Tag Archives | Christine Mason Miller

The Great Leap by Christine Mason Miller

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

In just a few days, I’m crossing over. Good-bye forties, farewell first half of life. The big one is here—I’m about to turn fifty.

I’ve never felt daunted by any previous birthdays, but my fiftieth has had me, at times, in a mild state of panic. What does it mean to turn fifty? What lies ahead? How will this change the way the rest of the world sees me? How can I make the most of the time I have left? Because there is now no denying that what remains is limited—time to not only to be alive, but also to be healthy, energetic, and able to do all the things I want to do. I have lately been feeling a unique kind of pressure to make the right choices; my fear of reaching old age with a suitcase full of regrets about what I did or didn’t do when I had the opportunity has been a lingering presence all year long.

In a nutshell, I don’t want to blow it.

I’ve also never been one to create a master plan for my life. I’ve made big plans for business, creative projects, and even dinner parties, but not for the totality of my life. I’ve never had an age-related goal (married by 25, homeowner by 30, etc.) and have rarely tried to predict exactly where I might be or what I might be doing beyond a few months. This has been especially true since my divorce, when I was inspired to take an entirely different approach to my future.

Since then, I’ve steered my life in a way that is less about focusing my sights on specific hopes or dreams and more about setting my compass according to my values—the kind of person I want to be and what I want my life to look like. But even then, I try to hold onto any plans as loosely as possible. Experience has shown me that there are other more mysterious forces at play, and, if I’m willing to let go of the desire for control, there’s a very good chance things will unfold in ways more magically, abundantly, and beautifully than I could have ever orchestrated.

As my husband and I get settled in our new home and community here in Milwaukee, I’ve been watching him connect with an assortment of friends, colleagues, and classmates from years past. He is catching up with people he hasn’t seen in thirty, forty and fifty years, hearing about the highlights of their lives as well as those of other mutual friends. I’ve been involved in many of these conversations, and they have inspired a pulling upward of perspective. I’ve been imagining myself on a cloud above the earth, only it isn’t just the physical entity of our planet but all of time. It is a dynamic universe filled with moments and memories and experiences – mine included, many of which haven’t even happened yet, of course—and I’m up above, watching all of them collide and twinkle and carry each of us along different paths and trajectories. This decision went this way, that one turned things completely around. Those are the points of no return. These are the things we’ll never get back. And over there—that’s what is still entirely possible.

After hearing a few too many stories of lives being consumed by things like lawsuits, family estrangements, and addiction, I keep thinking about the finiteness of our existence.

This week I’m turning fifty, but the day might come when I turn seventy, and what will I be looking at then when I let myself float up above the atmosphere and take stock of the time I’ve had? What do I see now? Has my general approach—values first, pursuit of dreams second—served me or hindered me? Which regrets and heartbreaks from my past are still in need of redemption or transformation for my future?

The funny things is, my birthday will arrive and then it will be over. After all the build up, the angst, and hearing David Byrne’s “How did I get here?” in my head over and over again, it will happen. I’ll be fifty. And that will be that. But what is true about turning fifty has, in fact, been true all along – I don’t know how much time I have left. I don’t know what’s coming around the corner. Each day my work is the same—to make sure my compass is in alignment with what I love and value most, open the sail, and let the flow of life carry me toward my future, whatever the future may bring.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

The New Normal by Christine Mason Miller

It’s now official. I am a resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Driver’s license? Check.

Brand new long puffy parka jacket hanging in my closet? Check.

First snow flurries? Happened yesterday.

After months of talking about it, then planning for it, then diving in and heading east, I have arrived.

My husband is originally from here , which is the main reason we decided to relocate. The thing he says to everyone who wants to know just a wee bit more about his longing to return home is that being here feels normal. There are no palm trees. It rains. A lot. When shopping for a Christmas tree, it will be cold. Guaranteed. Our motivation for packing up everything we own and moving to the Midwest was not so much about reasons that, while understandable, are also vague – “It was time to return to my roots!” – this adventure is more about countless smaller details that we’re now moving through everyday.

I’ve moved here after spending twenty-two years in California; I moved to California after spending the first twenty-seven years of my life on the east coast, mainly in Alexandria, Virginia. I’ve experienced winter and its requisite accessories – snow boots, ice scrapers, electric blankets – so the thought of Wisconsin’s colder climates never daunted me. I’m indulging my own particular longings in this move, in fact, mainly having to do with growing weary of southern California’s nearly year-round sunny-and-72 climate. Because it isn’t sunny-and-72 anymore, but blazing, dry, and extreme. Just last week it was 102 degrees in Santa Barbara, an occurrence that is fast become de riguer rather than exceptional.

During this time of getting settled into our home, learning my way around, and figuring out new routines related to cold-weather preparedness (when in doubt, bring the hat), I’ve been surprised to see and experience how so many everyday details of this place feel normal to me, too. A deep normal, a cellular normal.

I’m not from Milwaukee, but Milwaukee is a much closer kindred to Alexandria than Santa Barbara. When I take a deep inhale in our backyard, hear the rain pelting our windows, and watch gold leaves twirl down to the earth like weightless ballerina fairies, everything within me says, “Yes – this makes sense.”

