Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Pirate's Life For Me ...

It didn't take the release of four Pirates of the Caribbean films to show me that I crave adventure. Surprise. The unexpected. Exciting discoveries and treasure maps. Swashbuckling and rain on my face. I also like the idea of sailing on a grand ship ... of traveling the world cradled by the waves and the giant golden sunset.

There's something about the feel of the wind billowing in the masts. A calling of the sea that beckons me to venture away from dry-land and steer by the stars. To encounter whales and dolphins and other sea creatures who leap or follow in your wake. To abandon your sense of direction and trust a compass where there are no road signs or orange lines to tell you you've crossed to the wrong side.

The ebb and flow of the tide fascinates me as well. It comes in ... goes out ... nothing tangible to explain it. The moon influences it, yes, but as the water swirls around your ankles and you feel the crash of the waves on a sandy beach ... there is such a sense of magic and wonder. And a realization that the tide is its own adventure ... you can't control it. You just ride with it.

A pirate travels places others fear to go -- sees things other people may never see. It's not the quest for gold that draws me to piracy. I have no desire to become a marauder or take over other's ships. One of my own would be fine. I'd like to stand up in the sails and feel the wind in my hair. I'd like to venture into the horizon and feel the ship dance in the waves beneath my feet.

Glowing teak decks ... soaring masts ... brass handrails. A beautiful carved figurehead ... and a transom which features the name I christen using a broken bottle of rum ... I'd call her Mistress of the Sea ....

I think I could be a wonderful pirate. I'd acquire some dashing pirate name -- suggestions welcome here!  (I've come up with Bad Rum Jo. Lusty Lady Louise. Mai Tai Meg. Bonnie Blue Moon. Cap'n Jen the Red -- still seeking the right one.)  Oh, and I'd wear one of those magnificent pirate coats and a white puffy shirt with tight breeches and high black leather boots. I'd have a sword and a hat with a plum.  And I would make those who crossed me swab the deck and bring me rum. I would have an exciting crew and a hideout on a tropical island ....

On the waves, I would find a sense of quiet too. The only sounds be the waves as they caress the wood. The seagulls. Quiet. Calm. Water does that for me. I'm not seeking busyness. But beauty and adventure. Becoming one with the sea as I go forth with those who wish to travel with me.

Perhaps it was growing up on a lake and the love I had riding around in my dad's boat that created the call of the sea. I remember urging him to go faster as we traveled the lake. Grinning contentedly as I sat in the very front holding tight as the wind tossed my hair about and the water hit the boat. I remember lying on the pier and listening to the sound of the waves as they gently caressed the boards. I remember how my heart-rate slowed every time I reached the water ...

Perhaps too many Errol Flynn movies with swashbuckling adventure have planted their image in my mind. I recognize the romantic in me. What about you? Are you an adventurer? Not everyone is. Some prefer the calm of port. The grandeur of life in the palace. The simplicity of common life and knowing what to expect every morning. No wrong answer. Choose your quest ... dream your dream ...

But avast ye scurvy mates ... me hearties ... Yo ho ... a pirate's life for me...
                                                                                                                                -- Jenni

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What Is The Intent of Your Practice Today?

Do you set goals? Do you make lists of things you'd like to do or accomplish? Places you'd like to visit? Books you want to read? Hobbies or activities you hope to try? Experiences you want to have? Or ... in the grandiose scheme of goal-setting, do you make those dreaded New Years Resolutions?

Not gonna ask if you keep them :)

Yes, I am a List Person. And I am passionate about my check-lists. My binders. My Franklin Planner To Dos and my Hope To Achieve List. I have been known to set realistic as well as lofty goals. And I have learned that setting these goals makes reaching them more real to me ... and it gives me a better chance of achieving my dreams, hopes, and most significant aspirations. Saying them out-loud or writing them down makes me accountable to myself.

I am beginning to discover the vast usefulness of goals in all aspects of life.

As I've stated before, I'm new to Yoga. And I have become truly passionate about it. I am honestly devastated that it took me this long to discover the life-altering experiences offered by this form of mental and physical exercise with an actual teacher surrounded by other students ... I am beyond grateful to the Yoga Shelter of Royal Oak.

At any rate, I enjoy exercise (another quirky aspect of me, I know.) But I have discovered that Yoga is certainly not limited to enhancing physical strength, endurance, toning or weight loss. Yoga is fundamentally a spiritual exploration. A mental workout.

The last couple sessions, my instructors have posed an intriguing question: What Is The Intent of Your Practice Today? That questions stumped me at first. I was there to exercise, right? But with that question, I found myself wondering ... might I be seeking something else as well?

