Surrender

Two weeks ago today, Beth’s heart stopped beating. I didn’t learn of it until the following morning, and when I did, my world changed instantly.

Beth was the younger sister of my best friend from high school. I didn’t know her well until we became Facebook friends and then, despite her being in Michigan and me being in North Carolina, I could finally see just how beautiful the light she carried was and how expansive was her love. She was a visual artist, a poet, a jeweler, a caregiver, a logophile who loved to play Scrabble and create puns, and no doubt countless other things of which I have no knowledge. In the last few months, we had been discussing her options for publishing her poems in a book, the guy she loved who didn’t love her the same way, and our mutual attempts to live a healthier lifestyle.

On some level, I was aware that Beth had begun to have medical issues and was on continuous oxygen. But because our relationship was a virtual one and the pictures she posted of herself were always from a Lake Michigan beach and showed her smiling, oxygen tube-free, into the camera, I was able to delude myself that her condition was not as serious as it was. So her death was a sudden shock.

The pathway to this particular shining light was abruptly lost; a door slammed shut at the end of a hallway that will never again open. It seemed incomprehensible that I would never see the little green dot next to her name in the right-hand column of Facebook, letting me know she was online. That I couldn’t just message her and expect a quick and cheerful response. After all, her Facebook page, with the photos of her on those Lake Michigan beaches and her artwork and all of her posts about how amazing it is to be alive, was still there, so how could she be gone? Friends who had heard the news before me had already begun to post their good-bye messages to her. I was alone at work and all I could do was scroll through her page and cry.

MichiganSunsetClouds

I have lost family members before, but never a friend and cohort. Losing someone so young screws with your head in a whole new way. Not only must you attempt to reconcile yourself to the fact that you will never see this person you loved alive again, but you are confronted with your own mortality in a much more immediate way. Death is now something that can happen to anyone at any time, not just something that will happen to you eventually in some far-off, foggy future. Of course, I knew this on a cognitive level, but until I was faced with the blow of Beth’s death, I didn’t know it on such a visceral level.

I am not a religious person and my body remained seated on the crazy, balance ball chair my boss bought me to help improve my posture, but in my mind, I was suddenly on my knees, arms raised over my head, all the energy drained from my body. I was in surrender.

I had lost all my strength to fight. There was nothing left with which to argue about politics, to have expectations, to hold onto disappointments, to strive to be anything other than I was in that moment. I was filled with a full-body ache that longed for nothing but gentleness. There was no space for anything except sadness and love. No anger; no worry; not even guilt – even though those emotions are usually strong enough to muscle their way into even the smallest cracks. My only wish, my only prayer, was that everyone in the world would treat all beings they encountered with kindness.

Of course, this is always my prayer, and it was probably Beth’s prayer, too. But usually that prayer is swimming in a sea of other wishes and desires and obligations and fears and hopes. It is quite an experience to have everything else stripped away and to be left with only that one hope, that one wish, that one desire, that one need.

I have spent the intervening days in uncharted territory, feeling too raw and vulnerable to be able to face much of the news of the world. Unfortunately, despite my wish to make love and kindness my primary mode of being in the world, my brittleness has caused me to slip over into the dark side on occasion and explode in anger at my husband – the only person at whom I can safely explode. My therapist says that she believes that you experience all the stages of loss at the same time, not sequentially as was once suggested, and that these angry outbursts are to be expected. Poor Hans.

And recently, in the last few days, I have forgotten how to breathe.

I have asthma, so perhaps this should not surprise me. But it does. It shows up most often when I’m driving on the freeway. Not a full blown panic attack – I’ve had those, so I know – but an inability to get a full breath. It’s as though I truly have forgotten how to breathe the correct way, deep into my belly and then into my lungs. Suddenly, I’m breathing only shallowly, unable to fill my lungs completely, unable to get air into my belly. Breathing – something that is so automatic – suddenly requires concentration. As a result, I have found myself returning to the breathing exercises I have learned from Andrew Weil, playing with relaxing breaths and balancing breaths until I find whatever works best in whatever situation I find myself. It feels a little ridiculous and I can’t quite explain why it’s happening. Apparently, it’s going to be with me awhile though, and I just have to keep smiling and concentrating and relearning how to breathe until the episodes pass.

