Discovering themes in our choices

A few weeks ago, in my graphic memoir course, I was asked to reflect on books I read when I was about 8 to 13. It was a surprisingly daunting task for me. I remembered some books, including a series, but I was surprised by my short list as I had a bookcase full of books!

I enjoyed reading, although as a kid, I also loved playing outside with friends in the neighborhood, going for long walks with my best friend and my dog, doing craft projects, and going to new places. I felt like I must be forgetting some important books because I really did love reading. 

We were to create a zine/tell a story about our discoveries… Initially, I was stymied!

So in my effort to discover more books, I posted about the challenge I was having on Facebook. And happily, many folks responded, refreshing my memory and expanding my list a bit, which now includes:

  • Pippi Longstocking
  • Nancy Drew
  • Walter Farley series about horses
  • Misty of Chincoteague
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Peanuts comics

I would certainly have more titles to add to the list if I visited the local library…

Perhaps even more important than the list’s creation was identifying themes in reviewing the books that mattered most to me. The theme that stood out for me was that of girls having adventures. It is truly one of the threads in the tapestry of my life. I am a girl who is continuously seeking and having adventures!

Whether you are thinking about your youth before adolescence, the books you’ve read, and their influence on your life, or choosing to reflect on the same questions from your reading over the past few years, what do you discover?

What themes or threads weave together to create your tapestry? 

What do you make of your answers? What intrigues you?

The books I’ve been reading over the past few years, spanning my professional and personal lives, reveal additional themes. From a quick mental review and glance at my bookcase, I discover new threads:

  • my continuing interest in education, neuroscience, interpersonal communication, compassion, resilience, healing through breathwork, Emotional Freedom Techniques, and meditation
  • my search for meaning
  • ways to increase connection with myself and others (Nonviolent Communication)
  • spirituality and Buddhism
  • living life to the fullest/living life every day, dying, death, ritual creation
  • creating a daily practice, both in my professional life—around drawing—and in my personal life around spirituality
  • different facets of writing—haiku and graphic memoir
  • in fiction, memoirs, autobiographies, and novels, I choose to read women authors; in nonfiction and poetry, I read a diversity of authors

If I go further afield and consider videos and podcasts, that might include learning more about different forms of craft and art—Zentangle, bookmaking, watercolors, and fluid acrylic painting.

I am delighted to focus on the details of periods of my life, reflect on the subtext of what appear to be almost random choices and dive into a  more rich understanding of who I am in the world. 

I wonder how books have influenced you at different times in your life. I hope you will share your insights with me. 

Stepping into something new… it’s exciting!

There’s a certain beauty in entering into new experiences  don’t you think? I LOVE taking in what is happening around me, and relaxing into observing and engaging with perhaps a bit more distance and (I won’t lie) thoughtfulness than when I am a long-time group or team member.

In my personal life, I observed a group in December and decided to join in January. The nature of the group is to provide a service to those who are very ill and/or dying. As you can imagine, we all come to this volunteer work with a commitment to creating a positive experience and with varying levels of expertise. 

I haven’t entered a new volunteer group in quite a while, and I have a long history of joining and moving into positions of leadership. These two factors are making this a journey that is interesting…

What about you? 

When did you last join a new group, team, or organization as a volunteer or paid worker? 

What was that like for you?

I walked in with expectations based on my many years as a volunteer. I imagined there would be some infrastructure in place:  

  • a plan for meeting group members and making a new member feel welcome (creating the space)
  • a handbook or materials ready for the tasks to be accomplished
  • an agenda for meetings and our practice 
  • clear roles and information (who reaches out to whom about what, how decisions are made, having processes at our fingertips for working with challenges that arise)

A girl can dream, right?

