Change

Change

Epiphany 15

 

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but building the new.”  Today, as the United States of America prepares to swear in its 45th President, change is in the air.  After eighteen months of a heated and often contentious debate, a man most felt least likely to win will swear an oath that will change the rest of his life and his family’s. 

 

Today, as in no other, the Constitution of the United States will take center stage.  It is perhaps one of only a handful of legal and governing documents to encourage change.  While most eyes will be on President-Elect Donald Trump and his entourage, no living person is really in the spotlight as the Constitution is.  The whole purpose of change, who can participate, how such change happens, and how such change is tallied and then made to happen is all dependent upon this one document, two hundred and thirty-nine years old with only twenty-seven amendments.

 

Tony Robbins once said “Change is inevitable; progress is optional.”  That single quote describes the feeling of many today.  Politics aside, what comes next will be dependent upon many people, people who in spite of all the pomp and circumstance will have the same power as the man being sworn in today, his cronies, and followers as those who opposed his campaign. 

 

One of the hallmarks of the US Constitution is the recognition it affords change.  Winston Churchill believed “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. “  It is something we all tend to resist, however.  Nothing in creation remains the same.  Nature is one large and unending cycle of change.  Anatole France recognized this.  “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

 

It seems contradictory to say we must die in order to live but there is a great deal of truth in that.  No one ever moved forward by constantly looking backwards.  We cannot embrace the future is we are stuck living in the past.  You will never see where the ocean might take you if you remain firmly planted on the shore.

 

It is not just those within the boundaries of the United States that will be watching this great change today.  Leaders all around the world will be watching, waiting, and wondering what will come next.  Often attributed to “anonymous”, our closing paragraph today actually comes from Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Reinhold Niebuhr.  It not only sums up the inauguration today o f a new world leader but offers a great roadmap as we encounter the inevitable changes of our own lives.

 

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.  Amen. ”

Get

Get

Epiphany 14

 

“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.”  Mark twain said that and it applies to a great many things.  We are in the first twenty days of a new year and it is a good time to ask yourself what do you want or need to get?  What do you realistically think you can obtain and/or accomplish?  Would it make your world a better place or just make you feel better?

 

Those are tough questions.  I know I am not sure how to answer.  What I am certain of is that probably most of what I want would be a benefit to only me and not perhaps the world at large or even my neighbors close by.  We all have to start, though.  The clock is ticking and time waits for no one.  We need to get busy living and that means getting busy getting.

 

The above quote from Mark Twain is not complete.  The rest of the quote goes like this:  “The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”  Known for his many books, Mark Twain began each one the same way – with a word, then a page.  A chapter was soon written and later the entire book.  We need to approach our life like that.

 

Pablo Picasso once said “I’m always doing things I can’t do.  That is how I get to do them.”  Too often we consider our success/fail ratio and decide the fail pendulum is too heavy and we give up before we even try.  We need to determine a goal and then go for it.  Recently I considered a new course of action.  I instantly thought of all the reasons I could not be successful in this venture rather then decide on why I could.  Picasso would have been very disappointed in me.

 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”  Steve Jobs encountered a great amount of resistance but he persevered and helped change the world of technology.

 

Gandhi once remarked that “My life is my message.”  What will you get today that will be the first page of your life this year?  What will you get that will benefit the world?  We need to make our life our mission, not simply live it as though it is an intermission.  I wish you well in your living today and hope that whatever you get becomes your first step towards a better tomorrow.

Ask

Ask

Epiphany 13

 

“Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner.”

 

It may seem strange that I am opening with a quote from Anne Rice’s “The Vampire Lestat”.  After all, this is not what most would consider a “dark blog”.  It is more along the lines of “peace, love, and all things nurturing”.  And yet ………

 

The most succinct summary of Rice’s second book in her vampire series says this about the book from which I took my opening quote:  “When the vampire Lestat becomes a rock superstar, he finds himself in serious conflict with the ancients whose powers are beyond his imagining.”  If you are really honest with yourself, could this not be a description of your life?

 

All too often we do not ask question because we are simply too afraid of the answers.  Life Lestat, we do not want to open the door of more or greater knowledge.  And so, we remain within our comfort zone, a place, as I have stated before, is not really a place at all.  There actually is no address for our comfort zone except in our mind.  The most accurate location for anyone’s comfort zone is simply “that place in which we feel less fear.”

