Not Quite Philosophy 101

“Live well. Laugh often. Cook Much.”
-The Farm Chicks

Sum up your philosophy of life in a few words. The Farm Chicks, Serena Thompson and Teri Edward, authors of “The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen” did it quite succinctly—live well, laugh often, cook much. Who doesn’t want to live well and laugh often? The last dual of words, cook much is their particular specialty. My philosophy is not quite as poetic and could even be called dull: get through the day. Now that may sound like a very workaday philosophy, somewhat uninspiring, and even dreary. But think about it. I did not say get through the day unscathed (although there are days that would be called successful if this were the only criteria.)

Getting through the day could include living well, laughing often, and if you are of a particular bent, cooking much. But it could also include that first cup of coffee in the morning and the morning paper. Or getting out there for a walk before the day’s work begins. I have a book of verses called “Present Moment Wonderful Moment” by Thich Nhat Hanh that celebrates every event of the day, from that first look in the mirror in the morning, to washing up and using the bathroom, to turning on your computer, using the telephone and even doing everyday chores.

Hanh says that, “Everyone has pain and suffering. It is possible to let go of this pain and smile at our suffering. We can only do this if we know that the present moment is the only moment in which we can be alive.” Obviously Thich Nhat Hanh is on a whole different plane or level of reality than I am (I have never been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as he has). Smiling at my suffering is not yet something I have under my belt, but I do adhere to his philosophy that the present moment is really the only moment we have—and that is what I mean by “get through the day.” Getting through the day does not have to be mindless (I tell myself this every time I do the dishes by hand, as currently my dishwasher is being used for storage).

He even has a verse for doing the dishes. He says that the idea of doing dishes is unpleasant when we are not doing them, but once we are standing in front of the sink with our sleeves rolled up and our hands in the warm water, it is really not bad at all. He calls this utilitarian activity “sacred”. I have a friend who for years has expounded on the joys of doing dishes—the comfort of the warm water and suds, the quiet time in the kitchen by herself as no one ventures into the room while she does the dishes for fear of having to help.
The simple morning ritual of washing your hands is beautifully painted by Hanh as thus:

Water flows over these hands
May I use them skilfully
To preserve our precious planet.
He takes a simple everyday activity and turns it into a “mindful” activity—reminding us not to spoil our environment, or the days of this simple act of clean water flowing over our hands to cleanse them are numbered.
Using the telephone can be more than just ordering pizza. He writes:
Words can travel thousands of miles.
May my words create mutual understanding and love.
May they be as beautiful as gems
as lovely as flowers.

Getting through the day can be a thoughtful, lovely thing.  At the end of the day, if we keep the following verse in mind, we have not lived for naught: “The day is ending, our life is one day shorter. Let us look carefully at what we have done. Let us practice diligently….let us live deeply each moment in freedom, so time does not slip away meaninglessly.” There is something to be said for living poetically: gracefully with rhythm in a world that often strikes a discordant note or two.

Published in: on August 25, 2011 at 12:37 am  Comments (2)  
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Happy Is as Happy Does

Cover of "The Happiness Project: Or, Why ...

Cover via Amazon

“I never know what I think about something
until I’ve read what I’ve written.”  –William Faulkner

Of late, I have done a little research on that somewhat slippery subject called “happiness”. I am not really sure how I feel about this whole happiness deal, so taking a cue from Mr. Faulkner, after I write this, I will reread it and find out. It seems we all have a set point for happiness, or a happiness meter if you will, and it is not calibrated very high. Moments of happiness are not the hard part: if something good happens—we are generally happy. But sustained happiness takes work.

Scoffing at happiness as a goal is not a very good way to be happy. If you think that it is not a worthy ambition, you are not the only one. Robert Louis Stevenson said that, “There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.” One of the references I used in my happiness research was Gretchen Rubin’s book, “The Happiness Project”. While I would like to claim it as part of my own research, the quote by Stevenson is part of her Happiness Manifesto.  Here are a few other points she makes in her Manifesto that I particularly liked:

• One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; one of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.
• The days are long, but the years are short.
• You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.
• “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” — G. K. Chesterton
• What’s fun for other people may not be fun for you, and vice versa.
• Outer order contributes to inner calm.
• Happiness comes from …wanting what you have.
• You can choose what you do, but you can’t choose what you like to do.

The other thing Gretchen learned in her search for happiness was to “be Gretchen”, and she found out that being Gretchen involved accepting that while she may not like highbrow music, she does like music; that while not watching television is considered intellectual, she did like watching television; and that if she tried something new and did not like it, she could quit, because it was not true to who “Gretchen” is.

