13 December 2017

Something to Admire in Everyone

It is one of the great troubles of life that we cannot have any unmixed
emotions.  There is always something in our enemy that we like,
and something in our sweetheart that we dislike.   -William Butler Yeats

It's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everything about someone we dislike is awful.  It's also very easy to think that everything about someone we like is positive and wonderful.  But life isn't like that, and if we ignore the good in our enemies and the not-so-pleasant (or even downright bad!) in the people we care for, we're doing a great disservice to ourselves.

I've known many people who have seemed to be extremely positive persons, whom I've liked very much, who after a while have turned out to be extremely manipulative and deceitful people.  The things that I liked about them were simply manipulative techniques to them--they acted nice to others so that others would do what they wanted them to do.  If I hadn't been aware that there's much more to people than what we see on the surface, I might have been simply another "victim" to them, another person being used, but not appreciated.

That doesn't mean, though, that we simply reject all such people.  There was still something about those people that was likable, and it was in my best interest to learn what that was.  Likewise, I've seen people who seem to be all negative with traits that would be good for any of us to emulate.  I've met rude and obnoxious people who are wonderful with their children; mean people who donate time and money to worthy causes; people who insult and belittle others who are extremely good at their trade or profession.  These people, too, seemed to be ones that I should reject immediately, yet if I were to do so I would not learn the important lessons that they have to teach me.

Sometimes the most important lessons we can learn is how to minimize the bad traits we see in ourselves and others while maximizing the good traits that we see in ourselves and others.

Life is always a mixture--almost nothing is one way all the time.  Unfortunately, we often seem to set ourselves up for disappointment, frustration, and worse when we choose to believe that a certain person is all one way.  We must accept that there will be the negative traits in the people we like, and that our enemies have traits that we can admire and learn from.

07 December 2017

A Place in Nature

What riches are ours in the world of nature, from the majesty of the distant peak to the fragile beauty of a tiny flower, and all without cost to us, the beholders!  No person is poor who has watched a sunrise or who keeps a mountain in his or her heart.   -Esther Baldwin York

It's amazing just how much we value things like money and material possessions when we're surrounded by amazing beauty and miracles all the time.  The natural world is one of the most important parts of our lives, yet most of us either take it for granted or ignore it completely as we go along in our daily lives.  It's easy to do when we live in cities, of course, and we see very little of nature from day to day, but if we really want to benefit from our experiences on this planet, it's important that we make an effort to make nature a real part of our daily lives.

It's not always easy to do this, of course.  And for some people, it's much more work than it is for others.  But even when I've lived in cities, I've always been able to find and appreciate little pockets of nature wherever they turn up.  The hardest city I ever lived in was Salamanca, for there's very little nature to be seen there.  But there are plenty of tiny parks all over the place, and I found several "favorite spots" where I could go just to be near trees and flowers and plants.  I easily could have gone weeks on end without enjoying their company had I not searched them out, but it's always been important to me on an instinctive level to maintain contact with nature in my life, so I did so.

The benefits to me have always been a sense of peace and relaxation in the midst of a hectic and somewhat unfriendly environment, where I've been surrounded by cement, for the most part.  Finding a tree to sit under always reminds me that life goes on, no matter what else happens--the stress of my day means less when I'm sitting in the shade of a tree that doesn't care one way or another about all those little stress-causers in our lives.  The trees and flowers remind me that in the bigger picture, all is well, and that the world is filled with resilience and beauty.

I do see many people who live in small towns, completely surrounded by nature, who also take it for granted or ignore it.  What a tragic mistake they're making, to ignore what could be the source of many, many pleasant moments that will help them to achieve a sense of peace and balance!  I would love to take them by the hand and lead them to a beautiful place where they could experience the feeling of being in the presence of eternity, but my guess is that many of them would simply shrug their shoulders, say "thanks," and turn and go home to resume their busy, crowded lives.

Where is nature around you?  How do you take advantage of all that it offers you?  Please remember that it's there and that it's waiting for you, and it will welcome you just as it welcomes everyone else--without judgment and without condition; and as long as you treat it well, it will treat you very well indeed.  Find that park bench or that trail in the woods that you can call your own, and enjoy it immensely and regularly!

30 November 2017

Why Let Go?

There are things that we never want to let go of, people we never want to leave behind.  But keep in mind that letting go isn’t the end of the world; it’s the beginning of a new life.  -unattributed

Thich Nhat Hanh says that we don't let go of things like suffering because we fear the unknown more than we dislike the suffering--we don't let go because what's known, even if it's pain, is less scary to us.  And that's a shame because by holding on to the pain and the suffering, we're definitely keeping ourselves from being happy, from reaching our potential, from helping other people to deal with their pain and suffering.

When we start to let go of things, we start to live our lives fully and completely.  We start to create space in our lives for other things that may be more helpful to us, more positive for us, more useful to us in our struggle to become the people we're meant to be.  When we hold on, we're telling life that we don't trust it--that we fear losing everything if we let go of this one thing.  We fear being alone if we let go of a destructive relationship; we fear having nothing positive to do if we let go of an addictive behavior; we fear not having anything at all if we let go of some of our material possessions.

When we let go of many things, though, we open ourselves up to new things, new people, new experiences.  We give ourselves the opportunity to see and feel and do new things, and we help ourselves to move on from the status quo into something new and possibly exciting.

