The Mystery of Ideas

images treeI cannot think of any better time of year to contemplate the mystery of ideas.  For at least a moment, but preferably for a lifetime, I am asking you to consider the possibility that ideas and inspiration may come from an inexplicable source, from something divine and alive, perhaps from your own soul or as some may say, even from God Herself.  An idea can come out of a desperate plea or, more often,  from a simple opening  created in stillness.

However you choose to think about the concept of ideas that come to us, or through us, there is this universal truth: we all get them. 

But we most definitely do not always notice them, or invite them, or act on them. I think that much of the time we swat them away like flies. Why? I guess we are often too busy, too comfortable, too skeptical, too insecure, or just too darn attached to inertia. It’s just easier to ignore an idea than to engage in it.

In her newest book, Big Magic : Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert has this to say about ideas:

Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way…is through collaboration with a human partner.

Ideas can be as varied as the people who host them, but I am talking about the creative ideas that spur us to make something new, or change something old. An idea may come as a whisper or it may include a bodily sensation such as excitement mixed with nervousness. And when you’re truly lucky, the idea may grip you with such force that there is only one way to go with it: forward.

 We are all creative beings after all, and I think we are just happier when we are creating something, even if it just a clever and satisfying tweak to our environment or routine, but especially when it is something even bigger.

So how can we invite ideas, the kind of another realm, the ones that bring joy and change and creations of all kinds?

Well since you asked, here’s my answer based on my own experiences as well as a boatload of reading on the topic (because it intrigues me to no end).

Eliminate Chaos.  Eliminate all of it, or as much as you can. Clear the decks, because ideas prefer a clear path. They cannot reach you if they are tripping over the clutter in and around you. Clean up the mess, literally and figuratively, and ideas will stand a chance of getting your attention.

For the love of ideas, Take Care of Yourself. You know what to do. Eat well, sleep well, get exercise, keep a reasonable schedule.

Pay Attention. When you receive that idea, don’t swat it away. It may hang around for a while, and you may get another chance at it, but eventually it will give up on you and move on. We’re all going to miss out on some ideas, but don’t let them all get away; especially not the big, scary ones, because those are rare and amazing. The bigger the commitment, the bigger the payoff.

 Follow Your Curiosities. Every new invention, creation, positive change or idea started with a question. What about this? What if..? What really happened?  What if I tried that? I wonder who, what , where…? Consider that your curiosities are gifts, leading you somewhere new. I don’t care if you are ninety years old, we all have curiosities. Have the conversation, take the new road, ask the darn questions. Even when it is inconvenient or unsettling or out of your comfort zone, don’t accept what you know as all you want to know. Allow curiosity. Follow it. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it brought the human to life.

 Take Your Ideas Seriously. Please.  I don’t mean in a rigid, stoic sort of way. I mean consider them. Play with them. Don’t be quick to dismiss them. Ideas come to us for a reason. Focus on it. Obsess over it if you have that luxury, but at least commune with an idea in a consistent manner, as soon as you can. Devote yourself to an idea and watch it grow. Be afraid if you must, but do it anyway. Make mistakes, ask for help, feel silly trying, inconvenience someone, but follow that damn idea. It’s yours.

That’s the best I’ve got.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and most of all, I hope you enjoy the mystery. Love the mystery. Leave some room for a new idea, and pull it close. It chose you.

Engaging the holidays with a four thing day

Just a couple more days until Christmas, and I’ve been feeling balanced about the whole holiday thing; I’ve got time, I didn’t go overboard on anything and best of all, college kids have fully settled back in for their break (evident both by the extra joy and the extra dishwasher cycles). I’m caught up on most stuff that needs being-caught-up on. Gifts are bought and wrapped, fridge is stocked. There are just a few more things I need to do, and today was supposed to be the day.

So if life is calm and joyful and good, why am I behaving so badly today? Badly as in I seem to have staged a private revolt against finishing up anything that’s left to do or just generally making sensible choices. For example:

Here’s what I should be doing: Going to get a haircut.

Here’s what I did instead: Bought more hair product to revive my curls that really just need a trim, in order to avoid going to get that trim.

Here’s what I should be doing: Picking up the party platter at the grocery store for tomorrow’s pre- holiday visit with my grandmother.

Here’s what I did instead: Roamed the aisles of Whole Foods, sampling their natural lemon body spray and vanilla nutritional shake mix.

Here’s what I should be doing: Finalizing my menu for Christmas brunch.

Here’s what I did instead: Read about what celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis will be eating for Christmas in my Natural Health magazine. Smoky turkey, cranberry soup, and smashed root vegetables, in case you were wondering. And she’s not cooking it.

Here’s what I should be doing: Walking my dog.

Here’s what I did instead: Let my dog run around the yard and then went for a jog myself, while listening to Pandora. While on the jog I took a photo of a sign on the side of the road that said Fixer upper. Must sell fast. The sign included a phone number.

Here’s what I should be doing: Plugging in the lights. It’s getting darkish, despite only being late afternoon.

