Words to Live By (Part 2)

In this second installment of the life lessons learned/what’s important to me at 50 I give you joy.  And many other things.

“There are random moments – tossing a salad, coming up the driveway to the house, ironing the seams flat on a quilt square, standing at the kitchen window and looking out at the delphiniums, hearing a burst of laughter from one of my children’s rooms – when I feel a wavelike rush of joy. This is my true religion: arbitrary moments of nearly painful happiness for a life I feel privileged to lead.” 
― Elizabeth BergThe Art of Mending

1935760_142466440801_985538_nJoy is such a hard thing to define.  Elation, delight, pleasure.  All those things, and something more, something intangible.  I live for moments of joy, mine and those of the people I love.  It’s where pure experience meets an overwhelming feeling of YES!  It’s the ultimate ah ha moment.  I’m always wishing the people I know, and actually even people I don’t know, could experience more joy.  There’s never enough.  Simple moments of overwhelming joy bring light and life.  Joy is the nexus of a meaningful human experience, of meaningful relationships with our fellow humans.  Joy radiates hope.  It’s electric.

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” 
― W.B. Yeats

Magic is everywhere.  In smiles and light and the taste of a fresh strawberry.  It lives in music and the wings of a butterfly.  It flies on the wind and crashes with the waves.  Everything around us is a miracle, full of magic.  Most especially our family and friends, but also in the breath of our pups, and the swaying of a daisy, and the glint of the sun in a rain drop.  There are amazing things all around.  We just have to see them.

“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans. . . If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication … and there is the real illness.” 
― Philip K. Dick

Perception is key.  We have opinions and ideas and see things with eyes that were formed from our own experiences.  When circumstances happen to us or around us we look at those circumstances with those same eyes.  We tend not to look outside of our own box of opinions and ideas.  This means we only look at things from one angle.  Our own.  But looking and seeing are two different things.  Perhaps it’s just a matter of perception.  If we can somehow change how we view a situation that situation changes entirely.  I’ve done this myself and been surprised by it.  There’s always another way to look at something.  We move around a beautiful sculpture to get a view from all sides if we truly want to see it.  We need to learn to do that in our own minds.  It would open us up to others, it would create connections where they might not have existed before.  We have to look with our best eyes.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” 
― Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Brothers Karamazov

Truth can sometimes be so hard, but it’s as necessary as breathing. The more honest and open we try to be with ourselves, with others, about who we are, about what we think and feel, the freer we are. Lies constrict our lives. When we tell the truth, we can leave that moment behind without another thought. When we lie, we live with it, carry it with us, forever. Telling the truth is much less burdensome. Telling the truth opens us up, makes us vulnerable, it puts us out into the world fully, as we are. It says, here I am, take me, or don’t. Risky, but with so much reward. We honor ourselves when we tell our truth. We bring integrity into our lives. We also bring trust, from ourselves, and from those we love. Telling the truth, truly, sets us free.

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” 

― Norton JusterThe Phantom Tollbooth

Silence is golden.  I used to hear that a lot from my Mom.  One of those Mom sayings that stuck with me, and so true.  Quieting oneself, learning to enjoy and live in silence once in a while is wonderful.  It allows you to hear the world in a more profound way.  A few moments of silence can breathe life into a day filled with too much noise.  Listening to the quiet of the world around us helps us to find the quiet within ourselves.  Finding the quiet within ourselves helps us to center our minds, our souls, and our hearts.  Silence opens worlds to us we might otherwise miss.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” 
― Shel Silverstein

Hope, remaining hopeful, is as necessary as breathing.  It’s easy to become overwhelmed with what is or has been or the worry about what could be.  We’re human, we struggle with this all the time.  But it’s so important to remember that anything can happen, and that anything can be good as much as it might be instead be frightening.  We focus too much on what’s not right, not enough on what is.  Hope is a big part of what’s right.    There’s always room for it, and it can be cultivated.  Trying to think positively, starting with one small thing that is right in your life, is good, can begin to grow a larger garden of positive ifs inside of you.   That’s where hope lives.  Hope leads to joy and laughter and an energy to get up and live life to the it’s fullest.

“Yes. We both have a bad feeling. Tonight we shall take our bad feelings and share them, and face them. We shall mourn. We shall drain the bitter dregs of mortality. Pain shared, my brother, is pain not doubled, but halved. No man is an island.” 
― Neil GaimanAnansi Boys

Sharing ourselves with others speaks to the essence of what life is about.  Expressing our feelings, our ideas, our hopes, our fears to another person, to other people, makes those hopes grander and those fears smaller.  Opening up our true self to someone else makes our world larger, grander, and fuller than we could imagine.  Letting someone know you, the real you, the whole you, is frightening and vulnerable, but also brave.  It’s an act of reaching out and of letting go.  It’s beautiful and fulfilling and it brings us closer, creates connections that last.

“It’s okay to be absurd, ridiculous, and downright irrational at times; silliness is sweet syrup that helps us swallow the bitter pills of life.” 
― Richelle E. Goodrich

Being silly, risking the ridiculous, is fun.  It’s enlivening, life affirming, corny, dorky, wonderful, and beautiful.  Not being afraid of being ridiculous and possibly absurd, while being out in the world, is a gift.  I say this because I’m a total dork, and can be totally ridiculous.  Singing in public places, dancing in the grocery store, putting on funny hats, doing a funny little walk because you’re trying to make yourself or someone else smile.  Those moments of totally letting go bring so much joy, so much fun to life.  And acting in a way that says we don’t care what other people think of us, only of what we feel like doing in the present, brings a strength and certainty in us down to our bones.  Silly can generate confidence, and confidence generates silliness.  It’s a beautiful relationship.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” 
― Lao Tzu

Love is everything, having and giving it.  Not just the love for your partner in life, but love for friends and family.  I can’t stress enough how very important it is to let the people in your life know you love them.  The most important thing in life is who we love and who loves us.  It brings meaning to everything.  Nothing else really matters.  Love is everything.  Breathing joy and hope and compassion into everything it touches.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 
― Stephen R. CoveyThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

Listening, and not talking, is central to having great relationships with people.  When you listen, actually listen without just trying to get your word in edgewise, you let people know what they have to say is important to you.  That they are important to you.  When you don’t really listen, when all you do is wait for the moment you can speak, you let them know that what you have to say is more important to you than actually hearing them.  Listening engenders trust, true companionship, and warmth.

