Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Lyrical Universe

“Mighty Aphrodite” is the title hand-scrawled in black Sharpee ink on a home-made CD of music I was listening to last night. I vaguely remember the movie with Woody Allen and Mira Sorvino by the same title, but the two words together…the sound of it…stuck with me more. We English majors and that Greek mythology you know!

So, Aphrodite…Greek goddess of beauty and love…chosen to be the most beautiful in the first beauty pageant, winning the golden apple, and becoming the Miss Universe of the goddesses…becomes a kind of metaphor for my musical messages from the spiritual universe.

True to form, the women singer-songwriters on my aptly named disk speak the Universal Truths to me. I can listen to those songs over and over again without thinking a thing about the lyrics, and then some days, well, the lyrics just kind of hit me over the head and I hear the message I need to hear.

I had a rather detached weekend. I felt myself slipping out of the frenzy of accomplishment and goal-setting. Losing sight of the reasons to be happy in the moment. Feeling like I was living for an uncertain future.

One of the big decisions that I have made recently is to move “home.” And that’s home in every sense of the word—into my parents’ home, in the town where I spent my high school years (my daughters will graduate from the same school as their parents), to that part of the country that seems slightly foreign now, but oh-so-real-and-familiar. Comforting. Where there are roots long-buried in the land. Still, it’s a scary prospect sometimes.

I’ve been away for 15 years. I’ve gone back to visit, on average, less than once per year. But I reached a moment when I realized that home is where my heart is. I’ve grown enough to understand the past. I no longer fear the ghosts of it—as much. But since I’ve decided to go back, I’ve had to take another look at some old specters I’d thought were laid to rest.

This weekend I beat myself up for not “grabbing the Queen Power” sooner. The little voice said: “Look at all you haven’t done. Look at what your kids have missed out on because you didn’t. What were you thinking? How could you? Why didn’t you learn your lessons from your past…from your own childhood? Why didn’t you overcome this a long time ago?”

But then I heard these lyrics by Edie Brickell and I heard them for what seemed like the first time:

If a child lives with money, he learns to spend his time.
If a child lives with crazy, he goes out of his mind.
I didn’t live with nothin’ that’s worth talkin’ about,
But I didn’t live with nothing, no I never went without.
But there is one thing that I really need to know
What do you have to live with before you learn to grow?
I’ve taken giant steps; I've walked far away from home,
But I need a little help—can I make it on my own?
Some days I can and some days I can't,
And some days I just don't know where it is I'm at.

I thought, “Wow. Yeah…that’s me. Some days I can, and some days I can’t.” I reminded myself that I don’t have to be perfect to be powerful or Queenly. And I have plenty to be thankful for, even if I feel that there are ghosts of pain hiding in the shadows of my past. And I am growing, so I’m actually better off, perhaps, than the speaker of these lyrics.
While other songs played, my mind chewed on those lyrics…that is, until Tracy Chapman told me something I needed to hear to temper the feeling of loss from the weekend and from Edie’s song. (Did I mention my mom’s name is Edie? The song’s title is “Mama Help Me.” Interesting…).

But here’s what Tracy said:

You can look to the stars in search of the answers,
Look for God and life on distant planets,
Have your faith in the ever after,
While each of us holds inside the map to the labyrinth
And heaven's here on earth.
We are the spirit, the collective conscience.
We create the pain and the suffering and the beauty in this world.
Heaven's here on earth:
In our faith in humankind;
In our respect for what is earthly;
In our unfaltering belief in peace and love and understanding.

I’ve heard this song for years, and I’ve understood the words, but I heard them with new ears last night. I think we all continually remind ourselves of this Universal Truth. We know it, but just like Rule Number One in Cherie Carter-Scott’s If Life/Love/X Is a Game, These Are the Rules books, we forget Truth—as a rule.

If forgetting the Truth is built-in, then all we can do is create mnemonic devices to help us keep the forgetting down to a minimum. We need to schedule encounters with the Holy. Set ourselves up for success, and fall into its pillowy softness with absolute abandon. Read, write, eat, breathe, beat, and sing our way to the Truth. One of my favorite ways to remind myself of the Truth is to listen to music.

Edie and Tracy always sing the Truth. Their songs capture and hold the Truth…save it…store it in memory for me, so that every now and again my heart hears what it needs to hear. Making my own CD of Truth keeps me from dipping too low into an intolerance of my humanity. Edie reminds me that I can ask my parents for help, or that growth is a struggle—she keeps me humble. And Tracy reminds me that “Heaven’s Here on Earth” during those times when I start to think that my goals are outside of me or beyond me; she reminds me that I’m special. She reminds me that “Truth is Divinity.”

© Nicole J. Williams, 2005, all rights reserved

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Sponge Theory of Success


What’s that spell?


What’s that spell?


What’s that spell?


