Looking With Our Better Eyes

IMG_1785I was just reading a piece I have in draft, one I never posted here.  It was a general rant about how much of what we read, see, are offered to take in via news and social media, is negative, derisive, and ugly.

I’m not going to post it.

I still agree with what I wrote.  How I’m tired of the negative, how I yearn for the positive. But I’m too old to be on the playground, and that’s what it feels like.  It feels like what it was to be out on recess, caught in the middle of some ridiculous name calling fight.  How those fights seemed to escalate into the absurd and how the passion for those ludicrous arguments seemed to escalate as well.  Escalation turned ugly, pushing turned to shoving, sometimes turning to blows.  It’s exhausting.

I want a revolution of thought, I’m getting bogged down without one.  I want kindness, ideas, offered solutions, compassion, a recognition of simple human dignity.  I don’t think I’m the only one.  I think most of us feel this way, even as we sometimes find ourselves participating in those playground-like antics.

What if, for a day, we posted only something positive.  The old adage, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.  If that’s you, post a photo of a sunrise or a cute puppy, or your grandchildren instead of that negative thing you are about to post.

What would that feel like?

I get up, I make my way to the french press and the tea kettle, I get my steaming mug of freshly made delicious coffee, I empty the dishwasher, I fold the laundry, I open my laptop to check email, then I head to my news feeds and finally Facebook.  I’m shocked to see news articles about new inventions and good deeds and how even though I may not agree with this politicians views on this or that thing, they have good intentions, or are good in this one area, or they’re smart.  I see that everyone seems to be posting how happy they are about this or that event, or friendship, or job opportunity, or the tasty hot meal they had last night.  I read about how this guy, running for this office, had this idea to solve this problem.  How interesting.  I hear that even though Democrats and Republicans and Tea Party people are staunch, they are fair, and understanding, and compassionate toward those who don’t agree with them.  I see kindness and forgiveness and goodwill toward fellow humans.  I see us disagreeing with respect.  I see sharing and helping and love.

Life is a matter of perception.  It always is.  We can look and see terrible things in our opponents, in the government, in each other, or we can look and see that even though we don’t agree it doesn’t make either of us a monster.  It doesn’t make either of us an idiot.  From there we can have reasonable discussions, we can listen to each other, we can gain understanding, and we can start to move forward, freed from the quagmire of distrust and finger-pointing and nastiness.  There is something to like in almost everyone.  Just as there is something to dislike.  We see what we want to see.

We can see the negative in things, in life, in each other, and we can dwell there.  If that’s the case, that’s what we will notice, that’s what we will pick up on first.  The problems, the differences, the ways in which things are not right.  Or we can see the positive in things, in life, and in each other.  We can dwell there.  In that place there’s forgiveness, problem-solving, things to build on, there’s hope.

It’s up to each of us to decide.  I’d just like it if I could wave the magic wand and for one day we helped without criticism, we offered opinions without disparaging someone else, and we talked about solutions with kindness, instead of venom and animosity.

I believe, with all my heart, each of us is doing the best we can in the world.  Making our way the best we know how.  Sometimes what we do is not that great, and most times if it’s not that great it’s because we faltered, or we were never taught a better way, or we ran into something that spiraled out of control.  We don’t know anyone else’s story.  We can’t presume to know.  We also can’t presume to think our ideas, our solutions, our way of doing things is the only way, or even the right way.  There are many paths to a good solution, there are many “right” ways.  Yes, there are wrong ways too, but we must make people feel safe in order to help them change.  We must make them feel listened to, just as we like to be listened to.  We can’t bully, or push, or strong arm people into our way of thinking.  Most of us hate being told what we should be doing, but we don’t mind being talked to, respected for our opinions, and offered other opinions in return.  We don’t mind a good chat.  We all feel we should be respected.  That doesn’t change with position or ideology or background.  We all want to be respected as human beings, and we all should be.

I don’t expect that we’ll all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but wouldn’t it be great if we went at things with that in our hearts.  If we were open, loving, and kind.  If we all realized we were in it together.  Facing it together.  Because we are.  None of us are in it alone.  Everything we do, small and large, effects other people, and spreads like a ripple out from ourselves.

