08 August 2013


I'm constantly astonished and dismayed when I see the word "addictive" used with the new games that come out, as if it were a positive word to be throwing around.  Really?  The more addictive something is, the more time people are going to waste on it, obviously, and the less time they're going to have to be able to focus on more important things in their lives, such as relationships, education, self-development, reflection, work, and so many other things.

We seem to take a rather cavalier attitude towards our addictions these days.  We don't put much importance on them, and we allow them to take their toll on our lives without even trying to deal with them.  From the people who spend hours each day in role-playing games to the people who can't go for two or three minutes without checking their Smartphones, we witness every day a growing number of individuals who are just fine with being addicted, just fine with ignoring really important elements of their lives in favor of a bit of entertainment or the chances of getting a little bit more information into their brains.

We used to dread addictions because of the physical tolls that they took on our bodies--cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol changed our behaviors in very obvious ways, and damaged our bodies as they did so.  It was easy--especially with alcohol--to see an immediate cause-and-effect relationship between the addiction and the changed behavior. Now, though, our addictions are much more insidious in the effects that they have on us.  The person who is spending six hours a day in front of a TV screen could be a leading authority in their chosen field of work, if only they spent that time researching and learning more about their work.  The kid who's sitting in class thinking about the next text message that he's going to send isn't really paying much attention to what's being done in class, and could easily be an "A" student if his mind weren't occupied by something that hasn't even happened yet.

If our addictions aren't hurting others, then it's easy for us to allow ourselves to stick with them and not try to kick them.  But just because we don't see the results of our addictions doesn't mean that we aren't hurting other people.  I think of the little kids out shopping or walking in the park with a parent, who's spending his or her time on the phone instead of being with the child.  The message there is quite clear to a child:  "There's something more important than you."  It may not be the intended message, but it's a message that comes across loud and clear to a young mind.  I think of the co-workers who have to take up the slack for the person who isn't doing all of his or her work because of other things that come up on the computer, such as games or Facebook.  That person is still getting a paycheck, but not doing much for it.

What kinds of addictions do you have?  What kinds of things keep you from being the person you could be if you devoted more time to studying, learning, listening, or just being with loved ones, or going for a walk in the woods to recharge yourself?  What kinds of addictions do you see other people dealing with, and how do they affect those people?  Remember, just because the effects of an addiction aren't as obvious as slurred speech or lung cancer, we can't fool ourselves into thinking that the new addictions are any less harmful than the ones that have been around since long before the technological era.  And we really do have to deal with them if we want to get the most out of the lives that we're living.

08 July 2013


I suppose the greatest frustration that I face as a teacher is seeing just how unaware students are of the opportunities they have.  I've always loved to learn, and I always saw classes as a way to add to my knowledge or skills.  Many of the high school students in my classes, though, have no interest at all in learning, and they don’t recognize the opportunities that they have to improve their minds and their spirits if they simply would apply themselves a little and make the effort necessary to learn what the teachers are trying to teach them.

The frustration, though, is all mine.  They don’t cause it–they’re simply doing what they do.  I’m getting pretty good at getting less frustrated, at focusing less on what they’re not doing and more on what they are doing.  After all, I also have plenty of opportunity in class–opportunities to get to know the students, to learn from them, and to learn more myself about the subject areas that I’m teaching.  And if I stay chained to my frustration, then I’ll lose my own opportunities, won’t I?

I think it would be kind of interesting to find out just how many opportunities that I've squandered myself.  That’s one of the reasons that I can’t get too upset at my students–after all, I've done similar things, and I've turned out fairly okay.  They have an awful lot on their minds, and sometimes what we’re doing in class simply comes in eighth or ninth place on their list of priorities, behind the problems at home, their relationship problems, friends, and so much more.

Yes, they may be squandering important opportunities, but which of us hasn't?  One of my most important on-going goals these days is to pay attention to the opportunities that are there in my life and to take advantage of them all that I can.  I have many opportunities every day–to encourage, to help, to give, to take, to earn, to grow, to smile, to laugh, to share, to be–and my life most definitely is less full if I continue to squander these opportunities that can make me a better and richer person.

Great opportunities come to all, but many do not
know they have met them.
The only preparation to take advantage of them is
simple fidelity to watch what each day brings.

Albert E. Dunning


27 June 2013

My qualities

Why haven't I given myself credit for the qualities that I possess?  Have I been afraid of being arrogant?  Of seeming to think myself as superior to others?  Have I been trying to be humble and modest, while all the time sabotaging my potential because I wouldn't admit just how truly valuable I am as a human being?

Have I let the things of daily life bring me down so much that I've been trapped under a mountain of worries and stress-causing problems?

If so, what a tragedy that is!  Not just for me, but for the people in my life who might have benefited greatly if I had reached my full potential.  There are many people who might have been more encouraged, more confident in themselves and in me, more relaxed and at ease because I was close to reaching my potential rather than struggling to try to escape from all the problems that were keeping me down.  My "unlimited personal power" that Breathnach talks about has been limited by outside sources and my own limited perspective, rather than allowed to be a major part of who I am.

My own choices play a large part in this, I know.  I'm probably going to leave my current job because there's no empowerment there for me at all--I'm strongly limited in what I can do.  But for the last four years, I've watched my ability to help others diminish significantly, and I have to choose between continuing to do work that limits me and moving on to something that's more promising, even if it means sacrificing things like insurance and pay into my retirement account.  It's not the job that's keeping me unsatisfied, but the fact that I haven't left the job to look for something else that allows me to reach my potential.

Personally, I haven't grown up with influences that focused on my personal power and potential, so I've had a hard time focusing on it as an adult.  It's a lot of work, to be honest, but work that's well worth it.  You are a very valuable person, just as valuable as world leaders and doctors and lawyers and other people who are constantly in the news.  Your value may not manifest itself in the world arena, but when it does manifest itself, you can be sure that it provides a great boost to people other than yourself.  Strive to reach your potential, not just for yourself, but for the others who will be positively affected by your actions when you've acknowledged just how valuable you truly are.

