Extravagant

Been thinking a lot lately about things that stand out. Personalities. Hair styles. Cars. Life styles. Behaviors. Words.

I grew up thinking that something that was extravagant was a negative thing. Superfluous. Not necessary. Excessive. As a result, on some level, whether intended or not, I believe I sought to fit in, not stand out. To be average and not too much or too little. To fly below the radar as much as possible.

So it was rather annoying that the bulk of my childhood I received comments often about my smile and my cheerful expressions on my face. Even earning the nickname smiley at one point. It bothered me that people commented on my smile. I did not want to be noticed. To stand out.

A number of years ago, well into adulthood I read a book with the word exuberance in the title. The author told a bit of biography of Theodore Roosevelt and his love for and passion for forests and national parks and how he fought valiantly for their preservation and protection during his presidency. And I found myself nearly captivated by his drive and determination and his unwillingness to be derailed despite others views or scoffing at his hopes and expectations. He was not only passionate but he was exuberant. Which the dictionary defines as “the quality of having energy, excitement or cheerfulness”. While reading I found myself inspired and even impassioned, by his zest for life’s purpose that felt contagious.

Perhaps excess isn’t always bad.

Today I was listening to a song entitled extravagant, in which it described a love that didn’t make sense, that was unthinkable, above and beyond. I couldn’t help but pause.

If something that is extravagant is unnecessary and excessive. If exuberance is above and beyond expected, superfluous. Then wouldn’t something like extravagant generosity or exuberant expressions of compassion be encouraged, even celebrated?

Perhaps the goal should never be to blend in or fly below the radar. Not to say ones goal should be to be center stage or on display. But perhaps a more candid and honest expression of ones self should be encouraged. Less filtered. Perhaps when it comes to love and compassion, extravagance could be modeled, and portrayed as what it could be in full expression, beautiful.

I don’t think I’m advocating that extravagance be expected or demanded. But what if it were modeled on occasion. Without being magnified or downplayed. But simply seen. And felt. Witnessed. Experienced.

We have new neighbors in our neighborhood. And when they moved in they hung these brightly colored aerial swings in their large tree in the front yard. The first time I saw them I thought it was unique and strange and perhaps a bit dramatic to have multiple very colorful swings in their front yard tree. However I soon discovered that most evenings when I went walking I saw their daughters hanging and swinging in those swings. Night after night. Laughter abounding. Creative expression visible.

Extravagant? Maybe. Exuberant? Definitely. Negative or a bad thing? Not a chance.

Perhaps what felt unfortunate for much of my childhood turned out to be fortune after all. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t really adapt my facial expressions without really modifying my outlook on life in a negative way. So as quietly as possible, I owned my facial expressions. And I smiled often. And I smiled even more when someone commented on it. Cause that was me being me. For it just was what it was. And it seemed the sooner I accepted that. The sooner I was able to just be me. Sometimes too much. Sometimes not enough. But always true to myself.

Now that I have a daughter who openly prances around the neighborhood dressed up as a princess or a warrior or hula dancer or a magician, I find myself encouraging her self expression and her unique flare. I don’t ever want to stifle that. If exuberance comes natural to her. I pray it always will. Without encumbrance or shame.

I’m sure there are some who still describe me as over the top or unnecessary. Perhaps even excessive at times. But I feel okay with that now. At least I’m channeling my energy toward generosity and compassion and not resentment or judgement. A decision I would make and will make, again and again.

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Butterflies & Tigers

My daughter has a set of garden themed shower stickers. They are thick foam pieces in the shapes of flowers, stems, grass & butterflies. She has had them for months now and plays with them during every bath and shower. This morning, while she was sitting down in the shower playing with these stickers, I looked down and noticed that the little purple butterfly had a separate little piece for its head, with adorable little antenna and eyes… I had never made the connection before that these two pieces belonged together, and as it dawned on me, I found myself realizing just how hurried and busy I typically am as we zip through our daily activities and routine. Then I wondered, what else might I be missing out on as I fly around at the speed of light, always multi-tasking, always thinking about my next step and one after that, never fully present in the moment that I’m in.

Amazing how little ones can teach you so much about life and value and shed so much perspective.

My daughter loves to read books and carries books to me throughout the day and crawls up on my lap for story time. She has a book about tigers that has a little button you can push that makes a “roaring” sound, and she loves to push this button and then try to roar with the tigers on the page. Today as I sat with her on the floor and read about the 5 little tigers playing hide and seek, her pushing the button every 5 seconds, I found myself strangely non-irritated, and instead very lost in the curiosity and fun loving nature of her.

It was then that I recognized that pausing for one moment of being present and still, seemed to naturally lead to another focused and purpose filled moment later on, and then a more contemplative energy as I moved throughout my day. Still points and stop overs and even a complete break from the busy, suddenly seem so much more appealing and acceptable and even anticipated in a way that makes me want to create these moments in my day, so that I can more fully experience life, and the individual moments that make it what it is.

Have you paused today?

Have you experienced your full presence in a moment in a way that made that moment pop?

I hope that you can capture a moment in all its splendor today.

Striving to become…

The author Richard Bach writes a story entitled “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. In this story he writes of a seagull that is discontent with who he is and what his capabilities are, and he sets out to make significant changes, in order to build more into his life. He begins by practicing different types of flight, and training to become faster and more efficient in his soaring and gliding. Even this pursuit eventually becomes boring and purposeless for him, and he continues striving for something; for what he isn’t even sure. He is eventually expulsed from his flock, for his refusal to conform and live the common life of a gull. His pursuit for excellence and perfection is relentless, he must strive harder and longer to ultimately become more than what he is told he is, “bone and feathers”.

One of my favorite authors Ronald Rolheiser comments on this seagull story when he says “everyone identifies with Jonathan. We are that gull, restless and dissatisfied, driven by a perpetual inner disquiet that we do not always fully recognize or understand, pushing always harder, to fly faster, to go more places, to break through, to break out of the asphyxiating confines of our place and condition in time and history”.  Fascinating the efforts one will go to, to be someone other than who we are, but rather desperately clinging to something…

Those of us who can identify with this gull named Jonathan are aware of the struggle and inner turmoil that striving entails. It is all consuming, a voice in one’s head saying “you should be different, you can do better than that, you can become something greater than what you are now, you should be faster, you should be thinner, you should be…” These voices are endless and the need to perform and upstage is incredible. But I have come to believe that there is a need for a balance between striving and acceptance; between growing and simply being.  This is fundamental to a fulfilled and balanced life.

I will admit I have spent the bulk of my life striving harder and longer for excellence and perfection, and I have exhausted myself emotionally and physically. I am slowly discovering that there will always be more, or a better way, or another option, and despite all the variability’s in life, I ultimately do have a choice about whether I continue running on the treadmill of life looking for more, and trying to becoming more, or whether I find a steady place to stand, knowing that I am enough today, in this present moment.

Still to this very day my quest continues. Surprisingly, I still haven’t found what I am looking for in life. But I have come to a new understanding that I may not find all of my answers to life’s questions, and that I may not feel utter peace and contentment in this life. But I can choose to live in the knowledge that life is a journey full of endless longings to love and be loved, and to share with others in the goal of creating meaning and purpose, one day at a time. So each day I have a choice to make, shall I focus on the insufficiencies and areas I would like to grow in or change, or shall I focus on who I am and what I currently have to offer, to others and to myself.