To Laugh Often and Much..

I found a used copy of the book pictured above a few weeks ago:  “Bedside Prayers, Prayers and Poems for When You Rise and Go to Sleep” collected by June Cotner.  It has found a convenient home on my night stand.  With decent regularity it finds its way into my hands just before lights out at night to put some meaningful thoughts to put into my head before sleep. 
“Bedside Prayers” has these words of description on its dust cover:  a marvelous collection of prayers, meditations, sentiments, and quiet celebrations.  Drawing from a rich spectrum of traditions and writers – from Rainer Maria Rilke to Robert Louis Stevenson, and from Buddha to contemporary writers with fresh insights… for spiritual seekers of any tradition… a charming companion that encourages us to recognize the divine gifts all around us each day.  I find something meaningful every time I pick the book up and read a random page.  
Among my favorites found in “Bedside Prayers” is thirteen lines by George Eliot that encourage me to be grateful for each day and to live with courage and intent to leave the world a little better than I find it.

May every soul that touches mine—
Be it the slightest contact—
Get from there some good;
Some little grace; one kindly thought;
One aspiration yet unfelt;
One bit of courage
For the darkening sky;
One gleam of faith
To brave the thickening ills of life;
One glimpse of brighter skies
Beyond the gathering mists—
To make this life worthwhile,
And heaven a surer heritage. 

In a poem written almost a hundred years ago Ranier Maria Rilke described the power of being in the moment long before it was a popular notion.  Being aware of one’s “aliveness” is the message he left to be printed in “Bedside Prayers”.

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
The darkness of each endless fall,
The shimmering light of each ascent.
So many are alive who don’t seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
As though untouched.
But you take pleasure in the faces
Of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
Who grip you for survival.
You are not dead yet, it’s not too late
To open your depths by plunging into them
And drink in the life
That reveals itself quietly there.

First time through the following eight lines by Joseph Byron seemed to be only be a play on words.  Then as I read them a second and third time it became apparent that simply changing the order of words added great meaning. I get the most from Byron when I read his forty-five word poem slowly and savor each line before moving to the next.  

Feeling strong and strongly feeling.
Being glad and glad of being.
Care for need and needing caring.
Sharing self and selfless sharing.
Full of spirit spirit filling.
Will is warm and warmly willing.
Give joy enjoy the giving
Life is love and love is living. 

Those eight lines really touch me! 

There is nothing new or original in what I offer gratitude for today.  What is stated, I have written about before.  Here again is my thankfulness expressed for the work of others that touch my heart and spirit and make me think.  The canvas of an artist can have that effect on me and so can the notes of a musician.  A script well acted can move me deeply as can the words of a writer, but few things touch me as quickly or as profoundly as a well written poem.

Maybe I am old-fashioned. Maybe my soul has remnants within of the Victorian Era.  Or maybe I feel deeply which allows my sensitive self to receive in great dimension the feelings, thoughts and sentiments in poetry.  Whatever the reason may be, my gratitude is deep for the writers who put pieces of themself into measured word for me to discover, for my ability to feel what the poets left behind and for books like June Cotner’s “Bedside Prayers” that bring poetry into my life.

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
And the affection of children;
Earn the appreciation of honest critics
And endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better,
Whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch,
Or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier
Because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
This old favorite by Ralph Waldo Emerson is included in “Bedside Prayers”

I am Nobody but Myself

I am all the ages I’ve ever been.
Anne Lamott

I love that quote!  It is insightful and true.

I am still the little 3 1/2 year-old boy who sneaked his father’s pocket knife and when no one was looking busied himself poking holes in the bottom of a metal Band-Aid can, at least until I jammed the whole blade deep into the side of my left hand I was holding the box with.  The moment I saw the blood is my first real memory of knowing fear.  I remember vividly being scared and then seeing how afraid my twenty-two year old mother was when she couldn’t get the bleeding stopped.  Wrapping my hand that wept blood with each of my heartbeats in a towel she took me to her mother’s house about a quarter of a mile away.  How we got there I have no memory of.