I like to collect things.  Because of my upbringing, much of that trait is due to the lack of security that I felt growing up, and it's not the most positive of ways to approach life and living.  Now that I'm older, though, and I've learned that I can trust life and living, and that I'm not going to find myself with nothing at all just because I give certain things up, I can and I do let go of things.  Sometimes I let go of people who have turned out to be destructive to me.  Sometimes I let go of possessions--books that I fear I'll want to read again and cd's that I fear I may need to listen to again, but that in reality are going to end up sitting on a shelf for the next five years, never used, if I don't give them up.  Sometimes I give up behaviors that have become "safe" for me, but that are really keeping me from taking risks and trying new and different things.

Sometimes I ask myself, "Can I let go of this without causing a major disruption in my life?"

And then I say to myself, "Perhaps a major disruption is just what I need."

13 November 2017

The Loss of Silence

Nothing has changed the nature of people so much as the loss of silence.  The invention of printing, technics, compulsory education--nothing has so altered us as this lack of relationship to silence, this fact that silence is no longer taken for granted, as something as natural as the sky above or the air we breathe.  We who have lost silence have not merely lost one human quality but our whole structure has been changed thereby.   -Max Picard

This is a fact of life that scares me sometimes.  It annoys me very often, also, but I'm much less concerned about being annoyed by something than being scared by something.  Silence is one of the most important parts of life, yet it's something that we ignore regularly, and it's one of the necessities of life of which we very often deprive others, whether we're aware of it or not.

I love quiet times at home, and in my home I really should have the right to enjoy silence when I want to.  I can't tell you how many times, though, a beautiful, peaceful spring evening has been ruined by the sound of a power mower--even as late as eight or nine.  I've had peaceful Saturday mornings disturbed by the loud, high-pitched whine of model car motors on the street outside.  Many people in their cars have their stereos turned up extremely high, making sure that they disturb people in the homes that they drive by.

Our loss of silence makes it difficult for us to focus and concentrate.  It makes it hard for us to find our own centers, for we're constantly distracted by external forces.  Our internal workings are a mystery to us because we're so often distracted by things outside of ourselves.  When we get home we turn on the television or radio so that we don't have to deal with silence, and our brains don't get a rest from processing outside noise.

We need the quiet.  We need to find it in our lives, and we need to create it in our lives.  Even if it's just ducking into a quiet room for ten or fifteen minutes to relax and to breathe without any external stimuli, it's important that we do so.  A nice hot bath in a secluded bathroom with no music playing--or soft instrumental music that doesn't require mental processing--can do wonders for us.  Sometimes the silence is a bit overwhelming, but that's okay--we still need it, and it can be a healing force for us if only we allow it to be in order to heal.  There are many sounds that I love, but they generally aren't as helpful to me as silence is, as long as I make sure that it's a part of my life.

07 November 2017

Desires--Can We Scale Them Down?

We don't need to increase our goods nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.  -Donald Horban

Good luck scaling down your wants in our society. Never in human history have so many people been exposed to so much advertising--which is basically other people telling you what you should want, trying to create a sense of dissatisfaction in you through their words and images that doesn't go away until you have the product that they want you to buy. It's rather sad, really, that we're so constantly and consistently exposed to this sort of mental and emotional manipulation, but it's a fact that we need to accept if we're going to be able to cope with it effectively.

Human beings seem to always have wanted lots more than we could really get--or if we could get it all, much more than we could really enjoy and take advantage of. Life can become a different experience if we're able to "scale down our wants," to be satisfied with less and fewer, to not allow the lack of some particular thing in our life to determine how we feel or what we think. There are many, many legitimate wants, of course--I need a computer to do much of the work I do, so I definitely want to have a computer, but the work I do is rather simple, so I don't need a thousand-dollar laptop when a much less expensive one will do just fine.

And even if I wanted an expensive computer, I know from experience that when I do have access to all of the extras that make such a computer expensive, I don't even use them most of the time, so the money spent for them has basically been wasted.

I neither want nor need a new car right now. I don't want a different job. I like reading and I like listening to music, so I do want books and music, but I don't need to have every book ever written--I just want the ones I'd like to read. And even then, I can borrow them without possessing them. 

I believe that what Donald is saying is that we should allow ourselves to be satisfied with what we have. Not to the point that we can't want anything else, but to the point at which we realize that our happiness or satisfaction are not dependent upon getting and possessing more things. Life isn't about "I'd be happier if I just had. . ."; rather, it's about finding that space and feeling of "I'm happy. It might be nice if I had this thing, but I'm fine without it, too."

01 November 2017

How Do You Meditate?

Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet.  It's a way of
entering into the quiet that's already there— buried under
the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.

Deepak Chopra

When I was growing up, meditation had a bad name in our country.  For many people, it meant something negative--it was something that only people who lived on the fringes of society did, something for the hippies or the religious zealots.  Nowadays, though, the practice is accepted much more broadly among the people that I know--though its practice still is rather uncommon.  To me, meditation is extremely important, but I really don't meditate in the ways that the books tell you to.

