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