The Season of Wishes and Hope

wishes and hope

I have a neighbor who lives about a quarter mile down the road from me who is mentally challenged.  Although she is in her early 20’s, she lives in the world of ten or eleven year old surrounded by fantasies.  She has a sweet disposition and in the summer comes to bring me wild flowers that she picks along the roadside.

Today she knocked at my door wearing a Santa hat.  She extended a large Christmas card sized envelope toward me and said, “Would you please see that this gets to Santa Claus?”   The envelope bore a fresh postage stamp, her return address label, and a large sticker depicting an angel.  Scrawled on it in childish printing were the words “to Santa Claus to the North Pole.”

“George and I want a Doberman puppy.  They grow fast and then it will be protection for us.”  George is her elderly care-taker.

“Does it have to be a purebred Doberman?  Could it be, oh, maybe half Doberman?”  I asked.

“Sure.  That would be okay,” she beamed.

“Maybe you could find one at the shelter,” I suggested.  She said they couldn’t afford it and that’s why they were writing to Santa.  Would I make sure he got their card?  Maybe put it on the Internet or something?

I’m not sure yet what I will do about her request.  I’ll ask animal-lover friends for their advice.  Meanwhile, the card is sitting on my kitchen counter, reminding me that this is the season for wishes and hopes.

They’re different, you know.  Wishes are for things we think will fill a need or desire in our lives.  They’re for trinkets and baubles, or, on the more serious side, for comfort, for solutions, for healing, for changes of circumstance.  Sometimes we make wishes with the firm belief that they can come true.  Sometimes we make them even when their fulfillment seems outrageously unlikely.  But we make them regardless, because just the act of wishing, of holding open even a faint possibility, feels good.  Wishes let us dream.

Hope, on the other hand, is an attitude, a disposition of character.  Hope is a commitment to keeping a space in our hearts and minds for the possibility that, come what may, goodness will prevail.  It’s closely related to optimism, a determination to look for the good, for the silver lining in the darkest of clouds.  It holds to a belief in the power of truth over deception, of love over indifference and hate, of compassion over meanness.  Hope allows us to endure difficulties and pain, to see them as temporary circumstances or as teachers of wisdom, or even as opportunities in disguise.  It enables us to maintain equanimity and inner peace in the midst of life’s confusion and storms.  It opens us to seeing actions we might take to move circumstances toward more optimum conditions.

As we move into the Christmas season, to the solstice, the time of the return of the light, I hope, with you, for a world of peace and brotherhood.  And I wish for you that all your best wishes come true.

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The Graciousness of Gratitude

It’s been a difficult week for me.  Some sad events unfolded and a few major challenges popped up.  I recognized early on that I was swimming through stressful waters.  While I was driving, I caught myself reciting a mental list of all my unfortunate circumstances.

“What are you doing?” I asked myself.  I was indulging in a pity party!  And why?  Because I wanted to justify being miserable.  I decided that was pretty stupid.  So a lot of things were less than ideal right now.  That didn’t mean I was living in an absolutely cheerless world.  At the moment, I was in a comfortable car driving on a country road lined with beautiful autumn oaks whose leathery leaves were glistening in the morning sunlight.  I had a choice.  I could indulge in wretchedness or relax and enjoy the beauty.

I decided to be gracious to myself and to trade my list of woes for gratitude for the moment’s goodness.

I like the word “gracious.”  It’s expansive.  It hints of benevolence and luxurious ease. It invites you to sink into the moment and to welcome its gifts.  And never doubt that every moment has its gifts.  Even when tragedy strikes, goodness is present.

One of the most beneficial positivity exercises you can practice is to look for those gifts, to look for the goodness that the moment holds.   And when you find them, be gracious to yourself and let yourself appreciate them, let your heart open to gratitude.  There’s always a reason to give thanks.

