Friday, May 23, 2008

Coveting and learning from my annoyances

I've been traveling a lot lately, and I'm finding that in each new place there is something I covet, something that seems just a little better than what I have at home. In some places it's the beauty of mountains or the coastline. In others, it's a more progressive mindset among the people who live there.

In Minneapolis, where I've spent the past five days, it's the food. I established a new tradition of trying, wherever and whenever possible, at least one restaurant that uses local foods. It's not always easy to find such places, but I hit the information jackpot when I walked into my hotel here. A monthly publication for tourists prominently displayed at the registration desk showed reviews of "green" restaurants. When I turned to the article, I discovered a listing of three places within easy driving distance of the area of town where the Festival of Homiletics was held this year. I carefully planned my schedule to allow time to slip out to each of these places.

The first, Cafe Brenda, was about as close to perfection as I've ever found in food. I had a dinner salad with my meal that consisted of fresh lettuce, carrots, red onion so sweet it tasted like apple, spiced pumpkin seeds, and watermelon radish. It was very gently tossed with a vinaigrette dressing that added a hint of flavor while allowing the vegetables in the salad to take center stage. Each bite was perfect, and I after two, I became firmly convinced that local, fresh, and organic is definitely better. Accompanying the salad was a plate of grilled walleye, seasoned with a blackberry ginger teriyaki glaze, and crusted with sesame seeds and almonds. The fish had light flavor that was amazing. Green beans, braised greens, and wild rice complimented the fish. I left the restaurant certain that I'd had one of the best meals of my life. I really can't explain it.

Subsequent days included trips to Red Stag Supper Club and Wilde Roast Cafe. The food at Red Stag was good, but did not compare to Cafe Brenda. The service, however, was fabulous. I sat at the bar and enjoyed the company of the bartender for the duration of my lunch. It was a slow day. I got a lot of attention, and our conversation proved to be the only truly meaningful one I've had since Tuesday. It's odd how that happens to me. I blame myself. I don't mix well in large groups, so I kept to myself a lot at the FoH.

There was much about the Festival that I enjoyed and will take back with me. I found a panel discussion with several writers to be the most helpful and challenging time of the Festival for me. Singer/songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman was first to speak (and sing!). She used a computer/internet metaphor to talk about the creative process. I was annoyed by it. She talked about songs being in the ether and that all she had to do was download them. This struck me as extremely reductionistic. If this is how the creative process works, then why don't I have access to those songs she downloads. I still think it's too simplistic, and I suspect is an attempt at trying to explain something that seems impossible to describe. But what struck me is how quickly the others followed suit in describing their own creative processes. I expected at least one to disagree with her, but instead, they all described something similar.

I still think the metaphor and the descriptions are too simplistic. But, what I realized upon further reflection about my annoyance is that my problem isn't that I don't have access to that creativity. My problem is the I fear the process. I fear it so much that I can't sit still long enough to be inspired, to tap in and wait for the words to come, to keep wrestling with them until I understand. It's a fear of my own power, I think. There's something easy and comforting in assuming that I'm just meant to live day to day, happy and content with what I have, never wanting more.

The coveting, I believe, is an indication that I'm not nearly as content as I think I am. It's a holy discontent, I believe, and the covetousness is an expression of my laziness. I want what's out there, but I often lack the will and drive to do the hard work necessary to get it. The trick is to learn to embrace the discontent without spending too much time entertaining the self-pity coveting encourages.

I have a good life. When I think back to what I had two years ago, I can't complain about where I am now. But, I'd be lying if I said I'm satisfied. I want to be happy with what I have, but I realize now that being happy with what I have means accepting that the discontent I feel deep in my bones is part of that too. It needs to be embraced and understood and welcomed as an ally, a guide ready to show me that there is more for me than what I have now. I get trapped feeling guilty for wanting more. I have good friends who love me and accept me for who I am, who share their good fortune with me with such generosity that I'm often overwhelmed, yet at the end of the day, I go home to my quiet apartment alone. I travel to places where I know no one and a ten minute phone call to this friend or that back home helps me feel the connections I know there and seem to lose when I'm not there to be a part of the day-to-day activities we share, but it's never the voice of someone who wants to know the details of my day, who cherishes the small things I see and experience. It's not the sound of a voice I hear every night before I fall asleep that makes me long for the feel of her warmth in the bed next to me. I love my friends, but I want more. And that desire scares me.

I have a job that provides for my needs. I have opportunities to do some amazing things, but it doesn't fulfill my desire to make a meaningful, lasting difference in the world. It's important work, but it's not what I want for my life long term. I feel guilty about that too. There are people who don't have jobs. My own parents did work that neither found all that meaningful, yet they were able to grasp a deeper meaning in the way they provided for their families and worked toward providing us with opportunities for something more in our lives.

