Taking On Change


Taking On Change

by Neal Lemery

The pandemic is a time of postponement, not taking care of business. Life now has a lot of waiting around, and my frustration and impatience show up in high numbers on my emotional dashboard. The personal “to do” list seems to keep growing and has few check offs.

In normal times, my life’s challenges usually get resolved with me realizing it is a time to change. And that work to refresh is always so productive and satisfying. In these times, much of what we are facing seems out of my grasp to change. Most things get booted down the road. Like the virus, procrastination is becoming the new normal.

I often escape into my music. I pick up my guitar and find some solace, literally tuning out the world. Even there, there is a need for change. In guitar speak, it is realizing it is time to restring my faithful six string acoustic.

There’s a lifespan for good steel guitar strings. All my chord making, strumming and picking literally wears out the wires, as well as providing proof of my labors with bigger callouses on my fingertips. In that playing, oil and dirt from my fingers are rubbed into the strings. My picking and the vibrations becomes tiresome to the guitar (and probably the rest of my household).

I play my guitar for its mellowness, harmonizing tones and its predictability in terms of the sounds that are emitted, consistent with one’s repetition of chord patterns, strumming, and finger picking. One gets to mix it up, of course, by using different sizes and materials for strings, and the qualities that are unique for each guitar.

Other variables are at play: the type and age of the wood, the thicknesses of materials, the design, humidity, and how precise you are in tuning each string. You add other variables, too: the methods and styles of finger picking, flat picking and slides, plus little touches like pull offs, hammer ons, and chiming; not to omit the likely dozens of other techniques and styles I’ve yet to hear about, let alone begin to attempt. Guitars become “sweeter” with age, the wood conditioned by time and playing to evolve into an even more expressive instrument. It is a metaphor that I appreciate more the older I get.

Yet, it all goes back to having strings in good shape. It really is the simple things that make a big difference in how my guitar sounds in a day. Aside from all the complexities and sophistication of the accomplished musician, it is the act of restringing and putting on a set of new strings that makes my guitar come alive again. Sometimes, you just need to get rid of the rust and dirt and the “worn out” aspects of life.

I procrastinate, doubting myself that it really might be time to change the strings. I’m good at the kind of self-talk that talks me out of making a needed change. I’ll bargain with myself, offering excuses like time, or effort, or thinking it really hasn’t been that long since I put on the strings that are there now. I ignore the principle of guitar strings that age and wear out are a function of how much you play, versus what the calendar might say.

It’s not like I have to run down to the music store for a set, or that the cost will break my budget. For all their magic, guitar strings are a bargain. I almost always have on hand good to high quality strings, engineered for a long and vigorous life, with promises of crispness and high-quality tones. And, I have all the little tools, wood cleaners, and the other gizmos of the specialized world of guitar string replacement. I learn by trial and error in my music. My string changing regimen is a product of years of redoing and reliving most every mistake you can make, plus having some exciting adventures along the way.

Today, for instance, was the reliving of the occasional crisis of having a wooden peg pop out and plummet into the depths of the guitar box. These little pegs, which I want to think are insignificant, are really essential. They secure the little “ball” end of the string snug in the hole in the body of the guitar. They grasp one end of the string, so you can then tighten it, eventually giving enough tension on the string that it will vibrate and produce a note.

When pegs run wild, I feel helpless and inept, adding salty language to the experience. The peg then plays hide and seek, rattling around the inside, and getting caught in nearly every crevice of the various wooden bracings inside. I do the dance, holding and shaking the upside-down guitar in every angle and configuration, hoping to maneuver it to come out of its cave and rejoin its companions on the face of the guitar. There is the added chance of having the peg flying through the air and lodging under the nearest piece of furniture, prolonging the chase. More excitement comes when the cat decides to help.

This game is sometimes played with a guitar pick. My personal record for chasing the reluctant and shy guitar pick inside the guitar is a (now) laughable three weeks. At best, the usual plastic pick is worth, maybe fifty cents, but still, it’s the principle of the matter and a personal challenge. Man vs guitar pick. I WILL prevail.

The string changing ritual offers other challenges, such as squinting sufficiently in order to thread the thin wires through the holes in the tuner pegs at the other end of the guitar, so you can then wrap the wires around the pegs and begin to tighten them. The shiny wires blend in well with the chrome tuner pegs. In this stage, it is easy to qualify for a Purple Heart for Guitarists, by giving yourself a substantial poke in the finger. My guitar is frequently sanctified by my sacrificial efforts, accompanied by that now well used salty language.