Doesn’t that word look weird now? Isn’t it funny how looking at a word too much can make it look like gobbledygook—or at least like it’s spelled incorrectly? When that feeling of assurance that the word you are looking at is indeed the word you understand it to be disappears and your mind hesitates and questions—you second guess yourself.

I started back as a face-to-face teacher last week. I make that distinction because I also teach in the highly unsatisfactory online environment. Really though, it isn’t the environment that is so unsatisfying—it has more to do with being caught between the corporate, money-making administration’s minions and the disgruntled students who have been thrust into an online writing course against their will—it’s required. But I digress, and I won’t be talking about the very different issues that those students face. No, instead, I thought I would share my newfangled approach to teaching.

I’ve been asking myself the “difficult” questions lately—What do I want out of life? Why? How can I get more of it now?—and one of those question and answer sessions had to do with teaching. It’s what I have been doing for the past four, going on five, years now, and it hasn’t been an incredible source of inspiration and joy; I needed to know why. What am I drawn to and what repulses me in relation to teaching?

Well, for starters, I love the first day! It’s like giving birth. Shiny new faces, assumed potential, a wellspring of love in the heart for the challenges and the nurturing and the growth to follow. I get to have that “new baby” feeling twice a year. It’s addictive. I have to say that I pastor my flock through my courses. I break down previous mythologies, assuage fears, release past guilt, and lead them to the Promised Land. The rest is good parenting. I am compassionate and I care and I praise and coach and cheer and sing halleluiahs to move them from point A to point B. I set up clear boundaries of expectation, blow on and bandage boo-boos when they fall, reprimand them when they should know better. I have multiple roles: pastor, shepherd, care-taker, boundary setter, locater of the lost…surrogate mother.

That brings me to what I don’t like. I don’t like wiping noses or changing diapers or spoon-feeding. After all, these are adults—or at least quasi-adults! When they ask for too much, which is often, I balk, and rightly so of course. And sometimes, parenting or shepherding 50+ quasi-adults can get downright exhausting! My “good-naturedness” spills over into enabling. Or their quasi-adult status plummets to infancy. Whatever the case may be…they push, and I fall over.

So I thought I should have better boundaries. More enforceable guidelines. More logical consequences and fewer exceptions to the rules. But what to do? I mean, this is a life theme…not just a teacher theme…and it’s THE BIG ONE. But still, I thought that teaching would be the place to start experimenting. I had a clear external motivation for change, a captive audience of guinea pigs, and any tangible results might spur me on to a more personal success in the same problem area. Basically, I was looking for insight into this condition, and because I recognized myself in my procrastinating, detached, overwhelmed, and forlorn students, I thought that if I could convert them, then I could do the same for myself. This might be backwards, and it’s definitely a conservative approach, but I thought I would do well to practice “on camera.”

I have to perform as a teacher. It’s my job. It’s what I do. I am accountable to at least 50 other scrutinizing people. Here is where I can prove to myself that it is possible to succeed. So I asked myself what differentiated the successful students from their unsuccessful counterparts. We all know that the answer is never as simple as “intelligence.” In fact, we all know that sometimes, the smartest folks are the ones who just can’t seem to move forward at all. So. I came up with the general stuff...prepared for class, plans (and works) ahead, has drive, is committed…did I mention “doesn’t procrastinate”? Yeah…that’s the big one. Slow and steady wins the race.

All this thinking led to a metaphor or analogy that I “acted” out for them on the first day. These are children of the visual world, so I must be a visual Girl. I set three clear plastic cups on the desk. I produced a bottle of water from my bag and said:

I am this bottle. The water represents everything I know about writing and teaching writing. The cups are your learning environment—the classroom, if you will.

I poured some water into the cups. I set another cup off to the side and told them that this cup represented the “real world”—the world out there that they were striving to get to by going to college. I continued:

I create the classroom environment by sharing my knowledge with you. You bring yourselves. There are three basic kinds of students—Student Rock, Student Sand, and Student Sponge.

I showed them the students in representative form and asked them to guess which student was most successful in the classroom environment. They knew! Just like you do. Student Sponge. So I demonstrated to reinforce the point.

Student Rock comes to class and is hard-headed and impenetrable. I don’t need this class. I’ll never have to write once I’m out of here, so I just need to pass and move on. I already know how to do all this anyway. Hmph!

I put Student Rock in one of the cups. Nothing happened. I took Student Rock out, shook it, and said:

You see. You can’t even tell that Student Rock was in the class. Nothing has changed. And when I put Student Rock into the “real world,” it brings nothing to that environment. It is the same rock it was before and has nothing new to offer.

Then I picked up the bag with Student Sand in it, and explained that it was made of the same material as Student Rock, with opposite properties.