I can only start with me.  So this is me saying to me that I’ll try to be more present, more aware of what I say, how I say it, what I put out into the world.  I’ll picture the faces of friends and family, I’ll try to act with hope and kindness and understanding.  I will try not to judge.  I’ll try to be fair.  I will try to be a better listener.

Sure, we have a lot of problems, but there are also so many things that are good and beautiful out there.  Look around.  See them.  Feel what that feels like to see them.  To use a line from The Abyss, a movie I love, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”

Look with your better eyes.  Look with them, and see.

Words to Live By (Part 1)

“The greatest wisdom is in simplicity. Love, respect, tolerance, sharing, gratitude, forgiveness. It’s not complex or elaborate. The real knowledge is free. It’s encoded in your DNA. All you need is within you. Great teachers have said that from the beginning. Find your heart, and you will find your way.” 
― Carlos Barrios, Mayan elder and Ajq’ij of the Eagle Clan

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I’m 50 now.  The big 5-0.  It doesn’t freak me out, worry me, or make me feel like I’m old and getting older (though I am).  It has however made me reflect a bit on the life I’ve lived.  There are things I thought were important when I was younger, when I was more self-conscious and filled with angst.  Very dramatic.  I wrote a lot then.  Prose, poetry (some OK, mostly not), letters I never sent, some I did.  Now, at 50, I’m much more certain of myself, much more comfortable in my skin, not as self-conscious.  I’ve grown.  Most of us do.

Through the course of this time I’ve spent reflecting lately I’ve made a mental list of the things I think are important in life.  Obviously the people in our lives are the most important, but this list of things/ideals are what I believe make a life more fulfilled, the things that can actually make a life extraordinary.  I strive to put them into practice every day.  Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.  But life is in the trying, and I try.

In honor of my turning the big 5-0 I’m going to throw the list out to the universe, as a gesture of good will and safe keeping.

I got a little carried away when I actually sat down to make the list (which is in no particular order by the way, just written as it came to me) so I’ve decided I will post it in parts.

Welcome to part 1….

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa

Compassion is paramount to living a fulling life, without it we are acting alone in the world, separate from our fellow humans.  We cannot pretend to know another persons story, or how they came to feel and think as they do, but we can honor them as human beings and wish the best for them.  We can be open to the fact that they have had different experiences than our own, not expecting them to then act and think as we do.  Compassion fills our hearts with love instead of animosity, it elevates us.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama

Kindness is the most important tenet, to me.  Above all things.  It’s so important to me that I have the above quote about kindness on every email I send out – you might have gotten one.  Kindness is always possible.  We have to be kind to others, and to ourselves.  I’ve learned a little kindness takes us everywhere we want to go.  It soothes souls, can make a persons day, and costs us nothing.  A smile, a kind word, a thank you, a simple acknowledgement of someone all work toward the common good, and good in ourselves.  It is beyond valuable, beyond priceless.  Kindness is key.

“Tears are words that need to be written.” ― Paulo Coelho

Sadness happens to everyone in life, let yourself be sad when you are, but don’t live there, wallowing in it.  It’s a tough balance, but necessary.  You honor the feelings by letting yourself feel them.  You don’t let it take control of your life by remembering that there is more to life than just the thing that’s created your feeling of sadness.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 
― Maya AngelouLetter to My Daughter

Inhabiting yourself – feel your body, know your mind, feel your presence.  Things will happen to us in life.  Things we cannot control.  Things terrible and strange and lovely and warm and awful and on and on.  We get through it.  We get through it best when we know ourselves, when we feel our own presence and our own power.  That knowing helps us to understand that life will happen, but we can bear it, we can step through it. We can move beyond whatever it is that’s happened and into something new, something that could be wonderful in its own way.

