October 15, 2013

Gazing into the Unknown

"Happiness is not forcing the sun to shine, 
but letting go of that which blocks the light."
~Stephen and Ondrea Levine

Willpower . . . we use so much of it on our quest to obtain what we want that oftentimes willpower is what keeps us from receiving the best outcome for ourselves. If I see a road before me, tunnel vision can help rid me of distractions, but it can also keep me from picking up on the subtleties of data that can enhance my experience of traveling through life. Here's a personal example, where my stubborn focus and awareness of only one thing instead of the whole came to teach me to have 
gaze instead of a stare.

For years I have been typing away at a novel, researching the occupations of the characters and studying cultural differences between America and Italy, weaving in highs and lows into the plot. But, I began the story with the end in mind, which motivated the passions the characters displayed throughout. I clearly saw the conclusion before the first chapter was even written. Now, many times writers can do this fluidly, so this is not necessarily "writers' sabotage." But in my case, the strict focus on the closing scene repeatedly short-circuited me, diffusing the flame that was supposed to guide me like a teacher throughout the story. I found I wasn't allowing the spontaneous elements of the story--such as arguments, additional plot tension, humor, a new character entering and shaking things up--to flow. With so much willpower and determination to get to the fixed end scene, I had actually burned a hole in the proverbial pages with my harsh stare instead of creating a warm glow with my gaze at the big picture.

So, in order to get my heels out of the dirt and let my characters' destinies be open to a myriad of possibilities, I "put away" my closing scene. Maybe I'll come back to it. Maybe, like things in life, I'll be pleasantly surprised that what I thought I wanted wasn't the right fit, and my willingness to release my willpower and open myself toward the unknown, unplanned future is really the serving the highest good for my characters . . . and, speaking personally, for myself.

February 12, 2013

Fleeting Frost Weed

"Trash bags in the woods!" I thought to myself. I saw about a dozen similar images like the one above scattered on the trail one cold, wintry morning. It looked like someone had just let loose of plastic bags and let the wind carry them away to eventually settle on the forest floor, wedged between shrubs and sticks and whatever green ground cover survives the winter months here in the South. I stopped, surprised at the volume of supposed trash. I mean, one bag would be "tolerable," but a dozen or more? Nope! Not good for mankind. I don't actually pick up trash when I'm running; I just get annoyed by it. And that's not good either. I realized I should probably act on this one, let my conscience kick in and not just my criticism and annoyance at other people's poor decisions, as the trash just seemed so irreverent out in the stillness of the early morning in the woods.

I walked closer to one of the white "bags," and when I reached to pick it up, it melted in my hands! It was nothing more than delicate, icy ribbons of layered patterns and folds! These were not trash bags strewn in the woods at all. These "now picturesque," white, ghostlike sculptures were the beautiful phenomena called frost weed, a perennial herb that grows in wooded areas and has a thick stem that holds a plethora of water. When the first freeze comes, that water bursts out of the stem and produces white, ribbonlike, one-of-a-kind designs that . . . well, can resemble plastic bags. Frost weed only remains in its icy state for a few hours, then the morning sun or rising temperatures melt away the frosty designs, and all traces of ice ribbons disappear. I know this because I came back later with my "good" camera and all the frost weed had melted within two hours of seeing it that morning.

Just like the frost weed, sometimes I have felt misjudged and misrepresented. I have felt that I put out my best efforts of love and beauty to others in my actions and intentions, but the reaction was not what I had hoped for. Ever felt that way? We all hold true value. But people disappoint us. Our gifts to this world are so unique, just like each spiral and fold of the ice patterns that burst forth from the stem of the frost weed plant when it can't hold its contents in any longer. When we have a vision or idea or a new version of ourselves to offer the world, we rarely get the accolades we are anticipating. Rather, it's more like an accusing stare that implies, "How can you be so . . . ?" But if we are in tune with our life's mission, and God's guiding force in our life, then we know to "Stay in this place, until the current of the story is strong enough to pull you out," as the poet David Whyte says in his poem "Coleman's Bed." We remain as steady as we can on our divine course until people around us recognize the beauty and gifts we are offering and take a closer look. Suddenly we are not misunderstood. Suddenly we are not mistaken for the plastic bag littering the woods and are valued as a unique but fleeting moment of impact and beauty when taken a closer look at. And sometimes we don't wait on others to validate ourselves; we get to the point where it's enough to feel it and live it from the inside out. To positively identify with our own uniqueness. We believe in ourselves again, free from outside approval.

"Stay in this place, until the current of the story is strong enough to pull you out." Powerful words. We often have to sit in our aloneness until our outer story catches up with the inner life that is rich with uprising force and momentum. The other "players" in our life story (parents, children, spouses, lovers, bosses, friends, and even different parts of our own self) keep the "current" of our life stories moving, but at the pace that is governed ultimately by God's unique design. We cannot control the timing of the current or the lens with which others choose to see us. They are on their own journey as well, learning their own lessons just the same.

Now I anticipate frost weed every winter and am often not up and out in the woods early enough to catch sight of it. Therefore I only see it here and there. But I get a rush of pleasure when I do come upon it because not everyone sees this plant in action: forced by the cold temperatures to "create" beauty when it would be so much easier to stay warm and "in tact." Neat and tidy. Boring . . . but safe. I'm willing to let go and risk the cold forces of winter moving me (moving the current of my story) into a unique beauty instead of the warm lull of safety that an unchallenging life offers.