Archive for April, 2012

“I don’t want people who want to dance; I want people who have to dance.”

— George Balanchine

Have you found the music of your soul?  Amid all the noise and distractions of being alive, there is a melody — a theme — that recurs and calls out to us and sets our hearts to dancing.  Once we discover it, life is never the same again.  Once we hear the music that defines our purpose for being alive, all the other tunes dim by comparison.  If you are anything like me, there probably was a time in your life when you tried out different dances.  I remember the unbridled passion of my teenage years, the years of discovering that I was truly alive and separate from my parents and able to choose my destiny.  In those times, each new song that played made me certain that I had found the dance that would be my life.  I listened to what was most popular, what was the loudest, what played a tune that awakened thoughts I never had thought before.  I would pick up each new thing, live in its music, and dance its dance for a while.  Then a new song would catch my ear, and I would change my steps.  I really wanted to dance; and I had not yet learned the difference between wanting something and needing something.

With experience and with some chances to learn about holding on and letting go, I continued to dance my wants; but the remarkable thing was having enough breaks in the loud music to hear the recurring theme that always seemed to play in the background — even when I could not hear it clearly.  In the quiet and thoughtful moments, I began to feel my toes moving involuntarily and dancing steps that I did not need to think about dancing.  Each time I would stop dancing the frenzied and choreographed steps of something I wanted, my whole being would begin to dance freely the dance that was my passion.

It is a beautiful thing to discover your passion and to dance the dance that expresses your heart’s desire.  What is your dance?  What music haunts the depths of your soul when the world’s loud music stops?  Ask yourself, as you begin a new day, what is the dance that I need to dance.  Whatever the answer may be, tie on your best dancing shoes and dance from your heart.  The world needs dancers who need to dance.

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.”

— Duke Ellington

Have you ever considered how much of life consists of encountering problems and solving them?

We solve problems all the time and never even think about it.  The morning alarm rings, and we want the sound to stop, so we flip the switch to the “off” position.  Problem solved.  We feel hungry, so we prepare some breakfast and eat it.  Hunger satisfied, problem solved.  We need to find our way to work, so we navigate the roadways by car, by bus, by train, or on foot.  We stop and go and turn and twist to avoid running into other travelers who are solving the same problem.  We arrive at work, problem solved.  Such problems are so much a part of our routine that we hardly notice that we solve them over and over again.

Think back to the first time you used that familiar alarm clock.  My guess is that you had to search and grope for the “off” button and listen to the loud ringing for an uncomfortable time before you were able to silence it.  Think back to the first time you stepped into the kitchen alone to prepare a meal.  There were directions to follow, unfamiliar appliances to operate, and possibly results that would not meet your standards today.  The first time you made your way to the office, you had to consult a map, write directions, estimate how long your trip would take, research the fare for your ride or the parking fee.  With time and practice and repetition, the problems that seem at first to require a great deal of attention soon become routine.

Some problems are more difficult to solve than others.  It is easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless and stuck without a solution.  It would help us when we face challenges to remember that they really are opportunities for growth.  Even when a real solution takes days or months or years to come to light, we are offered the chance to do our best and possibly reduce the size or the impact of the problem along the way.  We were born with the ability to think so that we could face challenges and solve problems and learn to trust our ability to navigate the unfamiliar adventures that make up our life.

The next time you find yourself frustrated by a challenge, pause for a moment or two and reflect on all the routine parts of your life that once seemed insurmountable.  Then take a deep breath and savor the opportunity that lies before you.  Then do your best to find an answer.  In the end, all we can do is our best; and the more problems we face, the better our best becomes.

“Believers, look up — take courage.  The angels are nearer than you think.”

— Billy Graham

I remember a time, when I was a little girl, that I would lie in my bed at night and sing, “All night, all day, Angels watchin’ over me, my Lord.  All night, all day, Angels watchin’ over me,” and I meant it.  I was as certain as I could be that when I closed my eyes there would be angels dancing all around my bed, keeping me safe until morning.  And, “If I die before I wake – angels watchin’ over me, my Lord; pray the Lord my soul to take – angels watchin’ over me,” I knew that if I never woke up again, the angels would guard my soul.  Some would call this simple-minded; but as I look back on those tender days, all I see is innocence and trust.

