For me, there is nowhere better than being out in nature. It doesn’t matter the scene: it might be a cool green woodland, a hot desert wash, a walk by the ocean, or following a stream as far as its beginning. All that matters is I’m in a place where I can turn my brain off and simply exist.
I am naturally a quiet person. I prefer quietude to any other state. In it, I am able to pay attention to minute details I would otherwise miss if my brain was buzzing and busy.
I sometimes wonder if I am this way because I was born this way. Or is it because as a girl I frequently played by myself and got used to hearing only the sounds in my head? I grew up with three brothers and, though, sometimes I joined in on their fun, mostly it was too rambunctious for me. Most likely, it’s a bit of both. Life usually works that way: we become a mixed up mess of who we always were and who life makes us into.
I wonder, too, if everyone is as moved by nature as I am. I feel a quiet joy out walking in the woods. It’s not easy to describe, except to say that the whole core of my being awakens and fills with an almost excited feeling. Near to joy? Near to excitement? Yes, but on a subtle level. It feels, inside, like the faint rustling of leaves on a breezy day, or the babbling of water in a stream, or the quiet sliding back of saltwater after a wave has crashed. All barely noticeable when my attention is captured elsewhere, but they are powerful when my focus is trained directly at them. This is how I feel in nature. I have that near-to-joy feeling in my center and if I pay attention it becomes this giant overflow.
I lived in Manhattan for a year, once upon a time. It was a wonderful experience. I took the bus across town to work every day – I read more that year than I ever did before and have since. The excitement there is like nothing else. There is diversity and variety, creativity, highs and lows and I’m so glad I experienced life there for a time. Ultimately, though, it was not for me. The subtle scents and sounds of nature are lost in the city. Central Park, as big as it is, still has underlying city rumblings. Not to mention no matter what direction you turn, there is always a skyscraper poking up from behind the trees.
Lesson learned? That’s probably one of life’s easiest lessons for me: I’m no good if I can’t get out in nature often enough. Which is hard in the middle of the hot, desert summer. But I go when I can, and when I do, I am refresh and enlivened. My batteries are filled and I’m ready to go take on life in all its glorious complications.
It feels like a big deal, turning 50. I’m about to be older than the entire life expectancy of women a hundred years ago. That fits my definition of a momentous occasion and I definitely want to make this time in my life count.
Yesterday, to help prepare myself, I wrote a list of 30 “I am” statements. That’s one for each day between now and my 50th birthday. My plan is to choose one statement each day and write about it; a sort of countdown to what I know about me. Hopefully, at the end of these 30 days, I will be able to make a simple statement, I’ll call it my mission statement, for my Wise Woman years.
That’s my real motivation, I suppose. I’ve spent a lot of my life wanting to be a wise woman, but never feeling like I’d put in enough years to actually be one. 50 feels just about right.
Motivation interests me more than any other force on the human condition. What makes people do what they do?
Here’s one last thought before I go on about my self-doubt: I recently decided I spend far too much time fighting against things. This is about changing my perspective, put simply. When I’m fighting something, by necessity, I face toward it. Because of that, I’m spending a lot of time facing all the ugly things that I believe are short-sighted, unkind or ugly. What I should do, instead, is point myself toward their opposites. Everything has a flip side, right? Dark and light, soft and hard, simple and complex. So instead of fighting so hard against what I don’t like, don’t want, find abhorrent, instead I will face it’s opposite and move myself in that direction.
Okay, now I’m ready to start:
Today, Day 1 of 30, I decided to explore the statement “I am a self-doubter.” Of course I would choose a statement that has a negative connotation, but simply believing it’s negative doesn’t make it true. Self-doubt isn’t all bad; it’s all in how you look at it.
So, self-doubt. Its opposite is self-efficacy, or the belief that I can do what I intend, and that I control my motivations and behavior. Just because I want to face toward self-efficacy, though, doesn’t mean that my self-doubt disappears. It’s still back there; I can’t simply dis-acknowledge it. No, instead I need to integrate self-doubt. That way I can welcome it. To do this, my next step was to figure out how to use self-doubt for my own good.