 

Karen Hackel is one writer who talks a great deal about the verb “ask”.  “The way is yours for the asking – the way is yours for the taking. The way is as it should be.”  The way to enlightenment is there for us; all we have to do is have the courage to ask for it. 

 

Faith Baldwin is another writer who speaks of this.  “In asking for it, we ask for a sufficiency of strength, courage, hope and light. Enough courage for the step ahead–not for the further miles. Enough strength for the immediate task or ordeal. Enough material gain to enable us to meet our daily obligations. Enough light to see the path–right before our feet.”

 

Why am I only using female authors today?  Truth is, I could not find a lot of male writers on this subject.  I suppose this would be a good place to insert a joke about men asking for directions, or rather the lack thereof of men asking for directions.  Perhaps, though, we do not allow them the space to admit they need to ask.  Most of us hesitate because the world seems to expect us to know, not admit we need to ask.

 

In his book, “A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life”, Brian Grazer encourages us all to ask.  “Curiosity—asking questions—isn’t just a way of understanding the world. It’s a way of changing it.”  Don’t we all want a bigger life?  Is that not really our reason for being?  Perhaps the reason behind creation itself is for us to question and then, having asked, use both our questions and our answers to change the world for a better tomorrow.

 

There is an old Chinese proverb that gives us the right to take the plunge and ask.  “He who asks a question remains a fool for five minutes. He who does not ask remains a fool forever.”  I will close with a quote from another woman, Oprah Winfrey:  “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for”.  Today I hope you ask because that will be the first step towards a better tomorrow.

 

Help

Help

Epiphany 12

 

“Success has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself.  It’s what you do for others.”  This might just be the most difficult post I will ever write for some of you to read.  I completely agree with actor/comedian Danny Thomas in the opening quote.  I also realize that very little in today’s world agrees with his words.

 

Danny Thomas was a struggling actor with a family to support when he said a prayer one day.  Praying to St Jude, the patron saint of lost causes, he asked for work.  He promised that if he got a job that he would do something for others.  He got a job and kept his promise.  The result was St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. A hospital devoted to the treatment and curing of multiple childhood diseases once considered incurable.  Because of St Jude’s, children with these illnesses such as cancer are no longer considered lost causes.  They now have a chance at living and many of them are doing just that.

 

This post might be difficult to read because it is asking you to look away from the mirror and think of someone else.  I am telling you that all you have accomplished for yourself is nice but only that.  Your focus on yourself needs to be broadened to include others.  What’s more, you need to do for others what you want done for yourself.

 

I am going to again quote Ralph Waldo Emerson because he eloquently spoke of this topic.  “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  Read that again because it really says quite a lot.  “The purpose of life is not to be happy.”  Really?  Then where does happy come into play?

 

“The best antidote I know for worry is work. The best cure for weariness is the challenge of helping someone who is even more tired. One of the great ironies of life is this: He or she who serves almost always benefits more than he or she who is served.”  Gordon B Hinckley realized that in order to be happy we have to stop trying to be happy.  We cannot make being happy our life’s goal because we will never reach it if it is.

 

The purpose of life needs to be helping others.  Then and only then will we find true happiness and feel complete.  It is easy, in today’s world, to fall into despair and become frightened.  It is fitting that we find the answer to such negative feelings in the words of the man who is spending his last few days as President of the United States.  “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” 

 

Charles Dickens succinctly said “No one is useless who lightens the burdens of another.”  I hope that today you see that your purpose is in helping someone else.  The best way to lighten your own load is to lighten that of another.  Then we not only help our neighbors, we help ourselves and, quite possibly, discover our purpose in life.

 

 

Try

Try and Trying

Epiphany 11

 

The older gentleman pointed to the young mother and then, kneeling, asked her toddler:  “is that your mommy?”  The child nodded yes and the man continued.  “I knew her when she was your age.  Is she a good mommy?”  The child looked at the man and then at her mother before answering.  “She’s trying.”  Everyone in the vicinity smiled and gave a loving look at the child’s answer.  Then the young girl continued.  “Her’s very trying.”

