31 December 2010

Beginning This Moment

Most of us fail to realize the tremendous potential that lies before us in each moment of our lives.  Every moment of every day, we face the opportunity to start over completely, to modify the way that we see the world, to change the ways that we react to certain stimuli.  Our lives are ours to fashion, and we do so through the ways that we approach our days and our circumstances, through the ways that we act and react, and through the ways that we treat others and ourselves.  One of the most important goals that we can have as people is to learn to recognize the things that cause us unhappiness, stress, anxiety, and negative feelings, and then to act in ways that will keep those things from being the dominant elements of our lives--or perhaps even to banish them from our lives altogether.

We spend a lot of time waiting for those "right moments," though.  I've known plenty of people who have been in destructive relationships who refused to leave them because the time just "wasn't right."  I've known people who hated their jobs and thus started each day feeling completely negative because they had to go work somewhere they didn't want to go, but who never found the right time for looking for something new.  I've known people who allowed others to dominate and control them, but who weren't able or willing to make the decision to leave behind the abuse and search out healthy relationships with people who were supportive and helpful to them.

This moment--right here, right now--is the only one of this particular moment that we're going to have in our lives.  The important question that we have to ask ourselves, then, is just what we're going to do with this moment.  How can we make it special?  How can we use this particular moment as a starting point from which to make the rest of our lives more positive and fulfilling?  Can we take this moment to make a decision that will add more special moments to our lives in the future?  This moment really does begin the rest of our lives, so what can we do with this moment that will provide a spark that will allow the flames of our true passions to burn brightly?

We seldom see moments of our lives as starting points, yet it's true that every single moment signals the beginning of the rest of our lives.  If we can see each moment as a beginning, then, how can we go about making sure that we start the rest of our lives on the right foot, in directions that will prove to be positive for us and for the other people who share our lives with us?

There is only the moment.  The now.  Only what you are experiencing at this second is real.
This does not mean you live for the moment.  It means you live in the moment.

Leo Buscaglia

29 December 2010


The new year is upon us!  And while it’s tempting to write something like “It’s full of new opportunities, new experiences, new people, etc.,” I know that the truth is that the year isn’t full of anything like that–-the new year is a series of new days, and all of the new opportunities and new experiences would come to us even if we didn’t measure time in 365-day, 12-month, or 52-week units.  Each day that we live is full of opportunities to do something new and different, to meet new people, to take up new hobbies, to change the ways that we do things in our lives.

I like the idea of a new year.  It’s convenient to have a period of time that we can look back on and reflect on all that we’ve done, to have periods–-be they weeks, months, or years–-for which we can establish goals and determine courses of action for bringing positive change to our lives.  But those periods really are artificial; I don’t think that the trees in our back yards are marking the passage of days or weeks, do you?  And if they are artificial, then it’s important that we see them for just what they are and not make too much of a deal about what they mean to us.

The most important thing that we can do for ourselves is to recognize the importance of the present moment, the decisions that we’re making right now, the opportunities that are here for us now.  Because our lives are made up not of a series of years or months, but a series of “right-nows,” and what we do with each of those right-nows as we make our ways through life is the most important element of our lives.

What do you do with your right-nows, your present moments?  Right now you could encourage another person, start making a list of goals for the new year, start working on that novel, write a poem, write a letter to someone who could use a letter–-any of hundreds of things--but you have to make a decision to do so.  These things don’t just happen–-they’re the result of people doing with their present moments something constructive, enjoyable, and important to themselves and others.  That’s what right now is all about!

The present is passed over in the race for the future;
the here is neglected in favor of the there.
Enjoy the moment, even if it means
merely a walk in the country.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

22 December 2010

'Tis the Season

Now that Christmas is here, it's time to decide just how I'll approach the holiday this year--and believe me, it always takes decisions.  I used to just take the holidays as they came, and that was okay, but I found that there were often just a few too many disappointments, just a few too many problems that came up that I wasn't able to deal with.  So now I try to approach the holidays in a practical, prepared way--at least mentally and emotionally--so that I don't have to deal with unpleasant surprises that tend to arise.

First of all, I always decide about this time to let go of any expectations I may have for how other people act, for what kinds of gifts I may (or may not) receive, and for what other people do.  I find that much of the dissatisfaction that I witness other people feeling during the holidays has to do with what they expected not coming through, and that's a pretty silly reason to have to be dissatisfied--something that we bring upon ourselves.  Other people are who they are and will do what they do--they simply aren't on this planet to live up to our expectations, no matter what our relationships or lack of relationships.

I also decide to err on the side of generous.  I don't go out and buy lavish gifts for most people, and my wife and I enjoy the very simple things, but if I have to decide whether or not to get something for a particular person, then I'll get it because it may be a huge mistake not to.  Since I get modest gifts, the loss to me is slight if it turns out to be a mistake, but that can't compare to the damage that will occur if it would have been a mistake not to get a gift.  I also make the decision to take as much time for myself--relaxing and doing nothing (except perhaps reading or watching a Christmas program)--as I can.  This way, I can enjoy the holidays more because I've dealt with the stress and strife in a proactive fashion.

I also decide that this season will be about spirit more than it will be about gifts or parties or anything else like that.  I like the gifts and I like the parties, but these are incidental parts of the holiday season, not integral parts.  To this end, I listen to a lot of Christmas songs such as "O Holy Night" and "Silent Night" and the like to continually remind myself of just why this season is here--to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who did his best to teach us all about our own power to love and live in harmony and unison with God.  While we haven't done very well at taking his lessons to heart, we have done well in maintaining the celebration of his birth, and that will have to do, won't it?  It truly is a holy season, and if I want to get the most out of it, I have to decide to do so.

When we work so hard at our preparations for Christmas, we often
feel cheated and frustrated  when others fail to notice the results
of our efforts.  We need to ask ourselves why we are doing the things
we choose to do.  If love motivates us--love for our families, for our
neighbors--then we are free to simply enjoy the actual process of what
we do, rather than requiring the approval and admiration of others
for the results of our labors.

