Archive for January, 2012

“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.”

—  Bern Williams

I slept in this morning.  This is a rare event, and it only occurs once or twice each year.  As I think back to the other times, I realize that this often takes place when it snows overnight.  There is something hypnotic about the way falling snow muffles the sounds on the street that puts me deep into a dreamy state of sleep.  I awoke to four inches of white covering everything.  My first thought was how nice it was to have this snow on a Saturday when we have nowhere to go.  My second thought was the realization that my Favorite Child had left at 7AM for an early shift at work, which meant that it was my responsibility to take the puppy for his morning walk.  I pulled the covers tightly around my chin and tried to will myself back to sleep, but I knew there was no escaping it — I would just have to layer up and make my way to the park.

I have to admit that once I was on my feet, which were in double socks and insulated boots, I felt a bit excited to step out into the first snow of winter.  Patches led the way; and the minute his paws hit the white stuff, I knew this would be no meditative walk that would lead me into the quiet inner spaces of my winter self.  With a leap and two bounds, the cocker spaniel catapulted into the backyard.  He jumped so high that for a moment I thought his leash might be a kite string and that I would have to reel him in when our walk was done.  I gave a tug, and caught his eye, and soon we were moving on all six feet toward the park.

Cocker spaniels lead with their noses, and soon Patches’ nose was crusted in snow.  It didn’t seem to bother him one bit, and I have to admit that I soon forgot about the snow that was collecting in the hair along the edge of my ski cap.  We spotted one of his puppy friends, and soon the two dogs were frolicking and leaping, their paws leaving trails over every square foot of snow in the park.

As I watched them play, fully committed to the moment, it reminded me of the years when my children were small and they would come to the kitchen door looking like abominable snowmen after fifteen minutes of rolling in the snow.  I also remembered my own childhood and the excitement of waking in the morning to a world turned white.  Without a silly puppy to lick my face, I probably would have missed out on the wonder, the thrill, and the unbridled joy of blazing the first trail through the first snow of winter.

“Stay the course, light a star,
Change the world where’er you are.”

—  Richard Le Gallienne

It is Friday morning, and I can’t help but wonder where another week has gone.  It seems that I have been busy every minute, but there is nothing earth-shaking to report about great accomplishments or adventures.  I’ve simply enjoyed another week of living on planet Earth.  In recent months, I’ve begun making a list at the beginning of each day that notes all the goals I would like to accomplish by nightfall.  It is encouraging, when each day seems to run into another ordinary day, to enjoy the exercise of crossing items off the list.  It is my way of reminding myself of all the mundane but important contributions I make to the lives of my loved ones every day.  I include my personal goals on the list as well.  “Write Blog” is always at the top of my list, and I add an hour here and there for each long-term goal I am working on.
It has been a huge step for me to stop fitting my personal dreams into the small spaces left over when the laundry is folded and put away and the kitchen is spotless.  The truth is that these daily tasks are never really done.  As soon as I have started the last load of laundry, someone will enter on cue and begin to fill the hamper again.  As soon as the last dish is washed and put away, someone will come looking for a midnight snack.  Scheduling helps with this.  It allows me to declare a stopping point for the day and move on to the things that had been lost in the shuffle of my life.  A small electronic kitchen timer is my traveling companion throughout the day, and I set it for one hour as I begin each task.  When the hour is done, so is the entry on my list.  Anything that is not finished in an hour can always be added to my list again tomorrow; but the surprising thing is that I usually have time left over.
Time is an elusive thing, and it seems that there is never enough to accommodate everything I would like to do.  The best thing about this mindful way of spending my days is that it allows me to focus on simply being rather than always remembering what I should be doing.  It lets me become focused on bringing the love and commitment I have for my world and what I want to contribute rather than giving all my focus to remembering what to do next.  When I write, I can be fully invested in writing.  When I fold the laundry, I can do it with love and think loving thoughts about the person who will wear that pair of jeans tomorrow because I cared enough to see that they are washed and dried.  When I prepare a meal, I am not distracted by worrying that I am forgetting to do something else.
I had always thought of lists as task-masters.  I saw them as unattainable goals that would taunt me and, at the end of the day, show me how inadequate I was at getting things done.  Now I see them as a sort of liberation that allows me to be in the moment without the distraction of what lies ahead or behind.  The important thing is the love and the light that we bring to our days.  The tasks themselves serve ourselves and others, but the love we bring to them can light the world.  No matter how mundane your day may be, remember to stay the course.  It will change the world wherever you are.
“Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it.”

— David Starr Jordan

Someone once asked me if I knew how to eat an elephant.  As I sat and pondered the question, she shared the answer:  One bite at a time.

