A journal of the heart

I recently had a housewarming party. My friends Keith and Maddie, along with many other friends, walked through my room and spend time there to check it out.  One of the things they saw was my print of Gustav Klimt The Kiss. I have kept it in my room for a couple of years now, because I think it’s beautiful – and also as good luck around love and romance in my life.  Sometime in the following week, Maddie was in New York City and went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and picked me up a housewarming gift: a very generous gift – a journal based with that painting beautifully rendered on the cover.

Keith (I work with him) and Maddie (his wife) saw this print in my room.

Keith (I work with him) and Maddie (his wife) saw this print in my room.

And Maddie got me this journal from the Metropolitan Museum of Art!  It's exciting just to have something that came from there!  I still have the bag!

And Maddie got me this journal from the Metropolitan Museum of Art! It’s exciting just to have something that came from there! I still have the bag!

When I sat down with my lovely book, my first thought was to make it a journal focused on romance. “That’s the ticket – I’ll make only entries that have to do in some way with romance. But it didn’t take too long for me to realize that this was too narrow a focus.  So I made it bigger: the heart – what’s going on with regard to my heart.  So now every day, right before bed, I make an entry on what has happened that day which nurtured or activated my heart. It doesn’t matter how big or small: some days I have listed several things, one day I wrote one line – but one that meant stuff to me.

In the twelve days since I started, I haven’t missed a day.  I go to bed more in touch with my heart.  I bet it affects my sleep and my dreams.

You might want to steal my idea and create a similar journal just for your heart.  Or a notepad or a document in your computer or your phone – voice recordings would work great.  Or put a note on your nightstand or somewhere reminding you to think about this before bed.  Or maybe you’ll just think about it today.

  • Who did you see or think about that you love – or like a whole lot?
  • What gave you access to your emotional life?  What feelings did you have?
  • Who was nice to you?  To whom were you nice?
  • Was there a way that you were good or kind to yourself?
  • Did you think or talk about something that’s important to you?
  • Did you create or make a heart connection with art?
  • Read “The longings of the heart” – December 6.

The longings of the heart

Cashiering is by its nature repetitious.  This is part of the reason why we have all encountered so many mechanical, robotic cashiers.  Some people just absolutely have what it takes – they are naturally good with people and this applies to their cashiering.  But even most of these “naturals” can sometimes succumb to the hypnosis of the cash register.

Perhaps the most powerful antidote for this hypnosis (or for any boring or stressful job) – and a recipe for a rich, fulfilling life – is to pay attention to the longings of your heart.  The heart longs for connection, for intimacy, for rich emotions, to nurture and be nurtured, for wholeness, for authenticity, for self-expression, for spontaneity, for tenderness, for love.  What will foster these qualities?  What makes the heart happy?

Longings of the heart can be immediate/real-time (what right now will most support the qualities listed above) or overriding – longings that are so central and important that they hover over our daily lives looking for opportunities to be expressed.  Real-time expression of the heart’s longings can be lofty or quite mundane.

Paying attention to the longings of our heart is an antidote to the monotonous repetition of cashiering - and a recipe for a rich, fulfilling life.

Paying attention to the longings of our heart is an antidote to the monotonous repetition of cashiering – and a recipe for a rich, fulfilling life.

Yesterday at work my heart longed to write.  I was depressed – I needed to transcend my immediate pain and I needed to affirm a higher part of me (my writer).  And I needed to come to grips with a real-time quandary: I had chosen to work at register 5, which I hate because it is too busy.  Asking myself the question “Am I in the right place at the right time?” allowed me to approach my quandary in a useful way.  Writing in my head, jotting little notes, writing furiously during my breaks allowed for this.

At the end of my shift, as I asked myself “What is the best thing I can do to counter the depression that has been even more throttling me since, 2/3 of the way through the day, I finished outlining my blog post?  The answer was clear and immediate: “I need to tell a particular coworker that I enjoyed working with her today.”  In my current depressed state, this act – which would be easy when I was up – felt almost unattainable.  If I don’t do it, depression wins.  If I do it, my heart wins.  Fortunately, this one my heart won.

