I've been thinking a lot about perspective lately. Like many of you, I have been working on my Gratitude; really, really working on it, but there are still moments where I think the Universe absolutely conspires to frustrate me - and these are the moments that seem to go on forever as if caught in their own expanding time warp.
I am grateful for my computer and printer AND I pull my hair out when one or the other inevitably has a bad day on the very day I am under a deadline. I love the Bay Area AND unless you time it perfectly, you'll spend more time in traffic than you do watching the movie you went out to see in the first place. I am happy I don't have food insecurity AND now, thanks to Weight Watchers, I'm reading every darn label and calculating each bite I take by way of some algorithm I hardly understand. Mostly, I love my job, AND I am truly thankful for having a job, but today, the plane is late and the lines at the airport are crazy long. Also, this morning, the intricacies of a garage door opener that has a mind of its own had me stumped and I had to disconnect it just to get out the door and to the airport on time. Which thankfully, I did, and thankfully, though the lines were long and the plane was late, I got to where I was going, which is for work, and, did I mention I am truly grateful for work? Thankfully, I got here in one piece. Really working at this gratitude attitude!
I don't know abut you, but I can get in a bad place where I end up reacting to and focusing on what's broken and in need of fixing (or in need of my intervention to prevent imminent disaster) maybe more than I focus on what is going well. This trait might have had a Darwinian benefit at one time in history but in this modern era, when I catch myself not being really grateful, I feel guilty for demonstrating a very dis-grateful "attachment" disorder (e.g. If I wasn't attached to the outcome, I wouldn't feel irritated) or worse, a marked shallowness in character. Good Grief! How did a nice girl like me get into a headspace like this?
I could possibly have the First World "Flu." I hear it's going around. Last week, I was at a meeting where a group of women were complaining that they had bought the book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and were trying to follow its principles of de-cluttering and letting go of what doesn't serve them, make them happy, isn't useful, etc. They had inherited sets of crystal and china from parents who couldn't take it with them and having their own, they wanted to give the inherited ones to their children. But their kids didn't want any of it. At first, my friends felt irritated and then they realized they were just sad to think that their parents' belongings had no where to go but to Goodwill.
Marianne Williamson said, "Every irritation is an invitation to love." Maybe being irritated about something or by someone is really about your heart and not about what your thinking head tells you. Maybe under your irritation is a crazy feeling that if the little things in life can't be organized and kept in working order, one is not in control of anything.
My friends and I have been talking lately about how it's easy to feel terribly out of control about the BIG stuff going on in the world. We've been told, over and over we can "only control ourselves" but we want the world to be different. We share a collective heartache.
The burden of being a compassionate person who feels impotent in the face of refugees, cancer, extreme poverty, gun violence and impacts of economic upheaval is real. Many empathetic people like you and me feel genuine sadness and loss - our heart aches - when we view or hear about other people's pain and suffering. Did you know that trauma experts found that children who watch scenes like the Twin Towers falling down or scenes of the devastating effects of Katrina, or depictions of child refugees from Syria on the TV news can be more affected, show more symptoms of PTSD, than the children who are in the actual disaster? It's easy to feel child-small and not know what to do in the face of so much world craziness and pain.
Katie is fond of saying, "Go Big or Go Home." Maybe we should also say, "Go Big and Not Small." In addition to finding something to be grateful for each day, I can work on intentionally opening my heart up when I am irritated, instead of making my heart smaller like Mr. Grinch to protect it. As a child, when I got hurt my mother used to say, "Offer it up." Back then, especially as a teen, I thought this was insensitive. But maybe in her way, she was saying, "Raise it up to the Heavens, because Heaven knows all the world's pain and we are all in God's hands." She was telling me to Take the High Road, so to speak. Like AA says, give it over to God as you understand him.
What would it be like to love myself enough so that when I am feeling really irritated about something, I take a deep breath, disconnect from the sense that everything in the whole wide world is getting broken and out of control, and imagine my heart opening up to Love? How would the world be better, if when we feel irritated at someone we open up our heart and focus on how we love them instead? Viewed this way, an irritation is just a warning signal that I am hurt or sad. It tells me to fix that; I need to trust I am being held by a loving God who has brought me through the big stuff and can get me past this irritating event. And wow, this makes me feel grateful!
