Get Busy

 

Get Busy

 

Easter 20

 

 

 

I adore books.  Whether it is at a tag sale, a consignment shop, a library or a bookstore, books just seem to call out to me.  On occasion, I apparently call out to them as well.  You see, it is not unusual for a book to simply and quite literally fall at my feet.  When that happens, I usually find that within the books are little tokens of wisdom at a time when I most needed it.  So now, whenever a book seems to fly off a shelf or table, I go on a literary surprise hunt and get busy learning.

 

 

 

“The Unmistakable Touch of Grace” by Cheryl Richardson is one of those books that literally dropped into my life via the top of my head.  I was sitting in the coffee shop of a local bookstore when an employee rolled a cart passed our table with stacks of books on it.  The top book dropped onto our table after bouncing on my head.  The paperback didn’t hurt,; it just startled me.  Then we all laughed at the irony of the ungracefulness of a book about grace.  The book looked interesting and I ended up taking it home.

 

 

 

At home, my book about grace slipped of my bed, this time due to the antics of a very large dog.  It landed on the floor open to this passage:  “As painful as they may be, some of our most difficult relationships hold the promise of our greatest healing.  When you learn to see your relationships in this way, you might discover that the friend who constantly took advantage of you, did so (on a spiritual level) to challenge you to stick up for yourself.”

 

 

 

Mindfulness and this passage have a great deal in common.  Tikun-olam is a Hebrew concept which means “Improve the world”.  Mindfulness encourages us to do that very same thing and the above passage lets us know we can do that even in the midst of our darkest time.

 

 

 

Mindfulness teaches us to never take our living for granted.  Each minute not only counts, it is a lesson for us.  It is very easy to savor the good times but unless we get busy and learn to savor the negative experiences, we are prone to repeat them time and time again. 

 

 

 

Recently I was taken advantage of and it hurt, especially since I had just given this person an expensive gift.  About a minute into my own little pity party, I suddenly remembered to be mindful of the big picture. I realize that I was more proud of my actions and generosity than I was hurt.  After all, I cannot and should not want to control others.  I can only dictate my own actions.  By practicing mindfulness, I realized an inner peace and calming of the soul. 

 

 

 

When you find yourself in those dark hours or hearing that negative voice, take a moment and get bust being mindful of the complete moment, what preceded it and then realize what will make the future better.  When we get busy with savoring life our life, we will realize the beauty of its being.

 

Seuss and Sensibility

Seuss and Sensibility

Lent 22

 

Two years ago during Lent on each Wednesday I discussed a book written by Theodor S. Geisel.  Today is his birthday (post humorously) and I can think of no greater writer to discuss when it comes to knowledge than Geisel, or Dr. Seuss as he is better known. 

 

In “Horton Hears a Who”, Dr. Seuss introduces us to universal citizenship, a theme common in all the Horton books.  Horton hears a voice coming from what looks like a speck of dust.  Dust usually doesn’t speak so Horton investigates and learns that size does not matter.  Horton discovers that the tiny speck lives in a very small world, a world he does not see but one that exists that same as his big world does.  He realizes that he doesn’t know everything and that the possibilities and potential of the universe are endless.  He also comes to understand his role as caretaker and wise citizen of the world in which he lives.  He realizes he has a role of responsibility in life.

 

Any gardener will tell you that everything you plant is not going to grow.  I was not born with a particularly vibrant green thumb and almost half of what I plant becomes avant-garde artwork on the canvass of my yard, not lovely beautiful plants.  Interestingly enough, I have the best luck with the smallest of seeds, tomato seeds.  Spend a quarter and buy a pack at your local dollar store and then open them on a damp paper towel.  They are miniscule!  One cherry tomato plant, the little tomatoes, can produce 10-15 pounds of tomatoes.  A regular size tomato plant can yield up to 30-40 pounds of tomatoes.  All that fruit (Yes, tomatoes are a fruit that we consider a vegetable due to their nutritional value.) can come from that one little tiny seed!

 

Of course, like Horton, we must look where we are going or, in this case, where we are planting our tomato seed(s).  Starting them indoors is ideal but I have just messed up the soil outside, tossed some down, and had them grow.  [This comes from the woman who does a good job of killing even the weeds in her yard!]  Key is the soil, watering, and the temperature after you plant the seed(s).  Horton heard a voice and knew regular specks of dust don’t talk so he should take care and investigate.  His caring was the seed that allowed the Who to live, just as the gardener’s care allows the tomato seed to live.  Horton could have heard the voice and not cared.  He could have seen the dust and swept it away. 

