Archive | Wonder

Something Is Afoot


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Maybe it’s fallout from the world’s ongoing financial debacle.

Maybe it’s coincidence. (Although I tend to see connections in coincidence and not mere Chance.)

Maybe it’s how the planets are aligned.

Maybe it’s part of an awakening that seems to be happening.

Whatever it is, three different people in my life are preparing to take to the Open Road in the near future and embark upon their Adventure Of A Lifetime (Up To This Point).

The Great Adventure

It started last year when my virtual friend Drew Jacob announced his plans to walk from Minnesota to Brazil. More specifically, from the source of the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Amazon.

Seriously.

Why?

The word Adventure comes up, but it’s only part of the reason. A part of Drew’s drive to travel, to live heroically, to meet The Gods through meeting others – and himself.

Drew has been preparing for The Great Adventure since last summer, and he has been very transparent about his preparations, ranging from Spanish-language immersion in Mexico City to road-testing shoes to wrestling fear and doubt.

I have only met Drew through blog posts, comments, tweets and email. I love his commitment to living his ideals, and his willingness to ask Big Questions. And be vulnerable. And he cracks me up. Of my three friends who are setting out, he’s the only one who won’t be coming through California. So I’ll be following him online and trying to figure out a way to meet up with him somewhere along his way. Meanwhile, you can learn more about Drew and his Great Adventure at http://roguepriest.net. Oh, and while you’re at it, get his ebook, Walk Like a God. It is wonder-full.

On the lookout for Wonder

And then there’s my friend Kelly Nolan Shafer. Kel and I have been friends since high school, and she’s one of those friends you can lose touch with (I did) and then you re-connect and you not only pick right up where you left off but it’s even better than it was before.

In December, when I opened the Nolan Shafers’ holiday letter, I learned that Kelly, Steve and their twin daughters, Helen and Olivia, planned to embark on their own Great Adventure when school got out in June. Their plan was to pack up their RV and tour the U.S. and Canada for six months, meeting up with friends and family as they visit landmarks along the way. In fact, they’ve named their Great Adventure “Our A.T.L.A.S. – Adventures Touring Landmarks Across the States.”

Kelly and Steve will be home-schooling the recently-graduated-from-fourth-grade twins as they go. (Can you call it “home-schooling” when home is an RV? Hmmm…) I am sooo jealous. I don’t just want to go – I want to be a 5th-grader on the road being home-schooled in an RV, too.

Of course, Life has happened between December and June, as it usually does, but instead of letting it talk them out of it, they let it talk them further into it. So the Nolan Shafer clan is hitting the road…tomorrow! And their motto? “We’ll be on the lookout for the presence of wonder. . .”

Wonder. One of my favorite things! How can you not love that? Now you want to go, too, I’ll bet.

My thoughts and prayers go with them, and I’ll be following their adventures as they blog about it. You can follow them too, at http://ouratlas.net/.

A Complete What?

And then there’s my virtual friend LaVonne Ellis. I have a soft-spot for LaVonne for several reasons, not the least of which is that she is one of the Captains Curious.

LaVonne, curious creature that she is, has decided to set out on her Great Adventure next year, touring the country in a van and, like the others, letting us ride along virtually as she blogs her way around the country.

Not only do I adore LaVonne and everything she does, but she mentioned Charles Kuralt in her announcement (OK, I have to go check, maybe I made that up…no, she really did), and he is one of my heroes.

You can learn more about LaVonne and her plans at http://completeflake.com/road-trip/. You can sign up for her newsletter, and check out her most recent posts with updates on her preparations. And don’t be deceived – she is definitely not a Complete Flake.

Something’s definitely afoot.

Whether it’s economic/socio-political fallout, coincidence, or something more cosmic, it is pretty amazing that I know of three different Great Adventures that are in the works. And I’m sure they’re not the only ones – they’re just the ones I know about.

And, of course, there are plenty of people in my life who are on interior adventures, myself included. And that is an important point: External adventures are important, but we should not disregard the importance of interior exploration. It can be just a scary. And fun. And rewarding.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

Life is an adventure – what adventure are you on?


Image: Ian Britton, freefoto.com

Hopping to a Different Drum


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It was a lovely walk – a quiet, early morning, not yet hot. Lots of birds, small to large – finches and chickadees, woodpeckers and red-winged blackbirds, red-tailed and sharp-shinned hawks, turkey vultures. But uneventful.

Until I left the park. As I was crossing the street, I noticed something moving on the ground. Something small, with small, irregular movements.

I paused to look closer, and realized it was a tiny frog, no larger than my thumbnail. It hopped hopped hopped, then paused and crawled for a few inches. As I watched, I saw more movements out of the corner of my eye.

There were several frogs, all tiny, all hopping in the same direction. No, there were lots of frogs. Not a swarm, but a steady trickle. They ranged in size from my thumbnail to the last section of my thumb. Nearly the same color as the concrete, they looked like bits of rock in the roadway – until they moved. They would hop hop hop, then pause, then hop some more, and some would crawl for a few inches or feet before hopping again.