I hadn’t expected to feel this way when we got here. I was looking forward to the seasons, to not having to worry about fires and earthquakes, to something different. What I didn’t know was that my very cells have long been harboring desires for the kind of seasonal rhythms and routines that were never possible on the west coast. Right here, right now – looking out my window at a soft gray sky and nary a shadow in sight – I feel normal.

When I set these new views alongside the ones we had in Santa Barbara, it is the quality of the light that sets them apart the most. Just over four months ago, everything around me was bright and glittery and intense. On the hotter days, after months without rain, it seemed like I was literally watching the sun scorch the earth. The scenes outside rarely gave any insight as to the season or time of year. For some, this sounds heavenly. For me, over time, it became oppressive.

When I try to explain this, most everyone responds with, “Talk to me in February.” Fair enough. Maybe by then I’ll be totally over it by then – the cold, the gray skies, the muted light. It is entirely possible. But for now, I’m savoring every bit of it, feeling grateful for the gentle blanket of gray that seems to be snuggling us down for the interim. I don’t miss the glaring light or the sharp outlines of palm trees at dusk, and I am ready to hunker down and let nature do its work where I can’t see it – beneath the ground, in the dark, while I sleep.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

 

Uncertain, Scary, Thrilling by Christine Mason Miller

In a last-ditch effort to ignite the spark of inspiration needed to compose a meaningful, thought-provoking piece of writing around the theme of light and shadow, I went on a two-hour hike today through Peninsula State Park. As excited as I was to explore this theme when I was invited to write about it, I’ve been stumped for days. With a looming deadline (that would be today), I put on my hiking shoes and headed to the trails I’ve been wandering and cycling on for years.

When my husband and I made our plans for this visit to Door County, Wisconsin—the third time we’ve come here for an extended stay—we chose to rent a cabin for the entire summer. Between the time we finalized those plans and the day our rental period started, we decided to move to Milwaukee, which means our drive back home won’t involve a cross-country return trip to Santa Barbara, but a mere three-hour drive south.

On that day, we will move into our new home.

If you know me, follow me on Instagram, or read my latest piece here, you might very well be sick of hearing me talk about this move. It has been the main topic of conversation in most areas of my life since last spring and still dominates my thoughts. Because we had our Door County plans in place before we decided to change zip codes, I’ve been in a state of in-between ever since we pulled out of our driveway, and I won’t really begin to come through on the other side until the moving van shows up at our storage unit to take everything we own to our new address at the end of September.

The good news is that in the meantime, I’ve been relishing these first experiences of living in a part of the world that doesn’t provide blue skies and sunshine 24/7. You read that right—I’ve been loving it—the rain, the morning chill (it was 54 degrees outside this morning), the way the clouds hover low above the horizon like a puffy ceiling of cotton. And when I look outside our windows, hike in the park, or ride my bike along trails in the woods, it is the shadows that make things interesting.

On my hike today, the shadows created a perfect halo of light above a tiny mushroom the color of a persimmon and they created small sparkles of sunlight that danced all over the ferns. All around me, I’m discovering some of the unique flora and fauna the shadows nurture and protect. I happened upon an Indian ghost pipe this week, growing along our street like a lone soldier, which is a plant—not a mushroom or fungi—that is entirely white. Lacking chlorophyll, it gathers all of its nutrients exclusively from the soil, and has been known to help alleviate both physical and emotional pain when utilized as a tincture. Who knew such a thing existed? (Apparently many people, as a quick post on Instagram with the question, “What the heck is this?” gave me an answer within minutes.)

Strange and exotic wonders are abundant in the shadows, a fact that is true not only in the woods outside our cabin windows, but also within my very self.  I have been thinking about that particular landscape quite a bit this summer, eager to clear out what doesn’t belong and what I no longer need as I become a new resident not only of the Midwest but also of midlife, as I’m turning fifty in less than three months.

As I ponder what lies beyond my summer of in-between (and my forties), there is much that feels uncertain and kind of scary, but also thrilling in its mystery.

Many of the roads in Door County are surrounded by wide open fields of corn, wildflowers and farmland, but some cut a smoothly-paved swath through thick forests of trees. I find those stretches especially fascinating. The density of the foliage means it is almost impossible to see what is beyond the tree line. There is much more shadow than light, which feels—can you guess?—uncertain and kind of scary, but also thrilling in its mystery. Beneath the canopy of happy, healthy trees, there is much to inspire wonderment and awe—a particular kind of beauty that only exists in the shadows, and only thrives beyond the light.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Transplant: A Podcast about Home, inspired by her recent move to the midwest, can be found at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

Falling Trees by Christine Mason Miller

I’ve just moved two time zones and more than twenty-three hundred miles away from the place I’ve called home since 1995. My husband and I pulled out of our driveway in Santa Barbara, California on June 21st and, after putting nearly everything we own into a storage unit not far from the house we bought in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (long story) we headed a bit farther north to spend the rest of the summer in Door County, a pinky finger of a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

After all the weeks of preparing for our cross-country move—the purging, organizing, and packing—we now have the extraordinary gift of a bona fide summer vacation. Which feels glorious (yes, glorious) not only because it has been one of our favorite getaway spots for years, but because it allows us to exist in a magical bubble of in-between where it is easy for me to stay clear of the sharp edges of our move.

