Monthly Archives: September 2013

#16 Take a Community Walk

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Take a walk today, a long walk.  Andrew Weil recommends regular walking as a step on the road to “optimum health.”  I live in the midtown area of a large urban metropolis.  It is an area where young urban professionals rub elbows with college students, gay couples, and homeless men.  Renovated Victorian homes are nestled among lofts, apartment buildings, trendy restaurants, and shelters for the down and out.  Though there are trash baskets every few blocks, there is always much litter on the ground–mostly beer bottles, empty cigarette packs, and fast food bags and cups.

Do you live in an area like this?  Besides getting your exercise, you can turn your walk into an exercise in altruism.  Here’s how:

  • When you see a newspaper in your neighbor’s driveway, or especially if you see several, take them up to the steps.  Your neighbor will appreciate it and wonder who put it there
  •  Pick up the trash on the street and put it in the trashcans along the way. If you’re worried about getting your hands dirty, bring a plastic bag, wear gloves.  People might look at you.  They might be inspired to follow your example.
  • Give the homeless man on the corner three bucks for lunch.  If you’re worried about what he’ll do with the money, bring gift certificates from a nearby fast-food restaurant instead.  Pass them out.
  • Wave to the bus driver and/or the letter carrier as you pass them along your route.

Record how your felt.  What else did you think to do on your “community walk”?

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#15 Savor the Simple Things

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Welcome Morning

There is joyDSC_0362

in all:

in the Cannon towel, newly washed,

that I rub my body with each morning,

in the chapel of eggs I cook

each morning,

in the outcry from the kettle

that heats my coffee

each morning,

in the spoon and the chair,

that cry “hello there, Anne”

each morning,

in the godhead of the table

that I set my silver, plate, cup upon each morning

So while I think of it,

Let me paint a thank you on my palm

for this God, this laughter of the morning,

lest it go unspoken.

–Anne Sexton, from:  An Awful Rowing Toward God

The poet above describes what is, at best, a humble and repetitive routine, arising and preparing for the day.  Yet she savors the little details of everyday life.  For this day, find one or two things to savor.  Perhaps the feel of the water in the shower, the tartness of orange juice, the sounds of birds outside, a breeze rustling the trees, the crunchy goodness of your cereal.  Focus on it for five seconds.  Carry it with you.

See the full poem at:

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2013/06/22

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#14 Accept the Forgiveness of Others

following is from a journal by a man who thought he was facing death.  gold-dot“So I asked if he could get me a copy of The Book of Changes as??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? I hadn’t read it. Two days later, he turned up with a copy of The Book of Changes with Corrections to the Zhou Commentary. Deeply moved, I took it and went on to say that when we were children I thought he’d taken the mouth organ I’d bought, wrongly accused him of taking it, and then found it. I asked if he still remembered. There was a smile on his plump round face. He was uncomfortable and said there wasn’t any point in bringing this up. It was he who was embarrassed and not me. He clearly remembered yet he was being so kind to me. It then occurred to me that I had committed wrongdoings for which people did not hold grudges against me. Was this repentance?”

–from: Soul Mountain, by Gao Xingjian

It is easy to hold grudges against others for the wrongs they commit against us. We may hoard them like small treasures, savoring the sense of self-righteousness we feel when we re-examine them. Yet we seldom consider the wrongs we commit against others, or at least the small ones–the book we borrowed and didn’t return, the plans we canceled, the phone call we said we’d make but didn’t, the callous remark we shouldn’t have made. We are all being forgiven every day. We move about in a sea of benevolence.

Consider wrongs which you may have committed against others, and how they have forgiven you. List examples of times you acted badly, disappointed someone, failed to make amends. .

Repeat this phrase to yourself several times today. “I am grateful for the forgiveness of others.”

