Monday, January 25, 2016

Window to the Soul

I live in a rural town west of Seattle and when I need to go into the city, which I don't very often, I take the ferry. The weather today was sunny and mostly blue-sky, therefore, an unseasonably perfect Pacific Northwest day for a brisk three-mile walk to my appointment. Skirting around a seemingly endless construction project with multitudes of ginormous pieces of equipment blocking all reasonable efforts to stop for a cup of chowder at Ivar's Acres of Clams, I decided to head straight up the hill away from the water. My only other option was to pretend I was a character in The Maze Runner and risk being attacked by something with razor-sharp metal claws, and never find my way back to the ferry! 

Okay, so that's a bit dramatic. The truth is that something dramatic happens to me whenever I walk in downtown Seattle, or any city for that matter. I subconsciously and immediately shift into I-wonder-what-their-story-is mode. It's a curse. Most people walk passed me so quickly that my brain barely has time to imagine anything about their personal story. But I try anyway. Sadly, my imagination is thwarted by the brutal evidences of homelessness, addictions, filth, and moral decay. I'm reminded that although it's usually unwise to make assumptions, I can certainly determine that every person I pass by is probably dealing with something very difficult in their own life. Something heart-wrenching or grueling. Something utterly overwhelming. Something out of their control. Or something terrible and tragic that just happened and they don't even know it yet. Whatever it is, they're still there, walking in the middle of the city, in the middle of life, in the middle of bustling to get wherever they're going. Or still holding a cardboard sign and sleeping in the alley. 

Then I get this insatiable desire to step out from behind the bubble of my own personal space, the hazy window of my own perspective, and somehow try to read each persons' remarkable story. Since I'm not a psychic, I figure the least I can do is try an experiment. So I stand up taller, pick up my pace, and purposefully focus on the person coming my way. With only a half-smile on my face, so as not to appear bubbly or annoying, I think kind and compassionate thoughts about that person, sending them wishes for something good to appear in their life. But most people are in too much of a hurry or too preoccupied to notice that I'm trying to make eye contact with them. 

After I'd walked for thirty minutes and passed hundreds of people, I counted only a handful of those who bothered to look directly at me. Amazingly, in the brief moments when our eyes met, there was an undeniable connection between two strangers. I felt something almost magical pass through me. Perhaps it was merely a hope that a smile was just what that person needed. And what I needed. But I'm convinced it was more. It was as if the window to our souls opened briefly, and we acknowledged that we share the same cool, salty air. It was a breeze of understanding between us...a realization that everyone's story is difficult, but a smile can make it more worthwhile. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Childhood Song Can Be a Daily Mantra that Changes Your Life

When I was very young, probably three or four years old, I learned a little song which I've remembered for more decades than, at that time, I thought a person could actually live. Today on my morning run the song popped into my head unexpectedly, as I ran along a stream. I run for many reasons. Because I want to be physically fit and healthy...I love surrounding myself in nature...I enjoy the challenge of setting and achieving workout goals...I crave the creative space it provides! Sometimes, like this morning, I need the freedom to allow the tears of life to flow steadily down my naked face and vulnerable soul, like a meandering stream that trusts the direction it flows but has no idea how far, or how long, it must go before it arrives at the open sea. Or if it ever will. To the stream, arrival doesn't exist. The purpose of the stream is to carry melted snow and ice in the form of clear water to...somewhere. Make no mistake, this is not a careless or naive stream. It's very wise because it's been flowing over large boulders and small rocks, trickled around bends, through canals, across meadows, and under bridges for a very long while, often carrying with it sticks, debris, leaves and small pebbles that add character and strength to the stream. And all the while, the stream continuously bubbles with a secret to happiness, found in the lyrics to the song of my childhood:
Give, said the little stream
Give, oh, give!
Give, oh, give!
Give, said the little stream
As it hurried down the hill.
I'm small, I know,
But wherever I go
The grass grows greener still.
Singing, singing all the way
Give, oh, give oh give away!
Singing, singing all the way!
Give, oh, give away!

