Lacuna

Lacuna – from the Latin – means a gap or space.

In music, it refers to an extended period of silence in a piece.

A journey to the edge is, for me, a lacuna.

Some folks – extroverts mostly – don’t seem to require much space.  They seem to gain their energy from jumping into the heart of the mix.  They like noise and activity.  They thrive on constant interaction with others.

Others – like me – need to go off to quiet places to recharge.  The more remote the place – the deeper the silence – the greater the sense of peace.  Renewal comes in the lacuna.

I have always admired Thoreau.  He wasn’t a hermit.  But he understood the importance of solitude. “I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude,” he said.

Don Jose Rios, a revered Huichol Indian Shaman, who came to the United States at the age of 106, said:

“In my eighty years of training I have suffered much.  Many times have I gone to the mountains alone.  But you have to do this.  For it is not I who can teach you the ways of the gods.  Such things are learned only by yourself, only in solitude.”

When we step out of the battles, we see anew, as the Tao te Ching says, “with eyes unclouded by longing.”

The gap quiets the mind and softens the heart.  It allows for reflection.  It permits perspective. Out of lacuna, one is able to live more deliberately.

And so it is time for a lacuna.

Ann and I are off to Argentina to the incomparable Andes mountains.  We will hike a beautiful river valley.  We will climb a spectacular peak.  We will walk along the edge.  And enjoy an extended period of silence.

Lacuna.

I recommend it highly.  Even for you extroverts.

More when we return.

DenaliPhone

To Turn Again

The movie Groundhog Day was, for me, one of the funniest movies ever.  Bill Murray played a down on his luck weather forecaster assigned a reporting job that no one wanted: reporting on whether or not Punxsutawney Phil would see his shadow on Groundhog Day.  In a freak accident,  Murray gets stuck in a time loop in Punxsutawney.  Every day when Murray wakes up, it’s Groundhog Day.  Over and over again. Every day the same as the last.

Kind of like real life.

In the movie, though, through the constant repetition of his days, Murray experiences change and growth – and ultimately freedom and redemption.

By in large, our days are like Murray’s.  One day much like the day before.  And the next. Sometimes grueling, sometimes exhilarating.  But often with a sameness that can be comforting and frustrating and demoralizing – all at the same time. Change – and growth – if perceivable at all, are incremental.

Because of this, it is easy to lose track of time.  A year spins away before we know it. Unless we somehow mark the way, we often fail to see the unfolding of our lives.

I mark change with the seasons of the year.  Next week is the Winter Solstice.  It is my favorite day of all.

The Winter Solstice has been celebrated by peoples and cultures since neolithic times.  The Christians appropriated it for Christmas.  The Jews celebrate their Festival of Light. For the last six months, the days have grown shorter and shorter in the Northern hemisphere.  After the darkest day and the darkest night of the year, marked by the Winter Solstice,  it is the time when the earth turns again toward the sun.  It is the time when we all begin the journey back toward the light. Slowly, incrementally.  Almost imperceptibly.

Our lives too unfold like this.

Karen Armstrong, perhaps the foremost religious writer of our time, wrote a memoir entitled The Spiral Staircase.  She uses this metaphor of the spiral staircase to describe the evolution of her life: I toiled round and round in pointless circles, covering the same ground, repeating the same mistakes, quite unable to see where I was going.  Yet all the time, without realizing it, I was slowly climbing out of the darkness.”

The earth does that as is passes through the Solstice and moves back toward the light.  We do it too – sometimes with grace – oftentimes not- usually in fits and starts – and usually with a fair amount of tripping over the staircase.

But with hope we turn again.

Happy Solstice.

ElbrusBlog

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there
is nothing again.

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only lace
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to bat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

– T.S. Eliot

 

 


Stay This Moment

Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.

– Alvin Toffler

I so love still photography with its power to freeze moments in time.

Ann and I joined with dear friends of ours this past August as their twin sons celebrated their Bar Mitzvahs. It was a beautiful and moving affirmation of their coming of age in their faith tradition.

During the reception, the family shared a wonderful slide show that captured many of the significant – and ordinary – events that had unfolded in the lives of their boys. There they were – infants, toddlers, preschoolers and young adults – their faces looking out from the past.  Frozen in time.

This past weekend, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with another couple.  As we sat around the table telling stories and reminiscing, one of our friends brought out a thirty year old Polaroid snapshot that had been taken of her standing in the very kitchen she had prepared our meal in. Her youthful face glowing in the camera’s eye. A moment of innocence and beauty held dear.

