Thanksgiving Thoughts 2018

Last weekend I had the privilege of attending a silent retreat in Tucson. The silence was a gift in and of itself, but the time also allowed me to regain perspective in areas including the gifts in my life for which I’m grateful. I’d been keeping a gratitude journal again for awhile, but that has been done in the midst of the busyness and clamor of life.

John O’Donohue wrote about the blessings in our lives for which to be grateful. The simple yet deep areas that were part of what came to me in the silence:

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,

your health, eyes to behold the world,

thoughts to countenance the unknown,

memory to harvest vanished days,

your heart to feel the world’s waves,

your breath to breathe the nourishment

of distance made intimate by earth.

As I recall last weekend, I realize that being in silence allowed me to be aware of things I would normally miss, which in turn  led to a fuller sense of  gratitude. I took the time to notice and watch the hot air balloons and appreciated their colors and the courage of those in them. I took the time and rather than assume only bees were flying around a planter, I looked closer and realized many of what I noticed were actually tiny yellow butterflies flitting about and how happy I felt in watching them. In listening to the retreat director I became so very grateful for my eyes and vision when I found out that she was going rapidly blind but was slowly learning to find gratitude for other things-friends who helped her, her husband’s arm, the ability to still see a sunset, the richness of her relationship with her son and his family, and audiobooks to continue her love of learning, prayer, and faith development through books.

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When in silence I also found I very much appreciated no social media … a separate commitment I’d made to myself for the retreat and which I found I missed not at all. Was that the “nourishment of distance made intimate” for me as I instead focused on nature, reading, and writing? Perhaps, it certainly felt that way.

At Thanksgiving we are taught to be thankful for fun times with family, football, a large dinner, and friends. I wonder what would happen if we each took 30 minutes to be silent. Might we recognize gifts in our lives, large or small, that we otherwise wouldn’t notice? Would we notice our bodies and the health we have, despite what we do not have any longer? Maybe we would take the time in nature to notice yellow butterflies or appreciate clouds slowly moving through above us, and be amazed at the process of movement that happens when we think all is still around us. We might even take the time to read or write and learn more about what is below our own surface. Or recognize through a picture, odor, taste, or sound the memory of a day in the past full of hope and allow it to imbue our hearts with hope again. Just maybe our hearts would feel a movement and allow it to impact us and notice how a similar time also influenced us this year. And in all of this, it’s just possible we would breathe more deeply, fed by the nourishment of life within and around us rather than just by turkey and gravy.

So here’s my challenge to each of you this Thanksgiving. Take 30 minutes and be in silence. Perhaps before you rise in the morning, after your feast while you take a walk alone, or in the evening before bed. Turn off the TV, put down the iPad, silence your phone. And notice what is around you. In you. What you’re grateful for in your life or your children’s or your relationships. Maybe even just see what comes up as you close your eyes and relax for that time, or meditate. Treat yourself to the gifts of silence to see, hear, smell, or increase in awareness of some lost idea re-found. I would bet you will end your day even more grateful than you might otherwise be this Thanksgiving. Then pick up the phone or pad and tell someone for whom you recognize deeper gratefulness. And thank yourself for this gift of time for you. May you in doing so feel even more “blessed by the gifts you never notice”.

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Freedom Within

The 4th of July always brings back warm memories for me. Childhood memories of family, neighbors, being in the Elmhurst 4th of July parade, a huge neighborhood picnic, mama’s potato salad, Mrs. Grosser’s Rice Krispies chicken, watermelon, and a day that ended in a trek by all of the neighborhood to a park for fireworks. According to the Elmhurst History Museum, fireworks commenced at one of several parks during this time period, one of which was Elridge Park.   Elmhurst was my home town, one in which family, friends, and neighbors counted.  Where one felt safe, and where life was measured by the seasons passing from the 4th of July picnic, to fall school and the smell of tar on the road, to winter snow storms, to spring flowers and roller skating.

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Swimming Pool where I learned to swim in the early 1960’s
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Elmhurst 4th of July Parade circa 1960’s

But the 4th of July meant that we were celebrating freedom, something that is more sought after today, and less taken for granted than it seemed to be back in the mid-1960’s. This 4th of July I want to remind you that freedom is at least as much how we own things internally as how life occurs around us.  Too many are feeling less free in this country, and feeling very much compromised, reduced, limited, and forsaken.  I am not going to address any of the politics on either side of this, that’s for other places and times.  But I do want to address how to own one’s independence of spirit.

