Why I Won’t Be Taking the Shanghai Maglev to Spirituality

Today, I came very close to signing up for a webinar with a well-known spiritual figurehead.  I excitedly clicked the link to explore more and came to the following line (and I paraphrase, but pretty much on point): “Spiritual beginners can move six levels FAST.”  I stared at this lines and the rest of the description as if it were in a foreign language.    Since when did the spiritual path enter a fast track program?  And six levels of what exactly?

indexFast spiritualism in the culture of ‘All Things Now’ is not novel and has been brewing for some time.  For example, if you wish to teach yoga, you can choose from arrangements of 200+ to 300+ certification hours, then you can call yourself a Yoga teacher (just google it, you will see what I am referring to).   In this age of “Have It Your Way” (the famous Burger King line) or I would revise, “Have it your way as of yesterday” that includes not just orders for food or securing items online, but also human relationship as well.  Online dating, for instance, brings you tons of options for establishing quick connections and instant conversations right in the privacy of your own home.

So why wouldn’t this extend to fast-tracking the exploration of one’s spiritual self?  Perhaps this would appeal to most, but it is troubling to me that both human relationship and the  cultivation of the relationship with oneself has been placed upon (a) a track of any kind and (b) a fast track.  I can’t deny that our American society is plagued with deadlines but all the more reason to opt out of taking the Shanghai Maglev to your spiritual life.

What became of the webinar after reading those lines about “FAST” spirituality?  Well, obviously a blog post but also some level of disenchantment and surprise.  I closed the website and sat in a state of both upset and perplexed.  I wonder how many people saw that webinar opportunity and felt that their needs could be properly met through a serving of fast soul-food?  Or how many others were like me, read that and decided that it was best to venture along a spiritual path at a slow, steady and sometimes arduous pace?

Power By Default v. Power That Just Is

Power_Opening_TitleLately I have been thinking about power and the various dynamics within it.  Specifically, the aspect of power that has always been intriguing is focused on the power dynamic that exists between individuals.   How and why is it given or perceived?  Does having power by default (either by being in charge of an organization, overseeing a project, etc.) automatically mean that you truly have power?  Also, if you have to do any convincing to others that you have power or that you are in charge, are you really?
lead_largeThe best way I can describe my recent thinking is by sharing a trip down memory lane.  I was 18 years old, a senior in high school and also enrolled at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts with Creative Writing as my focus. During one of my sessions there, our drama teacher took us through an exercise as a part of illustrating how to perform poetry.  In this particular instance, we were each paired up and given the following instructions, “Walk pass each other at first.  Then I want you to do it again, but as you do, one of you is going to take away power and the other is going to give it.”  We did this several times each of us having a chance to either be the “taker” or “giver” of this so-called power.  We were then asked a series of questions  in regards to what we noticed either in giving or taking power away just by physically passing another person.
That exercise was about 18 years ago and even as I move about town or indulge myself in people watching, I still ask myself–are we taking power, giving power, or equally sharing space as we pass each other?  I have had the good fortune (or misfortune depending on how you define it) of being the leader.  I have managed many projects, directed staff, and created many things on a small and large scale.  This involved securing buy-in, gaining respect, and due to the power of the positions I have held, there was also great responsibility.  These were all things I did not take lightly, but instead in my role as leader, director, or manager, I viewed myself as “being in service to” as opposed to everyone being in service to me.
indexMy thoughts around this have filtered into the different types of power that exist-power by default and power that just is.  Power by default may come about through promotions, titles, or other similar types of things versus the power that just is which may not be expressed through a job/career/life given title but it is just within you.  The types of power I have witness throughout my life fall into the category of power by default.  I have encountered many, for example, who go out of their way to scream their titles and roles either through voice or the use of their body (in other words, they asserted power by physically illustrating they were in charge).  They also defined being the leader as synonymous with being the takers of power.  Very rarely have I encountered the individuals who just carried the power but when I have, I had more respect for them.  And while I recognize that my power came from hierarchical positions within organizations, I recognized the opportunity to just carry a certain type of knowing as opposed to having a need to remind everyone of my so-called title or role.
390ASP322558Thus, being given “power” or the power by default does not make you such a thing.  In fact, in my mind, it is a default setting on an organizational chart but it does not mean that you truly carry it within you.   If you have to say you carry the power, and loudly express that you are a leader, then it displays your insecurity and is an attempt to convince yourself and others of your validity.  It also means that you are the taker of power (like in that exercise I mentioned earlier) as opposed to being inspired to share space or inspire others to tap into their own wells of power.  I have done this many times in the past and it was indeed born out of a need to 1) convince, (2) assert, and largely (3) insecurity and lack of safety within my own position.  However, if you just are and give people an opportunity to recognize you just by being…you can gracefully lead by example.
As you share space with others from day-to-day either in career, leisure, or in life–do you give, take or share power?   Do you feel the need to convince others that you possess such a thing or will you just be?

