Thursday, December 20, 2007


OK, so there's not really a surprise here, but doesn't hearing that word make your heart skip a beat, make you a little more alert and inquisitive?

As many of us get ready to tear into wrapping paper, I thought I would write a little ode to surprise. After all, isn't most of the fun of gift-getting not knowing what will be revealed after the paper comes off? And if we got truly everything we asked for, with no surprise, wouldn't that take away a lot of the fun?

Kids love surprise. They recognize that there is thrill in the unknown. Along the way, some of us lose our tolerance for surprise. We think we want things under our control, since surprise can also bring us negative things. Isn't cancer as much of a surprise as opening a package to reveal the Compact Oxford English Dictionary you had no idea your husband knew you lusted after? (Um, that's obviously mine. Feel free to insert your own coveted object.)

As exciting as surprise can be, it can also be scary. The trouble is, when we remove surprise, or engineer our lives to minimize it, we lose something important. We lose the events that challenge us, that teach us, that bring us joy and suffering. We lose an awful lot of living.

And so when a friend of mine told me she didn't like her sprawling, suburbanized city because it lacked surprise, I knew instantly what she meant. A day of rote living--get up, shower, dress, breakfast, drive to work, sit there for 8 hours, drive back, dinner, sleep--is a zombie-like existence. Not to say that every day will be surprising, but you have to believe that there is the possibility of surprise in your life, that there's space and opportunity for it to happen.

Take a look at your life. See what is squeezing out the chance for surprise. It could be a job, or a way of thinking, or a behavior that's become habit. Find a way to allow the possibility for surprise back into your life.

The root of the word, incidentally, means 'to capture.' Think of the moment a child opens up a gift and is surprised. Think of the moment someone says something to you that you didn't expect. You are arrested, captured, captivated. You are, for a moment, suspended from what you were doing, and given the chance to feel something, or take stock, or change your perspective.

Those moments of captivity are precious, and fleeting, and enormously instructive. Embrace surprise, or, maybe more accurately, allow surprise to embrace you.

Because of the holiday, I'm taking a brief break from posting, but I'll be back after Christmas. May you have many happy surprises in the meantime!


OK, so there's not really a surprise here, but doesn't hearing that word make your heart skip a beat, make you a little more alert and inquisitive?

As many of us get ready to tear into wrapping paper, I thought I would write a little ode to surprise. After all, isn't most of the fun of gift-getting not knowing what will be revealed after the paper comes off? And if we got truly everything we asked for, with no surprise, wouldn't that take away a lot of the fun?

Kids love surprise. They recognize that there is thrill in the unknown. Along the way, some of us lose our tolerance for surprise. We think we want things under our control, since surprise can also bring us negative things. Isn't cancer as much of a surprise as opening a package to reveal the Compact Oxford English Dictionary you had no idea your husband knew you lusted after? (Um, that's obviously mine. Feel free to insert your own coveted object.)

As exciting as surprise can be, it can also be scary. The trouble is, when we remove surprise, or engineer our lives to minimize it, we lose something important. We lose the events that challenge us, that teach us, that bring us joy and suffering. We lose an awful lot of living.

And so when a friend of mine told me she didn't like her sprawling, suburbanized city because it lacked surprise, I knew instantly what she meant. A day of rote living--get up, shower, dress, breakfast, drive to work, sit there for 8 hours, drive back, dinner, sleep--is a zombie-like existence. Not to say that every day will be surprising, but you have to believe that there is the possibility of surprise in your life, that there's space and opportunity for it to happen.

Take a look at your life. See what is squeezing out the chance for surprise. It could be a job, or a way of thinking, or a behavior that's become habit. Find a way to allow the possibility for surprise back into your life.

The root of the word, incidentally, means 'to capture.' Think of the moment a child opens up a gift and is surprised. Think of the moment someone says something to you that you didn't expect. You are arrested, captured, captivated. You are, for a moment, suspended from what you were doing, and given the chance to feel something, or take stock, or change your perspective.

Those moments of captivity are precious, and fleeting, and enormously instructive. Embrace surprise, or, maybe more accurately, allow surprise to embrace you.

Because of the holiday, I'm taking a brief break from posting, but I'll be back after Christmas. May you have many happy surprises in the meantime!

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Gimme Bliss Greatest Hits Mix Tape

Hi there. I'm Tiffany, and this is my blog, Gimme Bliss. Yesterday, I asked a bunch of people who regularly read this blog to send the link to a friend. If you're that friend and this is your first time here, welcome.

In case you're not sure what this is all about, take a look around. But maybe you'd like a little more direction? If so, below, find my personal favorites from the past few months:
If this is your first visit and you like what you see, consider subscribing to my feed. I hope to see you back here soon. Thanks for stopping by!

What I Want For Christmas...

If you regularly read and enjoy this blog, I would like to ask you to do two things in return for the encouragement you get here. Don't worry--it won't cost you anything, and will only take up a little bit of your time.

The first thing I'd like for Christmas is for you to send a link to this blog to someone if and only if you think they might get something out of it. The major satisfaction I get from this blog is knowing that it might inspire or motivate people to take a look at their lives and make sure they're not wasting the precious time they have here. Life is such a gift, and if you think throwing a $2 million necklace in the ocean is hard to watch, seeing people squander their priceless lives in jobs and situations they hate is completely devastating. I feel called to help people recognize what resources they have within them, and I ask that you help me help even more people.

The other thing I want for Christmas is something I hesitated to even mention here. It has to do with politics, which this blog usually isn't as concerned with since it is so much a part of the daily, petty world. I'm more interested in what's eternal, what is Truth, and not as much in what is news and what is the fad of the day.

However, because I believe that our abilities to pursue our own truths--our liberties--are so gravely threatened by the politics of the day, I ask that you take a look--that's all--at Ron Paul's website. I won't say much more--I'm not a big fan of trying to persuade people politically--but if you like what you see, consider telling others and perhaps donating. If you don't, cool. No biggie. We'll still be friends. :-)

That's it--that's all I want for Christmas. Thank you for everything you've already given me, and I look forward to sharing the new year ahead...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

So, My Brother Sells Lamborghinis...

2008 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder

...and I got to go for a ride around a race track, taking hairpin turns at nearly 80 mph. I was so scared and so exhilarated, I was completely breathless. I think I have a better handle on what the word 'thrill' really means.

2008 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder

OK, so I'm not sure what this has to do with bliss, but c'mon, admit it: It is pretty darn cool. I mean, I don't know about you, but I was a child of the '80s, when Lamborghini posters adorned every little boy's wall. (Or maybe that was just my brother.) Actually, maybe I do know what this has to do with bliss. My brother is pretty close to living his. He is the most amazing car guy ever--knows everything and anything about any car worth knowing anything about, and he has a great passion for the engineering and the racing history and everything car related. He is also dyslexic, and had a hell of a time making it through school. But he struggled like crazy, worked very hard, and got very creative so that he could make it through.

1967 Lamborghini Miura P400

Very few people get to sell Lamborghinis, and he is in that elite group. I am very, very proud of him. But I also know that when I saw his face today on that race track, as he talked about cars and about carbon-fiber struts and "riding the bull," I couldn't help but see the experience of his bliss. He has a knack for cars very few people do, and while many have scoffed at the idea of being a car salesman, he is very, very good at what he does, and he has reached an enormous level of success for being so young. He works hard, but I could tell that he loved being on that track, talking cars with other car enthusiasts. Today didn't seem like work at all for him. I think that's pretty much when you know.

2008 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder

If you think this post is cool, you should subscribe!

Incidentally, if you want to oh, I don't know, buy a Lamborghini, you should contact my brother at khamburger AT boardwalkAG DOT com. Or visit Lamborghini Dallas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How A Field of Coconuts Can Lead to Bliss

You know how I told you how to use a blog reader to focus on your goal? How finding blogs on topics related to your interests can help you stay motivated and inspired?

