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Posts tagged ‘Buddhism’

Thinking About Role Models

role_modelToday I’m thinking about role models. Role models on the international stage, alive today, who are exemplars for ourselves and for our children. As we grapple with continually breaking stories about A-list sexual impropriety, sexual assault, questionable business dealings, and most every kind of NO YOU DIDN’T, it’s increasingly difficult to settle on well-known paragons of the behavior that we want to emulate and want to hold up as examples to our children.

What is a role model? In its deepest expression, a role model is a person whose behavior you want to emulate. Who embodies and exemplifies your personal values, interests, and beliefs. While on the one hand we understand intellectually that we all, as humans, make mistakes, we want our role models to be beyond reproach. We don’t want to have to say, “Well, this person is amazing and upright in 90% of his or her actions and speech, so I’ll ignore that pesky 10% of not-so-great choices.” We don’t want our most beloved icons to have feet of clay.

When I sat down to write a list of my personal role models — alive, well-known, and scandal-free — I had an extremely difficult time of it. I managed to come up with 30 names, but it wasn’t easy.

I share my personal list with you not because I want to create partisanship (my list is rather left-leaning), but because I want to contribute to an honest conversation about what we hold as important on a societal level; what we want to espouse as our legacy. With your help, I’d like to triple my list, which is notably low on artists (partly because many artists are not visible personalities).

The 30 people on my list are, to my knowledge, people of character. They are leaders. I may not agree with everything these people do and stand for, but I believe that their choices are guided by something I respect. I believe that these people want to make a significant and positive impact on the world — and that they share of themselves and their talents at least in part from altruism. My selections are people who are generally esteemed as “nice people.” I get warm fuzzies thinking about them.

My list, segmented by cisgender (for no good reason) and otherwise in random order:

Females

  1. Michelle Obama
  2. Brené Brown
  3. JK Rowling
  4. Helen Mirren
  5. Maggie Smith
  6. Judy Dench
  7. Oprah Winfrey
  8. Rachel Maddow
  9. Martha Plimpton
  10. Ellen Degeneres
  11. Malala Yousafzai
  12. Judy Blume
  13. Viola Davis
  14. Pema Chödrön
  15. Emma Watson
  16. Toni Morrison
  17. Byron Katie

Males

  1. His Holiness the Dalai Lama
  2. Barack Obama
  3. Pope Francis
  4. Justin Trudeau
  5. John McCain
  6. Neil Gaiman
  7. Steven King
  8. Nicholas Kristoff
  9. Trevor Noah
  10. Steven Colbert
  11. Gabor Maté
  12. Thich Nhat Hanh
  13. Gary Zukav

And you? Who are the role models, alive today and free of scandal, that inspire you and serve as guides along the pathway of self-betterment? Please add your thoughts in the comments. Let’s grow this list!

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Meme of the Week

Karen Maezen Miller quote

Happy Friday.

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Miranda: Psst…”creativity” does not contain the letters S, H, O, U, L, or D

So I have this other blog about my newbie Buddhist practice. In a recent post I wrote about motherhood and creativity, so I wanted to share that post here as well. Please share your thoughts.

Last month I attended “Mothers’ Plunge” in Boston, a one-day retreat for mothers led by Karen Maezen Miller, author of Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold (two invaluable books about showing up for motherhood in your entirety — relevant for any mother, no Buddhist label required).

As the retreat was drawing to a close, Karen made time for a short Q&A session. My arm shot up. Yes, I did have a burning question. I explained that I understand the concept of paying attention to that which requires attention, of focusing on the matter at hand rather than fretting about stuff that isn’t within arm’s reach. I get that. But with so many people in my life and responsibilities to tend to, I could easily just turn from one urgent matter to the other and fill nearly every waking moment of every day without ever finding/making time for my own stuff, like finishing one of my manuscripts. Do I need to just make peace with that? Do I need to stop clinging to this idea (ideal?) of “being” a writer — for now?

Karen suggested that — despite my protests — it really does get easier, and that at some point the opportunity to write would present itself. Have faith. Write in bits and pieces. Make hay when the sun shines, even if it doesn’t seem like it shines very often. (My cheesy phrasing, not hers.) Let go. Trust. Everything in its own time.

I wanted Karen to have the answer, and I suspected that she did, if I could surrender to it. But I felt enormous resistance bubble up inside me. No. I will never be able to do what I really want to do without making a painful sacrifice somewhere else. My oldest child is nearly 20, my youngest child is only 2, and while the demands of motherhood change over time, the totality of five children and a freelance career is often overwhelming. I don’t want to wait until I’m 60 before I can count on a little “me” time — time to breathe, time to be creative, just time.

During the drive home, I started mulling all of this over — and over. I’ve devoted much of my life to the topic of motherhood and creativity, trying to figure out how to be a mother and an artist without completely messing up one or the other or both. I’m writing a book on the subject, for which have interviewed dozens of creative mothers, extracting commonly successful strategies. I have a blog — this blog — devoted to the community of creative mothers. I know firsthand how the need to be creative coupled with the seemingly inescapable roadblocks of motherhood can lead a woman to tears in the frozen food aisle. I get it. Is the answer really just letting it all go and accepting that the time for creativity will come when it’s time for creativity?

Under the tension of my growing resistance, somewhere along Route 3 a long-held knot popped open, untangling itself into clarity. I realized that when I decided to practice meditation on a regular basis, I started getting up every morning at 5:30 instead of 5:50 to sit for 20 minutes. It wasn’t a big deal. It was important to me, and I wanted to do it, so I made it happen. Sure, there are some mornings when I’m just too tired to get up or my youngest child wakes up exceptionally early and my sitting time is abandoned. But in general, it works. Why then, during all my years of complaining about not having time to write, didn’t I get up 20 minutes earlier to eke out a paragraph or two? There may have been a few early morning or late night attempts over the years, but the strategy never seemed sustainable. Admittedly, a “set” schedule isn’t feasible when you have a newborn or during some other major transition, but my littlest guy has been sleeping fairly predictably for at least a year now.

