Eight Years

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Photo by TJ Parker

Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.

Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself.  Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why.  There is no why.  It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable.  It just was.  So the question isn’t why, but who.  Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?

I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you.  But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.

I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love.  But, I’m not always the best at those things.  And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am.  I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment.  Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have.   It still means we have to try and do better, be better.  We owe our people that.  But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done.  This is where apologizing comes in.  Sincere apology.  We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it.  The apology is freeing for both people.  So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it.  Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?

Kindness.  Have I been kind?  To my people, to strangers, to myself.  Am I moving through the world as a kind person?  Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are?  Am I kind to myself?  I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always.  So I need to be more kind.  We can always be kinder.  I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for.  I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people.  If I am, I’m kinder.

Joy.  It’s easy to get discouraged in life.  About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world.  The enemy of joy is fear.  So the key is to not be fearful.  But, that’s a tough one.  Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown.  Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning.  This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time.  It just comes with large amounts of anxiety.  And when it comes it eats my joy whole.  Like a kipper snack.  So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy.  I’m innately a silly, joyful person.  I’m a dork.  I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid.   So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives.  In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all.  I try to remind myself to be present.  Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now.  Be alive now.  Be joyous now.  This is a tough one, but I’m trying.  The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.

Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out.  But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception.  We see what we want.  Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time.  It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “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.”  At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys.  But the point isn’t that part of the quote.  The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes.  So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies.  I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying.  Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow.  Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility.  It is hopeful.

Love.  I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection.  Life is about love.  Who we love, who loves us.  It’s about how we love.  Do we say it?  Do we show it?  Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them?  For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude.  To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it.  I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it.  Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life.  But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing.  And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there.  Who we have and what that means to us.  Love is all around us.  It’s all around me.  So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me.  Hold me up.  It did when I was sick.  It’s what got me through.  Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me.  Lifting me up.  Holding me.  I felt it.  And luckily, I feel it still.  If I sit with it for a few moments I cry.  Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways.  That’s where I want to live, where I try to live.  Even when things are tough, the love is there.  I have it, and I try to give it back.  We’re responsible for giving it back.  For loving, and loving well.

Eight years.  If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all.  It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love.  And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock.  Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life.  But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy.  And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?

Eight years.  Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.

Wow.  What a ride it’s been so far.

 

 

 

 

52 Thoughts – Ninth Thought

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Photo by TJ Parker

Be kind in big ways and small even when it seems a tad difficult.  Be present.  Listen more, talk less. Close my eyes, turn my face to the sun or the wind or both at the same time and breathe deeply.  Spend time on or near the water.  Go on long walks with the pups. Drink life in.  Be silly and dorky and unafraid to make a fool of myself.  We are bombarded with information every day so choose wisely.  Life is a matter of perception so remember I can see things in a negative or positive light. Act to change things in ways I feel I can.  Meet the world with love and good intentions in my heart instead of fear and anger.  Smile at people I know and don’t know.  Bridge gaps.  Notice a glint of sun.  Appreciate the natural world.  Think about what it might be like for others.  Cuddle the pups often.  Laugh and play with the grandkids. Write letters. Tell people I love them.  Be honest even when it’s uncomfortable.  Share. Recognize joy. Believe in hope. Dance. Cry. Be curious. Give lots of hugs. Accept compliments. Hold my honey’s hand every chance I can.

52 Thoughts: Eighth Thought

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Photo by TJ Parker

Forgiveness.

I walk down the hallway at night
House asleep
Creaks and wind and chimes filter in
I’m at my in-laws house
There’s sickness here
And a kind of hope for better
… feeling better and being better
They love me
I feel that
It’s mutual
I write poems at night when I can’t sleep
I don’t remember them in the morning
After sleep finally comes and washes them away
I think that night work is my best work
Just saying
But it gets me through the hours
Filled with creaks and wind and stray whining cats outside
There’s something special to this forgetting
As if mysteries were revealed to me
Then taken away again
I know they are there
Just out of reach
But there nonetheless
Magic
It’s because of this I forgive myself
Forgiveness for the forgetting
I walk down the hallway at night

~ TJ Parker

52 Thoughts: Fifth Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

I’ve been thinking.

