29 March 2011

One or Two a Day

I used to have about 170 students divided between five classes at school.  If you think that meant that I wasn't able to give the individual attention to each student that I could or should have been giving, well, you’re right.  With that many students I was able to take care of all the basic work such as preparing classes and grading all of their work–if I was lucky.  So I had to make an extra effort to give the extra encouragement that I know most people need.

I made it a point to give extra encouragement to one or two students a day, since I knew I couldn’t make one-on-one contact with them all.  I tried to rotate it, too, so that in the course of a month or so I hit almost everyone.  And then I started again.  The encouragement didn’t always have the results that I wished it would, but I didn’t let my unfulfilled expectations keep me from trying again the next day, and the next.  After all, the encouragement was free for me to give, and the potential benefits from it were amazing.

There are other things that we can do on that sort of level, too.  For example, we can read one or two chapters of a good self-help book each day to bring ourselves up and make ourselves feel better.  We can read one or two pages or chapters of books focused on our professions to help us to function better and make our jobs easier.  We can throw one or two dollars into a big bottle to someday have a very special night out or even a very cool vacation.  We can walk one or two miles a day to improve our health, or we can even run the same distance.

Most things in life don’t take a huge investment in order for us to reach success.  Most things take simply dedication and consistency.  I may not be the best teacher my students ever have had, or the most memorable, but I know for a fact that many students appreciate the encouragement that I give them.  And if I focus on giving it to one or two–or four or five, even–each day, then I will be making a difference in the lives of some students, no matter how slight a difference that may be.  It most certainly is worth the effort to me, and to the other people in my life upon whom I have an effect.

Our workaday lives are filled with opportunities
to bless others.  The power of a single glance or an
encouraging smile must never be underestimated.

G. Richard Rieger

28 March 2011

Cambiar de Aire

The Spanish have a wonderful way of saying that they're going somewhere else for a time--they say that they're going to "cambiar de aire," or change the air that they breathe.  They could be going from the hot city air of Madrid to the cool ocean air of Galicia, or from the air on the plains in Salamanca to the air in the mountains of Granada.  No matter what they're doing, though, this saying to me has a very deep and insightful meaning--one of the most fundamental elements of their lives is changing when they change location.

I like to keep this saying in mind whenever I go somewhere different.  When I do, a trip isn't just a "trip"--it's an experience that I can relish and revel in as most of the basic inputs of my life are changed on a significant level.  I am changing air, and breathing air that's being affected by a whole range of different atmospheric influences.  But I'm also hearing different people speak, people who have been affected by a completely different range of environmental influences than the people I normally spend time with.  I'm eating different food, prepared as a result of differences in culture, taste, and the readily available ingredients.  Sometimes I'm even surrounded by different languages and schedules and ways of living, and if I keep my eyes and heart open to the differences that I experience, I most certainly can learn a lot from people who have experienced life in many different ways than I have.

Of course, there's a lot to be said about recognizing similarities and enjoying the fact that people are people, no matter where they live.  But when I have the chance to change air, I want to enjoy the new air and take from it what I can.  If I do so, then my entire life experience becomes richer from an entirely new set of inputs.  Changing air is a positive experience, but only if we make it so.

27 March 2011

I wish you the ability and the openness to learn always, all through life.  We are fortunate to be a part of a world that is full of lessons, minute after minute, day after day, and if we can learn from these lessons, we can become people of love and hope and peace.  As long as we always remember that there is much to learn and that we cannot predict who will be our most important teachers, we will continue to learn.

May you always find the important lessons that are in each occurrence in our lives, the lessons that help us to grow into the people we were meant to be.  Nothing happens to us or with us that doesn't have some sort of lesson to take from it, even if that lesson is sometimes just reassurance that we're moving in the right direction.  Many people choose to ignore the lessons, feeling that they already know what they need to know, or they don't even see them to begin with, for their eyes and minds and hearts are closed to growth and change.

I wish you the willingness to change, for many of life's lessons call on us to change a way of doing or thinking that we've been holding on to for a very long time, and that may be more destructive to us than helpful.  Learning is not very useful if we don't allow the lessons to have an effect on us, and we can allow that to happen only if we're open to the possibility that a change is necessary.  How often have we seen people who have held on to their way of doing things even when it's very clear to us that they're hurting themselves and others by doing so?  Just having the willingness to consider change is one of the greatest blessings that I can wish you.