Maybe this is just my inner wisdom or some higher power reminding me that I am alive and doing what is necessary to make sure I am fully immersed in the now of any given moment. I’m still struggling with my ability to be okay with who I am today while still having goals for who I want to become, still trying to accept that I am enough just as I am, still trying to figure out what are reasonable expectations for the use of my time and my energy in any given day. And I’m still on my knees in surrender, letting go of all that I can let go of and opening myself to whatever subtle, or not so subtle, messages the Universe has for me.

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The Problem Is the Solution

Here’s a small sample of some of the observations I made in April:

The first tiny tip of one of my calla lilies broke through the surface of the mulch by the mailbox today. (Yay!) (So maybe the landscapers didn’t pile the mulch too deep on top of them, as I’d feared.)

Three of the 5 mums I planted last year seem to have survived the winter.

The tiny lilac bush I planted last summer and the clematis I planted several summers ago seem to be thriving.

The basil plant in my kitchen window, however, is not thriving. It wants desperately to live – it has put out two white blossoms and has one stalk that is racing toward the ceiling – but it is spindly and pale and needs better care than I have been giving it.

I have been doing so much “thinking” in my job in recent weeks that by Wednesday afternoon I am nearly brain dead.

The added stress that accompanies all this thinking and doing at work has pushed me back toward old, unhealthy coping strategies.

Writing a blog post (or two or three) per week eats up a substantial amount of the time I have available for writing and has, apparently, been one of the things that has kept me from achieving my word count goals for my novel in April.

Creativity begets creativity. The more I allow myself to write, the more ideas I have that I want to write about.

Having more ideas has made me both happy and stressed. The stress comes from the tension I feel in trying to find the time and energy to devote to each of my ideas and from trying to make some ideas wait (when they want to be attended to right this very moment!) while I move forward with others.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the maxim “the problem is the solution.” On the surface, this sounds as though it could be saying that a problem is a good thing to have. And in some cases, it might be because the fact that there is a perceived problem probably means that the problem is one of perception. Shift your perception of the situation and the problem goes away. Maybe, what was once considered a problem could actually be considered an asset.

What happens if I apply this to my last comment that having more ideas causes me stress? It doesn’t mean that more stress is good for me. Instead, I think it means that this stress is pointing to a different problem: that if I perceived of having an abundance of ideas in a different light, I might have less stress. Or, if I perceived differently of the amount of time and energy available with which to address these bountiful ideas, the stress might diminish.

I have a friend from high school who has now known me for 30 years, and he will attest to the fact that I have been looking for the ideal schedule since he met me. I have this incredibly persistent and attractive idea that if I just scheduled my time better, I could do everything I want to do in a day. (Do you by chance share this idea?) Perhaps this would be true if I didn’t have a distracted brain or if I had a more realistic sense of how long various tasks take and how much energy they require – and could therefore adjust my expectations accordingly. But, it appears, I do not have a realistic idea of either of these things.

I have some experience with the notion that if I remind myself that I have plenty of time in which to create the things I want to and that I do not have to do them all at once, stress recedes. This is a difficult state of mind for me to maintain, however, since it seems to run counter to my every day experience of an overly long to-do list of often equally important and equally appealing (or unappealing!) tasks and not enough energy or hours with which to complete them.

Time in Paris covered walkway

Time is tricky for me. I have an unfortunate tendency to live too often in the past or, worse, in the future. I have a sense that time is speeding by too quickly and that I have too few accomplishments to show for it. I have this, often vague, impression of what I want to put into the the world and an accompanying need to get it out there now before it’s too late. Some people might find this a motivating situation; I find it paralyzing. With too many ideas and projects pulling at me, I don’t give adequate attention to any of them and everything suffers, including my health.

If I’m lucky, though, in the middle of my paralysis, something will remind me to breathe and I will get a flash of a different perspective. I will remember that a large part of the personal permaculture project I’m engaging in this year is to learn to live within my boundaries – including my energetic ones. If I want to create anything, I have to create a space in which to focus on it. That means I must exclude everything else from my field of vision, at least for the duration of time I’m working on that one creation. The trick in doing this successfully is in remembering that this exclusion is a positive thing in the grand scheme of things. It means that at the very least this one thing will be done to the best of my ability and then there will be space, energy, and time in which to work on the next creation.