What I learned is there’s actually a lot of good that can come out of self-doubt. Take this example: people who doubt themselves are likely to be quite conscientious and the hardest workers. Because I doubt myself, I work diligently to find the precise word and exact punctuation in my writing, so that it feels right and provides the picture I intend. Do I work harder than most? I can’t say because I’m just me, but I do fret over any work I do because I always want it to be the very best representation of me.
Another good quality of self-doubters is that we are naturally empathetic and compassionate toward others. I know what it’s like to feel doubtful and doubted, so I go the extra distance to let others know I’ve been in their shoes and know how it feels. Even when I haven’t worn those exact shoes, I try to imagine what it’s like because we all struggle to be our best selves, don’t we? We deserve kindness and respect for that if nothing else. Or at least in my book we do.
Finally, and this one I might like the best: self-doubt can lead to greater self-knowledge. If I’m constantly questioning myself (can I? should I? why?) then I am in a constant state of self-learning. Personally, and maybe it’s precisely because I am a self-doubter, I believe I was put here to learn. Something. I’m not sure what exactly that something is, yet, but in the mean-time if I’m busy learning about myself, then I feel like it’s a good place to start.
If you’re like me and you have a sometimes too healthy dose of self-doubt, here is a short list of resources . All it took was a quick search for “positive self-doubt” 🙂
I would prefer even to fail with honor than win by cheating. ~Sophocles
I don’t understand why people cheat, in life. Generally.
Why cheat? Is that how you want others to think of you, as a cheater? As a person so unsure of her value that she has to “enhance” it? Fake it to tip the balance in her favor? I just don’t get it.
Think about this:There’s makeup, plastic surgery, facial peels, implants, rogaine, viagra, all marketed to appeal to our insecurities. American consumerism says we are what we buy. Do you want to be judged on all that stuff? Because in my mind, it paints a picture of weak, silly, and shockingly insecure. We’re a whole damn bunch of sick, sad cheaters.
Because we’re not happy to be ourselves.
Here’s one example: I’m not sure if I consciously go bald faced, but I rarely wear makeup. I only put it on when I want to feel especially fancy. Maybe it’s because I’d rather not spend the extra time in front of the mirror – I can be showered and ready to go in under 30 minutes. Or maybe it’s because I’m lazy. Making up my face takes a lot of effort. The point is it’s fake, all that makeup and stuff; it’s a way to cheat reality, to make us, falsely and temporarily, feel better about ourselves.
In case you’re wondering, I do realize that wearing makeup is also a means of self-expression, like clothing choices are. But does your makeup (the face you show to others) define you or does your character (the face in the mirror)? Everyone will answer that question differently, and that’s as it should be. But if it makes you uncomfortable to even consider, or you can’t/won’t answer that question, chances are you might need to spend a little time thinking on it.
Because, instead, we could focus on what really matters. Does accentuating my brown eyes have any real bearing on my personhood? Of course not. That’s the reason I don’t wear makeup much. I’d rather be doing things that feed my soul: I’d rather meditate or weave or write a poem, maybe. Those pursuits “create” me into the person I intend to be. I want to be unique and interesting and worthy of others’ attention — I’m no different than anyone else — but I don’t want it because of some makeup hack I learned on Youtube.
All that stuff, the “cheats” we buy, they’re false shortcuts. Focus attention away from the mirror and toward whatever it is that’s making you feel like less than you want to be. You’ll find real answers there. It’s not the quickest way to “look your best”, but I promise you this: eventually you’ll notice a sparkle in your eyes, and that’s a beauty unlike any that comes from your makeup case.
I find it interesting that in the English language we don’t have masculine or feminine words, like other languages do; French and Spanish come immediately to mind. Yet we assign, as a culture, masculine and feminine traits to words. Powerhouse, for example.
As Americans, we attribute maleness to any word related to power. We see it as manly to be powerful. Even 45+ years after Gloria Steinem first took to New York Magazine to chronicle and highlight the growing Women’s Liberation Movement, power is still, in a subconscious and deeply ingrained way, a man’s game. That fact is unfortunate for so many reasons, but let me dive into just this one.