 

A seed will only grow if it is in the right soil and cared for in order that its purpose might be revealed.  As we strive to grow in knowledge and self-knowledge, we need to remember that we often place ourselves in environments that are not conducive for our growing, our personal development.  From one little seemingly speck of dust, Horton heard a voice that opened up the possibilities of the universe to him and his role in it.  A mighty faith can grow if we are wise in where we plant ourselves.  Invite some friends or family over and celebrate the miracle of multiple pounds of tomatoes that come from that one little seed.  I hope you find that your communion of loved ones and nature will yield you a bountiful Lent as you grow a better self.

 

Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!  Happy new day to you!

 

 

Embracing the Passion

Embracing the Passion

Lent 10

 

Yesterday we learned of the passing of a great American writer, Harper Lee.  Harper Lee was a daughter of the Deep South, that part of the United States of America that was explored a century before the Pilgrims began their epic ocean crossing.  Born in Alabama, Harper Lee died in the small town she wrote about in her ground-breaking novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

 

Another writer’s death was also reported yesterday, that of Umberto Eco.  While Ms. Lee sought to show the world its true reflection, Mr. Eco looked for the same in symbols and signs.  Umberto Eco was a scholar but sought to see how the world viewed itself through not only words but also music, religious icons, signs, symbols, and graphic artwork such as cartoons.

 

Several days ago we talked about the image people sometimes set for us – the restrained studied indifference that is seen as being socially correct.  Neither of these writers wasted time with any of that.  They both embraced their beings and their worlds and sought to make both a little better while keeping their eyes wide open.  In short, they both embraced their living with passion, great passion.

 

Both writers also had legions of critics.  Harper Lee’s critics were usually rather silent, that is until her second book was published last year, “Go Set a Watchman”.  Her first book gave us a distinct hero and was written as a commentary seen through the eyes of a child.  People were comfortable with that because it gave them an excuse for their living.  It recognized that we all live each day with the experience for that day the same as a child’s first time as doing anything.  In her second novel, however, Lee expected her readers to have grown a bit and gives them an adult story that is complete with raw, unapologetic truth.  No one wanted to be held accountable and the book was met with great negativity.

 

Eco’s biggest critique was that he saw nothing as being too menial and looked for meaning in everything.  The writer Salman Rushdie who would later have to live in hiding because of a death contract on his head placed there by Islamic Extremists once described a novel of Eco’s as ““humorless, devoid of character, entirely free of anything resembling a credible spoken word, and mind-numbingly full of gobbledygook of all sorts.”

 

Umberto Eco spoke at least five languages and never apologized for his passion about what he saw in the world.  He once explained his viewpoint to the London newspaper “The Guardian” in 2002: “I’m not a fundamentalist, saying there’s no difference between Homer and Walt Disney… but Mickey Mouse can be perfect in the sense that a Japanese haiku is.”

 

Harper Lee, though looking very different from the stereotypical Southern damsel yet always reminiscent of the grown-up version of her character “Scout”, explained her lack of hurt feelings this way:  “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing.”  She also explained her title”  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy….they don’t do one thing except sing their hearts out for us.  That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

 

Both writers sought meaning and encouraged their readers to find the passion in their living.  Sadly many people are frightened when confronted with someone doing just that.  Do we really fear passion or do we fear what their passion requires of us – a true and honest look at ourselves?

 

“To Kill a Mockingbird” brought the inequities of racism into focus and gave meaning to the daily struggles of its victims.  Umberto Eco’s novels are a bit more involved, his most successful being “The Name of the Rose”. but they do much the same thing.  In spite of having once won a literary competition for young Fascists as a lad growing up in Italy and later a member of the Roman Catholic Church, Eco was considered a liberal.  As a girl growing up in a small town in Alabama, Lee walked among the tides of racism every day and brought a liberal, humanist approach.

 

Both of these writers embraced life and humanity in their passion for writing.  They saw the need for greater humanity in the world and encouraged people, by their example, to embrace the passion of living.  Sometimes the truths about which they wrote were discomforting.  Passion is not always wine and roses and warm sweaty embraces.  Passions can sometimes hurt.

 

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for,” said Harper Lee during a ceremony in 2007 when she was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom.  She had lived in New York City for decades but returned to her Alabama small town home that same year.  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

 

I invite you to crawl inside your own skin and walk around in it.  Not the skin the world wants you to wear but the skin that makes you feel alive, that gives you a passion for living.  Embrace your own passion and then make it your identity.