Student Sand can’t get it together. It comes to the classroom in scattered pieces that can’t find their way back together in the classroom. Student sand is bewildered, fears failing, believes that it cannot accomplish the goals of the course, for whatever reason. I swirled Student Sand around in the water. Student sand is overwhelmed by the environment—it can’t make use of the environment because it has no form, no discipline, no consistency. It may try haphazardly, but fails because it is constantly at odds with itself. It rarely makes it out of the classroom into the real world intact. It can’t synthesize and utilize the knowledge it is exposed to.

Student Sponge appears in my hand and everyone is ready to be a sponge. They are imagining sponge-ness. Who wants to be a rock, or sand? (Students may peg themselves, but they may vow to be more sponge-like; after all…most people don’t set out to fail on purpose!) I smile at Student Sponge and hold it up, examining it.

Look! Student Sponge comes to the classroom PREPARED to soak up the learning! It’s READY before it gets there. It’s function…it’s purpose… is to learn.

In goes Student Sponge. It swells with water.

“Look!” I say. It’s taking knowledge out of the classroom! And when I put Student Sponge in the “real world,” it has something to use, to share, to draw on…something to show for its time in the classroom.

I squeeze a little water out of the sponge into the real world cup.

There! It’s contributing to its new environment! It’s obvious that Student Sponge has learned something and taken that knowledge with it into the new environment! So what makes Student Sponge ready?

It is…

Not willing to quit,
Genuine, (and)

I won’t go on about how those qualities translate into the composition classroom exactly…you can pretty much guess…but I will say that I linked those qualities to the expectations inherent in my syllabus so that they could see that I wasn’t just spouting rules at them. Oh no. I was showing them what to do in order to be a successful student. And now they had this visual in their mind’s eye of a sponge taking water from one cup to the next. And every time I see them, I can say: “I hope you are all feeling like sponges today because we have a lot to learn in the next 80 minutes!” And they will be immediately transported to the visual center of their brains and remember and understand what I mean in a primal, limbic way.

It’s already working for me. I use the sponge mantra on myself. “Are you feeling like a sponge today, Nicole? I hope so! Because you have a lot to learn today! And you need to take it with you in order to get to the next level…to reach those goals of yours!”

How about you?

Of course we’ll all have rock and sand days from time to time…but OH! to be a sponge most often! That is my goal. Hopefully it is working on my students too. I’ll keep you posted!

© Nicole J. Williams, 2005, all rights reserved

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hurricanes of the Heart

The first line of a poem came to me again when I sat down to write this blog, so I thought I would share it with you. I present to you, John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God”:

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but O, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy.
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor even chaste, except you ravish me.

One of my final courses in graduate school was a 17th Century poetry course, taught by the chair of the English Department at the University of Houston, and John Donne was one of about 10 poets whose work I came to know more intimately. The poets of that time were very much concerned with the nature of the Christian God; they needed to understand, as many of us still do, the relationship between God and “Man”…humans…persons. God, in this poem is “three-personed,” which I find very comforting…God with us…a God like us. But more interesting is the relationship between that God and us—and how apt this poem is in the 21st Century…in my life…in relation to my journey.

In the poem, the human spirit struggles between a love for God and a natural tendency to turn away from that saving Grace. “Reason,” the faculty which reigns in God’s stead in the human mind, is “captived, and proves weak or untrue.” The idea of freedom here is the freedom from temptation…the freedom from the weakness of the human condition…freedom from imperfection in love. The speaker of the poem asks that God storm the human castle and take the soul captive, in order to truly free it from a sinister bondage—that Earthly curse requiring the pain of repeated error and incompetence in things spiritual, loving, and good.

The professor who taught this course is a paragon of intellectualism…known as a GPA “buster.” I took the course, frankly, because it was the only available offering that fit with the final course requirement I needed to graduate. I knew I liked Donne and Herbert and Wroth, off the top of my head, and I love poetry, but the course itself didn’t sound too exciting—it was listed as 17th Century Non-Dramatic Literature—and, as I mentioned, the man had a reputation, and I was determined to beat my undergraduate GPA. (I missed a 4.0 by the equivalent of one course—a story for another day!). Let’s just say that I regretted that I had missed the pinnacle by so small a margin, and so each successive "perfect" semester compounded my secret longing into an ever-increasing goal to surpass that mild disappointment.

And so, I took the course, and it turned out to be one of the best courses of all those I took during my three year stint at the University. It was a small seminar of five women, plus the instructor. Finally, I was able to speak!!! In seminars of 18-22 students who were seasoned and much more talkative than I, my opportunities for contribution had been severely limited. Here, I felt like a graduate student. And I worked harder in this course than in any other. Perhaps I could have done more, but I had two other courses that semester, and I was graduating, and I did the best that I could at the time. In any case, I earned the dreaded A-minus.