My most important form of meditation is running.  It's not something that helps me to completely empty my mind, of course, but it does help me to slow my mind down and clear it of a lot of baggage.  I need to stay focused on my running, on my breathing, on the feelings in my legs, and other thoughts simply don't have room to surface when I run.  That's the main goal of meditation, as far as I've learned--empty the mind of the zillions of thoughts that run around in there constantly in order to calm ourselves down and be able to center ourselves without all the distractions.

I also like to go for long walks.  For many people this doesn't work because they still think those same thoughts during their walks.  I'm lucky, though, because I try to notice everything I can while I'm walking--the leaves on the trees, the flowers, the colors of the houses, the changes that I notice from the last time I walked.  When I'm walking, I'm not thinking of my problems, unless I'm walking specifically to ponder a particular issue, and then my walk is a way to deal with something rather than a meditative exercise.

Sometimes I do a more traditional type of meditation, focusing on my breathing--in. . . out. . . in. . . out--listening to it closely so that other thoughts diminish until all I'm aware of is the breathing.  It's very helpful to me, and when I stop--sometimes after three minutes, sometimes after twenty--I always feel better.  I sit in a way that's comfortable to me--cross-legged on the floor is not comfortable--and I do it sometimes when I have very little time available to me, sometimes when I have plenty of time.  Generally, I know when I need to do it--when my mind is racing and I'm feeling like I'm being pulled in many different directions at once.  This is a way that I get centered and I can look at all the problems in a new light.

Formal meditation obviously isn't necessary in life for everyone--many people have lived long and productive lives without ever having sat down with the specific purpose of meditation.  But we all have those things that get us so focused on one thing that the rest of our minds calm down--for some it's cooking, or working on engines, or cleaning a house, or reading a novel.  Be careful, though, because some activities have huge potential frustrations--if you're working on an engine and a part doesn't fit properly, you may be facing more stress than calmness.  Raking leaves works for me, but that's a fall-only activity!  What are some ways that work for you to clear your mind?  What are some things that you can do to calm yourself down?  It's very important to set aside time to do them regularly--you'll definitely benefit from doing so, and all the people you're involved with will benefit, also.

30 October 2017

Accepting the Horrible

Acceptance is a letting-go process.  You let go of your wishes and demands that life can be different.  It's a conscious choice.   -Gary Emery

Acceptance is one of the hardest qualities to practice these days.  There's so much going on that seems to be completely unacceptable in the public light--lying, manipulation, angry attacks, abuse, destruction of the planet--that the word "acceptance" seems out of place.  I often want to use the word "unacceptable" when I talk about such things, and sometimes I do because in certain situations these things are unacceptable.  But I have to remind myself that if I don't accept them, I'm in a certain sense denying them, and that denial makes it impossible for me to do anything about them.

Acceptance in not approval.  It took me years to learn that, so I repeat it now for my sake, not yours:  Acceptance is not approval.  Acceptance simply says, "Yes, this has happened or is happening, and it is a reality in our world right now."  Denial says that I refuse to acknowledge something, and if I do refuse, then I can never start the healing process that I need to go through, or I can never work to change that certain something.  When I accept, I simply acknowledge that something is real, and once I do that I can begin to learn to cope with it or try to change it.

There is much in life right now that's simply unpleasant, and much that's unpleasant and destructive and dangerous.  If I want to work counter to the destruction and danger, then I must acknowledge that they exist.  I don't even have to fight them if I don't wish to--as long as I'm working towards building something that's more loving and hopeful and compassionate, my efforts will not be in vain, and I won't be facing constant stress and tension in an effort to "defeat" something else.  Rather, I'll be using my creative abilities to add something positive to the world.

The world of today is an unpleasant place in many ways.  Many of us have a hard time finding our place in it because of its negativity and dishonesty.  Once we accept that things are the way they are, though, and let go of our desire that the world be as we think it should be, we can stop trying to battle the way things are and focus on adding something beautiful and loving, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.

11 July 2017

Letting Go

We all are holding on to things that we shouldn't be trying to hold on to.  Those things, unfortunately, tend to hold us back from advancing in life--they tend to keep us just where we are even when we want to get somewhere else.  Perhaps we still dwell on how someone else hurt us.  Maybe we think constantly about how great that relationship was, and how we wish we had it again. I've known people who still talk about high school every single day, decades after they graduated from it. But letting go allows us to look at right here and right now rather than dwelling on yesterday's occurrences and actions. Telling ourselves, "It's over and done with, and it's time to leave it in the past, where it belongs," helps us to see very clearly that our obligations and responsibilities lie in the present moment, and that holding on to something from the past can not be an effective way of living our lives. If it's a hurt, we're choosing to allow that hurt to continue to do us damage. If it's a regret, we can never reach today's potential while wallowing in regret. If it was something wonderful, we're wasting time trying to relive what has already past.

Ask yourself:  Do I want to hold on, or move on?

There are things that we never want to let go
of, people we never want to leave behind.
But keep in mind that letting go isn’t the end
of the world; it’s the beginning of a new life.


