Archive for February, 2011

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

— Thomas Merton

There is no escaping it.  Today is going to be a busy and challenging day.  My usual schedule will vanish the moment I start my car and pull away from the curb.  The next three weeks will be full of changes and surprises as I choose to turn my time over first to my son and his family and then to my parents as spending time with both the older and younger generations will make my life less predictable than usual.  I suppose I could plan for stress-filled days as I struggle to adjust to the new schedules and strive to complete my usual tasks in two hours rather than eight.  I could make maps and lists and flow charts to organize each minute and assure that nothing goes undone.  Actually, I am quite good at these sorts of things; and I have no doubt whatsoever that with a little paper and ink and a lot of high expectations, I could take a path that leaves me used up and exhausted at the end of twenty-one days.

I love spending time with my little granddaughters.  I will cherish the rare opportunity to spend time with my elderly parents.  As I weigh the opportunity vs. the stress, I realize that I have a choice to make.  I will choose to be happy during these days that will be filled with the people I love.  Fortunately, I have made it my practice for the last couple of years to be open to the surprises that come my way and greet them openly.  I have made the decision not to pass surprises through the filter of “should” that makes them seem like intrusions that interfere with the important plans I have made for my day.  Short of keeping the family alive, fed, and nurtured, there are few things in my life that can’t be deferred when changes come my way.

I am off to a busy and challenging day; but that’s the way I like my days.  Through practicing the art of being open to change, I have learned that I often love surprises.  I will choose to balance the weight of my routine against the momentum of the changes that will enter my space.  I will choose to use the happiness I carry with me to paint change with the delightful colors of surprise.  What is important in the end is that we live our lives fully.  When we no longer change, we no longer live.  I will choose to recognize the happy tasks that lie ahead and to live these twenty-one days as though they are a gift, not a burden.  Who knows what wonderful things lie ahead!

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.  But for children play is serious learning.  Play is really the work of childhood.”

— Fred Rogers

Beginning tomorrow, I have some serious work to do.  For the next two weeks, I will be spending my daytime hours with my granddaughters, Cheyenne and Harper.  It’s been a while since I’ve lived in the world of two-and-three-year-old activity; and I’m sure we’ll all learn some things about each other during our adventures together.  I will leave my life of predictable adult routines, quiet reading, and leisurely lunch preparation and return to the once-familiar land of ever-changing activity and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  My quiet background music will be lively Disney songs, and I will relearn the pleasure of reading a favorite book three times in a row and delighting in its story each time as though it were brand new.

Can you begin to imagine the sort of results we could produce if we still worked with the enthusiasm and energy we once brought to the serious work of play?  I think of the book I am reading now and consider the childhood lesson of reading it three times in a row and seeing it as something new each time.  I wonder what sort of depth the information would take on if I gave it that amount of attention?  I think of the music that plays while I do my daily chores and wonder how much more delightful it would be if I let myself burst into song and dance joyfully to a favorite tune.*

When I made a preliminary visit last week to learn the girls’ routine, we all sat at the breakfast table and ate together.  Suddenly, Cheyenne turned her face to mine and asked,

“What color is you’s eyes?”

“Blue,” I answered.

“I got blue eyes, too!” she remarked.

“What color is your hair?” she wanted to know.

“What color is yours?” I asked, turning the question back to her.

“Mine is blon’,” she said.

“So is mine,” I answered.

She leaned her head next to mine so that our hair touched.  “We’s the same,” she proclaimed.

I wonder how my life would change if I could return to that place in childhood that looks for the ways we are alike rather than focusing on our differences.

I have a feeling that I will learn many things on my journey back to the land of play.  I’m thinking I should choose wisely whatever I bring to the adventure, because we will probably do it three times in a row and let it become part of the serious work of playing.  Who knows what the outcome might be?

