Make Haste to be Kind!

Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind. – Henri Frederic Amiel

Someone I love once gave me a white sparkly door knob hanger with the word “Peace” scripted upon it. I think it enjoys its place of privilege hanging out on the cabinet above my refrigerator. A loving reminder of how I wish my days to be.  It helps me consider the ways I can bring peace to my small part of the world.

I think if we pay attention, we happen upon numerous times every day to spread a bit of peace in a world that seems to be too full of strife and worry.

For example, someone once told me that I do not have to attend every altercation to which I am invited. Interesting challenge.  How to begin? Maybe by graciously stepping aside without a word when someone jumps ahead of me in a long, grocery line. Or more challenging still, when a driver cuts me off on an interstate causing me to slam on brakes to avoid an accident.

This was recently brought home when I left a glorious yoga class all Zen-like only to find two minutes later that I was honking my horn at a car who pulled out in front of me.  Not only did I lose my Zen, I spent too long stewing on it.  Now, who did that benefit?  Certainly, not me.

These days I work harder to let these types of destructive opportunities pass by the wayside.

Another lesson I’ve learned that works really well is simply “not to play.”  When a cross word is uttererd, an angry gesture is made,  when the hurtful past (which cannot be changed) comes up for another round of debate or blame, when conversation moves to what ought to have been done, could have been done, why wasn’t it done –  we can simply choose not to play.  A simple word of peace – of self-forgiveness and forgiveness of another – of acknowledging, that yes, you could have done better and are sorry you did not can suffice and can keep the unchangeable past where it should be – in the past.

Thus, freeing us up, to move into the present moment with love and without bitterness.

My current job lands me in many airport waiting areas with other tired business travelers (like myself), weary children and angry passengers whose flights are delayed.  I often think of the stress airlines employees experience when they deliver news of cancelled or delayed flights. So when I am disappointed by a long delay, I try to muster the fortitude to look them in the eye and thank them for their attempts to facilitate our journeys.

Once I had a wise and wonderful teacher who taught about random acts of kindness and I was stuck one day by a tiny act he does for housekeepers at his hotel.  Instead, he said, of leaving a bunch of dirty towels on the bathroom floor or in the bottom of the bathtub, he suggested we fold them nicely and lay them on the vanity.  That way the housekeeper does not have to bend down to retrieve them.  She has such a physical job anyway.  It’s just a little way of helping her do her job more easily.

Can we overlook a slight? Sometimes this is a hard thing.   When your boss once again takes the credit and does not mention your name at the staff meeting.  When you are not included in an invitation that you expected to receive.  When someone begins to take you for granted a little too often.  Can we accept that lack of recognition with a little grace and humility and simply let it go? I’m not talking about being a door mat – but just about being gracious.

I’m not saying I am good at these things.  I am saying that I wish to make myself more amenable to walking away when that is what is best.  When it is a small thing that can be cured with a smile or a simple return gesture of love or a gift of forgiveness you give to someone who does not even know you granted it to him.  (Think about the hurried driver who pulls out in front of you and you decide not to cause further disruption in the world by laying your hand down hard on the car horn.)

Every moment filled with angst is a moment of peace we have lost.

Every time we choose to say a kind word, in the face of stress or strife, we have a chance to thwart harm and to spread peace.

Make haste to be kind – and do it creatively!  There are so many ways to do good!

Diagramming Sentences With the Voice Inside My Head: A ReRun For Those Who Love Simone

I live with a crazy person who rarely stops talking.  If I don’t purposefully shut her up, she will monologue from the moment my eyes flutter open in the morning until I finally fall asleep at night after fighting insomnia due to her incessant fretting and scolding.

Her name is Simone and she lives inside my head.  I call her by name to differentiate her from myself.  Because if I am not careful, I will believe her rolling commentary and it is not pretty.

You might wonder how a born and bred Southerner like me chose a name like Simone.  I wondered that myself for a long time.  I thought I must have read it in a racy book or heard it in a French indie film.

As it turns out, Simone self-identified.  In her defining insidious way, Simone infiltrated my brain and announced herself.  I only realized this recently when it occurred to me to research the meaning of the name.  Then I understood what had happened. Simone means “heard” in French and American definitions and, in Hebrew, it means LOUD.  And she is most certainly heard loudly by me.

But I digress.

Simone is a master when it comes to diagramming sentences.   She loves to carefully scrutinize every verb, noun, pronoun, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction and interjection of every sentence I have spoken.  She likes to think of herself as Editor Extraordinaire of My Life.  She carefully analyzes each word and its placement in any given sentence or thought and then uses this information to harass me  on such topics as:

Why did you say THAT?