This automatically takes me to a famous psychiatrist/neurologist named Viktor Frankl who died in Vienna in 1997 but survived four concentration camps in the 1940’s including Auschwitz.  He was a man who knew no freedom for 3 years, and yet in that time he learned mental freedom, psychological freedom, and spiritual freedom.  He developed through these experiences and times a new form of therapy he called logotherapy or existential therapy.  He believed that not only can we survive extreme times, but we do so through the spiritual self that cannot be reduced by circumstances.  I don’t know about you, but I have struggled with this thought at times; and yet, I also know this is how I’ve both enjoyed the wonderful times in Elmhurst, and some extremely difficult times in my life later.  In fact, during high school a dear friend gave me Dr. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”; and, in reading it I found strength and power to go on.  How?  By finding meaning for my soul and heart, regardless of what might be difficult.  (Note:  I recommend this book highly – see https://amzn.to/2z64yQ8)

At this time when life in our country is rife with difficulty, I believe we must also remember the freedom that Dr. Frankl suggested, particularly when he said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  So, this 4th of July, let us celebrate this.  And let us also remind ourselves that what we hold most dear in this country, freedom, is what we are celebrating and what some are fighting to retain or regain.  And when the parades begin in your town, or the picnics begin, and even through the last of the fireworks going off, may we remember we hold the deepest freedom within to choose our attitude.  Only then can we be fully empowered to celebrate freedom.  And only then can we begin to make real choices about freedom and take steps to further defend it.  From the child’s heart of freedom within me from the 1960’s, to the child’s heart in you, Happy 4th of July!

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Managing News – Rather than Being Managed by News

Given all that is in the right now, it seems remiss to discuss something other than current big news topics. The world is full of happenings that are heart-wrenching and sometimes polarizing, and it can feel like a lot to take in. I have a couple of ideas on how to be a healthy news consumer if you find yourself losing sleep over our nation’s, or our world’s, issues.

Start by limiting your exposure. Such a task can be hard to do—popular media reports all the big, splashy headlines and many of them are horrifying to read. It can be tough to be faced with atrocities on a daily basis, yet you want to stay informed. What to do? Watch news coverage in the morning or mid-day and keep the evenings lighter, with programming that isn’t as heavy hitting.  Watch or read a maximum of an hour (ideally less) of news a day. If you’re viewing a televised news broadcast, once the highlights are over (normally about 15 minutes into the show) much of the content is repeated. Repetitious messages are what tend to turn into brain worms—things you can’t escape. Ever heard a chorus to a popular song and had it stuck in your head for days? That is a great example of how repetition stays with you. This replayed information, whether music, news related, or self-talk, has the same staying power.

Second, consider the sources where you obtain your news. The best place to get your information isn’t always your TV. Your smart phone or other electronic device is a powerful news agent. Use an app that displays the headlines, allowing you can pick and choose which articles to read instead of being offered a producer’s view on what is relevant. One of my favorite apps is called Flipboard. You’re able to pick a number of topics that you are interested in and the feed shows you headlines from each. Mix it up with some heavier hitting news, some entertainment, DIY, gardening, you get the idea—there’s something for everyone. If you choose to try an app, a quick sidenote—keep the “push” notifications turned off. Without that feature activated, you are able to open the app to view the news and allow yourself control of your exposure rather than being inundated by notifications. Another observation I hadn’t considered previously was brought to my attention by Katie Couric on her podcast. She said she still reads a paper version of a newspaper, citing that she gains knowledge on the editorial slant based on where articles are placed upon the page. On an e-reader, that layout is fluid and the editorial bias is not as easy to detect—another important factor in digesting these stories is understanding more about the reporter, the producer, and (more so) the news agency’s views or motivations for the story.

Another idea? Look for an area to take action. What in the news is troubling you most? Refugees? Take a peek at the article linked here, I love the insight it shares–both in how to help AND how to keep perspective on what your personal contribution means to the greater picture. If this touches you, then look for ways you can fit outreach into your life. One person I am aware of makes speeches, another works with her church’s refugee ministry, and another offers counseling time on a pro-bono basis. Is your hot button drinking straws and plastics in the ocean? Make a change, buy stainless steel straws, get yourself a reusable water bottle, and do your best to not buy single serving drinks. Remember, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” ― Mother Teresa

If you are still experiencing looping thoughts, limit your ruminating about the news, talking about it, and worrying about it. Pray if that works for you, do some mindful meditation to center yourself, or simply distract yourself and put your mind on something else. Practice self-care, and allow it to distract you. This may be different for each of you—unwind with a bath, take in a movie, meet up with friends for dinner—whatever makes you feel whole again. It’s important in difficult times to really take charge of what is going into our minds. Be curious. Be considerate. Be open minded. Participate to the extent you are able in order to maintain a balanced life.   And then live in the other zones of your life.