The Inner Voice

The Inner Voice

Lent 10

 

Charles Baudelair was a French poet, essayist, art critic, and translator.  He is considered one of the most compelling and somewhat controversial poets of his time.  He was also something of a humorist, albeit an ironic one.  Take, for instance, his quote on the inner voice we all have.  “Nature… is nothing but the inner voice of self-interest.”  [Fans of the movie “The Usual Suspects” will also recognize another quote from Baudelair, though they may be upset that it did not originate with Keyser Soze: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”]

 

One of my favorite Baudelair quotes is this:  “The whole visible universe is but a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination will give a relative place and value; it is a sort of pasture which the imagination must digest and transform.”  We all have an inner voice, that thinking in words that can build us up or tear us down.  I think of the inner voice much like Baudelair’s description of the universe – a storehouse of images and signs to which we give relative place and value.  How we value those thoughts determines whether or not it is a pasture for gardening our soul or a cemetery of our hopes and dreams.

 

Often mistaken for multiple personality disorder which is actually a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder, we can sometimes think we are suffering from schizophrenia because of our inner voice.  Schizophrenia is a mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally.  It is important that we make certain our inner voice is being honest and not exaggerating reality.  It is also important that we retain our connection with the real world and not become caught up with imagined problems.

 

Our inner voice is important.  It can be a great instinctual device that guides us but it can also be self-defeating.  We may hear our inner voice say we are the most stupid person on earth.  Rest assured you probably are not.  Writer Napoleon Hill once proclaimed “What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”  That can be a good thing; it can also be a destructive voice if we are hearing negative thoughts.

 

An Advisor to President Franklin, Napoleon Hill also wrote several bestselling books.  “perhaps we shall learn, as we pass through this age, that the “other self” is more powerful than the physical self we see when we look into a mirror.”  This quote from his book “Think and Grow Rich” contains a great admonition.  Our inner voice can create a very powerful self-image.

 

In another book, “Success through a Positive Mental Attitude”, Hill promotes the importance and necessity of PMA – Positive Mental Attitude.  Considered one of the first to write what would become known as self-help books, Hill advocated that success, health, happiness, and wealth were dependent upon how one made up one’s mind.  He also identified and warned against NMA, the negative mental attitude that many develop.

 

This week we have been discussing self-love and cultivating it as we strive to succeed in life.  Next week we will go deeper into this concept as we discuss self-worth and how we value ourselves and our future.  First, though, we must love ourselves – not in an egotistical manner but honestly and sincerely.

 

At a commencement ceremony in 2005 at Stanford University, Apple founder Steve Jobs advised graduates:  “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.”  Hear the critiques of your inner voice and then turn them into positives.  Use them as soil in which to grow into yourself and your true being.  Becoming comfortable in your own skin will lead to contentment and that is the first step towards success and happiness.  It is also the canvas on which a beautiful soul flourishes.

Cultivating Self-Love

Cultivating Self-Love

Lent 7

 

Comments are the life-blood of any blog and mine is no different.  For me, though, they are also the fuel that drives the blog.  So today we are delving into a bit of history based upon a comment from this weekend.  “Why do you waste time on expecting people to better themselves?”

 

My instant responsive thought was like what many of you most likely would have replied:  “Why not?”  That quick comeback really does not do the question or the person saying credit.  In my case, I thought it sincerely since the whole series during this time is about just that very thing.  Still, I can certainly understand where such a question might come from and the frustration that created it.

 

Gertrude Stein was a very talented woman who gave the literary world a vast wealth of experimental prose.  She played around with organized formats of literature and defended every innovative technique she explored.  She is most famous, however, for her role as a hostess, a hostess to a group she labeled the “Lost Generation”.

 

For the beginning of the twentieth century, Paris was “the” place to be if one was an artist, a creative soul whose voice was illustrated through the fine arts.  Writers especially found themselves at 27 Rue de Fleurus, the salon of Gertrude Stein.  World War I had been depressing for the idealistic of the world and many of these found a haven in Gertrude Stein’s soirees.  Soon the world would call them home as World War II fired the once again destructive guns of anti-humanity and the winds of war scattered the Lost Generation.  For a decade, though, this group of talented authors found a community that allowed them to exist and thrive.  They found a garden plot in which to grow.

 

The point is that every generation has its “lost” element.  William Shakespeare utilized that “lost” element in each of his main characters and the fact that they have survived for over four hundred centuries tells us that we still search to better ourselves.

