Gather round my friends, and let’s have a chat about things that matter, things that are inspiring us, things that are floating our boat. I have been deep in the well of structured essay writing, and today I just want to be a bit looser, a bit friendlier. News media, the changing media environment, metadata, online data collection and mining is interesting, but it’s not very relaxing, if you get my drift. So, how about I tell you what’s floating my boat, and you tell me yours?
1. SPRING. Spring is really doing it for me, my friends. Now, you might be like yeah, everyone likes Spring, big deal. But this is not your average Spring. In my part of the world, Spring is often pretty crap. It’s dry, it’s dusty, it gets hot too quick. Not this year. This year, we’ve had rain. It’s green, the plants are going nuts with their fabulous new Spring dresses on, the birds are ecstatic, I’m still wearing a jumper…and we have a brand new vegetable garden that the Bear has been working on in every spare minute. Look, I’ll give you a quick tour around my backyard:
2. Martha Beck. Now, I’m kind of new to her work – I had heard of her, but didn’t know much about her until I listened to her on the Beautiful Writers Podcast with Linda Sivertsen and Glennon Doyle Melton talking about writing and truth telling. She mentioned her new book Diana, Herself, so I checked it out, bought a little book of her essays as well, and BAM, I was hooked. Martha and I talk the same language, for real. What really floated my boat this morning though, was this blog post:
No matter how many times I experience The Storm Before the Calm, it always sneaks up on me. I never recognize it until I’m fully lost in it; bruised, drowning, desperate for relief. Storms are devilishly clever at disguising themselves. “I’m Hurricane Bob!” “I’m Tropical Storm Betty Sue!” “I’m Low Pressure System Barry Manilow!” Don’t let them fool you. No two storms have the same name, but they all wreak the same kinds of havoc.
Of course I don’t mean literal storms. I’m talking about periods of intense disturbance we go through prior to deep and lasting personal growth. I suspect we all have these Storms Before the Calm. But I don’t think most people recognize them. So it’s about to get unbearably metaphorically meteorological up in here.
A Storm Before the Calm begins long before we see it. It’s born in deep wanting—maybe a subtle itch, maybe a yearning so strong it rattles our teeth. It begins down in our guts, and eventually we begin burping it up, asking God (or Whatever) for resolution. Maybe we consult priests and offer formal prayers; maybe we gag out strangled cries that never even make it to language. Either way, we’re begging for change, for fulfillment, for something better.
We want this to happen smoothly and prettily, a sunrise illuminating a perfect summer morning. We expect it to happen this way.
And Whatever says, “Mmm-hmm.”
We forget that to give us more than we currently have, life must make us more than we currently are. And that the first act of every creative change is the destruction of the existing order.
Make no mistake: when we ask for better lives, we are calling the whirlwind.
When the Storm hits, we don’t connect it with our wanting, with our calls for help. We feel blindsided by misfortune, attacked by circumstances, drowned in agony we can’t control.
Loss of control is the essence of the Storm. We may lose control of our emotions, our actions, our work, our relationships, our bodies, everything. It all devolves into chaos—not just the normal inconveniences of daily life, but disruptive, preoccupying chaos, events and feelings we can’t ignore. Plans fall through. Efforts fail. Jobs disappear. Relationships end, or become fractious and impossible. Controllable? Ha! A Storm Before the Calm barely feels survivable.
I tend to recognize the Storm Before the Calm just after I become convinced that I’m cursed. During some of my worst Storms, I’ve felt like a cockroach that God (or Whatever) was trying to kill, first with a rolled-up newspaper, then with a shoe, then with a ton of bricks. After every mammoth blow, I’d be dismayed to find myself hideously alive, missing my head and most of my thorax, but still able to creep forward on my single remaining leg. While, I imagined, God rushed off to deploy the nuclear warheads.
That’s when I remember.
“Wait,” I think with my tiny, headless-cockroach mind. “There’s something about this feeling, this horrible, horrible feeling…it’s not like ever before, but yes, it’s that bad. I think it may be the Storm Before the Calm!”
And God (or Whatever) whispers, “Bingo.”
That dim flicker of recognition is the moment I feel the sea change. I’ve done it enough to know roughly how it’s going to play out. I relax into the belief that Storms Before the Calm come to destroy us, as quickly and thoroughly as possible. And that this is grace unfolding. I know that the greater the gift we’ve requested, the wilder and more violent the storm will be, and the deeper the grace.
