Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Engaged Living: Pulling Yourself Out of the Pity Party Hole

"I can't do it."
"Writing is hard for me."
"I didn't have a vacation after grad school and I'm just so tired."

The first was spoken by my daughter, in reference to a gymnastics skill. The coach got mad at her, which bummed her out, and she didn't understand why the coach was so dismissive.

The second, also spoken by my daughter, to explain why she was in a pool of tears in response to having to write something about dolphins.

The third by an adult who shall remain nameless, but the important piece to know here is that the missed vacation referenced was eleven years ago.


What do all these phrases have in common? They are uttered to explain why someone has shut down or given up. They are also phrases that are impossible to work with. They are explanations for why a person is mired in a hole of pity party.

To my daughter, in regards to the first, I acknowledged that it was too bad that the coach was rude to her, but I got why the coach said what she did. And I pointed out: "I think what you really mean here  is, 'I still need spotting on that skill.'" She nodded.

In regards to the second, after about an hour of struggling and whining and crying and my own feeling like screaming and giving up myself, we determined that what she really meant was "I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the information and I don't know how to break it down or where to start."

And in regards to the third, well, that person needs to pull himself out of that particular pity party and identify what he wants now: "I really need a break, and what would give me a break is...."

Can you feel the difference? In the first example, there is nothing to work with. It's just hard, stupid, sad, whatever. When you figure out what you are really trying to say here, then you have something to work with. Break down the information. Get spotted. Take a vacation. What do you need? What is overwhelming? What is standing in your way?

The problem with this is that we are used to complaining. It feels so good to feel so bad. And it requires energy and intention to identify what needs to change, and then guess what? You have to take steps to change it. That is what it means to live an engaged life - you have to put your life in gear and move forward. It's so much safer to just say, "I'm stuck in neutral, poor me."

Where are you short changing yourself by sitting in neutral in a hole of pity? Notice ways in which you put on the breaks and get stuck, and ask yourself what you really mean. Then you will know how to move forward.

It is overwhelming, scary, and sometimes lonely. But you can do it. So much energy is freed up when you stop stalling and take that first tentative step, which is simply to identify what the problem is in the present moment. Only then can you move forward.

Blessings on your path! You can do it.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Recommitting to the Path: Announcing Engaged Living

A Choice

I recently started an online teacher licensing program (so that I can teach at the fabulous homeschool enrichment program that my kids participate in, which is part of the public schools), and in searching for a school to do my field experience, I discovered that a local charter school doesn't require a license to teach there. I applied for a full-time teaching position. This would mean putting my kids in school, but I wanted to explore the possibility. I got called for an interview. We talked on the phone about the pay (not great but way more than my current mom salary) and how I had to start Monday to undergo their three-week training program so that I could learn exactly how they teach everything. I would be expected to follow things exactly their way. Now, on the one hand this would make life easy. Just connect the dots. Just do what they say. And my kids, too, would just do what they say, since I wouldn't be able to homeschool them. The school said they could accommodate my two kids. They would start at one campus and then move to the one at which I would be teaching when there was room. They didn't see this as a problem.

I debated long and hard. A job. We could get out of debt. My kids would experience school. I'd get my field hours done. I'd get my license, and then we could go back to our life as it has been forever (in terms of my children), playing all day, homeschooling, sleeping in, and the awesome community of homeschoolers of which we are a part. It would be a huge change, but we could get used to full-time school and getting up early and homework and uniforms and maybe even changing campuses just when they got settled.

I turned down the job.

The Power of Normal

In discussing it all with my husband, he said that he would like me to take the job. He's tired of being broke. (As, of course, am I.) He also said, however, that there is a "core" of what I am doing as a homeschooling, working-from-home writing, teaching mama that is really strong and powerful that he values.

That nailed it on the head.

It named not only why I turned down the job, but why I keep doing this even when I need a break and am broke (ironic, eh?). It also named the core of my writing, which I feel very passionate about but have struggled to name. My writing doesn't really seem to fit in any one category, and I haven't been sure how to categorize it. It's green spirituality, gardening and spirituality, psychic and earthy, but not wholly Pagan. Nodding at this "core" gave my work a central gravity, even though I couldn't quite name what that was. We were on to something. But was that something worth giving up a job, a normal job with a paycheck? I've long dedicated myself to this path, trusting that the money will come when it needs to and that it will pay off for my children, my soul, and maybe even the world. But a real job was awfully tempting.