There it was.  She had presented a seemingly imponderable question and then provided the obvious truth that would lead to completing the task at hand.  Wisdom sometimes tells us that there are very large tasks that need to be done; but wisdom is only the beginning of accomplishment.  Next comes skill, and skill must be developed through practice.  We must try and fail, try and succeed, until we become adept at the art required to take us through the task.  Wisdom and skill provide us with the plan and the tools for approaching our life’s work, but they are only the beginning.

How often do we spend years pondering the truth of wisdom and then become comfortable in the company of our own philosophy, adding to it each day but never letting it move into action and be tested?  How often do we make the decision to put our wisdom to work and then become stuck in a perfectionist loop of practicing our skills over and over so that when we approach the challenge we will do it flawlessly?

This is why we need virtue.  Virtue grows in the sort of character that can accept that flawless only exists in the land of thinking and planning.  Virtue lies in accepting our limitations and then forging ahead toward the challenges of life with the satisfaction that our wisdom and skill will be enough to see us through.  Virtue rises from its chair, rolls up its sleeves and begins to nibble at the elephant, one bite at a time.  It refuses to give up, even when it needs to stop and catch its breath from time to time.  It doesn’t fret about the scraps of pachyderm that may lie under the table and need a cleanup.  And the best part of all is the way that Virtue, with all his practicality and elbow grease teaches us more about the wisdom that gave birth to our effort and more about the skills necessary to complete the job.

Whatever your elephant might be, tie on your napkin, grab a fork, and dig in.  There is virtue in learning that although we are not perfect, we are more than good enough to face a challenge and see it through.

” ‘Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?’ ‘Supposing it didn’t,’ said Pooh. After careful thought Piglet was comforted by this.”

— A. A. Milne

2012 is now eighteen days old.  It is nearly impossible to be alive and alert this year and not hear predictions that the world will end when the Mayan calendar expires.  Doom and gloom prophecies seem to pop up everywhere these days, and it sometimes seems that there are people who would take comfort in the idea that their struggle may soon be over.  Throughout history there have been people who have predicted the end of the world again and again, yet here we still stand on a planet whose changes are undeniable and whose challenges can cause us to wonder whether this just might be the time when the prophets are correct.

If 2012 has our attention, I say that is a good thing.  Like others my age, I have lived a life buffered by the human inventions that shelter me from the harsh realities of nature.  I awoke this winter morning to a warm house, and I didn’t have to search for firewood last night to assure that my heat source would burn until morning.  Last summer, I could turn on the air conditioner and take a break from the heat if it became uncomfortable.  My region of the country, and even my part of the world, has been free of nature’s fury for most of my life.  Now the planet seems to be going through some changes.  Call it climate change or call it global warming, it really doesn’t matter what we name it — what matters is that our attention is being drawn to the fact that, in the end, we do not control the universe.

As one who makes a point of stepping outside of the unreal world of my controlled climate, I welcome the rumblings that draw my attention back to the power of nature and the vastness of the universe.  Like Pooh and Piglet, we have been sitting in the sheltering shade of a huge tree.  Now there are cracking sounds coming from its branches, and suddenly we begin to worry that the tree might fall and crush us.  Nothing has changed but our perspective; and I also welcome a shift in the way we see the world.  Perhaps when we begin to remember that the tree that brings shelter also could be the tree that falls and crushes what lies beneath it, we will pay attention to caring for the tree and looking out for all who enjoy its shade.

Does 2012 have your attention?  It certainly has mine.  Already I can feel the rumblings of change in my world.  Already the people I meet seem to be shifting their view of life.  When it seems that the tree might fall, we suddenly realize how much we value all that lies around its trunk.  2012 may not mark the end of the world, but it could be the beginning of the end of life as we have known it.  May we all be open to the awareness that life is precious and that the earth is ours to care for and not just to consume.  May we all look around us at the others who live in the shade of the sheltering tree and renew our love and appreciation for all who share our world.  Perhaps, one day, the tree will fall.  None of us can predict when or if that might happen.  But perhaps it won’t; and we should feel comforted by the thought that we can make the world in its sheltering shade a more loving and peaceful place to be.

“Look at everything as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time. Then your time on earth will be filled with glory.”
—  Betty Smith

If you really want to appreciate what you have, just try to clean your closet.  You know which one I mean — everyone has one — the closet where you store the boxes of things that you don’t want to look at and simply can’t part with.  When the time comes to make a clean sweep, we see those items through different eyes.  Maybe it would be a good idea to pull them out of the boxes and put them into use or on display where we can really see them and remember why we love them.  Maybe if we pulled them out of their hiding places and saw them next to other items that lurk in the corners of our lives, we would think twice about which things we should hold onto and which ones we should let go.