 

No as the New Imperative for the Self

“What am I saying ‘Yes’ to that gives people the permission to treat me a certain way?”

_DSC0720_newThis was a question someone brought up as we talked about navigating the murky world of “Yes” and “No.”  If you haven’t noticed (perhaps like me, you sometimes hide under a rock) there has been a lot about saying ‘Yes’ in regards to inviting good into your life.  Some even go as far as supporting the idea of saying ‘yes’ because it will open doors and invite opportunity.  I am personally one of those believers.

But with this particular conversation, we were discussing the concept of ‘Yes’ gone wrong.  When does saying ‘Yes’ become toxic or harmful to the self?  When does saying ‘Yes’ jeopardize the ultimate good for yourself?  As much as ‘No’ has been seen as a negative or the “bad cop” of the Yes/No dyad, it has its uses and in some ways becomes the erotic or taboo invitation.  For example, ‘No’  invites a challenge (depending on the context, agreements between various parties, etc.)  or negotiation of sorts.  While ‘Yes’ signals an open door, lack of challenge, open invitation.

_DSC0719_newIn the context of the conversation and quote that I opened with, ‘No’ becomes crucial in navigating our relationships with our friends, family, lovers, and various other circumstances.  Many times, it can be seen as a negative especially as we are seeing a lot of “pro-Yes” language but I would like to offer up ‘No’ as another type of invitation:

-An invitation to the world to meet you on your terms in a way that is safe;
-An invitation to yourself that it is okay to advocate  for your own boundaries and terms.

A lot of times we sometimes feel guilty for saying No, I am in that category.  When I have said ‘No’ instead of a ‘Yes’ at various times in my life, I felt more guilt for not meeting  the needs of another, yet I did not think of it as a tool for meeting and communicating my own needs/wants.  No is just as empowering as the Yes and both are needed given the proper time, place, context or circumstance.  So here are my questions to leave for you to ponder:

-What are the labyrinths of power, boundaries and understanding you have created around the uses of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’?
-What invitations have you given to others or opportunities through these words and why?  For example, was a ‘Yes’ used and did it invite a certain level of disrespect to you?

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A New Way of Thinking About Love: Part 2

imagesHow long?  How many times?  How many miles away?  And so the list continues.  In the new world of online dating, the fact that love  may in fact be a numbers game.  Still skeptical, consider the following:

Probability, sequences, configurations: based on personality traits, physical characteristics and so many other things, there is an endless number of possible pairings that may or may not work.

Patterns:  figuring out why certain combinations did not work and finding the common denominators.