I felt really stressed and conflicted all day. Had I made the right choice? Here was my chance for a NORMAL life. Sometimes that normal life sings such a powerful song. It's hard to be so fringe and different sometimes. A friend of a friend who is Catholic, who breastfed her seven children till they were toddlers, and who homeschooled them all, said that the hardest thing to do in terms of not being normal was homeschool because you do it the longest and people misunderstand and doubt it the most. My most fabulous acupuncturist, when she learned all about me, didn't question my alternative healing choices or spiritual beliefs or crunchy lifestyle, she questioned my homeschooling. It's growing in numbers but homeschooling is still misunderstood and weird. It's not supported. It's doubted.

BUT. It's also awesome. Homeschooling is about teaching my kids that they matter. Their interests matter. Their efficacy in the world is a real thing. Their heart and soul have a place in our family and in the world. And we get to learn that message by sleeping late, playing, hanging out with friends, reading books, and going places we love like the library and the science museum.

I thought on my husband's words - the core of what you do is really powerful.

That - yes, that is why I made my choice. And it was the right one.

Engaged Living

A few days later, these thoughts floating around in my head, I asked my husband, "What would you call that? That core that makes homeschooling powerful, that is also what my writing is about. It's why I went to all those schools [massage school, Naropa University, and Creation Spirituality University, plus my MFA, plus now my teaching license...]. It's who I am and how I live and what I do - but WHAT is it?"

"The phrase that comes to mind," he said, "is Engaged Living."

Yes.

Engaged Living is living my life the way I want to, taking ownership of my choices. I know the core of me and the tapestry I weave with all the different things I do and paths I've taken. God knows it, too. But it can look like I've done a million things and can't commit to one (I also almost went to herbal school and midwifery school and library science school, by the way). When we are struggling financially because I am not earning money because I am living this weird life that doesn't fit (but might earn money some day??), it doesn't feel strong. But it is engaged with what is real and core to me and what I believe in.

This names it, and brings it all together, and also, is my message to you, dear reader.

Engaged Living is the life I wish for you through all my books, whether you are growing a garden or holding a chicken or honoring the earth each day with simple rituals and activities or trying to homeschool your kiddos. So I have changed the name of my blog (I finally have a platform! Woot!) to Engaged Living: Digging in to Your Best Life with Clea Danaan.

Welcome! And happy autumn... it's just around the corner. A great time to take the next step in YOUR engaged life.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sitting Dragonfly Vigil

Yesterday I stepped out back to pick a green onion for my breakfast, and discovered a dead dragonfly on the patio. I knelt down to pick him up and he began whirring his wings; he wasn't dead, just dying. I shooed the cat away and brought the beautiful blue and black creature into the house. I gave him a drop of water, which made his wings beat and his legs move. Clearly he couldn't fly anymore. I couldn't think of how to help him, and recalled that dragonflies don't live very long in their adult form. I could, however, make him safe from cats and other predators and give him a place of honor on my kitchen counter, holding the space for him as he passed into Light.

His eyes were like geometric blue opals. They had a depth to them, like a glass gem or a bead of water. My four-year-old remarked that the dragonfly's patterns on his body reminded him of a totem pole. I covered him with a bug-box lid so the cat wouldn't get him but he could breathe, and we left for our trip to the science museum.

When we returned, I thought he had passed, but when I touched him one leg moved. His opalescent eyes had turned a dull black from the top down, with just a crescent of blue at the bottom. I gave him Reiki, hoping it would ease his transition. While he was "just" a bug, he was fierce and beautiful, and I at least wanted to honor his slow death.

When he died, his eyes were completely black. You could literally see the life force leave him through his eyes.