You have to put the strings on in the right order, of course. Each string has a different diameter, with lower notes produced by thicker strings. That seems simple and logical. But, we’re talking me and mechanical tasks. Disasters can occur, with a brand-new string in the wrong place that’s tightened too much, accompanied by the unexpected loud twang of a broken string. Then there’s that deep feeling of ineptitude. Another box of strings is now on the table, adding to the potential confusion. I’ve learned to practice rituals of how I lay out the paper string packets and the manage the order of installation, much like a priest officiating at a high mass.

It is even more fun with a 12 string guitar. String changes on a 12 string increase the challenge by several magnitudes of difficulty, where the rubric requires the lowest four pairs (courses) to be tuned in octaves, but the top two courses are tuned in unison on the same note. Doubling the number of strings and the number of pegs that can go wild more than doubles the fun.

As one hits the home stretch, with all six new strings in place, you get a sense of impending success. When you finish up the tuning ritual with the electronic tuner and the seemingly never ending turning of the pegs on the tuner machines, the transformed guitar begins to sing its songs with a fresh, much improved voice. I’m always struck by the sweetness of the new strings.

“Wow, I should have changed these long ago. The new ones sound great,” I usually proclaim to the household, causing my wife to mutter that I always say that when I put on new strings. Still, it is continually a fresh and delightful discovery, each and every time. I am, perhaps, a slow learner.

I coil up the old strings, and attempt to put them in the garbage can, along with the handful of snipped off string ends, from both the old and new sets. This tangle of wires always resists me, usually breaking free and uncoiling onto the kitchen floor, attempting to evade my thick-fingered efforts to corral them and restuff them into the can. After all our quality time together, they just don’t seem to want to leave. It can be another perilous time for exposed fingers and toes, another opportunity to earn a Purple Heart for Guitarists. Now, though, I can see them in all their dirt and grime, the finish worn off and dull, any new effort to bring forth any decent sound doomed to failure. Tired and worn out, they are ready for a rest.

The rules and the pleasures of guitar string changes applies to other parts of my life, as well. I learn a lot from this occasional task. Familiar jeans well past their prime and faded, torn t-shirts and flannel shirts, with ripped sleeves, deserve similar replacements. Shoes, however, are the worst. I can easily wear out a pair of my favorite hiking shoes, my daily attire, until every last aspect of padding and support are long gone. A new pair tells me immediately that the old shoes were at least several months past their lifespan, and that familiar phrase again crosses my lips, “I should have changed these a long time ago.”.

These discoveries can be applied to other aspects of my life: toothbrushes, cracked glassware, chipped plates, bent forks, even one’s favorite chair. I can apply these lessons to my community life, as well: overly familiar places to hang out and tiresome, sometimes toxic people who refuse to grow in their thinking and experiences.

My guitar teaches me a lot about life: perseverance, consistent practicing, having a regular time to focus on some quality “me time”. And, change.

We can wake up in the morning, engage the world, and remark to everyone within ear shot, “I should have changed this a long time ago.”

9/30/2020

Finding My Way


 

 

by Neal Lemery

Podcast

“What should I be doing with my life?” a friend asked me the other day.  I echoed the cliché about following your passion and left it at that.  But that’s not much of an answer.  It was incomplete, and not respectful of a sincere question, one I still come across in my own life.

I recently read an essay about a young person’s path of self discovery from an elementary school teacher, to musician, and now, reformed, changed up to a teacher of song writing and music.

“I don’t recall any defining moment of decision to focus primarily on teaching music over performing it.  I think it revealed itself in small steps, one choice at a time. It reminded me of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (1903): ‘I want to beg you, as much as I can … to be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves … Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’

“I don’t make a living from songwriting, but writing songs is critical to living my life.” Her songwriting “brings me closest to myself. By allowing myself deeper self-knowledge, I found I was able to follow the breadcrumbs from there.  And I still am —songwriting continues to allow me to stay centered and take whatever next step feels right.”

“That said, I must admit, I squirm when anyone says: ‘Follow your passion and you can make a living doing anything.’ Clearly these folks underestimate the sheer amount of effort and dumb luck required to make this a true statement.

“Whatever your passion, go ahead. Follow it. By that I mean: be aware of what grounds you most, start there, and be flexible.