Children are like that, you know.  We are born filled with trust and hope and the certainty that something more powerful than we could ever be wishes us nothing but good things.  There is a child inside of me still, and she longs to recapture that simple trust — the inborn knowing — that nothing of this world can harm me, even though I will one day die.

I stop and try to figure out when the light of the angels began to dim.  Perhaps it was when I learned that it might be self-centered to think that the angels have nothing better to do than dance around my bed while I sleep.  Maybe it was when I learned to see believing as childish that I hung many layers of veils between me and the heavenly dancers.  Maybe it was when I was told that such things are imaginary, and only those things that can be touched with my five senses could be real.  Whatever it was that life tossed at me to make me want to turn away from the inborn knowing, it certainly left me feeling more vulnerable to the perils of being human.

What is interesting, now that I am on the flip-side of fifty, is the way I keep seeing folks who are older than I am returning to their angelic protectors, ripping down the veils of uncertainty, and again enjoying the dancing.  The other day, during a talk about life and death, I spoke to my father about the possibility of his guardian angel looking over him while he sleeps.  Suddenly, his tired old voice began to dance; and I just know that if I had been there I would have seen the reflection of angels dancing in his eyes.  It surprised me to hear the angel music in the voice of my father — after all, his had been one of the pragmatic voices that steered me away from such imaginary friends and taught me to focus on what is here and now and real.

My heart is light as I think of my dear dad getting in touch again with the feeling that nothing of this world can harm him.  After all, there are angels watching over him — and even if the end should come, they will show his soul the way home.  Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we could talk to one another — here and now — about the inborn knowing that whatever should happen, we will not really die?  Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we could share our knowing that even in our darkest times we are never alone?  Wouldn’t it be remarkable if we skipped the part of childhood for the next generation where we tell them to hang the veils between themselves and their angels?  Wouldn’t it be remarkable if you could be here right now and look into my eyes and see the angels dancing there?

Tonight, as I lie down in my bed and prepare to sleep, I will sweep away the veils.  I will close my eyes and see only with my soul, and I will begin to sing.  “All night, all day; Angels watchin’ over me, my Lord,” and as the eyes of my body close in sleep, the eyes of my soul will see the angels dance around my bed.

“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Can you even begin to imagine that the whole universe might be on your side?  We stumble and fumble through day after day, completely unaware of the power that lies behind our every move.  Can you begin to imagine that every stumble and fumble, every momentary whim has the support of every other piece of all that exists — for better or for worse?  Each of us is irrevocably connected to every other part of existence.  The web of life is woven of us all, criss-crossing, overlapping, paralleling, constantly evolving and changing.  We are all connected.  This means that every stumble and fumble and every whim affects not only me, but also you — and the stars, and the sky, and the trees and the moss, and the stone and the stream that cascades down the mountain, and the mountain itself.

If we stopped more often to consider that every decision we make is backed by the entire universe, might we all learn to live with intention rather than leaving our lives to the whims of the moment?  What is so remarkable about being a part of the web of life is not only the way that we can disturb its balance through unthinking thoughts and actions, but also the way that its eternal infrastructure shores us up and conspires to make our dreams come true.

Dream well as you look toward the weekend.  Walk lightly and savor each inch of the web as it sparkles with the jewels of the morning dew.  Walk in trust as night falls and know that the stars are part of you and will guide you on your way.  Walk in strength, knowing that wherever you might weave your life, you are never alone.  All that was, all that is, and all that will be is connected to your every step.  Walk in the power of all that is.  It is your birthright.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

— Marcus Aurelius

I’ve felt a bit sluggish the last few mornings.  I guess the trip out of town and sleeping in a strange bed left the balance in my sleep bank a little low; so I have been trying to make some extra deposits by adding an extra half-hour to the alarm clock and willing myself to stay in bed past my usual pre-dawn wake-up.