I set him on my altar. Dragonfly is about illusion, and I am writing a book about Zen right now, which is all about the illusions we carry in our heads about life, about each and every thing we encounter. The problem is not that we live in illusion, it is that we think the illusion is "real." Dragonfly teaches us to hold the dichotomy of illusion and what we call reality. He teaches us about the illusion of life and death, and the dichotomy of death being real and final, and not.

I give thanks to the Universe for gifting me this honor of holding vigil while a beautiful Blue Eyed Darner. Aho.



Saturday, April 12, 2014

Humiliation and Environmenta Living

Why Green Living is so Hard
 
I read today on Maria's Farm Kitchen blog that conventional toothpastes contain plastic microbeads for scrubbing that do not biodegrade (of course) and will get washed down the drain and into the water system, eventually finding their way into the ocean. In a quick succession of thoughts, it occurred to me that the biggest stumbling block to our species living in harmony with the earth and creating an environmentally compatible society is not our fear of change. It is not the difficulty of changing our habits. The biggest challenge in humanity's changing course for greener waters is two fold:
  1. We have been sold a seriously long line of crap based on bullshit that we have to realize is bullshit and realize is crap in order to change.
  2. Admitting that we have been duped is humiliating. And for humans, humiliation is worse than death.

The Rat Race

First, regarding the bullshit. Our society believes that life is about achieving prestige, leisure, and stuff. It starts by seeking security, and then the idea of security gets bigger and bigger and harder to achieve. I will really feel secure when I own my home, have savings and investments, and a college savings plan for my kids. No, I will only feel truly secure and can then relax when I own a mansion and a yacht. As you know, it's endless. We do need to feel secure, but we've been sold a line by others trying to feel secure that the only way to do so is to buy their investments, stuff, and lifestyle. Then when I am secure, others will look at me and wish they could live like me - prestige. We can all sit on my gorgeous, expensive deck furniture and feel secure. Leisure. Stuff.

Not that there is anything wrong with college savings, deck furniture, leisure, or security - but these do not equal the most important things in life. And usually, they don't leave us feeling secure or leisurely. We instead feel afraid of losing what we have built. We feel afraid that we are not keeping up with the latest styles, and will lose that prestige. We feel afraid, constantly, that we are no doing or being enough.


Hello Madison Avenue

Second, the line of crap. Marketing and the media tell us constantly from every angle that in order to get those most important achievements (prestige, leisure, and the best stuff), in order to be enough, we have to
a) buy the right stuff and b) look the right way. Toothpaste with whiteners so that our teeth look straight and white. Skinny jeans. Low cal whatever. Diamonds and gold. The prettiest car. The latest gadgets. The nicest smelling detergents, perfumes, lotions, and shampoos. Lipstick and eyeliner. 3000 square feet house with giant television and a private bathroom for every person in the house.

We've been sold these assumptions - that we are not enough, that we need to be wealthy and have the latest coolest stuff, and that buying more things, changing our bodies and our lifestyles and our homes to be better, is the only way to go. That this lifestyle is in fact the only way to feel okay, be okay, be alive. These assumptions get all tied up with goodness, self worth, morality, and education. And many of these practices that are run by these assumptions are really, really bad for the planet.


Poly-tetra-what?

The garbage, plastic, pollution, toxins and burned fossil fuels that goes into feeding these assumptions are mind boggling. Microbeads to whiten teeth and smooth skin. Fungicides and herbicides and pesticides to give us shiny apples and oranges at any time of year. Toxins in cotton and massive mounts of water (and cheap labor) to bring us the latest t-shirt. Polytetrafluoroethylene, which kills birds and sickens human, for convenient, shiny non-stick pans. And the fossil fuels for each of these and the trillions of other non-crucial items? Stunning to contemplate.

So we don't contemplate these things. It's too depressing, too disempowering, and, frankly, too humiliating to do so.


Desperate to Avoid Humiliation

Studies show that we humans fear humiliation over just about everything else. We do whatever we can to avoid it. Humiliation means potential ostracizing. This fear goes back to our most basic roots of selfhood and humanity. And it is the opposite of prestige, leisure, and the best stuff.

