Enough

Enough. It’s a funny word, especially the more you say it or write it. After working on this post for a while, I’m tempted to just spell it the way it sounds: enuff. But that’s the English language for you—definitely not WYSIWIG. Anyway, funky spelling aside, let’s ponder this word enough.

Perhaps your first thought is of how you use it with your kids—accompanied by an exclamation point and a slightly higher pitched, stress-full voice. What do you mean when you say it? You’re fed up, right? Because little Sally and somewhat less little Joey have been chasing each other around the house, screaming at the top of their lungs. Thirty seconds of it, and you smiled, quietly amused. One minute of it, and you sighed, shaking your head. Two full minutes of it, and you felt your muscles tighten, your chest constrict, and you let loose with one forceful word: Enough!

Their antics have disturbed your concentration as you were trying to work, or perhaps they interrupted what was “supposed to be” your quiet time. (We can talk further about supposed to be another time—definitely a topic worth pursuing.) So you may associate the word enough with feelings of frustration. Totally understandable. However, I’d like to discuss enough from another perspective.

What happens when you’re working on something? Let’s say you’re weeding your flower beds or painting the house or creating a presentation for your boss. You work diligently for a time, and then at some point, you think or say, “That’s good enough.” What do you do then? You stop. You’re done. You’re satisfied to accept it as is and move on.

There’s a sense of peace with enough—when you commit to it, when there are no perfectionist after-murmurings of “but I really should touch up around the windows again” or “just one more revision.” When you believe it’s enough, you’re calm. You feel free and easy—about whatever you apply it to. So what would happen if you applied the concept of enough to yourself, to whatever is important to you? What would happen if you said these things—and meant them?

I’m good enough.
I’m pretty enough.
I’m thin enough.
I’m rich enough.
I’m strong enough.
I’m secure enough.
I’m smart enough.
I’m happy enough.

No longer are you struggling to make something different than it is right now—because everything is sufficient as is for this particular moment. If you can stop the struggle in your mind regarding what is true right now (and you can), then you can approach your relationships, your job, everything in your life from a place of peace and clarity.

For example, if you believe it would be healthy for you to lose a few pounds, then you can go about making changes that will help you do that. But no longer are you beating yourself up for not already being thinner at this moment. Because at this moment, you are thin enough to survive and take the next step.

You have the ability to make changes in your life, every minute of every day. At the same time, every minute of every day, you are enough.

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Whatever you look for, you’ll find

Yoga has been, and continues to be, my teacher in many ways. One of the core tenets I’ve taken from yoga is the idea that everything, everyone, is connected. This idea that we’re all one community—and you can translate that to your family, your neighbors, the people driving next to you on the highway, the people across the globe—is a powerful concept, one that can have a significant impact on how you perceive and interact with those around you.

So how do you act within your community? When you look at the people around you, are you looking for differences, or are you looking for similarities? If you look for differences, you’ll find them. (Thus the separation begins and perhaps the criticism and resentments.) If you’re looking for similarities, you’ll find those too—perhaps many more than you would have imagined. After all, each one of us is a human being, and we struggle with similar challenges, both external and internal. Seeing the similarities, or at least realizing that they’re there, helps us connect to one another and understand one another better.

Last night, I went to a concert because of a song that communicates that very idea. A few years ago, I saw Ronnie Dunn sing the beautiful story “Believe” on television, and I was struck by the raw honesty and emotion that he is able to communicate with his flawless voice. A little earlier this year, I saw him perform the new song “Bleed Red” on the Country Music Awards, his first appearance as a solo artist after leaving the hugely successful duo Brooks & Dunn. Again, I found his singing brought tears to my eyes. And so when I saw that he was going to be at Pier Six in Baltimore, I jumped on the chance to see him live. Although he did not sing the song that prompted me to go, he certainly did not disappoint: his performance was impeccable. He definitely fits my concert-going requirement of “sounds even better live than on the recording.”

Even if you don’t usually like country music, I ask that you listen to the words of this song, as I think it offers all of us a good reminder to look for the similarities, rather than always focusing on the differences.

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Just live

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of my brother Eric’s death. With that in mind, I am sharing the following piece, which I wrote in August 2003 for graduate school. (Since then, I have made only minor adjustments.) If death scares you, there’s no need to shy away from reading on. This piece is not about my brother’s death; instead, it is celebrating his life. I hope you get something out of it.

My brother’s life wasn’t fair. He was unable to enjoy many of the experiences that most of us take for granted. But instead of complaining about what he couldn’t do, he treasured what he had.

I started thinking about this recently after a conversation with a close friend. We were talking about my older brother Eric, who died in 1988 at the age of 21. As I said the words, “He always seemed happy,” it struck me: What in the world did he have to be happy about?

