The Gift of Work

We all can pay homage to work.

Work is most often where we find the flow. Doesn’t matter if you’re stuffing envelopes or running a department. When it hits, you don’t want to be anywhere else. And hopefully, there are some people around to share that good feeling.

The beginning of an idea, sculpted by excited voices. The new challenges scaring you and thrilling you at the same time. The pinhole of light running through the center of a problem, calling you to the other side. The first of anything. The second success that validates the first. The end of it all, a flower opening up fully, its fruit exposed and getting noticed… The next idea, hidden in plain sight, waiting to be born…

Even the bad parts feed into the victory. That’s enough to get you through sometimes.

I don’t know the secret to finding the flow.

She comes about when she wants to, but I’ve learned that the one thing you have to be… is there — at work, doing what you’re doing, and nothing else.

It’s that single line of vision, total focus, acceptance, immersion. That’s the way to open the portal. Strangely, it’s less about what you’re doing than how you’re doing it. It helps to be doing something you love — its easier that way — but in the end, that’s irrelevant.

You can enter through any piece of work. As long as you’re all the way in.

I think we wish it weren’t this way. It seems to defy some cosmic rule of purpose. It seems to even the playing field when what we want is mountains to climb and valleys to skoff at. We want to earn our view. We want our choices strategically placed in front of us like a staircase.

But it’s even simpler than that.

You’re already holding a stone, and the texture, the smell, and the weight of the stone, if you’re really going to be honest with yourself, is more exhilarating than the view.

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The Little Blue Sticky Tab On My Desk

I put a dark blue sticky tab on the edge of my desk – not a full-on Post It, the kind of transparent tab you use to bookmark a textbook. I put it there because I was measuring the length of my carryon bag to make sure it fits the very specific parameters of the airline. It did.

I must have got distracted after that because I never did remove it. The trip is in a week.

That little half-inch sticky tab greets me every morning I go to sit down at my desk and my first thoughts are of the measurement and the bag and the trip and the people at the other end of the trip. Even the origin of the tab plays a part: a gift in the mail from a friend to encourage me to keep writing.

(Such a better association than the area rug that’s too small under my reading chair, the chipped paint on the baseboard, the second-place trophy…)

Having something on the horizon makes the daily walk worth it; it turns a routine into a pilgrimage. But if you leave it on the horizon only, it can’t do its job. You have to be reminded to look up.

That’s where the little blue sticky comes in. It reminds me to look up, to see the future as it will unfold: deboarding the plane, the hug, the apartment, the conference, the boat drinks – wonderful things at the end of a long line of decisions dating back decades.

And when I return to the desk and the chair, so much fuller than when I left, I’ll peel off that little blue tab that served me so well. I’ll fold it over on itself and hold it in my palm like a dead fly, wishing it to ignore all the rules I’ve learned, to tickle my skin with its edges as it comes to life and takes off.

It sounds silly, I know, and it might not go down like that, but that’s the least I could do.

That’s the least I could do, after all it’s done for me.

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Compassion is Hard

Compassion is hard.

It’s not always right there on the surface. Often, we have to dig through layers of resentment, anger, indifference, rage, even humor to bring it into view. We have to forage past first instincts and first impressions.

Compassion is not always met with gratitude.

It can shock people. It may make things awkward. And when this happens, we have a tendency to put it back in its safe place, to reserve it for those more “deserving,” in order to get back to our separate lives.

Compassion is reliable.

If left out long enough, it always works. Even with those people.

Compassion is powerful.

It’s always appropriate and, though seemingly benign, it can topple the most sinister of beasts, like the line of rope in a cowboy’s hand that takes down a steer and renders it motionless.

Compassion is patient.

Compassion knows its power and is willing to wait for us to be ready to use it. Compassion is aware that it’s likely not going to be our first choice, and maybe not even our second, so it sits like a lasso, coiled up in our backpack – the only thing capable of reining it all in.

Compassion is always within our reach.

We just have to remember, it’s there. That’s the hard part I was talking about.

As people throw daggers and let their eyes and hearts fall away, we’re quick to reach for sharper weapons that guarantee our escape and add to the casualties. It’s the easy way out.

