Living Lent with Purpose

Living Lent with Purpose

Days 30-32

Lent 2019

 

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday.  Lent comes from the Anglo Saxon word “lencten”, which means “spring”.  Lent is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and denial of ego. This event is observed in the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Moravian, Oriental Orthodox, Reformed, and Roman Catholic Churches. Some Anabaptist and evangelical churches also observe the Lenten season.

 

Spring is the period of time between the vernal equinox, which falls around March 21 each year, and the summer solstice, which takes place every year on or around June 21.  Spring is one of the four temperate seasons, following winter and preceding summer. There are various technical definitions of spring, but local usage of the term varies according to local climate, cultures and customs. When it is spring in the Northern Hemisphere, it is autumn in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa. At the spring equinox, days and nights are approximately twelve hours long, with day length increasing and night length decreasing as the season progresses. 

 

Two methods are most commonly used to define the dates of the seasons: the astronomical definition and the meteorological definition.  According to the meteorological definition, the seasons begin on the first day of the months that include the equinoxes and solstices: spring runs from March 1 to May 31; summer runs from June 1 to August 31; fall (autumn) runs from September 1 to November 30; and winter runs from December 1 to February 28 (February 29 in a leap year). 

 

The question which definition to use divides countries and regions around the world. For example, Australia and New Zealand use the meteorological definition, so spring begins on September 1 each year. In many other countries, both definitions are used, depending on the context.  Ireland uses an ancient Celtic calendar system to determine the seasons, so spring begins on St Brigid’s Day on February 1st. Some cultures, especially those in South Asia have calendars that divide the year into six seasons, instead of the four that most of us are familiar with.  In Finland and Sweden, the dates of the seasons are not based on the calendar at all, but on temperatures. Here, spring officially begins when the average temperature rises above 0 °C (32 °F). This means that the seasons within each county start and end on different dates, depending on the regions and their climate.

 

Seth Adam Smith wrote “Our lives are a journey. As we move forward, we will not only figuratively experience the geography of life: the exhilaration of high mountains, the tranquility of calm meadows, the isolation of treacherous canyons, but we will also experience the seasons of life: the hope of spring, the abundance of summer, the harvest of autumn, and yes, the darkness and depression of winter.”

 

In the book “Voyage to happiness”, Sanchita Pandey penned “Even nature has hidden lessons for mankind underneath its silent saga. The trees teach us to give without discrimination, the seasons proclaim that time keeps changing for the better and the vastness of the sky bears the amount of love we should hold in our hearts for everyone we come across throughout the day.”

 

In “The Seasons of Life” by Jim Rohn , the author parallels life and the changing seasons speaking of the importance in realizing that the seasons will change without fail and in what we can do to utilize each seasons to get the greatest rewards. It is basically based on the parable of the sower and the reaper: What to do in one season, to ensure success in another season; great for those who are going thru difficult times personally or financially, because it helps them see that this “winter” in their life will eventually give way to “”spring”.

 

Lent is often considered a time to sacrifice and it can be when that which is sacrificed has true meaning.  Others see it as a time for improvement.  Spring is a time of rebirth while, in the southern hemisphere it is a time for putting things to rest.  Perhaps the Lenten season is really both of those things – a time for new beginnings and a time of saying goodbye to things no longer needed.  Most of us hang on to beliefs and griefs far too long and are hesitant to try new things.  Perhaps Lent is the time for laying to rest the past and embracing the future.

 

If you are reading this, then you awoke this morning.  That is a simple fact but sometimes we need to be reminded of that.  We are present in today and we need to honor that with purpose.  We need to wake ourselves up and live the next twenty-three hours and fifty-nine minutes with intention, making those minutes and hours have a purpose.  Then our faith will have meaning, our living will bear fruit, and our Lenten season will bear witness to a brighter tomorrow.  When we truly live the purpose of Lent we will experience an Easter within our soul. 

 

Somewhere on Easter Sunday a small child will find a hidden egg and open it, marveling at the mystery of life and the joy of discovery.  May we all experience such a magical introduction to tomorrow.  That, perhaps, is the true meaning of Lent – not a time of sacrifice or self-denial but the first step on the true adventure of living a life of faith, joyfully and with confidence and intention in tomorrow.

