18 May 2018

Deciding Today

I live now and only now, and I will do what I want to do this moment

and not what I decided was best for me yesterday.
-Hugh Prather

It's very easy to get caught up in the idea of "sticking to your decisions."  After all, yesterday I said that I would do this task today, so of course, I'm obligated to do this task right now.  After all, I keep my word, don't I?  And very often, this is a very good strategy to follow.

Very often, though, it's not.

What if I woke up this morning and I realized that I'm close to burnout, that if I don't take some time away from the task, I'm going to suffer emotionally or physically?  Yesterday, I didn't feel this way, so my statement was easy to make.  But when I made the decision, I didn't have all the information that I needed in order to make a decision for today, and now that today is here, continuing with the task doesn't seem to be the best idea at all.  Perhaps it's time for a short break--some recreation or moving to a different task--in order to make sure that I'm able to continue effectively later.

When something drastic happens, it's easy to lay aside plans.  When your son or daughter breaks a leg, all plans are off while we take the child to the hospital.  That's an immediate response in the moment that makes complete sense because it's so obvious.  Many of our needs, though, aren't nearly as obvious.  Yesterday I decided to plant the garden, but today I see that my best friend needs someone to talk to--am I going to talk or plant?  Just because I said yesterday that I planned something today doesn't mean that I can't go with today's needs, today.

Let today talk to you.  Listen to its directions.  Live in the moment.  Today knows what today needs--yesterday had only a vague idea.  Listen to the day that knows.

16 May 2018

What are your favorite illusions?

The universe is illusion merely, not one speck of it real, and we are
not only victims, but also captives, bound by the
mineral-made ropes of senses.
-Annie Dillard

I often have a hard time with this concept.  After all, when I reach for my coffee cup, my hand encounters something solid--and I've learned that if something is solid, then it's no illusion.  I see my wife almost every day, and I talk to and touch people in my life constantly.  How can they be illusions?  They actually exist, don't they?

I'm not sure.  I can't be sure, because I really don't know enough about anything to be completely sure about anything at all.  Just because I've learned that illusions must be intangible, is that really true?  Perhaps some illusions take physical form, and we all accept that form for what it is, so we see it as "reality."

When Annie says, "not one speck of it real," what does she mean?  I believe that she means that as human beings, we like to "know" things.  We like or need to have explanations for everything in life.  And the only way that we're able to explain things is through our senses, which are extremely limited.  Because of that limitation, we're not able to see or feel or smell anything but that which exists within the realm of our senses.  There are more types of light than that which we're able to see; we're able to hear just a small portion of the sounds that surround us constantly; our sense of touch is necessarily limited to those things that won't do our body harm; taste, also, is limited to those things that we eat or that enter our mouths by accident; and who knows how many things we simply cannot smell?

Because of these limitations of our senses, our view of the universe and all that's in it is incomplete.  This incomplete picture is illusion, even if we're pretty sure that the cow that we see and hear and smell is pretty real.  Sight is merely light entering our eyes and being received by our brain and then interpreted; sound is vibrations in the air being perceived and interpreted by our ears and their inner workings--and on and on.  We use our senses only to the extent of their limitations--and no further.

So what does this mean to us?  Why is it important?  Well, perhaps if we realize that what we see and hear may not be exactly what we think it is, we can respond to it more positively.  Maybe we can realize that so much of what we believe to be true--and therefore so much that affects our happiness and our peace of mind--is simply what we believe to be true, rather than what's really true.  And when we realize that, we can reclaim our happiness and our peace of mind and our lives will be a bit simpler and definitely more pleasant.

Likewise, when we realize that many other things we consider to be obstacles really are just what seems to be true, many of those obstacles will fade to nothing because they weren't obstacles to begin with.

How we see the world is our choice.  What we choose to see is our choice.  Let's choose to remember that most of what we see is illusion, and then we can lead these lives in happy, healthy, and productive ways.

07 May 2018

A part of who we are

But by identities and integrity I do not mean only
our noble features, or the good deeds we do, or
the brave faces we wear to conceal our confusions
and complexities.  Identity and integrity have as
much to do with our shadows and limits, or wounds
and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.
-Parker J. Palmer

It's so important to keep in mind that our identity isn't formed only by those things that we see as good.  Most of us never really sit down to consider just who we are overall--we know our profession, our nationality, our gender, our family, etc., but we rarely take the time to think about just who we are.  Perhaps we don't want to because we're afraid that we'll come up lacking, and find that we aren't what we thought we are.  Or perhaps we're afraid because we'll discover the huge potential that we have as human beings to contribute to the world we live in, and that potential scares us.

What Parker is focused on here is important for us to keep in mind--our identity is made up just as much by our fears as it is by our courage.  It's made up of our flaws as well as our skills.

And that's okay.  When we're fully aware of our flaws, they aren't really flaws any more--they become traits.  I have a very hard time remembering names, I'm a very poor organizer, I'm more impatient with some people than I should be, and I often tend to be judgmental.  Because I'm aware of these aspects of who I am, though, I can work towards diminishing their predominance in my life; because I accept these aspects fully, I can work with them to turn the judgment into acceptance, the impatience into patience.

We fool ourselves completely if we ignore the less-attractive elements of who we are.  And when we try to fool ourselves that way, we think we can defeat the shadows by focusing only on the light, but that's never true.  Shadows will still be there until we remove the obstacles that keep the light from shining in those places, and the only way to remove them is to face them honestly and completely.

 quotes and passages on identity

02 May 2018

Loving others

Unless we give part of ourselves away, unless we can live
with other people and understand them and help them,
we are missing the most essential part of our own lives.