They hopped up out of the road, toward the pond at the edge of the park. I marveled, and cheered them on, saying, “Go, go, go! You’re almost there!”

I stood there for a few minutes, just watching as they paraded along the edge of the road, up onto the curb and across the path. All going in the same direction.

Except for the ones who weren’t.  As I watched, every now and then one would turn off to the left, back into the street in a completely different direction. At first I wanted to shout, “Wait! You’re going the wrong way!” But The Rebel in me also wanted to cheer them on, even though it was farther and more dangerous to head toward the pond on other side of the road. The less crowded one. “You Go!” I said, “Don’t give up!”

I don’t know how long I stood there watching this tiny parade. (I must have looked odd to the people driving by as I stood, staring at the ground, seemingly looking at nothing.) Finally I wished them well and headed across the street toward home. Then I stopped. Where the heck were they coming from? How did they know where to go?

I turned around and went back across the street, and followed the parade backwards around the corner for about 50 feet as it made its way along the side of the road. I got to the place where they were crossing the road from the field on the other side. A few got run over by cars as they went by, but most made it.

How did they know where to go? Why hadn’t they been spotted by any birds, who could have had quite a breakfast?

Finally I went on my way, pondering: I saw something today that perhaps no one else saw. That by itself was pretty cool. It made me wonder about things and ask questions I wouldn’t have thought to ask otherwise. And it reminded me to celebrate those who take on big tasks, and to celebrate those who hop to a different drum.


Work with a coach who notices things everyone else misses,
and can help you see them, too!
Contact me: susan at susanTblake . com
.

Photographer: Ian Britton – FreeFoto.com

Still Life


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"The First Thing I Thought Was Beautiful" from Remember to Look Up, Tip #3: Appreciate Beauty

Recently my eye fell on a little grouping of berries and pinecones that I had arranged – one of several still lifes I had composed around my home for the holidays – and I thought about the term “still life.”

I probably first heard the term in 9th grade Art class, when we practiced painting “still lifes” to learn the mechanics of creating the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface, experimenting with color, light and shadow.

What an odd term, I thought, “still life.” Technically, the items in a still life aren’t alive, or they aren’t alive now. Flowers. Fruit. But they once were.

Where did the term come from, I curiously wondered. I thought of all the “masters” who painted still lifes centuries ago. The term has certainly existed for centuries, far longer than since I was in Junior High mere decades ago.

What was it, I wondered, that first compelled a painter to capture such a vignette on canvas? Was it composed just for that purpose? Was the artist so moved by something that caught his or her eye that s/he had to paint it? Was it the way the light caught the curve of the apple, the way the shadow fell behind the strawberry, the way the colors of the flowers seemed to glow from within with a vibrance that the artist knew would soon fade? Was it a way of capturing, in a simple vignette, the treasured memory of the loved one picking the flowers, the time spent gathering the fruit, the meal shared? Was it a moment of piercing, unexplainable beauty? Or was it simply an exercise?

Was it something meant to capture the symbology of abundance, of appreciation of the fruits of the earth and of our efforts, no matter how simple?

Or was it simply a place for the eye to rest, to be still in the stream of life?

It occurs to me as I clear away the decorations, the leaves, berries, boughs, and seedpods, simple though they were, to hold the space for the new year and its adventures to enter, that I must remember to create one new Still Life where my eye can rest for a moment before I go on about my way.


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Sound Mass


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Hey!

Hello!

There’s been a lot going on around here lately, which is why this blog has been quiet for a few weeks. That’s no excuse for being out of communication, though. I’m embarrassed to admit it took a friend leaving me a voicemail asking if I was OK and noting that it had been a LONG TIME since she’d gotten a blog post from me to remind me how long it has been!

When I was in college, hanging out with the Music majors (they were way more fun than my fellow Psych majors), I learned about the concept of a “sound mass.” But while Wikipedia quotes Edwards’ comment that sound-mass “obscures the boundary between sound and noise,” there hasn’t been much noise around here lately. Instead, there has been so much going on that it’s like a giant chord with so many notes that it is like a wall of sound with a few themes that have managed to rise to the top like cream. (I know, that’s a mixed metaphor. But I like it.)

So here’s my attempt to share the sound mass with you in a completely different medium, with some of the recurring themes that are weaving themselves together. Lately I’ve been…

