31 January 2011

Good Choices

I want to make good choices in life.  If someone insults me for some reason, I don’t want to get defensive and insult him or her in return; rather, I’d like to figure out what was going on and try to help the person out.  If I get an opportunity to do something that benefits me through means that are anything but honorable and honest, I’d like to choose not to do that something and hold on to my integrity.  If I have the choice to do something positive for someone else, I’d like to think that I’d choose to do so, no matter what other people may think of me doing so.

It seems that there are always several sides to every choice we have to make.  There’s the side that gives us gratification and/or enjoyment–especially on the short-term–and there’s the side that we know is right and proper.  Sometimes those two sides coincide.  Often they don’t.
So what goes into my decision-making when I’m faced with doing something that I know is right versus doing something because I’m trying to save face or make myself look good?  Why are so many decisions so difficult to make when we really know what should be done?

I think that good choices come about when we worry less about results and more about what goes into our decision.  After all, don’t we make some bad decisions because we’re trying to make sure that the results are what we want them to be?

But how often do those decisions backfire on us, precisely because our motivation was not what we knew to be right or honest, but what was most expedient or what promised the most fortuitous results for us personally?

Good choices are one of the key ingredients to a full and happy life.  They don’t come easy, though, given all of the influences that try to convince us to make choices that we may not want to make.  One day I hope that all of my choices come from the heart, and come from a place of integrity.  I hope that they’re made with the best for everyone in mind, no matter what others may think of my choices or what results they may have for me.  Because if they don’t come from a sincere desire to do good, then the concept of “freedom of choice” means nothing to us or for us.  And what a shame it would be to have such a freedom and not exercise it to the fullest!

What is right is often forgotten by what is convenient.

Bodie Thoene

29 January 2011

Good for Them!

I once read about two athletes who were hugely successful and ranked number one in their respective sports–Annika Sorenstam and Justine Henin– calling it quits and deciding to move on to do other things with their lives.  It's extremely refreshing to see that people in their position were willing to step back and even consider the idea that there may be more rewarding things for them to do with their lives than compete and try to hold on to their rankings.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with competing in athletics on a professional level.  It’s probably a very rewarding way to make a living.  But there’s also nothing wrong with re-examining your motives and your life in an effort to determine whether or not such competition is still fulfilling, still rewarding.  There’s a lot of money involved in the sports, but there are also many things that we can do that are more fulfilling in our hearts and spirits.

Their motives aren’t important to us because they’re their motives.  We don’t live their lives, so we don’t know what they were thinking and what kinds of needs they have.  The simple fact is that they’re sending a message to many people, especially their fans, that there may be more to life than the “success” that’s found in athletic victories and rankings and in the money that one earns in sports.  Perhaps there are things like family and friendship and fulfillment in one’s career that are more important than the incessant traveling and competing that define the lives of professional athletes on tour.

It’s refreshing to see two people decide to take a risk and change their courses in life.  I sincerely hope that they found fulfillment and joy in their new callings, and I’m grateful to them for showing us that simple monetary and athletic success aren’t necessarily the most important things in life, no matter how much people may idolize them and their performances.  I hope that they were able to find peace and balance in their new lives, and I thank them for the moves they made!

27 January 2011

Beautiful Day

It’s a beautiful day.  No matter where we are or what we’re doing, it’s a beautiful day.  The weather might not be doing what we would prefer it to do–perhaps giving us cold and snow rather than sunshine and warmth–but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful.  Things might not be progressing in our lives as we’d like them to, but that doesn’t mean that the world isn’t a beautiful place today.

It’s not fair for us to judge the world based on our own personal state, our own mood.  We do the world a disservice when we don’t see the beauty and the wonder all around us, when we allow the filters of our own perspective to color the world in negative ways.  And we do ourselves a great service when no matter how our lives may be going, or no matter how we may be feeling, we remind ourselves that the world in which we live is still a beautiful, wondrous place.  We can help to raise our spirits and make ourselves feel better when we keep in mind that we have a marvelous gift of a fantastic world all about us.

And yes, there are awful things going on in the world, with people mistreating, abusing, and killing other people all over the place.  But the world itself, this planet and its creatures and the astonishing life we have, still is a beautiful and wondrous place.  There is sadness and there is suffering and there is pain, but in recognizing and accepting that fact, we also have to recognize and accept that there is beauty, there is peace, there is love, there is hope, there is friendship, there is compassion. . . .

