Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Gift of Years

While traveling over Christmas I read Malcolm Gladwell’s latest bestseller, Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell explains success in terms of generation, family, culture, and class. He explains how and why the lives of “outliers” (which is defined as "something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body; a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample"….) follow a “peculiar and unexpected logic,” and so presents a blueprint for making the most of human potential. At least this is what the book jacket says. “Why do some succeed far more than others?”

This is fun for me to think about, and to read about in his book. I read The Tipping Point, but not Blink. I like Gladwell’s way of assimilating information and presenting a “new picture” using smaller patterns to reveal larger ones that help us think more deeply about our assumptions about life and the phenomena of interaction – of “facts,” information, personalities, cultures. Energy! His own book is an example of how one mind , interprets, manipulates information to make sense for and of itself, isn't it?

One fascinating point in his book, to me, is: “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise." Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.
‘The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything …,” writes one neurologist. Studies don’t address why some people get more out of their practice than others, but no one yet has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.” (40)

Another fascinating point:
“The particular skill that allows you to talk your way out of a murder rap, or convince your professor to move you from the morning to the afternoon section, is what the psychologist Robert Sternberg calls ‘practical intelligence.” To Sternburg, practical intelligence includes things like ‘knowing what to say to whom, knowing when to say it, and knowing how to say it for maximum effect.’Where does practical intelligence come from?

The incubation our environment is for us as a choice we make as evolving consciousness makes these points ever more fascinating to me. This is how we learn to know where our “practical intelligence” comes from! As we learn to open our minds to the design and structure of ourselves as energy and matter, we become conscious of the purpose(s) which guide our every interaction. The Ethical Values (especially of love, truth and equality) reveal themselves to us, within us, as our minds open to thinking differently about our “blueprint.”

"I just believe that the interesting time in a career is pre-success, what shaped things, how did you get to this point?" Steve Martin told Renee Montagne. "I think it's somehow an American story in a strange way, because I started untalented. I didn't have any gifts except perseverance."

I am also reading Steve Martin’s memoir, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life (which he is said to call a biography rather than an autobiography, someone he once knew). He writes about redistricting moving him to Garden Grove High School (near Garden Grove, CA, in the 1960s), and on his first day of school, the student body being called to assembly. He had determined, with this move, that he would leave his old personality behind and live as this new “non-conformist” personality (though, he writes, the changes may have been imperceptible to those he knew in his “former life”). In the assembly on the first day in his new school, he first saw the ‘face of God,” in the ice-blue spotlight that shone center stage in the surrounding dark. The 1500-seat auditorium had great acoustics, a polished hardwood stage, which included a proscenium framed by heavy velvet curtains (which always have their own presence), and the pre-program dark was full of adolescent chatter and the high energy of first-day-of-school and anticipation of grand entrances. He knew he wanted to be “up there” rather than “down here.”

One reviewer wrote, Even for readers already familiar with Mr. Martin’s solemn side, “Born Standing Up” is a surprising book: smart, serious, heartfelt and confessional without being maudlin. Decades after the fact he looks back at a period of invention and innovation, marveling at the thought that his efforts might have led absolutely nowhere if they had not wildly succeeded. While there is much to validate his sense of having been lucky, nobody put it better than Elvis Presley, whom Mr. Martin once encountered backstage when both were enjoying the status of show-business kings. “Son,” he says Presley told him, “you have an ob-leek sense of humor.” Having just come back from Memphis, this Elvis note was irresistible.
I think about the interests, passions, fun of tricks, sleight of hand that captured his thinking, the way he took everything in during the shows he watched – the nuances of each performer and the context of audience.

I think about how each of us, as personalities, follow dreams that live within us. My waking dreams have been to truly know myself, as the sum of child, woman, human. Each experience has taught me something about myself, what I hold dear, what I have feared. With each day’s passing, now, I am more alert to the way my thoughts move and create, the way my limbs feel as I live and breathe, sometimes the way breathing itself ripples inside like a cloud forming or like the river current – smooth, cool or warm, clear, strong, sometimes like music (moonlight sonata), sometimes strong like a waterfall rush.

Though a woman in this life, I’ve not had children – one primary role of a woman in life. I’ve not been married, though I’ve had “serious” relationships. I’ve ridden these experiences as the waves within me. What has opened my heart the most has been the leaves of learning, the way relationships fit together, what builds, grows, and what remains. One of my favorite activities as a child was cutting out paperdolls, cutting pictures from magazines, and anything “cuttable.” I could spend hours looking, cutting. Recently a friend and I made a birthday card for my friend’s daughter, cutting pictures from magazines, of things we thought suited her, images that we smiled at. I have always liked to create shapes, textures, put them together, find patterns. From the zebra patterned throw on my bed, to the bookmarker in my book, I appreciate memories, I feel myself as that child I was, intensely focused, all else silent around.

Now, as I grow and change (and age!), and lives of others change as mine does, I’m changing my relationships, my feelings about loss and gain. “Things” I used to cling to – feelings, perceptions, people as I thought they were or wanted them to be – I’ve let up on, as love guides and influences me in my current of my own life images. The simple gestures, the easy nature of how we can each live, show ourselves what we’re made of, are gifts I’m learning to honor. My tears flow more freely, both joy and sadness, and I know the deep satisfaction of laughter. I am watching my own parade, and I celebrate better how uniquely we create each life, each day.