“What is the meaningful work in your life? What grounds you? Where do you feel most recognizable to yourself?’ ‘Live the questions,’ as Rilke says, to which I add the path lies in asking them, not answering them.” (Avery Hill, What Does It Mean to Follow Your Passion? Local Lore newsletter, Portland Folkmusic Society (Sept/Oct 2020)

 

My own roadmap through life is a series of questions and slogans, ones I come back to and reflect on in a quiet moment. I crave those small slivers of life I’ve tried to find for myself during the day, the ritual part of some of the disciplines and practices I’ve sought to establish for myself.  Perhaps I, too, am trying to live the questions and not worry too much about having the right answers.

Part of my brain likes to see the world in terms of “either/or”, a process of sorting out options in convenient, systemically ordered piles.  What brings me joy? What doesn’t bring me joy? Those questions, that approach to looking at life, can eliminate the boring, soul-killing tasks and obligations that don’t advance what I value as good uses of my limited time on Earth.

I’ve been trying to be around my chosen family, who aren’t usually the biological relatives. I want to avoid toxic people, their poisons often putting me down, diminishing me, which is often a slow chipping away of my goodness, my purposeful direction.  Knowing that I can choose my family and friends liberates me and expands my potential.  I strive to be a better manager of “family time” and take nourishment from those who enrich me and challenge me to excellence.

I’m an advocate for finding purpose and meaning in life through service to others.  I try to reach out and practice small acts of kindness and charity.  I work on my empathy and my self-actualization through kindness, volunteerism, and my creativity.  Even a few minutes of gardening, picking up a piece of trash, or saying a few kind words to someone at the coffee shop or the store are forms of service and community building.  You change experiences and attitudes, and bring the proverbial ray of sunshine into an encounter.  Your attitude can be contagious and transformative.

Another dichotomy in my life is to decide to act either out of fear or out of love.  I can cringe through life, my sword in hand, obsessed with seeing the world as a disaster waiting to happen, my role in it as the continual failure, fulfilling my expectations as one who is inadequate and “no good”.  Or, I can flip that, seeing the world and my experiences as acts of love, as possibility to do good, and to advance the values and ethics that I cherish, and build a better world.  That work always starts in my little corner, with my own two hands and my own heart and voice.  Words and small acts of kindness do make a difference, and become the tools of my trade, a builder of a better world.

When I have a clear intention, good actions follow from that.

I strive to be my own best friend, being kind to myself, helping myself across a busy street, or sitting with myself in a challenging situation, offering myself comfort and solace.  I can be an advocate for myself, a calming presence, a voice of reason and support, and offer myself a big hug and a shoulder to cry on.  I can pull out the handkerchief and lovingly wipe away the tears. Those are transferable skills to be present with others, but I often benefit from practicing that good work on myself.

I practice self-care.  I’m my own best nurse.  I can plump up my pillow, put on the extra blanket, make myself some comfort food and find my teddy bear at the end of a hard day.  The idea of “holding space” for others, by simply being present and attentive, also applies to me.  The rest of the world’s insanity can be swirling around me, which is a reminder for me to hold some space for myself and be self-caring, to be the caretaker.

I do best at problem solving when I can see the Truth.  Truth is often elusive, and others who seem to want to do harm to me, or use me, take my time and money, will manipulate the truth, bending and distorting it to their own advantage. I’m prone to be a people pleaser, and default to thinking that others are always genuinely caring and kindly with me.  But, that action by others is often manipulation and deceit.  It really is my task to know what is the truth, and to recognize deception and truth bending for what it is, a means of lying and fraud.  In that truth seeking, I need to hold my own self to the fire, to be self-critical, evaluative, assessing.  I need to be aware of my own self-talk, my own ways I sabotage myself.  It is a question of self-actualization, self-esteem, honoring and valuing my own friendship with myself.  It becomes self-advocacy and self-assessment, self-love.

I need to see myself as unique, special, one of a kind.  I do best when I deeply discount other people’s opinions about me.  What others think of me really has nothing to do with me.  They are caught up in their world, and their thoughts about me only help them explain their own perceptions of themselves, their own belief system.  They don’t really know me anyway, especially the part of me that is the precious, unique parts of my soul that are God’s special gifts to me.  The judgments of others are simply opinions, and really are uninformed opinions, not based upon Truth.  My own value, my own place in this world really is none of their business.

I try to declutter my life.  That can start with things, but that work becomes especially effective in managing my relationships and encounters with the world.  It goes back to the “does it bring me joy” question.

There’s also the “three gates” approach for managing what comes out of one’s mouth: is it true, it is necessary, is it kind?