My grandmother was the daughter of a man known in his time as an “herb doctor”.  Country folk depended on such healers for every day medical needs as the closest doctor was ten to twenty miles away.  She knew from watching her father that turpentine and sugar would stop bleeding.  Generous amounts of both were poured on my hand, held in place by a towel and the bleeding did slowly stop.  Except it burned like hell, that’s all I have clear memory of.  I do know my hand healed and when making a face with the side of my hand using my thumb as the bottom of a mouth, one eye is already there; a scar from that old wound.

Still today I am the little boy who entered first grade when I was two months past my 6th birthday.  In the rural south there was no kindergarten except a private one in town the “rich kids” got to go to.  I was not one of those.  Being dropped into the first year of school with basically no preparation it remains abundantly clear today howfearful I was initially.  The whole place intimidated me and I struggled at first.  Gradually being sad and wanting to go home went away.  I caught up, was able to keep up and in time grew to love school.

The seven-year old boy in his second year in grade school is still within me.  I had Mrs. Betty Levie as my teacher.  She was young and liked us kids.  We liked her.  Years later she would be my science teacher in junior high and encouraged me to enter projects into several science fairs.  She even drove me to a regional fair forty miles away that my family had no interest in getting me to.  Without Mrs. Levie’s help I would never have won the regional junior high first place trophy for Zoology when I was thirteen.

A boy of ten’s memory is alive and recalls sitting at the kitchen table with his mother and brother eating dinner when she made her big announcement.  She was going to marry the guy she had been seeing which my brother and I did not like at all.  My mind screamed “don’t do it”, but the words were never spoken aloud.  I knew it would do no good to open my mouth.  Within two years this man we were made to call “dad” showed himself to be mentally twisted and down right evil.  Even if it would have done no good, I wish I had spoken up when my mother asked how we felt about her marrying the turkey!

I am still the young man who moved to Colorado at eighteen who struggled to make ends meet.  Having my car repossessed was an embarrassment I can still feel today.  I stuck it out in Colorado Springs and in time was able to support myself working a full-time and two part-time jobs.  While other young twenty-something’s were partying and having a good time, I was working three jobs.  I don’t regret it though.  That determination I managed to muster served me well then and what I learned from the experience has been a good reference point ever since.

The young man of twenty-three who took a bride of twenty-two is still within. We were both just “kids”.  Outwardly so sure of where I was going while internally scared with no idea what the future held, my young wife was the stability I needed to begin to make some sense of life.  Ultimately the marriage ended up being a mess, but it lasted for two decades, produced a son I love dearly and contained my first lessons of what love was.

And so on… I am the same person I was at 30 when my son arrived, at 40 when my first marriage stated to fall apart and at 50 when I was fired from a job of eighteen years.  All the ages I have been created a life cut into facets like a diamond that sparkles in the light when looked at it from an appreciating angle.  Some detail has faded into the background, but key events and periods that shaped me are vividly within. During the near fifty-eight and a half years I have been blessed with so far, I am thankful to have the ability to remember so much. Gratitude runs deep for it all; the joy, the pain, the happiness, the heartache and the love that shaped and guided me to be the man I am today.

All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was.  I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory.  I was naïve.  I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer.  It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with:  that I am nobody but myself.  Ralph Ellison

Anger is a Curved Blade

Holding anger is a poison…It eats you from inside…We think that by hating someone we hurt them…But hatred is a curved blade…and the harm we do to others…we also do to ourselves.  Mitch Albom “The Five People You Meet In Heaven”

A lot of my life I spent being angry at people and holding grudges, especially for the ones I felt I could hang the conditions of my life on.  I became expert at blaming others.  To a large degree I was an animosity collector and used my compilation of grudge and anger as justification for my behavior.  I reasoned why I behaved in an incorrect manner was because I had been hurt and wronged.  With those words typed out on my screen now, it is so simple to see such thinking goes compoletely against reason and logic.  Yet, in my thoughts I had no problem creating and accepting fake facts created out of nonsense and living in a self-created sort of survivable insanity.