Become aware that you already possess all the inner wisdom,
strength, and creativity needed to make your dreams come true.
This is hard for most of us to realize because the source of
this unlimited personal power is buried so deeply beneath
the bills, the car pool, the deadlines, the business trip, and
the dirty laundry that we have difficulty accessing it in our daily
lives. When we can't access our inner resources, we come to
the flawed conclusion that happiness and fulfillment come only
from external events.  That's because external events usually bring
with them some sort of change. . . . We can learn to be
the catalysts for our own change. . . . you already possess
all you need to be genuinely happy.

Sarah Ban Breathnach

15 June 2013

Let us sometimes live—be it only for an hour, and though we must lay all else aside—to make others smile.  The sacrifice is only in appearance; no one finds more pleasure for oneself than the person who knows how, without ostentation, to give him or herself to procure for those around them a moment of forgetfulness and happiness.     -Charles Wagner

Sigmund Freud said that almost all of our actions derive from two motivating factors:  the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.  Most of us seem to pursue pleasure by trying to collect things and experiences of our own.  But what if true pleasure consists of bringing "a moment of forgetfulness and happiness" to the other people in our lives?  If that's the case, then we're probably missing out on a lot of pleasure by keeping our minds and efforts focused on attaining things.

There are people, of course, who make a show of doing things for others.  They want to receive recognition for their efforts, and therefore their pleasure is not in doing good for others, but in being recognized for doing good for others.  But is this true pleasure, or is it something that's very fleeting by nature?  This is why Charles says that doing things for others "without ostentation" is important.

If I can make someone else smile today, then I've done something pretty important.  And when I consider the potential ripple effect--that person or those persons may be in a better mood and treat others better than they would have otherwise--I know that I'm contributing to the positive energy in this world.

It's awesome to think about--by contributing to the positive side of the world, I'm also contributing positive feelings and pleasurable feelings to myself.  It's definitely true that what goes around, comes around, and what I send around always will come back to me, usually magnified strongly.  So what do you say?  How many people will you make smile with a kind word or two on this day in our lives?

from our Daily Meditations, Year Two

09 June 2013

People need us, and we need them

There is always something to do.  There are hungry people to feed, naked people to clothe, sick people to comfort and make well.  And while I don't expect you to save the world I do think it's not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.

Nikki Giovanni

It's intimidating, isn't it?  To think that we may have some responsibility towards our fellow human beings, to think that it may be up to us to comfort someone we hardly know, or to give something to someone we don't really like that well.  Our purpose in life is not to save the world, of course, but to be there for those who need us.  Unfortunately, we tend to limit our ideas of who needs us to a very few people, while the truth of the matter is that everyone needs us or our talent or our compassion and caring.  We may not want to see that fact because of the tension involved in such a huge responsibility, but there it is:  it's true.

But we've heard this idea before, about making sure that we love those who surround us and live with us, giving them encouragement and caring and attention.  None of these things cost anything but a little time and effort, yet it's so easy for us not to do them because we have the idea that things are fine with them.

But maybe they're not.  How many people have committed suicide when no one they knew had any idea that they had suicidal thoughts?  How many people have suffered from depression when no one else saw what they were going through because they hid it so well?

The people we're with need us, just as we need them.  And we have the awesome and incredible potential of being positive influences in their lives, just by sharing our love and caring with them.  What can you give today?  To whom can you give it?  Perhaps these are the most important questions that we should be asking ourselves.


02 June 2013

just for today, i’ll acknowledge the rights of others to be as they are, without my approval or interference. . . .

There are so many times that we feel we need to interfere in other people’s lives because we’re sure that they’re making some big mistakes or doing things completely wrong.  But they are human beings, and they have the right to do things as they see fit, and as they feel comfortable doing them.  It’s not up to me to tell people who or how they should be—it’s up to me to accept them as they are and to love them unconditionally.  Trying to change someone else is a sign of conditional love, love that says “I’ll love you when.”  And that’s not love at all, because love is by definition unconditional.

You are you and I am I.  We both have the right, through the simple fact of our birth as unique individuals on this planet, to believe what we wish to believe, to think what we want to think, to strive to do the things that we think are right.  If I disagree with you I have the right to tell you why, but I don’t have the right to demand that you change your way of thinking or being to conform to what I see as right.  One of the most beautiful aspects of the human race is our incredible diversity, and if I don’t respect your rights to be as you are, then I’m contributing to the destruction of the diversity that helps to make this world such an amazing place.

from Just for Today:  The Expanded Edition

21 May 2013

Living up to Potential

I recently had the honor of presenting an award to one of our students.  That meant, of course, that I had to think of what to say about her in front of a crowd of people–what it was about her that impressed me the most.  It was a pretty difficult task, as there are quite a few things about her that impress me–her work ethic, the effort that she gives to everything she does, how nice she is to other people, the respect that she shows to everyone.  After a lot of thought, though, I realized that all of those things together worked towards one particular thing–she is constantly doing her best to fulfill her potential in all that she does.

Reaching to fulfill our potential isn’t all that easy sometimes.  After all, it often takes hard work, and it takes making decisions that may not involve the easy ways of doing things.  We may have to decide to try to do something very difficult or very frightening if we want to live up to our potential.  After all, I’m never going to reach my potential as a runner if I never push myself hard when I’m training.  I’m never going to reach my potential as a teacher if I don’t take risks in the classroom, and if I don’t work hard to keep up on current literature and research, and if I don’t try hard to get to know my students and determine their needs.  I could just come to class every day and present the same old stuff in the same old ways, but then how will I ever come close to reaching my potential?

Perhaps we never reach our potential.  Perhaps as we improve, our potential improves, too.  But whether we reach it or not isn’t important; the important thing is whether we attempt to reach it, whether we give all that we have to try to do things better than we ever have before, whether we take the risks to learn more and become more.  I have a great role model in my life now, someone who gives everything she has to reach her potential, and I’m very grateful that I was assigned the honor of presenting her award.  After all, if I hadn’t had the chance to do so I might never have started thinking about reaching my own potential in all that I do.

