Monthly Archives: August 2011
I’ve often wondered what a difference it would make if people really understood the impact they have on other people’s lives. I’ve certainly had days that were greatly improved by seeing a stranger’s smile or watching a loving interchange between mother and child.
I remember when I was a kid during the Vietnam war. We lived along the route from the training camp to the airport. I used to sit in the tree along the highway, barefoot and tan, smiling and waving at the soldiers as they drove past. For me it was like watching a parade. I can’t imagine what it was like for them, even now. As young as I was at the time, I was aware that many of the young men riding by were never coming home again. I really hoped that the “all American” image I projected would give them some sense of pride in purpose. Even then I was anti-war, but very much wanting to support the troops. I don’t know if it helped anyone, but I’d like to think it did.
There seems to be something about me that makes me approachable to strangers. I get asked for directions even when I’m traveling. I’ve untangled kids from their bicycle chains. I’ve entered into nonsense conversations with the homeless while waiting for the bus. Are these the sort of interactions people take for granted, or could they really make a difference in someone’s life? I’ve certainly had that feeling, like my life has just been saved, when a stranger in a foreign country offered good advice.
I know there are places where I’ve made an impact. Communities where a turn of phrase I used to teach a lesson comes back to me. A hospital where the chaplain suggests I look at the book that a member of the family (ME!) brought in. I have mixed feelings about becoming anonymous in my influence. On the one hand I’d kind of like some credit. I have an ego, and even when I am hiding like I don’t want to be noticed that ego still needs feeding. On the other hand, the blanket acceptance exhibited by “they say” or “you know” just doesn’t come with ready footnotes.
There are places in my life where I’ve actively tried to have an impact. Most obviously this is with my kids. Trying to have influence towards a specific outcome, there is a mixed blessing. I’m pretty sure I have imparted at least as much fuel for the councilors office as I have life lessons. It sometimes seems that the further removed I am, from my students or the people I’ve mentored or anyone to whom I’ve offered advice, the easier it becomes to filter out the garbage from the gold.
I’ve recently been blessed with the opportunity to reconnect with a couple of guys I used to babysit. It was incredibly moving and supportive to hear how much they felt my influence in their lives. I became integrated into their stories (as they have into mine). To know that just being a part of someone’s life can have such a large impact and especially to get the feedback positively is a precious gift.
I would like to pass that on. I would also like to encourage you to think about someone in your past who really did have an influence. Someone who said the right thing at the right time. Someone who offered encouragement for your secret dreams. Someone who said yes when everyone else said no. See if you can find them, and find a way to say, “Hey thanks! You really made a difference.” It will make their day.
I find myself struggling with the term kindness. I understand that there is a distinct difference between being nice and being kind. Nice has all the advantage of manners. Anyone who has studied manners knows that it includes the great art of taking one down a peg or two in the nicest possible way. Kindness on the other hand presumes a benevolent intent.
It is not so much that I find myself incapable of being considerate. Many of my skills including scheduling and delegating are dependent on being considerate of the needs and abilities of others. It is just that I have been taught to prioritize efficiency and expedience over thoughtfulness. My knee jerk reaction is not to be kind, it is to cut to the quick. I tend to bruise feelings in getting to the heart of the matter.
Unfortunately I also tend to associate kindness with pandering. Is it really a kindness to buy a smoker a pack of cigarettes when they are broke? Is taking a hurt child to get ice cream after bandaging the boo-boo being kind? Is it kind to let someone continue to make the same error, getting themselves deeper into trouble at work?
In terms of correcting someone kindly, I am given to understand that if they can fix it right now it is kind to bring attention to the problem. So letting someone know they are dragging toilet paper on their shoes from the bathroom is kind. Bringing attention to a problem that is not immediately fixable, like someone’s weight, is unkind.
