Tag Archives: surrender

Best day of your life?

What’s the best day of your life?
Is it a birthday? A wedding? First love? Special vacation?

Often, we associate the best day of our lives with some seemingly special occasion that appears to stand out from all the others. But actually, there is only one correct answer: Today. The best day of my life is today. The best moment of my life is right now. Because right now is all that exists. Right now is all we have. Today… this very moment, as you read these words, is all you have.

Anything else, birthdays, anniversaries, funerals, celebrations, dances… special events… all of those are nothing more than memories. Memories are habitual thought patterns creating the illusion of a solid story and an actual identity. But remove those thought patterns and the past disappears. The future disappears. They are revealed to be what they truly are: empty concepts. Mentations.

The best practice you can ever have is to recognize and embrace truth. The truth is, the only day of your life is today. The only contact you make with reality is in the present moment– like a needle making contact with an album on a record player.

Therefore the best day of your life could only be one possible day: today. Embrace it.

Want more? www.timbirchard.com

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Angry Subaru Man VS Road Bike Guy

Wow. So I’m riding my bicycle on E. 3rd Avenue (near E. 31st Street) at about 5pm on Tuesday, April 12. I see a fellow cyclist riding toward me on a road bike, in full gear.

A guy in a Subaru passes him, then slams on his brakes and comes to a stop right there, in the middle of the street. His tires even kind of squealed a little. Like in the movies.

The door flies open. The driver jumps out, runs up to Road Bike Guy and begins screaming. Cursing. Getting right in his face. Yelling obscenities that you can’t print here. For about five minutes. Seriously ranting about how the cyclist had cut the guy off. I’m pretty sure I saw spit flying.

I was so shocked I simply stopped my bike, got off, and just stood there watching. I wanted to make sure Angry Subaru Guy knew there were witnesses.

Road Bike Guy, to his credit, kept his cool.

After about three minutes of yelling, cursing, and claiming ‘champion cyclist’ status (“I’m a cyclist, too!”), Angry Subaru Man turned and started to get back in his car.

Road Bike Guy asked, in a respectful tone, if Angry Subaru Man had seen the stop sign. Angry Subaru Man gets BACK out of his car, goes BACK up to Road Bike Guy, and starts yelling again.

Meanwhile, no fewer than 7 cars are stopped in traffic. I counted.

Road Bike Guy, thanks for keeping your cool.

Angry Subaru Man, if you really ARE a cyclist, couldn’t you think of a better way to address the issue with Road Bike Guy? Do you think that R.B.G. somehow agrees with you now?

Were you worked up about something else? Lose your job? Going through a divorce? Times truly are tough right now. We’re all hurting, in one way or another. We live in community. We’ve got to cut each other some slack from time to time.

I’m pretty sure that any children who were in the 7 vehicles you stopped were watching you, learning one (less than ideal) way to deal with conflict. You were teaching by example, intentionally or not.

Thanks for the reminder that I’m teaching by example, as well. Next time I’m in my car and frustrated with a cyclist, or on my bike and frustrated with the driver of a vehicle, I’ll think of you.

Tim Birchard,
Durango

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Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with pet owners

“Oh, it’s okay… she won’t bite.”

As I open the car door and turn to step out of the car, I look up to see two dogs fast approaching. I raise my right foot and hold it in the air. The dog stops suddenly and takes a step back. The owner quickly takes hold of the dog’s collar and then, holding the dog’s collar, slowly brings the dog’s nose closer to my leg.

“She just wants to sniff you.”

I look at my fellow human being and wonder: Do I have any say in the matter?

Why is it that so many dog owners are happy to tell me that their dog is perfectly safe, and that I should have no concerns about letting this animal put its jaws and teeth right next to my leg to satisfy its curiosity? What happens if the dog smells something it doesn’t like and responds by biting me? Isn’t it then a little too late, now that I have to pay for a hospital visit and rabies shots, to run up, regain control of their dog, and apologize?

(I’m reminded of my routine bicycle ride to work last week, when I found myself face-to-face with an angry dog, up on its hind legs, teeth bared, straining against the leash as its owner struggled to keep it from lunging at my body as I rode by. Zen told me to keep riding, since the only thing that had been disturbed was my thought process. Still I find myself turning over and over in my mind the various other possible outcomes. So much for my Zen training.)

And setting aside safety issues and the potential unpredictability of mammals lower on the food chain, what if I simply PREFER not to have dogs rubbing their noses and fur against my body?

Whose needs come first: a dog’s, or a human’s?

It’s my responsibility to set and maintain healthy boundaries around my own body. It’s also my responsibility to make sure that my body doesn’t collide with anyone else’s body; by extension, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my dog doesn’t violate the personal boundaries around other peoples’ bodies.

So why is it that when a dog owner refuses to respect my personal boundaries and I’m put in the position to maintain them myself, she or he becomes so defensive and protective of their dog?

