Be

Be

Easter 31

 

At the beginning of this series I mentioned that it would not be the daily blog postings you have become accustomed to from me.  I believe I characterized that this series might seem “chaotic” at times.  That is because I wanted you to take time to participate in the series subject matter – mindfulness.  When we are practicing mindfulness, we are, quite simply, fully in the moment in which we are living.  More importantly, we are aware of every aspect of that moment.

 

Once upon a time I taught young children problem solving and anger management.  We used the hand in explaining to children there were steps they could take to react positively to the messy time of life.  In problem solving I taught them to first identify their problem.  That might sound silly but all too often, we get so caught up in our emotions that we are simply reacting instead of acting.

 

The second step in problem solving is to think of solutions and the third step is to imagine those solutions being put to good use.  The fourth step would be try the best possible solutions and the fifth step – to evaluate and, most importantly – do not be afraid or ashamed to start all over again.

 

The five steps of anger management sound fairly simply, especially compared to those of problem solving and yet, they are actually quite harder.  The first step is to take a deep breath.  Do not yell or scream but simply breathe.  Then we taught the children to count to five.  This puts some space between you and the root of your anger.  It also helps you to proceed with deliberate and hopefully positive action rather than simply react in a defensive and often unproductive manner.  And, we encouraged the children to count to five several times.  The fourth step was to feel good about one’s self and the fifth – well, the fifth was to problem solve the cause of one’s anger.

 

Both of these are examples of using mindfulness.  Life is messy and chaotic and we usually try to find the quickest way out of such situations.  The problem is that by doing that, taking a quick and easy way out, we tend to repeat the same actions over and over.  In other words, we create our own messes.  Take time to simply recognize the moment and simply “be”.  In your mindfulness journal record your feelings and then move forward.  Forgiving the anger does not mean you approve of what caused it.  It simply means you are moving forward and leaving it in the past.  Mindfulness is of value because it allows us to live more fully, to be that which we seek to be – the very best we can be.

Loss and Gain

Loss and Gain

Lent 18 (and 15)

 

“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  I messed up.  It is not the first time and will not, I am certain, be the last but I did mess up.  I counted incorrectly, a problem when one works ahead and loses track of where one is and when something will be posted.  I could explain that there were technological issues as well as weather delays but the bottom line is… I messed up.

 

I could get all over on myself about the mistake.  I could listen to the voices inside my psyche that instantly begin to list others instances of my not being perfect.  Having been raised by a perfectionist parent, I don’t have to imagine those voices.  They are ever present, trust me.  It is almost as if, by messing up, I have lost a part of myself.

 

When we mourn, we feel an intense emotion.  Bereavement is described as something less severe but mourning is powerful, concentrated emotion that hits many of us in a number of different circumstances, not just when a loved one passes on or dies.  When I mess up, I mourn and that is followed by, typically, one of the stages of grief – anger.

 

There are those who try to tell us not to overthink when we mess up but sometimes we should.  It often is what keeps us from making the same mistakes over and over.  Grief has a purpose in our bank of emotions and we need to realize it and let ourselves experience it as part of the growing process.

 

Timothy Shriver is chairman of Special Olympics, an organization started by his mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.  I like his thoughts on when we mess up:  “What’s to rationalize? You mean you shouldn’t pray if you haven’t got your s–t together? This is another fairly common misconception of faith, which is that people who go to church, or people who pray, or people who talk about their religion must be, somehow more pious or ethically rigorous or have more morally cleansed lifestyle. The high correlation is supposed to be between faith and your search, the depth of your search, your willingness to try, your willingness to admit error, your hope and belief in the ultimate meaning and value of that search.”

 

Are you holding yourself up to an impossible standard, one that disallows both messing up and grief?  When we lose someone or something, we feel sadness because the person or item had value in our lives.  We need to remember that we had the opportunity to have that someone or something special and find comfort in that knowledge.  Messing up simply means we had an opportunity to try something and that is often not something others can say they have had.  I messed up numbering my blog posts but I am still able to post.  The next day several people reposted that blog and I am grateful to them and overjoyed.  Realizing I messed up was not enjoyable but finding comfort in that the post got read and reposted was solace indeed.