With realization of one’s own potential and self-confidence
in one’s ability, one can build a better world.

15 May 2013

The Dragonfly and the Butterfly

My wife and I went for a walk at a nearby lake this morning, and I saw something kind of cool and very interesting while we were out there.  At one point, there was a rather large dragonfly hovering about, probably looking for food.  Whenever it got too near a particular plant, though, a fairly small butterfly would fly up and actually chase the dragonfly away.  I thought I was imagining things, but it happened three times, which is good enough for me to recognize a bit of a pattern.

What surprised me was that dragonflies eat other insects, while butterflies are virtually defenseless against other creatures--they don't even eat through a mouth, but through a proboscis.  The dragonfly is equipped by nature to do severe damage to something like a butterfly, even killing it, while the butterfly really can't do anything at all to a dragonfly.  Yet the butterfly was able to chase the dragonfly off more than once.  It didn't make sense from a logical perspective, yet it did make sense when one thinks of the ways that nature equips animals to take care of themselves.

The thing that struck me the most strongly, though, was that the dragonfly was scared away by the illusion of danger.  It got me to thinking about our natures, and just how easy it is for us to be intimidated or frightened by things that we think are dangerous or powerful, but which in reality are pretty harmless.  People get afraid of snakes just because they're snakes--even if they're only harmless garter snakes.  People are sometimes afraid of other people because of the ways they look, not realizing that they're just people, as all of us are.  We may be afraid to face a certain person because of something we said or did, only to find out the person has forgotten about it completely.  Our fear was caused by our ideas of how the person would act, not by reality.

Are there any scary butterflies in your life?  It would be a good idea to look at it more closely, to see if it actually can do you any harm at all, or if you're just intimidated by the illusion of possible harm.  Because as frightening as the butterfly may look to you, the fact is that it really is pretty harmless.

29 April 2013

Questioning Myself

I often ask myself if what I'm doing from day to day is useful or not.  Does going to school and trying to teach English to high school students serve a greater purpose in the world?  Are there other people out there who would do it better than I?  Am I really accomplishing anything?  Am I really helping, or is there a different direction that I could or should go in?

I don't ask myself these questions to agonize myself or to wallow in self-doubt.  In fact, from talking to other people I've learned that most people ask themselves similar questions all the time.  While some people might advise us not to think of such things, or not to doubt ourselves or our careers, I think it's quite healthy to keep an open mind about what we're doing and why.  When we're asking the questions, we tend to look for answers a bit harder, and we may find them in the smallest of things that we otherwise might overlook.  In the case of a teacher, we may hear an answer in a student's comment about feeling more comfortable with his or her writing, or a remark about feeling safe in my classroom.  I might see an answer in a piece of writing that's extremely expressive, which shows that a student is able and willing to share deeper ideas with me as a reader.

In other career areas, the answers to our questions may be less clear or obvious.  Cashiers at a supermarket, for example, serve a very important purpose for all of us who want to buy food, but their contact with us is fleeting at best.  They may see the feedback they need in a smile and a sincere "thank you," though.  They may feel appreciated when a customer feels comfortable enough with them to engage in a conversation, however short it may be.

Questions help us to move further, to examine critically, to look for answers and ideas that otherwise we might never look for.  Rainer Maria Rilke advised Mr. Kappus in a letter to him:  "I must beg you as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart, and to learn to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and books written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the key is this, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, without hardly noticing, you will live along some distant day into the answers."

15 April 2013

Setting out on a Journey

I’ve been thinking recently about the idea of life as a journey.  It’s a metaphor that seems very appropriate when we think of what we go through in our short times here on this planet.  I’ve also been thinking about ways that we live our lives and things that we do in the process.  So much of what we do in life is very similar to the choices we make and actions we take while on a journey.  Don’t we stop regularly for refueling?  For rest?  Don’t we see all sorts of scenery, beautiful and magnificent as well as tedious and somewhat boring?  Don’t we meet different types of people and learn new and different things from new situations, people, and locations?

I’d like to think that if we can look at life as a journey, then we also can learn the value of the metaphor and take some of the lessons that we learn on the road to help us to live our lives in the best ways that we can.  For example, when I think of what we need to do before we take off on a journey, I know that the first thing that we need to do is prepare.  And we need to be completely aware of what kinds of preparations each type of journey requires.  If I want to travel spontaneously without any plans, then I need very little preparation other than getting my clothes and toothbrush packed, to arrange for transportation, and to make sure I had enough money.  On the other hand, I may want to get from one point to another as quickly as possible; in that case I’d need to plan the roads to take as well as taking care of some of the other basics.

My life’s journey is starting right this moment.  The past already is gone; the future awaits.  The beginning of this journey truly is in every moment I live, if I wish it to be.  So how am I going to prepare for the journey?  Do I need to plan a lot and made sure that everything is ordered and ready to go for me?  Or do I want to go with the flow of life for a while and allow each moment to bring me what it will, and then make the best I can of what each moment brings?  These are just two ways to approach the life I’m about to live, and today I can make the decision about how I'm going to approach my future.  This awareness of the need to make such a decision can be one of the most important things that I have in my life, for only this awareness of the need will cause me to make life decisions that can bring more value to who I am and the life I live.

This is a metaphor that I shall take further, for it’s one that’s close to my heart–one that is very important to me.  Now that I've realized that awareness of the need to decide how to approach the journey, as well as awareness of many of the choices available to me, is a vital element of making my life all that it may be, I can look at the options and my decisions much more clearly and make great contributions to my life as well as the lives of others who are within my world.

Find your true path.  It’s so easy to become someone we don’t want
to be, without even realizing it’s happening.  We are created by
the choices we make every day.

10 April 2013

A Daily Meditation on obstacles

The journey through life has many valleys that we can't
just skip over, and also many mountains to climb that
we can't just jump over.  It is also true that we need
the space and the freedom to make our own mistakes.
Trial and error seem to be the only way we
can learn and grow.  Life is first and foremost a process.
And this process is a zig-zag process at that.