If a person hurt me, given some time the anger simmered into a thin, but strong thread of feeling within.  When someone else wronged me, the fiber of that hurt was spun into another thread.  A “fabric” of negative emotion was created when these threads were combined and over time woven tighter and tighter together.  That emotional ‘clothe’ became a blinder that shrouded a good deal of my view of life.  What colored the fabric I created?  Fear!

Wikipedia says Fear is a distressing negative sensation by a perceived threat; a survival mechanism occurring in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain or the threat of danger. In short, fear is the ability to recognize danger leading to an urge to confront it or flee from it.  This description fits well how I was able to keep old wrongs done to me so fresh and alive within.  I would not let them go.  Fear became the sustenance that fed my anger and grudges which I was constantly either fighting or fleeing.  No wonder I lived in a constant inner emotional storm.

Psychologists say “fear is anger turned inward”.   Today that resonates true with me.  From experience I can readily see who it was that suffered most for bitterness I held within for others.  It was me!  I hurt myself by keeping other’s wrongs so alive within me.

Looking back I can see the steps I had to take to bring healing to old wounds I had kept infected, sometimes for decades.

1 – Acknowledge:  The beginning of healing was bringing the grudge and anger to the surface and expressing it.  I had to move past just thinking about it.  The beginning of healing was to relieve the pent-up pressure by writing about the wrong done to me or speaking about it to an understanding person.  Usually I did both.

2 – Acceptance:  Just writing or speaking about my anger did not cure it; those actions served only to bring the pain to the surface.  To move on I had to accept my feelings, and see more tangibly the depth of my emotions.  Letting myself accept that is was OK to have felt what I did was a beginning.

3 – Letting go of expectations:  Coming to realize that expecting remorse from others was a waste of time was a big step.  I had to come to know an expectation like that was one of the ways I kept old pain alive in the present.  Some things never make sense no matter how long they are pondered.  To stop expecting logic to make sense of things was another giant step in the healing process.

4 – Forgiveness:  Forgiving someone didn’t exempt them from their actions. It didn’t change the facts. I came to know that even though I had been legitimately wronged, forgiving did not mean I had to forget.  It did mean that I had to acknowledge the humanness of life, that all people make mistakes and do wrong things.  In the process came the discovery I needed to forgive myself just as much as others.

5 – Stop feeding the fire:  Once a fear/wrong/grudge was acknowledged and accepted, expectations had been let go of and forgiveness found, a personal commitment had to be made to not “feed the fire”.  I had to move on and stop thinking or talking about what happened.  When an old wound surfaces I mentally change the subject. If someone brings it up, I explain that’s in the past and I didn’t want to dwell on it any longer. While I will never be perfect at that type of self-control, it has improved greatly the more I have practiced it.

The storm that once raged within is mostly a gentle breeze these days, and only rarely more than that.  To get better emotionally it took living one day one day at a time and trying to take baby steps forward during each one.  Sometimes I moved forward and at others I took steps backward, but by consistently applying myself I moved onward and gained momentum that brought me to today where I am happy and content.  It took years, but all the effort was worth it!  To all I have learned and to all I have learned from, I am deeply grateful.

 Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.  Anne Lamott

Thanksgiving for One

 “Thanksgiving for One” Menu for Thursday, November 22, 2007
Turkey Breast
Green Beans
Mashed Potatoes

Four years ago those items were what I prepared for myself on Thanksgiving 2007; one of the loneliest days I have experienced.  Before then I have no memory of a major holiday spent fully alone and certainly never a Thanksgiving.  In 2007 there were two invitations to join others for dinner that day, but I declined knowing the self-prescribed time alone was a dose of the remedy I needed to swallow; the bitter cure I had to ingest. 

At the time I was about a year into serious recovery from depression, trauma and compulsions.  There was a very painful divorce I was still grieving over and was only beginning to become accustomed to my own company.  Previously my “me-alone-time” was limited to no more than a day or two and frequently a few hours was all I could stand.  Any more was usually acutely uncomfortable.  Why?  Because so much of how I felt about myself came from outside me in what psychology calls “other-esteem”. 