I don’t know how long it will take for this healthier perception of time and my ability to create to really take root in my everyday interactions with Life, so I have to find ways to remind myself as often as I remember.

Maybe I wrote this post to help you remember, too.

Observation, Observation, Observation

Last Monday, I asked you to do a week of observation on one aspect of your life. How did that go? Do you feel more observation would be helpful or did you exhaust your topic? Did the experiment lead you to want to do more observation in other areas of your life? Did it help you ask questions you hadn’t asked yet?

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In permaculture, before a designer creates a plan for a piece of land, she will ideally study that piece of land for a full year so she can observe it in every season. She will track how much water, in the form of rain or creeks, flows through the land; where the arc of the sun is in each season; where the predominant winds (that could bring pests or fire) come from and move across the land; how the outside world interacts with the land; how often each segment of the land is used by humans in the regular course of their day; what species inhabit each segment and what are their resource needs and what roles do they perform in the ecosystem. She will analyze the soils in different locations along with the water quality. She will become as familiar as she can with the land and the humans and animals that use it in the hopes that she can ultimately make the land richer and healthier for all concerned.

Similarly, it may take a full year to effectively implement the “Observe and Interact” principle in areas of your personal or professional life that involve thought or behavior change. As humans, our routines vary throughout the seasons due to changes in the weather and available sunlight, holidays, school schedules, sports schedules, even television and movie release schedules. Electricity that gives us light and helps us heat and cool our homes for year-round comfort and the globalization of our food production that makes it possible for an American to eat a fresh strawberry or tomato any day of the year have made our ties to the seasons less visible, but when you look, they are still there.

As we’ve already discussed, the observation phase is one that is easily ignored in the design process due to our impatience to fix, re-invent, or simply change for change’s sake any area of our life that is not as fulfilling as we expect it should be. We want to be always moving forward and don’t like to sit with discomfort or uncertainty, but deep observation and the ability to withhold judgment and refrain from making quick decisions are exactly what we need to insure that the solutions we ultimately devise will have the greatest likelihood of success in creating enriching, long-term, healthy, life-sustaining solutions.

Shiny, Happy Person

jar of glassOn Monday, I posted about the first permaculture principle, Observe & Interact, and asked if you’d like to choose an area of your life to observe over the coming week. How’s that going? Are you having difficulty refraining from labeling what you observe as good or bad? Do you want to explain immediately why the thing you have observed happens? Do you have the urge to jump forward to a “solution” rather than just staying with the process of observation?

I consider myself to be a fairly self-aware person, but I know that if I am not clear with myself that I am only observing, I will be judging myself left and right and planning little changes (or, more likely, dramatic ones) at every opportunity.

Which is why it is helpful for me to have someone partnering with me in my observations, as well as in the behavioral experiments that will follow. At various times in my life, these partners have consisted of friends or my husband, but since August, my observation partner has been my therapist. And because depression was the main reason I had sought help, it only made sense that my first project be that of observing my depression – in the hopes of eventually diminishing it. It is true that once you start observing a phenomenon, the phenomenon shifts. The mere act of finding a therapist, taking an hour each week to focus on my well being, and being able to talk to someone about why I felt so sad and overwhelmed helped the depression begin to lift.

I knew from experience (observation!) that focusing on the behaviors I wanted to change was not the most effective way for me to make change. A strategy that seemed more useful to me would be to focus on filling my life up with the things that make me happy rather than trying to rid my life of the things that made me unhappy. The hope was that the happy things would slowly squeeze out the unhappy, depressing things and the balance would tip.

So then began the process of observing which things, people, activities, and ideas in my life already brought me some happiness. It turned out that despite my longstanding night-owl nature, getting a full night’s sleep actually made my life easier and happier. It also turned out that eating a vegan diet with recipes from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 21-Day Vegan Challenge brought me both pleasure and satisfaction. The recipes were quick and easy and always, to my surprise, really flavorful. I already knew that yoga made me happy, so I began doing it three nights a week with my husband in our living room and found the practice even more rewarding. It was one more thing I could share with my husband and the gentle moves and deep breathing helped me release stress at the end of my work day. Similarly, I knew that exercise, writing, spending time with my family, being outdoors, and cuddling with my dog all made me happy.