John Powell

* * * * *

As we grow up, some well meaning but misguided adults try to teach us that one of the goals of life is to avoid pitfalls, to make as few mistakes as possible, to try to make our lives as smooth and as trouble-free as possible.  If these people were successful in teaching us these things, I think that most of us would lead very dull lives of very little learning, and that would be a shame.

The people who tend to thrive in life are those who realize that life is going to throw us some curve balls and that we're going to make mistakes as we go along--many of them dreadful mistakes with unpleasant consequences.  Trial and error lead to learning, but if we avoid the trial and error part, just how much can we expect to learn about our own abilities and limitations?

Many people become disillusioned because they expect life to be a smooth ride with very few bumps.  Their disillusionment is one of the hardest things that they have to deal with, and I'm sure it makes it difficult for them to see their lives clearly.

Once we accept the fact that our journeys through life are going to be full of speed bumps and detours and other obstacles and trials, we can start to love those things for what they are--probably the best teachers we can get while we're here on this planet.  I've had my share of them, and I know that I'm a better, stronger, wiser person for having passed through the obstacles than I ever would have become if I had been able to avoid them all.

* * * * *

I have always found that each step we take in life is
to be regretted-- if we once begin to wonder how many
other steps might have been possible.

John Oliver Hobbes

from Living Life Fully's Daily Meditations, Year One

02 April 2013

Out of Touch

Sometimes I like being out of touch.  In fact, I like it enough that I've gotten rid of my cell phone–I wasn't feeling comfortable any more with the idea of having to be responsive to whoever chose to call whenever they chose to call.  We human beings have gotten by pretty well for a very long time without having the ability to call home to ask what flavor of ice cream we should buy at the store, and I want to keep getting by without having a device that keeps me tied to other people for no real reason.

Now if I or my wife were seriously ill, then I’d have a cell phone.  In a case like that, it seems that the benefits of getting news quickly far exceeds the loss of my ability to be alone when I want to be.  And there are those who would argue that I could just turn the phone off if I wanted to.  But then my question would be why I was paying a company fifty dollars a month for something that I usually turned off anyway?

People are becoming addicted to these devices and the idea of being able to reach other people at any time.  Students at school check their screens every two or three minutes to see if they have any new text messages–keeping their focus far away from the lesson at hand.  It seems to be getting harder and harder for people to spend time alone, either by choice or even not by choice.  For me, though, my time alone is among the most precious time of my life, for it’s then that I do some of my best reflection, some of my best thinking.  It’s then when I feel connections to the world around me, to nature and to life and to God.

I was at a wedding on the west coast once with someone from the east coast.  She had her cell phone with her, and her husband–who tends to be a controlling, insecure person–called her just about every hour.  So every hour her focus shifted from where she was, in a new and completely different environment, back home to her husband.  She didn't have much of a chance at all to give her undivided attention to experiencing the new place, and she left not knowing much at all about where she’d been, but knowing almost every detail of what her husband had done during her three days away.

Sometimes we just think that we need something.  Especially if we’re paying for it, for then our need justifies the cost.  But do we really need to be able to be in touch with others all the time?  Or do we need to be by ourselves every once in a while to get in touch with the deeper parts of ourselves?  Who knows–it may even be a good thing that you have the chance to choose whatever flavor of ice cream you want.  Making decisions like that help us to develop problem-solving skills and help us to learn to think through things.  People have been buying groceries for years without having a phone to check with someone else, and when all is said and done, they got by just fine, didn't they?

All our miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.
Blaise Pascal

27 March 2013

Something to Laugh at

My wife and I have a habit that I like.  We don't have any sort of TV reception--no cable or satellite--so we basically watch only DVD's that we rent.  The habit that I like is watching something that we find funny with dinner--it's a great way to wind down after a long day, and the laughter is like a balm that allows us to feel better and to enjoy ourselves.  Since it's just the two of us for dinner, we're not missing the family time for dinner (we never had the TV on at dinner time while my step-kids were still living at home) and we're using the time to enjoy ourselves and find something to laugh at.

The laughter is something that's very important to us.  Laughter is one of the most important things in the world, and it's great to laugh at something funny every evening.  It's a very relaxing feeling, one of letting go a bit and enjoying ourselves.  We're careful not to choose programs that don't try to get laughs by insulting or humiliating others, for we don't find that at all funny.  Rather, we find shows that we know we like, that we know we can laugh at, and that we know are going to lighten our spirits.

This is a conscious decision that we've made, to make laughter a part of each day that we can.  I also often read Calvin and Hobbes when I go to bed, because I find it nice to laugh a bit before I go to sleep--the laughter clears my mind and makes me feel better.  When I was in grad school, I made Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures a part of every day, and they helped me a great deal to lighten my academic load and give me a perspective.

What makes you laugh?  Do you choose to make that something a part of every day?  If you don't, you should, for deciding to expose yourself to something that's going to cause you to laugh is going to improve your state of mind and make you feel much better--about yourself and about life in general.  In all the grimness that we're exposed to each day, and with all the bad things we hear that people do to other people, it's nice to make laughter an important part of who you are.  And who knows who's going to be using you as a role model--would you rather they see you as someone who laughs a lot, or as someone who's stern and unsmiling, never having any fun?  That's a question only you can answer. . . .

I am especially glad of the divine gift of laughter:  it has made
the world human and lovable, despite all its pain and wrong.

W.E.B. DuBois

21 March 2013

A nice passage on oneness and unity

I was sitting alone on the downtown IRT on my way to pick up the children at their after-school music classes.  The train had just pulled out of the Twenty-third Street station and was accelerating to its cruising speed.  All around me people sat bundled up in mufflers, damp woolen coats, and slush-stained boots, reading newspapers or staring off blankly as the train jerked along the track.  The air was cold and close, with the smell of stale tobacco clinging to winter coats.  An elderly pair exchanged words in a Slavic tongue; a mother read an advertising sign to her three bedraggled, open-mouthed children.

