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Category: How to

Six reasons to meditate

Meditation

Every so often, I’ll be listening to a recitation of problems and I’ll say, “You know, I think meditation could really help with that.” And then I’ll get a list of reasons why the person I’m talking to can’t possibly meditate. (These are all real reasons.)

  • Their dog has dementia and wants to go outside every five minutes. (A five-minute meditation practice is perfectly valid.)
  • The apartment’s too noisy–someone’s car alarm is always going off. (It’s completely possible to meditate no matter the background noise–leaf blowers, fireworks, a thunderstorm. I do try to choose a quieter time if I can. No doubt every apartment complex, dorm, or other communal living space has its quieter times.)
  • Physical issues make sitting in the ‘proper’ position too painful. (My view is that the proper position is the one that allows you to meditate comfortably for the amount of time that yields the benefit you’re looking for. Insight meditation also recommends being comfortable. I once attended a day-long meditation retreat, and found that the grouchy monk running the retreat and I had different views on this. As I made myself comfortable, he shot me looks, and finally explained how wrong it was to do so–that if a fly, for example, lands on your nose while you’re meditating, you should simply allow it to sit there for as long as it likes. I was very comfortable with never returning to that meditation center. I believe a real spiritual leader won’t judge you, and neither should you judge yourself, if you decide that being comfortable while you meditate is right for you.)
  • They’ve tried it, but clearly have no talent for meditation, as they just can’t stop thinking no matter how hard they try. (There are a lucky few who have a natural talent for meditation–the rest of us get to get good at it the hard way, which starts off in exactly this way. As someone to whom a few things have come easily, I think it’s a salutary experience to keep working at something worthwhile despite no immediate signs of genius. I have read–and I believe this–that meditating with your mind running 100 miles an hour is still practice.)

So there are the excuses. If you haven’t yet committed to a meditation practice, here are a few reasons to meditate based on my own experience, that I hope will speak to you.

  1. Meditation is great for releasing what’s bothering you. When I’m feeling upset, I often try to make time to meditate ahead of schedule (typically after breakfast and before my shower in the morning, and before bed at night). Inevitably anything I’m upset or excited about will cross my mind as I meditate. When it does, I visualize packing several symbols of whatever it is into a helium balloon, and cutting the string.
  2. Meditation is also great practice for releasing judgment of yourself and the need to be perfect. It soon becomes apparent that thoughts enter your mind, that’s what they do, and it’s OK. Perfection, whatever that might be, isn’t possible, but awareness and recognition of what’s happening is. You simply recognize the thoughts, release them, and move on–nothing else is necessary. This works in real life, too–you notice something has gone off the rails a bit, take corrective action, and just keep moving.
  3. Once you’ve meditated for awhile, not only does ‘monkey mind’ rarely happen during meditation, but my experience has been that it fades considerably all the rest of the time too. I used to actually try to drum up thoughts in quiet moments, asking myself, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I don’t do that anymore, and there are nice quiet spaces in my mind pretty much all the time. Peace, in other words. Calm. Serenity.
  4. I find that meditating before bed generally puts me in the perfect frame of mind for sleep. Good sleep is pretty much impossible to overvalue.
  5. When I meditate, I’ve found that I’m much more patient and tolerant. It’s not unusual now for people to thank me for my patience. I’m not sure that happened even once in all the years I didn’t meditate.
  6. Studies have shown that violent crime decreases in the surrounding area when people meditate regularly. I love that a practice intended to benefit me and my own life, in combination with the practice of others I both know and don’t know, raises the vibration of our neighborhoods and cities such that harmful violence is prevented, and lives that could have been painfully disrupted or even ended, never are. Together, we can bring that about.

If you meditate, what benefits have you experienced?

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Meditation.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

How to celebrate

Yes take 3

 When I accomplish something really big, something I have worked long and hard for, I buy myself what I call a “push present.” I recently completed writing my tenth book and bought myself a beautiful new ring that I wear nearly everyday…. The ring is a physical, constant reminder and proof of my abundance and prosperity that comes from the part of me that is connected to the Divine. And, every time I look at this ring it makes me smile and remember that I have accomplished something that I am really proud of…. I also “tithe” the same amount I spend to someone or something that provides me with spiritual sustenance. This creates even more fulfillment with me. –Arielle Ford

While I was considering how to celebrate my new job, I came across a blog post from Arielle Ford that resonated with me, where she explained how she celebrated the completion of her last book.

I was definitely on board with the jewelry idea! When I worked for a startup that recognized the Employee of the Month with a cash award, I spent my award money on earrings–the one piece of jewelry I never leave the house without. I bought another pair to celebrate a hard-won raise a few years ago, and a third pair to celebrate this new job. I also made a reservation at my favorite French bistro to celebrate with friends.

