Gratitude in Community

Gratitude in Community

2018.11.23

Growing Community

 

Gratitude is something that crosses all and boundaries and countries, cultures, and ages.  Gratitude is something we all can do and express and should.  The impact gratitude has on a community, whether it is a community of two or two million, is amazing and vital to the growth and sustaining of the community.

 

National Gratitude Month is an annual designation observed in November.  Gratitude is more than simply saying “thank you.”  Gratitude’s amazing powers have the ability to shift us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives.  Everything in our lives has the ability to improve when we are grateful. Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress and drastically improve our overall level of health and wellbeing. On average, grateful people tend to have fewer stress-related illnesses and experience less depression and lowered blood pressure.   They are more physically fit, they are happier, have a higher income, more satisfying personal and professional relationships and will be better liked. Grateful kids are even more likely to get A’s in school.

 

If everyone practiced daily gratitude, we could change ourselves and the planet for the better.  Everyone would be much happier.  Love would grow and hate would decrease.  And the world would know true peace.  People who keep gratitude journals on a weekly basis have fewer physical symptoms, exercise more, are optimistic, and feel better about their lives as a whole.  They offer emotional support to others and are considered helpful. Many studies have proven that daily discussions of gratitude results in higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, energy, and better sleep quality.

 

Grateful people tend to put less importance on material goods, are less likely to judge others based upon material possessions, and are more likely to share their possessions with others.  Emerging research suggests that daily gratitude practices may have preventive benefits in warding off coronary artery disease.  Increasing positive, grateful thoughts can increase a sense of well-being.

 

Entrepreneur Deborah Sweeney feels gratitude is a necessary component in any business model.  “very morning when I wake up, I reflect on everything that I’m grateful for. I do this before I get out of bed. It only takes a couple of minutes, but this kind of inner reflection helps me set the tone for my day.

How you practice gratitude will differ for every entrepreneur, but the key to embracing an attitude of gratitude is making it a daily habit to be thankful. Where you are, how long you dwell on the thoughts, and what makes you thankful are details you can tweak to make your own. All that matters is making it a regular part of your day — and one that you genuinely enjoy taking a break to do.  Don’t just think of the things that are so obvious. Instead, try to think of mundane things that you’re grateful for. For example, I’m thankful I live in a safe environment. It may not be as obvious as being thankful for my parents or children, but I don’t take any of it for granted.”

 

Sweeney continues:  “As I mentioned before, gratitude differs for everyone but it’s important to consider the smaller details just as much as you would the bigger picture. Look beyond what’s obvious. Maybe you have a small Bonsai tree you keep in your office that makes you feel happy to look at or perhaps it’s a card you received in the mail from a friend you hadn’t heard from in a while. Take stock in the little things that happen throughout your day that makes you thankful. Who knows — your own actions might be part of someone else’s daily attitude of gratitude!”

 

This weekend we living in the USA are celebrating Thanksgiving.  It really should be a daily habit for us all.  The physical, mental, emotional health benefits are proven and being thankful serves to remind us we have a purpose, a reason to live, and a place in the universe. 

It Happened This week

It Happened This Week

2018.11.09

Growing Community

 

This week is ending as so many in the United States of America have all too often – with families grieving and communities reeling from yet another incident of multiple victims from one incident of gunfire.  A gunman opened fire on a crowd inside Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif.  On Wednesday, Nov 7th twelve people were killed and another eighteen injured, and the gunman is reportedly dead.  One of the dead was a responding law enforcement official.  The man suspected of killing 12 people in a bar in a Los Angeles suburb was a decorated Marine Corp machine gunner deployed in Afghanistan who had several prior brushes with law enforcement.  He was also the grandson of a thirty-year Navy Commander veteran.

 

Countries need to defend themselves and young men and women often gain maturity and skills when doing so.  Sadly, though, some are taught those skills without being able to cope with such knowledge.  War is often a catalyst for mental anguish and we need to include such screening in the curriculum of all who serve.  We also need to offer more assistance to those returning from war zones.

 

With such carnage it is easy to forget the positive things that also occurred this week.  In lieu of the upcoming holiday season, toy drives and in full swing and many are donating for the less fortunate.  In areas where winter is fast approaching, clothing drives are also being conducted.  It is a great time to donate both your time and energy to help someone else.

