Friday, November 28, 2008

Decking the Halls a Little Early

May your walls know joy; May every room hold laughter and every window open to great possibility. - Maryanne Radmacher-Hershey

You may have noticed that I've become festive in this blog. When I was a child, I welcomed the day after Thanksgiving, because that was the day that we put up the Christmas tree. It meant that the holiday season was official for our family. The promise of gifts, cookies, and gatherings were imminent. Oh, the joy of childhood during the holiday season!

My wish for everyone this year is to feel like a child, crafting and baking with a spark of life that can only exist in states of pure joy, as they prepare for Christmas. I wish for a constant song in your heart, Jingle Bells, or O Come All Ye Faithful, or whatever it may be that reminds you of those days of anticipation.

There are only twenty-seven days left. Better hurry!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To be surrounded by family, my Thanksgiving wish for everyone.

Ah! on Thanksgiving day, when from East and from West,
From North and South, come the pilgrim and guest,
When the gray-haired New Englander sees round his board
The old broken links of affection restored,
When the care-wearied man seeks his mother once more,
And the worn matron smiles where the girl smiled before.
What moistens the lips and what brightens the eye?
What calls back the past, like the rich pumpkin pie?
- John Greenleaf Whittier, "The Pumpkin"

There is something truly special about this holiday. It gathers us in ways that are remarkable and lend to some of the best memories of love one could hope to have.

Some of the most honored memories of my childhood are of the gatherings held at my grandparents home on Thanksgiving Day. We watched the Macy's Parade. We ate and ate and ate. We laughed and talked. We had fun. We were reminded that though we were often far apart, we were still together in spirit. We were reminded of the gift of family.

When you are surrounded by your loved ones this Thanksgiving Day, think of what life would be like if you were missing just one of its members. What if there were no family with which you could celebrate at all? The holiday would lack any glimmer. And life would seem less full.

Tomorrow, it is my sincere hope that everyone watches floats enter Times Square, hollers for their favored football team, eats a large meal, and most of all, enjoys the company of family. Be thankful of them.

Some will be gathering with strangers tomorrow. There are many who, tomorrow of all days, will be without their families, whether because they are fighting overseas or because dire circumstances has landed them in crowds of others less fortunate.

And if you can spare a few dollars, consider helping another get a meal as good as the one you will be sharing with your family. Many shelters and food pantries are strapped this holiday season. If you can spare even a little, maybe everyone will eat tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another day of thanks

See how many are better off than you are, but consider how many are worse. - Seneca

This year has been especially trying for Americans and the citizens of many other countries. The credit crunch, numbers of foreclosed homes, and the increased numbers of the unemployed - we hear more and more of these things on the news every day. You need only flip on CNN for a few moments and bad news of the economy comes flooding in.

Some of us are feeling the effects of these things more than others. To those who feel the fear of loss, I can only remind them to keep faith in a sound and happy future. And look to your neighbors, friends, others in your community. Are they worse off? Could they use even the smallest helping hand?

It's so easy to hand out blame during bad times. There are still multi-millionaires out there who can not only stand on their own two feet, but have surrounded themselves in lifestyles of luxury that many of us cannot even conceive of.

Still, for all that are better off than you are now, there are countless others out there who can be counted as having it so much worse. If you aren't worrying about what you can afford to eat tonight, then carry some canned items to a food pantry. If you have a roof over your head at night, consider dropping some change into the kettle that will ensure one for another.

If you still have so much to be thankful for, the ability to help someone else can only be added to that. And when there are times when you feel you have nothing to give, consider a smile or a word of encouragement. Sometimes, that is more than enough.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Have you said "Thank You" today?

Silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone. - G.B. Stern

This week I'm giving as much thanks as possible. With that thought, I've decided to write on gratitude every day until Thankgiving. I hope you'll spend as much time giving thanks too.

There's been a lot of talk about gratitude of late. Anyone who's seen The Secret or read anything about the law of attraction in the last few years has noted that this is apparently a very important part of attracting all that is good to you.

I agree for this reason, but also for others.

As a child, I, like so many other good children, was taught to say "please" and "thank you". The point was to be polite above all else. But as I grew up, I began saying "thank you" for a whole other reason.

