#73 Find Your Walden

green-dotmysterious path “I have a great deal of company in my house;  especially in the mornings, when nobody calls… I am no more lonely than the loon in the pond that laughs so loud, or than Walden Pond itself.  What company has that lonely lake, I pray?  … I am no more lonely than a single mullein or dandelion in a pasture, or a bean leaf, or sorrel, or a horse-fly, or a humble bee.  I am no more lonely than the Mill Brook, or a weathercock, or the north star, or the south wind, or an April shower, or a January thaw, or the first spider in a new house. “In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.  I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanness was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again.”   –Thoreau, from:  Walden, 1845.

  • Describe your most favorite, most soothing place out of doors. Write about a time when you found this place to give you comfort.

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# 71 Deciding To Let Go of Bitterness

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C 3 quarks/Dreamstime.com

C 3 quarks/Dreamstime.com

When you decide you no longer need the bitterness and resentment, you are ready to let go of it.  You are ready to forgive.  There are many ways. People decide to forgive when it just isn’t interesting any more.  Like an old movie that has been played over and over, it is time to put it back on your shelf and watch something new.  Recall number #59 by Mary Oliver.  Where she refers to sorrow, substitute bitterness and resentment. “When I was young, I was attracted to bitterness.  It seemed interesting.   It seemed an energy that would take me somewhere.  Now I am older, if not old, and I hate bitterness.  I see that it has no energy of its own, but uses mine, furtively.  I see that it is leaden, without breath, and repetitious, and unsolvable.”  People let go of old resentments by imagining them as snow flakes falling on the ocean, as sand castles on the shore, melting away with the incoming tide. People let go of bitterness and begin to forgive when they decide that they are tired of being controlled by other people and past events.  They want to stake out a claim on their own lives again.  They want to control how they feel, and what they think about it.  They decide that while they can’t change the past, they can change how they feel to day, and what they dwell on today. People decide to forgive because they are tired of seeing themselves as a person who is victimized, self-preoccupied, trapped, and embittered.  They prefer to see themselves as a person who is generous, tolerant, and nonjudgmental.  People who have forgiven those who betrayed them feel emotionally free, and they feel they have risen in stature as a human being. What method will you use to forgive those who hurt you, betrayed you, or disappointed you?

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# 70 Let Go Of Your Grievance Story

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A second part of learning to forgive involves understanding how we construct a script or story over time about our hurt or betrayal.  All our experiences with other people involve a variety of experiences, good and bad, but mostly neutral and even mundane.  When we have trouble forgiving someone, we put on a selective filter and select out only those elements of the experience that support our perception of events.  Typically, this perception involves recalling the most negative aspects of the other person and their most hurtful actions.  We filter out anything positive about the person.  Then we select out only the most virtuous and innocent aspects of ourselves, and filter out any personal shortcomings.  Thus we arrive at a story about righteous indignation.  Bolstered with that story, we seek out confirmation from other people.  We look for past “warning signs” that the grievance was fated to occur.  We rehearse the story to ourselves subvocally, adding emotional intensity to the story each time.

Luskin says we construct a “grievance story.”  This phenomenon has been noted by others as well, however.  John Gottman, a psychologist who studies marital failure, says that couples who are heading for marital failure, typically construct a “distress-maintaining scenario.”   Instead of forgiving partners for past wrongs, they harbor and nurture resentments.  They withdraw from their spouses and rehearse these scenarios over and over in their minds until they feel sufficiently justified to pursue divorce.  They literally “rewrite history,” going back over past events and re-interpreting them as an omen of their partner’s future betrayal.  Janet Johnston and Vivienne Roseby, researchers who study parents and children caught up in vicious post-divorce conflict also found that these parents could not forgive but in fact, constructed “inner scripts” in which they selectively filtered out events to support a stance of righteous indignation, and that they often rewrote history.

Listen to your own story. How have you selected out the parts which serve your need for righteous indignation?

How have you re-written history? How have you sought to get confirmation from others, by looking for more evidence, telling the story to people who will agree with you?

Consider revising your story.  What part of the problem can you take responsibility for?

 

Luskin, F.  2002.  ibid.

Also:  Gottman, J.  1994.  Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, and How You Can Make Yours Last.  New York:  Fireside.   Johnston, J. & Roseby, V.  1997.  In the Name of the Child:  A developmental approach to understanding and helping children of conflicted and violent divorce.  New York:  Free Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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# 69 Don’t Take It Personally

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rafters in river

Let’s focus on forgiveness.   No one can go through life without getting some emotional scars.  Most of us recall, perhaps obsess over, past hurts and grievances which we suffered at the hands of someone else.  Research in the fields of health and psychology has found that people who cannot forgive suffer broadly–not just from the emotional pain of the event itself, but they suffer from higher rates of depression, health consequences such as elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, and a more pessimistic outlook on life.  Even moreso, they suffer a narrowing of perspective that keeps them tied to the original hurt and unable to move on to new experiences.  The focus on the past betrayal takes up space in our mental life and sends out feelings of increased tension and irritability.  It becomes like an unwanted popup message on our computer screen, or like a virus periodically worming it’s way across the screen, eating up useful and important files.