Of course, the intent might just be as simple as exercise and a smooth flowing workout. Sometimes that's all I'm seeking and all I want to achieve. Sweat off that Coldstone indulgence or piece of pizza.

But lately, I've begun to seek more and observe my experience differently. The "intent of my practice" has evolved as well. No, I'm not gonna share my intent today. Instead, I'm curious to challenge you like my instructor challenged me. Each day when you rise, do you have an intent? Are there people or things or activities you specially value? Are you doing something to reach them ... to reach that goal? Is there something special you are working for or toward? Do you have dreams? Do you have a List?

When I know the "intent of my practice," I find I can handle a lot more. I can reach deeper, hold on longer and breathe in the challenging or difficult moments. Achieve balance and calm amidst a busy, crazy world. Find strength when I'm shaking. And if I fall down, I can get up, shake it off and try again.

So what is the Intent of Your Practice today? Finding out may open doors you may have never noticed before. Might be a question worth considering.

Unless, of course, all you want is to keep sweating ....

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Unconditional ...

I learn a lot from my daughter. It amazes me how much I learn from her. A friend of mine once wrote ... "Never lose your ability to see thru the eyes of a child." Some of the most incredible discoveries for me come when my daughter is the teacher and I listen or observe. When I see things thru the beauty, simplicity and magic of her eight-year-old eyes.

Five years ago, my daughter attended Vacation Bible School for the first time. She was 3 years old. At that time, I was the Room Director, in charge of 26 kids. These kids were divided up into groups of 4-5 and placed in the charge of their own Crew Coordinator. As the week went on, I noticed that she was regularly playing with a specific toy. And that this toy seemed to be traveling along as we went to the different stations. On our last day, she was in tears ... devastated to have to say goodbye to this stuffed toy ... a stuffed mouse.
Now, I don't know about you, but I didn't figure my girly girl would take to a stuffed mouse. A doll ... a bear ... a "pretty animal," yes. A mouse no. But this mouse had charmed her somehow. So, with her tears flowing, I caved and told her she could bring the mouse home for a little vacation. (We left a different less highly thought of stuffed item to take its place.)  I figured the mouse would quickly be set aside. Forgotten about. We would return it after a little visit. I mean, it was a MOUSE!

Five years later, Squeaks the Mouse still resides with my daughter. In fact, in the ranking of stuffed friends, Squeaks is #2, second only to a very flat, adored pink bear that she has had since birth named Pancake, er ... Ba Ba. Squeaks is well-traveled ... she has been to the theatre, the ballet, recitals, grocery stores, malls, sleepovers, school, car rides, dance classes, concerts ... you name it, Squeaks has been there. She is slightly greyer than she was five years ago. Slightly less rounded. The whiskers are gone and the eyes have some scratches. But this mouse is loved. Unconditionally.

As my daughter snuggled on my lap the other morning, I considered this Mouse. Squeaks. I am fascinated by the way she loves it. Adores it. Treasures it. Cares for it.
There are people in my life like Squeaks. People I met who still travel with me on my continuing journey in one way or another. There are the Ones I don't see much ... maybe don't see for years at a time. There are the Ones I don't talk to regularly due to schedules or family stuff or other various reasons. And there are the Ones I talk to often and make the favorite list on my Cell Phone to discuss and experience big moments, little stuff, crazy thoughts and random life elements that I can't believe I share with them at all. The ones I tell about the amazing brownie I look forward to at the end of VBS ... the ones who burn up my cell phone battery ... the ones I hang out with to watch TV and call when I'm in the dark places ... the ones I drink wine, a Blue Moon or mai tais with and , occasionally, dance with  ... the ones I perform with  ... the ones who laugh and cry with me, depending on the day. Each of them unique and important.

I don't tell them all the time, but I love them, appreciate them and care about them for who they are -- whether I see them daily or periodically or not so much. Whether we have time together once a week or once a month. I have been blessed -- or cursed -- with an amazing memory. I remember encounters and times and adventures and laughter and experiences and tears shared with the people who've touched my life over the years with a crystal clarity. Heck, I probably remember words they spoke and what they wore :) Some of them, like Flavia wrote "Came into my life and quickly left."  But there were others who "Stayed, leaving footprints on my heart, and I was never, ever the same."

I love them unconditionally. No matter their baggage or choices or mistakes or achievements or lack of achievements or issues or life stuff or mileage that might keep us apart ... they hold a place in my heart as special as the place Squeaks holds for my daughter. Do you have people like that around you? Do they know that you care for them? Life is kinda short, I've discovered. I find I want to take time to say the words often left unsaid. To remind the people surrounding me that they mean a lot to me.