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#13 Re-Write Your Life Story, pt. iii

purple-dotHiking trailContinue writing about your life story:

He/She Was a Lucky Person and Was in the Right Place at the Right Time

(We are all the recipients of random luck, both good and bad.  We tend to remember the bad because it was unexpected and upsetting–the layoff at work, the car accident, the sudden illness.  However, we are also being affected by good luck all the time and seldom give it much thought.  It’s unpopular to admit that something good happened to us which we had very little or nothing to do with.  In our high achieving culture, it doesn’t seem right. We’re supposed to strive for everything, to work for it.   It seems like cheating.  Yet it occurs.  Good luck comes our way.  We bought our first house, and the mortgage rates just happened to be the lowest in years.  We decided to go into a career  that turned out to be in high demand.  We got the part or the job we wanted because someone else became ill or quit suddenly.  The storm carried away half the neighborhood but left our house standing.  These things could have easily gone the other way.  Think of one lucky break you got and write about it.)

Continue writing about your life story:

He/She Experienced Defeat But Turned It Into Something Positive and Went in a New Direction

(When we are young we tend to have simplistic views of adults’ lives.  We think it is like a set of stairs in which people steadily move upward.  Yet when we get to adulthood we see it is much more like a hike through a dense forest with inter connecting trails that are badly marked.   We come to a dead end and have to backtrack and go in a new direction, not sure where it will take usWe didn’t get into the college we wanted and had to go to a different one.  We tried teaching as a career but didn’t like it.  We had planned on an athletic career, but got sidelined by injuries.  We started a business but ran out of money.  Write about a time when you got stuck and had to go in a new direction, one which led to a positive experience in your life).

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# 12 Re-Write Your Life Story, pt. ii

Mont Blanc photopurple-dotContinue writing about your life story using these themes:

         He/She Made Many Mistakes but Eventually Got It Right

(We all make mistakes in love, work, play, and friendships, with money, with addictive substances, and with how we’ve spent our time.  Some mistakes we repeat a few times.  We do eventually learn from these experiences.  Write a paragraph about one type of mistake which taught you a lot and which you no longer make).

Continue writing about your life story:

         He/She Suffered Greatly but Gained Wisdom and Became                               a  Better  Person as a Result of that Ordeal

(You’ve heard the saying that that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.  It’s sort of true.  However, there are ordeals so overwhelming that we never quite recover from them.  The key is mastery.  Southwick and Charney write, “Difficulty that can be mastered, on the other hand, facilitates growth, self-esteem, self-efficacy and resilience.”  Think about an ordeal that you went through which didn’t overwhelm you but made you a stronger, wiser person.  Write a paragraph about it.)

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# 11 Re-Write Your Life Story, pt. i

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Marsha Norman, discussing her play Night Mother, in an interview for Ms. Magazine, said that our version of the past—of the life we have lived—however we feel about it or are haunted by it, or ever defined by it, is ours to make sense of.  It is not a truth or a fact.  It is the person who owns the past and has to make some meaning of it.  What meaning we make out of our life story is up to us.

Researchers have found that Norman is right.  Pessimists look at their lives as a series of failures, disappointments, losses, betrayals, and otherwise unfortunate events.  Optimists may have very similar lives in terms of the events themselves, but they mine that same life data and come up with a rich ore of meaningful experiences along with the negative ones.

Suppose someone were to make a movie of your life.  Every story must have a dramatic, meaningful theme.  Imagine you are s film producer making a movie about this story.  Write a few lines of the plot of your story with the following theme in mind:

        He/She Triumphed Over Adversity, Overcame Great Personal Obstacles

(All people are faced with difficulties at some time in their lives, and the vast majority get through them.  Recall one such difficult period in your life.  Think about how you overcame that obstacle.  Did you reach out for help?  Did you pray, reflect inwardly, do some quiet soul-searching?  Did you research and analyze the situation?  What strengths in your character did you use?  What gifts or talents did you discover you had?)  Write a paragraph about it.

Continue writing about your life story with the theme below.  You can write about just one chapter of your life or several chapters.

     He/She Had a Fateful Encounter Which Directed the Course of His/Her Life

(Was a teacher an important person in your life?  A grandparent?  Who might have said something to you that helped you get your first job or find a career path?  Many chance encounters are turning points in a person’s life–the day you met your best friend, your first date with your future husband or wife.  Write about a chance encounter that moved your life in a positive direction.

Norman, Marsha, 1993, Ms. Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 1.

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# 10 Seek the Peace of Wild Things

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Wendell Berry is a poet who went back to the land, to be a farmer, and to write about his relationship with the earth.  One of my favorites is  “The Peace of Wild Things.”  You can hear him read this poem at:

www.speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs

Go to “Shows” and click on 6-24-10.  There you will find this and         several other poems by Berry.

