It’s been a while since I’ve done a 52 Photos Project post! I have a few moments and wanted to participate in this week’s prompt: gold.
This is a piece of gold leaf that was left on a ruin in Sukhothai, Thailand:
When I was in Japan, we visited a town called Kanazawa. There is a lot of work done with gold leaf there, and we got to see a demonstration. This man works with gold leaf and I was enchanted with all the dust that covered him – including his lips!
Here’s a tiger lily from a hike I did in the Olympic mountains:
I cannot resist a dahlia bursting with color:
Nor the green and gold bacterial mats in the geysers at Yellowstone:
And finally, any excuse I have to share a Buddha picture, you know I will take it:
At the beginning of 2014 my friend Louise Knight encouraged people to pick a word as their theme for the year. I loved doing it so much, I decided to do it again this year. Last year my word was return. That turned out to be a great word. It was the same idea as meditation. In other words, whenever I noticed that my focus had changed and I was distracted by something, I could gently return my attention back to what I wanted to create.
Last year, while working with my therapist on issues around fear, he told me: Curiosity is the antidote to fear. Armed with this knowledge, I began experimenting. I would try something out and see what kind of results of got. Fear leads to paralysis; curiosity can unlock that frozen state.
This brings me to this year’s theme. Yes, I realize it’s the end of February, but I chose it at the beginning of January. I’m just now getting around to writing it up. I first thought it should be curiosity, but that wasn’t a verb. It didn’t impel me to any action. I considered experiment, but that too wasn’t compelling enough for me. And then I landed on the sticky verb try
Those you familiar with Star Wars will remember Yoda’s famous injunction:
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Yoda gives this instruction to the young Skywalker after he watches his ship sink in the bog. For many years I subscribed to this approach. But recently I’ve come to realize that this sets up a false dichotomy: Do, or do not. There is no room for effort, for error, for learning by failing, which is how we all learn.
When I speak of trying, I speak of failing. I mean making the effort and not getting it quite right, but learning something with each round. There is a wonderful children’s book, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires that describes this process wonderfully. There is a little girl and in her mind, she envisions the most magnificent thing. She sets out to create it, but her first attempt doesn’t hit the mark. Nor does her second or third. But in each attempt, she learns and sees something that she can adjust that will improve her product until she attains her goal.
When I try to do something, with focus and intention, and I see the result isn’t what I intended, I have hopefully learned something that I can apply when I go back to do it again.
I read in the book Art & Fear a story about a ceramics teacher who demonstrated this very concept I’m describing:
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
By Yoda’s definition, those focused on quality were “trying.” I like to think of those focused on quantity were trying in the way I’m describing. Even young Skywalker kept making the effort. In today’s tech world, people talk about iterating. Would Yoda say, “There is no interate. Only do.”? I don’t know, but I like to think of him exhorting Luke to iterate!
Do, or do not, it’s not a zero-sum. I wrote last year about failure, and it’s the fear of failing of that keeps us all from trying. What if the first effort is a failure? Or the second or third or tenth? At what point do we define our efforts as a failure? For me, I’m going to put that at the end of my life, so I can have as many chances as possible.
We can all make the effort. We can keep aiming our arrows and drawing back the bows. As one of my yoga teachers says, “No effort is wasted.”
This week’s prompt revolves around scent and fragrances. There were so many ways I could have gone with this, from various dishes that make me salivate to blossoms that make me swoon. There are scents that calm me, and scents that invigorate me. There are unsavory scents, of which I will not speak further!
At the top of my list is the daphne odora. This is a small cluster of blooms that radiates the most amazing scent. I think it smells like a hand lotion. If you stick your nose in really close, it gets pungent like a jasmine or gardenia, but from a few feet back, it’s pure bliss. I love this time of year in Seattle because I walk around, hopping from bush to bush and inhaling like I’m going to run out of air.
A few other blooms that make me swoon:
Sarcococca confusa or sweetbox
Mystery Blossom in Portugal. Would love to know if any of you know. When I smelled it, I just wanted to stay where I was and keep sniffing.
And finally, this pair of balsam pillows. My grandmothers always had them around their houses, bringing a little bit of the outside in. Now I have my own, and my collection is growing. We love it when we catch a whiff of that dry, piney scent.
I feel like I could make this a super duper short thing, a medium thing, or a super looong thing. I’m going to aim for some happy medium, though.
For the tl;dr crowd, here is the distillation of what I learned and what I apply in challenging moments: Ask yourself: What do I want? Be honest (about what you want). Be kind (to yourself and others). Tell the truth.
Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome universe which dwarfs – in time, in space, and in potential – the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. ~ Carl Sagan
By the end of 2010 I was a worn-out husk of a human. I’d managed to leave my job gracefully, but not without paying a price. I’d lost all my self-confidence. I didn’t trust myself. I thought I was just exhausted and needed to rest. But after two years, it became apparent that rest wasn’t the only thing I needed.
I knew I was having problems when I was interpreting everything with the same level of fear. It didn’t matter what it was. My internal sense of things was waaaay off, but I could only tell by extrapolation. So I found a therapist.
There were many things that I worked on over the almost two years I worked with G:
There was learning to look for support. Everywhere I looked, I saw a threat. Learning to scan for support was HUGE.
There was the piece about needing to be seen. I’d learned at my previous place of employment that being my whole self was unacceptable (or had interpreted various signals that way). So I made the choice to stop sharing the parts I felt weren’t acceptable there. As anyone living in the closet can tell you, it’s exhausting. And demoralizing. So I worked on being brave and telling the truth when people asked me questions that I thought they didn’t really want to know the answers to. And guess what? I started having amazing conversations. And I don’t remember anyone running away, screaming, as fast as they could. But maybe I just blotted out those memories.
We spend A LOT of time talking about my feelings. As I joked recently, if I’m talking about my feelings, I’d better be paying you to do so. But seriously, I didn’t understand my emotional landscape. I felt totally out of control. I had to learn that it was a) okay to have feelings; b) okay to feel them; and c) okay to not act on them.
Which brings me back to fear. Everything I talked about ended the same way: “And then I’m going to die, alone, in a gutter on the street.”
Which is patently not true. Saying these things that I feared out loud took the power away, in a profound way. Saying them to a compassionate witness was life changing.
There’s a Part II to fear: the illusion of control. I hate feeling out of control. As I began to relax and breathe and learn to understand my feelings, I became less and less overwhelmed. For me, it turned out, my sense of control and safety were directly tied to my inability to understand what I was feeling. When I couldn’t understand what I was feeling, I felt out of control. In other words, my sense of control had nothing to do with my ability. Learning to be present in the moment, slowing down, and uncoupling my response from my reaction was probably the core of the work I did with G.
The antidote to fear is curiosity. I’ve been trying this one out. When I feel afraid, I don’t “whistle a happy tune” like Anna in The King and I. Putting on a brave face equals dismissing my own experience. Instead, I take my cue from Doctor Who. He is always curious, even when it appears that death is imminent. I’ve been experimenting and testing it out. Turns out, curiosity is a like a magic wand that releases the straightjacket of fear. If you are feeling gripped by fear, I encourage you to give it a try. Start with something small. Something that feels doable. You can do it!
I had to move from criticism and judgment to observation.
I was crabby about happiness, which I now find hilarious. So G encouraged me to consider what might satisfy me. So much easier for me to work with than happiness.
I had to learn what I value matters to me.
I had to learn that I am safe. Always.
I had to learn to bloom at my own speed, in other words.
Learning to pay attention to what I want in any given moment has been an interesting process. I’d say most of the time, what I want does not cause me to feel any internal conflict, so getting it is easy – or falls under the category of “wishful thinking” (like an extended trip around the world).
All of these things were layered over time, building on themselves. It was in this way that I learned to neutralize the things that I felt held power over me.
I felt broken and damaged, unloveable and lacking value. I had to learn that what I had to offer was enough. That I am enough. That I have value and what I have to offer has value. If what I have to offer doesn’t work for someone else, it’s not my fault. It’s not their fault. It’s just not a fit.
I love that I picked slow bloom as the organizing principle for my blog. It gives me permission to focus on opening up in only the way that I can. I can let go of comparing myself to others and continue to return to my desires.
This week’s prompt was around desserts! I usually do make a variety of sweets, but for some reason, I haven’t taken many pictures of them.
For the first time this year, we also went to see the gingerbread “house” competition in downtown Seattle. I will note that this is a fundraiser for an organization working around juvenile diabetes. Yeah, the irony was not lost on any of us.
I had two “houses” in particular that I really loved. One was Hawai’ian (I know, you are all SHOCKED), and the other was a love letter to Seattle.
In case you were looking for a temptation you could eat, I offer up this:
I did try out a chocolate mint thins with candy cane crunch from the NY Times, and it’s been a huge hit in our house. One word of caution – do try to crush the candy canes as much as you can. Chomping into a big chunk does put a damper on the enjoyment.