Then suddenly the dull light in the car began to shine with exceptional lucidity until everything around me was glowing with an indescribable aura, and I saw in the row of motley passengers opposite the miraculous connection of all living beings.  Not felt; saw.  What began as a desultory thought grew to a vision, large and unifying, in which all the people in the car hurtling downtown together, including myself, like all the people on the planet hurtling together around the sun--our entire living cohort--formed one united family, indissolubly connected by the rare and mysterious accident of life.  No matter what our countless superficial differences, we were equal, we were one, by virtue of simply being alive at this moment out of all the possible moments stretching endlessly back and ahead.  The vision filled me with overwhelming love for the entire human race and a feeling that no matter how incomplete or damaged our lives, we were surpassingly lucky to be alive.  Then the train pulled into the station and I got off.

Aliz Kates Shulman

19 March 2013

Somewhere Close

My wife and I once had a day off together today, the first one in a long time.  Over the course of the week leading up to that day, we talked a lot about what we were going to do with it.  All sorts of things came to mind--day trips to mountains about four hours away, trips to visit friends a couple of hours away, even the possibility of taking an overnight trip somewhere.  Finally, though, we thought of going somewhere nearby, a spot in a National Forest that was supposed to be quite nice.  So that's what we did--we drove less than an hour to get up into the mountains close to where we live, and we parked the car and went for a nice two-hour walk.  We saw a few deer, hawks, and lots of other birds.  We didn't hear any cars or other noise pollution, and we were out in the wild, enjoying the fresh air and the silence and the sunshine and the clouds and the breeze.

Sometimes it seems that if we want to do something new and different, we look far away for our inspiration.  Believe it or not, though, there are many wonderful things to see nearby, close to where you live.  We just tend to think that since they are so close, we'll always have a chance to see them, so we put them off until some other time.  This is why so many New Yorkers die before they see the Statue of Liberty, and why so many people in Arizona and Southern California and Nevada never have seen the Grand Canyon.

But we don't have to go far away to have a good time or to see something exciting.  We can find those things close by--all we have to do is look for them, and make the decision to visit them as soon as we can.  If we don't do this, we risk missing out on some of the nicest things around, thinking that the better things to see have to be further away.  It's a lot like we treat ourselves, thinking that the best things are outside of ourselves, while we have some pretty marvelous characteristics and traits inside of ourselves all the while.

What's near you that's beautiful?  What's amazing that's located nearby that you haven't yet seen or experienced?  You can find those things and enjoy them immensely, but only if you look for them and then make the decision to visit them and make them a part of your life, a part of your memories, a part of all that you've experienced on this beautiful planet of ours.

13 March 2013

From the Kindle book Living Life Fully's Daily Meditations

A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action,
for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he or she
who fills our memory with rows on rows of natural objects,
classified with name and form.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

* * * * *

It's a shame that most teachers I know have forgotten this concept. It usually isn't their fault--they become involved in schools or school systems that value numbers. Test scores, attendance figures, grades and grade averages--these have become the important indicators of whether a teacher is effective or not. Whenever the system becomes more important than the individual, then individuals suffer.

Teachers aren't nearly as able to look at their students as human beings--thinking, caring, feeling human beings--as they should be. They have to spend so much time on lesson plans and changing curricula and grading and classroom management that they often aren't able to focus on being a human being who teaches other human beings. In addition, "arousing feelings" isn't a concept that's all that valued, for feelings aren't quantifiable. Besides, learning about facts and figures and information is valuable; it's just that its value is overrated.

All that said, we know that the teachers tend to do the best job they can in their situations, and most of them try very hard to be valuable influences in the lives of their students. But we can help them. Not all teaching takes place in the classroom, and not all teachers are hired by schools to teach entire classrooms full of students.

We definitely have the ability to be teachers ourselves. We may not be qualified to teach algebra, but we certainly can read a poem to a child (or even a friend!) and discuss what it might mean to us. We can go through a book on animals, looking at amazing pictures, learning ourselves by reading captions as we "teach" someone else. We can listen carefully as someone explains his or her ideas, helping that person to clarify those ideas. There are many, many "teaching moments" in every day, and if we keep our eyes and ears open, we can recognize them and use them for all that they're worth. And the more we do it, the more we learn ourselves, and the better we get at it.

The important lessons in life rarely happen in a classroom. But if we step back and think that we can't teach because we're not "teachers," then we lose many opportunities to do many wonderful things. And if we don't teach because we assume that someone else will, then everyone loses.

08 March 2013

Out of Touch

With all of today's communications gadgets that are available to us, I find it more and more difficult to meet people who aren't at all interested in being accessible all day, every day, to whoever wishes to call them whenever they want.  Personally, I love being by myself and enjoying my surroundings without interruption, whether I'm running, walking, or biking.  To that end, I never carry a cell phone with me so that I can stay focused on where I am and what I'm doing.

While I was running today, I passed a woman on a beautiful lakeside trail who was talking on the phone.  I watched her as I approached from behind--she never looked to the left or right, never took in the sights all around her.  I ran out another half hour and then turned around--and about 45 minutes later I passed the same woman, still on the phone, still not looking around and enjoying her surroundings.  I don't say this in judgment, but in observation, as something I've witnessed time and time again--she was in a beautiful area that could have been very soothing to her soul, but she chose to ignore her surroundings to have a conversation with someone else who wasn't in the same place.

As soon as we talk to someone else, at least a part of our awareness is pulled from our present location to wherever that person happens to be.  Our focus is immediately split, and our ability to be aware and awake to our surroundings is severely diminished.  These are simply facts.  I want to do my best to be fully present at each moment where I am, and with whoever is sharing my time.  It causes me a lot of pain to see little kids--who would love to have some positive attention--with parents who are on cell phones, paying no attention to their kids at all.  So are they really spending "quality time" with their kids?

It's really nice to be alone, to be out of touch with other people.  It's nice to allow ourselves to be alone, to be focused on what surrounds us rather than having someone else pull our mindfulness away from us.  We human beings survived many thousands of years without being able to be in touch with other people any time, and we won't lose anything from our lives if we aren't accessible to anyone at any time.


