Archive | inspiration

Time to Pause

My cousin Iris, who is also a life coach, recently recommended a book on her blog, The In Between, by Jeff Goins. The book blurb reads: “The In-Between is a call to accept the importance that waiting plays in our lives. Can we embrace the extraordinary nature of the ordinary and enjoy the daily mundane — what lies in between the ‘major’ moments?” I have only just began reading the book, but I’m already curious: What do I do in my moments In Between?

I spend a lot of time driving. On Wednesday, for example, I first drove my daughter to camp, 50 minutes. Next I drove my son to his swim lesson, 30 minutes. Later we drove to his dentist and back home, one hour. Finally, I drove to camp to pick up my daughter and then to her Hebrew lesson, 75 minutes. All together, I spent nearly four hours in the car. That’s a lot of In Between time.

When I made the decision to live outside the city, I knew that my kids will be staying in the same school as before. To my surprise, I discovered that the drives back and forth are not all bad. We often sebutteflye deer, jackrabbits, and even the odd coyote crossing the road while we drive past the preserve near my house. I enjoy listening to audio books with the kids or by myself and have managed to listen to some books I probably would not have read on paper (War and Peace for example). Best of all, the drive turned out to be a good time to have family talks in which the kids tell me about their day and their dreams or ask me life questions without distractions. The In Between hours of driving, while not easy, have become meaningful and even important parts of my day.

When stuck in traffic, I often tell myself this is a great time to practice patience. This past Wednesday, the thought occurred to me that being stuck in traffic is also an opportunity to pause in the middle of my busy day and examine how I am doing and feeling and what it is that I need. It is an opportunity to find myself in my own body, settle in, and explore all of my emotions (including frustration, impatience, irritation, anger, boredom, or any other unpleasant sensation that traffic might make me feel). In answer to the claim, “I have no time to meditate,” the Dalai Lama (at least, I think it was him) responded: “Do you have time to breathe?” The In Between moments of waiting in traffic just happen to be a window in the midst of busyness in which I can breathe.

Tara Brach talks in her books about our tendency to run away from unpleasant emotions. While pausing, breathing and noticing where I am in my body might involve suffering an emotion I had rather ignore, I hope to remember how often those In Between moments really do turn out, in the end, to be moments of gratitude, restfulness and joy. I hope to remember to pause. In fact, I am going to do that right now. Pause. Breathe. Pause.

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The Crystal Merchant’s Dream

I just finished reading Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist with the kids. I had read the book years ago and found it inspiring, with ideas that seemed to me radically new. Back then I was still only wishing for my own personal legend and not too sure which of my dreams I should follow (or maybe all). Reading the book with the kids gave me an entirely new perspective, especially since it was guided by (groan) summer assignment questions.

One of the questions asked whether or not we should fulfill our dreams. The main character in the book, who Coelho calls the boy, dreamed that he will find a treasure in the pyramids, but after arriving in Tangier all his money is stollen, and he is not sure how or even if to continue to follow his dream. He meets a crystal merchant and begins to work for him. The crystal merchant also has a dream, to go to Mecca and fulfill the last injunction left him as a Muslim. The boy encourages the merchant to go, but the latter explains that he does not wish to fulfill his dream. The dream is what keeps him alive, he says, and what will he have left without his dream?

After nearly a year with the merchant, the boy chooses to continue following his dream, his personal legend. Throughout the book the kids and I assumed that this meant finding the treasure, but when we began discussing which perspective we prefer, dreaming or fulfilling, we reached an unexpected conclusion. The treasure the boy finds is not the coins he unearths, or Fatima, the woman of the desert with whom he falls in love, or learning to understand the language of the world. The treasure that the boy finds is the path itself.

The boy leaves his job, his family, his sheep, and (later) Fatima behind in order to follow his dream. He makes a leap of faith and withstands the challenges thrown at him by the unplumeriaiverse. He lets go of what could have been and what will be and strikes out toward the unknown. The crystal merchant has a different perspective on fulfilling dreams. In his mind, he has already reached Mecca, prostrated himself in prayer, and headed back home. In fact, in his mind he is already back home. He looks around him and nothing has changed, except now he has no more dream to look forward to.