When I think of spiritual sustenance, I think of books, magazines, processes like SoulCollage, guided meditations. Typically the people behind them are already doing well and really aren’t in any need of help from me. Since this was a business-related goal, I thought Kiva loans would be a perfect way to celebrate. When these loans are paid back, I’ll loan the money again, so it will truly be the gift that keeps on giving.

These are the women I loaned to (top to bottom and left to right):

  • Fanta from Mali, who sells fabrics, including African waxprints
  • Rewad from Palestine, who’s working on her degree in elementary education
  • Tuyet from Vietnam, who’s adding a bathroom to her house
  • Mahzuna from Tajikistan, a single mother with a tailoring business
  • Martina from Peru, who has a food sales business
  • Fatmata from Sierra Leone, who has a grocery store

FantaRewadTuyetMahzuna

Martina

Fatmata

How do you like to celebrate?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Yes!

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Creating something new

img008

This weekend’s dark of the moon–when this month’s unusually powerful New Moon sheds little to no illumination on the night sky–is the perfect time to reiterate your intentions for 2015, to reinforce all that you intend to create but have not yet fully brought forth.

As I do this myself, I’m reminded of the two SoulCollage® cards I made at the New Year to represent what I believed the year would bring. This year, my cards (below) were about mastery and a leap forward in my professional life, and heart expansion in the personal realm.

Thoroughbred     Heart 2

I’m seeing clear and very hopeful indications of both coming to fruition, and this weekend, I’m taking the opportunity to reiterate my intentions in both areas, as well as setting down in my journal new intentions for both, specific to the unfolding that’s going on right now.

It seems to me that right now is an amazing time for the fulfillment of dreams, so I hope you’ll join me in taking some time to bring focus to what you want to bring forth next!

I like to create a specific set of intentions for each goal I want to manifest. For me, being a words person, this is usually a list in my journal–but as you can see, I use my right brain to create visual representations as well. A collage or vision board might feel more natural for you, but no doubt there are many other options too–a video, a voice recording, a painting, etc. You can describe the characteristics of a new job, partner, a new house, or whatever it is you want to manifest, or you can take an alternative approach, such as describing how you would like to feel in a new job, with a new partner, living in a new house, and so on. For example …

  • I want to feel protected in the shelter of my home.
  • I want my hard work to be consistently appreciated and rewarded.
  • I want to feel truly known by my partner, and fully accepted just as I am.

For goals that take some time to bring into being, occasionally it feels right to me to start fresh, restating the goal in today’s fresh language or images or voice. That is what I’m doing today, and I hope you’ll join me! I believe we’re just on the cusp of a wonderful time.

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage cards Unfolding of consciousness, Thoroughbred racer, and Heart expansion.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Making way for the new

Receive

Today I’ve been conscious of the need to clear out the old, all that no longer serves me, to make way for the new.

I was waiting for an important phone call this morning; I’d suggested 11 am, but that hour came and went, and no phone call. My instinct was to clear some clutter in order to create some space.

Recently I scheduled a book exchange and dinner with friends, and I’ve slowly been working through my stack of “maybe these can go” books. (Those that can definitely go are pretty much already gone.) Each of us will bring a dozen books or so, and take home books we’re interested in reading. I plan to donate the unclaimed books to either my neighborhood’s Little Free Library, or a nearby community library.

Our last exchange, of unwanted Christmas presents, was lots of fun. We all offloaded our unwanted stuff (and unwanted presents from family can have some weight to them), and came home with a few things we did want. I’ve also attended a clothing exchange in the past, where I was able to see others appreciate my clothes that seemed too good to just drop in a donation bin, and pick up a couple of things myself, including a t-shirt and new-with-tag pajamas that are still in rotation.

I wanted something faster, though, and I thought of my basket of catalogs. I grabbed my recycling basket, and tossed in virtually everything I’d received prior to January of this year. I filled it three or four times, and dumped the old catalogs in my recycling cart. I began emptying my wastebaskets to take the trash out as well, and in the midst of doing that, shortly after 1 pm–the phone rang. It was good news, and a good conversation.

I put out fresh towels, did laundry, ran the dishwasher, and cleaned the bath. Next up is a good spring clean of the flowerbeds.

I’d love to hear some of your favorite ways to clear clutter and make way for something new to emerge in your life!

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage® card Ready to receive.

SoulCollage cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

 

How to help your companion animal have a good death

Cherry

Last weekend I had no thought that my topic would be my focus this week. Everything seemed completely normal. I did notice Cherry, my oldest dog, possibly breathing a little more heavily than normal as she flopped down on the floor, but thought (almost) nothing of it–her breathing has been audible for years.

