29 June 2011

All Kinds of People

One of the things that’s so fascinating about teaching is the number of people that you meet.  At my school I don’t meet just students; I also meet lots of other teachers, most of whom do things very differently in their classrooms than I ever would or could.  I couldn’t even imagine structuring my classes the ways they approach theirs, or working the ways they do, or managing discipline problems the ways they do.  And there was a time in my life when that would have bothered me, when I would have wondered how they could possibly be so unenlightened that they weren’t doing things the way that I do things.

That’s in my past now, though.  I recognize now that one of the most valuable parts of having so many different people doing things in such different ways is that our students are exposed to a variety of methods for dealing with issues and problems, and they can see that no one method is necessarily better or more effective.  I’ve chosen my methods because they fit who I am as a person, because they feel more genuine to me as a human being.  But other teachers need to find their own methods, and those methods have to fit who they are as human beings.  The world is an incredibly and beautifully diverse place, and that diversity requires us to do things that are true and unique to ourselves, if we’re to honor that diversity.

So when I hear that another person has chosen to deal with problems in a way that I never would choose, I now don’t think of concepts like “right” and “wrong.”  I don’t think that the person should have chosen another way (unless it’s obvious that they’ve harmed someone with their actions).  Now I look for the wisdom in their choice, and I try to keep in mind that just because something doesn’t work for me doesn’t mean that it’s not completely right for someone else.

You are who you are, and I am who I am.  I’ll let you be who you are, and I hope that you’ll let me be who I am.  And just because I like chocolate ice cream doesn’t mean that I’ll expect you to like it, too.  Because you are a beautiful and unique creation of our creator, and you’ve been given your own tastes, your own ways of looking at things.  And when you’re true to who you are, you’re contributing something quite beautiful to our world.  And why would I want to change that?

Diversity is not about how we differ.
Diversity is about embracing one another's uniqueness.

Ola Joseph

28 June 2011

This, Too, Shall Pass

What do we do when our worlds seem to turn upside-down?  In most of our lives, such changes are usually personal, caused by deaths and personal changes and tragedies, but in the world of today, the changes are affecting the entire world, and there seems to be little or nothing that we can do on a personal level to protect ourselves, our livings, or our lifestyles.  The changes are coming from the banks and the stock markets and the politicians with whom we really have no first-hand contact at all.  So in addition to the worries about our ability to continue to get by, we also can feel a sense of helplessness as our assets--which we've worked hard to build and maintain--dwindle into much smaller numbers, with little to no hope of recovery coming soon.

But it can be very helpful to remind ourselves that millions upon millions of people have made their ways through times that have been much worse than our current situations.  Yes, we are facing challenges and problems on levels that we've never seen before, but it's important that we not succumb to the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that threaten us perhaps even more than the realities of the situations themselves.  These feelings are the part of our lives that can cause us to treat our families and friends differently, that can cause us to fall into depression or despair, that can cause us to act in ways that we wouldn't act in during "better" times, perhaps even taking risks that we normally never would consider if we hadn't lost all that we've lost recently.

The experiences that others have passed through can remind us in very positive ways that this, too, shall pass.  Better times shall come again, come they in two weeks or two years.  Our goals should be simple--to modify our lives and our lifestyles in ways that will help us and our loved ones to pass through these times in ways that are as pleasant as possible.  We should be looking to minimize the potential damage to ourselves and to our financial situations as much as possible.  We should be thinking of ways that we can help others who are hit harder than we are by what's going on in the world.  And we should be doing our best to accept that most of what's going on in the world is simply out of our control, and that while we'd like to exercise control over "bigger picture" things like a roller-coaster stock market, trying to do so will simply drive us mad without providing us with any benefit at all.

It's not easy to do these things.  Most of us haven't really needed to before.  But if we remind ourselves and truly believe that "this, too, shall pass," then we can face the difficulties of the present with balance and with a positive perspective as we do our best to minimize the damage and maximize our potential benefits during very difficult times.  Millions of people have lived through much worse than we're going through now, and the factors that determine more than any others just how we get through such times are perspective and attitude.  If we can keep those healthy in ourselves, then we can find and make many positive moments in the midst of very difficult times.