So next came the process of implementing these things in my life in small doses to determine how much of each thing is enough to make me happy, how much lands me in overwhelm, and what is the right balance of all of these things so that I feel I’m hitting all the right notes and recharging my energy instead of draining it.

This is where I still am and probably will be for many months. Things are definitely moving in the right direction, but there is still much experimentation and skills-building to be done.

Of course, the easy, and maybe even advisable, strategy would have been to begin taking an antidepressant immediately. I went so far as to obtain a prescription from my doctor, but I couldn’t bring myself to begin this course of treatment. Research has shown that 30 minutes of exercise is as effective at reducing depression as medication, and since I needed the exercise anyway, it made the most sense to me to try to figure out a mechanism that would help me get to the gym on a regular basis. So, I hired a personal trainer and have worked with her for the past six weeks. She has helped me get stronger and stay focused on improving my physical health. There have definitely been days when I would have stayed in bed if I didn’t have her waiting to meet me at 6:30 a.m. One day I hope to have such a strong exercise habit that her assistance is no longer needed, but for now, I’m still building the systems I need to help me self-regulate and I am happy to pay her for her service.

Even though I have moved on to the “interact” portion of this permaculture principle, it only works if I also continue to observe my feelings and thoughts throughout the process. It’s fun to think of my life as a series of little experiments and it reduces my anxiety level because if something doesn’t cause the desired effect, it is not the end of the world; I can just try something else.

Shiny, Happy PersonOne last tip I would like to offer, if you are observing something in your own life and want to experiment with behavior change, is to make sure that even the ways in which you are tracking your observations and data make you happy. I found that creating a check list of every activity and behavior I wanted to participate in caused me anxiety and focused my thoughts on all the things that I didn’t accomplish on any given day. Counting calories and fat and carbs was too complicated to keep up with and made me feel deprived. So instead I found a tall, pretty juice bottle and a bunch of glass beads in various colors that I had bought for an art project that I never started, and began using them to track the behaviors that made me happy. For example, if I ate a vegan meal, I dropped a blue bead in the jar. If I went to the gym, I dropped in a green one. The small pink beads were for writing sessions and the large clear ones were for tackling an activity that scared me. This is fairly simple to keep up with (I played around with much more elaborate schemes, like trying to use the beads to make an image but knew, again from experience, that they would end in failure) and it’s shiny and colorful and makes me happy when I see it. Plus, dropping one of the glass beads into the jar makes a satisfying “plink” that is reminiscent of how good it felt to put a quarter in my piggy bank when I was a child.

I hope your observation experiment is going well, and I would love to hear about your process! Please leave me a note below, and I’ll be back on Monday – provided I survive tomorrow’s Camp NaNoWriMo novel-writing marathon! (Wish me luck!)

Observe and Interact

First Lilac BudsTake a deep breath. Really, take a moment to take a deep breath and slowly let it out. As you do, pay attention to what happens in your body. On the in-breath, what part of your body rose? On the out-breath, did the air escape from your nose or your mouth? What was the breath’s rhythm: did you breathe in and out for equal lengths of time or was one half of the breath longer than the other? Were you aware of your heart beating or any sensations in your body? How would you describe the sounds of your breath, on both the in and the out? If your eyes were open the first time, try the breath again with your eyes closed. Do you notice anything different with your eyes closed?

Simple, right? Just breathing and observing; two of the most fundamental aspects of being alive and being human. In our every day life, most of us are healthy enough that we can forget about our breathing. Thankfully, it is an automatic process. To a large extent, much of the observation that is critical to our survival is also automatic. We are continually monitoring our environment, making observations, and rapidly making judgments and altering our behavior without even being aware we are doing it.

Yet, both breathing and observing are also highly complex actions. How many processes go into keeping a body breathing? And how many philosophers have argued over the question of who is doing the observing and what is the relationship between the observer and the observed? Practitioners of yoga and meditation spend hours and years and lifetimes “following the breath.” Farmers, artists, designers, and scientists spend years “learning to see” and honing their ability to make and accurately record observations.

