The Day Before The Day Before Thanksgiving

Today, tomorrow and Thursday/Thanksgiving Day will feature a favorite poem about the holiday. I feel gratefulness year round more than I have ever, but never as acutely as I do right now. I know this stretch of holidays from now until after first of the year will be a truly special time.

“Thanksgiving” by Edgar A. Guest
Gettin’ together to smile an’ rejoice,
An’ eatin’ an’ laughin’ with folks of your choice;
An’ kissin’ the girls an’ declarin’ that they
Are growin’ more beautiful day after day;
Chattin’ an’ braggin’ a bit with the men,
Buildin’ the old family circle again;
Livin’ the wholesome an’ old-fashioned cheer,
Just for awhile at the end of the year.

Greetings fly fast as we crowd through the door
And under the old roof we gather once more
Just as we did when the youngsters were small;
Mother’s a little bit grayer, that’s all.
Father’s a little bit older, but still
Ready to romp an’ to laugh with a will.
Here we are back at the table again
Tellin’ our stories as women an’ men.

Bowed are our heads for a moment in prayer;
Oh, but we’re grateful an’ glad to be there.
Home from the east land an’ home from the west,
Home with the folks that are dearest an’ best.
Out of the sham of the cities afar
We’ve come for a time to be just what we are.
Here we can talk of ourselves an’ be frank,
Forgettin’ position an’ station an’ rank.

Give me the end of the year an’ its fun
When most of the plannin’ an’ toilin’ is done;
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin’ with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An’ I’ll put soul in my Thanksgivin’ prayers.

With a spirit of thankfulness and a sense of year round gratitude, I wish you peace that lasts, love that endures and the sense to appreciate them.

The very quality of your life, whether you love it or hate it,
is based upon how thankful you are toward God.
It is one’s attitude that determines whether life
unfolds into a place of blessedness or wretchedness.
Indeed, looking at the same rose-bush,
some people complain that the roses have thorns
while others rejoice that some thorns come with roses.
It all depends on your perspective.
Francis Frangipane

A Long Dark Shadow

To all of you who hate yourselves, I promise this: There is a place where you’d hate yourself less. Somewhere out there, it waits. Each of us has one, whether we know it or not, whether we have found it or not, whether we have seen it with our own eyes or not. It is a nation or a city block, a mountain or a room. It is the Mekong Delta or the Prado, shopping malls or Prague.

It is highly specific and one-of-a-kind — a certain park, say, or a certain cinema — or else it is not a place but a type of place: caves, say, or hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants. In the latter case, two caves, one in Laos and one in Canada, or two hole-in-the wall Chinese restaurants, one in Rome and one in Shanghai, are equally your place.

Maybe you already know where it is, the place where you hate yourself less. Maybe you know this place and why you love it, crave it, dream of it and picture it while stuck in traffic or awaiting surgery. Maybe you go there every March. Or maybe you know where it is and yet have never been there in the flesh.

Or maybe you have no idea that such a place exists. It does. The formula for finding it is simple:
1. What makes you hate yourself?
2. Where do those things occur least?
3. What makes you feel inspired, serene, amused, excited (in a good way), unself-conscious, passionate, compassionate and more or less at home?
4. Where are those things?
From “There Is a Place Where You’d Hate Yourself Less… by Anneli Rufus

Yes, I am one of those who hates themself. Oh, don’t worry. It’s not nearly so bad as it once was and now only drifts upon me at random. Usually it is brought on by fatigue which brings on worry which ignites self-loathing. In some ways I don’t think of it as even being self-induced. Anymore it seems like some foreign adversary that attacks jumps on me when I’m down.

When is my place where I hate myself less? There are three; one specific and two general.

Specifically in my home with my things I feel safe and protected from just about everything including self dislike.

The second place of safety is traveling in foreign places. There is nothing like unfamiliar culture and language to make me forget any negative thoughts about myself. On the road experiencing something new and different I am fully in the moment taking in all the sensory information coming my way. My sense of being alive is heightened to an acute level and I am fully present in the ‘now”.

