Tag Archives: change

imPermanence: snow melts and tempus fugit

Permanent: n. continuing or enduring without fundamental or marked change

Impermanence:  n. an essential element of Buddhism – that everything is changing, inconstant, in flux. Because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile, and leads to suffering.

The Portland area was blanketed in nearly a foot of snow for most of the week up until Christmas. My grandkids –  Elliott who’s 4 and Alexander who is 7, were beyond thrilled to be able to enjoy a white Christmas with their two super-fun uncles, who are young at heart at 25 and 37.  (Their parents – my daughter and her husband – were not so thrilled to have to drive up here from sunny California in such nasty weather, but they picked the only 12-hour window in a week to make it through!).

The joint was jumpin’ for six days – the boys of all ages seemed more excited by the snow and playing Pokeman (a P post for another day) than the prospect of presents.  Gifts were pretty sparse anyway, giving us the chance to focus more on hanging out together.

Here are my two sons and Alexander, after inserting the snowman’s carrot nose, and clapping a hat on his head:

snowman-done

Starting Christmas night the temperature began rising. The snowman began shrinking. This is how he looked this morning, right after the Californians left for home:

melted

He was only about 15″ high then; a few hours later he’s just a tiny snowball.

And now the house is totally quiet again.  The holiday came and went as fast as the snow, and I feel a lot like our snowman. Quite deflated and a little soggy.

One of our snowed-in activities (which turned out to be much more fun than my older two first thought) was going through the many boxes of their’ memorabilia which I’ve stored in one garage or another since they left for college eons ago.  “Whatever stuff you want to keep,” I said, “is going to henceforth be living with you, so choose wisely.”

Heather had only one box left here, but Ethan had six – packed to the gills. To keep him company I brought out a couple of boxes of my own written memorabilia to sort through. I have to hand it to him; he carefully plowed through a couple of boxes every day, examining each item (mostly artwork, homework, book reports, photos and letters), tossing about half of it, but savoring and repacking the rest.  Already in middle school you could see hints of who he would become – the fascination with edgy design – the originality of his ideas – and his writing skill, which I’d just taken for granted until he began writing for HuffPo last month.

The process was a powerful reminder of how many lives we each have lived through, in what seems like the blink of an eye. Friends, passions, projects… developing, ripening, disappearing. Many forgotten until a picture or letter brings it back.

My own journals and letters are voluminous. I’ve got them going back to college and it will take a long time to sort through them. The triviality of most of my concerns appalls me, but it’s all there – bringing the past temporarily back to life.

If I hadn’t recorded all those experiences they’d otherwise be gone gone gone – melted away like our snowman.

Update 1/4/09: Blogfriend Splodge forwarded this cartoon… too good not to append.

snowman

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Proposing Change: Problematic!

I am serving on a committee that is proposing to change the name of our congregation from a long, obscure and unwieldy one that our 18 founders chose in 1953, to one that more accurately and concisely communicates to the world at large who the 250 of us are today.

We want newcomers to find us more easily and understand who we are more readily because our growth has stagnated, and like all the other mainline Protestant denominations, we need new YOUNGER members.

This seems obvious to those of us on the name change team. And the majority of the congregation agrees. But when it comes up for a vote we don’t want to be blind-sided by the nay-sayers, so we’ve held a bunch of discussion sessions over the past couple of months to get everyone involved. We had another discussion session this noon.

Oh. My. God. This is why I hate my fellow Unitarians. We can be as hidebound in our thinking as any fundamentalist group… but our fundamentalism is Individualism. Me, mine, my way. Open-minded as long as you agree with me.

Trying to get some folks to see that this change would be for the common good of our congregation is like trying to mollify spoiled brats. “I LIKE our name. I don’t CARE if newcomers don’t get it. I don’t care if we get any new members; my needs are being met.”

We actually had a couple of people say that if we changed our “sacred” name, they were LEAVING! As if a different name would make it a different congregation.

The truth is the founders pulled the name out of their butts back then, and the only founder that is still with us says she has always hated the name. So much for sacred.

I understand that change is hard for many people. But dang it! We are not the same congregation we were back in 1953; it’s not the same cultural and religious environment, and the spiritual needs of our community are expressing themselves in new ways. We adapt or die.

We must not be so attached to the past that we can’t move.

UPDATE – Dec 7, 2008: We DID it! After a year-long process the new name passed with 88% of the vote!

Plodding on a padded plateau

Are you feeling stagnant? Stuck? Stale?

I just completed a feature article for a health magazine on losing the last ten pounds – and it’s all about how to get off that comfy plateau. Although weight loss is not my topic today, it does illustrate an important point with wider implications.

When we exercise, we tend to stick with a familiar routine. We walk a certain route in the neighborhood, we go to the gym and lift a regular set of weights, whatever. But the muscles get accustomed to that routine and get increasingly efficient at executing it – so the routine that a few months ago had the pounds peeling off is not doing much today.

The remedy is to wake up your muscles by giving them something different – if you swim, walk; if you walk, try a bike; if you run, try intervals.

The same thing goes with our minds. We are creatures of habit. We have carved out a set of daily rituals that make life simpler because we don’t have to think. What’s for breakfast: oatmeal. When to read the paper? As I eat my oatmeal. Which route to take to get to work? 78th Street to I-5. Where should we go on our night out? the movies. But our minds go soft and stagnant, just like our bodies.

Turns out your brain needs novelty too. Brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, try new things or in new ways we create new synaptic pathways and increase our creative capacity.

The most important ingredients for stretching yourself are curiosity and wonder… when you look around yourself and ask: I wonder what would happen if?… I wonder how??? I have had the most delightful experiences when I’ve followed that instinct. It’s almost a physical sensation I call the brain tickle.

We live in three behavioral zones: comfort, stretch and stress.

  • Comfort is the realm of existing habit
  • Stress occurs when a challenge is so far beyond the comfort of our usual ways that we’re overwhelmed.
  • Stretch is the sweet spot: where you’re doing things that are a bit awkward and unfamiliar but manageable. At first there is confusion – when you’re trying to fuse the old with the new. But then the brain sorts things out and gets stronger.

I know a guy who was bored with his life so he decided to spend a year doing one new thing every day. To keep himself honest, he started a blog where he writes about what he did that day and usually posts a photo as evidence. That’s one way!

Or you could take yourself on a weekly Artist’s Date as recommended in the creativity program, “The Artist’s Way.” You don’t have to spend money going to the theater or museum (although those are wonderfully inspiring), you can simply collect a bunch of leaves and make a collage, sit under a tree and listen to the birds, dance around the kitchen to an old rock and roll CD, take your camera on a walk around the neighborhood and take pictures of everything you see that is blue, try your hand at knitting or making something from modeling clay.

My favorite recommendation is to stretch yourself by joining Toastmasters. Simply getting over the fear of speaking to a group is the first major stretch – for some it’s life or death stress at first. The next stretch is coming up with a variety of speeches that will interest and inform your club members.

These skills are now in the realm of comfort for me, but delivering a speech without any notes is my stretch. My memory sucks and I don’t yet trust myself to just wing the general message.