Harold Taylor

I get a bit worried sometimes about the directions our society is taking.  At times I feel very confident that we're building something positive and helpful, but other times I'm concerned that our lack of human connection--partly caused by our addictions to screens and information--is going to cause us grave harm in the not-too-distant future.  It sometimes seems that we don't live with other people anymore, but that we live around them.  That we know a lot of information about them, but that we don't understand them anymore.  We read on our screens what they eat, what they like and dislike, how they react to certain things, but we don't have a whole lot of experience with them in person.

And that's causing a great deal of imbalance in ourselves.  As Harold says here, it's essential that we live with others, understand their needs, and help them--if we're to make the most of our own lives.  If we can't or won't do these things, then we lose a huge part of who we are, and our potential is never realized, for most of out potential has to do with how we can help others, what we can do to make their lives richer and more fulfilling and, in many cases, even more bearable.

"Love isn't love til you give it away," says a song, and that's a simple truth in life.  But if we've no one to give it to, we rob the others of receiving our love, and we rob ourselves of the benefits of sharing love.  We're here on this planet to learn to love, not to watch screens and text each other.  Giving to others cannot be done with an emoji--it has to be done with the heart and spirit, and the human touch that comes with it is one of the most important elements of our giving.

30 April 2018

Changing Happiness

The art of living does not consist in preserving and clinging to a
particular mood of happiness, but in allowing happiness to change
its form. . . happiness, like a child, must be allowed to grow up.

Charles L. Morgan

It seems to be a common mistake that we make, thinking that happiness is always going to be the same thing for us.  It changes not just as we grow up and learn about different possibilities in life, but it also changes day by day, hour by hour.  While I may find happiness in the morning by going for a long, easy run, my happiness in the afternoon will consist of curling up on the couch next to a lamp with a book in my hands and a glass of wine on the table next to me.  Neither of those things would have made me even the slightest bit happy when I was ten or twelve years old.  Happiness isn't a question of specific things that have to happen or we're unhappy--happiness is recognizing where we are and when it is and finding what's best for us at that moment.
Is that new job going to bring you lasting happiness?  Nope.  It may provide conditions that can contribute to your happiness, but the job itself won't make you happy.  You must look for what makes you happy and allow that to change and grow as you move on in your life.  Something that made you happy one or five or fifteen years ago can't be expected to still bring you happiness--you're a different person now, and your needs and desires have changed significantly, so you need to find the new forms of happiness that are much more fitting for you now.
It's very common to see people feel confused when they realize that the things that used to make the happy no longer do so.  You may grow perplexed from time to time, also.  But when you open yourself up to the possibility that change has happened and you follow your heart to find out what makes you happy now, you can find a whole new world of happiness--and it already surrounds you.  It's just waiting for you to recognize it.

27 April 2018


What we need to do is learn to work in the system, by which I mean
that everybody, every team, every platform, every division, every
component is there not for competitive profit or recognition, but for
contribution to the system as a whole on a win-win basis.

W. Edwards Deming

We've got it wrong in our country--dreadfully wrong.  We've devolved into a society that focuses on separation and competition rather than cooperation, and we're paying a very heavy price for that.  We've lost the respect for other people's positions and opinions, and we no longer ask someone who disagrees with us for their opinions of advice, and we suffer because of it.  Sometimes, the very thing we need to improve dramatically is input from someone who doesn't agree with us, for their perspective is very different from ours--and there's a very good chance that they see something that we don't.  All of us have a limited perspective, and if we choose to respect input from only those people who agree with us, we're keeping ourselves down for good.  If we can't see the bigger pictures in life, we function in very limited ways.

We're not here to compete with each other--we're here to cooperate with each other.  We're not here to judge and insult people who disagree with us--we're here to learn from them.  Until we learn how to cooperate, especially with those whose positions are different from ours, we're merely limited little creatures who are trying so hard to maintain and defend our version of reality that we lose sight of the fact that the world is much bigger than we are, that there are different perspectives everywhere we look--and they could be very valuable to us as we try to improve our lives and the lives of those we love.  Because we ignore them, though, they're like picnic baskets that are full of wonderful food--but that we never open because we don't like its color or its shape.

25 April 2018

Finding Fault

My days of whining and complaining about others have come to an end.
Nothing is easier than fault-finding.  All it will do is discolor my personality
so that none will want to associate with me.  That was my old life.  No more.

Og Mandino

It's so incredibly easy to find fault with others, especially since our society has developed into one in which we value criticism more than we value praise or encouragement.  But fault-finding helps almost no one at all--and in fact hurts more people than we can really imagine, including ourselves.  We were not placed on this planet in order to find problems with other people--we were put here to have the chance to become the best people we possibly can be, and that means making sure that we're improving ourselves, not trying to make others conform to our ideas of what should be.

Some of us have jobs that require us to find faults.  I taught writing for many years, and it was very important that I point out what kinds of mistakes students were making.  But it was also very important for me to model the more effective ways of doing things, and to give them feedback that told them when they were improving.  But for the most part, we're not here to point out other people's faults just to make ourselves feel a tiny bit better for a very short time.  We'll be much more effective in making this world a better place and ourselves better people if we stick to encouragement and praise of others.  There already are plenty of people who find fault all the time.  We don't need to be a part of that group--it doesn't help us to make our lives better even in the slightest.