I’m not necessarily heartbroken to leave southern California.

With each passing year, I’ve had an increasingly difficult time with the extremes of that particular part of the world. Between outrageous real estate prices, the years-long severe drought, and the threat of earthquakes and fires, something deep in my body has been longing for an environment that feels more in alignment with the steadier, more natural rhythms of life and nature. It seems crazy to most people that I would voluntarily leave a place with year-round sunshine and flip-flop weather in February in order to go somewhere with a fleet of snowplows at the ready as early as October, but it no longer makes sense to me to take in the scenery outside my kitchen window and, from that perspective, have no idea what time of year it is.

What is heartbreaking about this move is that we have left behind a community of loved ones that includes family, neighbors, friends we’ve had for decades, and even people like my dentist. That is the part that swooshes into my heart and almost knocks me over—the reality that we won’t be running into our neighbors across the street on our morning walks with Tilda like we used to and that we can’t call our best friends down the street to join us for dinner. The physical distance that now sits between us and so many of the people we love most in the world is an undeniable fact of our relocation, one I had to start absorbing the day we left Santa Barbara and turned our car away from the Pacific Ocean, knowing it was the last time we’d see it as residents of California.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve watched three trees die—two of them fully grown, mature oaks that loomed large in our yard in Santa Barbara and one a towering evergreen next to the house my husband and I have rented here in Door County. The first tree fell on a Christmas night when fierce winds pushed an already dying oak out of the ground and onto our roof late at night, hitting so hard the whole house shook. (Believing it was an earthquake, we didn’t get up to investigate and therefore didn’t realize what had actually happened until morning.) The second tree fell with a whisper a little over a year later. One night we went to bed, the next morning the tree was on its side. I had been thinking for many weeks I was imagining things when it seemed like its lowest branch kept getting lower, but after it fell I realized I had been watching it slowly fall—and slowly die—as if wanting to take in every last breath of air and push out as many new leaves as possible to ensure a gentle landing. We ended up moving just a few months later.

The house we’ve rented in Door County is surrounded by trees. We hear barred owls at night, see deer on our morning walks, and watched a raccoon scurry by one evening while sitting in our screened-in porch. For hours after a rainstorm stops, we continue to hear the pitter patter of raindrops on the leaves. This was the sound I woke up to three days ago, but it was interrupted by a loud, sudden crack. I looked out our bedroom window just in time to hear a second crack and see an eighty-foot tree come crashing down toward our house, landing next to the deck. No real damage was done, and I was overwhelmingly relieved I hadn’t yet taken Tilda outside for her morning romp, but I almost laughed out loud when it happened. Another tree? Here?

I thought this was all behind us! In Santa Barbara, the trees fell because they were diseased or old or dying of thirst. Now that we are situated in a thick forest of trees that enjoys regular rainfall, what could this possibly mean?

~

While we are in this territory of not living in California but not quite settled in Wisconsin either, I know I am living a little bit of a lie. I know that while our time in Door County is providing us with a much-needed opportunity for rest and recovery from the first phase of an emotionally intense move, it also allows me to swim in the shallow waters of denial. For the time being, I get to enjoy a vacation we planned many months before we even contemplated moving. It won’t be until we pack up our swimsuits and bicycles for the drive south to Milwaukee in September that I will have to face the reality of our new existence head on. Our drive home won’t take us back to the Pacific Coast Highway. Our journey home will only take three hours, and as soon as we arrive it will be time to start unpacking boxes.

Our time in the bubble of in-between will be over.

~

After the second oak tree fell right outside our bedroom window in Santa Barbara, my husband, an ardent lover of trees, wondered if it was a sign – that our time in California was finished, that we were being called to make a big change. In order to make the leap to a new life in Wisconsin—a leap primarily inspired by my husband’s longing to return to the place where he grew up—a profound sacrifice—a death, if you will—was going to have to take place. We weren’t just going to have to pack up our belongings and transport them to a new zip code, we were going to have to say goodbye to the life we’d spent decades building and nurturing.

When the third tree fell (just a few days ago), I didn’t make too much of a fuss about it, but the experience of seeing three trees fall in such dramatically different ways and such a relatively short period of time will stay with me for a long time. While the idea of our move wasn’t even a blip on our radar when the first one collapsed, it has since become a marker of a time when we had no idea where we were headed. If someone had told us that morning we would be putting our house on the market less than eighteen months later, we would have been incredulous. Yet here we are, sending out a change of address notice with a Wisconsin zip code.

It took a while to get used to the new views outside our windows after each of the two oak trees fell in Santa Barbara. We lost shade, but we saw more of the sky. We noticed things we hadn’t before, and we enjoyed new perspectives. We were also given stark reminders that no matter how strong or beautiful or seemingly integral something seems to the world we inhabit, a time will come when some form of transformation needs to take place—for reasons we might not even understand until long after it happens.

After endless discussions about whether or not we should move to Milwaukee, my husband and I reached an important conclusion, which was that time was going to continue marching forward all the while we hemmed and hawed and debated the merits of staying versus leaving. We realized our window of opportunity to do something this bold and daring was not endless. This year he turns sixty-five, and I turn fifty. We eventually looked at each other and said, “If not now, when?”

