River Jordan

River Jordan

2018.08.12

Literature and Life

 

The Jordan River, also known as the River Jordan, is a river in southwestern Asia, in the Middle East region. It lies in a structural depression and has the lowest elevation of any river in the world.  Flowing southward from its sources in the mountainous area where Israel, Syria and Lebanon meet, the Jordan River passes through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea.  The Jordan River’s geology and climate have contributed to its role in history as a political boundary and in biblical history writing as a site of community formation.

 

I’ve told this story before but in writing about one of my favorite authors, I must tell it again.  The first paragraph was not unknown to me so imagine my surprise when I see River Jordan on the spine of a book incorrectly shelved in the general reference, religious, philosophy and psychology sections of a local library.  Clever marketing, I thought; a bit too clever, in fact.  To pretend a religious or philosophical author’s name was the same as a well-known religious landmark was really rather trite.  I was in a hurry, however, so instead of taking the time to read the back cover ir inside flap of the book, I added it to my pile and proceeded to the self-checkout.

 

Later the next day I looked at the book I had no intention of reading and realized two things.  First, it was a book on prayer, a subject near and dear to me.  Secondly, the author’s name really was River Jordan.  River Jordan began her writing career as a playwright where her original works were produced, including “Mama Jewels: Tales from Mullet Creek”, ‘Soul, Rhythm and Blues”, and “Virga”.  Her first novel, “The Gin Girl” (Livingston Press, 2003), garnered high praise as “This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath.” Kirkus Reviews described her second novel, “The Messenger of Magnolia Street”, as “a beautifully written atmospheric tale.” It was applauded as “a tale of wonder” by Southern Living, who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006, and described by other reviewers as “a riveting, magical mystery” and “a remarkable book.” Her third novel, “Saints In Limbo”, has been painted by some of the finest fiction voices of today as “a lyrical and relentlessly beautiful book,” and “a wise, funny, joyful and deadly serious book, written with a poet’s multilayered sense of metaphor and meter and a page-turning sense of urgency,” and reported by Paste Magazine as “a southern gothic masterpiece.”   Her fourth novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land, was published on September 7, 2010.

 

It was her first non-fiction work, “Praying for Strangers, An Adventure of the Human Spirit” that I had picked up.  It was published in 2011 and was a book that was happenstance and one River Jordan never intended to ever write.  This acclaimed author teaches and speaks around the country on “The Power of Story”, and produces and hosts the radio show Clearstory Radio from Nashville.   She can often be found traveling the back roads of America with her husband and their Great Pyrenees lap dog. 

 

I felt a bit ashamed I had doubted her name (and yes, it really is her name) and was surprised that she lived less than two hours from me and had the same breed of dog that I did.  We also had one other thing in common – we both had sons in the military of this country.  Hers had been deployed to a war zone about the time mine returned from the same area.  Her non-fiction book begins with the week before her son was to leave and the feelings she described I knew all too well.  However, she had very little acquaintance with praying for strangers while I had spent the past eight years doing just that.  Still, I felt compelled to read the book, more a diary than a novel or autobiography.

 

E. M. Bounds describes prayer as “power and strength, a power and strength that influences God, and is most salutary, widespread, and marvelous in its gracious benefits to man. Prayer influences God. The ability of God to do for man is the measure of the possibility of prayer.”  We tend to overlook what prayer does for the person doing the praying, though.  River Jordan addresses both in this book as she embarks upon her journey as the parent of a child walking into war.

 

There are many different types of wars we face, especially as parents.  First it is colic, then perhaps first day of school anxiety.  Regrettably, some parents must face their child having a life-threatening illness or developing an unhealthy addiction.  Sometimes it is peer pressure that creates the war zone with destructive behaviors or ill-planned escapes becoming the enemy.  Long before our children are of an age to defend their country, we as parents have faced many battles.  Every person confronts life’s issues but it seems to be most difficult when it is our children doing so once they have “grown up”.  The concerns and fears of our hearts grow also and never are diminished in spite of how accomplished we may believe our children to be.

