What’s in a name?

This is my life and I’m going to live it. I never liked the middle ground, the most boring place in the world.
Louise Nevelson

I never liked my given name. I always thought it was out-of-date and dull. On paper it was often mistaken for Lousie or Lois or even Louis. Most of my adult life, people who meet me would be shocked that someone so youthful and modern was associated with some thing so old-fashioned as quiltmaking and with the name Louise.

As a child it was embarrassing to have the same name as the maid in Danny Thomas’s “Make Room for Daddy”. Things didn’t get any better with Louise Fletcher playing the very nasty inflexible Nurse Mildred Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

As a young adult, I discovered Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Louise Hays and her Hays Publishing House Self-Help Movement and the American Author, Louise Erdich but these had little impact on a deeply ingrained negative image. Then came the very discouraging movie Thelma and Louise where two friends end up driving off a cliff as the only answer to their life dilemmas.

Much later, I came to know and admire the works of Louise Nevelson and Louise Bourgeois who used their personal trials and tribulations to make truly great art. Most recently I discovered Louise Story, a young business reporter for The New York Times who appears very comfortable in her name.

After sixty decades, it feels okay to be a Louise-come-lately among the likes of Nevelson, Bourgeois and Story.

It’s All in the Process

The creative process is a process of surrender, not control.

Julia Cameron

These days I’m writer as much as I am a fiber artist. I write the blog BubbeWisdom three times a week. I work on this Container Blog, and I’m creating a novel. No matter which product I’m engaged with my efforts flower when I flow with and through my creative process.

Every act is a creative expression of the desire to know and to be known.

The creative process informs the spirit.

Clinging to traditional belief systems limits possibilities.

Leave common assumptions and past practices to enter the realm of limitless possibility.

Self-organization to allow for big vision that generates greater options.

Intent is the energy-well for change.

Insight into new ideas allows for the emergence of creative evolution.

Being organic is the dynamic flow that empowers process.

Love of purpose leads to discovery of the authentic self.

Do the work and stay on the path.

Reflect, React, Renew 2011/5771

Here we are having completed Rosh Hashanah, Taslich and the Fast of Gedaliah processing our way to Yom Kippur. At our Rosh Hashanah we adapted the 10 questions from Reboot a network working toward the rebooting inherited culture, rituals, and traditions to make them vital and resonant for today’s life. After you answering, treat yourself to something sweet.

Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year? Alternatively, is there something you’re especially proud of from this past year?

Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you? Are you grateful? Relieved? Resentful? Inspired?

Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

Describe a world current event that has impacted you. How? Why?

Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year? How has this experience affected you? Spiritual can be broadly defined to include secular spiritual experiences: artistic, cultural, and so forth.

Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

How would you like to improve yourself and your life next year? Is there a piece of advice or counsel you received in the past year that could guide you in this project?
Is there a person, a cause, or an idea you want to investigate more fully in 2012?

What is a fear that you have and how has it limited you? How do you plan on letting it go or overcoming it in the coming year?

When September 2012/5772 rolls around and you look back at your answers to these questions, how do you think you’ll feel? What do you think/hope might be different about your life and where you’re at as a result of thinking about and answering these questions?

It’s Time for Beginner’s Mind

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

Roshi Shunryu Suzuki

If you haven’t figured it out from previous entries, I am no longer using my beautiful armoire as my container. My container has become something much bigger and bolder as I explore how I can apply The Container Project to everything around me.

Along with the help of the Middle Way, I am going to apply the Zen practice of Beginner’s mind as I view my actions without preconception or judgment. The most important idea here is to take every decision as part of the learning experience, to accept the change and not feel that I failed in any way by going beyond The Container.

