Intentions are good. Strategies are even better. But accountability is the best! Taking a page from my food journal (due to my nutritionist's suggestions), I've decided to chronicle my efforts to add more laughter into my day. Writing down what I eat at each meal keeps me on track, so a taking the week to blog about laughter seemed worth a try. Not exactly Julie and Julia, but perhaps the way to make laughter a higher priority. (And now, you are all forewarned)

So on the way home from church today, I outlined my plan to Dan. Now, how to add laughter into my life?, I asked. He responded promptly by telling me a joke - not an amazing joke, but it did bring a chuckle. Later, I rushed into the living room where my youngest daughter, Dorea, was entertaining my husband with tales of a recent dinner conversation. Often something funny there.  I was rewarded by my diligence in enjoying another laugh.

Strategy 1: Find funny people and enjoy them.
This seems obvious, but as I was pondering this whole silly business, I realized that in the past few decades I've made it a priority to seek meaningful things to fill my life. Laughter often springs because things are meaning-less. Hmm. How often have I disparaged silliness? (Now I remember dinner times when I'd berate the girls for going off into gales of laughter instead of talking about somethig edifying, like the sermon at church this morning, for instance).

Strategy 2: Value the ridiculous. (even, maybe especially in yourself)

It's kind of sad that one needs a strategy to laugh, but hey, on the other hand, it's pretty funny!
"Loving another can be demanding work; paying attention, listening deeply, holding your tongue, ladling cups of cold water. So I need and long for holy laughter to lighten and energize the work of love. And laughter abounds in the world!"

These are the opening lines from a insightful blog by Elizabeth Nordquist on her site, "A Musing Amma," which I discovered a few days ago. You can read the rest of her post here
Elizabeth's lyrical prose matches the quality of her comments. Along the way she quotes Anne Lamott, whose phrase "laughter is carbonated holiness" rings true.

Holiness is etymologically connected to both wholeness and health. So it comes as no surprise that laughter, which is known to reduce stress, release endorphins, exercise our diaphragm and abs and connect us with friends, is part of a sacred alliance.  Holy laughter, laughter that is both compassionate and confident, as Nordquist lays out for us, energizes us as we seek to participate in the glory of God.

Nordquist encourages us make laughter a spiritual practice, to "seek laughter in myself and in others, and to slay the Dragons of Doom and Cynicism and Derision in the world by letting the goodness of God, the hilarity of human beings, the kerfuffles of ordinary living be reason for laughter and rejoicing."

The guantlet is down. I think I'm up for the challenge.
I'm in the midst of reading "Emma", finally making my way through Jane Austen's novels. Huddled under my quilt, with a hot cup of tea, I immerse myself in the manners and sensibilities of 18th century England. Emma is an interesting character. She is presented as both lovable and flawed, at times silly and proud, at other times truly gracoius and caring. A bit like all of us, I suppose.

One of Emma's main shortcomings is pride. All of her associations are ruled by her station in the hierarchy of the small town in which she resides. Some people are fit for friendship, others must be placed within the realm of benefactor/benefactress. At one point, she rues the fact that if only this family were a bit higher on the social scale, she could consider a relationship with them, but of course, it is out of the question.

Although it is easy to decry the class system of Georgian England, pride can rear its head in many of our own associations. Yesterday I was speaking with a friend who had just returned from a frustrating board meeting. The chair's confidence in his quick thinking, creative problem solving and grasp of the situation left no room at the table for anyone else. My friend's voice, as well as the voices of the others were effectively silenced, and the contributions that could have added and enhanced the topic under discussion were missed.

I've always known that pride was a "deadly sin." Pride puffs one up, pride comes before a fall, etc, but it wasn't until this morning that I put together the fact that one of the main harms of pride is that it closes you to community. It assumes that you have all that is needed, therefore making others superfluous.

True humility, on the other hand, believes not only in the importance of one's own contributions, but allows for, and invites the contributions of others. The humble person doesn't denegrate their own abilities (oh, I have nothing to offer), rather they insist on the gifts and insights of all. Pride isolates and contracts; humility connects and expands.