Here’s what I did instead: Called the number from the sign and left a message. Why would I do that? I’ve no idea except that I was curious. It was a bright yellow sign, urgent! Where was this house? Why were they trying to sell so fast? But in hindsight, maybe the fixer upper is not even a house. It could be anything. A car. A bike. A husband. Why did I assume fixer upper meant a house?

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Here’s what else I should be doing: Cooking the edible gifts I plan to give.

Here’s what I’m doing instead: Eating popcorn.

Maybe this is how I subconsciously engage Christmas; by being a time-wasting slacker for a day or so leading up to it.

Ah well, here is what I should be doing: Jumping off this couch and getting something, anything done. I should be recognizing that Christmas is coming barreling down the road, for Christ’s sake. Literally.

Here’s what I’m doing instead: Feeling glad for having done three things today: exercising, writing, and answering an important email. That’s not much, but I’ve been so busy not stressing about the holidays. Not even a little. Maybe I can count that as accomplishing something. That makes four things. Today was a four thing day. I can live with that.

Merry Christmas!

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Midlife and Miracles

I’ve decided to begin my New Year’s resolutions early this year. The idea of a fresh year and new possibilities thrills me each and every January. What I really love about this time are the miracles we get to create. What better month to prepare for miracles than December?

Miracles are the epitome of Christmas. Sure there is the festivity, the giving and unwrapping; family time and holiday music and the possibility of glistening snow. The joy! But the spirit of Christmas, at least for me, is also about the magic I feel when I put love and clarity and moving forward, being better, at the top of my agenda. It is an internal thing.

I love mid-life for the opportunities that come with the wisdom of hindsight and experience. I like the deeper appreciation of time that is cultivated when you realize it is not endless. I love this stage of life for the self-knowledge; when you finally really know yourself- strengths, weaknesses, desires and aversions, you are better able to create an increasingly authentic life.

It becomes so obvious that choices are being made continuously, in every moment, and that self-effacy is a damn good path to personal freedom. I mean, when we look at where we are today, though there were some things out of our control, don’t we mostly recognize a series of choices that brought us here?

Once we’re at midlife, there is no excuse for our choices to be shots in the dark. The consequence to each and every one, big and small, is a lot clearer in the light of experience.

So I’m creating my list of resolutions, or goals, or call- them-what- you- will, early. I want to have built up some momentum by the time Christmas is here, so that the great spirit of the holiday, of life itself, can find an open vessel in me. I want to breathe in the magic, so I’m meeting it halfway. If all goes well, I will be able to greet the first day of January with the confidence that my resolutions are already sticking, that my goals will be met.

I may appear to be doing less this year- less shopping, less baking, maybe even less decorating. But I know what I want, this month and in the year ahead, and it won’t come wrapped or delivered to my doorstop. It’ll be a gift, a miracle, that I invite because I know what I need to do and what I need to not do, and alas I know the difference, without question.

I know which goals or dreams are outdated and which ones are meant for now. With midlife, the ego has shrunk enough to learn from mistakes while the heart has swelled enough to forgive them. If we are good this year, whatever that means for us, we really will get what we want. I believe that. It probably won’t be easy. In fact, it may be very difficult, depending on what it is.

So Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Heck, Happy almost New Year. Soon we will have 365 new days of new moments, each one full of potential. Here’s to midlife and to miracles. They are one and the same.

 

The Tradition Wizard

I sometimes resent traditions.  I feel there is a Tradition Wizard making me do certain things and I actually sort of hate him for it. I feel this entity has too much control.  There is a dissonance  when I just don’t really want to obey him and I do anyway.  It seems he has the power to wave his wand and lull society into some sort of Tradition  trance.

Traditions are usually founded on some practical purpose, but often do not evolve with changing time and new information. Even so, the pressure to continue them is overt. So deep runs the pressure to abide by most public holiday traditions, that commercialization is having a party nearly all year long.

I am not saying that traditions don’t have their place. I realize there are many traditions, including some religious ones, which are important to a large portion of humanity. For the most part, I enjoy the big holidays.  And I have loved creating some smaller traditions for my own family that have revolved around reading and mealtimes and birthday celebrations.  Those are my favorite ones, actually, because we created them. They became habits that have made life sweeter.

But the Tradition Wizard is fierce and persistent and he comes around every year, many, many times.  Halloween, for example.  I’ve given out candy every October a zillion times now. I feel obligated to  buy the candy that I am trying not to eat, to give it to the kids who really don’t need to be eating it either. Doorbell rings, dog barks, candy is dispensed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Enough already.  I’ll never finish my book if I stop for every Hallmark occasion or legend.  Does this make me a rebel?