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Thoughts on love.

Recently I had the opportunity to see a part of the country I’d never seen before, the southeast, more specifically, a part of North Carolina. There was a wedding I had great joy in attending, and had a part of my longing for Ireland assuaged…through the friendliness of the people and the beauty in the deep green foliage.  The wedding was so incredibly beautiful in its simplicity that it allowed the love of the couple and the family to truly be hallmark.  So often the love can be secondary to the pomp; although true love shines through if one looks to see it.  As we flew home I had the quiet time to ponder what I had witnessed. In doing so I realized I’d seen love throughout the trip.

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There are likely thousands of definitions of love. Surprisingly, perhaps, I am using a definition by C.S. Lewis for this article: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained”.  At weddings we see affection, but when we can really sit back and watch people over time, we are treated, in specially gifted moments, to glimpses of one acting for another’s ultimate good, as Lewis defined love.  That weekend I saw affectionate love, a mother with her near-toddler away from the group so that he could exercise his need to move and explore. A groom gently stroking his bride’s hand during the ceremony. A mother and father watching their daughter lovingly and then searching for reassurance later that she was included and embraced as family and in family when not near them.  All of these both affectionate, for they each were affected by and with the person of their love; but also reflecting Lewis’s definition that love truly seeks and wishes for the other’s overarching best. The health of the child, the peace in the bride, and the true well-being of the daughter.

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Brene Brown, whose work I find challenging in deep ways each time I hear her words or meditate upon a sentence in one of her books, said “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect”.  I believe she is speaking of the same love Lewis did. And that weekend I saw the same bride able to be silly and later play spoons with the musicians. Even the musicians, all family and friends, though talented, had safety to be themselves and not have to play or sing perfectly. Such a fun evening!  A friend of the couple willingly made childlike faces with his friends, and walked a little girl around umpteen times to explore and quench her thirst for experience. The mother of the groom stepped back in love and then later reached out to her son in true love for him.  Did each lose something? Yes, but they also gained something bigger in sharing their love. In wanting the best for the other, and in doing so imperfectly and courageously.

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How do you love yourself? On a hike to some waterfalls I enjoyed many, many moments of laughter and sharing with our small group of merry middle-aged folk and one young couple brave enough to venture out with us. (And I’m so glad they did! So much fun to see them together as family and enjoying what for them was one more hike, for me the opportunity to revel in the love they share.)  Yet there was another inner part of me aware of less inner judgment of others, of myself.  Yet I still felt challenged to stop any negative chatter about myself, how I walked, looked, even interacted. At one time in my life I recall this inner chatter wearing me down long before the hike did. But this time I found myself probably at my most self-accepting, able to just pace myself, laugh with others, push on another 20 steps up from Triple Falls, and enjoy the people, the views, the majesty of the mountains and falls, the grandeur of the old and so very tall trees, and the love of the couples surrounding me as each helped the other in some way over the course of a couple of hours.

So this summer I want to challenge each of you to look and really see what is around you. Particularly the love that wants for the well-being of the other, and sometimes in the special presence of affection as well. Do not look only for the love of affection, but also the tougher to find-that love which, over time, allows for courage to be imperfect.  You must, however, start with the courage to be imperfect yourself.  You don’t have to be a concert pianist, in love playing the spoons is quite enough and more beautiful! You don’t have to climb Everest, sometimes hiking in a group of middle-aged or just inexperienced hikers is plenty because it’s time with family. So I want you to grab a pen and paper and fill in the following three blanks for your summer wholeness:

Today I have the courage to acknowledge this piece of imperfection in myself ___________ (name some part that is hard for you to accept) and I promise myself to share it with someone who loves me enough to want for my well-being as far as it can be attained. This person is _____________ .

Today I took the time to appreciate love and beauty around me when I ______________ (where you were or what you were doing).  And I am grateful to have observed love in _____________ (name the situation).

And today through the above I opened myself to take a step beyond fear, into self-love, out to experience love of other, and I showed love and desire for their ultimate well-being to ____________.