 

In Boston this week a conference was held regarding how cancer research can be adapted for maximum clinical impact.  A chemotherapy symposium was also held with new innovative cancer therapies being unveiled.  Various educational conferences were held this week.  Some were for the traditional educator but others offered education in specific careers.  The American Resort Development Association hosted its Fall Conference in Washington, DC.  Ongoing until the end of today, it offers industry professionals educational and networking opportunities each year through its Annual Convention and Exposition with attendees, educational sessions, and expo hall booths.

 

This week is Law Justice and Development Week, a platform to explore the link between rights and protection to economically empower disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals and groups, identify the role multilateral institutions, non-governmental organizations and the private sector may play in advancing rights and protection, and examine how upholding rights and protection may affect development outcomes, especially in fragile contexts, and how such approach may contribute to reducing poverty and boosting prosperity with a focus on the impact for refugees.  These are topics which have been around since the beginning of mankind and we definitely need to continue our work in developing and resolving such issues.

 

What all of these things, even the tragedy in California with the mass shooting, have in common is that there are part of what is required in growing a community.  We will never know everything and these conferences, varied as they are, focus on growing a better world for everyone.  Community refers to all of us and when we respect the rights and needs of the individuals within said community, then we are making progress.

 

Elections were also held this week in the USA and the biggest challenge now is to act, to take those votes and turn them into forward momentum that benefits everyone.  It is not about power but progress.  We construct a better tomorrow by living in communion with our neighbors – those across the street and those halfway around the world.  This week had more than its share of grief but there was positive effort displayed.  That is the takeaway from this and every week.  “And when I die, and when I’m dead and gone; there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on.”  We best honor those who died this week by living tomorrow and making it better.

An Unstoppable Spirit

An Unstoppable Spirit

2018.07.13

Pentecost 2018

 

Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani education advocate who, at the age of 17, became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban. Born on July 12, 1997, Yousafzai became an advocate for girls’ education when she herself was still a child, which resulted in the Taliban issuing a death threat against her.

 

Yesterday Malala turned twenty-one and celebrated by helping girls in Rio learn how to stay in school and overcome violence in the world around them.  This is not an unusual occurrence for Malala, though.  Her thirst for knowledge had led her down a path that even a horrendous attack could not stop.

 

Nine months after being shot by the Taliban, Malala Yousafzai gave a speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday in 2013. Yousafzai highlighted her focus on education and women’s rights, urging world leaders to change their policies.  Yousafzai said that following the attack, “the terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage were born.”

 

t Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 speech at the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pronounced July 12th – Yousafzai’s birthday – ‘Malala Day’ in honor of the young leader’s activism to ensure education for all children.  “Malala chose to mark her 16th birthday with the world,” said Ban. “No child should have to die for going to school. Nowhere should teachers fear to teach or children fear to learn. Together, we can change the picture.”

 

Malala Yousafzai was born in Mingora, Pakistan, located in the country’s Swat Valley, on July 12, 1997. For the first few years of her life, her hometown remained a popular tourist spot that was known for its summer festivals. However the area began to change as the Taliban tried to take control.

 

Yousafzai attended a school that her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, had founded. After the Taliban began attacking girls’ schools in Swat, Malala gave a speech in Peshawar, Pakistan, in September 2008. The title of her talk was, “How dare the Taliban take away my basic right to education?”

 

With a growing public platform, Yousafzai continued to speak out about her right, and the right of all women, to an education. Her activism resulted in a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2011. That same year, she was awarded Pakistan’s National Youth Peace Prize.  Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her because of her activism. Though Malala was frightened for the safety of her father — an anti-Taliban activist — she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not actually harm a child.

 

On October 9, 2012, when 15-year-old Malala was riding a bus with friends on their way home from school, a masked gunman boarded the bus and demanded to know which girl was Malala. When her friends looked toward Malala, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack.  The shooting left Malala in critical condition, so she was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England.

 

Once she was in the United Kingdom, Yousafzai was taken out of a medically induced coma. Though she would require multiple surgeries—including repair of a facial nerve to fix the paralyzed left side of her face — she had suffered no major brain damage. In March 2013, she was able to begin attending school in Birmingham. 

 

In March 29, 2018, Yousafzai returned to Pakistan for the first time since her brutal 2012 attack. Not long after arriving, she met with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and delivered an emotional speech at his office.  “In the last five years, I have always dreamed of coming back to my country,” she said, adding, “I never wanted to leave.”  During her four-day trip, Yousafzai visited the Swat Valley, as well as the site where she nearly met her end at the hands of the Taliban. Additionally, she inaugurated a school for girls being built with aid from the Malala Fund.