  • Working on a big project for a client, requiring a lot of concentrated effort, learning the dialect of that business. I am very grateful for the steady work and an income stream that will help fund the next couple of months.
  • “Vendorized” to work with clients of the state Department of Rehabilitation, coaching them through successfully settling into new jobs and working with my first such client.
  • Talking to an increasing number of people who are comfortable… but uncomfortable. Itchy. They’re thinking, “There must be More… but how do I find it?” There is lots of forming new habits, exploring, guiding, questioning. I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Consulting with several small businesses, providing coaching and consulting. It is awesome fun as they have breakthroughs and golden “Aha!” moments and lots of incremental progress. We’re working on a variety of initiatives, ranging from building new habits to delegating to attracting new customers to articulating core values for guiding the business to building a new framework for employee reviews. Good stuff, and again I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Helping two different friends with big garage/moving sales, paying attention to the dynamics of Letting Go of Things, enjoying the interactions and circus atmosphere of the sales, and enjoying the little community that springs up around a sale and falling in love with people and their stories and blessing them and the money they exchanged for new treasures, feeling gratitude for the friends, the wealth, the fun, the exhausted sense of accomplishment.
  • Wrapping up my tenure as the US Country Facilitator for Sedaa’s Global Brain Trust, a wonderful online community for Organization Development (OD) professionals. I have loved the time I have spent working with the founders and the Global Operations team, and it is time to bring in fresh energies while I focus on building my own practice.
  • Participating in kindred spirit Andrea Lewicki’s launch of her new website, where she explores thoughts about curiosity and its applications. Andrea, like me, believes curiosity can change the world! The Grand Opening was a two day event, with interviews with some of Andrea’s favorite curious people – including me! You can view the recordings for a while longer at Andrea’s site.
  • Launching a Facebook page for Susan T. Blake Consulting, which I’ve put off doing until just recently. But now I have a place I can post short things that don’t quite fit here, and have conversations with people. Come on by and check it out!
  • Working with my friend and mentor, Michael F. Broom, and a small team of cohorts, to create, launch and promote a new series of webinars on managing team conflict. We are looking for someone to take over promoting Michael’s Center for Human Systems via social media on a volunteer or internship basis, so if you know anyone…
  • Noticing recurring themes of balancing friendship and business. Accepting help as well as giving it. Noticing my relationship with money. Noticing what I procrastinate about.
  • Wishing for more time to work on projects I procrastinated on before and have less time for now, chuckling over “Be careful what you ask for.” Wondering, is my procrastination because my priorities aren’t my priorities after all, or am I letting fear get in the way? Fear of what?

And lately I’ve been wondering a lot about abundance, about gratitude, about creating the kind of life I want to live. As I work to grow my practice, trying to make a living and support my clients and the small businesses around me, I count my blessings during these times and abundance is more and more on my mind.

You can see the threads of it throughout my life over the last few years. I talk about the importance being grateful in “Remember to Look Up;” I have been practicing Amy Oscar’s “More of This, Please” for a number of months; I have been reminding myself and others that Everything Is Going to Be All Right. (That’s another story, which I haven’t written yet – stay tuned.) And I have been thinking a lot about the work I really want to do as a consultant and coach, and what I am willing to do to make this little business fly. Thinking about what I really want. How many people really know what they want?

So when Birdy and Mike Diamond invited me to contribute to a program they wanted to develop about living abundantly, because of the synergy between my focus on curiosity and one of the steps in their program (Hint: It’s all about asking the right question), I of course said Yes. And for the last couple of months I have been pondering and practicing and exploring and noticing and writing. We are practicing and exploring not only our material but the practical aspects of teamwork, collaboration, and distribution of duties. Noticing coincidences and synchronicities and being open. Practicing gratitude. Pondering how to invite abundance into my life, developing material with Birdy and Mike and our partner, Nathara, and writing about it over at the Awesome Audacious Abundance website.

It’s perfect, really. Curiosity is fundamental to abundance. There is always more to learn, always more to do. And in our experience, living an abundant life is an interactive, participatory thing as well as a positive mindset. And Curiosity IS an abundant mindset.

So I invite you to pop over to http://www.a2abundance.com/ and peruse the blog posts we’ve been contributing about everything from Time to Money to Courage to Perfection to Magic Carpets and more. If you like what you see, sign up in the right sidebar to receive new posts (or arrange an RSS feed if you prefer). We are in the process of developing a variety of offerings to help people live more abundantly, and you can learn more about those offerings by signing up for the Explorer’s Club at the bottom of any blog post. At the same time, I laugh and am reminded of the proverb, “We teach what we most need to learn.” Come learn with us!

Meanwhile, I’m back at work in the world of Curiosity, and happy to be here! I am looking for more contributors to the next round of Captains Curious posts, so if you are interested please drop me a line at susan @ susantblake . com.

What’s happening in your life? Do any of these themes resonate for you? Please leave me a note below!

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Notice


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Once upon a time, we went car shopping. We went to the used car lot, looking for not one but two cars, since we were already looking for a second car when I hit a deer and totaled both our (only) car and the deer. (That’s another story.)

We finally settled on two cars – both of which happened to be from Mitsubishi. But at one point I asked, “Why aren’t there more Mitsubishis on the road? Why aren’t they more popular?”

The salesman (and my husband) looked at me as if I were from Mars and said, “Are you kidding? They’re all over the place.”

You know what? They were right. They were everywhere.

I had just never noticed them.

Until I started paying attention.

Paying attention

Rollo May wrote (in either Love and Will or The Courage to Create) that the root of the word “attention” is the word “to tend.” What does it mean to tend to something? It means “to care for.” Thus, he pointed out, people pay attention to things they care about. That seems like a pretty obvious statement, but it stopped me in my tracks. It made me think, and it has shaped my thinking ever since.

Noticing

What if I hadn't noticed the reflection in this traffic mirror? I would have missed a great photo.

