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My Own Christmas Day

This may be a radical idea, especially coming out just two days after December 25. In fact, I’ll bet it brings up considerable resistance within the psyche of anyone who reads this. Change usually does.

First, let me say that having everyone celebrate the same holidays on the same days or schedules each year is an ideal way to bring structure to society. It serves a purpose and keeps things orderly. It allows American companies to provide employees days off through the designation of specific holiday dates each year. Everyone focuses on the same celebration at the same time. In that acknowledgment there is unity and oneness – a nice feeling to have with your neighbor or relative.

I think this form of order works quite well for recognizing political or societal holidays. I have a different opinion in regard to the rigidity of spiritually-based celebrations. For example, I propose to recognize the Spirit of Christmas in April or August. No more December 25. In fact, we could move this spiritual holiday to a different month each year, just to be sure folks are paying attention to the Spirit of the Season. Why you ask? Why make such a drastic suggestion?

Think about it. From Halloween to New Year’s Day it’s just one party or get-together after another. People get worn out from all that traveling and partying and gift buying in a short two-month span. Why not spread out the celebrations a bit? We could easily move Thanksgiving and Christmas to other times of the year…to those months when there’s not a lot going on in the way of connecting with one another.

Christmas in August would be ideal! There’d be less weather-related issues for traveling (no snow). You could combine buying the new academic year’s school clothes as Christmas presents (practical and money-saving). There’d be a lot more contemplation time in December to prepare all those resolutions due by January 1st. You wouldn’t have two major, end-of-year holiday celebrations just eight days apart (loss of employee productivity with all that time off). And with all the thought and attention placed on getting just the right Christmas gift and being with those you care about, you would be able to connect with them in the middle of the year (plus end-of-year holidays) and distribute the love more evenly throughout the months rather than focus on the last 65 days of the calendar.

This year our family purposely down-sized the commercial expectations that have built up over the years. Through that effort, we found we had a lot less stress about the whole Christmas event, we were freer to give from the heart and not the wallet, and we’ve started seeing or calling each other without the Christmas impetus. We’re talking to each other about life and having fun. We don’t need to have a designated date to make plans to visit. We can choose our own special days to connect. And that’s a very spiritual thing to do.

We recognize the Love more easily – no tree decorations in the way, no fancy meals to cook, no special trips to arrange – unless we choose to. We decide…when to call up and say “hello” or “I was thinking about you.” We decide…if it’s a day to spend with family or friends or both. We decide…to bring that sharing and giving consciousness to each other or to strangers along the way…and we can do it EVERY day. We express our loving God/Christ-nature EVERY day. And isn’t that the message we should be sharing?

There you have it. My slightly radical idea to have our own designated and personal Christmas day. If we celebrate the Spirit of Christmas on a regular basis, would we really miss doing it in December? What a fun surprise this will be for my family next year. I really can’t wait for Christmas!

Birthday Thoughts

My birthday is this week. I’m almost at the end of another decade. I’ve been sick for a few days, too, so my perspective on life has been a bit skewed. It’s just a nasty cold or something; enough to put me on the pity potty every once in awhile, though I’m determined not to stay there long enough that it leaves rings. My focus has been a bit off. In the midst of my whining this morning, I received a reminder that put things in clearer perspective and shut me up at the same time.

My infant grandson was at the hospital this morning, having minor outpatient surgery. Due to my own coughing and runny nose, I couldn’t be there to help or be part of providing comfort – to child or parents. A friend in another state was having major surgery on his heart – a 6- to 8-hour procedure – that had been quickly scheduled to help him avoid any unexpected heart attacks. There have been devastating crimes across the world this past week, too. And I was complaining about coughing and sneezing?

I need to stay in gratitude. At least I get to HAVE a birthday again. My body is already on the mend through rest, nutrition and time, plus a few herbal cold remedies. I’ll get back to my full routine shortly. Any stress I want to bring on myself is waiting in the wings. I think that’s an important awareness lately – I can attract whatever level of stress and anxiety I desire in my life…or not. If I hold onto anger, all I do is get more angry and ride the downward spiral to emotional oblivion. That’s not how I want to live my life. That’s not the place from where I can make decisions for Good. It’s just too debilitating to live in that negative space. Maybe that’s how this week’s illness got a foothold; it found an opening in my self-pity and wants to prolong feelings of victimhood. Not today, thank you!