 

n October 10, 2013, in acknowledgement of her work, the European Parliament awarded Yousafzai the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

In April 2017, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Yousafzai as a U.N. Messenger of Peace to promote girls education. The appointment is the highest honor given by the United Nations for an initial period of two years.

Yousafzai was also given honorary Canadian citizenship in April 2017. She is the sixth person and the youngest in the country’s history to receive the honor.  Also in 2017 she was accepted as a student at Oxford University, continuing her education in spite of still being targeted by the Taliban.

 

Malala continues to advocate and encourage world leaders to spend their money on books instead of bullets and military budgets.  “The shocking truth is that world leaders have the money to fully fund primary AND secondary education around the world – but they are choosing to spend it on other things, like their military budgets. In fact, if the whole world stopped spending money on the military for just 8 days, we could have the $39 billion still needed to provide 12 years of free, quality education to every child on the planet.”

 

Immediately after the attack on her in 2012 to yesterday’s celebration, Malala has urged action against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism:  “The extremists were, and they are, afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women… Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.” 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Scrap Metal and Big Foot/Egos

Scrap Metal and Big Foot/Egos
Detours in Life
Pentecost 165

Recently I attended a meeting during which all those present had to stand up and introduce themselves. It was the third such happening of that sort I had attended in the past month. At each event my first thought was like many present: “There isn’t much to tell.”

As we enter into the holiday season, many will experience depression and a feeling of being little more than scrap metal. We tend to think of scrap metal as garbage but it really does have value. First and foremost, it comes from a useable resource and secondly, it still has value. Scrap metal is generally sold and while it may not have the same monetary value as it once did, the resulting material still has many uses.

Personal identity becomes paramount during the holidays. Whether it is because we are attending more events than usual and are dressing ourselves for presentation or because we share greeting cards and those lovely, usually exaggerated notes of what transpired during the past year, we find ourselves in a competition of sorts. Far too often we fall short and feel like nothing more than scrap metal. We seemingly just are not good enough.

“We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.” It may seem a bit ironic that one of the leading authors of a book on a giant, human-like mythological creature that may be real is actually an expert on much smaller animals. Robert Michael Pyle studies moths and butterflies and writes about them but in 1995 he also penned a book about the supposed primate known, among other names, as Yeti, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch.

The giants in the American Indian folklore are as varied as the different tribes themselves. It is important to remember that although they are grouped together much like the term European, the designation of American Indian applies to many tribes, most of which are now extinct. Many millions of Americans over the past two hundred years could and should claim American Indian ancestry. The story of Bigfoot is the story of their ancestral mythical creature.

The Bigfoot phenomenon is proof that there is a real place for mythologies in the present day. The past several years saw people viewing a popular television program, “Finding Bigfoot” which aired on the Animal Planet network as well as being replayed via internet formats. A group of four traveled the world, speaking and exploring the myths about a large, here-to-fore undocumented bipedal primate thought to be a link between the great apes and Homo sapiens. One member of this group was a female naturalist and botanist but the other three were educated men in other disciplines. To date, the three men have yet to convince their female scientist companion of the existence of the myth known as Bigfoot although she has dedicated several years of her life to searching for something she claims not to believe exists.

Even the more popular terms are modern additions to the myth. A photograph allegedly taken by Eric Shipton was published with Shipton describing the footprint as one from a Yeti, a mythological creature much like a giant snowman said to inhabit the mountains of Nepal. Several years another set of footprints was photographed in California and published in a local newspaper. This time the animal was described as “Bigfoot” and a legend dating back to the earliest settlers in North America had been reborn. The interest in such photographs is proof of the opening quote of today’s post.

The Lummi tribe called their giant ape/man mythological character Ts’emekwes and the descriptions of the character’s preferred diet and activities varied within the tribal culture. Children were warned of the stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai who were said to roam at night and steal children. There were also stories of the skoocooms, a giant race which lived on Mount St. Helens and were cannibalistic. The skoocooms were given supernatural powers and status. A Canadian reporter also reported on such stories and he used a term from the Halkomalem and named the creature “sasq’ets” or Sasquatch. Rather than to be feared, though, some tribes translated this name to mean “benign-faced one.”

