edith Piaf, but now it seems perfect to me.

Edith with her precious wings and her tender heart -- wings and heart that so many people and circumstances tried to cut and tear and destroy, but wings and heart that she refused to fold or close.

Edith's life was short, but she took flight for every second of it.

Are you doing the same?

Friday, April 25, 2008

EcoBliss: Happy People = Happy Planet

Our Sweet House in the Spring

Listening to right now: Miou Miou (Happy inducing, French pop. Give a listen and just try to stay grouchy.)

Today's Happiness Formula: The Trees! Many of the flowering trees are at their flower-y best right now. Make sure to take note.

I realized that I've been writing a lot about personal choices and priorities but have not given a hint as to my own. And though abstract ideas are fine, there's nothing like concrete examples.

So I thought I would share how my partner and I came to know and live our bliss.

(I will also, in the very near future, start to share interviews with artists, yoga teachers, and others who have found their bliss and live it.)

Day by day, minute by minute, you are making choices. Whether or not you do so consciously, you make choices that reflect priorities that lead to consequences.

A large number of the world's and of the individual's problems come from the fact that all of this choice making and priority setting happens on an unconscious level, from which it appears that life is happening to you, when in reality, you are creating your life. Basic stuff, this.

The path to personal freedom is not paved with wishes or intentions or goal lists, though all of this can help.

The path to personal freedom is paved with personal responsibility.

You empower yourself by taking responsibility for where you are and where you want to go.

With that in mind, my partner and I decided years ago on our priorities. This list cannot be very long. You only have so much energy, so much time, and so much focus.

And furthermore, this list must come from JOY. (I would write that really giant but it would be obnoxious.)

I cannot emphasize JOY enough. It cannot come from a sense of obligation, a desire to change others, or a desire to change the environment. Eventually, these foundations crumble because you are only in charge of you.

So, my partner and I decided that our priorities were: each other, our animals, our writing and art, and our home.

We needed and wanted lots of time with each other and our animals, time to write and make art, time to garden and just be.

So when the bank told us we could afford a very large home, we bought a wee brick Cape Cod. She is under 900 square feet and we live in every foot of that. There is no guest bedroom, rather there is an art studio and a library. And she takes a lot less time to clean and a lot less cleaner (even though it's organic, it still comes in a container).

When we realized that we could live on even less -- and thus have more time -- if we didn't have a car, we became bikers, walkers, and users of public transportation. We've been doing this for seven years -- in a small city with a limited number of bus routes. (This choice became, for us, highly politicized as 9/11 happened mere months later.)

We don't travel. We'd rather put the money into our yard or paint supplies or a new computer for writing.

We buy organic and local food because we care about each other, and we care about the health of the land on which we own our home and live our lives.

Because we bought a smaller house than the bank wanted us to, we were able to pay it off. Now we live on one salary. More time for art and writing and each other.

Since we don't both have full time jobs, we don't need the wardrobes.

Since we bike and walk, we don't need a gym membership.

(Let me insert here: money is not bad, having things is not bad. What is bad is what we are willing to exchange for money and things. Also, my partner and I have tons of fun all the time. This is not about scarcity but rather true abundance.)

You get it.

But here's the totally cool part: these things that we did for purely selfish reasons, because they were tied to our hearts' true desires (and not desires put there by advertising and the wider culture), because of these things, the planet is better off.

Our footprint is quite small, as you can imagine.

It's amazing how this works.

Happy People really do equal a Happy Planet. (And I'm not even touching on the emotional and spiritual implications of that sentence.)

What joys could you pursue that would make you happy? What choices could you make to live your priorities every day? How could this lead to a better place for all of us?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

BlissQuest: Journaling to Create Your Life

A little treat never hurts!

Listening to right now: Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach's Cello Suites

Today's Happiness Formula: Riding home on my bike with snapdragons in my basket, soaking in the spring sun.

Remember those diaries that had the tiny little keys? There was something so magical about them. I always wanted to be a girl who kept a diary, who was loyal to her diary, who wrote all her hopes and dreams in it every night before falling into a deep and peaceful sleep.