 

River Jordan has an encounter with a stranger, recognizing the pain of another similar to her own and offers to pray for this person.  To be certain she knows saying those words will not instantly change anything.  They are not a magic chant.  She is somewhat surprised, though, to see the calm they seem to give this stranger.  Within a few days, another incident occurs and again, she sees the power that offering to pray for a stranger can create.

 

It is very seldom – okay, never – that I will claim an author as one of my favorites when I have only read one book by said author, especially if said book is diametrically opposed to the rest of the volume of their writings.  And yet, it is that very fact that made me claim River Jordan as a favorite.  I have given this book to others, had a book club read it, shared it on this blog in years past, and still at least once a year reread it.  I could not leave her out of any list of influential writers.

 

Trying to get River Jordan to pin down a favorite writer, though, is difficult.  “Honey, I was raised by the tribe of Eeyore. I can worry about anything and everything….I want to read something that sets my soul on fire. I want to read words that tell me what it was to have been human and to set my feet on this planet for even just a little while. I want to carry some truth away about this life that I didn’t recognize before. To connect to another person’s life in the process. To cry, fight, laugh, love, and live more passionately than when I first turned that page.  I want the story to carry me somewhere wonderful whether it’s South America, or a riverboat, or even if it’s only a backyard on a summer night. And it doesn’t matter if it’s wonderful contemporary voices southern and otherwise, or the older voices of Mark Twain, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Flannery O’Conner, Harper Lee – the list goes on into eternity. Just give me that great story. Carry me away. The words can be soft or sharp, biting or butter, I just want the passion of the writer to be so intense that the words are like a white, hot light on the page.”

 

River Jordan has stated that “it is her deep belief that through our stories we discover the truth of our common ground and are able to celebrate our humanity, working together toward living at our highest potential.”  I hope you read “Praying with Strangers” but more importantly, I just you read.  By the way, River Jordan’s latest book, “Confessions of An American Mystic, Stories of Faith and Fiction” ( Jericho Books, Hachette) will arrive later this year.  Literature and life continue to reflect one another.

 

Chaos, Contemplation, and Change

Chaos, Contemplation and Change

April 9-10, 2018

 

If philosophy is the science of thinking, then chaos is the science of surprise. Most of us have heard chaos theory explained in the following example:  If a butterfly flaps its wings halfway across the world, then a storm will occur a few weeks later.  Putting it in perspective, butterflies in Chile were busy around the time of Easter which accounts for the recent storms in the Midwest portion of the United States of America.  Six months ago all the butterflies in the Butterfly House in a botanical garden in the USA were disturbed by a tree falling outside and so we had powerful storms in the South Pacific Ocean two months ago.  Such a theory has a backside, though.  If there had not been a butterfly house housing hundreds of butterflies to be disturbed, there would not have been the monsoons,  If Easter tourists in Chile had not disturbed the butterflies, twenty million people in the USA would not have spent this past weekend under tornado and severe storm watches.  Is it really all the poor butterfly’s fault?  Can something that small have such a large effect?

 

For most of his life, Karl Marx was not gainfully employed.  The man who penned “Das Kapital”, a scathing condemnation of prevailing capitalist ideas and functions, living mostly on the goodwill of his friends, preferring to spend his time thinking and reading at the British Museum instead of earning his own way and living on his own.  He was not well-known and yet within seventy years of his death, one third of mankind was under the hand of governments that considered themselves “Marxist”.

 

Chaos theory is built upon the belief that the smallest of changes in a system can result in very large differences in that system’s behavior.  Marx saw many benefits in the capitalism of his time but chiefly he saw it as a stepping stone, a period of history that would bring about greater change.  Marx applied science, or so he thought, to his predictions about society and the dependence the owner had on his workers would, Marx believed, ultimately bring them closer together into one society.