Oh, my goodness, did you SEE the look on her face when you said that?  She thinks you are an absolute IDIOT.

Geez…Why did you wear that?  You looked like a total FASHION CATASTROPHE.

In addition, Simone just happens to be clairvoyant.  Her crystal ball oracles a future so ominous that it makes Dorothy’s little run-in with the Wicked Witch look like a sunny afternoon tea party with girlfriends.

She usually starts with, “Oh, my gosh, I cannot believe you said that. You will no longer have any credibility in this job.” And by the time she has completed her prophecy, I have lost all my jobs with all my clients, am completely unemployable, without a home or car, bereft of all friends, family and colleagues, and am living a dark, destitute, lonely, cold and hungry life in a tattered tent in the middle of winter in Siberia.

My aim these days is to silence Simone and, with a little help from my friends and teachers, I have learned a few ways to do this.  On the off chance, that you have a voice inside your head, maybe this will help you, too.

* Give the voice a name.  This is a gentle reminder that the voice is NOT you.  It is just something inside that feels the need to bring words to your daily experience. Everything from the observance that it feels cold or hot, hungry or full, happy or sad, to the judgment of all that you think, say or do.

* Again, really realize the voice is not you.  I know that sounds strange, even difficult to comprehend, but it is true.  It is not you – it is simply a voice that wishes to ruin your life by robbing you of the present moment.

* Speaking of which, realize that this being human is a temporary, but precious, thing. The continuous scrutiny of our history is unnecessary. And the future is completely unpredictable and not worth worrying about. Mark Twain famously remarked that most of what he worried about never happened. (Okay, some of mine has…if you must know.)

This last point really hit home with me when I comprehended that Simone NEVER shows up in the present moment.  NEVER.  She finds her home in the unchangeable past and in the unpredictable future.  I never hear her when I am enjoying the present moment at a romantic dinner with my husband or reading a great book or laughing with friends. She is deadly silent when I am in the middle of an insightful movie or trying valiantly to balance in Royal Dancer Pose at yoga.  And, honestly, she is fitfully silent right this moment as I am truly enjoying writing this expose of her as the con artist she is.

* Consciousness helps to quiet the voice.  That is why I think it helps to to assign it a name.  Then when you hear the voice,  you can say firmly, “Simone, I know you are trying to get my attention but I refuse to listen.  Your chatter is nothing but destructive.”

* When my yoga teacher teaches meditation, she instructs her students to use the Buddhist term,  “Dukha,” meaning “suffering” when the voice attempts to distract us. Simply whisper “Dukha” when the voice begins to assert its false credence that we are tempted to give this voice.  Name it what it is and cease the suffering.

* Just breathe.  Wherever you are, take a few centering breaths and focus your full attention on counting.  Try six counts breathing in the good and six breathing out the not so good. Over time, your breath will provide the mechanism to release the self-defeating voice within.

As often as I can, I ban Simone to my sixth grade English class with Mrs. Lee in a hot, old school house in Eastern North Carolina.  If I can keep her head down with all the sentences Mrs. Lee made us diagram, she doesn’t have time to bother me.

And I am a lot better off without her.  All of us will be.

That’s My Story And I’m NOT Sticking To It

Our past is a story existing only in our minds. Look, analyze, understand, and forgive. Then, as quickly as possible, chuck it.  – Marianne Williamson

When I was in grammar school, I hated recess. All it brought to me was shame and horror at my seemingly abject absence of one athletic bone in my body.  Each day the teacher would appoint two captains who would choose team mates for our daily game of kickball. I was always the last to be chosen – except the day when I bribed a girl with my homemade lunch to choose me first.  It only got worse in junior high school where two girls (bordering on bullying) taunted me endlessly at my lack of basketball skills in the gym.

I made it worse with the story I created.  I was horrible at sports, I told myself and any one else who would listen.  In high school, I stopped even trying to participate.

During college, I took only the minimally required electives for physical fitness and stuck with non-competitive courses such as self-defense – which is a little humorous if you think about it.  I should have used that to protect myself from my own story.

After I was married, I became friends with some ladies who enjoyed jogging together. When I was invited to join them, I did.  After a few years, I had become a pretty good long distance runner (meaning five to six miles several times a week).  Gradually, we expanded our activities into hiking and biking.  We often spent Saturday mornings at the Arboretum in Asheville, North Carolina, exploring miles of trails.

And then, one day the strangest thing happened.

At lunch with my friends, one said to me, “You are such a great athlete, Crissy.”

I could have been knocked over with a feather.