26 March 2011

Never Want to (Fully) Grow Up

My wife likes to laugh at me.  Not really laugh at me in a mean sort of way, but just laugh at me.  I do some things that are somewhat laughable, after all, so I don't mind it a bit that she laughs.  I still love Winnie-the-Pooh, for example, and seeing a new Pooh or Tigger blanket or towel at the store is exciting for me.  I like to skip, too, every once in a while--it's a form of movement that just feels really cool when you do it.  I ride on the back of the shopping cart, and I watch cartoons.  She understands me, though--I don't do these things because I'm trying to hold on to my youth or to fool myself into thinking that I'm still young.  I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone, and I'm not doing anything for show.  I do these things because I like them.  They're a lot of fun, and I learned from my "fellow adults" just how boring and tedious life can get when we stop having fun.

If I'm at any sort of social function at which families are involved, you can always find me with the kids, playing tag or hide-and-go-seek or whatever else they may be up to.  Again, it's not an attempt to prove or recapture anything; rather, it's just a way to have fun.  Adults have an annoying tendency to just stand around talking about the same old stuff, not using the gift of their bodies for anything other than standing up straight (or sitting on a chair) and holding a cup of something and talking.  Kids, on the other hand, use their bodies to have fun, and in doing so they don't diminish the amount of energy available to them, but they actually make that energy grow so that they can have more fun later doing something else.

You see, kids haven't forgotten yet what it truly means to have fun.  They haven't forgotten the thrill of movement and of play, and they haven't forgotten what it means to accept anyone as a playmate who's willing to play.  As they grow and learn from their adult role models, they learn to discriminate between potential play partners, and they learn the "joy" of accomplishment versus the "waste" of time spent playing.

I often think that we have it all wrong.  Somehow, we believe that it's our job as adults to teach kids how to grow into being just like we are.  That belief is faulty, though.  Actually, our higher calling is to learn from the kids--to learn all the things that we've forgotten about seeing and feeling and loving all the joy and wonder and fun that's here in this world for us.  I like it when my wife laughs at me.  Then I know that I'm learning my lessons at least fairly well.

When they tell you to grow up, they mean stop growing.             

Tom Robbins

25 March 2011

Nineteen Somethings to Say to Children

1.  I love you!  There is nothing that will make me stop loving you.  Nothing you could do or say or think will ever change that.

2.  You are amazing!  I look at you with wonder!  Not just at what you can do, but who you are.  There is no one like you.  No one!

3.  It's all right to cry.  People cry for all kinds of reasons: when they are hurt, sad, glad, or worried; when they are angry, afraid, or lonely.  Big people cry too.  I do.

4.  You've made a mistake.  That was wrong.  People make mistakes.  I do.  Is it something we can fix?  What can we do?  It's all over.  You can start fresh.  I know you are sorry.  I forgive you.

5.  You did the right thing.  That was scary or hard.  Even though it wasn't easy, you did it.  I am proud of you; you should be too.

6.  I'm sorry.  Forgive me.  I made a mistake.

7.  You can change your mind.  It's good to decide, but it is also fine to change.

8.  What a great idea!  You were really thinking!  How did you come up with that?  Tell me more.  Your mind is clever!
9.  That was kind.  You did something helpful and thoughtful for that person.  That must make you feel good inside.  Thank you!

10.  I have a surprise for you.  It's not your birthday.  It's for no reason at all.  Just a surprise, a little one, but a surprise.

11.  I can wait.  We have time.  You don't have to hurry this time.

12.  What would you like to do?  It's your turn to pick.  You have great ideas.  It's important to follow your special interests.

13.  Tell me about it.  I'd like to hear more.  And then what happened?  I'll listen.

14.  I'm right here.  I won't leave without saying good-bye.  I am watching you.  I am listening to you.

15.  Please and Thank You.  These are important words.  If I forget to use them, will you remind me?

16.  I missed you.  I think about you when we are not together!

17.  Just try.  A little bit.  One taste, one step.  You might like it.  Let's see.  I'll help you if you need it.  I think you can do it.