Photographs capture our most precious moments.  And our silliest, and our happiest,  and our saddest and our most mundane.  They allow us to hold those moments in our minds and hearts. To laugh in the face of time.

But they haunt us too.  They haunt us with the reality of how fleeting it all is. With age.  With loss.  With the reality of impermanence.

Impermanence is a fundamental principal of Buddhist philosophy. But Buddhism has no particular corner on it.

Joan Dideon recounts the year following her husband’s sudden death in her stark yet tender book The Year of Magical Thinking.  On the very first page she says,  “Life changes in an instant. An ordinary instant.”

So true.

This past Saturday, my three year old niece was diagnosed with leukemia.  Life so fragile. Life changed in an ordinary instant.

And beyond the walls of the hospital, life goes on.  Shopping.  Paying bills.  Going to work. Going to school. By necessity life goes on.

In the face of inevitable change, we need continuity.  We seek stability.  We crave the illusion of that which is permanent.

Virgina Woolf in her 1932 New Year’s Eve journal entry writes,

“If one does not lie back and sum up and say to the moment, stay you are so fair, what will be one’s gain, dying? No, stay this moment.  No one ever says that enough.”

Photographer Sam Abell published a beautiful collection of his landscape photographs using, as his title, Woolf’s words:  “Stay This Moment.”

Roscoe Pound says of my profession:  “The law must be stable but it must not stand still.”

That is our bind, isn’t it?  The absolute need for stability.  And the absolute truth of change.

Life must be stable.  But it doesn’t stand still.

As the days of December dwindle to a new year, stay the moment.

ZakKili

 

 


Into The Vortex

It’s December.  And we’re being pulled into the vortex of time.  The maelstrom is all around us! Can you feel it?

Perhaps it’s just me.  But after Halloween, the year just seems to accelerate.  After Thanksgiving, the days move forward at warp speed.  The commitments and the demands and the lists and the expectations and the projects that need to be done – have to get done – before the end of the year seem to mount logarithmically.  And then there are the card lists and the gift lists and the shopping and the holiday parties… .

It’s enough to make one want to jump ship… .

What to do?

Wrong question.

The question is what not to do.

The way out of the vortex – the only way – is the simplest and the hardest thing of all (at least it is for me).   The only way out is to say “no.”

Saying “no” is not news and it’s not rocket science.  All of the leadership and success books tell us that it is fundamental to our sanity and, paradoxically, a key to achieving our goals.

One of the first  articles in this month’s Success Magazine is entitled Actively Do Nothing. “People could improve their mental and physical health as well as their relationships by carving out a portion of their day to do nothing,” the article states.

Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principals recommends creating a “stop-doing”or “don’t do” list.  Ann and I met a woman at the gym a few months ago.  We invited her to one of our Denali slide show presentations.  Her response:  “Thank you.  But I ‘don’t do’ evening commitments.” We were really impressed by that.

So why is saying “no” so hard?  Certainly, we’re conditioned from very early on that “no” is not the right answer.  As time goes on, we also begin to layer on our own assumptions – whether true or not – about what others expect of us.  Sometimes, I suspect, saying “yes” is just a habit.  (I said yes to a commitment recently without even stopping to realize I would be out of the country during the time I had committed!) And for me, there is a healthy dose of narcissistic self-importance that loves to believe that somehow my presence is essential or that I am the only one who can do something.

So as the vortex swirls, I’m working on saying “no” more often.

I’ve started by asking myself whether a project  or an invitation is one that I “should” do or accept rather than one I “want” to do or accept.  I’m working at eliminating the “shoulds.”

Saying no to the non-essential allows us to be more fully present to what is most important.  By doing less, we can pay closer attention to what is essential.  And as The Little Prince reminds us, “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  It takes time to see.

The Carmelite monk William McNamara writes,

“We are not really practical, and we shall get nowhere, we shall never find life, life will escape us, unless we learn not to always be bustling about – unless we learn to be still, to let things happen around us, to wait, listen, receive, contemplate.”

“One final word on the subject of time,” McNamara says:

“I suggest that we stop doing half the work that presently consumes us.  Then let us attend to the remaining half wholeheartedly, with contemplative vision and creative love.  I stake the authenticity of our lives and the effectiveness of our work on this radical shift.”

I described the vortex to a friend today as a giant flushing toilet bowl.

Not a great place to end up.

CuttlyhunkWavesforBlog

 

 

“Goodbye,” said the fox.  “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:  It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have devoted to your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have devoted to my rose –” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox.  “But you must not forget it.”