One Inspiration at a Time

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Silence is a source of great strength  –Lao Tsu

I write at 4AM. The moments before the birds sing bring me the most peace. My mind clears. Silence reveals the thoughts that drown in the clatters, jangles, and noise of the day. The fire glows, coffee sits to my left, and I think. I am inspired. As I start, I look for one inspiration each day. A quote. A blessing. A thought. Something to think about during the day. Sometimes I share them with a friend.

Today, caffeine is my daily inspiration. Hear me out on this one… After receiving “The List of No” from the doctor, he said “sure” on some caffeine. His colleague had taken it away. I suffered. I suffered a lot–not because I need the drug. I don’t need caffeine to live any more than I need crack or heroin. It’s just that decaf coffee tastes like a cup full of butt and I can’t find one that reminds me of coffee. I love coffee. It starts my thinking each day.

“There’s only so much I can make you suffer,” he said. “You can have some caffeine.”

I forgot to define “some” because my mind, celebrating the victory, was already onto the next negotiation. “I’d like to start running again.”

He gave me the look. He had been clear about the “no activity” mandate. I’ve obeyed, except I do forget things downstairs so I can run up and down the stairs to get them. The smallest exercise protest. Other than that, I obey.I negotiated. I begged.  I said, “You don’t understand. I’ve gone from 7-10 miles to couch instantly. I’m stir crazy. All my friends want your card so they can avoid exercise too.”

“You can go walking.”

“I hate walking. It bores me. I lack focus. I need to run. How about jogging? I’m not that fast anyway.” My jogging reminds people of walking. Semantics.

Hesitation. Slight opening of the mouth. Pause. “No………I don’t think so.” He’s Southern. Bound by law to be polite. “Nothing that gets your heart rate up. You could do stairmaster or elliptical a little if you take it slow.” I hate both of those things. And slow’s never been in my repertory. If exercise doesn’t beat me up, it’s not effective. I’ve run, played basketball, boxed, thrown, fought, done competition weightlifting (never competed–too scrawny) and played all the fast sports. Not well. That’s not the point.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 4.56.13 AMThe one activity that slowed me down–Japanese sword. It was good for me, meditation and inner peace combined with the ability to cut someone’s head off if I trained hard enough–a good combination. Then yoga. But I was highly, highly suspicious of yoga—what good could it do without pain? My friend of Indian lineage made me go on a yoga retreat. How could anyone of Indian lineage steer me wrong on yoga? He said “Experiences are everything,” and that I needed “to get rid of [my] monkey mind.” He was right on both accounts. Yoga centers me.

Yoga doesn’t really raise my heart rate. “How about yoga?” This was turning into a fierce negotiation. I felt the tone. I’d spent years in Career One negotiating with attorneys and body shops. Surely I could defeat one doctor on the issue of physical fitness despite the fact he had more degrees than me.

“Hmmmm…” He’d said a definite no to yoga the first time. But I obeyed his orders not to drop dead for an entire month, taken drug upon drug, and listened to his every command. Surely that gets a reward? “No, I don’t think so. Too much with the neck.” Defeated. Again. That’s when I asked him about caffeine.

He said yes.

Inspiration: Even when the list of “no’s” gets long, if we keep looking, we get one yes. Sometimes we have to look hard for it, not abandon the search. And when we find it, it’s golden;)

My coffee smiles in the mug my friend Kristen made. And it tastes very good.

[Images: Sarah Steenland and Kristen Runvik. Check out their stuff. Their art makes me smile]

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Just Sit? That’s Deep. And Impossible.

I’m missing yoga. I’ve been put on the injured reserve list with tons of “no’s.” I’m active. I don’t sit still. Maybe it’s ADHD, maybe it’s the bad athlete syndrome….I’ve got something to prove. “You ran six miles, I’ll run sixteen.” I’ve got a car, distance is entirely unnecessary. But I do it.

I’ve given up the gym for nature. The gym’s too competitive–I’m always peaking at the person in front of me…She’s going 7.1mph, I can do 10. There’s no reason for it. Needless competitiveness tears people down. Exercise should be one of two things, team building, spirit building or both. Always leave exercise smiling.