Eric had looked like a healthy, broad-shouldered man at 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, with a thick mass of dark curly hair, deep brown eyes, and a generous smile. Nothing looked wrong. But something was—dreadfully wrong. Eric had epilepsy.

Most of the time, Eric’s body functioned perfectly, except for little spells that occurred, sometimes once every few days, sometimes once every few minutes. During these “absence” seizures, Eric would go blank and lose awareness of his surroundings for a few seconds. Usually, nothing drastic happened. He might tip his breakfast spoon and get milk and Cheerios on the kitchen table—nothing a dishcloth couldn’t handle. Our family quickly learned how to stop a conversation in mid-sentence, to pick it up again when he was “back.”

And so the everyday routine continued—until a real seizure hit. A “grand mal” seizure. Actors try to recreate these on television: stiffened body parts jerking uncontrollably, mouth foaming; inevitably, someone tries to stick a spoon in the person’s mouth. The portrayals are pretty accurate, as far as they go. Sometimes my brother also lost control of his bladder. And he usually slept for seven or eight hours afterward, exhausted.

The seizures always hit without warning. To try to control them, the doctors started Eric on medication when he was just nine months old. Back then, it was one tablet, which my mother had to hide in his food to keep him from spitting it out. By the time I was old enough to be aware of the situation, Eric was taking as many as 12 pills a day. That number is according to my mother: all I remember is him popping a handful of multicolored capsules. But Eric was one of those epileptics whose seizures weren’t controlled by the drugs. Usually a grand mal seizure hit every one to two weeks; sometimes, two in one week.

As Eric’s younger sister by six years, I was usually at home with him. On edge, I listened for the crash of a fall… waiting for a seizure to hit, so I could try to jump to the rescue. Any situation was potentially dangerous, but especially those where he was operating machinery or holding something sharp, like a kitchen knife. Even when he sang in the high school chorus, I was all nerves. There he was, standing on the top riser. All he had to do was have a spell and lose his balance. But he just kept singing.

The medications had side effects. One drug made his gums swell around his teeth, so that he had to have his gums trimmed. The drugs also made him drowsy, so even though he was intelligent, he struggled with school. He did, however, manage to graduate, and he celebrated along with the rest of his class.

After graduation, Eric got a job at the local auction house, where he brought the items out for display and carried them to the highest bidders. That job didn’t last long though, after a couple of seizures and broken items. So Eric went to the Carroll County Association for Retarded Citizens (now The Arc of Carroll County), where he did menial assembly-line work, like counting 10 washers to a bag. As a 12-year-old, I found this insulting. My brother wasn’t retarded, and yet he was spending his days with people in wheelchairs who couldn’t feed themselves, people who couldn’t even talk right. It wasn’t fair! But Eric loved it. He made new friends, and he made a little money.

The association eventually found a job for Eric. And what a job it was! He worked in the kitchen at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel), washing dishes for two years. I despised riding along with my mother to pick him up after work: he reeked of the kitchen’s greasy smoke and garbage. But he didn’t complain about the smell or about the skin peeling from his hands because of the hot water and sanitizers. He was making his own money, out of the house for several hours at a time.

What did Eric have to be happy about? He didn’t own much or have a career, but he had a high school ring and a job. He couldn’t get his driver’s license, but he loved riding the lawn mower around our yard. He never had a real girlfriend, but he had a family and a church congregation who loved him.

Although epilepsy finally caused my brother’s death, it never claimed his life. While I was so angry about how unfair it was, my brother just lived. And he seemed to enjoy every minute of it.

As an update, I’d like to add that several years after I wrote this, my family found a short letter my brother had written to God, asking God to take away his epilepsy, should that be acceptable in God’s big plan. So my brother did indeed struggle with the circumstances he was given. But I don’t remember seeing that frustration very often at all. He seemed to understand that life wasn’t always fair, and he made the most of his life. And I think that’s a lesson we can all put into action.

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Being alert at the helm

Like the ocean, life never stops or even slows down; it just keeps moving. And when we’re not paying attention, life has a way of carrying us along, like an ocean carries a ship with a captain frozen at the wheel. Some days may be smooth sailing; but inevitably, storms will arise with life’s attempts to teach us the lessons that we need to learn. If we’re not staying alert and aware of our life’s big picture, we’re betting on luck to keep us safe. And, to me, that doesn’t seem a safe bet.

Until we shake ourselves out of our stupor and try to steer our ship, life will continue to have its way with us and throw us about. And as long as we remain paralyzed by our fear of being tossed on the waves and remain unaware of the lessons and opportunities that are right there in front of us—to help us—we will be victim to the storm, likely to repeat the same mistakes, to go down difficult routes that can look astonishingly similar to those we’ve traveled before.

