Be inspired to step out on your journey stones...
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1. What are Parables?
2. Parables—The Problem Solvers and How to Write them
3. Stepping Stones—Life, One Stone at a Time
4. Creative Writing—Creation Writing
5. The Iceberg Effect
6. Why don't we see things as they are?
7. The 4th Flight of the Wanderer Sovereigns
8. Soccer and the Right to Bear Arms
9. The Magic beyond Beginnings and Endings
10. Vital Signs
11. Somewhere over the Rainbow
12. Life...by the Numbers
Variously described as concise comparisons, analogies, illustrations and even riddles, they have puzzled and baffled listeners since the beginning of time (think analogies with apples and snakes in the Garden of Eden!). The preferred instruction method of Jesus, using them in almost one third of all his teachings, they were also used by countless educators, including Buddha and the great Greek Philosophers. Present in all the major religious beliefs they have almost disappeared in our modern world; lost to us.
Why did the great spiritual masters choose parables to communicate? Why didn't they just say clearly what they meant? Actually, sometimes they did, but when we don't like what we hear we have a tendency to get defensive—think teenagers. How often do they say one thing, but mean something else, just like parables! We spend much of our spiritual lives stuck in adolescence and we know that during that time we don't want to be told what to think or conclude.
Telling a truth gives but one choice—believe or not believe, but we don't learn when given meaning. We must discover it for ourselves. Parables are the breadcrumbs that invite us to journey into the mystery the story creates, and because they are unclear they make us take notice, stimulating our curiosity and imagination to seek the truth they illustrate. In life, some is seen and some not—people can see how we look, but not our dreams and thoughts. If we are to understand meaning, to truly see, we need to look beyond the skin, pulling away the layers, until we reach our center where our truths and answers await us.
Parables often involve a problem to solve, where choices and decisions have unforeseen outcomes. Our world provides countless ways to engage instantly with anyone, but rather than being as connected as we may think, we are in danger of becoming so disconnected that the meaningful questions we used to ask in our depths are becoming a distant memory, locked away with other non-essentials that don't have a price tag. So, where do we go from here?
We need to put as much effort to engage with ourselves as we do with others and go back to the beginning when we listened to the strange stories that sent us searching, because we all have a truth to find.
In my novels I use the parabolic form to send characters on a journey of discovery and although there are truths they uncover, I also leave room for you, the reader, to make up your own mind about the meaning of certain elements. I hope you enjoy them, but more importantly I hope you feel encouraged to take your own journey—it's worth the trip.
Parables—The Problem Solvers and How to Write them
I want to show you a vision. You are walking along a path. Someone familiar to you is a few steps ahead and you hear a loud sound in the distance. Entering a forest it is dark and damp. Your companion, excited, quickens their pace, as you imagine danger lurking behind every tree. The sound, now a roar is getting closer and you stop continuing. A few minutes pass until your companion returns, soaked to the skin. "What happened?" you ask. "I saw the most beautiful sight I could imagine, but I didn't need to see it at all," your companion responds. "Why, if it was so beautiful?" you ask. "In time, my eyes will lose sight of what they saw. The water will dry, the colors fade, and in that moment of bliss I realized I had received the greatest gift before I set out along the path."
Much of life is about lessons, which keep coming around until we have learned their secrets. They are just for each of us and they call us to the quest of our time on earth. So, what is the vision you conjure up when you hear the word, 'parable?' Perhaps, it's a great spiritual teacher wondering across the land, spouting pearls of wisdom to the people, or a confusing story that leaves you saying, "What was that all about." Either way, you may be thinking that you are the last person on earth who needs them or can write them—it's time to re-visit those assumptions!
Do you have challenges in life? Do you have to find creative solutions? If you answered yes to both questions, guess what?—you can write parables. Even if you have never written them down, you have probably said them, because parables are problem solvers and some of you have been using them for a long time.
Moms—you lead the pack. Finding the best way to communicate with your children has been a life-long endeavor. At each age you have had to find different ways and tactics to help your kids see life in new ways.
Teachers—imparting knowledge on a foundation of understanding, wisdom and process, lie at the heart of the classroom.
Caregivers—behind every illness, is a soul struggling to come to terms with their suffering. Your words of comfort can lead to healing.
Pet owners—the cat on your lap; the dog always happy to see you—they give you the calm to find the quiet peace that leads you to the wisdom to share with others.
If you are not in one of the groups above, have no fear! We are all teachers and students. We have much to give and receive. When we share a parable we invite the reader to take a journey into the center where the love lives. So, what are the ingredients of a parable?
Many years ago, I walked down a path, through a forest, towards a roar in the distance. Over the years the vision has become faint, but I will never forget the magic I felt inside. Most know the place as Victoria Falls, but the local people call it Mosi-oa-Tunya—"the smoke that thunders." Sounds like a parable—don't you think?