 

Isaac Newton developed thoughts about physics.  With his work, one can take information about the present state of an object in motion and, using Newton’s laws of motion, predict where and what that object will be in the future.  Marx sought to do this with developing societies.  Many of his followers believed they were being optimistic about the future.  After all, the philosophies of Locke were given as causes for the American and French revolutions.  Perhaps Marxism would be the “planned solution” the world needed to prevent further chaos.

 

Philosophy cannot be relegated to the walls of academia.  It began with man and it follows him today in every aspect of his/her living.  The ideas of one impoverished thinker spread like wildfire across the globe from Eastern Europe to Russia and China.  Buddhism, Islam, or Christianity has ever had such a swift, effective, and devoted following.  The Russian leaders Stalin, Trotsky, and Lenin, the Yugoslavian Tito, Chinese Mao Zedong, Vietnamese Ho Chi-minh, and the Cuban Fidel Castro not only read and believed Karl Marx, they changed the world because of their following his ideas.

 

The sensitive dependence that Chaos Theory is built upon is not really news.  Aristotle mentioned it in his writings:  “the least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousand fold”.   Scientifically, chaos theory is the study of nonlinear dynamics, making predictions on random events based upon deterministic equations.  I would be remiss if I failed to note that even defining the term chaos is up for discussion so defining a theory based upon something that is still being determined or defined is … well, not an exact science.  It is generally agreed upon that chaos is the science world does not refer to a state of confusion but rather a state of apparent lack of order, something very much like dynamical instability, a state of being discovered by French physicist Henri Poincare.

 

In using chaos theory, two general conditions have been established.  The first is that systems, all systems, rely upon an underlying order of sorts and that even the smallest of systems can create large, complex behaviors or effects.  The second condition or assumption is something known as “sensitive dependence on initial conditions, coined by Edward Lorenz in the mid twentieth century.  A meteorologist, Lorenz was using a computer to predict upcoming weather conditions.  Having completed one particular sequence, he reentered the numerical data and then left the computer to its own equating.  He later returned expecting to see a duplication of the first transcribing and equations but instead discovered results that were very different.  Instead of entering the data exactly, he had left off three digits in one number, entering “.506” instead of “.506127”.  Such an error was not expected to have made much difference in the results since the primary three digits were what were needed.

 

Lorenz repeated his efforts, each time only slightly varying the data in ways that were thought to be miniscule and therefore having little or no effect.  What he discovered was that the slightest differences, even those beyond our ability to measure, could have significant effect on the outcomes.  This meant that predictions of past or future events or outcomes was impossible, a concept that violated the very foundations of physics.  Physicist Richard Feynman explained: “Physicists like to think that all you have to do is say, these are the conditions, now what happens next?”

 

In order to use Newton’s Laws of Motion, one has to be able to assume that precise measurements are possible.  Newton held that nearly perfect measurements were possible and would suffice.  Poincare discovered that the slightest variation made huge difference in astronomical computations. Since absolutely precise measurements of objects in space is impossible or chaotic, then all predictions based upon assumed orderly measurements were nothing better than random thoughts on the subject.  In presenting his theory of the Butterfly Effect at a meeting in Washington, D.C. in 1972, Lorenz illustrated an anonymous meteorologist’s assertion that, based upon chaos theory, a single flap of a seagull’s wings would be enough to change the course of all future weather systems on earth.

 

The so-called “Butterfly Effect”, first described by Lorenz at the December 1972 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., vividly illustrates the essential idea of chaos theory. In a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences, Lorenz had quoted an unnamed meteorologist’s assertion that, if chaos theory were true, a single flap of a single seagull’s wings would be enough to change the course of all future weather systems on the earth.  He would later repeat his thoughts in a paper entitled “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?”

 

Today some of those countries who completely revamped their government in favor of Marxism have loosened the reins.  They have discovered that the behavior of mankind is more akin to the apparent randomness of chaos theory than an exact science.  Free will may be a tenet of Christianity but people of all belief systems, cultures, and socioeconomic levels are living proof of it every day.  We often define chaos as randomness or a lack of order.  James Gleick, author of “Chaos : Making a New Science” defines chaos theory as “a revolution not of technology, like the laser revolution or the computer revolution, but a revolution of ideas. This revolution began with a set of ideas having to do with disorder in nature: from turbulence in fluids, to the erratic flows of epidemics, to the arrhythmic writhing of a human heart in the moments before death. It has continued with an even broader set of ideas that might be better classified under the rubric of complexity.”

