I’ve been a bit of a gypsy the past couple weeks, traipsing around Phoenix and Tucson, my old stomping grounds. It’s been excellent to meet new people and see old friends, and I’ve been humbled by everyone’s kindness and generosity.
While perusing calendars at one of my favorite independent bookstores this past weekend, I noticed that Earth Goddess imagery doesn’t do it for me anymore. Beautiful drawings of flower goddesses, women morphing into trees or hanging out with their Earth bellies is something I no longer find resonance with. This isn’t to say that I find it less valuable or would begrudge other people their favorite sacred images, but just that it’s something I’m no longer attracted to.
When I interviewed pagan theorist Starhawk back in February 2001, I remember she told me that the political was the sacred. That people putting their lives on the line to create systemic social change were acting in a sacred manner, whether they thought of themselves as spiritual or not.
One of my favorite quotes is by Aristotle. He said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” This always resonated with me because habits are controllable, unlike genetics. Whether trying to achieve athletic excellence, mastery of a craft or even improve relationships, habits are key.
I’m finding glimmers of excellence in all sorts of places. A mother who I noticed apologizing for her kids’ behavior, but rather than feeling critical I was actually noting how she was masterfully deflecting all impending arguments with compassion and poise. A personal trainer who had such an eye for detail that he could pick up on problematic movement patterns in mere seconds. A bodyworker who literally refuses to charge unless his clients are 100% by the end of the session. A street musician rockin’ the resonator, making an extremely challenging performance look easy. Fighters who show such heart and skill even in practice, never taking a shortcut, never giving up.
While traveling I found myself noticing that I was attracted to the friends I’ve kept here for a reason. They come from different walks of life and have different professions: massage therapists, acupuncturists, writers, videographers, project managers, personal trainers, EMTs, editors, teachers. But what they have in common is that they don’t cut corners. They give things their all: their work, their families… their passions. I only hope that I can live up to the shining examples all around me and find myself manifesting the bright light of excellence to others on the path.
“Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair but manifestations of strength and resolution,” Kahlil Gibran said. And I see that more and more all around me as well. It is internal strength and resolution that stops us from hardening our hearts and enables us to let the love flow–to our work, to our families and ultimately to one another.
Here’s to excellence.