Alas, I could never get past the first few pages and then it would languish, forgotten, in my drawer next to my bed, to be pulled out occasionally, the key played with, the entries re-read and found embarrassingly trite.

Now that we are big, they are called "journals," but the fantasies about them remain the same.

Only now, I have finally fulfilled that fantasy.

I have been a regular journal writer for over 12 years and am currently filling up my 29th journal. You read that right -- 29th! It makes me giddy to see them all lined up on a shelf.

How did I get to this point?

I made journaling a priority (of course -- that word again), and I made journaling time special.

**If possible, go somewhere: a cafe, a bookstore, a bench in the park. Somewhere public is good when you are first beginning. For some reason, the very act of pulling out pen and journal in public adds to the likelihood that you will write something.
**Get a comfortable pen. I am a fountain pen user. Sometimes the words seem to be coming from the pen and not from me -- that is how easy it should be to write with the right pen. Try many.
**Buy an attractive journal. Get something that makes you feel special, something that makes the act itself feel sacred.
**Or not. Write in a composition book or on looseleaf and then BURN it. That can be just as good as keeping all those books and lining them up, and it might also allow you to more easily follow Rule Number One of Journaling...

Rule Number One: Always tell the truth. Don't waste your time, the paper, or the ink if you aren't going to be truthful and dig deeply.
Rule Number Two: Journal often. Every day if possible. Commit. Even if you feel like you have nothing to say, sit down and write "I have nothing to say," over and over, and believe me, you and your brain will both get bored with this, and soon, something else will come. Often it is when you think you have nothing to say that there is something really big that you're trying not to look at or think about.
Rule Number Three: For journaling to work its magic, you have to start at the beginning. Tell yourself your story. Start with your most prominent memories of childhood -- you know, the ones that you find yourself telling over and over whenever you meet new people.
Rule Number Four: Don't get bogged down in the past. Look forward. Ask yourself what it is that you want out of life and don't be afraid of your answers.
Rule Number Five: Be Courageous. Do not be ashamed. This is your private space to work through things and thus re-image your life. Which will eventually lead you to the Whole Point of Journaling...

The Whole Point: Journaling is, I think, the number one necessary tool for leading an awakened, aware, and creative life.

Thinking is fine, talking is fine, but there is nothing that can beat writing down all that stuff that swirls around in your brain like a tornado. Write it down and it is gone or it becomes useful for other writing and art.

Keep it in your head and it's just one more thought amongst thousands that clutters our brains and eventually gets lost or just stuck in some brain cranny, causing you anxiety or perhaps depression.

If becoming an enlightened human being could best be described metaphorically as a battle with you as a warrior, then -- truly -- the pen is mightier than the sword.

In future posts, we'll look at some prompts that can be helpful.

Do any of you have favorite journaling books -- besides Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

EverydayBliss: Singing Your World into Being

Some of my favorites:
Azam Ali, Vas, Niyaz, Dead Can Dance


These past two weeks in the morning, I have been doing something unusual: I don't turn on any music.

It is that rare time of year when it is warm enough to open all the windows and doors and the children are still in school. And so, my morning music is the birds singing and perhaps a neighbor using a hand-pushed seed spreader.

These sounds and my small white cup of Italian espresso combine to make me feel spoiled in this place of peace.

According to a very old Celtic myth, the world was not created or spoken into being, but it was sung into being. I love this. If we are made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe, then we are made of song, melodic vibration, harmony.

In groups, we are a chorus.

Birds know this; they recreate the world every morning with their songs.

How do you create your mornings?

By the time a lot of people I know arrive at work, they are already grouchy, already aggressive, already ready to see the world as against them. Just picture what most people look like in their cars: hunching forward, looking for that spare inch of space that might allow them to beat the light.

Why are they like this? They have not been singing their worlds.

Instead, they treat sound as another source of junk food -- to be consumed quickly with no attention to nutrition.

Their TV's are turned on with breakfast and the noxious ramblings of what passes for news is the first thing they attempt to digest. And they say, "well, I don't really watch it; it's just on for company." But they are hearing it.

