“I am fundamentally an optimist.”

15687_10152719002115802_6021182418323168144_n“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”
― Nelson MandelaLong Walk to Freedom: Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Words to Live By (Part 3)

IMG_1873“In magic – and in life – there is only the present moment, the now. You can’t measure time the way you measure the distance between two points. ‘Time’ doesn’t pass. We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we’re always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and about why we didn’t act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we’re going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don’t want and how to get what we have always dreamed of.” 
― Paulo CoelhoAleph

Being present, truly present, is so difficult.  Necessary for a completely fulfilling life, but elusive.  Feeling the wind on your face, watching a butterfly, looking your friend in the eyes when they speak, savoring the food you’re eating, feeling the joy coming from your grandchildren as they laugh all help us to taste life.  Experience it in the now.  The trick is in trying to shut down those inner voices that haunt and distract us from the moment we’re in.  And it is a trick.  Being able to focus completely on whatever is happening for us right now enriches our lives, allows us to  relish the experience.  It’s tough to do, but so worth a try for those moments you can really make it happen.

“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.” 
― Kenneth GrahameThe Wind in the Willows

Awe, fostering a general feeling of amazement and wonder, is the spice.  It makes us feel like a kid again, that feeling of being so overwhelmed with something you are rapt and riveted.  A sense of awe opens and widens our world to wondrous things.  It begs us to look outside of ourselves and feel the beauty of life.  This life is a miracle. Knowing that, seeing it, brings awe.  Awe leads to a richer life.

“I can never bring you to realise the importance of sleeves, the suggestiveness of thumb-nails, or the great issues that may hang from a boot-lace.” 
― Arthur Conan DoyleThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

It’s in the Details… sparkles in the water, the wind moving in the trees, motes of dust floating in the sunlight, a breath, a speck, the flapping of a birds wings, the light in someone’s eyes when they look at you with love.  Noticing the details of life brings a depth and an understanding otherwise missed.

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” 
― Henry David ThoreauWalden

Out in Nature, spending time there, opens us up.  Refreshes our senses and our souls.  It can lift us out of whatever muddles our mind, bringing a fresh perspective.  There is magnificence all around us, which should tell us that there is also magnificence in ourselves.  Putting your toes in the sand, walking a trail, sitting by a river and listening to water over stone, lounging in a park feeling the sun on your face.  It’s a big wondrous place we live, and we are small in it.

“Never laugh at live dragons.” 
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Wisdom isn’t found in knowing a lot.  Wisdom lies in the ability to discern what should and shouldn’t be said.  It’s being able to look at things with the total and utter knowledge that you don’t know everything, and that’s OK.  It’s having learned to listen, instead of talk, see instead of just look, reach for deeper meaning instead of skimming along the surface of things.  Wisdom comes, we just have to pay attention to it, listen to our inner voices, appreciate the opinions of other people who may have things to teach us.  Learning never stops, this is wisdom.

“I sometimes give myself excellent advice. Occasionally, I even listen to it.” 
― Jim ButcherGhost Story

Listening to yourself is the best way forward.  If we can clear out all the detritus and quiet ourselves we usually know the right way to turn, the best choice to make.  Doubt can be a constant companion, but learning to trust ourselves, lean on what we know to be our own truth, that’s where our right is.  Making choices based on what we think other people would approve of or do themselves doesn’t get us anywhere.  Asking for help, that’s necessary, listening to that advice above and beyond what we think for ourselves can be dangerous and incredibly unhelpful.

“I will not play at tug o’ war.
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.” 
― Shel SilversteinWhere the Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein

Winning is not important, sharing is.  I don’t know where we got the idea that we had to win all the time.  In debates and conversations and at life.  What does that mean anyway, to win at life?  I’d rather share something meaningful with someone than beat them.  Life isn’t a game, it’s a beautiful and tragic and lovely and horrible and joyous dance.  Better with partners than foes.  Better shared than conquered.

“Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.” 
― Theodore RoethkeStraw for the Fire: From the Notebooks of Theodore Roethke
Vulnerability opens the world to us, it doesn’t close us off.  We are always afraid to be vulnerable, to let our true selves, desires, and hurts show.  But if we could, if we can, just be open in moments, to people we love and who love us, our lives become richer, fuller, filled with color and light.  When we hide ourselves away, afraid to trust and to share, we live in the dark, our hopes, ourselves, stifled and still.
“Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door”                                                                                                     – Put One Foot In Front of the Other, Santa Claus is Coming to Town
 Moving forward takes courage and strength.  We all have that courage inside of us.  When something terrible is going on, we have to keep moving, keep trying, keep striving.  We have to.  If we don’t we become stagnant, stuck in a quagmire of our own making.  Awful things can and do happen in life, times do get tough, but part of the deal, part of the journey, is to trudge forward, even when things are hard.  If we can do that, if we can just keep putting one foot in front of the other, we eventually get through it.  We eventually get to something  else, something better.  And we feel stronger because of the effort of it.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” 
― Martha Graham

Creativity, wherever you find it, however you can express it, enlivens and enriches and brings a level of satisfaction that doesn’t seem to be found in any other way.  Whether its writing, or painting, or taking pictures, or singing, or plucking the strings of a banjo, or gathering leaves you think are beautiful, or solving a terribly hard math equation, it’s all creative.  There are billions of people on the planet, which means there are billions of ways creativity can be thought of and expressed.  It all matters.  It connects us to the world, and to each other.  Adding beauty and a depth to everything around it.

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

IMG_2198

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.