Listen

Listen

Jan 12

 

Earlier this week we had an outage at my residence.  We had no telephone service, internet capabilities, nor television for approximately ten hours.   Sometimes the silence can be deafening.  With several hobbies that do not include technology or even electricity, I found plenty of things to do.  What was interesting, though, were the everyday, ordinary sounds that are always in my world that I never really hear.  Technology is a wonderful thing and I certainly love my creature comforts.  However, we need to make certain that in our living, we do not forget to listen.  Listening is one of life’s most effective educational tools.  Once we listen, we become aware of so much more around ud than what we notice as we hurry through our busy lives.

 

“Hey there.  I’m Brandon.  I get really passionate about things.  At some time in my life, I’ve been obsessed or borderline-obsessed with saltwater aquariums, the baritone euphonium, reading, piano, filming, financial markets, New York City, and photography.  I studied History at the University of Georgia.  During my senior year of college, I took out $3,000 in student loans and bet it on Barack Obama to win the presidency.  A friend heard about this bet and got me a job trading bonds on the Chicago Board of Trade.  I traded for three years.  It went really well for awhile.  But then it went really bad. Whoops. After I lost my trading job, I decided to move to New York City and take portraits of strangers on the street. Mom wasn’t too happy about that decision, but so far it’s gone pretty well. I’ve taken nearly 5,000 portraits and written 50 stories. And I’ve met some amazing people along the way.”

 

This paragraph is on the home page of the website for Humans of New York.  Now a best-selling published book and the subject of a highly successful blog, Brandon Stanton’s intro doesn’t really tell the whole story.  In 2010 he had a goal to take ten thousand New Yorkers’ pictures and plot them on a map.  I have often had the same thought regarding pictures of my family.  The amazing thing about Brandon’s photography, though, is the story that each picture tells.  The Georgia native began taking pictures as a hobby while living in Chicago.  He has since traveled under the auspices of the United Nations, taking part in a fifty-day trip through ten nations.  Last year he did the same in Pakistan and Iran and crowd funded a project to help end bonded labor in Pakistan.

 

Stanton’s photographs are not technically perfect.  After all, he was a history major in college.  What they do, however, is bring the human condition into focus.  They capture a moment in time that is an entire book.  Not all of the minute portraits are completely candid shots. There are the critics as well.  Recently, Robert John Boyle published an article at salon.com regarding the sugarcoating of Brandon’s subjects and the presentation that Boyle called “sentimentality”.  I personally think a life well-lived has to include sentimentality but apparently Mr. Boyle does not consider it to be necessary in art.  Over the 2016 December holiday season, Brandon Stanton raised over half a million dollars to help Syrian refugees.  Boyle considers the “dumbing down” of the political aspect outweighs any good the money might accomplish.  It is a common debate in the world of humanitarian efforts.

 

The visual content of the pictures found within Humans of New York make us listen, not only to the subject of the photograph but to the world around us.  When all we hear is our own ego, we are unable to hear reality and the needs the world is calling us to repair.  “When my husband was dying, I said: Moe, how am I supposed to live without you? He told me: take the love you have for me and spread it around.”  This anecdote from Stanton’s blog and book is just one example of the truths found accompanying each picture.  One of my favorites is the young child Stanton saw.  Wanting to take her picture he started asking nearby adults “Does she belong to you?”  Suddenly the little girl responded “I belong to myself!”

 

What if we listened to the world as belonging to each of us?  Observe a group of mothers and you will learn that each seems to know her own baby’s cry and what that cry means.  When I was single I laughed at the thought of understanding a baby’s cry… and then I became a mother.  I soon became one of “those mothers’.  Most of us dog owners can recognize our own dog’s bark and usually what it means.  (My cats also speak to me but we all know that cats merely do that to get our attention.  After all, no human is smart enough to understand cat-speak!)

 

When we listen – not just hear but really listen – great things can happen.  Stephen Covey knew how often we fail to really listen: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  We each can be a humanitarian and help ourselves to be better people if we would just listen, really listen, to what the world is telling us, to what our neighbors are saying.  I think Leo Buscaglia, another best-selling author,  penned it succinctly:  “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

 

We have a very powerful winter storm approaching this weekend and while I sincerely hope there are no outages, I do plan to make use of the weather in listening to those around me.  Last night I went through some old photographs and learned a great deal listening to the story they told of family members now deceased.  We never grow too old or too smart to stop listening.  There is much we can hear and learn if we will just take the time to listen to the world around us.

