A Life

What makes a life? How do we live? What do we do? How do we love? Who do we love? How do we react?


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

What makes a life? How do we live? What do we do? How do we love? Who do we love? How do we react?

 

Today, I am thinking about a life. It’s the singularity of one life, of one person that preoccupies me today. I can’t find the source of the quote, but the simplicity of the following slays me:

“We all have a birth day and a death day. It’s what we do in between that matters.”

It’s cliché that we only seem to consider the significance of our lives when something happens like illness or an accident, or when someone we love is facing their own mortality. Sometimes it’s a stand-out milestone like the birth of a child or the passing of a birthday that inspires us. A few years ago, reuniting with a new-old friend and the sizing up of my own life inspired me to want to live significantly and deliberately and truthfully and spiritually and fully.

It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to live significantly before, but somehow, something stuck that day. Long-term change began. What was it about the friend? What was it about the day? It wasn’t illness or facing my own mortality, but it was a sunny spring day in early April, nowhere near the new year or my birthday. How are things different? How do I measure significance? It’s difficult to say, but there was a shift. There was a sliver of time, a moment and somehow things have been different ever since.

Mostly the differences are internal, perhaps not even perceptible to anyone but me. Thoughts and feelings are different. How I react is different. I have not reached enlightenment, but there is growth. The questions are there. Worry is there, but now I switch out of it. Feelings of insecurity are there, but I switch out of it. Financial struggles are still there. Daily joy in small things is still there. Love is still there. Delight in teaching is still there. Daydreaming is still there. Yearning is still there. Still, everything is different.

Even with the perspective of that change, there are days like today. There is a family member and illness. Today, I am worrying and thinking about mortality and the significance and ordinariness of a life. I think the beauty of our lives is that they are both significant and ordinary, with events both big and small, with actions both selfish and selfless. I think of family, my life, and those I love. I am listless and jumpy from the caffeine in my coffee cup. Today, I ponder that internal change and I measure the progress of my heart, of my life.

The significance is how we treat others. The gift is the ability to love. It’s how we smile to strangers. It’s how we open the door for someone. It’s how we give up the seat on the bus. It’s how we let someone cut in line. It’s how we react to sickness. It’s how we treat our spouses. It’s what we do in pockets of time. It’s how we admit we are wrong. It’s how we behave when no one is watching. It’s how we react in crisis. It’s how we are in the midst of mundane. It’s how we forgive when no one ever even knows. It’s how we respond to disappointment. It’s how we give thanks. It’s the sum of a million moments. It’s the realization of impermanence.

It’s the grace we give others. It’s the grace we give ourselves. It’s the decision made over and over again to find peace and be that bit of peace in a crazy world. It’s the knowledge that we will make mistakes and cause heartbreak. It’s knowing that we have a responsibility for our own big and ordinary lives.

It’s the realization of impermanence.

It’s a moment. It’s a life. It’s love. In that, there is everything.

Bananas Into Bread (Waste Into Place)


1453315883175.jpgI love baking. I love making ingredients into something more. I love measuring and mixing. I love the transformation and magic that the hot oven gives to a pan of raw batter. If you think about it, we are all a little liked baked goods. We are changing and moving and living. We are raw and unrefined.

Despite my love, I bake much less than I used to do. I have cut lots of sweets and sugars from my mouth and from my kitchen. However, I believe in balance and dislike restriction. Now, I celebrate when I whip out the flour and sugar, and share the results with friends or save a portion for the freezer.

One of my favorites to make and bake is banana bread. I love it for simplicity and ease: no kneading or rising necessary. I love it for the familiar taste from childhood. The recipe I use is a flashback to both my grandmother’s and mother’s kitchens. While it’s not a recipe invented in our family, it comes from a well-worn cookbook that both my grandmother and mother referred to often. My recipe card, stained and wrinkled, is copied directly from that book, The Southwestern Cookbook. It’s a compilation from various women of the southwest who shared their favorite recipes.

img_20160120_175344207.jpgBanana bread, though, is more than just delving back into a familiar recipe from childhood. I love it most that it takes “overripe” bananas, ones that might be thrown away in another household and turns them into something glorious. We all know the saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I think the adage should be rewritten as, “If life gives you overripe bananas, bake banana bread.”