I can’t decide if all the falling trees are symbolic of the way we’ve uprooted our lives or of the way we’ve put to rest our life in California in order to plant new seeds in Wisconsin. I don’t know if they are supposed to be reminders of the way life can be suddenly, irrevocably altered or if they are meant to teach us how to be brave when the time comes for us to go through our own metamorphosis. It might take a gale force to push us in the direction where we need to go, or we might slip quietly toward our fate. Or we might, with a loud snap, break away from what was toward what might be, all the while trusting we will have a soft place to land.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Transplant: A Podcast about Home, inspired by her recent move to the midwest, can be found at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

Remembering What Matters Most by Christine Mason Miller

I have become a worrier. Within five minutes of leaving our house, whether it is to run a quick errand or go out of town for five days, I immediately start scrolling through a mental checklist. Did I leave any candles burning? Is the back door locked? Are there any stray objects on the floor that Tilda could choke on? One after another, I try to put myself back in the moment of handling these tasks. Oh right, I blew out the candle before I took a shower, I think. Oh yes, I remember locking the door this morning.

I’m not sure when or why this started, but it has become a bona fide part of my daily routine. It isn’t the kind of worry that creates stress, per se; it has more to do with not wanting to invite disaster or create chaos due to my inattention. I don’t want to lose something precious because of a minor oversight. I want to take good care of what I treasure most.

Being on the verge of fifty, and watching many of my closest friends care for their dying parents, I feel myself entering a new phase of life that isn’t about my early-twenties fearlessness and dare-to-dream-big bravado, but about a visceral awareness of the fragility of life. That sounds like a phrase that belongs on a postcard with a picture of a sunset or a babbling brook, right? Life is so precious. We only have to much time. How many times have we read or heard these phrases? In their repetitiveness, they feel trite.

But with every piece of news that has words like cancer, dementia, and hospice – with every request for a prayer for someone who is not long for this world – I pause, and I take a deep breath. It feels important to stop whatever I am doing and acknowledge that I, too, will face these experiences – with loved ones, for myself. I float upward, able to take in a wider perspective of my past, present, and future, and I see what’s coming on the horizon – possibilities that are now much closer to me than they were when I moved to the west coast at the age of 27, graduate degree in hand, ready to take on the world.

That spark in me is not gone – I still have grand ideas and imaginings related to creativity, travel and work – but I have become much more methodical in the decision-making process. I actually think I’ve become a bit too careful as of late, but this shift is something I’m still working out. I have allowed myself to lean toward the opposite extreme of my usual “Let’s do it!” attitude in order to see how far I need to go to find the right balance between my longings as an entrepreneurial, artistic being and as a woman with a husband, family, and home. For many years, it felt like these were in a battle for my time, attention, and energy. It is only in the last year that I have managed to settle down their quarrels, a mediation I’m still figuring out.

A while ago, someone asked for my advice on a work-related issue. There was a job offer on the horizon, one that would have taken her away from home five days a week – away from home as in an entirely different state. She was grappling with the feasibility of a long-distance commute and the impact that could have on her marriage, home, and family. My advice to her was simple: Get clear on what she treasured most in the world, and then decide whether or not taking the job would support and strengthen that or diminish it.

This is the question I ask myself constantly these days – any opportunity, idea, or endeavor is weighed against a very short list of personal priorities. Which, if I’m honest, doesn’t necessarily make things easier. It requires great compromise and sometimes saying no to things I would otherwise leap at. But I simply don’t want to wake up five or ten or twenty years down the road wishing I’d done a better job caring for what I loved most in the world.

Which brings me back to the worrying, which isn’t just about the doors being locked or the candles burning, but also about how long my husband has been out on a motorcycle ride with calling me or whether or not my mom is having a restful day. I want to make sure everything and everyone within this tiny realm of home and family is taken care of. I want to enjoy every bit of all these things I love most, and appreciate them while I can.

Beyond the worry, my treasured routines are very simple. I rub Tilda’s belly before I get out of bed, I make a frothy cafe au lait every morning. I almost always stop whatever I’m doing to assist my husband if he tells me he needs me. I talk to my best friend on the phone nearly every week. I wash my face every night, and always hang up my jacket when I come back home from a walk. In those routines, I am reminded that being alive is about the very small things, the very tiny experiences. And in those peaceful respites from the feeling that the world’s traumas are rapidly closing in on my tiny haven in Santa Barbara, California, I balance out those moments of fretfully reviewing my just-left-home checklist. I remember it is all OK. I recognize how fortunate I am.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

A Letter from the Heavens by Christine Mason Miller

I had an astrology reading done for the first time at the end of 2014, right around my birthday. As far as my knowledge of astrological meanings and intricacies before that reading, I knew I was a Scorpio, and that this meant I was fiery and passionate. My husband is a Scorpio too, and whenever we share this, the reaction is always, “Oh, wow!” (I get the impression they think we must have a) fierce clashes, b) wild sex or c) both. Maybe at the same time.) I like the persona of Scorpio—the intensity, the spiritedness—and I’ve always looked at it as something to live up to and honor.

