Category Archives: Living life to the fullest

New beginnings and the power of habit

September—the word, to me, is a calling-to-attention for my brain. After allowing said brain to go fallow for most of the summer, September re-snaps my focus. Forward momentum rolls on new beginnings.

This year in particular the “new beginnings” theme resonates with many of my friends and acquaintances. With the whir of the passing of time come new retirements, new jobs, new universities, new courses, new living arrangements, new projects  or new health challenges. Around me friends and acquaintances thrive or survive in changing circumstances, finding ways to fill empty spaces or empty full spaces. Like unicycle riders, afraid, excited, overwhelmed or uncertain, they hold arms out for balance and find a way to peddle forward.

9780385669757In such times, the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg comes to mind. At times of upheaval we need to mindfully form or change our habits to shape our days in the most positive way.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg breaks down the three-step loop: Cue, Routine, Reward. A habit is triggered by an external cue (a particular location, a time of day, a certain mood, other people, or an activity), the external cue sets a routine in motion, and at the end, we receive a reward. For example, an alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., a person puts on jogging clothes and goes for a run, and then enjoys the runner’s high and a strawberry smoothie. Or, at 3:00 p.m. every workday, a person, bored and restless, leaves the desk and visits the vending machine for an afternoon chocolate bar boost.

Many of our habits serve to sustain us as we navigate daily life. Putting on our clothes, making our toast, or driving our cars requires a series of habits. The first time we do any of these, we think through each step. Cued by a feeling of cold, a hunger, or a need to get from one place to another, we work through every step of managing buttons, setting the right toast preferences and backing out of the garage. Eventually these routines become automatic “habits,” so our brain doesn’t need to think about them anymore. In other words, we need habits or our brains would be overwhelmed. “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.”

Because habits are so necessary, and because our brains are constantly seeking to create new ones, habits have a powerful influence over our lives. And once a habit takes root, it doesn’t disappear. Duhigg writes: “. . . unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.”

What it means for us? We can examine our daily lives, identify our habits, figure out which ones serve us well and which ones could bear re-routing, especially during this autumn time of new beginnings.

 

Roundhouse: Servicing and light repairs

Roundhouse Park

Roundhouse Park

When I attended the Canadian Writers Summit in Toronto, Canada this summer, the daily walk from my hotel to the conference site at the Harbourfront Centre took me through Roundhouse Park. When I walked there my steps slowed, and I had to stop to contemplate the metal tracks and the mighty engines on display. I could not walk through the park apace. Something about the circular shape and the radiating rail lines gave the site a sacred feel. In slowing down, in breathing in the spirit of the place, I felt reinvigorated.

In the early days of rail travel, steam locomotives could only travel forwards. Toronto-bound locomotives arrived at the John Street roundhouse for servicing and light repairs. The turntable allowed the locomotives to be turned around for the return journey.

According to the Toronto Railway Historical Association, the locomotives serviced there were “so attractively maintained that their appearance became known among railroaders as the ‘John Street polish’.”

Today, Roundhouse Park no longer services locomotives, but it still provide servicing and light repairs. Like a forward-moving locomotive, I arrived in Toronto this summer and the John Street roundhouse gave my creative soul a “John Street polish” of a different sort.

We all need a little servicing and light repairs from time to time. Where is your “roundhouse?”

Roundhouse Park

Roundhouse Park

The biology of story: Pick up, listen, restore

I spent the weekend in Toronto, Canada at the Canadian Writers’ Summit. Hundreds of writers from across the country gathered at the Harbourfront Centre to share ideas, learn from each other and evolve as writers.

Are you surprised I chose to attend a session entitled “The Biology of Story”? 

At the session, Amnon Buchbinder, associate professor of screenwriting at York University, talked about the “interactive documentary” he created to explore the idea of stories as living things.

Buchbinder’s documentary, found at www.biologyofstory.com, outlines three principles.

1. A story is a living thing

“A story will choose to be with you, but you have to choose to pick up the story.” —Nigaan James Sinclair

If you want to drive a writer crazy, ask them, “Where do you get your ideas?” You might hear something like “Out of the clear blue sky.” Perhaps it’s a matter of writers choosing to pick up the stories—those living beings—that come to them.

Watch: Stories are living beings. Period

2. Living is a story thing.

“Listen and you will see your own story will speak to you.” —Jean Pierre Makosso

Do you drift aimlessly from one event to another in your life? Are you listening for what your story—living being that it is—has to tell you?