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.

Seeing Magic in Motes of Dust

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upload (Photo credit: Tj Parker Photography)

You know, I do believe in magic. I was born and raised in a magic time, in a magic town, among magicians. Oh, most everybody else didn’t realize we lived in that web of magic, connected by silver filaments of chance and circumstance. But I knew it all along. When I was twelve years old, the world was my magic lantern, and by its green spirit glow I saw the past, the present and into the future. You probably did too; you just don’t recall it. See, this is my opinion: we all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside us. We are born able to sing to birds and read the clouds and see our destiny in grains of sand. But then we get the magic educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out, washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up, for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that? Because the people doing the telling were afraid of our wildness and youth, and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad of what they’d allowed to wither in themselves.

After you go so far away from it, though, you can’t really get it back. You can have seconds of it. Just seconds of knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at movies, it’s because in that dark theater the golden pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heartsad and not knowing why. When a song stirs a memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light takes your attention from the world, when you listen to a train passing on a track at night in the distance and wonder where it might be going, you step beyond who you are and where you are. For the briefest of instants, you have stepped into the magic realm.

That’s what I believe.

~ Robert McCammon, Boy’s Life

Pondering a Playlist

Anyone who knows me knows about my love of music. It’s always been there, and in all likelihood started when I was in the womb. I come by it naturally. It’s in my genes. My dad was what some might call a musical genius. An ability to play any instrument put into his hands he chose the double neck pedal steel guitar because it was the hardest to play… requiring hands, feet, and knees. He loved that guitar, light shining out of him and joy exuding from him every time he sat down at his Emmons. I loved hearing him play it. I loved the smile on his face, his closed eyes, his mastery, his joy. He was a gifted and spectacular musician. But my musical influences just don’t include my dad, they also include my mom as well, and her side of the family. Growing up I remember family gathering after family gathering where music played a part. It didn’t matter what was going on when my mom’s side of my family got tother, music showed up. My mom is one of seven siblings. They sing seven part harmony. It’s very cool. They still do it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard them, and how much I’ve always loved it. My Mom’s dad played piano in a band to earn money when he was a teenager, taking his share of the coins that got thrown up on the stage, and there were always musical instruments around my grandparents house when I was growing up. My Uncle Tom is the youngest of the siblings and only eight years older than I am. My childhood memories of him all include his electric guitar. The seven siblings were all in either bands or choirs of one sort or another, some still play in orchestras and bands to this day. I love that. I love how my life has always been surrounded by music and the love of it. I not only heard people singing and playing, but the phonograph was also going a lot in our house. All sorts of music and musical influences… big band and Jazz from my Mom, country from my dad and step-dad, rock and roll from my sister, Kay, and my Uncle Tom, and the wonderful musical influence my friends throughout my life have brought into it. My honey… she introduced me to the blues and Bryan Ferry. I myself started playing the guitar when I was a kid. I got fairly decent at it. I still have a guitar, and some bongos, and a kazoo.

As I said, my love of music has been with me always, informing most aspects of my life, helping to explain the unexplainable, helping to express things I can’t always find the words for. It’s a huge part of my life, and has always been. Which is why I’m constantly making playlists for road trips and friends and just because. Usually they have a theme, or are inspired by new music I’ve found. Recently we traveled to Florida for a family reunion. And yes, I made a playlist for the flights there and back. I thought, just because it might be fun, I’d include that playlist here, using YouTube.

The playlists I make tend to be more about feel than they are made by design. And in that vein I don’t think I’d ever make the same one twice, which is sort of the cool thing about them. Something I happen to love about them. They are organic, in the moment, and natural. I usually tell people they should be played on shuffle, which isn’t really possible here, but I still like it.

So without further ado… here’s the Florida trip playlist (number 110). Love it, or hate it, that’s up to you. Music is like that, it’s personal. Which is just something else to love about it.

Jason Mraz – Love Someone

Neon Trees – Living in Another World

Sam Smith – Leave Your Lover

Jennifer Nettles – That Girl

David Gray – Back in the World

Civil Wars – Dust to Dust

Marc Broussard – Hurricane Heart

Loggins & Messina – Danny’s Song

The Beatles – I Saw Her Standing There

Aloe Blacc – Can You Do This

Arcade Fire – Afterlife

Shakey Graves – Dearly Departed (feat. Esme Patterson)

Magic! – Rude

Ed Sheeran – All of the Stars

Colbie Caillat – Try

K.D. Lang – Helpless

Johnnyswim – Diamonds

Passenger – Things You’ve Never Done

Jason Isbell – Stockholm

Amos Lee – Listen

Dishwalla – Candleburn

Five For Fighting – Story of Your Life

Kongos – Come With Me Now

Pink Martini – Get Happy/Happy Days (Singers China Forbes and Storm Large)

Ed Sheeran – Kiss Me

James Bay – Let it Go

Imagine Dragons – On Top of the World

Sarah MClachlan – In Your Shoes

Milky Chance – Stolen Dance

London Grammar – Wasting My Young Years

Stevie Wonder – I Believe (When I Fall In Love)

Justin Timberlake – Sexyback

OneRepublic – oves Runs Out