Ellyn Sanna

20 December 2010

O Holy Night

I like to listen to Christmas music all year long.  It reminds me of my favorite time of the year, and it inspires cheerful and pleasant thoughts and feelings.  It also helps to remind me of probably our most important mission while we're on this planet--focusing on others and their wants and needs, and doing our best to provide for them.  Christmas is the only time of the year that so very many people are focused almost exclusively on making others happy, on doing things and getting things for them, and that's a nice thing to be reminded of.

But anyway, that's not what I feel like writing about at this moment.  I'm listening to "O, Holy Night" right now (Michael Crawford's version--the best I've ever heard), and it just struck me that there's something amiss with the title.  The title implies that the night that Christ was born is the holy night, but I have to take exception to that claim.  Personally, I believe that every night is holy--just as is every day, every morning, every afternoon.  I think that sometimes we don't see every day and every night as holy because we don't treat our days and nights as holy.  We take them for granted, even dislike them or dread them or waste them sometimes, but we surely don't look at them as holy.

This moment is holy.  We're alive, we're sharing this world together, we're part of the whole of humanity right now, and we're truly blessed with many beautiful things, with food to eat and shelter over our heads--how could this moment not be holy?

This night will be holy if we regard it as holy.  That doesn't mean, of course, that we have to go to church tonight or spend three hours reading the Bible.  Rather, it means that we have to accept tonight for what it is--a holy night--appreciate it for what it is, and love this night for what it is.  It's an opportunity to give to others, to share with others, even to take from others who wish to give.  It's a time for reflection and appreciation, and if we can find both of these, then we'll be in good shape.  A holy night demands nothing more or less than our reverence, and when we truly appreciate the opportunities that we have at any given moment, then we can't help but be reverent.

"O holy night"?  That would be tonight, and last night, and tomorrow night.  Holiness comes from our hearts, and we can bring holiness to any moment that we wish, when we bring to it a heart full of reverence, love, and peace.

18 December 2010

Simple Love

I heard a beautiful song today, another one of those songs that I've had on my computer for well over a year, but just never really listened to.  It's by Alison Krauss, and it's called "Simple Love."  The beautiful part of the song for me is the chorus, when she sings "I want a simple love like that/Always giving never asking back/When I'm in my final hour looking back/I hope I had a simple love like that."  It's a song about her grandfather and the simple love that he gave to his family.

I don't think that I could ask for any more in my life than reaching my final hour and looking back and seeing that I had a simple love that was always giving to others.  I don't think that I could think of anything more gratifying at the end of my life than realizing that I had spent time giving love to others and not expecting anything in return.  I don't do that now--at least not nearly as much as I'd like to be able to--but I do know that I have the potential to do so.  And someday I do hope to reach a point at which I'm living such a simple love.  My life and my self will be defined by the simple love that I'm living.

I love it when I discover songs like this one.  They help me to stay focused on the positive side of life, on the things that I can pursue to make my life more fulfilling and more amazing.  When I keep lyrics like this in my mind--and it's easier for me to keep lyrics in mind than it is to keep simple words without music--then I can make decisions based on those words.  Tomorrow when I'm facing a troubling situation for example, which path would truly be showing simple love?  It frustrates me that it often takes me a long time to notice the value in such songs, but I have to figure that I'll notice it when I'm ready to notice it.

16 December 2010

Learning silence

It's taken me a very long time to learn about the beauties of silence, the amazing benefits that it brings into my life.  For most of my life I've been most comfortable with sounds, especially music, as a major part of my life.  And to a large extent, I still am.  I tend to think best and write best when there's music playing, for example--the louder the better, usually--so whenever I need to produce something in writing, I always have music playing.  But more and more these days, I seek solace in silence--I seek the peace and quiet that can help my spirit to function at a calm, peaceful level without the rush of adrenaline that a strong beat played loudly brings to me.

This peacefulness is a nice new part of my life.  In my peaceful moments, I feel less distracted.  I feel more connected with life and with myself.  I feel a sense of belonging, and I realize during these peaceful times just how hectic things get when I don't allow the peace into my life, when I have the sounds and the noises as constant company.

Silence is a balm.  Silence is an environment, a setting, a place in our lives where we can hear ourselves think and breathe, and where we can get back in touch with our selves--our deeper selves, the parts of who we are that we ignore when the sounds are distracting us.

I love the quiet.  I love how it feels to hear nothing, really, and not need to hear anything.  Sounds can be pleasant, of course, but they do distract us.  They call our attention whenever they're present, and any time that our attention is called outside of ourselves, we're distracted from the most fundamental truths of all, the fundamental truths that are inside of ourselves, that are a part of who we are at our cores, in our spirits.  Let the silence embrace you.  Let the peace and quiet calm you and help you to see the greater truths that include spirit and oneness and interdependence.  In silence we can see these truths, ponder them, and embrace them.  When the cacophony of sounds that we face in our everyday lives keeps us distracted, then we don't have nearly as much clarity of vision or understanding.  Let silence help you to learn to feel the clarity deeply.

True silence really means going deep within yourself to that place where nothing
is happening, where you transcend time and space.  You go into a brand new
dimension of nothingness.  That's where all the power is.  That's your real home.
That's where you really belong, in deep Silence where there is no good or bad,
no one trying to achieve anything.  Just being, pure being. . . .
Silence is the ultimate reality.
Robert Adams

13 December 2010

Another Beautiful Day

Today’s here once more.  It’s not the same today that we got to know so well yesterday, and it’s definitely not the same one that we went through the day before yesterday, but it is a new day that brings us lots of challenge and opportunity, just as those other two days did–just as every day of our lives has done so far.  What we get out of this new day is up to us, of course, and how we see this new day also is up to us.

Our perspective will determine most of our day.  The way we see the world, our lives, and the situations we’re going to face will go a long way towards determining just how this day turns out.  Will we approach it in a spiritual way, looking to develop our spirits and let them shine out so that others can take comfort in the peace that we show?  Or will we let ego take over, doing all that we do for our own self-advancement, our own gratification?  And do we see this day as a precious gift full of wonderful opportunities for working, playing, encouraging, and deepening relationships, or is this day to us an exercise in drudgery, full of obstacles and problems?