In the wee hours of Monday morning, I was awakened by one of the dogs throwing up, and got up to see what was going on. I found Cherry in my office, staring at a blob that appeared to be pretty much her entire dinner, undigested. This seemed odd all the way around. I moved the food off the floor into a bowl, and went back to bed.

In the morning I found the food untouched, which was odd. Cherry was my alpha, and loved to assert her right to all things edible (and a few that were questionable). I tossed it out, and made breakfast, a light one for Cherry.

It was our custom for Cherry to go outside while I prepared the dogs’ food. She felt the need to comment on and supervise the process by barking continuously, and even though she’d been debarked when I got her, I found that a door–actually two–between us at this time of the morning made my life a little more peaceful.

When I finished, I had to go fetch her. Although she was deaf and could no longer hear me calling her, she would stand at the bottom of the stairs and watch for me to open the door. Except for Monday morning, when I found her lying down in a flowerbed instead.

When she came inside, she walked right past her bowl in a daze; I had to point it out to her. She took a couple of laps at the liquid in the bowl, and walked away. As it turned out, she never ate anything again.

I cook for my dogs, and they are exceptionally enthusiastic eaters of virtually everything I offer them. When one of my dogs doesn’t eat, it has never failed to be a sign of serious trouble. I went into my office and called the vet.

The dogs go outside when I get out of the shower, and come back in to eat their treats before I leave. On Monday, only two dogs came inside. It was freezing cold.

When I went outside with the leash to take Cherry to the car, I found her curled up on the sidewalk, her flanks shivering in the cold–a disturbing sight.

When we arrived, the vet was out of the office for a bit, so I dropped her off and headed to work. Before long I got a call from the vet explaining her bloodwork–elevated phosphorus, normal calcium, blah blah–and that the X-rays showed a mass with some calcification in Cherry’s abdomen, about where her spleen should be. The vet said she was giving Cherry fluids, and wanted to keep her and get an ultrasound done. She also asked me to bring some of Cherry’s food.

At lunchtime, I went home and prepared a bowl of rice and yogurt, topped with three freshly-scrambled eggs. I had no chicken in the house–food of the gods as far as dogs are concerned–or I would have added some. It was a hugely optimistic amount of food for a 23-pound dog who wasn’t eating. I felt hopeful as I made it, remembering that my dog Honeycomb would eat from my hand when she wouldn’t eat from her bowl.

When I got there, Cherry had sat up to greet me. She smelled each bit o food I offered, but was having none of it. She seemed disengaged, and settled her head on her paw to rest.

I looked at the X-rays with the vet. The mass was more than a little calcified–it was whiter and more solid-looking than any bone in her body, and bigger than an elongated jumbo egg. I’ve had an orange-sized cyst, and fainted from the pain–and I’m a lot bigger than 23 pounds.

I went back and talked to Cherry about what was happening. There’s more than a little irony there, since she was deaf, and no doubt understood the situation better than I did. Nonetheless, I believe a dog doesn’t need to hear my voice, or understand every word, in order to receive my message.

I called the vet shortly before closing to ask for an update. She must have been busy, because a tech I barely know told me that Cherry was still refusing all food, and that they had observed some blood in her urine and were planning to check it again in the morning. I had not observed this, and thought it was a quite recent development. I asked what it meant, and was told it could be a UTI, or it could be a symptom of something much more serious.

Irritated to have to do my own basic research to get the answer to my question, I consulted Google, and drew the conclusion that if not a UTI, the culprit was likely to be cancer.

I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure I asked for wisdom and insight during my meditation before bed. I woke the next morning with much more clarity, and immediately called the vet’s office before they had opened, saying that I wanted to talk to the vet prior to any additional tests.

After breakfast, my grounding work, and meditation, I called again. The vet told me that things were not looking good–there was much more blood, surprisingly little urine, and Cherry was very lethargic.

I asked her if there was any reasonable explanation of what we knew other than cancer. She allowed that on a list of the top five most probable diagnoses, cancer would be at least 1, 2, and 3–and the prognosis wasn’t good for any possibility. She said she expected the ultrasound to provide “definitive bad news,” and I said I thought we already had it.

I told her I wanted to bring Cherry home, and asked her to make a house call when she could. She said she thought she could come at 1:30, or failing that, at the end of the day.

I mentioned that I remembered that my landscaper at the time had been quite slow to bury Honeycomb and plant the row of hollies I requested, and that I didn’t intend to allow that issue to repeat itself. She offered to place a call to her own landscapers.

Now I was working against the clock–I had a lot to do, and a deadline. I arranged to take a personal day, whipped my bedroom into visitor-receiving shape, and eventually decided on a favorite worn and very soft cotton appliqued quilt to wrap Cherry in.