They get in their cars and turn on talk radio or thumping club music. They get to work and put on more talk radio or fluff music interspersed with people who are paid for their "wit."

Years ago, a plumber came to our house to do some work that had him walking up and down the stairs, through the living room, and in and out of the house, over and over. At one point, he stopped and stood in front of me.

"It's so peaceful in here. Then I realized you don't have a TV."

Exactly. And he noticed. And he was smiling.

I think the only reason I finished the first draft of a very long novel is that every time I sat down to write, I put on the same CD (the soundtrack from the move Frida). Whether I felt like it or not, the writing came. I can't listen to that CD now without getting the urge. And now, I've managed to train my brain that any sound will do as impetus, as long as it us not chaotic.

Chaotic sound makes for chaotic feelings.

But peaceful sound makes for transcendent feelings.

Last spring, we were fortunate enough to get tickets to hear Azam Ali sing with her group Niyaz. They take the works of Rumi and other Persian poets and create a world beat based music. It is all sung in Persian.

If you have never heard Azam Ali sing, you are missing one of the world's most beautiful birds.

Sitting there, being washed over by her voice, I realized that I felt like I was in church, that I felt like I was witnessing someone pray.

Now that is how to start your day.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

EcoBliss: Happy Earth Day

A sight for winter-weary eyes:
a magnificent Magnolia tree near our house.


Tonight, in celebration of Earth Day, we will be eating the first asparagus from one of our back beds. It will only be a few pieces, but that taste signifies the true beginnings of the growing season. We will roast it with a bit of olive oil for about five minutes on 350, a trick I learned from a book by Frances Mayes and the only way I want my asparagus now.

How will you celebrate Earth Day?

Perhaps, rather than restricting the celebration to one day, we could see this as a sort of New Year's Eve of ecological awareness. On this day, we could pick one or two things that we will try to do better or try to change over the next year.

No need to make it something dreary. Remember, change only sticks if it comes from joyful -- dare I say "blissful?" -- intentions.

Some ideas:

**Start shopping vintage. Retro is IN with everything so why not take advantage? Even for new furniture. How about painting something old?
**Share. Basic from kindergarten, I know, but I think we forget how much this could help. We can share music, lawn tools, cars.
**Help. Clean up your park, mow the neighbor's lawn (with your reel mower, of course), do some guerilla gardening -- pop some flower bulbs in somewhere miscellaneous, put in some tomato plants for someone who doesn't have time.
**Find a CSA. Community Sponsored Agriculture is a great way to find yummy food sitting on your porch once a month, and it helps small farmers to keep their farms.
**Challenge yourself. Decide not to eat fast food for the whole year -- or just one week; cook all your meals using only whole foods -- nothing from a box; walk or ride your bike to work in good weather.
**Create community. Eat with friends and neighbors once a week or once a month -- pot lucks are easy; find a piece of unused land and turn it into a garden or fill it with fruit trees; plan a block party -- neighbors who know each other take better care of each other.
**Educate yourself. Identify the trees and the birds whom you see regularly. If you know that the tree on the next block is a Tulip tree and the bird on the telephone pole is a Northern Flicker, their well-being will increase in importance to you. It is the blind eye, after all, that is turned.
**Above all, have fun! Don't get bogged down in statistics and nay saying and the-world-is-coming-to-an-end thinking. This isn't good for any of us. We don't need more depressed people spewing toxic negativity. We need people who can creatively and beautifully imagine a better world.

Monday, April 21, 2008

EcoBliss: Be the Change

"We must be the change we wish to see in the world."
--Gandhi

It seems appropriate to be writing about this famous Gandhi quote at this time of year. We have tulips and daffodils all over the yard; the trees have opened their new leaves and they glow green; there are tiny, barely perceptible greens coming up -- lettuces, kales, chard; and the birds are migrating and building nest sites and picking mates.

Nature just does it: there is no contemplation of change, no wondering what change should look like.

And then there are the primaries tomorrow.

