6 December 2016      

Hi!  And welcome to this week's issue of our e-zine--we hope
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 I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Rachel Naomi Remen

Deepening Appreciation
Claire Thompson

Friends and Acquaintances
tom walsh

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Acceptance is not submission; it is acknowledgement of the facts of a situation, then deciding what you're going to do about it.

Kathleen Casey Theisen

Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew.  They're what makes the instrument stretch--what makes you go beyond the norm.

Cicely Tyson

If you limit your actions in life to things
that nobody can possibly find fault
with, you will not do much.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

  

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Rachel Naomi Remen

My backyard on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais in Northern California is actually a very small meadow.  In the summer and fall of every year a stag visits at dawn and at twilight.  This is quite a thing for someone who grew up in Manhattan.  This year he has six points on his antlers.  Last year five or perhaps four.  He is heart-stopping.

Actually, I did not plan to have a stag, I planned to have a rose garden.  The year after I moved here, I planted fifteen rose-bushes, gifts from my friends.  It was a lot of hard work, but I could see it in my mind's eye.  Just like in Sunset magazine.  The roses bloomed in the late spring and and for a month the garden was glorious.  Then the roses started disappearing.  Puzzled, I eventually realized that something larger than aphids was eating them and became determined to catch it in the act.  Getting up one dawn and glancing out the window, I was transfixed by seeing the stag for the first time.  He looked like an illustration from one of my childhood books.  As I watched in awe he unhurriedly crossed the yard, browsed for a while among the roses, and then delicately ate one of my Queen Elizabeths.

Every year since then I have had to make a difficult choice.  Am I going to put up higher fences and have roses, or am I going to have a stag ten feet from my back door?

Every year so far, I have chosen the stag.  After two years of watching each other through a pane of glass, I can now sit outside as he dines.

If I tell people this, some say in disbelief, "You mean that you are letting this deer eat your roses?"  Sometimes I will invite someone like this over to watch.  One friend, stunned into silence by the sight, said simply, "Well, I guess we are always doing the right things for the wrong reasons."  I had thought I was planting rosebushes in order to have roses.  It now seems I was actually planting rosebushes in order to have half an hour of silence with this magical animal every morning and every evening.

One of my patients, a woman with ovarian cancer, told me this:  "Before I got sick, I was very certain of everything.  I knew what I wanted and when I wanted it.  Most of the time I knew what I had to do to get it, too.  I walked around with my hand outstretched saying, 'I want an apple.'  Many times life would give me a pomegranate instead.  I was always so disappointed that I never looked at it to see what it was.  Actually, I don't think I could have seen what it was.  I had the world divided up into just two categories:  'apple' and 'not-apple.'  If it wasn't an apple, it was only a not-apple.  I had 'apple eyes.'"

Embracing life is actually a choice.  When asked to describe her husband, another of my patients, laughing, tells this story about a visit to Hawaii that has become part of her family's mythology.  An organized and frugal man, her husband had reserved compact rental cars on each of the four islands months in advance.  On arriving on the Big Island and presenting their reservation to the car rental desk, they were told that the economy car they had reserved was not available.  Alarmed, she watched her husband's face redden as he prepared to do battle.  The clerk did not seem to notice.  "I am so sorry, sir," he said.  "Will you accept a substitute for the same price?  We have a Mustang convertible."  Barely mollified, her husband put their bags in this beautiful white sports car and they drove off.

The same thing happened throughout their holiday.  They would turn in their car and fly to the next island, only to be told that the car they had been promised was not available and offered a same-price substitution.  It was amazing, she said.  After the Mustang, they had been given a Mazda MR-10, a Lincoln Town Car, and finally, a Mercedes, all with the most sincere apologies.  The vacation was absolutely wonderful and on the plane back, she turned to her husband, thanking him for all he had done to arrange such a memorable time.  "Yes," he said, pleased, "it was really nice.  Too bad they never had the right car for us."  He was absolutely serious.
   