Today the sky is blue.  It’s cold, but beautiful.  The birds are at the feeders.  The squirrels are trying to get to the feeders.  The dogs are chasing the squirrels.  They picked up our garbage and recycling today as per usual.  I’m listening to music.  We’re about to head to the gym to do some circuit training, then we’ll go grocery shopping.  Tonight we’ll make dinner.  At some point this afternoon we’ll try to take the dogs for a walk after we put the girlie’s sweater on, she gets cold.  We’ll eat dinner and watch some TV or a movie, maybe one we will be picking up at the library as we do our errands today.  My honey will work.  I’ll do laundry, empty the dishwasher, clean up the media room.  We will pet the dogs and cuddle them.  We will talk and laugh and smile at each other.

I’ve been thinking.

It’s a great life.  We have a great life.  It’s nice to remember that.

52 Thoughts: First Thought

 

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Photo by TJ Parker

It’s 2017.  I’m happy about it.  I kept waiting for it, ready to start anew.  Ready for a reboot.

Last year was stressful.  Surprising and tense and divisive and nasty.  Many good things happened in my life, but I was greatly affected by everything happening in the world, and that stuff, the stuff splashed all over mainstream media, was frequently disheartening and disappointing.

K and I spent the last weeks of 2016 doing daily random acts of kindness.  It helped both of us to be more positive.  To look at things from a different, and more uplifting, perspective.  We vowed, going forward into 2017, we would continue trying to look at the world from the place of kindness.  Continue to do random acts as they presented themselves.  I think we will.  We both believe kindness is key, a necessity.

I was thinking last night about the news, being affected by it, getting upset, etc.  After all, it’s still there.  Just because we’re in a new year doesn’t mean it all miraculously goes away.  I have friends who are so passionate about the state of things they are still posting political stuff on Facebook and Twitter.  I get incensed about certain events, just as they do, but I don’t post them.  It’s not my way.   My way is to post things I believe to be positive, uplifting, and kind.  It’s a different way of going at things, which is OK.  Mine helps me, theirs helps them I’m sure.

In that vein I started thinking about the effect all of this information has on me. Bombarded with news reports and posts about news reports and political events and health crises and how this thing or that thing is bad for you.  It’s easy to get sucked in, to focus on it all, to think that those things have significant value in my life.  But honestly, they don’t.  Yes, I do care about the world, I am concerned about a lot of it.  I am.  And K and I will be volunteering for a couple of organizations this year in order to try and step up and do something productive and positive.  But if I spend too much time thinking every day about all of it I’m not living right where I am.  I forget to look at what’s good in my life, there is a whole lot that’s good.  I miss appreciating great sunsets and how beautiful the light is shining through the trees.  I am not present.

It’s so easy to be distracted, to look outside my life and focus on what’s wrong with everything.  But that would be a disservice to my life, and I definitely wouldn’t be honoring all the magic that exists in my every day.  The way to honor my life, to live it fully, to be present in it, is to notice the magic.  To soak up the moments.  To put my focus on the people and the sunsets and the smiles.  To pay attention when I’m having a great conversation, or when one of my grandkids laughs, or when my honey smiles at me a certain way.  To honor this beautiful life I have to be responsible for feeling it, being IN it.

So to hell with bad news, crazy politics, and all the negative crap.  I can’t change the whole world, I can only do my small part.   I will act with grace, or at least try to.  I will be present and faithful to this beautiful, amazing, glorious life I’m lucky to be living.  That’s where my energy needs to be spent.  On walks and dog loves and kisses and hugs and music and beautiful words and great meals with family and laughter with friends and taking photographs and writing and silly and kindness and joy and love.

This is what I will do. That is all.

 

 

Be like the flower, turn your faces to the sun. ~ Kahlil Gibran

Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope

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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

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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.

Within Each of Us There is a Silence

cropped-10606338_10152718999440802_7621001213431286246_n1.jpgWithin each of us there is a silence, a silence as vast as the universe.  And when we experience that silence, we remember who we are.  ~ Gunilla Norris

This Is What You Shall Do

902992_10151671211135802_1115933150_oThis is what you shall do:  Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body…       ~Walt Whitman

And Above All Things… Kindness

I’ve written many times about how I feel we should look at all sides, find common ground, talk over places we disagree with compassion and a willingness to hear. I’ve also written a lot about being open, non-judgemental, and how we are all, most of us anyway, pretty much the same, wanting the same basic things out of life. I believe all of it.