My grandson is already on the road to recovery; he’s quite a tough little guy. He hasn’t had any of the after-surgery issues his parents were warned about. As for my distant friend, the prognosis is good, too. Surgery went well. The road to recovery will be long, but he will recover. And tomorrow I will be one step closer to experiencing the perfection of breathing without pain or coughing or sneezing and wheezing. I’ll be able to get through the day with perhaps only one nap instead of two or three. Plus, it’ll be my birthday.

I’ll have the day to reflect and contemplate…how far I’ve come and where do I want to go from here? Do I like who I am…who I’m becoming? I notice I’m stronger, more authentic, compassionate, tolerant, more loving and forgiving … of myself and others. As long as I remember this about myself, it allows me to face the ugliness, anger and fear of the world with more courage and objectivity. As long as I stay focused on the inherent Good of Life, I can recover from pain more quickly so I can truly be a more positive influence in the world and for my family.

My personal mission is to “Learn, Teach and Serve” …from a Spiritual source and with Power for Good. That, now, will be my mantra and focus. Next year, we’ll review and see how far I’ve come. Happy Birthday to me!

Happy Within

Just when I think I might have a challenge coming up with another topic for the week’s blog, I will hear or experience something that removes all doubt and that I MUST share. A few days ago a comment was made about hoping “…this will make them happy.” I shuddered at those words.

Happiness can ONLY be an inside job if it is to have any lasting meaning or significance at all. Certainly there are giggles of delight when someone does a nice thing for you or squeals of surprise when something fun occurs. Those experiences serve to increase the happy feelings and bring them to the emotional surface in a very visible way.

Yet, those reactions are temporary. They fade as quickly as one activity passes on to another or your mood changes. Happiness is yours to express and to share as you wish. YOU get to share it; no one can make you happy. Not really. In fact, you can actually block your own cheerfulness and choose to be in a foul mood, a control technique, of sorts…to damper the spirits and joy of those around you. However, when you carry true joy in your heart and soul, and while you may pause to consider how sad it is that someone you care about doesn’t wish to be happy, their unhappiness is their burden to bear or release as they choose.

I was once in a relationship where the person I was with was actually annoyed that I woke up happy each morning. I was chided for having a smile on my face when I opened my eyes or being upbeat and perky before breakfast. It didn’t matter what I or we were going through in life – and we faced some difficult situations together – it was the only way I knew how to be…happy! Yes, I do express other emotions of disappointment or sadness from time to time, but I always bounce back to and draw from this joyful reservoir. I have come to appreciate my positive disposition. It’s who I Am.

I like to think of true happiness as being this eternal joy that wells up from deep within your soul. You carry it with you always. Like love…peace…compassion…beauty…etc. As you never really run out of these qualities, the only way to not experience them is to not use them…to not acknowledge them. What I have found is that the more you do use, experience and share these eternal qualities, the greater they become as expressions of who you are. Isn’t that wonderful!?

I believe this joy is directly linked to the trust and faith we have in God. The more we can rely on that Higher Power to support and direct our lives, the greater happiness we experience. I know this to be true for me…so it must be possible for you, too. Try it. Don’t worry…be happy.

 

Moderation

I love days like these…cloudy, a bit cold outside, listening to spa-like music of piano and violins…and the time to write undisturbed. This moment follows a vacation day from the pulpit, so I’m feeling recharged, contemplative and very grateful. I enjoy my work; I also appreciate the occasional Sunday off. It helps keep life in perspective. I believe too much of any one thing is either an obsession or a burden leading to resentment. But what is enjoyed or repeated in moderation allows the mind and body to fully appreciate its temporary nature. After all, all of life is temporary to some degree.

This is not something I understood much, if at all, twenty years ago…or even five years ago. Given my upbringing and early adulthood, I felt it was required to not only “suck the marrow” (Thoreau) out of each life experience before releasing it, but to do it quickly, urgently, before it got away or was taken away…and my opportunity was gone. Savoring an experience and trusting it could repeat itself – even if in a slightly different form – was a foreign concept to my old way of thinking. Fortunately, I can now appreciate a slower, richer pace…and still accomplish all I set out to do.

That’s one of the principles taught in many meditation classes: take the time to meditate each day and you will actually find you create more time to get things done in life. Another benefit to doing things in moderation is the ability to “enjoy the journey.” By slowing down, being mindful and focused, you can fully embody the experience you’re having rather than rushing through it and only skimming the surface of what it really offers.

This idea became vividly apparent when I was learning massage techniques…I had to slow down in order to really feel the muscles and the repairs needing attention below the skin’s surface. It also allowed the muscles time to respond to the pressure I was applying and releasing…to bounce back and heal. While I do very little massage anymore, a similar example is now being expressed through the piano lessons I must practice and comprehend.

