zen of everything

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 21: Baby buddhas

baby and the buddha I've been caught up, or catching up, with work lately, and today was no exception.

So by the time I got to my Country House, the Youngster had already been here for awhile. He and The BF's kidniks had been hanging out, playing frisbee down at the park, lolling around and such. They do a lot of that, hanging out, but all the same, they have a way of commanding your attention. Such is the result of being constantly present. It's exhausting for us who are more used to being partly present, albeit for longer stretches.

The kidniks were off somewhere in the other room, amusing themselves for a moment or two, and The Youngster turned to me and remarked how it had done him a world of good to spend some time with them. Because you realize that none of It matters. All that crap. As the Youngster said, "I realized, hey, I could just go to Italy."

Because none of It matters. Not really. All that stuff we get so caught up in. That deadline. Those meetings. This blog.

Don't worry, I'm not going to stop blogging. But I'm going to start bringing more attention to it when I do.

Lesson #22? Be here now. Wherever "here" is.

Go forth, fellow buddhas, and be...

xxx c

Image by kiny via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 20: Learning to take one's medicine

miracle pill For years, the only things I took orally, and let me pause here ever-so briefly, that some of you may retrieve your mind from that trench below the curbing, were food and drink.

I was young! Healthy! Carefree! I thought the corrals of pill bottles blooming on my elders' nightstands were needless, if one lived life well and thoughtfully.

46 years later, the joke is on me. On top of the Crohn's medication, I take a multivitamin, a calcium-plus-magnesium supplement, an acidopholus capsule and an omega-3 supplement. And that's when I'm doing well, like now.

Most of these pills are no big deal once they're in my gullet. (Other than the omega-3, which makes my burps taste like three-day-old fish for the next five hours.)

Getting them down is another thing, entirely. And I've gotten worse, not better, with practice. The longer I take them, the more episodes of choking and sputtering and heinous powdery throat afterburn I get. And so I come to dread taking them, which, given my tendency to bow to the Woo, makes me feel like they're enemy agents, not helpful troops.

Today, I ran out of the calcium supplement. (I figure I'll live until I can get around to re-ordering, I eat enough yogurt to sustain the bone health of the entire population of Sun City.) With the usual dread, I filled my mouth with water, mentally prepping myself for the daily chokefest, and...nothing. Nothing! Went down like a couple of old skool Sudafed.

Apparently, the calcium tabs, specifically, the large and chalky nature of them, were what put me over the top. So it would appear that all I need do when they're back in rotation is... take them separately!!!

Lesson #21: Bigger problems are swallowed in smaller doses.

No kidding...

xxx c

Image by Wahish via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 19: Making peace with emptiness

these bananas have no taste For years, I lived my life like the plate spinners.

You know, those guys you'd see from time to time on Bozo's Circus who, for their grand finale, kept what seemed like dozens of plates spinning atop dozens of poles via timely reapplication of force (and the apparently gyroscopic effect of the sabre dance).

It was funny to me, until it wasn't. After all, no matter how skillful you become, it still requires a great deal of energy and focus to keep those plates intact and in motion, which exacts a toll. And for what, ultimately? To prove you are a skillful chicken running around with your head cut off?

As I was getting my breakfast ready this morning, I realized that my life has become less about plate spinning and more about banana rotation. See, I'm not allowed to eat regular bananas on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, so for the past five years, I've gotten in the habit of staggering my banana purchases so that I always have a few just coming into that overripe stage that puts them in the SCD safe zone.

Only sometimes, I screw up. I get busy (spinning plates, probably) and don't get to the store and all of a sudden there are no bananas, or only unripe (or perfect) bananas, which is the same as having no bananas on the SCD.

Here's the thing: when you fail to keep your plates spinning, you have loud noises and broken crockery; when you fail to rotate your bananas, you have...apples. Or yogurt. Or any one of a number of other foods to fall back on. Quiet, non-stressful foods that, while they may not be loaded with potassium, certainly can get the job done in a pinch. Lesson #20: Yes! we have no bananas

Talk about your zen koans...

xxx c

Image by greenhem via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 18: The significance of cheese

nah You just don't know.