22 June 2011

Just a Note. . . .

For the summer months, I'll be able to add posts only two days a week, possibly three, since my wife and I will be living in a campsite by a lake in the mountains and there's no Internet access there at all.  My apologies in advance, but trust me--we'll do our best to enjoy our surroundings!

In Their Shoes

One of the most important pieces of advice that I’ve ever heard is not to judge people until you’ve walked in their shoes.  Another important piece of advice for me is to listen to advice from other people who have learned through experience.

You see, almost everyone has heard the advice about walking in other people’s shoes.  Most people, though, don’t take advice like that to heart, and thus they lose the opportunity to learn some very important things about life and living.

Something very important about walking in other people’s shoes is the fact that it’s about the only way that we can learn true compassion.  When we see what other people are going through and try to understand it through the framework of our own feelings and experiences, then we simply can’t understand the truth of what they’re going through.  If we try to open our minds to understanding that there are other ways to experience things, we just might get a small indication of what it’s like to feel what they’re feeling.

And only when we get that small indication can we begin to feel compassion.  Only then can we accept that even if someone is experiencing things in ways that I never have, that doesn’t change their pain or their joy or their confusion or their satisfaction.  When we can step back and allow others to experience life in their own ways, then we can start to feel a part of a greater whole–then we can truly feel part of the human race.

Everyone is living his or her unique life.  That’s the beauty of being part of a world of individuals.  Our job isn’t necessarily to understand what others are going through or controlling it or fixing it, but simply allowing it to be and responding to it not according to what we think is expected of us, but according to what our true, sincere and authentic reaction is, the one that feels best to us as kind, considerate, compassionate human beings.

When life's problems seem overwhelming, look around and see
what other people are coping with.  You may consider yourself fortunate.

Ann Landers

21 June 2011

Eternity Can't Arrive

I heard a line in a song today about waiting for eternity, or preparing for arriving in eternity.  The gist of the message was that once this life is over, we become eternal beings, and we somehow enter into eternity.  I wanted to tell the singer not to wait, because eternity’s never going to arrive, and we’re never going to “enter into” eternity even after we die.  The simple fact of the matter is that eternity is going on right now.  Eternity is here, and it always has been.  There’s no way really to step out of eternity, for we’re completely immersed in it, our entire lives long.

A concept like eternity really doesn’t allow for a beginning and an end.  It always is, always has been, and always will be.  So it makes little sense to be “preparing ourselves for our eternal afterlives,” as some religions teach us we should be doing.  You and I are already in eternity, and we’re living eternal lives right now.

I love the idea that we are eternal beings experiencing a short experience on this planet as human beings.  We aren’t mortal creatures longing for eternity, but eternal creatures here for a while.  We are not our bodies, but our spirits–the bodies simply allow us to experience humanity in its earthly form.

I don’t claim to know what forms we take in our eternal essence.  I’ve forgotten that.  But I do know that as eternal beings, we were somewhere.  Wordsworth wrote that “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;/The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,/Hath had elsewhere its setting,/And cometh from afar:/Not in entire forgetfulness,/And not in utter nakedness,/But trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home:/Heaven lies about us in our infancy!”  And I feel very strongly that he was right.

So look about yourself.  Recognize the eternal aspect of everything in your sight, and recognize the eternal elements of who you truly are.  Get to know yourself on an eternal level, and you’ll start to see the many wonderful gifts that we’ve been given with which to enjoy this experience here as much as you can.  You are eternal, and eternity is right now–it always has been, and it always shall be.

Our creator would never have made such lovely days and have given us
the deep hearts to enjoy them, above and beyond all thought,
unless we were meant to be immortal.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

15 June 2011

In Love with It All

I don't know how the word "love" has been ruined over the course of the last few thousand years, but it's quite a shame that it has.  It's now somewhat unacceptable for people to tell each other that they love one another unless they happen to be in the same family or bound together by deep feelings.  It's impossible for people to tell other people that they love them in most circumstances--in fact, I would hazard a guess that most people don't even consider the question of whether they truly love their co-workers, people they know socially, their teachers or students, their friends.