What I believe as well, more than anything else, is that we should all be kind to each other. We should talk from a place of kindness, act from a place of kindness, and think about the world and our fellow men and women from a place of kindness. This is not to say that we should all just get along and there will never be discord. Of course there will be, and is. It’s just that as we disagree we should do it with kindness. No name calling, no finger pointing, no bending of facts or twisting of ideals.

I was reading an article today on CNN.com, the subject of which I won’t talk about as it’s really not relevant to what I’m trying to say here, and then I looked at the comments. Needless to say it was the same ol’ same ol’. And people, listen when I say this, it came from both sides of the argument. As I’ve said, I’m liberal, but I get just as disgusted with the liberal rhetoric, hype, and nastiness, as I do the conservative comments in kind. What good does it do to point fingers, call names, make statements with no support or basis in fact, and generally act like an ass? We get nowhere doing this. Let me repeat… NOWHERE. We have to be better than this, people. We have to rise above our petty differences and playground tactics so we can have meaningful conversations. That is unless we feel we already have all the answers, know everything, and can learn nothing from each other. Arrogant much?

The key to acting with compassion is kindness. Kindness to ourselves, our neighbors, our loved ones, and yes… even toward people we feel might be our adversaries. I will listen to your reasoning, your opinion, your ideas, much more willingly if you don’t call me a name, make fun of what I believe in, and presume to know me. I don’t know you and therefore should do the same. Other than to say, once again, I really feel we are all after pretty much the same things in life… a good life well lived with people we love.

In an effort to look into kindness, do a bit of research you might say, I stumbled upon the seven virtues. The antithesis of the seven deadly sins, these are the seven ideals, the seven character traits, we should all strive to achieve. I actually read them through, not skimming but reading, which made me realize the deeper meaning behind them instead of the sort of one word definitions that are so often assigned to them. Chastity is a great example of this. People always think of chastity as the no sex virtue. Yes, there is a part of the definition that says save yourself based on your current status, but there’s so much more to it than that. In finding the seven virtues I was fascinated… I’d read them before, long ago, but reading them again, with older and hopefully wiser eyes, I found myself agreeing with them in basic principal, as I interpreted them. Key point here is how I interpreted them. We, each of us, take things in through the filter of our own perception. It cannot be helped. So I read these virtues and this is what I understood them to mean, for myself, and for the larger world. I took the original definitions directly from Wikipedia so take that for what you will. I’ve left in the gloss (the four highlighted words directly after the virtue that represent a brief marginal notation of the meaning of a word or wording in a text) and after that the sections of the definitions I felt summed up the essence of each virtue. I tried to do this paraphrasing elegantly so the basic premises of the virtues shown through. And away we go….

Chastity: Purity, knowledge, honesty, wisdom. To be honest with oneself, one’s family, one’s friends, and to all of humanity. Embracing of moral wholesomeness and achieving purity of thought-through education and betterment. The ability to refrain from being distracted and influenced by hostility, temptation or corruption.

Temperance: Self control, justice, honour, abstention. Restraint, temperance, justice. Constant mindfulness of others and one’s surroundings; practicing self-control, abstention, moderation, zero-sum and deferred gratification. Prudence to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time. Proper moderation between self-interest, versus public-interest, and against the rights and needs of others.

Charity: Will, benevolence, generosity, sacrifice. Generosity, charity, self-sacrifice; the term should not be confused with the more restricted modern use of the word charity to mean benevolent giving. Charity—or love (agäpé) — is the greatest of the three theological virtues. Love, in the sense of an unlimited loving kindness towards all others, is held to be the ultimate perfection of the human spirit, because it is said to both glorify and reflect the nature of God. Such love is self-sacrificial. Confusion can arise from the multiple meanings of the English word “love”. The love that is “caritas” is distinguished by its origin – being divinely infused into the soul – and by its residing in the will rather than emotions, regardless of what emotions it stirs up.