Although the scorpion is not my totem animal—which would mean “I am a very strong person with the ability to inspire others” according to spirit-animals.com—as my zodiac sign, it has been with me for as long as I can remember, serving as a point of reference as I’ve tried to figure out who I am and who I want to be.

This week, I listened to my reading for the first time since it took place. I was struck by how clearly I remembered some parts of it and how quickly I had forgotten others. This was my natal chart, so it involved looking at what was happening at the date, time, and location of my birth, all of which tell a story about that particular time and place. Meaning, there was a very specific arrangement of things in the solar system, around planet earth, that were different from any other time and place. We all come into the world this way—with connections and relationships between the sun, the moon and the planets that are specific to the latitude and longitude of where we are born.

Astrology is something I can’t say I’ve even so much as dabbled in, but I think it’s possible I could get hooked on it without too much cajoling. The engineer in me loves the very precise diagram of where things were when I was born, with lines marking their angular relationship to each other. I love the symbols and the symbolism—the woman who gave my reading, Carol Ferris, uses the language of Greek mythology to tell the story in an astrology chart, so different characters were explained in a familiar context. Being able to visualize these characters and their stories was easy, which enabled me to understand their role in my chart.

After listening to my reading again this week, I walked away feeling affirmed. As in, the things that are going on for me right now internally are, in fact, reflected in the story of my natal chart as interpreted by Ms. Ferris. Which is not to say I got to the end of the recording and thought, “Yep, that’s exactly who I am!” but that I saw the connection between my existence and the vastness of the heavens that surround our planet. They say we’re made of the same stuff as stars, right? So perhaps the stars and the planets and the sun and the moon made their imprint on me the day I was born, which, like, fingerprints, might not necessarily determine my fate, but have been part of me from the moment I took my first breath.

In my search for meaning, understanding and awareness, I’ve read books, watched films, discussed, debated, and prayed. Getting an astrology reading was part of that process. It is helping me make sense of some of the forces at play within myself—my longing for beauty, my ambivalence about certain possibilities, the way I love being at home. I don’t see it as a guide that is telling me what to do but as a letter from the stars that says, “You’re doing just fine. Everything will be OK. Trust us.”

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

To Patience, From Your Biggest Fan

Dear Patience,

I have to be honest with you—I’ve never done anything like this before. Like, written an actual fan letter. Anytime I think about it, I immediately feel embarrassed, like I’m twelve years old and very small compared to whomever I’m contemplating writing.

I’ve come close a few times. I started a letter to Joy once, but something fun caught my eye and I never made my way back to it. I thought about reaching out to Anger, but it felt too scary (although I actually think Anger is quite misunderstood and would probably appreciate little love from time to time.) And I picked out a really pretty card that I thought would be perfect for Kindness, but then I found out a good friend of mine was having a hard week so I sent it to her instead.

There is so much I want to say to you Patience, but it really all boils down to this: I want to be just like you.

You seem so mystical, so serene. You have a way of creating calm no matter what the situation and you do such an extraordinary job of putting everyone around you at ease (or at least whoever is willing to pay attention to you.) I wish I was more like that. Too often I am so eager to finish—or start—something that I miss out on a lot of details and experiences. Anytime I get it into my head that I won’t be able to feel good or have fun or be OK until this happens or that takes place I always run into trouble. You know what I’m talking about, and you know how futile it always is. In all the times I’ve let myself get frustrated and grouchy because something isn’t happening exactly the way I think it should, never once has it made time move any faster (or encouraged slow drivers in front of me to magically change lanes so I can pass them!)

In situations that have me feeling hurried and harried, I look to you, Patience, and following your example always enables me to turn things around. I stop, take a deep breath, and ponder what you would do in that moment. After I sit with this thought for a while, I usually end up wanting to do the same thing every time—nothing!

If I feel overly anxious to speak up during an argument, you encourage me to remain silent. If I notice myself sloppily folding laundry in an effort to get it done fast, thinking of you enables me to immediately sink into the simple beauty of my soft, clean bath towels. If I’m running errands and wishing I wasn’t where I was but, instead, where I was headed, you inspire me to take a very small action that never fails to pull me out of my wholly unnecessary angst. With your nudging, I look outside my window. Once I spend a moment or two admiring the trees, the clouds, and the sky, I’m no longer concerned with being in such a mad rush.

I’ve also learned that anytime I choose to ignore your example, I’ll likely pay a price. This usually involves a stubbed toe or some other such mishap. When I become fixated on getting something done as fast as possible, I literally become oblivious to my surroundings. How many bruises and nicks and scrapes do I have because there was an imaginary ticking time bomb I believed would explode if I didn’t get something started or finished or somehow resolved as soon as humanly possible?

A lot of people say you’re all about letting time unfold organically.

While I get this, and know it’s part of your charm, I’ve come to believe your most unique and potent genius is in all the ways you teach the world how to focus its attention on what truly matters. Is it important I get my dishes cleaned quickly or that I spend the time it takes to wash them being grateful for the meal I just enjoyed? Does it serve me to feel annoyed if someone doesn’t return my call right away or might it be a better idea to allow for circumstances beyond my knowledge or control? Will the situation be elevated by my saying, “What a jerk for not calling back!” or “Maybe he or she is dealing with a person crisis; I hope everything is OK.”?