I’m a verbal guy, opinionated and outspoken.  I share my opinions, probably too freely. I’ve been trying to apply the “three gates” practice in my interactions with others.  I’m trying to tamp down the judgmental aspects of what I say, and apply these “filters”.  In that, I am working on being a better listener, and actually welcoming the times of quiet, of being present, and holding space for others.                                8/29/2020

My 2019 New Year’s Affirmations


“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. “

–Neil Gaiman

 

  • I will love myself. I will remind myself that I am worthy of love, and the most important person in my life who should love me is me. This affirmation allows me to set aside the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” negative self-talk, the “I’m not good enough” thinking that often can stop me in my tracks, push me off the rails, and cloud my mind with dark thoughts leading me to believe I am a failure, so why even try.
  • I will be grateful every day, for the day, the opportunities, the possibilities of each and every day. I am able to do so many things, and I need to remind myself of that truth.
  • I will not take good health for granted, and will try to view health as a gift, and an opportunity.
  • I will honor my friendships and my commitments to others. I will be kind, I will speak truth, I will not gossip. I will remind myself that I do not walk in the shoes of others, and do not truly know their journey, their pain, their worries.  I will be the change I want to see in the world.
  • I will strive to recognize the value of empathy in my life and my relationships. I will strive to “walk a mile in their moccasins”.
  • I will ask for help when I need it.
  • I will be an instrument of change, of goodness, and peace. I recognize I am capable of doing the opposite, but I have a choice, and I choose goodness.
  • I will practice self care. I will eat wisely, exercise, be in nature, and take time to find myself in a place (physically, mentally, spiritually) where I can find calm, serenity, tranquility, and balance.  The most important medical care provider for me is me.
  • Food is medicine. So is nature, and time with myself.
  • I will reduce the drama in my life, and seek to avoid those who are toxic and try to overwhelm me with their drama and chaos.I recognize that toxic people exhaust me, sap my creative spirit, deny me from achieving my destiny, and distract me from the joys in my life. I will seek to not be dramatic and toxic.
  • I will read thoughtful, challenging books, and engage in meaningful, purposeful conversations with others, and surround myself with intelligence and compassion. I will welcome new ideas and perspectives. I will be open to being better informed, and to change my opinions accordingly.
  • I will nurture my creativity, by intentionally surrounding myself with creativity, art, music, and the positive energy and spirit of others. I will be deliberate with my time, and intentionally take time to nurture myself and my creativity.
  • I will reach out to the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, the addicted, and be compassionate. I will listen more than talk. (I have one mouth, and two ears.) I will try not to judge, nor condemn.  I will remind myself that I need to seek understanding of their journey.
  • I recognize that I can be a builder in my community, and how this community lives and grows is, in part, my responsibility.I can be a destroyer or a nurturer. I get to choose, and I will strive to choose wisely.
  • I am a human being, not necessarily a human doing. Being busy isn’t necessarily better.
  • I will not be an instrument for communicating and perpetuating lies, mistruths, half truths, and propaganda. I will strive not to be manipulated. I will exercise self-care when exposed to any of that “information”. I will do so with caution, reserve, and skepticism.  I will be a critical thinker. When I communicate with others, I will recognize that I am a guardian of truth and will strive to be accurate, thoughtful, and exercise sound judgement.  I will be aware of my biases and prejudices and will so inform my audience.
  • I will strive to apply the “five year rule” to the situation at hand, and my actions, my words, and my relationships. “Will this really matter five years from now?” And, if the answer is no, then I can let it be, and move on.  The topic at hand may not be all that important, and I need to find comfort and peace in understanding that.  Breathe out and let it go. I am in charge of how I feel and I how I react.

 

 