But when we’re at our best, when we’re feeling connected and graciously alive, we pay little attention to the marksmanship of others, we lay down the jagged things in our own hands, and we reach for something else.

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Laughing Out Loud (A How-To Guide)

[NOTE to my beloved die-hard daily readers: I’m going to switch to a weekly post delivered every Monday, so I can work on some longer pieces that I will surely let you know about. Thanks for welcoming me into your in-box this past year and sharing your support and epiphanies. I will keep the good stuff coming. Have an inspired week!]

We all want to be that person who walks down the street so full of joy that they can’t always contain it and so, at times, laugh out loud coming out of the bagel shop.

Chances are the thoughts that are making them laugh are about people: something someone said, an unexpected meeting, a slapstick accident, a flash image of someone being hilariously vulnerable. These are the memories that stick, and come back.

Why wait for them? Why not consciously conjure them? What an easy GPS route to joy: thinking of someone you love (including yourself!) doing something silly/kind/selfless/genuine…

They’re always there for you: these well-earned moments as vivid and sacred as oil paintings, ready to be pulled from the archives. We all have collections.

And the beautiful thing about memories is you can alter them. You can exaggerate the colors, intensify the expressions, beautify the setting. You own the palette and hold the brushes.

And don’t worry about talent because you have imagination. You already know what they should look like. Believe it or not, you’re already doing this – making the memories how you want them. You’re already changing things, but now that you know you have this power so you can use it, like becoming the master of your dreams.

Memories are not about the images themselves but about the feelings they create. Call up a memory to create a feeling, to put something in your body that wasn’t there before, to live and re-live the life you want to have.

Before you know it, you’ll be the envy of everyone on the street — a keeper of the most sacred of secrets — walking out of the bagel shop, tossing your head back, and laughing out loud.

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Corporate Buddha

Wouldn’t it be funny to watch a Buddhist monk run a high-growth Fortune 500 corporation for a year? I wonder how Zen they would be after an experience like that.

I’d watch that show – “Corporate Buddha.”

My point is, it’s extremely hard to balance contentment with ambition. We’re constantly tipping the scale one way or the other. Get too content and you feel like you’re standing still. Push too hard for growth and you lose all sense of appreciation for what’s around you.

In some ways, I see enlightenment as living in both spaces simultaneously and effortlessly.

In America, we don’t seek to sit still, but we can certainly find stillness in the midst of our pursuits. In fact, I think those who find stillness are more likely to reach their goals.

This is a contradiction worth grappling with because the reward for stillness and the reward for ambition are the same coveted jewel everyone wants to find.

That’s right, if you can crack the code, you receive a double dose of Happiness, not just at the end of the rainbow but all the way across it.

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Know When It’s Time to Give Up

When you’re struggling to finish something you’ve been obsessing over for a while, sometimes the best thing to do is to give up.

I often discover the thing I’m looking for, on the way to the shower, sitting on the toilet, in the midst of sweeping the sidewalk, in a sense, after I’ve given up looking for it.

Sometimes the thing I need pops into my head the very minute let go of the quest. I’ll decide to go outside and take a walk and then go to jot down one more thing and all of a sudden – boom – I’m discovering the content that was hiding from me.

It’s just like when you had something to say in a conversation and then lost it. often, the best way to get it back is to stop trying to remember what it was.

The catch with all this is, there’s no faking. You really have to give up, and walk away from the problem, if only for a few seconds.

So, give up. And move ahead.

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The Cost of Being Special

Sometimes I feel lonely, not the loneliness that comes with accrued time in solitude but the deeper singularity of realizing that, mathematically speaking, there’s no one like me out there.

This is not meant to be sad.

With the complexity and randomness of genetics, combined with the irreplicable influence of our ever-evolving community constellations, and the wildcard of free will, there’s just no way anyone, anywhere, will view the world exactly as I do.

That makes me a category of one, as unique and unrepeatable as stardust or a child’s doodle.

With specialness comes loneliness. You can pretend it’s not there but if you follow the scribble in your shadow as you lay in bed with your eyes closed, you’ll eventually come to this (both the good news and the bad) – there’s no one like you.

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Standing in the Light with You

For whatever reason, the sky has cracked open and the Gods have chosen you. A column of light is shining down on the earth, brighter and hotter than the sun and it’s all on you.