You don’t teach me to just sit back and do nothing. You instill a practice of gentle, mindful immersion into the beauty of every moment.

The world is so enamored with speed these days. Immediacy seems to be the goal, no matter what the situation. I bet you feel like your work is never done around here. I wonder if you sometimes feel tired and overwhelmed. Perhaps you doubt whether or not anyone is even interested in what you have to say anymore.

I think this is why I decided it was time to take a leap and write my first fan letter—because it is important you know how desperately so many of us want and need your example, your teachings, and your wisdom.

I know you’re busy, Patience—more busy than ever—so I don’t expect a response. The only hope I send with this letter is that you find some small solace to know what a difference you’ve made in my life. You have helped me appreciate the detours and the delays, the uncertainties and the lulls. You’ve shown me how to gently slip out of tense situations, most especially the ones that became unnecessarily wound up because of my own untamed thoughts. Thank you for all of your hard work. Thank you for all the ways you show up for me.

Happy New Year, Patience. You’re the best.

With admiration, Christine

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

Christine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available for pre-order at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

There Was a Lot of Blood by Christine Mason Miller

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I was in a good mood the day I had an interview scheduled with Kimberly Wilson. I’d had the pleasure of being interviewed by her twice before, had hosted her in my home for an event celebrating the release of one of her books, and I knew we were going to have a great conversation. After running some errands in the morning, I came home and set things up in my studio for our early afternoon Skype session in happy anticipation of the interview.

As I flitted about the house, my brain was all abuzz. Why, I don’t remember. About what, I don’t recall. All I know is that less than an hour before our call, my mind was distracted enough that I got my middle right finger caught between a heavy glass shower door and a tiled bathroom wall at the precise moment I was swinging the door toward me to open it.

I could explain the physics of this mishap, but then I’d just be distracting from the good stuff – the part about the blood. Because the result of this seemingly small bit of inattention was one of harrowing pain and a howl that made my dog run for cover under our bed. It was so shocking and painful I wasn’t even able to cry. All I could do was walk around in circles moaning and hyperventilating. The only thing that jolted me out of my stupor was realizing I needed a paper towel. Immediately.

The cut on my finger wasn’t terribly deep, but there was a lot of blood. Despite being a little woozy, I was still fascinated at how quickly one paper towel after another was transformed from a pristine white landscape to a bright red mess within seconds. When the bleeding finally settled down, I wrapped two more paper towels around my finger, put an ice pack on top and then sat down at my computer to type a one-handed text message to Kimberly. Explaining I’d just smashed my finger with a heavy glass door and was debating a visit to the ER, I told her I might need to postpone our interview. Ever the gracious host, she responded with a, “No problem,” and encouraged me to take care of myself. So I took a deep breath, put down my phone, and sat still for a few minutes.

After watching the birds outside my window cavort in our garden for a bit, I unwrapped my finger and saw that it wasn’t terribly swollen. I could still bend it and move it back and forth, and decided I probably did not require Emergency Room attention. So I sent another text to Kimberly letting her know I was still game for the interview. Within fifteen minutes, I was upstairs in my studio and we were connected on Skype.

Kimberly had suggested this interview because she wanted to discuss Moving Water, my new memoir. The book tells the story of my journey from believing I didn’t belong in a family to the realization that breaking through and dismantling that belief was my soul’s most important work. I finished the book in early 2016, and over the summer had published and given away about a hundred advance copies. Kimberly was one of those readers, which meant the questions she prepared for our interview were related to specific passages of the book.

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One of Kimberly’s first questions had to do with the parts of my family history that led to my belief that I wasn’t meant to have a family. On a “normal” day – as in, a day when I didn’t almost break a finger in half – I probably would have talked a little bit about my parent’s divorce, the breakdown of another blended family, and other family estrangements. But on that day I did almost break a finger in half, so even though I had regained enough composure to go through with the interview, my finger was all bandaged up and my insides were still a little wobbly. To put it another way – I was vulnerable, exposed, and raw.

Which is why, I think, I answered Kimberly’s question the way I did – a response that took me completely by surprise and required me to quickly articulate a thought that was being formed in my psyche in that moment. My answer – and I’m paraphrasing here because I haven’t yet heard the final interview – didn’t mention divorce or loss or broken families. Instead, I started talking about the way so many of my stories and memories had been transformed – how, through the act of writing, I’d ended up releasing the versions of them that had inspired me to write about them in the first place.

Are you with me?

I knew writing the book had healed many of my deepest emotional wounds, but it wasn’t until my conversation with Kimberly that I realized writing the book actually altered my cellular memory of them. The pain I experienced during my parent’s divorce was real, but it was pain I didn’t need to carry anymore. It was painful then, but this was now. More to the point – I believed, until I wrote Moving Water, that certain memories and experiences maintained a certain potency throughout my life only because they held my deepest sadness and most significant losses. What I discovered is that they’ve also, all along, contained the mechanism I needed to remove their charge, and to heal.