Emma is the lonelier for her refusal to associate outside her "prescribed" norms. My friend's committee suffers from collaboration. Healthy and vibrant community requires an open door, the generous hospitality of humility.
My husband, Dan, blogs and writes over at toucanic.net. This morning's post has some lovely quotes from St. Isaac of Syria. Click here to check it out. And feel free to browse.
I've blogged earlier about desire (here), but I caught myself thinking about it again this morning after a breakfast conversation with Dan. We were talking about the pull of glory, and the power to break free from things that hold us captive. Is it possible to choose the way of God, over the "way of Cain?"

The story of Cain and Abel is a familiar one. Abel brings an approved sacrifice to God and is blessed. Cain brings an unacceptable sacrifice and is corrected by God. Seeing Cain's anger, God continues the conversation. "Sin is crouching at your door," He tells the older brother. "It desires to have you. But you can have mastery over it." Cain refuses to take mastery over his emotions, and instead takes mastery over Abel, committing the first murder.

It is interesting to notice that God assumes that Cain is able to make the right choice. He gives Cain more moral power than we often think we have. Cain is not portrayed as "enslaved" to his emotions, but rather as one who can take control of his passions. So why doesn't Cain "do the right thing?" I'm not sure we can know, but I'd like to hazard a guess that it's connected to desire.
I just finished an article on a website called "Big Think." You can check it out on the link below. The post talks about the "obsessions" of innovators. Some idea or concept that they can't let go. Eventually this obsession moves from their own private concern out into the public arena. The piece includes an interview with Malcolm Gladwell (author of "TheTipping Point" and "Outliers") talking about Nassim Taleb, a wall street "oracle" whose philosophy on disaster helped him do extremely well during the recent financial crash. Taleb grew up in Lebanon, where his life exposed him to multiple disasters, political as well as personal (contracting a rare form of cancer while young.) What Taleb learned from this, is that disaster is not as rare as some people might think. In fact, it might happen at any moment. That was his experience, what he knew, that is what he built his hedge fund around, and that is what caused him to succeed when disaster did indeed strike.

So my question is: what do I know to be true? And do I return to it again and again, making it the basic obsession of my life, the point from which I do my work, set my strategies, look for opportunities?

Looking for a new job has been taking up a bit of my time lately. After a nice hiatus (allowing extra time in FL) it's time once again to help with the family income.

Dan and I got married out of college, and what with grad school moves and a young family (plus lack of clarity on a professional career track) I never entered the work force in a conventional way. There were a few months of secretarial work for Dave the plumber, followed by temp work in a law office, then Tupperware sales and a cake decorating business, the latter two accommodating young children at home.

To be quite blunt, thinking of a way to earn income doing what I love has always posed a problem, and I could feel myself becoming overwhelmed as I tried to negotiate the questions that might be true of many 50-year old empty-nesters. I felt like I was letting myself down, not taking enough initiative on my own behalf, squandering my potential. Somehow in the process, I lost my way. Then I read something a college student my daughter knows had posted on his Facebook page. He described a conversation he had with God about all of his doubts. "Stop worrying," God said, "Let it go."

I felt the Spirit nudge my heart. In my desire to be responsible, I'd unknowingly slipped from strategizing to worry. The result was paralysis. Several months ago, I had described to a friend my theory on the energies of God. It's like you're in a house, I said, and the loving power of the universe is housed in the basement. Worry closes the vents, and the house stays cold. Faith opens them up, and allows the warmth and creativity to flow.

It's a good theory. Setting aside my worry felt like I had opened all the vents in my soul as far as they could go. It helped me to realize that finding a job wasn't something I had to do on my own. I had help, wisdom to make the right choice, strength to keep at it. All I needed was available to me and had been all along. It only required faith to allow it to flow.