Mythologies of such giant creatures can be found on six of the seven continents and if mankind had been able to survive on Antarctica for thousands of years, there would probably be some from there as well. We do seem to need to believe in something larger than life, as our mythologies bear witness. What if there was proof of these creatures? What if they really did exist and perhaps still do?

The Paiute Indians, an American Indian tribe from the regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains also had folklore of such a character. Their legends tell of a tribe of red-haired giants called Sai’i. After one such giant gave birth to a disfigured child who was shunned by the tribe, The Paiute believed the Great Spirit of All made their land and living conditions barren and desolate as punishment. Enemies were then able to conquer the tribe and kill all but two – Paiute and his wife and their skin turned brown from living in such harsh conditions.

In 1911 miners working Nevada’s Lovelock Cave discussed not the guano or bat droppings for which they were searching but bones they claimed were from giants. Nearby reddish hair was found and many believed the remains were those of the Sai’i or Si-Te-Cah as they were also called. However, some like Adrienne Mayor in her book “Legends of the First Americans” believe these bones and others found nearby are simply untrained eyes not realizing what they are seeing. A tall man could have bones that would seem large and hair pigment is not stable and often changes color based upon the conditions in which it is found. Even black hair can turn reddish or orange given the right mineral composition in the soil in which it is found.

What the mythologies of the world tell us is that mankind needs to believe in something. In ‘The Magic of Thinking Big”, David Schwartz writes: “Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”

Maybe you believe in the yeti or Sasquatch and maybe you believe in the disproof of them. We create giants in our own minds every day – those problems that seem insurmountable or the dreams that seem impossible. The only Bigfoot that matters is that one foot that takes a big step towards progress, towards peace, a step taken with hope. The dawn of a new day requires us to take a step forward. If we believe in ourselves, that step will have purpose and accomplishment. The longest journey really does begin with a single step.

The best thing to believe in is you. Let yourself be your creature to believe in today. Walk away from fear and detour into your bright future, a future in which you believe you can do anything. The reality is you can do whatever you set your mind to doing. Turn your fears into lessons and steps toward success. Believe in yourself. You are amazing! This holiday season detour from depression and move toward remembering that we all have value and a purpose. Life is not a race. Life is best lived when we find our comfortable pace.

Distracted Living

Distracted Living = Death

Detours in Life

Pentecost 135 – 142

 

Over the weekend I experienced a major detour of sorts.  It started out like your typical detour – orange cones on the roadway, a worker in a bright reflective yellow vest, and flashing electric signs that said… “Detour Ahead”.  It wasn’t the usual detour that takes you off the main road or around an obstacle.  It was simply lane closures while the pavement was being regrooved and then new asphalt applied. 

 

We could discuss for great lengths about the wisdom of the timing of the construction work.  The three hours it took to drive what usually takes forty minutes is testament to the fact that someone planned quite poorly.  Traffic was backed up not just on the major highway I was traveling but also on secondary roads and the backups lasted for hours.  Cars were changing lanes at the first sign of a six-inch opening, only to discover none of the lanes were moving faster than the others.  At one point the three lines traveling in one direction became two and then all traffic was reduced to just one lane.

 

The real danger was not in the speed but in the fact that all but two drivers of the over one hundred and fifty we passed (I stopped counting at that point.) were all on the cell phones.  Truckers, commercial bus drivers, and passenger car drivers alike were all keeping themselves entertained by using their phones.  While our speed was obviously not great, the volume of vehicles and the fact that we did inch forward required attention to the road and yet, most drivers were more attentive to their phones than the traffic and road conditions.

 

Yesterday Bloomberg.com published a great article regarding the danger of cell phones when combined with driving a car.  Written by Kyle Stock, Lance Lambert, and David Ingold, the article should be required reading for all operating a vehicle.  Now before you go to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration website, let state that, for the record, fewer than one in seventy road fatalities are attributed to cell phone usage.  Those statistics are misleading, though.

 

In 2014 only 1.5 percent of traffic fatalities were linked to cell phone usage, although the total number of deaths rose significantly while the number of miles traveled stayed the same.  The details are in the reporting of traffic fatalities.  The state of Tennessee has one of the most thorough traffic reports in the USA with law enforcement asked to notate distractions in general and cell phone usage in particular.  Statistics rely on data and many states simply are not acquiring such data.