What do we know about the stream? It's small, not a mighty, rushing river. But the little stream never compares itself, so it's confident being little. The stream is headed downhill. In other words, it comes from a higher place, so it steadily flows in the direction best suited for water. It hurries along like a child skipping contentedly. It does not aimlessly wander with fear, anxiety, doubt or discouragement like disenchanted adults often do. The stream has a clear perspective and purpose. No matter where it goes, it trusts the continuous flow of life and the rewards and blessings that come from forward motion. A melody accompanies the stream along its way. Similarly, there's a song that travels inside each of us, regardless of whether or not we can carry a tune. With that melody is a simple secret to pure happiness in life. 

The secret is that we must give! We each have something of intrinsic value to give another person every day, no matter what our circumstances may be. It's usually the little things we give that make the biggest difference: our time, energy, talents and expertise. Or perhaps it's a listening ear, open arms, a forgiving heart, a warm hug, a genuine smile, a gentle reply, a compliment, a careful consideration, a thoughtful gesture, an act of kindness, or simple laughter that lightens someone's heavy load. 

Whatever we choose to give, we can each do something today to pay it forward. In doing so, we nourish our family and friends, our neighbors and co-workers, our communities and our world. When we make it a habit to give a little bit of ourselves to another, as we flow along the streams of life, we not only help to make the grass greener for others, we make our own meadow more lush.  

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why New Year's Resolutions are Pointless

I'm a word person.  As a writer, I'm adamant about choosing the best and most correct words to convey accurate meaning and specific intent.  I usually speak differently than I write.  Most people do.  When we engage in conversation, we often speak before we think.  We forget to bite our tongue, take a deep breath, and consider a different opinion or perspective before we say something.  We blurt out words we wish we hadn't.  But once a word leaves our mouth, it's out there.  Done.  We can't erase it, delete the post, or decide not to press send.  Fortunately, when we offend someone or hurt their feelings with our words, we can sincerely apologize, allow time to mend the sting of our thoughtlessness, and hopefully learn from our mistake.

Words are simply agreed-upon labels.  Every language has a different agreement for each particular word or combination of words.  Confusion occurs when a person uses a word that means something different to those with whom they are trying to communicate, even if the people in the conversation all speak the same language.

With the above premise in mind, what does the phrase "New Year's Resolution" mean to you? There's probably a percentage of the population who eagerly wait for each new year, feeling gung-ho about writing their new goals, and zealously categorizing them into the following sub headings: health, recreation, finances, family, relationships, education, career, etc.  I used to be one of those people!  I even felt a certain sense of accomplishment each time I achieved one of my goals.  I gleefully checked it off my list, and moved on to the next one.  But as I grew older, and hopefully wiser, I realized I was missing the whole point.

Here's the truth of it.  Life is not about checklists.  Of course, for practicality and functionality in accomplishing tasks of daily human life, we use words to create lists in planners and calendars and reminders and memos and notebooks.  But meaningful life doesn't occur at the gym as we try to sculpt an idealistic body.  It doesn't happen when we work overtime for the sake of a promotion, or adding another few dollars to our bank account.  It doesn't happen the moment we juice more greens and eat less meat.  And it certainly will never happen when we are too busy with our own personal agendas that we make no time to connect with those we love.

The term "New Year's Resolutions" is meaningless, and our efforts to achieve them are pointless, unless we are resolute in our body, mind and soul about the particular goal, or thing, or desire, or accomplishment.  A new year may give us an opportunity to reflect on the past year and decide what changes we'd like to make in our life, but if those changes are actual resolutions, we must be resolute in them!  There's nothing half-hearted about being resolute.  Being a person of resolute strength is not for the namby-pamby.  To be resolute means to be immovable, permanently placed, fixed, and unwavering!  What is so important to you that you are undaunted in the realization or achievement of it?  Do you have undiminished courage and valor for it?  Are you steadfast in your resolve towards it?  You must be firm in purpose.  You must be more than passionate about it.  There must be no force that will cause you to abandon your efforts!

If you are resolute, then you're ready to make a resolution, no matter what day of the year it is.  If you're not, then stick to the perfunctory goals and daily checklists, which serve a purpose, too.  One day you'll wake up, like I did, and discover you're capable of much more.