Diligence: Persistence, effort, ethics, rectitude. A zealous and careful nature in one’s actions and work; decisive work ethic, steadfastness in belief, fortitude, and the capability of not giving up. Budgeting one’s time; monitoring one’s own activities to guard against laziness. Upholding one’s convictions at all times, especially when no one else is watching (integrity).(The vice “acedia” is more commonly known as “sloth”.)

Patience: Peace, mercy, ahimsa, sufferance. Forbearance and endurance through moderation. Resolving conflicts and injustice peacefully, as opposed to resorting to violence. Accepting the grace to forgive; to show mercy. Creating a sense of peaceful stability and community rather than suffering, hostility, and antagonism.

Kindness: Satisfaction, loyalty, compassion, integrity. Charity, compassion and friendship for its own sake. Empathy and trust without prejudice or resentment. Unselfish love and voluntary kindness without bias or spite. Having positive outlooks and cheerful demeanor; to inspire kindness in others.

Humility: Bravery, modesty, reverence, altruism. Modest behavior, selflessness, and the giving of respect. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. It is a spirit of self-examination; charity toward people you disagree with. The courage of the heart necessary to undertake tasks which are difficult, tedious or unglamorous, and to graciously accept the sacrifices involved. Reverence for those who have wisdom and those who selflessly teach in love. Giving credit where credit is due; not unfairly glorifying one’s own self. Being faithful to promises, no matter how big or small they may be. Refraining from despair and the ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation.

I love the character traits present in these… being unselfish, inspiring kindness in others, loving your fellow human, conviction, honesty, patience, mercy, honor, generosity of spirit, justice, peace, and compassion. Just to name a few. These are the things we should strive for, these are the ways in which we should act in our own lives and toward our fellows. This is how we should live in the larger world.

I read these virtues and thought again, the greatest of these is kindness… it generates all the other traits. If we are kind to ourselves we are better people out in the world. If we are kind to our fellow humans then we spread an energy of joy and understanding versus judgement and antagonism. Kind people act with charity, they act with mercy, they act with love.

I don’t profess to always be the kindest of people. I try, but am honestly not always successful. The hope, my hope, is that I am more kind than not, that I think before I speak and act, and that I am always attempting to be aware of my actions and their impact on the people around me and the world at large. What kind of energy do I, do we, want to put out into the world? There are two options… positive energy, which pushes things in a loving and caring direction, or negative energy, which diminishes and constricts. It’s our choice every day. It’s the choice we make when we interact with the barista at our coffee shop, our partners friends and family, or a homeless person, or someone we are angry with or maybe disagreeing with. It’s a choice people. We need to try and be better.

I say strive for kindness… we would all be better off. The world would be better off. Small acts to large, every act of kindness matters. It matters, and it makes the world a better place.

… stepping down off soap box now…

Love and Understanding

I’m going to ramble a bit now…

I’m sitting here in the office this morning listening to Karen work and I have that feeling, but I’ll get to that later.  Earlier I was perusing Facebook… reading news, seeing what my peeps are up to, checking in.  I know a lot of people are sort of Anti-Facebook now, but not me.  I could care less about the ads, I don’t generally even look at them, the commercialism, because of course it is, it’s a business, or the fact that they have my info, everyone has my info nowadays.  I use credit cards, I buy things, I sign into and out of websites all the time.  It’s the modern digital age and as much as I care about my privacy, or at least not letting people have access to my credit card info, the feeling of needing to be so private lessened a lot when I was in the hospital for those long long days and everyone saw everything I had.  Perspective.  Facebook to me, especially since the move, is a way to know, by looking in one place, what our friends and family are up to near and far.  It’s a way to stay in touch.  It’s not perfect, but it works for me.  It’s like being in a big digital ongoing conversation.  A community of sorts. I like that.

I respect my family and friends who are so passionate about world affairs, causes they hold dear, politics, etc.  I respect them immensely.  I have issues I also care about, though I think not with the kind of passion they exhibit.  I admire the chutzpah in them.  Sometimes I even wish I had more of it.  Some days, like today, I wonder why I don’t.  I have things I believe in, and will talk about if I’m in that kind of conversation, but most of the time I keep things to myself.  And most of the time I’m more concerned with things like beauty, joy, art, telling stories, music, and love.  It’s true.  These things consume my day, my mind, more than anything else.  Except for maybe my honey and our pups, but then that’s all about love, which is one of the things I care most about.  I have always been this way, and yet… not.