Sometimes we get angry and blame external factors in our lives for causing us unhappiness and pain. After all, it’s not our fault if a big storm comes up, right? But here’s the thing: no one said life would be easy; no one said it would be fair. Blaming someone or something else never makes anything better. As Clint Eastwood’s character said in Unforgiven, when the other character said he didn’t deserve what he was about to get (a fatal bullet), “Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.” But somewhere along the way, we started to expect life to give us what we think we deserve. We began to expect only days full of sunshine and smooth sailing. That’s what really causes us unhappiness and discontent: the fact that things don’t go the way we think they should.

Well, life goes as it does; there’s no “should” about it. Getting swallowed up in our discontent or our fear prevents us from seeing what we may be able to learn from our experiences. It keeps us from being able to react quickly and intelligently, to be able to navigate those storms. As writer Ellen Glasgow said, “What happens is not as important as how you react to what happens.” And as I said in my post about starting over, we always have a choice… a choice in how we respond to a situation, in what we make our next step. That, my friends, is power. We all have an amazing power in determining our own life’s journey.

Of course, sometimes even when we are paying close attention, life still takes us in directions we don’t want to go. Storms still occur. And, yes, we may still get frightened. But when we’re alert and willing to be aware of and accept the storm’s role in our life’s big picture, we can respond intelligently, in a much more peaceful way, a way that’s healthier for us, a way that allows us to grow stronger… a way that may allow us to shorten that painful detour and steer ourselves closer to the direction we want to go—perhaps even in a direction we had not yet imagined for ourselves, to a destination even more wonderful than we had ever dreamed.

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Musical honesty: Ray LaMontagne

As someone who is crazy-nuts for passion and honesty in music (and in people, generally), I feel compelled to share this video with you.

Facebook friends may remember me going wild about the album God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise when I first heard it. If you’re familiar with Ray LaMontagne, you already know what I’m talking about and you’ve probably already pushed the play button, eager to experience the beauty of Ray.

If you’ve never heard Ray, well, you’re in for a treat. I’m pretty much opposed to categorizing most music into genres, so I’ll leave that up to you to decide, should you care to. What I hear are lyrics that tell human stories beautifully, loaded with concrete images and simple, raw honesty; beautiful instrumentation—the pedal steel and lap steel make me want to cry (for example, in the title track that starts at the 13-minute mark of the video); and a distinct voice for which I have no words. It has to be heard to be believed.

Take some time (a wonderful 55 minutes) to watch Ray LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs bring artistic honesty and passion to Letterman’s stage:

If you like what you see and hear, check out Ray’s VH1 Storytellers show on June 10, to get to know Ray a bit better. You can be sure I’ll be recording that one.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the Letterman video is no longer available, so if you missed it, I am truly sorry. Good news though: Here’s a link to the song he closed with when I saw him at Merriweather in  September 2011: “Like Rock & Roll and Radio.”  (And which left me with tears running down my face.) Like what you hear? Keep going through the clips from the VH1 Storytellers show!

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Need a vacation?

Are you stressed out? Exhausted? Have you just about had it up to your eyeballs with your boss, your co-workers, your kids?

Well then…

Take a vacation. Right here and now.

No, I’m not kidding.

It will take just 3 minutes, and it may bring a smile to your face that lasts the rest of the day.

So grab a (real or imaginary) umbrella drink, sit back in your chair, feel the sand under your feet and the sun on your skin (I know you can do it), smell the suntan lotion, and listen while you enjoy these images from Key West.

“Don’t worry about a thing.” Wise little birds.

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Just chill

Sometimes you just gotta chill. Take a breath. Start fresh.

So take 6 minutes out of your day of oh-so-important (really?) and oh-so-urgent (seriously doubtful) tasks and enjoy this track by Mishka. Since the YouTube file has just the album cover, I’ve included a nice little sunset scene below for you.

Go ahead. Drift away. Everything else will wait.

Peace & Love to you, my friends.

Mallory Square sunset

Sunset from Mallory Square, Key West (2009)

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Not what I wanted to write about

This past weekend, I went to see David Crosby and Graham Nash perform. And I am just dying to write about the experience! But, as timing would have it, I have a work deadline that is keeping me from doing that just yet. Writing, you see, takes quite a bit more time than many people realize, especially when you want to write well—and I’d like to write something eloquent and moving about the concert if I can, as it certainly deserves that kind of attention.

So, I had intended to not write a blog post today. Fortunately, reading takes a lot less time than writing, and as I was eating my lunch—I still am, actually—I clicked through the Facebook updates and stumbled across a blog. And I just had to share it with you.

The writer’s name is Dr. Kristin Shepherd, and the blog that I stumbled across is the one she’s writing for Yoga Journal’s website: “Beginner’s Mind.” But she also has a blog on her own website, which I highly recommend checking out.

