Soul Places

Befriending the Soul through Inquiry and Creativity

Tag: life

Another Arrow in a Quiver Against Resistance

Parking lot danger.

Originally uploaded by paulswansen

I have used The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz as my spiritual code for the better part of the last year. Over the last few months I have gotten lazy and forgetful of them so I decided to pull out the book again for a review. I wrote this poem earlier this year when these Agreements were literally oozing out of my pours like garlic. (The eighth stanza is the Four Agreements.) It’s a relatable piece even for those who are unfamiliar with this Toltec wisdom and for those who are friendly with it, there’s a Fifth Agreement too. I use these Agreements to vanquish resistance to my spiritual practices and break old, damaging patterns.

Parking Lot

By Diane Ludeking

I am slowly backing out of my parking spot

In my tiny blue Toyota Yaris

I am blinded by the enormous SUVs on either side

And sent into a panic when I hear a blaring horn

Who is dying? Who is crashing?

What’s with all the cacophony?

Hmm. Someone in a hurry

Speeding through the lot. That is all

I thought I learned in Driver’s Ed

That the person backing out had the right-of-way

Apparently that idea is the wrong-of-way

As proven by the glare I receive from my antagonist

When I am carefully retreating from my space

I am the blind one.

I cannot see who is coming

It makes sense that you should watch out for me

I do not have a fancy back-up camera

Extra mirrors hanging off my rear bumper

Or a loud, rhythmic beeping sound

To announce my backwards venture

I have no tools to help me see the impending doom.

The angry, rusted Isuzu truck

With a wire clothes hanger holding up it’s muffler

Is the shape of my next important lesson

But alas! I have tools of the best kind

They are not made of reflective, breakable glass

They do not show me only the physical objects in my way

They don’t even make offensive “Get out of my way!” declarations

I will be impeccable with my word

I will not take it personally, Mr. Isuzu

I will not assume you are having a bad day because you are foreign-made

And I will always do my best in order to avoid regrets

With these tools as my spiritual code

My lessons are much more black and white

They are not any easier to swallow

Nor are they any less frequent

But I can safely back out of my parking spot now

And as I pull onto the highway of life with confidence

And a newly discovered eagerness for adventure

I learn that there are no speed limits here

Fighting Resistance with Updike, Stafford and Pressfield

Fisherman's Wharf Hostel, San Francisco January 2010

John Updike is in good company this week.  I am currently reading his Pulitzer Prize winner Rabbit is Rich.  And when excuses and resistance snuck up on me like the seeker in a game of hide-and-seek a few days ago, two remarkable non-fiction books joined Updike.  I pulled William Stafford’s Writing the Australian Crawl and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art from their six-week-old perch on my bookshelf to commiserate with Updike.

Steven Pressfield is my go-to-guy for defending myself against the creativity killer, resistance.  He tells me “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”  So the more I resist something, the more I should pursue it?  Or this pithy phrase, “what you resist, persists.” In my experience, that’s exactly right.  It is demanding my attention by the pure emotion of fear that manifests as resistance.  Have you ever started a workout routine or diet only to have it beat you before the first week is over?  Resistance is your silent, deadly partner too.

Leading up to this blog I wanted to quit writing.  I didn’t have anything new to write about.  Resistance had its death grip on me – it has such a success rate that it will never quit –and I am not the only one in its crosshairs.  Truth be told – the little voice in my head said it couldn’t be done and I believed it.  It doesn’t matter what the “it” was – the point is I listened to it and let it beat me.  I picked up my pen for a total of two pages all week – my aim is a page a day.  I stared at my laptop for hours, telling myself “I’ll write something as soon as I’m caught up on Facebook (whatever that means) and all my emails have been addressed.”