Nature makes me smile. There’s nothing like running a solid seven miles leaping over horse manure in the street. It’s exhilarating. The feel of the cold going up my nostrils with my favorite play list…nothing like it. I miss it.

Naturally, I’m grumpy at my doctor who said, “No exercise.” What doctor says that? Next he’ll be saying, “I’d like you to start drinking, eat donuts and chips, and, oh, here’s a crack pipe from the pharmaceutical rep. Three times a day should do it.”

It’s not his fault. He’s just the messenger with the sheepskins on his wall. Delivering the letter of the law. No running, no kickboxing, and no….yoga? What kind of person banishes a person from yoga?

“Are you crazy?” my friend said, “I’d KILL to have doctors tell me to sit on a couch and not exercise.” My friends all want his business card. Most people go from “couch to 5K,” I’m going from seven miles to couch. Impossible for me.

So I turned to my yogi friends.

Yogini one, the person who got me into this yoga-loving mess to begin with, listened with compassion to the “letter of the law.” Yes, I’m looking for a loophole and an accomplice here…

She thought. She responded. “Just sit. Sit for an hour each day.” Who wants advice like that? I’m looking for something more like “Ah HA! Your doctor forgot to banish this. You can beat yourself up with THIS yoga, and it’s all perfectly legal.” But instead, she said “Just sit.” Like Gandhi, when his people told him his schedule didn’t allow him an hour to sit, reportedly said “Then I’ll sit for two.”

Yoga Friend Two told me I could stand in a tree pose forever. What?? No fun! They’re all afraid of lawyers, I think. They won’t help me be disobedient. I thought good friends were put on this earth to help us get dirt on our new clothing and get us in trouble.

I decided on “just sit.” Neither the spirit of Gandhi nor Yoga Friend One remembers to factor in The Boy. I meditate when Declan doesn’t find me. Lately I’ve been a little off. He thinks it’s “hide and seek.”

I plopped Declan in front of a good movie. I thought, “I think I’ll sit now. Possibly even meditate.” I shut down my work, taking a mental step toward the other room.

Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 5.45.09 AM“MOM! I need you!”

“What?”

“Come HERE!” The boy can sniffs out meditation like he finds yoga.

“Look. This is funny.” I laughed. Briefly.

“Watch your show, Mommy has to do…some stuff.” If I said “meditation” he’d destroy it.

“Okay.”

I went. I sat. I accomplished 2.5 minutes of sitting.

“MOMMY! I NEED YOU!”

“No you don’t.”

“I DO! I BROKE IT!”

I run for “I broke it.” I never know what “it” will be. Parts of my desk–the one supporting my computer, were strewn across the floor.

“It was an accident.” Dismantling my desk…an accident? I put it back together.

“Don’t do it again. Now, I need a minute.” Actually, I was hoping for a series of them, strung together. “Watch your show, please.”

I went. I sat. I looked up. There was a fire-breathing dragon in my face.

“Are you doing YOGA?” No, please don’t think I’m doing yoga. You’ll never leave.

“No, I’m planning dinner. I think I’ll make broccoli.” He ran away.

And so this continued I was able to attach twelve glorious minutes together. Twelve minutes of sitting and doing nothing. I never “do nothing.”

I fell asleep. Sitting. In a pretty good posture.

I heard a noise. I looked at the clock. Minute thirteen.

Yoga Friend One suggested I at least try for twenty minutes. That’s a 60% discount off the original full hour. “Have Rusty watch Declan so you can do it.”

If Rusty watched Declan and said “Leave Mommy alone,” Declan would know something was up. Sneaking is the only way.

Settling for ten minutes of sitting and two minutes of sleep I declared victory. The biggest win I’ve had all day.

Time to get up.

And make the vegetables…

Note: Yoga Friend One has an amazing blog. I especially liked her thoughts on “miracles” here.]