Sometimes the longing of the heart is to protect you from a painful or toxic experience.  My friend Jeff, an extremely talented singer/songwriter, was (is at this moment) having a CD release concert.  I love his shows, when I’m up.  When I’m this depressed I hate concerts.  When I’m this depressed I hate music.  Taking care of my heart tonight means protecting myself from an experience that would almost certainly be painful for me.  This was made easier because my heart was also crying out to write this post.

There’s a reason that writing this post is so important for me tonight – because it cues up some writing for tomorrow night (after a shift at the grocery store) that is of crucial importance for me.  The reason that heart longings are so much on my mind today is that one of my overriding longings is very active.  And that is to strengthen and enrich my relationship with my 38 year old son.

His 39th birthday is Sunday – and I have been agonizing over how to celebrate it.  I’m not satisfied with the card or gift card I sent him.  There’s one gift that could really hit a home run.

He and I have an ongoing project of me writing lyrics (poetry) for some electronic songs he has created.  The project lay dormant for a long time after he proposed it to me.  I was honored and thrilled that he would want to collaborate with me – and intimidated by writing poetry to go with music and deeply fearful of letting him down.  (I carry a heavy feeling that I have let him down a lot in his life.)  And the paralysis this engendered did cause him to feel let down.

But a few weeks ago I did write him some poetry to go with the themes of his first track, as he related them to me.  He told me right away that he liked what I had written.  Last Sunday he told me that he had read the poetry again, liked it – and wanted more.  I told him I knew that what I had written was incomplete – and that I would get on it.

I want to write my son some more poetry!  Getting closer to him is one of the deepest longings of my heart – and right now writing this poetry is a golden opening.  I want to do it by Sunday – like tomorrow.  But I’m too depressed to write poetry – at least that’s what a big part of me believes.  I tried it earlier in the week and sat staring blankly at the computer.  I’ve been writing all week, am writing now, but I tell myself that this is basically journal writing – that I am transcribing notes I have accumulated during the day.

This is why it has been so important for me to focus all day on the longings of my heart – and to write about it tonight.  I want, tomorrow night, for the longings of my heart to win out over depression.  I commit to you, my readers, that tomorrow night I will write some poetry for my son.  There is a part of me screaming that it won’t happen, but I intend for that part not to win.  I won’t rely on brute force of will.  I have some strategies to increase my chance of success, which I will share tomorrow – after I succeed.

Making art

Yesterday I wrote how I struggled through to affirm the value of the positive experiences I was having at the cash register, even though they didn’t lift the punishing biochemical depression that had me in its grips.

But there was another dynamic at work.  On and off throughout the day – and especially towards the end of the day – as I was having these positive experiences and these miserable experiences, in my head I was writing about them…planning to write this post.  During my afternoon ten-minute break I wrote (dictated, actually, into the voice recorder in my phone) about them as fast as I possibly could.

So for much of the day I was operating on two tracks: on the level of my immediate physical/emotional/mental experience, I was having moments of release followed by the return of crushing contraction – but on another level, I was detached from all that…was observing it.  The writer in me was observing – was creating a state of mindfulness, where I was not caught in my experience but could stand outside of it and notice it.  And mindfulness is liberating – to the extent it was operating, part of me was free from the suffering that was still going on.

Once again I celebrate my old meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who taught me lots more than I understand about mindfulness.

Once again I celebrate my old meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, who taught me lots more than I understand about mindfulness.

So writing can trigger mindfulness and that can be freeing.  There was one other way that writing this post in my head was freeing.  Writing is a major identity for me – it feels like a big part of my mission in this world.  And right now writing this blog – writing about my job, about customer service, about bipolar disorder – is at the heart of that mission for me.  So even while my biochemical/emotional/mental suffering continued unabated, part of me was happy – was doing a little dance.  “I’m writing.  I feared that this depression would keep me from writing, but it’s happening.  I may hurt like hell all day, but I’m going to come out of it with a pretty interesting blog post.  I may end the day as fully in the grips of biochemical contraction as I started, but – regardless of how late it may be (and I do have a meeting tonight), before I go to bed I am going to write.  Depression can’t take that away from me.”

