Summertime: Ramping It Up

I strive (and often fail) to live my life in the same ebb and flow of the energy of the seasons. Spring and summer feel like natural times of year to be busy, enjoy being outdoors, connect with friends, try out new opportunities, etc. I try to skid to a halt in the autumn, and by winter, I want to sink into a pseudo-hibernation so I can recharge. Would that I could sleep through the winter… especially in Chicago… but really, what that means for me is attempting to stay home more, be still and quiet more often, and try and cultivate a feeling of regenerative peace. Never works. But I still make a worthy effort each year. I wrote a little bit more about the hows and whys of this practice last year over at Nature Nurtured.

But this is summer! Well, almost … it’s just around the corner. Suddenly, I look at my calendar and I am overwhelmed by the places I have agreed to be and the people I have chosen to connect with. This is all a good thing — it makes my little extroverted heart sing with delight.

Recently, I got to volunteer as a member of Game Control for the D.A.S.H, an annual nation-wide puzzle hunt. (Actually, I should say international – since this year they expanded across the pond to London.) My job was not incredibly difficult: pass out puzzles and, occasionally, bagels. But I still had a great time. It was enlightening for me to peek behind the curtain of a puzzle event and get a chance to connect with folks that not only really love puzzles, but really love creating this kind of experience. Since ‘creating experiences for people’ is my new mission in life, I soaked in as much as I could and laid some groundwork for continuing conversations about how to provide these sorts of opportunities on a regular basis. Oh, and the fact that I got to hang out with incredibly cool people didn’t hurt. Nor did the end-of-the-hunt margarita. All in all, a great day.

My online class on entrepreneurship with Coursera.org has started up. I’m now in week 2, and while there hasn’t been a whole lot of hands-on instruction yet, I am learning quite a bit about the entrepreneurial mindset. I am identifying areas where I have a lot of strengths and some traits that I might need to bolster in order to be successful. For a free course, it’s not bad at all. There are thousands of participants all over the world. I haven’t taken much advantage of networking over the online forums yet, but the opportunity is certainly there for me if I choose to use it.

In other news, I mentioned before that my dear friend and former roommate, Kevin Newhall, has his first CD coming out in a couple of weeks. (You can check out samples of his stuff on Reverbnation.) He is a piano player and songwriter with such a unique and beautiful sound. He asked me to perform with him at the release party, and we test-drove the duet we’re doing at an open mic a couple nights ago. I have never done an open mic before, so I was more than a little nervous. (Tried not to show it.) But we had a blast, the crowd really loved the song… and I think the actual show in a couple of weeks is going to be great. It’s a great, truly uplifting kind of song… really hard not to get engaged with it. It’s called “Today’s the Day,” and it’s all about taking life by the horns and getting stuff done — which sums up the energetic feel of my summer quite nicely.

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Spurring Forward

NPR ran a really great interview with Robert Redford on All Things Considered yesterday. He’s promoting his new film about the Weather Underground, which I definitely am putting on my to-see list. He’s a great interview subject in general. I’ve heard him several times before and have always enjoyed him. But yesterday he told a story I hadn’t heard about a moment he had in third grade where his teacher caught him drawing rather than paying attention to the lesson. She made him come up to the front of the class and explain what was so important. Here’s the interview excerpt:

“So I was about to be really trashed, humiliated, and I went up and I held up this thing. And she said, ‘You wanna tell us what that’s about?’ And so I described [it]; I said, ‘Well yeah, these are cowboys and they’re chasing the Indians, and they’re shooting at the Indians and the Indians are shooting back at the cowboys, and they’re about to be driven off a cliff, and above them are some B-51 bombers bombing the cowboys.’

“So what happened was, the class was interested in it. And she saw that. Instead of putting me down, she made a deal. She said, ‘We’ll put an easel up here, and every Wednesday we’ll give you 15 minutes, and you can come draw a story for us — but then you gotta pay attention.’

“Now had that not happened, I would have been humiliated. It probably would have knocked me down to not trust that impulse that I had. Sometimes — I don’t know about you — but maybe one or two [encouragements] in your life is all you need to spur you forward, rather than have you collapse.”

love this story so much. And it got me thinking about who the people were that were there to “spur me forward” in one of those critical moments in my own life.

I remember my own 2nd grade teacher who rallied the class and community for donations after my family’s house burned down. We lost everything save for the pajamas we were wearing, and it was early February in Nebraska. Mrs. Leverette covered a huge box in paper, and my entire class decorated it, wrote messages of encouragement, and filled it with clothing, toys, and other essentials for my younger sister and me. Mrs. Leverette gave me a little pink Bible and a bathrobe. I still keep that Bible in a cherished place because to me it represents the epitome of compassion, kindness, and community. In a time of so much despair within my family, I learned what it meant to be supported and to accept help as well as a deep commitment to supporting others in their time of need — no strings attached.