In Creating Space for Wonder, I wrote about the importance of Noticing: “I can create space for wonder by paying attention to the world around me.” Since then, I’ve begun noticing that other people are writing about the importance of Noticing as well.

Havi Brooks of The Fluent Self wrote a wonderful piece about a recent exercise she went through with Dave Rowley of Creative Chai that was focused on Noticing. Then Karen Caterson wrote a delightful piece for the Captains Curious, in which she described a situation where Noticing that she had fears and an agenda made it possible to set those fears and agenda aside.

Noticing Noticing

It makes me laugh that I am noticing Noticing. It just does.

Maybe I am only noticing it because I am paying attention. I have started to care about it. Or maybe more people are noticing… things. And writing about it.

And one of the things I am noticing about this phenomenon is the relationship in these articles between noticing and freedom.

Noticing and Freedom

Yes, freedom.

Havi appreciated the freedom of just Noticing what was happening without any obligation to do anything.

Noticing her reaction to a situation freed Karen to handle the situation differently than she might automatically have done.

By Noticing what is happening around and inside me I am able to create space for wonder and free myself from the encroaching walls of concern and worry.

Noticing can free us from reacting automatically to situations.

Noticing can free us from worry and future-tripping. (Unless all you notice is what reinforces your reasons for worry. That’s a whole other topic.)

Noticing can free us to choose our next step.

We are free to choose what we notice, although sometimes life whacks us in the head and we can’t help but notice something surprising.

What have you noticed lately? Anything surprising?

To what do you pay attention? What does this tell you about what it is you care about?

Creating Space for Wonder


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Last week I wrote about how wonder both requires and creates space. (You can read it here.) I had found myself thinking, as the result of a road-trip, about how external space can trigger the process of creating internal space, but I also ended up with a bunch of questions:

  • How can I create that internal space without going on a big road trip?
  • What about people who can’t get away? Do they have to wait to light the Wonder Fire for something big like that?
  • How can we maintain that sense of wonder once we have come home and the physical and mental walls close in and the distractions begin to fill up our minds?

For me, there is one answer and it is very simple: Notice.

  • Notice the things and people around me.
  • Notice the way the light is highlighting the hills behind me – I never realized there were two layers of ridges before.
  • Notice the little bird with a bum leg.
  • Notice the laugh-lines around the eyes of a local shopkeeper.
  • Notice how the oak tree that was bare of leaves a few days ago is now covered with a haze of new green leaves.
  • Notice the paw prints that some local cat has left all over my car.

Notice.

Simple and easy are not the same

I admit that simple is not the same as easy.

When my mind is busy thinking about all of the other stuff of life, stuff like the conversation I had with my sister, the maintenance I need to do on the car, the bills I need to pay, the projects I am working on, the things I should have said… When I am living in my head with all of that swirling around, all of that distracts me and takes up the space in my head. And it can be difficult to take a step back.

Create space for wonder

But if I can consciously quiet that chatter in my mind, I can create space to notice things. I can create space for wonder.

Mental calluses and protective clothing

In fact, when my mind is cluttered with busy thoughts, it is almost as if all of that stuff moving around in my head creates calluses on my mind – just like using a certain garden spade creates calluses on my hands or wearing certain shoes creates calluses on my feet.

Calluses aren’t necessarily a bad thing – calluses protect us from pain. The calluses on my fingertips keep my fingers from hurting when I play the guitar, and when I’m not distracted by that pain I can focus on the music.

We also create artificial calluses to protect us: I wear garden gloves to protect me from blisters and cuts and bites and from dirt buried deep beneath my fingernails, and I wear shoes to protect my feet from sharp rocks, glass and hot pavement.

Calluses protect me from pain, but they also keep me from noticing the way certain fabrics feel in my hands, or from noticing the feeling of the grass beneath my feet.

Ah-hah!

There are things we can do to remove our calluses and take off our protective clothing so that we can experience what is around us. Sometimes it is as simple as deciding to do it and reminding myself, especially when I notice those busy thoughts flying around my head. (Ah-hah! – I have to notice those thoughts as the first step to quieting them and making space to notice the world around me.)

I can create space for wonder by deciding to do it.

I can create space for wonder by paying attention to the world around me.

I can create space for wonder by taking off my mental shoes and work gloves so that I can feel the grit under my feet that the cats have tracked across the room from the litter box, feel the prickly welcome mat on my front porch, feel the soil as I pat it in around this plant, feel the way this quarter is grimy and a little sticky compared to that one that is shiny and new.

Drive home using a different route.

Say hello to the check-out clerk and really look at his or her face.

Sit in a different seat on the train.

Notice.

It will create space for wonder.

Why?

Why is this important?

Because it is fun.

Because it is wonderful.

Because when I create space for wonder, new ideas show up. (And if I don’t write them down or say them out loud to someone I forget them, so I keep pads of sticky notes all over my house and a notebook in my bag.)

Greater minds than mine have been writing and talking about ideas like this, such as Mindfulness, for hundreds – even thousands – of years. But for each person an idea can be new, and each experience can be new.

Take off your mental shoes. Give yourself permission to be an emotional tenderfoot.

Notice, and create space for wonder. We can go together.