Our world bombards us with mixed messages.  One is to renew, reuse, and recycle and one is to keep up with the latest technology.  We are told all the time that the top notch gadgets we bought last month are now obsolete and must be replaced by the newest version.  We can get so caught up in the race that we forget how well things serve us that we already own.  It was not until our daughter’s cell phone was damaged last year that we discovered all the features of one that we already had retired from use.  It might not have been at the top of the line, but it served her well and provided everything she needed.

We must learn to look closely at our lives and discern between the things we need and the things we simply desire.  When we look closely, we may discover that our longing is actually for the things we already have.  When we discover the beauty that lies all around us, we may find that we can clean our closets and simplify our lives, making way for the things that really matter.  Take a closer look.  Discover that you already possess the things you need.  Cherish them and fill your life with the glory of simplicity.

“Often the test of courage is not to die but to live.”

—  Vittorio Alfieri

Since I share a birthday with Dr. Martin Luther King, I was a little bit miffed when the national holiday was made a Monday holiday.  I would rather have had my own birthday off each year.  Then it occurred to me that as a mother of many, having my birthday as a day off from school would likely create more work than celebration for me; so I got on board with Monday.  Today I am feeling as though the Monday holiday gives me twice the time to celebrate the ideals of peace, brotherhood, equality and unity.  Dr. King had the courage to speak out against injustice and it cost him his life.  The best tribute we can pay to him is to have the courage to speak out and keep his dream alive.

Often the test of courage is not to die but to live.

We must find the courage to live the ideal of peace and to greet anger with kindness, injury with pardon, and wounding with healing.  We must find the courage to reach beyond the differences that divide us from others and take hold of the things that are our shared human birthright.  We must find the courage to see that our brothers and sisters who think different thoughts or express their love for others in different languages and through different deities are no different that we are.  We must find the courage to celebrate the unity of the whole family of mankind and value the many varieties of human beings who share our world.

We must have the courage not to die, but to live — and to keep alive the dream of a world where all are one.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friend.”

— Martin Luther King, Jr.

I know we won’t be celebrating Dr. King’s birthday until tomorrow; but since I share his real birthday, I will not wait the extra day.  I awoke this morning to many wonderful birthday wishes from my friends online and my family who are right here.  It is a joyful thing to be remembered and acknowledged by people who love and support us.  My birthday, more than any other day of the year, offers me an opportunity to pause and give thanks for all the love, encouragement, and kind words that friends and family bring to my life.  We all find joy in the kindness, encouragement, and love of others; and when we choose to live our lives speaking out for what is good and true and right, we especially treasure others who do the same.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a man who was satisfied with being silent.  He spoke out, in volatile times, in a voice that demanded to be heard; and he lost his life as a consequence of choosing not to be silent.  His life changed us all.  When I think back to my childhood and the narrow-minded attitudes we were taught that told us to recognize only our differences and not our common humanity, it seems archaic and false, and unbearably sad.  When I think of Dr. King and his voice and his message of peace and brotherhood and realize that my own understanding of truth and unity were changed by his example, it makes me proud to share his birthday.  The time when he lived and dreamed and spoke was one of great transformation for me; and I was not yet ready to risk speaking out in ways that supported his dreams.  I suppose you could say that it’s too late now; but I say that there is always time to speak up and reiterate the dreams of the dreamers of truth, peace and love.  When we break our silence and make our voices heard, we bring the dream to life again and again.

If you see injustice, speak up.  If you see love being trampled in the streets, let your voice be heard.    In the end, we will remember the voice of each friend who speaks on our behalf.  In the end we will remember the love.  In the end, I don’t want to be remembered for my silence.

“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”

— Albert Schweitzer
When someone does a good deed that impacts us, we respond with gratitude.  Gratitude is the outpouring of thanks that occurs in response to the actions of another; and we should always remember to express our thanks to those who reach out to us.  Kindness differs from gratitude, because it begins deep inside of us.  Kindness has no need for another’s actions to call it forth.  We choose kindness as an intentional way to live our lives; and when we do, we commit to acts that can truly transform other people and change our world.
The easy path is to wait for the actions of others and then respond in kind.  If someone is generous, I will share in return.  If someone wounds me in any way, I will be sure to strike back.  If someone walks by with eyes turned away from me, I will refuse to see that person, too.  The choice lies between following the rules of “an eye for an eye,” or opening our eyes and truly seeing others with compassion and recognition and a desire to call forth their very best.
When someone is generous, I will celebrate their generosity and encourage their good deeds.  If someone wounds me, I will forgive and model kindness for them to see.  If someone ignores me, I will greet them and let them know that I see a brother or sister when our eyes meet.  Kindness can take anger and melt it into peace.  Kindness can give recognition to the good that lies in someone who feels invisible and call him into the light.  It costs nothing, but kindness can truly transform the world wherever we let it shine; and when we choose it, we find that we are transformed as well.
“One must do everything one can and then say ‘God have Mercy!’ “

