25 September 2015

I Wonder

If there's anything that I hope I never lose during the days that I'm on this planet, it's the sense of wonder that allows me to see life as a beautiful, amazing process that I'm very fortunate to be able to witness.  The sense of wonder that I've been blessed with allows me to feel much more of life, and it keeps me looking for more and more things to wonder at.  It keeps things fresh and new, for there's never any telling what any new moment will bring.  When I take a walk downtown I may be seeing the same sights, but there's always something amazing to see, even if it's just the leaves on the trees that continue to produce oxygen all the time and convert sunlight to energy for the tree to grow.  It may be the way the light hits a certain building, or the way it reflects off of a window to illuminate something in a way I've never seen it before.

There's much in life that I wonder at.

I wonder when I see the eyes of a child--I wonder at the brightness and the curiosity and the openness to new ideas and experiences.

I wonder when I see the eyes of an adult--I wonder at the experiences that have come together to give this person his or her particular view of the world.  So many people have lived through so much, and it's a wonder that so many people have come so far.

I wonder when I see the rain fall--what held it up there in the first place if it's so heavy?  It's wonderful that it's going to soak into the earth and help the plants grow and give us water to drink.

I wonder at the wind--we can't see it or touch it, but there it is, and this unseen, untouchable thing can give us a beautiful soft breeze or be one of the most destructive forces on the planet.

I wonder at the sunlight, which has traveled millions of miles just to be with us.  The light that warms my skin and nourishes the plants left the sun eight minutes ago in order to travel the 93 million miles to get here.

I wonder at the songs of birds, who share their voices with us all the time, asking nothing in return.  Even without harmony or rhythm, their songs are beautiful and amazing.

I wonder at the many wonderful people who spend their lives helping others.  Many risk their lives to provide that help, and what they do is simply amazing.  Doctors, researchers, emergency personnel, teachers--the list is almost endless.

I wonder when I look at the things on my desk.  The books have been inspired by some, written by someone else, edited by others, printed by someone else, distributed by yet others, stocked in the store by another person, and sold to me by someone else.  And so it is with everything here--their existence can be traced through an incredible number of people, all of whom have worked to bring it to me.

I wonder when I turn on a light.  From the vast chain of people involved in producing the light bulb and getting it to me, to the chain of people involved in producing the electricity and making it available to the home in which I live, the fact that I can flip a little switch and get light is nothing short of a miracle to me.

You see, in these days when so many people claim that no more miracles happen, there are many amazing miracles happening every single day, in every single moment.  We are incredibly blessed with an amazing world, and our lives will be much richer the more that we allow ourselves to maintain the sense of wonder that we were born with--it's that sense of wonder that keeps open the door to appreciation, and the appreciation that allows us to feel gratitude.

This world is a wonderful place, and it's up to us to see that wonder, to feel it, and to let it be an important part of who we are.  The wonder is always there--the only question is whether we notice it and allow ourselves to feel that wonder.  Sometimes it takes practice to get back to a point at which we can, but it's time and effort well spent.

 quotes and passages on wonder

23 September 2015


I'm one of those people who love autumn.  It's by far my favorite time of year for many reasons--the cool, crisp air, the changing colors of the foliage, the shorter days, the foods, the harvests. . . I think the list could go on for a long time.  Every year, I'm grateful that I get to live through another autumn, and this year is no exception.  Of course, today is the first official day of the season, but I've already had a couple of weeks of autumn weather and scenery, so I'm grateful this year, too.

On a philosophical level, I think I like autumn because it's a season of preparation.  The world is preparing for a rest during winter, and life seems to be slowing down all around us.  People spend more time indoors (in places where the weather demands it), and thus there's much more intimacy in human relationships.  (Of course, if our relationships are weak or damaged, then that intimacy may not be desired, but that's another story entirely.)  People can spend time together, indoors, over a cup of coffee and a piece of pie without feeling that there's a need to get outside and get something else done.

Just as the world is preparing itself for a long rest, we can spend time in autumn reflecting on our lives and the issues that are present in them.  Autumn gives us a chance to watch much of the world coming to an end, especially the leaves and flowers that have accompanied us all through summer, and witnessing these changes can help us to focus on the changes in our own lives.  What are we passing through right now that will soon be no longer with us?  Is it time to change something important, such as a job or a living situation or a financial situation?  What parts of our lives are coming to an end?  I've had hobbies that I slowly lost interest in, but that I kept up out of habit--it took me a long while to realize that they didn't interest me anymore as much as they had before.  What parts of our lives are turning yellow and orange and red and preparing to fall from the trees?

Life is about cycles as much as it's about anything else.  We go through them, our spouses go through them, our children go through them.  And one important truth about cycles is that they come to an end, and it's important to let them do so and to move on gracefully to something else.  Autumn is a wonderful reminder to us that these cycles are not only natural, but important to us.  When leaves fall in a forest, they form a layer of material that in the future will become fertilizer for following generations of plants.  As we move on from one thing to the next, the lessons that we've learned from one will help us to take full advantage of the next, making our lives richer and fuller.