I won’t even get started on Valentine’s Day. Well, just for a second. I love, love, love every day. And I am loved back every day. And as far as receiving chocolates, well, there’s that sugar thing again…

And Santa. Oh how I resented Santa when my kids were little.  Not for religious reasons. Not because I don’t understand how fun and magical and wonderful it feels for some people. I love the spirit of Christmas. But for me, Santa isn’t it.  I knew my kids were suspicious all along, but it can be so damn hard to break traditions without feeling like some kind of societal deviant. Everyone’s supposed to play Santa for their young children, right? How do you admit to your four year old that she’s right, there is no silly Santa, when there is that Tradition Wizard, waving his wand like he means business?  When nearly every adult she encounters is asking her “What is Santa going to bring you?”  To the child:  Ignore your instincts, and your common sense, little one. I will explain away every question you have about this magical guy in red that defies all logic and brings you stuff! And we will tell you that the holiday isn’t about the stuff, as we perpetuate this overwhelming, magical excitement around Santa coming to bring you… stuff!  When the brief Santa phase ended in our home, one of our children declared, “Oh, it was a lie. I knew it! I’m not ever going to play the Santa trick with my kids”.

Many people hold to traditions like they do to ingrained beliefs. To hear of something different feels threatening, outrageous even. There are fierce supporters of the Tradition Wizard.  I don’t care which traditions my children choose to follow. I only care that they choose them consciously and respect that other people also get to choose for themselves. Deviating from the norm can cause stress and takes courage though.  I hope they always hold firm to what they believe is right for them, and not what they think is expected of them.

My oldest daughter is getting married soon. The advice I gave her regarding her wedding was that there are no rules. She should pick and choose which traditions to include and which ones not to.  Fortunately, she agrees that the wedding garter tradition is really tacky.   I also suggested that she consider whether or not throwing the bouquet was appropriate for her celebration.  This tradition began in the Middle Ages. The single girls line up to compete in catching it and the lucky one who does is said to be the next who will marry. This implies all the single girls want to be married, and as soon as possible. We could question all of the wedding traditions, such as the father “giving the bride away”, and the ancient tradition of the veil worn over the bride’s face, lest the groom in an arranged marriage change his mind when he sees her.  Or we can question none of them. But we at least get to choose.

This engaged daughter is choosing not to have a wedding shower. Originally, these were thrown to “shower” the bride- to- be with items that she needs to set up her first home.  My daughter and her fiancé have decided that they have all the essentials they need to function in their small home.   She doesn’t want to be overwhelmed by too much stuff. Besides, she would rather do just about anything before sitting at the center of attention opening gifts. She is simply choosing not to follow this tradition. It is a perfect tradition for some, but decidedly not for her.

Any of these traditions can be carried out simply out of preference, or a matter of style, or fun, with no implications.  Each bride should pick for herself.  But it should at least be chosen consciously. And to do that, we have to remember that there is a choice. There’s always a choice.

Some traditions are wrought with a history of oppression, and others serve a purpose for some but are meaningless to others. All are optional.  The more pressure we feel about a tradition, the more we should question it.  I say look the Tradition Wizard in the eyes, crack his wand in two over your knee, and walk away. He may try to follow you, but he doesn’t really own you.

Holiday decor, simply put

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My desire to minimize the amount of stuff I own includes all manner of decorations. I was never one for nicknacks, seeing them only as moderately cute dust collecting things that our children would some day have to feel guilty about throwing away. So my home has plenty of surface space to decorate around the holidays. End tables,  a mantel, and doorways are all adequate places to strew all sorts of festive matter. But my preference to keep my indoor space simple and uncluttered doesn’t change when holidays come around. In fact, I’ve found it all sorts of fun to simplify my decorating year round.  I have been delighted by how easy and affordable it is to change the seasonal look with subtle, but aesthetically pleasing decor.

Clear glass vases can hold  dried flowers during spring and summer that can be swapped out for vibrant red silk flowers in winter. Table runners are easy pieces to change with the season. Clear lights can be draped over large plants to brighten up a dreary November. Vines of holly in winter, or artificial foliage in fall, can line a mantel perfectly.

I don’t buy holiday dishes, ever. They would require extra storage space, time to take them out of storage and wash them, time to put them away, and effort to search for new pieces to replace the ones that break. I am not even tempted by the cute holiday pictures crafted onto plates and bowls. My dishes are neutral and I let the napkins, table runner, and holiday food announce the festivities. My boxes of decorations are minimal and my trips to the attic are few and far between. It brings me  joy to beautify and shift my environment with ease.

Seeing Christmas lights and wreaths up well into March makes me wish  the owners would give themselves permission to bring the decorating  down a notch, to a level that can happen with ease, both at the start of the season, and at the end.  What goes up, really should come down.  Or consider skipping the holiday decorating altogether. Any visual pleasure that took place over the holidays, surely is offset by the unsightliness of Christmas decor when  we’re approaching springtime.  Like nail polish that stays on for far too long, chipping and unlovely, some things are better left undone to begin with.

My decorating strategy may be too sparse for some. It really is a matter of personal preference. And like clearing out a closet or a cabinet, I just can’t quite put my finger on why this simplicity  feels so good to me. I feel light.  I look around at the subtle sparkle of the season, and it feels like the holiday spirit has room to breath.