The quote in the picture (attached) is a great lesson, one I learned again today.
Following a meeting, I was rushing to another appointment but had to stop and speak with someone. I was present bodily with the person but wasn’t present emotionally or mentally. I could feel the hurry welling up inside and my attention was elsewhere. As a result, the conversation I had wasn’t fruitful and I am sure I came across as flustered. I’ve since let the person know it was my mistake, apologized and confessed I should’ve been more mindful, present, in the moment, not on my way somewhere else.
It’s so easy to be moving on to the next thing. We love marking items off our lists. It makes us feel productive and successful when truthfully if we aren’t careful, we find ourselves failing at one of the most important reason for existence; relationships.
The difference between misery and happiness is attention. An important lesson not just to read but to practice.
“The rain is coming! Be ready!” That’s the message I heard from the weather forecasters this morning. As each hour ticked away the chances of rain increased.
I knew the grass needed mowing and cutting wet grass is bad for your mower and your lawn. I rushed outside a little after 8:30 AM and began. I finished it in a couple of hours and hurried inside to collect the trash to take to the dump before the rain began to fall. On my way I drove into a small shower and thought; “This is it!” but nothing else happened. I got back home put up the trash cans, let the dog out, looked at the gray ominous skies and knew it was about to downpour. Nothing.
A couple of hours later it finally rained, a nice shower, but nothing like I, and the weather channel, anticipated. I was thankful for the rain but couldn’t help but wonder; “Where’s the rain that was promised? Why did I hurry to the dump? Mow the grass so early?”
Wisdom tells us suffering comes from the difference between our anticipation of life and what life ends up being. The gap is where the struggle takes place. Living in anticipation instead of acceptance is the difference between turmoil and peace.
Life is a balancing act. It is a lesson I have been keenly aware of this week. To walk the line between the joy of being alive and the acceptance that one day everything, everyone dies takes careful, reflectful steps. If you veer too far one way or the other you fall into illusion and suffering.
We all want to live but not just live, to thrive. This is our desire for those we love as well. If we could we would protect ourselves and everyone we care about from disease, difficulties, and death. However, when we forget our place, our lack of power and lack of ability to make life safe and well, we become anxious, envious and desperate.
It takes a while to learn to walk through the narrow gate of humility and acceptance. The narrow path becomes more narrow but the paradox is the smaller the way becomes the more we open ourselves to grace and healing.
Another Way –
Our little farmhouse has many quirks. One of the most frustrating is no back door. At one time there was one in the kitchen but someone filled that one in and installed a dishwasher. Today, the handymen made a doorway out of a window in the hallway next to our bathroom they are remodeling. It was loud and dusty but they got it done and it looks great!
I sit here today with concerns about friends, family, and acquaintances on my heart and mind. A good man who I grew up with lost his father in a motorcycle accident on Easter Sunday. Another friend’s father has a mental illness that’s beginning to impact his family’s life and a tough decision will have to be made soon. Still another friend is facing a big battle filled with an extensive surgery and an even more difficult recovery.
I find myself wanting another way for these people who are suffering so much in different ways. I wish I had the power to create one. A way not filled with the pain of death, the uncertainty of life filled with disease. If I could I would knock down whatever obstacles which stood in their path but regretfully I do not have that kind of power.
What I can do is pray, offer and give any help needed and trust that though another way may not be available, the way of kindness, love, and grace, are still the balm of healing and new life.
Last night I buzzed the tower at the County Jail to let them know I was there for our Dad’s class. They unlocked the several doors I have to go through to get to the classroom. I stopped about half way, opened my travel box and retrieved the list of names for the evening’s class.
I walked up the stairs to the tower where several men were sitting on one side of the octagonal room. As I handed the list to the corrections office in charge I turned to the men and asked; “how are you guys doing?” “Good,’ came the reply; ‘but there aren’t just men here.'” I looked around and on the other side of the room, sitting by herself was a woman corrections officer. I apologized for not noticing her and she accepted. If it wasn’t for the male officer I never would’ve noticed the woman.
I was talking with a friend this week who said he believed God had shown him his presence in a special way. I responded that I think God regularly shows himself to us; “We’re just too occupied, unaware to notice.” The conversation came back to me last night when I was unaware of the woman officer.