Except it is not the dream that matters but the path, the road chosen. It is not the fulfillment of the dream that is the dream but the process of fulfilling it: the people met on the way, the desert, the omens, the connection to oneself. Who knows what the crystal merchant would have become had he followed his dream? Who knows where the omens would have led him after he had arrived?

Having found his treasure of coins at the end of the book, the boy is far from having fulfilled his dream, because he is and always will be following the path of his personal legend. He did not limit that legend to the treasure, but allowed it to blossom as he went along. Finding the coins is only another step in his path, and the next already beckons with the whisper of perfume on the wind and the touch of a kiss. Fatima calls him. And who knows where his life will unfold from here.

Today and everyday, I wish you all success in taking that plunge into the unknown and finding the courage to follow your own personal legend and fulfill your own longtime dream.

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Points of Joy

People often say that life is a roller coaster: sometimes we’re up, and sometimes we’re down. I never particularly liked roller coasters. I remember the first time I went on one. My experience was made up of moments of dread and moments of terror. The only bright moment was when I stepped away from the car and swore I will never go on one again.

It seems to me that people get on roller coasters because they like the “high” that they get from the ride. Roller coaster passengers get that feeling of “high” because of the swift changes in height difference (apparently those changes produce some kind of hormone in the brain that makes us feel more alive) and the illusion of danger. The downs, or anticipation of the thrill, are as important as the ups, or the thrill itself. The only real “down” moment of the ride is when it ends. Unless, like me, you’ve been praying for it.

I think perhaps people use the roller-coaster-is-life metaphor because we wish that life was like that, the ride of a lifetime kind of metaphor. Just imagine! What if life was not a pan full of drudgery intermixed with a spattering of pleasure? What if it really was one unbroken stream of aliveness and joy?

On Saturday, we went for a bicycle ride in Monterey. I had been looking forward to this trip. We chose a section of the coastal trail, a trail that meanders parallel to Highway 1. I liked the idea of going on a  bike path that is not near the road when biking with the children.

While driving down, we encountered traffic as we hit Gilroy. For over two hours, we crawled like decrepit, aged snails till we finally reached Monterey. By then, my irritation and stress levels rocketed. The children complained incessantly, and the thought “why are we here” kept running through my mind. Once we got on the bikes, however, my mood lifted. This was exactly like my fantasy! We were riding down the path: Dar in front, the children following, and me bringing up the rear. It felt, quite simply, like a family. I was full of joy and life.
bikeride
One mile later, we hit a road. The bike trail had disappeared, and a sign pointed us to follow the road down a hill. There was a narrow sidewalk and no designated path for bikes. The road led us to a Costco parking lot, and my irritation and stress began to return. The children went back to complaining. “Why are we here?” They mirrored the thoughts in my mind. “This is boring.” And they were right. I had not driven over two hours to ride through a Costco parking lot! I did not sign up for this mess.

Past the parking lot, however, the trail continued past gorgeous sand dunes with views of the ocean beyond. The dunes were covered with vegetation. Flowers and low bushes intermixed with sections of pristine sand. The children got off the bikes and, taking their shoes off, began to run up and down the dunes. Dar and I hesitated one moment and ran up too.

On the way back, we passed through the Costco parking lot, and I wondered at my irritation earlier. Such a short section in the midst of so much beauty. Why had I been so stressed?

I had expected our bike ride to be one unbroken, daylong bout of pleasure, but during our ride, I realized that for me to enjoy our trip meant that I needed to recognize and give attention to little moments of fun. Life lights our path with flashes of joy. On Saturday I managed to let go of my thrilling roller-coaster expectations and enjoy the moments. And those moments made my entire day shine.

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Gift of Love

In elementary school, I was a social outcast. I was not alone, of course. I was the bespectacled, nose-dripping outcast, but there were also the fat outcast, the too-tall outcast, the too-short outcast, and a boy and a girl who were outcasts apparently only because of their race. My class was extremely hierarchical, with three class queens and three kings, and we stayed the same group for five years, with the same kings and queens and the same outcasts.