 

I believe in the ability of mankind to grow and become something greater than we were yesterday because we no longer are dependent to cook our meals on a stick over a barely lit campfire.  We have creature comforts in many parts of the world, comforts made possible because someone saw a way to make something better.

 

The problem is not “if” we can better ourselves.  The issue is “Will we?”  It takes courage to change our routines, to step outside of our so-called comfort zones and grow.  Courage is not only something that compels us to help save someone from a burning building.  It is also the key ingredient in our becoming better today than we were yesterday.

 

The person attempting sobriety or an escape from addiction is a tremendously courageous person.  The strength of character and the determination involved with living each hour trying to be better than the last is phenomenal.  Such a person is cultivating self-love and knows it is the hardest thing to do.  They not only must battle the physical cravings but also create a new environment in which to live, a new way of speaking and acting, and – most importantly – discover new paths to walk.

 

Hopefully, your gardening season does not require something so monumental but if it does, please accept my admiration.  Also know that I believe you can do this.  The rest of us also have a few hard tasks ahead.  We need to cultivate the soil of our souls and plant new habits that will lead us to better living and successful ventures.  Most importantly, we need to be at peace with our actions and ourselves.

 

Self-love is really self-knowledge.  Steve Maraboli has been quotes before in my blog posts and I quote him now.  “The most powerful relationship you’ll ever have is the relationship you have with yourself.”  Yogi Bhajan says it this way:  “You are very powerful, provided you know how powerful you are.”   Everything has its place but taking time to know and grow ourselves is the most important and lasting garden we can ever plant.

 

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”  Did Ralph Waldo Emerson know how scary it was to cultivate self-love when he wrote that?  I believe so. Carl Jung did when he wrote “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. “  Life is messy and scary but you know what?  We all live it every day.  I am just asking you to live with some love in your heart for you – real love, not ego.  Take time to care for yourself and find yourself.

What’s In a Myth?

What’s In a Myth?

Pentecost 170

For the past five-plus months we have discussed the mythologies of mankind.  For many people, these myths are simply stories, fantastical stories that today have provided plot lines for many comic books, young adult and graphic novels, television programs, and movies.  For many of these legends, their importance died as did the ancient cultures that believed in them.

For African tales, however, these stories live today.  Since some might say most religions have their beginnings in myths, one could argue that many of the myths of early mankind are still alive in one form or another today.  Some things in use today have a beginning in myths and yet, we would never suspect that.  Labyrinths are found at many religious institutions and castles, considered to be both part of beautiful garden landscapes but also wonderful meditative devices.  Have you heard the Greek myth about the king of Crete who called for the construction of a labyrinth?  The king wanted to hide a monster and it was believed that that very nature of a labyrinth would prove ideal for this.  Of course, in true mythological form, the monster to be hidden had been born of the Queen, and was just one of several layers to the story.

We recently learned about the three Mayan calendars and how, with the Long Count calendar which had predicted the end of the world in 2012, the world would reset and begin a new cycle.  A similar cycle was written about by Socrates, although he called it the “Cyclic Uproar.”  Some have defined mythology as prehistoric mankind’s way of explaining creation.  Others claim it to be allegorical stories used to educate and maintain one’s culture.  A large group of psychologists and sociologists have posited that mythology is more like a group dream with archetypal symbols which are used to interpret and explain the inner-most urges of mankind.  There are those that believe mythology is a vehicle of the mind and subconscious and still others believe it to be the primary communication between mankind and the world of spirits and gods.

In his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell offers a different perspective about the purpose of mythology.  The book is well worth the read and I would do it a disservice to try and summarize it in a simple paragraph so I will not even try.  The book was first published in 1949 and is said to have greatly impacted certain psychological fields.  Basically, Campbell believes that we need a hero and myths provide us with one.

The world definitely needs heroes and heroines.  The 1984 song originally heard in the movie “Footloose” but more recently in the “Shrek” cartoon films, asks some pretty interesting questions.  “Where have all the good men gone and where are all the gods?  Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds? … Late at night I toss and I turn and I dream of what I need.”  The song, written by Jim Steinman and Dean Pitchford might just have the answer to why, what, and who the world’s myths are.

Joseph Campbell defined a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.”  Tennis star Arthur Ashe, in whose memory an award is given for exceptional bravery once said that “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.  It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

Firemen and law enforcement officials are often seen as heroes because they are daily called upon to put their lives on the line for others.  Yet, history bears witness to the fact that often it is the ordinary man who is the lasting hero.  Mythologies are full of the supernatural hero or the tyrant monster who requires violence in a semi-heroic sense.  The world’s history tells a different story.  In 1954 an ordinary woman became tired of the injustice of society requiring her to sit at the back of the bus.  She sat down, peacefully and quietly, closer to the driver than anyone of her ethnicity usually did.  In doing so, Rosa Parks was arrested and began a civil rights movement that continues today.

