Too many questions

colorful spiral sun power background watercolor painting

Earlier this week, I did a job search.

No, I am not looking for a job. You would be hard pressed to find someone happier with what they do in life than I am. I love my work, all the patchwork pieces of it. But I was curious. So I put in the word “Spiritual” into several job search engines, just to see what came up.

And what came up? Basically two of the jobs I already have. Besides my coaching and consulting work, I am a part-time pastor and “pastor” came up. I also do a day or two a week as a spiritual counselor at Bayada Hospice. That job came up too. Nothing else.

That struck me as odd because in my experience, the spiritual side of work is important. When I do my main work, the stuff that pays the bills, with coaching clients, or marketing and business consulting, spirituality always ends up as part of the conversation. Always.

We are not talking religion here. Yes, sometimes religion plays into a person’s vision of a full and wonderful life. But we are talking something broader. What feeds our spirit? What feeds our soul? And what are we doing about it? Or are we? Somehow we have lost the idea that feeding the spirit is part of what organizations can and should do. It is, somehow, a separate thing from how we make a living. Profitability and spirituality are carefully separate into two different boxes, n’er the twain to meet.

And yet. And yet. Study after study show the same things – when our people are engaged not just in a job or a task, but holistically, they are better employees, more productive, brimming with good attitude, more, dare we say it… profitable. They also burn out less. They change jobs less. They cost less. They are (gasp!) happier. What’s that worth?

And yet we ignore this in the working world. We certainly don’t feed that part of our people. We offer them classes, medical care, even in some cases, psychological care. But not spiritual care. Why not? And what would change if we did? And what might that look like in a practical sense?

No. I don’t have answers. I just have questions. I know people’s spirit affects everything else. How did we decide that we can just ignore it?

Tom

There are no Secrets. Here is the Secret.

Lesson 277 resized

I have things in my life that just work. I don’t really know why. Or I sort of know why, but not in any real detail. And you know what? I’m OK with that. When I hit the switch on my wall, electricity appears. When I turn the key in my car, it starts. My life is full of stuff like that.

I sort of understand these things, but push comes to shove, I don’t really. That’s why when things stop working, after a perfunctory look at them, enough to remind me how much I don’t understand, I end up calling the electrician or my mechanic and just get it fixed.

Why is that important? I’ll explain later.

Few of my professional clients have any idea that besides my work, I am a poet, writer, photographer and artist. For that matter, hardly of the people who know of my artistic work have any idea what else I do for a living.

I got remarried about a year and a half ago. Getting married as adults is a lot different than getting married when you are young. You both have lives and families and stuff that somehow have to merge together. She moved into my house, and we’re still figuring it all out, slowly moving a space that was mine and turning it into something that is ours.

Part of that was my art studio.

I had a small studio in one of my rooms and we turned that room into an office for my wife to work and study in. I tried moving my studio into the utility room, but that didn’t work out well. We were stacking bins and incoming stuff in that room and there wasn’t space to work.

That’s really all you need for a studio. Space and light. And there wasn’t enough of either in the project room, which had become (and still is.) more of a warehouse than a creative space.

I had actually wanted a larger studio for some time. As I have painted more and more, I have also moved from small work to larger and larger canvases and there was s physical limit to the size canvas I could do in my little space. I wanted more room and more light to do bigger work and to have more than one work going at one. I do a lot of layering in my work and being able to work on multiple paintings, letting some dry as I work on others would be a wonderful thing. A new larger studio was on the someday list, even before the wedding, and afterward, it became more important.

I needed three things – light, space and affordability.

I won’t say I worked hard at finding a space. There has been a lot going on the last eighteen months. One son moving to Florida for college. My daughter moving from Vermont to Virginia. And of course, my marriage and all the change a marriage brings.

For a time, until this past July, I was migrating between Massachusetts and Vermont. My wife had a job down in Massachusetts and so I’d go down there in the middle of the week and she came up here to Vermont in the middle of the week. There was a lot of traveling going on, and nothing felt like home.

But I never stopped thinking about a studio. I never stopped believing I would find a place. I would tell people I was looking for space. Nothing came up, but I kept talking about it.

Not that I had any idea what I would do with it with all those other things going on, and the two of us ping-ponging between two states every week. The last thing I needed was another project.

But I believed it would happen. I told others and I told myself. My wife encouraged me in my delusion. There was no reason to think it would happen. The kind of space I needed, with light, tall ceilings and a bargain basement price, is not exactly common here in my little corner of Vermont.  Still, I acted as if it would.

Did it happen?

