Friday, December 30, 2011
A counselor once told me that I have "an overdeveloped sense of responsibility". In short, he was suggesting that I worry too much. Me? Really? Nah! Well, there are, of course, those nights when I wake up and fail at falling back to sleep because I'm considering what I need to do during the coming day. And there are those moments when I'm not paying 100% attention to a conversation partner because I'm stewing over some trifling error I made earlier in the day. But (for those readers who'd remember Alfred E Newman), "What, ME worry?"
The counselor was right, of course. And he was also right in suggesting that there are some up-sides to the "problem" (for example, I pay attention to details). On the other hand, such an attitude can lead to a very bleak outlook on life, a habit of living out of scarcity (i.e., "I've never done enough!"). Or, as a friend put it, "Perfection is the enemy of the good" (alluding, to a sentiment attributed to Voltaire).
We're at that time of year when we are bombarded with lists of the "fill-in-the-blank" stories/photos/movies/shows of the year past. In all of those lists I've seen, I've never seen the "Ten Most Empowering Stories of 2011", or the "Ten Most Inspiring Stories" or so on. (And if YOU have, please send them to me!) Even the lists of the "bests" often have to put in a little negative bit: "This movie was SO great, but it would have been better if actor so-an-so was less smarmy."
We're also at the time of year when many folks make New Year's Resolutions -- usually along the lines of making up for some deficiency or error in their days past. "I'm going to study more diligently" (implication: "I was lazy last year"). "I'm going to lose weight" (implication, "I overate last year"). "I'm going to drive more carefully" (implication: "Five speeding tickets last year was too many!"). And so on. My "overdeveloped sense of responsibility" points me straight towards those kinds of resolutions!
So when my cousin Patty posted the photo/poster above to her Facebook page earlier this week, I had to comment that "This is fabulous!" What a paradigm shift! It is along the lines of listing all those things for which I'm grateful -- a very helpful practice for anyone, any time. Hmmm. What WERE the strong, fabulous, enriching things in my life from 2011? How can I take them to the next level in 2012? Or, of course, in a more minor way, when I next wake up in the middle of the night, what WERE the great things about the day that was past?
A different kind of resolution.
Happy New Year!
Friday, December 23, 2011
Likewise, earlier this week, Jews around the world began celebrating Hanukah, the Festival of Lights -- a centuries-old observance of another miracle. During the Maccabean revolt against their Roman overlords, one day's worth of lamp-oil miraculously kept the Jerusalem temple lamp lit for eight days.
And, in a few days, as they have for centuries, Christians will celebrate Christmas, miraculous in at least a couple of ways, Christians believe: (1) God assumed human form, as well as, (2) a virgin conceived and bore a son.
Miracles rewrite the dominant stories. Clearly, steadily decreasing light grows dimmer and dimmer until it is gone. One day's worth of oil lasts one day. Virgins don't conceive. These were the stories that held sway . . . until something perceived as miraculous occurred.
This line of thinking wormed its way into my head earlier this week as I read somewhere that we are at a time between stories. The subject of the piece had to do with the seeming decline of the preeminence of the "story" of scientific materialism in the face of new discoveries. From biology to physics to neuroscience, the material "facts" are being challenged by non-physical realities of the mind and heart. The "old" story is not final, it would seem. And so, I would argue, that is ever the case.
There are major dominant stories aplenty in our world. Shifting them MAY take a miracle. But not every story requires a major miracle to change it; scientific discovery, poetic inspiration, or even a walk in the snowy woods, equally may bring about a new plot line. Sometimes simply asking a question will bring about something new, something amazing, something . . . miraculous.
Every so often I find myself mindlessly living in an out-dated story of my life. Those are the times I know it's time to find a miracle-worker: a friend, family-member or counselor. Someone I can trust to ask just the right question that will serve to alter the course of the plot and create a new chapter.
Students, lawyers, employees, lovers, parents, scientists, managers, politicians, athletes, clergy, doctors, mechanics, accountants -- THIS is the season of miracles. A time calling for new stories to be written and lived. May we be inspired to "take up the pen"!
Monday, December 19, 2011
When I was growing up, one of our neighborhood traditions was the annual caroling extravaganza. Members of our family (immediate, and perhaps augmented by a cousin or two) would leave the house for our next door neighbors. We would sing a carol or two, collect those neighbors, move the next house and repeat. On and on, around the neighborhood. By the end of the evening, we would have grown from four or five to several dozen. And we would return to our house for cookies (my mother would have been baking like mad for weeks!) and wassail.
