30 April 2011


I find it pretty interesting to see just how invested our cultures are in teaching us to be independent and self-sufficient, while the reality of the situation of our lives is that we are interdependent creatures.  We all have connections with each other, but in our quest for complete independence we neglect those connections in favor of development of self.  And while I don’t see a problem with developing ourselves–in fact, it’s one of the most important things we can do–I think we create great problems when we develop ourselves while neglecting to develop our connections with others.

Is it possible to overvalue our independence?  I think it is.  In the United States, for example, this tendency seems to have developed during our Pilgrim and pioneer days, when self-sufficiency often was the only way that one could survive.  In this day and age, though, that particular dynamic definitely is out-dated–as far as our needs are concerned, all of our basic needs are within our reach simply and easily.  Still, though, we seem to fear acknowledging our needs for other people and our connections to them.  We hold back from allowing those connections to strengthen out of some sort of fear that we’ll lose our independence and be “stuck” with other people.

But are we really stuck with them, or are we given the gift of their company and their love?  If we let go of ourselves and our perceived needs in favor of giving our all to our community–however we define it–are we sacrificing our independence and our individuality and our self-sufficiency, or are we gaining a strength that we simply can’t imagine, the strength that comes from experiencing and celebrating our connections with other creations of our Creator, other children of God–whatever you perceive   God to be–who are sharing this wonder of life on this wonderful planet of ours?

If we can simply acknowledge that our lives will become richer as we establish, maintain, and develop our relationships with other human beings, we can set ourselves free from the curses of loneliness, isolation, and the feeling of not belonging.  If we can celebrate our connections with others then we can see the beauty and wonder of our lives, we can experience the joys of helping and being helped, and we can live as parts of a much greater whole.

It does take some sacrifice, such as giving up the need to do everything ourselves.  That doesn’t mean, though, that we’ll lose the feeling of having done a job well or the feeling of accomplishment that can come just as well from having shared a job and done it well with someone else.  We would have to sublimate our egos as we develop a sense of community–after all, the ego’s main job is to tell us that we’re alone in the world and separate from everyone else.

But God didn’t make just one person–God made us all.  And given that fact, how can we possibly think that living our lives separate and isolated from our fellow human beings is the right way to go?  As life goes on and I learn more, I see more and more that it’s about togetherness, compassion, love, and many other things that all imply the presence of someone else.  Yes, personal development is important, but isn’t it most important in the context of how we use it to help others?  I hope that when all is said and done, my life is about contributing to others rather than developing myself while keeping others out of my life.  I hope that yours is, too, for I know that if it is, your life will be rewarding and fulfilling.

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

28 April 2011


I’m doing a lot of studying these days for a class that I’m teaching.  The class is about literature from the American West, predominantly from the 19th century.  It’s impossible to study such literature, of course, without being exposed to the incredible dynamics that occurred between the pioneers and the Native Americans, so much of which was fraught with conflict and killing.  What’s hitting me the hardest is the reality that the pioneers and the immigrants who came to the west did so by choice–they chose to move and to explore and to take risks.  On the other hand, the Native Americans were forced to react to this onslaught of new people without having any choice at all in the matter–they came, and the Natives were forced to deal with the situation.

I’ve been put in situations in which I’ve had no choice myself, and I’ve never liked it.  I’ve felt powerless, weak, abused, and many other negative feelings at such times.  The fact is that we always prefer to do things by choice rather than to be forced to do things in certain ways, at certain times, for certain reasons that may not coincide with our own desires or ethics or moral principles.  And as I read and see more about the dynamics in America during the 19th century, I grow to have much more sympathy for the situations in which the Natives found themselves.  And with that sympathy comes also a great sense of appreciation for the fact that in my life now, almost all that I do is a result of my personal choice.

Do we truly appreciate our ability to make choices every day?  Do we truly appreciate the fact that most of us are not told what to do with our lives, that we have the ability to shape our own present and future through the choices that we make each day–even each hour and each minute?  I think that it’s far too easy to take this gift for granted, to be honest, and that most of us don’t really have a strong sense of appreciation for this aspect of our lives.

