31 October 2011

A Nice Passage on Attitude

It is not the events of today that happened to you that matter (such as that you lost something or something went wrong or someone forgot you or spoke to you harshly, etc.), but how you reacted to it all--that is, what states of yourself you were in--for it is here that your real life lies and if our inner states were right nothing in the nature of external states could overcome us.  Try therefore to distinguish, as an exercise in living more consciously, between inner states and outer events, and try to meet any outer event, after noticing its nature, with the right inner attitude--that is, with the right state.

And if you cannot, think afterward about it--first try to define the nature of the event and notice if this kind of event often comes to you and try to see it more clearly in terms such as "This is called being late" or "This is called losing things" or "This is called receiving bad news" or "This is called unpleasant surprises" or "This is called being ill."  Begin in this very simple way and you will soon see how different personal events, and so how in this respect one's outer life, are changing all the time, and what you could not do at one moment, you can at another.

Maurice Nicoll

30 October 2011

Hard Times, New Habits

I read a story in the paper recently about a man who has moved into a smaller apartment nearer to his job because of the current recession (and even though some economists claim the actual recession is over, most of the people I know are still living through it).  He now walks to work most of the time, and he doesn't have nearly as many possessions as he used to.  He seems pretty happy, too, which isn't a surprise because this recession is causing him to do many things that many people say lead to happiness--even if he isn't following a pre-planned program.

One of the most common paths to happiness is letting go of possessions.  When we let our possession rule our lives, then we can't reach a point at which we're free from them.  And possessions can take us over and rule us when we place too much importance on them and their maintenance.  When my wife and I spent a year living in an RV, we had one of the best years of our lives--we had almost no possessions at all, and it was great.

He's also walking or biking to work, which gives him the chance to improve his health on a regular basis.  He's not tied to his car, and he's not spending much of his money on fuel for that car, giving him much more financial independence.  He probably also is noticing more about the world around him, and the nature that surrounds him as he sees the differences in air temperature, types of weather, types of wind, and all the things that affect him much more now that he's out in the fresh air much more often.

He's also learning to be satisfied with less--less space, fewer possessions that will fit in that space, and so on.  After all, it's not what we have or where we are that determines our happiness, but whether or not we're able to find satisfaction with what we have or where we are.

I would in no way say that this recession is a blessing, especially considering the ways that it was brought about by people who cared more about money and profit than they cared about ethics and honesty.  But it is what it is, and we can do ourselves a great favor by looking for the positive in anything that is, for there most definitely is positive in there.  It may be hard to find and it may not be obvious today, but it is there.  What good can come from difficult times?  Well, it changes for each of us, and we all have to do our own looking, our own reflecting, and our own finding.

28 October 2011

A Little Exploring

My wife and I went for a walk today around a beautiful mountain lake.  It was a great day–the weather was warm, the sky and the water were brilliant shades of blue, we had a nice breeze, the smell of the pines was almost intoxicating–everything was perfect.  The only thing that seemed out of place was the fact that we had never been on a walk at this beautiful place before, even though it’s only about fifteen minutes from where we live.  We’ve lived here for almost ten months now, and even though we had been to the lake once before, we never had taken the time to get out of the car and spend some quality time there.

Whenever something like this happens, it gets me to wondering just how many other beautiful places are nearby.  How many places are within a quick drive from where we live?  There’s so much beauty in the world, and so much of it is so close to us already, yet we so rarely take the opportunity to go out and actually see it and enjoy it.  Sometimes we don’t even make the effort to find it in the first place!

Now, my wife and I do explore–we’ve seen plenty of other beautiful places in our area.  And we both work quite a lot, with relatively few days off together, so we don’t exactly have every waking moment to explore.  But if we do want to get the most out of where we live, it’s important that we find out just what we have to take advantage of in our own back yard!  I’ve never lived anywhere that didn’t have some beautiful places within walking distance, or at least a short drive or bus ride away.  It’s so easy for us to accept what we know as the limits of our potential experiences, and when we do this, we close the door on the possibility of discovering new and beautiful places that can help us to get more out of the days that we pass on this planet.  Today we watched a bald eagle soar and we felt a cool breeze while we gazed upon a beautiful lake, and our day was exceptional because of it.  Then we stopped at a charming restaurant that overlooks the lake and had coffee and cake.  All in all, it was a beautiful experience.  And all this time, all this was just ten or fifteen minutes away.

It gets me to wondering what might be twenty or thirty minutes away in another direction.