I must admit, I can't remember hearing carolers outside my house since I left home. On the other hand, I can attest to the magic of caroling -- or simply of singing together. It might be magical because many of us do it so rarely. Think! When do we sing together in large groups? It may occur in worship settings for some (but not all) religious traditions. For many folks, it only happens at sporting events IF folks actually sing the national anthem or the team's fight song (or "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" at baseball games).
Sociologist Robert Putnam wrote, several years ago now, in his book Bowling Alone, of the phenomenon of a decreasing participation in league bowling (another fond memory of my childhood!). He used that as an example of our increasing disconnectedness from one another in our society -- not only from our neighbors, but also from our democratic structures. I don't intend to draw the same conclusions from the absence of carolers outside my home; there can be MANY reasons for that.
I have seen, however, over the last couple of day at the University of Denver, the joy of folks gathering together to sing songs of the season. Whether it was "I Have A Little Dreydl" or "Silent Night" or "Jingle Bells", the smiles and sense of camaraderie were extraordinary. No-one was asking about political or religious differences; we were bound by something simple, something joyful: singing together.
Caroling alone? I hope not. Find someone to sing with over the next few weeks. It doesn't make ANY difference whether you're good at it. [I was at an staff function earlier this week where we WERE bowling! Few of us were any good--boy, have I forgotten a lot!--but we had a great time!] Recapture the joy of song. And if you need a reason, just say "I think it will do us all some good!"
Friday, December 9, 2011
Amazing what a walk will do! I was heading this afternoon from my office to the gym, mentally putting the finishing touches on what I might write this afternoon. I had had a student earlier in the week come talk to me about Occupy Denver. And then, this morning, I was listening to an interview having to do with religion, zombies-on-TV, and popular culture. What RICH material for an afternoon's meditation! But, as I walked the snowy path to the fitness center, I noticed heart after heart after heart scribed in the snow. Sometimes there was an arrow through the heart, but most often a single heart. There must have been 25 or 30 of them on either side of the path, or, as in the photo above, on the snow remaining on top of one of the hedges.
Occupying zombies went out of my head, and I realized that something as fleeting as a snowy heart was much more noteworthy. (I may return to zombies and the Occupy movement in future weeks.) But, on a day when I was tired, but knowing I needed time on my spin bike (which would both invigorate and exhaust me further), the procession of hearts took ahold of mine.
Someone, possessed by some spirit, took the time to stop every so often and, with two or three swipes of a finger, left for those coming after him/her a somewhat whimsical bit of encouragement and hope. After I saw the first couple, I kept looking for more and they kept appearing. They even crossed busy thoroughfares. My spirits rose; my fatigue left.
In a time of the year when the light begins to wane, when days grow shorter, we long for light. All of the religious/spiritual traditions that light candles or bonfires at the winter solstice witness to this longing for new life. We look for the rekindling of light, for refreshment of heart.
The anonymous heart-carver provided that for me. And the juxtaposition of the heart with the leaves poking through the snow simply doubled the message. None of us are prevented from providing similar simple messages of hope; a couple swipes of a finger in the snow and our hearts are occupied in an entirely different way.
Friday, December 2, 2011
What IS it about knowing the future? If it is "fixed", then knowing about it wouldn't change anything anyway! Any changes we might make in our life or habits would simply be a factor in what would happen anyway; it wouldn't change! If the future is fixed, we can't run from it; it will be what it will be. If the future isn't fixed, then how can one know it? [The "Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come" in Dickens' A Christmas Carol is a different critter -- a ghost of a possible Christmas to come -- as Scrooge CAN, and does, make a change that affects that future.] Indeed, knowing the future may even have bizarre effects on our behavior: "Well, the world's going to end, regardless of what I do, in 2012, just like the Mayans said! So I can behave any old way I want! What's the point in saving money, or saving the whales?"
So I've never been one who has been that interested in the future. When will the world end? I don't know, and I probably can't do a lot to accelerate or delay it anyway. I think it's much more important, and within my grasp, to attempt to forge, to create, a future that is worth inhabiting. Gandhi, in his development of his theory of satyagraha, or "truth-force", in the context of an argument over whether or not the end justifies the means, wrote of the inseparability of means and ends: "They say, 'means are, after all means'. I would say, 'means are, after all, everything'. As the means so the end . . . There is no wall of separation between the means and the end. Indeed, the Creator has given us control (and that, too, very limited) over means, none over the end."*
I would hope that the "end", the future I would hope to see, is the product of the means I employ to reach it. Right means -- that's enough to worry about! Is the end near? "So what . . . now?" seems the primary and appropriate question.
*R. K. Prabhu & U. R. Rao, editors; from section “The Gospel Of Sarvodaya, of the book The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, Ahemadabad, India, Revised Edition, 1967.