I got ready, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and went by to pick up Cherry with plenty of time to spare. I wanted to be sure we had some quality time together before the vet arrived, and very much hoped she would be alert enough to interact with me.

I was holding it together at the vet’s office until one of the techs I do know well came out to show me a plaque she’d made with Cherry’s pawprint. I’d seen some of these in the back room while visiting Cherry, but hadn’t realized the significance of the craft project.

Cherry came out walking on lead, which surprised us–I’d expected to be carrying her out. She was clearly happy to be going home. However nice the vet’s office, my dogs are clear that it is an unnatural place to be. (Honeycomb was so sure she didn’t want to be there that she pulled her IV out, not once but twice.)

When I saw Cherry looking comparatively perky, I experienced a flicker of hope–and then reminded myself that I had a dog who had stopped eating, whose organs were shutting down. Onward.

When we got home, I carried her to the grass, but she had no business to do. She started walking down the driveway to the backyard; I asked her to come in the front door. The other dogs rushed up to smell her, and Gracie (who loves to get status information through her nose) continued to do so for awhile.

We sat on my bed for awhile as I reminisced about our road trip to New Orleans and other good times. I cried as I gently petted her fur. Cherry moved her head so that her nose was touching my hand.

Eventually she raised her head and looked at me meaningfully, like I should know full well there was someplace else she needed to be. I wasn’t sure where that was, but I lifted her down to the floor. She wandered into my office, seeming perhaps to want to visit all the important places in the house.

I spread a blanket on the sofa, just in case, and lifted Cherry onto my lap. After awhile she started to pant a bit; her breath was pretty bad, as expected. Water seemed like a good idea, so I went to get a small bowl, and she drank some. When she seemed finished, I took it back in the kitchen, and she jumped down, came into the kitchen, and drank for awhile from the real water bowl. I remembered Honeycomb fortifying herself with the entire bowl of water immediately before she died. Cherry then nudged toward the back door, and I let her out.

She took the initial steps on her own, walked out onto the deck, and gazed into the middle distance. I lifted her down to ground level. More gazing, and then she lay down, half on the grass, half on the sidewalk.

I went inside and got the pillows for my chair, and my jacket, and sat down to watch with her. After awhile, she raised her head, opened one eye, and looked at me quizzically as if to say, What are you still doing here?

We agreed on the timing, but she clearly had a strong instinct to die outside. I had difficulty getting on board with what I took to be the way of the wolf, especially given the weather. I went back inside, pulled a warm fleece out of the dryer, and put it on my bedroom floor at the foot of my bed. I brought her back inside and lay her on it. Cherry accepted the compromise and settled in. I put a TV pillow on the floor next to her, and sat down. The other dogs came in and joined us. This was more like it, as far as I was concerned. Soon Cherry was on her way.

The phone rang; now the vet was on her way. I felt relieved.

Cherry’s breathing was increasingly labored. When the vet arrived with the vet tech, she could clearly see that Cherry was already very close. When she lifted her and looked in her eyes, Cherry seemed almost no longer present in her body–which she may well not have been. Cherry still had her IV catheter, and the vet began administering the injections, while I stroked Cherry’s head, telling her she was a good girl. Very quickly, the labored breathing stopped. She had been so ready to go. The vet finished the injections, and listened as her heartbeat faded. The vet hugged me, and told me she thought I’d done the right thing. We all wrapped Cherry’s body, so different now, in the quilt.

When they left, I returned the landscaper’s call, and it so happened that Tuesday and Wednesday, they were working in the neighborhood next to mine. They would come by on their way home. I went out to the backyard to identify a good spot. An hour later, the phone rang–they were here.

The ground had been dug before, so three men made quick work of the burial. At mid-afternoon, it was finished. Events from start to finish had spanned only a day and a half. I felt stunned.

Since then, I have felt a quiet peace.

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Here are a few suggestions based on my own experience that have helped me give my companion animals a good death when that time arrives.

1. Have a great vet before you need a great vet. When your animals are healthy, it can be more difficult to see whether a vet will still meet your needs when they are not. You want a vet who’s knowledgeable, competent, ethical, and has good judgment. You also want a vet who, like mine, truly listens to you. I really appreciate people who give it to me straight, and she will do that.

