28 December 2016

It's a Beautiful Day

Sometimes when I'm trying to think of what to write about, I just open up my eyes and ears and look for something that's already a part of my life.  Sometimes it's a newspaper article or advertisement, sometimes it's a book that I'm reading, sometimes it's the memory of something that I saw happen yesterday or a few days ago.

Today, it was pretty easy--the song "Beautiful Sunday" was playing on my computer when I sat down.  "Birds are singing/here by my side/let's take the car and/let's go for a ride"--nice lyrics for any time.  It's not Sunday right now, but who cares?  Every day is quite simply a beautiful day.  Carole King also had a song called "Beautiful" that starts out "You've got to get up every morning with a smile on your face. . . . you're beautiful as you feel."

So much of our lives have to do with our own decisions concerning how we see the world.  If we wake up and see the day before us as drudgery, guess how we're going to approach that day, and guess how we're going to feel?  On the other hand, if we wake up and realize that we have a whole day of miraculous things like flowers and children and birds singing and the chance to learn more about our chosen careers, then guess what that day's going to be like?

Both kinds of days, of course, are affected by other people and their actions.  On the day full of drudgery, it's of course possible that a good friend or co-worker is going to lift our spirits.  And on the beautiful day, it's possible that someone's going to try to bring us down.  That's why in the former case, the lyrics to so many songs talk about the world being beautiful "because you're here by my side"; it's as if the world couldn't be a beautiful place without another person there to validate it for us.  Even the song that started this train of thought shows that tendency:  "When you say that you love me/It's a beautiful day."

But if we make the decision to look for the beauty in each day, there's no way that anyone else should be able to take it away from us.  Even if someone does try, we have the ability to reject those attempts and keep our day positive.  We do have the power to decide how we see things, and if we work to develop that power, then no one else will be able to change that decision.

The fact is, it is a beautiful day.  There's no difference between this day and any other day that we've seen as beautiful except our own personal situations today--it's exactly the same world as it was when we saw it as exceptional.  So make the choice today, tomorrow, and the next day--see the world for what it is, not for how it's reflecting our feelings, and then our feelings will start to reflect the beauty of the world, rather than the other way around.

 Quotations on today from Living Life Fully

16 December 2016

The Hardest Choices

I went for a long run one Saturday morning long ago, and it was a glorious early-fall day.  The air was cool and clear, there was almost no traffic, and the trees were just beginning to turn.  I had found a new route that went almost entirely through wooded areas, and the beauty of the area was amazing.  It would have been a perfect run if it hadn't been for the chipmunk that I found on the road.

It looked like it had been hit by a car because it couldn't move anything behind its midsection.  It was clawing at the road with its front legs and looking around itself, but it simply couldn't move.

All of a sudden, I was faced with a dilemma that I didn't even want to consider.  I could do one of two things--I could continue running and leave the animal there on the road to suffer a great deal until it either starved to death, got run over by another car, or got eaten by some predator, or I could do the humane thing and kill it and put it out of its misery.  I didn't want to do either, of course, but I had to choose.

And the worst option for me was the best thing for the chipmunk.

Now, if I were a farmer or a rancher, this decision would have been very simple.  People who live and work with animals tend to have a very realistic vision of life and death, and they know that sometimes death is absolutely necessary.  But I haven't lived with animals my whole life--in fact, I've had very few pets.  So I was out there alone on the road with a small animal that needed me to make a decision, one that I never before had had to make.  And while I try my hardest to respect all life and let living creatures be, I knew in my heart that the only thing to do was to kill the chipmunk.  So I did, in the way that I thought would be the least painful to the animal that already was in a lot of pain (I won't go into the details).

As I ran away, I started to think of how suddenly the need to make a choice had come upon me, and how often such things happen.  If we find out that a friend is doing something illegal, do we tell his or her family, or the police?  If we know that a spouse has stolen from his or her workplace, do we report it?  Life is full of decisions that come upon us because of someone else's actions or inaction, and we have to be able to make those decisions that will allow us to live with clear consciences, if we're to continue to be the people we're meant to be.