The third place self-hatred disappears is when I am with those I love and who love me. When friends and family who know the good and not so good about me, yet care about me anyway are near I find no reason to fall into self-loathing. Simply I feel safe to be just the unaffected “me” I truly am.

The glow of gratitude is within for the learned ability to throw off hating myself most of the time. And even when I can’t make it go away completely, almost always I can diminish it to a dull, short-lived level.

If you had a person in your life
treating you the way you treat yourself,
you would have gotten rid of them a long time ago…
Cheri Huber

Shifts Slightly in Color and Form

I  found a webpage with a five question quiz “What is the meaning of your life?” There are five possible conclusions one’s answers can cause. In alphabetical order they are:

1. The Meaning of Your Life is Joy
2. The Meaning of Your Life is Legacy
3. The Meaning of Your Life is Love
4. The Meaning of Your Life is Pleasure
5. The Meaning of Your Life is Understanding

It’s interesting that I picked Love or Joy as my likely score before taking the quiz only to be surprised with a ‘score’ of “The Meaning of Your Life is Pleasure“.  The short narrative accompanying the conclusion of the quiz was: You don’t have to be reminded that life is short. You’re going to live it up and have fun. You are more afraid of regretting what you didn’t do, and you try to do it all.You want to travel the world, experience passion, eat great food, and have amazing adventures. Whenever possible, you indulge. You want to sample all the world’s pleasures, even if your health and finances suffer a little.

Now that’s an eye opener. I truly have morphed and changed with age. Yes, I have become more and more open to newly found knowledge, understanding and freshly gained familiarity. My desire is strong to learn and experience new things. Never had I considered being driven to the point of being a “pleasure seeker”. It had not occurred to me to see my hopes and aspirations from such an angle and considering that perspective broadened my perception.

The “pleasure” answer caused me to push my chair away for a while before I could continue writing. I just did not like the answer I had received and proceeded to tell myself “what real information could five simple questions uncover? That’s not a true answer about me!”

After having breakfast and doing a couple of quick chores, it came to me: What the ‘meaning of my life is’ has no where the significance the ‘quality of my life’ does. Am I happy? More often than not. Do I enjoy being alive? Every day. Do I see good prospects for the future? Without a doubt. Is my health good?  Overall, very much so. Do I have friends and family who love me and I them. Yes, I am richly blessed. Am I able to support myself and reasonably do what I want to do? Affirmative.

Believing in a power beyond me also adds to the quality of my life. With little doubt it has been my discovery I am NOT an atheist as my thinking was in my youth. Atheist Jennifer Fulwiler once said, I acknowledged the truth that life was meaningless… and yet I kept acting as if my own life had meaning, as if all the hope and love and joy I’d experienced was something real, something more than a mirage produced by the chemicals in my brain… if everything that we call heroism and glory, and all the significance of all great human achievements, can be reduced to some neurons firing in the human brain, then it’s all destined to be extinguished at death.

Coming into contact with opinions like that of Fulwiler helped bring me to the solid conclusion I am firmly not an atheist. I can now see that opinion was more a fashion statement of youth than a profession of my real truth. I concluded long ago my life was more than something merely material and temporal.

On my death, when the grand cosmic mystery unfolds, it is my earnest wish that the world be a little better for me having been here. When I die if that’s it, lights out, goodbye and my beliefs were mistaken, my life will still have been better because of my delusion!

What is the meaning of my life? My memories and experiences and those I love and am loved by. That’s really it! There is gratitude for moments of rapture and joy experienced and thankfulness for my greatest teachers; difficulty and heartache. The meaning of my life is redefined ever so slightly each day For the freedom to live that way my gratitude is profound.