 

Whether constrained by government or the idle pondering done on a solitary walk, the power of thought cannot be underestimated.  Some thoughts are logical conclusions based upon known data while others are the unexpected surprise of simply living.  We can all make order from the chaos of our lives.  It doesn’t take being a government leader or someone famous.  Maya Angelou once stated:  “I’m convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere. For a change, start by speaking to people rather than walking by them like they’re stones that don’t matter. As long as you’re breathing, it’s never too late to do some good.”

 

 

Mapping the Deep

Mapping the Deep

Pentecost 43

 

French philosopher Gilles Deleuze once remarked that “Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with land surveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.”  I love that quote because it speaks to the effects of what is written today on tomorrow.  I have mentioned in the past that these blog posts are a type of theological reflection with less emphasis on the theology and more on life itself.  The final step of such a reflection involves moving forward, living tomorrow based on how one has mapped out the reflection.

 

Maps have always been of interest to me and if I lived somewhere with enough wall space I would have a map in every room.   I marvel at the earliest cartographers, those explorers and artists that took the land they were standing on and turned it into a drawing with the highest importance and meaning. 

 

I marvel at their ability to take a path well known and walked and turn it into a one dimensional drawing that others can interpret and then travel.  Recently I threw in the recycle bin several paper maps,  They were out of date and yes, I have Google maps on several devices so I did not need them but still, tossing them out was difficult. 

 

I found the algorithms used by cosmologists and physicists fascinating in mapping outer space.  Their confidence in knowing what to be positive about and what to estimate (read guess) boggles my mind.  The most talented of cartographers, however, for me must be those that map out the ocean’s floor.  They not only tell us where we are but can also tell us where our world has been and what it looked like eons ago at the beginning.

 

When you read this, no matter where you are or when you read this, an earthquake will have occurred in the past twenty-four hours.  Hurricane Maria is still churning in the Atlantic while people in Houston recover from Hurricane Harvey and people in Florida and the Caribbean deal with the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  The importance of these is understandable.  For people in the affected areas, it is an upheaval and often a matter of life and death.  For the rest of us, though, we tend to forget about them.  We should be ashamed of ourselves.

 

Earthquakes are the world’s biggest makeover show, a reality program by every definition possible.  Earthquakes have created and changed and created again much of the world we know today.  And yet, the Teutonic plates and their movement which create the earthquakes was never fully mapped out until the mid-1900’s and yes, it was co-mapped by a woman.

 

Maria Tharp first earned degrees in music and English before getting graduate degrees in geology and mathematics.  She was hired as a geologist and typical to members of her gender, given mostly desk work.  Hired at the Lamont Geological Observatory at Columbia University, Maria could not go out on ships to obtain the necessary data used in attempts to locate downed aircraft.  She worked with coworker Bruce Heezen using photographic data.  For the next eighteen years, Heezen would go out on a ship while Tharp stayed in the office.  Women were not allowed on the Observatory’s ship so Heezen collected the data and then Tharp would map it out.  This was the first systematic attempt to map the ocean floor.

 

Tharp’s maps gave much credence to theories that North and South America were once connected to Europe and Africa.  The mapping of Teutonic plates and the puzzle pieces of the continents that became one big continent based upon such oceanographic data has helped to explain the similarities of flora and fauna as well as bacteria found in differing parts of the western and eastern hemispheres.

 

In 2009 Maria Tharp’s Historical Map layer became a part of Ocean in Google Earth so you can check out her cartographic ability yourself.  It is simply fascinating.  Maria Tharp knew the importance of maps.  They represent our living, our past, and our future destinations. 