Proximity:  measured in distance

hmm_updates

 

 

 

 

 

Thus, there is a realm of endless possibilities that we measure with distance, duration, and of course imaginary (or not so imaginary)  tally sheets.  If you are still a touch skeptical, consider Amy Webb’s Ted Talk, “How I Hacked Online Dating.”  Amy talks about what she did to land herself the family life she now holds with her husband and her infant daughter.   She developed a formula where she combed through hours/data-full profiles in order to establish all of the possibilities available for a potential partner according to her needs/wants.
I won’t ruin it, you will have to play the link above, but there is something I want you to consider or ask yourself.  I am not here to say that there is a right or a wrong way to approach love.  In fact, some will (and have) accused me of being to cerebral in my approach.  Perhaps they are right but at least want you to consider this question or ponder:  If you are still looking or at least interested in love, have you tried approaching it from the numbers standpoint?  If you are, perhaps playing the love lottery or being an active participant in the numbers game that it is might not be a bad idea.

Amy Webb tried it, and she seemed to luck out!

How and Why Do We Create?: Creation or Contribution on Our Own Terms

In the New York Time’s opinion piece, “Don’t Do It, Harper Lee”, Jessa Crispin shares, “For every late-career comeback that only further proves a person’s genius and worth — think of Coco Chanel’s coming out of roughly 15 years of retirement to dominate the Paris fashion scene once again — there are 20 people who fall on their faces and die before they can recover their footing.”

51grMGCKivL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This week, the interwebs and literary world has been abuzz about rumors, intentions, excitement, and questions regarding Harper Lee’s release, “Go Set A Watchman” the author’s second book after the classic, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  I am not here to add more sugar to the mystery punch that this news has created but I would like to raise questions around how and why we create.

Jessa Crispin’s New York Time’s opinion piece does raise key points about our greed.  Specifically, the fact that we can’t seem to be satisfied with one good thing but in fact, it seems that we must attempt to recreate the feeling or experience that washed over us with “To Kill A Mockingbird.”  Reading her article did encourage a bigger question that I often ask myself as an artist. 

Do we create for others or ourselves? If it is in fact for others that we create, do we limit that which we will share with the world? For example, there was a claim that Harper Lee was not going to release another book after her first (and very lucky) hit debut.  According to Crispin, and I am sure others, this should be enough, why tempt or court the potential disaster of a failure.

Do we just let the world decide when, how, and if we create?  If we are creating for ourselves, does it matter the number of accolades or recognition we receive?  What is the true meaning or reason for our creating?

If we let social pressure set the pace, we might discover that there are rules, parameters and sometimes a price that one might have to pay for living inside of those constructs.  Conversely, there is a price tag for not following the social floor plan in regards to creatively and many things.  Unfortunately, this is the reason why we don’t always get a chance to bear witness to what has been created in many dark crevices of the world simply because it was not “discovered” or shared on a big enough scale.

Thus, There might be a song we have never or will never hear.  A book that might not ever be published, a painting, a piece of choreography, and many other realms of art that we will never get to adventure to because of the social rules of engagement around such things.  Keep in mind that there are many stories in the world of “almost” in which artists were ridiculed during their lives for daring and if it were not for chance happenings, there are minor and great works that we might not ever know about.   So what do I say, go ahead and create.

In fact, you don’t have to be an artist to raise the question of how and why you choose to share what you share in the world whether it is a talent, skill, etc.  Whatever you are choosing to contribute to the world may not be a history changing invention, your piece of art may not be an opus, or something that would set the internet afire like this news of Harper Lee’s “new” book, but at least you have created on your own terms.

Casualities of Chasing A Dream

A few weeks back, I was listening to National Public Radio and the actors Ethan Hawke and dreamsPatricia Arquette were being interviewed about their latest movie, Boyhood.  During the course of the interview, Patricia Arquette shared a personal story about turning down a movie part just as she was trying to establish herself as an actress.  Ethan Hawke at some point illustrates a reminder we often forget about in regards to fulfilling our dreams by responding, “If you put your dreams as your number one priority there will be casualties behind you.”  Hawke was also elaborating on one of the characters in the movie who chose his current life ahead of his own ambitions.

thOften we encourage our children and each other to chase our dreams.  We share stories, quotes, and often paint quite the imagery with the intention of ushering ourselves (or others) toward the path of the grand dream.  But there is something within Hawke’s quote that depicts what we often don’t discuss or consider in regards to dreams–the cost of achieving them.