Looking for a new job and continuing to redecorate my house have me pondering the role of imagination in our lives. Here are some things I'm learning:

1. Sometimes imagination comes only a step at a time. When I began to decorate the guest room (see previous post) I started with a glass bottle I picked up while at Mt Gretna with a friend. (It's hanging off the window above the bed in one of the photos.) I didn't really have any place to put it in the house, but I loved its whimsical feel. The bottle became the inspiration for the color choice in the room and begged me to hang on to a quilt that had had also caught my eye. As I moved from choice to choice, the room started coming together. I'm starting to get the hang of this: I make a decision, let settle and then see what springs up next.

2. A good metaphor can help. While talking with a friend about the job hunt, she mentioned a technique she'd picked up from a book she'd recently read. Pretend that there's a large mirror in the room. In the mirror is an image of yourself doing what you'd like to be doing in 10 years. What do you see? This was actually a fun exercise. For some reason, putting a "frame" around myself made it easier for me to imagine a different me: in this case collaborating with a group of people on a seminar. Once I could imagine this reality, it opened up the discussion to some specific places this might happen, and possible steps forward.

3. Good books and movies usher us into a world where we can actually put ourselves in other people's shoes; they help us imagine in a fuller way what we could only interact with as facts before. In "The Help," by Kathryn Stockett, we are drawn into the world of Jackson, Mississippi in the midst of the Civil Rights era. As I read from the perspective of two black maids (house help) and the aspiring white journalist who chronicles their experiences, I was able to feel a moral outrage that I hadn't experienced before. The plight of those living in "separate but equal" communities, and the persecution and deaths of those fighting for equal rights moved me in a way that even the tapes of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech hadn't succeeded in doing. Likewise, in the movie "The King's Speech," the abdication of King Edward to marry Wallis Simpson shocked me as it must have shocked many of the English at the time. I could never imagine what the big deal was, but experiencing the event through the eyes of Edward's brother, the future King George VI, gave me a truly different and deeper perspective.

I wonder what other practices there are that stir up our imagination, that keep us nimble and allow for creativity, action or empathy. Suggestions? 

The spare room that I've turned into a guest room/study is pretty much painted and moved into. I love it! The shade of turquoise blue that's on two of the walls, the cheery wedding ring quilt that I rebought off the clearance aisle, saving myself a chunk of change, and the fact that all the books I own are keeping me company. Some art cards that I bought while studying abroad in England during college are framed and add a whimsical touch. The technology is happening, too: extra speakers are set up so I can turn on Pandora and listen to "Spa Radio" while I type. Who knows? I may even bring up my sewing stuff to take advantage of the fun energy and great light that streams into my eastern window.

I learned something about myself during this process. Not only is it nice to have a space for creativity, I need space to BE creative. Turns out that there's a part of me that tends to be rather impatient with the part of me that tries to be aesthetically creative.  Starting the room's makeover, my energy level was on low - almost like I was dragging my feet, which seemed rather odd.  This should be a fun project, I thought. It's one over which I have complete freedom - any color I want, any way I want to organize, a place to keep track of my stuff and hopefully get to some more writing - and I was not enthusiastic at all.

The next day I figured out what was going on in the community that hangs out in my head. The part of me that likes to be efficient and productive was a little annoyed that the part of me that likes to be creative was taking the point on the room. Mostly because that part of me isn't so competent and confident in what she's doing. And tends to do a lot of second-guessing, which takes even more time. As far as productive me was concerned, this whole endeavor was going to be a waste of time and money, and we were never going to get to the part where we actually used the room, forget about being happy with the result.

It takes space for me to be creative. And that's just the way it is. It can't be rushed. I do a little something, and then sit and wait for the next piece to come along. I start and stop, and then redo. I wish it were more linear - that's why I always preferred sewing from patterns than designing my own dress. With the pattern I knew ahead of time what I was going to get when I was done, and I could zip along and finish in no time at all. Great for productivity, not so much for innovation.

It's always helpful to understand the parts of your self that are in conflict, and try to get them to work together in a more constructive way. And if you want to develop new competencies, to give yourself the space to try new things, and to exercise patience and kindness in the process.
Found this link on the Inflight magazine coming back from Florida (the first time). Love not only the kids getting into this song, but the delight of the choir director.