It’s impossible to learn to play the piano well in one day…or one week…or even one month. Yet by steady and repeated practices, I do see progress. I can now read most of the notes on the bass clef; something that was a frustrating mystery a couple months ago. I hear myself getting better with each painful hour I spend at the keyboard – painful for others who may be listening, so I’m now wearing headphones to save them the agony.

It does my body and mind little good right now to work at my piano lessons for more than an hour at a time. Moderation is the key. Practice. Walk away and do something else. Practice. Do some stretches or take a walk. Practice. Go to work, write an article or sermon. Practice. Each time I come back to the keys, I feel stronger in my skills…I notice my progress…my hands seem to remember what they’re supposed to do. This moderation routine allows me to make greater headway AND enjoy the overall experience, rather than beating myself up verbally, practicing hours on end, and becoming frustrated because I don’t see that I’m getting it as fast as I think I should.

Would I like to learn more quickly? Of course! In the meantime, I am enjoying the process. I’m marking the pages of accomplishment each week. I’ve discovered old family music sheets that I can learn along the way (for variety from the lesson plans). I listen to music in a whole new way and am humbled by the talent all around me. And my body is grateful for the diverse physical positions throughout the day.

My new mantra is:  EVERYTHING in moderation!

Try it. Enjoy it. Live it.

Deciding Long-Term

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get ‘it’ all down…how to live this thing called Life successfully enough that I don’t need to have so many do-over’s or RE-awakenings. Like making decisions. I make several a day: what to eat or wear; which project to work on first; scheduling appointments, what music or movie to enjoy, etc. I’m grateful that I get to choose such things for my life. These types of decisions don’t have major significant consequences, but there are others that do…others that have long-term effects.

What I’ve been RE-awakened to are some decisions I made several years ago that seemed insignificant at the time. This has to do with my landscape plans and the large trees I decided to plant. When the trees went in I knew full well how large they could get, how wide they would be, and how and where their deep roots might grow and wander. The thing is I had no plans to be living on this property by the time they became a concern. Well, plans change and here I am, facing the consequences of my former landscape decisions.

In the Science of Mind textbook (p. 388.4) Ernest Holmes writes: “And so we prepare not to die, but to live.” This now is a great reminder about what perspective to have when making decisions of any kind, but especially long-term ones.

Had I made my previous tree-planting decisions with the thought of being the person who would now be trimming, or even eliminating, one large tree (and several smaller ones), I definitely would have made different choices. One of the key influences to my decision-making process is that, up until recent months, I moved homes every two to four years. Sometimes, I moved more often than that. The idea of living in one place long enough to actually watch a tree mature and become a nuisance was entirely foreign to me. Now, it’s rather comforting to imagine that possibility.

I have this vision of growing ancient in this home…of tending gardens and planting perennials… of building sandboxes and playing with many grandchildren on the swing set of our children… of hearing each floor squeak get louder each winter… of crafting from piles of endless stored supplies… of actually sitting on the front deck to watch the sunrise in the summer… and a myriad of other activities as the years float by. With such a vision before me, the decisions I make now are for the long-term. Thus, they are made with greater forethought and consideration than in years past… the way I wished I had made them to begin with when I planted all these trees.

I will make a formal amends to the trees that now must be cut down to stop the damage to my home’s roof and foundation. And I’ve learned to make better choices in every area of my life as a result of this experience… as some decisions are certain to outlive my mortal body. For now, I “…prepare not to die, but to live” a long, healthy and wisdom-filled life.

Anticipation

This year, more than any other time, I await the results of the presidential election with great anticipation. I’m certainly no expert on all the issues or the candidates. I’m sure there’s much I missed along the way. Yet I paid attention to what was important to me, balanced the presenta­tions from varied sources, did my own research, and then made my decision based on education, intuition and faith. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

Anticipation is an interesting sensation. It holds within it increased awareness, enthusiasm and hope… even some attachment to a specific result. This heightened feeling of expectation provides energy to stay alert, fully participating, being involved, and awaiting the finish or at least the completion of the next stage of unfoldment, whether it be election results, health diagnosis, project conclusion, and business or relationship decisions.

As any stage comes to completion, with it can come a sigh of relief and perhaps sadness that it’s finally over. Anticipation’s euphoric breath is released and a thought of celebration usually follows, however brief it may be. Shortly or eventually thereafter, a renewed energy begins to grow to address the next stage, the next idea, or another challenge…and the anticipation cycle begins again.