 

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Dream Big

Dream Big

Jan 8

 

On August 17, 2015 at 6:31 AM a tweet was seen: “Make sure humanitarian efforts don’t go unnoticed this World Humanitarian Day”.  His simple tweet was seen by over eleven hundred people and retweeted hundreds of time.  That alone did a great deal for humanitarian efforts.   It got people thinking and talking and, as usual, led to action.  One tweet got people thinking and enabled others to dream big.

 

The use of twitter, a social media site that limits the amount of characters might seem fitting for a lad who suffered from dyslexia.  Most would not have expected him to try very hard to learn, especially since he was born with the proverbial silver spoon.  The little rich kid who sent that tweet on August 15th began his entrepreneurial ventures by buying American record manufacturers excess stock; you know, the stock nobody wanted.  He then sold the excess record albums out of the trunk of his car to anybody and everybody.  He soon was selling to retail markets in England and then started a mail order discount record business.  That led to opening his first store, the name chosen after being suggested by an employee to recognize the lack of experience they all had in what they were doing.

 

He was seeking to make a place in the world and our young man who had trouble in school suddenly found himself not having trouble in the business world.  He began opening other businesses, none of which he really was an expert in and all with the same name reflecting his lack of experience.  From records he branched out into an airline, a soft drink company, a liquor company, a mobile telephone company, a communications empire…the list goes on.

 

He also sought to achieve personally and in doing so has set some personal and world records by crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat alone and flying around the world in a hot air balloon.  All bore the name “Virgin” and were piloted by none other than Richard Branson, now Sir Richard Branson.

 

Branson started his first charity, “Student Valley Centre” at the age of seventeen.  It is difficult to find an area of life that his foundation and charitable giving does not support.  Among the causes he supports are Domestic Violence, Animal Abuse, Adoption, Fostering Orphans, AIDS and HIV, At-Risk/Disadvantaged Youth, Cancer Education and Research. Children’s Causes, Conservation Efforts, Disaster Relief, Education, Environment, Family/parent Support, Gender Equality, Health Rights, Physical Challenges, Homelessness, Human Rights, Hunger, LITERACY, Mental Health, Poverty, Clean Water, Weapons Reduction, Women’s Rights, and Global Warming. 

 

All of his causes affect the citizens of the world.  He was awarded the United Nations Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award for his environmental and humanitarian efforts.  He was also awarded the Knight Bachelor (hence the title “Sir”) by the Queen of England.  Branson credits all this to his desire to seek new things and answers.  “My interest in life comes from setting myself huge, apparently unachievable challenges and trying to rise above them…from the perspective of wanting to live life to the fullest.”

 

The beginning of the New Year gives us all a chance to ask what identity we want for ourselves.  Who do you want to become in 2018?  Branson thought himself “huge” and then set out to make it happen.  He defined living life to the fullest by giving as much as he could to help others be huge. 

 

Stop thinking small and give yourself a large identity.  We all can achieve great things when we work together.  The first step is to decide we want to make the world a better place and to individually make a difference in the world – no matter how small or how large that difference might be.    When we dream big, we seek to be a better person and help another.  By dreaming such big dreams, we will give ourselves a wonderful today and a better tomorrow.

Uniquely Y-O-U!

Uniquely Y-O-U!

January 3, 2018

 

In this day and age when we have technology which can help us proclaim our individuality, many hide instead.  For instance, many people utilize the Internet to write every day about personal doings, preferences, style, etc.  These web logs, commonly known as blogs, reach billions each day since there are an estimated 354 million blogs worldwide, this being one of them.  Yet, even with such technology, instead of emphasizing individuality, it has made many of us lemmings.

 

Lemmings are mammals that live as locusts, those winged insects that can strip a habitat bare, wreaking the same destruction to an environment as a plague.  The thing about lemmings is that they follow the group without forethought.  Thus, the word lemming is also a term used to describe someone who joins a movement without proper consideration. 

 

Generally speaking, human lemmings are one of many, lost in a crowd.  The use of the word in this manner describes a person who has forsaken mindfulness.  They are living with no originality and have silenced their own voice.  It takes courage to be one’s true self, to show our uniqueness to the world.

