Corny but Kind

My weekly column for your viewing pleasure (hopefully):

“The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given
me new courage to face life cheerfully have been kindness, truth and
beauty.” ~ Albert Einstein

Ah, truth and beauty — arguably two of the elements of a good life lived are subjects for another day. Kindness once again is raising its lofty head in recognition of its role in creating a life worth living—but does it really make a difference?

Author George Saunders thinks so. In his convocation speech in 2013 to graduates at Syracuse University he told the grads that what he regrets most in life are his “failures of kindness”. These failures were not in the guise of unkindness but he says were “moments when another human being was there, in front of me suffering and I responded….sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” In other words, while he did not ignore the suffering, neither did he go that extra mile to alleviate it.

He admits that his advice is corny, but he delivers it anyway. He suggests that there is no greater goal in life than to “try to be kinder.” Saunders tries to answer the question as to why we are not kinder and in doing so he cites these three reasons, which intellectually make no sense but we seem to believe them “viscerally” or instinctively. The first is that we are central to the universe and that the only interesting story is our personal one. The second is in direct contrast to the first: we’re separate from the universe (there is us, and then out there is all that other junk). Number three is the real kicker, and most of us live our lives in this state of denial: we are permanent, and while we recognize that death is real, it is for other people.

So these three belief systems tend to make us put our needs before those of other people, even though Saunders claims what we really want is to be “less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, and more loving” (which translates into kindness). He says that we know we “want to be these things because from time to time we have been these things—and liked it.”

He also asks this important question: “Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?” And since he was giving the speech, he also provided the answer, which in its simplicity is complex: “Those who were kindest to you.”

So what does kindness mean? Many things it turns out. It includes compassion—an understanding of the human condition. And sympathy, thoughtfulness, helpfulness, gentleness, and benevolence, or more simply good will towards your fellow earth walkers. But a good will that you extend. Kindness is an act—it must be an action to be of any use.

Saunders believes that kindness “it turns out, is hard”. He says that as we get older, it is easier to be kinder, and if you have kids, that will be a “huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won’t care what happens to you, as long as they benefit.” His advice to the graduates is to go ahead and accomplish things, succeed in your endeavours, but at the same time hurry up the gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving. He says “Speed it along. Start right now.” Don’t wait to become kinder and gentler. Act on it now and “seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines. Energetically, for the rest of your life.”

The other day on Facebook, someone put out the challenge to participate in a “Pay it Forward” initiative. The first five people who commented with an “I’m in” would be the recipients of a surprise from her at some point this year—and the surprise would take the form of “anything from a book, a ticket, something home-grown, a postcard, or absolutely any surprise.” She said that there would be no warning and “it will happen when the mood comes over me”. The catch, if you can call it a catch is to make the same offer to five more people, and form a “web connection of kindness.” Well, I sent her my “I’m in” and in the spirit of kindness will be posting the same initiative on my Facebook page.

Oh, and the reason for the initiative? The post said that it is being done “without any reason other than to make each other smile and to show that we think of each other.” Now that is kindness in action.

Published in: on July 22, 2014 at 12:38 pm  Comments (16)  
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Auspicious Wisdom

 

Life is a four letter word

So is love……………..

Published in: on February 26, 2014 at 3:37 pm  Comments (16)  
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Wonder as I Wander

 “I wonder as I wander out under the sky….” ~ John Jacob Niles

These are the first words to a Christmas carol that was beautifully rendered by Niles. His words are magical in that they capture two solitary activities: wondering and wandering.

Wandering is a pastime that has its own rhythm. True wandering is not valid if you are merely strolling to the letter box to post mail or to the store to get some milk.  The purpose of wandering is to roam with no purpose other than to wonder.  And wondering is an amazing and active thing—it clears out the labyrinth of worry in your mind—putting your thoughts in order while marvelling at the curiosity that is life.

When I was about ten I was allowed to wander from my little house in the country to the creek, or as we called it then, the “crick”. There was no purpose in going to the crick other than to sit on its banks and ponder; or throw stones in the still waters and watch concentric circles form and then disappear. It was on those wanderings that I solved a lot of my problems.

Under the open country sky, I was free to let my thoughts form, to mull them around, then let them go like a kite set free to wander the earth at will.

My goal is to return to my wandering and wondering days—days that seemed endless; days when imagination found animals and objects in the clouds; princes in frogs;  freedom in gliding across a frozen pond in new skates; and the thrill of opening a new book—a new adventure.

