Tag Archives | Wonder

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?

Captains Curious: Curiosity Is the Ultimate Room Freshener


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest member of the Captains Curious is Karen Caterson! To learn about the other Captains Curious, please click here.

Curiosity is a window-opener

Open the Windows!

Have you ever walked into a room that’s been closed up for a significant length of time? One that has a musty, stuffy smell?

If you have, you probably opened the windows wide – immediately.

Why? Because an open window brings in freshness – fresh air, if we’re talking about a room – and fresh thinking, if we’re talking about the “window” of curiosity.

For example…

Even before I knew she would be hosting a Curiosity Series I learned that Susan is a Curiosity Advocate. I happened to mention to her (in a “Whatcha been doing?” note) that I was nervous about an upcoming call with my son.

Manchild (one of the nicknames I have for my son) had written me a short email mentioning a purchase he and a friend were considering – a yacht!

They’d found a yacht online. Yacht. Online. What the WHAT?

My son spent the past year interning at a Quaker youth hostel in DC – he’s not independently wealthy (or anywhere close to) – and he can’t swim. You might imagine that I had a lot of questions for him (and you’d be right)!

Should I mention that he said, “It needs lots of work” – and he’s a musician, not a handyman? Yep, lots of questions!

I asked to hear more about it and Manchild suggested a Skype call rather than email – so we set up a mutually agreeable time.

When I wrote Susan I was experiencing motherly concerns (out the wazoo), and worrying about how to achieve some kind of parenting balance between listening and advising (and also – mostly – worrying about how much “advising” I’d be likely to do while in a Holy #&%*! state of mind).

That’s where Susan (and her Curiosity Championing) came in. In response to my saying that I was a bit anxious, Susan wrote: “…I have no advice. But in my experience, just asking appropriate questions can be very helpful.”

Susan’s not-advice was like having someone open a window for me: It brought in fresh thinking and helped me create space for curiosity.

Create space for curiosity…

Questions! I had tons of them! (Did I mention that before?) I set my fears and my own agenda aside (the first step there was noticing that I had fears and an agenda) for the Skype visit with my son, and…

…firmly grounded – with curiosity as my foundationwe had a great talk! I was able to get excited with him, honor his plans and ideas and convey my concerns – which, frankly, weren’t all that concernish once I allowed myself to listen to his plans.

That left us time to concentrate on the really important stuff – like why in the world Manchild and friend were even considering renaming a yacht?!? (There’s a world of superstitious stories around renaming a boat.) It turns out they had that covered, too – they’d researched and found a “proper” ritual for the renaming.

…and curiosity brings in fresh thinking, discussion and Wonder

Curiosity is a window-opener: It brings in fresh thinking, discussion and wonder – much better than the stuffy, musty stuff of fears and preconceived agendas!

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Karen Caterson – aka Square-Peg Karen – is a recovering psychotherapist & Mindful Nonconformity Advocate and offers encouragement, humor and resources to fellow Square-Pegs (i.e. Mindful Nonconformists) at Square-Peg Reflections (http://squarepegpeople.typepad.com/). Follow her on Twitter @SquarePegKaren.

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Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Captains Curious: What Was the Cat Doing?


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest member of the Captains Curious is Delisa Carnegie! To learn about the other Captains Curious, please click here.

Curiosity killed the cat, or so they say. I’m curious about what the cat was doing before it died. What adventure did the cat go on? It had to be awesome.

Zombeez aren’t curious. Their minds are vast wastelands of cardboard. No cats live in the hive.

Creativity Needs Curiosity

My blog is filled with posts revolving around creativity, but that creativity needs curiosity. Curiosity makes us ask “What if?” and creativity provides limitless possibilities to answer with “Maybe this or that.” Working on this post made me realize how intertwined curiosity and creativity are. I hadn’t thought much about curiosity (as separate being) before. I let it hang out in the shadow of creativity. In reality, you can’t have one without the other.

Curiosity is a risk and an adventure. You can ask any cat about that.

The Hive Doesn’t Want You to Be Curious

You risk doing something new, different, or nontraditional. You lead yourself on your own customized adventure. The risks won’t always be life threatening, like jumping out of a plane, but it might feel like it. The longer you live according to the hive mind the more dangerous curiosity feels. The hive doesn’t want you to be curious; they use fear to try and control you, because they are afraid.

Think about what a dreary boring place the world would be if no one every followed their curiosity. We would still be living in caves and hunting with sticks. The caves wouldn’t even have cool cave art.

Curiosity Will Set You Free

It may be true that love will set you free, but I don’t think they got that quite right. Curiosity will set you free and lead you on a lifetime of adventure. That sounds way more exciting to me.

Why Is It Always a Cat?

Writing this post has got me wondering (curious) about why it is always a cat and not some other animal that kicks it. I think it is because cats are independent and do what they want. Cats are the opposite of zombeez (mindless drones).  Are you more cat or zombee?