A few days ago I was listening to Tara Brach’s True Refuge. The author was telling the story of Amy, who had a difficult childhood with a mother who neglected and rejected her. In her sessions with Tara, Amy managed to experience the anger which she had kept in check for years and to express the fears beneath: of never finding love, of not being worthy of love, of being alone in the world. Tara called it experiencing soul sadness.

In that moment, for a split second, I saw myself as a bleeding, mucusy, open wound, a whole-body sore. And I realized: This is how I walk around. This is what I am hiding. In my mind’s eye, I instantly knew when it started. Elementary school.

We switched seats that day, and the teacher partnered me with Matat, one of the class queens. In front of the class, Matat said: “I don’t want to sit next to her.”  But the teacher insisted, and as Matat slid into the seat next to mine, she whispered: “Stop sneezing and wiping your nose like that.”

Other than that split-second knowledge that I was a trembling, bleeding, mucusy, open wound, I had not been able to feel any emotion about this event. It was as though I had no feelings about it at all. I knew I needed to heal the wounded body and clear the hurt from my heart by forgiving Matat, but I could feel no real hurt and no compassion for her, and without any emotions, I didn’t know if it was possible to forgive at all.

I decided to try a forgiveness meditation (also from Tara Brach’s book). I settled myself into my cushion and slipped into my body thirty years ago: thick glasses covering half of my face, light brown hair twisted into two long but messy braids, a drippy, red nose, and a skinny body. And there was Matat, refusing to sit next to me, and a heaviness choked my throat.

All I wanted was to be loved, to be appreciated. Scooting down in the chair, I held the sneezes back and tried hard not to wipe my nose before absolutely necessary. There was no room for me to exist. I could feel the weight on my back (ah, said a voice in my grown-up head, that’s when you became a turtle), in my throat, in my heart.

Holding that little girl with compassion, sending her love, I began to murmur a lovingkindness meditation. May you be happy, may you be well, may you be filled with lovingkindness and joy. Then, realizing turtlethat she is me, I started anew: may I be happy, may I be well; may I be filled with compassion for myself and others.

Matat means gift in Hebrew. As I went through the meditation, I realized that by forgiving her, I am giving myself a gift. A gift of love.

I hug to my heart the wounded little girl I was thirty years ago and begin to let go of rejection and shame. As space clears in my heart, and I allow myself to expand into it, healing all hurt. I hold myself as a child and whisper: I am here; I love you; I appreciate your wisdom and originality, your quirky sense of humor, the doodles on your notebook, and the used tissues thrown about everywhere.

Then, I am ready:

I feel the harm that has been caused, Matat, and to the extent that I am able, I forgive you.

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Passing the Two/Three/Four Fingers Test

“How many fingers am I holding up?” Asked the optometrist. She was standing about seven feet away, holding up her hand. All I could see was a lot of skin-colored fuzz.

“Three?” I guessed.

She took a large step forward. “How about now?”

“Two?”

Another step. “And now?”

The fingers looked slightly less hazy, and I hazarded an educated guess. “Four, I think. Did I get any of them right?”

She shook her head. “Only the last one.”

The truth hit me like a tornado, and I was blown away by the realization of my near sightedness. My body is flawed. My eyes are defective. I cannot see well, and I will never see well without corrective lenses. I am not, nor will I ever be, wholly perfect.

I got my first pair of glasses when I was ten years old. I remember the narrow corridor at the entrance to the eye doctor’s office in Ra’anana, the town in which I lived as a child. A man came out with his new glasses. He had a prescription of eleven, he said, and I stared, stupefied, at his thick lenses. “Please, God,” I prayed in my heart, “let me never have his thick lenses.”

I have been near sighted for most84xxxx Sigal a of my life, and yet it seems, ironically, that today I first realized just how near sighted I am. Till today, and despite boasting my own prescription of over eleven, I pegged my near sightedness an esthetic problem. Up to age eighteen, with an over-large pair of spectacles perched on my nose, I was the ugly duckling. I became more of a swan at eighteen after I was fitted with contact lenses. Today, however, struck with the lightning realization that my eyes are flawed, I understood for the first time that my poor vision is not just about beauty, but a body blot.