But we don’t have to continue taking it for granted, do we?  We can sit down and think about the blessing of being able to choose, the blessing of being able to create our own destinies.  Throughout history, many millions of people have had other people take away their power to choose for themselves, and that’s something that we simply don’t have to face if we don’t want to.  My boss may want to force me to do some sort of work I don’t wish to do, but then I have the choice to quit, don’t I?

As I read more and more about people who have had their ability to choose ripped away from them without courtesy or dignity, I grow more and more appreciative of my gift, and I feel a much greater responsibility to make sure that my choices serve others, and not just myself.  Choice is truly a blessing, and truly a wonderful gift, but it’s a gift that means little if I neither exercise it nor appreciate it.

The greatest power God gave us is the power to choose.  We have the opportunity to choose whether we’re going to act or procrastinate, believe or doubt, pray or curse, help or heal.  We also choose whether we’re going to be happy or whether we’re going to be sad.

Lou Holtz

27 April 2011

A Thought

A few years ago, on a liner bound for Europe, I was browsing in the library when I came across a puzzling line by Robert Louis Stevenson:  "Extreme busyness, whether at school, kirk, or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality."  Surely, I thought, "deficient" is a mistake--he must have meant "abundant."  But R.L.S. went merrily on, "It is no good speaking to such folk:  they can not be idle, their nature is not generous enough."

Was it possible that a bustling display of energy might only be a camouflage for a spiritual vacuum?  The thought so impressed me that I mentioned it next day to the French purser, at whose table I was sitting.  He nodded his agreement.  "Stevenson is right," he said.  "Indeed, if you will pardon my saying so, the idea applies particularly to you Americans.  A lot of your countrymen keep so busy getting things done that they reach the end of their lives without ever having lived at all."

Arthur Gordon

26 April 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.

24 April 2011

A Little Bit of Pressure

One thing I know from working as a coach is that being really nice to everyone isn't always the best approach.  Sometimes other people want and expect someone to demand something more from them, something more than they're used to giving, something more than they might expect from themselves.  Throughout history the most successful coaches have been those who have put an appropriate amount of pressure on the people they're coaching in an attempt to get them to surpass their previous performances, to get them to do better than they ever have before, to run faster than they ever have, to work harder than ever.

I know that this principle is very important to me in my life.  I always try to search out situations that will provide a certain amount of pressure for me so that I can work better than I ever have before.  I know that pressure is a motivator for me and that I function well under pressure, and I also know that when I'm facing no pressure at all, I have a hard time motivating myself to do what I want to do.  When I was in college, for example, and I had papers due, I always was able to turn in a high-quality paper by the due date; on the other hand, there are still novels and short stories that I haven't written because I simply don't feel the motivation to get started on them.  If I had a deadline, though, I'm sure that novels would come regularly to me.

It can be easy to put a little bit of pressure on ourselves without overdoing it.  Doing so can give us that motivation that we may need to get something very important done in our lives, that may or may not have been done without the extra little bit of pressure.  Sometimes it takes committing ourselves to getting something done for someone else--a promise to another person can provide just the right amount of pressure for us.  Other times it may involve making a commitment on a professional level to help ourselves to find motivation to accomplish something that we've always wanted to do anyway.  When I think of pressure, I always think of the example of the kite--it never would fly if it didn't have a wind blowing against it, and it's the fighting of that wind that causes--and allows--the kite to fly.  I want to keep the pressure on myself up so that I can drive myself to get things done that I might never do otherwise, in my time and on my terms.

23 April 2011

A thought from Bernie Siegel

"Site to Be Developed."  When you see this sign you know someone is preparing to put up a building of some kind.  It may be an improvement over what currently exists on the site, or it may do more damage than good.  We have all seen nature destroyed in the name of development.