I’m sitting in the park minding my own business. A dog runs up and starts trying to sniff my body. I make adjustments to prevent the dog from doing so.

And suddenly, I’m the jerk?

In this case, I happened to be helping a dear friend with a project that involved being on the dog owner’s property. So I kept my mouth shut. More or less. But the more this pattern wore on through the day, the more unhappy I felt. Now that I’ve had some time to tease apart the issues at hand, I feel better prepared to articulate my concerns. I’m realizing that setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with people can mean making requests regarding how they control their pets. Now I understand that I need to be ready to make the following requests:

“I understand that you love your dog, and I respect that. I need to know what action you’re going to take to keep your dog at least three feet away from my body. If your dog gets closer to my body than that, I need to know what action you’re comfortable with me taking; do you prefer I move my leg quickly and make a sharp sound? Do you prefer I shake my gloves in your dog’s face? Because if you don’t care enough to control your dog and respect my personal boundaries, I certainly plan to maintain them for myself.”

“If you don’t like any of those choices, dog lover, then I leave it to you to maintain control of your dog.”

If that doesn’t work, then I make the choice to remove myself from the situation, whether other people experience emotional discomfort or not.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a ‘dog’ issue, or a ‘pet’ issue at all.

It’s a matter of respecting another human being’s freedom to choose whether to get close to animals or not. It’s a matter of recognizing that just because I love dogs doesn’t mean that everyone loves dogs. When I let my dog walk up and sniff you, I’m disregarding your freedom to choose that outcome. And when you protect your own freedom to choose by preventing the dog from getting close enough to sniff your body and I respond by chastising you, I’m demonstrating a total lack of awareness that your happiness may not include dog slobber on your clothing and body.

What do you think, fellow human being? Where’s the line?



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What does compassion look like?

Friends,

If you know someone in southwest Colorado (or anywhere) who is considering getting a GED, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

And if you or someone you know has problems and thinks there is no way out except suicide, get help. TALK to someone. In the U.S., call 9-1-1.

I’m happy to help if I can. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can try to put you in touch with the appropriate community resources.

Here’s the catch: In order for any of us to get help, we’ve got to WANT to grow. We’ve got to WANT to make progress. If I make a call and then ignore the help that is offered and say, “Oh, well, they were no help at ALL!”, then I’m just copping out. Refusing to take responsibility for my own growth.

Tonbo (Dragonfly). Japanese calligraphy. Sumi ink on parchment. By Beth Wheeler.

I’ll be the first to say that growth can feel extremely uncomfortable. Like crawling through rusty barbed-wire and broken glass, on a good day. And there are sacrifices involved… once you grow and gain increased awareness, there’s no going back. You can never regain the ignorance that you once had. These are small prices to pay for the freedom, joy, and sense of power and self-worth that is available.

But no one can do it for me.

True compassion puts me in touch with this process and leads toward self-realization, inner-power and a true sense of self-worth. I think that’s why true compassion can take so many shapes. Someone getting in my face may appear to be unkind and uncaring. But if that person helps me to come face-to-face with my own avoidance techniques, my own pretzel logic, my own b.s., then it can help me move forward and grow.

If someone believes compassion simply means “being nice”, then they may lie to my face with a smile in order to prevent hurting my feelings. And to prevent experiencing the internal discomfort of taking that risk. Lie to me, tell me everything is fine… shield me from the truth… how can THAT be compassion?

I’m going to define compassion as ‘that which helps us, in any given moment, identify what’s needed to grow into fully-integrated adults’.

I guess we need another definition… I’ll define fully-integrated adult as “someone who clearly understands cause and effect and lives accordingly.”

What do you think, Gentle Reader? How do you define compassion? How do issues of compassion relate to your artistic process?

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“Counselor” VS “cop”

I’ve never wanted to be a cop.

I’m supremely grateful for the fact that they help prevent the bad guys from climbing in my window at night. And at the same time, it’s just not the job for me.

Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is something that I’m working on improving in my personal and professional life. There are moments when it feels uncomfortable to hold others accountable for their actions. But I’m learning that, with practice, I can actually pull it off rather smoothly on a good day.

Somehow this feels different from being The Guy On Patrol, a role I’m seriously not interested in playing. (Maybe this is related to why I don’t have kids of my own.) As the Trusted Adult people can go to when they need help and want to change things for the better, my life generally runs pretty smoothly. But when students are breaking rules, don’t want to be here, and have no interest in trying to change or grow, it can be a challenge to keep them engaged.

Recently, I’ve found myself getting caught up in trying to serve two masters… trying to simultaneously play the contrasting roles of cop and counselor. Maybe this combination is possible for some, but I can tell you that I personally don’t know how to do both successfully. Not yet. In fact, I don’t even know how to be a ‘cop’ (or rule enforcer) successfully; whenever I try, I end up feeling drained and unhappy. Even if I “win” by catching someone in the act of breaking the rules, it feels like a letdown. A power struggle. And at the end of the day, I find myself taking things personally. (My mistake, I know…)

I’d much rather catch someone in the act of reaching a healthy goal. Facing a personal challenge. Doing something right. But recently I’d lost sight of that. The more I tried to control situations through force, the more stressed and uncomfortable I felt. The more resentment and rebellion I encountered.

