29 April 2016

Our Focus

Where is our focus today? Is it on the bright and beautiful things in the world, or on the problems and difficulties that we're experiencing? It's very easy to focus on the latter, isn't it? If someone says something rude to us, it's easy to keep it in our minds for hours, even, while if we pass a scene of beauty, we're lucky to hold on to the image for half an hour. Sometimes I think that we choose to hold on to the negative things to make ourselves feel somehow victimized, as if that will help us to explain why life isn't going perfectly for us or it will give us an excuse for not being in high spirits. As if we need an excuse!

Sometimes it's important to focus on the problems, especially if we want to do something about them. If we want to solve a problem or figure out how it came to be, we need to focus on it and work on it. But most of us don't focus on our problems with the intent of doing something about them--we complain about them, stress over them, get angry about them, or think about them in just about any way other than a positive, pro-active way. When we do that, we're inviting our problems into our homes as uninhibited guests who really do have no respect at all for the place they're visiting--and they turn it into a nightmarish place of stress and frustration.

We need to learn how to relegate those problems to their proper place in our minds, and one of the ways we can do that is to keep in mind the positive things in life, too. We can think about the beautiful butterfly we saw land on the flower this morning instead of the rude person on their cell phone in the cafe. We can think about the nice thing someone said to us yesterday instead of the nasty comment that criticized us. There are many things in life that are a matter of choice, and what we allow to stay in the forefront of our minds is one of those things. Let some things pass through your mind and right back out again. Keep other things to help yourself to feel better about your life, your day, your self and your place in the world.

25 April 2016

A Simple Gesture

The desert dweller has lived in the desert so long that all of its moods have long since become a part of the daily rhythm of his life.  But it is not that fact that is of crucial importance.  For many years, it has been his custom to leave a lighted lantern by the roadside at night to cheer the weary traveler.  Beside the lantern there is a note which gives detailed directions as to where his cottage may be found so that if there is distress or need, the stranger may find help.

It is a very simple gesture full of beauty and wholeness.  To him, it is not important how many people pass in the night and go on their way.  The important thing is that the lantern burns every night and every night the note is there, "just in case."

Years ago, walking along a road outside Rangoon, I noted at intervals along the way a roadside stone with a crock of water and, occasionally, some fruit.  Water and fruit were put there by Buddhist priests to comfort and bless any passerby--one's spiritual salutation to another.  The fact that I was a traveler from another part of the world, speaking a strange language and practicing a different faith, made no difference.  What mattered was the fact that I was walking along the road--what my mission was, who I was--all irrelevant.   -Howard Thurman

22 April 2016

Listening to Rain

Thank God for that rain out the window and for Mr. Clemente, who allowed us in ninth grade to listen to it for no reason, in the middle of the day.  That one moment carried me a long way into my life.

I didn't know it then.  At the time, I think, it made me a little nervous--it was too naked, too uncontrolled, too honest.  I thought it odd.  In those days I was watching my step, making sure I knew the rules, keeping things in control.  I wore the same long, pleated skirt every day, blue cardigan sweater, oxford shoes, and carried a brown leather school bag, even while the other girls were wearing makeup, nylons, heels.  I never felt that I fit in. . . . For fear that people would think I was weird--I saw no one around me I could identify with--I tried not to be noticed.  I became a nerd.  And here was Mr. Clemente who asked me to listen to the rain, to connect a sense organ with something natural, neutral, good.  He asked me to become alive.  I was scared, and I loved it.

~Natalie Goldberg

20 April 2016

Quiet Time

One of the most important elements of my life is the time that I spend with nothing in particular to do, time that I spend being able to relax and recharge and make myself ready for whatever's coming next. I learned what it's like to live without this luxury when I spent four years in the Army, and those four years taught me to value my quiet time even more. That doesn't mean that I don't push myself--after all, I did two graduate programs at the same school at the same time; I did my doctorate while teaching full-time and coaching; I coached three sports each school year for two years. I am very often very busy--but that doesn't mean that I don't value and take advantage of quiet time.