[images: http://oplkids.wordpress.com/2011/04/]

Sit and Eat Chicharones (Or Find Your Passion)

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“What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning and exercising?” 

“How do you write every day?” 

“Why do you teach even though the climate is so bad for teachers?”

These are three questions that crossed my feed this week. On the surface, they’re all unrelated, but in truth, it’s the same question.

“How do you….(insert habit here…)” There’s a one-word answer for every one of these. Passion. Stop reading. Continue drinking coffee. That’s really the essence of the solution.

Never having been one for brevity or one-word answers, I’ll elaborate.

Exercise:

I exercise because I love the feeling it gives my mind. Most view it as a chore. If you view it as a chore, you should sit on your couch and eat chicharones (fried up pork rinds…dead pig crisps apparently taste better than vegetarian things like carrots and chips). I love to run five, six, seven miles because it clears my spirit and gives me ideas.  I’m grateful when I can exercise–I remember being on crutches for months after a bad game of basketball wishing I could get off the couch and run. I try to see each opportunity to work out as a privilege. The feeling of freedom I get when I run, lift, do yoga, go kickboxing, or pick up a game of basketball makes my body and soul smile. Once, when my doctor grounded me, my friend said “Man you’re lucky. I’d love to have a doctor tell me I can’t exercise.”

If that’s the case, you’re viewing exercise incorrectly. See it as a privilege. Only then will passion develop. You will exercise. You will eat well. You will respect the limits of your body. And your body may decide to treat you well, too. Life’s too short. I try not to do much I don’t feel passionate about these days.

Write Every Day: 

Use the Nike method, “Just do it.” I write at the same time each day. 4AM. This means I don’t have to shove my family in a closet or ignore them to concentrate, and I can enjoy the most beautiful time of day, the sunrise. I sit with my cup of coffee and the glow of the wood stove. Because I carry a little notebook, I usually don’t run out of ideas. I scrawl them when they gift themselves to me, and I develop them when I have time–4AM. So many people want to write, but view it as a burden. It’s not. It’s a privilege. Think, “I want to do this every day…I’m grateful I can. I’m grateful to have something to say, and furthermore that someone out there might enjoy it or find it helpful.” I look forward to 4AM because I’m deeply honored by my readers–the friend’s I’ve made through my writing journey. I owe them my best. Life’s too short, I may have said, to do things about which I don’t feel passion. 

Teach: 

Sure, the climate’s bad. Awful. There are days I feel the press hates me, and times I’m convinced I should’ve majored in accounting or stat, because the pendulum has swung in that direction and–the kids say–away from all the things that made them love school. This breaks my heart. But to get in there, roll up my sleeves, and give them something to love anyway, even if I have to fall on the sword once or twice, gives me passion. To watch their eyes when I connect them with a noted scientist or author, or see them generate ideas about their future?  It’s worth chopping through all the vines in the jungle, I think, to give them that same passion. Remember, life’s too short to do things without passion.

Who knows, maybe the passion for these things will leave me. That’s okay. Then I’ll find something else to do every day. More art, more calligraphy, animal husbandry…rekindle old passions, and discover new…let a few present ones ebb away to make room for more. Nothing’s permanent, and there’s a ton out there to discover. To feel passionate about.

Exercise, writing, teaching–or anything else, really–it’s all the same. It all boils down to passion. Do the things you love. Because passion is what makes life so beautiful.

 

[image: famousquotes.com]

Writing While Half-Baked

Screen Shot 2013-07-06 at 5.10.45 PMI marched to the garden. In actuality, I wanted to run but Rusty said, “That’s just stupid.” I knew it was. I didn’t say, “Because it’s the intelligent thing to do, I want to go for a run.” I just wanted to run. I like to run. I download some reggae, specifically Third World’s 96 Degrees in the Shade. Ninety-six degrees would feel like air conditioning. I’d knock off a few miles and come back. Since I couldn’t run, I went to plan B. Zen. Garden.

I weeded, picked, and before long, was in the zone. Deep in thought. Focused on the two butterflies that were flitting around the corn and beans. Thinking deeply. Sweating. Seeing colors. Dripping. Pondering. Feeling a peaceful lull. Seeing God.