   

"Despite the awesome powers of technology, many of us still do not live very well," says Dr. Rachel Remen. "We may need to listen to one another's stories again." Dr. Remen, whose unique perspective on healing comes from her background as a physician, a professor of medicine, a therapist, and a long-term survivor of chronic illness, invites us to listen from the soul.
This remarkable collection of true stories draws on the concept of "kitchen table wisdom"-- the human tradition of shared experience that shows us life in all its power and mystery and reminds us that the things we cannot measure may be the things that ultimately sustain and enrich our lives.

   

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Deepening Appreciation
Claire Thompson

Be patient with yourself and persevere in bringing yourself back to what is around you.  Practice is the key to altering your mind's habits.  Notice your mind wanting to be elsewhere.  Be aware of it wandering in search of immediate pleasure or focusing on a problem that's bothering you.  Then gently bring yourself back to the sights and sounds around you.  Just keep remembering that word "notice"--and congratulate yourself every time you do.

Even when I am in my favorite wild places, I can find it challenging to remain aware of nature.  I can go for a walk through a beautiful wood on a glorious sunny day but find myself completely distracted by a constant stream of erratic thoughts and be struggling to connect with life around me.  Moments like this can be intensely frustrating.  However, I have learned that all I can do is notice my agitated mind, let it be, and patiently keep bringing my attention back to the sunlight on the leaves, the sounds of the forest, and the chirping birds.  Sometimes my mind will settle, at other times it won't.  But no matter.  The important thing is just to keep practicing and enjoying any discovering along the way.  Remember that every time you notice, your awareness is growing a little more and you are opening up to a little more happiness and freedom in your life.

On Deeper Appreciation

The natural world can calm us, energize us, and bring us happiness.  If I have successfully encouraged you to seek out and invite a little more nature into your life for these reasons, then this book will have done its job.  We all want to be happy and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to simply enjoy our natural home.  However, as we deepen our practice of mindfulness of the natural world, our awareness can begin to take us even farther, toward a more intrinsic appreciation of nature.

What do I mean by intrinsic appreciation?  Simply that appreciation of the natural world can be experienced on different levels.  We can all appreciate nature as we feel uplifted by a sunny day, happier having seen colorful flowers in the park, invigorated after a swim in the ocean, or calmer after a long walk along a nature trail.  However, as we become more and more acquainted with nature's infinite tapestry of forms, patterns, colors, sensations, tunes, scents, and textures, we may start to open up to a more intrinsic appreciation, where admiring the beauty of the natural world becomes an end in itself.  We can begin to realize that we are no longer spending time with nature because it is good for us and has benefits for our well-being.  Instead, we begin to look at the wonders of the natural world for their own sake, for no reason other than the delight of being in such close proximity with their beauty.

Falling in Love with Nature

This deeper appreciation is more akin to what we may call love.  When I say love, I am referring to the feeling you have when you let go of your controlling mind and give in to being completely absorbed by the object of your awareness.  Most of us have experienced, even unknowingly, how our sense of separate "self" disappears when we are completely engaged in what we are doing or experiencing.  We have all abandoned our sense of "selves" to being captivated by the sight of a loved one, the sound of our favorite music, the story of an engaging book, or the trance of the rhythm of our morning run.  As our sense of "self" starts to dissolve, our minds tune in more wholly to what we are seeing and experiencing, and our habitual feelings and patterns of thoughts and behaviors become more spontaneous, open-ended, and creative.  It is as if we begin to let the world animate us as we animate it in return.  In the case of music, for instance, you may literally begin to feel yourself animated into dance, movement, or song in response to being absorbed by one of your favorite pieces.  The perceived separation between your sense of "self" and the music disappears and you become an integral part of the music as the rhythm flows through your body.

You may argue that falling in love is an especially personal thing, and maybe not everyone will feel love for the natural world.  Nevertheless, we are all nature.  If we love ourselves, then a love for all other living things is innate to us.  If we treasure life, we will treasure the natural world.  And who doesn't treasure life?
  
