Sunset on the Buffalo

January 27, 2010

Denise shares a sunset from her cabin on the Buffalo River.

Recently I’ve noticed a lot of individuals who appear to love what they’re doing, but are anything but filled with joy. And, I’ve got a theory that a lot of us wind up robbing ourselves of ready-joy by creating situations that are unbalanced or dis-eased.

Dis-ease in our lives can be caused by a variety of things but I’ve noticed five that seem to pop up a lot. (I’m sure there are more but these are the ones I’ve noticed most.) In my book, The Bountiful Garden, these types of “dis-ease” are the weeds that keep us from realizing a joy-filled life.

A few of the more popular ones are:

– Not being our authentic self (being or doing based on what society or others says is ‘right’)
– Living beyond our means or creating a lifestyle to impress others
– Habits and lifestyles that hurt us mentally, physically or financially
– Destructive relationships
– Lack of self-knowledge

If you’re missing joy in your life and wondering how to change it, take a close look around for ‘weeds’ that might be populating your garden. (Remember, they can be tricky and sometimes even look and smell like flowers!) Then examine how you’re dealing with them. As any good gardener will tell you, cutting a weed off at the top might make your garden look better for a while but to really give your garden room to grow, you have to take hold with both hands and pull the weed out roots and all.

Whose Life is it Anyway?

November 9, 2009

When my son, Joe, was born, I imagined that he might grow up to be a lawyer. When he was nine, we had a family portrait taken – newly launched into my life as a single-mother, the portrait, I believed, confirmed my suspicions. “Doesn’t he just ‘look’ like a lawyer?” I said to my sister hopefully.

As she studied the image of ‘our little man’ dressed in his miniature double-breasted, navy blue suit coat and coordinating red tie, hair trimmed neatly around his ears, gaze serious and confident, she had to agree.

Being a lawyer had long been a dream of mine though in truth, I think I was drawn to the image of what being a lawyer meant more than I was to the actual work of being a lawyer. Throughout college and and even into my early 30s, I equated lawyers with adjectives like intelligent, wealthy, successful – all things I imagined would make for a happy life. (Something I now know is not necessarily true.) But, as it turned out, I wasn’t destined to become a lawyer and, neither was my son.

During their elementary and high-school years, I drilled the idea into both of my kids that college was non-negotiable. Not attending or graduating from University simply wasn’t an option. Always exceptionally good in school, in spite of not always applying himself, Joe received a full presidential scholastic scholarship. And, as I insisted, he entered college immediately following high school graduation.

But, almost from the start, Joe was miserable in college. Keeping his spirits up and keeping him enrolled became a full time job that I took very seriously. For three and half long years, I struggled to keep Joe following the path I had set forth. And Joe, being a wonderful son who wanted so much to ‘do what was right’, suffered through the process. While my encouragement and insistence was well-intentioned – I really believed I was doing what was best for Joe – in hindsight, I can see now that I’m fortunate I didn’t lose him in the process.

Shortly after Christmas, prior to returning to complete his last semester, Joe came to me in tears. He begged me not to make him go back. He told me how pointless his classes felt. How wasted he thought his time was. At 21, Joe was completely within his rights and fully capable of making his own decisions. We both knew that he didn’t need my permission to drop out. He was asking for my blessings and my understanding. And, while I was devastated to imagine that he wouldn’t continue, I was even more distressed that I could play a part in my son’s spirit being so broken.

As we talked through the whats, ifs, whys, and hows, of his taking what we called, ‘a break,’ the unexpected death of my parents from a car crash that left my beautiful 46-year old sister in a persistent vegetative state (coma) less than six years earlier, were foremost on my mind. The tragedy we all, including Joe, experienced, taught us well the lessons that each day is a gift and our time on this earth is limited.

So, with Joe’s promise that he’d somehow, someday, earn his degree, I gave him my blessings and, in the process, the authority – which had really been his all along – to determine his own path in life. And, true to his wise old soul, Joe wasted no time in following his heart. Today, nearly five years to the day, Joe’s ‘path’ has led him to China, Thailand, England and finally, to his new home with a beautiful, intelligent and loving wife and baby, in Sydney, Australia where he is building a rich and satisfying life as a personal fitness trainer; a career he is pursuing with passion and enthusiasm.

Over the past five years Joe has certainly learned and lived some lessons in life but the lesson I’m most appreciative for is the lesson that he gave to me. His lesson served to remind me that each of us has our own life path and purpose we’re here to live out. And the way in which Joe is following his path continues to be a source of inspiration as I stumble along my own way as a writer. Lesson learned. Degree in hand. I take it one day at a time with overwhelming gratitude to my son, Joe.

I read a blog post recently by a fellow who wrote, “I’d consider myself stable.  I’ve been employed by the same company for 23 years.”   As a person who embraces change, I had to take a step back.  It’s not like I hadn’t heard that logic before — it’s haunted me for most of my life as something I ‘wasn’t’.

Stability always felt like a character flaw of mine and yet, I’ve made it 51 years, have happy, healthy relationships with my two well-adjusted adult children, and a loving and respectful relationship with my ex-husband.  I have a strong bond with a compassionate, supportive, intelligent, and creative community of family and friends and, while I don’t live in a million-dollar mansion or drive an expensive car, I’m able to support myself fairly well.

Also, (and here’s the biggie) I’m really, truly, absolutely, totally happy and healthy in body, mind and spirit.  And yet, by most people’s standards, I’m not what you’d call particularly stable — or even hugely successful.  A quick glance at my bio will give you an idea of my ‘MO’ — my first job out of college was as a farmer caring for baby pigs, I’ve been an advertising executive (yup – business suit, heels, briefcase. . . the works!), owner of an advertising agency, radio talk show host, journalist, and well . . . the list goes on and on.  And, just between you and me, it will likely continue it’s winding route for the next twenty years or so.