The Bible speaks of “serving angels unaware.” I wonder how many times we miss God’s presence, a stranger’s need, a chance to show grace, kindness, and love to a world which to see and experience it.
Intersections of Life –
On my way to the county jail, there is a long stretch of highway that has only one traffic signal which hangs about midway to the jail. There are flashing lights which tell drivers to prepare to stop. Each time I approach this intersection I begin to look for the flashing lights. I know that if I get past the sign with the flashing lights I don’t have to worry about the traffic signal turning red and having to stop. This afternoon I approached the sign, it never flashed me and I was able to sail on through the traffic light.
After finishing my class at the jail I had to run and errand and I turned on the road which would take me to my destination. It wasn’t long before some flashing lights caught my attention. They were warning me of construction ahead and to be ready for delays. It only seemed like forever until I was able to make it through this particular intersection.
It seems the road of life has a way of balancing out. For every unexpected joy, there is sorrow. For unplanned blessings there are hardships. For every intersection you sail through another one will take and test your patience.
The secret isn’t figuring out how to hit all the lights green, non-flashing, but to accept both with equal measure. It’s not an easy discipline to learn but one which will relieve much suffering.
Handle with Care –
I gave myself a concussion today! Well, probably not an officially medically diagnosed concussion but I whacked my head pretty bad with a rake handle. We’ve had some much-needed rain this week and as has been my ritual the last several weeks I went out today and raked. The leaves were wet which made them heavier and there was a large collection I was moving and pushing with the rake when it snapped at the end and pressure I was exerting on the leaves reversed itself and cracked me on the head and ear. It was painful enough I dropped to my knees and if saying; “OWWWWWW!” counts as a prayer I did a lot of praying. After the pain subsided I began looking for a replacement handle. Finding one I removed the broken handle and attached one from another garden tool. My head, and especially the ear, continued to hurt the rest of the afternoon but the replacement handle worked fine and I was able to finish the job.
Wisdom teaches us that life comes with pain and brokenness. There is no secret prayer, acquired knowledge, or anything one can do to have a life free of suffering. What we can do, however, is accept what comes, fix and heal when we can, and keep going.
Rest and Suffering –
Yesterday afternoon, on my way back from an out-of-town meeting, I passed a delivery truck. Its hood was up, flashers on, obviously broke down and not going anywhere. What caught my attention was the driver. He was laying down in a shady spot, one arm for a pillow and the other holding a cellphone and talking. He wasn’t nervously pacing, angrily kicking tires, yelling into the phone. If he could’ve fixed the truck I am sure he would have. If there was a way to deliver his goods he would’ve completed his goals for the day. Instead, he was resting because there wasn’t anything else to do but wait.
I struggle following this man’s example. I like rhythm, order, control. I don’t like surprises, detours, or delays. There is certainly a part of that which comes from having a Severe Anxiety Disorder. Mapping out the day so it can be more easily managed is part of my therapy. However, I also believe it’s very human to want control, to get things done in a timely manner, to feel like our lives are not always a random gathering of happenstance.
Wisdom teaches us that the distance between acceptance of what happens every moment and our expectation of what should happen every moment is where suffering is found. Knowing how to rest in the unplanned, perhaps even unwanted, experiences of life is one of the toughest and most valuable lessons we can learn.
Left Overs –
It’s now the third day after my oral surgery this past Wednesday. After a numbing gel on the impacted areas, shots of Novocaine which deadened gums, nerves, tongue, nitrous oxide which made me loopier than usual and a painkiller prescription, all that’s left over, 72 hours later, is the swelling and tenderness. I do have a few powerful pills but use them with extreme caution and sparingly for fear of becoming dependent. Even bread is hard to chew! The dentist said; “It would take time, not to rush it, invest in some ice cream.” Ice cream? Perhaps the dentist isn’t all bad. 🙂
There’s something about a part of your mouth feeling different from normal that makes you want to rub your tongue over the impacted area. With it I can tell where the surgery happened but must be gentle not to cause further pain. The first two days the ache wasn’t so bad but now that all the other desensitizing agents have worn off there’s only swelling, aching and waiting that’s left over.
Wisdom teaches us that traumatic and painful events, experiences happen to us all. We may have ways of coping with the hurt, masking the discomfort, ignoring the suffering, however, sooner or later, we must acknowledge the damage which has been done. We must accept the left overs in our lives that heartbreak and distress cause. Only then can we know the wound’s severity. Only then can we treat ourselves with gentleness and patience. Only then can we begin to heal.