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water,

and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief.  I come into the presence of still water

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light.  For a time

            I rest in the grace of the world and am free.

  • Even if you live in the city, there are, no doubt, green spaces not far from your home.  Go for a walk today.  Re-discover your local park.  Sit outside your office building for lunch today at that picnic table under the trees.  Is there a place of still water near you?  a river, a pond, a creek?  Write your experiences here.

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Experiences with nature have a magical quality in their mystery and suddenness.  Though my office is in a glass and brick office building in a suburban mall area, the two most memorable experiences I’ve had there are these:  once a bluebird and his mate built a nest and laid eggs not two feet from the window.  We (my patients and I) watched them lay the eggs, hatch them, and feed the young.  A wild turkey once walked out of the woods, and we have seen wild rabbits hop across the lawn.  What has been your most recent encounter with creatures of the natural world?  What was your reaction?

Reference

 http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171140Wendell Berry.  “The Peace of Wild Things.”  From:  Selected Poems, 1968-1997.  Washington, D.C.:  Counterpoint.

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# 9 Write Down What You Are Grateful For

Baha'ullah           A thankful person is thankful under all circumstances. 

A complaining soul complains even if he lives in paradise.

–Baha’ullah

lime-green-dotIn a U-turn in the road of psychological research, behavioral scientists are moving away from studying what makes people depressed, and they have begun to study what makes people happy.  Psychologist Sonia Lyubomirsky at the University of California at Riverside conducted a simple study in which she asked people to keep a gratitude journal.  Her participants made an entry once a week, listing the things for which they were grateful.  Over a period of six weeks, these people rated themselves as significantly happier than the control group of subjects who did not keep a journal.

*  Write down three things which you are grateful for today.

(1)   _______________________________________________

(2)  _______________________________________________

(3)  _______________________________________________

Conduct your own research.  If you use a calendar on your computer, make six entries (once a week for the next six weeks) with the reminder on your “to do” list:  “List three things I am grateful for today.”  If you use a pocket calendar, make your entries there.

Reference

Lyubomirsky, S.  2007.  The How of Happiness:  Scientific approaches to getting the life you want.  New York:  Penguin Books.

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# 8 Write Your Own Obit.

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Obituaries make good reading.  They are brief stories about the life of one person, told through the eyes of a relative who cared about that person.  They are not stories about the rich and famous necessarily, but about everyday people who mattered to others in their simple, yet focused way.  There is the story of the grandmother with 47 grandchildren, or the lady who rescued dogs.  The man who was an avid bird watcher is there in the obituaries, or the guy who made the trains run on time.

I enjoyed one about the woman who was a gifted tango dancer in the 1940’s.  Many stories center around the decorated war veteran.  The restaurant owner who served up the best barbecue on the south side of town is a heartwarming story, along with the man who went to work in the family business so he could put his three sisters through college.  They tell us much about a life that is well lived–lives that counted for something, lives that were devoted to something.

  • Read the obituaries in the newspaper today if you can.  Read them often.
  • What would you want others to write about your life in your obituary?

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# 6 Practice Letting Go of Mistakes

Buddha Statueyellow-dot Sheldon Kopp was somewhat of a guru to the psychotherapy field in the 1970’s.  In his book If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him, he summed up the human condition this way:  As human beings we stand somewhere between having total freedom to make our own decisions and total helplessness.  At least in this culture, we are given total responsibility for our lives without total control over it.  All of our important decisions must be made on the basis of insufficient data.  We take our best shot, face the consequences, good or bad, and go forward.

All of us have regrets over past mistakes, wrong choices, the road not taken, the thing we didn’t do.  It is easy to see where we went wrong once all the data is in.  However, we are always making decisions based on partial information because we don’t have a crystal ball, and we can’t look into the future to see how things will turn out..  What did you know afterward that you didn’t know at the time?

Remind yourself you were acting on partial information and you gave it your best shot.  Now let it go.  Write down your statement of self-forgiveness.

Reference

S. Kopp, 1972.  If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.  New York:  Bantam.

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