But love is a marvelous word that holds very special meaning.  It doesn't necessarily carry the sexual implications that we tend to associate with it, and it doesn't mean that someone is going to make us awkward when they love us but we don't "love" them back.  Love simply means love--and we can say without hesitation that God loves us, but heaven help me if I say that I love someone I work with or someone who isn't a spouse or a family member.  The word then carries a lot of awkwardness and becomes problematic, even if it isn't being used in its true sense at all.  It would be nice first of all if we could truly explore the possibility that we love people we know, and it would also be nice if we could share our feelings of love without worrying about how someone's going to react, or what kinds of problems we could create simply by telling someone we love them.

Love is supposed to be universal, and it's supposed to be unconditional.  I should be able to love the cashier at the supermarket as much as I love someone closer to me, without all the innuendo or hidden assumptions of what comes with love.  I should be able to love a man as much as I love a woman--and I can love my brother or father--but because most people associate love with sex, they start to see other problems in a declaration of love for a friend or associate who happens to be of the same gender.

Free yourself for love's sake.  Our task on this earth is to love, and that doesn't mean just your partner or just your family members.  Love all that you can.  It may be in your best interests not to tell everyone you love that you love them--you'll probably avoid a lot of misunderstandings if you refrain from doing so--but that shouldn't keep you from recognizing the love and choosing your actions and words from a loving place rather than from a neutral place.  And when we can treat others from the loving parts of our hearts, then their lives will benefit from receiving unconditional love that places no expectations on them.  And when we can contribute in a positive way to other people's lives, then we're making the world a better place, aren't we?

A life of love is difficult, but it is not a bleak or unrewarding life.  In fact,
it is the only true human and happy life, for it is filled with concerns
that are as deep as life, as wide as the whole world, and as far reaching
as eternity.  It is only when we have consented to love, and have agreed
to forget ourselves, that we can find our fulfillment.  This fulfillment
will come unperceived and mysterious like the grace of God, but we
will recognize it and it will be recognized in us.

John Powell

14 June 2011

Some thoughts from Donna Fargo

Ten Thoughts to Help You Avoid Discouragement

1.  Look at life as a journey and enjoy the ride.  Get the most out of the detours and realize they're sometimes necessary.

2.  Do your best, but if what you're doing has caused you discouragement, try a different approach.  Be passionate about the process, but don't be so attached to the outcome.

3.  Wish the best for everyone, with no personal strings attached.  Applaud someone else's win as much as you would your own.

4.  Trust that there's a divine plan, that we don't always know what's best for us.  A disappointment now could mean a victory later, so don't be disappointed.  There is usually a reason.

5.  Ask no more of yourself than the best that you can do, and be satisfied with that.  Be compassionate towards yourself as well as others.  Know your calling, your gift, and do it well.

6.  Don't worry about something after it's done; it's out of your hands then, too late, over!  Learn the lesson and move on.

7.  Have the attitude that no one, except you, owes you anything.  Give without expecting a thank-you in return.  But when someone does something for you, be appreciative of even the smallest gesture.

8.  Choose your thoughts or your thoughts will choose you; they will free you or keep you bound.  Educate your spirit and give it authority over your feelings.

9.  Judge no one, and disappointment and forgiveness won't be an issue.  No one can let you down if you're not leaning on them.  People can't hurt you unless you allow them to.

10.  Love anyway. . . for no reason. . . and give. . . just because.

13 June 2011

Simple Decisions

My wife and I went hiking this morning, just a bit over 4 miles up a mountain and then back.  We left early because we always leave early for hikes.  We know how tiring they are, and we know that as the sun gets higher and the day gets hotter, it can be pretty miserable to still be out in the sun hiking.

We’re always amazed at the number of people who are just starting out on their hikes when we’re getting back.  We’re also amazed at the number of these people who look simply miserable because they’re already overheated and feeling exhausted because of the heat.

To us, it’s a simple decision–leave early and we never have to deal with excessive heat while we’re climbing up a mountain.  Every time we hike, though, we see people who haven’t made that decision, and who are suffering because of it.  They want to make it to the summit, but the task is much, much more difficult when they start late and are climbing during the hottest part of the day.  I wouldn’t think anything of it if these people looked like they were having fun, but most of them don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves at all–they’re just climbing because they decided to climb, and they’re going to reach the summit come hell or high water.