I’m glad that you got the gift of this day, too, for that means that we’re sharing this beautiful planet of ours once more.  And I hope that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you’re spreading peace and hope and love and any other positive things that you can.  When enough of us start doing that on a regular basis, then our days will start growing even more positive and joy-filled than we ever might have imagined.

Today the greens are greener, the clouds are puffier,
the things that are important are more important,
and the things that aren't have gone way down.

a man who escaped death

10 December 2010

Am I Growing?

Sometimes I have to ask myself this question, because I often feel that instead of growing, I’m somehow stagnating, continuing to do the same things over and over in the same ways.  Life is about change, though, so those of us who continue to do things in the same ways all the time are in a way avoiding real life, avoiding the very things that can help us to grow and to change and to learn more about this wonderful world and our wonderful selves.

I do believe that we often expect too much growth out of ourselves.  We expect ourselves to be like annual flowers, growing from nothing but a tiny seed to a large flowering plant in a matter of weeks.  The truth is, though, that most of us are made to be like trees that take their time in growing, adding an inch or two to their height and width per year–in their good years.  I don’t want to be too impatient and try to force myself to be something that I’m not, but on the other hand I don’t want to lose the opportunities that I have for growth in very real senses.

I try to keep tabs on whether I’m improving or not–improving my mind and my heart, improving my compassion and love and peace of mind.  I try to monitor myself to see if I am growing steadily so that when I see that I’m not, I can take steps to remedy that situation.  It’s not like I’m putting pressure on myself to grow faster than I’m able to grow–but I most definitely am trying to make sure that some growth is occurring, even if it’s happening in ways that I didn’t foresee, or ways that I don’t completely understand.

Are you growing?  Are you putting yourself in situations in which you’re well nurtured and well cared for so that you can grow?  If you really do want to get more out of the world than you are getting now, then you need to make sure that you continue growing over time so that you can take advantage of the opportunities that are there for you.  After all, the larger a tree grows, the more leaves it has to catch sunshine, and the more roots it puts out to capture the water it needs to live.

When you see the value of continued growth,
the circumstances around you become stepping stones.

Clyde M. Narramore

07 December 2010

You Are Lovable

Probably the most difficult thing that I ever had to teach myself in life was the fact that I was–and am–lovable.  I grew up thinking that I was completely unlovable, that no one would ever love me, that there was somehow something wrong with me that made it impossible to love me.  And with that thought buried deeply within me, guess how I always acted around other people?  I acted as if they never could love me.  And since I acted that way and felt that way, guess how other people saw me?  As pretty unlovable, believe it or not.

But something that I’ve learned in the meantime is that I am lovable–that we all are lovable children of God, that we all have lovable qualities that make us truly unique.  Learning this was a great shock to me, for I had to include myself in the “all” category.  And if I were lovable, then guess what?  I didn’t need to have someone else be in love with me in order for me to know that I’m lovable.  It’s a pretty liberating realization to make, especially for someone like me who never considered himself to be lovable at all.

Some people have problems on the other end of the spectrum and consider themselves to be much more irresistable than they really are.  It’s really quite a similar problem, though in a different way.  But many of us have a hard time thinking that other people can actually love us, and learning–and accepting–that we are lovable is a very important part of our growth as human beings.  After all, why and how would God ever create a being that is completely unlovable?  It just doesn’t make sense.  If God made us, then what are we saying about God when we claim that we’re not good enough for people to love us?

You’re lovable, too.  Have you looked at yourself as a lovable person lately?  What do you see when you do?  How do you feel when you do?  It’s a great feeling to know that we’re lovable, and I hope that you treat yourself to that feeling as often as possible.  You may not be truly loved by the people you wish would love you, but that’s a question of just finding the right people who do love you, who do appreciate you for just who and what you are.  And it won’t be until you admit and accept that you are lovable that you’ll truly love yourself–and it won’t be until you truly love yourself that you’ll be able to love anyone else truly, without condition.  When we realize these facts, it becomes imperative that we reach a point at which we see and feel ourselves as lovable.  A lot depends on our ability to do this!

04 December 2010

What I'd Like to Hear

We’ve all heard things about ourselves that we never were meant to hear–someone else is talking about us, and we hear it when we’re not supposed to.  We’ve all left rooms only to hear someone who thinks we’re out of earshot make a comment about us.  We’ve seen movies in which this happens and a character is hurt or mortified or angered, and the rest of the movie deals with the fallout from the careless words that are overheard.

When I think about this sort of thing, though, I start to think:  What would I like to hear if someone were talking about me and didn’t know I could hear them?  I can think of a lot of words that would be pleasant to hear, but also words that would reaffirm that what I try to do with and in my life is serving some positive purpose.  Words that would let me know that my true inner self is shining through, that people truly can see what I’m trying to be–and that I’ve been somewhat successful in my attempts.

Some of the words might be:

“He’s a really honest person.”
“I like the way he treats me with respect.”
“He puts a lot of effort into everything he does.”
“He’s the kind of person I’d like to have in my corner if I’m having problems.”
“He’s a very generous person.”
“I’d trust him with anything.”
“I’m glad I know him.”

These are just a few examples of words that would show that I’m having a positive effect somewhere, somehow in this world.  What kinds of words would you like to hear if you overheard someone talking about you?

And more importantly, what kinds of things would you have to do–what kind of person would you have to be–in order to cause anyone to say those things about you?  What can you do today?  Right now?

That’s the main reason I think about things like this, for I know that if I want to cause people to say certain things about me, then my behavior has to cause them to say those things.  People won’t say anything about me behind my back that they don’t honestly feel to be true, and I hope that my behavior will cause them to speak well of me, as a person who cares deeply about other people, and who always gives his best to anything that he does.

Live so that when your children think of
fairness, caring, and integrity,
they think of you.

H. Jackson Browne, Jr.

30 November 2010

Listen Up!

I read two separate short articles on listening this morning, in two different books, so it seems that life’s sending me a not-so-subtle message.  One of the articles was “Creative Listening,” by Wilferd A. Peterson, in which he points out many of the benefits of listening, and strategies for doing so.  To him, the value in listening is what we can learn, and how we can change our lives in positive ways when we do actually listen.  He encourages us to listen to the beautiful and to the good, and to listen critically and creatively and with patience.  If we do listen, he says, we can get something out of what we hear.  He implies that if we don’t listen, we really won’t get anything at all out of what we experience.