Think of yourself as a site to be developed.  Remember that different sites are suited for different types of development.  What is your goal?  What resources are available, and what will best fit your site?  Look yourself over and get a feeling for your site.  Ask for help from developers and landscapers.  Then begin construction.  Don't worry about what the sidewalk supervisors think about the structure you are building.  This structure is going up on your property and you decide what it will be, or you will find no joy in the life you construct.  It will be someone else's building and you will be stuck in it.

A project under development.  A white canvas or a hunk of potter's clay.  I offer metaphors to remind you that you can change yourself and create a more fulfilling life -- if you remember my mother's advice to make the decisions that will make you happy.  You can create and re-create.  This is not about selfishness, but about authenticity.

How much can you do with yourself?  No one knows.  I know you can be happy.  You can be loving.  You can take part in creation and live and work in your heart zone.  There are no limits.  What will happen then?  No one knows the details, but I do know you will have what you need, peace and joy.

22 April 2011

Your Beliefs

What do you believe?  Not, "What do you believe in," but simply, what do you believe?  If you ask yourself this question regularly, I think that you'll start to discover many of the outdated and outmoded thoughts and feelings that have been holding you back, simply because you've decided to hold on to beliefs that no longer serve you and that perhaps never served you well in the first place.
I used to believe that life was a form of competition, and that I wasn't really good at that type of thing.  That belief led me to stop trying to reach my dreams before I ever gave myself a chance to succeed.  Now I believe that life is about cooperation rather than competition, and I find that my life is much richer and much more satisfying because of my shift in beliefs.  I know, though, that even my current belief one day will flow away on the river of life, leaving me with another belief or three in its place--or perhaps even with the ultimate freedom of no beliefs that may hold me in one place in my life.

I know women who stay with abusive men because they believe that they're in love, or they believe that they can change their men, or they believe that they've done some wrong somewhere and deserve that awful treatment they receive.

I know other women who leave abusive men because they believe that they deserve better, and they believe that their men have no right to do to them the things they do.

I know men who stay in debt seemingly forever because they believe that they don't deserve wealth, that raises and promotions are for other people.  Or they believe that taking a risk is the worst thing that they could do; they prefer instead to believe that the status quo, while unpleasant, at least is safe.

I believe that we're here to lead full and happy and healthy lives, and I believe that I'm just as deserving of that very thing as anyone else is.

What do you believe?

Your beliefs are your reality.  If you don't like
the reality you see, change your beliefs!

Stephen C. Paul

20 April 2011

Right Here, Right Now

I was thinking about a song yesterday, and it reminded me of another song title that has a lot to offer me in my life.  There was a song about fifteen years ago called “Right Here, Right Now,” a title that didn’t mean nearly as much to me then as it does now, after many years of studying the value of the present moment.

We tend to give the present moment short shrift, taking it for granted and not recognizing the amazing potential that it holds for us.  Most of us don’t realize that our moments aren’t that great sometimes because of what we choose to do with each moment, or choose not to do.  We make our moments or let them slip by, and then all those moments work together to become an hour, a day, a week. . . a life.  And one day we’ll be looking back at our lives, either glad of all that we’ve done with our moments, or disappointed in what we’ve failed to do with those moments.

Right now I can choose to do nothing (and rest is sometimes the best thing we can do with a moment!), I can choose to do something simple for someone else or myself, I can choose to begin a project, I can choose to watch a good piece of entertainment–there are many, many things that I can do with my right now.  I can encourage someone, teach someone, help someone–or even hurt someone.  And while I hope to choose well and create a series of moments that will help me to feel fulfilled and happy with my life, I know that sometimes I’m going to choose unwisely.  And when those times come, I hope to accept them with dignity and move on to the next moment, and do with it something fun, unique, and interesting.  After all, life’s more fun that way!