Outside my kitchen, I have spent my entire work life talking about and convincing others that waste is not really waste, but something misused, mismanaged, or misplaced. The banana bread loaves of childhood become food and fodder for a lifelong mission. The kitchen, for me, becomes refuge and retreat. It becomes the source of creation, and a place to make sense and order. Baking requires a strict adherence to a recipe. Little improvisation can occur, or it ruins the alchemy and magic. If you don’t measure properly, or mix too long, or don’t watch the time, a golden loaf of banana bread becomes a non-edible brown brick. Even looking for opportunity in mistake, at most turns that brick into a doorstop.

The recipe calls for two to three bananas. I eat bananas almost daily, and in my weekly shopping trips, will often pick up a few extras, more than I could possibly consume in a few days. The surplus, once brown in my fruit bowl, I throw into the freezer, peel and all. Then, I pull them from the dark recesses for the star ingredient in banana bread or as the base for breakfast smoothies.

The rest of the recipe is simple: sugar, some flour, eggs, lemon juice, butter, and baking powder. If I have nuts, I use them, but most often leave them out. I have revised the recipe when I baked for a vegan friend. Otherwise, I stick to the standard. It helps when you take the eggs and butter out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature before they get mixed into the batter. The mixing is not difficult, a rubber spatula or wooden spoon will do the trick. All the ingredients fit into one bowl, so there are not many dishes to wash. It makes enough for one loaf, filling a loaf pan that I bought at a thrift store in my first year after college, or the glass Pyrex one that I got after my grandmother died.

The recipe says that the bread bakes for an hour and fifteen minutes, but usually it takes more like forty-five minutes to an hour. That gives me enough time to wash the dishes, wipe counters, and make a pot of tea. Pulling the bread from the oven is like reaching into bliss. The smell of bread, the light whiff of bananas is the right amount of scent, without overpowering the kitchen.

Using a butter knife to loosen the bread from the edges of the pan, and then letting the loaf cool for a few minutes before dumping it onto a plate leads to intact bread. Sometimes, though, I get impatient or I forget and then I have a crumbly, piecemeal loaf. No matter, a warm slice with a cup of hot tea is perfection. It can be dessert or a piece can serve as part of a quick breakfast.

While it may not be “healthy,” this banana bread is part of my past, my present, my future. It’s a lesson in thrift and a discovery that good can come from what others consider waste. It’s a favorite, a ritual, an analogy, a story.

Lessons I Learned Last Year


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Photo by Kary Schumpert

It’s mid-January, and we are well into the new year. Before I fully let the last year go, I wanted to sit down and think about what I had learned. What did you learn? What did you help someone else learn? What lessons do you keep re-learning?

Here are the lessons that I learned last year.

You can do many things if you write down your goal, make a plan, and follow the plan.

Sometimes, you have to be brave, even in the moments of greatest fear.

Always, always be honest and be kind.

Moving can take as long as you give it. Two hours, two weeks, two months.

Getting rid of belongings takes time and you must be open to the possibility of lightness and freedom.

A boy and his dog can be irresistible.

Your actions, words, silence, and body language are always noted by others. What you don’t say or do can have a much bigger impact (negative or positive) than what you say or mean.

Asking for help is the only way that someone may know you need help.

Keeping in contact with friends is the way to have friends. Send texts, make phone calls, make plans, and say yes.

Crying can be the greatest release.

Make a list and/or take pictures of the people, places, things that you love. Return to that list and those pictures when you need a reminder.

Move beyond the self. Make time and space for others, even when it is not always what you want to do.

Fake a smile until it becomes real.

You can be a in rut and not even know it.

Think about where you put your money, your time, your thoughts. These are your priorities, whether or not you think they are.

Right now is the best time.

Be aware of how you treat yourself in your thoughts and words.

Stopping to breathe and count to 10 can make all the difference between peace and discord.

Be open to change even when it is scary and unknown and disconcerting.

The help of friends and family can make all the difference.

Sometimes you are completely on your own.

Think about the things that you feel you have become overly attached to:  coffee in the mornings, a person, a glass of wine at night, a piece of chocolate, a phone. What can you do to lessen or rid yourself of that attachment?

A marathon is a long, long distance.

Paint your toenails or find a cosmetology school and book a cheap pedicure for a pick-me-up that can last for weeks.

A road trip can be the best way to find yourself.

Completion can bring clarity: finishing the race, writing the last word in an article, saying goodbye.

Cooking a meal you love and sharing that food can be the best way to break the ice.

A glass of iced sun tea on a hot day is heaven.

Digging in a box of worms can bring you peace even when you are anxious, nervous, and blue.

Never underestimate the power of five minutes.