The other passage was by Richard Carlson in Never Mind the Small Stuff.  His focus was on listening to the other person closely in order to make both of you feel better about yourselves.  If we spend our time formulating our answers and just waiting for the other person to finish so that we can speak, we won’t get much out of the interaction and we’ll probably make the other person feel a bit diminished.  When we do this, we’re not showing respect to either of us.

Whenever I come across material from two different sources that’s so strongly related, I take it as a sign that there’s something there for me to learn.  As far as listening is concerned, I’ve studied quite a bit about it, yet I still don’t practice what I’ve learned very well.  I do some things that I don’t like while listening, like formulating my response and avoiding eye contact; while I’m trying to change these behaviors, it’s coming very slowly.

Listening isn't a skill that we tend to value these days.  We live in an age when we're supposed to have answers for everything, and I hear plenty of people give completely wrong answers because they read something on the Internet or because someone else told them so.  I hear plenty of people cut other people off when they're talking, not letting them finish sentences or statements, because something the other person has said has triggered a memory or a thought.

We have a simple choice:  we can let other people finish what they're saying and then reply, or we can stop them and share our thoughts.  The first choice shows respect and allows us to treat others with dignity; the second shows a complete lack of respect, and has us treat others with no dignity at all.  To me, it's quite clear what I ought to be doing.

When I listen carefully, I do affect the people in my life.  When I listen closely to them, I can make their day brighter simply by treating them with the respect necessary to listen to what they say.  And what they say is valuable, if not to me, then to them–I just have to recognize that value and respect it and truly hear what they say.  Does something have to be important to me for me to listen to it?  Things that are important to others count, too!  Listening is one of the most valuable contributions that we can make to our friends and co-workers and family members–true listening, not just hearing the words, but focusing on the meanings behind the words.  So my goal for today is to listen better, and to try to keep up that habit in coming days.

I spent most of my life waiting for my turn to speak.  If you’re at all
like me, you’ll be pleasantly amazed at the softer reactions and looks
of surprise as you let others completely finish their thought before you
begin yours.  Often, you will be allowing someone to feel listened to
for the first time.  You will sense a feeling of relief coming from the
person to whom you are speaking—and a much calmer, less rushed feeling
between the two of you.  No need to worry that you won’t get your turn
to speak—you will.  In fact, it will be more rewarding to speak because
the person you are speaking to will pick up on your respect
and patience and will begin to do the same.

Richard Carlson

27 November 2010

It used to be pretty common for people to use the term “natural high,” and it seems kind of a shame that we don’t use it much anymore.  It’s a pretty nice term, and it explains well what I feel when I’m in a natural setting.  When I’m in a forest and the air is much more oxygen-rich, when I’m on a mountaintop or mountainside with miles of beautiful landscape before me, when I’m beside an ocean and I can smell the surf and the immensity of the sea, when I can experience the amazing silence of the desert–-then I know that I’m experiencing a natural high.

There really is no limit to all that nature offers us.  The only real limits to what we can get from nature are in how much we’ll take–-and how often we’ll put ourselves in situations in which we can receive from her.  In nature there’s peace, there’s fascination, there’s excitement, there are innumerable lessons in life and living, there are beauty and wonder.  But how much of that do we allow into our lives as a part of who we are?

Try it sometime–-put yourself in a position in which you can get something from nature, even if that position is merely a walk in the park.  And then allow yourself to take it.  Notice things, feel things, see things, experience them.  Only if you allow yourself to feel what nature has to offer can you let nature be one of your best teachers of all.

Sometimes when I find that I need to be reminded of the power of nature, I watch DVD’s with beautiful scenery of mountains and forests and deserts.  The wonderful scenery obviously is no substitute for the real thing, but it does serve as a great reminder of what’s out there, waiting for me, when and if I want to take advantage of it.  Natural highs are a real part of life for me, and I want to do my best always to make them a common experience for me.

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass
springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of
nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.

Eleonora Duse  

24 November 2010

A Nice Hot Bath

I didn't take a bath today--I took a shower instead.  But I had the possibility to take a bath if I wanted to, and that got me to thinking of just what an amazing blessing a bath can be.  It's obviously a blessing to people around me because it cleans me up, but so many things have to happen for me to take a bath that it seems almost incredible that we don't spend more time appreciating things like baths.

After all, in order for me to take a bath there has to be running water in my home.  That means that pipes that run for many miles beneath the ground have to have been laid, and they have to be maintained.  We also have to have water pressure, which can come from a pump or from a water tower.  The water has to be clean and healthy, and it's amazing that it's actually drinkable when it reaches my home.

When the water's in my home, we have to have a heater to make the water hot for us.  In order for that heater to work, we have to have electricity that comes from many miles away through many wires, or gas that comes from many miles away through pipes beneath the ground, just like the water itself.  And I put the water in a tub that was made somewhere far away by people I'll never know, adding bubble bath or skin conditioners to the water so that it will be more soothing and comfortable.

All of this happens also when I take a shower, and I appreciate showers, too--even more when I keep in mind just how many people cannot take showers or baths where they live.  Baths and showers are luxurious parts of life that we take for granted, and I hope that as I grow older, I take for granted fewer and fewer of these amazing things that make my life so rich.  All I have to do is keep myself open to the wonder of what's around me, and I'll be sure to learn about more and more things that I really should be appreciating as much as I can.

Appreciation of life itself, becoming suddenly aware of the miracle
of being alive, on this planet, can turn what we call ordinary life
into a miracle. We come awake to such a realization when
we recognize our connection to a spiritual dimension.

Dan Wakefield


22 November 2010

When I Was a Kid

When I was a kid, I saw the wonder in just about everything, from the ants that made those really cool hills in the ground to the bees that were always hovering around flowers.  I loved them all, and I would actually take time to examine them and get to know more about them.  Nowadays, I step around anthills and I notice the bees in passing.

When I was a kid, I loved stories that transported me to different places and times, for they got my imagination running almost out of control, in the most positive of ways.  Today, I still read for pleasure now and then, but it doesn't have the effect on my imagination that it used to--perhaps I know too much now.

