What We Bring to It Matters

November 19, 2017

What we bring to it matters.

If there’s anything that can make one’s life better, it has to be that thought. Or more, choosing to act based on that thought.

I was talking to my mom today (hi Mom), and we discussing the fact that there are so many opportunities for unhappiness in life. Take your pick. Politics. One’s health. Someone else’s health. Divorce. The loved one with a mental health challenge. Drug addiction. Finances (always and ever money, eh?). Did I mention politics? The end of the world as we know it (although, isn’t the world as we know it always in an on-going process of ending?). The list of potential sadnesses is limitless.

But…

No matter what it is that we face, we have a choice of what we bring to it. Do we bring grousing or grace? Flexibility or righteousness? Acceptance or resistance? Optimism and hope or catastrophe and despair? What we bring to it matters.

We’ve all have heard those stories about how one’s attitude toward an illness can sometimes affect the likelihood of a better outcome. The can-do patient versus the woe-is-me one. And even if the two patients end up with exactly the same result, surely the better attitude makes a difference to the experience overall, for the human and those around them. (To be clear, I’m not saying that “thinking positive” will cure someone’s cancer. I’m saying that in a hard situation like that, bringing grit to it is different to bringing despair, even if both are valid responses.)

“What we bring to it matters” isn’t a digital concept—all or nothing. This is an analogue idea, one of gradations, continuities, and shading. To do this effectively, one has to leave the realm of Pollyanna, and work out awareness. That’s what tends to get me tripped up. If I’m raging or sad or whatever, being able to be aware of it is a good first step to changing what I bring to whatever is going on.

That Buddhist idea of of “X has arisen” is so useful. “Anger has arisen.” “Sadness has arisen.” “Irritation toward that bastard has arisen.” That’s instead of “I’m angry,” “I’m sad,” or “I’m irritated.” The former depersonalises. They help you not identify with the emotion directly. It is a great tool for shifting, to foster awareness so one can change what one brings to the situation.

So, do you raise others up? Fill up their buckets? Bring up the ambient vibe? Exude hope and positivity? Do you look at issues as problems that can be solved?

Or not.

Because, what we bring to it matters.

A lot.

Useful Rituals

November 10, 2017

I’ve been thinking about useful rituals, and trying to embrace some that make me better at what I do.

By “useful ritual” I mean anything that one does that is habitual, formalistic, not necessarily directly productive, and which provides a sense of direction, benefit, or improvement. For some people, this is a morning coffee (go caffeine!). For others, exercise or yoga or walking the pooches.

For example, author Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art (a most excellent book), talks about starting his writing day by invoking the muse: “The last thing I do before I sit down to work is say my prayer to the Muse. I say it out loud, in absolute earnest. Only then do I get down to business.” He uses a passage from Homer’s The Odyssey that goes like this:

O Divine Poesy, goddess, daughter of Zeus, sustain for me this song of the various-minded man who, after he had plundered the innermost citadel of hallowed Troy, was made to stray grievously about the coasts of men, the sport of their customs, good and bad, while his heart, through all the sea-faring, ached with an agony to redeem himself and bring his company safe home. Vain hope — for them. The fools! Their own witlessness cast them aside. To destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted Sun, wherefore the Sun-god blotted out the day of their return. Make this tale live for us in all its many bearings, O Muse. . . .

That’s a bit highfalutin for my tastes (also, as a vegan, the “meat” bit is unpalatable). But I can see where Pressfield is going with it.

So, I’ve begun starting my writing day with, “OK, Muse. Lay it on me. Let’s get some words out.” Not quite Homer, but the intention is there, and that’s the point.

Another useful ritual I have: closing the three rings on my Apple Watch activity tracker.

And another: planting at least one thing in the garden every week.

The most important one for me right now? Writing every day, come heck or high water.

So think about useful rituals this week. Which do you already have? And is there one or two that you’re happy to add in to your daily life? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sometimes a Smile is Enough

October 29, 2017

Rather than words for you this week, I thought I’d try to bring a smile to your face by sharing a few YouTube videos that have brought smiles to mine. Some of these are pretty old, but well worth it. Instead of setting them up, I’m just going to put the links here and let them be a surprise for you (note: all are safe for work). (Or, just scroll down. I’ve embedded them.)

https://youtu.be/BZnDt2wEFjk

https://youtu.be/U9t-slLl30E

https://youtu.be/tLt5rBfNucc

https://youtu.be/GyV_UG60dD4

https://youtu.be/M1F0lBnsnkE

https://youtu.be/vNrVppkmzBc

Do you have a favourite video that brings a smile? Leave a comment and let me know about it. If I get some good ones, I do a follow-up.

 

The Power of Small Steps

October 20, 2017

Recently, I’ve been thinking about small steps and how they can accumulate.

For me, the most obvious one is writing. Every scene, every paragraph, every word written is a small step toward completion and publishing. A phrase I say to myself literally every day is, “Just write the next sentence.”* If I can encourage myself to write the next sentence, then it’s a win. Writing is rewriting, but you can’t rewrite something that does not exist. I find there’s a real power in taking the one small step, and then the next small step, and the next.

I’ll share a secret. Right now, my daily writing goal is just 300 words. That’s in the face of the Day Job and taking are of the sanctuary. Normally, I get in more, but I won’t go to bed until I’ve scrawled out at least that amount for the day. That very doable pace yields around 110,000 words a year, which is two short novels or one and a bit longer ones. Step, step, step.

Worthwhile small steps are everywhere, if you’re willing to take them. Like making the effort to vote “yes” in a marriage equality referendum. Or figuring out a small change to the meal you’re making to make it healthier. Or increasing your step count goal on your fitness tracker by 200 steps (literally, a small step of steps). Or fasting once a week or 13 hours a day. Or choosing to be nice to that irritating person for just this one conversation. Or donating a small monthly amount to a charity you like.