In fact at the very forefront of her “Happiness Project” was the quest “to be Gretchen”. For some reason many of us are afraid to admit who we really are and what we really like and pretend to be more sophistocated than we are . A friend of mine whom I had not spoken to for decades told me that she remembered that I liked sitcoms. I was taken aback. Of all the things she could remember about me, the fact that I liked sitcoms stuck out in her memory? Actually, I was not taken aback–I was, if truth be told, insulted. But then I thought about it. I do like sitcoms. I like clever repartee, a short story that has a beginning, middle and end, and something that takes my mind off the more serious side of life.  So, if I have learned nothing more from The Happiness Project than to accept who I am, even it is does not meet my own supposedly erudite standards, then I have at least taken one step towards happiness.

Gretchen’s book is a journey, but not the sort undertaken by Henry David Thoreau who moved to Walden Pond for a couple of years, or even Elizabeth Gilbert who travelled to Italy, India, and Indonesian and wrote the book, “Eat, Pray, Love” to find their bliss. Gretchen attained happiness without leaving home. In her own words she said: “I wanted to change my life without changing my life, by finding more happiness in my kitchen”.

Published in: on August 24, 2011 at 12:44 am  Comments (6)  
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No Misspent Life for Me

English: Gordon Road Last minute shopping on C...

English: Gordon Road Last minute shopping on Christmas Eve in Gordon Road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“….live creatively with collections, clutter, work, kids, pets, art, etc…
and stop worrying about everything being perfectly in its place.”
–Mary Randolph Carter

I have a new favourite book. Be forewarned–usually the book I am currently reading is my new favourite book. Not all books fit into this category though. I am quite discerning, as I am sure you are when it comes to the time we are willing to spend with a book. Reading is one of my favourite pastimes, but I do not just read anything (as I did in my youth—nothing was beyond my interest then, from cereal boxes to my father’s Mechanics Illustrated.)

My new favourite book backs up one of my prejudices—which is not a requirement of everything I read, but it is gratifying and pleasant to read something written by a fellow compatriot. The book’s title is based on my philosophy of life: “A Perfectly Kept House is the Sign of a Misspent Life.” It just so happens I have a little quilted sign with that same sentiment hanging over the door to my upstairs. What I did not know is that the saying is derived from the words of Dame Rose Macaulay who was born in 1851. She said, “At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.”

The author of “A Perfectly Kept House…”, Mary Randolph Carter does not have a little sign with those infamous words, but instead they are inscribed on muddied doormats at the entrance to her home and that of each of her immediate family. The mats were found one “Christmas Eve on a panicky last-minute shopping spree.” Spied in a pile of holiday rubble at a big discount store, she and her family pounced on them, deciding they were a perfect gift to give one another. The words became their family motto.

Now, before you jump to any conclusions, neither I nor the author are hoarders. She expressed it well when she said that her family home was “lived in but not unkept”. (Okay, so sometimes mine is unkept—but it is most certainly “lived in”.)
An excerpt from the book will give you an idea of its philosophy put to work. Under the banner of “The Best Welcome of All” are these words: “The best welcomes are waiting just inside the door. Nothing beats a warm hug and personal greeting from a friend, a child, or an excited barking dog for getting a visit, a dinner, or a party off to a good start. Don’t worry about the last-minute preparations or making sure everything is absolutely in its place. You can light the candles, put the hors d’oeuvres out, pick up whatever it is you’re worried about after you’ve warmly welcoming your guests.”

The author differentiates between the terms house and home–a home is what you make of a house once you put your personal stamp on it. She quotes a photographer who made his living taking pictures of “quite perfect homes” for a magazine. He happened upon a kitchen that was “unlike any room he had ever been assigned…” as “it was a kitchen to be used, not to impress. It told me everything that I didn’t already know about these people—their charm, their informality, their intense passion, a life lived without pretence or sham.”

Now that is a life worth living—charming, informal, and passionate.

The Pause that Refreshes

Terry Hershey Park trail in Houston, TX, USA

Terry Hershey Park trail in Houston, TX, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“But somewhere along the way, life chokes the
music and poetry out of us.” – Terry Hershey

Pause. A lovely word. Among its various synonyms, the one I like best is “breather”. Pausing gives us a breather from the chaos we make of our lives. I often wonder why, in an effort to make our lives simpler and more productive, we make it more complicated and less efficient.  Terry Hershey, author of “The Power of Pause—Becoming More by Doing Less” has taken on the cause for pause in a gentle, yet very convincing book.