“What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean.  But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.  I do not agree with the big way of doing things.:”

— Mother Teresa

Sometimes it seems as though the things we do are less than unnoticed and unspectacular.  It seems as though our efforts to contribute are futile and without impact.  Day after day we live in our own small parts of a great, wide universe.  We are the big fish in the tiny little ponds, doing what feels important in our contained existence.  Then we hear news of the world outside our own, the one that expands into the far reaches of the Earth.  There are wars and there are people dying of hunger.  There are ideologies that say they embrace the same virtues, but they are held by people who leave virtue behind and hate or exclude all who do not embrace those virtues according to their own set of rules and beliefs.  There is damage being done to the planet by our need for ever more conveniences whose production fills our air and our water with pollutants that threaten to destroy the things we need most for survival.

Here I sit in my tiny little town.  I like to think that I live my awareness of the needs of humanity.  I try to be kind.  I smile at strangers.  I try to reach beyond the beliefs that divide us and see the similarities that make us one.  I try to meet the needs of those who hunger — for food or for love and understanding.  I think of the Earth, and I recycle my waste.  I look for ways to use and reuse materials that will not add to the pile of debris that soon will cover our planet.  It all seems important and even worthwhile until I begin to think of how huge the world really is and how vast the problems are that plague us all.  It is then that I feel inadequate.

Who we are and the things we do truly are no more than drops in the ocean.  If I am the one drop of fresh water that is added to the vast, saltwater sea, I really can feel like my contribution has no significance.  Then I consider how many people, in other small places, also do the kind and loving things that express their bond with all people and their love for our planet.  Suddenly I have a vision of millions of drops of fresh water bringing new vitality to the ocean of life.  If all people really are my brothers and sisters, then I must trust that the small contributions that each of us brings to healing our world will combine to produce a meaningful result.  We must continue to make our small efforts in our tiny towns and have faith that we will send out ripples that will soon make waves in the vast and endless sea.

“Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting.”
— Elizabeth Bibesco

When I read Bibesco’s words, the first thing that came to mind was the verse from the Bible, in Matthew 6:3, “…don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  In Sunday School, when I was a child, I was told that this meant we should give quietly and without fanfare, in ways that didn’t call attention to our generosity.  I saw the right hand as me doing a good deed and the left hand as other people who would see what I was doing.  When I was a child, I trusted so completely that my needs would be met that giving came naturally and easily and never felt like a hardship.  When we trust that we have enough, the things we share land in our lap for a brief moment, and we are free to release them without worry because we know that the universe contains an endless supply of the blessings necessary to meet the needs of all.  No one person owns the things that meet our needs for living.  They belong to us all, and knowing that we will have enough is the key to living an abundant life.

Now I look differently at the two hands.  If the right hand is the symbol of giving and the left hand is the symbol of receiving, then the Biblical statement takes on new meaning.  When you give, don’t be preoccupied by comparing what goes out with what comes in.  The only thing that is important is the knowing that you will have enough.  We can only give freely when we truly understand that nothing good that comes our way is ours to keep and hoard away.  When we learn the truth about abundance, we become free to let all the good things that arrive in ample supply move around us and through us and then pass through our right hand of giving to the next person.  When we learn not to use our left hand of receiving to clutch the blessings that come to us and call them our own, we become free to leave it open at all times so that more and more can come our way.

When you fully embrace abundance, the incoming supply of good things is so overwhelming that we cannot possibly forget how blessed we are.  The remembering of all we receive and the way it meets our needs becomes so all-encompassing that we really don’t notice when the blessings leave our right hand and move on to touch another.  We can only take responsibility for giving when we give something that we own.  If we decide that we must own a blessing in order to feel secure that we will have enough, then we must think before giving it away.  When we keep score, we always measure the balance between “full” and “empty.”

Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting. They are filled with the blessing of abundance and send out the reflection of abundance — gratitude — for all that comes their way.

“When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze.”

