The Gnome and the Entrepreneur

This is the third in my ongoing series of post-modern fairy tales. You can read the rest here.

flickr photo by julie

flickr photo by julie

She sat down to plan a new coaching program. It was purely a mental exercise, to try out a new model of program planning which she had learned.

Crickets chirped, and tumble weed blew past the computer screen, as absolutely no ideas came to her. Not one. When she went for a walk to clear her head, her eureka moment finally came, and she flew back inside to write it down before she forgot it.

But… was it really such a good idea? It was a pretty grand scheme, and did it really fit into the pattern she was trying set? If her goal was to help people in cities learn to see the nature all around them, then how the hell did using a drop spindle as a coaching tool fit in? It didn’t.

So she sat some more.

She could expand it into a whole sheep-to-scarf program, beginning by taking everyone to the local wool and sheep festival to see how sheep really get sheared. She’d have to figure out where to buy large quantities of wool (how unprocessed should it be? Should they card the wool themselves, or get it pre-carded?). It’ll be easy to make drop spindles – one of her own spindles was literally a dowel with a hook on one end and a wooden disc on the other….

She shook her head to clear her thoughts, reminding herself that this was a stupid plan. Seriously, she doesn’t even know that much about spinning. Surely, dozens of other people would be better qualified.

First time spinners might not have enough yarn at the end to make a scarf – especially if they are also first time crocheters. Or she could learn to knit before then, since knitting uses less yarn.

A gnome – maybe waist height – with a red hat and a blue shirt spoke up.

“Excuse me, miss? But I think you may have missed something. You see, you think your goal is to initiate people into the nature that is in the city, and that’s not quite right. It’s a part of it, sure, but not the real thing.”

She wasn’t as surprised by the gnome as she perhaps should have been. At the very least, it might explain all the needle felted gnomes she’d made the previous summer, assuming he’d been living in her building for awhile.

“Are you sure? ‘Cause I really thought it was.”

“No, you want to introduce people to the magic that can be found in the city, or really in modern life. And nothings more magic than spinning! Why, that’s been in lots of fairy tales, from Rumpelstiltzkin to Sleeping Beauty!”

She listened to the gnome. He wasn’t completely off the mark. And yet…

“But I’m not sure how to do that.”

He tilted his head and looked through her. “Why does that matter? All you have to do right now is start, child! No one born knows the end yet, anyway; why should you be any different?”

“Errr… because how can I get where I want to go if I don’t know where that is?” She thought that was pretty obvious. Every bit of advice she’d ever heard was that you needed to know where you were going. If you don’t have a destination, all roads are the same, right?

The gnome actually face palmed; she didn’t quite know what to make of that. “Humans…. you’re all so literal, like the physical world is all there is! You need to know where you’re going – you need to know how the end result will feel, how it will taste on your tongue and your soul. You do not need the entire road map. You really, really don’t.”

“Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say, so she stopped there.

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The Introvert and the Rabbit

This is the second in my ongoing series of post-modern fairy tales. You can read the rest here.

She trudged home, frustrated and disappointed in herself. That was yet another opportunity to make a good impression on people gone to waste. How hard would it have been to speak up? And when she did speak up, why did she have to be so damn awkward? Figuring out the proper time to speak in a group discussion isn’t rocket science – everyone else can do it easily, so why couldn’t she?

She kicked rocks and silently fumed, so she barely noticed the rabbit by the side of the path. When she did, she froze. It was lucky he hadn’t been startled off already – it’s always frustrating when the only hint she has of a critter being nearby is the sound they make while scurrying away. She began to walk excruciatingly slowly over the broken sidewalk, to see how close she could get to the rabbit before he ran away.

The rabbit regarded her from soft brown eyes.

“There’s no need for that, mate.” She blinked. A rabbit was talking to her. This was unusual, to say the least. “Well, you’re not running off scared, so that’s a better reception than I usually get.”

“Why… why are you talking to me?” She wasn’t sure if that was the best way to begin a conversation with a talking animal, but it was the most immediately pressing question.

“Because I have something to say. Obviously.”

“Ok…. what is it?”

“Look love, you’re being a bit of a moron, truth be told. Do you really think you can’t participate in groups? Because evidence is to the contrary. You do it all the time. And you do it well, for the most part. People like you; they always have. Yes, even when you were a kid and you thought everyone hated you. They didn’t. They were just kids, and so were you, and sometimes things are lost in translation. It happens. But,” and here the rabbit paused and took a deep breath, “you’re not a snot nosed kid anymore. And that ain’t what’s going on here. You think the only way to participate in a group is to catch attention and be impressive? Well, it isn’t. Can’t have a whole passel of people gabbing each others ears off, or nothing’d get done. Need people to listen, too. To pay attention.”