He says that Pause is based on the principle of “Sabbath” which “means to cease and to rest.” Of course the context of Sabbath is religious in overtone, but “becoming more by doing less” is something that can be added to anyone’s repertoire.
Hershey believes that there are a number of signs we can use to recognize whether we need to take time to pause in our lives. He asks:

Have you ever felt overwhelmed, only to add more to your to-do list?
Have you ever felt rushed, wishing for a wand that would enable you to slow down  time?
Have you ever wished for an extra day in your week?
Have you ever been in a conversation when it hits you, “I’m not really here?”
Have you ever felt pulled in so many directions that you did not feel at home in your own skin?
Have you ever agreed to a commitment when you knew that the only healthy answer  was no?
Have you ever wanted to pause long enough to see the handprint of God in the clouds,  or in the face of a stranger, or in the irritation of the chaotic, or in the touch of a friend,  or in the ordinary events of the day?

The author says that “The Power of Pause” is not “only about what we do but also about what we don’t do.”  He believes that we can benefit from subtracting things from our lives rather than adding, and that the power is in “our awareness that our choices do in fact make a difference.” He says that when he is constrained by urgency, he is manipulated by being in what I like to call a “state of hurry”, and says yes to something when he should say no.

According to Hershey, there are two kinds of pause: active and inactive, and both have their place. A passive pause is when we stop, let go, are still, and breathe out. An active pause is when we are attentive, conscious of the present moment, and take responsibility for the life we have right now. It is when we breathe in.
An example that I could relate to was given in Chapter 8. Called “The Dark Side”, it talks about an overheard conversation in an airport, where a young man is caught shouting into his cell phone—“Hey! Why didn’t you return my call? I texted you. Like twenty minutes ago!”
Laugh if you will, but with all the technology available today making it possible to communicate instantly, twenty minutes is what 24 hours used to be.

I had dial-up internet for the longest time–first because it was cheap, and well, second, also because it was cheap. But it was slow compared to the internet my youngest son decided we needed (and volunteered to pay for). Now I don’t know how I got along without the faster internet. Heaven forbid we actually have to wait for something! Thank goodness we still have to wait in line at the bank and grocery store, or we would all be like the young man at the airport.

Gilmore Girls (season 1)

Gilmore Girls (season 1) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember a scene on the program the “Gilmore Girls”, where the mother and grandmother of the two stars of the show, Lorelai and Rory, decided to “gift” them with faster internet. They did not want it—they liked to turn on the computer and wait for the internet to come up—using the time to go get a snack or make a pot of coffee. I think they got it right.

Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 12:48 am  Comments (5)  
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In the Mind of the Beholder

Cover of "Stones for Ibarra (Contemporary...

Cover via Amazon

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents,
the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people
you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly
have defeated age.”  –Sophia Loren

Okay, I will admit it. I have been feeling a little bit old of late. Hopefully it is a passing thing—but the truth of the matter is that I will only get older. I think it is my attitude that will have to change. Age is a state of mind. You can be old at 27, and very young at 96. In fact, for a while when I was 27 I felt old (when I finally left my career as a student behind); then when I had my second son at 38 I felt slightly ancient (surrounded by young new moms at the hospital); then again at 46, for no real reason in particular (other than the fact that my eight year old told me that some of his friends had grandmas my age.)  Today, I think it may have something to do with the fact that when I get up in the morning, I feel creaky. My knees are stiff, my legs feel like logs, and I stump around for about five minutes before everything gets working again.

I think that we sometimes base how we feel on what we have accomplished, and I have come nowhere close to accomplishing everything I want to. I have a little book that brags its contents contain “endless inspiration for writers”. The book, authored by Monica Wood and officially called “The Pocket Muse 2”, lists a number of people who were either my age or older when they accomplished one of the things on my “bucket list”—writing a book.  (I have several in the pipeline—I just haven’t figured out how to get them out of the pipeline and between the covers of a book.) Anyway—here is my inspiration list:
Annie Proulx published her first book, Postcards, at age 58.
Penelope Fitzgerald published her first novel, The Golden Child, at age 61.
Frank McCourt published his first book, Angela’s Ashes, at age 66.
Peter Pouncey published his first book, Rules for Old Men Waiting, at age 67.
Harriet Doerr published her first novel, Stones for Ibarra, at age 73
Helen Hoover Santmyer published “…And Ladies of the Club” at age 88.

So, yes, little Pocket Muse, I am inspired, and believe there is hope for me yet. Age is in the eye of the beholder, and also the mind. Stimulating the mind and bypassing self-prejudice are two ways to fight “feeling old.” Now if only my legs would only listen to my words of wisdom.