And I awoke thinking about how many of us, and in particular those who consider themselves liberals, have such high expectations for November.

We hope -- oh, our hopes are so very high -- we hope that the new President will be our savior, don't we?

He or she will save us from self and other and planet destruction.

As if by magic, a new and perfect alternative fuel will be found and funded.

As if by magic, we will easily and expertly extricate ourselves from Iraq and never, ever get involved anywhere else where we shouldn't be.

And, as if by magic, we won't have to change a single thing about ourselves or our lives, not a single thing that might make us uncomfortable, that might be inconvenient.

Gandhi would disagree.

I think he would say that the President is just a human, that the Presidency is an institution working within institutional restrictions, and furthermore, that this person, whomever he or she is, is only a mirror of ourselves, and if we don't expect more of ourselves, we can't expect more of them.

For just one example: imagine for one moment what would happen if all the people who drive around with anti-war stickers on their cars would STOP DRIVING. Even just 2 days a week. Imagine the kind of message that would send, rather than driving to protest, rather than seeking out new fuels, like addicts looking for a new high.

We don't want to be in Iraq, but we don't want to drill in Alaska or in our backyard and we certainly don't want to stop driving.

You can't have it both ways.

We create the problems but we don't want to be part of the solution.

I am no Bush lover, but one man did not create this situation. We all did over a long period of time.

BE THE CHANGE.

That does not mean politicize the change.

It does not mean mandate or legalize or protest the change.

BE THE CHANGE.

Stop complaining.

Stop mistaking anger for action.

Stop waiting.

Stop expecting.

Stop blaming.

Start Changing.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

EverydayBliss: Rest


Just sit there right now
Don't do a thing
Just rest.
For your separation
from God,
from Love,
is the hardest work
in this world.

--Hafiz

Saturday, April 19, 2008

EverydayBliss: Active Stillness

Our Friend, The Great Blue Heron, on a Roof Behind Our House

Last night, sitting on the back porch, I looked up just in time to see our Friend Heron flying over our heads. If we had not taken the time to simply sit, we would have missed him.

Birding has taught me more than any other activity about stillness and, what I will call, "active stillness."

I know that if I sit in one spot -- perhaps on our plaid blanket in our backyard or on the edge of the small cliff that overlooks the bay -- if I sit in that spot for just a few moments, breathing deeply, paying attention, that soon all the birds will see me as part of the landscape and go about their business, not feeling a threat.

And it is in those moments that I see things I would never see if I were outside weeding, trimming bushes, biking, hiking...all those things we label as "relaxing" and "being in nature" but, deep down, are just more of our "to do's," more busy bee activities that we put between us and the experience of life.

But just sitting still is not enough; there is the "active" part of "active stillness" that includes not only looking but feeling (like the time I felt creeped out when snorkeling and realized there was a shark nearby), smelling (as in that special smell right before a big storm that could produce tornadoes), and listening.

Xena was a big one for the listening. In the next to last episode of the entire series (take a moment to mourn), she tries to teach Gabrielle to "listen for the sounds behind the sounds."

This is especially important advice in our modern, loud lives. Anger can overtake you if all you ever do is listen to the surface sounds, in particular if you life in a city, small or big. The cars, the trains, the planes, the people, the barking dogs, the thumping music of the kid down the block. It could drive a human mad.

But not if you listen to the sounds behind these sounds. There is always the music of nature, and I don't care where you live -- this is true.

Behind the cars and the humans, there are birds and the sound of the breeze in the trees (which, on some special days, sounds just like the ocean). We are lucky enough to live 2 miles from a Great Lake with a peninsula. An hour by the water soothes any savage soul.

None of this is possible -- the seeing of Herons, the hearing of birds, the medicine that is water -- if we don't leave space for it. Emptiness.

Eleven

Thirty spokes together make a wheel for a cart.
It is the empty space in the center
which enables it to be used.
Mold clay into a vessel;
it is the emptiness within
that creates the usefulness of the vessel.
Cut out doors and windows in a house;
it is the empty space inside
that creates the usefulness of the house.
Thus, what we have may be something substantial,
But its usefulness lies in the unoccupied, empty space.
The substance of your body is enlivened
by maintaining the part of you that is unoccupied.

