Archive for 2010

“My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start.  So far today, I have finished two bags of M&M’s and a chocolate cake.  I feel better already.”

— Dave Barry

It’s that time of year again — the one where we review the year that will end at midnight and look ahead to the possibilities that lie in the one that lies before us.  Some of us will make resolutions.  Some of us will keep those resolutions.  Some resolutions will prove to be unworthy of completion.  We make resolutions with the intention of ushering in some change that we believe will be beneficial to our lives, and it is good to consider the things that can improve our quality of existence; but one change often leads to another that we couldn’t have imagined at the time of our choice.  That is the part of choosing that makes life exciting.  Maybe Dave Barry’s choice to finish all those things he’s started will also lead him to choose a gym membership.  The most light-hearted resolutions can open the door to something deeper and more meaningful as the results of our choices unfold.  As I sit here today and type my thoughts, I find them returning to another New Year’s Eve, 365 days ago.

As I sat on the brink of 2010, I made a resolution — formed an intention — that would change my life in many ways I could not have imagined.  I have finished what I started; and while that gives me a good feeling of being self-disciplined and focused, I realize a year later that what I thought would be an ending remains a beginning.  I am a writer.  I say this because it is what I do — I write.  Putting my thoughts down on paper has always been something I’ve loved to do; but a year ago today I promised myself that I would write daily, in a blog.  I would put those words in a place where other people could read them.  I would stop accumulating them in files and folders that were seen only by my own eyes.  I would stop talking to myself and let my voice be heard so that others might respond and a dialog might begin — and I would do this for an entire year.

I have kept my resolution.  I have been true to my intention and found my voice.  The results have included more surprises than I could have predicted back at the start of the year.  It has been surprising to read my own words; and I have discovered things about my voice that have taught me more each day about who I am.  I worried at the beginning that I might develop a sort of writer’s laryngitis and might run out of things to say before a month had passed.  Instead, I discovered that my resolution to finish what I started cause me to exercise parts of my brain that had become lazy and sluggish.  I have discovered that this new habit will not end with today’s post.  As is often the case when we begin to practice what we love, my love for writing has grown.  Just like eating M&M’s, it is no task to continue finishing what I have started.

As I look back on 2010, I see all kinds of surprises that have come into my life because of this resolution.  I have met new friends.  I have shared ideas with other writers and heard their voices as well as my own.  I have been enriched through the sharing of our philosophies and the sharing of our passion for expressing what we believe.  I have had the opportunity to watch my own evolution reveal itself in the words that have grown out of the experiences in my ever-changing life.

Most importantly, this exercise in finishing what I started has shown me in bold-face italics that nothing we choose to do produces a simple linear progression from beginning to end.  Life has a way of moving in spirals rather than in straight lines; and that is what makes keeping resolutions so exciting.  The year will end, but the spiral will go on; and the love and life and hope and dreams that in loops around will all become a part of the journey from Point A to Point B.  Today marks Point B for 2010, but my own Point B seems to move ahead of me.  It invites me to follow; and follow I will, looping and dancing through all the living that lies ahead.

This year I will trade in my time-limited resolution and state my intention to listen for the music of the universe and keep on dancing.

“There is hope in dreams, imagination, and in the courage of those who wish to make those dreams a reality.”

— Jonas Salk

Recently, I shared someone’s words about the power of teaching people to dream, and I was taken to task by a friend who argued that dreamers never accomplish anything.  It startled me to realize that this is what we were taught to believe as children who filled the rows of desks in classrooms for a dozen years of our lives.  “Stop daydreaming, and pay attention to important things.”  I am not here to say that education has no value.  Without the opportunity to learn the lessons of history, each of us would be set adrift in a vast ocean and left alone to discover the way to survive the whims of the sea.  Each new generation of people is afforded the advantage of hearing the tales of our ancestors and the ways that they learned to survive the human condition.  Perhaps the grandfathers navigated by using the stars as a reference.  This was a fine method of navigation, and there is value in learning about it.  Then someone chose to dream; and the sextant was invented, making such tasks far more precise.  How many dreamers did it take to bring us from star-gazing to the GPS that speaks from the dashboard of our vehicle and orders us to “turn right in 500 feet?”