How often do you follow your curiosity?

How often do you follow your curiosity? Do you jump in and go for it or do you hang back thinking about the poor dead cat?

This may sound a little morbid, but we all are going to die some day from something. Isn’t it better to spend our lives satisfying our curiosity, having adventures, being fulfilled, and being truly happy than to spend it being too afraid to live?

I think we should enjoy ourselves while we can.

If you aren’t used to being curious and seeing where it gets you, try it. The next time you are curious about something, act on that curiosity. You won’t know what you are missing out on until you do.  You could be missing out on the best things.

Are You Curious?

I know Jimmy Hendrix would ask “Are you experienced?” but I want to know “Are you curious?”

The experience comes later. First you have to be curious.

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Delisa Carnegie is the leader of The Creativity Rebellion. She spends her days creating, crafting, teaching people how to fist pump like Billy Idol and kick zombee ass at www.thecreativityrebellion.com. Follow her on Twitter @delisacarnegie or email her at delisa@thecreativityrebellion.com.

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Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Testing Ground


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In Nova’s “Car of the Future,” which I watched recently on PBS, one of the technologies profiled was hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that are being tested in Iceland.

Iceland prides itself on helping to improve this technology by testing it every day. Says Jon Björn Skúlason of Icelandic New Energy, Ltd., “You go to a small society like Iceland, where a lot of things are simpler than in a big society like the US or Europe, you can actually test things out here. That’s actually how we think we can help the world (emphasis mine).”

Hmm. That made me wonder: If that’s true of a small society like Iceland, is the same thing true for small organizations? How can small organizations help the world by testing ideas, processes and technologies?

Please tell me what you think!

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”

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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?

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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?

Curiosity About… Cats, and Boundaries, and Transference


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My cats have trouble with boundaries.

Not with spraying to mark them, thank goodness. But with what issues are theirs – or not – and what issues they need to get involved in – or not.

I first discovered this a few years ago, when I stepped on Rocket’s foot. She screamed, and the next thing I knew, Abby, who is only 2/3 Rocket’s size, exploded on the scene hissing and spitting and ready for a fight. I thought she was there to protect Rocket but, no, she was just reacting.

I’ve also discovered that when neighboring cats occasionally come to the windows, my indoor cats get very territorial and try to fight with them through the glass.

That’s not very surprising. What is surprising is that Abby and Rocket then turn on each other. They will get into terrible scraps, taking out their frustration and adrenaline on each other.

This happened a little after six a.m. this morning. I awoke to the sound of Rocket and Abby hissing and screaming and scratching at each other. I ran into my office, where Rocket had Abby pinned on her back. The term “the fur was flying” describes it pretty well. I waded into the thick of it although, as I grabbed Rocket and tried to separate them, it occurred to me that maybe this wasn’t my brightest idea ever. I wasn’t about to let them hurt each other, though; I managed to loosen them and Abby ran off into the other room. I also realized that there was cat pee sprayed all over the rug. Pew! This was not a little sibling rivalry spat.

My office has windows along one wall, and patio doors along another. I realized that there was a cat outside the door, watching this whole scene. As Rocket prepared to lunge at it, I turned on the outdoor lights, banged on the door and scared it away.

Well, the girls (and I) slowly calmed down, and they un-puffed and began licking themselves. (It’s kind of hard to tell when Abby is puffed, since she doesn’t have a tail – it’s more about body language. Anyway.) Luckily I keep their claws clipped and, although it was time for a trim, I haven’t found any major damage. Rocket has a scratch on her ear, and I’ll continue to check them for bite marks and keep an eye on them for a couple of days.

I wonder, what is it about a cat’s brain that allows it to transfer that animal instinct onto its sibling and ally? Is that a lizard-brain thing? Why aren’t they able to say, “Whoa, *Boundary*, she is my pal, I’m not going to whap her when what I really want to do is whap that trespasser”?

And I wonder about times I have taken out my emotions on others, on innocent bystanders and on people who manage to mash my buttons. I wonder: Is it the same lizard-brain thing that causes us to project unresolved shit onto the people around us?

Luckily, we are not lizards (or cats), and we can learn to see what we’re doing and work out our issues in a productive manner as long as we are conscious of what is happening.

Well, the cats have had their breakfast and settled into naps. I have sprayed cat-smell remover on the carpet and liberally sprinkled the room with baking soda. I’ve vacuumed once already, but the smell, like my wonderment, lingers on. I’ll have to work on this for a while.

Have you ever observed someone treating someone else as if they were the object of their ire, even though they were an innocent bystander?

Have you ever been the innocent bystander?

Have you ever been the one acting out on someone else?

Have you ever wondered why we do this?

What questions can we ask when we feel dumped on to find out, Did we really invite that dumping? Or is the other person really reacting to something else all together?

Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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