—  G. I. Gurdjieff

Today is my father’s 90th birthday.  We live at a distance, so I will not be there to celebrate with him.  We will talk on the phone and acknowledge his milestone, but his mind will be on other things.  For the past week, he and my mom have been in quarantine.  The assisted living facility where they live is having a run of the stomach flu, and all the residents are confined to their own apartments.  Meals are brought in to them and medications are delivered to their door.  On the surface of things it doesn’t sound so bad, but for my dad it has been a real struggle.  Mom has suffered from dementia for the past six years, and Dad has loyally and lovingly cared for her, reassured her and lately even thought for her through all of her changes.  Quarantine has meant that Dad has had no escape from the prison of Mom’s disability.  There are no walks down the hall to shoot the breeze with people who can communicate.  There are no dinners in the dining room where other residents stop by to chat and pass the time.  It’s been Mom and Dad and the Turner Classic Movies that keep a bit of cheer in their long days.  Now Mom is beginning to slip away.  She sleeps most of the time; and when she’s awake, she seems to have no desire to communicate.  Her ability to move around is declining, and today she needed to be carried to bed for a nap — something she usually does in her recliner.  It has been five days since Mom has eaten anything but breakfast, and today she was half-hearted about that, too.  Dad doesn’t know whether to yell, to cry, or to run away.  He only knows that things couldn’t get much worse.   He has done everything he possibly can, and now he must say, “God have mercy.”
Happy Birthday, Dad.  I know it’s not the one you planned; but some things are beyond our ability to plan.  You’re a good man, and you’ve done all you possibly can.  I love you more than you can imagine.
“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”
—  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Yesterday’s forecast included some rain.  It was supposed to start in the late afternoon, fall overnight, and taper off by morning.  We waited.  The sun set, and still there was no rain.  Night fell, and still the streets were dry.  Not until the middle of the night, when I heard it pelting the window by my bed, did the storm finally arrive.  There is nothing quite so soothing as sleeping to the sound of rain.  My bed feels twice as cozy and my blankets twice as warm when I imagine how chilly I would be if I were out in the cold, wet night.

My gratitude for the rain’s lullaby began to fade as morning arrived.  When I came downstairs, I could still hear the insistent drumming of a downpour on the roof and windows.  What a cold, damp morning!  What a great day to stay inside and enjoy the shelter of my home.  Just as I settled into the renewed cozy feelings, I was greeted by Patches, my cocker spaniel grand-dog and morning walking companion. ‘Maybe he didn’t get the memo about the rain,’  I thought as he leaped and nuzzled at me and did his “time for a walk” dance all around me.  I sat at my computer and prepared to start typing.  He flipped his snout under my right elbow and threw my arm away from the keyboard.  The look of anticipation in his eyes was more than I could bear.  “Come on,” I said to him, “let’s get your leash.”  I put on my giant yellow coat, the one my kids call the school bus, slipped on my new rain boots, and headed toward the door

Patches danced all around me and barely could contain his energy long enough for me to fasten the leash to his collar.   ‘As though we need another rain dance,’ I thought as I opened my umbrella and stepped out into the morning.  Off we splashed to the park for our usual morning trek.  We arrived at the far reaches where Patches can shed his leash and explore, and he immediately headed for the biggest puddle he could find.  He splashed, he jumped, he stuck his nose in the water, he caught rain in his mouth  with his head tilted toward the sky.  I don’t know the origin of the word, “spaniel,” but I have a feeling it must have something to do with water.  As the puppy’s thick winter fur became soaked with the rain and the splashing, his true shape was revealed.  It was as though the rain itself transformed his lazy winter demeanor and made him perky and muscular and lively, just as he had been when he wore his summer coat.

As I watched him splash and run and play, I thought of my children and the way they loved to go puddle-jumping after a summer storm.  I remembered my own childhood and the delight I took in dancing in the rain and letting it call me to being fully alive.  When do we become so old that we forget the delight of walking in the rain?  When do we begin to place judgments on the weather and forget to enjoy the world in all of its amazing variations?  As we headed for home, I looked down at my feet.  I realized that my new rain boots had kept my feet toasty and warm and dry.  ‘Cool!’ I thought, and I skipped a few steps and jumped, all in, into a puddle.  Patches gave me a surprised look, and I found myself laughing out loud.  I lowered my umbrella, turned my face to the sky, and caught some rain on my tongue.  Sweet.