I still had my story that I had created and believed for years.  I still felt I was terrible at sports and had never once equated that running, hiking and biking also fell into that category.  All those years later, as an adult, I still felt that hot, sticky shame of being chosen last for a kickball or basketball team at recess.  I still felt nauseous when I remembered team captains begrudgingly saying,  “Okay.  I’ll take HER,” when there was no one else but me left to choose.

Somewhere along the way, as a child, I made up and lived that story and, as an adult, I was astonished to find it was not true.

I think the ego loves to use our good stories of success to prove that, yes, we are successful.  And, accordingly, it protects itself from criticism by creating stories to explain why we cannot do something.  Our stories often help us to get out of trying something new or considering a different way of thinking about some issue.   They come in especially handy when we need to make excuses.

I love to read the inspirational stories of famous people who did not fall into the easy trap of creating limiting stories about themselves – especially when others doubted their abilities and were critical.

Bethany Hamilton, whose story was told in the movie, Soul Surfer, was a 13-year-old surfer who lost an arm in a horrible shark attack. A month later, she was back on the surfboard.  Two years later, she was the champion of the Explore Women’s Division of the NSSA National Championship.

Margaret MItchell submitted Gone with the Wind 38 times before it was published. Gertrude Stein submitted poetry for publication for 22 years before she finally was in print.

Other famous or perhaps more accurately, infamous, rejections include Elvis Pressly who was fired by the manager of the Grand Ole Opry and told he should go back to driving a truck because he would never make it as a singer.  Dear Old Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken recipe was turned down 1000 times before Kentucky Fried Chicken became a reality. Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star newspaper because he lacked creativity and had no imagination.

What was it that kept these people going?  Maybe it  just boils down to not allowing others to shape their stories.  Instead, they kept believing in themselves and thus, were able to detect that special spark of the Divine that resided within themselves and confirmed they had something to give to the world.

I, for one, am grateful that Walt Disney did not believe the story he was told. Instead, his work and legacy continues today to provide millions of hours of joyful entertainment for the world.  I’m especially glad that Elvis did not give up his dream job every time I hear that song, “I Just Want to be Your Teddy Bear.”  And I’m inspired by athletes like Bethany Hamilton who could have so easily quit – as I suspect many would – when she suffered a seriously tragic accident that threatened her life and her sport.

Today I am thinking of the stories I tell myself about myself.  I need to keep it upbeat and true.  And I have to remember that just because I say something about myself (Read “I am not an athlete”) does not necessarily mean it is true. If I am not careful, I will use my stories to set limitations for myself in the future as I have done in the past.

On the other hand, I can acknowledge the stories I have created in the past which are not relevant in the now or in the future and determine for sure, I’m not sticking with those stories anymore.

And by the way, I’m in yoga teacher training now and learning about the  union of body, spirit and mind.  Yoga is encouraged for nearly everyone, including most all athletes.  Like myself.  Did I say that? Yep.

I have a new story.  I am an athlete.  And I’m sorta proud of myself.  Before long, I hope to teach others how to become better athletes, too, through wise, tried and true yoga.

The Divine has a lot for me to do.  And I feel sure that is the plan for you, too.

Time Lapses

Precisely to the degree that you have loved something: a house, a woman,(a father) a bird, a tree, anything at all, you are punished by time.  John Engels

Daddy died 2 1/2 years ago.  Still, it is so hard to believe he is gone.

Daddy and Mother taught me about love.  And I knew they loved me in a deep and real way.  My sister, Wendy, and I told him he smelled like cookies – warm, homey and delicious!

Daddy could have had an entertaining conversation with a lamp post and never met a stranger. A few years ago, he joined me on a business trip to California for a week.  He had always wanted to go there.  While I worked, he stayed at the hotel – never venturing away and yet perfectly content. Each day after I returned from work, he told me about enjoying the views out the window, the orange trees heavy with their fruit, the workers laboring to provide harvest and crops, the sun rising and falling.

Just before we left the hotel and at the end of the stay, he excused himself and said he had something to do. Turns out he had become the best friend and counselor of every housekeeper, cook, janitor, desk clerk, gardener, waitress and waiter in the entire place.  So he had to say goodbye and thank them all personally.

Daddy just understood what it means to be spiritual.  Once I asked him to tell me the meaning of life.  And he smiled and said he did not know but he just believed that he had been or always tried to be, where God wanted him to be. It was one of the most profound statements I have ever heard. And said with such humbleness, so typical of him, but yet in such complete confidence.

I loved the quote from John Engels.  Time does punish us because eventually we lose those we love to death (ours or theirs).  But yet, Daddy will always be with me.  In my heart and in my soul. Throughout the ages, I will love him still.