The past is gone, and I don’t know what’s coming in the future.  It’s
obvious that if I want my life to be whole, to resonate with feeling and
integrity and value and health, there’s only one way I can influence the
future:  by owning the present.  If I can relate to this moment with
integrity, and then this moment with integrity, and then this moment
with integrity, wakefully, then the sum of that is going to be very different
over time, over mind moments that stretch out into what we call a life,
than a life that is lived mostly on automatic pilot, where we are reacting
and being mechanical and are therefore somewhat numb.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

19 April 2011

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to the earth, I know not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I know not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak,
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

18 April 2011


I get the feeling sometimes that many people would be happier if they would just realize how many privileges they have in life.  It’s very easy for us to take things for granted and to feel a sense of entitlement rather than privilege, and that can change the way we see many things in our lives.  I feel that it’s a privilege to teach young people, and therefore when I go to work I don’t feel that it’s a burden, and I don’t have huge expectations of everyone else, the kinds that would come with a sense of entitlement.  I feel that it’s a privilege to be married to my wife, so I don’t take her for granted and have unrealistic expectations of her.  Her first husband is a mentally and emotionally abusive person who definitely didn’t recognize the privilege he had in being married to her, and he treated her very poorly for many years until she finally left him.  Now she hates him, and she’s a person who isn’t prone to hating people at all.

When we think about it, everything that we do is a privilege based on the happenstance of us being born where we were, when we were.  We could have been born into poor families in war zones, into areas full of disease and squalor, into situations that were more difficult and horrible than we even could imagine.  Many people are born into such situations, and we’re very fortunate–and privileged–to be where we are.  No, I don’t mean to say that most people’s lives are easy or without problems, but many of the mistakes that we make come about because we simply don’t recognize the privileges that we do have, either because we take them for granted or because we become so focused on our problems that we aren’t able to see the privileges.

Life itself is a privilege, full of opportunities to learn and to love and to smell the flowers and the fresh air and feel the sunshine on our skin.  We get to meet people and see new things and visit new places.  We have sunsets and sunrises and rainbows and cool breezes.  Life is a privilege that we all share, and if we can only recognize that privilege, then we can experience life as an amazing blessing, one that didn’t require us to do anything to deserve it, but that gives wonderful things to us all day, every day.

When you arise in the morning,
think of what a precious privilege
it is to be alive - to breathe,
to think, to enjoy, to love.

Marcus Aurelius

16 April 2011


I love to think of the fact that I'm in the middle of eternity now.  I love to keep in mind that eternity doesn't start tomorrow, and it doesn't start on the day I day--eternity is going on right here, right now, and we're all right in the middle of it.

I am an eternal creature.  I'm not completely sure of the form I'll take when I leave this human form, or where I'll go or what I'll do, but I do know in my heart and with my spirit that I don't end when this body gives out.  And I was around before this body was created for me to grow and live in.  It's a pretty cool thought, and an amazing realization.

When we see life as just the trappings of our humanity, then we see life in a very small way.  We see its limitations, its lackings, its barriers.  When we see life for what it is, though--an amazing opportunity to experience this wonderful planet and the wonderful people all around during our limited time here--then we see the possibility and potential that should define who we are, all the time.

You are an eternal being.  It doesn't really serve you much to see yourself as anything but a marvelous, amazing, eternal creature who's spending time here in your body and your current persona, before moving on to something different, but surely just as amazing.  Do yourself a favor, and treat yourself as the marvelous eternal being that you truly are.  Don't make life small; live the grand and awesome life that you've been given.

Eternity is not something that begins after you're dead.
It is going on all the time.  We are in it now.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

15 April 2011

An excerpt

Several hours into the day, he noticed that the road ahead of him seemed to end—it climbed a hill, then ended in the middle of the air.  He knew that it probably kept going down the other side of the hill, of course, but how could he be sure?  He smiled as he thought about it—what would he do if the road didn’t continue?  Where would he go then?  What would he do?  He was pretty sure he didn’t have to worry about it, but it was interesting to think of.

     Then it struck him—the language he had learned had given him another way of thinking, another way of looking at things.  He remembered very few thoughts from the time before he had language—he had had many impressions, reactions, and feelings, but the language he had learned had given him the ability to think of things that he couldn’t see, that he couldn’t hear, that didn’t even exist.  Just a few days earlier, he would have just looked at the road; he would have just seen it and followed where it led.  Now, though, he was thinking about what would happen if the road stopped existing.