It’s been working pretty well, but I have to admit that there is something about missing the sunrise that feeds the continued feeling of being sleep-deprived.  I must be catching up with myself.  Before the alarm sounded today, I felt too restless to stay under the covers another minute and decided to skip the buzzer and start my day.  I dragged my still-recovering being out of bed and into some jeans and headed downstairs to plan my day.  As I grabbed a glass of water and walked toward my desk to make my list, I suddenly felt tugged toward the kitchen window.  I looked up, and this is what I saw.

Without skipping a beat, I slipped my feet into my dew-proof boots and grabbed my camera to capture the evidence.  As I sit here now and share it with you, I am aware that I no longer feel like I need to re-fuel.  The siren song of sunrise today reminded me that the best way to feel alive is simply to live.

It reminded me how often we feel as though we might just fall down and die, when really all we need to do is remember to start living again.  It will be a long time before I forget the lesson of the sunrise.  If I need some extra sleep, I will remember to tack it on to the end of the evening and use it to wrap up another well-lived day.  I will not let my fear that I will die of sleep deprivation take away the joy of listening for the song of the sunrise that reminds me to begin living at the start of another day.

“Peace is the first thing the angels sang.”

— John Keble

My daughter was at work one day last week, tidying the stock on the shelves in her store.  Without realizing it, she began to quietly sing a song that had been running through her mind while she worked.  “Hey,” one of her co-workers called to her, “I’ve had that song stuck in my head all day.”

How often have we had that experience — having a song stuck in our heads, playing over and over again until we wish we had a way to change the station?  My kids used to taunt me by singing “The Song that Never Ends,” or “I Know A Song That Gets On Everybody’s Nerves (and this is how it goes, 2, 3, 4).”  Then they would pronounce the evil spell, “And now you will have it stuck in your head all day — you’re welcome.”  And it was true.  I never was quite sure whether it was the unfinished song that demanded to be finished or the power of the suggestion that it would be stuck; but more often than not, I would find myself singing “2, 3, 4” under my breath.

If the power of suggestion is really that strong, then maybe we could use it to our advantage.  If Peace was the first thing the angels sang, then certainly we have had that song embedded in our consciousness since the time we were created.  I am thinking that we could bring this song to the front of our minds and cast the spell that commands it to be stuck there.  Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we could form the intention to will the song of Peace to run through our minds all day and let its background music set the scene for constant acts of kindness, love, and light?  “I Know A Song That Plays In Everybody’s Soul (and this is how it goes, 2, 3, 4) – PEACE!”

And now you will have it stuck in your head all day!  You’re welcome!  (two, three, four)

“Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.”

— Shirley MacLaine

I was reminded again last weekend of the value of stepping outside of our daily routines and discovering that we can stretch our boundaries.  I was raised in a very small, very white community in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  I still live in that community today, but I like to think that we have changed along with the times.  My family were transplants when we moved into our small town in the Pennsylvania Dutch area where I spent my childhood.  We were not PA Dutch (which really is a bastardization of “Deutsch,” or German, not Dutch), and we were reminded of this daily as my midwestern mom would explain to us the difference between the local jargon and the way of speaking she was taught in Illinois.  The first time I remember noticing this was on the day when my best friend, Sheri, moved into the neighborhood.  “She doesn’t live in a house like we do,” I told my mother with great excitement, “she lives in a ‘haus!’ ”  This was the beginning of my adventure in living in a culture that was not the one of my family heritage.  For me, it was just that — an adventure.  For my folks, it sometimes was more challenging; as my father, who ran a small business, was sometimes told by the people he approached to sell advertising, “we only deal with local people.”  And this was after he had lived in town for more than twenty years.

How often, I wonder, do we shut out people who make us reconsider the notions we have held as truth?  How often do we limit ourselves by trying to maintain the status quo, when the truth is that a fresh breeze blowing through our stagnant minds might be just what the doctor ordered?

