31 July 2012

Fountain of Youth?

I just saw an episode of an old television show in which some characters had found a fountain of youth, and they were more than willing to compromise their principles and their integrity in order to partake of the liquid that promised them youth that had long before gone away.  It’s funny how every time we see shows like that, there are negative consequences for desiring to work against nature, against the “natural” order of things.  We’re meant to get old, and we should just accept that fact and live with it rather than trying to regain our youth.
But what does it mean to get old?  Does it necessarily mean that we give up things that we enjoy?  I don’t believe so for a minute.  A few years ago, I weighed right around 200 pounds, and the fastest I could run a mile was over seven minutes.  That’s okay, people told me (and I told myself), you’re just growing older.  These things happen.  But I wasn’t willing to accept that explanation–it didn’t feel right to me.  I knew I was gaining weight because I was eating more and exercising less than I was used to, and it didn’t feel at all that it was inevitable to me.  To make the long story short, today I weigh 170 and I can run a mile in less than five and a half minutes.  That’s not such a big deal to most people, but since I love to run, it’s important to me.

I’m not trying to be young again, and I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone.  But this body that I’ve been given is a great gift, and why shouldn’t I try to make it work as well as it can for as long as it can?  Losing my abilities and growing older and heavier and slower would have been a choice for me–the choice to be complacent and not to go through the hard work of losing weight and working on my fitness levels.  I’m not trying to recapture my youth–I’m just trying to keep my body functioning at healthy levels no matter what age I’m at.

There obviously is no fountain of youth, except for the one that’s in our minds.  Our minds can keep us young at heart and young in spirit, but it’s up to us to make decisions if we also want to allow our bodies to age gracefully and to stay healthy.  It’s not a negative thing to desire some of the things of youth, but it can be if we desire those things to come to us from an outside source, like some silly fountain.  Those things come from inside of us, from our hearts, from our spirits.  And only we can access them there.

26 July 2012

From "On the Open Road," by Ralph Waldo Trine

Our complex modern life, especially in our larger centers, gets us running so many times into grooves that we are prone to miss, and sometimes for long periods, the all-around, completer life.  We are led at times almost to forget that the stars come nightly to the sky, or even that there is a sky; that there are hedgerows and groves where the birds are always singing and where we can lie on our backs and watch the treetops swaying above us and the clouds floating by an hour or hours at a time; where one can live with his or her soul or, as Whitman has put it, where one can loaf and invite one's soul.

We need changes from the duties and the cares of our accustomed everyday life.  They are necessary for healthy, normal living.  We need occasionally to be away from our friends, our relatives, from the members of our immediate households.  Such changes are good for us; they are good for them.  We appreciate them better, they us, when we are away from them for a period, or they from us.

We need these changes occasionally in order to find new relations--this is a twofold sense.  By such changes there come to our minds more clearly the better qualities of those with whom we are in constant association; we lose sight of the little frictions and irritations that arise; we see how we can be more considerate, appreciative, kind.

In one of those valuable essays of Prentice Mulford entitled "Who Are Our Relations?" he points us to the fact, and with so much insight and common sense, that our relations are not always or necessarily those related to us by blood ties, those of our immediate households, but those most nearly allied to us in mind and in spirit, many times those we have never seen, but that we shall sometime, somewhere be drawn to through ceaselessly working Law of Attraction, whose basis is like attracts like.

And so in staying too closely with the accustomed relations we may miss the knowledge and the companionship of those equally or even more closely related.

We need these changes to get the kinks out of our minds, our nerves, our muscles--the cobwebs off our faces.  We need them to whet again the edge of appetite.  We need them to invite the mind and the soul to new possibilities and powers.  We need them in order to come back with new implements, or with implements redressed, sharpened, for the daily duties.  It is like the chopper working too long with axe underground.  There comes the time when an hour at the stone will give it such persuasive power that he can chop and cord in the day what he otherwise would in two or more, and with far greater ease and satisfaction.

We need periods of being by ourselves--alone.  Sometimes a fortnight or even a week will do wonders for one, unless he or she has drawn too heavily upon the account.  The simple custom, moreover, of taking an hour, or even a half hour, alone in the quiet, in the midst of the daily routine of life, would be the source of inestimable gain for countless numbers.