 

In an effort to be all we can be, as we make the valiant attempt to try to be our best, we sometimes find ourselves being trying to others.  So how do we accomplish our goals without being irritating, annoying or, worse – failing?  As we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther Kind, Jr. today, perhaps we should listen to some of his words.

 

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”  In this twenty-first century social media craze where it seems the winner is the one with the best tweet, we need to take a moment and realize that having a snappy comeback works for about ten seconds.  It really will not accomplish anything lasting and it certainly will not build bridges that will allow us to cross into a productive future.  We need to build relationships built upon respect and purpose, not simply spend all our time building up our own egos.

 

“We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”  Respect again becomes the verb we need to use as our modus operandi.  What a person has, their appearance or socioeconomic level really matters very little.  When we surround ourselves only with those who are just like us, then we box ourselves in and limit our ability to grow.  Our roots need room to grow and new experiences in order to help us develop fully, both as individuals and as nations and the world.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”  A life lived selfishly is a life half-lived.  Being of service to others does not limit your own being, it expands it.  We’ve discussed the benefits of volunteering but perhaps we need to refresh our memories.  Those who spend time helping others are healthier physically and emotionally.  You may thing you haven’t the time but really you need to find that time.  Your life really might just depend upon it.  A decade ago businesses were encouraged to allow workers to donate time to local schools to serve as mentors for young readers.  Those participating in the programs would spend two hours a week at a local school having children read to them, helping when needed to sound out words.  While reading scores were improved so was the health of those volunteers.  They reported less stress and an overall happier sense of self.  They began to care about their own personal health and without even realizing it, adopted better lifestyle practices which resulted in a lower healthcare cost for the businesses involved in the program.  The loss of two hours of productivity from being away from their job site was more than compensated by the higher productivity of the happier and healthier employees.

 

Anyone can do it.  No, that is not a quote from Dr. King but it is the summation of what he preached and the dream he lived and hoped to achieve for all.  “Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love.”  All we have to do is try.

Too Tired to Be

Too Tired to Be

Epiphany 10

 

Shakespeare once wrote “To be or not to be; that is the question.”  We are now two weeks into the new year of 2017 and many have already decided to forego any resolutions made.  Others are still furtively plodding along trying to create a new being in this new year.  One wonders if the Indian mystic Osho would approve.  After all he advised us “Be – don’t’ try to become.”

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”  To be one’s self, though, can be quite a trying thing.  All too often it requires we go against the tide of public opinion and to swim upstream against such is exhausting.  Could it be that some are not evil, just simply tired?

 

The ancient roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius famously stated “Don’t go on discussing what a good person should be. Just be one.”  While life in ancient Rome was not easy, it might have been easier to be good person back then than it is now.  All too often it seems that the good guys and gals finish last.

 

This series is all about being and the action verbs that can help us.  This blog was intended at its inception to help me but it has become a departure point for some in embarking on their own journey of self-discovery and in finding their place amongst the rest of us.  I have no instant answers nor the magic key to unlock the future and how we need to respond.  What I do know, however, it that we must keep on our path and trying to make a better tomorrow.

 

Eric Fromm in his book “The Art of Being” advises us to stay true to our individual course.  “If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us. If this is being “asocial” or “irrational” in their eyes, so be it. Mostly they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves. We owe nobody an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them. How many lives have been ruined by this need to “explain,” which usually implies that the explanation be “understood,” i.e. approved. Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds, your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.”

 

Rolla May adds his own perspective.  “Finding the center of strength within ourselves is in the long run the best contribution we can make to our fellow men. … One person with indigenous inner strength exercises a great calming effect on panic among people around him. This is what our society needs — not new ideas and inventions; important as these are, and not geniuses and supermen, but persons who can “be”, that is, persons who have a center of strength within themselves.”

 

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that we realize the need to be.  It is what defines our very existence.  Deepak Chopra spoke of this.  “The Universe contains three things that cannot be destroyed:  Being, Awareness and LOVE.”  Whatever we do is based upon our being and this leads us to awareness, accomplishments, and the ability to love.  We can offer no greater gift than to be ourselves.  Yes it is tiring and yes it may be unpopular.  It is, nonetheless, our reason for living, for… being.

Could

Could

Epiphany 9

 

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”  Sage advice from Harriet Beecher Stowe opens our discussion today.  The title invokes one to believe in…. what?  Maybe that is the real question.

