Monday, October 29, 2012

Something a little wild

 Pink is a color I love.  If you've ever looked at my Pinterest Boards you might have noticed that awhile ago I pinned a pic of a woman with pink hair along with the caption "sometimes I just want to try pink hair."

Recently, I had the chance to visit some incredible art galleries in San Francisco.  I especially loved Dolby Chadwick.  While there, I remembered that color is an important source of inspiration to me (in fact, I've put color on my "Power Up" list--if you have not seen Jane McGonigal's TED talk and you don't have a Power Up list, it is worth the time to watch the talk and make your own list.).

With that realization and in light inspired by my friend, Brett, whose nickname is "wildman"...see below:

I decided to do something "wild" to celebrate his return to Palo Alto from Joplin, MS.  Brett always encourages people to think differently, to try out of the box things so it seemed perfect to run the experiment to celebrate his milestone.

Here is the result:

I've learned a couple things from running this experiment.

1.  Color truly is a "power up" for me and having a streak of pink hair is a fun mood boost.
2.  Most people are very civilized in sharing their opinions.  I'm finding that so far, everyone is following the "if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all," adage.  Most people seem to get a little "fun" boost out of watching me do this.
3.  This is not nearly wild enough.  Getting a pink streak in my hair felt like it was out on my edge, but I think I have farther to go.  I think Brett would agree.  Stay tuned! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday October 26, 2012

Every Friday we light candles.  
We light them for ourselves and for everyone.

"The experience of beauty relieves stress, nourishes hope, and reminds us that there is much more to life than grinding through tasks."
--Rick Hanson

Monday, October 22, 2012

Try working with prompts

As friends who have been following my blog know, last week was a hard week.  This week there have been great positive signs for Brett, and supporters everywhere are doing what they do to activate their own belief in Brett's full recovery. We are so grateful.

During this time of turbulence I've been trying to work with what it means to love life, exactly as it is, right now, even when it's not the version you'd ever want.  Two thoughts have occurred to me:

1.  When you're sad, be sad.  
Despite promising milestones, I'm still sometimes almost swallowed by a wave of grief.  My thought here is don't fight it, because it is important to internalize the reality of the situation, but in order not to get sucked in, or to dwell in it...

2.  Make an extra effort to notice what is good and savor it.

On that front, I got together with my friend Laurel to try out the idea of creating prompts for ourselves, little crafty door hangers, to remind us to focus our attention in a particular way.  This idea was inspired by Leah Weiss's TEDx talk in which she discusses how the prayer bells of cloistered life can cross over into the use of prompts in everyday secular living.  Seemed worth a try.

Wouldn't you know it, only an hour later, this is what I happened to notice:

I love it when a plan comes together!

In this process what I've also noticed is that one of my unintentional prompts is our microwave.  When I run it, even for one minute, it prompts me to check my email.  It's a micro-habit that's popped up, and is really unproductive.  But the strength of the association convinces me that prompts may be able to be harnessed in useful ways.  I think, especially if someone is disciplined, this ends up working like classical conditioning.  What about you--do you have prompts, good or bad, that redirect your attention during the day?

PS This poster is part of a fun local project by Susan O'Malley.  Check it out at

Monday, October 15, 2012

What we do when we don't know what to do

This week a close friend and neighbor, someone who many adore, got hurt, badly.  While on a cross country bike trip, he fell (while wearing his helmet) and sustained a traumatic brain injury, leaving him unconscious.   We don’t know what this means for him.  His network of friends and family is suspended in time, waiting for the signs to tell us that we will get more time with our dear, funny, animated friend.

I think it is fair to say that our network is primarily secular, that is, we are part of the fastest growing religious affiliation in the US, which ironically, is not having a religious affiliation.   I would also say, since our friend is a long-time Silicon Valley advisor and angel investor, he is connected with some of the most intelligent, creative, innovative people I know.  

What does a group of highly intelligent, creative, innovative, non-religious people do when we don’t know what to do?  When we are broken hearted, afraid, and seemingly impotent in the face of what life just delivered on our doorstep?  

Well, I studied the status updates on our friend’s Facebook wall.  And of the 114 messages I saw, 88 of them were direct messages to Brett (written knowing that he is unconscious).  53 messages indicated that people were taking time to think about Brett.  39 messages indicated people were turning to prayer.  35 messages indicated that in some way, people were “keeping” themselves, their thoughts, or their prayers “with” Brett, and 28 messages indicated people were “sending” energy, thoughts, prayers, karma or love to Brett.

I think there is basic wisdom here.  

We may not know why or how, but most of us turn toward this kind of behavior when we don’t know what to do.  For me, the most powerful instinct was that I had to talk to Brett, I had to tell him that I loved him and I needed him to come home.  And I wasn’t alone, this was the most common practice in our group--most people wrote messages directly to Brett as if in conversation.  We talk to, we send out, we connect with, by our language and imagination we do something that seems irrational, but seems to be a feature of of who we are as human beings.

The reason I am posting today is to encourage us all to keep at it, and to dare us to lean ever deeper into our natural instinct.  To let our hearts and imaginations “go there”, knowing that we are enacting basic wisdom which understands deeply that indeed “our hearts go out” and that “love is the best medicine,” to quote two of Brett’s friends.