     Did the words give him this power of thought?

     He continued walking; he had nothing else to do, and he knew it was right to do so.  So he walked, and he thought.  And as he thought, he noticed that his preoccupation with the thoughts was turning him inwards; he wasn’t seeing nearly as much as he had seen on the road before.  During his first few days, he had seen everything, had felt the aliveness of the world around him, had felt as if he were a vital part of it.  Now, his eyes often fixed themselves to the dirt of the road before him as he walked, and at times he would walk a considerable distance without seeing anything except the dirt.  He stopped as the thought came to him, and he turned around.

     That tree—the magnificent tree that stretched so gracefully and powerfully into the sky, surrounded at its base by a field of colorful and playful wildflowers—how had he missed that?  How had he walked right past it without seeing it?

     And what else had he missed that he never again would have the chance to see?

     Tricia’s words came back to him, about her grandfather’s warning that she would see less and less of the harmony as she grew up.

     Was he growing up? he asked himself with dread.

     And if this was growing up, did he want to do so?

     The thoughts perplexed him—he felt a certain power in them, a certain sense of wholeness, but he also saw how they isolated him from the world around him.

     He tried to stop them, but now that he had the thoughts, he couldn’t stop thinking.  He found that he just started thinking about not thinking.

     He turned back around and started walking once more.  It was all so confusing.

14 April 2011

One Size Doesn't Fit All

There has been a disturbing trend in our view of education over the past few years, one that was propelled into dominance by a particular group of people, and that’s the trend of high-stakes standardized testing.  It seems that people who really have no knowledge at all of what education is all about or how people learn want to see quantifiable results of our educational system–they seem to see education as a “product” that can be measured, like a pound of sugar or ten feet of pipe.  But the simple fact is that education is not a product, but a process, and subjecting young people to standardized testing puts them in a very unfair position that’s often difficult for them to get through.

The chances are that you’ve been there yourself.  Most of us have taken standardized tests at one time or another in our lives.  The problem with these tests is that they don’t really measure knowledge or ability–rather, they test memorization skills and our test-taking abilities.  Anyone who suffers from test anxiety or whose memory isn’t as strong as another person’s is at a huge disadvantage when it comes to these tests.  My hope is that one day the tests go the way of the dinosaur, disappearing from the planet.

That’s my hope.  But my point is different.  We all are judged all through our lives on criteria that are established by other people, and much of who we are is a result of trying to meet those criteria.  Very rarely are we judged on what truly comes from inside of us–what are truly unique creations of the beings that we are.  Very often we are judged on what other people think we should be, as students, workers, spouses, parents, or any of the other roles that we play in our lives.

And the tragedy is that we allow ourselves to be judged by these outside standards, and we accept such judgments as the truth.

I do not run my classrooms in the same ways that other teachers do.  Some of those other teachers would definitely say that my classes don’t have enough “discipline” in them, and they’d do their best to change what I do if they were to be in one of my classes.  But my major concern in my classes is to treat my students with respect and dignity–and I honestly don’t feel that I can do that if I’m trying to control their behavior every moment of every class.  My students do learn, but I try to see their learning in things other than tests and papers.

The most important thing to me, though, is that I’ve found the confidence and knowledge to reject certain paradigms about classroom management and to trust my own instincts about how I should run my classes and treat my students.  And it truly doesn’t bother me if anyone criticizes my approach–it’s a result of a combination of who I am, what I’ve learned in my degree work, and what my experience tells me is effective and ineffective.

Who are you?  What works for you in what you do?  Are you willing to stand up for what you do and how you do it?  Are you willing to accept yourself for exactly who you are–and celebrate your uniqueness, being proud of who you are and what you do?  When you reach the point of being accepting of yourself and your gifts, you’ll definitely find life to be a much more exciting and joyful place for you, as you create beautiful expressions of who you are in all that you do.