Holiday Spirit Goes Both Ways

Holiday Spirit Goes Both Ways

2018.12.13-15

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

As is my custom with this blog, whenever the world has lost souls due to terrorism and hearts cease to beat, I have been silent as a way to honor those whose lives have been lost.  Such was the case the last several days but I believe it is now time to change that habit.  We need to honor those lives taken and irreparably changed forever by such heinous acts but we should not be silent.  We need to speak out against such depravity of conviction, religion, and peace and let our voices ne heard.  It is perhaps the best way we can honor those who have been killed senselessly.  The taking of one or more lives will never make the world a better place for others.  It is only through positive energy that can happen.

 

Today we are discussing holiday spirit and if you are like me, you have received social media posts from people lamenting over the loss of their own holiday spirit.  Yes there is an element of commercialism involved but we have the choice of making the holidays what we want them to be.  Read back through my posts over the last two years and you will find many ways to “pay it forward” which is a great way to find some holiday spirit.  However, in case you still need some assistance, please read on.

 

Holiday anxiety is nothing new and is experienced by most people.  For many, though, it is a bit more than just feeling overwhelmed by social engagements, Christmas shopping, and an influx of family.  Over fifteen million people in the United States alone suffer from social anxiety disorder and this does not improve during the holidays.  “Social anxiety disorder is characterized by the presence of fear or anxiety about social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to possible scrutiny by others,” explained Dr. Kalina Michalska, a research fellow in the Section on Developmental and Affective Neuroscience at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  “The individual overestimates their likelihood of being rejected and frequently fears that he or she will act in a way that will be embarrassing and humiliating.”

 

There is also seasonal affective disorder.  Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.  For many sufferers of SAD, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping energy and making them feel moody. However, SAD can also cause depression in the spring or early summer.  In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.

 

The holidays offer plenty of reasons to be stressed out and anxious — the gifts you haven’t wrapped, the pile of cookie exchange invites, the office parties. But for many, the biggest source of holiday stress is family — the family dinner, the obligations, and the burden of family tradition. And if you’re fighting clinical depression, or have had depression in the past, the holiday stress can be a trigger for more serious problems.  “There’s this idea that holiday gatherings with family are supposed to be joyful and stress-free,” says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “That’s not the case. Family relationships are complicated.”

 

All of this means that if you are feeling less like Tiny Tim and more like Scrooge, there may be valid reasons.  We still need to get through this time, though, and hopefully, find a way to enjoy the holidays, even if you celebrate none of them.  Escaping the scent of pine in the air, the red and green decorations that are abundant everywhere, the stockings, the lightly colored trees is not for the faint of heart.  If you do celebrate, the stress may be even greater.  Finding your holiday spirit might be accomplished of you find a way to survive the season with less stress.  The best way to do that might be to take a cue from the jolly symbol of the season, Santa Claus himself.

 

One web site offered several tips to surviving Christmas with such prosaic advice as “Invite your in-laws; just don’t let them in!”  Obviously I am not advocating you do that but the humor might help you through the afternoon.  Chances are, they are having some stress as well.  Keeping your sense of humor is really the best advice there is for getting through this time of the year.  Traffic jams are more common so try keeping a bag of mints in your console to enjoy when stuck in traffic.  As you stand in line at the check-out, do some leg exercises by rolling up to your toes and back on your heels (Your calf muscles will really appreciate this!) or even do assisted knee squats using the handle bar of your shopping cart.  You might get a few strange looks but odds are no one will notice because they are caught up in their own stress-filled moment.

 

Suzanne Kane wrote an excellent piece online for Psych Central about this topic.  Here are some of her tips for not just surviving the season byt thriving during it.  “Think ahead.  Whatever it is about the holidays that’s got you out of sorts, imagine whether that same concern will be bothering you down the road. No matter what it is, you probably won’t even recall the gut-wrenching emotions in one or 10 years’ time. This helps you build a cushion against mounting anxiety and creates a little space you can use to safely navigate the holidays this year.

