Finding more of enough

How do we know when we have found “enough?”

That question propelled me to read prize-winning author Shauna Ahern’s just-published memoir: Enough: Notes From a Woman Who Has Finally Found It.

While Shauna is best known as “The Gluten-Free Girl,” this book is a departure from her work as a blogger and cookbook maven. She opens up her heart and her life, as she shares what it took to survive her childhood and rebuild life as an adult. Her story of enough is uniquely her own; but the quest to find what is enough can apply to us all.

She happens to live on my island, so I was able to interview, for my podcast, a “best-selling author” who lived just a few miles down the road. Like me, she rides the bus, shops at our great local thrift store, and loves this community.

Shauna found enough not through fame as a writer, but through living her values, and staying connected to her family, her community, and herself.

One of the things I love about the book is how she takes us behind the scenes of her life as the Gluten-Free Girl. Viewed from the outside, she was the picture of social media success with thousands of followers and several highly acclaimed, prize-winning cookbooks. Behind the scenes, she was increasingly miserable with a business that neither paid the rent nor filled her soul. Courageously, she walked away and worked for a while at the local supermarket to pay the bills. We have the kind of supermarket where having a prize-winning author stocking shelves isn’t THAT unusual.

She created the space to live life according to what was most important to her.

(Listen to the podcast, she’s inspiring.)

The challenge to find enough

Determining enough isn’t easy. I have lived for years with a chronic, low-grade case of not-enoughness.

For example:

Do I get enough sleep? (I can always use more.)
Do I eat enough vegetables?
Do I do enough to help the environment?
Do I give enough to causes?
Do I spend enough time with friends?
Do I spend enough time training the dogs?
Do I write enough?
Do I have enough money set aside to see me through a crazy economy and possible health challenges in the future?

The list could go on. We’re bombarded daily with ads and messages telling us we aren’t enough and haven’t done enough.

We’re told we can fill the hole in our hearts by buying more stuff.

We don’t know how to have what we have.

Years ago, in The Soul of Money, Lynn Twist wrote about how important it is to have what we have, with appreciation and gratitude. It’s not the amount of money we have, but our relationship to it that determines whether we feel abundance. While raising money for causes, Lynn discovered that some very wealthy people found little joy in their wealth or their giving. They never felt like they had enough.

A weight-y (ha) story

Years ago, while shuttling between New York City and sub-Saharan Africa for work, I lost a lot of weight. For the first time in my life, I was really thin, thus achieving the dream of many a young woman. I looked great in pants. I went down from a women’s size ten to a four. (I’m an eight now.) I wasn’t anorexic (well, maybe I was borderline), but I weighed myself obsessively every day.

I delighted in having lost weight, but was it enough? As the bones in my arms started to poke out, I heard a devilish voice saying, “What if you start to gain it back? Maybe you should lose a few more pounds to be safe.” I had achieved the prize of thinness, but it wasn’t enough. I could always be thinner.

It was not the happiest period of my life.

A few years later, after moving to Seattle, I gained weight and gave away my NYC clothes. I stopped watching the scale. (Haven’t looked at one for forty years.)

I weighed more, and I had more friends, a guy I liked, and a life I enjoyed. Like Shauna, in living a relatively simple life, I found enough.

I joked with Shauna about the tagline for her book: From a woman who has finally found it. That line made it sound like enough was an exalted state to reach, instead of something we might dip into and out of.

The publisher had chosen the tagline. (They have rights, of course.) Shauna, in turn, titled the last section of her book “Mostly enough.”

The dance between appreciating what we have and wanting more is baked into contemporary life.

Sometimes a sense of lack can lead to great achievements. But for many of us, the scales are heavily weighted away from relaxing, appreciating, and celebrating what we do have.

There may always be areas in which we wonder about enoughness or feel that there’s more that we want. We reach retirement, did we achieve enough? We start painting, are we good enough? We have friends, but do we have enough?

The question, ultimately, is whether we believe we ARE enough.

Some days we may be sure that we are; some days, we may forget.