When I was really young, I trusted people very much.  It was a very nice feeling, to have that trust in others and to know that there was no reason not to trust--even if I did find out years later that some of those people really weren't trustworthy, I liked that feeling enough to do my best to associate with people whom I always can trust.  It's a nice lesson from my childhood.

There were many other great things about childhood that I can remember.  It was a dream come true to get a candy bar, or to have my favorite dinner.  Songs were really cool back when I didn't understand as much about quality--I liked what I liked, and didn't like what I didn't like.  Buildings were big and imposing and sometimes even mysterious.  Of course, there were also silly tantrums and fears and injuries that occurred because I did silly things, but for the most part I recognize that one of the values of reflecting on those years gone by lies in the memories of things that were beautiful, awesome, and wonderful--so that I can try to rekindle my ability to see them once more as beautiful, awesome, and wonderful.

If a child is to keep alive his or her
inborn sense of wonder, he or she
needs the companionship of at least
one adult who can share it, rediscovering
with the child the joy, excitement
and mystery of the world we live in.

Rachel Carson

20 November 2010

The Spirit in You

I'd really like to say that I recognize, see, and respect the spirit in you--the spirit that you are, actually.  I'd love to say that, but if I did, then I'd be lying, unfortunately.  The truth is that I'm usually pretty blinded, so preoccupied with the tasks and demands of right now that I simply don't see the divine in the people with me.  I don't see the spirits that are immortal, the part of ourselves that is so very special--and so amazingly beautiful.  Instead, I see the human forms in front of me, and I see their foibles and their flaws and their mistakes rather than their exquisite true natures.

I'm not alone in having this tendency.  Most of the adults that I know don't see past the surfaces of the people they spend time with.  Most of us get so caught up in solving problems and accomplishing "tasks" that we neglect to experience the eternal spirit that is the essence of who we are.  And once the current problem or task is taken care of, we move on to the next one.  That way we keep busy and never really have to think too much about what we truly are.

I really do regret not seeing more of the divine in the people around me, though.  If I were to see it, I most certainly would be able to treat the people in my life with more dignity and respect.  I also would be able to relate to people more strongly, not having any fear at all of rejection or anything like that.  After all, if I saw the greatness that is truly a part of all of us, then my lack of fear would allow me to get closer to everyone.

You are a spirit, here on this planet for a short time.  If we all were to spend more time focused on being able to see the true selves of the people we spend our lives with, then we would recognize the special divinity that all of us have, the amazing side of ourselves that is eternal and completely focused, patient, and loving.  It's the side of ourselves that we neglect, in part because we don't believe that we have it; after all, if we can't see it in others, just how are we supposed to see it in ourselves?

Because we reside within God’s spirit and God’s spirit
resides within us, we are, quite literally, surrounded
by and infused with the divine—though we may frequently
fail to recognize God’s presence.  And this surrounding,
infusing spirit of God is fully and irreversibly committed
to the well being of creation and to its ongoing transformation.
Furthermore, the divine spirit is intimately and actively
involved in your life, in my life, and in every life.

Gary Egeberg 

18 November 2010

Opportunity Is Everywhere

It amazes me sometimes to see how many people just allow opportunities to fly right by them without even making an effort to take advantage of them.  There are so many chances in our lives to improve ourselves or our situations that it's almost inconceivable, yet most of us stay pretty content with the status quo and never even notice opportunities that come our way, wait around a little while hoping that we'll notice them, then move on to somewhere or someone else because we've neglected them.

Not that there's always something wrong with the status quo--sometimes the way things are is very comfortable for us, and it's nice to sit back and enjoy it.  Sometimes it's better to rest and recoup our strength and sanity rather than jump at an opportunity to do something else.

But it's also important that we recognize opportunities for growth and advancement so that we can take them and learn more about life, living, and ourselves.  After all, we aren't on this planet to stagnate and stay the same all the time, are we?  We're not here to stick with the status quo and never advance as people and as spirits, are we?  Should we just find a point of comfort and stay there for the rest of our lives?  If we do that, can we really be fulfilling our purpose on this planet?  Such an approach to life simply doesn't make sense.

What opportunities are in your life right now, just waiting for you to take advantage of them?  And if they're there, then why aren't you taking advantage of them?  You have many chances to change and grow in your life, but it's always your decision whether you do so or not.  Make the decision to use those opportunities for all that they're worth, and you'll find your life growing richer and fuller as you grow more and more.  It's all in the decisions that you make concerning your opportunities.

Great opportunities come to all, but many do not know they have met them.  The only preparation to take advantage of them is simple fidelity to watch what each day brings.

Albert E. Dunning

16 November 2010

The Value of Your Creativity

One of my most difficult challenges as a teacher is to convince students that their thoughts and ideas have value.  This is particularly hard when part of my job is to point out areas where they can use improvement.  For most of them, showing areas where they can improve is telling them that they're somehow "wrong" to think what they do, and that can make it more difficult for them to trust themselves in the future.  And some of them have done so poorly in some areas that their feelings of inadequacy spill over into other areas--a student who doesn't do well in math, then, can feel bad about his or her ability in writing, even if he or she has much stronger writing skills than math skills.

But all of us have thoughts and feelings that have great value, to ourselves and to other people.  All of us can share that value with the world, as long as we trust ourselves to do so.  Our perspectives are unique, our thoughts are our own, and our unique creativity is something special that definitely can benefit the world--if we only trust ourselves enough to allow our creativity to grow and to shine.

Creativity is much more like a plant than a light bulb.  You can screw a bulb into a lamp, flick a switch and the light reaches its full potential immediately.

Creativity, though, takes time and care and love.  It takes a lot of effort to cultivate it, to nourish it properly, and to create the right conditions for the creativity to flourish.  It also takes patience, for it usually isn't immediately obvious.

The value of our unique thoughts and ideas is in their creativity, and that's something that we all have inside of ourselves, just waiting to be tapped, just waiting to be used to its full potential.  The decision whether to cultivate it or not lies within each of us, and making that decision is possible only when we accept and acknowledge just how valuable we and our thoughts actually are!

