Archive for November, 2010

I couldn’t sleep last night.  It was one of those nights when I made sure that all the LED characters on my clock worked.  12:14, 1:39, 2:25, 3:10.  Finally, at 4:45, I gave up and headed for the shower.  If I wasn’t going to sleep, I might as well do something productive.  Have you ever really tried — hard — to sleep?  As I dutifully checked my clock every hour or so last night, all I could think of was how much I would regret not sleeping by tomorrow afternoon.  Sometimes life just keeps us awake, even in the middle of the night.

What are the things that cause you to lie awake long after you go to bed?  During stressful portions of my own life, I learned that it was important to will myself to sleep if I wanted to have the focus and mental sharpness to attend to my problems the next day.  I learned to turn off my worrying mind and allow myself to rest and rejuvenate.  There are many reasons for insomnia.  I remember when my children were young, and we would tuck them into bed on Christmas Eve.  “Sleep fast!” I would tell my sweetheart, “You know the night will be a short one.”  We would hear one child or another moving around in the middle of the night, checking his clock to see whether morning was close enough to risk waking us.  There was one particularly memorable year when we heard two of the kids jumping and dancing and playing long past 3:ooAM.  I am sure that night seemed just as long to them as last night seemed to me.

Before you console me about my sleepless night, I will tell you that it closely resembled that Christmas Eve so many years ago.  In only a few hours, we will drive to the airport to meet our oldest son and his family.  Four of our favorite people in the world will be coming to spend the next ten days with us; and I guess last night just felt like Christmas Eve.  There can be many things that rob us of sleep, but I highly recommend insomnia due to excitement and expectation of a reunion with people you love.  When we see them come down the escalator to the baggage claim, I just know I will turn to my sweetie and say, “Look!  Santa came!”

Falling Away

Falling away,

As the day turns to night.

Falling away,

Colors vanish from sight.

Falling away,

All the joy and delight;

The sweet days of Autumn

Let go and take flight.

Falling away,

The sunlight, the trees.

Falling away,

The rustling leaves.

Falling away,

Summer’s warm memories;

As Autumn is carried,

Away on the breeze.

Falling away,

As wintertime nears.

Falling away,

As the warmth disappears.

Falling away,

Silence rings in my ears;

As Autumn, now waning,

Retires for the year.

Sleep.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2010

“A little kindness from person to person is better than a vast love for all humankind.”

— Richard Dehmel

When I read these words, I could understand what Dehmel was saying; but I think he falls just short of the mark.  If I could rewrite his words, I would say that the best way to express a vast love for all humankind is with a little kindness from person to person.

We talk all the time about unity and recognizing the oneness we share with all of creation, especially with other people.  Expressing these sentiments is a good thing, and it strikes a common chord among others who feel the same way.  The problem can be in trying to find ways to demonstrate these vast feelings and allow them to take shape and impact the world.  Huge feelings make us want to do huge things that will make a huge impact on others and encourage them by our example and by the feeling they have when we embrace them as our own.  It can leave us feeling as though our arms are too small to encircle all the people we love.  How do we begin to embrace all of humankind and express our vast love and acknowledge our oneness?

Kindness from one person to another is the way we express the vastness of our love — not only to those whose actions merit a similar response, but to all those who cross our path.  It is kindness that makes our arms long enough to embrace all of humankind.  It is said that if you save one man you save the world.  Kindness is no different.  Look into the eyes of each person you meet and see all of humanity there.  Reach out your long, loving arms and express your vast love in each small act.  It is through kindness that our vast love becomes reality.

“Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

— Howard Thurman

Whose job is it to save the world?  So many of us walk around acting as though the job rests with us and we don’t know where to begin.  It is good to have a conscience that extends beyond our own needs to the global needs of humanity.  There are so many needs, so many opportunities for action, so many places that could use some love, so many that cry out for peace.  Where do we begin?  The truth is that none of us, acting alone, can restore harmony to the Earth.  Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it will take a global village to usher in an era of unity and peace.

It is easy to get bogged down in trying to identify the scope of the job.  It is easy to become discouraged and to think that our efforts are futile and the goal will always remain out of our reach.  How do we take action and know that it is the first step toward a kinder, gentler, more peaceful and more compassionate world?  Suppose the task were not so complicated after all.  Suppose the first step is an easy one.  Suppose that all we need to do is open our eyes and wake up.  Suppose that all we need to do is to come alive and be the unique individuals we were created to be.