—-Neal Lemery, 12/28/2018

Cleaning Up Procrastination


Procrastination is a funny thing. It has many moods and often hidden reasons. Sometimes, when I delay working on something, the problem gets solved or someone else takes it on. And sometimes, my subconscious is chewing on it. I need more information and more thinking time. Then, the answer somehow miraculously appears. I tell Mr. Guilt that I haven’t really been lazy. I’ve been working on it the whole time.
This week, I took on a big project, one of those that was ever present, almost annoying every time I walked by it. But, almost too big to start. At least that was my feeble reasoning.
There are a number of those in my life; sometimes I take those on and sometimes I don’t.
I’d have that twinge of guilt: the ignored project. That twinge would pass and I’d find something else to do. Yet, I’d walk by this again and there it was–undone, still on my to do list.
But, yesterday was the day. At least I’ll start, I said to myself. One step at a time. I can do one or two things, and at least do something. I could even feel good about it. Starting, that is. Actually getting it done, oh that’s another matter, something for another day.
It really needed to get done on a nice sunny day. And the day was one of those wondrous perfect September days.
One or two actions became three and then four, and soon, I was halfway finished. Another half hour and then a break for lunch, and I’d be able to finish it in a day.
A few more hours of sweat, and I was done! It looked so nice. All cleaned up, things put away, even some long needed maintenance work done.
Fall is like that. There comes that day of rain, warning me that winter and the rainy season is coming, that summer is waning and it is time to get some projects done. Leaves are turning colors and dropping to the ground. Then, some more amazing late summer days, tempting me to believe again that summer is never ending, and I can just enjoy the day and put off doing what really needs to get done.
“Time,” Nature is saying, “is moving on. I won’t wait for you.”
“Maybe I was just figuring out how to get this done,” I told myself, trying to rationalize the long time I’ve spent in not doing the project.
Or maybe I really was procrastinating, hoping that this project would somehow miraculously get finished by itself and summer wasn’t going to end soon.

–Neal Lemery 9/25/2016

Taking A Moment To Be Still


It was unusual for me, just sitting there in my garden, being still and looking around.

I’d had a long session with the trowel, the weed eater, and my hand pruners, attacking the weeds, setting out some plants, and generally tidying up my shade garden. Sweaty, dirty and tired, I found a chair and a bottle of water and decided to catch my breath.

At first, I looked at what I’d done, and what I needed to do, mentally composing additions to my “to do” list.

This is becoming a job, I thought. Gardening is a lot of work, and I’m tired.

Maybe I should just take a moment and enjoy all of this, my own quiet corner of the world. I could let the sweat dry, thinking its OK that I just take a break.

Lately, when I’ve been reading about gardening, I’m nose deep into the science and the methodologies about how to grow the best of whatever is involved in my latest garden project.

In the midst of research on an interesting new plant, I’d come across a quote about gardening and my soul.

“It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”
― Ray Bradbury

Take a moment, take a breath, and enjoy the garden for what it is, I reminded myself. Too often, my time here becomes an obligation, a project. Hurry up, get it done, and move on to the next task.

But, I am a gardener, not a laborer. Gardening really is nurturing, and being IN the garden. It is a time to nurture this place and my soul, to find peace, to let my mind be still and just BE. After all, I am a human being, not a human doing.

And, so I became still, and sat there. A swallow was building a nest in the new birdhouse, a hummingbird was enjoying the honeysuckle in bloom, sunlight played on the rhododendron bursting out in full glory. I breathed in the fresh air, and all the smells of spring.

In the distance, a neighbor was mowing her lawn, and a farmer was tilling his field. Off in the forest, a logger’s chainsaw provided the bass line for the house finch’s serenade in the snowball bush.

The real beauty in the garden, I realized, was not all the work I’d done, though I certainly had provided some tidying up and structure to this little piece of paradise. But, I realized, the real joy in this place is all the creatures and plants that make this their home.

I’m only the host, and I only add a few of the finishing touches.

And, I realized, the most important part of my job here, as a gardener, is to sit in a chair, and just be here, finding my own peace, and be part of this magnificent paradise, to simply be in this moment.
5/16/16

Pursuing Your Education — Some Thoughts


Letter to a Young Man Who Is Wondering If He Should Pursue His Education

Ah, grad school. Of course, the answer is YES.

Education is one of the few things in life that is truly yours, that stays with you throughout your life. No one gets to steal it from you or tell you that you can’t have it, use it, and treasure it.

Developing your mind is one of the great opportunities a person has to truly grow and become what you potentially can be in life.

It is a lifelong journey, this education of one’s self. I’m a lifelong learner, and have a burning curiosity about the world and everything that is in it. And, part of that is learning about me, how I learn, how I think, how I see myself in this world. And, who I am, who I have been, how I have been conditioned and trained to live.

Sometimes, what I learn about myself isn’t all chocolate and roses, either. I am flawed, imperfect, not who I think I am capable of being. Well, good to know, so now I am challenged to improve myself, to change, and to become better, more of the person I can be. More importantly, I can become the person I should be.

So, you haven’t done this before. This challenge is new and different, and you have your doubts, your uncertainties.

Good, because that has also been true for you (and for me and for other thinking people) for every stage in our lives. And, it will continue. That doubting, uncertainty, is part of the growing process, part of the fuel that gets us out of bed in the morning, and ready to keep learning and growing.

