Monday, May 30, 2011

Relentless Participation- responding to blessings

'... people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you're fortunate enough. But that's not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.
The search for contentment is, therefore, not merely a self-preserving and self-benefiting act, but also a generous gift to the world. Clearing out all your misery gets you out of the way. You cease being an obstacle, not only to yourself but to anyone else. Only then are you free to serve and enjoy other people."

I found this passage in a novel that shall remain nameless since there's a good chance you would judge my reading choice... it wasn't a book I planned on reading, but as I did (by a set of circumstances that eventually led me this over-hyped tale)I found several gems that were- though not overly poetic- well worth considering, and here's the one that's been on my mind over the last few days. 'You must participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your blessings.' Its been clunking around in my head since I read it and something tells me I needed to hear it.

What is it about post-collegiate life? I was just so used to succeeding- not succeeding; for sure, my grades were just a notch above the average. I passed most classes with As, not A+'s, and I don't even remember my GPA anymore. But there was a success all the same. I was- how do I say it?- liked. I didn't have to dole out any special effort to communicate to the world that I cared. My professors wanted to hear what I said, looked forward to reading my papers, let me stay after class to pepper them with questions and scooted me out hours later with grins on their faces. It's not that I was the smartest, but everywhere I went they said generally the same thing: It's clear to us how much you care. And there you had it. I was not the best, but I cared a lot, perhaps more than most. And it sailed me through most difficulties. Most things that were weaknesses (preparations, unbiased research, mile splits in XC) were forgiven because I cared.

Then I moved to Seattle. Now let me be clear, this is the west coast and all; everything you've heard about passive-aggression, cynicism, and snobbery are, in many respects, true. But it wasn't just that. I will never forget arriving at my first review in the grocery store. I walked into the back room with a bounce in my step because- well- I associate feedback with affirmation. I've never before known what it was like to be so hugely misunderstood. It was a small strike in my ego, then, to hear that I had a bit to work on, that I came off as negative at times (me?! how?!?!), that they wished I was quicker. But I care so much! I thought desperately. (In my defense, when I was hired I was told it would not matter how quickly I could get through my routine; what counted was my attitude and customer service. This never, never was repeated to me again-- but that's another story, and an old, dead one at that...)

And perhaps because I associated much of my negative experience at the grocery store with being misunderstood and (in my opinion) mistreated, the lesson I should have learned slipped through the cracks of my frustration, entitlement, etc: that being 'likeable' and caring a lot will not always allow me to avoid my short-comings. But then I started work at the preschool. It is, in almost every way, a different job than the store, but only a year into it (sooner, actually, though I didn't realize it at the time), I was told the same thing. Sometimes they wished I was, well, you know, a bit quicker in the kitchen. I was shattered. No way, man, this is my job, this is _my_ job, the one that found me, the one where I- just as I am- fit perfectly. How could this horrible accusation follow me? A bit of turmoil followed in which I applied for a morning position, was told I didn't have what it would take and spent the subsequent days in a puddle of self-pity and despair. How, why, and what next? But after a little soul-searching I realized my problem- I noticed that I was raised to love myself (a huge blessing!), that I have friends and family who thing I'm great (an equally wonderful realization), and that I was lucky or blessed enough again to be appreciated academically, especially within my soul-searching major. But.

These luxuries in some way have left me unprepared (or rather my own interaction in these luxuries) for the fact that life is work. I don't pretend that I have a difficult life and that the blessings that make up my daily/weekly/monthly/yearly routine require my constant diligence (as they might for so many, I am sad and embarrassed to say). Rather, it is the very richness of these blessings that make it so important and so difficult for me to remember that blessings without careful, creative, and industrious response are just good luck. Life will just happen to me if I let it, and unremarkable time may pass. 24 hour days don't need my excellent participation, my astounding creativity, my humble greatness of soul, my exotic kindness to all beings in order to come and go. I am ashamed and humbled to realize that when this job happened to me (and despite all my hard work and countless resumes, it truly did just _happen_), I thought it was fate, and that, well, karma or God or the Great Benevolence of the Universe had brought it to my feet, that somehow I deserved this break without much effort on my part. I thought if I just showed up every day, it would come together beautifully. It is worth saying that I may have had a similar idea about marriage. I mean, maybe not, but probably.

Anyway, after that long puddle-of-self-pity week I got up (because I had to) and went to work on Monday morning. I went to the library and found books on the job I wanted to do, I went to the hardware store and bought tools, and because I enjoy what I do immensely, I was blessed enough to work from joyfulness every day. About six days later, they called and said I had turned a page and could have the job, if I wanted it.

When I came across this passage in my book, I was shamed and in love at once. Yes. You must participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your blessings. You may notice that I used that word a lot in these paragraphs: blessing. And its one I don't toss around. But its high time that I look at the stuff that makes up my life and acknowledge how lovely it is. Surely there is a lot I would love to change, many things I dislike, so much I struggle with, can't wait to see improve-- but next to the friends, family, coworkers (not to mention small things like an apartment and money to buy food)the complaints grow small and feeble, paled by the glow of blessings. But acknowledging them, throwing out my hasty gratefulness doesn't seem enough. Showing up doesn't cut it anymore. I must 'fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it...' So I'm going to roll up my sleeves.

In other news, Kyrianne started to crawl last weekend. Oh, the things we can learn from the tenacity of infants. The insistence on growing stronger every day, their mighty participation.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

For Mother's Day :)

Race schedule spring to winter 2011:

April 23rd: Squak Mountain half marathon
June 1: Grand Solstice 10 mile trail run
July 2: Lord Hill 20 mile trail run
Aug 6: Grand Ridge 50k
Sept 10: Dash Point 10k
Oct 23: Ft. Steilacoom half marathon
November 27: Seattle Marathon
January 8: Bridle Trails 10 mile trail festival
March 6: ???

Why I love trail running: this whole thing costs ~$260! (Including the 70 dollar road marathon)

And of course not counting the last one. Much remains to be seen, the wheels are turning.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you!