~

It was only recently that I made the connection between the bloody mess I had on my hands (literally) just a few minutes before my interview with Kimberly and the fact that this revelation hit me when it did. But now that I’ve connected those two experiences it makes perfect sense. Perhaps in my off-balance, vulnerable state, everything in me softened enough to let a door swing open (maybe even a heavy glass shower door) that would have otherwise remained closed. Maybe the decision to show up for the interview despite feeling messy and clumsy and slightly fragile made it possible for my attachments to certain versions of my own story loosen more than ever before. Maybe when I agreed to show up despite having an ice pack on my finger, I extended an invitation to something deep inside of myself that hadn’t yet found a way to be expressed. Maybe being less “on my game” enabled me to tap into something real, something exquisite, even if it wasn’t possible to formulate what was happening into a tidy soundbite while I was being recorded.

It took more than two years to write Moving Water and it is taking nearly a year to prepare it for its release into the big, wild world. Despite all the work I’ve already done for the book, and all the transformations that have taken place along this journey, its gifts and lessons are still being revealed to me. I am still learning, still healing, still figuring things out. The stories I am being called to tell as I share Moving Water with the world aren’t necessarily the ones I thought I’d be offering, but boy are they good. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

To hear Christine’s interview with Kimberly Wilson, click here.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who has been inspiring others to create a meaningful life since 1995. Signed copies of her memoir, Moving Water, are now available for pre-order at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

Living Out Loud with Lawrence Davanzo

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”
–Rabindranath Tagore

When my husband retired four years ago, he heard the same chorus: “You’re going to be so bored!” I suppose I could see their point (sort of) – my husband was stepping away from a forty-year career, during which he’d built his own company, served as President of another, and was so respected in his industry that when he returned to work after a larry1three-year hiatus in 2004, he hired nearly a dozen former employees within two months. My husband’s identity is fueled first and foremost by his role as a father, but as far as making his mark on the world, it was his career that steered the ship.

So for those who knew him primarily in that universe, it shouldn’t have been terribly surprising that their reaction to the news of his retirement was an assumption that he would turn the corner away from his work life only to find a barren stretch of land where nothing more than a few lone tumbleweeds bounced by from time to time. My husband was driven, ambitious, and successful, so how on earth was he going to find fulfillment once he had all the time in the world?

Here’s the thing about my husband that might have surprised those who couldn’t imagine him living a happy life without his suit, tie, and title – work was never his number one thing. It was never all-consuming. It wasn’t even a part of him I knew much about during the first two years of our relationship because he was on a sabbatical when we met. I heard stories and saw glimpses, but it wasn’t something I experienced firsthand until he returned to work.

Even then, and over the course of the ensuing eight years before he retired for good, I never saw my husband as a workaholic. larry2Aside from travel and the occasional business dinner, when he came home at the end of the day, he was home. When we went on vacation, we were on vacation. He never brought his laptop to bed and he never spent a Saturday on a golf course with clients. So when someone proclaimed he would end up being bored without his work, we both laughed, knowing these comments were more likely a reflection of what the prospect of a life beyond work and career would mean for them rather than what was true for my husband.

Four years later, we’re still laughing – and slightly gobsmacked – to find he is not only not bored, but more active than ever. He has continued to do the things he could only do on the weekends while he was working – bike riding, playing violin, reading – and now has the time and space to dive deeper into other passions and interests that he’s had for most of his life. He isn’t merely taking more photographs – an interest that first took hold when he was given a camera as a ten-year old – he attended a photography workshop in Berlin, had a solo show in Los Angeles, and goes on photo shoots with Santi Visalli – one of the most renowned photographers of celebrities and public figures of the last four decades.

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My husband is also on the phone a lot. Friends and former colleagues call him frequently for advice, guidance, and encouragement. He coaches and advises his son and son-in-law – both entrepreneurs with their own businesses – on everything from cash flow to employee relations. It also isn’t unusual to hear him perusing the pages of his favorite larry3cookbook while chatting with his best friend – a chef who helped ignite my husband’s passion for cooking.

Here’s another thing my husband (well, most of us, really) hears a lot: life is short. My husband happens to think the opposite is true. In his opinion, life is long. At first, I thought he had it backwards. Life isn’t long, I’d think, Life whizzes by faster than I can keep track of. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate his way of thinking. It might seem like the entirety of my life up to this moment has traveled along at warp speed, but when I stop and take a closer look at all the adventures I’ve had, I see how much is there. How could I have experienced as much as I have unless life were, in fact, long?

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Boredom is simply not in my husband’s vocabulary, and because his approach to life is that there is plenty of time to do the things he loves, he has been able to find that elusive balance between exuberant creativity and much-needed, well-deserved downtime. In between his bike rides and photo shoots and music gatherings, he writes letters to his granddaughter and reads at least one book a week. He takes naps. He plays with our dog. He loves washing our cars. He is the same man he’s always been – curious, engaged, and eager to live out loud.

Learn more at www.lawrencedavanzo.com.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who just completed Moving Water, a memoir about the spiritual journey she’s taken with her family.