You know that I don't believe that anyone has ever taught anything
to anyone.  I question the efficacy of teaching.  The only thing
that I know is that anyone who wants to learn will learn.  And maybe
a teacher is a facilitator, a person who puts things down and shows
people how exciting and wonderful it is and asks them to eat.
Carl Rogers 

13 April 2011

Edmund Pollard

I would I had thrust my hands of flesh
Into the disk-flowers bee-infested,
Into the mirror-like core of fire
Of the light of life, the sun of delight.
For what are anthers worth or petals
Or halo-rays? Mockeries, shadows
Of the heart of the flower, the central flame!
All is yours, young passer-by;
Enter the banquet room with the thought;
Don't sidle in as if you were doubtful
Whether you're welcome--the feast is yours!
Nor take but a little, refusing more
With a bashful "Thank you," when you're hungry.
Is your soul alive? Then let it feed!
Leave no balconies where you can climb;
Nor milk-white bosoms where you can rest;
Nor golden heads with pillows to share;
Nor wine cups while the wine is sweet;
Nor ecstasies of body or soul,
You will die, no doubt, but die while living
In depths of azure, rapt and mated,
Kissing the queen-bee, Life!

Edgar Lee Masters
from Spoon River Anthology

12 April 2011

My Legacy

I’ve often heard the question:  If you were to die today, what kind of legacy would you leave behind?

I prefer to ask myself another question, though:  Because I know that I’m going to die someday, what am I going to contribute to my legacy today?

There are many things that we can contribute to life today.  Encouraging, teaching, helping, giving, sharing, loving, smiling, being patient. . . . none of these are all that difficult to do, and all of them can leave a positive mark on the lives of other people with whom we share this planet.

Our legacy doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with money or major contributions to charities.  Perhaps our legacies won’t have anything to do with money at all.  Perhaps I’ll be remembered as a person who helped others to push ahead in life simply through encouragement and teaching.  Maybe people will remember me as someone who gave of his time and energy to help others reach their goals and make their lives more fulfilling.

And perhaps I won’t be remembered at all.  But that’s okay, too–some of the most important legacies of all never shall be recognized as the valuable contributions to our world that they are.  This is often the case with people who have devoted themselves to being loving, compassionate parents, or people who have worked their whole lives long behind the scenes, never getting or taking credit for what they do.

But the bottom line is this:  In order to make my legacy what I’d like it to be, I must work at it, help it to grow, and continue to contribute to it.  So what can I do today to add to my legacy?  One day I will surely die, and what will I leave behind as my contribution to this world and the animals, people, and plants that live in it?

11 April 2011

What Is Right Living?

What is right living? Just to do your best
When worst seems easier. To bear the ills
Of daily life with patient cheerfulness
Nor waste dear time recounting them.
      To talk
Of hopeful things when doubt is in the air.
To count your blessings often, giving thanks,
And to accept your sorrows silently,
Nor question why you suffer. To accept
The whole of life as one perfected plan,
And welcome each event as part of it.
To work, and love your work; to trust, to pray
For larger usefulness and clearer sight.
This is right living, pleasing in God's eyes,
Though you be heathen, heretic or Jew.

Ellen Wheeler Wilcox (1880's)

10 April 2011

Hard on Yourself

If you’re like most people, you’re pretty hard on yourself.  You judge yourself pretty quickly, and you’re pretty harsh when you do so.  Never mind that you wouldn’t judge others nearly as harshly as you judge yourself, for you’re able to convince yourself that you deserve your judgment, while others deserve sympathy and compassion from you.

I recognize this trait in others because I've suffered from it myself.  And while I sometimes try to kid myself that I’m over it and have been for a while, I know in my heart that this simply isn’t true.  I judge myself harshly, and it’s not easy for me to forgive myself for silly or stupid or ignorant things that I’ve done.  And this hurts me, for it keeps me hanging on to my past, while I should be much more focused on the present.

I made a mistake a few days ago, and I’m still pretty upset at myself for having done so.  It doesn’t really matter what that mistake was, and most people probably would think nothing of it.  But every time I think about it, I cringe.  I wish I could have that time back, and I feel a momentary twinge of guilt and anxiety for having made that mistake.  It takes me a few moments to remind myself that it’s over, that I’ve made amends for it, and that I need to leave it in the past, where it belongs.  But even as I write about it now, I’m wishing that I could re-do what I did then.