Watch: Listen and your story will speak to you.

3. Not all narratives are stories.

“A real story is the possibility of restoring the world.” —Deena Metzger

Buchbinder writes: “We live in a world crowded with narratives. Many of them lack key properties of story. This accounts for the lifeless and/or destructive forms that some narratives take.”

Watch: Stories are about wholeness

Buchbinder’s documentary encourages us to pick up the stories that come to us, to listen for what our own stories have to say, and to work with those stories to restore the world.

I just sent you a story. Pick it up, listen, restore. 

Everything is exactly right: Replacing Hope with Faith

“Hope is a beggar.” —Jim Carrey

Take a moment and place yourself in a state of Hope. Think of something you wish for, something you would like to see happen. How do you feel?

Now take a moment to place yourself in a state of Faith. Think that everything around you is exactly as it should be for you to build toward what is next. How do you feel?

Hope says: “What’s happening now is not good enough.”

Faith tells you: “What’s happening now is exactly right.”

Hope is unfulfilled yearning. Faith is purposeful acceptance.

In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t, Jim Collins writes about the Stockdale Paradox. The name comes from Jim Stockdale, who survived eight years in a Vietnamese prisoner-of-war camp. Admiral Stockdale made it home, but many didn’t. When asked, who didn’t make it back he replied, “Oh, that’s easy. The optimists.”

The ones who looked to hope to solve their problems, the people who did not face the brutal facts of their reality didn’t make it. Stockdale said:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Hope sees only that which is unfulfilled. Faith accepts the now as leading to the best “what’s next.”

May you have a faith-filled day.

 

Zero: Nothing and everything

“Zero gets to represent something and nothing” —from The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music by Victor L. Wooten

zeroVictor Wooten’s fantastic book leads me to write about zero.

Zero means nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zippo.

Place it to the right of the number 1 though, and all of a sudden you have ten times that number. The zero magically creates something more.  Keep adding zeroes and you can create all the way up to . . . infinity.

Nothingness used to create infinity. Huh. Sounds sort of God-like to me.

Something to ponder.

“Zero is like space. . . . A scientist looks close enough at an atom and what does he find? Space! . . . Space can be seen as the birthplace of all things.”

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newcover_250-70

 

I recommend The Music Lesson. Reading that will make you think!

 

 

When home is a vacation

Not so long ago on the day when spring arrived in our city on cat feet, we convened on our front porch to savour the warming breezes. After a suitably reflective time spent surveying our awakening gardens and our peaceful neighbourhood, my husband said, “If we won a lottery and had millions of dollars, this is still exactly where I would want to be.”

What an immeasurable fortune—a life crafted such that no amount of money could make the foundations of it any finer.

This weekend—a long Victoria Day holiday weekend here in Ontario, Canada—my friend Stephen posted this picture on Facebook with the caption “Weekend getaway spot.” When I saw the caption I wondered, “Where is Stephen off to now?” (He travels quite a lot.) I smiled when I recognized the photo as the view of his own background with parkland and a gently murmuring creek beyond.

weekend-getaway

Weekend getaway spot

What an immeasurable fortune he has created for himself and his family. If he had all the money in the world, he would still be happiest right where he is, with the ones he cherishes around him.

My friend Jean spent the long weekend savouring the beauties of her garden in British Columbia, Canada. She posted the photos of her exploding blossoms on her blog page at Poetry to Inspire.

What an immeasurable fortune of natural beauty. If she had all the money in the world, it could not buy her more pleasure than she derives from nature bursting forth.

Speaking of nature bursting forth, we spent some time this long weekend enjoying the Canadian Tulip Festival in my home (vacation) city of Ottawa, Canada.

I am totally in love with the Canada 150 tulip.

I am totally in love with the Canada 150 tulip.

tulip-festival-ottawa

Beds of tulips beside Dow’s Lake

There is something grounding, centering and reassuring about a festival that celebrates a flower for simply being what it is. The tulips bloom because they cannot help to do so, and we stand back in awe. The tulips don’t have to try, or dress themselves up, or pretend. (The Kardashians could learn from this.)

You know you have done some things right, made quality choices and gravitated toward the positive in life when your home is a favoured vacation spot, and when you know you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. 

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apple-blossom2

Beautiful, because they can’t be anything else

Send a postcard to yourself, and enjoy Willow Marie’s poetic meditation on being present.  Postcard: a meditation

apple-blossoms

It’s also a pink and purple apple blossom world in Ottawa, Canada now.

 

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