 

Detours take us off the beaten path.  They create a sense of chaos and inner turmoil because we find ourselves suddenly without a map for our living.  Maria Tharp knew how to navigate the detours caused by gender discrimination.  She made the best of her situation and navigated the world, creating the maps that we still use today, maps that help us navigate not only the familiar paths but also the detours.

 

Life is about doing just that.  Each of us will at some point find our life shaken to its core, an earthquake not of geological proportions but one of emotional or professional disorder and/or confusion.  At some time the tides of life will flood us to the point we doubt our ability to continue.  Life is a puzzle at times but we all have the power to solve and carry on.  Life is a journey, full of detours.  Where will you go today? 

Me, Myself, and…Who?

Me, Myself, and…Who?

Pentecost 41 

 

Recently, a friend sent a picture of two different detour signs.  One had the word written all in capital letters while the other used both upper and lower case letters.  They asked why I thought two different states had the word on their signage written differently.  Does this evoke different response?  Is one less stressful than the other? 

 

My question to you is this:  When you think of who you are, do YOU use capital letters?  Most of us do not.  Why?   Generally speaking, the greater part of mankind is not that confident; we lack the self-love to think of ourselves in capital letters.

 

If you were around in the 1960’s, you probably were identified by the type of music you played.  Elvis Presley had brought hip grinding rock and roll to the masses but there were still those who enjoyed the last of the Big Band sound.  The end of the decade and Woodstock brought about a plethora of rock bands and in the next twenty years, they evolved into hard rock, heavy metal, and yes, even the teeny bop culture which then led to the pop culture and rap music.

 

One of those bands of the 1960’s began life as a group known as The Detours.  A group of school chums who considered themselves misfits, music gave them an identity.  Their band name was much too similar to another group, Johnny and the Detours, though, so a new identity was needed.  The new name illustrated one of their most popular songs and gave an entire generation their identity.  We have The Who to thank for the essential theme of today’s post – Who are you?

 

“There’s a place where I know you walked; the love falls from the trees.  My heart is like a broken cup; I only feel right on my knees.”  Pete Townsend’s lyrics speak to all of us and they ask the same question I am asking you today.  “Who are you?”  More importantly, is your answer written in capital letters?

 

Someone once told me to live so that each night, when I washed my face, I was neither ashamed nor afraid to look in the mirror.  In other words, I should live so that I liked the reflection I saw in the mirror.  That is not always as easy for us as it should be.  Personal accountability can be a hard thing.  Life is not easy.

 

One of my favorite comments from last year was someone who stated they were descended from the Sami.  I liked it because first, they obviously had read the post that day because it discussed heritage.  Secondly, I liked it because it taught me something; it taught me who the Sami were.  Like many people, I did not know the first families or tribes of the area we call Norway.  Each December I enjoy the representations of reindeer and the elves that attend to them.  This past December I went with family members to see some actual reindeer, animals that are not common where I live.  I AM

 

The Sami people are the first indigenous culture of northern Scandinavia.  Once oppressed and their culture in danger of dying out completely, the Sami (who have also been called the Lapps) are now the strongest of all aboriginal cultures in the world.  Their original habitat includes countries we call Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia although they never really had their own sovereign state.  Most of the world’s first families do not believe they own the land; they believe they are the caretakers of it.

 

Similarly, we do not own ourselves.  Much like the Sami, we are merely the caretakers of our bodies and regretfully, some of us do not do very well with that.  Nonetheless, we are the gardeners of our souls.  It is up to us to develop and determine who we are.  The really neat thing about gardens is that crops need to be rotated in order to reap the best harvests.  We are not locked into being just one thing; we are a beautiful tapestry of many things woven into one life.

 

“Who are you; hu hu hu hu?  Who are you; hu hu hu hu?  I really wanna know.”  All too often we find ourselves detoured on our way to being that great adult we dreamed of as a child.  Suddenly we find ourselves living a life that is much different from that we had imagined. 