Observation must precede action if one wants her actions in the world to be meaningful. Therefore, observation is at the heart of permaculture, the art of using principles observed in the rest of nature to design the human world. In fact, “Observe and Interact” is the first permaculture principle. However, we are a society of fixers and doers, and observation does not look like fixing or doing. In actuality, observation is a skill that takes both effort and focus, but from the outside it could be confused with laziness, inaction, indecision, or procrastination. So we skip ahead and often try to solve problems without first really observing what the root causes are. Have you ever tried to adopt someone else’s solution to a problem – whether it’s a weight-loss strategy or a wealth-building strategy or a household organization system – only to find that their strategy does not adapt well to the ways in which you and your family live? In the end, you probably felt even more discouraged about the problem, as well as disappointed in yourself for wasting all the mental, physical, and even financial resources that went into implementing the strategy.

First Lilac Buds 2

As time-crunched adults with shrinking attention spans and long to-do lists, we have to actually make a conscious choice to observe a specific thought process, behavior, or relationship in our life before we attempt to label it as “good” or “bad,” “healthy” or “toxic,” “adaptive” or “disruptive” – and especially before we attempt to make any efforts to improve, fix, or alter it. As simple as it sounds, making this commitment to observation might not be all that simple.

Want to try it? What is one area of your life that might benefit from a little observation? Why not choose one thing and give it a little extra attention this week? You can be as rigorous and scientific or as casual about the process as you’d like. You can write your observations down or just keep track of them mentally. Feel free to share some of them in the comments section!

Also, you might find it helpful to post your commitment to this observation somewhere in your home, office, or car, because, if you are anything like me, you have a short attention span and might forget you want to participate in this little experiment 🙂

I’d love to hear how the experiment goes for you and what challenges and discoveries come up!

I’ll be back later this week with a post about how I am using Observation to help me understand how depression manifests in my life and to test strategies for building a foundation that will help me be more resilient and depression-proof in the future.

Perma-wha???

When I decided to write a novel about a character who disappears down the permaculture rabbit hole, I had only a vague sense what permaculture was. When I arrived in Los Altos, California last month for my permaculture design certification course, I still had only a vague sense of what that word might mean. In fact, several days into the course I had no concrete definition, only a strong feeling that it somehow encompassed much of what interests me.

So, now that I have a bonafide permaculture certification do I know what permaculture is? I would say, yes. Mostly.

For me, permaculture is a lens through which a person might view the world and her place in it. My own definition is that permaculture applies principles observed in nature to the design of the human world with the goal of creating a regenerative environment and healthy, sustainable culture. In short, permaculture is a way for humans to work with the rest of nature to support a good quality of life for all Life on this planet.

Bradford Pear Blossoms, Easter 2013

That’s a pretty tall order, but I think as more people adopt this lens of viewing their own lives in relation to the lives of other living beings and systems, we will more closely approximate the harmony permaculture aims to deliver.

One of the biggest take-away lessons I got from my permaculture training is that “sustainable” is no longer a good enough goal. We must instead adopt the goal of regeneration. We have to repair the damage that has already been done and look for ways that our new structures and systems can enrich the environment in which they exist, rather than continue to deplete it. Think about it: what if the buildings we live and work in cleaned the air and the water (just as plants do) and produced more energy than they consumed? How amazing would that world be?

If all the world’s people consumed resources at the same rate as we currently do in America, we would need 5 Earths to provide that standard of living. The rest of the world is not likely to stop trying to catch up to us, so those of us in highly “developed” countries must lead the way in reducing consumption and pioneering ways to live happily within the Earth’s means. The Earth is, after all, a single ecosystem, a single living organism. We have to consider the health of every system within it if we hope to maintain that ecosystem and continue the evolution of Life on this planet.

I understand how truly monumental that task is. How can we ask an amorphous group of individuals and corporations called “society” to willfully change its habits and learn to live within its means when it is difficult to do these things on even the personal and family level?