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12, 2012

Every Friday we light candles.  
We light them for ourselves and for everyone.
Today we dedicated our sitting to Brett

the opposite of loneliness
staying in the gray
open weeping

"We're always in some kind of mood.  It might be sadness, it might be anger, it might be not much of anything, just a kind of blur.  It might be humor or contentment.  In any case, whatever it is, that's the path."
--Pema Chodron

Monday, October 8, 2012

Neighborly Influence

Steve Jobs was my neighbor.  I didn’t know him personally, but often saw him walking on my block in his his usual uniform, the utilitarian, yet totally signature combination of black mock turtleneck, jeans and sneakers.  While we never spoke, I often felt grateful to have a personal hero in such close proximity to my daily life.  I can’t exactly put a finger on it, but there is evidence that human behavior tends to cluster, and so without even knowing him I felt that he had a palpable influence in my life.

It turns out, I wasn’t the only one.

If you live in Palo Alto, you can see this tribute for yourself at the corner of Lowell and Tennyson.

Photo credit goes to Linda Spencer

For over a year now, a few neighbors have made the pair of trees at our dead end their canvas for public art and celebration.  Whenever a new display appears, people stop to enjoy our dead end.  They take pictures, leave notes and linger just a little longer.  This neighborhood passion has delivered delight to many people, including myself.  Two of my favorites have been Easter and Chinese New Year.

And while, it may not seem that there is much in common between these displays, and the iconic influence of Steve Jobs, in a way, they have influenced me similarly.  Here are some things that I’ve learned from my neighbors:

1.  Adopt a uniform:  it saves a lot of time and frees up creative energy for other uses.

2.  Make your passion public:  no one said it better than Steve Jobs “You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart.” You never know, it might just delight your neighbors.

3.  Start in your own neighborhood:  one of my favorite moments of the steve jobs biography was reading about how he peddled his first computer door to door down El Camino Real, right in my very own neighborhood. And, I am deeply grateful to my neighbors, who have made such a local impact with their loving attention to two trees.

How about you? How do your neighbors influence you? And do you ever think about what you do to influence the culture of your neighborhood?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday October 12, 2012

Every Friday we light candles.  We light them for ourselves and for everyone.

reset settling

"The humor and the beauty of practice is that going from one extreme to another is not considered to be an obstacle; sometimes we're like a drill sergeant, sometimes we're like mashed potatoes.  Basically, once we have some sort of joyful curiosity about the whole thing, it's simply all information."
--Pema Chodron

Monday, October 1, 2012

Try talking to your stuff

Talk to your stuff.

Recently I was charmed by an Ali Edwards blog post that was a letter to Fall.   It stuck with me, so when I had to get a new car (Big-Green-Car-Car, seven years old and three kids later had been showing signs of wear and tear)  I sent the following combination out to my family.

Dear Minivan,
Please keep us safe and take us on lots of fun adventures.  You have big wheels to fill so don't disappoint us, in return I promise not to name a sexy girl like you "Big Marshmallow" as Gwendolyn has suggested.
Love, Mama

Something about writing the note to my new van felt so genuine and accessible, that the concept popped up again for me quickly.

Momma Zen had posted this:

“We hold on because we cherish.  Until the day we cherish by not holding on.”

right when I was struggling to throw out two raggedy keepsakes--a sweatshirt I bought when I was twenty-two and a nightgown.  So, in the spirit of learning from a teacher, I asked for instruction.  And here is what she sent:

“Fabric?  That is the easy letting go.  Practice with the sweatshirt, hon, until the day.”

And so, I tried “practicing with the sweatshirt ” in the form of the Dear Fall prompt by Ali.

Dear Red Sweatshirt,
I bought you to keep me warm in the first office I ever worked in.  I was temping at Dean Witter Managed Futures.  I had to wear panty hose and my boss was a red-headed woman who everyone called "Z" and teased because her husband was an artist.  The office was on the 77th floor of the World Trade Center, and I bought you from the Gap in the basement mall between the towers.  I took you with me when I moved to California.  When the towers collapsed on September 11th, I wondered if there was a temp, just like me, there for only a few days, but the worst few days possible.  The fear of the thought kept me up at night for a few weeks.  I’ve kept you as a way of saying, “ I was there, that happened to a part of me.”  I’ve kept you to remind me that we don’t know how much time we have, so we need to make the best of each day.  And I’ve kept you to cherish feeling safe.  Because these days, I do.  Feel safe and loved and happy.
Love, Cristina

Dear Nursing Nightgown,
You came with me to the hospital for the birth of each of my girls.  You were possibly the only thing that made sense to me about Gwendolyn’s birth.  I felt so scared when they wheeled me into surgery for the c-section.  But there you were, with gaps in just the right places.  You made learning how to nurse the baby easier.  By the time you and I went back to the hospital for the third girl, I knew what I was doing.  We lounged in the hospital bed, drinking in the sweet comfort of a brand new baby in arms.  It took me exactly three times and a dose of good luck to be able relax with my newborn baby.  I wish I could have felt that way with all three, but I’m glad I got the practice so that I could have it with even one.  I’ve held onto you as a way to remember the very first few days of each of my daughters’ lives.  When I see you I remember pink tender skin, feet as long as my thumb, and the smell of baby heads that reminds me of parsnips.  I remember how scared I was in the beginning of becoming a mother, and how the mother I am now can hear the difference between instinct kicking in and static on the line.  When I see you I am thankful for three safe deliveries, three health girls, and a full life of mothering all around me.
Love, Cristina

The brilliance of the Dear Fall prompt is that it lovingly embraces us humans, exactly where we are, attached to our stuff.  It gives us permission to be just as attached as we are, and by doing so, shines light on that tender, odd, instinctual drive we have to make meaning out of whatever we encounter.  When we let the story out, when we see how we were designed to have our hearts broken, then we understand that kindness is our only option.

My ally, Laurel has her own version of the Dear Fall prompt also. If you're inspired, I'd love to hear what you have to say to your stuff too!