Wow! Look at you now! You are closer, even by a bit, to playing the spoons, making a silly face, and being an example of imperfect, courageous, authenticity and love. As John Lennon said: “Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life”. And I believe that is all right back to what C.S. Lewis said happens when we love through a steady wish, a hope, a strongly and long held wish for the ultimate well-being for the other.

4/10/16 A Sunday Afternoon’s Thoughts about Life

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It’s been an interesting Sunday thus far – especially for Phoenix in mid-April. We’ve had a wonderful day of cloudy skies, rain, a little thunder, mixed with a slight breeze all resulting in the perfect setting for a lazy day of relaxation. I don’t find I do that often enough – so often I’m on to the next thing, and like all of us, there is always something. But I’ve enjoyed today and want to share some of the musings I’ve had as I’ve rambled through my day.

First, I took the time to actually look around – see what was happening in the window next to me, take a walk outside and see what the yard was like, look after a potting project I’m in the middle of, and generally enjoy what was around me and how the rain was changing the hues, tone, and feeling of the environment. It was peacefully quiet, yet with the patter of some rain drops, and the freshness of the cleansed air and space.

 

After puttering I found my mind then called to travel through possible travel plans, what might I want to see? What rivers to cruise? How to see Ireland through a new lens on the next trip? What is available? And what is my soul searching for in the trip. It was a few hours of looking at many different ways to new parts of the world, life, and my inside longings for what this could be. Where would you go? Would you peruse Ireland? Or might it be Yosemite? Or climbing over rocks and ice as a friend did to reach a new summit on her birthday last weekend? She literally scaled new heights for her and the pictures are astonishingly beautiful. Then I considered a trip I hope to make to Colorado this summer. A small weekend venture – but what could that trip be in addition to a wonderful time with a family member? So while my world was first around what was happening around me, the day moved into the world at large – what more do I want to see, learn, do, and experience? We don’t often think about these things and then take time to get more specific and even specific enough to look at the actual ventures available. The wanderings the Internet allows make this so easy – and enjoyable for quiet days.

That brought me to considering my own inner life and where my thoughts were going so often lately, that of what brings purpose and meaning to life as we age? That’s a question popping up around me so often lately, and as I ponder it with others, I also ponder it within. I tend to turn to a few of my favorites for thoughts to provoke me when I want to go deeper and so I spent an hour or two looking at Brene` Brown’s thoughts and watching some TED talks. I also was brought to the thoughts of John O’Donohue not by my own process but through a friend who had posted something to me via message at Facebook and which I just opened today. So I wanted to share some for you if you are wondering about aging, what holds us back, and why in the world we think we must be all such perfect creatures. I would encourage you to view one or more of these sites:

Maria Shriver’s website on which she posts a chapter from a book I’m ordering next today on the prime of our lives. This is a chapter written by Brene`, and the photos by the editor and photographer of the book are incredible: http://mariashriver.com/blog/2016/04/prime-book-brene-brown-courage-vulnerability-peter-freed/?utm_source=Current+Users&utm_campaign=6c8a4c7de2-April_8_Send_Out_4_8_2016&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_53bf79976c-6c8a4c7de2-36077549&mc_cid=6c8a4c7de2&mc_eid=255d798934

Two fascinating TED talks by individuals who are no more special or gifted than the rest of us – but who truly have a depth of spirit and character many of us neglect to develop. First, Karen Gaffney on why all lives matter at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwxjoBQdn0s&app=desktop and then Jess Thom’s courageous and challenging talk about what it’s like to have Tourette’s Disorder and what she is trying to change in the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jmTlQld2Z8&nohtml5=False What these 3 women have sparked in me today is a commitment to actually push my own limits. I tend to think big and move slowly.

And this leads me to the last part of my day – the poem by O’Donohue that a friend shared entitled “For Longing”. In it he certainly addresses what is true for me, and for so many of us I believe. He speaks of how much our soul is called to – and how challenging it can be to follow the road necessary to reach it. So when I think about my day thus far – and this is frankly true of any day we face – I have to ask myself, what do I need to do today to take a step toward the actions, goals, dreams, and hopes of my own soul?. Did the processes, experiences, and time I took on the activities today move me forward? Or did I stay stuck, and if I’ve felt that, did I enjoy what was in front of me, did I reach out when I needed to, and did I even notice and take time with those around me?

Today? Today I can say yes, from the above to enjoying time with Murphy throughout many of these excursions, I was present in my life, I enjoyed what I did, and I explored areas of thought and the future that will help me move forward. Tomorrow, well that’s a new day! I’ll do my best to do the same in new ways.

Now, how about you? What can you do today toward your future?