What is a dreamer if not a sort of visionary who carries the hope that, as good as life might be today, it could be better?  I remember growing up in the days of Jonas Salk’s discovery of the polio vaccine.  Before its discovery — its invention, before a dreamer named Jonas Salk took his crazy ideas and applied them to all the things he had learned from other people’s experiences with polio, people’s lives were altered and sometimes ended by this ruthless disease.  I remember, as a child who had not experienced a polio epidemic, being fairly unimpressed by lining up at school to be vaccinated.  For me, life always had included protection against polio; and it was hard for me to understand why the adults were so excited.  My father-in-law, a good and kind man whom I love dearly, became ill with polio as a child.  Although he has not let the outcome stand in his way, his mobility requires a custom-made shoe that lengthens his affected leg.  As he becomes older, his balance and steadiness is suffering the lasting effects of that long-ago disease.  It is in the context of his story that I truly appreciate the dreamer named Jonas Salk.  Because of his discovery, I can be assured that my children and grandchildren will escape their grandfather’s challenges.  How many times do you suppose Jonas Salk wanted to give up on his dream?  How many people do you suppose told him he was wasting his time and he should be using his talents to do something productive?

Not all dreamers are scientists, although there have been many who dream in that realm.  Scientific dreamers produce results that often are tangible and measurable.  When they persevere in dreaming long enough to bring their ideas to life, they are recognized for their efforts.  The same is true for the dreamers who produce artwork or literature that stirs the souls of their audience and teaches them new insights about their own existence.  Many of us love curling up and reading a good book.  Many of us have experienced the feeling of being drawn into a piece of artwork and realizing that somehow its message is our own.  But not all dreamers are writers or artists.

We live in an era where many dream that humanity can become more humane.  We see the hope that lies before us all and dare to dream that our vision of a kinder and more unified world is not beyond our grasp.  For some, this vision of harmony seems so close that they could reach a hand through an invisible veil and touch it.  As is usually the case with dreamers, they find themselves judged and chided by people who want them to view the vast history of human suffering and engage in the hopeless feeling that nothing will change what we have come to accept as reality.  We need dreamers who notice the bright spots in our human history — the people who refused to succumb to the darker side of human behavior.  We need to tell the stories of those who bring light to the dark world; and then we need to dream of a world where each of us could be that light for every other person we meet.  Open your eyes and see beyond the dark reality.  Remember that on the most stormy day the sun still shines — even when the clouds would have us believe that it has gone black.  Reach through the invisible veil and touch the dream; and use your sense of vision to see that it also exists, even though we may not see it today.

We must not toss aside the dreamers and say that they produce nothing worthwhile.  We must hold onto our dreams and see them as clearly as we see the world we live in; and then we must find the courage to bring those dreams to life.  Don’t ever stop dreaming.

“Do not assume that she who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good.  Her life may also have much sadness and difficulty, that remains far beyond yours.  Were it otherwise, she would never have been able to find these words.”

— Ranier Maria Rilke

When I read these words, I knew immediately that they were written for a circle of women who have come to know one another through the magic of the internet.  We live in different corners of the U.S., and most of us never have met in person, yet our shared experiences bind us together as though we always have been sisters.  The topics of our circular communications vary.  Sometimes we share philosophical questions.  Sometimes we share humor.  Sometimes we simply revel in the sisterhood that binds together, much like the fierce loyalties that led us in our childhoods to set up clubhouses and make pacts with other girls.  Sometimes, as is the way of women — the way of the Divine Feminine — we nurture and comfort and love one another through difficult times.

Recently, our theme has concerned fathers and endings and experiencing the profound yet difficult, honored yet painful task of seeing our fathers reach the end of their lives.  Some of us are in the midst of watching our fathers, the first strong men in our lives, struggle as they relinquish this world inch by inch, unwilling to leave behind their days of invincibility.  Some already have seen their fathers pass from this life to a place beyond their grasp.  And as we do when a common thread comes to light in the group, each of us weaves her part of the story into the shared tapestry that depicts the story of fathers and daughters, of life and death, of struggle and release.  And we comfort one another.