Now this is irritating. I have to stop writing. I'm here in Las Vegas for work, which I am grateful for, remember; even it it is Sunday, and I am on a deadline to finish this newsletter. Can you believe this? The hotel fire alarm just went off and we have to evacuate. It's 110 degrees outside, People!
Working on opening my heart, visioning my heart opening up...I'll let you now how this goes!
May might just be my favorite month; a time of new beginnings and opportunity. A creature of habit, perhaps I am rooted in the ending of the school year and once "finals" were over, the opportunities always seemed endless - even when they weren't.
Once I began high school, summer was a time of less structure and more responsibility. My usual hospital shift began at 7 am, and unlike classes where I was my own timekeeper, I always had someone waiting anxiously for a test result or a medical care issue to be addressed. Work and responsibility aside though, summer was a time that fun was expected, allowed and wonderfully celebrated. Picnics, bonfires, bike rides and dreams of the future provided hours of entertainment shared with friends and family. I loved lightening up physically and emotionally, trading layers of winter clothes and boots for shorts and sneakers. Somehow part of the weight of the world I carried on my shoulders lightened up as well.
As I have gotten older, I have come to understand that summer really is a state of mind. While I don't always exercise it, I do have an ability from within to alter my approach to how I live and how I perceive my life. The wise words of Albert Camus, "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was within me an invincible summer," offer a level of self-understanding that has taken me years to recognize. Too often I forget the words of Confucius, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated." It is a good reminder for those, who like me, perhaps take on a few too many responsibilities, then adamantly refuse to abdicate any of them. Maybe that's what our ruminations on time this year are all about: savoring the moment, remembering to be still and keep open to the miracles around us.
Always interested in gerontology, I have been reading a book on life lessons from the "experts," some 1,200 people over 65 years old. who offered their thoughts on the important elements of life to sociologist Karl Pillemer. It has been a wonderful reminder that our life view is not dictated by circumstances or the outside world, but is up to us.
Even though I now spend my winters far away from the cold, except for the occasional foray to enjoy a winter sport or two, the beckoning of summer still has the appeal of lightening up. Like the song says, "Summertime and the living is easy." Truth is, at this stage of life, summer isn't any different in terms of the intensity of our responsibilities, but with a little help and self-knowledge, it can be our time to shine. (Joan)
I recently saw the movie, Miracles from Heaven (highly recommend). It's the story of a young girl who experiences an inexplicable cure from a debilitating and life threatening illness after falling 30 feet out of a tree. God certainly does work in mysterious ways. In any case, at the end of the movie, the girl's mom (played by a fantastic Jennifer Garner) quotes Albert Einstein, "There are only two ways to live your life, one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle." Hard to know which side of the equation Einstein was on, since he did not believe in a personal God, or perhaps any God at all. Regardless, it's always been one of my favorite quotes because the idea that everything is a miracle got me past my miracle policing stage. As soon as miracles are censored, this one is and that one isn't, then we're no longer in charge of our own signs and wonders. If I've learned anything about miracles, it's that they are most definitely in the eyes of the beholder.
A couple of years ago, I wrote our newsletter about 'wondering', a nice action-verb involving some combination of imagination and curiosity. Einstein's "everything is a miracle" makes me think more in terms of wonderment. Finding oneself in a state of wonder, suspended in time and in the midst of something that forces you to stop and pay attention; kind of like making the shift from a human doing to a human being: a wonder being. Being open and available enough to notice that miracles abound.
When was the last time you stood outside on a pitch dark night, looked up and marveled at the explosion of stars, felt insignificant and awestruck at the the same time? As spring emerges, there is ample opportunity to get lost in color and sound and warmth, the twinkling and sprinkling of miracles are everywhere. But it's the miracles that are subtler, that emanate from a deep place of goodness found in each of us, that if we are not accustomed to noticing that which isn't in front of our noses, will surely be missed. Someone who doesn't have the time but takes the time, giving or receiving the benefit of the doubt, a smile between strangers on the subway; we human beings can be wonder beings for each other.
Einstein also said the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. "He...who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." Sounds like he was a miracle man to me. (Katie)
In my backyard, for an unknown reason, I have a lot of hummingbirds. I don't have many flowers and I don't have a hummingbird feeder, so I can only guess that they nest around here somewhere close. Often, I have a hummingbird sighting. Even though it has become a regular occurrence, it's still exciting to see them fly by in a whiz, and then suddenly stop, wings beating at some 5,400 beats per minute, still flying but seemingly held in place, hovering in the air as if resting on God's invisible hand.