I fell into a degree in Psychology because I was good at it.  I have always been, for friends and family alike, a sort of pseudo counselor.  Additionally I was fascinated by the mind.  How it worked, both physically and emotionally, and why.  I was interested in motivation, understanding, function.  I was also, and continue to be, an incredibly emotional person.  I cry at the drop of the hat, feel things more deeply than I sometimes want to, and have a sense about the emotions of others that at times overwhelms me.  All of this, plus a passion for at risk kids and their issues, led me into work with those kids.  I did that for a long time, cared deeply about what I was doing, and felt like I was making a difference every day.  I was.  I know that with certainty.  But living every day caring very much about what you are doing, wanting to help to facilitate change in both the kids and their circumstances, feeling and battling an overwhelming sense of hopelessness in those same kids, their parents, other agencies, and the circuitous nature of generations of people living difficult lives took its toll on me.  I cared very much and that sense of caring was what finally guided my decision to leave that profession.  Circumstances helped me do it more quickly than I had anticipated, but the writing had been on the wall.  I needed to not live in that world any more.  To not take it home with me.  To be in a more positive environment.  I needed to leave.

Two years ago when the bomb dropped on our lives, and I say our because it didn’t only affect me, we were living our lives.  Loving our lives.  Traveling, working, spending time with friends and family, having as many adventures and new experiences as we could.  Dinners with friends, traveling to new places, walks with the pups, etc.  Our life was amazing.  Then the thing happened.  The big C.  Suddenly, without warning, swooping in to change our lives completely.  Days with friends and family and pups replaced by meds, and IVs, and poisonous life saving drugs, and sickness, and baldness, and…  love.  So much love pouring in to us, to me, that I was overwhelmed by it.  So much.  It was like a tidal wave of well wishes and good feelings and sweet remembrances and karmic hugging.  I was stunned by it.  Knowing you have a good foundation of people in your life is one thing, seeing them, seeing that in action, is another.  I was humbled, shaken, amazed.

We made it through those times, which I can’t even describe…. so much happened, so much.  And I came out of it, away from it, am still in the end of it, with a sense of wonder.  A sense of what is truly important, for me anyway.  And here’s what I think… people need to spend more time thinking about love.  Not love as in romantic love, but love as in love of your fellow-man, love of this planet we call home, love of people we don’t understand, but should at least try to.  There’s too much push and pull, too much righteous indignation, too much of this whole idea that “I” know best and “you” should listen.  Too much arrogance.  Too much of people being afraid of things they don’t understand when really if we just live our lives the best we know how, treating people in our lives with the respect they deserve, and by that I mean all people, we would be so much better off.  Even those we know are struggling or living their lives in ways we don’t think are right or correct or healthy.  If we respect each other as human beings, knowing there are faults in all of us, knowing we are none of us perfect, and then move through life with the knowledge that, for the most part each of us is doing the best we know how, things would improve.  If we focused on beauty, and love, and how similar we are instead of how different we make ourselves, things would improve.

I know there are people who say this is me living with my head in the clouds, but seriously.  We are all the same.  Living our lives, loving our families, wanting what’s best for them.  We may have different ideas about what that is, or what that means, but that’s OK.  Just the simple acknowledgement that we are the same would mean then that we would never be able to judge someone for how they lived, for what they thought.  We would come at the conversation from a place of trying to understand instead of trying to conquer.  We would be more able to work together.  From a place like that no one would be denied basic rights, their humanity, their ability to live a happy life, whatever that is for them.  Judgement would vanish.  And with it fear would go.  Fear that always comes from a place of us vs. them, from not understanding, from living our lives looking at “them” over there as our enemy instead of as our possible friend.  More than that, because we aren’t going to be friends with everyone, we could agree that we won’t always agree.  And that’s OK.  It’s OK for us to do as we please.  And yes, of course I don’t mean those that hurt others.  There are still rules.  Rule one, don’t hurt anyone intentionally or even unintentionally by the actions you take.