Okay, so unlike Squeaks maybe I don't sleep with them snuggled in my arms every night, but I love them unconditionally just the same ... They are never far from my heart.

I'm just sayin'.... in case you didn't know ... it's unconditional ...
                                                                                                                       -- Jenni

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Leave Great Expectations To Dickens from Now On ...

A friend of mine gently pointed out to me that I have Great Expectations. Not the book -- that's a Dickens I never read. But about situations. People. Things. Behaviors. And I might just be a little oversensitive when it comes to these Great Expectations.

Well, it wasn't actually gentle or subtle. But it was something I needed to hear.

I expect a lot out of myself. And, I must humbly admit that I project that on others. Not fair. Not right. Not good. It isn't intentional, I assure you. I ask no more of others than I do myself. But then, if you know me at all, you know I ask a lot out of myself. I push myself hard. I don't know how to be any other way. I'm a bit sensitive and highly intuitive. I sense things in others. I have never ever been easy-going, low key or casual about anything. Not gonna change. That's just me.

HOWEVER, I cherish the people who surround me for who they truly are. Not who I want them to be. I didn't befriend them for my personal aspirations of the great friend they'd be if they did this, that or the other thing.  If they changed their thinking or behavior or response time or attentiveness to me.

I wasn't looking to improve or change them. No way. I chose them for their individuality ... their uniqueness ... and various other qualities or talents or elements about them that I enjoy and admire. I want them in my life only as the person they choose to be. I want no fa├žade or performance or insincerity.

And,  I want the people in my life to know that I am working on my Great Expectations. And what I truly ask is only they be true to their deepest selves. I may fail them ...  and they may not provide me with what I want in some certain moment. But, thanks to my friend and this subtle nudge, I will do all I can to live and let live. And I love and accept them for who they are today.

I pretty much bet I'm not alone in this expectation thing. We all want something from others. Attention. A phone call. A night out. An embrace. A service or help with something that is important to us. Patience. Freedom. Forgiveness. Space. Understanding. Yes, we are drawn to people based on mutual interests and we hope to share those in various ways. That's an Expectation. We want something from them ... and if they don't provide, we find ourselves lost and disappointed. They have failed us ... and all they have done is not meet our expectations.

Each of us was raised differently. The Expectations we form are based on that upbringing. Based on the person we are ourselves.  But we can change how we choose to manage those feelings ... those hopes ... those expectations. We can realize that our very existence is not the center of theirs. And likewise. We can hold on loosely ... and enjoy the surprises.

So the next time that phone call isn't returned as promptly as you like ... the next time the answer is I can't make it ... the next time the response or action is not your personal preference, stop the cycle. Shake it off. Laugh at your own quick tendency to become irritated. Accept the other person for who they are and release your projected concept of who they are supposed to be.

Now, isn't that a lot simpler?
                                                                                                                                       -- Jenni

The Girl I Mean To Be

I read a book many years ago by Charles Dickens called A Tale of Two Cities. A key line in the book stuck with me: "The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few ... or the one." In essence teaching me and setting me on a path where I exist to put the needs of others before my own.

My faith teaches that as well. It's not about me. It's about serving others. Caring for others. Looking out for others. Putting their needs first. Some refer to that as Servant Leadership. Others just call that wearing a servant's hat.

My role as a parent reminds me to focus on the needs of my children ... raising the kids, watching out for them, clothing and feeding them, holding them, staying organized and getting them to and from activities. The simpleness of spending time with them as well tucking them in at night and reminding them how much they are loved.

As a wife, I have other roles ... I need to be getting dinner on the table, taking care of the home (not so good at taking care of the outside stuff, I'm afraid) and be there to care for and encourage my husband. Then there is the Keeping in touch with my parents and siblings role ... touching base ... sending love.

My job calls me to plan Events, work with customers and members, appreciate sponsors, inform the staff and Board. In essence, take care of the Event and the project.

But amidst all this energy that places me centrally in the service of others ... the needs of the one come in last. Gotta admit that doesn't always sit well with me. I'm selfish more than occasionally. And putting myself last sometimes feels like I'm not caring for or being true to myself and my own needs.

Yes, there are times I want to be selfish. I need to be selfish. I want to go off and do what I want to do. Not have to explain or get approvals. Leave when I please. Come home when I please. Spend time with who I please. Not worry about plans or cleaning or cooking or kid/family care. I am finished. I am done. I want to take care of me and do what I want to do.

But how do I explain that? How do I not disappoint when that is what I want and what I need? Maybe, if I'm honest, I'm not actually always the person who wants to put the needs of the many before the needs of the few ... or the one, namely me.