I still live in the very small community where I was raised, but the Pennsylvania Dutch whose ancestors settled the area many years ago are now outnumbered by the “outsiders” who have moved to the area from other communities, other states, and other cultures.  No longer are we lily-white, although people of color are still in the minority.  This is something I watch closely, because I am raising a brown-skinned child in this changing community.  Suddenly my focus has shifted as I look forward to the arrival of more classmates who resemble my granddaughter, so that she won’t feel so isolated in the midst of the only place she ever has called home.  I like to think that I’m pretty enlightened; and compared to the way I saw the world when I was a child, that is a true statement.  It takes some travel outside of my comfort zone to remind me that I still suffer from the stereotypical thinking I was taught when I was young.  The lessons are always surprising, always offer opportunities for growth, and serve to remind me that none of us has arrived until we breathe our last breath.

When we visited New York last weekend for our tournament,  I had the pleasure of meeting Coach Mac — one of the coaches from the club that hosted the event.  We struck up a conversation in the gym after he asked me which player was my daughter.  Anyone who assumes that I am young enough to have a child in high school automatically has my attention, so I blushed as I told him, “that’s my granddaughter — the one with the braids.”  Coach Mac is African-American.  I assumed that he probably had grown up in the bedroom community where the tournament took place.  I also assumed that he probably had a daughter involved in the program, likely one of the dark-skinned beauties who towered over my 5’4″ granddaughter.  As we spoke, though, I learned that I still was caught in making assumptions.

Coach Mac had not grown up in the affluent community where he now helped host the event.  He had come from more difficult beginnings and had worked two and three jobs at a time in order to climb the ladder to success.  When he met his German wife, he found himself suffering in the corporate world because his supervisor did not approve of their interracial relationship.  He nearly lost his job because he fell in love.  His daughters are now older and no longer playing basketball for the club, but he continues to contribute to the community by offering his time.  When he coached his daughter’s team, his plan was simple — he brought half of the team from his affluent community and half of the team from impoverished neighborhoods in New York City.  His goal was to show the girls from both sides of the tracks that they had everything in common, that they could have the same dreams, that they could have the same successes or failures depending on their choices and their decision to work together.

Coach Mac defied my stereotypical view of who he might be when I saw him selling admission tickets to the tournament.  I learned that we were more alike than I ever could have imagined — the African-American man and the blond grandmother from PA Dutchland.  My life is richer for learning his perspective on raising biracial kids in his own community, which is not so different from mine.  My life is richer for learning that, in spite of the fears I had been taught as a child, we are very much alike.  I was blessed this weekend with the chance to learn, once again, that strangers are only strangers when we greet them in fear.

“All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”

— Edwin Markham

People talk all the time about karma.  They tell us, “what goes around comes around,” often in ominous tones that remind us to behave appropriately and avoid future pain.  I suppose that pain can be a good motivator, but I think we also can be motivated by the reflections of good things that return to us when we make it our intention to live with kindness.

Friends who stay in touch with me through email may have noticed that a while back I began to sign all my emails with the closing, “Love and Light.”  I suppose this might be some sort of trendy way to say goodbye, like “ciao,” or “cya,” or “catch you later;” but none of those trendy closings ever really meant anything when I used them.  “Love and Light,” on the other hand, is more than something cute — it expresses an intention that I decided to let govern my life.  Each time I type it, I try to pay attention to what it is that I want to send out into my world.

Sending out love and light is not a random sort of thing.  Love seeks out the places where people feel loveless, unlovable, or starving for kindness and even the affirmation that they really exist.  It takes the time to resonate at a frequency that the recipient can relate to and it speaks to the truth that we all are one.  How many times in our lives have we met other people who took the time to encourage us and resonate with us and then raise us up to a new level of understanding what love really is?  This is the sort of love we need to cultivate; and when we succeed in loving in such a way, that love comes back to us and raises us up as well.