But what about the you did it once and it’s done, but you might not want to do it again problem. Is “I don’t know if you are aware that _____ is considered to be an offensive term and you might not want to use it again” a kindness or an imposition? These are a sticky mess for me. I don’t want to condone behaviors I don’t like, but I also don’t want to be the rules or PC police. But the entirely efficient, “that’s not appropriate, fix it” does not win me personality points.
Still harder is trying to apply kindness to myself. This is one of the biggest blocks for me in terms of my personal health. I’m not supposed to “beat myself up” if I don’t get to the club or I’m too worn out from the day to finish the dishes, or I can’t carry the laundry up the stairs. But I’m also not supposed to let myself slide into complacency because of those very same things.
When I want a chocolate brownie, really want it. I’ve been thinking about it for days and I still want it. No really, not a piece of chocolate or a nice treat, I want a chocolate brownie. Is it a kindness to get the brownie? How about going to exercise? Is it kinder to make myself just get out the door and go or to allow that maybe taking a nap is really better for me today?
I don’t expect to reach any conclusions or come to a great insight today. As much as your comments may help, I don’t expect anyone has a quick, easy, always applicable solution to the problem. I even suspect that I may revisit this issue several times in future blogs. In the meantime I suppose all I can do is test the waters and make a conscious effort. I see what works and what doesn’t. Maybe I’ll find a way through that “you might not want to do that again” problem.
I just hope that the people in my life are willing and able to model kindness, at least in terms of my halting and clumsy efforts to achieve it. It really would help, on the off chance you notice, to let me know when I succeed in being kind. In fact that sort of direct feedback would be a great kindness.
I occasionally feel the need to do something out of the ordinary to enhance my connection to the Divine. Sometimes it’s like checking in, but with formality. Sometimes it’s taking a risk in the hopes of deepening the relationship. Sometimes it’s putting myself in a situation where Mystery is likely to reveal itself.
Usually this kind of urge can be fulfilled by taking some quiet time on my own. Sometimes it’s about sharing experience and I’ll set myself up to do a workshop. Then there’s the fellowship experience where Mystery happens because a group of people get together for a common Spiritual goal.
I have plenty of venues for this shared group experience. I have my women’s circle where we get together monthly and explore various aspects of the Divine. I have several groups I visit for holiday celebrations and community gatherings. I have retreats and festivals that I will visit once or twice a year.
Seeking out the Divine in this way is never a sure thing. I find that the more expectations I hold the less likely they are to be fulfilled. I find sometimes it is the quiet small things that have a large impact, and sometimes it is the huge energies of a community 100% committed to an intention. There are times when it is the music that inspires me and times when it is the silence.
All of that introduction to reference the camping I was doing last week. Camping is a significant physical challenge for me. I struggle with the weight of the gear simply loading and unloading. I find it hard to sleep pain free in my bed at home, much less on a camp bed. I have asthma and being outside can be glorious, and it can cause serious problems.
Last week the weather was perfect. Cool evenings and sunny warm days, not too hot. A full moon on Friday to gently watch over us and light up late nights around the campfire. The oak grove in which we were camped provided a canopy of shade and a feeling of being held in the arms of the trees. It was an ideal setting to touch the magic of Mystery.
All of that and there was no earth shattering revelation moment for me. Instead I was treated to a sense of my own humanity, my own vulnerability. I had so much support in this camp. I didn’t set up or take down my tent. I didn’t pack in a kitchen. I didn’t have to cook every meal or spend all my time keeping an eye on the kids. I was given the opportunity to do a workshop and encouragement to continue doing that kind of work for the community.
I was also blessed with the opportunity to watch a community transform itself. When this camp started most of the people were holding back, unsure of the personal dynamics. There were a lot of things different than in previous years. But people also came with a willingness to be willing. People opened their hearts and shed their hurts and fears. They came together in support of each other. I wasn’t the only one who felt truly supported by this camp.
So I am back in my life and filled with gratitude. I’m grateful for all the physical help I got. I am grateful for the encouragement. I am grateful for the time with old friends and the new friends I’ve made. I am grateful for the weather. I am grateful for the sharing.