You see, people react a certain way to you when you extend the courtesy of a well said "thanks". People need to feel appreciated, respected, and wanted. They want to know that what they do has some measure of reward - just as you do. And when that appreciation is shown, they continue doing that which rewards them with gratitude.

Also, it means nothing to feel grateful if you aren't expressing it to this person. Silence, in this case, means that you have not noticed someone's thoughtfulness or kindness. Silence may mean you don't care when you should.

Now, take that one step further, and apply this to the Divine. Your gratitude towards God/the Universe/the Eternal Being (whatever your point of view), should be said aloud, expressed as fully as you can. Hearing yourself say it can only reinforce it.

And in this case, there's so much to be thankful for.

Have you said "thank you" today?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Living with laughter.

You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it. - Bill Cosby

Laughter though tears is my favorite emotion. - Truvy Jones, Steel Magnolias (as portrayed by Dolly Parton)

Have you noticed that, even through the hardest moments, a good laugh can make anything bearable?

Laughter is an essential part of life, whether your day is sunny or cloudy. Not only does it pass the time better, it adds a quality to your life that fretting and sadness cannot possibly overcome.

Humor is the ultimate pain pill.

The next time you are starting to feel blue, worried, scared, frustrated, or angry, consider putting on the Marx Brothers, or Tom & Jerry. Have a good laugh! It'll see you through to the other side of the bad.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Que Sera, Sera

For peace of mind, we need to resign as general manager of the universe. - Larry Eisenberg

It is one of those basic truths that you cannot expect to be filled with inner peace if you expect to have control of everything in your life. There are far too many factors for this. Giving up control of things that you have no control of, a resignation to the universe, it is then that you will gain a sense of serenity.

Furthermore, there's no guilt or frustration in taking responsibility for things that are outside of anyone's foresight or control. Merely acceptance.

So, let what will be, be. As the song goes, "Que sera, sera."

Monday, November 17, 2008

Be happy!

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. - Wayne Dyer

If you do nothing else of value today, do this:

  1. Write on a piece of paper (or type it up, if you prefer) the words, "Be happy".
  2. Put it up on a bulletin board, or on your refrigerator, or any place that is often passed by or viewed.
  3. Look at it often. Say the words to yourself. Feel the words within yourself.
  4. Be happy.
You cannot know that achieving success or getting married or traveling the world are going to fulfill you. But you can know that you can be happy whether you get what you seek or not. Happiness is dependent on one key component: a decision.

That's right. Deciding to be happy is the rule. It's up to you. Giving the power to be happy away to another person or to a desired object or to an abstract idea means that you will only be disappointed.

One of my favorite movies is About A Boy, based on the book by Nick Hornby. There's a scene where Hugh Grant's character is trying to prevent a young friend, played by Nicholas Hoult, from making a tragically embarrassing mess of himself on stage in the name of trying to make his mother happy. He says that you can't depend on other people to make you happy, because if they can make you happy, they can also make you unhappy.

Words to live by, to be sure.

Society, for the most part has said that the "thing" comes first, then the happiness. In essence, society has got it backwards. No, your happiness first enables these things to flow to you much less hindered.

So as you reevaluate what your happiness has been dependent on, feel free to let them go. Keep working towards your goals, but remember that your being happy right now can only move you in that direction.

So, be happy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Unknown

When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it's time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly. - Edward Teller

It's hard to walk into the unknown, scary usually. Sadly, this is the reason that many people won't and never will commit to attempting something greater than what they believe they are, or what they have, or what they can do. But you might notice that if you inch into that darkness, just tiptoe, the more comfortable you will become with not being comfortable, being comfortable with the possibility of failure.

Look, many an entrepreneur, theorist, artist, has had to learn to overcome failure. Many have had to learn to overcome the fear of failure. Many have had to learn that faith isn't just about religion, but believing in the outcome that lies in wait. What if they never had? What evolutions in civilization would have taken place?

And I love this quote. It reminds me that I will either succeed or learn the lessons of failure. I have often wished to be fearless, to be carefree from the consequences of my actions. I guess I believed for a long time that those who were successful must have had that element of fearlessness in them. But that is probably being less than honest with myself. If the journey were easy for everyone, what would be in the telling of the story?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The greatest of virtues...