Just what might be fifteen minutes away from you that may add significantly to your life?  I’ll bet if you were to do some exploring, you just might find something quite special. . . .

27 October 2011

Reaping What We Sow

It's harvest time in much of the world.  Apples are being picked, grain is being harvested, and many other gifts of the land are being taken from where they've been growing to places where they can be processed so that we can eat them.  Farmers in many different parts of the world are reaping the benefits of all that they sowed many weeks ago, all that they've cared for and nurtured during the growing season, all that they've put so much effort into growing.

It's harvest time in all of our lives, too, but this is a harvest that goes on every day.  Each day of our lives we collect a harvest of the seeds that we've planted, be it a harvest of positive things from the seeds of love and compassion and honesty or a harvest of negative things from seeds of anger, envy, greed, or deception.  Each moment in our lives we choose what types of seeds we're planting, or just how we're going to nurture the plants that are growing.  Are we going to nurture a relationship with honesty and sharing, or are we going to harm its growth by putting dishonesty and greed in it?  Are we going to create the right environment for our professional selves to grow and develop by nurturing the work we do with honest effort and attempts to learn more about our work, or shall we simply give it the bare minimum of nutrients and water for it to grow into a sickly, pathetic thing that will offer no sort of harvest at all?

Harvest time is a beautiful time on this planet.  It's the fulfillment of a promise, the result of faith and caring.  It gives back to us in amazing ways, giving us the nutrients we need to continue with our lives and to make something more of ourselves in our futures.  But we don't grow just from gathering and using the harvest--we grow also from helping the crops to develop into a harvest of which we can be proud.

26 October 2011

A Nice Passage

My Symphony

To live content with small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury;
and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable;
and wealthy, not rich;
to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
to listen to stars and birds,
to babes and sages, with open heart;
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely,
await occasion, hurry never;
in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and
unconscious grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

William Henry Channing

25 October 2011

Nothing in My Pockets

I've just spent a few days at a workshop up in the mountains, living for those days in a small cabin in a small camp.  The first thing that I did when I got there was to empty my pockets--I took out my wallet, my keys, my money--everything went into a drawer in the cabin for my entire stay.  It was an incredibly liberating experience.  I felt free, unencumbered, untied.  I wasn't obligated to have anything with me like my driver's license or money, because I didn't need anything at all.

I told a colleague who was there with me just how good it felt, and she got a strange look in her eyes.  "I wish I could say that," she said.  "It made me nervous not having all that stuff with me."  It was a response that I never could have imagined hearing.  What was freeing and pleasant for me was stressful and unpleasant for someone else--even though there really was nothing inherently stressful about the situation at all.  Do we get so tied to our accouterments that we start to attach our identity to them?

I'm happy to say that by the third day, she was feeling much better about the situation, even enjoying it and feeling the freedom that I had felt.  It was a great experience to experience reality without the burdens that we somehow come to call "necessities" in our lives.

Can you put yourself in situations in which you don't need all the "stuff" that we so often think that we absolutely have to have?  It's nice sometime to spend a night or two in a hotel where you can do nothing but go for walks and return to your room, not driving anywhere or doing anything that requires the credit cards or the cell phone or the laptop.  Just be you.  Just enjoy each moment as it comes.  Don't feel stressed, and don't be nervous--those things aren't necessary to your life or to your identity at all.  You are you and you are beautiful, and perhaps without the many distractions that we carry around so much, you can start to discover just who is the marvelous creature that you are.

21 October 2011


One of my students and I had a short talk about decisions today.  She wants this new semester to be much more positive for her, with much higher grades and much better work and far fewer cut classes.  Basically what she wants to do is make better decisions in her life, and to see better results because of her better decisions.

I can relate to where she’s coming from.  I watched her sabotage herself all last semester by choosing to do things that didn’t help her at all, and that ended up hurting her pretty constantly.  When I watch kids do things like that, I can see myself in many different times in my life, making decision after decision that were more harmful than helpful to me.  I would decide to say certain things that ended up hurting others, I would decide not to go to certain events and end up losing a chance to meet other people, or I would decide not to take risks and end up missing out on some pretty cool things.  I could decide to buy something on credit even though I knew I wouldn’t have the money.  I sometimes decided to put off important things in favor of doing something else that was much less beneficial to me.