Comfort is one of my favorite words.  It is a powerful word.  It troubles me that we have allowed it to become synonymous with “console” or “coddle.”  The origin of the word, “comfort,” lies in the Late Latin, confortare, which means to strengthen very much.  This is what we do for each other — we bring the strength that has grown out of the challenges we have faced, and we lay it out in the center of the group for all to see.  Those of us who feel powerless at the moment see the strength that has grown out of the adversity of the others, and we are strengthened as we trust that there will be growth and understanding in the midst of our confusion.  Those of us who carry the strength of the past with us into the present grow in compassion — another favorite word —  as we touch the familiar pain of our sisters and acknowledge the times when it  has been our own.  Nowhere is there room for pity, the helpless and superficial response.  We bring compassion, the “feeling with” that is strengthened by our own experiences, not only of loss but of triumph over adversity.  As we grow, separately and together, we become confident that even in the midst of our own present challenges we have something to give; and that is the deep and abiding knowing that in the end what will remain always has existed.  It will not blow away in the wind of change.

We are the weavers, pulling together the threads of our lives — some of them colorful and some in shades of gray and white.  Each day we add to the tapestry that tells our story, and this is a beautiful thing.  What is powerful and holy and creative and feminine is the way we sometimes are called to weave our threads in the same pass with those of our sisters.  It is then that we bring incredible strength, incredible healing, incredible comfort to ourselves and to the world.

“I am open to the guidance of synchronicity, and do not let expectations hinder my path.”

— Dalai Lama

I just love coincidences.  What I love most about them is that I don’t believe they exist.  It all seems rather silly now, but I spent many years of my life taking in the criticism of other people who told me that I read too much into things.  “Not everything is meaningful,” they would tell me, and I would stuff the thought I had shared deep down inside myself and learn once again to keep such things close to my chest.  “Stop being who you are,” they would say; “it is unacceptable.”  And I would allow their words to close my mouth and cover my eyes  so that the meaning would disappear and I could conform and be accepted.  It is hard to settle for holding something close to your chest when it has sprung from your heart.  When the heart speaks, it should send its message far beyond its source; and holding it in can be difficult and even painful.

I love coincidences.  What I love most about them is the way they call out, “Pay attention!”  Several years ago, I adopted a new perspective.  “Just suppose,” I said to myself, “that everything really does have meaning.”  I decided to view life from this perspective and embrace all the small miracles that I saw each day.  What opened up to me was a world filled with possibilities — a world filled with choices.  As I began to embrace these possibilities and as I began to make decisive choices in response to seeing them, I also began to see the connections between the lives of people who saw the same meaning in a seemingly trivial detail.  There were gateways everywhere, each of them opening to a path that was waiting for someone to choose it.  All I needed to do was choose.

I love coincidences.  I love the way that meeting and recognizing another traveler who has chosen to open the gate from the other side liberates the love and the light and the dreams born in my heart.  I love the moments when I feel the joy of knowing that everything really does have meaning.  I love coincidences; but I call them opportunities.  I love opportunities, because they dare me to choose to seize the moment when hearts connect — the moment some call coincidence.  When one comes your way, be sure to send your heart ahead and open the gate.  Amazing things lie on the other side.

“In the depths of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”

— Albert Camus

The first snowfall of the winter arrived yesterday.  This was not the sort of snow that calls me outside to play.  I love the snowy days when whole communities of snowflakes band together before they hit the ground, the barely-freezing days when playful clouds drop mini-snowballs on our heads as we watch the world quickly become silent and white.  In that muffled, padded place where my heartbeat is the loudest sound, I find myself held captive.  With only white swirling around me, I can let it weave a cocoon that holds me tightly and sends me inward.  It is on such days that I possess the sort of silence that I need to explore the cocoon world that lies within the white silence.  It is then that I discover the seeds produced by my last year’s harvest.  It is then that I discover the Spring that longs to burst forth again.  It is then that I remember the golden days of summer; and I long to nurture the potential in the seed.  It is in the deepest cold of winter that I clearly feel the fire of summer, burning invincibly and lying in wait for its next moment of revelation.

But the first snowfall of winter was the sort that blew fiercely and stung our faces.  The desperate efforts of the plows to clear the roadways shattered the silence and scraped away my cocoon before its fibers could fully encapsulate me.  Without its protection, only cold intruded and froze my dreams of summer before they could fully materialize.  Today, as the snow blows horizontally and tries to convince me that it still is falling, I find no pleasure in the winter white.  I close my eyes and dream — not of the days of summer that seem so far away, but of the sort of winter day that drifts gently around my feet and plants them in the stillness of the silent white season of rest.