Life is so often about simple decisions.  If I know it’s going to be hot, do I want to be in the last half of a four-hour hike after noon?  Absolutely not.  If I have to get up at five tomorrow morning and I have control over what time I go to bed, do I want to stay up until midnight?  Nope.  If I know that I have a project due at work tomorrow and I’m not finished, do I still turn on the football game and watch it?  Hardly.

Of course, we can’t make other people’s decisions for them, but we certainly can make our own.  And most of them aren’t that complicated at all–situations generally get complicated when we make poor decisions to begin with and we have to start dealing with the results of the decisions.  For example, I’ve seen many people hiking late in the day with no water at all in the Grand Canyon–and they’ve brought all three kids with them.  When they turn around and start up the trail to climb out of the Canyon, you can believe that they’re going to be facing some serious problems with their thirsty and hungry kids who would rather be anywhere else.

Life’s often like a hike–we constantly have to make decisions as to where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.  And if the decisions are pretty simple, so much the better–let’s just try to make the decisions that will keep things simple so that we can avoid the fallout that almost always comes from making poor decisions.

We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals.

Stephen Covey

10 June 2011

A Thought

A few years ago, I sat on my son's bedroom floor folding some baby clothes that he'd outgrown. I could feel the sadness and regret creeping in, but I wanted so badly to feel OK about the passage of time. I quickened my pace to push the pain away. I wanted the moment to be over. Suddenly, though, I looked up and notices a very blue sky staring down through the window. Just feel it, I said to myself, as I slowed down, trying to focus on the task in front of me. I held a shirt close to my face and inhaled as deeply as I could. My heart seemed to crack and fill up at the same time as feelings of hope and loss collided right there in a pile of little boy's old clothes. When I finally got up to leave the room, I wasn't sad anymore. Instead, I thought about the miraculous growth of a child, whose shirt size is less about loss and more about the gift of life itself.

I don't know if you can live inside each and every moment. But when you can, try to stop, look, and listen long enough to be right where you are, not in your past, not in your future. Just right in the middle of a split second in time. -Leslie Levine

09 June 2011

I Don't Know Why

One of my favorite songs comes from Shawn Colvin, and it starts out “I don’t why the sky is so blue.”  I love the simplicity of the line, and I love the idea behind it–that we don’t necessarily need to know why the sky is so blue.  It simply is, and it’s beautiful that way, isn’t it?  There are many things in life that I just want to accept as they are and enjoy.  I don’t need to explain them, to analyze them, to change them, or even to think about them too much.  They are as they are, and that’s fine.

Knowing about things is fine, too.  I know why and how leaves change their colors in autumn, and that knowledge is interesting to me when I see autumn foliage.  On the other hand, that knowledge does absolutely nothing to deepen the feeling I get when I come across a stand of trees that has changed colors and that sits brilliantly in the sunlight under blue skies on a crisp, clear autumn day.  I don’t need to know anything about the scene when I see it; I simply feel the amazement that such a view creates inside of me.

Sometimes I get the feeling that many of us are drowning in information.  We have access to information at levels unprecedented in human history, and few of us have slowed down enough from the gathering and organizing of such information to consider the possibility that we have too much information.  Is all that we know helping us, or is it hurting us?  Could we be spending the time that we spend on information focused on something more valuable to us, such as developing our spiritual lives, our prayer lives, or our relationships with others?  For some people, the more information the better–but they don’t ever step back to consider that they may be using their information-gathering as an escape from more pressing matters such as knowing themselves, their spouses, their children, or their siblings better.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter a bit if we don’t know why or how something happens, or how something is made.  When all is said and done, after all, there’s simply far too much to know in this world as it is for one lifetime.  There’s no way that we can know everything, so why do so many of us try to do so?  There are many things in this world that I never will know, and that’s fine with me–I don’t have to know about them.  There are many people who do know about them, and I’ll leave them to know their field, and I’ll try to focus on getting really good in my fields.

As a teacher, it’s been somewhat difficult for me to accept that there are many things that I’ll never know.  I like explaining things to my students.  I sometimes feel bad when I can’t explain them.  But now I also like saying “I don’t know,” and referring them to a source where they can find answers to their questions.  I don’t need to know everything, even if I am a teacher.