I don’t say these things to chastise myself, but just to help myself to keep in mind the importance of the decisions that we make.  In my case, it became very important to me to develop some guidelines for my decisions–and once those guidelines were in place, many decisions became much easier.  Some guidelines are very simple.  If something will be harmful to someone else, then I can’t do it.  If I would need to compromise my principles just for some sort of gain for myself, I won’t do it.  Other guidelines are more complicated–and almost impossible to describe in words.

The bottom line for me is that I’m coming closer to not making any decisions without being conscious of two things: first, that I definitely have a decision to make, and second, that my decisions will cause results.  This awareness has helped me to make my decisions more carefully rather than just automatically–almost by rote–deciding things arbitrarily or capriciously.  And it has improved my quality of life as well as the lives of those people who are affected by my decisions.  I just have to look at my students who are still making bad decisions because they’re still unaware of the concept of decisions having consequences, and I realize that I’m very fortunate to be conscious of most of the decisions that I make.

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore
more precious, than to be able to decide.

Napoleon Bonaparte

18 October 2011

Just a Glance?

Sometimes I like to stop and look at people–really look–and remind myself that everyone on this planet is very similar to me.  They have hopes and dreams and desires and fears and quirks.  They go through life doing what they believe to be best, and they try very hard to make life better for themselves, no matter what their circumstances.  They have spirits, and God looks at them–and feels them, and appreciates them, and loves them–in exactly the same way that God feels and loves and appreciates me.  They’re searching and yearning for connections, they’re making decisions that they believe will make their lives more meaningful and richer.

It’s important for me to stop like this as often as I can, for if I don’t it’s very easy for me to forget the way that other people are.  It’s very easy for me to forget that I’m not alone.  It’s very easy for me to judge other people’s actions harshly.  It’s very easy for me to neglect their needs and wants, and it’s easy to feel isolated on this planet, as if I were the only person around who’s trying to make my life better, trying to connect with a higher power and other human beings.  And I don’t want to forget these things, for I know that one of the gifts that I can give to this world is to help and encourage other people who are on their own journeys.  I can give encouragement and advice (when wanted!), I can serve as a role model and I can serve as a sounding board when people need to share their fears and needs.

If I just glance at other people and don’t consider who they are on a deeper level, then what can I give to them that will help them to live more deeply and richly?  If I don’t truly see them for what they are, then how can I ever feel the connections that are inherent in the human condition–connections that we tend not to see or feel when we’re going through life too quickly, too busy to notice the traits that we share, the traits that make us sisters and brothers, spiritual beings going through a physical experience?

Today, I’m going to make an effort to stop, to look more deeply, and to truly see the other people who are sharing my world with me.  If I can do this, then I believe that my life, too, will be much richer and much more fulfilling.

It is the individual who is not interested in his or her
fellow people who has the greatest difficulties in life
and and provides the greatest injury to others.  It is from
among such individuals that all human failures spring.

Alfred Adler

15 October 2011


Now that school's started again, I'm beginning to think about the concepts of learning and teaching a lot harder.  What do those terms mean?  Is it actually possible to teach anyone anything?  I had a professor once who said it wasn't--he said that he couldn't teach us anything.  He could only tell us what he knew, and it was up to us to learn or not.  At the time, I didn't quite get what he was saying--it seemed like a bit of a cop-out, to be honest.  But now I really understand his meaning, and I have to say that I agree with him.

School isn't really about teaching, when all is said and done.  School is about learning, and trying to get kids to want to learn.  If we can accomplish that, then there's a lot that they can accomplish--for learning is something that anyone can do.  But if they don't want to learn, then guess what?  They won't.  It's hard to reconcile that fact sometimes, for the teachers are there to teach, and one of the greatest frustrations of all for teachers is having to deal with students who don't want to learn.

Life is a learning experience, all the way through.  It's actually a series of learning experiences that never ends until the day we die.  And who knows?  There's a good chance it doesn't even end there.

So what have you learned today?  You've had opportunities to learn new things--what have they been?  I hope that when you get the chances to learn, you take them.  It definitely is true that the more we learn--about the world, other people, ourselves--the brighter and fuller we can make our lives.  Teachers are all about us, all the time.  We just have to be receptive learners if we want to take advantage of what they have to offer.

Learning is not attained by chance.  It must be sought
for with ardor and attended to with diligence.

Abigail Adams

13 October 2011

Just a Job?

I’ve read and heard a lot of interesting stories about jobs.  I read once about a young man who was a bagger at a supermarket who shared nice thoughts and quotations on small cards that he gave to customers.  I read about a commuter train conductor who gave his passengers a tour every day, describing the areas that they passed and pointing out connector buses that were at each of the stops.  I’ve read about people in all sorts of jobs that turned their work into something more than just a job–they turned it into an enjoyable experience because they took every opportunity they could to do something special for the people with whom they dealt while on the job.