 

“Celebrate on a different day.  Where is it written that you have to celebrate Christmas on December 25? If you’re intent on entertaining folks, especially family or out-of-town guests, scheduling the event for a day other than the actual holiday might relieve some of the pressure. Two days later, two days before, the weekend after — whatever works will do the trick.  With adult children, this suggestion is one we really take to heart.  Doing Christmas a day or two ahead of time or after the fact does not change the joy at all and allows people to not feel torn between family commitments. 

 

“Stop feeling you have to be perfect.  It doesn’t have to be the party of the year. You don’t need to be the host whose event is talked about for months to come. If you can make yourself believe that you don’t have to be perfect, you’ll alleviate a lot of stress and accumulated tension. Your digestion will likely benefit as well, since your stomach won’t be tied up in knots over trying to insist on perfection.

 

“Go away.  This isn’t a recommendation to tell people to leave you alone. It is, however, a suggestion to incorporate something new into the holiday schedule this year. Instead of going whole-hog decorating the house, going to and hosting nonstop parties and get-togethers, why not consider going out of town for the celebration?  A family ski trip would be a wonderful memory and offer a much-needed change of scenery for all involved. Even an out-of-town trip to a national park or to visit friends or relatives will get you in the frame of mind of going after something new, something different, a place that’s away. Perhaps going away is just what the doctor ordered in order to thrive this holiday season.

 

“Create something lasting.  If you’ve lost a loved one and the holidays are too painful, consider creating something lasting for the remaining family members and loved ones in your life. This could be a family scrapbook, a handwritten letter you put in a “time capsule” of sorts, volunteering to bring joy to the elderly, shut-ins or sick children, or surprising your invalid neighbor with a home-cooked meal.  Remember that it’s the thought that counts. If you give something of yourself with love, it will be remembered and appreciated. You’ll also have a warm spot in your heart knowing you’ve helped bring a little joy to others who need it at this time of the year.

 

“Forgive yourself.  Everyone has regrets. You likely have some as well. If you’re beating yourself up for being inconsiderate, not living up to your word, being rude or impatient or mean to others, spending too much money, neglecting your responsibilities, or drinking too much, now is the time for a little self-forgiveness. Your desire to make positive changes actually begins with forgiving yourself. There’s no better time of the year to start than right now.

 

“Watch your diet.  Overindulging in food or drink during the holidays is a surefire way to suffer repercussions later. Not only will you feel remorse, you may have other consequences as a result. By paying mindful attention to what you put into your mouth, you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor, now and later. To thrive during the holiday season, exercise discretion and make wise choices in food and drink.

 

“Be grateful.  Finally, this is the season to be thankful. And you’ve got a lot to be grateful for, regardless of how much you’ve thought about it. You’re alive, for one thing. Life is precious indeed.  Every day you are on this earth is another opportunity to make a difference, to celebrate life and the deliciousness of living. It won’t come by this way again, so make the most of today. Adopt an attitude of gratitude and you’ll really begin to thrive this holiday season.

 

“Go small.  Instead of fixating on bigger and larger quantities, make a conscious effort to downsize. This goes for the number of gifts you buy, the number and types of social engagements you accept or invite others to attend, trying to get the very best deal on a much-wanted item and so much more. After all, it isn’t — or shouldn’t be — how expensive or exclusive something is. Concentrate on giving from the heart.”  I would add that giving a gift that keeps on giving is also great.  Donors.org and St Jude’s Children Hospital are two such websites that will help you share the joy and continue the meaning of giving the entire year.  No donation is too small nor unnecessary.

 

We had a rule in our family that family presents had to include homemade gifts.  It could be something as simple as copying a favorite verse from a poem, hymn, or pop song that can be framed, a coupon book for chores or hugs, a jar of spice tea or cider/wassail mix, a kissing ball made of real or fake mistletoe, cloves stuck in an orange as a great scented ornament… the possibilities really can be endless.  These gifts help balance the budget and also tell the recipient that they were worth the time and effort it took on the sender’s part.  That really is the best gift of all, knowing someone cares.