Yesterday, C*** was talking about the chicks that are starting to hatch. Hatching is an enormous struggle. They have to do it on their own. If they get help, then they likely die. They have to turn themselves in the egg, positioning themselves in one end of the egg, by tucking their heads under their right wing, and making the move. Then, they have to peck a hole in the shell, to take their first breath of air. Slowly, they peck around a circle, so they have an opening to push themselves out of the shell and into the world.

It is hard work. They are exhausted. But, now they can grow and achieve their destiny.

We are like chicks. We have to struggle, and the struggle often takes a long time. We develop, we breathe, and we gain our strength. Much of the work is done on our own.

In that work, we find that we really do have the stamina, the resiliency, the determination to accomplish something. We own it. It is ours, this work, this moving ahead in our lives.

Others think that you can do this work, that you are worthy of it. You need to hear their voices and to realize that you are being supported and encouraged. We all need that.

So much of this world is about relationship. Yesterday, several of us in the garden had the opportunity to have a lesson on “please and thank you”. One youth didn’t think it was important, that he could just ask for something, and he’d get that, without those “unnecessary words”. Yet, those words are part of the relationship, the social contract we need to have in society to get things done and to interrelate with other people.

Grad school and the whole college experience is part of that process. Working together, and finding the role for you that helps get things done, that brings out your own unique strengths and tools, which also need to fit with others’ strengths and tools. The collective effort, the collective process.

“College” means a collaboration, a collective process.

You can have all the brains in the world, but if you can’t work with others, and communicate and interrelate, and collectively move forward with shared ideas and direction, then you are lost, and not very effective in life.

I think it’s important to have those college experiences where you interact and interrelate, where you collaborate. So much of life is based on those skills and those experiences.

Your guitar lessons are more than music theory and getting better at a particular song or chord pattern or strumming pattern. It is interaction, listening, responding, contributing, and collaborating.

One of the primary functions I serve when I come to OYA (the youth prison where I mentor youth) is to be a teacher of social skills. It is how to have coffee with someone, how to play cards, or talk. It is how to repot a plant together, or analyze a plant pest. Something more than the outwardly mundane task is going on.

I’m working as a judge again, part time, for a few months. So much of that work is about diagnosing and healing relationships, and getting people to interact with each other in an efficient, healthy way. The law is a tool for that, but the real work is the human interaction, where people can communicate in a productive, positive way. In many ways, judging is trying to heal society and social interactions.

And, so is the work of the educated person, working in relationship, and being effective in that work. Bringing people and ideas together, and developing solutions that are effective and meaningful. There’s a lot of education going on.

When I finished law school and the bar exam, I thought, well, my education is over with. Ha! That work had only just begun. I continue to teach myself, to have others teach me, and for me to teach others.

Grad school is about honing those skills, sharpening your mind so that you are even a better teacher.

I don’t want you to finish grad school when you are still at OYA. There’s the whole collaborative, collegial interaction process that you need to experience. I want you to explore the swamp with your fellow students, and muck around together, collaborating, interacting, and learning about each other.

Yeah, you are great at learning theory and the technical stuff on line and in books. But, I also want you to roll up your sleeves and interact with people like yourself, and really get to know each other, and have to work together, to collaborate. Yes, to be “collegial”.

You worry about what you would do if you don’t get into grad school while you are at OYA, and “have a year and a half with nothing to do”.

Grad school can wait. You are young. If you don’t find the “perfect fit” for you now, then there are reasons for that, and there are more opportunities in the future. And, your education isn’t miraculously done when you turn 25 either. It is a lifelong journey.

In that year and a half, you can create other options, other opportunities. You have a unique perspective, and you can teach others what you have learned, you can create new experiences for youth, and you can become a better researcher and writer.

You are also not limited in how many degrees you can get in your life, or skills that you develop and improve.

I took a year and a half off between college and law school. That time gave me great experiences, and I became a better, more purposeful person. That time made me a better lawyer, father and husband. It was not “wasted” time. I had a great job, which taught me so much about the world, and about myself.

We all have choices. We all have barriers. We can all sabotage our own efforts and our own opportunities, because we think we are “not good enough”. Yet, we have choices. We can choose to see life as a barrier, or as an opportunity.

My brief time with your Aunt *** allowed me to hear her very clearly impart to you some great wisdom, including looking at this time in your life as a great opportunity, a time to really see your own potential and your own skills, and do something with all that.

You heard her say that, from her heart, and you took that message deep into your own heart. Choose that message as your family legacy, and build something with it.

You are not wasting your time. You are, in fact, doing great things to improve yourself and to expand your potential. I hope you see that, and treasure all that for what it is—an enormous personal asset.