Stepping Stones—Life, One Stone at a Time
In Southern France at a place called Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc, there is a cave that contains some of the earliest cave paintings from 30,000 years ago. Typical of the time the drawings were of animals, which our ancestors seemed to find infinitely more interesting than pictures of themselves. One can imagine their Facebook profile pictures, showing a horse, lion or mammoth! I know what you're thinking—all very interesting, but what's all the fuss? After all, they're just our hairy, grunting, dirty relatives—the ones we don't talk about, right? No, they are much more than that—they are our teachers! Don't feel bad—I missed it too. Tell you what…we'll come back to it in a bit.
You may be aware that 65% of humans are visual learners (I see heads nodding in agreementJ) and with the age of technology we have no shortage of colors and words to fill a thousand lifetimes. We watch, we follow, we participate—we fulfill a need to engage. We click, hover, and scroll and are full of the visual world. What of our own life vision?
We agonize over choosing the right profile picture and finding just the right words to grab attention—sometimes in less than 140 words…and tomorrow? In less than 20? It may feel at times we are losing sight and not gaining insight, but I don't believe so, because there are no coincidences. From cave dwellers to social media the message has been the same—pay attention—not just to the world around us, but the world within us, about ourselves and our journey.
It's not comfortable looking within. We give ourselves a lot of negative press and when the harmful outweighs the positive, it's easier to look elsewhere and be lost doing other activities, but the cave dwellers knew something and it's time to remember again. Where do we begin?—with a vision.
You will notice that my website is full of references to stepping stones. They are my visual—of my life journey. I call the stones my 'soul stones' because I see my journey as a spiritual quest. The stones are different shapes, colors and textures—some smooth and slippery and others rough and sparkling. They are large and small and I step to each with bare feet—bare because we humans are feelers—full of emotions in every step we take. The stones sit in a river and the water is the symbol of life which rushes against them. Constantly moving, at times it's a gentle flow or a torrent when the rains come, which laps over the stones. It can be cold and chilling or warm and comforting. I know I must step to each stone to complete my journey and although some stones feel lose, something inside tells me I am safe and secure.
Good! Vision in place, so we're done, right? Not so fast. There is bad news for visual learners—we only retain about 10% of what we see!—having only a vision is not enough. Time to move to the next stone—engagement. Our powers of communication are one area that sets us apart from the animals on the cave walls. Yes, we can post, text, tweet and feed, but to jump to the next level we need the full power of hearing—which includes having audible conversations with each other. The back and forth is remarkably effective because it adds the critical component of active listening. Adding hearing gets us to an impressive 40% retention!
Sorry, still not good enough. Time to jump to the third stone. We have seen, heard and now we must…? Yep, you got it—act!! We know that experience gets us a ton of learning. Not always pleasant, it's necessary because it makes us question what we have been told; by others or even by us to ourselves. We check it against all we have learned so far and come up with a list of what we feel, know and believe, and…it gets us to around 90% learning retention. Woohoo!!!
Great…we made it! Well…not quite…You see that's what was bothering me. If we see, hear and do and retain 90%, what happens to the other 10%? I am no scientist and perhaps one would say we lose information along the way—that the brain discards or cannot learn? It sounds feasible, but I know my brain retains a ton of useless information, so it had to be something else—enter the smelly cave artists!
I'm guessing you haven't been checking out cave drawings between updating your Facebook page and tweeting, but I encourage you to open another tab and do a quick search. You don't have to be an artist to notice—they are really good! So? Maybe, they had nothing much else to do after a long day hunting? That's still not it. It's not what's there, but what's not there that bothered me—where are the practice drawings? After all, we know we need experience to be good at anything. Given the primitive tools at their disposal and a good chance they may not have even had a language at that time; it seems unlikely and impractical that they only kept the good ones. What does it mean?
I believe the pictures are a reminder of what isn't learned through seeing, hearing and doing. It's the 10% and it's what we came with when we arrived—call them gifts, wisdom, the spirit of light and love—whatever works best for you. Create your vision, engage, act, but most of all, pay attention to your 10% that invites you into the greatest mystery of all and makes the 90% make sense.
Creative Writing—Creation Writing
Last week I cleared one shelf on a bookcase, removing old books to make room for the new. With only a couple to place on the shelf it was mostly bare and each time I entered the room my eyes were drawn to the empty area. Our lives are busy and when there is breathing space we have a tendency to fill rather than focus on seeing the vacant as having any importance. It's as though we view everything through a fuel gauge filter and when the light comes on we get busy doing. When the work is done we nod in satisfaction and without pause or reflection we move on to the next task.