The tension felt like a coiled snake in my stomach.

Fortunately I’ve been able to recognize and acknowledge the grief that I’m feeling from the recent death of one of my students. The sadness and frustration I feel at the idea that our society let this young person down has had me distracted for the past couple of days. This self-knowledge is priceless, I know. But even with the metacognitive awareness that I’m grieving, still I’ve found myself reacting (versus ‘responding’) to recent student behavioral issues by clamping down even more tightly on the rule book. Trying to be more and more of a ‘cop’, rather than stand calmly in the counselor role that comes so much more naturally to me and benefits everyone involved.

Feedback from colleagues and my own reflection on how I was feeling helped me to see the need to talk. And at a recent meeting, someone I deeply respect said, in a very matter-of-fact way, “You can’t be both the cop AND the counselor…” The words struck me like a ton of bricks. I looked up in surprise at this realization… Until that moment, I thought I’d been failing miserably at a task that others could probably do very easily. Only at that moment did I ever stop to consider that being the “Enforcer of Rules and Distributor of Punishment” was not going to help earn the trust of students needing to talk with someone they could trust.

I must have looked a little ridiculous, with the big, dopey grin on my face, the expression of surprise, and the tears welling up in my eyes.

But, once again, I find myself remembering the words of Steve Vai, who says that the way to be true to one’s unique talents is to do the thing that is the most obvious. To do what comes naturally.

Returning to the softness of the open heart is what feels right to me. And letting the resentful student express his or her emotions without trying to take responsibility for them is a way that I can demonstrate love, compassion and strength. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries is non-negotiable, and remains a key part of my happiness and success. (I’ve worked too long and hard at that to ever go back to my prior shady emotional dealings with others and myself.) I believe carrying this out with a smile is the hallmark of a master.

Maybe win them over. Maybe not. But releasing my attachment to specific outcomes is certainly a good start. Gives me a much better chance at opening up a conversation based on mutual trust and respect rather than fear.

I don’t have to be both cop and counselor. I don’t even have to try. What a relief.

What about you, Fellow Traveler? Ever try to be something you’re not? In your art? In your life? How has that played out?

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Letter to my student who died Thursday

Hey. I was shocked and saddened to get to work this morning and find out that you were dead.

In fact, I didn’t believe it at first. No proof. Nothing in the newspaper yet. Just people talking matter-of-factly about it.

So I called the police station. Transferred me to Investigations. Yep. They knew just who I was asking about… Told me there was a death investigation underway.

Still, I had to ask. “So… he’s dead then?”

Yessir, the officer replied. There’s definitely a death investigation underway.

First, I needed to let my colleagues know that it was confirmed. Then, on to interrupt every class in session. Tell the students. Let them know they can talk to me, and to any of us. Tell them that I care about them. We care. Not just about the books. The grades. The behavior. We care about the hearts. The minds.

Did they hear me?

Do you hear me?

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Straining for ease

Spent some time recently with a friend whom I really admire. What strikes me the most is how calm and relaxed I feel around him. His sense of ease is contagious.

He’s not rich. He doesn’t have an inside secret or some sort of special claim to ‘security’. In fact, his ease seems to come from the realization that the idea of ‘security’ is a sham. And I agree.

Once I let go, then I can relax.

From a photo by Nacho Blasco

Admittedly, some of my very best recorded performances on guitar have happened just after I made a mistake. In the microsecond that followed, I thought to myself, “what the hell… this take is ruined anyway. Might as well goof around now. I’ll erase it and do a real take in a minute…” And with that, magic would pour out.

I thought I was pretty clever when, upon recognizing the emergence of this pattern, I decided to try to outsmart myself. “This doesn’t matter, so I’ll just goof around,” I’d say aloud in an otherwise empty studio, to make sure that I heard it with my own ears. But in my mind, I was trying to set the stage for the BEST PERFORMANCE EVER. It was like trying to catch my own shadow. Flopped every time.

The magic can only flow when I truly let go of any sort of attachment to a particular goal or outcome. In a word, “surrender”. (At this point, my guitar chimes in: “Not just cleverly ‘pretend’ to surrender, Mister Smarty Pants.”)

There’s a big part of me that doesn’t like the idea of surrender. It’s the part that believes it is in charge. Of, like, everything.

Of course, it’s not. And when I acknowledge that and sink into surrender, willing to simply watch, listen, and experiment without judgment, I come into contact with magic. The magic that surrounds me 24/7. The very same magic that I could be experiencing in each moment of my life, if only I would close my mouth and set aside my agenda. If only I would stop straining for ease.

How about you, Fellow Magical Architect? How does surrender play out in your art? In your life?

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