Was there ever something you wanted to chase, but you chose something or someone that was worth setting your dream upon a shelf?  Conversely, did you achieve what you have always wanted but realize that there were in fact casualties (like relationships not cultivated)?  These are difficult questions and perhaps ones that we don’t want to ask ourselves or answer.  We may continue to believe in chasing and going toward those things which we call our dreams but perhaps we should consider the price tag.

A New Way of Thinking About Romance: Part 1

I am personally starting to think that the greatest romance stories are not born out of trying to be what the other person wants, needs or desires. It is not even about trying to offer all they are asking for. On the contrary, romance may in fact be birthed by starting with the facts of what you will never be and what you can’t give to that other person. You know, the one in which the prince remained a frog and the princess does not have to do any kissing to get him to become as he just remained what he is;

Where the search for the right fit into the slipper or the right bed became more about appreciating the imperfection of when things just don’t all come together;

 

where the knight never promised to slay any dragons yet he was still a hero because he was going to be a good battle partner as opposed to riding into battle alone,

and where the princess or queen never expected anyone to come to her rescue because being saved was more about letting someone storm her walls to see the contents of her heart rather just waiting then being frustrated about something she passively expected to happen.

The whole point of this vignette or short piece was inspired by a recent conversation I had that encouraged a trip down the lane of relationships past.  The ones that stood out and felt most romantic (surprisingly) were not so much about the grand gestures (that eventually had a crash and burn at the end of them) but it was moments that started out like this, “Look, I can’t promise you anything” or men who would boldly tell me what they could not or were not going to be as they offered up the most genuine and sincere part of themselves.

What I read in the beginning of this sparked an online conversation about how we define and determine intimacy and the stories we let shape it.  Sometimes, those most romantic moments have more to do with a brutal honesty  that allows us to be ourselves with managed expectation as opposed to the declarations of what is going to be (which by the way sound lovely and are full of lots of words that lose their meaning among life’s actual comings and goings)

In the spirit of valentine’s day, think about your new or revised version of romance, intimacy, and ways of being.  Maybe it isn’t going to look like heart shape chocolates but if you allow it, it could be something much sweeter.

From Day into Night, the 2015 Reminder to Be Present

“Look, look outside” someone excitedly instructed.  I’d been sitting in front of my computer for hours and still internally berating myself for not getting anything done that day and it was already 4:30 p.m.  With hesitation and curiosity, I stood up walk over to the double glass doors that opened to the upper level balcony.

I was struck and momentarily seduced by the colors of the day bleeding into what was about to be night.  The shades of blue, gray, white, hints of pink and many other shades breaking through as the day was slipping away at that moment.

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Photo by Shanta L.E.

I instantly forgot about beating myself up for what was and was not completed and had appreciate what I was seeing (and of course snap a picture).  It is also times like this when someone interrupting was a welcome reminder to be present and appreciate the view that is unfolding right in front of your eyes.

Do you have moments like that?  Where the reminder to be present was louder than the call to plan for a future that has not happened yet?  This slice of a moment is also a window into how my New Years turned out.  I had pieces of the outfit and stunning jewelry picked out along with amalgamated images of what New Years was going to be, then it just happened.

The clothing was unexpected-in fact an old sweater, corduroys, and a fancy coat to be exact.  The destination ended up being some place between a little bit of first night at North Hampton; eating black eyed peas for good luck with friends on the actual day of new years; and the transitional bridge that included mild conversations in a house tucked away in the woods with near and dear ones as I got a chance to witness teenagers celebrating their new years with a camp fire, laughter and acoustic guitar.  For those teens, it seemed to be that simple –as they seemed to just enjoy what was as opposed to being frustrated about the visions of a New Years celebration that was not.

These images provided a certain stillness and a reminder.  You see, I don’t do resolutions and I have long stopped that madness that felt more like self-defeat.  Instead, it has become appreciate the little bit towards the better everyday.  That is what these moments were, little bits and pieces of 2014 reminding me that 2015 was in fact a new year but also just another day for a new beginning.