I know that part of my tendency to beat myself up over mistakes is a pretty common trait of Adult Children of Alcoholics.  As one of those people, I have to keep in mind that I will show some of the traits inherent in growing up in a household with an alcoholic as one of the parents.  But on the other hand, I do know this already, so my mind tells me that it should be possible to rid myself of my tendency to be so hard on myself, to lower my expectations of myself to more realistic levels.  My mind can say that, but it’s also my mind that tends to judge me and make me feel the guilt and anxiety that result from my previous mistakes.

What purpose does it serve for you to be unnecessarily hard on yourself?  If you were to sit down and write down the positive effects of being so and the negative effects, how long do you think each list would be?  I know that for me, there’s no real purpose served in beating myself up and making myself miserable over things that already have gone by, as long as I’ve made amends to any people to whom I’ve made amends.  Life is about living in the present moment, and when I pull myself into a negative moment of the past, what am I doing to my present?

I’ve decided that this is one of my major goals for the time being–to work on being less harsh with myself, judging myself more fairly and without unrealistically high expectations.  I want to be kind to people, and I want to do good things, but I don’t feel that I deserve the harsh feelings that I give myself over relatively minor mistakes.  When I can leave them in the past, where they belong–after having learned from them–then I can free myself up to live more fully and completely in the now.  And that’s a beautiful place to live.

My imperfections and failures are as much
a blessing from God as my successes and my
talents and I lay them both at his feet.

09 April 2011

Something to Consider in These Days

from Ralph Waldo Trine, writing in 1896:

Of the many thousands of men who have been in our American Congress since its beginning, and of the very, very small number comparatively that you are able to call to mind, possibly not over fifty, which would be about one out of every six hundred or more, you will find that you are able to call to mind each one of this very small number on account of his standing for some measure or principle that would to the highest degree increase the human welfare, thus truly fulfilling the great office of a statesman.

The one great trouble with our country today is that we have but few statesmen. We have a great swarm, a great hoard of politicians; but it is only now and then that we find a man who is large enough truly to deserve the name statesman. The large majority in public life today are there, not for the purpose of serving the best interests of those whom they am supposed to represent, but they are there purely for self, purely for self-aggrandizement, in this form or in that, as the case may be. . . .

08 April 2011

Common Sense

I love the term "common sense."  I also like what it means--the idea that some things just make sense on a very simple and common level is very important to me, especially when I start to get overwhelmed by people who seem to think that everything in the world has to be complex and complicated.  "Common" sense is something that can help us to get to the crux of matters in our lives swiftly and simply, and it's important to me to try to find the most common-sensical answers that I can find to problems in my life.

I've known some people who had great common sense, and I've always loved being around them.  They always have seemed to be able to get to the heart of any issues that were facing them or others, for they didn't allow themselves to get bogged down in all the peripheral crap that makes up so much of our lives sometimes.  They don't worry about impressing other people or getting any credit for what they do or say--they just say what they think the situation calls for, and they're usually right on with the way that they read the needs of the moment.

If I had my choice between being stuck in a forest with a person with five Ph.D.'s and a person with a bunch of common sense, guess which person I'd choose?  That's right--it would be the one who most likely could help me to survive in difficult situations, the one who can find quick and practical and relevant solutions to our problems when necessary.

I think the only thing wrong with common sense these days is the fact that there seems to be less and less of it around as time goes on.  There are fewer people who value common sense, fewer people who spend time trying to learn it.  These days, it seems, information is king, and most people spend most of their time learning information--or even trivia, for that matter.  But sometimes it may be better for us to step back from situations that we face and ask ourselves, in all seriousness, just what approach makes the most common sense.  The answer more than likely to such a question will be just the answer we were looking and hoping for.

Everybody gets so much information all day long
that they lose their common sense.             

Gertrude Stein