Contemplating this—that the Storm isn’t a curse, but preparation for the blessing—ushers me into the Calm. Right then, just like that, I feel the pain ease. Before the wind dies down. Before the argument is resolved. Before the disease heals. Before the rent is paid. The Calm doesn’t come because the Storm is over. It comes because I’ve moved into the truth.
Truth is always calm. Still. Gentle. Quietly and intensely alive.
I think almost everyone goes through this pattern. If we look, you can probably remember breaking through a few Storms into the Calm yourself: “Oh, right! After my nervous breakdown I discovered meditation and Klonipin, and things got so much better,” or “True, it was after Jack left that I finally got the nerve to quit my job slaughtering cattle.”
Right then, just with that tentative step toward a different interpretation of ill fortune, the Calm begins. It feels faint at first, but dropping attention deeply into it—focus more on it than on the Storm—begins to reveal that it’s VAST. So huge a million hurricanes could rage inside it and never disturb its peace. That Calm itself is what we really are. Every single pathetic-looking little human is bigger inside, far bigger, than any storm ever seen on earth.
Sometimes, when I can’t reach the Calm, I’ll just stomp into the Storm, betting wildly that it’s more benevolent than it seems. With a sort of inner Viking war scream, I’ll open the grim and complicated spreadsheets from the bank, or go get the painful medical test, or initiate the conversation I’m way too afraid to have. If there’s nothing else to do, I’ll sit in a silent room, refuse to distract myself, and face the tempest in my mind.
If I do this bravely enough, a weird thing happens. Right at the center of every Storm I find its eye—the one part of my flailing self that can see clearly.
From that still place right inside the storm, all the horrible luck, the stress, the pain, the shame, the loss, begins to reveal itself to me as an incomprehensibly perfect, intricately choreographed rearrangement of the universe, meant specifically to do one thing: Fulfill my longing.
“Oh,” I notice. “The illness came to teach me to relax.” Or, “Oh. The job loss came to teach me that people will help.” Or, “Oh. I failed because I had to discover that I’m worthy of love, no matter what.”
Oh. I called the Storm. It came because I asked. And it’s exactly—exactly—what I needed.
At that moment, I realize what my favorite yogi Nisargadatta Maharaj meant when he said, “Don’t you see? God is doing this all for me.”
Not to me.
And that sent me to examine my own latest personal storm which began, I remember clearly, with a broken tooth on Summer Solstice, just before Christmas. And how shortly before the storm struck I had specially requested a bigger life from the Universe. And how I emerged from that storm with the knowledge that if you want a bigger life, then you must expand so that life can fit within you, and that expansion can be an intense, overwhelming and occasionally unpleasant experience. Yeah, that.
3. My cleaning job. I have a little job, four hours a fortnight, where I go to this beautiful, country community church on top of a hill, with big windows and a 180 degree view of the mountains, and I clean it, ready for the service on Sunday. Earlier on in the year a friend offered it to me; at the time I had no work and was feeling a bit desperate, so I took it. The Universe must have known that these were the only conditions under which I would have said yes, because a) I am not a church goer and b) I do enough cleaning at home, thank you. But as it turned out, these four hours per fortnight are gold. It is my paid thinking time. I save up all of my favourite podcasts (the Robcast, Magic Lessons, The Good Life Project, Buddha at the Gas Pump, Beautiful Writers Podcast) and have a four hour binge on wisdom and inspiration. Not only do that, but I also get to obliterate my ego with karma yoga. Lucky huh? I also get to ask myself questions like:
What keeps your heart alive?
If you could design your own life to suit yourself, separate from what culture dictates, what would it look like?
This is the last one, I promise. I told you it was going to be loose, I ain’t working to a word count today, and if I want to use pink text and personal pronouns then I will :).
4. Momastery’s key jar. WTF is that, I hear you say. Well, It’s awesome, that’s what it is. Glennon and a friend put together this free resource for parents and teachers:
I printed it, cut out the questions, stole a lolly jar from my son’s room, stuffed all the questions inside of it, and placed it invitingly on our dining room table. That was about 3 weeks ago. Most nights, someone pulls out a question like ‘what’s the most important job in the world?’ OR ‘Who’s a leader in your class/work?’ OR ‘What was the funniest thing that happened today?’ And get this: even the cynical tween boy and the jaded Gen X’er man-beast get into it. We’ve had all kinds of interesting conversations that have flowed on and around from the questions, and there is less unstructured baiting and bickering. Check it out. I love it.
So tell me – what’s been floating your boat lately?