So, this is all Pollyanna to many people I’m sure.  But I’m tired of the fighting, the push and pull, the politics of it all.  I’m tired of all the ways we try to stand out, live separately.  We live together, whether we like it or not.  We depend on each other, whether we like it or not, and we can choose to be afraid of each other, of all the things we don’t understand, or we can hold out our hands to those we disagree with, have a real conversation, and move forward.  Actually take steps that lead us toward something wonderful, instead of taking steps backward to places we’ve already been.

I don’t have the answers, I don’t even pretend to know all the questions.  I know me, my honey, my life.  I know that the way the wind sounds in the trees right now is gorgeous and that sound is the same all around the world.  I know I love to laugh, and so does everyone else I’ve ever met.  I know a lot of people are angry about this or that, and they have a right to be.  I’m not discounting that.  I’m just saying… love a little more.  Hug a little more.  Put yourself in the other guys shoes a lot more.  Be kind.  Be patient.  Be better.  We could all be a bit better.  Which, I guess, is the feeling I was talking about earlier.  That feeling of wanting to be better.  Look past myself.  See into things more clearly, with more depth.  To be understanding. To love with all I am, and be thankful.

I See Beauty

I have a high aesthetic.  Meaning that I have an extreme sense of the beautiful.  I don’t want to say that I can judge for others what is beautiful, but for myself I see beauty everywhere.  I used to say I saw photographs in everything, which is true since that’s my medium, but really it’s more than that.  My view of the world is filtered through my sense of beauty.  And before all my friends and family start thinking to themselves about whether or not I’m judging how they look… that’s not it at all, and no, I’m not looking at you that way.  Other than, I suppose, to see your inner beauty, which I do, but that’s a topic for another day.  I’m talking about the world… people don’t factor in unless it’s a mass of them in a space and that particular scene is beautiful to me.  Or a couple holding hands walking through the park.  Beautiful.  But again, I’m talking about space, architecture, nature, form, light, design, intention.  I mean grace of movement, melody, warmth, a point of view.

Is this making sense?

I’ve never attempted to articulate this before, but yesterday I was looking at our living room.  Simple.  We both appreciate art, in many forms, and it’s evident in our space.  The furniture is even sort of funky, which is part of it.  We are eclectic, because we always get something because we love it, not because it’s what we should have to go with whatever else we have.  We figure if we love something it will fit into the whole of what our place is.  The vibe.  We also believe in not having too much “stuff” so we try to keep things non-cluttered.  It’s a balance of taste and style and funk and having our space feel a certain way.  So I was looking at it and found myself thinking and feeling that a certain aesthetic sense fills it.  It fills me.  Anytime we go anywhere I see photographs.  Not the usual panorama, though sometimes that’s so, but usually a part of something, the form of something, the way the light hits a particular thing.  I notice.  And I’m glad I do.  It’s what happened yesterday as a certain winter light shone in through our living room window and hit part of a lamp.  That’s all.  Just a little light filtering in and hitting a part of lamp.  It was stunningly beautiful.

I never get too busy to notice, never too rushed to notice, because even when I am busy or rushed I still notice as my eyes pass something.  It’s wonderful.  At least I feel as though it’s wonderful.  I feel lucky to have this thing inside that naturally lets me see the larger, deeper, subtler things in life.  The way a leaf blows across the street, the barking of a distant dog that sounds happy, the passing shapes in clouds, the shadows made by the rising of the sun.  I sometimes feel these things so much I cry.  Cry from a place of joy for having seen something so stunning.  It used to embarrass me, but it no longer does.  I feel privileged, and I wish more people stopped quietly and said to themselves…wow… that is beautiful.  Whatever that may be.  I think the world would be a better and more joyous place.  How could it not be.  It brings connection with things, connection with the larger world, makes a person feel small and a part of something bigger all at the same time.  It brings a sense of peace, that things are as they should be for a moment, these brief snippets of time.  It’s freeing in a way.