06 July 2017

Being Humble

We've grown to be a very arrogant race. We take what we want from this planet when we want it, and almost always on our own terms, not on terms that may benefit the earth. We usually expect other people to act in ways that we consider to be appropriate, and we feel justified in becoming upset when they don't do so. And on, and on. Yet most of us, if someone were to ask us, would say that we're definitely not arrogant. The truth is, though, that we've come to regard humility as weakness, and we do not want to appear weak to anyone at any time. That's just simply not acceptable in our culture, and we allow our culture and our society to determine how we're going to act more than we allow our instinct and our knowledge of what's right and wrong to influence us. There are many benefits to humility, though, not the least of which is peace of mind and peace of heart. When we acknowledge the facts that we are just one among many millions of people and just a very small part of this planet and universe of ours, we can start to see that it's important that we see ourselves realistically and stop trying to fool ourselves into thinking that we have much more power and influence than we truly do. Being humble is far from being weak--being humble strengthens us and allows us to keep balance and peace of mind in our lives when others are losing their grips on their unrealistic ideas of "being in control" and needing others to do things as they think they should be done.

Never take a leaf or move a pebble without asking permission.  Always ask permission.  That maintains the balance and teaches humility.  That leaf you want to pluck could be far more important than the little purpose you have in mind.  You don't know--so ask permission first.        -Don José Matsuwa

30 June 2017


It's really quite a shame when we feel so much fear of people who look different than us, who do things differently than we do, who speak in languages that are different from ours. It's a shame when we allow prejudices to dim our view of humanity, to make us dislike others simply because they have some differences from us. When we fear and dislike others, we lose. We lose opportunities to learn to see the world in different ways, to learn of varying perspectives, to understand how others feel and thus grow in compassion and love and acceptance. Our world is a very diverse place, and it does us no good at all to imagine that the only important views are the ones we grew up with, that the most acceptable people are the ones who share our skin color or our cultural norms and history. Our world needs people of all types to work together to try to forge solutions to our problems together, learning from each other as we go that there are different ways of seeing and doing things, and allowing people who are completely different from us in many ways to shape the ways that we see the world.

Let us be among the first to accept all of the people that God created as complete equals in all ways, and let us learn from each other. No fear, no prejudice, no anger, no hatred--just love, acceptance, and compassion.

Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity,
in the comparison and conciliation of differences.

Mikhail Gorbachev

28 June 2017

Happiness is in the little things

Sometimes I get a bit frustrated when I see people try to create happiness in their lives by spending tons of money on big, beautiful, elaborate things. They have houses full of amazing pictures and furniture and appliances, and big new cars in the garage, yet they still feel dissatisfied, they still feel that what they have isn't enough. And that feeling comes, of course, because they still don't feel happy. They've tried to find their happiness in things, but that's not where happiness resides. Happiness is found in us, in our ability to be satisfied with what's there for us, and not be dissatisfied by what's not there. Happiness isn't comparative, it's individual. I won't be happier if I have a nicer lawn than my neighbors, but I can find happiness in tending to the lawn with love and care and attention. Happiness is in the ways that we approach life, not in the ways that we control life or manipulate our environments or try to control circumstances or people. I want to be happy with a good book and a healthy meal that was easy to cook and that tastes great and some good music playing. The nap in the afternoon is much nicer to me than many other things ever will be. I can't look for happiness in the big things or the things that I think will impress others, but I can find it in those little things that are with me every day.

Buried deep in the maze of commonplace, the pearl of
true happiness lies.  And those who rejoice in little things,
find the pathway that leads to the prize.

Lucy M. Thompson

24 June 2017


Sometimes I feel that we're living in a world with much less compassion than in years gone by. We've become divided and separated more and more, and we see people on the "other side" as the "enemy," people who aren't deserving of our love and compassion. We devise ways to defeat them, as if life were some sort of game in which the winners get a prize at the end of it. But the truth is that there is no prize at the end of life--we may move on to something else, but we certainly aren't going to be given a medal or huge amounts of cash for having treated our fellow human beings as competitors rather than as fellow human beings. There's much suffering in the world, and most of it is avoidable or fixable--but unfortunately we get so caught up in our own little worlds and our own wants and needs that we don't have time to get to know other people and the conditions in which they find themselves. And that's necessary for compassion--it's impossible to feel compassion unless we know that someone else is suffering. It's important that we look beyond our own fences or walls or whatever other boundaries we think are separating us from others in order to find out just what we can do to help the other human beings who are sharing this planet with us.

Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity.  It is through compassion that a person achieves the highest peak and the deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment.        -Arthur Jersild

 More quotes and passages on compassion

18 June 2017

Common Sense

We seem to be living in a world in which people have rejected their own common sense in order to believe things that other people tell them. Unfortunately, those things often come from advertisers and scammers, and they often do their best to make our lives miserable because they're trying their best to make us discontent--with our lives and with ourselves. Common sense is our best defense against what they do, and it really is quite a shame that most of us don't do all that we can to strengthen our common sense by learning all that we can about life and living. A person who uses common sense as a guide to life is generally a contented and happy person, for he or she isn't trying to make life something that it isn't. I'm not a person with tons of money, so common sense tells me to buy an affordable vehicle, not one that has payments that are going to consistently cause me great deals of stress. I want to accomplish twenty things this week, but common sense tells me that four or five will make for a very good week, so it would be better to step back, look at the situation, and decide which things should be dealt with first--and how to deal with them. My wife and I walked by some fairly new houses yesterday that seem to be falling apart--it looks like the builders used shoddy materials in order to maximize profit, when common sense would have told them "you get what you pay for." Let your common sense have a voice, please! We need much more common sense in this world of ours!