“Do you know it’s a million degrees out here?” he asked.

“Yeah, but it feels kind of nice.” I drip out the last remaining molecule of water in my body onto a vegetable that shriveled ten degrees ago.

“Thanks,” he said, “I’ve been working hard on global warming,” he said. “You only feel peaceful because you’re pretty close to dead. Go inside. Rehydrate. Stop being a moron.” God echoes when he speaks.

I usually listen to God. His voice kept coming from the cabbage worm. Next, it projected itself into the beanpole. I think he might have been right. Time to go inside.

God might have been instructing me directly, or it’s possible he’s one of the symptoms of heat exhaustion. In either case, who am I to argue? A pleasant god-like delirium that makes me physically feel each thought pausing in my brain. “Woah…” I caught myself thinking. “That’s deep.” In retrospect, it was about as deep as the puddle of heat-induced dehydration allows, but for a moment, time stood still.

Finally, I could ignore it no longer. Unsafe. A/C, you win.

photoToday, I ran.

I had to. I was compelled. I could put it off no more. I ran early. 9AM. I would have run really early, when it was actually safe and cool, but I was busy pondering another deep thought not induced by delirium, and finishing up some writing. So, at 9AM with a heat index of one hundred and two, I stepped out into the furnace.

Water. Check. Workout music. Check. Hat. Check. Run.

Down the road, around the corner. Up past the farm, into the great beyond. To the top of the hill. Baking in the sun. After a few miles, I grew cold. No wind, no shade, smack dab on the top of the hill in front of the farm where the “Fresh Eggs” sign will actually have fresh eggs tomorrow morning–chickens work on Sundays.  And that’s when…God returned. I saw each little leaf on the tree in full detail, though I’m usually blind as a bat. Each flower came into sharp focus with colors that I’ve never imagined. The chickens looked like they had something to say–probably “Look, $%^&*, stop buying so many eggs on Sundays! We’re %#^$^ tired!”

Time, again, stood still. Drip, drip, drip. Sweat. I only ran 4 miles… Breathe, drink, drip. Should I knock out one more mile?  I’m not very good at moderation on a good day. This was not a good day. Recognizing the signs of impending heat exhaustion, and probable death…Life insurance’s paid up and stupidity isn’t an exclusion…I hesitated. Instead of talking to God and the chickens, I went home.

Common sense has never been my strong suit. Ask anyone. They’ll agree. But when I hear the voice of God discussing crock pot recipes with the angels I can make an exception. I don’t want to ruin my reputation and turn all efficient or serious, but once in a while, it’s okay.

The problem is, it’s summer… I’ve been waiting for this time for months, and this year, I’ve really needed the rejuvenation. Come hell or high water, I’m going to get a ton of activity squeezed into this short respite. So, while this week might be the temperature of Dante’s Tenth Circle, and last week we needed an ark, nothing will stop me. Except my own stupidity, I’m afraid.

That’s usually the thing that stops us all, isn’t it?

 

[images: top: CDC.gov, bottom, the farm I ran by before God appeared]

My Season of Obnoxious

Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 8.44.06 AMToday’s Saturday. Dates and times are irrelevant to me for the next seven weeks until school starts. This is the time of year when you hate me. The time of year when I call you randomly, email you at all times, and disturb you at work. You get annoyed. “I’m working! Don’t you have something to do?”

Nope. Don’t you know teachers never have something to do after 2PM, or during vacations and summer?

This is the glorious time of the year when I don’t yet have my schedule so I can’t possibly think about what I’d like to do next year. I can’t make goals, I can’t write curriculum, and I can’t obsess about the lessons I’d like to plan to reach my students better. I am forced to have fun.

That gives me plenty of time to bother you. You know you love it. Really. It makes you feel important. Deep in your mind, you’re convinced teachers don’t do anything most of the year and work a seven hour day.  It’s why you secretly want to go into teaching–there will be plenty of spots soon, trust me–we’ll take you. Especially if you are good at math and those multiple choice tests.