 

omewhere along the way, life threw us a detour.   Perhaps you changed your dreams to follow the path of the detour.  Perhaps you are simply waiting for the chance to get back on your way.  The best way to travel a detour is to go slowly but with determination.  In her book “The Single Woman: Life, Love and a Dash of Sass” Mandy Hale wrote: “Sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.”

Location, Location, Location

Location, Location, Location

Detours in Life

Pentecost 35-36

 

Campers are on the road, hotel rooms are booked to capacity, and cities across an arc cutting through the mid-section of the USA are preparing for the total eclipse of the sun today beginning at 1715 hours GMT.  That is during mid-morning coffee break time for the west coast and at the just after the noon hour for east coast residents.

 

For the 1,200,000 people living in the 70-mile-wide (113-km-wide), 2,500-mile-long (4,000-km-long) zone life will be chaotic, if it already isn’t.   The last time the USA witnessed such an event stretching from coast to coast was in 1918.  The last total solar eclipse able to be seen in the USA occurred in 1979.  The fact that this one is happening during one of the busiest vacation months of the year is fueling the desire for families to travel to a spot in the viewing zone.  An estimated seven and a half million people will witness this total solar eclipse in person.

 

A predictive map issued on Sunday by Weather Decision Technologies Inc. shows clear skies in the West, clouds in Nebraska and northwest Missouri, and partly cloudy conditions farther east.  Regardless of the weather, all observers must wear specially designed eyewear to avoid damage to their eyes.  For wildlife, it will seem as though there was a very short day.  As the shadows on the ground increase and the sky appears to be experiencing a very early sunset, birds will go to their roosts in the trees to settle down to sleep.

 

For a brief two minutes on Monday, there will be a safe time to view the eclipse with the naked eye but the timing is to critical to risk it.  During the totality or blackout, only the aura of the sun will be visible, the corona or atmosphere of the sun surrounding the circumference of the moon.  Please, do not attempt to see this without protective eyewear.  It is simply too risky.

 

It will be possible to capture the eclipse on one’s iPhone or tablet but these also will require special filters so as to not damage some or all of the pixels of the screen.  Various websites can provide directions on how to do this.  NASA Sun and Space or @NASASun will provide a great viewing for Twitter followers and other outlets will have live feeds.

 

Where will you be when this eclipse occurs?  What effect do you think it will have?  The myths surrounding eclipse are plentiful and date back to the earliest of times.  In Italy it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse will grow brighter and more plentiful that flowers planted at other times.  In parts of India, it is believed that food prepared during an eclipse will be poisoned.  In ancient Greece, it was believed that an eclipse was a sign of the gods’ anger.  In some ancient cultures, pots and pans were banged to ward off the evil spirits believed to cause the blackout.

 

Today we know that the path of celestial bodies is what causes eclipses.  Except for damage from looking at today’s event without protective eyewear, it should not poison any food, cause miscarriages, or even give positive assistance to horticulture.

 

Today we have the location of wisdom, scientific fact, and history to allow us to have a better understanding and detour from these ancient and incorrect myths about eclipses.  Today we know that when our minds and brains are in a location of wisdom we will see the big picture correctly.  Today our perspective comes from a location that has led to better understanding.

 

Ursus Wehrli once said “I like to turn things upside down, to watch pictures and situations from another perspective.”  One simple way to view a total solar eclipse requires nothing more than a salad colander and some space.  If you can resist the temptation to look up, you can place the colander upside on the ground or concrete and watch it instead of the sky.  The pinholes will illustrate what the sky is experiencing.

 

This eclipse will last less than three hours today but for that time, many will come together.  Denis Waitley reminds us that “You must look within for value but must look beyond for perspective.”  I hope that today we will look beyond the skies and envision a world that can come together for peace.  I hope that during those three hours in which our lives are taking a detour to experience this total eclipse we can celebrate each other – the value within and the potential beyond.

Pay It Forward

Paying It Forward

Detours in Life

Pentecost 9

 

When was the last time you did a good deed for someone?”  I recently asked this of a friend.  My friend thought for a minute and then described something over two weeks ago.  Last year about this time my Pentecost series was about “making the ordinary extraordinary”.   It was about making each day count. Most of us would love to have that happen except … Life takes us on a detour instead.