“Beauty doesn’t have to be about anything. What’s a vase about? What’s a sunset or a flower about? What, for that matter, is Mozart’s Twenty-third Piano Concerto about?” 
― Douglas AdamsThe Salmon of Doubt

Beauty is everywhere, if you look for it.  Noticing the wind moving the trees, the sun glinting through a fence, the way the dogs have that little walk they have, a phrase, a painting, a blade of grass, my honey breaking into song, in light and love and kindness.  Beauty is everywhere.  We choose to see it, or not.  Life is so much better if you look for it.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” 
― Herman Melville

Connectedness  Connection is everything.  We are not islands unto ourselves.  Our actions effect those around us, just as the actions of others affects us.  It’s so important to remember that our ideas and ideals are ours and to dwell in the knowledge that other people, other creatures, have their own ideas, wants, needs.  What we do, every day; the words we use when speaking to others, the actions we take in kindness, to our fellows and to our planet, all ripple out.  One kindness generates another, one word of anger generates more anger, one positive thought spills out to create more positivity in the world, a negative thought spreads negativity.  Everything we do has a consequence for others in small, and sometimes not so small, ways.  Everything is connected.

“But I can hardly sit still. I keep fidgeting, crossing one leg and then the other. I feel like I could throw off sparks, or break a window–maybe rearrange all the furniture.” 
― Raymond CarverWhere I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories

Anxiety.  I have it.  Everyone experiences it.  It’s not always rational, but it’s a natural part of living, of caring about people, caring about the world, caring about yourself.  There is no getting rid of it entirely.  The question is, does the anxiety control you, or do you remember to breathe, look it in the face, and try to keep stepping forward.  Sometimes I succeed in that.  Sometimes I don’t.  That’s OK too.  We can all wish for a little less anxiety in life, but we have to be careful the wishing doesn’t just lead to more anxiety.  Acceptance, stepping into and through it, instead of constantly denying and fighting against it, helps.  We have to remember to breathe.

“No one needed to say it, but the room overflowed with that sort of blessing. The combination of loss and abundance. The abundance that has no guilt. The loss that has no fix. The simple tiredness that is not weary. The hope not built on blindness.” 
― Aimee BenderWillful Creatures

Temperament and trying to keep oneself on an even keel is important.  The energy we give out to the world matters.  Not that we should live for others, we shouldn’t, but it’s important to be aware of our impact on others.  That we do have an impact.  It’s not easy when you’re in a bad mood, but it’s so important to try to be your better self, to try to remember not to inflict that mood on everyone around you.  Conversely it’s important to remember that if someone you meet in your day is in a bad space, they may have had a terrible day, or be battling demons you don’t know or understand.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” 
― Frank HerbertDune

Fear, or the lack of it, is one of those constants in life.  We are afraid of what is happening, or what could happen, or what did happen.  Fear eats at us and taunts us and reminds us that we have a lot in life we don’t want to lose.  Fear is.  I love the line in the quote above about letting it pass through.  That rings true to me.  We have to face the things we’re afraid of, as best we can, and then let that fear pass through us.  We have to let ourselves look at what we fear, look it in the eye.  Only then do we begin to take the reins back from it.  We can never live entirely without fear.  We love, we dream, we hope, and so, we fear.  It is a part of living.  A part of caring.  But we can try to keep it from taking control of us, we can try to be its master, instead of letting it be the master of us.

“The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.” 
― Louis C.K.

Empathy is central to living a full life.  Kindness, compassion, and love all come from a place of empathy.  We don’t have to know or have lived someone else’s circumstances to ache for them or to hope for them.  We tend to live in our own little worlds, sure of our ideas and opinions, secure in the thought that what we think, the way we think, is the right way.  Sometimes we even believe what we think is the only way.  We’re wrong.  We have no idea what another person’s experience is, where they came from, what they’ve seen, what they’ve lived through.  To have true empathy is to say that you might not understand someone, but you want to nourish their souls anyway.  It is to admit that you don’t know everything, and that you shouldn’t judge what you don’t understand.  To empathize is to step outside of your own set of rules and to say that you feel for another human, regardless of the presumptions you have about them.

A Drop Becomes a Ripple Becoming a Wave

Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

I was commenting on a friend’s Facebook post today, trying to put across the message that we need a little more positivity in the world and how positivity catches hold, just like negativity, if we let it.