That lady who cut you off this morning? Maybe she was just delivered the straw that broke the camel's back before leaving the house that morning.

The guy who jumped the concessions line at the movie theater? Maybe his mind was just somewhere else. Or hell, maybe his vision isn't so hot. (Well, did you see where he picked his seat for the show?)

When you sign up for my newsletter (and I hope you will) the only information I ask for is your email address, which I think is fair since I need it to send you your newsletter. I also ask for some other stuff, but it's not mandatory. Your name, for example, and where you found me.

And cheese.

I ask you if you like cheese. Or don't like cheese. Or whether you think the whole question is stupid. Because...

Well, I didn't know why when I set it up. Maybe I thought it would be cute, and kind of ease the awkwardness of blatant information harvesting. But once I set it up, I became fascinated by the answers, particularly those who would JUDGE ME by indicating that yes, indeedy, they thought that question was S-T-U-P-I-D, too stupid, in fact, to answer. Only, you know, they were answering it.

Which started to rile me, then worry me. Were there people signing up for my newsletter who hated me? Who were just doing it so they could judge me? Would they eagerly await each month's new release, sharing it with their friends as they all laughed and laughed at how S-T-U-P-I-D it was?

Then today, annmarie commented on one of my posts. And in the comment, after leaving some very sweet and encouraging words about the blog, she confessed that she had checked the "I hate cheese" box accidentally...and it had been bothering her ever since.

So thank you, annmarie. Not just for the kind words, but for Lesson #19: You don't know what you don't know.

xxx c

Image by meg rorison via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 17: Maybe we should put a price on happiness

happy grocery I live in a neighborhood set smack dab between the rich and the not-so-rich, my building equidistant from their respective grocery stores.

Both stores are clean, new and well-stocked. There's only one real difference: the prices are better at the poor grocery store...and everything else is better at the rich grocery store. Basically, you pay a premium for things to be a little prettier and, yes, for people to be a little friendlier.

Don't get me wrong: there are friendly people at the poor grocery store, there just aren't as many. Maybe they hire happier people at the rich grocery store. Or maybe they pay them more, so they're happier. Or maybe it's just part of the job description.

That's not the point of today's lesson. Because unless they're poking them with sticks at the rich grocery store, or doing something equally despicable to make them smile, all I know is all things being equal, and especially when they're not so equal, when I'm feeling a little ill or low or pressed for time, I'd rather go to the rich grocery store. Partly because they're nice to me, but also because being around them makes it easier for me to be nice.

Which got me to thinking: instead of it being selfish of me to say "no" or set terms that work for me or charge enough to keep myself from worry, could it be that I'm just enabling myself to be a better conveyor of happiness?

Lesson #18: Do what you can to keep yourself a strong link in the chain.

xxx c

Image by Terry Bain, author of You Are a Dog, &c., via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 16: Seeing opportunities through the mist of problems

soft cream in fog I had a number of good lessons make their presence known today, but by the time I finished driving the distance between my place and My Summer House, I'd pretty much settled on The Story of the Blockbuster Guyâ„¢ as tonight's post.

I used the time to run through them, and the day, and to remind myself of what had yet to be done. There was getting my tabs set up on the guest Mac, and finding a good accompanying photo on Flickr, and porting it to another machine that had Photoshop loaded in order to do the wee bit of tweaking necessary for it to show up perfectly (there's that word again!) on communicatrix-dot-com.

But when I got booted up, Flickr was down. "Having a massage." Whatever. It's been happening more and more, it seems, growing pains, perhaps. I knew I didn't want to spend a bunch of time messing with the wonkiness, but I also knew that to post without a picture wouldn't feel right.