Living so close to nature as I do, on a rare occasion, I have seen these hummingbirds when they are not flying or hovering. Even hummingbirds pause on a branch or sit on the edge of the bird bath and splash water up onto themselves as if to take a spa break.
I truly appreciate the need to rest, if only for a moment, but like the hummingbird, you don't see me do this often. To be still, to stop the whizzing, and the beating of wings is hard for me. I have a tendency to believe that everything I do is truly "My Job" in the world, and what I do, I do best. And because I have so many interests, I want to do everything!
Have you ever noticed that the really smart birds agree with you when you take on their responsibility? There are many people in the Wild Kingdom of your life who will be happy for you to take on their job too. They tell you that you are the only person who can do whatever it is they want you to do that actually they should be doing. I also have a tendency to believe that what I decide to focus on as important, IS actually important. My adult children have helped me identify this hovering trait: they've told me that sometimes, what I thought was so important, what I thought was SO necessary, was in fact, not that at all. The cookies I baked from scratch, really could have been store bought when I was in that pinch. The minutes I took at the meeting and then laboriously retyped could have remained handwritten. While birds can't decide to slow down while they are out flying, humans can.
When I finally let myself slow down, I notice that I haven't really stopped - like right now as I write this blog or when I garden, both of which I love to do. I want to be able to do these things just for the joy of doing them, but there is this old and recalcitrant part of me that has to remind myself that even though I enjoy this, the activity must have some value outside of my own joy for it to "count" towards the measure of my life. In telling myself I can't slow down, I keep myself from flying.
So many women I know, including myself, have whizzed through life, working 23/7 and some because of the capacity of bi-coastal flights and living, even cram 27 (or more) hours into every day! Even when on vacation, itineraries match the pace of non-vacation days as we plan to drink in every possible moment and experience. I know I did that on my trip to Ireland with my kids; we had so many things to see in such a short time and so few moments to just sit and enjoy the scenery. It literally flew by.
I ask myself why do I love rainy days that force me inside to putter about? Why do I long for a Sunday morning to myself? In my mind at least, there is such an incredible emphasis in this world on productivity and doing as a measure of achievement and joy.
Did you know that hummingbirds are the only birds in the world that can fly backwards? While I am sure there is a natural reason for this, I know there is a metaphor here somewhere. Maybe hummingbirds know that if you fly fast in one direction without much of a pause (reflection) you are bound to have to reverse course. And while I know that some birds can sing when flying, most sing when perched. Maybe they know that when they stop and sing, their song goes farther. I like to think that their song is also sweeter that way.
As I write this, it is the first day of Spring: the Equinox. Ancient cultures took this day off to celebrate the ending of the darkness and the coming of the Light. It is a time of change and rebirth. A time to refocus, and to focus on what is important. At least for today, I promise myself to stop beating my wings and beating myself up and see what happens. (Meb)
As Katie wisely reminded us last month, time waits for no one. As I focus on trying to live more in the moment, it seems strange to me that oftentimes we wait for death before formalizing a celebration of life. While I believe that the conclusion of one's existence here on earth is worthy of marking, both in terms of recognizing the significance of their life's contribution to the world and the miracle of having had someone special in our own lives, sometimes we miss the big picture.Life is to be celebrated each day. (And this Leap Year we even get an extra one!)
The beauty of a sunrise or sunset, the smile of a child, the performance of random acts of kindness all contain cause for celebration. We each know many lives that end too soon and while we mourn their passing, I think there is great wisdom in the words my friend, a widow, shared with me. Because of her loss she finds herself appreciating these simple moments of beauty not just for herself, but for two.
It's the road not taken, the moments not enjoyed that should be a cause for sadness. How many times have we regretted not doing something instead of being deliciously surprised when we make a decision to show up and be present?
Mother Teresa had it right "Life is life...live it." As we come to the end of this month of Valentines Day, love and remembrance, let's celebrate being alive, whether it's reminiscing about the valentine shoe boxes of yore, the humor in a date gone awry or responding to the love you share with your child, parent, sibling, pet or current amour.
Remember the time to celebrate life is now! (Joan)