My own ice-blue spotlight, eye of God, is like a constantly spinning set of concentric circles, my own green eye visible to me always – pigment of grass, chlorophyll, growth, happiness, glint of sea glass under ocean foam like lace. I’m learning to know the rhythm of change as my own. What a gift of a year, of all years.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Handwritten Notes

Spiritual Philosophy prompts from reading Kathy Oddenino’s work: The energy that we live, the words we speak, the emotions we feel internally, and the sensory response we have to other people and our life reflect the level of our energy “growth” as a human being.

We must ask ourselves, Who am I and who do I want to be? Once we truly understand who we want to be, we can learn the fine art of “being” or living in that energy field in our daily lifestyle. We are constantly challenged to break our old habits of “thinking and doing” to allow change to become a part of our everyday human existence.

Robyn O'Neil, graphite on paper, 2008
“Recently, I was a guest artist/professor at Rice University and the University of Houston, doing studio visits with graduate and undergraduate students, and this is what I keep trying to tell younger artists, because so many of their ideas come from, like, “I love Bob Dylan, so I’m going to make…portraits of Bob Dylan!” You know? That kind of literal transcription of their own interests or influences instead of something more subtle or powerful. I think you want to jar people, or at least I want to jar people, and confuse them about these things, to make it exciting if they do talk to me about it and find out what’s in there.’”
Robyn O'Neil

I read an interview with Robyn O'Neil recently in Believer Mag. I love discovering "new" artists, expressions, and ones that share some of my obsessions thrill me always. O'Neil writes about how her research into Nabokov's way of thinking and writing/association by studying his handwritten notes affected her very intensely. I can relate to this. As I learn about the reality of us as energy beings, I am even more fascinated with the vortexes of energy every thought, every word creates. The fact that Nabokov was a butterfly collector with a passion not easy to match, has intrigued me ever since I began to read Nabokov's writing. Sensory associations are everything, as energy. The time we live creating images for ourselves is not usually so important as the images themselves.

I recognize more clearly today how truly creative thinking supports the internal and eternal growth that my habitual thinking and behaviors resist. My physical habits of thinking and doing are well-developed. I’ve worked on some of them for decades, some for eons! My mother once described to me a pattern I lived as a child. She said she learned quickly that when I resisted doing something she asked me to do, she simply had to wait, ask again, wait, and ask again, and, though I said No again the third time, I would then do what she asked me to do. Once she recognized this pattern of my behavior, she had no more struggle. Of course, she understood this pattern long before I did.

I’ve thought a lot about this pattern of mine, when I have felt strongly about some idea, issue, or conversation. Sometimes I’ve seen the pattern clearly and changed it easily. Mostly it amuses me now to see it. When I get irritated, this gives me more clues again to how I created the pattern in the beginning – clinging as a child will to a favorite toy to my own thought in that moment; Don’t tell me what to do! Are you listening to me? Why don’t you agree!, etc. This week another example came up, and once I blew off my steam into the air around me, I laughed and felt the relief. My employer and I were talking about a work project, and as we discussed our ideas, we hit energy roadblocks. I felt my energy flares arise, but didn’t understand why exactly, beyond a frustration of wanting to “complete” the cycle of thinking and move our project on to the next phase, as I thought it was or should be, in my mind. Finally, I said, I don’t mean to be cantankerous, but I’m trying to be productive and move this on. My employer said, rather softly, You can be cantankerous sometimes, as she poured her coffee. I jumped on this with some relief, and said, Okay! Will you explain to me what makes me cantankerous in this conversation – how this is? Some of this I knew, as my tone of voice had grown hard, loud, and abrasive, but I didn’t understand exactly how I had created the cycle of energy. She said, Sometimes when I go beyond a thought you have, you resist, become argumentative, before coming around. I thought, Yes! I get fixed on a thought, and sink it into the ground as though it is anchored by roots, by concrete. My thinking mind (which in that moment I am defining as “I”) is challenged, and my ego buffer, as has been its habit, defends “me” with, “How dare you change!!”

Immediately, I remembered this 3-times no then Yes pattern I’ve lived since I was a child! Here is how I understand this now. When a “new” thought enters my mind, or my sphere of influence, if I am not instantly and consciously open to that thought energy as it changes and seeks the internal support of growth as “eternal growth,” my mind expanding, then I put the brakes on, control my thinking because I am not able to assimilate “new.” The energy of ego resistance rears its control, and I feel the absolutely controlling energy as a physical force within my body, and within the energy fields that create who I am in this moment. When I am controlled by my mind (mental) energy, I am pacing, guarding my thoughts from change. When I let myself go, soar the wind of the spirit energy, I recognize the restrictions of the physical clearly.

What a gift it is to consciously begin to know who we are so intimately, as energy beings, constantly in motion. Love honors us all, and in this time, the need for Love shows its face everywhere. I remember, to change our energy, we only need to know that we ARE energy!

to be continued.....