This was hardly breaking news. Everybody knew listening was important. “But I’m not even good at that! I have to struggle so much to get a word in–”

And here the rabbit cut her off. “So don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t get a word in. It’s not the end of the world.”

“I think you’re missing the point. Nobody’s going to notice me or get to know me if I’m quiet all the time,” she pointed out.

“Bullshit. You want to know why? ‘Cause you’re not a shrinking violet, whatever you may think of yourself. You’re interesting, people like you, and you’re perfectly capable of interrupting someone if you have something important to say.”

“Why are you even telling me all this? And who the hell are you, anyway?”

“Trickster, rabbit edition. People think we’re just soft and fluffy, so they underestimate us. If you knew what rabbits have overheard over the years! And we can get out in the blink of an eye, which is mighty handy.”

“You’re not exactly the quiet type,” she couldn’t help observing.

“Neither are you, when you’ve got something to say. Look, I’m going to do you a favor. You can go back and relive that meeting, do it as you, not trying to be someone else.”

She was back in the group, back with the people who she cared so much about, who she desperately wanted to like her. They talked, she listened. It was nice, not trying to struggle to figure out something witty to say.

When they broke up into small groups, she was energized enough to take part in the discussion. She shared her insights and gathered their experiences into a bundle, held close to her heart. After everything formally wrapped up, she staid behind to better connect with individuals. She asked the instructor her question, and listened to the answer. And when she left, she felt clear and giddy, like a blocked channel had opened, and now she was flowing freely.

And as she stepped out the door, she could have sworn that the rabbit placidly munching the lawn winked at her before he sped off.

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Why Spinning? Or: what movement meditation can do for you

Yarn on a drop spindle

my current yarn project, still on my drop spindle

Short version: It’s all the healing of regular meditation with none of the headache

In a tough spot, spinning with a drop spindle brings me back to peace faster and more reliably than most “traditional” meditative practices. For instance, it saved my sanity at Pennsic this year. For the vast majority of humanity who have never heard of Pennsic, it is a two week event during which 10,000+ people live in canvas tents and amuse themselves through armed combat, learning about medieval history and handicrafts, consuming mead, and shopping.

While it’s a treasured part of my year, Pennsic can be a tad difficult for an introvert who treasures her privacy. After two or three days, even my closest and most beloved friends become less than welcome companions. It’s not that they’re doing anything wrong, it’s just that they are always, well…. there.

But this year, I went through my entire stay without getting annoyed at anyone. What was different?

I spent every spare moment in my camp’s common area spinning. I spun while chatting with friends. I spun while observing card games as though in a foreign culture where I do not speak the language. I spun by candle light and during the mid-day heat. In short, there was much spinning.

While I spun like a dervish, I knew that I ought to do sitting meditation, to fend off the stress that past experience assured me must be coming, but it was hard: harder than normal. It’s like my body knew that sitting still was not what I needed in the moment. And I always felt worse than I did before.

Why did spinning do more to keep me calm than my regular practice of sit spot?

  • It gave me something to think about. When my mind was tempted to slip down a familiar pathway of comparison or other less-than-healthy thoughts, I had something fun and calming to focus on.
  • It gave me an outlet for nervous energy. I am somewhat fidgety. While spinning is certainly not physically demanding, it does provide an outlet for that impulse, which is soothing.
  • It’s productive. Yes, part of the value of meditation is that it allows you to practice being, rather than doing. But the satisfaction of making something out of raw materials – literally producing – has a certain balm to it. Much like with baking bread, there is a magical transformation that occurs, only in this case the catalyst isn’t heat or yeast: it’s you.

Spinning is uniquely suited to moving meditation. It’s not something that we already do all the time (at least in our culture – if we were Vikings it would be a different story!), so it doesn’t have other associations already.

There is one final reason why spinning was so helpful to my mood this Pennsic. It’s fun! Spinning with soft fibers and trying new techniques is absorbing and rewarding.

If this sounds appealing to you, then join my mailing list (below) to learn about an upcoming coaching offer that will teach you how to use a drop spindle to find your way back to your center (and also to make yarn!)

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The Broken Girl and the Darkness

This is the first in my ongoing series of post-modern fairy tales. You can read the rest here.

flickr photo by Bill Abbott

flickr photo by Bill Abbott

Fifteen years ago, she broke. In retrospect, she’d been broken a lot longer than that, but she did not yet know that truth. She sank deeply into darkness, craving light, clawing towards it like a trapped animal, but to no avail. It hurt, knives tearing through her soul again and again. She wept without end.