Mrs. Leverette was the first example that popped into my mind when I heard the story, likely because of the elementary school connection. But there were others. I’m grateful to say that I’ve had many more than the “one or two” encouragements in my life Robert Redford talks about. My mentors who saw something in me I didn’t. A dear friend who was there to catch me in a time of deep heartbreak. My father who helped me find a way to follow my crazy dream of studying abroad when I had no money. My first roommate in Chicago who held the door open so I could move into an entirely new phase of life. I can think of critical moments in  each one of these examples that could have shifted the balance of my life in one direction or the other. Abundance vs. scarcity. Joy vs. despair. Momentum vs. stasis.

I am grateful beyond measure. I doubt half of the people who have touched my life have any clue about the impact they had on me. Perhaps that’s my next personal project … to let them know.

How about you? Who was one person that “spurred you forward, rather than have you collapse?” Feel free to share in the comments, if you’re called.

The plot(s) thicken(s)

I have been too chicken to join an online dating service (so far) but here is one of the things that would be included in my list of relationship criteria:

  • Must be okay with, or (ideally) supportive of hare-brained schemes.

And if I’m really honest…

  • My ideal romantic partner should occasionally have fits of creativity that lead to hare-brained schemes that are then acted upon in some measure.

This is not a post about dating, but it is a post about scheming.

Last weekend I was honored to co-facilitate a weekend intensive about Persephone and her ascent from the Underworld, one of my all-time favorite Greek myths. While we focused on the story quite a bit, the real root of the weekend’s work was around this particular quote from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. (My facilitation team and I are not afraid to mix spiritual systems in order to make a good point.)

If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

Powerful stuff. And a philosophy that I can get behind. Although, embedded within this concept (and one key point of discussion over the weekend) is the idea that, “Yes, you have something to bring forth, and yes, you could miss your window of opportunity to do just that.”

No pressure.

What I found most terrifying about that statement is not that I could miss my window (although that is unnerving), but rather that I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to bring forth. If I don’t figure it out, then I’ll be destroyed by my own ignorance. This sent me into a downward spiral even before the event began, feeling disconnected from my personal work, my purpose, my calling, what-have-you. It wasn’t the best place to be right before I was supposed to step in and facilitate a workshop about this very topic. But I am blessed with an incredibly supportive, wise and talented team. They helped me figure out an approach, and we went with it.

There were some fabulous discussions and insights from the group this weekend, and I felt doors opening all over the place. Maybe it wasn’t about knowing exactly what my work is well enough to give a Powerpoint presentation about it … but maybe it’s all about moving towards the things that feel like they are in alignment with who I am. I know what that feels like – I’ve touched that before. There is a cellular memory at play here, something I’ve worked hard to cultivate and recognize through my spiritual practice. Maybe, for me, it’s all about doing before knowing — at least consciously. Perhaps a better way of putting it is “doing my soul’s work even if my head hasn’t caught up yet.”

That final act of trust must have been just the push I needed, because when I got home, a very large door opened for me. Now… I have had some very poignant spiritual moments, a few of which were in settings straight out of a novel or a movie where the main character should have a poignant spiritual moment. I have been in altered and ecstatic states where I felt supremely connected to what I would call the Divine.

The moment I am about to describe was not one of those moments.

I wasn’t in an idyllic woodland setting by firelight — I was pressing the elevator button to go up to my office on the 4th floor of a professional building in the suburbs. But I still heard myself say out loud… “Your work is to create experiences.” Really. I said it out loud for no apparent reason. Thank the gods no one else was in the hallway as I stood there slack-jawed. I knew exactly what was happening. Could this great and powerful thing that I was to bring forth in order to be my own salvation really be something so freakin’ simple?

Yeah. It really could. Because nothing else has come close to feeling this right. Which brings me back to hare-brained schemes.

I have known for a long time that creative endeavors involving large groups of people bring me joy. Pure, unadulterated joy. I have never felt more alive than when I was writing murder mystery parties for 20 of my closest friends, or when my best friend and I were creating puzzle hunts to go with weeklong personal growth intensives, or my writing-partner-in-crime and I wrote 11 episodes of a narrative urban fantasy podcast that ended up having over 40 characters all voiced by our friends, or…

I love hare-brained schemes. I love experiences that involve other people. I love collaboration. I love creative pursuits that bring connection into the world in unexpected ways. Why shouldn’t my work be connected to what I love? A better question … why wouldn’t it?

My dear friend J (see the aforementioned writing-partner-in-crime) was one of my co-facilitators for the workshop last weekend. When I shared my elevator button experience with him, he immediately jumped into action.

“Tell me three ways you can provide experiences for people. Go.” So I did. It was amazing how quickly they came up and how plausible they all sounded. But he didn’t end there.

“Okay. So for each one of those, tell me about one person you already know who either has a contact who could get you started, knows a group you could join to learn more, or who could give you advice about doing that sort of an event.” Again, I was able to answer right away.

“Now come up with a second person for each item on your list.” This was a little tougher, but I managed. This is going great!