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

the Buddha

 Quotes and passages on common sense

16 June 2017


It's hard to admit that most of the adversity in my life, most of my "failures" and problems, have been caused by my own beliefs. I've always believed that I'm not as good as other people, that others have much more going for them, that I don't deserve certain positive things, that I'm unlovable, that I have to work harder than others in order to succeed. These are beliefs that were instilled in me, though, not beliefs that are intrinsic parts of who I am. I was taught these beliefs by parents, peers, teachers, etc.--and I believed that I should pay attention to their lessons. My life has changed dramatically for the positive since I've recognized these beliefs for exactly what they are: wrong and harmful. They still hang on, to a certain extent, but for the most part they're not longer a defining force in my life--who I am is much different than I who I used to think I was. For that matter, who I was was much different than who I believed I was--and that was one thing that led to many, many problems.

One of the hardest expressions of self-assertiveness is challenging your limiting beliefs.

Nathaniel Branden

15 June 2017


It's a difficult path to take, that of simplicity--what an ironic twist that's become!  We live in a society that constantly urges us to complicate our lives by buying more and more things, by owning more stuff, by tying in everything that we do to our phones or our computers. You need this app for that activity! You have to have this phone if you're going to be successful! Simplicity these days requires an awareness of just how complicated we've made our own lives, and just how much stress is involved in that complexity. I like a simple meal--I don't need to make complicated dinners all the time. For my wife and me, one of our favorite activities is a walk after dinner, and we don't need to see anything new or different while we walk--we just enjoy our time together. I'm constantly tempted to take on another job or start another project or volunteer with a different group--and I constantly have to remind myself that if I do so, I'm not going to be able to live simply any more. Sometimes it's worth the sacrifice for a short amount of time, but usually I go with the decision that will allow me to still lead a rather uncomplicated existence. Fewer possessions, fewer commitments, fewer new gadgets that must be maintained and watched and worried about--this can help to keep life simple.

If one's life is simple, contentment has to come.  Simplicity is extremely
important for happiness.  Having few desires, feeling satisfied
with what you have, is very vital:  satisfaction with just enough food,
clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.

the Dalai Lama

14 June 2017


I grew up almost needing some sort of background sound in my life--usually music, which I had to play almost always.  I don't know why I needed it, and it really doesn't matter--it may be interesting to find out, but it really doesn't matter.  These days, I allow much more silence in my life, time when there are no sounds going on that bother me or distract me.  I've found that the silence truly has a strong power, an ability to calm me and to sooth me, as long as I allow it to do so.  I still love music and I still listen to it a lot, but I also look for quiet times when my spirit and my mind can be at peace without sounds that fill space and that add stress--even positive stress--to my life.  In silence I can focus, I can let my mind quiet itself, and I can feel a part of the things all around me.

Silence has a regenerative power of its own.  It is always sacred.  It always returns you home.       -Barbara De Angelis

Give yourself some quiet time today, even if it's only five minutes.  Let the silence nurture you.  It isn't always easy, because we so often feel the need to fill silence with sound, but it definitely is an important habit to nurture.  Work on it!

13 May 2017

Back in June

Vacation--it's really nice to have one now and then. And since I'm going to be on vacation for the next couple of weeks, and then out of the country for some language refresher work (important since I teach languages!), I think it's time to set aside this blog until I get back. So I'll start up again in mid-June, when I'm back and I have a bit more time. I haven't posted nearly as much recently because of a huge work load, but come June I'll have more time to put into new posts. So I wish you well until then, and I refer you to the very large number of posts in the archives for the next four or five weeks. Take care!

09 May 2017

Time Away

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to do something, it's important to put it aside for a while and focus on other things that are more pressing, more immediate.  At the end of semesters, for example, it's important for me to focus on my classes and my students, because we're coming to the end of our time together and I need to make sure that we accomplish all that we need to get done and that the grades are fair and accurate. Something like this blog, which I really enjoy doing but which isn't nearly as pressing as my classes, must get put on a back burner while I focus on the things that are truly pressing.

Life does that to us, and it's up to us to make the decisions that will allow us to do something really well rather than spreading ourselves too thin to do any one particular thing extremely well. We like to claim that we're "good at multitasking," though, and that we're able to juggle a lot of things at once and do them all successfully. I know from experience, though, that when I do that, the quality of all the things suffers--I may like to think that I've done everything just as well as I normally would, but I know that's not the case at all. In order to be able to do other things, I've cut corners on something else. In order to spend the time necessary to write blog entries, I would spend less time on class preparation, grading, or meeting with students. It's just the way life is--we have a limited amount of time available to us, and we need to make decisions that allow us to use it well.

There are certain jobs, of course, that don't necessarily have to be done extremely well. Painting a wall in a storage room usually doesn't require the time or care that the wall in the living room demands. But I know that my students take priority over other things, partly because teaching students is how I make my living and partly because students who have taken my class have trusted me to teach them what they need to know in their futures.

It does feel good to get back to things like this when semesters end, but it's important that when the time comes to decide on my priorities, I choose the things that are the most important for more people, and that I be able to put aside for a time those things that are not nearly as pressing, and that can afford to be left alone for a while. After all, the choices we make determine our success or failure in whatever we do, and I want to try to do my best in the areas that need my time and energy more than others.