The purpose of life is to discover your gift.
The meaning of life is to give your gift away.
David Viscott

Like Smoke Through a Keyhole

Last night I watched the movie “The Bucket List” again with someone who had never seen it. On the big screen in 2007 the film touched me, but this time it meant even more. First time around I laughed until my ribs hurt and found tears in my eyes several times. Last night this was true to an even greater degree. Five years of life have passed in a hurry since I saw “The Bucket List’ originally. Thoughts of retiring are kicking around strong in my head. My mortality is both more real and better accepted than ever before.

There are a several pieces of dialogue from the movie I find especially meaningful. One is when Morgan Freeman’s character says “Forty-five years goes by pretty fast”. The response from Jack Nicholson is “Like smoke through a keyhole”. Never have heard a more accurate description of how life speeds by so quickly.

Watching Freeman and Nicholson acting last evening confirmed even more pointedly to me I need to let go of work while there is enough of me left to enjoy what’s on my bucket list. My thinking is moving to align more with Masanobu Fukuoka who was a Japanese farmer and philosopher. He wrote several books including “The One-Straw Revolution” where the following comes from.

I do not particularly like the word ‘work.’ Human beings are the only animals who have to work, and I think that is the most ridiculous thing in the world. Other animals make their livings by living, but people work like crazy, thinking that they have to in order to stay alive. The bigger the job, the greater the challenge, the more wonderful they think it is. It would be good to give up that way of thinking and live an easy, comfortable life with plenty of free time.

I think that the way animals live in the tropics, stepping outside in the morning and evening to see if there is something to eat, and taking a long nap in the afternoon, must be a wonderful life. For human beings, a life of such simplicity would be possible if one worked to produce directly his daily necessities. In such a life, work is not work as people generally think of it, but simply doing what needs to be done.

No longer do I have this burning need to succeed and make money. After a point success frequently leaves one empty and is often its own undoing. Succeeding leaves most with a yearning for more. Likewise with money. After one’s needs are met and a comfortable life is possible, money can be a person’s downfall. Or more accurately, the relentless pursuit of more does the harm and eventually brings disillusionment. Yearning brings only more yearning.

When I combine what life has taught me, the encouragement of friends and those who care about me along with inspiration that comes from a power beyond me the need to change direction is obvious. The future’s not clearly in focus beyond a few steps, but the joy and excitement in my heart and soul tells me I am moving in the correct direction. I am grateful for such clarity.

God gave us the gift of life;
it is up to us to give ourselves
the gift of living well.

A Little Positive Trail Behind Me

The innocence of a child can be especially touching. For me that’s true partly because some of my innocence was stolen as a kid and partially because living has softened me over time. While the story below is just that, a “story”, it illustrates how naively wise children can be.

A little boy wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived. So he packed a backpack with Twinkies and six-pack of pop, then started his journey. When he had gone about three blocks, he met an old man with a flowing beard, sitting on a bench in the park just staring at some pigeons.

The boy sat down next to him and opened his bag. He noticed that the old man looked hungry. So he offered him a Twinkie. The old man gratefully accepted it and smiled at the boy.

His smile was so pleasant that the boy wanted to see it again. So he offered him a can of pop. The old man smiled again. The boy was delighted! They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling but never said a word.

As it started growing dark, the boy realized how tired he was and got up to leave. But before he had gone few steps, he turned around and gave the old man a hug. The old fellow gave the boy a big bright smile.

A short while later when the boy opened the door of his house his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face. She asked him, “What did you do today that make you so happy?” He replied, “I had lunch with God”. But before his mother could respond, he added, “You know, He’s got the most beautiful smile I have ever seen”.

Meanwhile, the old man, radiant with joy, returned home. His son was stunned by the look of peace on his face and asked, “Dad, what did you do today that makes you so happy?”

He replied, “I ate Twinkies in the park with God”. And before his son could respond, he added, “He is so much younger than I expected”.