How often do you pause during the day to appreciate the perfect working of your body? The impeccable way it releases waste, the unassuming way in which it draws breath, the smooth movement of limbs, the effortlessness of a smile, the perfect support given you by your spine? I appreciate my body, and yet I rarely pause to notice how wonderfully it works until sickness or pain strikes. Then I appreciate my body, my immune system, the flawless mechanics every organ and part of the body has.

I got scared this afternoon, face to face with the imperfections of my body, face to face with its finiteness. Slowly but surely it is degenerating until one day it will cease working, and no matter how much I believe in reincarnations or the eternity of the spirit, no matter how weak or limited my body is, I am still attached.

As I write this to you, I remind myself of Thick Nhat Hanh’s words which Tara Brach relates in her book True Refuge: I am going to die, you are going to die, and we have only these few moments together. I remind myself to live and love now, and I feel grateful for my eyes (and the optometrist) which the universe has kindly granted me to remind me of my flaws so that I can see just how lucky I am.

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Savor the Moment — Contemplating Beauty

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it,” said Confucius. A few years ago, friends told me they visited Yosemite and disliked it. I couldn’t understand how that could be! The crowds, they explained. Too many people. And too hot. The beauty was there, before their eyes, but still their experience was ugly, uncomfortable and bothersome.

Here is my experience of Yosemite: The scenic grandness of the park awes me. I love the tall, evergreen trees, the sheer, overarching grey/white rocks stretching as far as the eye can see, the waterfalls whipping clouds of water droplets in my face. I know there are people around me, but my eyes are tuned not to buses puffing out fumes but to nature, great and small. I stop to breathe in the flowing curves of Half Dome, allowing it to open my mind and heart, and I pause to gaze wonderstruck at a single icicle that hangs from a fir branch, reflecting the blueness of a clear Yosemite sky.

Truth be told, I even enjoy the crowds in Yosemite: the dazed parents chasing their children, the older couple sitting huddled together on the bus, the dusty, rugged backpackers who have returned this morning from a multi-day hike. There is something about Yosemite that makes me happy, no matter where in Yosemite I am. In my everyday life, I can’t always enjoy little details, but in Yosemite I am a master savorer, seeing beauty in everything.

My mother is an expert in finding joy in little things. When I walk with her in the street near her house, she points out a solitary pink bloom on an azalea, the pattern of an old, bent tree trunk, or a bird’s nest hiding under a climber’s thick canopy of leaves. She likes to say that there is some beauty in every yard, no matter how neglected, and as I walk with her, looking at the world through her eyes, it seems that beauty does indeed shine from every nook and cranny.

These past few days we’ve been staying in Ein Kerem, a neighborhood of Jerusalem. It is an old neighborhood with quaint houses and dilapidated streets. There are no English style gardens here, but rather old olive, pomegranate and almond trees, wild roses, geraniums in half-broken pots, and patches of un-mown grass mixed with weeds. But my mother has trained me well. For today, I succeed in seeing beauty in little things.

For today only, I invite you to search for and savor the beauty in the world around you. Even in the midst of the most concrete-built city there might stand a tree that longs to be caressed with your appreciative eyes. And if all else fails and nothing looks good, take a peek up above, at this gorgeous sky that keeps us alive. It might be clear like a pool that has never been disturbed, or streaked with feathery clouds, or overcast, with the promise of rain to come. But it is always there, protecting us like a blanket of love.

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Ryan Porter’s Make Your Own Lunch

I used to make myself a sandwich for lunch while in elementary school. My mother insists, of course, that this is not true, and that I never (till today, probably) made my own lunch. And yet I distinctly remember making — and feeling bored with — my sandwiches of Israeli cream cheese on brown bread. Despite my discontent, I never considered making myself something else, not even a sandwich with chocolate spread or jam, though I am sure that those alternatives were available to me. I made myself the same uninspired sandwich every day, and every day I unhappily ate it for lunch.

Ryan Porter, in his fabulous, funny, and very inspiring “How To” book: Make Your Own Lunch, How to Live an Epically Epic Life of Epicness, reminds us that we make our own lunch, and that we can change that lunch whenever we want and whichever way we’d like. He encourages us to remember what exactly it means to dream and go after our dreams. He challenges us to let go of all other options, forget about plan B, close our ears to relatives’ cautions and warnings, and make a step-by-step plan, keeping our goals, dreams, and passions always before our eyes. He tells us: You don’t like the sandwich you make (or get) for lunch every day? Well then, it is time to make a new sandwich. Or maybe a salad, or even steak and fries.