When the majority of esteem came outside myself I had limited control over how I felt about “me”.  I gave control away to the things and people I relied upon for “other-esteem”. Like a puppet on strings and someone or something else was always pulling them and controlling me.  What a wild ride it was to be so in pain and yet not know how to take responsibility and control for myself.  

When esteem inside was lacking, the strong tendency was to fill in the void with people, things and whatever would temporarily give me a “fix” and help me feel better.  Those were the days when “other-esteem” came from money, possessions, sex, accomplishments, relationships and things I could “possess”, or at least thought I could.  Such things outside me made me feel better for a little while, but only temporarily.  My need was never sated for long and another fix was needed…then another… and another.   Constantly I needed more and more and yet got less and less from all those external things.

The killer of self-esteem is self-loathing and it is something like a virus.  If exposed to low self-esteem in our families, we catch it from them as we grow up.  My parents caught it from the people who raised them and before them this way of living was likewise passed down from generation to generation.  There is no fault to place today on my parents.  They did the best they knew how.  As an adult there is nothing good to come from the blame game.  Rather, better emotional health comes only when I shoulder the responsibility for me as all mine.    

Low self-esteem is a stage of grief that has not healed.  The message to myself was I did not deserve better and as a grown up I subconsciously undermined me.   It was the thinking I used to keep me from ever having what was wanted and needed.  My thinking always flashed “UNWORTHY” in big red letters.  Being deprived and undeserving is a downward spiral I spun in for years until I finally hit bottom and decided things had to change.    

Quick definitions for Clarity’s Sake
Self:  unique being; individual.
Other: contrary; alternate; reversed.
Esteem: regard; value.

Using those meanings:
What I used to have:   A contrary, alternate and reversed regard and value of myself (Other-Esteem).
What I needed:  An individual regard and value of myself as a unique being (Self-Esteem).

My esteem today is mostly of the “self” variety, but being a work in progress there is still plenty of the “other” variety I do battle with here and there.  The slow but consistent progress I have made has allowed the happiness I enjoy now.  What is won with the greatest difficulty is usually valued most.  Attaining a corrected view of my self turned me inside out and was a highly painful process, but worth every ounce of discomfort.   I am grateful!

Only as high as I reach can I grow,
Only as far as I seek can I go,
Only as deep as I look can I see,
Only as much as I dream can I be.
Karen Ravn

For a quick indication of where you stand with your “self-esteem” go to the link below and take a short ten question quiz that uses the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale developed by Dr. Morris Rosenberg.

A Marvelous Day

The commitment I made to myself seven months ago was to write here each day, no matter what!  Today is number two hundred fifteen.  My time is slim this evening and the content I offer is hastily written.  To keep my pledge to write daily, this post is arriving just before midnight.  Why so late?  Today was one to be filled with living, not writing.

The marvel of this day just spent, humbles me.

All is well…
Very well. 
I have had a wonderful day…
A marvelous day…
A memorable day…
A good day…

It began with sleeping in for an extra two hours.  I woke rested, ready and thankful for the new day. 

An hour later I was having breakfast at a favorite place with the woman who has my heart.  Afterwards we spent the majority of this rainy Saturday in each other arms.  I love her and she loves me.  How incredibly wonderful!

Tonight I took my best friend out to celebrate his birthday over dinner.  We ended the evening by watching “The Wizard of Oz”. 

I can’t imagine a day ever being any better than this one.  I am content.  I feel loved.  I feel safe.  I am happy.  I am  thankful…. so very thankful!  