 

I am not trying to say that losing a loved one is the same as a numerical mix-up.  It is not.  Both, however, are opportunities, prospects that life has given us to be explored, enjoyed, and valued.  There is much to be gained from spending time with a valued companion and from making mistakes.  Regret should not be part of the equation, though.  Never regret the time spent with someone or something for which you cared.  A mistake is simply a chance to grow and learn.  Both offer great comfort to me.

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Lent 11

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism os a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope. 

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time. 

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

Goodness

Goodness

Lent 1

 

During Lent our series will focus on the Beatitudes, those eight to ten, and in one location, four saying about goodness, happiness and spirituality.  While the basis for this series will be taken from the New Testament, this will not be a purely religious series.  It is a series about goodness and our search for it in an overall sense – goodness of living, of health, of being.  We will delve into such distinction as the difference between a happy person and an optimistic person and there will be, hopefully, a vignette to explain and explore our discussion each day.

 

Most Creation stories open with “In the beginning” and the world seems to have been complete, whole, and happy.  Then something happens and chaos ensues.  While it may seem hard to relate to something like that, most of us experience it every day when we go to check social media.  The science of happiness would tell us that while the caveman did not have a Facebook account and the only twitters he heard or saw were from birds in the trees, he did fall victim to the same social pressures that we do when reading about a friend’s seemingly perfect life.

 

We are all connected and the people in our lives play an important role in the basic goodness we experience and the happiness we feel.  Both of these are contributing factors to our sense of well-being and our actual physical health.  Skeptics argue that optimistic people may not necessarily live longer and we certainly have discussed that topic before.  However, recent scientific research and the resulting evidence indicate that there is a strong link between happiness and health and it goes both ways.

 

Our approach to living is key in our trying to improve our lives and the world.  Being happy will never be as simply as taking a pill and seeing the goodness in life will not be accomplished with an increased prescription for a new pair of glasses.  We can, though, take the wisdom of the ages and look at our own approach to living. 

 

Lent is traditionally a time of introspection and, let’s face it, dreary feelings of guilt and shame.  Our source material is a wonderful way to change that and improve ourselves without beating ourselves up – figuratively or psychologically.  Let’s replace those pounds of guilt with feelings of goodness and happiness!  Life will always be a work in progress.  I hope you join me for this series in making lemonade out of lemons.  Who knows?  We might even find a way to make a lemon tart or pie without fewer calories!

Celebrate

 

Celebrate

 

Epiphany 54

 

 

 

Today is widely known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.  In many regions, it is also called Shrove Tuesday.  Regardless of what you call today, I hope you celebrated your life today.  Sometimes life sucks.  There is no getting around it.  The consequence of being alive is that sometimes unpleasantness occurs.  And yet, there is still always something for which to give thanks and celebrate.

 

 

 

I cannot think of a better way to express what today’s word or verb means than this quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:    “People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state–it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle…. Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.”

 

 

 

To celebrate is not to get drunk or stuff one’s face full of food.  Celebration means to give thanks and be appreciative of that which we have or have experienced.  When we celebrate we confront our living and recognize it.  We recognize our being and the living of others.

 

 

 

Be an active participant in your living.  As we close this series, I hope you celebrate your being.    Tomorrow we begin our Lenten series on happiness.  The format will be a bit different and I welcome your comments.  Until then … Each of you has been a gift to me and I toast you all, celebrating your presence in my life and your being.  Join me, please.  Celebrate!

 

Try

Try

Epiphany 41

 

I am about to do something either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.  I am going to disagree with Yoda.  I refer to his (if one wants to assign a gender) famous quote – “Try not. Do. Or do not!! There is no try.”  The scene is where an aircraft has sunk into a lake and the hero Luke is being taught a lesson about what he has been taught (and untaught) and encouraged to take the necessary next step.

 

We all try things every day.  What gives us a chance at success is that we have tried.  What guarantees success is that we keep trying, keep at our endeavors until we achieve success.  In an age where religion is doubted and those waving their zealous faith seldom actually live it, it makes sense that many turn to the media and films for spiritual direction. 

 

In the movie (and book) “Lord of the Rings”, Sir Ian McKellen playing the character Gandalf the Wise intones to Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”  The games developed from these movies offer, some claim, players to experience life in the game and that helps them when living their real lives.  Some might claim the religious and spiritual writings of the past do the same thing.  Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of a book entitled “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks:  An Epic Quest for Reality among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms” which discusses this very topic.