The thing that lights my fire is learning new stuff, digging into new adventures, meeting new and different people, testing my mettle by putting myself in new situations. On the way, the one constant on my path has been my writing or expressing my thoughts with words.  Ahhh!  There it is.  Maybe I’m more stable than I give myself credit for.  I’ve been a writer, and an observer of life — absorbing material for stories that would only be born years later, for more than 30 years!

But it makes me wonder if perhaps ‘stable’ isn’t over rated.  Not that there’s anything wrong with being a loyal employee for 23 years.  And, if you love (or even like)  your job, if it’s rewarding, if it let’s you live the life you’re meant to live and you are contributing at a respectable level then by all means, keep it.  I would NEVER fault anyone for being stable or not changing.  It just seems to me that being stable or any of the other adjectives society might use to define “success” might not be the best path for EVERYONE.  And, just because someone likes change, doesn’t/shouldn’t necessarily make them less worthy as a person.  Same goes for ‘organized’ (yes, I’m a ‘pile’ person and my clothes aren’t always neatly organized by color or fabric or (gasp) even season) or any of the other widely accepted success-related adjectives.

It seems to me that living an authentic life is really about living YOUR life.  The life that fits YOU, not what your Mother, Father, neighbor, religious leader, senator, teacher, radio talk show host, or anyone else says is noble or right.  And, I believe when each of us is able to claim our authentic life (and teach our children to do the same) the sooner we’ll realize peace and happiness for our selves, our communities and our world.

“First thing we have to do is figure out what we want to plant,” said Gardener. “I’ve spent most of the winter running through these books. Course they don’t show you what you plant – they always show you a beautiful image of what you’re supposed to get when it’s finished. They also don’t show you how much time and energy… it takes to get from that tiny seed to that final product. Seems like good thinking. Suppose if they only showed you what it looked like as a seed and how much work it would take to get to harvest, most of us would never bother planting in the first place.” [excerpt from “The Bountiful Garden”]Join in our discussion. What’s stopping you from realizing your dreams?

Open to Being Blessed

November 4, 2009

My lab-mix pup, Bella, hurried me out the door extra early today for her morning walk around Pinkerton Park.  Evidently no one gave her the memo about daylight savings time and I was still mildly perturbed with her as we made our way around the trail, an hour and a half earlier than usual.  The morning air was crisp, the leaves a vibrant display of orange, greens and golds framed by the full moon setting into the west.  Still, I was grumbling, mostly missing the magnificence of the day, as I waited impatiently for Bella to do her business.  As Bella paced and sniffed and sniffed and paced in search of the just right depository, I noticed a large woman, probably seventy  pounds over weight, wearing a dark blue sweatshirt and sweatpants, hat pulled down over her ears against the cold morning air, making her way briskly along the trail toward me.  She swayed as she walked, a pattern I guessed she’d developed from carrying the extra weight, and her arms swung back and forth in keeping with her rhythm.  There was a bounce in her step that suggested her mood was happy.  I caught her eye and smiled as she passed, “Good morning,” I said in greeting.  “How are you today?”  She met my gaze with deep brown eyes and broke into a wide grin.  “Good Morning,” she replied adding with a mix of enthusiasm and sweet southern drawl, “I’m blessed.”   As she passed by me, waddling along the path, I caught myself smiling with the sunshine she’d just shared and thought what a wonderful way to answer that stale old question of, “how are you?”.   Here was a woman who showed no outward signs of what most of the world would consider “blessed.”  Her clothes were old and well-worn, she wasn’t particularly pretty by most standards, and she was bordering on morbidly obese.  Yet she was out at the crack of dawn, on a crisp autumn morning in middle Tennessee and, she was clearly celebrating her blessings. I was humbled by her choice to recognize the blessings in her life and decided that, “I’m blessed,” will become my official and heartfelt response from this point forward.  No matter how bleak the day may look.  How empty my bank account may be or how quickly my deadlines are approaching, if I’m breathing, and I’m able to wait patiently (or even impatiently) for Bella to, ‘do her business,’ I will remember my new found friend and answer with a sincere and heartfelt smile . .  “I’m blessed.”

This past September, appropriately during the height of harvest, I put the finishing touches on my first work of fiction, The Bountiful Garden.  It has been a labor of love, one of those, “before I die,” kind of promises we often make to ourselves.  Though I hadn’t intended for my book to be an inspirational work of fiction, shortly after I started writing; it took on a life of its own.  The story is one that is dear to my heart, something I witness often here on the outskirts of Nashville.  It is the story of individuals trying to find their way to the life they are meant to be living.  Too often, near this fabulous city of musicians and artists, I noticed that dreams are forgotten, left by the roadside in an effort to create lives that are sometimes not as rewarding as first imagined.  It is also my own personal story of how I shunned my true heart as a writer and the joy that I have experienced as I found my way back to it.  I am currently in the process of finding representation for my book — an agent, a publisher, a champion.  As I’m quickly learning, these are tumultuous times for the publishing industry.  I’m trying to be patient with the process (not one of my natural virtues) but, if all else fails, will thank my lucky stars that I have more than 30 years experience in marketing and will self-publish.  In the meantime, I will use this blog to share some of messages within my book and reach out to others who might find comfort and inspiration in them.  I welcome you to come along for the ride!  Subscribe to my blog, make comments, or email me directly.  And, when the day comes that The Bountiful Garden is published and available for purchase, you’ll be among the first to know!

Blessings to All,  Denise