Starting small: one sentence, one half of a lap, one half pound, one smile, can lead to big things: a book, a marathon, 50 pounds in weight loss, day-to-day joy.

When you are feeling smug and sure that you have found the answers, beware that you’re about to get buried in uncertainty and a million questions.

Being alone does not necessarily mean you are lonely.

Sometimes opportunity comes to you when you least expect it. (I was offered a full scholarship for a writing retreat that I had delayed for almost two years because I couldn’t afford to go, and I never asked if there was the availability of a scholarship or financial aid.)

Taking care of your body and mind and heart are things that you will always be grateful for.

Remember the beauty of the people who picked you up and do that for someone else.

Sometimes there are deep meanings in seemingly superficial and simple words.

Pray, breathe, meditate.

Running, swimming, repeating a sentence over and over can be ways to pray, breathe, and meditate.

Usually we are disappointed because of our expectations.

Letting go is easier said than done.

Look up at the moon. You can always find it, even in the midst of city lights.

Go to the library for books, community, and solace.

Learn the difference between flexibility and submission.

Stand up for yourself, even when it is the most difficult thing.

Growth happens in the cracks and in discomfort.

We can become addicted to our own pain and sorrow.

Butterflies in your stomach mean you care.

You can be deeply attracted to someone, but that does not mean they will be attracted to you.

You can say the words “I love you” and even have the joy of hearing those words returned, “I love you, too,” but it doesn’t mean that the sentiment is the same.

You can say that you are ready to ready to share your heart and your deepest being, but you may not really be ready.

You are the only one who can create your own happiness. It doesn’t matter whom you love or who loves you, you are the one.

There is magic in waking up to a new day.

Keep learning and loving.

 

 

A quote from Kristin Armstrong


 

Sunset and the Sandhill Cranes fly into the night.
Photo by Kary Schumpert

“What is the best part about being 40? . . .

You get to say the things you used to think about but would never say.  Other times you choose to keep your mouth shut because it just doesn’t bother you anymore.  You aren’t afraid of having a preference or an opinion, no matter if anyone else agrees with you or not.  You do the things you used to talk about doing but never did.  You quit playing small.  You learn to forgive.  You learn the difference between when to let go and when to hold on tight.  You stop rushing.  You aren’t intimidated to say it like it is.  You eat what you want, screw it.  You aren’t as worried about getting hurt because you know you can bounce back.  You rarely feel like a fraud in your own skin.  You have earned the right to be an expert in something.  You stop apologizing all the time.  You see the humor in things, especially yourself.  You finally wake up and realize you are as hot as you’re going to get in this lifetime, so you might as well enjoy it.  You stop blaming people and get to work.  You learn to say no, so your yes has some oomph.  You stick up for people who are too young or feeble to do it right.  You buy clothes that fit you today and get rid of the old ones in your closet that taunt you. If your marriage has made it this far, you really love it and take better care of it.  If you’re single, you don’t settle. You spend time with the friends who lift you, and cut loose the ones who bring you down.  You stop giving your power away.  You are more concerned with being interested than interesting.  You see the value of being on time.  You get to be in a new age group at races. You are old enough to appreciate your freedom, and young enough to enjoy it.

You finally know who you are.”–Kristin Armstrong, “Two Years to Prepare” from Runner’s World Mile Markers blog/column. 

Searching for Light on the Winter Solstice


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Photo by Kary Schumpert

Today is significant. It’s the winter solstice, the shortest day and the longest night and then we turn toward longer days in the light of the sun.

In the last few months, I have been deep in the study of spirituality and figuring out the way for my heart. I have been looking for my own light. I have been figuring out what creates that light. How do I find it? How do I keep it ignited? What is it? How do I spread it? How do I share it?

Major religions speak of light. In Christianity, Jesus is known as the “Light of the world.” In Buddhism, seekers reach for enlightenment. I would argue that we are all of that. We are the light of the world. We find it in ourselves, in each other. We work on ourselves. We give love and kindness in our actions. We seek enlightenment. I think we can embrace it all. We can pray and meditate and seek the divine within ourselves.

I have much reading and living to do. I have much study and contemplation to pursue. I am figuring out what this means in my life. I find light. I question. I argue. I pray. I meditate. I take deep breaths. Along the way, I find bits of life and bits of light.

Last night, I went for a run, looking for light and for lightness. It was a short run, three miles, just around the busy streets of my neighborhood. I realized I needed to go on this run alone, to pursue my own light. Glints of light, glimpses along the way. The light I found was in contrast to the dark winter night. As I ran, I pondered the beauty, listened to my breath, and thought of the new year ahead.