In my case, I know what I want my answer to be.

With care,

 

Where in the cycle are you?

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven

            Pete Seeger (and Ecclesiastes)

When I first arrived at our island home almost fourteen years ago, I started to garden like a madwoman. This was particularly significant because I had never gardened before. For a few years, the garden was the focal point of my life.

Then, after a momentous year of preparing for an island Garden Tour, I more or less stopped. Moved on to other things (writing). Did a little work in the garden, while dreading the onslaught of weeds. Felt the obligation. Lost the love.

Then this year – almost nine years later, I found myself in love with the garden again. I’m not gardening as before, but am looking forward to time outside without feeling enslaved.

Another possibility of a hidden cycle is my dogs. I lost my beloved Springer Spaniel eighteen years ago. Two cycles of nine later–last year–we began fostering Springers. And if you read last week’s blog, you’ll know that we just adopted our two young bro-boys last week.

Is a new cycle of my life about to start? 

Cycles of life

The idea of a cycle is natural. Our lives follow the rhythms of the seasons, day and night, life into death. Watching the brilliant leaves of fall begin to fall (our maples are glorious), I am comforted to know new growth will start again after the winter.

Yet, part of me clings to the idea of free will.

Why should my life and projects be dictated by a cyclic rhythm? What about the great American idea that we make our destiny, build whenever we want, and continually live on the edge of creating some great thing?

It’s humbling to accept that life is not totally dependent on my initiatives. Following the natural rhythm of a time to plant and a time to sow suggests that there may be an organic time to start a project and a time to cease.

This week, I decided not to attend a workshop I might have loved at another point in my life. But not this year. I’m coming to the end of a period in which I have preferred to be more inward and reflective. Go slower. Take more care and do a little less.

Although numerological cycles are intriguing, I don’t believe in following a strict formula, because there are almost always exceptions to any rule. But I do appreciate learning to listen to the cycles within.

Knowing that every cycle has a beginning, middle, and end, keeps me from pushing too hard to start a project (a favorite sport!) when the timing isn’t quite right.

Here’s my take on a nine-phase cycle:

(For a slightly different and more precise take, check out Jean Haner’s book Your Hidden Symmetry: How Your Birth Date Reveals the Plan for Your Life. )

  1. Beginnings. Allowing yourself to dream.
  2. Moving out in the world. Choosing a dream or project and beginning to develop it.
  3. Creating. Beginning the work.
  4. Continuing to build.
  5. Allowing change. Learning from experience.
  6. Nurturing and harvesting.
  7. Reevaluating and continuing to harvest.
  8. Beginning to draw in; becoming more reflective.
  9. Allowing the cycle to complete. Spending time nurturing one’s self in the cocoon before re-emerging. Going fallow.

You don’t have to buy into the cycle of nine to feel how cycles might be operating in your life.

When a project feels sticky getting off the ground, or a move or relationship doesn’t seem to be following your preferred timing, you can ask, “Where am I in the cycle, and what might be being asked of me now?”

To help, here are some sample questions to see where you might be in a cycle:

  • Do I feel the energy, green and fresh, of new beginnings, dreams, and yet unformed projects?
  • Is it time to get going and build something (a project, a business, a relationship)?
  • Is it time to hang in there with what I’m building, and persevere despite challenges I may be facing?
  • Do I need to learn from experience and adapt my plans?
  • It is time to celebrate the harvest and gather the fruits of what I’ve created?
  • Is it time to begin to give away and share lessons with others?
  • Am I hearing the rumbles that change is coming?
  • Am I sensing that it’s time to complete and let go? Do I feel like pulling in a little?
  • Is it time to go fallow, and reflect before life pulls me out again?

If I had my preference, I’d usually opt for the beginning of a cycle. Vision, dreams, possibilities are my native turf.

In the last few years, however, I’ve been living through the end years of a nine-year cycle. I’ve learned about the deepening that comes from spending time in a fertile, fallow period.

I’ve been writing, yes, but not engaging as much outside of my habitat. Doing the inner-tending felt right, knowing that this stage wouldn’t continue forever.