Now that the holiday season is upon us with all of its stress and expectations, let me encourage you to adopt graciousness as your guiding light.  Stuff some in your pocket in the morning and carry it with you everywhere you go.  Let it remind you to be generous of heart, to see the breadth and depth of each moment and all the goodness it holds.  Let it remind you that you can trade your mental list of cares for the softness of appreciation, for the openness of acceptance and thanks.

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A Commitment to Excellence

commitment to excellence

“Nothing great happens on the O.K. level.”  ~Robert Schuller

I added a new skill to my repertoire this week:  I learned how to operate a chain saw.  It’s a small one, electric, with only a 14” blade.  But still, I’m beaming with pride. Not every 71-year-old woman would tackle such a feat.

I enlisted my 81-year-old neighbor to give me lessons.  He taught me how all the parts worked, how to hold it properly, how to stand securely while using it, and where to place the blade relative to the wood I intended to cut before starting its motor.  Then he held wood while I practiced, pointing out things to watch for, reminding me to let the saw do the work.  I don’t consider myself proficient, and I’m fully aware that the primary piece of the process is to maintain focused attention.  Fortunately, I’m good at that.  By winter’s end, I expect to be darned good at sawing thick branches for my fire.  I’m committed to excellence.

My neighbor gave me a demonstration of that, too.  He built a saw buck for me, a x-shaped cradle made of 2×4 lumber that holds the pieces of wood you want to cut at a comfortable height so you don’t have to bend over while you’re cutting.

I watched as he drew a sketch of it, then watched him picture in his mind were the screws would go that held the cross pieces and the bolts that let you adjust the width of the X to accommodate both the thickness of the wood and its height from the ground.  We bought the lumber and hardware, and I got to see him carefully measure where the screws would go and mark the pieces, “top left, bottom left, top right, bottom right.”  I watched as he selected exactly the right size drill bit and figured out how deep to drill into each piece.  I watched as he made sure everything was perfectly aligned and that the screws would drive in straight.

It was a simple construction, but he wanted it to be perfect, and he took the time to think it through and to carefully execute each step of the process.  When he finished, we were both grinning at the great job he’d done.  The buck will last me a lifetime.

Wanting to do things as well as you possibly can is a hallmark of positive people.  That doesn’t mean being a perfectionist.  But it does mean that you want your work to stand as a testament to the fact that you put your best effort into it.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re washing dishes, writing a report, kissing your partner, or designing a jet airplane.  The old adage still applies, “Any job worth doing is worth doing well.”

Taking pride in your work not only produces a feeling of satisfaction, it speaks well of you to others.  It lets them see that you take responsibility for what you do.  It makes you stand out from the mediocre many.  And because it allows others to trust in your commitment to excellence, it paves the way to greater opportunities and success.

Not only that, but you become a silent standard-setter.  Your commitment to excellence inspires those around you to raise their levels of performance, too. Your doing-well becomes the rising sea that lifts all ships.

And just as in operating a chain saw, the key lies in only two things—committing to doing the very best you can and giving the job your unflinching, focused attention.  The first is a decision.  The second is a matter of ongoing practice.

Decide you want to be great.  Set your sites on excellence, and keep on keeping on.

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Life Ain’t for Wimps

Not for Wimps

When I first got the news that Hurricane Nate was going to pummel our southern shores this weekend, my head reeled.  I felt like one of those inflatable punching dolls that pop back up as soon as you knock them down only to get another blow to the head.

“Holy Mackerel!”  I said, right out loud.  “What next?”

What was next, it turned out, was a vivid memory of Uncle Ron’s stern, booming voice informing me in no uncertain terms that he had studied the Bible extensively and could assure me there was no such thing as a holy mackerel.  I felt roundly chastised at the time and took great care never to mention the fish in my uncle’s presence again.  It took me years to realize he was teasing me.

I always smile when I think of Uncle Ron.  His deep voice may have been intimidating, but he always had a twinkle in his eye.

Maybe that’s why the phrase “Holy Mackerel” came to mind when I pondered the stream of mind-boggling events that’s been confronting us lately.  It was to remind me of Uncle Ron and how he taught me that fear could be a foolish response to life’s confusions.  You see, my Uncle Ron was a learned man, possessed of great intellect, humor and wisdom.  If I hadn’t interpreted his voice as threatening, I might have had some interesting and enlightening conversations with him.