 

In his book “The Crown of Individuality” William George Jordan writes:  “The supreme courage of life is the courage of the soul.  It is living day by day, sincerely – despite all opinions, all obstacles, all opposition.  It means the vine of inspiration comes from the crushed grapes of our sorrows.  This courage makes the simple life great; it makes the greatest life, sublime.  It means the royal dignity of fine individual living… Every man [or being] reigns a king [or queen] over … self.  He [She] wears the crown of individuality that no hands … can remove.”

 

Living a bountiful life means being present in each moment, practicing mindfulness.  Mindfulness reminds us to be our true self, our best self, our highest self, our self victorious.  We are all wonderfully created unique – no one better than another, just different, unique and special.  A box of crayons all the same color would be boring and dull.  Diversity and uniqueness create life.  With mindfulness we can break out of the cocoon of sameness and soar above the crowd to discover our own beauty and true life.

Bew Explained

BEW Explained

January 2, 2018

 

So the last paragraph of yesterday’s blog post vanished into cyberspace.  Many thought I had simply typed the title incorrectly and that a Bew Day should have read A New Day.  Quite an understandable conclusion but – no, I really meant “A Bew Day”.

 

Most of us make New Year’s resolutions and most of us fail to follow them after the first few days of the new year.  If you are a reader of this blog, then you know that I am not in the habit of making such resolutions.  Rather, I strive to make weekly ones.  This year, however, I decided to undertake some resolutions for the entire year.

 

In a New Year’s post, the Retired Bishop Right Reverend Steven Charleston posted:  “Rise up, believers in a better tomorrow, rise up and claim this year as your own. Rise up and roll back the long shadows of yesterday. It is time to let some light into our lives. Time for courage and compassion to write a new history of the human heart, a message unmistakable, that we will have room for every traveler who wants to make the journey to freedom, to seek the shores of peace and of hope. Rise up, for our experience is our strength, our vision is our liberation, our love is our legacy, the inheritance of our children for whom tomorrow was made. Rise up, and make sure they receive it.”

 

I was deeply moved by his writing, especially since it went along with the post I had just written – “A Bew Day”.   If you had been able to read the last paragraph, you would have seen that “bew” was an acronym for bountiful, empowered, wonderment”.  We do indeed need to rise up and claim this year.  I hope to do just that with my resolutions:

 1. To be grateful for each hour and focus on the magic in life, not the sorrowful.

2. To laugh and enjoy, to keep my standards high but my level of self-acceptance higher.

3. To make plans and follow through but understand life is best lived with understanding and forgiveness, especially for myself.

 

This year I am simply using the regular calendar headings and organizing by month.  If it works, I’ll keep it and if it doesn’t, I will have learned something.   I realize that these resolutions are not typical – no losing pounds or stopping bad habits.  I firmly believe in living positively and think we accomplish a great deal by approaching life positively.

 

Most of us have received bountiful gifts and it is our year to share them and create new ones for others.  Doing so will not only empower others, it will also empower ourselves.  Once empowered, we will then recognize the magic of life and see the world as the wonderful thing it really is.  Life will still throw us curve balls but it will also give us much more.  The year 2017 did not get ties up with a neat little bow because I feel it was just a prologue to the rest of our living.  I purposely left Advent unfinished because really, it is the beginning of the future.  What we write in the our autobiography for today will influence what we do tomorrow.  I wish you a day that opens up boundless, empowering, and wonderful opportunities for tomorrow and the rest of 2018.

Twelve Steps Forward Again

Twelve Steps Forward Again

Advent 16-19

Year in Review 2017

 

During Easter of this year we discussed mindfulness.  Mindfulness has become a trending buzzword these days but what does it really mean?  Simply put, mindfulness means being present in the moment, being an active participant in one’s life – moment by moment, awareness of each feeling, thought, and sensation.  It combines the external with the internal without judgment. 

 

Charles A. Francis published a book in 2015 about mindfulness entitled “Mindfulness Meditation Made Simple: Your Guide to Finding Inner peace”.  Mindfulness is an important lifestyle technique that I believe we all need but few of us truly understand it.  For that reason, I am publishing Francis’ summation he wrote about his book and the twelve steps he advocates.  His way is not the only path one can embark upon in being mindful but it is an excellent journey if you desire to engage in this journey of mindfulness.

 

I like Charles Francis’ book and highly recommend reading it as well as paying particular attention to his explanation of each step.   Trying one a day for the twelve days of Christmas would be a great exercise and introduction to mindfulness.   Of course, without having read the book, it might be difficult but you can get enough of an idea to try some rudimentary practices regarding each step from this synopsis of them. 