 

While traffic fatalities in Tennessee accounted for less than five percent of the national tally, those attributed to cell phone distraction accounted for nineteen percent.  This is not because more people in Tennessee own a cell phone than elsewhere.  It is because they are acquiring their facts better than other states.

 

Almost eighty-two percent of the public now owns a smart phone and most are using them in the most distracted ways possible.  Using a smartphone to make a telephone call is low on the list of uses for these devices.  Most of us are texting, sending or taking pictures or videos, checking Facebook or Instagram or sending an email.  These uses are even more distracting than simply talking on a cell phone.

 

As reported in their article, Bloomberg states that it is illegal to use a cell phone at all while driving in fifteen states and in forty-seven states it is illegal to text while driving.  However, proving cell phone use after a crash is very difficult and often privacy laws prevent such. 

 

Like most of the people on the road this weekend, I was hoping to get home quickly.  What should have taken me ninety minutes ended up taking well over two hundred minutes.  Stress levels began to rise until my traveling partner suggested we listen to some music.  In looking through the available CD’s we found some favorites and began to enjoy the ride.  Since we even found some Christmas songs, we laughed about being on the road that long.

 

Life is full of detours and often we cannot avoid them, just go along the best we can.  We should try not to create our own distractions, though.  They are enough speedbumps and potholes on our journey to challenge us.  Creating more is just counter-productive.  We need to improve our culture to the point where time and speed are not the primary goals.  Life and living it well should be.  After all, we are not here to die but to live.

 

You Always Had It

You Always Have It

Detours in Life

Pentecost 99-105

Mega Post #5

 

Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?”

“You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…”

 

If you are a fan of Judy Garland or one of her iconic movies, “The Wizard of Oz”, you probably recognized the lines above.  They are the most notable of all screen lines and yet, they don’t occur in the film until just before the end.  Since it was published in 1900, many have interpreted this story has something more than just a children’s tale.  “The story of ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ was written solely to pleasure children of today” claimed the author L.  Frank Baum.  Still, many believe it is much more. 

 

A high school teacher decided this story was a commentary on the collapse of the Populist movement in the United States.  The green of Emerald City represented the green of currency; the characters represented either ordinary citizens, politicians, or various facets of the workforce.  Even the name “Oz”, the abbreviation for measurements of gold, illustrated by the Yellow Brick Road, became symbolic.  Bankers were portrayed by the Wicked Witch of the East and drought, an enemy of all farmers, was seen in the form of the Wicked Witch of the West who is, conveniently enough, eliminated by water.  This interpretation of Baum’s story by teacher Henry Littlefield is no longer held to be credible but it is an interesting read.

 

Others read this story and see a Glinda the Good Witch conspiracy.    It is her speech that tells Dorothy she can return home and always could have if she had but faith.  Then there are the Jungian believers who see this in light of the philosophies of Carl Jung and still more who see this as a commentary of feminism.

 

Ultimately, for many, this simple children’s tale is either a religious allegory or proof of atheism.  The perspectives for both are interesting and illuminate how two people can see the same thing but believe they saw completely a different thing.

 

Someone asked me recently what the best advice I would give for traversing a detour was.  My answer was one word – prayer.  I think perhaps prayer is like that.  For me it is a very simple thing and something in which I engage daily if not hourly.  For others, however, prayer is much more complex, almost legalistic in its formation and process.  The same could be said about this time of year, a noted holiday period worldwide.  Prayer can be very diverse in format, form, and even function.  That doesn’t make them less powerful or important.  All we really need to do is realize and believe.  When I was a child, it was a custom for the guest to be asked to say grace before we ate.  Many times, the guest would defer, saying they couldn’t possibly do justice.  I always wondered if God graded our prayers.

 

Many times it is the simplest of prayer that we utter:  Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?”  Somewhere, a Great Spirit smiles and replies: “You don’t need to be helped any longer. You’ve always had the power…”  There is no special power required to pray.  I suppose one could mentally clap their hands together three times to echo Dorothy clicking her heels.  And by the way, the actual quote is “Then close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, ‘There’s no place like home’.”  All we have to do is pray and think to ourselves “My prayer will be heard”.  For the faithful, they’ve always had the power needed to pray and for the new believer…so have you.