 

While it is emphasized during the holiday season, every day we are alive is a chance to make a difference and share the spirit of living with someone else.  Life is precious and if you are reading this, then chances are, you are alive.  That is one thing you have for which to be grateful.  I am pretty sure there are others and an attitude of gratitude is the first step on the path of holiday and joyous life spirit.

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Canvas

My Favorite Canvas

2018.09.20-21

The Creative Soul

 

There is a very good likelihood that you have never heard of Suffolk, VA, even though it is, by land area, the largest city in the Commonwealth (state) of Virginia and Fourteenth largest in the country.  Earlier this week the local paper features an article by Alex Perry which read:  “Families, children and others with an artistic itch will have the opportunity to spend an evening with a paintbrush in downtown Suffolk this weekend.  Suffolk Tourism is partnering with Paint Me Purple Studios for “A Night Under the Stars” paint party at 7 p.m. Friday at the Suffolk Visitor Center, 524 N. Main St. Space is limited and advance reservations are required on Thursday at the latest, with about 20 spots left as of Tuesday, according to Visitor Center Supervisor Kevin Sary.  Participants will use provided painting materials to do their own rendition of “The Starry Night” by Vincent van Gogh with careful instruction by Kim Ellis, owner of Paint Me Purple Studios. They’ll also enjoy some tasty star-themed treats during the 90 or so minutes they’ll have to complete their paintings under the night sky.”

 

I do not live in Suffolk and have only briefly passed through there once in my life.  However, I would love to be there this weekend.  Vincent Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is one of my all-time favorite paintings.  Van Gogh is a perfect answer to those who say “I cannot be creative” or “I have no talent” because he defied all the odds and left the world with a beautiful portfolio of creativity.  The following is from the MoMA website on Van Gogh.

 

Vincent van Gogh: Emotion, Vision, and A Singular Style

“Mention Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853–1890) and one of the first things likely to come to many people’s minds is the fact that he cut off his own ear. This stark act, committed in 1888, marked the beginning of the depression that would plague him until the end of his life. But to know van Gogh is to get past the caricature of the tortured, misunderstood artist and to become acquainted instead with the hardworking, deeply religious, and difficult man. Van Gogh found his place in art and produced emotional, visually arresting paintings over the course of a career that lasted only a decade.

“Largely self-taught, van Gogh produced more than 2,000 oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, and sketches, which became in demand only after his death. He also wrote scores of letters, especially to his brother Theo, in which he worked out his thoughts about art. “Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better,” he wrote in 1874. “Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”

“It was nature, and the people living closely to it, that first stirred van Gogh’s artistic inclinations. In this he was not alone. Landscapes remained a popular subject in late-nineteenth-century art. Driven in part by their dissatisfaction with the modern city, many artists sought out places resembling earthly paradises, where they could observe nature firsthand, feeding its psychological and spiritual resonances into their work. Van Gogh was particularly taken with the peasants he saw working the countryside; his early compositions featured portraits of Dutch peasants and rural landscapes, rendered in dark, moody tones.

“In 1886, van Gogh moved to Paris, where he encountered the works of the Impressionists and Neo-Impressionists, and the Pointillist compositions of Georges Seurat. Inspired by these artists’ harmonious matching of colors, shorter brushstrokes, and liberal use of paint, he brightened his own palette and loosened his brushwork, emphasizing the physical application of paint on the canvas. The style he developed in Paris and carried through to the end of his life became known as Post-Impressionism, a term encompassing works made by artists unified by their interest in expressing their emotional and psychological responses to the world through bold colors and expressive, often symbolic images. In a letter to his sister Willemien, touching upon the mind and temperament of artists, van Gogh once wrote that he was “very sensitive to color and its particular language, its effects of complementaries, contrasts, harmony.”

“By 1888, van Gogh had returned to the French countryside, where he would remain until his death. There, close once again to the peasants who had inspired him early on, he concentrated on painting landscapes, portraits (of himself and others), domestic interiors, and still lifes full of personal symbolism.