Here are a few of the tidbits that spoke to me from her latest post, Everything I Need to Know I Learn from Theatre:

1. Truth is gorgeous. Trust that your truth is enough. Stop faking anything in the hopes that it’ll make you more substantial, more interesting, more charming, more successful. It doesn’t work.

5. Joy comes from committing to your choices, not from endlessly assessing the merit of those choices with your squirrelly mind, which will never be satisfied and which doesn’t know the first thing about joy.

7. Not knowing is all right. Often preferable.

8. You’ll be an idiot to yourself and others some days. Practice instant forgiveness.

But the previous entry—Who Are You?—was the one that pushed me to share the blog with you, my friends. The message, which brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my heart, is presented in a way that is amusing and fresh and rings with a resounding truth, at least with me.

So, while this is not what I wanted to write about today, it is definitely what I feel compelled to share.

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Love, life, and non-country country music

Today’s post is prompted by my friend—I’ll call her S—who “isn’t a fan of country music” but is generous enough to take her sister to an upcoming Keith Urban concert. Mind you, this is after she saw him on TV. Emphasis on the “saw” (not “heard”). That had to be a difficult purchase to make. 🙂

I thought this video would be a great example for her of Keith’s infectious smile and non-country style when he performs live. (Actually, things get much hotter at his concerts, screaming guitars and all, as I had the pleasure of witnessing back in 2009: evidence below.) Plus, the video’s quite artistic in several ways, which I’m hoping artsy S will appreciate. But if not, she gets to look at Keith, so I’m sure there will be no complaining.

I hope this upbeat song and video can bring a smile to your day too.

Keith Urban’s “Once in a Lifetime” on YouTube

A couple of musings about the lyrics: Do I think love—the romantic love this song talks about—comes along only once in a lifetime? Absolutely not. But perhaps it comes only one time when we’re actually ready for it to be a healthy, long-term experience. I don’t know; it’s just a thought.

What I do believe wholeheartedly is that the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear (and hate stems from fear). When you’re full of love, you are your best self; you feel expansive; you are generous and compassionate. When you’re full of fear, you contract into yourself; you are unable to live up to your potential or make true connections with others. Over the last few years, I have heard a number of very different people—including Jon Bon Jovi and k.d. lang at their concerts—talk about decision-making, about evaluating choices as to whether they are based in love or fear.  I believe you can never feel bad about a decision based in love. Just imagine what could happen if everyone made every decision acting out of love.

As Keith’s song says, “The best is yet to come… Don’t fear it now…. It’s a leap of faith.” Have faith and go for it! Life is what you make of it. Make it fabulous.

Keith Urban concert photo

Seventh row at the Keith Urban concert! (August 2009)

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Being of service

When I started this blog a month ago, I said that I “on occasion, have a thought or photo that I think others may enjoy. And so I offer this blog as a way to potentially entertain and inspire you.”It was a vague beginning, primarily because I wasn’t sure where this blog may lead, if anywhere at all. I just knew I had the urge to begin—and rather than worry about the outcome or how I may look to everyone else (as would be my habitual tendency), I just went for it.

While I offer my entries for your enjoyment and individual reflection with no expectations of receiving feedback, I am so grateful that some friends have shared with me when a particular post has touched them. Their comments have told me that I am doing something valuable. And that is the most compelling reason for me to continue: to be of service, in whatever small way I can, even if it’s just to provide a peaceful break for a few moments with a photo or a music video.

But the entries that have gotten the most feedback have been the ones that delve a little deeper. Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure how I felt about putting philosophical ideas out there for others to read: ideas about how to live a happier life. I don’t want to be perceived as being preachy, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. I felt somewhat like a fraud, as none of the ideas I present are original. I am merely sharing information that I have gleaned from other sources, ideas that I have read or heard that have helped me feel better, as if I’m making progress as a human being. But I have learned that we can hear the same message over and over and not truly understand it until we hear it in different words or we hear it at just the right time in our lives. And so I hope that every now and then, I can provide a message that reaches someone and makes a difference.

While I feel that I am making progress in this human adventure, I still struggle with the same issues that just about everyone seems to have, including relationship challenges and too-harsh self-criticism. What I have found over the past several weeks is that to shape my thoughts for others’ consumption in this blog, I am required to re-explore the ideas myself. And so I remind myself of the lessons I have learned, I learn new lessons, and I continue to grow. With the intent of being of service to others, I am also helping myself.

That seems to be a consistent phenomenon. Helping others almost always seems to do at least as much for the helper. I know when I cuddle babies in the NICU each week that I am there to help them get healthier, but each time I walk away from the unit, I feel more peaceful and more connected to the world, as if I have value and am making a real difference. Likewise, after I spend the time writing a blog entry, I feel more connected and of use to you, my friends. And so I thank you for allowing me to grow with you.

Friends

We're all in this together.

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