Archive for November, 2011

“Death is not the greatest loss in life.  The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”

— Norman Cousins

What are your dreams?  With the demands and resulting stresses of modern living, we often fall into bed at night and relish our journey to the land of dreams.  In our dreams we can escape the routine and fly to distant lands or buried aspirations, effortlessly and without impediment.  Then, when the night ends, we awake once again to reality and begin another day just like all the others.  It is sad to discover that the only time we allow for dreaming is while we sleep.

Do you remember the carefree days of your childhood?  Do you remember all the times you sat with a friend and voiced your many dreams of things you would do, of places you would see, of who you would grow up to be?  Children are wise.  They make time in their days to dream while awake.  They speak their dreams.  They believe in them.  They stretch their imaginations beyond the boundaries of their reality and reach for more.

It is easy, as we become adults, to think that we must give up our childish dreams.  Each of us chooses a box we inhabit that allows us to make our way through the world and support ourselves.  When we forget to think outside of the box from time to time, we run the risk of believing that it is the box that defines who we are.  It is fine to grow up and choose the work that sustains us; but if we are wise, we will carry our dreams with us.  It is our dreams, our hopes, our aspiration for more that brings color and light to the box we have chosen.  Make time to dream — not only while you sleep, but while you are awake.  Stop right now and take five minutes to savor a dream.  Weave the energy of that dream into the life you live and let it color all you do with its desire for growth.  Color your world.  Reach for your dreams.  And be sure to keep the lid open on that box.  Who knows what might spill out of it?

“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

— C.S. Lewis

In 1986, Robert Fulghum entertained us all with his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  It was true.  The basics of getting along with others and being human were all there in that first of social arenas.  Fulghum made us look differently at childhood.  He made us see it as a time of profound learning and not only of silliness and child’s play.  As an avid reader of fairy tales, I think we should revisit the stories of our childhood and see through adult eyes the lasting and universal lessons they brought us at a time when our world was very small.

When I was a little girl, our bookshelves held a twelve-volume collection of the Junior Classics.  They had been my mother’s when she was a child; and whenever a rainy day would leave me without plans, I would grab a volume and curl up for hours of adventures in faraway and magical lands.  My favorite volumes were Fairy Tales and Fables and Myths and Legends.  These were not cleaned-up, politically correct Disney versions.  The villains were villainous.  The heroes were purely heroic, and they were sometimes wounded in their quests.  What was common to all of them, however, was that good prevailed and “they lived happily ever after.”  I loved the old stories.  I loved the way they frightened me and made me cry for the injustices and, in the end, assured me that truth would always be victorious.

The longer I have lived, the more I have seen that the lessons of my beloved fairy tales show themselves again and again in the world I call real.  Today it is raining, and I will shorten my walk and make plans for indoor activities.  Perhaps while the washer does its work I will curl up with a good book about heroes and heroines, about villains and treachery.  I will treasure the lessons I first learned in childhood — that life can be scary, that courage is to be cultivated, and that ultimately good will be victorious over evil.  Once upon a time, they lived happily ever after.

“The greatest achievement was at first and for a time a dream.  The oak sleeps in the acorn, the bird waits in the egg, and in the highest vision of the soul a waking angel stirs.  Dreams are the seedlings of realities.”

— James Allen

Perhaps it is the return to work life at the end of a weekend, perhaps it is simply putting down the feeling of recreation and coming back to the scheduled life — whatever it is, Monday morning always holds a special kind of excitement for me.  After breaking from the weekday schedule and changing my routine for a couple of days, I come to Monday refreshed and filled with hopes and dreams.  Any worries about work undone or mistakes made the previous week seem to fall away.  Monday is the day of new beginnings; and every Monday morning, my dreams hum inside of me and call me to bring them to life.

Weekends are such a blessing.  They provide us with time to renew our energy.  They allow enough time for us to regroup, release our frustrations, and turn off the noise that surrounds us during the week.  They offer us enough silence that we are able to hear the dreams that sleep beneath the surface of our own lives.  We become so busy with routine things that it is easy to forget to listen to the extraordinary potential that can take us to places that are anything but ordinary.

Not every day can be a weekend, and Monday morning certainly reminds us that this is true; but we can make the space each day to pause, to meditate, to listen to the dreams of our soul.  Monday reminds us once again to grab hold of our dreams and weave them into reality.  Embrace the music that hums inside you.  Bring it into reality and let it wrap around everything you do.  The mundane and necessary tasks will take on a whole new sense of purpose; and you may even discover that you are called to greatness as you let your potential blossom and beautify all you do.

Every seed that waits beneath the soil for the time when it will sprout knows that it contains greatness that one day will be liberated from its tiny form.  The seeds of your own flowering lie within you.  Monday is a perfect day to water them and let them begin to live.

“It is a paradox that as we reach our prime, we also see there is a place where it finishes.”