“I sha’n’t be gone long. – You come too.” –Robert Frost, “The Pasture”

*  *  *  *  *

Last Thursday I was thrilled to publish the first guest post in a series on Curiosity. The first was by Claire Tompkins, and there is another one coming this Thursday, by Susan Daffron, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, you might be interested in visiting the blogs of Jeffrey Davis, who writes about wonder and creativity, and Mark McGuinness, who wrote a marvelous post about curiosity and creativity.

Wonder, Road Trips and Wide-Open Spaces


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I have seen Shiprock.

I recently had the opportunity to go on a road trip from Seattle to Austin, Texas (2,314 miles!). It was wonderful in many ways, and it was wonder-full.

Some of the wonder was generated by the many and varied sights; some was generated by people-watching, some by time spent with family. There is a lot of wide-open space between Seattle and Austin, and something dawned on me as we navigated that wide-open space:

Wonder requires space.

Wonder also creates space, a hallowed space where gnomes and demons and monsters and The Committee get agoraphobia and decline to step out. Or if they do, they shed their skins and are transformed as they step through the door from the house into Oz.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park, Utah

What do I mean? Well, as my sister and I followed the first leg of our journey, armed with travel kits prepared by our aunt, cousin and mother that included goodies ranging from vitamin drinks to magazines, homemade caramels, travel mugs with instant coffee, and “Thelma and Louise” mini-bottles of Wild Turkey (they went great with chocolate cake, but that’s another story), and fortified with a Dick’s Deluxe, fries, a real strawberry milkshake and a rootbeer float from our favorite Seattle drive-in, the sights became increasingly less familiar. Somewhere in southeastern Washington, as we passed through a rural farm town, I looked at the low buildings of the town surrounded by the wide open spaces and hills of the high country and thought about how it would feel to look at that every day. And suddenly a tightness in my chest I didn’t know existed loosened and fell away, and the wide-open spaces crept inside.

Our combined CD collections provided the sound track for our Road Trip Through Wonderland: Linda Ronstadt, Yo-Yo Ma, Bela Fleck, Chet Atkins, and more. We appreciatively commented on the scenery and the road signs; as we began to climb up into the Blue Hills of northeastern Oregon, we passed a sign for Poverty Flat, OR. What an evocative name! Not long after that, we passed a sign for Dead Man Road. “Oh dear,” I said, “It just gets worse, and we’ve only just started!” We soon passed another sign for the Dead Man Road rest area, and I asked, “Shouldn’t that be the ‘Dead Man Road Eternal Rest Area’?”

“No,” my sister said, “then no one would stop there.” As the Eagles said in “Hotel California,” You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…

At mile 370 (out of 2,314) we passed a sign marking the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. It was our first major milestone!

They say it’s bad luck if a black cat crosses your path… we saw no black cats, but many things did cross our path:

  • The bright green lizard that ran across the road in front of us then paused to watch us pass…
  • The pair of cranes that flew across our path – my first cranes! – was distinguishable from herons by their size, their long legs and their long necks; they looked like beautiful flying sticks literally winging their way across the sky.
  • The tumbleweeds that blew across our path on the high plains of southern Colorado.

We wondered about many things:

  • As night began to fall while we climbed through the hills of northeastern Oregon, I was reminded of how snow seems to glow in the dark – something I hadn’t seen since moving to California from Minnesota. It was a strange sensation to see the snow-covered feet of the mountains around us out of the corners of my eyes, yet when I looked directly at them they would disappear in the darkness.
  • We traversed southern Idaho, marveling at the high plateaus that rose around us. The Snake River is mighty, but it didn’t seem nearly large enough, even with spring runoff, to have carved this. We read and talked about the Missoula and Bonneville floods caused by the breaking of ice-age ice dams and how the great flash flood carved out the valleys between the plateaus all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
  • We wondered at the names of towns in southern Idaho, so different from northeastern Oregon: Paradise Valley, Bliss, Miracle Springs, and Eden.
  • We soaked up the quiet between the mountains of northern Utah, where the only exits from the Interstate were for ranch access.
  • We wondered whether the residents of Salt Lake City ever stop noticing the amazing mountain views that surround them on all sides, seemingly rising right out of their back yards.
  • We marveled as the geology changed from mesas and rounded blue mountains to deep red cliffs and green stone the color of tarnished copper.
  • We pulled into Moab, Utah with our mouths hanging open. Our tour guide in Salt Lake City had told us Moab was pretty, but “pretty” doesn’t begin to come close. Moab sits on the Colorado River in a valley with amazing red rock walls rising on two sides and with snow covered mountains in the distance on a third side. We visited Arches National Park and it was the first time since visiting Yosemite that I was in danger of driving off the road on multiple occasions simply because the scenery was so amazing.
  • We were hit by a tumbleweed as we crossed southwestern Colorado, and I wondered out loud, “We’ve been hit by a tumbleweed. I wonder what effect that will have?” That night we discovered that a branch had lodged itself in the rim of the headlight. We agreed to leave it there for the duration, our way of tipping our hats to adventure.
  • As we headed toward the Four Corners in the southwest, we began to descend into a wide valley surrounded by high mesas. I could see rocky outcroppings arising from the valley floor, and it was then that I first glimpsed Shiprock. Backlit by the late afternoon sun descending through a layer of clouds, it was still small in the distance. Yet it loomed above the desert floor, calling, whispering – dark, mysterious, beautiful, proud.
  • We marveled that there could be so many miles of flat land at high altitude – mile after mile above 5,000 feet, 6,000 feet, 7,000 feet. Previously when I thought of altitudes like that, I pictured mountain peaks!
  • As we descended into Texas, we wondered at the wind farms with their slowly spinning turbines, and at the oil fields with their slowly pumping wells.
  • We marveled at the red clay and the red stalks of last year’s cotton fields with a few stray cotton bolls still attached.
  • We wondered at the giant storm cloud that turned into a wall with lightning flashing at its base and we wondered if we would get into our hotel before the severe thunderstorm hit. (We did, and we picnicked in our room while we watched the light show.)
  • We wondered at the antelope, the deer, the cranes, and the hawks; the cattle, the horses, the llamas, the sheep, and the goats; the sage brush and desert juniper and twisted pinon trees, the yucca and the prickly pear and the mystery (to us) bushes that popped up in the cattle fields along the highway.
  • We were in awe of the hoodoos, the fins, and the arches, the mesas and the dry washes.
  • We were blown away by the reds, the greens, the browns, the blues, the blacks, and the greys.