I know, I know. But all of you perfectionists out there are groaning with me …I know you are. So, did I mind? Sure, it’s still a thorn in my paw sometimes…that feeling that I JUST MISSED out on something really exceptional. And a wry expression comes over my face when I think about how my GPA’s match. In fact, if I’m really in a self-flagellating mood, I will think that it just goes to show I’m not quite good enough, or that it's part of the Universe's plan to keep me humble or wanting more. (I told you those little mean voices are nasty!) So what does this have to do with my journey now? Well, that brings us back to the first line of the poem, inspired by recent events, meteorological and otherwise.

Previously, I likened the Queenly awakening to being “born again,” and just as the newly converted are often quickly tempted by the old lifestyle, habits, or “wicked ways,” the newly crowned Queen is quite vulnerable to the slings and arrows from those around her who are threatened by her changing attitudes and behaviors. A new Queen, when she discovers her dream, must make decisions about her life: What will she do? Where will she go? Who will be in her court? The natural consequence of decision is change, and change can be unnerving, to say the least. So, I made a “First Things First” kind of decision of seismic proportions, with long-lasting repercussions, and as the devastating weather stormed into the Gulf Coast shores, my heart was being battered by a hurricane of its own creation.

I apologize for being vague here, but the last thing I want is for my journey blog to sound like a soap opera. Suffice to say that I listened hard to the voices of my dreams and stepped out into the fury that I had avoided for so long. I realized, as the waves came crashing over the levees around my heart, that I had, on a fairly regular basis, “protected” myself out of a life of my own creation. I think that’s where the line from the poem emerged. A friend had told me that life was falling into a pattern of “the same old, same old.” I responded with news of my decision and wrote:It’s brought up all kinds of things. I think it’s been part of the relentless ache in my heart all these years, but I was unable to recognize it as such because I’d mentally convinced myself that things were “better this way.” And, still, in some ways they were. Now, it is merely the right time. So…not really the same old same old over here. More tumultuous than the weather really. Hurricanes of the heart.

After writing those last two lines, I started hearing the refrain of “Batter my heart, three-personed God” run through my mind. Now, in this particular case, I am not struggling with my religion—although I know that it is on "the list" of things to address on my journey—but the essence of the poem that I hear right now, in this situation, is that in order to be truly “free,” we must allow that love and passion to overcome us. We have to be willing to be stormed like an enemy castle, or battered as by a storm. We have to weather the transition from the realm of fear and indecision into the Promised Land of strength, conviction, love, and plenty.

Those evolutionary storms of passage may be large, small, or merely imagined, but succumbing to the paralyzing threat is far worse than choosing to live through the turbulent paradigm shift(s) in our lives. And I promise you—once you find the true path, you will move out of the damaging winds and heavy rains and into that dead quiet center where nothing can touch you. When your “eye” and your “I” align, you can see the future, and the fear will leave you. Each true decision you make will show you the way.

Welcome the storm that leads to the peace of understanding…or, if you will, the peace that passes understanding…but don’t let it devastate you. Rather, let it refine your senses and clarify your thoughts, ideas, and dreams. Let the winds blow, the rains plummet, the hail pelt, the lightning flash, and the thunder roar, but stand in the calm center of your being and dare to dream in the face of it all.

Note: My heart goes out to everyone affected by Katrina—this storm of Nature completely surpasses the gravity of any hurricane of the heart I might be living through right now.

© Nicole J. Williams, 2005, all rights reserved

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Where Am I? How Did I Get Here?

Have you ever awakened from a dream, and peered out between your lazy, drooping eyelids, only to feel a sudden chill or thrill of energy run through your entire body? You might even have reflexively braced yourself with fingers splayed and flat palms clapping down on the mattress as you passed through that initial moment of confusion…of feeling as though you are waking in a strange place. Sometimes that happens to us because we are actually away from home, and during the night, the memory of the unfamiliar has been replaced with the warm fuzzy feelings we associate with sleeping at home in the comfort of our own beds. But sometimes it happens in our comfy beds at home, surrounded by everything we know, with all as it should be—or, at least, as we think it should be.

I suppose it is much the same as the archetypal dream of entering a crowded room filled with strangers, acquaintances, and perhaps loved ones…who suddenly begin to laugh at us and point. Yes, you know the one…the naked entrance dream. Dreams like that one have played out in so many of our minds because we are concerned about how others feel about us. I think that the feeling underlying the “where am I” dream comes from that same primal reservoir of fear—it’s a fear of being lost or forsaken, perhaps even a fear that our concept of reality is not true—we aren’t where we think we are in life.

More often than not, however, we have the sensation of “where am I?” during waking moments of introspection. It is the signpost we encounter when we begin to seek a conscious path towards a goal that, at first, may only seem like an inner longing or a stirring of our soul. We may say, “What is that uncomfortable feeling?” Many of us ignore that discomfort and hint of desire brewing deep down inside—for years. But oh! When we finally hear it, and cock our heads slightly to the side and listen to it…. When we let it speak, and engage that small voice in conversation…. When we truly hear what the voice has to tell us, then the whole world opens up!

