How To Live

I’ve been thinking about the systems people put in place as guides to life. Some of it is religion. Some of it is aphorisms or sayings to keep in mind – do unto others as you want them to do unto you, for example.

So, what do I live by? I was born Jewish, and I still feel a part of the Jewish community. And, there are a damn lot of rules about how to be Jewish. I don’t follow a fraction of them. In the end, though, what are all those rules about? How to be fair. How to be kind. How to be healthy. How to be grateful. (I feel a need to put an aside here, because from experience someone will come up with a rule that doesn’t meet these guidelines and tell me that I’m wrong. So, just know I’m being somewhat general here.)

I actually feel a lot of affinity for the Wiccan motto: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Doing no harm is difficult! Almost everything harms something. Eating a carrot harms the carrot. But if the focus is more on whether eating the carrot harms the earth, then growing food and eating it can still be done with care and reverence. And it shows us how much we are all connected, that all of our choices have consequences. Is using that plastic bottle harming the ocean? Maybe we should find out.

I like that the next thing is – do what you will. There are so many people telling us to do what they want us to do. I love that freedom to explore what it is we feel called to do inside – as long as it causes no harm. We can’t give in to the impulse to kill, hit, or destroy, but we can build a block tower just so we can knock it down because we want to experience that destruction. I think so many of us are not giving our gifts to the world because we are afraid to show our true colors. What if all of our differences and gifts and preferences were admired and supported? What if everyone was called to do what mattered most to them?

I think there is one piece that is missing. I don’t want it to be a law, since it’s sure to backfire. But I think a reminder to find gratitude and joy and love in everything around us is important. When I focus on things I’m grateful for, I see more of them. When I focus on things I’m resentful about, I see more of those. I know which way I feel better, and can be of more service in the world! In fact, I only want to be of service when I revel in the gratitude and joy and compassion and connection. When I feel resentful, badly treated, or not respected I don’t want to be of service. I want people to serve me! It takes a pretty big mind shift to inhabit the world of abundance and happiness rather than pettiness and greed. I know if someone told me I had to make that shift, it would push me further into the world of resentment. But I think it’s very important as part of a world view.

And so, my simple (yet complex) structure to serve as a guide to life:


Ode to Thanks

It is the day before Thanksgiving, and I wish to write about gratitude.

I am grateful for so many things: hot running water; a rainbow during my morning walk; rain in parched California. I am grateful for finding my people, even if I wasn’t born into their family. I am grateful that other people like to cook. I’m grateful for understanding and acceptance of other people’s inner workings, even mine, even my son’s. I’m grateful for persimmon trees standing leafless and full of fruit. I’m grateful for heat on a cold morning, and for coolness on a hot afternoon. I’m grateful for indoor plumbing. I’m grateful for play as a way to connect people. I’m grateful for people I can just be with, so I don’t always have to do. I’m grateful for people who encourage me to do things I might not do on my own.

Most of all – I’m grateful that the more I look for things I’m grateful for, the less I want to complain about my life. I have at times found connection and understanding through sharing complaints, and I’m so glad that the connection and understanding were there during those times. And – I’m glad that today I see more to be grateful for than I see to complain about. I see joy and love and hope where once it was all anxiety and loneliness and despair.

If your life is full of anxiety and loneliness and despair, if on this holiday of giving thanks and declaring gratitude you do not feel thankful or grateful, I’d like to offer hope. I have not always seen light. Many years were very dark. It is possible for things to get better. Please, when you reach the end of your rope, reach out for help. Let someone know. We are all in this life together, and there are plenty of people who will lend you a hand if they know you need it.

Thank you. Gracias. Merci. Todah. Sheh sheh.

You fill my heart.

Play in the Practical World

I have a friend who is living in a co-housing situation, two families in one house. She was concerned that the other family was suppressing irritations and not talking about them. She asked me if I had any ideas, maybe any games, which could help them communicate better.

Well, I thought for a minute, and said I don’t think there is any one game you can play to improve communication, since communication is trust-based. The best way to improve trust is to create a space that is safe for everyone, where everyone can show up fully, and enjoy each other. Even better if it can create a sense of being part of something larger than oneself, part of a household instead of a family or individual. I suggested that she try to set up regular play dates or even household dinners where they can play games over dinner. They could play “One of these things is not like the others” by picking four random words and explaining why one was different (gets people to think creatively about how things are or are not linked). They could pick three random words and create a story using the words – even the kids can get into that. They could tell stories about their days or their lives. Or they could all play Banangrams or Scattergories or quadruple solitaire, or anything else that created a shared and fun space. Once spaces like that become part of the life of the household, it makes it easier for everyone to bring up subjects that are a little more difficult. It gives people a sense that the household is resilient enough to survive being challenged, and that everyone can be all of who they are without having to hold parts back.

She thought this was a great idea, but as far as I know hasn’t implemented any of these games. I expect it’s hard to introduce new ideas like that to the other family, just as it’s difficult to talk about irritations. There’s a risk of being rejected or laughed at. There are logistical issues to work out. There are multi-generational interest and ability differentials. I find it can be hard in my own household to get everyone’s nose out of their own reading or electronic media to have a conversation. I believe in the benefits of playing together as a family or household, and will keep trying to incorporate these ideas into my own household. Maybe my friend can start with stories from three words, and see if it grows from there. Or Story Cubes, or Trivia cards, or anything else that can start a conversation and connection. How would you start playing together in your household?