Think of this post as the corollary to that one. What I'd like you to do is try to find a blog or site that is mostly outside your realm of general interest, but that you find fascinating anyway. For me, the importance of going beyond your familiar topics was made abundantly clear yesterday when I stumbled upon (literally--I have no idea how I got there) the Agriculture Biodiversity Weblog, where I read a post about a genebank coconut field that had suffered quite a bit of damage thanks to a surprising number of lightning strikes.

You might be thinking BO-RING, but what finding this blog did for me was to remind me of my interest in science, food and geosocial issues like where food comes from and who eats it and how it is harvested. What I didn't realize that there was something that connected all those interests: agricultural biodiversity.

Then I found another blog that I particularly liked, though for more aesthetic reasons: the Human Flower Project, self described as an effort that's interested in "how people live through flowers."

What I love, beyond the horizon-enlarging nature of going beyond your same-ol' same-ol', is how energizing discovering other people's passions can be. Witnessing the fervor for biodiversity or Afghan flower arranging is a brilliant reminder of how passions enliven the world, how they save the world. And though you may not care for flowers or coconuts, someone out there does, leaving you to pursue what it is you are passionate about. Then, if you're really lucky and a generous soul, you can share your passion and teach others about how it fits in to this crazy world we live in.

So, go! Take an Internet voyage, and don't return until you find your Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog.

One of my passions is helping people to live fuller lives. Subscribe and learn some more!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Upside to Rock Bottom

Consider this quote from Helen Keller:
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.
There are times when things seem so bad you want to curse the heavens for making your life so difficult, so confusing, so exhausting. It happens when you have a petty, mean boss. It happens when you lose a job you really need. It happens when a relationship goes to hell. It happens.

What's worse is when it happens and then continues for what seems like forever. You're applying for jobs to get away from said petty, mean boss, but nothing turns up. You lose your job just before Christmas when no one is hiring and you can't get a response to anything for months. Your breakup is anything but clean, and devolves into bickering or festering resentment.

In other words, life seems to suck. Often, the advice you get is this: It could be worse. While true, you can't imagine it, and besides, it's already pretty darn bad. Should you be happy with pretty darn bad?

No. But you should be grateful. Grateful that it isn't worse, that it is, in all likelihood, a temporary condition that will not characterize the rest of your life unless you let it.

You should also be grateful for all the things you're about to learn about yourself and about how to deal with a crappy situation. Because so long as you're alive, you can bet life will throw you another crappy situation. Better learn to deal with it now so you won't be so devastated the next time around.

For a time, I envied my friends with inheritances, rich husbands or fat trust funds, frustrated that they didn't have to suffer daily as I did in my miserable government job. They had time to write, the time to think. Why oh why couldn't I be so fortunate? (These thoughts were characteristic of my Early Whining Phase.)

But a funny thing happened thanks to the suffering and the misery--I grew more and more aware of what I wanted, what I needed from my life, my work, and what I was unwilling to tolerate any longer. And as I began to devise ways out of Rock Bottom, population Me, I grew stronger, more creative, more motivated to make it happen.

And when I left the city limits of my bad situation, I realized how much I had grown, how much I had changed, while my friends at 123 Easy St. still seemed comfortable, yes, but not driven, not more capable, and not ready for success or the next hardship.

Now, more than ever, I feel confident that I am the master of my destiny, and that when life tries to throw me off course, that I will know how to handle myself to make the best out of a bad situation. I can't control the future, but I can control my reactions to whatever comes my way.

If I had taken the easy way out and asked someone--my husband, my parents, my friends--to rescue me, there is no way I would be enjoying the success and the thrill of self-determination that I'm experiencing now. I simply needed the struggle, the soul-crushing weight of the world, the seemingly unending darkness of petty minds and dust-filled hearts to inspire me to find a way out, and on my own terms.

If you're in a bad situation, you may wish you had a winning lottery ticket to rescue you, but what you really need is what you already have--a creative mind trapped in a bad situation. Let the struggle strengthen you, and when you're ready to leave, you'll surprise everyone--including yourself--with how easily you snap those chains.

The upside to reading this blog? An encouraging voice in the darkness! Subscribe here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

No Excuses

This one will be direct, because I want the message to sink in, to hit home without a lot of distraction.

The secret to your happiness, the secret to finding your bliss, boils down to this, more than anything else: There are no excuses.

Sound harsh? Good. It's what you need to hear. If you hear yourself saying anything remotely like this--"I would take a vacation, but I just can't because..."--then you are making an excuse, and you need to stop. Right. Now.

I'm not trying to be unforgiving. I'm trying to help you see that whatever you want is within your reach, so long as you don't use the word "but" to avoid going after it.

My dear brother told me today that he needs a vacation desperately, to recharge his batteries. He's in sales, so when he takes a vacation, he loses potential income, and his mortgage needs paid. When he told me he couldn't take a vacation because of the house payment, I reminded him that buying his house, at that price, was his choice. No one forced him to do it. It may be true that you can't afford a vacation, but that isn't because of forces outside your control. It's because of your choices.
  • You choose to spend money on other things.
  • You choose to define the word "vacation" too narrowly.
  • You choose to work a certain kind of job.
  • You choose to spend the free time you do have on other things.
  • You choose not to make a plan for how to afford a vacation.
I've written about this before, about the need for you to take responsibility and quit yer whinin', but I want you to think about all the times you say "but" to make it seem like you don't have a choice, like you are excused from acting on your dreams and desires.

Once you get your head out of your "but" (ha ha), you will begin to find ways to get what you want, or to decide that what you want isn't really that important to you, it's just something you think you want, or something you want because other people want it for you.

Practice for one day. Heck, start with one hour. Catch yourself every time you're about to make an excuse. We all do it. Just try to be aware of how often you do it, how much those excuses are getting in the way of what you do really want. Imagine how your thinking would change on a day without excuses. Now give it a try! No... well, you know. :-)

No excuses now, subscribe to Gimme Bliss!

Monday, December 3, 2007

What Are You Against?

One way to find out your path is to figure out what you like, what interests you, what you're good at.

This is the positive image, the ideas and traits and talents that define who you are. Another way to find your path is to look at the negative image, or the things that define who you are not.

I've been thinking about this recently as I think about the people I know or know of--be they politicians, businesspeople, neighbors, whoever--who walk a path I never could.

They are people who make choices that I am unequivocally against: Corruption, apathy, abject wastefulness, conformity for conformity's sake.

We live in a world where it is often unfashionable or uncomfortable to say you are against something. I'm not for intolerance, but I am for discernment: I am for saying that some things are better than others. If someone disagrees, okay, let's debate, but that doesn't mean I'm bad or you're bad if we have strongly held beliefs, and finding someone with beliefs other than yours is certainly not the time to end the discussion, but rather a critical--the most critical--time to engage in it.

I feel like people are afraid to say they are against anything. But if we are not strongly against anything, we are not strongly for anything, either. What is your philosophy of life? Who are you not? What are you not willing to do, under any circumstances? Can you point to principles that you hold dearly?

I ask because principles and philosophies are a way to build a life that is larger than you--a life that has something of the heroic in it, a life that isn't just about petty needs and daily exigencies.

Tell me in the comments who you are not. I hope this doesn't come off as high-minded or self-righteous. I can point to moments where I wish I had acted to fight something I found insidious--like government corruption--and I didn't. I'm not sure what I will do the next time, but I think defining this aspect of yourself is a way to avoid the regrets of inaction.

What do you think?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Respect Your Bliss

I was over at the Copywriter Underground blog today, where I saw this amazing rant by author Harlan Ellison:

What strikes me as relevant about this rant--which is about the need for artists and creatives to be properly valued, and therefore properly paid--is the transition you make from amateur to professional when you start seeing your work as "real" and worth making a living from.

Sometimes, when you begin to follow your dreams, you feel almost guilty about charging for your work. After all, you may not have a ton of experience, or you may just get so much enjoyment out of what you're doing that you feel like you'd do it for almost nothing, just because getting paid to have fun doesn't seem to be allowed.