Do I have to seek permission when I turn the focus off others and onto myself? Why do I have this sinking feeling that to do such a thing is just not acceptable. That being the Real Me is just not the right choice. That part of the human existence is to mask our own inner inconsistencies and deepest desires in order to maintain the balance ... the status quo ... the peace.

So who am I? Will the real Jenni Carmichael Clark please step forward.

And if and when I do ... will I be a disappointment? Will I care?

                                                                                                           -- Jenni

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Focal Points

Last night, I hosted a beautiful, successful banquet ... party ... celebration. The location was elegant ... every attendee was dressed to the nines. The food was excellent. The details reviewed and double-checked. The entertainment held surprises that elicited laughter as well as a few poignant tears. The room was beautiful. Happy energy flowed as friends reconnected and hugged and smiled. All in all, it was an exceptional 7 hours. 

So why is it in the morning light I find myself thinking about what went wrong or awry or wasn't quite right or received criticism and complaints? Why does my attention turn so quickly to the imperfections and flaws?

Let me say, too, that I looked amazing. Great dress, jewelry, nails, hair, shoes .. sparkly black/silver fishnet hose. Just the right make-up -- an impressive feat putting "the package" together in 20 minutes. Yes, I looked like a million bucks. I felt like I walked on air ... I was centered ... grounded -- my rose of protection firmly in place -- and completely calm. Not stressed. Ready. (I'd done Yoga in the morning to get myself in the right frame of mind for the day.)

Did I mention that I looked amazing? 

The evening was exactly what I wanted it to be. I surrounded myself with the right hosts, closest friends, supporting cast and staff. Our team was a well-oiled machine and the evening flowed with good pacing and an original classic Hollywood style. 

But what stuck in my mind and awoke me at 5am today were the three flaws ... the complaints about seating arrangements ... a mistyped last name ... an incorrect listing in the gorgeous program.
Walking in the door that afternoon, I knew there would be those things that would go awry or take their own direction. Stuff happens. I had secured the Teflon coating. I expected the challenges. I anticipated that there would be elements that would escape my careful planning and meticulous double and triple checks. But, when it happened, it still threw me. Admittedly, not as much as it once would have ... but enough to shake me up a bit. It gets to me ... the disappointment when I didn't want any. The complaints when someone didn't get what they wanted.  I don't like to let people down -- to feel I've failed them in some way.

Why do we do that? Look to the flaws instead of the numerous things that go right? Why is our daily news filled with the problems instead of a celebration of achievements? Why does that B on the test or report card dim the shining glory of the 5 As? Why does the messy closet in our house taunt us when the rest of our home is vacuumed and dusted and clean? Why does the chipped nail or blemish overshadow the loveliness of the spirit or rest of the individual?  

This morning as I thought about the "flaws" in my evening, I vowed I would change this way of thinking. Instead of stressing, I embraced my mistakes ... confronted them and apologized for them and did whatever I could to validate the different perspective of those who did not find my event to their satisfaction. But, I didn't accept the negativity that came with their "feedback." Instead, I made a list of everything that went right and set it down next to the list of imperfections. Then, I crumbled the list of flaws and tossed it in the trash.

Last night, I did my best. 156 people enjoyed the evening completely. I accept that as a success. So 3 or 4 didn't. Stuff happens.
It's easier to focus on flaws instead of the good things we accomplish and stand for. As an actor, I've experienced times when a line is dropped. There is panic in the air ... every performer has felt that rush of adrenalin. But, instead of focusing on the mistake, how about celebrating the recovery and getting the scene back on track? How we kept the flow ... maintained our composure and characters?

In Yoga, I often need to find a focal point to help me achieve balance. Invariably, I seek a knot in the wood or an imperfection in the curtain, wall, ceiling or floor. It's easier to focus on a flaw than on a smooth surface ... Huh and WOW! ... That was a huge discovery for me one day in class.

But why is that, I wonder. We aren't perfect. We all know that. Why do we seek perfection and feel less successful when "stuff happens?" Mistakes, disappointments, and flaws are part of the human experience. We learn. We grow. We go on. We should celebrate that and embrace the good. Let go of the other stuff ... holding onto it just makes us dissatisfied with our own selves. What's the good of that?

Today, I choose to celebrate the 47 things that went right last night and dismiss the 3 that weren't so ... ideal. If we all tried that, perhaps these little upsets that get to us and ruin an evening, experience or relationship would fade into unimportance.

So go ahead and look closely at me. When you do, you will see that I sparkle and my little light will shine. Amidst the stuff that happens ...  My focal point is getting fine-tuned.
What will you choose as your Focal Point?

                                                                                                                       -- Jenni