This cycle of anticipation and closure is very much like what we find throughout Nature. The ebb and flow of the ocean…the growth and rest of the plants from seed to maturity to decay…the changing of the different seasons…day and night… being awake or going to sleep…etc. Thus, this concept is nothing new. Anticipation is a normal way of being and provides us the motivation and energy to pursue our goals and intentions, as well as to carry us through any disappointments toward renewed optimism.

As the election winds down, I release a sigh of gratitude that this event is nearly concluded…until next time. The focus for many people will return to their previous interests, employment efforts, families, friends, homes, and social media postings…other normal ways of being and living. Our country takes a collective sigh of relief as we move forward into the next chapter of our world’s unfoldment and evolution. It’s an exciting time…and one filled with great anticipation!

 

Celebrate Life NOW!

Halloween happens to be my favorite holiday. Sometimes it’s just easier to be your ‘true’ self from behind the safety of a mask…or so I’ve told myself in the past. Fortunately, I no longer need a costume or a mask to be my authentic self, to be happy, or to have a little fun. It’s a matter of being comfortable with who I AM….and having my happiness and joy come from the inside, not from other people or various situations.

This new ability to be happy as I AM rather than because of something around me has impacted my perspective of this special October event. I no longer feel the need to wait until one particular day to dress up, decorate rooms with odd décor, act weird, or give away treats to strangers. I can do that anytime. (Be alert – you never know what might happen around here.) No, I’m not losing my mind. It’s actually a great way to live in the moment and enjoy what I have now.

Many years ago I read a piece by Erma Bombeck entitled, “If I Had My Life to Live Over”  ( http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/11882.Erma_Bombeck ) that planted a seed for this change of attitude. I also watch those around me who are ahead in years and wisdom as they use up or easily discard one family treasure after another – giving away things to family members, friends or charity – in an intense effort to make use of their collections or to clear out the burden of accumulating too much of life’s stuff. Once I started doing the same, my attachment to possessions, houses, cars, jobs, etc. all changed, too. What I know to be true for me now is that, for something to be kept in my possession for any length of time, it must be regularly used or displayed, or else it is shared or gifted away

It takes time for some seeds to really take root. We often call that maturity or part of the growing (aging) process when we finally recognize such wisdoms. I don’t have to wait for “someday” to enjoy and appreciate the abundant blessings that are mine. It’s happening now! I don’t need to wait until the right moment (event or holiday) happens before doing something special. I create the right moment. It’s always the right time for joy and happiness…to look for the Good in Life. And if there’s a holiday to remind us to celebrate the Good, all the better!

Peaceful Easy Feeling

My week currently starts with Sunday afternoon…after church is done and I’ve changed into my comfy clothes. I either unwind with a trip to the movie theater or a couple of hours walking in nature.

Recently I chose the latter, walking in the afternoon sun around a small lake, stopping to sit and enjoy the views and the warm breeze. My husband and I were both lost in silence as our steps traveled the gravel path. The dog, too, kept to herself and was relatively quiet during the whole excursion. My mind was filled only with peace and contentment.

That peaceful, easy feeling has remained with me since. It opened me to the interconnectedness of all creation. This internal quiet heightens my awareness of the Oneness of Life. It encourages me to be mindful of what is before me at this moment. Such peace invites compassion and patience into each interaction I have with another life form – plant, animal or human. Such peace fills my whole being with a deep love born of God, of Spirit.

Divine Love knows no bounds; has no exceptions; is without limit, powerful and ever-lasting. Its depth is beyond that of human emotion. Let me give you a comparison.

If you’ve ever been on a small to mid-size passenger boat (not a cruise ship) and taken a ride out into the ocean for an hour or two, you can feel the movement of the ocean beneath your feet, separated only by the boat’s hull. As the boat rises and falls through the waves, you might notice the power of the ocean as water meets boat, yielding, but firm. The boat provides your connection to the unknown depth below. There’s a mystery of the life within the liquid darkness. In every direction there is only the majesty of the ocean. Suddenly, you realize you can no longer see any shore. The power and depth of the immensity that stretches out all around you is humbling and awe-inspiring.

That is what Divine Love feels like to me…powerful, deep, immense, humbling and awesome!

I am cradled through my trust in a Universal Presence. My soul is protected through all eternity. Whether I can see ahead in my journey through unknown or dark situations, rising and falling as my beliefs allow, I am propelled ever forward. I am always connected to this Divine Love, anchored in the knowing that I am never alone, no matter what stretches out before me. Spirit resides within me, and I within It, embraced in waves of Love.

I am at peace in my surrender to this immense Power.