I am, at my very depth, thoughtful. I put more time and effort into consideration of my daily words and actions than some people put into doing their yearly taxes, which is to say, a lot. I am a ruminator, a cow chewing her cud. I think things through thoroughly and honestly and wholeheartedly, so much so that my decision-making is usually a tediously slow process. The upside is that once I’ve made a decision I stand very firmly on it. You could say I’m stubborn, and you would be right, but my stubbornness comes from a position of power. My powerhouse is thoughtfulness.
Another definition of powerhouse is a generating station. In common terms this means the generation of electricity, but I’m going to expand that and say it should mean to generate and distribute whatever individual, unique powers we have. And by power I mean our innate intention, our most powerful and resilient and individually characteristic human quality. Your power is likely how you are described by the people who know you best. Most people have more than one, for sure, but some, like Mother Theresa have one that seems to fill their entire soul.
Here’s why I like this word, powerhouse: it’s a “place” where power is both created and distributed. You make your power and you also send it out into the world. I can’t think of any better way to live, creating and giving away the deepest and most valuable part of who we are. It’s enriching for us, as individuals: When we’re focusing attention on our deepest and most authentic selves we can’t help but grow deeply satisfying lives. But there’s a community component here, too: We’re all a single piece of a giant, Earth-sized puzzle. And if you’re not filling your spot, who is?
We’re all born with certain strengths, certain powers. I am convinced that we are meant to use our powers to support and grow our community, our world really, into its best version, while we grow ourselves. It’s not such a leap to suppose that if we’re all busy growing these rich inner lives that the community would also be gaining the benefit of that wealth, too, is it? And if for no other reason than that, we should take back our power, in aid of our communities. But isn’t it an even better idea to take it back for ourselves?
So tell me, what’s your powerhouse?
I had an epiphany today and made a significant decision in the course of my life because of it. In a nutshell, I was questioning whether there is a difference between spending time and spending attention in life. Confused? No worries, it took me a while to wade through my own thoughts. If I try to clear it up for you, maybe it’ll help me further clarify my own thinking and ingrain the idea more fully in my psyche or soul or whatever that part is that gives us life and consciousness.
Here’s my the train of thought: time is a mathematical construct that humans have superimposed over life to help give it form. For all its helpfulness, the concept of time is artificial and it has an inherently external quality. It exists outside of us.
Attention, on the other hand, is internal. There’s a direct link between me and my attention that I can’t make between me and time. Time is not under my control. Time can’t change me. My attention is, and can. It’s my choice whether my attention, or what I focus it on, will contribute to how I desire to live and who I want to become. Or not.
What it boils down to is I’m adjusting my internal vocabulary, self-talk if you like, so that how I live becomes an internal prompt to constantly become who I intend to be. Here’s an example. What if I’m scheduled to have dinner with someone I would prefer to avoid? It doesn’t really matter why, but let me go ahead and give you a backstory. This person used to be my boss and I left the company because she was claiming my work as her own. She happens to be a friend of a friend and now we’re all scheduled to have dinner together to celebrate our mutual friend’s engagement. (This is a totally fictitious scenario, by the way.)
It makes sense, though, that I would prefer not to have social contact with this person, right? If I focus on spending my time with her, over which I have no control, I automatically feel negative about the whole affair. However, if I decide to spend my attention that automatically prompts me to choose how to focus it. Time is not mine to manipulate, whereas my attention is. So, since I want my attention to grow me in the direction of the person I intend to become, I am more likely to choose a positive way to spend it. Perhaps this person is a dog lover. Well, hey, so am I! Maybe she likes the same NPR program that I do. Nice! I will choose to focus on like qualities and the parts of this person that I can appreciate.