— Thomas Carlyle

Do you remember your graduation ceremony?  An air of celebration surrounded the day as we robed and stood in line, anxiously awaiting the signal to begin our procession into the hall where diplomas or degrees would be awarded.  The signal given, music began to play.  “Pomp and Circumstance.”  What a perfect name for the regal music that announces a major event.  Graduation is one of those times like an oak tree falling — it gets our attention with its importance and we remember the day as though it were the only event in our education worth celebrating.  It is easy to forget amid all the recognition that graduation is not only our goal, but also a celebration of the many small achievements and moments that combined to bring us to that day.

When an oak is felled, the whole forest echoes with its fall.  When we attain our goal and graduate, people notice our achievement.  We are congratulated.  There might be a party in our honor.  It is easy to forget all the tiny acorns that were sown by the wind, unnoticed, that grew to be trees.  It is easy to forget the many moments of realization that combined to bring us to a place where we could celebrate our education.

Sometimes we see the achievements of others and feel inadequate by comparison.  There are some people who are destined to do great things in a visible way.  We honor them for their achievements and sometimes we aspire to be like them.  There are others who work quietly in the background, sowing acorns in the wind and trusting that if enough of them take root, the result could be a mighty forest.

Some people will receive attention for their large achievements.  They will stand tall like trees and be visible and admired by others.  When they fall, the forest will reverberate with the weight of their success.  Others will carry small stones and place them one upon another.  Nobody will notice them quietly working; but one day those stones will pile up so high that a  mountain will stand where the land once was flat.  Never be discouraged if your work is not done to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance.”  Never wish to be an oak if it is your destiny to sow acorns on the wind.

“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”

— Thomas Merton

February is nearly over, and that means my thoughts are beginning to turn to gardening.  The snow-covered garden plot in my back yard is beginning to emerge again, and soon it will be time to start some seeds.  Last Fall, just before the first frost touched the vines, I chose some heirloom tomatoes and harvested their seeds.  In a couple of weeks, I will pull out some peat pots, fill them with soil, and plant the seeds of last year’s abundance; and the cycle of life will begin once again.  Just as the seeds of last year’s fruit grew deep within the flesh of each tomato, the longing for another season of abundance was planted in my soul.  As my love of the gift of fresh, ripe tomatoes surrounded the seed of longing, I made a plan to see the cycle repeat itself for another year.

So many lovely surprises greet us each day.  I picture a field of dandelions that have turned from yellow to wispy white.  As I walk by, I have several choices.  I can kick them and have the seeds cling to my pant leg until they fall later on the sidewalk and wither in the sun.  I can stomp on them and flatten them on the surface of the grass where there is no soil to nourish them.  I can pick them and send their seeds flying, carried by the wind, to land one-by-one in places where they might take root.  It is the way we greet each event, each surprise that comes our way, that will determine whether we walk by without noticing or wrap the memories in love and store them gently in our souls.

I am watching several people that I love dearly leave the years we call “old” and move into the surreal world of “elderly.”  As their awareness dims and their lives become routine and without surprises, I see that they rely heavily on the things the years have planted in their souls.  If they have planted anger, then they respond with anger.  If they have planted self-doubt and insecurity, they assume that others judge them as being useless and inadequate.  The most wonderful times are those when the seeds of love they have nurtured in their souls send beauty growing out of their cherished memories.  It really makes me stop and think about how I meet each day, complete with all its surprises and all its challenges.  I think it would be a lovely thing if I could begin now to pull the weeds that have taken root in my soul.  It would be a miraculous thing if I could learn to embrace each challenge as though it were a surprise, wrap it in love, see its beauty, and carry its seeds deep inside.

What will you plant today in the depth of your soul?

“They who love are but one step from Heaven.”

— James Russell Lowell

I spent a heavenly morning yesterday with my two youngest granddaughters, Cheyenne and Harper.  Now I know that their grandma has bragged about these little cuties before, and I know I may be biased when I say how special they are, but I really don’t think that bias has anything to do with it.  These two little lovelies have magical ways that take us to that spot, just one step from heaven.