Ryan Porter’s intended audience is high school students, but for me, at forty, the funny stories of his life and his astute insights worked just as well. I found myself wondering just why is it that I am not following my dreams with the single-minded focus that Porter champions? Why am I always ready with a plan B, and why is my attention engaged almost exclusively by the low likelihood of me becoming a published writer (or a reiki practitioner) in my preferred way?

At forty, I wish to let go of all my preconceived notions of why I cannot make my own lunch: I’m not ready; I don’t know enough; I’m not good enough; my parents would disapprove; my friends would think I’m strange; people will read my book and know that I thought about this; people will disagree with me; my siblings will be ashamed of me; the kids will be mad at me. And many many more. For this second part of my life, I would like to live an epically epic life of epicness, following my dreams and doing just what I want to do, with epic successes and epic fails, instead of just sitting at home afraid to venture.

Ryan Porter presents an idea so simple it is almost incomprehensible: set a goal, get rid of all the other options, and start moving, step by step, toward that goal. Don’t try to swallow that goal whole. Take small bites on the way. And behold: it is yours.

To check out more about Ryan Porter:
Make Your Own Lunch Website
Ryan Porter’s Youth Speaker Website
Ryan Porter on Youtube
Make Your Own Lunch on Amazon
Buy a paperback of Make Your Own Lunch from Porter’s website

Life with a Light Laugh

I take myself too seriously. I take my writing seriously, my parenting seriously, my exercise routine seriously. I analyze my mistakes in all areas of life seriously. What have I done wrong? Why have I gone wrong? And most important of all: how can I fix it? Heaven forbid that I should make the same mistake twice! And if the fix for a problem has not worked — I tremble to think of the consequences to my state of mind.

It’s like having a judge next door who works around the clock to give his opinion: what I’ve done well, what I’ve done wrong, and how my solutions are working. This judge is ingrained in me, ever willing to step up and pick up responsibility for evaluating my performance. He never sleeps, never pauses, is ever alert and ready for business.

I like to think that I get along well with my judge. He (yes, he is male) pronounces his opinion as to my laziness, my failures, my inactivity, and I return the favor by becoming depressed and not doing anything whatsoever. If he’s going to be so difficult about every little thing I do or say, why, in all the fairies’ names, should I even bother?

In the past few weeks, however, I started a conversation with the judge. Perhaps if he stopped pushing so hard, there will be room for me to write, grow, laugh. Turns out that the judge is quite willing. I never knew how much he longed for me to have the freedom to do. “I feel so frustrated,” he says. “I just want you to fly, to reach the sky, for your writing to flow.” He looks at me, confused rather than critical, almost ashamed of himself. “I don’t know where it all went wrong,” he says.

Fortunately, at this juncture, my friend Rebecca came for a visit. We decided that since we were having a girlfriend to girlfriend, heart to heart talk, there is no better place for us to sit than the treehouse. The sky slowly darkened as we laughed and shared stories. Moths fluttered about our heads. The grasses crinkled, and I thought deer might be near. I felt happier than I have felt in a long time.

Life is not a one-key door, nor a treasure chest with seven different locks. The keys to life come at random, when we are ready, fitting the keyhole with an unexpected precision and serendipity. And last night, sitting and chatting in the tree house, Rebecca gave me a key that was just right for what I am dealing with now.

“My teacher, Chophel,” Rebecca said, “always says: ‘We are all wrong. We might as well take ourselves lightly.’”

To laugh at myself is perhaps the greatest lesson I wish to learn, to take myself lightly. Next time I get all serious, critical, and dramatic about my life, please remind me that I’m all wrong. That it’s just so much better to take a breath, and let it out in a laugh, lightly.

Take a breath and admit that you’re all wrong. Laugh about it.  Take yourself lightly.