And now, at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday that’s exactly what I’ve done.  I wrote Thursday’s post and this post to go up on Friday – and I feel good about both of them.  My body feels like crap, but my spirits are good.  I may feel lousy all over again tomorrow.  I don’t want to program myself to feel bad, but lots of hard experience tells me that this is likely.  But I have written.  I have found meaning in my experience.  I have created something that could possibly be helpful to somebody else.  I have transcended my pain.  I have made art.

“Making beauty is good for us in every way.”

Something is happening here.  My blog has been live for five days.  This morning two customers, Betsy and Andrea, stood next to each other in my line.  Both are good friends of mine, but they did not know each other.  When they discovered that they both are big fans of my blog – are gobbling it up – we had a little three-way party.  Eliot is a Grammy Award-winning musician whose work I greatly admire.  I would say we are acquaintances.  This morning he checked out through someone else’s line, but when he walked past me, he pointed dramatically to me and said “Great work – thanks for putting me on your list.”  Thirty-seven people have signed up to follow my blog in five days – it took months to reach that number in the past.

What’s going on?  Right idea, right time, right person.  I think all that is true, but there is something more.  I am fully surrendering to the Muse.  I am trusting this sucker.  I am prioritizing it.  I am willing to stay up late for it.

Complete surrender holds tremendous power.

Complete surrender holds tremendous power.

I am making a commitment to my readers. I am committed to sending a personal greeting to each of my subscribers.  I haven’t done it with everyone yet, but I have time free this weekend – time I’m keeping free to do this.  I am committed to responding to each comment people leave on the blog.  I’m committed to thanking each person who sends me an email cheering me on – and there are a lot of them.  And to thanking the people who cheer me on face-to-face, like the girl who works in produce who said, “Your blog is inspiring me – I want to be better with customers”.

Your Muse may not yet have clearly announced herself – you may not yet have a particular “art form”.  But maybe you express your creativity through cooking or gardening or interior decorating or parenting or through an intimate relationship.  If none of these feels like a direct hit, what supports your creativity?  Listening to music?  Walking in the woods?  Eating soul-satisfying food?  Making love?  Are you willing to make a commitment to your creative force – to prepare a place for it?  Are you willing to take a stand for your creativity – to claim that you are a creative person?  Are you willing to make sacrifices for your Muse – to choose for it?

This afternoon in the checkout line I was talking about all of this with Anita, who is similarly throwing herself into her ceramic art.  She took several steps towards the door, then came back as I had begun talking with the next customer and said, “Making beauty is good for us in every way”, and she left.  That felt right, felt powerful – but I knew I hadn’t really integrated it yet.  One of my principles of customer service is “Include the customer in whatever conversation is going on.” I frequently get successive customers involved in the same conversation.  So I asked Colleen (whom I had never met) what that meant to her.  She described a man “who I’ve been making music with” who is totally committed to making beauty.  I told her that it sounded to me like she also is committed to her creative force.  She said, “If you’re not creating, you can forget it.”

I love to dance – free-form improvisational dance (Asheville Movement Collective “dance church”).  It makes me happy.  It definitely expresses and feeds my creativity.  And I love the Friday night dance.  Early today I told Tom – my old roommate, dance buddy and work-mate – that I was definitely dancing tonight.

Tom and I do contact improv dancing as we pass each other in the store aisles.

Tom and I do contact improv dancing as we pass each other in the store aisles.

Late in the day I told him. “I can’t dance tonight – I gotta write.”  I had accumulated so many hand-written notes today – three posts worth, including this one.  Letting go of my beloved Friday night dance was a big deal, but my Muse required it – and it wasn’t really a sacrifice, I loved writing tonight even more than I loved dancing.

Tom very dramatically (he can be dramatic) said, “You’re not dancing…you’re not dancing” as he backed out of the store.  Lindsay, my lovely and brilliant young customer who had just heard this exchange, looked at me and said, “Tonight, writing is your dancing.”