Some Thoughts on How To Do What You Really Want (part one)

The dime dropped.  The synapses fired.  The message finally sunk in.  It was, as always, a combination of factors.  Freud claimed things are over-determined, that if we look carefully we can see multiple causes for everything—we discover a thousand reasons for every event or action or decision.  This may, however, be more a feature of our associative minds than of reality itself.

Take any two random objects—say a pencil and a ……  and a what?  Everything I can think of is already associated with pencil – school, newspaper,   OK – a pencil and a mountain.  The brain can make an association, a connection between these two seemingly random things.  Since school is now on my mind, I can think of one room schoolhouses in the mountains of Nepal where students are delighted to have the privilege of learning to write and where pencils and papers are treated with great reverence.  Or the graphite that is the business part of the pencil and how that comes (I’m guessing) from beneath the mountains.   Or the trees that make the wooden part of the pencil that grow on the mountains.  Or the poets through the ages that have written about mountains with their pencils and pens.  Anyway you get the point, the mind has the amazing capacity to makes things into mental objects that it can manipulate.  Give it any two objects (or three or four) and it can create a story of how they are all linked.  The mind was designed to make connections to make up stories.  It’s a wonderful and a terrible thing.

So here’s my story:

IMG_1235Since December 1 I’ve been exercising at least 30 minutes a day.  Now by ‘exercising’, I really mean ‘moving my body’ – because I’m walking, doing yoga and qi gong, using an indoor rowing machine, doing core strengthening exercises, even dancing in my own silly way.  The point is to just to move.

I’ve known for about twenty years that this would be a good thing for me to do, but I’ve never been able to sustain it for this length of time before.

I was wonderfully active up through my twenties, I loved to play outside, do sports, be active, dance.  I’ve always loved to move.  Regular exercise was part of my life without even trying.  But as I got older, my exercise became more sporadic – weekend paddles, occasional mountain bike rides and hikes.  It was never a problem as I was always in good enough shape to enjoy whatever we did.

But beginning about four years ago, I began to be more prone to hurting myself as I threw myself energetically into these occasional physical activities.  The fourteen mile backpacking trip I took one weekend with no preparation was wonderful but left me limping for months from a sore knee.  And the wild and galloping horse ride I took last February on the beach in Costa Rica left me breathing shallowly for weeks.

So there have been lots of reasons for me to exercise regularly.  And I’ve started many times.  There have been several New Year’s membership at the YMCA followed by four or five regular trips to the swimming pool, followed by weeks of guilt for not going to the swimming pool, followed by total forgetting as the many things of my life intervened to distract and enchant me.  Some summers I have had several weeks in a row where I have been on my bike or out on the water in a single scull two or three times a week with the intention of continuing.  But then a trip comes or I get sick, or I get especially busy.  I fall out of the newly formed habit and then I fall into guilt that I’m not doing it anymore.  And the guilt is followed (mercifully?) by a forgetfulness where other issues and urgencies occupy the very limited space of my conscious awareness.

But this time is different.  (I feel like someone who has fallen in love for the umpteenth time and is loudly proclaiming to the world that this time is different.  I have finally found true love.  I am suspicious of myself.)  Or at least it is beginning differently.  So as someone who is in the business of change – as a life coach and Zen teacher – I wonder what the difference has been.  What has allowed me to move into action in this new and important way?  (to be continued…)


The Sword Swallower

Shepherded by museum guards

we wait in a zig-zag clump

to be allowed into the inner sanctum.

Like eager travelers at airport security,

we quietly hope to be transported somewhere else.

This time, our vehicles are squiggly shapes

of colored paper gathered in

rectangular arrangements on the wall.

Our captain and water-lily Hallmark card

luminary: uber-artist Henri Matisse.


images-3We wait impatiently, then are allowed

to file through as supplicants,

paying homage to the relentless

production of his fecund scissors.

Horses and sword swallowers,

endless repeating and precisely

carefree seaweed shapes –

silly blobs of color and women’s bodies

that had taken up residence in his mind,

now cut in colored paper –

floating in multitudinous relationship –

Technicolor windows into worlds of wonder.


A walking-through teenager,

whose first choice for his day in New York City

certainly did not include this MoMa Matisse show,

pronounced to his mother who only had

his best interests at heart: ‘I could make

these things in my sleep.’

He’s right, but the hard part

is to be awake enough when you are asleep

to function clearly and then to care

enough to continue following

something you can never fully understand.


It’s Matisse’s wild stubbornness I most admire –images-2

his fierce attention expressed again and again.

Caring for a lifetime whether the blue blob

tilts to the left or the right –

is cut from medium or light blue –

devotedly tending these brilliant shapes

that now illuminate the walls of these crowded halls.


In Praise of Matisse at MoMa

With grand scissors,

he labored in old age

to cut the slender woman

out of the blue sky of his mind.



Confessions of a Mug-aholic

One would have been enough,1022140828a

but I bought three—

white diner mugs

from the antique dealer

in the big barn that

we hoped had a bathroom

along the long road to

Downeast Maine.


We didn’t intend to

buy anything

but these were a bargain.

Lovely lessons in early industrial design

for only ten dollars each

(and one on sale for eight.)

I loved their sloping sides and chubby handles—

the fat lips that promised to meet mine

with unapologetic thickness.

The grace of unrestrained function.

Designed for demanding conditions—

big hands and thoughtless treatment

from men more natural than me

sitting on stools nourished

with greasy eggs, sausage links and

coffee without self-consciousness.


But this morning, back at home,1022140811a

three mugs seem like too many.

They vie for space in the crowded cupboard

with others equally worthy—

one on top of the next

like tumbling ceramic acrobats

caught in dangerous moments of balance.


I must stop

bringing home stray mugs

from every roadside attraction.

Someone’s bound to get hurt

in the jumble of everyday use

unless I sort through them sometime

but I’ll probably just find

another shelf somewhere so

I don’t have to decide—

don’t have to let go

of any fat or skinny handles



That Morning We Threw Acorns

That morning
we threw acorns
into the lake of my childhood—
my mother and I.
Both of us old enough
to know
not to be persuaded
by propriety.
I had come to help,
but we paused from the packing
at her insistence
to launch
the small round missiles
from the blue bucket
into arc and splash.
We laughed
at our shared silliness,
then turned from the
lapping shore
back toward our now separate journeys
without knowing
when we might be together
again throwing acorns
into their perfect circles—
radiating and diminishing like us,
that we have gown old
in this place
where once we were young.

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Copyright © Dandelion by Pexeto

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