— Gail Sheehy

I am a collector.  I have spent many years gathering interesting items, different ideas, and stories about the people and experiences that have made up my life.  They occupy my mind and my heart like a vast array of precious treasures, and I like to spend time visiting them, savoring them and enjoying the memories they conjure for me out of the mist of memory.  I never really thought about it before, but I think maybe I have reached my prime.  I say this because I keep catching myself sharing my collection with the next generation, passing along the things I treasure most to the people who share my heritage.  Watching my granddaughter’s eyes light up as she listens to a music box for the first time makes me realize that it belongs with the one whose wide-eyed excitement enjoys it in the way I did the first time I heard it play.  I think about wanting her to have it now, while I can share her enjoyment and wonder — not when I am gone. Seeing her sister stoop to pick up a rock and put it in her pocket to take it home makes me scrutinize my own collection of stones and crystals and tell her why I love the ones I’ve chosen to keep.

It has taken me a while to slow down and think about it; but at sixty, I’ve decided that I may be approaching the middle of my life.  I know that I have reached the top of my climb, and I can see that the road ends in the valley below, just over the third hill and out of sight in the forest.  Now is the time — the prime time — to make sense of why I have chosen to hold onto my collection; now is the time to let go and distribute not only the things but the reasons why I hold them dear.  It is good to reach the top of the mountain and have a chance to see into the distance.  It is good to reach our prime with the paradox that just as we come into our power we must figure out how to relinquish it to those who will go on after we are gone.  It is in seeing that we do not go on forever that we learn to let go of the symbols of who we are.  It is in sharing them that we leave our mark on the lives we touch, and by doing so gain immortality.

“It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”

— Eugene Ionesco

I love watching children explore their world.  They are so curious about each new thing, each new idea, that comes their way.  Children are all questions, and they look to the adults in their lives for the answers.  As we grow older, finding answers becomes more and more important to us.  We like things categorized and defined and explained.   We may consider it childish to ask a question without working at finding an answer.  I, for one, don’t want people thinking I am childish.  I have worked for many years to establish my status as a grown-up, and I enjoy being the one who is sought out for answers about how the world works.  I love opportunities to share the wisdom I have gained with the younger generation, and I love the way they never run out of questions.

Although I might resent being called childish, I embrace the part of me that remains child-like and full of questions.  It is exciting to discover an answer, but it is more exciting when that answer becomes the springboard for another deeper question that is born of the last discovery.  Growing up carries the responsibility to follow questions and seek the answers; but if we can cultivate the curiosity that frames the next question, we just might find that we will never grow old.  Open your eyes today to all the mysteries that share their world with you!  Seek your answers; but remember this:

What makes life worth living is running out of answers before you run out of questions.

“Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude.”

— Joseph Wood Krutch

Thanksgiving Day is over.  We have eaten too much, hopefully as an expression of the abundance that is ours.  We have paused to think of all the reasons we have to be thankful.  We have gathered with family and friends and taken the time to express our gratitude for the part they play in our lives.  The leftovers are packed away and will provide many delicious meals before they are gone.  In the silence that follows the celebration, there is a feeling of contentment in the air.  It is easy to be happy with such wonderful memories fresh in our minds.

I suppose you could say that days like Thanksgiving make us happy; but I think happiness is not so much something that happens to us, but more something we choose.  When we are filled with gratitude, being happy is simply an extension of that overflowing warmth — in fact, I think it is true that happiness is in itself a kind of gratitude.  Just as we choose to be grateful for the good things that come our way, we can choose to be happy.  The choice is easier on days when there is so much to encourage us, but we can choose to find reasons to be happy on our darkest days as well.

Now that the official day for Thanksgiving is over, I think it would be a perfect time to commit to choosing happiness.  In order to do this, we must cultivate gratitude.  I like to challenge myself from time to time in ways that raise my awareness of the blessings in my life.  I will begin today, while the memory of the good feelings of happiness are fresh, to recognize at least one thing each day that makes me grateful.  I will speak it out loud and let my ears take it in.  I will tuck it away in my gratitude bank and let happiness be the interest it earns.  I will choose the sort of gratitude that I call happiness.

Today I am grateful for the way the sunlight glistens on the frosty leaves.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”

— Albert Schweitzer

It is Thanksgiving Day.  Just as the sun begins to rise, we will get into our car and travel to upstate New York for a dinner with my sweetheart’s family.  Yesterday was his mom’s 88th birthday; and she is still able to host dinner for all who care to attend.  We are thankful.  It is not the dinner that makes the holiday but the people who gather, the old familiar faces of the people we hold close in our hearts.  We are thankful.

My own parents will be sharing Thanksgiving today with my sisters who live nearby.  My brother-in-law, my nephew, and a friend from the assisted living facility will round out their table for eight; and although I am far away from their home in Florida, I will be there in spirit.  There is something about Thanksgiving that opens our hearts and calls us to take stock of another year.  Soon my Dad will be 90.  We have had another year to share with him, and we are thankful.  Each year at Thanksgiving, when we gather to open our hearts, we remember the other Thanksgivings and make note of how the children have grown, how the old folks have grown older, of the new babies born, of the missing faces.  We are thankful for times like Thanksgiving when we all come together in a celebration of life and hope.