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.  Meister Eckhart


Come Home to Now

Do you find excessive love in your life?
Is there too much tenderness?
Do you have an over abundance of gentleness in your life?
Is there a surplus of luck?
Do you live with an excess of joy in your life?
Is there too much understanding?
Do things go your way too often in your life?
Is there excessive winning for you?
Do you have too much peace in your life?
Is there far more time than you need?
Do you have way too much money in your life?
Is there truth beyond what you desire?
Are you often left to feel too lonely?
Is there not as much love as you’d like in your life?
Do you wish there was more joy?
Is there a shortage of tenderness in your life?
Do you wish things would go your way more often?
Is there a yearning for more peace in your life?
Do you aspire for more money?
Is there a longing for more time in your life?
Do you ache for additional gentleness?
Is there a desire to win more in your life?
Do you need more happiness?
Is there too little truth in your life?

………… Such constant spinning of the mind creates the storm of uncertainty and unhappiness most live within.

It is the human condition to reach for more of what we have or desire to fill in the lack’s we perceive.  The world is viewed largely through a vision of what is wrong far more than what is good.  We constantly ponder what we question or have incomplete concepts of.  The primal brain of thousands of years ago which kept our ancestors safe in the bush by constantly questioning and looking for “what was wrong or not right” does not serve us so well today.

By realizing I am wired to find fault far too easily and to miss much of what is good I can improve my life experience greatly.  The wondering “what if”; the excessive desiring, hoping, yearning, longing, hankering, carving, needing, aspiring, aching, hungering, and wanting all conspired within me to be the dysfunction I lived with for so a long while.  But no more do I live this way, at least not all the time.

Mindfulness has changed my life experience greatly.  I have come to know everything changes. Everything is impermanent. It was my past attempts to attach myself to impermanent things, and gain happiness thereby, that guaranteed and perpetuated my suffering.  My insight today is only “this moment” is real.  When I find my self wanting and wondering I try to come “home” to “now”.

The life being experienced as I write at this exact moment is a rare, precious opportunity to choose to return to the roots of my being, avoid reactivity, and promote clarity, kindness, and compassion.  And within I am able to share myself here just as I feel at the moment.  I may be different an hour from now, but just “now” this is what is within me.  As an imperfect human I will never always succeed in my attempts to be fully present, but the very attempt always makes me a success.

My view of what “is” can only become clear when my momentary existence is centered in the “now”.  My attempts to live in the present do not currently, and probably will not ever, make up the majority of my life being lived in the “present”.  As an imperfect human I will always be imperfect in my attempts to be fully present, but the very attempt always makes me a success. I am grateful to know that just this little bit of effort makes for a better life.

What is the mind? It is the past, the memory, the accumulated experience. But the moment you have experienced the thing, it is dead. Experiencing is in the present, experience is in the past.  Osho

My Child Within

Carl Jung called it the “Divine Child” and Emmet Fox called it the “Wonder Child.” Some psychotherapists call it the “True Self” and Charles Whitfield called it the “Child Within”.  My Inner Child is my emotional self. It is where my feelings live. When I experience joy, sadness, anger, fear, or affection my Child Within is coming out. When I am being playful, spontaneous, creative, intuitive and surrendering to the spiritual self, my Genuine Authentic Self, my Devine Child, is being welcomed and encouraged to be present. 

There is abounding joy in my heart to know you, my Inner Child, are able to come out into the light more often these days from where you hid in the dark for so many, many years.  Much regret that things were as they were for so very long has turned into tenderness I joyfully embrace you with. 

Dear Little One,
The parents who barely noticed you are not around.  You do not have to fear hearing “go get my belt”.  There’s no need for a little boy to wonder what the adults are doing in the dark with their clothes off.  Begging to go to the dentist because a tooth hurts and not getting to go no longer needs to make you sad.  There are no more welts on your legs from a willow “switch” you were whipped with. The Father who never came to see you is gone now.  Sacking coal outside in the rain is no longer your chore to do in the winter cold after school.  The bruises are gone.  You can walk through a room without the man your mother married exploding into a rage over the least little thing.  Seeing your little brother sad and lost while crying where his “Daddy is” has faded.  