That too is a holy discontent. I am not doing what I'm called to do. The job I have now may be a means to an end. It may help keep me financially stable while I do what I need to do to be ready for that which I'm called to do. I find meaning in that, but I'm also grateful for the restlessness I feel. I can't be content with this job. The restlessness causes me to listen to the constant woos of a quiet voice inside of me that says there's more for me to do.

So I leave this place today, returning home to a life I love, but also grateful that I'm not fully satisfied. As hard as it is for me to admit, I want more for my life than what I have now. That may sound like a lack of gratitude, but I think, for me, it's an important step. I don't think I'm meant to be satisfied. Grateful, yes, but not satisfied.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mary Oliver believes the fox has something to say

And I couldn't agree more!

Concretegodmother sent this poem to me last night. It's given me a lot to think about. It's from Mary Oliver's latest collection, Red Bird:

Straight Talk from the Fox

Listen says fox it is music to run

over the hills to lick

dew from the leaves to nose along

the edges of the ponds to smell the fat

ducks in their bright feathers but

far out, safe in their rafts of

sleep. It is like

music to visit the orchard, to find

the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the

rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself

is a music. Nobody has ever come close to

writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot

be told. It is flesh and bones

changing shape and with good cause, mercy

is a little child beside such an invention. It is

music to wander the black back roads

outside of town no one awake or wondering

if anything miraculous is ever going to

happen, totally dumb to the fact of every

moment's miracle. Don't think I haven't

peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons

making love, arguing, talking about God

as if he were an idea instead of the grass,

instead of the stars, the rabbit caught

in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought

home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is

responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not

give my life for a thousand of yours.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fabulous day!

This day has been positively magical. It started with grilled pork chops for dinner last night and a chance to sleep in the fresh air on the sun porch at the new house some friends just bought. The house is on the river, so this morning I awoke to the sounds of birds too numerous to count.

The plan was to fish, but the river swelled after a storm on Thursday, making it impossible, so we sat and watched birds. The river right now is a stopping place for white pelicans returning to the Dakotas after a winter in Texas. Numerous other birds circled above and darted over the water in the beautiful morning sun.

But I was completely captivated by a Baltimore Oriole that must be nesting in their yard. I don't think that I've ever seen a more beautiful bird. The brilliant orange color is so striking I couldn't take my eyes off of it. I stood outside and watched it until he finally flew away.

I left around noon and returned home, eager to read about some of the things I saw. The night was busy and sleep interrupted by the dogs' fascination with the activity outside. I took a long nap this afternoon, a deep sleep that comes to me only when I'm totally relaxed. I did a few things around the house and then decided the new fishing pole had to be used. Today.

I drove out to the lake and fished for an hour and a half without a single bite, but while I was there, I saw a couple of bluebirds, the brilliance of their color matched only by a perfectly clear blue sky. At one point, I looked up and saw six vultures circling overhead. I decided not to take that as a sign of my impending doom, and chose instead to assume they had great confidence in my fishing skills. Alas, they were wrong, as I left the lake without so much as a hint that there were fish in it.

On the way home, a friend called. I was expecting her to call to tell me the homemade potato bread she was making was ready for me to taste, so it took me a minute to catch what she really said, "We have an owl on our front porch." She went on to explain that she thought, "This is the sort of thing Linda would like," but she delayed calling me thinking that by the time I got there it would have flown away. After about forty-five minutes of it sitting and staring at her, she decided to give it a try. I'm glad she did. When I arrived 15 minutes later, the owl was still there. I stayed for about 45 minutes more and there was no sign of it budging. You can see some of the pictures she got of it here and here. Don't hesitate to check out these links. You will not be sorry. The close up pictures of the owl are amazing!

Now, I'm home, relaxing while I eat a piece of still warm potato bread. The cat, not to be outdone by the rest of nature, is insisting on getting between me and the computer, trying to rest on my stomach and sleep.

It has been a most fabulous day!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The gift of a mantra

I belong to a group that meets a couple of times a month. The facilitator of the group gave each of us mantras today, ones that she spoke to her about us. She chose them from the shakti mantras. Here's mine:

Om Akulayei Namaha [Om Ah-koo-lah-yei Nahm-ah-hah]

Translation: "Om and salutations to She who, having risen to the thousand-petaled lotus at the top of the head, is referred to as 'akula', having no perceivable genesis, lineage, or qualities whatsoever."

Receiving this from her and hearing the group's feedback was a powerful experience for me. I'm anxious to see what comes of using it in my meditation.