The new Container Project Rules:
The nature of container rules will continue to change.
I will slowly incorporate container ideas into my life.
I will fully engage in enquiry, focusing on questions rather than answers.
I will let go of knowing the outcome living one moment at a time.
I have then entire universe as my teacher.
I will immerse myself in my actions.
I must accept change with good nature and without self-criticism.
I will take one step at a time and not look behind or beyond.
I will celebrate what ever happens as part of the learning process.
There is no failure. I will accept my mistakes as part of the experience.
I will let go of being an expert to be more engaged in my innate wisdom and experience.
I will search for the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.
I will create this project in the same spirit that I create my life.

The Middle Way

Great is the matter of birth and death
Life slips quickly by
Time waits for no one
Wake up Wake up
Don’t waste a moment!

Rochester Zen Center

My Container Project is becoming an internal thoughtful examination of my daily life, which brings me to my Zen training of The Middle Way.

The Middle Way will be my guide to a life between the extremes of self-denial and self-indulgence. The Middle Way eliminates my assumptions and examines my experience with clear vision and open mind.

As I clarify my intentions and distinguish my needs, I will find the path of right speech and right action that is the wisdom within the core of my being.

The Plethora of Things to Cast Off

Tashlich is a Jewish custom in which we symbolically cast away our sins into a moving body of water. It is usually performed the first day of Rosh Hashanah in preparation for Yom Kippur. Tashlich is based on a verse “And you will cast all your sins into the depths of the sea.” from Micha, 7:19.

Looking for an alternative to the traditional prayer I came across this poem At the Water’s Edge: A Reading for Tashlikh by Elizabeth Tragash and this ceremony by Susie Kessler and Janice Rous. Instead of concentrating on the traditional idea of sins, these women reframe tashlich to encourage us to release anything we are holding on to that is obsolete and no longer serve us in the same way that trees release their foliage in this change of season.

Which brings me to a powerful video, Fall, by Shirin Neshat, an artist that marks the changing seasons by addressing the famine in Somalia.

For this tashlich let’s stretch ourselves to go beyond our personal sins and release any undercurrent of powerlessness so that we may sail into an authentic transformation for this new year.

And If Not Now, When?

I truly believe that a two-state solution is the only way to ensure a more stable Middle East and to grant Israel the security and well-being it desires.
Ehud Olmert

Today, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority formally asked the Security Council to grant full United Nations membership to Palestine as a path toward its statehood. The outcome of the activities at the United Nations will have no real influence on the lives of ordinary Palestinians and Israelis. True peace in the Middle East can only come about through direct negotiations with Israel for a two-state solution.

If you need an overview of the whole Israel-Palestine conflict take some time to read Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 101 or the more detailed Institute for Middle East Understanding website.

Also, take a look at the possible middle ground land-swap scenarios from the Geneva Initiative in these three maps that reconcile the Palestinian demand for a return to the pre-1967 lines with Israel’s desire to include as many of the West Bank’s 300,000 settlers in Israel proper as possible.

Enough is enough. It is time for justice, peace, and happiness for all of the peoples of the region. Leaders, please heed Ehud Olmert’s editorial in today’s New York Times: Peace Now, or Never.

Self Compassion Is An Art Unto Itself

If you’re going to be thinking, you may as well think big.

Donald Trump

I hate to admit this but I finally figured out the most important thing I am missing in my life is more compassion for myself. I’m already off on the wrong foot by not wanting to admit the deficit. If I had more compassion for myself I would know it is a necessity not a choice. This Container Project is a perfect example. I have fallen short of my goals leaving me feeling frustrated and miserable.

We are human. We will encounter limits, frustrations, and loss. To open our hearts and accept this is part of our human condition is to have compassion. Self-compassion is neither self-esteem nor self-indulgence. Self-esteem is our sense of self-worth and perceived value based on our success or failure. Self-indulgence is over-the-top decadence regardless of need.

Self-compassion comes from within and is always available. It offers greater clarity on life circumstances because inadequacy, suffering and failings are accepted with kindness and support. When kindness is the reality, emotional equanimity is experienced.