 

I like Gandalf’s bit of advice.  It is true for each of us every day, regardless of our socioeconomic level, background, culture, or beliefs.  I actually pretty much agree with Yoda if he means that we must try until our trying becomes our doing and that we should do until we are successful.  The first step, though, requires that we try.

 

The difficult thing about trying, about taking that first step, is that we must believe.  Believing in a Creator or even a character in a movie might seem difficult but the really hard thing to believe in is ourselves.  Regardless of what our attempt is, whether it is learning to walk, to drive or to fly a spaceship that orbits the heavens, we first must believe we can be successful.  We must put effort into our attempt and that requires that we try we our whole heart, soul, and being.  That is hard.  IT is also a bit scary.

 

Last year at the Westminster Kennel Club there were two very different dogs vying for best in show, the ultimate winning title of the event.  In the canine world I am fairly certain that the dogs really are just happy to do their best because that is, after all, a dog’s life and purpose.  For their owners and handlers living in the human world, winning is everything.  And so it was that the German Short-haired terrier’s handler and the German shepherd’s handler were waiting with baited breath to hear the winner’s breed be announced.  Names of the animals are not announced at Westminster, only breeds, which is good because some of these dogs have names that would take up half of this blog.  Seldom, though, are there two breeds with names of the breed so close.  Odds on favorite in 2016 was the German Shepherd so most were surprised when after the words “German” came “short-haired”.  The rumors about the German shepherd being the best in show were just that – rumors, fitting in a ironic twist since that was the shepherd’s name.

 

It surprised a great many people then when this year handler and co-owner Kent Boyles appeared once again with the German shepherd Rumor.  Having had quite the career in the show ring, many were certain the German Shepherd Rumor would retire after last year’s showing.  Most felt there was little shame in only winning best of breed.  Okay, so there is some shame attached to not wining Best in Show but still…Rumor had performed well and was getting up in years for a show dog.

 

Kent Boyles, though, believes in trying and he believed in his dog.  So this year he walked into Madison Square Garden with Rumor at his side.  Again they won best in breed and advanced to the coveted best in breed category.  I do not own a German shepherd but some friend recently got a four-month-old German shepherd puppy.  The trademark standing ears are not present at birth and it has been fun to watch my friends’ puppy advance from having big ears that folded on top of her head to the traditional standing up ears German shepherds are known to have.  So it was with some but not a great deal of interest that I watched the German Shepherd approach the showing stand.  Then I heard the story of last year’s failure.

 

I appreciate failure because it is life’s greatest lesson.  I don’t particularly like to fail; who does?  Still, failure can be a great lesson if we allow it to teach us something.  Last night, Kent Boyles proved his faith in his dog was not just a rumor, it was real.  Rumor won best in show and proved to us all that life is about trying.  Giving up assures us failure but giving something one more try is the next step to wining.

 

 

Ridiculous

Ridiculous

Epiphany 19

 

The French Essayist Albert Camus once said that “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.”  I realize that “ridiculous” is not technically a verb and we are supposed to be discussing actions words or verbs in this series.  However, it can be a state of being so I ask you understanding as we discuss it.

 

Jonathan Mead has a few thoughts on this topic.  “Ridiculous people have something figured out that other people haven’t quite grasped. They wear a subtle, almost undetectable smirk that makes you think they’re about to make some kind of mischief. They probably are. Mischief is what they like best.  The truth is, ridiculous people aren’t ridiculous at all; they just seem that way to the people that are always trying to be serious. They seem unruly and careless because they’re not following the common template. They are obviously out of line, and that is most alarming to the serious tribe.”

 

Ridiculous is a perception and often it is perceived to be wrong.  What if the so-called ridiculous was actually the correct thing, the authentic way to live?  Just imagine that someone finally figures out that everything trending was really useless.  What would happen then?  “Reality is a dream that someone was brave enough to conquer”, according to Shannon Adler.

 

Too often people follow the leader.  If you are hiking up a steep cliff with only a four-inch path, then following the leader is a great thing.  When we are on life’s journey, though, we need to follow our soul’s dream, not whatever some ambiguous “they” has decided is the correct thing to do… or wear… or think.

 

Take chance and be ridiculous.  Wear your hat backward or select a striking color of shirt instead of that same old light blue you always wear.  Be bold in your living.  More important, be authentic and if authentic means being ridiculous….Have a great time being you!