That is the point at which you join me here. My whole world just lit up like daybreak at midnight! Previously, I’d heard bits and pieces of what the voice was saying, but I manipulated it like a Magic 8 Ball, asking it for speedy answers to essentially yes or no questions. I hushed it when it tried to suggest another alternative, or to remind me of my true heart’s desire—in its desperate attempt to save me from martyring myself with the limited choices I regularly used to barricade my dreams. I’d heard other Queens speak of that magical, transforming moment…the point of no return that they could identify as signifying surrender to their heart of hearts’ desires, but I just never felt it. I thought that I’d had mini-breakthroughs along the way, but nothing ever seemed truly life-altering or long-lasting.

I find myself wanting to describe this transformation by likening it to becoming “born again.” I’m sure you’ve all heard the stories of people who have attended church for years, out of dedication, habit, or just plain love, but who never feel a fire burning inside. Good people who start out good and continue on that path, being servant-like and pious, but not finding that deep spiritual connection.So that was me. Queen Camellia told me about Queen Power, and her friend Allyn, and how really great women-sharing was happening and was inspiring to her. So I checked it out and thought it was pretty nifty! But I was worn out and didn’t feel like I had time to “play” on the forums. I gave myself a queen name and said hello, signed up for the newsletter, and downloaded the ebook, Catch Your Dream and Live It, read a little bit, but then that was pretty much the end of it. Low and behold, though, Allyn needed a newsletter editor and Donna recommended me. She knew I needed something and knew I’d be amenable to that kind of assistance. So, I became the editor.

Now I had an “official” reason to read the newsletters—from head to toe, and without fail! I really enjoyed them! And I always thought to myself that it was nice to have a “reason”—in my busy world—to read them each week. I started soaking up the message…this Queen thing really made sense, and it sounded great. But it was easy to slip back into that voyeuristic mode and my Eeyore doldrums and think, “Those women are so much better than I am. I’m not like them. I can’t live my dream…heck, I don’t even have a dream. Dreams are frivolous when you have to take care of two kids on your own.” But I kept listening—secretly. I let the Eeyore part of my brain complain and the dreamer (Pooh?) imagine how lovely the honey would taste if I could just stick my whole paw or muzzle into the pot!

But I got to the point where a little voice started to rebel. It said things like, “You’re always helping everyone else do what they want—you never DO anything yourself. You’re always the maid and the cook, and the sidekick, the grader, the editor…you aren’t WRITING your own stuff.” Of course, that voice was quickly countered with, “Well, you don’t have anything to write about anyway. These women have it all covered. And that science fiction book you want to write? Bah! Kid’s stuff. Besides, you don’t know how to write a book, and no…you can’t learn now, it’s too late. I don’t care what those women say, it doesn’t apply to YOU.” Ouch, huh? Mean and nasty little critter voices in there!

I started to walk away from Queen Power because I was busy…because I thought my “dream job” was in the wings…because I felt so darn inadequate and out of the queenly loop. But even as I began to pull away…I realized I missed it. And then when the job didn’t materialize, well, then something wonderful happened—Queen Power sponsored its very first teleclass! I thought about listening in, and I almost chickened out, but Queen Me said the right thing at the right time, and I made it a date!

Christine Louise Hohlbaum talked about finding a dream and living a passion-driven life. Everything she said made sense, but it was what I didn’t expect her to talk about that caught my attention. The discussion turned towards how to deal with negative people. Christine said, “The people who are the most negative are the ones who want what you have. They are jealous.” Wow! My mind whisked back over all of the little nasty voice words I’d heard in my head about me not being like the other queens, and I knew! I was a negative person and I was jealous because I wasn’t living my dreams! (I was boo-hooing on my end of the muted phone line by this time!)

One of the other ladies on the phone had worked with Christine to find her passion—her dream—and she had had to make the discovery that she did NOT want to teach—it wasn’t her dream. I heard that, and I thought of myself, but I said, “NAAAAH! Now you are just thinking that this stuff has to be complicated. And you’ve just spent all this time convincing yourself that teaching is your dream! And besides, you aren’t like them and everyone can’t be a writer just because they want to!” (Darn those little voices!!!) Well, Christine also happened to mention an author she respected a whole lot—Cherie Carter-Scott, author of If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules, among others.

This is where the full miracle began to unfold. I looked Cherie up on Amazon.com and saw that she’d written a book called Negaholics. I took the quiz online and scored 98 out of 100—with 100 being a sure sign that you are entirely engaged in a negaholic lifestyle! More tears!!! So…off to the bookstore I went. To make a long story a little bit shorter, I ended up plopping myself down on the floor in the self-help section of Half-Price Books and browsing. I bought two of Cherie’s books, Stephen Covey’s First Things First, and the book that is helping me snap out of my Eeyore ways— Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement, by Kenneth W. Christian, Ph.D.