From The Tao Teh Ching
Translated by Hua-Ching Ni

Consider: What happens to humans whose minds are full of plans and information and ideas, whose bodies are full with too much food or too much exercise or too much of both, whose homes are full of stuff, and whose days are full of activities?

Friday, April 18, 2008

BlissQuest: My Formula for Happiness

Happiness = (geekery + glitter) squared!

What does this mean!?

If my ultimate priority in life is to be happy (and like I've said, the Dalai Lama often points out that it is the purpose of life), then instead of being swept along by other people's ideas of what that looks like, it is my responsibility to define it for myself.

I think having it in a handy little formula -- something you can post at your computer or on your fridge -- is simply fun.

After much thought, after observing myself and what I love to do, after noticing the things that make me feel "out of time," I concluded that there were two large categories that were most important to me, and I labeled them as "geekery" and "glitter."

Geekery



This is the food for my brain. The stuff that gets me thinking; the stuff that makes me look at my own life and life in general in a different light; the stuff that gives me fresh ideas for my own creative work.

It has taken me until my late thirties to admit a few things about myself: first and foremost that I am a big geek. Hello, my name is BlissChick and I own
my geek. Alas (and sigh), the scars of high school last a long time...

(Another late thirties confession: I love PINK, so there!)

My idea of geekery is based on "I was so geeked." It's being deeply passionate about things of the intellect and things that used to be considered solely the domain of "nerds," like birding and Star Trek.

Yes, I love Star Trek (all of them but I really love Voyager). Yet you won't catch me EVER wearing a com badge or speaking klingon -- which I have, to my own horror, seen being done in a PUBLIC CAFE as if it were normal! (I jest. But not really.)


And I believe that shows like Xena and Buffy and movies like The Lord of the Rings (the extended versions, duh!) have a lot to teach us about the nature of the universe and of humans -- if we are paying attention and are willing to be critical readers of that particular form of text.

Yes, I said that. Because TV and film and graphic novels -- all of it -- is just another form of "text." The book is not the only genuine and legitimate repository of wisdom. (And judging by a lot of books people read these days, said the old geezer, they are some of the last places you might expect to find wisdom.)


On to...

Glitter

(Yes, that is beaded fruit.)

This is the stuff that feeds my senses. I am a visual person, always aware of the aesthetics of my surroundings, and as a friend of mine once told me, I am somehow related to crows -- fond of shiny things for my nest.

But seriously, I just don't get people who don't notice the color of their walls or the feel of the fabric of their shirt or the compositional structure of the things they place on a mantel or a dresser top.

These are the details that make your life fun and goofy and original and beautiful and ... well, different from a picture in a catalog.

And finally, why "squared?" Because, the more books and movies and ideas and color and beads, the better. (I am a product of my culture, after all.)

So don't be surprised to see me in a cafe, discussing things akin to Klingon and the morality of Spike's decision to fight for his soul -- but I'll be the one with the great bag that so totally completes her outfit!


Thursday, April 17, 2008

EverydayBliss: Ruling Your World

"Instead of seeing the transparency of anger, depression,
or hesitation, we identify with confused emotion,
which thickens our mind with drip*."

from Ruling Your World by Sakyong Mipham

(*Drip: Tibetan, contamination of ourselves and our environment; depletion of self.)

This quote, for me, made the whole book -- the second from Sakyong Mipham, the current spiritual leader of the Shambhala tradition, a form of Buddhism that has intentionally evolved to meet the needs of the Western mind.

And though I don't profess to be a practicing Buddhist (but check with me in five minutes and then five minutes after that), I know that Buddhism has much to teach me, a Westerner battling drip every day.

"The transparency of...hesitation..." Wow. Now when I sit down to write or I get those first moments of new-project inspiration or I think about doing yoga...I watch my mind for that hesitation and label it "transparent" rather than spiraling into negative self-talk about my own inherent laziness. Much healthier, I would say.