 

Most recently Regina Dugan, former head of DARPA, gave a TED talk in which she paraphrased Robert Schuller, a minister, by asking “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”  We discussed this question several days ago but it bears revisiting.  After all, it seems a bit strange that the former director of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, would be quoting a minister who hosted his own television religious program and was best known as a writer and head of the megachurch known as the Crystal Cathedral.

 

Rev. Schuller actually asked three questions.  “What goals would you be setting for yourself if you knew you could not fail?  What dreams would you have on the drawing board if you had unlimited financial resources?  What plans would you be making if you had thirty years to carry them out?”

 

Schuller wanted people to set goals and then follow through in making them their reality.  He strongly believed in the future and in making the future what you wanted it to be.  He believed in the power of the word “could”.

 

Could in its original form was the past tense of an Old English word “cunnan”.  It literally translated as “to be able”.  Through the centuries this word has become “can” and “could” its past tense.  Today, though, we often define it as “maybe”, as in some dreams maybe coming true rather than some dreams could become real.  The difference may seem slight but the expectations of the two are very different.

 

Do you dreams really reflect a belief in yourself?  Having dreamed a dream and set a goal, do you really believe in its possibility?  Could it become true or real.  Could it be your future?  Why not?  The biggest hurdle we have to overcome is ourselves.  Once we believe in ourselves, we can accomplish practically anything.  All we have to do is believe in the word “could”.

Play

Play

Epiphany 8

 

Paraskavedekatriaphobia might seem the phobia of the day today.  Another would be friggatriskaidekaphobia.  It really depends upon whether one likes the Greek or the Norse version of celebrating today, Friday the 13th.  The English word Friday comes from the Norse goddess Frigga, a goddess said to have also been a seer.  Triskaidekaphobia is also a term bandied about today although it takes a more circuitous route to justify its terminology.  Whether you fear “paraskeví”, meaning Friday and “dekatreís” meaning thirteen, The Goddess Frigga and her day falling on the 13th day of the month, the fear of which is called triskaidekaphobia, or want to fear three and ten as triskaidekaphobia warrants, today might make you very uneasy.

 

Basically Fridays have had a bad rap ever since Geoffrey Chaucer wrote that all sorts of evil occurred on a Friday in his “Canterbury Tales”: “ And on a Friday fell all this mischance.”  If you don’t remember that, today might be a good day to stay inside and reread this classic.  In fact, reading a good book is a good activity on any given day, regardless of the date.

 

Friday and the fear of it has some religious roots.  Friday is supposedly the date on which Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit.  The man known as Jesus of Nazareth was crucified on a Friday and, according to the book “The Da Vinci Code”, author Dan Brown wrote that the Knights Templar were arrested, tortured, and killed on a Friday, Friday the 13th in fact.  In his book titled “Friday the Thirteenth”, Nathaniel Lachenmeyer wrote that a stockbroker chose that day to incite a panic, hoping to take down Wall Street.  Maybe reading a book might not help you get over such a phobia after all.

 

Supposedly the last to arrive at the Last Supper, the final gathering in the Bible of Jesus and his disciples was the disciples Judas.  Judas would be the one to betray him and lead Jesus to his arrest and torture, the 13th man to arrive at the meeting.  The number thirteen has other nefarious connotations, however.

 

Traditionally, there were thirteen steps leading up to the gallows.  Twelve was considered the number of completeness – twelvemonths in the calendar, twelve hours on a clock face, twelve tribes of Israel, and the aforementioned twelve apostles or disciples of Jesus.  Several serial killers have thirteen letters in their name – Jack the Ripper, Charles Manson (Go ahead and count; I’ll wait.).

 

So why write a piece entitled “Play” on Friday the Thirteenth?  Because it is a really great time to do just that – play.  Numbers only have the power that we give them.  There is no magical power or evil power associated with any particular number.  We might, today, need to stop overthinking and simple enjoy.  Getting married on Friday the Thirteenth is actually less expensive since there are very few people vying for this date.

 

You can also go shopping and get bargains on Friday the Thirteenth.  Retail merchants overall lose between three to eight millions dollars on such days due to people staying home.  That much desired reservation at the latest posh restaurant might be available today since millions report a fear of venturing out. 