Best Over Good
This a picture of my knees. I wrote about the difficulties I’ve been experiencing last week ( Crawl. Walk. Run. https://thewannabesaint.com/2016/05/14/crawl-walk-run/) when it comes to walking, exercising and almost everything I need to stand up to do.
Today, I went to a specialist who x-rayed my legs, did several other tests, poked, prodded and pinched before giving me a diagnosis. The not so bad news is there is swelling, inflammation and soreness. I have a couple of bone spurs but nothing requiring surgery. Some at home therapy is required, icing, anti-inflammatory meds and; “NO RUNNING!” doctor’s orders. As of now my running days look as though they may be over and the doc suggested I pick a new way to exercise. Reevaluation will be in a month.
My knees won’t get any better and the goal of therapy is to avoid further damage. The reality of not being able to run anymore is disheartening. Before I began battling depression (https://thewannabesaint.com/2016/04/27/my-depression-and-anxiety-story/) it was an activity I enjoyed. However, I also don’t care for the idea of surgery on one or both knees.
Life is filled with hard choices. Picking the best over the good can be some of the most difficult. There are activities, places, people we enjoy being a part of and with but sometimes we must choose to give these up in order to avoid further suffering or to be able to make greater progress on life’s path.
On Sunday I was working outside, trimming Lemon grass. It can be tricky working with this plant because of the thin, long leaves which can cause a nasty cut if a person is careless. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as vigilant as needed and received a gash in my pinky finger. Small cuts might not bleed much but they can be quite painful. It didn’t take long to forget about the mishap but ever since, each time I apply soap or antibacterial gel, I’m reminded the cut hasn’t completely healed. It’ll take a few more days before the wound is closed and no longer a painful reminder of my carelessness.
Life’s journey is filled with difficult and hurtful places, events, and seasons. Our recovery from these take time and often we encounter reminders of these painful moments which cause the agony to resurface. Our reliving of these can be disappointing and a cause for despair. We think; “Shouldn’t this wound be healed? Why is there still suffering? Will I ever be fully well, whole again?” In these times it’s important to be patient. Recovery moves at a different pace for everyone. You can’t rush restoration and redemption. “Progress, no matter how slow, is still forward.” –Plato
He sat a few feet from me and I watched as tears began to fill his eyes. It dawned on him, perhaps for the first time, the sum of his actions, words, thoughts and the effect they had upon his family. He had been so wrapped up in trying to control situations and people that he didn’t realize how many things had slipped from his grasp. Now, in a time of crisis and questioning, of rejection and regret he understood. Silence filled the space between us and I waited as he composed himself enough to speak. Until this point disappointments, difficulties and despair had been things which were outside of him, people and events were to blame. Now, he realized he was the designer of his own defeat, a victim of his own ego and self obsession.
It’s never easy to achieve and sustain self-awareness. There are moments when we see ourselves for who we really are; the weakness, selfishness and shallowness. The cold reality sets in and we often reach for the blanket of judgement and justification to stave off the chill. To recognize our real selves, to accept the imperfections, insecurities and insatiable desire to control, coerce and craft others and the world in our image is the most humbling and hurtful lesson to learn.
When we arrive at this place of suffering do we choose to find relief by reconstructing the illusion or embrace the brokenness as healing?
The story began in the 1990’s with a business owner who was stealing money from his company to pay his personal debt. He was arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in jail at a minimum security facility in Louisiana. It was a tale of bad choices and their consequences, however, the story became even more interesting when he began serving his time.
The incarcerated facility was not only a jail but also America’s last leper colony. Men and women with this dreaded and deforming disease had been housed there for decades. Even with advances in medicine and treatment most of the patients chose to live in isolation than face society disfigured and different.
It was heartbreaking to hear the stories of a resident being dropped off at age twelve never to see her parents again. Another who dreamed of distant cities and sights but couldn’t bear the thought of the stares of onlookers or the disgust as they backed away illness which had ravaged parts of his body. It was safer, easier to be set apart from humanity than be rejected by it.
As I listened I couldn’t help but think of the outcasts, the unlovable, those on the fringes of society judged as unworthy, unclean, unacceptable. I also thought of those with the hidden burdens of mental illnesses, addictions and other secrets kept hidden away for fear of being labeled and ostracized.
