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15 January 2019      

Getting to Yes
Martha Beck

Creativity
tom walsh

Compassion
Joan Chittister

Growth begins when we start
to accept our own weaknesses.
-Jean Vanier

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Simple and Profound Thoughts
(from simpleandprofound.com)

To be successful you must accept all challenges that come your way.  You can't accept just the ones you like.
-Mike Gafka

Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.
-Benjamin Disraeli

True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.
-William Penn

The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done.
-Arnold Palmer

  

Getting to Yes
Martha Beck

I was sitting in a bookstore three blocks from my freshman dorm, trying to decide on my college major.  It had been a tough year--the most stressful of my life so far--and I felt too tired to make the trivial decision, let alone one that might have a serious impact on my future.  Glumly, I leafed through the Fields of Concentration booklet I'd received from the registrar.  Should I concentrate on English Literature?  Well, maybe; I liked to read.  Philosophy?  No--too pretentious.  History?  That was a possibility.  Visual art?

As this thought occurred to me, a most peculiar sensation swept through my body.  It felt as though my cells had suddenly become buoyant.  For a dizzy moment, I almost believed that I was rising up into the air.  A panorama of memories rushed through my brain:  the thousands of hours I'd spent drawing as an art-obsessed child and adolescent; the gorgeous smell of crayons, paper, paint, and turpentine; the wordless enchantment I experienced whenever I made pictures.  The feeling was so surprising and lovely that I burst out laughing.

I cannot tell you how atypical this was.  For several scared, bewildered, and lonely months, I hadn't so much as smiled for an I.D. photo.  Now I felt as though I'd discovered the canary in the coal mine of my soul, still singing away under tons of bedrock.  Emily Dickinson's line "Hope is the thing with feathers" popped into my mind, and for the first time, I knew what she meant.

I also understood something else Emily once said:  that when she read great poetry, she felt as if the top of her head were coming off.  I'd always thought this was a sad commentary on how desperate the recluse poet was for entertainment, but now I realized Emily must have been talking about something similar to the strange lightness I felt when I considered majoring in art.

I'll bet you've had this feeling too, or a sensation close to it.  Everyone experiences this a little differently, but in each individual it tends to be very consistent over time.  It's the feeling of your essential self saying, "Yes!  This way to your North Star!"

Of course, when this happened to me in the bookstore, I didn't listen.  Within thirty seconds, my social self had launched a full frontal attack.  It dredged up a conversation I'd overheard in the freshman dining hall several weeks earlier.  A group of my peers had spent half an hour mocking visual-arts majors, whom they saw as a bunch of wannabe-European airheads with dim minds and even dimmer futures.  A degree in art, my friends had all agreed, was worse than useless.  So much for that idea.  My body seemed to crash back into the chair, and my mood into its inky funk.

For the next ten years, as I charted my course to a "secure" career in academia, I occasionally pondered that experience in the bookstore.  I thought about it as I slogged my way through one Chinese class after another, feeling as though the subject and I had mutually repellant force fields.  I thought about it when I toted up all the income I'd earned working my way through college and graduate school, and realized that I'd made more money teaching and selling art than my any other means.  I thought about it the day I quit my academic job, finally acknowledging that I simply wasn't cut out to be a sociology professor, no matter how fail-safe such a career might seem.

I'll never know what would have happened if I'd listened to my essential self when it tried to choose my major for me.  I don't think I'd be a professional artist; my sense is that studying the subject was my truest path, but not a final destination.  I do believe that if I'd chosen art as my major, the next few years would have been more enjoyable, more fulfilling, and easier.  I think I might have lived the breadth of those years, as well as their length.  I'm basing this conjecture on experiences I've had since:  both the times that I ignored my essential self shouting "Yes!" and the times I listened to it.  I also have lots of corroborating data from people who habitually listen to their essential selves, and have extraordinarily rich lives to show for it.

more on happiness
more on wealth

   

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Compassion

I have lived in the inner city for a long time.  It is not, by and large, a place of indiscriminate virtue.  I have discovered that compassion comes no easier to the poor than it does to the rest of humankind.  Compassion is clearly more a state of mind than a state of life.  People are no more generous here, no more kind here, no more virtuous here than are people in the suburbs--despite the fact that they know suffering as few do.  How can that be, I wondered?  How is it that the poor do not commiserate with the poor?