I wonder as I wander in my mind….and sometimes my problems just disappear for a while and I am a creature of the earth; a soul bound by nothing; a brown bird pecking at the snow for a seed, and finding one, fulfilled.

Published in: on February 4, 2014 at 3:30 pm  Comments (33)  
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Glory Days

 Today’s prompt from Michelle at WordPress: “Write the blurb for the book jacket of the book you’d write, if only you had the time and inclination.”

This is a bit off the cuff but I took up the challenge and this is what I came up with in 15 minutes:

            If she was dead, why was she in this classroom listening to a professor drone on about the linguistic beauty of the workaday language of English? She had often been told when she was alive that when you went to hell you were trapped in the circumstance you hated most on earth. And the circumstance she hated most on earth was being bored. And doing paperwork. She was bored but at least the paperwork, which had been her nemesis when she was alive was not present—so maybe, just maybe she was not in hell. The prof wore a belt with a peace sign buckle. He had wild gray hair and a suede vest—why was she back in linguistics class at university listening to Dr. Ivy? And why was she in her least favourite class?

            Cecelia had crashed into the back of a semi that jack-knifed on a foggy day in September, 2010. Even if she had seen it, there was no way to avoid the massive truck. She was returning from an unsuccessful business trip to Toronto and was eager to get back to home and hearth. The midday sun had been bright, the radio loud, and the trip slowly becoming a memory until she reached Cambridge. A grey curtain of heavy fog descended on the 401. It was not just a haze—she was caught in clouds of billowy pewter. She was disoriented—but she continued on in her quest to get home.  She knew that she should pull off the road but she did not know what she would be pulling  into.

            Then she was no longer in the car. She had been escorted to a ledge where she was allowed to see through the fog to the chaos below. Her body was slumped over the steering wheel………..

            In this tale of death come to life, Cecelia gets to relive what she often thought of as the best part of her life—her days at university. But relived again with the wisdom of decades behind her, would those days turn out to be the great time she remembered, or was the life that had been taken away from her not so bad after all.

            In this novel of second chances, the main character gets a chance to do what many of us dream of doing—returning to our glory days. Was she reincarnated? Was it a miracle? Was it all a dream? Or was she really dead?

Published in: on January 24, 2014 at 2:07 pm  Comments (37)  
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Life Affirming Words

 

“The Signature of all Things” is Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough—but there is a passage on page 447 that particularly spoke to me.  The main character, Alma, wrote this in one of her research papers:

“Those who are ill-prepared to endure the battle for survival should perhaps never have attempted living in the first place. The only unforgivable crime is to cut short the experiment of one’s own life before its natural end. To do so is a weakness and a pity—for the experiment of life will cut itself off soon enough, in all our cases, and one may just as well have the courage and curiosity to stay in the battle until one’s eventual demise. Anything less than a fight for endurance is a refusal of the great covenant of life.”

These words may sound a little too “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” but I do think she has chosen the right combination of words to get us through almost anything: courage and curiosity. Speaking for myself, curiosity is the thing that gets me through, around, beyond, and past life’s hardships. My curiosity feeds the courage I need to endure the not so good stuff—so I can enjoy the moments of joy, of which, if a tally were taken, there are many.

Alma’s life is not an easy one, but it is interesting, adventurous, intelligent, and worth reading about. I found the book opened up whole new territories for me—from the scientific to the workings of the mind.

When my bootstraps get a bit worn, I read these words, and they help me (metaphorically) get back up on the horse.

Do you have any words or passages that help you out when the joy of life seems to have taken a vacation without you?

Dear Life

hot crisp microwave snax!

hot crisp microwave snax! (Photo credit: tbone_sandwich)

“Dear Life:

What the hell? Seriously? Really? You are a piece of work. Either I’m worrying about you in the future or bitching about you from the past. You think you’re all that and a bag of microwave Bacon-Flavored Pork Rinds. Well, you can’t break me, you sneaky sonofabitch. Screw you.” -by Darla from She’s a Maineiac.

Today Darla wrote a bunch of letters to a bunch of people but this is the one I liked best—cause I am feeling a bit like she does about the whole life situation. And I am as defiant as she is—and determined not to let it break me either.

Thanks Darla, who by the way has the best sense of humour around. If you do not already follow her I would if I were you.

Will you join me in my defiance of the downs in life, and celebration of the ups?