Indeed, when people say, "When are you going to get a real job?" what they really seem to be asking is this: "When are you going to get a job that makes you as miserable as I am?"

That's why it's so important to charge professional wages for the work you do, even if you are following your bliss and having a great time. Not only does it help you, it helps all the others working in your field or hoping to work in your field, especially if there is a low barrier to entry. For example, an accountant or an engineer must pass some kind of accrediting test in order to practice in that profession, but nearly anyone can call himself a writer or a designer. It's hard for a potential employer to pick the hacks out from the pros. One of the ways to distinguish yourself as you embark on your path is to make sure you value your work, because others see that, pick up on it, and begin to value you as the professional you are.

So whatever your path is, research what the professionals earn, and make that a near-term goal. If you want respect for following your bliss, you must first learn to respect yourself. This is harder than it sounds, but if you can do this, you will succeed.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Support Bliss-Followers as You Shop

I've said before that if you're going to spend money, you should try to spend it on experience rather than material goods.

I stand by that advice, though I recognize that some material things can be functional, necessary or add beauty to life. If you find yourself in the position of having to buy a gift this holiday (or anytime, really), you might consider something that satisfies the three qualities mentioned above, and has the added benefit of supporting a working artist or artisan.

The place to browse for these gifts is a wonderful marketplace website called, where handmade items--from art to pet food dishes to clothing to jewelry--are sold directly by the maker to the buyer.

What I love about this is that you can give a beautiful or functional (and often both!) handmade, one-of-a-kind gift, and support someone else who is trying to follow their bliss and engage their gifts and talents as they make a living. Also, the items are often extremely affordable, which is nice if you're on a budget.

Really, what's not to love? So spread some holiday cheer and good karma when you do your gift shopping and make the holidays a little more handmade.

If you like what my hands made--this blog--consider subscribing to my feed! It's free!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

How to Shift to Solution-oriented Thinking

Everyone bitches and moans. I think it's human nature to have those days when all you want to do is whine. After all, it's easy, it makes you feel vindicated and maybe even a little self-righteous, which can be helpful when morale is really sagging. Sometimes, it makes you and your fellow sufferers laugh. Some of my favorite turns of phrase have come out of bitching sessions.

Ah, but it can be addictive. I know first hand how addictive it can be, and I've seen many of my friends and colleagues succumb to the easy pleasure of moaning about the incompetency! the cluelessness! the suckitude! of the workplace or situation.

While it takes almost no effort to bitch, it is not a harmless activity. A subtle mental shift occurs with a lot of bitching, and it gets worse the more of it you do. A feeling of victimization colonizes your mind, and you begin to see yourself as a helpless pawn in a situation out of your control. If only those people weren't so stupid! If only the boss could see your genius for what it is! If only, if only, if only.

The will, and indeed, the urgency, to act is slowly but surely extinguished, and one day you wake up and your life and opportunities have passed you by.

It can be difficult to pinpoint why people change courses after being so long on one path, but in the last year, I awoke to the fact that I controlled my fate, and that I could act. Bitching and moaning was not the only way to deal with a difficult situation. I could actually extricate myself from it!

You can do this too, and all it requires is a little attention on your part. I began to tire of hearing myself say the same things over and over again; the same words, the same phrases, the same pattern of thoughts. Here's what you need to do to break the pattern:
  1. Identify the words, phrases and thoughts of your bitch-sessions. Make note of them. Write them down or just promise to remember them. See them as triggers for zooming out and examining your thoughts.
  2. When you notice yourself in this pattern, analyze what you're saying. If you hear yourself saying that so-and-so is a clueless idiot, think of why you're wasting energy repeating something that you already know and that won't change. If so-and-so is truly a clueless idiot, no amount of your whining is ever going to change that.
  3. When you realize that what you're saying is of no use, ask yourself what you can change. In the clueless idiot example above, you can't do anything about the idiot, but you can change how you deal with it, and in several ways, too. You can either accept that the idiot will always be an idiot, therefore not wasting time thinking about it, or you can change your relationship to the idiot. You can either resolve not to invest in anything the idiot says, or you can remove yourself from said idiot by removing yourself from the situation, i.e. getting a new boyfriend or changing jobs, or the like.
  4. When you identify what you can change, do it! Figuring out that you need a new job or boyfriend does you no good unless you actually put your realizations into action. How do you do this? Start by identifying your resources.
The minute you raise your awareness and start devising solutions to the problems you're simply bitching about is the minute you empower yourself to act and develop a better life, whatever it is that you may need to achieve it.

The fact that the human mind is capable of inventing things has always fascinated me. That we are able to create that which did not exist before is a powerful ability and one to be in awe of. Recognize that you have the power of invention within you--it's not just for light bulbs and plastics--but can be used to help you find a new path that will help you overcome the obstacle currently facing you.

As the new year approaches, resolve to solve.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Give Thanks for Ritual

Well, Thanksgiving is here, and millions of people around the country are going to crowded airports, getting on congested roads and dealing with a whole lot of hassle for what is basically a big dinner. (And one that takes a heck of a lot of energy to make.) On top of that, people will be seeing family and friends, but there will be no shortage of annoyances, from the minor to the major, that is part and parcel of being around relatives on a day full of high expectations.

Sound terrible? Or is Thanksgiving your favorite holiday? Whatever your feelings, Thanksgiving is a ritual most Americans choose to reenact every year. But even if you love it, you have to admit it is a hassle. So why do we do it?

Because it's a ritual, and we need ritual. If you doubt the human need for ritual, re-read the first paragraph, or consider the time, cost and trouble it takes to plan a wedding. Consider every culture's need for funerary rites. Ritual instructs us, it gives us a safe harbor in times of transition, it provides comfort, it provides closure, it provides renewal.

Consider the very American ritual of Thanksgiving: the gathering of family in an established homestead, the preparation of traditional and time-worn family recipes, the giving of thanks for the food and the blessings of the year. It is a ritual of reflection, and one that helps to prepare us for the dormancy of winter so that this time of rest is quietly productive.

Consider the meaning of this ritual and of ritual in general in your life. What do you gain from it? What is difficult or frustrating about it? What kind of daily rituals help you to navigate your life, and what are the rituals you rely on in times of great need or great happiness?

As you give thanks this holiday, give credit to ritual, and find its place in your life. Once you acknowledge your human need for it, ritual can find a very useful place in your life's journey.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How to Identify Your Resources

I've just placed the quote below in my "Favorite Quotes" box over there in the sidebar. Read it, and take a moment to let it sink in:
"A strategy is a vision with identified resources. If you haven't identified your resources, you just have a hope that something will happen." -- Ret. Gen. Barry McCaffrey
OK, so you've read it and really mulled it over, have you? I know it's not particularly sonorous or poetic or catchy, but it is profoundly helpful. I heard McCaffrey say this at a conference I had to attend for work, and out of the fuzz of stuff that just didn't apply to me or my life, this rang out like a bell.

Perhaps you're like me, and you're a person with big dreams, a vision for what you want your life to look like, but that's as far as you get. You stop, because like me, you have no idea where to start. I have spent a tragically large portion of my life in just this paralyzed state, primarily because no one had ever told me that 1) I needed resources to execute a vision, and 2) how to go about identifying the aforementioned resources.

You need not waste any more time paralyzed, because if you have a vision or goal, you will now have a strategy for achieving it.