Ways of Just Being without Apology

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Photo by Shanta L.E.

There is a beauty in accepting people, places and things as they are without expecting or wanting an apology for how they have become.  Based off of recent events, I am discovering that as I become more vintage with the passing of time, I no longer want to apologize for all of the ways that I am imperfect, the stories that I carry, the rawness, and sometimes abrasive surface.

Perhaps I should lend context.  Last night, I shared a story with someone.  I did not prep them nor did I provide any cushion for my sharing, instead I just spilled.  This lead to a certain discomfort, upset, frustration, and many things that I (as the sharer) did not expect.  As I received feedback and this unexpected response, all of the things I’ve been told before about difficult pieces of my personality were echoed.  My jagged edges, delivery, and so many things that are not always visible in some of my interactions.

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Photo by Shanta L.E.

As much as I have a certain charm, sometimes I misstep;
As much as there is polish, sometimes there is a rough surface that either splinters or cuts others;
As much as there is a sweetness there are some sour & tart bits.During the course of the conversation, I noticed how I did not apologize for what I shared nor did I want to soften some of the rough surface I’d presented.

As with many of my interactions, this one provided some material for thinking, writing, and considering all of the ways in which all of us become.  As I am discovering a beauty in just being, I am learning about accepting all of the ways that others bring these things to the table as well.

There is no resolve for my interaction of the conversation that surfaced last night but just a thought of the moment:  Alongside of the apologies that must exist for all of the ways that our being may cause discomfort for others is the importance of allowing things to just exist with all of their stories, scars, cracks and dings.

**Photos used in this post are from my vintage, proudly unfinished table.  I debate whether or not I will leave it as is, your let it tell the story with all of the imperfections upon its surface.

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Photo by Shanta L.E.

Vulnerability–What It Is & What It Isn’t

 

VulnerableI was engaged in a conversation the other night with a friend.  I shared a couple of stories with her about various happenings in my life and at one point she responded ,  “That is why I am confused with you, you say you like vulnerability but….”  and she attempted to point out some fallacies in my claim to appreciate vulnerability.  This particular conversation and many others I have had with my friends or acquaintances around this topic of vulnerability always left me with more queries than resolve.   What is vulnerability exactly?   What are some clear definitions of what vulnerability is and is not?

vulnerability-assessmentThe title of this post is a bit of a trick.  In other words, I don’t have any answers nor could I proceed in providing a clear construction of the concept of vulnerability.  I have many metaphors to describe it.  For instance, my favorite is comparing it to disrobing and the feeling of one being naked in the world after having shed the protective layering of clothing.  The Webster dictionary defines it as “the quality or state of having little resistance to some outside agent” but how does that relate to what vulnerability will be for you versus what it will be for me?  One person’s disrobing or attempt to illustrate one’s vulnerability could be construed as the presentation of yet another wall depending upon the viewer.

imagesI think back to the conversation I had with my friend and many other moments where I felt like I was peeling back the layers to share more of myself.  However, to those who were bearing witness, my disrobing was just a minor pin hole within a impenetrable wall–in other words, it was not perceived or received as my vulnerability.  Over the years of experiencing he spoken or unspoken “You are not letting me in” messages from loved ones and also uttering those words to others, it has become glaringly (and sometimes painfully) clear that it is purely subjective.  This is the most difficult to accept when engaging with partners or close friends.  I have had many moments where I have entangled my concept or understanding of what it means to take the defenses down and dismantle the walls and pushed it onto others.  It lead to a lot of frustration, but most importantly, in my past selfish missions to seek what I defined as vulnerability from others caused me to miss what was unfolding in front of me.

Thus, I have no answers to offer because after all, vulnerability is your very own to define when, where, and with whom you decide.  Being let in is an act of just allowing it to happen and accepting the ways that someone may choose to let you in as opposed to defining the terms or circumstances for their disrobing to take place.   That may be all you ever need to know about what vulnerability is and is not.