  

Mindfulness & the Natural World explores what it means to connect with nature and how we can learn from nature to be more mindful in everyday life. Claire Thompson takes us on an engaging journey into the natural world and encourages us to experience its beauty and intrinsic value through the art of mindfulness. Through personal anecdotes and proven insights, she reveals how a deeper awareness of the natural world is key to inspiring us to care about and protect nature, and developing a more sustainable world.

   

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What we need to do is learn to work in the system, by which I mean
that everybody, every team, every platform, every division, every
component is there not for competitive profit or recognition, but for
contribution to the system as a whole on a win-win basis.

W. Edwards Deming

   

 

Friends and Acquaintances

I have very few friends, when all is said and done.  Don't get me wrong--I like people a lot, and there are a lot of people whom I like.  There are also people who like me, for whatever reasons there may be.  But one of the reasons for which I say I have few friends is because I used the word very sparingly--it's a very important word for me, and I don't assign it quickly and arbitrarily just to someone I get along with.  To me, the word "friend" is a very special word that must be applied to very special people in my life.

I have a lot of acquaintances.  These are people with whom I get along very well and whose company I really enjoy.  I like to spend time with them, and they seem to like to spend time with me.  But they're also people with whom the relationship doesn't go extremely deep, and I'm pretty sure that if problems were to arise in my life, I wouldn't be able to depend on them if I needed them; and on the other hand, if problems were to arise in their lives, I don't feel that they would call on me for help.

Why is this important for me to keep in mind?  Much of the issue has to do with expectations:  I don't want to build up false expectations in my mind about the people I know.  I cannot depend upon an acquaintance the same way that I can depend upon a friend, and if I know that, the chances of being disappointed by people are much, much smaller.  And if I'm not disappointed in an acquaintance for not being there for me when I need someone, then it's really easy for me to maintain the acquaintanceship and still have a good person in my life.

   

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be
well tried before you give them your confidence.  True friendship
is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the
shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.

George Washington

   
If I consider a person to be an acquaintance rather than a friend, that doesn't justify it if I decide to treat them not as well as I would treat a friend.  It's still important that I care about them and for them, and that I treat them as well as I would treat a friend.  Yes, there are certain things I won't share with them; yes, there are times when they won't get an invitation to something special; and yes, I may not show them the same level of support that I would show a friend (especially if I know that they have closer friends who can accomplish much more than I could).  But in the end, I agree with the Dalai Lama below, when he says that we need to show concern about the welfare and rights of others, that we need to be a genuine friend, and we should try to be that to others without expectations of reciprocal feelings.

My thoughts about friendship are bound to be different than other people's--I keep that in mind always.  Being raised in a military family, my siblings and I never were able to actually keep friends that we made because we were moving away every couple of years as our father received new orders to be stationed in a new place.  Just when we were starting to get comfortable with new people, we would be uprooted and move to a new place where we knew no one at all, so we never had the benefit of developing deep, years-long friendships.  In some ways this was a huge disadvantage, and I think those disadvantages are fairly obvious.

In some other ways, though, this dynamic did have advantages.  We became very resilient and able to function on our own--we didn't develop dependencies on others, and we've always been quite independent (though often, too independent).  One of the things that this helped me with personally was that it gave me the ability to get by without feeling that I had to hold on to things, especially people.  I see many, many people who say that a certain person who treats them poorly is actually a friend, and it hurts me to see them use that important word to describe a person who most certainly is not a friend.  I know people who have over a thousand "friends" on Facebook, and there the word is just used in a ridiculous way, nowhere close to its original meaning.
    

To have a true friendship, you have to do more than exchange
Christmas cards or call each other once a year.  There has to be
some continued support and attention; otherwise the relationship
is a sentimental attachment rather than a true friendship.

Dolores Kreisman

    
Friends need to be close to us, they need to be dependable, and they need to care about us and for us.  Likewise, we need to be those things for the people whom we call friends.  Is that setting the bar too high?  I don't think so--because I see absolutely no problem in considering someone an acquaintance rather than a friend.  I still love the other person just as much, and I'm still going to treat that person just as well as I would treat a friend of many years.