And then it hit me: I have pictures. Tons of pictures, loaded on my server already. The one above, "Soft Cream in Fog", was culled from a search I did around TequilaCon, when I was hunting for good Portland images. There are dozens, nay, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of great Portland images. I couldn't use all of the ones I loved, but I saved some anyway. Because I loved them. Because they were worthy of note.

So today, because Flickr was down ("problem") I got to share one ("opportunity"). Along with a little reminder that just because I've always done something one way, doesn't mean there's not a better, more interesting way. Or at the very least, a different way.

Lesson #17: Everything is a way through to something else.

Let's hope I can keep it in mind as I approach the maelstrom of midweek, with its looming deadlines and other attendant madness...

xxx c

Image © Whateverthing 2007 via Flickr.

The Zen of Everything, Day 15: Making church more like shirts

sign The Youngster was in the neighborhood today, so he dropped by for a visit. While we talk on the phone and exchange emails quite often these days, the in-person visits are more fun for catching up, and, let's face it, act as more of a tonic than do the more remote forms of communication.

He needled me about calling him "that fucker", even as he acknowledged it was a compliment. And then he needled me about my attitude towards "church", mainly, that I feel the need to put quotation marks around it. Why not just go to church?, he asked.

He's started attending fairly recently but has known me long enough to understand my distaste for proselytizing of any kind. As much as is possible between one who chooses church and one who chooses "church", the question was offered and accepted, I think, in the spirit of logical, impartial discourse, not sales.

And why, you might ask? Is it because I am so evolved, so sure of my own way and tolerant of others', that I didn't throw out the strong-arm at the mere mention of church-no-quotation-marks?

Nope. Well, partly, maybe. But fully half of what made civilized discourse possible is that he called it "shirts", in the same way I call yoga, or called, when I was attending, "yogurt". Poking gentle fun at something we're now embracing acknowledges both that we came to it from someplace else and that there is another way. When I was into "yogurt" (as opposed to yogurt, which I am still very much into), I knew how ironimical that shift in position was; at the same time, I had come to understand that there was at least as much good in yoga as there was silliness in the hoohah surrounding it.

If I can manage to find the "yogurt" in yoga and you can manage to find the "shirts" in church, maybe we can both live in something other than a black-and-white world. I spent years loathing myself for overstaying my welcome on Madison Avenue, and years more punishing myself for hanging on to relationships, habits and notions that had clearly run their course.

From this side of the Divide of Mean I can tell you, there's not much use to it. Now I see that if I can embrace each thing as a step on the path, nothing has to have been bad or wrong, it can just be. And of all the things I've found that let people get along and let dissonance just be, levity is the simplest, most graceful and joyous.

And if you think of it, isn't that how the good Lord would want his shirts done?

Lesson #16: To see more clearly, lighten up.

xxx c

Image by Christi Nielsen via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 14: Reflecting on coffee

spoon with line of coffee It hit me over breakfast, or rather, as I sipped the pre-breakfast coffee he'd made for me, that The BF has finally matched, if not surpassed, my ability to make a good, stovetop Americano.

It also struck me that coffee, while not traditionally associated with zen buddhism, is a dandy example of the Zen of Everything.

First, there is coffee as a metaphor for self-development. We're born with neither knowledge nor need of it. We fall in love with the idea of it long before we come to fully appreciate the full experience of it, if we do at all. To embrace it marks the move from childhood into adulthood, which is why we put up with the bitter, unusual taste of it at the start.

Coffee can also be used as a meditation on...well, meditation.* You can continually refine your coffee-making technique, or you can settle in on a practice that varies little, if at all, from day to day. You can interact with it by rote, or you can bring your full attention to each step, each sip. You can overindulge to the point where you are not yourself, where you are disengaged from the world. (I'm particularly guilty of this, where coffee is concerned, anyway. I've never been able to sit still long enough to meditate.)