As the holidays approach I am grateful for a polishing of the sensitivity of my heart that parable gives me. I hope the refreshed shine makes me a bit more open to the humanity of others and helps me to show mine to them. To leave something of a positive trail behind me is my highest aspiration.

I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but still I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do something that I can do.
Edward Everett Hale

Work and the Ability to Change

I’m packing and getting ready to rush to the airport to return home after a business trip that has taken up the majority of the week. I find myself asking “why I work” a lot these days. And more so, why do I work in the same profession I have been in for many years. While clear answers are difficult to come by, I do find guides along the way like the article just below titled “Why Do We Work” from the Washington Post by Michael Maccoby.

Many people would be happier with jobs that make better use of their abilities. Even so, people do not work for money or survival alone. Even when necessity forces us to take a job, financial need is not the only reason we work.

Work ties us to a real world that tells us whether our ideas make sense; it demands that we discipline our talents and master our impulses. To realize our potentialities, we must focus them in a way that relates to the human community. We need to feel needed. And to feel needed, we must be evaluated by others in whatever coinage, tangible or not, culture employs. Our sense of dignity and self-worth depends on being recognized by others through our work. Without work, we deteriorate. We need to work.

In this still fragile economy, many people will be motivated at work they do not like mainly to keep their jobs for the sake of income and mental health. But a leader who wants enthusiastic collaborators needs to engage them in work that is meaningful to them. This can be done by focusing on four Rs: responsibilities, relationships, rewards and reasons.

We are motivated when our responsibilities are meaningful and engage our abilities and values. The most meaningful responsibilities stretch and develop us. Caring people are motivated by work that helps others. Craftsmen are motivated by producing high quality products.

We are motivated by good relationships with bosses, collaborators, and customers. Fun at work is motivating. So is appreciation for helping others.

Rewards can be motivating, but they can be overvalued. Of course, investment bankers will exhaust themselves for huge pay offs. And piece workers, sewing garments or assembling gadgets, will work harder producing more finished products for the extra dollars. But there is no evidence that teachers will teach better to make more money. Incentive pay focuses a person on particular tasks, like teaching to the tests. It can stimulate a doctor to see more patients, but not treat them any better. Or it can strengthen a boss’s authority by rewarding a subordinate for following orders. But if someone does not feel fairly rewarded compared to peers, incentive pay becomes de-motivating. People may be more motivated by public recognition and appreciation for their work than by money.

Reasons can be the most powerful motivators. Workers doing repetitive work on an assembly line during World War II were highly motivated because they were helping to win the war. The same work in peace time would be boring. People take pride in work that contributes to the well-being of others and the common good. Leaders who articulate a meaningful purpose, support good relationships, give people responsibilities that engage and develop them, and recognize exceptional work will most certainly gain enthusiastic collaborators.

For the moment I am content to do the work at the job I have, yet I know big changes are ahead for me. For so long change was unnerving, but today I am grateful to say I am excited about the possibilities and open to where the future takes me!

What people have the capacity to choose,
they have the ability to change.
Madeleine Albright

Presence in the Present

So much of what we think about and are encouraged toward revolve around getting ahead. In general there is nothing wrong with that except it has a tendency to keep one constantly focused on the future with little presence in the present.

We wonder where our love, friend and family relationships are going. We wonder how to move our livelihood forward and brood over making more money. We think about all the things we should do, the projects we intend to take on.

We crave growth to feel a sense of purpose and progress, but why? Is it born in us? Or something we’re conditioned to believe. Quite possibly some of both, but the latter is a stronger force in my opinion. All around us we are coerced into putting so much energy into pushing and striving; so much so we frequently miss out on the joy of being where we are.

There are reminders of this for everyone in experiences that cause us to pause and fully absorb it. When one has climbed a mountain for hours and takes a moment to stand proudly on the peak is one of those times. Seeing my son born was such an experience I described in a journal as being one “that helped me to better understand life at an intuitive level I could not put into words”.