In the biblical tradition we are told that in the beginning the earth was a formless void and after each day of creation: light and darkness, water, land, vegetation, creatures, and us, made in God's image, God said it was good and rested. In the 19th century there were many creations: the electric lamp, locomotive, internal combustion engine, plastic (we said they were good), and in 1880 toilet paper (very good!), but we didn't rest. Instead, we created a new God—productivity, and ever since we have all participated in its creation and upkeep. Unlike our creator, the productivity God is a trickster, making promises and burning bridges faster than they can be re-built, but we still have choices and they are more important now than ever, because we are losing sight of the seventh day of creation.
I am still uncertain about the relationship between creativity and productivity. The wicked stepsisters perhaps, or Cain and Abel? Either way, it's crucial that life has to be as much about being as it is doing, because before we are producers we are creators. Our first stop is reexamining at the definition for a reality check. Many people say they are not creative. We view creativity within a narrow scope; a gift we have or don't have, to draw, paint, sculpt, write or compose. When we add self-judgment to the mix, we are unaware that we have just told ourselves perhaps the largest lie of our lives. Why? Because we are super creators, right to the core of our being and beginnings! We create all day—big stuff like life, conversations, ideas, thoughts, solutions and it doesn't end there. When we sleep we create dreams and it doesn't matter they may not make any sense. Perhaps, our creator looks down on us with the same thought!
Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand." He also says, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious," and although we can apply it to many creations in our cultures, I believe he was specifically talking about the empty space on my bookshelf.
We know that the brain processes different functions in distinct locations and with the invention of MRI scans we can see the brain in action. For instance, the occipital lobe processes information related to vision and we would see activity there when we observe. And when we imagine? Recent studies suggest there is no one part that activates when we imagine—multiple areas light up, like a Christmas tree!
Creativity is the most powerful force in the world and we shouldn't be surprised since we were made in God's image. It lies at our core since the beginning and despite all we have accomplished, are we spending most of our time and energy on the product, the creative outcome—the doing and not the being? What if we readdressed the balance? What would the scans show then and how might we, the world and our creations be different?
It's the invitation to the mysterious and it begins with my bookshelf, AKA creating space. This is the active choice to be empty. The outcome is a distant dream and the focus is just on being, where we discover the imagination that fires the brain and the sacredness of the seventh day of creation—the day of rest and only day of the seven that God blessed and said was holy. In the space we are open to all the possibilities and when the spirit is alive it speaks. As we move into engagement we discern the path from the wisdom we have discovered. It's only then we are ready to create.
The following are tips on how to turn creative writing into creation writing, using the path detailed above, but the principals can be used for any type of creativity.
We don't know what happened before creation, but I like to think God was imagining…and it was good.
The Iceberg Effect
In April, 1912 the largest vessel ever constructed at the time, Titanic, hit an iceberg and sank. Was the ship going too fast for the weather conditions? Were iceberg warnings not taken seriously enough? Did a steering error or the ship's design contribute to the sinking and what would have happened if the Titanic hit the berg head on where the bulkheads are stronger? These are just some of the questions discussed since that fateful night when the unthinkable happened and the unsinkable sunk.
Once the horror and enquiries were completed new regulations were drafted, including a provision that there had to be enough lifeboats for all the passengers onboard. The changes were too late for those who died and as is common in our human experience, it took disaster to strike to improve, because results are often the catalyst for change—who are we? We are the decision-makers.
Faster than a speeding bullet used to be in the realm of superheroes, but it has become our Kryptonite. We don't see the dolphins playing by our side nor the whales rising out of the depths. Instead, it's the calm, windless night, the gentle sea, which says we can go faster in safety. We interpret no ripples and no waves as a blessing and our vision remains locked away. The present is happening too quickly for the future to be much of a consideration and we re-assure ourselves there will be plenty of time to practice. And when disaster is looming? We don't jump to safety because we say it's safer staying where we are and as we sink we are sure it wasn't our fault because we didn't have enough time to react or any previous information that would have helped.
Now imagine you are taking a walk on the deck of the Titanic on the night of Sunday, April 14th. Dinner was wonderful; although you were disappointed the life boat drill scheduled for that day was canceled, since it would be a good time to mingle with other passengers. Looking at the ocean it's still like glass. You feel certain you could step on it and walk to America. Glancing upwards you watch the lookouts. Their job is not easy and is made harder by the calm waters, as waves crashing against icebergs make them easier to see in the moonless night. Binoculars may help, but they are locked away in a box and no-one has the key.