2. I also recommend establishing a relationship with a good animal communicator prior to any health crisis. Mine was a recommendation from the adopter of my first foster dog. Animal communicators can be quite helpful in solving everyday problems, as well as for discussions of end-of-life issues. Although Cherry’s situation moved too fast for me to do this, I was able to do so with my dog Honeycomb, who had congestive heart failure and kidney failure. My vet had stabilized her, but it was clear we were close to the end, and I wanted to understand what her wishes were. Our animal communicator told me that Honeycomb was enjoying the extra attention and closeness, and wasn’t ready yet, but would let me know when she was. A couple weeks later, in the middle of a very difficult night when she’d had an adverse reaction to her anti-nausea medication, I heard a silent “NOW NOW NOW” in my head. We were in perfect agreement that it was time. I told her I would call the vet, but they weren’t open yet. She was a bit on edge till I actually made the call, and then she relaxed.

3. Remember that your companion animal’s health crisis is more important than work. Your animal has probably been a faithful companion to you during good times and bad, while work is, in reality, a series of hair-on-fire, yet ultimately pretty unimportant, emergencies. I have yet to have a manager who was an animal person during any of my animals’ health crises. That’s OK. Your manager may set your priorities at work, but you set your priorities for your life.

When I knew Cherry was sick last Monday, during the hours I was at work, I really cranked it out. The project didn’t suffer from my not being at work on Tuesday, and I made sure my manager had complete information about my status so he wouldn’t worry about it either.

4. Don’t worry about the money, and don’t delay getting medical treatment when it’s needed. I’ve been in the situation of having a critically ill dog and not knowing where the money was going to come from, as well as being in the same situation, and pretty sure the money in my checking and savings accounts would cover the bill. What’s important in this situation is not the money, but your own sincere belief that you did the best and right thing for your animal. The very last thing you want is guilt piled on top of grief. All vets are familiar with this situation; you just need to tell them upfront that you’re going to need a payment arrangement.

5. That said, know when to stop treatment. Briefly, the time to stop treatment is when it isn’t doing any good, and there’s no reasonable expectation that that will change.

6. Respect your animal’s agency in knowing when it’s time. My animals’ instincts have been spot on. In Cherry’s case, she understood that it was time, but I needed to understand what kind of health crisis she was having, and whether it could be averted or not.

7. I recommend asking your vet to make a house call. Now that I have experienced this, willingness to do this is an absolute requirement for me. Home is clearly a much better place to die than any clinical environment. When Honeycomb died at home, I was just coming out of a very difficult period of my life. She lit up the room where she died like the sun coming out with just a beautiful, beautiful presence that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. It’s not always possible for an animal to die at home, but when it is, I have always found it to be a blessing.

8. Afterwards, allow yourself to grieve–and to be comforted. A companion animal who dies is just as concerned about your wellbeing as a human companion in the same situation is. It’s so important to allow yourself to feel your grief–rather than resisting it–which allows it to pass through you, and not get stuck. It’s also important to be present to the comfort being offered you.

There are two kinds of people in the world–those who know what it is to have lost an animal they truly loved, and those who don’t. I recommend discussing your loss only with those who understand, and not with those who will unintentionally invalidate your loss.

I think it’s fair to say that many people fear and dread the deaths of their companion animals. Admittedly, it really sucks to be left behind with a hole in your household and life that cannot truly be filled. But it is a journey all of us with animals must take, and it’s far better to join the dance with grace than resist it.

Ultimately I see it as a tremendous and very intimate privilege to ease a companion animal’s journey to the other side.

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Cherry at the threshold. You can see my reading of the card here.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Beaming love to the world

Heart 2

In recent meditations, I’ve been getting some intimations of what’s next for me in the new year. One of the primary things I’m expecting is a (figurative) expansion or enlarging of my heart. Today I made a SoulCollage card (above) to represent this idea.

On Christmas evening, after all the festivities were complete, I was shuffling a stack of books on my ottoman to get to a reference at the very bottom, when I was drawn to another book in the stack, Sonia Choquette’s Ask Your Guides. I flipped it open and read a few chapters, one of which was about light beings. (Each chapter of the book addresses a different type of guide.)

In this chapter, Sonia writes about encountering light beings who encourage her and her audiences to help raise our planet’s collective vibration from fear to love–a change they characterize as necessary for our survival.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the rampant fear that often surrounds us, in the form of negativity, prejudice, judgment, war, existential dread, hoarding, lack of generosity, and many other forms of ugliness and unhappiness. At Christmas time we refer to the spirit of fear as Scrooge or the Grinch, but it’s with us all year round. Perhaps you’ve wanted to do something about it. Maybe you’d like to see more optimism, sharing, positive solutions, openness, acceptance, peace, and flow in our world. If you’re reading this, I’m pretty certain you do feel that way.

Here is something you can do about it. I have begun doing this as part of my meditation practice.