Look around you today.  Do you see another person who brings the same talents, the same ideas, the same approach to life that you bring?  We are as variable as the 5,000 pieces in a complicated jigsaw puzzle that come together and interlock to create a beautiful picture.  If one piece is fashioned to fill a spot in the center, it has no need to shave off its edges and attempt to become a corner.  People are the same way.  If each of us would just open our eyes, wake up, come alive — if each of us would embrace the gift that we bring to the global community and exercise our full potential to contribute — perhaps the pieces would begin to fall into place.

Come alive!  Acknowledge your existence and the gifts that are yours to bring.  Link arms with the rest of humanity — find your spot in the big picture and contribute the tiny dot of color that is essential to everyone else who is part of the picture.  Our world does not need miracle workers to solve all its problems, but it does need people who are willing to acknowledge the value of their small contributions and feel the passion for delivering them to the greater good.  Come alive — heal the world.

“Reconciliation is to understand both sides; to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Our world desperately needs reconciliation.  We are divided by the pursuit of our own personal or national agendas to the point where we naturally talk over one another rather than taking the time to listen to what someone else might have to say.  We hold meetings where we present our point of view with charts and slides and power points and statistics to justify our position and demand that our wishes be fulfilled.  The other parties arrive with their own presentations and visual aids, and we do our best to negotiate peaceful coexistence.

Negotiation is as close as we come to reconciliation.  When we negotiate, each side makes concessions in order to appease the other.  While negotiation may be better than an all-out fistfight or war, it leaves each side of the issues feeling as though they have lost something in order to meet the unreasonable demands of the other.  We leave negotiation feeling half-satisfied and at a loss for a way to have our position truly understood.  We need to lose in order to gain during negotiation, and nobody comes out a winner. Negotiation sends an emissary to climb the wall between two sides and offer a concession in exchange for another.  The emissary then returns to the other side of the wall and delivers the result, but the wall remains.  It stands between us, reminding us of our differences.  We know when we look at it that there will be another day of negotiation and another trip over the wall.

Reconciliation is not about climbing walls.  Reconciliation builds a bridge that can be crossed with ease in both directions.  It provides a path from  heart to heart where a messenger can hear the suffering behind the position held on each side and carry that message to the other.  Reconciliation means feeling the suffering of our opponent as our own and being moved to compassion.  When we change our positions in order to reconcile, nobody loses.  Instead, each side leaves feeling closer to the other and understanding our shared humanity.  Once we have reconciled, Love can enter the picture.  It can follow the path across the bridge we have built and maintain that bridge so that we can cross it often and remember who our brothers and sisters are on the other side.

Let’s be about building bridges rather than walls.  Let us be about reconciliation rather than negotiation.

“If I keep a green bough in my heart, then the singing bird will come.”

— Chinese Proverb

Sometimes sadness and sorrow creep into our lives.  None of us is immune to this experience.  When we find ourselves in a desolate place, it is easy to lose heart and to think that we never will feel better again — that joy has left us and never will return.  On sunny, light-hearted days, it is easy to dance through the world.  When we walk in the shadows, our feet seem to drag and we no longer remember the dance of happy times.

I love to watch the sun rise.  I know that daylight would come whether I stare toward the eastern horizon or not.  I have no magical power that calls the sun to appear at daybreak.  And yet I am drawn to my favorite sunrise place again and again.  There is something profoundly uplifting for me when the light of dawn replaces the dark of night; and I think I know what that is.

Hope.  Each day, as the sky is set on fire by the sunrise, I see with my own eyes that the Light is something to be trusted.  Whether or not I choose to notice its return, I trust that the dark night will not last forever.  When I take in the light of a promise fulfilled, it nurtures the growth of beautiful things in the garden of my heart.

On days when we feel sad and hurt and overwhelmed by life’s difficulties, when we cannot hear the birds sing or feel the joy at hearing their song, we must let hope shine its healing light into the garden of our hearts.  We must trust that the silent birds will one day sing again.  We must let a green bough flourish within us so that they will have a place to perch when they return.

“The apple blossom exists to create fruit; when that comes, the petal falls.”

— Kabir

As the leaves fall from my apple tree, and my son begins to talk about pruning its branches at the end of the season, fond memories of the beauty it has brought to another year flood my mind — the way it stood stark and strong in the midst of the winter snow, the first buds of the green leaves that restored color to a Springtime landscape, the delicate white flowers that brought delight and sweet aroma to warming days.

I think of my parents, doing their trademark jitterbug to “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me” as they made their promises before Dad shipped out with the Navy for WWII.  I think of their reunion afterward and the way their dance progressed through the years.  I see them swaying as they hold each other close and sing “I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time.”  Every year when these delicate flowers appear, I have an urge to set a bench under the branches so that my sweetheart and I can sit there and gaze at the stars at the end of the day.  Every year, the blossoms last for such a short time that the bench has not yet become a reality.  Perhaps it will be one of the changes that we make as our own dance slows and we reach a time where sitting seems like a good idea.

