Harmony: A Three-Step Process

Brunswick Bay in Maine
Brunswick Bay in Maine

Have you chosen a word for the year? As I mentioned in my New Year’s blog post, my word for 2016 is harmony. So many thoughts come to mind when I say the word—thoughts usually related to music or to getting along with people in my life. But I’ve also been thinking about how I might harmonize all the elements of my life and am working on some practical steps. Here’s my initial three-step plan to work more harmony into 2016.

1.Follow a routine: I find that my days flow more smoothly when I follow some kind of a routine. But lately my routine of drinking coffee, reading the news, and then meditating is not yielding the results that I would like. I find myself endlessly looping back into websites, browsing articles in newspapers, and even checking my work email. I’m reading the news, but I’m not taking time to read the many books and articles that I routinely set aside “for later.” And I’ve been stuck here for quite awhile. I’m also not writing any new poems right now.

But when I look back on my routine from a few years ago, I see a clear path ahead. I need to tweak my routine just a bit and I think I’ll get out of this morning rut. When I was working revisions for my book, I set aside fifteen minutes a day for writing new poems. During one month I even managed to write a poem a day using my time this way. The beauty of this approach is that I usually spent more the fifteen minutes on my new poems, especially on the days when ideas were flowing. On my off days, and of course I had many of those, I wrote for fifteen minutes and then put the work aside, knowing that even if I was unhappy with the work, I could always revise the next day.

As for enjoying the books and articles I want to read, I can employ a similar approach. A few years ago I managed to read Your Brain at Work by David Rock by committing to 30 minutes a day of reading. Last summer I read Psychiatry Under the Influence by Robert Whitaker by reading for fifteen to twenty minutes every morning. So what’s my next book? I think I’m going to read Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D. I bought the book a few years ago and have been wanting to read it, so now is the time. I’ll let you know what I learn from Play!

Liquid gold
Liquid gold

2.Use a timer to stay focused: When I was growing up, my mother used a timer for everything, and it drove me crazy! I hated hearing that white plastic demon ticking away for how long the dryer needed to run or how long the potatoes needed to bake. I wanted to be a free spirit and not be ruled by some demonic device.

Fast forward to my adult life with many obligations and hobbies. The proverbial so many things, so little time. Now I use a timer, especially for anything that I don’t want to do—clean the house, grade papers, pay bills. I have found the timer incredibly useful in keeping me focused on the task at hand. Sometimes I even manage to finish ahead of time—an added bonus! I find I can usually do a weekly cleaning in about an hour if I stay on track and can pay the bills in about the same amount of time. I use the time on my cell phone which has a nice Zen chime as my timer-tone. What kinds of things can you see doing with the aid of a timer? Decluttering a drawer? Weeding the garden?

3.Write down your goals and ta-das! I like the idea of keeping a success journal with my goals and my record of successes—small and large. I am a regular journal writer, so every day I usually write some kind of goals for the day as well as celebrate my successes, which a former teacher of mine referred to as “ta-das.”

In the spirit of positive thinking, I write my goals as affirmations, which many people say is a better way to communicate with your subconscious. So instead of saying, “I will read for 15 minutes a day,” I leave out the “will” and write the affirmation. There is something about committing those words to paper that seems to make the tasks more manageable, and I find that as I go through the day, I can refer back to those affirmations to keep myself on track.

So what are some things that evoke harmony for you? I’d love to hear your ideas. And if you choose to try my three-step process, let me know of your ta-das!

It All Depends on Your Definition

When I teach my course in professional writing at the University of Maryland, I have to stress the importance of students providing their audience with a clear definition of terms. A common definition keeps everyone clear and provides a common understanding for the discussion. This concept is especially important for students to grasp when they are considering an environmental topic, such as sustainability, which can have a very broad meaning and apply to a wide range of situations.

Toad Hall's cabin by the pond
Toad Hall’s cabin by the pond

And if you think about it, our definitions drive much of our thinking about ourselves. I was eating lunch with a colleague the other day who declared, “I’m not creative at all.” When I suggested he broaden his definition and consider some area of his life where he exhibits creativity, his face lit up. “I’m creative in the kitchen. I love experimenting with new combinations of foods and spices,” he told me. Other friends who initially feel that they lack creativity often realize that the beauty in their gardens or the pleasing way they arrange furniture are all aspects of the creative flame that burns in every heart.

And definitions are important for teachers and parents as well, especially when we look at our children and our students. How do we define intelligence? What kind of intelligence do we value as a society? If you consider standardized testing, the main intelligence is related to knowing which answer out of four choices will be correct. But this narrow view of intelligence leaves out all the other ways of thinking about the world where our children and students excel. Music. Art. Sports. Nature. Problem solving.

Here is a poem by Rumi that urges all of us to look at our definition of intelligence with an open heart. We all know how to acknowledge the first kind—acquired knowledge—but we need more practice in treasuring the second kind—our intuition.

Fountain in Ireland
Fountain in Ireland

Two Kinds of Intelligence
by Jalaluddin Rumi

There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.

There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.