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. - Cicero

Have you ever noticed that when you show gratitude, it begets kindnesses in your direction, it attracts those things that make you feel good? Isn't that wonderful?

And it doesn't matter what it is you are grateful for, whether it be something momentous or even the mundane. Being mindful of these things is so important. They can be so easily forgotten or overlooked. But they are part of those tiny strings of existence that affect everything else.

Furthermore, what would life be like if no one appreciated one another? Would anyone laugh with another, cry with another, fight for another?

The solid truth is this: this singular act is just as important a virtue, an adhesive in civilization, as any other. Nay, more. The importance of every other is solely based on how it is received.

Plus, if it weren't for gratitude, what would we actually see? Flowers, oceans, smiles, hugs, gum, card games, tomatoes, running, frosty breath, gentleness, friendship, communication. Yes, these great things are around us all the time. But gratitude is the eyes through which we are truly able to see them.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's all in the perspective.

It's never the end of the world. It's already tomorrow in Australia. - Charles M. Schultz

Spilled milk again? Accidentally bleached your red shirt? Lost some money in stocks? Betrayed by a co-worker? Bad, bad day?

Whether it be minor embarrassment, utter hysteria, or anything in between, it's important to have a seat somewhere quiet, take a moment, and reboot. Remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.

Bad days are called bad days for a reason. Sometimes, that's just the way things will roll. Maybe it starts with toothpaste on your shirt, and the bad luck continues to intensify until you've had a minor fender-bender, leaving you with laundry and higher insurance premiums. However your day got to be that way, it's the stolen moments of quiet and stillness that can clear your mind of these things - let them go and wave them away; gain some perspective.

I love the quote above. It reminds me that no matter how bad things are at the moment, the day will be over soon enough (and some days, not a moment too soon). Just smile and think, it's already tomorrow in Australia. A new day is nearly here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Practicing Compassion

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. - Dalai Lama

It's that time of year again - the red kettle army is manning their stations in front of grocery stores and mall entrances, in hopes of obtaining much needed funds for programs helping people in numerous ways: from drug and alcohol rehabilitation to disaster relief. The Salvation Army is an institution that has been working hard for the betterment of poverty-stricken people since 1865. And that continues today, advancing into a new world by promoting their online Red Kettle. Already, I've donated quite a bit to the Salvation Army as I walk into a local grocery store (literally every time, which is at least four or five times since the first). Even when it seems there isn't any more to give, there is. And I feel good every time I do this. There are people who walk past very quickly, pretending not to notice. I once was one of those people, and the guilt of not sparing even some change stayed with me. This guilt is, of course, easily rectified.

In the most recent issue of Energy Times, the headline reads, "The Goodness of Giving". Of course, you'll notice from the cover that these words are overshadowed by the flashy, famous couple (the picture speaks for itself). Still, after reading the article within, you realize how absolutely important it is to be a participant in altruistic acts, and not just for the receiver of said acts.

Studies have proven that by participating in acts of kindness, positive emotions impact your physical body in a very real way. That good feeling you get from doing these selfless acts, whether it be delivering household items to your local Goodwill or volunteering time to the YMCA or other organizations, is actually helping you to become or stay healthy and happy, as well as giving you a sense of satisfaction.

In my first post last week, I wrote of the importance of giving. What you will notice is that once you've given of yourself, whether monetarily or through other means, the more you will desire to do it again. So, with that thought in mind, let the inspiration you receive today not rest in anything I write, but rather lie in your own personal act of random kindness.

Note: If you want to start with your own donation to the Salvation Army, consider clicking the Red Kettle to the right. I've made a goal of raising $250 this holiday season. Please help me reach this goal. Even a small amount is worthwhile. Thank you!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Kindness, Beauty, Truth

The ideals that have lighted my way time after time and have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. - Albert Einstein

What gives you the courage to face your day? It is no small thing to accomplish tasks, to finish a job, to help people. There are days that are hard for one reason or another. The anxiety of the current economic crisis has created a level of hostility and indifference for some. For others, it has only furthered their endeavors to be the tools of the universal and divine. Have you asked which one you are?