18.  I'll help you.  I heard you call me, here I am.  How can I help you?  If we both work together, we can get this done.  I know you can do it by yourself, but I'm glad to help since you asked.

19.  What do you wish for?  Even if it's not yet time for birthday candles and we don't have a wishbone, it's still fun to hear about what you wish for, hope for, and dream about.

Source unknown

24 March 2011

I just watched an episode of a television series in which two characters were trapped in the Antarctic.  A rescue mission was being sent from a base some fifty miles away, and soon we see the rescuers arriving to save them.  Amazingly enough, with the rescuers arrive the characters who had contacted them, who somehow had made it from Colorado to the Antarctic in the same amount of time as the people who had come from fifty miles away.

There is most definitely a dearth of creativity in the world of entertainment these days, and since most of us are exposed to that world very often, we're constantly being exposed to pretty lame excuses for creativity.  Movies that otherwise are pretty good end with stupid shooting scenes in which the heroes aren't hit by a single bullet even though thirty men are shooting at them--but they kill all thirty of the other guys.  Someone who's a college professor gets involved in a chase with criminals or the police, and somehow navigates the crowded streets of a major city better than a race car driver could.  People who are otherwise intelligent walk stupidly into situations--or dark rooms--even though they know someone else just got killed there.

I guess this isn't really such a big deal, but I think it does affect us in negative ways.  It's kind of like being desensitized to violence--since we see so much of this poorly made stuff that's supposed to be creative and artistic, we start to believe that this stuff really is creative.  But it's not--it's simply poorly trained people trying to give audiences what they think they want, which really ends up being stuff that's already been seen in other movies or on other TV shows, or that's already been read in other books or stories.

Creativity, though, comes from our hearts, and is not determined by what people want to see.  Our creativity is a reflection of our spirits, if we truly allow our spirits to shine through in all that we do.  Don't give your own creativity short shrift--nurture it and develop it, accept it and love it.  That way, you'll allow yourself to be creative, rather than just creating copies of things that other people already have done.  And if you ever make a decent movie, find a creative way to end it rather than depending on formulas to end the movie for you.  You'll be proud when you do, and many people will appreciate seeing something new and different--for a change.

Creativity requires the courage
to let go of certainties.

Erich Fromm

23 March 2011

You Are a Marvel

Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe,
a moment that will never be again . . . And what do we teach
our children?  We teach them that two and two make four,
and that Paris is the capital of France.
When will we also teach them what they are?
We should say to each of them:  Do you know what you are?
You are a marvel.  You are unique.  In all the years that have
passed, there has never been another child like you.
Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move.

You may become a Shakespeare, a Michaelangelo,
a Beethoven.  You have the capacity for anything.

Yes, you are a marvel.  And when you grow up,
can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel?
You must work--we must all work--to make
the world worthy of its children.

Pau Casals

22 March 2011

No Hitch-Hikers

I often feel very guilty driving by hitch-hikers on the road, knowing that they probably just need help and that I may be in a position to help them.  But I've read far too many stories about good Samaritans becoming victims of the very people that they've stopped to help, and I've picked up too many hitch-hikers who have made me very uncomfortable to be okay still with the idea of putting a complete stranger in a seat just a foot away from me for a very long time, closed off in a small compartment moving at high speeds.  I've had to make the decision not to pick up hitch-hikers anymore, as a matter of strict policy in my life.

Sometimes on our journey we have to take care of ourselves.  We have to step back and look at our lives and ask ourselves what are the acceptable risks, and which aren't acceptable.  We have to make sometimes difficult decisions about what we can and can't do, what we should and shouldn't do.  Deciding not to pick up hitch-hikers may seem like a reflection of a lack of compassion, or even inconsiderate or rude, but if we start thinking that way it's important that we ask ourselves what the potential risk of picking up a stranger can be, and whether that risk is worth taking.  For me now, it's simply a question of making a decision--I've decided that the activity is too dangerous for me and that I'm not going to do it any more.

Our journeys continue on and on as we live, and sometimes our paths cross those of others.  And I'm more than willing to help strangers when I find myself with an opportunity to do so.  But I am not obligated to help every stranger in every way.  I have the right--even the responsibility--to decide just how I'm willing to help others, and how I'm not.  The decision simply is mine, and it's important that I make it and stick by it for as long as I feel that the decision is the right one in my life.

