Perspective

Perspective is something we often desperately want. Unfortunately, as our desire for perspective increases, it usually becomes more difficult to access. Why is it like this? In order to have a shot at a fresh perspective you need to get some distance between you and the thing you're trying to get perspective on. In other words, you have to take your sticky little fingers off the thing and walk away for a period of time that’s often longer than you're comfortable with.

The more something--job, relationship, project--matters to you, the harder it is to convince yourself that you can set it down for any period of time. The stakes are high, right? If you walk away you might lose the thing, the thing might fall apart (or worse, it might do just fine without you), or you might find that you don't want to go back to them. Those are just a handful of the frightening possibilities.

AND YET, until you put it down and allow for some space, you won’t know.

You won’t know the either scary thing or the beautiful thing (or both!) that might happen if given the opportunity.

I was reminded of this very recently as Michael and I just spent two weeks in Japan. Not only was Japan too far away for me to be of any help should anyone have needed me, but it was also so foreign that the parts of my brain and personality that are used to running the show were swiftly relocated to the back seat. While it seems that going somewhere this challenging would mean that you would return home exhausted, I didn’t. Instead, for the first time in years—maybe even a decade—I feel like I have access to an internal source of energy that has been in hibernation for a long, long time.

I tend to forget that when I’m tired and worn out I don’t make great decisions. That can look like overcommitting or overindulging but ultimately both of these happen because I give up a little on the person I really want to be or the life I want to have because I’m exhausted. I know a lot of people who feel particularly exhausted these days and I encourage any of you who do to take an actual break which could look like two weeks in a confusing country or an afternoon of ambling around in your neighborhood or the woods--the Japanese call this Shinrin-yoku or "forest bathing"-- with no specific goal in mind other than to notice what’s around you. They both work!

Knots, Hope, & You

A dear friend gave Michael and I a book about knots as a wedding gift. It was something that I loved seeing on the shelf but hadn’t taken time to open up and explore until one morning five years ago when I found myself sitting on the floor by the bookshelf and indulged my curiosity.

The introduction stopped me in my tracks:
"Anyone can tie a knot or two...or the 100 (and more) contained in this book. If you cannot, it is merely because you have not yet learned to do so. For knotting is one of those basic skills, like the ability to swim or read a map, that is accessible to all who choose to acquire them and separates self-sufficient and confident folk from the rest."

This passage delighted me. I read it as riotously optimistic about our capacity for learning, and scathing in its critique of our hopeful tendencies. I decided in that moment that hope was lame; that choosing hope was like getting into bed with expectation—a risky bedfellow. Not surprisingly, I also decided that practice was the bomb; the thing that could carry us, by way of repeatedly doing and iterating, through even the most complicated of passages.

My belief about practice has held up, less because of its connection to doing (though that’s still my go-to solution for most things) but more because of the implied repetition which further implies a cultivation of patience and relationship. Practice is inherently not immediate, and I also know that through practice we can encounter ourselves in deep and meaningful ways; it is an ongoing negotiation between our expectations and reality.

Hope, on the other hand, remained at the bottom of the conceptual barrel for me until quite recently when I read an essay by Rebecca Solnit in her small book titled “Hope in the Dark” which was originally published in 2006 and republished in 2015 with minor additions. This is the opening paragraph:

On January 18, 1915, six months into the First World War, as all Europe was convulsed by killing and dying, Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal, “The future is dark, which is on the whole, the best thing the future can be, I think.” Dark, she seems to be saying, as inscrutable, not as in terrible. We often mistake one for the other. Or we transform the future’s unknowability into something certain, the fulfillment of all our dread, the place beyond which there is no way forward. But again and again, far stranger things happen than the end of the world.

Solnit argues that hope is, “…an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things you can know beforehand. You may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone."

After sitting with this, hope has been re-cast in my mind as a critical and sorely misunderstood tool of humanity. It is antithetical to our culture of certainty and prediction to not only embrace uncertainty but to mine it as a source for inspiration as she is suggesting.

Am I about to tell you to celebrate the darkness, to live in the mystery? Yes. (spare me the eye rolling) But I am not advocating for uncertainty alone; we must balance it with practice. If hope represents the sky—impossible to touch or directly experience but through some conceptual understanding of its existence and infiniteness—then practice is the ground—the thing you can touch and trust and know intimately day to day. The place in between or rather the intersection of the two is the place where the growth of something as magnificent as a giant sequoia or a revolution is possible—who could have imagined that?

I talk to a lot of people who are freaked out about changes, proposed or happening, in our country. I think this is a conversation that could benefit tremendously from these principles of hope and practice. If you are feeling twitchy, rage-y or resigned, I share these reflections as a way of inviting you to develop a practice of civic participation for yourself. I don’t care what it is so long as it is something you engage with at regular intervals, something that you can sustain over the long haul (think eternity), and something that you feel connected to.

Maybe that looks like educating yourself.
Maybe it looks like tithing--contributing a set amount at regular intervals to organizations doing work that is meaningful to you.
Maybe it looks like volunteering monthly to repair forest trails, feed the hungry, or teach English and offer warm smiles of welcome and encouragement to recently arrived refugees.

You get to choose the piece of darkness where you'll practice the hopeful art of illumination.

Cookie Power

Cookie Power

A group of female chefs and bakers in Portland have been busy baking cookies this week. Eleven thousand, five hundred and fifty cookies to be precise. The Cookie Grab was conceived as a way for women in Portland's culinary industry to come together and use the skills we have to contribute to our community.

Over the next couple days, 550 people will collect beautiful pink boxes filled with cookies from some of their favorite Portland restaurants and bakeries, and Planned Parenthood will get a $27,500 donation. Totally amazing. Hooray!

But there's more...

A New Framework

A New Framework

On January 1, 2016 a wonderful person asked me if I had any resolutions for the year. When I replied that I didn't have a track record of sucess with resolutions so I had given up the practice of making them, she offered what I think is a kinder, gentler consideration for a year's beginning:

Can you think of anything you would like more of in 2016?

Ahhhh. That's what my entire body did in response to this question; it had itself a deeply relaxing, releasing sigh. My brow stopped the furrowing it does when I'm trying to figure out how to make my life better (aka the foundation for new year's resolutions), and I experienced a moment of open-minded wondering about what would make me feel better, in a more general way, in the coming year.