My copy of Stafford’s book had never been opened before this week.  He writes directly to the writer’s vocation, more specifically to poets.  A poet friend of mine shared a quote from this book that resonated with me so I had to purchase it in order to draw upon it.  He speaks to having dreams:

Sometimes I feel a writer should be like this – that you need your bad poems.  You shouldn’t inhibit yourself.  You need to have your dreams; you need to have your poems.  If you begin to keep from dreaming or from trying to write your poems, you could be in trouble.  You have to learn to say “Welcome…welcome.”  Welcome, dreams.  Welcome, poems.  And then if somebody says “I don’t like that dream,” you can say “Well, it’s my life.  I had to dream it.”  And if somebody else says “I don’t like that poem,” you can say “Well, it’s my life.  That poem was in the way, so I wrote it.

For me, resistance is exactly like that last part.  I think every piece needs to be a masterpiece.  This thought paralyzes me and silences the ink.  As soon as I embrace the idea that most of my writing is a process to get to the rare gems, the ink flows with a happy noise.  What’s “in the way,” gets on paper so I can move on.

All three of these authors worked together this week to get me off the pity potty.  Updike’s magical voice in my fiction choice inspires me to write.  Stafford encourages me to simply show up and let the ink sound off.  And Pressfield is a much-needed kick in the pants to keep going and win my creative battles – well, all my battles.  I am learning to embrace the things that are the most difficult, because I know from experience that the pay off will be immeasurable joy; one more point for me and zero for resistance.

Don’t Fence Me In!

Fences are meant to either contain or keep out.  They contain cattle, horses, dogs, vegetables and immaculately maintained yards and homes.  They keep out rabbits, deer and toddlers, preventing them from pulling up carrots and they keep out would-be trespassers from treading where they are not welcome.  Sunday’s snow and high winds has brought to my attention another use for fences.

Snow fences are meant to force the snow to drift at the fence instead of in the roads.  However, the wind was so ridiculous this past Sunday that snow fences were virtually useless.  The snow in all its feral wonder refused to be tamed and told where to drift.  Not aware of snow fence rules, it recklessly blew wherever it wanted to, closing roads and making most others quite impassable.  I stood in amazement at its bravado.

The way the snow and wind simply fulfilled their purposes that day left me wondering about how I fence myself in by my own rules and beliefs.  “I am not good enough.”  Fence post.  “I have failed at my career.”  Fence post.  “I can’t say that.”  Stretch of fence.

Before long I was completely fenced in – thinking I was keeping myself safe – efficiently keeping out anything good for me.  Thank you blizzard for showing me that my fences can be overcome and for allowing me to take a long, frigid look at how I’m living my life.  I look forward to blowing right over all the beliefs and rules that no longer serve me and replacing them with the freedom of wide-open spaces.

Am I Sentinel to My Own Thoughts?

Dallas Keeping Watch as Joey Departs

My dog Dallas and I begin our daily morning trek up the snow-blessed hill with zest in our laurels and secrets in our ears.  I am cocooned in three under-layers, Smartwool socks and Carhartt bibs and coat.  Dallas only wears a coat of exquisite strawberry blonde hair with distinguishing gray around his eyes and muzzle.  We follow a trail made by our equine friends – occasional hoof-shaped indents left in the snow to prove they trod here once.  As we round the bend, I notice the horses are blinking curiously at us – having been warned by the movement of Dallas running amok with nose to ground.

In each hand is a bucket for my beloved ponies.  They eagerly leave the comfort of their herd and meander my way.  Lots of stroking, hugging and murmuring greet them.  Their contented munching becomes meditative so I sit beside them on the angelic cover of ground.  Dallas is a few yards off now – sitting – looking out at the world around us.  He is sniffing the air – I wonder what he finds – friend or foe.  He is vigilant to his surroundings as though danger may arrive if he were not.  The horses are alert to the strange squealing in the woods – their ears and eyes swivel to assuage their instincts that it’s nothing life threatening.

In my serenity I am struck by the though that these creatures are sentinels of their own survival.  They are students of their surroundings, making sure nothing of harm will come to them.  If danger should ever arrive, he will be quite challenged by his greeting of fight or flight.  And although I do not have the same concerns of survival as my animals, I certainly have the dangers of my own mind.  It is necessary for my health and perhaps one day, my survival, that I become sentinel to my own thoughts and agreements.