 

Last year I told you about Kim Atwood, a woman who focused on doing a good deed a day.  In the year 2000 another woman named Catherine Ryan Hyde wrote a book upon which a movie was based entitled “Pay It Forward”.  Kim took this same premise and put it into action.  “One morning, on my drive to work, I was thinking about the law of moral causation and the karmic energy that surrounded my life.”

 

Kim was not just interested in doing a good deed but it that deed having a ripple effect.  She encouraged her friends to follow her example as well as the strangers who were the recipients of her actions.  The first day she stopped at her favorite donut shop for a pastry and coffee and then bought the same for the person in line behind her, asking the clerk to tell said person what had been done.  The next day she bought a potted plant and left it with a note on a car in a parking lot.  On another day she ordered some pet products from www.totallyfreestuff.com and donated them to a local animal shelter.  Soon life closed in on her and it was bedtime one evening when she realized she had not accomplished her good deed that day.  She went online and in five minutes had donated a few dollars to a charity.

 

The point of sharing with you Kim’s story was that she turned her ordinary commute into a period of retrospection and then took action.  She made each day extraordinary for the beneficiaries of her actions.  Kim was not some millionaire and often her actions took only a few extra minutes.  One day she simply stood at a store and held the day open for people sharing a smile and a brief greeting for a few minutes.  Each smile was returned and as she finished her shopping, she saw others holding the day for those entering.  Kim create her own detour from her normal pattern and started finding a way to make each day count.  She was doing for others but discovered it took her on a trip of her own as well.

 

Behavior is contagious.  That is why gangs are successful and cults have a following.  Kim Atwood used her time wisely and her detour from her normal routine made positive behavior contagious.  The ripple effect of her actions created more extraordinary moments for more living things. 

 

Joni Averill is a columnist with the Bangor Daily News and she wrote about Kim in 2010.  “ Civility. Manners. Thoughtfulness. Understanding. Compassion. Respect. Tolerance.  Our society seems to be losing its grip on those essential virtues.  What a much nicer world it would be if we all made the attempt, daily, to be kinder to one another.”

 

Bangor, Maine is a town that is often the last US stop for soldiers going to the Middle East.  Those arriving and departing usually deplane as new planes are to be boarded, different connections made.  Each soldier is greeted as they enter the Bangor Airport by citizens of Bangor and usually handed a cup of hot coffee or a cool drink.  They all receive a smile and hero’s greeting, justly deserved and earned.  These humble residents, however, are also heroes.  They make an exhausting trip better and remind our brave men and women why they are doing what they do.  Regardless of the weather or the time of day, each plane is met, each servicemen thanked.

 

Steve Jobs once said “If you are working at something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed; the vision pulls you.”  Hopefully, today something extraordinary will pull you to action, something that benefits another person and makes their ordinary day a time of extraordinary living.

 

We think of detours as nuisances but they can be a wonderful way of paying it forward.  Yes it is scary to deviate from our normal and really, who thinks they have the time?  Truth is, we have all time to take a detour of meaning and to pay it forward.  We’ll end up helping ourselves as well as the world.

Exercise Equals Good Health

Exercise Equals Good Health

Easter 36-46

 

Exercise does a body good.  We all know that.  However, mindfulness exercises will also provide health benefits, not just to our body but for our mental and emotional health as well.  The conversations we have in this blog, into my head as well as yours, are all about creating and maintain a healthy spiritual lifestyle.  After all, if our spirit is not willing, our living will and is compromised.

 

Clinician Elizabeth Scott is a enthusiastic advocate of mindful exercises.  “The practice of mindfulness can bring many benefits to your emotional and physical health, as well as to the relationships in your life. Mindfulness is an amazing tool for stress management and overall wellness because it can be used at virtually any time and can quickly bring lasting results. Mindfulness can pull you out of the negative downward spiral that can be caused by too much daily stress, too many bad moods, or the habit of rumination.”