It doesn’t take long to realize this is not the kind of thing you want to be chosen for.

You are strong and I see more strength in you than ever before, but none of us know what the light will do.

So, I stand in the light, at first by your side and then crouched over you, even though my bones burn and my muscles ache, even though I don’t know what’s going to happen to me.

The pain is at times unbearable. We can’t see much, but at least we can hear each other. In fact, we can hear each other with more clarity than ever before. Our conversations are divine and well-earned. Our words are big and thick in our throats like chunks of ice; they hurt a little, but cool us down as we work through them.

At times, we get glimpses of the source of the light, we get let in on the secret, but we’d give anything – WE ARE GIVING EVERYTHING – to close the crack in the sky and make the hot, harsh, heavenly light go away so we can walk back over our glorious paths and see all the things we missed.

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Back-Up Hearts

I’m so absent-minded this morning, I put on my reading glasses and then started looking for them on my desk.

Hard news does that. It takes you out of life and puts you in a stupor, in a murky haze with no walls and no exit.

I’ve been lucky. Not much hardship for me but, as is inevitable with age, hardship is circling me and the ones I love. With a single email or a text from a friend, my life changes course.

The challenges seem to get harder and heavier. They take longer to get out from under. Some just stay there and you have to adjust to the new coolness of the shadow.

Our hearts are tender. No one person is strong enough.

Fortunately for us, we have back-up hearts, which we’ve been collecting since childhood. Hearts we found on so many ‘first days,’ and chose to keep in our lives. Hearts that saw our beauty and chose us.

These hearts, without hesitation nor concern for their own delicate structure, will fan out and surround us when our own heart is failing.

As one heart fills with blood and screams louder than an earthquake, so loud it might explode, the others emerge, stand guard around it, align their cadence, and slowly, gently, as if righting a mighty vessel, turn the noise into a rhythm again.

With this call, the pain that has been nesting within us has no choice but to go into these other hearts, to expand itself and thin out. That’s just how pain works. And what hearts do.

As the pain distributes and the hearts accept, the pain weakens, and although a piece of it may live forever in a corner of that one very special heart, it’s never going to be strong enough to break it.

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More Tragedy at the Grocery Store

Six people, including me, in a matter of minutes, disintegrate into selfish pettiness…

The woman in the “15 Items or Less” checkout lane with well over 20 items piles her tower of cans onto the tiny conveyor belt, careful not to look back at us.

The checkout clerk announces the 15-Item limit loudly and bitterly without making eye contact with the violator, thereby not solving anything, just being publicly pissed off.

A customer who, when an adjacent checkout line opens up, saunters past our entire line with 2 bags of ice and deftly takes the first spot.

The woman behind me runs over to the customer with the ice bags and argues that she was next line when, indeed, I was (though my dexterity is stymied by a cumbersome shopping cart and a 13-year old).

The 20-something man behind her starts commentating on the whole scene under his breath and at one point physically pokes the woman with the ice bags to get her to respond.

And then there’s me, passive-aggressively laughing at the man’s comments, because I’m pissed off and tired.

It got ugly.

I was jetlagged: in reentry mode after a fabulous vacation and a delayed flight that placed me back in my hometown at the lousy hour of 3 am.

That’s my excuse. I’m sure the others had theirs. And I’m sure they rationalized them after the incident in their own blog or to their spouse or cousin or whatever.

A curious thing happens with us humans: when someone points out something we did wrong in public, instead of apologizing and explaining our situation, we tend to dig in and lash out. This is nearly inevitable if the forced engagement between parties is short-lived, such as in a grocery store or on the freeway (hence my recurring analyses in these posts).

Had we been on a boat with just the 6 of us, this would have played out completely differently.

I believe it’s these little cuts that are killing us, particularly because, in a world where we’re steadily losing decision-making power and spending less time in our physical spaces, these few engagements are all we have left.

Although we’re millions of people, we are, in fact, on a boat. And we are in trouble.

As we slash at each other with our tiny little knives, we cut into the delicate light wood of the boat too and we’re so busy tending to our superficial wounds, we don’t notice the water seeping in at our feet.

Not yet, anyway.

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