“The days that make us happy make us wise.”

— John Masefield

Only six days remain in 2010.  As we look ahead to those that remain, we cannot help but look backward as well and begin to take stock of the year that is ending.  Today I will celebrate Christmas with my children and grandchildren — a tradition we began several years back of celebrating on the Sunday after Christmas.  For many of us who will gather today, it has been a challenging year.  With the economic climate as it is, even those who have been steadily employed find themselves challenged to meet the ever-rising costs of goods and services. There are fewer gifts under the Christmas tree this year, and less money has been spent on our holiday gifting.  What will remain the same, as it has throughout this year — and many before it — is that the room will be filled with love.

If it is true that wisdom grows out of happiness, then I predict that we will all become a little bit wiser today.  As I sit in the early morning and smell the food beginning to cook in the crockpots, my mind wanders to days many years ago when Christmas came as a challenge in the midst of an already difficult lifestyle.  I was a single mother with two children.  My small paycheck covered the rent and hand-me-downs kept my kids clothed.  Most of the time we squeaked by with just enough, although I will admit that there were days when only the children had supper.  The thought of Christmas coming when I was the one responsible for weaving magic for my children was not a pleasant one.  I never wanted my kids to feel that they were deprived of what life had to offer them; and I knew that I would not be able to provide happiness by spending money we did not have.

As our budget squeaked this year, I found myself indulging in the happy practices that grew out of those difficult days.  I had told my children that since we had so many nice things and since they could count on me to be sure they had what they needed, we would tell Santa just to fill our Christmas stockings and to save the bigger toys for families where the parents couldn’t afford gifts for their kids.  This meant, of course, that those stockings had to be very special!  I would go to the local warehouse sale and buy little toys unlike those seen in the stores; and on Christmas Eve, I would painstakingly wrap each tiny toy in colorful paper used only by Santa.  With only one or two presents from me, my children still could spend quite a long time opening gifts.  Years later, when our life was less challenging, the kids would reminisce about the days “when Santa wrapped every present in our stockings.”

In the happiness that flourished amid adversity, wisdom was born; and I found that wisdom surfacing this year as I slashed my budget and took a census of the children, their partners, and the eight grandchildren.  As we schemed to think of homemade gifts and searched for small but unique toys for the grandchildren, I found myself smiling as I wrapped eighty small packages and distributed them among the gift bags for the children.  I felt a true sense of giving as I placed the cash gifts in the beautiful cards I had designated for each of the adults — cards that expressed exactly what I wanted to say to each individual member of my family.

As I begin to reflect on 2010, I realize that the times that have brought me growth are the times that also have brought me happiness.  Some of those days seemed anything but happy at the time; but the strength we have gained in this year of challenges has shown us that there is no wisdom in despair.  It’s all about choices; and today I will choose to be happy as we celebrate the love of family, which is the greatest gift we could receive.

“The trick is in what one emphasizes.  We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy.  The amount of work is the same.”

— Carlos Castaneda

Merry Christmas morning to all my dear readers!   You have been a gift to me this year and I have loved your feedback and criticism as I’ve followed through on my personal promise to share my passion for writing with other people, not just a folder in the back of my desk drawer.  As I begin my Christmas post, please accept my Thank-You Note for making time in your busy days to stop by and visit me.  May your Christmas be filled with Love, and may surprising gifts get your attention so that you know you are truly blessed.

As Christmas has approached this year, I have been aware of the many changes taking place in my own life.  Each of us has these, no matter what our age might be; and if we find them challenging, then adding in a holiday with expectations of joy can lead us to feel less than adequate for the celebration.  What a gift this Christmas to discover that Carlos Castaneda was a Christmas baby.  What a gift to read his perspective on how to be happy.

“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy.  The amount of work is the same.” I think about this in the midst of the changes this year, and I realize that what he says is true.

