Archive for the ‘Setting Realistic Goals’ Category


This weekend, I finally wrapped up the current issue of Turntable, the online arts magazine I edit. It didn’t even require more than the usual one cup of coffee per day. My schedule had just finally cleared enough so I had a good part of two full days to devote to posting and editing. In the past several months, I’ve fit in uploads between work deadlines and proofreading jobs and coaching appointments. I thought of time and space and downtime and uptime and whatever else kind of time and how schedules and urgencies and deadlines make up a life. It doesn’t matter how busy we are, how many hours a week we work, busy is busy. Comparing hours logged doesn’t matter. What is busy to us is busy to us and we can tune in and listen to what our own personal thresholds are. And, what I’ve found is that, even in the midst of this busiest of times I have just gone through, a breath in the middle of it all, letting myself rest even a little bit, with eyes closed and computer off, expands time in an almost miraculous way. I say “almost” because there must be some law of physics that addresses what happens when taking a pause to be aware of the present moment. Quantum dharma.


Measuring Stillness and Deep Acceptance


The beginning months of this year have been a lesson in acceptance. Acceptance isn’t partial or occluded. It is the essence of unconditional view and attitude, bearing carried through in every situation, with every person, with every thought and feeling. This kind of dedication to truth, to the underlying reality of each experience, is a skill. In some ways, it comes naturally to be where we are, to experience life in a raw and immediate way. But life teaches us to shut down, protect ourselves, place barriers between ourselves and our experience, our own thoughts and emotions. Seeing through these constructions of rules and expectations and busyness, of entanglements and denial, is a lifelong pursuit. In the pursuit, there is revelation and a constancy that can only be found in the shifting of the very ground beneath us. The paradox of acceptance and constantly shifting reality is that it cuts through to the core of experience itself—a conflagration of quantum and four-dimensional reality. The reality beyond reality, in reality, existing parallel and intertwined like DNA strands in our daily lives. The very inaccessibility and uncertainty of subatomic particles is what builds the ground under us. We are made of illuminated substance that isn’t substance at all, yet it’s tangible on levels we can’t even fathom, can’t see. The measuring and acceptance of these two seemingly conflicting states of reality is reality itself.


We deal with an ever-changing world that we try to hold steady with toothpicks, we try to keep warm with flames from small matches. It’s like trying to hold the planets in a colander. The orbits and gravity and attachment of the universe to itself are transcended by the speed of light and dying stars and black holes and dark matter, elements of reality we can’t explain fully, elements that exist and we know of their existence only by their effect on other elements. The universe is, for the most part, unknown. Our lives are, for the most part, unknown. Yet we try to build structures and schedules and goals and even dreams that sustain on the tightrope of time, emotion, flesh, and thought.


Since January, time has not gone the way I expected. Schedules have been disrupted to such a degree that whatever original plan there was dissipated into ether. I spent a lot of the last few months being angry and frustrated and worried. What I found, to my surprise, was these disturbances were only on the surface. When I went deeper, there was a beautiful silence, a steady peace, the cradle of acceptance that felt like birth itself, death itself, where all things merged into one whole piece of sustained reality. All of the science in the world, all of the psychology, coping mechanisms, clotheslines, dish strainers, family albums, house walls, pay checks, are no match for this world beyond time and space, this connection to a divine peace, a mystery that will never be solved, and in which we sit like babies on a mother’s breast. The truth of this mystery is comforting, once we get beyond the sheer terror of everything we think we know expiring into nothingness, emptiness.