Those of you who stop here often enough to see the patterns in my writing themes know that kindness is way up at the top of my list of important qualities.  I have to hand it to Dan and Crystal — my son and daughter-in-law — for instilling true kindness in these two little girls who are only 3 1/2 and 2 years old.  We ate breakfast, played with Barbies, drew smiley faces in Cheyenne’s book of new foods she has tried, and played some games.  Along the way, one of the girls would burst into song and the other would join in, delighting Grandma with all the Disney favorites they have learned.  Cheyenne and Grandma pulled out the Pattern Blocks and took turns adding them to a design that Cheyenne called “a star.” In the end, she added a blue stem and the star became a flower.  Harper accompanied our work with a song from Beauty and the Beast, and she also handed us blocks and picked up any that fell to the floor.  The results were pretty stunning:

What impressed me most, though, was playing a game with the girls and their mom.  Remembering my own competitive childhood and the squabbles that could grow out of an innocent round of Monopoly, I steeled myself for whatever might lie ahead.  We played a fishing game, complete with fish-shaped cards and a pole with a suction cup for a hook.  Each of us had to fill our own colored boat with fish whose undersides were the same color.  As we turned over the fish we caught, the random beginning became a memory game.  Chey, an expert at age three, had no trouble remembering where the green fish were when other players returned them to the water.  Soon she was in the lead, and ultimately she won the game.  All along the way, both girls cheered whenever anyone landed a fish that was the right color.  When Cheyenne had filled her boat, little Harper jumped up, clapping and cheering and dancing to celebrate her sister’s achievement.  The message was that even though each of us was trying to fill our own separate boat with the right color of fish, we were all in the mission together — and one person’s success was shared by us all.

Are these girls perfectly behaved?  Well…not quite…but even when our “reverse-mechanic,” Harper, unscrewed the legs from the dining room table, she delivered the screws to her mother with a sweet little smile.  The only competition I saw was who got to give the most hugs and the most encouragement.  If this is the way the next generation is being taught to greet life, I really hope to stick around for a while and enjoy the changes they will bring to my world.  Cooperation, kindness, and love are the lessons they are learning; and they teach them to everyone they meet.  If each of us could make these our way of life, we could find ourselves in a whole world that is only a step away from heaven.

“Happiness is a virtue, not its reward.”

— Baruch Spinoza

When I consider the idea of traveling light through life, there is a short list of things I would carry with me.  I suppose my computer would be high on the list, since it has become such a wonderful connection to the world outside my own little house.  My camera would also rank high on my list, because it allows me to carry along so much of the beauty that pops up every day.  I would need a bit of food, I suppose, and some water to drink as I walk along.  A good pair of sturdy shoes and some comfy jeans would be nice.  And a broken-in t-shirt for comfort on warm days and a soft wool sweater for the times when the snow flies.  Maybe I would take my mp3 player — nothing fancy or touch-screen, just a tiny 8GB miracle that holds a gazillion songs and would bring music to my journey.

This short list is becoming more complicated that I thought!  Each of us has so many things in our lives that make us happy!  What happens to our happiness when the things go away?  We live in a world that tells us to accumulate things in order to secure happiness.  I will own a computer, and it will connect me to others.  It will put endless streams of information at my fingertips.  It will allow me to express myself and store my thoughts for retrieval and review.  I will own a camera, and it will capture the beautiful things I see so that I can put them away until later and see them when it is convenient.  I will own a music player, and the music will make me happy as I listen and walk to its tunes.  All these things, I am told, will make me happy.  Society teaches us that if we are good — hardworking, diligent, productive — that our virtue will be rewarded with pre-fabricated happiness.  What would happen to us if all the things we use to reward ourselves were to go away?  Would we think we are being punished by some unseen judge for not measuring up to the standard of goodness required to be rewarded with happiness?