Entering each day with a sense of the divine, in seeing the importance of kindness, beauty, and truth, is by far more empowering than fear, hate, anger, and despair. The latter are simply not strong enough to overcome the possibilities of the former.

When you think of the volunteers that head to war-torn nations to offer medical care, food, a helping hand, a sympathetic heart, are you inspired to actions of courage? When you see the accomplishments of a visionary, whether that be in medicine, politics, or even film, are you inspired to acts of courage? When you hear stories of people who committed acts against dictators, in search of freedom and truth, are you inspired to acts of courage?

There will always be a turning path, a blind action, uncertain results. But these things can be overcome. And having the tools of kindness, beauty, and truth at your side to give reassurance in the darkest of nights, to guide you in your moments of quiet contemplation, will see you beyond the depths of your own personal hell to a life fulfilled - a life aspiring to greatness.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Success in Failure in Success...

A man's life is interesting primarily when he has failed--I well know. For it's a sign that he tried to surpass himself. - Georges Clemenceau

You know, there really isn't a chance of success, of great things, without risk. Risk, whether fortunately or unfortunately, walks hand-in-hand with the possibility of failure. And while this is frightening enough for many people to not attempt greatness, the ideas that can be taught from failure are just as important as the successes.

Consider Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and others. If it weren't for embracing failure, accepting all possibilities, they could not become who they did become.

What if no one stepped outside of the box of conventional thinking, what if Houdini never attempted escape, if George Eastman had never acted on his vision, if Martin Luther King had never had his "Dream"? Would another have come along to fill these voids? There is no guarantee of that. And what would history have said in that place? One dares imagine.

It is in attempting a greatness beyond yourself that you prove who you truly are. And while the failures that occur in those attempts will be very real, they only keep you down if you choose to let them. There is just as much character to build in the failing as the succeeding. And of course, the successes that follow failures are more true, more heart-felt. And they are always a step down that unpaved path that others will follow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Significant Man

The significance of a man is not in what he attains but in what he longs to attain. - Kahlil Gibran

This week has seen our most historic election since the infancy of this country. And while the record of this man is evident, and an indicator of his strong and good character, it is what Barack Obama plans to do, how he plans to reshape this country, that is a greater barometer of the kind of man he truly is.

After years of war, he seeks peace. With a murderer running free, he seeks justice. A market that deceives and punishes the everyman, he seeks to level the field. For the weak and sick, he seeks health care. For the disenfranchised, he seeks inalienable rights. For all children, he seeks a diverse and comprehensive education system. For an ailing world, he seeks renewable energy sources. For the unemployed, he seeks jobs with fair wages.

And he is the beacon of light in the darkness of these many days that we are capable of being the person we want to be. The drive, motivation, and focus for the things we don't quite have are the seeds of our characters.

May we not waste this epic opportunity. Barack Obama certainly hasn't. And he certainly never will.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Once an amateur...

Every artist was first an amateur. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you're first starting out as anything, whether it be a performance artist or an entrepreneur, you can't expect to be treated as an expert. The beginning is always the hardest in anything, whether it be learning to walk or aiming for the stars. But if the beginning was easy, the victory of success wouldn't be nearly as sweet, the rewards wouldn't display their true value.

I suppose when Charles Lindbergh first pointed into the sky and Michael Jordan first held a basketball destiny was pulling at their dreams. But it was not then that they proved what they were made of. No, these things must be earned.

But when you are finally beyond the distinct realm of amateurs, you will know what it is to live in the world of dreams.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Dreamers

Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true. - Leon J. Suenes

What an amazing day! Beautiful in many a state as voters went to the polls, anticipating the results of a day two years in the making.

Despite your political views, it must be pointed out that there truly is something special about the prospect of electing an African-American President of the United States. One-hundred and fifty years ago, the idea that an ethnic Commander-in-Chief was practically an abomination. But in truth, this is a vindication for all of man. It proves that all of us can be what we desire to be, if we are willing to step down that path, to run that run, work that hard, and fight that fight.

The people who will benefit most from this amazing occurrence are the young, who do not remember the depth of the racism that often gripped this country, who do not realize yet the work that had to be done, the sacrifices made, to make dreams come true. But as they grow, and learn, and see the results of others doing just those things, will come to know what it means to bring one's own deepest desires to fruition. They will learn to rise to the challenges that life provides them on the road to success. And for that I am so happy.