How does this all relate to daily life? It has had an astounding effect on my mind and how it works, and how I think about things, and how I maneuver through my day. Stress, fear, tension, sadness, anger, joy, desire, longing all still arise, frequently, and every moment, I turn to them and, instead of interpreting or craving or distancing, I look toward them, and inquire into their nature, their feel, texture, bodily sensation, accompanying thoughts and beliefs. This inquiry was first done so I could find peace, be at peace, cultivate acceptance and comfort and relax into my life. The stage that came after this wrangling with, again, trying to pin down peace and comfort, was the deepest lesson I have ever learned in my life. I learned to be with the experience, without looking even one second ahead, with full immersion in the emotion or bodily sensation, full presence. This is a constant vigilance, one that requires awareness each moment, and a willingness to not define, predict, tell stories about, or repel or drown in any particular experience.


Our stories are powerful, seductive, compelling, melodramatic, fascinating. They make our lives into epics. The thing that is so heartbreaking is that, without these stories, we are even more heroic, more epic. Being with what is without effort, without trying to frame it, is the deepest, most powerful experience there is. We can want so desperately that our hearts feel like they will break out of our chests, feel grief so intense that it weighs our bodies down like lead, feel love so overwhelming, we shy away from it with our beliefs about relationships and intimacy, and we can train ourselves to stay. To stay with all of it, intense and overpowering as it is. This is true intimacy.


So during these first months of the year, when I have been unable to do everything I wanted, everything I set out to do on January 1st, I have been learning, slowly, achingly, how to accept this. To accept that I can’t run three businesses, see my friends, edit my arts magazine, work out, do yoga, do my dishes, breathe, walk, make coffee, cook healthy meals, open the windows, be there for my family, feel everything I am feeling, pay attention to my thoughts, meditate, look up at the stars, attend events, sleep, watch TV and have downtime, all at the same time. I have not learned how to not sleep. I have not learned how to multitask to such an efficient degree that I can get everything done faster. I have learned that I can’t do everything.


Balance is a trick of the mind. In the middle of everything, I have learned how to balance. When nothing is getting done and I am ridiculously behind on everything, I have learned how to balance. What are my priorities, what are the real quality activities I want to do, where is my energy highest, deepest, most rooted?


I think about those little atoms dancing and the beautiful, unpredictable electrons, neutrons, and protons, quarks and unknown subatomic particles dancing, and moving, never knowing where they will move toward, never even knowing where they are, and there is amazing and awe-inspiring hope and openness there. The very nature of physical reality is built on a movement so unknown, it becomes a stable ground for us to understand and feel and live toward. We live on this earth and can feel physical earth beneath our feet, air in our lungs, our heartbeats and senses and the experience of light and darkness, fear and pain, ecstasy and faith, and it is all of apiece. It is a whole, the cradle of which is deep reality, immediate presence, and constant shifting, movement that is so constant, it holds stillness within it. In this, there is peace and we can develop skill to stay there. Stay there and work with accepting each experience exactly as it is. This is being true to ourselves, to our lives, to our experience. This discipline leaves no room for denial or interpretation or prediction. This loyalty to our experience, every moment, obliterates any lie, any protective mechanism, survival skill, learned resistance and distancing from ourselves and others and life and death. This is divine and wondrous. In each new moment, there is each new moment. Balancing this out with getting chores done, striving for goals, forming relationships is the essence of truth—in all of these pursuits lies the very nature of reality itself. It’s about how we approach our lives. We can stand open and vulnerable to our lives, letting our thoughts pass, working with our resistance and compulsion, and holding steady, heart engaged, releasing our stories, letting ourselves fully experience our lives, without trying to change them.


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1. Learn how to drive.

2. Get a bike. Bike more than I drive.

3. Redefine my relationship to urban intimacy/community. Meditate on infinite paths of connection.

4. Learn about composting.

5. Dust off my Guide to North American Birds.

6. Start singing again, and release claustrophobic feeling of singing and making sound, making noise in a house abutting two other houses, shared walls.

7. Learn the sky. Study constellations.

8. Get an astrolabe.

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What Has Been Beautiful So Far in This New Year

Trusting the body and marveling at its innate healing process. Acknowledging how amazing the body is.

I’ve taken some time off-line, which was necessary. The world is not the computer.

Reconnecting with a simple, exalted quiet.