Knowledge is great when I’m taking tests, when I need to explain something to my students, or when I want to make myself look good in a social setting.  But it’s not always necessary.  Do I need to know why sunsets get so colorful in order to enjoy them?  No, I don’t.  Do I need to know why a baby’s laugh makes me smile whenever I hear it?  Nope.  Do I need to know the aerodynamic principles involved in a butterfly’s ability to fly in order to marvel at the beauty of its flight?  No way.  These things simply are, and they are marvelous, and they make my life richer even if I know absolutely nothing about them.

08 June 2011

A Thought

I walked slowly out on the beach. A few yards below high-water mark I stopped and read the words again:
   I let the paper blow away, reached down and picked up a fragment of shell.  Kneeling there under the vault of the sky, I wrote several words, one above the other.
   Then I walked away, and I did not look back.  I had written my troubles on the sand.
   The tide was coming in.

Arthur Gordon

07 June 2011

On Family

I truly envy those people who have grown up in strong families in which they've received encouragement and help since day one.  These people aren't necessarily those who change the world or fight and claw their way to the top of things, but they're the people who go about life with a quiet satisfaction, who look at success and failure both as normal parts of life, who know always that there is someone there to help them, no matter how bad any situation may get.  These are the people who make good friends, for they're used to being treated like people, not like kids, and they're used to a life that's full of realistic expectations.

Family life must include discipline, but too often discipline turns into a reflection of the authority figure's own insecurities.  An insecure person disciplines far too much or not at all, and both are disastrous for children.

Family life must include love, unconditional love, but that love must be tempered with realistic expectations of children and of spouses, and when someone isn't living up to those expectations, that someone must be held accountable for his or her actions.

Family life must include security, but risk-taking must also be modeled.  Life without risk is no life at all--it's stagnant and boring, and nothing new is invited in ever, so no one learns more about life and other people.

In his novel Island, Aldous Huxley explores the concept of community as family, and explores a culture in which everyone sees everyone else as family--if a child isn't getting along with his or her parents at the moment, he or she goes to live with someone else for a few days.  The parents don't see this as a threat to their love or authority--they see it as a natural cooling-down period, a time for reflection and for taking a break from each other.

So many family problems come about because we're insecure--we're afraid someone won't love us any more, we're afraid they won't respect us, we're afraid we'll lose our security.  The people I know from strong families never fear any of these things--they know that love is strong and that the ties that bind are healthy and loving and secure, and they're able to give much more to others and to themselves because they know that they're supported.

I guess the problem is this:  What if our families aren't like this?

The answer is simple--look for family members.  Not all of our brothers were born into our biological family.  I have more sisters than my biological ones--they're people whom i love dearly, and who will always be there for me.  I've met other parents, and my second mother is as dear to me as my biological mother, though the tie that I have with my biological mother will never be matched.  Find the people who accept you for who you are, and who love you for being that person.  Look for sisters or brothers, not lovers, and your world will be transformed into a lovely, secure place in which even the disasters that are bound to happen won't destroy you or those you love, for you're part of a huge family that one day will recognize itself as such--the human race.

06 June 2011

In Its Own Way

One of my favorite songs of all time is "Everything Is Beautiful," by Ray Stevens.  Just the title is enough to make me like it, but the lyrics, too, are very positive and life-affirming.  My favorite line of the song is an age-old concept:  "Everything is beautiful in its own way."

What surprises me sometimes is just how often we try not to let things be beautiful in their own ways.  This is especially true of people--we try to get them to conform to our ideas of good and beautiful, not their own.  We tell our children what clothes to wear, we criticize our partners when they dress in ways that we don't think are becoming, and we make jokes about the ways that people look and talk and act.  Is it possible when we do this that we're simply not seeing the beauty that's there within them?  That's my guess--somehow we've grown blind to the beauty that's in all of us and we see only what we perceive as flaws in our mixed-up, judgmental ways.

What good does it do us to criticize others?  Well, other than giving ourselves a false sense of self-righteous control, none.  In fact, if our criticism causes anything to change in someone else's life, then it actually harms us, for it robs the world that we live in of another unique individual and adds to the world another conformist who probably won't give anything new and different to the world because that person no longer sees her or himself as a unique person with unique talents that can be used to make truly unique contributions to our world.