01 March 2013

No Reason

I don't have a reason for everything I do.  I don't want to have reasons for all that I do, either.  To me, it's very important to be able to do things just because I want to, as long as they don't hurt anyone else.  One of the questions that most perplexes me sometimes is "Why did you do that?"  My answer usually is that I didn't know I had to have a reason.  I often wear two different colors of shoelaces, and many people have a difficult time with that--they want to know why I do that.  The truth is that I don't really have a reason.  I like colors, and white shoelaces on running shoes simply bore me, so I just change the laces.

Of course, there are those who will say, "That's your reason--because you like them, and you don't like the white shoelaces," but I don't think that's accurate.  I think that we're so caught up in being able to explain things that we don't allow ourselves the "Because that's the way it is" answer any more.  So much of life is inexplicable, though, and I see that as a good thing--it's more fulfilling to me to accept some things without needing an explanation for it.  It liberates me and makes me feel much less tied to things like explanations for other people's actions and likes and dislikes.

Children are the unfortunate recipients of much of our need for explanations.  "Why did you do that?" we ask, and then we get upset when the child doesn't have an explanation ready for us.  But maybe he just did it without thinking of reasons--it's a new experience and new learning, and it could even have been fascinating and fun.  Maybe something got broken along the way, but those things do happen, don't they?

Today I'm going to do a few things for no reason.  Tomorrow, too.  Perhaps someone will ask me why I did it, and I'll just say, "No reason."  Because the bottom line is that if we have to explain every single thing that we do in life, we tend to lose the ability to be spontaneous, to live our lives in ways that don't need tons of explaining to every person who wants an explanation.  We can simply be and simply do, and that really is not just acceptable, but in many ways preferable.

26 February 2013

Some thoughts on laziness

I suppose that lazy people may be getting the most out of life, but it's hard for me to imagine how. I can't imagine not having any drive or ambition to accomplish anything, and having the desire to engage only in passive activities, always being a spectator, never acting. Laziness, in many cases, leads to poor health, low self-esteem, lack of hope, and low self-confidence, among other things that I just don't see. It also robs a person of a sense of accomplishment, a sense of self-worth, and self-development. How are you going to learn anything or pick up a new skill or develop a talent if you're too lazy to get up and do something?

Many people are very harsh with lazy people, and I have to admit that my initial thoughts about laziness are usually rather judgmental. I know, though, that many people who seem to be lazy are just picking a passive way of dealing with fears or insecurities or frustrations--people with learning disabilities, for example, often seem lazy because of the high levels of frustration they encounter when trying to accomplish "simple" tasks. A person who's afraid of other people or of social situations may choose a passive approach to everything so that they won't have to take any risks. A slow learner may prefer appearing lazy to appearing stupid--if I don't do the work at all, no one will criticize my performance.

In addition, many people suffer from diseases or illnesses, many undiagnosed, that may deprive them of energy and make it seem as if they're being lazy. People with lyme disease or iron deficiencies or any other such ailments may appear to be quite lazy, especially if they forego activities that their friends and families partake in. These problems are especially troublesome if they're undiagnosed, for no one can see or know of a specific cause of a person's inactivity.

Of course, all of the possible causes (save the physiological) don't justify a life without accomplishment. Nor does knowing that you're being lazy because of fear compensate for what you miss out on in life because of your unwillingness to act. The key to dealing with laziness is taking action, and the key to taking action is finding the motivation to do so. What do we do, though, when a person simply doesn't want to be motivated to do anything? What do we do about the person at work who isn't willing to do his or her share of the current task? What do we do about the student who doesn't do the homework because he or she prefers to lay around, talking on the cell phone or watching TV?

And how do we define "lazy"?

My definition most certainly would be different than yours.

Of course, the answers aren't simple. Most people have heard the lectures and the begging and the pleading and the "it's your life--waste it in front of the tube if you want to" spiels, and there's not much more we can do. Hopefully, we can be understanding enough to help them to see just what they're missing in life, and just how things could be if they were to change their patterns of behavior. They're missing out on a lot in life, and many of them don't realize just what they're missing, because they've never experienced it. How can we motivate them? How can we show them just what their lives would be like if they were to take some risks, to act, to live their lives themselves rather than vicariously through entertainment media?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that if laziness is the determiner of your behavior, then you're missing out on much of what this beautiful world has to offer. Please take your place in the world and be a positive influence to others. Help to teach others of the beauty of living life and of being active in life, not the boredom and tedium of being lazy.

As a footnote, one of the greatest tragedies for me to witness is the effect of lazy parents on their children. I've seen many children growing up slovenly and lazy because they've learned the patterns from their parents. We need to be stronger role models to these kids than to some others--we need to let them see how much the world offers, and help them realize that they'll miss it all if they continue to emulate their parents. It's difficult, but for their sake, it's necessary.

25 February 2013

Negative Attitudes

A negative attitude is the result of many factors, but it's not an uncontrollable result. You do have a say in how your attitude is. Carry around a negative attitude and people will not want to be around you and may avoid you, thus adding to that never-ending circle. But show the world a positive attitude--even if that's not how you're feeling inside--and you'll start to see more positive things happening in your life, and soon that will be how you feel inside. Life's too short and beautiful to look at darkly and hopelessly, so do your best to see it brightly, and share that brightness with others, and you'll see how much of a change you'll go through. Nobody wants to see you be negative, but they also don't want to be dragged down, so they'll avoid you rather than help you. Please, be someone who lifts others up, not someone who drags others down.

20 February 2013

There's Something Wrong with Me!

So you've tried a few self-help books, trying to work your way through some of the problems that are in your life, and you've been astonished and dismayed to find out that most of them somehow make you feel worse!  Here's some woman or some man on a tape or in a book, giving you all sorts of wonderful advice on how to improve your life and make things better, and those upbeat and inspiring words are bringing you down.  It just doesn't make any sense at all--or does it?