A friend of mine once asked me to lie for him to a prospective employer.  I couldn't do it, and I lost a friend, who claimed that I had "betrayed" him.  In my mind, though, he was the one who had betrayed our friendship and the trust that was there.

What kinds of things do you do that make you feel uncomfortable?  Do you truly need to do them?  And if you're doing them to help someone else, is it truly necessary that you help this particular someone?  Sometimes the best decisions that we make are the ones that keep us out of trouble by excluding possibilities from our lives, just as I won't ever be attacked by a stranger in my own car because I won't be allowing complete strangers to sit in it with me as I drive.  You can make your own decisions without needing to explain them away to anyone at all.

21 March 2011


If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility,
she learns to fight.

If children live with fears,
they learn to be apprehensive.

If a child lives with pity,
she learns to feel sorry for herself.

If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement,
they learn to be confident.

If a child learns with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with praise,
she learns to be appreciative.

If children live with acceptance,
they learn to love.

If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with recognition,
she learns to have a goal.

If children live with fairness,
they learn what justice is.

If a child lives with honesty,
she learns what truth is.

If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.

If children live with friendliness,
they learn that the world is a great place in which to live.

The Watchman-Examiner

20 March 2011

Peace Be with You

I used to think that peace was something that other people felt, people who were more enlightened than I, people who understood more about life than I, people who were more able to control their own thoughts and actions better than I.  I used to be mistaken, I’ve found–peace is anything but unattainable for most of us, and it’s usually the result of making a series of decisions and having the gumption to stick with those decisions.

First of all, peace results from a decision to be at peace.  Stress overwhelms us when we let it do so–it never really is unavoidable or inevitable.  Yes, there are things beyond our control that stress us out, but don’t we choose to let them stress us out?  If my spouse is being overbearing and damaging our relationship, then I choose to let that behavior be stressful to me.  I do have other options–talking over the situation, seeking counseling, trying to understand the sources of the problem, even leaving the marriage.  And while not all options may look attractive or appropriate to me, they are there.  So I can choose to be at peace, knowing that the current situation isn’t the only one available to me.

I had a moment of epiphany once.  I was working at a job that I found incredibly stressful when one weekend I went to the mountains with some friends (this was in Germany, and the mountains happened to be the Alps).  I tried skiing and got hurt, so the next day I was just hanging around during an absolutely beautiful snowfall–huge flakes that came down softly and completely filled the sky with their wonder.  As I watched the graceful fall of the flakes, it suddenly hit me, almost out of nowhere, “Wow–I can leave my job any time I want.  I don’t need it to survive, or to be alive.”  And from that point on my job didn’t bother me any more.  Whenever something stressful happened, I’d ask myself, “Is this worth leaving over?”  And the answer was always no.  So I stayed on the job and enjoyed myself, knowing that if things ever got too bad, I would just find something else.  I was at peace, even at a formerly stressful job.

Peace to me also is a result of the decision to let go–to let go of expectations, fears, worries, desires to control others or outcomes, envy, jealousy–any of those things in our life that when we hold on to them, they make us kind of miserable.  It takes practice to let go of things, but when I do so, I feel a strong sense of peace inside.  And I love that feeling.

If I could give any gift in the world to anyone, I always would choose peace–peace of mind and peace of heart.  But I know that I can’t bring peace to you–it’s your own decision to be at peace, and I wish you the clarity of mind to be able to make the decisions that bring peace into your life and take it with you wherever you go, all the time.

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim
large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace,
and to reflect it towards others.  And the more peace there
is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.

Etty Hillesum

18 March 2011


I knew someone once who pretty much never showed any enthusiasm for anything.  Whatever he did, he just did it.  He never sounded like he was enjoying what he was doing, or what he was about to do.  Everything seemed pretty blah to him, and it was very hard working with him because I always felt bad for him.  Because of his lack of enthusiasm, he never seemed to enjoy anything he did, and I never saw him give more to any job than was absolutely necessary to get it done with a bare minimum of quality.

Personally, I've had a hard time showing enthusiasm in my life, too.  That stems from some family issues I faced as a child, issues that led me to believe that nothing that was promised me was going to be delivered.  So I learned not to get too enthusiastic so that I wouldn't feel such a sense of loss when what I wanted didn't come through.