Or or or.

So this week, I encourage you to simply think about a new small step you could add to your life that will move you in some way in the direction you want to go.

And then take that step every day for the coming week, and see what difference it makes.

*(I like the phrase “Just write the next sentence” so much, I stuck it on merch up on Redbubble. If you know anyone doing NaNoWriMo, it’d be a nice gift.)

(Also published as part of my weekly email.)

Whoa, Backup There

October 13, 2017

Today, I’m going to preach unto you the gospel of a back-up strategy. (No, really, you want to read this, I promise.)

Here’s what happened:

I reached a writing milestone (I sent my daughter the first draft of Book 2). I thought, hey, how about I change up the file names and folders so they are consistent, and better reflect the series, rather than the random names I came up with before things were written. No problem. I’ve done this a bunch of times before.

Then. Something. Happened.

All. My. Work. Disappeared.

Gone.

Now, I’ve been using computers, literally, since Ford was president. Want to know why I didn’t have a Major Freak-Out? Because I knew I had my stuff backed up. Not once. Not twice. But three times that come to mind. No, make that four. Maybe more.

The first back-up didn’t work. Ouch.

But I went to another in another place, and behold, my work was restored.

Here’s what you need to know about backing up: you want a 3-2-1 strategy (go ahead, click that link. I’ll be here when you get back). Basically, anything it would cause you pain to lose (photos, documents, the video of your wedding, that one pic you love of Spot when he was a puppy) you should have *three* copies of, *two* of which are local (like, in your home or office) but on *two* different devices (like, on your computer and on a Time Machine backup or an external hard drive). Plus, you should have *one* other copy off-site. Preferably, all this should be automated. Again, something like Time Machine for local backups, and a service like Backblaze (whose article I linked to) or Carbonite for off-site. The same goes for your phone. If you’re not backing up your phone, especially your photos, what happens when it goes kersplunk in that convenient bowl of water?*

Folks, you gotta do this. It’s not that hard or expensive, and doesn’t take that much time to put in place. I like you, and I don’t want you to feel pain. And there’s no pain quite like data loss that is preventable.

And if you’re the techy one, and you have all this handled, then who do you know that you can help out to put something like this in place? Your mom? Your grandpa? That nice Mrs Nelson who always gives you her spare squash?

Embrace the gospel of backing up. You’ll be glad you did (but you won’t know that until you need it and wish you had.)

(First published in my weekly email.)

What Shape Is Your Dent?

October 6, 2017

(This is an excerpt from this week’s email.)

Do you know the Sting song, If You Love Someone, Set Them Free? I’ve thought about that song a lot over the years. Not so much because of the song, but because of what I once heard him say about it.

You’ll remember, his band The Police had a massive hit with Every Breath You Take. Big, big hit. Catchy tune. Horrible sentiment. The stalker vibe and obsessive control were woven into a total ear worm of a song. I remember hearing Sting talking about how he’d written it, recorded it, had it become a hit, and at some point, thought, “My God, what have I done?”

HIs later song “If You Love Someone Set Them Free” was deliberately designed, released, and promoted as a kind of antidote to “Every Breath You Take.”

Lesson: the art we choose to make matters; what we put out into the world matters.

I think about this a lot as I move closer to getting my current work out there. I don’t think that everything needs to be rainbows and unicorns. Some of what I’ve written is a tad eerie and dark (or so my first beta readers have said). But I really do think about how far I want to take things, and what I hope people come away with. What we do creates those ripples out into the world, some small, some large. If we’re lucky, we get to do what Steve Jobs said, and “put a dent in the universe.” (And may we all be so blessed with having such impact.)

I guess I’m thinking about what shape that dent will have.

Maybe I should create a T-shirt that says, “Tell me about your dent.”

Or, like last week, I could just plant potatoes.

Of Perspective and Potatoes

September 29, 2017

(This is an excerpt from this week’s email.)

I’ve been thinking about things that can help shift one’s perspective. Take for example, my veggie garden. About five years ago, we rescued our first mob of cows. Cows, we soon learned, have a much more, shall we say, relaxed attitude toward fences than the horses. The new cows had a little chuckle at the fence around the veggie patch and wandered on it. This meant that the goats, too, could also head in whenever it pleased them. The result: I started referring to it not as the garden, but as “the alleged garden.”

I’m hardly a green thumb, and certainly not like some of the garden magicians that I know. But for five years, I’ve been missing the chance to grow things, to put my hands in the dirt, to pluck a leaf of silverbeet or a sprig of parsley with a “thank you” and help nourish myself and my family.

Then a few weeks ago, we had our fencer, as part of a fencing refurb, redo the garden fence, making it cow, horse, and goat proof (I had to add the bit that made it geese-proof as well). And boom, a shift in perspective. Now, instead of an “alleged” garden, there’s an actual garden again, which has its first new plants (potatoes and garlic), and awaits more love and attention. Now there’s a part of me that can think again about putting my hands in the soil. I can again think longer term, about trying again with fruit trees and berry bushes and a few more veggie and herb beds. I can move the potato patch over there, and maybe grow the pumpkins over there so they’re a bit more out of the way.

A fence has given me a new perspective.

So, here’s my question to you. What small step could you take to change your circumstance so you can change your perspective?

And flip that around, too. Billie, wearing her shaman’s hat, talks about shamans being people of the percept. Shamans change the world by changing their perceptions of it. So, what change of perspective can you engage in to help foster a change in your circumstance? Maybe what really happened is I changed my perception about the importance of a fence, and the feasibility of getting the work done, and circumstances changed from there. Hmmm…

Or, you know, you could just plant some potatoes. There’s value in that, too.