Everyone has obstacles to overcome, especially as the price of daring to work towards a dream. Fears must be overcome, judgments must be ignored, learning must be done, and tasks must be worked and worked and worked...

Anything is possible... if you believe that your hard work will pay off.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The value of helping, giving

Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up. - Jesse Jackson

I was lucky enough this weekend to happen upon a TV program called "Giving is Good", which was an initiative of the Feed the Children organization. It reminded me of some things that I and others have observed in the last couple of years.

My mother, a nurse, has told me horror stories lately of the elderly persons who end up in her care for one reason or another. But one of the saddest was this:

There was an old woman who had sold her house so that she might live comfortably off the proceeds for the remainder of her life. Unfortunately, her social security and medicare only covered so much and she was constantly dipping into the money that should have lasted much longer. She told my mother that she had informed her children that she only had enough money to last her two more years, and then she wanted to die. Mom was distraught because she knows this woman only needs to turn off her oxygen and go to sleep. A peaceful death that timing chooses.

Watching programming like "Giving is Good" puts the devastation worldwide on display, giving us a view of life that is degrees worse. Thinking of Kenya, or Darfur, or South Africa, it's easy to place the needy in a nice little box of circumstances that happens to "those" people, in another place, in another time. They aren't us. We aren't them. No, we have it better. We are better.

Are we?

A few months ago, there was a report on
60 Minutes about Remote Area Medical - an organization that started with dropping medical supplies into remote Third World regions. Now, they hold free mass clinics in the Tennessee/North Carolina/Kentucky/Virginia area for people without health insurance, are underinsured, and have been turned away by mainstream medical organizations. The people who come in droves to these weekend events held in schools and fairgrounds are the desperate. There is nowhere else to turn.

The man behind RAM, as it is called, Stan Brock has given everything he has to his organization, down to his own livelihood. Living in an old school, it wasn't until this last year that he had running water in his home. He doesn't take a wage from the charity. He has donated everything he had, including an old plane, to the cause. And all he asks is for people to participate, to donate a few dollars here or there, to volunteer.

Because of the
60 Minutes report, money came in the thousands, leading to expansions. It shows that people are good. They simply need to know how to direct it, where they are needed, and that they have something to give.

We were in Rochester, MN a couple months ago for a birthday party. If you've ever been there, you know that Rochester, while not overwhelmed with rich people, isn't a haven of the destitute under normal circumstances. We were stopped at a light, waiting to turn, when we saw a man, not dirty or drunk, and probably not homeless (yet), who was holding a sign that read "Need money - please help". He was edging into senior status and could not even look anyone in the eyes, merely kept his head down unless someone, like my mother, could get his attention to hand him a couple bills.

All I could think of was how devastating it must be to have to resort to begging.

And then I would think of the people who look away, trying to pretend they don't see what they most definitely do. Many, many cars passed him. Their drivers look down on people like him, thinking "Get a job" or "This loser isn't getting a penny out of me". Deep inside, though, is the fear that one day, they will be standing in the shoes of that man, desperate enough to be begging at an intersection, their path unknown.

Everyone has hard times at some point or another, in one way or another. And when you are, all you can think is, "why this, why now?" Where was that man's safety net? Where was the goodness of men when another looked at that man in disdain?

We are all connected. This is forgotten in those moments. We share molecules with the stars. We are all the same. That man is my father, my brother, my son, my mentor, my student, my friend, my dream. He is me and he is you. When one of us falls, we all fall. We, as one, are made worse by another's personal lack, when one of us profits from the despair of another.

Maybe I'm the only one who has noticed this, but lately, I've felt that we are entering a new era. Something is about to change in a spiritual way. It is my sincere hope (and belief) that this will change everything else for the better.

That man on the corner, and that woman in the hospital bed, will not be left to the direness of their circumstances. Rather, we will all rise to the occasion and bring them into the worldly embrace of goodwill. We will prove our greatness as a species, as spiritual beings in this physical world. We will be reminded that we are infinite, and always capable, that we always have more to give.

Click here for more on Remote Area Medical.

Click here for Giving is Good.