With self-compassion, I understand things I labeled indulgences like good food, a long nap, or a costly exercise class are imperative to restoring and refreshing my body. I allow myself to be an imperfect and vulnerable interbeing. I take a balanced non-judgmental approach to my negative emotions so my feelings are neither exaggerated nor suppressed. Knowing that I am worthy of kindness, I forgive, accept, celebrate and love me.

The Container project lesson: The Container is not about things. It is not about accomplishment. It is not about things outside of our control. It is about a process, awareness and overflowing compassion. I am my Container.

Success in Failure

My newest struggle with My Container started this week with the change in weather. Suddenly, my perfect wardrobe was no longer perfect. That brought out the internal struggle of my commitment to the project. Should I adhere absolutely to the rules? Should I change out what is no longer working? Would it be right to simply give up the project as unworkable?

I was looking for the answers to these questions when I ran into this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine Education Issue with the lead article What if the Secret to Success Is Failure? This is the story of how two New York City schools are forging new frontiers in character education by incorporating information from Peterson and Seligman’s Character Strengths and Virtues.

With the authors’ help, the principals of the schools settled on a list of six strengths that were especially likely to predict life satisfaction and high achievement: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism and curiosity and worked to incorporate them into every teaching strata of their schools. Interesting article on great work in education.

In the book for psychology professionals, Peterson and Seligman pioneer a method to classify and evaluate twenty-four indispensable character strengths and virtues that lead to a higher quality of life. It is an impressive list to guide me to the next right place in my project.

Here are all twenty-four:
Zest: approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated.
Grit: completing something despite obstacles with persistence and resilience.
Self-control: regulating what one feels and does; being self-disciplined.
Social intelligence: being aware of motives and feelings of other people and oneself.
Gratitude: being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen.
Love: valuing close relationships with others; being close to people.
Hope: expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it.
Humor: liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing a light side.
Creativity: coming up with new and productive ways to think about and do things.
Curiosity: interest in experience for its own sake; finding things fascinating.
Open-mindedness: examining things from all sides and not jumping to conclusions.
Love of learning: mastering new skills and topics on one’s own or in school.
Wisdom: being able to provide good advice to others.
Bravery: not running from threat, challenge, or pain; speaking up for what’s right.
Integrity: speaking the truth and presenting oneself sincerely and genuinely.
Kindness: doing good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.
Citizenship: working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group.
Fairness: treating all people the same; giving everyone a fair chance.
Leadership: encouraging a group of which one is a valued member to accomplish.
Forgiveness: forgiving those who’ve done wrong; accepting people’s shortcomings.
Modesty: letting one’s victories speak for themselves; not seeking the spotlights.
Prudence/Discretion: being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks.
Appreciation of Beauty: noticing and appreciating all kinds of beauty and excellence.
Spirituality: having beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe.

Keeping It Personal

It is almost impossible to believe it has been ten years since 9/11. Like every one, I clearly remember my circumstances, working at a project at the Heinz History Center when we were told of the incident and sent home. I drove home through town and shuttered in fear passing our Federal Building wondering if it would be next.

There are all kinds of extensive coverage and exceptional events to help us make sense of an event of this magnitude. The New York Times did a magnificent piece: The Reckoning:America And The World A Decade After 9/11 and there will be the Dedication and Commemoration of the Shanksville Memorial for Flight 93 only two hours from us.

There is this monumental book: Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11 that relates the many simple acts heroism and The Person to Person History Tribute WTC Visitor Center created and run by the family members who lost loved ones.

I loved the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, from the point of view of a nine-year-old attempting to understand the tragedy that included his father.

Today NPR did a story on Father Mychal Judge the chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. He was the first victim of the incident whose death saved the lives of five men who carried him out of the Towers.

How do we make sense out of all of this? It seems to me the best way is to keep the experience at the most personal level possible and learn as much as we can about the bravery, the love, the sense of purpose, and the understanding. Then in the words of AA, let go and let God trusting that everything happens for a reason.