Telluride Daily Planet, Friday, January 4, 2019


About 1 million years ago, in the early 1960s, in French elementary school, we actually learned to write with dip pens. Plastic pens with nibs you inserted. Purple ink in glass wells. The ubiquitous blotters close at hand. Stained cuticles. And hours upon hours spent copying forms to achieve the kind of handwriting that is virtually nonexistent in the world today, unless you’re contemplating a career in calligraphy. I have written about the terrors of that single-sex 1st grade experience before, which is not my purpose today.

Today, on the verge of yet another new year, which asks us to ponder yet again how we have behaved and how we might behave better in the 365 days ahead, I am thinking about that handwriting. About the varying degrees of pressure needed on the up and downstrokes, the gauging of ink in the nib, the method of dipping correctly for the next set of letters, the time taken to complete a page, let alone a paragraph, let alone a single capital “H,” for example. Inconceivable! (And all this before being allowed to ponder original content at all.)

I am thinking about it in relationship to something posted the other day on a social media platform, the kind of platform that generally asks us to see and assimilate thousands of images, statements, familiar lives, celebrity lives, mostly bad news, fantastically enviable living, geo-targeting of products aimed specifically at us and every other conceivable assault on the emotions — a vortex that draws us further and further away from one thing, which is the reality of the here and now.

This is what I read: “For 15 seconds, let go of any expectations you have of yourself.”

Brilliant! The part of me trained as a pen-dipping, nib-filling, pressure-applying writer of script that is more about appearance than content, however, did not even comprehend the sentence at first except to note that 15 seconds was in the realm of the possible, given today’s particularly busy schedule. You had me at 15 seconds, Instagram post. Well, sort of.

Hmm, 15 seconds? I have 15 seconds. After I do the hard boiled eggs, which is after I at least put the bookkeeping on my list of things to do. Which is after getting photos for the Christmas email, which supersedes the cards that couldn’t get mailed to Europe in time, which has now become a New Year’s email even though it’s short a few images. Why didn’t I take more pictures? There’s a big and painful mystery when it’s literally on my list of things to do every year, just like figuring out how to get exercise into my life every day instead of every other day. What do I do? An app? A consequence? Geez, shaming. Really? Maybe lower that expectation? What about the 3-minute plank workout, proven to work even though it only takes 3 minutes a day. There’s metaphor in core strength, for sure. And, it’s actually easier than 1-minute mountain climbers. Would I do it consistently enough to count, though, that’s the question. Maybe that’s my whole problem — consistency. Discipline! One thing you never hear is that discipline is the hobgoblin of little minds. Just actually sticking to the plan, a realistic but heartfelt plan. A plan driven by the heart and not the head, the head, the head that just gets in the way of all the Zen-koan time. Which is why meditation, now on my list for 35 years, would help. Ugh. That again. Take a conscious breath and engage the vagus nerve. Maybe you have been meditating somehow, some way. In the microseconds, for instance, that you stand and look at birds at the feeder every day, the tiny perfect wings glinting in the sun. You are staring, mesmerized and blank. Maybe you could do that, that sort of thing for 15 seconds every day, pondering without pondering the hermetically sealed beauty of bird world.

From some deep welling place in my heart and with birds in my consciousness, I take what is mine, just as you can take what is yours and we can take what is all of ours to make the world a better place, one present moment at a time. I take 15 seconds to let go of any expectations I have of myself and others. To free myself … into the present moment.

I see the words writing themselves in super slo-mo, the ink fluid, indelible, and in the inscrutable purple script of a 7-year-old striving so hard — without knowing it — to make those words come alive.

Gratitude meditation

Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, October 26, 2014

“In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.

“Furthermore, feelings of gratitude directly activated brain regions associated with the neurotransmitter dopamine.” Psychology Today

Rubbing your eyes as the light enters your bedroom, pushing down on that soft eyelid skin with your index finger, it occurs to you how lucky you are just to have eyelids in the first place. Imagine life without them. [No, don’t!] Is there a poem about eyelids, because they deserve it, they do. Be grateful for them. Breathe in. Breathe in through your eyelids, then through your eyes.

An eyelash has irksomely lodged itself in your left eye, and as you pull the lid down to try to get it out, lying there staring at the ceiling with your one good eye, you notice something — and that is that this bedroom ceiling of yours doesn’t have that cottage cheese texture, the ugly blow-on stuff you hate. [Don’t like, rather.] [Bonus gratitude points for not being a hater.] It’s a smooth ceiling. Hallelujah!

Breathe out, feeling the joy of not having something in your life you don’t like. For that, my friend, is gratitude, as well. You are not in a war-torn country. You are not in a straightjacket. You are not wrongfully imprisoned and in a jail cell for the rest of your brain-frying days. In fact, you are not in a place that is not one of the most beautiful places on earth! Thank you. And thank you, double negatives, for yet another miracle of language. Two minuses equal a plus. Thank you, some form of mathematics or philosophy or whatever that is.

Speaking of cottage cheese, what a deliciously old-fashioned treat. And, yes, in this life, you’ve been gifted a substantial amount of cheese, not just cottage, but some very, very high quality and tasty and esteemed cheese, indeed, some of it shared on picnics in lovely places such as rugged mountain bluffs with golden leaves cascading down like coins.

It’s easy to be grateful for cheese, if you’re a cheese lover. Breathe in and smell the cheese, breathe out and unsmell it as you focus on the falling leaves, right outside your window, leaves with yellows so yellow they cling to your ribcage and warm your heart. Goodness, let’s have some gratitude for the mind’s eye, fashioning all these metaphors into a heartwarming vest. [Is there a mind’s eyelid?]

Breathe in what you remember autumn smells like, that leafy, deciduous, crisp, dank, rotting, earthen, and heady smell that makes you sigh in delicious tenderness. Should there be more gratitude for a) the nose or b) the smell itself? Thank you, notions that are hard to parse, because they make your brain feel stretchy, a stretchiness that indicates new neural pathways. [And thank you, power of the imagination, not just for the mind’s eye but the mind’s nose when we actually smell what we are thinking we smell.]

Breathe in hard, with your eyes wide open, breathe out making a little “Oh” mouth, because Oh! (with eyes wide open) is a syllable of delight and gratitude. And it makes you smile — eventually. Thank you, 26 muscles that make you smile and the mystery of why extending your mouth into an upward arc makes you feel good even when you don’t feel much like doing it. Thank you bad moments that contrast and then morph into good — eventually. Would there be light without dark? Rainbows without rain? Sometimes it’s darkest just before a smile.

Thanks, aphorisms, now known as affirmations. Thank you, clever people who formulate pithy one-liners that spark us out of victimhood and sadness and helplessness and frustration and misery and being stagnant.

Here we are, at the core of this meditation.  Breathe in and out about two hundred times, simply acknowledging the breath, which, in a nutshell, is human life itself.

Eventually, you hear the teakettle, and seriously, at this point, you feel that the steam itself should be thanked. Why not? Water making a variety of sounds — from whistling, to gushing over rocks, to crashing onto sand, to landing hard on the earth in sheets of rain, to the gurgling of a tiny desk fountain — is brilliant. So, gracias, copper kettle, for your urgent call, and for the coffee that is about to be made by someone else.

And are you ready to say thank you, when the coffee arrives? You bet your sweet dopamine receptors you are.