If we can remind ourselves every day that we have a great world, that our lives are full of gifts and blessings, then we can give ourselves a gift.  We can brighten our perspective, and we can give ourselves a first line of defense when negative thoughts come calling.  We can give ourselves a refuge from the hurried, harried days we go through as we try to do the best we can in our lives.  And we can help others to recognize the fact that no matter what’s going on today in our lives, it’s still a beautiful day in a beautiful world.  We can do ourselves a great deal of good by focusing on that beauty rather than keeping our attention on whatever may be going wrong.

Some people are making such thorough preparation for
rainy days that they aren't enjoying today's sunshine.

William Feather

25 January 2011

Learning to Hope

It's taken me a very long time to learn how to hope.  After all, there weren't too many experiences in my early life that led me to think that there's a great deal of purpose in hoping.  Because of those early experiences, I came to focus more on what I felt was impossible, out of reach, and hopeless rather than on those things that I really wanted.  It made sense when I so rarely came to have those things that I really wanted.

Nowadays, though, I see the world with different eyes, and I've been able to shed the burden of negative expectations and finally focus on hope--focus on those things that I desire with the hope of them actually coming through.  It's a great feeling, too--one that's quite liberating, one that makes me feel lighter and more at peace with life.  It's taken a lot of work, but it's been work that's been very worthwhile.  It's taken a great deal of effort to actually shift my perspective and stop believing what my mind and heart were telling me about impossibility.  I've had to change my attitudes and my ways of thinking to include the possibility of things that I want actually coming to pass.  I've had to learn to believe that the world isn't out to get me, and that there's plenty of abundance in this world to go around, and that I am just as likely as any other human being to experience that abundance.  I've had to learn to believe that the abundance is the natural state of things, and that my former outlook, which centered on want and lack, was actually an unnatural way of looking at the world.

It's great to allow hope to function in our lives, completely unfettered and free.  It's nice to keep in mind that a hopeful outlook is a natural outlook, the way that human beings were meant to see the world.  Hope, after all, helps us to create our own realities.  Hope helps us to appreciate what we have and what we will have.  Hope gives an added dimension to who we are and what we have, and that dimension is one that can speak volumes to the other people who witness us living our lives and who see us possibly as role models.  And most importantly, our hope for an outcome or for something coming to be actually helps that outcome arrive in our lives--the positive energy that we expend helps the positive outcome to occur.  It's not witchcraft and it's not magic--a positive approach to life promotes and attracts more positivity.

Do you allow hope to function in your life, or do you squash it like I used to?  Make friends with hope, keeping in mind that hope is one of those true friends who will be with us through thick and thin, as long as we don't betray it.  I love hope, and I love the new outlook on life that it's given me.  My hope now is part of my reality, of who I am, and it helps me to shine brighter than I ever used to think possible when I was a person who squashed and squandered the hope that life gave to me.

Hope is wanting something so eagerly that--in spite of all the
evidence that you're not going to get it--you go right on wanting it.

22 January 2011

Being Dependable

One of the most important decisions that I've made in my life is to be a dependable person.  I've decided that people should be able to trust in me, for when I commit to doing something, I do it, and I do it well.  I'll be on time when I'm supposed to be on time (within limits, of course--life does happen), I'll have work ready when it's supposed to be ready, and I'll make sure that I know the expectations of me before I undertake any task.  Of course, there are a couple of dangers inherent in such an approach to life.  First, it's possible that people will take advantage of me and my dependability, so I make sure that I don't commit to just anything.

Second, and to me most important, is the fact that as I grow more dependable, it's pretty easy for me to start to expect other people to be dependable, also.  This expectation, though, is rarely met--most people simply don't feel the need or desire to be answerable to other people, since they're so focused on their own wants and needs.  Dependability seems to be, in fact, a dying quality in life, and it grows harder and harder to meet people upon whom we can depend on a regular basis.  People are just growing far more involved in their own lives, and we seem to be losing touch with the concepts of community and oneness, as well as the concept that we are responsible for our brothers and sisters on this planet--if not responsible for their lives, then at least responsible for not making their lives any more difficult or unpleasant.

So it's important to me that I temper my expectations of others, not expecting too much from them in the area of dependability.  It's important that I don't put my very dependable perspective up against the lack of dependability that we see in so many other people.  While there is a lot of validity in the concept of seeing people rise to higher levels when we have higher expectations of them, this particular trait is something that needs a personal decision to improve--it's not going to happen just because of an outside influence.

When I don't expect others to be as dependable as I've decided to be, then I can rest easier.  I won't be as disappointed in others as often.  And while it would be nice to be surrounded by dependable people, it's very important to be realistic about our expectations of others, so that we don't place the added burden of higher expectations upon them, and so that we don't grow more and more disappointed in life and in other people as we make our ways through life.