Handsome Approaches

How will I respond to danger?  How will danger feel when I greet him?  Will I even see him coming, disguised a million different ways?  Am I gatekeeper of my own thoughts, experiences and reactions?  Do I sit as Dallas does, with nose to the wind and catch my own scent of self-deprecation.  Are my own thoughts friend or foe?  Am I vigilant even in mundane tasks like my horses with an ear and eye to what may be lurking around in the forest of my mind?

I scratch my horses, pick up their empty buckets and walk with them to the water.  I thank them for what they’ve shown me and walk back down the path with Dallas, pregnant with reflection.  I thank Dallas for his wisdom too as he bounds on ahead of me.  I find that there is room for improvement and I vow to treat myself kindly in order to make room for awareness.  And as I come to the end of my trail, I snort and laugh out loud at the recollection of a bumper sticker, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.”


How I Handicapped My Life

Me Galloping in Ocala, FL

I spent two exhilarating summers in college working at a horse racetrack where I started as a groom and worked my way up to pony rider (escorting racehorses to the starting gates) and then exercise rider.  One of the most interesting tidbits I learned there was how the horses were handicapped to make the race more equal for all participants.  The handicapped horse, the one that needs to slow down, is fitted with a saddle pad that has pockets for lead weights and the predetermined amount is loaded in there.

The weight assigned to the horse is called an impost and I can understand the need for it when the jockey and saddle do not equal the weights of the other riders and equipment.  But the idea of handicapping with weights beyond making each equine carry the same load became very absurd to me.  By trying to even the playing field amongst all horses, the handicapped horse or horses are running in a pack of animals not exactly in their league.

I didn’t think much of racehorse handicapping once I left the track, but a few weeks ago it became apparent to me that I was wearing a trench coat with dozens of these pockets full of lead.  And as I searched for an empty pocket to stuff with the most recent travail, I realized the insanity of what I was doing.  I was just plugging along in life, taking each difficulty as a personal attack, more suffering, another lead weight.  Pretty soon I was so handicapped that I was racing right along side other victims, creating more suffering for myself.

That's Me in Complete Bliss

When my eyes became open to the phenomenon of handicapping my own life, I tried to participate in “negative” experiences instead of just taking things as they came – another lead weight.  It became about being shit on by a bird, saying thank you and losing a lead weight for it.  Once I made this shift in my attitude, I became so much lighter in spirit and was able to cast off that injurious lead-filled trench coat.  I know that there will always be unsatisfactory circumstances, but I now know that I can adjust my reaction to them and receive all kinds of accolades for my efforts in the winner’s circle.

Walking Out to the Exercise Track

Giving Thanks from a Place of Sanctuary

Giving thoughts to the Thanksgiving holiday, I deemed this poem fitting because of it’s modicum of gratitude.  I do my best to give thanks every day, but a reminder to do so is always well received.


by Diane Ludeking

My car has unwittingly become my sanctuary

Where I am alone to contemplate in silence

Or liven things up with some music or a book on CD.

On the seat next to me is everything I need for my pilgrimage.

My journal, laptop and several books

Are my companions into the unknown.

There is nothing else to do behind this wheel of initiation

But guide my car safely on these concrete rivers

And be alert to my surroundings and myself.

In my side mirror I acknowledge the setting sun

And the road I’ve already left behind.

Thank you for the life I’ve already lived.

And as I turn my focus back to what’s before me

I see dark, rain-laden clouds ready to burst

And wash away all that no longer serves me.

This cleansing I embrace as does the setting sun

For I notice the last rays of light

Have reached out to my raincloud and gifted it a rainbow!

Thank you for the beauty that leads my way

Through the uncertain storms of my life.

Thank you for reminding me that everything works together to create the atmosphere that is my life.