 

Detours tend to give us alarm – whether it is an actual rerouting of our path or just an interruption of our schedule.  A friend traveled recently and found themselves stuck in traffic.  Road construction was causing delays and then an accident put even more strain on everyone’s time.  Could prayer have helped that?  Probably it would, even if only to divert one’s attention for a minute.  Prayer is one of those things that remind us life is not all about us nor are we the only ones living it. 

 

When life throws you a curve ball, all we have to do is take a second, breathe, and then move forward intelligently.  Detours are not instruments of fear.  And while they are inconvenient, it is good to remember the words given to Dorothy:  You’ve always had the power.

 

 

The Best Start

The Best Start

Detours in Life

Pentecost 15

 

As I write this, I am hoping I schedule it correctly because if I do, it will post on the same day that many students in my area return to school after their summer break.  The joys of running around, spending time splashing in a pool, or having great adventures at camp will be put aside as students detour into a new phase, a new class, new teachers, new learning. 

 

For adults it is easy to look back at those fist days of school and smile.  For many kids today, though, it will be a scary start, a change, a detour from the old to the new.  We often forget that each day is a new start and, often, will be a detour from the familiar into the new.  So how do we go about making that detour count?  What is the best way to start?

 

Do one good deed every day.  Sounds like one of those New Year resolutions, doesn’t it?  It is actually the first step to improving your health.  Who knew?   Performing charitable acts, even very small ones is one of the surest steps a person can make towards having a healthy and happy life.  This series is going to focus on the spirit of our living and practicing philanthropic acts is one of the simplest yet most rewarding things we can do.  Giving works both for the giver and the recipient.

 

In 2013 over forty international studies were examined and the evidence compiled indicated that volunteering and doing good deeds can lead to over a twenty percent reduction in mortality rates.  In other words, living – even just a little bit – for someone else means you yourself can live longer. 

 

Many people think only millionaires can be philanthropic but the truth is we all have something to give.  For example, we each have twenty=four hours each day.  Seven to eight of those hours need to be allocated for work while another eight are usually set aside for work.  A healthy travel time to and from work is no greater than one hour each way and eating meals should take between forty-five and sixty minutes.  That still leaves three hours:  8 + 8 + 2 + 3 = 21.  Of course personal hygiene and getting dressed should factor into the day as well as some light entertainment.  Still you could probably find time to volunteer one or two hours a week. 

 

One study yielded the results that senior citizens who donated at least one hundred hours a year were twenty-eight percent less likely to die than their peers.  That is one hour every three days, give or take.  It translates into two hours a week or 104 hours.  “But that’s not a magic number—it could be 75 hours or 125,” says study coauthor Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Social Work. “The important thing is that you’re doing it regularly.”  Doing good is not just good for older people, either.  Another study revealed children saw a drop in their cholesterol when volunteering.


Not everything needs to be done for someone else.  Starting the day off with doing something good will help us be fit.  Take for instance the seven minute exercises that are so popular right now.  You can google them or search for an app on your smart phone but here are seven that take seven minutes to do.  I know what you are thinking – I have not any extra time; my schedule is packed.  Well, there are one thousand, four hundred and forty minutes in each day – yep, 1440.  If you do not think your body is worth 1/205.714286, then you have some serious mixed-up priorities.  Seriously, mixed up priorities.

 

First let’s start with every school-aged child’s favorite exercise – the jumping jacks.  One jumps into a position with arms stretched upward and out towards the sky and feet also outward.  The body resembles an “X” when this is done properly.  Some of us, however, have passed the age of jumping.  You can still put your body in this position.  Do this rapidly for one minute (or longer.  There are no penalties if you managed to spend fifteen minutes a day doing these instead of just seven!).  Starting with your feet together and your arms at your side and then jumping or hurriedly moving into position with your arms above your head and your legs wide apart is great for your cardiovascular system.  This is a great exercise to improve one’s stamina and endurance and life does require that.  It will also, over time, increase your flexibility and circulation.  The human is not a vase.  It was not created to sit still.

 

Exercise number two is a wall sit.  Stand with your back flat against a wall and slowly lower yourself to a sitting position or halfway down the wall.  In other words, pretend there is an imaginary chair and you are slowly sitting in it.  If you are really stiff or have knee problems, take this exercise very slowly.  None of these should be done without considering your own personal condition and health status.  Feel free to print this off and take it to consult with your doctor before trying.  Remember each of these exercises is done for one minute so don’t try to win a world record doing wall sits on the first day.  Doing it has benefits, even if you only manage two or three at first.  Going slow is fine.