We all have good and bad qualities and by focusing on the good I’ve given myself the chance to connect with someone I otherwise would not have bothered with. Why is that important? Connecting with people and appreciating their goodness is a part of me that I want to encourage in myself. There’s so much negative discourse in the world and cutting ourselves off from others because of a single trait, or even a few, we don’t like does nothing to reverse the negativity. We are all more similar than we are different. If we begin to focus on our similarities I believe we can eliminate some bits of the ugly global tensions that seem to multiply daily.
Food for thought: “Pay attention” is a great little phrase, isn’t it? What it says is that our attention is so valuable it costs us dearly to use.
How about we get a little more existential, just for a moment? All that I have, at the most basic level, is my life. If I weren’t here to experience it, none of the material things, the shirt on my back, the phone beside me, the coffee table I’m resting my feet on, none of it would exist, not for me anyway. It doesn’t matter except that I am here. So why concern myself more with the “things” that make up my life instead of my life, itself? Which leads me to another existential conundrum: how to define the meaning of life. If what we focus our attention on and target it at becomes the person we are, then, in essence our attention is ourselves.
Who am I? That’s the mystery of life that is continuously answered in bits and pieces as each moment passes into the next. If every moment builds me into the person I am, and I am always becoming a slightly new person, then it is important that I spend my attention, use my attention, focus my attention in ways that nourish the woman I desire to become. As long as I use that idea to guide what I do with each moment, how can I possibly reach my last moment on earth and not be satisfied with the life I lived?
So how should I choose to spend my attention? That’s the challenge, isn’t it? A broad and somewhat esoteric answer to that question might be, choose to spend it in ways that help you become the person you are meant to be. I can appreciate that, but it’s not directly instructive. I’d like something more concrete.
What about this? I choose to spend my attention challenging myself. That’s better, but still it’s only a pla and I’m looking for a plan. Here’s something: the things that interest me: nature, geology, relationships, photography, writing, hiking, family… those are already a part of who I am. If I choose to spend my attention on those things then I am choosing to become more and more of the person I want to become. Which doesn’t mean I’m leaving no room for growth. Just because all of those things interest me today isn’t to say that I won’t become interested in say contortionism some day and decide to spend some attention on body mechanics and flexibility.
The point is, only I can be me. Only I can choose who I become. If I don’t spend my life in pursuit of that becoming, then my greatest fear, the potential that I will live an unimportant life, may well come true. I refuse to let that happen. So I will spend my days spending my attention. Will I do anything groundbreaking? There’s always that possibility, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that I am interested in who I am and what every day of my life brings. I can’t think of any more satisfying way to live all of my days until the last.
And maybe it’s just me, but maybe I’ve been running around wasting my time when if I’d only chosen to pay attention before now maybe I would already have become the person I now endeavor to be and that person would already have set her sights even higher. But it’s really never too late , and I’m perfectly happy to start right now.
Since becoming a “wise woman” is my overriding goal in life, I figure a good place to start that journey is a simple study of the difference between knowledge and wisdom. And what better way to do that than by defining the two?
According to the Oxford dictionary, knowledge is defined as follows: “Facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education.” I can get on board with that. I mean, the Oxford people have been publishing what most of us think as the final word on English words since 1884 – who am I to argue? Plus, that’s pretty much what I was thinking anyway, only in story form:
A boy, walking through a field of wild flowers, stops to pick one for his mama. He notices, too late, a buzzing black and yellow bug nestled in the flower he’s picked, and gets a nasty sting on his right wrist for the trouble. He’s had his first experience with a bee; bees sting.
What about wisdom, though? One of Oxford’s sub-definitions for wisdom is this: “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Yes! But also, dammit. This is where the issue becomes a subjective one. Who’s to judge the “soundness” of a decision? Who’s to say it’s good or bad or otherwise? The boy, let’s call him Dan, can apply his knowledge in any number of ways:
He now knows bees like flowers as much as he does, and if he’s not watchful he might get stung. Next time he wants to bring his mother a pretty wildflower, he’ll look it over closely and shoo away any bees before he tugs on the flower. Good for him. That’s a self-protective application of his knowledge. But how else might he apply this new-found knowledge?