Hibernation – Not an Excuse to Neglect Self

Until April 2009, I had lived in the Twin Cities area for the better part of the ten previous years.  News of significant snowfall there this past week got me thinking about hunkering down for the winter and entering a form of hibernation.  Although there’s only been a few sightings of snowflakes in the Madison area, my fuzzy ponies assure me winter is coming.  I pulled up the following poem recently and felt it fitting for the upcoming season – both internally and externally.


by Diane Ludeking

A hibernating bear wiggles her toes

Slowly turns over and is attacked by a stretch

The most amazing, gratifying stretch

The kind that sneaks up on you wonderfully

And lasts a whole minute

Accompanied by an equally alarming, satisfying yawn

And random squeals and peels of delight

The most yummy way to greet the day

She picks herself up

Indulges in one more delightful stretch to the sky

And wanders outside

Blinking away darkness into sunshine

Blinking, blinking, blinking

Nothing is changing, she cannot see

Blinking, blinking, blinking

Vague shapes begin to reveal themselves

As withered, fruitless trees

Starving, frantic rodents

Skeletons of creatures that just couldn’t hang on

Grey, grey sky

Barren, barren land

This is not the world she exchanged for a nap

The most distressing sound she has ever heard

Startles her and brings her massive form

Crashing to the childless earth

Only the earth will not receive her

There is an unspeakable battle that ensues

Fangs, claws, blood, earth-shattering cries

That echo off the lifeless surface of her reality

Exhaustion, defeat, wounds, deep life-hungry wounds

Devour her and she passes alone into unconsciousness

Serenity greets her

And she lives there for a time

Surrounded by nothingness

It is revealed to her that the battle that nearly took her life

Was a battle with herself

The distressing sound that started it all

Had been building deep within her for a lifetime

And once it was freed

Everything worth hiding came barreling forth

Finally she had heard herself clearly

Felt the wounds deeply

Had seen the life she’d been living

Was a shadow of her true self

And was nearly destroyed by the truth of it all

As unconsciousness slowly returns her to life

A sense of wasted time gives her urgency

She jumps to her feet and takes off running

Only it feels like flying, soaring

Through fertile forests that house healthy creatures

Splashing through streams of life-giving water

Adventure of the most amazing kind

The alive-kind

The I-know-who-I-am-kind

There is no longer a need for hibernation

When illusions have been vanquished

And true self has been embraced

Attachment Cured by Rodentia, Tempus and Carnivora

My husband and I finally rented a place together again after jobs kept us in separate states for most of this year.  We excitedly returned to our storage unit on Thursday to begin the moving process only to discover that mice had moved in.  Since February, we had unwittingly loaned all our belongings to an unknown number of rodents. We hadn’t intended on our stuff being in storage so long so we haphazardly packed and threw everything in there.  Every box was fair game as none of them were properly taped shut – only folded.  We proceeded with apprehension as to what we might find.

Our hide-a-bed couch was stored on end so we could see as soon as we uncovered it that the mice had made a nest in it.  A large plastic bin, overflowing with stuff and lidless, was littered with vermin excrement.  A big box, also carelessly over-packed and wide open housed a precious pair of jeans that I have almost fit into since college.  A rodent bathroom – that’s what they were now.  Another pair of jeans I’ve almost fit into for a number of years had become a mouse chew toy.  It suddenly became very easy to let go of my attachment to these belongings.

On to my most prized possessions – my books.  These boxes have the unique experience of never being unpacked in my last dwelling.  After a year and eight months of being locked away from my inquisitive eyes and fondling fingers, I was surprised to find that I could part with a significant number of them.  “I’m not interested in that anymore” – “I don’t really need to keep every book I’ve ever read,” were some of the thoughts going through my head.  Somehow they avoided being tread upon by the twenty-ounce rodent renters so there was no damage done and they brought a fine price at the used bookstore.  It seems as though time had allowed a natural separation from those books.

Having lived for the last ten months without any of these things made it quite easy to slight them.  I have made several trips to the local donation center and the only things I felt a little separation anxiety over were the re-homing of my childhood stuffed animals.  My dog, Dallas, thought this would be an opportune time to acquire himself a new “baby.”  He sensed my angst over these items and took advantage of a small window of opportunity.  He very cutely marched over to my pile of toys, wagged his tail and batted his eyes at me.  With his entire body engaged, muzzle reaching for the stuffed puppy, he asked me, “May I?”