Now, as I move back into the garden, I wonder if things are about to change…

 

Finding your true “yes” and your true “no”

One thing I have noticed in recent years is that my “no’s” and my “yes’s” have gotten stronger and clearer. Being able to listen to one’s self and sense (and offer) a true “yes” and a true “no” may be one of the superpowers we can claim with age, even if gracefully conveying an honest “no” takes a lot of tact.

Clear yes/Clear no

A few years ago, as I was traveling the on-ramp to 60, a very generous friend of mine offered me his ticket to a national conference that was taking place in Seattle. Tickets were pricey, and his was a very kind offer. It made good sense for me to attend since the conference was related to my field. But when I considered going, I heard a voice inside of me saying, “No.”

Sense or no sense, I didn’t go.

Instead, I stayed home to work in my garden. My garden had become my teacher and my creative calling; I needed those days to dig.

Later that year, a friend suggested that I take a clowning class. Even though I had never clowned (and it turned out to be bloody hard), I heard, “Yes.”

That decision also didn’t make sense.

With hindsight, both my “No” and my “Yes”  did make sense. A new impulse was calling me forward. My love of gardening would lead me to start writing; my forays into clowning and improv would open up a deeper understanding of storytelling.

Alas, not all of my “yes’s” and “no’s” are that clear. Some decisions still take years for me to muddle through. Other times I delay saying, “No,” for fear of hurting someone’s feelings–not the best excuse.

The art of an honest “No”

There’s nothing easy about saying “No,” especially to a friend. Ironically, though, “no’s” are often key to real friendship.

A friend hit it on the head when she said, “I want my friends to be able to say “No” to me, so I can believe them when they say, “Yes.”

We can tell when someone is saying “yes” out of obligation or not wanting to offend. A “yes” with a ‘no” disguised within it has a yucky feeling, a half-heartedness. On some level, we know what we are hearing doesn’t jibe with what we are sensing. It’s disturbing.

We need to be able to say “No,” blessing the friendship while declining an opportunity.

Saying “No” to support your creative time

In general, I prefer to be around people who live life with a spirit of “YES!” instead of a stream of “no’s.”

That said, many writers and creatives describe how important it is to prioritize their creative work, and to say “No” to invitations that might pull them away from it. I would love to have more coffees with friends, go on outings, or host a dinner party reciprocating some of the hospitality my husband and I have received.

But I can’t. Not just now. My work is tender, and I have to stay focused.

But how to be honest?

If I were to be totally honest (not there yet), what I might say to a friend who hosted us for dinner is, “Thank you so much for dinner–I really enjoy being with you and appreciated your lovely meal. I want to reciprocate but here’s the truth: cooking is not where I want to spend my time right now, and writing is. If I don’t keep going, my progress will dissipate. In another world, perhaps that of The Crown, the Netflix series I am binge-watching in my downtime, I’d have my housekeeper prepare the house, my royal staff would cater dinner, and my personal assistant would handle all the accompanying details. (I’m anticipating this after I’m anointed!) But even though I’m not entertaining these days, I care about you and enjoy being together.”

I’m afraid that’s too many words. I’ll probably just stick with the first sentence.

Open space in a calendar is not blank space

Growing up, I lived for weekends and wanted entertainment. Now, when I reach the weekend, I’m happy if there’s nothing on my calendar. These days, life comes in front and center pretty hard, and I need more and more recovery time. Even though open spaces in my schedule mean I could do something, I know in my heart that I need that time to do–nothing.

When you’re on a creative roll, allowing open space in a calendar is often more potent than filling all of your time slots in.

The nuanced “No”

Repeatedly saying, “No” to pursue your creative work can seem selfish. You can mitigate that risk by asking, “What am I being called to do now?”

You may have to bend your schedule and change your plans. A friend receives a call that her ninety-year-old mother has fallen; my friend’s painting project is put on hold. When my mother was in her last years, I flexed my schedule to say, “Yes,” whenever I could. Some sacrifices are worth making, not out of obligation but out of an inner knowing.