It’s an interesting concept–can we make our jobs more enjoyable by adding our own touches to them?  Can we turn work into a pleasant experience by finding ways to contribute to the lives of others with whom we have contact during our work day?  Perhaps it would be nothing more than an encouraging word here and there to people to whom we normally wouldn’t give encouraging words.  Perhaps we could find some little gift that would be very inexpensive, but that might mean a lot to someone else.  Would a business card with a beautiful saying on it work?  How about a small piece of chocolate or two to share with someone else?  With a little bit of imagination and creativity, we should be able to find something that could brighten someone else’s day, for no reason at all other than just to do so.

A lot of people dread work because of the tedium of the day-to-day job that they do.  But it’s only tedious if we allow it to stay tedious.  With a little bit of thought and care, each of us can turn our jobs into something more, something special.  And if we enjoy our work even more for having done so, well then–all the better, no?

The beauty of work depends upon the way we meet it, whether we arm
ourselves each morning to attack it as an enemy that must be
vanquished before night comes–or whether we open our eyes with
the sunrise to welcome it as an approaching friend who will keep
us delightful company and who will make us feel at evening
that the day was well worth its fatigue.

Lucy Larcom

11 October 2011


When Bill Watterson ended the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes after many years, the last line that he had Calvin say was "It's a magical world, Hobbes, ol' buddy . . . Let's go exploring!"  At the time, I couldn't help thinking that the writer had ended the comic strip in the most perfect way possible--it was a sad ending, but a beautiful beginning, one that none of us readers ever would be able to experience as we had experienced the strip during its years of publication.  I think of that ending sometimes even now, when I think of the idea of exploring in my own world, on my own terms.  I love the words "Let's go exploring," for they indicate an interest in everything, and a willingness to learn about anything and everything, as well as a desire to learn new things about certain things that we never have known anything about before.

I love to explore.  I like to see things that I've never seen, to breathe air in places I've never been, to feel the sunshine in a completely new location.  Exploring to me is the norm of my life, for when I explore I open myself up to learning and to experiencing.  The lack of exploration, to me, is stagnation, and I never want to be stagnant at all.  Life's too short, after all, to sit in one place forever and do nothing new or different.  There are so many things in this world that we haven't seen, and I want to do my best to see all that I can see before I die, to hear all that I can hear and feel all that I can feel before my life on this planet comes to an end.

You and I both can explore all that we want.  We don't have to go to exotic places and explore in the buggy and dangerous wilderness.  We don't have to spend tons of money equipping ourselves and paying for transportation.  All we really need to do is open our eyes and hearts to all that's around us and find the places to explore.  Perhaps you could explore your own desires and find out where they come from and what they mean.  Maybe you could explore a friendship of yours, figuring out just what the terms of the friendship are and just how deep it runs for both of you.  Maybe you could explore a hurting relationship and find out what it may need to heal.

This is a magical world of ours--and we all have wonderful chances to make all that we can out of it.  All we have to do is be open to the idea of exploring the "unknown," looking for the chances to learn and see new things, trying to get all that we can out of all this great world of ours.  So let's go exploring!

07 October 2011


I think that it’s a shame that so many adults have forgotten how fun it can be to play.  There are lots of advantages to playing, including allowing our creativity to flow freely, keeping ourselves in shape, lowering the levels of stress in our lives, and just plain having fun without having to justify it or quantify it.  Most of the adults that I know, though, have given up on playing, and they pay a pretty hefty price for the loss.

Play can be one of the most therapeutic and healthy activities that we undertake–given, of course that we find something good and fun to play at.  Play allows us simply to be, without having to do anything special or be anyone special.  There are tons of things we can play at, from cars to house to space exploration, or we can use a game of cards or a board game to allow our playful sides to come out.  As long as we don’t take what we’re playing at too seriously and worry about whether we’re winning or losing, we can have a lot of fun at almost anything we do.  And once we start playing, we find that time slows down, life gets easier, and we end up with something fun to look back on.

I used to go to church picnics and be the only adult playing with the kids.  The other adults would sit around and talk about the same things that they talked about at home and in church, while the kids would be over having fun, playing tag or catch or whatever else they could think of.  I always opted for being with the kids.  I had plenty of time to talk over the same things with the same people, but I didn’t always have opportunities for sharing energy with young people who had plenty of energy to spare.  Having fun and playing allow us to use our energy very productively and very wisely–they have a rejuvenating if we only let them.