And of course, we enjoyed the people:

  • The friends who kindly opened their home, cooked us dinner, and enjoyed a quiet reunion;
  • The Park Ranger in Utah who, when I said I wanted her job, told me how she got it;
  • The nice young man who pumped gas for us in Oregon and washed our windshield;
  • The shopkeeper in Santa Fe who told us his name was Mager (he joked he was “The Mayor”) and he would give us a prize if we could guess in less than three minutes where he was from (Egypt, and we took longer than three minutes);
  • The short-order cook in the hotel dining room who cooked omelets and egg dishes to order and gave everyone a sunny-side-up morning;
  • The ladies on the Apache Reservation who bid us a gentle “Good Morning” when we stopped to stretch our legs;
  • Omar, who made guacamole at our table and blushed when we applauded;
  • The shopkeepers everywhere who were genuinely interested in hearing where we were from and told us their stories;
  • The women at the restaurant in Moab who, when I told them (as I was taking its picture) the mannequin next to their table looked just like my late husband, moved to another table;
  • And, of course, the family that sent us off and welcomed us home.

This is how I learned – or I was reminded – that wonder both requires and creates space. It requires space to take root, and to grow, and it creates space in the mind and heart. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing: Which came first, the wonder or the space? I don’t know.

But I do know this: I consciously chose (repeatedly) not to worry about what might be happening at home, about the projects I could be working on, about what was waiting for me.

I remember a moment when I was driving along a canyon that a river was carving, thinking, “This is how the Grand Canyon began. We think it will always be this way, but it is not permanent at all.” Which reminded me of a recent trip to Muir Woods, where I walked through the giant redwoods that are hundreds and thousands of years old. Those trees reminded me that I am temporary, and my problems are even more temporary.

I chose to be where I was, to surrender to the wonder, and to create a worry-free space that the wonder could move into. And it ended up creating a bigger space within me than I anticipated.

Wide-Open Spaces

And when I allowed that worry-free space to grow, new ideas starting popping into my head.

When I remember to create a space for Wonder, and I remember to be present and curious, I also create a space for new perspectives.

Which came first, wonder or space? I don’t know. The wide-open spaces certainly triggered wonder in me, and that wonder became a wide-open space of its own.

Wonder requires space, and wonder creates space. Like many things, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I have been hit by a tumbleweed. And I have seen Shiprock.

I will never be the same. And I am glad.

Create space for wonder. Invite it in, and see what happens!

Doppelganger or Kindred Spirit? An Invitation


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Once upon a time when this website was still just A Twinkle In My Eye, I started researching possible domain names and I set up a variety of Google Alerts so I could find out what was happening in the interworld. One of the alerts I set up was on my own name – “Susan Blake.” And I discovered that there are a lot of Susan Blakes out there – but only one Susan T. Blake, and that’s me. Hence the name of this site.

I kept the Google Alerts, and I stay up to date on what the other Susan Blakes are up to – Susan Blake the novelist, Susan Blake the jeweler and Susan Blake the veterinarian are by far in the lead as far as internet activity. But they are by no means alone.

Well, a new one showed up yesterday that actually kind of freaked me out. Google alerted me to a pair of articles in the Santa Cruz Sentinel and the Santa Cruz Patch about a park interpreter and docent at Big Basin State Park (which is practically in my backyard) named – you guessed it – Susan Blake.