Thinking about what I want to heal this year. What are my goals for healing mind, body, heart and spirit?

Here’s a good measure of a realistic goal: how do you feel when you set the goal? Do you feel relaxed and joyful and open and positive? Is your breathing regular and deep? Your heart rate normal and measured? Or does your breath stop in your chest or on the way out of your nose or mouth? Become aware of your breathing, and notice how it feels. If you suddenly feel constricted and tense when thinking about your goal, try to set a new goal that is smaller and feels more natural. Goals are met organically – healing and health are a lifelong process. It’s not a race to the finish line.

What do you want to heal this year? What are your goals for healing your mind, body and spirit?

What has been beautiful for you so far in this new year?

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There is a compelling truth these days that it is harder to make a living for almost everyone, and the uphill battle of making ends meet is staunch and, at times, merciless. These are essential concerns that are shaping our times and each one of us living and breathing and working now. The crux of our society and our world rests on being able to promote social and political reforms to assure wealth equity and economic justice.

There are many wise and compassionate and powerful voices that are writing and talking about what needs to happen so that people have enough food to eat, roofs over their heads, enough money to cover medical costs when they arise. Those of us who are working at writing, painting, music, dance, and other forms of artistic expression that don’t usually earn us a pay check have particular and specific questions to ask ourselves about how we support ourselves and, with that paid work, how we make enough time and have enough energy to work on our art. This goes for anything we want to do in life—how do we make enough time, have enough energy and make a good enough living to support our goals?

At the same time we look and see all that needs changing, we can also accept—accept ourselves, others, the world, just as we are. Accepting does not mean we give up and do nothing. True acceptance, with an open and forgiving heart, a heart that feels and gives love in the face of whatever comes, changes everything. Acceptance means having and nurturing compassion and understanding and respect in the face of anger, fear, despair and grief. With this compassion, we move to change our world from a place of love and strength, solidarity and hope. We work to make our world and lives and future better because we have hope, not because we’ve given up. Through this transformation, we can build lives and schools and studios and desks and performance spaces, equitable public policy and law, strong and warmly knit communities, lives of inspiration, creativity, spiritual wealth and material sustenance.

At the same time we are aware of what’s going on around us and we practice acceptance, we can continue to live in line with our passion. What we choose to do for a living is social, political, emotional, provocative and rooted in deeply held personal beliefs and values. In order to have a true balance of passion and work, you must make choices based on your most essential ethics and ideals. You decide if you want to make a living solely as an artist, from your art, or do other work for which you are paid and weigh many other choices along the way. This goes for anything you want to do in your life—you can make choices from a place of strength and passion. Living a creative life means living according to your own values, principles and passions. You ask yourself how and what can I contribute and build your life around those actions and ideals. In all circumstances, you must continue to inhabit and be true to your passion.

As a musician for a decade and a poet for the rest of my life, I have gone through periods where I’ve been so broke, I wondered what I was going to eat and how I was going to pay my rent. I was never in danger of starving or being homeless, as many people are, because I had and have the support of my family, but supporting myself, being financially independent and not relying on others has always been a strong driving force in my life. There were times that, even knowing I had that security, I wondered and worried every day about money coming in, money going out, what I would do if I had a medical emergency or a life-threatening or chronic illness. As Oscar Wilde said, many horrible tragedies have befallen me, and most of them didn’t happen—not to make light of the very real anxiety that is so prevalent for all of us these days.

In my early days in San Francisco, I was working as a freelancer and put most of my time and energy into my band and curating two poetry reading series. I worked hard but sporadically, so did not have a regular income. This was a semi-conscious decision on my part, to devote most of my resources to being creative and not to making money. One day, I was walking up Pierce Street, a block away from my apartment, thinking about exactly how much money I would need for food to get through the rest of the week. I figured I could do it on $10, if I ate mac and cheese and didn’t go out at all. The $10 would cover coffee and mac and cheese. I looked down at the sidewalk and there was a $10 bill, edges flapping but somehow staying put. I looked at it and was overcome by a sense of sweet fate, everything working together in order to get me through. I remember not being afraid that the bill would blow away. I bent down and picked it up and, right then and there, decided that I would figure out how to support myself and make art.

