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Category: Personal Essays

What is Intelligence?

What is Intelligence?

 

Of late, I have been completely consumed with the idea of intelligence leading me down the murky path of curious discovery. Always an above average student, one would believe I had a handle on this concept. On the contrary, bouts of low self-esteem and social anxiety left me afraid to take risks, challenge others in debate or share personal philosophies. It has only been through writing that I have discovered hidden strength and allowed parts of myself to be seen. To this point one of my favorite authors, Parker Palmer, states,

 

As teenagers and young adults, we learned that self-knowledge counts for little on the road to workplace success. What counts is the “objective” knowledge that empowers us to manipulate the world. Ethics, taught in this context, becomes one more arm’s-length study of great thinkers and their thoughts, one more exercise in data collection that fails to inform our hearts.

 

What speaks to me is Palmers use of the word manipulate. We often choose to show up each day as society expects us to and with the information required for each interaction. In my field we call this data driven decision making. In doing so we hide our authentic self and shield our hearts while navigating a professional life. We gladly put on errs and dish out facts and figures to support positions, forgetting the points we argue remain eternally elusive. Intelligence of the heart gently reminds, it is better to be kind than to be right. Parker speaks further with,

 

Not knowing who or what we are dealing with and feeling unsafe, we hunker down in a psychological foxhole and withhold the investment of our energy, commitment, and gifts… The perceived incongruity of inner and outer-the inauthenticity that we sense in others, or they in us-constantly undermines our morale, our relationships, and our capacity for good work.

 

I have felt this inauthenticity in both myself and those in my workplace. If I am not showing up as myself, trying my hardest to be as others wish me to be, am I not doing a disservice to everyone? If I had to define true knowledge, I would have to say universal intelligence fits the bill. It is a knowing that no matter how much we think we know, it is never as vast as the great unknown. The divine light in each of us, no matter how we name it, holds this universal knowledge and tries desperately to show us the smallest of sparks during our lifetime.

 

What we name it matters little to me, since the origins, nature, and destiny of call-it-what-you-will are forever hidden from us, and no one can credibly claim to know its true name. But that we name it matters a great deal. For “it” is the objective, ontological reality of selfhood that keeps us from reducing ourselves, or each other, to biological mechanisms, psychological projections, sociological constructs, or raw material to be manufactured into whatever society needs — diminishments of our humanity that constantly threaten the quality of our lives.

 

My writing is a playground for self-examination, self-reflection and philosophical interplay. I debate with myself as I write and the outcome is never predestined. I flirt with new ideas and old tales of wisdom, never really settling into one frame but rather enjoying the entire picture, even the odd brushstrokes and frayed edges. The universe is such a creative space and the joy I feel when floating in this galactic sea of creativity is unmatched by any measure of intelligence we know of.

 

I have no name for this other but know it is with me and is relentless in providing learning opportunities for my soul. Sometimes I fail miserably while other times I shine brightly, soaking in the love of a perceived success. It is only with this duality that we learn, grow and come home to ourselves. The journey can be frustrating, but maybe this is the only way to truly earn our intelligence wings.

 

Why I Write

Why I Write

 

The written word and I have always had a close relationship. As a young child I wrote short stories and enjoyed the escape other characters and worlds allowed. Poetry spoke to me as well, specifically the darker tone of Edgar Allan Poe. Reading the Raven in middle school was life changing. Until that point, I didn’t known that others felt so intensely, flirting with complex emotions. Writing provided a safe space to explore these feelings beyond my dreams and internal dialogue.

 

As an adult, I struggled with all of the things that one experiences in the real world. Relationships, finances, parenting, career, the list goes on. The words on the page became my counselor, my salvation. Only in this medium did it feel completely safe to express how I was feeling. Just putting thoughts on paper brought instant relief from whatever was troubling me. Putting words to my jumbled mess of feelings somehow made for a softer landing.

 

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Maya Angelou

 

In early adulthood, I went through what can only be described as a constriction of self. I put down the pen, embarrassed by what I saw on paper. Overcome with emotions and with no creative outlet, I became closed off thinking I could stop the onslaught of feeling and effectively mute the voices that had been my guide and comfort for so many years.