Not all of the decisions are easy, especially when both of the options available to us are unpleasant.  I could have asked someone driving by to run over the animal, but I know that if I had, I would have passed on a responsibility that I knew was mine, and mine alone.  While I found the experience of killing a poor little animal to be extremely unpleasant, I knew all the time that I was doing something kind, not harmful, and that it was the best of all possible choices. Running away (literally) from the dilemma would have left me with a great deal of regret, knowing that I had left it there to suffer for who knows how long.

Now I kind of wonder if the chipmunk is going to visit me in a nightmare, but I don't think it will.  I believe its suffering ended long before it would have otherwise, and I'm pretty sure that I did the right thing.  The hardest choices usually aren't as clear-cut as this one was, and if the choice involves other people, they often will try to make you live to regret doing the right thing.  But if your conscience is clear, you can stand strong in the face of all criticism, knowing that you've done what you know to be right.

The hardest choices so often come upon us out of the blue, as the result of no actions of our own.  All of a sudden we find ourselves having to decide between two or three alternatives, all of which are unpleasant.  But which choice is the highest choice?  Which choice will bring the most legitimate benefits to the most people?  Which choice truly is right?  Your mind can rationalize all it wants, but your heart and spirit will tell you the truth.  Listen to the truth, and live by it.  The choices have to be made, one way or another.

11 December 2016

This Day, This Moment

We've all heard and read about how today is the only day that we have, how this moment is all that we truly have, how yesterday and tomorrow really don't matter and that we must focus on living in this present moment if we're truly to be able to live happily.  While this sounds like a great philosophy, it raises many questions that seem to contradict it:  what about planning for tomorrow?  What about the lessons that we learned last week?  Does this mean that we shouldn't have the memories of the beautiful times in our past?  If we do truly live in this moment, doesn't that leave us open to many problems that planning and remembering could help us to overcome?

Well, yes and no.  Basically, the focus of this philosophy is on those things over which we have control, and this moment and its decisions and actions are the only things that we actually can control.  If I insulted someone yesterday, I no longer have control over that action--it's over and done with.  However, I do have control over today--my choices are mine.  Do I mope around, angry at myself for my insensitivity, beating myself up emotionally and calling myself horrible names?  Each moment that I continue in such behavior, I'm making a choice to beat myself up and not to pursue an alternative action such as apologizing for my behavior and allowing myself to continue with my life.

Perhaps my action occurred over a long period of time when I was thoughtless or harmful to others.  If that's true, acting ashamed and treating myself badly today isn't going to change anything that I did, but it will assure that I don't contribute anything positive to the world.  Allowing myself to go on and act differently right now will add a positive force to the world, a positive influence for many people to see.  Ebeneezer Scrooge is a wonderful example of this--once he found his change of heart, he was immediately happy and joyful, and he helped many people because of it.  He didn't waste time on regret, even though many of us would like to see such a person suffer to "pay for" the pain he's caused.  Their suffering, though, contributes nothing to the world except for giving us a warped sense of justice.  When those people change their ways and contribute positively to the world, then there's a change worth seeing.

Living for today also doesn't preclude planning for the future.  I know I have to go to work tomorrow, so one of the decisions I make today is to go to bed at a decent hour.  I know that my stepkids will be in college in a couple of years (one already is), so I decide today not to buy certain things, and to put money away to make the sting of helping to pay for college less painful.  I know that I'll probably be going into the same stores that I'm going into today, so I decide to be courteous and polite (and enough of this behavior turns it into a habit).  I know that when someone asks me tomorrow what I did today, I don't want to have to hide something that I'll be ashamed to admit, so I make the decisions today that will make it unnecessary for me to hide anything.