A first step in learning to forgive is to take a larger perspective on the event that happened.  Your husband had an affair;  your boyfriend dumped you;  a co-worker got credit for your work and unfairly received a promotion;  you have never felt that your father (or mother) showed you the love you wanted and deserved, but loved your sister (or brother) better. One way to take a larger perspective is not to take things personally.  These people most likely did not do what they did out of a conscious intent to cause as much emotional harm to you as possible.  As we learned in #45, they most likely did what they did out of some human frailty–ignorance, fear, emotional distress, self-absorption, even thoughtlessness, carelessness, an impulse–that the flesh is heir to.

Psychologist Fred Luskin points out that one way to not take things personally is to consider the whole population of people this has happened to.  Affairs occur in at least half of all marriages..  Most of us have to kiss a bevy of frogs before we find our prince, and the corporations of America are filled with people who stepped on others on their way up the ladder.  Few homes are blessed with two perfect parents.

  • Consider for a moment the person whom you have difficulty forgiving. Most likely you make statements to yourself like, “How could she do that to me?” or “What she did to me was terrible. I am her only daughter.”  or “After all I did for him, the way he treated me was cruel.”  Write down your statement in which you personalize what happened to you.

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  • Now, rewrite the statement in an impersonal way.  Here are some examples:

“I know my mother wasn’t very loving.  She was unhappy and preoccupied.  Her life was disappointing.  I guess she did the best she could.”   “I don’t think he meant to hurt me.  In a weak moment, he must have followed an impulse and did what he did without thinking of me at all, most likely.”   “He took credit for my work, but then he took credit for a lot of people’s work.  He got the promotion and alienated several people in the process.  I’m not alone.”

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# 68 Consider the Kindness of Strangers

pink-dot                                                                                                                                                                                my crew

We know that doing a favor for someone else makes us feel good.  For some of us it even makes us feel morally superior, self righteous.  When I notice that my neighbor’s garbage bin is sitting on the curb for a couple of days, indicating she is out of town, I bring it up to her house for her.  Doing so gives me a boost up the mood scale of a few points.  But how often do we consider the reverse?  That we are the recipient of favors being done for us all the time?

Sometimes, when we least expect it, we have been the beneficiaries of the kindness of strangers–your wallet was returned, someone gave up a seat for you in the movie theater, someone returned your “lost child” or lost pet to you. Perhaps someone let you in line ahead of them because you had fewer groceries, someone helped you jump your car battery, opened the door for you, or gave you directions when you couldn’t find your way. You’ve been waiting to enter a busy street and a driver slow down to wave you in ahead of him.  When I am on a bicycling trip and I stop to check the map, other cyclists stop to ask, “Are you OK?  Do you need help?”  I have been given food, water, maps, and directions.  Strangers on bicycles have put the chain back on the sprockets of my bike;  others have  fixed a flat tire for me.  I can recall three occasions when a stranger in a car or truck spotted me beside the road, unable to goany further, put my bike  in their vehicle, and drove me home.,

If we can stop and take note of all these small events, we soon see that we live in a benevolent world where the kindness of strangers flows around us like the wind.  When have you been the beneficiary of the kindness of strangers recently?

 

# 67 Pray for a Stranger

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????       pink-dot      Many years ago I attended an Episcopalian weekend retreat in which we were asked to do something unusual. We were given a piece of paper and asked to write on it a personal concern without giving our name, fold it, and put it in a basket.  The baskets were circulated, and we were then asked to select a piece of paper from the basket, read the concern, and pray for that person.  We were being asked to pray for a stranger.  The paper I read was a confession of self loathing.  I was distressed by it.  I couldn’t imagine who, in that congregation, could feel so terribly about themselves.  I offered my prayer into the community of prayers said that morning in the little wood chapel in a pine forest.

Have you ever prayed for a stranger?

Recently I heard the author River Jordan speak about her memoir, Praying for Strangers.  You can find it at:   http://www.riverjordan.us/books/praying-for-strangers/

Jordan says she embarked on a year of praying for others reluctantly.  She had always seen herself as an author, not someone who wrote about personal experiences.  Yet once she began this journey—of praying for one stranger each day for a year—she felt compelled to continue the journey and to write about it.  She did so by resolving each day to walk up to a complete stranger, asking for the person’s name, then asking permission to say a prayer for them that night.  The results were at times moving, sometimes funny, and often poignant.  One woman remarked to her,  “I’m so glad you asked me.  I was just praying for others this morning, and I asked God if anybody out there was listening.”