A good chunk of this fall, I enjoyed long conversations with a friend about the spiritual path. We argued and discussed. We shared ideas. I made a few points. I felt engaged. Reading and relating. Arguing and agreeing. Yelling and whispering. Reflecting and replying. Listening and loving.

I take that as a beginning. I have a list of books to read and contemplate over the winter. I have new paths to forge. I have a yoga practice to re-start with enthusiasm. I have a meditation practice to strengthen. I have a local church and spiritual organization to join. I have an online class to take in January to expand my perspective. I have a life and light to live and pursue. I have new friendships and relationships to find and older relationships to renew and release. I am learning that this is a lifelong journey. There are fits and starts. It’s big and abstract and unwieldy, but it’s all there. Within. Without. There is light. There is love.

We begin. We look for light. We pray. We find. We seek. We help others. We set a path. We go off trail. We join others. We question. We find peace. We regain ourselves. We drop the charades. We drop our layers of armor. We love. We light the way.

Rejoice In Rejection


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Photo by Kary Schumpert

“Don’t waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson

We usually think of rejection as something negative, something to hide from, something to avoid. Or in melancholy, we think of rejection as something to wallow in, to stew in the sadness. What if we can change that “stinkin’ thinkin’” to see it as a benefit, a beauty? What if we can, instead, rejoice in rejection? We must find the lesson and pause to find the meaning. Here are three ways that I have rejoiced in rejection in the last few months.

  1. A rejection from an editor: I sent an article that I had written recently to a well-known online magazine. It was my first submission to this editor and I had no idea what she might think. A week later, I received an e-mail from the editor, with a form letter rejecting my article. At the bottom, though, the editor included these words: “Thank you for your submission and for your words.” Even if they don’t want my words now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t want another article from me in the future. I patted myself on the back for the bravery of writing and submitting words that are near and dear to my heart. Just three years ago, completing an article and submitting it was still a pretty new phenomenon for me.
    Lesson to rejoice in: Keep writing, keep getting better, keep researching new places to send your writing. Keep going.
  2. A rejection from a would-be employer: A few months ago, I began the process of moving from Colorado to New Mexico. A full-time job announcement, based in Santa Fe, popped up in my e-mail box. I applied, including a rather lengthy online questionnaire, daydreaming about days in the heights of Santa Fe and pondering sky-high rents with the generous salary. It seemed like it, with the requirements and responsibilities, was perfect for me and my experience and education. A couple of months later, I still had heard nothing. Instead, I applied for another job, this one in Albuquerque. I was called to Albuquerque for two interviews for that second job. By late September, I had moved to Albuquerque, staying with a friend, while I looked for an apartment. In early October, I received an offer for the Albuquerque job and on Friday, completed my second month in the new position. The Santa Fe opportunity, with its glorious salary, sits open and no one seems to know if and when it will ever be filled.
    Lesson to rejoice in: Sometimes, the one you thought you wanted is not what you needed. Albuquerque suits me much better, and allows me to pursue two dreams at once, working at a wonderful job and pursuing night school in a dream field. It’s about more than salary. It’s about opportunity and a puzzle piece that seems to fit “just right.”
  3. A rejection from a potential suitor: A few months ago, after putting my heart on the shelf, I dusted it off and set up an online dating profile. I responded to quick messages and looked at the profiles of those who had viewed me. One man called me “cutie” and asked if I wanted to meet for coffee on a Saturday full of errands. I responded with a “yes” and made plans to meet at a strip mall Starbucks (his choice, not mine). I got there at our appointed time, 5:45, with a text to a friend who would know my whereabouts in case a safety backup was needed. I waited and received a text from the date saying he was late due to grandparents’ delay in picking up his kids. I am patient and figured this was a legitimate excuse, knowing kids and pickup times can get scattered in the busyness of a Saturday. He finally came in 20 minutes late, full of apologies. He plopped down, we chatted and then I excused myself to order coffee, asking if he wanted anything. He looked at me strangely and shook his head no. Our conversation was winding and strange and stilted. He squinted at me, as if high, or perhaps sleepy. Then 10 minutes later he said he was going home. No explanation, no apology, no fake excuse. Phew. I didn’t know what to think, but I realized that sometimes that’s the point. I had plunged into the dating world and realized that it’s not easy. I stayed behind in the coffee shop, nursing my foamed beverage and read through the weekly newspaper. I texted my friend that I was indeed safe and then laughed myself silly on the drive home. Dusting off the heart and dating adventures continue.
    Lesson to rejoice in: Sometimes the gift is in the rejection. This was clearly a fellow whom I had nothing in common with, beyond a similar zip code. There was no attraction on his side, nor mine. No words uttered, in this case, was better than a polite excuse or a forced second date.