Today, I think, I'm going to sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and write down some of the things that I need to let go of, and some of the things I long to add to my life.  Autumn is reminding me that perhaps I need to do so.

 Quotations and passages on autumn

17 September 2015

I Do Get Discouraged

When I started Living Life Fully all those years ago, my goal was to present positive words on life in order to provide people with encouraging material that might be able to help them through difficult times in their lives, or even to help them maintain their positive attitudes.  I knew that the positive quotations and passages that I had read had always helped me, and I wanted to share that source of encouragement and motivation with the world--and the Internet actually gave me the possibility of doing so.

With all of the focus on the positive, though, sometimes I feel a little bit guilty when I feel things like discouragement and sadness.  My brain tells me that there's no reason to feel discouraged, but the feeling is still there.  It happens over many things--relationships, money, work, projects, writing.  Sometimes things seem to pile up--car problems and money problems and job problems at the same time--and the discouragement becomes an unfocused sense that "nothing ever goes right, no matter how hard I try."

In the quotation below, the writer says that people won "because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats."  I don't buy that completely--I think that discouragement is completely natural sometimes, as long as we treat it as a temporary feeling and work ourselves past it.  Discouragement can actually be a great motivational tool if we tell ourselves "I don't want to feel like this any more, so I'm going to do what's necessary to move on past the feeling."

Often, talking about what's making us feel this way is enough to help us to see that things aren't so bad.  Getting advice from others never hurts, either, whether we follow the advice or not.  But the key is to remember that all of our situations are temporary, and that discouragement occurs when we're afraid that there will be no changes in the future, that things are going to continue being just as they are now.  But we can't know the future, so it's important that we stay focused on the here and now.  What can I do now to try to improve things?  Or should I just keep on keeping on, doing what I know in my heart is right, in spite of false evidence from the world that I'm failing?

I'm discouraged now.  That's why I'm writing this.  Because as I address the discouragement in terms that are as objective as I can make them, I see that there really is no need for my discouragement--it's a very real feeling that I'm not going to deny, but I'm also not going to let it control me or my life.  There's too much life that I would miss out on if I were to focus on what seems to be going wrong, so I'll focus on the things that are going right and do my best to do things now that may help to make sure that the future turns out better than it seems it might.

History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually
encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed.  They
won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.

Bertie Charles Forbes

14 September 2015

Learning Limits

Somehow, the word "limit" has become almost a dirty word in our society.  Over the years, we've decided somehow that we shouldn't focus on limits, but on possibilities and potential.  We should focus on what we can do, not what we can't do.  In this way, we've helped a lot of people who previously thought only of limits.  They've been able to learn that they shouldn't be focusing just on what we can't do, for if we adopt that focus, then guess what?  We're going to severely limit ourselves and our lives, and we're probably never going to reach our potentials.  In this way, we've done some very positive things.

But has our shift been balanced?  I often think that in making the shift, we've caused a lot of damage because we haven't kept in mind that there are still some very real and very important limits in our lives--limits on what we can and can't do, and limits on what we should and shouldn't do.

I see this a lot in students and other young people.  Somehow, many of them seem to be learning that anything goes, that they can do or say whatever they want because they want to, or because they see something as "true."  They haven't learned anything at all about tact or diplomacy--they're completely self-centered, and they're unable to recognize the feelings and needs of others.

I also see a high level of frustration in young people who have been taught that they can do whatever they want, only to choose a venture in which they're not very good.  A person who isn't an innately skilled thrower, for example, shouldn't choose to be a pitcher in baseball or softball--it almost never works out.  But because they've been told they can be "anything they want to be," they go out for the team and they think that with enough work and effort, they'll be great pitchers.  The truth ends up being, though, that they get cut from the team.

As a teacher, I see one of my most important tasks as trying to help students to recognize their strengths and to work on developing them.  I try to help them to see the limits that exist for them and to work at overcoming them--if necessary--but to focus more strongly on getting really good in their areas of strength.

A happy life is not one that is built on frustration.  I think it's wonderful to try to overcome limits, but I also know that limits are real.  I'll never be a four-minute miler, no matter how much I work at it, and that's okay.  I can get to be as fast as I can.

And in social situations, I'll be much wiser--and kinder--if I recognize that there are limits to what I should say and do.  I need to understand the messages that others are giving, and be sensitive to those messages.  If a particular item of clothing seems very unattractive to me, then I have to decide if the best thing is to say something or to let it slide.  Usually, the latter is the best course of action because other people dress to please themselves, not to please me, and my opinion is completely irrelevant, and it could be extremely insensitive of me to say exactly what I feel.

On the other hand, if my wife has a job interview and she asks me if a certain shirt looks appropriate, it's important that I tell her if I think it doesn't.  Then it's up to her to decide what to do about it.

We have limits, and that's okay.  Once we recognize them and accept them, we'll be fine.  And more importantly, we'll be more able to help others through their lives, and we can help them to be fine, too.

The main thing is to be honest with yourself, know and
recognize your limits and attain maximum achievement
within them.  I would for example get more satisfaction
from climbing Snowdon, which I know I could, than
from attempting Everest, which I couldn't.
-Stirling Moss