 

I wish I would have known that living in a manner that is counter to self never ends well. Self will come torpedoing back in the most uncomfortable of ways. Faced with my own darkness and unable to deny my imperfections, I was brought to my knees. From this low point, the only way I could see the light was by the pen. I took to writing in a bedside journal and creative energy came rushing back. The words danced on the page as if taunting me to follow along.

 

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

― Anais Nin

 

 

Today, after many years of this practice, I still hear the same words when faced with uncertainty. I hear a very clear voice saying “Lavinia, just write.”  I know in some small way what I write matters. It gives voice to all the many things I cannot, exhibiting much more bravery than my actual voice alone. Yes, I dream of the day when I can write as often as spirit allows, but life has a way of walking down the path in its own time. Patience is a necessity.

 

In the meantime, I will continue to commit all that lingers to paper. Just as a stone must continue down the hill to conclusion, so too must I until this crazy life journey ends. Writing is not a conscience choice but a part of who I am. Self-doubt and criticism no longer matter.  I write because I must.

 

 

 

Time

Time

 

Time is too slow for those that wait,

Too swift for those that fear,

Too long for those that grieve,

Too short for those who rejoice,

But for those who love, time is Eternity.

Henry Van Dyke

1852-1933

We are all only here for a fixed amount of time, life is a terminal condition and the question is not if this journey will end but when. To a person such as myself, this is a comfort rather than a fear. I have always known that I am not from this place. Never one to feel any sense of unease with the unknown of the thereafter, I chose to embrace this other with hope and joy.

 

Each day I look at my body with curiosity as it begins to make this aged transition. My hands, wrinkled and worn from years of work. My face a canvas the shows brush strokes of both sadness and joy. My legs, more tentative and careful with a slower pace. Everything is in reverse now. I catch myself forgetting the title of a book, the name of a street or the ingredients for a favorite recipe. I witness it all and know that this part of my journey has just begun. I call on the Divine for grace, guidance and strength when feeling overwhelmed.  With each new reckoning I continue to shine a light toward home.

 

“The world’s thy ship and not thy home.”

St. Therese of Lisieux

 

The poem by Henry Van Dyke speaks to a curious fascination with time, specifically death. We are energetic beings and as such will persist even after biological death. Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, one cannot deny that the moment of passing is one of unimaginable transformation. No amount of worldly success can be called upon to make this transition. We venture into eternity alone, taking with us only the love and connections we have shared with others.

 

Believing that the soul is eternal can be reassuring for anyone struggling with the peculiarities and challenges of life. Energy never ceases, it simply changes form. I choose to hold in my heart a knowing of a time when all the hustle and bustle of the day will stop. The constant worldly distractions, to do lists and commitments will be replaced with a restful and glorious peace. Silence will prevail and all will become clear. This knowing is enough, it must be.

 

Nothing Speaks

Nothing Speaks

 

Lips pressed so tightly sealed, eyelids close as emotion yields

Everything slowing to a crawl, vision narrowing down the eternal hall

Wanting to run but legs remain, stuck in quicksand from the rain

Face to face with a godly mirror, reflecting ideas falsely clear

 

Suddenly now I feel the growl, a voice stifled and becoming foul

Rising up from the darkest place, around my throat with fingers laced

Willing any sound to be heard, trying to shout like a morning bird

Crumbling apart and thought as weak, no matter the effort nothing speaks

 

-Lavinia Busch

 

How does one find their voice after many years of holding back, willing it to silence because of insecurity or scrutiny? I have made my fair share of mistakes learning how to speak up over the years. It is very difficult finding the right tone when freeing an idea that has been wanting so desperately to emerge. Often, the result is a harsh exclamation…not a good look.

 

When I wrote the poem “Nothing Speaks” my mind was in deep consideration of this contradiction. When a voice has been silent for an extended period of time, it is unbelievably difficult to change course and exercise a willing openness. The give and take of daily conversation can set off all sorts of alarms. “Is it safe to say what I know to be true?” or “Will people think less of me?”  The self-doubt never ceases, and the easiest road is to just keep silent.

 

It takes great courage to finally speak up, especially for one like myself that prefers to keep most thoughts tightly held. In my rush to seize the moment and speak to an issue I am passionate about, sometimes the words tumble out more assertively than I would like.

 

In general, my goal is to find the balance between not speaking, as in the poem, and sharing my thoughts openly. Some days I am better at it than others. I have learned that as in all things, balance in conversation is a muscle that must be exercised.