Light is the same thing.  It takes only a pinpoint of light to break through darkness.  If you stand in a dark room and light a single match, the light will draw your eye and become the only thing you see.  Sending out light is as simple as remembering that even though we may shine with the dim light of a single match, it is enough to make darkness disappear.  When we send out light, it kindles the light in others; and when the light returns to us, it makes our own light even brighter.  The combined light that results from one match lighting another is twice as bright.  We must never forget this truth.

Love and Light — it’s all energy; and we have choices to make about the sort of energy we send out into our world.  We strive to act selflessly; but if that fails, all we need to remember is that whatever we send into the lives of others will, ultimately, come back to our own.  As for me, I choose Love and Light.

“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.  Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”

— Leonardo da Vinci

I’m sure the work da Vinci refers to in these words probably was some fabulous new invention or work of art; but I must agree with him about the value of getting out of town now and then.  There is nothing like a hotel stay with a strange bed and a lumpy pillow to make me appreciate my own bed in my own house.  There is nothing quite like sleeping with the odd noises of a new locale to remind me how comforting it is to hear my old house creak and groan in the background of my own snoring.

It is great to get away to a pristine hotel room with no clutter, no laundry to be done, no meals to be cooked and no scheduled time to wake up in the morning.  It is wonderful to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner prepared by someone else and the dishes magically disappear to an unseen kitchen where they are washed by other hands.  Life seems so simple and unencumbered when the daily chores of living are left at home; and I have enjoyed the feeling that I must be royalty to have my needs met without any effort of my own.

Today I will leave it all behind and send the car back along the path we followed from home to our escape.  The trip home always seems longer than the trip out of town.  I think this warping of the space-time continuum is due to the excitement of knowing that all I hold dear, all I find familiar, all the life that has been crafted with my own hands is only a short distance away.  I suspect that my crafty hands will be busy for a time when I return.  I will try to recreate the unencumbered environment of the hotel — certainly, I will want to dust all the surfaces and give the bathroom a quick wipe-down.  Maybe I’ll even wash the bedding before it is due, just to enjoy that feeling of the first night on crisp, clean sheets.  Then life will begin to happen again; and I will soon settle into my comfortable space, surrounded by the clutter that both enhances and encumbers my days.  I will do my best to correct the contrasts between home and away, but in the end I know that it will be good to be home.

“Good morning, Life — and all Things glad and beautiful.”

— William Henry Davies

Today was made for an adventure.  Before the night falls, I will find myself in a strange city.  Before I settle into an unfamiliar bed, I will drive over new roads through strange places.  I will meet new people, visit new towns, and step outside of my ordinary routines.  When I laid my head on the pillow last night, I could feel a stirring in the pit of my stomach.  It is the sort of trembling vibration that makes it hard to let go of consciousness and move into the land of dreams.  It is that wonderful anticipation vibration — you know the one I mean — it is Christmas Eve or my birthday, or the arrival of a long-awaited guest.  It is hearing the news of the arrival of a new baby.  It is the anticipation of the fulfillment of a project or the manifestation of a dream.  Adventure resides in the pit of my stomach today.  I awoke with its taste in my mouth and an appetite large enough to gobble up all it has to offer.

It is good to go adventuring from time to time.  It is good to step outside of our routines and our familiar surroundings and discover all that lies beyond our usual boundaries.  It is good to meet new people in strange places who broaden our awareness of the varieties of human existence that stretch our own understanding of ourselves in ways that make us grow.  Today I feel a hunger for the newness that lies along the unexplored path.  Today I feel an eagerness to explore and discover and grow; and by the time I fall asleep tonight in a new and wonderful place, I know that I will be forever changed if only in a subtle way.

I have adventured before.  I trust the excitement of expecting the unexpected; and I also know that when the time comes to retrace my path toward home I will lay my head down and feel the same stirring in my stomach that I feel today.  I will fall asleep dreaming of my return to the life I love.  I will feel the excitement of an opportunity to see all the beauty that surrounds me every day through the grateful eyes of a traveler returning home.  When I return once again to the bed I long to leave behind today, I know I will rediscover  the love for the life I have chosen.  I know that I will awaken and say, “Good Morning, Life — and all Things glad and beautiful!”