When Things Fall Apart

Caroline's seagull 1Between the harbours of our pain and our joy, the sunlit bays that lull, and the rocky coves where beached whales gasp for breath, is the journey. Learning to navigate through clear waters and perfect storms keeps us learning, keeps us evolving, keeps us awake.

Sometimes all it takes is the right book to help us chart our way.

Pema Chödrön’s ‘When Things Fall Apart’ is one of those books I gift to folk and re-read every year, drinking it in to quench a thirst that never goes away. She takes all of life, wraps it up in a gentle smile and makes me grateful to be here right now… and happy to be me. If you haven’t got the time or energy to read one of my long, rambly posts, skip to the bottom; there are some great quotes.

Awakeness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives. ~ Pema Chödrön

A new me reads it every year. Last year, a death in the family changed us all; the year before that, I lost two friends to cancer and four survived. And every year, this book speaks to me like a friend who knows and understands the essential me but is aware of my constantly evolving circumstances, offering relevant advice for each one.

This is no bright white toothed self-help guru, survivor turned writer, making me mutter “Oh, give me a break!” This is a person who gently unravels all the pain, happiness and conflicting thoughts and emotions that make us human, but who points out that there, there where we notice those states in ourselves and in others is the learning, the living, the enlightenment and the loving. In the space between the inbreath and the outbreath, the silence between the notes, the glide between the beating of a bird’s wings, that’s where all of our peace and wisdom reside.

Chances are, if you visit my blog, we’ve a lot in common and you’ve probably read this book. If you haven’t, and you’d like a gentle introduction to Buddhism and an instruction manual for a simpler, kinder, richer life, please give it a go. I reread it last week and today’s the happiest I’ve been for months. I accidentally pressed publish on this post earlier instead of saving a draft; the original detailed some of the challenges I’ve had and dealt with this week, but to be honest, I bored myself reading them so I deleted all but one.

I stepped on and broke my cherished old Kindle and feared I’d lost the hundreds of quotes and passages I’d lovingly curated over the years and all the ‘collections’ I’d organised ruthlessly, even though the books themselves stayed safe in The Cloud. But I trawled dozens of forums, tried what folk suggested, and hours later managed to rescue the quotes, because they mattered, because they were pieces of life that had resonated with me and were already distilled right down to the essence.

Which brings me back to Pema. These passages from ‘When Things Fall Apart’ were highlighted in my Kindle. I was going to share them with you gradually, but life’s too short to hold onto things that cry out to be shared.

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy…

…Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior…

…Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors—people who have a certain hunger to know what is true—feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.

                                               From ‘When Things Fall Apart’ ~ by Pema Chödrön.

 

Life-cherishing

When I’m lost or troubled, I read fewer blogs and more books, real books, the kind you can hold and take notes from. The more rattled and scattered I am, the more I crave books about creativity and writing, especially those written by poets about poetry. The process of reading and note-taking calms me. Because they invoke all kinds of connection and contemplative practice, good books about writing are really guides to leading a more engaged life, inspiring us to distill the essence of our experience so we can share it creatively, and, if we’re lucky, connect with the hearts and minds of those we we long to reach.

Last week, I grabbed a pen and a notebook and re-read Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. It’s so much more than a book about understanding poetry; it’s a rallying call to experience life like a poet, to create something that has the power to change lives.

“A mind that is lively and enquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry. Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision – a faith, to use an old fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.”

(Mary Oliver, from A Poetry Handbook)

Jotting down excerpts from A Poetry Handbook was a delight. Today’s post from the archives is an old article from my Coaching Moments column, but one I hope you’ll resonate with; I don’t know anyone who visits here who isn’t a life-cherisher, a capturer and framer of moments, a wordsmith or an artist.

Treasure Hunting

As a writer, you should have a sticky soul; the act of continually taking things in should be as much a part of you as your hair color. ~ Elizabeth Berg

I’m a quote-hunter, an unashamed gatherer of quotes. Capturing the words that resonate with me is like gathering wild berries, nuts and seeds, windfalls of fruit – food for thought.

Some stand out from the page or computer screen like the flash of a robin in a winter bush. Others are a rainbow of satin ribbons, waiting to be the right words to wrap around a bouquet of thoughts or to become the bow that sets off a simply wrapped sentiment. Then there’s the unexpected treasure, precious gems that dazzle with their brilliance. I keep them somewhere safe so that I can bring them out later, like a child fingering treasures wrapped in a handkerchief, hoping to find a special friend to show them to, someone who will understand.

I never go outCigdem Kobu's Ram Dass quote without a pen, a notebook and a book to read. When I read a book with a ‘quotebook’ and a pen handy, it’s a signal I send to myself and to the universe. It says “I’m open. I expect nothing, but I’m prepared to be moved, enlightened or entertained. I’m a student, ready and willing to learn from the lives and the wisdom of others.”

In my Filofax, stuck on the fridge, pinned to my pinboard and incorporated into my art work, albums and blog, quotes serve as flashes of inspiration, mini mission statements and signposts to keep me on track. Dead poets become heroes, strangers become mentors.

I use a different instinct, a different skill when I capture a quote. In many ways, it’s like the honing in and the active listening I do as a coach.