We cannot live only for ourselves.  A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men and women; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.
Herman Melville

19 January 2011

Moments of Peace

It seems that unless we force them to happen in our lives, we very rarely have opportunities to experience peace.  Days and weeks of peaceful existence seem to be something reserved for monks and people who can afford to take time in places where the hustle and bustle of everyday experiences don’t follow them.  How many of us would love to spend a week on a beach or in a mountain getaway, with no responsibilities other than eating and sleeping and bathing now and then?  Unfortunately, those times aren’t in the day-to-day agenda for most people.

But one of the most important things that I’ve learned in the last few years is the skill of carving out peaceful times from my busy day.  When I try to do so, I can almost always find five- or ten-minute blocks of time that I take for myself, not doing anything in particular except maybe reading something relaxing.  I can find the time to say a simple prayer or two, to pay attention to my breathing and slow down my mind, to think kind and helpful thoughts about other people in my life.  Sometimes I do it during lunch time–I can eat and then spend time relaxing.  Sometimes I find a natural break in the rhythm of the day, when I can simply disappear for a few minutes to recharge my mind and spirit and body.

The most important thing that I’ve learned, though, is that I have to make these times happen.  I have to consciously push something else out of the way in order to experience the peace.  I have to consciously search out a place where I can feel peaceful.  I have to remind myself that such times are necessary.  Some days I get so caught up in things that I don’t make the effort to give myself the gift of these times, and on those days I don’t feel as strong as I ought to; on those days I’m not able to give to others nearly as much of myself.

We can find those times–we can make those times.  There are moments in all of our days when we can turn our backs on what’s going on in order to connect with ourselves, with our God, with our spirit, and allow ourselves to experience the peace that was meant to be ours.  Too often, we spend our time turning our backs on peace, when peace should be the last thing that we avoid or neglect.

Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see.
The question is whether or not we are in touch with it.  We don’t have
to travel far away to enjoy the blue sky.  We don’t have to leave our city or even
our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child.
Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy.

Thich Nhat Hanh

17 January 2011

Not All Things to Everyone

I know someone who likes to try to be everything to everyone.  If someone has a certain pain, then this person has advice on what to do for it.  If someone else is having financial difficulties, then guess what?  Free financial advice, from someone who isn't truly qualified to give financial advice.  Perhaps you're interested in buying a house, then this person will give you real estate advice.  If you hear something strange in your car, amazingly enough this person has advice that you'd expect to get from a mechanic.

I think that sometimes we put too much pressure upon ourselves to be able to "perform" for other people.  We think that these people need us to be there for them in the form of advice or help.  Sometimes, though, other people bring up their problems with us because they want to talk them out with a sympathetic ear there to listen--not necessarily to hear what we would do to solve the problems.  And if we put that much pressure upon ourselves, then we're negatively affecting both parties:  ourselves because we're putting a lot of stress on ourselves, and the other person because we're robbing them of an opportunity to reach their own conclusions and find their own solutions.

I often have to hold back on advice because I really like to give it, and because I think that the advice I give is good.  But I give it too much, and I've often found myself giving advice based on one article or one book that I've read, not based on broad experience and knowledge.  I've found that if instead of giving advice I ask a simple question, such as "What do you mean by that?," I can be there for someone else much more effectively than I can if I'm trying to solve their problems for them.

We can't be everything for everyone.  We can't be doctor, lawyer, teacher, mechanic, electrician, systems analyst, and all those other jobs that we really don't know, if we really don't know them.  So relax!  It feels great when you stop trying to solve everyone else's problems and you become a good listener, someone who is truly able to help others to solve their own problems for themselves.

14 January 2011

The Beauty of Sleep

I'm often surprised at just how little some people sleep.  Sleep is one of my favorite things in the world, and I love to lay down in bed and just drift off, allowing myself to fall into a state of release and relief as I let go of the cares of the day and devote myself to relaxing, recharging, and rejuvenating myself.  Some people see sleep as a luxury, but I definitely see it as a need, one of the most important elements of my life, to be honest.

I've never been one to sleep late in the morning.  I usually wake up quite early (between four and five) and get out of bed, but that's not a problem--once sleep is over, it's over, and there's no use trying to hold on to something once it's gone by.  But getting up early in the morning has a benefit on the other side of the day.  When it's time for bed, I usually am more than ready for going to sleep fairly quickly.  Because I get up early, I almost never have to deal with not being able to fall asleep when I go to bed.  In fact, sometimes I go to bed very early because I got up so early, and that's fine with me--sleep is always worth it.