Finally, there are the ways in which our taste for coffee mirrors our different perspectives, and offers an exercise in appreciation without judgment. As a devotee of strong, black and espresso-driven, someone else's ideal of "cappuccino" is not entirely foreign; while not my cup of joe, it's something I can at least understand or relate to. I have to work much harder to embrace as equal the weak cup of Sanka or the sugary, flavored coffee. Even coffee served in the "wrong" type of container constitutes a challenge: styrofoam and delicate, wide-mouthed bone china cups seem equally preposterous to me.

I'm sure there is even more to be learned from coffee, and the nature of it, and my relationship to it. But for today, the main thing to be learned is probably...

Lesson #15: What is not all things to all people, can still be an entry point into all things.

xxx c

*Although I would not advise meditation under the influence of coffee, except perhaps as a one-off experiment.

Image by *Kitto via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 13: When a shortcut is the long way around the barn

stop ahead Operation Complete Backup has been on hold for awhile, which at first seem kind of ridiculous since the precipitating event knocked me on my ass, but if you think about this whole lessons series, makes all the sense in the world.

I won't bother with a lengthy description of what happened, mainly because I have no idea. All I know is, thanks to my ongoing refusal to shake hands and make friends with Patience, not only does my poor little PowerBook not sport a duplicate of the directory on my G5, it doesn't, period.

So much for shortcuts.

I could keep working on it tonight; I have no plans. I also have a boyfriend who's not particularly high maintenance. But somewhere behind the tiredness in me is some smarter voice, and right now it's whispering bits about diminishing returns.

Lesson #14, courtesy of The Gambler: You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em...

Aaaaaand I'm out...

xxx c

Image by royal rivers via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 12: There is no try

yoda Today I did two things with all my heart. And, pressed for time as I was, I felt peace in the "yes" and joy in the doing.

I also agreed to one thing with half my heart, and from the moment of my saying "yes", the pit of dread and the choruses of regret (Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!) battled it out for my attention.

True, I placed boundaries around my promise. And I know I will kindly but firmly hold to them, no matter what, when the piper comes calling tomorrow.

Still, today's lesson is one of those that comes around like clockwork, in slightly different guises, to test how much I am really committed to honoring myself. (Answer: more than before, not enough by half.)

Lesson #11 13: Just because a problem exists doesn't mean I need make it my own.

But really, as the title of this post indicates, I think the Master summed it up best...

xxx c

Image by arycogre via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 11: Fame, freeways and the glue that connects them

in hurry What trips you up? Pride? Temper? Fear?

I get shanghai'd by all three, sometimes in combination, but nothing gets me like patience. Because I have so damned little of it.

Today, I almost did a foolish thing, I almost bailed on an opportunity because it wasn't getting me somewhere fast enough. (Well, I also felt like I wasn't being appreciated enough, but like I said, my sins like to gang up on me sometimes.) Miraculously, I stopped myself short of bailing altogether; maybe some of this self-reflection is paying off in self-reflexiveness. I emailed a trusted advisor, and she talked me down.

There was no one to talk me down in the car on the way home from Nerdmasters tonight. We ran late, and in my newly-dual capacity as VP of Membership and President-Elect (yes, we made it official tonight), I'm having to stick around even later. And still miles to go before I sleep, both literally and figuratively.

So of course, of COURSE, the fine city of Santa Monica chooses tonight to shut down an on-ramp. Two, actually; I found that out after going farther out of my way, thinking to save time. And once I got on, I drove like an impatient fool for about 3 freeway miles. Until I noticed the Scarymobile, a.k.a. My Teacher for Tonight, hard on my ass, doing 70.

Am I impatient for things to happen faster, for my vision of myself as the communicatrix, household name, to hurry the hell up, already? Yes. Of course. As much as I'm anxious to get home NOW when it's late and I'm tired. Now, please, if not sooner.

Will it really matter, though? Or is it better to arrive feeling refreshed and content, having enjoyed the ride?

In the case of freeway driving, is it better to arrive, period?

Lesson #10 12: To diminish impatience, expand perspective.