I worry that putting a shield around my schedule may discourage friends from remembering that I’ll be there for them if they need to go to the hospital, work through an urgent problem, or have a heart-to-heart conversation.

If you’re reading this, remember this offer to you!

Where it all starts

Etiquette aside, hearing (and speaking) a true “yes” and true “no” begins with listening to your heart. In today’s chatter of overfilled schedules and continual opportunities to do more than any mortal possibly could, hearing the subtle soundings of the soul takes particular attention.

A true “yes” and a true “no” have a ring. When a friend who has thoughtfully considered what she’s being called to do declines my invitation, I might be disappointed. I can also be inspired.

By listening with the heart and speaking from her inner knowing, my friend offers me permission to listen more deeply to what is calling me.

And I say “Yes” to that.

 

Got Rhythm?

We all have rhythm. It’s built into us through our heartbeats and the circadian (24 hour) rhythms that influence when we feel hungry, energetic, or sleepy.

As our biology influences our rhythms, so, too, does the way we work. 

Our distant ancestors followed rhythms that were tied to light. Our parents may have worked “on the clock,” subjected to a rhythm established in industrial times.

We no longer follow the sun or work 9–5. With our increasingly flexible workdays, we have the option of working 24-7.

Such flexibility might seem like a good thing. If you’re a night owl, you might be more than happy to forego commuting before dawn for another dread breakfast meeting.

I can assure you that I wasn’t happy when a former client announced that he was scheduling my workshop for 7 am. (I like to write in the morning – but strictly in my pajamas.)

Lack of schedule: liberating or not?

Freedom from an imposed or arbitrary schedule can feel liberating, which is why vacation, retirement, or working for one’s self can feel great, at least for a while.

But, devoid of rhythms imposed by other-directed schedules, our days can lose their spines, and we’re left feeling like we’re spinning around.

At a minimum, those external demands, deadlines, and meetings keep us pulsing through our days.

Without them, where’s the incentive to get out of bed on a bad hair day?

Becoming a-rhythmic

Job or no job, many of us have gone a-rhythmic with our days.

I was initially delighted when the Internet offered me the freedom and flexibility to work when I wanted. Ride my horse at ten am? Yay! Work at 9 pm? No problem!

Until one day, I woke up and realized that I couldn’t tell, from my schedule, when I was “off work,” and when I was “on.”

My schedule had lost its boundaries. It was as if I was composing music by stuffing in more and more notes while forgetting to add rests. (Usually called cacophony.)

What I lost

As I survey our new world, I notice how many the rhythms that used to be part of life are endangered:

  • Eating regular family meals together. (Stats vary, but a 2003 study suggested that US families eat dinner together only three or fewer times a week, with 10 percent never eating dinner together at all.)
  • Going to bed and rising on a regular schedule. (Sleep doctors keep trying to convince their patients on this one.)
  • Observing a sabbath, rest day, or even intentional time off, consistently every week. (Read Marilyn Paul’s book with her convincing rationale for rest days. You could try a rest break if you’re not yet up to taking a full day.)
  • Taking vacations at all. (In one 2017 study, 52 percent of Americans didn’t use all of their paid vacation days.)
  • Stopping work at a given time, or establishing work-free zones. (Guilty as charged!)

Rhythm is about more than schedules

Our loss of rhythm isn’t just about our crazy schedules. It’s about listening to our bodies in a world that’s gone head-centric and body-negligent.

In some African cultures today, the beat of work lives like a pulse entering the body and then manifesting through music, song, and dance. It’s as if the rhythm lives in their bones–and in their souls. You can see it in this video.

Listening to the rhythms of life

Can we recapture that sense of everyday rhythms by listening more to life?

Watch how people walk and see if you can feel their beat. Listen to how a rooster crows on fixed intervals. Explore if that amorphous rush of traffic might contain hidden rhythms that give its noise a shape.