American Nathaniel Hawthorne stated:  “The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt whether one may not be going to prove one’s self a fool; the truest heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom, to know when it ought to be resisted, and when it be obeyed.”  Most of us know what is right and what is wrong.  When we see someone being bullied, we know it is wrong.  Speaking up to stop the bullying, however, is not such a clear path.

So, what is in a myth?  Any good story has five basic elements – characters, setting, plots, conflict and resolution.  Today you wrote a myth, your myth.  You are the main character in your life, your myth.  The setting varies from work, to home to various other settings.  The plot will vary from day to day but each chapter or plot will have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Sometimes the exposition or discussion of the plot is a bit muddied and many find clarity of it in their dreams, others in simple retrospective meditation.  What is not hard to identify is the conflict and yet, often the visible conflict is really just a symbol of a deeper struggle.

In storytelling and writing, the conflict is the point of the plot and who the characters are often determines how they resolve the problem.  Everything builds to the climax, that one cliff-hanger of the story just before everything is resolved that holds our attention and gives the most drama.  For many people, life is all about the climax.  They would rather live their life in the throes of drama than in everyday living.  Resolution is great but life after resolution can seem dull, mundane, ordinary.  Many people today believe “ordinary” is a curse and they do everything they can to avoid the adjective being attached to them.

I love a good climatic scene as well as the next person but it doesn’t end the book.  It doesn’t resolve the problem.  It doesn’t guarantee the “happily ever after” that we all seek in life.  We need, as we write our own mythologies, to remember that all those people who lived in the climax usually ended up dying before resolution could be achieved.  It may seem anti-climactic but the answer to the title question is a very simple… good, evil, and a hero who knows the difference between the two.  What happens when you don’t do the right thing makes for a great story but do we really want to live a life like that?

Recently someone teased me about my reading romance novels.  They said in a surprised voice “You read romance novels?”  I replied I did.  “But you seem so smart!”  I thanked them for the compliment and then asked if they were always depressed or just having a bad day.  “Whatever do you mean?”  Then I told them I read the romance genre because I liked the HEA as it’s called, the Happily Ever After.  “Isn’t that the point of life?” I asked.

Yesterday someone served food to a homeless person and someone else gave refugees clothing and blankets.  Because of the aid received and charitable works of many, Sierra Leone today declared itself free of the deadly Ebola virus. If you need a hero or a good myth, just look around.  Better yet, life so that you see one every time you look in the mirror.

A Story of Strength

A Story of Strength

Pentecost 145

Before we jump into the gloriously rich stories of African mythology, I need to say one more thing about Anansi the spider who convinced the Creator to release the stories of mankind.  AS the stories we’ve already discussed were retold through the ages, some changes occurred.  Anansi’s name became Anancy and the hare became Brer Rabbit or Brother Rabbit.  In case, these names sound familiar, they should.  In the late 1800’s an American from Georgia, using stories told by the African slaves on the Tutwold Plantation, published in an 1879 issue of the Atlantic Constitution “The Story of Mr. Rabbit and Mr. Fox as Told by Uncle Remus”.

These stories varied greatly from fairy tales that were popular at that time in America.  Joel Chandler Harris would eventually publish nine books containing his Uncle Remus stories, three of which were published posthumously.  They brought him attention and some wealth but also many fans, two of whom were noted authors themselves – Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling.

The most notable thing about Harris’ retelling of the African myths was his use phonetically to illustrate the dialect of the slaves from whom he heard these myths.  To people outside of the southern United States, the dialects of the slaves were a new language.

Joel Chandler Harris did much more than simply present African mythologies to a new audience.  He published articles in the Saturday Evening Post that discussed racism.  He and his son later published a successful magazine who purpose was “the obliteration of prejudice against the blacks, the demand for a square deal, and the uplifting of both races so that they can look justice in the face without blushing.”

Scholars, writers, and other learned “experts” still debate the legacy of Uncle Remus.  Many point to the dialects, the differences in the myths, and the use of the South as proof of the stories’ illiteracy and nonvalue.  Many others, though, use those same points to emphasize their value and strengths.  The same could be said of mankind.  Some of our weaknesses are the door to our greatest strengths.  Likewise, each of us, as we write our own story, can turn that which hinders us into that which enables us.