Published in: on November 8, 2013 at 2:47 pm  Comments (47)  
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All Things In Vigour

Everything in Moderation

Everything in Moderation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How many times have we heard “All things in moderation” and thought that it is a philosophy we should acquire? Perhaps we have been sold a bill of goods. Moderation is not particularly colourful—within its barriers are the words restraint, control, reasonableness, temperance, balance, and fairness ~ and while none of these things are bad in themselves, they have a blandness about them—and hold us back.

Not that at times we should not be held back and show a little restraint, temper a situation, reach for fairness~ but where is the passion, the robustness, the joy? There seems to be little joy in moderation— illustrated quite vividly in one of its meanings from the Encarta Dictionary: “the limiting, controlling, or restricting of something so that it becomes or remains moderate.”

We cannot always be fiery and passionate, but I think that I would like to change the saying “All things in moderation” to “All things in vigour”. We should not grasp at mediocrity, settle for compromise; there is one life and one life only and we should hold on to it with all our strength.

Approaching life with verve and drive will force moderation back into the shadows where it should be taken out on occasion, looked at, considered, then cast off. I was inspired to write about moderation by Dr Bill who had the following quote on his blog today. I separated each sentence of the quote to make it more important, to give it more punch:

“Moderation?

It’s mediocrity, fear, and confusion in disguise.

It’s the devil’s dilemma.

It’s neither doing nor not doing.

It’s the wobbling compromise that makes no one happy.

Moderation is for the bland, the apologetic, for the fence-sitters of the world afraid to take a stand.

It’s for those afraid to laugh or cry, for those afraid to live or die.

Moderation…is lukewarm tea, the devil’s own brew.”

     ~  Dan Millman from Way of the Peaceful Warrior

 

There is a time and a place for moderation I suppose, but not in my life. I appear to be moderate but it is merely a guise. What about you?

On the Banks of the River

English: Village stream Avening stream close t...

Village stream Avening close to bursting its banks  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting, and doing the things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happens on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.” ~ Will Durant

I opened a favourite book of mine, Storycraft, by Jack Hart, and by pure chance found this quote on page 142 of Chapter 9. Now you can open a book at random and not find anything of consequence. This time I opened a book at random and found a quote that pretty well sums up all of the important things that need to be summed up.

It is the everyday, the lives that we live, the families we make (and family is a big word–you do not have to be related by blood to be family), and the things we do and create that are important. Like a headline ripped from the paper–civilization is given short shrift if you only look at the extremes.

The “story of civilization is what happens on the banks” in our everyday lives. That is the interesting stuff. Leave the other stuff to historians and the headlines. (Not all historians keep account of the killing, stealing, and shouting–Will Durant is himself a historian).

Bliss is what happens on the banks–what do you think?

Free Fall Saturday or How I Would Like It To Be

Saturday

Reading a book

Reading a book (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

Starts out slowly

Rising from bed

Finding no reason to hurry

Luxurious time to

Sip a coffee rather than gulp it

Read the paper rather than just glance at the headlines

Eat something that takes time to prepare

Rather than another bowl of instant oatmeal

The day to don old clothes

That are good to putter in

Maybe make a list or two

A run to the grocery store

And certainly a turn at the liquor store

For that libation of choice to end the day

Pet the dog, stroke the cat

Meet with friends or read a book

Listen to music

Saturday

A day that does not demand much

A day to replenish

Replete with a night of slumber unfettered by worry~

That is the Saturday of my dreams

The Saturday of my bliss…………….

What blissful thing are you doing this Saturday?

Published in: on April 6, 2013 at 9:55 am  Comments (46)  
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Fragments

Not one to back down from a challenge–here is my offering for Day 4 of Poetry month:

POETRY SOCIETY POSTCARD

POETRY SOCIETY POSTCARD (Photo credit: summonedbyfells)

Fragments

Poetry takes a fragment of life

And makes it live.

Words give meaning to

the steaming cup of coffee

charged with starting another day;

the newspaper unfolded and read

dispersing knowledge needed or not;

to the wash on the line

soldiered together with clothespins;

the tomatoes on their vines

climbing to reach the sun;

the work day with its busy-ness

and camaraderie;

the evening closing in

to end another day.

Resting our weary bodies

For tomorrow–

Fragments of life.

Published in: on April 4, 2013 at 10:14 pm  Comments (31)  
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