I realized that I’d fallen into the trap of my own “story.” I write for a living, but writing and editing for hire isn’t enough. I want very much to complete my own personal writing projects. But. (To borrow a Karen-ism.) Do I really want that? Was writing something that I wanted to do so desperately during all those years, or something that I thought I should want to do? Perhaps spending time on my personal writing projects was something I rarely made a regular commitment to because it’s hard, and not always gratifying, and maybe there were a lot of other things — like cleaning the kitchen grout with a Q-Tip — that seemed more important at the time.

It’s hard to make time for shoulds. The shoulds weigh us down and transform everyday life into a bone-wearying Sisyphus impersonation. Meanwhile, the things that we really want to do? We usually do them. A bit of compromise might be required, but if you are totally keyed up to write a haiku today, chances are, you will find 10 minutes to scribble down the draft floating around in your head. Conversely, if you think you should write a haiku today, you might discover that item #37 on your to-do list is so important that there’s simply no way that you can get to the notepad to pen a few lines. Just 10 minutes? Not a chance.

Maybe I wrapped myself up in a coat of creative deprivation just so that I would have something to hide behind. Maybe it really was as uncomplicated as my husband’s response to my martyring complaints, which he offered with a shrug of the shoulders: “If you want to write, write.” This used to infuriate me, but now I see the truth there — as annoying as that is to admit. No, I am not able to run off for six hours of solitary writing time. But. Even 20 minutes of writing time yields 20 minutes’ worth of words that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I know this from personal experience; I have 200 viable pages in my nonfiction manuscript and nearly as many in my most recent novel. These words were amassed in fits and starts rather in predictable, extended writing stints. (Note to self: Try to avoid forgetting all the things that you worked so hard to figure out.)

On my drive home from the retreat, I couldn’t sort out how this construct of beleaguered, suffering writer-mother had sustained me, or why I had bought into it so hard, but I did know that many things I had accepted as inescapable truths were suddenly swathed in question marks. Time to start all over again, with beginner’s mind.

Miranda: Breathe in, breathe out

Late May and June seem to overflow with spring sports, end-of-school trips, rehearsals, recitals, and events. Like many of you, I drive from baseball practice to the dance studio and then back again, arriving at home far too late to get a decent dinner onto the table. The options are: plan carefully and cook dinner in that narrow window between work and the chauffeur routine, or get pizza (again).

It’s easy to be swallowed up by the 1,358 details and pressures of daily life. Last week I retrieved my college son during a two-day road trip to Ithaca, NY, just in time to come home and help my husband rip out an asphalt driveway. Major DIY landscaping projects loom, woven in between graduations, shopping for teacher gifts, T-ball tournaments, and driver’s ed. Normally, the added tasks and activity of this time of year would turn me into a raving bee-atch stress muffin. But this year things are a little different. I’m not a sea of tranquility — not by a longshot — but I’m not fantasizing about my escape to Mexico, either. What’s changed?

I’m running around, but my recent efforts to do less and reduce stress have actually begun to work. I’ve stopped taking on new client projects (the existing clients are more than sufficient) and I no longer need to work nights in order to stave off the panic attacks. I continue to refine my custom planner, which I still love. In the big-picture thinking about moving closer to what makes me happy, the answer seems to live in “just being.” Being, as opposed to doing.

A lot of different threads have come together for me during the past few months as my husband and I began to seriously study and practice Buddhism. Now that I’ve done more than just dip my toe in (I’m probably up to the ankle) I wonder why I didn’t embrace this practice a long time ago. I’d read many Buddhist-inspired books over the years, but I never before connected all the dots. Mediation and mindfulness speak directly to my long-time desire to live in the moment, appreciating my children — how fleeting this time is! — and embrace creativity as much as possible without all the self-flagellation when it doesn’t happen. Somehow Buddhism always seemed to me like something that other people — crunchy, poser Westerners — took to in order to check out of life. But I was wrong. It’s not about checking out, it’s about checking in. You don’t need to be Tibetan in order to practice Buddhism, and it’s already helping me become a better mother. (One of my favorite books in this category: Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn.)

I’m also running again, eating better, and protecting my 7+ hours of sleep a night. And I’m reading, almost every night. What am I NOT doing? Well, I’m not watching any TV, but I don’t miss it. I’m also not doing very much personal writing. But I’m trying not to obsess. Obsessing means losing out on the opportunity of RIGHT NOW. Remember our discussion of someday is today? Well, today brings whatever today brings. I’m down with that. Yes, there are many things that I’d like to make happen. I’d like to finish my novel. My nonfiction book. Heck, just my creative nonfiction essay. I’d like to ensure at least three posts to this blog every week. And I will do all of those things, in time. But I won’t do them at the expense of this beautiful moment, or my children. (It was quite affirming to look out the window just now and see a hummingbird skimming through the sprinkler in my front yard!)

Summer looms, and with it the perennial promise of slower days and a bit of relaxation. (When the weather is fair — for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere — it does seem easier to embrace the moment, doesn’t it? Of course, this is the very reason why my husband argues that we should move to a warmer part of the country 🙂 ) How are YOU feeling during the end-of-year crunch? Are you able to enjoy the beauty outside? Have you developed strategies to stave off the stress? Are there certain items in the self-care category that you refuse to give up, come hell or high water (a nightly bath, journal writing, a weekly yoga class, a photo a day)? And if creativity gets put on hold for a while, do you trust in a cycle that will bring it back? Please share….

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