I am the one and only me.
I may not think of myself as a creative person, but I know that I have
unique talents and skills to share.
For instance, art may appear on a canvas, or it may appear in a meal
prepared with love. Some hands sculpt clay or play a musical instrument,
and some gently hold the hand of a child. Wisdom can be found in books,
but it can also be found in quiet conversation across the kitchen table.
I am creative in my own unique way.
As I more fully express who I am, I bless others, and blessings
flow back to me. I am creative, productive, and open to divine
inspiration. I give my gifts to the world.


14 November 2010

Forks in the Road

Life is pretty relentless in presenting us with decisions to make, isn't it?  While most of the decisions that we have to make are relatively minor as we travel along (should I stop now to go to the bathroom, or wait until the next exit?), it also presents us with some major forks in the road that force us to decide just how and where we're going to be going in the future.  Most of the time we make the safe and simple choice, which usually means sticking with the status quo and not making any real changes.

But how often do we ask ourselves why these particular forks in our roads appear?  How often do we stand back and consider just what we might get out of a change in our lives, just what we may become if we take a risk and try something new and completely different?  Why is it so easy to simply keep on doing what we're doing, avoiding the risk that change and newness so often represent to us?

Obviously, not every new road that we may take is in our best interest.  Sometimes it seems that we're tested by being presented with new roads that may force us to leave our ethics and beliefs at the roadside before we're able to go further down them.  Sometimes the dangers that the new roads offer aren't worth the trade-off of leaving behind some of the safety that we've been able to create on our current roads.  Some roads even cause us to hurt people close to us for little or no reason, such as the roads taken by men who abandon their children in order to go somewhere else or do something else.

But whenever a new road shows itself, I feel a bit of melancholy driving or walking by it without doing any exploring.  I'd love to explore every side road that I encountered, but that simply isn't what life is about.  One of the things I know is that other people know the road I'm on, and in many ways they depend on me.  I don't want to let them down, either, so I stay where I'm at, in sight and within reach (not always physically, though).  I keep access to the older road, even if I'm on a new one--and that doesn't feel bad at all.  In fact, it feels pretty good!

So what new roads are in sight for you right now?  Are they all appropriate for you?  Does what they offer mean that you'd have to change as a person in order to get it?  Will the new road make you wiser, stronger, more loving and compassionate?  Each new road raises many, many questions, and I wish you well as you ask them of yourself and answer them honestly.

People take different roads seeking fulfillment
and happiness.  Just because they're not on
your road doesn't mean they've gotten lost.

H. Jackson Browne

12 November 2010


Oh, how I love simplicity!  Oh, how bad I am at keeping my life simple!  In my ideal life, I would have very few things, just a bare and simple living arrangement.  I'd have enough furniture so that I could live comfortably (and the definition of "comfortably" would keep getting simpler) and entertain guests when and if they came over.  I wouldn't have tons of papers and books lying around the house.  I wouldn't have bills, and I wouldn't need to worry about things like retirement and checking accounts and all that peripheral stuff.  When I awoke in the morning, I wouldn't have anything to worry about other than breaking my overnight fast and deciding what to do with my day.  How simple life would be!

The reality, of course, is far from the ideal.  But I am trying to bring the two closer together.  I do try to minimize the amount of paperwork that fills my time and space.  I do try to minimize the amount of time I spend with things like bills by setting up automatic payments online, for example.  And I do rather regularly try to get rid of "stuff" that I find doesn't truly contribute to my life.  For if it doesn't contribute to the life I'm living, then it doesn't really belong with me, now does it?  One rule that I have is that if I haven't even looked at a book for a few years, then I get rid of it.  What are the chances of me looking at it again in the next few years if I haven't looked at it in the past, especially if I continue to get new books from time to time?

The more things we have, the more complicated our lives become, the more we have to take care of.  And taking care of things usually is neither relaxing nor stress-relieving.  Taking care of things takes time and effort.  The more I can simplify my life, the more time I can devote to pursuits that truly benefit me and others.  Fixing a broken faucet only stops a leak; preparing a better class helps my students to get more out of their studies.  Washing and waxing a car makes a car shiny; spending time reading a book on teaching or learning can help me to improve my performance in my chosen profession.

Everyone's lives take different paths, so it's impossible to say what any individual should change in their lives to simplify.  But all of us have areas that with a little thought and effort we can decrease or even eliminate the time and effort that we devote to them.  Where can you start?  What tasks do you find to be the biggest drains on your time and energy?  How can you decrease that time that you spend on them?  Your simplicity is within you, just waiting for you to find it and embrace it.  How can you do that?

When one begins to practice simplicity, the ego is deprived
of the very strategy by which it sustains itself.  Nothing will deflate
the ego more effectively than to be recognized for what it is.
It lives by pretension.  It dies when the mask is torn away
and the stark reality is exposed to the gaze of others.
  Simplicity also avails in braking the tyranny of things.
Ostentation, artificiality, ornamentation, pretentious style,
luxury--all require things.  One requires few things to be
one's self, one's age, and one's moral, intellectual,
or spiritual stature.  What one is does not depend on what one has.

Albert E. Day

08 November 2010

Life Questions

I once read a book called If It’s Going to Be It’s up to Me by Robert Schuller.  He starts his introduction out in a very interesting way, with over a page of questions.  And they’re good questions that got me thinking about some very important things.  Questions like, “Where are you headed?” and “What are your hopes and what are your hurts?” and “Your emotions–are they your friends?  Or foes?”  As I read through the list, I could feel my mind starting to work on some of the questions almost immediately, and I recognized some good topics that it would do me well to focus on for a bit.

When I think of the best teachers I’ve had, I realize that the best ones for me were the ones that asked the best questions.  I realize that the important changes in my life have come when I’ve asked myself questions such as, “Do I really want to be doing this for a very long time?”  Whenever we ask a question, there’s an answer implied in it somewhere, and as long as we’re honest in our question-asking–and we don’t ask questions that already have our own desired answers as part of them–then we can make a great impact on our lives by learning to ask ourselves really, really good questions.