Just for today, pray for a stranger. You may not want to walk up to a stranger and ask their name as Jordan did. Simply spot someone you see and make a mental note of that person.  Or consider someone you have read or heard about in the media today who is in crisis.  Tonight, at bedtime, say a prayer for them.  I don’t know if praying has any demonstrable effect on the cosmos.  We are sending out messages to the universe, like the Buddhist prayer flags.  But praying for others does make us more mindful of the suffering of the world..  It keeps us grounded and keeps our own struggles in perspective.

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# 66 Do The Next Right Thing

purple-dot ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????           Recently, I was working with a man who taught me a new tech- nique.   A recovering alcoholic, he had done well to marry, have two children, and hold down a stable job.   But he was prone to dark, angry moods when things didn’t go his way.  He would retreat to his basement recreation room where he would play violent video games for hours, and shut everyone out.  His wife, exasperated with him and his refusal to help her with the kids, would pick a fight, and the two would escalate to the point of threatening divorce. “I figured out something,” he said in a session with his wife.  “I realized I don’t have to do any of that when I’m frustrated or disappointed.  All my life I thought I had to do something–you know, get my anger out, fight someone, get drunk, and when I couldn’t do that any more, blow someone to pieces in a video game.  Then it occurred to me I could just do the next right thing. The next right thing is just whatever needs to be done.  It might be putting a load of laundry in the washing machine.  It might be taking the dog for a walk.  It might be wrestling my sons.  It’s just whatever is right there needing to be done. And I do the next right thing and the anger and the dark mood just goes away.”

This simple principle may seem obvious to those who already do this and never thought that someone had to learn it. But to those for whom this is a new idea, it is life-changing. You do not have to slide into a dark mood when the road of life is bumpy, you can simply do the next right thing and keep going.  How could you implement this in your life? This is such a simple principle you can apply to many areas of your life.  When you are feeling bitter and betrayed, you do not have to focus on it, you can do the next right thing.  When you are overwhelmed with waves of anxiety, you can look around and see what needs to be done.  You can focus on the next right thing instead of your anxiety.  When you are feeling beaten down and discouraged, put two feet on the floor, get up and look around.  There is a next right thing waiting to be doneGo and do it.

# 65 Give Praise for Creation

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St. Francis of Assissi

Canticle of the Sun

Most high, all powerful sweet Majesty,
yours is the praise, the glory, and the honor
and every blessing.

Be praised, my Creator,
for all your creatures,
and first for brother sun,
who makes the day bright and luminous.
And he is beautiful and radiant
with great splendor,
he is the image of you, Most High.

Be praised, oh God,
for sister moon and the stars,
in the sky you have made them brilliant and
precious and beautiful.

Be praised, Great Spirit, for brother wind
and for the air both cloudy and serene
and every kind of weather,
through which you give nourishment
to your creatures.

Be praised, Divine Presence, for sister water,
who is very useful and humble
and precious and chaste.

Be praised Great Mystery, for brother fire,
through whom you illuminate the night.
And he is beautiful and joyous
and robust and strong.

Be praised for our sister, Mother Earth,
who nourishes us and watches over us
and brings forth various plants
with colored fruits and herbs.

Be praised, my Confessor,
for those who forgive through your love,
and bear sickness and tribulation;
blessed are those who endure in peace,
for they will be crowned by you, Most High.

Be praised, oh Unknowable Mystery,
for our sister, bodily death,
from whom no living thing can escape.
Blessed are those whom she finds
doing your most holy will,
for the second death cannot harm them.

Praise and bless you, Spirit of Life,
and give thanks to you and serve you
with great humility.
–St. Francis of Assisi

The above was adapted from the original to omit the references to the male term of “Lord.” The varied references also give us more names with which to speak to that force which is larger than us and beyond our understanding. Go for a walk today. Give this prayer of thanksgiving as you go.

Reference

 St. Francis of Assisi. 1182-1226.  Italian mystic, founder of the Franciscan Order

# 63 Consider the Goodness of Humanity

pink-dottrees on the water

       Many years ago I chanced upon The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono.  It is a brief story, written in 1954 as a piece about an unforgettable character.

The story begins around 1913 when the author is taking a long trip on foot through the valleys of the Provence.  He comes upon a valley that is barren and devoid of trees, villages, crops.  The wind blows across the barren plain.  The spring is dry.  The few remaining homes are in disrepair.  The author meets there a farmer by the name of Elzeard Bouffier who is watching over his sheep.  Bouffier lives in a neat, well ordered cottage and offers the author a bed for the night.