Travel safe this weekend, people, wherever it is you want to get to in a hurry.

xxx c

Image by phil h via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 10: Serendipity is as you like it

daylight ghosts When things are heavy on my mind, as they were last night, I sleep fitfully, dream much, awaken often.

I woke up finally this morning with a bolt, and a strange directive: Olive Prouty.

I'll spare you the woowoo details, but I'm fairly sure it was a message from Mom. Why she's pestering me from the Great Beyond after a rough evening and fitful night's sleep is a matter for the medium, but I'm sure it was so, and no amount of skeptic's reasoning from The BF would convince me otherwise.

Later today, after some scrambled eggs, coffee and time, The Lesson for Today came to me. Only I was driving, you see, and it wasn't safe to write, and there was no need to pull over because of course, I would remember it.

So maybe that wasn't The Lesson. Or maybe it was.

Maybe it wasn't Mom. Or maybe it was.

It is my life to create, they are my dots to connect. I am the decider.

And Lesson #11? Either have a way to capture it, or have a way to let it go.

Because I say so...

xxx c Image by ohmomof1 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 9: What perfect feels like

seagull in New Zealand I had a call today from The Youngster, an ex who is both a current friend and collaborator. Along with The BF, we're working on a couple of interesting projects (one I can show you; one I've alluded to) that have, in the main, gone swimmingly, but have been quite a lot of work (as I've also alluded to).

When I gave him the good news that one big project had moved through a really big phase with no changes, that is, p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y, a variation of my favorite word, he congratulated me. Us. And added:

"What's more important is that now you know what perfect feels like."

That fucker. He's, like, the original Speaker in Zen Koans. And he's fully 12 years younger than I.

But I'm catching up. While we were still in the conversation, I managed to grok it: if this is what perfect feels like, maybe I ought to start reaching for something else. Because guess what, perfect doesn't feel so all-fire fantastic. Lesson #9: A race is not always about the finish line.

Bonus extra: Lesson #10: Sometimes, the work is not the Work.

A big, big day. And whaddya know, mostly, I just rested.

Talk about your lessons...

xxx c Image by leiwandnz via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 8: When in doubt, change your shoes

my shoes are finally worn in As the dread, dead weight of the weekend lifted after 8 hours of rest and some attendant perspective, I knew that today's lesson had to be It's always darker before the dawn.

Then I drove to the Cuban joint for provisions. And while I was sipping my coffee, waiting for them to prepare my salad, it struck me in a rush: Coffee was the lesson! Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Coffee! Coffee!

But an hour or two later, I wasn't so sure. I slipped out of my clogs and into my supposedly-for-running shoes in preparation for a trek to the library, mulling over the day, wondering if maybe my lesson would greet me on my walk to the library to return some materials...and then I stood up.

And all of a sudden, I grokked the true meaning of "do one thing different".

Lesson #8: While the big events may provide the starting point for a shift in consciousness, if I'm aware, the small things can, too.

Like marvel, and gratitude, over cushy shoes.

Like marvel, and gratitude, over the soft coolness of bed after a long, hard day.

Like marvel, and gratitude, over the rippling impact some silly little series of observations on a nothing little blog can have...

xxx c Image by ratterell via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 7: My blog is like a raw, raw fish

sushi zen Rather than bore you fine people with the oft mind-numbing tedium of my workaday life, I try to keep the shop talk (and the whining) to a minimum.

Sometimes, though, there's a useful nugget buried in the poop of everyday existence, the kind that's like a shiny diamond you swallowed by accident, not the kind that's like a piece of undigested corn. (Ugh. It has been a long weekend.)

Without getting too much into kerning and coding and the rest of that stuff that sends people's eyeballs permanently to the backs of their skulls, The BF and I have been hard at some crazy-making detail work this weekend. Outside of an hour or so spent in the company of Alan Partridge and some fine pinot noir, we've had zero social engagements, and relieved to have none. And until this evening, we'd not walked farther than from the bed to the bank of computers provided by our robot overlords to do their bidding.