Connection, relationship, friendship, love, fidelity with all. Acceptance and grace with everyone regardless of dissimilarities . To draw close to those whom others have pushed away, to listen when the world ignores, to extend compassion to ones who’ve been harmed, to be human to all of humanity.
One day, a mighty warrior set out to find an aged monk who was known to be very wise.
When he arrived at the monastery, he flung open the door and demanded of the old man, “Tell me, you who are learned in spiritual matters, what is heaven and what is hell?”
The monk, surprised at the warrior’s entrance and interest, sat still for a moment. After a while he looked up at the warrior and recognizing his attire the monk said; “I suppose you believe yourself to be a great specimen of manhood? You’re nothing but a mere sliver of a man! I doubt you could cut off the head of a fly with your sword.”
For a moment, the warrior could not believe what he was hearing! No one talked to a him like that! His face, turning blood red, contorted in rage, he bellowed, “How dare you! I won’t let you get away with such an insult.”
Pulling his huge sword from its sheath, he raised it high above his head, ready to kill the elderly monk. Unperturbed, the wise Father looked directly into the eyes of the furious warrior and said, “You asked what hell is? *This* is hell.”
The giant of a man froze, his sword still raised, as the hatred and anger which consumed him drained away. He looked at the old monk in amazement, realizing that this small, frail man had risked his life to answer his question.
Lowering his weapon, the once proud warrior bowed to the monk, as tears of gratitude appeared in his eyes. “Thank you for your teaching,” he said humbly, his heart filled with love and appreciation for the monk’s gift.
The monk smiled and said, “And this, my brother and friend, is heaven.”
A simple wisdom parable with a great truth. The difference between heaven and hell, love and hate, grace and judgement, contentment and suffering is humility and thankfulness.
It is the realization that life, each breath is a gift. To receive everything we encounter on life’s path, what we might perceive and label as “good” or “bad”, with open heart and open hand.
Humility and acceptance; learn them and live well.
A friend asked me today why we suffer so much at the hands of those we love. When I asked him to clarify he said; “When we need others to love us more, listen more, help us more and yet they always seem to fall short of what we’re desperately seeking.”
I understood what he was asking but I gently told him that he needed to ask a different question. “Why do you continue craving what another cannot, or will not, give?”
Wisdom tells us that mental and emotional suffering comes from the gap between what we desire and what is reality. Too often we want other people, situations, life, to meet our expectations. When this fails to happen, and it always does, we suffer pain, rejection, dismay and disappointment. We want our loved ones to be more supportive, our jobs to be more fulfilling, our purposes to be clearer and when these desires aren’t met we blame the other, whoever or whatever that may be.
True acceptance comes from receiving what life offers and being at peace with it. It is to cease demanding others rise to meet our dictates and loving them for who they are and what they can presently give. It is to stop fighting, grasping for what is not available and allow the blessings of now to rest upon our open hands before slipping through our fingers.
When life is spent trying to reach across the gap for that which is not attainable eventually we lose our balance and fall into suffering and despair.
On Tuesday afternoon I ran into a store to pick up a snack to woof down on the way to a presentation. I hadn’t had time for lunch and I needed something on my stomach to make it through the two hour law enforcement training seminar I was taking part in. As I perused the snack aisle I felt someone tap me on the shoulder and turned around to see a friend who has recently been going through a season of suffering. She told me she was doing okay and trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. I listened and was able to share part of my journey these last eighteen months.
I’ve been discussing with another friend the quote from #ThomasMerton above. Here is some of what I wrote to him this week;
“I think longing for perfection leaves no room for the gift of acceptance of the myriad of things of which we have no control. For life to be our definition, version, of perfection is to not suffer. But some of our greatest lessons are found in suffering. We learn to treat others in the way we were not treated, to speak words of encouragement instead of insult, listen not condemn,
understand not assume, embrace not push away, give not take, be lowly not arrogant, the servant not the master. Grace, humility, surrender to the truth of our powerlessness is only found in suffering.”
Suffering is a needed and necessary, albeit unwanted, part of our journey. To resist suffering, to try and control, force, manipulate, coerce, make the world and others in our image doesn’t eliminate suffering but intensifies it.