After reading Negaholics and starting in on Your Own Worst Enemy, I could feel something wriggling to break free from the mental chains of my mind. And then it all came to a climax when I started in on the written exercises. My first response was “UH-OH!” when I got to the freewriting exercise that asked, “What would you do that you are not doing now, or have not done, if success were 100 percent guaranteed?” In my 90 second allotment, I wrote that I would write—that science fiction story/novel, poetry, blog articles, a dissertation. It was all about writing—not teaching. I was actually astonished to find out that my mind quickly divulged that secret, and the unrecognized motivation for avoiding writing. I was afraid to fail! No wonder I couldn’t write!

Suddenly, it was as if I were dying… my whole life seemed to flash before my eyes. Ok, not the whole thing, but all the decisions that had taken me away from my dreams AND all the dreams I’d ever spoken that had to do with writing. I even saw, all together, all the times that I became semi-conscious of the fact that, through teaching, I was helping my students overcome the obstacles that keep me from writing. Or rather, I should say that I was constantly frustrated when they did NOT follow my advice and exhibited behaviors that I now see as a mirror reflection of my writing issues—waiting until the last minute, avoiding, not revising, waiting for perfection to come out rather than writing lots and lots of whatever and then playing with it. And I also could see that I so admire the students who play and explore and write like they never knew they could write after taking my advice. Advice I wouldn’t even take myself!

You know…I think part of the reason Queen Power was so attractive AND so intimidating to me is because there are so many women who write. (What a way to put your hidden dream in bas relief!!!) And so many successful women! I felt very small. But you know what? These women felt small at some point, and they remember that. They are generous and gracious and sharing—there is so much to be learned here! Everyone has a different dream, but the common thread is pursuing that dream! I thought I felt left out because I wasn’t a “success,” but I’ve realized that it was because I didn’t know what my dream was. And it can take a while to find it.

I am still working steadily on defining my dreams and turning them into goals with action to back them up and achieve them, but I can tell you that it feels like I live in a whole new world now that I am allowing myself to dream. I wouldn’t give up my teaching experiences, and I will be teaching until further notice from my dream plans, but now I know that it’s not just ok to have a dream—it’s imperative! Again…like the conversion refrain in that familiar hymn: “I once was lost, but now am found—was blind, but now I see!”

© Nicole J. Williams, 2005, all rights reserved

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Angels, The Voice, and Pooh

This is actually from May 11, 2005

I wanted to share my insight for the day. My sister, Kelly, sent me a forwarded, echain mail message, but rather than cast it aside, something said "send it." So, listening to the Voice, I compiled my list of folks to send it to, but then felt that I needed to send a kind of apology/acknowledgment about the "chain feature" of the email, and then a whole bunch of other stuff started coming out right behind it, so I went with it. I didn't know until I was finished that I'd had a flash of insight...that, perhaps, I had already heard the message that the chain promised to deliver. Here's what I sent, but then I'll finish up on my epiphany after that.

Subject line: Angels, the Voice, and Pooh

Forwarded message: This morning when the Lord opened a window to Heaven, he saw me, and he asked: My child, what is your greatest wish for today? I responded: "Lord please, take care of the person who is reading this message, their family and their special friends. They deserve it and I love them very much." The love of God is like the ocean, you can see its beginnings but not its end. This message works on the day you receive it. To some it may sound dumb, but the person who sent this to me was impressed with the time. Let us see if it is true. ANGELS EXIST, but sometimes, since they don't all have wings, we call them FRIENDS, SUCH AS YOU. Pass this on to your true friends. SOMETHING GOOD WILL HAPPEN TO YOU TODAY AT 11:11 IN THE EVENING. SOMETHING THAT YOU HAVE BEEN WAITING TO HEAR. THIS IS NOT A JOKE, SOMEONE WILL CALL YOU BY PHONE OR SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT SOMETHING THAT YOU WERE WAITING TO HEAR OR AN ANGEL WILL GIVE YOU A MESSAGE IN YOUR DREAMS. DO NOT BREAK THIS CHAIN; SEND IT TO A MINIMUM OF 7 PEOPLE.

Nicole’s message: I hate chains, but I love the idea of the Voice that tells us something we need to hear. But don’t assume it has to be at 11:11pm, or even tonight…just start listening and you’ll hear the Voice whispering to you and you will know what to do. I belive that our pain in life comes from imagining our existence as a tightrope act. Sometimes we even imagine that God is our net, but this too is unclear thinking. There is no tightrope. Step to the left…it’s ok. Step to the right…it’s ok. Step forward…backward…it’s ok. Stop for a minute? It’s OK. The only thing required of us is that we make honest decisions about when and where to step. By honest decisions, I mean that we need to be honest with each other and, most importantly, to be honest with ourselves. Now THERE is the complexity!!! Self-honesty! Self-honesty—to operate from a center that we know, understand, and love! Does it seem elusive? Non-existent? Well, guess what? It’s right there—waiting. We have to TRY to ignore, avoid, or abuse that center. If you can remove the striving for something outside of your center, then you have found your center. In other words, the intention of your steps must be toward a goal (active) and not merely to avoid an unpleasant outcome (passive).