Today I will look back on the year that has passed since the last time we celebrated Thanksgiving.  I will look at the faces that gather at our table, I will think of the faces I would like to see sitting there.  I will hold in my heart all the dear friends and family who have fanned the flame of my inner fire this year.  I will let that fire warm me, from the inside out, and I will let it radiate to warm anyone who may need a place to rekindle their own.  I am blessed with so many dear people who uplift and encourage and sustain me.  And I am thankful.

“Whatever we are waiting for — peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance — it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.”

— Sarah Ban Breathnach

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, before the turkey is roasting and intoxicating us with its seductive aroma, I find myself taking stock of all the things I have to be thankful for this year.  It’s funny how the list always seems to begin with the same things.  Ho-hum.  I’m thankful for this old house that I have to clean and that needs paint.  I suppose I’m thankful for the lawn that needs mowing and the leaves that need raking.  I’m thankful for my family, old and young, under my roof and far away, and the challenges they bring amid the joy.   Ho-hum.  I am thankful for the ho-hum, for the overflowing blessings of all the things I take so for granted that it feels like I should come up with a more exciting list.  It is really important, before the day of Thanksgiving approaches, to get in touch with our gratitude.  There is nothing boring or routine about true, heartfelt gratitude; and it is only when our hearts can contain no more joy that we can be truly thankful.

It really is a matter of attitude that allows us to live with gratitude.  I look at my ancient house, and I think of all the wonderful memories that have been made within its walls.  I think of the way its stone walls  have withstood the wildest winds and the wildest children.  I think of the way its sturdy roof has sheltered us all from the rain and the snow and kept us safe and warm and sheltered.  I think of the lawn and all the picnics it has seen, all the years of vegetables and flowers and treehouses and swings; and I think of the trees that offer us shade and fruit as well as leaves for raking.  I try to imagine what my life would be like without the family I hold so dear; and I cannot begin to fathom a world without them.

My heart overflows, and the words of Thanksgiving come to my lips.  It is gratitude that allows us to speak thankful words.  They spring from our hearts if we have filled them with grateful thoughts.

The Rain of Autumn

The rain of Autumn falls like cold, harsh truth.

It makes the pavement glisten, hard as coal;

The fallen oak leaves, brown upon the ground

Give up their dreams of flight beneath its pall.

And sink so deep into the earth below

That soon they find a welcome waiting there.

The Autumn rain has washed the canvas clean.

The only colors, brown and black and gray,

Create stark silhouettes against the sky,

And cry that Winter soon will have his day.

A sweater knit of summer’s memories

Enfolds me in its comfort and its warmth.

Our fallen comrade now is laid to rest.

We fill the grave and lay our flowers sweet

Upon the spot where now the summer sleeps.

We dust ourselves and slowly turn away.

I watch as spots appear upon my boots;

As Autumn rain comes falling from my eyes.

©Pamela Stead Jones 2011

“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.”

— Lionel Hampton

It is only human to take stock from time to time of our lives and our interactions with others.  Sadly, we often use our minds to count the inventory of hurts, slights, and offenses that others have committed.  We carry them in our minds and throw them up like shields when we find ourselves in a new moment of interacting with the person who has offended us.  We clutter our minds with a long list of reasons why we should close ourselves and protect ourselves from the possibility of being hurt again.  It is quite a burden to keep score and manage the list of wrongs that have been inflicted on us by others.  We can spend so much time protecting ourselves that we scarcely remember to live.

Unlike hurt, which lives in the mind, gratitude resides in the heart.  When the heart remembers, it recalls for us all the tender moments, all the times when love came calling unexpectedly, all the times when life was good and reliable and dependable.  When our hearts are open, we can take in all the beautiful things that make us thankful.  It warms us to be filled with gratitude; and when we open our hearts, that gratitude can spill out on everyone we meet.  The challenge is to silence the wounded mind and listen to the grateful heart.

Perhaps we begin by setting up a scale, one with balances on each side.  We place our pile of hurt on one tray and see how the scale tips toward that side.  When the noise is outside of us and we no longer throw up the shields of protection, we can open our heart and let our gratitude pour out onto the other side.  It may be that the gratitude is quite small and no match in volume for the hurt and pain; but another piece of wisdom resides in the heart as well — forgiveness.

It is forgiveness that completes the cycle.  When it flows from our hearts and wraps itself around the hurt and pain, it lifts the weight from the negative side of the scale.  When a piece of the burden is lifted, we feel grateful, and the transformed piece of love moves to the other side of the balance.  As the dance goes on between pain and gratitude, it is forgiveness that allows our mind to let go so that our heart can embrace gratitude as a way of life.  Soon forgiveness resides in our mind as well as in our heart; and when hurt comes our way, we can choose to transform it or send it on its way without taking on the weight of its sorrow.

Open your heart.  Forgive.  Transform.  Let your heart be filled with so much gratitude that it overflows wherever you go.