Here's what you need to do:
  1. Identify your vision or goal in concrete terms. Be specific. So, for example: "I want to open my own business selling widgets by the end of 2008."
  2. Identify your personality resources. You can do this in several ways. Ask people what your strengths and weaknesses are, or create a list yourself, being honest and as objective as possible. Or take a personality test like the kind I wrote about. Figure out what you have going for you and what is working against you before you invest anything or commit to a big decision. This way you can be sure to harness your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses.
  3. Identify your time resources. When do you have the most amount of time to achieve what you want? Afternoons, evenings, mornings, a lunch hour? See that time as a resource instead of just something to kill or get through.
  4. Identify your financial resources. These aren't actually as important as most people think, though it is good to know where you stand. If you have a savings cushion, that helps you feel less fear when you start your business, and if you know you don't have one, but you want one, you can start saving. If you don't have a lot of extra dough lying around, don't worry. There are plenty of ways to convince other people to give you money if your idea is good enough and you're willing to work hard.
  5. Identify your social resources. Make a list of every single person you know who could possibly, even tangentially, help you achieve your vision. Go as far back into the past as you need to, and remember that most people want to help friends or family. If you want to open up a business selling widgets, but you don't know any widget salespeople, first start with anyone you already know who sells something or owns their own business and start asking advice. Then expand your social resources through networking events and friends of friends.
  6. Identify organizational resources. When I started on my quest to become a full-time freelance writer and editor, I had no idea how many organizations, blogs, professional associations and other businesses existed to support freelancers. Seek these out and absorb all the information they have to share. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when so many have gone before, and they have made it relatively painless to learn from them.
  7. Identify educational resources. Perhaps you already have a background in business or writing or beer-making because you majored in this in college, or you worked a job that taught you skills you need in your new venture. Use this knowledge to your advantage! And if you don't have this education, find out where you can get it. There are classes in person and online on almost any conceivable topic. If there aren't, find a person doing what you want to do, and finagle a way for them to share their expertise with you.
  8. Identify role models/mentors in books or in person. As I did my research, I found that people who were very successful had published books on how to do what I wanted to do. Their books and other writings gave me models to emulate and aspire to. These real-life inspirations can do wonders for your morale and faith in yourself.
OK, so now that you've identified your resources, I'm betting you feel a little bit more confident, like your dream is actually doable! This is why you need to know what you have supporting you before you can execute, and why without identified resources, paralysis sets in.

Once you know what you've got going for you, a plan emerges from the fuzziness of the vision, and you can begin to see what steps you need to take.

As we approach the end of the year and the come upon the dreaded Time of Resolutions, begin by identifying your resources first, and then set your resolutions. With a strategy in place, they may actually get done!

Do you find this blog to be one of your resources? If so, please subscribe!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Save Time and Money with Amazon Prime

That headline just sounded like an advertisement, didn't it? I promise you it's not, though if Amazon wants to pay me, they're more than welcome to.

As I've written before, one of the ways you can help yourself in finding your bliss is to reduce your expenses so that you're no longer forced into work you don't like just to keep up your lifestyle. In my household, that means that we don't have cable, but we enjoy Netflix. We also cook more often than we go out.

With the holiday shopping season bearing down upon us, it seems like now is the time to recommend time and money savers that can keep you sane and keep your wallet (mostly) full. My husband and I have found that one of the ways to do this is through Amazon Prime. What is it, you ask?

Basically, you pay $79 a year for free two-day shipping of pretty much anything Amazon sells directly. Yes, I'm advocating you spend $80 a year to save money.

If you're like us and you buy a lot of books, CDs, DVDs and other small items for Christmas, the fact that you can order as much and as often as you like and not worry about racking up hundreds of dollars in shipping fees is a blessing. Even more of a blessing is that I don't have to go to the mall or bookstore to procure gifts for my lovely friends and family. Time saved right there. It's also great for last-minute stuff, because hey, it comes in two days! So if you forget something, or you don't want to wait a whole week, this takes care of that too.

Another perk is that up to four people can use the same Prime account, so if you have a lot of family members who need books or music throughout the year, this cuts down on costs as well. Add to that the fact that Amazon is consistently cheaper than most stores and you don't have to use any gas and you're saving money there, too.

Of course, there are times where used books will work fine--for this I like you don't need to own the book and can use the library, but for gifts and hard-to-find books and music, Amazon truly is a godsend.

Just as I discovered with Google Reader, there are some things the internet brings us that we've never had before. I am a big believer in finding ways to streamline the time and money you spend procuring information or the items we use on a daily basis, and I think it's worth sharing the experience if it can help others.

Are you already an Amazon acolyte? Or does the thought of ordering your books, music and other gifts online fill you with dread? Let us know in the comments what your favorite time or money saver is for shopping, and as we get closer to Christmas, I'll post the standouts.

Like this? Is it useful to you? Good! Subscribe to my feed.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Find Your Strengths, Understand Your Weaknesses

We all know intuitively that people have different personalities. Some people are extremely social, while others like spending long periods of time alone. Some people seem like counselors, so good are they at listening to their friends' travails, while others talk incessantly about themselves with no curiosity as to how someone else might be feeling.

One of the ways you can find the kind of work you are meant for is by figuring out what your personality type is through an objective measure. I did this recently using an internet test based on the Myers-Briggs typing system, and while it was a free online test and not guaranteed to be accurate, I have to say I was fairly impressed with how closely it matched my own strengths and weaknesses.

For example, I am an introvert, which means I draw energy from being alone, whereas an extrovert draws energy from being around people. No wonder, then, why being a writer appeals to me, and why the mere thought of being a salesperson tires me out.

If you're totally unsure of what you need to be doing, taking a test like this can help you at least figure out what you definitely are NOT cut out for, or what you should give serious consideration before diving in.

You say you already know your personality? Possibly, but do you know what your weaknesses are? I already knew I preferred being alone to large social gatherings, but I had never really noticed my predilection for perceiving criticism where none was intended. This is all helpful stuff to be aware of.

After you get your type, visit this page for a more detailed explanation of each type, and see what you learn about your nature. Now, there are criticisms of the typing, and people are too nuanced to be easily categorized, but even if this helps you see general trends in your personality, trends that make certain careers or occupations suddenly seem more or less appealing, then I think it's worth giving it a try.

I'm an INFP. What're you? Tell us in the comments.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Feel Rich Without Money

Ok, maybe not without any money, but without the tons of money most people imagine they need to be rich. I have nothing against money, and I certainly want to earn a comfortable amount, but as I've said before, you have to want to earn money with some kind of goal in mind, and not just for the sake of earning money.

I've been thinking about this a lot--how much is enough? And while other bloggers have tackled this question recently (like Leo at Zen Habits), I am interested in finding out how I felt so rich as a kid when I know now how little money we had. How was it that it felt like more than enough, when by most people's standards, it was far less?

I was talking to my mom about this the other day, and while I remember the occasional times my parents said that we couldn't buy something, I never remember them making a big deal out of it. It was never the end of the world. And so I guess it wasn't the end of my world, either. I told my mom the other day that despite some tight times, I never, ever felt deprived. In fact, I remember my childhood with great color, texture and richness.

I do think that some of that had to do with how much unconditional love I felt from my parents as a child, but I also recall taking joy in the smallest things. Going to the lake to feed bread crumbs to the ducks, or reading a favorite book in a tent pitched in the backyard. Or the handmade swings my mom painted for me and my brother that hung for years under the old live oak tree.