Rainer Maria Rilke said that we must learn to love the questions themselves.  In his Letters to a Young Poet, he writes, “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

I want to ask myself the good questions, not the ones with judgment built into them, not the ones that point fingers or imply wrong or that are leading or misleading.  Because I know that in my life, one of my greatest strengths is pondering questions and coming up with several different answers for each question.  And I can choose among the answers to find the ones that are most likely to contribute greatly to my happiness, my peace of mind, and my joy.  It’s important for me always to find questions that I love, and then live them.

06 November 2010

At Peace?

I sometimes wonder if I really am at peace.  There are a lot of things that concern me, and quite a few worries in my life, but I don't let them get to me for the most part.  I try to accept them for what they are and deal with them as they're demanding to be dealt with, without letting them make me miserable.  And though I've reached a certain level of equanimity, a strong sense of balance in my life, I'm still always faced with the question of whether or not I'm at peace.

Peace to me is one of the most important goals in my life.  I believe that when I find peace, I'll be able to understand so much more about this life I'm living and the world in which I'm living my life.  When I find peace I won't find the need to judge others based on my beliefs of how things and people should be.  When I find peace I'll be able to see more deeply, feel more deeply, and understand more deeply than I do now.

Peace is a marvelous goal to have, I think, and I'm pretty sure that if I still question whether I'm actually at peace or not, then I must not truly be there.  I know that my life is more peaceful than other people's lives, but not nearly as peaceful as some other people's.  I still think some pretty petty thoughts when I'm upset with someone, and I still let myself lose my cool sometimes when people do things that I think they shouldn't be doing.  So one of my goals of each day is to stop myself whenever I can and simply think some peaceful thoughts.  If I can do that, then I can allow peace to become a part of each day, and I can actually share my peace with others, who just may need a peaceful influence in their lives every now and then.

I love the line "Peace be with you."  I love the idea of sharing peace.  I love trying to find peace in my life, for I know that my mere pursuit of peace could be a pretty good sign that I'm actually alive and well, leading a vital life and doing my best to make the most of all that's been given to me--by trying to find one of the most important elements that any of us could find in life, the peace that passes understanding, the peace that comes from simply being rather than doing.

04 November 2010

Kindness in the Little Ways

I become more and more convinced as time goes on that the best way that we can show kindness in our lives is through the little ways.  I don’t believe that they need to be “random acts of kindness,” though those most certainly are beautiful expressions of our potential.  But the acts of kindness that we perform don’t have to be exceptional, and they don’t have to break the bank to be effective or welcome.

Recently I’ve been watching for kindness in life, just so that I can be aware of the forms it takes and the effects it has on other people.  And I’ve seen a lot of it, I’m glad to say–much more than any pessimist would ever say is possible in the world.  In fact, I see that it seems to be second nature for most people to help out when someone needs help, to give when giving seems to be needed, and to encourage when it looks like encouragement could be helpful or useful.  Even without events like birthdays or Christmas being a factor, I see people sharing compliments and helpfulness, people filling other people’s needs.  I see my students sharing their paper and pencils and food without even thinking about it, because someone else has expressed a need.  I see adults holding doors and giving compliments and offering to help out with needed projects.

But more importantly, I see the results of the kindness.  The recipient doesn’t always seem to recognize that a kindness has been performed, and doesn’t always acknowledge the fact, but I can see the relief that’s there when someone has been helped out and has lost a worry, when someone no longer has to concern themselves with certain issues.  I’ve seen the smiles that result from receiving a kind act, and I’ve seen recipients turn around and become givers of kind acts.  And when I see these things, they remind me of my own power to cause such positive reactions in very simple ways, just by looking for–and taking action on–ways that I can be kind to others.  When I do this, I know that I’m contributing to the positive side of life, the positive energy that permeates everything that we do if we allow it to do so.

I have power today–power to add to the kindnesses of the world, to add to the positive energy that exists among human beings.  But what am I going to do with this power?  Am I going to get so caught up in my day, in my work, that I forget or neglect to perform kind acts?  I certainly hope that I don’t, for that would be a shame.  I would be squandering a great gift, one that can and will enrich my life and the lives of other people that I touch, even if in the smallest of ways. . . .

We restore the holiness of the world through our loving-kindness
and compassion.  Everyone participates.  It is a collective task.
Every act of loving-kindness, no matter how great or small,
repairs the world.  All those ever born have shared
this collective work since the beginning of time.

02 November 2010

Learning to Unlearn

After teaching for 20 years or so, I've reached an important conclusion:  most people don't need to spend nearly as much time learning as they need to spend time unlearning what they think they already "know."  Most of us go through our daily lives guided by sets of beliefs about everything that surrounds us--how other people should act, how things should turn out, why people are motivated to do certain things, what's right and what's wrong--in the belief that those things that we think we know are cast in stone, unchangeable, and forever.  But life's not like that--the things that we've learned in our lives almost always turn out to be flawed in some way or another, and one of the major flaws of most of them is that what we believe to be true can hurt us and can hurt other people.

I see this type of belief in my students all the time.  They think that things should be a certain way--men should marry women early, women should be submissive to their male partners, people of certain nationalities or races shouldn't be in certain social situations.  All of the ugly and harmful beliefs that their parents have carried with them are now firmly entrenched in the psyches of their kids, and the ugliness gets perpetuated.

But if we can help people to unlearn what they think they know, we can help them to live their lives more freely and more happily.  I know someone who becomes extremely depressed when she tells her mother something and her mother doesn't respond as she expected.  This person has learned that if people don't act or react as she expects them to, then those people are wrong to hurt her in that way.  She would be doing herself a great favor if she were to unlearn this expectation, for it's making her miserable.  She's learned that people "should" react in certain ways, and what she's learned simply isn't true.

Other people have "learned" that they're stupid from other uncaring people; some have "learned" that if they don't drive certain cars then they're worthless; some have "learned" that it's terrible to make mistakes, so when they do make them, they deny them.  How free these people could be if they could just unlearn the warped and inaccurate lessons!

What have you learned that doesn't serve you well at all?  What kinds of misguided beliefs have become a part of who you are simply because someone, somewhere, has taught you something that's harmful and damaging to you?  I don't know about you, but I can't unlearn quickly enough-- the sooner I get rid of the ideas, beliefs, and "knowledge" that are keeping me down, the sooner my life will be improving dramatically.