So that’s where I’m starting from with this blog. In the coming year I will look at the twelve permaculture principles that permaculture co-originator David Holmgren defines in his book Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability and I will try to implement these principles in my own life–in my interior, mental life; in my personal habits; and in my home. I will also share ways people around the world are implementing these principles on the community level. This really will be an exploration for me, as I don’t yet have a well-defined set of goals for what my life might look like at the end of this first year of implementation. I do know that I need to learn to live within a financial budget, an energetic budget (think learning to say “no” when necessary and giving up my perfectionist tendencies), and a caloric budget. And I know that there are certain foundational behaviors I need to develop to make me more resilient, more prone to happiness than depression, and more able to focus on the positive rather than the negative. So I will start there.

What about you? Have you been toying with the idea of respecting a new, self-imposed boundary or two? Or maybe you already lead a well-disciplined life and could offer advice on how to motivate oneself to live within one’s means and resist temptations? Wherever you find yourself, I hope you’ll check back in and share your experiences and comments! Next week, we’ll start with the first principle, Observe and Interact. See you then!

And if you can’t wait and want to know what’s coming, check out this fun song by David Griswold.
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Ten Things to Remember to Live an Awesome Life

After I came home from California last month with my head full of the 12 permaculture principles and the 20 things I remembered while I was away, I read a list somewhere of 9 ways to live a great life. It was a compelling enough list that I wanted to remember the 9 things and try to incorporate them into my every day practice. I envisioned myself creating a journal and pasting the permaculture principles and my 20 things and this 9-point list into the front of it and reading all three lists each morning. But, I didn’t paste them into a journal. I don’t think I even read the list of 9 things more than once. And now, several weeks later, I cannot find the list nor can I remember where I read it! I’ve scoured my email inbox (I did not Star it in Gmail) and my Facebook Wall (I did not post it to share with my friends) and all the blogs I follow, and I absolutely cannot find the list. I cannot even remember if it was written by a woman or a man; there is no energy signature attached to the memory. It is very strange. All I remember is that I wanted to save it and read it every day and that I was impressed that it was a 9-point list, rather than a 10-point list, as this concision somehow added to its astuteness.

I let this memory-lapse really annoy me for about a day; then I decided that rather than worrying about it any further, I would write my own list of 9 things. So I did.

And I was pretty happy with it. But then it occurred to me that my list was in part based on an assumption that was not clearly stated anywhere and that was unacceptable, so, even though it might mean my list is slightly less awesome than the now-lost-to-me-forever 9-point list that someone else wrote, I added a 10th thing so I could include that assumption.

I do not claim that any of the things on this list are original to me. In fact, I am fairly certain this list is just a compilation of the best things I’ve heard or, more likely, read. I will refrain from expounding on each point. Other writers have already elucidated these points beautifully, so I will point you to them and let that suffice – with one exception. This entire blog is about learning how to do number 10 on the list, so more on that will definitely follow.

So here it is. I hope it speaks to you. Please let me know your thoughts, edits, or additions in the comments!

Holden Beach Sunrise 2009

Nine Ten Things to Remember to Live an Awesome Life:

1. You are not a body with a spirit. You are a spirit with a body.

2. You came to this planet – at this time, and this place, in this body, with this family – to learn how to love. (Yes, think Richard Bach here. Even better, think William McDonough’s Prime Directive: How do we love all the children, of all the species, for all time? Make answering that your life’s work and you will definitely live your most awesome life.)

3. All that is required of you in this lifetime is to be fully present with an open heart. You were born in this state, but it may take you all of your adult life to re-learn how to sustain it.

4. In order to maximize the opportunity you have been given to live, take care of your physical body daily. Eat real food, rest, sleep, MOVE!, laugh, and enjoy the company of other beings.

5. Happiness is essential to your own well-being and evolution, as well as to that of the planet’s. If you are not absolutely, 100% convinced that this is true, please visit Dreamsmith  and download and read Kelly Wagner’s free ebook, A Quantum Leap: the Dreamsmith guide to creating a life you love. (Kelly includes her own list of 7 Daily Practices for Creating  a Life You Love in this, too!)

6. Cultivate gratitude in your life in order to optimize your own happiness and effectiveness as well as the happiness and effectiveness of those with whom you interact.

7. Say “no” only if it leads to a more expansive “Yes!” This is slightly different wording than Samantha uses, but I think it clearly states my current thinking. Please take a moment now to visit Samantha Sweetwater’s blog and read her excellent post on this.