The lust for perfection comes from our ego. Suffering, if we allow it, can purge our sense of self-importance and replace it with a sense of peace and purpose in the midst of hardships and heartaches.
What happened to my hands? When did they become so wrinkly? What are these crinkles on my face? Why do I seem to have much more face and so less hair? Except, of course, on my eyebrows and ears which seem to grow hair at a phenomenal rate!
Getting older is a reality. We realize it happens and yet it still somehow takes us by surprise.
The other day I caught myself holding an item with fine print under a light, squinting, trying to read it…and I thought; “when did this happen, when did I turn into an old person?”
Time, the undefeated one.
If we can’t stop time hopefully we can make the most of the time we have left.blessings, bdl
I couldn’t count myself among Lou Reed‘s fans. Though I’ve never listened to his music his wife Laurie’s farewell is worth reading and reflecting upon.
“What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.”
A reminder of how common the changing, passing of life is, as familiar as summer transitioning to fall. The leaves turn, decorating the earth, the water laps on the shore and the sunlight reflects even in our tears. Seasons do not stop, time doesn’t stand still when death occurs, it is a part of nature, existence, as sure as fall will soon give way to winter.
“Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.”
Nature has a way of drawing us to it. Even in the hustle and bustle of a world with cellphones, Google glass, smart watches, when technology seems to be attaching itself to us like skin there is a deepness that beckons. A wisdom found in trees older than our nation, rocks more ancient than our species.
“Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!“
Those who have faced the loss of loved ones know the painful decision of leaving the hospital, not because of life restored, but to let it go. As a culture we have forgotten what it means to age and die well.
A time comes when we must cross the boundary of death and walk on the other side. To do so with dignity, to not be so frightened, grasping at every remedy, treatment, half-hearted physician’s promise, but recognizing the moment and embracing it with a sojourner’s spirit.
“Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.“
To spend our last days, for each one is closer to our last, “being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature” is all we can ask from this existence. Being mindful, wise enough to be in awe of the world which surrounds us.
Too often the majesty of this life escapes us, the wonderment found in every breath. Aliveness has lost its magic. So much time is spent trying to control, understand, coerce, manipulate, we miss the miracle of simply being alive. We miss being happy and dazzled because we are busy doing other things.
“Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.“
“Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.” A life well lived is a life that inspires others to truly live. May we be a people who drink so deeply from life’s well that it spills into the lives of others.
“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.” Albert Einstein
As we get older in life we begin to recognize some things are true most of the time. These sayings become mottos we often live our lives by.
The phrase “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy” is accurate whether you live with your mama, your mama lives in another state, or whether the “mama” you live with has children or not.
Another common saying with great insight,
“Never underestimate the stupidity of humanity!”
Stupidity often brings to mind large people painting letters or numbers on their right sized bellies and dancing in front of millions of people at a televised sporting event or conjure up images of strangers having their every move recorded while eating bugs and swimming in scum infested waters.
Stupidity is an all too common trait where brains are disengaged, judgments suspended and choices end up unfortunate. None of us are exempt.
A few years ago my wife and I were going on a trip to Louisville KY. My job was to hitch a trailer to a van we rented.
After backing up the van, I placed the trailer’s connector on the van’s hitch and then searched for the wiring to hook up the turning and brake lights. Unfortunately, the plugs connected to the wiring on the trailer didn’t match the plug on the van.
Being a mechanically challenged person panic began to set in but I noticed a set of clips above the van plug and figured out how to connect the trailer wires to the van wires without calling triple AAA.
I was ready to go! Actually I wasn’t. I decided the van and trailer needed to be closer to the garage so I hopped in the driver’s seat and looped the vehicle around in the front yard. As I did this the van went one way and the trailer started going another. Even a mechanically challenged person knows to ask; “if the van goes this way, shouldn’t the trailer do the same?”
“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein
I slammed on the brakes and went to investigate. The problem was I put the trailer hitch on but never engaged it, never fastened it down. So, when turning around the trailer hitch became dislodged and gravity took over from there.
Hoping no neighbors saw, I replaced the hitch, fastened it down, redid my wires and slowly pulled into the driveway. Feeling like one of the guys who paint their bellies, headed into the house, retrieved the luggage and mentioned to my wife something weird was going on with the trailer.
Two lessons I learned, never underestimate the stupidity of humanity, and connections of all sorts must be made if you want to get far on the road of life.