Now that I'm an adult, I want to make sure that I stay on the path of feeling rich without a ton of money. What were those ingredients? Here are some ideas:
  • Family and friends come first. This may seem obvious, but it really makes a difference. Feeling as though you are giving time, attention and affection to your friends and family and receiving it in return is the surest path toward a feeling of true wealth.
  • Being allowed to find what you love and then having time to do it. Fortunately for my parents, I was never much interested in dance or sports, but instead found the relatively cheap activity of reading my greatest pleasure. (Although at the rate I blasted through those books, we went to the library instead of the store.) I loved that my parents accepted that that was my interest and didn't try to push me into something they wanted to see me doing, like I think so many kids today are. I found what I loved, and I was accepted for it. Today, I think that means you need to find friends and loved ones who support you for who you are and what you're interested in. If you're acting to impress someone else, you'll always feel like something is missing.
  • Finding wonder in the daily world. This one seems hard for so many people, and I wonder why that is. I am constantly amazed that the world is the way it is, that my dog seems to be able to understand English words, that that paint color matcher at Home Depot is so accurate! There are marvels all around, and it's important to appreciate what an amazing thing the world really is.
  • Being thankful for everything you do have. You know, the Christmas ads have started the earliest they ever have, and I for one am indignant about the attempt to storm right through Thanksgiving. Christmas lost its magic for me about the time I became an income-earning adult and realized what a mad consumer push it is. Thanksgiving is the holiday that now has the most spiritual resonance for me, as it is the time where I reflect on how lucky, fortunate and blessed I am to have good health, good friends and a loving family (and dog!) Even if everything else is crap, if you are healthy, you have riches already beyond your imagining. We live in a time where we live longer, better and healthier than at any time in the past, and we have more opportunities to use our healthy bodies for good work and service than ever before. Even if your health is not ideal (as mine has not been this week), you can find gratitude for the capabilities you do have, and for the creative mind you've been given that can help you to maximize your abilities. When sickness strikes or a family member falls ill, do you ever give thanks for a giant TV? It's fine to have a giant TV, but it's not fine to think that it means anything more than what it is. It's just an electronic box. That's it.
I'll leave you with some more of Joseph Campbell's wisdom, from The Power of Myth:

Campbell: I came back from Europe as a student in 1929, just three weeks before the Wall Street crash, so I didn't have a job for five years. There just wasn't a job. That was a great time for me.

Moyers: A great time? The depth of the Depression? What was wonderful about it?

Campbell: I didn't feel poor, I just felt that I didn't have any money. People were so good to each other at that time.
And there you have it. If he could feel rich during the Depression, anyone can feel rich today.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

First, Be Well

I have been so sick these last few days, sick with a head cold that could fell Godzilla. I have little energy, but worse, little ability to focus or concentrate. The minute I try, some ache bothers me, or I have to blow my nose or drink some water.

This reminded me of how important your health is, and not just your physical health. Emotional, mental, and yes, physical. One of the principles of yoga is to take care of the body so that it is not in the way of your quest for enlightenment. I believe the same applies to following your bliss.

If you are distracted with poor physical health, or an emotionally abusive relationship or maybe you have been unduly angry lately and you don't know why, attend to those things first. Your foundation for following the path starts first with you, and if you are not of sound mind or body, the journey will be far more treacherous.

Just as you wouldn't attempt a marathon when suffering from pneumonia, don't forge on ahead with huge life changes without first evaluating yourself--the vessel of change--for soundness.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

When to Choose the Tangible Over the Abstract

I was reading a newsletter from the Glimmer Train literary quarterly today, and found this quote from author Melanie Thon:
The Kingdom is here, on Earth, waiting for us to step into it. Ansel Adams says: I believe in beauty—I believe in stones and water and air and soil—people and their future and their fate. If we believe in these things, then the love and patience required to evoke them for our readers becomes sacred. Art is an Affirmation of Life—not only our separate lives, but our lives within the endless body of all living things, our lives as they are connected to stones and clouds and wolves and spiders.
I love this, and here's why: Sometimes, reflection is too much. Sometimes, getting lost in thinking and ideas is unhealthy. Sometimes, you have to remember the physical world, the one you experience through your body, your senses.

After all, no matter how complex your thought processes, the experience you have of the world is mediated through the physical self.

Often beginning writers will make the mistake of writing a character who does pretty much nothing but think. This has been called the "mind on a page" problem. There's no there there, there's nothing for us to see or taste or smell or touch. And so we lose interest, and often no matter how hard we try, we lose track and grow confused about what's happening. One of the best pieces of advice I've gotten from my favorite writing teachers is to ground the action in the physical world, in tangible detail. Don't tell us that our hero is nervous, show us the nickel in his hand that he's obsessively turning over.

When you're feeling overwhelmed with mental activity, when you can't make sense of the tangled thoughts in your head, seek out the details. Focus on that. Stroke the velvety ears of your dog. Look closely at the wood grain of your dining table. Smell the aroma of a just opened jar of peanut butter. Remind yourself that this is the world, this is life. When you can identify yourself as a physical entity in the same way as a package of pasta and the wasps nesting under the eaves of your house, you slow down and take note of things in a way that is often lost.

Connect to the stones and the clouds and the wolves and the spiders, and you will connect with the self that is here on earth, now, already in the Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ask Gimme Bliss: When to make the leap?

Today's post will be in response to reader Erzsebet's question:
It seems to me that renunciation is an integral and necessary part of following your bliss. I don’t think that everyone has to “go into the woods” in a literal sense, but there has to be some giving up of old ways in order to get to the new. My question is: how do you know how much to leave behind? For example, I really enjoy my job, but it’s not in alignment with my gifts. My husband and I have been discussing our mid-term plans (5-10 yrs) and making financial preparations in expectation that I will take up my avocation full time (or much closer to full time). This has the interesting effect of changing my perspective on my current job. Now it’s not “just work”, but the foundation for a future more in alignment with my bliss. In short, not only do I like my job, I also value it… which makes me question the idea of giving it up all together. The conflict is that I believe that to not follow my bliss cheats not only myself, but also anyone who might benefit from my words. All of which leads me back to my question: How do you know when to say “when”?

I'll start by saying that you're very perceptive to realize that yes, there is always some renunciation, some sacrifice required in order to gain something else. It's kind of like the mystical version of the principle of energy conservation--you simply can't add or subtract in one area without affecting another. Campbell writes about this being the case in every culture's mythic system; to experience a rebirth, there must be a death. Mostly it is a symbolic one, but there is a loss.

So it's good to realize that, because then you can truly evaluate the value of what you will be giving up and what you may be gaining, since you know it will happen. That's an important first step. You know what the stakes are.

Now, you say you enjoy your work and you value it. If this is the case, you are in a good place. This means any decision you make, whether it's to stay or leave, won't be done out of a sense of needing to flee or escape, but instead from a place of exploration, of needing to move forward and experience growth. What's never a good idea is to jump looking back. You must always leap looking forward.

So the question is, what do you see ahead of you when you contemplate these two paths? Good work at a good job that contributes to the world in some way is a very honorable thing. Check in with yourself to see if you may already be utilizing some of your gifts there. If so, in what way can they combine with the gifts you feel are not being utilized? Is there any harmony between the two? Sometimes what you leave behind is a way of doing things, so that it's a new step, yes, but an evolution as opposed to a spontaneous generation. That's something to think about.

You asked when to say when. If you're looking forward and not back, I think you'll know. You'll know when you can see the kind of landing you've prepared for yourself. In other words, do as much preparatory work as you can, and as you do this, you'll know when you're ready, especially if you're able to check in with yourself and stay true to the calling you hear.

If there's significant doubt, find out where that's coming from. Something I'm realizing is that human nature has a tendency to want to concretize things. My bliss is X. My gifts are Y. It's important to stay open to changes in your bliss. You may want to be a writer at one stage of your life, and a yoga instructor in another. Maybe it's because your bliss is primarily about cultivating spirituality or healing.

There are many paths to your bliss, so be aware of the trap that tells you "I can name my bliss and point to it." Just as God is really that which cannot be named, putting a label on your bliss removes the nondualistic, transcendent element that attracted you to it in the first place. Stay open to finding the experience of bliss rather than attaining your bliss. The minute you think you're holding something in your hand is the minute it turns to dust.

I hope this has been helpful! Good luck as you make your decisions, and keep us posted. And the rest of you, feel free to ask your questions!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ask Gimme Bliss!

One of the reasons I started this blog is because I've spent an awful lot of time reading about bliss, thinking about how to follow mine, and also asking people I know to think about what their bliss might be.

I definitely feel one of my purposes in life is to guide people toward reflection so that they may discover their own path. I even had my freshman English students do a writing assignment on what Joseph Campbell's "follow your bliss" statement meant to them.