It is important to turn these thoughts around and to realize that Spinoza’s words are true.  Happiness is not a reward for being virtuous.  Happiness is, itself, a virtue.  It is a choice.  We can choose to carry all the things that make us feel rewarded and bring us artificial happiness, or we can decide to be happy and make it our intention to bring happiness with us to whatever things we might enjoy.  If I had no computer to connect me with people, to offer me information, to collect my thoughts, I would still be happy.  I would leave my desk and find people close by to share our dreams.  I would listen to the wisdom of others and listen to my own soul as well.  I would find a pencil and a paper and write my stories there — and if there were not pencils or paper, I would carry them in my heart and tell them to myself as I walked along.  If I had no music player, I still could sing.  I would listen to the birds and sing back my own songs of happiness, because I carry it with me and it shows me the beauty that is all around me.

As I watch my parents age and see them struggle to remain happy in the midst of all the changes that challenge them, I think about being happy.  I think about the things I can do right now — today — to cultivate happiness, not just as a way of life, but as a way of being. Is it possible to ease the burden of watching things fall away as we age by deciding now not to seek happiness anywhere but in the center of our own spirit?  Can the choice to be happy rather than to be made happy create a way of being that will allow me to bring happiness to my world when the other things I have contributed fall away?

I may forget how to use my computer, but perhaps I still will have a story to share.  I may lose my singing voice, but perhaps I can teach another the joy of singing.  I may not be able to go out and see the beauty that called my camera into use, but perhaps my heart will carry the essence of all the beauty that has come and gone.  We come into the world with no possessions, traveling light.  When we leave this world, it will be in the same way.  When all else has fallen away, let’s honor the part of us that remains — our spirit — with the gift of happiness.

“I offer you peace.  I offer you love.  I offer you friendship.  I see your beauty.  I hear your need.  I feel your feelings.  My wisdom flows from the Highest Source.  I salute that Source in you.  Let us work together for unity and love.”

— Mahatma Ghandi

Many of my days are spent within the confines of my own home, doing the work the keeps the household running and cares for the needs of my family.  Many of my days are spent within the confines of my own being, writing the thoughts and poems of my soul in isolation from other people.  I often think that I am a solitary sort of bird; and the truth is that I am comfortable perching alone.  Yesterday I was offered an opportunity to gather with a group in the first meeting of an Empowerment Circle at Walking Winds Holistic Center.  Mother Nature must have heard that we were meeting, because the winds that blew us into town were wildly strong yesterday; and they added to the energy of our gathering with the sounds of whooshing trees and musical wind chimes floating in the air.  Some of the faces in the circle were familiar to me and some were new.  What made this gathering exciting was that each of us had come to explore the intangible yet palpable world of Spirit with others who shared our interest.

We sat in a circle and joined in activities like tai chi and qi gong movement, chanting, meditation, and discussion.  We laughed, we shared, we talked, and we sang.  Any inhibition that came through the door soon melted away as each of us discovered that our contributions would be welcomed, not criticized; accepted, not challenged; respected, not negated.  I found my own solitary bird gliding from its perch and landing among a flock of other birds — birds of many different colors and species — who had in common their desire to sing the song they were born to sing.  Solitude is wonderful.  It allows a bird to hear her own song and to become comfortable with the sound of her own voice.  Connecting with others provides the delight of hearing the many different songs of many different birds who also have learned to sing their truth.

Years ago I heard the word, “namaste,” for the first time.  Some people seemed to use it sort of like “aloha,” as both a greeting and a benediction when interacting with others.  Even before I explored its meaning, the word carried for me an energy that brought me closer to the person who spoke it.  When I began to use it myself, with reverence, I was speaking of the wonder of discovering in another seemingly solitary bird a thread of sameness that bound us together.  In our circle yesterday — an Empowerment Circle — each of us came with the intention of becoming empowered in some way.  Each of us brought our own song.  Each of us brought our own truth.  Each of us contributed our own energy.  As all these things came together, the threads that connected us all were exposed.  We wove them as we discovered the things we have in common; and beneath our solitary exteriors, a tapestry began to reveal itself — the story of our unity that lay beneath the surface differences that might divide us.