 

Step 1—“We became aware of the pain and suffering created by unmindful thoughts, speech, and actions.” Step 1 teaches you some important concepts to help you understand the practice. In this step, we’ll talk about the Four Noble Truths, which deal with suffering and how to overcome it. We will also talk about the Five Hindrances, which deal with things that get in the way of your meditation and spiritual development.

 

Step 2—“We learned how to develop our primary tools of observation: concentration and mindfulness.” Here you will learn how to use your two most important tools of observation. If we want to understand ourselves, and our relationships with others, then we need to learn how to observe the world with unbiased clarity.

We often make quick judgments based on preconceived ideas, because it’s easier than examining situations further and often less painful in the short-run. That is, we jump to conclusions without having many of the facts. So, to observe reality without bias, we need to develop our skills of observation. Like a journalist, we’re trying to get at the truth.

 

Step 3—“We sought to eliminate the things that agitate our mind, and prevent us from achieving inner peace and serenity.” A common challenge for beginners is dealing with a racing mind. We’re often unaware that many of our daily activities are agitating our mind. In this step, I’ll show you how to identify and eliminate the sources of agitation. I’ll also give you some effective tools for calming your mind.

 

Step 4—“We learned how to structure our meditation session for maximum effectiveness, and to fit our lifestyle.” In Step 4, we discuss our meditation environment. There is no best time or place that applies to everyone, because we all have different commitments and living situations. I’ll give you some guidelines for choosing the best time and place for you. We’ll also talk about sitting position and how long to meditate.

 

Step 5—“In order to enhance our spiritual evolution, we made mindfulness meditation a regular practice.” This step deals with the actual mechanics of meditation. You’ll learn exactly what to do during your meditation sessions. I’ll give you different formats, so you can choose the one that’s most suitable for your needs, and I will even guide you through a typical meditation session.

 

Step 6—“We remained vigilant in our meditation practice, so that we continued making steady progress.” In Step 6, you’ll learn how to track your progress by keeping a meditation journal. This will help you stay grounded in proper techniques by establishing goals and measuring your progress. It will also help you stay motivated.

 

Step 7—“We became aware that other people can provide us with the spiritual nourishment vital to our development.” Other people can be invaluable sources of spiritual nourishment that will dramatically speed up your development. I will show you how to connect with them, so that you not only enhance your own spiritual development, but also that of others.

 

Step 8—“We sought to cultivate peace and harmony in our relationships and interactions with others by practicing deep listening, mindful speech, non-judging, and forgiveness.” In this step, we’ll examine how our behavior impacts our spiritual development and our relationships, and I’ll share with you some powerful tools for improving them.

 

Step 9—“We sought to dwell deeply in our spiritual community in order to enhance our development, and that of others.” In Step 9, I’ll show you how to avail yourself of the healing power of your spiritual community. I will introduce you to some more useful tools for enhancing your practice, including loving-kindness meditation, and a new meditation technique we’ve developed—writing meditation. You will also learn about the most powerful tool of all—the mindfulness meditation retreat.

 

Step 10—“We became aware of how unmindful consumption perpetuates our suffering, and prevents us from achieving true inner peace.” In this step, we’ll discuss how your consumption of nutrients and other substances can either enhance or hinder your spiritual development. As you progress in your practice, you’ll develop the wisdom and inner strength to make healthier choices.

 

Step 11—“With the strength, courage, and mindfulness we attained through our meditation practice, we confronted and overcame the wounds from our past.” Many of us have wounds from long ago that have never healed. These are serious obstacles to our development. In Step 11, I will show you how to use your emerging mindfulness to overcome them, so you can be free of them once and for all.

 

Step 12—“Having found freedom from our suffering through mindfulness meditation, we shared this practice with others, and continued dwelling deeply in the present moment through mindful living.” One of the great gifts you will receive from this practice is a deep sense of caring and compassion for other people. In this step, you’ll learn how to help others achieve inner peace as you have, and how your mindful leadership can help create a more mindful society. You’ll also learn how to apply mindfulness to all your daily activities, so that you continue making progress.”

 

Remember, you only have to try one step per day.  It may seem like I am adding more onto your already busy schedule but once being mindful becomes a habit, it actually improves your schedule and your response to life itself.  The true purpose of mindfulness is to recognize the joy in living that is all around us.  What a great way to end this year and begin the next!

