Clear Head, Wrong Hand

When I was younger, and carrying fewer years loaded with memory, excitement, concerns, problems yet to solve – I could sit with calmness, or at least something closer to it. I don’t mean sitting and dreaming, thinking, or writing. I mean sitting with a clear mind. As my schedule has gotten more hectic, I’ve tried to be more intentional with this practice. I’ve meditated during yoga classes, used an app for guided meditations. It’s getting harder, not easier. So much for the wisdom of the years, right?

I am at times thankful, and others burdened by, an overactive imagination. This frenzied mental pace and constant overstimulation reached a pinnacle pre-vacation, as I sprinted to wrap up and hand-off projects, and truly be able to unplug for our first real vacation in two years. In San Fransisco, I woke early, before Louie and got an hour or two of work in. By day two, I’d finally wrapped up what I promised myself I would, and I shut the lap top for good for the rest of the trip. Our honeymoon in 2008 was the last time I’d been away from work for so long.

By the time we’d made our way up the coast, basked in what seemed prehistoric shade of the giant Redwoods, run our marathon through Eugene’s city parks and bike paths and by the Willamette, then driven north to Portland, I noticed the difference of a mind more at rest. At Powell’s bookstore downtown, as if planted there just for me, I noticed an end cap full of meditation books.

It’s been weeks since vacation now, and I’ve finished reading one of the books from that end cap – Sit Like a Buddha, which has me committed to daily ten minute, unguided meditation. I fidget. I think about work. One day I drifted to sleep half way in, and came to understand a new level of giving grace to myself. The author of Sit Like a Buddha suggest after 11 days, daily meditation will be a habit. I was skeptical, but I’m 20 days in.

The second book I picked up off of that end cap, Mindfulness on the Go, offers 25 practices that can help build mindfulness. I’ve been working through the first, which is to use your non-dominant hand.

Non-dominant hand drawings

Non-dominant hand drawings

 

Eating wrong-handed is a slow, messy, humbling practice. I’ve made messy sketches with my right hand, and wrote a 10-word sentence that while passably neat took me 3x as long to write as it would have with my left hand. I’ve tried over and over again to draw a straight line right-handed. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get it quite right, but my hand is getting steadier with each practice.

 

More than Just

“If we left, they wouldn’t have nobody. We were just the cook and the janitor…”Miguel Alvarez

Miguel Alvarez and Maurice Rowland, image from StoryCorps

Miguel Alvarez and Maurice Rowland, image from StoryCorps

No, sir, you are not “just” a job title. You are more than JUST anything. Listen to the story from NPR’s StoryCorps and see if you agree:
Maurice and Miguel’s story

I believe people vastly underestimate their power to be transformative. This story is a perfect (and moving) example of that.

I was co-facilitating a session the other day and one of the participants said “This is above my pay grade.” To which I said, “No. Not here, not today it’s not.” But what I should have said was NOT ever.

We’re really great as humans at putting up imaginary barriers built with fear and assumption, or accepting those put up by others. These emotions, the left-unsaids are sand bags stacking up over time, building up those walls. But they can be undone with open communication, persistence and courage.

I see this most often in the informational interviews I conduct – dozens per year – in which I hear people talk about feeling trapped in a bad company culture which they feel they cannot change. But I see it in myself at times, in those that I love. I see it all over. And I just want to shout:

YOU! All of you! You are more than just…

 

Mapmaker

“Find your place of peace. Imagine yourself on a beach, or in a forest…”

The teacher didn’t want to get too prescriptive, to let us each find our place. But for those that might be lost, she offered generics. I lay on the mat, eyes closed.

It might say something about me that I didn’t go to a beach. I dropped myself right to the heart of a very big city. I hadn’t been looking for this place when I first found it in Chicago, back in my early twenties. I was simply wandering around my new city, without a plan, map or directions.

I can’t recall what the entrance is like. In my mind, there must be a hidden gate. One minute I was in a regular city park, with sand volleyball, and hot dog vendors, frisbee dogs, cops on bikes. And then I wasn’t. I was on the other side of something.

The park within the park was thick with leaves. Perhaps there was enough foliage and ivy to drown out the honks and hollers. At the center of it all was a tiny pond. I found a neat stack of flat smooth rocks, perfect for sitting. I may have been there for five minutes, or days. I may have time-traveled there from the future, to a way back time before noise swallowed up cities. I forgot about a lot of things. My shit job. Rent. All of that. Here was what being transported felt like.