This is freaky for several reasons. First, I have loved Big Basin State Park since the early 80’s when my late husband and I discovered it by accident on one of our adventures. It’s one of those hidden pockets in the Bay Area that offers peace and tranquility in an otherwise densely populated area. Second, I have long had a fantasy of running away and becoming a Park Ranger. (When I went to Big Sur in 2009 after getting laid off I joked with my friends and fellow-travelers, Nina and Leslie, about giving up my job search and becoming a Park Ranger. Nina subsequently gave me the coffee table book from Ken Burns’ “The National Parks”  for my 50th birthday. Yay Nina!) So it was a kick reading the article about my doppelganger at Big Basin. “Ha ha,” I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if my friends thought this was me.”

And then I got to the end of the article in the Patch, and I got goosebumps. The other Susan Blake was quoted as saying, “Last Thursday I took a school group of 4th graders out and at the end asked the group what their favorite part of the hike was. One boy answered, ‘I loved that I could ask all the questions I wanted,’ and I thought, ‘Wow that was my favorite part too’.”

Damn. We don’t just share our name.

I get goosebumps every time I read it, in fact.

I forwarded the Google Alert to my sister, whose first response was, “You’ve always said you wanted to run away and become a park ranger… have you been moonlighting?  Do we have to start calling you “Mister Ranger Sir”?” Ha ha.

Then she sent a second reply, which included that quote from the article in the Patch. “She even sounds like you.  Are you SURE you’re not moonlighting?”

Yes, I’m sure, although I’m beginning to wonder if I’m projecting a part of myself out into the world where it walks and talks and has a life of its own. Goosebumps. But this doppelganger is a good omen, not a harbinger of bad luck.

It’s really neat when I find evidence of other people who are following the same call as I – the call to question, the call to be curious, the call to wonder. I found another kindred spirit the other day, Jeffrey Davis at http://trackingwonder.com. In the Source of Ideas section on his “Tracking Wonder” page, Jeffrey says, “Wonder aids idea inception because it opens the mind with surprise. It cracks rigid preconceptions and stiff assumptions wide open. Anyone who wants to make a real difference in this changing world needs wonder on the team.”

Yes! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I will be writing more about wonder and curiosity and questions in the coming days, and highlighting specific ways to apply them. Are you curious? I hope you will join me on Team Wonder.

Meanwhile, I think it’s time to visit Big Basin again…

Patience, Persistence and the Wisdom of Cats


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This morning I woke up (was awakened by the cats) wondering about the difference between being patient and being persistent.

When Rocket starts talking to me half an hour before dinnertime, I tell her to “Be patient (as in, be quiet and leave me alone).”

In the morning, when Abby and Rocket start trying to get my attention, I try to ignore them for as long as I can. They progress from licking my hands to Walking Across Me with a Purpose to doing acrobatics from one side of the bed to the other. With me as trampoline in middle, like an act from Chat du Soleil.

I eventually surrender and get up and feed them although I try not to give in immediately after they bounce across me. I try to avoid any possibility of them assigning a cause-and-effect relationship to their antics and my feeding them. In other words, I try to preserve the illusion that getting up now is entirely my own idea and that I am a Human Being with Free Will.

One morning I got up in huff and started to tell Rocket that she was a real Pain in the Ass. I stopped myself, remembering how my siblings and their friends are very careful about how they speak to and around my niece and nephews. They don’t say, “I hate that” or “Shut up!” and they gently took me to task when I said something of that nature when visiting.

So when I started to tell Rocket that she was a Pain in the Ass, I stopped myself. Language is important and, while I don’t think that Rocket is in much danger of my words affecting her self image, I don’t want to start seeing her as a Pain in the Ass. She is also very loving, smart, protective, and entertaining. (Besides, she and Abby do understand every word I say, even though they pretend not to.) So instead I paused and reframed.

“You were particularly persistent this morning,” I told her, “and I don’t appreciate it.” And that felt better.

So this morning I laid in bed as they persistently walked and bounced with purpose across me, thinking about that and remembering how someone I know speaks of “gentle persistence relentlessly applied.” That describes my cats.

It also applies to what I think of as some of my best and most effective efforts.

But it occurred to me as I was lying there pretending to be asleep (“Oomph,” I said as Abby landed on my back and took off again) that this was very different from the way I think of Being Patient.

Patience, I thought as I put cat food in their dishes, is more passive than persistence. While waiting patiently and watching for the right opportunity to act can be Active, I realized that I do see persistence as more active than patience.

I wonder, when is Patience rewarded rather than Persistence?

“Good things come to those who wait,” as the saying goes. But another saying says, “Energy and persistence conquer all things (Benjamin Franklin).”

When we ask someone to be patient, are we asking them to alertly wait? Or are we really asking them to just go away and stop bothering us? When I tell myself to be patient, am I really just giving myself an excuse to do nothing? When do we punish others’ persistence? When do we reward it? When does persistence go over the edge into stubbornness?

I wonder.

“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success,” according to Napoleon Hill.

How do you define patience and persistence? Do you see yourself as being more patient or persistent? Which more often gets you what you want – patience, or gentle persistence relentlessly applied?

Do you like what you’ve read here? If so, please tell someone about it! And please leave a comment!

Birdwatching, Wonder and Contemplation of The Special


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I am in the process of re-reading Simon Barnes’s delightful book, “How to Be a (Bad) Birdwatcher,” which I discovered a couple of years ago at a local bookstore when I was looking for something else. (I love Amazon, but despite its best efforts to recommend things to me, there is still nothing like browsing the shelves of a bookstore and discovering something quite unexpected.)