 

Observation and Imagination in The Starry Night (1889)

“This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big,” wrote van Gogh to his brother Theo, describing his inspiration for one of his best-known paintings, The Starry Night (1889).3 The window to which he refers was in the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France, where he sought respite from his emotional suffering while continuing to make art.

“This mid-scale, oil-on-canvas painting is dominated by a moon- and star-filled night sky. It takes up three-quarters of the picture plane and appears turbulent, even agitated, with intensely swirling patterns that seem to roll across its surface like waves. It is pocked with bright orbs—including the crescent moon to the far right, and Venus, the morning star, to the left of center—surrounded by concentric circles of radiant white and yellow light.

“Beneath this expressive sky sits a hushed village of humble houses surrounding a church, whose steeple rises sharply above the undulating blue-black mountains in the background. A cypress tree sits at the foreground of this night scene. Flame-like, it reaches almost to the top edge of the canvas, serving as a visual link between land and sky. Considered symbolically, the cypress could be seen as a bridge between life, as represented by the earth, and death, as represented by the sky, commonly associated with heaven. Cypresses were also regarded as trees of the graveyard and mourning. “But the sight of the stars always makes me dream,” van Gogh once wrote. “Why, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star.”

“The Starry Night is based on van Gogh’s direct observations as well as his imagination, memories, and emotions. The steeple of the church, for example, resembles those common in his native Holland, not in France. The whirling forms in the sky, on the other hand, match published astronomical observations of clouds of dust and gas known as nebulae. At once balanced and expressive, the composition is structured by his ordered placement of the cypress, steeple, and central nebulae, while his countless short brushstrokes and thickly applied paint set its surface in roiling motion. Such a combination of visual contrasts was generated by an artist who found beauty and interest in the night, which, for him, was “much more alive and richly colored than the day.”

 

It is reported that in a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh wrote passionately about painting a scene as he experienced, imagined, and, ultimately, interpreted it, not as it was expected to be rendered. Comparing painting to playing music, he argued: “We painters are always asked to compose ourselves and to be nothing but composers. Very well – but in music it isn’t so; in music, a composer’s interpretation is something.”

 

Whatever you draw is a creation, just as whatever you play is music and whatever you write is either poetry or prose.  You have created something.  You engaged in a creative process and you were creative.  Your soul gained value from that.  Whether or not someone else decided it had value does not negate your creative efforts.  You were creative and your creative interpretation is, to quote Can Gogh, “something”. 

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.

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.

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.   

A New Day; A New Detour

A New Day; A New Detour

Detours in Life

Pentecost 14

 

Here I sit thinking about the present and the future after having spent the past several days immersed in the past.  The death of a family member brings not just grief but necessary action – all of the very real physical and legal requirements that accompany death.  Death was not on my calendar so my schedule required a detour in order to carry on and be proactive in the present.  While yesterday’s death has impacted my living, today really is about living and the detour necessary to do so.

 

Today history will be written.  Because of and in spite of the past, new stories will be created.  Today we will not spend time in rehashing old living.  Today is for living the here and now.  It is, after all, the only door to the future.  Bold words, huh?  Perhaps they are also a little bit scary.  Tomorrow I will hopefully return to my well-planned schedule but today, today is for the legend of you, the story that you yourself will write.  Today I will navigate the detour life has thrown me to create my present.

 

Today is a blank canvass.  Your story is yours to write.  Interact with the world and live.  Be the hero or heroine of your own wonderful, magical myth, the story of you today.  How do you start?  Share a smile.  Give a hug.  Hold the door open for someone, not just the elderly or the infirmed.  “One of the secrets in life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.”  Lewis Carroll knew that each day we fall down the rabbit hole called life.  He became the legend known as the author of many poems and the children’s classic, “Alice in Wonderland”.   Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, famously penned:  “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”  The he was in the past was Charles Dodgson; now the present he became known as Lewis Carroll.   

 

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the value of the individual.  Today write your own story.  Maybe one day we will read; maybe not.  What matters is that you live the life you want.  This is your day to become what you desire so travel whatever detours present and do so boldly.  Today is for writing the story of you.