But of course, there was an end. She could pretend the pit wasn’t there, that she wasn’t trapped in a cage. She laughed and studied and looked like a real person, but she wasn’t. A part of her was always in the dark, in the deep.

This wasn’t random, this couldn’t be random. There had to be meaning, purpose, to this suffering. If there was a purpose, then that purpose could be achieved, and then it could end. She could walk away with her prize.

The only ones who could see it left her, not strong enough to see her through to healing through no fault of their own. Those who were left had the best of intentions, and patched her with comforting lies, because they could not see the truth. And eventually, neither could she.

It was a thin fog – not the stifling midnight of depression, but a watery veil that subtly distorted everything. Even today, she does not know where that veil came from. Surely, no one forced it on her. But without the iron belief that her pain meant something, the veil appeared

She lived. She loved. And she built herself a home on the edge of the precipice. It never quite let her go, because she never quite learned its lesson.

She learned things – little truths, little magics – and they accumulated day by day, like pebbles on the shore. She learned to dive deeply into the essence of the world, and through dream and trance and ritual she met some of those who lived there.

When she slipped into that abyss again (as she always would, from time to time), she saw their faces full of an inhuman love, and so sad. Sadder than any mortal could comprehend. And she knew that it was because of her despair that they felt that pain, and that more than anything drew her back to the surface…. but she always fell again. Eventually.

She knew they were waiting for her to comprehend, but she didn’t know what. Or how to speed that process along, which she longed to do with all her soul.

Finally, she couldn’t take it any more. She walked out, into the rain, and planted her feet in the river. She raised her hands to the sky, and called out to them.

“What is it I am meant to learn? I am here! I am ready! I can’t stand the waiting any longer!”

And an answering voice replied, from deep within, “Only this: you are loved.”

And she replied, “Seriously? That’s it? Because you could have said that fucking years ago. In fact, you have said that! Lots of times!”

“Yes, but you weren’t ready to hear it.” And it flowed into her: the ecstasy of spirit journeys and the quiet of a cup of tea; the sweet exhilaration of catching a chipmunk unawares and the reflection of watching the water flow past; every moment that she had been truly alive and aware flowed into her at once, and she understand what had only been words moments ago. And finally, after so many years, it was enough.

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Introduction to Sitting

riverHave I told you guys about sit spot? It’s a wonderful nature based practice – possibly the key nature based practice. It’s a dead simple way to connect with nature, practice a bit of inner peace, and restore some of the equilibrium that’s maybe missing in your life.

Super short version: Find a place outside and sit in it, for at least 20 minutes.

Slightly longer version: While you’re sitting, try to remain aware of the present moment. Notice what you can hear/smell/feel/taste/see. This isn’t empty mind meditation – you don’t have to still every thought – but do try to keep your awareness on what’s going around you, rather than what’s going on in your head.

Step by step version, for those who like explicit instructions:

  • Go outside. Sit down.
  • Take a moment to find something that you feel grateful for. Maybe it’s a beautiful day, or there are flowers in bloom, or you had a delicious lunch. Just find some gratitude.
  • Do a sense meditation. Close your eyes, and focus just on what you can hear. There are probably cars, and that’s ok. Notice what else you can hear. Holding on to that, add in your sense of smell – what can you smell here? Maybe hot road tar, maybe the rose bush next to you. Don’t judge, just notice. Holding on to hearing and smell, notice what you can feel – the ground you’re sitting on, the wind on your face. Just notice. Now, holding on to hearing, smell, and touch, open your eyes and add in what you can see. Maintain that awareness for as long as you like. You are in no way expected to continue with that sense meditation for your entire time sitting (unless you’re enjoying it, in which case feel free to continue)
  • Sit. Look. Listen. Smell. Avoid the temptation to check your watch constantly. If you notice your awareness turning away from the moment, gently bring it back.

This is most powerful when done every day. The idea is to pick a single spot (ideally really close to your back door) to return to daily. That lets you build relationship over the weeks and the seasons, and is really powerful. But I have to admit that is not what I do. I have a sit spot in my yard that I return to again and again, but I also have sit spots further afield. I was going to Mount Auburn Cemetery a few times a week for awhile, but now I’m trying to go down to the Charles River as many days as I am able. I recommend starting your practice by focusing on a single spot, but in the long run, you make it your own.

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