Suddenly you feel the boat shudder and turn as the propellers engage into reverse. An iceberg comes into view and despite efforts to turn past the mass of ice the ship hits it only 37 seconds after it was spotted. Later, as lifeboats are lowered into the water, many are nowhere close to full and you overhear people saying they feel safer staying on the big ship. Ending up in the water you are one of the few to be pulled into a lifeboat. A year later, you are sitting at home reading a newspaper when an article catches your eye. It's an interview with an author, Morgan Robertson, announcing the re-issue of a book he published 14 years before the Titanic sinking, called Futility. It tells a story of the largest ship ever built. Called unsinkable, it was traveling too fast in the North Atlantic Ocean when it hit an iceberg and sank. It happened in the month of April and the name of the ship was Titan—who are we? We are the Titanic.
Icebergs come in many different shapes and are formed by freshwater chunks falling from glaciers. The sea is not their natural home and the differences in density result in only 10% being visible above the water. What happens on the tip is driven by the effects of ocean currents on the 90% beneath the surface. And us? Our 10%? Perhaps, it's our behaviors, events, results, outcomes and tasks—what we show to the world. Much of us stays beneath the surface—who are we? We are the iceberg.
Focusing too much on the destination blinds us to the learning's of the journey and when we become too obsessed with what success needs to look like, we discard common sense and head at full throttle into a future of shattered glass and cold water.
The iceberg that sunk the Titanic didn't survive either. Drifting south into warmer waters it disappeared, like we will. Until then…change happens whether we choose to participate or not and we have decisions to make. We can listen, rather than ignore, slow down rather than speed up, and perhaps most important of all…we can pay attention to what lies in us beneath the surface—our dreams, fears, hopes, a willingness to be vulnerable, so when we finally dock or melt we know we loved and lived to the fullest.
Who are we? We are a wonderful gift and none of us wants to be a small symptom of a greater problem—the tip of the iceberg.
Why don't we see things as they are?
When I was a child, I talked like a child, thought like a child, argued like a child.
When I was a child, I stumbled like a child and when I cut my knee I had no doubt my Mother's kisses made it all better, because she loved me.
When I was a child, I listened like a child and trusted like a child.
When I was a child, I learned like a child and when I couldn't tie my own shoe laces I never untied them. I dreamed like a child and found my answers.
When I was a teenager, I talked like a teenager, thought like a teenager, argued like a teenager.
When I was a teenager, I stumbled like a teenager and when my emotions were bruised I had no doubt my friend's listening to me made it all better, because they loved me.
When I was a teenager, I listened like a teenager and questioned like a teenager.
When I was a teenager, I learned like a teenager and when I couldn't make my bed properly I never made it at all. I dreamed like a teenager and found my answers.
When I was an adult, I worried like an adult, feared like an adult, and had debts like an adult.
When I was an adult, I stumbled like an adult and when I fell, I had no doubt I was lost as I couldn't see anyone to catch me.
When I was an adult, I thought I knew everything. I closed my eyes and stopped looking, covered my ears and stopped hearing, pulled a veil over my heart and stopped hoping. When I was an adult, I no longer dreamed and found no answers.
When I was an adult, the demons came. They told me I wasn't good enough, smart enough, good-looking enough…they said life is a wilderness and I believed them.
When I became middle-aged, I stumbled like the middle-aged and when I tripped, I had no doubt I would be broken.
When I became middle-aged, six hands reached out and caught me and took me to the wilderness which I had no need to fear.
When I became middle-aged, the smallest hands reminded me how to trust, the next pair, to question, the larger hands, to embrace change.
When I became middle-aged…I stumbled…and found the answer.
(Inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:11)
In the journey of life the head says, being in control is the best place to be, because it makes us feel powerful, confident, and right. As long as we stay true to the path, information and knowledge flow from us and as long as we keep the enemy at the door, success and happiness will be ours. The enemy of control is powerlessness—in the world we see hunger and the inability to solve problems without violence—in our personal lives we experience loss, in jobs and relationships. In the journey of life the heart says, being vulnerable is the best place to be, because it makes us look beyond what the head speaks, into our depths to face our fears and find our truths. The enemy of powerlessness is depression—it keeps us stuck, unable to go back or go forward—we become unfocused, distracted and lost.
And, in the journey of life, what does the soul say? That's for each of us to decide. I think it says all are welcome, we all belong, and that the spirit talks to us in a way that only we will understand—being in the mystery is the best place to be. I have no doubt… because I stumbled…and I know I am loved beyond what my head and heart could ever comprehend.
Perhaps the French diarist, Anaïs Nin, said it best, when she said, "We do not see things as they are—we see things as we are," and how we are…is up to us.
The 4th Flight of the Wanderer Sovereigns
I wish I could remember those beginning days…when the world belonged to me. I crawled, grabbed and chewed. I stood tall, wobbled and touched. I saw beauty all around me and I wanted it all. Taking flight, I soared—with my many colors, I explored.