 

 

 

Nothing Remains

Nothing Remains

 

Nothing Remains

 

Pictures drifting as before, when frailty roamed with an audible roar

Apparitions lifeless and complete, in precious memories so very sweet

Blink and the fragile forms will change, faces and stories all appearing strange

Set your watch and shed your chains, at long last nothing remains

 

-Lavinia Busch 2019

 

Having just returned to work after a six month sabbatical, I am caught in a fog of “work stuff”. As a librarian in higher education, I have the wonderful opportunity to work with young adults excited about learning and exploring new ideas. By the same token, the culture of busyness and the hierarchical structures of university life have left me conflicted.

 

What I am left with is the idea of impermanence and contribution. Well aware of the fragile nature of life, it is striking how much energy is expended doing things that have nothing to do with permanence. Pepper this with what can be real injustices in the world, and I find myself constantly thinking about an elusive other way forward.

 

“Anyone who has lost something they thought was theirs forever finally comes to realise that nothing really belongs to them.”

― Paulo Coelho

 

As a person attempting to let go of all that weighs heavily, what remains clear is that the practice of minimalism is not just about stuff. Minimalism is what we allow into our lives and what we set free to move along on the rivers of fate. Nothing remains static; no problem, institution, relationship, river or mountain. Everything is in a constant state of change. Stepping away from my workplace for six months really demonstrated this concept for me.

 

When I am gone, my work contribution will remain as if an echo bouncing off the walls of a vast and empty hallway as new voices, ideas and leadership step forth. What then is really important to me? How should I be spending my precious life energy?

 

The answer I always return to is family and writing. Both are extremely important to me and deserving of my very best. Through my family, I leave a bit of myself in all that I do. My children may not grasp the value of this work, but I am convinced my job is only to plant the seeds of hope and inspiration. They must tend their own soil and allow unique flowers to bloom.

By writing, I contribute my voice, my heart, in a format that will far outlast my physical body. It would be lovely if in 100 years, someone picked up one of my poems and felt unfamiliar emotions after reading. To me this would epitomize life energy well spent.

 

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

― Heraclitus

 

Remembering that nothing remains is also a comfort during times of unease. Everything that confounds me about this life will pass. The discomfort of this physical body, awkward relationships and the many mind numbing tasks that make up a day. In the future, the world will no longer be as I see it now.  A new landscape will emerge as the cycle of life returns and repeats.  Taking this in, my desire to spend more time doing what speaks to my heart is pressing. We must all ask ourselves, if these were our last days on earth, what would we do with the time remaining?

 

 

We All Have Unique Contributions to Make

We All Have Unique Contributions to Make

 

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender

be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;

and listen to others,

even the dull and the ignorant;

they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,

they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain and bitter;

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs;

for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;

many persons strive for high ideals;

and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment

it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,

be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive Him to be,

and whatever your labors and aspirations,

in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952.

 

Desiderata has been a favorite of mine for many years, so much so that I have a copy hanging in my office. Returning to his words, on this New Year’s Day, I am struck by the relevance standing on the threshold of the new filled with unlimited mystery.

 

Not a fan of resolutions, my exploration of the nuances of life is forever ongoing. Thinking on this topic, I am left with the understated importance of unique service. What do I have to offer this world by showing up as authentically as I can? What is my unique contribution?

 

This contribution may quite possibly have nothing to do with a role or title but rather a value, or character trait. Stay with me here for a moment. Living in a goal-oriented society, service often circles around career, family or community involvement. While these are all commendable vehicles to affect change, they are simply the vehicle, not the mechanism.

 

“We need people in our lives with whom we can be as open as possible. To have real conversations with people may seem like such a simple, obvious suggestion, but it involves courage and risk.” -Thomas Moore

 

As a fairly private person, I have the unusual habit of showing up as I believe the environment calls for. My true character is never on display but rather put forward in pieces as if living my life a la carte. Strange I know, but this has been the way I have navigated the treacherous social constructs of my life…until now.

 

It has become clear to me that one of my potential contributions is specific to human nature. I enjoy talking to others, reading their energy and trying to figure out why they are who they are. This microscope on interpersonal relationships has become, over time, my “mothership” or home base.

 

“Many of us have made our world so familiar that we do not see it anymore. An interesting question to ask yourself at night is, What did I really see this day?”

― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

 

Up until the present, this has also been my dirty little secret. When talking with someone, the busy beehive of my brain is analyzing, questioning and insatiably curious. The pretense for the meeting makes little difference, I am much more interested in understanding the participants human nature. It also makes no difference what emotion is exposed. I see anger, sadness and loneliness as well as kindness, love and joy. Each emotion fills in the blank page of the other, similar to an amazing novel you just can not put down. People are so beautifully complex.

 

My continued commitment is to honor what I see. Whether it be in my workplace or home, I must believe what others share even if it was meant to be quietly withheld. This information allows me to be the best caretaker in ways that may be foreign to some. Having the ability to hold the sadness of others is an incredibly humbling responsibility, especially when sadness is expressed as anger or criticism. It takes every bit of strength to see this sadness and be gentle.

 

My hope is to find more opportunities to practice this gentle patience amid a world lead by harsh judgments, born from some of the darkest of emotions. I hope to be able to see the genesis for these emotions and be a source of light, a different way forward. Maybe in this way, I will learn more about myself and act upon what is discovered.

 

 

Hearing My Voice

Hearing My Voice

 

 

“Being true to that self involves sifting through the layers of bad advice and unreasonable expectations of others. It requires seeing through your own delusions of grandeur or your fear of failure or your impostor syndrome or your conviction that there is something uniquely and obviously screwed up about your particular self.”

― Elizabeth Lesser, Marrow: A Love Story

 

As one with a personality that thrives in the grey, speaking a strong opinion sounds foreign and unwelcoming. Ask me my opinion on any sensitive issue and you may leave the conversation never knowing my true view. By design, I hold strong beliefs close. Debating the merits of moral and ethical ideals is in no way appealing to me. My beliefs may shift over time and are framed by personal experience, representative only of self and not the whole.

 

This may also be why my writing has taken a turn towards prose rather than essays.  I enjoy the metaphor in poetry and how words can mean a multitude of things depending on the readers experience. I can now speak to a much larger audience and find a renewed freedom in the metaphorical imagery of poetry. Each new piece is brought to life by evoking personal emotions with little control over the end result. I grab my laptop and start writing as if consumed by what are sometimes dark and uncensored thoughts. It is an exposure in the deepest sense and one that leaves me completely spent.

 

Should it be me, that others see.

Could I possibly be the one,

who holds center stage, alone in a cage

fearful yet outspoken.

 

Should I project, all for effect

A false and misfitting equation

Or should I be, completely me

Rejecting all misleading notions.

-Lavinia Busch

 

 

After writing, I often let the poem sit for some time before returning to read and edit. This is when the awful “imposter syndrome” rages. Looking at otherwise private emotions is a humbling venture. I wonder what in the world was I thinking and how could it be of any importance to others. Slamming my laptop shut, I walk away from my words, my heart, time and time again. Self doubt is so very insidious.

 

Having repeated this over and over, it is clear that writing is a radical act of bravery. Inherently, I understand publishing intimate thoughts, requires a letting go of obsession with “the other”. I must write for me and only me. It sounds selfish, but the only way in which my unique voice can be heard. By releasing the focus on approval, I am free to take risks, explore uncharted emotional territory and dive as deeply as words allow.

 

Ultimately, there is only one of me in this grand universe and my singular voice matters. Similarly, the collective voice of humanity also has something to teach, whether it be frightening or inspirational. It is up to each individual how they wish to interpret words, imagery and creative thought. How freeing to know we each have choice in this way.  

I Dreamt of you Last Night

I Dreamt of you Last Night

Authors Note: Years after the fact (blog post here) I still occasionally dream of the two others actors in the unfortunate story of my married life. This time it was her. Forgiveness is a muscle that needs to be flexed in order to keep it mobile. I am continually called to flex these muscles over and over again.

 

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

― Mark Twain

 

I dreamt of you last night. This is not the first time you have visited me in a dream, forgiveness being such a difficult pill to swallow. Just when you think its done, you find yourself choking on the remnants of bitterness.

 

The image I am left with, after a restless night, is dandelions. When I was a child, I sat outside in the cool evenings and plucked dandelions from the grass. Placing them one by one close to my lips, I would make a wish and blow the seeds of the dandelion into the wind. I was certain by doing so, my wish would come true.