Life is beautiful, from green buds to flowers, and finally to the fruits that appear as we ripen with age.  It is sad to say goodbye to the apple blossoms, but it is sweet to watch tiny apples appear in their place.

Picking ripe apples and enjoying a taste of their juicy flesh brings a sort of fulfillment that you simply need to experience in order to grasp its sweetness.  Without the bud, without the blossom, without the tiny first fruits, we could not enjoy the outcome of all the good things an apple tree has to offer.  Our lives are no different.  Just as the tree needs to grow and change from season to season, we also need to embrace our ever-changing lives.  Tonight when we go to sleep, we must lay down today so that our arms will be empty and available to embrace tomorrow.  We cannot hold onto the apple blossoms, but we can carry the memory of their sweet aroma as we look to the next surprise that lies ahead.  We must not let the sadness we feel when the petals fall deter us from welcoming what lies ahead.  Perhaps by knowing the sweetness of biting into an apple, we can better understand and appreciate the beauty of the blossom that allowed itself to fall so that the apple could exist.


“There is something in humility which strangely exalts the heart.”

— Saint Augustine

As I often have said before, I love paradoxes.  They are the sort of things that stretch my mind and challenge me to look at the world from more angles than just my own.  Humility and exaltation.  Do they seem compatible to you?  When you first think of one leading to the other, what comes to your mind?

I think of the images that the word, “humility,” conjures for me; and what comes to mind is a weak, frail, obsequious little man who stammers and hesitates while he is trampled under the feet of the strong and powerful.  This is what I was taught that humility looked like.  It isn’t a very attractive image, yet people always want to encourage us to be humble.  Is choosing humility the act of allowing ourselves to be walked on by others?  Is there some system of rewards and punishments that will compensate us for choosing pain with the reward of some pleasurable gift at a later date?  Why would anyone ever choose to be humble?  Yet here is St. Augustine, telling us that humility exalts the heart.  Paradoxes.  I love them.

Last night I had the pleasure to attend a Rhythm Renewal workshop led by Jim Donovan, a man who facilitates transformation through the use of rhythm.  I realized when I read St. Augustine’s words this morning that maybe I had learned something about humility last night; and I will share it with you here.  After a couple of hours of rhythm and joy and opportunities and celebration, we were invited to think of something that might be an obstacle in our lives.  We would close our eyes and listen to the beating of a drum and consider forming an intention to either transform that obstacle or leave it behind.  This was well-timed for me, since I was weary from events of the prior day that showcased man’s inhumanity to man in the pain of someone very dear to me.  There is nothing like injustice to call forth my anger; but even righteous anger can stand in the way of our desire to heal the hurt.  Erasing all thoughts and judgments from my mind, I sat with the intention to remove anger from the situation — it seemed impossible, but there was nothing to lose in seizing this opportunity.

The drum began to beat.  I released all thoughts except the intention to lose my anger.  Soon that thought became wordless; and it simply swirled in the air around me, no longer connected to me, but still present.  Images of the faces of those involved in the incident also swirled past, again and again.  As I watched all these things slip in and out of view — in and out of my awareness — pure white Light began to fall down all around me.  It entered the top of my head and warmed my whole body — my whole being.  It flowed and overflowed, pouring from my heart and my hands.  I knew that if I had opened my eyes at that point, the entire room would have been illuminated by this beautiful, healing Light.  My knee, the one that always seems to ache to one degree or another, was soothed by the warmth generated by the energy that filled me and surrounded me and lifted me from my chair.  Love encapsulated me and held me there as the Light became all that I was and grew me far beyond the boundaries of my own flesh.

As I hovered in the Light, suspended beyond my own limitations, I saw my anger drift by again.  It seemed so distant and so insignificant compared to the feelings that had kept me awake most of the night only yesterday.  The images of the people drifted by again, but something had changed.  They also were bathed in the light; and as I watched it pour from my heart and wash over them, my view of them was transformed.  No longer was there a right and a wrong person, although one had inflicted a lot of pain on the other.  There were only people, each afraid in her own way and each needing to find the transformation that would allow her to stand in her own power without hurting or being hurt by the other.  I felt my own fear subside, and I realized that the anger that swirled away really was a coating I had placed on my fear.  I was humbled as I realized that I had given my power over to the fear of another person and had stood in the way of my own ability to help.