I couldn’t tell you how to get there, except in your mind. Imagine greens of all shades. Imagine sun spots dancing on water. Imagine you’ve been in the chaos of a city, then dropped straight into the very definition of tranquility.

map
I tried to draw a map so you could find it. It’s not to scale. The landmarks have been eroded by years of memory, like Lake Michigan washing over them for eons. But if you land in Lincoln Park, in need of quiet, you might make sense of this.

Funny, of all of the places I’ve been – the back-country hikes, the desert walks – this is where I go when a yoga teacher asks me to seek peace.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “The backyard of your childhood home. Your favorite hidden outdoor spot. The strangest room you’ve ever spent the night in. The best bike ride route through town. Draw a map of a special, memorable, or unique location – and describe it. What stands out strongest? What sights, smells, and sounds were you surrounded by? How did you find out about a place, or what was your initial reaction? What time of day is ‘prime time’? Draw a map, then paint us a (word) picture.”  This month’s prompt came from Rebecca Huehls.

By Its Cover

My Most Recent Favorite Cover Pick

My Most Recent Favorite Cover Pick

Recently a friend expressed surprise that I purchased a book because the cover pulled me in. It’s true, despite the old saying, never judge a book by its cover, I do it all the time, at least in the snap decision of deciding whether to buy.

It is a habit developed in my book store days (I spent seven years in the industry). Being surrounding by so many new titles every day, it simply isn’t possible to assess every book more fully. Certainly reviews were read, discussions and recommendations from coworkers considered, but I learned to take a chance on a book, having heard nothing of it, aside from being drawn to the cover.

I’ve built in two tricks to improve the odds I’ll like my pick. I flip to the copyright page to find the publisher, because there are a few that seem to get me, or at least have an editor or two who shares my literary tastes. Then I read the first paragraph. If I want to keep reading, I’m sold.

Picking a book by its cover is a practice that has stayed with me, not because 100% of the time I loved every book. I’ve picked a few mehs, and one or two never-gonna-finishes. But I’ve also discovered things I might otherwise not have. And because this mindset makes going to the bookstore (same is true for the record shop) an adventure, full of possibility.

This book is my spirit animal

lunch-at-the-shopI’m the sort who typically eats lunch at my desk while I plow through email or other work. The idea of taking back the lunch hour always sounds so romantic, but in practice, I’ve failed at regularly celebrating lunch. Then I found Lunch at the Shop. I loved the subtitle: The art and practice of the midday meal.

This book, I hoped, might inspire me to have a mindful lunch here or there. As I read, it did far more than that. I wasn’t joking when I said this book is my spirit animal. Beyond lunch, this is a fine example of obsessing over the details to create a great experience, as well as being an in-the-wild example of what SmallBox calls culture-powered marketing.

The foundation of culture-powered marketing is what we call the North Star, or your purpose and your values. An organization must first define, then embrace their own guiding principles. When a whole team is engaged by shared beliefs and behaviors, who you are and what you do suddenly begins to market your organization for you.

Here is a small-ish (from what I can tell) shop in Seattle, Peter Miller Architectural & Design Books and Supplies. They decided the rejuvenation provided by lunch-taking is worth making space for, and that it should be a shared experience for their team. Then they stuck with it. Seven years in, lunch is still a part of their rhythm. All standards and practices of the retail industry are set aside – the shop closes for lunch. In this case, the practice becomes much more than just eating. It’s about togetherness and rest. It’s become culturally relevant to them. Lunch says something about the shop and who they are.

Another piece of culture-powered marketing – it leads to things. Towards cultural institutions, which are celebrated or revered like holidays. Towards great content that shows what an organization believes in. In this case, lunch became a daily holiday, and it resulted in a 160-page book with their principles and habits for making food to share without a proper kitchen, and more than 50 recipes.

This book is for the sort of people who put their potato chips in a bowl rather than eating straight from the bag. For the ones who take extra care when plating up. If you have zero tendency to fuss over food, this will likely sounds pretentious or over the top. It’s a window into the a world of being particular for the sake of making great experiences. If you need motivation to up your game, whether for lunch or something else, this is a wonderful playbook.