8. Do not waste energy comparing yourself to others. If shorthand helps, try, “Keep your eyes on your own paper” or “Stay on your own yoga mat.”

9. Live the life that only you can live.

10. Grow into the light.

Your Invitation to Join My New Project!

Recently, life has had an air of expansiveness. Have you felt it? The feeling that anything is possible; that there is enough time and enough energy to do the things that bring real joy and not just the satisfaction of crossing something off the almighty To-Do List. The feeling that ample resources have already been gathered and now there is an opening to actually begin doing the real work, not just preparing for it. Seriously, have you felt it? I hope you have! It is an exciting and delicious way to experience the world, and such a welcome relief from the worries and stresses and not-ready’s and overwhelming not-enoughs that can dominate life when we let it.

After several years of starting and stopping various projects of importance to me and surfing waves of manageable depression that rolled in along with feelings of inadequacy and “stuckness,” last July I was rear-ended in my car while I was stopped on the freeway trying to exit during evening, rush-hour traffic in Raleigh. It was the second time I had been rear-ended while stopped during my commute and it was the second car that was totaled as a result. It also turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly I found myself in the kind of depression that was so deep I couldn’t stop crying and I lived my days in dread of having to face even the most mundane of my life’s responsibilities. I got news from my doctor that I was heading rapidly toward diabetes and news from my husband that I had become nearly impossible to live with. I am fortunate enough to have health insurance, thanks to my hard-working (and patient and loving) husband, and in August, I began seeing a therapist who helped me begin to put things in perspective.

By mid-September, I was feeling much better, was taking better care of my health, and had become a pleasant person again. Almost as a reward, I received the Message from the Universe that I had been expecting to receive during the cross-country bike trip I did in 1998 and had despaired of ever receiving. It was an understated-though-profound message and it quietly and suddenly shifted my entire perception of life. It enabled me to rewrite the last chapter of my memoir, Your Mileage May Vary, so the book ends on what I feel is the authentic note on which I always felt it should end. (I posted the new, last chapter on the book’s website and you can read it here if you are interested.)

In October, Hans and I spent an exhilarating and exhausting ten days in Paris. It was our first trip outside of North America and it fired up our desire for more international travel. Despite the months of planning, neither of us was convinced the trip would actually happen. We spent many moments pinching ourselves and saying, “We’re in Paris!” It was a true perspective-shifting experience and it heightened my new feelings that anything was possible.

In November, I signed up for NaNoWriMo and got serious about writing the novel I had spent much of the year outlining. The main character in my novel is going to be someone who becomes deeply involved in Permaculture, which is the application of principles observed in nature to design in the human world. So, in December, when the Regenerative  Leadership Institute in California opened registration for its next Permaculture Certification course, I signed up, justifying the expense and the time away as necessary to the completion of the novel.

And that brings me almost up to the present. On my birthday last month, I was on a plane flying to San Jose, California for a nine-day certification course and just last Friday I received my Regenerative Leadership and Urban Permaculture Design certificate in the mail! Image

Considering that I did not truly know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the course and had given myself permission to not finish and/or not get my certificate if it proved to be too much to handle, I was thrilled to receive the piece of paper in the mail. The permaculture course was an exciting experience, and one I’ll elaborate on in other posts, but I’m going to skip ahead now and tell you about the project I’m excited to be launching!

Starting today, I will be using this blog to write about my Personal Permaculture Experiment. I can see your eyes glazing over from here! I know that “permaculture” is not a familiar or obvious term, but I promise you it is an exciting one. So for my first permaculture project, I will be applying the permaculture principles to my own life and showing examples of how you might apply them in your life on a personal or community-level basis. I will also be blogging about my novel’s progress and, hopefully, also making more regular posts about the other things going on in my life.

I will be back here on Wednesday with a list of 20 Things I Remembered while I was on my permaculture retreat in California and again on Friday with a list of 10 Things to Remember to Live Your Most Awesome Life. Then, every Monday, I’ll be here discussing the exciting art of Permaculture!

Are you ready to take another road less traveled? If so, I’ll see you Wednesday!