And then I understood:  the poor know the burden of injustice, seldom the privilege of mercy.  It is the advantaged who are called to compassion and mercy because it is the advantaged who have the luxury to give and the responsibility to understand.

I have known these things for a long time but yesterday I saw them alive and smiling.  I met the young man in question in Cape Town, South Africa.  He was from Chicago, heard the American accent, and took the trouble to tell me to "travel safely."

"I was beaten up on the street," he said, pointing to his half-healed right eye.  "They stole the shoes right off my feet."

I winced a little.

"When I called to tell my mother," he said, "she was furious.  But I said to her," he went on simply, "Mom, you don't understand.  Those shoes cost more than most of these people make in a year."

He smiled a little.  "I just hope they fit him."

I realized that I had just seen real compassion in action.  He understood the offense.  He oozed no righteous fury.  In that smile, I learned a lot that I had known for years but, all of a sudden, knew differently.

Joan Chittister
Seeing with Our Souls
   

  

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Often, we are harder on ourselves than others are.  If we cannot forgive ourselves,
how can we forgive other people?  Everyone's lesson is to forgive ourselves for our
mistakes, even those things we feel ashamed about, and learn to accept ourselves
for who we are, knowing that we can always gently work on making improvements.
For me, the true experience of inner peace began only once I was
able to forgive those around me, my parents, and myself.

Patrick Wanis

   

 
Creativity
Part fifty of
a yearlong series

I am a very creative person, and I'd be willing to bet that you are, too.  I'd also be willing to bet, though, that you're much like I am in that you haven't learned to see yourself as a creative person first and foremost, and that you probably even would say that you're not very creative at all if someone were to ask you.  When it comes to creativity, most of us tend to judge our own creativity against things that we see from other people, be it paintings or writing or crafts.  "I could never do something like that," we say, thus lowering our perception of our own creativity.

Creativity, though, isn't limited to artistic endeavors.  Almost everything that we do in life, from our jobs to cooking to doing the yardwork, can involve incredible amounts of creativity.  Even our lives themselves can be full of creativity, depending on how we choose to live them and the decisions that we make while doing so.  We can be creative in our relationships, creative in our hobbies, even creative in the ways that we try to be creative (if that makes sense).  I once read about a man who raked leaves into piles that represented different armies in different situations, then raked them together as the armies met in battle, having fun and exercising his mind while he did a simple task.  (Personally, I'd probably want to imagine that the piles were flocks of birds flying south, for example, than armies of people killing each other, but to each his or her own, right?)

Part of our problem is the way that our cultures define creativity, and celebrate it only when and if it becomes famous or earns a lot of money for the person who "created."  Most of our creativity is private, and we can be creative in little ways that aren't going to make us famous at all.  And much of what we see as "art" isn't actually very creative at all--it's simply product that's been carefully designed to appeal to people's wants so that they'll buy more of it.  Many movies, for example, follow simple formulas of character, setting, and plot, with only slight differences between them--different actors or settings, for example.  We think they're the result of creativity because they're supposedly entertaining, but the truth is that they're calculated products, not creative inventions.  And if we start thinking that that is what creativity consists of, then we're making a big mistake.  
   

Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks,
breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.

Mary Lou Cook

   
I can be creative by taking a different route to work, by figuring out new ways to do tasks, by finding new solutions to problems.  We practice creativity when we find a way to make a vegetarian dish out of something we've always made with meat, or when we find a new way to cook that steak or make those cookies.  Sometimes we don't even notice that we're being creative--we're just taking care of something that needs to be taken care of.

Fostering and developing our creativity can have extremely beneficial effects for us.  When we work at being creative, we're using our minds in ways that are inspirational and uplifting, and we're finding new possibilities in a world in which it seems as if everything's been done already.  We're reminding ourselves that our world is full of new things and new ways to do things, and we're giving ourselves a chance to look at the world in new ways, a fact that rejuvenates our perspective and helps us to become even more creative.

Have you ever noticed how when we're being creative, it becomes much easier to follow up a creative project with something else that's creative?  It's like running or working out--when you're doing it regularly, a five-mile run is extremely easy, but when we neglect our running, the five-mile run becomes a five-mile ordeal.  Our creativity thrives when it's being used, not when it's put into a jar and hidden in the pantry.
    