I like to sleep in the day sometimes, too.  Naps are one of life's great joys to me, and there really is nothing like lying down in the middle of the day and allowing myself to fall asleep.  I know many people who never would dream of taking a nap because they're too concerned that they won't get everything done that needs to be done.  For my part, though, I'm more than willing to put on hold things that really deserve to be put on hold in order to give my mind and body a break by getting a little extra sleep.

I don't take it to extremes.  I sleep about seven hours a night--that's enough for me--and take maybe half an hour naps on weekends, sometimes.  But for me the important thing is devoting myself fully to the idea of sleeping, giving myself the chance to do something good for myself.  It's an enjoyable feeling to me to relax and to feel sleep coming on, and it's a feeling that I relish and appreciate every day when it comes on.  I think we don't respect sleep enough, don't respect our need for sleep.  I think we get so caught up in doing things that we often don't realize just how much our bodies need sleep, and that's why so many people are crabby so often--they've been depriving themselves of sleep, one of the most important aspects of our lives.  So the next time that you lie down to sleep, appreciate the chance to relax and drift off into an unconscious state.  The sleep that you'll be getting is one of the most important things that you can do for yourself.

There is more refreshment and stimulation in a nap,
even of the briefest, than in all the alcohol ever distilled.

Edward Lucas

Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.

Thomas Dekker

12 January 2011

Our Creative Sides

One of the things that gives me the most difficulty as a teacher is convincing students--be they high school or college students--that they have a lot of creativity that's very valuable if they only choose to use it.  Students tend to be reticent to expose their creative sides, usually because they've been shot down in the past when they've tried to show their creativity.  But as a teacher and a human being, I know that everyone is creative in their own ways, and if we don't allow that creativity to shine through, then we're allowing one of the most important part of our selves to be wasted, squandered.

What are your strongest areas of creativity?  Are you really good at making financial decisions?  Are you good at drawing or painting?  Do you write well, or design buildings or bridges?  Perhaps your creativity is in helping other people uncover their creativity, and that can be a magnificent gift to share with others.

I have a lot of creativity inside of me.  In fact, the only barrier to my creativity is time.  I'm creative in writing, drawing, music, teaching, and many more things.  Long ago I decided that I wanted to honor my creativity more than the side of me that simply does what it's told, and since then I've been quite happy with life and the way I live it.  All of our days can be filled with personal expression, and when they are they give us much more satisfaction than those days during which we've created no expression at all, only whatever we're "supposed" to create.

You are a creative person.  The God that created you filled you with the same creativity that he or she (or however you prefer to refer to God) used to create you with.  Please don't squander that gift--many people can benefit from your creativity, but only if you let it shine!  Use your gifts in joy and gratitude, and you, too, will go about making this world a richer place through your contribution to all of the people with whom you share this world of ours.

Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. . . most of the
things that are interesting, important, and human are the results
of creativity . . . when we are involved in it, we feel that we are living
more fully than during the rest of life.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

10 January 2011

Spirit to Spirit

When was the last time that you spoke to someone spirit to spirit?  We're constantly talking to each other "man to man" or "woman to woman" or "father to son," but what about our immortal spirits?  Our spirits are the very essence of who and what we are, yet we seem to be unable or unwilling to communicate with other human beings--who are fellow spirits here on this planet experiencing life as humans--on what would seem to be the most basic and most desirable of levels.

Perhaps it's because we speak so much of problems, while our spirits must be unmoved by some of the petty problems that we let bother us.  Perhaps it's because we fear that maybe someone else's spirit is "better" than our own.  Maybe we're just afraid to admit that we are spirits, for then we would have a much higher level of expectations for ourselves.  No matter what the reason or reasons, though, it's quite a shame that we avoid communication on the very level on which we would communicate with God.

You are a spirit.  It's not that you "have" a spirit, it's that you are a spirit.  I am a spirit.  And if I were to reach out to you from the very depth of my being, that depth would be my spirit.  How would you respond if I were able to do so?

Life is a beautiful, magical experience.  Any time it seems less than that, it's usually because of the filters that we have in place to try to keep ourselves safe with all that we "know" to be true.  We've lost touch with our own spirits, so how can we possibly share them with others?  But you as a spirit are a beautiful magical being, as am I, and someday I hope that you and I can sit down and share our thoughts and feelings, spirit to spirit.

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience.
Teilhard de Chardin

07 January 2011

Mind like a River

Sometimes I think that my mind is just like a river, always changing, always moving, like water rushing on its way and smashing into rocks and cliffs and banks as it makes its way downriver.  There's even the roar just like that of the rushing water sometimes, a roar that overwhelms the silence and keeps me from feeling the peace that could be mine.