Maybe the next time he happens by a field of wildflowers, he’s walking with his friend, Dariun, who wants to take a shortcut through the field to get to the nearby pond. Dan will tell Dariun about the bees and their painful stings – he might even show him the scar on his wrist – and suggest they run through the field to outrun the bees (and maybe each other).
Ah, is this sound reasoning? Some would say yes. Some may say only perhaps: if Dan suggested skirting the field altogether their chances of getting stung are reduced significantly. On the other hand, he could have chosen to let Dariun walk through the field unwarned. Maybe Dariun caught a bigger fish than Dan did the last time they went to the pond. Maybe Dan’s still a little miffed; he wouldn’t mind seeing Dariun get stung. Well that’s a Machiavellian use of Dan’s knowledge of bees, but it’s an application of his knowledge nonetheless; one which suits his purpose. Sound decision? Maybe, but did he use good judgment?
There’s the rub. I suppose, the only way to define wisdom is from each of our own individual perspectives. But not only that. If I am to be truly wise, then I need not only create my own definition, but apply it to all of my life’s activities. Hmm, I’ll require a pretty broad definition, then. I could use some help, here, and luckily, the Bard’s always there when you need him:
“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.”
True wisdom is never attainable? Wisdom, then, is a lifestyle rather than a goal?Dare I say it’s a philosophical way of being?
Yes, I dare. Wisdom is a sum as well as an application of the knowledge we attain every day of our lives. I might make a totally different decision tomorrow than I would to the same problem I face today, because I’ve had new experiences. I am the same as, but altogether different from, the woman I was in my 20’s. She was just a girl; wide-eyed, naive, trusting and hopeful. I am all of these things still, but tempered by a woman’s years of experiences.
Here’s another point to ponder: in my mind, a large part of this lifestyle I’ve chosen is in the sharing of wisdom. What good is it to have bits of wisdom if you keep them trapped up inside? Wisdom isn’t something that can be hoarded, a true wise person isn’t a miserly Mr. Potter from Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Wisdom should be strewn about freely. Or to paint a better picture let me go back to the bees.
A worker bee’s job is to gather pollen to feed on. As the bee gathers pollen, though, she spreads some of that pollen to other flowers, thus pollinating or fertilizing the other plants. Bees create new life in the very flowers they gather life-sustaining pollen from; what a beautiful circular benefit.
That’s the kind of wise woman I want to be, that’s the sort of wisdom I want – the wisdom of a worker bee. As I go humbly about my work I’ll gain a little for myself and give away even more as I visit each new day. Sharing of wisdom leads to creation. And if it’s true that the only mark we leave on the world is the sum of our creations, well I’d like my mark to be beautiful, like a whole big field of wildflowers.
I may as well start from the beginning.
I just turned 49, so I’m living out my 50th year on earth, starting today. Right now. And that seems momentous to me. I’ve always wanted to be a “wise woman,” and 50 seems like the perfect age to claim that title, doesn’t it? The problem is, I don’t think it’s one of those titles you’re allowed to self-proclaim. Like, I’ve heard people call themselves a “thought leader” and my first reaction when that happens is, NOPE. No you’re not. That title is earned and it’s not true unless it’s attributed to you by others. Same with wise woman.
So, my goal, my intention, over the course of this next year, and for all my years afterward, really, is to earn that title.What will follow this first post is your guess as good as mine. Like life and a good sour dough starter, these pages will evolve and become what they’re meant to become over time. I’m aiming for wisdom, but I can’t say for certain whether I’ll reach that goal. I’ll try really damn hard, though, and hopefully I’ll strike a cord every now and then.
If letting things evolve naturally, untethered by concrete plans or expectations, makes you uncomfortable, you might not be my target audience. Or maybe you are and you’ve never let yourself think so boldly before? I’ll leave that up to you. Either way, I hope you’ll read me every once in a while. Even more than that, I hope I can entertain you, provoke thought or a hearty guffaw, inspire kindness or a slightly off-kilter way of thinking. If I’m able to do any of those things, even once, then I’ll feel as though the goal I set myself is worthy of my attention. And I hate to waste anything, especially my attention.