The first emerge with the spring equinox—in March, the first month of the old Roman calendar. They scatter, traveling north and east across the empire. In 2-6 weeks they are gone—did something go wrong?
I remember the continuing days…when the world belonged to me. I walked, ran and charged. I found beauty in different ways and I wanted to be happy. Taking flight—with my many colors, I reasoned.
In May, the month of Mother Earth, they appear again. They journey on. In 2-6 weeks they are gone—did something go wrong?
I remember the seeking days…when the world belonged to me. I strode, marched and jumped. I found challenges, hurdles and direction. Taking flight—with my many colors, I discovered.
In July, when the sun is high in the sky, they return, bright and beautiful. In 2-6 weeks they are gone—did something go wrong?
I remember the changing days…when the world belonged to me. I paused, strolled and lingered. I searched for meaning and I wanted contentment. Taking flight—with my many colors, I imagined.
In September and October, as the days get shorter and the nights cooler, the wings of the last annual generation open, and 2-6 weeks later they are…on their way. With food stored for the journey, they climb into the blue, catching the winds that will carry them south on the 2,500 mile trip to the place of their ancestors. They are the 4th flight of the Monarch Butterflies (also known as the Wanderer Butterfly) and if you listen carefully, you can hear their wings flapping—all is well.
It's a mystery how they find their way to a small area in Mexico that they have never visited—to the same trees each year. It's a mystery how the last flight to leave the north, lives not for 2-6 weeks, but for 6-8 months, but they trust their journey into the warmth which embraces them. In the spring they leave, and when they are no more than halfway, they hand onto their offspring to begin again.
I don't remember all my days…when the world belonged to me, but I know when I feel something went wrong, perhaps it was time to let go and enter the mystery where the sun is waiting. I'm going to soar with my many colors because the 4th flight is my calling…and yours too. You see—no matter where we are we are never more than halfway from home.
Soccer and the Right to Bear Arms
One hundred years ago, a ball is kicked into no mans land and men from both sides emerge from their trenches to exchange handshakes, gifts and souvenirs. They play an impromptu game, for soccer is a language they both understand. They sing carols, and for a short time unofficial peace silences the guns. It wasn’t the first time we discovered a different answer…
Four years later, as troops retire from the field of battle, wounded men remain in the open. A small man of five feet four inches, and gardener by profession, climbs out of his trench. Alone and unarmed, he makes his way amidst bullets and shells to the suffering. He treats them and carries them back to safety. It wasn’t the first time he had displayed such courage…
Over time we have hoped for peace, yearned for it. We tried to deal for it, compromise and be uncompromising, but it hasn’t been sustainable, and it often feels like we don’t live in peace, but in periods between wars. Peace, so long a dream is becoming a byword, replaced by more self-serving slogans like ‘victory,’ which tells us we have won something. It’s not the first time we have been told we are winners…
If Albert Einstein was right when he said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” we need a different approach. New thinking, that doesn’t start with a focus on the problems themselves, because that hasn’t worked. We need to look back to the beginnings, to the common ground where we celebrate that we are more alike than different. It’s there, in the valleys, on mountaintops, around campfires and beneath trees, where since the beginning of time all peoples have shared stories handed down by their ancestors. It’s there in our smiles, the language of all peoples. It’s there, when we have listened with empathy and understanding to each other and feel the pain and suffering of all who have loved and lost so much.
Only then are we ready to stand and declare our right to bear arms. Not with weapons, but by holding our arms wide with compassion for all, because no matter how hard it may be, it is the only way to build the bridges on which we can all cross. It’s not the first time we have sought peace…and it cannot be the last.
And the five foot four inch hero? He was a conscientious objector whose name was William Coltman. The most decorated non-commissioned officer of the British army during the First World War, he received five separate medals for bravery, saving countless lives as a stretcher barer, as killing went against his beliefs. One of the citations William received said, “In spite of very thick smoke and fog he always found his way.”
As this year we mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the Soccer World Cup begins in Brazil, let’s remember a game that took place on a winter’s night in 1914 and that the paths to peace are only limited by our lack of empathy, imagination and compassion to find the way. As for me, I am hoping William, the gardener, has planted a seed that says it’s not about avoiding conflict, but the choices we make when it happens. When we open our arms in friendship, acceptance, and non-violence we too can see through the mist of confusion and see that our answers to finding peace lay in a language we can all understand.
The Magic beyond Beginnings and Endings
Watching the beautiful sunrise colors of autumn and witnessing the sun lose its glow as it sets on the long, warm days of summer; we stand in silent awe of the vision that graces the sky. Most say they prefer sunsets. Perhaps it's because we see the colors as more dramatic. Sunrises come too early and we're already thinking about the day ahead, or we're not in a rush when the sun goes down and can enjoy it more. Whatever our preference, the world is telling us something important, but no matter how beautiful the vision, how many sunrises and sunsets do we really see in our lives?