As we pursue life, we will find rejection from loved ones, from unknown ones. It shows we are trying, doing, and living. Sometimes, the alternative to the rejection is not a fairy tale in itself, but we learn and we pick ourselves up again. We dust off our hearts, we take ourselves off the shelf. We open ourselves to failure, to rejection, to success, to life.

 

 

 

Five Ways to Work Through a Funk



 



Photo by Kary Schumpert
Photo by Kary Schumpert

The other day I was feeling funky. Others might call it a bad mood, but I think feelings and moods are neither good nor bad. They pass and are temporary. There was no event, person, or situation that caused the funky mood. I was just in a funk. Rather than wallow in it, I wanted to get back to my “normal” self as soon as possible. Here are my tried-and-true tools to get out of a funk:

  1. Exercise through it. My preferred method is to run, but a session of swimming laps feels great. The other morning, I got up early and headed to the pool. The shock of cool water and then the soothing monotony of swimming laps from wall to wall helped to lift my mood. Of course, the endorphins from exercise can also be great mood elevators, but I do not know if I ever reach that level when I swim. For me, it’s more the movement of my muscles and the reward of a hot shower afterwards that shakes me out of the mood. The swim and the feeling of my body working for itself and my mind helps every time. On a morning like that, the workout is more for my spirit, rather than my fitness, but it’s really hard to separate those things. For me, they are tied up in a beautiful, tangled knot. When it’s the middle of the day, or I need to be somewhere where the smells of sweat or chlorine are not welcome, a quick walk down the hall or around the block helps. A few minutes furiously jumping rope also does the trick.
  2. Dress and groom for it. It seems counter-intuitive, but this pretty much works for me every time. I generally think of myself as a fresh-faced, wash-and-wear girl, but on funky days, I reach for my favorite, slightly dressier clothes. On Tuesday, I found my new red, over-the-knee skirt and paired it with my favorite black sweater, black tights, and my trusty kick-a$$ knee-high black leather boots. I brushed out my hair and put on makeup. I accessorized with silver earrings, silver necklace, and a silver ring. This is for me. For years, I ignored my appearance and I now feel a new appreciation for my body and face. With this past morning of a funk, the extra pampering signaled to me that I must love myself. The bright skirt and accessories were physical symbols. It’s not vanity, it’s self-care. I was giving myself those few extra precious moments on a hurried morning, the not-so-subtle reminder that I am worth the effort. Plus, the twirl of a new skirt is a thrill I love.
  3. Sing through it. I am a big believer in the healing power of music, but I also simply love it. I sing while showering, driving, cleaning, and, when I have enough air, I even sing while running. On that funky morning, I put on an old reliable favorite CD and belted my way through familiar ballads and pop tunes. Sometimes it’s the harmony, or it’s the feeling of that particular song that returns me to a happy memory. Occasionally, it’s my silliness that cheers me up as I chirp away. I realize there is something meditative about singing and for me, some songs become a way to escape my thoughts and get back to my heart, to my being.
  4. Dance to it. Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” literally moves me out of my funk into a completely enjoyable kind of funk. It’s the catchy tune, the impossibility of not dancing while hearing this favorite song, that brings me right up into a new space. I can’t think of any other song that delivers this much unadulterated fun. It’s like no other and I feel completely different after dancing off my mood to it. “Uptown Funk” obliterates my funk.
  5. Write through it. Sometimes I use my writing to articulate my mood, much like I did in my “Dear Diary” moments in high school. Because writing is just about my favorite thing, by participating in one of my treasured hobbies, I lighten my mood. There are the sensory aspects that also help: the scratch of the pen on paper and the physical act of my fist grasping the pen while moving it across the page. When I feel like I am in a writing funk (different than just a mood), the only solution is to write more. With a recent move, a new job, and new town, I have been writing less and I realized that the funk might be partly caused by what is missing: my writing ritual. Taking time for the things I love, even five minutes, propels me forward.

Reliably, these five habits and routines shake me up and shake me out of my funk. It’s the snap I need to get back to me. Despite their seemingly superficiality, they are my spiritual adjustment. The funk clears and the heart becomes whole again. It’s glorious as the funk passes away, all with the steam of my effort, and the comfort of my own care.