So, here’s the deal. (Yes, I’m on the soap box again.)  I don’t post negative stuff on Facebook, or this blog for that matter. It’s a conscious choice. I decided that what I put out into the world will try to be positive and beautiful and kind. Not to say I’m not aware of the myriad of things about this country, the world, the way things are politically and spiritually and environmentally, etc., etc., etc., and on, and on, and on, that could be changed. Or frankly, need to be changed. I know there are issues. I know there are things that are wrong. I know we all have varying ideas about what those things are. I’m aware. I just choose, being the person I am on the this planet, to only put out positive energy. At least, that’s what I strive to do.

Here’s why. There’s enough bullshit out there already. There’s enough opinion and doomsday predictions and nasty words and accusations and scare tactics and bullying behavior and finger-pointing and hurtfulness to fill pages and pages for years and years. Frankly, it doesn’t really solve anything, or do us any good. It’s divisive and has about as much impact as spitting in the wind.

I believe in what comes around goes around, do unto others, being kind to our fellow humans and the planet, what you put out you get back 10 fold, I believe in being the change I wish to see in the world. And the change I wish to see in the world is that we all become kinder, gentler, less judging, more helpful, less greedy, not as self-centered, nicer versions of ourselves. We can choose to look at all that’s wrong, pointing fingers and shouting doomsday predictions, or we can look at what’s right, and build on that. We can try for understanding and compassion instead of accusations and tearing people down. Ideas, even if they aren’t yours or mine, are all valid.   None of us have all the answers. Which brings me to the thought that a little less arrogance would also be in order. Thinking we have all the answers is the first step to not getting any worthwhile answers at all. And believing we know, without a doubt, what’s best for our neighbors, our towns, our country, or the world, is crazy thinking.  Just sayin’.  No one knows everything, and the moment we start to think we do, we’ve cut off our nose to spite our face. We can only try our best, try to evolve with our problems, and try to respect each other. We all, whoever we are, deserve at least some modicum of respect. As human beings with feelings if nothing else.

So, I know there’s a lot going on in the world.  I know some of it isn’t good.  I know some of it needs to be changed.  But, I also know that there’s beauty and light and love and kindness and compassion and gentleness and giving and loving and respecting and grace out there.  People are, generally, good.  Most of us want the same things in life.  Most of us want not only ourselves but our fellow humans to be well, to be happy, to be fulfilled and to have joy.  Most of us are good people doing the best we can to get by, to have a life, to make a better future for our children and grandchildren.  We are more alike than we aren’t.

Like I used to tell the kids I worked with, “use your powers (and there are many) for good, not evil”.  You have a choice.  I choose to try to emphasize the love and beauty and light and joy in the world.  Not to say my way is better than any other way, but it’s my way, and this is my blog.  This is the best way for me.  It helps to remind me, every day, that there are good people out there and good things happening.  It helps me remember that we are more the same than different and that there’s so much creativity and goodness in the world.  If I seek out the positive, I find it.

I think of it like this… a drop of light creates a ripple of kindness, which leads to waves of joy and compassion and understanding that flow out well beyond where that one drop started.  Just think what would happen if we all got together and tried compassion and understanding and joy for change.  Think of what could happen.  Think of the huge wonderful waves that shared energy would create.  Think of how beautiful that would be.

 

On Being Emotionally Correct

I’ve written and ranted over and over on this blog about being kinder to each other, about trying to be more compassionate, about listening instead of finger pointing, about being open instead of so closed we stop speaking the same language, about love and understanding.

Today I came across this bit from Ted Talks (which I love by the way) and Sally Kohn, who I’d honestly never heard of before today. She happens to be gay and liberal, but sexual orientation and politics don’t really factor into her message here.  In this talk she speaks about emotional correctness and how having a little compassion and understanding and openness can change the way we talk to each other.  It can change the conversation.  I might lead to change.  I couldn’t agree more.

Note:  There is a brief bit of language in here, if something like that might offend you. It’s really in context and she’s quoting someone, but I didn’t want to shock anyone who might be put off by that. And even if a bit of language is something that could put you off, you should look past it and listen, the message is worth it.  We could all use a bit more emotional correctness in our lives and in the world at large.