Think of Winnie-the-Pooh, lost in the Hundred Acre Wood. He, Piglet, and Rabbit circled round and round, always ending up where they started—-at the Pit. Once they decided to stop trying to avoid the Pit but rather to intentionally walk back toward it, they made it out of the woods effortlessly.(Well, Pooh and Piglet did...Rabbit had a "whole nother" lesson to learn!)So today, if you find that you keep ending up in the place you are trying hardest to avoid, ask yourself: What do I REALLY want? Do I just want to avoid the “pits” in my life, or do I want to go Home? You see, when Pooh and company were merely trying to avoid the Pit, they went in circles and essentially went nowhere. We do not go “home” by avoiding the “pits.” When we face the “pits” head on and deliberately take each step, acknowledging and embracing the existence of the Pit, we find a new path that leads home. Now, I seem to have muddied the meaning of Pit, haven’t I? But wait! Listen. The Pit is really our center. Think about that. The pit is not something “bad” or “wrong” (although the connotations can work that way), but rather, it is where we are. You are here—at this Pit. Being “lost” in our lives is a refusal to work with where we are right now. Only through an acknowledgment of the Pit and the full intention of walking toward it, can we move forward and find the path that leads home. So stop striving to avoid your center! Take a deep breath. Smile. Laugh. Feel the truth of your existence. Know it. It is love. It is perfect. It is never-ending. There is no falling--only the next, intentional step.Have a blessed day!Nicole

OK! Wow! Did I learn something? YES! Is it something I already knew? YES! But it's that lovely space where an old idea becomes new and more beautiful because it suddenly seems deeper or makes even more sense--or really, perhaps it is that now it doesn't just make sense, but that your gut finally gets it?? So, my problem with choosing the big rocks in my life has been that I was trying to choose rocks that would lead away from my Pit(s). I visualized goals that were superficial, avoidance goals and not what I really want for me, at the Pit, goals. What does that mean? Let me see if I can articulate a specific example.

I wanted to be more efficient--to plan my days more--to have a "schedule" so that I could get more things done, but I could never do that. It hurt my brain to try to divide up the day into time slots that were next to inviolable and to work at those times and play at others. I thought, I MUST get this work done during this time during the day and have all the other time for things other than work. I also thought that the reason I balked at this was because I was just a rebel without a cause and that I was undisciplined and lazy and a horde of other negative adjectives that clearly proved that I was not a "normal" person--or at least, not "one of those successful people." I still want to think that I have to be like that...like it's the "best" way to get things done. Even when I coddled myself and said, "You're just different and unique and your artsy/creative and it doesn't fit with your personality," I was patronizing myself and still beating myself up with the idea of a perfectly scheduled person. I had had a few glimpses though, especially since grad school, of how something in me knew exactly how much time I had to get things done. I ALWAYS finished things by the deadline and they were always done well--not as perfectly as I might think they SHOULD be, but well done. There was no external evidence that I had not planned out each stage or that I hadn't done the work thoroughly. I had started telling my husband, when I put off things like grading or lesson planning, that my subconscious was aware of how much time I had, and since I didn't feel compelled to do them, then I must still have enough time. And then something happened the other day.

I thought that I had surely run out of time to grade. It was Mother's Day...the pile of papers was too much...I didn't want to do it...so I sectioned them up and picked a stack and started grading. While grading, my brain percolated and I began to see a plan of action forming. Wait a minute! I could grade these by tonight, those tomorrow, and then I have time during and after the final exam periods for these other ones I thought I had to do by the end of today...etc. So, I figured out that I had plenty of time to grade and that I hadn't wasted my weekend and that I had done the right thing all along! I had made the right decisions for my time (when to play, when to work), but all the while, I had been beating myself up about the pile of grading I had to do. From the moment I realized that I had this time, and stated my plans out loud, I have gotten things done according to plan and the time has been sufficient for everything! And I relaxed.

Now, it's not as though I'm still not busier with some things than I would like to be...I feel like there are other things I want to be busy with...things without deadlines (uh-oh...those are the tough ones!)...but I am seeing that all this time, I have been trying to avoid the Pit of subconscious, deadline-related planning that is at my center, and I've been doing nervous and self-abusing circles around the issue for years. So, rather than try to cramp my true self (oh, it's SO hard to admit that it might be ok to be this way!) into the box of perceived successful organizational strategies, I have committed myself to listening to my inner Voice of planning. Again, it's not like I don't make lists and order events and what have you, but I was going too far in the extreme. I will never be a Day-planner person, and it's really ok. (sounds a little pathetic now, but this is a huge load off my back!) Anyway, I now can see the difference between walking intentionally toward my planning Pit as opposed to failing circuitously and continuously by avoiding my natural planning ability. You see, I was operating under the idea that I did NOT plan and that there was "the" way to plan, but now I see that I DO plan (quite a bit actually...it takes a lot of internal planning to get everything done well by deadlines!) and that it fits with what I want better than I imagined--it's not just that it's easier or lazier, but that it keeps me creative and happy. So, to recap, mostly for myself...