It did. Almost with perfect timing. Out of the blue, about a month after my wife found a job here in Vermont and we finally moved in together, I had breakfast with Jeff, a good friend of mine. He was looking at buying an old church in the nearby town of Middle Granville, New York, just across the border.

He has big plans for the building, even though there is a lot of work to be done. Among other things (everyone up here seems to have two or three gigs going on.), Jeff repairs and builds musical instruments. Guitars and the like. He plans to make the downstairs fellowship hall into his workshop, reclaiming his basement at home. The sanctuary, he wants to fix up and make a public space for musical shows and inside markets, There was only one space he had not decided what to do with: A room behind the sanctuary.

That room is about five times the size of my in-the-house studio. The ceilings are twelve feet high.  There are these tall windows with a combination of green and yellow stained glass and a few clear panes bringing in this beautiful light. It gets the afternoon sun, which is when I generally paint. It is in the back of the building, so it didn’t get the road noise, but it is on a main road, easy to get to. It was, in other words, perfect.

And he made it more perfect, offering to put in special LED lighting tubes to replace the fluorescent tubed and replicate daylight. and at a price, I could afford.

What I wanted, when I wanted it, at an affordable price. Slam. Dunk. Done.

There’s a lot of work to do. I have been ripping up carpet and the tiles beneath and a fibrous subfloor that comes apart in pint-size pieces. But it is happening. While it is not finished, I moved in this past weekend and began painting in there yesterday.

This has been a pattern in my life. When I believed, and when I acted on that belief, good things happen. I don’t pretend to understand it. Some call it the Law of Attraction and there is a large, large, LARGE movement out there that teaches the idea of a benevolent universe that we can think our way to the things we want. Some who have a Christian leaning like me, often refer to it as “Prosperity Christianity” – the idea that God wants and will make good things happen for us.  There are even people who have tried to use quantum physics to explain what is going on and that it’s a law of the universe that we can believe our way to a perfect life. I’ve read the books and they make my head spin.

The funny thing is that they all come at it from these wildly different directions, but they all say the same thing.

It works. It doesn’t make sense in a world sell secrets and has its own agenda of how things happen.

I don’t pretend to understand it. But there’s something to it.

This is what I know from my own life. When I have believed that things would work out, and then did the work as if it would, it always has.

Let me repeat that. It ALWAYS has. Not sometimes. Not mostly. Always.

Are there catches?

There are some catches to it. I have to believe. And I have to work. I have to be consistent.  All three. Most of us are pretty good doing one or two of the three, but not on all three. Sometimes we need help and encouragement. Books. Encouragers. Coaches and counselors.

I wish I could claim some great discovery, but there is no great discovery. I wish I could claim it as a secret, but there is no secret. People have been saying and teaching this idea for a long, long time. There’s truly no secret to it. People have noticed this and have been teaching it for as long as I can remember.

My first exposure to the idea was with Napoleon Hill and since there I’ve read tons of other books. And I do mean tons of them. I have a corner of my library so full of self-help books that I find it a wonderment that the floor doesn’t collapse.

There is no secret.

Belief. Work. Persistence.

Most of us fail on one side or the other.  I know I have. I know some of my clients have. We don’t really believe. OR believe we are worthy, or that we can. We believe that the world doesn’t work that way. Oh there are a thousand reasons not to believe we can get what we want. Maybe tens of thousands. As a life coach and spiritual counselor, I have heard them all.

OR we believe and think that is enough. So we don’t do the work. Or we poke at the work, like poking at a snake under the front porch, tentatively, sporadically.

Did I mention sporadically? Yeah, that doesn’t work either, but we do it. And when the miracle doesn’t happen, we declare the world is stacked against us and stop believing and become a self-fulfilling prophecy in the worst possible way.

But when we do all three things: Believe. Work. Persist. Change happens. What we want comes. Don’t ask me to explain it.

There are explanations of course. Remember, the Law of Attraction folks will tell you that this is just how the universe works. The prosperity Christianity people will tell you it’s God working for people who believe. The Quantum Physics people will dazzle your mind with theories. But there is no secret.

I’ve seen it in my own life. I’ve seen it in my life coaching clients. There’s no secret. There’s only belief, work and persistence. My work as a coach and counselor is helping people put those things to work, finding the good stuff that is already in them and helping them persist.

There is no secret.

That’s the secret.

When I was a boy, my grandfather tried to teach me to hunt. I never took to it, but I learned one lesson that stuck with me my entire life. “Never shoot at an animal.” He told me. “Aim ahead of it and wait for it to come to you.”