 

Next comes the squat and this is simply doing the same thing as the wall sit without the wall.  Hold your arms out front and slowly lower your body to a squatting position, going as low as you can.  If you need to, start holding onto a chair.  Again, we are aiming for flexibility and mobility, not a gold medal.

 

The next two exercises also involve the entire body and can be done holding onto a chair if you need.  The lunge is everybody’s favorite silly walk.  Move down a hallway, taking a bit longer steps than normal and lower your body as you go.  Ideally, the knee-bend results with your leg at a ninety-degree angle but any angle is fine for the beginner.  Most of us do not sleep in our kitchen/bathroom/closet.  Even someone in an efficiency apartment has to move around their living space.  Doing lunges while you go to the closet or the bathroom to shower combines the act of getting ready for work or school with exercising.

 

Another great exercise to do while getting ready to leave for your busy day is high knee running.  The high knee exercise involves lifting your knees to your waist and yes, holding onto a chair to do this is fine.  Please lift as fast as you safely can – emphasis on safety, especially when you first begin this.  Like the lunge, this exercise helps improve your core or central body’s strength.  Our torso supports us so we should support it, after all.  Both the lunge and high knee running also improve flexibility and balance as well as tone your abs, thighs, and derriere muscles.

 

The next exercise is one you can do in the shower or immediately after toweling dry.  If you are into exercising daily, then you probably are already giving your body seven minutes and push-ups are a regular part of your daily regimen.  If they are not, then please add them.  However, for the rest of us, doing a push-up, even the thought of one, stops us.  You can do a standing push-up, though, against a wall; hence, the shower.  Standing facing a wall, place your hand at should height.  Position yourself about eight inches from the wall and with your palms flat against the wall, lean in.  Then push yourself back into standing up straight.  The hardest part about this exercise is to keep from laughing when you cat thinks you are a new post to rub against.  Moving on to regular push-ups is permitted but this form of push-ups will also provide you benefits.

 

My last suggested exercise is really the first one you should do because you can do it in bed.  Of course, doing it on the floor is also permitted and again, don’t be surprised is your small pet think you are a new couch.  This exercise is called the plank and wins the prize for all-round benefits.  In fact, because it seems so simple you might just skip it but please don’t.  In exercise, as in life, sometimes the simplest things yield the best results.

 

To do a plank, one simply holds one’s body off the bed or ground in a straight line.  This is done by bending elbows and resting the arms on the bed or floor and then pushing up with toes remaining on the bed or floor.  Your body will have the appearance of an incline or plank.  This may sound really simple but trust me, it is not.  Getting into position is easy; holding it is difficult and requires great overall strength.  Most of us do this in bed at some point when turning over.  Start out small and hold for ten seconds and work your way up to one minute.  The plank is wonderful for core conditioning and also for good posture, balance, and other muscles we need to go about our busy lives.

 

Give yourself seven minutes a day.  You will burn more calories, build muscles, improve your blood circulation and have more energy.  You cannot be good for anyone else if you are not good to yourself.  Maya Angelou once said “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”  Accept the detours life gives you today.  You may not be starting school today but you are starting a new day full of learning opportunities.   

And Then What?

And Then What?

Detours of Life

Pentecost 10

 

If we are lucky, there is always that next step to take in life.  Even when life throws us a curveball and we have to detour around something, there is still that next step to take.  Often it can be a very difficult move and yet, it usually is a lesson we never saw coming.

 

Take for instance, my schedule for this series.  Life really messed it up royally!  I mean, I had it all laid out and things planned and then – wham!  I got detoured around my living.  The last two months have been somewhat chaotic but, if I am to be honest, also very educational.

 

For one thing, I discovered how strong I am.  I also discovered what really matters to me and how joy can be found in the most unexpected of places.  I underwent a journey, both figuratively and literally and when I least expected it, there was joy jumping up to kiss me.  Where I expected sadness, I found renewal.

 

Leonard Cohen wrote a song simply entitled “Anthem” and it reminds me of the ancient Chinese custom of breaking a pottery item and then refilling the cracks with gold.  I once was in a discussion group where a picture of such an antique bowl was shown.  Several simple saw a broken piece of pottery and thought it should have been tossed.  They wanted perfection.