I feel fortunate, lucky, privileged, to see the world through these eyes… these eyes that see beauty in the smallest things all around me.   And my hope is that you see it too…

Life In A Day

Life philosophy according to Tam… We are all, everyone of us spinning on this little orb, people who live, experience joy, have pain, grieve, celebrate, and love. We are all the same… want the same things (happiness, our kids to be safe, to live the best lives we can, to laugh, to love)… not matter where we live. Borders and boundaries are just physical structures. Ethnicity is just genetic. Religion is faith. Sexual orientation is meaningless. Spirit, the human spirit, is boundless. People everywhere go to work, love their kids, deal with tragedy, pet their dogs or cats or birds or rabbits, want a place to call home, live with their own flaws, and want to be with the people they care about as much as they can. Everyone, everywhere, wants a good life. We are all living every day the best we know how. We are all, everywhere, one. Period. The end.

Can’t wait to see this…

Back to Busy-ness

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Photo by TJ Parker

I am amused and feeling a sense of happy contentment. It’s Friday night, and we have no plans. I think to myself… what a luxury. We seem to be busy all the time. And I want to know, when did that happen? When did busy become the way of life? I’m scratching my head here.

Everyone is rushing. Have to get to the next meeting, the next phone call, the next dinner, the next movie, the next chore around the house. We have calendars on desks, in phones, on computers, in hand held devices. And most of those, well the electronic ones anyway, have alarms. Not only do we constantly have to write everything down, we have to audibly remind ourselves that we wrote it down.

I know, sitting here right now, there are things I should, or could, or am supposed to be doing. I can walk around my house and see all of the things left undone. If I think on it hard enough I also conjure up all the stuff not done outside, but it’s raining, so I have an excuse. Sadly, not only do the tasks around here plague me, but the piles of paperwork and files on my desk start to creep into my consciousness. They do, if I let them. I must fight it!

I want to be a kid again. Or, better yet, be me, now, but with the magic secret super power I had as a kid… that strange and mysterious ability to forget absolutely everything, except what I was doing at the moment. To ignore anything, including the sounds of mom calling from the house, even when she used all three of my names, and that meant business. But, I didn’t hear it, at least not right away. And when I did, finally, she’d probably used the dreaded three name technique to gain attention one, two, or even three times. I was in my own world, master of my own fate. In charge, completely, of my destiny. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. I did nothing, except what I was doing, right then, at the moment.

At the moment, that’s the key.

Now as an adult, I am distracted. I’m watching a movie, or reading a book, or having a conversation… and suddenly, without intent or warning, the voice starts… my evil little inner twin, the task master. It begins to knock on my consciousness, slowly at first, little pictures or a word floating into “view” inside my head. It lets me know, I am not alone. It is always, except when I’m sleeping, with me. Even in sleep I think it’s there, it’s just probably sleeping too. But when I’m awake, it’s awake. It says things like… trash… or maybe… phone call. It doesn’t have to speak loudly, or even report its message fully. It just has to whisper, like wind slightly rustling the leaves. It pushes me, gently. Starting the swirl of thoughts in my brain…. Can you believe what that kid said today? Oops, I forgot to make that call. Where was that file? The look on that parents face was so sad. I need to remember that number when I go up to court. The car is so dirty. What’s for lunch? The lawn should’ve been mowed before it started raining. That shop door needs a new gasket… And so it goes… the list. Before I know it, three scenes of a movie have gone by and I’m thinking, what the hell just happened? Damn, I have to rewind.

Our lives, as adults, are busy. There are appointments and weddings, shopping to do, calls to make, bills to pay, papers to finish, and lawns to mow. There are friends and family to spend time with, work to be done. It is a never ending constant parade of to dos, should dos, must dos. From the moment we wake until the moment we sleep, which sometimes does not come easily thanks to all the thinking, we are bombarded with it. And I, for one, think it’s time we left all the busy-ness behind and got back to the business of being kidlike again. The business of living now, seizing, as they say, the day. Letting everything else melt away… until finally, surprised because it snuck up on us, we get that elusive feeling of peace. Finally, if not briefly, satisfied with our lives, our homes, and ultimately, ourselves… inner voices quieted, a pervasive feeling of giddy awe ensuing, we do face the day, freer than we were. Amused, contented, and still. Think of it, a world of happy contented people. Looking at and living in the moment. Our world would quiet, and we… well… we might, finally, get to see an entire movie… without thinking about a thousand other things, and then having to rewind.