It was remarkably effective. I would aim somewhere in front of the animal running through the woods and just wait. Eventually, it would run into my sights and “Bang!”, the animal came down. It was way easier than trying to follow a moving animal as if fled through the woods or across a distant field.

Just let it come to you.

I never took to hunting. I haven’t hunted since I was about twelve, but that lesson has stuck with me. Let what I want come to me. It’s easier. It works. As long as we have those three things. Belief. Work. Persistence.

There are no secrets.

That’s the secret.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

 

PS:  For many people, personal coaching has proved a remarkably effective way of working towards what they want. It provides a framework of safety, encouragement, proven processes and accountability that helps people find and work your own path to what they want in life, be it success, creativity or spirituality.  Study after study shows coaching speeds the process and has an extraordinary ROI (return on investment.) Are you interested in finding out if life coaching is for you?  I offer three free sessions (with no catches) to allow you to find out. Interested? Contact me and I’ll explain more.

The Removal of Things

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The Removal of Things

Slowly you take things off the wall.
Not in a frenzy. Slowly.
Remove one and wait.
A day. Maybe more.
Less to see it, but to feel it.
How deep is the loss?
Or is there any?
What is the trade-off?
Stuff for opportunity?
Is there more joy with a thing removed
than was possible with a thing added.

The answer is almost always yes.

And you sit with it a day or few
before you remove the next thing.
It can take days, weeks, a lifetime.
Timelines don’t matter.
Trajectories do.

You know when you find your balance.
that place between too much and too little.
Stuff.
Activity.
Thoughts.
You will know.

Your heart will slow and leap at the same time.
And you will no longer have to find peace.
It will have found you.

About this poem.

Sometimes I think my whole life is a battle between what is important and what is not.
Stuff. Activity. Thoughts.

The picture is of a Shaker clock. I think the Shakers made some of the most beautiful things, ever.

Tom

Feathers as I Fall

glass jars

I’m not feeling it today. It’s been a long week and somehow harder than most for some reason that has nothing to do with the week itself. Some weeks are like that. I’m still wrestling with finding a groove and routine with changes in my life and work.

It’s an odd thing when so much good come into your life, and you have to adjust to it. But change is change, as a therapist once told me, and stress is stress. Even too much of the good kind takes its toll.

That somehow doesn’t seem fair. Good should be allowed to be all good. Bad should be easily identified as such. But that doesn’t seem to be the way it is. I’m not talking shades of grey and theology here, I’m just talking day to day.

God, I have decided, loves crazy diversity, and not content to create a world with immense variety, with a wild mash of color, flora, races, climates, opinions, tastes, food, animals and culture, he seems to need diversity within each person, making of us a mish-mash of thoughts, feelings, and abilities. None of us, it seems, get to be all good or all bad. We have a mad mix of tastes and emotions that at times make no sense.

I’d much rather be able to make clear, simple, all-encompassing judgments. It would be infinitely easier. I could love or hate purely. It would be easy.

But I can’t. People just aren’t that simple. I am not that simple. There’s stuff in me to love and stuff in me to hate and a whole slew of stuff in between on the strange sliding scale that we make judgments with. It’s the same with all of us.

I am very capable. Pretty much whatever you throw me into, I’ll figure out. I sort of take that for granted and it has meant, more than once, that I have lept into things – work, hobbies, artistic endeavors, that I probably had no real qualification for beyond the whole “I’ll figure it out.” thing.

It’s kind of like building a set of wings as you fall into the canyon. There’s a certain kind of stress that goes along with it. It’s exhilarating and scary at the same time. Welcome to my life.

I don’t know why I do this. I have spent a lot of time in therapy and mostly we figured me out – the good and the bad and the ugly; the stuff I can fix and the stuff I just have to manage. Years of figuring out the nooks and crannies, dark and otherwise. That one we didn’t.

Some things you just accept.

And plow through. Even when you are not feeling it.

See, here’s the other thing. Good habits get me through. I have a habit of writing each day. I write in my journal, spewing out the madness of the night, and then I sit down to write a poem, or drivel like this. Mostly, by the time I sit down to write a poem, I’m feeling. The words come easy.

Sometimes they do not. Sometimes it is like living in the eye of Dorothy’s tornado in the Wizard of Oz, with my whole life buzzing around and I am unable to grab any one thing with any surety.

What then?

I write anyway. I put down any old thing. A catchphrase. A passing idea. Truly, anything. Like the opening sentence like this one: I’m not feeling it today. Just anything to get started. To break the logjam.