“When will you reach out to each of those people?” I set a deadline. I am all OVER this.

“Last question… why bother?”

*blink*

I paused on this question, but once I started to answer, it rolled right out. Here’s my response:

“Why bother? Because just brainstorming and talking about doing this is lifting my mood. I am at my best when I am engaging a room full of people about something that I am excited about. I feel like the world could use a little more joy, and if this is one way that I can provide an opportunity for people to not only have a little fun, but collaborate and meet other interesting folks while doing it…? Seems like a no-brainer to me. If I can make it happen, I should.”

Then J took a bow and said, “My work here is done.” (This was an online conversation, so I have no way of knowing if he actually took a bow, but I think he should have. He’s rather good at this sort of thing.)

Not all of my schemes are hare-brained, nor are all of them about having fun at a party. But they all have one thing in common … making space for collaboration, inclusion and connection … and gods, does that feel right. I am at the beginning of a journey. Or perhaps in the middle of one. Who knows? All I know is that I am not at the end. Not even remotely. I intend to make the most of it. Delight, here I come.

Puzzles + Cupcakes = Happy Me

Aside

Saturday’s Delight du Jour:

My roommate and best friend of 20+ years celebrated her birthday on Saturday. Several of my dearest friends have birthdays within about 2 weeks of each other, so we do a joint birthday party we call “Cancerama.” But I’m the type of person who thinks that birthdays should be celebrated as often as possible, so on her birthday (actual) we went to the Art Institute of Chicago for a scavenger hunt developed and put on by a company called Watson Adventures.

Fun fact: Although I assumed that “Watson Adventures” was named after the character from Sherlock Holmes – it’s not. That’s the founder’s last name. Some of us are born to our professions, I suppose.

The hunt’s conceit was that we had to solve the murder of one of the museum curators. We were given clues that took us from gallery to gallery finding images, donor names, anagrammed titles, and dates to piece together the culprit and the motive. Even though it was billed as their most challenging hunt, our team made short work of it. We even were one of the teams in the 5-way tie for first place. (We lost the tie-breaker trivia question, but whatever.) It was so much fun to wander through the museum (“Was that a Monet?” … “Holy crap, that’s American Gothic!“) to piece together the story and solve the mystery. The environment alone was worth the price of admission.

Granted, our team takes our puzzling seriously. The four of us competed in the D.A.S.H. puzzle hunt last April – which was close to 8 hours of puzzling madness, and my idea of a good time. Our team motto: “We’re Not Last!”

Where else could I combine some of my favorite activities … scavenger hunt, collaborative puzzle solving, great friends, amazing works of art, museum, and earlier in the day — OMG-good-chocolate-ganache-cupcakes… into one afternoon? Darn near perfect. I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t get the bonus point for the best team name. There’s a temporary Roy Lichtenstein retrospective at the museum, so we called ourselves “Roy Lichten’s Team.”

Well, I thought it was clever, anyhow. No accounting for taste.

It amazes me how something as simple as an afternoon spent working towards a common goal can shift my mood. My little extroverted and collaborative heart was bursting with joy by the end of the day – and it wasn’t just the cupcakes. (Did I mention they were incredible, though?) It just goes to show that this is part of what feeds my soul – and I need to seek out more opportunities to make it happen.

A Discovery of Delight

I turned 38 years old exactly one week ago. I suppose starting a blog a week after my birthday isn’t exactly auspicious, but this isn’t about being poetic. There are so many changes happening in my life right now – some anticipated, some completely out of the blue – that it seemed appropriate to document where I am now in relation to where I will be… sometime in the future. There’s no time limit on this, I suppose.

Changes are happening left and right after a period of status quo, all things normal, nothing really devastating or amazing happening, everything moving along just as it had been. It felt… comfortable. And all the time my soul was screaming. Because while I absolutely believe that “comfort” can be something to aspire to, I also believe it can mean “stagnation.” And I have been dangerously close to sinking into a state of stagnation.

So, change. It is happening, and I will admit, I am not doing a very good job of embracing it. Circumstances are dragging me kicking and screaming out of comfort into action. Rather than stamp my feet and throw a temper tantrum about it, I have decided to make a daily practice of cultivating wonder and amazement. Delight.

There is a poem by Jalal ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi, my favorite 13th century Persian mystic, called “The Guest House” that is the inspiration for the title of this blog and this personal project. (Check out the sidebar for the whole poem.) This brave act of being human means that there will always be the unexpected, the devastating, the joyful, the heartbreaking, and the ecstatic moments. Every breath brings change and exchange. This last year or so, I have turned away from it. This year… I want to embrace and breathe it in.

For the forseeable future, I commit to finding things that delight me, fill me with hope, or otherwise invite change into my life that is a blessing — no matter how small. I will attempt to share these things with you here – and perhaps it will inspire some delight in your own guest house.

A little more wonder and amazement in the world certainly can’t hurt, right?