How wonderful that I came upon Ghandi’s words this morning.  ‘Oh, my!’ I thought, ‘That’s it!’ Once again, I took my definition of  “namaste” to greater depth.  I offer you peace.  I offer you love.  I offer you friendship.  I see your beauty.  I hear your need.  I feel your feelings.  My wisdom flows from the Highest Source.  I salute that Source in you.  Let us work together for unity and love.”

It is good for those of us who lead solitary lives, whether we truly spend our days alone or whether we spend them alone in the midst of others, to fly down from our perches now and then and discover that we are not alone.  I contributed a lot of energy to our gathering at Walking Winds, and so did the others who attended.  As for myself, for all I contributed, I left feeling strengthened rather than depleted.  I hope that is true for all who blew in on a blustery afternoon.  There is empowerment in the discovery that beneath our very different exteriors we are one.


“My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.”

— Chinese  Proverb

We say that we seek beauty in our lives; but if that is true, why do we spend so much time surrounding ourselves with things that only obscure the view?  Yesterday was a magnificent day!  After long weeks of winter, a brief appearance by Spring blew her warm breath over the snowy land.  Even in the early morning, when I took my walk along the road through the park, a small stream of snow-melt had begun to make its way down a gully toward the creek.  By the time the day called me out for a second time in the afternoon, a little boy only two years old had discovered the now-swollen river — more than a foot wide — and was sending stick-boats on adventures downstream.   His little brother sat in one side of the double stroller that had carried them from home, giggling at his big brother’s antics.  The ball his father had brought from home lay unused in the basket beneath the stroller.  It was no competition for moving water; and we watched as that little guy was entertained for nearly an hour by jumping and laughing and watching his boats rush away.

The stream I had seen as an obstacle as I tried in vain to keep my feet dry now transformed before my eyes into a wild, flowing river that could wash me away to a place long ago that could only be seen through the eyes of a child.  I remembered my first-born son, pant legs rolled up on his overalls, wading barefoot in the gutter near the curb after a summer cloudburst.  I could see the delight in his eyes as he felt the current run over his toes and left his toys behind as he explored.  It was the same delight that now sparkled in the little boy who invented boat after boat and watched them swirl away.  It was the same delight I know must have shone from my own eyes on lazy summer afternoons when I would wade to the center of the river and find my perch on a sun-baked flat rock.  There I would pull out my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and enjoy a fine feast, set to the music of the river’s song.

When did the stream become a nuisance?  When did my dry shoes become more important than the joyful way that water flows, carrying our dreams on boats made of sticks to adventures in lands unknown?  When did the barns I have built as monuments to my own achievement become obstacles that obscured my view of the heavens?  When did my intention to add things to my life that would enhance it and add to the beauty I seek become a heap so large that sometimes I struggle to clear enough space to see beyond it to the things that are real?

Charles Dickens once said:

“The whole difference between construction and creation is exactly this:  that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.”

Perhaps I spend too much time loving the prefabricated, constructed things in my world.  Perhaps I have forgotten to love things into existence by sending my dreams to unknown lands where beauty touches them and brings them to life.  Perhaps it took an innocent little boy whose eyes saw the snow melt for the very first time to move the obstacles that I had placed in front of my own tired eyes and allow me once again to see what is real — what is beautiful.

As the afternoon faded, the little guy reclaimed his seat in the stroller, stick in his hand, and beamed with the wonder of his world.  It had grown larger as something in him stirred and followed his dreams to adventure.  I turned toward home, heading out in the opposite direction.  As I looked over my shoulder to wave goodbye, I saw it.  Beauty.  It hung in the sky and lifted my heart.

With eyes wide open to the things that endure, I walked with light steps down the path to my home.