See a child become enamored with something they perceive as amazing can do it; a spectacular sunrise can cause one to stop; an outstanding performance or great art can stop one in their tracks; and one of the most powerful is simply kindness shown at a critical moment which moves one down deep emotionally. All are moments when a person can arrive in the “present”, notice it and for a few moments stay there.

From a purely mathematic viewpoint, it’s obvious we have fewer opportunities to enjoy arriving in the moment than we will have to enjoy the journey. Growing intention to notice the richest moments of life brings more of them. And this awareness brings more special moments to the journey of life. For the school of hard knocks that was my mentor in this learning, I am unassumingly grateful.

It’s not the answers you get from others that will heal you,
But the questions you ask of yourself:
What part of my life feels broken?
What do I need to heal, to learn, to accept, to reject,
Or embrace before I can give myself permission
To simply do what feels right?

Hate Hurts the Hater

Hate is never good, but it’s understandably felt by some toward people such as child abusers, perpetrators of violent crimes, terrorists and some who are just plain evil.

Otherwise, with ordinary people there’s an adage that goes, someone most often hates you for one of three reasons.

1. They either see you as a threat.
2. They hate themselves.
3. Or they want to be you.

Thinking about hating someone is sobering. Hate is a strong word. Definitions of hate on-line are: to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest; feel antipathy towards. So if I dislike someone a lot, I in fact hate them. I never thought of it that way. And yes, there are people I really don’t care for. I just never thought of strong aversion as being hate.

I cringe at the thought that I might actually hate someone and subscribe to Madeleine L’Engle’s thoughts that “Hate hurts the hater more’n the hated.”

At this point I really don’t think I hate anyone and readily admit I have at times confused hurt with hate. There are those who caused me great grief and lots of pain for who forgiveness is not 100%. There is no one I can think of who I lack the intention of forgiveness for in my heart. However with some I am uncertain if complete forgiveness is possible. Emotional scars stand in the way. I have come to the understanding that most who hurt others have been hurt themselves, often as children, and end up passing along their pain. Completely true or not, that thought helps me forgive people who have injured me emotionally. Not 100% forgiveness, but close.

Elie Wiesel wrote, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference”. I readily admit there are those who hurt me I feel completely indifferent about. I wish them no harm or difficulty, but frankly don’t care to know anything about them today. Such people are now blanks where a relationship of some sort has been erased due to the pain they caused me. It’s a healthy sort of turning a blind eye and putting those old pains up high on a shelf and forgetting about those caused them.

It’s only human to like some people more than others, to respect some more than other folks, to not be comfortable with some people and quite at home with others. I am grown up enough to no longer beat myself up about simply not caring for some people. It’s a form of healthy self-care to at least be able to recognize who’s good for me and who isn’t. I am grateful to know the difference!

The unhappiest people in this world,
are those who care the most about what other people think.
C. Joybell C.

Right Here, Right Now

Once upon a time there was a man who spent his life in a hurry. He was always headed toward something or getting away from something else, but never seemed to arrive anywhere.

He would drop things because he’d bump into stuff or accidentally let his hand brush against what he was walking by just enough to dislodge what was in his hand. He was not drunk, didn’t have balance issues nor was particularly uncoordinated. He was just never mentally precise about where his body was.

The man often thought about where he should be and who he should be with. He yearned for love, yet had walked through being loved many times.  His habit was to always run past love before he actually realized how deeply he cared about someone and they about him. Only when the present became the past could he see much of anything with clarity.

There were small scars and scruffs on his hands and legs from moving in haste. Working with his hands he’d often get ahead of himself and end up with a small wound to show for the haste. His legs were often bruised in small places. When he noticed one usually he had no idea what he did to get the bruise.

Was he running toward what was in his mind or running away from something lodged there? Could it be he was doing both at the same time? Yes, I think. Stretched between the past and the future there was so little of him actually in the present.

Eckhart Tolle wrote exactly what going on with the man,  You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the Now. Why does the mind habitually deny or resist the Now? Because it cannot function and remain in control without time, which is past and future, so it perceives the timeless Now as threatening.