If such changes can be in closer contact with the fields and with the flowers that are in them, the stars and the sea that lies open beneath them, the woods and the wild things that are of them, one cannot help but find oneself growing in love for and an ever fuller appreciation of these, and being at the same time so remade and unfolded that one's love, one's care, and one's consideration for all mankind and for every living creature, will be the greater.

25 July 2012


I'm convinced that one of the reasons that so many people tend to be unhappy is that they tend to generalize far too much about the world.  I see this tendency pretty consistently in my students' papers--they write about how "no one" helps other people any more, how "everyone" cheats when they get the chance, how "nobody" values family any more, and many similar ideas.  But I can't agree with what they say at all, for two reasons.  First of all, as a writing teacher I know that using such generalizations is almost always inaccurate, and secondly, I know from my own experience that there are people who care in this world, and there are many people who most definitely value concepts such as family and honor and honesty.

When we talk a lot in generalizations, we put the world into a little box that we basically define ourselves.  We think we know what the truth is, and more than likely, that truth is unpleasant.  It's very easy to blame our problems and the problems of the world on the way that "people" are, for that absolves us of all responsibility for our own personal perspective, our outlook on life and the world and the people with whom we share the world.

Personally, I noticed my tendency to generalize quite a while ago.  It made things easy for me in a way, but not in a pleasant way.  What I would say when I made such claims simply wasn't true, yet I was claiming that it was, and I was convincing myself that life was more negative than it actually happened to be.  So now I'm careful to avoid the generalizations that can keep me focused on what isn't good in life--and I probably would be completely wrong if I were to make any sort of generalization about the negative ways that "people" are.  This world is a beautiful place, and many, many, many of the people in it are very good people.  If I'm careful to avoid generalizing, then I can be sure that I won't be bringing myself down by seeing the world more darkly than it really is--and it really isn't dark at all, is it?

21 July 2012


I come from a background in which anger and resentment were rather normal.  It wasn't that the people in my life liked being angry and resentful--they just hadn't learned how to deal with their feelings in other ways.  Because of this background, though, it took me many years during my young adulthood to unlearn this pattern, to realize that such thoughts were not only negative, but also harmful.

One of the most important accomplishments in my life has been to learn how to forgive.  I don't always do so quickly enough to save myself a few miserable days, but I have learned to view people's actions in a much more objective light, taking them much less personally.  Usually I see behavior that affects me negatively as a reflection of bad things that are going on in other people's lives, and this helps me to forgive much more easily.  Did that guy cut me off in traffic?  Maybe he's in a hurry because someone's sick.  Did that person talk about me behind my back?  Well, maybe she's feeling insecure about herself, and she has to knock someone down to make herself feel better. Her words don't change who I am.

Being able to see things this way has almost no effect at all on the other people involved in any situation, but it does have a strong effect on me:  I'm able to feel more peaceful, more relaxed, and more able to help others.  I feel that things are okay apart from this one small aspect of my life, and my forgiveness helps me to realize the relative insignificance of this aspect.  I'm not here on this planet to control other people and have them ask for forgiveness when I feel they should do so--the only person's actions and thoughts over which I have any sort of control are my own, and I can forgive if I choose to do so, knowing that doing so helps me.

There's a common misconception that forgiving someone implies that the action that's being forgiven was okay, but I always keep in mind that I'm forgiving the person, not the action.  Hurting other people is always wrong, but we all make mistakes and hurt others.  I'm very thankful that some people in life have forgiven me for some of my actions, so why shouldn't i show the same courtesy to others?  Forgiving doesn't make wrong right or take away responsibility-- forgiveness just says it's not up to me to judge, and I'm not going to hold a grudge against you just because you made a mistake.

18 July 2012

The Fence

There once was a little boy with a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the back fence rather than take it out on other people.

On the first day, the boy drove 37 nails into the fence.  As the days went by, though, the number of nails gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it, and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.  The days passed, and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.  The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.

He said, "You have done well, my son, and I'm very proud of you.  But look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  Remember that when you say things in anger, your words leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, and it won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry'--the wound is still there.  A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one."

Author Unknown

17 July 2012

A New Day

Shirley Morgan
Outside my window, a new day I see,
Only I can determine the day it will be.

It can be busy and sunny, laughing and gay,
Or boring and cold, unhappy and gray.
My own state of mind is the determining key.
For I am only the person that I let myself be.

I can be thoughtful and do all I can to help,
Or be selfish and think just of myself.
I can enjoy what I do, and make it seem fun,
Or gripe and complain, make life hard on someone.