This, I think, is what humility is about.  It is not about weakness or self-deprecation.  It is about getting out of our own way.  It is about taking the emotions that block our light and figuring out what they are telling us about ourselves and allowing the Light to fill us with love and peace and forgiveness.  It is then that the healing can begin.  It is then that our hearts are exalted.

“Send the light of your own loving ahead of you.  When you get there, the loving will have prepared a place for you.  Be kind, gentle, and enjoy the journey.”

— Peter McWilliams

If you want to take a day trip to the beach, what is the first thing you do?  I check the weather.  There’s little point in packing all the things I’ll need for a day in the sun if the forecast is for rain and wind.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could control the weather?  Well, maybe I wouldn’t want that responsibility all the time; but for days when it really matters, it would be nice if a little sunshine could be guaranteed.

In a way, we do have some control over the weather of our lives.  The more we shine, the more Love and Light we send out to people we meet, the brighter our own path becomes.  It really is within our control to choose fair weather.  Have you ever noticed how holding onto anger or hurt or disappointment can color  your day?  When we carry these things with us, they color the way we see everything and everyone that appears along the way.  There is nothing more difficult than trying to share something remarkable and wonderful and light with someone who has decided to have a miserable day.  Sometimes, when I am in a bad way, I can actually feel myself resisting the urge to smile.

Only a decisive decision to live Love — to be Love — can guarantee us a journey of warmth and delight.  When we rely on others to restore our light, we may be disappointed; especially if we decide to carry the burden of negativity and resist the urge to put it down.  We must be intentional about shining Love and Light ahead of us.  It must be our way of life.  Only then will we find that we are always walking into a kind and loving place.  It benefits everyone we meet when we choose to shine; but, most of all, it will transform our own lives.

“Love a man, even in his sin, for that love is a likeness of the divine love, and is the summit of love on earth.”

— Fyodor Dostoevsky

It is no challenge to love someone you like.  Often, we confuse the two — love and like — but I think love is an action and like is a response.  There are difficult people in our lives every day.  To be honest, there are probably people who picture my face when those words are spoken.  We cannot expect ourselves to like everyone we meet.  There are beliefs, ideals, and actions that separate us from others who behave in ways we don’t accept as appropriate.  We can expect ourselves to love others, regardless of our differences and regardless of their actions.

Have you ever tried to tame a wild animal?  We know from this experience that our demeanor needs to be one of gentle silence that gradually evolves into soothing words, spoken softly and with love.  As the animal’s fear subsides, it sees that there is no need to protect itself from our love and kindness.  Soon we find that the once-frightened beast returns daily to be fed by our hand.  We have learned this lesson from the animals, yet we seem to forget it when dealing with other people.  Why is this?  I suppose we might become frustrated with our fellow humans because we have higher expectations of them than we have of our animal friends.  And what are those expectations?  The more I think about this, it seems that my expectation with other people is that they should live up to my standard.

It is embarrassing to admit this, but I do think that we pass the behavior of others through our own ideas about what it right, what is true, what is acceptable.  In the world of “Love vs. like,” I think we focus more on liking others than on loving them.  I need to ask myself if this is the way I want to be with others — offering them less unconditional love than I would exercise with a wild animal.

Not every animal we might want to tame is able to trust enough to eat out of our hands.  I learned this with chipmunks when I was a little girl.  They were living in a concrete block wall that contained our rock garden.  There was one trusting little fellow who became quite comfortable approaching me, and soon he would sit in the palm of my hand and let me run a finger down the stripes on his back.  This experience was such a special one that I looked for the opportunity to repeat it with another of the baby chipmunks.  He bit my finger hard enough to draw blood.  This was a hard lesson for a young child, and I became wary of extending my hand to small animals for a time — at least until my finger healed; and I became more cautious and reserved and less trusting about reaching out too quickly to strange animals.

It is sad that we also extend these sorts of lessons to the people we meet.  We can fall into patterns of behavior where our own past experiences impede us from loving wholeheartedly.  I look in the mirror and see that it is I who have become the frightened beast who needs someone to tame me with a gentle and loving sort of patience that will allow me to trust.  I see that I am no different from the people I want to turn away from.  I, too, can be wild and scared and unwilling to let love in.  I don’t mean to suggest that we should barge right into someone’s fear and allow ourselves to be hurt and victimized in the name of love.  I learned from that early nip on the finger that sometimes love needs a little more elbow room than others.

The best we can do is to be sure that our action — Love — goes on in spite of our response — like or dislike.  This is the Golden Rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  This is the gentle and loving patience that mirrors the Love that called us into being.  This is the gentle and loving patience that we hope others will bring to us.  Can we possibly do any less?