Do you have a chance to play today?  I hope that you take that chance and make the most of it.  Play can stimulate your mind and your body and your creativity and your self, and it can give you back much, much more than you give to it.  All you have to do is decide that you want to do it, and it will take you places you had forgotten existed, places that you knew very well when you were young and play was a major part of your life.

The real joy of life is in its play.  Play is anything we do for the joy and love
of doing it, apart from any profit, compulsion, or sense of duty.  It is the real
living of life with the feeling of freedom and self-expression.  Play is the business
of childhood, and its continuation in later years is the prolongation of youth.

Walter Rauschenbusch

05 October 2011

Today Is a Beautiful Day

There's no way around it--the world is a beautiful place today.  The sun is shining or rain is falling or the fog is embracing the land with its amazing presence.  There's wind blowing, the rivers are flowing, birds are singing, dogs are wagging their tails and little kids are giggling all over the place.

Perhaps something is happening in our lives that we're allowing to obscure our vision so that we can't see all the wonder and beauty.  If that's the case, then it's up to us to regain that vision, to find the ways that we can see much more, much more clearly.

Perhaps some person or persons are making our lives difficult, keeping us focused on negative things that we don't really want to be thinking about, but we don't seem to be able to avoid keeping our focus on the negative.  If that's the case, then it's up to us to shift our focus to the things that we know will help us to lift our spirits and to keep life in a positive perspective.

There always seems to be something that keeps us from seeing all the amazing beauty.  But right now, you and I both have a choice to make--we can keep on doing what we were in the process of doing, or we can stop, take a deep breath, and relax.  Then we can look around ourselves and see the amazing beauty, the remarkable symmetry, the astonishing complexity, the fantastic simplicity, of virtually everything that is in our worlds.  So many things, natural and man-made, give us so many views of the beautiful place that this planet is, and it would be quite a shame for us to waste such a beautiful day without even noticing the gifts of beauty that are always everywhere--including you!

As I experience it, appreciation of beauty is access to the soul.
With beauty in our lives, we walk and carry ourselves more lightly               
and with a different look in our eyes.  To look into the eyes               
of someone beholding beauty is to look through the windows
of the soul.  Anytime we catch a glimpse of soul, beauty is there;
anytime we catch our breath and feel "How beautiful!," the soul is present.

Jean Shinoda Bolen

03 October 2011

Go out and Play

Have you ever stopped to think of advice that you give to other people?  Have you asked yourself sincerely whether or not you follow that advice yourself, or do you just dispense it and forget about it, figuring that the advice is good for someone else, but that you don't need to heed it?  One of the best pieces of advice that we can take ourselves actually isn't even given as advice, but as an order to the kids:  Go out and play!

Most of us could use a bit more play in our lives.  For some reason or another that makes little real sense, most of us give up playing as we grow older.  Most of us seem to think that playing is "for kids," not something that we adults should partake in.  But why not?  Regular play has a lot of very real benefits for us, including improving our health, lowering our blood pressure, helping us to laugh and have fun, helping us to bond with others, and helping us to keep things in perspective.  A good dose of play can help us to see that the problems we've been dealing with are simply problems, and not world-changing conflicts.  Taking the time to play a game or two with friends or family can help us to relax, keeping our stress levels at more manageable heights.

And it matters what you play, too.  Playing a few hands of high-stakes poker isn't really playing at all--it's adding to stress in your life.  A good game of wiffle ball or Frisbee, on the other hand, has many benefits for you as long as you don't take it too seriously, and as long as you enjoy yourself thoroughly.

There's lots of stress in all of our lives.  But that's okay--that's life.  The important question for us to ask ourselves is whether or not we're doing anything to compensate for that stress.  And the next time that you feel a bit overwhelmed, the next time you can't see the light at the end of a tunnel, take the advice that your parents used to give you when you were a kid to maintain their own mental health--Go out and play!  This time, though, do it for you.

We don't stop playing because we grow old;
we grow old because we stop playing!

01 October 2011

My Symphony

To live content with small means;
to seek elegance rather than luxury;
and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable;
and wealthy, not rich;
to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly;
to listen to stars and birds,
to babes and sages, with open heart;
to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely,
await occasion, hurry never;
in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and
unconscious grow up through the common.
This is to be my symphony.

William Henry Channing