Gone are the days of wondering why your mother won’t protect you.  “He” can’t hurt you any longer.  Why your father got another woman pregnant and left you, your brother and mother behind is not a haunting riddle any longer.  Feeling in the way and unwanted is something you don’t have to bear any longer.  Being embarrassed about where you live and the clothes you had is behind you.  You can have friends over now without the stepfather being mean to them or saying things that shame you in front of them.  Gone are the days when you wet the bed.  The wounds on your leg from the barbed wire you ran into while running from “him” in the dark are healed.  No longer do you have to work every day after school and on Saturday in “his” store without getting even a little praise for what you do.  

You don’t have to steal any more to have money for your school lunch.  Gone is being made to feel guilty about the cost when you got hurt and had to go to the doctor.  Who your parents are no longer affects if a girl is allowed to go out with you.  Feeling like an outcast is no longer necessary.  The grades of an honor student, the science fairs you won and other awards at school really did matter even if those at home did not care.  No longer do you have to swallow bad “food” that almost made you throw up every time you were made to eat it.  Those who always made you feel never good enough are no longer around.  I’m glad you don’t bite your fingernails now.  No longer are you “slave labor” for a mentally sick man. You don’t have to be afraid any more.

* You can be a child now.
* It’s OK to make mistakes.
* Laughing and having fun is a good thing.
* You can have friends.
* There is love you are allowed to feel.
* I love you, I care about you and I accept you just the way you are.
* I am so proud of you and all that you are.
* You are so beautiful and attractive.
* You are so bright and talented.
* You are so artistic and creative.
* You are “perfectly imperfect”.
* You are such a good worker.
* I am sorry I let you get hurt.
* I am sorry I neglected you.
* I am sorry I forgot you.
* I am sorry I ignored you.
* I am sorry I took you for granted.
* I am sorry I made you grow up so fast.
* I am sorry I had to rely on you so much.
* You can trust me to take care of you.
* You can trust me to be there for you.
* You can trust me to do my best to protect you from hurt or pain.
I love you,

 I found my child within today,
For many years so locked away,
Loving, embracing, needing so much,
If only I could reach in and touch.
I did not know this child of mine,
We were never acquainted at three or nine,
But today I felt the crying inside,
I’m here I shouted, come reside.
We hugged each other ever so tight,
As feelings emerged of hurt and fright.
It’s okay, I sobbed, I love you so!
You are precious to me, I want you to know.
My child, my child, you are safe today,
You will not be abandoned, I’m here to stay.
We laughed, we cried, it was a discovery,
This warm, loving child is my recovery.
“My Child Within” by Kathleen Algoe

My Prayers for Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is the nationally sanctioned American holiday for thanks; for gratitude.  Beyond the Thanksgiving holiday, the family gathering, the food and the plenty it is thankfulness for all the goodness in my life I want to express my humble gratefulness for.  I have so much to be thankful for, especially this year.  I have health, love, friends, family, good work and hope.  I am humbly and deeply grateful.

Gratitude:  To recognize the quality, significance, or magnitude of life; a warm and friendly feeling awakened by thankfulness.

During the Civil War in 1863  Abraham Lincoln set the official of “Thanksgiving”.  At the time he said: 

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that [the gifts of God] should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.” 

Taken from “We Thank Thee” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
For tender grass so fresh, so sweet,
For the song of bird and hum of bee,
For all things fair we hear or see.
For blue of stream and blue of sky,
For pleasant shade of branches high,
For fragrant air and cooling breeze,
For beauty of the blooming trees.
For this new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee.

“Help Me” by Samuel F. Pugh
O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
And remembering,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help;
By word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted.

Taken from “MY THANKSGIVING PRAYER TO YOU”  by Judy N. Marquart
My Thanksgiving prayer
to you from me;
Is for love strong and true
that you hold within thee.
A house filled with love
and the light how it shines;
Showing all of its beauty
till the end of time.

Kindness towards others
for all of your days;
To be returned I pray
in many a way.
A good job to keep you
and pay all your bills;
That you spend it all wisely
and not on the frills.

A family around you
that is loving and true;
That you all stand together
for there are so few.
Dreams of pure beauty
as you lay there and sleep;

Through the peaceful night
when darkness is deep.
An angel to guide you
through morning and night;
To protect you and love you
till the end of your plight.