You can follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

Seeking the Wise Woman Within by Christine Mason Miller

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I’ve long considered myself a spiritual seeker, but sometimes the thought of trying to attain lasting wisdom feels, well, unattainable. I imagine what it might look and feel like to be a wise woman and I envision myself sitting in the folds of a shiny, oversized pink lotus blossom. Radiating perfect calm and serenity, I observe all of humanity’s dramas and shenanigans – most especially my own – with a detached, bemused expression that is rooted in compassion. I do not react. My ego has no power. Every once in awhile, I let my imagination run a little wild and I see a unicorn stroll by. This feels appropriate because the image I’ve constructed is a fantasy. The vision I’m conjuring is a mirage.

Simply put: I’m not Buddha. I’m a messy human – subject to mood swings, grouchy days and the occasional door-slamming freak out.

My soul’s march through early adulthood and into my early thirties was fueled mainly by ambition. I wanted to inspire the world, and believed my most important work needed to be expressed outwardly – toward an audience I aimed to build with my artwork and words. After my spiritual journey took an unexpected, sharp turn to the left the year I turned thirty-four, I realized I had it backwards. Wisdom and contentment weren’t going to come to me because I was working hard to be a good person in the wide open world, trying to inspire as many people as possible. In order to be in alignment with my (potentially) wisest self, I had to hone in on something much closer to home, closer to my very skin.

Lao Tzu says if you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading. That year, I didn’t merely adjust my course from north to south. I started digging into the ground beneath my feet and kept going – building tunnels, discovering hidden caverns and swimming through underground pools of water. By the time I burst back through the ground, I was committed to a practice of mindful observation. With that established, I proceeded to move through the world in an entirely different way.

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Mindful observation is simply this: stepping outside of myself to observe my own behavior, reactions, attitudes and thoughts.

Oh look, there I am freaking out because the box I shipped wasn’t delivered.

How fascinating to see I just burst into tears because the doctor appointment I thought would happen this week can’t actually happen until next week.

Take a look at this – I still haven’t returned that phone call even though it has been on my to do list eight days in a row now.

After years of honing this practice, here’s what I have to say about wisdom: it provides me with opportunities to recognize and acknowledge what a monumental bonehead I can be. I yell at my dog. I complain. I shake my fist at slow drivers ahead of me.

But on the other side, I see this: That all my human follies and foibles are actually quite precious. They are invitations to pull out my spade, do a little digging and pull out the detritus and weeds that might otherwise tangle up my spirit.

Tilda starts barking at a squirrel, startling me in a moment of quiet.
I immediately lose my s***, and I yell at her.
I observe myself yelling.
I look beyond the surface of things to explore where my reaction came from.
I recognize it’s because I have a dentist appointment tomorrow and I’m nervous.
I am on edge, and I am feeling vulnerable.
Deep exhale. Soften.
Give Tilda a hug. Make myself a cup of tea.

There is no judgment or labeling. I don’t declare that my yelling at Tilda because I’m worried about my dentist appointment makes me a bad person. There is only observation and open-hearted curiosity. And with that, understanding. It is envisioning whatever is happening in the moment as something taking place on a stage, whereby I have the ability to pull back the curtain and see what’s really going on.

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I don’t always know what to do with things I observe myself doing, and I don’t always immediately change my behavior in order to shift things in a different direction. Sometimes I say, Oh look at me gossiping, and I keep gossiping, practically daring the divine to come down to earth in a bolt of lightning and write me a ticket for violating my own moral code. There are days when I observe myself acting like a complete spoiled brat, irritated by every interruption and distraction, and say There I am acting like a total jerk – what of it?

Mindful observation is not a practice that prevents me from being human. I have yet to find that giant pink lotus blossom for me to nestle into, secure in my practice of detached curiosity and kind consideration of my misdeeds. What mindful observation provides is an immediate entry to compassionate inquiry, should I dare to take that opportunity. Sometimes I’m able to do it in the moment, other times it takes days or weeks or years. The nice thing about it is that there aren’t any expiration dates, so the ability to take a closer look at anything I’ve ever done, said or thought is always at my disposal. It is always possible to see things from another perspective, and to consider the different facets of each experience without judgment.

I still do a lot of work that is expressed and shared outwardly – across miles, continents and the world wide web. It is important work, and it is meaningful to me. But my real work – my life’s work – has been an inward journey. It is the moments of mindful observation, of giving myself a break, of holding myself accountable. It is the moments when I recognize the situation in front of me as an opportunity to make a choice, and to carefully consider whether the choice I am inclined to make will support what I value most in my life or diminish it.

I’m not sure that makes me a bona fide wise woman, but it certainly makes me feel more in tune with what it means to be human, and in sync with greater flow of life.

Oh look, there’s a parking space that I trusted would be waiting for me.

What do you know – my doctor can see me this week, because she just had a cancellation.

How fascinating to see so much beauty all around me, and all I have to do to enjoy it is look up, stay still, and take it all in.

About the Author: Christine Mason Miller

christinemasonmillerChristine Mason Miller is an author and artist who just completed Moving Water, a memoir about the spiritual journey she’s taken with her family.

Buy her book on Amazon. Go on Retreat . Join Christine at her upcoming retreat in Ojai with Wild Roots, Sacred Wings.

You can follow her adventures at www.christinemasonmiller.com.

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