What I discovered was:

  • people who were happy to be together and committed to serve others
  • a desire to do the tasks well 
  • folks eager to contribute their ideas (which at times felt chaotic)
  • formal and informal leaders within the group
  • ad hoc decision-making
  • little attention to the passage of time (a facilitator’s nightmare)

As I am still relatively new, I chose to sit back, look and listen… which worked until our last meeting went off the rails—meaning that we didn’t accomplish what was necessary to be prepared for our performance the next day. I came home and, seeking to gain perspective, shared with my partner that I would wait and see what transpired over the next three months… As you might imagine, things fell apart a bit the next day at the performance. 

I am a true believer in, “In every crisis there is an opportunity.”

What do you think?

How do you work with challenging circumstances?

What’s your philosophy and how does it guide your thinking, feelings, and actions?

I stepped into the opportunity presented by our crisis, asking to have a quick conversation about the experience. While I had lots of thoughts and much I wanted to share, I bided my time, keeping my eye on my goal—a group that could view the experience with perspective, recognizing what had gone well and where we could do better, and begin to develop ideas for what better would look like, and how we would achieve it. (A mini-session of Appreciative Inquiry design.)

This situation required “upaya”/skillful means (Sanskrit) —particularly as the newest kid on the block. I worked to stay in the experience, keep  my purpose and goals of the discussion uppermost in my mind, focus on the relationships within the group, ask questions, manage my emotions/take a breath and listen, be open to various ideas, co-create ways to do even better and, ensure that concrete steps were taken for different experiences in the future.

Happily, it came together well. We left feeling aware and committed to how we want to work together in the future. 

This Saturday is our next meeting… I look forward to being a part of the change we envision. And, I am aware that progress is messy. No doubt we will do some things better, and some things will continue to challenge us. I feel quite sure that we have the heart and the will to move forward positively. 

How do you deepen your practice (skills)?

I have to tell ya, I’m a gal who loves the idea and results of a daily practice. The actual practice (of the daily practice) can be challenging. I’m a bit like Goldilocks and the 3 Bears… finding just the right combination of excitement, simplicity of engagement, and ease of achievement is critical for me.  

Lately, I’ve been delighted to gain skills in a new drawing style that has checked all three boxes—or to be a bit more imaginative, it’s the right recipe/combination of elements. I have been drawing Tiny People.

  • I’m excited to make more tiny people every day.
  • All I need is my sketchbook, marker, and subjects.
  • It’s fast!

I learned of  Nishant Jain’s very special style of drawing people from a colleague in the graphic memoir course I am taking through Sequential Artists Workshop. As soon as I saw them I was smitten!

Over the past year, I’ve learned Sashiko, (literally, “little stabs,” is a form of decorative reinforcement stitching/functional embroidery from Japan). It too has all the ingredients I desire:

  • Simple materials, “portable”
  • Easy to start and put aside when needed
  • Immediate results 

and, of course, each of these practices is practically daily. I’m creating conscious, consistent practices to fine-tune and burnish my skills. 

What about you?

How do you deepen in your practice—

whether it’s drawing, painting, meditation, a sport, a process or …?

Honestly, I’ve also had a few epic fails, well, that would be a bit of an overstatement, perhaps just learning opportunities. I have started projects that I thought were the right mix of elements to discover that I was incorrect. At the beginning of the year, I started doing a stitching journal, which I believed would require perhaps 15 or 20 minutes of my time daily—for a year. The designs I was choosing were fun yet  proved to be too time-consuming (there is more to do than stitch for over an hour every evening). While I finished the month and I like it, I don’t have the same sense of satisfaction or belief that it’s the best way to devote my precious time to skill building.

Last year I also started a watercolor course that is self-paced, and I thought that would be good for a daily practice. What I found is that it required more learning than I anticipated. While I enjoyed it, it was not what I was seeking at the end of my day for feelings of relaxation and achievement. I am continuing with it yet it is not a daily practice as it too takes too much time each time.

Happily, I am quite philosophical about all this. It’s all learning, and I feel great when I am able to recognize what isn’t working, and step away from it to look at something new.

             Have you ever made the active decision to let go of a daily practice? 

What did that feel like? What did you learn from the experience?

I’d love to know!