 

I realized at 3 am that even though I thought I had let go of the past, the darkest spaces of my heart were still holding on. Each dandelion seed represented a hurtful memory, sadness or grief. By holding on to the bud, I was tethered to the tendrils of emotions still lingering within.

 

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

― Alexander Pope

 

 

Thinking of you, the person who was unwittingly connected to me by circumstance, I blew symbolic dandelion seeds into the air, releasing all that remained, all that had gone unsaid. While doing so I did my best to conjure up the most glorious rays of love and light….all for you.

 

As insidious as the darker emotions can be, I am not naive to the fact that more resentment may be hiding deep within the ethers of my psyche. When the darkness creeps back or, should you visit me once again in the silence of night, I vow to send you on your way by blowing the seeds of a dandelion into the light, setting you free -setting us free.

 

Nature as Equalizer

Nature as Equalizer

 

Spending time in nature, one feels how very small they are, so insignificant as compared to the absolute, magic of the natural world. Millions of years: heat, cold, wind and rain have, forged the highest peaks and lowest deserts. Nothing humans are capable of creating has such longevity and complexity.

 

It takes only a few moments on a petrified sand dune to see the artistry and creativity of nature. No picture or painting will ever capture this visceral sensibility. How humbling to be in the shadow of such depth. Even these words, written on paper, feel elementary as compared to the canyon in which I stand. Any ego I may have inadvertently fostered is crushed in an instant.

 

Nature is the ultimate equalizer. A keen businessman could stand next to a carpenter in this canyon and wind will knock them both down. No discerning for class, financial stability, education, race, gender…nothing. The heat of midday will bring physical exhaustion and the cool evening breeze, a gentle kiss upon the forehead. Nature has quite a sense of humor.

 

I can be funny but in general am a serious person. My walk in the woods has left me with one very keen impression. My life is short and what I believe to be of importance is not. My career is a symptom of living in a financially motivated world. My condition is living a human existence as a spiritual being.

 

Never before have I been so aware of this disconnect. It pains me to the point of sadness. Even while basking in the brilliant light of the natural world, I see how acutely misguided so many are. I see how misguided I have been.  Nature equalizes us all in an instant.

 

 

Broken Glass

Broken Glass

Art-Dhira Lawrence

 

Shards and pieces fill the floor,

Emotions trampled as before.

Watch your step, this glass cuts

Its best to keep things tightly shut.

 

Tempers flare and shouts persist

The allure of anger hard to resist

Careful now, handle with care

Sharp as a knife, better beware

 

Be gentle now, glass does break

All it takes is one strong shake

Softer words and kinder touch

Broken glass hurts far too much

-Lavinia Busch, 2018

 

Broken glass is an eclectic collection of what was once a whole, yet each piece is still able to shine separate from this whole. Think of a stained-glass window. These inspiring works of art are comprised of broken pieces of glass, each able to stand alone in specific brilliance. In totality, the stained-glass window shines like a sunbeam, sending colorful light in all directions. The beauty of this whole does not negate how special each individual piece of glass is. Removing even one piece would change the stained-glass window completely.

 

How easy it is to forget what makes each of us as individuals shine. We define ourselves by family, friends, job and relationships. It is so easy to forget who we are and what we contribute to the whole. Losing self in another is a slippery slope and the treacherous fall that may occur is not one to be taken lightly.

 

For empathetic people, this is especially difficult to navigate. We pride ourselves in being helpful, selfless and putting the needs of all others before our own. While this may seem to be a service-oriented way to move about the world, the exclusion of self in all matters is neither healthy are wise. Without goals, creative energy and spirit it becomes impossible to have a voice in any partnership. Each person should intend to uplift the other while gently encouraging their partner to stretch and grow. Without this space one will inevitably become stagnant, a shard of glass crushed by the weight of insecurity.

 

 

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

― Anton Chekhov

 

No one should dim their light for the benefit of another. Each one of us has the opportunity to shine in our own way. The color of the glass we use is up to us as is the manner in which we create our window. As the artist, we have a choice and a voice. It is incumbent on us to not lose sight of our precious light.

 

Continue to love those in your life. Lend an ear when necessary. Offer a helping hand and gentle encouragement but never compromise who you are and what is important. Shine as brightly as you are meant, dimming no amount of self for the benefit of others discomfort. You will find as you gain confidence, that your stained-glass window is more representative of your shining spirit and gentle heart.