Seek not to change the world, but choose to change your mind about the world.

A Course In Miracles

* * * * *
Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.

Mark Twain

31 October 2010

My Role Model

I've been reading a whole bunch of papers from my students about their role models, the people they see as worthy of their respect and emulation.  It's always interesting to see what young people value, and it may bring some people some peace of mind to know that high school students still value traits such as honesty, integrity, compassion, love, and helping others.  Whenever I get to reading such papers, though (and I assign them every year), I start to wonder whether I live up to the concept of being a role model.  I also start to realize that my strongest role model should, for all practical purposes, be me!

Think about it:  We all have ideas about how the ideal person should act, what kinds of things that person should say and do, how that person should be.  If those are the traits that we truly value in others, then doesn't it make sense that we ourselves should strive to live up to those ideals?  Since we're the only ones who know for sure what our own personal ideals consist of, then we're truly the only people who can fully live up to those ideals, aren't we?

So we're the only people who can live up to all the ideals that we can imagine as important in a role model for ourselves.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm an adequate role model for others--for students, for fellow teachers, for people on the street whom I don't know--and I'm never sure of the answer.  But now I'm going to start thinking of just what it means to be a role model for myself.  What do I think a role model should do and say?  And then I'm going to strive to live up to those ideals so that eventually I can become my own role model, the person I'd most like to be like.  It will be a nice day if and when I ever reach that point!

It can be dangerous always looking to others to provide us with models for our actions and ideals.  How often have we seen a person who seems to be strong, ethical, and upstanding on the outside, only to find out later that that person has been hiding dishonesty and hypocrisy all along?  And how can we know just what steps were necessary for that person to reach the ideals that he or she has reached in life?  Would we be able to go through the exact same struggles in the exact same way, or should we focus on getting through our own struggles in life, and learning from them?

One of the greatest truths that I've found is that the best role models in life are those people who don't necessarily try to be role models--they just try to do the best they can, all the time, whether anyone's around to notice or not.  And that sort of integrity acts as a natural beacon--though it's often a small candle on a huge, windy plain rather than a huge lighthouse on a rocky shore.

28 October 2010

An Abundance of. . . .

“Abundance” is a word that always has been pretty foreign to me.  The way I grew up, we didn’t have a whole lot of anything.  As a matter of fact, one of my favorite dinners when I was a kid was noodles and ketchup–and it still is.  I never realized when I was young, though, that we had noodles and ketchup when we didn’t have any money with which to buy “real” food.  So what was our out-of-money meal became one of my favorite dishes of all.

But when you grow up in a family that focuses so much on lack–lack of money, lack of food, lack of clothing (but never a lack of cigarettes!)–it’s easy to stay focused on lack for an entire lifetime.  What a shame this is when the world has given us so much abundance for which we can be very grateful, if only we’ll make the effort and take the time to recognize and appreciate all that’s there!

In my life, I have some great abundances.  Friends, family, co-workers, food, health, gadgets, technological devices, movies, music, books, students, information, opportunities for education and work. . . and the list can go on and on.  And what do I do sometimes?  I focus on the very few things that I don’t have in abundance, such as money.  And I do this even though I firmly believe that God and life will take care of us, all the time.  I’ve gone through times of trials and tribulations, just as everyone has, but the point is that I’ve gone through them.  And everything has turned out okay, usually even better that I would have dared to hope.  The blessings that I can truly count as mine represent an abundance that is deeper and richer than most kings and queens that ever have been in the world could have counted as theirs.  I have more to be thankful for than the vast majority of the other people on the planet, yet I can still focus on what I lack.  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

I hope not just to recognize the abundance in my life, but also to appreciate all that I have, all the time.  It’s a lot.  And I hope to keep my focus on that abundance rather than on whatever I may perceive as lacking.  If I can do these things–and it’s only a matter of changing my perspective and keeping track of my thoughts–then I can make my life truly rich indeed!  It already is rich, but if I’m not living like it is, then I’m doing a great disservice to life!

Where one sees lack, lack manifests.
Where one sees abundance, abundance is supplied.
Darwin Gross

26 October 2010

A Path to Walk

I read some words the other day that had been written by someone who is very wise.  She wrote about walking a path towards our vision, a path towards what we want to become.  As I read the words I had a sudden feeling that I didn't have any idea what I want to become in life.  I do have a very good idea of what I want to be in any given moment, how I want to act, things that I might want to say or do, but I don't really have a vision of what I want to become, what I want to be working towards as I go through life.  Is it enlightenment?  Is it peace of mind and heart and spirit?  Is it a deeper spirituality?  Is it more money or higher social status?  Wisdom?  Friendliness?  To be a better teacher or coach?  Or am I working towards many things without clearly defining any of them?

Having a clearly defined vision of what I want to become obviously entails a commitment to creating the conditions that will allow me to reach that vision.  If I have a vision of becoming a better (more effective) teacher, then obviously I have to be teaching and/or working on learning about teaching.  If I have a vision of reaching a deeper spirituality, then don't I have to commit myself to creating or finding situations in which my spirituality will be developed and stretched to its limits?  I can't reach a deeper level of spirituality if I never explore my own spirituality, can I, whether that exploration be through reading, discussion, classes, meditation, or however else I best learn.

If I want to be on a path to fulfilling my vision, then I have to be committed to constantly working towards that vision.  I can't have a vision and just expect to reach it through the desire to reach it--desire can be a great motivator, but it's a lousy path to walk.

Do you have any visions of the person you wish to become?  If so, then what are you doing to reach those visions, to help yourself to become the person that the fulfillment of those visions would make you?  Have you made the commitment to allow yourself the time and resources to reach your visions?  Most of us wouldn't hesitate to help another person to reach his or her visions with all the resources available to us, yet few of us are willing to commit the time, effort, and resources necessary to reaching our own visions.  Heck--few of us are even willing to take the time to clearly define our visions, much less try to reach them.  But one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to define the person we'd like to become and then work towards becoming that person.  And once we reach that point, then it will be time to re-define, and then start making the effort to reach the new vision!  That process will put us on ever new paths, with new things to see, new people to meet, and new things to learn about life, other people, and ourselves.  Paths are great that way. . . .