Island of Excellence

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I have been successful at creating and sustaining two morning habits (if you don’t count coffee). Journaling and reading.

The reading is non-fiction, usually something about writing, or the yoga philosophy. This morning it was both. And this time the messages were the same. That is to say my interpretation of them, while interrupted by a weather delay, was the same.

First, from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg:

“Rather than following rules, have a friendliness toward existence… If you are kind you will naturally be doing the right thing… Don’t be a goody-two-shoes, just to be a goody-two-shoes, it’s not based on any reality.”

Permission.

As I was carefully inserting my Ganesh postcard from India between chapters, then placing the book on the short stack on the end table with the big wooden Buddha beside my sofa, to pick up the other book, I noticed a strange quality to the light outside. Yesterday the sky had announced itself by turning pink; this morning it seemed to be shyly hiding behind dusty glass.

Fog! I love fog!

Abandoning the second book for now, I grabbed my beloved iPhone – vowing as I made my way to the front door NOT to react to the red circles on the upper right hand corners of all my social media icons – and went in search of fog. It was so thick I could feel it on the surface of my eyeballs, like that first look underwater in a lake.

I looked down the street in one direction for a mystical shot – too many parked cars – then the other. Out to the main road I headed. I stood in my two sizes too big man’s t-shirt and baggy shorts with my hair in a scrunchy from the 90s, sans make-up or pride and pointed my phone down the curving main boulevard lined with oak trees heavy with moisture and black iron unlit street lamps.

After about 27 shots of basically the same thing I was approached by a man walking purposefully across his side yard directly at me. When I noticed him I turned in his direction. “You taking pictures of the house?” he demanded. “No, the fog,” I managed with a smile and a finger pointing down the street, as if the fog was hovering only there. Muttering as he turned to go back into his house, “Ok, cause I was gonna say.” What? You were gonna say what? Don’t?

I stood in place and lifted my phone with much less enthusiasm, to demonstrate that it was not pointed toward his home but indeed where that fog was living, just in case he went back to the same window through which he spied my suspicious activity in the first place.

It rattled me a little. I do not cope well with being accused of wrong doing. I am a rule follower. I want to be a rebel and in some respects I suppose my behavior and beliefs could be considered outsider, but mostly I’m a law-abiding good girl.

Perhaps this fear of misbehavior was a seed planted as a teenager.

While working at a clothing store in the mall I was accused of stealing clothes. I was shaken. I would never. I had made the mistake of placing my own clothes in a bag from the store and attempting to leave. I explained that my boyfriend was picking me up to go out and I had brought a change of clothes from home. They were from the Spiegel Catalog, I said with great pride. She said okay, but she never really believed me. Never apologized. And that left a mark on my goody-two-shoes permanent record.

I want to make sure all these mistrusting people know I’m telling the truth. But of course I cannot control what anyone thinks of me and in fact their thoughts and opinions of me are really none of my business, but rather a reflection of who they are.

Letting it go – the photo thing – I returned to my perch on the corner of my sofa, next to the big wooden Buddha and opened the Yoga Sutra book I have been studying. And found this:

From The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

“To be born as a human is the greatest achievement, and to die without knowing the essence of life is the greatest loss. The immense wisdom and power buried in our body and mind is clear evidence that nothing is beyond our reach… Our boundless intelligence and power of discernment give us access to the infinitely vast universe inside us and outside us. Nothing is impossible for us. We are extraordinary beings – individual islands of excellence.”

An individual island of excellence would probably not be so concerned with the fear and anxiety of others projected onto them. Compassionate, yes.

An individual island of excellence would move on, break a few rules, write the story that no one wants told, eat left-over cheesecake for breakfast. Ok, that last one maybe not really excellent.

It’s about breaking the rules for good, not for the sake of being contrary. So many of us follow rules that don’t even really exist. We do something because someone once told us to or told us never to and it stuck. They aren’t laws or even policies. It’s a very weak box constructed of shoulds and shouldn’ts that provides the illusion of safety and conformity.

Einstein’s greatest contribution to me personally was his edict to: “Question everything.”

Good advice. One question could collapse that whole silly box. Without walls it’s much easier to be an island of excellence.

Foggy Hawk Tawk

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I thought I was going to the springs. The manatees are usually lolling about in large numbers in January and I love to capture their grace on film. But it was foggy, and I love fog, so I set out on foot through my neighborhood instead.

There’s an area of green space on my way to the duck pond that the deer sometimes frequent. It was too late for that, but the fog that hovered over the tiny creek that bends around a stand of palms looked mystical and poetic. I could imagine whole stories springing from that one little scene.

As I approached the duck pond it was close to deserted. A pair of mallards and a single snowy egret had it all to themselves. Over time a few more ducks, a loon and a red-billed black bird with the most enormous yellow feet showed up.

Pretty standard fare made a little more magical with the fog. I snapped a couple of photos then began to meander back.

“It would be so great to see a hawk” I thought. Just then, seriously, just then, I notice something swoop from one tree to another. It’s a hawk.

Hawks and I have a thing. They show up when I ask them to and even when I don’t. At times the appear because I need them to, but didn’t know I did. They will pose for me as long as I don’t impede their mealtime efforts.

Today I was gifted two. I think they were mother and child because they perched briefly together on the same branch and seldom do birds of prey do that unless there is a lesson in progress.

As I slowly tiptoed around underneath them to get the sun at my back, the mom flew a short distance away. She chose the top of the tennis court fence. The hawklet remained on the branch to pose for me.

The mother began to squawk, shortly after I watched the little one perk up and begin to respond. No one moved, including me, although I kept shooting away. There’s nothing quite so powerful as the call of a bird right in front of you.

Once they finished their conversation I attempted to get closer to mom. I was able to capture her in mid-sentence once or twice before the pair of mallards let out a huge quack right behind me sending mom away.

I turned my attention back to the hawks in time to see mom just clear the top of the branch where her young one had stayed perched, as if to say, “Come on, let’s go.” Together they flew off to continue the lesson with less human involvement.

As I walked home I could hear them across the street, hidden skillfully in a large stand of trees. I smiled in their direction, thanking them for sharing their time with me and delivering the message my soul was longing to hear.

According to Native American medicine, hawk is the Messenger. It is the big picture seer. I have always been a big picture person, preferring to work backwards from the grand vision to fill in the details.  When I am feeling churlish or agitated it is usually because I have lived too long with the minutia. I am mired in bits and pieces that often seem unrelated and messy. Hawk is a reminder to let the details go for a while and look up. The sky is the ultimate big picture, open and full of possibilities. And every now then I get lucky and a hawk soars through it.