Maybe some of your everyday work, whether chopping onions, sweeping a broom, or pumping iron, might be more fun when you can feel its beat.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the erratic tap tap of my fingers on a keyboard gives me the rhythmic boost that I need.

Become your own composer

Once you start to listen, then you can compose. Has your life become bland as you march to a steady, but monotonous, four-four beat? Could you add more rhythmic variety?

If you’re always working at a high rhythmic intensity, could you deliberately insert some downtempo activities?

Have you structured the rhythm of your days to be so complicated that even a professional dancer might stumble? How about notching back, and introducing some time in an easy to follow two-two beat?

If no one but you is driving your schedule, why not introduce a few regular beats into your life to set a rhythm for your week?

  • Create routines, for your early morning, evening or mealtimes, that punctuate your day.
  • Set regular weekly meetings with friends and colleagues, or join a class.
  • Plan together-times with your family or partner you can count on.
  • Create deadlines that fit the rhythm you want to establish for yourself.
  • Publish a blog every Thursday–my secret formula!

Finding more flow

Rhythm comes from the Greek word that means “to flow.”

Let’s give it more attention, so we can become master composers of our days.

 

 

My husband is under house arrest

My husband is not guilty of crimes against the state. The state may be guilty of crimes against him.

The news about what is happening or not happening in Washington, D.C. is robbing him of his optimism and faith in the future.

I watch him going down as he reads about venality, greed, the partisanship that forgets the common good, and failure to act upon the pressing issues of the day. Top that off with doses of real tragedy and unconscionable actions or neglect–no wonder he looks droopy.

By nine am each morning, after spending a piece of his prime time reading national newspapers, he emerges with a hang-dog I-can’t-believe-what-they’re-doing or did-you-hear-what-just-happened look. So much for the rest of the day.

OK, many of us are suffering, but after seeing what the news is doing to him, I decided to take drastic action.

For the record, I believe in the importance of educated citizenship. But what good results from keeping up with the news if it leaves one feeling hopeless, like there’s nothing that can be done? Broken spirits will not save the country.

That’s why he’s under house arrest. Unlike the fictional, aristocratic hero of my favorite vacation read, A Gentleman in Moscow, who lived under house arrest for twenty-six years, my husband can still go out.

News of the world will reach him through NPR as he travels to his morning coffee conversations with his guy friends. And I can’t prevent them from talking politics.

At home, though, strict limits are called for.

Here’s what must be banned:

  • Washington Post headlines as well as articles.
  • New York Times headlines and articles.
  • Teasers on Facebook or social media (he’s not too susceptible).
  • Spending too much time thinking about the Supreme Court.

I haven’t decided whether he can read the Guardian. Consumer Reports is OK.

What he can do:

  • Give money to causes he already knows are important.
  • Vote intelligently and give money selectively to campaigns (and no, he can’t support all the worthy candidates.)
  • Give time to LOCAL causes. He is not likely to fix the national health care crisis, but he has a good crack at contributing to preserving the future of health care on our island.
  • Take naps and read novels.

I am NOT denying him his deep compassion for the unfairly treated of the world.

I do want him to try laughing again.

I don’t suggest that we should all tune out, just that we need to pay attention to how the news flattens us.

Perhaps my husband is a special case because of his age and heart condition. But I doubt a regular diet of heartbreak is good for any of us.

I can’t place YOU under house arrest, but my cautions still apply. Stop absorbing news when you feel it weakening your spirits, your resolve, your compassion or your heart.

Then go find the one small thing you can do.

The power of deep hope

Last year a good friend went through a true dark night of the soul brought on by medical circumstances. The prednisone she was given for an acutely painful condition weakened her bones, leading to a serious fracture of her lumbar spine. Even in rehab, the excruciating pain contributed to a trifecta of misery. Like many who have suffered intense pain know, it’s hard to keep the faith when your body is relentlessly challenged. Friends kept a flame of hope going for her, lighting candles and sending love and prayers. She says the support was key to keeping her going.