Beginnings can be wonderful moments, full of longing, excitement and adrenalin as we birth a new adventure. Endings are different, often consumed with feelings of relief, regret, sadness and hopes for new foundations that will ignite our spirits. It's very fitting that at the beginning of a new year, some make resolutions of what they wish to accomplish, since January is named after Janus, the Roman God of beginnings, transitions and endings.
The world gives us the framework of days, to rise, live and rest. On the surface it looks like a perfect match to encourage letting go when a day goes awry. The promise of the next sunrise is an opportunity to start over and not focus on the past, which can disable our growth. It's a concept that fits very well with the emotional turmoil that beginnings and endings create, and there is a peace and comfort we feel when we don't dwell too long on what's behind us or in front of us. Taking one day at a time makes it possible to be less overwhelmed by our worries and fears, to cope with less happy moments, and enjoy our wins however we perceive them. Perfect, we have a good solution...or do we? Or is there more to uncover?
Even taking one day at a time, it sometimes feels like one step forwards, two steps back. The satisfaction of beginnings let down by endings we can only forgive—to try again the next day. Reflecting, I wondered if there was a time when it was different. It was time to pack a bag and go back to the past.
When I was a child, life as I understood it was continuous with a freedom unhampered by the concepts of days. I remember playing outside with friends. Nothing else mattered. My Mother would call to come in for meals and after multiple attempts I would begrudgingly wonder in, only to rush back out to gleam every bit of fun out of the daylight, until it was too dark or bedtime was ordered. With no beginnings or endings there was no desire to linger on problems. No need to worry about tomorrow. I lived in the light where adventures, friendship, and laughter left little room for fears. When they did occur, we made it through together, drawing strength from each other without judgment. Without warning the rules changed. Struggles, challenges and fears crept in as adults told us the days of childhood were done. We had to move on to a new world of conformity. It was strange, foreign, and unwelcomed. Suddenly there were beginnings and endings; life was no longer continuous.
There are times we look forward to the end of the day or not look forward to the beginning of the next. We become locked in a negative cycle of beginnings and endings - and it's no fun! We can't go back to the childhood days and if our only way is forwards, what do we do with those beginnings and endings? According to a 2007 study at the University of Bristol, 88% of those setting New Year's resolutions fail, even though 52% were confidant they would achieve their goals. Frank Ra, in his book," A Course in Happiness," says, "Resolutions are more sustainable when shared, both in terms of with whom you share the benefits of your resolution,and with whom you share the path of maintaining your resolution."
Winston Churchill's words during the Second World War, "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning," remind us of the confusing nature of starting and finishing.
Each day we do get to start again..... It's that same light of the morning sun that fills your heart when you hug someone you love, that same light that says I can make today different, that same light that says it's up to me. It's that same light that as it fades in the evening says it's time to let go of the day and be thankful....so rest. And when we rest it's not in darkness by but the light of the moon and the stars for the light never leaves us.
I believe it's all about creating new beginnings and endings that are not disabling. That our best chance of success is when we journey together in the love, support and encouragement that accepts, forgives and leads us to make time for the sunrises and sunsets. Perhaps there, watching in silent awe, some magic will happen and we will rediscover the path to play and freedom that leads to life becoming continuous again.
(Previously published in the July issue of New Age News Magazine)
It's winter, 1854, and as darkness fills the sky and the medical staff retire for the night, a tall, slender woman with brown hair covered by a white cap, makes her way around the wards for a last check. She believes in cleanliness, but not germs, and since arriving with her volunteers the death rate has increased. We might conclude she was a failure, but something unable to measure occurred, and it came from the light she carried as she disappeared into the distance.
Life is full of what we often perceive as ordinary. Work, chores, relationships and errands, all contribute to our lives of doing. We fall and get up, succeed and disappoint. In sickness, we seek healing, in health; we go for a check-up. We are measured: temperature, pulse, blood pressure and respiratory rate, and crossing the activity off our check list, we return to what else needs to be accomplished. As the light of the sunset disappears into the distance, satisfied, we judge our day by what we have done.
A life of doing is perceived as a life of giving and often fills us with a sense of purpose, but on the last of our days, as our vital signs dwindle, do we hear anyone say, "I wish I had worked more?" For beyond what we accomplish in our actions, is a part of us that completes the circle of all we are called to be. It's the 'being' that surrounds the 'doing,' dwelling in the shadows as well as in the light.
In 1854, a lady with a lamp challenged the medical perceptions of the time. She couldn't bring healing to the many dying, mostly from disease. We might conclude she was a failure, but something unable to measure occurred, and it came from the shadow cast by the lamp she carried as she disappeared into the distance.
