Monday, July 29, 2013

Of Choices and Chases, Gifts and Prayers

  • ·        The Happiness Choice: The 5 decisions that will take you from where you are to where you want to be by Marilyn Tam
  • ·        Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn by Carol Orsborn
  • ·        The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life) by BrenĂ© Brown
  • ·        Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

It was only when I stacked up the books I wanted to review for this blog that I realized I might as well just have screamed, “I’m Reading My Way Through My (Most Recent/Ongoing) Existential Crisis!”  While none of these readings led to remarkable epiphanies that helped me figure out the meaning of life, I do find that the nuggets I pick up in the process of reading authors who are tackling life’s big questions can be like stepping stones thrown out on the path ahead of me.

The Happiness Choice benefits from not only the author’s own wisdom but that of thinkers from Joan Borysenko to Barbara Marx Hubbard.  The biggest takeaway for me was the author’s definition of balance, an item on nearly everyone’s wish list for the good life.  She speaks of what she calls dynamic balance:

At different times in our lives, our priorities vary.  Life is active and constantly changing, as do [sic] our needs at different stages. It is unrealistic and almost impossible, as well as unnecessary, to allocate the same amount of energy and resources to every aspect of your life.  Each person has individual wants and needs that ebb and flow over time.  Therefore, balance is dynamic.  What is right and comfortable for you at 25 is most probably radically different from what is suitable and comfortable for you when you are 45 or 50. You have to be aware and reassess and adjust your dynamic balance as your life situation changes.

Equally as critical,

Knowing your life purpose will help guide you in allocating the proper amount of energy and attention to each aspect of your life…We can make purposeful decisions and plans once we are conscious of our true values instead of reacting to outside events.

Fierce with Age, from the author of The Art of Resilience, is the story of a transition period in Orsborn’s life, encompassing everything from aging to geography to her identity as a writer.  She organizes the story by seasons and it is the dark winter of her soul that really spoke to me, as I struggle in winter too often.  Finally she experiences a shift, an awareness of God with her through the bad times and the good, and of love needing to be bigger than fear. 

The thing is that turning your attention towards the pain doesn’t make you feel any better.  But as I learned…your very willingness to feel everything, including uncomfortable emotions, is the only way to undercut the temptation to come to superficial resolution. It takes a different kind of courage to be able to encounter pain without needing to fix or do anything about it.  And it is this willingness to endure that turns out to be the cutting edge of spiritual growth.

In The Gifts of Imperfection, BrenĂ© Brown lays out 10 guideposts from self-compassion to gratitude and joy.  It’s her first guidepost, living authentically (a critical part of my spiritual journey but one of the most difficult) where she grabs me with her description of the risks of not living authentically:

Our unexpressed ideas, opinions, and contributions don’t just go away.  They are likely to fester and eat away at our worthiness.  I think we should be born with a warning label…Caution: If you trade in your authenticity for safety you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.

I don’t think of myself as one who prays, but in her latest book one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, lets us in on a big secret—it doesn’t have to be hard, or complicated, and it doesn’t have to be one of the Greatest Hit prayers from organized religion.  For her, all prayer comes down to one of three words in her book’s title—Help, Thanks, Wow.  Her definition of prayer makes it infinitely accessible and meets you right where you are:

Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy--all at the same time. It begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves, or when we are just so sick and tired of being physically sick and tired that we surrender, or at least we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something.  Or maybe, miraculously, we just release our grip slightly. Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best conditions under which to pray.) Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up.

So I am showing up now, and I pray I can be happy, be fierce with age, embrace my imperfection, and do it all with Lamott’s sense of humor and (most of the time) grace.