Today I realized that I have been "stepping out" in avoidance of my center--my "I am here" place--and trying instead to avoid myself in order to be like some perfect person I imagine. I have been abusing my center with name-calling and belittling under the guise of "self-improvement" in the "I must be better than THIS" kind of method. So really, starting every attempt at progress by saying that I have a "problem" to solve, rather than a "desire" to follow, sets me up for failure each time. Every time I think I am starting to help--or improve--myself, I am essentially rejecting my current center. I am immediately sabotaged by perceiving myself as lacking something, and by putting myself down. I suddenly feel as though this is elementary my Dear Watson because it makes so much sense to me. Here's an analogy (I thought of my mom and a conversation we had about losing weight): It's the difference between saying, "I need to lose weight; I'm fat. I shouldn't be fat, so I should try this diet and lose weight"; and saying, "What do I want right now in my life? I desire to feel healthy and energetic and I want the clothes I have in my closet right now to not feel so tight on me. I'm going to look at what I might be eating (or why) that makes me feel less healthy/energetic or might be contributing to some abdominal weight gain. I'm also going to see if I am sleeping enough and if I need some vitamins. The weather is great, so I think I'll start walking in the __________ (to wake up, to relax before bed, to revive before the evening stuff I do, to hear the birds singing, to hear the crickets chirping, to see the stars, clouds, to feel the sun on my face). It's a holistic approach. There's another dream. I wanted to be a practitioner of holistic medicine at one point when I asked myself what I really wanted. But that's for another day! The point of today...the blessed, wonderful, amazing, stepping stone for the day is that I feel an old lesson in my bones...it's truly mine today. It really doesn't matter what I do at all. It only matters why. If every step I take is an honest and centered step, then I am on the path home. But even better is that if I don't make the next step, I can refocus and step again, and again, and again. There is no falling. No reason to fear the step. Any step taken in the absence of fear--in faith--is the right step. Here's to stepping out in faith!

And just in case you haven’t read about Winnie-the-Pooh in a while…here’s the part I was talking about."The fact is,” said Rabbit, “we've missed our way somehow."They were having a rest in a small sand-pit on the top of the Forest. Pooh was getting rather tired of that sand-pit, and suspected it of following them about, because whichever direction they started in, they always ended up at it, and each time, as it came through the mist at them, Rabbit said triumphantly, "now I know where we are!" and Pooh said sadly,"So do I," and Piglet said nothing. He had tried to think of something to say, but the only thing he could think of was,"Help, help!" and it seemed silly to say that, when he had Pooh and Rabbit with him."Well," said Rabbit, after a long silence in which nobody thanked him for the nice walk they were having, "we'd better get on, I suppose. Which way shall we try?""How would it be," said Pooh slowly, "if, as soon as we're out of sight of this Pit, we try to find it again?""What's the good of that?" said Rabbit."Well,” said Pooh, “we keep looking for Home and not finding it, so I thought that if we looked for this Pit, we'd be sure not to find it, which would be a Good Thing, because then we might find something that we weren't looking for, which might be just what we were looking for, really.""I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit."No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn’t. But there was going to be when I began it. It's just that something happened to it on the way.""If I walked away from this Pit, and then walked back to it, of course I should find it.""Well, I thought perhaps you wouldn't," said Pooh. "I just thought.""Try," said Piglet suddenly. "We'll wait here for you."Rabbit gave a laugh to show how silly Piglet was, and walked into the mist. After he had gone a hundred yards, he turned and walked back again. . . and after Pooh and Piglet had waited twenty minutes for him, Pooh got up."I just thought," said Pooh. "Now then, Piglet, let's go home.""But, Pooh," cried Piglet, all excited, “do you know the way?""No," said Pooh. "But there are twelve pots of honey in my cupboard, and they've been calling to me for hours. I couldn't hear them properly before, because Rabbit would talk, but if nobody says anything except those twelve pots, I think, Piglet, I shall know where they are calling from. Come on."They walked off together; and for a long time Piglet said nothing, so as not to interrupt the pots; and then suddenly he made a squeaky noise . . . and an oo-noise . . . because now he began to know where he was; but he still didn't dare to say so out loud, in case he wasn't. And just when he was getting so sure of himself that it didn't matter whether the pots went on calling or not, there was a shout from in front of them, and out of the mist came Christopher Robin."Oh, there you are," said Christopher Robin carelessly, trying to pretend that he hadn't been Anxious."Here we are," said Pooh.

© Nicole J. Williams, 2005, all rights reserved