Finding that $10 bill was one of the biggest turning points in my life. All at once, I felt the almost unbearable strain of being broke, the certainty that I would always be taken care of financially, a sense of security that came from a place deep inside of me, and such gratitude for what that simple $10 bill gave me. That $10 may as well have been a million dollars. I knew, in that moment of picking up that $10, that I could be an artist and not starve.

The phrase “starving artist” is a phrase for a reason. Living on the edge, not knowing where your next meal is coming from, is both a romantic notion and a concrete reality, as an artist must constantly make decisions about how best to spend her time and energy. There are other characteristics of the darkness and core moral values that come with being an artist, that you are against the world’s systems, trying to reform and restructure a broken society, that your work on this earth as an artist is meant to be painful, self-sacrificing and agonizing. That creating means setting yourself apart from the mainstream, from the path that would allow you to make a decent and even lucrative salary, that somehow, if you made enough money to feel comfortable, the edge needed to make your work powerful and meaningful would disappear and that you would be aligning yourself with everything that is wrong with the current economic system.

It is true that, as an artist, you must continually challenge your limits, emotionally, physically, spiritually, artistically. You must put yourself in bare and raw situations where you don’t know what will happen. To live on the edge financially seems to be a given part of this life. What has become apparent to me, over the years of being an artist determined to have all of my survival needs and more met and taken care of, is that the “edge” is found in day-to-day, ordinary living. My reverence for and awareness of the brilliance of ordinary life developed over years of suffering and exploring what would make my life bearable, what would end the intolerable pain of struggling to make things work in a meaningful, practical and sustaining way—in work, love, friendship, family, music, writing and art. There have been many ups and downs on this path, and I am continually learning about myself, work, money, income and creative power, its root and importance in both art and daily life. A beautiful article is written on Belladonna and written about on Harriet, The Poetry Foundation’s blog dealing with these concerns, Ana Božičević’s Our Material Lives: A Working Poet’s Manifesto:



It is dharma to take care of yourself and make sure you have enough food and a comfortable place to live. We make a living, sweep our floors, take naps, write poems, play guitar, build chairs, cook meals, hug and kiss our families. This is dharma. Dharma is found in the struggle and constant navigation of the paradox of balancing money and art. Today’s times call on us to be compassionate and productive in our efforts, in our works to create sustainable lives for ourselves and our children. You make an income to give back—that is the only reason. To give back to yourself, health and food and shelter, to give back to your community, to give back to the world. That is making a living versus making money. Making a living is making meaning. It is up to each of us to determine how to make a living and make art in a way that will benefit and sustain ourselves and all of those around us. I admire and respect so many amazing artists, poets, musicians, dancers, woodworkers, potters, collagists, novelists, actors, whose presence in the world is a blessing, a catalyst, a lightning rod of hope and change and illumination.

Art is indispensable and imperative and artist’s work is invaluable to society and the world. Art is the way, the dharma. It is vital to take care of yourself and tend to a stable and grounded heart, a healthy body, an uplifted spirit and an open, compassionate mind. Gratitude for all you have and creating your life around your passions is sustaining and generous. We all have so much to give to the world. The way is constantly opening up before us, as we look at ourselves and our lives with deep honesty and courage. The struggles we have are opportunities to do work in a more efficient and productive way and create our lives and the world the way we desire it to be—beautiful and just, meaningful and creative, balancing and navigating each moment with openness and kindness, toward ourselves and others.


Please contact arielleguy@gmail.com with any questions about Dharma not Drama coaching.

© 2011. All words and photographs are copyrighted and may only be used with the permission of the author.

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