Perhaps most of my issue is a question of semantics, then.  Maybe it's just that I don't want to assign a certain word to certain people.  But that's only on the surface, because there is still the question of what can I expect from an acquaintance versus what can I expect from a friend.  Which must be followed up with the question of how I expect myself to react to a friend in need versus how I expect myself to react to an acquaintance in need.  Of course, whenever there's need, we should be ready to help--we may not always need to do so, but we should be prepared to.  Having a clear distinction in our mind of the relationship can help me to determine what kind of response is appropriate of me, and what kind of expectations are appropriate, also.

After all, I wouldn't respond the same to my daughter who's having a certain problem as I would to one of my female students who's my daughter's age who's having the same problem.  Nor would that student expect me to do so, for the relationship is completely different.
   

Genuine human friendship is on the basis of human
affection, irrespective of your position.  Therefore, the
more you show concern about the welfare and rights of
others, the more you are a genuine friend.  The more
you remain open and sincere, then ultimately more
benefits will come to you.  If you forget or do not
bother about others, then eventually you will
lose your own benefit.

the Dalai Lama

   
And perhaps that's what this is all about--being able to define a relationship as a friendship or an acquaintanceship can help us to have realistic and healthy expectations of and about others, and of and about ourselves in relationship to others.  If we have a clear vision of just what a relationship is, we can respond appropriately when necessary, without agonizing over what we should do, or feeling guilty later for not doing enough, or for doing too much and this alienating someone who found that we acted inappropriately.

I'm much more concerned about being a friend than about having friends, because my actions are under my control, while the actions of others are outside of my realm of influence.  But when I consider whether someone truly is a friend or not, I think that it's important to be realistic.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with considering someone to be an acquaintance--I know that many people consider me to be just that, and not a friend, and that's absolutely fine with me.  Perhaps one day I will be a friend to them, and perhaps not, but not everyone will be my friend, nor will I be a friend to everyone I know.

   
More on friendship.

   

One of the most important elements
of living life fully is awareness-- awareness of our surroundings, of other people and their motives and fears and desires, of the things that affect us most in our lives, both positively and negatively. In the twelve years of livinglifefully.com's existence, this essay series has been a mainstay of the weekly e-zine--a series that has explored not just the things that exist and that happen around us, but also our reactions to those things. The first five years of the column are now available exclusively on Kindle.

   

  

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Creativity can replace conformity as the primary mode of social being. . . . We can cling to that which is passing, or has already passed, or we can remain accessible to--even surrender to--the creative process, without insisting that we know in advance the ultimate outcome for us, our institutions, or our planet.  To accept this challenge is to cherish freedom, to embrace life, and to find meaning.

Stephen Nachmanovitch

  

You were being spiritual without even knowing it.  Creating art of any kind is an act that involves the part of our souls we usually don't tap into on a daily basis.  We rely on our emotions, our intuition and our heart to lead us to the finished product.  We use art to express our innermost selves, to bring us closer to our sense of the divine.

The trouble is, most of us haven't done anything creative since we cut out paper snowflakes in third grade.  "I was never any good at it," we say.  Or, "My stuff will never hang on a museum wall, so what's the point?"  It's so easy to neglect the artist in us because most of day-to-day living is so uncreative.  We don't need art to raise the kids or attend a meeting or pay the bills, so we assume that it's nonessential for all but the few people lucky enough to be able to make a living at it.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.  If anything, we need to express ourselves through art more now as adults than we did as children.  For one thing, it's a terrific release for stress-- when you're totally engrossed in capturing a still life or shaping a clay bowl, the rest of the world automatically shuts itself out.

Shana Aborn

   
  

Enlightenment does not consist of pretending to be where we are not;
enlightenment means being in touch with where we are and being willing
to learn what God would have us learn from it.  Sometimes the purpose
of a day is to merely feel our sadness, knowing that as we do we allow
whole layers of grief, like old skin cells, to drop off us.

Marianne Williamson

    

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