“Iroquois Thanksgiving Prayer” adapted by St Joseph of Peace
We return thanks to our Mother, the Earth, which sustains us.
We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water.
We return thanks to all herbs,
Which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases.
We return thanks to the moon and stars,
Which have given to us their light when the sun was gone.
We return thanks to the sun,
That has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.
Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in Whom is embodied all goodness,
And Who directs all things for the good of Her children.”

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. 
Thornton Wilder

The Illusion of Self-Awareness

In the last decade I have worked with zeal to become more self-aware.  During the last four years my efforts moved into crescendo and that diligence has resulted in a generous amount of healing and understanding.  In the life I lead now the words “I’m happy” can come from my lips knowing I am telling the pure truth.  There are still wake up calls along the way and today I have been humbled!

Bouncing around the net I came across a statement whose timeliness could not have been better aimed: 

The Illusion of Self-Awareness: We are more Unaware than Aware.

The punctuality of this statement arriving in my presence is a near cosmic occurrence as a biting reminder of my lack of awareness.  Less than a half hour ago the realization hit me; early last week I missed the birthday of my dearest male friend (other than my Brother)! I completely spaced it!  To add to the embarrassment I visited my friend for a few hours over this past weekend.  His birthday did not dawn on me then and he is too much of a gentleman to hint at it.  I feel like a schmuck! (Yes, I know what the word means and it fits how I feel about myself at this moment). 

While I still need to buy a card, the birthday present for my friend’s birthday was purchased over two months ago; so long ago I darn near forgot about it.  There is wisdom to be gained in realizing my self-awareness is not nearly as complete as I have myself believing sometimes.  There is weighty truth for me to be reminded of in the words “we are more unaware than aware”.  Sure ‘nuff!

Yes, I had an important out-of-town company meeting last week and a lot of prep was necessary before the trip.  I am head over heels in love with a wonderful woman in a growing relationship that takes not only my breath away, but also at times my focus (it’s a wonderful thing!). Further, work is challenging in the present economy (I don’t know anyone who has not felt some effect).  None of those reasons are acceptable ones for letting my friend’s birthday slip my mind.  I have no doubt he will be kind and understanding about my absent-mindedness.  I am grateful for that. 

Neuroscientist Dr. David Rock, PhD reported almost 50% of the time we are operating on automatic or not consciously aware of what we are doing. Apparently that is when we’re going at average speed.  When we get busy and really wrapped up in specific things our auto-pilot goes into acute over-use.

Here are a few eye-openers from psychologist Relly Nadler of why our awareness can be so skewed from what is going on around us: 

  1. Intention and execution gap: We have 100% intentions and only 50% effectiveness in carrying out our intentions (at best!).
  2. Our thoughts are facts fallacy: Believing because you think something therefore it is true and don’t check your assumptions with others and worse act only on limited or skewed data.
  3. Superiority illusion: We overestimate our strengths. We think we are more successful, interesting, attractive, and friendly than the average person.
  4. Our memory distorts reality: We create false attributions and stories about the facts of a situation.

OK.  I admit my at-least-sometimes guilt to all four!  Of such things I am sorely aware at this moment after having been humbled with a new lesson about awareness.  A ‘lack’ recognized is again my teacher.  At least for now my awareness is far keener than yesterday.  My fallacies have been shown to me as a reminder that no matter how much I grow, there is always more to go.  And further, there is no arrival or ‘getting there’.  I will always be a work in progress as long as I live.

This morning there is renewed self-awareness that allows me to see where my thoughts and emotions can take me, even when it is to places I did not intend to visit.  When all wrapped up in certain things, I can go mostly blind and my awareness of everything else diminishes. 

Life has so much to teach to a willing student.  I am.  All I have to do is remember to pay attention.  Gratefully I have been reminded of that. 

By becoming more aware, one BECOMES more aware
There is no other method to it. It is a simple process.