I had the enormous joy last week to spend a little time with her. She shared how every morning before she starts her day, she lifts her arms in gratitude and appreciation for the apartment she returned to, for her friends, and for her life. She doesn’t kid herself that the future ahead will be easy or that her years will be without sorrow. In her profound gratitude, she embraces life. She radiates hope.

Being with her gave me hope. (I’ve started her practice of raising my arms in gratitude when I wake up. )

Is hope a distraction?

Some argue that hope distracts us from being present to life. Meg Wheatley writes that it’s time for us to give it up. She believes that hope sets us up with expectations and attaches us to results, According to her, we would be more present to life if we were more hope-less.

What Meg Wheatley is referring to is what I call “small hope,” hope that leads to almost certain disappointment. I may hope for a pony for Christmas, that I will win a contract, or that our country straightens itself out. When I was in 8th grade, I fervently hoped that Roger Wilcox would look at me.

He didn’t. Many of these little hopes won’t come true. I never got the pony at Christmas and had to wait until I was 42 to buy my first horse.

Small hope can deceive us into sitting back, believing that somebody or some group “out there” will fix the environment, and to no longer observing carefully or listening for what we may be called to do.

Finding deep hope

Yet hope can be more than that. A deeper kind of hope can infuse our spirits without attaching us to specific results. It can support us to listen and be more present. My friend blesses the day, not because she is going to get everything she wants the way that she wants it, but because she is grateful for the spirit of life moving through and around her.

Deep hope is a power, a state of being in the world that can say “yes” to life, even as we say “no” to a lot that is happening.

Deep hope lets us stand with an open heart in the face of an uncertain future.

Deep hope allows us to sit at the bedside of a beloved living with pain, and still find blessings. Deep hope allows us to cry about climate change while working with others for solutions.

Deep hope tells me that despite all the disappointments, and failures of the little hopes, I matter, you matter and this world matters and that it is still worth believing in truth, in goodness, and in compassion.

Deep hope asks us to be present and within that presence trust the calling we may feel, however it comes–the whispers that invite us to step into more of ourselves and to do our part for the world, however small that may be.

Deep hope does not seek proof in outcomes but offers us an invisible force and energy we can tap.

Vaclav Havel said it eloquently:

“Hope is a dimension of the soul. . . an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. . . .It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

In these times when it’s so easy to despair about the state of the environment, we need deep hope to expand our imaginations, trust, and perseverance. Deep hope has spaciousness and helps us expand to find more of the creative potential we can use to solve problems. Deep hope allows us to stand together.

Without that hope, the force of constricting despair can become oppressive.

When I think about hope, a key question I ask is, “Is my hope such that if I don’t get what I want, hope will remain?”

Do I write a book hoping to become a New York Times bestselling author? If so, I’m setting myself up for all kinds of anxiety, expectations, illusions, and potential disappointment. Or do I write, because committing myself to writing my book expands me and feels in sync with the path that is calling me forward? Whether I am published or not, I am larger and more hopeful for having said “yes.”

Thomas Merton urged us to “concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.”

No matter how dark the world can seem, I claim my right to be hopeful, to expand my spirit in partnership with the universe, and to find the strength to stay awake and present even when I don’t understand what is happening.

I can stand like my friend, with arms outstretched in the morning, and give thanks for each day.

I like the combination of hope and acceptance in this poem “Perhaps” by the contemporary Chinese poet Shu Ting.

She writes:

Perhaps…

Perhaps these thoughts of ours
will never find an audience
Perhaps the mistaken road
will end in a mistake
Perhaps the lamps we light one at a time
will be blown out, one at a time
Perhaps the candles of our lives will gutter out
without lighting a fire to warm us.

Perhaps when all the tears have been shed
the earth will be more fertile
Perhaps when we sing praises to the sun
the sun will praise us in return
Perhaps these heavy burdens
will strengthen our philosophy
Perhaps when we weep for those in misery
we must be silent about miseries of our own

Perhaps
Because of our irresistible sense of mission
We have no choice

~ Shu Ting ~

 

Thanks to Meg Wheatley for the article from which I drew the quotes.

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