I think that gratitude is one of the most nearly Divine of human emotions. It may be more gentle than earth shattering, but I find that gratitude opens me up like nothing else. Perhaps it is in gratitude that we truly allow the light of the Divine to shine through us. I’d like that.
So I said I’d post a weekly blog and this week I’m late. Guess what? It wasn’t even (entirely) my fault. I was camping. Last year there was internet access, wi-fi. This year not so much. So I planned to be able to get in, and couldn’t.
I’m not alone in this campground. Other people are accessing the internet on their phones. I could have borrowed a phone and spent the day writing a blog one finger push at a time. I thought that was a little ridiculous. Is it?
I could have driven to the nearby town, to the library. I’m told all the locals had the computers tied up, but maybe if I’d given up the day? I didn’t. I could have called someone in town and asked them to do it for me, other people did. But who could I have explained this too? I haven’t even told everyone I’m writing!
I guess the point is that sometimes life demands a choice. Sometimes Spirit demands a choice. We make those choices consciously or unconsciously, but choices are in fact made.
When we are called to stay up way too late giving comfort to a friend, that’s a Spiritual choice. When we are asked to stay late at work rather than getting home to our families, that’s a Spiritual choice. When we are asked to give up vacation time to go looking for an internet connection to post a blog, that’s a Spiritual choice.
How often, when we make a Spiritual choice with our own needs and desires first do we honestly regret making the choice? How often when we trust in our hearts, do we honestly regret making the choice?
Honestly, I don’t regret not posting or not looking harder for an internet connection. I do regret the amount of energy I’ve put into feeling guilty about the choice I’ve made. I do regret worrying about what anyone reading this blog might think about my dependability.
That’s shame and frankly I don’t think it’s worth it. So if you all please be kind and keep reading, I’ll be kind to myself and let the shame go. I’ll post this blog today and another on Monday and simply keep moving on.
It seems to me that people need some kind of celebration to ‘touch base’ with the passing seasons and years. It may be Christmas or Ramadan or Passover or birthdays or the start of the school year, but we each have marker points. I see these as opportunities to connect with something larger than ourselves. Whether that connection is religiously defined or simply acknowledging the cycle of life and the passage of time the human psyche seems to need those moments.
For me, making a connection with the Divine at these marker points is often about taking stock of where I am at this moment. Of course there is the ‘Where am I in my life?’ question, but I mean that in a more visceral sense as well. What is the weather like? How am I feeling? Sort of a where am I in relationship with the planet, or at least my little corner ofit?
That’s where I get to corn on the cob. About 20 years ago I recognized that my summers rushed passed so fast I seemed to miss them. I didn’t have the “summer break” advantage of time slowing down (and speeding up) and vacations with little kids were fun, but not vacations at all. So I decided that I would only eat local corn.
For all the bad rap that corn and corn syrup have taken in the past few years there is nothing like eating fresh corn on the cob. I live in Minnesota, so the local season is short and very specifically the corn comes in at the height of summer. When I really think about the difference in taste between local fresh corn on the cob and any other corn that might be available to me throughout the year it’s not a huge sacrifice.
This small decision makes such a big difference to me in terms of awareness. I have a greater sense of what’s happening in my local farming communities. I look at summer weather not just for my convenience but in terms of the crops. I recognize that summer must be here when corn starts showing up in the supermarkets, but local corn truly marks the middle of the season. The anticipation and awareness just make the corn even tastier when I do get it.
I will admit to having gone on a month long corn on the cob binge once or twice over the past 20 years. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned that I can appreciate the bounty of the local harvest without going overboard. Ultimately that is what this marker point brings to my attention. An appreciation and a gratitude for the bounty of the harvest close to home.
So this week I am grateful for corn on the cob. I know the extreme heat and rain that we’ve had this season has affected the crop. The ears are smaller than they’ve been in years in the past and not quite as sweet and juicy. There is still nothing like fresh corn and I’m looking forward to a few more meals of it before the season ends.