And our own perceptions? In the light we view Psychology as the study of mind and behavior, and thinking about health care, perhaps we see a vision of hospitals, patients, or treating and curing illness. When we are willing to enter the shade of our being our images become complete, and we see that Psychology literally means 'the study of the soul,' and the root of health care?— 'to heal all sorrows.'
In their later years, when the men who survived the winter of 1854 wrote their memoirs, they talked about the lantern carrier who wandered in the darkness. The love they felt just because she was there, not because she saved them. Their suffering eased by her presence and how they could kiss her shadow in gratitude as it fell before them. Her name was Florence Nightingale and she revolutionized nursing, not by saving the lives of soldiers, but by writing textbooks, opening a nursing school and healing by her presence.
There are times we might conclude we are failures, but something unable to measure is occurring, and it's present when we nurture our being as well as our doing. As light bearers, beacons of love, when we shine bright our shadows come alive, for embracing both is our calling to wholeness (holiness). In our presence to ourselves and each other we see beyond our sicknesses to soul and sorrows, where our spiritual vital signs wait for our care and the ordinary becomes extraordinary.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Standing in a field of lavender, walking in lush woods, or resting by a brook as its waters gently meander, there is something strangely familiar about this earth we call home. It’s there sheltering beneath the forest canopy of creation, that we find ourselves called to a journey. Surrounded by beauty, with nothing to fear except what we make up, we draw a deep breath and begin the quest with a lingering question—what are we here to accomplish?
When Dorothy, in the Wizard of Oz, found herself in a new world she was told to follow the path to a place to find her answers. We too are pulled to see each step we take as progress towards a destination. We travel to work, go on holidays, and get to the shops when we need something. There is comfort when we return and contentment when we cross a task off our list—we have accomplished.
Through the twists and turns of life we face many dilemmas on which road to take when we encounter forks along the way. We place pressure on ourselves to make what we believe are the best decisions, and as we stumble along worries creep in. Our energy becomes focused on what’s around the next corner or hiding in the shadows. Our perceptions blinded by what we agree to fear, lead us away from the awareness of who we truly are to a place of unknowing, with only one conclusion we are sure of—we’re not in Kansas anymore.
It’s tempting to feel we made a mistake. Took a wrong turn or were led along the wrong trail. When something goes wrong we struggle to make sense of our experiences, and feel the need to apportion blame, most often to ourselves, to find solace. It’s easy to be miserable and find others on the path, like the lion, tin man and scarecrow who understand, because they chose to believe the same story. The solution is not found by seeking or fearing the wizard, but by simply reclaiming one important memory—we are here on a spiritual journey.
Once we acknowledge that truth there is no need to focus on the destination because we already know there is no place like home because we have been there. The key to our journeys is to recognize what we have before we seek what we think we need. Dorothy only had to click her heels three times to get home. The lion, who wanted courage, the tin man, a heart, and the scarecrow, a brain, all came to realize that they already had what they sought.
The choice to embrace the gifts we came with changes how we approach our journey. The faith that reveals there is nothing to fear behind the curtain and that choices are not hurdles, but necessary steps for us to grow in our understanding of what we need to learn here. The brightness and warmth of the sun above us which turns our path yellow to light the way. The hope that reminds us, although the road may be unfamiliar the surroundings are not. In the majesty of towering trees and bright butterflies feeding on beautiful blooms, that are the familiar gifts of home that protect us from harm and surround us with peace.
There is no need to fear on our spiritual journey home for there are many roads, but it’s all one path; where we are held, supported and loved all the way. Perhaps resting at a crossroads we will come to realize what we are here to accomplish and already half way home, that over the rainbow is not that far to travel after all.
Life…By the Numbers
At one time or many throughout our lives we ask ourselves a question – why are we here? I wish I tracked and recorded my thoughts in all the times it has occurred for me. Perhaps like you, my answers have spanned a spectrum; from learning to love unconditionally, finding a purpose, and when I was a small boy, becoming a fireman. Some ideas have left. I decided to leave fighting fires to those bigger and braver, but the burning desire to understand my journey still kindled a flickering flame to send me searching. Where to look was the first task. Weaved in the layers of the olive branch of spirituality? Under the philosophers’ stone perhaps, or was the answer elsewhere?
Of course, nothing and no one is perfect and our shadows have an annoying habit of creating new ways to shake our faith in whatever we believe. As enemies appeared I would take them on, one at a time, sometimes two or three in one go. Vanquishing these fears was tough and although I don’t want to brag, it goes without saying that I was pretty heroic. Just as I thought I was making progress a road block obstructed my path. Just how long do I have here to find this truth?