Creativity of all kinds focuses your mind, engages your imagination,
and feeds your soul.  Being creative can also facilitate understanding
and encourage healing.  Creativity is mindfulness in motion--intuitive,
artistic motion.  Creative moments and activities give you a boost
and help you feel energized and good about yourself.

Sue Patton Thoele

    
Our creativity is one of the elements of our lives that make us feel truly alive.  It can help us to stay truly focused on the moment as we work on a creative endeavor; it can help us to think abstractly as we envision the final project of what we're creating; it can help us to feel joy as we see something that we've made or finished that didn't exist one or two days ago; it can help us to feel extremely good about ourselves as we realize that yes, we do have skills and talents that are uniquely ours.  Our creativity can be an amazing spark that sets us on fire--not the destructive type of fire that destroys everything in its path, but the constructive fire that sheds light and provides warmth.

Our creativity also, as Sue points out above, helps us to practice mindfulness and to be more aware of our surroundings than we usually are.  When we're being creative, we see how things work--and how they don't work.  We start to understand or strengthen our understanding of many principles, from learning how baking times differ depending on ingredients to how long paints need to dry before you can paint over them to what kinds of paper are stronger than others to which notes work well together, and which don't.

The bottom line is that we are creative creatures.  We're born that way, and our spirits thrive when we practice the creativity that is innate in each one of us.  It's important, though, that we keep in mind that we should not be comparing the results of our creative efforts with the creativity of other people--creativity is not a competition.  It is an integral part of who we are, and we should view it as just that, without putting extra pressure on ourselves to "perform" for others by trying to impress them with our creativity.  If we're just creative, if we just do what we do in order to spark and develop our own creativity, we'll be doing what we need to do in order to make our lives richer.  The compliments and accolades from others may or may not come--and it's perfectly okay if they don't.  We're not on this world to impress others.  We're on it to develop ourselves to be the best people we can be, and our creativity is a huge part of who we are.
   

Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. . . most of
the things that are interesting, important, and human are the
results of creativity . . . when we are involved in it, we feel
that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

   
You can be creative today.  You don't need to write the best poem or short story ever written to be creative, and you don't need to make the best egg dish ever or anything that will win prizes at county fairs.  But you do need to be willing to take a chance or two, to think of things in slightly different ways, and to put yourself out there and risk that what you create won't be exactly what you envisioned.  Creative people often find that their results don't match their plans at all.  But if you take the time to do something creative on this day, you'll find that your creativity comes just a bit easier tomorrow, and easier still the day after, until your creativity is a major part of the life that you're living.  And when that becomes the case, that life will be rich indeed--and you'll be able to help others tap into their creativity, too.

   
More on creativity.

   
   
  

   

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Simply give others a bit of yourself; a thoughtful act, a helpful idea, a word of appreciation, a lift over a rough spot, a sense of understanding, a timely suggestion.  You take something out of your mind, garnished in kindness out of your heart, and put it into the other person's mind and heart.

Charles H. Burr

  
Happiness
Edward J. Lavin

Contentment is a balm, satisfaction is a friendly embrace, but happiness is a warm glow and tingle that arise from the health of both mind and body.

We all want to be happy, yet how many of us can with certainty declare that we are?  We all have little happinesses that raise us up out of the mire of our daily struggles.  Perhaps we should be content with these small gifts, for the quality of perfect happiness is an uncommon state.

This little caution is a warning to those whose life is a perpetual search for the perfect happiness--a holy grail that requires an immense effort.  It is not found in a clean bathroom, although the TV commercials want us to think so.  Nor is it found in money or health or friends or lovers or travel or small packages.  These may lead to small happinesses, and blessings on them all.

Perfect happiness is a well-regulated hierarchy of spirit, mind, and body.  The order is important, and anything that disturbs that order ruffles the surface of the lake of happiness.  Unregulated desire, as the Buddha knew so well, is a heavy stone dropped into the lake; equally disturbing is the tendency to forget about the spirit and to concentrate exclusively on the mind or the body.  Perfect happiness is not to be found in the leaps of aerobic movement nor in the dense concentration of scholarly research.

Yet we must not despair.  Perfect happiness is our birthright--it is only that we must work at it.

from his book Life Meditations
   

  

A handful of pine-seed will cover mountains with the green majesty
of forest.  I too will set my face to the wind and throw my handful of seed on high.

Fiona MacLeod

    

  

   

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