I don’t know if you noticed, but very little of this little essay has to do with not feeling it. The feeling doesn’t matter. The habit will get you through. You see, I know this: I write every day. My brain is well tuned to write every day. It knows what its job is. So when I start, it resets itself. It may be sluggish (like me in the morning.), but get it started and after a complaint or few, it throws up it’s (metaphoric) arms and gets to it.

It knows what to do. Habit kicks in. Words start piling on words. Stuff shows up. Poetry. Essays. Whatever it is I am writing. I figure it out on the way down. Like I do everything.

Habit. Boring, stupid habit. My savior.

And right now, it’s having to learn a new set of habits. Life is changing, as it does. My longtime habit of writing each morning has had to re-arrange itself. I have new stuff to learn. Just like people, it’s not a simple thing, all good or all bad. It’s a mish-mash.

I used to think old people had it all figured out. I also thought they were too bound by habits. At 63, I have learned differently. We only wish we had it all figured out, but you can’t figure it all out because it’s all changing. Some of us may resent that fact, but we may as well go with it, because as the popular phrase (which I hate, despite its truth), “It is what it is.”  You can leap, or you can be pushed, but change is life.

You build your wings on the way down. Just like everyone else.

And, not having the blueprints, we all come up with a different set of wings. That’s more OK than we like to admit. We’re too busy with judgments,  both of others and more often, and more violently and more destructively, of ourselves.

Instead of just enjoying the world and that crazy diversity God loves so much.

I am a preacher, though I rarely preach here. Not overtly. But I am going to for a paragraph or two. One of the things that has always struck me as I read the bible is the incredible brokenness of God’s people, even the great men and women of God. The whole book is one long collection of broken, flawed people becoming something more with God’s help.

God, it seems, looks through the ugly stuff and finds the good in people, and raises them to their good. Why don’t we? Particularly when dealing with ourselves.

I think it’s a thing of safety. Judgment runs rampant and the more harmfully we can judge, the more hateful, the more loudly and publicly, the more powerful we feel. And those of us being judged feel crushed, even when we are self-judging.

One of the life-changing books in my life is “The Four Agreements“. It is a small book, that says if we make four agreements with ourselves, our life will be changed for the better. One of those agreements is to simply do your best. Sometimes that best is very good indeed. Sometimes it is, because of health, or circumstances, or brokenness, less perfect.

But as long as we do our best, then there is no judgment to be made. That, whatever it is, is good enough.

And so I write every day. Some of it insightful, clever, striking, powerful. Some of it less so. Whether I am feeling it or not. I just do it. I let a lifetime of habit kick in and do what it will.

Tacking on feathers as I fall.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Unsaintly

fog on the dock

She’s here.

She, of course, would be the woman I love. The woman I married a little over a year ago. This past week we loaded a truckload of her things and brought them up to Vermont from her apartment in Massachusetts to my house in beautiful downtown West Pawlet, Vermont.  This morning she left early for her new job in Bennington.

For the last year, we have migrated between her home in Athol and my home in West Pawlet. It’s meant a lot of miles and a lot of constant re-arranging of our lives to do it. I’d drive down to her place and work in the middle of the week. She’d come up on weekends, sometimes for three day weekends. I shudder to think how much travel this has meant over the year.

But I love this woman. I wanted to be with her, and fortunately, she wanted to be with me. I wasn’t willing to wait for everything to fall into place to be with her. I don’t regret not waiting at all.

This morning as I did my devotions, meditation and Bible reading, I found myself reading this verse from Colossians 3:12:  “You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

I have never thought of myself as a patient person. I often feel like I am chafing against a world around me that never goes at the pace I want to go at. I never feel like life is progressing as I want it too. I hate waiting in lines. Delays drive me crazy – a bad thing in Vermont which runs on its own time zone, Eastern Slow Time.

This morning, as I kissed my wife off to work, she told me, not for the first time, “You have the patience of a saint.” If true, the saints were pretty frustrated souls.

But this morning, as I spent some time thinking before I began writing. People are always telling me I am patient. And if I have learned anything in my life (the hard way of course, that’s the only way I seem to learn anything important.), it is that when all the people around you say something, you had best listen.

Here’s what I came to – I am patient if you measure my actions. I am not so patient if you measure what I am feeling.

One measure of patience has been how I have constantly re-arranged my work to match the situation I was in and the people I felt I needed to take care of.