To get started, place your hands over your heart, and imagine the energy of your heart chakra arcing clockwise through your hands, around your heart, and back again. You can ask for the support of all light beings who are interested in helping us raise our vibration in this little corner of the universe, to strengthen this energy. After a few minutes, extend your hands in a way that’s comfortable for you, to beam this energy outward. Feel the loving energy flowing through your hands.

As in the lovingkindness meditation, you can direct your loving energy first to specific people, and then to larger groups, ultimately sending it to the world in general with the intention to raise our collective vibration from fear to love. Remember how much stronger love is than fear. Allow the energy to flow for a few minutes, or as long as you like.

If you try this, please feel free to share your experience below.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

The most important lesson

Thoroughbred

As I mentally prepared for an interview this week, I asked myself a practice question I’ve never actually been asked, but that I may ask in interviews myself now that I’ve thought of it–What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in the course of your career?

I knew right away that for me there were two lessons–It doesn’t have to be perfect, and I don’t have to be right. (The second lesson I’ve written about before, so it’s the first one I’m focusing on today.)

This first lesson began fairly early, and benefitted my personal life as well as my professional one.

In the mid-90s I worked for a small public company that made computer hardware components. My priorities could and often did change on a daily basis, depending on the orders that came in.

Most orders couldn’t ship without documentation, which was my responsibility, so booking revenue was directly tied to what I produced. The engineers also revised the hardware frequently, which required me in turn to revise the documentation.

I grew up watching one of my parents conduct endless research before making a move. Deadlines were met rarely to never. I found this tremendously frustrating to watch (especially since there was a clear relationship between deadlines being met and money to put food on the table), but found myself repeating the approach, to a much lesser extent.

This job completely broke me of those bad habits. It was clear to me that time was of the essence, and what I was working toward one day could easily change the next. There was no time to be wasted on hand-wringing, and plenty of inherited problems to solve. What I really needed to do was make tangible progress toward a goal every single day.

I had distinct tendencies toward perfectionism, but I saw that I had multiple opportunities to work on nearly every document. My goal became not to make anything perfect–a clearly unachievable goal given the time constraints–but to make everything accurate, and better and/or more cost-effective than it was before. Incremental improvement rather than perfection.

I’d already noticed, as I made significant strides toward dropping baggage, releasing bitterness, and becoming more positive, that I really picked up speed at work. An early manager had noted that my work could be more “expeditious.” And she was right–I spent a lot of time at that job being upset rather than working.

It turns out that eliminating mental–or audible!–moaning really saves a lot of time. What I do these days is simply dive right in to the work.

Occasionally, various delays and obstructions prevent me from doing that. At those times, the (unbidden!) mental image I have of myself is a racing thoroughbred confined to a paddock. All I want is for the starting gates to open so I can run out onto the track and open it up–flying like the wind, doing what I know how to do.

What would you say is the most important lesson you’ve learned, as it relates to your career?

This post is illustrated with the SoulCollage card I made today, Thoroughbred racer + True north.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Q&A: Where do you find your images?

Courage

I was recently asked where I find my images for SoulCollage, and the nerd in me would absolutely love to tell you!

The answer is, almost all of them come from magazines, mostly magazines I subscribe to now, or subscribed to in the past. About half are from ads (some of my most powerful images have come from ads), half editorial. Occasionally I’ll use an image from another hardcopy source, like a museum flyer, or a World Wildlife Federation calendar. The images for a recent card, for example, came from a wide variety of magazines: US Harper’s Bazaar, More, Lapham’s Quarterly, Town & Country, Elle Décor, and Cottages & Bungalows. The last one I got from the newsstand; the others I subscribe to (some free through Recyclebank).

I have always read a lot of magazines, and SoulCollage has finally given me a use for them once I’m finished reading! Some of my favorite sources are magazines from the past, such as Victoria and O Magazine. Victoria is still published and still a great source, although it has changed hands. The emphasis is now more on the photography than the text. The annual British issue is a favorite of mine, and especially useful. I still find the occasional image in O, but it’s much more text-intensive than it used to be (due to the overall contraction of the industry), and no longer features the two-page photographic “Breathing Space,” which was great for background images. If you don’t have your own stash of vintage magazines, you may be able to find one to raid at a relative’s house (sometimes it’s nice to be related to hoarders!), or at a public library’s magazine exchange. I much prefer National Geographic Traveler to National Geographic, but if you like the original, you should be able to spot stacks of the yellow spines at garage sales and perhaps thrift stores.

I find fashion magazines like US Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and W useful, especially the oversize ones (Elle is not oversize, the others are). They’re great for background images and jewelry (which I like to include on a lot of my cards). Oversize magazines are good because the larger the page, the easier it is to get the unobstructed background image you want (SoulCollage cards are typically 5 x 8 inches). European A5 magazines are great for the same reason.