 

Of course, there is the first recorded instance of the day and number as being unlucky.   The death of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, a man who believed that both Friday and the number 13 were unlucky, ironically occurred on Friday, Nov. 13, 1868.  One of the most popular opera composers to have lived, today might be a great day to go to the opera.  Celebrate the wonderful life of such a talented composer who died not due to any evil associated with the number 13 but from pneumonia. 

 

Enjoy yourself today.  After all, it is a Friday and for many, the beginning of the weekend.  Life is to be lived and hiding out in fear is really not living.  Stop taking yourself so seriously and make time to play!

 

 

 

 

 

Nurture

Nurture

Epiphany 7

 

Nurture is one of those words seldom used and yet envied by all at some point in their lives.  Although they both come from the same Latin root word, “natura”, nature and nurture have seemingly been at odds since the late nineteenth century.  I think this fact to be sad and perhaps one of the root causes of the problems we face today.

 

“Natura” as a Latin word referred to not just the natural way of the things but that which exists from birth forward.  A form of the Latin word “natus” which means birth, “natura” was used in the context of all things in the universe which were a part of the natural order of things. It referenced one’s natural character, both of humans but also of the universe itself.  The innate disposition of all of creation was thought to be one of a nurturing disposition.  Somehow, with all of man and womankind’s advancements, we seem to have forgotten that one fact.

 

There is great debate on the topic of nature versus nurture but, for me, the best discussion comes not from psychologists and sociologists but from a faction author, the entertaining and seldom-considered overly deep Mark Twain.  “When we set about accounting for a Napoleon or a Shakespeare or a Raphael or a Wagner or an Edison or other extraordinary person, we understand that the measure of his talent will not explain the whole result, nor even the largest part of it; no, it is the atmosphere in which the talent was cradled that explains; it is the training it received while it grew, the nurture it got from reading, study, example, the encouragement it gathered from self-recognition and recognition from the outside at each stage of its development: when we know all these details, then we know why the man was ready when his opportunity came.”

 

The environment we create and decide to plant ourselves in determines a great deal about us, not only who we are but our hopes and aspirations.  Suzy Kassem explains it most succinctly:  “Empathy nurtures wisdom. Apathy cultivates ignorance.”  We may inherit a certain amount of DNA from our heritage but we alone control our future, in spite of whatever circumstances to which we were born.

 

“While genes are pivotal in establishing some aspects of emotionality, experience plays a central role in turning genes on and off. DNA is not the heart’s destiny; the genetic lottery may determine the cards in your deck, but experience deals the hand you can play. Scientists have proven, for example, that good mothering can override a disadvantageous temperament,” maintains Thomas Lewis, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of California in San Francisco.  I think those of days gone past knew something when they made nature and nurture from the same word. What if we lived as if they were truly the same thing?

 

If we lived in this natural world and considered to the need to nurture each other just as important as sharing the air we breathe, if nurturing became a natural order of our living in our relationships with each other, what type of world would we create?  If when we opened our mouths, what might result if we did so with the intention of only uttering that which would nurture our audience and not alienate or judge?  Would we perish from the effort or would we reap a more beautiful, productive world without the need for alienation and terrorism? 

Call to Inspire

Call to Inspire

Epiphany 6

 

“It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.  This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”  He came from what many would call a less privileged heritage and became the most influential man in his country.  This might have been a quote from Gandhi or Mandela but it is part of Barrack Obama’s farewell address as President of the United States of America.

 

In his speech President Obama spoke of the American dream that began in 1776 when a group of colonists committed to a certain belief, not just one he shares but one that the entire nation was built upon and a belief that continues to motivate and inspire. 

 

“And it’s not just my belief.  It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.  It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.”

 

The American dream is about giving people a chance and freedom or, as President Obama defined it,  “The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.  For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation.  It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.  It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organize.  It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.” 

 

His farewell address was not so much about saying goodbye but about inspiring everyone to continue the good fight for all people.  He noted that the path towards that is often bumpy and full of potholes.  “So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional.  Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.  Yes, our progress has been uneven.  The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody.  For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back.  But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.”

 

The measure of any person is by their forward movement, the forward motion of our intentions.  We are not always successful but we should never give up or give in.  Life is best lived moving forward.  It really is the only profitable direction we have to travel.