I know from experience that trying to improve our lives by learning how to deal with life's curveballs and obstacles can be a rough road to follow.  Personally, I've had very positive programs that made a lot of sense to me act as a catalyst for depression, and I've spent many an awful day as a result of trying to learn more about what truly will make me happy.  As time has gone on and I've learned more, I've started to realize one of the main reasons for which this dynamic occurs, and here it is:

First of all, as soon as we start listening to a program that will help us to "improve" our lives, there's an obvious implication that we aren't doing something right, that there's something wrong with us.  After all, if there weren't anything wrong with us, why would we be listening to a self-improvement program?  While most of us are willing to admit that we aren't perfect and that we make mistakes, there's another aspect of who we are that doesn't want us to admit such a thing.  Many people refer to this part of our selves as our "false self," the part of us that's influenced by outside forces and that wants to please those forces.  

Once this false self gets the idea that we think there's something wrong with us, it goes into a defensive mode, trying to defend itself, for self-improvement is, in most ways, an attempt to dethrone this false self and to allow our true selves to live the lives they were meant to live.  And what's the most effective way to defend itself?  By drawing on those very feelings that make us feel that we need to improve our lives, by making us feel miserable and then blaming that misery on the very program we're listening to.

And how does it do this?  Through the negative self-talk that it's used so well for so long.  "What does she know about my life?"  "How can she tell me what to do to be happy--she doesn't even know me?"  "I'd like to think his advice is good, but he's so judgmental!"  "That may work for some people, but it wouldn't work for someone like me!"  "That's interesting, but it's so strange.  I've never heard anything like that before."  "Why is this guy telling me to change?  What's wrong with the way I am?"

You see, this false self doesn't want to change--it likes where it is, right there in charge of your life.  It can bring you down when it needs to by making you focus on petty, negative garbage, and it can keep you wondering why things never get better.  It can use feelings of self-righteousness, superiority, arrogance, selfishness -- all feelings that we intellectually despise -- to keep us down where it wants us.  It's afraid of change, for change means its end.

It's taken me years to figure out what's going on and how to work with it, and I'm definitely not completely there yet.  My personal false self is still quite strong, and it often keeps me feeling pretty low when there's no real reason for that.  But I am learning to recognize its voice, to take it for what it is, and to do my best to reject it as soon as I recognize it.  And it feels very good when I do so -- instinctively, I feel that I'm doing something right and advancing in my development as a person.

Deciding to improve oneself isn't a question of getting on a well paved highway and stepping on the gas and progressing at 150 miles and hour.  Not at all.  It's more like spying a beautiful clearing with a nice waterfall and gorgeous flowers and singing birds several miles away, and then seeing that between you and that clearing lie dark forests, fields of thorn bushes, people who want to stop you from reaching the clearing, wild beasts that are very hungry, and many more obstacles -- most created by the false self, who knows that it can't get to the clearing with you.  But the clearing is there, and it's waiting for you, and everyone can reach it if they just trust in their true selves and learn to recognize all that comes from their false selves.


14 February 2013

A nice essay from the late Louise Morganti Kaelin

Top Ten Principles to Live by--Plus One

Many years ago, inspired by Steven Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People" I created a personal mission statement.  In order to fulfill that mission, I also developed a set of 'Operating Principles'.  I think of these operating principles as the yardsticks by which I know how closely I am living that mission.  Although these are very personal, I choose to share them hoping to inspire you to develop your own.

1.  I Recognize God in Everyone
I unconditionally love and accept others, and in so doing I unconditionally love and accept God and myself.  I respect, without judgment or reservation, the beliefs and decisions of others as well as their right to those beliefs and decisions.

2.  I Walk What I Talk
All of my actions are in harmony with my innermost beliefs and values.  I keep all commitments I make to myself and others.

3.  I Seek Excellence in All I Do
I approach every aspect of my life with the sincere desire to do the very best I can, using the appropriate combination of skills, talents and resources to produce superior results.

4.  I Inspire through Example
I use all of the love, talent and wisdom within me to maximize my potential and to experience life as a rich tapestry, full of love, joy, wonder, abundance and mystery.

5.  I Empower through Love
I use all the love, talent and wisdom within me to serve others by helping them uncover the wisdom, strength and power within themselves.  I give each person what they need in whatever form they are most comfortable receiving it.  I am able to impact ever-larger groups of people while maintaining time and space for me.

6.  I Alone Am Responsible for My Life
I gracefully accept the responsibility for everything present in my life today and graciously claim the power to create everything in my life tomorrow.  I employ my imagination, conscience, independent will and self-awareness to create a joyful, harmonious and integrated life.  I recognize my greatest power as being the freedom to choose, in every situation.  I consciously, proactively determine the best alternative and most appropriate response, basing my decisions on conscience educated by principles.

7.  I Embrace the Journey
I interpret all of life's experiences as opportunities for learning, growth and contribution.  I choose to move without faltering on an upward spiral of growth and change, improving continuously. I desire at all times to be free of limitation.

8.  I Honor My Spiritual Self
I am a clear and open channel for God's divine peace, love and light.  I carry the inner peace of being connected to God's abundance and energy into every moment of my life.

9.  I Honor My Physical Self
I am a radiant expression of God.  I am perfectly attuned to the needs of my body and joyously respond to those needs.  I nurture myself with healthy food, rest, exercise and relaxation. My life is full of grace, comfort and cleanliness.  I enjoy financial security.  I recognize that material abundance is a manifestation of the richness of my true self and does not represent a choice between having and being.

10.  I Honor My Emotional Self
In all relationships, I freely give and graciously receive love, nurturing and support.  Honesty is the cornerstone of all my relationships.  I enjoy a warm, loving relationship with a principle- centered person who cherishes me.  Our relationship is based on sharing, and choosing to share, our lives, our time and our space with each other.

11.  I Honor My Mental Self
I seek to constantly expand my knowledge and awareness of life by regular exposure to new thoughts, ideas, people and places.  I explore the world, joyously and without fear.
* * * * *
Louise Morganti Kaelin was a Life Success Coach who partnered with others to help them turn their dreams into reality.  She passed away in 2011.

11 February 2013

It's Your Life to Live

I love languages, and I love the ability we have to communicate simply by changing intonation.  I often look at sentences and think about the different implications involved in a simple shift in stress, a different way of pronouncing the same group of words.  The sentence that I'm using as a title to this column is one of the most important to me for quite a few reasons, no matter how we stress the words when we say it.