When I was married to my ex-wife, and having kids. I felt a pressure to be “the provider.” I did work that I liked, but that required me to travel. Why? Because that is how I could make the most money. Two or three nights a week, I was on the road. First in sales and then as a manager and partner in a startup in DC. The other two or three days a week, I worked from home, reshuffling my work so I could get the kids off to school and then be available when they got home. I often ended up working late into the night after they all went to bed.

When my ex no longer wanted me, I threw myself into work even harder. I traveled more. It wasn’t about making more. It was about keeping myself sane when I was anything but. I worked a zillion hours, traveled constantly, just to dull the pain. But I was always available on weekends when I got the kids. I wanted to be fully available to them for the short time I was able to be with them.

Eventually, I moved to Vermont. A year or so later, my daughter chose to leave her mother and move up here to be with me. I was still traveling, and she traveled with me. Again, though, I re-arranged work to give me time with her.  I’d get up earlier so I could finish by dinner time. We’d do movies or go out for dinner from my hotel room after she had finished her online school work. When we traveled back and forth from DC to Vermont, I’d arrange it so we could stop and visit historical homes and places. (a thing we both love.). If I had to work more on weekends to make it work for her and I, I did.

She did what kids do. She grew up and went to college. And then my son decided to do the same, leaving his mom in Virginia to come here.

He’s a different creature. Far more social and busy than his sister or I. It soon became evident that instead of online school, he would be better served being back in the public school system. That meant a complete rethinking of my work. What I had done for 30 years only happens in big cities, and traveling to those big cities wasn’t a good option.

The new work I took on had me at home working a lot more, but made a lot less money. A lot less. And it was new to me. Kinda scary. But as priorities change, so does what we do and the choices we make. Was it the happiest work I could have done? No. But it fit the bill to make the best choice and to be available for my son at this new turn in his life. I’d do it again.

And then, of course, I fell in love. (I still am in love). But she was in Massachusetts. And my priorities shifted once again. And along with it my work. I wanted to be able to take days off in the middle of the week, so I had to let some work go, figure out some other things to do. Build in a radical flexibility in hours. It meant a bit less money again, but I have whittled my life down to pretty simple, low-cost affair. That wasn’t a big deal.

And it got better when we married. I still had to re-arrange time to migrate between Athol and Westy Pawlet each week. But I had more of a schedule. So again I reshuffled work to fit the schedule I wanted.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I determined a decade ago that time with the people I love is more important than maximizing what I can make. I wish I had made that decision younger. But I don’t regret how I used to do. Like the past decade, I made the decision around what I thought (and was told) would best suit and take care of the people I love.

And now she is here. The woman I love. My kids are gone and grown up. And I am left with the question that I often ask my coaching and consulting clients: What do I want to do.

Me. Not for person X or person Y. Me.

It’s not a case of making enough money. I make enough. I would kinda like to make more, but mostly, I want to do good work. Work I enjoy and work that makes a difference. Work I can do for another decade or so. Work on my schedule. Not someone else’s. And I am not sure what that looks like right now.

I’ll do what I do, and do what I urge my clients to do. I’ll sit with it a while. I’ll think. I’ll let feelings churn a bit. I have a lot of options, including just doing what I am doing. Things are shifting in my own life right now and the right path will show itself.

I am blessed. The woman I love is crazy supportive. She wants me happy. She wants me to make decisions based on what I want out of the next decade or so. We will figure it out.

It is strange though, to be sixty-two and facing the same question my kids are facing: What do I want to do?

Whatever it is, I know I can. I’ve been able to change and re-arrange work for a decade to fit the needs and schedule of others. In fact, that is one of the lessons I have learned. We can pretty much do anything or become anything if we set our minds and attitudes towards it.

Assuming we know what “it” is.

In a lot of my photography and poetry, I use images of fog. I love the idea of fog, of things being just on the other side, barely seen. It’s an analogy that suits so much of life. Yours. Mine. All of ours.

And it fits me today. I feel like I am once again about to set sail, in the fog. It’s a journey I have made before. You never quite get used to it. But after a host of voyages, you also no longer fear it.

I guess I am more patient than I thought.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

The Race

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From the Book, Make Today Matter, by Chris Lowney:

“Don’t treat your life as a race to be won. Don’t focus on getting to the top of the heap, because every peak you reach will yield a clearer view of the next summit, already occupied by another competitor in the game of life. Run every race as if it’s your last, but decide first why you’re running. Instead of competing against me or anyone else, why not contribute your energies to making us better people, through your coaching, love, inspiring example, or noble mission? Instead of trying to win the race, why not make it your mission to contribute to the race, the human race—by making your corner of the world more just, more loving, and more happy.”