The next morning Bouffier is up early with a sack of acorns and an iron rod a yard and a half long, pointed at one end.  He makes a hole in the earth, puts the acorn in, and covers the hole.  He tells the author that for three years, he has been planting acorns in the wilderness.  Though Bouffier was 55 years old, he had planted one hundred thousand trees.  Of those, twenty thousand had sprouted.  Of those, he expected to lose half, but that ten thousand would grow where there had been none before.  Bouffier goes on to explain that his wife and son had died, and that he had withdrawn into this solitude.  He felt that the land was dying for want of trees.

       The author goes into the French Army for five years and survives the War of 1914.  When the war is over, he decides to return to the valley.  The oaks of 1910 were now ten years old.  The author spends the day walking through Bouffier’s forest in silence.  “When you remembered that all this sprang from the hands and the soul of this one man, without technical resources, you understood that men could be as effectual as God in other realms than that of destruction.”

But Bouffier was not finished.  Though now 60 years old, he had been planting birch seedlings which had begun to sprout in 1910.  There were now clumps of birch trees as well.  Because of the trees, the water reappeared in the springs.  The wind scattered the seeds.  Then willows, rushes, and meadows appeared here and there.  But the transformation was so gradual that no one noticed.  Hunters in the forest who now hunted game assumed the forest just reappeared of its own accord.

In 1935 a whole delegation came from the Government to proclaim the “natural forest” that had grown up around the town.  The whole forest was put under the protection of the State and the trees were forbidden to be cut down.  During these years, Elzeard Bouffier continued his plantings of seedlings and acorns, day after day.  He became so solitary he lost the use of speech altogether.  Yet he is happy in his simple life.

The author goes back in 1945 and is amazed to see now a whole town has grown where there used to be but a few hovels.  There is a fountain in the center of the town, and a linden tree, planted as a symbol of hope.  There are fields of barley and rye.  The old streams, fed by the rains and snows that the forest conserves, are flowing again.  On each farm are maples and tall grasses.  More than ten thousand people live in comfort, owing their happiness to Elzeard Bouffier.

Giono closes, “When I reflect that one man, armed only with his own physical and moral resources, was able to cause this land of Canaan to spring from the wasteland, I am convinced that in spite of everything, humanity is admirable.”

 

Giono, J.  1985.  The Man Who Planted Trees. Chelsea, Vt.:  Chelsea Green Pubs.

 

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# 62 Pay It Forward

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A few years ago a film came out about a boy who sets out to do a significant act of kindness toward three people.  When the people he helps try to pay back the favor, he refuses their offers, and asks only that they “pay it forward.”   In the movie by the same name, the boy’s efforts get off to a rocky start, but then set in motion a groundswell of altruism that comes to be called “the movement.”

We like to think that it could be possible that the beneficiary of the favor did, in fact, pass it on, and that the favor rippled through the world in an unbroken chain, bringing forth good will endlessly.  It’s a beautiful thought, but unrealistic.  However, people do favors every day and ask nothing in return.  The giver is uplifted.  The recipient is encouraged to believe that there are good people in the world.  For that moment, the world is a brighter place for at least those two people.  The giver may feel the act worth repeating and so do it again some time.  The recipient, encouraged by the charity, may extend his or her generosity to another.

  1. Just for today, try one of these: circling the parking lot, competing for a good space, wave someone in to the more desirable spot, and take one that is further from the store. The walk will do you good.
  2. Don’t need those scratch sheets, coupons, giveaways at the department store? Give them to the customer next to you in line.
  3. Going through the token machine in the subway? Offer a token to someone behind you who would appreciate it–a student, an elderly person, a young mother with babies.
  4. Try this one that was reported in the media recently. When purchasing your fast food and paying for it at the drive thru, give the cashier an extra five or six bucks and tell them you’re “paying it forward” for the guy in the car behind you, and that you suggest that he/she pass it on.
  5. On December 26, 2013 at a Starbucks in Connecticut, a customer “paid it forward” for a coffee for the customer behind him and the chain went unbroken for 780 coffees.  On Aug. 22, 2014 a Starbucks in Florida had a chain of 458 coffees paid forward for 10 hours.  Start your own chain of coffees paid forward.
  6. If you haven’t found an opportunity to pay it forward, go to the website of the pay it forward foundation and do some reading.

Stay with this assignment a couple of days until you complete it.  Record what you did.

 

Pay It Forward (2000).  Director:  Mimi Leder.  Written by  Catherine Ryan Hyde.  Screen play by  Leslie Dixon..  Starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, Haley Joel Osment.

http://www.payitforwardfoundation.org/

 

 

 

 

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