And so it is with life.  News of fires and earthquakes, hurricanes, terror acts, and floods can be frightening.

Or not.

Life ain’t for wimps.  It comes with its bruises and blows.  But it’s we who decide whether to respond out of love or out of fear to what’s happening in the world around us.  Choose fear and you could be cheating yourself out of a great conversation with life.  Choose love and you open the door to unlimited possibilities.

Author Anais Nin wrote, “Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  And courage is nothing more than keeping on even in the face of fear.  We come equipped to survive, so we respond to threats by going into full-alert mode.  And that’s a good thing.  If a tiger’s coming at you, you want to notice it and get the heck out of its way.  But once you’ve done that, or have determined it wasn’t a tiger at all, you gotta switch back into love-mode even if you’re still charged up with adrenalin and suffering from knocking knees.   There’s always something beautiful out there that you can do.  Pick a flower.  Smile at a stranger.  Pet a dog.  If you just cower in a corner because somewhere in the world tigers roam, your world gets awfully small, and you with it.

But get back out there and love, baby, and pretty soon all that energy that was fear converts into amazement and gratitude and a willingness to engage in life, whatever it brings.  Look at it and whistle, “Holy Mackerel!” at its string of surprises.  Then get yourself some mustard and have that fish for lunch.

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How I Beat the Swamp Monster

Overcoming Negativity

Yesterday I fell into a pit of ornery crabbiness.  It was sticky and thick, and if I had to name a color, I’d say it was a dark and ugly grayish-green.  Sort of like the scum on the edge of a smelly swamp.

(Oh!  I hope you weren’t eating, were you?)

I struggled against it all day.  I hated it.  I kicked at it and yelled at and grumbled and growled.  But no matter what I did, it clung to me like some kind of rubbery slime.  It was awful.  And I was really ticked off, because, you know, I’m Ms. Happiness and I’m not supposed to be in such a state at all.

I tried all kinds of things to free myself from it, and just when I’d managed a breath of fresh air, Whap!  Another glob of it would come flying at me and spread all over my mood.

It was quite late in the day when I heard a little whisper in the back of my mind say, “Remember the music.”  I’ve been doing a little research on the effect that different musical tones have on us, both physically and mentally.  What was that wavelength I’d heard about again yesterday?  Oh, yeah.  528 Hz.

I entered the phrase into YouTube’s search and found a huge list of videos that played meditation music based on that particular frequency and picked one at random.  After about 10 minutes, I noticed that the air around me was soft and clear.  The light was, too, and all the colors were beautiful again.  It was as if some gentle cosmic fan wafted a cleansing breeze across the landscape of my mind.  I was relaxed, and open, and floating on a sea of contentment.  My sense of humor returned and I laughed at all the misery I’d put myself through during the day, acting like some little kid having a tantrum.  In my mind, I reached out to that crabby little self I’d been all day and gave her a big, soft hug.

“It’s okay,” I told her.  “Everybody falls into bad moods now and then.”  She wiped her tears and smiled at me.  Then I imagined that we put on some music and danced together, holding hands.

You know, the impact of sound frequencies on us isn’t some airy-fairy gooledegook.  It’s very real and the subject of some interesting research.  Sound waves alter our brains and our biochemistry.  Some sounds can heal, and some sounds can harm—even those beyond the range of our physical hearing.

Think about the way a person’s voice varies with the emotions being expressed.  The same words said in different tones can convey entirely different messages.  We can sometimes distinguish between a lie and a truth by the quality of voice in which it’s told.

Anyway, I wanted to turn you on the 528 Hz tone.  Just in case you find yourself wallowing in a pool of sticky negativity.  It will lift you out, clean you off, clear your mind, open your heart and set you free.

And even if you’re in a great mood to begin with, it will mellow you out and add some extra sparkle to your day.

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