As time has gone on, though, I've learned that I can be enthusiastic about things.  I can look forward to them without fearing that they won't happen.  I can be enthusiastic about something I'm doing right now and enjoy the heck out of it while I'm doing it.  This enthusiasm is my choice, and it's no longer tempered by my fears.  I grew up learning that it was safer to decide not to be enthusiastic, but I've grown into a person who realizes that without enthusiasm, life simply doesn't have the luster or shine that it does for someone who really is enthusiastic about things that he or she loves.

And when we're enthusiastic, approaching life with energy and hopefulness and enjoyment, guess what we attract back to ourselves?  Exactly--plenty of people and situations that make that enthusiasm more and more useful and appropriate.

I love being enthusiastic.  It's been a long hard road to travel to get to a point at which I can be enthusiastic--without reservation--but it most certainly has been a road worth traveling.  There are plenty of things in life that are simply wonderful, and when we get the opportunity to experience them, doing so enthusiastically makes them even more special, for us and for whoever else is with us, experiencing it too.  I hope that as time goes on I grow even more enthusiastic, and that I become even more like the children who don't even need to allow themselves to be enthusiastic, because it's a natural part of who they are that they haven't yet learned to suppress.

Enthusiasm is the thing which makes the world go round.  Without
its driving power, nothing worth doing has ever been done. Love, friendship, religion, altruism, devotion to career or hobby— all
these, and most of the other good things of life, are forms of enthusiasm.

Robert H. Schauffler

17 March 2011


With every rising of the sun
Think of your life as just begun.

The past has shrived and buried deep
All yesterdays - there let them sleep,

Nor seek to summon back one ghost
Of that innumerable host.

Concern yourself with but to-day;
Woo it and teach it to obey

Your wish and will.  Since time began
To-day has been the friend of man.

But in his blindness and his sorrow
He looks to yesterday and to-morrow.

You and to-day! a soul sublime
And the great pregnant hour of time.

With God between to bind the train,
Go forth, I say - attain - attain.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

16 March 2011

In the Least-Expected Places

I went running with some of our cross-country team one day a few years ago.  We went to a place called "Tree Hill," a small hill east of our school that boasts some twenty trees leading up to its modest summit; thus, the name.  It was a hot day with a very strong sun, so we took it a bit easy so as not to cause any damage to ourselves.

I wasn't expecting much of a view from the top of the hill, which poked up only 75 yards or so above the prairie.  But the beauty of the view I saw there wasn't in its vastness, but in its flow.  It wasn't in its scope, but in its uniqueness.

The prairie grass was quite green that year, and in different spots it pointed in different directions, depending on how the wind normally hit it.  The hills that led to the mountains further to the easy were rolling gracefully, covered by this beautiful carpet of green.  There were few houses to be seen, just rolling prairie all the way to the foothills some fifteen miles distant.  As I looked upon the scene, I was reminded of a turbulent ocean that's heaving and churning with its currents, that's constantly in motion and never sitting still.  Although I knew that the land I was looking at was pretty steady in our terms, I was reminded of something completely different, something truly unique.

I didn't expect to see such a marvelous view, but perhaps that lack of expectation was what made it so special.  I felt grateful that my eyes were at least open to the possibility of seeing something magical in a view that so many others would find to be ordinary.  Seeing things as ordinary does nothing to enrich our lives; seeing things as extraordinary does much to do so.  And seeing the extraordinary takes a decision to see it, for we don't seem to just naturally see the extraordinary things in life--we definitely have to make up our minds to be open to all the magic and wonder that the world has to offer.
One does not need to fast for days and meditate for hours at a time
to experience the sense of sublime mystery which constantly envelops us.
All one need do is to notice intelligently, if even for a brief moment,
a blossoming tree, a forest flooded with autumn colors, an infant smiling.
Simon Greenberg

Visit our pages of quotations on awareness.

14 March 2011

Whom Did I Serve Today?

I just went through another day of my life.  I woke up this morning, ate, went to work, spent my day working, came home--all that stuff.  And when I go to bed tonight, I may look back upon the day if I'm not too tired, and when I do I'm going to have to ask myself just whom I served today, and how.  And I hope that I like the answer to the question.