 

Life is not perfect.  Our living will have its cracks and dents.  Leonard Cohen wrote:  “Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything; there is a crack in everything – That’s how the light gets in.”  We can, however, follow the detour and learn from it, filling those cracks and dents with lessons that are golden in how they prepared us for the next step.

 

 

 

The Beginning in the End

The Beginning in the End

Lent 31-32

 

Things end.  It is an inevitable fact of life.  Yet, in many cultures, death is but a dormant season.  Winter may seem like a period in which things die but in nature, winter is a time of hibernation, a time of rest before the rebirth of a new season, the beginning of a new cycle which has spring from the ending of an old cycle.

 

The cause and effect of the Beatitudes illustrate how in our pain and turmoil, we might consider that we are simply in a period of dormancy, having paused on a landing before continuing on our journey.  The marathon runner knows to pace him or herself because the race is not won at the start but rather at the finish line.  Perhaps we should consider that those periods of season of nonsuccess or non-joy are merely stepping stones towards our ultimate victory.

 

Yesterday was the end of the month of March and today begins the month of April and yet, for many of us, the days were very similar.  One ending swiftly faded into a beginning with little fanfare or change.  Often the transitions in our lives go unnoticed and we neglect to recognize the value of each step along our path.

 

Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne discussed how we determine happiness in our journey in an article for Psychology Today published several years ago.  “In many ways, living in the moment has its benefits. While you’re in the midst of an enjoyable experience, you’re most likely to be tuned into the pleasures signaled by your body’s senses.  By contrast, an experience marked by pain, mishaps, and inconvenience is one you’d just as soon get out of as soon as possible. Even so, after it’s over, many of us forget how badly we felt while it was going on. When pain outweighs pleasure, living in the moment isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. 

 

“As it turns out, many of us are pretty likely to form biased memories of our experiences. The biases can go in both positive and negative directions. According to Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the “peak-end rule” is just one of many errors of judgment that affects the accuracy of our cognitive apparatus. An event makes its mark in our memories more by what happens at its end than at any prior point. In his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, Kahneman points out many of the illogical features of our thought processes, including the contrast between our experiences in the moment and the way we remember them.

 

“Studies of happiness in the moment use a method called “experience sampling” in which people provide an instantaneous reading of how they are feeling. New technologies allow researchers to “ping” participants, asking them questions about what they’re doing right now, instead of having them provide recollections at some later point.  For example, German researcher Bettina Sonnenberg and her colleagues (2012) asked participants on their mobile phones to report the activities they were engaging in while pursuing their daily routines. The participants also completed standard survey questionnaires about their use of time. People’s reports through experience sampling were very consistent with surveys that they later completed regarding questions about the amount of time they spent at paid work. However, when participants were asked to estimate how much time they spent in less regular, predictable activities (such as errands or leisure), the survey reports diverged substantially from the moment-to-moment data they recorded through experience sampling.

 

“It’s no surprise that people rate their happiness while having a previous experience higher than they did while going through the experience itself. While you’re in the moment, you are aware of more of the “objective” features of the situation. You may be having your favorite meal, trying to unwind after a stressful day, and although you love the music itself, your mind strays to some of the unpleasant things that happened to you earlier. If we “ping” you to rate your happiness, your rating may reflect not the food you’re trying to enjoy, but the recall of what caused you to feel stressed.

 

“Many studies support the peak-end rule. People will prefer and even choose exposing themselves to more pain (objectively determined) if the situation ends with them feeling less pain.  Think about it this way. If you are having a tooth drilled, you’d find it was less painful if the dentist ends the procedure with some lightening of the drill’s intensity, even if the procedure is longer than it would otherwise be. Counterintuitive? Yes. Common? Definitely.

 

“We approach not only our experiences of pleasure and pain in this way, but also our acquisition of objects that we’re given as gifts. As reported in a review article by Dartmouth psychologist Amy Do and collaborators (2008), participants given free DVD’s were more pleased with the gifts if they received the more popular ones after the less popular ones, then if they received the exact same DVD’s in the opposite order. When it comes to pleasure, it’s all about the ending.”

 

In the Beatitudes, the blessing or happiness is promised in the ending.  We tend to fear endings but, as this research supports, what really matters is not the actual experience but how it ends.  After all, when running up the steps to a monument, the victory comes with the completion of the task, the ending.  This is what gives us a feeling of triumph.  We win because we lived and, having lived, we eagerly await the next new beginning.