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.