I can be patient with those who may not understand,
Or belittle and hurt them as much as I can.
But I have faith in myself, and believe what I say
And so I intend to make the best of my day.

16 July 2012

Things I Like

I've always liked the song "My Favorite Things."  "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. . ."  It's a bright, cheerful song, but even more than that it's a great reminder of the power of simply thinking of things that we like.  I know that when I think of things that I like, my thoughts get cheerful and I see the world more brightly.  So in honor of the power of the thoughts, I'd like to write down some of the things that I like.

I like cool breezes that make my skin feel just a bit cold.

I like hot tea on cold days.

I like iced tea on hot days.

I like hearing little kids tell about things that happened to them.

I like the taste of butter and honey on english muffins.

I like chocolate.  A lot.

I like to lay on the couch with a good book on a dreary day, and gently drift off to sleep.

I like to hear a really good song, really loud.

I like the sound of a stream in the mountains, and the feel of its water.

I like to pet friendly dogs and feel their energy that they so willingly share.

I like to see my students "get" something, and I like to see their confidence grow as they learn.

I like to watch funny shows while I'm eating dinner.

I like to go for long, long runs on cool days.

I like the feel of cotton sheets in the summer, and flannel sheets in the winter.

I like nice conversations with nice people.

I like, I like, I like. . . there are many more things I could write, but I'm feeling pretty good right now.  Try it sometime--write down a list of things that you like, and don't stop until you get at least fifteen or twenty.  And then see how you feel!  You'll be amazed at the power of your thoughts to change your feelings.

10 July 2012

More Precious Than Diamonds or Gold

I’ve always been amazed at how much value we put on things like gold and diamonds.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to value them so highly–after all, they’re just stones and metal.  They can’t really do anything for us except shine, and without light they’re pretty useless, aren’t they?
What’s more precious than diamonds or gold?  That’s easy–you are!  After all, you can comfort me when things have gone badly and I need to hear some words of encouragement.  A diamond would just sit there, with no compassion, no love, no kindness.

You can make me feel better just by giving me a smile.  I’ve never seen a diamond smile.  Sparkle, maybe, but that’s nothing compared to your smile and the light in your eyes when you do smile.

Your friendship is very special to me because you accept me just as I am, faults and all.  Gold doesn’t really care who I am–in fact, it doesn’t have the capacity to think at all.

I love the way that you listen to me–it makes me feel special to know that someone cares enough to hear what I have to say.  No precious stone can hear what I have to say, nor can it care about what I do say.

You are about as precious as anything gets.  You are completely unique and very beautiful, even if your particular beauty isn’t the type that’s admired by the majority of the human beings on the planet (but just what does the majority know?!).  Your thoughts are yours, your words are yours, your pain and your passions are yours alone.  And the value that they hold is truly immeasurable.  I can measure a gold in troy ounces, and I can measure a diamond in karats.  I cannot measure your heart, and I can’t measure your love.  They’re simply beyond measurement.

It’s funny what we value.  We can work for years to earn enough money to buy a diamond ring for a loved one, but not work a second to make ourselves better people who will learn how to treat that loved one better.  You deserve that better treatment.  You deserve the best–because you’re one of the most precious things on this planet.  An immortal spirit spending time in a body, learning to love and to cherish and to treat others with dignity and respect.

Really, no diamond, no gold, can come close to holding a candle to you!

08 July 2012

There's Little like Being Prepared

In all of the talk about being completely present in the moment of “right now,” I sometimes think that we lose a bit of perspective concerning the future.  No, it’s not healthy or productive to focus entirely on the future, but it can be very important to make informed decisions about the present moment by thinking about what’s coming up in the future.

This principle was demonstrated very clearly this past weekend when I attended the state track meet with our high school team.  Having worked with the team for several months, I was very aware of who had been working hard for those months and who had been working less hard.  At the meet, it was very clear who had been doing what–and there were some very sad young people who had had talent enough to make it to state, but who had made decision after decision during the season not to try to improve their abilities through hard work.  In their series of present-moment decisions, they had decided to talk to friends, to spend time texting, even to skip practice to do other things, while others were making the decisions to work hard in order to try to improve.