This summer, I am doing the following, which should give you a break from me: 

Gardening: I want to get off the grid and eat out of my own garden. But the cabbage worms are beating me to the produce, and they’re gross, so I don’t think I’ll be eating as much cauliflower as I want. I still have about eight weeks of Swiss Chard to cook and a ton of weeds to pull. That should keep me busy, but if I have time, I’ll call you during your important business meeting.

Learnist: Next year, I will get rid of my textbooks, whatever they are destined to be, almost entirely. When I know what I’m teaching, I’ll create and locate a ton more boards on Learnist to accomplish this, but one thing I’ll be doing differently is collaborating more. You’ll probably start to see me writing articles about using Learnist to crowdsource; about not “recreating the wheel.” I often think I work too hard when I could be sharing the load better. This sounds deep and prophetic, but truthfully, it’s pretty selfish. I really want to save myself some time, so I can bother you during the school year as well. Perhaps you have a presentation due or a deal to negotiate–that’s when I’ll Skype in or send a really long email. It’s the least I can do.

Developing a better plan for tech in my classroom: I did well this year with Learnist, my class braincountry.com blog, and Twitter, but in the next year two, I plan to do even better. I didn’t tweet enough on the @braincountry handle with the students, although we did tweet the debates and election. They wanted to tweet more. I can do better with my class blog. I want the students to do more writing, and the parents to see and comment on what students are doing. I will figure out a way to do this from Day One to make lessons more relevant and engaged, and save me time to–you guessed it–bother you.

Fitness: I’ve enjoy yoga and running, and am ditching The Boy to get back to my fun at iLoveKickboxing.com.  Fitness is never a burden for me, it’s fun and often meditative. I can Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 8.48.35 AMuse this addiction to give you a break when the other time-saving innovations give me an excess of time to insert annoyances into yours. I’ll try to recognize your righteous indignation and kickbox or run for an hour or so. That should give you enough time to pack up and move to a nation I can’t spell.

Don’t worry…it won’t be too long before I’ll know what I’m teaching and start focusing on that instead of calling you while you’re trying to be productive so you can avoid being outsourced.  My writing and other projects will fill up my time to give you a breather, and the last week of August–when I return to teach–is coming before you know it.

By then, you should hear the crickets chirp in your email. But until that time, it’s really nice bothering you again.

 

[images: cbsnews.com and 2dayblog.com]

If the Music Won’t Die, Neither Will I

Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 10.03.34 PMHaven’t run in a while–it seemed like a great day to get back. 80 degrees in Rhode Island. Sun. When I got home from work, the world was happy and everyone doing his thing–the perfect time for sneaking off for a pre-grilling workout. But…the iPod was on red. Deep red. Would ten a minute charge be enough? I need tunes–ten minute charge. Exit stage left.  I needed the run. I needed the music–the same three playlists that I listen to every run… helps my meditation, and helps keep me from running backwards. I always mean to change the playlist but never do. Sort of like half the tasks we all have hanging like fruit waiting to be picked from a tree that just hangs and never gets eaten.

The music lasted–It lasted and lasted till the end of the several mile run. It was like the Maccabees and Hanukkah in iTunes land–the music should have gone a tenth of a mile, but it lasted all five miles.  A miracle even if it wasn’t oil lasting eight days.

I ran and ran and ran–too far for a first day back. I lack moderation. The music played. That made me want to run some more. I did.

The iPod on red. Music played. I ran. The iPod had more in it than I thought.

Sometimes, we have more in us than we think.

I consider this year–a very good year. A year of transformation. New job, new business, new voice. Getting things done. Quite amazing. Every time I thought I had nothing more to give, I survived. I made things happen. I became a better person.  Exhilarating.

I ran and ran and ran and the music never stopped. Each time I thought it would, it continued.