In his book, Mr. Barnes lovingly writes of his nearly lifelong fascination with birds, and he good-naturedly scoffs at the competitive “collectors” who are the official “good” birdwatchers.

The Habit of Looking

He writes early on, “Birds are in our past; they are in our blood and in our bones. In short, when you make the decision to become a bad birdwatcher, you do not start from scratch. You are already a bad birdwatcher. The baddest birdwatcher on the planet starts off with a huge bank of information, tradition and culture. After that, it is just a matter of getting the habit. The habit of looking.” (emphasis mine)

I am a (bad) birdwatcher. I don’t remember how it started. I vaguely remember being aware of a few birds as a child – robins, which I think we had all year in Seattle (Seattle having a mild climate, at least in those days), blue jays (which I later learned were Steller’s Jays), seagulls, pigeons, and crows, as well as a few notables such as something we called snowbirds (known as such because they occasionally appeared in the winter) and the highly unusual owl.

I moved to San Francisco as a young adult and I remember nothing of note about birds (other than hearing my first mourning dove and thinking it was an owl).

It wasn’t until I moved to rural Washington State in my mid-twenties that I began paying attention to birds. I hung my first bird feeder, but I don’t remember what visited it. I do remember sitting on my back deck, surrounded by woods on three sides, and being amazed by the depth of birdsong around me. I would close my eyes and try to count the many layers of birdsong – and would quickly get lost.

I think that is when the habit got me and I started noticing – and then looking for – birds. I saw my first bald eagle there, and that was an amazing sight.

We moved to Maine, and I discovered cardinals. And house finches. Both of which caught me in late winter with their calls – and their redness.

One day in late winter, when there was still snow on the ground and the only colors in the world were black, white and brown, I heard a loud bird call. It was a long, shrill, descending call. Over and over. What the heck was that? I followed my ears, and ended up staggering through the deep snow in my neighbor’s back yard until my eyes and ears located a spot of ruby red in a brown, leafless tree: Cardinal. He burned a spot in my mind with his fire. And I have been smitten ever since. We don’t have cardinals on the west coast, and I miss them.

Another day in Maine, this time in early, early spring when there was still a lot of snow on the ground but the gutters were running with snowmelt, I was walking into a building downtown and a magical trilling like the water burbling everywhere echoed around the granite entryway. What? I stopped short, and the man behind me walked into me. I couldn’t go in until I found it – a brown little bird with a red head and breast up in the archway, singing his lungs out. “Spring is coming! Spring is coming!” Despair at six months of wearing gloves and boots suddenly disappeared.

I later looked him up in my bird book, and there he was: A house finch. (Or a purple finch. But purple finches aren’t purple… what’s up with that? Anyway.) We have house finches on the west coast, too, and that makes me happy.

Also in Maine, I saw another bird I had never seen before. I described it to my husband’s aunt, who was nearly blind at the time. She thought about it for a minute, and then said, “It sounds like a flicker.” A what? But I looked it up, and she was right. Aunt Norma was a (bad) birdwatcher, too!

As time went by, my fascination expanded and, as we moved around the country, I was exposed to a variety of birds. I saw nuthatches, rose breasted grosbeaks, goldfinches that looked like dandelions on the lawn, herons, egrets, pelicans, red-winged blackbirds. Cedar waxwings that were smaller than I expected. Pheasant that sounded like a squeaky car door. Wild turkeys. More bald eagles. Ducks that nested in trees. White crowned sparrows, ruby-crowned kinglets, phoebes, various hawks, turkey vultures, and kingfishers. It’s a glorious birdworld, although I miss some of my friends from other areas (especially cardinals).

All of this came flooding through my mind, in less time than it took to write it (or read it), as I started to re-read Simon Barnes. I am most definitely a (bad) birdwatcher, and I’ve got it bad, too. But I don’t mind.

The Point

What was it that made me traipse through Mr. Brown’s snowy yard to see that cardinal? Wonder. Just as it was Wonder that once made me photograph a bowl of cherry tomatoes (Remember to Look Up, “Appreciate Beauty”). A cherry tomato is not a bird, but wonder is wonder. Wonder that something so simple can be so beautiful. And that is all that needs to be said.

Wonder. And Curiosity.

Except that is not all I will say. Wonder applies. It translates. And Curiosity, like birdwatching, is a matter of habit. The habit of looking. A habit that can be cultivated.

What are you curious about? What would happen if you cultivated curiosity about… people who are different? Or who don’t agree with you? What would happen if you wondered what would happen if…

How would your life be different if you got in the habit of noticing things? (Or, for the advanced among you, how has your life been transformed because you do notice things?

Here is what Simon Barnes says about birdwatching at its best: It is “not the chasing of the rare but the untroubled contemplation of the special.

I get goosebumps when I read that.

And here’s the thing: It doesn’t just apply to birdwatching. It applies to all sorts of things. Not just birds.

What is special in your life? Is it a finite list? Or does it continue to grow?

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