I don't see the hesitation as having meaning, as in "I guess I'm just not meant to be a writer or a yogi or a (insert your dream here)." I see it as a temporary moment of suffering and attachment (to use Buddhist terms). A temporary insanity, of sorts, when I am unaware of my true self.

And how much more would we fulfill our potential if we could do this every moment? If we could be aware of how we contaminate ourselves?

A bit later in the book, he gives a suggestion about how to make choices:

"We can ask, 'what is the result of my action?
Do I feel imprisoned or liberated?
Am I content? Do I have regret?'"

Ruling Your World is a short book (and small -- oh, how I love small books; perfect for bed reading) but it is packed. This is a book I will read over and over.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that Sakyong is a bit of a rock star: Mipham Video, "What About Me?"


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

EverydayBliss: Happy Feet & Hafiz


Ahhh! The little things:
toes warm enough to walk
on grass and cement.
The only thing missing: blue polish!

These are the days when it's easy to recognize that it's the little things in life that really matter. We inch closer and closer to the sun, and it is able, at long last, to warm our skin, to soak in and banish recent (as in a week ago) memories of snow and cold and wind and gray.

We walked (walked without the wind in our faces or ice under our feet) to our whole foods co-op (a locally owned co-op -- not the chain kind) and ate a lunch of sweet potato/red pepper risotto. Arriving home, we broke open the strawberry cheesecake gelato (made right here by someone who studied the process in Italy). A bit of heaven on the tongue.

Then my feet went outside -- bare! So happy.

The little things.

I came back inside and put on a knee length skirt -- without knee-hi socks! And I am pale as a ghost, almost glowing, but it doesn't matter.

The sun is out and the temperature is up and the grass will need to be mowed and there are baby chards and kales and flowers sprouting as I write this.

A little Hafiz to end this post:

Even
after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,

"You owe
Me."

Look
what happens
with a love like that,
It lights the
Whole
Sky.

Say yes to all the little things today -- write a list and post it somewhere you can see it when we get the inevitable last inch of wet and heavy snow on the opened forsythia buds (at least where I am that will happen). Or go outside and take some pictures to aid your memory.

I am off to sit on the front stoop and I tell myself I will journal but mostly, I will sit with my face to the sun like the daffodils in the bed to my left.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BlissQuest: Beginning with Joseph Campbell, of course

Now I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. The word "sat" means being. "Chit" means consciousness. "Ananda" means bliss or rapture. I thought, "I don't know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don't know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know what my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being." I think it worked.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Depression. Disconnect. A feeling of emptiness -- and not that good Buddhist kind! How many people do we all know who experience these things daily? How many of us? How many of us are on medications? How many of us are always moving from place to place, changing jobs, changing mates, thinking that the next one, the next place, the next piece of cake (mmmm...cake) will bring us back to ourselves, will make us feel like we have a life?

I have come to believe that much of this has to do with an ignoring of the concrete, which I think is Joseph Campbell's point about bliss. "Follow your bliss." If you're my age, you probably think of this as some failed hippie saying -- a sort of ad campaign for self-centered behaviors.

But that's because we've watered it down. Turned it into a cliche.

In actuality, it is the whole freaking point. The Dalai Lama, for instance, says that the only reason we are here is to be happy.

To be happy makes others happy.

Ripple.

He also says that if we were each to do the very things that make us happy, that are good for us -- and he means truly good for us, not just good for us in the moment -- if we do this, we will also be doing what is good for others and for the planet.

Bliss begets bliss.

Simple, really, but oh so difficult. Take a first step, do something -- just one thing today -- that brings a smile to your face, that doesn't make you feel obligated to anyone. If you start with the small stuff, eventually you'll move to the big stuff.

When was the last time you picked up crayons, even though you love to draw? When was the last time you turned the music up really loud and danced in your living room until you sweat? When was the last time you ignored email and cell phones and instead just sat and listened for the small whispers of your heart?

And check out the new Joseph Campbell Foundation website. There's a blog and everything! Joseph Campbell rocks!