Did I serve my students effectively and with lots of love?  Another possibility is that I didn't do anything effective with them at all, that they just passed time in my class without getting anything at all helpful from me.

Did I serve my community by serving the students?  Did my community grow any stronger by having kids that are learning important lessons about life and getting along with others from me?

Or did I just serve myself and my own needs, tuning out someone in need because their need wasn't convenient to me, or because I needed a rest or something like that?

Or did I just walk through the day, not really accomplishing any sort of service at all?  Did I look for the easy way out of all situations, avoiding potential problems in order to keep my life simpler and less complicated?

Perhaps I served just the administration of the school, which needs a certified teacher in a classroom to manage the kids and present information.

And tomorrow, what will my day be like--will I make all my decisions based on my wants and needs, or will I look for the needs of the people I profess to serve and try to fulfill those needs?  And whom will I serve?  My students?  My community?  Myself?  Or perhaps all of the above, in ways that are productive and helpful. . . . That of course would be the ideal, and I hope that one day in my life, I'm able to reach such an ideal.

The value of all service lies in the spirit in which
you serve and not in the importance or magnitude
of the service.  Even the lowliest task or deed is made
holy, joyous, and prosperous when it is filled with love.

Charles Fillmore

12 March 2011

A Great Thought

I came upon a beautiful quotation recently:  “Learn to see what is in front of you, rather than what you learned is there.”  It’s from a man named Stephen C. Paul, and it really gets me thinking about what I see and experience in life.  Sometimes I start to take things for granted because I’ve seen them so often and because others have taught me just what they are.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the last fifteen years of studying materials written and produced about life and living, it’s that what we think things are and what they really are usually aren’t exactly the same things.

What we’ve learned in life is often what other people think we should know, not necessarily what truly is.  When I was young, some people tried to teach me to accept racist attitudes.  I know that that was completely wrong.  Others tried to teach me that I should know and accept my place in life, and not try to make myself more than I was.  That, too, was wrong.  I was very fortunate because I was always questioning everything I learned–much to the chagrin of my grade-school teachers, I must say.  But that questioning helped me to see the world in a more authentic way–I wasn’t stuck with the perspectives that other people tried to force upon me.

“What is in front of you, rather than what you learned is there.”  Is this really just a tree, or is it a fantastic creation that’s giving forth oxygen so that we humans may continue to survive?  Or is it even more than that, or less?  Can it be that the tree is simply an illusion that we all agree is there, so it’s therefore created by our collective consciousness?  I don’t have a definitive answer for any of these questions, and I honestly don’t believe that there is any one definitive answer.  I do know, though, that until we’re willing and able to step outside of our comfort zones, we won’t ever see the world in any new or different–or perhaps even genuine–ways.

The people who taught us had the best of intentions, but they also had limitations that they learned in the course of their lives.  So it’s important to us to be able to shake ourselves free from the shackles of what we’ve learned to see, and see things as they genuinely are–from our own perspective.  I believe that when we do so, we’ll discover a new and beautiful and fulfilling world all around us, and we’ll see our place in it quite clearly.


10 March 2011

Because We Never Know. . . .

Why should I try hard today, when none of my efforts so far have produced the results I’ve sought?

Because I never know what tomorrow will bring, and whether my latest effort will be my most effective.  Perhaps my efforts so far have been in vain because I’ve been looking in the wrong directions for outcomes, but my latest efforts will be in the right direction.

Why should I continue to pray when I don’t see results to my prayers?

Because I never know when is the right time for my prayers to be answered–they’ll be answered in God’s best time, not my desired time.

Why should I keep searching for answers when I haven’t found the ones I want yet?

Because I never know when the next rock I turn over, the next hole that I dig, or the next door that I open may reveal the answers I’ve been searching for for so long.

Why should I keep being nice to people when they so often treat me poorly?

Because I never know when I’ll meet the person I fall in love with, or the one who becomes a best friend or a mentor, or the one who may have some very important answers for me.

The fact is, you never know when something’s going to happen.  You never know when your efforts will be rewarded.  And because we never know these things, we need to keep living from our hearts, not allowing frustration to get the best of us, so that we can continue to live authentically and happily.  There are many things that I would have loved to have happened by now, but they haven’t.  But I don’t give up on them, for I never know when all of my efforts (or all of my letting go) finally will have the effect they’re supposed to have and open doors for me that beforehand were closed.  If I give up now, after all, I’ll never know what I missed. . . .