Faith Lived

Faith Lived

Advent 15

Year in Review 2017

 

During Epiphany 2017 we discussed ways people lived their life’s credo.  The season of Epiphany follows Christmas and while most people Christmas celebrate Christmas as the birth of a “king”, it is actually the season of Epiphany that celebrates the revelation that a small child born in a stable would become the king of a new religion.  This year during Epiphany we discussed people whose lives reflected their beliefs.

 

So what do a Harvard medical graduate, a social activist, a television actress, a movie actress, and an actor in music videos have in common?  First, the verb in that question is incorrect.  It should read “what does” because all those professions refer to just one person…a woman from Pakistan.  Seemi Raheel has a diversified acting portfolio playing everything from a devoted mother to a vamp and has won numerous awards for her acting.

 

What really interested me about Seemi Raheel, besides her views on being a mother, was her work in gender training.  She is, if one asks, an actress but she is also very proud of her heritage.  You might think, knowing she is from the sixth largest country in the world which is Pakistan, that she leans towards very traditional roles for women.  I did wonder when I first saw the term “gender training” if that was what it meant – the teaching of females to be only the historical roles they have been relegated to in ancient times.  Still, she did attend Harvard.  Hmmm….

 

Seemi Raheel does not do fluff roles.  Her acting roles as a mother are described as “energetic and dramatic”.  Her first film was about a woman abducted, forced into marriage and sexually molested and also addressed changes in Pakistan’s political scene as well as the US government’s role in Pakistani affairs.

 

Her social activism also benefits from her passionate approach to life.  Not only does Seemi Raheel boast an impressive resume, she really is a mother in real life.  Her daughter, Mehreen Raheel, studied in London and was a supermodel before she also turned to acting.  Both women are a part of their family’s production company but still find time to do humanitarian work.

 

Gender training, by the way, is teaching people of both genders to communicate better.  It may seem like nothing significant but just think of how many of the world’s problems are really from a lack of proper, respectful communication.  Mehreen Raheel has worked diligently for children not only in her native Pakistan but also in Thailand, a country where children are exploited at an alarming rate.

 

Today’s word is faith, I mentioned during Epiphany 2017, and I believed both of these women, this mother-daughter duo, were and are great examples of living their faith and having it propel them forward to live the best they can, not only for themselves but for others.

 

Seemi Raheel firmly believes in her role as a mother and is proud of it. “My daughter is a realization of a dream, a continuation of myself. I feel the best gift a mother can give to her daughter is independence – instead of mollycoddling and protecting her from the world, she must give her the freedom to discover who she is and be her own person.”

 

For me, faith gives us independence and if practiced as intended, can and should motivate us to discover who we are and what we have to offer the world.  Faith for me is synonymous with courage.  All of the practices of faith, attendance at worship, prayers, studies, etc., all are designed to make us better people and more productive neighbors.

 

The Latin “fidere” is the root of the word faith and it really has nothing to do with deities or religions.  It translates as “trust”.  Do we really live as if we trust our beliefs?  Do we really trust ourselves and our potential?

 

We cannot help others until we first help ourselves and that can be really difficult at times.  It means doing what we know we should and not just what we want to do.  I am as guilty of failing in that as most people.  Faith is not simple nor is it easy.  Neither is living.  What makes it easier is when we do it, practice it, live it. 

 

The Persian writer known as Hafez once said: ““And still, after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, “You owe me.”  Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”  J. R. R. Tolkien described it this way:  “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” 

 

Bring the optimist I am, of course, I will not leave you with the negative approach.  I like C. S. Lewis’ description of living faith: “I believe in [my faith] as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  Faith allows us to grow into who we are, into the potential we can achieve by showing us how to live as neighbors, activists, and caring individuals.  It is where humanitarianism begins. 

 

Ask and Receive

Ask and Receive

Advent 14

Year in Review 2017

 

 

This is the time of year when Santa Claus facsimiles abound.  As young children clamor to crawl into their laps, the age-old question is heard:  “What would you like for Christmas?”  During Epiphany of this year we discussed the process of asking… and how many of us never do because of fear.  After all, someone might just give us an answer we would not like.  Instead, we wander around using only that which we already know, too afraid to learn something different.

 

“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.  Even though they earn almost fifty percent less than their male counterparts and make up over half of the world’s population, women are still encouraged to be silent, to live as shadows in their own lives.

 

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.