And so it is…

Stay-cation: Plan A or Plan B?

It’s no surprise to my family how difficult it is for me to take time off. And then there’s the insane process of ‘preparing’ to take time off…what I call “working at pre-vacation speed.” I don’t like catching up; I’d rather be proactive and do as much ahead of time so my return from holiday is at a relatively normal pace (whatever normal is at the time). Thus, by the time vacation comes, I’m truly ready!

My psyche gets a little confused over the whole stay-cation concept though. The idea of staying at home and not really doing anything is so foreign an idea that I’ve had to make some adjustments to the term. I can do day-trips, and then stay here at night, using my home like I would a hotel. I would need to leave very early in the day with a destination planned to encourage my departure. Otherwise, I know what I’ll do…start puttering around, picking up things, fixing projects, sitting down at my computer, etc. Before long, the day is over and I’ve not really experienced the activity I had intended. You can see my dilemma. Obviously the work-aholic issue is alive and present.

With regard to making plans, one tip I received long ago has come in handy in many situations. Make your first activity (Plan A) something you want to do, something you would enjoy and that feels like a worthwhile endeavor. Then also formulate a “Plan B” – an activity of equal or greater interest such that if “Plan A” didn’t work out, you wouldn’t feel at all disappointed. In fact, you might even secretly prefer that “Plan A” failed so you COULD do “Plan B.”

It’s a bit of an insane idea, psyching yourself out of wanting to do the first thing so you can do the second and have more fun, yet still feeling good about failing at the first option not working out to be able to enjoy the second. Make sense? For example, if…

  • “Plan A” is to secretly hide away at home for three days with my husband so we can re­organize my office and finally get it functional and beautiful so I’m happy to be there every day, maybe get done quickly enough that we could do one or two of the things below
  • …or…
  • “Plan B” is (forget the office) just go off on daytrips with my husband, seeing local sights we’ve talked about, doing short hikes and café lunches, visiting places where we’d like to do dedicated retreats, watching a movie during the day or reading a book in the sunshine at a park

…I have some inner conflict between these two options. Each one would be fun for me! Each option leaves me satisfied. But this stay-cation isn’t about just me. The above plans have been discussed with my husband and somewhat laid out. I’m willing to turn over this challenging decision to him and go with the flow, knowing either option will bring happiness to my life. Who would have thought it would be so complicated to want to get away from work?

Won’t it be interesting to see how it all turns out?

If Today Was My Last…

In one of our spiritual classes, we learn about the benefits of mindfulness. It’s a practice that applies not only during meditation, but also in our practical, daily lives. To see clearly what is before you… preferably without attachment or judgment… to objectively see “what is.”

I was gifted this experience most profoundly while caring for my infant grandson. He finally fell asleep by my side as we rested on a comfortable chaise near a sunlit window. At first I occupied my busy mind with mundane electronic games to pass the time until he would eventually awake. Then his baby snores caught my attention and focus. His steady breathing, the fresh baby smell at the top of his head, the touch of his little hand on my arm…all these gave me clarity to see the gift we were to each other in that moment, just by being aware of his presence in my life. Time stood still and silent.

I thought, “If today was my last day of life, this is how I would choose to spend part of it… in such a moment as this.” It was clear to me that I would choose to fill up my final hours with the joy of being alive and being with those I love… to be gifts to one another.

As we cuddled in the quiet, my mind moved on to other ways I would spend my last day in this physical realm… chatting with granddaughters about their school days and dreams… discussing with my sons and daughters the meaning of life, the importance of love, and encouraging them to always seek spiritual and personal growth… sending out one more message to all my family and friends about how wonderful they are and how much they add to my life… taking a walk in my neighborhood in the cool of the day… pointing out where all the important papers are… playing the piano… giving away cherished items… playing tug-of-war with my dog… and having dinner with my husband, teasing and laughing together as we often do, sharing one last embrace as the sun goes down and the moon rises…

Not once did I think of extravagant trips to far-away lands or daredevil acts to perform. There was no fear or sadness. There was no place else I thought of going…only “being” in that moment next to this little soul. Only feeling love and wonder! It is forever etched in my mind and heart.

The greatest awareness of this experience is realizing I am already doing these things. I choose to do something every day to fully express my joy and gratitude in being alive… in connecting with Life. While I am not anxious to leave this physical realm any earlier than necessary, I am content with my existence and purpose, and with the person I have become, knowing my evolution is not yet complete… nor will it ever be. And, yes, I am now more mindful… more loving… more grateful… more aware… more Spirit.