08 March 2011

Acting, or Reacting?

I’ve spent much of my life being a reactive person.  I’ve done many things in my life that were directly caused by someone else’s actions, rather than my own inner guidance concerning what I should or shouldn’t do.  In other words, my actions weren’t really actions at all, but reactions.  And usually, they’ve been pretty negative from the very start, as I never really gave myself a chance to consider carefully what I truly wanted to do.  I’ve hurt other people with my words and actions, and I’ve caused stress and strife for others.  Not tons of it, but more than I would have liked.

One of the most important things that I’ve learned in life is to stop reacting to other people’s actions and words and inaction.  I’ve become much better at just watching and not trying to fix things or make them better or to defend myself when no defense is really needed.  Now that I consider my actions more carefully (usually, of course–I’m still not there completely!), I’m able to act in ways that I truly see as fit and appropriate.  And as my actions are more carefully considered, I don’t do things that stress me out or that cause me negative results.  And my life is much freer and easier when I’m not going along complicating it with my poor reactions.

We can see a really good analogy in sports when it comes to penalties.  If a player does something dirty and hits another player, and that player retaliates, guess who gets called for the penalty?  Almost always, it’s the person who reacts with retaliation.  This is a purely reactive response, and it has negative results for the person who has reacted.  There are penalties involved that hurt the entire team, not just the one player, and that never is a good thing.

So if someone does something that I see as negative to me, how do I react?  Or, a better question is, do I even react at all?  I’ve come to learn over time that most negative actions are due to someone else’s poor self-esteem or lack of confidence, and most reactions don’t really accomplish much of anything at all.  By not reacting, I can choose to let something lie, to allow the water to calm down rather than stirring it up anew with my own negative response.

Recently someone criticized something that I had done, and I was kind of stymied by what she said.  My first impulse was to be defensive–to say something back to her that would make her feel bad for what she had said.  Instead, I waited a few moments to gather my thoughts, and then I asked her, “What makes you say that?”  It turned out that she had completely misunderstood what I had done, and was reacting to what she thought I had done rather than what I really had done.  I was glad that I hadn’t followed my first impulse to react, for taking the time to think of an appropriate action (asking for clarification) had helped us both to get much more out of the situation, and we didn’t harbor any ill feelings towards each other.

I’m not quite sure where I learned to be defensive rather than productive, but I really am happy that it’s something that I seem to be outgrowing.  Life’s much more fun and much less stressful when we consider our actions carefully, without letting others push us into reactions that we may not feel too good about later.

06 March 2011

What We Believe

In one of our English classes, we're working our way through the novel Dances with Wolves.  One of the elements of the book that I like a lot is the way that the main character works his way from being isolated and alone to being a part of the Comanche tribe, a part of a community.  This is a theme that's dear to me because I grew up in a military family, and we constantly moved from place to place, never setting out roots, never really being a part of any community at all.  It's something that I've missed in life, and something that did make me suffer in some small ways as far as relationships and trust were concerned.

It's fascinating to watch the character progress and develop throughout the novel.  In order to be a part of this new community that he now has contact with, he has to give up certain beliefs and allow himself to entertain the notions that what he learned earlier in his life may or may not be right--and that "right" is a relative term.  We often go through our lives thinking that what we've learned so far has to be right simply because we've learned it--not realizing that by holding on to such beliefs we definitely limit the amount that we can learn from other human beings who have been taught differently, who hold beliefs that are not the same as our own.

For me, the greatest challenge has been in trusting that letting go of my beliefs isn't going to hurt me.  Changing the way I see things isn't going to turn my life into a disaster.  In the novel, Dunbar starts to see the sense behind the Comanche ways of life and thinking, and he starts to realize that their ways and thoughts were just as valid as--and sometimes more valid than--the ways and thoughts of the people who had taught him his whole life long.  Once he reaches this point he's able to learn as he's never really learned before, and he's able to see life as he never has seen it before.

