What do you want to add to your life?

A list, by its nature, has to have some importance. We make lists to organize our thoughts and to remember what we want to recall, and why would we do that if it wasn’t for something meaningful or important? Right now I have a grocery list in my purse and a to-do list on my desk.  On my iPad, I have a list of 100 books “That Shaped America”. Last week the “Best of 2016” lists started appearing. And a few years ago, Rosanne Cash even made an album called “The List”, featuring the songs her father had considered essential for her to know.

So lists can be made up of things that are the best, the most influential, or the most essential. And lists can be more mundane: groceries, names, chores, goals. The common factor is always, “Let’s not forget these things.”

For my birthday, I received a journal called “The 52 Lists Project“. The idea of the journal is to take lists beyond what we want to remember and into the realm of inspiration and insight. What do our lists reveal about us? Loosely organized around the calendar year, each week’s list challenges the writer to look a little more deeply inside.

List #48 asks me to “list the things you want to add to your life.” This is the time of year when many of us are expecting gifts, but list #48 is something different — the non-tangibles that I desire. Here is my list:

Joy/smiles/laughter — is there anyone who feels they have enough of these? Our world gives us so much to be serious and worried about, but how can we temper those thoughts with occasions of joy?  My inner child wants to delight in the glow of holiday lights and the beauty of new snow, to laugh at something silly, to smile at a loved one.zoolights-december-5

Civility & respect — These traits seem to have gone missing from society. A nearby Quaker church used to have a banner that asked, “How does your life help to remove the causes of war?” My question now is, “How can my life add to civility and respect in the world around me?” Can the way I think and talk about people, places and things (even in my own home) be a small step that contributes to a shift in the environment?

Volunteering — Our time and presence are powerful gifts to offer others. When we give help, most of us get just as much out of it as we put in. It’s an opportunity to put passions into practice; get out of our own heads for a while; and shift our perspective. It is also a way to experience humility and demonstrate respect for others.

Meditation — I’m in the middle of a personal 28-day meditation challenge. I especially like a 5-minute meditation I found on YogaGlo called “With empty hands, I take hold of the plough.” It helps me visualize the balance between letting go and holding on, as well as approaching each task with openness.Hand Reaching

Sleep — The Dalai Lama has said that sleep is the best meditation, but it is an ongoing challenge for me to get deep, uninterrupted sleep. Since sleep is so important for repairing the body, and contributing to a longer life, this will always be on my wish list.

Time with friends — It’s so easy to get caught up in juggling everyday life that time with friends often goes to the bottom of the list. But the nourishment that comes from these moments together makes our daily burdens so much lighter. As Henry Van Dyke wrote, “A friend is what the heart needs all the time.”

A list of 6 simple things to add to my life. Now I’ll see if it translates to action, or just procrastination!

Some lists endure longer than others. The grocery list might get tossed tomorrow; the book list will be marked up and crossed off; the to-do list will probably get longer. Some lists, like #48, serve as guideposts. Some, as Rosanne Cash discovered, become legacies. What kind of list are you writing this week?

Seeking a muse

Where does inspiration come from? A stray word overheard on the street, a beautiful view, an ironic piece of art, serendipity? Should we seek inspiration or let it come to us?Lake Como_373

All week, I’ve been suffering from a bad case of writer’s block. I don’t know if it is a result of boredom, going on vacation for a week,  or waiting for a spring that never seems to arrive. Sometimes I think it has something to do with the loss of my yoga teacher (no, he didn’t die, just stopped teaching for a while). He would often say something simple in class that would set me off on some whimsical train of thought. Whatever the cause of the barrier, I find that desire for relief makes it hard not to work at finding an idea; hard to relax and trust that something will come.

Thomas Edison famously said that “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” but he didn’t actually say where he got that inspiration. There seem to be two schools of thought on this – the first is what I call the “Just do it” school, and the second is the “Wait for it” school. Jack London was in the first category, saying that “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Pablo Picasso too, thought that “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”

Waiting for inspiration is a little like calling on the muses from Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks believed that poets, artists, musicians and even scientists got their inspiration from one of the nine muses, goddesses that were the source of knowledge. Amy Tan has said, “Who knows where inspiration comes from. Perhaps it arises from desperation. Perhaps it comes from the flukes of the universe, the kindness of the muses.”

Consider another definition of inspiration – “the act or process of inhaling” – and compare creative inspiration to the act of breathing. We know that the breath doesn’t have to be forced. It will happen without us doing a thing. We are born without the need to control the breath, yet it’s incredibly difficult to give up control of other things we want. We don’t have the patience to just let them come.

If we have both open airways and clean air, we trust in our continued ability to breathe. If I keep my mind open and let the breezes of experience flow through, can I learn to trust that ideas will come? I am reminded of two of the qualities of mindfulness: non-striving, which is about being, rather doing; and non-attachment, which means letting go of the idea that things have to turn out a certain way.

Maybe I am my own muse. By being and trusting who I am, letting go of fixed ideas, and not being afraid to wait, inspiration will come – just like my next breath.