To that end, I'd love to hear your questions or thoughts on what you'd like to know more about. I'm curious about what you're interested in, and what you feel like you need explained more clearly or thoroughly.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you. In the meantime, thank you for being patient with my somewhat erratic posting schedule. I promise it will return to normal in a short while.

Now, ask away!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Why You Should Cultivate Patience

You know what they always say about things happening when you least expect it? 1) Why does it work that way? It's hardly ideal. 2) There must be something to that whole getting out of your own way thing.

As you may have gathered, I've been working on getting closer to the professional life I should be living, but had been running up against wall after wall.

But, slow and steady, I've been persevering, trying to keep forward momentum. One step at a time. Bird by bird. Then, when I least expected it, I got some very good news. I'll remain purposely vague for now, since there is some reason to be circumspect, but I will say this: I am now a little bit closer to living the life I am meant for since the last time you heard from me.

Good for you, I can hear you saying. But what about me? When will it be my turn? All I know is that the more you can keep hope alive, keep faith that so long as you are engaging your gifts and staying focused on your goals, it will happen. You won't expect it. That just seems to be the nature of the way it works.

I wonder if this is some kind of cosmic lesson about patience and surprise. They seem to be two sides of the same coin--endless waiting and then the suddenness of creation, of something coming into being from nothing. I suppose this is kind of the point of Genesis (no, not that Genesis), and other creation myths.

It's a fascinating, frustrating, fickle mystery, that's for sure. But since that seems to be the way of things, I may as well embrace it. You may as well embrace it too. Keep moving forward, keep climbing the brick wall. You won't know when you'll succeed, but as sure as we are beings from nothingness, you will succeed.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bliss Follower: Lyle Lovett

This photo is from today's Austin American-Statesman, credit to Michael Wilson. I think it's important to find people living their purpose right now, doing what they're meant to do. I think it's important to identify them as role models.

I suppose most artists able to make a living are following their bliss, but it was the way Lovett put it in this interview, the way he described his life and his passion, that so arrested me. I'll share a portion of his interview with the Statesman's Brad Bucholz below:

Lovett: You hear people talk about (how) their work really isn't their life, (how) they're able to leave their work behind at the office and have a life separate from their work. But if you have to segment your life in that way to deal with the different components... (a long, measured pause) I can understand it; there's nothing wrong with it. But in my case, when you spend 8 to 12 hours a day doing something you like, you don't punch out. And you never want to.

Statesman: Sounds a little bit like the Joseph Campbell axiom of "follow your bliss." Rather than pursuing a career, or undertaking a profession, you say, "I want to invest my days in something that has meaning to me, and have work and life intersect as one."

Lovett: The thing I've gotten from this is, "Everything you do is important." Every day you spend is kind of it. When you're younger, you look forward in a way that keeps you from being fully able to appreciate the moment in the time you're in. I got my record deal when I was 26. My first record came out when I was 28. (And I remember thinking), at the time, "Maybe this record will lead to..." or "If we do well with this, then..." But as you get older, you're more able to appreciate each thing you do as a unique experience -- which enables you to mroe fully explore, and enjoy, what's happening right now."

One of the things I've always wondered about is the desire to retire. When I'm writing, and things are going really well, I don't want to ever give it up. I can't imagine ever stopping. What the heck would I do with myself? If I stopped wanting to write, that would mean I was dead. So Lovett's words about never wanting to punch out really hit it on the head.

Find that feeling--that flow, that satisfaction--and keep making your way toward the life you know you should be living. That life awaits you--don't keep it waiting.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Get a Teacher

I'm posting this picture just 'cause I like it. It makes me feel peaceful. The shimmer of sun, the leaves glowing yellow, the cool shadow of the ravine. Ahh.

Today I'd like you to consider finding a teacher. It could be an actual teacher--someone who has a class in your area of interest that you sign up for--or it could be a person who has wisdom to share. A relative, a coworker, a luminary in your field of interest. Or it could be the author of a book. Find at least one person who you can learn something from, and then be a student. Listen. Take notes. Digest what the person is telling you. (And think of it as digestion--allowing, over time, what you take in to become part of you, to become integral.)

I'll leave you with some insight from one of my teachers, Joseph Campbell:

Moyers: I like what you say about the old mysth of Theseus and Ariadne. Theseus says to Ariadne, "I'll love you forever if you can show me a way to come out of the labyrinth." So she gives him a ball of string, which he unwinds as he goes into the labyrinth, and then follows to find the way out. You say, "All he had was the string. That's all you need."

Campbell: That's all you need--an Ariadne thread.

Moyers: Sometimes we look for great wealth to save us, a great power to save us, or great ideas to save us, when all we need is that piece of string.

Campbell: That's not always easy to find. But it's nice to have someone who can give you a clue. That's the teacher's job, to help you find your Ariadne thread.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

It's All Up to You

Have you ever known someone who talked for a long time about doing something--losing weight, quitting smoking, buying a house--but it never seemed to be the right time, or it just didn't happen? And then, quite quickly, it did?

Did their circumstances change significantly? Did they win the lottery, or get new friends? Usually not. What did change was their mindset, and their determination to achieve a goal.

Sometimes this happens due to outside factors--when my father had heart surgery, he did not need to be told again to quit smoking. Based on what had happened to him, he had, after decades of unsuccessfully trying to quit, given up cigarettes in a few weeks with the help of a nicotine patch. Now, nearly 20 years later, he still hasn't picked up a cigarette.

Sometimes it's due to an internal shift. I recognized while I was in college that I was really unfit. Not heavy, but I couldn't run around the block without getting winded. One day I laced up the ancient, mostly unworn tennis shoes that had been lurking in my closet, and went for a run. It hurt like hell, but I did it again the next day, but for a tiny bit longer. And so on. Two years after graduation, I ran 26.2 miles in a marathon. I had just decided to be fit, cobbling together steps to make it happen. (What's great is that you often don't know what you're doing, but so long as you're doing something, it works anyway!)

When it comes down to it, in order to succeed at something, especially something difficult, you have to make up your mind that you will do it. While this takes a leap of faith, what I find is actually more important is a leap to responsibility. A recognition that absolutely no one else can stop smoking for you. An awareness that your efforts will fail or succeed depending on you--there's no one to blame. Excuses are an extremely easy way to let yourself off the hook, but ultimately that leads to failure.

It's too cold outside for me to run. I'm addicted to smoking and can't stop. It's too late for me to get anything done anyway. I can't afford to switch careers.

If not achieving your goals doesn't really bother you, than these excuses are no big deal. When they stand in the way of you fulfilling a higher purpose that you feel called to do, then they're a problem.

The good news is that they can be overcome. The bad news is that it may take time. Sometimes, you need to lay groundwork before your mind is ready for the kind of responsibility that jettisoning those excuses will bring. In my dad's case, he needed to land in the hospital with chest pain.

I believe you can speed up the process, though, by getting more reflective, which I've written about before. When you start to examine your own thoughts, impulses, dreams, excuses, you can analyze how to reinforce what's working for you and what's not.

Always making excuses about not enough time to exercise? Is it because you feel like you don't deserve to spend that time on yourself? Could you do something for five minutes, and go from there?

One of my writing friends once said that she felt like she needed to write, and that she hoped her husband understood. "Ultimately," she said, "we all die alone." She had kind of a blunt way of putting things, but I see where she was going. No one can do your deathbed accounting for you--when you get there, you and you alone must confront the kind of life you led.

What I wish for all of us is that the accounting is not a tally of excuses, but the sum of a life fully lived.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Teach What You Want to Learn

To paraphrase the wonderful writer Anne Lamott, today is one of those days where I feel like the latch on the door is barely holding, when the snarling dogs are threatening to get out.

In other words, today I am working hard to hold on to hope. Hope that I'll achieve my goals, hope that the bad guys don't win, hope that the struggle will be worthwhile.

So today I'm going to try to help you find and hold on to hope. While this may seem backwards--Eeyore trying to cheer Tigger up--I've found that sometimes it helps to teach what you want to learn.