So to admit that we spend all this time and energy chasing after the craziness we have been sold as how-life-should-be is doubly humiliating. We were duped, and when you take away these basic values (prestige, money, stuff), we are left with our basic animalness, and that can also be humiliating. We are left comparing ourselves to poor people in slums in India, and our greed and stupidity s horribly humiliating. So we just don't go there. Life as usual is much more comfortable.



But until we are able to admit these things and change course for what really matters - human rights, compassion for all life, creative expression, the precious Earth - we will not be able to step off the crazy mobile of microbeads and polytetrafluoroethylene. And that right there is the biggest challenge for living an ecologically sound life on our planet.

Have you ever had to apologize to someone in a situation where you really screwed up? It's humiliating. Your heart pounds, your hands sweat, you want to run away. But you know you can't. And then, when you've apologized and the other party has accepted and you make up, you feel so much better. The guilt and fear are gone. And all there is to do is go forward, carrying what you learned. As a society, that's what we need to do. Admit we've been wrong. Learn from our mistakes. Move forward with new understanding.

I do believe this is possible. I think social networking, green living, and our growing sense of global social justice are together pushing many of us towards this realization, acceptance, and changes in living. But it has to happen on a really huge, societal level. I believe anything is possible...







Monday, March 24, 2014

The Simple Life

Sustainable Living

Here's a great resource for spring:

The Simple Life Forum at Daedalus Books

Ideas to Nourish & Sustain
Growing Your Own, Preserving Your Own

"In its broadest sense, the idea of sustainability covers a lot of ground, from growing our own produce in a kitchen garden to finding responsible land and water management practices that we can sustain far into the future. Sustainability and preservation are also at the heart of what we do at Daedalus Books, which was founded to find a second life for remainders—good books that might otherwise be destroyed simply because publishers can't afford to keep them in stock."

Submit your favorite farmers' market via email on their site!


The Way of the Hen: Zen and the Art of Raising Chickens


Daedalus is featuring, among other fabulous books for living simply, my own book, The Way of the Hen. It's only $3.98 right now! Perfect gift for anyone who loves chickens.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Imbolc to Ostara

Snow forecast, but we've seen the first butterfly and several violets!  In the dining room I have this promise, or at least hope, of spring:



That is all. :-)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

When a Chicken Isn't Just a Chicken

A year ago I met with two other women at one of their kitchen tables to discuss getting backyard chickens legal in my city. We had to convince City Council that keeping backyard hens wasn't just a back-woods fallback to Farmville, nor did it mean roosters, slaughtering, smell, or other dangers and nuisances. We had one vote in favor, the woman whose house we met at.We needed six "yes" votes in order to get the ordinance passed. Most of council was adamantly opposed to the proposed ordinance, which had been soundly turned down a few years earlier. They were afraid of "those people" who will not act responsibly in caring for their hens (i.e. immigrants and renters).

So we launched a grassroots effort to let Council know that people wanted hens. I started a blog, created flyers, and posted on a few websites like backyardchickens.com. A woman emailed me offering to setup a Facebook page. We met at a local school, sometimes with nearly two dozen people, but usually with two or three. Our Council woman lead us through the maze of politics, I ran the web end of things including a petition on Change.com, and others got signatures on a paper petition. People spoke at council meetings. We used social media and word of mouth to get people on board.

We started out with nothing. With major opposition. Last night, with 220 likes on the Facebook Page, more than 1000 page views on the blog, and over 600 signatures, Council voted to change the proposed amendment! We wowed them with our political presence - ninety people showed up for the meeting where the official vote would occur, with kids in tow. A dozen people spoke in favor. One person opposed came to speak, but when he saw the ninety people stand in support, he removed his name from the speakers list and walked out!

What we showed Council was that a chicken isn't just a chicken. They stand for sustainability, food security, community, responsible action, and personal freedom. Most people who want to keep chickens are responsible members of society. We stood up against racist and classist fears about hen keepers.

We also showed our community that if something matters we can work together to get it changed. I hope to use that power to keep moving - fine tuning the ordinance, but also involving more diverse populations in our gardening and sustainable living movement.

There are a million and one actions that need to happen in our world, and as many people and more who have different opinions about what "matters." Many might roll their eyes at how insignificant this movement is. But I'm proud of our little movement to support backyard hens in my corner of the world.