June 18, 2014

Misplaced Self-Worth

While in Europe, my experiences were vivid--I was fully present. I stayed true to my intention of just show up, no expectations. My eyes opened in wonder; my thoughts stayed in the moment; my heart expanded. (Oh, how I love my dad. I not only love him, but I really, really like him.) 

Back home, I noticed the beauty in my own backyard. I savored time with Mark and my friends. And I watched my ego quickly, sharply place itself on my lap. What are you doing with your life? What value do you add? Why are you so imperfect?

Our first glimpse of Prague's magnificence. A morning spent in the woods, listening to bird songs. Then we walked the cobblestone streets, letting our curiosity guide us.

It was striking to me how quickly my judging, doing mind returned. I threw myself into gardening. It was the grounding I needed. Yet it also became my self-worth. What have I done today in the yard? Is it enough? When it wasn't my garden, it was my photographs. I spent hours on the computer processing pictures. And taking new photos, hoping for something spectacular. Am I my yard? Am I my images? Clearly not. But what am I?

While in Vienna, the weather was cold and rainy, yet the city hummed. We explored gardens, watched a live-streamed aria, and savored glasses of Gruner Veltliner while people-watching.

In everyday life, it's easy to misplace our self-worth. Our culture values achievement, busyness, and money. An attachment to our identities is natural. I am a teacher, wife, friend, gardener, aunt, photographer, athlete, writer. But when I cling tightly to these identities--when I believe they define my essence--I work from a place of fear. I work to not lose these identities; I seek external approval. And I feel disconnected from myself.

In Maribor, we stood atop a hill with a breathtaking 360-view. We sampled wines in the company of passionate wine maker, Mihaela. We took in the good, talked about big life questions, and laughed about silly things. 

The Five Remembrances are Buddhist teachings on impermanence and the fragile nature of life. The conclusion of these teachings resonates for me: "My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand." My identities are not my true belongings. My material goods are not my true belongings. The people I love are not my true belongings. My actions are my only true belongings.

We had a lovely day in Rovinj, where we walked the streets, took breaks by the sea, and enjoyed a leisurely meal.

When I lose myself in doing and judging, I'm not mindful of my actions. In that space, my behaviors often spring from fear. I do my best to remember: my actions are my only true belongings. I want to act from a place of love. And that's where I find my real self-worth: actions based on love, kindness, and wisdom. Intentional actions. Open-hearted actions. Indeed, I am not my garden, my job, my blog, or my body shape. I am my actions. May they be helpful, truthful, and kind.

As we walked the maze of Venice, we imagined the 1400s--what happened in these very alleyways? We emerged at the Piazza San Marco and my eyes opened wide. The meeting of current-day people and old-world history was stunning.

June 3, 2014

Writing Process

My friend Bella writes honest, heartfelt words at She Told Stories. Last week she invited me to her writing-process blog tour. When I researched the tour, I saw it began with published authors--a look inside the minds of successful writers. Now its taken hold among bloggers; among those of us non-traditional writers. And I think that's a good thing. Sharing a writing process helps both the writer and the reader. 

What am I currently working on?
My long-term project is a book that relates life and photography. Each chapter focuses on a theme in photography that can be applied more broadly--to life experience and personal insight. Since I don't yet have my over-arching conceit, that project simmers in the background. In the meantime, I post regularly on this blog. And I carefully choose the words describing my Flickr photostream

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I blend words and images. And I work really hard at each craft. My blog is not stunning photos absent of interesting ideas. Nor is it great writing with no visuals. I love the interplay between images and words. Individually, they convey a message. Yet together they weave a rich, textured story.

Another difference is that I share hard truths. I bare myself to the reader. My blog is about real life, which can be mundane, difficult, and beautiful.

Why do I write what I do?
I write to both understand and connect. Ideas come in and out of my mind. If one sticks, then I must write. Through the writing process I better understand the idea. If my writing stagnates, then I know the concept (or my explanation) is incomplete. When I finish a piece, I've gained insight I won't soon forget. 

The other reason I write is to connect. The most important part of my life is connection--to people, nature, and myself. Thoughtful expression from my heart is a gift I can give the world and it's also a gift to myself. I think openness begets openness. Bravery begets bravery. Joy begets joy. 

How does my writing process work?
My daily intention is to live mindfully; to notice beauty, act kindly, be present. Both writing and photography are about noticing--noticing details often overlooked. So part of my writing process is my mindfulness practice: meditation, walks in nature, listening. I often let an idea float around for weeks until its ready for the page. That said, it's important that I write every day, even if I have nothing special to say. I'm a firm believer in what Anne Lamott calls "shitty first drafts." In her words, "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something--anything--down on paper" (Bird by Bird, p. 25). This is my tenth re-write of this simple blog post.

Now I introduce two talented, thoughtful, funny writers: Cyndi Briggs and Joanna Dane. I'm not sure if they'll answer these writing-process questions, but their blogs are worthwhile reading. I guarantee they'll make you think and make you laugh.