 

Life is messy.  We all know that.  Stress is a natural consequence of the messiness in our lives.  One of the best ways to combat stress is to meditate.  A key element for meditation is finding a quiet space, free of distractions and interruptions.  On one particularly stressful job site, I would go into the restroom, run some warm water and purposely take sixty seconds to wash my hands.  I would concentrate on the warmth of the water and imagine it radiating throughout my core.  Then I pictured all my stress going down the drain. 

 

Mediation can be a bit difficult if you are not accustomed to do it.  There are many different ways to meditate but one of the most basic is to simply listen to your thoughts.  Then imagine if someone else were saying them to you.  What would your response be?  Focused meditation relies on living in the moment.  That means putting aside what happened yesterday, what might happen tomorrow, and simply concentrate on this moment in time right now.  Activity meditation uses a physical activity or movement to help one meditate.  Some people paint, others garden and many do yoga.

 

Clinician Scott advises these ways to being to practice meditation.  “Meditation can be practiced in many different ways.  While there are numerous different meditation techniques, a common thread runs through virtually all meditative techniques:

Quiet Mind: With meditation, your thinking mind becomes quiet. You stop focusing on the stressors of your day or your life’s problems, as well as solving these problems. You just let that voice in your head be quiet, which is easier said than done. For example, start thinking about nothing now. (It’s OK, I’ll wait.) If you’re not practiced at quieting your mind, it probably didn’t take long before thoughts crept in.

Being in the Now: Rather than focusing on the past or the future, virtually all meditative practices involve focusing on right now. This involves experiencing each moment and letting it go, experiencing the next. This, too, takes practice, as many of us live most of our lives thinking toward the future or relishing and rehashing the past.

Altered State of Consciousness: With time, maintaining a quiet mind and focus on the present can lead to an altered level of consciousness that isn’t a sleeping state but isn’t quite your average wakeful state, either. Meditation increases brain activity in an area of the brain associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions, and some evidence shows that regular practice brings prolonged positive changes in these areas.”

 

Other mindfulness exercises include some we have previously discussed like deep breathing.  When we concentrate on our inhalations and exhalations, we tend to release some of our stress.  I once knew a man who would draw a square with his index finger in his pants pocket or on his pants leg under a conference table.  As he did this, he would regulate his breathing and reduce his stress. 

 

Music is also a great way to release stress and live in the moment.  It doesn’t really matter the genre of music.  Music is a communication and the feelings it evokes can be used to reduce stress and create a better sense of well-being.  Eating slowly can also be a mindfulness exercise.  Too many of us gobble our food down but if we eat each bite slowly, chewing multiple times per bite, it can be a way to fully experience the tastes, smells, sounds, and feelings of the moment.  It will also improve your digestion!

 

The mundane activities we do daily, like making the bed, washing dishes, sweeping, or cleaning a counter can be turned into mindfulness activities as can other things we take for granted.   Sometimes the biggest deterrent to practicing mindfulness is turning off the voice in our own head.    Scott encourages making mindfulness a habit and turning chores and daily activities into an opportunity for mindfulness.  “Many stressed and busy people find it difficult to stop focusing on the rapid stream of thoughts running through their mind, and the idea of sitting in meditation and holding off the onslaught of thought can actually cause more stress! If this sounds like you, the mindfulness exercise of observing your thoughts might be for you. Rather than working against the voice in your head, you sit back and “observe” your thoughts, rather than becoming involved in them. As you observe them, you might find your mind quieting, and the thoughts becoming less stressful. (If not, you may benefit from journaling as a way of processing all those thoughts so you can decrease their intensity and try again.)”

 

Martial arts expert and actor Bruce Lee once said:  “Under duress we don’t raise to our expectations, we fall to our level of training.”  The development of mindfulness and the use of it daily create a moment to moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensation, and surrounding environment.  This will lead to a development of heartfulness, the intentional nurturing of positive mind states such as kindness and compassion.  The world and we certainly need more of that.