British magazines are especially strong, and this holds true across categories. I’ve found great images in UK Country Living (including some stunning and rare animal images), Scotland Magazine, and Porter. I’ve subscribed to some, but mostly I buy them occasionally at the newsstand. Every few weeks I’ll visit the largest newsstand near me, and generally come home with a new magazine or two.

Art magazines are another good category to browse at the newsstand. SoulCollagers are typically looking for particular totem animals, and I’ve found them before in American Art Collector, as well as good background images. I also like magazines specifically focused on animals, like the British World of Animals (which I buy occasionally at the newsstand), or a regional magazine like Texas Parks & Wildlife. But good animal images are available in a surprising variety of magazines.

Travel magazines tend to have lots of useful images. My favorite is Afar.

Spirituality & Health uses art as illustrations, and is a great source, along with its special issues. I’ve also gotten some nice images from Shambhala Sun, a Buddhist magazine. Both of these also feature great content.

As you might expect, gardening magazines are great for pictures of flowers, but I’ve also found good ones in garden stories in decorating magazines, as well as Victoria. I’ve used pictures of heather on multiple cards, as well as many other flowers.

I generally like to read the magazines I receive or buy, then go back through them, pulling the useful images and categorizing them. (Right now my categories are Backgrounds, Animals, People, Divine, Flowers and nature, Objects, and Architecture.) This way I don’t drive myself crazy by pulling out a page that makes it impossible to finish reading an article. A few magazines, like World of Animals, have so many useful images that I just file the whole magazine in the appropriate box. Once I’m finished with a magazine, I generally pass it on to other SoulCollagers (I usually pull only the images I think I’ll use myself).

If you SoulCollage, which magazines do you find most useful?

This post is illustrated with my SoulCollage card Courage + Tiger totem.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

Stretch yourself

Stretch

Lately I’ve been noticing that as I get older, a flexible, limber body doesn’t come for free anymore. Last night as I spent time stretching, the subject of the SoulCollage card I made today came to me.

I’m challenging myself to stretch this week in as many different ways as possible–and I hope you’ll join me (and share your experience here in the comments section, if you like). Here are 10 ideas to get us both started …

  1. Make a monetary gift you wouldn’t otherwise have made. A couple of fun ideas are making a Kiva loan, or adopting a child for Christmas through a program such as Salvation Army’s Angel Tree. (Be aware that they have more gift requests to choose from, if those on display don’t appeal to you. I like to dig for low-tech requests like a tea set or doll’s chair … the kinds of things I liked to play with myself back in the day!)
  2. Instead of an e-mail or electronic conversation–nice as those can be–send a beautiful card with a hand-written note to someone you care about. The best e-mail you’ve ever sent has never been given pride of place on anyone’s mantel, but your card probably will be. This year I got a lovely Halloween card from someone who’s sworn off Christmas cards–and it’s on my mantel as I write. Bonus points for needing an extra sheet of paper to finish your note!
  3. Instead of running one more errand–let’s face it, the to-do list is everlasting and will never truly be completed no matter what we do–take time to enjoy something beautiful. Take in a museum show, watch ice skaters (or be one of them!), visit a sculpture garden.
  4. If you see homeless people as you go about your business, keep food in your car to share with those who are looking for it (I keep protein bars in fun flavors), along with an encouraging word.
  5. Be kind to an animal. Stock treats for the neighbor’s cat who likes to say hello, or take your dogs to the dog park. If there’s a stray animal nearby, make sure it has food, take it to the vet (and be sure they check for a microchip!), see about finding it a home or getting it back to the home it already has. Or, if you have room, adopt a dog or cat. If you’ve never done it (or even if you have), it’s a tremendously rewarding experience, and guaranteed to stretch you.
  6. Have a little more in-depth conversation with someone you interact with on a casual basis–your barista, someone on the elevator at work, a neighbor. You never know when a few kind words may change the course of someone’s life. A simple kindness could be among the most impactful things you ever do.
  7. Express something you might normally keep to yourself. Voice a compliment. Thank someone who’s been important in your life. You could write a letter to your alumni magazine, for example, expressing appreciation for your professors and your college experience.
  8. Put an electronic device away–for an hour, the day, the weekend. Remember what life was like before you had a smartphone, a GPS, a TV (OK, maybe I’m the only one who remembers what life was like without TV!), or a laptop. It won’t kill you, I promise!
  9. Do something different. Go crazy–change your drink order or your route home. Try a new restaurant or ethnic cuisine; cook a new dish. Buy a fruit or vegetable you’ve never tasted before. (If you’ve never had a pomelo, they’re in season now, and they are fabulous!) Jump out of an airplane, if you’ve always wanted to.
  10. When you’re just about to say No, if you suspect it’s out of unhelpful fear, say Yes instead.