Our eldest son has not come from Atlanta with his family this Christmas.  I can be miserable because I would like to be with them and share my homemade Christmas with them.  I can be miserable because I am leaving behind the days when the magic of Christmas seen through the eyes of little children filled our house.  Or I can be thankful that they will experience that same sort of magic this year in their own home, and see Christmas through the eyes of their own little boys.  I can celebrate the wonder of the connection that caused Max and Lauren to decide that Santa would bring a large tree — all decorated — while the boys slept.  I can celebrate the knowing that I planted traditions in my son, focus on watching them be carried on, and accept it as a gift this Christmas.

Our Christmas Eve gathering was small this year.  What used to be a large group of our children, their friends, and friends’ families now included only ten of us.  I can wonder where everyone has gone as life’s changes have occurred and feel sorry for myself that so few were able to come, or I can celebrate that we all have grown and that our lives have been reshaped by the growing up of children, the formation of new families, and the addition of grandchildren who call us to other celebrations when holidays come.  I will treasure the memories of years gone by and celebrate the way that the love we have shared has moved outward like ripples to places we only dreamed of back then; and I will accept it as a gift this Christmas that we have had so many people who have been a part of our life and continue to love us as we share our memories.

Now Christmas morning has arrived.  Mark and I sit here alone in a quiet house.  Echoes of the bare feet of children hurrying down the stairs to see whether Santa has come float in the air all around me.  There is no need this year to hurry ahead of them and light up the Christmas tree so that the magic will be complete.  There is no need to run downstairs and start the pot of coffee that will see us through the day that begins so early and goes on and on.  The Christmas muffins that the kids loved so much will be replaced by a more sedate breakfast of omelets and toast, eaten at our leisure after sleeping in.  I could sit today and feel sorry for myself, I suppose, wondering what my kids are doing with their own children or their in-laws this Christmas; or I could accept this quiet day as the gift it is and put the finishing touches on my plans for our gathering on the Sunday after Christmas when my children gather with us and share some time and love amid the gifts and food.  Granddaughter Lily spends one Christmas with her mother in Virginia and the next here with her father, our son.  I could be sad for the loss of spending Christmas Day with our family; but I will accept as a gift this Christmas the love that lets them all agree to meet on that Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s Day.  It is the one reliable day that we know Lily will be in town and our family will be complete.  I will also accept the gift of love that extends to each small member of our clan and  cares that one child will not be left out.

Whatever the changes, whatever the challenges you may be facing this Christmas day, it is my hope for each of you that you will choose to be happy rather than miserable.  Each choice requires energy.  It would be a shame to use all that energy and end up with a result we don’t desire.

Merry Christmas!

For those who have waited throughout the Advent season for the coming of the Christ, the wait is nearly done.  In only “one more sleep,” as my grandsons would say, Christmas will be here.  All over the world, people will light candles tonight and sing of the Silent Night when miracles were happening that would alter the course of history.  As we light our own candles and will the darkness away, let us re-visit the Christmas story and take with us its lessons for living.

Let Mary show us that sometimes when we perch on the precipice of something important — even great — we find ourselves alone and misunderstood.  We must follow our Truth and stay the course.

Let Joseph teach us unconditional love — especially for those whom we have promised to keep as our own.  And the children.  Don’t forget to love the children.

Let the Magi show us that the journey of our heart is worth making — even when it is a long trek — and we should arrive at its end ready to share our finest treasures.

Let the Angels remind us to let our Joy overflow.  There are times when the only thing we can do is sing!

Let the Shepherds show us that we don’t need to be wealthy or educated or members of the elite of society in order to know the Light when we see it.  What good would the angels’ song be if there had been no one to hear it?

Finally, let us learn from the Innkeeper.  No matter how full our lives may be — no matter how simple and inadequate we might think our homes might be — let us always be prepared to offer a place to the weary traveler who finds our door.  We never can know how offering what we have might change the life of another.

Oh, yes; and it goes without saying that when we see great Light we should always pay attention and follow it.

Merry Christmas! (Window in Heaven, by Russ Rentler)

The Light of heaven still shines through.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

Shining Christmas

String the lights of Christmas!

Make the darkness bright!

Place a star atop the tree,

And marvel at its light!

Let the Christmas candle burn

Throughout the darkest night.

Fill your heart with Christmas Love

And shine with all your might!

A world so full of darkness

Once again, requires Light;

So open wide your joyful heart

Let Peace dispel the night.

Shine the Light of Christmas,

Make the darkness bright!

© Pamela Stead Jones 2010