Sometimes this happens accidentally, as when I had to teach Rhetoric 102 to college freshman, despite never having even taken rhetoric. But I learned enough to teach each class, and found that as I went along, I learned rhetorical analysis by teaching it. Of course, sometimes, you seek to understand something--the meaning of a poem, the process for using a piece of software--and so you talk to other people about it, and by trying to explain it, find that you're finally understanding it.

So back to hope. What are you supposed to do when you're not feeling particularly hopeful? When you feel like the clouds keep threatening?

Here are some ideas on how to maintain optimism:
  • Laugh at yourself. My husband has this great way of reminding me not to take things too seriously. Whenever I'm feeling angst-ridden or blue or upset, he tells me to stick my fingers in my ears, touch my elbows together, stick out my tongue and cross my eyes. If I go through with it, I instantly feel better.
  • Recognize that your mood is not permanent. Sometimes it can feel like you'll feel this way forever--blue and cloudy and sad. But you have felt happy and positive before, and you will again. Remember--this too shall pass. All you have to do is get through this low spot.
  • Think of one small thing that will help you keep hope alive. Now is the time when it's most crucial not to try to take on the world--it's much too overwhelming. So think of something small you can do to achieve a goal. Maybe I'll read a chapter out of a helpful career advice book, or send one e-mail to someone who can help you achieve your goal. Think atom small, because this you can do. Action is one of the surest ways to combat negative rumination.
  • Turn to art. Allow the large, powerful emotions of someone else influence you. Read a stirring poem, listen to your favorite power anthem, look at the beauty of a painting or watch an inspiring movie. Open yourself to art's transformative power.
  • Get some exercise. Fresh air and a thrumming pulse never fail to banish at least some of the cobwebs and inspire feelings of self-determination and capability.
  • Play. Goof around. Do you have silly putty? Make a silly putty animal. Do you have pen and paper? Doodle some nonsensical shapes until something takes form. Do you have a dog or a child? Play hide and seek and enjoy the simplicity of a game.
  • Do something nice for someone. This can be as simple as giving your spouse a neck rub or as large as driving donations down to the Goodwill. Serve someone else and that will help you return to feelings of hope.
  • Visualize your goal. Get yourself back into the mindset that you were so excited about to begin with. Once it becomes clear again, you will see the path you need to take to get there.
Okay, I really am feeling better already. Teaching what you want to learn can work. It takes strength to teach, but it gives strength. Whatever you do, don't give up because of something as transient as a mood. You do have power over your own life--not absolute power--but you can shape so much.

After all, talent is nothing without perseverance.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Let Nature Nurture You

I took this photo of a geological formation known as 'The Flume' this September at Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire.

It was a beautiful, serene, sublime place, and one that I feel blessed to have seen. I suppose one could look at it as simply a bunch of rocks, interesting maybe, but nothing worth writing home about. I know people who would certainly take this view.

But I disagree. We drove nearly two hours to see these rocks. When we looked at the guestbook in the information center, it had been signed by people from Michigan, California, Japan, Germany. People from Germany did not come to New Hampshire just to see a bunch of rocks.

People come to places like this seeking an experience. I suppose for each person it might be different, but for me, I'm certainly seeking the sublime, the transcendent, a place where the ego dissolves and there is only spirit and awareness and feeling.

The fact that this rock formation in central New Hampshire holds sway over people shows me that it is in our nature to seek and embrace beauty, and especially the beauty of the natural world. We clearly crave it, and it clearly nurtures us, or we'd never bother.

My friend, who taught in Japan for a year, commented that had this formation been in Japan, the path we were on would have led to a temple. At the time, I joked that once at the top, we'd probably find someone selling ice cream or t-shirts: "See the Flume--It's Gorge-ous!"

Fortunately in this case, there were no shops. No temples, either, but at least we had the opportunity to make what we wanted of it.

Find the place of natural beauty nearest to you that would have a temple if it were elsewhere. You'll know it when you see it. Spend time there occasionally. Go ahead and have an ice cream, if they sell it. But get quiet, and allow the mystery of its beauty to work on you.

How to Get Out of Your Own Way

As a teacher of creative writing, I always ask why people want to write. After all, it's not the easiest and certainly not the most lucrative pursuit. I always worry when someone answers me thusly: "To express myself." If the student is young or particularly naive about the satisfactions of writing or pursuing any artistic endeavor, I take heart. If the student is older and should know better, I worry.

Why? Because after a certain point in your life, you realize that gratifying the ego is, for the most part, a treacherous path to be on. When you pursue work, possessions and relationships as a means of making yourself feel important, something negative happens. What is that something? I've observed that things begin to fall apart--living a life for yourself just doesn't hold together. It's as though the things achieved have been gained through the wrong reasons, and so any hold is like one stuck with the wrong glue.

Now, this is not to say that you--as a unique personality with something to share--may not come through in your art, or work or relationship. But the paradox is that the only way you can truly come through is by thinking first of serving others as you pursue your goals.

When I was a young, geeky girl, hopelessly uncool and in love with books, I found that writers--and other artists, but writers especially--spoke to me in such a life-affirming, soul-saving way. I felt a boundless gratitude that someone had taken the time and made the effort to write these books that spoke to me, that taught me, that comforted me. When I first realized that I had been blessed with the ability to write, my intention in writing was to reach people who needed me, as I had needed the authors I read.

If you are not already conceiving of your bliss as something with responsibility and as a means to serve others, then you need to figure out why you want what you want. If you think you want something because it will make you happy, it will not. In fact, it may even torture you. But the brilliant, simple and amazing thing about serving others is this: When you stop worrying about your own happiness, but engage your gifts to serve, you are suddenly most likely to get on the right path and succeed at it. In a sense, you really just need to get out of your own way.

If you think of using your unique gifts as a means of vitalizing the world, of making a difference in your sphere of influence, congratulations--you're on the right track.

If, however, you think: if only I could write my novel, then I would be happy--no. Just as it is flawed to believe that getting married will make you happy, believing that achieving your goals is about making you happy will also not work.

In yoga, it is a common practice to dedicate your efforts to someone or some ideal--something beyond your own benefit and gratitfication--as a means to find extra inspiration, to draw on hidden resources. Imagine who or what you can dedicate yourself to serving with your gifts--whether it's the young nerdy girl in the library, or whether it's the folks who enjoy the sensory pleasure of a lovingly crafted beer--and you will stop serving your ego and start serving something much, much better.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Language Day: Raise the Stakes

Raise the stakes. What does that mean? In my writing class, when a story is lacking drama or conflict, it is often because the we don't know what the character has to win or lose. If we don't know what it means for him to get the job or lose the girl, then we don't know how much to care, how much to invest in the outcome of the story.

One of the ways you raise the stakes in your life is to find what is really important to you, and go after it. If you really want to own your own design business or if making a film is where your heart returns, time after time, then following that raises the stakes of your life.

Now, you may be thinking: Wait a minute, Tiffany. Isn't that where you just said drama and conflict come from? Isn't drama and conflict difficult?

Um, yes? But did I also mention how much more thrilling life is for the characters of our novel, or the characters in our lives, when they achieve a big goal--something they really want? Or when they get rid of a terrible burden? Don't we cheer at the end, transported for a moment into the glory of attainment, of atonement with what the heart desires? Don't we root for them all along their journey?

But maybe the struggle and the difficulty sound like too much. Consider these lyrics. They're from the song "Small Stakes" by the band Spoon.
Oh Yeah Small Stakes Ensure You The Minimum Blues
But You Don't Feel Taken And You Don't Feel Abused
Small Stakes Tell You That There's Nothing Can Do
Can't Think Big, Can't Think Past One Or Two
I hope you read these in the same depressing way I do. Do you really want to live the kind of life with minimum blues? That it's better to just coast on along? To protect yourself from the risk of failure or struggle?

My guess is that if you're reading this blog, the answer is no. If you keep your life small, safe, with nothing big wagered, you're still a worthy human being. But what do we have to root for? What can we truly know about you? If we don't know your largest, greatest desires for your life, how can we help you?