YES to Opportunity and Magic

A few days prior to the writers’ conference this year, I tried to decide what I want to get out of it. If I had a goal, I reasoned, I would be more likely to leave the conference a wiser woman. I could learn more about the craft of writing children’s books, meet other writers like me, perhaps get lucky and say hello to an editor or an agent, but what do I really want? For the last few months I’ve been writing a romance novel for adults — what am I seeking in a conference aimed at children’s books?

I do have one novel for teens that is being considered by an agent, and I have been playing around with a sequel to it (playing around equals to about one hundred and fifty pages written before I got the main characters stranded on a magical mountain). That makes me count as a children’s fiction writer still, even if I am concentrating on romance right now.

And craft is craft. Perhaps no one will teach me here to write better rolling around in bed scenes (notice the euphemism?), but I could learn about revision, creativity, and dreams. That settled it for me. I was coming to the conference to be inspired. What better goal than that? And, just to be on the safe side, I chose a secondary goal: to give twenty of my business cards away. The least I could do, since Dar printed about five hundred of them for me.

The conference began yesterday with Charlie Price, author of Desert Angel (and more). After listening to him, my first action once I returned to my room was to buy the novel on kindle. Price spoke about his creative process and how he watches the movie of the story unroll as he writes. I could see his movie myself on the page once I started reading. Price’s writing is visual, raw and real. I felt connected to Angel, the main character, from the first paragraph, and I’m sure this is a book that I will write about again. I was lucky to sit next to Charlie Price’s wife at dinner and talk books and work ethics with her. That was great.

After dinner I expected great inspiration. I had heard Dan Yaccarino speak before (and I wrote about his YES presentation). But this time he surprised me. After speaking for about an hour about his success, which he attributes to his saying YES to every opportunity that came his way, Yaccarino added: “For every project you see here there are ten that didn’t make it.” I was amazed and inspired by how Yaccarino keeps challenging himself, working hard, trying new things, never afraid of being ridiculed or making mistakes. Truly inspiring.

So inspiring, in fact, that I’m writing to you this morning before I even had breakfast, so I’m going to do it now. Wishing all of us a wonderfully inspiring and enriching Saturdday!

Inspiration

This morning I came by an Ella Fitzgerald quote which read: “It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you are going that counts.” The quote accompanied a photograph of fog misting through a forest scene with a path climbing up and disappearing into the picture. I considered the photo and the quote for a few moments. Something felt not quite right seeing them side by side. Then I realized. To me, that photo said: it is not the destination but the way that counts.

Ella Fitzgerald says that where we come from does not count, but I remember where I sat as I wrote the very first stirrings of The Princess’ Guide. Princess Anna Mara came to life just outside the doors of Ostrovsky High in Ra’anana, Israel. I wrote her story for my friends to read if they were bored during their next class. I remember my enjoyment as I wrote it, my laughter, the magic.

“It’s where you are going that counts,” Ella Fitzgerald says. But I wonder, how true is that? I used to feel that every choice I made created ripples which obliterated everything around me but that one direction I chose. Every choice was epic, unyielding, unalterable. But lately I begin to think, what if the choices I make are not as life-shaking as I imagine. What if deciding on road A does not take me that far from where I’d have gone on road B in the end? What if the destination is more or less the same, but it is the way there that counts?

I guess I am in a philosophic mood today. After all, I’m going to turn 40 in a few days and become middle aged, as my son announced. I’m allowed to be a bit more introspective than usual. It is raining outside, a soft pitter patter of rain that gently wets the ground, and the scene outside my window is not so far removed from the photo above Ella Fitzgerald’s quote. This is where I am now, on those stairs, in that mysterious forest. I’d like to believe that my way goes up that path in the photograph and not down, but perhaps up and down are both illusions, existing only in my own mind.

And at this moment in time, as I stand there on my path in my forest, I wonder if it even matters what my destination is or which direction I first came from. The only thing that matters is that I’m here now, in this beautiful place, getting a little wet, it’s true, but breathing in the fresh air that the rain cleaned with fresh oxygen exhaled by those ferns below. Can you tell I’m happy where I’m at right now? At least for today, I am.

My wishes for my birthday month: to write a few pages daily in the romance novel. To walk in the forest a few times each week. To take deep breaths. To accept what I am given with love and appreciation. To smile and laugh every day.

Do you have any March wishes?

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109