Space to Choose, Room to Grow

space-to-choose

journal page – 2/11/08

Every year about this time, I begin to sense a lightening of spirit as I anticipate Spring. The days are noticeably longer, and although it’s bitterly cold in New England, the slant of light mitigates the discomfort of wind chill factors and icy roads. It becomes easy to imagine the return of green, and I feel the urge to clean my inner house, sweeping out stale ideas and behaviors to renew and redefine my goals, as if the Vernal Equinox were my New Year’s Day.

Just as it takes energy and the right combination of elements to coax the buds back from their winter’s sleep, it takes energy and nurturing to foster personal growth. Yet often we find ourselves up against a variety of obstacles that keep us from steadily moving forward, much like rush hour traffic on a highway with a closed lane. We’ve all experienced that feeling of trying to get quickly from one place to another, but having to constantly put on the brakes and slow down to a crawl every few yards. We get edgy, we feel irritable; we may even lose our temper. And how does it feel by the time we finally reach our destination? Does it ever seem as if it weren’t worth the trouble of the trip? The same idea applies to the tolerations in our lives that function as speed bumps on our own personal highways.

Although we often associate the development of tolerance as a behavior with positive attributes such as patience, acceptance of others’ differences, and selflessness, it can also become an insidious drain on our time, energy, and spirit. Think of all the things we “put up with” in the course of a day, things that annoy or anger us, things that divert our attention away from what we want to do, things that cause us to react in ways that are contrary to how we would like to see ourselves. Each of these tolerations in some way prevents us from moving forward, ultimately leaving us feeling depleted.

According to Thomas J.Leonard, a pioneer in the life coaching profession, there are logical reasons why we accept tolerations in our lives. Perhaps we’ve been raised to practice the virtue of selfless patience so we can get along with others. While that is often a necessary skill for peaceful social interactions, what does it mean when we are doing no more than allowing others to take advantage of our “good nature”? What we’ve been taught to view as a commendable quality actually puts us in the position of feeling anger and resentment, two emotions that tremendously sap our energy. Perhaps we’re afraid of the consequences we imagine will result if we eliminate negative behaviors and relationships, or take a stand to self-advocate and say “no.” We feel safer with what we know – even if it’s dragging us down – and ultimately we become mired in stagnation.

This year, my “spring cleaning” will be to identify and eliminate those things I tolerate that are really no more than speed bumps on my journey. I’ll start small with things I can easily tackle, clearing the decks for the bigger things that require more work. I want to give myself more space to choose, more room to grow. Anyone care to join me? You can start by making a list of ten or more things that consistently bother you, or you might want to start by looking at Thomas Leonard’s list of The Top 10 Tolerations that People Put Up With as Normal/Acceptable to see if any of them sound familiar. And feel free to share what you come up with, if you’d like!

Time like a Blanket

blanket

journal page – 2/1/08

Today, at home, Time was like a blanket around me. Nothing seemed pressing except keeping the fire in the stove going. Freezing rain fell, almost invisible, but by afternoon it had coated every branch and dry flower with a sheath of ice. I had a list so long of things I should have done, but somehow, the fact that I frittered most of the day away was more satisfying than checking off items on a to-do list. I did sand and gesso a 24″ x 36″ wood panel that my DH Jol made for me, and in antcipation of the painting it will become, I played in my journal.

Around Us

We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane’s wing, and a worn bed of
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks–a zipper or a snap–
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.

Marvin Bell ( 1937 – )

Venturing Beyond

venturing

journal page – 1/30/08

Comfort zone
is a deceptively benign term. Although it can mean the place or state of being where one is at peace and happy, humming along at just the right speed, it can also mean a place where discomfort has become a familar, but safe feeling. How many of us stay in situations that seem comfortable, simply because we can easily predict what each day will bring? And how often is this comfortable place really a place of stagnation and resignation where complacency becomes the prevalent emotion? This complacency keeps people from moving forward and living more exciting lives, and even worse, can keep them in bad relationships, unfulfilling occupations, and unhealthy behaviors. Henry David Thoreau said that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and perhaps part of that comes from cowering unaware within one’s comfort zone.

On the flip side, what does it mean to step out of that familiar place and try something you’ve always wanted to do, but have avoided out of fear? At first it might feel very uncomfortable, because usually there’s some kind of risk involved, but so often the payoff is well worth the initial discomfort. The most recent topic at Inspire Me Thursday is Expand Your Comfort Zone, and for me, it calls to mind that heady cocktail of fear and anticipation that comes before embarking on any new, initially uncomfortable situation that stretches self-imposed boundaries. It makes me think of the times I’ve listened to my inner voice telling me that those scary steps will ultimately lead me to a better place, and I’ve had the courage to listen. And that’s the trick…tuning in to that voice and mustering up the courage to expand your comfort zone.

Turning Point

turning-point

journal page – 12/19/07

Here in New England, the Winter Solstice will arrive on December 22 at 1:08 A.M., marking both the shortest day and the longest night in the Northern Hemisphere. Although I try to resist the dread I feel with the approach of winter, my mood constricts a bit each day as the hours of light diminish. The cold and the dark communicate to me on some primal level, making me want to curl up around myself, much like a fox in its den protected by the blanket of its tail. I have read that statistically, artists in colder climates tend to be more prolific than those in the warmer zones, but it doesn’t seem to work that way for me. I have been stalled for weeks now… and it’s been breaking my heart.

Last night, almost as an act of desperation, I went into my studio with no objective other than wanting to get my hands dirty. I ripped paper, collaged strips into my journal, painted as the shapes spoke to me, scribbled over the paint, and ended up with a new idea for a large painting.

So why do I wait for “inspiration,” when clearly it’s taking action that allows my creativity to come out of its hiberantion? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that I’m feeling a whole lot better now…and soon the days will start to get longer.

It’s been a long time comin’
It’s goin’ to be a long time gone.
But you know,
The darkest hour is always
Always just before the dawn.
And it appears to be a long, appears to be a long,
Appears to be a long
Time before the dawn.

David Crosby (1941 – )

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