Have I ever told you the story of the last all-nighter I pulled? 38 hours straight, compiling a massive PowerPoint presentation for a client who was desperately trying to hang on to a piece of business, lest they have to fire even more staff. Everyone else, and I mean, everyone, to an office boy, took at least a few hours off to nap or shower or whatever. Not me. I got up to take in and expel caffeine, and that was it. I wrecked my health for a few days, got in a big fight with my then-boyfriend (I'd been too absorbed to check messages or call, so naturally, he assumed I was dead, or worse) and guess what? They lost the business anyway.

Not that we're close to being that kind of crazy overextended. Still, at about six p.m., I started lobbying for an excursion to fetch dinner. On foot. In the fresh, open air.

It took about an hour, one I suppose we could ill afford to spare. But had we stayed and ordered in, would we have come out ahead? Even? Or would maybe a little bit of us have slipped away and put us farther behind.

It's easy to blow off a walk, a weekend, a good night's sleep, a blog post. It's hard to keep those bonus-extra goodies a part of life. I've been sneaking in bits of writing here and there as I wait to be fed more pages to tweak. I do it because I made myself a promise, I do it because it keeps me human. And if I start chipping away at my humanity, what good am I going to do your website, much less the world.

Lesson #8, picked up between HTML tags on a Sunday night?: The non-essential isn't.

xxx c

Image by smaku via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 6: Not-great expectations

that ‘oh, shit'  moment For a long time, my credo was this:

Always go to the party expecting to have a bad time and you might be pleasantly surprised.

I used it literally when going to a shindig, and metaphorically when approaching almost anything else: math class, the grocery store, doctors' appointments. I was really good at coming up with a doomsday scenario for just about anything, and I'd just tuck it away, right under my sunny disposition, like a spare $20 bill, just in case. It doubtless had its roots in cra-a-azy alcoholic mom behavior: when you never know what to expect, and at least half of the time what happens is pretty bad, you start protecting yourself by expecting the worst.

Through talk therapy and active self-awareness, I've reduced the behavior to where it does minimal damage; most of the time, if I feel the dreaded dread, I can muster an equivalent amount of enthusiasm to neutralize it.

Today, though, I had a phone call I'd been dreading making. My "phonebia" is well documented, and this was a long overdue return call to someone seeking reconnection after many, many years. Just thinking about it made me tired.

Resigned, I called; strangely enough, she answered the phone with the same kind of trepidation I know in my own voice where the phone is involved and caller I.D. is not. Only her issue wasn't caller i.d. (I enable mine), it was that in the five or six years since last we met, she's gone legally blind.

There are two interesting points of irony to note at this juncture: first, that had I known I was reconnecting with a friend who had lost her sight, I'd really have dreaded making the call. How could talking to someone who's gone through something so arduous, so dreadful, ever be something to look forward to? But the second ironic note to all of this is that the hour-long conversation turned out to be one of the strangest, lightest, most uplifting conversations I've had in a long time, on both ends, hers and mine.

Of course, we all grapple with being in the now. It's as easy to look back as it is to look forward, and with all sorts of lenses; it is very, very hard to be here now. My friend is re-learning the meaning of that every day, and she gracefully, graciously gave me a refresher course in it today. Today's installment in a continuing series...

Lesson #7: Dread is writing a future that does not yet exist.

xxx c

Image by MandaRose via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 5: Making life more like church

extraordinary Before you atheists go running for the hills, or at least the greener pastures of more skeptical blogs, know this: I have never been much for organized religion.

In fact, the introductory essay to what I'd assumed would be my first book, How I Pulled My Head Out of My Ass (A Skeptic's Guide to Self-Actualization), is all about how church, or my indifference to it, made me realize that I was different from the other ducklings. (In a meta-way, it also became about my realization that it's really, really hard to write a book, but that's a lesson for another day.)

Church, as realized by the band of whitey-white Catholics in my hometown, was but an anemic facsimile of what I now believe CHURCH should be: a time/place for getting down with what's important to you that's different from the everyday, but similar enough each time you return that it provides a useful and consistent context for holding yourself up to the light.