And we want to help you. Give us something to root for. Raise your stakes.

Monday, October 1, 2007

How to Make a Big Decision

So much of how our lives turn out hinges on our ability--or inability--to make decisions. After all, decisions are essentially the moments before action--or inaction--meaning that over time, what you choose accumulates into a path for your life.

Mostly, these are small decisions: Should I cook or go out? Should I buy the blue or the red sweater? Should I get cable?

While these decisions are small, they are worth paying attention to, because the ripple effects can be quite big. (This is why we don't have cable--the time I could waste watching the Food Network alone boggles the mind!)

So, while it's important to be mindful of some of these smaller decisions, today I'm interested in the big ones. So, for example: Should I quit my job? Should I get married? Should I get married to her? Should I start my own company? Should I move to the West Coast?

Fortunately or unfortunately, most of us are keenly aware at the impact these big decisions can have on our lives, and so we can become paralyzed by indecision, afraid to act at all for fear of making a huge mistake. For some, this may pass, and you will find that you are able to decide. For others, the decision simply gets put off: first for days, then months, then maybe even years slip by with no action taken. Inertia becomes the only thing propelling your life.

As you may have already guessed, this is not ideal. Any power you do have over your own life is going to waste.

So how to break free of this kind of paralysis? I have used very focused visualization in the past to great effect. Perhaps this will seem obvious to many of you, but I know that it seemed like a revelation to me at the time. I hope you find this technique helpful.

Here's what I do:
  1. Find a place you can lie down and be totally alone. This is likely to be your bedroom, but so long as you're lying down and no one is nearby, it will work.
  2. Lie down, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. You need to calm your mind, relax your muscles, let your breath rise and fall from your belly and not your shoulders. You need to get into a near-meditative state, really. This can take several minutes. Be patient.
  3. Once relaxed, with your eyes still closed, focus your mind on the decision. Put it in either-or terms. As in: I can either stay in Texas, or I can move to Arizona.
  4. Pick one, and begin to construct the movie of that decision in your mind. So you decide you will stay in a certain place, in a certain job, with the social network you have. What does that look like? What do you see next week looking like? Next year? Get down to the details. Who will you be seeing often? Which bars/restaurants/offices will you be spending time in? How does this make you feel? What do you like and dislike about this option? Again, imagine this to be as real and visual as possible.
  5. Pick the other decision, and create that movie. Once you feel like you have really explored both the images and the feelings of one option, switch to the other and do the same exercise over again. If, in this example, it's imagining something you aren't familiar with, recognize that. Imagine the moving van, and the drive into a place that's only sort of fuzzy. Imagine that you won't know who your friends will be, and so you'll have to talk to people on that getting-to-know-you level. Get down to all the practical ramifications of making that decision. Does that excite you, or fill you with dread?
  6. Pinpoint your emotions. Try to put into language the emotions you felt in each scene. Get up and create a list of words that apply to each visualization. Come up with as many that apply as possible.
  7. Analyze the emotions. There will likely be positive and negative emotions in each decision. But now you can figure out why you feel the way you do. For example, you may feel fear at both the prospect of staying and of leaving. But is that fear exactly the same? Is one the fear of missed opportunity, and the other the fear of loneliness and unfamiliarity? Which one scares you more? Which emotions excite you more?
  8. Meditate on what you've discovered. You likely won't have a "Eureka!" moment when you've finished this exercise, though it is possible. But having gone through the practice runs in your head, the identifying and analyzing of emotions will certainly give your subconscious something to chew on. When your mind explores a decision, you may feel a tightness in your throat, or a feeling of calm. Pay attention to that. Also pay attention to your dreams. Listen to all the signs of your body and mind in relation to each decision.
As I've said before, and I'll say again, trust your self. If you need to, repeat this exercise. But if you are able to be honest and open with yourself, you will soon find that you know what it is you need to do.

If you think of your life as a movie, be the director. Your movie should be directed by you, not by inertia. So start storyboarding--soon, you'll be ready to yell "Action!"

UPDATE: I've recently expanded on this topic in this post, titled "How to Live With a Big Decision." If you liked this one, I think you'll get a lot out of that one, too!

UPDATE 2: Another entry in the decision-making category for your perusal: "How to Make a Decision, Period." I hope you find it useful.

UPDATE 3: Another decision-related entry, this time on "The Consequences of Delaying a Big Decision."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

How to Avoid Being Crushed by the Wheel of Fortune

No, I do not speak of Pat Sajak and Vanna White's game show. Though anyone who's seen the face of someone who spins the wheel when they know the puzzle just to earn a little more cash and lands on the "Bankrupt" space has seen the dark side of betting on the wheel of fortune.

I'd like to explore another of Joseph Campbell's teachings on bliss, further refining what it means to him and to this blogger.

From the interview between Bill Moyers and Campbell:
Moyers: What happens when you follow your bliss?

Campbell: You come to bliss. In the Middle Ages, a favorite image that occurs in many, many contexts is the wheel of fortune. There's the hub of the wheel, and there is the revolving rim of the wheel. For example, if you are attached to the rim of the wheel of fortune, you will be either above going down or at the bottom coming up. But if you are at the hub, you are in the same place all the time. That is the sense of the marriage vow--I take you in health or sickness, in wealth or poverty: going up or going down. But I take you as my center, and you are my bliss, not the wealth you might bring me, not the social prestige, but you. That is following your bliss.
If you've ever heard Carl Orff's oratorio Carmina Burana (and you have), you can feel the crushing power and chaotic force of the rushing wheel. The Wikipedia entry describes it:
The selection covers a wide range of secular topics, as familiar in the 13th century as they are in the 21st century: the fickleness of fortune and wealth, the ephemeral nature of life, the joy of the return of Spring, and the pleasures and perils of drinking, gluttony, gambling and lust.

So how do you avoid being on the rim of the wheel? How do you find the place of balance, center and spiritual reward?
  1. Don't follow the money. I remember when I entered college, everyone told me to go into computer science, because that's where the money was. While it's true there's money there, I have no aptitude or interest for the subject--and would have been a miserable failure as a computer science major. Definitely no money in being a D (or worse!) computer science student. I've always been employed as a writer, because I have the aptitude and interest and passion for the subject. Do the same and you'll always be able to take care of yourself.
  2. Don't give up because it's hard. If you find what you are meant to do, you will still find that it's hard. So many brick walls exist, but as I wrote last week, they are there to remind you how badly you want something. Remaining in the center of a rolling wheel is not going to be easy, but it will keep you from the chaos of chasing a fickle, fickle fortune.
  3. Don't listen to bad advice. Learn to trust yourself, and then you can begin to figure out which advice will help you, and which is given in bad faith. People riding the rim of the wheel of fortune are often looking for companions, hoping that sheer numbers will prove they are on the right course. When they are on top of the rim, it may appear to be so. However, their moment on top is likely to be fleeting, and being able to recognize a centered person from a fortune seeker is one of the most important skills you can develop.
  4. Don't forget why you want to find and follow your bliss in the first place. Chances are, you feel like something important is missing or lacking in your life. Is that a person, a career, a spiritual need? Whatever it is that you need to take as your center, you have set out on a journey that will help you find greater peace and fulfillment. This journey will be confusing, difficult and at times you may forget why you're torturing yourself. Why can't you just be happy on the couch watching TV like normal people, dammit? Stupid brain. Stupid soul. Stupid need for purpose. It'll be worth it. I promise.
I suppose yelling "C'mon bliss!" doesn't quite have the ring of "Big money!" but once you realize that you'll never again find yourself on the black "bankrupt" space, you probably won't miss the sweaty palms and racing mind as you wait to find out what hand fate will deal you.

Sure, there will still be ups and downs, but you can weather them without getting crushed, without getting dizzy. When the wheel rolls on, you will still know who you are, where you are, and what you want.

C'mon bliss!