The year, the day, or the time,
It is not important,
Yesterday is gone,
Tomorrow does not yet exist.
Only now do you have the chance
To be whoever you are.
Only now can you live
With the passion of spirit
And the spark of inspiration.
This is where everything ends,
And where everything begins,
Right here, right now
In the flow of what is.
This is all that you have.
Hold on, but let go.
Connect, but be separate.
There is pain in growth,
But there is also wisdom.
To know is to know not.
Every movement, every transition is a risk,
It is an opportunity to transform.
It does not matter what it all means,
It is a play that exists in eternity.
From “The Play” by Conny Jasper

The man written here about is mostly me as I used to be. While far from perfect and constantly bouncing from ‘Now” into the past and the future, I do spend a lot of time in the present than ever before. And it is those moments when I am happiest, enjoy life most and feel gratefulness the deepest.

The past gives you an identity
and the future holds the promise of salvation,
of fulfillment in whatever form.
Both are illusions.
Eckhart Tolle

Peace Within the Riddle

What do you want? Or is what you want always just something you don’t have.

Those spoken words actually came falling out of my mouth this morning from a source I am unsure of. Since I live alone, saying such a thing aloud actually caught me by surprise. Only after speaking them did I start to wonder where they came from. Nothing specific happened. No particular thought was bouncing in my head.

All I did was go stand on my porch for about a minute taking in the cooler weather. Enjoying the view of the big cyprus tree out front decked out in its rich fall brown I watched the needed autumn rain drizzle down. Listening to the soft splatters on my driveway and the gentle ringing of drops falling in the gutters, I felt contented in the moment. Then as I came back in my home and was walking down the entry hall, those words arrived for me to say aloud to no one except myself: What do you want… or is what you want always just something you don’t have?

Neil Gaiman wrote, I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn’t mean anything? What then? So does that mean I will always be malcontented and never at peace with where I am and what I have? I hope not. Such a cyclical truth going round and a round in my brain would be maddening like a dog chasing, but never catching, his tail!

A lot of people get so hung up on what they can’t have that they don’t think for a second about whether they really want it, was Lionel Shriver’s view of things. In that case I’d like NOT to be in the group he called “a lot of people…” and believe I have escaped the usual simply by asking my question; What do you want… or is what you want always just something you don’t have?

Thinking redemption and happiness can never be found in “what is” and instead only achieved within “what might be” is the near raving of a lunatic. In his novel “Lullaby” Chuck Palahnuik stated his version of this thought when he wrote, Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?

Possibly the continual search for more, different and new is a natural insanity that is innate with being human. Dan Millman wrote in “Way of the Peaceful Warrior…”  If you don’t get what you want, you suffer; if you get what you don’t want, you suffer; even when you get exactly what you want, you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever. That brings me back at my original quandary: What do you want… or is what you want always just something you don’t have?

I found an explanation that sets my mind at ease to some degree in an article written in Psychology Today by Alex Lickerman, M.D., a practicing Buddhist for over twenty years. He wrote: Research suggests that our conscious minds aren’t so much in charge of the decisions we make as they are great rationalizers of them. Which means they often collude with our unconscious minds to craft stories about why we do things and even why we feel things that are just blatantly untrue. We often have far more invested in seeing ourselves as virtuous, noble, fair-minded, and good than we do in recognizing the truth: that we often want things and therefore do things that make us base, selfish, self-righteous, and unjust. All of which is to say that sometimes we may not actually know what we want. Or, even more commonly, we may not know why we want it.

What do you want… or is what you want always just something you don’t have? That thought I spoke aloud this morning has no precise answer, except to find peace within the riddle through accepting what is and trying to keep hope for a future with no specific definition. For the calming effect of the experience of writing this, I am humbly grateful.

As soon as you stop wanting something,
you get it.
Andy Warhol