But of course, I am glad to be able to return!

30 March 2017

Small Steps

One of the most important lessons of my lifetime is one that I'm very thankful that I've learned well--that of taking small steps, and even more importantly, being satisfied with those small steps.  I've always tended to want things done now, or even five minutes ago, but life has been very good at teaching me that not only is that not always possible, but it's usually not even desirable.

I've always been the kind of person who would take a painting class and want to paint a masterpiece on my first outing.  I'd start to build a bookcase and want it all done in an hour, and I'd want it to be perfect.  I'd start a school program and want my degree in a matter of months, but I'd be told that it would take years.

Don't worry--I'm not the kind of person who would rant and rail about things being "too slow"--all of my discontent was inside of me, more in the way I felt than the way I acted.  One of the problems that contributed to this bigger problem is the fact that I'm usually pretty good at whatever I do--I learn very quickly, and I'm almost always able to work at an accelerated pace, so slowness frustrates me a lot.  But I do realize that not everyone learns at the same pace; many people need things to go more slowly, so it's important that I be patient and understand that things won't always go at my pace.

I notice that my students tend to have a hard time with this.  They also want things done now, and to move on to the next thing.  I often have them write just one paragraph of a paper at a time, and they're usually pretty astonished to see how well developed their finished essay is because they gave attention to the individual parts instead of trying to write an entire essay at one sitting.

I've seen this ability reflected in the work that goes with writing novels--inside, I often feel impatient when the novel isn't done as soon as I start chapter one, but the process is obviously much more involved than that.  You don't write novels as a whole or even chapter by chapter--you write them sentence by sentence, and often word by word.

Cooking is another activity that allows one to focus on the process instead of an immediate finished product.  Even something as simple as making a salad forces one to work first with the lettuce, then with the tomatoes, then with the cucumbers. . . .  It can't be done immediately.  Unfortunately, though, we live in the age of meals in a box, and people don't have to learn the process any more--they just have to boil some water or throw things into the microwave.

Is it any wonder, then, that we have a hard time honoring the processes of life, and allowing ourselves to flow with them at the speed they take naturally?  We're so used to getting everything done at once that we don't have time to take the small steps and actually enjoy them for what they are--pieces in a larger process that leads to a finished product in which we can take pride.

The ability to be satisfied with small steps is a reflection of my growth in letting go of control of situations over which I have no control, especially as far as time is concerned.  I don't see doing something slowly as a reflection on me any longer, and I don't see not being finished as a negative, no matter how someone else may look at it.  I can't tell you how many times people have asked "You're not finished yet?" when I've been taking my time through a process so that the finished product is as good as I know it can be.  If I can take an extra day or two on something and know that its quality will be immensely greater, then I will take the extra time; I haven't always been this way.

There's something very liberating about finishing a chapter and not thinking, "Only twenty more to go!"  It's a good feeling to recognize the accomplishment of having written the chapter and knowing that it was an important task that soon will contribute to a book as a whole

Life is a process, and we must honor it.  All of our years don't come at once, so we must learn and grow as the lessons come to us, and we must let them change us at their pace, and not try to force things to happen.  If we can do this, we'll find the peace that the gardener feels knowing that the vegetables won't be ready for harvest for months, and the peace that the rancher or farmer feels when new calves are born and they must grow and develop before they're a productive part of the ranch or farm.  It's the peace that comes from doing what we can do when we can do it, and leaving the rest for the right time to do the rest.

25 March 2017

No recognition needed

Quite a while ago, I took the first steps that I needed to take in order to let go of the need for recognition.  I have no idea what those steps were, nor do I remember what I did to take them, but I know that there came a point in my life at which I was much less interested in getting recognition than I was in getting done whatever job needed to be done.  I no longer needed the validation of recognition nearly as much as I had needed it before.

Don't get me wrong--I still like and appreciate recognition, especially when I've done a good job on something important.  But I've found that there's a great difference between needing recognition and appreciating it, and most of that difference has to do with my expectations.

When I do a good job, I know it--and that should be enough.  The satisfaction that comes from doing a job well should make me feel good enough about myself and my work that I don't need any outside praise to make me feel better.  When I don't keep this thought in mind, though, or when I'm in one of my needier moods, I sometimes feel the need (though it's more a desire than a need, of course) for someone else's praise in order to validate my work.

What happens then?  Well, when I show my work to someone else, I all of a sudden have expectations concerning the way I think they should act--I expect them to praise the work, and either directly or indirectly praise me for having done it.  Once I have expectations like this, I'm opening myself up to being very disappointed when they don't respond as I expect them to.

I also find that not expecting the "glory" has another positive effect--it allows other people to take praise and benefit from what's been done without me having to take a share of it.  Now I'm not one who believes that praise should be handed out freely for even mediocre work, nor am I one who believes that one person should get credit for the work of several, but there's something very gratifying in allowing others to stand in the spotlight when they've done a good job.

As teachers, we get pretty used to this--when students excel or graduate, it's a great moment for them, and it's great to see them receive the praise that they deserve.  As teachers, though, it would be very easy for us to say "Well just a minute--this student might have just graduated, but who do you think taught him?  What about the work that we've put in to helping him develop the skills and knowledge that were necessary for him to get this far?"  And for all practical purposes, that's a valid point.