Finding the perfect quote that illustrates several sentiments or pulls together a complex train of thought is similar to recognising an Aha! moment in a coaching session. It’s synchronicity’s way of helping us focus and pay attention.

Our first instincts are often the ones that bypass our censors and cruel inner critics which is why many quotes become deeply personal and precious to us. They’re like messages sent from our own souls. Every time you choose a quote that resonates with you, don’t stop to ask why; just write it down and keep it safe. Quotes are like photographs, snapshots of who you are, who you were. They’re music that moves you, lyrics that leave you scarred. They’re memories of a moment when you came upon someone else’s words and felt connected, not only to another human being, but to the moment, the thought and the feeling that overflowed from them and cried out to be heard. The ‘Me too!!’ or  ‘That’s it exactly!!’ moment.

It’s our unique life experience and how we channel, choose and arrange the moments, the music and the words that makes us writers, creating collages that turn our lives into works of art.

Learning to resonate with those moments strengthens the treasure-hunting in our coaching sessions; those repeating words that draw our attention, those powerful silences when our clients connect to an answer nestling patiently in their souls, waiting to rise and take flight – they’re the gems.

I never know how my words will affect others but I do know that my best coaching happens and my best pieces write themselves in the moments when I’m most alive, aware and open. Some moments of clarity or emotion are so powerful they brim up and overflow and make me feel that if I don’t channel them into words, control them and create something from them that I will drown or that something very precious, something vital will be washed away and lost. When I sit down to recreate those moments, I feel like my whole life, everything I know and everything I am is a prism being used to refract the light of a message coming, quite simply, from somewhere else.

When I coach well, I feel the same connection.

Know then, that if anything I ever write affects, moves, touches or supports you, it was meant for you, sent from somewhere that neither of us can fully comprehend. I’m happy to be the messenger.

The Desire Map

Daniele LaPorte“Desire leads the way home.” ~ Danielle LaPorte

I needed to write here today. I only ever write for one listener, and today it’s you. Synchronicity. I don’t know what led you here, but I hope you get something from the connection. It’s been a while.

I committed blogging suicide three years ago, abandoning my blog and the blogging community I’d become part of;  I wasn’t in great health and my family needed me, but I’d also accepted that blogging was doing me more harm than good.

Small blogs thrive with lots of mutual support and respect, but I find reciprocal blogging – blogging with integrity – really time consuming. The day I realised I was reading more blog posts than books, writing more comments than blog posts and spending more time struggling with my integrity than I was writing for pleasure, I walked off into the sunset and never looked back.

In the time I’ve been Rip Van Winkling, some of my colleagues’ blogs and businesses have gone from strength to strength, but many familiar bloggers have boarded up, moved on and settled somewhere else. The blogging community I was part of feels like a ghost town now, full of abandoned blogs, broken links and dried up blogrolls blowing through like tumbleweed. Vibrant blogs that used to be full of laughter and companionship stand deserted, their once welcoming doors swinging and creaking in the silence, the odd forlorn comment left hanging like a torn curtain.

So what brought me back here when I could have dived in and joined the party over at Facebook, Twitter and a dozen other social media sites? In a world where instant connection is a phone click away, what led me to start all over again with empty comment boxes and a clunky, homemade, out-of-date site that should really be shrunk into a scrapbook or put out of its misery?

Danielle LaPorte and crochet. More about the crochet another day.

So why Danielle? I read and loved Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design years ago and resonated with Danielle’s quest for authentic, passionate, intentional living. It was so much fun working through the book and distilling my style down to two symbolic words; when I reread it recently, I was amazed to realise that the words I chose all those years ago still express my authentic essence.

Danielle is savvy and charismatic and her words leap off the page, inspiring you to grab a notebook, hone in on your unique style and design an intentional life. After Style Statement, came her book The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful and Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your own Terms which was based on her workshops of the same name.

Fire Starter Session 3: The Strategy of Desire is a life changer. It slaps you in the face with its simple heart logic, and you simply can’t ignore it. Danielle herself suggests that the following section “…could be the single most important takeaway from this book.”

“How do you want to feel?

Knowing how you actually want to feel is the most potent form of clarity that you can have.

Generating those feelings is the most creative thing you can do with your life.”

Just when I was enjoying The Fire Starter Sessions and thinking this is what I need, to read powerful books again, to be inspired by the overflowing desire to share what I learn, to share what moves me and shifts my awareness, I stumbled on this, Danielle’s new book which grew out of  Fire Starter Session 3…

The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul

What can I say? I bought it a few months ago, I loved it and it’s still working! I had fun with it and enjoyed all the honing in and drilling down. (Oh, and the questions!…a coach’s dream collection of awareness heighteners, strength finders, curiosity cultivators and provocative layer strippers!) I carried it to cafés and started quotehunting again. I was inspired – and compelled – to share it with you in case anything Danielle has to say could be of use to you. Working through the book was revealing, energising and uplifting – sometimes bittersweet; we often get to what we want by knowing with a passion what we don’t want. Almost everything I’ve done today – and every day since reading the book –  has been in alignment with what Danielle calls my Core Desired Feelings, the distilled essence of how I want to feel in every area of my life. Knowing how I want to feel makes every choice, every decision, every action, purchase and conversation so much easier.

How about you? How do you want to feel, this moment, today, every day, in every part of your life?