You know how to learn. You know how to move ahead. You know many of your skills and talents, and you know how to gain more skills and talents. Most people don’t know that, and the challenge of teaching others is to light that candle of passion and self curiosity, so that people can really see what potential they have.

So many of your peers haven’t lit that bonfire for themselves. They see the water glass of their lives as half empty, maybe even dry, rather than half full and having the potential of being a great flowing spring of water that will abundantly nourish their lives.

You’ve told me that one of your dreams is to make or raise a lot of money, so that others in prison can fully realize their dreams. You are learning how to do that for yourself right now, so you really are researching how to implement your dream. That is good work. Be proud of that work, and that dream.

This is a good time in life for you, and you are in a good process and experience. Enjoy it. Enjoy the doubts, the barriers, the struggles. There is no “bad outcome” in all of this. It is part of the journey.

Respectfully,

Neal Lemery

Struggling With Forgiveness


 

“Forgiving people doesn’t mean you necessarily want to meet them for lunch. It means you try to undo the Velcro hook. Lewis Smedes said it best: ‘To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner is you.’

‘I wish there’d been a shortcut, but the would had to be revealed in order to heal. Lack of forgiveness seemed like a friend, the engine that drove my life, with a hot little motor that was weirdly invigorating. It had helped me survive.”

“…

“Forgiveness is release from me; somehow, finally. I am returned to my better, dopier self, so much lighter when I don’t have to drag the toxic chatter, wrangle, and pinch around with me anymore. Not that I don’t get it out every so often, for old time’s sake. But the trapped cloud is no longer so dark or dense. It was blown into wisps, of smoke, of snow, of ocean spray.”
—Anne Lamott, Small Victories, p 117-118
“Forgiveness means it is finally unimportant for you to hit back.” pp 141-142

The journey with forgiveness, and all of my anger and rage, and general unsettledness, depression, and “not know what to do about it” feelings, is long and tough. Answers aren’t easy, and I practice all of my avoidance, not wanting to really deal with it.
But, I must. I must take it on and get into it. It is always time to deal with my anger, my resentment, and sort it out. Now.

New stuff raises up the old stuff, the stuff long buried, ignored, almost forgotten. It is still there; all of it. Until I deal with it and let it go, it will be around, nagging at me, eating away, and keeping me from moving on and letting go.

I am good at mortaring my brick walls and erecting barriers, keeping my monsters hidden in the basement of my life. But, I am a lousy housekeeper, and now might be a good time for some deep cleaning, and breaking down of the walls I have built over the years.

Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s book on forgiveness is a rich discussion, inviting me to take all of this on, and really deal with it. Their 30 day exercises and discussions on the subject via e-mail are excellent, cleaning out my puss filled wounds and giving me permission to heal.

I have all the tools. I have the time. I have the motivation. And, yes, I do this work. I take it on, and I see the benefits of being truly and fully engaged in the process of forgiveness. I feel lighter, freer, happier. I can move on now, on many levels.

Yet, there are some things I haven’t really dug into, to really work on forgiveness, with some people, some experiences. It is too painful, I say to myself. Yet, there is something else. Perhaps I really enjoy the struggle, the tension, yes, even the hurt. I don’t want to let that go. If I forgive, truly forgive, then I don’t have that anger inside of me, that energy of hatred and distrust.

It is, perhaps, an addiction, a need I have to feel that way. Being pissed off at someone or some experience has become a deep part of myself. If that goes away, if I release that, then what is left? Will I become a lesser person?

That releasing is scary to me. I am not ready, I tell myself. The real answer, however, is that I am afraid of who I might really be once those toxins are flushed away, and I truly heal inside. I hold on to the hate and the hurt, just in case I am not strong enough to live a full, whole life without that flame of rage that still has a place next to my heart.

This is the dilemma I wrestle with, the feelings I must explore, the doubts I must address and really deal with.

Perhaps I need to reframe the question, and look to forgive myself for who I am now, who I have become, and deal with the hurt I have let burn inside of me. Yes, I need to let it go, and be who I really am deep inside. I might even like him, a lot.

—Neal Lemery, 1/3/2015

The Spiritual Samaritan


“A spiritual Samaritan lives knowing that if we were to leave this world tomorrow, we were the best humans we could be and we touched the lives of as many souls as possible. We are not asked to be perfect. We are asked to make a difference.” —Molly Friedenfeld

“You mean I’m not perfect?”