On the job, there are many managers who do such a good job of mentoring and training the people they supervise that those people accomplish great things at work.  Very often, the manager him- or herself gets little to no credit for the success of others, though.  The problem on the workplace, though, is that too many managers see their main responsibility as getting the job done, and they don't make the effort to help the workers to grow and learn.

Parents spend a couple of decades helping their children to grow and develop, and their job doesn't end when their children leave home.  It's always heartwarming and gratifying, though, to see young people thank their parents for their love and support when those young people are recognized for their achievements in life.  Parents, too, could make the argument that without them and their influence, their children wouldn't be able to achieve the things they've accomplished.

But what purpose would it serve to make the point?  Really, it would serve no purpose at all except to diminish the achievement of the young person--and that's why we almost never hear this point being made.  A parent's responsibility is to help the young person to grow and develop.  The job of a manager or supervisor is to help the people who work for them to grow and develop (as well as to get the job done).  Our job as teachers is to empower students to grow and develop.  We're simply doing our job if we accomplish this.

I remind myself constantly that I don't need recognition to validate myself as a person, but even with the constant reminders I still find myself wanting to hear the praise of others for my work.  There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but my hope is that I can continue to wean myself from this need as time goes on so that my personal happiness and satisfaction no longer rest ever again on the actions or responses of other people.  All I can do is keep trying, and try I shall.

06 March 2017


I go through an annual bout with allergies--three or four weeks in the spring when pollen causes my sinuses and nasal passages to do all sorts of crazy things, mostly having to do with sneezing and creating immense quantities of fluids with which I can fill tissue after tissue.  These are the days when I almost never get a full night's sleep, for I wake up two or three times either sneezing or so congested that I almost can't breathe.  The medicine that worked so well the first year now works fairly well, as I think I've been building up an immunity to it--I still wake up very often and end up walking around like a zombie the next day.

When all is said and done, though, I'm pretty grateful that this is the extent of my poor health on an annual basis--when I think of all that I could be going through with a different health problem, my problems are very minor in comparison, and I have to be thankful to be afflicted with simply a reaction to pollen.

I've started to look at this affliction a bit differently, though, and I'm not sure why.  I've been aware for years that my allergies are caused by my body trying to fend off an "intruder" that's completely harmless:  pollen.  My body is sneezing and watering and draining and itching because it wants to get rid of something that it doesn't need to get rid of.  What a waste of energy and fluids that is!

I've tried to imagine what it would be like to get my body not to fight off the pollen--to just let it be when it enters my system.  All of the symptoms then, in theory, would disappear, and I would no longer have allergic reactions.  But that's only if I can accomplish allowing my body to accept the "intruder" and not try to fight it off.  The allergy medications merely stop the call to battle by blocking the histamines, from my understanding--it's suppressing a reaction that's trying to happen, causing another battle inside of me, and it does get me pretty tired.

I've realized that this has been a trait of mine that goes far beyond pollen and allergies--I've always tried to push away anything that appears to be a threat, trying to keep myself "safe."  It seems to be a rather normal human tendency, but I go a bit further because of some other things that have gone on in my life, and I know for a fact that I've rejected some things and people in my life that could have helped me to grow, to mature, and to learn--all because my first perception was that these things posed a threat to me.

My allergies mirror a very important aspect of who I've been for many years, and I'm pretty convinced that the only way I can get rid of my allergies is to get rid of this harmful aspect of myself.  It's okay to want to protect myself, but I also reject the good and the harmless when I try too hard.  That's what my body's doing--it's trying too hard to protect itself, and making me miserable because it's trying to reject some simple pollen.

These days, whenever the symptoms start up, I try to tell myself to relax and to let the pollen alone--there's no need to reject it.  I'm trying hard to extend that approach to other things in life, also, that I perceive as a threat.  So far, I don't see any big changes, but I'm pretty sure that the more at peace I get with the perceived threats in my life, the more at peace my allergies will be.  Even if I don't succeed in lessening the severity of my allergies, at least I'll be working at something very important--acceptance of life and the different aspects of life.

Most of the things we face in life are as harmless as pollen, but we spend a lot of effort and go through a lot of agony trying to keep them away, anyway.  I've realized by looking at my allergies in a new way that I want to be more open and more accepting, and that I don't want to spend so much time rejecting things in a futile effort to keep myself safe from something that I don't even need protection from.

25 February 2017

Changing Time

Have you ever noticed how much more quickly time goes by as we get older?  With each year that I spend on this planet, time flies by much more quickly, and what used to take forever to get here (how long does Christmas take to come when we're six?) now flies in on a supersonic jet and leaves just as quickly.  Vacations?  They used to last forever, but now they're over almost before they start.

In the summer when we're kids, it seems that Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas are far away in the future.  I know as an adult, though, that not only will they be here before I know it, but they'll also be over with almost before I realize that they're here.  It's almost frightening to think of just how quickly our days pass.  Is this what Einstein meant with his theory of relativity?  That time, for example, is relative when considered by different people at different ages?  In different situations?  It seems to make sense.

But what does this mean to us?  So what?  Does that make a difference in our lives?