But not all water is rushing.  There's a lot of water that sits still, reflecting the light of the moon and the stars, silent and peaceful and lovely.  I'd like to say that sometimes my mind feels like that, but the truth of the matter is that I don't know if it ever truly has or not.  It is one of my goals to get my mind to feel that way, but so far I've never been able to attain what I would call a deep sense of mental peace.  I do try, but my thoughts always seem to find a way to trickle out and join up with other thoughts and once more become a raging river.  And even though I'm tempted to say, "That's just the way I am," I know that the truth is that I still haven't learned how to control my thoughts well enough to slow them down and keep them at peace like a quiet pond at the base of a mountain, surrounded by trees.

I am getting closer, though.  And the closer I get, the more I see the benefit of slowing down and giving myself nothing particular to do for a certain period of time, be it ten minutes, half an hour, or an hour.  Giving myself the gift of nothing to do for a time allows me to slow my thoughts down and to get a glimpse of what it would be like if I were able to truly still my mind.  I don't know what will eventually allow me to do it, but I do know that as I search, I do get closer to finding that peace.

The one thing I know, though, is that I have to keep trusting life to teach me what I need to learn, when I need to learn it.  I have a feeling that such a peace will be wonderful for me when I find it, but that it probably wouldn't be as good for me right now.  In my current work I need a certain amount and a certain type of tension to keep me at the top of my game, and while my times of peace and stillness are great and very helpful, I have a feeling that in the future they'll be much stronger--when I'm doing work that doesn't demand the tension that I need right now to work well at what I do.

Peace is there, for all of us.  And if we keep our minds and hearts open to the lessons that life gives us constantly, then we will find that peace--when we're ready for it, and when it will serve us best in our lives.

Over all the mountaintops
Is peace.
In all treetops
You perceive
Scarcely a breath.
The little birds in the forest
Are silent.
Wait then; soon
You, too, will have peace.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

05 January 2011


I find it fascinating the things that some people take issue with.  They can get upset by so many things that seem trivial and unimportant, issues that when all is said and done really mean almost nothing to anyone.  I recently saw someone get so upset with a desk that someone had thrown away at an apartment complex that he pushed it over rather violently and broke it to pieces, even though someone had left it there near the trash can so that someone else might be able to use it.  But this man found it somehow necessary to get upset about the fact that there was a desk there, not in a trash can like it was "supposed" to be.  He felt an undue amount of stress for little to no reason, taking issue with something that truly wasn't an issue at all.  So he broke it.

I think that most of us could take lessons in learning what to walk by and ignore and what to truly take issue with.  I know I could.  I sometimes take issue with things that twenty or thirty minutes later seem incredibly trivial, and definitely not worth the time and energy I had spent stressing out about it.  I might take issue with the fact that a neighbor is being loud, only to realize in a while that they really aren't being all that loud--just a bit louder than normal, or a bit louder than I'm used to.  I might take issue with a person's comments about someone or something, only to figure out later that that person had every right in the world to make the comments--or that the comments themselves really weren't what they seemed to be.

Sometimes, of course, people do things that we must take issue with--things that harm other people, or have the potential to harm others.  But most of the time I find that the things I take issue with really aren't issues at all, and I'd be conserving my energy and feeling much better in general if I just let them slide right by me, focusing instead on getting the most out of all the positive things that I do have in my life.

03 January 2011

A Really Good Day

Did you realize that today's a really good day to reward yourself?  It doesn't have to be in a big, extravagant way--it can be something pretty simple, like a long, hot bubble bath or a big thick milkshake.  But when you do take that bath or drink that shake, remember that it is a reward for the things that you do, for the ways that you help other people, for the ways that you go above and beyond your duty to excel in what you do.  Today's a great day to reward yourself for something specific, or for very general reasons.

Did you also know that today's a very good day to encourage someone else?  Someone somewhere in your life could use a little encouragement today--sincere encouragement--and you could be the one to give it to them.  That encouragement could spread like floodwaters cresting a riverbank into the lives of other people as the recipient of your encouragement passes it on, and you'll never know the broader benefits of your one act of kindness.

I think that today's also a very good day to get some quiet time for reflection.  Ten minutes or two hours, it doesn't really matter.  Giving yourself the time to focus on yourself, and to focus on nothing at the same time, can be the best thing that you do for yourself.  If you can just relax completely and make the time to clear your mind of all the stuff running around in there, you may be astonished at the results.

Today's a great day for lots of things.  You can work a little bit more or work a little bit less, you can bake those cookies you've been putting off, you can buy that little book that you know your best friend would love. . . . anything you want to brighten this day and make this world a much nicer place.  It's a great day for all that!