SoulCollage® cards are for personal use, and are not for sale, barter, or trade.

How to make a difference II

Not a loan

The opposite of rich is not poor; it’s free. The more weighed down we are, the harder it is for us to move when the Spirit says move. When were encumbered by baggage such as credit-card debt, we are unable to follow the Spirit’s lead. –Reverend Lynice Pinkard

Taking on debt indentures you to do future work in order to pay for past purchases. –Cynthia Eells

And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. … Ye shall not therefore oppress one another … –Leviticus 25: 10, 17

At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbor shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother … –Deuteronomy 15:1-2

As soon as I read about the Rolling Jubilee project–I think it was in Yes! magazine‘s poverty issue–I knew I wanted to be part of it. Rolling Jubilee, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, buys “bad” debt that’s in collections and is being sold for pennies on the dollar–and then they forgive it, cancel it, no strings attached. Or, as the Strike Debt folks like to say, they abolish it.

They focus on debt that has been incurred for basic services like medical care and education. (Most student loan debt is inaccessible to the Rolling Jubilee due to the federal government’s role, but the project has acquired private student debt.) The kinds of things that could be considered–but in the US often are not–basic human rights.

I know what a good feeling it is to retire debt. I’ve been working for several years to abolish my own debt, and starting next month, major chunks of it will be gone–paid the old-fashioned way, I might add–I haven’t gotten creative, in case you’re wondering! Early next year, I’ll owe money only on my house–and the end of my mortgage debt, though not immediate, is in sight as well. I am thrilled, so the thought of bringing freedom from debt to other people who may have despaired of ever having it, is really nothing short of awesome. I unequivocally love the idea.

According to Rolling Jubilee’s website, one in seven people in this country is currently being pursued by a debt collector. I’m comfortable calling it harassment. Just last week, after weeks and weeks of robo-calls for Hyacinth [my last name], a human finally called and I was able to put a stop to it. I’ve also gotten calls for Helen [my last name], and a number of other people who are not me and have never been members of my household. I certainly feel harassed, and it’s not even my debt.

Critics of the Rolling Jubilee have said that its approach doesn’t reduce the debt burden because it’s “bad debt” being discharged. This seems to me a banker’s view, not a people’s view, of the matter. It seems clear to me that those who owe the debt are unable to pay it–but the harassment of the attempts to collect that debt, and the felt burden of that debt, are no less real than if the debt were “good debt”–and probably both are increased.

To date, the Rolling Jubilee has discharged over $18.5 million in debt at a cost of a little over $700,000. They state that “all proceeds go directly to buying and canceling people’s debt.”

Now no doubt many people associated with the Strike Debt and Occupy movements have ideas a bit more radical than my own. I’m fine with that … I think a few radical ideas will be useful in moving our country away from the current tyranny of the 1%. And I love the idea of creating freedom from debt.

The term jubilee comes from the Bible, and as I wrote this, I wanted to refresh my memory on the details. I remembered a cycle of 7 years, and a complete cycle of 7 x 7 (49) years plus the 50th or jubilee year, when all debt is forgiven and all indentured servants go free.

Perhaps part of the reason I couldn’t quite remember the details (my family read the Bible through each year for much of my childhood) is that, like the Creation story, there are multiple different versions of the jubilee rules–one in Leviticus, one in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy presents just the 7-year cycle, with the release happening in the fixed seventh year (the Sabbath year). Leviticus presents the 50-year jubilee cycle I remembered.

I was disturbed to see that it wasn’t quite all debt forgiven, all indentured servants and their children going free (and not empty-handed, either), and all land returning to its original owner. The Old Testament writings draw a distinction between the debt your ‘brother’ owes you, or your ‘brother’ being in servitude to you, and the same being true of a ‘sojourner,’ ‘stranger,’ or ‘heathen.’ According to these laws, such others could be held in servitude or indebtedness in perpetuity. Jesus took care to correct this error with his parable of The Good Samaritan, which makes it clear that all humankind are our neighbors, our brothers.

Isn’t that just the problem … those who wish to enslave us by having us forever in their debt don’t see us as their brothers, their neighbors, their landsmen, but as entities or objects to be used in their own enrichment. I think one of the beautiful things about the Rolling Jubilee debt buys is that they are blocks of debt, the individual debtors completely anonymous and unknown until after the buy is complete. Some of them no doubt would be recognizable to me as ‘brothers’ in Old Testament terms … people who share my ethnicity. And yet there is no doubt that every one of them is my neighbor.

If you’d like to contribute, you can do so here. (The original How to make a difference is here.)

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