Everything is beautiful in its own way.  That includes you, and that includes me.  So let's you and I act that way today and tomorrow and the next day.  Let's act like truly unique, beautiful people who are on this planet to help to make it a richer, even more beautiful place.  Your gifts truly are fantastic, and sharing them with the world is a beautiful thing to do.

Everything is beautiful in its own way,
Like a starry summer night, or a snow-covered winter day.
Everybody's beautiful in their own way,
Under God's heaven, the world's gonna find the way.

Ray Stevens

03 June 2011

I'd Like Them to Hear

School's almost out.  Just two more days of finals to go, and the students will have two months off to do as they please.  As always, the school year has been a mixed bag--lots of students doing very well, but even more doing rather poorly, performing nowhere near their potential.  It's rather sad to watch, but it happens every year.  There are so many things that I wish I could have them hear.  I'd say that I wish I could tell them, but I do tell them.  No, these things I'd like them actually to hear and to take to heart, for if they did they could accomplish so much more and make their lives so much richer.

I'd like them to hear that their unique perspectives are valuable and worthwhile.  And that the only way that other people are going to benefit from their unique perspectives is if they share them, either through writing or speaking or even asking questions.  When they sit there without saying anything day after day, they learn little and they share less.

I'd like them to hear that their learning will be valuable to them, if they learn well.  If they do only the bare minimum of studying and writing and doing homework, then they'll learn the bare minimum and they'll have barely minimal value to offer to others in terms of skill or knowledge.

I'd like them to hear that the habits they build now are going to stick with them for the rest of their lives.  Why not build positive, fulfilling habits?

I'd like them to hear that they're special, and take that specialness to heart.  If they treated themselves as something special--as someone deserving of respect--then they wouldn't be able to help treating others that way, too.

There are other things that I'd like them to hear, but this is a good start.  After all, we wouldn't want to overwhelm them with too much stuff, would we?  If I could just get my students to hear some things like these, then we'd be well on our way to helping the world to be a better place.

02 June 2011

I no longer feel that life is ordinary. Everyday life is filled with mystery. The things we know are only a small part of the things we cannot know but can only glimpse. Yet even the smallest of glimpses can sustain us. Mystery seems to have the power to comfort, to offer hope, and to lend meaning in times of loss and pain. In surprising ways it is the mysterious that strengthens us in such times. I used to try to offer people certainty in times which were not at all certain and could not be made certain. I now just offer my companionship and share my sense of mystery, of the possible, of wonder.

Rachel Naomi Remen

01 June 2011

When you walk outside today, try to look around yourself a bit and see some of the magic that surrounds you everywhere.  Do you see that tree over there?  It was once a small seed that has grown into a sturdy tree that provides the world with oxygen and shade and beauty.  And that person across the street?  Well, that person was once two separate elements, one in the body of a man and one in the body of a woman--those two things came together and started to grow into a child that was born nine months later.  Over the years, it's become the person you see before you.

How about that car driving down the street?  It's an amazing combination of metals and plastics that can cover thousands of miles over the course of many years at over 100 miles per hour, all the while providing you with a safe and comfortable place to sit as it takes you where you wish to go.  And it does all this by burning gasoline, which is a liquid distilled from the liquid remains of organic life that was here on this planet thousands, even millions of years ago.  It sounds like magic to me. . . .

It's pretty magical that we can turn a faucet and get hot and cold water on demand.  I love being able to put a plastic disc with a thin aluminum coating on one side and hearing music that a group of people made years ago through a sound system that depends upon vibrations to bring us the sounds.  And when it's really cold outside, I can turn on the heat in my home and feel not just warm, but cozy, also.  It's kind of magical, when you think about it.

It's magic how people connect when they like each other; it's magic to see fireworks and movies and beautiful paintings; it's magic when I type a message on my computer, click a button on my mouse and send a message all the way to the other side of the planet!

There's tons of magic all around us, every moment of every day, and it's up to us to open our eyes and our hearts to see it, feel it, and love it!

The world is full of magic things, patiently
waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

John Keats