Lucky to Have Suffered

The old adage goes you can only love someone else as much as you love your self.  While there is some obvious truth in that statement, I learned a lot from others about love between a man and a woman.  My greatest teachers have been a few special women who have loved me deeply.  In spite of having beneficial self-forgiveness today, I will always lament that I was unable to love them with the same depth they loved me. Emotionally a child within, the ability to return the love received was just not possible then.  My gratitude is deep for those women who schooled me in how to love in a deep and profound way that I benefit from today.  No amount of positive self-talk could have replicated this experience and the wisdom gained.  It was a gift of intimacy, not of will-power.  I will always be grateful.

I remember other women who met my vulnerability with disinterest when I was in my late teens and 20’s.  In memory strongest from then are those who said they loved me deeply when the statment was grossly untrue.  Something tender shriveled within me and I thought I might never be able to share the real me again.  My response thereafter was to create an exterior that matched what I thought others wanted me to be.  This came from just being myself and feeling it did not work.   So I created a false self that let me feel safe and accepted—but at significant cost. Psychoanalytic theorist Donald Winnicot said, “Only the true self can be creative and only the true self can feel real.” Consequently, the person women fell for was, at least in part, my projected false self; the one that could not honestly love fully in return.  And there is my flaw and dysfuntion that then prevented me loving adequately in return.

In an article on Ken Page, a New York author and psychotherapist wrote:Imagine taking a pet you love and putting it in a yard with an invisible electric fence. When it tries to move outside its allowed space, it gets stunned by an unexpected shock. It will only take a few jolts before your pet gets the message: if it goes too far, punishment will be instantaneous. In a short period of time, your pet won’t act as if the borders even exist; it will simply avoid them. If pushed closer to the danger zone, it will exhibit increasing signs of anxiety. The world outside the fence just isn’t worth the pain.

Now imagine turning off the charge from the invisible fence, and then placing a bowl of food outside its perimeter. Your pet might be starving, but it will still be terrified to enter into the newly free space. And when it finally crosses the line, it does so with trembling; anticipating the pain of new shocks. It is the same with us; even though we yearn for the freedom of our true self, some deep reflexive instinct still tries to protect us from being hurt again.

Yep, for most of my adult life I was that much like that poor, frightened pet in the example.  The lack of love in childhood, seeing almost nothing but dysfunctional relationships then and picking troubled women who hurt me in my early adult life all worked together to condition me to be like the pet example.  I became part real and a partially “put-on” person to avoid being hurt.  I ended up not only being unable to love intimately,I got hurt anyway.

Being anything but what one truly is never works in the long run.  With the education of being loved in the past, especially by the two women I was married to, and years of recovery from codependent and love avoidant issues I am so very different now.  I can really love! Today my heart is open fully and I am in love with all I am for the first time probably in my entire life.  The questioning of whether I should or not is gone.  My doubts about myself are greatly diminished.  The shame I feel about my past is healing.  And most of all, I feel truly worthy of being loved.

My ability to love fully was learned in large part through relationships that instructed me in the worth of my most vulnerable self.  My gratefulness for the love shown me by those exceptional women is great.  I only wish I would have had the ability to have reciprocated what I was being given.   A., B., R., K. and A. … from the bottom of my heart, thank you for loving me.

Dean Ornish, MD in “Love and Survival. The Scientific Basis for the Healing Power of Intimacy” wrote: love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well… I am not aware of any factor in medicine — not diet, not smoking, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery—that has greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness and premature death from all causes.

In less than four lines just above is a simple explanation why I am the happiest today I have ever been.  With the tempest of self-loathing inside gone except for a little short-lived and controllable storm once in a while I am psychologically and physically the best I have even been.  I could mourn all the years behind me when I was not so, but instead I choose to live my life with gratitude “in the now” with belief in the good that is ahead.

I believe that I was lucky to have suffered. Some people don’t realize that in suffering there is great potential, because if you are deprived for any reason… and if you set your mind in the right direction, you will find that the only way to survive is for you to excel, by being better… Talal Abu-Ghazaleh