I acquiesced and gave him the first two.  Then he quite confidently took the other three – although he may have to fight my husband for the little Pooh Bear.  Five of the ten stuffed animals I’d been hanging on to for fifteen years were re-homed right under my own roof.  Of course they are now fodder for Dallas’ entertainment.  Their guts will be scattered throughout the living space before too long, but I have let go of my attachment to them as well and will gladly throw them in the garbage when Dallas has completely disemboweled them.  In the meantime, they will bring me much joy as I watch my smiling dog prance around the house with them.

A Life Unexpected – For a Tree

My father pilots his tree-beaten log hauler through the forest

The season is not fall or autumn, it’s firewood-gettin’ season

I sit next to him – two bottles of water, two apples and my mixed feelings between us

The Ford blue truck halts in front of a colossal, upright, bloodless tree

I watch my mixed feelings drift out the cracked-open window

Like warm breath caressing cold air

We are only after the dead ones – relief like rain after a devastating drought

Roaring chainsaw, crashing lumber, I smile

Surprise at my upturned lips flows into recognition

I am this tree

Standing tall among it’s kind

It doesn’t realize its sap has dried up

The roots have loosened their grip on the earth

It bears seeds no more

No fuzzy buds of new growth

There are no brilliant leaves to shed this year

Its skin is mostly gone, exposing it to disease and infestation

The chain bisects this mighty tree and reveals rot, powdered wood, loosened soul

A dazed, evicted mouse bounces away

It’s comfortable life – interrupted – not allowed to fall in it’s own time

And remain on the forest floor to fertilize the ground as it decays

It’s saplings look on as we claim it for fuel

What once was dead

Brings heat, comfort

Peace of mind in the approaching winter

A second chance to complete its purpose

The cycle of life, soul restored

In the most unlikely of circumstances – for a tree

*Inspired by the lyrical voice of E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News – my current read – and forest excursions with my father

What is Your Inner Child Asking of You?

Nestled between the pages of my current read are two wallet-sized portraits, back to back, laminated for longevity and used for contemplation. The twelve month old looks as though she had been crying, red-rimmed watery eyes, not completely enjoying the experience of being posed and needing to be still.  Nevertheless she is smiling and holds a deep blue ball that stands out from her pale yellow dress and fiery hair.  The older girl looks like a veteran poser and her brilliant red hair has faded a little to a wonderful strawberry blonde.  She is smiling on cue, bright eyed and confident in her Raggedy Anne red dress.  I am the girl captured in each photo.

When I open my book and acknowledge these pictures, I begin to hear the questions they are asking me.  “Do you remember what you were like at this age, before your world shaped and reshaped you to fit into a mold?  What activities gave you so much joy?  What came easily to you?”  Somewhere in those photos is a clue as to my true nature, my gift to share with the world that I was born with and somehow lost track of.  I must simply remove all the barriers that have shown up to challenge my way.  Only it’s not been so simple.

I let these pictures take me back in time in order to recapture my true essence.  I find that most toddler activities will not serve me well in day-to-day life, so I let my mind wander into more revealing activities.  Like when I was in the fifth and sixth grade I had a friend that shared my love of writing.  I would go to her house to play, notebook and pen in hand, and we’d sit on her couch and write the next bestseller.  When this friend moved away after the sixth grade, it seemed as though I lost interest in writing.  Where did the desire to write go?  Was it a “phase?”

With this inquiry into my childhood aspirations, I remembered that I found much peace with my animals and just being out in nature.  I was an excellent observer of my surroundings.  I have also been able to recall that some of my favorite times were spent with myself in my room reading The Saddle Club and Black Stallion series and making wonderful pencil drawings.  For the first time in twelve years, I picked up a pencil and sketched again.  I’m pretty sure I won’t make a living selling sketches, but that is hardly the point.  What I’m in search of is the mission that child came here to fulfill.