When I take on a very busy schedule, one of the things that I make sure of is that there will be quiet time eventually in the future. Perhaps it will be a long weekend when I won't have anything planned, or maybe I'll know that spring break is there in the middle of the busy times. As a teacher, I do have an advantage with the breaks that happen in our schedules, but I also know many teachers who fill those breaks up with as many activities as they can. That's something that I simply won't do because I know that my mind and my body need a break--they need time without activity to be able to function better--or in my case, even function at all, it seems, after they've been used intensely for a long while.

Quiet time doesn't have to be time sitting around doing nothing but reading and drinking coffee (though times spent that way are quite wonderful!). Quiet time can be taking a nice long hike or going for a long run; it can be wandering around a mall and looking at things that are new and different; it could be meeting up with a friend for a cup of coffee and a nice long conversation. It has to do with purposely planning not to get stressed, not to fill my time with things that will keep me on edge. I don't try to accomplish anything that has to be of high quality during quiet time--that reach for quality implies judgment, and working to pass judgment, either my own or someone else's, becomes stressful.

One of the reasons that I love winter is because it gives us cozy, intimate moments that make for wonderful quiet time. In the summer I'm on the go much, much more, and when I do stop for a while, the good weather seems to be calling me, putting me on edge, telling me "Do something with me!" In the winter I don't feel that call, and it's much easier to curl up with a book in the lamplight and know that the snow is falling outside, but not having to do anything about it.

I'm thinking about this now because I just read a book about someone who never stopped, who never had down time. I couldn't have lived his life. In my world, taking the time to recharge and re-energize is extremely important, and I know that the quality of my life would suffer dramatically if I didn't build it in, or at least have it to look forward to sometime in the future.

08 April 2016

What I Would Tell You

Chances are that I've never met you.  That's okay.  We're both human beings, so I'm familiar with a lot about you--how your body works (except for gender differences, of course, or illnesses we haven't shared), the fact that you have hopes and dreams and fears, the fact that some people are good to you and some people aren't, etc. We have a lot in common.  Of course, not all of our experiences are shared, and there are probably more differences between us than similarities, especially if we start talking about thoughts and emotions. But the basic core fact is still the same--we're both human beings.

As a human being, I'm familiar with many things that make me feel very good. One of those things is to hear certain words from other people. Perhaps they like me. Perhaps they're grateful for something that I've done, or they want to compliment me for something. Maybe they simply say hello like they mean it. In any case, other people's words can be very important. And if I could meet you today, there are some things that I would like to tell you, not just in the hopes of making you feel better, but because I mean them and I want you to hear them.

I would tell you that you're a beautiful person. And that beauty isn't dependent on physical appearance--you're beautiful because you're a spirit going through a human experience and learning about this life and this world.  Your beauty is a simple fact, and I would tell you that.

I would tell you that I appreciate all of the positive things that you do, all of the compliments that you give, all of the encouragement that you share.  Our world definitely and desperately needs more positive influences, and every little bit that you contribute helps the world, even if in the smallest of ways on the smallest of scales.  One snowflake weighs next to nothing, but have you ever seen an avalanche?

I would tell you to hang in there and have hope, no matter how dark things may seem.  Life has a way of challenging us, and sometimes the challenges last longer than we think we can bear and become more difficult than we think we can handle.  But life also has a way of coming around again to the good times, to the easier situations and the pleasant experiences.  Life goes through cycles, and the happy days will come again.

I would also tell you to keep your eyes open and notice things consciously. Don't wait for things to catch your eye before you pay close attention to them--look at them now, appreciate them now, love them now.  Look at your brother or sister or mother or father or best friend or even worst enemy and love them now, even if you don't necessarily express that love because the other person may not be receptive to it.

I would tell you don't wait a single moment more to spread encouragement and compliments and love and even peace and joy.  Not everyone will be ready for it, but these things will always have a positive effect, even if you can't see that effect.  You may plant seeds and never, ever see the resulting plant or fruit or flower, but that's okay, as long as you let go of your need to see results of your actions.

I would tell you to let go of your need to see the results of your actions.  If we're impatient about wanting to see results of all we do or say, life can become a frustrating experience indeed.  Do good in life, and then let it go.  Move on to the next good thing you want to do, and then on to the next.  Sometimes you will know about positive results, but probably more often than not, you won't. That's okay.  That's life.

There is more that I want to tell you, and I will, but I think this is a good start. I'll now pass these words on to you. . . .

Thank you for being here to hear them.