My first “lunch at the agency” wasn’t too shabby. I made the recipe Lentils Folded into Yogurt, Spinach and Basil, complete with a sourdough wheat bread made by my co-worker Drew. Here’s to many more lunches at the shop!

lentils

Window Pane

window-hole

star-window

Notes: One morning this past week I was packing up my car for work… coffee mug, water bottle, backpack, camera bag. I had a meeting to get to. But the windows! I could take a few minutes to get some shots.

Our garage is old, and the windows all have cracks and holes in them. I noticed them before, but with the frost, the window panes became something entirely different.

The frost obscures what’s on the other side, but the hole says, Wait a minute! I’ll give you a peek. The cracks hint, More will soon be revealed.

Every Day

For the first time in my life, I can tell you at least one thing about every day of the year that just passed. Not because I developed super memory powers, but because of a shopping whim I had in December 2013.

I was Christmas shopping when I spotted this journal, Every Day – a five-year memory book. I remember feeling guilty when I walked out of the shop with something for me, and no gifts for anyone else. Oops.

Today as I flipped through and reviewed the ups and downs, the thoughts and details of 2014, I am so glad I talked myself into it, and stuck with it through the whole year.

memorybook

Every day isn’t marked by a profound statement or big happening. There are exciting times, and some a-ha moments, for sure. But there are many, many more of the small details, mundane stuff even, that add up to a full life.

Each morning I sit down with this book. I think about what happened the day before. What did I think about? What did I do? Did I notice anything interesting? The mindfulness and reflections this has brought has been such a surprising gift to myself. Not bad for fifteen bucks.

In 20 years, I’ll remember that I moved in 2014. Maybe I’ll recall running the hardest marathon of my life. But the little stuff – I’m always afraid that will fade away, that these will be the things I forget. These tiny moments and details are like the rug that really ties the room together. I love that I have a collection of them, this tidy, micro way to look back on the year.

To much more of the lovely small stuff (and some big things too) in 2015. Happy New Year!

Murmuration

A murmuration is a lovely sight to behold. A whole flock of birds moves as if tied together with strings. Expand, contract. Twist. Turn. As if they’re one organism.

I spotted one this New Year’s day, waiting in traffic on my way home from the movie theater in the mall.

murmuration

There’s some pretty crazy science behind it all. Something about a system on the verge of change. Seems like a fitting message for the first day of a brand new year.

Oh, the movie I saw? Birdman. The universe has a sense of humor.

If you’ve never seen on of these, watch this:

Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.

Pretty incredible, huh?

Slomo

A video posted by Sara McGuyer (@sara_mc) on

World, you move too fast.
Another year, another
flash in the old pan.

For this New Year, please
give me the slomo option
so I can pause, breathe.

I want to be here,
fully present for this sun,
but it’s hard full-speed.

Some days I’ll be fine
to fly with you, world. I’ll just
slomo as needed.

Just sometimes, like now,
which might fly by unnoticed
and then forgotten.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “Five Seven Five. Write a haiku (or…multiple haiku!) about the past – whether it’s a year ago, a decade ago, or from childhood. If you want to, give some background information about your simple scene. And then – write one that paints a picture of the present, or predicts the future.”

One Word

process

Looking back on 2014, in all that I accomplished at work, at home, I keep thinking of one word:

foundation.

At SmallBox, we focused on our people, process and place. During our winter Factory Week we mapped out our entire creative process, looking for places we might improve. After a year of leasing the old Broad Library, we purchased the building, making it our long-term home base. And we intentionally invested in professional development and career paths for the first time. We didn’t grow a lot, but we’ve prepared ourselves for it in 2015 and beyond by building a really solid foundation.

In my personal life, this year was all about finding the right place to call home. In July, we finally found the one, and have since been working to make it our own. We still have a few boxes left to unpack. Some of the rooms are not the right color. There’s more furniture to buy. But the house has great bones and is the sort of place we could live in until the end of our days. A foundation for a full life.

With some of these major things in place, I can’t help but feel like 2015 could be a wild and wonderful year, with growth at work, time to put toward upping my creative game, and to get back to the travel we put on hold for most of last year.

I haven’t picked a word yet for 2015, and I don’t know if I will. I’d never have chosen foundation as my word for 2014. With hindsight, I can see that was exactly how it all unfolded, and was just what I needed.

This post is part of Think Kit by SmallBox
Prompt: “A Single Word. What one word sums up the past year? Now: unpack, unfold, and uncover it. What does it represent? What events float to the top when you think about your word? And, okay, if you can’t limit yourself to a single word…use a (select) few.”