It’s tough running this race of life when you don’t know if our time here will be endurance or a sprint. Ultimately, we can only put off today to do tomorrow for only so long. One day, tomorrow won’t arrive. Stubborn problems merit a special approach. Some call it ‘thinking outside the box,’ but for me it’s ‘dwelling within the circle,’ because no matter what we believe, we are all included in this journey. More alike than different, all paths take us to our death and home.
William Deming said, “In God we trust—all others, bring data.” His words seemed like the perfect place to start to my ‘how long do I have’ dilemma, as there is no shortage of statistics to fill the void. There are already algorithms, which predict life expectancy which include factors such as poverty, habits, exercise, geographic location, hobbies (stamp collecting is safer than skydiving), occupation and stress. Genetics is another factor and progress is well on the way to map our genes to forecast in the family factor. I’m unsure how they would account for the human silliness dynamic, like looking at your phone when crossing the road, but my circle analogy and a zero look very much alike, so it seemed like the perfect place to start.
Looking at the world we live in, we might add, ‘…and lots of it…’ to the end of Deming’s quote, for we are overwhelmed with numbers on every aspect of our lives and living. Could the answer be as simple as a mathematical formula? Time to check it out.
The numbers day begins with the alarm clock sounding. Breakfast, we are told is the one meal not to skip, and although I distinctly remember growing up eating food it’s now all about the numbers. One glance at a cereal packet reveals a long list of unpronounceable ingredients written in an alien sounding tongue, along with the percentage breakdowns advising various intakes of fat, vitamins and the dreaded C word—calories. After a bowl of 200 I open the morning paper which reports a new study by the Cass Business School at City University in London. After two decades of research it reports that the Body Mass Index (BMI) cannot be relied upon because it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle. It says to keep your waist circumference to less than half your height. Worse, it says a waist to height ratio of 80% or more could reduce life expectancy by up to 20 years. Not good news for my search!
Turning the page, unemployment is up, the stock market is down and the weather forecast reports a mostly sunny morning with a 60% chance of rain between 3pm and 6pm. Reaching the car, the fuel gauge reads close to empty, but the manufacture says it gets 30 miles to the gallon so I should be able to wait until after work to fill up. I spend the journey glued to the speedometer driving at the optimum speed to conserve fuel as described in my car handbook. At work, my boss wants a spreadsheet with the latest profit figures with a presentation of why the low numbers are very good news.
After locating the best priced gas on the way home I pick up the mail and head indoors. One is an advert telling me I have won a holiday (apparently a one in a million chance) and my car insurance informing me my rate will be going up. According to their analysis men in my age group living with a 5 mile radius of my home have a higher rate of claims. Pondering whether to move, I scan my social media. Two new friends on Facebook, a couple of new likes and four retweets are welcome news. At dinner, the kids relay their latest grade point averages and how they would be much smarter if ‘someone’ bought them the latest iphone. I am distracted, wondering if I have drunk the recommended number of glasses of water for the day.
Turning on the news, the cost of living is up as is the cost of dying. A government spokesperson argues that the latest negative opinion polls on their job performance don’t reflect what they have been hearing. Apparently, they have proof that numbers aren’t everything. Switching to the History channel, it says Plato, the Philosopher and Mathematician, had, “Let no one ignorant of Mathematics enter here,” written above the entrance to his academy, and the average life expectancy in the Bronze Age was only 26. Finally some good news about life expectancy! It’s been a long day, but thankfully no longer than 24 hours. Turning off the TV it’s time to set the alarm and jump into bed. Got to get those recommended 8 hours in. And if by chance I can’t snooze, I know I can always count sheep!
Ok, maybe a little oversimplification, but you get where I’m going. Our thirst for data has reached epidemic proportions and shows no evidence of slowing down, because we are sold that statistics add credibility. What isn’t shared so often is that results change as the measurement system is altered and that like money, data has no worth except the value we attribute to it.
When a baby is 10 weeks old they begin to laugh. At 16 weeks it happens about once an hour, and at 4 years they giggle every 4 minutes. And adults? A measly 15 times a day. Before we learn to count we discover joy, in smiles and laughter, with not a number in sight. Perhaps it’s a signpost of where our true treasures are located. If there is a peace to be found it’s hiding behind the barriers we raise, what we make up, and whatever we give value and meaning.
And me? I settled on my solution. I am right behind Deming’s quote. I trust in God, that if I create space I will hear the voice that will reveal my answers and my path. I don’t know how long I have—I don’t need to, because I did the math and I have today. The root of the word mathematics comes from the Greek, meaning, ‘to learn’ and I hope to continue to find joy and laughter when the figures don’t add up. To learn to take care of the only number that really matters—to count my blessings.