Not by a long shot. But, then, maybe I’m too hard on myself, too self critical. I make mistakes. I don’t get it right the first time, or even the second or third.

After all these years, I’m still trying to accept my humanness, my continuing ability to not get things perfect the first time, or ever. I keep learning, I keep trying. I plug away, sometimes one step at a time.

My stubbornness gets in the way, too. Being wrong isn’t always the answer I accept willingly, so I don’t always learn very well, and stay on the wrong path. Perhaps smarter people would have figured it out long before I do, and change their approach, trying a different method, one that has a much better chance of success.

Or, I procrastinate, simply not taking on the task and doing the work.

“Later,” I tell myself. “I have other things to do now.”

But, later comes around and the task still sits there, at the top of my to do list, waiting for me to get around to it. I know waiting won’t make the task easier, but I still do my dance, avoiding what needs to be done.

Maybe it will go away. But, it usually doesn’t. What’s left undone still hangs over me, uncompleted, calling me to get it done. Just do it.

But, I often don’t.

Again, I realize I’m not perfect. The cycle repeats, and, once again, I beat myself up, thinking that I am a failure. I’m not perfect. But, I am pretty good about beating myself up, reinforcing my human trait of not getting it right, making more mistakes.

So how do I know when I’m moving forward in life, when I am actually getting something done? I look around me, seeing if things have changed, if I am making a difference.

And, in the end, that is the real question. Am I making a difference? Am I changing someone’s life?

When it comes to people, seeing if I’m making a difference isn’t always tangible. Helping others out, helping them move on in their lives, giving them the encouragement to see their own talents, and to go out and live their own dreams, isn’t easily measured.

Yet, there’s progress. People are moving ahead, taking charge of their lives, and finding the courage to live their dreams, and not be caught up in the past, not judging themselves, again and again for what they did a lifetime ago.

People change, and people find the courage inside of themselves to move ahead, embrace new values, and to live their dreams.

I hear many stories, many tales of success. Conquered fears, dreams realized, real change. People find their courage, and they are moving ahead.

I’m making a difference with myself, as well. I need to take stock of who I am, and who I am becoming. My task is to realize what I’m capable of, seeing that I have ambition to get something accomplished. Yes, I have my own fears and doubts, but I know I can face them, and use those challenges in order to move myself ahead, and make a difference, a difference with me.

I am a spiritual Samaritan, helping myself and helping others move ahead with life, accomplishing tasks, honing skills, and improving lives. To do that, each of us must believe in ourselves, our capacity to love and realize our dreams, and to help others along the way.

—Neal Lemery 8/26/2014

The Curious Place


This is the third place for these books
I have known in this town,
where all are welcome, all are invited in
to explore, to savor
what the world can offer —
All I have to do is come here
and roam.

Quiet on their shelves, letting me discover
the worlds they offer all
who come here;
in the quiet
the embrace of what others have said
about the world, and about life.

Welcome, they murmur, and be curious —
we are always here, until you take us home
and get to really know us,
while you sip your tea, in a comfy chair,
going wherever we can take you.

Everyone comes here, everyone is welcome
to look around, to flip through pages, or maybe
something electronic, or something in pictures,
or music, or to just look at some art,
whatever I want, whatever I desire,
curiosity is the rule here, always curious.

My first grade class walked to the books one spring day
we, all hand in hand, came to look, to hear a story
as we sat on the carpet, going on a trip
by the sound of a voice, and pictures shown all around.

We left that day, each with a book, and each with a card,
the key to come back, again and again, and find another.

And, so, I did, time and again, and again, and again,

finding new treasures, and new things to learn,

and books and knowledge to help me write a paper for school,
and to find out more about what I wanted to know;
to go out in the world and find myself–
me, always hungry now for more, still more.


The books moved across the street, and stayed a long while,
until my hair started to turn gray, and then they moved again,
to still a better place, another block away,
a new place, built just for books and for this town
so more could come, and more could be welcomed here.


This third place is the best yet, a place even for kids
all their own, animals and trees and flowers, and
bright colors everywhere, inviting them in again, and
again.

I’m still a kid here, always wanting to skip up to the door
and wander in, seeing what is new, and what I might like
to take home and read by the fire, a cat on my lap,
a cup of tea, and the world mine to explore.

A big room now filled with people reading, thinking, writing a bit,
and reading some more, even people meeting in small rooms,
to talk, to focus on learning, and being in community
with each other, being stronger to be in the world.

Again, in this curious place,
another library day,
a spring in my step,
again for the first time.

Neal Lemery 3/23/2013.