I say "absolutely."  If our lives seem to be passing more quickly as we grow older, then it's very important that we be aware of the faster time and try to make more of it while it's passing.  If I know that this coming week is going to go by more quickly than weeks used to, then I need to plan into the week things like long walks and bike rides, rather than just assuming they're going to happen.  I need to plan on finding time to talk to friends and read books and relax, because it probably will be very easy for me to get caught up in the many tasks that face us each day of our lives and let the days go by while I'm moving from task to task.

I also need to let go of things more quickly.  I need to let go of the anger that I feel for the person who did something bad or rude to me or someone I care for.  I need to let go of the worries about work or money or the car.  I need to let go of trying to make things happen in the way that I want them to happen, and let go of my often-unrealistic expectations of others and their behaviors.  If I don't let go of these things, then my all-too-short days will be less enjoyable and more stressful, and that can't be good for me.

If we move to a new city or country, one of the first things that we do is learn about the laws of the place so that we don't find ourselves breaking those laws.  We do this out of respect for the place and the people who live there, and we do it quite naturally.

When we move to new places or into new situations in our lives, though, we tend not to do the same thing--we just assume that things are the same.  My life right now, for example, is not the same as it was in high school, and it's not the same as it was when I was younger and doing work that wasn't career-oriented.  One of those differences is the speed at which I pass through time, and the significantly less free time that I have.  If I want to get the most out of this life I have, I need to recognize that rules and laws change as I make my way through life, and that days aren't what they used to be, and weeks aren't what they used to be.  They don't last as long, and I spend much more time in each focused on things that have to be done rather than on things that I want or need to do.

Are your days and weeks shorter, too?  If they are, that probably means that you just need to plan in a few more of the things that we used to do as a matter of course, the fun things that kept us young and alive.  If we don't do this, what will we do tomorrow, when we find out that twenty years have passed us by?  Personally, I want to look back on those twenty years and see a time that was balanced between fun and obligations, recreation and work.  It's completely my choice, but unless I'm fully aware of the changing laws, I'm not able to make that choice.

Don’t be fooled by the calendar.  There are only as many days in the
year as you make use of.  One person gets only a week’s value out of
a year while another person gets a full year’s value out of a week.

Charles Richards

12 January 2017

Another Way to Climb a Mountain

My wife and I love to hike, and we once went with some friends to climb a mountain not far from our home.  It was a cloudy, rainy day, and there wasn't a whole lot to see as far as views were concerned, but we were enjoying ourselves anyway.  We had no way of knowing on our way up, though, that we were going to be treated to a very special experience when we ran into another group of hikers who also were ascending.

It was a group of about 15 people, ranging in age from about 14 to about 65, it seemed.  The most interesting thing about the group, though, was that at least seven of the hikers were either blind or severely impaired visually, yet there they were on the trail, heading up to the top of the mountain.  And the most remarkable thing about them was that they were in training--this group of blind hikers was training for a hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Now, I don't know too many people who would be able to make it to the top of that mountain, over 19,000 feet high.  But to think of doing it without the benefit of sight is a pretty difficult thing to imagine.  I like climbing, myself, but this will be a seven-day climb for them, meaning that they'll be carrying plenty of equipment and food with them.  They'll be on the go pretty much all day, every day, having to maintain an extremely high level of focus the entire time if they're not to injure themselves seriously.

But watching this group was an extremely inspiring experience.  There was no one asking for special favors when we saw them, no one complaining, no one bringing attention to their visual impairments.  It was simply a group of people with a common aim, and the willingness and desire to achieve that aim.

The blind climbers were certainly very careful, but they were by no means any slower than most day hikers that I've seen.  Some of them carried sticks or staffs, using them to "feel" the ground before them.  Others held on to another, sighted person for guidance.  Still others walked on their own, guided by another person who was describing very facet of the trail as they moved.

And these guides were perhaps the people who most moved me.

I was very impressed with the blind climbers, and I hold a great deal of respect for them.  But I was amazed at the patience and the dedication of the people who were guiding them up the mountain with a never-ending monologue.  "There's a step about six inches high right before you; it's clear for your right foot; snow coming up on your left, so step carefully; you'll have about four steps in the snow; then clear path for eight steps; now a bunch of rocks together. . . ."  and on and on.

I can't tell you how impressed I was with that type of pure giving, that kind of love, that kind of unconditional acceptance of the way things are and simply dealing with it.  This was pure giving--hour after hour of focusing on the needs of another person and making sure that those needs are met.  Without the constant speaking, the blind hikers never would have made it up the mountain, obviously.  And thinking forward, they would need to continue this all the way down the mountain, too.  As patient as I like to think myself being, I have to admit that I'm not sure that I would be able to do such a thing myself.  I'm not sure that I would be able to stay focused, that I would be able to continue to give and give in that way without getting something back.

And sure, I know about the awards of satisfaction, the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done, the gratification that we can feel when we help others.  But this was a lengthy, drawn-out sort of giving that brought out in me one of the strongest feelings of admiration that I've ever experienced.

I have no doubt that this group will be able to climb Kilimanjaro, and I wish them all the best when they do so.  Our hike that day was a blessed one, for we were able to witness and experience something that was truly inspiring:  blind climbers who were not kept at home by their impairments, and loving people who were giving all that they had to make sure that the blind climbers could achieve their goals.  It was a beautiful thing to witness, as well as a very humbling experience, and everyone in our group was just a little different afterwards.