In the right now, it can be tempting to put something off in order to “make the most of this moment.”  Sometimes, though, making the most of this particular moment can involve preparing for future moments–and that could mean that we decide now to work hard, or even to do something that we find unpleasant, simply to avoid making future moments completely miserable.  This isn’t at all a sacrifice of the present moment, but a productive use of it with an eye towards the future.

Living in the moment doesn’t always mean having the most fun possible or doing only things that we like to do.  It means being aware of our lives and our surroundings–and even our future–and doing what we can to make the now special and prepare for the future nows.

05 July 2012

The Trouble with Grown-ups

According to a class full of ten-year-olds in a Sunday school class, these are the problems with grownups:

1.  Grownups make promises, then they forget all about them, or else they say it wasn't really a promise, just a maybe.

2.  Grownups don't do the things they're always telling the children to do--like pick up their things, or be neat, or always tell the truth.

3.  Grownups won't let their children dress the way they want to--but they never ask a child's opinion about how they should dress.  If they're going out to a party, grownups wear just exactly what they want to wear--even if it looks terrible, even if it isn't warm enough.

4.  Grownups never really listen to what children have to say.  They always decide ahead of time what they're going to answer.

5.  Grownups make mistakes but they won't admit them.  They always pretend that they weren't mistakes at all--or that somebody else made them.

6.  Grownups interrupt children all the time and think nothing of it.  If a child interrupts a grownup, he gets a scolding or something worse.

7.  Grownups never understand how much children want a certain thing--a certain color or shape or size.  If it's something they don't admire--even if the children have spent their own money for it--they always say, "I can't imagine what you want with that old thing!"

8.  Sometimes grownups punish children unfairly.  It isn't right if you've done something just a little wrong and grownups take away something that means an awful lot to you.  Other times you can do something really bad and they say they're going to punish you, but they don't.  You never know, and you ought to know.

9.  Grownups talk about money too much, and bills, and things like that, so that it scares you.  They say money isn't very important, but the way they talk about it, it sounds like the most important thing in the world.

10.  Grownups gossip a lot--but if children do the very same thing and say the same words about the same people they're being disrespectful.

11.  Grownups pry into children's secrets.  They always think it's going to be something bad.  They never think it might be a nice surprise.

12.  Grownups are always talking about what they did and what they knew when they were ten years old--but they never try to think what it's like to be ten years old right now.

Does this sound familiar to you?  If it does, it might interest you to know that these complaints were made in 1953--more than half a century ago.  Just what have we learned about being adults and treating children over the last five decades, if we continue to perpetuate some of the treatments that were unfair so long ago?

03 July 2012


I've read two books back to back about mindfulness and the benefits that it brings to our lives.  I didn't necessarily choose to read them--they were both given to me by two different people, and since I try to go with the flow of life, I took the gifts as a message and read them both through all the way.  Both of the authors explore the concept of being fully aware of our lives at all times, rather than taking things for granted, hurrying through our days, and not noticing the beauty and wonder all around us.  If we can be mindful of our blessings and the beauty of the world and its people, we can enrich our lives incredibly--simply by noticing what's already there.

So many of our actions are rote actions, things that we do but hardly even notice.  If we need to go to the store for milk, we very often take the car and expose ourselves only to parking lots, the car interior, and the store.  We miss the fresh air, the flowers in the gardens that we could see on the way, and the sounds of the birds and people and animals who are living their lives so near us right now.  If we have to do the dishes, we rush through the task without paying much attention, except maybe to make sure all the food is off the dishes before we rinse them.  If we have to shower, then we do so quickly, treating it as a task to be accomplished rather than a unique experience.

To be mindful takes a bit more time than it takes not to be mindful.  When we're mindful, when we pay attention to the people and things around us, it's much harder to hurry past them and miss them.  It takes a bit of work to be mindful, too, for we have to concentrate harder and maintain our focus--that usually doesn't just happen.  But these are very, very small prices to pay for the ability actually to see the world around us, to wonder at it, to appreciate it, to notice its intricacy and complexity and beauty.

As Christina Feldman says, "The richest, deepest moments of our lives have all been moments of mindfulness--the moments in our childhood when our hearts sang with delight over the simple arrangement of the pebbles on the path, the moments when we have stood speechless before the majesty of a forest, the moments we have rejoiced in a sunset, the moments when we have been a silent, listening presence with a friend in pain."  These moments aren't accidents, but they are far too scarce for most of us.  Let's bring more of them into our lives through a bit of concentration and effort, so that we can enrich our lives greatly!