Besides, I have no control over what tomorrow brings.  How many times have we said no to some possibility because we have to do something else tomorrow, only to find that the something else never happens?  Tomorrow may bring a snowstorm or a bright sunny day that precludes many possibilities.  How many people didn't invest money anywhere except the stock market in the late 90's, sure that the market would continue to bring huge returns?  The decisions they made in the 90's to put their money in just one investment (stocks) brought about huge financial losses during our recession of ten years ago.  If I had ten thousand dollars to invest today (and I don't!), I would keep in mind that I can't predict or control what tomorrow will bring, so I'd invest the money in several different areas to offset possible disasters.

This moment offers you many riches.  Look around yourself, starting with the miracle of the computer that sits before you.  Think of the amount of information and processing power that the machine holds!  Look out a window at the buildings that we've built, the trees that are so beautiful and that provide oxygen for us to breathe, the flowers and the plants and the animals and insects.  Think of the people in your life, and the wonders that they are.

If you're carrying resentment or anger or cynicism, remember that it's your choice to do so--you can choose at this moment to let go of those feelings that are causes of stress and unease.  Or you can choose to hold on to them, guaranteeing yourself that you'll feel bad in this moment and in the coming moments.

The only actions or decisions that we have control over are those of this moment.  We can choose to appreciate and admire with a sense of wonder, or we can choose to take for granted and not appreciate with a sense of ungratefulness.  The important thing to keep in mind is that what we do in this moment is our choice, and what we choose to do now will leave a definite mark on our future moments.

01 December 2016

Little Gifts

As the season for gift-giving comes upon us once more, we start to think a lot about gifts, those we're going to give, and those we're going to get.  As we grow older, hopefully, we focus more on the former than the latter, though that isn't always the case.  In the eyes of many people, gifts follow a simple rule:  the bigger the better.  Speaking realistically, though, that rule is far from valid.  In my life, I've found that the most important gifts that I've given and received have been the small ones that have special meaning.

When I sit at my desk and work, I always have around me plenty of small gifts that I've received from friends and students.  They do a great job of reminding me of people who have been a very important part of my life, and because they're small, they can go with me anywhere and I can keep plenty of them.  The memories of the people and the times I spent with them are much more important to me than the objects themselves, but the objects have the ability to refresh my memory of pleasant times at just a quick glance.

Even as I write, I see a small inch-high globe that a former student gave me at her graduation, and I remember how good she felt on that day.  I see a small dream catcher made out of colored pipe cleaners, and I remember the day at camp when one of the campers gave it to me as a gift.  There's also a small glass fish that my wife bought me when she was in the Bahamas, and I know how good it felt to know that someone was thinking about me when she was in such a lovely place.

The small gifts are the ones that keep me going, the ones that give me a great feeling inside.  They're the ones that let me know that someone tried to consider what I liked, and what would be most appropriate for me.

The same goes for when I give gifts--I try to find the small ones that are special to someone, the ones that show that I've considered who they are and what they would like.  From time to time I've bought the large gifts, but as time goes on I see that they don't have nearly the effect that the smaller ones do.

When we think about what kinds of gifts we're going to give this season, we always can choose to go for the gifts that are more special rather than the gifts that are more expensive of just plain big.  The most special gifts have nothing to do with money or size; rather, they reflect the fact that we've been thinking seriously about the recipient and what they would truly want to receive.  I would much rather get a small, cheap gift that shows that someone was thinking about me than a large expensive gift that's meant to impress me somehow.

Many people ruin their enjoyment of receiving gifts by allowing their expectations to blur their vision, not allowing themselves to see just how great a gift is because it might not be what they wanted, or it might not be big enough or special enough.  During this holiday season, we have choices to make on what types of gifts to give to others, and finding the very special ones is a great way to make the holidays special.  Likewise, we have choices to make as to how we react to gifts given to us by others, and we can make our holidays much brighter by recognizing how special gifts are.