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


What a few weeks of reminders of the wonder of thanks-giving, of what it means to love and to be loved. Where do I begin to express the energy lessons and experiences I’ve lived in the last few weeks? Our family was together again this Thanksgiving, with only a few unable to come because of schedules, and as always I enjoyed our get-together. The familiarity of rituals is fun – even the getting ready, the car shuffling, deciding who is going in which car, what time to be “there” (my aunt and uncle’s lovely home), the great spread of food including an asparagus casserole that my Aunt makes as part of the Thanksgiving tradition and other contributions from friends such as delicious cole slaw and pickled cabbage and sausage. So much was so familiar and fun in its familiarity, and a few changes were dramatic and sad. Mom was determined to go and dressed well, as always, though it took such energy to do so. We persuaded Dad to go, and I think he enjoyed being with everyone, even though he could not eat the offerings. He had a sucker or two from his stash that turned his mouth blue. Sumner asked him to name his favorite flavor.

After Thanksgiving Day, I became more focused than ever on the energies of life and disease and health and healing as they presented themselves in our collective. All of the movements Dad made were with absolute deliberation, and I marveled again at how our energy works with our matter to motivate us to move and to change – physical positions as profoundly as mental and emotional “positions.” I watched my brother tend to Dad also, so patiently, and my nieces and nephews marvel and observe as the changes in energy unfold before their eyes.

As I listened to Dad’s comments and took in how I felt his words, what he could do and couldn’t do, how he felt, I felt the integration of us as energy beings in one more profound way. He wanted help, advice, as well as to be able to do what he could do. Instructions can confuse a mind struggling to orient itself in its matter, as its matter is changing function. What we are used to our body “doing” begins to change, and our relationship to ourselves “as a body” with it.

As I slept in the bed with my mother, and felt her energy so close, I became more aware of the reality of energy levels “all around.” That is, how we behave as energy and matter beings, with our energy fluctuating constantly, focusing itself in different degrees, different ways at different times. As moments change. I felt the absolute comfort of nesting in bed, relieved of activities or the energy of activity in the daytime. Nothing was required then except to rest, to cradle our own energy. I heard and felt her breathing, the soft rise and fall. I breathed deeply, to know my own energy as love, and to smile with her, from the inside. It has been many years since we have slept in the same bed, and my memories of our laughing together are vivid. We talked about this one night before sleep.

Once when I came back into the bedroom darkness after checking on Dad, I heard my Mom’s voice say, You’re just like a ghost. This made me laugh, too. It isn’t my normal pattern, I said, slipping under the covers again.

It was fun to feel the energy of our parents and of Mike, M.A., and I there together after others had left, just as it was great to be with John and everyone else in the whirlwind of the holiday. Each family member, spouses, children, all their own ambassadors of life at this moment. Everyone plays their unique role being themselves. One buys flowers while another cleans. Every smile means the world. We adapt easily with each other, if not always gracefully, and always we laugh a lot at the least provocation.

That evening when we felt we had to call 911 for Dad, our hospital journey began again.

I thought about all the energy between us, the energy his body was using, the love I felt in his innocence and appreciation of the gift of life. Mixed in the week’s gathering I felt the joy and smiles and some laughter, as we always do, but a pronounced sadness lingered and was heavy to walk with, through. I became conscious of how pronounced the physical energies of our lives are – the lists, the chores, the things our minds become so occupied with, that need to BE DONE, as though our lives depend upon them. I also appreciated the flow of how these tasks can be accomplished – as we learn to communicate, as we pick up where another leaves off, as we ask and answer, as we do.

At my mother’s friend’s suggestion, and having time at the hospital, I began to read a borrowed copy of The Shack, a recent “novel” growing in popularity. On the cover of this copy is written this endorsement, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his. It’s that good!” The story centers on one man’s life experience, a great loss (The Great Sadness) he suffers, and how his experience of God, love, life, and death begin to change. As he enters the scene where his daughter’s tragedy occurs, his world opens into the energy of love and the manifestations of “God” as he will come to know them. So now what am I supposed to do, he asked. You’re not supposed to do anything. You’re free to do whatever you like, the energy character called Jesus says. Don’t go because you feel obligated. That won’t get you any points around here. Go because it’s what you want to do.
After I had read these words, I heard Dad’s voice saying again, What should I do now? Suddenly I had an insight into how my mind has sought answers to life’s questions, and how our training from our many lives as physical beings forgetting that we are energy beings first shapes our thinking to ask What shall I DO now, to help us hear the voices within us that are guiding our energy forces every moment. The function of our matter changes as our thinking changes, and our mind begins to lose its connection to the way our matter moves. We become foreign to ourselves, until we know ourselves as spiritual energy beings.

The help and support we have experienced as a family has been wonderful. The list is long, and continues. For example, church members signed up to stay with Dad as he recuperates. His Sunday School class came to his hospital room on Sunday so he could "be there." He was delighted. He is eager to go home. What do I do to make that happen? he asks, his resolve firm in the moment. Focus on moving, I say, with full love, a little at a time. We use our energy to go where we want to go. I am thankful.