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.