So the physical space of "church" can be Joshua Tree or your tricked-out new age altar or 42nd and Broadway; conversely, you can create a practice, zazen, gardening, pinstriping, that puts Church inside of you.

From whence cometh this brilliant realization? From a book about branding mentioned in a post about questions on a blog about presentations. Questions one consultant asks of prospective clients, which we might do well to ask, period:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why does it matter?

Even if you, like me, are not one for religion, maybe especially if you, like me, are not one for religion, it's worth remembering that returning to the same, simple touchstones can be of value. Because in the absence of absolute authority, where can you turn but inward? That space is Church for the rest of us, where we go to reflect and recharge and pray.

And in that Church of You, how do you pray? Well, you've got to sort that out yourself, but I think an excellent place to start is...

Lesson #6: The language of prayer is the question.

xxx c Image by .michael.newman. via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 4: "Turn off your machine, Luke"

the universe is safe once more It's Table Topics at nerdmasters, and you're handed the topic you must speak on for one to two minutes: tell a story about a celebrity you've met somewhere, somehow, and elaborate if you need to from there (which is code for 'make it up if you have to.')

I didn't have to; between my job in advertising and my job as an actress, I've worked with dozens of them. But I didn't talk about the stars who worked for me as a copywriter, nor the stars I worked with as an actor. I didn't even talk about the time when, as a seriously crushing six-year-old, I met my idol, Miss America.

This is all significant because when someone before me had been asked the same question, and I'd run through all these in my head as possibilities. But in the moment, I decided to let go and see who else showed up. And it was Mrs. Loyal Davis, a.k.a. "Edith", a.k.a. mother of Nancy Davis Reagan, a.k.a. mother-in-law of then-Governor Ronald.

We met when I was 10, on some trip to Arizona. My father loved Arizona, so we went every spring. And his father, my grandfather, a terrific bon vivant who'd been chummy with Edie back in the heyday of Chicago radio, apparently insisted that Dad drop by and pay his respects when he was in town. Edie was getting up there and, well, you know.

Or maybe you don't. Or perhaps you've forgotten what it's like to be 10 and in a very hot and boring place full of adults you don't even know. At one point, when my dad was called away to something, the phone, most likely, I was left to my own devices. And Edie, Mrs. Davis, some bajillion-year-old lady who I didn't know from a hole in the ground, called me over to her.

"What's your name?"

"Colleen."

"Mm. How old are you, Colleen?"

"10. Ma'am."

"10. Mmm."

She looked my scrawny, 10-year-old self up and down, then beckoned me to come closer.

Ugh. For sure she was going to smell like old lady. And something bad like cheek pinching or admonishing or other Stupid Adult Behavior was going to happen.

"Colleen, I want you to remember something..."

"Yes, ma'am?"

She paused ever so briefly, and then, what I surely would have seen as a twinkle if I'd been sporting a clue, hissed, "They won't buy the cow if you give away the milk for free."

* * *

A perfect story, a gem of a moment, it had been lying under the dead weight of a hundred canned tales I'd been rehearsing in my head. And when I let them go? Just like that, there it was. As if it had happened a moment ago. As if I was 10 again...and 45 right now...and, oddly enough, beyond the veil, if you catch my drift, all at the same time.

That, I think, is Lesson #4: Everything is a breath away from everything else.

Whether you like it or not. Whether you believe it or not.

And maybe, there is a Lesson #5 in there as well:

It is not necessary for you to believe in it for it to be true...just to make itself known...

xxx c

Image by *hairbear via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 3: You can't climb a corporate ladder to entrepreneurial success

defeat I don't have a single advanced degree, but even if I had five, I would need six more before I felt secure enough to call myself an expert.

I have over 20 years of quantifiable success in three areas of communications under my belt (and lately, a lot of pizza), but I would need 10 in this exact, specific one before I'd dare stand before a group of people and presume to teach them anything about it.