"It's YOUR life to live."  It's nobody else's life--we don't have to live to please others or to meet the expectations of others.  It's nice to want to meet those expectations sometimes, especially when we recognize that meeting them is in our own best interests, but we certainly aren't obligated to do so.  This is my life, and I have to do the things that I feel are right and best for me and for the people for whom I've freely accepted responsibility.  

For example, I have a wife and step-children, so I can't quit my job and go spend a year in the Grand Canyon, no matter how appealing that idea may be.  But even in the context of the family, I still must do what I feel is right and best for me.  In this case, I've accepted full responsibility for contributing to the well-being and support of my family, and it's in my best interests to live up to that responsibility and keep my word, for that's the type of person I am.  I can't pack up and go, nor do I wish to do so.

No matter what anyone else tries to convince me to do--enter this business, take this job, take these classes--I have to stay true to my vision of life and my conscience.  And since I'm fully aware of the implications of this way of being, I can't ask anyone else to do anything in their lives just because I think they should do it, or because I think it's what's best for them.  I have to tell them what I think and then back off and let go of all expectations, trusting that they'll do what's best or at least learn from mistakes.

"It's your LIFE to live."  You've heard it before--this isn't a dress rehearsal.  This isn't even opening night, with many more performances in the future.  This is the real thing, every minute of every day.  It's your LIFE.  It's an awe-inspiring thought for me--we've been given this wonderful gift of life, and we're living it every day, if we choose to do so.

We've all been given a wonderful opportunity to shape and craft this life we've been given into something useful, artistic, helpful, loving, magnificent.  But most of us get caught up in tasks--things to do and people to see and deadlines and contracts.  We forget to keep in mind that if we choose to do so, we can spend some of our time learning about LIFE, learning how to create a happy life with love and peace and hope.  I heard a wonderful short story on a tape program that I have--a preacher was driving on a country road when he came upon a beautiful small farm--tall rows of corn, produce gardens, a beautiful house--everything you could imagine in a small farm.  Spying the farmer, he approached him and exclaimed, "What a beautiful piece of land you have here!  God definitely has blessed you with a wonderful farm and a bountiful harvest!"  The farmer looked around himself and said, "Yes, I definitely am blessed with what I have, but you should have seen this piece of land when God had it to himself!"

"It's your life to LIVE."  A frightening thought--the absence of life in an organism that's been alive is death.  If you're not living, if there's an absence of life in your day-to-day routines, does that mean that you're dead?  In the film Harold and Maude, Maude, a 79-year-old woman who lives her life as fully as possible, tells Harold, an 18-year-old who's obsessed with death, that "A lot of people enjoy being dead.  But they're not dead really--they're just backing away from life."

Are you living your life, or are you existing?  Have you ever sat down and written out your goals and then worked to try to attain them, or do you just hang around and wait to see what each day will bring you?  Do you come home and do stuff you love to do, or do you just turn on the television set and let it "entertain" you while you sit there passive, not moving forward or adding to the value of your life?  Or are you so caught up in your 70-hour-a-week work life that there's no time for reading to your kids, for taking walks with your family, for writing letters to loved ones, for working on the hobby that you love so much but which you've been neglecting for so long?

It's YOUR LIFE to LIVE.  It's a beautiful thought, one full of awesome and glorious potential!

04 February 2013

How busy are we?

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


30 January 2013

Thoughts on Finding Fault

It's easy to find fault in things--far too easy for most of us. Somehow, the flaws are far more easy to see than the bigger picture, than the amount of work and thought and preparation have gone into a particular piece of work. Think about it--if someone just painted his or her house and missed a spot, what's the first thing we see? If someone just cooked us dinner and used a bit too much salt, what's the first thing we notice when we put the food into our mouths?

And if we do notice the bare spot on the house, aren't we doing the person a favor by pointing it out? And if the food's too salty we may not be able to eat it, so we'll definitely need to explain why.

Many of us carry this tendency to extremes, though. Many people feel that they need to tell everyone about every little fault that they find in every situation. They feel that they're doing people favors by pointing out what they see as flaws and problems, even though they may not be in a position in which people expect them to find mistakes. And when they do so, they risk hurting people greatly.

When a kid shows us a piece of artwork, for example, does it truly matter if the flower is taller than the tree? What possible purpose can it serve to point out what we see as a flaw when the picture already is finished? We really need to consider the effect of the criticism on the artist before we look for the problems. Is encouragement called for, or evaluation? We don't have to be teaching at every moment of our lives--we don't have to be finding things that need to be "fixed" all the time.

As a college English teacher, I find that very few people other than my students ever want me to read stuff that they write. There's a very simple reason for this, too--in their experience, they've found that English teachers look for the flaws and point them out, and they simply don't want to put themselves up for that kind of criticism. I learned this early and I don't point out things like misspellings or grammatical errors unless someone wants me to do so, but that doesn't usually help--once someone finds out what I do for a living, they want to avoid having someone else find fault in their work.

When we find fault in something that someone else has done, we're very often adding a negative element to our relationship with that person. We're defining limits of trust and sharing--if I know that someone is going to find fault with everything that I do, I will not share with that person unless I'm truly seeking criticism. As fewer people are willing to share with us, we lose much of the richness that comes from and through that sharing, and we become more isolated, less integrated. The loss of the sharing of others is one of the greatest losses we can cause ourselves, and it may even reach a point at which people just don't want to be around us at all.

There are, of course, times when fault-finding is appropriate. If a movie is simply awful, there's nothing wrong with saying so. After all, movies have been put out in the public eye, and criticism is expected. But if we take it too far and find things to criticize in every movie we see, we may find people trying to avoid us in the future. If a song is just awful, what's wrong with saying so? We just have to be careful not to alienate friends or loved ones who might like the song.

Fault-finding and criticizing, no matter what our intentions, tend to drive wedges between us and other people. A person who finds fault in everything is a person to be avoided, when all is said and done, and who among us wants other people to avoid us whenever they can?