It's great to be reminded that for all the different people in the world, there are different ways of seeing life and living.  And no one's perspective is more valid, more real, or more important than anyone else's.  And if we're ever truly to be part of different communities and different peoples, then we have to allow other people to be themselves--and allow ourselves to be ourselves.  Only then can we give of ourselves to others, for then we can let down the barriers that we tend to keep up for some reason to "protect" ourselves.  But by protecting ourselves, we keep ourselves small.  When we let go of that need to defend and hide, then we truly are becoming something bigger than before, and allowing ourselves to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Within you right now is the power to do things you never dreamed possible.
This power becomes available to you just as soon
as you can change your beliefs.

Maxwell Maltz

04 March 2011

I went for a long walk in the woods this past weekend, the first time that I’d been out hiking for quite a while.  It was a great experience, though I was once again quite shocked at just how little I get out for such things.  While I was there I was astonished by the beauty and wonder of the place, as well as by the clean air and the silence and all of the other things that make such a place so special.  But I was also fully cognizant of the fact that even though I have many beautiful places close by that I can visit, I often choose to stay at home rather than to go out and enjoy the great outdoors.

The natural world is definitely one of the richest elements of the lives we lead on this planet.  Nature offers us healing and peace and marvelous sights that inspire us and give us the sense of awe that keeps us feeling humble as a part of something much, much larger than ourselves.  And all it takes from us is a bit of effort to leave the comfort of our living rooms in order to go out and spend some time in places that motivate and inspire us.

What do you do to get out in nature?  How do you feel when you’re out there?  And if the answer is “really good” or something like that, then the next question has to be, why aren’t you there more often?  I know that I often ask myself that question, and the answer almost always is because work and other obligations don’t allow me to spend as much time in nature as I really want to spend.  So when I do have the chances, I want to take full advantage of them and enjoy them as much as I can.  And as I get older and have less time left on this planet, I want to make more time to spend in and with nature, so that on the day I do leave this planet I can say that I truly did all that I could to learn about and know this world that is one of God’s greatest gifts to me, and to all of us.

Nature helps me.  It calms me, it allows me to renew my perspective.  It allows me to feel a sense of awe and amazement.  Life being the amazing set of interdependent elements that it is, I know that I’m just as much a part of nature as it is a part of me, and I sincerely hope that I never neglect nature or take it for granted, for if I do, I’ll be doing damage to myself, as well.

Nature is another important aspect of nourishing the soul.
After a hike in the mountains where we live, for
instance, I feel a remarkable sense of gratitude and
awe.  My mind quiets down and allows me to see more
clearly the beauty of creation.  And through that
gratitude, the beauty of the universe
is reflected back to the creator.

02 March 2011

All That's Sacred

It's really interesting to see just how people decide what's sacred and what isn't sacred.  Usually we follow the guidance of our religions to determine if a certain text or place or person is sacred or not, as if the people who are leading lives based in established religions somehow have a monopoly on deciding what's sacred and what's not.  Personally, I feel that almost everything is sacred, from the grass growing outside my front door to the car that I drive to work in.  An object's sacredness lies entirely in my perspective towards it, and many things can be sacred to me that aren't sacred to other people.

On the one hand, sacred can mean simply "worthy of respect," according to the dictionary.  On the other, it can mean "made or declared holy," and I believe that this latter definition is the most important one when we consider the sacredness of so many things in our everyday lives.

This computer that I work on allows me to be in contact with people who are very important to me, and it allows me to create work that helps my students to learn, and it allows me to develop websites and learn about the world.  What could be more holy than a tool that allows me to do all that and more?  My apartment gives me a place to rest and recharge so that I'm able to go on teaching; it gives me a safe place to read and to learn about life and living; it gives me a place where I can be entertained by movies that keep me learning and laughing.  What could be more sacred?  The food that I eat keeps me alive, and it's very sacred to me, be it a donut or a plate of spaghetti or a salad.

I think we make a mistake when we reserve the term "sacred" for just those things that organized religions find to be holy.  I think that all life is sacred, even the cashier at the supermarket and the kid in the back row in the classroom and the guy who cut me off in traffic.  All things must be holy, for they're all children and creations of our God, whatever we conceive that God to be.  So look around and see the sacred in all that surrounds you, and you just may be surprised to realize just how much of what surrounds you truly is sacred.