I have had two life-changing reading experiences: graduate school and the Outlander book series.

Both of them fed me in really deep ways. Both explored complex truths about being human and brought them to intense life. And both tainted the joy and ease I had always felt in reading.

Not because I got sick of reading. Because they left me feeling like I needed more. Like I was grasping. Or trying to hold onto something.


Photo Credit: Faungg via Creative Commons

Ever since, nonfiction is often spoiled for me by the compulsion to start underlining things. Feeling like I should be noting the things that resonate with me, wanting to retain them somehow. And fiction just falls really damn flat. (For those of you who have read the Outlander books, you will probably know what I mean.) I have wasted so much money on partially read books. And each time yet another book was a let-down or I got tangled up in trying to hold onto it, I felt so deflated and sad and lost.

And then…I rediscovered the library. No wasted money. I can just explore and walk through the shelves, gathering any books that pique my interest. And it is okay if I don’t like them. No guilt. No frustration. It is so low stakes that I am liberated to pick up any books, take them home, and just see how they are. And if my interest in one withers as I read, I can just set it aside without feeling like I should read it. That is so clean and free feeling. And if I do like it, I know I have the option to buy a copy for myself if it is one I think I’ll reread.

But here is the most interesting thing to me: I’m learning to not cling to the ones I like. Because it’s not my book, I can’t keep it. I have to let it go. I can’t underline any text. I have to simply let the book wash over me and then let it go. And I’m learning that feels better. I feel deep relief. It’s like the antidote to the grasping I had been struggling with. Just being with each book while I read it and trusting that, because it is resonating with me, I am absorbing what I need from it. That it is making its unique home in me and that it won’t be forgotten or lost.

Do you ever find yourself getting stuck or bogged down with reading or any other activity you usually enjoy? Do you try to find your way back to that activity? How do you do it? Do you get very intentional about making something happen? Do you listen for internal cues of what feels right? Do you let it go to see what happens?

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Tiny Doorways

You might have noticed that I have been writing shorter, simpler blog posts lately. It has been feeling more in tune with my own recent experiences of learning to listen to soul.

Listening to what is alive and true for us can seem like it is this Big Thing—something that requires intensity and is very effortful. And that is sometimes a helpful way to be with it. I have been experiencing a different way in the last many months.

What is alive and moving in us is often quite subtle or a just a brief ripple on the surface. A feeling that is barely detectable. A momentary clinch in our gut. A flutter of joy or sadness. It’s there and then seemingly gone.

I’ve been noticing and really appreciating these quieter ripples of experience a lot more than I used to. They have so much to say for something that can feel so small. They are tiny doorways into the vastness of ourselves.

For me, these doorways are more noticeable through meditation, being in nature, creative practices, and being with trusted others who can sense experiences and feelings I might not and reflect them back to me (which is one of the reasons psychotherapy is so helpful). For me, I can more easily sense these doorways in any place that is open, quiet, and safe.

Do you notice these “smaller” experiences in yourself? When you do notice them, do you take a moment to let them register consciously? What activities or practices do you have (or would you like to develop) that allow them to come forth and be felt?

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Receiving Nature

108I am sitting on my back patio as I write this. I just finished my Monday morning walk. The sun is still fairly low in the sky, so the air is slightly cool and a light breeze stirs periodically. Sunlight is filtering through the branches of the big ash tree in my backyard, making those lovely dapples of light on the grass. I have been sitting here quietly enough, long enough that the animals, the birds and the squirrels, have resumed their movements just a few feet away. Splashing in the bird bath. Rustling in the tree. Going about their morning rituals. Trusting that they are safe enough in my presence. The day is still fresh and new here in this space.

Whatever distress or joy I bring when I step into nature, however big, it is always quieted, smoothed out, in the presence of nature’s ongoing-ness. The sun shines. The wind blows. The insects ferry back and forth in their work. No matter what is stirring or at war in me, nature offers a big enough space to hold it.

I forget this magic sometimes. Or I don’t want to go. I resist the softening of the knot in my chest. Yet I think it is our truest nature to let nature touch us. I read a story once, so many years ago I can’t remember where I saw it, about a mother bringing her newborn out of the hospital and into the world for the first time. The baby had been agitated and squirming in her mom’s arms, but as soon as the mother stepped outside, this new little one quieted. In her brand new life, she hadn’t yet felt these miraculous things—the breeze, the sun. And she hadn’t yet developed filters or walls or preoccupations. It was just simple, immediate, and direct connection between her and the fullness of nature.

I will have lived a deeply good life if all I accomplish is to be that open and fresh and ready to receive.

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Discerning Joy

I am standing beside a pile of discarded clothing on my bed. I turn and take the next piece of clothing, a shirt, from my closet. I loved this shirt when I bought it. The fabric is crème-colored, tissue-thin cotton with colorful embroidery.

I hold the shirt in my hands, close up against my chest. I close my eyes. I turn inward. Do I feel any joy from it? What feeling is there?

I can tell immediately that I want it to—I WANT it to still bring me joy—but does it? I realize and finally admit, a bit reluctantly, that the honest answer is no. A small but not quite indiscernible hole has developed in the hem, and I feel how I am making do when I wear it. And then I feel the fear that I won’t have enough if I get rid of it. It is suddenly very clear that is why I’m holding onto it (as turns out to be the case with several other things too). And then I feel a pure, clean sadness that it no longer brings me joy.

Photo Credit: Loren Kerns via Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Loren Kerns via Creative Commons

It is freeing and peaceful to acknowledge all this. A weight lifts that I didn’t even know was there.

Once I get to my true feelings about the shirt, I notice how different it feels from the items that do bring me joy. The new, airy blue shirt that I bought last summer. The yellow shirt that I have had for a few years that I still feel delightful wearing. The woven summer shoes that are also old but still make me smile when I see them.

It isn’t about old or new. It isn’t even about the condition of something – holes or not. It is about whether a possession brings you joy. This is the essence I have gleaned from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I haven’t read it but have heard a lot about it. And so I am going through my possessions as she advises: one type at a time (all your clothes, all your books, all your CDs, etc., instead of one room at a time); picking up each item, holding it, and discerning if I feel a spark of joy. If not, I pass it on in the world by donating it. (And some of the stuff is quite nice—there is a really good chance many of these items will be joyful finds for others.)

The process is astoundingly liberating and eye-opening and cleansing.

I encourage you to try it. Hold at least one of your possessions in your hands and allow yourself to get quiet and still. Does it bring you joy?

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Wise Cravings

I was a vegetarian for almost 15 years. Last November, I found myself craving meat. THAT hadn’t happened before. Meat had been largely unappealing for most of those 15 years. And yet, this feeling was unmistakable. I even had a dream about wanting to eat meat.

So I decided to trust this craving, and I began eating meat again. I was surprised at how easy and seamless it was. I just stepped right back into it. And I had the immediate sense that, now, NOW, I was getting enough. I hadn’t realized that I felt deprived. Or, that’s not quite right—I hadn’t realized how sparse, how meager, my eating felt.

I recently went for a doctor visit and, bingo: I had big deficiencies in a couple of really crucial vitamins. Vitamins that come primarily from animal sources.

Isn’t that amazing?

My body KNEW. And the craving was the message.

I am still in awe of how my body communicated this completely unseen but increasingly urgent state to me. Our bodies are so wise. And so connected with our minds. They’re not at all the separate entities we tend to treat them as.

What messages are you getting from your body right now? Are you listening?

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