I give away my power every single day because I don't feel entitled to say "this knowledge counts for something."

And I'm pretty sure I'm not alone on this.

What brings this on? I went to an alumni networking event this evening. I've been to enough of them to know not to think of them as card-collecting expeditions, but as learning experiences. I've even been to enough of them to know I'm not necessarily going to learn what it is the "expert" thinks he is there to teach me.

Tonight, he came to teach me about how to become a better communicator; what I learned is that I am already the communicatrix.

A successful director I once knew put it best, between takes of a commercial we had hired him to direct. (He's since gone on to work in episodic TV, and quite successfully.) Five years before that, he'd been a production assistant, gathering experience on the sets of various film productions. Then one day, he declared himself a director. Because, as he put it, there is no director track.

Yes, there are nuances to be learned and skills to be honed, always. And thank god. That is the joy of work, that discovery.

What there is not is some magic key to the kingdom, or tap on the shoulder in the middle of the night that will initiate me into some secret society of You Are Officially Okay. There is only Lesson #3:

The last 10% is all about balls.

Or, you know, lady balls...

xxx c

Image by katiew via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

The Zen of Everythingâ„¢, Day 2: Two-fear Tuesday

uh-oh Part the first: Fear of the Unknown

Around 4pm, I was crossing the street, wondering why no lessons had made themselves known to me yet (was I so close to enlightenment I perhaps needed none?) when I narrowly missed being mowed over by a high-end SUV.

The driver was mortified. He went white as a sheet, seriously, I saw it happen, even through the high-end tint on the windshield, and his eyes opened wide and he made the "oops" face (a.k.a. mea motherf*cking culpa), and he kept mouthing an apology even after I smiled and waved.

Now, the lesson wasn't that I stayed calm because I wasn't pressed for time, nor that he was wildly apologetic/remorseful as opposed to angry and defensive because I stayed calm. It wasn't even that SUV drivers, or pedestrians, for that matter, should watch where they're going. (Although I'm reasonably sure the reason I was not mowed over was because I was I happened to be paying attention, so, you know, watch it with the volume on the iPods, people.)

The Lesson, which, I swear, came to me in a flash, was that "safe" is an illusion. There is perhaps safer: I'm more likely not to have my house burn down if I don't smoke in bed or roast weenies over the sofa.

But the notion we (and by that I mean "I") generally walk around with, that I am "safe" because of x, y or z, is just that: a notion, and a pretty silly, self-absorbed one at that. Take a big step back from almost any situation and I'll bet you'd see anvils narrowly missing all kinds of Mr. Magoos. People get sick, natural disasters strike, the apocalypse happens. Even if I do a whiz-bang job of saving for the future, it won't mean a damned thing if the bottom falls out of the system. And there's not one thing I can do about that, except choose to live in fear...or not.

I used to not do a whole lot of things out of fear. I do more of the things now, but I still have the fear, which is probably why I got the lesson. No, not great to be struck down by an SUV at four in the afternoon (or ever), and yes, probably good to be alert. But maybe it's time to start dispensing with some of the fear. Because really, outside of those really appropriate times, like reminding you it's not a good idea to walk down a dark, unfamiliar alley or poke the bear with a stick, it doesn't much serve.

LESSON #1: Security is an illusion.

Part, the Second: Fear of the Known

On the way home from Lesson #1, I came across a brown paper Trader Joe's bag lying in the street. Feeling all virtuous and contemplative and stuff, I figured HELL, the BUDDHA wouldn't let this old trash defile the street; he'd carry it to his apartment building and put it in the recycle bin! I am like the Buddha! I will pick up this trash!

But when I did, it felt strangely heavy for an empty paper bag. Like...it might not be empty. A pit of sudden and inexplicable dread formed in my stomach. I opened up the bag, peeked inside...and dropped it right back in the street.

LESSON #2: When it comes to dead pigeons, in or out of brown paper bags, I am not like the Buddha.

xxx c

Image by anniebee via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.