I remembered a lesson from Chinese medicine. I studied for a few years, never achieving mastery, but I learned some life lessons. There was a point on a meridian, not far from the knee, called zu san li. It translates to “three more miles.” When stimulated, it helps invigorate the patient. It was useful in constructing the Great Wall–legend has it that by using this point to treat exhausted workers, foremen could get three more miles of work out of them before they keeled over and died.

Pushing and pushing can be a bad thing–sometimes we go three more miles and burn out.

But it can also be the thing that makes all the difference, taking us exactly where we need to go–through the wall, over the hump, and in the place where we need to be. To the glory.

So, I ran until I knew it was really time to turn around–a few miles too late. I headed back. I waited for the music to cease. It never did. I picked up the pace. I listened more. I sprinted the last half mile.

The music never stopped. It made it to the end.  Sort of how it always seems to work out that way in life.

My Morning Run

 

I will miss this when I leave—the ocean, the sand bar, the boats knocking around in the current, the half-torn tufts of beach grass, roots exposed, barnacles hanging on for dear life.

Standing at the place where the sun first kisses the East, my shadow projecting ten feet farther than my thoughts at the first light of day.

The Guatemalan gardeners, paid barely a dime, always greeting me with the same smile and hello. The gulls and the geese honking.  The clang of a nautical bell off in the distance calling its sailor.  White swans approach, and seeing I have no bread, they hiss.

I will miss this when I leave.

My consultation with God—in whatever form He takes—as the sun rises and the birds fly around in concentric circles. A mallard blocking my way, the rabbits saying good morning.

The way the wind whips the tops of the trees on a stormy day and engulfs me in its embrace. The fog wrapping around like a cloak giving a blind, uneasy feeling. I must listen for the sounds of approaching traffic and hope there are no strange men hiding behind trees.

How the music hypnotizes; twenty minutes of consistent beat increasing in intensity to the height of the song, and I open up my stride and run and run and run before the song tapers off and I relax and breathe.

I pass a construction site, and give a quick wave to the workers showing me their appreciation.

I see the excruciating pain on the faces of people running the opposite way, people who are required to give the runner’s nod—the acknowledgement of “have a good run, we are all suffering together.”

Except I am not suffering.  I am running from the other side of the tracks, the beaten down section, across the busy road where I inhale my daily dose of diesel intoxicants and avoid four lanes of certain death.

I run in between the houses with their orchestrated symphony of sprinklers and through them to the shanty village where overpriced government mandates from out of touch politicians will cause many of these good people to lose their homes.

I run to the million-dollar beach houses with ten floors of twenty-square feet each, all stuck together no different than the shanties; I am claustrophobic just passing by. And I see the sun rise through the boat slips.

I pass the yacht club, still empty, last night’s revelry surfacing in the form of a discarded bottle of some French wine I can neither pronounce nor afford.

I see five churches where I’ve never particularly noticed the Almighty, only congregants racing for relief at the end of the service. Maybe God left early, too.

I know he’s waiting for me at the end of the line, the shore, where water meets land, and I can go no further East.  I’ll watch the end of another glorious sunrise and know there could never be a better moment in time.

I will miss this when I leave.

I see people grumbling on the way to their cars, disparaging their existence. How I Got My White Picket Fence and Was Not Happy.  How the World Owes Me Something. How My Job Stinks. How…I… am… Just…Not…Happy….

Am I happy?

Yes. I am. I am not running from anything. I am not running toward anything. I am happy just to be. I am not fast or slow or working toward a goal. I just am.

Do I miss the adventure of the road waiting before me? Do I long for youth, now that life has been set forth in boxes and defined? Sometimes…and no.

Plans and hopes evolved into roads I have traveled in places where there used to be pathways yet to forge.

If half of life’s joy is in the journey, is half the emptiness when there are no more campaigns to fight?  Passion becomes pattern, dreams become concrete, the same blue sky sits above us all.  It is infinitely beautiful or painfully mundane. I choose beauty.

I’m alone with my thoughts, my music and the twelve-knot gusts of wind stealing my breath like a kiss.

Quiet contentment–the greatest gift to the soul.  I feel so very sorry for those who never get a taste of this freedom.

And I am going to miss this when I leave.